Hertz Expands Electric Car Rental in United States and China

Hertz (NYSE:HTZ) expands its Global EV initiative to China, making it the first global rental car company to offer electric cars on three continents. Hertz now offers the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, Smart ED, Tesla Roadster and other electric cars in U.S. cities including New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hertz is expanding the availability of pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids at airports, downtown hotels, university campuses, condos and co-ops and fleets. Hertz operates in over 8,500 locations in 146 countries.

In London, you can rent the Mitsubishi iMiEV. Mitsubishi will soon start deliveries of the U.S. version of this popular electric city car. In other European cities, Renault electric cars are offered. Now Hertz is expanding into the world’s biggest EV market.

In China, Hertz established a partnership with GE Industrial Solutions China to advance the rollout of EVs and charging stations that includes the co-location of electric vehicles and GE EV Infrastructure as a combined offering. Bundled lease offers of EVs and chargers will make it easy for corporations and government agencies to expand use of electric cars.

“China has committed to rapidly expand electric vehicle travel and Hertz is committed to supporting the ambitious EV Pilot City program,” said Mark Frissora, Hertz Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Working with our existing rental car network in China and partners such as GE, we are dedicated to helping build the necessary EV infrastructure in China and to create a new transportation solution that employs the latest technology and harnesses innovations being launched in China today.”

China’s 100 Million EV Owners

Over one hundred million in China ride e-bikes, e-scooters, and light electric vehicles. A growing middle class and major employers are interested in full-function freeway-speed electric cars. In Shanghai, Hertz will be part of the International EV Pilot City, a program to accelerate EV rentals by building out the infrastructure across the Jiading district of Shanghai. Other EV Pilot City partners include auto manufactures, energy suppliers, and insurance companies. Hertz is the first rental car company to sign an agreement to become a partner of the China (Shanghai) International Electric Vehicle Pilot City.

A few weeks ago, Hertz also reached an understanding with BYD for a rental trial of its electric car the e6 in Shenzhen. BYD is years late in bringing its electric cars to the U.S.

The partnership supports the Twelfth Five-Year Plan objective for the promotion of EVs in China and will serve as a foundation for further innovation and development of the infrastructure.  The current five-year plan identifies EVs as one of the seven strategic initiatives for China in the next few years and calls for a significant ramp up in both EV charging station deployment and EV manufacturing.   The Chinese central government is currently offering 60,000 RMB (about $9,400 USD) rebates for EV purchases and a number of leading cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are offering additional rebates.

“At the Clinton Global Initiative last September, we announced a commitment to provide electric vehicle access on a global scale – an ambitious goal,” commented Frissora. “In less than one year, Hertz is now the leading provider of EV mobility solutions, offering an unparalleled selection of EVs and PHEVs in cities worldwide. We are firmly committed to adding new retail and business to business EV car rental locations internationally as auto manufacturers ramp up EV and PHEV production over the next few years.”

Hertz plans to increase its global EV presence by deploying vehicles in other countries in the coming months. Hertz Global EV will continue to leverage the company’s rental and car sharing locations as bases for vehicles and charging stations, and tap into its technology – including sophisticated fleet management tools to help form an EV grid.

Car Sharing – Hertz On Demand Competes with Zipcar

Some only think of Hertz as a rental car company. Hertz is also aggressively expanding with its car sharing service Hertz On Demand (formerly Connect by Hertz). Competing with Zipcar, Enterprise, and others, Hertz On Demand eliminated membership fees, expanded one way service to 175 locations, guaranteed availability Monday through Thursday in New York City, added electric cars at select locations, simplified the reservation, and enhanced 24/7 in-car assistance. Hertz On Demand has approximately 40,000 members in six countries and on approximately 60 university campuses.

Electric car sales and charging are off to a good start in the United States with drivers who have single family homes with garages to install chargers, but in multi-tenant dwellings costly utility meters must be added, upgraded transformers, EVSE located near meter rooms, new bylaws, and tenant agreement about preferred parking spaces. Shared electric cars charged in shared spaces provide a wonderful multi-tenant solution. Hertz on Demand has Nissan LEAFs available at Seward Park Co-op is one of the largest free market co-ops in Manhattan with more than 1700 apartments, approximately 50 commercial tenants, 13 acres of land and more than 4000 residents.

Hertz is showing smarts and agility with its electric car programs from San Francisco to Shanghai and for everyone from fleet managers, to people living in large apartment buildings, to new university students. If you’re a business traveler, you know what its like to be late to catch a plan and have a corporate requirement to bring back the car with the gas tank fuel. When renting electric cars, there is no added cost with Hertz if you bring back the EV with the battery mostly empty.

Land of Lincoln

Last week, I attended a ceremony to dedicate the commissioning of a wind turbine at the corporate headquarters of Lincoln Electric (NASDAQ: LECO) in Euclid just east of Cleveland.

It’s not just any wind turbine.  For those who have driven on I-90 lately, the turbine is impossible to miss:  a 2.5 megawatt unit manufactured by Kenersys, towering 443 feet into the air just a few hundred yards south of the highway.  It’s certainly the largest turbine in Ohio, and may be the largest turbine installed for “behind-the-meter” use by a customer anywhere in the U.S.

Because of its size, the hurdles in the development process were unusually large for a customer-sited wind turbine installation.  Kudos must go to Seth Mason, Lincoln’s manager for energy procurement, assisted by many but especially Steve Dever of Cuyahoga County’s Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, for utter perseverance in getting this project over the goal line since its conception a few years ago.

The motivation behind the project is also uncommon.  Of course, Lincoln wants to reduce its energy bills and exposure to future price increases.  Projections indicate that the turbine will supply about 90% of the annual energy requirements of Lincoln’s corporate headquarters.

But the project represents much more than a financial investment to reduce Lincoln’s operating costs.  In his remarks at the dedication, Lincoln’s CEO John Stropki extolled the symbolic virtues that the wind turbine represents in showing to local citizens that the region is not stuck in the past but is embracing and participating in the high-tech cleantech future. 

As a corporate citizen in the Cleveland area for over 100 years, it’s nice that Lincoln is concerned about the future health and dynamism of the region, and is making a non-portable investment that further cements their commitment to the area.

Or should I say “further welds their commitment”?  The corporate name “Lincoln Electric” is a bit misleading:  Lincoln Electric is not a utility like Wisconsin Electric or Hawaiian Electric, nor a household-name manufacturer of electrical products like General Electric or Emerson Electric.  Like many companies in the Cleveland area, Lincoln Electric is a multi-billion dollar corporation that nevertheless toils in relative obscurity, making products and offering services globally in the industrial sector – in Lincoln’s case, electric arc welding equipment and consumables (e.g., flux).

Wind energy is one of the biggest growth areas in Lincoln’s business:  they are an important vendor in towers for wind turbines, supplying welding machinery to the tower manufacturers as they fabricate the massive cylindrical tower sections.  The tower in their own Kenersys turbine installation utilized nearly 6,000 pounds of Lincoln’s flux.  It’s thus very much in Lincoln’s interests to support the growth of the wind sector.

