Muskegon Makes Energy Splash

September 15, 2006
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MUSKEGON — Though Muskegon may not be well-known in global circles, it is gaining international interest as a site for alternative and renewable energy.

Imad Mahawili, executive director of the Grand Valley State University Michigan Alternative and RenewableEnergyCenter, said after attending the World Renewable Energy Congress IX and Exhibition in Italy that there are multiple visits planned from international visitors who hope to learn more from the center.

“There is no facility like this in the world,” Mahawili said. “We’re doing world-class work.”

With 107 countries represented and more than 800 papers presented — including Mahawili’s paper describing the center, its goals and achievements — the event addressed issues such as photovoltaic solar, wind and thermal energy; renewable energy and architecture; and renewable energy and policy.

Mahawili chaired four sessions on hydrogen and fuel cell technology. He said attendees were amazed at the work that is taking place in alternative and renewable energy at the center, specifically with the 250 kilowatt molten carbonate fuel cell. With the interest that was stoked at the congress, Mahawili said new doors could open for Muskegon in the area of renewable and alternative energy.

Muskegon has already made the commitment to energy with the opening of the center, Mahawili said, and he hopes the commitment will keep growing through private investment. The investment is made possible by the commitment to education that the city and community of Muskegon have shown, he said.

GrandValleyStateUniversity is doing it,” Mahawili said of the center. “But it’s their vision.”

That vision is important not only in bringing more notice to the energy work in Muskegon, but in spurring more work with alternative and renewable energy throughout the state and the nation, Mahawili said.

“We continue to be behind as Americans,” he said.

At the congress, Mahawili said he heard the quote, “Energy means a lot to those who do not have it.” In the United States, he said, people take energy for granted, especially with the recently lower gas prices. In Italy, where the congress took place, Mahawili said he observed gas prices at more than $7 a gallon, while in the United States, prices were falling below $2.50.

With energy needs rising quickly, especially in China and India, Mahawili said, it was discussed at the congress that the world’s energy needs would double or triple in the next 20 to 30 years, and to address that need, China plans to build 500 coal plants by the year 2012. Mahawili said he is not sure 500 is an accurate number, but that even 50 new coal plants would have an impact on the world’s environmental and energy issues.

“Even if they’re building 50, it’s outrageous,” he said. “China is exploding economically and you can’t explode without energy.”

While other countries continue to find and use different energy sources, Mahawili said the United States is falling behind. He used as an example the island nation of Cypress, which earned an award at the congress for increasing its use of renewable energy from 0.2 percent to 6 percent.

In order for the state and the country to raise the level of attention to energy, Mahawili said it is important to put more standards in place. Michigan may see those standards put in place very soon. In April, the Michigan Public Service Commission was charged by Gov. Jennifer Granholm with giving a recommendation for a state energy plan by the end of the year.

“There is a large effort underway to develop this plan,” said Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the Michigan Public Service Commission.

With part of the focus on renewable and alternative energy, Palnau said the recommendation is to include a Renewable Portfolio Standard that sets the standard for the percentage of energy generated by renewable sources by a particular date. Once the recommendation is made, then it will be up to the legislature to draft a bill for the standard to be set, Palnau said.

Mahawili said once a standard is set, innovation will follow, as the state tries to find ways to meet the standard.

“Technology will respond to it.”    

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