cleantech insights

Enough is HANough

Greg Neichin

Cisco tossed its hat into the home energy management market (or HAN, home area network market) yesterday with a new in-home console that will not only give consumers access to energy data, but hypothetically allow them to participate in demand response programs and control a variety of appliances in response to pricing data.  This was the same day we saw a new ~$18M financing round in Consert, a North Carolina based startup with its own home energy management interface that will not only give consumers access to energy data, but hypothetically allow them to participate in demand response programs and control a variety of appliances in response to pricing data.

Did I just cut and paste that description? Indeed.  Intentionally.

To say that it is getting crowded in the home energy management space would be an understatement.  It is a market now inhabited by both well funded venture-backed startups (the likes of Silver Spring via GreenBox, Tendril, Control4, OpenPeak, 4Home, EnergyHub, and on), as well as by the world’s largest technology companies (Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, and others).  All this attention for a market that is just beginning to take its first baby steps towards deployment in the field.   …


What do Big Oil and EV batteries have in common?

Guest Analyst: Neal Dikeman

For those of you interested in the sector under the sector in electric vehicles–the guts of lithium-ion battery technology–the week just got more interesting than an overpriced, over hyped Tesla IPO.

Check out a very quiet un-announcement in A123′s SEC filings noting a multi-year supply deal with ConocoPhillips’ Cpreme, the emerging leader in anode materials for Li-On batteries.  The technology is a processing technology to make high performance graphite based powders out of plain old petroleum coke materials, that has the potential to be very low cost at scale.  A123 has announced supply deals in the past with Navistar, Fisker, Eaton, Think, the Chevrolet Volt and a number of others.

For those interested in the guts of the Cpreme technology, a good summary is here.  And a quick search of the patents includes: 7,618,678, 7,597,999, 7,323,120.

It wasn’t too long ago when the only other contender for Tier 1 battery supplier in the US, Johnson Controls-Saft, was announcing their Cleantech Innovation Award win and DOE award with a Cpreme logo quietly slipped into the presentation, though likewise no announcements were ever made.  Johnson-Controls-Saft had announced lithium ion supply wins with Ford, Mercedes, and BMW.  Maybe …

Tesla: Plugging in to the future of electric vehicles

Lisa Sibley

There’s been a flurry of news coverage and blogging today surrounding electric car maker Tesla Motors’ IPO on the Nasdaq stock market—marking the first American car maker to go public in a half century. It priced higher than expected for a total value of $226 million.

Transportation was already a hot sector to watch in terms of first quarter investment in 2010, and Tesla’s activity suggests that trend is continuing this quarter.

It is one of at least three IPOs the Cleantech Group has recorded in its databases so far in the second quarter, down from last quarter’s 13. Other cleantech public exits have come from LED manufacturer China Intelligent Lighting and Shenzhen Das Intellitech, which specializes in building intelligence and energy conservation service.

Other cleantech companies including China-based Nobao Renewable Energy Holdings and California’s Solyndra have shelved public market plans in recent weeks, citing poor market conditions and leaving some questioning whether Tesla’s timing is right. Though what works for a transportation company can vary vastly for a solar company like Solyndra.

There are still a lot of unknowns for Tesla. Is the company capable of redefining how consumers drive or will the Roadster’s $100,000 price tag and production …

Google Frees The Smart Grid Airwaves: What Else Is Up Its Sleeve?

Greg Neichin

Divining Google’s intentions in the energy management world is a bit like guessing the identity of an individual in a portrait as each little section is revealed piece by piece.  You get a chin here, an ear there, you begin to make out the jawline, and then, ah, there it is…

Between PowerMeter, the company’s wholesale energy trading license, and investments in a handful of cleantech startups such as high altitude wind-catcher  Makani Power, I haven’t quite had my “aha” moment.  However, we did, today, get one more piece of the puzzle.

It was announced that Google is working alongside Spectrum Bridge to help Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunications deploy an AMI system that makes use of unlicensed TV “white space” to send energy data.  This white space spectrum was made available by the national analog-to-digital transition of broadcast television; the transmission of signals over these airwaves seems to be particularly effective in rural areas where topography can be a serious challenge to deploying certain wireless networks.

