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Al Gore opens FEX SIM launch – dedicated cleantech stock market

by Nick Bruse

Yesturday I had the pleasure of being present when Al Gore opened the new FEX-SIM sustainability and cleantech stock exchange in Sydney. Here’s a wrap up.

The exchange is the creation of Brian Price, whom I interviewed recently on the cleantech show during which we discussed the FEX-SIM in detail. You can listen to the show here if you didn’t catch it earlier.

The launch has been covered in a AAP news article to a degree particularly about the FEX-SIM, if you want a few more details at a glance the FEX website has a press release.

Much of what Mr Gore had to say was about the worlds past experiences and success in dealing with the global problem of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and ozone layer depletion, a future where in 25 years we may no longer have an artic sea ice in summer, and the near future and how select countries and companies are showing the way by moving quickly to deal with climate change.

He highlighted that both in Australia and in the US we are seeing significant movement amongst the state legislators and governments in driving emissions reduction targets and signing onto the Kyoto protocol limits at a state and city level. In the US he stated that 600 cities and 12 states are in the process of have done this already. In Australia state governments have moved quickly also to push an emissions trading and reduction goals.

In fact he went so far as to say that activities and the speed of change in industry, investment and policy in Australia may well allow it to regain a leadership position in this issue if it continues on this path.

He highlighted during question time that we do face significant challenges when it comes to issues of nuclear proliferation based around nuclear energy as a solution to climate problems. He highlighted that historically all cases where nuclear material has found its way into weapons program in countries have been found to be associated with nuclear energy programs.

An innocent question was asked by a young 10 year old student, there as a result of winning a school competition, which was “If you were elected to be the president of the united states in 2008, what would you do to deal with climate change.”

Mr Gore’s response was “Bless your heart” with a lot of laughter in the room, followed by, “I’m not running for president… but… if I was in that situation I would look at abolishing employment taxes and instead place taxes on pollution.” He said it was ridiculous that we live in a world where we are happy to penalise employment but not penalise pollution [including emissions]

I had the opportunity to pose a question myself, and asked Mr Gore if over the last year since he was in Australia had he come up with a dinner party ‘Zinger’ response sceptics of climate change, as posed by Andrew Denton in an interview on Enough Rope in September 2006, given we still need to move more quickly.

His response was no he didn’t have the zinger yet to convince climate sceptics but said that the challenge with climate change is “This this change is hard… really hard.. in fact its at the limits of what we as a society can do.” He went on to say that for laggards and sceptics at this stage of the process, we must lead by example, help bring them along, as the world is changing under their feet and its tough.

I’ll leave you with the quote from the end of his presentation, an old African quote, which sums up our future pretty well.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” The problem Al Gore highlighted is that we need to go quickly and far, so we must devote ourselves close to completely to this challenge.

If you want to catch the first 5 mins of his 20 minute presentation you can catch it on the FEX website

Cheers
Nick

Article posted from The Cleantech Show


Nick Bruse is runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts The Cleantech Show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

In the real world, solar often gets barely a passing grade

I’m a big fan of solar power. But as with anything, I like to know exactly what I’m getting. One of the big unspoken issues in the solar sector is the difference between the rated or estimated potential output of a solar system–and the actual production of kilowatt-hours. A range of factors from the margin of error in the modules, to temperature, dust and losses from wiring, conversion to AC power and any batteries all can contribute to as much as 30 percent lower actual power production–even in the first year.

Compounding this problem in my mind is that in California only about a third to half of our solar installations are actually independently monitored, according to one of my friends at Fat Spaniel, one of the leading monitors of solar systems.

The California Energy Commission did some good thumbnail analysis of solar in the real world several years ago.

Here’s the punch line from their analysis:

“So the ‘100-watt module’ output, reduced by production tolerance, heat, dust, wiring, AC conversion and other losses will translate into about 68 watts of AC power delivered to the house panel during the middle of a clear day (100 watts x 0.95 x 0.89 x 0.93 x 0.95 x 0.90 = 68 watts).” From A Guide to Photovoltaic System Design and Installation (PDF) by the California Energy Commission. If you are interested in solar, you need to read their report.

But this 68 watts is only part of the story. If you have battery storage on the system they say it could reduce the power another 6-10 percent. They then stated that poor installation layout problems–including shading can take an additional toll. Another big issue is the angle of the roof and the direction it faces (in California, where your roof faces can affect the power output up to another 15 percent for many roofs). And interesting enough, for all the talk about making windows out of solar in what is typically described as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), a vertical installation can reduce the power output up to about half all by itself!

Their bottom line: if the system is perfectly installed under perfect conditions the best case scenario for San Francisco would be 1,724 kwh, or electricity per year for each kilowatt installed and for Los Angeles would be about 1,758. But that’s before all the “real-world” adjustments. When you make all those real-world adjustments–take another 25-30 percent or more off the top, even for a well designed system. This fits with our best San Francisco benchmark, our major 675 kW rooftop solar facility in the San Francisco at Moscone Center, which produces around 1,200 kilowatt-hours per year per rated kilowatt installed.

So when it comes to solar, let’s make the right choice for solar power, but make it with our eyes open to the real world.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Reflections on Energy Policy

by Richard T. Stuebi

At the beginning of my career in the mid-1980’s, I participated in numerous economic analyses pertaining to the “acid rain” debates that were then raging in DC. This work ultimately culminated in the implementation of Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which included a cap-and-trade program on sulfur dioxide emissions. This program was among the first environmental policies to employ a market-based (rather than command-and-control) approach, and its widely-appreciated success has set the stage for the cap-and-trade programs now being considered for greenhouse gas emissions.

It was rewarding to know that I was part of an effort that had real impact in creating effective policy, but it was also incredibly draining and tiring — an emotional roller-coaster of optimism, disappointment and frustration. Correspondingly, I stepped out of the policy fray entirely, focusing the next 15 years of my career squarely on the private sector in an effort to achieve positive impact (and perhaps make a little money too) in the energy industry through the forces of thoughtful capitalism. I had had enough of the political arena.

Alas, flash forward to the mid-2000’s, and now I’m working again in energy policy, this time at the state (Ohio) level. The challenge today is to secure the adoption of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Ohio, and it looks like the pro-RPS forces are making decent progress.

In late August, Governor Strickland released a comprehensive energy plan that includes an RPS, along with his proposed approach for cleaning up the messes created by Ohio’s flawed “deregulation” initiative back in 1999. Opponents of an RPS — primarily manufacturing/industrial concerns and (of course) electric utilities — have argued that RPS policy is “social crap”, which can be put off to another day so that everyone can focus on the electricity restructuring issues. The Strickland Administration forcefully insists that the two issues cannot be separated and must be dealt with holistically. This is fortunate, and wise, because bundling the two issues creates better negotiating leverage with the utilities and ensures more prompt attention to RPS.

Several RPS bills are in the pipeline. One was introduced last week by Representative Skindell (HB 313), another is in the works by Representative McGregor, and other bills will be released soon in both the Senate and the House to reflect the Governor’s proposal. Over the summer, I have spent considerable time with lawmakers and thought-leaders in Columbus to educate them on the RPS issue, and its importance in attracting/building an advanced energy industry in Ohio to create jobs and revitalize our struggling economy.

