Green energy funds award $160K to winning ideas

A satellite dish-like solar power system that concentrates sunlight to create more heat and electricity than a traditional flat panel.

A generator that captures wasted heat and turns it into power. 

An initiative in Philadelphia that makes energy efficiency building projects more effective in low-income neighborhoods, a program that could be piloted statewide. 

These were three of the winning ideas that earned a slice of the $160,000 pie from the region’s predominant fund for sustainable energy projects. 

The West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, in partnership with the statewide Sustainable Energy Fund based in Altoona, selected six proposals of business models and technologies that elevate renewable energy and energy efficiency.  

The nonprofits began soliciting applicants in January for the “Energy Sprout” competition. Finalists were invited to present at Energypath Conference, an annual gathering of energy experts and students hosted by the Sustainable Energy Fund at Penn State University in State College. The applicants competed in community or business categories, and three were selected from each. 

Winners were selected from a total of 21 applicants, according to the energy fund. 

Among businesses, Cewa Technologies Inc. persuaded judges it was most deserving of the $100,000 grand prize. The Wyomissing company, founded in 2009, develops concentrating solar power dishes that use mirrored surfaces to direct sunlight to heat a fluid, to generate electricity or do both at once.

Because they are more efficient than traditional flat panels — 78 percent vs. 12 percent  — they require much less space. This makes the technology ideal for commercial and industrial energy users like schools, office buildings and hospitals, as well as buildings in urban areas where space is at a premium. 

The company is using the money to help reduce manufacturing costs, according to the Sustainable Energy Fund. 

With a goal of identifying the root cause of energy burdens in impoverished neighborhoods, the Energy Coordinating Agency in Philadelphia took home the community competition’s $25,000 first prize. Liz Robinson, executive director of the agency which helps low-income customers save money on utility bills, said an aging housing stock needs to be rebuilt. 

With its own “building scientists” and qualified general construction contractor, the group has helped lower energy bills for poor customers by about 35 percent across nearly 60 homes. Moving to open-cell spray foam for insulation vs. cellulose accounted for much of those savings, Ms. Robinson said. 

“The homes are in need of so much repair that they cannot be weatherized,” Ms. Robinson said.

The agency will use the prize money to strengthen ties with doctors to, among other things, begin a referral system that allows physicians to direct patients with asthma and other health problems to energy audits. 

In the business category, EthosGen, a Wilkes-Barre company developing a power system that can capture massive amounts of waste heat, won second place and $25,000. Renewable Homes, a Philadelphia business that emphasizes efficiency in residential rental properties, took third and $3,000.

In the community category, Philadelphia solar company Serenity Soular won a $5,000 grant for second place, and the Saint Francis University Institute for Energy in Loretto won third place and $3,000.

The West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund was created after Pennsylvania restructured its power industry in the 1990s by, in part, forcing utilities to sell their power plants to other companies. As part of its long-term restructuring plan approved by the Public Utility Commission, West Penn Power — along with PECO, PPL, Metropolitan Edison, and Penelec — established sustainable energy funds in their settlement process.

During 2014 — the most recent year for which an annual report is available — West Penn’s fund committed $1.6 million to help fund 17 projects through loans and grants. From 2008 to 2014, it granted 118 requests worth more than $20 million.

Daniel Moore:, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

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