‘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.

Blog on Kleiner Perkin’s Energy Tech Thoughts at Cleantech Conference

Cleantech Venture Network’s Cleantech IX is in full swing at the Marriott in San Francisco this week. The largest turnout yet. Among the best received speakers were John Doerr and John Denniston of Kleiner Perkins. Kleiner Perkins, one of the best known players in venture capital, recently announced that they would be spending $100 mm on cleantech investments of their new funds. I don’t usually blog on other people’s thoughts, but theirs were certainly well received, and worth repeating, as well as informative summaries of why Kleiner is interested in investing in Cleantech, and what they are looking for. They described three core global problems driving their interest in Cleantech (or green technologies, as their press quotes have described it):
  • Oil Addiction
  • Urbanization
  • Climate Change
And called for joint efforts of private sector and policy to solve them. As part of this high level discussion, they gave a big plug to author and journalist Thomas Friedman (whose books I heartily endorse), quoting his statement “Green is the New Red, White, & Blue”, and referring to a recent OpEd piece he wrote (I haven’t read it yet) on 6 threats to national security that our oil addition has caused. The ones they mentioned 1) When the US exports dollars to “unaccountable” countries in return for oil, we risk those dollars coming back to haunt us, 2) Rises in oil prices impact poor countries more than rich ones, and provide recruiting fields for terrorists, 3) Globalization amplifies these risks, and 4) We are in a new flat world where we compete for oil with developing nations, too. To answer the question, if cleantech is so compelling, why now? they laid out three primary thoughts:
  • Market signals – demand is now there
  • Increasing computing power is becoming an enabling technology
  • New materials advances like nanotubes are enabling new breakthroughs

All of which I agree with, though I have concerns about how fast new materials can make it into a sector like energy.

They did mention specific areas of interest including solar of all kinds (see the previous post on solar concentrators for my thoughts on where solar is going next), distributed & reliable power, energy efficiency & storage and batteries, consumer products, and transportation.

Intriguingly not on the list was water, which in recent years has become hot in Cleantech, and they explicitly rejected the hydrogen economy as an good investment theme, interesting for a company that has a significant amount of money into solid oxide fuel companies Ion America and Lilliputian (though perhaps they view those as a non-hydrogen fueled play).

A few of KPCB’s cleantech investments todate:

  • EEStor – Ultracapacitor/battery
  • Miasole – thin film solar cells
  • Ion America – SOFC
  • Lilliputian Systems – MEMs SOFC

One other theme that I found interesting in their speech, they said that after the tech bust happened, the partners at Kleiner sat back and tried make sense of why some internet deals survived post boom and others failed, and what lessons they could learn. Their conclusion, the key ingredient for success (and lesson to be learned) was in the values and culture of the management team. They referred to it as businesses with missionary vs. mercenary management teams. According to them Missionary vs. Mercenary means:

  • Driven by passion vs. driven
  • Strategic vs. opportunistic
  • Whole life plan in work/life balance vs. “deferred life plan”
  • Concerned about the big idea vs. concerned about the pitch or the deal
  • Looking at the long-run vs. looking at the short-run
  • Obsesses with customers vs. obsessed with competitors
  • Meritocracy focused culture vs. Founder focused culture
  • Focused on the mission statement vs. the financial statement

Values count. Even in venture capital. A refreshing way to look to at the world. Now let’s hope they did their homework as well. Because despite the enthusiasm, investing in cleantech & energy tech is fundamentally different than investing in IT or biotech.

Nuclear Power – “The Cleaner Air Energy”

March 22, 2006

Are nuclear technologies cleantech?

That’s a tough one. In the mid-90s “The Washington Times” ran a photo of me holding a Geiger counter at the edge of a nuclear-chemical company that had been contaminating my neighborhood with radioactive cobalt-60 (for over a decade) and was in violation of a string of health, safety, fire and building codes, as well as regulations guiding the safe handling of low-level radioactive material. “The Washington Post” thought the situation warranted coverage only when an inspector from the state’s department of the environment reported that the company’s owner had (it appeared) bribed the inspector with tickets to a basketball game and then (it was documented) threatened to kill – or was it shoot? – the inspector if he didn’t change the regulations to bring the company into compliance. (I’m not making this up.) Nobody monitored the company’s handling of chemicals, some of which the company radiated and sold as flocculants to the local coal-fired power plant.

