Yesterday was the second meeting of the Metropolitan Business Plan Steering Committee, and we asked them to help us make a decision between two options for investing in growing our region’s energy efficiency: the demonstration neighborhood concept that I talked about last week and something we’re calling the Integration Lab (more on that in a minute). In all of their infinite wisdom, our Steering Committee chose not one or the other, but both. At first, I was a little concerned, since it’s a tall order, but then I realized that they are absolutely right: you can’t have one without the other.
The Integration Lab is a straightforward economic development approach. Take energy efficiency goods and services that come out of labs and incubators and then 1) verify their impacts in a test bed model of the built environment and 2) connect them with comprehensive business development support (business planning, finance, workforce, etc) so that they have a successful launch. It fills the gap between R&D and the market in a way that incubators don’t (incubators give entrepreneurs office space and basic resources to do product development, but not product testing and business development). In fact, in an ideal world, you discover an innovation in the laboratory, develop it in an incubator, verify that it works, and then launch it to the market, with the Integration Lab supporting the last two pieces of the continuum.
Except we know that – no matter how good the Integration Lab’s modeling capabilities are – it can never replace the testing facility that is the real world. Because of the human element as well as the difference when you’re actually building and installing things at scale, you need to see how your energy efficiency goods and services work in real buildings lived and worked in by real people. Which is where the demonstration neighborhood piece comes in…which is why you have to do both the Integration Lab and the Demonstration Neighborhood to truly, successfully increase your region’s ability to sell energy efficiency goods and services to the rest of the world. And the combo actually solves some of the problems of the Demonstration Neighborhood as a stand alone, like “who was supposed to be the one operating and managing that whole thing” and “where do the products and services come from that you’re demonstrating.”
So, good work, Steering Committee! It turns out that not making a choice was the best choice of all. Now we just have to figure out how this all works together and how we pay for it…