Pennsylvania can clean up in clean tech

Posted: August 28, 2011

Kevin Brown

is cofounder of Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic (cleantechma.org)

Philadelphia identifies with underdogs: Rocky, the Eagles, and now energy.

When business people or policymakers think of Philly, they naturally jump to the Big Five: pharmaceuticals, higher education, legal, finance, and technology. Clean tech, or renewable energy, rarely makes the list. But that's about to change. We have the potential to be a full-fledged front-runner in one of the hottest growth industries.

Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution ranked this region fifth in overall clean-energy jobs. With nearly 55,000 green jobs in the Philadelphia metropolitan area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland), we beat San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, and Dallas. (Yes, Dallas.) Since 2003, Philadelphia has created more than 6,500 clean-economy jobs, with an average wage of more than $43,000, according to the study.

Though jobs are important, the report only begins to describe this region's potential. Thanks to our manufacturing heritage and diverse talent base, we have a surprising number of often-overlooked regional assets that are starting to be recognized by the rest of the world.

A prime example is the Philadelphia Navy Yard, which hosts the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for energy-efficient buildings. The Navy Yard was selected over dozens of national sites for this program. Over the next five years, the GPIC will receive $122 million from the U.S. Energy Department to design buildings that will save energy, cut pollution, and improve the nation's energy position.

Another underrated asset is PJM Interconnection in Valley Forge, the world's largest regional transmission organization. PJM serves more than 51 million energy customers and has 167 gigawatts of generating capacity.

And don't forget water, a fundamental for all new energy and advanced-materials technologies. Companies such as GE Water, Severn Trent, American Water, Ashland Hercules, Siemens Water, and Aqua America all add to our clean-tech prowess.

In addition, our state, local, and federal representatives are huge resources in our fight to become the top green economy. For example, Pennsylvania's Financing Authority recently approved $6.5 million in new alternative and clean-energy investments. This will leverage nearly $40 million in private economic investment statewide. And Mayor Nutter has developed an initiative - Greenworks Philadelphia - devoted to making Philadelphia the greenest city by 2015.

Infrastructure is the heart of our strength. To create self-powered facilities, such as the recently renovated Lincoln Financial Field, you need people, plants, policies, and programs. Whether making wind turbines, solar panels, or dual-fuel cogenerators, you need the brains and the space to work. Philly has it all. Thanks to our industrial heritage, we have thousands of square feet of laboratories and factories and space to make things. With our huge base of colleges and universities, we have more experts in nanotechnology, coatings, advanced fibers, engineering, mathematics, and physics than almost any region in the country.

Best of all, Philly has passion. You can't manufacture that good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. Brookings can't measure it. The same drive that helped this region innovate in everything from electricity to the first computer is alive and well.

Over the next five years, this region has a better chance than most to become a world leader in clean tech. It's time to drop the underdog mind-set and embrace our ability to win. Clean tech is a game we can't afford to lose.


E-mail Kevin Brown at KBrown@hobbstowne.com.

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