Things might have gone better had I the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of Julia Roberts (in “Erin Brokovitch”) or John Travolta (in “A Civil Action”)…or had I wisdom and humor as deep as Yucca Mountain, as protracted as the Rocky Flats legal battles, as hot as the radwaste at Hanford or Barnwell (where the company was supposed to ship its waste but didn’t, opting instead to dump it at the local trash transfer station or pile it up on-site, uncontained.) After 9-11, the local paper reported that the company’s dump trucks set off radiation monitors going into the trash transfer station. (That trash is hauled by rail to a trash burner.)

By 2001, almost 20 years to the month after the first ‘uncontrollably released’ hot spots were discovered on neighboring lawns, the company had been blocked from building a radwaste processing facility for its own and imported waste; it could not import hot cobalt-60 until it had anted up the previously-mandated decommission funding. By then, I had left my home with hair that had, spurred by stress, gone from brown to silver, a wrecked relationship and disgust for a system that continues to this day to fail this politically-weak, rural community. Only one person in the nuclear industry stood up for us, albeit quite tentatively and from afar.

Aside from all of that, can the myriad applications of nuclear technology be marketed as cleantech? Of course.

The Nuclear Energy Institute is running an ad campaign, “The Clean Air Energy.” The NEI places its ad before E&ETV “On Point” interviews and on E&ETV’s front page: “Know a kid today? They demand lots of electricity and clean air. Don’t tell them you have to sacrifice the environment for technology. Today nuclear energy provides one-fifth of America’s electricity. Tomorrow it could supply even more. And nuclear power plants don’t burn anything so they don’t pollute the air. We need reliable electricity for the 21st century but we also need clean air. With nuclear energy we can have both. Nuclear. The Clean Air Energy.”

This is marketing; the nuclear industry, fully taking advantage of concerns of climate change and air quality, asserts that nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Yet, Dr. Helen Caldicott and the Nuclear Policy Institute say nuclear power does emit greenhouse gases. (I’m intrigued by the small voice, the Helen Caldicott kind of voice, which can carry seeds of truth and speaks in contrast to well-funded and deafening chants.) The NEI website asserts that nuclear is reliable, economical, safe and secure. It includes a site (in bright primary Crayola colors) called ‘Science Club’ to teach children about nuclear and includes ‘Teacher’s Lounge,’ ‘4 Your Class Project,’ and ‘Fun & Games.’

But is “The Clean Air Energy” cleantech?

That depends how narrow the definition. This is how the Cleantech Venture Network defines cleantech: “The concept of “clean” technologies embraces a diverse range of products, services, and processes that are inherently designed to provide superior performance at lower costs, greatly reduce or eliminate environmental impacts and, in doing so, improve the quality of life.”

Here’s what “The Clean Air Energy” is not. It is not renewable (a resource that’s naturally replenished in a relatively short period of time), that’s certain. It’s not green (an energy resource with few negative impacts – in the form of wastes and emissions – on the environment and on human health). ‘Clean energy’ is renewable and green; so nuclear is not ‘clean energy.’ It’s an ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels, but an old technology that grew out of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace:

“It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace. The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind… The Atomic Energy Agency [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] could be made responsible for the impounding, storage, and protection of the contributed fissionable and other materials. The ingenuity of our scientists will provide special safe conditions under which such a bank of fissionable material can be made essentially immune to surprise seizure.” (Psst, if you want some “other materials” with shorter half-lives, just follow the rabbits under the chain link fence.)

I wouldn’t say, not exactly, that nuclear technologies have improved my own quality of life nor offered peace of mind. They have, however, been proximate and personal. Before the debacle with the nuclear-chemical cowboy, there was an English professor at my boarding school in New Hampshire. He propped against his desk a large black and white photo of himself and a trail of boys in jackets and ties protesting the Seabrook nuclear plant; I often fixated on that photo (and not so much on Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World.”) The top floor of my grandmother’s condo at North Hampton Beach commanded a view of Seabrook. My siblings and I peered at it – out at sea beyond the rocks where we had played with starfish – through her binoculars. In New York, my mother worked a night job at a tennis club near the Indian Point nuclear power plant. My favorite plant nursery in Pennsylvania was within view of Three Mile Island. Writ on the global national security scene, as for decades, we now have India (today a democracy, tomorrow a who-knows-what) negotiating nuclear power arrangements with the U.S., as the world eyes Iran’s nuclear power plans suspiciously. Nuclear has never been a comfortable presence in my life (which brings us back to the NEI’s Science Club…younger generations may be swayed with marketing and public relations.)

