Energy Center Hosts Two Startups

January 24, 2005
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MUSKEGON — The Muskegon Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) welcomed its first two clients this past year, a pair of small business startups with eyes on big business nationwide.

With its molten carbonate fuel cell, photovoltaic solar panels and nickel metal hydride battery systems in operation since April, GrandValleyStateUniversity’s energy center serves as a demonstration project for alternative and renewable energy technology.

Synergistic with its position as part of the Muskegon Lakeshore SmartZone, MAREC also provides laboratory space and offices as a business incubator.

“There is really nothing like it in the whole country,” said E-Village LLC president and CEO Shane Shaw. “Maybe the whole world, for that matter.”

E-Village, MAREC’s first tenant, is a 3-year-old company that moved into the center last year. With its installation and service company, Freedom Power Inc., E-Village manufactures and integrates solar panels and battery technology into homes and small business developments.

“Right now in California you might have 340 solar companies selling these products,” Shaw said. “There are rebate programs and power outages … but our theory is that people will eventually be buying these through companies like Lowe’s and then having contractors install them.”

Shaw finalized a distribution agreement earlier this month with Lowe’s for a 2005 California rollout. State rebate programs have propelled solar panel demand in California, New York and 16 other states, with each new state swelling the market.

After the California rollout, the firm hopes to enter other states with rebate programs.

In competition with hundreds of other companies, the E-Village business model has attracted Lowe’s as a partner by emphasizing service and installation. A similar venture using the same technology struggled when partnered with The Home Depot Inc.’s sales force. The reason, Shaw explained, was that the retailer would sell the systems to homeowners who were ill-equipped to install them.

“Usually for these types of systems, when you have a problem with them it’s because of installation,” Shaw said. “What we’re doing is requiring that we handle all the installations through our service contractors who are required to be licensed electrical contractors.”

E-Village is the manufacturing company, while Freedom Power trains and licenses the electrical contractors.

E-Village also manufactures a line of hybrid and wind power systems, as well as rechargeable AA and AAA “E-Cell” batteries using nickel metal hydride technology.

According to MAREC’s executive director, Imad Mahawali, E-Village’s neighbor, JetScrub LLC, is using Korean funding to develop environmental abatement technology for hazardous chemicals released in the manufacture of products like LED screens.

“Hopefully both will be successful and spin out as other companies move in,” Mahawali said.

According to Mahawali, two more startup companies should move into MAREC in the coming months.    

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