3 months ago

Birmingham’s Southern Research, Southern Company help put Alabama on cutting edge of renewable energy future

BIRMINGHAM — Southern Research on Tuesday held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Energy Storage Research Center, which is the first of its kind in Alabama and is indicative, industry experts said, of the Yellowhammer State positioning itself at the forefront of next-generation energy needs.

The ceremony was held in collaboration with Southern Research’s partners on the important project: Southern Company, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


The Energy Storage Research Center will serve as an industrywide resource for testing chemical, mechanical and thermal energy storage systems under actual conditions while offering increased reliability and resiliency; better management of peak load demand; and increased integration and value of intermittent renewable resources such as wind and solar.

The center will allow third-party innovators from the electric utility industry, academia, government and technology the ability to research, develop and demonstrate energy storage solutions.

At the end of the day, the goal is for this energy research to turn into real-world uses for utilities, as well as the commercial and industrial sectors. This is something that Southern Research and Southern Company have both long excelled at as partners, speakers during the ceremony said.

In fact, Southern Research’s senior director for energy & environment, Corey Tyree, explained that this is no accident, as Southern Research’s founder was a former CEO of Southern Company. Tom Martin founded Southern Research in Birmingham in 1941.

Since then, the independent, nonprofit, scientific and engineering research organization that supports clients and partners in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental and energy industries has grown into a national gem. Southern Research’s staff of nearly 400 now works across four divisions in the pursuit of entrepreneurial and collaborative initiatives to develop and maintain a pipeline of intellectual property and innovative technologies that positively impact real-world problems.

Market forces

One of these problems for the energy sector in modern times is reducing carbon emissions. While renewable energy research has been underway across the world for some time now, solutions are still not ready for renewables (solar, wind, hydropower, etc.) to overtake traditional sources such as natural gas and coal.

Yet, the market is demanding increased renewable energy usage — and fast, Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield advised during the ceremony.

He said he was present to speak to the fact that “the state of Alabama, through the Alabama Department of Commerce, has been focused on being a facilitator for the accelerated growth of renewable energy options and the research, testing and validation of the future generation of energy storage technologies that are necessary to scale renewables at the utility level.”

Canfield stressed this growth was being driven by market forces. He also emphasized that it is important to develop and implement the technology in a scalable way so “that renewable energy can be brought into reality at a cost-effective and truly market-sustainable fashion.”

“In just four years, we’ve participated in economic development activities across this state which have seen renewable energy for power production increase by three-to-four fold,” Canfield explained.

He said this growth in renewable energy use throughout the state’s grid has been made possible by the efforts of utilities such as Alabama Power Company, PowerSouth and TVA.

Canfield pointed to new Google, Facebook and Walmart facilities as being specific examples of economic development projects in Alabama that called for increased renewable energy usage.

“All of these companies, as well as many others that we are recruiting into our state and helping build the business environment to expand in our state, we’re finding that more and more every day [are] demanding green, sustainable, renewable energy as part of their operation in Alabama,” Canfield stated.

He outlined that the recent significant growth in renewable energy capacity is going to “continue to accelerate.”

“The demand for sustainable energy in our state, as well as worldwide, will continue to accelerate,” the commerce secretary added. “And it will come from customer demand.”

He explained that utilities in the state are “reacting to” this market demand, and projects like the new Energy Storage Research Center will help them do this as effectively and economically as possible.

Canfield said the state had provided seed money for this project going back to 2016 or 2017 and is a proud partner in the endeavor.

“This center really… is about the future of our state [from an economic development perspective],” Canfield noted. “It’s about the future of our nation, it’s about energy independence. But it’s also about how do we make capturing energy produced from renewable sources more readily available on a cost-effective basis. And ultimately that cost equation is what we’ll need for widespread adoption in the marketplace.”

“I can’t wait to see the future work that comes from this research center,” he concluded.

‘Clean, safe, reliable, affordable energy’

Roxann Walsh, director of reduced carbon, renewable and distributed energy research and development for Southern Company, also spoke during the ceremony.

She spoke on behalf of Southern Company and its subsidiary, Alabama Power, expressing that innovation is in the “DNA” and “spirit” of both entities.

