Wireless Controlled Solar LED Lighting

One of the companies I follow quite closely is a rapidly growing cleantech company in Victoria, BC, Canada called Carmanah Technologies (TSX:CMH) (named after Carmanah Valley they tell me, which is apparently an absolutely gorgeous wilderness on Vancouver Island), which makes solar LED lighting products. Carmanah won the most promising presenter award at the Cleantech Venture Network’s Cleantech Venture Forum V in 2004.

I had the opportunity to visit the company and its manufacturing plant some time back, and was quite impressed with the product and operations. Carmanah makes a whole line of productized solar LED systems. They sell these products to light airfields, marine buoys, traffic signs, and bus stops, as well as operating the largest solar systems company in Canada. What interested me recently, a few weeks ago, they announced the release of a fully centralized wireless controlled smart solar LED lighting product. Press release here.

The basic product for airfields has been a hardened, fully integrated solar module encapsulated in molded plastic with an LED array and rechargeable battery, and incorporating smart battery management technology. The key innovations are around the battery management, and brightness /range capabilities of the product. The product enables an airfield to light its runways and service ways without the cost of wiring and wiring conduits, or the cost of powering those lights. The product is currently working through FAA approval for runway lighting based on a system in use at the Truckee Airport, and the company is a major supplier to military and remote airfields around the world.

What Carmanah has added in this recent product (which I got to see on the test bed when I was there), is a wireless independent remote control of each of the lighting systems on the field. The protocol they are using is an 900 MHz RF (enrypted). As one of the companies I am involved in in wireless face a similiar set of technical problems in another industry, I was intrigued by the technology choices. Low frequency RF like this lends itself to the battery management (sends in databursts, not an always on solution, and not power hungry) needs, can be easily made to band hop, and is an inherently easier to secure compared to 802.11 solutions. They have incorporated pre-programmed and central control, handheld control and aircraft controlled programming and activation, meaning that pilots flying into a remote or unattended field could signal ahead for lighting. It looks like a great choice for general aviation as well as major hub airports.

Kind of a cleantech meets wireless play.

The Fifth Fuel: Energy Efficiency

Wednesday, August 30th

On the heels of training in the Maine Home Performance with Energy Star™ program, my personal media researcher tells me that EPRI has declared energy efficiency the ‘fifth fuel.’ A quick Google also tells me the EPRI name is not an original: “The Fifth Fuel” was the name of a newsletter published by the Alliance for the Conservation of Energy, a not-for-profit “set up to promote the development of coherent and consistent national energy policy in the UK.” Looks like the organization is defunct, but the name fifth fuel lives on.

Kudos to ACE (and EPRI) for giving energy efficiency a name worthy of marketing, a name that does not garble in the mouth, a name that suggests a real alternative to the ravages of coal mining, the ramming of transmission lines through backyards, the debacle of nuclear waste storage, the exorbitant costs of maintaining an aging grid – EPRI’s stock in trade.

The stock in trade of the fifth fuel is air sealant, dense-pack insulation, efficient heating and cooling systems, exhaust fans, thermal, moisture, and vapor barriers, solar systems, and windows, to name a few. The economic opportunities of the fifth fuel abound in the form of diagnostic tools. I used or learned of these gadgets in the Maine Home Performance training: blower door fans, duct blasters, pressure and carbon monoxide meters, infrared cameras for thermal measurements, and smoke sticks to draw out drafts. And then there’s the software to support weatherization programs, building performance contractors and energy auditors. Maine Home Performance uses Performance Systems Development’s TREAT (Targeted Residential Energy Analysis Tools) software for reporting. One attendee of the training, Monroe Infrared Technologies, headquartered in Kennebunk, Maine, attested to the wealth of opportunities in the fifth fuel.

Maine Governor John Baldacci established the Office of Energy Independence & Security which selected Performance Systems Development to administer the pilot of the Home Performance program. Baldacci made an appearance the first day of training, trailed by three local news camera crews and some print press. President Bush did not make an appearance, although he was in Kennebunkport for a wedding last week.

Colorado is due for a new governor this year. I’m hoping this next one and the people he (yes, it’ll be a he) taps for the public utility commission will be ardent fifth fuel supporters.

Thoughts from Shell

Last week, Shell’s US President John Hofmeister came to Cleveland as part of a US tour to offer Shell’s perspectives on national energy security.

