10,000 Miles per Gallon

By John Addison (8/28/07). The Loire Valley in France brings images of magnificent castles, breathtaking landscape, superb wine, and driving 10,705 miles per gallon (3,789 km/l). A team of students at the La Joliverie in Loire won the 2003 Shell Eco-Marathon race with this remarkable fuel economy. Yes, you read that right – over 10,000 mpg and the fuel was gasoline. It was not an electric vehicle. It was not even a hybrid. The vehicle was shaped for minimal wind resistance.

The vehicle was also built with new materials that are lighter, stronger, and available in some new models now in car showrooms. When you buy your next vehicle, you can get 40 miles per gallon (mpg), not 14 mpg, by selecting a vehicle that is lighter and more aerodynamic. Some people want you to think that you need to wait years before you can get a car with great mileage. This is not true. You can get over 40 miles per gallon today. You do not need to wait for future technologies.

By going on an energy diet we can have healthy cities, be energy independent, and stop global warming. This can be done with modest annual improvements. We could cut vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by improving mileage 4% annually for 22 years.

We have one global trend towards fuel and energy efficiency and a more powerful force towards increased consumption. Our future depends on fuel and energy efficiency being the winner. Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have looked at the numbers in detail. They calculate that moving our typical car with its internal combustion engine wastes over 90% of the energy content in the gasoline used. 90% is wasted moving the vehicle and driver. What if we look at the energy efficiency of just moving the driver? 99% waste! Only one percent of the energy in the gasoline is actually used to move the person.

Americans spend an extra $3 billion on fuel because vehicles are heavier than they were in 1960. The world’s drivers consume an extra 39 million gallons each year for each pound of added vehicle weight.

Cars need to go on a diet. SUVs need a crash diet. A light weight auto requires a lighter engine and powertrain, which in turn requires less fuel weight. To achieve more miles per gallon carry less weight. If you use a big SUV like the GM Envoy XL, your official EPA mileage is 15/19. Your mileage may vary (as in worse). If you use a much lighter GM Chevrolet Cobalt M-5, your EPA mileage is an improved 25/34. Vehicles can be better designed. Minor reductions in weight and drag, can improve mileage 14 to 53% and only raise prices by $168 to $217. Winning the Oil Endgame

In Europe, the Renault Clio uses recycled plastic for 10 percent of the total vehicle weight. Recycling helps the environment. Use of plastic reduces weight and improves fuel economy. The VW Lupo 3L TDI achieves 78 miles per gallon. The VW is small, lightweight, and uses an efficient diesel engine.

A new study determines that the amount of aluminum used in new European cars has risen from 50 kg in 1990 to 132 kg in 2005 and is predicted to grow by another 25 kg by 2010. The two million tons of aluminum components were put in European cars saved one billion liters of fuel annually and 40 million tons of CO2 emissions over the lifespan of the vehicles.

No more heavy metal. Your car is probably made with steel. Aluminum makes vehicles lighter. Market leader Toyota bought 5.9% of Izuzu so that Toyota could make better use of aluminum. In 2012, a joint venture between Toyota and Izuzu will start producing a new light-weight aluminum engine. Green Car Congress

Carbon fiber makes vehicles even lighter. Carbon fiber requires half the weight and gives better protection. My bicycle is carbon fiber, making it easier to get up hills. My golf clubs using carbon fiber; unfortunately, nothing can help my golf game.

The Toyota Prius is more aerodynamic than a Chevrolet Corvette. Last week I met with Prius drivers that are getting 60 mpg in real driving conditions. In addition to being aerodynamic, the Prius uses low rolling resistance tires. You can even improve mileage with your current vehicle by keeping the tires fully inflated, thereby lowering rolling resistance and increasing mileage.

Does your family or household own more than one vehicle? If so, use most often the vehicle that consumes the least gas. It is a no-brainer. That is your main car. My wife and I share the high mileage hybrid. It puts on the most miles. The other sedan, which still gets good mileage, is used only on days when we both have destinations in opposite directions. For the most part, it is a back-up car that stays parked in the garage.

When you buy a new car select one that gets at least 40 miles per gallon (or get an electric vehicle). Most likely the high mileage car will be aerodynamic, lighter, safer, and use low rolling resistance tires.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution.

LIPA-Suction: A Shift in the Future of U.S. Offshore Wind

by Richard T. Stuebi

This past week, it was reported (for instance, see article in Newsday) that the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), or at least its Chairman Kevin Law, was in favor of pulling the plug on the 140 megawatt wind project being developed just south of Jones Beach by FPL Energy, a subsidiary of FPL Group (NYSE: FPL). This development came in the wake of a report by Pace Global Energy Services commissioned by LIPA on the potential economics of the proposed offshore project.

Meanwhile, here in Cleveland, the Great Lakes Regional Energy Development Task Force continues in the opposite direction, committed to exploring the potential for offshore wind in Lake Erie. As reported in an article in The Plain-Dealer, the Task Force announced that it will begin negotiating a contract with a project team, led by the wind developer juwi international, to conduct a feasibility study for an offshore wind research center to include a small (5-20 megawatt) demonstration project.

Why is Long Island going one way and Cleveland going the other? On Long Island, the offshore wind project was solely about economics, as the region needed more low-cost kilowatt-hours. When it appeared that the costs of the offshore wind project were going to be higher than expected, LIPA got cold feet.

In contrast, Cleveland knows that a small offshore wind project will NOT be an economic way to generate electricity. There aren’t enough economies of scale in offshore wind to make it economic today in most places in the U.S., and especially in the Midwest, no matter how much the project is expanded. Because there’s no point in making a huge offshore project, Cleveland is aiming for a project just big enough to matter in addressing the real needs of the future of offshore windfarms.

Cleveland wants to tackle offshore wind so that it can identify — and then overcome — the technological challenges and institutional barriers that make offshore wind so expensive today. By overcoming the factors that make offshore wind currently uneconomic, Cleveland seeks to become a leading center of offshore wind R&D. In subsequent years, when offshore wind does become economic (as offshore wind technology improves, the best onshore wind sites are exploited, and conventional energy costs further increase), this can lead Cleveland to becoming a major hub of offshore wind manufacturing and services for the Great Lakes and possibly beyond.

