Stirling Performance

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, I visited Southeastern Ohio at the request of the office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to be part of a roundtable discussion on how to promote cleantech and green energy innovation in a rural coal-based area. At the roundtable, I was pleased and fortunate to have met Neill Lane, President and CEO of Sunpower.

No, not the Sunpower (NASDAQ: SPWR) you probably know: the $6 billion market-cap photovoltaics subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE: CY) based in San Jose California.

Rather, I’m talking about Sunpower, the privately-held company based in Athens Ohio that specializes in Stirling engine technology. With much less fanfare than its same-named PV peer, Sunpower has gained a foothold in European residential micro-CHP (combined heat-and-power) markets, and is now working on modifying its technology for concentrated solar power (CSP) applications. Much of Sunpower’s technology development is done in partnership with NASA at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Sure, this Sunpower isn’t of the size and visibility of the other one. But, the company is no hype-based start-up or virtual wanna-be either, with over 60 employees (in a relatively remote college town of about 20,000 population) and a cash-flow positive position after having been in business for over 30 years. That’s a commercial success that I’d be very proud to have achieved.

Although green economy advocates mainly tout the mega-stars of the cleantech universe, they shouldn’t overlook the accomplishments of many smaller but no less innovative companies slaving away (and making money) underneath the radar screen. In rural America, there are probably many such enterprises playing important local roles in creating wealth and jobs, while addressing the global energy and environmental challenges we face. It would be nice if they could receive their due recognition too, and I dedicate this posting to these unknown soldiers.

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.

Solar Leads Sustainable Energy Stocks (Week Ending 3/28)

Author: Mark Henwood

There was no ambiguity in sustainable energy stocks this week. All of the Camino indices advanced, two significantly.

The Solar index increased 19.6% paring the YTD decline for the sector to –34.1%. All 33 stocks in the index advanced. Ascent Solar Technologies Inc. (ASTI) led the way with a huge 84.4% increase for the week. The stock jumped Thrusday morning on the announcement of a significant investment by Norsk Hydro ASA. Several analysts also issued favorable ratings for the sector. On January 24th, when solar stocks were down 37% for the year, I looked at the PEG ratio for the sector and concluded most of the correction had occurred assuming events hadn’t affected sales growth. With recent data it now looks like the growth prospects are holding. But if we see any reduction in government support, say in the US or elsewhere, or other events that affect growth rates the sector could suffer another sharp correction.

Biofuels also rallied with a 8.6% increase with 12 stocks rising and 4 stocks falling. Gushan (
GU) was the leader again rising a massive 50.8%. The run-up occurred on the 27th and 28th after the company adopted a share option plan affecting 65 employees. If the option plan sparked the rally it was incredibly cost effective, costing shareholders about USD 7 million but increasing the value of the company by about USD 800 million. Unless there is other news supporting the increase in price I don’t see how a retention program, even though it is good business, can increase value this much.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index advanced 2.4% with 11 stocks climbing and 8 retreating. Suzlon (SUZLON.NS) increased 15.7% for the week with 12 % of the increase occurring on the 28th, the day the company released its Investor Presentation outlining an aggressive growth plan supported by strong orders and grid parity economics. We continue to view this sub-sector as a strong long-term success story in the sustainable energy field. Suzlon’s story is supportive of our view.

Fuel Cells also had a positive week with the index increasing 3.2% on 5 stocks advancing, 1 stock declining, and 1 stock unchanged. ITM Power (ITM.L) gained 27.1%. Most of the gain (23.9%) occurred on Friday when the company announced a “collaboration agreement” with Roush Technologies. The agreement involves developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the UK using ITM’s electrolyser. The electrolyzer is slated to produce hydrogen at sufficient pressure to fill up a vehicle for a range of 25 miles. This may be an electrolyzer breakthrough but certainly isn’t a transportation breakthrough.

It’s no accident that the Solar and Renewable Electricity indices alone account for 57% of the value of all the companies we track. Solar is a compelling growth story driven by its attractiveness to governments and consumers. Renewable Electricity is economically competitive and environmentally superior to traditional options.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks

Ride It Hard, Fast, and Electric

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Vectrix Electric Maxi-Scooter

What is it?
The Vectrix is an electric motorcycle that has a top speed of 62 MPH (100 km/h) and goes 0 to 50 in 6.8 seconds. At a constant speed of 25 MPH, the Vectrix has a range of 65 miles (with an average of 35 to 55 miles). Its battery pack recharges with a standard 110/220V outlet in about two hours.

Why is it better?
Being all electric, the Vectrix is a zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) – that’s zero carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. I’m sure there are readers out there shaking their heads, saying “Zero emissions! Doesn’t exist! The battery has to be charged and that usually means a coal-fired plant and that means emissions.” Well, you’re partially right. In the whole lifecycle of the Vectrix construction and use, there are emissions.

However, according to the California Air Resources Board definition of a ZEV, battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles count as ZEVs as they have no “tailpipe emissions and are 98% cleaner than the average new model year vehicle.” But either way you look at the ZEV argument, you have to admit, the Vectrix far and away surpasses the traditional gasoline-powered scooter that can produce up to ten times the pollution of the average automobile (according to a Vectrix pamphlet).

So not only is the Vectrix easier on the environment, of course it saves money for you as you pass up the gas pump and the oil changes. It requires very minimal maintenance and the Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack has an estimated life of 10 years. It’s also very quiet (if you’re a fan of roaring engines, it’s probably not for you).

I personally have not ridden a Vectrix but I hear they handle quite well and are very reliable. Hopefully after this, I’ll be able to convince a friend to test drive one (and let me sit on the back).

Plus, if the New York and Sacramento police departments, the Department of Defense, John Kerry, and Leonardo DiCaprio like the Vectrix, it must be worth looking into.

Where can you find it?
You can buy the Vectrix from a variety of dealers all around the world or have a representative contact you directly by filling out a form on the Vectrix website. The 2007 model costs $9,999.00. The 2008 model costs $11,990.00.

Vectrix is also coming out with a pretty cool looking electric three wheel motorcycle in Q4 2008. This one will cost $15,990 and you can reserve one today with a $1,500 deposit.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

UC San Diego Saves Millions with Transportation Demand Management

By John Addison (3/26/08). Like all great universities, the University of California at San Diego, must either spend millions for car parking or spend millions for improved transportation. Using transportation demand management, UC San Diego is spending millions less in both areas.

