Superconducting Dynamic Synchronous Condenser Seeks to Enter FACTS Marketplace

FACTS is seen as key to expanding the integration of wind power, solar, and other generation sources to the grid under anticipated stricter power quality/reliability regulations. American Superconductor (AMSC) hopes its SuperVAR dynamic synchronous condenser—effectively a superconducting motor designed to provide reactive power (VARs)—will succeed in carving a niche in some portion of the FACTS market (Volume 20, Number 06 of Superconductor Week).

If development of the SuperVAR machine continues as hoped, it may offer advantages over competing VAR solutions. Mike Ingram, Senior Manager of Transmission Technologies at the Tennessee Valley Authority, believes FACTS devices and alternate technologies such as STATCOM and SVC are the two solutions that will compete most closely with the AMSC’s SuperVAR machine.

David Eromon, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electronics, Computer, and Information Technology at North Carolina A&T State University, believes a number of factors will impact the demand for VAR devices, including trends in use of distributed energy, including renewable energy generation. Eromon also believes that energy quality and reliability standards which may emerge as a result of the U.S. Energy Policy Act could potentially help spur this growth.

Regardless of their usefulness, success in selling VAR solutions will depend to some extent on educating the customer on their usefulness. “There is a lack of awareness with engineers at utilities, due in some part to the dynamic nature of our utility grid these days,” commented Kevin Dennis, Manager for North America, Advanced Power Electronics at ABB. “Wind farms are well aware of the need for VARs. But among industrial users and distribution utilities, the amount of knowledge out there varies greatly. Some people running plants still do not know what VAR solutions are, or where they should go.”

In one respect, AMSC is well-positioned to tackle the VAR market’s need for education: As one of the world’s leading developers of high temperature superconductors for power applications, AMSC is already acting in the capacity of one of the industry’s most vocal educators for advanced power solutions and their underlying technologies.

Mark Bitterman, Executive Editor, Superconductor Week

Is the Future of Solar in Space?

My attention was caught by a recent news story about the Space Island Group, which intends to build commercial space stations for a multitude of purposes, including the manufacture of solar power satellites (SPS). The article credited SIG with the intent to supply half the world’s energy needs by capturing the sun’s power in space and beaming it to the Earths’ surface using microwaves. The article inferred that the Group believes it can capture a $1 trillion share (in today’s terms) for an initial development and launch investment of $10 billion. Given that energy demand is forecast to increase by perhaps 60% by 2030, this is not only an extremely ambitious technical target and an incredible commercial ambition. Just how realistic is the ambition and how likely are they to succeed?

First a little background on SPS, which is really necessary if we are to put the goals in context:

• An SPS installation would consist of a huge PV array in geostationary orbit linked to a microwave transmitter assembly aimed at a large area receiving antenna on Earth.

• The attractions of such an arrangement include the fact that the array would be in sunlight over 99% of the time. The SPS would be in Earth’s shadow on only a few days at the spring and fall equinoxes and, even then, for a maximum of an hour and a half late at night when power demands are at their lowest.

• The idea of beaming energy to Earth via satellite was first proposed by Peter Glaser in 1968 who was later awarded a patent. The idea itself makes sense!

• There have been investigations of the concept almost continually since then by almost every respectable authority, including the US DOE, NASA, NRC as well as the European and Japanese and these are ongoing.

So, if it has technical merit, what are the problems?

• The PV array would be much larger than any assembled yet on Earth. A 5GW array is often discussed. I we could buy this for $3/watt – which is well below current factory gate module prices – this would imply a current cost of $15 billion for the modules alone in this array. Granted mass production on this scale will make costs much lower and some thin film companies are predicting eventual system costs of $1/watt.

• Several factors may mitigate against this though:

o There are two extreme manufacturing options: manufacture the panels one Earth and ransport them into space: manufacture the systems in space from materials either obtained in space or transported from Earth.

o Current space launch rates (Shuttle) run between $3,000 and $5,000 per pound ($6,600/kg and $11,000/kg).

o To give an idea of the scale of the problem, assuming a typical solar panel mass of 20 kg per kilowatt, and without considering the mass of the support structure, antenna or significant mass reduction of focusing mirrors, a 5 GW power station would weigh about 100,000 metric tons.

o This is excessive though, as a space solar-panel would not need to support its own weight, and would not be subject to earth’s corrosive atmosphere. Very lightweight designs might achieve 1 kg/kW, or 5000 metric tons for a 5 GW station.

o This would be the equivalent of between 50 and 1000 launches to send the material to low earth orbit, where it would be turned into subassembly solar arrays, which then use ion-engine style rockets to move to geostationary orbit. With an estimated serial shuttle-based launch cost of $500 million to $800 million, total launch costs would range between $22 billion and $400 billion On top of this, would be the cost of large assembly areas in low Earth orbit and in geostationary orbit.

o Not all PV modules are suitable for space use and those most extensively tested – based on triple junction gallium arsenide cells – are much more expensive than silicon or CIGS thin film.

o The cost of the transmitter and receiving antennae will be additional to the array cost. For 5GW system using 2.45GHz radiation, a transmitter might have a diameter of 1km – in this case the receiving antennae would need to have a diameter of over 10km. Although these might be simple structures they will not be cheap!

o But let’s be optimistic – unreasonably so! Let’s assume that the panels and electronics can be manufactured for $1/watt, that transportation costs are at the low end of the estimates ($22 billion), and the antennas add only $1/watt

o This would give a total cost for a single 5GW array of $32 billion – roughly $6.40/watt, which I less than the current cost of terrestrial systems

• This 5 GW system would generate almost 40TWh/year, worth almost $2 billion at 5 cents per watt. A long payback!

