Jen Derstine

Around the World with Microturbines

Capstone Turbine Corporation
Jen Derstine, Director of Strategy and Policy
Washington, DC and Van Nuys, CA
168 employees

www.capstoneturbine.com

Jen Derstine ended up in the microturbine business because her Foreign Service letter came a little too late.

When most people outside the energy industry hear the term “microturbine,” they probably conjure up an image of a really tiny wind turbine. Actually, these systems are small-scale (<500 kW) combustion turbines that provide an efficient source of onsite power generation, and can be combined in parallel to serve larger loads. Microturbines are frequently used for combined heat and power—an efficiency technology that generates heat and electricity from a single fuel source, often natural gas.

Jen’s story begins a few years after finishing college, when she applied to the U.S. Foreign Service, hoping to travel abroad. One day, she finally got her acceptance letter—right after she’d paid her deposit for graduate school. She went ahead with pursuing her Master’s at Johns Hopkins and then successfully competed for a prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship upon graduation.

For her fellowship and beyond, Jen landed a position in the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), where she served as an International Trade Specialist and helped organize the first Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee to address issues impacting the growth and export opportunities for U.S. clean energy companies in international markets. On a trade mission to Saudi Arabia, she got to work closely alongside one of the companies in the group—Capstone Turbine Corporation—and was really excited about their technology.

Since 2012, Jen has worked at Capstone Turbine. She serves as the company’s Director of Policy, Strategy, and Distributor Development, leading its federal and state policy priorities and working with dozens of geographically-exclusive distributors around the world to help them develop their business plans and assess market opportunities. Whip-smart and strategic, she has an immense ground to cover—the entire global market.

Capstone Turbine is headquartered in Van Nuys, CA. According to Jen, the company works to “Provide microturbine energy solutions to help customers improve business operations by reducing operational expenses, ensuring high power availability and helping to preserve the environment with a near-zero emissions profile.”

The company works with a broad variety of clients, from the oil and gas industry to hospitality to data centers to manufacturers. Capstone’s microturbines even power the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Capstone’s microturbines are particularly getting attention right now for their reliability benefits because of their “microgrid” capability, which means the ability to disconnect from the electric grid and provide onsite power when there is a disruption to local power supplies. Capstone Turbine’s clients include the only hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands to retain power and water during Hurricane Irma, along with a fast-food store in Puerto Rico that kept the lights on during Hurricane Maria.

Jen says, “All Capstone Turbine dual mode microturbines can be considered microgrids, and all of our microturbines are microgrid-ready due to our DC output potential.”
According to Jen, the company is continuing to expand its microgrid capabilities. An exciting development for Capstone Turbine in 2017 was “The development of our new PowerSync controller, which improves reliability and availability of our microturbines by eliminating any single point of communication failure for control. It also can be easily integrated with external control or monitoring equipment using industry standard communications protocols. This new controller enhances commissioning and troubleshooting capabilities through transient operation and event information and improved field service connectivity.”

A U.S. energy trend that interests Jen is the growing market potential for small-scale CHP systems. She says, “All of Capstone’s individual turbines are <500 kW, and we offer pre-packaged systems of up to 1 MW, which can then be interconnected to provide larger solutions as required. We have offered a packaged C65 CHP system for many years and introduced our packaged CHP system for our 200kW-1MW products in 2015 and 2016. Having done the work to size the heat recovery module to the microturbine makes it easier for the customer to design and engineer the final project.”

Despite being the world’s leading technology manufacturer of microturbine systems, Capstone Turbine is still a relatively modest size company, with less than 200 employees. And that’s one thing Jen likes about it. She says, “There’s not a lot of bureaucracy, so everyone in the company can have an impact, make suggestions, and be included in the company direction.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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Hear more from Capstone Turbine Corporation in Powering through the Storm, an episode of the CEBN’s podcast featuring clean and efficient energy technologies that can keep the lights on during natural disasters.

