AMHERST, Mass. - Electrical brown-outs that occur during summer heat waves, when air conditioners use up large amounts of power, may be avoidable one day, thanks to a technology being assessed at the University of Massachusetts. UMass is a partner in an innovative program aimed at helping Massachusetts companies bring innovative environmental and energy-related technologies to the marketplace. The Massachusetts Strategic Envirotechnology Partnership (STEP) is a collaboration between UMass, the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Economic Development.
The University’s role is to assess how well the technologies work, and to assist companies with business plans that consider market needs, financing, environmental implications, and potential competitors. "We identify the barriers to commercializing new technologies," says Eric Winkler, a staff research scientist who coordinates environmental technologies for STEP at the Amherst campus, "then we come up with solutions." UMass also provides the companies with faculty expertise - for instance, a chemical engineer might consult on a wastewater treatment project.
More than 1,300 Massachusetts environmental technology companies employ 55,000 people and contribute more than $6 billion to the state’s economy each year, according to Winkler. "Generally it’s better business to protect the environment," he says. "A company that’s not producing environmentally hazardous waste isn’t paying penalties, and isn’t paying high fees for waste removal."
The brown-out technology is being developed by Second Wind, a Somerville company. An instrument that clamps onto transmission lines can remotely monitor power quantity and quality, better enabling utility companies to re-route electricity to high use areas. "The new technology could be cost effective, provide better quality electrical service, and potentially solve a serious problem," Winkler says. The 20 companies currently mentored by STEP have a range of focuses, including reducing industrial toxins, lowering harmful emissions, and providing more effective soil and groundwater clean-up and monitoring technologies.
The University may set up performance testing demonstrations. The STEP program can identify permitting issues and pinpoint state agencies which are potential clients for the young companies. State clients have included the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Transportation. "What STEP does is use existing public services and state resources to move innovative technologies to commercial viability," says Winkler. "We help fledgling companies to reduce uncertainties."