Posts Tagged ‘Ideal Energy’

Ideal Energy’s solar-plus storage system for MUM is first large-scale installation of its kind in Iowa

October 3, 2018

A detailed creative article on this innovative project written by Bob Saar for The Hawk Eye was published September 9, 2018. Click on the title to see more photos at their website. A recent synopsis published in MUM’s The Review, Vol. 34, #2, October 3, 2018 is added at the bottom. Also added info on the upcoming December 14 inauguration in The Review, Vol 34, #6, November 28, 2018, page 3.

Ideal Energy CEO Troy Van Beek with account manager Michael HalleyThe Hawk Eye caption for Ideal Energy

Here comes the Sun

Fairfield company Ideal Energy brings Iowa to national attention with new solar array installation at Maharishi University of Management.

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

That Buddhist concept fits the solar energy business: The first mountain was long-term storage, but that has been alleviated with modern battery technology, paving the way for local, independent companies like Ideal Energy, Inc. in Fairfield, Iowa to enter the energy-supply business.

But that in turn led to another mountain: How will those smaller companies interconnect with utility giants like Alliant and MidAmerican Energy when they’re in competition with them for energy dollars?

Depending on who you ask, Iowa ranks somewhere in the top 20 states in solar energy development and production, based on a multitude of factors from metering to rebates to tax credits and electricity prices, but Ideal Energy is rising like the morning sun to heat things up for the Hawkeye State.

Founded in 2009 by CEO Troy Van Beek and chief marketing officer Amy Van Beek, Ideal Energy is pioneering modern solar storage technology in Iowa. One of their hottest projects is installing a large solar field for the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield.

MUM’s array, Iowa’s newest and largest privately owned solar array, will track the sun as it moves across the sky, charging a battery system designed by Ideal Energy, providing the college affordable electricity when prices are highest. Called a solar-plus storage system, it’s the first large-scale installation of its kind in Iowa. The Iowa Economic Development Authority is sponsoring a study to encourage the spread of this new renewable technology throughout the state.

Ideal Energy is constructing the 1.1-megawatt solar tracking array on five acres of land. The panels in the array will move 120 degrees each day to track the sun’s journey. Each row of panels can move independently to maintain its own optimal angle to the sun.

Key to the dream of living entirely off the sun in the form of solar and wind energy is the need to store the sun’s output during peak times — noon on a cloudless day, for example — for use during low times — with solar, that’s all night long. Exacerbating the problem is the tendency for demand to increase at periods during low-light times.

The answer is batteries.

The array will provide electricity to the university and charge a vanadium flow battery system. When electricity is in highest demand and prices peak — hot summer days, for example — the university can draw from its own battery supply. Over time, reducing these “demand charges” will help MUM reduce its electricity bill. The battery power can also be used during emergency outages.

Renewable energy is obtained by collecting naturally replenished resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat, all of which support sustainability.

Sustainability avoids the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. In 1987, the UN said “sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations.”

Fossil fuels are nonrenewable — the earth has a finite supply of decomposed dinosaurs — thus a world economy based on coal and oil is not sustainable.

If the major industrialized nations worked toward sustainability by developing renewable energy sources, we wouldn’t be talking these days about global warming, melting polar icecaps or the threat of year-round hurricanes.

Back in the early 1970s, when America was bleeding out in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia, the Baby Boomers stumbled across several fresh concepts including sustainability, Buckydomes and — thanks to people like the Beatles, Donovan Leitch and the Beach Boys — a technique called Transcendental Meditation, via the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru who first met those musicians in 1967.

Those so-called counter-culture concepts were not considered cutting edge; rather, they were ignored by the mainstream as being on the fringes of American societal thinking.

But mountains crumble with time and rivers flow relentlessly to the sea, thus today America embraces such previously alien concepts as solar energy, non-dependence on fossil fuels, electric cars, and Dick Tracy two-way wrist radios.

Back then, the problem was how to get off the grid; today, the problem is how to get on the grid with your solar energy system. Solar energy is big business growing larger each year, and big business means government regulation, utility giants and infrastructure.

