Superconducting Dynamic Synchronous Condenser Seeks to Enter FACTS Marketplace

FACTS is seen as key to expanding the integration of wind power, solar, and other generation sources to the grid under anticipated stricter power quality/reliability regulations. American Superconductor (AMSC) hopes its SuperVAR dynamic synchronous condenser—effectively a superconducting motor designed to provide reactive power (VARs)—will succeed in carving a niche in some portion of the FACTS market (Volume 20, Number 06 of Superconductor Week).

If development of the SuperVAR machine continues as hoped, it may offer advantages over competing VAR solutions. Mike Ingram, Senior Manager of Transmission Technologies at the Tennessee Valley Authority, believes FACTS devices and alternate technologies such as STATCOM and SVC are the two solutions that will compete most closely with the AMSC’s SuperVAR machine.

David Eromon, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electronics, Computer, and Information Technology at North Carolina A&T State University, believes a number of factors will impact the demand for VAR devices, including trends in use of distributed energy, including renewable energy generation. Eromon also believes that energy quality and reliability standards which may emerge as a result of the U.S. Energy Policy Act could potentially help spur this growth.

Regardless of their usefulness, success in selling VAR solutions will depend to some extent on educating the customer on their usefulness. “There is a lack of awareness with engineers at utilities, due in some part to the dynamic nature of our utility grid these days,” commented Kevin Dennis, Manager for North America, Advanced Power Electronics at ABB. “Wind farms are well aware of the need for VARs. But among industrial users and distribution utilities, the amount of knowledge out there varies greatly. Some people running plants still do not know what VAR solutions are, or where they should go.”

In one respect, AMSC is well-positioned to tackle the VAR market’s need for education: As one of the world’s leading developers of high temperature superconductors for power applications, AMSC is already acting in the capacity of one of the industry’s most vocal educators for advanced power solutions and their underlying technologies.

Mark Bitterman, Executive Editor, Superconductor Week

Is the Future of Solar in Space?

My attention was caught by a recent news story about the Space Island Group, which intends to build commercial space stations for a multitude of purposes, including the manufacture of solar power satellites (SPS). The article credited SIG with the intent to supply half the world’s energy needs by capturing the sun’s power in space and beaming it to the Earths’ surface using microwaves. The article inferred that the Group believes it can capture a $1 trillion share (in today’s terms) for an initial development and launch investment of $10 billion. Given that energy demand is forecast to increase by perhaps 60% by 2030, this is not only an extremely ambitious technical target and an incredible commercial ambition. Just how realistic is the ambition and how likely are they to succeed?

First a little background on SPS, which is really necessary if we are to put the goals in context:

• An SPS installation would consist of a huge PV array in geostationary orbit linked to a microwave transmitter assembly aimed at a large area receiving antenna on Earth.

• The attractions of such an arrangement include the fact that the array would be in sunlight over 99% of the time. The SPS would be in Earth’s shadow on only a few days at the spring and fall equinoxes and, even then, for a maximum of an hour and a half late at night when power demands are at their lowest.

• The idea of beaming energy to Earth via satellite was first proposed by Peter Glaser in 1968 who was later awarded a patent. The idea itself makes sense!

• There have been investigations of the concept almost continually since then by almost every respectable authority, including the US DOE, NASA, NRC as well as the European and Japanese and these are ongoing.

So, if it has technical merit, what are the problems?

• The PV array would be much larger than any assembled yet on Earth. A 5GW array is often discussed. I we could buy this for $3/watt – which is well below current factory gate module prices – this would imply a current cost of $15 billion for the modules alone in this array. Granted mass production on this scale will make costs much lower and some thin film companies are predicting eventual system costs of $1/watt.