Anti-RPS parties argue that an RPS will raise electricity prices, that Ohio doesn’t have enough renewables to supply an RPS, and that renewables will make the grid more unreliable. A recently released study commissioned by The Cleveland Foundation found that an RPS in Ohio like the one next-door in Pennsylvania would have minimal impact on electricity prices — virtually no impact if Federal carbon legislation is implemented sometime in the next several years anyway. The other two concerns about an RPS are also refutable.

But, many opponents of an RPS are hard-headed, and some fall back on the weakest of threads: ideology. To them, it is abhorrent to contemplate the addition of mandates to the energy supply mix.

A conversation I had last week with an Ohio Representative was illuminating. This person, who I’ll leave anonymous, felt that renewables would come into the market once that their economics were competitive with conventional energy, which would be coming without government intervention sometime in the next 10 years anyway, so why force it?

To this legislator, the “free market” was paramount — never mind that we don’t have a free market for energy today — and he was only secure in the cozy bed of his pre-set beliefs. The legislator didn’t seem to understand (actually, didn’t want to listen) that many of the basic precepts for perfect competition weren’t in place: all participants in the market don’t have perfect information, and there are players in the market that do have market power. Either the Representative was satisifed with unregulated monopolistic behavior, or didn’t realize that it wasn’t just the private sector that needed to be competitive but the public sector as well.

You see, 25 (or 26 or 27, I can’t keep track) other states already have an RPS. The renewable industry is amassing in these states, largely bypassing Ohio. And, indeed, it’s not just competition between the states, but between countries. Ontario across Lake Erie has compelling renewable energy policy, and of course European countries far lead the list. Ohio is behind in capturing the renewable energy industry opportunity. If Ohio doesn’t want to capture that opportunity, we’re doing a good job.

I’ve come to conclude that, more than energy policy or environmental policy, RPS is industrial policy — and the U.S. just doesn’t do industrial policy very well. We’ve never needed to. We’re America: we have the most natural resources, the most talent, the biggest/free-est markets. Our country has always been ascendant. Well, I’m not so sure anymore.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. dominated the world scene in every respect. But in the past few decades, communism fell, Europe has rebounded from WWII, and the Asian economies have become tigers. While American entrepreneurs focused on high-tech opportunities, the U.S. let the industrial manufacturing sector largely slip away elsewhere. The rank-and-file has become an economy of Wal-Mart greeters: low wage employees selling low price products to customers who can’t afford high price products because of their low wage jobs.

I also see a significant difference between the mid-2000’s and the mid-1980’s in regards to policy: the rise of ideology and demonisation of the “other side”. It used to be that the pros and cons, the costs and benefits, of alternative policies were evaluated by both Democrats and Republicans with at least a modicum of objectivity. Now, dogma rules the day. Issues are labelled as “D” or “R”, not to be entertained (much less endorsed) by the other side.

As citizens, we must hold our politicians accountable to work together, to not be so closed-minded, to advance the true public interests (not to special interests of just a few wealthy constituencies). The urgency of the energy issues demands no less.

Lastly, I stand chagrined at the difference between Ohio and a state like California. Last year in California, the billionaire titans of the high-tech 21st Century economy went to their Governor (Schwartzenegger) to argue that the passage of climate legislation (what became AB32) was essential for their state to capture a significant share of the economic opportunity afforded by the cleantech sector, the biggest industry to arise in the next 50 years. This year in Ohio, the big corporates of the low-tech mid-20th Century — steel companies, industrial manufacturers, et al — are going to their Governor (Strickland) to argue that the passage of a measly RPS will kill our economy.

I am reminded by a quote about Ohio attributed to Mark Twain: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times.” It’s not just Cincinnati — Columbus may be there too.

Richard T. Stuebi is BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the spirit (though not the length) of a back-to-school book report, I dedicate this column to reviewing three energy-related books that I read in the last few weeks as the dog-days of summer wound to a conclusion.

Cape Wind

I first read Cape Wind by Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb, which profiles the eponymous offshore windfarm in Cape Cod, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the mischief that has so far thoroughly stymied its progress.

The story makes just about everyone involved in the local, state and federal political arena look awful – petty, elitist, short-sighted, unprincipled. The list of bad guys is headed prominently by Senator Ted Kennedy (of course) and Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, but less obviously also includes players such as Senator John Warner of Virginia and Congressman Don Young of Alaska. (Alaska! You are absolutely right to ask: “Why Alaska?”) The only person emerging from the story smelling like a rose is Cape Wind’s lead developer, Jim Gordon, who is portrayed as truly heroic.

The book reads quickly and well, and is getting good reviews, even from usually not-so-wind-friendly places like the Wall Street Journal. However, I am concerned that the book comes off a little too much like an in-house PR piece for the developer of the windfarm: I put the book down sincerely questioning the authors’ objectivity. The tale seems so one-sided, it’s hard to believe that it could be really accurate. If it is, our political system is in dire shape, and our prospects for good energy/environmental policy are dim.

The Grid

I most recently finished The Grid by Phillip F. Schewe, a very readable history of the electricity industry. This was the first text I have found that, in less than 300 pages, spans the mad-scientist inventors Edison and Westinghouse and Tesla, through less-known but equally pivotal industry giants such as holding company progenitor Samuel Insull and TVA legend David Lilienthal, into the turbulent days of Enron and deregulation.

The book does a particularly good job reconstructing the 1965 Northeast blackout (not much different from the 2003 version), touring the reader through massive nuclear (Indian Point) and fossil steam (Ravenswood) powerplants, and accompanying a distribution crew on a routine but not-to-be-taken-lightly line repair job in Idaho. Most interestingly, Schewe weaves in contemporary commentary and observations from social critic Lewis Mumford, whose writing excerpts offer an insightful countering perspective questioning the contribution of energy technology to the fundamental advancement of humanity.

The author’s writing style was not to my taste (for reasons that alas I can’t pinpoint), and I think the electricity industry still deserves a more gripping seminal treatment comparable to the gift Daniel Yergin gave us of the oil industry in The Prize, but until then, this will suffice pretty well.

The Long Emergency

In between, I read a thought-provoking but highly disturbing tome entitled The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler. Its premise is not unique: peak oil + climate change = end of the industrial era = return to pre-industrialism. Indeed, one of my recent posts covered this very topic.

However, Kunstler’s writing is incredibly powerful, with pithy snippets about every other line, and some of the directions he explores are truly distinctive. For instance, he argues that mankind’s one-shot exploitation of the non-renewable fossil energy inheritance is but a reflection of the entropy mechanism inherent to our universe (as described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics), and that escalating energy extraction/use only accelerates the rate at which our world winds down.

Kunstler is somewhat hopeful about the ability of the human species to adapt and survive, though not in its current social structures and industries/economies, and not at anywhere near current population levels. And, he is clearly pessimistic about the transition: basically, Kunstler doesn’t think there’s enough time or enough remaining energy to avoid cataclysmic change characterized by mass famine, economic depression, drought, migration, war, etc.

While I appreciate Kunstler’s wisdom and expansive disparate set of knowledge and insight, I’m not totally sold on some of his conclusions. As an example, as long as the amount of solar radiation provides more than enough energy to the Earth’s surface to supply all of mankind’s energy needs (with a few orders of magnitude to spare), I believe there ought to logically be a way to maintain a standard of living similar to what we have now – it will just cost more. I don’t think Kunstler has some of his facts straight, which always causes me to be a little shy about buying everything a writer tries to sell. For certain, Kunstler makes a lot of assertions that are not backed up solidly by facts, therefore exposing his arguments to question.

