New Jersey’s made a name for itself as a solar energy hub, and possibly soon an offshore wind hub, but a group of experts in business, academic and government will gather Friday to address a wider issue — how the state can capture more of the economic value of the green energy boom.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology will tackle that question with a summit on the clean energy supply chain.
Meredith Aronson, director of the New Jersey Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network at NJIT, said the conference will look at what needs to be done to build a supply chain that could foster a clean-energy manufacturing sector here.
For instance, New Jersey is a leader in solar installation, but in order to manufacture panels here, Aronson said a manufacturer would need partners to make the racking, inverters and even small parts, such as screws.
“The question is, which should be done in New Jersey?” she said.
Aronson said the federal government has put a focus on advanced manufacturing — generally defined as high-tech manufacturing — as an economic driver. Last year, President Barack Obama launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Initiative, made of corporations, research universities and federal agencies. The faculty lead for that initiative, Massachusetts Institute of Technology associate provost Martin Schmidt, will be the keynote speaker at Friday’s session.
Aronson said New Jersey has an opportunity to grow a clean-tech manufacturing industry, but she said there’s much work to be done in order for that to happen.
“New Jersey today is a challenging state sometimes for the manufacturing sector, but the history of New Jersey is very strong in manufacturing,” she said. “I think the question becomes what’s the right profile (for New Jersey manufacturing) — in what sectors, and why?”
Panel discussions will feature renewable energy companies talking about supply-chain needs and policymakers discussing how the state can encourage the growth of a clean-energy manufacturing base.
Aronson said the aim of the summit isn’t to pick which technologies will be winners or losers, but instead to begin a conversation.
“We know that if we want to grow and compete in clean-energy manufacturing in New Jersey, we need to think about how to build that supply chain and make it competitive,” she said.
Doing so will take cooperation between the public and private sectors, and academe, she said.
One way the state is facilitating that cooperation is through the six industry-focused talent networks launched last year by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development in partnership with other agencies, such as NJIT.
Aronson said the collaborative structure of these networks is a good model.
“(It’s) a really, really unique and interesting strategy,” she said. “That piece is pretty special in what New Jersey is trying to do.”