• The current World electricity demand is about 1500 TWh/year and may grow to 20,000TWh/yr in 2010 and 30,000 TWh/yr in 2030. This single 5GW installation would contribute less than less than 2% of the world’s needs in 2010

I have not even tried to address seriously the problems of satisfying governments and the populace that they are not about to be “microwaved” should such a project go ahead. In truth, my perception is that there is little or no evidence that the systems as envisaged would posed any hazard to man or animal and launch costs will depend dramatically on the designed structures and the manufacturing methods. However, I see these are refinements that are not needed to decide it the postulate makes sense: to quote from the article which originally intrigues me:

“SIG is currently pursuing a $200 billion, 20-year energy purchase contract from India and/or China this year, 5% of which will cover all of SIG’s development and early launch costs. SIG’s target is to supply half the world’s electricity generation and distribution, currently a $2 trillion annual market.”

Now I have no idea what SIG envisage their “development and early launch costs “ to include, but I am forced to conclude that, realistically, $10 billion will not even cover the cost of deploying one 5GW system and see little chance that they will capture 50% of the demand in any realistic timeframe.

This all sounds as if I am completely turned off by the idea, but the opposite is true! It would need only 50 of these “power stations” to satisfy global demand in 2010 and the concept of producing vast amounts of energy in space and “beaming” the power, safely and economically, to where it is needed, is a dream worth aspiring to. I just don’t think we are going to get there in my lifetime!

Renewable Energy’s Mainstream Moves

In an effort to create what has come to be understood as a diversified energy portfolio, renewable energy has become a key component to our energy future. The market can certainly be evaluated based on increases in industry participants, growing adoption rates, larger revenue levels, international expansion and even by the growing number of renewable / clean energy companies entering the public market, however there are other perspectives to consider.

In addition to market data, evidence of renewable and clean energy mainstream acceptance is seen all around us. Take a look and you should notice a growing number of renewable and clean energy conferences, events that appear to be gaining momentum in terms of credibility, participation and sponsorship as more and more companies are embracing this industry in some capacity as part of their business model, whether that be from a cost cutting or image standpoint, or from the perspective that this industry offers viable business opportunities.

Another indicator comes from the increased blog coverage of renewable energy, which has acted as a forum for the passionate, for the opportunist and also the average day person who has come to understand the role that such technologies will undoubtedly play in their lives.If these signs are not enough one has to only turn the television on to networks such as CNBC to understand the surge in coverage of the renewable energy industry. For example CNBC has been running a new segment entitled Going Green that has been reviewing a wide range of renewable energy technologies. Today’s segment saw an interview piece with Dr. Robert Wilder, CEO & Founder of Wildershares, LLC and Manager of the WilderHill Clean Energy Index, an ongoing member of the (RES) Online Industry Roundtable and frequent participant in RES industry articles, on market opportunities. This exposure is an example of the expanded coverage that industry experts such as Dr. Wilder are receiving, now more than ever, as renewables have become a part of today’s and tomorrow’s energy discussion.

As oil prices continue along their current path, our road towards even higher energy costs seems inevitable, taking us closer and closer towards alternatives to help resolve the impacts that years of living in a fossil fuel economy have created. This direction will in turn drive further innovation and adoption of renewable energy technology to the point where discussions such as this on ‘mainstream acceptance’ will be a thing of the past.

BP Solar launches beyond marketing 101

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Periodically, I cull a pile of materials on sustainable technologies; a few articles survive the purging like Fortune’s 2004 article, “Inside the Head of BP: He doesn’t like red meat. He thinks green. What is John Browne doing running the world’s largest oil company?”

He’s marketing clean energy…among other things.

A friend recently landed a job with BP Solar (formerly Solarex) in Frederick, Maryland, so the company has been on my mind. (I had approached Solarex in 1995 about working for it – prior to its purchase by Enron and Amoco – and was told by a worried marketing executive that it might not survive dwindling subsidies. What a difference a decade makes.)

BP Solar sells crystalline-based photovoltaics (PV); in 2002 it ceased manufacturing thin-film PV, saying “while the technology continues to show promise, lack of material demand and present economics do not allow for continued investment.” Thin-film PV can use semiconductor materials other than silicon. Paradoxically, silicon, on which crystalline-based PV depends, is in short supply; the costs of silicon are going up; demand for PV panels is rising – all of which is increasing end-product costs (and contradicts ‘economies of scale.’ – see “Clean-Energy Trends 2006.”)

Marketing is pivotal to market adoption, but there are some things marketing just can’t control – like rising raw materials costs, product availability, changing regulations and incentives and (all too often) corporate business strategy. Marketing can, however, enhance business development via sponsorships, partnerships, affiliations and channels, and it can direct strategic branding, product placement and messaging.

Emerging from the monopoly utility sector, where marketing is something of a misnomer, it’s a pleasure, for me, to see companies like BP Solar employ great strategic marketing. (I do get pulled back…Claritas and ESource sponsored a WebEx seminar this week on the strategic marketing of utility green-pricing and demand-side management programs – a very utility-centric, but informative, hour that covered basic strategic marketing and implementation tactics: PRIZM® cluster segmentation, channels, customer acquisition costs, customer loyalty, retention and churn, integrated marketing communications, affinity marketing…and ‘version’ messaging, that is, tailoring messages to different segments.)

Ah, yes, messaging. On that topic, Amely Greeven, a marketing consultant guru, scoffed at clean energy marketing in a 2002 article by Amanda Griscom of Grist Magazine.

“Mainstream consumers simply aren’t turned on by an industry associated with smiling suns, glittering purple-panel roofscapes, and purist, hippy-dippy lifestyles…Like it or not, the face of ‘green’ needs a makeover. It needs a marketing strategy that’s edgy and of-the-moment, rather than lost in a ’70s sensibility. Young celebrity spokespeople, for one thing, could go a long way to push this fringe movement into the mainstream.”

(Did you just cringe at ‘fringe’? I did, but also am of the mind that the ‘green’ market segment – people whose concerns about climate change, resource depletion and the environment influence their purchases – is finite, and that the term itself turns off buyers with a block against anything remotely ‘tree-huggie.” But that’s a topic for another day.)

