Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another Spawn of PowTalk

For a US military-focused version of PowrTalk's relentless renewable energy tech coverage, see The DOD Energy Blog.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

PowrTalk Moving On/Up

Dear loyal reader(s),

May 2008 marks an important transition for our blog as we've been picked up by the Discovery Communications News site. All new posts can be found here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Taxi? ... taxi? .. TAXI !!!!

Here we go - the real world, dollars and cents, non tree-hugger benefits of new energy are beginning to appear in Manhattan. NYT reports taxi owners and drivers on the cusp of calling the Ford Escape Hybrid a superior financial vehicle, so to speak.

It's not a clear slam dunk due to current lease cost differences and evolving maintenance cost factors such as battery pack replacement frequency and costs and marginally higher costs for some parts. But if the anecdotal evidence in this article is correct, it appears they may have reached break even with gas at $3.00 and may be moving into clear increases in profitability at $3.50 and above.

I remember thinking a while ago that this is where we'd see it first. In the non-stop, stop and go daily grind of urban taxi companies, where hybrids' regenerative braking gains and low fuel burn in traffic would give them a big advantage. Acquisition and maintenance costs are the downside, while ever rising gas prices create the upside. Next steps are maturation of gas hybrids and the appearance on the NY Taxi test track of plug-in hybrids and full electrics.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Museums Walk the Talk

The best science museums explain and excite, using whatever materials they have at their disposal, donated or otherwise. Often the exhibits are confined to a defined space within the museum walls. But sometimes ... and increasingly, they creep out of their confines and do much more than advertised. The Water + Life Museums in Hemet, California is one of those cases, and this article describes not only the museum's LEED Platinum rating, but its massive solar installation that provides approximately half the power. (Editorial note: the 540 Watts cited is a bit less than you'd expect from a three thousand panel installation. The article may be off by a decimal point or two ... or more.) Nevertheless, renewable exhibits that power themselves and their museums are a wave of the future. Mark my words ...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

New Energy Workforce begins Punching In

Renewable energy is going to change the world in more ways than one. For me, it's come to occupy a significant part of my after hours scene. For many other folks, it may well become their day job. Here are a few examples of real jobs that didn't even exist until recently:
  • Carbon trader
  • Eco-investor
  • Corporate climate strategist
  • Green recruiter
  • Environmental banker
They all sound suspiciously similar to other more familiar positions, but all have a new energy twist that makes them different. If the US can become the locus of this new economy, we won't have to worry about a serious economic downturn for at least another 50 years or so.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oil Goes Up a Dollar a Day from Now On - OK ???

$100 ... 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115 ...

At this rate, we'll be well into in the upper 300s for a barrel by the end of 2008. That alright with you? Still interested in who's taking the early lead in the American League East? Who's looking hot on American Idol? Which Democratic candidate dodged the MSM People Magazine-esque questions more successfully tonight? Still want more horses under that hood?

I'm writing from Harrisburg, PA tonight where the price of a gallon of gas is $3.35 and diesel is well over 4 bucks. The Renewable Energy technology advocate in me is ecstatic. But this kind of a price climb scares me. This isn't how it's supposed to play out. It can't keep going up like this, right? Right ???

Sunday, April 13, 2008

There's a great future in plastics. Think about it.

Much like Mr. McGuire urging Ben to understand that plastics were the future in the 1967 movie "The Graduate," Amory Lovins continues to push automakers to give plastics (that is, lightweight composite carbon) a look.
Mr. Lovins, et al make the strong case for light cars in Winning the Oil Endgame. When you consider that less than one percent of the gas you use moves your passengers, or that ninety-nine some odd percent has to move the vehicle, putting cars on a diet makes sense.

What you've gotta love about Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute folks is their willingness to go beyond their compelling ivory castle pontifica (buttressed with good, hard science), by developing patented prototypes to further lure some enterprising automaker to a future in plastics.

To date, composites have been cost prohibitive. But with oil prices up, and likely to stay up, and steel prices up, with no foreseeable letup in demand, automakers ought to run the math again.

The future is looking light.
(For the nostalgiac, here's Mr. McGuire delivering the hot tip.)

New RE-newables and a RE-cession

What happens when all the renewable energy start-ups, and the investment money behind them, crash headlong into this year's financial crash? A Boston-based clean energy VC with @Ventures, Rob Day says we can expect some good things and some bad things.

To my mind it's like the price of gas at the pump. As it goes up and stays up, it hurts everyone in every business (except the Saudis that is). But while it's a bit of a cliche, the good thing with adversity is it almost always creates opportunity.

