This September, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) hosted its first annual Energy Fair on clean energy and sustainable living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The fair hosted 60 exhibitors and more than 100 workshops related to sustainable living, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Speakers included Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, an organization "speeding Minnesota’s transition to a clean energy economy" and promising to advance our local region’s renewable efforts for generations to come.
While this festival is new to the Twin Cities, MREA, has conducted a similar event in Wisconsin for the past 28 years, representing the longest-running event of its kind in the nation. The idea for the original fair started in a farm kitchen after a group of friends read a call to action for a “People’s Energy Fair” by Richard Perez in Home Power magazine. That grassroots effort yielded 4,000+ attendees in its first year and with that momentum, they formed the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in 1990.
Today, MREA offers renewable energy training, hosts the Energy Fair, creates solar group buy programs at GrowSolar.org, and offers a solar certificate program, solar tours and a solar university network.
The Energy Fair, and events like it are an important way to build community around emerging markets. They bring various stakeholders and enthusiasts together to share ideas and build momentum. And while Minnesota has strong innovation clusters in food, medical, and communications, a community of innovators is beginning to emerge in energy as well. This should be welcome news to Minnesota as the renewable energy sector is generating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.
MREA is one of several organizations advancing efforts. We’ve written about WRISE, Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy, whose mission is to change our energy future through the actions of women. Midwest Clean Tech Open is another organization working to support emerging innovators in the field. Since 2005 Cleantech Open (CTO) has trained more than 1,200 early-stage clean technology entrepreneurs. Alumni of CTO have gone on to raise $1.2 billion and create more than 3,000 clean economy jobs.
As we develop the renewable energy community together, we’ll need innovators of all kinds. Educators and advocacy organizations, technology and distribution, policy and finance. And we’ll need integrators: communicators who can connect with various stakeholders, and advance the adoption mindset.