27,500 students attend the university. “We encourage commuters to use alternate forms of transportation,” said Brian d’Autremont, TPS director. “Approximately 43 percent of UC San Diego commuters use some form of alternative transportation, including, bikes, buses, trains and vanpools.” In addition, last fall UC San Diego reduced the number of single occupancy vehicles on campus by 800 cars.

UC San Diego uses AlterNetRides as a platform, making it easy for staff and students to be matched with the van pool or carpool that best meets their destinations and schedules. Use of HOV lanes and access to preferred parking make shared rides considerably faster. Zipcar on campus makes cars available by the hour, helping students avoid the need for owning a car.

In 2006, UC San Diego doubled the number of people riding buses on campus. A key to this growth was establishing the best routes and schedules. UC San Diego uses realtime tracking and demand management software to do this. The University uses a hosted customized application from Syncromatics, which performs realtime tracking with GPS and cellular communication to determine the location and speed of each bus.

The system develops a database showing the number of passengers at any stop at anytime. By querying the database, routes and schedules can easily be adjusted. UC San Diego’s Director Brian d’Autremont summarized, “Syncromatics’ system has saved us over one million dollars in fiscal year 2006, after being installed for just a little over 6 months. We typically buy 5 buses each summer, this year we were able to increase the effectiveness of our system enough that we didn’t have to buy any. The system paid for itself several times over in bus, fuel and driver costs, while increasing our ridership and improving customer service ratings dramatically.

Another big payoff of UC San Diego’s alternative transportation is a reduction in needed parking spaces. Each spot in a parking structure costs the university $22,000 to $29,000.

More people will ride on transit if they know how to get to their destination and if long waits are not necessary. The Syncromatics realtime tracking system which integrates with Google Maps to show actual bus locations on an LCD in the student lounge, on arrival signage, on mobile devices, and even in text messages. Ridership continues to grow. Realtime Display

Information technology is becoming invaluable in making transportation efficient as well as appealing to more riders. Fleet managers can now implement custom applications and realtime services without investing in hardware, software, and hiring specialized technologists. Hosted applications such as Syncromatics and AlterNetRides are run by the service provider. Middleware such as XML and Java allow these applications to be integrated with databases, billing systems, and other fleet applications.

UC San Diego is supporting energy independence and climate solutions by encouraging clean transportation. The university fleet also is becoming more fuel efficient. Over time, the university’s 50-plus buses will be converted to hybrid CNG, reducing their emissions. UC San Diego Article The University is also purchasing 225 electric vehicles and 32 hybrid vehicles for its fleet.

The importance of climate solutions is integral to the institution. UC San Diego evolved from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography under the leadership of Roger Revelle, who with Charles Keeling first measured the growing atmospheric concentration of CO2. Revelle College is one of six of the university’s colleges. The National Academy of Sciences recognizes UC San Diego as one of the top ten science universities in the nation. Professors include Nobel Laureates Paul Crutzen and Mario Molina whose chemistry research with Sherwood Rowland lead to the discovery of the ozone hole and the Montreal Protocol.

Universities and Colleges are leading in many areas of transportation demand management. An encyclopedia of best practices is available at the Victoria Institute.

John Addison speaks at conferences and publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

The Compromised Kitchen

by Heather Rae

The dry wall was hung last week and the mudding of the new kitchen has begun. A cloud of compromise hangs over each step in attempting to make this renovation “green;” the kitchen is no exception.

The stud cavities of the gutted space received a spraying of two-part foam, not the ‘greenest’ material. (The smell of chemicals stuck around the house for several weeks.) And, now that I have done the final scraping of the nubs of foam that protruded past the cavities to make way for the dry wall, I wonder if air sealant and then dense-pack cellulose, the ‘greenest’ of insulation materials (shredded newspaper and boric acid packed tightly behind a mesh tacked to the studs) might have been a better choice. Once you foam, you’re committed.

Substitutes for dry-wall there are, perhaps (local wood, wheatboard or a non-toxic plaster and lathe replacement) but availability, aesthetics and price kept my choice at quick-measure dry wall. It’s been hard to convey the concept of ‘green’ to the hired contractors and carpenters who are not familiar with ‘green;’ amidst a new marriage to a husband recovering from a neck broken from a car collision — as well as a full-time job and other obligations –insistence on a ‘green’ wall material was beyond my powers.

This being Maine, the options for countertops are a bit limited but promising, nonetheless. I’ve poured over ‘green’ building directories but have this need to feel and see something prior to purchase. Bouncing in and out of building supply stores I pass, asking about ‘green’ materials, I have found a few (that do not specialize in sustainable supplies) which have begun to carry recycled or low-toxic alternatives, but they are few. (The big box stores remain a let-down on ‘green’ building materials; shelves ofCFLs are a start but a very small start.) A building supply store in Rockland carries IceStone, the recycled glass with non-toxic resins…sapphire, cobalt blue or pistachio, the stuff of my dreams…but so is the price point. The alternative would be the far less expensive product, PaperStone with its far more subdued hues. The mystery countertop will lay atop cabinets made from local (or near local) pine.

The floor is the next big job. It’s made of two and a half inch wide maple that has been beaten up with coatings of all kinds. Hard to find the same material, we used pine in the patches. All of it will be palm sanded and will receive coats and buffing of the Eco-House brand (Natural Chemistry Products) that I purchased at a green supply store for $100 (for a gallon). Looking at the ingredients, I wonder if I should have simply used the same linseed oil mixture that I had used on the upstairs floors, for a fraction of the cost. Consider it my contribution to ‘the cause.’

Paint is tricky because ‘the girlfriends and I’ are partial to Benjamin Moore and talk about their color palette as if it were the menu at our favorite bistro. I had used EcoSpec, their low-VOC line, in the biobus, but the closest hardware store to my house doesn’t carry it. This I discovered when purchasing paint for the upstairs hallway. I could have burned some more fuel to track it down that day, or switched to milk paint or the AFM line of non-toxic paints (at a higher price and a good drive away), but chose not to. Major brands of paint lines, by law, have reduced VOCs; applying a first coat of “Oriental Silk,” the nose-singeing smell so noticeable in previous paint jobs is gone. That doesn’t mean the VOCs aren’t there now, nor that the low-VOC EcoSpec line is chemical and toxin-free. The paints still contain VOCs and the EcoSpec line contains chemicals and toxins that effect indoor air quality. I’m also holding out for the low-VOC line from C2 paints.

