As reported by The Sacramento Business Journal’s Mark Anderson, CleanStart, a former program of the now defunct SARTA, has relaunched as an independent nonprofit to support green technology companies and startups.
The nonprofit will focus on supporting businesses and technologies that focus on developing forms of sustainable energy. CleanStart will be housed in the new downtown Sacramento co-location offices of Velocity Venture Capital.
The neon sign flickered on when the doughnuts were ready, and passersby would flock to the promise the electric words made. The doughnut shop, though, wanted more customers than just what their sign drew in. It wanted its message of hot doughnuts appearing on the cell phones of anyone who had their app. That’s where eze System Inc. stepped in. The Folsom company created a special clamp placed on the electrical wire leading to the sign. It then had 350 such clamps made and put into action within weeks of getting the job. “When the sign turns on, they want you to get a signal on your cell phone,” said Anders Rehnvall, CEO of eze System.
Eze System provides technology to companies that want to measure something – whether it’s the amount of gas in a convenience store holding tank or the temperature of a commercial freezer – from a computer or mobile device. The implementation is simple: eze System builds hardware for a business that they connect to an existing sensor on their equipment, such as a freezer. The business can then access the data collected by eze System’s hardware from a website or app –whether it’s temperature, gas levels or electrical use, “All you need in our case is our little piece of hardware that is basically online when you plug it in,” Rehnvall said.
Rehnvall, a Swedish native, got his start in industrial control systems. He started in the 1980s working on simple alarm systems used in sewers and water applications. A larger company eventually bought out his employer, and that chain of events continued for several years. Rehnvall, a technician, became a developer and ultimately a branch manager for his company. The opportunity to work in California opened, and Rehnvall, then in his 30s, took it. A day into his stateside career his company was purchased by Honeywell. He stayed with Honeywell for 11 years, working on advanced electronics and large scale systems.
Then, in 2008, came the accident that would lead to eze System. Rehnvall’s back gave out while lifting a 10-gallon plant, and it landed him in a specially designed chair for months. “I sat in one chair and created this product,” he said. He made five of the devices, essentially the product eze System sells today, and sent four of them to friends. One friend called back and asked permission to show it to others. Rehnvall consented. He soon got another call. “’We’ve got a problem,’” his friend said. “’I sold your thing. How much was it? It’s for IBM.’” Shortly afterward eze System was born.
People who use eze System’s product want numbers, whether it’s the energy used in a building or gas in a tank. Those who check those numbers through eze System’s interface can choose how they get them: graphs, gauges and colors are all possible. “From that point on it’s a matter of presentation,” Rehnvall said.
Eze system’s customers include mom-and-pop stores as well as large enterprises like Volvo, Goodwill and Verizon. It sells the technology to companies in the United States, United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Australia. The company has plans to delve into the South American market, and is working on a multi-language interface to tap the continent.
Eze System’s technology is better suited for businesses than homeowners. That doesn’t mean the typical homeowner isn’t affected by the product eze System makes. All someone has to do is check his or her phone for the freshest doughnuts to see the company’s impact!
Let’s sum up: the world is getting warmer, our state is getting drier, energy costs are rising, and natural resources are diminishing. And yet, dire as all this is, there’s an environmentally-friendly silver lining emerging.
A surge in startups dedicated to solving, refocusing or reinventing the energy consumption landscape is ushering in a new era of entrepreneurship. Whether they’re creating better batteries, finding new methods for cleaning water, or harnessing renewable resources in smarter ways, it’s an exciting time to be in the tech industry.
One of these companies is right here in Sacramento, and they’re taking on one of our most cherished backyard activities: barbecuing. California Sunlight, which is currently an incubator company with SARTA, is looking to add a green twist to outdoor cooking.
“Almost everyone has a barbecue in their homes, said Bing Gu, CEO of California Sunlight. “What we wanted to create was a solar-powered barbecue. So you don’t need charcoal, you don’t need natural gas, and you don’t need electricity, but you can still have a barbecue anytime you want and keep it green.”
While Gu holds numerous solar patents and is working on a number of solar technology prototypes with uses ranging from indoor lighting to cell phone recharging, California Sunlight is already producing and selling two solar cooking products.
As a replacement for the traditional backyard grill, they offer a big cooker that uses a magnifying glass to reach temperatures of 800 degrees, and has attachments that allow it to function as a barbecue grill, oven, rotisserie, boiler or a food dehydrator. It’s both powerful and fast heating, and, on days when the sun refuses to cooperate, also acts as a hybrid cooker by using charcoal.
California Sunlight’s most recent addition is an affordable (just $39.95), ultra-portable cooker option perfect for backpackers and recreational uses. Using an inflatable Mylar balloon that focuses the sun’s rays to generate heat to cook food or boil water, this cooker can be used in areas where campfires are not permitted, firewood is hard to find, or when users don’t want to carry fuel. The Solar Balloon Cooker also easily refolds to fit in its drawstring bag and is easy to repair with simple tape.
While the market for both products has been largely local so far, California Sunlight is looking to ramp up its production of both models and get them stocked in outdoor stores like Sierra Outfitters and REI.
Solar cooking is not a new technology. However, it has primarily been seen as a crisis-focused tool used in the third-world. Repositioning these products as a mainstream device easily used by any household could go a long way in not only advancing the industry, but also reaping its renewable—and cost-saving—benefits for everyone well into the future.