In short, Cleveland aims to build an offshore wind support/deployment industry in the decades to come, just like the offshore oil/gas industries that have bloomed in Houston and New Orleans when they led the way in tackling the challenges of offshore E&P in the Gulf of Mexico a few decades ago. The offshore wind effort in Cleveland is thus an economic development initiative, not an economic power generation project.

With Long Island’s retrenchment, and the continuing travails in Cape Cod related to the Cape Wind project, Cleveland can step in to fill the leadership vacuum in offshore wind. It takes guts to be a contrarian, but that’s where the biggest rewards lie. It’s not going to be easy, but in Cleveland, most people recognize that easy answers aren’t adequate to bring the region back to economic health.

Given their favorable situations, Long Island and Cape Cod can probably afford to be cautious, prudent, skeptical. Given the economic challenges here, leaders in Cleveland know that boldness is required. So, pending the results of the team’s feasibility study, ahoy to offshore wind.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Market demand for green buildings – no less than 5 star

by Nick Bruse

Currently I’m doing quite a bit of work in the Green Building Industry and we are currently seeing a very rapid transformation in the thinking of leading developers around green building development.

In today’s ‘The Age’ one of Australia’s major newspapers we have Daniel Grollo, one of the high profile developers in Australia, admitting to the market that 2 years ago he was wrong in only shooting for a 4 star Green Building Rating (6 currently the highest) on a number of developments. The demand from tenants has sky rocketed recently, and luckily design consultants advised him to go for one star higher. While this cost the company more, had they not done so they would have delivered an obsolete building.

Next week I will be heading down to Tasmania to moderate a panel session of the ADPIA (Australian Direct Property Investment Association) dealing with sustainability and green building development. Through my work with my current client who advises property developers and project manages construction projects, the biggest issue clients are stating is “How do I achieve sustainability in my property portfolio or asset effectively?”

Whilst the technologies to achieve significant reductions in energy use, water consumption and waste production, and the tenant market in Australia is demanding green star rated buildings, there is still a lot of uncertainty in developers of how to actually transition their portfolios. Quantifying the returns, choosing between alternative solutions, even choosing a service provider is challenging in this space.

That said, the expectation is that there is unlikely to be any new major developments in Australia now with a green star rating of less than 5. Water pressures is one thing driving this issue, but for the most part, major tenants are willing to pay more for a green star rated office in Australia, because it offers them better productivity, better employee attraction and retention and lowers their overall costs.

For more information on the Australian Green Star Building Rating you can go to www.gbcaus.org you can find the background articles on Daniel Grollo’s comments here ( 1 and 2 )


Nick Bruse runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts the cleantech show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Honeymooning in Costa Rica – The Home of Carbon Neutrality

I’m taking this week off for my honeymoon in Costa Rica. I think it’s quite an appropriate place to take a honeymoon if you work in the effort to fight global warming – as I’ve stated before, we are working on a venture to use software to cut the cost and increase the transparency of carbon offsets.

Among its initiatives to drive its ecotourism and lead the world – Costa Rica is working to become the first carbon neutral nation.

I had a chance to listen recently to a presentation by Bob Epstein, the founder of E2, which is connected with the National Resources Defense Council – on Costa Rica’s efforts. By the way, if you are an executive seriously interested in the enviroment – joining E2 should be a priority.

The NRDC and E2 have also done some work laying out how that path to carbon neutrality would look. Their core arguments and primary recommendations are fascinating when you think of applying the concept of carbon neutrality on a national scale beyond a small case study like Costa Rica.

Beyond the continued reforestation which makes up a significant reduction in Costa Rica’s greenhouse gas footprint, The NRDC proposal emphasized four areas of needed progress:

  • “Increasing energy efficiency
  • Raising fuel economy and promoting plug-in hybrids
  • Encouraging productions of biofuels and biomass for electricity
  • Improving public transport”

The press release and full report is available here.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Media Buy-outs Going Green

Green and clean media is going through a flurry of activity right now. And while still small as media companies go – just wait.

A few of the notable deals:

  • Just announced yesterday: The Cleantech Group, who popularized the term cleantech as an investment class, acquired Inside Greentech, an emerging media outlet for the green sector, for an undisclosed amount. Both of these businesses are run by friends of mine – and make for a great hook up. We did a blog in July on “Cleantech vs Greentech” that proved to be a bit prescient, it now seems. The inside scoop on this deal from a chat I had with my friend Dallas Kachan, the publisher and founder of Inside Greentech “Inside Greentech is already the most widely-read trade publication covering daily business and technology developments in cleantech. As Cleantech.com, we will become the highest profile, go-to media platform for cleantech-related developments.”
  • Leading green blog portal Treehugger was acquired by Discovery Channel just a few weeks ago. The deal metrics were rumored to be a $10 mm purchase price for a 1.4 mm hit/month site. This deal got a tremendous amount of press – and helps anchor the feeling that mainstream media deals and cleantech title launches are not far away.
  • Lightspeed Ventures and Northpoint Private Equity recently backed the launch of Greentech Media, including the acquisition of the cleantech focused Venture Power Newsletter – popular in the venture capital sector.
  • And while I can’t say who, there are a couple of other big names in the sector with deals in the works.

Before Dallas Kachan and I finished our chat, I asked him what we should expect from all of this – his short answer was that as the cleantech sector continues to explode the big media names are going to take notice.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

PG&E’s Clean Fleet and Visionary Future

By John Addison (8/21/07). Years ago, you only had one choice for your telephone service – AT&T. Now you have a variety of choices from landline, wireless, cable, and Internet providers. Years ago, gasoline was your only fuel choice. Now you have a number of fuel and electric choices. In the future, your favorite provider may be your electric and gas utility.

PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – (NYSE: PCG) provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase its services as we continue the shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion and alternate fuels.

When I met with a number of PG&E managers, Sven Thesen traveled from his Palo Alto home via bicycle and train, leaving his personal plug-in hybrid at home. Another traveled from his Alameda home via bicycle and ferry. Others used low-emission CNG and hybrid vehicles. The people managing PG&E’s clean transportation programs practice what they preach.

