Community, Business Leaders Form Clean Energy Initiative in Northern Colorado

Economic development, university and community leaders in Northern Colorado today announced a new initiative to create and promote clean, renewable energy opportunities that could help increase the region’s energy independence.

The Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster will serve as a clearinghouse to connect entrepreneurs and major power users with researchers and government officials, encouraging innovation, new job creation and investment in the region.

The initiative is a collaboration of the Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation, the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp., the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, Colorado State University, the city of Fort Collins, Larimer County, the Poudre School District and the Platte River Power Authority. Numerous corporate partners include Spirae Inc., Woodward Governor Company and the New Belgium Brewery.

"Companies in Northern Colorado are already providing new research and development in clean and alternative energy sources, making us a statewide leader in this area," said J.J. Johnston, president and chief executive officer of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. "The Clean Energy Cluster sends a message to the business community that the unique cooperation of these organizations can help streamline development and commercialization of new technology, leading to new job creation."

The Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. hired The Brendle Group, an engineering and energy-efficiency consulting firm, to develop a strategic plan for the new cluster and help it seek funding to become self-sustaining.

According to the Clean Energy Cluster, only 2.3 percent of the nation’s electricity is derived from renewable sources. But Northern Colorado economic development leaders want to work together to capture a piece of that $8.8 billion industry.

"We are excited to participate in this unique opportunity and applaud businesses and economic development organizations in Northern Colorado for their leadership exploring clean-energy alternatives," said Drew Bolin, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation, which has donated two microturbines and is helping with the cost of installation for a fuel cell at Colorado State.

The Clean Energy Cluster has already produced several technology transfer opportunities including a new collaboration between Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory in the College of Engineering and Spirae Inc., a privately held company based in Fort Collins.

Spirae will work with Colorado State on a new Grid Simulation Laboratory to test "smart grids," which are new ways to connect electrical generators and users to increase the efficiency and reliability of the electrical grid in large, complex distributed power systems.

Distributed power refers to generating electricity from many small sources close to where it’s needed – such as next to a factory or neighborhood or other major power user. The closer it is, the smaller the transmission losses and the more energy – and money – saved. These sources can be engines or turbines or they can renewable sources such as wind and solar photovoltaics.

The Spirae/Colorado State University partnership on the grid simulation laboratory is largely funded by the Danish utility company The partnership will develop grid stabilization techniques that ultimately will allow higher usage of wind energy in Denmark, which already uses a higher percentage of wind power than any other country in the world.

Northern Colorado businesses and researchers are being strategic about developing clean-energy products.

"Our region is already at the forefront of experimental technology in part because of professor Bryan Willson’s amazing work in the engines lab and the cooperation of the city of Fort Collins," said Hank Gardner, interim vice president of research at Colorado State whose office is also participating in the Clean Energy Cluster along with the university’s Office of Economic Development. "This grid simulation facility has major significance – it’s acknowledgment that we plan to be a global player in the entire field of energy research. Our opportunities to work closely with Sunil Cherian, president and CEO of Spirae, have provided a roadmap for how we will proceed with the private sector in the future. We appreciate all the hard work that Sunil and his team have put into this partnership."

In October, Caterpillar Inc. and Woodward Governor announced significant donations to Colorado State’s engines lab to develop a low-emissions, high-efficiency engine that could improve the reliability and efficiency of the electrical power grid, reducing the occurrence of rolling blackouts. The Distributed Power Generation Research Center conducts research on distributed power generation – an increasingly popular solution for power companies working to keep up with demand and increasing competition under deregulation.

Meanwhile, Fort Collins-area governments are working to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The city recently was selected as one of the four leading cities in the nation in the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy because it offers tools to homeowners and businesses to reduce their energy usage and costs.

Additionally, the Poudre School District has already agreed to serve as an experimental site for emerging technology. The district is working with Colorado State engineering professor W.S. Sampath to test new photovoltaic panels made with compound semiconductors rather than silicon.

"We’ve agreed to put them on a building or two," said Mike Spearnak, director of planning, design and construction for the district. "We’re offering ourselves as a way to test some of this new technology that comes out. It can only benefit us and the community."

Spearnak said the district’s newer schools feature energy-saving measures such as the extensive use of natural light, geo-exchange pumps and high-efficiency boilers that divert dollars earmarked for utility costs back into the classroom. The district’s newest high school, Fossil Ridge, saves the district more than $100,000 a year in utility costs.