Posts Tagged ‘Energy’
A year or so ago, Joseph Carr found himself on an elevator with a man wearing a Siemens polo shirt. Having once worked for a division of Siemens, Carr introduced himself as the CEO of Semprius, Inc., a company that makes very high-efficiency solar modules. At the end of a fourteen-floor ascent, the two men exchanged business cards. Within months, Semprius and Siemens announced a joint development agreement.
Yes, a true “elevator pitch” success story.
Dr. Robert Koger is president and executive director of Advanced Energy, a nonprofit organization established by the North Carolina Utilities Commission in 1980 to forestall electrical rate increases by promoting energy conservation and alternative and renewable sources of electricity. Advanced Energy provides services that focus on energy efficiency for commercial and industrial markets, electric motors and drives, plug-in transportation, and applied building science.
Advanced Energy also operates NC GreenPower, a program funded through consumers’ voluntary contributions, designed to increase the amount of renewable energy put on the electric grid in North Carolina and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
This month, Dr. Koger assumes the chairmanship of Triangle Area Research Directors Council (TARDC), a group of science and technology leaders from local companies, nonprofits, and universities. The group meets over lunch monthly from September to May, to exchange ideas and information and to hear from guest speakers. TARDC’s first meeting under Dr. Koger’s leadership will be September 21, and the guest speaker will be Mr. Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCNC/NC STEM. Non-members of TARDC can attend the luncheons.
I recently asked Dr. Koger about the history of Advanced Energy and about his leadership of TARDC. Read more…
Like many farmers, Ted Sherrod double-crops, growing canola in the winter on the same land where he harvested sunflowers or safflower grown during the summer. But Sherrod’s “farms” are stretches of roadside or median across the state, and his crops are part of an innovative experiment designed to produce biodiesel for N.C. Department of Transportation vehicles.
Our world is undoubtedly becoming more and more concerned with energy efficient processes and renewable energy sources. And although it may not always be so obvious, the government is actually helping the cause.
In 2003 the US Department of Agriculture created the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP, then known as “Section 9006”) to provide grants to farmers and rural small businesses to cover up to 25% of the total costs associated with purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements.
As with any government program however, there’s a tedious process to go through and paperwork to fill out before receiving the funds. One of the first steps in the process is having an independent professional engineer conduct an audit estimating the potential energy savings on the specific project that they’re applying for to receive grant money. Kurt Creamer, Ph.D., says that the “actual percentage energy savings, in some cases are quite phenomenal.”
That’s where Senergy Inc., the Apex-based company hired to conduct these energy audits, comes in. Kurt Creamer, PhD, president of Senergy, founded the company in 2003 in response to REAP while he was still enrolled in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering PhD program at North Carolina State University and working full-time at the school. Even though there was a new need for energy auditors, business remained relatively slow for a few years.
“In the early days farmers had to pay up front for the energy audits which were often times quite difficult for the farmers,” Creamer said. Business for Senergy spread solely through word-of-mouth and only those farmers that could afford to front the initial costs of an audit got on board for the first 5-6 years of the program.
But then, in 2008, the North Carolina Farm Bureau got involved. The Farm Bureau covers the costs of the audits up front so that the farmers are much more willing to go through the process of applying for the REAP grants. The program (and business for Senergy) skyrocketed. It’s “been a real boom to my business to have the Farm Bureau involved in the project,” Creamer said.
Senergy typically works with farmers in Eastern North Carolina specializing in grain farms, but has had the opportunity over the years to work with a variety of types of farms including tobacco farms, some on swine & poultry farms, and a handful of dairy farms, often times on some very nontraditional projects.
One particular project on a hog farm required comparing the energy efficiency of burning the dead hogs to composting them—composting is more energy efficient, in case you were wondering. Creamer has also worked on energy efficient organic dairy farm feed grinding systems, poultry barns, irrigation systems, and grain dryers. But he’s not just limited to working on energy efficiency projects. Kurt also works on some renewable energy projects, including one this fall where he’ll be working on a “project to look at the use of sweet potatoes in an anaerobic digester,” Creamer explained, that “could generate enough biogas from the sweet potatoes to meet the requirements of the farm.”
Creamer says that he would love to expand in several ways:
- Geographically: There is still plenty of opportunity to pursue this program in other parts of North Carolina and beyond
- Explore the energy needs of rural small businesses (outside of the farm base)
- Take on more renewable energy projects
- Improve his engineering methodologies
At the end of the day Creamer says he really enjoys the work he does and “it’s a really good program for the farmers, and a good program for the environment.”
About a month ago, I told you about the book-reading event where Scott Huler (blog, Twitter, SIT interview) read from his latest book On The Grid (amazon.com). I read the book immediately after, but never wrote a review of my own. My event review already contained some of my thoughts about the topic, but I feel I need to say more, if nothing else in order to use this blog to alert more people about it and to tell everyone “Read This Book”.
What I wrote last month,
“I think of myself as a reasonably curious and informed person, and I have visited at least a couple of infrastructure plants, but almost every anecdote and every little tidbit of information were new to me. Scott’s point – that we don’t know almost anything about infrastructure – was thus proven to me.”
…was reinforced when I read the book itself: I don’t know anything about infrastructure. But after reading the book I can say I know a little bit, understand how much I don’t know, and realize how much more I’d like to know. I bet it was fun watching me as I was reading it, exclaiming on average five times per page “This is so cool”, and “Hey, this is neat” and “Wow, I had no idea!” and (rarely) “w00t! Here’s a tidbit I actually heard of before” and “Hey, I know where this is!” (as I lived in Raleigh for eleven years, I know the area well).
