Archive for June 19th, 2009

British Chancellor Takes ITM Power and H2 Ford Focus for Spin

Though ITM Power has had some recent management shakeups, it’s still alive and kicking. At least this is what the British Chancellor Alistair Darling is saying as he took a hydrogen converted Ford Focus for a spin.

The converted Ford Focus was fueled with hydrogen created by ITM Power using solar energy. I’ve talked about ITM Power several times in the past as a company that wants to make hydrogen cars accessible to everyone.

Their plan is to retrofit cars such as the Ford Focus to run on hydrogen. At the same time they are developing low cost home hydrogen refueling stations that run on solar power (or wind power), electrolyze water and create hydrogen cleanly.

ITM Power has also been asked to participate in this year’s Eco Rally from Brighton to London with the modified Ford Focus. While many naysayers talk loudly about how the electrolysis process for creating hydrogen will never be efficient, ITM Power is taking definitive and incremental steps to prove those critics wrong.

Visit the original post at: Fuel Cell News

NF Energy scores $2 million lighting contract in China
Shenyang, China-based energy services company plans to provide Liaoning province with energy-efficient electrical lighting under new contract.

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Schneider Electric provides a Madagascan village access to renewable energies through its BipBop program
On May 27, Schneider Electric presented an off-grid solar photovoltaic facility to local officials in Marovato, on Madagascar’s east coast, as part of its in-house BipBop energy access program for people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Schneider Electric deployed its full range of skills and competencies to offer Marovato’s 120 residents access to energy that is safe, reliable, efficient, productive and green. To carry out this project, the Group forged an innovative partnership with businesses, associations and residents within the Jirano association, whose mission is to set up a sustainable electricity supply system for isolated villages in Madagascar.

Schneider Electric and its partners developed a dedicated solution tailored to the nature and size of this project. The solution’s components ensure that the system operates smoothly, at top efficiency, and protect the solar installation. The Group provided a Xantrex by Schneider Electric photovoltaic inverter and charger, circuit breakers, and remote supervision and monitoring of the electrical enclosure via the GSM network. The facility generates peak power of 1,400 watts. In comparison, the village currently uses 490 watts. Schneider Electric and the Jirano association also developed a program to teach residents how to maintain the facility. In all, 12 jobs in electricity-related fields were created. In 2009, projects supported by Schneider Electric in Madagascar are expected to electrify 1,000 households, train 100 people and create 50 additional jobs.

Claude Graff, Executive Vice President, Renewable Energies, Schneider Electric said: “The electrification of Marovato demonstrates Schneider Electric’s ability to deploy a sustainable system that provides access to renewable energies and meets the region’s accessibility constraints.”

In a country with a limited power grid where only 20% of the population has access to electricity, off-grid clean energy solutions are a simple and efficient way to meet the development needs of disadvantaged communities. By helping these communities tap into renewable energies, Schneider Electric is reaffirming its socially responsible commitment to helping improve quality of life for people at the bottom of the pyramid and facilitating access to healthcare and education.
Gilles Vermot Desroches, Senior Vice President, Sustainable Development, Schneider Electric explained: “The key success factor in this project lies in a new type of cooperation in which businesses and village associations work together towards a common goal. We intend to pursue this initiative in the new economies that are the target of our BipBop energy access program.”

The Marovato electrification project is the first initiative to come out of Schneider Electric’s BipBop program, which stands for “Business Investment People at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. The program covers three strategically-related areas:
- Business – Build and deliver electrical distribution solutions for people at the bottom of the pyramid.
- Investment – Create an investment fund to develop electrical businesses.
- People – Help provide electrical training for young people looking to enter the workforce.

Helping customers consume less, produce more effectively, improve energy efficiency, protect the environment and contribute to the development of renewable energy sources is an integral part of Schneider Electric’s business and strategy. The BipBop initiative to electrify Marovato illustrates Schneider Electric’s desire to create a virtuous circle combining business, innovation and social responsibility.

Find the press kit on the electrification of the village of Marovato in the Press Area of Schneider Electric website.

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New Suntech testing lab gets UL stamp of approval
Wuxi, China-based silicon PV manufacturer opens module testing lab with backing from Underwriters Laboratories to bring its solar products to market faster.

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Defenestrate your assumptions

Defenestrate your assumptions

If one is to go by what cleantech VCs are saying these days, it seems like we’re at a time where some of the core assumptions and current patterns in cleantech venture capital might be about to see some changes.

This is all within the context of VCs generally agreeing that cleantech is going to see continued interest and investments going forward (note: pdf), of course. But the colleagues I speak with will often refer to some key challenges facing the sector’s status quo:

1. The venture model is (kinda) broken, across all sectors. Lots of people say this phrase, but they all tend to mean different things by it. In general, however, there’s a growing recognition that in the overall venture capital industry the big funds are getting too big, the returns have been too low, the valuations have risen as too much money floods in, and true company-building skills have fallen away in favor of attempts to simply harvest already well-established opportunities.

