Ethanol is a Growth Opportunity for Cleantech

Ethanol is a growth opportunity for cleantech. When you drive, there is most likely ethanol in your fuel tank. Ethanol is a fuel from a plant source that is normally mixed with gasoline. The percentage varies widely. All current U.S. vehicles can run on a blend of up to 10% ethanol (E10).(1) (Karen Lundegaard, Wall Street Journal, 4/17/06.) Some states require ethanol as an oxygenating agent in gasoline, replacing MTBE and tetraethyl lead.

Ethanol is reducing the U.S. dependency on foreign oil. We are growing our own fuel. Brazil has used ethanol to reduce its dependency on gasoline by 40%. In the U.S., 2%.

There is a heated debate about whether ethanol helps the environment. If you live in Brazil, the answer is that ethanol is a big help. In Brazil, ethanol is processed from sugarcane, a cellulosic source. This cellulosic ethanol produces over eight times more energy than the fossil energy used in its production.(2) (Hunt, Sawin, Stair, “Cultivating Renewable Alternatives to Oil,” State of the World 2006.)

In the U.S., the vast majority of ethanol is processed from corn. There may be no environmental benefit if the “wheel-to-wheels” process uses diesel farm equipment, fertilizer from fossil fuel, coal produced electricity, and diesel fuel delivery trucks.

Ethanol creates a major economic opportunity for the USA. We produce 33% of the world’s ethanol, second only to Brazil. Major firms like ADM and Cargill are rapidly expanding capacity. General Motors and Ford have been promoting E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline). GM launched a national campaign, “Live Green Go Yellow.” GM will produce some 400,000 flex-fuel vehicles this year, up from 275,000 in 2005. Ford is planning 250,000 flex-fuel vehicles in 2006 (including versions of its popular F-150 pickup truck), up from some 200,000 last year. Daimler Chrysler is the leader in diesel and will take the lead in biodiesel, promoting more mpg. These three are all fighting to regain market share from hybrid leaders Toyota and Honda.

Which is better, hydrogen or ethanol? Hydrogen transportation is cleaner with almost no health damaging emissions. Renewable hydrogen produced at the fueling site, running in a fuel cell, produces zero greenhouse gases. Hydrogen reformed from a fossil fuel, then transported 1,000 miles to a fueling station, results in more “wheel to wheels” greenhouse gases than cellulosic ethanol produced near the pump.

Which will become a dominate fuel? Both. E10 will first be widely deployed in the U.S. E85 will grow more slowly because new pumps are required. Hydrogen is more disruptive, requiring new vehicles, fueling, codes and is more costly. In the long run, hydrogen may be the bigger winner as costs fall dramatically. Hydrogen can be produced from more sources ranging from wind electrolysis to being processed from the same plant sources as ethanol.

(1) Karen Lundegaard, “Hybrids get all the attention, but biofuels are also starting to gather steam,” Wall Street Journal, 4/17/06.

(2) Hunt, Sawin, Stair, “Cultivating Renewable Alternatives to Oil,” State of the World 2006, p.69.

India’s growing renewable energy market

India and China’s growing economies are adding to the current global oil dependency as world oil demand is estimated to reach 90 million barrels per day (bpd) before the end of this decade. With current prices fluctuating in the $60’s and experts such as T Boon Pickens saying we could see $100 barrel, there is a global push and demand to seek alternative energy solutions.

India and China could see the high growth they are experiencing come to a significant slow down if oil prices are too high and no solutions are in place.Technology to reduce the dependency on oil and gas needs to be implemented to find short-term and long-term solutions.

India is taking heed and now ranks fourth in the world for wind energy behind Germany, Spain and the United States. The country’s monsoon winds, contribute to their current annual power production . The World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) sees India as a leader in Asian countries in the area of generating wind power. India, with overall capacity (4,430 MW) and additions (1,430 MW) is taking steps to deal with a pending energy crisis.

The world is listening as wind energy currently delivers worldwide 1 per cent of the global electricity generation.

China moved up from 10th position in 2004 (764 MW) to 8th in 2005 (1,260 MW), and with installations, has reached the sixth position worldwide. The Chinese Government adopted a renewable energy law in 2005 with the goal of strengthening its manufacturing industry so it can produce an increased number of turbines to meet its future demands.

Global energy players are being asked to make progress in addressing a global-energy policy approach to secure energy efficiency and environmental protection.