Griscom wrote that BP ‘got it’ in 2002 with a hip branding campaign (BP on the Street) created by Ogilvy & Mather (big corporations turn to big agencies). You’ve seen these ads about new energy and climate change. If not, it’s time to get out more. They are ubiquitous. (“And they’re everywhere, too!” a friend would joke.) The BP branding campaign includes tv and print, point-of-sale materials and even an online calculator for your ‘carbon footprint.’

BP Solar marketing today?

On November 29, 2005, BP announced formation of an Alternative Energy unit and expansion of the Frederick (crystalline-based PV) manufacturing plant. (Joel Makower, a contributor to the cleantechblog, wrote about the announcement, ‘It’s a Start.’) A webcast of that day includes a speech by US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett who noted the importance of job creation for Maryland – but mostly he spoke on population growth and ‘peaking oil.’ Vivienne Cox, BP’s Executive VP of Gas, Power & Renewables, addressed marketing:

“When complete, these steps will effect the doubling of BP’s global solar manufacturing capacity. The success of solar power is not just dependent on the right manufacturing strategy of course. It also requires world class marketing to attract energy consumers to the merits of and access to solar power. [italics mine] … This growth plan will ensure BP Alternative Energy is one of the world’s top 3 solar manufacturers and marketers. And we aim to be a leader in the solar industry in the drive to reduce the total installed costs of providing solar energy to levels at which it can compete strongly with oil, gas, coal and nuclear in the generation of electricity – something that is possible today in some markets (California peak, Japan, Hawaii). This is possible through continued innovation and technology gains across the solar value chain, including lower cost panels, higher efficiency cells, and more productive ‘total system’ installations. Over the next 5 years we see another 30-40% total system cost per watt improvement which will close the ‘grid parity’ gap considerably in many markets.”

What is BP Solar’s marketing strategy? I’ll be writing about it here next week.

‘2005 Year of the Solar Stocks’

Looking back, 2005 stands out as a turning point year as more solar related companies entered the public market helping the solar industry to attract an increased level of investor interest. This is supported by a comparison of the performance in 2005 of 7 solar related public companies that trade on major US stock markets versus a number of other indices that are commonly used for comparisons. It is interesting to note the performance of Distributed Energy Systems Corporation (NASDAQ: DESC), DayStar Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: DSTI), Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ: ENER), Evergreen Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: ESLR), Spire Corporation (NASDAQ:SPIR), Sunpower Corporation (NASDAQ: SPWR) and Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP).’s J.Peter Lynch takes a closer look in his column ‘Renewable and Solar Energy Perspectives’ – 2005 Year of the Solar Stocks

Santa Clara VTA and 3 Ballard Buses

Over 1,000,000 people have taken rides on the 30 CUTE hydrogen buses running in Europe. We are now playing catch-up in the USA. Over 2,000 people take daily rides on the eight hydrogen buses in California.

NREL has published the detailed evaluation of Santa Clara’s implementation of 3 hydrogen buses and the Air Products liquid hydrogen storage and gaseous fueling. The study includes helpful details about infrastructure, codes and standards, emergency responder issues, fueling and transportation. More than 300 successful fuel cell bus and light-duty vehicle fills have been achieved with no injuries or reportable incidents. Until April 2005, it took approximately 18-24 minutes to fuel a fuel cell bus. Since then, when Air Products put the new cryogenic compressor online, fueling time has been reduced to an average of 10-14 minutes.

Hydrogen fuel cost an average of $8.56 per kg throughout the evaluation period. One factor that makes the fueling cost higher than diesel is that the buses do not use hydrid technology such as regenerative braking. At nearby AC Transit, the fuel cells are 50% smaller because hydrid technology and advanced batteries are used. Batteries and ultracapacitors are less expensive than fuel cells. Look for advanced hydrid design in future hydrogen vehicles. The 60 page report is available free: New Feature for Freelance Journalists and Industry Experts to Contribute Industry Content

Our firm,, is looking for writer contributions for We take an investor perspective on the renewable/clean energy industry looking at the various challenges, innovative technology and overall market opportunities. For those interested I’m posting the announcement below or feel free to contact me directly at™ offers a new feature for freelance journalists and industry experts to contribute Renewable and Clean Energy content to be considered for posting on and for companies to upload their news releases to take advantage of a targeted industry audience.

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Areva Has Arrived?

In her weekly column in New Power Executive, Diane Borska of The Borska Group often is able to surface insights that I might have otherwise missed.

This week, she profiles Areva, the French company created in 2001 through the merger of CEA Industrie, Cogema and Framatome.

Article on Areva in New Power Executive

Diane makes the interesting observation that, in regards to energy, Areva is following in the footsteps of its giant American counterpart, GE. Areva is focusing on carbon-neutral generation approaches. Up till now, that has meant predominantly nuclear, but according to Borska, Areva is intending to significantly invest in renewables in the coming years, especially in fuel cells and wind turbines.

It’s always good news when a huge multinational such as Areva jumps into the cleantech fray with a vengeance. Thanks to Diane for making me aware of it. It’s probably a company that we should all get to know better.

Blog on Kleiner Perkin’s Energy Tech Thoughts at Cleantech Conference

Cleantech Venture Network’s Cleantech IX is in full swing at the Marriott in San Francisco this week. The largest turnout yet. Among the best received speakers were John Doerr and John Denniston of Kleiner Perkins. Kleiner Perkins, one of the best known players in venture capital, recently announced that they would be spending $100 mm on cleantech investments of their new funds. I don’t usually blog on other people’s thoughts, but theirs were certainly well received, and worth repeating, as well as informative summaries of why Kleiner is interested in investing in Cleantech, and what they are looking for. They described three core global problems driving their interest in Cleantech (or green technologies, as their press quotes have described it):
  • Oil Addiction
  • Urbanization
  • Climate Change
And called for joint efforts of private sector and policy to solve them. As part of this high level discussion, they gave a big plug to author and journalist Thomas Friedman (whose books I heartily endorse), quoting his statement “Green is the New Red, White, & Blue”, and referring to a recent OpEd piece he wrote (I haven’t read it yet) on 6 threats to national security that our oil addition has caused. The ones they mentioned 1) When the US exports dollars to “unaccountable” countries in return for oil, we risk those dollars coming back to haunt us, 2) Rises in oil prices impact poor countries more than rich ones, and provide recruiting fields for terrorists, 3) Globalization amplifies these risks, and 4) We are in a new flat world where we compete for oil with developing nations, too. To answer the question, if cleantech is so compelling, why now? they laid out three primary thoughts:
  • Market signals – demand is now there
  • Increasing computing power is becoming an enabling technology
  • New materials advances like nanotubes are enabling new breakthroughs

All of which I agree with, though I have concerns about how fast new materials can make it into a sector like energy.