The symbiosis of small outfits like Ideal with the big utilities — Alliant and MidAmerican in Iowa — is a topic beyond the scope of this story, but look at it this way: Companies like Ideal are the Davids standing tall for the common man, and Alliant is Goliath, only this time, the two are not combatants but are, instead, reluctant dance partners carefully avoiding stepping on each others’ toes.

One of the early solar energy problems was storage: Efficient use of solar requires storage for dark hours and peaks. Used railroad engine batteries were used by some off-gridders, but they had too short a cycle to keep a factory running all night, and thus battery technology had to grow up before solar could become truly viable.

At the heart of the solar problem was the duck curve — that’s the graph of usage versus time of day, which, when plotted out, looks like a duck’s silhouette. The fact the peak demand does not occur when the sun is high means peak usage is somewhat the inverse of peak solar input. In other words, while everyone leaves the office or factory to drive to McDonald’s for lunch, they aren’t using electricity, even though the sun is at it’s zenith. Conversely, when those same workers go home in the evening to fire up the stove, the TV, the hot tub, the Xbox to play Minecraft — that’s when the sun is crashing on the western horizon.

That’s why America needs companies like Ideal Energy.

Ideal wisely focused on battery storage. Today’s battery technology far surpasses those bulky D-cells you used to slide into your dad’s big flashlight, and two technologies are leading the way: vanadium flow and the batteries used in Tesla automobiles.

The vanadium flow battery is a non-toxic, pH-balanced battery whose performance does not degrade over time. Ideal was considering lithium-ion batteries, but those degrade: after 15 years, the top of the line lithium-ion batteries will only hold 50 percent of their initial charge. NEXTracker, owned by Fluxtronics, Ideal’s source for vanadium flow batteries, warranties their batteries for the life of the solar power system as long as Ideal follows a recommended annual maintenance schedule. That means after 25-plus years, the vanadium flow batteries will still hold 98 percent of charge.

A 2-by-4-by-6-foot vanadium battery sits at the end of each row on the MUM array, which consists of 3,150 panels rated at 350 watts each.

The Tesla Powerwall is the same battery utilized in Tesla’s cars; it can be integrated into a modular system and built out for commercial applications. Tesla also does this for residential homes, but the level Ideal is dealing with is large commercial installations.

Troy Van Beek earned his bachelor’s degree in sustainability from MUM and brought his Navy SEAL experience to the company.

“A part of the mission that has created Ideal is that we look at resource security as part of what we’re doing,” Troy said. “We’re in the process of creating abundance for our clients, and that’s really important because of the effect that it has on opportunity. The more opportunity there is, the less need for conflict.”

Amy Van Beek said the MUM project is the first solar and storage, large-scale battery project in the Midwest.

“It’s pretty significant because the National Renewable Energy Labs put out a study about a year ago indicating Iowa is one of the top ten states in the country to benefit from battery energy storage for peak demand mitigation,” she said.

Demand mitigation can reduce energy prices for hours with high price spikes by reducing the marginal generating cost of the system.

“The University is one of these peak demand customers,” Amy said. “We in Iowa have some of the lowest utility rates in the country, but for peak demand users, they’re in the top ten highest utility rates in the country. That can be a big problem for universities, manufacturers, even non-profit organizations — anybody that’s a large electric user.”

Troy Van Beek said that together, the vanadium flow battery technology and the tracking system makes the MUM project unique.

“It gives the U a good energy profile for its particular type of energy curve,” he said. “So that gives nice shoulders on the energy that’s being produced throughout the day. It really gives them a good payback on the project itself.”

That’s enough battery talk for today. Here’s something you can meditate upon tonight: The Sun is free and you can harvest whatever heat, light and wind by-products you want, all day, for free.

The technology to do so is not free. The delivery infrastructure is not free. The maintenance, legislation and continuing R&D are not free.

In the end, there will be no more solar mountains as more energy companies shine as brightly as Ideal Energy.

Read more about Ideal Energy’s projects at www.idealenergysolar.com.