This article looks how PG&E runs a clean fleet, new programs for customers, and the exciting future potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Largest CNG Fleet in USA

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,300 natural gas vehicles — the largest of its kind in the United States. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. PG&E also has the largest fleet of Honda (HMC) Civic GX CNG cars.

Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced more than 3.4 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

For any utility, Class 6/7 service trucks often need to idle their large diesel engines for hours in order to run heavy lifts and other equipment. As new lines are installed, customers complain of the vehicle noise keeping them awake at night. The maintenance crew is often forced to stop and start the engine so that they can shout between the ground person and the one in the air. The hybrid truck is especially valuable in neighborhoods with noise restriction laws.

Last week, I reviewed PG&E’s new hybrid service truck which already had over 6,000 miles of operation. Efrain Ornelas demonstrated the heavy lift and other accessories operating electrically with the engine off. In service, the vehicle is reducing diesel fuel use a dramatic 55% through regenerative braking on road, and engine-off electric operation during stationary work. The vehicle even included both 110 and 208V outlets for power tools.

At $3.00 per gallon for fuel, the potential savings ranges from $4,500 to $5,500 a year per vehicle. Each hybrid truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions an estimated two tons per year.

In addition to the dramatic diesel fuel savings, PG&E further reduces petroleum use and emissions by using B20 biodiesel. PG&E is increasing using B20 biodiesel with its entire diesel fleet.

“Hybrid-electric trucks are promising because of their potential to significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuel and help keep California’s air clean,” said Jill Egbert, manager, clean air transportation, PG&E. “We hope our involvement will lead to the accelerated development and mainstream acceptance of hybrids in our industry.”

PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions.

PG&E sees a similar opportunity to save with its Class 5 trouble trucks. For this truck, PG&E partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities to conduct a plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road.

Cleaner Electricity

Some people are concerned that a shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will not reduce global warming. These people point to coal power plants producing electricity that goes into the vehicles. Because electric drive systems are typically 300% more efficient than gasoline engines, major emission reductions are achieved even from coal generated electricity.

PG&E provides much greater benefit, because it is eliminating coal power from its power mix. As a customer, my latest PG&E bill showed a reduction of coal from 38 to 2% of the power mix. In 2007, energy from RPS-eligible renewables is increasing to 12% of the delivered power mix, from 5% in 2005. Natural gas is 43%, nuclear 23%, and large hydroelectric is 17%.

By 2010, 20% of PG&E delivered electricity will be from clean renewable energy. A big part of the increase will be 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world.

PG&E is also expanding its use of wind, geothermal, large solar PV, and biomass energy.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen Stations

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, for its own fleet and more than 200 commercial and private fleets. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets. PG&E Clean Air Transportation Program

In addition, construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is scheduled to begin. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas.

PG&E makes daily use of three Mercedes hydrogen fuel cell (F-Cell) vehicles. A variety of PG&E employees drive the vehicles including, fleet mechanics, inspectors, service planning representatives, project managers and officers.

Vehicle-to-Grid

A compelling idea for the future is to charge electric vehicles at night when electricity is cheap, and then buy the electricity from vehicles during peak hours. Some electric vehicles store enough electricity to power 50 homes. Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G. The Prius included a 9kWh plug-in kit from EnergyCS using Li-Ion batteries. A Sonny Boy power inverter, common in solar power installations, was used.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

With smart grid technology, customers could simply plug-in their vehicles to 110 volt outlets. At idle low-cost hours the vehicle would be timed to recharge. At peak hours, customers could agree to let the utility buy electricity at premium rates. In the future, expensive and polluting stand-by peaking generators could be eliminated with smart grid technology and V2G.

Leading the way to clean electricity and cleaner transportation are corporations like PG&E. In their own fleet they are proving that alt-fuels and electric drive systems can save money and emissions. As the technologies are proven, PG&E gives customers new ways to secure clean fuels and electric power.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

De-Reg Do-Over

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the 1990’s, electricity deregulation was the next big thing. By separating generation and retailing from the natural monopoly wires businesses (transmission and distribution), competition could be spawned in wholesale and retail electricity markets, thereby unleashing long-repressed efficiencies and innovation in the production and sale of electricity products and services. Deregulation had previously produced major benefits in a number of other economic sectors, such as natural gas, telecommunications and airlines — why not electricity?

Seizing on such optimism, a number of states — including California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Ohio — took significant steps to “deregulate” their electricity sectors. I use quotes because, in many of these cases, important regulatory constraints remained in place.

In theory, deregulation ought to have aided the emergence of clean technologies in the electricity sector. Alas, as a general statement, such promising hopes have not come to pass.

Of all the states that implemented deregulation, only Texas, arguably, has achieved some degree of success with their electricity deregulation initiative. For the other states, the results of deregulation have been generally disappointing: a lack of true competition, the potential for collusion, few new entrants, little innovation, and (most visibly) increasing energy prices.

Now, not all of the ails experienced in these states can be traced to bad deregulation. For instance, increasing natural gas prices caused by secular shifts in its supply-demand balance would have inevitably led to higher electricity prices in many states, deregulation or not.

Nevertheless, hindsight is always 20-20, and in the case of electricity deregulation, the failure of deregulation has become pretty clear: many of the approaches that were pursued to create competitive marketplaces were fundamentally flawed.

In the past several years, regulators in many states around the country have been busily working to clean up the messes produced by wayward deregulation efforts. California was the first to attempt electricity deregulation in 1998 — and was the first to try to “stuff the genie back into the bottle” in 2002.

Just a few weeks ago, Illinois has been the latest to reverse course, with a broad electricity reform legislation that combines an aggressive renewable portfolio standard, a significant commitment to energy efficiency, and the creation of a state-run energy procurement authority to obtain competitive generation prices and enable low-cost financing of new generation capacity.

Now the road show (some would say “circus”) associated with deregulation clean-up moves to Ohio.