Back in the kitchen, the walls will likely get some standard line paint like C2 or Benjamin Moore; the pine cabinets will likely get a coat of milk paint.

Although these compromises subdue the ‘green’ fervor — and chances at a any kind of LEED designation though that is not the goal here — I remind myself that the house has been through an investment-grade home performance evaluation, and the costly measures already taken to air seal and insulate far outweigh the choices made in coatings and countertops.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway, as I part company with my dream of a blue recycled glass countertop!

Progressive Thinking

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance (NYSE: PGR) announced that it was sponsoring the Progressive Automotive X Prize: $10 million to develop a market-ready automobile that would achieve 100 miles per gallon fuel efficiency.

The Associated Press reports that 60 teams from nine countries have already signed up for the competition, which will occur in 2009 and 2010, involving cross-country and urban driving tests. It will be interesting to see the technologies, designs, and approaches employed by the teams to produce such the required breakthroughs.

What would cause an insurance company to offer so much money to improve auto fuel efficiency? Clearly, Progressive has concluded that increasing gasoline prices, and perhaps increasing scarcity of oil products generally, are a major threat to their auto insurance business. Unless auto efficiency improves significantly, auto ownership and mileage-driven will decline — thus leading to lower insurance premiums paid to companies such as Progressive. Evidently, Progressive estimates the net present value of this threat to their company at many millions of dollars.

It’s also quite telling that a major corporation in a highly competitive industry isn’t putting much faith in the auto/energy markets to drive auto manufacturers to achieve the desired auto energy efficiency improvements on their own. Perhaps Progressive sees what many free-market advocates haven’t: that the auto/energy markets are encumbered by so many barriers to competitive activity that the beneficial forces of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” can’t and don’t operate effectively.

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.

Jump In My (Green) Bed

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Keetsa eco-friendly mattresses

What is it?
Keetsa mattresses are made with 100% recycled steel coils, scrap memory foam bits, and a variety of sustainable materials like bamboo fabrics and unbleached natural cotton.
Keetsa offers six different types of mattresses.

Why is it better?
Most people sleep on mattresses.
Most people spend one-third of their lives in bed. But most people don’t know that conventional mattresses are covered in flame-retardants, petroleum-based pesticides, and other harsh chemicals. Well, not Keetsa mattresses. Not to mention, all those recycled materials I listed before? A lot of them can be recycled if you jump up and down a few too many times and need a new one.

One of my favorite things about the Keetsa mattress is that they can be compressed and rolled into box – that means that while 140 conventional mattresses can fit on one truck, 540 Keetsa mattresses can fit in the same space. The carbon footprint is much smaller from factory door to your bedroom door. (And the mattress boxes have wheels so you can take it home yourself.)

Last but not least, they’re comfortable. I got to take two different mattresses for “test drives” at the San Francisco Green Festival. And I personally own the Keetsa Plus and I think it’s incredibly comfortable (and my friends agree).

Where can you find it?

The Keetsa showrooms are located in San Francisco and Fairfield, CA.
You can buy mattresses there, a variety of mattress showrooms, or order them online at the company website. Queen sized mattresses range in price from $549.99 to $1649.99.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

Oil Consumption Peaks for World’s #3 Consumer

By John Addison (3/18/08). “Only the USA and China consume more oil than California,” observes Jim Boyd, Vice Chairman of the California Energy Commission. With oil prices soaring, California must reduce its dependency on oil to sustain prosperity and achieve energy security.

As 38 million Californians deploy a range of solutions to reducing oil usage, the world will learn valuable lessons. In 2006, California consumption of gasoline peaked, even though population continues on the path of doubling over a 30 year period.

In California, more people are driving fewer miles; importantly, fewer solo miles. More efficient vehicles are being used, often benefiting from hybrid-electric drive systems. As an alternative to oil, there is a growing use of biofuel, natural gas, hydrogen and renewable electricity.

Solutions to the state’s, the nation’s, and world’s transportation needs were presented at the WestStart-CALSTART Clean Heavy Vehicle Conference 2008. Conference Presentations

Many of the solutions were discussed by managers of large fleets. These people can save millions with improvements that passenger vehicle drivers often ignore, such as low-rolling resistance tires. Fleet managers can also install the infrastructure for their fleets; such as fast-charge stations, hydrogen fueling, and specific biofuel blends.

Fleets often pilot new technology years prior to commercialization. Large prototypes are later miniaturized for passenger vehicles. All successful fleets continually improve efficiency. In the transportation lifecycle, 80% of all energy is lost, estimates Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.

John Boesel, President of WestStart-CALSTART, observed that linked trips, public transit, hybrids, and improved mileage vehicles are all factors in peak oil demand in California. Mr. Boesel is in a good position to observe future transportation trends. His organization facilitates bringing together fleet managers, vehicle and fuel producers, researchers, and top government officials.

John Boesel discussed a number of reasons to be optimistic when we talked over lunch. Investment in cleantech and clean transportation is exploding. New lightweight materials are allowing vehicles to travel further with less fuel. There is ongoing innovation in materials. Hybrid-electric drive systems allow heavy mechanical components to be replaced with lighter ones. Engines are being made more efficient. Heavy vehicles that formerly burned fuel during the 40% of the time that they idle, now idle-off. Major corporations and venture capital backed startups are creating next generation biofuels and synthetic fuels.

WestStart-CALSTART encourages public policy makers to set performance standards and not attempt to pick technology winners. Government is also critical in early funding of new fuels and efficient vehicles. “There are many paths to the future,” noted John Boesel.

Biofuels will play a major role in reducing California’s oil dependency. By law, California AB 2076 requires 20% Alternative Fuels Use in 2020 and 30% alternative Fuels Use in 2030. The bulk of alt-fuels are likely to be biofuel. By law, 40% of that biofuel must be produced in California by 2020 and 75% by 2050. This creates a challenge and an opportunity. California is the nations leading agricultural state. Draughts and reduced snow accumulation are creating water scarcity for farmers. Corn ethanol and soy biodiesel generate tremendous greenhouse gases in their lifecycle of production and consumption.

