Clean Energy Rust Busting Road Trip Part 1: Cleveland

This is a special guest post from 2011 MAP fellow Lauren Kubiak. She, Rocky Kistner and I recently returned from a road trip in Ohio visiting and profiling businesses with a stake in the clean economy. You can find posts from our first road trip here.

In August, we completed our first clean technology road trip.  From the wind manufacturer in Michigan to the refrigerator recycling facility in Akron to the greenest zoo in the nation—and the efficient roofs, lighting, and building materials in between—our first road trip brought to light some of the incredible clean energy innovations in the Midwest.  But we also realized we barely scratched the surface.  So many manufacturers, research teams, non-profits, and large corporations have a stake in the clean economy, and it would be impossible to reach all of them in one, two, or even three goes. 

So we hit the road again; this time, starting in Cleveland.  Maybe from GE Lighting Solution’s regional influence, or maybe the proximity to Edison’s birth place, the region is home to a cluster (not the peanut kind) of companies inventing new ways to make light bulbs better, cheaper, and more efficient—without sacrificing light quality or lumens.  CFLs, LEDs, metal halide bulbs: name it and it’s made or invented here.  But beyond lighting, there are numerous other energy efficiency businesses in the area, most experiencing tremendous growth as demand for smaller energy bills surges.


Cleveland’s clean economy shines brightly from the moment you set foot in the town.  Driving north on 90, the efficiently-lit and cleanly-powered Cleveland Indians stadium greets baseball—and clean energy—fans, as does the wind and solar-powered Great Lakes Science Center.  Continue past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and you hit Cleveland State, currently in the midst of a massive energy efficiency upgrade to reduce energy use 20% by 2021.  The project, completed by local performance contracting company Brewer-Garrett, will save the school $62.9 million and has a multitude of indoor environment quality, beauty, and other benefits beyond.

In addition to Cleveland State, Brewer-Garrett has partnered with numerous other universities and K-12 schools, as well as manufacturing facilities, commercial buildings, and even a cheese factory to make their buildings and production lines more efficient.  Their work provides “a turnkey solution,” says Dan Mitchell, as they offer not only audits and consulting, but also the engineering expertise to see an entire project through.  To remove risk, Brewer-Garrett guarantees projects will earn money within years or they write the customer a check for the difference.  “And we’re not in the business to write checks,” says Mitchell. 

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Cleveland State University's student center recently underwent an energy efficiency retrofit. Part of a larger campus-wide project, efficiency upgrades will save the university $62.9 million by 2021. Photo credit: Brewer-Garrett

And while Brewer-Garrett guarantees the efficiency retrofits to pay for themselves within, at maximum, fifteen years, many only take two or three before the building owners begin making money on their investment.  In a region struggling to retain capital and jobs, saving money otherwise exported to import dirty energy is a very smart investment indeed.  As more and more buildings realize these savings, more and more jobs are created, both by the building owners and by Brewer-Garrett, which, in addition to hiring nearly ten percent of its 150 person workforce in the past year, is still on the lookout for more new employees.


Nobody knows energy savings and job creation quite like Cleveland neighbor TCP Inc, which, in the words of colleague Rocky Kistner, is “the biggest energy-saving light bulb company you never heard of.”  Headquartered slightly east of Cleveland in between stretches of Ohio foliage and freeways, TCP’s building is surprisingly nondescript for housing the future of the U.S. lighting industry.  With an automated CFL-twisting technology that increases production efficiency, they are poised to hire aggressively as they introduce to Ohio CFL manufacturing currently done overseas.

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A TCP testing room, where CFLs undergo hours of rigorous testing before being released to market. Photo credit: Lauren Kubiak

As Rocky’s description suggests, TCP’s production methods aren’t their only efficient solutions: even non-lighting technology nerds would have been in awe of the energy efficient bulbs Jim Crowcroft displayed in the socket strip.  From fully-dimmable CFL bulbs, bulbs with a wide color temperature spectrum, and CFLs that quickly get to full brightness—all solving problems associated with earlier CFLs—TCP’s technologies are making null the arguments the black helicopter conspiracy theorists pick at when they cry against bulb regulations. 

For those attached to the classic bulb shape, TCP has a solution for that, too, making classically-shaped LED, CFL, and incandescent bulbs, for which there is tremendous demand.  They supply big box retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Sears, and more, and during a Wednesday morning visit, it seemed as though forklift operators couldn’t fill orders fast enough. 

And while the creativity and drive of their own engineers and designers has been central to their development as a company, the proximity to peer businesses like GE and Venture Lighting and strong academic institutions like Case Western, Cleveland State, and Kent State, has undoubtedly also played a role: the cluster effect, as Brookings Institution or NorTech, Cleveland’s own economic empowerment engine, would say.

A high-tech economic development group, NorTech works with local businesses to connect them to peer institutions, capital, and skilled graduates.  Focusing on advanced energy, flexible electronics, and other high-tech industries, NorTech is driving the development of regional innovation clusters. 

One project poised to link them all together is the Great Lakes Wind Project, the proposal to construct wind turbines offshore in Lake Erie.  From electronic monitoring to transmission line construction to turbine and anchor manufacturing itself, the project has the potential to support emerging industries in the area, while boosting the businesses that already have a regional stronghold.

Ask any economist—or person with common sense—and job creation builds upon itself.  Extra income in one sector spills over into the services industry, a sector more labor intensive than the overall economy.  Among other industries, food and drink is included in this.  And who doesn’t love a good beer from a local brewery?  With firms like Rockwell Automation helping breweries achieve higher efficiencies and qualities, it’d be hard to find a hater.

Working with businesses like Microsoft, Cisco, and a plethora of local factories, Rockwell develops controls and software that make manufacturing—food, beer, and otherwise—plants more efficient.  Whether it be lowering the pasteurization temperature by one degree or adding occupancy sensors to lighting systems, the solutions they develop help businesses lower energy and other operating costs while increasing quality of the product itself.


Back north toward Lake Erie stands the 2.5 MW Lincoln Electric wind turbine, the largest in the state.  Generating renewable electricity since June, the tower stands as a symbol of Lincoln’s commitment to clean energy, and beckons the future of Cleveland’s energy system.  As work by Rockwell, Brewer-Garrett, TCP, and others drives yet further clean energy development in the region, the birthplace of aviation will continue as a pioneer, flying free of its rusty past.  Look up toward the turbine, and you’ll see Ohio's clean economy already in flight. 

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Photo credit: Lauren Kubiak