10 ETFs to Capitalize on Cleantech Growth

Clean Technology and Clean Transportation Growth

Members of the cleantech community follow the success of public companies in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric transportation. Some people, of course, also invest in these companies or in funds such as exchange traded funds (ETFs). The ETFs discussed in this article provide a barometer for the industry.

For the 30 years from 1979 to 2009, solar energy has grown 33 % CAGR (compound average growth rate). For this decade, over 40 percent is forecast. The U.S. wind energy grew in 2009, despite a severe recession. Now 36 states have utility-scale wind projects. Wind and solar power have created jobs in all 50 states, with U.S companies like GE and First Solar fighting for global leadership. The EIA’s International Energy Forecast 2010 projects renewables to be the fastest growing segment in energy through 2035.

Energy efficiency is in demand. The 2009 Green Building Market and Impact Report found LEED registered green building activity has grown to a cumulative total of more than 7 billion square feet worldwide since the standard was launched in 2000 — more than 40 percent growth in 2009. Energy efficient lighting alone could probably eliminate 20 percent of our nation’s coal power plants. Research firm Strategies Unlimited predicts a 53% surge in packaged LED lighting for 2010 to a total of $8.2 billion. LED lighting is already used in new cars, new computers, and flat screen TVs. Through 2014 they predict a 30.6% CAGR ramp to $20.2 billion.

In transportation, one billion vehicles are becoming more efficient. Cars with 15 percent efficient gasoline engine drive systems are starting to be replaced with electric cars with 70 percent efficient electric drive systems. China alone has 120 million people using electric vehicles ranging from e-motorcycles to e-bikes to e-cars. Detroit initially ignored hybrids and electric cars and is now scrambling to get ahead of the curve. Accenture forecasts 1.5 million electric cars on the U.S. road by 2015. From mobile phones, to mobile computers, to cars, the demand for lithium batteries will grow.

Voting with billions of dollars, the investment community is pouring more money into cleantech. Growth, rapid technology advancement, and industry disruption create exciting opportunities when selecting individual stocks. ETFs can provide diversification and risk moderation.

This article discusses 10 cleantech ETFs. I own more than one of these funds to be better diversified. Some funds are U.S. centric, others are global; some are concentrated in renewable energy, others in clean transportation, others in clean water; some focus on large cap stocks, others on mid and small-cap stocks. There are dozens of mutual funds and ETFs with a green theme that are not listed. Some of these only invest in solar or wind companies; others are more controversial about being green. Let’s explore these 10 ETFs.

Ten Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

PowerShares Cleantech (PZD)

PowerShares Global Clean Energy Portfolio (PBD)

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Liquid (QCLN)

Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy (GEX)

iShares S&P Global Clean Energy (ICLN)

First Trust Clean Edge Smart Grid (GRID)

Global X Lithium (LIT)

PowerShares Global Progressive Transport (PTRP)

PowerShares Global Water Portfolio (PIO)

iPath Global Carbon (GRN)

The following description of the funds, performance, top investments, and ratings are a best effort to approximate the date of this post. Ratings from Morningstar are included.

PowerShares Cleantech (PZD) invests in the 77 companies that comprise the Cleantech Index: alternative energy, energy efficiency, advanced materials, air and water purification, eco-friendly agriculture, energy generation and transmission. The Cleantech Group is respected for delivering cleantech market intelligence since 2002. The index is 56% North America, 31% Europe, and 13% Asia. The index is a weighted harmonic average that considers several factors including market cap, PE ratio, and ROE. Median market cap is 1.2 billion. ABB, Siemens, Corning, Schneider, and Johnson Controls are among its top holdings. Morningstar rating is 3 stars. For 3 years, the fund has outperformed most broad averages and is up 2% for the past 12 months.

PowerShares Global Clean Energy Portfolio (PBD) is based on the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (NEX) with 88 companies who manufacture, develop, and own wind, solar, energy efficiency, and related products and projects. NEX is a rule-based index with weighting modified by sector and market capitalization bands to provide diversification across the clean energy industry. It is rebalanced on the last day of each quarter. This global fund is about 40% North America, 39% Europe, and 21% Asia. Median market cap is about 1 billion. Top holdings include EDF Energy Novelles, China Wind Power, and GT Solar. Morningstar rating is 1 star. The fund has lost 14 % in the past 12 months, hurt by the European downturn and difficulties in large-scale wind and solar project financing.

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Liquid (QCLN) invests in the companies of the NASDAQ® Clean Edge® Green Energy Index. The weighted index of clean energy companies that are publicly traded in the United States includes solar photovoltaics, energy efficiency, biofuels, and advanced batteries. The Index is a modified market cap weighted index in which larger companies receive a larger index weighting. The index is reconstituted twice a year in March and September and rebalanced quarterly. Median market cap is just under one billion for the 53 stocks in the fund. The funds top three holdings are First Solar, Linear Technology Corporation, and Cree. Morningstar rating is 2 stars. The fund has lost 7 percent in the past 12 months.

First Trust Clean Edge Smart Grid (GRID) has similarities to QCLN, both share a few common stocks, but GRID tracks the NASDAQ OMX® Clean Edge® Smart Grid Infrastructure Index (SM) which includes companies that are primarily engaged and involved in electric grid, electric meters and devices, networks, energy storage and management, and enabling software used by the smart grid infrastructure sector. The index employs a modified market-capitalization weighting methodology. The index is rebalanced quarterly and reconstituted semi-annually. The median market cap is $1.2 billion for the 32 stocks in the fund. The fund is about 70% U.S. and 30% European. The top three holdings are Prysmian, Schneider Electric, and SMA Solar Technology. The fund has lost 11 percent since its inception on November 19, 2009.

Van Eck Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy (GEX) invests in the Ardour Global Index (SM), a rules-based, global capitalization-weighted, index that tracks 30 companies engaged in the wind, solar, and some other cleantech. The average market cap is $4.2 billion. The fund is 39% U.S., 17% China, and a high percentage in Europe. Top holdings include First Solar, Vestas Wind, and Cree. Morningstar rating is 1 star. The ETF is down 17% in the past 12 months.

iShares S&P Global Clean Energy (ICLN) invests in the S&P Global Clean Energy Index of 31 companies, giving access to some international companies that could be a hassle to buy individually. The index weights companies on a modified market-cap basis adjusted for market capitalization and trading volume and is rebalanced semiannually. The ETF is 21% invested in U.S. and 43% emerging providing diversification from the other Cleantech ETFs being discussed. The average market cap is about $6 billion. Its concentration in emerging wind and solar also increase risk. Top holdings include Empresa Nac Elec-Chil-SP, CIA Paranaense Ener-SP, and First Solar. Morningstar does not rate this. It lost 34% in the past 12 months.

Global X Lithium (LIT) is a bet on the growing use of lithium batteries in notebook computers, mobile electronics, electric cars, products, and industrial processes. This ETF is highly concentrated with 50% of this fund is currently in mining companies with lithium being a small part of the companies’ total business. Average market cap is $1.2 billion, 49% U.S., 20% Chile. Top holdings are currently concentrated with Sociedad Quimica Y Minera De Chile 24%, FMC 17%, and Rockwood Holdings 8%. A number of automotive battery companies are included such as Sanyo, GS Yuasa, SAFT, ABT, Ener1, Exide, and A123; but electric car leaders not included are Panasonic, LG Chem, and NEC. The fund has increase 7% since its recent launch.

PowerShares Global Progressive Transport (PTRP) is distinct from the other ETFs by covering high-speed rail, transit, bicycle, and electric vehicle components. The fund is based on the Wilder NASDAQ OMX Global Energy Efficient Transport Index. The Index is rebalanced quarterly using a modified, market-cap-weighted methodology. The 40 stocks in the fund have an average market cap of $2.8 billion. The fund is about 37% North American, 35% European, 6% Japan, and 22% Emerging. Top holdings include Donfeng Motor, Sociedad Quimica y Minera, and Wabco Holdings. The fund has increased 11% in the past 12 months.

PowerShares Global Water Portfolio (PIO) is distinct from the other ETFs listed by mitigating the effects of global warming rather than necessarily reducing global warming. Over one billion people suffer health damage due to clean drinking water. PIO is based on the Palisades Global Water Index. The modified equal weighted portfolio is rebalanced and reconstituted quarterly with an average market cap of $2.5 billion. Top holdings include water and waste service giants such as Suez and Veolia; and water technology companies such as Tetra Tech and Nalco. There is risk in this ETF being European dominated. Morningstar rating is 2 stars. The fund is up 5% in the past 12 months.

iPath Global Carbon (GRN) is an ETN based on Barclays Capital Global Carbon Index Total Return™ (BGCITR) two carbon-related credit plans: 86% European Union Emission Trading Scheme and 14% Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. The fund has beaten the averages for the past 12 months, basically with zero gain or loss.

This article should only to be a first step in your investigation of cleantech ETFs. A good investment adviser can help you consider these as part of a balanced portfolio of fixed income and widely diversified funds. Given the forecast for growth in cleantech, one or more of these ETFs could be part of your total portfolio.

Disclosure: The author currently owns PZD, QCLN, GRID, LIT, PTRP, GRN and a few of their underlying stocks. John Addison speaks at cleantech conferences, takes part in industry panels, and publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

The Carbon Industry Is the Unsung Hero in the Cleantech M&A

Voices from the cleantech venture sector whine at least once a quarter about lack of M&A activity.  In carbon that hasn’t been the case this year (though only a handful of US venture capitalists could stomach that “obscene” foreign policy risk in carbon, and so largely non traditional investors made the bucks).  Despite the carbon sector getting hammered somewhere between 50-80% from its highs, depending on what metric you use, once prices fell, smart money started buying.  So despite the massive uncertainty hanging over the sector, the last year has seen upwards of $1.5 Bil in M&A. 