New low-carbon fuels are being developed including next generation biofuels. In pilot production, gasoline and diesel are being made from synthetic fuels. Next Generation Biofuels

To keep California’s $1.5 trillion annual economy from running out of gas, the state is investing $200 million per year in clean transportation for the next 7.5 years. AB118 is the law that makes this possible. It was sponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The money is funded with vehicle fees.

CEC will fund $120 million/year for the commercialization of alternative fuels and efficient vehicle technologies. The California Air Resources Board will fund $80 million/year for enhanced fleet modernization and an air quality improvement program.

All these initiatives promise to create millions of jobs for a state that continues to grow. Despite a state budget crisis, no one is trying to remove AB118’s $200 million annual investment in the future.

With intermodal transportation solutions, integrated freight movement, light materials, hybrid-electric drive systems, efficient vehicles, and new fuels, California is leading the way to control its own destiny without being dependent on foreign oil.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Coal on the Offensive

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the wake of setbacks to new coal powerplant construction in the face of likely carbon legislation, the coal industry has mounted a serious PR blitz, led by a group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC).

ABEC is a national non-profit organization with a claimed membership of 150,000, whose acknowledged primary funding source is “America’s coal-based electricity providers” — including such big-boys as American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), First Energy (NYSE: FE) and Southern Company (NYSE: SO). Not to mention large coal companies such as Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI) and CONSOL (NYSE: CNX), and railroads such as Burlington Northern Sante Fe (NYSE: BNI) and CSX (NYSE: CSX).

Quite aptly, Sourcewatch refers to ABEC amusingly as an “astroturf” support organization: “apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms.” Given the corporate interests listed on the ABEC website, it is hard to call ABEC a true grassroots organization.

Here in Ohio, ABEC has launched a series of billboards and newspaper advertisements promoting coal, implicitly at the expense of other energy alternatives. Particularly objectionable to me is the ad that illustrates (as if algebraically) “Coal = Ohio Jobs”, suggesting not-so-subtly that a shift to other non-coal forms of energy will cause a loss of jobs. I was compelled to write a counter-response, which appeared last week as an editorial in The Plain-Dealer.

In tandem with the Ohio media program, ABEC released a white paper written by “energy economist” Eugene Trisko — identified on the white paper as “Attorney at Law” but otherwise silent on his representation of the United Mine Workers of America (did someone say “coal”?) for over 20 years — entitled “The Rising Burden of Energy Costs on Ohio Families”. Mr. Trisko points out correctly that Ohio’s manufacturing-based economy has suffered mightily in recent years, and argues that “developing an energy supply strategy that maximizes the use of Ohio’s local [low-cost coal] resource could help to reduce the impact of future energy supply and price shocks.” In other words, Mr. Trisko stresses that Ohio should use more coal, because it’s so cheap — that is, as long as carbon emissions aren’t taxed or stringent carbon controls aren’t required.

Further, Mr. Trisko neglects to mention that almost 90% of Ohio’s electricity generation comes from coal — and yet that hasn’t prevented dramatic economic deterioration in the state. Is it possible that the same mentality that led Ohio to put virtually all its energy eggs in the coal basket is the same type of thinking that has led to the pervasive economic stagnation in Ohio? Is more of the same — stay the course, keep betting on coal — the way to go for Ohio’s economic future? Hmmmmmm.

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 Week in Sustainable Energy Stocks (Week Ending 3/14)

Author: Mark Henwood

The Dow traded in a 569 range this week reflecting negative credit market news and strong intervention by government institutions. Global results were mixed with EAFA advancing and the S&P and Emerging Markets declining. The final changes were not dramatic. This translated into mixed results for the Camino indices with three indices retreating and one, Solar, advancing.

The Solar index increased 1.8% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –41.5%. LDK Solar Co. LTD (LDK), which fell 21.3 % last week, led all stocks in the index with a 16.3% increase. Most of this gain happened Thursday and Friday after the company’s press release reported it had sold 100% of its 2008 production and 90% of 2009. The communication also shed some light on the inventory issue. This strong sales picture may be supportive of the view that demand for PV product hasn’t been affected much by larger economic concerns. Overall the sector had 19 stocks climbing and 14 stocks falling.

Biofuels experienced a 1.9% decline with 6 stocks rising and 10 stocks falling. Gushan (GU) was the leader recovering 7.5% after last weeks 24.9% decline. On the declining side, Schmack Biogas (SB1.DE) led the field with a 11.6% decrease. This may be a delayed reaction to the company’s 2/26 release of 2007 results where strong sales growth (47% !) was coupled with a wider than expected loss. VeraSun (VSE) and US BioEnergy (USBE) also suffered steep declines after VeraSun reported on Wednesday that ethanol prices weren’t increasing as fast as corn costs. Getting bigger with the merger isn’t going to change that equation.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index retreated 0.5% with 8 stocks climbing and 11 retreating. Geodynamics Ltd. (GDY.AX) led the pack with a 17.2% decline. The only news we found was an ASX note on 3/11 that a flow test had been delayed until 3/14.

Fuel Cells had another down week with the index decreasing 3.2% on 3 stocks advancing and 4 stocks declining. ITM Power (ITM.L) suffered a 25.2% decline. On Feb 5 Citigroup criticized the company’s unfocused business strategy and apparently the company’s 3/14 announcement of a testing contract with Bi-Fuels did little to sharpen the strategy.

What did I learn this week? Traders are listening carefully to company communications and are very quick to take decisive action on news, both positive and negative. I also think LDK’s order news may be significant as a bell weather for overall demand in the solar sector.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark holds a position in GDY.AX .

Edison International Says Solar is the Great Untapped Resource

Cleantech Blog had a conversation last year with Stuart Hemphill, now the newly appointed Vice President for Renewables and Alternative Energy at Southern California Edison, a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX), one of the largest purchasers of renewable power in the US. We caught up with him again today in a lively discussion around his predictions for the renewable sector.