They did mention specific areas of interest including solar of all kinds (see the previous post on solar concentrators for my thoughts on where solar is going next), distributed & reliable power, energy efficiency & storage and batteries, consumer products, and transportation.

Intriguingly not on the list was water, which in recent years has become hot in Cleantech, and they explicitly rejected the hydrogen economy as an good investment theme, interesting for a company that has a significant amount of money into solid oxide fuel companies Ion America and Lilliputian (though perhaps they view those as a non-hydrogen fueled play).

A few of KPCB’s cleantech investments todate:

  • EEStor – Ultracapacitor/battery
  • Miasole – thin film solar cells
  • Ion America – SOFC
  • Lilliputian Systems – MEMs SOFC

One other theme that I found interesting in their speech, they said that after the tech bust happened, the partners at Kleiner sat back and tried make sense of why some internet deals survived post boom and others failed, and what lessons they could learn. Their conclusion, the key ingredient for success (and lesson to be learned) was in the values and culture of the management team. They referred to it as businesses with missionary vs. mercenary management teams. According to them Missionary vs. Mercenary means:

  • Driven by passion vs. driven
  • Strategic vs. opportunistic
  • Whole life plan in work/life balance vs. “deferred life plan”
  • Concerned about the big idea vs. concerned about the pitch or the deal
  • Looking at the long-run vs. looking at the short-run
  • Obsesses with customers vs. obsessed with competitors
  • Meritocracy focused culture vs. Founder focused culture
  • Focused on the mission statement vs. the financial statement

Values count. Even in venture capital. A refreshing way to look to at the world. Now let’s hope they did their homework as well. Because despite the enthusiasm, investing in cleantech & energy tech is fundamentally different than investing in IT or biotech.

Nuclear Power – "The Cleaner Air Energy"

March 22, 2006

Are nuclear technologies cleantech?

That’s a tough one. In the mid-90s “The Washington Times” ran a photo of me holding a Geiger counter at the edge of a nuclear-chemical company that had been contaminating my neighborhood with radioactive cobalt-60 (for over a decade) and was in violation of a string of health, safety, fire and building codes, as well as regulations guiding the safe handling of low-level radioactive material. “The Washington Post” thought the situation warranted coverage only when an inspector from the state’s department of the environment reported that the company’s owner had (it appeared) bribed the inspector with tickets to a basketball game and then (it was documented) threatened to kill – or was it shoot? – the inspector if he didn’t change the regulations to bring the company into compliance. (I’m not making this up.) Nobody monitored the company’s handling of chemicals, some of which the company radiated and sold as flocculants to the local coal-fired power plant.

Things might have gone better had I the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of Julia Roberts (in “Erin Brokovitch”) or John Travolta (in “A Civil Action”)…or had I wisdom and humor as deep as Yucca Mountain, as protracted as the Rocky Flats legal battles, as hot as the radwaste at Hanford or Barnwell (where the company was supposed to ship its waste but didn’t, opting instead to dump it at the local trash transfer station or pile it up on-site, uncontained.) After 9-11, the local paper reported that the company’s dump trucks set off radiation monitors going into the trash transfer station. (That trash is hauled by rail to a trash burner.)

By 2001, almost 20 years to the month after the first ‘uncontrollably released’ hot spots were discovered on neighboring lawns, the company had been blocked from building a radwaste processing facility for its own and imported waste; it could not import hot cobalt-60 until it had anted up the previously-mandated decommission funding. By then, I had left my home with hair that had, spurred by stress, gone from brown to silver, a wrecked relationship and disgust for a system that continues to this day to fail this politically-weak, rural community. Only one person in the nuclear industry stood up for us, albeit quite tentatively and from afar.

Aside from all of that, can the myriad applications of nuclear technology be marketed as cleantech? Of course.

The Nuclear Energy Institute is running an ad campaign, “The Clean Air Energy.” The NEI places its ad before E&ETV “On Point” interviews and on E&ETV’s front page: “Know a kid today? They demand lots of electricity and clean air. Don’t tell them you have to sacrifice the environment for technology. Today nuclear energy provides one-fifth of America’s electricity. Tomorrow it could supply even more. And nuclear power plants don’t burn anything so they don’t pollute the air. We need reliable electricity for the 21st century but we also need clean air. With nuclear energy we can have both. Nuclear. The Clean Air Energy.”

This is marketing; the nuclear industry, fully taking advantage of concerns of climate change and air quality, asserts that nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Yet, Dr. Helen Caldicott and the Nuclear Policy Institute say nuclear power does emit greenhouse gases. (I’m intrigued by the small voice, the Helen Caldicott kind of voice, which can carry seeds of truth and speaks in contrast to well-funded and deafening chants.) The NEI website asserts that nuclear is reliable, economical, safe and secure. It includes a site (in bright primary Crayola colors) called ‘Science Club’ to teach children about nuclear and includes ‘Teacher’s Lounge,’ ‘4 Your Class Project,’ and ‘Fun & Games.’

But is “The Clean Air Energy” cleantech?

That depends how narrow the definition. This is how the Cleantech Venture Network defines cleantech: “The concept of “clean” technologies embraces a diverse range of products, services, and processes that are inherently designed to provide superior performance at lower costs, greatly reduce or eliminate environmental impacts and, in doing so, improve the quality of life.”

