Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Energy Powering Innovation

The morning session on power during Thursday’s MITEF Innovation Summit kept attendees tuned in as speakers discussed alternative energy topics from wind dams to waste gasification. After a thought-provoking keynote by Dr. John Kao, the conference divided into its three sectors for the remainder of the day.

Stephen Connors, director of the Analysis Group for Regional Energy Alternatives at the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, kicked off the power sector and didn’t disappoint, discussing some of the most innovative, albeit sometimes far-off, energy technologies out there. Particularly interesting was Connors’ analysis of some of the more far-reaching energy technologies that haven’t yet become, as Connors put it, “the next killer amp.” He pointed out that an overemphasis on technology can lead to serious reliability issues when it comes to saving energy in today’s marketplace. While full of innovation, ideas like Chetwood Associates’ wind dam or the US Department of Energy’s FutureGen clean coal projects raise serious questions about necessity, convenience, reliability and even style – all concerns Connors listed for consumers and investors alike in the world of alternative energy.

Following up on Connors’ talk, the breakout session in the power track featured a panel made up of William Davis, president and CEO of Ze-gen, Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, and Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder and CEO of Boston-Power. The panel was moderated by Peter Rothstein, entrepreneur-in-residence at Flagship Ventures. All three of the panelists represented energy companies in fairly early stages and all three came from different areas of the energy marketplace, providing for interesting conversation.

Each speaker talked about the different hurdles they overcame as their companies took shape in the always-changing energy market. Davis, CEO of Ze-gen, a developer of waste gasification technology which converts waste into electrical energy, talked about trying not to upset the large waste management companies and also choosing to use only specific forms of waste in order to make permitting as smooth a process as possible.

For Jim Gordon and Cape Wind, the challenge has always been a NIMBY problem. NIMBY is energy jargon for “not in my backyard,” and for Cape Wind, it represents one of the biggest problems with putting offshore wind turbines on Nantucket Sound. Gordon shared some convincing stats, pointing out that the complete project will produce up to 420 megawatts of energy and will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 734,000 tons per year. That seems to me at least as good a reason as any to let Cape Wind do its thing.

Boston-Power Founder and CEO Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud (and CHEN PR client) hasn’t faced the ordinary challenges of a start-up due to the intense demand for the company’s next-generation Lithium-ion batteries. Coming off a $45 million round of venture capital funding - the largest round of funding of any New England company in the last quarter of ’07 - Dr. Lampe-Onnerud talked about market opportunities – in particular the opportunity to develop a safe, effective and environmentally friendly product. Dr. Lampe-Onnerud further relayed that the company chose China for its manufacturing facilities because the Chinese have the capability to produce quickly and efficiently, something that will enable Boston-Power to bring its product to market soon - the company is already in mass production.

More Innovation Summit coverage to come…

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