The lyrics to Donovan’s song “There is a Mountain” refer to a Buddhist concept often attributed to Qingyuan Weixin, later translated by D.T. Suzuki in his “Essays in Zen Buddhism.

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Also see Iowa Entrepreneur profiles Ideal Energy, Fairfield. IPTV first aired this 13-minute story, on July 28, 2017.

On Oct 10, 2018, Ideal Energy posted Women Empowered: a short film about the leaders driving Iowa’s energy future.

See The Review story below:

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Iowa Entrepreneur profiles Ideal Energy, Fairfield

November 1, 2017

IPTV IOWA entrepreneur

Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Entrepreneur aired a profile of a local sustainability company in Fairfield, Ideal Energy, co-founded by two MUM graduates, Troy Van Beek and his wife Amy Van Beek. The show first aired on IPTV July 28, 2017. Here’s the hyperlinked title and description to the video: Ideal Energy, Fairfield.

After returning home from active duty, a Navy SEAL sought an education in sustainability at a small Iowa university. Now, he and his wife work together, using renewable energy to sow the seeds of peace.

The show opens with a description of what makes Fairfield unique and the influence of the local university, Maharishi University of Management. The university was the first in the country to offer a four-year degree in sustainability. Students and faculty practice Transcendental Meditation.

The video profiles Troy’s time as a U.S. Navy SEAL in Afghanistan, a lead sniper, part of a team, to protect the head of the country. We later see him setting up his own security company in Africa. During this time he was having second thoughts about his chosen profession using guns to create peace. When he found Fairfield and MUM on the internet, he was inspired to make a life-changing decision and moved to this small Midwest city to become a student. It was there that he would meet his future wife, Amy Greenfield, an eco-developer.

Troy was immediately recognized as someone exceptional and was asked to help with projects to upgrade the university’s buildings to greener standards. They supported his ideas and he learned by doing. He graduated in 2009 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Sustainability (now a BA in Sustainable Living) and the skills to make a difference.

Mayor Ed Malloy invited Troy Van Beek and Lonnie Gamble, one of his teachers and a founding faculty member in MUM’s Sustainable Living department, to join a select committee to put a Go-Green Strategic Plan 2020 together for Fairfield. Reducing energy usage and making buildings more energy efficient was part of the plan. Companies supported this vision, but there was no one to help implement it.

IPTV-Ideal Energy Co-Founders Amy and Troy Van Beek

To fill that void, Amy and Troy started their own sustainability company, Ideal Energy. They became one of the first solar companies in Iowa, installing around two megawatts of solar power on various buildings across the state. Thanks to their efforts, Fairfield has the highest number of solar energy installations per capita in Iowa. They received national and international recognition. In 2014, Troy and Amy were featured in a Huffington Post article and video: What the EPA Clean Power Plan Means: More Jobs, Less Carbon. And they were invited to speak at the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris.

I asked Troy how this IPTV show had come about and he said, “They reached out to us. We just made ourselves available. They did reference the Oprah video though. That may be where they heard of us.” Troy and Amy were included in Oprah’s televised visit to Fairfield, America’s Most Unusual Town, which featured an impressive profile of Troy.

In the Iowa video, this dynamic young couple explain how they started the company with just the two of them doing everything. As the demand for more solar installations increased, they needed to hire staff. Troy feels his experiences as a Navy SEAL prepared him to build a team and inspire them with the vision they were manifesting. Not only were they saving energy costs for local businesses, they were also providing jobs, and improving the local economy.

Troy also describes what he saw overseas—the disparities between the haves and the have-nots—especially when it came to energy and power. He sent me a quote for this article. It’s a powerful statement that sums up the core value of their company’s mission—to offer a proven solar solution that could put an end to wars over oil.

IPTV - Troy Van Beek, Co-Founder - Ideal Energy

“We are moving to an abundant sustainable world. Every solar panel adds to this movement. The technology makes it possible to move away from fossil fuels. It’s our mindset and entrenched vested interest that slow the transition. With that said, we are moving from a system of centralized energy and power to one that is distributed. This opportunity makes it one of the most important liberation movements of human history.”

