At REA250, the chaos is normal
Renewable Energy Accelerator 250 is a nonprofit not easily described in sound bites. Its goal is basic: Increase the renewable energy industry in Nevada and create jobs in a way that benefits the environment. But the way it goes about doing that is multi-faceted, highly collaborative, and rather unusual. After all, many people and organizations share its same goal, and yet the process is often stalled, typically due to lack of funding.
“If everything is stable, there’s no need to do anything different,” says Susan Clark, who co-founded REA250 with her husband, Don Clark. “But like ecology, when something changes, there’s a disruption—in our technology, our financial structure. Disruptive technology is everywhere. So there’s no way to do what we did before. We’ve reached a time where every pathway I had before—grants, funding, banks, clients—everything is disrupted.” Yet, that’s opened the door to collaboration.
REA250 describes itself as a think tank, but one bent on action. In some ways, its staff members are like private detectives, but instead of solving crimes, they’re trying to solve problems that stall the development of renewable energy. Susan provides an example: The state needs jobs and energy retrofits. A company, IntelliChoice Energy, made an HVAC unit that’s 40 percent more energy efficient, but they couldn’t find someone to back it. They came to REA250 to help them move forward. REA250 then went to lenders and asked what it would take to fund it. The lenders said they needed a shared risk. REA250 then asked IntelliChoice to get a performance warranty on their product. Once they did, a bank decided to fund it. The HVAC unit is now being installed in Las Vegas.
“To collaborate, you have to identify who controls the barriers and what they need. Then go to that person, and everyone moves to the center,” says Susan. “We have to start from knowing that I don’t know what I need to know to solve something. That’s why the collaboration is so important.”
With new grant funding, REA250 is also at work on its eResource site, which will feature a virtual manufacturing hub that will test supply chains in Nevada. The idea is to show real manufacturers how they could do small runs of their product in Northern Nevada, and the costs involved. The nonprofit is also focused on renewable energy job creation, retrofits and policy.
Its physical space at 250 Bell Street is itself unusual and is intended to be the physical manifestation of the Clarks’ philosophy. The building is a green business incubator of sorts, housing not only REA250, but also Black Rock Solar, Clean Energy Center, the Sierra Club, the Reno Collective, Nevada Conservation League and other like-minded organizations and businesses, as well as Susan’s for-profit business Dynamic Competence and Don’s architecture firm Cathexes, which also designed the building. The Clarks chose these neighbors carefully, and they call them their Collaborative, with whom they hold monthly meetings and often share resources and ideas.
At 250 Bell St., it’s hard to ignore the walls bathed in color, the art adorning every surface, the funky geometrical shapes that combine to create the space. The Clarks are both artists—Don a painter and architect, and Susan a fabric artist. But she says her real art is her current work—coming up with creative solutions to problems that can’t wait.
Susan says artists are notoriously discontent and comfortable with change. “We find contentment in the fact that things are changing,” she says, adding, “The chaos is completely normal.”