Day lays out his four main trends, with a bit of a tilt towards doom and gloom here. I'm looking forward to a day, years from now, when Day's companies are kicking such major ass that it's the old energy companies' stocks that are both gloomy ... and doomed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

LEED Buildings Save Money, but, really...need more info

The banners proclaim green buildings use 25 to 30 percent less energy than others. These on top of articles about a study released on behalf of the US Green Building Council, administrator of the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) system that rates and certifies green buildings.

A major flaw, however, is that the study compares 121 LEED buildings to "all national building stock." All stock presumably includes a lot of old, worn out buildings, and thus does not deliver the apples to apples comparison that will get skeptical building owners to bite. The offspring of this study ought to measure against the true option: new, non-LEED buildings. (A challenge authors of this study may have faced is that non-LEED building owners are reluctant to participate).

The study does offer some actionable conclusions:
  • the higher the LEED rating, the better the energy performance

  • there are wide disparities between modeled (predicted) and actual performance

  • labs and other buildings with high process loads use twice as much energy as predicted

This study plows new ground and moves in the right direction. But future studies should show conclusive justification for LEED in the cost arena. If LEED is conclusively justified, it's a no-brainer. If a no-brainer, everyone will design and build according to LEED tenets, so that the need for LEED, and the corresponding costs to administer it, go away.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Floating Wind Turbines

This is good stuff from MIT's Technology Review mag, even if it's not ready for prime time world wide. According to a 2006 analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy, "General Electric, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, offshore wind resources on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts exceed the current electricity generation of the entire U.S. power industry."

Screw the Kennedy's and the other Cape Wind naysayers who don't want to see 1.5" turbines 3 miles offshore from their luxury compounds. With this technology the turbines can be so far offshore you won't even be able to see them with the Hubble telescope.

Play along, and "the economics of the power industry are approaching a tipping point that will drive rapid adoption of floating turbines." Tipping is what we're trying to achieve, and avoid, at the same time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Coal Costs Climbing: Cruel or Crucial?

Renewable energy zealots (hmmm, does that describe anyone I know?) have long hoped for a day when rising prices for carbon-based fuels will prime the pump for new, but comparatively expensive energy sources. Well guess what? ... that day has come. In fact, it came last year when you were out. According to some experts, oil, having reached $100 a barrel, has liked what it's seen and won't be going back to double digits soon ... or ever.

Well, at least there's coal you were going to say. There's tons of it (no pun intended) and the US has a Saudi-like portion all to itself. And the good thing about coal is that it's always been cheap, and always will be cheap. Unfortunately, that last statement is only half right. Those self same experts reporting on oil prices in the WSJ have an increasingly similar tale to tell about coal: demand is higher than supply and that, among other things, is making it expensive as well.

Right about now we sure could use some good old fashioned cold fusion.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Go Blow

The American Wind Energy Association has just released its April 2008 assessment of the state of Wind power in the US, and it's chock full of good news and strong trends. My friends in Texas don't need to be told that they are way out in front and getting stronger (and bigger) in this department every day. As of 2007, Texas had almost twice as much wind power installed as the next leading state, diminutive California. And for the year, it looks like its only going to extend its lead as it installed more than twice the new capacity of the 2nd place finisher, Colorado.

My own state Massachusetts, despite all the hot air billowing from our portly and pretentious pols, never mind the steady ocean breezes, has barely 1 MW installed and signs of improvement are slim. Oh well, maybe I'll move. Or maybe I'll start raising a ruckus and getting some action going up here in the Northeast. If we're going to get away from dino-fuels, renewables installations need to become the new gridiron competition among states. Give me a W - I - N - D !!!!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Water's Turn

It seems that 90% of the renewable energy action, and maybe 95% of its press comes from solar and wind technologies and projects. But as you may have learned in school, 70% of the surface of the Earth is covered by water, not land. So when less-heralded water-born approaches make strides, I like to make sure they get noticed. Here's a recent one from Ireland over 1 MW (a new record) that will soon be spawning a larger sibling in North America up in British Columbia.

For more information on different forms of tidal power, check out this site which has some pretty cool pictures.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Military Stung by High Cost of Fuel (Just like the regular folks)

No matter what the current administration says, no one would argue that our military is fighting in Iraq, at least in part, to protect US oil interests. That's why it's somewhere between ironic and outright painful that high fuel costs are impairing DOD's ability to fight (and build a nation) effectively, by taking funds that might be better spent on other supplies. This article breaks out some of the details.

Each M-1 Abrams tank requires a substantial support convoy of tankers and maintenance trucks, all of which are burning gas at a amazing clip. Check out these stats from AP:
  • Overall, the military consumes about 1.2 million barrels, or more than 50 million gallons of fuel, each month in Iraq at an average $127.68 a barrel. That works out to about $153 million a month

  • In WWII, the average fuel consumption per soldier or Marine was about 1.67 gallons a day; in Iraq, it's 27.3 gallons

Lastly, if you want to see the organization that's running this energy show for the DOD, go to the Defense Energy Support Center's home page. They are a subsidiary organization of the Defense Logistics Agency based south of DC in Fort Belvoir, VA.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

(Not Just) April Fools !!!