Watch this inspiring 13-minute video profile of Troy and Amy Van Beek’s company, Ideal Energy, in Fairfield, Iowa. Visit their website: www.idealenergysolar.com. The 27-minute show of Iowa Entrepreneur, CapArms & Ideal Energy, aired July 28, 2017.

Fast Forward: On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2018, Ideal Energy Solar honored all who served. They also posted a video on their Facebook page of company founder & former US Navy SEAL Troy Van Beek talking about War and Sustainable Energy. It was a rebroadcast from his May 8, 2017 birthday video, on how clean energy is shaping our future. It’s a sane vision of equitable access to energy and what that technological change can do for the world’s economies and our planet’s resources.

Related News on Fairfield, Maharishi University, and Ideal Energy

The university did build their off-the-grid Sustainable Living Center, the first of its kind. Troy installed a wind-turbine, with the help of students who built it, and added more solar panels on the energy cottage and new SLC classroom building.

Last year the Des Moines Register’s Kevin Hardy wrote a profile on Fairfield’s entrepreneurial spirit and the University’s sustainability efforts, which included a video interview with Troy: Why this Iowa town is thriving when so many aren’t. And, while ABC News was in town covering the political campaigning, Josh Haskell dropped by for a live report from MUM’s SLC to interview students and learn about sustainability and Transcendental Meditation from Department head David Fisher.

The Smithsonian Magazine rated Fairfield in their top ten list (No. 7) of The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2013. Later that year, Des Moines Register columnist Rox Laird featured Fairfield’s civic collaboration and Maharishi University’s Sustainable Living Center in his Op-Ed piece: Fairfield defines community action.

The following year, BuzzFeed named Fairfield No. 2 of their 11 Coolest Small Cities It’s Time To Road Trip To. Mayor Ed Malloy and Fairfield Iowa Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Rustin Lippincott were interviewed on Moving America Forward, a national television show hosted by William Shatner. In 2004, Fairfield was selected Most Entrepreneurial Capital in Iowa, and in 2003, as the Most Entrepreneurial City in America (with a population under 10,000). Read more: Fairfield: The “Entrepreneurial Capital of Iowa.”

New updates from June 2018, US News and World Report selects Fairfield, Iowa with Maharishi University of Management as one of their Healthiest Communities, and September 2018, Ideal Energy’s solar-plus storage system for MUM is first large-scale installation of its kind in Iowa.

Fairfield, Iowa, TM and MUM make national news

June 10, 2016

Many articles have come out in praise of Fairfield, Iowa. Two and a half years ago, Rox Laird, The Des Moines Register’s editorial columnist, published an Opinion piece, Fairfield defines community action, on the city’s civic collaboration and Maharishi University’s Sustainable Living Center. The Smithsonian named Fairfield 7th out of 20 best small towns to visit that year. BuzzFeed named Fairfield one of the coolest small towns in America. And The Iowan had published an article on how Fairfield thinks inclusively creating rural success in Iowa.

I like to think the positive outcome of this latest article on Fairfield, TM and MUM, by Kevin Hardy in The Des Moines Register and the  USA TODAY NETWORK, resulted from a phone call I received on my birthday.

In April, I went to visit my son Nathanael at his new home in the Santa Barbara Riviera. For lunch he took me to The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, a well-known outdoor restaurant on the beach by the ocean. While waiting for our food to arrive, an unknown number called my cellphone. It was Kevin Hardy. He told me he covered business, labor and the economy for the Des Moines Register, and was researching why some towns in Iowa were thriving while many were losing population and failing economically. Then he said something that surprised me.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fairfield was Iowa’s fastest-growing city among cities of a similar size. Kevin wanted to know what role I thought Maharishi University of Management had played in the demographic and economic growth of Fairfield.

In addition to some of the longtime established businesses, I  gave him an historical overview how hundreds of meditators came from all over the US and Canada after MIU had moved to town from the mid-1970s onwards. Many would stay and relocate their businesses or start new ones. Also told him about today’s younger entrepreneurs, the new successful ventures they started, and gave him a list of people and companies to visit and interview.