Of course, the whiners will complain that it’s all policy driven and European and that’s not our market.  And I’d respond, yes, and sort of.  Of course it’s policy driven you nimwit – energy, environment and cleantech is always policy driven.  And the cleantech market is global whether you like it or not.  So what exactly makes EU policy risk more risky than handicapping the California PUC?  Silicon Valley itself is close to irrevelant in cleantech, except for the pools of venture capital collected there.  Get global people.

Or the whiners would complain you can’t spend a billion dollars to see exits at a $1.5 Billion.  And I’d respond, yes, I can do math, too, if you had to spend a billion dollars maybe it wasn’t so good an idea.  Maybe you should follow my Rules in Cleantech Investing.  And then I’d add, and these carbon M&A exits are at bargain basement prices, down two thirds to 80% in some cases from their public market highs, and are by and large a hell of a lot better than the M&A exits in other sectors.  To which the whiners would reply, yes but some of those highs were in damn foreign currencies, or worse AIM listed stocks.  And we don’t understand AIM because it’s foreign therefore it must not be real, and since it has less liquidity than a company 10x that size on Nasdaq, we should hate it (not withstanding that AIM stocks liquidity is like 500 hundred bejillion times the liquidity as a private venture backed company).  To which I’d respond right, but if the check clears, and it’s measured in 7 or 8 or 9 figures, or real Tier 1 buyers buy companies listed on AIM, maybe it IS real after all.  But then I never went to Stanford, Berkeley, MBA school, or even a private university, so what would I know. 😉

Anyway, while that may explain the unsung part for carbon M&A, the reality of who bought what is pretty interesting.  A few threads to chew on:
  • Primo assets are getting sold, often first movers founded years before the carbon boom
  • At bargain basement prices
  • Some real money is getting made and a few founders can retire
  • It’s tier one acquirors doing the buying
  • It’s very global
  • It’s not very technology focused
A few of the key deals, which just don’t seem to stop coming:

The latest announcement is the NYSE tying up a JV merging its carbon trading assets with voluntary markets registry operator APX. APX is a holdover startup from California’s botched power deregulation days, which got into RECs, and later carbon now running most of the major voluntary carbon registries.  Most recent investors included Goldman Sachs.

Probably at least in partial reaction to earlier to the announcement earlier this year of the $600 mm acquisition of Climate Exchange Plc by Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE: ICE). 

In May Barclays announced the acquisition of Tricorona, one of the larger independent CDM carbon developers (and one of our pilots) for 100 mm pounds.

Ostensibly to match JP Morgan’s acquisition of EcoSecurities for $200 mm late last year.  Mission Point was one of the original backers here.
And this last quarter French energy giant EDF announced it was acquiring Chinese CDM developer Energy Systems International.  EDF was the losing bidder to JP Morgan for EcoSecurities.  A 37.5 mm ton CER consolation prize.

And in the media and data analytics end of carbon Reuters acquired long time front runner Point Carbon for a rumored nearly US$200 mm, ostensibly to match the acquisition of Point Carbon’s largest competitor, New Energy Finance by Bloomberg.  Oak Investments is the rumored big investor beneficiary.

Numerous smaller deals have been done over the last two years, as well.  SAP acquiring Clear Standards and IHS acquiring ESS in the software space, energy giant AES acquiring the bankrupt assets of early CDM leader AgCert, and JP Morgan’s 2007 acquisition of Climate Care, and in consulting, Point Carbon’s acquisition of Perspectives GmbH, Lloyd’s Register acquiring Ryerson Master & Associates, et al.

Of note, Reuters, Barclays, NYSE and ICE announced their deals in 2010 after the Copenhagen political debacle.

As I said, carbon appears to be the unsung M&A hero in cleantech markets.  Not bad for a sector virtually ignored or written off by US VCs, pummeled by the winds of global policy fortune, and barely understood by a soul in the American media.

Neal Dikeman is the Chairman and cofounder of Carbonflow, cofounder of Zenergy Power (AIM: ZEN) and a founding partner of cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners.  He is chief blogger of Cleantechblog.com

The Gort Cloud

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks ago, I was pointed to something called The Gort Cloud. I’ve been to the website, and can’t wrap my head around it.

As best as I can tell, it seems to be a social networking map for the green business community, created by The Brand Marketing Group. Although I’m not quite sure, it appears that the point of the Gort Cloud is to facilitate more connectivity within the green community so as to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the overall network.

However, unlike Facebook or MySpace or Twitter, an individual doesn’t sign up to participate in the Gort Cloud. Rather, it appears that an interested party contacts The Brand Marketing Group, who will vet them for their true greenness; if the party is deemed acceptable, then the applicant appears on the Gort Cloud network to enable contact with others that have also passed muster.

I’m intrigued, but confused, about the Gort Cloud. If anyone can better clue me in on how it works, or what its value is to a user (particularly with some good examples), I’d appreciate a note.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Electric Cars get A+ from EPA

By John Addison (9/2/10 from original post at Clean Fleet Report)

New Proposed Stickers

When you go shopping for a new car it is useful to see a quick summary of fuel economy, how much you might save in fuel over 5 years, and the price. Now that people are web surfing faster, moving with purpose through auto shows, and scanning car lots with speed, the EPA is proposing adding grades “A” to “D” on window stickers. You would still get rich comparative details at a website like the popular http://fueleconomy.gov/

Pure battery-electric cars would get an “A+,” go to the head of the class, make their parents proud, get to stay up late on weekends, and get accepted by exclusive fraternities and sororities. Plug-in hybrids would proudly display an “A” for their shining example of helping reduce our dependency on oil, cleaning the air, and help with global warming. Drivers will be lauded as honor students. Climate deniers will add bumper stickers to their suburban assault vehicles that say “My kid beat-up your honor student.”

The added info that we’ll be given to make an informed is welcome. The barcode that takes our smartphone to a website for details looks most promising in this era of mobility and smart apps. Yet, somebody has to speak-up about the lax grading that’s sweeping the nation. In my day, I had to work for every “A,” there were no incompletes, and I had to walk 5 miles daily to school in the snow. The idea of no “F” means that no gas guzzler will be left behind. Under these 2012 proposed ratings, you can get a “B-“ for a car that gets 20 mpg – those oil countries in the Middle East will love that. If you can fuel it with E85 from corn, you don’t even need to get 20 mpg to get your “B.”

An electric car that uses zero gallons of gasoline annually deserves an “A.” Does the average car that now demands 600 gallons per year deserve a “B” in 2012? We’ll never get to those 2016 CAFÉ standards by letting everything with four wheels slide through.

EPA Needs to Talk with DOT and DOE

The DOE provides wonderful models to calculate the lifecycle emissions of a vehicle from either source-to-wheels with GREET 1.x or include the lifecycle emissions including the supply-chain that went into making the vehicle using the GREET 2.x model. Let’s hope that the new website includes both. Let’s hope that grades “A” through “F” are based on lifecycle emissions, using GREET 1.7 as a minimum. I’m all for cars that emit less than 4 tons of CO2 per year getting an “A,” but emit 16 tons per year and you should get an “F” and that includes corn-guzzlers.

The Department of Transportation’s 2010 Climate Impacts report to Congress also effectively compared the emissions of different fuels and drive systems.

The Good News

One proposed sticker includes a grade, one does not.

The good news is that both are better than the existing sticker because they let you visually compare one car with others in its class. For example, you can see that the Ford Fusion Hybrid has is among the best in fuel economy for midsized sedans. That Lamborghini that you’re drooling over won’t compare well on fuel economy, but you can put a bumper sticker on it that says “I dropped out and made millions while you were struggling to be an honor student.”

For electric cars, such as the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric, the new labels will estimate annual electricity cost based on 12 cents per kWh; 5 year savings estimate; range; kWh per 100 miles; MPG equivalents and comparison to other electric cars; and show zero tailpipe emissions. Plug-in hybrid labels for cars such as the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in will include 5-year savings estimate; electric + gas combined MPGe; gasoline only MPG; and comparisons with other plug-in hybrids.

For hybrids and conventional cars, such as the Honda Insight and Mini Cooper, the new labels will estimate annual fuel cost; MPG for city, highway, combined, and compared with others in class; CO2 emissions (tailpipe only); and emissions compared with others in class. All labels will make it easy to use an Internet browser or smart phone scan to get more details.

If the letter ratings are adopted, they will be based on combined CO2 emissions and mileage equivalent.

Tell Them What You Think

All new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the U.S. are required to have a label that displays fuel economy information that is designed to help consumers make easy and well-informed comparisons between vehicles. Most people recognize the current label (or “window sticker”) by the gas tank graphic and city and highway MPG information. EPA has provided fuel economy estimates in City and Highway MPG values for more than 30 years.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are updating this label to provide consumers with simple, straightforward energy and environmental comparisons across all vehicles types, including electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and conventional gasoline/diesel vehicles. The agencies are proposing two different label designs and want public input. Specifically, which design, or design features, would best help you compare the fuel economy, fuel costs, and environmental impacts of different vehicles. For more information and to give your feedback.

