A Geek’s Dream

The space where energy meets IT is a geek’s dream. Four years ago, about when I took an extended hiatus from blogging for cleantechblog, the available software and hardware options that supported residential energy efficiency were slim, and the solutions, clunky. Home performance and energy rating professionals had paper data collection sheets and time-consuming modeling software that unappealingly overestimated energy savings and sometimes heating load. No web-based solution – and none with homeowner-friendly graphically illustrated information – had made it to market.
The exercise for the home performance contractor went something like this …. collect the data in the field on paper, drive back to the office and (after working all day) enter data into software loaded onto a single a computer, then email or print and mail (or drive) it to the homeowner, and perhaps also to a government-funded energy efficiency program, if they gave you a compelling reason to do so, like volumes of sales leads, or better yet, cash. If a homeowner wanted a loan to pay for home energy upgrades, they were handed printed forms to be hand-filled and faxed.
I was curious about the possibilities of streamlining the data communication processes in this field when one home performance contractor in Maine showed up on a job with a handheld tablet. Disliking the software solutions available for the home performance profession at that time, I spouted off that the home performance industry would find its wings when Silicon Valley and the IT/telecommunications industry got into energy software.
This was 2007, before iPads, Android, SmartPhones, and Google Chrome … and before Central Maine Power installed a smart meter on my house.
Since then, the opportunity to collect and manage energy data has exploded with the introduction of these tools. (I am finger tapping this blog entry on an iPad2.)
The convergence of IT and energy efficiency nearly defines cleantech, and the leaders in this space are coming not out of Silicon Valley or the Massachusetts Tech Corridors, but San Francisco and Boulder…
more about them next week.

Ten Ways to Reduce U.S. Dependency on Oil

from original post at Clean Fleet Report

Iran stopped shipping oil to the United Kingdom and to France. Global oil prices shot-up and we pay more at the pump. With the threat of oil shipment disruption in the Strait of Hormuz, prices are likely to stay high.

In the USA, over 96 percent of our transportation fuel comes from oil refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. To protect our security and national leadership, Americans are taking 10 actions that are reducing our need for oil, not increasing the demand.

In the United States, we embarrassingly have more vehicles than people with driver’s licenses. We have 246 million vehicles. AAA estimates that it costs $8,000 per year for each car owned, which creates a financial burden on cash-strapped Americans. The picture is changing for the better.

Toyota Prius1. Fuel Efficiency.  Automakers have made an impressive comeback from the Great Recession by building cars that save thousands over their lives with better design, efficient engines, and hybrid drive systems. New cars are averaging 33.8 mpg, up from 24.3 in 1980. Light trucks average 24.5, up from 18.5. DOT Statistics. Automakers are targeting 54.5 mpg for 2025.

2. electric cars. In 2011, 18,000 Americans bought electric cars. This year, 60,000 to 100,000 will buy EVs. Instead of using foreign oil, these cars use domestic energy from renewables, natural gas and nuclear power plants. A big surprise is that most of these cars use no coal power.  Five to 10 million electric cars will be on U.S. roads before oil flows from new U.S. offshore drilling platforms.

3. Eliminate Subsidies. U.S. taxpayers watch hundreds of billions disappear in subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies. Does Exxon need to keep paying zero income tax while average Americans struggle to pay their mortgages? The Green Scissors report has common sense fixes that would save us $380 billion. Eliminate subsidies to oil and coal power and many argue to subsidies to renewable energy and biofuels could also be eliminated.

4.  Urban Density. For the first time, most Americans live in urban areas where they need fewer cars, have better public transit, use car sharing, and walk more (with added health benefits). Households are going from 3 to 2 cars and from 2 to 1.

5.   Public Transit. Americans make about 11 billion trips on U.S. transit in 2008, a 50-year record. Watch out, there is a bill in Congress to cut transportation funding. The result would force us to spend more on fuel, widening highways, and make us more dependent on oil than ever.

6.  Employer Commute and Flexwork Programs. Major employers are saving employees billions in travel costs. Employers sponsor ride sharing, last mile shuttles from transit, and guaranteed ride homes. Some employers have web sites and lunch-and-learns to help employees in the same zip codes match-up for car-pooling. 57 million Americans work at home, at least part-time, with the help of flexwork programs. Employer programs have helped with reduced car ownership.

7.  Cash for Clunkers removed 700,000 vehicles from the U.S. roads. Our need for foreign oil was reduced as gas guzzlers were replaced with cars needing less gasoline. It’s an election year and people want a tax break. How about a bi-partisan bill which gives people a break when they trade-in a car getting 18 mpg or less for one with double that – 36 mpg or better?

8.  Smart Apps. Internet savvy people now use Google Maps, car share apps, and smart phone apps to compare car directions and time with public transit directions and time. With a few clicks on a social network a shared ride is arranged, or a shared car reserved. In the old millennium we got everywhere by solo driving in gridlock. In the new millennium we plan and use a mix of car driving, transit, and other modes to save time and money.

