Green cities spark demand for solar EV chargers

It’s known as the Windy City, but its vehicle fleet could someday be powered by the sun.

Chicago unveiled its first solar electric-vehicle charging station this month as part of a campaign to bolster the city’s green cred in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The 2.4-kilowatt battery system is small, but it demonstrates how city vehicles might someday be powered by a completely carbon-free fuel source: the sun.

The station is among only a handful of solar-powered vehicle chargers in the United States, and perhaps the first in the Midwest. They’re few in numbers in part because electric vehicles are still few in number. Solar-powered charging stations are also more expensive than stations that draw electricity from the grid.

But the solar-powered chargers make a powerful symbolic statement: These vehicles run on clean energy, not fossil fuels. (Continue reading…)

Minnesota, Canadian bioscience firms collaborating across border

Reggie Bowerman is a Midwestern kind of guy.

So when his employer of nearly a decade, MGI Pharma, packed up and moved to New Jersey last year, Bowerman was one of several local employees who chose not to make the move.

Instead, he became CEO of DiaMedica, a pharmaceutical company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I made an assumption that [Canadians] might look at the world with more of the same perspective than a guy from Manhattan might. Since then, it’s been nothing but reinforced,” said Bowerman, who is based in the Twin Cities and commutes to Winnipeg as necessary.

Bowerman’s story is an example of the growing number of cross-border ties between Minnesota-based biotech communities and their Canadian counterparts. The trend comes on the heels of several years of networking efforts by Minnesota bioscience boosters, who believe the state could be on the cusp of a sea change of collaboration with our neighbors to the north. (Continue reading…)

Opening up the big box: Best Buy and social networking

My article about Best Buy’s social-networking efforts is now on newstands in the April 2009 issue of Twin Cities Business magazine.

It was a fascinating story to report. The retailer is using an internal social network called Blue Shirt Nation, as well as Twitter, to radically change the way it interact with its employees and customers.

My interviews with Best Buy employees left me thinking every news organization in the country would benefit from being more like Best Buy. When communicating with readers and sources, be honest and transparent. Be human.

Craigslist meets Facebook on ‘social classifieds’ site

wanted: looking for online classifieds site that helps me connect with my community and avoid anonymous transactions. will pay modest membership fee for premium features. Location: Twin Cities

A local Web start-up is out to prove that it can make a difference by connecting buyers and sellers.

BuyTheChange.com is among a crop of new “social classifieds” services. The sites integrate classified ads with elements of social networking such as user profiles and friend lists.

What makes BuyTheChange.com unique, its founders say, is its hyper-local focus. The site lets users share and browse ads in their own neighborhoods, schools and church congregations.

The website is the product of three entrepreneurs — Josh Becerra, Colin Hirdman and Zack Steven — who grew up together in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood. All three have experience starting and running companies. They reconnected four years ago, and decided to create a business that would do well by doing good. Continue reading “Craigslist meets Facebook on ‘social classifieds’ site”

Why Isn’t the U.S. Embracing Feed-in Tariffs?

The sun is rising on a new era for renewable energy in Gainesville, Fla.

Starting this month, residents and business owners with solar panels connected to the power grid will get a monthly check from their city-owned electric utility, the result of a first-in-the-nation policy called a feed-in tariff.

The new policy essentially turns privately owned rooftop solar panels into micro power generators for the utility. The city will pay up to 32 cents per kilowatt-hour for power they generate over the next 20 years, delivering their owners about a 5 percent profit over the equipment’s lifespan.

Feed-in tariffs like this have long been the primary tool for financing renewable energy projects in Europe, and they are a reason Spain and Germany have become world leaders in wind and solar. Advocates say the system is simpler, more effective and less expensive than traditional U.S. incentives for renewable energy, which are an often byzantine mix of tax incentives, rebates, state mandates and utility programs.

So what’s standing in the way of wider adoption in the United States? (Continue reading…)

The Ultimate Urban Solar Lab: New York City

Federal stimulus funds could turn New York City’s rooftops into a laboratory for urban solar.

Con Edison, which serves 3.2 million customers in the New York City area, is proposing a 12 megawatt solar energy pilot program that would add solar panels to the utility’s buildings and property, help customers pay for installations, and solicit developers to build larger rooftop systems in its territory.

While 12 megawatts might sound small, the potential is enormous.

If it succeeds, what New York City learns from the project will shed valuable light on how photovoltaics can help cities worldwide manage peak electricity demands on hot summer days. (Continue reading…)

Federal stimulus funds could turn New York City’s rooftops into a laboratory for urban solar.

Con Edison, which serves 3.2 million customers in the New York City area, is proposing a 12 megawatt solar energy pilot program that would add solar panels to the utility’s buildings and property, help customers pay for installations, and solicit developers to build larger rooftop systems in its territory.

While 12 megawatts might sound small, the potential is enormous.

If it succeeds, what New York City learns from the project will shed valuable light on how photovoltaics can help cities worldwide manage peak electricity demands on hot summer days. (Continue reading…)

Let the learning come to you

Corporate training budgets have been slashed severely as companies try to balance the books amidst the worst recession in decades. Those that aren’t cutting training altogether are increasingly looking to save money by bringing training on-site rather than sending employees away to conferences or seminars.

Every few months, the managers at DCI, Inc. in St. Cloud meet with an instructor from the Twin Cities for a half-day of leadership training, usually at a local hotel or restaurant.

Not exactly an AIG-style, spa-and-champagne corporate retreat, but every expense counts in this economy.

So earlier this year, DCI, which makes stainless steel storage vessels for the food and biotech industries, decided to hold its quarterly management training on-site in a small conference room instead.

“It’s a cost-saving measure,” says finance vice president Chad Leither. “We’ll continue until things improve.”

DCI isn’t alone in trying to trim its training budget during these tough times.

Corporate training budgets have been slashed severely as companies try to balance the books amidst the worst recession in decades. Those that aren’t cutting training altogether are increasingly looking to save money by bringing training on-site rather than sending employees away to conferences or seminars. (Continue reading…)

Biting my tongue

KSTP AM 1500 put me on the air this morning to talk about recent Business Agenda headlines, specifically an item about Cargill’s success selling beef tongue and other specialty meats under its new Rhumba Meats brand. I’m not sure they realized — or cared — that I didn’t actually “write an article” about beef tongue; I just linked to a story by a Fast Company writer who did. Anyway, I should have anticipated what a wacky, potty humored morning talk show crew would do with a phrase like “tongue tacos.” All in good fun, I suppose. Here it is for your mocking pleasure. (My recording cut off just before Reusse said, “Well, you’ll probably never be on this show again.”)

[audio:http://www.danhaugen.com/audio/kstp1500.mp3]


Darwin’s theories at work as retail companies operate in ‘survival of the fittest’ environment

As biologists prepare to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin next month, doubters of his theories may want to head on down to their local shopping mall.

“It’s retail Darwinism,” says Dave Brennan, a marketing professor and co-director of the University of St. Thomas’ Institute for Retailing Excellence.

Major layoff and job cut announcements this week from Target and Best Buy only underscore the evidence that retailers are operating in a “survival of the fittest” environment. (Continue reading…)