In The Navy

by Richard T. Stuebi

At last week’s Clean Economy Summit in Washington, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus gave a stirring speech on how the Navy and Marines were committed to pushing ahead on new clean sources of energy to fuel their operations.  The energy goals of the Navy include the creation of a “Green Fleet” and the impressive target of 50% from domestic renewable energy supplies by 2020.

The goals are not just long-term, they are beginning to be implemented already.  Mabus told of the USS Makin Island that is using hybrid drive technology, employing battery power at low sailing speeds, that saved $2 million in fuel costs in its maiden voyage from its launch in Mississippi around South America to its base in San Diego.  “Over the lifetime of this ship,” Mabus continued, “we expect to save American taxpayers about a quarter-billion dollars.”

Mabus recited the daunting economic costs (estimated at $400/gallon all-in for gasoline at the frontline in Afghanistan) and personnel costs (extra security forces and casualties associated with fuel convoys of high value to the enemy) of hauling petroleum products to forward military theatres of operation.  Then, he switched from the factual to the philosophic by asking a compelling rhetorical question:  “We would never allow our ships, planes and tanks to be made somewhere other than the U.S., but we’re OK with powering them by fuels from foreign sources?”

Notably, Mabus spoke on the very same day that the New York Times reported on a new and highly-critical study issued by the RAND Corporation entitled “Alternative Fuels for Military Applications”.  Mabus flatly refuted the negative RAND assessment, stating bluntly that RAND “didn’t talk to us, and therefore didn’t see what we were already able to do, today, with alternative fuels.” 

Being on the vanguard is not a new role for the Navy:  Mabus noted that the Navy has historically been the leader in ushering in energy technologies into the mainstream, being an early adopter of coal in the mid-1800s, of oil in the early 1900s, and of nuclear in the mid-1900s.

There were probably doubters back then, too.

N.I.M.B.Y. – To an Extreme

by David Niebauer

The Story of Rare Earth Metals

A recent article in the WSJ peaked my interest about Rare Earth Metals.  The article discusses how Toyota is searching for an alternative to neodymium, a rare earth metal, in the batteries of its electric and hybrid vehicles.  I have heard other’s bemoan our use of rare earth metals (REMs) and how the earth’s crust only holds so much of the stuff.  So I began researching the subject, expecting to find viewpoints similar to those in the Peak Oil debate.

What I discovered is quite a different story.

It turns out that REMs are not rare at all.  They are a collection of seventeen chemical elements at the bottom of the periodic table found plentifully distributed in the earth’s crust (See here for more information).  They were probably deemed to be rare when discovered in the late 19th Century because no one noticed them before.  REMs have become a fixture in high technology devices and applications.  They are common in all types of electronic devices, solar panels, wind turbines and many types of batteries and superconductors.  Much of cleantech depends on them.

The problem with REMs and why they are so “rare” is that mining and refining for them is incredibly damaging to the environment.  Extraction requires a huge amount of ore (making it highly energy-consuming) and toxic acids that eat into the soil and persist for decades.   To make matters worse, REMs are often found with even heavier elements, such as uranium, making the mine tailings radioactive.

So what has the industrialized world done about this?  Have we found new energy-efficient and environmentally safe ways to refine REMs for sustainable development?  Have we subsidized and encouraged recycling programs so the REMs that we do use can be reused in new and more useful applications?

No.  We have shipped our problem to China.  China now accounts for the production of over 97% of the World’s consumption of REMs.  The Chinese are apparently able to do long-term planning.  They take on dirty, inefficient, labor-intensive work that no one else wants to do, and then make themselves indispensible to the global economy.  But even the Chinese are realizing that something has to give. Recently, they have slapped on increasing tariffs and have started to squeeze the spigot of REM supply.

The Chinese have not always had a corner on the REM market.  In fact, during the 1960s through the 1980s, world production of REMs was centered in Mountain Pass, California.  If the price is right, I assume that the Mountain Pass rare earth mine will re-open.

Recyclers of electronics and PV panels do exist, but they are not exactly the darlings of the investment community – which means that the incentives are not there.  It’s cheaper to consume voraciously and dump the waste in someone else’s backyard.

I usually finish an article like this by saying something along the lines of: something’s gotta give!  But maybe it will take a crisis of historic proportions for anything to truly be done.  Putting a price on environmental degradation would go a long way.  But even trying to manage industrial carbon emissions appears to be too much for our short-sighted politicians.

But really, it’s not even the politicians.  We all have our heads in the sand – or at least I do.  So much of “business as usual” is rife with these kinds of inefficiencies and environmental time bombs.  I continue to buy my electronic devices without thinking too much about what it takes to build them – only to toss them away when I no longer have a use or when I find a better new toy.  I send them to the landfill – its only a drop in the bucket, after all.

I wish I had an answer.  I suppose the rest of the world will begin refining REMs again and will eventually find more environmentally benign ways to do it.  After all, it will now actually be in our back yard.  Maybe even the time will come when we recognize that, in fact, everywhere in the world is our back yard; that living on the planet requires long-term thinking and technologies for sustainable development.  Our future depends on it.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on clean energy and environmental technologies.

New Ford Focus EcoMode for Better Miles per Gallon

New Ford Focus owners can learn a thing or two about driving skills that can maximize their miles per gallon – and they can have a little fun in the process. EcoMode is a handy software application aimed at helping coach customers in the art of eco-driving – and then rewards those that practice more fuel-efficient driving skills with in-car kudos displayed on the instrument cluster.

The new Ford Focus Electric is expected to have a range of about 100 miles per charge. EcoMode can greatly help people get better range. Those buying new gasoline powered Focus can save hundreds of dollars at the pump each year.

“The foot of the driver has one of the biggest impacts on real-world fuel economy of a vehicle and was the starting point for the development of EcoMode,” said Thomas Schick, an engineer with the Ford of Germany Core Vehicle Integration team who helped design the software. “This is a useful tool that creates awareness between personal behavior and fuel consumption and offers up hints on how to improve. Applying those hints and recommendations is all up to the driver.”

Eco-driving refers to specific on-road behaviors that can improve fuel economy, save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In recent internal tests, Ford found that eco-driving skills can improve fuel economy by an average of 24 percent. The nationwide Auto Alliance-supported EcoDriving initiative further claims that if every American put eco-driving skills to work on the road and achieved just a 15 percent benefit in fuel economy, more than 22 billion gallons of gas would be saved each year. Practices most often preached within the eco-driving world include:

  • Using the highest drivable gear
  • Smooth accelerations and decelerations
  • Maintaining constant speeds and anticipating traffic flow
  • Using cruise control on the highway
  • Avoiding excessive idling
  • Avoiding short trips with a cold engine

EcoMode generates a personalized driver operation scorecard by monitoring engine rpm, vehicle speed, accelerator position, clutch position, selected gear and engine temperature related to three of these categories:

  • Gear shifting (when applicable): Is the driver using the highest drivable gear appropriate for the road conditions
  • Anticipation: Is the driver adjusting vehicle speed and distance to other vehicles without the need for heavy braking or acceleration
  • Speed: Is the driver using a cruising speed on open roads that enables high fuel efficiency

People can have fun reaching record scores. Friendly competition between family members can add to the fun. Within the driver information menu on the instrument cluster, Focus drivers can review their generated score against the software’s optimized patterns for each of these disciplines. When drivers do their eco-best, EcoMode rewards them with on-screen kudos that include championship cup icons and playful titles such as Advanced ECO driver or the top prize of ECO champion.

Throughout a drive, the scoring system generates hints on how to gain more leaves for each discipline. A driver looking at the advice screen for Anticipation, for example, may see the hint “Smooth driving saves fuel” displayed on the cluster if he or she is accelerating, decelerating or braking unnecessarily. In Gear Shifting, driver advice might include “Early shifting saves fuel,” if the driver is not shifting up as early as possible in conjunction with their acceleration.

The new Focus also offers an optional map-based navigation application called Eco-Route available with MyFord Touch that gives drivers the ability to choose the most fuel-efficient route, versus with the traditional navigation system defaults of fastest and shortest routes.

A member of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Ford has supported the nationwide eco-driving effort at since 2008, and has also developed an eco-driving module for its popular Driving Skills for Life educational program designed for new drivers.

The Thorny Nexus: Science and Religion and Politics and Climate Change

by Richard T. Stuebi

A fascinating article in Slate noted that 55% of scientists in the U.S. are Democrats, as opposed to 6% Republicans (with the remainder being independents or “don’t know”).  Since most Democrats favor action on climate change, so do most scientists. 

The implication, as the Slate article says:  “the results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats.  Coincidence — or causation?”

The flip-side of this equation is religion.  Gallup has found that Republicans tend to be more religious than Democrats.  And, Republicans are generally more skeptical about the climate change phenomenon — (1) whether it’s happening at all, (2) even if so, whether human activity is causing it, and (3) even if so, whether it’s worth spending anything more than zero to do anything about it.

It also follows, then, that there is a negative correlation between religious belief and concern about climate change.  Put more simply, the more a person has religious faith, the less a person tends to worry about climate change.

