Clean Tech Talk is the documentation and periodic chronicle of IES’ role in shaping the Green Business Zone in Central New England, creating a culture and economy of clean energy, while meeting and working alongside a multitude of partners, as we seek to resolve the competing pressures from our legacy energy systems. This chronicle is also a virtual meeting house and serves as an opportunity for us to keep you posted on the internal workings of the Institute, our partners, our ideas, goals, and accomplishments, and for you to connect and interface with us by sharing your ideas and experiences which will help tell our generation’s story of the transition to sustainability. Read about our progress and timely updates by following the hyperlinks below :
November 2012: National Grid’s Smart Grid Pilot Customer Centric
After years of planning and preparation, and much regulatory back and forth, National Grid has begun the work of “modernizing the grid of the future.” As of September 2012, National Grid has already installed over 5,000 home smart meters in Worcester, Massachusetts for project that will eventually scale to include 15,000 customers, cost approximately $44 million and make available improved technology, choice, and control for local energy services.
Recently, I interviewed Ed White, Vice President of Customer Strategy at National Grid for the premier episode of “Energy This Week” (WCRN 830AM), and he explained that “although the technology is important, National Grid is really focused on engaging the customer through outreach, education and communication.”
Customer Centric at National Grid
National Grid is focused on ensuring increased reliability, improved choice and reduced costs for the 15,000 customers in the pilot area – but the utility also wants to make sure that the path to achieving these goals are being co-created with the community.
As White explained, “for some customers, energy is central – to their business, their homes, or through concerns for the environment; for others, it’s secondary. We want to make sure that we give the right tools and right controls that enable customers to manage their energy their way.”
Through focus groups, surveys and market research, National Grid realized that the value smart grid was providing to customers was the real time information and tools to react to that information. For National Grid, the “poles and wires” that are being modernized means being able to respond in real time to severe weather events (hurricanes, snow and ice, etc) and route around problem areas to restore service as quickly as possible. It also means optimizing the efficiency of household electrical load and appliances and balancing electrical use during times of peak demand. But to make sure these modernizations are most effective, they need to be connected in meaningful ways to the customer.
Part of what makes smart grid so exciting is the abundance of ways to provide this information and its benefits to customers. For some National Grid customers, electronic picture frames will be provided, while others have the option of cell phone apps, text messaging or website access. But the trick, according to White, will be to make energy interesting and fun, citing the viral popularity of Angry Birds to describe how an “energy version” represents “the interesting places technology can take us in.”
Going From Green To Growth in Worcester, MA
But the development of “Angry Birds,” or the evolution of smart grid, is usually not the result of a single person’s effort. Realizing this, and understanding the potential of learning from the results of hundreds of people coming together to co-design the smart grid of the future, National Grid held an Appreciative Inquiry summit in the fall of 2011. Over 300 community members participated in dreaming and designing the smart grid of the future. Students and regulators mixed with clergy and vendors to answer the question
of what’s important to the city and how do they want the future of their utility to look?
Following the summit, National Grid redrafted its proposal to the MA Department of Public Utilities and included an innovative and novel approach to customer engagement – a Community Sustainability Hub. The Hub, still in development, is being designed as a center of information, resources and educational material, where customers can go in, speak with representatives from National Grid, learn about the technology and get tips and best practices for proper energy management. The company plans to team up with local colleges and universities to staff the Sustainability Hub and create cooperative learning opportunities for customers and students.
Pilots Are Not Experiments
There was an interesting point during the interview when co-host, Vincent DeVito, noted that National Grid’s work to roll out smart grid technology in Worcester was a pilot, a study and assessment of the technology, without the risks of unknown variables and uncontrolled results common to experiments.
This pilot provides National Grid an opportunity to test and study what works and what does not – and why. National Grid will investigate what the advantages are to the customer, the community and how to maximize the energy and economic benefits. This will be especially important for learning how to best integrate smart grid technologies across multiple end users, under different scenarios, including; energy efficient buildings, renewable energy, electric vehicles and a wide diversity of small and large buildings and businesses. Following the two year study, National Gird will then report back to the DPU and work with regulators and customers to ensure that the system is running optimally.