The strategic dimensions of the project, and particularly the selection of a Kenersys turbine, are also notable.

A newcomer from Germany to the U.S. market, with a turbine design of a strong pedigree, Kenersys needs a good reference customer – a showcase, if you will – for prospective American customers.  The Lincoln wind turbine site, near a major city and airport – a hub for United Airlines (in the wake of its merger with Continental Airlines) – is good for this purpose. 

Presumably, eager to show its turbine in the U.S., Kenersys was aggressive on pricing and support for the Lincoln project.

More importantly, as their U.S. order book grows, Kenersys will also need a domestic location for assembly.  Lincoln has some spare industrial capacity at its corporate campus, and the hope is that Kenersys will utilize this already-extant capability to reduce start-up costs and speed-to-market – while providing an additional source of value to Lincoln.

Even so, that’s not in the bag yet.  It’s known that the state of Michigan is actively courting Kenersys for its future operations, with Kenersys already having set up North American headquarters (though no industrial operations yet) in the Detroit suburb of Troy.  Unlike Cleveland, Detroit is a nonstop flight away from Germany, which is a big advantage in minimizing the burden of executive travel to the U.S. from Kenersys headquarters.

For those of us who make the Cleveland area home and extol its virtues in the face of its challenges, let’s hope that Lincoln Electric truly feels as committed to the wind business and to our region as the company indicated last week in their comments, and steps up to the plate as needed when the time comes for Kenersys to decide on location for U.S. assembly and make an offer that Kenersys can’t refuse.

Ford and Toyota Strategic Alliance for Hybrid Trucks and SUVs

Ford and Toyota– the world’s two leading manufacturers of hybrid vehicles –announce that they will equally collaborate on the development of an advanced new hybrid system for light truck and SUVs. Ford and Toyota have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the product development collaboration.

Toyota has also partnered with Tesla to bring to market the exciting new 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, a 100% electric full-function SUV. Toyota and Ford are expanding their use of advanced lithium batteries in new hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars. The new powerful and fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs from this partnership will almost certainly use lithium batteries, thereby increasing lithium battery volume and lowering cost for all future hybrid and electric vehicles.

Both companies have been working independently on their own future-generation rear-wheel drive hybrid systems. The two now have committed to collaborate as equal partners on a new hybrid system for light trucks and SUVs. This new full  hybrid powertrain will bring exceptional fuel efficiency improvements to a new group of truck and SUV. Ford and Toyota believe that their collaboration will allow them to bring these hybrid technologies to customers sooner and more affordably than either company could have accomplished alone.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota executive vice president, Research & Development, said: “In 1997, we launched the first-generation Prius, the world’s first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid. Since then, we have sold about 3.3 million hybrid vehicles. We expect to create exciting technologies that benefit society with Ford – and we can do so through the experience the two companies have in hybrid technology.”

The two companies also agreed to work together on enablers to complement each company’s existing telematics platform standards, helping bring more Internet-based services and useful information to consumers globally.

The two companies will bring the best of their independently developed hybrid powertrain technology and knowledge to a new co-developed hybrid system, which will be used in rear-wheel-drive light trucks arriving later this decade. The MOU states that Ford and Toyota will:

  •     Jointly develop as equal partners a new rear-wheel drive hybrid system and component technology for light trucks and SUVs
  •     Independently integrate the new hybrid system in their future vehicles separately

Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Toyota President Akio Toyoda

“By working together, we will be able to serve our customers with the very best affordable, advanced powertrains, delivering even better fuel economy,” said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally. “This is the kind of collaborative effort that is required to address the big global challenges of energy independence and environmental sustainability.”

Toyota President Akio Toyoda added: “Toyota is extremely proud to join Ford in developing a hybrid system for pickup trucks and SUVs. Not only is this tie-up clearly one aimed at making automobiles ever better, it should also become an important building block for future mobility in the U.S. By building a global, long-term relationship with Ford, our desire is to be able to continue to provide people in America automobiles that exceed their expectations.”

This rear-wheel-drive hybrid system will be based on an all-new architecture to deliver the capability truck and SUV customers demand while providing greater fuel economy.

While the rear-wheel-drive hybrid system will share significant common technology and components, Ford and Toyota will individually integrate the system into their own vehicles. Each company also will determine the calibration and performance dynamics characteristics of their respective light pickups and SUVs.

Telematics Partnership for Better Safety and Infotainment

In addition, as telematics plays an increasingly more important role in the in-car experience, both companies have agreed to collaborate on standards and technologies needed to enable a safer, more secure and more convenient in-car experience for next-generation telematics systems.  The telematics collaboration relates only to standards and technologies, and each company will continue to separately develop their own in-vehicle products and features.

Ford has partnered with Microsoft to more quickly bring better telematics to its vehicles. Now Ford will also partner with Toyota. “Ford has made tremendous progress in the area of telematics,” Kuzak said. “We have unique and very good solutions today with SYNC and MyFordTouch. Working together on in-vehicle standards can only enhance our customers’ experience with their vehicles.”

Uchiyamada added: “Toyota has also invested heavily in telematics in various countries around the world, with services like the G-BOOK and G-Link. In the U.S., we have just introduced the accessible, easy-to-use Entune. By sharing our know-how and experience, we would like to offer even better telematics services in the future.”

Houston, We Have A Solution

NASA has been working on innovative energy technologies virtually since its inception.  After all, you can’t run electrical systems in space using the types of power generation devices common on earth.  Consequently, NASA has been a major contributor to the advancement of fuel cells, batteries and photovoltaic systems into the products available today.  Indeed, for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, given its expertise in aerodynamics, NASA was also responsible for the U.S. wind energy research program.

For the past several years, several groups within NASA have been exploring how to get more involved in energy technology commercialization, in the wake of diminished clarity on NASA’s space mission and the rise of energy as a global imperative.  A new thrust being pursued is the announcement of the LAUNCH: Energy Challenge, whos goal is “to identify 10 ‘game-changing’ innovations that have the potential to transform current energy systems, and help support a more sustainable future.”

Managed by the open innovation group Nine Sigma, and sponsored by NASA in conjunction with USAID, the Department of State and — for reasons unclear to me — Nike (NYSE: NKE),  the LAUNCH: Energy Challenge is seeking proposals from innovators in three categories:  energy generation, energy harvesting and storage, and industrial applications.  Proposals are due by September 9, and representatives from the 10 most promising that are selected will convene at Kennedy Space Center in November to brainstorm with industry leaders on how to accelerate their path forward in/to the marketplace.

It’s an unorthodox collaboration and format, so the jury is out on the effectiveness of this approach.  Let’s hope that this program surfaces some promising solutions — and more importantly, boosts them into higher orbit.

