• Utility Grid leaders say renewable energy must first overcome hurdles

    November 14 2008 / by amisampat
    Category: Energy

    By Ami Sampat

    What Happened?
    The efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of reliable power generation of renewable fuels will determine the future of the electric grid, as was reported by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. But solar and wind will have to overcome some fundamental challenges before they are accepted by large utilities.

    “As we consider our energy future, it becomes increasingly clear that our success in reducing carbon emissions and realizing energy independence will hinge on our ability to provide reliable, clean, electricity where and when it is needed,” states Rick Sergal, President and CEO of the NERC.

    Why is this important to the future?

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  • Picking Apart the Pickens Plan - 5 Big Challenges

    November 13 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Big Plans are susceptible to changes in the world around us, and even bold visionaries can have wrong assumptions about the future.

    After blanketing the media landscape over the summer with The Pickens Plan, T Boone Pickens has announced that he is slowing down his plans to build a massive wind farm in West Texas. Pickens’ $2 billion order of GE wind turbines has not been affected, but scaling up of the project is likely to happen more slowly than originally hoped.

    A changing world or wrong assumptions?
    Pickens has certainly felt the pains of shifts in the market where money is now in short supply and the global economic slowdown has battered his energy intensive hedge fund. But there have always been flaws to his core assumptions that support the vision that have somehow escaped widespread critical thought or media scrutiny. Pickens deserves credit for his willingness to advance the energy conversation in the US, but it does not free his Plan from closer examination:

    #1 Utilities won’t evolve without regulatory changes
    #2 Wind needs storage to evolve
    #3 Natural Gas is a globally integrated industry, no breaking ‘foreign’ dependency there!
    #4 The Auto Industry’s problem is not oil, it’s the combustion engine.
    #5 Building transmission lines in my backyard or ranch?! It’ll cost you!

    #1 Utilities won’t evolve without regulatory changes

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  • Research breakthrough for mass producing thin sheets of carbon (graphene)

    November 13 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Technology

    What happened?
    Researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute have developed a process to mass produce atom thick sheets of carbon known as graphene.

    [If you roll these sheets up, you form a ‘carbon nanotube’, or break them apart and bind with other compounds to form ‘nanoparticles’. These are the three basic shapes of nanoscale materials. Master these components and the next stage is creating functional mechanical nano-machines!]

    Graphene sheets are arguably the strongest possible material in the universe based on bonding properties of all known elements. But what makes them very special is how carbon sheets interact (or don’t interact) with electrons, hydrogen atoms and photons. They have uses as electrodes for solar cells, ‘sandwiches’ for solid hydrogen storage, backpanels for sensors, and as the anode electrode material in lithium batteries and fuel cells.

    Why is this important to the future?
    Energy components designed at the nanoscale
    Before we can apply graphene sheets to commercial applications we must find lower cost methods of mass production. This breakthrough is a significant milestone. According to researcher Matthew Allen “These graphene sheets are by far the largest produced, and the method allows great control over deposition. Chemically converted graphene can now be studied in depth through a variety of electronic tests and microscopic techniques not previously possible.”

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  • The Future of the US Auto Industry

    November 13 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    This morning I was a guest on PRI’s The Takeaway program with Hosts John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji to talk about the future of the US Auto Industry. [Podcast of conversation] Many thanks to The Takeaway!!!!

    For visiting Takeaway listeners we’ve organized recent articles from The Energy Roadmap.com exploring the future of the transportation sector:

    Electric vehicle industry goes global around energy storage systems
    Video Interview with Shai Agassi on disruptive business models for electric cars
    Is Detroit asleep at the wheel?
    The Good news? China is investing in electric cars, The Bad news? China is investing in electric cars
    Is GM expecting China to extend its grid for electric cars?
    France to spend millions on electric vehicles
    Warren Buffet buys equity in China’s BYD
    New hydrogen storage device lighter than lithium batteries
    McKinsey believes China could lead world in electric vehicles
    GM pick Korean battery maker over US startup A123 Systems
    Hyundai to build fuel cell electric vehicle for 2012
    US algae startups could transform China coal industry
    France’s GDF invests in electric car infrastructure
    Hawaii’s HEKO utility take big regulatory step for 21st Century Grid
    Electric vehicle networks startup moves into Australia
    Detroit to World, Nobody has killed the electric car
    India’s Tata Motors will produce electric vehicle in 2009 for Europe!
    A Futurist’s Guide to Cars of 2020-

  • Algae biofuels startup secures $10 million, will build Colorado bioreactor plant

    November 11 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    What happened?
    Another algae biofuels company has raised money to build a next generation biofuel plant that consumes carbon and creates usuable biofuels.