9.  Smart Growth. Community and regional planners are making cities vibrant, with work, services, and play close at hand. Portland, Oregon, is a role model in creating urban density and great public transportation. California with SB375 is requiring regional plans that integrate development, transportation, and greenhouse gas reduction. Video of my workshop at the American Planning Association “More Smiles, Less Miles.” http://www.planning.org/tuesdaysatapa/2010/may.htm

10. States’ Rights. States currently have the right to protect their water, citizens’ health, agricultural land, shores, earthquake and tsunami zones, and wildlife refuges. Congressional Republicans are trying to pass legislation that would require offshore oil drilling from California to Florida and from New York to the Carolinas, whether allowed or prohibited by state law. From Nebraska to Texas, eminent domain would force the XL pipeline over the Ogallala Aquifer that provides water to tens of millions and is critical to our nation’s food supply. We must preserve state’s rights to protect water, health, and a livable future.

Making us more dependent on oil will not make us less dependent. We must end the subsidies and mandates that make us 96 percent dependent on oil and allow our individuals, cities, and states to keep moving us forward with better transit, fuel-efficient cars, and a brighter future.

sOccket to Me!

Innovation in the cleantech arena often entails combining inarguable facts in strange ways.  Consider these apparently-unrelated truths:

  • Much of the developing world lacks access to electricity.
  • Fertility rates in the developing world are typically much higher than in the developed world.
  • There are few things with more untapped energy than a young child.
  • Children around the world love to play soccer.

Combine these four observations and, voila, you have the basis for sOccket.

sOccket (I can’t claim to understand why the “O” is capitalized and the “S” isn’t) is a soccer ball with a device inside that generates electricity as the ball rolls and stores the electricity so that lights or other small appliances can later be plugged into it and operated.

You would think that such a ball would produce a miniscule amount of electricity – so little that it wouldn’t seem to offer much benefit to anyone.  However, with the dramatic decline in energy consumption for lighting due to LED technology, 30 minutes of play with the ball produces enough power to run a small lamp for 3 hours.  In rural villages in the developing world, this can be the difference between a child learning to read or not, or an adult generating an income from making a sellable item or not.

Although not the first or only product aiming to convert human kinetic energy into stored electricity for later use – see, for instance, the nPowerPEG developed by Cleveland-based Tremont Electric – this sOccket ball is an almost irresistibly attractive idea.

I say “almost”.  In my view, there is one fly in the ointment for sOccket, something that will inhibit it from reaching massive scale:  there is a disconnect between the customer who pays for the product and the user who benefits from the product.  Naturally, this stems from the fact that the user – that child in Kenya or Bangladesh – has no cash to buy the ball.

The business model is essentially charity:  someone from the developed world who has access to the Internet buys a sOccket ball with a credit card, and the ball is then distributed through a local NGO operating in-country to a worthy child.  In other words, a customer buys the sOccket ball for psychic value, not because he/she actually uses the ball and gains any tangible benefit. 

There is no doubt a market segment of consumers with these preferences.  I wish I were less cynical and could say that I think this is a sizable segment that could lead to a very large and lucrative business.  But, I’m not. and I don’t.  And, I think many other private sector providers of capital would feel the same way.  So, I suspect that sOccket will not get a lot of outside capital to support its potential growth.

Maybe the sOccket team can work miracles solely by bootstrapping.  Clearly, the inventors of the sOccket have demonstrated extraordinary creativity in connecting several disparate dots to come up with an innovative solution to an unmet need.  It’s an excellent case study and inspiration for other cleantech entrepreneurs to reflect upon.  In particular, it reveals that cleantech innovation needn’t involve a radically disruptive breakthrough technology.  And, hopefully, given the “out-of-the-box” thinking that the sOccket team has exhibited to get as far as they have, maybe they will invent a business model that is more scalable than what I think they are currently pursuing — which could in turn be lucrative for the founders. 

I’m guessing that, if they were able to produce a multi-million dollar pay-day for themselves, the entrepreneurs who founded sOccket would find good uses for their newfound wealth – just as the first inklings of wealth, enabled by electricity generated by sOccket, can help lift untold numbers of desperately poor people worldwide out of poverty and towards (if not immediately fully into) the 21st Century.

Coal Powered Electric Cars – Fact and Fiction

from original article by John Addison at Clean Fleet Report

“The electric car doesn’t do any good because it’s just powered by coal” gets repeated by the oil industry, by news pundits who ignore fact checking, and even by some environmentalists.

In the past three years of writing about electric cars, I have yet to meet an electric car driver or fleet manager who only uses coal power. If you own an electric car and only use coal power, please leave a comment at the end of the article that mentions what you drive and the state in which you live. In the United States, 36 states have utility-scale wind power, so the comment will not be from one of them.

In 2011, over half of the 18,000 electric cars were delivered to states that have zero coal-power plants. In 2012, 60,000 to 100,000 electric cars will be primarily be delivered in zero-coal states. My Nissan Leaf is powered by my utility PG&E with a typical California energy mix of 47% natural gas, 20% nuclear, 16% large hydro, and 15% other renewables. Yes, during peak summer afternoon demand, PG&E does import 2% coal power from other states, but I charge my electric car off-peak after 10 p.m. Many electric car drivers participate in utility programs that offer lower prices for charging off-peak.

