Bob Haug: On a windy night in Iowa we produce more energy than we have need for and more than we can export and so if you can take that valueless energy and use it to compress air into an aquifer where we have tremendous amount of storage capacity. Then what was the wind energy the night before with no value all of a sudden has a great deal of value and if you marry those two things the off peak storage and the on peak delivery of wind energy. What it can do is make wind energy a dispatchable resource, a dependable resource even for those times when the wind is not blowing and if we are successful there and we have three test wells that have been drilled I think it will revolutionize wind energy.
Tim Nugent: We just formed our partnership with a global company you would recognize. When they came to us they did a focus group on products for solar. They came up with I don’t know a thousand ideas. They narrowed it down to four or five they then came back to us with a design team on their side and said we want our design team to interface with your design team and together we will bring these products to bear that is a wonderful way to work. We just added ten people so we are over a hundred people today.
Frank Jeffrey: A year ago we were probably around eighty, in 2005 we were probably thirty to forty. ’95 we were probably fifteen to eighteen. So its been a steady growth, so it’s been a lot of years for that growth to come and actually the growth in the last five years has been more rapid.
Male Speaker: Welcome to the Dream Green Series with co-hosts Stuart Tanner and James Moore on Solar Powered KRUU FM. Iowans creating a greener tomorrow. Today a journey of discovery across the state featuring innovators, cutting edge projects and communities leading the way to an energy independent and sustainable future. Visit our website at greeniowa.org.
James Moore: And yes folks hear the whine of that engine, we are on the road again as we like to say here on the Dream Green Series. This is James Moore joining me of course my co-host Stuart Tanner. Now this is one of those sunny days in Iowa. We are headed north from Fairfield up to Ankeny. We are going to meet with Bob Haug who is the Executive Director and has been since 1986 of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. This is an organization consisting of five hundred and forty five different electric companies and energy groups. So we are going to learn about what he does, what they do all as part of our journey of discovery across this great State of Iowa looking at various key elements in the sustainability and energy efficiency spheres. Some interesting things they are doing and that we are going to learn about. How you are doing Stuart, good to see you.
Stuart Tanner: Good to be here on the road again going up to discover a new subject because this will be a bit of a new angle for us talking to Bob finding out about energy audits, which is one of the things they do. How do you become more energy efficient in your business, what combination of things you put together in order to achieve that? I think they have even done that for whole towns as well as businesses and schools and they have some energy efficiency features at their own premises. Plus we will be talking utilities and finding out about the big picture for Iowa. So there is a lot of pastrami in that sandwich or maybe I should say a veggie burger.
JM: We are entering the surroundings of Des Moines as we speak, a very, very pleasant day I am happy to say it’s been pretty hot. But you know the summer in Iowa often it does get hot. And well there we heard a little bit of a yelp in the background, no it is not a solar car that Stuart is holding with Pat Higby. It looks like a chance to get a little biscuit before we get in for the breakfast here. By the way biscuit means something different in Britain than it does here. We will let Stuart explain the difference.
ST: Well here your biscuit is a savory, whereas ours are like your cookies and we would separate cookies out from biscuits. Cookies look like baked dough, whereas a biscuit is usually flatter, but it’s definitely sweet. Whereas your biscuits are savory, now the thing about McDonalds is they have, if you go in there and you say I 'll have a biscuit with cheese then they will make it for you, which is a good, good vegetarian meal to start the day with and James has already had his pumpkin seeds and pistachios, which is what he has for breakfast. So it’s my turn now.
JM: Don’t forget the apple, you know what they say, an apple a day keeps the energy efficiency in bay. Oh my goodness, I think it is time for a little cup of coffee and we will be with you shortly, we are really excited once again to be on the road looking at great energy efficiency and sustainability practices as we wind our way here into a local stop. So keep it tuned right here to KRUU FM, Solar Powered KRUU FM for the Dream Green Series. You can, boy this lady is awfully talky today. I think she has had too much coffee, but you can also follow our exploits on the greeniowa.org website so we will back in just a moment. Keep it tuned right here.
Well, here we are, our GPS lady said we are arriving at the destination on left but we see nothing but water and a gate and that’s kind of interesting. So we are outside of -.
ST: We are in a marsh.
JM: Yeah we are basically in a marsh. I would drive up in maybe that next driveway. But it is very interesting lay of the land here marsh and water, there is sort of a boat area, quite nice. Lets see what we have got going here is that it, is there a sign there for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. Yeah a nice little sign and there is the building we are looking over, wow this is kind of nestled into a quiet area back here next to a great little body of water. There is a railroad line right there and I see they are leaving the grounds here sort of O’naturale, wouldn’t you say?
ST: Yeah that seems to be something we really like, prairie grass, loads of it -. I am still trying to find a flower in the prairie grass that isn't yellow or purple. You see lilies by the side of the road sometimes and they are orange. But whenever we stop somewhere for some prairie grass I am going to see yellow and purple flowers.
JM: We are coming up on this award winning building, I love the look of this, do you Stuart?