Today they are announcing their sixth competitive solicitation for renewable energy. On peak delivery from the Tehachapi region is preferred, as they are currently building a massive transmission line to tap into the 4,500 MW of wind potential. But wind produces only 35% of the time. This major pipeline needs to be balanced. So they are looking for creative proposals from developers to fill up the rest of that transmission line with on peak power deliveries.

Renewable and alternative energy are still top goals for Edison. Stuart says his promotion is part a reflection of the business’ expanding interest in leadership in renewables in the US.

Prediction Number 1 – The next 10 years are going to be a wild, wild west in the solar industry. Companies around the globe are exploring new solar technologies of every variety. Stuart thinks it’s way too early to tell which ones are going to be successful. But he considers solar to be the great untapped resource in California and elsewhere.

So I asked him if by that he meant solar thermal or photovoltaics. The answer is “Yes”. Stuart responded that in the past couple of years we have seen incredible amounts of venture capital investment going into solar firms, and PV is only part of that equation.

When I pushed Stuart to predict a winner between conventional solar parabolic trough and other types of solar thermal technologies, Stuart refused, suggesting that it is still too early to tell which technologies will be the winners. That’s what makes it exciting to watch, in his opinion. As an example, he stated that we are now seeing renewed interest power tower technologies with pretty high efficiencies. The challenge is to see which ones get done.

When it comes to what’s important to SoCal Edison itself, it is really important that they sign PPA contracts with viable companies and viable technologies. He sees a wide spectrum of proposals in terms of viability, and is always looking for at least some sort of demonstration plant to prove it up and a significant level of backing for the companies before they can get involved.

Prediction Number 2 – I did ask him what his take on run of river hydro is. He responded that he hopes to be wrong, as he likes run of river hydro, but doesn’t see any major increases in the resource coming in California. Hydro in California in general has a very a limited resource potential left to be developed and lots of stakeholder concerns to be addressed in each case, so while he is hopeful, he is not predicting any great increases.

Prediction Number 3 – US Offshore Wind – We will not see much from offshore wind in California, as the limitations both from physical layout of shoreline as well as policy and consumer concerns.

We then switched to what the industry challenges are. Stuart nailed two big ones, transmission and interconnection.

He believes that transmission is getting even more challenging than last time we spoke. What’s interesting to Stuart is that most people agree and are in support of renewables in California, but very few people support the way that the goals need to be attained, ie, significantly increase transmission infrastructure. There tends to be lots of local opposition, or federal agencies that aren’t always in support of particular local goals. This makes sense, as transmission by its nature always touches a lot of different land and communities in its path, meaning lots of different stakeholders need to be involved.

Interconnection queue bottlenecks are the real next challenge in California and in the Midwest according to Stuart. This is a challenge that is addressable and there are proposals into FERC to do so. But currently it is a first come first serve system, and easy to get into the queue. Getting in the queue starts a study process based on FERC rules, including a feasibility study, then a system impact study and a facility study. The bottleneck arises because according to the current rules, if your facility is further back in the queue, your studies assume that the facilities ahead of you are up and running, but if at any point in time someone ahead of you drops out, your studies need to be effectively redone. Because it is relatively easy to get into the queue, nonviable projects that do not end up coming online as planned have been upsetting the applecart, causing all the projects behind them to go back to the drawing board as far as the study process is concerned. Since 2002, we’ve seen a steep ramp up to a level that is just unmanageable given that dynamic. CAL ISO has a proposal in with FERC to change this, so Stuart believes a solution is coming, just not here yet.

As usual, SoCal Edison is pushing forward aggressively on renewables, and we were excited to see the new solicitation and changes they are making. As we have said before, let’s just get it done.

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 Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.

Save the Suds and Water with Eco Touch Waterless Car Care

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Eco Touch Waterless Car Care

What is it?
Eco Touch Waterless Car Care is a waterless car wash made with water, plant-derived surfactants (coconut and soy), a water-based polymer, and a soy-based solvent.
It simply requires you to spray and wipe with a microfiber towel. One 22-oz. bottle should allow you to wash your car 4 to 8 times.

Why is it better?
I first came across Eco Touch at the San Francisco Green Festival in 2007.
The founders were there and they had just come out with a waterless car wash. I picked up a bottle and have been using it ever since. It works very well on the every day wear and tear.

According to Eco Touch, the typical driveway carwash uses 100 gallons of water. That means each bottle of Waterless Car Care could save up to 800 gallons of potable water. That’s a lot of water that doesn’t need to go down the drain. Beyond that, Eco Touch is non-toxic, biodegradable, and phosphate-free. In December 2007, Eco Touch was approved as a certified green business by Co-op America.

The company has just added three new products to its line for dashboard and trim care, carpet and upholstery care, and metal polishing.

Where can you find it?

You can buy Eco Touch products directly from the company website.
Each bottle costs $9.99.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

Press Release:

Feb 26, 2008
The First Comprehensive Green Car Care Line is Introduced by Eco Touch

Portsmouth, New Hampshire—Eco Touch, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire based manufacturer of environmentally friendly car cleaning products is pleased to announce the national release of its comprehensive line of green car care products including Waterless Car Wash, Dash + Trim Protectant, Metal + Chrome Polish and Carpet + Upholstery Cleaner. For the first time a car can be effectively cleaned and detailed without using harmful, petroleum-based products.

Eco Touch’s Waterless Car Wash features an all-natural water-based formula with high concentrations of organic soaps and plant-based surfactants which break down surface grime. Its naturally derived polymers leave a protective layer that acts similar to a carnauba wax and gives that new-car shine. The application is simple: spray on, wipe off. No water required. Eco Touch is safe for the user and the environment. And it takes less time and less effort than a traditional car wash.

“The real challenge is changing people’s mindset”, said Eco Touch Co-Founder and Director of Sales Anne Ruozzi. “From the first Ford ever driven, water was essential to cleaning a car. Once people see the Eco Touch results, it opens their eyes to a whole new experience. Eco Touch is more than just a great option to saving our natural resources, it’s an innovative way to clean and protect a car’s finish with outstanding results.”