Hofmeister made some interesting comments at a private reception and at a luncheon at the City Club:

  • World oil supply at 85 million barrels per day was barely exceeding world oil demand at 85 million barrels per day. Although he didn’t say so explicitly, Hofmeister certainly implied that the 85 million barrel per day production level was going to be very difficult to increase — certainly from existing production fields, and maybe even if all untapped opportunities were pursued. Is 85 million barrels per day as good as it gets? In other words, if you believe that “peak oil” production is rapidly approaching, his comments did little to dispel your belief.
  • Oil prices are thus high for legitimate reasons, but oil prices are higher than Shell would like. Clearly, Shell feels the heat from the public and politicians for the huge profits that they are generating these days. Hofmeister claims that Shell would like to see oil prices in the $30-40/barrel range — enough to earn good profits, but not so high that customers complain so loudly (or — heaven forbid! — start consuming less fuel).
  • World oil demand growth is being driven by China and India…and US SUVs. He indicated that the shift to SUVs caught the experts by surprise. This was the first time I’d ever heard an oil company executive almost “blame” US automakers and the public for being so gluttonous. This thought was further embellished later by noting that…
  • It is “immoral” that the US consumes so much energy, far in excess of its world share of population. Hofmeister got his facts wrong (he said the US represented 8% of world population, when it’s more like 4%), but he was right to indicate that the US accounts for 25% of world energy demand. He said that the US really ought to change its habits of energy consumption — but didn’t go so far as to suggest that US policy-makers had an obligation to do anything about it. Hofmeister noted that high oil prices are already having a salubrious effect on demand (“A lot of people are parking their RVs”). OK, fair enough, but that alone won’t cut our energy consumption by 80+%. Does he really think we’ll significantly reduce our energy consumption to more in line with our population without someone making us do it via some kind of regulation? Yeah, right.
  • Climate change is in fact happening, and that carbon emissions from energy consumption is a significant contributor. Well, it was encouraging for Hofmeister to not weasel on that one. Hopefully, eventually, that message will be heard and understood by all of his employees, his competitors and his customers. It amazes me that there are still so many Luddites who aren’t there yet.
  • Energy independence for the US is not only not achievable, it’s not even a good idea. Hofmeister’s point is that trade is global, and that it’s not necessarily bad that the US imports at least some of its energy requirement. He did go on to say, however, that importing 62% of oil requirements is very bad for the US. Thank goodness he didn’t use this observation as an excuse for punching holes in ANWR, at least partly because he sees that…
  • There are lots of opportunities for unconventional oil production. While he noted Shell’s involvement in the Alberta tar sands and the Orinoco reserves in Venezuela, Hofmeister went on at length about Shell’s involvement in new technology development to recover oil from the massive (1+ trillion barrel) shale resource in the US Rocky Mountains. Shell’s technology involves using downhole electric resistance heaters to “bake” the oil out of the rock in-situ. Theirs is not the only in-situ shale recovery technology under development — see, for instance, Independent Energy Partners’ geothermic fuel cell approach, which I believe has more economic merit — but their active and public involvement in shale, and expectation that it is a viable resource at ~$30/barrel, is important to take seriously.
  • With 100 years of operation in the Middle East, Shell would like to operate in Iraq, but is not present there because they will not put their employees in an unsecure situation, in a country with no rule of law. While Hofmeister steered clear of political views, his observation that “respect among and between peoples is currently lacking” was both a reserved understatement and a pretty clear signal that Shell is not optimistic about the situation there for the foreseeable future.
  • Shell is committed to alternative energy, as they see themselves as an energy provider to humans for the indefinite future, rather than an oil and gas company. He noted Shell’s activity in ethanol (mainly focused on second-generation “cellulosic” ethanol rather than first-generation corn/sugar based ethanol, which he didn’t seem enthusiastic about), wind and solar energy as areas for growth. In particular, he defended Shell’s recent decision to exit its active photovoltaics (PV) business in favor of R&D in copper indium diselenide (CIS) thin-film PV because of limited future economic/cost improvement potential in the now mature crystalline-silicon technology. I agree wholeheartedly.

All in all, an interesting and generally forward-looking set of comments for an oil company CEO to make.

Cleantech AIM Listing in Superconductors – Zenergy Power

Five days after announcing news of the closing of a merger between SC Power Systems in the US, and Trithor in Germany, two long time superconducting technology players, the parent company Zenergy Power plc listed on the London AIM exchange (AIM:ZEN)/(ZEN.L) at a c. US $54 million market cap, and then traded up 15% on the first day.
Press releases are on the website, ZenergyPower.com. The investment group who led the private capital raising prior to admission is Cloverleaf Ventures, and the nominated advisor and broker to Zenergy on the listing is Teathers & Greenwood.

I am excited to say that this cleantech IPO is one of our Jane Capital companies, as SC Power Systems is a business that we co-founded in 2004 to commercialize the fault current limiter technology of Australian Superconductors, whose high temperature superconducting R&D program dates back to 1987. My colleague Woody Gibson is now an executive and director in the company, and my colleague John Voltz of Jane Capital has joined the board.

The merger with Trithor in Germany brought one of leading European HTS players together with SC Power to form a truly global superconducting company. The AIM listing adds Zenergy to a very short list of publicly traded superconducting companies, including American Superconductor (Nasdaq:AMSC), and Intermagnetics (Nasdaq:IMGC) (through its subsidiary, SuperPower), though Intermagnetics recently announced its acquisition by Philips Electronics.

The company works in both energy technology and industrial technology. The main products of the Zenergy include an innovative fault current limiter, basically a surge protector for the electric power grid that can protect the grid from power surges and blackouts, and an induction heater for metal manufacturing that is c. 50% more efficient than conventional technology. The company also has developed technology in the areas of HTS generators, HTS transformers, HTS current leads, and HTS wire and coated conductor technology.


