Advancing Renewables in the Midwest conference draws interest from business, government

Thursday, July 15, 2010 | 9:42 p.m. CDT; updated 4:03 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 23, 2010

Zoltek in St. Louis produces carbon fiber. An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a product the company produces.

COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid set the tone for the Advancing Renewables in the Midwest conference in his opening remarks.

“Being frugal with energy is patriotic …We need to make renewable energy more affordable,” McDavid said.

His concern was echoed by many of the businessmen, engineers, scientists and government officials who presented at the conference. While some of the presentations offered only possibilities, others offered immediate economic opportunities for Columbia.

Growing Fuels for a Growing Market

“The best way to facilitate new technologies is a big purchase order,” said Nancy Heimann, business manager of Enginuity Worldwide.

Simple “Business 101” logic guided Enginuity’s decision to build a 130 megawatt data center at the Ewing Industrial Park in north Columbia, Heimann said. Data centers, the storehouses of internet content,  need large amounts of energy. Enginuity needs to know the supply and price will be steady in the long term. They plan to do that by integrating power production with power use.

Enginuity plans to power data center by burning compressed pellets of grass and wood grown locally.

Germany’s Sunny Disposition

Missouri has little solar power generation, yet Germany — which is cloudier than the Show Me State — relies heavily on solar power. What made Germany decide to invest in solar?

The manufacturing base that existed in Germany beforehand was a big reason, said Tom Nicholas of the Solar Electric Power Association in response to a question during his presentation. German entrepreneurs realized in the 1990's that the factories they already had could be re-fit to manufacture solar panels.

Many opportunities for re-fitting factories exist in Missouri as well, said Chris Chung, CEO of the Missouri Partnership, an industry advocacy group. *Able Manufacturing in Joplin added windmill blades to the list of products it produces, he noted.

Locally, a Columbia company has considered transitioning to producing parts for solar panels, but Chung said he couldn’t reveal their name.

Home Makeover: EPA Style

“You must reduce before you produce,” Chandler von Schrader said during his presentation on the Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) program. Von Schrader directs the program for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The HPwES program is a government certification system that verifies the energy efficiency of products, including home improvements. The local sponsor of the program is the Columbia Water and Light Department.

According to Von Schrader:

  • Missouri was fifth in the U.S. for sponsoring Home Performance with Energy Star jobs in 2009
  • 442 HPwES jobs were carried out by Columbia Water and Light in 2009
  • $9.5 million have been spent to date on efficiency audits and upgrades in Missouri

Terry Freeman of Columbia Water and Light said in an interview after the presentation that he believes one reason for success is that the HPwES program is market-based.

Audits used to be free and people didn't seem to value them as much, Freeman said. He feels paying for audits increased the perceived value to the homeowner and allowed the program to grow and thrive on its own.

Another reason for the increase in interest may be the current recession, said Freeman. Fewer people buy new homes, now. Instead they improve the home they have.

Whatever the reason for its success, Freeman is "like a kid in a candy store," with the new program.

“It's fantastic...In the 30 years I’ve done energy audits, we finally have a system that works,” he said.

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Mark Foecking July 16, 2010 | 3:09 a.m.

Couple of comments here:

A data center can require up to 50 megawatts of power, much of the day and evening. Doing this with biomass requires many square miles of land, even if fast growing grasses are used to supplement wood.

At 2 tons dry biomass/acre, a 40 MW biomass boiler(s) would require over 22 sq miles of land. At 6 tons/acre, it would take about 8 sq miles. All collection and transportation would still be done using oil - requiring equipment also be powered by biofuels would greatly increase this land requirement.

A biofuelled future would be nothing like what we have now. It would be much more like the biofuelled past of 150-200 years ago. To promote biofuels as a replacement for oil and coal neglects basic laws of physics.

"Germany... relies heavily on solar power"

It does not. Solar provides less than 1% of Germany's electricity. Most of Germany's renewable capacity is biomass, and it will be difficult for them to increase that very much, particularly if biofuels have to be used to process the biomass. Net energy becomes a significant concern with renewables, but since it is not with oil and coal (currently) most planners neglect it.

Be careful what you wish for.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 16, 2010 | 5:54 a.m.

Neighboring (to Germany) France derives something like 70% of its electrical power from nuclear facilities. When is the last time you read about or saw on TV an emergency at a French nuclear power reactor? Nuclear plants don't produce carbon dioxide emissions (global warming). Doesn't burning biomass produce carbon dioxide as a product of combustion? Surely they haven't altered elementary combustion chemistry.

As Mark says, be careful what you wish for.

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