Green and Smart

NextEnergy in Detroit transforms its mission to drive new transit solutions.


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Jim Saber, president and CEO of NextEnergy in Detroit, is working with Michigan officials and PlanetM to execute pilot projects with startup mobility companies.

Evolution is the new mantra for NextEnergy, a nonprofit organization in Detroit’s Midtown district that got its start in 2002 as an incubator of emerging electrical, solar, and alternative fuels. Now comes the new world of mobility, smart cities, and green energy infrastructure.

“We still help energy-related companies commercialize products and bring them to market, but now we’re also focused on the quality of life in Detroit and around the world in the new mobility age,” says Jim Saber, president and CEO of NextEnergy. “Mobility to us is shared, connected, automated, electrical, and inclusive.

“We’re looking at how future mobility with autonomous vehicles can provide more transportation options for low- and moderate-income families in Detroit to get to and from work, as well as assist seniors. With our corporate partners, we’re working to develop new transit systems and tools here that can be shared around the world.”

Initially funded by Michigan Economic Development Corp., a quasi-public job creation and recruitment agency in Lansing, today NextEnergy generates revenue through R&D programs with private sector employers. The partners include General Motors Co., DTE Energy, Bosch, Continental, Denso, BP Ventures, FCA US, Delta Products, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The entity is a founding  member of both the newly formed Detroit Urban Solutions Consortium with Wayne State University, TechTown (located across the street), the New Economy Initiative, and Incubatenergy, a national consortium of incubators focused on clean energy.

There’s also NextEnergy’s new lighting technology energy solutions program, or LiTES, which seeks to encourage owners of small- and medium-sized commercial buildings to lower their energy usage by installing advanced lighting control systems (some 97 percent of commercial buildings fall into the category).

The organization also partnered with Delta Products, GM, DTE Energy, and the U.S. Department of Energy in a multiyear program to develop an electric vehicle charger that can provide 180 miles of driving range in 10 minutes. In addition, it works with CharIN, a global alliance of 139 companies, to accelerate global standards for electric vehicle charging.

“We’re also combining research programs in energy and mobility to provide a cleaner and smarter world,” Saber says. “To get there, we’re installing sensors along traffic corridors to get real-time data on mobility, and we’re delving into using more green energy to power the future.

“At the same time, we’re working with area businesses and DTE Energy to see how energy usage could potentially be reduced by 10 percent by better managing lighting. The result would be that DTE wouldn’t have to turn on an extra (electric) plant on a hot day.”

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