Is Oiltech Cleantech?

In leading the cleantech practice for the venture capital firm Early Stage Partners, I’m sometimes asked how I define “cleantech”.  I’ve given this question a fair amount of thought, and generally am publicly articulating my answer as “technologies that address the critical resource needs of the 21st Century, most prominently, energy supplies and clean water.”

It’s a broad definition, and one that probably doesn’t please the most ardent environmentalists, many of whom no doubt think that cleantech should only address energy efficiency and renewable energy (and any enabling technologies).  While EE and RE are topics to which I am personally committed, neither am I dogmatic and insist that they are the only worthy energy-related areas of cleantech.

For as much all of us would like to reduce emissions and fossil fuel use as much and as quickly as possible, there is no plausible scenario that suggests that fossil fuel use will cease in any time frame shorter than several decades.  Accordingly, encouraging the shift to lower-emitting fuels (i.e., gas in lieu of coal or oil) or reducing the environmental impact of the fuels that are produced and used is, in my view, a worthwhile area of focus for cleantech practicioners.

Oil technology (a.k.a. “oiltech”), in particular, is receiving  a lot of attention these days, reflecting the continuing growth in global demand for oil — which continues to be the dominant energy source for transportation, and will be for a long time unless/until biofuels, natural gas and/or electrification can make significant inroads — in the face of ongoing elevated oil prices and the corresponding market push to source petroleum from more expensive and difficult resources.  In short, this means deeper — both onshore and especially offshore — and “heavier” oil patches.

This represents an interesting nexus of connection between the oil companies, mostly the “supermajors”, and the entrepreneurial venture world.  As profiled in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, it is challenging to get these two types of enterprises to work together productively, so to help bridge this gap, the Oiltech Investment Network has been formed.  

As distasteful as it might be to some, I expect this oiltech area to be a major segment of the cleantech realm for quite awhile.  If it’s any consolation, to the extent that good venture returns can be earned by cleantech investors from the oiltech area, the future proceeds can be used in part to invest in innovation in the “more purely green” cleantech segments.

New Car Safety, Telematics and Infotainment

When you drive down the road getting navigation help to a restaurant that you just picked while listening to favorite music on Pandora you are internet connected. The internet technology in new cars will soon be a $10 billion business, as people want the best in entertainment, telematics, and infotainment. By the end of the decade, all new cars sold in the USA are likely to be internet enabled.

The competition to deliver the most advanced electric cars and user-friendly vehicles is certain to heat up on the L.A. Auto Show floor next month. All the latest advancements, plus a glimpse into the future, will be featured at the LA Show November 18-27.

Volkswagen has a system that allows a car to navigate itself through a parking structure, park, and then return to meet the owner at the entrance. Lexus is designing Driver Monitoring Systems to reduce accidents caused by distracted or drowsy drivers using tools such as infrared sensors to track eye movement. Ford is currently testing how its SYNC platform might integrate with services such as WellDoc, a cloud-based patient monitoring service, to do things like monitor a driver’s current health condition. And just this year, Nevada passed a law authorizing the use of driverless vehicles.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, overall sales of in-vehicle technology will reach a projected $9.3 billion in 2011, which is 12 percent higher than 2009. Three million Ford vehicles now include the SYNC connectivity platform and by 2014, Ford hopes to have it in every North American model. Volkswagen is investing $20 million annually into its California-based Electronics Research Laboratory devoted to technologies such as automated driver assistance. And new legislation, such as the hands-free Safe Drivers Act of 2011, continues to speed further advancements.

New Safety and Telematics for Cars, Trucks and SUVs

Located in the design and technology hotbed of Southern California, the L.A. Show will be the ultimate showcase for these breakthrough innovations. Technology to look for includes advanced applications of Bluetooth, radar sensors, embedded telephony and cloud computing. In use, they give drivers hands-free access to personal data, communications, and audio entertainment, social networking and advanced safety measures previously unimaginable.

Automotive safety is being defined by “intelligent” systems designed to avoid and prevent accidents. Radar sensors, GPS, Artificial Intelligence, cameras and other technologies mean features such as sophisticated lane departure warning systems are now available. Like many of these new technologies, the lane departure warning systems-which use cameras and sensors to alert a driver drifting from their lane-were first introduced by luxury brands. That has changed as more mainstream vehicles, such as the 2011 Ford Focus, feature the same advanced capabilities. Related systems, including active blind-spot detection, cross-traffic alerts and backup cameras are also now appearing in vehicles across multiple price categories. These technologies alert drivers to unsafe situations through a variety of methods, including automated notifications such as subtle vibration in the steering wheel and the use of LED warning lights.

Part of the Driver Assist Package, Audi will be showcasing its “pre sense plus” technology in several vehicles making their North American debut-the 2012 S6, S7, S8 and A8 models. The integrated system anticipates and reacts to incidents using a radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control sensor, lane assist, side assist and controlled, automated braking.

BMW offers the Assist Safety Plan, a comprehensive protection platform including the SOS Emergency Request, remote Door Unlock assistance, Stolen Vehicle Recovery (a remote vehicle locator), and a Critical Calling feature for making emergency calls through the vehicle’s embedded cellular technology.

Hyundai’s safety solution is the new Blue Link platform, which offers Automatic Collision Notification (ACN) and Assistance on new vehicles including the 2012 Veloster, which will also be on the show floor this year. ACN is triggered when an airbag deploys, while the SOS system alerts safety specialists and enhanced roadside assistance via a dedicated button that automatically transmits vehicle information and location for rapid dispatch.

Mercedes-Benz ATTENTION ASSIST uses an algorithm to produce an individual driver profile that recognizes typical patterns of behavior and then compares that profile with current data from sensors to detect if the driver is tired. For example, if unintentional lane departures are detected, or delayed reaction times coupled with over-corrective steering, ATTENTION ASSIST will sound an alarm and offer a visual warning in the vehicle’s instrument cluster.

Entertainment + Information = Infotainment

Cars are now an extension of the office and the living room thanks to advanced technologies that allow drivers to share, socialize, be informed and entertained, all while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. For example, voice text messaging, found in vehicles equipped with connected systems such as Ford SYNC, enable drivers to safely send hands-free text messages, while Mercedes-Benz COMAND platform offers popular apps ranging from music services like Pandora, to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cadillac will debut its new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system: iPod integration, app capability (e.g. Pandora and Stitchert), Bluetooth hands-free technology for phoning and audio for wireless music streaming and AM/FM/HD/XM radio. It also boasts a BluRay rear-seat entertainment system and delivers new user interface advancements that emulate many of the swipe, tap, scroll and even pinch-to-zoom features that consumers have come to expect from the touch-screen interfaces of smartphones and tablets. CUE is scheduled to be available on the Cadillac XTS and ATS sedans and SRX crossover sometime in late spring of 2012.