If religious fervor can be quantitatively assessed, then it’s safe to say that evangelicals would get a high score, and it seems to be the case that evangelicals are especially adverse to the climate change issue.

As reported in the New York Times article “An Evangelical Backlash Against Environmentalism”, a non-profit evangelical organization called the Cornwall Alliance calls the environmental movement a “false religion”, and has issued an educational program titled “Resisting the Green Dragon” to warn Christians that the forces of radical environmentalism are seeking tyrannical control over all other beloved institutions such as God and country. 

To make matters more confusing, a court in England ruled in 2009 that a belief in climate change can be considered a religion in itself.

With respect to climate change, the “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” is well worth reading in its entirety to get a flavor of the position of the Cornwall Alliance.  It’s a far cry from the “creation-care” movement that other less-strident Christians have embraced, using theology as a foundation for planetary stewardship. 

It would appear that the ages-old schism between religion and science has therefore appropriated climate change as the newest issue over which to tangle.  Since the two U.S. political parties tend to cleave pretty neatly also alongside the science/religion divide, it makes the climate change debate particularly thorny and hard to untangle in either our churches or our legislatures, since strongly-held beliefs are always more emotionally powerful than facts.

What Should Cleantech Mean for Vehicle Safety?

Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which will require quiet electric and hybrid vehicles to emit a sound that allows the car to be detected by blind pedestrians. The interesting part of this law, which received the support of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, was that it did not base its compliance requirements on some measure of quietness, but rather on the propulsion technology used. That significant detail has me wondering: what role should clean technology play in promoting safety, particularly in the auto industry?

Clearly, every car on the road must guarantee some base level of safe operation (example: batteries should not cause their vehicle to explode). But beyond that promise of reliability, the argument could go in two very different directions.

First, the call for more safety: “The future of personal transportation would not be bright with today’s level of danger on the road, so clean technology should assume higher standards of vehicle safety.”

There’s no denying the societal repercussions of auto accidents: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2009 over 33,000 people died in over 5.5 million crashes in the U.S. at an economic cost of over $230 billion. Though NHTSA did not publish the statistic, the environmental impact related to property loss as well as hazardous material spillage was significant. And 2009 was the safest year on the road in ALMOST 50 YEARS. The safety hawks among us would argue that if today’s electric vehicles represent the mainstream choice for the car of the future, automakers should use them to set the standard for future safety technology. Furthermore, there’s nothing sustainable about scrapping so many crashed vehicles. Given that today’s EVs and hybrids are often more energy-intensive to build than conventional cars, one might argue that automakers have an obligation to incorporate accident avoidance technology if they are going to market their product’s sustainability.

On the other hand, there could be an argument for even less safety: “Electric vehicle technology is not where it needs to be for mainstream acceptance, but our environment needs a solution now. Two of the biggest challenges for today’s EVs are weight and cost. Limiting the safety spec required by law would provide EVs with a competitive advantage to spark market acceptance and fund future development.”

A few years back, NHTSA estimated that federal safety standards added $839 of cost and 125 lbs of weight to the average passenger car. Inflation has turned that cost into over $1,000, and 125 lbs represents the bare minimum safety spec, which greatly underestimates most automakers’ equipment levels. Industry research shows that early adopters of new technology are more risk averse and less concerned with safety than the mainstream. So in the interest of moving the technology along, why not give them what they want? By many estimates, $1,000 will buy an extra 2kWh of battery in the next couple of years, which could add an extra 10 miles of range. That would go a long way toward improving the value proposition of these products.

Looking to the future, Google has presented a vision of the autonomous automobile that could drive itself, coordinate with traffic, and solve both efficiency and safety problems simultaneously – but certainly at some cost and with huge commitments to behavioral changes (we Americans love our independence). In the meantime, what should clean tech mean for vehicle safety? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Paul Hirsch is a Senior Product Planner at Toyota.

EV economics updated and a Catch-22

After posting my December 6 article about EVs Economics are getting interesting I’ve received numerous comments and I’ve had discussions with utility executives and board members.   Based on this input I’ve refined the economic analysis of the Leaf vs. Camry and I’ve addressed a potential regulatory Catch-22 concern that utilities might run up against if they aggressively go after the EV market.


The more I discuss EV usage, and considering how I would use an EV, I’m increasingly convinced the 100 mile class of EV will be used like a cell phone.   At the start of the day, the EV is unplugged and driven.  At night, the car is parked in or near its home garage and charged up.  The whole discussion about public charging, or changing out batteries, will be irrelevant.  These vehicles will be short range around town cars.  For drivers that go on long trips the EV won’t be used, the owner’s other, gas power car, will be.    Range anxiety can be addressed when necessary with a little high cost topping off from a 120 VAC outlet at the destination.

Since the car will be charged at night this represents an opportunity for utilities to market power in a new way.  Namely the utility can offer to sell electricity via a 220 VAC outlet at very low cost during the night off-peak power block period.   During the rest of the day, power would be unavailable from the 220 VAC outlet and a customer would have to rely on 120 VAC charging.  This avoids potential overloading of distribution transformers and aligns a cheap tariff with cheap power while placing no cost burden on other utility customers.

As part of updating the economics I double checked wholesale market outlook (thanks to and found the outlook continues for very low off-peak prices that easily allow provision of electricity to the EV at 5 cents/kWh and allows for some utility margin:

Quarterly forecast prepared 1/18/2010, Off-peak prices

period        NP15 (Northern California)
2011-1      2.9 cents/kWh
2011-2      2.5 cents/kWh
2011-3      3.6 cents/kWh
2011-4      3.7 cents/kWh

Previously I used 15,000 miles per year as the average annual mileage driven by Americans in a year.  While the DOE/EPA Model Year 2011 Fuel Economy Guide bases its annual fuel costs on 15,000 mile per year, EPA’s transportation and air quality group  peg the average miles driven at 12,000 miles per year.  And the Federal Highway Administration shows drivers in the 20 – 54 age range averaging over 15,000 per year.  Taking this all in I’ve decided to conservatively base the average analysis on 12,000 miles per year.

Some comments noted that EV will have lower maintenance costs than gas power cars.  I think it’s fair to credit the EV with avoided oil changes.  This isn’t a big factor but does improve the EV economics a bit.

I also used an estimated 10 cents/kWh for a nationwide average for retail electric prices.   For the average charging analysis I’m now using 11.5 cents/ kWh which according to the EIA is the actual August 2010 nationwide average.

In my first analysis I included 10% losses in the charging equipment because I was in a hurry.  This is probably a little high and I revised the loss figure to 5% consistent with losses in a couple of thyristors.

Previously I based my analysis on $3.50 gasoline.  This still seems a fair estimate and I’ve continued to use it.   Of course, if gasoline prices spike EVs will get a boost.

All these changes taken together erode the EV economics a bit but not enough to change my previous conclusion that EVs can be a hit given some creative utility rates.  But at my current rates, I’ll wait on the EV, sigh.

Scenario                 Break-even years      IRR at 96,000 miles (8 years)
1  (5 cent/kWh)                 4.6                                14 %
2  (11.5 cent/kWh)            5.6                                  9%
3  (17.6* cent/kWh)          6.9                                 4%

* this is what I pay today to SMUD for each incremental kWh


The Catch-22

Many utilities, and certainly those in California, are facing Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirements.  So if a utility added significant new load, say 50,000 EVs charging at 3kW at night, the utility would need to provide an additional 150 MW of power.  In all likelihood this power would come from fossil sources, at least for some period of time.   In the western US the marginal generating resource at night is almost always very efficient natural gas fired combined-cycle power (thank you again .  Essentially we would be running domestic natural gas through a high efficiency conversion and displacing imported crude or gasoline.  But a utility may be penalized by RPS requirements for this very sensible activity – the Catch-22.

The RPS standards have been enacted in large part to address climate change resulting from burning fossil fuels.  To test whether the RPS standards are counter productive to their own purpose in the case of EV charging, I dove into carbon calculating.

I first calculated the annual pounds of CO2 the Camry would produce.  Using EPA mileage, 12,000 miles per year, and the EPA’s CO2/gallon of gasoline figure, I computed the Camry would produce 9,502 lb/CO2 per year.

Next, to calculate the Leaf’s CO2 production, I adjusted the Leaf’s kWh consumption back to the generation level by adding back transmission system losses.   Then I determined the amount of natural gas consumed using night time combined cycle heat rates of 7,500 Btu/kWh.  Finally I applied EPA’s latest C-factors (including the 2 oxygens) for natural gas to compute the CO2 produced. The result: 4,049 lb/CO2 produced per year, less then one-half that produced by a gasoline engine.

This result makes sense: (1) combined cycle power plants, even after transmission and charging losses are really efficient, and (2) natural gas produces a lot less CO2 than an equivalent amount of gasoline.

The conclusion is straightforward, EV charging should be exempt from RPS requirements and the EPA should be gung-ho for EV charging.   And at the end of the day I don’t see any way a utility will ultimately be penalized for encouraging EVs.

Going Down Under, Down Under

by Richard T. Stuebi

Geothermal energy has been part of the electricity grid for about 100 years.  By using the heat from underground sources, steam can be generated to spin a turbine. 