Unlike Kunstler, I’m somewhat optimistic that the combination of technological innovation and market forces (under a big assumption: that policy allows market forces to work, prices energy appropriately highly, and doesn’t provide incumbents huge protective barriers against the impact of innovation) can allow us to colonize a very attractive future. Kunstler doesn’t seem to incorporate an economic view in his thinking, whereas I believe energy prices with increasing scarcity and the resulting downward force in demand will ameliorate (though not eliminate) the pain of transition. However, I admit that it would require a huge allocation of global economic capacity towards the rapid implementation of a new energy paradigm to completely smooth the transition, and present markets with their pricing signals and investment incentives aren’t making that happen as urgently as it probably should.

Therefore, ultimately, I agree with Kunstler that the ending of the conventional energy age will be extremely painful for many constituencies, who are blindly accelerating into the wall with voracious consumption. I agree that exurbia lifestyles spreading across the U.S., especially across the southern half of our country, will someday be viewed as a cul-de-sac of history, burdening us with enormous social costs due to the massive infrastructure investments that will become untenable. I agree that life will tend to become more localized, less materialistic, simpler.

In summary, I tend to agree with Kunstler on the general direction and trajectory of our collective situation, but he and I do differ in degree regarding the likely pace and magnitude of the impending discontinuities.

All three of the above books get my “thumb’s up”, but if I had to recommend just one, it would be The Last Emergency. Read it and see. Or, actually, read it and think.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

APEC Aftermath – 2 steps forward or 1 step back?

by Nick Bruse

Well, its been a big week here in Australia terms of both international and domestic politics with the ending of the APEC summit and the recent pre-election opinion polls being released today showing a further drop in support for John Howard’s re-election.

The papers here are wrapping up on the outcomes of the APEC summit, and the biggest aspect being reported about is the decisions or lack of specific decisions made around Climate Change.
Those in the community who were wanting specific targets set or caps agreed to had to go home disappointed, and its been quoted that perhaps their expectations where too high for this event.
Ive taken a few of the comments from the press and added my own thoughts to this. Here’s the link to the full Sydney Declaration on Climate Change and Energy

1. Each country has agreed that climate change is a problem and needs to be addressed. This builds momentum before a series of international meetings on climate change being hosted by the US later this month and the next UN climate meeting in Bali in December.

Well its nice to get a stake in the ground…only took 10 years plus of hammering.

2. The declaration sets out tangible responses on protecting forests and improving energy technology. Australia has offered $30m to an Indonesian forestry initiative to prevent deforestation. With the goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020.

Deforestation is probably one of the most critical issues in terms of loss of habitat, because once its gone it takes a significant period to return to its original state. Also with climate change putting pressures on habitats, the removal of migration corridors means that when a habitat changes, species are unable to move which increases the possibility of extinctions.
But are we trying to continue Australia’s historic approach to emissions reduction by advising our neighbours to do the same? My concern here is that Australia has stabilised most of its emissions since 1990 through a reduction in land clearing, not through industry action.

3. We also saw the increasing negotiations regarding the US led global nuclear energy partnership which which aims to expand the safe use of nuclear technology.

What can you say, of course this is going to continue, its all to obvious when Australia has rich supplies in uranium, big business and governments that will benefit from the rewards and you probably need less than a 100 lines of excel spreadsheet to model the economic model. But can you blame a government that sees in the next 20 years the cost of providing healthcare to an aging population, paying for infrastructure and and keeping those budget surpluses do anything different?

4. Other positives were that the goals are to reduce energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030 from the 2005 level.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but probably no where near enough what is required. Take for instance the built environment. In a recent study by Deacon University in Australia, they determined over a 3 year study that the built environment demands 40-50% of global energy, consumes 40% of non-renewable resources, generates 40% of landfill waste and uses 30% of fresh water reserves. The good news, 33% of energy related CO2 emissions are generated by energy use, 29% of that can be cut by existing tech by 2020 (new scientist August) . So there’s a 10% reduction right there, by 2020, and most of these initiatives can be done with paybacks of around 2-5 years.

I was recently down in Launceston, Tasmania, presenting at the Australian Direct Property Group with my colleagues from Thinc Projects on achieving sustainability in the property industry. Most of the activity in the sector around green building is not being driven by the government, but by business now wanting to be seen as being green, and investors and tenants driving the process. So lets hope that government in the coming months can step up to the plate more with assistance and stronger policy in this area.

In all of this, and its outside the scope of today’s blog but its probably worthwhile to step through if you have some time and do your own checking of the declaration against the stabilisation wedges and see what progress is being made. See if you can map out how far we have managed to get from these talks towards the required solutions.


Nick Bruse is runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts The Cleantech Show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Is Microsoft Vista Global Warming Friendly?

Is Microsoft Vista global warming friendly? Could Vista be the best selling cleantech product in the world? I was thinking about this question the other day, and started emailing the Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) press relations folks looking for an answer.

The Microsoft answer – yes it is. They have a recent release entitled “Windows Vista Power Management Features Can Help UK Companies Reduce Their Carbon Footprint” on some independent research they had done by PC Pro Labs in the UK.

Here’s their quote:

“Windows Vista is Microsoft’s most energy efficient operating system to date with its power management system, functionality, reliability and default settings focused on helping to reduce overall PC energy consumption. The key areas where the Sleep mode in Windows Vista has been improved compared to the equivalent Standby mode in Windows XP include:

• Enter Sleep mode after being inactive for 60 minutes
• In Windows Vista, it is much easier for users to change the power management settings themselves
• The Sleep mode is more reliable than Windows XP’s Standby mode, both in terms of entering the mode and safely resuming back into Windows
• Windows Vista is much quicker at resuming from Sleep, now taking two to three seconds compared to five seconds for Windows XP”

They also published a whitepaper entitled “Windows Vista Energy Conservation“. Reading through it all, Vista does seem to be an energy efficiency masterpiece.

But I wonder – the description of these tests seemed to quite fairly compare the XP and Vista operating systems running through a series of different scenarios – but it’s not a survey of real world conditions.

So I’m probably convinced that if you run the same computer post-Vista the exact same way you ran it on XP, that you’d use less power. Vista itself may actually BE the best selling cleantech product in the world. But in the real world, we don’t work that way. Each year we add a whole lot of new features and programs that suck down power, and buy more powerful PCs to run them on with every upgrade. And part of the promise of Vista is to enable even more such goodies – possibly offsetting the energy savings.

So are Windows users who have upgraded to Vista running the same programs in the same way, and the same (or more energy efficient PCs) and therefore using less power? Or are they actually using more or different features, or on a more powerful energy hog PC, and despite Microsoft’s energy efficiency efforts, using more power on a daily basis anyway after the upgrade? That might not be something Microsoft could control – but I’m sure curious as to the answer from a carbon standpoint.

As a matter of full disclosure, I run XP at the office, Vista at home, own a small amount of Microsoft stock (and am a very big fan) and have a very bad habit of leaving my computer and monitor on – but I’m working on that.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Green Energy TV

by Richard T. Stuebi

Jim Cossler runs the Youngstown Business Incubator, in Youngstown Ohio. Actually, “runs” really isn’t the right word. His business card lists him as “Chief Evangelist”, and that’s actually closer to the mark. You’ll see that the title fits, based on an email that Jim sent me the other day, which I’ve excerpted below.