ST: Yeah it’s really nice. But it looks like its made out of metal panels but its got these tree trunks surrounding the building and its looking out on some prairie grass just in front of it, very nice.
JM: It sort of reminds me of the trees at this sustainable living center inside the building in Fairfield there on the MUM campus. But anyway well we will debark, is that the right word. Disembark, we will get out of the car as they say and we will be with you shortly, keep it tuned right here to Solar Powered KRUU FM and the Dream Green series this is Stuart Tanner and James Moore.
As just promised we have arrived in a very, very beautiful building here, the headquarters of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. First of all we are going to meet and talk with the Executive Director of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. His name is Bob Haug and Bob is the Director, he has been here for a couple of years. I think since about 1986, he has a degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison where I grew up. Over thirty year’s experience of working Bob has been an active proponent of energy efficiency and renewable energy. It is really a delight to sit down in the beautiful building. Bob how are you doing today?
BH: Just fine thank you.
JM: Good to be with you and as often our tradition here I am going to turn over our first question to Stuart Tanner, Stuart?
ST: I wanted to ask you first of all what the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities is and does?
BH: Well, we are a Trade Association that’s been around since 1947 and we represent Municipal Utility interests and the legislature and before state and federal regulatory agencies.
ST: Could you give us an overview of energy in Iowa, because obviously the energy picture changes from state to state and I do believe that Iowa does fairly well in terms of the price that people pay for their energy. That being the case why would that be the case?
BH: Well historically Iowans have benefited from the development of central coal fueled power plants and through the recent history of the industry we have seen declining real prices for energy. The problem for Iowa is that we are now eighty percent dependent on coal as of fuel for our energy at precisely the wrong time. And so what consumers may not be aware of yet is that we are looking at a change in the cost curve and in real dollars energy costs are expected to go up. The Department of Energy indicated a significant increase over the next seven years. You can point your fingers at that causes for it, its environmental regulations. We have not yet dealt with the issue of climate change. But surely that’s going to have an impact on fuel prices and more than anything we have an aging fleet of power plants that will have to be replaced and as the older units are taken out of service what we are finding is the cost of new power plants is skyrocketing. I tell folks that you can almost hear the sucking sound of basic commodities flowing into China and India and other developing countries. Consumers consequently a comparison I could make is that if you look at some of the older coal plants that are built along the Missouri River or the Mississippi River bringing in low sulfur coal from Wyoming. The utilities are able to produce electricity at about two cents a kilowatt-hour. You may be aware of a coal plant that was proposed to be built around Marshalltown. Its fair to say that the production cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from that plant would have been in the eight to eight and a half cent range. Now these are just production costs. We are not talking about transmission or distribution, just to produce the kilowatt at the plant. If we were to build another coal plant in our region you could very well see a production cost around a dime. Now add to that a payment for carbon emissions and you can see that we are going from production costs at two cents to production cost around a dime. Add to that transmission, which is also going up and for some of the same reasons what's in the future for utilities and their consumers over the next few years is dramatically rising prices. We are living with infrastructure, whether its municipal water and waste water infrastructure or our roads and bridges that is well into its useful life and there doesn’t to be a willingness or an understanding to pay for its placement. And so we are getting this double or triple whammy of costs hitting consumers.
ST: Well, James and I have talked quite a lot about the triple whammies that are coming our way. Yes folks its time to pack up your bags go to the island and plant a few coconut trees. But seriously and obviously these are deep structural issues and quite serious challenges. So I am going to ask you probably the toughest question which is what are we going to do about it?
BH: That’s not such a tough question after all. The answer for consumers and utilities is to get more efficient. Our building is an example of that. Our goal was to have a building that used half the energy of an energy code compliant building. Well there has been no enforcement of energy codes in the commercial building sector. So we are actually just under forty percent. So that gives you a good example of the potential for efficiency in commercial buildings and it’s the same way with the homes that our folks live in. That’s our message. Rates are going up but costs don’t have to go up at the same rate, the answer is energy efficiency. There is also interest in investment in smart meters. What a smart meter is - is a meter that’s capable not only of measuring how much electricity a customer uses. But when they use it and it’s also capable of communicating information back to the utility and forward to the customer. So that in the future I think utilities are going to be pricing electricity on a time of use basis.
JM: Okay, I want to remind listeners we are speaking with Executive Director Bob Haug of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. And we are visiting with him up in Ankeny just outside in the beautiful facility that is the headquarters. That I want to shift to another topic and that is about another that you do Bob with the association and that is energy audits. I understand that your association has been involved in some seventeen town audits. Now that’s a pretty big charge. Give me a little sense of what goes on with that and just a little bit about that?
BH: We have referred to that as our whole town audit project. It was not possible for us to audit every building in these seventeen communities. But what we did is collected demographic information, information about the housing stock, rates and usage patterns and our engineers went in and did audits of the municipal infrastructure. Waste water and water treatment facilities looking for opportunities for efficiency there in pumps and motors especially. And overall we did the top ten energy users in each of these communities and in small town Iowa you can imagine what they were, they are the schools, grocery stores where they are lucky enough to have them. We did energy audits of those facilities. We were also able to help members get some grant money to actually implement the findings. We see a lot of good coming out of that because small towns look a lot alike. We are pretty excited about the potential for that.
