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The US state of Texas, better known for its oil and gas industry, is set to become a clean energy powerhouse and a launching pad for cutting edge tech.

Clean Power

Texas To Become US Clean Energy Leader

The US state of Texas, better known for its oil and gas industry, is set to become a clean energy powerhouse and a launching pad for cutting edge tech.

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The US state of Texas already has a booming wind industry to its credit alongside its historic attachment to oil and natural gas, and a new initiative is set to bust the field wide open along with other clean energy sectors. Texas has just been tapped to be one of four founding states in the Energy Department’s new Clean Energy Incubator Network, which is aimed at getting cutting edge cleantech off the drawing board and into the marketplace as quickly as possible.

To give you a taste of what’s to come we’re going to look at a wind turbine company that’s already in the Texas hopper, but first let’s take a look at the forces behind the Clean Energy Incubator Network.

NREL Clean Energy Incubator Network

The Clean Energy Incubator Network

The Clean Energy Incubator Network (CEIN) is funded through the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in partnership with the utility industry’s Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

We’ve covered the lab many times — it’s one of the pivotal forces in cutting edge solar technology, for example — but not so much EPRI. That’s our bad, since EPRI membership represents a huge chunk of the electricity generated in the US, and the organization has been all over clean energy.

Here’s just a sampling: back in 2010, EPRI launched a partnership with the Solar Technology Acceleration Center, in 2013 it got involved in a new ocean power initiative, and earlier this year it was recruited into a major solar resiliency initiative spearheaded by the City University of New York.

CEIN pulls these two clean energy powerhouses together with academic and research institutes to help energy entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground. Here’s the pitch from the CEIN blog:

If you are an energy entrepreneur, this network is designed to provide you with a collection of the top resources you need to launch your company or commercialize your technology, including information about leading incubators, funding opportunities, testing facilities, mentors, and more…

…Distributed generation, automation, sensors, micro grids, electric cars, and storage are just some of the areas experiencing dramatic change, and this will surely only accelerate as tipping points are reached across clean energy technologies.

The four founding states are Illinois (headed up by Clean Energy Trust), Michigan (NextEnergy), California (LA Cleantech Incubator, and Texas (Austin Technology Incubator).

The Austin Technology Incubator is headquartered at the University of Texas in Austin, and if you noodle around on their website you’ll find some cool cutting edge clean energy companies that have already come under the Incubator’s wing.

Leaping Over Clean Energy Hurdles

That’s where we found the aforementioned wind turbine company, Wetzel Engineering (aka Wetzel Blade).

The company caught our eye because it has come up with an ingenious  solution to a problem that has bedeviled the wind industry, which is how to get those massive turbine blades out of the blade factory and over to their new homes.

Transporting turbine blades and other large components is a huge issue for the wind industry because it often involves special permits, escorts, alternate routes, and even infrastructure adjustment. The costs pile up, along with the delays, eating into profitability and cost-effectiveness.

Wetzel’s solution sounds simple enough, though the devil is in the details: a modular turbine blade.

We saw the modular solution at play for wind turbine towers last year, the idea being to break the tower down into parts that could be transported along standard routes, with no special permits or adjustments required.

As reported by our friends over at Wind Power Engineering last fall, the Wetzel design consists of seven modular pieces that can be transported for less than a standard blade.

The pieces are designed to be assembled on site without specialized requirements, further keeping costs under control. The firm expects that the seven-piece blade will also cost less to manufacture, and it anticipates improvements in quality over conventional blades, too.

This is the kind of manufacturing and transportation breakthrough that is required if the wind industry is to continue scaling up into taller towers and longer blades, so we’ll keep an eye on that.

We’ll also be keeping a close eye on the CEIN website (here’s that link again). There’s not a whole lot to it right now, but plans are in the works to include funding opportunities, resources for laboratories and events, and an “evaluation toolkit” that will tailor resources to start-ups based on how ready they are for commercialization.

As for EPRI, the organization will work in concert with the website to stage in-person and web-based events geared toward sharing best practices.

The first event was held just last week at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, so stay tuned for lots more on new developments in Texas and elsewhere.

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Image credit (screenshot): Wetzel Engineering

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