By 2020, California utilities plan to have 33% of delivered power from renewables including wind, solar, geothermal, biomethane and waste. By 2050, SMUD, a leading utility, plans to be 90 percent renewable as it implements energy storage that enables renewables to be used 24/7 and as it implements smart grid and smart pricing to make demand more level.

Electric Cars Ride on Sunlight

Many early adopters of electric vehicles are also early adopters of solar power. Jackson Browne rides on sunlight, powering his Chevrolet Volt with the solar on his roof. At Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corp showed me their solar carport with charge units for their 291 electric vehicles used daily.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance is leading the volume manufacturing of electric cars. The Nissan LEAF has a growing presence in the United States and Japan, the Renault Fluence in Europe and Israel. Renault is installing 55 MW of solar parking structures at its manufacturing sites. Solar parking structures increasingly include electric car charging.

With plans for 250 more charging stations on its campus, and a goal to make 5 percent of its campus parking EV-ready, Google’s installation is the largest workplace charging installation for electric vehicles in the country. Much of the charging is done with renewable energy, including Google’s solar covered parking. No coal power is used in charging vehicles. Google has invested over one billion dollars in renewable energy, accelerating development of 1.7 GW of RE.

There are valid concerns about coal powered electric cars. Coal is used for about 45 percent of U.S. electricity generation. Legacy plants will continue to run for decades. An electric car is over 5 times as efficient as a typical gasoline car, so even when coal-power is used lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are less from the electric car. A typical electric car, however, is only 2.5 times as efficient as the best hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. If your utility bill shows that 90 percent of your electricity comes from coal, you might do as much good with a hybrid that gets over 40 mpg as with an electric car.

The coal concern is greater in China, although current plans call for China to implement more wind and solar power than now exists in all other countries.

By the time that we have millions of electric vehicles on the road, coal will play a smaller role in our energy mix. What would you do if you were an electric utility CEO deciding on a billion dollar plant to run 40 years or more? Coal keeps getting more expensive. Natural gas, wind, solar, and energy storage and demand response keep getting less expensive.

Who Will Try to Kill the Electric Car?

Congressman Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated, “The fossil-fuel industry and its allies in Congress see the solar and wind industries as a threat and will try to kill these industries as they have for the preceding two generations,” Markey says. (From Juliet Eilperin’s article in Wired) We are a vulnerable nation with 98 percent of our transportation being fueled by oil refined gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

You can turn on Fox News and watch Chevrolet be attacked because in a crash test on Chevy Volt caught fire 5-days after the test. You won’t hear much about the 180,000 gasoline cars that caught fire after crashes in 2011. Solar bankruptcies such as Solyndra, Evergreen, and Solar Millennium will be replayed over and over. Less airplay will be given to the intense competitive progress that has made solar power 100 times less expensive than 40 years ago and fueled an industry growth of over 30 percent annually for decades.

A few years ago when a delegation of senior Chinese officials was visiting Silicon Valley, I was asked to give a talk about marketing strategy. I was asked, “What is the secret of Silicon Valley.” I answered that great innovation is possible when you’re not afraid of failure.

American innovators are working day and night from California to New York and from Michigan to Tennessee. Breakthroughs are being nurtured to commercial success in IT cloud services, RE financial services, energy efficient motors and buildings, electric batteries and electric cars. Yes, there will be more failure than success, duds will get more news time than dynamos, but the innovations that transform our lives for the better will triumph.

In the future, we will increasingly ride in electric vehicles smart charged with renewable energy.

The Quiet Clean Mining Revolution

Few industries have got the black eye, literally and metaphorically, of mining.

After centuries of environmental effects ranging from toxic emissions to unsightly tailings ponds, acid mine drainage, massive energy consumption and other impacts, mining is slowly cleaning up its act.

Why? Mostly because new clean technologies are increasing industrial efficiencies. They’re lowering mining companies’ power needs. And they’re even helping reduce water requirements, and/or remediating the produced water and mines of years past that are now leaching toxins. And that’s translating into cost savings for mining companies, which are being held increasingly accountable for their environmental impacts and are looking for ways to minimize the expenses of both the production phase of their operations, and reclamation (i.e. the mandated end-of-life cleanup expenses associated with mining in many jurisdictions, now).

In other words, now that it’s starting to be less expensive on net for mining companies to be clean, they’re starting to move in that direction.

Here’s a look at some selected companies at the forefront of new, clean processes in mining today.

New production
Mining project developer American Manganese is preparing to produce electrolytic manganese, used in everything from steel to batteries, from low-grade ore in Arizona.

And it plans to do so at vastly lower costs than the Chinese companies that currently dominate its industry.

How is the company hoping to do so? A lower-power production process intended to use only about six percent of the energy required by the high temperature roasting of conventional electrolytic manganese production. It also plans to produce power onsite from heat exchangers harvesting energy from the production of sulfur dioxide—performed by burning elemental sulfur. And it intends to reduce its water requirements by using precipitation to remove contaminants, with closed-loop water techniques that also involve nanofiltration.

The company also claims its tailings (the output of the process) will be solid and inert, benign enough to be placed right back into the ground with no further processing. No open pool tailing ponds.

Too good to be true? Kachan & Co. just published a report probing the American Manganese process, assessing its potential market impact and what other mining companies might learn from the company.