This is a pretty straightforward concept, and it’s generally an economically-attractive power generation option where the underground heat — either steam or hot water — is at or very near the surface.  In turn, this tends to occur only along seismic rift zones or in areas of volcanic activity, such as Iceland.  In other words, geothermal energy has generally not been a viable alternative for much of the planet.

However, as oil/gas drilling and production has gotten more technologically-advanced, the frontier of underground resource recovery continues to deepen.  The development of “fracking” technology to crack geologic layers via fluids under high pressures is being appropriated from hydrocarbon to geothermal energy, with the investigation of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)

EGS technology can take advantage of the unassailable fact that there is an abundance of thermal energy in the earth’s core — if you go deep enough.  According to MIT’s 2007 report “The Future of Geothermal Energy”, the U.S. has 140,000 times the amount of deep geothermal energy resource than its annual energy consumption.  Unfortunately, it’s 2-6 miles deep, and in tight rock formations, so that’s why the most advanced oil/gas technologies such as fracking need to be employed.

In a recent overview of EGS development by the Economist, it seems that Australia is leading the way in technological advancement:  with about $2 billion of investment over the period 2002-2014, “more than 50 companies exploring geothermal projects in Australia have taken out over 400 licenses for areas covering…a combined area roughly the size of Spain.” 

Of course, as always with new energy technologies, the main challenge is economics.  The technology can and almost certainly will work, but the question is whether it can produce electricity in a manner that generates sufficient returns to encourage investors to shell mega-bucks up front to drill down a few miles for heat.  Current projections indicate a cost of almost $0.20/kwh, though reductions should be capturable if/as the technology matures.

As with almost anything in the new energy frontier, the maturation of EGS technology would appear to be a question of will, and when.

7 Book Reviews in Cleantech and Energy

Sandor Schoichet s a longtime Cleantech Blog reader, and Director of Meridian Management Consultants.  Sandor has EE and SM degrees in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science from MIT, where he studied artificial intelligence, office automation, and business process reengineering, and completed a joint program in Management of Innovation at the Sloan and Harvard business schools. He holds undergraduate degrees in Information Sciences and Philosophy from UC Santa Cruz.  He published these book reviews on our sister site, and following our Cleantech Bookshelf,  we liked them so much we’re republishing them here as a Reader’s Choice Bookshelf.

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins

If there was one key to turning around the damaging business and environmental practices of modern culture, what would it be?  ‘Natural Capitalism,’ the seminal 1999 call for a broader focus on sustainability, presents an overwhelming case that the key is resource efficiency and effectiveness.  Just as conventional capitalism is all about using financial capital effectively, so ‘natural capitalism’ is about expanding that bottom line focus to include the  natural resources and ecosystem services underlying the ability of business and society to function in the first place.  The authors argue that with appropriate shifts in business perspective and government policy, our economy could be something like 90% more efficient in its use of irreplaceable natural resources, thereby mitigating ecosystem impacts, enabling global development, and staving off climate change.

Throughout history, until very recently, man has been a small actor in an overwhelmingly large world.  Most of the book explores how this has given rise to our ingrained cultural patterns of wasteful resource utilization, limited focus on capital efficiency, and drive for production volumes, while assuming unbounded access to subsidized natural resources and ‘free’ ecosystem services.  Shifting perspective to include natural capital on the business balance sheet, and to expand lean manufacturing principles beyond the factory walls is what’s required to address the ecology/climate change nexus.  This change in perspective is embodied in a range of sustainable business concepts, including the ‘triple bottom line’ (profits, people, and planet), and the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ model for recycling products and integrating industries to eliminate ‘waste’.

The basic principles of natural capitalism put forward can be summarized as: (1) focus on natural resource efficiency (2) using closed loop, biomemetic, nontoxic processes (3) to deliver more appropriate end-user services (4) while investing in restoring, sustaining, and expanding natural capital.  Following these principles leads not to constraints on business or lowered expectations, but an enormous range of new business opportunities to profit from improved efficiencies and environmentally beneficial activities.  One of the best expressions of this perspective comes in the discussion on climate change, providing a refreshing contrast to the recent spate of bad news on this front: “Together, the [available business] opportunities can turn climate change into an unnecessary artifact of [our] uneconomically wasteful use of resources.”

While the authors deliver an awesome, deeply researched articulation of their vision, showing with many examples why it’s important and how it can work within our current capitalistic economies, the book has two key flaws.  First, it falls prey to the syndrome first articulated by Paul Saffo, founder of the Institute for the Future, of confusing a clear vision of the future with a short path.  This combines with an  excessive reliance on sheer volume of examples to make their points, too many of them poorly explained, bristling with non-comparable numbers, and substituting hand-waving for real outcomes.  Deeper exploration of fewer examples might have illustrated the principles better, and have been much easier to read.  Also, 11 years after the original publication, many of the examples are seen to be hastily chosen and and used to support glib and overreaching conclusions that make the authors seem naive.  Examples include the advent hydrogen powered cars (“hypercars”), the potential for shutting down Ruhr Valley coal production in favor of direct social payments to coal workers, or the imminent triumph of the Kyoto Protocols for international carbon trading.  And, while much attention is paid to articulating the perverse incentives, misguided taxes and subsidies, and split responsibilities that impede more efficient system approaches, there’s short shrift given to new technology adoption rates, the scale of existing infrastructure investments, or the political complexities of changing incentives and subsidies.

However, if you are interested in understanding the genesis and foundations of the modern sustainability movement, this is a fundamental text.  Despite its flaws, after 11 years the fundamental argument and principles hold up well and are still inspiring.

Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future
by Robert Bryce

Bryce bills himself as a purveyor of “industrial strength journalism,” and ‘Power Hungry’ doesn’t disappoint. Starting with a clear statement of his own energy policy – “I’m in favor of air conditioning and cold beer.” – Bryce provides a muscular, data-driven analysis of our modern industrial civilization and the changing mix of energy sources that power it. This is an eye-opening discussion that does an unusually good job of conveying the scale of our existing energy infrastructure, and the challenge of providing adequate energy supplies for the future, not just for the US and Europe, but for the developing world and the third world as well, under the constraints of economics and decarbonization. Bryce articulate four energy imperatives – power density, energy density, cost, and scale – and uses them as a consistent framework for looking at what he calls the “Myths of Green Energy.” His “myths” run the gamut from the idea that wind power can really reduce overall CO2 emissions, to the idea that the US lags other countries in energy efficiency, to the idea that carbon capture and sequestration could work at scale, and intriguingly, even the idea that oil is a dirty fuel compared to the alternatives. While the debunking of green alternatives has flaws, especially in the lack of attention to advanced biofuels, smart grid technologies, and green building materials, it is refreshingly apolitical – focused on facts, practical alternatives, and the requirements of scale. In some ways Bryce ends up with conclusions similar to those of Bill McKibben in his recent book ‘Eaarth’: we will not be able to turn the tide on atmospheric CO2 quickly enough, the scale is too large, the transition times are too long, the pressure for global development is too great. We will have no choice but to mitigate some problems and adapt to the rest. However, instead of advocating acceptance of a “graceful decline” as McKibben does, Bryce lays out an energetic path forward, a “no regrets” policy he dubs N2N: shifting electrical generation aggressively towards natural gas in the near term, while investing in advanced nuclear technologies for the long run. The strongest element of the book is how he effectively links the future economic health of the US with rising prospects for the rest of the world … and that will take massive quantities of carbon-free power, not only for economic development, but for mitigating unavoidable climate change impacts as well. ‘Power Hungry’ is a challenging and valuable read for everyone interested in green energy and an effective response to the climate crisis.

Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
by Stewart Brand

Brand, as ever, is a clear and forceful writer, fearlessly putting himself on the line with specific recommendations and a call to action. This is the Plan missing from Al Gore’s otherwise excellent textbook, ‘Our Choice: A Plan to Solve to Climate Crisis’ –harder-edged, more urgent, more tech-savvy, willing to name names, kick butt, and provoke a reaction. This is the place to start if you’re ready to move beyond the conventional green perspective and really get a grip on what responding to the climate challenge entails. Frightening and exhilarating at the same time!

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben

I’m conflicted about this book, and McKibben’s style in general. First, this is a valuable contribution to the debate about how to think about climate change and appropriate goals for our planetary future. McKibben actually presents many good ideas (in the second half of the book), rooted in a realistic and compelling vision of how our world is changing and how we need to adapt. However, his writing style, especially when presenting bad news (the first half of the book) is just “one damn thing after another,” an endless listing of specifics without adequate context or meaningful analysis … he apparently does not understand that anecdotes are not evidence. While he makes his argument most energetically, and has lots of suggestive detail that appears to support it, in the cases with which I am directly familiar he is guilty of taking things out of context, then making gross simplifications and overreaching generalizations. And this is too bad, because, overall, I think he’s basically right, and that his suggestions for change are excellent. Probably the most important aspect of this book is simply his tough, clear-eyed situation assessment of the damage that’s already been done, the building momentum of environmental change, and the need to get on with a meaningful response. I worry, though, that by beating us over the head with a stream of bad news, and then framing his suggestions for a response in terms of achieving a “graceful decline”, too many people will be turned off and won’t hear the good ideas towards the end of the book. The grand project of changing our culture so that we can live in a durable and robust symbiosis with our environment on a global scale … that’s not a graceful decline, but a call to help create a new age as exciting as any that went before.