Ohio passed its deregulation bill in 1999, and for various reasons, it failed to produce any meaningful competition among generation suppliers or among retailers. When natural gas prices soared in 2004, wholesale electricity prices in Ohio also went skyward — even though the costs of Ohio generation didn’t rise materially, given that virtually all generation in Ohio is coal (87%) or nuclear (12%) based — because the neighboring power markets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are generally set by natural gas generation. In short, Ohio customers faced far-higher electricity prices, but no competitive options. Other than Ohio’s utilities, who now operated unregulated monopolies, everyone was highly dissatisfied with deregulation.

Band-aids in the form of “rate stabilization plans” were quickly applied a few years ago, but these plans expire at the end of 2008. Thus, Ohio needs to take another bite at the apple, now, in order to set its post-2008 electricity market rules and structures.

The Strickland Administration is due to release its comprehensive plan for electricity by the end of August. Although under tight wraps, this plan is said to include (among other things) an advanced energy portfolio standard that will create a market for new renewable energy projects in Ohio. Hopefully, the portfolio standard will include a section for increasing energy efficiency requirements as well. In the likelihood of a carbon-constrained world — and given Ohio’s (1) inefficient consumption infrastructure and (2) undiversified generation mix — a portfolio standard seems more than just prudent, but essential.

In the meanwhile, many other parties are offering their proposals for how to move forward. FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) recently filed a proposal with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in which it proposes a rolling set of auctions to acquire a variety of tranches of generation, including renewable energy, to supply its retail customers.

In Ohio, it’s bound to be a busy autumn for electricity regulation. Stay tuned. And, in support of cleantech, keep your fingers crossed that Ohio finally gets a portfolio standard, which 25 other states already have. If Ohio moves promptly, it still has a chance of being 3rd quartile!

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Flash, Reforestation, ED

by Frank Ling

Memory Revolution

Here’s another example of nanotechnology contributing to energy efficiency. Through improved ability to manufacture memory, flash is starting to replace traditional hard drive applications.

Hank Green at EcoGeek writes:

“There’s a lot of reasons to herald the dawn of flash-based hard drives. They’re faster, smaller, silent and, of course, tremendously more energy efficient. The difference between a traditional hard drive and a flash drive is roughly the difference between an incandescent light and a compact fluorescent light.”

Still, isn’t the brain the most energy efficient means of storing information or is it DNA?

Forest Better than Biofuels?

Just as biofuels are becoming accepted, more evidence is coming in that their overall effects on emissions and the environment is negative. One recent study shows that reforestation is much more effective at offsetting CO2 than biofuel production.

Jeremy Elton Jacquot writes in Treehuggger:

“Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust and Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds estimhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifated that the initial cutting down of forests to plant more food crops, like corn and sugarcane, would release as much as 100 – 200 tons of carbon per hectare. “

Endocrine Disruption

Back when I was a chemist, I used to play around with exotic compounds like phthalates, which are used in plastics and cosmetics. Though touted as safe in commercial products, they are also recognized as being absorbed into humans, causing endocrine disruptions.

In this week’s Gristmill, Theo Colborn writes:

“Endocrine disruption should be right at the top of the list of most critical technological disasters facing the world today, up with climate change. With little notice, vast volumes and combinations of synthetic chemicals have settled in every environment in the world, including the womb environment.”

No more sniffing chemicals for me! 🙂

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Rising Solar Prices – Where is the Shakeout?

18 months ago I did an article on rising solar prices threatening the industry, and I think it’s time to revisit some of those thoughts.

“One of the most disturbing things about the solar industry, the rising star of cleantech, has been its recent rising prices. According to the SolarBuzz.com survey, module prices are up close to 7% in the US this last year, after years of falling.

The main culprits according to most solar watchers are a combination of:

  • High demand driven in large part by the US state and German subsidy programs
  • Tight supply on module capacity
  • Tight supply on silicon capacity

The first issue here is that rising solar module prices threaten the viability of the industry, at a time when it is gaining momentum and trying to reach critical mass. Worse, almost every manufacturer of solar modules is increasing capacity trying to take advantage of the industry growth. As a result, we think the industry may be in for a rude awakening if that capacity increase begins to outstrip demand, or if key subsidy programs underpinning growth falter for political reasons.

The businesses most at risk are the young technology developers, who are spending significant equity dollars on technology development and building to a critical manufacturing and sales base. These are the businesses that the VC community is funding at a tremendous rate. These aren’t businesses that are throwing off tremendous amounts of cashflow to weather a storm.

One concern, if the market does turn down, the major Japanese, European, and oil company solar manufacturers are likely to lower prices to keep their factories full, and really hurt the smaller businesses. Keep in mind, if you launched a solar business 5-10 years ago, reaching a 20 MW plant would put you in the top 20 manufacturers. With that same launch today, looking ahead five years to when your technology is commercialized, you will have to hit perhaps 50-100 MW of capacity to be an elite player. That’s a big difference that I don’t think the investment community has understood yet. “

I thought now was a good time to rethink some of those conclusions, given all the recent news in the solar energy sector, and add a few new thoughts:

  • I still believe a silicon price reversion to the mean is coming, and a shakeout with it whose winners are the lowest cost and highest capacity providers.
  • Young technology developers are still the most at risk from this.
  • We have since written about Applied Material’s (NYSE:AMAT) entry into solar and the potential for the double junction tandem cells – which are really hybrid thin film/advanced silicon cells. I think this technology, along with dramatically increased industry capacity, and First Solar’s low cost advance into the sector, is moving the bar for new entrants.
  • So perhaps I was off on my expected timing. And perhaps a coming shakeout will be even more drastic. Or maybe I’m dead wrong and the whole industry will keep growing with no business cycles to worry about. You decide what you want to believe.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

When it Comes to Solar – Lest We Forget

I saw a news article recently on the space walk to do repair and relocation on solar photovoltaic array on the International Space Station.
It reminded me to keep in perspective a bit of energy history. The US basically invented the solar industry to help power the space race. And the industry grew out of that to become a possible solution in the first energy crisis (though still way too early and way too expensive at the time). And we helped keep the industry alive post energy crisis with our off grid market and federal R&D funding.
Now that costs have fallen precipitously, and a wide range of major companies from Sharp and BP to Applied Materials and IBM are in the business to drive costs to the magical grid parity (Cleantech Blog has blogged about this numerous times), it is disappointing to see that the US leadership has fallen victim to stronger government support in newer national entrants like Japan and Germany (which combined have a solar market some 7x larger than ours) who major subsidy programs in place roughly 15 and 5 years ago respectively.

