The Wright Way to the Electric Car

As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about electric vehicles. Last Friday Ian Wright and I spent a couple of hours around my conference table discussing our philosophies on electric cars. Ian knows something about this topic, as he was formerly an executive at EV startup Tesla Motors, and is now the founder and CEO of Wrightspeed, a Silicon Valley based startup whose first car is going to be a high performance electric supercar, price tag just shy of $200K. And as it’s electric, Ian expects it should outstart, outrun, outturn, and generally outperform anything in its class.

While it has been a hot topic recently in the cleantech sector, I am known among my friends as being a real skeptic when it comes to EVs, but behind Ian’s business plan he got my attention with two ideas that are worth repeating: payback and plug-ins.

First, Ian doesn’t care about gas mileage per se – he cares about performance, power, and most importantly, payback. Focus on the vehicles actually burning the most gas, irrespective of fuel efficiency. That is, instead of making tiny, compact, fuel efficient target cars more efficient with EV and hybrid technology – focus on the gas guzzlers. Ian’s point is well taken. A small, fuel efficient car that gets 35 mpg and drives a typical 12,500 miles per year only uses about 350 gallons per year. A large pickup truck that gets 12 miles to the gallon uses over 1,000 gallons for the same mileage – nearly 3x as much. And if that truck is a work truck driven 25,000 miles per year, it would use over 2,000 gallons of fuel per year, nearly 6x the little car. That truck owner may spend upwards of $50K in fuel over its life, where the commuter car owner may spend a small fraction of that.

When I asked him for comments on my example Ian added: “The special case of congested city driving might be worth mentioning, since everyone thinks a lot of fuel is wasted there. But if you drive a Prius 10 hours/week in congested city traffic, it’s only about 150 gallons/year! Not much point in trying to improve on the Prius for that use. (The arithmetic: congested traffic is defined as 12mph average; 10 hours/week would be 120 miles/ week, or 6240 miles/year. The Prius shines in this application, getting maybe 40mpg, so 156 gallons/year.)”

Putting expensive hybrid and EV technology in the small car not only has a worse financial payback – compounding the perennial problem of EVs being too costly, but the same 20% efficiency improvement does very little to reduce overall fuel consumption for society compared to the same efficiency gains in a big truck that drives a heck of lot of miles.

So Ian asks, if we want to both find a way to save car owners money, AND save the world – wouldn’t we focus on applying technology to where the problem is the worst and the returns are the best?

When Ian looked at the automotive landscape and asked the question, where is the most fuel being burned, and how do we reduce that with technology? The answer? Performance cars and big work trucks. Not surprisingly, these are his target markets.

And why are high performance vehicles like sports cars and Ford F350s so fuel inefficient anyway? Take this as an example answer. If you need a big truck to have lots of power for short periods of time (for instance, in towing), then the truck engine and systems have to be sized to deliver the maximum power. But anytime you’re not using all that power (ie, most of the time), the truck is usually running well below its optimum – and burning lots of fuel for no extra gain. It’s the same rationale for a sports car designed to run optimally at 90 mph, which performs worse at the average driver’s speed of 50- 60 mph.

Ian’s more detailed explanation to me put it very elegantly: “Roughly speaking gasoline engines are most efficient at wide open throttle and the rpm that gives max torque. If you try to operate a supercar at wide open throttle, it will be doing 200mph, and of course you’ll be losing most of the energy to aero drag. The ENGINE will be operating efficiently… but if you operate the car down where aero drag is reasonable – 50mph – then the engine will be operating at a few percent of rated power, and very inefficient. Why is it inefficient? The simple answer is that since the throttle is almost closed, there is almost a vacuum in the intake manifold, and the EFFECTIVE compression ratio is very low. You are trying to compress a vacuum. Engine efficiency is very dependent on compression ratio.

80 years ago, there were cars that could transport a family of 4 at 50mpg. The Austin 7 comes to mind. Engine technology has improved dramatically since the 30s, yet the best modern cars don’t do any better than the Austin 7. Why is that? One big reason is that the Austin 7 had, well, 7 horsepower (actually about 10hp – the “7” was “RAC hp”). So it was working hard most of the time. The family car that my wife drives makes 250 hp, and that’s just an average family car these days.S o if you displace the Prius with an EV, you can get maybe a 2x efficiency gain. But if you displace a high performance vehicle that operates most of the time at low power settings, you can get a 10x efficiency gain. That’s the main reason that 18 wheelers aren’t a good target. They have powerful engines, but their power/weight ratio is very low (when fully loaded) and the engines work pretty hard. So in fuel per lb mile, they are pretty good already.”