Mixing Oil and Water in Middle East

This week I spoke with a colleague from the Oil/Gas and Engineering Services industry and we were discussing the Middle East, and opportunities for companies to deploy clean oil tech or water efficiency/purification technology into this area. I thought id comment on this and a few Australian technologies I’ve seen that might be able to take advantage of this market.

The stable Middle Eastern oil producing countries are attractive due to last few years of high oil prices cashing up this area of the world. Now when coupled with the increasing pressure to clean up and increase efficiencies in oil industry, and the significant demand for water by an affluent large population, this presents a big opportunity for companies to introduce efficiency technologies in both industries.

Technologies which can which have even meager greenhouse gas or water efficiency improvements coupled with the ability to deploy into the region can benefit significantly from the available cash to invest into this area.

The real key in these markets are the organisations that are already operating in the middle east through oil relationships, such as large engineering and industrial firms, that can deploy small scale improvements in large volumes.

So lets look at a couple of Australian oil/gas and water technologies that if deployed on a large scale are of significant interest.

The first is a company called Katrix based out of Melbourne, Australia. Katrix was established in 2001 to commercialise a new class of mechanical technology for fluid compression, expansion and internal combustion engines. The Katrix technology is an innovative fluid processing technology able to compress, expand, transfer or internally combust various fluids.” “The technology now is in commercial development with clearly defined products expected to be launched into the market from 2006 onwards.

The functional motor/expander unit as I understand (when talking with their CEO) can be effective at the scale of a small scooter sized engine.

From a middle east perspective this technology has a key application of being able to operate as a micro-power generator when placed at gas expansion points in natural gas lines or other industrial oil systems:

As a fluid motor or expander, it is expected to revolutionise micro-power generation through its proven high isentropic efficiency (>50%) at the sub-100kW power output range, with clearly identified developments that increase this to 75% or more.

The Second in the water industry is NSW company IOteq and their ISAN® disinfection technology.

“Ioteq produces innovative, environmentally friendly, fully automated, cost effective disinfection solutions for agriculture, horticulture, waste water, manufacturing, industrial and consumer applications. The Isan system is the Ioteq vehicle used for the control and delivery of the active ingredient, BioMax® Iodine, as well as the collection of all disinfection by-products by the BioRes® resin.

The Isan System, in all its many sizes and configurations, is a sophisticated, highly engineered, fully automated disinfection process. However, whilst very smart in its features and controls it is also extremely simple to use making it a breakthrough technology in some of the target industries.

source: ioteq website

With systems capable of treating water flows from 10,000 litres per hour to millions of litres per day, they all include combinations of electrodes for measuring iodine levels in the target water stream, a control unit which automatically controls the running of the system, iodine canisters to deliver the BioMaxA iodine, and resin canisters containing BioResA resin to collect all iodine by-products after disinfection has been completed.”

This technology has cross industry applications but provides the obvious ability to recycle water in significant volumes. Something which would be of interest in the middle east as desalination is a costly activity hence the more times you can use the water the better.

PowerGen Renewables: Viva Las Vegas!

This past week, I attended probably the largest annual pan-renewables event in the U.S.: PowerGen Renewables, held each spring in Las Vegas. This event is produced by Pennwell (which puts on the immense annual PowerGen show for the conventional power generation industry), and is organized by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

The keynote session packed a huge hall, with a claimed attendance of 2500. The first presenter was the new leader of DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) shop: Alexander Karsner. (March 23 press release) It’s notable that Karsner is actually a renewable industry guy himself, having led Enercorp, a project developer that includes some wind in its portfolio history. Karsner’s speech was probably pretty compelling on paper, but (in my view) he tried too hard to express his passion and instead came off a more than a little overly-strident, even militaristic. Oh well, perhaps with time he’ll polish off his “hot” edges; he’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities to do so in future speeches.

The keynote session also included ex-CIA Director Jim Woolsey, who made an outstanding case for biofuels as a means to dramatically reduce our dangerous reliance on the Middle East for transportation fuels, as well as reduce emissions. If you get the chance to hear him speak on this topic, make your schedule work for it.

But, GE’s “Ecomagination” talk was strangely flat, and after the keynote session, the event lost steam. There were probably only a couple hundred attendees by Day Two, and the exhibition floor distinctly lacked a buzz for the whole show.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that the hall was much bigger than it needed to be, but the lack of crowds trolling the booths suggests that there may not be much of a market for a trade show that spans the various forms of renewable energy.