• Several factors may mitigate against this though:

o There are two extreme manufacturing options: manufacture the panels one Earth and ransport them into space: manufacture the systems in space from materials either obtained in space or transported from Earth.

o Current space launch rates (Shuttle) run between $3,000 and $5,000 per pound ($6,600/kg and $11,000/kg).

o To give an idea of the scale of the problem, assuming a typical solar panel mass of 20 kg per kilowatt, and without considering the mass of the support structure, antenna or significant mass reduction of focusing mirrors, a 5 GW power station would weigh about 100,000 metric tons.

o This is excessive though, as a space solar-panel would not need to support its own weight, and would not be subject to earth’s corrosive atmosphere. Very lightweight designs might achieve 1 kg/kW, or 5000 metric tons for a 5 GW station.

o This would be the equivalent of between 50 and 1000 launches to send the material to low earth orbit, where it would be turned into subassembly solar arrays, which then use ion-engine style rockets to move to geostationary orbit. With an estimated serial shuttle-based launch cost of $500 million to $800 million, total launch costs would range between $22 billion and $400 billion On top of this, would be the cost of large assembly areas in low Earth orbit and in geostationary orbit.

o Not all PV modules are suitable for space use and those most extensively tested – based on triple junction gallium arsenide cells – are much more expensive than silicon or CIGS thin film.

o The cost of the transmitter and receiving antennae will be additional to the array cost. For 5GW system using 2.45GHz radiation, a transmitter might have a diameter of 1km – in this case the receiving antennae would need to have a diameter of over 10km. Although these might be simple structures they will not be cheap!

o But let’s be optimistic – unreasonably so! Let’s assume that the panels and electronics can be manufactured for $1/watt, that transportation costs are at the low end of the estimates ($22 billion), and the antennas add only $1/watt

o This would give a total cost for a single 5GW array of $32 billion – roughly $6.40/watt, which I less than the current cost of terrestrial systems

• This 5 GW system would generate almost 40TWh/year, worth almost $2 billion at 5 cents per watt. A long payback!

• The current World electricity demand is about 1500 TWh/year and may grow to 20,000TWh/yr in 2010 and 30,000 TWh/yr in 2030. This single 5GW installation would contribute less than less than 2% of the world’s needs in 2010

I have not even tried to address seriously the problems of satisfying governments and the populace that they are not about to be “microwaved” should such a project go ahead. In truth, my perception is that there is little or no evidence that the systems as envisaged would posed any hazard to man or animal and launch costs will depend dramatically on the designed structures and the manufacturing methods. However, I see these are refinements that are not needed to decide it the postulate makes sense: to quote from the article which originally intrigues me:

“SIG is currently pursuing a $200 billion, 20-year energy purchase contract from India and/or China this year, 5% of which will cover all of SIG’s development and early launch costs. SIG’s target is to supply half the world’s electricity generation and distribution, currently a $2 trillion annual market.”

Now I have no idea what SIG envisage their “development and early launch costs “ to include, but I am forced to conclude that, realistically, $10 billion will not even cover the cost of deploying one 5GW system and see little chance that they will capture 50% of the demand in any realistic timeframe.

This all sounds as if I am completely turned off by the idea, but the opposite is true! It would need only 50 of these “power stations” to satisfy global demand in 2010 and the concept of producing vast amounts of energy in space and “beaming” the power, safely and economically, to where it is needed, is a dream worth aspiring to. I just don’t think we are going to get there in my lifetime!

Renewable Energy’s Mainstream Moves

In an effort to create what has come to be understood as a diversified energy portfolio, renewable energy has become a key component to our energy future. The market can certainly be evaluated based on increases in industry participants, growing adoption rates, larger revenue levels, international expansion and even by the growing number of renewable / clean energy companies entering the public market, however there are other perspectives to consider.

In addition to market data, evidence of renewable and clean energy mainstream acceptance is seen all around us. Take a look and you should notice a growing number of renewable and clean energy conferences, events that appear to be gaining momentum in terms of credibility, participation and sponsorship as more and more companies are embracing this industry in some capacity as part of their business model, whether that be from a cost cutting or image standpoint, or from the perspective that this industry offers viable business opportunities.

Another indicator comes from the increased blog coverage of renewable energy, which has acted as a forum for the passionate, for the opportunist and also the average day person who has come to understand the role that such technologies will undoubtedly play in their lives.If these signs are not enough one has to only turn the television on to networks such as CNBC to understand the surge in coverage of the renewable energy industry. For example CNBC has been running a new segment entitled Going Green that has been reviewing a wide range of renewable energy technologies. Today’s segment saw an interview piece with Dr. Robert Wilder, CEO & Founder of Wildershares, LLC and Manager of the WilderHill Clean Energy Index, an ongoing member of the (RES) Online Industry Roundtable and frequent participant in RES industry articles, on market opportunities. This exposure is an example of the expanded coverage that industry experts such as Dr. Wilder are receiving, now more than ever, as renewables have become a part of today’s and tomorrow’s energy discussion.