Paul Schwartz

Rethinking HVAC from the Outside In

ThermoLift
Paul Schwartz, CEO
Stony Brook, NY and Ann Arbor, MI
15 Employees
www.tm-lift.com

It turned out to be the most memorable bar mitzvah Paul Schwartz ever attended.

It wasn’t the canapes or cocktails that changed his life, but rather a chance professional encounter at the Garden City, Long Island celebration.

“I was standing at the bar and this guy—an attorney—struck up a conversation about ThermoLift’s technology with me,” Paul explains. “Turns out he knows Bob Catell, former chairman of National Grid and the American Gas Association. After an introduction and a few meetings, both became the first investors in ThermoLift!”

The AERTC completed construction in late 2011 and then started a Clean Energy Business Incubator Program (CEBIP) with support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which helps clean energy companies commercialize their technologies. Shortly after the bar mitzvah Paul successfully pitched his company, ThermoLift, and joined the companies housed at the incubator. The incubator opened a world of doors—to local investors, mentors, and physical space for the company’s growing team.

“A gas-fired heat pump which can provide heating and cooling is the holy grail for the utility industry,” says Bob Catell, Chairman of the AERTC.

Paul and his business partner, Dr. Peter Hofbauer, founded ThermoLift in 2012 out of Paul’s garage on Long Island. Peter, who works at ThermoLift’s lab in Ann Arbor, MI, is the engineering brain behind the operation. Paul is the finance expert with a history of raising money for startups. Their TC-CycleTM Thermal Energy System uses natural gas as its primary fuel to provide heating, air-conditioning, and hot water in a single appliance for homes and commercial buildings that is vastly more efficient than other HVAC systems on the market. Imagine using the outdoor air to heat your home in the winter or cool your home in the summer. Sound impossible? It’s not—the TC-CycleTM incorporates unique innovations to the well-established Vuilleumier cycle heat pump design.

Schematic of how the TC-CycleTM device uses changes in temperature and pressure draw heat out of the air.

For non-engineers, let’s dust off some basic thermodynamic principles from high school physics class. If you have a constant volume of gas and add heat, the pressure increases. (And vice versa, if you remove heat pressure decreases.) This principle, the Ideal Gas Law, allows the Vuillemier cycle to use changes in temperature to create changes in pressure. Controlling this process is the key to ThermoLift’s patented Thermal Compressor (TC-CycleTM) which replaces the mechanical compressor in traditional heat pumps, creating the Ultimate Heat Pump.

ThermoLift’s design can utilize renewable heat, resulting in a 30-50% reduction in energy use which amounts to nearly $1,000 in annual operational cost savings when compared to state-of-the-art HVAC systems. The TC-CycleTM appliance also offers many unique features including efficient cold-climate (<0°F) operation even at partial loads, smart grid/demand response and fuel-agnostic capabilities, and ultra-low NOx emissions all without the use of harmful refrigerants.

In addition to the consumer benefits, the unit will help electric and gas utility companies by balancing loads during peak summer demand for A/C, increasing resiliency for the grid.

“Since our founding, ThermoLift has tried to recruit partners and experts to help develop and commercialize our technology,” says Paul. “We have been able to build a strong network of supporters including the US Department of Energy, NYSERDA, Wells Fargo, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Gas Technology Institute, and domestic and international utilities including National Grid, ConEdison, SoCal Gas, DTE Energy and the European Heat Pump Association among others.”

ThermoLift has raised over $16 million in funding, through Series A and Series B rounds, and through grants from the Department of Energy, NYSERDA, and Wells Fargo IN2 Incubator Program, to develop multiple generations of the TC-CycleTM prototype for testing. The company is working on further enhancing performance and reducing costs and intends to begin commercial production in 2-3 years.

Seems like a ‘Mazel tov!’ is in order.

