August 11, 2010

Read This Now: Powering America’s Economy: Energy Innovation at the Crossroads of National Security Challenges

At the White House energy & national security forum a few weeks ago, some pals passed along to me a copy of the new CNA report, “Powering America’s Economy: Energy Innovation at the Crossroads of National Security Challenges.” As we are finishing up our own DOD-themed energy report, my first thought was: wow, I’m glad this has a very different focus from ours. Phew!
But over to content: our colleagues in the climate/energy/security sphere over at CNA did a great job with another report from its Military Advisory Board (retired flag officers, all) that is sure to be a conversation-setter. Here is what I think is their most interesting/potentially important recommendation:
Recommendation 3: The Department of Defense should partner with private sector innovators and establish an Operational Energy Innovation Center. In pursuing its most urgent energy vulnerabilities, DOD should take steps to ensure that it receives input from all innovators, including those in the smallest companies. However, information and communication barriers, largely related to the size disparity of the organizations, impede such collaboration. One potential avenue to connect DOD to innovators is through technology incubators, which provide the expertise needed to get small innovators firmly established. By cultivating a partnership, DOD could provide the testing data and initial market necessary to commercialize new clean energy technologies. Furthermore, to address its most urgent energy concerns, DOD could combine the innovators from nascent businesses with researchers from larger private firms, universities, and national laboratories in an Operational Energy Innovation Center, modeled on DOE’s Innovation Hubs. The Center could be funded through a competitive Operational Energy Innovation Fund.
Has anyone seen any kind of evaluation of how DOE’s Innovation Hubs have been working? I’m sure the CNA authors collected lessons learned through the course of their work, but that background isn’t extensive in this report. I think this is a great idea, and deserves consideration.

This concept of better bringing together innovators of different stripes reminds me of the big Wired cover story a few months back on “The New Industrial Revolution.” That article discussed how the interconnected world, people wanting to innovate, lower barriers to entry and other factors are driving people to gather together to produce new things in often better ways. It presents a new kind of marketplace in which mass production and lack of specialized skills are not the only options.

Back to the report at hand, the CNA report also calls for closer DOD-DOE alignment and collaboration. (Note: this was released the day that they announced that DOE and DOD had finally signed a long-awaited MOU.) This is a good idea, has clear benefits, and their report is right to encourage it. Then again, are they already moving in the right direction? Yesterday DOE announced that it is establishing an advisory board, which will include luminaries in the defense world such as former SecDef William Perry and Norman Augustine, former Under Secretary for the Army and more recent head of Lockheed Martin.
Read this new report now. It’s good, easy summer reading for August.