I think it is fair to say that we are not going to regain our leadership in the crystalline silicon end of the business, though perhaps we can make a dent. So perhaps we must look to the growth of thin film technology for our leadership. But there are bright spots on that front.
  • First Solar – Far and away the market leader on size and cost in thin film today with Cadmium Telluride based technology. Location: Arizona/Ohio
  • Energy Conversion Devices – Long-time market leader in flexible thin film amorphous silicon. Location: Michigan
  • Applied Materials – Massive market share in equipment for hybrid thin film/silicon tandem cells which could hammer the crystalline PV business when they hit the market over the next few years. Location: Silicon Valley/Germany and beyond.
  • Silicon Valley – Hundreds of millions of venture capital investment is pumping in to back amorphous silicon and CIGS technology start ups. Some of them will crack the nut, too.
As usual, when it comes to new technologies and reinventing business – we’ll be leading the way. Let’s not give it up this time.
Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Lithium Battery Delays and Advancements

By John Addison (8/13/07). Toyota Prius enthusiasts may now be forced to wait until 2011 to order a Prius with lithium batteries. It was hoped that the shift to these batteries would give hybrids better miles per gallon and accelerate the availability of a plug-in hybrid sold and warrantied by a major auto maker.

There could be several reasons for the delay. One is that lithium batteries continue to be more expensive than the nickel metal hydride batteries that Toyota now uses. Another is concern about bad press from even a single incident of a thermal runaway. Apparently Toyota in its JV with Panasonic is developing lithium cobalt oxide battery chemistry. A similar chemistry caused some Sony laptops to catch fire.

Warranty requirements of 150,000 miles are a big hurdle, especially in a plug-in hybrid which makes far greater demands on the battery stack than a conventional hybrid.

Toyota (TM) did provide significant encouragement with the announcement that it is demonstrating ten plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and plans to follow with commercial sales. The new Toyota with its NiMH battery pack and has an all-electric range of only 13 kilometers (8 miles) and a maximum speed of only 100 km/h (62 mph) in electric-only mode. Green Car Congress

Eight of the new Toyota PHEV will be demonstrated in Japan. Two will be demonstrated in California, which may currently be the world’s biggest market for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and freeway speed electric vehicles. California ZEV Program

Toyota’s delays with lithium batteries give General Motors the opportunity to be first. GM plans to sell a 2010 model year Saturn VUE Green Line plug-in hybrid. GM is evaluating using the A123Systems’ nanophosphate batteries.

General Motors and A123Systems will co-develop cells with A123Systems’ nanophosphate battery chemistry for use in GM’s electric drive E-Flex system. The first car likely to use the E-Flex drive system is the Chevy Volt.

A123Systems has received venture capital investment exceeding $100 million. It has demonstrated volume manufacturing success in making over 10 million lithium nanophosphate batteries annually for Black and Decker power tools and other customer applications.

A123 has developed two Automotive Class Lithium Ion cells, the ultra high power AHR32113M1Ultra and the more energy dense AHR32157M1HD. These two cells, designed for HEV and PHEV applications offer extremely low cost per Watt and Watt-hour, respectively.

The AHR32113 uses the new Ultra electrode design, offering yet higher power over that seen in the traditional 26650M1. Alternatively, the 32157 uses a more energy dense electrode, geared for the higher energy requirements of the PHEV marketplace, while not sacrificing the power capability needed for charge-sustaining operation. A123 Battery Details

Altair Nanotechnologies (ALTI) claims double the power density of A123. At the start of the year, Altair issued the following: “On January 9, 2007, we entered into a multi-year purchase and supply agreement with Phoenix for lithium nanoTitanate battery packs to be used in electric vehicles produced by Phoenix. Contemporaneously, Phoenix placed firm purchase orders for 35KWh battery pack systems valued at $1,040,000 to be delivered in March and April of 2007 and placed an indicative blanket purchase order for up to 500 battery pack systems to be delivered during 2007 (projected value between $16 and $42 million).”

Phoenix Motorcars, a private company, announced an order for 200 electric trucks from PG&E, with the first two to be delivered by June. In my recent August meetings at PG&E, I was informed that they had not received the two trucks from Phoenix. Delivery is now expected in January 2008. PG&E stated that there is no order for 200.

During its August 9 investor conference call, Altair announced that Phoenix’s fund raising was not progressing as expected, and that projected 2007 shipments from Altair would not be reached. For Altair, one challenge will be progressing from impressive lab results to low-cost volume manufacturing. Altair lost over $5 million last quarter and only has $20 million in cash left.

The State of New York continues to evaluate converting at least 500 of its hybrids to plug-in hybrids. Electrovaya (TSX: EFL) has delivered a converted Ford Escape SUV Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Electrovaya uses its MN Series Lithium Ion SuperPolymer cells—a lithiated manganese oxide-based system. Electrovaya’s testing indicates 130 mpg for the converted PHEV. Green Car Congress

Recognizing that a 150,000 mile warranty is an obstacle to putting clean PHEV on the road, South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) ordered 30 more plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that are likely to achieve over 100 mpg with 50,000 mile warranties. Ten will be Toyota (TM) Priuses converted to PHEV by A123 Hymotion using A123 lithium batteries. 20 will be Ford (F) Escapes converted to PHEV by Quantum (QTWW) using Advanced Lithium Power batteries. AQMD Award

Tesla gives people the opportunity to drive battery electric vehicles (EV). Unlike the PHEV, the Tesla Roadster does not use a gasoline engine, it is pure electric. The Roadster is hot and pricy, starting at $92,000. In the future, Tesla plans to offer a more affordable 4-door sedan EV named WhiteStar. A secret to making a five-seat sedan electric vehicle for $50,000 will be lowering the cost of the battery stack. While major auto OEMs are betting on new lithium chemistry in larger form factors, Tesla integrates 6,831 commodity 18650-sized lithium-ion cells into the 56 kWh Energy Storage System (ESS) pack. The 18650 size is somewhat larger than an AA battery. The size is popular in a range of consumer electronics. Millions are made in high-volume, low cost manufacturing. Tesla Article

Although the road to clean transportation can be bumpy, in the future, we will have increasingly affordable PHEV and EV choices that allow us to use home and work electric power, saving fuel cost and lowering emissions.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

Goin’ Nucular

by Richard T. Stuebi

It was pouring rain last Wednesday morning, as I entered an office building near Cleveland Hopkins Airport to attend a meeting convened by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) to discuss the future of nuclear energy.

