It’s known for wide, open fields of corn and soy, scattered farm towns, and laid-back Hoosiers famous for their warm hospitality. Indiana doesn’t strike most visitors as a place you’d find an aggressive economic development plan centered on advanced transportation and energy systems. But it is. Indiana may not be known for advanced manufacturing, advanced transportation components, lithium-ion batteries, and the capability to put them all together in fresh and exciting ways, but those capabilities and assets do exist in the state. Which is why the State of Indiana is establishing something called the Indiana Energy System Network (IESN).
The idea for the IESN has its nucleus in Governor Mitch Daniels 2006 economic development plan for Indiana, ‘Accelerating Growth.’ The plan identified intellectual clusters and industry networks (think high-level research parks) as powerful drivers of economic activity and global competitiveness.
“‘Accelerating Growth’ is intended to help revive Indiana’s remarkable history of pragmatic entrepreneurship and economic dynamism,” Governor Daniels wrote. “By focusing on innovation, talent, and investment—the key themes of our plan—we can build for the future by rediscovering the excitement of Indiana’s innovative past.”
Pragmatic entrepreneurship and economic dynamism sound like a pretty tall order, but with the help of RMI and a forward-thinking group of businesses, academics, and workforce development entities, the State is finding the lofty goal doable. And it’s mostly because Indiana has extensive untapped assets in the automotive, power electronics, and energy storage and conversion sectors. Now, Indiana leaders want to leverage those assets to make the region a hub for research, development, and execution of whole-system solutions that will reduce fossil-fuel use, expand business opportunities, and revitalize the area’s economy. The IESN was formed as a collaborative network of businesses, academia, and workforce development entities to achieve that mission.
But building a viable industry network is no small task. Successful networks—like the world-renowned Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and the younger Advanced Materials Research Center in Sheffield, England—required a huge amount of time and commitment for success. Considering the speed with which technology, global markets, and expertise are shifting, figuring out the right way to go and doing so in short order, is critical.
Immediately after the State engaged RMI, it became apparent that the best way to launch the Network and build momentum was to hold an Innovation Workshop, one of RMI’s unique information- and idea-sharing events, with about 50 representatives from a cross-section of organizations. The Workshop was designed to do several things: establish connections between organizations, enhance the awareness of assets and opportunities for collaboration, and identify some key projects the Network could pursue.
In the very large and fuzzy energy arena, defining focus is everything, so RMI worked with the State and Conexus Indiana (a group of companies collaborating to enhance advanced manufacturing and logistics in Indiana) to identify key discussion points for the Workshop. RMI staff also recognized that the Workshop would probably produce a number of additional opportunities that the Network could pursue once established.
In addition, the Institute worked with the State and Conexus to identify appropriate attendees. The end result was a list of more than 40 participants, ranging from auto-sector firms like Delphi and Cummins and Rolls Royce, to universities like Purdue and Notre Dame, to energy companies like Duke and I-Power. Finally, in June, RMI brought them together for two dynamic days of brainstorming ideas and drafting a plan for launching the Network.
Over the course of the Workshop, it became apparent that not only are there numerous companies and considerable research and expertise in advanced transportation and energy supply in Indiana, there is a remarkable consensus about the direction and focus of that work. On the first day, the brainstorming groups were broken up by topic: advanced transportation, energy supply, energy demand, and strategy and resources. At the end of the day, the top ideas that were generated were evaluated. Groups were then reformed based on categories that could define the activities of the Network. The categories included value stream development, technology refinement, and demonstration projects. An additional group was formed to examine the role the Network could play in workforce development, while the original “strategy and resources” group was assigned to refine the mission and strategy of the IESN.
One of the key challenges of forming networks is getting parties with disparate interests to collaborate. At the Workshop, participants realized that the Network could act as an aggregator of entities. The value wouldn’t be in the entities themselves, but in the technology they collectively produced—think of a conductor and an orchestra or a project manager on a job site. Wind-power component manufacturing offers a great example. If the Network found there were gaps along the supply chain, it could identify companies that could fill those gaps (ideally companies already in the region), and then work to fill them.
Once such a system was working, the Network could market its collective value to the wind power industry. Other possible value streams based in Indiana included advanced powertrain components for hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid systems, distributed generation systems, and waste-to-power systems.
Once the core value stream for a particular opportunity area is mapped out, any gaps identified must be filled to create a competitive advantage for the region. These gaps could be in commercially available technologies or in missing, undeveloped technologies. For the former, the IESN could identify companies in the region with the right capabilities, and, for the latter, the Network might identify companies that could develop the required technology and facilitate joint venture agreements (JVAs) for development, testing, and commercialization of the technology.
A great example that the group focused on is the development of a “black box” needed to accelerate the commercialization of PHEVs and vehicle-to-grid technologies. This black box would handle the transfer and conversion of all forms of energy and information between devices, such as the vehicle and the grid and various components within the vehicle. Indiana already has a number of companies working to refine this technology, and the IESN could clearly play a role in facilitating that collaboration.
In time, the Network could facilitate the realization of many projects, but Workshop participants felt one high-profile project was needed to kick-start the Network. Ultimately, they felt it should be in the advanced vehicle and vehicle-to-grid space. Thus, they recommended that the Network build a fleet of PHEVs using regional companies to demonstrate the viability of PHEVs and the management of power between the grid and the vehicles.
Once the market space and value stream for PHEVs has been identified, the IESN can help various companies collaborate to produce the vehicles. The final goal would be a large-scale, multi- state demonstration of these vehicles, their components, and energy management between the vehicles and the grid.
Underlying the business potential is the job creation potential. The Workshop included a number of representatives from the workforce arena, including representatives from academia and Indiana Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development (WIRED), who tried to figure out how to best connect the regional workforce to the Network initiatives. One idea that came up was the need for a centralized workforce organization, where job listings could be posted, interviews arranged, and various training programs made available.
Indiana could become a hotbed of high-tech, cutting-edge R&D in advanced transportation and energy systems. And the State is moving quickly to capitalize on the momentum of this Workshop. As RMI’s research and the Workshop showed, the keys to success are speed and collaboration. This is a huge opportunity for the region, and the time is right for Indiana to move forward and establish itself as a leader in the advanced energy system space. RMI is honored to be part of this important process.
--Published July 2008