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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Gary Fechter

A Winning Hand with CHP

UGI HVAC Enterprises
Gary Fechter, General Manager of Performance Solutions
Wyomissing, PA
Multiple field offices across Eastern PA

www.ugihvacenterprises.com
www.ugiperformance.com

Meeting in a boardroom with Gary Fechter feels like kicking back at the poker table over a couple of beers. He runs a successful, midsize company that’s drawing in 8-digit revenues. He’s worked on five continents and at several major energy companies, served in the Army, and even taught physics at West Point. But he’s a regular guy at heart—down-to-earth, disarming, and quick with a joke and a smile.

Gary runs the design-build team on the unregulated side of a company that is primarily a gas utility. UGI Performance Solutions (UGIPS) is a leading provider of combined heat and power (CHP), developing and executing CHP projects for UGI HVAC. From conceptualization, to design, to construction, all the way through operation, UGIPS works with clients to provide integrated solutions to their unique energy needs.

Gary took over the helm at UGIPS in 2014. At the time, he has just sold his consulting firm and was planning to retire. He would play more golf with his buddies, drive around in his C70 convertible, and travel with Joyce—his wife and high school sweetheart. He would have more time to devote to one of his passions—organizing fundraisers for the SGC Foundation, which supports children’s hospitals around the nation.

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

“After selling my consulting firm and completing a transition period with the new owner,” Gary says, “I was asked by several clients to work with them directly. During this time, I was introduced to the team at UGI HVAC and after a year and a half as a consultant I was asked to consider a full-time role and joined the team at Performance Solutions.”

UGIPS is a big player when it comes to encouraging CHP deployment in Pennsylvania. For background, CHP systems generate both heat and electricity from a single fuel source—often natural gas. By harnessing the heat that is lost during conventional powering generation, CHP can nearly double efficiency. These systems can also provide a reliable, onsite source of electricity to keep manufacturing plants, hotels, apartment buildings, hospitals, military bases, and college campuses powered up in the event of a grid disruption. Due to Pennsylvania’s strong manufacturing base and variety of suitable sites, the state ranks 12th in the nation for CHP deployment (2.9 GW) and still has more than 7.7 GW of untapped technical potential.

A CHP plant UGIPS designed for Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs reduces operating costs and provides more reliable power

In describing examples of UGIPS’ work, Gary notes, “An exciting development for my company in 2017 was completion of a combined heat and power project for the casino at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs.”

Why would a casino want CHP? It’s all about the money.

Gary says, “This 828 KW internal combustion engine with integrated heat recovery provides approximately 30% of the electric requirements for the casino. The project also involved restructuring the electrical infrastructure and adding uninterruptable power supplies for the slot machine busses. This allowed the casino to save significant operating costs on reduced maintenance to the slot machines due to their sensitivity to power interruptions and disturbances.”

Sounds like a great place for a site tour—and maybe that poker game with Gary.

One trend in U.S. energy markets that interests Gary is “the changing role of distributed generation in the electric market. The expanded use of onsite generation assets has forced changes on the infrastructure of the grid and how the regulated utilities deal with inside the fence generation. As the quantity of these facilities change and as they decrease in size I am interested to see the changes in regulatory and utility rules. These can make this transition significantly easier or may block the process completely. What the long-term grid looks like should be a concern of all energy users.”

Gary brings up a heavy issue—changing utility models are a complicated challenge undergoing debate all around the country right now. But Gary doesn’t shy away from complexity. He engineers CHP systems, after all. He sees things simply and breaks down complicated problems to their roots.

“Having over 30 years’ experience in the independent power business has allowed me to see great growth but also a lot of reinventing of the wheel. We all need to remember it rolls best when round.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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For videos explaining UGI Performance Service’s approach and projects, click here.
To learn more about CHP and see examples of other projects, visit the websites for the Alliance for Industrial Efficiency and CHP Association.

John Atkins

A Solar Pioneer is Made at the World’s Fair

TerraShares
John Atkins, President
Morristown, TN

www.terrashares.com

John Atkins fell in love with solar at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville.

He says, “The Fair’s theme was energy and I became enamored of the numerous solar energy displays, returning many times to talk with the exhibitors.”