    Colorado-based Solix Biofuels announced that it has raised $10.5 million in its first round of outside funding, and has reached an agreement with investors for an additional commitment of $5 million, to be used to build an algae biofuel facility near Durango, Colorado.

    The biofuel plant will be located on a ten-acre site on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Southwest Colorado. It will be built in two phases, with the first to be completed in 12 to 18 months and consisting of four acres of photo-bioreactors for growing algae, and one acre for a lab facility. Upon completion of the first phase, Solix will build an additional five-acre expansion that will allow the pilot facility to produce at commercial scale.

    Why is this important to the future of energy?
    Tapping the power of biology to ‘eat’ carbon and produce commercial grade fuels could emerge as a game changing platform for carbon emissions and energy production in the next decade. But first, algae startups like Solix must demonstrate scalable bioreactor plants and work out the kinks associated with algae fuel production (e.g. lighting, nutrients, impurities, growth rates).

    What to watch for?
    There are a number of leading indicators to monitor: capital investments, performance claims of specific algae species, and further advances in the physical engineering systems related to high volume algae production.

    Related posts on The Energyroadmap.com

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  • [Video] Interview on Electric Cars with Shai Agassi - 'Time for Big Bets' and Disruptive Business Models

    November 11 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Last week at the OReilly Web 2.0 Summit Tim O’Reilly interviewed Shai Agassi, CEO of electric car network startup Better Place.

    This [30 minute] interview reflects a very different way of thinking about the future based on the potent combination of new technology platforms and disruptive business models.

    The simplest translation of Shai Agassi’s disruptive vision ?
    We should buy the car, but not the battery or fuel cell. Remove the cost and risk of owning energy storage systems out of the consumer equation. Instead consumers would subscribe to an energy infrastructure provider and ‘pay per mile’ (e.g. mobile phone minutes plan). They could refill at a local electric recharge station, or pull up to a station to ‘swap out’ an old battery (or depleted solid block of hydrogen) for a new container. Agassi believes this new business model could lower the barriers that prevent us from leaping beyond the era of the combustion engine.

    How do we do it? Big bets, major infrastructure investments and new business models.

    Why is this important to the future of energy?

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  • Report: US Electricity grid needs $1.5 - 2 Trillion investments by 2030 (7 Ideas to Watch)

    November 11 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    What happened?
    An Edison Foundation funded report conducted by The Brattle Group has some sobering news that could radically change the tone of infrastructure investment in the incoming Obama Administration, and lead to a boom in energy startups able to deliver lower cost, innovative solutions.

    The new report “Transforming America’s Power Industry: The Investment Challenge 2010-2030” [Full Report / Exec Summary] estimates that the U.S. utility industry will have to invest between $1.5 and $2.0 trillion between 2010 and 2030 to maintain current levels of reliable energy service for customers throughout the country.

    “This study highlights the investment challenges confronting the power industry in the coming decades,” according to Brattle Group Principal Peter Fox-Penner. “The industry is facing enormous investment needs during a period of modest growth, high costs, and very substantial policy shifts.”

    Why is this important to the future of energy?
    This investment figure challenges some deeply held assumptions and visions of the future promoted by people on all sides of the political spectrum. Free market advocates will have to confront role of government spending on infrastructure. Unless we completely abandon the centralized power plant to home model that exists today, most of these investments will come from states and the federal government.

    But the more emotional conversation deals with the dreams of new sources from solar, wind and ocean power. This report confirms the brutal reality- Renewables alone, cannot scale to meet demand through 2030. While Al Gore’s We Campaign is trying to make a convincing case that we can go ‘all green’ in a decade, the numbers do not add up without a radical social-industrial engineering project with no budget limits.

