Clean Energy Rust Busting Road Trip Part 2: Cleveland & Cambridge

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.

If Part 1 of our three part series—and TCP, Brewer-Garrett, and Rockwell—hinted at the energy efficiency revolution happening in Cleveland, Part 2 should cement the city’s status as THE center for efficient lighting innovation, beginning with a visit to GrafTech International.  Located at the development site of the world’s first street light, the 125-year-old company manipulates the unique thermal insulation and dissipation properties of graphite to, among other things, help manufacture polysilicon, distribute the heat inside a popular smartphone, and manage heat from LEDs.

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Tracy Albers of GrafTech explains the technological innovations behind the graphite-based polysilicon mold pictured. All photos credit: Lauren Kubiak 

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GrafTech's thermal management hardware helps dissipate heat inside LED lights.

Despite its long history, GrafTech is anything but conventional.  Embedded in the company’s accomplished past of R&D 100 awards for technology innovation is an honor more commonly reserved for Hollywood stars: an Academy Award, won in 1956 for high-efficiency yellow flame carbon.  But beyond GrafTech’s camera-ready carbon, the company is one more in the region whose influence in the clean economy has spurred growth, doubling its workforce in the past five years.

In between GrafTech and the local LED-outfitted coffee shop is yet another expanding lighting company, Venture Lighting, whose 2X more efficient halogen bulb is breaking boundaries in the incandescent industry.  The technological breakthrough is in the interior capsule, which, coated with 63 layers of nano-film, recycles heat that would otherwise be wasted.  Manufactured in Ohio, the capsule is expanding efficient lighting options for customers wanting the instant-on glow of an incandescent, without all that energy. 

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Steve Stockdale of Venture Lighting with Venture's halogen bulb. Visible inside is the capsule responsible for the bulb's 100% efficiency increase. 

Federal light bulb standards deserve partial credit for the rapid expansion of the region’s evolving industry—and the projected energy savings of $79 per Ohio household—but lighting giant GE Lighting’s Cleveland headquarters also plays a strong role.  About to celebrate 100 years at their corporate campus, GE is arguably the company around which Cleveland’s burgeoning lighting industry has grown.  And with 700 people working at the campus, in addition to “hiring aggressively locally for engineering and design,” says Senior Physicist Gary Allen, they play just as integral a role today as they did a century ago. 

Especially in the LED industry, a large research and development focus on their Cleveland campus.  LEDs are an excellent directional light source, like a highly-focused flashlight.  While this is a strength for showcasing items in department stores or lighting small spaces like elevators, most homeowners would rather have a better-distributed glow.  Despite that not being a trait that LEDs have historically held, thanks to one simple item, and a little tinkering, all that has the potential to change. 

Taken by a ping pong ball’s uniform shape, Allen brought one into work one day.  He cut a small hole in it and slipped it over the tiny LED light source.  The result?  An evenly distributed glow, and the inspiration for GE’s new omnidirectional LED bulb.  The first Energy Star LED incandescent replacement, the 9 watt 40 watt replacement uses a small fraction of energy compared to its inefficient incandescent counterpart, and lasts a lot longer (though it would have to last 110 years to rival Livermore’s centennial bulb, my hometown hero). 

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Gary Allen, Senior Physicist on General Electric Lighting's Lighting Innovation Team, led the team effort to develop omnidirectional LED lamps. 

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GE's LEDs are subject to rigorous tests before being released to market.

In between GE and Cambridge and Zanesville, Ohio, an LED-illuminated roadway partially links the bulb producers to those benefitting from the energy efficient technology.  Indeed, if Cleveland is the center for light producing innovation, Guernsey and Muskingum counties are centers for light deployment innovation, and driving the neighboring counties’ increasing energy efficiencies are local, independent businesses.  Linking them all together is MCBI, the Muskingum County Business Incubator. 