Turning Oil Into Salt: Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice
by Anne Korin, Gal Luft

This slim volume is the clearest and most direct analysis I’ve yet seen of oil’s position as a strategic commodity, and the potential for open fuel standards to enable a market-based pathway to transportation fuel choice. Especially notable for its independent perspective … we hear so much about the need for ‘drop in’ petroleum equivalents and the ‘ethanol blend wall’, but not nearly enough about other approaches that might emulate the open interface model that has driven the phenomenal growth of the internet. Absolutely required reading for anyone interested in clean energy, the potential contribution of biofuels to achieving energy security, and the practical steps that we need to take to move down the path.

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate
by Stephen H. Schneider, Tim Flannery

If you care about the big picture of climate change that’s driving the urgency behind global environmental agreements and the commercialization of greentech, then Schneider’s ‘Science as a Contact Sport’ is must reading. The book achieves two objectives in an engaging and forceful manner. First it is a great introduction to the science of climate change, presented through Schneider’s personal experience as a key participant in its development. And second, it provides much-needed insight into how the issue has played out in the US legislature and the global media, again from an up-close and personal point of view. Democracy and government are both messy systems, but still are forums where the environmental and greentech communities must ultimately triumph, and Schneider’s personal experience should be of value to everyone engaged in the battle. Some elements of Schneider’s message echo Al Gore’s discussion in ‘The Assault on Reason,’ but are presented in a clearer, more direct, and better operationalized manner. Highly recommended!

Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider
by John Hofmeister

Hofmeister writes with refreshing directness and lack of pretense about two key ideas: the disconnect between “political time” and “energy time” that drives legislative dysfunction in energy and environmental planning; and his own proposal for an independent Federal Energy Resources Board to fix it. Most of the book is a walkthrough of the current US energy business and infrastructure … the “straight talk from an energy insider” part. He convincingly lays out an array of problems with the approaches advocated by just about everyone, from left-wing environmentalists, to right-wing “infotainers”, to the energy and utility power industry itself … with special scorn for the disastrous and long-running failure of our elected officials of all stripes to address our energy needs in a serious manner. The book provides a prescient and unnerving in-depth background to current newspaper reporting on the BP spill disaster in the Gulf (it went to press just before the explosion and blowout). Hofmeister is on less firm footing, however, when he switches to his proposal for an independent energy regulatory agency modeled on the Federal Reserve. While he surely gets an ‘A’ for boldness and for thinking outside the box, how this is supposed to work and how we are supposed to get there in advance of a national energy disaster akin to the Great Depression, are both left up to “grassroots pressure.” All I can say is that I hope his non-profit, Citizens for Affordable, is successful at pushing his ideas onto the national stage, and helping to build a consensus focus on practical solutions. Highly recommended … wherever you stand on these complex issues, Hofmeister will push your buttons and make you think about what a real solution might look like.

Report from Grid Integration of Renewables Conference at Stanford

By Andrew Longenecker, guest contributor 

 The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy’s “Grid Integration of Renewables” conference, which took place at Stanford University’s Jen-Hsun Engineering Center on January 13, 2011, brought together professionals and students to discuss various aspects of the integration of intermittent sources of power to the grid. The conference facilitated the discussion on technological, political, and international perspectives, bringing together a variety of views to create a comprehensive perspective on a very important problem.

Jeff Bingaman, US Senator from New Mexico, where he is Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure, opened the conference with his keynote speech. He first noted the importance of taxes for support for renewable energy (estimating that 80% of renewable energy support comes in the form of taxes) and indicated concern that these were not permanent features of the industry, as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) expires in 2012 and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expires in 2016. In discussing what to expect for the next two years, Bingaman was cautious, noting three separate “things to keep in mind”: there is a politically polarized environment (and upcoming election in 2012), there is strong ideological resistance to active government role in the transition of our economy to a clean economy, and there is an adverse budget situation, causing difficulties in finding the money to maintain spending on tax programs. He noted that there is an opportunity for a “clean energy standard” instead of a “renewable energy standard,” but cautioned against supporting “clean energy standards” that are simply veiled proposals designed to cut the current renewable energy programs.

Jeffrey Byron, appointed to the California Energy Commission by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in June 2006 who served as Presiding Member of the Energy Commission’s Research, Development, and Demonstration Committee and is a member of numerous other energy-related committees, gave the second keynote speech of the conference. He had an optimistic perspective of California’s accomplishments to date, particularly in regards to the prospect of reaching the target of 33% renewables by 2020. However, he acknowledged that there are challenges: lack of legally established renewable portfolio standards, no real-time pricing, lagging on renewables goals (e.g., California did not make its 20% renewables goal), and a lack of sophisticated thought about procurement of electricity in California. Further, he viewed the energy structure in California to be overly complicated, with too many stakeholders with overlapping jurisdictions and coordination issues. He emphasized the need to seek greater collaboration among constituents (e.g., electricity imports from neighbors), continue cost improvements, revise interconnection standards to pass costs accurately among stakeholders; create a path toward putting all generation on equal footing, and to improve the measurement of the grid. He closed his speech by emphasizing that people and policies really do matter and encouraging everyone to demand more from their government representatives. His view is that the United States and the world are looking to California’s leadership to develop the clean technologies and policies that the world will use.

The rest of the conference included speakers and panel discussions covering a broad range of topics. There sessions represented a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from utilities (e.g., PG&E), academia (e.g., Stanford University, University of Delaware), government and non-profit institutions (e.g., NREL, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies), international perspectives (including professors from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Denmark), and startups like SunPower. One frequently mentioned topic was the need for flexibility in the grid in order for renewables to prosper. Speakers mentioned numerous potential sources for grid flexibility, such as automated demand response programs, dynamic pricing (which may come to California as early as 2013 for residential customers), renewable imports from neighboring areas (as well as intra-hour scheduling of renewable imports), smart charging of electric vehicles, and of course, storage. Debbie Lew from NREL shared two interesting examples of areas with large renewable shares (around ~30% renewables) that experienced significant difficulties in managing loads. Drastically increased volatility from wind intermittency, as well as significantly lowered minimum loads, caused massive problems for the system (e.g., cycling and ramping schedules for conventional plants, increased complication in load management). However, speakers were generally optimistic on the significant opportunities in solving these problems, particularly in California’s leadership on the issue.

Please note that presentations from the conference will be posted at

Ford Focus Electric takes on Nissan LEAF

Ford Focus ELectricFord’s Newest EV is Official

Ford has officially announced the Ford Focus Electric, a new aerodynamic 5-door hatchback with an expected range of 100 miles per charge. This 5-seat car matches the specs that I published after my test drive of the Focus Electric in May 2010. First consumer deliveries of the all-new Focus Electric will start towards the end of this year. At that point Ford will have solid EV experience and probably have delivered thousands of Ford Transit Connect Electric Vans to delivery and service fleets.

The Ford Focus Electric has a Magna drive system and a 23 kWh Ford designed battery pack using LG Chem Compact Power lithium-ion tri-metal cells with over 17 kWh available in the charge-discharge cycle. The battery pack is actively liquid cooled and heated battery pack allowing for stable battery operation over a wide range of temperatures and lower temperature-related swings in driving range. The all-electric powertrain and single-speed transmission provide immediate responsiveness and smooth acceleration when the driver pushes down the accelerator, up to a top speed of 84 mph.

The first markets selected to receive the Ford Focus Electric are Atlanta, Austin, Houston, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Tucson, Portland, Raleigh Durham, Richmond, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Ford is starting with these cities to insure that their will be charging stations at work and public spaces, as well as city and utility support for fast track approval of home chargers. This will also allow Ford to train dealers and service teams.

MyFord Mobile App

MyFord Mobile is an app for your web browser, iPhone, Droid, and other mobile devices, to monitor and schedule the chargingmyford mobile app Ford Focus Electric Car Review of your Focus Electric from anywhere, to help you maximize your range. It gives you remote charging status updates, so you can check existing charge levels and available range, while keeping track of your charge schedule. It also provides you with the location of your vehicle, where you can find the nearest charging stations and the most efficient route to get there. The app also estimates the amount of CO2 emissions and money you save based on your driving style – to help you manage costs and improve your efficiency.

  • Receive instant vehicle status information
  • Perform key functions remotely
  • Monitor the car’s state of charge and current range
  • Get alerts when it requires charging or has finished charging
  • Remotely program charge settings and download vehicle data for analysis
  • Get map routing to the nearest available charge stations

The feature also allows the owner to program the vehicle to use electricity from the grid to heat or cool the battery and cabin while plugged in – called preconditioning. For example, during hot summer months, owners can preprogram the car the evening before to be fully charged – and fully cooled to a particular temperature – by a certain time the following morning. Users can also locate the vehicle with GPS, remotely start the vehicle and remotely lock and unlock the car doors.