A few years ago, Scott was just as ignorant about infrastructure as most of us are. But then his curiousity got better of him and he started researching. He would start at his house in Raleigh and trace all the wires and cables and pipes going in and out of the house to see where they led. Sometimes there would be a crew on his street digging into the asphalt and fixing something and he would approach them and ask questions. At other times he would figure out where the headquarters are and who to ask to talk to:
The store was packed. The store sold out all the books before Scott was even done talking. The C-Span Book TV crew was there filming so the event will be on TV some day soon. Scott was also, earlier yesterday, on WUNC’s The State Of Things (the podcast will soon be online here) and the day before that he was on KERA’s Think with Krys Boyd (download MP3 podcast by clicking here).
Scott’s energy and enthusiasm are infectuos. He held the audience captive and often laughing. The questions at the end were smart and his answers perfectly on target. But most importantly, we all learned a lot last night. I think of myself as a reasonably curious and informed person, and I have visited at least a couple of infrastructure plants, but almost every anecdote and every little tidbit of information were new to me. Scott’s point – that we don’t know almost anything about infrastructure – was thus proven to me.
I recently wrote a two-part post here reporting on a forum in Research Triangle Park which focused on barriers to homegrown global business innovation in the Triangle and in North Carolina. While contemplating the themes of the forum, and skimming today’s science news, I stumbled across this article in Popular Mechanics magazine which looks into the advances in concentrated photovoltaics over the past few years — and leads with the example of MegaWatt Solar, a renewable energy start-up in our own backyard. The company was formed by three professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who seek to create utility-scaled concentrated photovoltaic systems to supplement fossil fuels-based energy production. (They’ve also been featured in UNC’s Endeavors research magazine, and have landed a story or two in the News & Observer, no longer available in their web archives.)
It struck me that MegaWatt Solar is a good example of the applied research that our area universities can generate to solve real-world problems, and also of the links that can be established between professors with marketable ideas and business-savvy entrepreneurs that can help carry the ideas from the research bench to the bank. Their story is truly one of homegrown innovation, though to be fair they are still in the pilot study phase and working out some kinks.
Because I’ve already written this story, I’m not going to write it again… Below is a reprint of the cover story article I penned about the people behind MegaWatt Solar, and their mission, for the fall 2009 issue of UNC College of Arts & Sciences magazine. It is reprinted here with full permission from the editors.
The Power of 20 Suns
MegaWatt Solar is a small start-up energy company in Hillsborough, N.C., backed by $17 million from Norwegian venture capitalists and mentally powered by three researchers in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Tucked away in a brick textile-mill-turned-office-park, the company is poised to bring a new concentrated photovoltaic system to market that could provide the cheapest large-scale renewable source of electricity available anywhere.
But they didn’t design it for your home. They designed it for your utility company, to offset peak energy demand, which tends to coincide with the sunniest portions of the solar day. The term MegaWatt describes their goal of producing one megawatt of electricity from over a thousand solar “trees” spread across about 10 acres. The solar trees rotate on a dual axis mount that tracks the sun across the sky vault. One megawatt of electricity — one million watts — is enough to power about 800 homes.
MegaWatt Solar was founded by astrophysicist Chris Clemens, theoretical physicist Charles Evans, computer scientist Russ Taylor and a private sector power-grid systems engineer, Dan Gregory. They built their alpha version in spring 2006 in Evans’ driveway from what he describes as “an aluminum erector set for adults,” with parts bought off E-Bay, cheap advertising signboard and a highly reflective material scavenged from the interior of a Solotube skylight.
The best part? It worked.
“Boy, it was bright, “Evans said. “Everyone ran to get their sunglasses.”
They measured its electrical output and knew they were on to something red hot. Read more…
The search for clean energy technologies is sparking a renewed effort to create fuels from sunlight-driven chemical reactions. Solar fuel technologies exist today but chemists across the nation are trying to figure out how to increase the efficiency of the reactions and create the next generation of photovoltaics.
About 100 faculty, students and visiting scientists gathered at the Univ. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus on Thursday to discuss advances in solar fuels research.
The event, organized by the Solar Energy Research Center, drew speakers from Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. SERC itself is a consortium of UNC-CH, Duke, N.C. State University, N.C. Central University with RTI in Research Triangle Park. Read more…
Energy woes are pervasive in the news and loom heavy in people’s minds these days. Even though grass-root supports exists for alternative energy development throughout the nation, significant and vast change is slow to gain inertia. So it was with interest and an open mind that I attended a lecture last Tuesday at Sigma Xi in Research Triangle Park where Alex Huang, director of the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems (FREEDM Systems), discussed what his group was working on to mitigate what he called “the looming energy crisis.” Read more…
After a few minutes of listening to Amory B. Lovins you see that, at heart, he’s a numbers guy. He even counts the fruit yield from tropical trees growing inside his energy efficient greenhouse-warmth-capturing home in Colorado, and he fondly refers to the current batch as “banana crop number 32.”
Lovins is not your run-of-the-mill environmentalist. Far from it. He is a physicist who harbors a vision for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions by 3 to 4 percent annually — without government subsidies or policies — and he has a lengthy performance record of creating profits from sustainable business solutions that eviscerate conventional wisdom.