To deal with this issue, Ian isn’t all about the all electric. He’s pushing plug-in electric hybrids. Electric motors powered off of batteries charged from the wall or with an onboard diesel generator. The generator also acts as a booster for those times when extra power is required. Hybrids are really good at solving these power vs. efficiency problems, since you can essentially design a system that can optimize for either performance or efficiency much easier than a straight gas or electric engine could.

Ian’s vision also addresses one of the long running achilles’ heels of electric cars – the lack of fueling infrastructure. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it’s generally bad business to try and bet on an expensive infrastructure rollout. And if it means slower and lower uptake of fuel efficient vehicles, then calling for infrastructure change that’s not going to happen is bad for the environment, too.

That’s why I’ve been such a big fan of plug-in hybrids. We can have our cake and eat it too. It’s all about payback and plug-ins. And it’s good to see electric car gurus finally getting this message.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Utilities Ramping Up Energy Efficiency

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the early 1990’s, before deregulation, the big issue for electric utilities was demand-side management (DSM), often pursued in the context of least-cost integrated resource planning efforts, to help customers reduce energy consumption in ways that were financially beneficial to the utility as well as the customer.

Alas, with the move to competitive markets, energy efficiency largely got lost in the shuffle. Utility expenditures on DSM plummeted.

It appears that utility activism on energy efficiency has returned. Earlier this month, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade association for the electric utility industry, announced that it was creating a new institute for electricity efficiency. Last year, several utilities (and other energy industry leaders) launched a National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency. Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) is increasingly vocal about its view of energy efficiency as the “fifth fuel” — after coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables. PG&E (NYSE: PCG) runs its Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco to educate building professionals on energy efficiency technologies.

Renewables might be sexier, and in the long-run extremely important, but there’s little that offers greater impact to address our energy and environmental challenges in the near-term than energy efficiency. Thankfully, we now seem to be getting the utility industry back on-message.

Want to learn more? A good one-stop shop on energy efficiency is the aptly named American Council on an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

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.

Riding on Sunlight

By John Addison (9/20/07). Electric light rail is a popular way to whisk millions through cities with speed, ease, and minimal emissions. Per passenger mile, source-to-wheels emissions are far less than people trying to navigate busy cities in their cars. Even if there is a coal power plant supplying the electricity, the efficiency of moving masses with efficient electric drive systems results in very clean transportation.

Unfortunately, the initial capital expense of light rail prevents many worthy projects. MTA New York City is spending over $7.5 billion to extend its sub-way. Most light-rail costs over $10 million per mile.

Buses can move millions for a fraction of the cost of light-rail. Bus routes can be easily changed as cities grow, change in shape, and alter in transportation demands. Light-rail tracks are likely to be fixed for over forty years; bus routes may change annually. For most major cities, the ideal is intermodal solutions that include both bus and light-rail.

Now AC Transit in Oakland, California, is making bus travel as appealing as light-rail. Each day, over one thousand people ride on three hydrogen fuel cell buses in Oakland and in environmentally conscious Berkeley. By 2012, five thousand people daily will be riding on twelve such buses. The only emission is water vapor.

At the heart of these electric buses are Siemens electric-motors, similar to the larger motors which power electric light-rail. The motors are powered by electricity generated from 120kW fuel cells and from 95kW of batteries. The batteries are also used to capture braking and downhill energy. The batteries are recharged nightly, making these buses plug-in hybrid hydrogen fuel cell buses.

The hydrogen is made by onsite reformation of natural gas. Basically CH4 is combined with steam (H2O) to produce hydrogen. The electricity to power the reformation and the compression of the hydrogen gas is from solar power. The 150 kg/day of hydrogen is used by the three buses and up to eleven Hyundai vehicles for supervisors.

The net result is electric buses that can run hundreds of miles up 18 percent grades, and then be cleanly refueled in minutes. By 2010, the buses are likely to run 16 hours daily, up from the current eight. In five years, AC Transit is likely to buy at least seven hydrogen buses annually, staying ahead of California’s zero-emission bus mandate.

These are the most advanced buses used in the world with 40-foot Van Hool A330 bus chassis modified to accommodate UTC’s PureMotion™ 120 kW fuel cell power system and ISE’s hybrid-electric drive system. Hydrogen tanks on the roof give the bus a range of 300 to 350 miles, and batteries recharged during braking can provide an extra 95kW of power for acceleration and climbing steep grades.

