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July 25, 2002

An incubator for cutting-edge power projects

  • Consortium helps bring breakthrough power initiatives to fruition
  • By DICK KOENIGS
    Northwest Energy Innovation Center

    Koenigs
    Koenigs

    The Northwest Energy Innovation Center has emerged as one of the leaders in breakthrough power initiatives in the region.

    We helped put together the Northwest’s largest solar station.

    We’re working with a company intent on harvesting energy from the Pacific Ocean’s waves.

    We are searching for opportunities to use animal waste from dairy farms and feedlots to produce methane gas to power generators.

    And that’s just a start. Now, we’re looking for more new ideas — perhaps even yours — to produce energy in an ecologically benign manner.

    The Northwest Energy Innovation Center began in January 2001 as a consortium of the Bonneville Power Administration, Washington State University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory operated by Battelle, and Energy Northwest.

    White Bluffs Solar Station
    Photos courtesy of Northwest Energy Innovation Center
    The White Bluffs Solar Station near Richland began producing power in May. The project is the result of an idea researched by the Northwest Energy Innovation Center.

    Organizers saw a lot of good ideas in the region. We also saw a lot of people working part time to turn those ideas into reality. But, unfortunately, there was no full-time organization that could efficiently tap the expertise of major institutions in a focused fashion. There simply was no business incubator that specialized in the needs of renewable energy and distributed generation concerns in the Northwest.

    The Northwest Energy Innovation Center was born to fill that niche.

    Bonneville provided the financial stimulus — first, a $50,000 grant for a marketing study and creation of a business model; and then $450,000 over a three-year period to move that model into real world applications.

    The scientific, engineering and business skills of Battelle and Washington State University nicely complemented the project management and operations strengths of Energy Northwest.

    This combination of technical insight and operations expertise has helped remake Energy Northwest — once known only as the operator of the region’s sole nuclear power plant — into the nation’s top public power practitioner in the arts of renewable energy. The agency — a consortium of 16 public power entities in the state — now operates a full portfolio of fuel cell, solar and wind power facilities, plus the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project, one of the region’s few environmentally benign hydro stations as certified by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

    The Northwest Energy Innovation Center isn’t designed to fund new advances in renewable energy. We simply don’t have the money. However, we can, and do, leverage skills of our member organizations and individual entrepreneurs into a force far larger than singular contributions.

  • One such example is the White Bluffs Solar Station north of Richland, which began sending power to the Northwest grid in May. Although owned and operated by Energy Northwest, the project is the result of an idea researched by the Northwest Energy Innovation Center. The endeavor brings together such diverse organizations as the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, WSU, the Department of Energy, the BPA and a private company, Newport Northwest LLC. None of these organizations chose to build the solar station on its own, but together they found the will and the funds to do so.

     Jerry Sims
    Jerry Sims, Energy Northwest project engineer, inspects a solar grid at White Bluffs.

  • Another example is a proposal by AquaEnergy Group, a Mercer Island-based company that wants to capture the Pacific Ocean’s almost unlimited power by using buoys anchored off Neah Bay. Although the Northwest Energy Innovation Center didn’t have sufficient funds to pay for a 1-megawatt demonstration project, it did lend its expertise to finding a sponsor for the project — the Makkah Nation — as well as a buyer for its output, Clallam County Public Utility District. We also pointed AquaEnergy toward major funding sources. Further, the Northwest Energy Innovation Center is paying Energy Northwest to assist with the complicated permitting process necessary for any power project on the coast.

  • There’s a small company in Portland that has an exciting concept for a durable, cost-effective solar tracking mechanism for use with photovoltaic power stations. Its plans were as big as its pocketbook was small, yet the Northwest Energy Innovation Center arranged to site this new device at the White Bluffs Solar Station and relocate some existing solar panels to support the demonstration. We will monitor the system to determine whether this new development has efficiency and operational advantages over standard solar tracking systems.

  • A visionary from the Mid-Columbia area has a creative plan to generate a synthesis gas containing hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane from wood waste. The gas would then become the fuel to power a diesel-generator set. One problem: The developer doesn’t have money to buy an expensive gen-set. But Bonneville owns one, Energy Northwest had been storing it, and, through the Northwest Energy Innovation Center, it is now on loan as part of the plan to demonstrate this technology.

    In all these examples, and others, the Northwest Energy Innovation Center has leveraged limited resources to create pathways toward success. Our goal is to help power technologies that empower people, while touching the environment as softly as possible.

    We’re restrained only by imagination and funding. That’s where you come in. The Northwest always has been blessed with intelligent, energetic people. We need your ideas, because only by making visionaries successful will we be successful.

    We also are looking for other organizations that might be interested in providing funding or are interested in partnering with us in other ways to help make these technologies available to Northwest utilities and their customers.


    Dick Koenigs is an engineer, a manager of project development for Energy Northwest and director of the Northwest Energy Innovation Center. He can be reached at rlkoenigs@energy-northwest.com. Additional information is available at www.nweic.com.



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