The Cleanie Awards Honorees: Moving Clean Energy Industry Forward

Companies and individuals honored by The Cleanie Awards, a comprehensive awards program focused on the clean energy industry, are a diverse group, representing nearly every facet of the clean technology and renewable energy market.

The 2019 honorees received their awards at the Solar Power International (SPI) event in Salt Lake City, Utah, in late September. The winners were recognized at SPI by The Cleanie Awards’ Advisory Council members, judges and strategic partners, including SPI, Energy Storage International, North America Smart Energy Week, POWER magazine, and the U.S. Energy Storage Association.

“In addition to receiving a 200 percent increase in submissions [for awards] this year, the quality of entries was so strong that our esteemed judging panel elected to add in new tiers of recognition to properly honor the changemakers and leaders in the industry,” said Elyssa Haynes, program director for The Cleanie Awards. “Our platinum and gold winners represent nearly every facet of the cleantech and renewable energy market. Congratulations to our 2019 honorees!”

POWER magazine Associate Editor Darrell Proctor moderated a panel discussion prior to the awards ceremony at SPI, and also has interviewed some of the winners over the past several weeks, including representatives from Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses (CEB), Viking Cold Solutions, Greentek Energy Systems, and the U.S. Energy Storage Association (ESA).

‘I Felt Like I Won the Lottery’

Kelly Speakes-Backman is CEO of the ESA, a group that joined with the solar power industry at this year’s SPI, as part of North America Smart Energy Week. She was honored as The Cleanie Awards’ Woman of the Year.

“The Cleanie Awards set out to identify the unsung movers and shakers in the industry, from the top of the Fortune 100 list to hot startups, pioneering individuals and high impact advocates,” said Haynes. “Kelly Speakes-Backman exemplifies the type of innovation and leadership that we are seeking in an award winner. Her accomplishments serve as an inspiration to the broader cleantech industry.”

Speakes-Backman, a former commissioner with the Maryland Public Service Commission, told POWER: “I was so flattered and so excited to receive this award. It’s a recognition of the work I’ve done in the clean energy space, across all the technologies. Storage is sort of the central hub to all of these different resources. It felt especially great because I felt like I won the lottery.”

Speakes-Backman said it was important for energy storage to join with solar power at the Utah event, as more and more solar projects also integrate energy storage. She said the same could be said for wind power.

“Absolutely storage is becoming more important,” she said. “The industry is coming up with so many new offshore wind storage facilities, especially along the East Coast, and that’s really exciting. You look at offshore wind, and how energy storage could be located near the shoreline. And that’s also part of why we think it’s so important to really decouple that investment tax credit to work with wind, and not just solar.”

She said regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) need to establish guidelines as soon as possible for adding energy storage to the grid. “I’m really excited on that front,” she said, noting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recognized the importance of storage with its Order 841in early 2018, which directed RTOs and ISOs to establish models for storage participation in wholesale power markets.

“You have to be able to move forward with your planning, and we need a decision on whether the 10-hour requirement for capacity is just and reasonable,” she said, referring to PJM’s insistence on a 10-hour duration requirement for batteries to play in its capacity market. “We commissioned our own study that showed you really don’t need more than four or six hours” duration, she said, pointing to analysis from Astrapé Consulting, published by ESA and the Natural Resources Defense Council in July, that used PJM data and industry-standard modeling. The study indicated that gigawatts’ worth of energy storage in 2-hour, 4-hour and 6-hour durations could provide the same capacity value as power plants that run 24 hours a day.

Speakes-Backman said recognition by The Cleanie Awards, while flattering, was also humbling. “I’m truly honored to receive such a prestigious award, and humbled to be thought of as helping inspire others to lead this industry,” she said after the awards ceremony. “This award embodies the reason why I entered the clean energy field from the beginning: that I would do my part in building a better world in which our communities can enjoy the benefits of clean, reliable, uninterrupted energy that is produced and delivered in an innovative, affordable and sustainable way.”

Experience with Renewables, and Bringing Expertise to Energy Storage

“Our overall strategy on the [awards] application that we put in was talking about how we’re a leader in renewable energy around the country,” said Michael Perna, vice president of marketing and business development for Valhalla, New York-based Con Edison Solutions, which is part of CEB. The group was honored by The Cleanie Awards as a Gold winner for Midsize Company of the Year.