Unlike many of his peers, Senator Voinovich appears to take the issue of climate change seriously. Also unlike many of his peers, he sees an increasing reliance on nuclear energy as essential in meeting the energy and environmental challenges of the future.

The keynote speakers of this 90-minute meeting were Dennis Spurgeon (Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, DOE), Dr. Peter Lyons (Commissioner, NRC) and Adrian Heymer (Sr. Director of New Plant Development, Nuclear Energy Institute). In attendance were representatives of Ohio-based utilities with nuclear fleets AEP (NYSE: AEP) and FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE), as well as major suppliers to the nuclear industry such as locally-based Babcock & Wilcox.

The basic message from the speakers was simple: a lot of nuclear plants must be built in the coming decades, and the U.S. urgently needs to take steps to get out of the way to enable the development of these new plants. The speakers outlined the activities required to revive the industry to bring about this nuclear “renaissance”: Federal loan guarantees (at 100% of debt requirements, not 90%) for new nuclear plants, opening of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage facility, increased training and workforce development to replace retiring nuclear engineers, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), etc.

And, the speakers couldn’t reiterate enough how safety was the paramount concern. This is truly an amazing technology if everyone has to emphasize how steps will be taken to ensure disasters don’t occur. (I am reminded to recall tour of the Clinton nuclear plant in Illinois in the early 1990’s, at which point about 200 of the 1100 site employees — almost 20% of staffing! — were dedicated to security, preventing people from doing the wrong things. I can’t think of another technology that requires so many band-aids to mitigate perverse effects. Hard to imagine any private investor wanting a piece of that cost structure.)

In the open discussion that followed the speakers’ remarks, I had the temerity to question the wisdom of furthering our bet on the uranium-fission cycle as the basic technological platform for nuclear power production in the future.

While I admitted that the current nuclear fleet was an important contributor to the energy mix that we can’t afford to prematurely retire, and I conceded that some new nuclear plants of more-or-less conventional technologies may be necessary as a stop-gap measure for a few years, I also submitted that other fission cycles — certainly including thorium, maybe others as well — ought to be explored much more thoroughly, so as to create the possibility of a new and much better generation of nuclear plants offering more than just incremental improvements.

This is because, in my view, uranium fission suffers from three unavoidable pitfalls:

1. Uranium supplies are hardly infinite themselves, and have a significant concentration in places like Russia that we ought to prefer NOT to rely upon for precious commodities.

2. Uranium fission creates sizable quantities of transuranic wastes of extreme toxicity and half-lives measured in the thousands of years.

3. Uranium fission makes for excellent bombs — not only nuclear explosions, but also dirty residues — that would be highly prized by terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells.

I’ve been told by credible sources that fission from thorium essentially obviates each of these fundamental challenges. Relative to uranium, there are orders of magnitude more thorium in the earth’s crust, and it is widely distributed. Thorium fission produces wastes with much lower toxicity and much shorter half-lives (a few hundred years), in much lower quantities to boot. And, thorium doesn’t have a positive gradient that facilitates run-away fission that leads to explosions. These all sound like attractive attributes to me, worthy of a lot more exploration.

Alas, the nuclear experts at the meeting pooh-poohed thorium and defended uranium. They said that never had any uranium been used by bad guys to make a bomb. (You mean, Yet?) They said that the GNEP would create an effective international pact to prevent nuclear materials from getting into the hands of enemies. (Oh, really?) They said that there was plenty of uranium for the next generation of nuclear plants. (And then what?) They said that the GNEP would dramatically reduce the amount of long-lived nuclear wastes from future uranium fission facilities. (For tens of billions of dollars — what a bargain!)

Ultimately, I was not reassured by the views of the uranium fission advocates. To paraphrase Shakespeare, they doth defend too much. And, note that the nuclear industry is the not-so-pretty offspring of the military-industrial-Oedipal complex of the 1950’s.

It is hard to think of a less-credible set of proponents than those who carry the combined DNA of the defense and electric utility sectors, niether of which is particularly famous for a commitment to the truth in the light of established facts. Their mantra has often been: “Trust us.” I’m typically not paranoid, but in this case, I am very skeptical indeed.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

The love and hate relationship with platform technologies

by Nick Bruse

One of the terms that is used to describe companies every so often is the word “platform technology”. Companies who have been labelled as “platform technology” companies invariably fall into two camps. Those which all the investment community easily understand the technology and it has applications that they all can visualise – and hence they want to throw money at. Secondly those that they don’t really get the potentially for the applications and brand as “complicated” or “no clear business model” or “Not focused”

Recently I interviewed David Forder from TAG Technology, which is a platform technology company. Their product, or their additive ( an often even scarier term for investors) has applications in over 25markets that they have identified so far. Now its been several years to get their product to the stage at which it is now, and David tells me has taken some committed Investors who have stuck with them for the long run. But it hasn’t been a case of money being thrown at them… but now they are getting some attention.

The interesting thing about Thermally Active Granules (TAG) technology is that when applied to buildings in the form of a paint additive can reduce the heat flow by 15% which results in up to 7 degrees warmer/cooler. You can apply it on the outside of the building to keep it cool, or paint it on the inside to keep it warm. Oh and it can be added to windows also to reduce heat flow.

It can be impregnated into candy bar wrappers or food packaging and reduce refrigeration costs, and can even be added into fast food packaging to keep your fries hotter and your soda cooler.

The other neat thing is when applied to power lines in the form a clear coating it can reduce the line temperature by 25% or from 100C down 75degree. This in turn reduces the resistance, in turn reducing the power losses form the line by 10% or more.

It really starts to sound interesting doesn’t it? We’ll I heartily commend David and his Team on this platform technology – and for sticking with it. This is one platform technology we should be thankful for someone having the innovation to produce. If you would like to hear more from David about the technology you can tune into the interview on The Cleantech Show here.