Kia’s Microsoft-powered UVO hands-free system is available on vehicles highlighted at the L.A. Show, including the Sportage LX, EX and Sorento, and gives drivers multiple voice commands and touch screen options that allow pairing with an MP3 player, ripping music from CDs and the ability to answer and place hands-free calls and text messages.

Your Personal Chauffer and Concierge

Premium cars now offer “always-on” services for users who can access plans such as BMW Assist, GM’s OnStar, Hyundai’s Blue Link and Infiniti’s Personal Assistant. These services are enabled by technologies including cloud computing, Bluetooth hands-free communication and GPS, to provide a whole new level of function and service, such as voice text messaging, automated dispatching of emergency roadside assistance and even connecting with a live concierge for restaurant recommendations. Now, these services can be added to a broad range of vehicles with OnStar’s FMV (For My Vehicle), an after-market solution integrated into a vehicle’s rearview mirror that delivers a similar level of safety, navigation and communication technology.

Infiniti’s Personal Assistant, featured in all-new Infiniti models such as the JX luxury crossover provides 24-hour anytime/anywhere concierge service for anything from restaurant reservations to gift ideas. Part of Blue Link, Hyundai’s Service Link manages maintenance schedules, offers an Eco-Coach to improve efficient driving and even delivers restaurant ratings.

The Entune-equipped 2012 Toyota Prius v offers a feature-set including integrated apps like Bing search, Pandora, OpenTable restaurant reservations, a search for movie times and even parental-oriented functions like a GeoFencing capability that sends text alerts if a vehicle strays from a predefined area.

Navigation With Realtime Traffic

One of the first auto technology platforms appearing in vehicles over a decade ago, navigation has now become the most ubiquitous. Advanced GPS systems that navigate to destinations and locate Points of Interest (POIs) now also create custom itineraries, receive live traffic updates and respond to voice commands. Navigation has also become more integrated with other technologies, including telematics and Google data services, allowing for automated location-based alerts and customized map searches. For example, BMW’s ConnectedDrive platform automatically recognizes a vehicle’s position and can send a driver results for a pre-defined POI category, say a hotel, allowing them to select one and have it loaded into the navigation system with the touch of a button.

Hyundai’s Blue Link connectivity platform provides agent-assisted POI searches and downloads, such as locating the best gas prices, while allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Blue Link packages are available on 2012 models on view at the Show including the Azera, Sonata and Veloster, and will be in the majority of Hyundai vehicles by 2013.

Mercedes-Benz’s mbrace system, available in several vehicles on display at this year’s Show, features an advanced navigation and destination-planning database along with a companion app allowing drivers to send addresses and POIs from their smartphones. Mbrace also features live operator route assistance and the Drive2Friend feature, allowing a friend’s location to be sent from their smartphone to a vehicle’s navigation system.

These advancements in safety, infotainment and hybrid cars can be experienced in many of the vehicles featured at this year’s L.A. Auto Show.

Get Yer Motors Running

Last week, I spoke with a few representatives from GE Motors and Services, one of the groupings under Industrial Solutions within the massive GE Energy business unit of General Electric (NYSE: GE).  In the course of the conversation, I received a brief tutorial on the state of affairs in the motor marketplace.

Although easy to overlook, motors add up to a very big deal:  according to the Department of Energy, motor-driven equipment accounts for an estimated 64% of U.S. industrial electricity demand, because motors are embedded in so many fans, pumps and processes — all of which are ubiquitous in the industrial sector, and particularly in the three largest end-user segments of power generation, oil/gas and mining. 

Because motors represent such a significant share of the nation’s electricity consumption and such a signficant outlay for U.S. manufacturers, the DOE has made motors a key area of its Industrial Technologies Program to improve the competitiveness of American industry.  There’s also a group of interested parties that has formed Motor Decisions Matter, a group that is hosting a website with information on motors to facilitate better decision-making on the subject.

Energy efficiency is arguably the primary factor in the motor market, because expenditures on energy consumption represent the vast majority of a motor’s total life-cycle costs.  For instance, a low-voltage motor might cost $4000, whereas its associated annual energy cost might be on the order of $40,o00 if it runs a large percentage of the time (not uncommon in industrial settings). 

Thus, each fractional gain of energy efficiency is huge, and paybacks on making an investment in a new motor might be as short as one year. For larger motors, it can be very economic to tear down and rebuild the windings to eke out a little more efficiency from the motor — that’s the Services part of GE Motors and Services.

As you might expect from such an industrial giant — one that was built upon electric energy — GE offers the full spectrum of electric motors from 1 to 100,000 horsepower.  Main targets for GE’s research agenda in motors centers on applications for electric vehicles, and also permanent-magnet motors to reduce the need for rare earth metals (as discussed in a prior posting of mine). 

Other desired improvements in motor technology center on relability — particularly since industrial users have reduced inventories of spare motors as capital budgets have been squeezed.  Two particular challenges stand in the way of improved reliability.  First, heat:  as a rule of thumb, each 10 degree increase in internal temperature reduces motor life by 50%, so considerable attention is being paid to materials and heat dissipation approaches.  Second, vibration:  bearing failures account for 52% of all motor failures, and vibration is at the source of most of this issue.

I didn’t hear anything from the GE Motors representatives suggesting that a major revolution is on the way in the motor sector — although GE is more known for continuous incremental improvements than in profound breakthroughs — but it’s clear that motors continue to be a fertile ground for innovation, so many decades after they became commonplace. 

It’s yet another a good reminder that all facets of the modern economy, even the most basic ones, are the subject of attention for innovation relevant to the cleantech sector.

California Self-Generation Incentive Program Expanded

by David Niebauer

A recent decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) has reinvigorated and expanded the Self-Generation Incentive Program (“SGIP”) by greatly expanding the technologies that are eligible for the program and creating up-front rebates plus performance-based incentives for developers and manufacturers working to install these technologies.

The impetus for the new expanded program was legislative action taken in October 2009 in Senate Bill 412.  That bill authorized the CPUC, in consultation with the California Air Resources Board, to expand eligible technologies based on greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, and extended the expiration of the program to January 1, 2016.  In addition, on September 10, 2011, Assembly Bill 1150 allowed SGIP money to be raised by the state’s electric utilities for an additional three years through 2014. The program collects $83 million annually from ratepayers through their electricity bills.

