Smart-grid companies feel growing pains

From CNET:

If you think utilities will swiftly adopt smart-grid technologies, consider the story of GridPoint.

Despite being only seven years old, the high-profile energy start-up has adjusted its strategy a few times and made a string of acquisitions. At first, it planned on selling home energy management systems and batteries to consumers, then shifted its focus to selling smart-grid equipment to utilities, such as software to manage home energy or charge electric cars.

Last week, GridPoint announced that it has signed a deal to supply energy management software and hardware to the United States Postal Service, which has set a goal of lowering energy use by 30 percent by 2015. It could bring in as much as $28.7 million over three years to GridPoint.

The deal is significant because GridPoint sees commercial and industrial energy management, which it entered through its acquisition of ADMMicro last November, as a business with better near-term potential than smart-grid gear, according to the company. Utilities are slow at buying IT-related technology, whereas businesses make quicker decisions based on a return on investment, the company has found.

“The fact of the matter is that the (smart-grid) marketplace is taking time to evolve from pilots to significant rollouts. As a business, we need to make sure we have an opportunity to generate business from multiple sources,” said GridPoint Executive Vice President John Clark, who joined the company after it acquired V2Green, which made utility software for managing electric vehicle charging.

GridPoint isn’t alone in noticing how slowly things are moving in certain areas of the smart grid.

Between the federal government and utilities, about $8 billion will be spent on modernizing the grid with two-way meters and other digital technologies. But for companies that aren’t directly linked to smart metering, that money, which has been slow in coming, may not be all that meaningful.

“There is some disappointment, or disillusionment, that the market did not materialize as fast as people thought, particularly for the tech start-ups and investors that targeted it,” said Rick Nicholson, an analyst at IDC’s Energy Insights service, which recently adjusted its forecasts for spending in North America. “It’s still going to materialize into a multibillion-dollar market, it’s just going to take longer.”

Finding a niche
Smart-grid technologies are designed to make the grid more reliable and efficient for utilities and give consumers more control over how they use energy. But the nature of doing business at a utility means the technology upgrade process is slow.

Utilities typically negotiate with public utility commissions on how they will recoup the costs of capital investment, such as smart meters, batteries, or in-home energy displays for consumers. That investment cycle, coupled with utilities focus on reliability, means they don’t have big incentives to move quickly, said Rob Day, an investor at Black Coral Capital.


Think drives into Brazil

From CNET:

Think’s all-electric City car is wending its way to South America, the automaker said Wednesday.

The Think City, featured at this week’s Michelin Challenge Bibendum conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has a taker. As part of its partnership with Think, Brazilian-based utility CPFL Energia has bought three cars with plans to buy more for its fleet.

One utility buying for its fleet may not sound like much. But CPFL Energia serves about 7 million residential and commercial customers and generated revenue of $6 billion in 2009, according to the company.

“Sustainable mobility is fast working its way up the political and environmental agendas here in Brazil, and CPFL wants to be at the forefront of this movement,” CPFL Energia CEO Wilson Pinto Ferreira Jr. said in a statement.

The Think City, which is highway-legal, runs exclusively on a rechargeable lithium ion battery power train. It has a range of about 112 miles on a single charge, and a top speed of 60mph. While it can take up to eight hours to fully charge from a 110-volt household outlet, the car can charge to 80 percent capacity in 15 minutes at a fast-charging 220-volt station.

Think announced in April that it will begin selling the City car in New York City within the coming months, with hints at additional roll-outs in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco.

While Think is a Norwegian company it has strong ties to the U.S. It has received $118.5 million in U.S. stimulus grants to open an assembly plant in Elkhart, Ind. near EnerDel, the exclusive battery supplier for all U.S. Think City cars. The plant has a capacity to produce 60,000 cars annually when fully operational.

What if the oil spill was in your home?

A new website allows users to input their address and see how big of an impact the oil spill would have in their towns and counties.

Solar panels that actually look nice


While many green connoisseurs relish the solar panels on their homes for their eco-friendly use, many architectural connoisseurs would rather be caught dead than put the awkward-looking devices on any part of a building they’re associated with.

That will change if a new line of solar panels unveiled this week in Germany proves to work as great as it looks.

Chinese PV manufacturer Solarfun Power Holdings unveiled a new line of building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) modules Thursday that resemble skylights, windows, and mirrors.

The SolarIris BIPVs were shown to the public this week at a solar conference in Germany and touted as an “aesthetically pleasing” alternative to conventional solar modules.