As oil prices continue along their current path, our road towards even higher energy costs seems inevitable, taking us closer and closer towards alternatives to help resolve the impacts that years of living in a fossil fuel economy have created. This direction will in turn drive further innovation and adoption of renewable energy technology to the point where discussions such as this on ‘mainstream acceptance’ will be a thing of the past.

BP Solar launches beyond marketing 101

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Periodically, I cull a pile of materials on sustainable technologies; a few articles survive the purging like Fortune’s 2004 article, “Inside the Head of BP: He doesn’t like red meat. He thinks green. What is John Browne doing running the world’s largest oil company?”

He’s marketing clean energy…among other things.

A friend recently landed a job with BP Solar (formerly Solarex) in Frederick, Maryland, so the company has been on my mind. (I had approached Solarex in 1995 about working for it – prior to its purchase by Enron and Amoco – and was told by a worried marketing executive that it might not survive dwindling subsidies. What a difference a decade makes.)

BP Solar sells crystalline-based photovoltaics (PV); in 2002 it ceased manufacturing thin-film PV, saying “while the technology continues to show promise, lack of material demand and present economics do not allow for continued investment.” Thin-film PV can use semiconductor materials other than silicon. Paradoxically, silicon, on which crystalline-based PV depends, is in short supply; the costs of silicon are going up; demand for PV panels is rising – all of which is increasing end-product costs (and contradicts ‘economies of scale.’ – see “Clean-Energy Trends 2006.”)

Marketing is pivotal to market adoption, but there are some things marketing just can’t control – like rising raw materials costs, product availability, changing regulations and incentives and (all too often) corporate business strategy. Marketing can, however, enhance business development via sponsorships, partnerships, affiliations and channels, and it can direct strategic branding, product placement and messaging.

Emerging from the monopoly utility sector, where marketing is something of a misnomer, it’s a pleasure, for me, to see companies like BP Solar employ great strategic marketing. (I do get pulled back…Claritas and ESource sponsored a WebEx seminar this week on the strategic marketing of utility green-pricing and demand-side management programs – a very utility-centric, but informative, hour that covered basic strategic marketing and implementation tactics: PRIZM® cluster segmentation, channels, customer acquisition costs, customer loyalty, retention and churn, integrated marketing communications, affinity marketing…and ‘version’ messaging, that is, tailoring messages to different segments.)

Ah, yes, messaging. On that topic, Amely Greeven, a marketing consultant guru, scoffed at clean energy marketing in a 2002 article by Amanda Griscom of Grist Magazine.

“Mainstream consumers simply aren’t turned on by an industry associated with smiling suns, glittering purple-panel roofscapes, and purist, hippy-dippy lifestyles…Like it or not, the face of ‘green’ needs a makeover. It needs a marketing strategy that’s edgy and of-the-moment, rather than lost in a ’70s sensibility. Young celebrity spokespeople, for one thing, could go a long way to push this fringe movement into the mainstream.”

(Did you just cringe at ‘fringe’? I did, but also am of the mind that the ‘green’ market segment – people whose concerns about climate change, resource depletion and the environment influence their purchases – is finite, and that the term itself turns off buyers with a block against anything remotely ‘tree-huggie.” But that’s a topic for another day.)

Griscom wrote that BP ‘got it’ in 2002 with a hip branding campaign (BP on the Street) created by Ogilvy & Mather (big corporations turn to big agencies). You’ve seen these ads about new energy and climate change. If not, it’s time to get out more. They are ubiquitous. (“And they’re everywhere, too!” a friend would joke.) The BP branding campaign includes tv and print, point-of-sale materials and even an online calculator for your ‘carbon footprint.’

BP Solar marketing today?