Peter Schwartz on The Future of Energy

Peter Schwartz is one of the most influential progenitors of scenario planning, dating back from his work at Royal Dutch/Shell in which he helped the company foresee the rise and fall of oil prices in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He subsequently wrote a widely-read book about envisioning the future called The Art of the Long View, and founded the firm Global Business Network (which is now allied with Monitor). To this day, Schwartz remains a widely respected futurist, and retains a strong interest in the future of the energy industry.

Schwartz and his GBN colleague Steve Weber recently held a webcast on “The Future of Energy: A Flawed Consensus”, in which they posit that “the conventional wisdom is wrong” about where the energy industry is headed.

In particular, they speculate that there is overoptimism about the economics and pace of adoption for alternatives to coal and oil (e.g., renewables), and yet at the same time, climate change is more of a problem than is widely realized. I hope that Schwartz and Weber are themselves wildly wrong, but I’m quite worried that they’re mainly right. If so, we’re in for an ugly ride.

The crack and the light

“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets through.”
Leonard Cohen

Now that the myth of “the market” has triumphed to become everything in America, a light begins to shine through cracks of “market populism” and “The New Economy.” It is light shed on my career, wasted on the shores of this business “revolution,” and illuminated never so well as in conversations with a former classmate – once a Neil Young-singing rebellious druggie and now managing director of a major investment bank in New York. Emblematic, he sits across a massive fissure, not measured in miles but by a class gulf, where he, privy to market information and an expression of the truest cynicism, controls my dead-ended corporate employ, my worthless stock options, my non-existent pension and health insurance.

Thank goodness for Thomas Frank and his “One Market Under God, Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy.” Had I only read it when it was published in 2000 and dog-eared passages, as I do today, about marketing, public relations and management theory (like those of Jack Welch, so revered my former management) in the so-called populist market revolution.

It’s not that I ever believed economic justice and political democracy were the rule of the country. Heavens, I grew up surrounded by country gentlemen estates and mounds of old banking money that socialized at what a resident anthropologist called the Holy Trinity of the country club, the private school and the Episcopal Church. Naturally (as in woods and water), it’s an astoundingly beautiful part of the world, but even as a young girl, horseback riding the wooded easements of these estates, I was acutely aware of the have-a-lot-a-lots and the rest of us.

Fast forward a couple decades. Call me a cynic; call me an elitist; it’s just name calling. Please do call me a free agent set upon my democratic destiny of freedom to express, like Thomas Frank (so much more eloquently), what’s really going down in America – and I’m told, England, too.

On a more positive note, I stood last Friday in a field at the National Renewable Energy’s wind testing center with representatives of Thorne Ecological Center, Western Resources Advocates, Xcel Energy and NREL for a question and answer session. We stood in the sun at the foot of a Skystream, a 1.8kW tower manufactured by Southwest Windpower. Thorne will use the turbine at its reserve to educate children about electricity.

This Tuesday, Sean Garrett laid before me construction drawings for one of his residential architectural projects in Santa Rosa, California. We talked about sustainability – and sustainable lives – over lunch. Sean made the good point that by definition, “green,” cleantech and energy efficiency contribute to sustainability, but they are not sustainability. That, says Sean, “is how you understand your place in the world.”

Other things going on this week:
· In Harper’s Magazine, following a Chevron “Will You Join Us” ad about energy conservation, Lewis Lapham describes the Iraq war as a free-market success: “Our American forefathers understood the rules of the game. The first settlers of the New England wilderness constituted themselves as a society of acquisition as well as a community of God.” Add Iraq to the long list of acquisitions, and read Stephen Kinzer’s “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change.”
· ExxonMobil has run greenhouse gas ads to bouncy music, kids of mixed races walloping golf balls: “Kids, they’ll tackle almost anything. An approach we can all learn from. So ExxonMobil has teamed up with Stanford University to find breakthrough technologies to deliver more energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a challenge, but we’re getting there. ExxonMobil.” Whatever. The jig’s up, Exxon.
· BP’s Smart Pig.
· Energy consultant, Gregg Eisenberg, sings about modern life, consumption and globalization.

Next week, I will have packed toiletries in my check-in luggage and headed to Maine for training on a Home Performance ENERGY STAR™ program. Colorado’s Governor Owens will have returned from Jordan where he is cutting arms deals for the military complex that pervades this state.

I need a break from the bombardment of fear and jingoism.

Plug-In Hybrids

Get 100 miles per gallon (mpg) in your next car. If you are now only getting 20 mpg, getting 100 mpg would cut your gasoline bill 80%. Several future plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) will get over 100 mpg. If you own a Toyota Prius you can buy a conversion kit today and make your car a plug-in hybrid.