Test Driving the Ford Focus Electric

focus ev screen Ford Focus Electric Car ReviewLast May, I made my second test drive of the Ford Focus Electric. It felt just like driving a regular gasoline Focus 4-door sedan, except it was more quiet and accelerated faster due to the torque of the electric motor. The Focus Electric accelerated faster than when I test drove the Nissan LEAF. Both allow me to accelerate on to a freeway with my power than I really need.

The handling was smooth while driving the Focus EV. Unlike some electric car prototypes, when I hit the brakes, it stopped evenly and quickly. The coordination between regeneration and disc braking was effective. The car felt ready for serious driving 8 months ago.

Charge Twice as Fast

Ford is making a big deal of the fact that the 2012 Ford Focus Electric charges twice as fast as the 2011 Nissan LEAF. Ford is 6.6 kW/h; Nissan is 3.3 kW/h. The comparison is unfair. The 2012 Nissan LEAF, available at the same time as the 2012 Focus Electric, will also charge at the faster 6.6 kW/h. Nissan, like most automakers, have been waiting for SAE to finalize certain charging standards. In 2012, both cars can be recharged after typical driving in less than 3 hours.

If you are a pioneer buyer of the 2011 LEAF, then you will either be content to charge at 3.3 kW/h, or you will pay to upgrade to 6.6 kW/h. Clean Fleet Report speculates that Nissan will charge $1,000 to $2,000 for the upgrade. Most chargers being installed are ready for 6.6 kW/h and are smart enough to charge at the vehicle’s rate, be it 3.3 or 6.6.

Ford and Microsoft are partnering to implement the Microsoft Hohm energy management application for Ford’s electric vehicles and Synch for entertainment. The Ford Focus EV will be the first electric car to use Hohm, an Internet app built on top of Azure, Microsoft’s new cloud-computing operating system. Four utilities are piloting this smart-grid application: Xcel Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Seattle City Light, and Puget Sound Energy.

Competition with the Nissan LEAF and Other Electric Cars

Ford has yet to announce the price of the Ford Focus Electric. Ford could select a price less than the Nissan LEAF’s $32,780. We expect both the Honda Fit EV and the Mitsubishi I to be priced in the U.S. at $29,990 or less. Will Ford underprice Honda or focus on making the Focus Electric profitable?

Price depends on the cost of the lithium battery packs. Three years ago, prices were close to $1,000/kWh. By next year, they may be under $500/kWh. Cell makers keep refining battery chemistry. Pack makers look at design and volume manufacturing. Ford, Nissan, and GM are in a race to see who will be the first to sell 100,000 cars with lithium battery packs in one year. Ford is the likely winner, because next year all Ford hybrids and electric vehicles will use lithium battery packs. Ford will buy cells from competing battery giants, but Ford will make its own packs. Within 24 months Ford will be offering 3 battery-electric vehicles and 2 plug-in hybrids.

The battery pack for the 2012 Ford Focus Electric weighs 500 pounds. Ford has a roadmap that envisions the battery eventually being reduced to a size of the current Focus gas tank and a weight of only 125 pounds using new battery chemistry. Although some express concern about the long-term availability of lithium, Ford’s Nancy Gioia, Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, said that Ford’s analysis is that there will be no shortage through 2050. Battery makers expect to recycle 98 percent of the lithium in batteries.

Ford is also reducing car costs by giving customers a wide choice from one assembly line. This year we expect Ford to officially announce that customers will be able to order the new Focus with their preferred drive system including gasoline engine, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric. The Ford Focus Plug-in Hybrid is likely to price for less than the Chevrolet Volt.

The Focus Electric and the LEAF are beautiful compact cars. What do you do when you need to carry lots of stuff? Both include 60/40 reclining rear seats. In both cases, however, the placement of the battery pack precludes a completely flat cargo platform.

The Focus EV will be made in America – Warren, Michigan. Ford is investing $550 million to transform its Michigan Assembly Plant into a lean, green and flexible manufacturing complex that will build Ford’s next-generation Focus global small car along with a new battery-electric version of the Focus for the North American market. Ford is planning on a Global C platform for 12 to 14 different vehicles with a volume of 2 million units per year. Such volume, common chassis and many common components, can give Ford improved profit margins and room to price hybrid and electric cars competitively.

Announcing the new Ford Focus Electric is a proud moment for CEO Alan Mulally and the entire Ford team. Back when Ford refused to take part in the $70 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler, big investors were writing off Ford. If you had invested $100,000 in Ford at that crisis point less than 2.5 years ago, it would be worth $1,800,000 now.

Cleantech Blog Wants a Leaf, Dammit

I drove my first Nissan Leaf on Saturday. The ultimate cleantech car.  Not Cleantech Blog’s first EV drive, as our blogger John Addison has blogged on the Leaf and other EVs numerous times before. But only my second EV drive.  My Leaf test drive followed a previous conversation with Mark Perry, one of the senior product guys at Nissan, who gave me a bit of insight ahead of time into what all went into the Leaf. I must admit, I was rougher on him than almost any interview I’ve ever done, and was definitely a skeptic. I pushed him hard on why they didn’t push the cost to get just a bit more range and a bit faster charging, and he was unable to share too much on the record.  I’m also incredulous at the minute volumes (20,000 in the US this year) they are producing.  One version?  Every product decision middle of the road?  No real EV options?  Tiny production for the first year?  Scatter that production around the world?  I think at heart Nissan has been scared to death that this thing will flop.  They’ve treated the Leaf like a pilot, and marketed it like a real car.  I say why not bet on it?  They wouldn’t release any other car with such puny production capacity.   As it is, if it works, their 12 to 24 month advantage over the competition just evaporates into market share limbo.  And best yet, it’s a great looking car.  I think they did a damn good job for the first honest to goodness mass market EV on the planet.  And an amazing job marketing.  But have the courage of your convictions!  I want a Leaf, Dammit!

The Leaf Electric Drive Tour has to be one of the best sales pitches I’ve ever received. Think timeshare sales tour, except fun, no pressure, and not obnoxious. (oh and no donuts).  By the end of the group pre-ride tour – you could feel your adrenaline and the excitement just to get it one – it felt like a Disney World ride. And the best part was no salesmen ever showed up! You just leave thinking where do I sign?

Of course, there was the guy in front of me who commented he bought one without ever driving it, and was just coming for a test drive while waiting for it to arrive.  He was not the only excited person in a crowd of excited people.

To be honest, the Leaf looks good, feels good, handles well, and they’ve thought about almost everything I could come up with.

For instance:

  • The “fuel tank’ is measured in estimate miles left, not gallons of KWH – which makes sense I just never thought about it.
  • You can pre heat and pre cool it from your cell phone.
  • A lot of the car’s interior is made from recycled materials.
  • The 600 lb batteries can be swapped out cell by cell and component by component for repair. They have an 8 year warranty – but only 5 years on the EV components and 3 bumper to bumper (which I found odd – Nissan trusts its battery life more than the life of the rest of the car?)
  • The battery power level fades <1% per month when sitting unplugged.  Wish my blackberry did that well.
  • The Leaf can text you when it’s thirsty.
  • You can see component by component how much juice you draw.
  • You can get Leaf apps to help you plan out your route by juice level.
  • The Leaf knows where the fast chargers are around town, and knows if they are occupied.
  • The Leaf will shut down non essentials and ping you the closer it gets to out.
  • It has a back up capacitor to keep it from dying when you run out of juice.
  • There will be a hundred chargers in the first year in Houston where I live – most of them are expected to be free (like at grocery stores and malls and stuff that want your business, and a bunch arranged by Reliant, one one of the big Texas utilities).
  • Oh, and free roadside assistance for 3 years to pick you up if you run out of juice. (I swear I heard that right!)

Now for the general EV advantages:

  • You can hear your self think (and your passenger, too). It makes about as much noise as well, a leaf falling.
  • It turns in almost the space of the dining room table I’m writing this blog on.
  • It accelerates like demon hummingbird on meth.  The beauty about EVs is you can get lots of acceleration and torque at low RPMs.  Nissan quotes 100% of torque at 1,000 RPMs vs. a V8 that might have 40% at 1,000 RPMs.  I can believe it.
  • The maintenance is like, nil.  My kind of car.  No oil.  No transmission fluid.  No spark plugs.  Breakpads don’t wear as much because regenerative breaking uses your drive train to help break.  This one is passively cooled for the batteries, but does have coolant for the EV parts.  They have a cool flat cell design that dissipates heat and makes that possible.  Some guy in the audience asked it there were really only 5 moving parts in the whole Leaf.  (uhm no, but damn that marketing group must be something else to get THAT rumor going!)
  • Did I mention it’s cool and electric and has lots of gadgets and apps?

. . .

But I’m not going to buy one.  As a car, it’s just not there yet.  Almost – but not quite.  I’m a 15 year car guy.  I don’t believe in the throw away economy when it comes to cars.  I want my next car to last til the cows come home.  As I said, just not quiiiiiiite there yet.