“I need to create the perfect virtual storm for GreenEnergyTV over the next week or so. GreenEnergyTV will eventually be the “everything” of the green movement. The site is Beta at the moment, and far from fully built, but its ultimate functionality is going to be enormous for those of us interested in a “greener” world. And if things roll out as planned, the site is going to make Youngstown the center of the green movement worldwide. Heady stuff, I know. But, I’m serious. I need your personal help in driving eyeballs to the site. It’s already getting over 70,000 unique visitors from around the globe each month while still in Beta and far from finished. It’s critical, however, to make that number explode. Tell every one you know about it. Tell them to tell their friends about. Post links to it. Bookmark it. Spread this thing around the world and do the planet a favor at the same time.”

OK, Jim, I’ve done my part.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Building Green & Windy Texas

by Frank Ling

Efficient Buildings

Energy efficiency is touted by many experts as the least cost approach for lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from building use. A survey released by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development shows that builders often overstate the of costs of implementing these energy saving measures.

Joel Makower at Two Steps Forward writes that:

“…key players in real estate and construction overstate the extra costs of green buildings by some 300 percent, ‘creating a major barrier to more energy efficiency in the building sector.'”

Although there are many stakeholders involved in any building, the survey also concludes that

“…financiers and developers are the biggest barriers to more sustainable approaches in the building value chain.”

Texas blows over California

While California has the reputation of being the greenest, bluest state in the country, it is the red state of Texas that gets more energy from wind than from any other state.

Robert Rapier writes in R-squared:

“Last year, for the first time ever, an industry association reported that Texas surpassed California as the country’s No. 1 generator of wind energy. Not only did the Lone Star State blow past the Golden State again in this year’s report, but Texas regulators in July voted to designate eight zones for production of about 20,000 megawatts of wind energy. “

Furthermore, Texas’ lead is expected to increase.

I wonder if Chuck Norris has anything to do with this? 🙂

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

10,000 Miles per Gallon

By John Addison (8/28/07). The Loire Valley in France brings images of magnificent castles, breathtaking landscape, superb wine, and driving 10,705 miles per gallon (3,789 km/l). A team of students at the La Joliverie in Loire won the 2003 Shell Eco-Marathon race with this remarkable fuel economy. Yes, you read that right – over 10,000 mpg and the fuel was gasoline. It was not an electric vehicle. It was not even a hybrid. The vehicle was shaped for minimal wind resistance.

The vehicle was also built with new materials that are lighter, stronger, and available in some new models now in car showrooms. When you buy your next vehicle, you can get 40 miles per gallon (mpg), not 14 mpg, by selecting a vehicle that is lighter and more aerodynamic. Some people want you to think that you need to wait years before you can get a car with great mileage. This is not true. You can get over 40 miles per gallon today. You do not need to wait for future technologies.

By going on an energy diet we can have healthy cities, be energy independent, and stop global warming. This can be done with modest annual improvements. We could cut vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by improving mileage 4% annually for 22 years.

We have one global trend towards fuel and energy efficiency and a more powerful force towards increased consumption. Our future depends on fuel and energy efficiency being the winner. Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have looked at the numbers in detail. They calculate that moving our typical car with its internal combustion engine wastes over 90% of the energy content in the gasoline used. 90% is wasted moving the vehicle and driver. What if we look at the energy efficiency of just moving the driver? 99% waste! Only one percent of the energy in the gasoline is actually used to move the person.

Americans spend an extra $3 billion on fuel because vehicles are heavier than they were in 1960. The world’s drivers consume an extra 39 million gallons each year for each pound of added vehicle weight.

Cars need to go on a diet. SUVs need a crash diet. A light weight auto requires a lighter engine and powertrain, which in turn requires less fuel weight. To achieve more miles per gallon carry less weight. If you use a big SUV like the GM Envoy XL, your official EPA mileage is 15/19. Your mileage may vary (as in worse). If you use a much lighter GM Chevrolet Cobalt M-5, your EPA mileage is an improved 25/34. Vehicles can be better designed. Minor reductions in weight and drag, can improve mileage 14 to 53% and only raise prices by $168 to $217. Winning the Oil Endgame

In Europe, the Renault Clio uses recycled plastic for 10 percent of the total vehicle weight. Recycling helps the environment. Use of plastic reduces weight and improves fuel economy. The VW Lupo 3L TDI achieves 78 miles per gallon. The VW is small, lightweight, and uses an efficient diesel engine.

A new study determines that the amount of aluminum used in new European cars has risen from 50 kg in 1990 to 132 kg in 2005 and is predicted to grow by another 25 kg by 2010. The two million tons of aluminum components were put in European cars saved one billion liters of fuel annually and 40 million tons of CO2 emissions over the lifespan of the vehicles.

No more heavy metal. Your car is probably made with steel. Aluminum makes vehicles lighter. Market leader Toyota bought 5.9% of Izuzu so that Toyota could make better use of aluminum. In 2012, a joint venture between Toyota and Izuzu will start producing a new light-weight aluminum engine. Green Car Congress

Carbon fiber makes vehicles even lighter. Carbon fiber requires half the weight and gives better protection. My bicycle is carbon fiber, making it easier to get up hills. My golf clubs using carbon fiber; unfortunately, nothing can help my golf game.

The Toyota Prius is more aerodynamic than a Chevrolet Corvette. Last week I met with Prius drivers that are getting 60 mpg in real driving conditions. In addition to being aerodynamic, the Prius uses low rolling resistance tires. You can even improve mileage with your current vehicle by keeping the tires fully inflated, thereby lowering rolling resistance and increasing mileage.

Does your family or household own more than one vehicle? If so, use most often the vehicle that consumes the least gas. It is a no-brainer. That is your main car. My wife and I share the high mileage hybrid. It puts on the most miles. The other sedan, which still gets good mileage, is used only on days when we both have destinations in opposite directions. For the most part, it is a back-up car that stays parked in the garage.

When you buy a new car select one that gets at least 40 miles per gallon (or get an electric vehicle). Most likely the high mileage car will be aerodynamic, lighter, safer, and use low rolling resistance tires.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution.

LIPA-Suction: A Shift in the Future of U.S. Offshore Wind

by Richard T. Stuebi

This past week, it was reported (for instance, see article in Newsday) that the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), or at least its Chairman Kevin Law, was in favor of pulling the plug on the 140 megawatt wind project being developed just south of Jones Beach by FPL Energy, a subsidiary of FPL Group (NYSE: FPL). This development came in the wake of a report by Pace Global Energy Services commissioned by LIPA on the potential economics of the proposed offshore project.

Meanwhile, here in Cleveland, the Great Lakes Regional Energy Development Task Force continues in the opposite direction, committed to exploring the potential for offshore wind in Lake Erie. As reported in an article in The Plain-Dealer, the Task Force announced that it will begin negotiating a contract with a project team, led by the wind developer juwi international, to conduct a feasibility study for an offshore wind research center to include a small (5-20 megawatt) demonstration project.

Why is Long Island going one way and Cleveland going the other? On Long Island, the offshore wind project was solely about economics, as the region needed more low-cost kilowatt-hours. When it appeared that the costs of the offshore wind project were going to be higher than expected, LIPA got cold feet.

In contrast, Cleveland knows that a small offshore wind project will NOT be an economic way to generate electricity. There aren’t enough economies of scale in offshore wind to make it economic today in most places in the U.S., and especially in the Midwest, no matter how much the project is expanded. Because there’s no point in making a huge offshore project, Cleveland is aiming for a project just big enough to matter in addressing the real needs of the future of offshore windfarms.

