From the Space Coast to Energy Innovation: The New Frontier for the Southeast’s Economy
May 1, 2018 | Q&A with Mike Aller, Executive Director, Energy Florida and Lynn Abramson, President, Clean Energy Business Network
Florida is the launch pad for America’s aerospace industry. And now, a group called Energy Florida is tapping into the state’s engineering expertise to build out new economic opportunities in energy. The non-profit organization has been a tremendous partner to the Clean Energy Business Network in supporting the United States’ energy economy. Mike Aller, Executive Director of Energy Florida, participated in a meeting the CEBN hosted in 2016 with then-Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and has worked with us to advocate for energy innovation programs before Congress. Today, the CEBN and Energy Florida are thrilled to have Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, visiting with two energy businesses in Florida: Stellar Energy and Saft. We sat down with Mike to learn more about these two companies and how Energy Florida is helping transform the Southeast into a hub for energy innovation.
Mike, what does Energy Florida do?
We work to develop energy-related advanced manufacturing and technology demonstration capabilities to support economic development across the state of Florida, the Southeastern U.S., and the “near abroad” (Latin America and the Caribbean). Our focus is on advanced materials and manufacturing processes for power generation equipment, including turbines, combined heat and power and energy storage systems; bio-based products and fuels; energy efficiency financing solutions; and next-generation transportation solutions.
How are you building public-private partnerships to advance energy innovation in these regions?
A lot of people don’t realize that the technology behind gas turbines—which are used in power generation—has a lot of roots in the aerospace industry. The technologies behind powering a manufacturing plant and an airplane are actually not that different. In some cases, it’s the exact same engine – just configured to drive a shaft instead of propel an airplane. Energy Florida is tapping into the local expertise in the Southeast to help build out even more efficient and powerful gas turbines for a range of industrial applications, as well as future generations of highly efficient aviation systems. We coordinate a consortium of federal and industry partners that are developing new industrial materials, testing standards, and certification for turbine technologies. This group—the Consortium for Advanced Production and Engineering of Gas Turbines and Rotating Machinery (CAPE)—is a program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is a federal agency. And CAPE includes the Gas Turbine Association, a national association for the industry. By facilitating this collaboration among NIST, manufacturers, and supply chain providers, we’re working to build the next generation of turbine technologies for power and propulsion applications. Energy Florida also manages the Transportation, Energy and Space Technology Hub (TEST Hub), an innovative public-private partnership at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that supports community-scale testing and demonstration of next-generation technologies across a range of applications.
The CEBN was thrilled when we learned that SBA Administrator Linda McMahon wanted to meet with some of our members in Florida, and it was terrific partnering with you to identify businesses that met her interests. Tell me more about these two companies that are on her radar in Jacksonville.
Both of these companies are fairly large but have a mid-size operation here in Florida. Each of these firms are wonderful representatives of the great depth and diversity of energy-related manufacturers and solutions providers arrayed across our state and the Southeastern U.S. They’re also great examples of the power of partnerships to provide real value to help businesses of all sizes succeed and grow. Stellar Energy is headquartered in Jacksonville, FL and has about 100 employees in this area. The company provides innovative solutions for a range of heating and cooling applications in power plants, onsite power production, liquefied natural gas (LNG), data centers, biopharma industries, and other markets. Their growth has just been phenomenal. Stellar was recently named a top 10 energy storage system provider internationally by Energy CIO Insights magazine, with offices in Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Hong Kong and Houston—all spurring out of their Jacksonville headquarters.
Saft is a world leading designer and manufacturer of advanced technology batteries for industry. Their nickel batteries and primary lithium batteries are used for energy storage, transportation, military applications, and telecommunications. Here in Jacksonville, Saft has a local plant that opened in 2011 and employs 240 workers, so they’ve become a vital contributor to the energy economy in this area. Energy Florida has worked to provide support to each of these firms through partnerships with the local manufacturers association (First Coast Manufacturers Association) and NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (FloridaMakes), who have been able to help these firms identify local training and technical assistance resources. We’ve also worked at the national level on initiatives and partnerships such as the CAPE that have helped the turbine inlet cooling, combined cooling, heat and power and energy storage markets develop and grow. Both sets of resources have been integral to helping these companies – and by extension, the communities they inhabit – succeed in the global energy economy.
No one of our organizations can do this all by ourselves, but by linking and leveraging all the resources available we can collectively make a real difference. Having a network to draw upon to provide a range of support is really essential.
The Clean Energy Business Network (CEBN) works to advance the clean energy economy through policy, public education, and business support for small- and medium-size energy companies. Started in 2009 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the CEBN is now a small business division of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. The CEBN represents 3,000+ business leaders across all 50 U.S. states working with a broad range of clean energy and transportation technologies.