Wednesday, September 28, 2011

US Tidal Power: Lunar Truce

Another potential US Manufacturing enterprise takes shape

ORPC’s RiveGen power system that generates electricity
 from the rise and fall of the tides.
The Moon has always been a source of misery for me.  I look up at it now as I write this and all it makes me think of are lost romances, failed attempts at poetry (don’t act like you never tried either), my mother reading “Goodnight Moon” in a not-so-subtle way of getting me to go to bed, or just morbid thoughts of lifelessness in general.  I mean, it’s a dead rock floating in the air, I get it.  It glows.  “Wooo”.  It’s still a piece of rock.  Why am I supposed to be so fascinated?
Recently, Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC) announced plans to install what would be the US’s first tidal-powered turbine that lies in the grid.  The turbine, called the TidGen power system, would be placed deep in the waters of Cobscook Bay, near Eastport, Maine.  The turbine is a Tidal Energy Converter (TEC), mounted turbines that extract energy through the power of Earth’s tidal system, which of course revolves around the gravity of the Moon’s orbit. 
NOW, you’re starting to interest me, Moon.
Tidal power is almost non-existent in the US, yet it is a powerful and extraordinarily consistent method of generating electricity through renewable energy.  Because it relies on tidal patterns, it’s more reliable than wind and solar energy, where abundance of either can vary daily due to weather shifts.  Once they’re installed, they cost next to nothing to maintain as well.  Unfortunately, the downsides to tidal power have stopped serious investment in its tracks: it poses several environmental risks, needs ideal conditions in underwater locations and costs a boatload of initial capital to establish (one proposed tidal plant for the UK would amount to $15 BILLION altogether.  Music to Congress’s ears, n’est ce pas?) 
However, recent innovations in technology, specifically the advent of cross flow turbines, have proven that tidal power can generate more energy at a lower cost than previously thought.  Apparently other countries have already concluded the resource is worth investment.  Right now, according to Renewable Energy Development (, there are seven major tidal energy projects underway in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Korea.  These tidal grids are projected to harness energy from 1 to 300 MW worth of electricity. 
Now compare that to ORPC’s initial model, which is slated to produce a whopping 60 kilowatts, enough to power 50 homes.  Clearly, the US is not exactly enjoying a comfortable lead in creating a tidal power grid, but it’s a step in the right direction both for this new technology and our quest to establish more US manufacturing jobs. ORPC’s president and CEO said it best:
This isn't theory because we're actually doing it. We have equipment in the water, so it's a fact.  We think this is a highly desirable new industry for the state of Maine-Chris Sauer, CEO and President, ORPC
So here’s what I am willing to do, personally, as my part for the American tidal power industry and the country as a whole:  I am willing to forego my grudge with the Moon.  I’ll visit my local observatory, I’ll read more Greek mythology; I’ll even howl late at night (like my college days).
While it has its risks, tidal power is a potential manufacturing opportunity that can pay off in the long-term.
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Profile: 350Green and the Future of American EV Networks

350 Green works with municipalities to develop charging
networks for electric vehicles in their areas.

Charging station infrastructure demands can lead to US Manufacturing jobs
Recently I wrote about the lack of a national charging infrastructure being a key obstacle to more widespread interest in use of EV’s like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.  Private companies like Walgreen’s and Ikea are taking the first necessary steps to make this happen, planning to build Level Two charging station operations on the premises of their stores.  This is a much-needed step in the right direction, but it’s also a drop in the bucket when you compare it to just how much of an “American highway system” there is, and how many stations need to be in proximity if we’re all going be able to stay on the road with lightning in our respective fuel tanks.  
In order to get a better gauge on how all this can feasibly happen, I decided to interview 350Green (you can learn all about them on their website, , a company founded in Washington DC in 2006 and now based in San Diego, California that develops charging networks in urban areas all around the country.  If you’re looking for who’s “on the floor” of the transition from gas stations to electric-based recharge centers, it doesn’t get any better than these guys.  Mariana G, a spokesperson for the company, answered my questions:

Me-       -I am particularly interested in who you work with in both the manufacturing of
EV chargers as well as the installation. Do you do this on your own or do you
facilitate between other companies?  And if so, who?”
Mariana- “We are equipment agnostic and work with several manufacturers.  We always bring and install the best equipment that is available on the market.  We’ve been installing [from] AeroVironment and will be announcing other manufacturers shortly.”