Working in Zanesville since 2004, MCBI connects local businesses with office space, labor, capital, and other resources.  In 2010, recognizing the need to expand, Executive Director Carol Humphreys turned her eye to an old, out of commission middle school.  Though still structurally sound, the 10 years vacant school needed some upgrades.  An American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded DOE Grant, along with 70 local architects, designers, and contractors, made sure those were completed in the most energy and resource-efficient way possible, and the building now houses about a dozen early-stage businesses while helping countless others grow.

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Carol Humphreys, director of Muskingum County Business Incubator, works to facilitate the formation of new businesses in 8 counties near Zanesville, Ohio. The group recently moved into a renovated middle school with help from a DOE Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. 

J&M Electrical Supply is one local business that doesn’t need any help growing—except for maybe finding skilled electrical engineers.  A family-owned company with 35 years of electrical distribution experience, J&M’s clientele actually makes money on investing in energy efficient lighting upgrades, some of which include products from Cleveland’s very own TCP!  And while upgrading area businesses with more efficient lighting has always provided a steady customer stream, their number of projects has surged over the past two years, in part because of improved technologies and better incentives.

Lighting retrofit incentives—nearly all spurred from Ohio Senate Bill 221’s energy efficiency standards—push many customers over the edge in deciding to invest in a project.  While many projects see a payback time of one to two years without incentives, those in facilities not running 24 hours a day may take a little bit longer, since they have lower energy costs to begin with. 

No matter the payback time, projects save consumers money from the moment of installation, but, explains Bill Jarvis, the quicker the better.  “Two years is a slam dunk,” he says, which incentives help many projects reach.  What’s more, since SB 221’s inception, business has doubled for Jarvis, strengthening both his company and the regional economy, since local businesses can spend money on employees and new investment, rather than energy to power inefficient incandescents.

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Bill Jarvis of J&M shows an outdoor LED lamp.

Another Cambridge resident working to cut electricity costs is Jay Patterson of J’s Service Lighting.  “I was pushing energy savings before Al Gore,” said Patterson at a Bob Evans restaurant on the outskirts of town.  While much of his business is in factories and offices located outside of the 11,000 person municipality, he limits himself to a 45 mile radius because his daily schedule is overbooked as it is: his relentless work ethic and ability to cut customers’ energy bills—and, more recently, S.B. 221—has driven a strong demand for his services. 

But still, retrofitting lighting in larger corporations remains a challenge, as evidenced by the hundreds of inefficient incandescent bulbs still in the restaurant.  “These make me crazy,” Patterson said, glancing up at chandelier of 60 watt bulbs, some of which, burned out, had yet to be replaced.  Luckily, not all local decisions are made by people over 100 miles away, and Patterson has completed lighting retrofits in many local factories, including a plastic plant not too far away.  By switching over to T-8 fluorescent lighting and making other modifications, he helped cut the factory’s lighting bill in half.  Given that lighting often comprises upwards of 35 percent of an overall energy bill, these savings have significant monetary impact.

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Jay Patterson of J's Service Lighting. The T-8 fluorescent lights in the background were part of a larger project he completed to shave off more than half of a local factory's lighting bill.  

It’s becoming increasingly common knowledge that switching lighting is one of the most cost-effective carbon—and utility bill—abatement retrofits.  Ohio certainly seems to have received that memo, and make clear Brookings Institution’s finding that the clean economy really is a bright spot in the overall economy.  From the international innovators in Cleveland to the efficiency entrepreneurs further south, Ohio’s economy is home to a cluster of lighting industries, and all signs point to it growing continually brighter.

As the lighting efficiency economy continues to expand, GE, Venture Lighting, TCP, GrafTech, Patterson, Jarvis, and others will ensure that the light it shines on the region does not illuminate rust.  No, instead it will—and already is—spotlight the foundation of a clean economy, one continually chipping away at unemployment.  In the midst of an economic revival, Ohioans averse to rust-corroding phosphoric acid need not fret: the state’s clean energy system is doing more than its share to reinvigorate the rust belt.