The New Breed of Energy Catalyzers: Ready for Commercialization?

by David Niebauer

There has been quite a bit of activity lately in the field that used to be referred to as “cold fusion” and is now generally called “low energy nuclear reactions (LENR).”   Many experiments over the last 22 years following the pioneering efforts of Pons and Fleischmann in 1989 have generated excess heat – but its still not clear that what is being observed is a nuclear reaction.  It is becoming clear, however, that scientists and engineers are closing in on generating significant and useful thermal energy from the reactions.  Given recent developments, I thought it would be useful to do a brief survey of companies that are moving this technology to commercialization.

Because the established scientific community confronts this field with a high degree of skepticism, the road to commercialization is particularly difficult.  The main hurdle appears to be finding a financing partner willing to step out in front of the developments while the theoretical underpinnings are still being worked out. At this stage, there appears to be no question that excess heat is being generated by the best experiments.  Whether these results can be translated into commercial success, however, is still to be seen.

Andrea Rossi/Leonardo Corporation

It is nearly impossible to gauge the actual stage of development of the Rossi Energy Catalyzer despite the concerted efforts of the inventor to bring his invention to market. Andrea Rossi made a splash early in the year with repeated demonstrations at the University of Bologna, Italy.  Credentialed physicists observed significant and consistent thermal energy generated by his device.  However, questions have been raised concerning how the measurements were taken (see the critique by Steven B. Krivit on the New Energy Times blog) and Rossi has refused to allow a third-party replication of his results due to an understandable reluctance to disclose commercial trade secrets.

Rossi responds to nearly every skeptical inquiry with the confident assertion that his customers will answer all questions when he delivers an operating 1 MW thermal power plant.  This facility was originally commissioned by a group of anonymous Greek investors incorporated under the name Defkalion Green Technologies.

Rossi now indicates that he has terminated his relationship with Defkalion, and that he is working with an undisclosed US firm that has apparently stepped into the shoes of Defkalion.  Rossi insists that his 1MW facility is on track and will be unveiled at the end of October somewhere in the US. To complicate matters, Dafkalion has vowed to continue work on its catalyzer product line, called Hyperion, with or without Rossi.

In the spirit of journalistic full disclosure, the reader should know that I have met with Andrea Rossi and his US commercialization partner, AmpEnergo, Inc. (not the undisclosed US firm).  The team is credible, earnest and working hard to transform Rossi’s experimental results into useful commercial products.

I want Rossi to succeed, so the recent setbacks are a personal disappointment to me.  I wish him luck and would love to see him finally vindicated.  But the jury is still out on the Rossi E-Cat Energy Catalyzer.

Robert Godes/Brillouin Energy Corporation

Robert Godes is an inventor and engineer who, unlike Rossi, has taken the tack of being totally open and transparent to the scientific community. Godes has a grasp on the theoretical basis of his device and has modeled his experiments on this theoretical understanding.  Godes employs hydrogen pressurized in a nickel lattice, similar to Rossi, but uses an electrical pulse as a catalyst. (Rossi has not disclosed his catalyst or the precise mechanism employed in his device.)  A voice-over Power Point on the Brillouin website explains in great detail what Godes believes to be the theory and mechanism of his thermal energy catalyzer, which he calls the “Brillouin Boiler.”

The significant breakthrough in the Godes experiments is that he claims to be able to control the energy output by turning the device on and off at will.  This is important because any commercialization of these devices will need to be controlled in this manner.

A drawback to early experiments in this field is that the energy output has been inconsistent and hard to replicate.  Early devices would sometimes take days, even weeks, to ignite a reaction.  Excess heat readings would spike and then be undetectable.  It was not unusual for devices to explode due to the reaction running out of control.

Knowing that a device would need to be properly controlled to allow for commercial application, Godes has focused his efforts on achieving consistent, controllable results – and he appears to have succeeded.

On July 7, 2011, Ruby Carat of Cold Fusion Now reported that Brillouin will be working with Los Alamos National Lab to replicate Godes’ work, and that commercial funding should follow successful results.  Godes has confirmed to me in a private conversation that Los Alamos replicated his results unsolicited by simply following his work in the voice-over PowerPoint on his Web site.  While Godes’ modest reactor is generating only 2X energy output, he believes that with additional work (and the funding required to do that work) he can greatly improve upon these results.  At 3X energy output, the device begins to be commercially viable.

Brillouin shows a clear and credible product evolution path on its Web site, from beaker test to commercial prototype to commercial boiler.  Brillouin intends to enter the US commercial boiler market, which is estimated to be $1.1 billion in size and growing.

It is not clear who will be first to step up as Robert Godes’ financial partner.  However, he appears to be well positioned and willing to provide whatever third-party validation might be required.  Godes has filed a US patent prepared by the well-known patent firm of Townsend, Townsend and Crew (now Kilpatrick Townsend), and is working daily to improve his results.

Energetics Technologies

For those who have watched the April 2009 60 Minutes episode, “Cold Fusion is Hot Again”, the name Energetics Technologies will be familiar.  At the time, it was a New Jersey company with a research facility in Omer, Israel that Robert Duncan of the University of Missouri visited as part of his investigation of the state of the art of LENR technology.   On the 60 Minutes episode, Duncan, speaking of Energetics Technologies, states:  “The work done was carefully done and the excess heat is quite real.”

Energetics Technologies is a pioneer in the waveform process of LENR profiled in the 60 Minutes episode and which has been successfully replicated by SRI International of Menlo Park, CA and ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies.

Duncan, who started out as a LENR skeptic, has apparently now become a supporter.  He was instrumental in moving Energetics Technologies research lab from Israel to a technology incubator at the University of Missouri. Energetics Technologies was originally supported by billionaire philanthropist Sidney Kimmel and has now been taken under the wing of Duncan and the University of Missouri.

Energetics Technologies has been successful at generating heat from their experiments using palladium and an electric pulse somewhat similar to that being employed by Brillouin.  However, because they have not achieved consistent, controllable results with their work, the road to commercialization for this company appears to be a long one.  I will watch for any updates coming out of the University of Missouri.

Star Scientific Limited

A recent entrant to the field is an Australian company named Star Scientific Limited. Star Scientific Limited employs a reaction referred to as “muon catalyzed fusion.”  According to its Web site, “muon catalysed fusion is a well known scientific process where a subatomic particle known as a muon captures two hydrogen atoms and forces them to fuse, resulting in energetic particle release and helium.” The problem has been getting the reaction to occur consistently and in sufficient volumes for the energy release to be useful.  In addition, given the present state of the technology, it takes more energy to produce a muon than the amount of energy they liberate in the fusion reaction.

Star Scientific Limited claims it is working toward “economically and constantly produc[ing] pions, which immediately decay into muons” and that, once accomplished, these fusion reactions will make sustained, controlled muon catalyzed fusion a reality.

Star Scientific Limited provides very few details on its Web site so it is difficult to gauge the likelihood of success.  In response to inquiries, the company has indicated that it is “a fully funded private company and seeking no investment,” so perhaps they will make significant strides in the near future.

