Advanced energy heats up

12/13/2016

Tennessee business leaders want the state to get a bigger piece of the $1.3 billion “advanced energy” market. To that end, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council had its third annual Opportunities in Energy discussion and announced a mentorship program for energy startups.

About 60 business people and public officials came to the event in The Square Room inside Café 4 on Market Square. A featured speaker was Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The U.S. is setting up German-style “institutes” to bring public researchers and private production firms into collaboration, Hogan said. That includes Knoxville’s Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, announced in 2015. “By the end of this calendar year, we’ll have established five of these institutes around the country on advanced manufacturing,” Hogan said.

On the lead panel with Hogan was Bryan Dods, the institute’s CEO. Its problem-solving will pay off for small and medium-size companies that can’t afford the research facilities of major corporations, he said.

“The nation comes to Knoxville for composites — that’s what we want to build to,” Dods said.

The meeting was also a platform for announcing creation of the Energy Mentor Network, which already has more than a dozen mentors with expertise in energy systems, clean tech, intellectual property, business and finance strategy. Modeled on San Diego’s decades-long Springboard program, it aims to connect those mentors with entrepreneurs statewide for three to nine months.

Cortney Piper, TAEBC executive director and president of Piper Communications, announced the mentoring program during the day’s final panel. It will offer a variety of entrepreneurial help culminating in a full business plan. The program doesn’t promise capital investment will follow, but mentors should provide “everything” a potential investor will want to know, Piper said.

Mentoring the first applicants will begin this month, and applications are still open for startups and potential mentors. For more information and to apply, visit www.tnadvancedenergy.com/energymentor-network/apply. Other panel discussions included heads of local businesses using advanced energy and manufacturing technology. They alternated with the showing of three videos on the subject, which are now posted at www.tnadvancedenergy.com.

“Advanced energy” covers “anything that makes energy cleaner, safer, more secure and more efficient,” according to TAEBC.

“Examples include electric and plug-in hybrid cars, lightweight composites for the automotive industry, natural gas fueled trucks, pollution control equipment, bio-energy, high-performance buildings, more efficient industrial processes, power reliability, smart grids, combined heat and power and the latest wind, solar and nuclear technologies,” according to the council’s definition.

A July 2015 report on advanced energy in Tennessee found the state has more than 17,000 businesses, employing nearly 325,000 people, in advanced energy-related fields.

Together they contribute $33.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, paying an average annual wage of nearly $49,000, well above the state mean.

Advanced energy business is growing rapidly, but 80 percent of that activity is concentrated in 20 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Carmakers in particular are using more advanced energy processes due to higher fuel economy standards, the report found.

Tennessee has three unique assets that can boost advanced energy development, according to the report: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Valley Authority — all based in or near Knoxville.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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