ST: At the moment precisely when one needs to make these investments to have better energy efficiency, to build better infrastructure and the list goes on. Yes they all make sense and yes they will all save you money in the long run, but of course one thing that’s stretched at the moment is getting credit and maybe getting investment. So is it particularly challenging at the moment because of that?
BH: I think it is and one of the things we have been trying to help with is to develop what are called self-liquidating financing terms where the savings and utility costs can be used to finance the investment and efficiency.
ST: One of the interesting things about the pricing of energy is, we were speaking to a wind consultant not so long ago and he was talking about you know it was a local project and it was owned locally and they are selling their energy to the grid without the subsidy I think it came in at a eleven cents per kilowatt hour. Its subsidized so it’s cheaper than that so that it can compete with the energy coming from a coal fired station. What's your view on the existing subsidies, are they really an important of the equation?
BH: I think without the production tax credit we wouldn’t see wind turbines spread across the Iowa landscape like we do now. I think that that is the driving force behind them. Until we have a national energy policy they are probably going to have to continue. If we had a policy that recognized the need to deal with carbon emissions then wind energy certainly wouldn’t need a subsidy and we are real close to that now I think in Iowa. But you mentioned a local wind generator getting a eleven cents a kilowatt-hour that’s at the upper end of the retail rate for electricity and whatever utility is interconnected with the wind producer giving them a eleven cents a kilowatt hour. The utility and the rest of its customers have to pay for all of the infrastructure that delivers energy to that customer on a hot August day when the wind is not blowing. And the subsidy for that kind of exchange is very expensive and its one of the reasons that for Municipal Utilities I favor a model where the community owns those resources because everybody benefits from whatever built in subsidy there might be to that. It’s not going to a particular customer or an investor, or group of investors. As new power plants replace the old ones. As we move from coal to natural gas and that’s – there is all kind of attunement risks in that also. Renewables are going to play a much bigger role. I was at a national conference a couple of weeks ago and a speaker said its silly for us to think that we can get to twenty percent renewables by 2020. Frankly there was a lot of applause you know recognizing the difficulty of that. But if you look at Spain and Germany and some other countries that are pursuing renewables. If you think about the problem in a different way and integrate existing utility infrastructure with renewables the goals in those countries are eighty percent and they are well on their way to achieving them. So new language and a new way of thinking about energy is going to be necessary if we are going to deal with the problems we are facing.
ST: One of the criticisms about wind is that it works when its blowing and when it stops there is nothing. So there has been this quest for how do we store the energy so they can be used at different times. I know you have been involved with that.
BH: This is something that’s near and dear to my heart. A few years ago we were doing a study for our member utilities about new generation resources and the idea of compressed air energy storage came to us. On a windy night in Iowa we produce more energy than we have need for and more than we can export. And so if you can take that valueless energy and use it to compress air into an aquifer where we have tremendous amount of storage capacity. Then what was wind energy the night before with no value all of a sudden has a great deal of value and if you marry those two things, the off peak storage and the on peak delivery of wind energy what it can do is make wind energy a dispatchable resource, a dependable resource even for those times when the wind is not blowing and if we are successful there and we have test wells that have been drilled. I think it will revolutionize wind energy.
ST: Well thank you, I think I have got a picture of it in my mind, it’s a bit like one of those Escher paintings where you, you know you walk around a staircase for ever. But yes so presumably you have to use the wind energy also to compress the wind so that it can be used later. So you use green energy to compress the energy so that can be uncompressed using maybe wind energy to uncompress it so that you can drive plates again. It sounds like cheating some uncompressed air. But that does sound like a really important ideas to even out the cost of energy also obviously improve the economics of having a wind turbine if you can store the energy.
JM: And I think we will take a break here and go outside and get a little bit of walking tour what do you say Stuart?
ST: I think that’s a grand idea. Yes lets walk through the prairie and hear about the geothermal in the building and some of the other features that’s great.
JM: And we are back, we are here outside the room we were just sitting and looking down the hallway beautiful ceilings, now what do we have in here Bob?
BH: We are in a room right now that has a lot of daylight coming in. Our building has about the same amount of glass that you would see on a typical commercial building. The differences that we have raised it up high to bring lots of light in and we have reflective surfaces to bounce it around. So on a day like this with lots of sunlight our florescent lighting fixtures dim down to a very low level. So we are saving energy when we are using that ambient light and it really does make a productive and healthy workspace as well. Other measures that we have used to meet our energy efficient goal with this building is to have a really tight envelope and a good insulation in the walls and the ceilings and a geothermal system. We were able to invest in technologies that were so cost effective, the payback for our energy efficiency measures that was under three years. I was naïve and I have to think that if we could show that this could be done so efficiently that other buildings would be built to the same standard. We have been fortunate to visit a number of LEED buildings around the state. They are the exception to the rule and we continue to build buildings, which are just inefficient. They are old technology when something better is available at so little premium.