Toxin remediation and resource recovery
Sister companies BacTech Environmental and REBgold of Toronto, Canada are using a patented biological process to remediate toxins and recover gold, respectively, at a number of sites around the world.

The companies’ BACOX process uses vast amounts of naturally occurring bacteria—which the companies claim are harmless to humans and the environment—in bioreactors to liberate precious and base metals from difficult to treat ores, concentrates and tailings. By providing the bacteria with optimal conditions in closed reactors, BacTech and REBgold say they’re capable of oxidizing sulphides in as little as 5-6 days, as opposed to the many years it normally takes in their natural habitat. The process is also used to free gold and other metals like copper, nickel, zinc, cobalt and molybdenum, according to the company.

The recovery of such valuable materials allows BacTech to offer mine tailing remediation services at no charge to governments, and for REBgold to pursue acquiring and developing economic interests in gold mines, including existing operations in Australia, Tasmania and China.

AMD cleanup
Historically, at the end of production, many mines were abandoned with little environmental consideration. Today, heavy metals remain in tailings piles and in runoff from abandoned mines. Metals such as copper, lead, zinc, and mercury can seep into groundwater. Precipitation percolating through rocks can react with sulfur, forming sulfuric acid and leaching out heavy metals and significantly changing the pH of the water.

Water draining from these tailings piles is referred to as acid mine drainage (AMD). The acidity of the water plus the high metal concentrations can be deadly to animals and plants. Acid mine drainage coats waterways with iron hydroxide, giving impacted bodies of water an orange color.

Streams affected by acid mine drainage (AMD), also known as acid rock drainage (ARD). One of the most visible, but certainly not the only, toxin escaping from abandoned and production mining sites. Arsenic is another large problem.

BioteQ Environmental Technologies of Vancouver, Canada is one of a handful of companies specializing in remediation of AMD. It has built 14 industrial water treatment plants ranging in size up to 25,000 m3/day at mine sites in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Australia, and China. It uses sulfide precipitation processes for metal removal and recovery, as well as lime treatment.

Lime is sometimes criticized for creating solid waste sludge, but it works. Other companies pursue reverse osmosis filtration or other techniques, usually at higher costs and lower rates. Still others attempt to fill in abandoned mines with water, clay slurry or other compounds to eliminate the source of AMD in the first place.

There are scores of new companies forming globally in water treatment, commercially inspired by opportunities associated with the problem of AMD and other mining-related produced water issues. The water-intensive oil sands refining in Northern Canada is also driving important innovation in water technology, as described in a Kachan & Co. report in conjunction with the Artemis Group that introduces corporate executives to the water industry. More details on that report here.

To many, cleantech is still synonymous with renewable energy. But air & environment and clean industry, where clean mining technologies are categorized, remain two important sub-categories of the over-arching cleantech sector. And few industries could benefit from clean technology innovation more than mining. We at Kachan & Co., with offices in Vancouver, Canada—one of the hotbeds of global mining—are encouraged by what we see going on behind the scenes.

After hundreds of years of poor environmental stewardship, and in a world with more watchful eyes than ever, one could argue the mining industry has nowhere to go but up.

This article was originally published here. Reposted by permission.

The World According to BP

On January 18, BP (NYSE: BP) released Energy Outlook 2030, its official corporate view of the future of energy.  Every year, BP releases its Statistical Review of World Energy that serves as an excellent compendium of historical and current data on a host of energy-related issues, but rarely does BP present its projections of trends and the associated implications on the energy markets.

At the release event in London, BP’s CEO Bob Dudley made a brief speech covering the highlights of the Outlook.  It’s an easy and good read, which I will summarize here.

Dudley began by reciting what he termed “five realities”.  In reality, these so-called “realities” are nevertheless anticipations of events to come.  However, they do seem like pretty safe bets as playing out as described:

  1. Global energy demand will increase by 40% by 2030.  As Dudley notes, “that’s like adding one more China and one more U.S. to the world’s energy demand by 2030.  Nearly all that growth – 96% in fact – is expected to come from the emerging economies with more than half coming from China and India alone.”
  2. Fossil fuels will supply roughly 80% of global energy demand in 2030.  Dudley continues, “renewables will grow rapidly, but from a very low base.”  In other words, while renewables will be a great growth industry for the next few decades, the enormous head-start in market share that fossil fuels enjoys from more than 100 years of development, along with continued demand growth, means that energy markets and the energy industry will be dominated by fossil fuels for the lifetime of anyone who reads this blog post.
  3. Oil will continue to be essential for transportation, with 87% of mobility based on petroleum.  While increased fuel efficiency, hybrid vehicles, and expansion of biofuels will reduce needs for petroleum, the explosive growth of the developing economies and their voracious desire for vehicles means that oil demand will continue to grow.  Dudley notes that oil demand growth will be less than 1% annually, which “doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to an additional 16 million barrels per day by 2030.”
  4. To supply this increasing demand, new frontiers will continue to be tapped.  This will be oil from deep water – what should be a sticky subject for BP, given the Deepwater Horizon debacle from less than two years ago – heavy oil such as the oil sands in Alberta (which Dudley noted needed to be “produced carefully and responsibly”), and unconventional gas plays such as shale gas and tight gas.
  5. Global CO2 emissions will rise by almost 30% by 2030.  Dudley emphasized that “this is a projection, not a proposal.  BP supports action to limit emissions including a carbon price and transitional incentives that encourage renewable energy to become competitive at scale.”  The last two words – “at scale” – are critical, not just for cleantech advocates and for the planet, but also supermajors like BP, who by their sheer size can only be bothered with energy phenomena that represent more than niches.

