Great Ideas from Energy Innovators

The March Great Ideas Breakfast at the Princeton Public Library brought four energy innovators together to share their energy stories. The speakers included three start up inventors and the Chief Operating Officer of a local Fortune 200 company. Here is a brief summary of their remarks: NRG: Focusing on Sustainability and Distributed Power

Plant growing inside light bulb to illustrate Innovative Energy Solutions

“The challenge of the energy industry is that no one can see it, touch it, smell it. Hurricane Sandy gave us a sign of how fragile the power system is and how we need to change delivery. Current systems are redundant and wasteful," said NRG Energy’s Chief Operating Officer, Mauricio Gutierrez, who served as moderator for the event.

NRG, the largest US independent power producer is headquartered here in Princeton. With roots in fossil-fuel generation, NRG is focused on sustainability and distributed power, and has become the third-largest renewable energy producer in the USA.

"People can't believe that we want them to buy less of what we produce." Gutierrez added.

NRG is looking into ways to develop micro-grids so that homes can generate their own electricity. The company is partnering with leading innovators such as Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, to explore ways to sell surplus energy back to the grid. "That's where we think the industry is going." NRG also has projects in carbon capture and sequestration, a network for electric vehicles, and just acquired the largest residential solar company in the country. "We are where the telecom industry was 15 years ago. Energy is on the cusp of new, disruptive technologies. We can work toward it or get disrupted by it," concluded Gutierrez.

Liquid Light: Creating Value from CO2 Waste

Speakers and crowd at March 2014 Great Ideas Breakfast

Kyle Teamey, CEO of  venture-capital backed company Liquid Light, dreamed of founding a company that could convert a waste problem, CO2, to valuable chemicals and materials used to create products as varied as carpets and plastic coatings (instead of manufacturing these from oil & gas).  As Teamey explained, "When CO2 goes into the atmosphere, it's a lost opportunity, " or by the numbers, 1 ton of CO2 is about $80.00 compared to $800.00 for the same amount of oil and $250.00/ton of natural gas.

While an entrepreneur-in-residence, Teamey searched laboratories for solutions and founded Liquid Light based upon catalyst technology licensed from Princeton University.  One thing he has learned on his cleantech journey is: "If you can't make money with sustainability, you are unsustainable. You need to consider both the economy and sustainability when building a start-up."

SunSaluter: A More Efficient Solar Panel

Eden Full is a junior at Princeton University and Founder of SunSaluter. Her path has already taken a few zigs and zags.  She came to Princeton with an idea for a non-electrical rotator for solar panels, which would greatly boost the efficiency of the panels for owners that could only afford one or two panels.  Three years ago, Full received a grant to run a pilot in Kenya; feedback from locals helped her realize the importance of developing something that is easy for the end user.

Crowd viewing large screen with picture from Kenya of solar panel research.

Taking a few years off from college to develop Sun Salutor, thanks to a Thiel Fellowship.  Full used water bottles as weights on the solar panels with a drip rate that corresponded with the movements of the sun.  When she introduced SunSaluter in Tanzania, the reaction of the locals was "Why hadn't we thought of this ourselves?!"  Full said, "As an engineer, that's what I want to hear...that people take ownership and understand it completely."

An Electric Cruiser Motorcycle from The Comet Project

Nathan Haley provided a story of how innovation happens at the pre-company, idea stage of development.  The Comet Project arose out of a student paper combined with evident passion for motorcycles.  Haley studies economics at Princeton University and related, "The dilemma many of us face is that we love the environment but want to enjoy it by being in it...driving through it..."

It's difficult to reduce emissions from gas-powered motorcycles, so the PU team looked to develop an electric motorcycle powered by batteries.  "There was so much interest that people were coming to us with ideas.,” explained Hailey, “the project changed from research to a start-up.” Comet's technology is designed for the larger "cruiser" motorcycles that can drive long ranges (and handle a battery pack weighing 400 lbs.!)

Sustainable Princeton’s Green CORE

A big thanks to Sustainable Princeton Green CORE (Community Outreach and Residential Engagement) volunteers Alexandra Bar Cohen, Annarie Lyles, Yamile Slebi, and Andrea Nylund for organizing the Great Ideas Breakfast series.  To learn more about the Green CORE and other volunteer opportunities, please Contact Us.

We hope you can join us for more Great Ideas Breakfasts on the last Thursday of the month, at 8:30 a.m at the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room.   Our next Great Ideas Breakfast on "Water, Our Most Undervalued Resource" will be on May 29, 2014.  See our Homepage Events List for updates on the Great Ideas Breakfasts and other local sustainability events.