Solar needs a new Metric

I just read a very interesting article from Motley Fool on the oversupply of solar in the marketplace that is predicted in 2011. The article went on to try to compare the competitive position of the thin-film mfg and the crystalline mfg based on $/Wdc. Of course for those of us in the industry we know that this has no meaning given the widening efficiency gaps, but like Moore’s law the $/Wdc is followed by investors like a hawk. The more important metrics are:

1) $/kWh delivered – this includes the installed cost of the system plus the energy production per rated W. First Solar thin-film often performs well here even though their BOS costs are higher because they produce about 7% more energy than normal crystalline panels. The BOS penalty for First Solar is about $0.20/Wdc, less than the price delta today
2) $/sqft of net profits – this is where First Solar has a bigger problem. Crystalline systems that are installed as a fixed tilt system could easily produce about 20-30% more electricity per unit area than CdTe. The reason this is important is that land is almost always a constraint. The developer tends to overestimate how much of their pipeline is ready to build and so taking the projects that are ready and putting more Watts on the ground can be very important.

In any case, solar is coming down in cost and the race is fun to watch. Today over 10% of global electricity sales can be more cost effectively served by solar PV — without subsidies. This is mainly in high cost electric utility areas or places that use diesel power. This number is expected to grow to over 20% within 2 years. These represent Trillions of dollars in cost effective markets. It looks like solar is on its way to continue its rapid growth rate to reach a gigaton of carbon savings by 2020 — 1,000 GWs of cumulative solar installed!

Jigar Shah
Carbon War Room

I Am Shocked — Shocked! — At Green Hypocracy

by Richard T. Stuebi

In today’s world, it’s easy to claim being “green”. You can recycle, you can drive a Prius, you can have solar panels on your house, you can install CFLs in every light socket, but…in actuality, how green really are you?

This question was the focus of a recent posting on Yahoo! by Lori Bongiorno entitled “Signs of a Green Hypocrite”, in which Ms. Bongiorno illustrates several hypothetical examples of someone seeming to be doing the right thing…only to swamp the environmental benefit by some other ill-advised action.

Of course, green hypocracy is not limited to individuals. As indicated by a recent survey by Gibbs & Soell, a relatively small minority of Americans believes that the majority of businesses are committed to sustainability. Clearly, the concern about “greenwashing” is widespread.

It’s not that hard to understand why. First of all, the measuring stick for green-ness is not universally defined. To the extent it’s vaguely understood (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions), one’s performance on the metric is not comprehensively measured by any independent and auditworthy reporting body. So, claims about one’s green activities are just that — claims.

As we all know, talk is damn cheap. It’s actions that really count. And, in the case of global environmental concerns, it’s the accumulation of actions that really counts. There won’t be a significant accumulation of environmentally-friendly actions as long as they’re wholly voluntary and cost more than the alternative.

On a slightly different but related point, Joseph Stanislaw — an independent advisor to Deloitte — has been making the case via a recently-released white paper “Clean Over Green” that the energy debates (and perhaps the whole cleantech movement) has been distorted by the use of the term “green” rather than “clean”. In Stanislaw’s view, only a small set of technologies (e.g., wind, solar) get the semantic benefit of being known as “green”, whereas other forms of energy that don’t quite qualify (e.g., natural gas, nuclear) still can make major environmental improvements — yet get discounted in the court of public opinion.

The confusion, hypocracy, and cynicism about “green” and “sustainability” would be washed away if all economic actors in society face a meaningful price associated with their environmental footprint. In such a world, each party can either reduce their footprint — and profit from it — or can maintain (or even expand) their footprint and pay the price. In such a world, claims wouldn’t matter much, but real performance sure would.

Alas, lacking such a robust and all-encompassing system to internalize environmentally-friendly action into numbers that everyone understands and cares about — dollars — the cleantech world will remain subject to a lot of hype and promotion, and wariness will be warranted.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Shell’s new $12 Billion Investment in Advanced Biofuels with Cosan

By John Addison (8/25/10) original post at Clean Fleet Report

Shell (NYSE: RDSA) and Cosan (NYSE: CZZ), one of the world’s largest sugarcane ethanol companies based in Brazil, signed binding agreements to form a $12 billion joint venture for the production and commercialization of ethanol and power from sugar cane. The resulting joint venture, if completed, will be the third largest ethanol producer in the world with 4,500 retail stations and annual production capacity of 2 billion liters (440 million gallons).

This venture gives Shell an opportunity to lower the carbon footprint gasoline which can have ethanol blended to 10 percent and still be supported by the warranties of all major auto makers. Currently Shell is producing more oil from tar sands using environmentally destructive processes that increase the carbon footprint of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel refined from tar sands crude.

Sugarcane is the currently the most efficient feedstock for larger scale ethanol production. While corn ethanol delivers little more energy output than the total energy necessary to grow, process, and transport it; sugarcane ethanol delivers eight times the energy output as lifecycle energy input. Also, sugarcane typically produces twice as much fuel per acre as corn.

Brazil produces almost as much sugarcane ethanol as the United States produces corn ethanol, but at a fraction of the energy cost. Sugarcane is also grown in the southern U.S., from Florida to Louisiana to California.

Brazil is free from needing foreign oil. Flex-fuel vehicles there get much better mileage than in the U.S. If you drive into any of Brazil’s 31,000 fueling stations looking for gasoline, you will find that the gasoline has a blend of at least 20% ethanol, as required by law. 29,000 of the fueling stations also offer 100% ethanol. Ethanol in the U.S. is normally delivered on trucks, increasing its cost and lifecycle emissions. Brazil’s largest sugar and ethanol group, Cosan SA announced the creation of a company to construct and operate an ethanol pipeline.

Most sugarcane is grown in the southern state of Sao Paulo. Economics do not favor its growth in rain forests, although those who favor blocking its import make that claim. It is cattle, soy, palm oil, logging, and climate change that most threaten the rain forests. Some environmentalists are concerned that a significant percentage of Brazil’s sugarcane is grown in the cerrado, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The cerrado is rich with birds, butterflies, and thousands of unique plant species. Others argue that without sugarcane ethanol, more oil will come from strip mining Canadian tar sands and from a new “gold rush” for oil in the melting artic.

“In addition, the residue of sugarcane ethanol, bagasse, can be used for further energy production. While this may likely be used for generating carbon-neutral electricity, it could also be used in cellulosic biofuel production, potentially generating an additional 400-700 gallons per acre.” (California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Technical Analysis p 87-88)

Sugarcane growers are planning the development of varieties that can produce a larger quantity of biomass per hectare per year. These varieties are being called “energy cane” and may produce 1,200 to 2,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, contrasting with 300 to potentially 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn. Sugarcane ethanol is currently the low-cost winner of biofuels.

Advanced Biofuels

Shell will contribute its 16% equity interest in Silicon Valley-based advanced biofuels company Codexis (NASDAQ: CDXS) to the new Cosan JV with the goal of deploying next generation biofuels technologies in the future. Codexis has a multi-year research & development partnership with Shell to develop advanced biofuels from non-food based biomass including sugarcane stalks.

The proposed joint venture, which still requires regulatory approval, will produce and commercialize ethanol and power from sugar cane and distribute a variety of industrial and transportation fuels through a combined distribution and retail network in Brazil. It will also explore business opportunities to produce and sell ethanol and sugar globally.

With annual production capacity of over 2 billion liters, the proposed joint venture will be one of the world’s largest ethanol producers. The inclusion of Shell’s equity interests in Iogen Energy and Codexis would enable the joint venture to deploy next generation biofuels technologies in the future. The company will also generate electricity from sugar cane bagasse in cogeneration plants at all mills. Ten cogeneration plants are already operational.

With total annual sales of about 18 billion liters of fuels, the proposed joint venture will have a competitive position in the Brazilian fuels distribution market built upon a network of about 4,500 retail sites.

Shell is also investing and partnering in other advanced biofuel ventures. Shell is a venture investor in Virent Energy Systems which converts plant sugars directly into a range of high performance liquid transport fuels such as biogasoline. Shell also has a joint venture Cellana in Hawaii that is developing a small pilot facility to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biodiesel.

Clean Fleet Biofuels Reports

Disclosure: No positions

Why Conservatives Are Bad on Energy: It’s All About the Costs

By Tom Rooney, CEO SPG Solar

Conservatives,  let’s talk about energy. And why so many conservatives are so wrong — so liberal, even — on wind and solar energy.

Let’s start with a recent editorial from the home of ‘free markets and free people,”
the Wall Street Journal. Photovoltaic solar energy, quoth the mavens, is a “speculative and immature technology that costs far more than ordinary power.”

So few words, so many misconceptions. It pains me to say that because, like many business leaders, I grew up on the Wall Street Journal and still depend on it.

But I cannot figure out why people who call themselves “conservatives” would say solar or wind power is “speculative.” Conservatives know that word is usually reserved to criticize free-market activity that is not approved by well, you know who.

Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar business. Many more receive their power from solar.

Solar is not a cause, it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

Just ask anyone who installed their solar systems five years ago. Today, many of their systems are paid off and they are getting free energy. Better still, ask the owners of one of the oldest and most respected companies in America who recently announced plans to build one of the largest solar facilities in the

That would be Dow Jones, owners of the Wall Street Journal.

Now we come to “immature.” Again, the meaning is fuzzy. But in Germany, a country 1/3 our size in area and population, they have more solar than the United States. This year, Germans will build enough solar to equal the output of three nuclear power plants.

What they call immaturity our clients call profit-making leadership.

But let’s get to the real boogie man: The one that “costs far more than ordinary power.”