2. We’re still waiting on the big exits in cleantech. To be clear, there have definitely been some big cleantech success stories and there has been an increasing pattern of exits overall, but we have yet to see the big “make the fund” type of exit that would justify the kind of dollars that have been thrown at certain opportunities (ahem, solar, ahem). There are plenty of good excuses for this, including the lack of an IPO window, the overall economy, and the fact that the major investment activity has only taken place over the last few years. But lacking success stories, VCs lack good examples of what works in the sector. And so many of the most ardently-felt and -stated opinions about investment models (ones that become conventional wisdom and accepted at face value by journalists and others) remain very untested.

3. There are too many VC firms in general, and too many inexperienced teams throwing themselves at cleantech in particular. That sounds more disparaging than I mean it to be — I’ve met with many first-time teams that have very smart ideas and good backgrounds outside of cleantech venture capital. Some will end up being the engines of the new creative thinking that we might be about to see in the sector. But the fact remains that there are well over 100 venture capital firms that are focused only on cleantech venture capital, and then another couple of hundred that want to put money into the sector along with other venture sectors. They can’t all thrive, and in fact many won’t survive their initial fundraising efforts. But the number of these firms running around meeting with companies, with LPs, etc. is dizzying. And yet at the same time, actual experience (much less track records) in cleantech venture capital remains tough to find.

4. It’s become conventional wisdom that the sector should focus on “growth stage” investments (although different investors have different ideas about what exactly that means). On paper, at least, it appears to be the stage where the risk/rewards and the timeframe to exit fit best with the returns hopes of these investors. However, as per point #2 above, it’s completely uncertain that the exit multiples in industries like energy and water (where the market prices are often affected by the availability of multiple alternative solutions to what is essentially the production of basic commodities like kwh and drinking water) will be as healthy as these investors expect, since we haven’t seen many such exits yet. And the sheer volumes of capital being directed into this stage means that, in order to win these deals, many of these investors will likely end up overpaying for the opportunity. It may seem less risky on paper, but the capital supply and demand dynamics in growth stage cleantech venture capital means that the efficacy of that kind of a stage focus is very much an open question. Yet in general, according to the NVCA survey linked above, many more VCs expect to be shifting later rather than earlier over time.

5. There remain some pretty major underserved “gaps” in the marketplace. A) There’s a gap at the seed stage, in subsectors within cleantech where the gestation period of an innovation is going to take longer to bring to market than typically meets the timeframes of even “early stage” cleantech investors. B) There’s a gap in “first of a kind” and “second of a kind”, etc., project finance — financing the build-out of a CIGS solar manufacturing facility, for instance. VCs have done some of this, but it costs a lot and they’re reticent to keep paying for steel in the ground. Government dollars are helping to address this, but it remains (as always) a slow and uncertain source of such capital. C) There’s a gap in all of the non-proprietary-technology parts of clean energy and water markets. Much of the business opportunity from any “clean energy revolution” (as some have termed it) will actually be captured by service players like specialized installers, consultants, outsourced service providers, etc. But these types of businesses really don’t fit the typical venture model, because it’s tough to see huge exit multiples and tough to see how they scale quickly enough to provide 10x returns for VCs. Yet they will make money as businesses, even if they won’t do it in the specific model that VCs will look for.

What’s the answer to all of the above? To be determined, stay tuned. But these are the kinds of challenges that I hear about from my fellow investors in the space, and these investors are often talking about this being a time to be innovative about investment models, investment structures, and the like.

Of course, VCs are infamous for not really putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to changing the traditional VC model. So we’ll have to see if anything actually happens. But if there’s ever to be innovative new approaches that could change the way our industry does things, now would be the time.

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Oil Companies Acquire More Ethanol Plants
As I noted in my essay Big Oil Buys Big Ethanol, I expected that we would see more oil companies buying up troubled ethanol assets. Per the Houston Chronicle, Sunoco has become the latest:

Oil companies shop for discounted ethanol plants

FULTON, N.Y. — When Sunoco closed this week on the acquisition of a bankrupt ethanol plant for pennies on the dollar, it became just the latest oil refiner to step into the alternative fuels market.

Traditional refiners under pressure to reduce emissions are finding new avenues to meet evolving environmental standards, and finding big bargains along the way.

However, I think the article largely misses the point of why these transactions are taking place:

The plant is close to Sunoco’s main operations in the Northeast where many of its 4,700 gas stations are concentrated, but the shift in U.S. energy policy was a big motivator.

The entry of traditional oil companies is part of a natural industry evolution, [Matt] Hartwig [of the Renewable Fuels Association] said.

I don’t think these transactions are taking place because oil companies want to go green, or because they see this as a fantastic growth opportunity. They are doing this merely because they have been required to put ethanol in their gasoline. To meet their commitments, they can either purchase ethanol from the ethanol producers, or they can buy their own ethanol plants. If you can acquire ethanol plants for pennies on the dollar, it is cheaper for them to go that route. If, on the other hand they thought the mandates were going away, I don’t think they would be jumping in.

But don’t be surprised if the top U.S. oil companies — Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips — don’t make the leap, Kment said.