  • Charging time – eh.  Can fast charge on 480V in 30 minutes.  But you’re not going to have a fast charger in your home.  Needs like 8 hours on 220V (you buy a 220V charging station installed at your house).  On a 110V wall plug, think more like most of  day.  These are good numbers, but from a guy who sometimes doesn’t always fill up the whole tank if I’m at a slow gas pump – uh, not very impressive.  Of note, Ford just announced its Focus will charge in 3 to 4 hours – bascially they just use a 6.6 KW charger instead of Nissan’s 3.3,  about a 7% cost saving move according to Mark Perry.  I kept asking the whyb we didn’t see a more expensive fast charge version if it’s the cheap – and better yet a fast charging version with just a tad more batteries, and no answer really forthcoming.  Back to my Nissan wasn’t ready to swing for the fences, and has treated the Leaf has a high profile pilot.
  • Saves money, sort of.  You fill up your car on $2-$3 per “tank”.  24 KWH battery pack, $0.10/kwh.  Nissan posted a target miles per $ for a number of cars as a comparison, about 37 for the Leaf, 18 for a Toyota Prius, 14 for a Ford Fusion Hybrid, and 5 for a Hummer.  Estimates using $0.10/kwh and $2.80 per gallon, I believe.  Great, saves money.  Um, not so much.  $2800 savings over 100,000 miles/8 years vs a Prius, and $4400 vs. a Ford Fusion Hybrid.  Does not pay for the cost difference.  Of course, after some really rich subsidies, you might say, yes it does!
  • 100 mile average range target.  Not bad.  But not quite good either.  Especially as I’m 30 miles from the airport.  Basically no running errands on trips to the airport day – especially since it’s all freeway and no way I’m going to the airport without AC in Houston most days.
  • Or put another way, I drove across town to test drive my Leaf.  When I got in for my 10.30 a.m. appointment, the car had been test driving intermittently for a couple of hours, kind of like running errands.  The range said 72 miles without AC, 63 miles with AC.  My house is 34.2 miles from the test drive location in Pearland.  If I’d owned a Leaf, the range would not have gotten me to the Leaf test drive.  That was very unsettling.  (Of course, if I lived in Pearland, then I’d have gotten to drive the Leaf with no problem, but now I’d be 40 miles from the airport).
  • Gets worse.  Remember I’m a 15 year car guy.  I asked them what happened at the end of my 8 year battery warranty.  They assume future battery packs will be backwards compatible and could be replaced if need be (my Corolla and Accord are both approaching 15 years and I have no intention of replacing the engine).  And they estimate the battery will be at about 80% capacity in year 8.  Not good, wouldn’t even be able to pick up friends from the airport under any circumstances.  Not sure I could get to Costco, HEB, and parents house and back at year 15.  And for those non 15 year care guys, who do you think is going to buy your 6 year old Leaf  with an 85 mile range when you’re tired of it?
  • Which brings us to the final reason I’m sadly not going to buy a Leaf.  Ford is launching an EV Focus later this year.  The Volt is out.  A dozen more are coming.  In 24 months, the Leaf will be the first, but likely not the best.  By year 3, EV battery life will have improved.   By year 6-10 when you’re trying to sell it, it’ll be the slow charging, short range, out of warranty really cool old obsolete car, and it probably won’t last 15 years.  🙁

So I will be buying an EV. Just not this one.  Just not now.  But kudos to Nissan for making a really cool car that almost got an electric vehicle skeptic over the line.

PS For the record, I’ve pinged Nissan PR a dozen times asking for one to drive around for a couple of weeks and see what it’s like in real world conditions.  Never gotten a call.

PPS  Despite all that, I want a Leaf, Dammit!

America’s “Sputnik Moment”

by Richard T. Stuebi

An increasing chorus of compelling voices – such as Thomas Friedman and Bill Gates and Jeff Immelt — has been arguing with strengthening force that the U.S. needs to dramatically up its ante in energy technology advancement – not only to address our own future energy needs in an economically and environmentally sustainable way, but also to secure a place for the U.S. in the energy industry of the future, given the massive investments being made by China and Europe in next-generation energy.

In a recent report, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) weighed in on this topic, urging to President Obama a tripling of energy RD&D from $5 billion annually to $16 billion annually, noting that the $11 billion increase could be funded by small increases in gasoline taxes or transmission “wheeling” charges for coal-fired electricity that would be “well within the normal fluctuations in price seen by consumers”.

The issue seems to be pretty well understood within the Obama Administration itself.  In a late November speech, DOE Secretary Steven Chu used the Sputnik analogy as a call to action for the U.S.:  when the U.S.S.R. launched the first satellite, Sputnik, “the U.S. woke up” and took action to reclaim leadership in the space race.  The implication:  we need some kind of “Sputnik moment” here in the U.S. to truly get serious about the imperatives and opportunities in clean energy technologies.

Well, judged by some of the early dismal U.S. efforts to launch rockets in the wake of Sputnik, I would argue that the U.S. has unfortunately shown a similar response so far to the global race for advanced energy:  much sound and fury, signifying little.  It would be nice for us to get our act together on energy technologies as quickly as NASA did in rocketry fifty years ago, but as I’ve argued in the past (unpopularly within the cleantech community), the space race is not a good analogy for the cleantech race:  unlike space, there is no one top-down customer/agency like NASA that controls all things in energy.

So the “Sputnik moment” quip can only take us so far.  If we can indeed wake up and enact meaningful policies that provide adequate economic/financial signals and incentives to drive the private sector to invest much more heavily in energy technology R&D and commercialization, then the U.S. retains a great chance to catch up to the leaders (up till now in Europe, but increasingly overtaken by China).  Otherwise, while we might make good strides in certain niches, the U.S. will be lapped in the overall cleantech contest, and we’ll have lost the biggest industrial game of the 21st Century.

As the American Economic Association concluded last week in Denver at its annual meeting, the consensus of economists was that the prospects for U.S. economic decline are substantial.  A reversal of fortune of this magnitude will not be achieved without some major changes.  Why not attempt to regain U.S. greatness by aiming to reinvent the biggest sector of the world’s economy?  After all, we need to anyway.

Billion Dollar Opportunities in Cleantech

by David Anthony

It’s true. Cleantech investment hasn’t worked out exactly how people dreamt it would back in the overly-optimistic days of the last decade. One of the main obstacles deterring venture capital investors from the sector is the frequently lengthy time lag between investment and commercialization. More importantly, the number of successful cleantech exits remains few — often because either the technology is not as disruptive as competing solutions or it is simply taking longer to adopt it.

The other fly in the ointment is the large-scale capital expenditures required to develop the technology in the first place. Clean technologies can be incredibly capital-intensive in the developmental and commercialization stages.  The level of investment required can and have discouraged further investors from committing to later and larger rounds of capital raises. When this problem is compounded with that of actually getting to commercialization it is not hard to see why many venture capital funds are decidedly more cautious about investment in cleantech than they were just a few years ago.

And these are not the only snags. The downturn in the world economy has drastically reduced the political appetite for renewable energy, especially in the US; the untimely death of President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill is testament to that. So although Feed-in-Tariffs continue to provide incentives for new developments, the fact that there is no price on carbon production and no penalties for over-producing it in the US mean that alternative energy remains a less attractive alternative than fossil-fuel.

But despite this doom and gloom, there are still very good reasons for investors to stay the course and persevere with the cleantech sector. The primary reason for this is the still-gigantic potential in a number of key markets which, when successfully exploited, are going to reap huge dividends for those who crack them and invested in the achievement.

Look, for example, at utility-scale energy storage. Lack of energy storage means that wind and solar energy is less viable at the moment than it could be.  Because energy from these sources is often produced at times which do not correlate with peak energy demand and because a viable utility scale storage solution has yet to emerge, renewable energy has been unable to achieve grid parity. In West Texas, some wind power generators have had to pay the state grid operator to take the energy off their hands in order to continue qualifying for federal tax credits. These costs are inevitably passed on to the consumer, so a breakthrough in large-scale energy storage will have an enormous impact on the profitability of renewables such as wind and solar. Whoever manages to solve this problem and develop an affordable method of energy storage is going to be able to sell it to every alternative energy generator in the world, and the returns on their investments will be huge.

Another massive potential market is the development of a viable system for carbon capture and sequestration. The two largest economies in the world, the U.S. and China, possess the world’s largest and third-largest coal reserves respectively, and it is highly unlikely that they will completely ignore such a cheap and abundant source of energy. But the environmental effects of burning coal have extremely heavy long-term costs, so the development of efficient, zero-emissions coal plants will revolutionize the energy market. It is a simply inescapable fact that the rewards for anyone who has the vision and staying power to invest in developing this technology will match the size of the gigantic market for clean coal-derived energy.

Low-cost desalination is going to be yet another definite winner in the near future. Climate change is creating new and unforeseen changes in global weather patterns. For example, there are fears that the south Asian monsoons will weaken and become less consistent. Given that the monsoon accounts for 80 percent of India’s total rainfall, a serious change in this weather pattern would without a shadow of a doubt need to be redressed with alternative sources of clean water. Benjamin Franklin was wrong; it’s not just death and taxes that are certain in this world, the market for clean water is too because we simply cannot live without it. Low cost desalination will be developed; the only question is who will have had the foresight to invest.