The SolarIris panels are built with three layers of semitranslucent glass that meet standard building specs for window and skylight glass, making them an option for use as actual skylights and windows on both residential as well as commercial properties, according to Solarfun. They could also be used as panels for greenhouses.

The BIPVs will come in a range of shapes and styles, all with a waterproof junction box buried within its panel that contains the electrics components.

Solarfun, which recently surpassed Wall Street earnings expectations, has said it plans to sell 650-megawatts worth of photovoltaic cells for 2010. It left some analysts wondering how Solarfun would do this, but perhaps SolarIris is the answer they were looking for.

Of course, there are already quite a few options on the horizon in the world of BIPVs. Pythagoras Solar by year’s end plans to sell skylights that double as solar panels. In June 2009, SRS Energy and US Tile announced they were partnering to develop Solé Power Tile, a line of solar panels that resemble Mediterranean-style clay roof tiles. Arch Aluminum & Glass and Konarka announced an agreement in May 2009 that the two would develop plastic solar cells in building materials, including windows. In 2008 HelioVolt announced development of CIGS thin-film solar cells that can integrate with non-weight-bearing facades from Architectural Glass & Aluminum that could be attached to the sides of buildings.

Tesla says not affected by CEO’s divorce dispute

From CNET:

Electric carmaker Tesla Motors said on Wednesday it does not expect the contentious divorce of its chief executive, Elon Musk, to affect its plans to list its shares and does not rely on him to provide further funding.

The California start-up, in a filing with U.S. securities regulators, sought to distance itself from a divorce dispute between Musk and his estranged wife that has cast a shadow over what had been one of the most anticipated IPOs of the year.

Tesla Motors Chairman and CEO Elon Musk

(Credit: Tesla Motors)

“We do not believe that Mr. Musk’s personal financial situation has any impact on us,” the company said in the Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Musk’s estranged wife, Justine Musk, is seeking 10 percent of her husband’s stake in the carmaker in a contentious divorce case.

Musk has also said in court documents relating to the divorce that he was out of cash and lived off loans from friends.

The case could complicate plans by Musk to take Tesla public and retain $465 million of U.S. Department of Energy funding to launch a mass-market electric car named Model S as the government loan could be in default if Musk does not hold enough of the stock.

A Tesla spokesman said he could not comment beyond the SEC filing.

In the amended filing, Tesla said that while Musk has provided “significant” funding for the company in the past, it has not received any money from the CEO in the past year.

“We have not received any funding from Mr. Musk for the past 12 months and are no longer dependent on the financial resources of Mr. Musk to fund our expected growth given the funds available under DOE loan facility and the expected proceeds of this offering,” it said in the filing.

Tesla added that it also does not expect the divorce proceeding to result in any large reduction of the company shares he owns.

“We also do not believe that Mr. Musk would have to liquidate a significant percentage of his holdings in order to satisfy any settlement reached in connection with such proceedings,” according to the filing. Musk is the co-founder and largest shareholder of the electric car start-up, with more than 81 million shares.

Tesla said the CEO’s shares of its capital stock are held directly by his personal trust.

In a blog post last month jokingly titled “Golddigger,” Musk’s estranged wife, an author of supernatural thrillers, laid out what she called “the extent of my golddigging.” Apart from the Tesla stock, she wants 5 percent of his stake in space exploration company SpaceX, alimony and support for their five children.

Elon Musk claims he is cash poor and has to get “emergency loans from personal friends,” according to court documents posted on technology blog VentureBeat Web site.

“About four months ago, I ran out of cash,” he said in the document, which was filed on February 24. “These loans are the exclusive source of cash that I have.”

Progress Toward the Paperless Office

From Green Tech Media

The paperless office is the classic example of something that hasn’t yet occurred despite being just around the corner for decades. But by combining it with search capabilities, PaperlessUSA says it is making progress toward this ever-elusive goal.

“My focus was not on building a software application, but on giving users a path to find information to make the task easier and quicker, while creating a profitable business,” says Paul Stansen, CEO of PaperlessUSA (PUSA). While an estimated 9 trillion pages a year are confined to computer screens, the number of printed pages stands at around 2.8 trillion worldwide — and believe it or not, that number is growing. Behavioral research conducted for the printer manufacturer Xerox found that office workers discard 45% of everything they print on most days, a waste stream that is equal to more than a trillion pieces of paper every year. The most popular ‘one-time use’ examples are daily assignments, drafts and emails. Others include cover sheets, e-tickets for flights, and directions printed in lieu of maps.

