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A Year of Change: Solar, Smart Power, and Carbon; Buying Greenhome.com; and Cleantech Blog Moves to Texas

Dear Friends,

We think it’s time cleantech grew up and learned to play with the big boys of energy and consumer goods.  That means learning cost down and scale like nobody’s business.  We think it can.  We think green is going mainstream – for good. We think LEDs are going to win.  We think wind and solar power will continue to grow, and bear the bruises to prove it.  We think EVs may have a shot, but have it to prove. We think climate change will be tackled, and beaten, but it will be a long hard road.  We think energy storage and cellulosic biofuels are not yet teething, and investors there will pay the price.  We think water tech may yet be a real sector on the back of shale gas.  We think smart grid is the sine qua non of cleantech’s future.  We think the future of cleantech means fewer venture capitalists, more globalization, and more energy companies at the table, and scale like you’ve never seen it before.

2010 has been a year of change and learning.

  • We learned about The Quantitative Easing, and we learned government stimulus does not fix economies, but stock markets can rise anyway. 
  • We learned to beware of Greeks (and anyone) who borrows too much, but we didn’t bother to take the lesson to heart (yet).
  • Cap and trade survived in California, and the international climate change community breathed a big sigh of relief from a successful Cancun, but healthcare and a moribund economy crowded out a comprehensive climate or energy bill in the US.
  • Arguably this was the year that China passed the US in energy consumption (barely two years after taking the carbon emissions crown), and Japan in GDP to become the second largest economy, and oil prices ended on a high note (yes we do think those have something in common).  It also reached 50% of global coal consumption.  China of course, officially disputed the first and the last, and accepted the second, but provides no data.)
  • Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) (Electric vehicles), GM, and Codexis (NASDAW:CDXS) (bioenergy) priced IPOs, as did Molycorp (NYSE:MCP) (rare earth mining), but once high flyer Solyndra (CIGS PV) did not.  We learned the Chinese like IPOing things just like the rest of us, and we saw the nascent launch of EVs with the first shipments of Leafs and Volts to an unsuspecting public. 2011 will (maybe) tell us how much change Nissan and GM will see from those launches.
  • And after 5 years, Cleantechblog.com moved off of Blogger and onto a new look on WordPress.  Finally!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jane Capital saw a year of change as well:

In summary, 2010 feels like one of those years we’ll look back on as a watershed year, for us, for our industry, and our planet. 

Here’s wishing you a productive beginning to 2011.

Regards,

Jane Lindner, Neal Dikeman, and the Jane Capital team.

P.S. Don’t forget to shop Greenhome.com, and yes, if you ask nicely we  might send you a friends and family discount.

Superconducting Blackout Protection Device for Smart Grid

Today, Zenergy Power plc (AIM:ZEN), a company I am a cofounder of, announced that ConEd, one of thought leaders in the utility sector on transmission & distribution technology (conventional wisdom says they have to be, as given its tremendous load in a small area, the Manhattan grid is devilishly tricky to operate), has agreed to a deal to put in a new kind of fault current limiter, using high temperature superconducting technology.

This is hit number two in FCLs for Zenergy, which last month announced the first ever HTS FCL implementation into the grid with SoCal Edison, another of the global utility thoughtleaders.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at Jane Capital Partners, the editor of CleantechBlog.com, and Chairman of Carbonflow, Inc. and Cleantech.org.

The Future of Power

While I don’t blog on it often, most of you know I was heavily involved in the founding of company called Zenergy Power plc (AIM:ZEN), one of the leading companies in high temperature superconductor technology. The origins of Zenergy began with the formation of SC Power Systems to commercialize a fault current limiter (“FCL”) technology developed by Australian Superconductors. In 2006, SC Power Systems merged with Trithor GmbH, Europe’s most advanced HTS company and the innovators behind the HTS induction heater, to form Zenergy.

This week Zenergy announced the successful testing of its MV FCL. This is the second time in less than two years Zenergy has proven that with the current state of HTS materials technology, successful devices can be made capable of changing the way industries operate. Before Zenergy, virtually the entire HTS superconductor world believed that no substantial progress would be made without a new class of wire, 2G, from new classes of materials coming on line.

While Zenergy has always believed that its 2G program is world class and the cost leader, by using ultra efficient DC HTS electromagnets to enable a new class of devices, Zenergy has been betting that the future of power does not have to wait:

The FCL itself is essentially an electrical valve, or “circuit breaker that doesn’t break” whose first use is to help control faults that trigger blackouts. The HTS coils act as a DC electromagnet, creating an entirely passive “safety relief valve” capable of clipping the top of fault current, without interrupting the normal power flow. If you think about it, we essentially run our grid today the same way we did 50 years ago. It works, but it’s brute force. In a world where demand response, distributed power, and intermittent power sources like renewables are playing a key role, we have to have much finer control and protection in power transmission and distribution, or just double up on the equipment. FCLs have long been believed to be a key to anchoring the grid of the future. But until now, no one had figured out to to make them work. With these tests, Zenergy has successfully shown an HTS FCL can take and automatically and instantaneously respond to multiple, numerous and repetitive power surges.

The HTS Induction Heater essentially uses an HTS coil to create induction currents to soften metal ingots in aluminium or copper plants. A process done over and over again in our metals industry. A process that is not currently greenhouse gas friendly. The HTS Induction Heater enables better control with literally half the energy use, and has won awards (including the Hermes Award) for its technology.

I wanted to congratulate the team on three continents who made this happen. The original core technologies involved in these products have had origins, and government support, from the US, Australia, Germany, and the UK. Zenergy’s efforts currently have R&D and engineering on three continents, and have involved, I believe something like 4 universities, have a dozen government agencies, and maybe a score of companies. That has not made the effort simpler. But energy is global. And cleantech is global. And it’s exciting for me to see cleantech technology transfer working on a global scale. I am very proud of the team.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners, is the CEO of Carbonflow, Inc. and Chairman of Cleantech.org He is a Texas Aggie.