Innovation has resulted in remarkable advances in clean energy technology, like solar and wind energy systems that are becoming increasingly competitive in the U.S. And more breakthroughs are coming, as ambitious scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs make headway on products and services that will change the way we produce, use and save energy.

But getting a good head start on innovation is challenging for pioneers, who often lack the wherewithal to design, build and test their inventions. That’s where institutions like Greentown Labs can play a big role.

In this edition of the Columbia Energy Exchange, I visit Greentown Labs in Somerville, Mass., and meet with its CEO, Emily Reichert to talk about the outlook for clean technology in the U.S. and what programs like hers can do to help entrepreneurs get a good head start.

Greentown Labs bills itself as the largest clean tech incubator in the U.S., with 100,000 square feet of space and more than 70 startup companies housed in a renovated century-old industrial complex just outside Boston. There, these budding companies are building prototypes, developing business plans and taking other steps necessary for commercial success.

Among the applications are energy generation, distribution and storage; energy-efficient buildings; transportation, agriculture and robotics.

There’s a long list of sponsors and partners, too, including General Electric, National Grid, Schneider Electric, Shell and United Technologies.

“People are going full guns in this area,” Emily said of work on clean technology. “I look around and don’t see any signs that people are getting discouraged or stopping,” she added.

Emily and I talked about that as well as the investment climate for clean tech today and some government programs that can help stimulate breakthroughs.

With her Ph.D in physical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin Madison and MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, not to mention her previous experience at the consulting firm Arthur D. Little and elsewhere, Emily also offers some career insight for young professionals and entrepreneurs just entering the field. — Bill Loveless