The printing company estimates that 351 items contribute to an organization’s total printing costs. Despite efforts to go paperless, the amount of information printed is doubling every 3.5 years. An average office generates two pounds of waste paper daily. And the average American corporation or government organization has roughly one output device (printer, copier, scanner, fax) for every 2.5 employees. Also, printers consume a lot of electrical power, including phantom power when devices are in standby mode. An organization that reduces two-thirds of its supply of output devices could use up to 50% less power.

In 1999, as a real-estate attorney in a paper-intensive profession, Stansen decided not to waste vast amounts of paper by printing out documents. Instead, he made a concerted effort to use less paper and minimize his interaction with printed documents. Not only that, Stansen wanted a software solution that would let him retrieve precise data instantly. He searched the commercial market but no solution he found was specific to his kind of work. What’s more, the few solutions he did find were hard to adapt to his needs and were complex to manage. So Stansen decided to write the application himself.

“I did it myself. Computer people think like computer people. What I need is a system that is basically a useful application, whether working with an accountant, a CEO, a businessman, a CTO, a government agency or a law firm. The reality is the same: an organization is an organization,” he asserts.

Without knowing anything about computer programming, Stansen just sat down at a PC and began designing his application. “I tried to keep it simple. It took me about three to five months because it is a combination of what you want and how to organize and put it in a user-friendly environment on the Internet,” Stansen explains. Today, more than a decade later, he is still upgrading the platform, based mainly on the PDF document format.

PUSA implements proprietary methodologies to image and integrate client data in one browser format. Documents co-exist with photographs, video and audio files, so that users can source all relevant information quickly and easily.

More powerful use of digital data is enabled because his system can search images for target text-words and phrases. PUSA transforms scanned documents that can be searched without loss of original-quality visual integrity.

“We can maximize a reader’s ability to find a needle in a haystack when faced with thousands of pages, or whenever specific information is needed quickly. Text can be highlighted, searched, even extracted from the image and pasted into preferred word-processing software for new uses. Imagine the power of searching multiple documents containing thousands of pages with the same search parameters; imagine, too, audible read-back functionality,” Stantsen notes.

PUSA’s customers can receive a DVD or can look for the information on the company’s website. In addition, PUSA implements security measures to assure that readership and data use is controlled. PaperlessUSA can limit access to all Adobe PDF files by assigning passwords and restricting features such as printing and editing.

James Daloisio, an attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (Major Fraud Division, Real Estate Fraud Section) said the search function has saved “untold hours of searching for a document with a particular name, address or phone number on it.”

Southern California Edison, meanwhile, employs the program on Rule 20A construction bidding projects. Before PaperlessUSA, each project consisted of stacks and stacks of documents and photos that were reproduced up to twenty times through distribution to qualified subcontractor bidders.

Wave-powered desalination pump permitted in Gulf

From CNET:

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico will see a novel offshore platform later this year, one that will use wave power to desalinate water.

Independent Natural Resources, which makes the Seadog water pump, on Wednesday said that it has received a permit for a wave power generation facility off the coast of Freeport, Texas. The company says it’s the first to receive a “section 10 permit” from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to operate a wave generator in the U.S.

A picture of the planned offshore platform which would have underwater 18 pumps moving water through a water wheel to make electricity.

(Credit: Independent Natural Resources)

The facility, which the company hopes to put in the water by the end of the year, will be a platform with 18 wave pumps underneath it. Each pump, which is about seven feet in diameter, will send water up through three water wheels connected to a generator. The electricity from the generator will be used to power a standard reverse osmosis desalination machine.

The wave energy generator is larger than Independent Natural Resource’s prototype machines which it installed in 2007 but this new facility is sized to operate at commercial scale in Gulf waters. Rather than sell electricity or water, though, operators will be taking data to measure impact on sea life, the generator’s performance, and the cost of operation, said Douglas Sandberg, the vice president of the privately funded company.

The platform will be about 150 feet by 75 feet in area and be 1 mile offshore to take advantage of swells. The pumps themselves will work 25 feet below the surface of the water and be able to generate about 60 kilowatts.

The efficiency of the system in converting wave energy to electrical energy is about 22 percent but can get over 50 percent, Sandberg said. Rather than only convert the energy of an incoming wave, the pump also captures some of the potential energy of air movement in the pump, he explained. The electricity generated on board will be used to power the facility and desalinate 3,000 gallons of water a day for testing, although it’s capable of doing 20 times that, according to the company.