On November 29, 2005, BP announced formation of an Alternative Energy unit and expansion of the Frederick (crystalline-based PV) manufacturing plant. (Joel Makower, a contributor to the cleantechblog, wrote about the announcement, ‘It’s a Start.’) A webcast of that day includes a speech by US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett who noted the importance of job creation for Maryland – but mostly he spoke on population growth and ‘peaking oil.’ Vivienne Cox, BP’s Executive VP of Gas, Power & Renewables, addressed marketing:

“When complete, these steps will effect the doubling of BP’s global solar manufacturing capacity. The success of solar power is not just dependent on the right manufacturing strategy of course. It also requires world class marketing to attract energy consumers to the merits of and access to solar power. [italics mine] … This growth plan will ensure BP Alternative Energy is one of the world’s top 3 solar manufacturers and marketers. And we aim to be a leader in the solar industry in the drive to reduce the total installed costs of providing solar energy to levels at which it can compete strongly with oil, gas, coal and nuclear in the generation of electricity – something that is possible today in some markets (California peak, Japan, Hawaii). This is possible through continued innovation and technology gains across the solar value chain, including lower cost panels, higher efficiency cells, and more productive ‘total system’ installations. Over the next 5 years we see another 30-40% total system cost per watt improvement which will close the ‘grid parity’ gap considerably in many markets.”

What is BP Solar’s marketing strategy? I’ll be writing about it here next week.

‘2005 Year of the Solar Stocks’

Looking back, 2005 stands out as a turning point year as more solar related companies entered the public market helping the solar industry to attract an increased level of investor interest. This is supported by a comparison of the performance in 2005 of 7 solar related public companies that trade on major US stock markets versus a number of other indices that are commonly used for comparisons. It is interesting to note the performance of Distributed Energy Systems Corporation (NASDAQ: DESC), DayStar Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: DSTI), Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ: ENER), Evergreen Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: ESLR), Spire Corporation (NASDAQ:SPIR), Sunpower Corporation (NASDAQ: SPWR) and Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP).’s J.Peter Lynch takes a closer look in his column ‘Renewable and Solar Energy Perspectives’ – 2005 Year of the Solar Stocks

Santa Clara VTA and 3 Ballard Buses

Over 1,000,000 people have taken rides on the 30 CUTE hydrogen buses running in Europe. We are now playing catch-up in the USA. Over 2,000 people take daily rides on the eight hydrogen buses in California.

NREL has published the detailed evaluation of Santa Clara’s implementation of 3 hydrogen buses and the Air Products liquid hydrogen storage and gaseous fueling. The study includes helpful details about infrastructure, codes and standards, emergency responder issues, fueling and transportation. More than 300 successful fuel cell bus and light-duty vehicle fills have been achieved with no injuries or reportable incidents. Until April 2005, it took approximately 18-24 minutes to fuel a fuel cell bus. Since then, when Air Products put the new cryogenic compressor online, fueling time has been reduced to an average of 10-14 minutes.

Hydrogen fuel cost an average of $8.56 per kg throughout the evaluation period. One factor that makes the fueling cost higher than diesel is that the buses do not use hydrid technology such as regenerative braking. At nearby AC Transit, the fuel cells are 50% smaller because hydrid technology and advanced batteries are used. Batteries and ultracapacitors are less expensive than fuel cells. Look for advanced hydrid design in future hydrogen vehicles. The 60 page report is available free: New Feature for Freelance Journalists and Industry Experts to Contribute Industry Content

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Areva Has Arrived?

In her weekly column in New Power Executive, Diane Borska of The Borska Group often is able to surface insights that I might have otherwise missed.

This week, she profiles Areva, the French company created in 2001 through the merger of CEA Industrie, Cogema and Framatome.

Article on Areva in New Power Executive

Diane makes the interesting observation that, in regards to energy, Areva is following in the footsteps of its giant American counterpart, GE. Areva is focusing on carbon-neutral generation approaches. Up till now, that has meant predominantly nuclear, but according to Borska, Areva is intending to significantly invest in renewables in the coming years, especially in fuel cells and wind turbines.

It’s always good news when a huge multinational such as Areva jumps into the cleantech fray with a vengeance. Thanks to Diane for making me aware of it. It’s probably a company that we should all get to know better.