Energy Startup Series: Green Viking

on December 18, 2014 at 2:00 PM


This is the latest installment in our Energy Startup Series that gives executives at cutting-edge energy firms an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the energy industry, their careers and their companies.  

While working for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Olof Hansen was in charge of building public-private partnerships in waste minimization and pollution prevention. Hansen believes there are better solutions for the billions of tons of municipal waste ending up in landfills every year. After working on a biodiesel project in the California city of Santa Cruz, Hansen shifted to focusing on waste-derived biogas. His company, Green Viking Consulting, brings primarily European waste-to-energy technology to the US and advises his clients on regulatory compliance. With a European flair, a deep love of the environment and an eye for new technology, Hansen is on a mission to reduce food waste in the US and fuel our economy from greener energy sources.

1- What is the greatest challenge facing the energy industry over the next 5 years?

Moving from one-stop shop (petroleum based energy) to many different providers: wind, solar thermal, PV, biogas, waste-to-energy, etc is our biggest challenge.  There will not be a silver bullet kind of scenario.  Instead, I see this as a bb-gun solution, with many small parts adding up to a big change. But the process of going from a fairly single source to quite a diverse set of suppliers will be quite a challenge, especially on the electrical grid side responding to multiple small dispersed generators of energy.

2- What has been the biggest positive energy industry change since the start of your career?

Tremendous increase in PV, wind and biomass-generated energy. Even the bigger players ( like BP and Chevron) are getting on board. In terms of biogas, there is a tremendous opportunity worldwide to recover energy from food waste. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 1.4 billion tons of trash is generated each year. A little bit closer to home, one-third of the food produced in the US is wasted before it reaches our stomach. Thirty percent of vegetables and fruits are rejected because of blemishes. The opportunities for biogas have been seen at the highest levels; Obama issued the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap proposing new standards, both voluntary and regulatory. States including California and Massachusetts will disallow sending organic wastes to landfills by 2025. And according to the American Biogas Council, there is a potential for 12,000-16,000 biogas installations in the US. Currently we are hovering around 200, less than 30 in California. In California alone, there’s room for 6,000-8,000 biogas plants. This shows the enormous potential of this industry sector, the feedstock is abundant, the energy content is high and we are getting the policy and economic drivers to push this industry forward.

3- What has been the biggest negative energy industry change since the start of your career?

Re-emergence of nuclear as an option because of its so-called “GHG” benefit. While nuclear power plants don’t have a greenhouse gas footprint for producing electricity, I lived in Germany when the debate over how to deal with nuke waste materials was strong. These are materials that need to be stored for decades or millennia. So while there are temporary benefits in dealing with climate, there are long-term liabilities with radioactive waste.

4- What is the greatest satisfaction of working in an energy-related field? 

Providing solutions to climate issues, offering energy efficiency solutions. The greenest/cleanest kWh is the one you don’t use.

5- What is the greatest frustration of working in an energy-related field?

The fact that a very large amount of energy is still being wasted: i.e., lighted places with no one in them, running escalators without people, heating and cooling rooms with no one using them, vehicles with people and goods stuck in traffic not moving, vessels idling in ports, buildings loosing heat during winter, leakages of HVAC systems, etc.

6- What is your firm’s greatest strength? 

Providing technical and organizational solutions to convert organic waste into heat, electricity, fertilizer and compost reducing GHG emissions from Methane. As a consulting company, I’m technology neutral, however, our focus is on new innovative technologies. I’ve worked with different biogas technology providers, mostly from Europe and all very cutting-edge. One technology is modular in scale; anything from using the food waste at a hospital or corporate campus to treating all the MSW waste of a city. Another technology I offer has a small footprint; it’s a tank that is 5 feet in radius and 30-35 feet tall. It converts food waste from a hospital, hotel or corporate campus into energy. The technology could then be scaled up to be co-located at existing infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants.

7- What do you think the future holds for energy technology?

If IT and real-time sensors will be combined with renewable energy generation we will achieve great energy consumption reductions in the future. At a recent Cleantech Open event I attended, I saw how other companies are using smart devices to minimize waste throughout a production process. One company had a product that detects vibration in the energy generation process – each waste of energy has its unique audio signature. Our future will have more companies like this, using the internet of things to manage materials and energy, not just data.

8- What is your favorite energy-themed film or television show? 

I believe it was called “Ice and Fire” and it dealt with global climate change and resource extraction.

9- What is your favorite energy-themed book (fiction or non-fiction)? 

American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom.

10- What would you have been if you didn’t work in energy?

Still protecting Mother Earth.

* To read more about the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap mentioned in question two, read Breaking Energy’s article about it here.