“We now have the integration of energy storage we acquired from Johnson Controls, and with our expertise in renewables, we’re more closely integrating solar and wind now and in what we can offer to clients and sites in our own portfolio,” Perna told POWER.

CEB’s joint venture with Johnson Controls is designed to expand the market for energy storage technology developed by Johnson Controls over the past several years. CEB is majority owner and operating partner of the joint venture, while Johnson Controls participates as a minority owner and contributes intellectual property that it has developed for battery management systems and controls. Workers from Johnson Controls energy storage group are now part of CEB, which is now the exclusive provider of battery energy storage to customers of Johnson Controls.

“In addition to providing some in-house services to our clients, including those with solar and wind assets, we manage about 10,000 MW of third-party generation, focused on renewables with a little bit of natural gas in there,” said Tom DiCapua, managing director at Con Edison Energy, also part of CEB, where he oversees energy acquisition asset management and wholesale service energy trading. “We’re all getting excited about batteries. We’re very actively keeping abreast of the rules changes with the RTOs [regional transmission organizations] and ISOs [independent system operators] around energy storage, and with getting batteries into some of the older, existing sites.”

“We’ve really grown our solar and wind portfolio,” said Perna. “We’re really one of the largest solar and wind operators in America. We’ve been able to serve the full spectrum of the renewables market. From commercial and industrial projects, to large solar [sites] in California. We have the ability to serve the market from very large renewables [installations] to smaller projects, including energy efficiency.”

“It’s a leadership message with the scale we bring to renewable energy, to translate that into value for the clients we work with,” Perna said. “We provide better ways for them to monetize their assets.”

Said DiCapua: “It’s about developing, owning, operating, and also serving others.”

Green, Sustainable, and Downright Cool

Viking Cold Solutions, in the company’s own words, is “a thermal energy management company focused on making the world’s cold storage systems more efficient, flexible, and sustainable while protecting food quality.” But the company’s Thermal Energy Storage (TES) systems are about more than just keeping food cold.

Viking Cold’s TES systems have a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of less than 2 cents per kWh. They also are high-tech, applying Phase Change Materials and cloud-based intelligent controls, along with monitoring, to combine energy storage with efficiency, which enables flexible energy management and reduced energy costs.

James Bell, president and CEO of the Houston, Texas-based company, talked with POWER about one of the company’s projects, done in conjunction with the Boston, Massachusetts-based Eversource Energy for the Greater Boston Food Bank. The Eversource Demand Management Project was honored as the Platinum Winner for Project of the Year by The Cleanie Awards.

Bell said the project was looking to solve several problems, including reducing costs, and Viking Cold’s TES made that happen.

“They went ahead and purchased seven of our systems, through seven cold storage facilities in Boston,” said Bell, who discussed a different Viking Cold TES project—which serves a frozen food warehouse operating in Pacific Gas & Electric’s territory in Northern California—during a session at POWER’s Distributed Energy Conference in Denver in October (the 2020 Distributed Energy Conference is Oct. 19-21 in Chicago, Illinois). Bell said of the Boston project: “It is 1.2 MW of total capacity, and we deployed that quickly. Literally, from program kickoff to commissioning was about six months.”

Bell said his company is able to deploy its systems in short time frames, even as retrofits. “We just go into existing infrastructure, there is no tie-in, no greenfield/brownfield issues, no construction. We take advantage of space that is already in a low-temperature environment. The cost of energy on our project is less than 2 cents per kWh. You can see that we have a cost advantage, and we’re also very green.

“We market directly to folks that have cold storage [power] load,” Bell said. “They’re looking for efficiency and sustainability. More and more, this looks like an ‘in front of the meter’ load. Constellation, NRG, all of them are partners. We’re doing co-marketing, and we’re pretty widely recognized.

“We want to further a raised awareness of the capabilities of the technology,” Bell said. “Not everyone understands what energy storage or thermal storage can do for them. These elements exist inside distribution centers, restaurants, hotels. We have a decided competitive advantage over storage, because we have sustainability, we reduce wear and tear on equipment, we help [the customer] better operate their site. And we give them resiliency, and the backup [power] capability to help keep that food safe.”