Cleveland wants to tackle offshore wind so that it can identify — and then overcome — the technological challenges and institutional barriers that make offshore wind so expensive today. By overcoming the factors that make offshore wind currently uneconomic, Cleveland seeks to become a leading center of offshore wind R&D. In subsequent years, when offshore wind does become economic (as offshore wind technology improves, the best onshore wind sites are exploited, and conventional energy costs further increase), this can lead Cleveland to becoming a major hub of offshore wind manufacturing and services for the Great Lakes and possibly beyond.

In short, Cleveland aims to build an offshore wind support/deployment industry in the decades to come, just like the offshore oil/gas industries that have bloomed in Houston and New Orleans when they led the way in tackling the challenges of offshore E&P in the Gulf of Mexico a few decades ago. The offshore wind effort in Cleveland is thus an economic development initiative, not an economic power generation project.

With Long Island’s retrenchment, and the continuing travails in Cape Cod related to the Cape Wind project, Cleveland can step in to fill the leadership vacuum in offshore wind. It takes guts to be a contrarian, but that’s where the biggest rewards lie. It’s not going to be easy, but in Cleveland, most people recognize that easy answers aren’t adequate to bring the region back to economic health.

Given their favorable situations, Long Island and Cape Cod can probably afford to be cautious, prudent, skeptical. Given the economic challenges here, leaders in Cleveland know that boldness is required. So, pending the results of the team’s feasibility study, ahoy to offshore wind.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Market demand for green buildings – no less than 5 star

by Nick Bruse

Currently I’m doing quite a bit of work in the Green Building Industry and we are currently seeing a very rapid transformation in the thinking of leading developers around green building development.

In today’s ‘The Age’ one of Australia’s major newspapers we have Daniel Grollo, one of the high profile developers in Australia, admitting to the market that 2 years ago he was wrong in only shooting for a 4 star Green Building Rating (6 currently the highest) on a number of developments. The demand from tenants has sky rocketed recently, and luckily design consultants advised him to go for one star higher. While this cost the company more, had they not done so they would have delivered an obsolete building.

Next week I will be heading down to Tasmania to moderate a panel session of the ADPIA (Australian Direct Property Investment Association) dealing with sustainability and green building development. Through my work with my current client who advises property developers and project manages construction projects, the biggest issue clients are stating is “How do I achieve sustainability in my property portfolio or asset effectively?”

Whilst the technologies to achieve significant reductions in energy use, water consumption and waste production, and the tenant market in Australia is demanding green star rated buildings, there is still a lot of uncertainty in developers of how to actually transition their portfolios. Quantifying the returns, choosing between alternative solutions, even choosing a service provider is challenging in this space.

That said, the expectation is that there is unlikely to be any new major developments in Australia now with a green star rating of less than 5. Water pressures is one thing driving this issue, but for the most part, major tenants are willing to pay more for a green star rated office in Australia, because it offers them better productivity, better employee attraction and retention and lowers their overall costs.

For more information on the Australian Green Star Building Rating you can go to www.gbcaus.org you can find the background articles on Daniel Grollo’s comments here ( 1 and 2 )


Nick Bruse runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts the cleantech show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Honeymooning in Costa Rica – The Home of Carbon Neutrality

I’m taking this week off for my honeymoon in Costa Rica. I think it’s quite an appropriate place to take a honeymoon if you work in the effort to fight global warming – as I’ve stated before, we are working on a venture to use software to cut the cost and increase the transparency of carbon offsets.

Among its initiatives to drive its ecotourism and lead the world – Costa Rica is working to become the first carbon neutral nation.

I had a chance to listen recently to a presentation by Bob Epstein, the founder of E2, which is connected with the National Resources Defense Council – on Costa Rica’s efforts. By the way, if you are an executive seriously interested in the enviroment – joining E2 should be a priority.

The NRDC and E2 have also done some work laying out how that path to carbon neutrality would look. Their core arguments and primary recommendations are fascinating when you think of applying the concept of carbon neutrality on a national scale beyond a small case study like Costa Rica.

Beyond the continued reforestation which makes up a significant reduction in Costa Rica’s greenhouse gas footprint, The NRDC proposal emphasized four areas of needed progress:

  • “Increasing energy efficiency
  • Raising fuel economy and promoting plug-in hybrids
  • Encouraging productions of biofuels and biomass for electricity
  • Improving public transport”

The press release and full report is available here.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Media Buy-outs Going Green

Green and clean media is going through a flurry of activity right now. And while still small as media companies go – just wait.

A few of the notable deals:

  • Just announced yesterday: The Cleantech Group, who popularized the term cleantech as an investment class, acquired Inside Greentech, an emerging media outlet for the green sector, for an undisclosed amount. Both of these businesses are run by friends of mine – and make for a great hook up. We did a blog in July on “Cleantech vs Greentech” that proved to be a bit prescient, it now seems. The inside scoop on this deal from a chat I had with my friend Dallas Kachan, the publisher and founder of Inside Greentech “Inside Greentech is already the most widely-read trade publication covering daily business and technology developments in cleantech. As Cleantech.com, we will become the highest profile, go-to media platform for cleantech-related developments.”
  • Leading green blog portal Treehugger was acquired by Discovery Channel just a few weeks ago. The deal metrics were rumored to be a $10 mm purchase price for a 1.4 mm hit/month site. This deal got a tremendous amount of press – and helps anchor the feeling that mainstream media deals and cleantech title launches are not far away.
  • Lightspeed Ventures and Northpoint Private Equity recently backed the launch of Greentech Media, including the acquisition of the cleantech focused Venture Power Newsletter – popular in the venture capital sector.
  • And while I can’t say who, there are a couple of other big names in the sector with deals in the works.

Before Dallas Kachan and I finished our chat, I asked him what we should expect from all of this – his short answer was that as the cleantech sector continues to explode the big media names are going to take notice.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

PG&E’s Clean Fleet and Visionary Future

By John Addison (8/21/07). Years ago, you only had one choice for your telephone service – AT&T. Now you have a variety of choices from landline, wireless, cable, and Internet providers. Years ago, gasoline was your only fuel choice. Now you have a number of fuel and electric choices. In the future, your favorite provider may be your electric and gas utility.

PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – (NYSE: PCG) provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase its services as we continue the shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion and alternate fuels.

When I met with a number of PG&E managers, Sven Thesen traveled from his Palo Alto home via bicycle and train, leaving his personal plug-in hybrid at home. Another traveled from his Alameda home via bicycle and ferry. Others used low-emission CNG and hybrid vehicles. The people managing PG&E’s clean transportation programs practice what they preach.

This article looks how PG&E runs a clean fleet, new programs for customers, and the exciting future potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Largest CNG Fleet in USA

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,300 natural gas vehicles — the largest of its kind in the United States. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. PG&E also has the largest fleet of Honda (HMC) Civic GX CNG cars.

Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced more than 3.4 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

For any utility, Class 6/7 service trucks often need to idle their large diesel engines for hours in order to run heavy lifts and other equipment. As new lines are installed, customers complain of the vehicle noise keeping them awake at night. The maintenance crew is often forced to stop and start the engine so that they can shout between the ground person and the one in the air. The hybrid truck is especially valuable in neighborhoods with noise restriction laws.