According to White, Worcester was a natural choice because it is the largest community they serve in Massachusetts. It is a diverse community that is focused on renewables and sustainability and is a hub of education and technology. With the support of the city, and through community engagement practices, like the Green2Growth summit, Worcester’s smart grid pilot is poised to be a model for other communities. “Energy underpins everything we do and it is increasingly important that we have a grid that has all the modern tools available to make it as efficient and reliable as possible,” says White, “this is an investment in innovation, an innovation that allows us to build the energy infrastructure of the next 100 years.”
To listen to the full interview, please visit, www.energyandsustainability/connect/energy-this-week/. To learn more about National Grid’s smart grid pilot and customer engagement work, please visit, www.green2growth.com
October 2012: Freight Farms Sows the Seeds of Success for Sustainable Food
Chris Noonan, Senior Program Advisor, Institute for Energy & Sustainability
Every success starts with a seed; an idea, a vision, a challenge; and with the right care and a well-thought, well-defined recipe, your chances of going from seed to sprout increases greatly. Founders of Freight Farms, a business model for sustainable food, have seen their labor and dedication begin to take root.
To grow a Sustainable Food Business, the following recipe is recommended:
1 Bright Idea
2 Dedicated College Students
1 Non-profit Organization
400 Heads of Lettuce
1 Successful Kick-Starter Campaign
1 Used Shipping Container
Add a sprinkling of University and community support, and a dash of expert guidance. Mix in a generous handful of persistence and perseverance; stir frequently. Cultivate for 1-2 years and your sustainable food business is ready for public consumption.
Goes best with good friends, investment money and laughter.
Clark University Graduate student Brad McNamara and business partner Jon Friedman know this recipe well, they invented it. I’m sure parts and pieces were handed down through the generations by their families, and from influential friends and teachers, but the seed of the idea is all theirs – and it is growing into a commercial success.
In 2011, Brad and Jon founded Freight Farms, an organization devoted to creating a local sustainable food movement, and unlike FarmVille, at the end of their season both their profits and their produce are real. But Freight Farms is not an ordinary farm, far from it; their produce is grown within the safety and security of a reused shipping container.
I know – you’re thinking – a shipping container!? So did I. So I sat down with Brad recently, as he is eager to tell just about anyone who will listen that growing food inside a shipping container has several advantages. As he describes to me over a cup of coffee on a cold autumn day, “look outside; frozen ground, snowfall and freezing temperatures soon, all the antithesis to growing your favorite ingredients for a hearty bowl of vegetable soup. But with Freight Farms – you can be harvesting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers…all in January, February – year round, right from a climate controlled container.”
Brad had caught my imagination. Year round produce…he went on to describe Freight Farms as an innovative solution to growing produce in densely populated urban areas with limited space and the ability to grow in all climates; arid climates, like Sudan or the Australian outback; nutrient -constrained soils, like parts of the American southwest, even in extreme environments, like Antarctica. And it’s tamper proof and earthquake resistant, ideal for quick and easy installation after a natural disaster, like Fukushima, Japan or after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
With multiple pressures on our global food supply, disturbing incidences of hunger and malnutrition, and compounding shifts in climate, the sense of a farm in a freight container was becoming clearer and making more sense. As it did with the 479 Kickstarter (a social media platform to “fund & follow creativity”) supporters, who saw the innovativeness and value of Freight Farms and seeded the company with over $30,000 to test and demonstrate the benefits and advantages of their business model.
In early 2012, Freight Farms took a giant leap forward and is contracting to have their first farm located on the campus at Clark University, in Worcester, MA. This 40’ x 8’ farm will be installed in late 2012 and Brad and Jon have already contracted with an organic food market to buy and distribute the produce. According to their calculations, they will be capable of harvesting the growing cycle of over 2,600 plant sites within the container’s interior space.