I’ve been working in energy infrastructure for 25 years and I have no idea what the WSJ means by the words “ordinary power.” But, after spending some time with Milton Friedman whom I met on many occasions while studying for an MBA at the University of Chicago, I did learn about costs.

And here is what every freshman at the University of Chicago knows: There is a difference between cost and price.

Solar relies on price supports from the government. Fair enough — though its price is falling even faster than fossil fuels are rising.

But if Friedman were going to compare the costs of competing forms of energy, he also would have wanted to know the cost of “ordinary energy.” Figured on the same basis. This is something the self-proclaimed conservative opponents of solar refuse to do.

But huge companies including Wall Mart, IBM, Target and Los Gatos Tomatoes figured it out. And last year so did the National Academy of Sciences. It produced a report on the Hidden Costs of Energy that documented how coal was making people sick to the tune of $63 billion a year.

And that oil and natural gas had so many tax breaks and subsidies that were so interwoven for so long, it was hard to say exactly how many tens of billions these energy producers received courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer.

Just a few weeks ago, the International Energy Agency said worldwide, fossil fuels receive $550 billion in subsidies a year — 12 times what alternatives such as wind and solar get.

Neither report factored in Global Warming or the cost of sending our best and bravest into harm’s way to protect our energy supply lines.

Whatever that costs, you know it starts with a T.

All this without hockey stick graphs, purloined emails or junk science.

When you compare the real costs of solar with the fully loaded real costs of coal and oil and natural gas and nuclear power, apples to apples, solar is cheaper.

That’s not conservative. Or liberal. That comes from an ideology older and more reliable than both of those put together: Arithmetic.

Tom Rooney is the CEO of SPG Solar, one of the largest solar installers in the US.

Kleiner Perkins on Biomass

by Richard T. Stuebi

I was recently forwarded an article by Amol Desphande, partner of the renowned venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, entitled “Investing in the Biomass Industry”, which appeared in the September 2009 issue of BioCycle magazine.

No doubt seeking to contrast Kleiner Perkins from its peers, Deshpande questions the prudence of investing in large-scale biorefining operations — whether first- or second-generation — and instead characterizes the attributes of biomass technologies that make for more appealing investment candidates:

  • Scales down and can operate in a distributed manner
  • Produces a product that is supply chain compatible (e.g., grid connection, pipeline access points)
  • Uses a feedstock that already has a supply chain
  • Has a beneficial reuse and is free of harmful contaminants or odors
  • Uses available feedstocks of low value and that require minimal pretreatment
  • Costs less than $5 million to demonstrate at semi-commercial scale
  • Consumes minimal water and parasitic energy
  • Has one step for its primary energy conversion (i.e., one primary unit operation, like an anaerobic digester)
  • Takes less than six months to build a commercial plan from “shovel in ground”

Apparently, Kleiner Perkins has seen a number of venture opportunities possessing most of the above characteristics, having invested in Amyris, Harvest, Mascoma, and Sundrop Fuels.

Deshpande closes passionately with the following call to action:

“This is the greatest time in history for entepreneurs in the biomass industry. Rising energy prices, public awareness, technology breakthroughs and carbon credits will make the next 10 years a great time to innovate…Distributed biomass power technologies are available and should be deployed in the short-term. Over the long-term, we probably need to change the way we grow our food. These changes present opportunities for entrepreneurs willing to take the challenge to innovate and transform biomass in a more efficient way.”

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Why My GridPoint Energy Audit Sucked

Bad day for energy efficiency the other day.  I have a new house (actually a new to me 55 year old house), and was all excited to have an energy auditor come out and energy audit me.  After all, I write Cleantech Blog, and did an article not too long ago urging all homeowners to get an energy audit – see What You Should Do if You Really Believe in Cleantech.  So after an admittedly limited job of looking around I went with Standard Renewable Energy.

Most of the big box home improvement retailers have a energy audit practice, as do tons of little companies, but I figured Sre3.com, owned by Gridpoint which is backed by investors like Altira who I know and like, would be a good “pure-play” choice for a cleantech blogger.

But perhaps I’m a naive chump who just expected too much.

I ordered a their $149 Essential Energy Audit (full details below) figuring if I liked the audit I could order a more expensive one complete with more toys and high powered analyses later. I’d get my audit done, get my plan, and then geek out for a bit thinking about all the marginally economic things I could do (windows have been done, insulation is coming).

“Which Home Energy Audit is Right for You?

An energy audit from SRE is an extensive home energy efficiency evaluation. It’s performed by an energy efficiency expert and shows you how your home uses energy and how it wastes it. The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle. And our energy efficiency experts can help make it easy for you to implement the recommendations you choose.

Essential Energy Audit ($149) – A great starting place to identify issues affecting your home’s energy efficiency.  The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.

Complete Energy Audit ($499) – Builds on the Essential Energy Audit by incorporating diagnostic tests that can pinpoint specific energy efficiency issues and identify your best money-saving improvements:

  • Duct blaster test to diagnose duct leakage
  • Blower door test to identify leaks in your home’s envelope such as around doors and windows
  • Thermographic infrared scanning to evaluate the flow of heat through your home and pinpoint problem spots due to leaks and missing insulation

Comprehensive Energy Audit ($849) – Combines the Essential and Complete Energy Audits with an analysis using energy modeling software that calculates your home’s HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index. We’ll use the software to provide a cost-benefit analysis of each of our energy-saving recommendations so you can see which have the greatest payback.

The Energy Efficiency Experts

As environmentalists with a passion for finding ways you can use less energy in your home, we’re committed to mastering home energy efficiency:

  • We incorporate industry-leading building science knowledge to ensure a complete picture of how your home uses energy
  • Our extensive technological and practical experience helps us make the best energy efficiency recommendations
  • We use a total approach to evaluate your home’s individual performance and address all areas of your home’s energy use
  • We provide custom solutions tailored for you and your home”

Frankly what I was looking for was the “41-point detailed visual inspection” plus the “customized plan”. I will quote again in bold italics just for the record:

“The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.”


“The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle.”

So here’s what happened.

I ordered the audit.  It got scheduled quickly (though they were a little backed up so they came out a couple of days later).  My wife and I both worked from home that day so we could be audited, watch what he did and take notes.  As an environmental scientist she was almost as interested as I was.

On the appointed day our energy consultant showed up.  We spend a few minutes chitchatting about why we want an energy audit, how we use the home, what we like in comfort, that sort of thing.  At this time I do tell him that I’m a blogger in the sector and am excited to blog about my energy audit.  He’s a very nice, and knowledgeable guy.  He’s never heard of Cleantech Blog though.  We show him our utility bills.  He takes copious notes.

Then he says it won’t take him too long, he needs to go through the house, inside and out, and in the attic, and go through his checklist.  Then we will sit down and review it.  We say great.  We follow him some trying to watch, but he tells us not to worry, he will take us through it all when he’s done.

. . .

30 minutes or so pass.  He comes back, we gather in the dining room and sit down. Our auditor asks a few more questions.  Gives us some good information.  We discuss the advantages / disadvantages of insulation vs radiant attic barriers.  He tell us our duct work isn’t sealed well, but is still tight enough that it’s not worth worrying about yet.

Karen my wife, starts to take more notes.  Karen likes home constructor projects. He says don’t worry about notes he will send us his write-up afterward to make it easy for us.

We ask him what we should do.  He tells us a solar attic fan.  SRE3 sells them for an “excellent price”.  $950.  And radiant barrier or more insulation, price maybe a couple of thousand each.  SRE sells that too.  I say, but my utility bill in the heat of the summer in July was only $126, without insulation, and before the new double paned windows got put in.  We ask him how much each of those items is likely to save, he mentions 10-20% each at most, without lifting his pencil.  I’m thinking thousands out, and $10-$20 a month back?  He agrees. Then discusses how important a solar attic fan is.  I ask what about one of those cheap metal silver fans instead of a $950 solar attic fan.  He says they never work.  But the SRE3.com solar attic fan is warrantied and the price includes installation.

A few other things happen.

I say I’m not sure I’m interested in the solar attic fan (to save $20 bucks in June, July and August?), but we will need insulation and I’d like to know what a radiant barrier costs.

We end the conversation (on Friday) where he promises to send me a quote on Monday.  I did note that my detailed inspection and customized plan, became a write-up of his notes and now a “quote” on insulation/radiant barriers.

I say nothing except I’m looking forward to getting the write-up.

I then ask, as he’s about to leave, what about weather stripping around the doors.  He says, “Oh, I didn’t check that” – note to self to check, isn’t weather stripping like the standard everyone should do it home energy efficiency item?  He now takes us around to the doors and discusses the weatherstripping.  He gives us some good tips, but we notice he is no longer taking copious notes. Note to self, aren’t you also supposed to have your hot water heater wrapped in insulation?  Ours isn’t.

Energy consultant leaves.  Time allocation:  1/3rd chit chatting on what we want, 1/3rd walking around the house looking for expensive things they sell that we might buy, 1/3rd trying to get us to buy a $950 solar attic fan for an uninsulated house with a $126 July bill, interspersed with a few tidbits of useful info.  Ok, that’s flippant, but it’s close.

Energy consultant comes back.  Says he called the office and they asked him to get the $149 check.  I pay it.

Day 25+, still waiting for my customized plan, checklist on the detailed 41 point visual inspection, write-up of the energy audit notes, or sales quote, or whatever he actually intended to send me.  At least we know the Gridpoint sales management process is working.  They don’t bother sending quotes to cheap homeowners people who aren’t going to buy a $950 solar attic fan – even those who thought they bought an energy audit.  Maybe I’ll send this blog to their PR department and see how well that process is run.  I already found out their A/R department is well run.