At the time, John was working in diesel engine sales. But the nascent solar industry kept calling to him. Four years later, he founded TerraShares and began developing solar systems, most of which at the time were thermal solar. The “alternative energy” industry was still young and struggling to get off the ground.

“But, living near Oak Ridge, TN,” he says, “I joined the start-up team of the nation’s second full innovation center to commercialize technologies invented at nearby Oak Ridge National Lab and secure private capital for early stage tech companies. This foundation has been invaluable in creating TerraShares’ turnkey approach to developing clean energy.”

Students at the Rogersville Middle School in Hawkins County learn about a 50-kW solar energy system installed by TerraShares

John has been a pioneer in the clean energy industry in many ways. Not only did he get into the solar business when the industry was fairly new, but he also pioneered commercial scale solar and third-party funding in 28 K-12th grade schools in Tennessee. This was harder to accomplish than it might sound. In Tennessee, school districts have strict limits on their ability to take on debt, and the state doesn’t allow third parties to own solar projects and sell the power back to the end user—so John had to explore some very unique and creative financing options to help schools pay for the projects.

Now, John is exploring new ways of coupling solar with other sources of clean energy, such as combined heat and power and waste heat to power (CHP/WHP), highly-efficient technologies that harness heat that is usually lost during conventional power generation.

“We are seeing that our educational, corporate and non-profit clients are seeking even greater energy independence and control over a range of energy challenges than solar alone can address. To assist them, TerraShares is expanding our network of resources to include additional proven clean energy technologies like CHP/WHP and related capabilities in energy analysis/strategy, engineering, installation and financing.”

John has a philosophical view of sustainability combined with a professorial depth of knowledge about energy and finance. He’s a true believer in renewables, but knows that the real driver of transformation in energy markets is achieving cost reductions for customers.

One trend in the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook that interests John is the growing corporate demand for clean energy. This development doesn’t surprise him at all. John feels that when states and utilities don’t respond to corporate demand, businesses are more aggressive about generating their own clean energy.

“A key concept, for business, is that sustainability means doing more with less—less material, less cost, less pollution, less waste, and lots of other ‘lesses.’ Businesses invest every day in measures to that reduce their cost; it’s what they must do to remain competitive.”

John points out that investing in energy conservation measures is one of the few things a company can do to substantively impact its bottom line, generating savings that can be reinvested in its workforce, productivity, or research and development.

He cites a study that the consulting firm A.T. Kearney conducted in 2009, when clean energy was just starting to gain widespread traction and technology costs were still much higher. Even back then, John says, “What Kearney found was that those companies that had actually gone green averaged 15% greater profitability than non-green competitors in their same industry.” John argues that beyond simply saving on energy costs, the reinvestment of those savings into other corporate activities further compounds a company’s competitive advantage.

“Taken together the benefits of adopting sustainable practices can be a competitive game-changer,” he says. “And the competitive advantage it creates is permanent.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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Rita Hansen

A Game-Changer for Natural Gas Vehicle Fueling

Onboard Dynamics
Rita Hansen, CEO

Bend, OR
9 employees

www.onboarddynamics.com

When Rita Hansen was introduced to a local researcher at Oregon State University in 2013, she could immediately see the promise of his natural gas compression technology—along with the challenges in turning it into a mature product.

That researcher was Dr. Chris Hagan, an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University who had been working on a concept for integrating natural gas compression into an automotive engine. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), a federal program that helps support early-stage technology development, had given Chris a $1 million award to prove the technology.

Chris was having tremendous success accomplishing the technology development milestones for the ARPA-E award but was challenged with meeting the tech to market milestones. This is not a unique situation for innovators of new energy technologies.

As Rita explains, “It’s not just the science and technology, but also will someone buy it at the end of the day.”

Chris knew he had to pull in the right business team. He reached out to Economic Development for Central Oregon, a local economic development agency. EDCO put him in touch with Rita. She had an engineering background and more than thirty years’ experience in major energy and technology companies—so she understood the technological promise but also brought to the table deep expertise in business development, commercialization, and angel investment.