Jon Friedman estimates that each unit will cost approximately $30,000 and will be cash flow positive in the first three months and turn a profit after approximately 26 months. Jon goes on to explain, that “in any organization, the costs are going to be higher until you hit an inflection point of production, allowing prices to consumers to come down, and with Freight Farms–unlike conventional farms—you are guaranteed a successful return and harvest because the farmer has so much direct control over growing conditions.”
Freight Farms operates using a hydroponic growing method that eliminates the need for soil by allowing plant roots to be fed directly in a water/nutrient mixture. The value of growing food this way is the precision of water and nutrient delivery, reducing operating costs and optimizing the efficiency of growing. Annie Rosenthal, co-founder of a local co-op that will be purchasing food from Freight Farms, says, “I’m attracted to the idea of Freight Farms because it provides low cost, local and sustainable produce, and their advanced growing techniques make it less labor intensive than traditional farming, plus it gives me a chance to support a talented entrepreneur.”
It is worthwhile to keep an eye on the growth of Freight Farms. It requires no stretch of the imagination to envision it rapidly becoming a farming model for regions of the world experiencing drought, poor soil quality, or restricted space. It’s not intended to replace traditional farming, but as climate and resource instability forces society to rethink and rework traditional industrial scale farming, it may just as well be a rippling example of the bright and passionate people from all walks of life that are dedicating their time and talent to ending hunger, overcoming barriers and creating a healthier, more sustainable planet. And that’s a recipe that works for me.
June 2012: Global Pitch Fest 2012
Chris Noonan, Senior Program Advisor, Institute for Energy & Sustainability
At Mass Challenge headquarters in Boston this past Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure to observe an international business competition: 35 Companies, an irresistible business idea, one slide and 1 minute to “pitch” it to an audience of 200+. “Global Pitch Fest 2012” offered a charged atmosphere for Switzerland’s best and brightest clean tech, communication and bio-science companies to make competitive business pitches on a w\orld class stage for a coveted Swiss timepiece by Mondaine and international bragging rights.
With an uncompromising view of Boston harbor, open air studio space in Fan Pier and free drink tickets, the competition was rowdy from the start, but offered an intensely serious glimpse into the most innovative start-up companies coming out of the Alps.
Five groups of seven companies per group presented their pitches, hoping to woo enough audience sms votes to enter a finalist round, where a winner was selected by a panel of three judges; a 2010 MA Challenge winner, Olivier Boss, MA Challenge Event Coordinator, John Black and SwissNex Head of Start- ups, San Francisco office, Gioia Deucher.
Proximate launched the first round and had a competitive advantage describing its innovative social media event service as the platform everyone in the room used to RSVP for the event. However, the event system, based on networking needs that was able to map the room relative to contacts in your social feeds, was not strong enough to outshine Less-Optics, an energy efficient LED innovation for smart phones, and I-devices, which took audience choice for round one.
Gastros, offering ultra efficient buffet hardware, promise that with the savings you could buy a Ferrari was the clear audience favorite for Round two. Round three was a race between bio-mimicry water condenser technology, NBD Water and Saman Tree Tech which uses nanotechnology to detect smaller, earlier-stage cancer cells. NBD Water edged them out slightly and advanced along with Round Four finalist, Mabimmune, who won over the crowd with the simple message, ‘when you’re having a heart attack – - nothing else matters.’ Round Five was the most competitive of the evening and Swissto12 tied Price Intelligently and both were allowed to advance.
After a brief deliberation, Swiss to 12, offering a “cable and antenna equivalent for terra hertz” won both the time-piece and the rights to claim victory in a fast, fierce and fun international business competition. The evening was capped by an extended networking session and a refreshed sense of excitement from translating many late night lab, bench and office hours, into an action packed evening of international collaboration and good-will, rivaled only by the other big win for Boston that night – the 15 – 5 victory over Miami.
January 2012: New and Recurring Sponsors Start out 2012 with IES
The New Year marks renewal and optimism for the year ahead. At IES, we have moved into 2012 with both renewal, from past sponsors, and with optimism for the new ones we are working with.