Here’s what “The Clean Air Energy” is not. It is not renewable (a resource that’s naturally replenished in a relatively short period of time), that’s certain. It’s not green (an energy resource with few negative impacts – in the form of wastes and emissions – on the environment and on human health). ‘Clean energy’ is renewable and green; so nuclear is not ‘clean energy.’ It’s an ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels, but an old technology that grew out of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace:

“It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace. The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind… The Atomic Energy Agency [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] could be made responsible for the impounding, storage, and protection of the contributed fissionable and other materials. The ingenuity of our scientists will provide special safe conditions under which such a bank of fissionable material can be made essentially immune to surprise seizure.” (Psst, if you want some “other materials” with shorter half-lives, just follow the rabbits under the chain link fence.)

I wouldn’t say, not exactly, that nuclear technologies have improved my own quality of life nor offered peace of mind. They have, however, been proximate and personal. Before the debacle with the nuclear-chemical cowboy, there was an English professor at my boarding school in New Hampshire. He propped against his desk a large black and white photo of himself and a trail of boys in jackets and ties protesting the Seabrook nuclear plant; I often fixated on that photo (and not so much on Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World.”) The top floor of my grandmother’s condo at North Hampton Beach commanded a view of Seabrook. My siblings and I peered at it – out at sea beyond the rocks where we had played with starfish – through her binoculars. In New York, my mother worked a night job at a tennis club near the Indian Point nuclear power plant. My favorite plant nursery in Pennsylvania was within view of Three Mile Island. Writ on the global national security scene, as for decades, we now have India (today a democracy, tomorrow a who-knows-what) negotiating nuclear power arrangements with the U.S., as the world eyes Iran’s nuclear power plans suspiciously. Nuclear has never been a comfortable presence in my life (which brings us back to the NEI’s Science Club…younger generations may be swayed with marketing and public relations.)

But is it cleantech?

Cutting greenhouse gases and air pollutants to meet demand for electricity is not the only concern to the nation – nor should it be the only criteria for cleantech. Add in quality of life concerns – national security, human health, transportation and storage of radioactive waste, foreign relations, safety, human error and political ineptitude, and the full-cycle economic costs of nuclear technology – and nuclear power is precluded from meeting the definition. Even the term ‘advanced energy’ doesn’t ring quite right.

Extended Range for Hydrogen Vehicles

Extended range with metal hydride storage is now a reality

Large scale use of hydrogen vehicles requires that they have the same range as gasoline fueled vehicles. This challenge is being addressed by an innovative hydrogen vehicle from Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) which has now started fleet testing at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) in Diamond Bar, California.

The advanced vehicle is a high-profile test designed to prove that hydrogen hybrids can be practical in daily life. The vehicle also serves to showcase ECD Ovonic(R) solid metal hydrogen storage technology. Based on a production gasoline-electric hybrid model, it is part of a five year, $7 million multi-vehicle hydrogen hybrid demonstration at AQMD. Additional ECD Ovonics hydrogen hybrids are expected to join the fleet in the coming months, and one is already in service at ECD Ovonics’ headquarters in Rochester Hill, Michigan.

“The ECD Ovonics hydrogen hybrid will help demonstrate this emerging technology and address current storage and range limitations,” says Chung Liu, D.Env., Deputy Executive Officer of Technology Advancement for the South Coast AQMD. “This technology will help us expand our region’s hydrogen infrastructure and serve as a stepping stone to longer-term future technologies including fuel cell vehicles.”

ECD Ovonics’ hydrogen hybrid has been equipped with hydrogen storage tanks using the company’s proprietary solid metal hydride technology, which enables hydrogen to bond at the atomic level with a powdered metal alloy inside the tanks. This technology allows storing hydrogen at much lower pressures than the 5,000 to 10,000 psi storage tanks typically used in other hydrogen vehicle applications. The result is the ability to carry a greater volume of hydrogen on-board to provide increased driving range, in this case to almost 200 miles.

“That’s substantially greater range than most hydrogen vehicles today, and an important milestone toward making hydrogen vehicles a practical alternative for the highway,” says Robert Stempel, chairman and CEO of ECD Ovonics. “Our goal is to apply the diverse technologies based on ECD Ovonics’ proprietary work to make advanced hybrid, hydrogen, and fuel cell vehicles competitive in the marketplace. This hydrogen hybrid vehicle is a great example of that evolutionary process.”

ECD Ovonics’ hydrogen hybrid has been turbocharged to compensate for hydrogen’s lower energy density and enhance overall performance and drivability. Refueling during fleet testing is taking place at a hydrogen station at the South Coast AQMD headquarters, which has been specially modified to refuel the vehicle at a low 1,500 psi.

The View from Pew

I had the privilege last week of attending a speech given by Eileen Claussen, the President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Pew is a critical organization in constructively spreading awareness and promoting practical thinking among government and business leaders about the climate change issue.

Ms. Claussen’s main message was that it was important to view climate change as an opportunity, not a threat. She provided an optimistic message, asserting that many major companies (e.g., BP, Shell, GE, DuPont, etc.) have made this shift in perspective, and that others are bound to follow.

It is notable that a number of electric utilities (e.g., Exelon, Cinergy, AEP, PG&E, Wisconsin Electric, DTE, Entergy, Ontario Power, TransAlta) are on the Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council. It’s also notable that a number (though not all) of these companies have large nuclear portfolios. And, it’s further notable that Ms. Claussen was of the opinion that nuclear had to be a large part of the solution to the climate change issue.

Personally, I agree with that assessment. Because nuclear is essentially a zero-carbon energy source that is proven to be scalable and in adequate supply, it seems clear that any future energy system must involve substantial nuclear power generation capacity if it is to successfully address the climate change challenge while providing the requirements that citizens of the developed world in the 21st Century demand.