Walsh said that this week’s celebration of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary is an especially fitting time to announce this forward-looking endeavor. This year also marks a half-century of Southern Company’s modern energy research and development efforts.

The company has grown into the nation’s second-largest utility company, with innovation as a staple.

“[P]roviding clean, safe, reliable, affordable energy” is the core goal, Walsh advised.

The company’s “robust” research and development efforts help them keep up with market demands and actually get ahead of consumer needs.

Today, much of that focus is on renewable energy solutions and smart home/neighborhood projects, according to Walsh.

She said part of their success in these endeavors comes from collaboration with diverse partners across various sectors, just like the new Energy Storage Research Center.

The partner-leaders involved in the project affirmed Southern Company’s commitment to collaboration, innovation and renewables during the ceremony, including Charlie Vartanian of the U.S. Department of Energy and Mark McGranaghan of EPRI.

“We’ve always had a great relationship with Southern Company,” McGranaghan said. “Southern Company is kind of the model of establishing the participation and collaboration [across sectors for turning research into practical uses and technologies].”

Through this public-private partnership, led by Southern Research and Southern Company, the future is bright for the Yellowhammer State.

Canfield concluded, “[T]his facility puts Alabama at the forefront of some of the most important research being done for renewable energy in the U.S.”

RELATED: Rebuild Alabama bill puts state on cutting edge of electric vehicle infrastructure

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Episode 6: Interview with former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna

Dale Jackson is joined former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna to talk about how he went from the life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll to leading the music department of Calhoun Community College in Decatur.

Vrenna describes how his love of music took him all over the world, granted him the awards and adulations of millions, and how it made him a better teacher in 2019 in Alabama.

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Episode 30: Bye week recap, college football midterm

A rested DrunkAubie is back from the bye week ready to discuss South Carolina beating Georgia last week and the upcoming matchup with Arkansas.

In this episode, Rodrigo “Hot Rod” Blankenship goes to the eye doctor, Auburn Fans Anonymous and DA takes a college football midterm exam.

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12 hours ago

Black Alabamians should reject Doug Jones in 2020

Last September, just before midnight, Senator Doug Jones grabbed his phone, went on Twitter and in no more than 50 words, told the people of Alabama that he would be voting NO on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

Immediately, I was overcome with shock and indignation. Yes, more often than not, Senator Jones toes the party line; he votes against President Trump’s positions 84% of the time.

Naively, I assumed that with so much at stake, this time would be different.

Surely, I thought, he would be reminded of Brian Banks, an African-American senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School who had just committed to UCLA before his career was destroyed by a false accusation of sexual assault.

Or maybe, the images of the nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape who collectively spent over 100 years in prison not far from where he grew up would cause him to demand, at the very least, a smidgen of evidence before casting blame.

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As he was pondering his decision, I was supremely certain he would hear the cries of Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley as she wept over the casket of her son, Emmett Till, who was abducted, brutally tormented, shot, folded in barbed wire and then dumped in the Tallahatchie River because he “whistled” at a white woman — a lie she recanted some 50 years later.

Surely, I thought, his years as a federal prosecutor, in which he routinely witnessed lives shattered over false accusations, might reignite his deep and profound respect for the sacred principle that, in our criminal justice system, one is innocent until proven guilty.

With his vote, Senator Jones endorsed a cultural movement which mandates that, even in the absence of evidentiary support, we must #BelieveAllWomen.

While seemingly well-intentioned, this categorical pledge should alarm Black folks in Alabama, as it stands to disproportionately affect us the most. Taking punitive action on the basis of accusation, and not evidence, is a philosophical regression that could awaken one of Jim Crow’s most destructive offspring: a society that values the voices spoken from white tongues over those from black ones.

The National Registry of Exonerations, in a 2017 report examining 1,900 exonerations over the past 30 years, determined that 47% of those exonerated were African-American, despite the fact that we make up only 13% of the U.S. population. In cases involving sexual assault, African-Americans constituted 22% of convictions, but 59% of exonerations. In other words, around half of the time, black men are wrongly convicted of sexual assault.