PHEVs look and drive like regular hybrids. They have large hidden battery stacks that capture braking and downhill energy. Like hybrids they have computer chips that decide when to run only the electric motor, using no gas, and when to run the gasoline motor. When running the gasoline motor, extra energy is sent to the batteries. Most plug-ins can drive a number of miles only on the electric motor. A PHEV20 can run 20 miles in electric only; a PHEV40 can run 40 miles. You get the idea.

The beauty of a plug-in hybrid is that most of the time the gasoline engine is never used to recharge the batteries. The batteries are recharged by plugging the car into a standard 110 volt outlet. For example, the car could be plugged-in while in the garage each night. An added benefit of plugging-in at night is that electric rates are low because excess power is being generated in comparison to daytime peak electric demand.

80% of US daily car use is less than 50 miles. With a PHEV50, gasoline would not be used for those 80% of all daily uses. 50% of all our daily vehicle usage is less than 25 miles. PHEVs have enormous potential. Most commutes would cause zero emissions and use no fuel. You save a bundle. The country no longer needs foreign oil. Plug-in hybrids are estimated to provide these benefits over normal hybrids: 35% – 50% reduction in NOx and ROG; 45% – 65% reduction in petroleum; 30% – 45% reduction in greenhouse gases.

Toyota will build future plug-in hybrids. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe spoke about his dream of building a car that could cross the United States on a single tank of gasoline. My wife and I share two cars. On a given day, one of us never drives over 50 miles alone. With plug-in hybrids, one of us would travel all day on electricity from the grid that is stored in batteries. When we occasionally need range, a plug-in hybrid would automatically engage the engine if the batteries got low.
At South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), Dr. Matt Miyasato reported excellent results with their early tests of four plug-in hybrids. AQMD converted four Priuses to PHEV using a kit that included Valence Lithium-ion batteries. AQMD achieved 99.9 mpg, saving a fortune in gas. When required, each Prius can still go hundreds of miles between gasoline refills.

Plug-in hybrids are also great for larger vehicles. AQMD is also testing two PHEV20 Sprinter delivery vans, one using lithium-ion batteries and one using nickel-metal hybrid batteries. AQMD has future plans for expanded use of PHEV vans, including passenger vans.

Because major auto manufacturers lost billions on electric vehicles, they are cautious about bring a PHEV to market. PHEVs require more battery power, adding cost and weight to vehicles. If customers do not bother to plug-in and recharge, actually mileage would be worse than today’s hybrids.

The nickel-metal hydride batteries in current hybrids cost thousands. Because of that cost, customers want 100,000 mile warranties. To achieve this long-life, auto makers use a narrow state of charge. Plug-ins demand more batteries that are used aggressively than in normal hybrids. This creates two problems: weight and shorter life for expensive batteries. To reduce weight and added power, PHEVs may predominately use lithium-ion batteries. Early conversion kits are unlikely to offer 100,000 mile warranties.

Writing for Green Post, Dania Ghantous raises several important points: “What about safety? What happens in a car accident? After all, there’s a lot of energy stored in lithium-ion batteries and it’s all packed in a relatively small area inside the vehicle! And what is the reliability of these batteries when subjected to extreme cycling conditions? Let’s take a closer look at some of the design criteria for a PHEV battery: 1) high storage capacity to increase range and acceleration; 2) long battery life to last more than 100,000 miles; 3) less weight to increase acceleration; 4) heat management as battery temperatures tend to increase during charging; 5) safety when in use and 6) low cost. That’s a tall order for today’s battery technology as there are serious concerns about the safety and lifetime of larger battery packs.” Full Article

Plug-in hybrids do have a big future. The plug-in hybrid design could work with any fuel including ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. A PHEV running on E85 ethanol would potential only use one gallon of gasoline every 500 miles, with the rest of the mileage being fueled by electricity and plant-fuel. Such PHEVs would make us free of oil dependency and national security problems that result from sending billions to the wrong countries. The plug-in hybrid design could work with any fuel including ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. The large public transit operator AC Transit has three plug-in hybrid hydrogen buses. The plug-in design allows AC Transit to save millions with smaller hydrogen fuel cells than in the plug-in design were not used.

John Addison publishes the California Hydrogen Report (www.cah2report.com). His firm, Optimark Inc. conducts market intelligence and market development for cleantech and information technology corporations.



The 2030 Challenge

An architect from Santa Fe named Ed Mazria is passionate about the need to dramatically reduce the energy intensity of residential/commercial buildings, which are responsible for about 48% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Driven by his commitment, Ed devised The 2030 Challenge. Simply put, he challenges architects, engineers and contractors to cut the carbon intensity of buildings by 50% from the average of their peers today, 60% below peer average in 2010, 70% below peer average in 2015, and so on, until 2030 by which all buildings should be carbon neutral (zero net carbon emissions).

Ed has the vision of holding an international “teach-in” in February 2007, to inform a broader audience of the mainstream of architects/engineers about efficient building principles and encourage them to get aboard. Let’s hope he can pull off something so audacious, with such potentially large positive impact.

