Roughly 350 business, government and academic leaders gathered April 21 and 22, 2011 at the University of Michigan for a conference on what it will take to make the state of Michigan a leader in renewable energy manufacturing.
“When I look at a wind turbine, I see 8,000 parts,” said Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a conference keynote speaker. “We can make every one of them in Michigan.”
The “Revitalizing Innovation in Michigan for Clean Energy” conference featured more than 30 experts, participating in six panel discussions that explored what is needed to build an “innovation ecosystem” that nurtures statewide development of wind, battery, solar and related clean energy businesses. Panels focused on financing and venture capital, new manufacturing technologies and re-industrialization, jobs and the supply chain, the prospects for accelerating commercialization, and government’s role in positioning this emerging industry for global success.
“Clearly Michigan and the U.S. as a whole can only compete in such a dynamic world environment by being even more agile and more creative,” said keynote speaker Henry Kelly, acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Most of the pieces needed to do this are already in place here in Michigan – critical manufacturing infrastructure, a great university system.”
Kelly said Michigan is already “helping rebuild U.S. manufacturing around clean energy systems and new production systems.” He noted the $2.4 billion federal stimulus investment here for advanced battery and electric drive component manufacturing. He also noted that the state ranks fourth in solar industry jobs and first in clean energy patents, a factor in the U.S. Patent Office’s decision to open a branch in Detroit this spring. It is the Patent Office’s first ever satellite operation.
Among the challenges facing Michigan’s clean energy industry is the difficulty in tapping investment models that offset the time and risk associated with launching a new energy business. Strategic tax incentives will be beneficial as will access to such alternative financing resources as “friends and family,” who often have longer-term investment windows than traditional venture capitalists.
Michigan’s deep industrial roots and manufacturing workforce make it a great place to build renewable energy products.
“We’ve had no problems finding workers for our plants here,” said Les Alexander, general manager of battery maker A123 Systems Government Solutions Group in Ann Arbor.
Steve Busch, human resources director of Energetx Composites, a Holland spin-off of Tiara Yachts that engineers and fabricates wind-turbine components, said, “We (Michigan) have the best manufacturing capacity, the best people for manufacturing and the best people for engineering.”
Several manufacturing panelists looked to a more rigorous Renewable Portfolio Standard to hasten demand for clean energy. The state’s RPS currently requires 10 percent of Michigan utilities power to come from renewable sources by 2015.
“The RPS is a good start, but it has to be more aggressive to attract more manufacturing jobs and investment to Michigan,” said Lance Tennant, of Grand Rapids-based Cascade Engineering, a manufacturer in the office furniture, transportation, recycling and renewable energies industries.
While challenges persist, Kelly said he remains confident in Michigan ability to capitalize on clean energy.
“But we’ll have to step up our game to prevail,” he said. “There’s plenty of fuel and fire here in Michigan. Shame on us all if we can’t find a way to take the extraordinary resources here in Michigan to invent a country we can be proud to let our children inherit.”
Lead sponsors of the Revitalizing Innovation in Michigan for Clean Energy Manufacturing conference included: Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute (MMPEI); U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; The University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment; It was co-sponsored by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise; Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies; the Tauber Institute for Global Operations; and Ann Arbor SPARK.
For more on the conference:
Listen to the April 21 WWJ 950 newsradio interviews with the Department of Energy’s Henry Kelly and MMPEI Director Dennis Assanis on the prospects for the state’s clean energy leadership. Also, read WWJ’s full conference wrap-up, remarks from Senator Stabenow, and related reports by Michigan Radio and annarbor.com on the clean energy employment picture.
For further information, contact MMPEI’s Paul Gargaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-615-5678.