HyRoad, this exciting model of public transportation, was made possible by more than $21 million of funding from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, California Transportation Commission, CalStart, Chevron Corporation, Department of Energy, and the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a preliminary report on its evaluation of AC Transit’s fleet of fuel cell buses. The report includes eight months of performance data on three fuel cell buses in service, as well as data from a fleet of diesel control buses.

AC Transit; SunPower (SPWR); MMA Renewable Ventures; and PG&E (PCG) dedicated the AC Transit’s state-of-the-art 621-kilowatt solar electric system. The system, located on AC Transit facilities in Hayward and Oakland, is expected to generate approximately 767,000 kilowatt hours of power each year.

Over the 30-year life of the system, AC Transit expects to save $5 million in utility costs as a result of the clean, renewable solar power that the system will generate. It will offset the production of more than 14.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions – equivalent to planting 2,000 acres of trees or removing 1,400 cars from California’s highways.

“AC Transit is committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and improving the quality of life for the entire region in which we operate,” said AC Transit General Manager Rick Fernandez. “While installing a solar system to power our facilities makes a great deal of financial sense, it will also provide more than enough power to offset the 189,000 kilowatt hours per year required to operate AC Transit’s hydrogen production facility, and help lower the overall amount of energy we use from conventional sources.”

Instead of spending millions to install the solar system, AC Transit arranged to pay 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour to MMA Renewable Ventures, which finances and owns AC Transit’s solar power systems under a SunPower Access™ program. “AC Transit selected an innovative financing structure to effectively meet its financial goals and environmental objectives,” said Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures. “With its forward-thinking approach and commitment to clean energy, AC Transit is demonstrating that solar power is an affordable option for public agencies concerned with reducing carbon emissions.”

“AC Transit is an environmental leader that is doing its part to address our ongoing energy challenges,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower vice president. “By generating solar power, AC Transit is reducing demand from the utility grid, reducing operating costs, and improving air quality for its community. This energy solution saves money while helping the environment.”

A large portion of the installation cost of these solar systems was covered by a $1.9 million incentive from PG&E, under California’s Self Generation Incentive Program. Through this program, PG&E can provide almost $950 million in incentives over the next 10 years to help customers buy their own solar systems.

In the past twenty years, solar power has dropped 90% in price due to technology breakthroughs and production volume. Over the next twenty years, we will see the same improvement with hydrogen transportation. Already, the hydrogen used cost AC Transit no more per mile than diesel fuel used in similar buses.

As fuel cells reach lives beyond 10,000 hours, and as costs are significantly reduced, advanced transportation like AC Transit’s HyRoad will become available worldwide. When it does, we can thank AC Transit and its partners for leading the way.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report (www.cleanfleetreport.com). September 24 to 27 he will be researching future articles at Solar Power 2007. On October 25 he will be a featured speaker at the California Hydrogen Business Council. Permission is granted to reproduce this story.

Al Gore opens FEX SIM launch – dedicated cleantech stock market

by Nick Bruse

Yesturday I had the pleasure of being present when Al Gore opened the new FEX-SIM sustainability and cleantech stock exchange in Sydney. Here’s a wrap up.

The exchange is the creation of Brian Price, whom I interviewed recently on the cleantech show during which we discussed the FEX-SIM in detail. You can listen to the show here if you didn’t catch it earlier.

The launch has been covered in a AAP news article to a degree particularly about the FEX-SIM, if you want a few more details at a glance the FEX website has a press release.

Much of what Mr Gore had to say was about the worlds past experiences and success in dealing with the global problem of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and ozone layer depletion, a future where in 25 years we may no longer have an artic sea ice in summer, and the near future and how select countries and companies are showing the way by moving quickly to deal with climate change.

He highlighted that both in Australia and in the US we are seeing significant movement amongst the state legislators and governments in driving emissions reduction targets and signing onto the Kyoto protocol limits at a state and city level. In the US he stated that 600 cities and 12 states are in the process of have done this already. In Australia state governments have moved quickly also to push an emissions trading and reduction goals.

In fact he went so far as to say that activities and the speed of change in industry, investment and policy in Australia may well allow it to regain a leadership position in this issue if it continues on this path.

He highlighted during question time that we do face significant challenges when it comes to issues of nuclear proliferation based around nuclear energy as a solution to climate problems. He highlighted that historically all cases where nuclear material has found its way into weapons program in countries have been found to be associated with nuclear energy programs.

An innocent question was asked by a young 10 year old student, there as a result of winning a school competition, which was “If you were elected to be the president of the united states in 2008, what would you do to deal with climate change.”