The wind industry was not very well represented. Among the bigger players, GE was the only manufacturer and enXco the only developer to exhibit. Probably this is because the U.S. wind market is “large enough” for industry players to see the upcoming AWEA Windpower Conference in Pittsburgh in June as the only venue that matters.

In the solar industry, much the same story applied: only Kyocera among the major photovoltaics manufacturers had a booth. Presumably, the solar companies view Solar Power 2006 in San Jose this October as the place to be.

On the other hand, the biofuels crowd was far more prevalent than at previous PowerGen Renewable shows. With $60+/barrel oil, and the lack of an established leader in the biofuels trade show arena, I guess that’s not surprising.

ACORE talks about its identity as a “big tent” for all renewable interests to rally under. This probably makes sense for policy issues in Washington, which is where ACORE was founded and remains based. But, with this 3rd annual show now in the books, the verdict remains unclear (at best) for a trade show among corporations in different segments of renewables. It would appear that companies with interests in wind want to do business with each other, not so much with solar parties, and vice versa.

Welcome to Contributor to the Blog – Nick Bruse – Cleantech Forum

I wanted to welcome Nick Bruse to Cleantechblog. Nick will be doing a weekly Sunday column profiling new Australian clean technology companies. He launched his first column this week with a profile of two Australian clean coal technologies, and an overview of the state of technology development in the Australian coal industry.

Nick Bruse is the General Manager of Clean Technology Australasia Pty Ltd, the organization that runs the Cleantech Forum. He co-coordinated the Inaugural 2005 Cleantech Forum in Melbourne, and coordinates the Cleantech Dealer Forums. He also established and coordinates the Sustainable Enterprise Network for small entreprenerial businesses in Melbourne.

Nick has a Masters of Engineering and a Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He is the director of Strike Consulting, an organisation that works with clients to identify and validate opportunities to grow their business successfully. He previously worked for Ericsson Australia as an Investment Manager assessing early to mid stage start-up companies for investment, and while there developed an internal innovation seed fund.

My firm, Jane Capital, does a significant amount of work with energy, environmental, and software technology companies in Australia. As a result, we are excited to have Nick on board, and are looking forward to his column.

Batteries not Bullets

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I might have heard James Woolsey* deliver his opening speech on clean energy at the 58th Conference World Affairs in Boulder, except that it’s been a very busy week. There were presentations for Colorado Interfaith Power & Light in Denver. A wave energy start-up wanted input on its marketing message and a new urbanism real estate developer wanted some guidance on solar photovoltaics. The Green House Network needed someone to administer registration for a conference on climate change and coal-fired plants…so I signed on. Because I couldn’t put it down, I finished reading “Electric Universe” by David Bodanis.

And my dad came out from New York for a brief visit. He’s a corporate attorney – Chinese and Saudi clients…you get the drift – with an ivy undergrad engineering degree. Growing up, time alone together was scarce (divorce, etc); I recall being truly alone him only once, in his garden, talking about tomatoes. (We’re both nuts about gardening.) I don’t have a garden these days, but I do have the ‘brae bio-bus’ project. Absent easy chit-chat about purple heirlooms and pests, I hit him up for advice on the electrical configuration for the bio-bus. I showed him my two maintenance-free 6volt 220ah Lifeline batteries, the solar trickle charger on the starter batteries, and my favorite new toy, a Xantrex 400watt modified sine wave inverter, battery, AC/DC box with charge control panel, AM/FM radio and AC wall wart charger. I pulled out pictures of a 2000watt pure sine wave inverter/charger, a 300amp T fuse block, a distribution box, and solar panels – and the schematic I’d drawn. He thumbed through “The RVers’ Guide to Solar Battery Charging: 12volt DC-120volt AC Inverters” and a Real Goods catalog. Taking shelter from a rare drizzle in Denver, could my dad figure out how AC shore power connects to the inverter/charger? Yes, indeed.

Accelerating Advanced Hybrid Technology into the Marketplace

In the midst of this fascination with the electric universe, I spoke with David West, founding member of the Plug-in Hybrid Development Consortium and Vice President of Marketing for Raser Technologies – an R&D company that develops and licenses advanced electric motor and controller technology. Raser is a member of the Consortium, along with: A123Systems, International Battery, Delta-Q Technologies, Daiken, ENAX, Electrovaya, Maxwell Technologies, and two utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison.

