2021 TAEBC Annual Meeting emphasizes value of partnerships, the Energy Mentor Network and transportation electrification efforts in Tennessee

TAEBC awarded the 2021 Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award to TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe

On March 25, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) hosted its virtual 2021 Annual Meeting, sponsored by Seven States Power Corporation. The event featured speakers from the Department of Energy, state agencies and the graduates of the Energy Mentor Network. TAEBC also awarded the 2021 Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award to Bob Rolfe, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD).

TAEBC Executive Director Cortney Piper kicked off the event’s festivities by providing an overview of the TAEBC’s accomplishments in 2020 and gave a glimpse at priorities for the organization moving forward into 2021.

“As our nation moves forward and accelerates on its vision for a clean energy economy, we believe that the state of Tennessee has the assets and the businesses to help inform that agenda,” said Piper.

Featured speaker: DOE’s Vanessa Z. Chan

Featured speaker Vanessa Z. Chan, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Chief Commercialization Officer & Director of the Office of Technology Transitions, spoke about her background, her office’s vision and specific ways DOE supports energy entrepreneurs. She discussed how Tennessee is the “perfect ecosystem” for technology growth due to the presence of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and other key stakeholders.

“My lifelong passion has been helping engineers and scientists aim their scientific prowess at real-world problems that they can transform,” said Chan. “If we combine the strength of a national lab like Oak Ridge with a strong university system and the people represented here by groups like TAEBC, you find yourself in a setting that is right for innovation.”

Chan also recognized the “valley of death” many energy entrepreneurs face in developing their technologies. She emphasized the three-prong approach DOE takes to addressing this challenge: programs, training and awareness-raising.

“Ultimately, driving commercialization and navigating through the valley of death requires public-private partnerships,” she said. “No one organization can drive through it on their own.”

During the audience Q&A, Chan answered questions on a range of topics, including one on how TAEBC can support her department and help the new administration achieve its goals.

“I would love for you guys to be reaching out to us regarding priorities you might have,” she answered.

Featured panel: Energy Mentor Network Spotlight

Next, the 2021 Annual Meeting featured an Energy Mentor Network Spotlight Panel about a recent DOE funding announcement. Earlier this year, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy awarded $6 million through the Building Technologies Proving Ground – Public Sector Field Validation Funding Opportunity to seven state and local governments for advanced building technologies, including the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

TDEC partnered with Stone Mountain Technologies (SMTI), an Energy Mentor Network graduate, to validate SMTI’s gas absorption hot water heat pump technology in a commercial setting. Other partners for the project include TAEBC, the National Association of State Energy Officials, the Gas Technology Institute and ORNL.

During the panel, Michael Garrabrant, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SMTI, and Ryan Stanton, Senior Consultant for Strategic Energy Initiatives at TDEC, spoke about the importance of Garrabrant’s technology, specifics of the project and the value of the Energy Mentor Network. It was Stanton’s connection to Garrabrant through the Energy Mentor Network that led to their eventual partnership.

“It demonstrates the impact the Energy Mentor Network can have on partnerships like this,” said Stanton. “Stone Mountain has developed this fantastic technology and it was a great opportunity to showcase it at a public building.”

Garrabrant echoed the value of SMTI going through the Energy Mentor Network, saying, “I don’t think it was a coincidence that during that period we were able to raise our first seed round of about $3 million from a strategic investor.”

Award ceremony: 2021 Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award

TAEBC awarded TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe with the 2021 Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award. The annual award honors exemplary leadership and success in championing, connecting and strengthening Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.

“Today I’m humbled, I’m honored and most grateful to receive the Tom Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award,” said Rolfe in a pre-recorded statement.

Rolfe was selected for the award due to the instrumental role he’s played in bringing jobs in advanced energy to the state, particularly in electric vehicle manufacturing. Rolfe has spearheaded the goal of making Tennessee the top state in the country for electric vehicle manufacturing, as well as speaking and meeting with automotive manufacturers across the country to attract them here.

“Bob Rolfe has been a tremendous partner to TAEBC and the state’s impressive electric vehicle supply chain,” said Piper. “He is essential to making Tennessee a national leader in EV manufacturing and the advanced energy workforce. We’re excited for continued growth in advanced energy with the leadership from Commissioner Rolfe and all the efforts by TAEBC members and partners across the state.”

In 2019, TAEBC bestowed the first-ever award to Tom Ballard himself, during TAEBC’s Annual Meeting at Schneider Electric’s Nashville Hub. The next year, TAEBC awarded Dan Hurst, CEO and Founder of Knoxville-based Strata-G, with the 2020 Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award during TAEBC’s Annual Meeting.

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