Most people I have spoken to believe that Star Scientific Limited’s claims are not credible given the current state of understanding of muon catalyzed fusion.  But then again, the same thing has been said of LENR in general.  I will look for more details from the company to try and gauge the timeline for successful commercialization.

Conclusion

Are we at the dawn of a new era of clean, inexpensive renewable energy?  We appear to be approaching a critical mass of experimentation and understanding of fundamental theory to make such a question more than a pipe dream.  It is my personal commitment that, 20 years from now, it will seem absurd that we relied on burning fossil fuels for so long when technology was at hand for the transition to a genuine clean energy economy.  Perhaps one of the companies that I have profiled in this blog will be the first to break through to commercialization.  Or maybe work being done behind closed doors at government-funded labs and corporate R&D facilities will bear fruit.  The time is certainly ripe.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on financing transactions, M&A and cleantech.  www.davidniebauer.com

Ford and SunPower Simplify Solar Charging of EVs

Ford and SunPower offer a rooftop solar system that will allow Focus Electric owners and other electric car drivers to “Drive Green for Life” by providing renewable energy to offset the electricity used to charge the vehicle. The SunPower rooftop solar system also will be compatible with the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle Ford is rolling out in 2012.

This pre-configured solution makes solar charging easy for new customers.  Many of the first 50,000 U.S. buyers of electric cars have been early adopters of solar power and renewable energy. Music legend Jackson Browne lives off-gird and charges his Chevrolet Volt with his own wind and solar power.   Johnson and Johnson installed 1.1MW of SunPower solar covered parking structures that includes 5 Coulomb electric car chargers. The U.S. Marine Corp at Camp Pendleton showed me their solar powered parking structure that charges their 291 electric vehicles. Solar Parking Structures

The 2.5 kilowatt rooftop solar system is comprised of the SunPower® E18 Series solar panels that produce an average of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. These high-efficiency solar panels generate approximately 50 percent more electricity than conventional panels and utilize a smaller footprint on the roof. The system was sized to accommodate an electric car owner who drives about 1,000 miles per month.

The complete SunPower solar system is offered at a base price of less than $10,000 after federal tax credits. Local and state rebates, along with other incentives, may drive the system cost down even more, depending on a customer’s location. Included in the purchase is a residential monitoring system, which includes the ability to track the performance of their solar system on the web or through an iPhone application. Affordable financing options for the solar system are available through SunPower.

When Ford customers order their Focus Electric or C-MAX Energi they will have the option of indicating an interest in the SunPower system. SunPower leads the industry with more than 400 dealers in the U.S., and can support the initial Focus Electric roll out in all 19 markets. A participating SunPower dealer who will visit their home to begin the installation process will contact interested Focus Electric customers. Ford also has an agreement with consumer electronics leader Best Buy to offer a 240-volt home charging station for the Focus Electric and future electric vehicle owners.

I was impressed with my test drives of early versions of the Ford Focus Electric, which will challenge the Nissan Leaf. In 2013, NISSAN opens its new Tennessee plant with the ultimate capacity of making 150,000 LEAFs each year. The Ford C-MAX Energi will challenge the Chevrolet Volt’s leadership of plug-in hybrids. Chevrolet will make 65,000 Volts and Opel Amperas next year.

Electrification is an important piece of Ford’s overall product sustainability strategy, which includes the launch of five electrified vehicles in North America by 2012 and in Europe by 2013. Ford launched the Transit Connect Electric small commercial van in 2010 and will launch the all-new Focus Electric later this year. In 2012, these models will be joined in North America by the new C-MAX Hybrid, a second next-generation lithium-ion battery hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. This diverse range of electrified vehicles allows Ford to meet a variety of consumer driving needs.

Electric car critics and many oil industry executives claim that there will only be coal power charging electric vehicles. In my two years of interviewing electric car owners and fleet managers, I have yet to met someone who only uses coal to power their electric vehicles. Most use zero coal power. Many use 100 percent renewables. One oil giant who does not make the false coal claim is Total, which is buying the majority of SunPower stock. Total sees a billion dollar opportunity to charge cars with renewable energy.

Report from Manitoba

In early August, at the invitation of the Government of Canada, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) organized a delegation of about a dozen energy executives from the Midwest U.S. to visit Canada to explore energy and environmental issues of common interest to the center of North America.  From my prior participation on a CCGA task force in 2009, which produced a report on the benefits to the Midwest from proactively participating in shaping energy/climate policy, I was lucky enough to be invited by the CCGA to join the group traveling to Canada.

Our first stop in Canada was Manitoba, where we focused on some of the more notable activities being undertaken by Manitoba Hydro, the provincial electric utility. 

We convened at Manitoba Hydro’s headquarters building, Manitoba Hydro Place, a two-year old 22-story gem in downtown Winnipeg.  The winner of several architectural awards, Manitoba Hydro Place is on a path to LEED Platinum certification, the highest standard of energy efficiency excellence.  The office tower has a number of fascinating heating, cooling and humidification/dehumidification concepts applied throughout in very fundamental ways that enable such a large building to be fully climate-controlled with only occasional reliance on a relatively small geothermal heat pump system, resulting in per-square-foot energy consumption levels about 20% the norm for buildings of this type.  This is especially impressive given the harsh climate that the building must face, with hot summers peaking at nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) and annual lows down to -35 degrees (in Celsius or Fahrenheit, it’s about the same). 

For a province with such abundant low-cost hydroelectric resources, one might wonder why Manitoba Hydro would emphasize energy efficiency not only at its own facilities, but also through a sizable demand-side management program rolled out to its customers.  In our briefing with the Premier (provincial minister), the genial and very-well-informed Greg Selinger, the overall energy strategy was made explicit:  Manitoba would like to more fully develop and export its immense run-of-river hydroelectric potential to the U.S. to serve the renewable energy markets there.  (Note that Manitoba drains about 20% of all of the precipitation that falls on the North American continent.)

So that we could see how vast this potential is, and how environmentally benign run-of-river hydro energy can be, we subsequently flew via small Perimeter Air turboprop to the northern Manitoba outpost of Gillam about 400 miles above Winnipeg, where we toured the 1200 megawatt Kettle Generating Station

Crucially unlike the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas or the Three Gorges Dam in China, Kettle didn’t displace habitats or populations by creating a massive new lake where one never existed.  True, some land was flooded as a result of Kettle’s construction, but let me assure you that the terrain and topography that was lost in the process is by no means scarce:  hundreds of thousands of square miles of virtually indistinguishable unpopulated territory stretch up there for as far as the eye can see from an airplane.