Mr Gore’s response was “Bless your heart” with a lot of laughter in the room, followed by, “I’m not running for president… but… if I was in that situation I would look at abolishing employment taxes and instead place taxes on pollution.” He said it was ridiculous that we live in a world where we are happy to penalise employment but not penalise pollution [including emissions]

I had the opportunity to pose a question myself, and asked Mr Gore if over the last year since he was in Australia had he come up with a dinner party ‘Zinger’ response sceptics of climate change, as posed by Andrew Denton in an interview on Enough Rope in September 2006, given we still need to move more quickly.

His response was no he didn’t have the zinger yet to convince climate sceptics but said that the challenge with climate change is “This this change is hard… really hard.. in fact its at the limits of what we as a society can do.” He went on to say that for laggards and sceptics at this stage of the process, we must lead by example, help bring them along, as the world is changing under their feet and its tough.

I’ll leave you with the quote from the end of his presentation, an old African quote, which sums up our future pretty well.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” The problem Al Gore highlighted is that we need to go quickly and far, so we must devote ourselves close to completely to this challenge.

If you want to catch the first 5 mins of his 20 minute presentation you can catch it on the FEX website

Cheers
Nick

Article posted from The Cleantech Show


Nick Bruse is 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.

In the real world, solar often gets barely a passing grade

I’m a big fan of solar power. But as with anything, I like to know exactly what I’m getting. One of the big unspoken issues in the solar sector is the difference between the rated or estimated potential output of a solar system–and the actual production of kilowatt-hours. A range of factors from the margin of error in the modules, to temperature, dust and losses from wiring, conversion to AC power and any batteries all can contribute to as much as 30 percent lower actual power production–even in the first year.

Compounding this problem in my mind is that in California only about a third to half of our solar installations are actually independently monitored, according to one of my friends at Fat Spaniel, one of the leading monitors of solar systems.

The California Energy Commission did some good thumbnail analysis of solar in the real world several years ago.

Here’s the punch line from their analysis:

“So the ‘100-watt module’ output, reduced by production tolerance, heat, dust, wiring, AC conversion and other losses will translate into about 68 watts of AC power delivered to the house panel during the middle of a clear day (100 watts x 0.95 x 0.89 x 0.93 x 0.95 x 0.90 = 68 watts).” From A Guide to Photovoltaic System Design and Installation (PDF) by the California Energy Commission. If you are interested in solar, you need to read their report.

But this 68 watts is only part of the story. If you have battery storage on the system they say it could reduce the power another 6-10 percent. They then stated that poor installation layout problems–including shading can take an additional toll. Another big issue is the angle of the roof and the direction it faces (in California, where your roof faces can affect the power output up to another 15 percent for many roofs). And interesting enough, for all the talk about making windows out of solar in what is typically described as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), a vertical installation can reduce the power output up to about half all by itself!

Their bottom line: if the system is perfectly installed under perfect conditions the best case scenario for San Francisco would be 1,724 kwh, or electricity per year for each kilowatt installed and for Los Angeles would be about 1,758. But that’s before all the “real-world” adjustments. When you make all those real-world adjustments–take another 25-30 percent or more off the top, even for a well designed system. This fits with our best San Francisco benchmark, our major 675 kW rooftop solar facility in the San Francisco at Moscone Center, which produces around 1,200 kilowatt-hours per year per rated kilowatt installed.

So when it comes to solar, let’s make the right choice for solar power, but make it with our eyes open to the real world.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Reflections on Energy Policy

by Richard T. Stuebi

At the beginning of my career in the mid-1980’s, I participated in numerous economic analyses pertaining to the “acid rain” debates that were then raging in DC. This work ultimately culminated in the implementation of Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which included a cap-and-trade program on sulfur dioxide emissions. This program was among the first environmental policies to employ a market-based (rather than command-and-control) approach, and its widely-appreciated success has set the stage for the cap-and-trade programs now being considered for greenhouse gas emissions.

It was rewarding to know that I was part of an effort that had real impact in creating effective policy, but it was also incredibly draining and tiring — an emotional roller-coaster of optimism, disappointment and frustration. Correspondingly, I stepped out of the policy fray entirely, focusing the next 15 years of my career squarely on the private sector in an effort to achieve positive impact (and perhaps make a little money too) in the energy industry through the forces of thoughtful capitalism. I had had enough of the political arena.

Alas, flash forward to the mid-2000’s, and now I’m working again in energy policy, this time at the state (Ohio) level. The challenge today is to secure the adoption of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Ohio, and it looks like the pro-RPS forces are making decent progress.

