Last week, the Brookings Institution released a proposal to establish a network of regional energy discovery and innovation institutes (e-DIIs). According to the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, the e-DIIs would support the overarching goals of renewing America’s economy, promoting energy independence, and addressing climate change. Cities that are currently leaders in innovation, like Seattle, would serve as natural fits for an e-DII. The regional centers would be funded through the Department of Energy and operate as hubs of a distributed research network, linking the nation’s top scientists, engineers, and research facilities. The proposal, Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes: A Step toward America’s Energy Sustainability, was drafted through a collaborative effort led by James Duderstadt, president emeritus at the University of Michigan. The central idea put forward in the proposal joins the nation’s major research universities with federal and corporate research and development laboratories. More specifically, the e-DIIs would:
- Foster partnerships to pursue cutting-edge applications oriented to research among multiple participants and disciplines;
- Develop and rapidly transfer highly innovative technologies into the marketplace;
- Build the knowledge base and human capital necessary to address the nation’s energy challenges; and
- Encourage regional economic development by spawning clusters of nearby start-up firms, private research organizations, suppliers, and other complementary groups and businesses.
According to the working group that assembled the proposal, the federal government should establish several dozen eDIIs at an annual cost of $6 billion or up to $200 million per competitively awarded eDII. The group anticipates that federal investments would be augmented by funding from academia, state governments, and industry. The February 9th rollout of the Brookings’ proposal, attended by leaders froma academia, industry, and government, demonstrated the widespread recognition of the need for increased federal investments in energy research and development. Panelists and presenters included: William Bates, Council on Competitiveness; John Denniston, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Billy M. Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes; Peter McPherson, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; Michael Shellenberger, Breakthrough Institute; Howard Berke, Konarka Technologies Inc.; William Harris, Science Foundation Arizona; Jeffrey Wadsworth, Battelle Memorial Institute; Keith W. Cooley; NextEnergy; E. Gordon Gee, The Ohio State University; Michael Crow, Arizona State University, and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
The Obama administration has clearly stated a desire to increase federal investments in energy research and development. The recently passed stimulus package includes $2 billion for related research activities and serves as an example of the focus that we can expect from administration. However, the funding level proposed in the Brookings proposal remains a heavy lift. In the coming days and weeks, we can expect to get a sense of how feasible the Brookings plan is, as federal agencies begin to detail exactly how they plan to spend the billions of dollars of research funding contained in the economic recovery package, and as a Fiscal Year 2010 budget request is finalized and presented to Congress in the spring.
A full transcript of the event, audio/video recordings, and presentations are available on the Brookings website (click here).