John Martin Goes to Idaho

Harvesting Clean Energy Draws Seattle Metroguy to Idaho

By John Martin, Operations Chair, Pacific Northwest Cleantech Open.  Cleantech Seattle guy, John Martin, ventured down to Boise, Idaho, drawn by a conference named “Harvesting Clean Energy.” Metroguy that he was, he thought of Idaho as agricultural and wanted to learn about clean tech in an ag land. His eyes were opened, and here’s his story.

At Climate Solutions’ 2011 Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Boise in October, emcee Dale Dixon opened with an amusing and apparently true story: Nearly a hundred years ago, Enzo Ferrari was having trouble putting together one of his early race cars, particularly the “transmission.” A maker of farm tractors thought he had a really good idea for a transmission, but Ferrari thought farm haulers had nothing to offer his refined thoroughbred. The tractor-maker was named Lamborghini and went off on his own. The theme repeated throughout the morning: Cosmopolitan metros may have much to learn from the rural/ag society, much as Ferrari could have — not least being that out-in-middle-of-nowhere has much more interest in self-sufficiency and does not survive for generations on the farm by not being literally ‘sustainable’. My conclusion: A lot of cutting-edge cleantech practices, technologies and ventures may find early adopters in places like Idaho.

Keynote Speaker Governor Butch Otter noted that the biggest challenge to alternative energy is transmission lines, both having them in the right place and also permitting and public acceptance. He points out that we should not be discouraged with solar, wind, thermal and biomass just because prior demos have not worked out well. Thomas Edison had a lot of false starts but eventually prevailed despite the fact that he received strong pushback from businessmen asking that he not pursue commercializing his electric lightbulb. Why? Because it would put 140,000 candlemakers out of work. Governor Otter’s point: Short-term adjustments should not hinder longer-term breakthroughs.

One of the speakers was Clay Young, who built proClarity business intelligence software into a highly successful global business with exit acquisition by Microsoft, and is now in solar-powered LED streetlights. His new venture, Inovus Solar, is partnering with Portland-based Verticus to develop high-efficiency parking-lot systems. Verticus manages the variable on/off switching, Inovus builds the luminaires and integrates PV support and over-gen feedback to the grid.

Another speaker was Pete Johnson of Dynamis Energy, which develops high-efficiency incinerators for eliminating landfill of municipal solid waste (MSM) by burning the rubbish to generate energy. Johnson said that while Northwest energy costs are among the lowest in the world, and demand for incineration power is low here, Brazil will be prohibiting MSM landfill by mid-decade and has skyrocketing energy demands. There, the market for responsible incineration is strong.

There was discussion that Idaho has no consistent economic development policy around cleantech, but the state does have some strong raw advantages. It has a strong base of expertise in Information and Communications Technology, coupled with a very large Ag business and expertise in power engineering. Then there is the other NW Department of Energy lab, managed by Battelle, which is a big player in clean energy, including being the national expertise center for battery and EV testing as well as power storage technology.

So, I congratulate Climate Solutions for drawing the attention of this cosmopolitan Seattle metroguy to the incredible cleantech resource of Idaho and the importance of the Ag community as an important test-bed for cutting-edge advanced-energy technologies.

Source:  John Martin,  Cleantech Open blog, November 11, 2011.