At Kettle, we were informed by plant management that fish (primarily pickerel) seemed to be genuinely unaffected by the existence of the hydro facility.  Long ago, I was told a joke by power engineers that “fish-friendly-hydro” is as oxymoronic as “grass-friendly-lawnmowers”.  This is probably why hydroelectricity is often ineligible to be considered “renewable” for the purposes of complying with renewable portfolio standard policies that have been enacted in many U.S. states:  many environmentalists aren’t very keen on hydro.   However, I can attest to having seen an otter and a loon both swimming in the downstream wake of the Kettle dam in waters that looked pretty turbulent — and I can only suspect that they were there at least partially for feeding purposes.

Because it is clearly zero-emission and involves a renewable resource (precipitation), and because it doesn’t cause sizable apparent negative impacts on the regional environment, I don’t see significant problems associated with more run-of-river hydro development in northern Manitoba. 

Manitoba Hydro allowed us into places and spaces for better viewing that I’m sure would have caused any OSHA  representative to faint.  The sights at Kettle were impressive, though nothing particularly rare within the power industry:  all big hydro facilities are impressive.

Just down the (gravel) road, though, was something quite extraordinary:  the Radisson Converter Station.

Conventional power grids are alternating current (AC).  Hydroelectric dams produce AC electricity.  However, shipping power across hundreds of miles of desolate landscape over AC lines is inefficient:  capital costs and losses are high, rights-of-way are wide.  In contrast, long-distance transmission using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) is much more economically-attractive on a per-mile basis.

There’s just one challenge:  converting thousands of megawatts of AC power at high-voltage to HVDC is not so easy, nor is it cheap.

Radisson is one of the largest and oldest HVDC converter stations in the world.  For as long as Kettle has been in place, Radisson has been taking its output, converting it into HVDC, and then sending it down a 400 mile set of 450 kv HVDC lines, to be reconverted into AC at a similar station (called Dorsey) in suburban Winnipeg.  Something of the magnitude of Radisson is very rare indeed.

Surrounded by switchgear and transformers akin to those found at any major substation on the power grid, a large warehouse-like building houses several sets of immense converter valves known as thyristors.  The heart of the operation, these thyristors are like transistors on steroids, chattering continuously like enormous jackhammers.  

The side-trip from Winnipeg to Gillam illustrated the basic conundrum that Manitoba faces:  all this excellent hydro resource, but it’s a thousand miles from the nearest underserved large load centers in the U.S.  While it’s relatively easy for Manitoba to increase its transmission capacity — the province can essentially assert control of rights-of-way, and population effects are minimal — getting the needed transmission expansions in the U.S. is oh-so-difficult, time-consuming and hence expensive. 

No doubt, the purpose of our visit to Manitoba was to build goodwill and generate more support as/if transmission expansion in the northern Midwest U.S. occurs to facilitate more movement of hydropower from Manitoba into the U.S.  From my standpoint, I’m in — but I also know that I alone (and my fellow travelers) will not have much incremental impact in aiding new transmission capacity to come on-line.

After about 28 whirlwind hours in Manitoba, our next stop on the Canadian tour was Alberta.  This will be the subject of a future posting, as there is even more of interest to the cleantech community to report from there.

Storing Wind Energy as Hydrogen

By David Anthony and Ken Brown

Wind turbines capture the energy contained in wind.  The turbine rotates a shaft which powers an electric generator.  The electricity that flows from the generator can go to the wind farm’s grid connection to be consumed immediately or go to storage.  We have previously discussed the advantages of storage.  Let’s look at storage using hydrogen.

Water electrolysis produces hydrogen.  As the electricity flows through the water in an electrolysis unit, oxygen and hydrogen are evolved as gases at separate electrodes. In a 100% efficient unit, it takes about 39 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to create 1 kilogram (kg) of hydrogen.  In the real world, electrolysis units are about 80% efficient at best.  With an 80% efficient unit, it takes about 50 kWh of electricity to create 1 kg of hydrogen.  The hydrogen is piped to a hydrogen storage unit.  To avoid the high cost of compressing hydrogen or of cooling and liquefying hydrogen, a good alternative is to store the gas in a metal hydride slurry.  Safe Hydrogen uses magnesium as the metal and mineral oil as the liquefying agent.  With the use of small particles and a suitable dispersant, the particles will stay in suspension almost indefinitely.  Using a hydriding reactor, hydrogen is absorbed by the Magnesium Slurry with suitable pressure and temperature that ensures rapid reaction.  The Magnesium Hydride Slurry that is created in this reactor then can be stored in large quantities at ambient conditions.  The hydriding reaction to create the magnesium hydride slurry creates heat.  This heat is about 30% of the heating value of the hydrogen gas.  About 10 percentage points of this heat, or one-third of the heat, can be used to perform useful work such as generating more electricity.  The rest of the heat can be used for space heating or to produce hot water.  Thus the hydriding step in the process can be from 110-130% efficient.

There are a number of options for the stored slurry.  One, the hydrogen can be recovered on site and the hydrogen can be used to power a gas turbine-generator.  The wind farm owner has the option of selling into the real time and day ahead electric market at a time and price of his choosing.  Since wind blows more at night than during the day on average, and since consumers use more electricity during the day than at night, the wholesale price at night is often $0.02 per kWh or less.  It was reported in Business Week in September 2009 that year to date in the Texas Grid, the wholesale price of electricity was zero or below for 11% of the time.  During those times, the generation facilities on line were paying to put power on the grid.  The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) controls the wholesale price of electricity in the real time and day ahead markets to balance generation and load.  Why would generators pay to put power on the grid?  Large base-load coal and nuclear plants do not want to vary their loads.  Cycling the plants leads to premature wear and high costs.  Wind farms get a $0.022 production federal tax credit.  Until the price passes down through a negative $0.022, wind farms still receive revenue if the turbines generate power.

Another option is to use the hydrogen slurry to “firm” the wind power.  Wind does not blow consistently from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, or season to season.  The ISO that supervises the grid cannot count on the full power of the wind farm’s output.  Typically, only 15% of a wind farm’s output can be counted on as reliable capacity—likely to be available in any given time period.  This means that for a 500MW wind farm, only 75MW is counted as generating capacity by the ISO.  Often, to “firm” the wind farms output, a natural gas fired plant needs to be constructed—partially negating the carbon free output of the wind farm.

With storage, the picture can be different.  Below is an example of a 500MW wind farm delivering 150MW dispatchable power 100% of the time by using storage and gas turbines(GT) powered by hydrogen.  In this example, the ISO can count on 30% of the wind farm’s output.

Wind Storage in Hydrogen Slurry

 

The beige portion of the power generated is stored, the blue portion is delivered by the wind turbines to the grid, and the red portion comes from gas turbines powered by hydrogen.  The horizontal axis represents a probability of power going to the grid from the wind or gas turbine.  About 45% of the time in the year, 100% of the 150MW will come from wind with the excess going to storage.  About 40% of the time, power comes from both the wind and gas turbines.  About 15% of the time, all of the power comes from the gas turbine.  In any give hour or day, power may flow in any of these ways.

