Thursday, February 21, 2008

Innovation Geography of Renewable Energy

I'm currently reading Richard Longworth's book about Midwestern travails with globalization. Which cities will survive the economic transformation? Cleveland and other Rust Belt cities are betting on green innovation such as renewable energy. I doubt that any shrinking city can capture a cluster away from the emerging environmental powerhouse in the Front Range of Colorado. News today of ConocoPhillips' purchase of a large (400+ acres) campus in Boulder County is case and point:

The Louisville facility will put a heavy emphasis on renewable energies while helping to support the company’s traditional oil and gas business, Tanner said. Being close to the National Renewal Energy Lab in Golden was a selling point for the company, he said.

The company also considered the quality of life in Boulder County, close proximity to Denver International Airport and the closeness of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University — ConocoPhillips already partners with both schools on research. ...

... Tom Clark, executive director of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., said he thinks ConocoPhillips’ facility will benefit the Denver area. The move could also help the resurgent oil and gas industry on the Western Slope and the budding wind energy development in the northern part of the state, he said.

The rumor going around the tech industries located in the area had Google buying the large complex in Louisville. But the regional economy is going in another direction, leveraging the numerous energy assets already in place. Furthermore, Boulder is a hotspot for a variety of firms and organizations specializing in environmental R&D. Also often overlooked is the presence of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

The economies of agglomeration that Longworth explicitly describes would stack the deck against Rust Belt cities looking at green technologies as a port in the storm of globalization. I would start exploring connectivity opportunities with the Denver cluster of innovation, the heart of the global renewable energy scene.

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