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March 17, 2009

Arc Renewable Energy: Green Jobs in Action

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Household,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 11:58 am

Also Available in White

Also Available in White

I got a call from a long-time business associate yesterday. He was excited. He should be, as he’s working with a new company that distributes “Mag-Wind” roof-mounted wind turbines that claim to be about twice as efficient as others of similar design. They figured out how to design a very low-friction bearing using the same principles as “mag-lev” trains. The product has been in development and testing for ten years by Enviro Energies.

Their primary market is commercial real estate, corporate installations, and agriculture, but if your house is in even an ok location, it sounds like ROI could be pretty quick. Ed Begley (Living with Ed) is putting one on his house. Based on what I understand, the cost outlay for a house is pretty modest.

So if you are thinking about something for your house, or business, property (or billboard!) check them out: Arc Renewable Energies.

It strikes me that the scale of these turbines are right — while huge wind farms are certainly making a dent in our renewable energy production, that are a massive capital investment. Instead, a single turbine might power a house or a small business. A larger one, or a small rooftop array might power a business. A company looking for an additional stream of revenue might add energy to the electric grid.

The folks at Build Baby Build are strong advocates of exactly this kind of product — a perfect application of distributed energy generation. Even back in the early 1970’s, Amory Lovins has been promoting the idea. The Smart Grid is necessary, to be sure, but there are scores of reasons why local distribution makes more sense in many (many applications).

This Is What We’re Talking About

Spirit of Innovation

So as I talked to my friend, it was clear that he was excited by this product — in a down economy, there are indeed some bright spots. This alone is cause for cheer.

But as I listened and read their website, I realized … this is a picture of the kind of opportunities there are for renewable energy, and for our economy.

This product has been under development for years. It’s no coincidence that entrepreneurs are seeing the opportunities and starting green tech businesses.

Renewable Sources: Opportunities for Dramatic Efficiency Gains

First, if Mag-Wind’s doubling of efficiency claim is true, consider what it means.

The truth is that renewable energy hasn’t caught on because it has been too expensive. But this is “green tech”, and like many other opportunities, things that have been around for decades are now getting their first few rounds of optimization.

In the power generation world, this means reaching “grid parity” — cost competitive with existing sources of electric power, and it is happening quickly. It can happen through incentives (like tax credits), other regulations (like cap and trade), changes in the market (like the increase in oil prices last summer). But certainly the most rapid way for products to reach grid parity is to find ways to improve their efficiency or reduce their capital costs by some multiple.

And (to borrow from Al Gore), this kind of efficiency improvement, a periodic doubling of efficiency, is a very real thing that happened in computer processing, but has been true in the history of many new technologies. Solar and wind are both in a sweet spot now; there’s a demand for the product, and some funding to help research and deployment. Solar, for example, shows exactly this kind of downward cost trend. Wind power is getting there.

If output doubles without increasing cost renewables become competitive. If it happens once again, they become cheaper than coal. If the same thing that happened with computers happens with wind and solar (and it seems poised to do so), we should have many doubling’s ahead of us.

Some say that coal is here to stay because it’s cheap and plentiful. I beg to disagree.

Green Jobs In Action

Arc’s Mag-Wind turbines are produced in the factories of Roush Industries in Michigan. Guess what their main business is (was?). So instead of building cars, their workers are making wind turbines. Sound familiar?

Made in the USA

(And Canada)

Carbon Cap and Trade

This is a company that would benefit from a cap and trade program that puts a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cap and trade is no handout or bailout.

The main reason: much of US electricity is generated by coal (not the clean kind that doesn’t actually exist). As the price of emitting carbon rises, utilities will either have to get more renewable energy into their mix (to keep under the carbon cap), or raise their prices. Either way, renewables become more cost-effective.

Other tax incentives for installations become that much more attractive. And as more people make more money from renewables than other sources, the emphasis on R&D, innovation, and other (good) competitive forces start working.

Low Capital Investment

When the economy bit the big one last fall, my first though was that renewable energy companies, who were just getting going, were going to take it hard. Then energy prices collapsed and I was sure of it. Wind farms, large solar arrays, Smart Grids all take a pretty substantial investment. Even T Boone Pickens, whose company presumably is in good shape, had to postpone a huge wind project in Texas. It takes a lot of money.

Smaller, local installations cost a lot less. Many programs are available for residential and commercial owners who install them. And the system is far less complex. This is viable, now.

Smarter Grid to Smart Grid

The Smart Grid (pdf) is a way off. But a smarter grid that allows for co-generation is here or coming soon in many parts of the country. Installations like this will create demand for a project that may seem huge or abstract to many people now.

Making Money the Real Old Fashioned Way

With so much dismay at how our financial system has let us down, and how investment companies still can’t understand why Americans are angry about bonuses being paid with bailout dollars, I am happy to think of an economy based on something other than leverage, greed, and SUVs.

But I’m a dreamer.

2 Comments

  1. Looks promising! But please – no billboards!

    Comment by Debra — March 18, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

  2. I am looking at installing an Enviro Energies turbine at my home. I am very interested in finding anyone who has already installed one (other than one of the owners of the company). I would especially like to hear from someone in the Boston area.

    Comment by Michael Kraft — May 14, 2010 @ 9:35 am

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