Subnational Dimensions of the GII: Applications for the Hydrogen Economy

The hydrogen economy’s growth is a key element in achieving a sustainable and decarbonized energy future, and represents a space where innovation can have significant impacts on energy systems, industry, and transportation. However, its development landscape is complex and varied, with regional strengths and weaknesses that can significantly influence the development and adoption of hydrogen technologies.

During his Fellowship with Portulans Institute, Cornell University doctoral student Courtney Bower has embarked on a two-phase project to regionalize the Global Innovation Index (GII) across the eight Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) regions of the United States, with a focus on the emerging hydrogen economy. His work aims to provide a more granular view of the innovation landscape within the U.S., helping stakeholders understand regional strengths and weaknesses to support policy making and investment decisions. 


How have current global events and uncertainties affected the nature of innovation in the U.S.? What about innovation and investment in the emerging hydrogen economy, specifically? 

The current global environment, marked by unprecedented challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the advent of AI language models, and pressing environmental concerns, is compelling the United States to accelerate its innovation endeavors. These global challenges necessitate rapid adaptation and the development of novel solutions. Recent legislation, exemplified by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2021, underscores the U.S. government’s recognition of innovation as a pivotal tool to address present needs and future demands. The commitment to innovation is further evidenced by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) growing budget, which witnessed an 11.8% increase from FY 2022 to FY 2023 and is projected to rise by 18.6% in FY 2024. In the context of the emerging hydrogen economy, these global challenges coupled with domestic demand are paving the way for its expansion in the United States. As highlighted by the Hydrogen Council in its 2023 report, the U.S. has the potential to emerge as a dominant force in the global hydrogen market. However, achieving this requires consistent financial backing, especially given the backdrop of escalating geopolitical tensions.


What is needed in order to support the innovation ecosystem in coming years? Do these needs vary across U.S. regions? 

Three items are needed to support the innovation ecosystem in the United States: continued national-level legislation, sustained emphasis on connecting actors at different geographic scales (e.g., regional, state, and local), and further support for startups to develop out of academia. The U.S. Government has recognized the importance of transforming the innovation ecosystem to meet future needs and shouldn’t let up in passing legislation. New initiatives, specifically the Department of Energy’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program and the NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines program, are critical efforts in transforming the innovation ecosystem by connecting actors across both geographic scale and the public-private divide. The advantage of both of the above programs is that they implicitly recognize that innovation ecosystem needs vary across regions. The emphasis on bringing in actors who operate at the regional level as stakeholders, from research institutes to communities of practice, should help ensure that regional needs are addressed in a bottom-up fashion, rather than dictated from the top-down.


Your research focuses on regional studies. How are you utilizing the GII framework to create a regional sub-GII with a focus on the hydrogen economy?

Part of my doctoral work focuses on those problems which can be bounded by the geographic container, a ‘region’. While nations and groups of nations can be regions, sub-national entities, such as states or groups of states, are particularly important when it comes to innovation within the United States. An early question I had in this fellowship was: To what extent can the GII, which is calculated at the national level, apply to sub-national regions? I wanted to know if the GII could be used to inform my work on regional innovation in the United States, specifically innovation clusters connected to the hydrogen economy. To this end, I employed dimensionality reduction techniques to distill the GII’s many features into a concise set of key attributes that could resonate with sub-national data. Drawing on the GII’s methodology, I then constructed a regional sub-GII, which would serve as a base to understand regional innovation differentials, and which could then be adapted to explore the hydrogen economy at the sub-national level in the U.S.


What are the benefits and intended impact of this regionalized approach to measuring innovation?

Part of what makes my discipline, regional science, unique is its commitment to articulating what makes a given region distinct. Sub-nationalizing the GII and directing it toward regional innovation creates a useful framework for how to compare different regions in the U.S. Understanding how a region is distinct will help regional stakeholders of all stripes to better understand the contours of their regional innovation system, along with those strengths which should be amplified through additional funding, and those weaknesses which might need policymaking support to address. As an example, my home state of New York has partnered with six other states in the northeast of the country to advance a Department of Energy funded NE Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub. The sub-GII specialized to the hydrogen economy will enable the full range of stakeholders in this region to consider better understand how each state, and the region as a whole, measure across key innovation indicators with direct relevance to the hydrogen economy, such as total patents, logistics performance, and GERD financed by business.


The 2023 edition of the Global Innovation Index will be launched globally on September 27th. For more information, including the agenda, registration information, and a livestream link, visit the GII website

Courtney Bower is a Ph.D. student in Regional Science at Cornell University. His dissertation research focuses on the economic impacts of transitions to circular and hydrogen economies from a regional innovation systems perspective. 

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