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Notes from Innovation Policyworks

 

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the unveiling of the floating platform that will be the base of the first offshore wind turbine in the US. In a few weeks, the platform will be assembled with its tower and wind turbine and towed to the Penobscot Bay where it will be hooked to the grid. Imagine that in just the past year, Maine has seen the first full scale tidal turbine generating power to the grid and now the first floating wind turbine doing the same. These devices will enable us to capture energy from the Gulf of Maine in new ways.

 

You can see the video and read the article in the Bangor Daily News HERE for more details. In the video, you will hear from Dr. Habib Dagher (just Habib here in Maine where he's a rock star). It's Habib's vision, enabled by the support of a lot of us here and in DC that made this technology real in just five years, and created the policy and regulatory environment that will allow the full-scale turbine to be deployed in 2016.

 

Vision, hope, perseverance. These are all traits that are necessary for any entrepreneur, whether you are a visionary scientist like Habib, or just a regular person trying to get an idea, a company, or a project off the ground.

 

But, when do you pull the plug? When do you decide that the current course will not get you to the kind of day that Habib had yesterday? What's the difference between an obstacle that can be overcome and one that is fatal? More HERE.

 

Cathy

How the Internet of Things is a Game Changer

 

Every now and again, a technological change comes along that will affect everything. The Internet of Things is one such change. It refers to the fact that the Internet is now enabling communication among things, as well as people. Imagine a world where computer networks, sensors, actuators and devices will all communicate on the Internet. Simple applications are predictive maintenance, where sensors say that it's time to add oil to an engine and oil is added automatically. Imagine how these devices will change your business. Read more HERE

Is the STEM Worker Shortage Real?

 

For quite some time, policymakers (including myself) have raised the alarm about the need for more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers. We have been looking at projections of the skills needed of the jobs today and in the future. The large technology companies say that they cannot find qualified workers. Microsoft and others have been lobbying Congress to raise the limit of H1-B visas to enable them to hire more workers from other countries.

 

The Economic Policy Institute has just released a study that turns this argument upside down. The study found that the US has "more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations." They reach this conclusion based on the laws of supply and demand. They say that wages for these fields have not risen, so there isn't a shortage. They point out that many Americans holding STEM degrees have had a hard time finding work in their fields and that a high percentage of jobs in the information technology industry are held by foreign workers. Some are even saying that this same dynamic is in effect in manufacturing, where foreign workers willing to work for less are crowding out US workers.

 

Read the study HERE.

Is the Boom in Shale Oil and Natural Gas Good for the US?

 

At a recent meeting, I heard a colleague from Ohio state flatly that the biggest change in the next ten years would be that the US would become an energy exporter. He was referring to the oil coming out of the Marcellus Shale in Ohio, the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, among others. Until 2008, it was financially infeasible to extract oil trapped in rock formations such as shale. When new drilling technology called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," became widespread, oil production took off. In North Dakota, for instance, unemployment is around 3.3 percent and there are help wanted signs everywhere. Workers at the Bakken sites are living in trailers because there isn't enough housing for them.

 

Fracking is also used to extract natural gas, and the drilling boom has produced a glut of the fuel, driving down prices. This, in turn, has expanded the demand for this fossil fuel. Most is extracted domestically, and is relatively clean to burn, especially when compared to coal.

 

These two trends have interesting consequences. One is downward pressure on electricity prices, since natural gas is displacing coal as the fuel for electricity production. This is both good for the economy and hard on renewable energy deployment. Most renewable energy technologies are quite expensive to deploy in the field, although they have low operating costs. So, low costs for electricity today yield low futures pricing, affecting renewable's ability to get financing for projects.

 

At the same time, the jury is definitely out on the environmental impacts of fracking. It is known that extracting oil and gas from shale requires large amounts of water, and this is driving some of the concerns. Anecdotal evidence of well water contamination, and air pollution is weighed against the advantages of burning natural gas to produce electricity as compared to coal. 

Another Ranking, Another Day

 

The Milken Institute's State Technology and Science Index 2012 was released a few weeks ago. Predictably, Massachusetts was at the top, with Maryland, California, Colorado and Washington State filling out the top five. Maine was 39th, more or less where we've been for some time. Read it HERE.

 

Do we care what Milken (or others) say? How valid are these rankings? My colleagues at Fourth Economy Consulting have written a great article on this subject. They say that rankings too often see all places as equal. While rankings usually adjust for population, they cannot adjust for culture, history, assets or goals. They also point out that it depends who is doing the ranking. So, rankings from a media outlet may be skewed by advertisers or readership, as compared with independent research organizations such as Milken. Rankings based on surveys (e.g., executive's opinions of business climate) may provide a snapshot from a narrow point of view, raising questions about the validity and quality of the data. Finally, to what extent can policymakers affect the variables within the rankings? We can't make the ocean or other geographical features go away, but we may be able to impact high school graduation rates. So, what's the ranking about? In the end, reader beware.

In This Issue
Internet of Things
Is STEM Worker Shortage Real?
Energy Boom?
Another Ranking?
L3C
Visualizing Energy Trends

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Congrats

 

To the Georgia Research Alliance for a boost to their funding by $7.7 million to a total of $21.5 million. $12.5 million is for bond funding for R&D infrastructure and equipment.

 

To the Center for Innovative Technology in Virginia for $2.5 million in new funding for an accelerator program just for cybersecurity start-up companies.

 

To the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation that will receive $6 million in FY14 for a comprehensive statewide program to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Quote of the Month 

  

"It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow."

 

Robert H. Goddard

US Pioneer Rocket Engineer

A New Acronym: L3C

 

Have you ever heard of an L3C? It stands for a low-profit limited liability company, a new legal form of business entity in the US. Allowed in 12 states (including Maine), a L3C is a for-profit social enterprise venture that has a stated goal of performing a socially beneficial purpose, rather than maximizing profit. The idea is that this form of entity will make it easier to attract investors and foundation funding, compared to a traditional nonprofit.

 

Delaware's Governor introduced legislation recently to allow so-called "benefit corporation" legislation there. Given that 50 percent of public companies and 2/3 of the Fortune 500 have Delaware as their legal home, this bill shows that this concept is here to stay.

New Data Tool for Visualizing Energy Trends

 

Check out the Free Energy Data (FRED) platform just released by the US Department of Energy , the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Planetary Skin Institute. FRED is an open tool to better visualize energy data and make this information more available and useful for state and local governments, private industry and other energy researchers. See the tool HERE.

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96 Maine Street, Suite 183 Brunswick, ME 04011 207.522.9028

Innovation Policyworks, LLC, is an innovation strategy and evaluation firm focused on the development and measurement of effective state and regional technology-based policies and programs. Dr. Catherine S. Renault has been delivering innovation-based economic development results in rural states for over 22 years. She has been a technology-based economic development practitioner in two states and consulted with many more, most recently as science advisor and Director of the Office of Innovation for the State of Maine.  

Cathy has recently been working with E2Tech, a Maine trade association, and the University of Maine to describe and explore the Clean Technology sector in the state. For a list of projects, see www.innovationpolicyworks.com/projects.