27 September 2010

Philadelphia Innovation Cluster Seen as "Key to Future"

Rendering of Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster at Navy Yard
"I'm a bit like Ryan Howard," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told the crowd at the Navy Yard. "I get to bat clean-up and take us on to the championship."

The Mayor's reference to the city's major league baseball team seemed a good analogy for a championship he has long wanted, the title of "Greenest City in America."

The sentiments weren't lost on the other dignitaries, academics, industry leaders, and cleantechies gathered in a tented area on the pier of the Navy Yard's Cruise Ship Terminal to celebrate the launch of the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings (GPIC).

The Mayor opened and closed the ceremonies, which also featured speeches by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Fernandez, and Vice President Henry Foley of Penn State.

Penn State led the application for the energy efficiency hub, marshaling a consortium that featured other universities, major corporations such as United Technologies and Turner Construction, as well as a panoply of associations and other businesses.

The result was a successful bid for the nation's only energy efficiency cluster, and $129 million in funding from the Department of Energy (DOE) and other agencies.

The Navy Yard has plenty of old buildings on its 1200 acres and its own micro electricity grid to test new technologies. And the list of players and supporters of the proposal were just too hard to ignore, remarked Secretary Chu, who said that it was "a dream in my eye long before I was at DOE for such a center."

The Secretary confessed that he would have liked the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory win the bid, where he worked prior to becoming the 12th US Secretary of Energy. "But the fact that two of my former grad students are at Penn State makes up for the fact that they didn't get it," Chu quipped.

The GPIC is expected to develop and test new technologies for energy efficiency in buildings, first by renovating an existing structure on the campus.

Poor cooling and ventilation in the facility where the announcement was held provided a good example of the issues that will be addressed by technologies developed at the new innovation cluster.

The GPIC will be led by Penn State in partnership with the City of Philadelphia through its Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, along with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, the Wharton Small Business Development Center, and numerous other public, private, and academic partners.

"This is the type of research and technologies that will propel the US going forward," Secretary Chu said. "And this type of broad cooperation exemplified here in Philadelphia will make it work."

(Disclosure: The author is co-founder of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, which provided a letter of support for the Energy Innovation Hub application and is an industry association partner in that effort.)

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