Bell noted how Viking Cold’s systems are “obviously green, sustainable, and long duration. We can provide permanent load shift, demand reduction, daily dispatch. It’s an efficient technology that provides resiliency, and supports avoided costs. We’re working with PG&E, with their refrigeration customers. We’re working with food banks, with groceries like Whole Food and Publix. We’re in areas that get exposed to extreme weather. We have a bunch of installations in Puerto Rico, and our customers down there didn’t lose anything during [Hurricane] Maria despite losing power for days.

“We want to continue to expand sustainability and resiliency,” in the power generation sector, Bell said. “We’re working more and more with solar because we store solar energy particularly well. We can take a commercial freezer completely off the grid. We’re the best storage medium by far for renewable energy.”

Building a Better Lightbulb

Chances are you only notice a streetlight when you’re looking for a well-lit place to park—or when that streetlight is out.

Most of us know that LED bulbs use less energy and last longer than their incandescent, fluorescent, mercury vapor or other predecessors. But how can an LED be even more efficient?

Power it with the sun.

Lawrenceville, Georgia-based Greentek Energy Systems came up with that better lightbulb, and took home a Gold Cleanie Award for Product of the Year for its Apollo Series LED Solar. Sahir Molu, the company’s COO and co-founder, told POWERthe light is a “3,000-lumen Apollo LED solar. What we have been doing for the past six, seven years, is integrating our LED technology specifically with solar. What we saw was an opportunity to integrate our LED technology with solar, anywhere, literally with four screws, put it anywhere there is sun.

“There’s a button that controls the LED light. You can set all of that up with the remote that comes with the light,” Molu said. “We saw an opportunity with LED streetlights, and it’s been going great. We sell into a distribution market, so it’s difficult to know where they go, but we’ve sold to the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], they have them on their campus, we’ve sold to municipalities, schools, mall parking lots. Construction lights, lakes, wherever it’s difficult to run a power line, these are very useful. Providing adequate lighting where it’s needed, with just four screws and pushing a button.”

Molu said the Apollo series light “is probably our most popular, just because we’ve been selling it the longest. We’re bringing in higher and higher lumen on these streetlights, 18,000-lumen solar, for streets and parking lots. You don’t have to worry about the light not being bright enough. We’re really excited about that. We have two different batches of these, one has a panel that’s not integrated with the light, and it sold out almost immediately. It’s all-in-one solar, just put it on a pole and click a button.

“We’re trying to get higher and higher lumens in an all-in-one. I know there’s no one out there that can provide that 18,000-lumen solar light like we can.”

Look for updates from POWER magazine on The Cleanie Awards for 2020. Here’s a look at the list of 2019 The Cleanie Awards winners:

Enterprise Company of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Enel Green Power
  • Gold Winner: GE Power

Midsize Company of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Clearway Energy Group
  • Gold Winner: Con Edison Clean Energy Business
  • Gold Winner: Invenergy, LLC
  • Gold Winner: NextEra Energy Resources

Non-Profit Company of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Smart Electric Power Alliance
  • Gold Winner: Clean Energy Business Network

Startup of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Point Load Power
  • Gold Winner: Li-ion Tamer

Investment Organization of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Hannon Armstrong

Entrepreneur of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Janice Lin, founder and CEO, Strategen

Woman of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO, U.S. Energy Storage Association

Rising Star Under 40

  • Platinum Winner: Lauren Glickman, Managing Partner, RENEWCOMM
  • Gold Winner: Matt Hankey, COO and founding partner, New Energy Equity
  • Gold Winner: Guy Van Syckle, Senior Manager, Hannon Armstrong

Project of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Viking Cold Solutions: Eversource Demand Management Project
  • Gold Winner: Southern Power and RES: Cactus Flats Wind Project

Product of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Point Load Power: PV Booster
  • Gold Winner: Greentek Energy Systems: Apollo Series LED Solar Street Light

Public Affairs Campaign of the Year

  • Platinum Winner: Fresh Energy: Pollinator-Friendly Solar Campaign
  • Gold Winner: Calvert Street Group & sPower: Spotsy for Solar Campaign

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).