Water energy connection
The company chose to work on desalination because the energy costs associated with running desalination plants are very high–as much as 40 percent or 50 percent of operating costs, according to Sandberg. It has set up a subsidiary to bottle water from Seadog pumps from future installations. But the technology can be used for municipal-scale desalination.

“Instead of having to build power plants to do desalination, we can build one facility that produces power, desalinates water, and delivers it, either for agriculture or drinking,” he said. “You do have upfront capital cots but you do not have operating power costs.”

A prototype of the Seadog pump being installed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2007.

(Credit: Independent Natural Resources)

The pump can be used with different types of generators, including a standard water-powered turbine. The company has a permit to operate for four years, during which it hopes to prove that the environmental impact is minimal. In areas with a good wave resource such as Ireland, Sandberg said the Seadog pumps can be competitive with wind power and “in line” with fossil fuel power generation.

Ocean power generators that take advantage of wave motion or currents have potential to produce a significant amount of electricity, but the technology faces a number of challenges. Generally, these machines are put in harsh conditions, making maintenance–and cost–a big concern. Also, there’s a long permitting process as data needs to be gathered on the environmental impact.

Still, there are a number of companies and researchers pushing ahead on wave or tidal power. Late last year, Aquamarine Power connected a giant, clamshell-shaped device that pumps water from off the coast of Scotland to a water generator. Last week, the company unveiled its second-generation machine, which it hopes to have installed off the Orkney Islands in mid 2011.

More Solar Power Love

Victor Valley College and SolFocus celebrated the opening of the new solar power plant on the college campus.  The solar installation deploys concentrator photovoltaics (CPV) and is sized to generate one megawatt of solar power for Victor Valley College in California.  …

…   “The Victor Valley College solar micro-generating facility is now connected to the regional electrical grid operated by Southern California Edison and will produce approximately 2.6 million kilowatt-hours annually, which is roughly 30 percent of the College’s electricity demand. ”   ….

Via SolFocus: Victor Valley College Solar Power Plant (Link).

Solar plant

And the 9 Wackiest Ideas for Alternative Energy

From the Huffington Post:

Of course, you know about wind farms and solar power, right? But did you know that we can generate electricity from our human sewage waste? How about by creating tornadoes? Others have made dance floors that generate electricity for their nightclubs and genetically engineered bugs that actually poop out crude oil!

Here are 9 wacky and wild forms of alternative energy. They might just be the solution we need for a clean energy planet. Let us know which ones you like best!

Check em out here.

There are less toxic oil dispersants that can be used in the Gulf Oil Spill

From CNET:

There are less toxic alternatives to the oil dispersants being used by BP in the Gulf oil spill but there is not enough product available, according to a White House official.

In morning talk shows on Tuesday, Carol Browner, the president’s adviser on energy, said the EPA is seeking to determine the quantities available of less toxic materials than Corexit, which is being used by BP to break up the oil flowing into the Gulf.

The Environmental Protection Agency last week issued a directive telling BP to use an alternative dispersant. It also said last week that the EPA and Coast Guard will gather data to verify information provided by BP on which dispersant is the least toxic, most effective, and readily available.

But even though there are less harmful dispersants, Browner said they are only available in limited quantities.

“There aren’t as many dispersants…on the shelf available for use,” Browner said. “We do think that dispersants are a part of how we move forward in this difficult situation and so we’re going to be evaluating, determining if others can be manufactured quickly, if others can be brought to the scene. We need to understand what is available,” she said on CNN’s American Morning program.

Dispersants are designed to break down oil in the water so that they can be absorbed by microbes in the water. But the long-term effects on microbial life and the effectiveness of the method is not clear, according to David Valentine of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study the effect of the projected 1 million gallons of dispersants in the Gulf spill.

Chemicals, such as dispersants, are ranked based on a number of environmental safety factors, such as flammability and toxicity. One company that has developed a less toxic dispersant based on EPA criteria is Green Earth Technologies, which makes a line of engine oil made from vegetable oils and released an oil spill cleanup product in April.

Company co-founder Jeff Loch on Monday said that Green Earth Technologies’ oil clean-up product does effectively the same thing as Corexit–“attack” oil molecules and break them up–but is far more benign to the environment. It also works in a variety of areas, such as marsh areas, so it is not limited to use in deep waters.

But since it’s such a new product, the product is not yet approved by the EPA. “If there was ever a good reason to break with protocol and staff up folks and look for alternative reasons,” he said, “this would be the scenario to expedite things to do it.”