It’s a daunting picture.  As Dudley states, “this is not an outlook for the world as we wish to see it,” but nevertheless “it should be important input for policy-makers.”  And, it should be added, for participants and advocates in the cleantech space.

From this sober perspective, Dudley outlines “five opportunities” surfaced in the Outlook:

  1. Energy efficiency gains will be critical to the world of the future, as they simultaneously reduce consumer costs, improve energy security and cut emissions.  Frankly, this is “motherhood and apple pie” that just about all observers of the energy sector point out – nothing new here.
  2. Technology advancement will be crucial.  Dudley notes that BP thinks “the efficiency of the internal combustion engine is likely to double over the next 20 years” – an extraordinary possibility for a technology that’s over a century old and ought to be quite mature.  Innovation is not only imperative for efficiency gains but also for supply expansion to meet worldwide demand growth even netting out improvements in efficiency.  New energy supply technologies are not just in the realm of renewables but also in the realm of hydrocarbon production as well, increasing the economic access to fossil fuels on the frontiers described above.
  3. Competitive forces are an essential stimulant of capturing efficiencies and pursuing innovation.  Although Dudley doesn’t exactly say so, I think this is code for “expect increasing energy prices”, thus driving efficiency and new technology.  (Also unsaid:  “Don’t blame us or accuse us of gouging when energy prices are high.”)  I think these comments are also a soft unobtrusive plea for more access by private sector companies, and correspondingly fewer obstacles thrown up by governments, to developing new energy resources.
  4. Natural gas will be a very big thing.  Dudley calls natural gas a “sustainable option being deployed at scale”.  The latter claim of scale is inarguable, though the former claim of sustainability is semantically dubious.  Even so, it is true when Dudley says “gas typically generates fewer than half the emissions of coal” – notably, the one and only time that the word “coal” is uttered by Dudley in his entire talk.  (Admittedly, BP doesn’t have any coal business, but coal remains a sizable piece of the global energy economy, and to mention the role of coal just once is telling.)
  5. Biofuels show great potential.  According to Dudley, BP has “an optimistic view on the future of biofuels,” but “the world needs to focus on biofuels that do not compete with the food chain and are produced in a sustainable way.”  Thereafter follows some touting of second-generation biofuels (e.g., cellulosic ethanol), which still remain tantalizing but commercially-unavailable.  To me, this fifth “opportunity” is the most speculative of the bunch.

Dudley closes his comments by discussing BP’s obviously very substantial place in the world of energy. 

He acknowledges the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and BP’s activities in expanding production of the controversial oil sands in Alberta.  No doubt, he had to, in order to avoid allegations of “greenwashing” BP’s record.

However, he tries to counterbalance this by extolling $7 billion of investments in renewables since 2005, “focused on creating large-scale commercial businesses that are not dependent on subsidies,” and BP’s emphasis on improving energy efficiency – in part because BP requires “all new projects to calculate the impact of future carbon pricing on their operations”, planning for “a future where carbon does have a price.”

Perhaps this is the most optimistic item in Dudley’s synopsis of BP’s future view of the energy sector over the next 20 years.  Hopefully, not unrealistic.

San Francisco Doubles Taxi Fleet while Cutting Gasoline Use in Half

from original article at Clean Fleet Report

San Francisco has about 1,500 taxis, double its fleet of 15 years ago. The total gasoline used each year by those 1,500 taxis is about half the total used by the 750, in years past. San Francisco taxi operators are saving millions by with a fleet that is 92 percent hybrid or fueled with CNG.

San Francisco taxis average a punishing 90,000 miles per year, driving day and night on smooth streets and potholes and killer hills. Under these conditions, gasoline for a traditional taxi costs over $20,000 per year. For a Prius taxi, under $7,000. Even if a taxi operator spent an extra $2,500 every other year for a new hybrid  battery pack, they save a fortune.

San Francisco taxis have reduced gas use by 2.9 million gallons per year and lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 35,000 tons annually.

Gavin Newsom and Paul Gillespie

Lt Gov Gavin NewsomLt Gov Gavin Newsom

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined the celebration yesterday in having the nation’s greenest taxi fleet. Back in 1997, as one of the city’s Commissioners he was asked to chair a task force to help taxi operators and drivers. Newsom recognized the potential for cleaner taxis, since he personally was driving the General Motors EV1.

A Taxi Commission was formed and taxi driver Paul Gillespie was made Commission President. Paul had been a student in Michigan when the 1973 oil embargo hit and the nation awakened to the need for fuel efficient cars. Paul looked at the 1997 taxi fleet consisting primarily of Ford Crown Victoria’s that could get 15 mpg in theory and 10 mpg in typically SF taxi use. Early purchases were made of taxis that ran on CNG, not gasoline.