The SGIP was established in 2001 as a peak-load reduction program seeking to encourage the development and commercialization of new distributed generation (DG) – generation installed on the customer’s side of the utility meter.  In 2007, the solar portion of the SGIP was replaced with the California Solar Initiative, a much larger program that has met with considerable success.  Originally funded with $2.167 billion to cover a 10-year period, the program is nearly out of cash, but has been instrumental in California leading the country in solar installations. A recent report by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) shows all three of California’s investor owned utilities (IOUs) in the top ten utility solar rankings for 2010 – much of it DG.

From 2007 – 2010, the SGIP was only available for small wind turbines, fuel cells and advanced energy storage.  The expanded program now includes wind turbines, fuel cells, organic rankin cycle/waste heat capture, pressure reduction turbines, advanced energy storage, and combined heat and power gas turbines, micro-turbines, and internal combustion engines – provided they achieve reductions in GHG emissions.

The following chart shows each eligible technology with the incentive in dollars per watt:

Technology Type Incentive ($/W)

Renewable and Waste Heat Capture

Wind Turbine                                                                                                  $1.25                                               Waste Heat to Power                                                                                     $1.25                                            Pressure Reduction Turbine                                                                        $1.25

Conventional Fuel-Based CHP

Internal Combustion Engine – CHP                                                           $0.50                                   Microturbine – CHP                                                                                       $0.50                                                 Gas Turbine – CHP                                                                                         $0.50

Emerging Technologies

Advanced Energy Storage                                                                              $2.00                                            Biogas                                                                                                                 $2.00                                               Fuel Cell – CHP or Electric Only                                                                  $2.25

For projects under 30kW, the entire incentive will be paid up front.  For larger projects, the incentive will be paid 50% up front and the remainder over a five year period, based on capacity factors.

Size does matter, and the incentive will be tiered as follows:

0-1 MW = 100 %                                                                                                                                                            1-2 MW = 50 %                                                                                                                                                             2-3 MW = 25 %

Pointing to the CSI as its model, the CPUC has adopted a declining incentive structure to “gradually reduce the market’s reliance on a subsidy”.  The decline will apply a 10% annual reduction for emerging technologies and 5% annual reduction for all other technologies, with the first reduction starting on January 1, 2013.

The decision puts a 40% “concentration limit” on manufacturers (i.e., no one manufacturer can claim more than 40% of the incentive slated for any given year).  This concentration limit will not apply to project developers, however.

The funds collected each year will be allocated with 75% dedicated to the renewable and emerging technology bucket and 25% dedicated to the non-renewable bucket.

The new program will require a service warranty in addition to a parts warranty.  The CPUC has requested stakeholder input on the length of the warranty for the “reasonable expected useful life of a project”.

SB 412 also directed the CPUC to provide “an additional incentive of 20 percent from existing program funds for the installation of eligible distributed generation resources from a California supplier.” This additional incentive can be found in Section 3.5 of the 2009 SGIP Handbook.

At least one California manufacturer of natural gas fired microtrubines is touting the new CPUC decision as a boon to DG installations and energy efficiency.  Developers who deploy waste heat recovery systems should also be pleased by the decision.  More efficient use of on-site energy generation and storage will not only reduce GHG emissions, but also ease transmission and distribution infrastructure bottlenecks.

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

Environmental Regulation of Coal Power: Train Wreck or No?

Over the past several months — well, years, really — there’s been a lot of to-and-fro about various new environmental requirements that may or may not face coal-fired powerplants.

Some observers have called it a regulatory “train wreck”, arguing that some of the requirements run at cross-purposes to others, or are planned to be sequenced in a manner that are difficult to manage, so that it will be incredibly costly for owners of coal powerplants to comply, and will drive the retirement of a large portion of the U.S. generating capacity.  For this view, see this report from the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In August, the Congressional Research Service released a report largely refuting this view.  As noted in the Executive Summary, “supporters of the regulations assert that it is decades of regulatory delays and court decisions that have led to this point, resulting in part from special consideration given electric utilities by Congress under several statutes.”  Or, put another way, the fix that coal powerplant owners are in is substantially of their own doing.

As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post asks, “Who’s right?” 

Maybe the more interesting take is from Ken Silverstein of EnergyBiz, whose article headline says it all:  “Coal’s Woes Run Deeper than EPA Regs”.  In particular, mining in Central Appalachia is experiencing significant declines due simply to depletion of the lowest-cost reserves there.  Coal production is not only shifting west to larger and cheaper reserves, but is being threatened by low-cost natural gas due in large part to the boom in shale gas production.

Coal is an industry in retreat and on the defensive, ornery — notwithstanding the sector’s efforts to portray itself to the public in a positive light, such as at America’s Power.  The promise of advancements in so-called “clean coal” technologies involving carbon sequestration has largely failed to bear fruit.  The economic supremacy of coal over other fuels is under seige.  Mining safety incidents and mountaintop removal practices continue to give the industry a black eye.

Yes, coal is abundant, and many of the premises about coal’s enduring place in the energy economy put forth by the seminal MIT study “The Future of Coal” no doubt remain true.  But, as tough as it’s been for the nuclear and renewables sectors, it’s also going to be a rough ride for players in the coal industry.  I wouldn’t want to ride that train, whether or not a train wreck ensues.

What if every residential home in the U.S. had a solar rooftop?

By David Anthony and Tao Zheng

Whoever thought that every home in America would have a radio, a television, a phone, a computer, and now a solar rooftop? If it can be imagined, then it can be done.

As the crude oil price fluctuated between $70 and $110 a barrel in the past year and nuclear power plant expansion has been restricted after Japan’s disaster, renewable energies, such as photovoltaic (PV), have potential to fill the void left by the dwindling nuclear capacity. Let’s imagine that every residential home in the U.S. had a solar roof. We can estimate the maximum potential of rooftop PV capacity in America, assuming 100% market penetration.
Before the market size estimation, let’s review the current trend of the U.S. solar markets A recent report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council shows the solar installed base of PV installation in 2010 doubled compared to the solar installed base in 2009, while installed capacity for other solar technologies, such as concentrating solar power (CSP) and solar thermal collector, also increased significantly. Based on a study by the Solar Energy Industries Association, cumulative grid-connected PV in the U.S. has now reached over 2.3 GW. The top seven states (such as California and New Jersey) installed 88% of all PV in Q1 2011. However, U.S. solar markets fell behind some European countries, most notably Germany. In 2010 alone, Germany installed 7.4 GW of PV systems and currently has an install base of 14.7 GW more than six times the U.S. cumulative solar installation. Germany’s solar market is traditionally driven by residential installation, supported by generous government incentives. The primary barrier stopping American homeowners from PV installation is cost.