Last year I wanted to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid in the worst way. It's just the right size for me and the offspring, and it looks like it could handle itself on a snowy Boston side street. So I looked online to see which local dealers had them. The answer: hardly any. When I called, the dealers didn't really seem to understand why they didn't have more, and they certainly didn't have any intel on whether supply would improve in the future. So I attempted to call and email Ford and found their consumer communication channels great at keeping me out. Ultimately I bought a 5 speed manual shift 4 speed gas engine because a) it gets decent mileage, and while they are rare as well, b) they exist.

This article from does some digging and follows up on a recent NPR story on the same theme: where the hell are the hybrids from the US auto makers? GM is going out of its way to convince folks with advertising that it is now a green minded company, and that its 2010 Volt is going to save humanity ... and maybe the company. But guess what none of the Big 3 are actually doing? That's right ... they are not building hybrids. As much as it hurts the nostalgic patriotic side of me to say it, stupid companies deserve to die and these guys are queuing to see which one is going to walk the plank first. Fools 365 x 24.

Monday, March 31, 2008

One Expert says "10 more years of Solar R&D required"

This article isn't live on the net yet, but here's a sneak preview. Not that there's a hurry. If what this scientist is saying is true, we can chill another decade or so before installing solar en mass to replace fossil fuel sources. Kind of maddening, but good news if 10 years means 10 years. I don't think we're in a fusion power situation where despite breakthroughs the energy payoff is always 50 years away. Not to mention, cold fusion ...

New Orleans - Despite oil prices that hover around $100 a barrel, it may take at least 10 or more years of intensive research and development to reduce the cost of solar energy to levels competitive with petroleum, according to an authority on the topic.

Solar can potentially provide all the electricity and fuel we need to power the planet, Harry Gray, Ph.D., scheduled to speak here today at the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). His presentation, Powering the Planet with Solar Energy, is part of a special symposium arranged by Bruce Bursten, Ph.D., president of the ACS, the world's largest scientific society celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Beckman Scholars Program.

"The Holy Grail of solar research is to use sunlight efficiently and directly to split water into its elemental constituents, hydrogen and oxygen, and then use the hydrogen as a clean fuel," Gray said.

In his talk at the ACS Presidential Symposium, Gray cited the vast potential of solar energy, noting that more energy from sunlight strikes the Earth in one hour than all of the energy consumed on the planet in one year.

The single biggest challenge, Gray said, is reducing costs so that a large-scale shift away from coal, natural gas and other non-renewable sources of electricity makes economic sense. Gray estimated the average cost of photovoltaic energy at 35 to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour. By comparison, other sources are considerably less expensive, with coal and natural gas hovering around 5-6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Because of its other advantages, being clean and renewable, for instance, solar energy need not match the cost of conventional energy sources, Gray indicated. The breakthrough for solar energy probably will come when scientists reduce the costs of photovoltaic energy to about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, he added. "Once it reaches that level, large numbers of consumers will start to buy in, driving the per-kilowatt price down even further. I believe we are at least ten years away from photovoltaics being competitive with more traditional forms of energy."

Major challenges include developing cheap solar cells that work without deterioration and reducing the amounts of toxic materials used in the manufacture of these cells. But producing low cost photovoltaics is only a step in the right direction. Chemists also need to focus on the generation of clean fuels at costs that can compete with oil and coal.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Imagine Masdar. This video provides a compelling, dreamy look at this zero carbon, zero waste, renewably powered city. Much like the science newsreels from the fifties that imagined the future in luxurious, automated, labor-saving terms. And while the skeptic in you may whisper that it's a little too dreamy, you know that current realities come from, at least in part, the dreams and visions of the past.

But beyond the epic task of creating from scratch a city that is wholly sustainable, what is perhaps more exciting is that this bold, positive vision comes from the Middle East. A place many Westerners view as a hotbed of sullen, reactionary groupthink.
So what if Masdar is the opening shot of a Middle East that leapfrogs past the West, past India and China, past everyone, to take us beyond classic capitalism to a natural capitalism based on an updated reckoning of our use of resources ? What if, instead of dragging up the rear, we find the Middle East drawing us to the future?

Masdar is a layered vision worth imagining.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Net Metering for Gross Profit

Net metering is good. With net metering, someone with a rooftop solar panel producing more power than they use gets credit on their utility bill for the surplus sent to the grid. This is key to inducing people to produce power at their place.

Net metering needs to be everywhere and it needs to be easy. Thirty five states currently allow net metering, and it is required with the passage of the 2005 Energy Act.

In Texas this week, the Public Utility Commission held off on enacting net metering regulations because of public concern that the rules being considered wouldn't really promote net metering. Take some time to get the rules right, but get net metering out there.

The rules should make it easy to net meter at your house. If special meters and disconnects are needed, the utility should provide them cheerfully, without cost, to the on-site power producer (distribute those costs across all users, maybe). If utilities are reluctant to implement, fearing they'll lose revenue if they're not the ones making the power, create pricing mechanisms where utilities profit by re-selling home-grown power. (You'd think utilities could find a way to make money when others are funding the added power plants, especially if those plants make peak use power).

Given the manifold benefits of distributed energy, we need net metering to be easy and profitable for both utility companies and the new power producers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tier 4 Now

Someone told me this week that Tier 4 is here. The more stringent emissions standard for off-road vehicles (including, importantly, construction equipment) begins phasing in this year and is fully in place by 2011. According to Cummins, a big producer of the engines, Tier 4 "represents a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter (PM), and a 50 percent reduction in emissions of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)" over the current Tier 3 standard. Tier 4 also begins to address sulfur content in diesel.

The phase in period allows industry time to incorporate: replacing equipment at the end of its service life, or developing the experience and training to maintain the new engines. A noisy, messy corner of the motive world will become significantly quieter and cleaner in the next four years.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Glass Kicks Ass

Sorry if I offended any reader with this clearly butch, tough guy language, but there's a new development on the glass front that has me all worked up. In another year or so there will be a type of glass entering the market that will make buildings, from an insulation perspective, behave as if they don't have any windows. Ginormous energy and money savings await those who begin installing these windows on new buildings, or replacing their old windows.

These things could play a major part in a classic pincer maneuver on old energy use as renewables put pressure on coal plants from one side, while super-efficient materials dramatically reduce new buildings' energy requirements.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Yippie yi Ohhh - Renewables as Calvary

Those WSJ Enviro Capital guys are nailing it again, this time spotting a trend that's surfacing all around the country, and particularly out west. The short story is that because planners are not getting any consistent signals, let alone clear leadership, from Washington, they are making their own plans. And they are looking to Renewables to increasingly power their regions when more carbonaceous forms of power (coal, gas, cow farts) may start to bear additional costs in the form of carbon taxes. This is a great sign that the general public is getting it, even if the current administration is asleep at the wheel. And who knows, maybe it's the nature of Washington itself to lag on this stuff. Who can say that despite their forward looking words and pledges, O'McClinton would/could really deliver intelligent new energy policy for the USA? Government can only do so much, and what it does, it often does wrong or too late. The mass move to renewables looks like it's going to be one revolution that's truly driven by "We the People."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Go Go Solar Gadget

You know, it's going to get pretty gadgety pretty fast. As a business category that depends on recurring technical innovation, renewable energy, is starting to look a lot like the computer and internet space. As it moves from remote Texas mega-farms to our own back yards and roofs, and then to our own clothes and bodies, its going to get caught up in the personnel technology section covered by folks like Walt Mossberg and David Pogue at NYT. Green tech is already a news staple at popular gadget sites like Gizmodo and Engadget. Tell me this new Solar Gateway from Xantrex, announced today, doesn't sound more like a PC than a piece of renewable energy equipment ... from the product site:

Product Features
  • Can monitor a network consisting of up to 20 single phase GT inverters
  • Wi-Fi/Ethernet module with 10/100 Base-T or 802.11 b/g
  • Can be configured to send energy and alarm reports via email
  • Graphical interactive solar monitoring software
  • Embedded web page for configuring the Gateway and upgrading inverter firmware 16 megabytes of storage

Monday, March 17, 2008

Water Power

A little over a year ago, Verdant Power put its first turbine in New York City's East River. If grown to its design scale of 300 turbines, this project would bring 10 megawatts on-line, enough to power 8,000 homes.

The turbines use the movement of water in oceans and rivers, and can even operate in both directions to take advantage of tides coming in and going out.

If you're near an ocean, a river, even a man-made channel, Verdant wants to know if your water can make energy. They ask you to complete a survey to help them assess the water's potential.

What do they need?
  • 30 feet of water

  • 4 knots average water speed

  • 5 acres

If you just want to see the "dive-through" animated video, go here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

$110 Gas = Bzillions of New Green Tech Investment Bucks

A recent MarketWatch article reports that money for new renewables is coming in in record amounts. It's why every time I top off my tank and feel the pain in the pocket, I also give thanks for there is literally a silver lining in the pain of unprecedented high gasoline prices. No need to harp on Al Gore's climate message, when it's coming down to pure dollars and cents. If the world is saved in the process of swapping out dirty old energy sources for shiny new ones, then that's a double bonus !!!

The piece ends with this sweet prediction for progressive-minded greedy bastards everywhere:

A McKinsey Global Institute report presented at the summit says that major investments over the next decade in energy productivity -- the level of output achieved from the energy consumed -- could earn double-digit rates of return for investors.

I see the greening of Gordon Gecko.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Near Term Future is Here

GM and Toyota recently opined that the fuel cell powered vehicle is not a near term solution. This is good. This says less about the viability of fuel cells (they were never a near term solution, anyway, were they?) than that the near term solutions are getting nearer and more real.

As GM Vice President Bob Lutz asks, "If we get lithium-ion to 300 miles, then ... Why do you need fuel cells?"

The near term solution is the all-electric or the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The vehicle technology is here. The energy infrastructure (the electrical grid) is here. The near term future is here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ain't No Oil Price High Enough

Holy Moly Batman, we're over a $104 dollars a barrel. Historically adjusted for inflation, this is the most oil has ever cost in the world ... in the history of mankind ... in the history of history. Of course, it's still much less than a good malbec.

Anyway, as the NYT reports today, this price sure is stirring up a lot of action, both on the good side (renewables R&D) and the evil sides (Exxon pledged greatly increased exploration and development of new oil resources today ... cause it would be worth it !)

Despite the pain this blogger feels at the pump, if this is what it takes to get us: a Tesla, an Aptera, a Volt and the Automotive X Prize, then I say, standing proudly on my own carrier deck of justice, "Bring it On !!!" How about $200 a barrel? How about a million bucks? Then we could call oil a collectible, or make jewelry out of it, and drive our cars and economy with wind, sun or nuclear-boosted electrons instead.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Charging Employees

Charging employees. To be more specific, waiting until plug-ins are available so he can let employees charge their PHEVs from solar panels at work. What a perquisite, gassing up for free at your place of employment. Here's a reader's letter to USA Today, telling us what he intends to do:

Consider solar recharge

Robert Myers - Columbia, Mo.

USA TODAY's story on plug-in hybrid electric cars raises a number of good points about the tradeoff in pollution.

But the article fails to mention an approach that has many plug-in hybrid advocates excited — using solar panels in the parking lots of companies or other institutions to charge the cars during the day while the owner is working. No battery storage for the solar panels is needed because the cars are providing the batteries. This approach is quiet, less polluting than coal and would allow employers to become part of the energy solution.

I plan to offer solar charging for my employees as soon as the technology is available.

Posted at 12:10 AM/ET, February 29, 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

Net Plus

Watch closely: a defining point emerged this week in the Building-Powered Car Master Plan. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture was selected to design the first large-scale positive energy building (producing more power than it consumes). The surplus power this building makes could charge plug-in hybrid electric cars.

But it won't. The city will be car-free.
Still, Masdar's headquarters may serve in perhaps the more important role of modeling what can be done elsewhere. Keep an eye out for points that emerge, one by one, to define a new way to power our vehicles.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Holy Cow!

Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) issued a report (Crossing the Divide: the Future of Clean Energy) that is hugely significant. If you are not familiar with CERA, it was founded by Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, which is the Pulitzer winning, authoritative history of oil. And as the Wall Street Journal notes, CERA is "as close as it gets to a proxy for conventional wisdom within Big Oil."

So when Dr. Yergin tells us "high energy prices, climate change, and energy security are becoming the new engine driving the development of clean energy,"and when CERA issues a pro-renewables report that says “putting a price on CO2 emissions, setting mandates, and providing subsidies all work to kick-start and sustain many clean energy technologies,” we have entered a new era.
We have crossed a divide.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Brewing up a Sustainable Storm

As the Brooklyn Brewery, purveyor of the well received "Brooklyn Brown Ale" likes to say, "there's wind in our ales". On the back of their coasters and on their web site they tout:

On September 1, 2003 Brooklyn Brewery because the first NY City company to switch to 100% wind generated electricity. The company's brewery and corporate HQ are 100% powered by Newwind Energy, a product of Community Energy Inc.

Here's the link to Community Energy, purveyor off all things wind including RECs (renewable energy credits) companies like Brooklyn Brewery can purchase when they can't actually stick a turbine on their front lawns. Can you imagine the new turbines required if Bud and Miller went this way? I'd respect their companies a whole lot more if they did, though I still wouldn't drink their swill. Well, maybe when parched on a very hot summer day, and if the beer was really cold. OK, then I'd make an exception.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Silicon Goes Both Ways

Here comes the sun. Some of the same minds and many of the same processes that gave us the every faster microprocessor and the ever denser random access memory (RAM) have turned their sites skyward. Now the NY Times reports that some of them are having success improving the efficiency of the silicon wafer's solar power characteristics. It's not likely Moore's Law - that's the doubling of the number of transistors that can fit on a chip every 2.5 - 3 years - is going to be in effect here. But it is clear that these guys know what they're doing and that the marriage of minds, experience and money is going to be an accelerator for this industry. We can now expect to see solar move closer to mainstream price points in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oil Closed over $100 a Barrel Yesterday

This is a new milestone. As reported here, it's been over a couple of times in recent months, but this is the first time a day has ended with oil in triple digits. Some publications are forecasting $4 a gallon gas in the US this summer. Please hurry up Auto X Prizers !!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wind Power Flying High in 2008

"Mission Control, we have lift off". The WSJ reports that the wind power industry is a $6 billion business for GE this year, and they are far from the world's largest provider of turbines. Despite this great news, some folks apparently wish things were otherwise: see the comments that follow the blog. Seems there's some folks out there who believe wind and other types of non-fossil power exist only because the government is paying for them in the form of subsidies, and that once those funds run dry, the entire new energy economy will grind to a halt. Maybe when wind is a $100 billion business, more skeptics will be convinced. Then again, Kansas still doubts Darwin.

The Hawaii Thesis

Haven't explored, much less attempted to prove, the Hawaii thesis , but it might say something like this: "Hawaii has a robust, innovative and now self-funding renewable energy effort because it is isloated by oceans from traditional energy sources more so than the rest of us, creating cost barriers tall enough to encourage it to broadly develop renewables sooner than the rest of us." If true, and if those taller cost barriers are coming soon to a country near you, Hawaii might offer models to emulate at state and federal levels to promote intelligent energy self sufficiency.

Hawaii's governor in 1995 set the goal of making the state more energy self-sufficient. For Fiscal Year 2007, this is being done by the National Enerrgy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority with "no general fund support."

More later if this thought has merit. If not, maybe a ton of posts to sort of wash this one away in the sands of time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Everyman's Rights

You can pick wild berries, mushrooms and herbs in Finland under the aged laws proscribed by Everyman's Rights. By this account "even in forests and swamps that they do not own, without needing permission from landowners as long as they do not cause damage to the environment. About 67% of Finnish adults pick wild berries, 46% pick forest mushrooms and 20% pick herbs. When the crop is good, people pick about 50 million kilograms of berries. 35 million kilograms are picked for use at home and 15 million kilograms are picked commercially."

The progression might be an EveryPerson's Privilege to pick apples and pecans grown for that purpose in public spaces: resorts, parks, walking trails.

Orange Tree Energy

I'm eating an orange I picked from the tree in front of my parking space at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix. And I wonder, as I've often wondered, why not a bounty of trees in public and semi-public places offering their produce for the taking. The energy used to get that produce to the end user would be nothing. The cost to the end user would be nothing. The cost to the provider minimal. And the generous spirit engendered by the act would be, maybe, something.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In the US, the Greenest Cities are the Best Cities

Popular Science has just come out with rankings on the most energy and environmentally proactive cities in the country. Taking into consideration four factors: (1) clean/sustainable electricity generation; (2) transportation; (3) green space; and (4) recycling, here's the top ten from the list of fifty:
  1. Portland, OR
  2. San Francisco
  3. Boston
  4. Oakland
  5. Eugene, OR
  6. Cambridge, MA
  7. Berkeley, CA
  8. Seattle
  9. Chicago
  10. Austin
Category winners were also named:

Electricity: Eugene
Transportation: New York City
Green Space: Chicago
Recycling: Lexington, KY

Is it is just a coincidence, or not, that these are all my favorite urban places in the USA?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Air Check

While the companies in the post below look forward with new technologies to improve the fuel efficiency and air-worthiness of their fleets, Texas is working on the tail end of the problem: dirty, old cars. To deal with possible non-attainment of EPA air quality standards, Texas launched AirCheckTexas, offering as much as $3,500 towards the purchase of a new car for those that qualify.
In place since December, the program gets 600 calls a day, and has disbursed vouchers to 2,150 in the Dallas area alone. With $20,000,000 in annual funding, almost 7,000 of Texas's dirtiest cars could be retired each year. If cars that are over ten years old emit 10 to 30 times as much pollution as this article claims, AirCheckTexas could do much to attack the big back end of the problem, by simply leveraging the current state of technology. And maybe get some ugly cars off the road in the process.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Space Truck'n

This GreenBiz feature article provides a nice walk through of how several companies, including Walmart (guided by REI) have shaved big percentage points off their truck fleets' diesel expenses and emissions over the past few years. Small changes are the rule: better tires, better aerodynamics, GPS and better routing and scheduling. To me, the most innovative yet simple mod is the addition of the aptly named Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The APU is a small generator that gives the itinerant trucker the power he/she needs to simulate home on the road. In other words, electricity to power air conditioning, heaters, small appliances and killer stereos without having to idle the big diesel engine all night. Word is the APUs consume on average 1/10th the power of the main engine, saving not only fuel costs and emissions, but wear and tear on those expensive engines as well. It's a win-win-win-win-win. Or something like that. You've got to check it out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bills Coming Due for Old King Coal

The free ride for coal is over. With guidance from Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council, big banks have banded together with large energy companies to form what's being called the Carbon Principles. You may think I'm exaggerating here, but this is BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG news. The increasing alignment of environmental and economic drivers means the sustainability team has just grown by a factor of 100, and some of the new teammates have very deep pockets indeed.

Short and mid term, coal plants are not going to disappear; they are going to change, however. And new ones likely will not be built in the numbers some in the industry had imagined. Put yourself in the place of investors considering placing their funds in a new plant. In Rumsfeld-speak, there are known knowns: carbon emissions are going to cost money; unknown knowns: don't know how much money yet; and unknown unknowns: how fast current electricity generating alternatives will be replaced by breakthrough clean energy alternatives we don't even know of yet.

You want to invest in a new coal plant? We definitely need the energy. But you've got a lot to think about these days before you lay your money down.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Make Megawatts

Amid tales of unemployment woe and shuttered factories, an industry growing so fast it can't fill its ranks: technicians that get wind turbines up and running command as much as $25 an hour according to this account. Make decent money to get in on the ground floor of a young industry that portends plenty of upside.

Bruce Graham, director of a wind education program in Concorida, Oregon notes, "I could go out on the Internet and find 500 jobs...that are open and they want someone right now."

Requirements: technicians with a "working knowledge of mechanics, hydraulics, computers and meteorology with the willingness to climb 200 feet in the air in all kinds of weather."

Wonder how much you're bagging if you're working overtime installing this 7 megawatt wonder in the Gulf of Mexico some dark and stormy night:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Give Me a Tax Break

On the pages of this morning's edition of the Dallas Morning News, the interesting juxtaposition of these two articles:
The Exxon article notes they "didn't produce as much oil this year as last, but the company's prouduct fetched a much higher price." To the extent this trend continues on constrained supply and burgeoning demand, subsidies and other forms of help for the industry can be drawn down.

The other article highlights a wind turbine blade manufacturing company setting up shop in Iowa to take advantage of the skilled workforce from a recently closed Maytag factory, and the thousands of "green collar jobs" that might be created here in America.

The irony and the urgency is the fledgling renewables industry living on nervous borrowed time as its Production Tax Credits get ready to expire, while oil's tax breaks continue in place, even as it experiences record profits.

Oil should be allowed to profit unfettered as is the American Way, but it doesn't need help from taxpayers.

Friday, February 1, 2008

SolarNanoHydro Breakthrough: It's No Fairy Tale

MIT's Technology Review highlights a Massachusetts' company's recent A-round funding after earlier grants from NASA and DOE. Read it for yourself and see if it sounds plausible. It appears to me (and skeptical others ... like VCs) that Nanoptek has found a way to piggyback on existing technology and manufacturing processes, move them a step further with the material Titania (borrowed from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream?) and now has a potential breakthrough on its hands. Perchance, will keep an eye on these guys for sure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Priming the New Energy Pump: Intel Supplies the Demand

Intel Corporation, the fabled designer and manufacturer of almost every processor in every computer in the land, has just put its very big foot on the e-pedal. The company's purchase of over a billion kilowatt hours of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) is a market-making maneuver that will boost the confidence, if not the fortunes, of many new energy suppliers.

RECs are a bit astract for some, but until demand expands dramatically, RECs are a transitional financial tool and a necessity. The following generation technologies qualify as producers of RECs:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Low Impact Hydropower
  • Biomass
  • Biodiesel
  • Fuel cells (only if powered by hydrogen produced by one of the above approved generators)

Let's see if Intel's bold move engenders competition not just among other high tech manufacturers, but Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies in every sector.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Steady Tailwind

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reports that wind blew it out this year: increasing total installed capacity by a record 45 percent and adding 5,244 megawatts (more than all the wind in Texas alone). What's more, the supply chain is thickening: at least fourteen new manufacturing facilities opened or were anounced in 2007. There's tangible evidence in Texas: blades manufactured by GE in Gainesville, stacked in the yard and visible from Interstate 35, and towers manufactured by Trinity Structural Towers, further south and also visible from Interstate 35.

The scourge of this effort is the intermittent Production Tax Credit, set to expire again this year. Here's a graph from AWEA that paints a pretty crisp picture:

What would the graph look like if the Production Tax Credit were enacted to accomodate a longer business horizon, say ten or twenty years?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Not the Solution ... Except maybe in Seattle

Don't want to be dark cloud, but raindrop power ?!? Need to charge your laptop ... or keep your fridge cold ... or recharge your electric car? Better commence a rain dance. I note this approach to point out that in our search for dramatic new ways to get away from coal and oil, there will be some "out of the box" projects that aren't going to make much sense. And we shouldn't spend any time on them once they've been demonstrated to produce too little energy to make an impact. Maybe I'm wrong, but I group rain power with dance floor and pedestrian foot step power in a long list of quirky ideas that could distract from otherwise constructive work in more potentially promising new energy fields.

Sorry, hope I didn't rain on anyone's parade.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cute Power: Inhabitat

Sometimes it's OK for attractive people to do things that are not necessarily related to their attractiveness. Not ones to rest on their laurels (so to speak), Brown grad and founder Jill Fehrenbacher and the women (and one guy) at have keen eyes for what's new and visually exciting in the alternative energy sphere. Check out their recent posts on energy developments here. These folks are tuned into the good stuff, so I've added them to the PowrTalk Tech Blogs sidebar cause I want to make it easy to check in on what they're writing about.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Electric Cars get Real in Israel (or, Shai Agassi Strikes Again !!!)

First, a statement of the obvious: Israel is not the United States. While gas here is high at $3 a gallon, it is well over $6 there. And another thing: the distances between its major cities can be measured in the dozens of miles, vs. our hundreds or thousands of miles.

So guess what? One way the two countries are very much alike is in their entrepreneurial spirit, and (depending on who's in charge) their support for bold new ideas and innovation. See today's NYT article about Israel's bold plan to move rapidly to electric cars and infrastructure. And for a little more detail on the young businessman/entrepreneur behind it all, see this recent Discovery Tech post on former SAP VP Shai Agassi.

You got to like it when our friends show us the way.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More on Net Zero Buildings

Here's some more on the plan to make buildings Net Zero by 2030. The alliance responsible for shepherding this plan is called the Commercial Buildings Initiative , a consortium of six heavy hitting organizations, including US Green Building Council (USGBC), the American Society of Heating and Refrigeration Engineers (ASHRAE) and as previously reported, the American Institute of Architects.

Net Zero in 22 years is a tall order. How do they intend to do this? Their plan is to reduce the buildings' energy use by 50 to 70 percent then provide the balance of their requirements from renewables like wind and solar.

A tall order indeed. Sign me up.


“If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."

--Gen. Eric Shinseki,former Army Chief of Staff

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Advanced Energy Initiative

When President Bush spoke to Johnson Controls employees after he rolled out the Advanced Energy Initiative in the 2006 State of the Union Address, he said some things that were hard to believe were coming out of his mouth (by his own admission it was a shock to some to hear a Texan admit that America is addicted to oil).

The foremost objective of his plan: "change the way we power our cars and trucks."

To do this he said we needed to:

"First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do.
Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil.
And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all."

He want on to talk up the plug in hybrid, saying "Eventually, plug-in hybrids with lithium ion batteries will be able to get 100 miles per gallon. And now all of a sudden you're beginning to see the effects of this important technology on our national security and on our economic security."

So this is old news. Who cares?
But it's interesting to mark the shift in thinking from, say, 2003, when few conservatives were publicly concerned about energy, to 2006, when Bush spoke these words, to last week, when at least two automakers announced intentions of manufacturing plug in hybrids in the near future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Six Bits

With Toyota promising plug in hybrids by 2010, consider this:

A plug in operating in all-electric mode is powered at the gas cost equivalent of $0.75 per gallon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Big Biofuel Blight

If there were no such things as wind turbines or solar power, aggressive pursuit of biofuels might make sense. But given the current superiority of (and ongoing improvements in) the aforementioned technologies, why the hell are biofuels being pushed so hard by pols when they bring so many attendant problems (e.g., environmental damage, increase in food prices, carbon-based energy (and emissions) required to produce biofuels, etc.) ?!? This recent ScienceDaily article "Some Biofuels Are Worse Environmentally Than Fossil Fuels" lays out the case.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mass (Finally) Kicks Energy Ass

The same "ultra progressive" state that can't get Cape Wind built has just passed some seriously far reaching legislation paving the way for all kinds of clean energy improvements and energy conservation. Wind, solar, LEED buildings and cleaner auto's will all benefit. I have an idea, let's make it a national movement. How about if Mass joins hands with California to form a nationwide clean energy scrum, and anybody who slips through gets a heap of whoop ass from any one of Texas' ten thousand turbines !!!???