Rita and a team of local entrepreneurs rallied behind Chris to develop a commercialization pathway. They established the company in October 2013, with Rita at the helm as CEO. The team successfully pitched ARPA-E for a follow-on investment to take the proof of concept Chris had developed to the next stage of product development. Along the way, Rita and her team pulled together other local finance and commercialization partners—including cleantech incubator Oregon BEST and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI).

Even with a strong team in place, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The original concept was to integrate the compression technology into a vehicle.

“Halfway through the process,” Rita says, “in response to the market feedback we were getting, we adapted the product from Onboard Vehicle to a mobile compressor.”

Essentially, prospective clients kept telling Onboard that they already had the vehicles, but needed a better way to fuel them. So Onboard instead focused on making the compressor portable.

By the end of 2017, Onboard Dynamics completed its ARPA-E award, secured a major manufacturing partner—Linamar Corporation—and officially launched commercial production of its first product, the GoFlo™ CNG80. The GoFlo™ is a mobile natural gas compressor that can turn pipeline or renewable natural gas into fuel for NG vehicles.

And as for Rita’s question, “Will someone buy it?”—the answer is a resounding yes. Onboard has secured its first field demonstration project to begin deploying the GoFlo™ at a customer site with Southern California Gas Company (Sempra), a large natural gas utility.

The GoFlo™ could be a game-changer in how natural gas fleets are fueled.

“We work to lower fuel costs and carbon emissions by removing infrastructure barriers to driving natural gas-powered vehicles,” says Rita. “Our product line integrates natural gas compression into automotive engines, thereby allowing fleets to refuel economically from any low pressure natural gas supply line or renewable source without the need for electricity.”

Because Onboard’s unit is so portable and doesn’t require electricity, it’s also useful in disaster response along with everyday fleet refueling.

One trend that interests Rita from the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook is the growing use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. She says, “We believe that this trend will continue to increase, especially with the deployment of new renewable natural gas projects coming on line in the next few years. The environmental benefits of using R-CNG as a transportation fuel are a real game-changer in the transportation industry.”

Rita elaborates on these environmental benefits, quoting Marianne Mintz of Argonne National Laboratory’s Energy System Division, who says “R-CNG can achieve the greatest GHG reductions of any transportation fuel today—70 percent or more as compared to gasoline or diesel.”

She adds, “In 2016, over 60% of all natural gas consumed in California as a transportation fuel came from a renewable source. The National Petroleum Council estimates that 35 billion gallon gasoline equivalents nationwide is possible—which is the equivalent of 1.2 times total diesel consumed by freight trucks.”

Onboard Dynamics’ story demonstrates how important it is for entrepreneurs to be adaptable. From the first seeds of the technological idea, to pulling together the right business team and financial package, to rethinking the product design, the Onboard team has been willing to listen to new perspectives and make changes to suit the market. Rita says that all of Onboard’s strategic partners “have helped us get up to the point where today we’re now standing on our own two feet.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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To hear more from Rita, listen to a CEBN webinar on ARPA-E funding opportunities and advice from prior grant recipients.
To learn more about the launch of the GoFlo™, see https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180111005364/en.

Loy Sneary

Texas Rancher Reduces Gas Flaring from Oil Wells

Gulf Coast Green Energy
Loy Sneary, President/CEO
Bay City, TX

www.gulfcoastenergy.com

Loy Sneary’s face lights up when he talks about his grandkids coming to visit. He says he puts them through “Cowboy Camp”—waking them up at dawn and keeping them out on the ranch ‘til dusk, herding cattle and exploring the outdoors. No television, no iPads—and by the end of the week, they don’t want to leave.

I ask when I can send my own boys for a visit.

In person, Loy commands a presence. He’s the embodiment of Texan class and charm. Tall and trim with a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair, Loy offers a firm handshake and a gentle smile to everyone he meets. I’ve pounded the pavement on Capitol Hill with him quite a few times, and the heels in his cowboy boots set off the metal detectors every time.