If anyone has any other Cleantech Platform Technologies they would like to commend – please shoot us some comments.


Nick Bruse runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts the cleantech show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Payback

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

A $517.47 invoice for the installation of a rented 120 gallon propane tank arrived with disturbing alacrity. The service person had done an excellent job digging a trench, drilling the hole through the house wall, installing the (unobtrusively brown) regulator, connecting the gas line to the new on-demand water heater and explaining the multiple shut-off valves. For this stellar install, I am appreciative (whopper bill aside). The propane tank invoice trailed the $999 cost of the water heater itself. The cost of labor to install the latter is a bit murky, since “the guys” (The Balsam Group) did the install in stages, coordinating it with the replacement of all the copper plumbing with PEX.

There is no way I will ever see payback for replacing an old, leaky electric water heater tank with this on-demand system, no matter how energy efficient the new system. I’ve run the numbers through building modeling software. It won’t happen, no matter how much I play with the future price of propane and electricity or combine the system with energy-efficient air sealant measures that do have positive payback.

This scenario with the domestic hot water heater gets me thinking some more about marketing and selling energy efficiency to homeowners, so I had a chat with Bob Knight of Bevilacqua-Knight, Inc. in California.

Bob forwarded a 2006 paper that he and Lutzenhiser Associates wrote for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE): “Why Comprehensive Residential Energy Efficiency Retrofits are Undervalued.” In this paper, he and Lutzenhiser discuss comprehensive “whole house” residential retrofit programs, not single measures like my hot water heater, and they focus on California’s utility metrics for cost/benefit analysis; nonetheless, their arguments are relevant to my musings, my shrinking bank account, and the (very) satisfied feeling I get when I turn on a hot water faucet.

“In California law, the funding for energy efficiency programs must be justified solely by energy supply savings. The result is a systematic undercounting of the actual value of any programs that generate significant non-energy benefits, and particularly those NEBs realized by the participating homeowners, including examples such as comfort, health, safety, home durability and value, and environmental consciousness — for which the homeowners demonstrate their support by voluntarily paying more than can be justified solely by energy savings…

“The viewpoint of the buyer, moreover, has been largely ignored in the existing tests despite the fact that the buyer’s judgment of the the full set of benefits — rather than only energy savings — of a project determines whether that project is to be done or not…

“Classical economic theory holds that rational choices are made among bundles of goods on the basis of the value or utility that they promise. The uses of technologies determine their values to persons and influence what the technologies ought to cost in the marketplace. Other social scientists have elaborated this model by reference to how individuals perceive in different ways what they value, and how the actions and opinions of others influence perceptions (e.g., regarding style, status, and so on). So when an individual makes a significant choice regarding their home, they consider how well the new refrigerator will preserve their favorite foods, how it will fit in to their decor, and what it will contribute to their standing (in their own eyes and those of others). The same is true of a new dishwasher, washer/dryer, bathroom remodel, window replacement, or major addition. These things all cost money, and are imagined to return value and utility along a variety of dimensions. They have energy efficiency implications — which are sometimes actually taken into account. However, they are not processes that can be captured in the energy accounting schemes of supply-side avoided cost.”

Bevilacqua-Knight and Lutzenhiser discuss a small-sample survey that supports the importance of homeowners’ NEB motivations for expensive home performance (“whole house”) retrofits. “The survey included a battery of carefully structured questions to elicit information on the relative strengths of a list of possible motivations.” It found that “as much as three-fourths of the average (surveyed) buyer’s motivation arose from the desire to gain combinations of the non-energy benefits, with something like the remaining quarter possibly attributable to energy cost savings.”

“While the motivation to ‘reduce energy bills’ was frequently reported, it was far from the only reason given. Certainly, homeowners hope for some bill reduction if they are paying for energy-savings measures and higher efficiency equipment. However, other sources of value and utility are clearly the dominant rationale. Persons were clearly engaged in upkeep (e.g., replacing poorly-functioning equipment) and buying comfort, convenience, cleanliness, and a sense of doing the right thing (e.g., being efficient in energy and resource usage). In many cases, (about 40%) bill reduction was not mentioned at all among the ‘top three very important reasons’ to purchase home testing and retrofits.”

The Director of Efficiency Maine, Denis Bergeron, told me recently that he works in a building full of people (the Public Utility Commission) whose daily activities are predicated on rational economic choices, but that the world and homeowners are not rational in the same way.

Nope, we aren’t. When asking people to cough up major dough for energy efficiency home improvements that may or may not have financial payback, simply marketing the energy component of the improvement won’t cut it. But marketing non-energy benefits, if positioned well, will.


Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Plan C

by Richard T. Stuebi

I have a great deal of respect for Matthew Simmons, founder of the energy investment bank Simmons & Company International. Simmons is a frequent speaker, and one of his most often-quoted lines is that, when it comes to the possibility of declining oil production in the near-future, “There is no Plan B.”

Late last year, a non-profit organization from Southern Ohio named The Community Solution wrote a white paper in which they described a so-called “Plan B”. In their Plan B, new technologies are pursued aggressively in the vision of enabling society to transition to an alternative energy future. This presumably would represent the majority view of the clean-tech community, including the readers of this blog.

According to The Community Solution, the fly in the ointment is that Plan B only slightly slows the inexorable path to human extinction implied by “Plan A” (status quo consumption). The Community Solution essentially argues that Plan B is unsustainable, that Plan B still implies too much consumption of resources for the planet to bear forever.

For The Community Solution, the only true path of enduring sustainability comes with “Plan C”, what they call “Curtailment and Community.” Much lower consumption of all resources, much more local economic and social interaction.

In a video, The Community Solution points to Cuba as an example of how Plan C can work. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Cuba no longer had its industrial and economic benefactor, and oil import quantities fell by more than 50%. Out of necessity — some might say desperation — agriculture, commerce and transportation all had to be reinvented on the fly to cope with a dramatic curtailment in energy resources.