All Consortium members have a financial interest in market adoption of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (or PHEV) – from the manufacturers of components like batteries to the electric utilities. Yet, I’ve heard enough people interested in clean energy declare defensively, “I’m not a tree hugger,” that David’s comments were refreshing. Plug-in hybrids aren’t just about making money; no, they are also about making a better planet. These hybrids are part of a viable vision – one in which the power of batteries, not the force of bullets, meets our growing demand for energy.

The PHEV is not a brand new car, but a line extension of existing models (“I’ll take that spiffy number over there in midnight blue, the PHEV with a roof rack, thank you!”) The fuel efficiency and low emissions of PHEVs put to shame not only standard combustion engines, but also other non-plug-in hybrids (and pseudo-hybrids…see below). We’re talking 100+ MPG.

DaimlerChrysler is the first (and only) manufacturer building plug-in hybrids but is focused on passenger vehicles and sedans, like a 15-passenger van prototype called the Dodge Sprinter. This PHEV, based on Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle technology, can get up to 20 miles on electric power. (Not quite the rig for me, bio-bus and all.) So, how does the average car-buying consumer get from “I want to buy a PHEV, darn it!” to cruising down the road in a fully-warrantied, mass-produced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle from a major auto maker?

I posed the question to Felix Kramer of CalCars which advises and supports the Consortium. “That’s the Holy Grail,” Felix replied, “That’s what we’re trying to make happen. And we don’t have an auto maker stepping up to do it. Once the auto maker does, it will be one to two years.” CalCars is a non-profit startup formed by entrepreneurs, engineers, environmentalists and consumers that tackles national security, jobs and global warming – at the same time. It is presenting PHEVs, along with wind and solar power, as the coordinated response to two of today’s greatest challenges: global warming and energy security.

Market Viability

The tipping point – when climate change/global warming is part of the national consciousness and influences purchasing decisions – is upon us. But energy security? My dad left me a copy Kevin Phillips’ “American Theocracy.” Part I of the book is titled ‘Oil and American Supremacy,’ and it describes our long history of exchanging bullets for energy, right up through the current invasion of Iraq. To quote Congressman Ron Paul of Texas (“Iran: The Next Neocon Target”) who spoke last week on the House floor about the high price tag of bullets for oil, “Where’s the outrage?”

Not waiting for the ‘energy security tipping point’ – or the outrage – Plug-in Partners, a national grass-roots initiative out of Austin, Texas, is taking soft orders to demonstrate market interest in PHEV to auto makers – to demonstrate the viability of PHEVs to the big guys (who have gotten so big they can’t see their own toes.) The major auto makers are, apparently, incapable of kicking themselves into gear, but they do have that marketing/PR thing down pat…if it’s got a battery and some electricity, but it still gets lousy fuel efficiency, call it a hybrid! That’s the ticket!

It’s so sad. The gears of “free market capitalism” vis-à-vis transportation – a market that responds to market signals – are utterly gummed up. Jump-starting the PHEV car market will require the likes of CalCars, the Plug-In Hybrid Development Consortium, Plug-in Partners, Woolsey and a flotilla of like-minded people…and one, just one, major auto maker.

In a year or two, I’d like to be towing a (little) PHEV behind my bio-bus and, in true American fashion (if I can’t live and work and eat all within walking distance, or avail myself of public transportation), I hope to be salivating over the next iteration of clean, efficient cars like the Extreme Hybrid™ – a car that gets hundreds of miles to the gallon. And, of course, I’ll be hoping my PHEV makes my Porsche-driving brother really jealous – for all the right reasons.

*“Woolsey, CIA director for President Clinton from 1993 to 1995, a Booz Allen Hamilton vice president and a member of the American Commission on Energy Policy, said a combination of non-grain ‘cellulosic’ ethanol, ethanol-burning cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles are among the best ways to wean the country from fossil fuels. Woolsey drives a Toyota Prius with a bumper sticker that reads ‘Osama bin Laden hates my car’ and has solar cells on his roof. Woolsey has a clear distaste for America’s financing both sides of what he calls ‘the long war’ with Islamic radicals in the Middle East…Where does that money come from? ‘When you pull into a filling station, turn the rear-view mirror just a little bit so you can look at yourself,’ Woolsey told the full house at Mackey Auditorium. There are plenty of others to blame, starting with auto makers churning out Hummers to government policy that gives tax breaks to people who buy them, Woolsey said.” The Boulder Daily Camera, Tuesday, April 11, 2006.