In late August, Governor Strickland released a comprehensive energy plan that includes an RPS, along with his proposed approach for cleaning up the messes created by Ohio’s flawed “deregulation” initiative back in 1999. Opponents of an RPS — primarily manufacturing/industrial concerns and (of course) electric utilities — have argued that RPS policy is “social crap”, which can be put off to another day so that everyone can focus on the electricity restructuring issues. The Strickland Administration forcefully insists that the two issues cannot be separated and must be dealt with holistically. This is fortunate, and wise, because bundling the two issues creates better negotiating leverage with the utilities and ensures more prompt attention to RPS.

Several RPS bills are in the pipeline. One was introduced last week by Representative Skindell (HB 313), another is in the works by Representative McGregor, and other bills will be released soon in both the Senate and the House to reflect the Governor’s proposal. Over the summer, I have spent considerable time with lawmakers and thought-leaders in Columbus to educate them on the RPS issue, and its importance in attracting/building an advanced energy industry in Ohio to create jobs and revitalize our struggling economy.

Anti-RPS parties argue that an RPS will raise electricity prices, that Ohio doesn’t have enough renewables to supply an RPS, and that renewables will make the grid more unreliable. A recently released study commissioned by The Cleveland Foundation found that an RPS in Ohio like the one next-door in Pennsylvania would have minimal impact on electricity prices — virtually no impact if Federal carbon legislation is implemented sometime in the next several years anyway. The other two concerns about an RPS are also refutable.

But, many opponents of an RPS are hard-headed, and some fall back on the weakest of threads: ideology. To them, it is abhorrent to contemplate the addition of mandates to the energy supply mix.

A conversation I had last week with an Ohio Representative was illuminating. This person, who I’ll leave anonymous, felt that renewables would come into the market once that their economics were competitive with conventional energy, which would be coming without government intervention sometime in the next 10 years anyway, so why force it?

To this legislator, the “free market” was paramount — never mind that we don’t have a free market for energy today — and he was only secure in the cozy bed of his pre-set beliefs. The legislator didn’t seem to understand (actually, didn’t want to listen) that many of the basic precepts for perfect competition weren’t in place: all participants in the market don’t have perfect information, and there are players in the market that do have market power. Either the Representative was satisifed with unregulated monopolistic behavior, or didn’t realize that it wasn’t just the private sector that needed to be competitive but the public sector as well.

You see, 25 (or 26 or 27, I can’t keep track) other states already have an RPS. The renewable industry is amassing in these states, largely bypassing Ohio. And, indeed, it’s not just competition between the states, but between countries. Ontario across Lake Erie has compelling renewable energy policy, and of course European countries far lead the list. Ohio is behind in capturing the renewable energy industry opportunity. If Ohio doesn’t want to capture that opportunity, we’re doing a good job.

I’ve come to conclude that, more than energy policy or environmental policy, RPS is industrial policy — and the U.S. just doesn’t do industrial policy very well. We’ve never needed to. We’re America: we have the most natural resources, the most talent, the biggest/free-est markets. Our country has always been ascendant. Well, I’m not so sure anymore.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. dominated the world scene in every respect. But in the past few decades, communism fell, Europe has rebounded from WWII, and the Asian economies have become tigers. While American entrepreneurs focused on high-tech opportunities, the U.S. let the industrial manufacturing sector largely slip away elsewhere. The rank-and-file has become an economy of Wal-Mart greeters: low wage employees selling low price products to customers who can’t afford high price products because of their low wage jobs.

I also see a significant difference between the mid-2000’s and the mid-1980’s in regards to policy: the rise of ideology and demonisation of the “other side”. It used to be that the pros and cons, the costs and benefits, of alternative policies were evaluated by both Democrats and Republicans with at least a modicum of objectivity. Now, dogma rules the day. Issues are labelled as “D” or “R”, not to be entertained (much less endorsed) by the other side.

As citizens, we must hold our politicians accountable to work together, to not be so closed-minded, to advance the true public interests (not to special interests of just a few wealthy constituencies). The urgency of the energy issues demands no less.

Lastly, I stand chagrined at the difference between Ohio and a state like California. Last year in California, the billionaire titans of the high-tech 21st Century economy went to their Governor (Schwartzenegger) to argue that the passage of climate legislation (what became AB32) was essential for their state to capture a significant share of the economic opportunity afforded by the cleantech sector, the biggest industry to arise in the next 50 years. This year in Ohio, the big corporates of the low-tech mid-20th Century — steel companies, industrial manufacturers, et al — are going to their Governor (Strickland) to argue that the passage of a measly RPS will kill our economy.