    The most likely near term future through 2030?
    All sources of energy used in electric power generation will grow.

    What to watch for
    These types of reports often grab headlines, but are quickly forgotten by the public. Yet there is evidence to suggest that America is preparing to make significant investments in our energy infrastructure and change its regulatory framework to enable the Utility industry to transform its business and operating models. [Until those regulatory changes are made, the utilities will remain locked in their current business models, and will be unable to introduce innovative and cost saving efforts.]

    Here are Seven Ideas to Watch:

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  • Tiny piezoelectric devices convert motion into electricity

    November 10 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Technology

    What happened?
    Researchers at Georgia Tech University have developed a new type of small-scale electric power generator able to produce alternating current (AC) through the repeated stretching and releasing of zinc oxide wires held with in a flexible plastic substrate that can be incorporated into almost any material.

    This new type of piezoelectric generator can produce up to 45 millivolts by converting nearly seven percent of the mechanical energy applied directly to the zinc oxide wires into electricity. A complex array of these devices could be used to charge sensors or low power embedded MEMS devices.

    Why is this important to the future?
    Micro and nano-scale power systems are going to be in high demand in a future increasingly dependent on sensors and microelectronics. Piezoelectric generators could become a low cost, more durable alternative to miniaturized batteries and fuel cells used to power the billions of sensors, smart tags, and MEMS devices expected to hit the marketplace over the next two decades.

    “The flexible charge pump offers yet another option for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy,” said Professor Zhong Lin Wang of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This adds to our family of very small-scale generators able to power devices used in medical sensing, environmental monitoring, defense technology and personal electronics.”

    What to watch

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  • The Good news? China is investing in electric cars, The Bad news? China is investing in electric cars

    November 10 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    Need more evidence that the electric vehicle industry is going global, quickly?!

    Bloomberg is reporting on plans that General Motors is expanding its investment and partnership with China’s SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. It is unclear whether this investment is simply to secure GM’s position in China’s growing market, or if GM might tap China as the manufacturing hub for electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

    Big bets are being made by automakers and many of them tap Asia as a manufacturing hub for energy storage. Last month GM selected a Korean maker for its Chevy Volt, and VW is now openly seeking Chinese partnerships to produce batteries. Meanwhile Korea and China are looking to build their own homegrown electric vehicle brands.

    Why this is important to the future of energy?
    The fastest way to move beyond the combustion engine is to tap the power of global markets. But it requires us to rethink our assumptions about the future. Namely, if Asia does leap ahead, the US and Europe will have to rethink their aspirations of being ‘energy independent’. Instead they will trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ batteries!

    The Good news
    Electric cars can help to clean up air pollution around the world, expand opportunities for renewables to compete in transportation fuels, and could help us better manage the flow and storage of electrons currently limited to a one-way electrical grid.

    Electric vehicles can change the world, but they are likely to do so in ways that we cannot currently imagine by mere extrapolation.

    The Bad news?

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  • Here comes the solar rooftop! ECD Ovonics expanding partnerships for thin film solar

    November 10 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    What happened?
    Michigan-based ECD Ovonic solar subsidiary Uni-Solar has signed a multi-year agreement with an Italian steel and metal materials company to build solar rooftop materials used in onsite power generation. Marcegaglia expects to introduce the low cost, durable thin film solar metal roofing products to the market in 2010. [Image shown from Spain factory installation]

    Why is this important to the future of energy?
    Energy entrepreneurs are thinking beyond power generation via large, expensive centralized power plants. The alternative is expanding the world’s capacity for ‘distributed power generation’ based on low cost solar, micro-wind, fuel cells, and micro turbines. These systems could soon provide a small percentage of power generation, but enough to reduce demand on power plants during ‘peak power demand’ periods, and lower our threat of grid failure by storing and producing energy at the local level. Why not tap square footage of rooftops?

    Thin film solar based on plastic substrates are less efficient than traditional glass-based photovoltaic panels, but they are much cheaper and more durable. By layering, or ‘printing’, thin film solar modules onto rooftop materials we can bring solar power to buildings around the world at a low cost.

    What to watch

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