Historically, the U.S. PV market has been driven by the non-residential sector with 42% of total installation in 2010, including the commercial, public, and non-profit sectors. However, residential and utility sectors have been gaining ground steadily with market share of 30% and 28%, respectively. Distributed rooftop represents the largest segment of the U.S. PV market. It is fueled by declining PV prices, government incentives, retail electricity rate earnings, and lack of transmission losses.

A simple estimation of rooftop PV market size starts with total roof space available. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, total U.S. housing units were 127.7 million in 2009. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average home size in the United States was 2,700 square feet in 2009. If we assume the average number of floors per building is two, the total residential roof space available is 172.4 billion square feet. In a more detailed rooftop PV market penetration scenario analysis, Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI) used a PV access factor and the PV power density to the estimate technical rooftop capacity for both residential and commercial buildings. The PV access factor takes into account, building orientation and roof structural soundness, as well as cooler and warmer climates in different states. The resulting PV access factors for residential and commercial buildings are 25% and 60%, respectively. The PV power density is calculated with a weight-averaged module efficiency using market share for the three prevalent PV technologies today: crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride, and CIGS. The resulting PV power density is 13.7 MW/million ft2, assuming an average module efficiency of 18.5% in 2015. The total rooftop PV technical potential can be calculated as:

Rooftop PV technical potential = Total roof space available * PV access factor * PV power density

Based on the NCI study, the combined U.S. rooftop PV technical potential, independent of economics, for both residential and commercial building will reach 712.2 GW in year 2015. The following chart represents the state-by-state results of the technical potential:


Figure 1. U.S. rooftop PV technical potential in 2015, estimated by Navigant Consulting Inc.

National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) applied a different approach, using the Solar Deployment System (SolarDS) model to estimate that the technical potential of the residential and commercial rooftop PV markets are approximately 300 GW each by year 2030. In the NREL model, shaded roofs and obstructed roof space were eliminated, and customer adoption rate was considered to cover economic factors, such as PV cost, policy incentive, and financing.

Based on the above potential market size analysis, the current cumulative grid-connected PV installation only represents 0.3% of total U.S. rooftop PV technical potential, which indicates a huge market potential. In addition, the rooftop PV system has to be replaced every 15 to 20 years, which represents another significant market opportunity. If we use the NCI estimated U.S. rooftop PV technical potential of 712.2 GW in 2015, assuming 100% market penetration, we can estimate how much electricity energy can be generated by such power. If we assume 10 hours/day and 200 days/year with sunshine, the total rooftop PV generated electricity energy will be 1,424 billion kWh, or 1,424 TWh, in U.S. by 2015. Compared to the total U.S. electricity generation of 3,953 TWh in 2009 with 1% annual growth projection in next 25 years, the technical potential of electricity generation from rooftop PV can take over 1/3 of U.S. electricity consumption. As indicated in the following chart from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), total solar generated electricity, from both solar thermal and PV, represents less than 0.1% of total electricity generation in 2009. Rooftop PV has a huge market growth capacity, and the dramatic installation cost drop will accelerate the rooftop PV market penetration. The current crystalline solar module price has dropped to $1.25/watt, compared to $2.80/watt two years ago.


Figure 2. U.S. electricity generation mix in 2009.
(Source: EIA Electric Power Monthly, October 2010)

There are two ways to assimilate PV arrays with rooftops: either integrated into them, or mounted on them. Mounting PV panels on rooftop requires more dangerous labor practices and is not aesthetically pleasing. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are photovoltaic materials used to replace conventional building materials in roof, skylights, or facades. The advantage of BIPV over conventional roof-mounted PV panels is that the initial cost can be offset by reducing the amount spent on building materials and labor. BIPV also appears unobtrusive on a building structure. Current innovations have led to increasing diversity of BIPV products on the market, including rigid BIPV tiles and transparent BIPV glass. Advances in thin-film PV technologies have led to flexible solar tiles and shingles.
BIPV market competition has shifted from module provider to construction site. The fight for BIPV leadership in building and construction has begun. A recent article from Greentech Media points out the only way to realize BIPV is to be active in the architecture and early design of the building, consulting on matters as integral as the compass orientation of the building. For example, OneRoof Energy, a California-based residential BIPV provider, established a strategic alliance with a national network of roofing contractors. The exclusive integrator relationship, as well as its innovative financing program to reduce homeowner installation cost, provides strong competitive advantages for the company to gain market share nationwide. Please excuse our shameless self-promotion as David Anthony one of the authors of this article is an investor and board member of OneRoof Energy.


Figure 3. Residential BIPV Installation

Comparing residential and commercial markets for BIPV, the residential sector has more advantages using standard-sized BIPV materials. Many commercial buildings require custom sized panels, due to specs from the building designer. It is impossible for BIPV makers to prepare a variety of custom-sized modules in a mass production line. In addition, landlords of commercial buildings in many cities have no incentive to install BIPV. For example, in New York City, the electricity bill is paid by the tenant not the landlord. Therefore, the real BIPV opportunity stays with residential sector, not commercial sector. The residential rooftop PV market has a bright future with huge market potential, and already has shown strong growth in recent years. The BIPV market could reach $5.8 billion in 2016, based on a report from Pike Research.

Beside electricity generation, the rooftop PV market also has the potential to create millions of job opportunities for Americans. For a typical 0.5 MW solar installation, it will take 6 contractors for installation and another 3 full-timers for maintenance per year. We assume the rooftop PV market will take 20 years to reach 100% penetration. In the past 10 years, the average annual new home construction is 1.47 million units. Considering the recent housing market slow down, we can assume the new home construction will be 1 million units per year over the next 20 years, which is 0.78% growth of U.S. total housing units. Therefore, the total U.S. rooftop PV technical potential will reach 800 GW in 2030. For a simple estimation, we assume 40 GW/year for the next 20 years. Each year, we assume the rooftop PV market will create 480,000 installation jobs.. In addition, it will create 240,000 jobs per year for maintenance services, with a total of 4.8 million jobs for the next 20 years. Therefore, the rooftop PV market could generate more than 5 million jobs for U.S., if we assume 100% market penetration by 2030. This “back of the envelope” estimate excludes the re-roof market which could add to both employment and BIPV installation.