I am reminded by a quote about Ohio attributed to Mark Twain: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times.” It’s not just Cincinnati — Columbus may be there too.

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

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the spirit (though not the length) of a back-to-school book report, I dedicate this column to reviewing three energy-related books that I read in the last few weeks as the dog-days of summer wound to a conclusion.

Cape Wind

I first read Cape Wind by Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb, which profiles the eponymous offshore windfarm in Cape Cod, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the mischief that has so far thoroughly stymied its progress.

The story makes just about everyone involved in the local, state and federal political arena look awful – petty, elitist, short-sighted, unprincipled. The list of bad guys is headed prominently by Senator Ted Kennedy (of course) and Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, but less obviously also includes players such as Senator John Warner of Virginia and Congressman Don Young of Alaska. (Alaska! You are absolutely right to ask: “Why Alaska?”) The only person emerging from the story smelling like a rose is Cape Wind’s lead developer, Jim Gordon, who is portrayed as truly heroic.

The book reads quickly and well, and is getting good reviews, even from usually not-so-wind-friendly places like the Wall Street Journal. However, I am concerned that the book comes off a little too much like an in-house PR piece for the developer of the windfarm: I put the book down sincerely questioning the authors’ objectivity. The tale seems so one-sided, it’s hard to believe that it could be really accurate. If it is, our political system is in dire shape, and our prospects for good energy/environmental policy are dim.

The Grid

I most recently finished The Grid by Phillip F. Schewe, a very readable history of the electricity industry. This was the first text I have found that, in less than 300 pages, spans the mad-scientist inventors Edison and Westinghouse and Tesla, through less-known but equally pivotal industry giants such as holding company progenitor Samuel Insull and TVA legend David Lilienthal, into the turbulent days of Enron and deregulation.

The book does a particularly good job reconstructing the 1965 Northeast blackout (not much different from the 2003 version), touring the reader through massive nuclear (Indian Point) and fossil steam (Ravenswood) powerplants, and accompanying a distribution crew on a routine but not-to-be-taken-lightly line repair job in Idaho. Most interestingly, Schewe weaves in contemporary commentary and observations from social critic Lewis Mumford, whose writing excerpts offer an insightful countering perspective questioning the contribution of energy technology to the fundamental advancement of humanity.

The author’s writing style was not to my taste (for reasons that alas I can’t pinpoint), and I think the electricity industry still deserves a more gripping seminal treatment comparable to the gift Daniel Yergin gave us of the oil industry in The Prize, but until then, this will suffice pretty well.

The Long Emergency

In between, I read a thought-provoking but highly disturbing tome entitled The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler. Its premise is not unique: peak oil + climate change = end of the industrial era = return to pre-industrialism. Indeed, one of my recent posts covered this very topic.

However, Kunstler’s writing is incredibly powerful, with pithy snippets about every other line, and some of the directions he explores are truly distinctive. For instance, he argues that mankind’s one-shot exploitation of the non-renewable fossil energy inheritance is but a reflection of the entropy mechanism inherent to our universe (as described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics), and that escalating energy extraction/use only accelerates the rate at which our world winds down.

Kunstler is somewhat hopeful about the ability of the human species to adapt and survive, though not in its current social structures and industries/economies, and not at anywhere near current population levels. And, he is clearly pessimistic about the transition: basically, Kunstler doesn’t think there’s enough time or enough remaining energy to avoid cataclysmic change characterized by mass famine, economic depression, drought, migration, war, etc.

While I appreciate Kunstler’s wisdom and expansive disparate set of knowledge and insight, I’m not totally sold on some of his conclusions. As an example, as long as the amount of solar radiation provides more than enough energy to the Earth’s surface to supply all of mankind’s energy needs (with a few orders of magnitude to spare), I believe there ought to logically be a way to maintain a standard of living similar to what we have now – it will just cost more. I don’t think Kunstler has some of his facts straight, which always causes me to be a little shy about buying everything a writer tries to sell. For certain, Kunstler makes a lot of assertions that are not backed up solidly by facts, therefore exposing his arguments to question.