Advantages:

  1.  Dispatchable power can demand a higher price.
  2. The grid connection can have smaller capacity—it no longer has be sized for maximum wind farm output.
  3. Firming natural gas fired plants do not need to be built.
  4. The gas turbines can provide the regulation that natural gas fired turbines now provide.
  5. The wind turbines can spin 100% of the time the wind blows (excluding the time when the weather is too violent to operate).

 

David Anthony is Managing Director of 21Ventures.  21Ventures has made over 40 clean tech investemtns  across the globe since 2004. 21Ventures is a co-investor  in Safe Hydrogen, LLC 

Ken Brown  is CEO  of Safe Hydrogen, LLC, a developer  of  safe, transportable  hydrogen.  

The Winter of Nuclear Energy

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake then tsunami triggered escaping radiation from nuclear reactors near millions of people in Japan.

On Sunday, August 7, a group of the world’s greatest musicians performed an inspiring benefit concert to support disaster relief in Japan. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jason Mraz, The Doobie Brothers, Tom Morello, John Hall, Kitaro, Jonathan Wilson,  and Sweet Honey in the Rock sang on behalf of  Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE). Music video links and breaking news are available at NukeFree.Org.

I was mesmerized by the music, the soaring harmonies of veteran cosmic rockers and new voices, and a dazzling performance powered with little grid energy. The Shoreline Amphitheatre concert stage was powered by an integrated system of SunPower solar PV in mobile SunPod modules, biodiesel gensets, mobile batteries, and WindTronics wind turbines. The energy-saving GRNLite LED lighting rig for the show has been donated by Bandit Lites, and Schubert Systems has donated the sound rig.

“The disaster in Fukushima is not only a disaster for Japan. It is a global disaster. We come together now across cultural boundaries, political and generational boundaries, to call for changes in the way we use energy, and in the ways we conduct the search for solutions to the problems facing humanity,” says Jackson Browne. “We join with the people of Japan, and people everywhere who believe in a non-nuclear future.”

It was shortly after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan that the decision was made by MUSE to coordinate the benefit. We have all read the news about the radiation in Japanese drinking water, food, and children exposed in radiation contaminated schools (New York Times Article).  When these great artists meet press members including me before the concert, Bonnie Raitt said, “We all live downwind.”

These musicians are committed to making a difference. Graham Nash uses solar power. As a father of three he told me of his compassion for all of our children. Speaking of nuclear industry executives he asked, “How can they do this. They’ve got their own children.”

“This is another massive world energy disaster from which there will be long-term effects,” adds Jason Mraz. “I am thrilled to be a part of this amazing show that will not only help those in Japan, but that will also call attention to the urgent need to embrace safe, clean energy alternatives.” Jason lives only 20 miles downwind from the aging San Onofre reactors built on an earthquake fault. Jason uses solar power and even had a solar party to educate his neighbors including my 86-year old friend Vera who now uses solar.

For over 25 years, Jackson Browne has lived off-grid using solar and wind power. He even rides on sunlight, charging his Chevy Volt with his renewable energy.

Major Nations Phase Out Nuclear

Germany makes it the age of renewables and will be ending its use of nuclear power in 10 years. By 2022, the last German nuclear power plant will be closed down. After the disaster in Japan, Germany has already permanently closed 7 nuclear plants. Germany’s world leadership in energy efficiency, wind power, and solar power, make the end of nuclear by 2022 feasible.

Italy is also no nukes due to a referendum where 90 percent of Italian voters called for the end of nuclear power. Italy is also showing strong leadership in solar power.

Reuters reports: “Japan, the world’s third-biggest nuclear power user, has only 16 of its 54 reactors on line, supplying less than a third of the total commercial nuclear generating capacity of 48,960 megawatts. The share of nuclear power in Japan’s power supply tumbled to about 18 percent in June from about 30 percent before the disasters struck.” Upgrading buildings and homes in Japan to LED and other energy efficient lighting would eliminate the need for those 16 reactors.

Most problematic in Japan are nuclear plants that are over 30 years old. Such dangers should give us pause in the United States where over 100 plants were built pre-1977 with 40-year target lives. 59 of those plants have had their licenses extended to 60 years. The nuclear industry has campaigned to stretch these to 80-year licenses.  In almost all cases, like Japan, the spent rods are stored onsite in U.S. plants. Some U.S. reactors are located near major earthquake faults.

The new generation of reactors are designed to be safer. Unlike wind and solar, nuclear provides electricity 24/7. Contrary to a common perception, nuclear is not as clean as renewable energy. The nuclear industry admits that the lifecycle greenhouse emissions from a nuclear plant are roughly equal to a natural gas plant, due to building with cement, mining, and spent fuel management. Promising innovation is occurring in small nuclear reactors, waste processing and the perpetual dream of fusion. But the industry constantly fails to meet commitments of being safe and cost-effective without government subsidy. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to new nukes in the U.S. is that financing requires taxpayer guarantees, taxpayers to insure the plants, and taxpayers on the line for future disasters.

It is no wonder that many Europeans have insisted on the phase-out of nuclear power after Chernobyl radiation spread to Europe, contaminating food and water. The cancer deaths from radiation exposure haunt people, as do child birth defects.

From my childhood, I remember when the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States and Russia to the brink of nuclear war.  Students were drilled to duck under our desks in the event on an atomic bomb. Neighbors built bomb shelters. We lived in fear. The threat still exists today as we watch the tension between North and South Korea, between Pakistan and India, and the threat of Nuclear Terrorism. The mideast worries that Iran’s nuclear ambitions go beyond generating electricity. If they do, another defiicit-financed war in the mideast will be the least of our problems.

Coal is the Other Unsafe Fuel

It would be tragic, however, if the phase-out of nuclear power lead to an increase of coal power. More people die each year from coal-power related lung cancer, asthma, and heart attacks, than die from nuclear plant radiation. Coal power plants emit mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide.

Even worse is the methane escape from blowing-up mountain tops to feed our hunger for coal. Basic chemistry informs us that methane and CO2 accumulate in our atmosphere trapping heat. Climate models show that increased heat is threatening our food, our water, and our future. My 87-year old mother has been evacuated twice in recent years from wildfires that followed record draughts.

Although many in the fossil fuel industry now work behind the scenes to shutdown the EPA, or at least reduce their budget to make them ineffective, we actually need the EPA to increase its vigilance in protecting our health and future.

Fortunately, when new power plants are built, coal is rarely cost-effective in comparison to efficient natural gas power plants. In some parts of the world, coal cannot compete with renewable energy such as hydropower and wind power.

Safe Energy Meets All of Our Energy Needs

The good news is that we are moving to an energy future that is brighter and safer. Nations are moving from last century’s model of energy waste and unused capacity to this century’s model of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In the United States, only about 52 percent of our generation capacity is used on average. We have build an ancient power system designed for all the air conditioners to run on the hottest afternoon in August. Now that smart grid technology including smart meters are being installed by the millions, utilities can deliver the right price signals and charge more when energy demand strains the system, and less energy is plentiful. Using software based intelligent energy management, corporations can run processes at the most cost effective time and we can wash our clothes at times when we can save money.