Is Applied Materials Entering the Solar Equipment Manufacturing Business?

I heard a rumor not too long ago from a friend that Applied Materials was entering the solar business. Specifically, that Applied was developing a business unit that would build and sell a suite of “standard” solar manufacturing equipment process lines. If this is true, it would be a big step forward for the industry, which typically today has been expanding with equipment from a range of small and mid-sized vendors. An entry by Applied would not only provide credibility for the industry, but might go a long way to provide much needed investment into the solar supply chain.

To confirm this rumor, and get an idea of what kind of solar technologies and processes Applied might be doing, I started making a few inquiries and searches. No mention of solar in their annual report or on the their website. Nothing in the mainstream press or on any of the solar blogs I follow, nor in my favorite solar news site, However, we struck data on several job sites and the US patent database.

After reading the materials, I am still not sure exactly what kind of products and processes Applied is going after. Many of the patents have only oblique references to solar, and limited or no references in the claims themselves. And there are a wide range of references. But based on a combination of a inclusion of and recent increase in reference to solar in the patent search, and recent open positions for some fairly specific non R&D solar skill sets, I would be comfortable saying that the rumor is likely true, and Applied is at least running a program to evaluate building solar cell manufacturing equipment. And it’s likely to involve plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition and physical vapor deposition systems, and likely to hit the market in the next 12-24 months based on the type of engineers they are hiring, but not likely in the next 12 months, as I could find no evidence of sales and sales engineers hires, or any of the news buzz I would expect to preced this type of entry.

The references we dug up.

On Monster:
This was a bit informative. The position called for: “Product (PECVD and PVD systems for Thin Film Silicon Solar panel manufacturing) promotion to AKT internal constituencies (mostly to sales) and to external customers:
  • Development of collateral materials together with technical marketing or engineering (for technology, specifications, facilities, concept)
  • Customer visits to present AKT products and benefits
  • Coordination of follow-up with sales / technical marketing
  • Support timely collection, organization and distribution of key information related to system specifications, facilities requirements, process performance, etc.”
A second ad called for a Process Engineer III with knowledge in:
  • Amorphous silicon (a-Si) solar (cell)
  • Microcrystalline (nanocrystalline) silicon (mc-Si or nc-Si) solar (cell)
  • Photovoltaic
  • Thin film solar (cell)
And on Yahoo Hot Jobs, a broad ad for multiple process engineers:
“the processing and characterization of thin film CVD solar cell/photvoltaic devices on amorphous and microcrystalline silicon; OR PVD of Transparent Conductive Oxide on solar devices”.

In the US Patent Office Database: A search for patents & published applications with Applied Materials as the assignee and “solar” in the text turned up 53 results.