PS I still believe in energy audits, obviously just not a Standard Renewable Energy, a Gridpoint company, energy audit.

Neal Dikeman is a Partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger for Cleantechblog.com, the chair of Cleantech.org and a founder of cleantech ventures Carbonflow and Zenergy Power.  He is a Texas Aggie.

Denver Post screws up again

I read this oped with great sadness. I also sympathize with Louis Bacon’s case. That being said, to link the Louis Bacon case to solar being expensive is not only irrelevant but wrong. Why would you possibly link the two cases together.

1) It takes a long time to build transmission so I don’t think any planned delays are necessary, they should move as fast as possible to consider the alternatives Mr. Bacon has generously paid to create from his own pocket that are a win-win for ratepayers. No matter what happens, this will be a long process so don’t delay it further.
2) Solar has come down in cost by almost 50% since 2007. When the Alamosa project was built it was a test case for everyone, Xcel, government, law firms, SunEdison, Alamosa County, etc. Today with a few more solar plants constructed the solar industry is dropping the price of solar from $6/Wdc in 2007 to ~$3/Wdc in 2010-11. By the time this transmission line is built solar will probably be at around $2/Wdc installed — generating power at the same cost as retail rates in Colorado — far cheaper than new fossil fuel alternatives.
3) The reason Xcel is looking at solar is that everything is more expensive. The Duke Coal plant in North Carolina was budgeted at $4.5/W — it is experiencing a 20% cost overrun. The coal plant was supposed to be baseload but because there is less off-peak load (big problem in Colorado) the plant will only run about 65% of the time — increasing the cost of the electricity generated substantially. So substantially that Florida Power and Light’s executive now claims that solar is cheaper than new coal capacity in Florida. When it is all said and done, the Duke Coal plant will raise rates probably 10% in North Carolina — almost 5 times higher than the 2% rate increase the renewable generation/efficiency alternative was projected to cost.
No one is saying that solar should be the only resource. There should be wind, CHP, geothermal, small hydro, aggressive energy efficiency, demand response, and targeted storage from Ice Energy (based in Colorado). But for the Denver Post to act as though they don’t read studies from Colorado based entities like the National Renewable Energy Laboratories is sad for Coloradans. It is no wonder the newspaper industry is losing subscribers, when the largest job growth industry in Colorado is maligned by the local paper without any facts to back it up people simply get disgusted.
Jigar Shah
CEO, Carbon War Room
Founder of SunEdison

The World’s Energy Portfolio Needs Rebalancing – NOW

The World’s Energy Portfolio Needs Rebalancing – NOW

Point Roberts, South Salem, New York- August 17, 2010 – Investorideas.com and its green investor portal, www.renewableenergystocks.com publish new energy market commentary from solar contributor, J. Peter Lynch .

The World’s Energy Portfolio Needs Rebalancing – NOW!!!
J Peter Lynch

Solar Stocks Commentary with J Peter Lynch

The U.S. has taken a shortsighted approach to “financing” our energy future for decades. We are rapidly depleting our energy capital of oil, gas and coal at greater rates each year, and giving very little thought to the long-term (20-50+ years) consequences.
The major difference between the financial world and the energy world is that our primary energy capital is NOT replaceable; fossil fuels are non-renewable by their nature. We are responsible for the future of this planet and must manage its “energy portfolio” by creating an “energy balance sheet”, with the proper mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources to allow for sustainable growth for generations to come.

In the long term there really is only one source of energy (that is viable now) that can adequately handle our future energy demands and that is the sun. Take a look at the link below and you will get a picture of why this is the case. NOTE: The renewable sources in the picture are ANNUAL amounts available, the demand is ANNUAL and the fossil fuel reserves are the TOTAL amount left (not an annual amount available). This is truly a picture that is worth far more than 10,000 words


We should not be using our limited energy capital for jobs and processes that can be completed by unlimited renewable assets.

For example: fossil fuels should NOT be utilized for applications, such as heating and lighting for homes or commercial buildings.

Does it seem logical to burn something at thousands of degrees to heat your homes hot water? This task can be efficiently accomplished with a simple solar panel that heats water to 160 degrees, pays back in three to four years, continues to pay you “free money” for the next 20+ years and has zero emissions, as an additional benefit.

Does it seem logical to use incandescent light bulbs that are terribly inefficient at producing light (5%) and great at generating unnecessary heat, instead of LED lights that are much better at producing light and hardly create any heat?

The main macro problems, as I see it are a lack of leadership, especially from those in Congress, and lack of widespread dissemination of knowledge to the public – people cannot make informed decisions without more detailed and accurate information.

1. Lack of Leadership: America has failed to assume its leadership position – to organize and lead the world in solving this problem.

The world cannot address a problem of this magnitude without cooperation from the United States. We are the world’s richest country and consume nearly 25% of the energy on Earth, while only having approximately 4% of the world’s population. What we need is a Long Term Energy Plan, and in the short term, a “Marshall Plan” (the U.S post World War II economic plan to reconstruct Europe) for energy. The current U.S. administration, although far better than the previous, has made some minor progress in the right direction. But they have been constantly hamstrung by a dysfunctional, borderline incompetent Congress whose goal appears to be to make compromises that can only result in failure. Our leaders must unite (or resign), stop taking money from the special interests and put the welfare of the country first and tell the American people the true magnitude of the problem at hand.

As one of the great men of the 20th century and one of our most distinguished Presidents once said:

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation…The minerals do not renew themselves. Therefore in dealing with the coal, the oil, the iron, metals generally, all that we can do is try to see that they are wisely used. The exhaustion is certain to come in time”. – Theodore Roosevelt

If Theodore Roosevelt saw the writing on the wall in 1907, why is it so difficult for the current Congress to see it now? In light of the recent situation in the Gulf of Mexico, it seems impossible to miss the ramifications of our current course of action. If we cannot see the dimensions of this issue now, when will we be able to? America must start to think proactively and NOT reactively, as we have for the past 40 years. To not adequately prepare for an inevitable situation of this magnitude such as energy is a colossal failure of leadership of historic proportions.

2. Lack of widespread accurate information: I truly believe that people will do the right thing if they are apprised of the facts and TRUE costs of ALL the alternative actions. However, the American public are not getting nearly enough information on this crisis and the media in general puts little, if any, serious focus on this subject.

Most articles I have recently read seem to indicate that the top concerns of the American people are:

· Economy
· Jobs
· Terrorism

I agree that this is a fairly accurate picture of what Americans are concerned about. However, before a solution to a problem can be applied, it is important to understand the “true cause” of the problem. The true underlying cause of all three of these problems is the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, this dependence is really our number one problem.

1. The Economy – The economy is currently growing at a very slow rate, with the actual growth probably resulting from recent government spending. However this is NOT a long term solution, real growth must come from the private sector, not the government. If you want to cause a much LARGER problem in our economy all you’d have to do is limit or cut off our oil supply. Our economy literally runs on oil. Almost everything in our economy is dependent on fossil fuels and oil is now more limited, much less secure and the margin of error today is razor thin. This is a historically dangerous position for our country and it is a major threat to our national security, possibly the greatest threat we have very faced.

If you have the interest and the time here is a study that was recently finished (2-2010) by the Kuwait Petroleum Institute what will clear point out how “razor thin” the actual margins currently are. This is the most complete and technically accurate study I have ever seen and it is very sobering indeed.


2. Jobs – Jobs are directly related to how much our economy grows. It is tough to properly allocate scarce resources when we are:

Ø Spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year importing oil
Ø Spending additional huge annual sums protecting the foreign oil infrastructure and transportation routes with our military forces; and
Ø Fighting two wars simultaneously while literally funding the enemy with our oil purchases.

3. Terrorism – Terrorism is rooted in the Middle East, where most of the oil is located. We are there because of oil; we spend hundreds of billions per year “protecting” our oil supply and have been executing this massive cash drain for decades. There is nothing logical or rational about these actions. They are the actions of an addict who only wants one thing, to get his fix. In our case – OIL.

All of this is the result of the U.S. failing to properly balance our worldwide energy portfolio and not understanding how to properly structure our energy balance sheet. We are presently trapped in an upward price spiral which cannot cease unless the basic laws of supply and demand change (unlikely) or we shift our strategy and thinking to one of energy capital preservation, rational energy utilization and developing renewable assets. We must learn how to shift from nonrenewable resources to assets like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass etc. We all have to recognize the fact that there are major problems in the energy area and we must move to solve them now.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. -Albert Einstein

Our thinking in the U.S. is to use as much as we want, based upon the false premise that there will always be enough or we will just find more. There has not been a major oil discovery in 30 years, we are using far more oil than we are discovering and prices have fluctuated from below $10 to just about $150; the “market will take care of it” idea simply doesn’t work. There is little serious thought given to conservation or the welfare of future generations. This is precisely the thinking that got us here and will certainly not be the thinking that will get us out.

As long as we insist on being dependent on non-renewable energy sources and refuse to recognize the true cost of fossil fuels we will continue to face price increase after price increase.

We must take immediate steps to preserve our energy capital and rapidly expand and develop our energy assets from renewable sources such as solar energy, wind and biomass. This transition will take decades and the longer we wait the more severe the penalty we’ll pay.