With the potential to create over 5 million jobs and one third of U.S. electricity energy, the rooftop PV system will become more lucrative for investors, government and US home owners. As PV electricity rates approach “grid parity”, there is no reason for U.S. to lag so far behind Germany, if government provides enough inventive and infrastructures for PV market development.

Given the upcoming 2012 election year we hope President Obama, Texas Governor Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Romney read this article.

David Anthony is the Managing Director 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. As mentioned above David is an investor and on the board of directors of OneRoof Energy, LLC. 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.

Tao Zheng is a material scientist in advanced materials and cleantech industry. He held 20+ patents and patent applications, and published many peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals. Tao Zheng received his B.S. degree in polymer materials sciences from Tsinghua University in China, and a Ph.D. degree in chemical engineering from University of Cincinnati. He obtained his MBA degree with distinction in finance and strategy from New York University, Stern School of Business, where he was designated as “Stern Scholar” and received “Harold Price Entrepreneurship Award”.

Top 5 Cleantech Prize Competitions

By Daniel Gerding

As the cleantech industry continues to grow, so too does the number of competitions geared to promote innovative ideas and companies in the industry. Academia is full of cleantech and renewable energy focused case competitions, which bring students together from a variety of disciplines to solve today’s most pressing problems. These provide students with real-world experience and also give companies access to a large talent pool at no cost. However, I believe the most valuable competitions are those which target individuals and companies who already have innovative ideas and products and reward them both monetarily and with “incubator-like” support. Here’s my short list . . . what other competitions do you think are making an impact on the industry?

1) The Cleantech Open
As the largest of all cleantech competitions, The Cleantech Open is unique in a number of ways:
• Cash prizes – $250,000 for the National Grand Prize winner (easily one of the largest awards among cleantech competitions). Also, according to www.cleantechopen.com, they have “awarded over $5 million in cash and services to support cleantech growth companies” in the past five years.
• Professional development – Cleantech Open provides its participants with significant training, mentorship, and access to potential investors.
Through its regional and national competitions, the Cleantech Open has amassed nearly 500 alumni who have collectively raised more than $300 million in external funding. Past winners include Adura Technologies, Lucid Design Group, Nila Inc., and Power Assure.

2) MIT Clean Energy Prize
Although sponsored by MIT and geared towards students, the MIT Clean Energy Prize is different from the large number of MBA case competitions. Per their mission statement, “The MIT Clean Energy Prize will catalyze a new generation of clean energy solutions to meet the world’s energy challenge through innovation and entrepreneurship.” Started in 2008, the competition is a year-long education-focused process. Teams compete in one of five separate tracks: energy efficiency, transportation, deployment, clean non-renewables, and renewables. The winning team in each track wins a $15,000 prize and competes against the winners of the other tracks for the grand prize MIT Clean Energy Prize of $200,000.

MIT has long been an entrepreneurial powerhouse – and thanks to the Clean Energy Prize and other initiatives, their intellectual capital is increasingly focused on cleantech! Past winners include C3NANO, Husk Insulation, FlowDesign Wind Turbine, and Covalent Solar.

3) Skipso Open Competition
The Skipso Open Competition is by far the most unique on this list. In fact, it’s actually not a competition at all, but instead a series of challenges that are crowd sourced from companies and cleantech professionals. By allowing companies to set up their own challenges using their platform, Skipso enables them to find solutions to their most pressing problems by leveraging their global community of experts, thought leaders, and innovators. Skipso allows companies to set up challenges in five categories: Ideas, R&D (Research and Development, RFPs (Requests for Proposals), HR (Human Resources), and Start-ups. Once the challenge is completed, the sponsoring company selects a winner and a cash award (amount varies) is usually awarded.

Past Challenges include:
• Innovative approaches to secure and expand the sourcing of carbon offsetting projects (sponsored by MyClimate)
• Innovative LED-based lighting products to expand functional application (sponsored by G.C.Illumination)

Although the awards for Skipso challenges are lower than the more large-scale competitions like the Cleantech Open, I believe the potential for them to really have a significant impact is great given that their crowd sourcing approach and open platform help companies, entrepreneurs, and experts to tap into the broader talent pool regardless of their physical location.

4) CleanTech Challenge (CTC)
Launched in 2009, the CleanTech Challenge (CTC) is similar to the MIT Clean Energy Prize in that it is focused on students. The CTC is jointly sponsored by London Business School and University College London. The competition is designed to enable students to take a clean technology from “concept” to venture funding and ultimately self-sustainability. All finalists attend a two day “boot camp” at London Business School where they receive direct guidance and support from people in the industry, and the first place winners receive a £5,000 award.

Past Winners include Silicon Solar Cells, from Technical University of Denmark/Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Team Somba from IESE/University of Arizona, and GreenLease, a turnkey green energy solution provider.

5) Anaheim Center for New Energy Technologies Clean Tech Competition
The AC-NET Clean Tech Competition is designed to “advance the development and commercialization of energy and water technologies” by giving “early-stage” companies access to potential investors. Initially created in 2009, the competition made some significant changes this year by partnering with CleanTech OC and OCTANe . As a result of this partnership, finalists in the competition will now be evaluated using OCTANe’s LaunchPad process, which provides comprehensive feedback on participants’ business plans and investment presentations.

In addition to the rigorous OCTANe Launchpad process, the winner of the competition is awarded a $25,000 prize. Past winners include Ener-G-Rotors and Hadronex.

Chevrolet Spark EV with A123 Nanophosphate Lithium-ion Batteries

The 2013 Spark EV is Chevrolet’s new 100% battery-electric car. It is GM’s fourth electric car model that includes the Chevrolet Volt, the Opel Ampera, and the Cadillac ELR. GM needs a pure-electric offering; Nissan Leaf is dominating the early adopter market.

Reuters reports that Nissan LEAF’s U.S. sales through September were about 27,500 — seven times higher than the Volt. Electric utility PG&E confirms that ratio reporting 1,200 LEAFs and only 250 Volts delivered in its service area – 10,000 electric cars for SF Region in 2012. GM is expanding electric car production from 10,000 this year to 65,000 in 2012 as it plays catch-up with Nissan and prepares for market share battle with Ford, Toyota, Honda, and others.

Now GM fights back with the Spark EV. A gasoline powered Spark is currently offered in some foreign markets as a 2-door, 4-seat, subcompact. Small cars are now popular in American cities as drivers fight for expensive parking spaces. In 2012, the Mitsubishi i will lead the battle for electric city cars with a starting price of $29,195.