A perfectly grilled burger with a side of saving-the-world, what could be better than that?
Running water has been a power source for millennia. HeliosAltas figured there was no reason to stop now. The Roseville-based startup has taken that power source and applied an updated technology to harness it. It’s called the Helios PowerBall.
The inventor of HeliosAltas‘ technology is vice president Phil Chauvin, and it’s the company’s main foray into the green energy market. “Our hydrocarbons are a finite resource,” said Michael Carroll, CEO of HeliosAltas. “A practical way to get energy from nature to me makes the most sense.”
The PowerBall is the 21st century’s answer to the waterwheel. The concept is the same: moving water spins the wheel, creating pressure and speed that turns a generator and provides kilowatts, even megawatts, of electrical energy. The PowerBall, however, is unique. It requires as little as 6 inches of fall – elevation change – to work. Carroll said other hydroelectric technologies need a much larger fall and body of water. “What that means is that we’ve opened up a huge chunk of the hydroelectric market that was previously not accessible,” Carroll added.
The idea came to Chauvin as he worked in the mid-90s as a member of an electrical crew. He’d often work alongside canals, watching the water rush past. One day he spotted a rusted shaft and thought it may have been from a waterwheel. The object ultimately led to his idea for the PowerBall. “Why wouldn’t you want to harness that kinetic energy?” Chauvin asked. “I think it’s a simple, elegant technology.” The PowerBall complements nature, Chauvin said. He wants to tap resources that provide clean and sustainable energy.
Green energy also has been a hobby of Carroll’s for years. He has a background with two different oil and gas companies, where he managed their global operations. He knows the combustion process, the byproducts it creates and what they do to the atmosphere. He also knows that we will keep making more of those byproducts as society advances. That’s led Carroll to his core philosophy – making zero emission energy at the same cost or less than existing technologies. According to Carroll, that’s what the PowerBall will do.
HeliosAltas might never have come about if not for a mutual friend introducing Carroll to Chauvin. Carroll said he has the business background; Chauvin has the technical knowledge. They merged their two companies in October 2014, and now work together in their push toward green energy.
The PowerBall isn’t for a typical homeowner. It’s pricing and government regulations currently make that difficult, though Carroll intends to bring the tech’s prices down over time. His existing customers include international distributors, as well as local pilot projects. A 1-kilowatt unit currently costs $6,000. It can provide 23-24 kilowatts per day. A typical home uses 30 kilowatts each day, Carroll said. “We have a package to take you completely off the grid,” he added.
HeliosAltas’ current goal is focused on the PowerBall’s commercialization. It’s working on large, 3- to 10-megawatt projects in Mexico, where they have a carbon-trading system in place. “We have a lot of work to do, but we have the potential to start breaking ground on those before the end of the year,” Carroll said. “That would really kick start the company.”
The PowerBall has a future because it uses no new land and creates no new environmental damage, Carroll said. It has huge potential in the Ag market; the USDA has grant money earmarked for projects such as it. It also has the potential to change lives. Carroll said some 1.2 billion people on the planet have no power. What they do have, though, are the rivers and streams civilizations have lived by for millennia. “At its core, it’s in line with man’s use of water that’s gone on for a couple of thousand years,” Chauvin said.
Bringing ideas to fruition–this is something local firm Enable Energy goes above and beyond achieving for itself and for its clients. At less than a year old, this clean technology invention and sustainability consulting firm, based out of Auburn, has grown quickly and efficiently with a bright future ahead.
After participating in the rapid expansion of Paramount Solar, Todd Lindstrom, principal of Enable Energy, saw an opportunity to start something fresh. After connecting with former colleague Eric Hafter, the two co-founded Enable Energy to bring that opportunity to life.
“There is a huge need to help people in the clean tech industry grow their business ideas faster,” Lindstrom said. “We wanted to do this by creating a fun and engaging work environment, do something meaningful and do it for ourselves.”
Enable Energy goes beyond the development of solar and energy storage products, having a hand in the entire project from beginning to end. The small, powerful team of 11 full-time employees starts by identifying what exactly needs to be done with a project, then creates executive plans and finance plans to manage projects and product development all the way through. They’ve launched two solar racking products to date and have two more nearing completion in just the first five months of business.
“With such an interesting band of executives, we can come up with amazing ways to tackle tasks in ways that very few companies can do,” Lindstrom said. “We have such a wide range of skills and such a unique infrastructure that really brings products to life.”
Enable Energy is hosting three college interns thanks to a Golden Sierra Workforce Investment Board program. The company is designed to be “intern heavy” as the STEM education program is something valued by the company. At Enable Energy, interns are given the opportunity to learn far beyond anything they would be taught inside a classroom. This company goes the extra mile for interns, employees and clients alike.
When given the opportunity to open up their one-of-a-kind company in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, Lindstrom and Hafter chose to do it here in the Sacramento area instead.
“This is such a fantastic environment to work in and such a great spot to be,” Lindstrom said. “It had to happen here, it had to be the Sacramento region.”
With a “give it to us and we will get it done” attitude, Lindstrom is confident that there is not a single other company right now that can do what Enable Energy can. This unique company is growing as fast as they possibly can with a promising future.
“I never thought it would go this quickly,” Lindstrom added. “It’s a wild ride but the future looks fantastic.”