JM: Well great, we are hearing some noises here 3D radio where are we at this Bob?
BH: This is a mechanical room with four of eight heat exchangers and over here on the north wall you can see the pipes that come in from our geothermal field. Thirty three wells, I think they are a hundred and sixty five feet deep and they come in here, would extract the ground temperature to do the heating and cooling.
JM: Now just give us a quick breakdown on geothermal, so that people know what that exactly means?
BH: A temperature of the ground in our state is about fifty-five degrees on average. And so we have a series of pipes out in the ground when we are in a heating mode in the winter. A fifty five degree water comes into the heat exchanger and we use electricity to raise the temperature from fifty five degrees to the seventy degrees, seventy two degrees that we may keep the building at in the winter. A fairly small temperature differential that we have to fill with electricity in the summer and when we are in the cooling mode we are bringing in fifty five degree water and using it to cool the building. That exchange creates some huge, huge savings, it’s really a great system.
ST: I just wanted to ask you we hear a lot about wind, we hear a lot about solar, we don’t hear so much about geothermal. It seems to be just as good an idea. Why don’t we hear as much about it do you think?
BH: I think there is a lot of it going on and among our utility members a lot of them are promoting the development of geothermal systems as I have described. I think all of the schools in Ankeny have either been built with geothermal or retrofitted with geothermal. They have been real leaders in that technology. I think it’s a lot more common than you may think.
JM: We are going to take a quick walk outside to learn a little bit about some of the acres around the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities building here and boy you have to say I hear the birds. It is the – and there is the telephone poles we have out here, well we have a picture of the building.
BH: We would call them utility poles.
JM: Yes we would, wouldn’t we oh boy I will take the other foot out of my mouth here sir utility poles. But a beautiful area driving up here as you mentioned I didn’t realize when it hearkened back to a time earlier than European settlers but a remarkably nice day. It has been a wet season and we have had some heat in here but it’s just a gorgeous day. Give us a little bit of a sense here right out in front of the building?
BH: We have incorporated Southern Pine Poles as part of the structural parts of the building connecting to our utility routes. We also have demonstration plots of tall grass prairie and obviously not in the winter but there is always something blooming, always something moving. Mink were spotted just the other day and it’s a great place.
JM: Thank you so much Stuart, final thought here?
ST: Yeah I just want to thank you both for the talk this morning talking to us. It’s been very informative, enlightening. We think you are doing some fantastic work actually and I invite to Fairfield our way, please come and visit us.
BH: Thank you very much, I appreciate your interest.
JM: And we are in the parking lot here at PowerFilm Solar just outside of Ames. We have the solar panels on top of a tent right out in front of the PowerFilm place, this is the manufacturing area as we walk up and we are going to meet with Tim Nugent just momentarily here with the Dream Green Series, we will be right back.
This is James Moore welcome back to the Dream Green Series right here on Solar Powered KRUU FM. Today we are visiting PowerFilm Solar right here in Iowa, not too far from Ames. We are doing to talk with Tim Nugent, Chief Operating Officer and President of the company, as well as Frank Jeffrey, Dr. Frank Jeffrey to be exact CEO in just a few minutes as well. Joining me my co-host Stuart Tanner and we do appreciate you listening up also greeniowa.org is the website if you want to follow our journey of discovery. I want to welcome to the airwaves Tim Nugent, Tim how are you doing today?
TN: I am doing terrific, thank you and welcome to PowerFilm.
JM: Well we are delighted to be here right out in front a big tent where I am sure we will be talking about that. Before, how about that folks, a solar powered tent goes pretty well with a solar powered radio station I think. But Tim maybe we could start just by getting sort of an orientation about the company and you know how long you have been here. What you do and we will get into all that good stuff with a walking tour in just a little bit, but give us a breakdown here?
TN: PowerFilm Incorporated was founded in 1988 by, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Frank Jeffrey. Frank is still active in the business very much today in our research and development area. He is also our current CEO. His cofounder at that time in 1988 was also a gentleman by the name of Dr. Derrick Grimmer. Both PhD’s in Physics and that allowed us today to develop a lot of the products that we are offering on a commercial basis as well. So what is PowerFilm? PowerFilm is a pretty unique product in terms of its thin film, its ruggedness, its very light weight, its very, very durable. You can shoot our panels, we have done that with the military and we put a clip of bullets through our panel and it lost ten percent efficiency, it still operates. Now you can't do that with other types of solar products and most of us are used to crystalline panels which I am assuming you have at the radio station. You know a hail can crack that and its like the little solar you have on our calculators. If you crack that its done. Ours on the other hand will keep on operating. The other uniqueness about our product is that we are effective in low light. Where other technologies even with partial shading or clouding or something like that may turn that panel off all together. So we are low light sensitive, in other words the way we tell a lot of our customers is that we wakeup earlier and we go to bed later.