In my view, Cuba has many fine things to recommend it: food, music and cigars come to mind. However, economic policy under the Castro regime is not one of Cuba’s long suits. It is doubtful that the average American will be impressed by Cuba’s energy “revolution” in the past decade and say, “Gee, that’s wonderful — I’d like for that to happen here.”

Selling Plan C to the U.S. seems pretty much like a lost cause to me, and in any event I don’t think Plan B is necessarily as doomsday as The Community Solution portrays it. Although I agree that we’re far too materialistic and our society would benefit from more modest values, I do not endorse Plan C, and instead I vote for Plan B. What do you think?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Sustainable Snobbery, Curry, Wind Tower

by Frank Ling

My Sustainability is Greener Than Your Sustainability

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says that people are motivated by a sense of importance. For many people that means gaining status.

Now that green is entering the mainstream, it is also a status symbol among a growing segment of the population. Should we be concerned with what Helen Priest from Meridian Energy calls “conspicuous sustainability”?

On CNET’s Green Tech Blog, Neal Dikeman observes that the notion of sustainability is being driven by the need to be cool.

“Nouveau riche tech execs out here in Silicon Valley put ultraclean, and even more, ultraexpensive, solar power on their roofs. Buckingham Palace offsets the carbon footprint of the Queen’s recent trip to the United States. Dell has Plant a Tree for Me Program, which I used when I bought a new Dell last month. There is an exponentially increasing number of examples of consumerism driving green.”

But is this good or bad? Back in the 20th Century and even before that, economist Thorstein Veblen described the rush to accumulate wealth as “conspicuous consumption”, which he thought to be evil.

Mr. Dikeman cautions “for green tech and the environmental movement, is conspicuous sustainability a good one?”

So, did anyone hear about the fake solar panels in Japan?

Keep it real. 🙂

Chew on This

Who could have thought that food chemistry could play such an appetizing role for plastics? The Japanese have found a way to incorporate one of the main ingredients of curry into biodegradable plastic.

Japan for Sustainability notes that

“curcumin, a plant-based yellow colorant, is highly compatible with biodegradable plastic and has appropriate colorfastness and mechanical strength properties. It has also been proved that curcumin does not harm human health even when it comes in contact with the mouth, making it applicable to food packages, processing equipment and toys. Curcumin can color biodegradable plastics not only yellow, but also bright red, blue, etc.”

Now if only we could eat the plastic… 🙂

Castle House

Putting wind turbines on the top of skyscrapers may be becoming reality.

In this week’s EcoGeek, Hank Green writes about a proposed high-rise that will get its power from wind.

“Take up residence in the Castle House, a proposed London Skyscraper, and you’ll find yourself paying as much as 40% less on power, as the building will be generating most of it for you. The building is designed to aerodynamically channel wind through the three nine meter turbines that sit on top of the 43 story building. “

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

"Buy Wind Power, It’s a Breeze"

by Heather Rae (8/1/07)

The Natural Resource Council of Maine (NRCM) sponsored a tour of the Mars Hill wind farm this past Saturday. I went along to represent Maine Interfaith Power & Light (MeIPL) and to talk about Wind Watts, the renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated by the 28 turbine, 42MW project. MeIPL is the primary reseller of RECs from Mars Hill.

A group of about 30 made the trek by bus to the Big Rock Ski Area which sits below the project at the Canadian border. (The Boston Globe covered the trip.) We heard from a number of people involved in bringing the project to life. Dave Cowan, VP of Environmental Affairs for UPC Wind Management, the developer of Mars Hill, answered questions including the usual ones about bird kill and noise. Pat DeFillip, Project Manager for Reed & Reed which constructed the project — with Maine labor — showed pictures of the construction in all its phases. Ryan Fonbuena, a UPC technical manager originally from California, enlivened the crowd with a broad youthful smile, considerable technical knowledge, and a necklace of white shells (he’s been working on a Hawaii project as well).

The Mars Hill 1.5MW GE wind turbines are awesome by its most positive definition: breathtaking, formidable, stunning, wondrous, majestic. Try as I might, I cannot see them in any other way.

We heard from people in the community: a landowner who has multiple turbines on his property and wants to retail products oriented around the wind farm; a real estate agent who sees no decline in property values as a result of the wind farm; proprietors of a hotel; the town manager; the manager of Big Rock Ski Area. All were open and frank about the reasons for the complaints from a few vocal members of the community. Our group repeatedly asked, “is that the noise they don’t like?” expressing concern for the community and trying to get their heads around the complaints. One resident said he believes the opposition to the turbines is one of aesthetics and that leads to all the other complaints…which, he believes, are dying down. He also noted that he received his property tax bill; it’s $200 lower because of the money put into the town by the project.

At the end of a long day, as a thunderstorm moved in, I spoke about Wind Watts. I’m not fully comfortable with RECs for the many reasons that others like Richard Stuebi have written in this blog. However, Wind Watts I can pitch with equanimity, particularly after talking about how the Interfaith Power & Light organization came into being and why it exists: it’s a moral calling to support the planet and people with clean energy. It’s a faith-based response to climate change. Here’s this wondrous project, I could say with a swoop of the arm across the ridgeline and slowly spinning turbines. You’ve met the construction company and the developers, I could say, looking right at Ryan Fonbuena of UPC. You’ve heard what it means to the community, catching the sparkling and proud eye of the Big Rock Ski Area manager. Buy these RECs and you will support this project and encourage others like it.

I stumble in talking about RECs when they become entangled with carbon offsets, as if buying RECs to offset carbon emissions is the only reason to buy them. So I didn’t go there. I didn’t have to. The first question from the group was, ‘isn’t buying RECs simply a way for some people to go about their lives without making any changes, so they don’t have to feel guilty?’ This business of assuaging climate change guilt with RECS (like the business of bird kill and noise) is mass media at work. After a brief group chuckle around guilt, Dylan Voorhees, Energy Project Director for NRCM, explained the whole black electron, green electron, green attribute/REC thinking. I’ve been hearing this explanation for years and I’ll buy into it — so long as new wind is more expensive to build than the alternatives. Before carbon became all the rage, I could talk about RECs for what they are: financial mechanisms to encourage development of clean energy. To jump on the carbon offset marketing bandwagon for RECs is, I believe, limiting. And darn confusing.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.