TAEBC annual meeting spotlights a number of innovative initiatives

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Innovation was the recurring theme as about 50 members and guests gathered in Franklin yesterday for the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council’s (TAEBC) annual meeting.

Starting with the venue – Schneider Electric’s nearly year-old high-tech Nashville hub, attendees were exposed to a handful of projects that showcased various ways that innovation is addressing energy needs and opportunities. Each underscored the mission of TAEBC which is to help grow the advanced energy sector that already accounts for 14 percent of the Volunteer State’s total employment.

The new Schneider facility is a multi-story, state-of-the-art building that embodies many of the technologies that the global corporation sells to customers. At the start of yesterday’s meeting, Don Wingate, Schneider’s Vice President of Utility and Microgrid Solutions, described several of the company’s innovative projects including one for Montgomery County, MD.

As initially described in this 2017 news release and spotlighted 18 months later when completed, the project represented a unique way to address customer needs as well as launch a new line of business for Schneider.

“We invented ‘Microgrid as a Service’ with Montgomery County,” Wingate explained in describing the approach that is very different from a purchase power agreement. “We gave them a price per kilowatt hour less than what they were paying.”

He also underscored the innovative approaches that the corporation is taking by describing Schneider Electric Ventures. “It’s a new way to harvest ideas,” Wingate said, adding that it “is far more than a typical venture capitalist.” The fund made five investments in 2018.

Other individuals who described innovative approaches at their entities included Doug Edgar, Vice President of Operations at White Harvest Energy; Chris Hansen, TVA’s Director of Pricing Strategy and Origination; and Ryan Stanton, Consultant for Strategic Energy Initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Edgar highlighted a combined heat and power project (CHP) for Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga that literally is being ramped-up. “We have commissioned all four engines (that drive the technology) and will start producing steam this week,” he said. The cost savings that Erlanger will realize from the CHP technology is estimated to be between $1.3 and $1.6 million annually.

Hansen spotlighted TVA’s efforts to meet renewable energy expectations of Google and Facebook for new data centers the companies were constructing in the Valley. Both global giants are known for their commitments to sustainability and clean energy.

“They did not want any other Valley customer to pay for their sustainability goals,” Hansen explained. “For TVA, to be true to our public power mission, we did not want to change who we were.”

Working together, the corporations and TVA developed something called the “Renewable Investment Agreement” that is a new model for TVA. It met all parties’ key requirements and also uncovered a more than expected availability of renewable energy sources to help ensure that the region does not miss out on these types of projects in the future.

Stanton described “Drive Electric Tennessee,” a new initiative assessing how the state prepares for the expected rapid growth in electric vehicle (EV) demand. In mid-January, the task force released “A Roadmap for Electric Vehicles in Tennessee” that predicts the state could see as many as 200,000 EVs on its streets by 2028.

How does that number compare with today? There are 6,699 EVs registered in Tennessee, 165 fast charging plugs for EVS at 55 locations, and 1,023 Level 2 charging plugs at 437 sites.

Earlier in the meeting, TAEBC Vice President Cortney Piper highlighted the top 10 accomplishments in the industry in 2018. We’ll summarize those in a post tomorrow.

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