By the time that Chevrolet can start dealer deliveries of the 2013 Spark EV, it will face tough competition from at least 10 electric cars in the U.S. selling for under $40,000.  The field will include other impressive electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF, which I own, the Mitsubishi I, the Ford Focus Electric, the Honda Fit Electric, the Scion IQ EV and others. Chevrolet only plans on limited sales in California and other select U.S. and global markets in 2013. GM has yet to announce battery size, range, fast charge capability or lack thereof and vehicle price. Electric car ranges of 80 to 100 miles are common.

Both the Chevrolet Spark EV and the Chevrolet Volt will be successful. Many people prefer the plug-in hybrid range of the Volt; others want a zero gasoline pure electric like the Spark and will count on the 25,000-plus public charging stations that will be available when the Spark EV is delivered. I have interviewed dozens of Volt drivers from music stars like Jackson Brown to regular commuters. They uniformly love their cars performance, reliability, and electric range.

Lithium Battery Competition – A123 Wins this Time

The Chevy Spark is a major win for the nanophosphate lithium-ion battery pack supplier A123, an American innovator that has lost most automotive design-wins to giants like Korea’s LG Chem and Samsung and Japan’s Panasonic and NEC. (Disclosure: author holds modest stock ownership in A123.)

As electric and hybrid car competition intensifies, Nissan, GM, Toyota, and Ford are in a race to sell the most vehicles with lithium batteries. I have driven cars from each of these automakers that use lithium batteries. The cars performed beautifully and delivered great fuel economy.

By the end of 2012, Nissan will have delivered 100,000 LEAFs. Renault is trying to match that number in Europe and Israel. Both automakers use AESC lithium-nickel-manganese polymer batteries. AESC is a joint venture between NEC and Nissan.

Ford may be the first carmaker to sell 100,000 cars annually that includes lithium batteries. When I lasted interviewed Nancy Gioia, Director Ford Global Electrification, she said that Ford has a 2020 goal of 10 to 25 percent of its vehicle sales including lithium batteries. Her best guess is that 70% would be hybrids, 20 to 25% plug-in hybrids, and 5 to 10% battery-electric. Everything from technology innovation to oil prices will affect the future mix.

Toyota Motor Corp is bringing to market three vehicles with lithium batteries – the Prius PHV, the RAV4 EV, and the Scion IQ EV.

Frost and Sullivan forecasts that the lithium transportation market will expand from $1.2 billion in 2011 to $14 billion in 2016.  Automotive Lithium Battery Competition Report

Trash About Trash

For the past few years, the City of Cleveland has been exploring the development of a trash-to-energy facility at its Ridge Road waste transfer station

Currently, the City collects garbage via conventional trucks, brings it to Ridge Road for loading into 18-wheelers, and sends the garbage miles away to a landfill — pretty much the same approach to waste management that’s been used for decades.

Under the leadership of Commissioner Ivan Henderson of the City’s municipatl utility, Cleveland Public Power (CPP), the City has been investigating a different concept:  a materials recycling facility (MRF) at Ridge Road, with the non-recyclable wastes (e.g., organic matter) being loaded into a gasifier produced by the Japanese firm Kinsei Sangyo to produce a syngas that would fire a small power generation unit. 

The benefits to this proposed facility are several:  reduced expansion of landfills, reduced carbon footprint associated with trucking of wastes, reduced waste management costs for the City, reduced power costs for the City.

It all sounds pretty good, right?  Well, just as no good deed goes unpunished, so too does no good idea go unopposed.

Yesterday, the Plain-Dealer reported on emerging opposition to the proposed project from some community-based environmental activists, notably Ohio Citizen Action.  Their concern is that the plant will cause local air quality immediately surrounding the Ridge Road site to suffer, citing the amount of emissions that would be allowed under the emissions permit anticipated for the facility.

As noted in the article, Mayor Frank Jackson and several Cleveland officials recently visited Japan to meet with Kinsei Sangyo and witness several of their gasifiers in operation.  Two years ago, at the request of Commissioner Henderson, representing the Cleveland Foundation, I joined an earlier fact-finding delegation to Japan to ensure that such an operation would not be a blight or a liability for the Cleveland neighborhoods nearby the Ridge Road site.

We saw three operating Kinsei Sangyo gasifiers on my visit to Japan.  The only discernible emissions were small wisps of steam.  There was minimal odor and sound — certainly far less than what exists at Ridge Road today.  One of the facilities was actually in the middle of a residential section — and bear in mind that Japanese environmental standards are generally more stringent than those in the U.S.

From my perspective, based on actually seeing plants like the one proposed in operation, it is hard to claim that the waste-to-energy facility proposed for Ridge Road would represent a significant diminishment of the local environment.  Ohio Citizen Action is basing their opposition on the emission levels allowed in the permit, as opposed to the emissions that would likely occur if the plant were to be built.  Although Ohio Citizen Action is basing their position on facts, this is an instance of the facts being used in a particular way to achieve a particular outcome — an outcome that may in fact not be in the best public interests.

Those who are against the proposed waste-to-energy facility at Ridge Road should really see one of these plants in operation before making a rush to judgment.

I appreciate the concerns of environmentalists, I really do.  We have a precious planet, and it’s the only one we’ve got. 

However, if you’re going to oppose the development of a project that promises a lot of advantages, including many environmental benefits, you’d better have a pretty damn good alternative to suggest.

For instance, when environmentalists oppose fracking to produce natural gas from shale, they’re also blocking utilization of the lowest-carbon fuel for powerplants and vehicles.  Clearly, if fracking is to be done, it needs to be done responsibly.  But, by barring fracking entirely, would environmental advocates rather we continue to burn so much coal and oil? 

I know the retort:  “We need to move to renewables.”  I get it; look at what I’ve done with my life for the past 15 years if you think otherwise.  But the shift to renewables will take a long time, will be pretty gradual and won’t always be cheap.  Shouldn’t we take a low-cost, large and quick step right now in the environmental direction we want to go?  (And, one that will generate domestic economic benefits to boot?)

I traded emails last week with Steve Brick, Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a long-time consultant and advocate in the clean energy space.  He noted that the “apocalyptic narrative” of the most strident environmentalists is clearly not inspiring to most listeners.  I agreed and responded with the observation that the “game over” rhetoric is not only failing to lead to action on climate change and other environmental concerns, but is feeding fuel to those who want no action — or worse, to unwind the positive movements of the past forty years. 

In my opinion, by stiffening the opposition to environmentalism, the oppositional positions of the most strident environmentalists are not helping the planet.  We have trashy discourse in addition to our ever-growing landfills.