“To each generation comes its allotted task; and no generation is to be excused to perform that task.” -Theodore Roosevelt

We must change the current path we are on, take responsibility for our situation and move to a financially stable and environmentally sustainable path, or suffer the consequences of our shortsighted and financially irresponsible actions. It is “our” problem, we caused it and we need to fix it now.

J. Peter Lynch has worked, for 33 years as a Wall Street analyst, an independent equity analyst and private investor, and a merchant banker in small emerging technology companies. He has been actively involved in following developments in the renewable energy sector since 1977and is regarded as an expert in this area. He is currently a financial and technology consultant to a number of companies. He can be reached via e-mail at Solarjpl@aol.com or at his site for the promotion of solar energy www.sunseries.net.

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Ford Focus Electric Cars from New Green Michigan Plant

By John Addison

Ford Focus EV Gets Green Plant

Ford’s (F) new Focus Electric Car and Plug-in Hybrid will be built in one of the auto industry’s greenest manufacturing plants. Ford is working with Detroit Edison (DTE) to install a 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system at Michigan Assembly. The system will be integrated with a 750-kw energy storage facility that can store two million watt-hours of energy using batteries.

The renewable energy captured by the project’s primary solar energy system will help power the production of fuel-efficient small cars, including Ford’s all-new Focus and Focus Electric going into production in 2011, and a next-generation hybrid vehicle and a plug-in hybrid vehicle coming in 2012. My test drive of the Ford Focus Electric.

A secondary, smaller solar energy system will be integrated at a later date to power lighting systems at Michigan Assembly. The combined systems are expected to give Michigan Assembly the largest solar power array in Michigan and save an estimated $160,000 per year in energy costs. The installation of the system begins later this year.

Although the 500kW does not match the megawatts of solar that Toyota (TM) uses in California operations, Ford is advancing automaker use of large scale energy storage, reuse of automotive lithium batteries, smart microgrid, and solar charging.

Michigan Assembly will operate on a blend of renewable and conventional electricity managed by Xtreme Power’s Dynamic Power Resource on-site energy storage and power management system. Xtreme Power, a venture capital backed firm in Austin, Texas, manufactures integrated power management, smart control, and storage systems from 500 kW to 100 MW. XP technology is unique in its ability to provide immediate power when needed through precision control and complex power capabilities (VARs), and the ability to time shift large amounts of power/energy, all at a relatively low lifecycle cost. This is the industry’s first large-scale solid-state power management system. The XP solution comprises four components integrated into a comprehensive system: (1) hyper-efficient energy storage; (2) proprietary power electronics that enable very high power at very high efficiency; (3) smart control system of specialized hardware and software; and (4) factory integration which ties the first three components together under stringent quality control settings.

The renewable energy collected by the solar system will go directly into the energy-efficient microgrid. When the plant is inactive, such as holidays, the collected solar energy will go into the energy storage system for later use, providing power during periods of insufficient or inconsistent sunlight. Michigan Assembly’s energy storage system will be able to recharge from the grid during off-peak hours when energy is available at a lower cost. This in turn will provide inexpensive power during peak operating hours when the cost per kilowatt-hour is higher, and reduce peak demand on the grid.

Ten Charging Stations using Solar Power

Ford also will install 10 electric vehicle-charging stations at Michigan Assembly to demonstrate advanced battery charging technologies using renewable energy and other smart-grid advances. The stations will be used to recharge electric switcher trucks that transport parts between adjacent facilities. Xtreme Power will provide an active power management system on the charging stations. Ford also will demonstrate the possibility for using electrified vehicle batteries as stationary power storage devices after their useful life as vehicle power sources is over.

“Ford is strongly committed to its sustainability strategy to support positive social change and reduce the environmental impact of its products and facilities,” said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. “Michigan Assembly is the latest Ford manufacturing facility to utilize renewable power for production.”

Cradle to Cradle

Drive a typical gasoline car in the U.S. and you will emit about 10 tons of CO2 every year. Drive a Ford Fusion Hybrid, however, and only emit 4.7 tons annually – half of a an average car, and only a third of a larger SUV, such as the 2010 Ford Expedition 4WD FFV, with 13.3 tons of CO2 annually.

Ford plans to offer customers families of cars with a variety of fuel efficient drive systems. “The new Ford Focus is a clear demonstration that our ONE Ford strategy is providing global consumers with great products that harness the best of Ford Motor Company,” said Alan Mulally, Ford’s president and CEO. “The efficiencies generated by our new global C-car platform will enable us to provide Ford Focus customers with an affordable product offering quality, fuel efficiency, safety and technology beyond their expectations.” Ford is planning on a Global C platform for 12 to 14 different vehicles with a volume of 2 million units per year. Such volume, common chassis and many common components, can give Ford improved profit margins and room to price hybrid and electric cars competitively.

Clean Fleet Report predicts that in 2012 an all-new Ford Focus family will be offered with choices that include a gasoline-sipping EcoBoost engine, a Focus Hybrid, a Focus Plug-in Hybrid, and Focus Electric. The hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric will all use lithium-ion batteries. All will offer better fuel economy than the current 30 mpg and lower emissions than the 2010 Focus with 6.5 tons of CO2 per year.

You can find the mileage and carbon emissions of most cars with the U.S. EPA and DOE’s valuable fueleconomy.gov. The EPA combined miles per gallon rating is based on 45% highway and 55% city driving. The carbon footprint is carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) based on 15,000 miles of driving, using the GREET 1.7 model.

Drive the new Ford Focus Electric with a 70 percent efficient electric drive using grid power, instead of that 15 percent efficient gasoline motor drive system, and emissions will be far below a Toyota Prius. Charge the Focus EV with solar or wind power and your source-to-wheels emissions of CO2 drops to zero.

But what about all the emissions associated with energy intensive manufacturing and mining of everything from iron to lithium (LIT)? Historically about 90 percent of a car’s emissions over its 15 years of use are from burning fuel, and only 10 percent from the mining and manufacturing. This is why environmental groups, the EPA, and websites like the Clean Fleet Report focus on source-to-wheels emissions, which is also called well-to-wheels due to our history of fuel from oil wells.

Ford, and other automakers, are following the classic practices of reduce, reuse, and recycle. As Ford electrifies hybrids and electric cars, many mechanical parts are replaced with lighter electric parts. Some steel gets replaced with lighter aluminum, plastic, and bioplastic. Hundreds of pounds are removed from a car, which allows it to go farther on less fuel. At end-of-life metals and parts are often recycled. Some lithium batteries will be repurposed in plants, renewable energy backup, and electric utility applications. Over 95 percent of auto battery materials are eventually recycled.

Ford’s new lean and green plant will build a new generation of cars, low in carbon footprint and high in industry impact.

By John Addison, Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker.

Remembering Matt Simmons

by Richard T. Stuebi

It was barely reported, but on August 8, the cleantech world lost a very important messenger, Matt Simmons.

In 1974, Simmons founded the energy-focused investment banking firm Simmons & Company, which came to serve many of the most important oil and gas firms in the world. Simmons personally came to be known as a savvy and controversial analyst of the fundamentals of the petroleum industry, and advised not only corporations but also President George W. Bush on energy matters.

In the early 2000’s, with oil prices at low levels and while practically no-one else was watching or caring, Simmons exhumed the peak oil theory and gave it strong analytical support — and maybe more importantly, an unsurpassed level of credibility, as most proponents of the peak oil notion had been viewed as marginal extremists. Simmons’ 2005 book Twilight in the Desert is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of energy, as it strongly makes the case that the decline of the massive Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia is inescapable — and with it, the prospects for ever-increasing oil production and petroleum-fueled economic growth can only be fantasy.

No doubt, Simmons’ views made him an unwanted commentator among many in the oil bidness. He had gradually stepped out of the firm he founded and made a global presence, in part because of some negative remarks he made earlier this summer about BP (NYSE: BP) in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. He had retreated from Houston to Maine, where he was a key figure in the formation of the Ocean Energy Institute to pursue offshore wind and other forms of ocean-based renewable energy. Although not a die-in-the-wool tree-hugger, Simmons was one of the few Texans that had seen the light that fossil fuels — regardless of their desirable energy density — were ultimately a road with a dead-end, and foresaw the need to begin moving to new forms of energy production.

I only met him once, but I will miss Matt Simmons, as he was a powerful force for good in the cleantech world.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Why China has already overtaken the U.S. in cleantech

It’s been fashionable to debate whether China will some day surpass the U.S. in clean technology. Yet, after reviewing some of the metrics that really matter, one could conclude that it already has.

At least this was my thesis in moderating a recent Haas School of Business event at U.C. Berkeley in California that explored whether China would become a green economy leader.