He’s also the owner of a small waste heat-to-power business southwest of Houston that’s working on some pretty innovative projects.

Gulf Coast Green Energy specializes in selling and installing ElectraTherm Power+ waste heat-to-power generators for commercial geothermal, oil and gas, solar thermal and internal combustion engine industrial applications. These fuel and emissions free Power+ Generators add efficiency and emissions reductions from wasted heat that would otherwise be vented to the atmosphere. (For more background on ElectraTherm, see the CEBN’s profile on John Fox, another business leader in our Faces Behind the Facts series.)

Before starting at Gulf Coast Green Energy, Loy spent years working at the nexus of industry and government—including as a county judge and community leader on sustainable development, land management, and ranching practices. He also did a tour in the Navy years ago, where he learned and began developing leadership skills.

Loy’s always had an interest in innovative, cost-saving technologies. And in 2007, he says, “The Gulf Coast Green Energy owners asked me to step in and take the company from start-up to being a significant and respected supplier of waste heat-to-power generation equipment.”

Flare Reduction demonstration project in North Dakota

One of the most exciting applications of Loy’s work is in the oil and gas industry. Gulf Coast Green Energy and ElectraTherm worked on an innovative project with Hess Corp., the Houston Advanced Research Center and Texas A&M to capture flare gas off the Bakken oil field in North Dakota. They used the flare gas to fire a boiler, which delivered the hot water needed for the ElectraTherm Power+ generator to make power from the gas that would have otherwise been flared. This approach could be a new model for reducing flaring in oil fields, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. Instead of wasting the natural gas, it could be used to reduce emissions and create an efficient source of electricity to power onsite operations or export to the grid.

In 2017, a new report from Texas A&M verified the emissions reductions from this flare reduction demo project, finding that it cut CO by 89%, NOx by 48% and VOC’s by 93% compared to just flaring the gas. The State of North Dakota has also qualified the Power+ generator as an approved technology to make a beneficial use of gas that would otherwise be flared.

According to Loy, one finding of the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook that resonates with him is “the increase in renewable energy generating capacity and the trend toward energy efficiency. We have also been impressed that certain sectors of the economy, particularly O&G, are taking serious actions to reduce Methane and other VOC emissions.”

Loy’s line of work is not always easy. “Waste heat-to-power” is certainly not a household name, and it takes a lot of work to get customers up to speed on the technology’s benefits. Despite that, Loy says, “we’ve been in the business of waste heat-to-power for over 12 years…and we’re still here!”

While smoothing out the bumps in the road over these years, Loy has also enjoyed starting an all-volunteer non-profit to promote and encourage healthy lifestyles in his area of Texas. “Because our area is above national averages of all chronic diseases,” he says, “this has been a rewarding volunteer endeavor. After 15 years of raising, begging for and borrowing money and applying for grants we have successfully built a $7 million Wellness and Rehabilitation Center which serves our community and the surrounding area. It’s been very cool to be a part of bringing the community and area industry and businesses together for a common healthy life style goal.” Loy’s next volunteer project is to build a $13 million aquatics center for aquatherapy, student and adult athletes and recreational swimming.

Loy approaches everything in his life—from his business, to his volunteer work, to ranching, to his family—with such heart. I’m not sure how he manages it all, but hope he finds time to add just one more thing to his plate: a Cowboy daycare.

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network

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Watch this video about the flare reduction project demonstrated by Gulf Coast Green Energy and ElectraTherm.
Hear more from Loy in Powering through the Storm, an episode of the CEBN’s podcast featuring clean and efficient energy technologies that can keep the lights on during natural disasters.

Laura Thompson

Industry Veteran Wooed by Family Energy Efficiency Company

FlowEnergy
Laura Thompson, Vice President
Woodinville (Seattle), WA
Other office locations: Overland Park, KS
22 employees 
www.flowenergy.com

How does a small, family-owned energy business snag a senior executive from one of the largest engineering firms in the nation? By wowing her with efficiency improvements like nothing she’s ever seen.