JM: Joining the discussion right now Dr. Frank Jeffrey who is the CEO and Founder of PowerFilm. Its great to see your place, a lot of great work for a lot of years. I am going to turn it over to Stuart.
ST: Well we want to investigate what is the basis of your technology. What is it that makes it possible for your solar panels or film to be film, to be flexible, to have bullets that go through it and it still functions whereas others are stiff and they would shatter?
FJ: Okay I can go back to some of the core reasons we chose amorphous silicon. Amorphous silicon has one characteristic that sets it apart, that makes it usable in areas that otherwise it wouldn’t be possible. It absorbs light in a very thin film, a very short distance into the film it absorbs the light. It has to do with the nature of the film itself and absorption coefficient. But what that allows us to do is use very thin films at our solar cells. Thin films by their nature are very flexible and don’t fracture. This you can see even with glass as you get them thinner, thinner it becomes more pliable, you can wrap it around before it shatters. Our combination of being able to use this very thin amorphous silicon film is quite flexible and pliable on top of a plastic film that gives it some added mechanical strength allows for an incredible toughness of the material. So you can beat on it pretty hard and while you might damage a small spot that you hit with a hammer or you put a bullet through. It doesn’t go any farther passed that small area of damage. It’s a material that’s very abundant, a huge portion of that’s crust is made up of silicon. It’s a process that has a large processing window so the manufacturing becomes easier and so it’s a very manufacturable type material. That was really some of the drivers for it. Ones you had the flexibility you can do things role to roll, the rolll to roll is a very efficient process in handling. You can handle thousands of square feet its up straight at one time or you can imagine a thousand square feet of glass takes some pretty heavy robotics to move that around. Thousand square feet of our material you pick up and carry to the next machine. We don’t have to have weight lifters to do that part of the job its just straight forward. So a lot of benefits flow down from having that simple characteristic of high optical absorption.
ST: Well actually I have just been handed a piece of power film and really it is like a film that’s not at all an exaggeration. It’s just thin as a thick piece of paper at least the piece that I am holding. Its pretty amazing to think that you know you can put that in the sun and get power out of it and clearly being this thin and flexible I imagine that you know you could spend months thinking of all the different applications you could come up with. I assume that there is another side to the equation where there is some downside to the material as opposed to other forms of solar panels, maybe in terms of power generation per square inch or something like that. Otherwise the next obvious question would be why isn't it everyone using it?
FJ: There are different materials that are optimum for different applications. Our material will never have the output per square foot of crystalline silicon. The highly ordered crystalline silicon collects carriers much better and you get a higher performance. But you pay a cost in weight and in the durability factor. So in applications where the area is critical you would use crystalline silicon. These big central power stations that utilities want to use where they buy a land and put these up inside a fenced area. They pay for that land, it costs some money to do that installation so they are sensitive to the output per square foot. If you are trying to build a solar car and you have a very limited area on the surface of your car and you want to try to power it, you are pushing your luck on any type of solar cell on that, which is certainly why they are high output per square foot. If you want the highest output per unit weight for a space application you try and send a long way out in space that’s the ultimate cost for weight. So you want lightweight for a lot of those applications for people that carry a backpack weight is a premium. If you are putting it on the roof of building you have already paid for the land that you are putting on, you have paid for the structure of the building. You are not only paying for the additional solar. If you input it on without the any added structural cost you win and that’s where our material is going in the building integrated. Its something you can mount on without any added structural cost. Yeah it may not have as a high output per square foot as crystalline but we expect it to get to the similar cost per watt out and reduce the installation cost. So its finding the right technology for each application is what the user needs to do.
ST: Yeah you can imagine or think about the number of things that are mobile, mobile communications and computers and cell phones and allover the place these things and you think about two AA batteries. Can you do a quick calculation as to how much film you would need to be able to maintain that unit, so you don’t need the two AA batteries?
FJ: In most of the applications you actually use batteries that you charge and then draw off those. So you may use fewer batteries. But you use some batteries for charge storage in most solar applications. That’s one thing I should make clear, that’s probably eighty percent of the solar applications that consumers would have a battery. Some are just direct charge, if you are pumping water and you don’t care when it pumps as long as it pumps some watering then you don’t need batteries. But those applications are not near as many as those that have a battery, you charge it and then you can draw off that any time you want. In the charger that we make the uses double A’s that are really made for charging cell phones, you set out something that’s maybe four inches by ten inches. And over the course of a day in good sun climates you will charge those two batteries and then when you happen to need more charge in your cell phone you just dump from those batteries into your cell phone battery, that will recharge your cell phone for a reasonable period of time.