Top 5 Reasons Why Solyndra’s Failure is No Reason to Abandon Clean Energy

by Rory Cox

In the last weeks, Solyndra, a Fremont-based solar manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy. What made this event of special interest was the fact that Solyndra received about half a billion dollars in loan guarantees as part of the federal stimulus program, and became a “poster child” for the program after President Obama’s appearance at their factory last year. Needless to say, opponents of progress are using this event to attack Obama, solar energy, and government investment in clean energy. Here are five reasons why they’re wrong.

1. Solyndra is a rare instance of failure for the government Loan Guarantee Program (LPG). According to a piece in Forbes ,“…when judged by its entire diverse portfolio of investments, the LGP has performed remarkably well. Indeed, with a capitalization of just $4 billion, DOE has committed or closed $37.8 billion in loan guarantees for 36 innovative clean energy projects. The Solyndra case represents less than 2% of total loan commitments made by DOE… ” It’s bad political luck that the company that went belly up is the same one that Obama chose for a personal appearance, but in the big scheme of things, this is a mere bump in the road for a wildly successful program.

2. The US solar industry is a big job creator, and will continue to be. The solar industry now employs more people in the US than the steel industry, a barometer of US economic power. Many solar companies are expanding rapidly, fueled by state and federal incentive programs. The same week Solyndra went bankrupt, Solaria, another Bay Area manufacturer, announced it was expanding and looking for another facility. Meanwhile, retail installation companies like Sungevity, SunRun, Recurrent and many others continue their expansion. And California’s terrific clean energy mandates and incentives will continue to drive job creation in our state.

3. Dirty Energy is Heavily Subsidized. The US government subsidized dirty energy before they even knew it was dirty energy. Subsidies for the oil and coal industries go back over 100 years, and continue to dwarf subsidies for clean energy. According to a report from the Environmental Law Institute, from 2002 to 2008 fossil fuels received $70.2 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, while renewables received $12.2 billion.

4. Renewables are Good for the Bottom Line. Investing in clean energy is one way businesses can save money. According to the UK’s Carbon Trust Advisory, businesses in that country can count on average returns of 11 to 12 percent for investments made into onsite renewable energy systems. These savings are kept at home and can be reinvested back into the business, rather than sending money to an energy oligarchy.

5. Global Warming is Still a Problem. Maybe people who watch Fox News – like Rick Perry – might convince themselves otherwise, but recent extreme weather events ought to set off alarm bells that the climate is getting sicker. Parts of Texas are burning to a crisp, the East Coast is being battered by killer storms, crops are failing around the word, and remember all of those crazy tornadoes last spring? It seems every week new photos come out showing continued Arctic melting. Don’t be fooled by anyone who says it’s impolitic to raise the red flag about global warming—it’s happening, and the US should be taking an “all hands on deck” approach, promoting clean energy full bore.

It’s a shame an innovating solar company went bankrupt. But the real story continues to be California’s leadership in driving clean energy investment and creating jobs. That’s a win for Californians that the Federal government should replicate, not run away from.

Rory Cox is Senior Energy Consultant to Pacific Environment and a Together Green fellow.

Tar Sands Becoming Banned in EU?

By Chris Keenan

The European Union is known to have a lot of momentum in consumer and environmental movements. The countries have made efforts to help promote alternative energy and use more eco-friendly consumer practices. Today, the European Union is targeting banning the practice of tar sands.

The tar sand is a controversial practice in which low quality oil is drawn from sands that have a mixture of clays and other materials. The practice is very intensive on the environment for all the pollution it causes. Greenhouse gases are produced at a much higher rate from this than conventional methods such as drilling. It also consumes a lot of water to filter out the oil and is very difficult to mitigate when the water needs to be treated. Canada is the place where most of the tar sands come from in the Alberta area. Tar sands have been a source of outcry from environmental activists all over the globe. This same movement for banning tar sands also may help push out other controversial practices like those of shale gases.

The voice behind this movement, Connie Hedegaard, is the EU’s climate change commissioner. The commission she is involved in has decided to back a new order on fuel quality. This will set minimum environmental standards for a range of fuels, including tar sands, coal converted to liquid and oil from shale rock so that they are stricter on quality and environment. Hedegaard said: “With this measure, we are sending a clear signal to fossil fuels suppliers. As fossil fuels will be a reality in the foreseeable future, it’s important to give them the right value.”

Greenpeace was another active participant. The EU transport policy adviser, Franziska Achterberg expressed that it was a victory for the commission because of all the aggressive lobbying tactics of the fossil fuel companies.

The proposals have now been sent to EU member states, such as Germany, Italy and other major countries. Those countries will convene together in four to six weeks to vote on the proposal. It will then go to the European parliament for final approval.

If the proposed standards are accepted, they will get rid of the importation of tar sands, unless producers can change their methods to being much better on the environment and health. The proposition by the commission involves that tar sands are to be attributed a greenhouse gas value of 107 grams per megajoule of fuel in comparison to 87.5 grams per megajoule for regular oil. Producers will also have to cut the carbon footprint of their fuels by 6 percent in a few years.

Paul Morzzo, a Greenpeace representative, stated that the proposal is the best action. “The key question now is what will the UK government do – will it be, as David Cameron once claimed, the greenest government ever and support the ban or will the government adopt the George Osborne approach…where carbon emissions and the destruction of the environment seems to be a price worth paying.”

There is hope that there will be an agreement that will support the movement for tar sands and other fuels being banned in the EU and hopefully in the US in time. The proposal has made it through tough obstacles with opposition and lobbying and is appearing to be a success.

Chris Keenan is a green and general blog writer. He writes for many sites including Precision Garage Door. Chris also maintains a personal house and garden blog.

Turning whey from dairy wastewater into alcohol and revenue

Turning whey from dairy wastewater into alcohol and a revenue stream was the subject of a recent presentation by Paul O’Callaghan CEO of O2 Environmental. This presentation was for Water Tech Week February 2011 in San Jose, California, USA and outlines, by way of a case study, how it is possible to save money and actually create revenue streams. This is through sustainable water and energy management and with a little bit of creative out thinking based on the work of Carbery Milk Products.

Carbery Milk Products is a major international food ingredients, flavours and cheese manufacturer headquartered in Cork, Ireland. They have operations in the US and were examining what to with their whey in their waster water.  What is interesting was they were not motivated by environmental reasons, there was an economic driver.