China has already surpassed the U.S., I argued (as reported elsewhere), and pointed to the following:

  1. IPOs: According to data we collected at the Cleantech Group, in 2009 (the last full year for which data was available as of this writing), China accounted for almost three quarters of all cleantech IPO proceeds worldwide, well ahead of the U.S., which had only 26%; and to date in 2010, the top three cleantech IPOs of the year have all been Chinese companies
  2. M&As: The top region for cleantech M&A activity in 2009 was Asia (35% of total), followed by Europe (31%) and North America (26%), according to our same research above
  3. Solar: 7 of the 10 largest solar manufacturers in the world by production volume are now Asian, #2 being China’s Suntech Power, which in 2009 surpassed even Japan’s Sharp, the longtime leader. This according to a roundup by respected photovoltaic trade pub Photon International (subscribers only; order the back issue here.)
  4. REEs: China holds a monopoly on rare earth elements (REEs), critical raw materials for wind turbines and electric motors such as those used in electric vehicles like the Tesla and hybrids like the Prius. It controls 97 percent of commercially available rare earth element supplies, and has recently begun to reduce the amount it exports (at Cleantech Group, we produced the authoritative report on the subject, précis here.)
  5. Stimulus: The amount of stimulus funding China has allocated to clean technologies, including water, waste and other non-energy cleantech infrastructure, is 4 times that of the U.S. (221 billion vs. ~60 billion)
  6. R&D: There’s been a doubling of private R&D in China in recent years; China could soon surpass the U.S. in R&D spending, according to Lund University in Sweden
  7. Speed: China is making decisions quickly, and isn’t encumbered by democratic process. This January, China announced intentions to build a 2 GW $5B concentrating solar thermal plant. In the words of Bill Gross of eSolar (by way of Tom Friedman), the company whose technology was selected, “in less time than it took the U.S. DOE to do stage 1 of an application review for a 92 MW project in New Mexico, China approved, signed and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project.”
  8. Nukes: If you don’t already consider nuclear a clean energy technology, you should. China is expecting to build some 50 new nuclear reactors by 2020, and is already hard at work on half of them; the rest of the world combined might build 15
  9. Investment: A recent report by Breakthrough Institute called Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant claims China, South Korea and Japan have already collectively passed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies, and over the next few years, these countries will be expected to out-invest the United States.

If this trajectory holds, the majority of cleantech-related jobs, tax revenues and cleantech commercialization bragging rights will go to Asian, mostly Chinese, companies. The interesting question for us at Kachan & Co. is what commercial opportunities will this eventuality ultimately create for others elsewhere? How can the U.S. and other jurisdictions leverage the Chinese cleantech juggernaut?

Obviously, some companies will benefit from the establishment of joint ventures with Asian companies. And there WILL be local manufacturing jobs, especially when the rising cost of oil makes overseas shipping from Asia less cost-effective—one of the reasons China’s Suntech is setting up local U.S. manufacturing in Arizona, for example. But where are the less obvious opportunities?

We have thoughts. Contact us to discuss.

A former managing director of the Cleantech Group, Dallas Kachan is now managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and advisory firm that does business worldwide from offices in San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. Its staff have been covering, publishing about and helping propel clean technology since 2006. Kachan & Co. offers cleantech research reports, consulting and other services that help accelerate its clients’ success. Details at www.kachan.com.

Cleantech Connect

I just agreed to judge this contest. I wanted to see what you guys thought of contests like this. It seems like an amazing way for entrepreneurs to get recognition and differentiation.

Cleantech Connect features the hottest and fastest growing Cleantech companies in Europe. For the second year running GP Bullhound, with premium sponsors Schroders Private Banking and Choate Hall & Stewart LLP and sponsors RUSTON wheb and NESTA, publishes a list of the fastest growing Cleantech companies.

From this list the most outstanding companies are nominated to present to the high profile judging panel from within the Cleantech industry.

The companies will be ranked by their annual revenue growth rate between financial year end 2007-2009.

Cleantech Connect is an invitation-only awards ceremony held for industry leaders and the CEOs of those companies listed in Cleantech Connect. The 2010 awards ceremony will be held in London on the 17 November.

5,050 Electric Vehicle Charging Stations for SF Bay

By John Addison (8/10/10)

The San Francisco Bay Area will add over 5,000 electric car charging stations (EVSE) in the next 2 years and continue as one of the nation’s leading areas for electric cars. The Bay Area’s 7 million people live in cities that have adopted hybrid cars, like the Prius, faster than in 99 percent of America. One in 5 new car sales are hybrids in cities like Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Sonoma. The San Francisco Bay Area already has about 8,000 electric cars on the road from Tesla Roadsters to Prius Plug-in Hybrids to light EVs limited to 25 miles per hour.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors approved $5 million to support further development of a regional electric vehicle charging infrastructure program in the Bay Area. Most health damaging air pollution in the Bay Area is from cars and trucks. Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are also critical to achieving an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the SF Bay Area.

“The past several years have seen exciting progress in the development of electric vehicle technology,” said Air District Executive Officer Jack P. Broadbent. “Creating a useful charging network will make it easier for Bay Area residents to Spare the Air every day by going electric.”

The new program will leverage up to $5 million in Air District funds to support electric vehicle charging infrastructure grants including:

3,000 home chargers at single family and multi-family dwellings
2,000 public chargers at employer and high-density parking areas
50 fast chargers within close proximity to highways

The plan will especially help the majority of early adopters that do not have houses with garages. Electric cars with ranges of less than 100 miles are well suited for people who live in the urban density of cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. Most in these cities live in multi-family dwellings such as apartments and condos. Chargers for these dwellings, places of employment, and key public areas will be critical to encourage the Bay Area’s 4.5 million car and truck owners to buy and lease electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf (NSANY) and Chevrolet Volt.

Dozens of companies are now offering electric car charging stations that are smart grid enabled with network services for drivers and fleets: Aerovironment (AVAV), Ecotality (ETLE), Coulomb Technologies, Eaton, and GE.

Over 20 percent of the SF Bay Area’s energy comes from renewable sources such as wind, hydropower, solar, geothermal, and biowaste from agriculture. Ocean power is being added. Coal power plants are not allowed in the Bay Area. The new electric cars can be programmed to charge at night when excess power is on the grid. As utilities make the information available, they can even be programmed to charge when excess renewables are on the grid.

By John Addison, publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker. (c) Copyright John Addison. Permission to repost if a link is included to the original article at Clean Fleet Report. Mr. Addison owns no stock in the public companies mentioned.

The Future’s So Bright, My Windows Wear Shades

by Richard T. Stuebi

“You can think of it as a building with sunglasses.”

So says Rao Mulpurri, CEO of Soladigm, as reported in this item by Michael Kanellos in GreenTech Media.

Soladigm is commercializing electrochromic windows, which lighten and darken in response to an electric current, which in turn can be controlled by a building energy management system. The thought is to significantly reduce air conditioning requirements by reducing the amount of solar heat that penetrates a building through windows on hot sunny days.

As noted in the article, electrochromic windows is not a new concept in itself, highlighting Sage Electrochromics‘ work over the past 20 years. With big-time venture capital backing (led by Khosla Ventures), Soladigm claims to have cracked the code on reducing costs and improving performance of the core technology. Time, and the market, will tell.

Also telling is how much money — a $4 million grant and a $40 million (presumably below-market interest) loan — that the state of Mississippi recently threw at Soladigm to locate their manfuacturing plant in the town of Olive Branch. States are increasingly playing a pseudo-VC game, placing bets on still-new companies to lure companies for their tax base — in Soladigm’s case, 300 new jobs are claimed for the Olive Branch facility.

I really question the wisdom and prudence of these public sector handouts to lure jobs, but for sure, it’s darn near impossible to attract a company to a geographic area unless the government pulls out the wallet in a big way. When leading the Ohio Department of Development, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher said several times at public events that company attraction has become an “arms race”. (Of note, Ohio has won Site Selection‘s Governor’s Cup for most company investment projects for four years running, so the state is maintaining a fair degree of competitiveness, notwithstanding any perceptions to the contrary.) You can’t blame the companies for taking the money that’s on offer from states. But, from a taxpayer standpoint, you gotta wonder.

Money like that is very blinding to an early-stage company like Soladigm. No wonder they’re wearing shades.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

California Tradable RECs – Will They Ever Materialize?

by David Niebauer

California has led the nation in solar development on many fronts for a number of years, but there is one area where California has lagged significantly – the implementation of tradable renewable energy certificates (or TRECs).

As of this writing, there are five regional renewable energy tracking systems operating in North America, one national registry and three state systems. As early as June 2007, the California Energy Commission launched the Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS), which was designed to track renewable energy generation and create and track renewable energy certificates (RECs) for that generation. TRECs are an important tool for utilities in other states striving to meet their renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goals and help developers finance renewable energy projects in other parts of the country where TRECs are available. So why not in California?

The Basics

In California RECs are not yet tradable – all electric utility renewable energy purchases are “bundled” transactions. That is, the environmental attributes (e.g., RECs) are tied to, or bundled with, the energy itself. Therefore, the only way for utilities to comply with RPS requirements is to purchase renewable energy in bundled transactions from a qualifying renewable energy facility.

In States with unbundled or tradable RECs, electric utilities have two ways to meet with RPS goals: purchase renewable energy in bundled transactions (like in California) or purchase RECs on the open market. In States with TRECs the REC has been “stripped” from the energy and is traded separately. The energy is sold separately and is still supplied to the grid. The utility purchasing the REC may be and likely is completely different than the purchaser of the energy. Only the REC purchaser can count that energy toward its RPS goals.

Proponents of tradable RECs point out that the scheme will assist the State in achieving its RPS goal by balancing out geographical and transmission constraint differences from utility to utility. In California, for example, the State as a whole has considerable renewable resources, from geothermal to wind to solar – but these resources are not evenly distributed geographically throughout the State. Further, some areas with strong renewable resources have significant transmission constraints, making grid connection prohibitively expensive. A tradable REC regime would allow resources to be developed where cost and fit are most appropriate, and allow the environmental attributes (the RECs) to be traded among the utilities (and through intermediaries) to balance out these geographical and transmission constraint issues. As stated in the April 2006 California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Staff White Paper: “Importantly, under an unbundled and/or tradable REC framework, [a utility] can purchase RECs from renewable facilities largely irrespective of where those facilities are located or where the energy is ultimately delivered.”

