Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Made In Youngstown

Manufacturing is making a comeback. At least, that's the vision emerging from the Pittsburgh Summit. The global concern is that the United States consumes too much and produces too little. Germany is one model that America might follow, the Rhine-Ruhr Valley in particular:

For Managing Director Ines Freesen, the similarities between Pittsburgh and Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr Valley, where her company is based, are evident and made for a good fit with the trade show’s focus. Both are formerly steel and coal industry heavy regions whose economies took a serious hit in the 1980s.

“Now, Pittsburgh and the Rhine-Ruhr Valley have become leaders in greening the landscape and in creating a renewable energy industry,” Freesen said. “This development plays nicely with the theme of our event as it reflects how the global economy is changing towards a cleaner, greener way of doing business.”

There is an ongoing cooperation between Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh in particular, and the state of North-Rhine Westphalia to foster technology exchange and create business opportunities for companies in both countries, according to Freesen. “The focus of this agreement is on renewables and a number of projects with American-German participation are already underway,” she said.

As you may have heard, Pittsburgh is positioning itself as the energy hub in the United States. The offshoot of the this cluster is green manufacturing of all kinds. The Tech Belt looks to be the cradle of most of this activity.

Ironically, geography is blessing the Rust Belt. Proximity to East Coast markets is a big plus. Ample resources such as natural gas is another. But the biggest one may end up being water:

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.

Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.

The parched West doesn't look so green. If we define carrying capacity in terms of renewable energy, then the Rust Belt has a lot of room to grow. The old manufacturing states should be ardent supporters of legislation that seeks to reduce greenhouse gases. For a variety of reasons, that isn't the case.

The global reset in Pittsburgh suggests another golden era for America's traditional manufacturing centers. If we are to make things again, then there is only one region in which to do it. Go see this future at Energy & Environment Week in Pittsburgh (April 12-16, 2010 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center).

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