Vertical (or protected) farming could be another huge future market. The rising middle class in the two most populous nations on earth, China and India, is increasing global demand for food. If this new emerging middle class population’s shopping patterns mirror the US middle class’s grocery trends – where the number one grocery item is bagged leafy greens, for example – there is sure to be a sharp increase in demands for greater availability and variety of produce. To sustain the world’s ever increasing demand for food, new farming methods will have to be developed to feed today’s seven billion hungry mouths and the nine billion of 2050. Low-cost protected farming, using hydroponic and aeroponic farming methods within large urban structures, could provide one of the answers to the conundrum of feeding an ever-growing world population. It would also improve food freshness, cut down on carbon emissions caused by food refrigeration and transportation and halt soil degradation caused by pesticide and herbicide usage. Like the issue of fresh water, this is a riddle that will be solved because it has to be solved. And, once it is solved, everyone will be buying.

And the world’s most abundant energy source must not be forgotten either. The photovoltaic cells that convert solar energy into electricity currently lack the efficiency to achieve grid parity, making solar energy and PV systems a viable, long-term prospect for replacing fossil fuels. But improved efficiency of 30 to 40 percent will make solar power a much more competitive energy source. The development of light-trapping photovoltaic cells, and the adaptation of manufacturing lines to accommodate the new technology, could deliver the required increase in efficiency. Once this is achieved, harnessing the output of the gargantuan energy factory we call the Sun will become competitive and another enormous market will have been created.

What is most needed at the present time, though, is an ability to look beyond the current obstacles to the rewards that renewed investment and perseverance will reap for those who commit and stay the course. The cut-and-run trend witnessed of late in the cleantech sector is exceedingly myopic as the development of clean and green technologies is a necessity the world cannot do without. Climate change, the growing unpredictability of global weather patterns, urbanization, a mushrooming middle class within the emerging economies and depletion of fossil fuels are all global problems that need to be rapidly addressed. Necessity is the mother of invention and these issues will be solved one way or another. The only question is, who will have the prescience and perspicacity to be part of the future?

David Anthony is the Managing Partner of 21Ventures, LLC, a VC management firm that has provided seed, growth, and bridge capital to over 40 technology ventures across the globe, mainly in the cleantech arena. David Anthony is also Adjunct Professor at the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) and the NYU Stern School of Business where he began teaching technology entrepreneurship in 2009.

David received his MBA from The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in 1989 and a BA in economics from George Washington University in 1982. He is an entrepreneurship mentor at the Land Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University Graduate School of Business. In 2002, David was awarded the Distinguished Mentor of the Year Award from Columbia University.

David blogs at David Anthony VC

“Cost Causer Pays” or Where is the Incentive for T&D Grid Upgrade?

by David Niebauer

In representing a utility-scale solar developer client recently, I was surprised to learn (naively, I now realize) that the general rule for transmission upgrades is  “cost causer pays”.  What that means for my developer client is that, regardless of how desirable the project, the developer will have to pay the full cost of upgrades to the grid network to bring the generation on line.  This is the case even though most of the positive effects of the upgrades will benefit the utility and the electricity consumers in general, and even competitors that will be able to piggyback on the investment.

This has led me to ask the question in the title of this article:  who has the incentive to invest in upgrades to the nation’s electricity transmission and distribution system?

It is common knowledge to anyone working in Cleantech that the transmission grid requires extensive upgrades.  These upgrades are required in order to allow more renewable resources to be brought online, and they are necessary for modernization and expansion.   The grid was built a long time ago and infrastructure investment in the area has lagged for decades.  The most recent (and reliable) estimate that I have seen anticipates that $165 billion will be deployed over the next 20 years upgrading and expanding the grid.

Deregulation has forced utilities to cede control of transmission assets to Regional and Independent System Operators in order to open the transmission grid to all participants.  Under the current regulations, RTOs and ISOs, being non-profit entities, have no incentive or ability to either acquire existing transmission assets or develop new ones.  Some observers believe that independent for-profit transmission companies will emerge, with regulatory and financial incentives that will permit a roll-up of transmission assets into stand-alone businesses. Should such a structure emerge, the right incentives for grid upgrade might exist, but this structure is only one of a number of solutions and only time will tell if it will emerge.  In the meantime, ISOs/RTOs are unlikely candidates to spend money on transmission upgrades.

Ultimately, or course, we will all pay through higher electric utility bills.  David J. Leeds of Greentech Media makes the case that utilities will drive investment in T&D upgrades.

“When you consider that the U.S. electric utility sector, with it’s annual revenues of roughly $300 billion, is 30 percent larger than the automobile industry and twice as large as the telecommunications industry, and then bring to mind the craze of dotcom investments and telecom M&A which occurred in the mid to late 1990s, a reasonable picture starts to emerge of what can be expected of in terms of Smart Grid investments and M&A in the next five to 10 years. Many of the senior level employees working for privately held companies in Smart Grid, have backgrounds working in either telecom or IT.”

From a macro perspective, I am sure this is true.  However, given the difficulty that utilities have in passing on costs to ratepayers, the build-out will almost certainly go slower than most observers would like.  The so-called “SmartGrid City” being built out by Xcel Energy in Boulder Colorado is a case in point.  Xcel has been allowed to pass on to ratepayers $45 million of the estimated $100 million cost of that project, and the good citizens of Boulder are not happy about it. No doubt this will be read as a cautionary tale for other utilities with plans to move forward on their own with T&D upgrades.

The Federal government will be able to stimulate some of the upgrades through grants and tax incentives, but its impact is both jurisdictionally and fiscally limited.  While the FERC regulates wholesale prices, it has no authority to mandate the construction of new transmission lines – these decisions are all made at the state level.  But the grid is a network of interconnected transmission lines which of necessity cross state and regional borders.  Without a central planning authority, development occurs in a piecemeal and halting fashion.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is providing about $4 billion in Smart Grid stimulus funding, but given the enormity of the required work, this is really a drop in the bucket.  Yes, we desperately need a national energy policy that would include construction and upgrade of regional transmission lines.  But given the legacy of the transmission grid and the desire of state and local governments to have control over energy costs, I have a hard time seeing how coordinated activity can occur.  Add on top of this the debacle of deregulation and you can begin to see the quagmire we are in.

State governments have big plans for bringing large amounts of renewable energy on-line.  The Texas CREZ (Competitive Renewable Energy Zone) is a $5B plan to move 18 GW of wind from west Texas and the panhandle to the major load centers in east Texas consisting of 2300 miles of new 345kV transmission.  Search “Intl_ROW_012710.pdf” for more information.   In California and the west, the Western Governor’s Association has developed the Western Renewable EnergyZones (WREZ) to bring wind, solar and geothermal into the western load centers. The WREZ initiative seeks to develop 30 GW of clean energy by 2015. This initiative calls for the construction of significant new interstate transmission lines.

The CREZ will be paid for by ratepayers, but the WREZ has no funding for its ambitious plans.

To highlight the problem, the WREZ initiative states:

“In order to plan and support the permitting and construction of new transmission lines, there must, at a minimum, be close coordination among resource planners, transmission providers, sub-regional and interconnection-wide transmission planners, transmission developers, federal land use agencies, renewable developers, state, provincial and federal regulators, and environmental organizations.”

With benefits to be derived by 11 US states, 2 Canadian provinces and some areas of Mexico, how do the costs get allocated?

The Brattle Group has done a study on the cost allocation and recovery approaches to transmission grid upgrades.  They explore a number of the methodologies being used and being developed.  They document the complexity of current cost allocation approaches.  While some single state approaches appear to be working, regional transmission upgrades, which are by far the most important to the national grid, are more difficult.  The final takeaway from the report:  “Despite years of effort, cost allocation remains the number one barrier for multi-state, multi-utility transmission projects.”

Obviously, “cost causer pays” is not going to get the job done.  We need a national energy policy with a strong transmission and distribution grid upgrade component.  The task is complicated by overlapping and sometimes competing federal and state objectives, but failing to act is simply not an option.  Both financial and policy incentives must be made clear for stakeholders so that the greenpower superhighway that many envision can become a reality.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on clean energy and environmental technologies.

The Cleantech Blog Bookshelf

We’ve been meaning to publish a Cleantech Blog Bookshelf for a while. Cleantech Blog has always had a strong cadre of published and bestselling authors in our blogger roster, and I was recently included one of my essays on carbon credits alongside a star studded cast in an anthology called The Green Movement.

So enjoy, and we’d welcome reader book reviews on any of these, just submit to our blog submission form for us to review.

Books from our Bloggers

Joel Makower

Strategies for the Green Economy – Joel’s newest one.  Has gotten great reviews.

Beyond the Bottom Line – one of Joel’s originals.

Woodstock: The Oral History – and we’re not sure what possessed him, but years before we knew him, Joel did a history of Woodstock.

John Addison

Our long time blogger has written an excellent book on energy and cleantech topics, following his 1990s bestseller on channel marketing, Revenue Rocket.

Save Gas, Save the Planet

Revenue Rocket – John’s best selling book on channel marketing

David Niebauer – Our renewable energy law blogger took time off a few years ago to write the Rebirth of Arete: Reflections on the Evolution of Consciousness.