But, however pragmatic I think it to be, this view is outright anathema to many environmentalists. What does the cleantech community think about nuclear? Is it part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Berkeley Green Home EXPO – Local Cleantech Support

Cleantechblog is sponsoring the Berkeley Green Home EXPO coming up in April. We are excited to see local support for energy tech and cleantech, and are happy to support Berkeley’s efforts in sustainability, solar, clean energy and cleantech. Announcement below:
Energy Independence to Be Focus of Berkeley’s 3rd Annual Green Home EXPO
Panel to be moderated by Mayor Tom Bates, with representatives from California Energy Commission, PV-NOW, Cal State/East Bay, and PG&E
Berkeley, CA – With their Zero Greenhouse Gas goals in mind, the City of Berkeley will be hosting the third annual Green Home EXPO and Energy Symposium on Saturday, April 29th from 12 noon to 5 pm, in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park next to the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

The main event will be a panel discussion titled, “Can We Achieve Energy Independence? Actions and Consequences” moderated by Mayor Tom Bates. Long an advocate on behalf of environmental causes, Mayor Bates will bring to light many new ideas on greenhouse gas reduction through discussion with panelists with backgrounds in science, politics, energy, and the environment.

Panelists include: Karina Garbesi of Cal State/East Bay Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies: California Energy Commissioner John L. Geesman, David Hochschild, Executive Director of PV-NOW!, and Hal La Flash, PG&E’s Director of Renewable Energy Policy and Planning.

Radio station KPFA will record this panel discussion for broadcast.

Other activities at this event will include a Zero Waste Art Contest, and a Solar home Design Contest. There will be free recycling for electronic waste, household batteries, fluorescent lighting, and mercury thermometers, and a Safe Medicine Disposal collection. There will also be a number for free swaps and give-aways. Admission is free and open to the public.

For complete details on the contests and give-aways, visit or email

$310 Million Wendelstein 7-X Fusion Experiment Advancing on Schedule

Thirteen of the 70 superconducting coils for the $310 million Wendelstein 7-X stellarator-type fusion experiment have been tested at low temperatures and delivered, and the 41 additional coils specified are in various stages of manufacturing.  When complete, sometime in 2010, Wendelstein 7-X will be the largest stellarator fusion device built to date, and will test the suitability of a stellarator design for power plants.  

Both tokamak and stellarator types of fusion reactors utilize a ring-shaped magnetic field generated by massive superconducting magnets to suspend the ultra-high temperature plasma needed for fusion reactions within a containment vessel.  The difference between the two is that tokamaks produce part of the field by an electric current flowing through the plasma, while stellarators rely on external coils to provide the field.  Although tokamaks have been the subject of more investigation, the stellarator design more easily allows for longer pulses of operation – for Wendelstein, possibly up to thirty minutes.  

Researchers hope Wendelstein 7-X will bring them closer to the ultimate goal of continuous operation fusion reactions that can be harnessed for electric power generation.  The European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the State of Mecklenbourg-Western Pommerania are funding the project.

For the many who have heard of fusion energy, but either dismissed it as a fairy tale, or avoided thinking about it altogether due to the sheer complexity of prospective fusion technologies, the Wendelstein 7-X demonstrates that at least on a global level, the effort to make fusion a reality is serious.  

While nobody expects fusion to solve today’s energy problems within the next few decades, even critics of the fundamental technological feasibility of fusion admit that the basic science, technology development, and industrialization of the core technologies behind fusion are key to the long term advancement of society.  

Many industrialized nations in Europe and Asia have serious fusion programs, and emerging economic forces such as China and India are increasingly aggressive in their scientific collaboration, internal and international research & development projects, and political and financial support.  

Fusion research in the U.S. is more uncertain.  We are on a clear path to full participation in the massive $10 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).  However, while support for ITER–which is being hosted in Europe and included participants in several nations–is fairly strong, budgetary constraints and political shortsightedness have jeopardized domestic fusion research.  

Mark Bitterman, Executive Editor, Superconductor Week

Resourceful by Nature™

March 15, 2006

Yesterday morning’s mail brought a solicitation from Earth Policy Institute for its (Lester Brown’s) new book “Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and A Civilization in Trouble.” My first sighting of Lester Brown was in 1994 in Washington, DC at a large meeting on sustainability. I had, by then, purchased and read several of his Worldwatch Institute reports, and Flavin and Lenssen’s “Power Surge, Guide to the Coming Energy Revolution,” and I respected Mr. Brown to the level of a deep bow. In 2002, I spoke with (at) him at a DOE Green Power Marketing Conference, effusive with admiration and awkward – a self-immolating and embarrassing habit.

“Dear Reader,” (begins the solicitation) “In his book ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,’ Jared Diamond describes how earlier civilizations moved onto an economic path that was environmentally unsustainable.” Ah, too early in the morning for Jared Diamond and his depressing tome. I skim on, but think about my work for the day: writing an article on renewable, clean energy for an energy training company in California which has an interest in biomass…

“The competition for oil is already altering the relationship between oil and food. We have long been concerned about the effect of rising oil prices on food production costs, but now we can see its effect on the demand for food commodities. Since virtually everything we eat can be converted into automotive fuel either in ethanol distilleries or in biodiesel refineries, high oil prices are opening a vast new market for farm products. Fuel producers are competing directly with food processors for wheat, corn, soybeans, sugarcane, and other foodstuffs. With high oil prices, more and more ethanol distilleries and biodiesel refineries are being built to convert food into fuel. As a result, supermarkets and service stations are competing for the same commodities. In essence, the affluent owners of the world’s 800 million automobiles will be competing with the world’s poor for food.”

Maybe these commodities are better suited as fuel anyway, I speculate…all that genetic modification and chemical fertilizer. Maybe the competition from fuels will egg on the slow-food and relocalization movements. It’s all too dreary before a second glass of tea, and I gravitate to the jazz radio station, only to hear NPR, sponsored by none other than Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM): “ADM is a global leader in biofuels and is helping to meet these growing demands [for energy].”

ADM plans to fuel the cars of the world and feed the people of the world (tofu to the Chinese from American soybeans, in fact).