Kevin Hardy and Register photographer/videographer Zach Boyden-Holmes really did their homework. They put together an impressive article that became a national success story! It is reproduced here with permission.  See the full article with 14 photos taken May 9, 2016 by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register. I added links for more information.

Why this Iowa town is thriving when so many aren’t
By Kevin Hardy, June 1, 2016

Click here to see a short (1:20) video of Fairfield entrepreneurs.

Fairfield out-performed all of the state’s 15 micropolitan areas in terms of population growth between 2010 and 2015.

FAIRFIELD, Ia. – Take a walk around this town’s bustling square and you’ll see an array of businesses that would rival some shopping malls.

On one corner sits a coffee shop that roasts its own beans in house. Down the block is a store specializing in sustainable children’s clothing and toys. Along another strip, there’s a women’s boutique, a Verizon store and a nutrition company.

The town’s retail center also is home to a salon, a consignment store, a furniture store and an art gallery. Just off the square is a pet spa, a natural remedy store and a photography studio. And for those looking for a bite to eat: a Thai restaurant, an Indian cafe, an Italian spot and a joint peddling pizza and steak.

In fact, local officials count only one vacancy in the storefronts that line shady Central Park. It’s just one more sign of success in this town of 9,500 in a state where most small cities and rural areas are seeing residents leave.

Since 1969, census data show Iowa’s metropolitan areas have gained nearly a half million people, while smaller cities and rural places have lost more than 171,000 residents.

But Fairfield has prospered, particularly in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015, the city saw a 4 percent population gain – a rate that rivaled the growth of some of Iowa’s much larger metro areas.

This southeast Iowa city is known as a magnet for practitioners of Transcendental Meditation at Maharishi University of Management, who flocked here since the 1970’s. Fairfield was able to capitalize on that unique niche, building a surprisingly metropolitan quality of life.

While Fairfield is home to 1,000 fewer jobs than it had 15 years ago, state figures show employers have rebounded in the last five years, adding nearly 700 jobs between 2010 and 2015. During that time, Fairfield went from 714 employers to 751, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

“We have a great quality-of-life culture and an entrepreneurial culture,” said Mayor Ed Malloy. “And we see it is allowing more young people to put down roots in this community.”

Around town, there is no shortage of small-city staples like Casey’s General Store and Pizza Ranch, though Fairfield is better known for its funky coffee houses, shops and restaurants. Locals claim the city is home to more restaurants per capita than San Francisco.

Yet the place that Oprah Winfrey dubbed “America’s most unusual town” is more than just quirky. It’s one of the few nonmetropolitan areas in Iowa posting strong population growth, according to U.S. Census figures. And around town, evidence abounds that Fairfield has done what so many small cities in the Midwest struggle to achieve: attract and retain people.

Troy with MUM Solar Array

Troy Van Beek stands in front of a solar power array his company Ideal Energy installed at the Maharishi University in Fairfield Monday, May 9, 2016. Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register

TM’s long effect
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced Transcendental Meditation, or TM, in India in the 1950’s.

But he brought his technique and “Consciousness-Based education” to Iowa in 1974, when Maharishi International University moved from Santa Barbara, Calif., to the 1 million empty square feet vacated by Parsons College in Fairfield. (The university later changed its name to Maharishi University of Management.)

While some in the community resisted the influx of meditators, locals say most of those tensions were alleviated years ago.

“As time has gone on, everybody’s meshed seamlessly,” said local designer Linda Pettit.

Pettit, who with her husband owns Finishing Touch interior design, has watched Fairfield thrive over the last 32 years from her storefront on the town square. She ticks off quality-of-life improvements such as a new pool and new recreation center.

She boasts about the many restaurants. And she tells of all the new and unusual businesses that have opened.

“We have a very vibrant community,” she said. “I think a lot of small towns don’t have the diversity that we do.”

Pettit hears about layoffs at plants in nearby Ottumwa. She knows how Iowa farmers are struggling with low commodity prices. But she said that isn’t Fairfield’s storyline.

