Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Bloom is a Bloom is a Bloom...

"Pick a card, any card." Bloom Energy CEO K. R. Sridhar displays Bloom Energy Fuel Cells

Last week 60 Minutes featured Bloom Energy in a breathless rock star treatment of the company's CEO, K.R. Sridhar. As reporter Lesley Stahl fawned over Sridhar, he showed off a tiny square box composed of fuel cells supposdly capable of powering an Amercian home. Few other facts were evident or presented.

Just out of frame lurked John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), preening like a new father celebrating his first baby boy. KPCB has somewhere between $100 million and $400 million invested in Bloom Energy, depending upon who you listen to.

Too good to be true? Perhaps, but here are the real questions:

When will it be ready for prime time - the home market?
What will it cost?
How durable will it be?
Do you buy it or lease it?
Can you get off the grid, or sell energy to the grid?
If it's this good, then won't energy consumption spike up?

And last but not least, why are so many celebrities endorsing the Bloom Box? That's enough to scare Warren Buffett.

Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Paint goes nanotech

An IIT Mumbai and Jadavpur University alumnus has made an eco-friendly, long lasting product.

By Ritwik Mukherjee,

Arup Kumar Chatterjee has used nano technology to produce a new paint for your walls made, which he claims, is robust, long lasting and offers high resistance to impact and abrasion. It has high water repellency, is anti-fungal, bactericidal, UV protective and, above all, environment-friendly. Chatterjee is an alumnus of IIT Mumbai and Jadavpur University.

“While conventional paints and coatings are made of large molecules where water, dirt and other particles can leach into the gaps and erode the surface, the nano-engineered paints are densely packed with robust molecules that act as a penetrative and functional barrier,” Chatterjee, who is an M Tech said.

Nanotechnology is the chemical manipulation of functional paints and coatings at the molecular level to create highly resistant, longer lasting and environment friendly products. Chatterjee’s invention from the stable of his own company—I-CanNano (Innovation Center for Applied Nanotechnology) has been certified by the Paint Research Association as being 99.99 per cent bacteria free and an eco-friendly paint.

“This is low cost paint compared to any other available. And all these paints are now being manufactured at a new state-of-the-art plant at Baruipur, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal,” said Chatterjee.

Chatterjee’s clientele already includes Godrej & Boyce, Parryware Roca, Mahindra, Shapoorji & Pallonji and more. “Although everything at ICanNano is indigenously developed, we are working in close collaboration with Caneus Jet Propulsion Lab, USA, National Research Center, Canada, Neumann-UK and Bell Helicopters,” said Chatterjee.

“We are quite happy and satisfied with these nano-engineered product,” says B J Wadia, president of Godrej & Boyce. “We had always been looking at hit conductivity in paints and there is no denying the fact that hit conductivity has improved significantly through this new-found technology.”

He is not the only one. Head of contracts at Shapoorji & Pallonji N D Tarapore said, “The whole world is going green, or atleast aspiring and trying to go green. We have been able to move in this direction with the help of these research-based nano technology engineered paints & coatings and composites. The quality and durability have also gone up substantially.”

At the company, former president and scientist APJ Abdul Kalam wrote in the comment book: “This is affordable nanotechnology for common man”.

The claims of the company appear to have been validated by Paint Research Association, UK. The recent PRA study shows that ICanNano’s paints are not only anti-fungal but also anti-bacterial and UV stabilised.

Chatterjee’s company wants to commercially take this technology to the common man. I-CanNano is driving industrial nanotechnology scenario across various industries in construction, automotive, biotech, renewable energy and filters. Paints and coatings is one of the first areas chosen for commercialisation, where nanotechnology impact is early.

In industrial segment, his product portfolio includes heat conducting paints, high electrically insulating paints that withstand 5,000V, high anti-corrosive paints, pollutant adsorbant paint, high impact and scratch resistant paints, high temperature resistant paints and clear coat paints.

