Economic Development, Government, and Sustainability

Renewable energy opportunities to be explored July 30

Four Michigan companies will share what they’ve learned.

July 19, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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On the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Gerald R. Ford comes word of a timely event July 30 at the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.

The Gerald R. Ford Lecture Series presentation that evening will be “Business Opportunities in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency,” an especially appropriate topic in light of the fact that, after the Arab oil embargo of 1973, President Ford signed legislation establishing the framework for the first national energy policy and alternative energy research.

The Tuesday evening panel discussion at 7:30 p.m. is underwritten by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and Varnum Law, and co-sponsored by the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council. It will feature speakers from four Michigan businesses with notable track records in renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.

The Michigan EIBC was organized in February 2012 and now has about 70 member companies participating across Michigan. It usually meets in Lansing, but the president, Dan Scripps, is a Grand Rapids resident. Scripps is also president of a sister organization, the nonprofit, educational Institute for Energy Innovation, also based in Michigan.

As part of their presentation, panel members will explain their original business, how the company got involved in energy issues, their specific energy products/services and the ripple effect of their energy-related business activities. A question-and-answer session will follow.

Admission is free but advance reservations are required. Anyone interested should RSVP via email to event@38foundation.org, or call (616) 254-0396.

The panelists will represent:

  • Burke E. Porter Machinery Co., wind energy equipment testing
  • Patriot Solar Group LLC of Albion, solar energy
  • Fremont Community Digester/Novi Energy LLC, bioenergy
  • Simms Energy LLC of Kentwood, energy efficiency

Burke E. Porter, 730 Plymouth Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, has been a global leader in supplying specialized dynamometers to the automotive industry. Its stationary test platform allows testing of an automobile engine in full operation. However, downsizing in the auto industry in 2009 resulted in the company entering a new but similar field: designing and building testing equipment for the gearboxes for commercial wind turbines.

Patriot Solar designs and builds solar energy installations, and according to its website, the natural gas industry is one of many niche markets it now serves. Patriot specializes in building off-grid, solar-powered monitoring systems, installed at each gas wellhead to power and monitor multiple devices and communicate the data in real-time with wireless controls.

Last October, Novi Energy of Novi completed the Fremont Community Digester, a $22 million facility that uses about 100,000 tons of vegetable waste matter each year to produce biogas. The gas is fuel for two reciprocating engines that generate three megawatts of electrical power sold to Consumers Energy and added to the grid. Three megawatts is generally considered to be enough power for about 1,500 average American homes.

Converting the waste into power saves the expense of disposing of it in a landfill and reduces pollution from agricultural runoff. Solids remaining after the anaerobic digestion process can be used as bedding for farm animals or as a soil conditioner. Gerber, which has its main baby food plant in Fremont, is a supplier of the food processing waste, along with other food processors in the region.

Simms Energy is a privately owned company formed to develop, market and sell electronic products for monitoring, analyzing and reporting energy use in commercial/industrial settings, to maximize efficient use of that energy. Simms has a national and international dealer network, with representatives stationed throughout the U.S. and in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Bruce Goodman, a partner at Varnum Law in Grand Rapids, serves as secretary to the board of the Michigan EIBC, and also edits the Michigan Energy News newsletter put out by Varnum. He said the EIBC is co-sponsoring the event to demonstrate “the business opportunities that there are for West Michigan companies to expand and use their expertise in other fields.”

Goodman mentioned Energetx Composites in Holland as a major example of a West Michigan company that found new business in the renewable energy field. The company, one of the founding members of the EIBC, is a division of S2 Yachts that was established when high-end boat sales declined during the recession. Energetx Composites is an advanced, fiberglass composites engineering and manufacturing company focused on the renewable energy, transportation and defense markets, but is probably best known as a maker of turbine blades for commercial wind turbines.

In late June, EIBC also co-sponsored a forum at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Energy experts met June 26 to focus on “Disruptive Challenges,” with Goodman summarizing the event as a look at “what the future of energy looks like and some of the trends that are on the horizon that may change the entire landscape.”

The disruption in the electrical energy market today is the increasing number of individuals and businesses that have installed their own renewable energy systems, many of which are tied into the electrical grid and are encouraged by the state and federal governments. The amount produced is miniscule thus far, compared to the output of the public utilities’ generating facilities, but the trend is spreading all over the nation and is already a focus of policy changes in energy regulation.

Some experts have compared the potential disruption to the utility industry to the impact of email on the U.S. mail, and of cell phones and deregulation on long-established telephone companies.

“If the utility industry is nimble and looks at the trends, they could very well be major players in bringing in some of this disruptive technology and making the nation more energy efficient and more reliant on the (wind and solar) energy that is free,” said Goodman.

“There is definitely a role for the utilities going forward,” said Scripps. He added, however, that “the 21st century utility may look a little different than the 20th century utility.”

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