Then Ford Fusion Hybrids and Toyota Prius Hybrids became popular because they quickly paid for themselves in fuel savings, reduced health damaging air pollution, are produced even less greenhouse emissions. To help finance buying hybrids, Gillispie got an initiate put in place to charge cabbies an extra $7.50 per shift. He took heat from fellow drivers, until they started seeing an extra $20 to $40 a shift from fuel cost savings. Paul Gillispie now leads a non0-profit Low Carbon Taxis. lowcarbontaxis.org

Gavin Newsom went on to being elected mayor of San Francisco, whose citizens widely support climate solutions. Like any political leader, in 2008 he took criticism from many quarters for targeting a 20 percent greenhouse gas in the taxi fleet over the 1990 level. He was all smiles when it was announced that a 49 percent reduction in GHG has now been achieved. From clean cars to electric transit to solar rooftops, San Francisco is now recognized as one of the greenest cities in the world. Gavin Newsom was recently elected Lt. Governor of California.

Ford Brings New Hybrid and CNG Vehicles to Taxi Fleets

Ford C-MaxBy working closely with San Francisco Yellow Cabs and Luxor to meet their fuel economy and emission objectives, Ford has been able to grow its business even as its cash cow Crown Vic fades in popularity. Sixty-seven percent of the SF Taxi fleet is Ford. Escape Hybrids are seen everywhere shuttling business people, tourists, and car-free city dwellers. With this being the last year for the Escape Hybrid, Ford is well positioned with the C-MAX Hybrid – a crossover SUV expected to deliver over 40 mpg. Even better fuel economy will come with the midsized Ford Fusion Hybrid with an expected fuel economy of 46 mpg. The C-MAX Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid put pressure on Toyota whose Prius and Camry Hybrid are also widely used by SF Taxi owners.

Will Taxi Fleets Use electric cars?

Since a typical taxi consumes over $20,000 of gasoline per year, I asked Ford’s Fleet Marketing Manager, Gerald Koss, about the potential for Ford’s exciting new plug-in hybrid offerings the C-MAX Energi and the Fusion Energi. Both cars have the ideal five-seat, larger cargo space needed in taxis. Both should operate about 30 miles in electric mode before efficient gasoline engines engage to give them hybrid fuel efficiency. Koss sees the hybrid versions strongly outselling plug-in hybrids with taxi fleets, although PEV pilots could occur in several cities. In a typical 300-mile taxi day, the electric might only help with 10 percent of the driving, require a new charging infrastructure, and added costs. Koss expects the C-MAX Hybrid to do quite well with taxi fleets.

Better Place Switch StationEven fast charging is too slow for a taxi operation. A fully-charged battery is needed in five minutes for the electric car to have potential in taxi fleets. Better Place has installed battery switch stations for taxi, fleet, and consumer use in Japan, China, Israel and other countries where electric car lithium battery packs can be robotically replaced in less than five minutes. Better Place, with support from the U.S. Department of Transportation via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, announced a commitment to bring a switchable battery, electric taxi program to the Bay Area in partnership with the cities of San Francisco and San Jose to further cement the region’s position as the “EV Capital of the U.S.” By 2014, the program envisions deployment of four battery switch stations in the San Francisco to San Jose corridor that supports a fleet of zero-emission, switchable taxis.

Taxi fleets can move faster than most consumers in adopting alternative fuels and electric vehicles because they can support a fleet with centralized fueling, battery switching, and maintenance teams. Look for a number of exciting pilot fleet tests. Next time you hail a taxi in a major U.S. city, it is more likely to at least be a hybrid-electric because these cars pay for themselves in months in reduced gasoline use.

Climate Change Mitigation: Refocus Needed

In most of the discussions about anthropogenic (i.e., human-influenced) climate change, the concept of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is usually short-handed to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  In fact, humans are responsible for emissions of many other pollutants that contribute to climate change, and while these emissions are sometimes converted into “CO2-equivalents” to make discussions simpler, it’s pretty clear that — when it comes to climate change — some emissions are much more important than others.

While CO2 represents the bulk of GHG emissions (in terms of quantities), methane (CH4) is about 20-25 times as potent on a per-unit basis.  And, when it falls to the ground, soot (technically referred to as “black carbon”) increases the rate of snow/ice melt, and is possibly at the root of accelerating melt in the polar ecosystems.

Accordingly, in a recent issue of the journal Science, a new study by a long list of collaborators posits that the fastest way to a significantly better (i.e., less dramatically increasing) trajectory in future average planetary temperatures is for society to focus on reducing methane and soot emissions, rather than CO2 emissions.  Based on the study’s projections, it appears that concerted efforts to reduce methane and soot emissions will achieve a large share of the reduced rate of temperature increase that an all-out effort to curb CO2 emissions would achieve.

Since methane and soot have short residence times in the atmosphere (unlike CO2), an immediate reduction on these emissions will translate to immediate improvements in GHG levels.  Also, reducing methane and soot emissions will have significant benefits in alleviating local air quality issues and thereby improving human health, by mitigating ground-level ozone formation and reducing airborne particulates.