“Besides, we have already started working towards commercialisation of composites. I-CanNano is envisaging development of world’s largest carbon nano-fiber manufacturing facility in India catering to not only light weight/high strength composites for aerospace, wind blade, automotive structures but also for high abrasion resistant rubbers, conducting inks, and electrodes,” Chattrejee said.

I-CanNano already has one US patent on fuel cell electrode and one Indian patent on super-capacitor electrode to its credit. It has research interest in hydrogen storage and fuel cell development.

The centre has also developed process technology for industrial scale manufacturing of nano-materials that are tunable in size and structure, scalable and pure in terms of quality.

Said Chatterjee, also a visiting scientist at IIT Mumbai and a governing body member of Calcutta University: “We have not restricted its activity in the field of nano-materials but also graduated to development of applications in various areas of paints and coatings, composites, filters, catalysts, electrodes and drug delivery. This development of nano-products is due to graduation from first generation to third generation nanotechnology.”

In nanotechnology, entry barrier is high and once a product gets developed dissemination is fast. ICanNano does not envisage any entry barriers where products are technologically and commercially competitive, yet affordable. Currently, I-CanNano has its foothold in USA, UK, Africa and UAE and is planning to expand further.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Proposal to Link the Nation's Grid Sparks a Debate

By PETER BEHR of ClimateWire

The Tres Amigas transmission project in New Mexico, which seeks to link the nation's three power grids to share wind power across the United States, has attracted both eager allies and some determined foes.

Scandia Wind Southwest LLC, a venture led by Norwegian wind power developers, has proposed to build an initial 2,250 megawatts of wind power in the Texas Panhandle, with a potential capacity of 10,000 MW. That amount of power, the equivalent of 10 large nuclear power plants, could move into the Eastern and Western grid interconnections, and to Texas' independent grid, over the Tres Amigas transmission linkage.

The Tres Amigas project would operate three power switching hubs connected by several miles of superconducting direct-current lines, on a 22.5-square-mile section near Clovis, N.M., adjoining Texas and Oklahoma. The hubs would direct power flows in and out of the three regions, whose electrical systems are not synchronized, creating bridges for electric power to flow across the entire country, wherever transmission capacity permitted.

Tres Amigas has strong support from New Mexico's Democratic Governor, Bill Richardson. The American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association support the concept of uniting the three non-synchronized grids. Landowners in the Panhandle area -- such as Crosby County Wind Farm LLC, a Dallas-based company with 100 landowners and 30,000 available acres -- are behind the project. A subsidiary of ITC Holdings, the Michigan-based independent transmission company, is interested in building lines to the Tres Amigas project.

No one, perhaps, is more enthusiastic than Harald Dirdal, a partner with Havgul Clean Energy, a Norwegian company that is developing several thousand megawatts of onshore and offshore wind power projects in its country. Dirdal said that he and his partners were prospecting for wind power opportunities in the United States when they learned last year about the Tres Amigas venture, led by Phillip Harris, former head of the PJM Interconnection, the grid operator in much of the mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions.

"We thought if we could do a big development in the Texas Panhandle, a really big development, we could interconnect into the three national grids ourselves," Dirdal said. "We had no clue about Tres Amigas' existence whatsoever. So literally I was jumping up and down in Oslo when I heard about, for about half an hour, in pure joy."

But lined up against Tres Amigas are units of Occidental Petroleum, the fourth-largest U.S. oil and gas company, whose sales totaled $24 billion in 2008 and $15 billion last year. Through its subsidiaries, Occidental is a major purchaser of power for its chemicals, hydrocarbon and manufacturing businesses, and a marketer of electricity, as well.

A transmission 'game changer' collides with 1930s law

As Harris has said, Tres Amigas is a "game changer," a facility that could move large amounts of power in any direction among the three grids, with potentially big impacts on prices and profits that existing generators now receive, as well as consumers' electricity costs. Tres Amigas' financial plan depends on selling its transmission access to generators and power marketers who would take advantage of the connection to buy cheaper power in one of the grids and sell it in another when prices are higher. That makes it a competitive outsider in parts of the established markets.