Last week, I reviewed PG&E’s new hybrid service truck which already had over 6,000 miles of operation. Efrain Ornelas demonstrated the heavy lift and other accessories operating electrically with the engine off. In service, the vehicle is reducing diesel fuel use a dramatic 55% through regenerative braking on road, and engine-off electric operation during stationary work. The vehicle even included both 110 and 208V outlets for power tools.

At $3.00 per gallon for fuel, the potential savings ranges from $4,500 to $5,500 a year per vehicle. Each hybrid truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions an estimated two tons per year.

In addition to the dramatic diesel fuel savings, PG&E further reduces petroleum use and emissions by using B20 biodiesel. PG&E is increasing using B20 biodiesel with its entire diesel fleet.

“Hybrid-electric trucks are promising because of their potential to significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuel and help keep California’s air clean,” said Jill Egbert, manager, clean air transportation, PG&E. “We hope our involvement will lead to the accelerated development and mainstream acceptance of hybrids in our industry.”

PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions.

PG&E sees a similar opportunity to save with its Class 5 trouble trucks. For this truck, PG&E partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities to conduct a plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road.

Cleaner Electricity

Some people are concerned that a shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will not reduce global warming. These people point to coal power plants producing electricity that goes into the vehicles. Because electric drive systems are typically 300% more efficient than gasoline engines, major emission reductions are achieved even from coal generated electricity.

PG&E provides much greater benefit, because it is eliminating coal power from its power mix. As a customer, my latest PG&E bill showed a reduction of coal from 38 to 2% of the power mix. In 2007, energy from RPS-eligible renewables is increasing to 12% of the delivered power mix, from 5% in 2005. Natural gas is 43%, nuclear 23%, and large hydroelectric is 17%.

By 2010, 20% of PG&E delivered electricity will be from clean renewable energy. A big part of the increase will be 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world.

PG&E is also expanding its use of wind, geothermal, large solar PV, and biomass energy.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen Stations

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, for its own fleet and more than 200 commercial and private fleets. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets. PG&E Clean Air Transportation Program

In addition, construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is scheduled to begin. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas.

PG&E makes daily use of three Mercedes hydrogen fuel cell (F-Cell) vehicles. A variety of PG&E employees drive the vehicles including, fleet mechanics, inspectors, service planning representatives, project managers and officers.

Vehicle-to-Grid

A compelling idea for the future is to charge electric vehicles at night when electricity is cheap, and then buy the electricity from vehicles during peak hours. Some electric vehicles store enough electricity to power 50 homes. Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G. The Prius included a 9kWh plug-in kit from EnergyCS using Li-Ion batteries. A Sonny Boy power inverter, common in solar power installations, was used.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

With smart grid technology, customers could simply plug-in their vehicles to 110 volt outlets. At idle low-cost hours the vehicle would be timed to recharge. At peak hours, customers could agree to let the utility buy electricity at premium rates. In the future, expensive and polluting stand-by peaking generators could be eliminated with smart grid technology and V2G.

Leading the way to clean electricity and cleaner transportation are corporations like PG&E. In their own fleet they are proving that alt-fuels and electric drive systems can save money and emissions. As the technologies are proven, PG&E gives customers new ways to secure clean fuels and electric power.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

De-Reg Do-Over

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the 1990’s, electricity deregulation was the next big thing. By separating generation and retailing from the natural monopoly wires businesses (transmission and distribution), competition could be spawned in wholesale and retail electricity markets, thereby unleashing long-repressed efficiencies and innovation in the production and sale of electricity products and services. Deregulation had previously produced major benefits in a number of other economic sectors, such as natural gas, telecommunications and airlines — why not electricity?

Seizing on such optimism, a number of states — including California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Ohio — took significant steps to “deregulate” their electricity sectors. I use quotes because, in many of these cases, important regulatory constraints remained in place.

In theory, deregulation ought to have aided the emergence of clean technologies in the electricity sector. Alas, as a general statement, such promising hopes have not come to pass.

Of all the states that implemented deregulation, only Texas, arguably, has achieved some degree of success with their electricity deregulation initiative. For the other states, the results of deregulation have been generally disappointing: a lack of true competition, the potential for collusion, few new entrants, little innovation, and (most visibly) increasing energy prices.

Now, not all of the ails experienced in these states can be traced to bad deregulation. For instance, increasing natural gas prices caused by secular shifts in its supply-demand balance would have inevitably led to higher electricity prices in many states, deregulation or not.

Nevertheless, hindsight is always 20-20, and in the case of electricity deregulation, the failure of deregulation has become pretty clear: many of the approaches that were pursued to create competitive marketplaces were fundamentally flawed.

In the past several years, regulators in many states around the country have been busily working to clean up the messes produced by wayward deregulation efforts. California was the first to attempt electricity deregulation in 1998 — and was the first to try to “stuff the genie back into the bottle” in 2002.

Just a few weeks ago, Illinois has been the latest to reverse course, with a broad electricity reform legislation that combines an aggressive renewable portfolio standard, a significant commitment to energy efficiency, and the creation of a state-run energy procurement authority to obtain competitive generation prices and enable low-cost financing of new generation capacity.

Now the road show (some would say “circus”) associated with deregulation clean-up moves to Ohio.

Ohio passed its deregulation bill in 1999, and for various reasons, it failed to produce any meaningful competition among generation suppliers or among retailers. When natural gas prices soared in 2004, wholesale electricity prices in Ohio also went skyward — even though the costs of Ohio generation didn’t rise materially, given that virtually all generation in Ohio is coal (87%) or nuclear (12%) based — because the neighboring power markets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are generally set by natural gas generation. In short, Ohio customers faced far-higher electricity prices, but no competitive options. Other than Ohio’s utilities, who now operated unregulated monopolies, everyone was highly dissatisfied with deregulation.

Band-aids in the form of “rate stabilization plans” were quickly applied a few years ago, but these plans expire at the end of 2008. Thus, Ohio needs to take another bite at the apple, now, in order to set its post-2008 electricity market rules and structures.

The Strickland Administration is due to release its comprehensive plan for electricity by the end of August. Although under tight wraps, this plan is said to include (among other things) an advanced energy portfolio standard that will create a market for new renewable energy projects in Ohio. Hopefully, the portfolio standard will include a section for increasing energy efficiency requirements as well. In the likelihood of a carbon-constrained world — and given Ohio’s (1) inefficient consumption infrastructure and (2) undiversified generation mix — a portfolio standard seems more than just prudent, but essential.

In the meanwhile, many other parties are offering their proposals for how to move forward. FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) recently filed a proposal with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in which it proposes a rolling set of auctions to acquire a variety of tranches of generation, including renewable energy, to supply its retail customers.

In Ohio, it’s bound to be a busy autumn for electricity regulation. Stay tuned. And, in support of cleantech, keep your fingers crossed that Ohio finally gets a portfolio standard, which 25 other states already have. If Ohio moves promptly, it still has a chance of being 3rd quartile!

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Flash, Reforestation, ED

by Frank Ling

Memory Revolution

Here’s another example of nanotechnology contributing to energy efficiency. Through improved ability to manufacture memory, flash is starting to replace traditional hard drive applications.

Hank Green at EcoGeek writes:

“There’s a lot of reasons to herald the dawn of flash-based hard drives. They’re faster, smaller, silent and, of course, tremendously more energy efficient. The difference between a traditional hard drive and a flash drive is roughly the difference between an incandescent light and a compact fluorescent light.”