GreenTech Building

Colorado Renewable Energy Society’s Tour of Solar Homes comes up this October, and the US Green Building Council holds its annual conference (Greenbuild) in Denver this November. With an eye on high performance (“green”) building, Lindsey Shorthouse of Zócalo Development and I set out to unearth on-the-ground examples of mixed-use, commercial and residential (that is, non-municipal) green building in the Denver metro area.

Lindsey found one. And what a find it is.

Last Friday, Cheryl Spector, an architect and developer of high performance (aka, green or sustainable) building, played docent on a tour of her latest project, Nine10Arts on Santa Fe Drive in Denver. Says her marketing material: “Nine10Arts is a gathering place designed to advance all art forms in the heart of Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe…a place where people can come together to work, play, live. Play Creatively. Live Creatively.”

The LEED-certified space is an agglomeration of two existing old warehouses and new construction. It holds residential lofts (at both market and affordable housing rates), artist work studios, exhibit pace and event facilities, a Capoeira studio and a coffee shop.

It’s the first example of truly green building I’ve yet seen – and it’s stylin’: 10-12 foot ceilings, European-styled kitchens, private patios and balconies, rooftop entertaining, off-street parking. And, it’s close to downtown and light rail. The USGBC likes it, too, and named it their 2006 Legacy Project.

“Nine10Arts exemplifies the best of what green building can be, and will be an invaluable resource for the Denver community. We’re truly excited to have Nine10Arts as our 2006 Legacy Project.” –Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chairman, USGBC

Cheryl starts with a philosophy and a vision – and uses her intimacy with the flow of the building…air, lighting, sight lines, inhabitants’ lifestyles…in the design. She has made ample use of daylighting and fresh air flows. Rising hot air is dispensed with the help of an atrium and interior open space. Sleek modern registers radiate heat generated from a boiler. Cooling derives from an evaporative, not a DX, air conditioner. The space is solar-PV and solar-thermal “ready.” Cheryl is also working on two green roofs (live rooftop plantings). The solar panels, when they arrive, will reside on pedestals that sprout out of a green roof.

The space is a showcase of green building materials: low-VOC paints and finishes, wheatboard, linseed-based linoleum. Wood planks rescued from a local university’s concrete pour became stairs. A minority women’s training program refurbished original hanging fluorescent ballasts – which Cheryl had re-hung with T-3 tubes. In the bathrooms, we saw Toto dual-flush toilets (complete with translation graphics for novices) and recharging sink faucets. On-site showers permit the artists to clean up between work and showings – no wasted gasoline to drive home.

Tours of Nine10Arts will be available to attendees of Greenbuild during Greenbuild week (so we thank Cheryl profusely for the private tour!) Tour details will be posted on the Greenbuild website in the coming months.

Next week, I’ll be meeting with Sean Garrett, another Denver architect who “gets green” but “from a different perspective,” he says, than mine. Sean is working on residential projects. MEIZ Development finalized plans to install solar panels at 43 Russia, three contemporary homes in North Denver. Steve Chucovich of Architecture Denver designed these magnificent urban homes. Steve is no stranger to solar or green building principles. MEIZ has plans for another project in North Denver – mixed-use, possibly with built-in PV. I can’t wait…!

Zócalo Development has a small solar PV array on-site, a test run for its planned solar install at its River Clay project. There’s always Belmar in Lakewood which touts its “green-ness,” but I’m not sure what to make of its wide streets (great for cars, not pedestrians) and its rabbit-hutch residences out in the rambling nondescript city fringes…surrounded by big-name box stores and swaths of asphalt (when it could have gone for some Sodpavers!). We also have the Alliance Center, a showcase of sustainable design at 1536 Wynkoop Street in downtown Denver – and the home of many an environmental organization.

We have “the green WalMart” off of I-70 in Aurora (aka, Saudi Aurora). Why would WalMart spin green, but put its green showcase store out in the eastern desert plains? We have the Denver Justice Center – which was going for LEED Silver last I heard. But, for residential, mixed-use and commercial building, the “green field” is mostly wide open.

Other goings on:
A personal plug…I am co-leader of Colorado Interfaith Power & Light, an affiliate of The Regeneration Project out of San Franscisco. IP&Ls across the country will sponsor free screenings of An Inconvenient Truth to interested congregations, from October 1-8. Hundreds of congregations (and a growing list of universities) across the country have already signed up. If you’re congregation or university is interested, sign up here. You will receive a packet with DVD and information pertinent to your state. Have at it!!

Dissing Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Ulf Bossel is a well-known fuel cell technologist based in Switzerland. For years, he has been organizing the annual European Fuel Cell Forum in Lucerne, which has alternated every other year between focusing on PEM fuel cells and on solid oxide fuel cells.

At the end of this year’s show earlier in July, Bossel announced that “time has come for a critical assessment”: the biannual PEM conference will be discontinued. In his words:

“[Those who have worked on PEM fuel cells] have developed a magnificent technology, but the fuel needed to make it work is not offered by nature. We cannot solve the energy problem by wasting energy. The laws of physics speak against a hydrogen economy. Physics cannot be replaced by wishful thinking, or changed by presidential initiatives, research programs and venture capital.”