Published Applications included:
1 20060060138 Diffuser gravity support
2 20060051507 Electronic device manufacturing chamber and methods of forming the same
3 20060038554 Electron beam test system stage
4 20060030088 Shadow frame with cross beam for semiconductor equipment
5 20050287688 Water-barrier performance of an encapsulating film
6 20050220604 Substrate support bushing
7 20050180737 Substrate support bushing
8 20050063800 Substrate support
9 20040194701 Method and apparatus for silicon oxide deposition on large area substrates
10 20040170407 Substrate support
11 20030203123 System and method for metal induced crystallization of polycrystalline thin film transistors
12 20030164362 Pre-heating and loadlock pedestal material for high temperature CVD liquid crystal and flat panel display applications
13 20030161706 Substrate support
14 20030150849 Heated substrate support
15 20030143410 Method for reduction of contaminants in amorphous-silicon film
16 20030141820 Method and apparatus for substrate processing
17 20030072639 Substrate support
18 20030067180 End effector assembly
Patents Issued
1 7,024,063 In-situ real-time monitoring technique and apparatus for endpoint detection of thin films during chemical/mechanical polishing planarization
2 7,001,242 Method and apparatus of eddy current monitoring for chemical mechanical polishing
3 6,963,393 Measurement of lateral diffusion of diffused layers
4 6,960,263 Shadow frame with cross beam for semiconductor equipment
5 6,924,462 Pedestal for flat panel display applications
6 6,917,755 Substrate support
7 6,915,592 Method and apparatus for generating gas to a processing chamber
8 6,897,411 Heated substrate support
9 6,885,458 Apparatus and method for determining the active dopant profile in a semiconductor wafer
10 6,876,454 Apparatus and method for in-situ endpoint detection for chemical mechanical polishing operations
11 6,860,791 Polishing pad for in-situ endpoint detection
12 6,855,484 Method of depositing low dielectric constant silicon carbide layers
13 6,849,152 In-situ real-time monitoring technique and apparatus for endpoint detection of thin films during chemical/mechanical polishing planarization
14 6,824,343 Substrate support
15 6,806,203 Method of forming a dual damascene structure using an amorphous silicon hard mask
16 6,743,340 Sputtering of aligned magnetic materials and magnetic dipole ring used therefor
17 6,719,818 Apparatus and method for in-situ endpoint detection for chemical mechanical polishing operations
18 6,634,686 End effector assembly
19 6,620,956 Nitrogen analogs of copper II .beta.-diketonates as source reagents for semiconductor processing
20 6,610,374 Method of annealing large area glass substrates
21 6,537,133 Method for in-situ endpoint detection for chemical mechanical polishing operations
22 6,528,767 Pre-heating and load lock pedestal material for high temperature CVD liquid crystal and flat panel display applications
23 6,521,082 Magnetically enhanced plasma apparatus and method with enhanced plasma uniformity and enhanced ion energy control
24 6,451,390 Deposition of TEOS oxide using pulsed RF plasma
25 6,329,292 Integrated self aligned contact etch
26 5,964,643 Apparatus and method for in-situ monitoring of chemical mechanical polishing operations
27 5,863,598 Method of forming doped silicon in high aspect ratio openings
28 5,788,453 Piezoelectric wafer gripping system for robot blades
29 5,674,786 Method of heating and cooling large area glass substrates
30 5,607,009 Method of heating and cooling large area substrates and apparatus therefor
31 5,512,320 Vacuum processing apparatus having improved throughput
32 5,212,537 Calibration technique for monochromators and spectrophotometers
33 4,682,566 Evacuated equipment
34 4,563,367 Apparatus and method for high rate deposition and etching

Other interesting finds:
Applied is buying into a green power initiative with the City of Santa Clara, which indicates at least some internal support for green initiatives.

Applied Ventures was mentioned in a January 2006 article on Dow Jones Newswires stating that solar energy was one their areas of interest.

Thoughts on Offshore Wind Energy in US

In Europe, wind energy is moving offshore. It’s simple, really: Europe is densely-populated, land is scarce and hence valuable, and so anyone wanting to develop new wind projects is looking at putting turbines in the Baltic Sea. A side benefit is that the wind resource is more plentiful offshore, not subject to disturbance from hills and trees.

In the U.S., prospects for offshore wind are not as rosy. With the continued NIMO (Not In My Ocean) efforts by local residents to scuttle the proposed Cape Wind windfarm off Nantucket, it’s hard to see much development coming to fruition there, or along the similarly aesthetically-picky Pacific Coast. As for the South Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, they are so vulnerable to hurricanes that would-be project developers are likely to be scared off.

FPL is developing a 140 megawatt windfarm off Long Island, and this one has a chance of actually being built. But this is because Long Island faces very high energy prices and future shortages that are almost unparalleled in the U.S. Electricity prices approach 20 cents/kwh, based almost solely on natural gas and oil burning powerplants located on the island, and there is limited additional power import capability from the mainland. (Of course, it helps that the project is being developed off the coast of Jones Beach, rather than the Hamptons.)

In the Midwest, there may be a brighter long-term future for offshore wind. There is likely to be ample good wind resource in the Great Lakes; Lake Erie looks especially promising, and has the added advantage of being rather shallow. Perhaps in a few decades, there could be gigawatts of wind generating capacity in the Great Lakes.

But, the problem remains economics. Excluding the PTC, onshore wind projects produce power at roughly 5-8 cents/kwh, whereas in contrast offshore wind costs reportedly are about double that level – even factoring in better wind and correspondingly higher capacity factors that are available offshore.

Offshore wind technology can improve. Most wind turbines available for offshore application are enlarged “marinized” versions of onshore designs. A clean-sheet approach to offshore wind designs offers the prospect of cutting costs by perhaps 50%, though such improvements are likely to take several years to achieve. Some observers (such as The Economist, recently) suggest that vertical axis designs, rather than the dominant horizontal axis “propeller” approach, may lead to better economics for offshore application.

But that’s all in the future. With so much vacant and windy land in the Plains and West, windfarm developers in the U.S. can well afford to ignore offshore for now and focus on onshore project opportunities for the foreseeable horizon.