Energy efficiency (EE) is also lowering our need for coal and nuclear power. LEED buildings use of fraction of the energy of our worst structures. The new LED lights that shine over me as I write to you use 5 times less energy than the incandescent bulbs I formerly used.

The cleanest solutions to global warming, air pollution and energy security are wind, water, and solar power (WWS).  As Dr. Mark Jacobson walks me through the numbers of his, Dr. Mark Delucchi, and their teams’ multi-year study, the renewable energy solution stands out as the clear winner. Dr. Jacobson is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University and an advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wind power has been doubling in capacity about every three years. It’s now over 200 GW; in 3 years it will be over 400 GW. 36 U.S. states generate enough wind power to replace one or more coal or nuclear power plants.  U.S. wind grew 39 percent in recession year 2009. In a growing number of global locations from Hawaii to Denmark, wind is the least expensive way to generate power. Their WWS study includes both on-shore wind power, which is plentiful from Texas through the Dakotas, and offshore with enormous potential along our Pacific and Atlantic coasts and our Great Lakes.

Solar includes the photovoltaics that cover homes and the faster growing PV that covers commercial roofs. It also includes the grid-scale PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) that generates the equivalent power of a natural gas or coal plant. The water in WWS includes hydropower, our most widely used source of renewable energy, and geothermal power, which uses steam to drive turbines.  Water also includes emerging, wave and tidal power generation. Brilliant minds, breakthrough innovation, and billions of investment in companies that deliver more cost-effective renewables and energy efficiency.

WWS can meet all of our needs for electricity. WWS can also meet all of our need for heat and for transportation. VantagePoint Capital Partners provide venture capital and management guidance to innovative leaders in energy innovation and efficiency, such as BrightSource, Better Place, and Goldwind.  VantagePoint was the presenting sponsor of the MUSE Concert.

Safer Energy and Economic Growth

During the next ten years, we will see major nations make their people safer by shutting down their last nuclear power plant. Due to the innovation and progress in energy efficient lights and buildings and thanks to the high growth of renewable energy their nations will better meet all their power needs.

Within the next three decades, all the of our global energy demands can be achieved with zero coal and nuclear power as we replace massive waste with intelligent energy management, replace darkness with energy-efficient lighting, and replace mercury and nuclear poisoning of our children with the power of the sun and the wind.

Failure Is An Option: Cost Is Not No Object

I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to polls about energy issues.  Way too often, the questions are posed in such a way that they practically compel the respondent to answer in a certain way. 

Seriously:  if someone asks you “would you like the energy you use to have less environmental impact?”, are you going to answer “no”?

Valuable polls force people to make tough tradeoffs, as it is under “either-or” situations that true preferences are more accurately revealed.  In the case of energy polls, since most consumers are fundamentally economic decision-makers, questions have to be wedded to the potential dollars-and-cents implications.

And so I put a bit more credence in the results of a recent poll by the investment banking firm Lazard (NYSE: LAZ), in which they asked U.S. voters how much more they were willing to pay for lower-carbon sources of electricity. 

As reported in an article by the Financial Times, the Lazard poll indicates that, on a scale of 1-10 (1 meaning highly unwilling, 10 meaning highly willing), only 21% of respondents reported a score of at least 8 in terms of willingness to pay more for clean energy, with an average willingness to pay of an extra $9.74 on the monthly electricity bill.

Since the average American household spends about $100 per month on electricity, these findings suggest that the average American would be willing to tolerate about a 10% increase in electricity bills.  Implicitly, this means that the average American would be willing to pay about twice as much as they normally pay for electricity — for 10% of their electricity supply.  Given that the average price of electricity in the U.S. is about 10 cents/kwh, the typical American would thus be willing to spend up to 20 cents/kwh for 10% of their electricity to support an accelerated transition to cleaner power generation. 

Unfortunately, many clean electricity generation options — especially those that can achieve large-scale in the many locations not endowed with truly excellent renewable resources — remain at costs at or above 20 cents/kwh delivered to the customer. 

Consequently, it’s unrealistic for clean electricity technologies to supply more than a small portion of the overall power generation portfolio in the U.S. unless and until that fact changes.

In other words, without significant cost reductions, the promise of many clean energy technologies will remain just that:  promise.  Customers — citizens, voters — will not bend over backwards economically to foster a high degree of penetration of new clean energy technologies.  And, we’ll keep more or less doing what we’re doing today.

Against this backdrop, it’s interesting to read the recent report by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), “The Impact of Clean Energy Innovation”.  Google recognizes that the clean energy movement needs significant cost breakthroughs to become massive in scale, and aims to depict what could happen if such breakthroughs were achieved over the next few decades:  offshore wind down from 20 cents/kwh today to below 5 cents/kwh, solar from 15-20 cents/kwh today to 2-4 cents/kwh, and carbon-sequestered coal generation from ???? (i.e., unavailable) today to below 5 cents/kwh.

As much as anything, the report is a call to unstick the lethargy and break from the status quo do-nothing posture that tends to befall the energy sector.  It’s as if Google aims to goad the energy industry into action, with such implorations as “Technologies that innovate fastest win” — something that Google should know about first-hand.  The closing line of the study couldn’t be any clearer in prodding for acceleration:  “The benefits [of energy innovation] are clear, so let’s go!” 

But Google is fundamentally a nimble and entrepreneurial Internet company, and they are shouting into the din of the massive and bureaucratic energy sector.  It seems naive, to me, that their words will resonate with their (presumably) intended audience.

Alas, along with the rah-rah cheerleading, the Google report’s authors also identify the immense obstacles to the path they themselves promote.  Notably, they confess that “smart policies are needed to drive innovation.”  In today’s toxic political environment, it is difficult to imagine any substantive new policies encouraging further energy innovation being implemented, much less so-called “smart” policies — always difficult to achieve in the best of times.

And, as Devon Swezey of the Breakthrough Institute notes in his recent essay “The Coming Clean Tech Crash” in the Huffington Post, “In an era of heightened budget austerity,  the subsidies required to make clean energy artificially cheaper are becoming unsustainable.”

At bottom, Google recognizes the challenge:  “Coal is very hard to displace on economics alone.”  Coal-fired generation is just so damned cheap (as long as environmental issues are overlooked), that its 50+% market share in the U.S. will be hard to dent materially if the invisible hand of the market is the only hand on the tiller.

Compounding the issue is the return of cheap natural gas.  As Google notes, greater utilization of natural gas generation driven by recent low gas prices would be good in the short-term for reducing emissions, but will slow innovation leading to wider-scale deployment of truly clean (i.e., zero or near-zero emissions) energy solutions truly necessary for the long-term:  yet another example of the type of tradeoffs often faced in the energy sector and indeed in society at large — with the short-term usually winning out over the long-term.