Laura Thompson is an engineer, MBA, and 30-year veteran of the energy industry. The Kansas native has worked at some of the leading energy services providers in the U.S., including Chevron Energy Solutions (which later became OpTerra and then ENGIE Services) and Burns & McDonnell.

In 2009, when Laura was at Burns & McDonnell, her firm had just completed a new chiller plant and chilled water distribution system to supply air conditioning at a university, with a guaranteed return on investment for the client. The problem? The system and plant were not achieving the expected efficiency.

Looking for solutions, Laura came across FlowEnergy, a company outside Seattle with a new SmartValve technology.

FlowEnergy’s SmartValve hardware

The CEO & Founder of FlowEnergy, Paul Skoglund, started out as a contractor in Alaska for the oil and gas industry, where he innovated precision valves to deliver lubricants for production and exploration. Seeing the potential applications for energy, he optimized the valves for use on hydronic HVAC systems (i.e., those that use water to transfer heat—a fairly common approach).

With imprecise flows, many HVAC systems waste significant amounts of energy because they need to under- and over-shoot flow and temperature control setpoints to arrive at the desired value for comfort. FlowEnergy sought to change that. Paul’s daughter, Tami Hansen, joined at the helm as President, and the company built out an integrated approach using SmartValves, software, and modeling/optimization services to achieve unprecedented stability.

When Laura Thompson’s firm implemented FlowEnergy’s SmartValves for their university client, she says the technology “uncovered 20% more savings and system capacity than we had achieved with a $20M investment in energy efficiency measures and facility upgrades. FlowEnergy’s precision controls brought a stability to the cooling system which all of our and our controls contractors’ efforts could not achieve, uncovering hidden costs that we never knew could be avoided.”

Laura worked with FlowEnergy on several more projects and saw the results replicated. The valves and controls “solve the root cause of poor system performance in heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in buildings,” she says. “Coil leaving air temperature for building environmental control is maintained to within one tenth of a degree of setpoint, 15 times the current energy standard for control. Data Intelligence including energy insights, deep equipment monitoring down to the end use, fault detection software and dashboards with data in context for continuous optimization and reliability to assure performance is sustained for the life of the system.”

Laura was so impressed with FlowEnergy’s approach that in 2016, she went from customer to employee. “Seeing the impact of precision control firsthand as a customer, I knew I had to help get the technology out to a broader market and established as a new standard for sustainability best practices.”

Laura is helping FlowEnergy expand to new markets and explore more opportunities with performance contracts. In 2017, FlowEnergy was selected for the New York City Innovative Demonstrations for Energy Adaptability (IDEA) Program to demonstrate Clean Technologies for HVAC in municipal buildings. The company is currently working on a project at the Manhattan Courthouse.

One trend that interests Laura from the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook is the enormous reduction in energy use by HVAC equipment over the past four decades. Yet, FlowEnergy’s innovations indicate that there is still room for improvement.

Laura says, “The conventional wisdom widely accepted by the industry for control of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems is that performance gaps in the amount of energy that is transferred from the energy generation systems to the end use for building environmental control (typically indicated by Delta T) cannot be corrected, they can only be managed. Technological advances in control valves and data intelligence mean that these performance gaps, additional energy use, and costs no longer have to be accepted.”

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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 For case studies of FlowEnergy’s projects, visit http://flowenergy.com/customers.html.

John Fox

From Georgia to Germany,
Turning Waste Heat into a Resource

ElectraTherm
John Fox, Managing Director
Flowery Branch, GA and Reno, NV

www.electratherm.com

In 2010, John Fox quit his job at United Technologies, packed up his family of four, and left Connecticut. They were headed to Nevada.

After 19 years, John was leaving his stable, successful job to run a fledgling startup company.

“It was a wild (and great) ride,” says John. “Without the support of my wife and family, I would never have made the career changing trek across the country.”