Clothing, optional

by Heather Rae

The Richmond Saunas in rural Richmond Corners, Maine — about 40 minutes up Route 295 from Portland — are heated by wood. In the corner of each sauna, private and communal, stands a wood burning stove and a cauldron of water which is used to douse the cairn of rocks sitting atop the stove.
In Colorado, and elsewhere in the West, lovers of steam and heat use vast geothermal hot springs to calm nerves, soothe aching muscles and sweat. From Idaho Hot Springs, Steamboat, Ouray, Granite, Bozeman to Thermopolis…from New Mexico to Montana, I’ve soaked in many.
In Richmond, perched on a top plank, in the corner of the communal sauna, naked and arms wrapped around my crossed legs, I meet a very large welder from Saco, a slight visitor from Massachusetts and a pleasant older man from I don’t know where. It is strange sitting in this confined space…in New England…watching the cauldron burble, snow piled to the windows and sleet slicking the window, sweating among these strangers…naked, large and small, hirsute and corporally-bald men.
This particular evening in this particular sauna doesn’t have nearly the same joie de vivre as the time I met a young musician at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Colorado; he was to fly home the next day to take a job with the Vermont Symphony. I watched him sit for a long time at the edge of an outdoor stone pool. When he finally stripped down and slipped into the water, he told me he was waiting for sunset when “clothing optional” would take effect. An east-coaster, beaming, he was gleeful to have permission to skinny dip in public.
Amidst the strangeness, steaming in a wood sauna strikes me, once again, that climate and geography and local resources must dictate sustainable energy practices. Maine has a lot of wood; the West has a lot of geothermal. Maine has a lot (a lot!) of water which it has used for hydro-electricity, and the West has a lot (a lot!) of coal…and wind. Both have a lot of sun, but as yet, I have not run across a solar-powered sauna. There is talk here in Maine of tapping geothermal for geoexchange heat pumps using vertical loops. And there’s the wide-eyed talk by homeowners of mounting small-scale wind turbines on their roofs and in their fields.
Mainers have used coal to heat their homes, and I hear it is an option considered by some here these days…and, indeed, there are hydro-electrical plants in the West.
But coal for Maine and water for an arid West are kind of like New Englanders sitting around naked, sweating in mixed company. As my brother in New York might observe, with dismay, “that’s just wrong.”

Heather Rae, a contributor to, is a consultant in sustainability. She currently manages a home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built out a biobus using green building materials and wrote on cleantechblog of her drive from Colorado to Maine and her quest for biofuels. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Transonic: The Best of Both Diesel and Gasoline?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Whereas diesel engines have made great strides in the European auto markets, here in the U.S., gasoline still dominates. Apparently, the prospect of much higher fuel mileage and lower CO2 emissions from diesels doesn’t overcome the objections of U.S. environmental regulatory authorities concerned mainly about local air quality issues. I suspect that, even if (when?) these objections are overcome by continued refinement, diesels will still find it difficult to win market share in the U.S., largely because of the wider availability of gasoline.

A possible win-win solution may be forthcoming. A California firm named Transonic Combustion is working on technology that would allow gasoline engines to work at high compression ratios, thus enabling much better energy conversion ratios comparable to what is achieved in the typical diesel engine. Sounds like a great idea to me; hope it works. I wonder, though, if it will provide the throaty sound of those big-block V-8’s that Americans seem to love so much…

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 week in sustainable energy stocks (ending 3/7/08) ….

By Mark Henwood

Continuing concerns with economic conditions drove all the broad stock indicators into negative territory for the week. With one expectation our sustainable energy indices followed suit with three indices retreating and one, Renewable Electricity, advancing.

The Solar index suffered another large drop of 5.9% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –42.5%. In perspective, even with this large YTD decline the index has 46% to give up before it losses all of the huge gains in 2007. LDK Solar Co. LTD (LDK) led the move downward falling 21.3% and closing below its IPO price. Apparently there remains some lingering angst over inventory issues. Overall the sector had 4 stocks climbing and 29 stocks falling.

Biofuels suffered a significant 12.5% decline with all 16 stocks falling and 5 falling more than 20%. It looks like concerns about rising corn prices and reduced margins affected the ethanol producers. Gushon (GU) reported a Q4 loss and, despite management explaining the loss was due to a large non-cash charge, the stock declined 24.9%

In the Renewable Electricity sector our index advanced 0.9% with 10 stocks climbing and 9 retreating. Suzlon (SUZON.NS) is a big component of the index and was down 13.1% percent after reporting a turbine blade replacement program for 1,251 blades. This represents a market cap decline of more than USD 1 million per blade against management’s estimated cost of USD 24,000 per blade.

Fuel Cells had a down week with the index decreasing 6.3% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. FuelCell Energy Inc. (FCEL) led the movement downward with its stock price falling 14.3% for the week. Most of the loss came after their earnings call on March 6.

What did I learn this week? Oil prices hit record highs and sustainable stocks fall sharply with the broader market. Given the relatively high beta of the Solar, Fuel Cell, and Biofuels indices, their stock performance seems to be weakly correlated to oil prices and much more strongly influenced by broad market trends. Renewable Electricity, with its lower beta, may offer some portfolio diversification benefit.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark doen’t hold a position in any of the specifically mentioned stocks.

GE: Doing Cleantech The Right Way

I have long had a respect for GE (NYSE:GE), and how it runs its business. In cleantech, I am very, very jealous. They have made themselves into the company to beat. Whether by plan, luck, or simply applying sound business discipline, GE has made itself into a top 3 global cleantech player no matter happens. And they did it for a fraction of the price, and a lot less risk than anyone in Silicon Valley or the energy sector. Venture capitalists beware, in cleantech, the behemoths have beat you to the punch, have done it cheaper, faster, and with more grit than you realize.

5 step Cleantech Program by GE

Wind – In 2002, GE bought Enron Wind out of Enron’s bankruptcy for about $300 mm, making GE one of the top 5 wind players overnight (it’s now well in excess of a billion in revenue). It was their first cleantech steal, right before the wind industry got amazingly tight (and huge).

Power – In 2003, GE acquired one of the leading gas engine manufacturers in Jenbacher, making GE an overnight leader in small, clean power systems, and powering their way into everything from distributed generation to landfill gas markets.