Realistically, if Kavanaugh is not afforded due process, despite being reared in some of America’s most privileged institutions, what chance do we have?

In a criminal justice system rife with inequalities, the presumption of innocence is often the only thing we can hope for. And Doug Jones’ philosophy — one that assumes guilt when accusations are made — is one that leads to the unjust imprisonment of men who look like me.

All survivors of sexual assault and rape deserve justice, just as the accused deserve one of America’s most potent protections: innocence until proven guilty. It is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence – one that separates us from brutal regimes across the globe and one that must not be relegated to a second-class status.

As election season is upon us and Doug Jones walks the streets of our neighborhoods and preaches to our congregations in the hopes of garnering our vote, remember that politics is more than just handshakes and speeches. Our votes, and the people they go to, have the power to turn ideas into reality.

Let’s vow to utilize that power to keep Jones and his destructive philosophy from creating more miscarriages of justice in our community.

Jalen Drummond is a native of Randolph County and alumnus of the University of Alabama

14 hours ago

Heaven to hell and back again: How faith, Nick Saban helped Tyrone Prothro get his life back

Three weeks. Just three weeks. That was the time between the greatest high of his life and the greatest low.

Today, 14 years later, the memories of two college football Saturdays please him, yet haunt him. From heaven to hell in a span of three weeks, and to this day, both places remain with him.

The greatest catch in the history of college football. A career-ending, gruesome injury just three weeks later: Tyrone Prothro is known worldwide for both, and the lessons he’s learned from the fall of 2005 have shaped the man that he has become.

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Man, was he speedy — a shifty offensive threat at Cleburne County High School, Prothro was listed at 5-foot-9-inches tall.

Most snickered when they saw his height listed as 5’9”, but it didn’t matter, because, in Heflin, Tyrone Protho was a giant — an unstoppable athlete who seemingly scored at will. And, a few years later when his signature football moment arrived on September 10, 2005, the then-Crimson Tide receiver was ready.

It was just before the half, and Bama quarterback Brodie Croyle was looking to send a message to Southern Miss as the home crowd smelled blood. Prothro smelled a big play, and boy, did he deliver.

As Croyle spotted a streaking Prothro down the field, Prothro spotted an opportunity. Up for the football Prothro went, collecting the football along with Southern Miss defensive back Jasper Faulk. As the pair tumbled to the turf, Prothro hung on as Faulk’s helmet was caught between the football and Prothro’s jersey. Tyrone squeezed the football like he had never squeezed a football before as he held onto the ball which was pinned against his opponent’s helmet.

In that moment, “The Catch” was born.

In the weeks that followed, Tyrone Prothro was not only the big man on campus, but rather the biggest story in America. Six months after The Catch, Twitter was born- –and oh, how that play would have gone viral if it had arrived a few months earlier. How big was that play? Prothro found himself in Hollywood the following July accepting the ESPY Award for “Best Play.” An ESPY for the kid from Heflin, Alabama? It was all so surreal.

October 1, 2005, brought to Tuscaloosa one of the biggest football games in recent memory. Three Saturdays after “The Catch,” Prothro was enjoying a performance for the ages. A first quarter 87-yard touchdown catch from Brodie Croyle? Why not? Prothro and crew led the Gators 7-0. Fast forward to the third quarter: Another Prothro TD catch from 16 yards and the Crimson Tide led 31-3. He believed that his life-changing season would continue.

Prothro’s life would indeed change, but it was not the change that he expected.

Late in the Florida game, Prothro went high into the air as he attempted to make another one of his circus catches. This time, as he landed awkwardly, his dream of playing in the NFL would be over. Prothro’s left leg snapped in half. A hush fell over the crowd as never before had Bama fans witnessed such horror, such sadness, such empathy. Through his pain, Prothro managed a thumbs up as he was carted off the field.

Yet just like that, football had left his life.

“Now what?” he asked himself. After all, Prothro had big dreams — but instead of preparing for the NFL Draft, Prothro found himself preparing for surgery.

And then another. And then another.

Prothro underwent a total of 12 surgeries, as he wasn’t concerned with playing football again, but rather walking again. And at the moment when Prothro felt as if all was lost in his life? In the midst of him questioning God?

