Energy Knowledge Spillover

by Guest Blogger Carl Samuelson

I recently heard an NPR story which introduced me to research on why similar companies located in the same area (think Silicon Valley) tend to enjoy greater productivity and success.  The reason, in part, is because their employees experience a spillover of knowledge from employees of other companies working on similar projects or with similar skill sets. The knowledge sharing happens intentionally at times, but often it happens subtly as part of social circles without either party realizing they are advancing the whole industry.

Imagephoto credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL

As someone who has always been suspicious of zero-sum games scenarios, I took to this theory like Velcro.  It’s just like Paul Wellstone said, “we all do better when we all do better.” It got me thinking about my own industry, energy efficiency, and whether Minnesota could be (or is) such a hub with information spilling over from professional to professional.  Below are some examples of knowledge sharing that could support Minnesota as a spillover state:

1)      Leadership Activity in Minnesota

Minnesota has some first in the nation energy efficiency policies in place that have shaped conservation in the state.  Conservation efforts in the state are abetted because Minnesota utilities take energy efficiency and their state mandated goals seriously[1].  This puts more players at the energy efficiency table, which is good for spillover.

Leadership from the non-profit community doesn’t hurt either – creating more spillover is a driving principle of the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams, who’s purpose, to connect communities to clean energy and energy efficiency resources, makes them a waterfall of spillover. Plus, last year, the Center for Energy and the Environment launched the Innovation Exchange as a hub for researching and sharing energy efficiency solutions.

2)      Research Funding

I’m most hopeful about Minnesota becoming an epicenter for spillover because of all the new research being conducted in the state thanks to the Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) Grant.  This grant, administered by the Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources, has invested 10.5 million dollars in 45 studies since 2008.[2]  These studies must be completed in Minnesota and benefit the state’s energy conservation effort. As a result, smart people from around the country apply and it helps to develop the skills and expertise of Minnesota companies and thought leaders.  As far as I can tell, Minnesota is one of few states to fund applied research in energy conservation.  This funding serves to create, in Minnesota, an energy efficiency industry which is regularly pioneering new creative, effective, and technologically advanced energy efficiency efforts.

3)      Cluster of Companies

Minnesota’s energy efficiency industry might not be as concentrated as its medical device industry, but some major companies working in and around energy efficiency are located in Minnesota.  Examples include: Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Cummins, Ziegler, Emerson Process Management, The Energy Conservatory, and more.

Whether motivated by leadership, grant funds, or just the fact that it gets so darn cold here, Minnesota’s interest and investment in energy efficiency is making it a leader in energy efficiency.  As more research, implementation, and innovation take place, the spilling over of that knowledge is going to happen too.  From here on out, spillover is my justification to say yes to any happy hour invite I get.

Carl Samuelson is a Communications Specialist at Michaels Energy.  Over the past 5 years, Carl has worked with homeowners, restaurants, grocery stores, and other large and small businesses to help them reduce their energy use.  He loves helping digest and interpret energy efficiency information for end users.  Contact him at 612-418-5496 or at

[2] In full disclosure the author has worked on three CARD funded research projects.


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