He laughs when he talks about it, remembering how his wife reacted when she first saw the CEO job description. “She knew it was over when I showed her the skiing available near Reno in the Sierras,” he says. The family had great experiences out west and supported John through eight years of constant business travel and another move back east.

John’s new role in 2010 was at the helm of ElectraTherm, a manufacturer of waste heat-to-power (WHP) technology. WHP is a highly underutilized technology in the United States but much more common abroad. There are several different approaches and suitable temperature ranges, but WHP essentially turns wasted heat from industrial processes (e.g., at a manufacturing plant) and uses it to generate electricity. Hot water is the fuel.

Specifically, ElectraTherm’s Power+ generator produces fuel-free, emission-free power from low temperature waste heat using Organic Rankine Cycle and patented technology. As he took on leadership at the company, John oversaw a complete design turn of the beta product line, launched commercial production, and navigated the business through many challenges and successes.

His efforts paid off. In 2017, BITZER—based in Germany and serving as the world’s largest private manufacturer of refrigeration and compression technologies—acquired ElectraTherm. While ElectraTherm remains headquartered in the USA, taking on BITZER as its parent company has opened the door to state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities and expanded export opportunities abroad.

ElectraTherm’s Power+ generator

“2017 has been an amazing chapter in our growth: we moved ElectraTherm from Reno, NV to Flowery Branch, GA and built a brand new production facility and enhanced test cell supported by BITZER,” says John.

It’s hard work selling WHP systems in the United States. There are very limited positive policy signals driving the market as compared to Europe. Customers here are often unfamiliar with the technology, have much more strict payback criteria and are less sustainability focused. A large driver for that is they pay so little for electricity that they don’t have much incentive to conserve it. ElectraTherm has been very successful deploying its technology overseas, including in 11 countries.

But John is still encouraged in the U.S. by “the ever-increasing focus on energy efficiency and clean energy, and the growing smart and proven use of readily available waste heat sources to generate additional power on engines/CHPs, boilers, flare elimination, geothermal and more.”

“ElectraTherm desires to push what has been done globally with waste heat to power with the same opportunities we see worldwide and push market growth in the U.S. with this reliable, proven heat and power source,” he says. 

ElectraTherm has been making more inroads into U.S. markets, and has particularly been a leader in innovating new uses of WHP technology. For example, the company is currently working with the Office of Naval Research and U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD to demonstrate gas turbine waste heat recovery onboard ships. ElectraTherm also worked with a Texas developer, Gulf Coast Green Energy, on a unique demo project to reduce gas flaring in oil wells. (To learn more, see the CEBN’s profile of Loy Sneary, another leader featured in our Faces Behind the Facts series.)

You see, John isn’t one to back down from a challenge. He’s a direct, straight shooter and I’ve heard him give a piece of his mind (politely) to more than one Member of Congress. But he’s also down-to-earth, funny, and remarkably humble for someone who recently closed such a large M&A. He tells a story of an experience at his old job at United Technologies—14 years of which were at the corporation’s jet engine manufacturing operation, Pratt and Whitney.

“One of my jobs was to build and test new jet engine designs and validate their robustness for the FAA. That included ice and bird ingestion tests and blade-outs. There is amazing technology that goes into the design of a jet engine, and the modeling of what is about to happen, such as when you shoot a large pheasant into an operating engine and the results versus predictions afterwards. I am glad we went to extremes and made very robust engines; I was on a flight that ingested a bird that caused a diversion to a nearby airport and dumped the majority of our fuel, landing with fire trucks chasing us down the runway.”

His story, and the easy-going way in which he frames it, strikes at the heart of John’s success. He keeps on pushing, unfazed, through any challenge—even matters of life and death, pheasants and fires.

—Lynn Abramson, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Business Network (February 15, 2018)

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For more information on ElectraTherm and its clean energy products, please visit www.electratherm.com.
To learn more about BITZER and its advanced refrigeration and compression technologies, visit www.bitzer.de/us.
To learn more about waste heat to power, see these resources and video from the Heat is Power Association.