Recovery Act Benefits Clean Energy Small Businesses

A Windspire wind turbine garden at Devon Bank in Wheeling, Illinois.
A Windspire Garden at Devon Bank in Wheeling, Illinois.
(cc) William Thomas

The US Department of Energy has released a new report highlighting the benefits of the Recovery Act to small businesses throughout the clean, renewable energy industry and environmental management sector. The report found that as of early March 2010, small businesses have been selected to receive nearly $5.4 billion in funding across a number of Recovery Act and related programs, including loans, loan guarantees, grants, contracts, and tax incentives, in partnership with the Department of Treasury. The report highlights 26 small businesses in a range of clean energy technologies, such as wind, solar, biofuels, along with critical new infrastructure, like Smart Grid, advanced batteries, energy storage, and energy efficiency tools. It also notes small businesses that are helping advance responsible environmental clean-up efforts.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills are highlighting the report as part of a media conference call. The call also featured Scott Lang, CEO of Silver Spring Networks and Harrison Dillon, President and CTO Solazyme.

“Small business are the backbone of job creation in this country and have been a spring board for innovation in the clean energy sector,” said Secretary Chu. “The work these companies do and the innovation they produce will go a long way in helping our economy grow and our nation succeed.”

“Small businesses have created about 64 percent of the new jobs over the past 15 years,” said Administrator Mills. “Already, small businesses are one of the driving forces in the green energy sector. With resources like those provided through the Department of Energy and SBA, we have a unique opportunity to support the creation of good, well-paying jobs here at home that will also help keep America competitive.”

Some success stories highlighted in the report include:

UQM Technologies, Inc. of Frederick, Colorado is a well-established supplier of prototype electric propulsion and generator systems, including electric rotating machines and drive electronics. The company has supplied these systems for over two decades to both established and aspiring automakers. In 2006, UQM completed an R&D project with the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Vehicle Technologies Program to design a power-dense motor for use in electric drive vehicles. UQM is now positioned to take its technology into production, establishing a U.S. volume manufacturer of electric drive systems. The $45 million grant that UQM received under the Recovery Act will enable UQM to establish manufacturing facilities for production volumes of 120,000 electric drive systems per year, powering all-electric, hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid-electric passenger cars, and hybrid-electric trucks and buses, creating up to 3,000 jobs.

Silver Spring Networks, based in Redwood City, California, did not receive a direct grant under the SGIG Program, but it is still a big winner through its partnerships with many utilities around the country. For instance, Florida Power & Light (FPL) received a $200 million grant for its Energy Smart Miami project, which represents the foundation of a $700 million investment to deploy Smart Meters to every residential FPL customer in Florida. Silver Spring provides the hardware, software, and services that connect every device on the grid, creating a unified Smart Energy Platform. Other utility clients of Silver Spring who received SGIG grants include Pepco Holdings, Inc, Oklahoma Gas & Electric and American Electric Power.

Solazyme Inc., a San Francisco-based company, is a true start-up success story. Founded in 2003 by a scientist and entrepreneur that were among the first people to focus on algae as an alternative to conventional fuels, the company has pioneered a new technology to produce biodiesel and green diesel from algae oil. Like most emerging technology companies, Solazyme faced a huge obstacle in obtaining adequate funds to commercialize its technology. However, with a $21.8 million ARRA grant under the Biomass Program, Solazyme will now be able to build its first integrated algae fuel refinery and help lay the foundation for subsequent large-scale development of an “advanced biofuels” industry. The project will create jobs in California and Pennsylvania.

FloDesign Wind Turbine Corp. is a fledgling start-up that won an MIT clean energy competition last year. The company is developing a new high efficiency shrouded wind turbine capable of delivering significantly more energy per unit of swept area. FloDesign Wind’s $8.3 million ARPA-E grant represents a major increase in resources for the company that will have a dramatic effect on its ability to ramp up technology development.

Universal Display Corporation was awarded a $4 million ARRA grant by DOE, under the Building Technologies Program (BTP) to scale and transfer its technologies to a partner pilot organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) manufacturing line to be set up in the U.S. The project will facilitate the growth of the embryonic OLED lighting industry by providing prototype lighting panels to U.S. luminaire manufacturers to incorporate into products, to facilitate testing of design, and to gauge customer acceptance. Part of a new DOE initiative designed to help establish and maintain U.S. leadership in solid-state lighting manufacturing, the funding will help UDC lay the foundation for the development of an OLED lighting industry in the U.S.

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