So, ultimately, a cleantech utopia is only achieveable with major technology breakthroughs to reduce costs to politically acceptable levels, yet clean energy innovation is greatly hindered (though not entirely stymied) by many of the forces at work.  This is the playing field on which we in the cleantech sector are faced with playing.  Sound like fun to you? 

Before you opt in, be aware that failure is indeed an option.  Don’t jump into the game thinking that this will be easy, because it will be anything but.  And, the way to score big points in the game is to reduce costs, period.

54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standard will save U.S. drivers $1.7 trillion by 2025

The new debt-limit agreement with Congress has been the big news. Big enough for Fitch to keep U.S. Treasuries at AAA for the time being. Last week another major agreement was reached.

President Obama announced a historic agreement with thirteen major automakers to increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. This will save U.S. drivers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs with today’s oil prices of about $100 per barrel. If the price of oil is higher in 2025, consumers will save more.

The President was joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo. Fuel economy will help automakers lower the lifetime cost of operating cars. By 2025, new cars will average the fuel economy of today’s popular Prius Liftback. Next year, Toyota will already start selling cars with better MPG than the classic Prius including the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Prius C, and RAV4 EV.

Toyota is now scrambling to hold its fuel-economy lead as scramble to up their forecast for the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric, and Honda Fit Electric just to name a few new electric cars.

Ten Million Electric Cars

Forecasts of 10 million electric cars by 2020 in the U.S. look more likely. High volumes will lower the cost of lithium battery packs and electric motors, which are also used in hybrids. By 2013, at least one of these automakers will sell 100,000 electric cars and hybrids in one year – Toyota, GM, Nissan, and Ford.

New fuel efficiency and emission standards will make it easier for automakers to build drive systems and cars for the global market where fuel is often more expensive and high MPG necessary to gain market share. Ford has taken a lead is saving billions with global car platforms and in improving fuel economy by shaving hundreds of pounds of vehicle weight. Heavy metal is increasingly replaced with stronger metals and composites. Electric drive systems can support lighter electric accessories instead of mechanical devices.

Consumer savings is real. My wife and I have been driving our Nissan LEAF for three months. Last month, our electricity cost to fuel the car for a month was the same as one gasoline fill-up of our other car, a hybrid. OK, we we’re on vacation part of the month. Next month the electricity bill may be the same as 2 fill-ups.  That electricity is not from foreign oil, it is from local generation with natural gas, wind, solar, other renewables, and yes, 20% nuclear.

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. ”Most of the companies here today were part of an agreement we reached two years ago to raise the fuel efficiency of their cars over the next five years. We’ve set an aggressive target and the companies are stepping up to the plate. By 2025, the average fuel economy of their vehicles will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon.”

The new builds on the existing agreement for Model Years 2012-2016 vehicles, which will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg and begin saving families money at the pump this year, the next round of standards will require performance equivalent to 54.5 mpg or 163 grams/ mile of CO2 for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. Achieving the goals of this historic agreement will rely on innovative technologies and manufacturing that will spur economic growth and create high-quality domestic jobs in cutting edge industries across America.

Truck and SUV Drivers to Save

These programs, combined with the model year 2011 light truck standard, represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in three decades and span Model Years 2011 to 2025. Together, they will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut the oil we consume, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC every day.

People buying all wheel drive SUVs and trucks to deal with snow and ice will finally see real fuel economy improvements.

The standards also curb carbon pollution, cutting more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year. The oil savings, consumer, and environmental benefits of this comprehensive program are detailed in a new report entitled Driving Efficiency: Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil, which the Administration released today.

The program would increase the stringency of standards for passenger cars by an average of five percent each year. The stringency of standards for pick-ups and other light-duty trucks would increase an average of 3.5 percent annually for the first five model years and an average of five percent annually for the last four model years of the program, to account for the unique challenges associated with this class of vehicles.

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

A national policy on fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas emissions provides regulatory certainty and flexibility that reduces the cost of compliance for auto manufacturers while addressing oil consumption and harmful air pollution. Consumers will continue to have access to a diverse fleet and can purchase the vehicle that best suits their needs.

EPA and NHTSA are developing a joint proposed rulemaking, which will include full details on the proposed program and supporting analyses, including the costs and benefits of the proposal and its effects on the economy, auto manufacturers, and consumers. After the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, there will be an opportunity for public comment and public hearings. The agencies plan to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of September 2011. California plans on adopting its proposed rule in the same time frame as the federal proposal.

Given the long time frame at issue in setting standards for MY2022-2025 light-duty vehicles, EPA and NHTSA intend to propose a comprehensive mid-term evaluation. Consistent with the agencies’ commitment to maintaining a single national framework for vehicle GHG and fuel economy regulation, the agencies will conduct the mid-term evaluation in close coordination with California.

In achieving the level of standards described above for the 2017-2025 program, the agencies expect automakers’ use of advanced technologies to be an important element of transforming the vehicle fleet. The agencies are considering a number of incentive programs to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies that represent “game changing” performance improvements, including:

  • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles
  • Incentives for advanced technology packages for large pickups, such as hybridization and other performance-based strategies
  • Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world CO2 reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.

Sometimes Small Things Are A Big Deal

Gas-fired combined cycle powerplants have been around for decades.  In fact, they were almost ubiquitous in the 1990s, sprouting up across America like weeds. 

The only reason they lost favor in the early 2000s is that, because so many were built, natural gas prices spiked from about $2/mmBtu to over $10/mmBtu, making the variable cost of these powerplants too high to economically run as anticipated — and ruining the finances of many independent power producers such as Dynegy (NYSE: DYN) and Calpine (NYSE: CPN).

Of course, with the recent boom in shale gas, coupled with the likely pressures to retire old coal-fired powerplants due to tightening mercury emissions limits, great expectations are once again being heaped on combined cycles to increasingly power the U.S. utility grid.

Now comes word from Technology Review that GE (NYSE: GE) is refining its standard combined cycle design to start-up and spin-up to full power much more quickly, while achieving considerably higher combustion efficiency (61%!).  These improvements are being enabled by advanced materials (nickel-based super alloys) and more sophisticated controls systems.

The benefits of these seemingly incremental and innocuous changes are very important.  The faster “ramp-rate” is especially critical to enable grid operators to better cope with the variability in output from solar and wind energy sources — which, of course, naturally goes up and down in fairly rapid and often unpredictable patterns.  The title of the article sums it up nicely:  “A Gas Power Plant to Make Renewables More Practical”.

As Jim Watson of the University of Sussex says succinctly in the article, “it’s not a low-carbon technology, but it could be part of a low-carbon system.”  Put another way, every little bit helps, and we don’t have to wait for near-free solar energy and energy storage to have a big impact. 

It’s a pity that North America will not be the initial market for roll-out when introduced later this decade.  Another instance in which the U.S. will be a late beneficiary of cleantech innovation.