TN: Just this week we had the President and Owner of a fairly significant asset tracking company. One of their customers uses their tracking system on jet engines. They need to locate where their jet engines are. If they are in Bangor, Maine or if they are in San Francisco or what have you. They get about three dings a day on this thing. They are lithium batteries they have found themselves and this gets really expensive when we are talking about airline type wages to change these batteries and they are changing them every six to eight months. And they said we need to have something that these batteries don’t need to be changed out. The panel that I gave you that will significantly increase those life of the batteries. We are estimating in rough calculations right now a three to four years. Again it’s a concentric charge on the fact that they are only dinging two or three times a day. Now if that thing is being used significantly more than that you need a larger panel to make it functional. That’s where PowerFilm really shines in this industry. We have got a staff of electrical engineers and so forth that can relate these customers and ask the right questions and fit to whatever their need is so that we can design the panel. In terms of cars that Frank mentioned just behind you there is a magnetic panel, its designed for police cars. Right here in the Ames Police Department they have got an emergency “vehicle” that sits outside and its only used in prime emergencies and the chief has told us that every time we go to use the bloody thing it doesn’t start, we got to jump it. Now here are suppose to be getting paid to go chase the emergency down and we got to charge the car. Ever since we have had that panel on that vehicle they have not had to charge it once. So its matching our technology as Frank did say with the right solutions.
JM: How many workers do you have here or how has that evolved over time and it looks like a pretty large facility?
TN: We have just added ten people, so we are over a hundred people today.
JM: Now there's some good green jobs I would say. Is this something that’s grown overtime?
FJ: A year ago we were probably around eighty. In 2005 we were probably thirty to forty. ’95 we were probably fifteen to eighteen so its been a steady growth, so it’s been a lot of years for that growth to come and actually the growth in the last five years has been more rapid.
ST: I want to ask you about the importance of locating here, obviously that’s great for the State of Iowa for the green jobs to be based here. Iowa is a quite a progressive state in many ways in terms of renewable energy. So how key is it that there was a supportive atmosphere infrastructural research nearby for the choice of locating here?
FJ: It was critical. I got my degrees here at Iowa State in Physics department. Coming back here and starting the company was largely possible because of the capability in the physics and chemistry department at Iowa State and the support the university gave. They allowed us to use some space out of the old reactor building as incubator space when we first came back to town. This university has some exceptionally good people with some exceptionally good capabilities that have been developed over the years, they have done some very good things. So having that level in the physics and chemistry, material science, engineering, electrical engineering is really an important asset. To say nothing of the students that are coming out are good portion of the people that we have hired since then have come out of Iowa State. It’s just a really important factor.
JM: I want remind listeners we are speaking with Dr. Frank Jeffrey and Tim Nugent about PowerFilm Solar since the first day I heard about this I have been anxious to come and see it for myself with my own eyes. By the way we are going to be taking a walking tour in just a few minutes. This is part of the Dream Green Series on Solar Powered KRUU FM. I just want to ask a question at 1988 you were looking at this technology of getting started here. Did you have any idea you would be here where you are and after your answer to that where do you think you are going to be in about ten or fifteen years?
FJ: Yeah well I could have expected us to be at this stage a bit earlier than we are. I think things are going pretty well now in the technology, the growth and the economy is coming up again. But I think there are a lot of applications, some of the ones that have come to us are just some of the strangest things you would never dream of it. But somebody did and it makes perfect sense once you see it. There are a lot of those I think that will come to light over the next ten years, so there will be a lot of really nice applications that will improve peoples lives as well as getting into the power generation side of it.
ST: Any examples off hand that jump out?
FJ: The strangest one that I think works great it's cool is for cattle. They have a fifty five gallon barrel hanging from a tree out in the field and its got grain in it that’s got some extra vitamins and such and its got a flap in the front. The cow puts its head in to get a little bit of this and when its head is inside there is a little pop on top that sprays an insect repeller on the back of the animal. His eyes are protected so the spray is on the back and then you need power out there in the middle of the field. Its just the strangest thing I have ever seen, but it works. It keeps the flies off the cattle, the guy at home and his wife came up with this and I think it is just a strange, but entertaining application that does a significant job. Those are the real odd ball applications but people think and come up with these applications.
ST: Its really good, I mean it is putting a number of pieces together of a puzzle and coming up with a brilliant solution to a problem. That’s I guess what innovation is all about, which brings us to the maybe a slightly a broader picture just one that what your views were, you have been in the game a long time looking at the renewable energy scene and solar power scene. Just wonder where you think the future is going and what your vision is of the future for renewable energy but particularly solar.
FJ: Renewables will continue to expand and its one of those things that you have to admit. None of them in of themselves is going to be the solution. You have PV that’s very good in some applications. You have wind that’s very good in some applications. Hydro of course is a long term standard. Biomass has been a hard one to really break into but there is work on that. The kicker on all of them, kind of gating how far they can go is storage. So if storage improves the usability of solar and wind is going to go up a lot. My bet has been distributed use of solar on house roofs is going to be the way things should go a long term or structures of that nature whether they are building structures, whether they are canopies on highways or coverts on viaducts where do we have a structure out there. Taking advantage of that structure and putting solar on it and having the sophisticated electronics to feed that back into your grid. I have always thought that’s where it should go.
ST: Well of course in terms of what you do it’s a sweet spot because via innovation, you are creating a new industry, employing a hundred people and the local folks in Iowa. At the same time it’s a business that saves people other energy. So that’s another way of recycling dollars back into local economy. You know there are a lot of ticks in there and a few gold stars.