Solar – In 2004, just before the solar boom, GE acquired Astropower, one of the top 5 solar energy companies in the US, for less than $20 million out of bankrupcty, after the company was delisted following accounting irregularities. You cannot even build a single solar manufacturing line for $20 mm. Only the subsequent silicon supply shortages, and a lack of the needed investment in the business and next generation technology kept GE from making a homerun out of it. But despite that, there will never be another steal in solar quite like this.

Water – In 2005, GE acquired one of the largest water technology businesses in the US, Ionics, to complement its previous acqusitions in the water sector. Paying a full price of $1.1 Billion, it virtually guaranteed GE a top 5 position in the reverse osmosis, desalination, and water purification markets going forwrad, right after Ionics was shored up through a merger with Ecolochem.

Ecomagination Brand – Then on the back of these deals, in 2005 GE launched its Ecomagination initiative, and anchored the entire company’s image around its new cleantech empire.

That, my friends, is the way you make money in cleantech venture capital. I would venture to guess that GE has made 10x its money, no matter how you spin it. Or put another way, an IPO of the GE cleantech business would be the hottest thing in years.

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 Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog.

Cleantech Blogroll Review: Sulfur, Flipper, and Cellulose

by Frank Ling

Sulfur Batteries

The EPA has banned sulfur in gasoline but not in batteries. Sulfur, in the form of a sodium salt, has been used as large-scale storage systems. Pioneered in Japan, these batteries are gaining acceptance in the US as a reliable form of energy storage.

Due to the intermittent nature of wind energy, storage systems are needed to make wind power more reliable. The sodium sulfur battery is not only affordable and compatible with these turbines, they are robust and responsive to the output of the generators.

Jim Fraser writes in the Energy Blog:

The 50-kilowatt battery modules, 20 in total, will be roughly the size of two semi trailers and weigh approximately 60 tons. They will be able to store about 6.5 megawatt-hours of electricity, with a charge/discharge capacity of one megawatt. When the wind blows, the batteries are charged. When the wind calms down, the batteries can be used to supply energy to the grid as needed.

Such systems will can power up to 500 homes for over six hours.

Whale Inspired Wind Turbines

The shape of sea creatures have inspired the design of ships. Now, they are also inspiring the design of blades used in wind turbines.

Like the wings of an airplane, the blades can also suffer from drag, reducing it’s overall efficiency. Now, a company in Canada has developed a new design that greatly improves the efficiency.

Hank Green writes in EcoGeek:

Using these little “tubercles,” a new firm in Toronto has created fan blades that have 32% less drag and are, overall, 20% more efficient at moving air. The new design could lead to similar gains in wind turbines, though the testing and certification process for turbine efficiency takes some time.

For an in-depth analysis of the science behind these modified blades, take a look at the paper recently published in Physical Review Letters.

Cellulosic Ethanol Dead on Arrival?

Clearly, cellulosic ethanol would have much more environmental benefits to corn-based fuel. Scientists believe that cellulosic technology may be viable within five to 10 years but there are many logistical issues that have yet to be solved.

Robert Rapier in R-Squared Energy Blogwrites:

…you still have to haul all of this biomass to the plant, convert the cellulose (and get a low concentration of ethanol for your efforts), and then get rid of a sopping wet mess of waste biomass. Sure, it can be burned – if you spend a lot of energy drying it first. Because of the very nature of the process, I don’t believe this challenge will be solved…

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.

Freshaire Choice: The Only Tinted Paint With Zero VOCs

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: The Freshaire Choice Paint

What is it?
The Freshaire Choice Paint is a zero volatile organic compound (VOC) paint. It comes in 65 colors and three different sheens. It is an interior paint, a ceiling paint, and an interior primer. It is manufactured by ICI Paints and became Greenguard Certified in September 2007. Greenguard Environmental Institute sets strict limitations on environmental toxins including VOCs, formaldehyde, aldehydes, phthalates, and particles.

Why is it better?
First, let’s talk about VOCs. VOCs are emitted as gases from some solids and liquids; they include a variety of chemicals, some of which have short or long-term negative health effects. For example, several types of VOCs are known carcinogens and are directly related to childhood asthma. According to the EPA’s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology studies, indoor levels of VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher than they are outside. This isn’t such a good thing since each of us spends an average of 90% of our time indoors and specifically 65% inside our homes, according to the National Safety Council.

I think it logically follows that you would want to choose products that help you better your indoor air quality and create a healtheir space for you and your family. That’s where your paint comes into play. According to Aerias Air Quality Sciences, conventional oil-based paints contain 420 to 450 parts VOCs per gallon. That’s quite a bit in comparison to low-VOC paints that have VOC levels of less than 100 parts per gallon. And in comparison to The Freshaire Choice of zero VOCs? Well, there’s no contest.

Many paints that offer claims of zero VOCs forget to tell you that when you add color, you’re adding back the VOCs. But The Freshaire Choice leaves out the VOCs in both the paint and the colorant. They call it the ColorFresh system: a pre-mesasured colorant pouch dissolves into the base free of organic chemicals (and free of that new paint smell). Beyond the indoor air quality benefits, The Freshaire Choice offers chips and brochures made from recycled materials which can be further recycled, a can made from 100% recycled materials, and a label made from 75% recycled fiber and printed with soy ink. As their tag line says, “no matter which color you choose it’s guaranteed to be green.”

Where can you find it?
Come April 1st, you can find The Freshaire Choice Paint at your local Home Depot. One gallon will retail $35-38.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living, and manages the content for

FedEx’s Absolutely, Positively, Cleaner Fleet

By John Addison (3/4/08). When something must absolutely, positively, arrive the next day, people increasingly turn to FedEx. Shipped is everything from million dollar loan documents to birthday presents. FedEx is also integral to the just-in-time supply chain that allows businesses to grow, even as they shrink inventory. FedEx generates over $35 billion annually.

FedEx uses 48,000 vehicles global to deliver our goods. Fed Ex probably utilizes another 30,000 vehicles at its airport operations. At the heart of FedEx operations is a hub-spoke private fleet of jets. Fed Ex has made Memphis, Tennessee, the busiest freight airport in the world.