Their recent ad campaign splices images of hardworking, healthy American farmers with images of healthy Asian consumers. A background of eastern Indian music fades. Highway traffic flows in double-time. Trains and trucks zip alongside cornfields. There are more vibrant images of American farmers. And vivid landscapes of city lights. And acres of gentle waves of green crops. And wide open clear blue skies. Their ads are fashioned similarly across all product lines. For corn-based ‘plastics,’ food and transportation fuel, it’s the same smooth, soothing male voice-over, same visual treatments, same repetitive copy format, same kind of assured message:

“The world’s demand for energy will never stop. Which is why a farmer is growing corn and a farmer is growing soy. And why ADM is turning these crops into biofuels. The world’s demand for energy will never stop. Which is why ADM will never stop. We’re only getting started. ADM. Resourceful by Nature™.”

“Somewhere west of Topeka someone’s getting out for a breath of fresh air. Which is why a farmer is harvesting corn. And why a train is transporting corn. And why ADM is turning corn into ethanol, a renewable, cleaner-burning fuel. Somewhere west of Topeka someone’s getting out for a breath of fresh air. And lots of us are helping make sure that fresh air is actually – fresh. ADM. Resourceful by Nature™.”

This particular someone, sporting red hair and lime-green scoop-neck, is way, way west of Topeka, and she’s at the wheel of a sweet, grey, vintage convertible, cruising alongside a silver lake with mountains off in the distance. She’s definitely not in Kansas. Like ADM, she’s got full tank (money’s not a problem). And she’s on a roll. This ad – the woman, the open air, the notion of carefree escape – gave me goose bumps. Please forgive me, Mr. Brown.

The Advance of Transformerless Solar Inverters – An Opportunity Lost

It’s always nice to be proven right, but sometimes the ones that got away just gall me.

Four or five years ago we developed a business case with a large Japanese battery manufacturer to bring their solar inverter products into the US market. We would sell, they would build. At the time they had roughly 50% of the Japanese grid-tie industrial size solar installation market for inverters, and a sizeable share of the residential market, and wanted to get into the growth markets in the North America, as the Japanese growth had plateaued.

We had one of the largest US solar system providers agreed in principle to switch to our products, we were planning to certify them to the UL spec, and build them on the Japanese production line for sale in the US. We would have been the low price leader out of the gate.

How? First off, we had a very mature engineering and manufacturing plant in Japan, we had a full range of product – led by a 3.5 kw product for the residential market and a 10 kw modular product for the industrial market (before anyone here had thought about productizing larger sizes). And we had transformerless inverters. We had already started discussions with sources in UL about bringing that technology into the US. In 2001.

Our “best-price” scenario way back then was about $0.50/kw for our residential product, $0.65-$0.75/kw for the off the shelf price. For those of you who might be skeptical, that INCLUDED a nice gross margin. Our partner had pioneered transformerless inverters in Japan in the early to mid 1990s, and by the time they met us, this type was fairly standard throughout that market.

After getting the green light, the project was killed shortly thereafter when our Japanese partner ran into financial problems in other parts of the company, and was forced to re-focus their efforts away from the solar energy division.

I was reminded of all of this recently when a friend of mine sent over a presentation from an energy tech startup talking about advanced, low cost, lightweight inverters. When pressing them about how they could do this, they explained that they had no transformers. So I went do some research, and low and behold, not two months ago Magnetek announced the UL listing of their transformerless solar inverter, and then I noticed recent SMA articles on the now transformerless Sunny Boy String solar inverters in Europe.

“January 4, 2006 Magnetek, Inc. today announced that its indoor and outdoor transformerless Aurora™ Photovoltaic (PV) Inverters have been listed by the California Energy Commission and meet the latest National Electrical Code (NEC) as well as Underwriters Laboratories’ (UL) 1741 standards.”

It’s a shame our project didn’t go forward, but I’m glad the North American industry continues to drive costs down, even if we’re a bit behind the EU and Japan.

Cleveland Rocks!

That’s the motto for Cleveland, it being the home of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

For those of us who care about the clean tech arena, Cleveland also rocks because the area is making bets on advanced energy technologies. Many local constituencies recognize that the clean energy sector represents a tremendous opportunity for the region to pursue a new front for economic growth.

And so it is that I have decided to move to Cleveland and attempt to make an impact there. Effective last week, I have accepted a role at The Cleveland Foundation to lead regional efforts to build and catalyze economic activity in advanced energy technologies.

Press Release

I suspect that many of those in clean tech would be surprised at Cleveland’s interest level and current activities in developing commercial activity in advanced energy. With this posting, I invite you to contact me at the Foundation to learn more about what’s going on in Northeast Ohio. Who knows? Maybe you will find out, as I have, that Cleveland is a land of great opportunity.

A Tale of Two Companies

The strength of the PV market over the past year has enabled rapid growth for many companies and not just among the big boys. I am struck by the progress of Evergreen Solar and the similarity with a much smaller company, EPOD.

A year ago Evergreen was a small company whose revenues were growing fast – $23.5 million in 2004, up from $9.3 million the year before. They have grown again in 2005 to $44 million, but it is not the growth that attracts me – in last year’s climate, everyone with product to sell did that – rather it is some of the deals they have struck.

• In July, they broke ground on a 30MW solar wafer, cell and module manufacturing plant in Germany in a collaboration with Q-Cells called EverQ. Established in 1999, Q-Cells is one of the world’s largest solar cell manufacturers in terms of production output and is the largest group-independent manufacturer of crystalline silicon cells in the world. The plant is scheduled to come fully on stream this summer. Given the buoyancy of the German market this was a good move.

• In November, the Norwegian solar silicon manufacturer REC joined EverQ. In return for 15% equity REC, gave a 7 year supply guarantee (of solar grade silicon ) – 60 metric tons per year to Evergreen and 190 to EverQ, with potential to increase the supply. Given the current silicon supply pressure this seems an even better move!