More confusion arose, as that Alabama coaching carousel had his mind spinning: Dennis Franchione. Mike Price. Mike Shula. Joe Kines. Nick Saban. What in the world was happening in Tuscaloosa?

His football career was over — yet as his mind strained, his competitiveness kicked in: Tyrone Prothro continued working toward his degree.

The problem?

Focusing on his studies was not his strong suit. And as he looks back today, Prothro told the Huts And Nuts podcast that it was a man named Nick Saban who came to his rescue. Yes, the same coach for whom Prothro never played, the same coach who was forced to officially take Prothro off the Bama roster on August 3, 2007.

Said Prothro on the podcast, “My grades were falling and I was in the dumps. I had a meeting with Coach Saban and he told me that the best thing I could do was to get my degree. He then chewed me out in a second meeting and he helped me realize that it was the best thing I could do for myself.”

In August 2008, Tyrone Prothro graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Human Environmental Sciences.

It’s been 14 years since Prothro felt elation, 14 years since he felt despair. Yet today, he is a happy camper.

At the time of this writing, Prothro and his wife, Sidnie, were expecting the arrival of daughter Laila — she will enter the world as brother London welcomes her with open arms.

After taking a few days off, Prothro will head back to work as an offensive assistant coach with the Jasper High School football team.

Prothro advised, “If I can help one of these kids through my story, I feel it’s why I’m here. I’m going to help as many kids as I can.”

And of his shattered dream of playing in the NFL?

“I was projected to be a first-round pick. I’m not one to sit back and dwell on what wasn’t. All I can do is move forward and work like the next man, taking care of my family.”

Years after feeling an ultimate high and a heartbreaking low, the Alabama football family feels for Tyrone Prothro, as Bama fans are proud of how one of their own has handled adversity.

Prothro’s football life may not have been completed, but thanks to family, faith and a drive possessed by few others, he is now content.

“You just have to take the bull by the horns and keep plugging along. It will be then that it will all pay off,” he explained

Wise words indeed from a “Hero of the Game” and a man who will never forget those three weeks in 2005.

Listen to the full interview:

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.

14 hours ago

Governor Ivey may go at the prison issue mostly alone

Much like last year with the gas tax, legislators know that the issue of prisons is looming, and they are trying to get out ahead of it.

And like the gas tax play, it appears a special session during the 2020 regular session will be used.

We have been hearing for a while now that Governor Kay Ivey will consider calling for a special session to address this problem and State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), now a candidate for the Alabama state Supreme Court, confirmed as much during an appearance on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Wednesday.

In addition, Ward called for legislators to take an outside the box approach to the issue.

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Ward said the issue is significantly more complex than it has been made out to be, saying, “First of all, everyone wants one bill, one solution, and these aren’t one bill one solution issues.”

He warned that mass release was not going to be a solution, making it clear that would be a risk to “public safety.”

Ward added, “I think the bulk of any kind of prison reform is gonna be rehabilitation and alternative programming,” and suggested that outside the box approaches, such as drug rehabilitation programs, mental health initiatives and veterans courts, are the most effective means to solve the overarching problem of overpopulation.

Can this be done without massive sentencing reform? Ward says he thinks so.

“You can do this and in a way that everybody, everybody wants to be Conservative about it, but two, it can be solved in a way that doesn’t require a lot of new sentencing changes,” he advised.

There will still probably be a building of new prison capacity and that will likely be done by Kay Ivey and Kay Ivey alone.

He explained why the governor’s office could make a unilateral move, saying, “The reason they can do it without us is because they don’t need additional revenue.”

My takeaway:

How that plays out remains to be seen. Ward is right: This issue is not one that is going to be solved with one bill. It is complex and evolving and needs to be looked at from multiple angles.

The legislature will be absolutely thrilled to have the governor’s office handle a bulk of this issue on her own.

They won’t have to deal with voting to spend money on prison instead of schools, kids, healthcare, public safety and whatever other issues you care about.

She takes the heat, the prisons get built, they pass some slight reform laws and the issue goes away.

While I still think there are going to be some fights on this issue come next year, this is, for now, the best plan being suggested.

Listen here:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN