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.