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Mississippi home to innovative alternative energy progress

Abundant, affordable energy is the lifeblood of the state and national economy, says Motice Bruce, director of the Energy Division of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).

“A finite supply of fossil fuel, instability of the Middle East and current discussions on global warming/climate change all contribute to the need for energy production in Mississippi,” Bruce says. “Alternative energy production will help diminish the impact of the inevitable depletion of fossil fuel, reduce high and unpredictable prices for energy and create a balanced energy strategy combining efficiency, conservation and domestic production that will help secure a strong economy, low unemployment and security for Mississippi.”

Bruce says Mississippi has experienced success in a wide array of renewable/alternative energy projects. Some of these include energy production from biomass, landfill gas, swine litter and poultry litter. Partnerships between the MDA Energy Division, the Mississippi Technology Alliance, Brinson Farms and the Mississippi Biomass Council have focused on the use of animal byproducts to generate electricity and provide heat. These efforts include the first installation in the U.S. of a methane generation and capture system at a broiler chicken farm.

Another important milestone is the Southeastern Combined Cooling, Heating and Power (CHP) Regional Application Center, a research and development demonstration project through Mississippi State University. The center hopes to double the 1998 levels of energy-saving CHP systems installed capacity by the year 2010. The center will coordinate and conduct education and outreach activities to stimulate market development.
Some of the challenges to a profitable alternative energy industry in the state include a lack of knowledge of the benefits of the technology and lack of infrastructure. Alternative energy is just developing in the state. Therefore, outlets are scarce or nonexistent. One significant retail outlet is Scott Petroleum, which has a biodiesel blend available for sales at its convenience stores in the state. Scott Petroleum opened a new biodiesel refinery in Greenville in October 2007.

Bruce says other issues include the fact that the initial cost of alternative energy systems are not cost favorable with traditional energy systems. And some alternative energy technologies require some back-up or traditional energy source. Another issue is electric company monopolies.

“The central-station approach to power supply has been relatively effective in the Southern states, where most customers’ electric rates are relatively low and reliability rates are relatively high,” Bruce says. “These factors have contributed to the reluctance of several Southern states to introduce retail competition in their electricity markets. As a result, customers in nearly all Southern states continue to obtain their power almost exclusively from traditional monopoly utilities.”

Bruce believes the following are the most promising technologies for alternative energy development in Mississippi:

Solar

New technologies continue to be developed to capture the sun’s energy including photovoltaic cells, concentrating solar power technologies and low-temperature solar collectors. Agriculture alone in Mississippi is a multi-billion dollar industry that employs approximately 30% of the workforce directly or indirectly. Both solar thermal and photovoltaic power have applications in agricultural settings that could help improve efficiency and productivity.

Biomass

The states large stock of biomass from trees, agricultural food and feed crops, crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes and municipal wastes offer tremendous opportunity to use domestic and sustainable resources to provide fuel, power and chemical needs from plants and plant-derived materials. Biomass energy is estimated to contribute 7.1% of Mississippi’s total energy consumption, which is double the national average.

Cooling, Heating and Power

CHP is a promising technology for increased energy efficiency through the use of distributed electric and thermal energy delivery systems at or near end-user sites. CHP systems would promote energy reliability and self-sufficiency for many industrial and agricultural applications.

Geothermal

Geothermal ground source systems can be used in any sector and are becoming very popular for school systems/districts.

Fossil fuel alternatives

Biobased products such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen create avenues for fuel other than fossil fuel and are considered more environmentally acceptable and friendly.

The state’s efforts also include education and outreach.

“Renewable Energy Day provides elementary and secondary students educational activities and interactive presentations on renewable energy resources, solar energy, recycling, composting, alternative fuels, biomass and forest resources,” Bruce says. “And the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge helps motivate high-school students in science and engineering and teach them how to build practical solar cars. Four groups of Mississippi high school students competed in the 2007 Solar Car Challenge. Two teams brought home first-place honors in their respective divisions.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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