From the energy developer’s perspective, RECs can provide an advantage for developing renewable energy sources. The ability to sell RECs in an unbundled transaction would mean that a developer would be able to negotiate with any utility or other buyer of RECs, rather than negotiating with only one utility in a bundled transaction. In states with TREC developers contract with one utility to provide energy at a relatively low cost and then sell the RECs to another utility or other buyer to enable his project to be economically viable. Where the developers must sell the energy and the REC to the same utility, the price of the energy might be too low to justify development. For this reason, tradable RECs can be a way to speed the development of renewable generation.

The California Log Jam
California has been taking slow, halting strides in the direction of permitting tradable RECs. In 2006 the California legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 107, which gave the CPUC express authority to allow the use of tradable RECs for RPS compliance.
Three and half years later on March 11 2010 the CPUC issued a decision authorizing TRECs for RPS compliance in California (Decision10-030-021). The proposed scheme had a number of limitations but appeared to be a workable model. Most notable of the limitations was a maximum cap for IOUs of 25% of RPS compliance targets that could be met with TRECs. This limitation was to last only until the end of 2011 and was intended as a way to monitor the program before allowing unfettered use of TRECs. The other significant limitation was a price cap of $50 per REC. Again, this limitation was scheduled to expire at the end of 2011 unless the CPUC determined to extend the cap at that time based on further market studies.

The CPUC decision was made after conducting numerous workshops and receiving comments from interested parties. However, the entities that would have been most impacted by the Decision were not at all happy with the final outcome. Notably, the State’s IOUs and the Independent Energy Producers Association (IEP), whose members make up most of the merchant power producers in the State, filed objections and forceful motions to stay the decision. Prior to its implementation on May 6, only a few weeks after issuing the Decision, the CPUC granted an indefinite stay of Decision 10-03-021. This stay in still in effect.

The reasons for the stay, and the larger implications, are not at all clear. On its face, the stay was implemented in order to resolve objections raised by the IOUs and the IEP. Neither party liked the 25% limitation on use of TRECs to meet RPS requirements. Further, the IOUs, in particular, argued that the CPUC’s definition of a REC-only transaction would limit access to most out-of-state renewable resources, making implementation the TREC scheme unworkable.

Commissioner Grueneich’s Dissent

Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich filed a dissent to the stay that may shed some light on what is really going on. Commissioner Grueneich focused on the motion by the IOUs and claimed that the modifications urged by the IOUs would cause the “outsourcing of California’s renewable economy.” She points out that nothing had changed in the 60 days or so between the Decision and the Stay other than “the relentless lobbying by the utilities at this Commission and in Sacramento to overturn a decision they dislike.”

She continues:

“Since the RPS mandate was first signed into law, one message that has been repeated again and again from developers, from investors and from members of this Commission itself, is that market players need certainty and consistency in decision making in … order to make long term investments in California. This decision will disrupt renewable energy markets, threaten financing for existing and future projects, and compromise the careful work of the Governor’s office to ensure that renewable energy projects obtain their CEC permits and break ground expediently.”


Perhaps this is the (cynical) goal of the IOUs: to entangle the entire RPS movement in delay and uncertainty so that their own foot-dragging can be explained away and excused. Without clear guidance on a TREC program, the argument might go, how can they be expected to meet the State’s aggressive RPS goals? The IOUs have a long way to go to even comply with the 2010 RPS requirement of 20% renewable generation. In 2009, the IOUs collectively served 15.4% of their load with renewable energy. The CPUC estimates that the IOUs are expected to be at about 18% in 2010 and 21% in 2011 – assuming that existing contracts can be converted into operating facilities within that timeframe.

Or it may just be a bureaucratic quagmire that still requires time to work out. After all, the IOU’s fundamental argument in support of the stay, that out of state bundled transactions should not be defined as REC-only transactions and counted toward the 25% cap, makes sense.

California needs to get this right. Whatever system gets developed in California will be followed by other states, especially those in the WREGIS System, so a region-wide system must be supported by the final CPUC decision. We need a workable final decision soon so that we can move forward on the larger goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions and building a truly sustainable energy infrastructure.

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

Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt Test Drive Comparisons

By John Addison (8/3/10)

Chevrolet Volt – Test Drive of an Extended Range Electric Vehicle

My test drive of the Volt demonstrates that Chevy is ready to take orders. I settle behind the steering wheel, feel comfortable in the bucket seat, and am impressed with the display behind the wheel, and the 7-inch navigation screen. The Volt looks and feels high-tech.

In 4 laps around a mile test drive loop that included sharp turns and straightaway. While driving, I was able to try the three modes of the car with a push of the button. In Normal mode, the Volt always stayed in the quiet electric mode that gives this 4-door sedan a 40 mile electric range before engaging its 1 liter gasoline engine to provide 300 extra miles of range, depending on driving conditions.

In Sport mode the Volt accelerated faster than I would need to enter any freeway, or pass another car on a country rode. In Sport, the Volt accelerates zero to 60 in about 8 seconds; not as fast as the 4 seconds when I was in a Tesla, but faster than my Nissan LEAF test drive. The Volt had a sporty feel navigating tight corners.

My drive is with Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt and GE Global Electric Vehicle Development. Tony has over 100 Volts around the road across the country being put through final paces by GM engineers, and a few out being driven by everyone from President Obama, to big fleet managers, to tech journalists like me.

Chevrolet dealers are now taking orders for the Volt, starting at $350 per month, or $41,000 purchase. Thousands of orders are being made with Chevrolet dealers in launch markets for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt in California, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey and the Washington D.C. area. Tony Posawatz said that he expects over 10,000 Volts to be delivered by the fall of 2011. Mr. Posawatz explained that by 2012, the Volt will also be available with a flexfuel engine that can support E85 ethanol blends, and an AT-PZEV.

Volt Test Drive and Vehicle Details

Nissan LEAF Test Drive of Pure Battery Electric Car

I shift the 2011 Nissan LEAF into its normal drive mode, touch the accelerator and start driving down the San Jose streets. The electric car is always silent. It only has an electric motor, therefore I never hear the sound of a gasoline engine.

The 5-door, 5-seat compact hatchback has plenty of room. Sitting behind me is an electric utility executive who is 6″5″. I did not need to move the driver seat forward; his legs are not pressing against my seat. If the car had 4 people his size, it would be a 4-seater, not 5. On our both of the split back seats can be lowered to carry lots of cargo, be it luggage, work equipment, or everything for your favorite sport.

Driving the car was a no brainer. The friendly joy-stick knob gives me the choices of P (park), R (reverse), N (neutral) and D (drive). Touch ECO for the electricity saving mode.

Nissan engineers have been working hard to get all the software controls ready for market. Acceleration, steering, and braking are smooth. Having driving two early prototypes, this time the LEAF felt ready for the average driver who wants the car to respond just like a conventional gasoline powered car. The car feels ready for delivery to the 17,000 who have made $99 deposits with Nissan.

The LEAF is designed for an average range of 100 miles on a full charge (LA4 drive cycle). Carlos Tavares, Executive Vice President of Nissan Motor explained that the LEAF range estimate varies widely with type of driving. When not running air conditioning or heating, 138 mile range is expected in leisurely driving with slow acceleration and slow stopping. Drive on the highway while running the AC during summer heat, and only expect 70 miles. Blast the heat during cold winter expressway driving, and only expect 60 miles per charge. Sustain 80 miles per hour uphill, and the range is even less.

I put the LEAF in ECO mode which provides about 10 percent more electrical range. Push the accelerator to the floor and I automatically leave ECO mode. To encourage electron-efficient driving, the dash board provides encouraging driving feedback. My telematics display grew lots of trees when I drove with careful acceleration and deceleration. Ford was the first with this type of display, growing leaves on cars like the Fusion Hybrid. So in a LEAF, you grow trees.
While driving, visibility was good in the front, side mirrors, and rear view. The LEAF has two large LCD displays, one behind the steering wheel, the other central on the dashboard.

LEAF Test Drive and Vehicle Details

Chevrolet Volt or Nissan LEAF

I am impressed with my recent test drives of the Chevrolet Volt and of the Nissan LEAF. The Volt can be leased for $350 per month; the LEAF for $349. If you buy, you can save over $8,000 with the LEAF which starts at $32,780; the Volt, $41,000. Buyers can benefit from a $7,500 federal tax credit, and tax credits in many states, the result of growing concerns about a nation damaged from oil spills, health problems, and energy security. Currently 95 percent of U.S. transportation is fueled by oil that is refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

I would buy the Volt if I were still in previous position at Sun Microsystems covering several states. The Volt’s 40-mile electric range would be perfect for most days, and the plug-in hybrid would allow me to travel hundreds of miles when necessary, filling-up at the nearest gas station.
Now, however, the LEAF is a great fit for my wife and me. The LEAF’s 100 mile electric range exceeds our 40 mile range need. Living in a city, we are also two blocks from transit which connects to rail, and we are two blocks from car sharing. We are planning to save the $8,000 and buy the LEAF.

Both the Volt and LEAF will meet all the needs of millions as their sole car, and millions more as a second car in 2-car households. Both are roomy compacts, seating 4 and 5 in comfort. Both have backseats that can drop for comfort. Both offer the latest in safety, navigation, smart apps, and entertainment.

The best electric car choice depends on your needs. Investigate each and look for upcoming auto shows and tours in your city.

Top 10 Electric Car Makers

By John Addison, Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker. (c) Copyright John Addison. Permission to repost up to a 200 word summary if a link is included to the original article at Clean Fleet Report.