Cover story — November Twin Cities Business magazine

Solar Apocalypse

Twin Cities entrepreneur George Anderson thinks a bunch of Iranians on boats are going to take down the U.S. electricity grid — if the sun doesn’t destroy us all first. He’s backing up his data on portable hard drives, stockpiling food for his family, and pouring his personal fortunes into a company he thinks can help save civilization. My profile wound up making the cover of the November 2012 issue of Twin Cities Business magazine. Read it here.

A bright idea from Milwaukee

(Midwest Energy News, November 7, 2011)—A mobile app that helps people perform their own home lighting audits is the winner of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Apps for the Environment” challenge.

Light Bulb Finder was created by a Milwaukee, Wisc., app developer called Eco Hatchery. Co-founders Adam Borut and Andrea Nylund learned they won the challenge last week, and on Tuesday they’ll be in Washington, D.C., to accept the recognition.

Borut and Nylund started out in 2007 making home energy-saving kits that came with an online tool for tracking projects. As mobile phones grew in popularity, they realized that “mobile phones are really the perfect platform for people to do their own home lighting audits,” Borut said in an interview.

The app was released for iPhone and Android in late 2010. It lets people walk around their home and use icons to identify the type of bulb currently used in each light fixture. After entering a zip code and the estimated daily hours of use for each bulb, the app suggests more efficient replacement bulbs, as well as a detailed projection of savings, in dollars and carbon emissions. Continue reading “A bright idea from Milwaukee”

Self-serve kiosks provide automated dry cleaning

(Finance & Commerce, November 7, 2011)—You swipe a credit card at a vending machine-sized kiosk. A clothing rack whirls around inside until your shirt or blouse appears. A robotic arm plucks it from the rack by the hanger and passes it to a glass enclosure in front of you. You pop open a door, grab your receipt and your freshly cleaned garments, and away you go.

Is this the future of dry cleaning?

Two local dry-cleaning chains this fall have unveiled the Twin Cities’ first-of-their-kind “dry cleaning ATM” kiosks. White Way Cleaners installed one at a Minneapolis skyway location in September. Last month, Mulberrys Garment Care installed one in the Ridgedale Byerly’s store.

Both companies view the kiosks as a way to extend service into hours and locations that wouldn’t be feasible for staffing with employees. If the machines prove successful, Mulberrys and White Way envision them springing up in skyways, condo and apartment buildings, office towers, gas stations and grocery stores all across town.

“We want to be one of the first to bring dry cleaning into the modern world,” said Dan Miller, Mulberrys’ founder and CEO. He compares the potential impact to what ATMs did for banking or Red Box did for DVD rentals — giving customers a quick, easy, always-open option for dropping off and picking up their dry cleaning. Continue reading “Self-serve kiosks provide automated dry cleaning”

How will Silicon Energy and TenKsolar manage in oversupplied solar panel market?

(Finance & Commerce, October 24, 2011)—Silicon Energy became Minnesota’s second solar-electric panel manufacturer when it started shipping rooftop units from its Iron Range factory in mid-September. It joins Bloomington-based TenKsolar, which began selling its commercial systems in 2010.

The companies are getting a boost from a made-in-Minnesota solar rebate program for Xcel Energy customers. And given the state of the industry, they’ll need all the help they can get.

“New startup companies are going to have a very, very difficult time competing with established companies,” said Junko Movellan, an analyst with Solarbuzz, a market research group in San Francisco. There’s a worldwide oversupply of solar modules now, and she predicts the industry faces a big shakeout in the months ahead.

On top of that, Minnesota isn’t the easiest place to sell solar-electric systems, but not for the reason you might think. Our weather is actually an asset; solar-electric systems perform better in the cold. Rather, it’s the state’s comparatively cheap electricity rates that make it harder for customers to recoup investment costs.

The industry has been called the “solar-coaster” because of all its ups and downs. How do these Minnesota startups plan to hang on? Continue reading “How will Silicon Energy and TenKsolar manage in oversupplied solar panel market?”

Sick of Corporations? Co-Op Evangelists Want You on Their Side

(GOOD, October 13, 2011)—Brian Van Slyke didn’t want to be a boss‚ and he didn’t want to have one either. But as his one-man record label grew to a three-person operation, they needed some type of organizational structure.

“We wanted to be our own bosses, together,” Van Slyke says. In 2006, Fall of the West Records was reincorporated as a worker-owned cooperative, giving each member an ownership stake and convincing Van Slyke to tailor his college education around cooperatives.

Last week, Van Slyke was at the National Cooperative Business Association’s annual conference in Minneapolis to show off the board game he created, Co-opoly, where everybody wins or loses together and learns how a cooperative works.

With rising discontent about the economic status quo (see: Occupy Wall Street) and a United Nations resolution declaring 2012 the “International Year of the Cooperative,” co-op advocates at last week’s conference were optimistic about what they see as a ripe opportunity to grow their movement—if only people knew about it. They need more public education, from board games to marketing.

“There is not the on-the-street knowledge of the cooperative and its success that there ought to be,” says Charles Gould, director-general of the International Cooperative Alliance and one of the conference’s opening speakers. “As a result, we have people who are very frustrated who simply don’t know there is a potential solution for many of them just around the corner.” Continue reading “Sick of Corporations? Co-Op Evangelists Want You on Their Side”

A better way to insulate

(Midwest Energy News, September 13, 2011)—Contractors Tadd Johnson and Adam Hegland had just finished building a four-unit townhome in Red Wing and were eagerly awaiting the results of a blower door test.

“We did all the work ourselves and thought we would just perform through the charts,” says Johnson.

Instead, disappointment. The results were fine, but not off the charts like they had hoped. They asked the technician what they did wrong, and he explained they could only achieve so much with conventional building materials.

That day four years ago set off Johnson and Hegland’s search for a better building product, which they believe they’ve found in their EnergyMax insulation panels.

Their invention won the cleantech and renewable energy category last week in the Minnesota Cup competition, an annual entrepreneurship contest. Continue reading “A better way to insulate”