JM: And we don’t hear any rumor about you moving to China?
FJ: There is no question, there were a lot of offers. We will make you machines for you cheaper than you can make in the US, which I have no doubt they would and then they would duplicate in there and that would be the end of that. Yeah there are plenty of offers and no I think for staying here. We have a bit of an advantage in that our product and technology is so different than other solar. The more traditional type of solar, those that held in the US got killed. They are gone, those that moved to China survived. Its more than just an incentive, it can be a stick as well as carrot hey if you don’t do this your history. When the Chinese decided they wanted solar it wasn’t our variety of solar that they wanted a hundred percent they wanted the main line crystalline solar. If we had been in that field we couldn't have survived here in the phase of that.
ST: I think there is a message in there or maybe something that needs to be looked at from on high.
JM: We are going to take a quick break here we have been talking with Tim Nugent and Dr. Frank Jeffrey. We are looking forward to seeing your facility here. Thank you gentlemen both for keeping us in the know, very enlightening.
And here we are, we are walking with Dr. Frank Jeffrey into a facility here, Tim Nugent joining us with Stuart. Frank where are we now?
FJ: Okay this is actually the - our original building that has a lot of the initial pilot facility machines in it that we really developed the first products in. Its about maybe sixty by a hundred and that was our initial building. We have added on quite a bit of space since then and new machines. This area is now pretty much used by our R&D department and the machines or our initial pilot production machines are now used to develop new processes or improve our existing processes.
JM: What are we looking, at just explain some of the equipment because our listeners can't see it so what do we have got?
FJ: I will go start out with a metalization machine so this is kind of the first step in the process. We take bare plastic, it goes in here and we end up with what it comes out with aluminum on one surface with actually some stainless steel on the back surface. It’s the back electrical contact in the solar cell. The real trick on these materials, they are like thirteen layers in one of these solar cells in the deposition stack. And its not the material so much as the interface between the layers that’s really hard to reverse engineer and its not something you can see for how its done from the outside. It just happens to be a few particular quirks in the way machines are made to give us the right interface. We have learned how to do that and somebody else wants to do what we do is going to have to learn the same thing that same way that we did and that takes time. And we hope that we just keep our development moving forward so we are far enough ahead that when they learn that we have got something new.
JM: Well I will tell you what you are safe with radio here but I will say one thing, we have said it before its what inside that counts.
ST: I wanted to talk to you about fabric buildings because I know there is a number of companies the UK, Germany and elsewhere that are innovators in buildings that use fabrics and obviously that's material science coming in there. It seems to me there might be a good convergence there between what you are doing in PowerFilm and the fact that more and more buildings are going to be made with these fabrics.
FJ: Our initial focus in what we consider building integrator is with fabrics and one of our closest partners in that is Ferrari Fabrics, which is a French company. They are a high tech fabric company, they really know what they are doing and so we have been working with them developing a combination system that makes it convenient for their customers to integrate the whole package together so that is a big thrust. Europe is a large potential market for that type of product. There are US companies that we are working with many of whom use Ferrari Fabrics. The mix of bringing in partners to do that has been a major focus.
ST: I mean I have seen that application occurring in the Middle East as well.
James Jeffrey: In the hot climate the combination of the amount of shade and heat load removed in addition to the power generated makes a great combination. Actually those power shades that we have developed for the military go over a standard tent, they are not the tent themselves. They are there standing above it, they take the heat load of the tent that’s underneath, which incidentally military tents are all air conditioned. Taking that heat load off by having the power reduces their air conditioning load by like forty percent in addition to providing electric power, it’s a big thing.
JM: We are walking that way, we see a number of people working in lines here, assembly lines.
FJ: Okay he wants to know what you do.
JM: Solar Powered the KRUU FM here, what's is your name?
Kay: My name is Kay and I am going to build RV panels.
JM: Sweet RV panels there you go, I am going to come around the other side just so I can reach you. So we are here again inside PowerFilm Solar and we are - we don’t want to get in her way because she is moving right along here but Kay so what do we got going here in this process?
Kay: Well first it’s a vinyl and then this is the TPR which is kind of the adherent, they glue basically at – when it gets into a laminator and gets heated up.
JM: And those get stuck together that’s right. This is for an RV is that what you said?
JM: I am going to reach over Tim.
TN: We are working with the RV’s and campers are trailers. So if they are off grid they have got some power source. It will keep the charge up on the battery but they are also able to operate small appliances depending on the size of the panel operate some electrical lights, fans, even up to a refrigeration unit. The other biggest return for the RVers its like a lot of the other things that we talked about is that they store their camper or they store their RV. Three weeks later they go out there and the battery is dead. This way it will keep a constant charge in the battery, the battery is always filled so not only do they have it when they get out to the campsite where they may not have power, so they can operate. It will keep their battery healthy and charged.
JM: This is pretty fascinating I have to say for a guy who is an MBA and not a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer.
TN: I had the same difficulty that’s why Frank is here.