Occidental is the most vocal opponent of Tres Amigas' requests for two rulings from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it says are essential. The project is seeking FERC approval to charge negotiated transmission rates for access to its network.

And it asks FERC to disclaim jurisdiction over any Texas transmission line owners that connect with Tres Amigas, a crucial procedural step that would maintain the independence of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the grid in three-quarters of the state. Texas created its own grid in the New Deal to keep from being regulated by Washington's new Federal Power Commission, FERC's predecessor.

Occidental has filed several 50-page-plus broadsides with FERC against the Tres Amigas plan, and has brought forward an expert witness to challenge Harris' technical arguments on why his project's engineering design would keep Texas' electrons from "intermingling" with outside grids. Keeping the electrons separate means that the Texas system would not be linked to its neighbors as a policy matter, keeping it clear of FERC's jurisdiction over interstate wholesale electricity markets, Harris argues.

Harris stated that intermingling does not occur because the alternating-current energy flowing into the Tres Amigas "superstation" would be converted to direct current at each of the project's three hubs linked with the three grids. "Nothing is mixed," Harris said.

Occidental's expert, Songhoon Yang, with the consulting firm Bates White LLC in Washington, D.C., argued in a FERC filing that it is obvious that electric power will be moving among the grids through the Tres Amigas facility, so Harris' argument that the project's engineering interrupts the flow is not valid.

FERC has not ruled yet on either of the Tres Amigas petitions. Several of the parties that have commented in the commission's two dockets, ER10-396 and EL10-22, are urging the commission to take its time, because of the project's uniqueness and the difficulty of assessing its impact.

The Electric Power Supply Association, representing merchant power producers, said it took no position on the fate of the Tres Amigas project but urged FERC to move with care.

Is Texas wind power being undermined or efficiently shared?

The Public Utility Commission of Texas noted that it is in the midst of ruling on new transmission projects that would connect 18 gigawatts of wind power to the state's urban areas -- the result of lengthy renewable energy planning. It wants to see a stronger legal case made at FERC to ensure that it stays independent. Texas Industrial Energy Consumers, another Tres Amigas opponent, says the massive transmission investment Texas is planning to bring its wind resources to market could be undermined by Tres Amigas.

The American Public Power Association said that while it appreciates Tres Amigas' "bold vision," FERC needs to conduct its own analysis of the project's impact on electricity prices. "It should not simply rely on Tres Amigas's assertions that it 'cannot cause prices to rise above competitive levels' because power buyers would go elsewhere," the association said.

Three Occidental companies and Texas Industrial Energy Consumers have asked FERC to order discovery and hold a "contested evidentiary hearing" on the Tres Amigas project -- a lengthy process that advantages the side with the deepest pockets, attorneys note.

However FERC rules on Tres Amigas' two requests, the project may still face hurdles unless new policies are forthcoming from Congress or FERC to support the siting and financing of transmission projects for renewable power, energy experts say.

Dirdal, who has spent much of the past year traveling to potential wind power sites in the United States, has been in that field since 1995 but said he is still learning about U.S. energy politics.

He argued that linking the grids would permit the greatest possible sharing of wind power originating in different time zones and different climate regions, substantially smoothing out the effects of wind's variability and intermittency. The result would be a stronger wind energy network less in need of expensive backup generation, he said. But the venture does challenge the existing order on the grid, and that is evidently a force to be reckoned with, he said.

Copyright 2010 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Wind energy job growth isn't blowing anyone away

Wind farm near Palm Springs. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / January 29, 2007)

Despite record growth in generating capacity, the industry is creating few employment opportunities overall.

By Jim Tankersley
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

America's wind energy industry enjoyed a banner year in 2009, thanks largely to tax credits and other incentives packed into the $787-billion economic stimulus bill.

But even though a record 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity came on line, few jobs were created overall and wind power manufacturing employment, in particular, fell -- a setback for President Obama's pledge to create millions of green jobs.

Obama has long pitched green jobs, especially in the energy, transportation and manufacturing fields, as a prescription for long-term, stable employment and a prosperous middle class.