Of course, the big kahuna in anthropogenic climate change remains CO2, which is emitted into the atmosphere when anything is burned — and much of what gets burned is fossil fuels.  Alas, fossil fuels represent a very lucrative enterprise for many of the world’s largest corporations in the energy business, and a critical enabler of the commercial output and social lifestyles that define 21st Century human existence.  Consequently, there’s immense political and public resistance to imposing any limitations on fossil fuel consumption in order to reduce CO2 emissions. 

So, perhaps a shifting of focus by the cleantech world away from CO2 reductions toward methane/soot reductions would be much more politically acceptable for the foreseeable future and thus would actually gain some real traction. 

It would certainly be more helpful to the planet than another series of endless climate negotiations in far-flung exotic cities that themselves produce a lot of emissions (figuratively and literally) and little substantive progress. 

Some of the most strident opponents of cap-and-trade on CO2 emissions will have a hard time objecting to measures that reduce methane and soot emissions.  Indeed, the more that methane can be captured rather than released to the air, the more it can be used to supply our energy needs.  Thus, cleantech innovators and investors should put soot and methane emissions higher on the list of areas to tackle with their incremental efforts — as they are more likely to be rewarded than a continued frontal-assault on CO2 emissions.


Energy and Cleantech – It’s not a Zero Sum Game Guys

By Neal Dikeman

A quote in a recent Wired article claiming cleantech is getting pounded epitomizes the zero sum mentality prevalent in the renewable energy and cleantech discussion.

‘Even solar’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill — people such as Edward J Markey, a top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — fear the industry’s oil and gas foes may have gotten the upper hand. “The fossil-fuel industry and its allies in Congress see the solar and wind industries as a threat and will try to kill these industries as they have for the preceding two generations,” Markey says. “They want this to be a five-year aberrational period.”‘

It disgusts me. Nobody’s out get us. They never have been. I’ve worked for years in both the energy industry and cleantech. My grandfather, uncle, and father-in-law worked in refining. I sit on the board of a company making equipment that goes into offshore drilling and the shale gas fracking markets. I’ve also founded 6 cleantech startups myself, from smart grid, to superconductors, to fuel cells, to climate change, to solar. I’ve worked for multiple oil companies on technology. I’ve lived in Houston and Silicon Valley.

Let me repeat – NOBODY is out to get us. Especially since the oil companies FUNDED a lot of the original work in these sectors for most of the history of renewables. They carried the ball in solar and wind for us when you were still screwing with dotcoms, and early PCs. We are johnny come latelies, badmouthing our predecessors because we don’t understand them.

What “THEY” object to is two things:

The costs per unit on renewables and alternatives have always been miserably high and hard for them or anyone to make strong margins.

The reaction in the press and to policymakers of the typical renewables and cleantech afficianado to this problem has historically been to overpromise, underdeliver, and at all turns beat up on oil companies, car companies, coal companies etc, and try and take away their money and add to their costs in the policy arena, to benefit themselves. Think about it, if you shoot me with a rubber band, I ignore you. If you do it over and over again for years – especially while I help fund the rubber band plant – eventually I take my two by four and whack you on the head. And since you’re little, you crumple. It’s not a conspiracy. Stop kicking the elephant in the room and start riding the coattails.

The current smashdown in solar for example is GOOD. When are we going to wake up and figure out – success means orders of magnitude cost down, so keep up or die. Frankly, if you can’t cost down like a bandit, the energy companies are right, you are still irrelevant. If you can, they’ll pay attention.

It’s time cleantech stopped equating policies to drive higher energy prices (which screw the consumer and our GDP to only the self serving benefit of us) with good ideas.

This is not a zero sum game. It WILL take a village.

Now here’s the good news – not only are they not out to get us, they are in many cases barely aware of our existence. This is VERY good, because despite the huge successes in solar, wind, etc., it’s going to take all we’ve got just to survive vis a vis the other main technology driven innovation in energy – shale gas, light tight oil, and the twin technology towers of horizontal drilling and fracking. Whose technology cost fall rivals our own.

Or I guess we could just go back to saying cheap fracking bad, cheap Chinese solar bad, expensive US solar good. Oh wait, we tried that. Anyone remember Solyndra? Then again, go ask SunPower about Total, the energy sector is STILL bailing us out.

Tesla to Ship 5,000 Model S in 2012

from original post at Clean Fleet Report

I’m sitting behind the wheel of this new Tesla Model S wishing that I could drive it away. I can’t. This prototype does not have a drive system. It is on display at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit, getting serious interest from attending CEOs and venture capitalists that can afford the $59,400 starting price. The price starts at $79,400 for the model with a remarkable 300 mile electric range.

Tesla plans to ship 5,000 of the Model S starting this July. Tesla has the backlog. It has the massive Fremont, California, manufacturing facility. It is betting the company that it can ship this year and bring in billions because after shipping 2,500 of the Tesla Roadster, sales end for the exciting two-seat sports car that started the modern freeway-speed electric car revolution. Tesla has shipped over 2,000 Roadsters whose production has depended on suppliers who are completing their contracts and ending production for Tesla. The most notable is Lotus, which will no longer produce the body for the Tesla Roadster.

Tesla Sedan & RoadsterTesla (TSLA) stock price is holding high, valuing the company at over $3 billion. Investors are betting that Tesla will ship the Model S on time, even though it was 2-years late with the Roadster.

The zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds Roadster is likely to become a collector’s item. If you bought one for $120,000, you may be able to sell it in a few years for more than you bought it. Who knows?

The Tesla Model S is a beautiful sedan that seats five and maybe a couple of more small kids in the trunk area. The 60/40-split back seat can be folded down to make room for luggage, snowboards, mountain bikes and everything you desire for a road trip. The Model S has the designs of a classic sedan like the BMW 7 or Audi A7. The Model S has the cargo flexibility of a liftback. Tesla positions the Model S as full sized, but the 6-foot, 3-inch gentleman in the backseat insists that I describe it as midsized.

Tesla S 17-inch ScreenYou feel a bit like a jet pilot looking at the 17-inch display, which follows your preference of displaying navigation, entertainment, range, and vehicle functionality.

Tesla will have no trouble securing the first 5,000 buyers who represent less than 10 percent of electric car buyers in 2012. One is Craig who currently drives a Roadster and is looking forward to taking delivery of his Model S with a 300-mile range. He hopes. He’ll have two Teslas and finally sell his Prius.  As I talk with Craig, I’m surprised that he has never used a public charging stations. He had never needed one. His Roadster gives him 250-mile electric range in real life driving. He is optimistic that the Model S with its larger battery will give him a 300-mile range of real world electric driving.

The range is a marvel of technology innovation including an advanced lithium battery pack that lies below driver and passengers. The battery placement lowers the cars center of gravity and is likely to support excellent handling and stability. The induction electric motor does not use rare earth materials, unlike most competitors including Nissan and GM. The beautiful new body is aluminum to reduce weight and thereby extend range.

Craig is one of over 3,000 Model S reservation holders who has made a deposit and is eager to take it for a drive. He doesn’t mind that the roomy Model S takes 5.6 seconds to go from zero to 60. He doesn’t mind because he’s keeping his Roadster.

Concentrating (on) Utility-Scale Solar Energy

Last week, at the invitation of organizer Green Power Conferences, I attended their Solar Power Generation USA conference in Las Vegas.

Of course, there are innumerable events pertaining to the solar energy space, and each needs its own niche of differentiation.  This conference pertained solely to utility-scale solar power projects.  In other words, this is the remaining part of the solar industry when rooftop and off-grid installations are excluded.

“Focus” is a key word that describes this portion of the solar industry, because the two primary technologies for large-scale solar projects both employ lenses to concentrate sunlight to achieve lower costs per unit of energy produced.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) involves the use of lenses to focus sunlight on a vessel containing a liquid.  As the liquid is heated, it then drives a steam turbine to generate electricity.  At a conceptual level, this type of power generation has been used for decades in conventional utility powerplants fired by fossil fuels (coal, oil or natural gas), only with CSP the sun is being harnessed to provide the heat.

Concentrating photovoltaics (CPV) involves the use of lenses to focus sunlight on super high-efficiency PV cells.  In contrast to conventional PV modules, which have conversion efficiencies of less than 20% (i.e., less than 20% of the sun’s energy is converted into electricity), CPV enables conversion efficiencies approaching 40%.

Common to both technologies, a typical power project entails several modular installations spread over a sizable chunk of land — usually patches of desert — aggregating to tens or even hundreds of megawatts, with a common point of interconnection to the utility grid.  See, for example, the Ivanpah project of 392 megawatts being developed in California by BrightSource Energy.

The overall message was that CPV and CSP projects can be undertaken today, with power purchase agreements priced at 10 cents/kwh or lower.  A key theme expressed at the conference was the “bankability” of CSP and CPV — no doubt, to assure the risk-averse universe of bank financiers, utility off-takers, and project developers in the audience.   Although not necessarily household names for Americans, the involvement of such large publicly-traded (albeit European) corporations as Areva (Euronext: AREVA.PA), Acciona (BMAD: ANA), Abengoa (BMAD: ABG) and Soitec (Euronext:  SOIT.LN) should give comfort that adequate financial wherewithal stands behind CSP or CPV projects to support long-term warranties. 

Each of these concentrating solar technologies has its advantages and disadvantages.  CPV makes more sense than CSP where water is very expensive, because CPV doesn’t involve the steam cycle.  On the other hand, unlike CPV, CSP’s thermal inertia enables energy storage that can extend the power production period beyond solely the daylight hours, and also “rides through” passsing clouds with minimal power fluctuations, thereby reducing the need for CSP owners/operators to purchase ancillary services (e.g., voltage control, frequency regulation).  This tends to make CSP a higher-value power generation solution for grid operators than CPV.

In any event, CPV and CSP will not dominate the world.  They are only economically viable where direct normal irradiation (DNI) — known to the lay-person as clear sunlight — is very high.  Thus, CSP and CPV will not be ubiquitous, but rather a solution only in certain (typically sparsely-populated) parts of the world, and thus will remain only a minority segment of the solar industry, which will be dominated by conventional PV. 

Even so, it is possible to imagine these technologies being widely adopted in deserts in the decades to come — and there is a lot of desert footprint on this Earth.  That growth potential is why some of the big names listed above have been concentrating their attention on concentrating solar energy.