Her business works on residential and commercial projects. But she’s noticed a slant toward more commercial projects in recent years, as new businesses pop up and old ones invest in upgrades.

“It’s a great place to have a business,” she said.

Iowa’s ‘Silicorn Valley’
Over the years, many TM practitioners and others who visited Fairfield decided to stay.

Once here, they had to find a way to make a living. Some Fairfield residents drive to Ottumwa or Iowa City for work. But many have started small businesses in Fairfield, which has been called “Silicorn Valley” for its mixture of tech startups and entrepreneurial ventures.

“People moved here and they had to figure out how to stay here,” said David Navarrete, spokesman for Sky Factory.

The 38-employee company was founded in 2002 by Bill Witherspoon, an artist who moved to Fairfield for its TM community. A serial entrepreneur, he formed Sky Factory as a means of supporting his family. It creates window and ceiling panels that recreate outdoor views like those of a blue sky or a beachfront.

Sky Factory’s biggest clients are health care providers, as research shows even a simulated view of the outdoors can boost moods for those trapped indoors.

“I think there’s definitely an entrepreneurial spirit here, and I think a lot of that comes from the university,” said Witherspoon’s son, Skye Witherspoon, now the company’s CEO.

Fairfield is also home to a surprising array of manufacturing.
Creative Edge makes intricate flooring for some of the world’s best known hotels, casinos, hospitals and universities. Bovard Studios makes and restores stained glass windows for churches across the country. And a host of businesses manufacture agricultural parts, iron castings, polyethylene piping and laundromat washers and dryers.

So many things are made in Fairfield that the Iowa Economic Development Authority will host an export conference here in the fall.

Fairfield’s biggest employers have grown in recent years, too.

Cambridge Investment Research now employs about 700 and boasts more than $70 billion in assets under its management.

Mixed signals
Like many small cities, some employers in Fairfield report trouble recruiting and hiring, especially with Iowa’s unemployment rate remaining below 4 percent.

Lori Schaefer-Wheaton, president of the 170-employee Agri-Industrial Plastics, said hiring is a struggle. She has 20 openings, a number that has held fairly constant over the last two years, she said.

Fairfield is an anomaly among small cities in Iowa, she said, but she thinks recent population growth is largely related to the university.

“That kind of population growth might show up on our census,” she said. “But I don’t think it changes the dynamics of the workforce in our town.”

Iowa State University Economist Dave Swenson said Fairfield definitely out performs many similarly sized cities. But some signals are mixed: While some measures show recent job growth, other data actually point to employment losses, he said.

“They seem to be demonstrating both demographic and economic growth that stands out,” he said. “The big question is this a short term growth or is it sustainable?”

Natives return home
Meghan Dowd came to Fairfield as a child when her parents migrated here for the TM community.

She moved away for college, then ended up working in television in California.

From there, she visited her mom in Fairfield and realized it was going through a “renaissance,” with monthly art walks, a new events center and lots of cool coffee shops and restaurants. She moved back in 2009 and started Shaktea, a maker of kombucha, a trendy fermented drink.

In Fairfield, she says she can do just about anything she could in a metro city. Plus, it’s much cheaper to buy a home or start a business. (She also started Cado, an organic avocado-based ice cream, featured with a photo in the article and video.)

Her children attend a Waldorf-inspired preschool. And after yearning for a yoga studio, she just opened her own.

“A lot of people moved here, the kids grew up here, but then the kids wanted to go out into the world and experience different things,” Dowd said. “I think that happened and some of that is kind of boomeranging back to Fairfield.”

Jesse Narducci followed a similar path. He returned home to Fairfield a few years ago after living in Colorado and California for more than a decade. He opened Jefferson County Ciderworks just outside of town. He brews hard apple cider and runs a taproom featuring hard-to-find craft brews.

Narducci said many of Iowa’s smaller towns are undesirable places to live because they lack quality places to grab a meal or a drink out. Not Fairfield.

“You don’t have to drive to Iowa City to have a good ale or a good meal,” he said. “I don’t really leave that often. … I’m trying to create my own little paradise out here.”

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