“For them, a 50 million gallon, or even a 100-million gallon plant would only produce a drop in the bucket of their total needs,” Kment said.

But again, it isn’t about their total needs. It is about meeting the ethanol mandate, which they can do by producing “a drop in the bucket of their total needs.” This isn’t about oil companies trying to become ethanol companies. The scale of ethanol is far too small for that. Even if the oil companies bought up all of the ethanol capacity in the country, it would still be only a drop in the bucket. But it would enable to them to fulfill the government mandate.

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BIOROCK Uses Rocks to Treat Sewage

BIOROCK Uses Rocks to Treat Sewage

Rocks are the treatment medium for the BIOROCK mini sewage treatment system.Good-bye honey truck, hello rocks.   A mini sewage treatment plant called BIOROCK beats conventional septic systems on every level.  Using rocks as a medium, BIOROCK needs little or no electricity, requires less maintenance, and produces a super-clean effluent.  It’s scalable down to use for individual homes.  Farms, campgrounds, trailer parks, corporate parks, subdivisions and vacation spots are other likely uses.  BIOROCK was developed in the Netherlands and has been kicking around Europe for a number of years. Recently it made the jump to Ireland and Canada, so it could be only a matter of time before it pops up in the U.S.

More Efficient Sewage Treatment on a Small Scale

BIOROCK consists of a modular block, installed underground like a septic tank.  In the first treatment chamber, solids are trapped and digested anaerobically.  The company claims that this chamber requires emptying only every 3-4 years.  The second chamber treats the effluent through an aerobic process.  It contains layers of fibrous rock in netting, which are exposed to air through a natural updraft, or chimney effect.  Aerobic bacteria grow inside the rock matrix, aided by the updraft, and digest the suspended solids.  BIOROCK U.K. reports that the effluent beats European standards for small sewage treatment plants, EN 12566-3 2005 and EN 12566-7 2006.

Sustainable Sewage Treatment

BIROCK’s ease of maintenance, simple installation, and use of recyclable materials helps contribute to a low carbon footprint.  The BIOROCK process itself requires no electricity, and it is designed to discharge effluent by gravity into a waterway.

Sewage Treatment Off the Grid

Sewage treatment is one of the stickiest dilemmas that off-grid building designers face, especially in urban areas.  The BIROCK system offers one solution for sites where a gravity discharge is not possible and pumping is required.  Small scale solar panel and wind turbine components are available to help keep the system off-grid.  The system could also prove useful for off-grid second homes or eco-vacation spots, even when they are not used year-round.  It can be left dormant for long periods of time without damage, and it can be restarted within a day or so compared several weeks for a conventional septic system start-up.

Note:  BIOROCK is not to be confused with the Biorock method of restoring coral reefs.

Image: Ryan Harvey on

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ODAC Newsletter – June 19

ODAC Newsletter – June 19

A weekly review from a UK perspective.

read more

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Transparent Electronics: A Solar Energy Breakthrough
A Solar Energy Breakthrough

Not even in our wildest dreams have we anticipated that while we are simply looking out the window enjoying the outside view our windows can simultaneously produce energy for our household needs! Not only windows but the facade of the house, too, might be harnessing the power of solar energy. This might be our [...]
Posted in: Inventions, PhotoVoltaics, Solar Power

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Duke Energy Tests Solar Panels And New Smart Grid Technology in Charlotte
06/19/2009 – An array of 213 solar panels will soon provide electricity to homes
served by Duke Energy’s McAlpine Creek substation in south
Charlotte, North Carolina – all part of an effort to implement new
smart grid technology…

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Duke Energy Tests Solar Panels And New Smart Grid Technology in Charlotte
06/19/2009 – An array of 213 solar panels will soon provide electricity to homes
served by Duke Energy’s McAlpine Creek substation in south
Charlotte, North Carolina – all part of an effort to implement new
smart grid technology…

Visit the original post at: Energy News

Global Biofuels Market to Reach $247 Billion by 2020 Despite Near-Term Challenges: Report
06/19/2009 – A new report from Pike Research forecasts that, despite significant
challenges, the combined biodiesel and ethanol markets will reach
$247 billion in sales by 2020, up from just $76 billion in 2010…

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groSolar’s Financing Program Bears Fruit
BELLINGHAM, Mass. – Kim and Richard Loring have dreamed of installing solar panels on their Bellingham home for years, but assumed they would have to wait many more years before they could afford to make the investment. Thanks to a new solar financing program now available to Massachusetts homeowners, the Lorings are getting a new five kilowatt system on their roof this summer, designed and installed by Vermont-based solar provider groSolar.
Visit the original post at: Renewable Energy News –

Prism Solar Technologies Receives Award from the National Science Foundation to Develop New Thin Film Modules
Prism Solar Technologies, Inc., a manufacturer of a unique holographic solar technology for solar-electric modules, received an award from the National Science Foundation in support of the development of a prototype that uses Prism Solar’s holographic concentrating film with thin film cells, in particular Cu(In, Ga)Se2 (CIGS) cells.
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