Announcement of End of European PEM Forum (from The Watt)

Partly from hearing Bossel a few years ago at a previous Lucerne conference, I’ve been quite bearish on PEM fuel cells for a while, not least for their reliance on hydrogen, which is tricky and therefore expensive to make, transport and store. Bossel’s acute skepticism on hydrogen-based PEMs is hard to refute. At least for mass-market applications, it’s hard to see a PEM future.

So, for those interested in PEM fuel cells, look before you leap!

More on the Ethanol Debate

Robert Rapier on the Oil Drum has a very readable blog on a discussion between he and Vinod Khosla arguing about some of the major issues in ethanol.

He had previously put up a blog called Vinod Khosla Debunked, detailing and then attacking some of Khosla’s arguments about the future of ethanol.

The combination of these two articles is an excellent overview of the ethanol debate.

Also see our previous Cleantech Blog posts on ethanol:

Richard Stuebi Cleantech blog on the Ethanol energy yield and emissions impacts, quoting an Argonne National Lab study.

My blog on my discussions with NREL scientists on their ethanol investment model – I think corn ethanol has more legs vs. cellulosic ethanol than most analysts are predicting.

John Addison’s blog on the growth opportunity in ethanol – he’s bullish

My blog on VeraSun’s IPO – written before their IPO and 2Q numbers came out. I still think these ethanol IPOs are overvalued, but they have show significant improvement from when I wrote it.

And in recent news from PE Week Wire: “US BioEnergy Corp., an Inner Grove Heights, Minn.-based ethanol production company, has filed to raise $300 million via an IPO of common stock. It plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol USBE, with UBS, Credit Suisse and Piper Jaffray serving as co-lead underwriters. Shareholders include Capitaline Advisors.”

Top 10 Energy Technologies to Watch in Cleantech

From big corporate to grass roots, new (and old, but recycled) energy technologies under the banner of cleantech are changing the way we relate to energy and the earth. The ones to watch:

  1. Solar Energy – The worldwide solar photovoltaic industry installed 1,400 megawatts of new capacity last year, almost enough new power to supply the city of Berkeley, California. With billions of dollars of investment from companies like BP, Applied Materials and startups like Nanosolar which raised a $75 mm round earlier this year, solar energy is not going away any time soon. And watch this space, venture capitalists are now funding a new crop of technologies like solar concentrators (see our earlier blog) and thin film, that could make solar mainstream.
  2. Large Wind Farms – The only technology as hot as solar is wind power, and major manufacturers such as General Electric are building systems (GE just announced a plant in China), and can’t keep up with the demand. A growing part of the electricity we use already comes from wind power in many regions (see our blog on Wind in Texas), and in Europe it is even bigger. Second only to natural gas in new capacity additions last year in the US.
  3. Household Wind Power – Wind is not just for the big players, small but growing companies like Southwest Windpower, and Bergey WindPower are making micro wind systems for our homes and businesses. While not highly efficient, and not likely to be major source of power, they are an intriguing way for individuals to go green.
  4. Superconductors – Invented in the late 1980s, high temperature superconductor wires (in this case high temperature still means really, really, cold) are 100x more efficient than the copper wires in our motors, power lines, and electronic products. Companies like American Superconductor and Sumitomo in Japan are developing this technology. While still expensive today, the costs are coming down as providers move toward 2G – thin film deposition techniques, and the results could fundamentally change the way we use our electricity.
  5. Fuel Cells – Driven in the 1990s by automotive companies including GM and technology developers like Ballard Power in Canada, fuel cells are the heart and soul of the hydrogen economy. While still too expensive for mainstream use, and facing an investment community jaded somewhat by struggles to develop the technology, it makes major leaps every year. Within the fuel cell arena – watch for the continued efforts of major players like GM and the Japanese automotive companies, and watch for the continued rise of exotic fuel cells – chemical and non-hydrogen fuels, exotic materials and designs like direct carbon, silicon or biotech based fuel cells.
  6. Ethanol – Cleaner than gasoline, ethanol /gasoline blended fuel cars are the fuel of choice (at least until the hydrogen economy arrives). Major agricultural companies and Wall Street are pumping money into building new ethanol plants. GM has launched an aggressive campaign to build and market hybrid ethanol /gasoline (called E85) vehicles. This show may be a bubble, but it’s a bubble with legs.
  7. Bio-diesel – Bio-diesel is emerging as the grass roots favorite and alternative to ethanol or E85. With the support of activist/entrepreneurs including country singer Willie Nelson, and venture backing (see Seattle Biodiesel’s recent financing by Nth Power, Technology Partners and Paul Allen as example) bio-diesel is winning support from home brewers, home conversion enthusiasts, farmers, and truckers. It may smell, and serious observers question the availability of feedstock to scale, but it sure is green.
  8. Gasoline/Electric Hybrid Cars – Everyone has seen the explosion of hybrid cars, with over a dozen designs on the market now. This technology is only getting more and more mainstream. Toyota, the market leader in hybrid car technology, is targeting an all hybrid fleet in the future. I had the opportunity to test drive GM’s Saturn View Greenline, a mild hybrid and GM’s first hybrid consumer vehicle that is hitting the showroom shortly. Part of an aggressive launch by Saturn from its successful Vue SUV line, it promises to be the lowest cost Hybrid SUV and best mileage SUV on the market. And watch out for the bio-diesel or E85 / electric hybrid next!
  9. Plug-in Hybrids – My personal favorite, though still a ways out, “plug-in” or “gridable” hybrids are hybrids like the Toyota Prius that have been modified with extra batteries and an AC power adapter to recharge from an electric wall plug in your garage. Success with plug-ins would mean we could fuel switch from renewable electric power sources like solar, wind, and hydro to bio-diesel to ethanol. Frankly, that is hot. Groups like CalCars.org in California are pushing this concept, and the interest continues to rise. Our blogger Felix Kramer is part of CalCars.
  10. Blogs – There are now literally thousands of blogs on sustainability, environmental issues, and clean energy and technology. The blog world is helping to fuel a grass roots push towards a greener world. Let’s keep it up.