Unlike Kunstler, I’m somewhat optimistic that the combination of technological innovation and market forces (under a big assumption: that policy allows market forces to work, prices energy appropriately highly, and doesn’t provide incumbents huge protective barriers against the impact of innovation) can allow us to colonize a very attractive future. Kunstler doesn’t seem to incorporate an economic view in his thinking, whereas I believe energy prices with increasing scarcity and the resulting downward force in demand will ameliorate (though not eliminate) the pain of transition. However, I admit that it would require a huge allocation of global economic capacity towards the rapid implementation of a new energy paradigm to completely smooth the transition, and present markets with their pricing signals and investment incentives aren’t making that happen as urgently as it probably should.

Therefore, ultimately, I agree with Kunstler that the ending of the conventional energy age will be extremely painful for many constituencies, who are blindly accelerating into the wall with voracious consumption. I agree that exurbia lifestyles spreading across the U.S., especially across the southern half of our country, will someday be viewed as a cul-de-sac of history, burdening us with enormous social costs due to the massive infrastructure investments that will become untenable. I agree that life will tend to become more localized, less materialistic, simpler.

In summary, I tend to agree with Kunstler on the general direction and trajectory of our collective situation, but he and I do differ in degree regarding the likely pace and magnitude of the impending discontinuities.

All three of the above books get my “thumb’s up”, but if I had to recommend just one, it would be The Last Emergency. Read it and see. Or, actually, read it and 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.

APEC Aftermath – 2 steps forward or 1 step back?

by Nick Bruse

Well, its been a big week here in Australia terms of both international and domestic politics with the ending of the APEC summit and the recent pre-election opinion polls being released today showing a further drop in support for John Howard’s re-election.

The papers here are wrapping up on the outcomes of the APEC summit, and the biggest aspect being reported about is the decisions or lack of specific decisions made around Climate Change.
Those in the community who were wanting specific targets set or caps agreed to had to go home disappointed, and its been quoted that perhaps their expectations where too high for this event.
Ive taken a few of the comments from the press and added my own thoughts to this. Here’s the link to the full Sydney Declaration on Climate Change and Energy

1. Each country has agreed that climate change is a problem and needs to be addressed. This builds momentum before a series of international meetings on climate change being hosted by the US later this month and the next UN climate meeting in Bali in December.

Well its nice to get a stake in the ground…only took 10 years plus of hammering.

2. The declaration sets out tangible responses on protecting forests and improving energy technology. Australia has offered $30m to an Indonesian forestry initiative to prevent deforestation. With the goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020.

Deforestation is probably one of the most critical issues in terms of loss of habitat, because once its gone it takes a significant period to return to its original state. Also with climate change putting pressures on habitats, the removal of migration corridors means that when a habitat changes, species are unable to move which increases the possibility of extinctions.
But are we trying to continue Australia’s historic approach to emissions reduction by advising our neighbours to do the same? My concern here is that Australia has stabilised most of its emissions since 1990 through a reduction in land clearing, not through industry action.

3. We also saw the increasing negotiations regarding the US led global nuclear energy partnership which which aims to expand the safe use of nuclear technology.

What can you say, of course this is going to continue, its all to obvious when Australia has rich supplies in uranium, big business and governments that will benefit from the rewards and you probably need less than a 100 lines of excel spreadsheet to model the economic model. But can you blame a government that sees in the next 20 years the cost of providing healthcare to an aging population, paying for infrastructure and and keeping those budget surpluses do anything different?

4. Other positives were that the goals are to reduce energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030 from the 2005 level.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but probably no where near enough what is required. Take for instance the built environment. In a recent study by Deacon University in Australia, they determined over a 3 year study that the built environment demands 40-50% of global energy, consumes 40% of non-renewable resources, generates 40% of landfill waste and uses 30% of fresh water reserves. The good news, 33% of energy related CO2 emissions are generated by energy use, 29% of that can be cut by existing tech by 2020 (new scientist August) . So there’s a 10% reduction right there, by 2020, and most of these initiatives can be done with paybacks of around 2-5 years.

I was recently down in Launceston, Tasmania, presenting at the Australian Direct Property Group with my colleagues from Thinc Projects on achieving sustainability in the property industry. Most of the activity in the sector around green building is not being driven by the government, but by business now wanting to be seen as being green, and investors and tenants driving the process. So lets hope that government in the coming months can step up to the plate more with assistance and stronger policy in this area.

In all of this, and its outside the scope of today’s blog but its probably worthwhile to step through if you have some time and do your own checking of the declaration against the stabilisation wedges and see what progress is being made. See if you can map out how far we have managed to get from these talks towards the required solutions.


Nick Bruse is 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.

Is Microsoft Vista Global Warming Friendly?