But those jobs have been slow to materialize, especially skilled, good-paying, blue-collar jobs such as assembling wind turbines, retrofitting homes to use less energy and working on solar panels in the desert.

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to create some 5 million green jobs over a decade. The stimulus bill approved last year allocated billions of dollars to the clean-energy sector. And the president continued to set high expectations for green-job creation in last week's State of the Union speech.

Administration officials admit that they are nowhere near that pace. Last month, government economists released their first tally of clean-energy jobs created or saved by the stimulus: 52,000.

Several factors accounted for the slow start, some of them linked to weakness in the overall economy. Electric power demand fell nationwide last year. Electricity from coal and natural gas is still by and large cheaper than wind or solar power. Renewable energy companies, faced with limited demand, often used parts and equipment in stock or imported renewable technology instead of building turbines or solar cells domestically.

Industry analysts and energy company executives said job growth is also hampered by lingering uncertainties in federal energy policy. Those include questions about when or whether existing tax breaks will expire and whether the Senate will pass a climate bill that would make fossil fuels more expensive -- and renewable energy more competitive.

The federal stimulus bill spared the wind and solar industries steep job losses last year, executives said.

In the wind industry, the bill saved about 40,000 factory, installation and maintenance jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Assn. The industry had gained as many as 2,000 installation and maintenance jobs in producing the record megawatts of new capacity, but wind power manufacturing lost just as many jobs, the trade group said.

Clean-energy leaders and many outside analysts added that green companies won't begin hiring in large numbers until the federal government mandates renewable power consumption nationwide and dramatically upgrades the nation's electric grid.

Wind turbine manufacturers "need more certainty" to add shifts and factories in the United States, said Elizabeth Salerno, director of data and analysis for the wind industry trade group.

"Demand is the trigger," she said. "But it has to be long-term, stable demand."

Obama's advisors said the biggest clean-energy benefits of the stimulus are still to come, and that they have planted the seeds for a green-job proliferation by financing worker training and leveraging tens of billions of dollars in private investment in green technology. The Energy Department projects that U.S. renewable power generation will grow four times faster from 2008 to 2012 than it would have without the stimulus.

"A lot more has to be done if we're going to realize the president's vision for a truly transformative clean-energy economy," said Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's chief economist. "Our administration will pick up where [the stimulus] leaves off and finish the job. The president is completely committed to that."

Others said the administration's efforts, including stimulus grants and tax credits that fund some applicants but not others, may have pushed clean-energy investment dollars overseas, particularly to China. Since 2008, China has approved more solar-power capacity than the United States has installed in its history.

"The inconvenient truth for America's economic recovery is that China's Communist Party has cultivated a more favorable, predictable and hospitable market for private investments in clean-energy technology and energy infrastructure than the federal government of the United States," said Alexander "Andy" Karsner, a fellow at the Council on Competitiveness.

Energy Department officials said that instead of focusing on one or two technologies, they have funded a "portfolio of technologies" that will battle for a share of a growing domestic and global market.

"We are not in the business of picking winners," said Matt Rogers, a senior advisor at the Energy Department who oversees stimulus spending. "We're creating competition among innovative approaches in the marketplace."

Global clean-energy competition worries many of the staunchest champions of green jobs in Washington, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chaired a hearing on solar jobs in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week.

Among the executives testifying was Robert Rogan, senior vice president for ESolar Inc. in Pasadena. Rogan's young company secured contracts last year for 3,500 megawatts of solar power. One of its projects is set for California; another, in New Mexico, will create hundreds of construction jobs this year.

But the bulk of ESolar's power installations will come in China, which also provides some components of its solar plants.

In an interview, Rogan credited the stimulus for helping clean-energy companies through a "very bad" year in the American private finance market.

He insisted U.S. solar companies are poised for "explosive" growth, but that to maximize it, they need longer-term incentives and better transmission lines to link solar hot spots, such as the Southwest, and demand centers, such as the East Coast.