To view the PowerPoint here is the link http://www.o2env.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Dairy-Wastewater-PowerPoint-Turning-Whey-into-Alcohol.pdf

To view the script linked to the presentation here is the link http://www.o2env.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Dairy-Wastewater-script-Turning-Whey-into-Alcohol.pdf

Chevron Launches Largest Solar Enhanced-Oil-Recovery (EOR) with BrightSource

BrightSource Energy Coalinga 51k Chevron Launches Largest Solar Enhanced Oil Recovery Project with BrightSource

Chevron Technology Ventures launched an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) demonstration project using solar energy to recover oil. The 29MW project uses BrightSource technology including 7,644 mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar boiler. The steam produced is injected into oil reservoirs to increase oil production. The project is the largest of its kind in the world.

Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, states, “This technology has the potential to augment gas-powered steam generation and may provide an additional resource in areas of the world where natural gas is expensive or not readily available.”

One of America’s oldest oil fields, the Coalinga Field began operations in the 1890s. Because the heavy crude oil produced at the field does not flow readily, it is more difficult to extract than lighter grades of crude.

Chevron currently enhances oil production from the Coalinga Field by injecting steam to heat the crude, thereby reducing its viscosity and making it easier to produce. Burning natural gas currently generates this steam. The solar-to-steam project will supplement the gas-fired steam generators and help determine the commercial viability of using heat from the sun instead of natural gas to generate steam.

BrightSource Addresses $4.7 Billion EOR Market

The 29MW solar-to-steam demonstration project is made up of 3,822 mirror systems, or heliostats, each consisting of two 10- by 7-foot mirrors mounted to a 6-foot steel pole. There are 7,644 mirrors that track the sun and focus the sunlight on a 327-foot-tall solar tower. Using heat from the concentrated sunlight, the solar tower system produces steam that is distributed throughout the oil field and then injected underground for enhanced oil recovery. The solar demonstration generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator. The project covers 100 acres, with mirrors covering 65 acres and 35 acres devoted to support facilities.

Extracting heavy-oil reserves, like the ones found at Coalinga, is a global challenge. According to a recent report by SBI, conventional oil recovery methods are only able to extract about 10% – 30% of the potential oil from any given reservoir, leaving nearly 70% – 90% of the reservoir’s oil in the ground.

“The energy intensity associated with extracting heavy-oil is extremely high. This presents a significant challenge to containing emissions and to the supply of fuel – such as natural gas – for this process,” said Paul Markwell, Senior Director, Upstream Research with IHS CERA. “Many of the known heavy-oil reserves around the world have limited access to cost-effective fuel sources and are located in areas with high solar resources. This provides an ideal environment for the use of solar thermal technologies for enhanced oil recovery.”

According to BCC Research, the global market for EOR technologies was $4.7 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow at a 5-year compound annual growth rate of 28%, reaching $16.3 billion in 2014.

Utility Market Even Larger for Solar Thermal

California utilities are required to have a 33 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2020, up from 20 percent today. Major investments are being made in solar PV and solar thermal. BrightSource Energy also provides solar thermal power plant solution for utilities. Called SolarPLUS, the offering combines BrightSource’s high-efficiency LPT power tower solar thermal technology with a two-tank molten-salt storage that can be used to deliver during peak hours when electricity is most valuable.

A BrightSource 392MW LPT solar thermal system is currently being deployed at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California’s Mojave Desert. Ivanpah, which started construction in October 2010, is the first project that will deliver power to serve the company’s signed contracts with PG&E and Southern California Edison. The project – which counts NRG Solar, Google and BrightSource as equity investors – is currently the largest solar plant under construction in the world. Bechtel is constructing the project.

BrightSource Energy with its leading solar thermal technology has raised about $530 million from investors that include VantagePoint Capital Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Morgan Stanley, Black River, DBL Investors, Riverwood, Calstrs, Google.org, Statoil Hydro Venture, Alstom, BP Alternative Energy, and Chevron. Solar thermal projects of 2,600 megawatts have received $1.3 billion in federal loan guarantees. BrightSource has filed an S-1 for an IPO.

Alan Salzman, Managing Partner of VantagePoint Capital Partners, states, “In working closely with BrightSource Energy over the past several years, they have greatly impressed us with their deep understanding of the solar thermal industry and technological prowess. The company represents an extraordinary business opportunity and a catalyst for transformative change to the energy world as we know it. It’s exciting to be part of it.”

The solar-to-steam project will be managed by Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV), a division of Chevron U.S.A., which champions innovation, commercialization and integration of emerging technologies and related new business models within Chevron. CTV is pursuing this goal through business units involving biofuels, emerging energy and venture capital.

The Man On The Street: Less Time On The Street, More Time In The House

I came across two data tidbits recently about U.S. energy consumption — each of which was interesting independently, but collectively seemed to indicate diverging trends.

First, gasoline consumption is down dramatically, by about 30% from 2007 — a good sign that we’re getting more energy efficient.

Second, residential electricity sales in 2010 were the highest on record, up 6.3% from 2009.  Uh, wait, I thought we were getting more energy efficient?

How to reconcile this seeming dilemma?  Here’s my theory.

Gasoline consumption is the product of two factors:  fuel economy of the vehicle fleet and vehicle-miles-driven.  While the fuel economy of the U.S. vehicle fleet has definitely improved in recent years (remember “cash-for-clunkers“?), total vehicle-miles-driven has fallen as well — by almost 2% since 2007, despite an increase in the driving population.  In other words, the average person is driving at least 2% less.

This is for two primary reasons, both of which are pretty obvious.  One, gasoline prices are near all-time highs.  Two, the economy sucks; unemployment rates are near all-time highs, and those who are employed aren’t driving around for fun as much anymore because they need/want to save more money.

It used to be the case that, when the economy tanked, gasoline prices collapsed.  Witness how much gasoline prices fell just in the six month period between July 2008 and January 2009, when the economy fell off the cliff.  Not anymore:  the U.S. economy is still wheezing, and gasoline prices have rebounded and remain firm because the developing world (especially China) continues to boom and suck up just about any/all oil production/refining capacity around the world.  All the spare capacity that existed (albeit briefly) as 2008 moved into 2009 and the world’s populace stared into the economic abyss has been absorbed by the global marketplace.

With gasoline prices high, the economy weak and Americans driving less, they aren’t spending as many discretionary dollars at the shopping mall or for recreation and entertainment.  So, they must be staying at home more.  They are cooking at home more.  They are watching more TV — on the big screen LCD units they bought during the past several years.  They are surfing the Internet, tweeting and chatting on Facebook.   

All of these shifts chew up more electricity.  So, what we’re seeing is a subtle shift in overall energy consumption patterns, away from transportation energy to stationary energy, and correspondingly from oil to electricity.  

The “man on the street” is more and more becoming the “man in the house”.