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Prospects for a Greener Future on Display at the Maryland Clean Energy Summit

George Lopez, Maryland Clean Energy Summit - Arianne Teeple
George Lopez, Maryland Clean Energy Summit - Arianne Teeple
Wet autumn air shrouded the Inner Harbor area on Monday, October 4. Oriole Park sat empty under gray skies, not a day after the O's lost their last game of the season, and pedestrians hustled across Pratt Street to dodge splashes from cars whose scowling drivers were late to work on account of the rain.

Nevertheless, the mood at the Baltimore Hilton was defiantly sunny, as hundreds of attendees and exhibitors readied for the first annual Maryland Clean Energy Summit.

The Maryland Clean Energy Center, though based in Rockville, chose Baltimore as the site of its inaugural statewide gathering of green business and government leaders. Summit organizer George Lopez reflected, "From the beginning we felt that Maryland was ready for this type of event, but we weren't sure the industry would feel the same way." In the end, the state's renewable power players showed up in force to call for continued cooperation among policymakers, academics, and businesspeople.

"We ended up with a full house," Lopez beamed.

The enthusiasm seems justified. On September 16, Baltimore City's Green Building Standard took effect, ensuring that newly built and rehabbed buildings in Charm City will conform to a list of energy efficiency and indoor air quality specifications. After some delays due to budget shortfalls and the resignation of Mayor Sheila Dixon (BCGBS was initially scheduled for a January 2010 rollout) prime consultants Kim Schaefer and her team at TerraLogos Eco Architecture were able to deliver a refined rubric for greening the city's homes and offices to the new administration.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake kicked off the summit, which also included a series of awards for leadership in the state's clean energy economy, with a pledge to cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 15% by 2015. That started in 2008 with energy audits for city buildings that have led to $6 million in yearly savings so far. There are also broad infrastructure changes afoot, like LED traffic lights that burn brighter and use less energy, and hybrid gas-electric MTA buses are now making their routes. The mayor noted that waste-to-energy and biofuels research projects are already giving way to changes in Baltimore's large-scale heating systems, and she made a point of thanking Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman John Sarbanes -- both of whom were in attendance -- for their leadership in bringing D.C. stimulus energy block grants to Maryland and Baltimore.

Attendees could take in keynote speeches on a range of topics like how to finance energy-saving overhauls of run-down properties (which Baltimore has in spades), what climate-change legislation means for large energy companies like Constellation Energy, and how transportation will play a pivotal role in making Maryland greener. All the while, over 80 companies and organizations lined an exhibition hall and highlighted the place of smaller clean energy enterprises in the state's new energy economy.

Standard Solar President Scott Wiater came to clean energy with a background as a high-tech exec. He sees many of the same opportunities and challenges in solar power as there were in the dot-com boom of the 90s and early 00s. "Solar power is an immature industry in terms of the supply chain," Wiater observed, as entrepreneurs in both periods have faced peaks and valleys that affect how much material they can acquire and at what cost, so success means keeping a diverse supplier base. With secure pricing, customers can compare photovoltaic (PV) installations and energy efficiency programs with coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, and opt for the greenest choice on the energy menu.

Though most of Standard Solar's 8 megawatts of installed capacity are near its base in Rockville, Wiater says Baltimore is an up-and-coming market, and the company has hundreds of kilowatts of ground-mounted PV power installed at a BGE facility near M&T Bank Stadium. 3 to 4 more megawatts are on the way, with power purchase agreements in place that will keep each installation producing solar-generated electricity for 15 to 20 years.

The D.C. suburbs help make Maryland #2 nationwide in the number of millionaires per capita, and Wiater says the "feel-good factor" of clean energy couples with local incentives in Montgomery County to make that area the front-runner in installations. Baltimore, however, has the 'burbs beat on research.

Johns Hopkins University has led the country for 31 straight years in research and development spending and kicked a recession-be-damned $1.85 billion into labs in 2009. Now, Professor Ben Hobbs is leading a JHU-wide effort to integrate green R&D into the new Environment, Sustainability & Health Institute (E2SHI).

"We want to work on making our education responsive to what students want and what the country needs," says Hobbs, who specializes in mathematical modeling of environmental and energy systems. E2SHI could be the catalyst in making Baltimore a hotbed for green jobs. After all, JHU is already the largest private employer in the city, and if marrying research interests from the Whiting School of Engineering and Bloomberg School of Public Health amounts to a competitive advantage for the university, more minds and money will be drawn here, with a wide base of employment opportunities in clean energy following closely behind.

The debuts of E2SHI, the Baltimore City Green Building Standard, and the Maryland Clean Energy Summit have all been watersheds for Baltimore's renewable energy economy in 2010, and the work begun by each one of these stands poised to continue, and grow, in the coming year.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple

- George Lopez, Maryland Clean Energy Summit
- Dr. Hyung-Suk Kang, a research scientist, holds a model wind turbine at the Corrsin Wind Tunnel Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus
- Dr. Hyung-Suk Kang, a research scientist, at the Corrsin Wind Tunnel Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus
- A fractal grid used to measure wind data at the Johns Hopkins University Corrsin Wind Tunnel Laboratory
- The Corrsin Wind Tunnel Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus
- Environmentally designed rowhouses by TerraLogos on Callendar Street in Baltimore
- A solar array installation on the roof of an ice skating rink in Rockville by Standard Solar

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