The Great Turning: Those Who Turn & Those Who Fight

“A mounting perfect economic storm is fast approaching. A convergence of climate change, peak oil, and the financial instability inherent in an unbalanced global trading system will bring an unraveling of the corporate-led global economy and a dramatic restructuring of every aspect of modern life.” The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community

David Korten, author of “The Great Turning,” asks, “By what name will future generations know our time?” He believes we have the power to choose.

Denver B100 chooses to sell ASTM-certified biodiesel produced in Colorado from waste vegetable oil. Last Wednesday, I staffed its shop, pumping B100 into VW Jetta TDIs, an old Mercedes and a beastly big Ford truck. (After filling my bio-bus with 100 percent B100, I drove it the mountains to escape the oppressive city heat—which is making a tidy profit for the electric utility, Xcel Energy.) Denver B100 seeks funding for credit card-automated biodiesel pumps to be dispersed in the Denver metro area. It’s a small proposal, in keeping with Korten’s “earth community,” and worthy of funding.

Ski industry giant Vail Resorts chooses to offset its electricity use with renewable energy credits purchased through Renewable Choice Energy of Colorado, putting the ski resort at the number two spot—behind Whole Foods—in corporate purchases of green tags, as measured in megawatt hours. I met Quayle Hodek, Renewable Choice Energy’s CEO, at a DOE Green Power Marketing conference in 2002. A youthful Hodek, sporting a ponytail and speaking before a large room of mostly suits, displayed charts of consumer marketing data gathered by his door-to-door sales staff (to some sniggering in the audience that his company would never survive with such labor-intensive sales practices). I commented to a competing green tag marketer that Xcel Energy had met its match in the local premium green electricity market. I still believe that. Hodek does not hail from Wall Street or an east-coast Ivy or a west-coast Valley but from the heartland. His talk is straightforward; he still sports a ponytail and a warm smile. His business started small. Now it sells green tags to Whole Foods and Vail Resorts.

Colorado’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation chooses to invest the $500K it receives in federal funds in dozens of new ethanol fuel pumps. One day, I hope Colorado’s energy office can spread this money among smaller projects, like that of Denver B100.

These are entities who can turn. Entities that like big projects with big returns and fewer perceived risks will have a hard time turning away from empire. Empire stalwarts, they will resist “the great turning” like rusted bolts. This is precisely what empires do best, in one form or another; they fight.

Take Colorado’s Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA)—which aligned in 2004 with Xcel Energy and coal companies to oppose Colorado’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS). Prior to the vote on the RPS, IREA distributed misinformation about wind power through its bill inserts. The RPS passed. Following a curiously worded vote to members, IREA opted out of the requirement to comply with the RPS. Recently, we discovered, the IREA raised $150,000 to hire a global-warming critic.

I met the general manager of IREA, Stan Lewandowski, one Friday evening not long ago outside a movie theatre in Denver. He was in line to see “An Inconvenient Truth.” I was collecting signatures to oppose Xcel Energy’s proposed Comanche 3 pulverized coal-fired plant. Asked if he wanted to sign, he replied, nicely, “no, because I’m part owner of the plant.” Humorously, he said that he had needed a drink before seeing the movie and before talking with us. It was a casual, pleasant conversation. (His tennies were grass-stained from lawn-mowing. I overlooked that it was IREA’s lobbyist in Texas who in 2004 threatened legal action for my writing something quite similar to what I am writing now.) We spoke of the pros and cons of clean energy…that fossil fuel prices are going up and the price of wind is competitive, if not outright cheaper, in Colorado. He said his primary responsibility was to provide reliable electricity. He has also said that keeping rates low is a priority. When I asked about the coop’s investment in demand-side management (DSM or energy efficiency programs), he said it did commercial energy audits but, “I won’t pay rebates.” After the movie, in a lengthier conversation with a fellow signature gatherer, he admitted that the coop does very little in the area of DSM.