But is it cleantech?

Cutting greenhouse gases and air pollutants to meet demand for electricity is not the only concern to the nation – nor should it be the only criteria for cleantech. Add in quality of life concerns – national security, human health, transportation and storage of radioactive waste, foreign relations, safety, human error and political ineptitude, and the full-cycle economic costs of nuclear technology – and nuclear power is precluded from meeting the definition. Even the term ‘advanced energy’ doesn’t ring quite right.

Extended Range for Hydrogen Vehicles

Extended range with metal hydride storage is now a reality

Large scale use of hydrogen vehicles requires that they have the same range as gasoline fueled vehicles. This challenge is being addressed by an innovative hydrogen vehicle from Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) which has now started fleet testing at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) in Diamond Bar, California.

The advanced vehicle is a high-profile test designed to prove that hydrogen hybrids can be practical in daily life. The vehicle also serves to showcase ECD Ovonic(R) solid metal hydrogen storage technology. Based on a production gasoline-electric hybrid model, it is part of a five year, $7 million multi-vehicle hydrogen hybrid demonstration at AQMD. Additional ECD Ovonics hydrogen hybrids are expected to join the fleet in the coming months, and one is already in service at ECD Ovonics’ headquarters in Rochester Hill, Michigan.

“The ECD Ovonics hydrogen hybrid will help demonstrate this emerging technology and address current storage and range limitations,” says Chung Liu, D.Env., Deputy Executive Officer of Technology Advancement for the South Coast AQMD. “This technology will help us expand our region’s hydrogen infrastructure and serve as a stepping stone to longer-term future technologies including fuel cell vehicles.”

ECD Ovonics’ hydrogen hybrid has been equipped with hydrogen storage tanks using the company’s proprietary solid metal hydride technology, which enables hydrogen to bond at the atomic level with a powdered metal alloy inside the tanks. This technology allows storing hydrogen at much lower pressures than the 5,000 to 10,000 psi storage tanks typically used in other hydrogen vehicle applications. The result is the ability to carry a greater volume of hydrogen on-board to provide increased driving range, in this case to almost 200 miles.

“That’s substantially greater range than most hydrogen vehicles today, and an important milestone toward making hydrogen vehicles a practical alternative for the highway,” says Robert Stempel, chairman and CEO of ECD Ovonics. “Our goal is to apply the diverse technologies based on ECD Ovonics’ proprietary work to make advanced hybrid, hydrogen, and fuel cell vehicles competitive in the marketplace. This hydrogen hybrid vehicle is a great example of that evolutionary process.”

ECD Ovonics’ hydrogen hybrid has been turbocharged to compensate for hydrogen’s lower energy density and enhance overall performance and drivability. Refueling during fleet testing is taking place at a hydrogen station at the South Coast AQMD headquarters, which has been specially modified to refuel the vehicle at a low 1,500 psi.

The View from Pew

I had the privilege last week of attending a speech given by Eileen Claussen, the President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Pew is a critical organization in constructively spreading awareness and promoting practical thinking among government and business leaders about the climate change issue.

Ms. Claussen’s main message was that it was important to view climate change as an opportunity, not a threat. She provided an optimistic message, asserting that many major companies (e.g., BP, Shell, GE, DuPont, etc.) have made this shift in perspective, and that others are bound to follow.

It is notable that a number of electric utilities (e.g., Exelon, Cinergy, AEP, PG&E, Wisconsin Electric, DTE, Entergy, Ontario Power, TransAlta) are on the Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council. It’s also notable that a number (though not all) of these companies have large nuclear portfolios. And, it’s further notable that Ms. Claussen was of the opinion that nuclear had to be a large part of the solution to the climate change issue.

Personally, I agree with that assessment. Because nuclear is essentially a zero-carbon energy source that is proven to be scalable and in adequate supply, it seems clear that any future energy system must involve substantial nuclear power generation capacity if it is to successfully address the climate change challenge while providing the requirements that citizens of the developed world in the 21st Century demand.

But, however pragmatic I think it to be, this view is outright anathema to many environmentalists. What does the cleantech community think about nuclear? Is it part of the solution, or part of the problem?