More on David.  It might make more sense if you knew that David’s non law graduate degree was in English. 

Peter Fusaro – Peter’s been a highly prolific author on finance and environmental markets.

What Went Wrong at Enron – His biggest hit was a New York Times bestseller on Enron’s fall.

As well as heavier tomes like his recently co-edited Energy and Environmental Project Finance Law and Taxation: New Investment Techniques

Books that have cited Cleantech Blog

Future Energy by Bill Paul is a former Wall Street Journal reporter writing on the the implications to our economy from new energy sources.

The Green Movement – Anthology of Green writers including Alex Steffen, Jeffrey Ball, George Will, and John Kerry, Robert Samuelson, as well as chief blogger Neal Dikeman on carbon credits.

Books on Cleantech And Green You Should Read

Cleantech Revolution – by the Clean Edge guys, Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder, who wrote the first thought paper on clean technologies in 2001.

World Changing: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century

Books we Have Featured on Cleantech Blog

Smart Power – Our interview with author Peter Fox-Penner here.

Twilight in the Desert – Matthew Simmon’s book that legitimized the Peak Oil argument.

Hot, Flat and Crowded – Tom Friedman’s bestselling book on the implications on the us, energy and environment from population growth, globalization, and climate change.

Must read books about energy and the environment

The Prize by Daniel Yergin – The Seminal history of the oil industry.  Don’t play in cleantech without reading this book.

Collapse by Jared Diamond – an excellent read by the author of Guns, Germs and Steel arguing man-made environmental changes as the main cause of the decline of the Mayans, Easter Island, and numerous other major civilizations.

The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger – no one should do anything in ag or green chemistry without reading up on Norman Borlaug

BMW Megacity EV

BMW and the German Chamber of Commerce invited me to a dinner about BMW’s electric future last month at Stanford University. BMW Group owns MiniCooper, BMW, and Rolls Royce. Although they didn’t lend me a Rolls Royce to take friends to dinner in Napa Valley, they did let me take the MiniE for a spin.

The MiniE electric car delivered the acceleration and handling that has made the MiniCooper popular. The regenerative braking was set high to capture energy and return it to the lithium batteries. Regen was so high that at 30 mph, I could lift my foot off the accelerator and come to a stop in about 100 feet. AC Propulsion did a good job in designing the electric drive system for this concept vehicle. In the USA, 450 have been leasing the MiniE; couple of hundred are also leased in Germany, UK, and now France. Valuable data has been collected from these drivers

UC Davis ITS, BMW and the California Air Resources Board have analyzed the data. Drivers found that the 100-mile electric range met 90 percent of their needs; a second car or transit covered the remaining 10 percent. Drivers enjoyed driving this BMW EV. They found the performance and handling smooth. The car is easy to drive. Seventy-three percent liked the aggressive regen.

What concerns did drivers have about buying an electric car? They worried about the uncertain future of EVs. What if their choice was like the Betamax they once owned as consumers moved on to new platforms. They worried about safety. They worried about batteries lasting years. They asked, “Will my friends think I’m stupid or smart?” Those paying to be in the trials are committed early adopters who think that our nation being 95 percent dependent on oil for transportation is stupid.

Drivers have told BMW that 100 km (60 miles) is not enough electric range but 200 km (120 miles) is enough. 250 km would be ideal for survey participants. This tells BMW to extend range with more batteries, or by reducing the weight of the vehicle, or by offering a plug-in hybrid, or by doing all of the above.

BMW will test its second-generation electric concept car in six cities, starting in Fall 2011. This Active E will be a Series 1 BMW converted to be an electric car. The Active E will be BMW’s first opportunity to test new electric drive system technology and SB LiMotive lithium batteries.

In two years, BMW will start selling two cars that deliver BMW “driving pleasure” – the new Megacity Vehicle and the new BMW Plug-in Hybrid Sports Coupe.

2013 BMW Megacity Vehicle (MCV)

The Megacity Vehicle will be designed from the wheels up to be a pure battery electric hatchback. It will be more aerodynamic than a MiniCooper, with four doors, and more room for 4 adults.

BMW will follow Tesla’s success in extending the range of an electric car by using lighter materials. The Megacity will use an aluminum chassis and a carbon fiber outer skin to save up to 600 pounds. BMW’s innovative use of materials is the result of its joint venture with SGL Group, a leader in carbon materials.

Use of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) allows BMW designers to give this hatchback a sleek design. BMW states, “The BMW Megacity light carbon 300x186 BMW Electric Cars – Megacity EV and New PHEVMegacity Vehicle…will be fully electric and the world’s first volume-produced vehicle with a passenger cell made of carbon – it will also be built using a completely different architecture to any vehicle seen before.”

Klaus Draeger, member of the Board of Management, responsible for Development states, “Drive trains are, and will continue to be, one of BMW’s core competencies. Electro-mobility and BMW’s hallmark driving pleasure go together extremely well – provided you do it right. That is why we are developing the power train for the Megacity Vehicle ourselves – including the electric engine, power electronics and the battery system.”

To fully exploit the potential of the new emission-free engine, BMW has also developed a totally new approach to the body for the Megacity Vehicle. Top priority was to offset the additional weight of the battery storage unit – creating not a micro car, but a concept that would offer urban drivers the best possible use of space. The Megacity Vehicle consists of two horizontally divided, independent modules: The “drive” module integrates battery and drive train, as well as structural and crash functions, in a single structure within the chassis. The complementary “life” module – the upper portion of the vehicle – consists primarily of a high-strength, extremely lightweight passenger cell made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP).”

Will BMW go for low cost or extended range? By using innovative materials to reduce weight, BMW could use only 16kWh lithium battery pack to deliver 100 mile electric range and keep the price below $30,000, the strategy of the Mitsubishi i. Or BMW could follow the strategy of the Tesla S and offer larger pack options to achieve 250 km (150 miles), the range considered ideal by survey participants.

The BMW Megacity will face electric car competition from many of the Top 10 Electric Cars including the Nissan LEAF, Honda Fit, and Mitsubishi i.

A Year of Change: Solar, Smart Power, and Carbon; Buying; and Cleantech Blog Moves to Texas

Dear Friends,

We think it’s time cleantech grew up and learned to play with the big boys of energy and consumer goods.  That means learning cost down and scale like nobody’s business.  We think it can.  We think green is going mainstream – for good. We think LEDs are going to win.  We think wind and solar power will continue to grow, and bear the bruises to prove it.  We think EVs may have a shot, but have it to prove. We think climate change will be tackled, and beaten, but it will be a long hard road.  We think energy storage and cellulosic biofuels are not yet teething, and investors there will pay the price.  We think water tech may yet be a real sector on the back of shale gas.  We think smart grid is the sine qua non of cleantech’s future.  We think the future of cleantech means fewer venture capitalists, more globalization, and more energy companies at the table, and scale like you’ve never seen it before.

2010 has been a year of change and learning.

  • We learned about The Quantitative Easing, and we learned government stimulus does not fix economies, but stock markets can rise anyway. 
  • We learned to beware of Greeks (and anyone) who borrows too much, but we didn’t bother to take the lesson to heart (yet).
  • Cap and trade survived in California, and the international climate change community breathed a big sigh of relief from a successful Cancun, but healthcare and a moribund economy crowded out a comprehensive climate or energy bill in the US.
  • Arguably this was the year that China passed the US in energy consumption (barely two years after taking the carbon emissions crown), and Japan in GDP to become the second largest economy, and oil prices ended on a high note (yes we do think those have something in common).  It also reached 50% of global coal consumption.  China of course, officially disputed the first and the last, and accepted the second, but provides no data.)
  • Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) (Electric vehicles), GM, and Codexis (NASDAW:CDXS) (bioenergy) priced IPOs, as did Molycorp (NYSE:MCP) (rare earth mining), but once high flyer Solyndra (CIGS PV) did not.  We learned the Chinese like IPOing things just like the rest of us, and we saw the nascent launch of EVs with the first shipments of Leafs and Volts to an unsuspecting public. 2011 will (maybe) tell us how much change Nissan and GM will see from those launches.
  • And after 5 years, moved off of Blogger and onto a new look on WordPress.  Finally!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jane Capital saw a year of change as well:

In summary, 2010 feels like one of those years we’ll look back on as a watershed year, for us, for our industry, and our planet. 

Here’s wishing you a productive beginning to 2011.


Jane Lindner, Neal Dikeman, and the Jane Capital team.

P.S. Don’t forget to shop, and yes, if you ask nicely we  might send you a friends and family discount.

Israel Awakening to Cleantech

by Richard T. Stuebi

In early November, I  participated in a week-long delegation concerning energy in Israel, at the invitation of Project Interchange, an educational program of the American Jewish Committee

In addition to learning a tremendous amount about Israel’s history, culture and political situation, my fellow travelers and I were fortunate to talk with many leaders active in various aspects of Israel’s cleantech sector.  From a cleantech standpoint, the key takeaways I gained from our tour were:

Even with a population of only 7 million people, Israel can nevertheless be an important force in cleantech, given that Jews have consistently played a disproportionately influential role in scientific and social advancement of the human race throughout history.