JM: I was going to ask you about that yes whether you would actually apply this technology to your camping?
Kay: Yeah myself I haven't – that way we can go to the primitive areas with less people.
JM: And still be wired, keep up the good work. I think you passed our inspection just fine.
ST: And happy camping too.
JM: Happy primitive camping.
FJ: What it really takes for us is somebody out there who has come up with the need and then we will work with them to try and solve their issues that makes here – it works. It’s not do the best solar board or do the best solar car. Somebody has come up with an idea on a product, they know, they believe in, they want to push it, they have done that development and they want us to help with solar that’s what really works.
TN: Yeah I will take that a step further we have just formed our partnership with a global company you would recognize. When they came to us they did a focus group on products for solar. They came up with I don’t know with thousand ideas. They narrowed it down four or five, they then came back to us with a design team on their side and said we want our design team to interface with your design team and together we will bring these products to bare that is a wonderful way to work.
JM: And I am telling you we are surrounded by products here, they are not just whistling Dixie when they say there are a lot of things going off the wheel here, I will say thank you Tim also thank you Dr. Frank Jeffrey. Any final thought here as we get ready to fade into the sunset?
FJ: Come back a couple of years we would be probably quite a bit different.
TN: I suspect quite a bit bigger, I just want to tick the lists here. This is a company, a solar company its renewable energy, its innovation, its based in Iowa, it actually works with the local university ISU. It employs local people. That brings dollars into the state, it recycles those dollars into the state. It’s improving energy efficiency that’s a hell a lot of ticks.
JM: Yeah other than that what are they really doing. Thank you gentleman so much for this tour, keep up the good work – we are able to get some solar tent for the solar powered station sometimes who knows.
TN: Well, you are going to have a solar hat when you leave here, you will have a solar hat.
JM: A solar hat.
ST: That’s fantastic news, what does that actually do.
TN: It will take you out of the darkness it will find those light switches for you okay.
JM: Damn, these guys are good, hey there we will be back in just a moment keep it tuned right here to Solar Powered KRUU FM at the PowerFilm, thank you so much stay tuned.
And we are listening to Keelan Dimick with his song Away With It. Keelan Dimick, a jazz phenom who grew up in Fairfield is not currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music great stuff. Well Stuart another interesting segment. Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities overseeing all the different power companies and their role and what they are trying to do in that beautiful headquarters that we spent some time in there with Bob Haug and of course an extended tour of the PowerFilm Inc solar company. Pretty inspiring stuff there with the CEO Dr. Frank Jeffrey who has been there from the beginning an ISU graduate and employing a hundred people and also talking with Tim Nugent solar hats and all.
ST: Yeah and we are very pleased to come back with our solar hats and I have been showing mine off already all the way back to the UK and with a Skype call with my hat on you can just tell how delighted I am about that. In fact I am going to take it hiking with me so at night out there in the wilderness I will have my little solar hat and be able to read maps. You never know it could end up savings my life.
JM: Well looking forward we have next week coming up a very interesting excursion. Very short excursion by the way to the sustainable living center right here in Fairfield part of the Maharishi University of Management campus. A pretty amazing building that we are going to look through. We are talking LEED standards and about fourteen other ones, about at least three others. We will hear all about those with Professor Lonnie Gamble who has been a key component in the development of the sustainable living department there. Also a man who has started abundance ecovillage and has lived off the grid himself for many, many years known quite well around the state that will be fun to get his thoughts on sustainability and other things.
ST: Yes, definitely you want to tune into that one unless into Lonnie Gamble talk about the sustainable living center, it is fascinating stuff. And really in the pyramid of sustainability or the ziggurat if you like if you are more Babylonian than the sustainable living center is right at the top you know at the top of the pyramid. The features there and what they are trying to do and all the various aspects that Lonnie goes into will really be a surprise to you as it was to us in terms of its depth and breadth and sheer innovation and the love of the planet and the planet loving you back.
JM: We also are going to be speaking with a couple of students that are part of the department there and of one of the faculty members as well just to get some other thoughts that and much more coming up on the Dream Green Series, be sure and check out greeniowa.org. We have fresh installments Thursdays at 07 p.m. on solarpowerkruufm.com rebroadcast at Mondays at 07 a.m. But you can go to the website there at greeniowa.org check out transcripts, great resource.
ST: Yeah and if you go to the website we always take pictures of wherever we go. You can see the images of all the various things that we are talking about and the people that we interview.
JM: Coming up in a special show Stuart is going to be sampling a very special chilled concoction known as a frozen leader hosen, but you are going to have to listen to the whole series to find out where that comes in. This is James Moore with Stuart Tanner for the Dream Green Series on Solar Powered KRUU FM.
Male Speaker: Produced by Stuart Tanner and James Moore at Solar Powered KRUU 100.1 FM in Fairfield Iowa. Online at kruufm.com, this series is funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and nearly seventy individuals companies and organizations. For a list of sponsors please go on to our website at greeniowa.org, archives available for download under creative commons license. Music from Zilla and Keelan Dimick.