In early ’12 National Grid renewed sponsorship of the IES. This sponsorship is both a commitment to support our mission and an opportunity for us to participate in their recently announced 15,000 home smart grid pilot project. Absolute Green Energy will also once again be working in collaboration with IES. Absolute Green Energy remains a strong and valued partner and we look forward to announce additional solar PV installs in the months ahead and are always happy to help support and develop a Central MA clean technology business.
During the Jan 20th ACTION (Association of Clean Technology Incubators of New England) annual meeting, Vincent DeVito and Chris Noonan were reappointed to the ACTION Board of Directors. ACTION’s mission is to “accelerate the growth and success of early-stage companies, strengthen the regional Cleantech Cluster, and create more green jobs in New England.” IES is one of ACTION’s 14 New England partners and is excited by the recent announcement of ACTION’s sponsorship of the national Clean Energy Alliance and Italy’s Progetto Manifattura’s sponsorship of ACTION.
Freight Farms, created by local entrepreneur, Brad McNamara is a start-up company developing and soon deploying an innovative way to grow food in an urban environment. “Freight Farms are modular, expandable, crop production units that can be quickly implemented to grow fresh food in any environment.” They provide a more accessible, economical and highly efficient local food system and IES is excited to partner with Freight Farms as it begins deployment of the first Freight Farm here in Worcester. Keep an eye out for a hydroponic freight farm near you!
At the first of the year, ADM-Live also became a sponsor of IES. ADM-Live has an innovative software tool kit that allows for easy use of electronic PDF forms to reduce paper use and to minimize workload. This automated process will save companies money, resources, time and frustration. Forms can also be tracked and stored in e-vaults to eliminate the need for file cabinets. This is a great way to grow “green IT,” and to utilize it as a method for sustainability in the workplace. We hope to see this software deployed in Central Mass to improve sustainability in the region.
Looking to build your Green Business – or grow support for a local sustainability project, connect with IES and our growing list of partners, supporters and sponsors and help us make Central New England – A Green Business Zone.
December 1, 2011: IES Attends Holyoke Clean Tech Conference
Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) has indentified Holyoke, MA as a Northeast leader in renewable energy production that is due in large part to their extensive network of hydroelectric power. HG&E hosted the Holyoke Clean Energy Innovation Workshop on November 9th and 10th that brought together electric companies, clean energy companies, city/state/ national government officials, clean tech incubators, university researchers and investors. The goal was to share the momentum and lessons of clean tech leadership in Holyoke with the rest of Massachusetts.
There were over 120 attendees and vast array of speakers, who all shared a similar vision and interest in clean tech development in Massachusetts. Breakout sessions and panels provided opportunities for networking and collaboration, as well as, increased awareness of current challenges and opportunities in the clean tech sector. Particularly interesting was the diverse perspectives of clean tech leaders, such as the Mass Clean Energy Center Executive Director, Patrick Cloney and the New England Clean Energy Council Executive Director Peter Rothstein, who have been major influences in the success of Massachusetts clean technology growth and development. Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at the DOE shared a federal perspective on insights into the opportunities and successes of national regulations and programs, and how they have been specifically beneficial in Massachusetts.
The conference noted that much of the success of clean tech in Massachusetts is a combination of government grant programs-Massachusetts awarded the most grants of any state-and the density of renewable energy companies -a total of 5000 companies in MA alone! The value of networking and information sharing made available at the Holyoke conference and similar clean tech conferences throughout the Commonwealth, shows the strengths and successes of collaboration and demonstrates the increasing number of clean tech projects that are being put into place in communities throughout the State. IES was grateful to participate and looks forward to attending similar events in the near future.
August 2011: EV Charging Stations Make There MA Debut
July 2011: Will you Have a Smart Grid Summer?
February 2011: Linking in to Clean Tech
January 2011: Seeing Green through all the White
December 2010: IES and the Holiday/Business Blend
November 2010: Hues of Green
October 2010: Autumn Grace
September 2010: Targeting Weatherization
August 2010: Consortium Building for Sustainable Communities
July 2010: Beating the Summer Heat: Planning for a Cooler Climate