The Obama Administration is rolling out a national “industrial commons” strategy that aims to leverage the power of regional manufacturing clusters and invigorate American innovation and exports. Next month, the University of Toledo will host events designed to place northwest Ohio at the center of this effort.
On June 5, the national Council of Development Finance Agencies will bring investors from around the country to focus on solar energy projects at UT’s Photovoltaic Innovation Center. Campus events on June 20 and 21, one sponsored by the nonprofit Council on Competitiveness, will showcase technology resources in Toledo that can inspire clean-energy manufacturing initiatives nationwide. This idea-fest will show how solar technology developed in northwest Ohio can enable the nation’s auto and construction industries.
Congress is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to mitigate the effects of natural disasters such as last year’s Superstorm Sandy. The Defense Department is responding to this new market for weather security by testing trucks and buses that can communicate with the electric grid and move energy stored in vehicles’ batteries to power lines. Experiments with two-way chargers will one day allow consumers to power their cars and send power back to their electric company.
Vehicle-to-grid technology is a game-changer for how Americans will use and build plug-in and hybrid vehicles, not only for carbon-free transportation but also for mobile backup power systems. Enabling solar technology emerging from northwest Ohio’s solar cluster will help spark this transition.
Toledo, long the Glass City, makes more car components than Detroit. Now it is becoming the Polysilicon City. Area suppliers are developing car windshields that can absorb and retransmit power. New automotive “skins” will mirror solar thin-film properties that augment battery capacity.
At the same time, UT and Isofoton North America have received U.S. Department of Energy awards for their contributions to innovative technology aimed at creating a lightweight rooftop solar platform — another weather security solution. As a result, U.S. homes, industrial buildings, and coastal communities at risk of losing power during an emergency will benefit from “plug and play” technology developed in part in Toledo.
Solar thin film was invented at the University of Toledo. Today, UT is among the top 10 American universities for translating solar research into license agreements and spin-off companies.
Northwest Ohio has more than 30 companies in the state’s solar supply chain. The 6,000 jobs the Ohio chain provides, mostly in manufacturing, are expected to grow to 30,000 by 2016.
Ohio, driven by our region’s solar cluster, is one of the world’s largest producers of solar materials, and one of the nation’s top two solar centers. As many as 160 companies provide jobs in the solar industry in Ohio; 55 of them have manufacturing facilities in the state.
Next month’s UT solar events will link representatives of the electric-vehicle marketing and research departments of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler with investors, and connect these automakers’ contributions to climate-change solutions with enabling solar technologies. With appropriate policy imagination, renewable power generation on rooftops and windshields could help pay for home mortgages, school loans, and retraining for unemployed workers.
We foresee an emerging nationwide manufacturing value chain that will help make our industries and businesses energy-independent, counter the ravages of coastal climate change, and greatly reduce the federal deficit through locally produced clean energy, locally manufactured products for export, and locally licensed innovation. And it begins with solar technology made in Toledo.
Michael Peck is chairman of Isofoton North America of Napoleon. Rick Stansley is chief executive of University of Toledo Innovation Enterprises.
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