TVA’s new chief is focused on the future. Here’s how we can make it bright

Originally published by The Chattanooga Times Free Press

By: Mary Beth Hudson, TAEBC Board Member

It’s been just over a month since he’s taken over the reins of the Tennessee Valley Authority, but new CEO Jeffrey Lyash is already focused on the future.

He’s committed to prioritizing “what is needed in the long run” when making strategic investments and changes to meet the changing environmental and economic landscape, Lyash told the Times Free Press recently. “The public power model in the valley will allow us to think about what is best over time for all of our customers,” he said.

The answer to what’s best, whether for TVA, its customers, business development, or every-day Tennesseans, is the same: advanced energy.

Advanced energy may be a booming $1.4 trillion global market, but it’s intimately linked to the welfare, employment, and economic prospects of all Tennesseans.

Our state has exploded as a powerplayer in advanced energy innovation over the last decade, thanks in large part to the unique set of assets that make it a triple-threat: TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and business-friendly regulations and workforce. The sector drives approximately $39.7 billion to state Gross Domestic Product, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) found in its 2018 economic impact report. It’s growing even more rapidly than the overall state economy, employing close to 360,000 Tennesseans in generally higher-paid positions than the state average annual wage.

In our backyard here in Chattanooga, the advanced energy industry drives more than $1.5 billion in annual payroll to more than 31,142 local workers.

I’m fortunate to count myself among the advanced energy employees, as vice president of Wacker Polysilicon NCA and site manager of the Charleston plant, where we manufacture the polysicion that forms the base material for solar power panels. Support of advanced energy is critical for international corporations like Wacker – the growing drive for sustainability and access to non-traditional energy sources is becoming a prerequisite in companies’ site-selection decision-making process. Wacker just invested an additional $150 million into expanding its $2.5 billion plant in Charleston – but expansions like these and new recruitment of businesses to the state hinges upon whether we continue to invest in advanced energy.

But beyond economic and workforce development, investment in advanced energy should be a no-brainer for TVA for a more simple reason: It’s the future of energy – whether we embrace it or not.

From a long-term sustainability standpoint, the fact is that resources like fossil fuels are limited and won’t last forever. Instead of burning natural gas at large centralized power plants, producing CO2 emissions in the process and wasting the carbon molecules on a single use, we should be preserving these finite resources. Carbon molecules are the building blocks of plastics manufacturing, necessary to make higher-end items such as medical products including replacement heart valves, implants and prosthetics. Prioritizing advanced energy allows us to store fossil fuels such as natural gas, creating an asset that drives the nation’s manufacturing economy with the production of advanced materials.

We should all be encouraged by Lyash’s words embracing the challenges and opportunities of the energy landscape of the future. That future is advanced energy, and whether Tennessee advances as an economic powerhouse and epicenter of advanced energy innovation, or gets left behind in irrelevancy, is in TVA’s hands. If Lyash follows through on his word, then our future is bright.

 Mary Beth Hudson is vice president of Wacker Polysilicon in the Americas, site manager of Wacker’s Charleston, Tennessee plant and a board member of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

TN Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report: Snapshot of media coverage

On June 17, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council released the Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report, the first document of its kind that defines the scope and scale of Tennessee’s advanced energy sector and quantifies its economic impact.

The report received statewide media coverage and recognition of advanced energy as an economic driver for Tennessee and a source of high quality jobs. It was distributed to more than 200 local, state and national economic development stakeholders.

Here’s a snapshot of the media coverage from the report release, with links to the full stories. Enjoy!

Tennessee could be a major player in $200B advanced energy economy (Knoxville News Sentinel)
“Tennessee is poised to take a significant chunk of the nation’s $200 billion advanced energy sector according to a new report from the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council. The state’s advanced energy sector employs nearly 325,000 individuals…and the jobs pay well above the state average.”

Advanced energy industry grows in Tennessee (Chattanooga Times Free Press)
“Much of the growth in Tennessee is being driven by the automotive industry, which is working to reach a fleet average mileage standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.”

Report: Tennessee leader in ‘advanced energy’ (The Tennessean)
“’We see advanced energy as an economic driver, especially in rural areas,’ said Steve Bares, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks Foundation.”

New report tracks Tennessee’s economic impact in ‘advanced energy’ sector (Kingsport Times-News)
“Advanced energy provides a home for Tennessee’s emerging workforce as the state attempts to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by 2025.”

Study: Advanced energy business contributes $33.4 billion to state GDP (Memphis Business Journal)
“Schneider Electric’s Jim Plourde said compiling the information was important for increasing visibility, highlighting Tennessee as a leader in the field, showcasing opportunities to an emerging workforce and driving the economy.”

Budding advanced energy sector grows in Tennessee (
“The [advanced energy] industry provides opportunities for entrepreneurs. A developing sector means ripe opportunities for new ideas and businesses.”

TAEBC releases first-ever look at state’s advanced energy sector (
“Advanced energy is a lucrative growth sector and a source of high quality jobs in the Volunteer State, according to a new report from the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC).”

Schneider Electric among state leaders in advanced energy sector (Daily News Journal)
“’National studies show rapid growth that outpaces the rest of the economy,’ said Matt Murray, with the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, which produced the report. He added it also found employment growth in the sector was more robust than any other sector from 2012 to 2013.”

Oak Ridge National Lab to help EPB improve Chattanooga’s smart grid

The City of Chattanooga’s smart grid is about to get even smarter with the help of the Oak Ridge National Lab.

The Oak Ridge National Lab, the U.S. Department of Energy and the city-owned EPB signed an agreement this week for DOE researchers and computer experts from Oak Ridge to help EPB better analyze and control the volumes of data gathered continuously from the utility’s fiber-optic network attached for the past couple of years to Chattanooga’s electric grid.

“This partnership is real and we intend to move forward immediately in ways that hopefully can improve the reliability and efficiency of our electric system,” EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson said today after signing a memorandum of understanding to work with DOE and ORNL.

Chattanooga boasts the fastest citywide Internet links of any city in the Western Hemisphere, thanks to the federally-funded EPB fiber optic network. EPB got $111.6 million in federal stimulus funds nearly five years ago to help build its fiber optic network across its 600-mile service territory. EPB has installed more than 1,100 IntelligRuptors, which are smart grid devices that both alert system controllers of power problems and isolate outages.

EPB President Harold DePriest said the smart grid has already helped reduce outage times in Chattanooga by 60 percent and with Oak Ridge assistance, he hopes to identify new ways to make the grid smarter, more reliable and even faster.

EPB’s smart grid gathers meter readings from users once every 15 minutes, or nearly 3,000 times more often than the manual monthly meter readings used in the past. The Oak Ridge laboratory, which boasts one of the fastest and biggest computers in the world, will provide engineering scholars at EPB to study, sort and analyze the data from the smart grid. ORNL Lab Director Thomas Mason said such data analysis should not only help EPB get better but to develop systems to help electricity providers improve around the country.

Read the full story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press here.

Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press