• Then in between November and February they announced three impressive four year sales agreements:

o $70 million to Powerlight with potential to increase it to $170 million.

o $100 Million Sales Agreement with S.A.G. Solarstrom AG , builds and operates solar power stations, and sells the generated energy to corporations and utility companies. Sounds almost like a captive market.

o $88 Million Contract With Global Resource Options a Vermont-based solar power distributor and system integrator.

Before these deals, Evergreen had a fully fledged marketing department and was working on the design of new roofing applications. With their production apparently sold, they no longer need to make their own end products and the marketing team has been disbanded. Hard on the team, but good result in terms of lowering costs!

Now consider the case of EPOD – a very much smaller, Canadian company specializing in power management. Essentially a startup, they appear to have reported no revenues in 2004. Although operating on a different scale, here are the parallels with Evergreen:

• In July they set up a German subsidiary and formed a solar panel (amorphous silicon) and BIPV joint venture Heliodomi S.A. These are to give them manufacturing and marketing capability in Europe, especially Germany. Given the better profitability of the German market compared to North America. This should allow them to maximize whatever potential they have with their own PV product, inverters and power management expertise.

• While they have not secured any silicon supply guarantees, their dependence
on amorphous silicon makes this moot although their growth may be limited
by manufacturing capacity.

• In August they announced their first sale in Germany (100kW) and this was followed in January with their first California sale. In August they announced
that their production is committed through 2007.

Sales figures excite many, if not most but they are only part of the story. The robust growth demonstrated above, does not describe companies making big profits! Evergreen reported a net loss of $17.3 million last year and EPOD had a smaller loss only because its expenses were only a fraction of Evergreen’s.

$1 Billion Rare Isotope Accelerator Delayed 5 Years

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman has informed Congress that the $1 billion Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA) will be pushed back five years. The massive superconducting accelerator was intended to be the world’s leading facility for exploring the fields of nuclear structure and astrophysics in areas that are central to applied fields such as energy, security, and medicine.

Regardless of one’s political, ecological, economic, or philosophical perspective, nuclear energy will continue to be a very big piece of the energy puzzle for the next several decades, at the very least. While the bulk of this will come from fission, there is considerable effort being made to develop fusion energy as well. Given the importance of fission and fusion, it is strange that R&D on atomic nuclei—the part of the atom that produces nuclear energy—is being put on the back burner by the DOE.

“The main sources of energy in the universe, and on earth, are fusion and fission,” commented Witek Nazarewicz, Scientific Director for Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Lab. “If we say that we are not interested in how fusion and fission work, we are giving up an important, strategic area of knowledge for human civilization.”

As it stands, President Bush’s proposed 14% budget increase for the DOE’s Office of Science reportedly does not provide enough funding for continuation of the program in 2007, and it is possible that Congress’s final budget will be lower. Hence it is hoped that, at best, R&D on RIA will continue with $5 to $6M budgeted per year until a preliminary engineering design could be prepared, hopefully by 2011.

Politicians and Physicists Miffed

Despite RIA’s troubled past (see Superconductor Week, issue 1904), many in the physics community expressed surprise at the announcement. One official working closely with the DOE on the project commented: “We got very mixed signals from the DOE. One day we were being told that we needed to finish our proposal quickly to get RIA in the FY07 budget, and the next day Bodman announced pushing the project back.”

Even insiders such as U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) seem to have been taken off guard. Only days before Bodman announced the decision to slow development of RIA, Durbin had met with Bodman and issued a statement that the DOE was in the process of finalizing the decision for the placement of RIA—Argonne National Lab and Michigan State University have been competing to host the experiment.

Durbin has often stressed the importance of funding RIA, and he expressed “serious concern” in early February that the Bush administration had yet to provide funds to move forward with the RIA site selection process. Indeed, many in Congress are increasingly disappointed with the Bush administration’s mixed support of basic research in the FY2007 budget (see Superconductor Week, issue 2003). The Ranking Democrat of the House Science Committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN), remarked: “The good news in this budget request is the proposed increase in Federal R&D. The bad news is that that increase is less than the projected rate of inflation.

“Once again, we are investing less than the rate of inflation at a time when many of our international competitors are increasing their investment in science and technology research faster than ever before. Even more alarming is the fact that the Administration’s Science and Technology investment is actually decreasing.” The Federal Science and Technology budget is a good method to evaluate research funding because it represents the amount of funding directed towards the creation of new knowledge and technologies as opposed to development activities.

Basic Research Key to Energy Independence

The U.S. has both the greatest energy needs and the greatest budget to spend on R&D—a fact which prompted an official close to the RIA project to comment: “It is absolutely ironic that everybody in the world can see benefits to building this kind of physics—which has considerable potential benefits to society—and the U.S. cannot.”

President Bush has stated that the U.S. must pursue technology development as a central pillar of our national energy strategy. Yet it would seem the federal government is unwilling to pursue key research initiatives needed for U.S. leadership in the basic research at the heart of energy technology. Indeed, in some areas, U.S. leadership is already diminishing, or has been lost outright.

It is indeed ironic that the major reason given by the President for pursuing energy-related technology was based on the strategic need to loosen our dependence on other nations for energy, yet the future may hold another form of energy dependence in store for us—only this time it will be on foreign technology, foreign intellectual property, and foreign researchers, rather than foreign oil.

Mark Bitterman, Executive Editor, Superconductor Week

Newly Formed Relationship Between and

I am pleased to announce a newly formed relationship between (RES), and that will see a merger of quality blog content covering the renewable energy industry. This partnership will incorporate blog postings from the Clean Energy News Blog written by our own weekly renewable energy columnist Catherine Lacoursiere, the RES blog covering market opportunities prepared by yours truly, and the group of highly talented bloggers and industry professionals that comprise the Cleantechblog. This syndication will be available on

In other news: Neal Dikeman, founder of the Cleantechblog, will be presenting at our upcoming online energy conference being held April 26th, 2006 on For additional information on the conference please visit: Working towards a diversified energy portfolio

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