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Silent Power says $560,000 federal grant will help generate 75 new jobs

A renewable energy technology company in central Minnesota will ramp up hiring and production thanks to a $560,000 federal stimulus grant.

Silent Power, in Baxter, Minn., produces boxes that convert energy generated from solar panels into usable electricity. The patented systems include a built-in battery that stores unused power for when it's needed.

"We're working with utilities all over the country to sell this product to homeowners and small businesses to help align the generation of renewable resources with when the utilities have their peak demand," CEO Todd Headlee said.
One challenge with solar panels is that they typically generate the most energy during the hours when it's least needed. Silent Power's systems store electricity generated during the middle of the day and release it later when people are getting home from work and turning on televisions, microwaves, and air conditioners.

Silent Power has been manually assembling about two units per week. New equipment and employees will allow it to up production to about 50 units per week, enough to keep up with anticipated demand for the next couple of years.

The company currently has about 20 employees. Headlee said he expects the federal grant will spur the creation of about 75 new jobs in the next 18 months. About 40 of those will come at Silent Power and another 35 at its suppliers, many of which are also located in Minnesota.

Source: Todd Headlee, Silent Power
Writer: Dan Haugen

Student social entrepreneurs plan new company to bring biogas services to rural India

A team of students from the University of Minnesota believe they can build a sustainable business bringing biogas services to residents of rural India.

A 2007 report estimated that 82 percent of Indians rely on stoves that burn wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels--a major source of indoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. Solid fuels are responsible for 3.5 percent of disease in the subcontinent.

Since the 1980s, the Indian government has invested in hundreds of thousands of biogas digesters, which turn cow dung into clean-burning cooking fuel, but it's estimated that nearly half of them no longer work. The student team wants to get to work refurbishing that infrastructure with a new company called BioServ.

The students are collaborating with another group from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, on a business plan that would help families purchase digesters at-cost with a lease-to-own financing model. BioServ's revenue would come from a small monthly fee it would charge for repair and maintenance of the equipment by locally hired technicians.

Most of the cross-continent collaboration so far has taken place over Facebook and on Google Chat exchanges and Skype calls. This summer the students will work face-to-face in Minnesota, then India, to refine their business plan before seeking financing and firing up a pilot project in the fall.

The concept won the energy division last month in the 2010 Acara Challenge, an annual student social entrepreneurship contest.

"It's extremely exciting," said Judd Eder, one of four Minnesota students involved in the project. "This is the first time for me being a part of something this multiculturally dynamic. It's been really exciting and really fun."

Source: Judd Eder, BioServ
Writer: Dan Haugen

Boston's Fenway Park hires Minneapolis firm to "green" its image

Boston's Fenway Park is already known for the Green Monster, its towering, forest-colored outfield wall.

Now, a growing Minneapolis agency has been hired to make fans associate the ballpark with environmental "green."

GreenMark is the world's first environmental sports sponsorship agency. President Mark Andrew plays matchmaker between sports teams and facilities and companies that have environmental causes or products to promote.

"We create opportunities for companies to showcase their green products and services from a sports platform," Andrew said. "It's very experiential. We don't do signs on walls."

The concept first came to life at Target Field when Pentair signed on as "The Official Sustainable Water Provider" for the Minnesota Twins. The sponsorship centers around the high-tech rainwater recycling system Pentair installed under the field.

GreenMark's clients include the Twins and Wild, as well as Target Center and TCF Stadium. It also represents the San Francisco 49ers.

"The reason we want to be in sports is that sports buildings are enormous platforms to tell sustainability stories," said Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner and state DFL chairman who started the company in 2006.

The Boston Red Sox last week announced the hiring of GreenMark as the team's green sponsorship agency for Fenway Park. Andrew and his team are now scouting for green technologies that might be incorporated into the century-old ballpark. The brainstorming includes the obvious question of how to best incorporate the iconic Green Monster in left field.

The company has about half a dozen full-time employees. Andrew expects it to grow to about a dozen by the end of 2011.

Source: Mark Andrew, President & Founder, GreenMark
Writer: Dan Haugen

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