In opposing Xcel Energy’s ratepayer-financed coal-fired plant – and favoring clean energy and a financing scheme that puts financial risk on shareholders where it belongs and not on ratepayers – I felt obliged to read Jeff Goodell’s “Big Coal.”

I opened the book to Chapter 3 (“Dogholes”) in which Goodell describes GE’s attempts to make coal sexy through advertising, “an important goal for GE, which is a major supplier of high-tech turbines and other power plant technologies. The ad featured glamorous, scantily clad models (male and female) with chiseled pecs and perky breasts, shoveling coal in a dark mine – actually, a sound stage outfitted to look like a mine – while “Sixteen Tons,” Merle Travis’s great folk song about hard labor and corporate exploitation, played on the soundtrack. Near the end of the ad, a voice-over announced, ‘Now, thanks to emissions-reducing technologies from GE, harnessing the power of coal is looking more beautiful every day.’

“It was a bold ad, and one that suggested how well GE understands a basic truth about coal: Americans love cheap power, but not if we have to pay for it with the kind of human misery and suffering that went out of style in the nineteenth century. However, if the point of GE’s ad was to clean up the image of coal mining to shore up support for ‘clean’ coal, it backfired. ‘The commercial is sure to disgust and anger anyone who grew up in a mining community,’ one viewer wrote in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times a few days after the ad was broadcast. ‘Even if coal processing gets cleaner, that coal will still need to be mined,’ wrote ad critic Seth Stevenson on Slate, an influential online magazine. ‘And unless I’m mistaken, there will be actual coal miners doing that. Now: Guess who still gets black lung? Guess who still gets killed when mines collapse? It isn’t sexy supermodels.’”

My ex project-financed a co-gen plant for US Generating; it was built in a rural backwoods of Pennsylvania. Whenever we drove past the co-gen plant off of I-95 in Baltimore, which was fairly often in our travels between Maryland and New England, he would point out the plant to me, and I would comment that power plants should be constructed in the center of our daily worlds, just like this one, so people would make the connection between energy consumption and lifestyle. He disagreed, saying they should be shoved away, out of sight. But he was very happy to point out to me all of the solar panels we would pass, perched like crows. Funny that.

Other goings on…
I’ve spied two Smart Cars in north Denver in the last week. The two-seater is available through Mountain View Motors in Loveland, Colorado. The price tag smarts: $27,000 for 40 mpg. Youch.

UPS Fleet of 1,700 Alt-fuel and Hybrid Vehicles

UPS deliver 15 million packages per day in over 200 countries. UPS has over 100,000 vehicles and 600 airplanes. UPS employs over 400,000 people. UPS is the ninth largest airline on the planet. They are experts at reducing the cost and fuel usage of moving millions of packages. Over 1,700 of those vehicles use alternative fuel, savings millions of gallons of oil and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2000, UPS alternative-fuel vehicles have logged 108 million route miles — enough to circle the Earth more than 4,300 times. These 1,700 vehicles run on natural gas, propane and hydrogen. (www.community.ups.com/environment/fuels.html)

UPS has ordered 50 hybrid delivery trucks, which will reduce fuel consumption by 44,000 gallons per year. These will be diesel hybrids due to the efficiency of diesel engines. Hybrid technology is perfect for delivery vehicles because braking energy is stored in batteries and later feed to an electric motor, thereby reducing the size and fuel needed in a diesel engine. Delivery trucks make lots of stops and capture lots of braking energy. The trucks have 60 percent to 70 percent higher fuel efficiency and emit 40 percent less carbon dioxide than normal UPS delivery trucks. UPS invests an added $7,000 per truck for these fuel efficient hybrids, and saves over $7,000 in fuel in less than three years.

UPS is going green to make more green – money. Fuel costs UPS over 2 billion dollars every year. Their approach to saving fuel is not based on one big technology breakthrough. Rather, it is based upon hundreds of smart decisions. For example, USP designed delivery routes to minimize left turns because turning across traffic is not only more dangerous, it requires longer idling time, wastes fuel and creates more congestion.

The company is working to develop future generations of delivery vehicles that reduce dependence on fossil fuels, significantly reduce fuel consumption and create a vehicle platform to bridge to the hydrogen economy. Some of these efforts include:

* 21st Century Truck Partnership – In this government-industry partnership, federal agencies and the transportation/trucking industry are working together on technologies to make vehicles safer, cleaner and more efficient, while maintaining fleet safety and cost-effectiveness.
* EPA SmartWay Transport Program – This voluntary partnership with leading members of America’s truck and rail transport sectors aims to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from ground freight carriers. The goal of this initiative by 2012 is to reduce 18 million tons of carbon and 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) annually. These reductions will create fuel savings of up to 150 million barrels of oil annually.
* Clean Cargo & Green Freight – UPS is an active member of Business for Social Responsibility’s Green Freight working group. Together with the Clean Cargo group, Green Freight is developing voluntary environmental guidelines to enhance fleets’ performances while spurring a broader movement toward a sustainable transportation future.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. He publishes the California Hydrogen Report (www.cah2report.com) and is a popular speaker.