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Let's make state a green Silicon Valley

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Let's make state a green Silicon Valley
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In today's economy, entrepreneurs and public leaders alike are focused on identifying areas of growth, and the green economy is an area everyone is eyeing. In fact, venture capitalists and the federal government are already putting money into green technologies. If that's any indicator, the green economy is the place to be in this economic recovery.

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Minnesota is uniquely positioned to lead the green revolution. In fact, Minnesota could be the Silicon Valley of the green economy. But, if Minnesota stands a chance, our state must move quickly.

Minnesota is leaps and bounds ahead of some other states and countries, giving us the luxury of ramping up quickly. Historically a leader in areas such as wind power, ethanol and innovation, Minnesota has the skills, the workforce, the infrastructure and the determination to lead the green revolution.

As I researched and wrote Minnesota 2020's recent report "Jump Starting Minnesota's Green Economy," I approached green technology opportunities as a scientist, an engineer and an entrepreneur because that's my professional background. Through this lens, I identified seven green technologies that hold the most potential for growth in Minnesota and are commercially viable today, meaning there's no lengthy research or start up required.

Here's where Minnesota should focus its energy.

E Heat pumps. Installing heat pumps in 25 percent of Minnesota's homes over a 10-year period would generate $700 million per year for the state. A Minnesota company has been making cold weather heat pumps for nearly two decades, and the industry is ripe for growth.

E Green gasoline from the farm. Minnesota's corn stover, after being converted to syngas, can produce 400 million to 600 million gallons of gasoline a year. In the foreseeable future this could add $2 billion to $3 billion annually to the state's economy.

E Solar powered roofs. If 25 percent of Minnesota homes had solar panels installed, they would represent 10 percent of Minnesota's electricity generation capacity. The benefits from the installation process, if spread over 10 years, could produce over $500 million per year.

E Suburb-to-suburb bus. The Twin Cities alone have an estimated 500,000 commuters who commute alone and from suburb to suburb. If 25 percent of commuters used a specialized bus system that moved people between suburbs, Minnesota would save 25 million gallons of gasoline. If the commuter bus was put to productive use, Minnesotans would recover $30 million in wasted labor-hours worth around $1 billion annually.

E Green fertilizer from the wind. Minnesota has enormous wind power capacity, far more than the grid can absorb in the foreseeable future. This surplus wind power can be used to produce ammonia for fertilizer. Minnesota's own fertilizer needs can inject $300 million per annum in to our economy and use up to 2,000 MW of wind power.

E Manufacturing electric cars. Minnesota possesses two key skill sets: existing car manufacturing (Ford plant) and a broad supply of electrical and electronic engineers from the MedTech and automation industry clusters.

E Smart grid. According to the American Wind Power Association, Minnesota has about 75,000 MW of wind but is currently using only 2.5 percent of the total capacity. Even after all the wind mandates have been fulfilled, Minnesota will be using less than 10 percent of the state's wind capacity. The remaining 90 percent is waiting for a smarter grid with better control and energy storage

Getting these technologies off the ground does not require a huge financial investment from the state -- what's needed is leadership at the state level, public-private partnerships, and a public entity that can help entrepreneurs navigate the existing policies and programs. Minnesota simply needs to put a few of the right resources in place to help these technologies take off.

Let's make Minnesota the next Silicon Valley.

Salman Mitha is a Fellow with Minnesota 2020 and author and researcher, "Jump Starting Minnesota's Green Economy." Minnesota 2020 is a progressive think tank.

In today's economy, entrepreneurs and public leaders alike are focused on identifying areas of growth, and the green economy is an area everyone is eyeing. In fact, venture capitalists and the federal government are already putting money into green technologies. If that's any indicator, the green economy is the place to be in this economic recovery.

Minnesota is uniquely positioned to lead the green revolution. In fact, Minnesota could be the Silicon Valley of the green economy. But, if Minnesota stands a chance, our state must move quickly.

Minnesota is leaps and bounds ahead of some other states and countries, giving us the luxury of ramping up quickly. Historically a leader in areas such as wind power, ethanol and innovation, Minnesota has the skills, the workforce, the infrastructure and the determination to lead the green revolution.

As I researched and wrote Minnesota 2020's recent report "Jump Starting Minnesota's Green Economy," I approached green technology opportunities as a scientist, an engineer and an entrepreneur because that's my professional background. Through this lens, I identified seven green technologies that hold the most potential for growth in Minnesota and are commercially viable today, meaning there's no lengthy research or start up required.

Here's where Minnesota should focus its energy.

- Heat pumps. Installing heat pumps in 25 percent of Minnesota's homes over a 10-year period would generate $700 million per year for the state. A Minnesota company has been making cold weather heat pumps for nearly two decades, and the industry is ripe for growth.

- Green gasoline from the farm. Minnesota's corn stover, after being converted to syngas, can produce 400 million to 600 million gallons of gasoline a year. In the foreseeable future this could add $2 billion to $3 billion annually to the state's economy.

- Solar powered roofs. If 25 percent of Minnesota homes had solar panels installed, they would represent 10 percent of Minnesota's electricity generation capacity. The benefits from the installation process, if spread over 10 years, could produce over $500 million per year.

- Suburb-to-suburb bus. The Twin Cities alone have an estimated 500,000 commuters who commute alone and from suburb to suburb. If 25 percent of commuters used a specialized bus system that moved people between suburbs, Minnesota would save 25 million gallons of gasoline. If the commuter bus was put to productive use, Minnesotans would recover $30 million in wasted labor-hours worth around $1 billion annually.

- Green fertilizer from the wind. Minnesota has enormous wind power capacity, far more than the grid can absorb in the foreseeable future. This surplus wind power can be used to produce ammonia for fertilizer. Minnesota's own fertilizer needs can inject $300 million per annum in to our economy and use up to 2,000 MW of wind power.

- Manufacturing electric cars. Minnesota possesses two key skill sets: existing car manufacturing (Ford plant) and a broad supply of electrical and electronic engineers from the MedTech and automation industry clusters.

- Smart grid. According to the American Wind Power Association, Minnesota has about 75,000 MW of wind but is currently using only 2.5 percent of the total capacity. Even after all the wind mandates have been fulfilled, Minnesota will be using less than 10 percent of the state's wind capacity. The remaining 90 percent is waiting for a smarter grid with better control and energy storage

Getting these technologies off the ground does not require a huge financial investment from the state -- what's needed is leadership at the state level, public-private partnerships, and a public entity that can help entrepreneurs navigate the existing policies and programs. Minnesota simply needs to put a few of the right resources in place to help these technologies take off.

Let's make Minnesota the next Silicon Valley.

Salman Mitha is a Fellow with Minnesota 2020 and author and researcher, "Jump Starting Minnesota's Green Economy." Minnesota 2020 is a progressive think tank.

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