Still, isn’t the brain the most energy efficient means of storing information or is it DNA?

Forest Better than Biofuels?

Just as biofuels are becoming accepted, more evidence is coming in that their overall effects on emissions and the environment is negative. One recent study shows that reforestation is much more effective at offsetting CO2 than biofuel production.

Jeremy Elton Jacquot writes in Treehuggger:

“Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust and Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds estimhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifated that the initial cutting down of forests to plant more food crops, like corn and sugarcane, would release as much as 100 – 200 tons of carbon per hectare. “

Endocrine Disruption

Back when I was a chemist, I used to play around with exotic compounds like phthalates, which are used in plastics and cosmetics. Though touted as safe in commercial products, they are also recognized as being absorbed into humans, causing endocrine disruptions.

In this week’s Gristmill, Theo Colborn writes:

“Endocrine disruption should be right at the top of the list of most critical technological disasters facing the world today, up with climate change. With little notice, vast volumes and combinations of synthetic chemicals have settled in every environment in the world, including the womb environment.”

No more sniffing chemicals for me! 🙂

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Rising Solar Prices – Where is the Shakeout?

18 months ago I did an article on rising solar prices threatening the industry, and I think it’s time to revisit some of those thoughts.

“One of the most disturbing things about the solar industry, the rising star of cleantech, has been its recent rising prices. According to the SolarBuzz.com survey, module prices are up close to 7% in the US this last year, after years of falling.

The main culprits according to most solar watchers are a combination of:

  • High demand driven in large part by the US state and German subsidy programs
  • Tight supply on module capacity
  • Tight supply on silicon capacity

The first issue here is that rising solar module prices threaten the viability of the industry, at a time when it is gaining momentum and trying to reach critical mass. Worse, almost every manufacturer of solar modules is increasing capacity trying to take advantage of the industry growth. As a result, we think the industry may be in for a rude awakening if that capacity increase begins to outstrip demand, or if key subsidy programs underpinning growth falter for political reasons.

The businesses most at risk are the young technology developers, who are spending significant equity dollars on technology development and building to a critical manufacturing and sales base. These are the businesses that the VC community is funding at a tremendous rate. These aren’t businesses that are throwing off tremendous amounts of cashflow to weather a storm.

One concern, if the market does turn down, the major Japanese, European, and oil company solar manufacturers are likely to lower prices to keep their factories full, and really hurt the smaller businesses. Keep in mind, if you launched a solar business 5-10 years ago, reaching a 20 MW plant would put you in the top 20 manufacturers. With that same launch today, looking ahead five years to when your technology is commercialized, you will have to hit perhaps 50-100 MW of capacity to be an elite player. That’s a big difference that I don’t think the investment community has understood yet. “

I thought now was a good time to rethink some of those conclusions, given all the recent news in the solar energy sector, and add a few new thoughts:

  • I still believe a silicon price reversion to the mean is coming, and a shakeout with it whose winners are the lowest cost and highest capacity providers.
  • Young technology developers are still the most at risk from this.
  • We have since written about Applied Material’s (NYSE:AMAT) entry into solar and the potential for the double junction tandem cells – which are really hybrid thin film/advanced silicon cells. I think this technology, along with dramatically increased industry capacity, and First Solar’s low cost advance into the sector, is moving the bar for new entrants.
  • So perhaps I was off on my expected timing. And perhaps a coming shakeout will be even more drastic. Or maybe I’m dead wrong and the whole industry will keep growing with no business cycles to worry about. You decide what you want to believe.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

When it Comes to Solar – Lest We Forget

I saw a news article recently on the space walk to do repair and relocation on solar photovoltaic array on the International Space Station.
It reminded me to keep in perspective a bit of energy history. The US basically invented the solar industry to help power the space race. And the industry grew out of that to become a possible solution in the first energy crisis (though still way too early and way too expensive at the time). And we helped keep the industry alive post energy crisis with our off grid market and federal R&D funding.
Now that costs have fallen precipitously, and a wide range of major companies from Sharp and BP to Applied Materials and IBM are in the business to drive costs to the magical grid parity (Cleantech Blog has blogged about this numerous times), it is disappointing to see that the US leadership has fallen victim to stronger government support in newer national entrants like Japan and Germany (which combined have a solar market some 7x larger than ours) who major subsidy programs in place roughly 15 and 5 years ago respectively.

I think it is fair to say that we are not going to regain our leadership in the crystalline silicon end of the business, though perhaps we can make a dent. So perhaps we must look to the growth of thin film technology for our leadership. But there are bright spots on that front.
  • First Solar – Far and away the market leader on size and cost in thin film today with Cadmium Telluride based technology. Location: Arizona/Ohio
  • Energy Conversion Devices – Long-time market leader in flexible thin film amorphous silicon. Location: Michigan
  • Applied Materials – Massive market share in equipment for hybrid thin film/silicon tandem cells which could hammer the crystalline PV business when they hit the market over the next few years. Location: Silicon Valley/Germany and beyond.
  • Silicon Valley – Hundreds of millions of venture capital investment is pumping in to back amorphous silicon and CIGS technology start ups. Some of them will crack the nut, too.
As usual, when it comes to new technologies and reinventing business – we’ll be leading the way. Let’s not give it up this time.
Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Lithium Battery Delays and Advancements

By John Addison (8/13/07). Toyota Prius enthusiasts may now be forced to wait until 2011 to order a Prius with lithium batteries. It was hoped that the shift to these batteries would give hybrids better miles per gallon and accelerate the availability of a plug-in hybrid sold and warrantied by a major auto maker.

There could be several reasons for the delay. One is that lithium batteries continue to be more expensive than the nickel metal hydride batteries that Toyota now uses. Another is concern about bad press from even a single incident of a thermal runaway. Apparently Toyota in its JV with Panasonic is developing lithium cobalt oxide battery chemistry. A similar chemistry caused some Sony laptops to catch fire.

Warranty requirements of 150,000 miles are a big hurdle, especially in a plug-in hybrid which makes far greater demands on the battery stack than a conventional hybrid.

Toyota (TM) did provide significant encouragement with the announcement that it is demonstrating ten plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and plans to follow with commercial sales. The new Toyota with its NiMH battery pack and has an all-electric range of only 13 kilometers (8 miles) and a maximum speed of only 100 km/h (62 mph) in electric-only mode. Green Car Congress

Eight of the new Toyota PHEV will be demonstrated in Japan. Two will be demonstrated in California, which may currently be the world’s biggest market for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and freeway speed electric vehicles. California ZEV Program

Toyota’s delays with lithium batteries give General Motors the opportunity to be first. GM plans to sell a 2010 model year Saturn VUE Green Line plug-in hybrid. GM is evaluating using the A123Systems’ nanophosphate batteries.

General Motors and A123Systems will co-develop cells with A123Systems’ nanophosphate battery chemistry for use in GM’s electric drive E-Flex system. The first car likely to use the E-Flex drive system is the Chevy Volt.

A123Systems has received venture capital investment exceeding $100 million. It has demonstrated volume manufacturing success in making over 10 million lithium nanophosphate batteries annually for Black and Decker power tools and other customer applications.

A123 has developed two Automotive Class Lithium Ion cells, the ultra high power AHR32113M1Ultra and the more energy dense AHR32157M1HD. These two cells, designed for HEV and PHEV applications offer extremely low cost per Watt and Watt-hour, respectively.