I valued talking with FedEx Chief Engineer of Hybrid & Alt-Fuel Fleet, Sam Snyder, after he presented at the WestStart Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicle Conference. He discussed a number of areas of fuel savings. The volume and weight of an average package is now less. People are shipping more iPods; less big stereos. This allows FedEx to expand its deployment of Sprinter Vans, and reduce its need for the larger 16,000 pound (GVWR) vans. Sam Snyder stated that FedEx uses, “The right truck for the right route, saving millions of gallons of fuel.”

With oil topping $100 per barrel, FedEx is evaluating alt-fuel, and electric vehicles while continuing its investment in hybrids. FedEx hybrids have accumulated more than 2,000,000 miles in revenue service.95 diesel hybrids are in service globally, primarily in the U.S; 77 more hybrids will be added in 2008. The hybrids are an excellent investment with a 42% improvement in fuel economy. FedEx Hybrids

FedEx is making a bigger investment in hybrids than its major competitor UPS. UPS Clean Fleet

An indicator of the future is the 48 FedEx E700 Eaton hybrids in New York. In Milan, ten Iveco, a Fiat Group company, diesel hybrids will be used in a van similar in size to the Sprinter; a Bosch electric motor and Johnson Controls batteries are used. Green Car Congress

In May 2008, 20 Azure gasoline parallel hybrids (Ford E450 chassis and Utilimaster body) will be placed in service in LA and Sacramento. WestStart is managing this program.

Also being hybridized are the traditional FedEx 16,000 pound vans with a cargo capacity of approximately 670 cubic feet. Eaton’s hybrid electric system has been placed in the standard white FedEx Express W700 delivery truck, which utilizes a Freightliner chassis and an Utilimaster body, and designated E700.

FedEx would like to move towards more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder diesel hybrids, but it may not see an EPA certification until 2010 or later. Until then, FedEx may forge ahead with the less fuel-efficient 6-cylinder diesels. EPA continues to certify based on engine emissions, rather than more efficient hybrid duty cycle.

Hybrids are just one way that FedEx is becoming less oil dependent. Currently, FedEx Freight is actively testing hydrogen fuel cell forklifts, hybrid electric Class 7 trucks, and alternative fuels.

FedEx Express and FedEx Freight are members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership with fuel efficiency strategies such as:

* Instituting policies and technologies to reduce or prevent vehicle idling
* Locating FedEx facilities in order to eliminate idling from overnight trips
* Installation of tractor/trailer/van aerodynamic packages
* Use of advanced, low-friction synthetic oils and lubricants
* Introducing automatic tire inflation devices to increase fuel economy
* Introducing wide-based tires to increase fuel economy through reduced road friction

As one of the world’s largest private air carriers, FedEx is a major user of oil-refined jet fuel and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. To improve its carbon footprint, FedEx Express is replacing the B727 model aircrafts in its fleet with the Boeing 757 model. It has 20% greater payload capacity, but it also uses 36 percent less fuel. FedEx Express also plans to acquire Boeing 777 model aircraft, with a greater payload capacity, and 18% reduction in fuel use.

FedEx also saves annually over 5.5 million gallons of aviation fuel by using in-gate aircraft auxiliary power units, eliminating more than one hour of fuel usage per flight throughout the fleet.

FedEx is also taking a leading role in using renewable energy at its facilities. At the FedEx hub in Oakland, California, 80% of the facility’s electricity and is provided by a 904 kilowatt Sharp solar rooftop system that over its 25-year life cycle this plant will offset 10,800 tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of removing 2,100 cars from the road. Another 550kW will be added at its Fontana and Whittier facilities.

FedEx Kinko’s, Inc. purchases renewable energy at more than 520 branches in 26 states, for an estimated 69 million kWh per year. FedEx Kinko’s, Inc. is procuring its power from a wide variety of sources, including wind, geothermal, landfill gas, solar, and small hydro.

This year, Fed Ex was recognized as #6 on FORTUNE’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies and #7 on FORTUNE’s list of America’s Most Admired Companies. For the seventh consecutive year, Fed Ex has been part of this prestigious list. Fed Ex’s leadership in clean transportation helps keep it at the top.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at cleantech conferences.

Cutting the Cost of Solar the Unsexy Way

Most of Silicon Valley focuses on the cost of the photovoltaic module, and how to bring that down. In fact, most of Silicon Valley focuses on how to fundamentally change the basic technology of the module – from crystalline silicon based to thin film deposition. Very sexy. And very risky. And currently breaking the back of more than one company and investor who is trying. What’s worse, the module is only 30-50% of the per kwh cost anyway.

In the meantime, the cost of solar on a per kwh basis has continued to improve, primarily on the back of unsexy work on the integration and installation side, as well as the growing size of the average photovoltaic installation. This is despite the increase in average module prices in recent years, driven by the silicon shortage.

Cleantech Blog has written about the concern that the real make or break for solar economics is how much power you get out of the system, not just the cost per watt of the panels. We believe that installation and design decisions are the make or break for that variable, not the technology choice. We have also written on the topic of integration and installation, and the need for better data and monitoring on the back end, like our friends at Fat Spaniel are improving, to inform the analysis.

But what about the analysis on the front end of the installation process? Everyone in the industry knows that installation is a large portion of the upfront costs, and everyone knows that how well you design your solar system has large implications for the economics of your installation.

So how do we actually streamline solar from the front end? Well, it’s happening. The solar decision making software tools are slowly developing. There are a number of products available now to streamline the modeling and estimation of solar installation costs and performance, and make the end user and installer’s life easier: including products like CPF Tools, OnGrid, and PVOptimize, which range from spreadsheets to on demand services. My favorite is CPF Tools, by Clean Power Finance, and I had a chance to meet with a couple of their executives, including Joseph Brakohiapa, the other day to discuss what they are doing. For one, they have married solar estimation and modeling tools with an on-demand MRP system for solar installers. I certainly believe in on demand software, and it’s hard to see how modeling tools without links into your inventory and proposal systems can actually take much cost out. And second, they are working to integrate those tools into the financing model for small scale solar loans. When coupled with backend monitoring like Fat Spaniel’s, I can see the path for real progress – and possibly more importantly, I can see a way for both the installer and the end customer to finally begin to manage risk and cut costs.

From monitoring, to ERP, to decision support and business intelligence. No industry in today’s world can scale without it. It’s time the solar sector grows up.

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 Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, a blogger for CNET’s Cleantech blog, and the Chairman of