Is Microsoft Vista global warming friendly? Could Vista be the best selling cleantech product in the world? I was thinking about this question the other day, and started emailing the Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) press relations folks looking for an answer.

The Microsoft answer – yes it is. They have a recent release entitled “Windows Vista Power Management Features Can Help UK Companies Reduce Their Carbon Footprint” on some independent research they had done by PC Pro Labs in the UK.

Here’s their quote:

“Windows Vista is Microsoft’s most energy efficient operating system to date with its power management system, functionality, reliability and default settings focused on helping to reduce overall PC energy consumption. The key areas where the Sleep mode in Windows Vista has been improved compared to the equivalent Standby mode in Windows XP include:

• Enter Sleep mode after being inactive for 60 minutes
• In Windows Vista, it is much easier for users to change the power management settings themselves
• The Sleep mode is more reliable than Windows XP’s Standby mode, both in terms of entering the mode and safely resuming back into Windows
• Windows Vista is much quicker at resuming from Sleep, now taking two to three seconds compared to five seconds for Windows XP”

They also published a whitepaper entitled “Windows Vista Energy Conservation“. Reading through it all, Vista does seem to be an energy efficiency masterpiece.

But I wonder – the description of these tests seemed to quite fairly compare the XP and Vista operating systems running through a series of different scenarios – but it’s not a survey of real world conditions.

So I’m probably convinced that if you run the same computer post-Vista the exact same way you ran it on XP, that you’d use less power. Vista itself may actually BE the best selling cleantech product in the world. But in the real world, we don’t work that way. Each year we add a whole lot of new features and programs that suck down power, and buy more powerful PCs to run them on with every upgrade. And part of the promise of Vista is to enable even more such goodies – possibly offsetting the energy savings.

So are Windows users who have upgraded to Vista running the same programs in the same way, and the same (or more energy efficient PCs) and therefore using less power? Or are they actually using more or different features, or on a more powerful energy hog PC, and despite Microsoft’s energy efficiency efforts, using more power on a daily basis anyway after the upgrade? That might not be something Microsoft could control – but I’m sure curious as to the answer from a carbon standpoint.

As a matter of full disclosure, I run XP at the office, Vista at home, own a small amount of Microsoft stock (and am a very big fan) and have a very bad habit of leaving my computer and monitor on – but I’m working on that.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Green Energy TV

by Richard T. Stuebi

Jim Cossler runs the Youngstown Business Incubator, in Youngstown Ohio. Actually, “runs” really isn’t the right word. His business card lists him as “Chief Evangelist”, and that’s actually closer to the mark. You’ll see that the title fits, based on an email that Jim sent me the other day, which I’ve excerpted below.

“I need to create the perfect virtual storm for GreenEnergyTV over the next week or so. GreenEnergyTV will eventually be the “everything” of the green movement. The site is Beta at the moment, and far from fully built, but its ultimate functionality is going to be enormous for those of us interested in a “greener” world. And if things roll out as planned, the site is going to make Youngstown the center of the green movement worldwide. Heady stuff, I know. But, I’m serious. I need your personal help in driving eyeballs to the site. It’s already getting over 70,000 unique visitors from around the globe each month while still in Beta and far from finished. It’s critical, however, to make that number explode. Tell every one you know about it. Tell them to tell their friends about. Post links to it. Bookmark it. Spread this thing around the world and do the planet a favor at the same time.”

OK, Jim, I’ve done my part.

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: Building Green & Windy Texas

by Frank Ling

Efficient Buildings

Energy efficiency is touted by many experts as the least cost approach for lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from building use. A survey released by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development shows that builders often overstate the of costs of implementing these energy saving measures.

Joel Makower at Two Steps Forward writes that:

“…key players in real estate and construction overstate the extra costs of green buildings by some 300 percent, ‘creating a major barrier to more energy efficiency in the building sector.'”

Although there are many stakeholders involved in any building, the survey also concludes that

“…financiers and developers are the biggest barriers to more sustainable approaches in the building value chain.”

Texas blows over California

While California has the reputation of being the greenest, bluest state in the country, it is the red state of Texas that gets more energy from wind than from any other state.

Robert Rapier writes in R-squared:

“Last year, for the first time ever, an industry association reported that Texas surpassed California as the country’s No. 1 generator of wind energy. Not only did the Lone Star State blow past the Golden State again in this year’s report, but Texas regulators in July voted to designate eight zones for production of about 20,000 megawatts of wind energy. “

Furthermore, Texas’ lead is expected to increase.

I wonder if Chuck Norris has anything to do with this? 🙂

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.