The AHR32113 uses the new Ultra electrode design, offering yet higher power over that seen in the traditional 26650M1. Alternatively, the 32157 uses a more energy dense electrode, geared for the higher energy requirements of the PHEV marketplace, while not sacrificing the power capability needed for charge-sustaining operation. A123 Battery Details

Altair Nanotechnologies (ALTI) claims double the power density of A123. At the start of the year, Altair issued the following: “On January 9, 2007, we entered into a multi-year purchase and supply agreement with Phoenix for lithium nanoTitanate battery packs to be used in electric vehicles produced by Phoenix. Contemporaneously, Phoenix placed firm purchase orders for 35KWh battery pack systems valued at $1,040,000 to be delivered in March and April of 2007 and placed an indicative blanket purchase order for up to 500 battery pack systems to be delivered during 2007 (projected value between $16 and $42 million).”

Phoenix Motorcars, a private company, announced an order for 200 electric trucks from PG&E, with the first two to be delivered by June. In my recent August meetings at PG&E, I was informed that they had not received the two trucks from Phoenix. Delivery is now expected in January 2008. PG&E stated that there is no order for 200.

During its August 9 investor conference call, Altair announced that Phoenix’s fund raising was not progressing as expected, and that projected 2007 shipments from Altair would not be reached. For Altair, one challenge will be progressing from impressive lab results to low-cost volume manufacturing. Altair lost over $5 million last quarter and only has $20 million in cash left.

The State of New York continues to evaluate converting at least 500 of its hybrids to plug-in hybrids. Electrovaya (TSX: EFL) has delivered a converted Ford Escape SUV Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Electrovaya uses its MN Series Lithium Ion SuperPolymer cells—a lithiated manganese oxide-based system. Electrovaya’s testing indicates 130 mpg for the converted PHEV. Green Car Congress

Recognizing that a 150,000 mile warranty is an obstacle to putting clean PHEV on the road, South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) ordered 30 more plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that are likely to achieve over 100 mpg with 50,000 mile warranties. Ten will be Toyota (TM) Priuses converted to PHEV by A123 Hymotion using A123 lithium batteries. 20 will be Ford (F) Escapes converted to PHEV by Quantum (QTWW) using Advanced Lithium Power batteries. AQMD Award

Tesla gives people the opportunity to drive battery electric vehicles (EV). Unlike the PHEV, the Tesla Roadster does not use a gasoline engine, it is pure electric. The Roadster is hot and pricy, starting at $92,000. In the future, Tesla plans to offer a more affordable 4-door sedan EV named WhiteStar. A secret to making a five-seat sedan electric vehicle for $50,000 will be lowering the cost of the battery stack. While major auto OEMs are betting on new lithium chemistry in larger form factors, Tesla integrates 6,831 commodity 18650-sized lithium-ion cells into the 56 kWh Energy Storage System (ESS) pack. The 18650 size is somewhat larger than an AA battery. The size is popular in a range of consumer electronics. Millions are made in high-volume, low cost manufacturing. Tesla Article

Although the road to clean transportation can be bumpy, in the future, we will have increasingly affordable PHEV and EV choices that allow us to use home and work electric power, saving fuel cost and lowering emissions.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

Goin’ Nucular

by Richard T. Stuebi

It was pouring rain last Wednesday morning, as I entered an office building near Cleveland Hopkins Airport to attend a meeting convened by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) to discuss the future of nuclear energy.

Unlike many of his peers, Senator Voinovich appears to take the issue of climate change seriously. Also unlike many of his peers, he sees an increasing reliance on nuclear energy as essential in meeting the energy and environmental challenges of the future.

The keynote speakers of this 90-minute meeting were Dennis Spurgeon (Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, DOE), Dr. Peter Lyons (Commissioner, NRC) and Adrian Heymer (Sr. Director of New Plant Development, Nuclear Energy Institute). In attendance were representatives of Ohio-based utilities with nuclear fleets AEP (NYSE: AEP) and FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE), as well as major suppliers to the nuclear industry such as locally-based Babcock & Wilcox.

The basic message from the speakers was simple: a lot of nuclear plants must be built in the coming decades, and the U.S. urgently needs to take steps to get out of the way to enable the development of these new plants. The speakers outlined the activities required to revive the industry to bring about this nuclear “renaissance”: Federal loan guarantees (at 100% of debt requirements, not 90%) for new nuclear plants, opening of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage facility, increased training and workforce development to replace retiring nuclear engineers, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), etc.

And, the speakers couldn’t reiterate enough how safety was the paramount concern. This is truly an amazing technology if everyone has to emphasize how steps will be taken to ensure disasters don’t occur. (I am reminded to recall tour of the Clinton nuclear plant in Illinois in the early 1990’s, at which point about 200 of the 1100 site employees — almost 20% of staffing! — were dedicated to security, preventing people from doing the wrong things. I can’t think of another technology that requires so many band-aids to mitigate perverse effects. Hard to imagine any private investor wanting a piece of that cost structure.)

In the open discussion that followed the speakers’ remarks, I had the temerity to question the wisdom of furthering our bet on the uranium-fission cycle as the basic technological platform for nuclear power production in the future.

While I admitted that the current nuclear fleet was an important contributor to the energy mix that we can’t afford to prematurely retire, and I conceded that some new nuclear plants of more-or-less conventional technologies may be necessary as a stop-gap measure for a few years, I also submitted that other fission cycles — certainly including thorium, maybe others as well — ought to be explored much more thoroughly, so as to create the possibility of a new and much better generation of nuclear plants offering more than just incremental improvements.

This is because, in my view, uranium fission suffers from three unavoidable pitfalls:

1. Uranium supplies are hardly infinite themselves, and have a significant concentration in places like Russia that we ought to prefer NOT to rely upon for precious commodities.

2. Uranium fission creates sizable quantities of transuranic wastes of extreme toxicity and half-lives measured in the thousands of years.

3. Uranium fission makes for excellent bombs — not only nuclear explosions, but also dirty residues — that would be highly prized by terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells.

I’ve been told by credible sources that fission from thorium essentially obviates each of these fundamental challenges. Relative to uranium, there are orders of magnitude more thorium in the earth’s crust, and it is widely distributed. Thorium fission produces wastes with much lower toxicity and much shorter half-lives (a few hundred years), in much lower quantities to boot. And, thorium doesn’t have a positive gradient that facilitates run-away fission that leads to explosions. These all sound like attractive attributes to me, worthy of a lot more exploration.

Alas, the nuclear experts at the meeting pooh-poohed thorium and defended uranium. They said that never had any uranium been used by bad guys to make a bomb. (You mean, Yet?) They said that the GNEP would create an effective international pact to prevent nuclear materials from getting into the hands of enemies. (Oh, really?) They said that there was plenty of uranium for the next generation of nuclear plants. (And then what?) They said that the GNEP would dramatically reduce the amount of long-lived nuclear wastes from future uranium fission facilities. (For tens of billions of dollars — what a bargain!)

Ultimately, I was not reassured by the views of the uranium fission advocates. To paraphrase Shakespeare, they doth defend too much. And, note that the nuclear industry is the not-so-pretty offspring of the military-industrial-Oedipal complex of the 1950’s.

It is hard to think of a less-credible set of proponents than those who carry the combined DNA of the defense and electric utility sectors, niether of which is particularly famous for a commitment to the truth in the light of established facts. Their mantra has often been: “Trust us.” I’m typically not paranoid, but in this case, I am very skeptical indeed.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.