Me-       -“Where is the equipment usually made?  Do you import the parts and then
assemble them here?”
Mariana-“Most of our contracts require [parts and products] to be made in America.  We work with manufacturers that have the ability to manufacture in US.”

Me-       Do you see charging infrastructure and its need for EVs
to thrive as potential for job growth in construction or some other industry,
like retail (considering what Walgreen has just announced)?”
Mariana-Infrastructure will definitely spur [growth] in the job market, 350Green is hiring installers, engineers and managers.  Our retail partners, subcontractors and suppliers are hiring as well.  The job demand goes further than just the EV industry, and reaches solar, steel, copper, software and many other industries.

Me-       “Are there any ways in which the typical urban/suburban landscape will adapt in
reaction to charging infrastructure that may not have been anticipated in design
and research stages?”
Mariana- There are many theories out there on how the market will adjust to infrastructure.  I would imagine one of the hypotheses will eventually prove right.  I doubt our crystal ball is better than everyone else's, so we keep a close tab on the pulse of the consumers and will react to whatever [the] market dictates.

That last part is what we’re all skittish about.  For all the presumptions and hope that this kind of infrastructure makeover will trickle down (up?) to other sectors and industries unseen, they’re just that: unseen.  But all the pieces for a growing industry that will create economic opportunity seem to be there with 350Green: they’re part of several supply chains, specialize in areas with a massive number of potential consumers, work with many different industry sectors like construction and engineering, and the best part: most of their contracts are homegrown.  This is a system that’s truly localized.  Hopefully, companies like 350Green keep improving their networking systems and we wind up reaping the benefits in the near future.  It sure sounds like they’re onto something!

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ronpack Bags Louisiana

Ronpak makes a variety of bags from paper to foil including the cookie
bags pictuired above, all 100% Made in the USA.
 Its Commitment to US manufacturing continues as it opens its new factory
Ronpak, a bag company based in South Plainfield, NJ, is expanding its operations to the Port of Shreveport-Bossier in Louisiana, according to their press report released July 28th.  The company specializes in bags used in tons of major industries, from liquor stores to hospitals, and you’ve no doubt unwittingly used their product when buying a pack of Wrigley’s at the grocery store or a box of munchkins at Dunkin’ Donuts (I have so many of those particular boxes strewn on the floor of my car I could pass as one of their warehouses.)  This will be their third plant, having another one all the way out in Mira Loma, CA, giving them more of a license to the title of a true “national” company.
That’s important for them when taking into account the part of their mission statement that includes, “We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the United States…We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well.” 
So details on the expansion into Bayou country: Ronpak will receive a $3.55 million grant, contingent on performance standards, to buy equipment and set up payroll.  Hiring begins in September, and they’re banking on a labor force of 175 jobs, while construction on the new plant plans to finish in early 2012, a fairly speedy set-up process so it appears RonpaK is ready to hit the ground (or bog) running.
I love these guys for two reasons.  First, they make it a point to mention that all of their bags are made from reusable or recycled products.  Secondly, Ron Sedley, the company owner, chose Louisiana out of three other states in a site selection competition.  No location outside of the country was considered, keeping Ronpak true to their mission statement.  Of course, Louisiana’s promise of tax rebates for job creation and state-supported training maaaay have played into that, but I’m still giving them a thumbs-up.  Post-Katrina Louisiana needs more of these stories, and a manufacturing company that can now truly call itself “multi-regional” is good news for us all.
So get a move on with those bags, PSB, LA!  Because I am now craving an extra powdered-chocolate frosting-filled donut, and without you guys I’m going to look like a disaster area before I even bring it to the car.  
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company, Inc.