The press release trumpets Google’s involvement primarily based on PowerMeter:

“In addition, PSREC has also deployed Google’s PowerMeter technology, an energy monitoring tool that helps consumers save energy and

Carbon Capture and Storage in search of no Mickey Mouse investments

Federica Dalamel de Bournet

The first and main challenge for the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is arguably the high cost of such large scale technologies. CCS is for deep-pocketed corporates, and governments who see the future of their large emitters at stake in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world. At the Cleantech Forum XXVII in Paris, CCS experts gathered for the “Carbon Capture & Storage: In Search of Risk Finance” panel session. The outcome of the panel talk was clear: CCS is not yet a playground for venture capitalists (VC). The costs involved in building even just a single CCS unit are outside of a VC’s scope.

Small innovation companies in this area are sparse for this exact reason. However, the panel of speakers agreed that this could easily change and become a hot VC investment area within less than 10 years. That depends on the extent research and development moves forward, and on the deployment of commercial-size demonstration projects to prove the technology is a viable one. Interestingly, U.S. West Coast VCs seem to be one length ahead of the others in that they are already looking for good CCS companies to pour their dollars into.

So what fuels CCS at the …

Automated Energy and Agriculture seeks $21M to produce biofuels at 400 times the yield

Stephen Marcus

Traditional biomass plants waste a significant amount of resources such as heat, CO2 and ash that can easily be recycled. Additionally, vertical farms haven’t maximized what can be done in an interior closed system environment.

This is why California-based Automated Energy and Agriculture (AEA) is aiming to kill two birds with one stone by developing a technology for the growth of crops in an automated vertical greenhouse integrated with ethanol and electricity production. AEA views its technology as the “next logical progression for both the agriculture and the energy market,” according to an AEA Founder.

By growing vertically in a fully automated closed system, “AEA has the potential to achieve 400 times the biofuel yield per acre versus conventionally produced ethanol feed stocks.” Additionally, waste heat, carbon dioxide, and combustion by-products are recycled from the power and fuel production processes to increase the productivity and vitality of the vertical farm.

There are many benefits to AEA’s integration crop growing and energy production solution:

  1. AEA is aiming to use robots in order to automate its vertical greenhouse farm. These robots can operate in conditions that humans cannot stand such as higher humidity, temperature, and CO2 levels – conditions that

The 21st Century Analyst: Sythesize and Drive Value

Greg Neichin

I typically try to stick to writing analysis as opposed to writing about the process of analyzing, but there are times when it is helpful to point out the value of research and to put our work as analysts into perspective.  Suaad Sait, the co-founder of Workstreamer, nailed this value proposition in a post this morning on VentureBeat.  Suaad made two points that are absolutely critical for corporate executives to understand in today’s information-saturated world:

“It’s no longer about getting the data.  A vast amount of information about partners, customers, prospects and competitors is readily available across the Web today.  We all know that. The struggle these days is for businesses to analyze that flood of data into meaningful and actionable intelligence – and do it as quickly as possible.”

“To be truly valuable, this information needs to be tied together with all of the corollary data buried in blogs, tweets, contact directories and public databases.  The hard part isn’t getting the big picture of all the data, though. The hard part is turning it into business strategy just as fast.”

Suaad gets to the heart of what makes a great Analyst in 2010, namely the ability …

Rising Yuan, Cheaper Oil: What Does It Mean For Cleantech In China?

Greg Neichin

Global markets are up this morning on news that China is moving to allow a long anticipated rise in the yuan.   The yuan has been unofficially pegged to the dollar for the past two years, a policy that U.S. President Barack Obama and numerous world leaders have sought to change in an effort to curb trade imbalances with China and to promote exports into the rapidly growing Chinese market (a stronger yuan equates to greater purchasing power for Chinese consumers and cheaper imports).

The move will also reduce the price that the Chinese pay for one mission-critical import: oil.  As the New York Times points out:

Because oil is denominated in dollars on the world markets, a rise in the renminbi would make oil cheaper for Chinese purchasers.  Oil also rose on expectations that a stronger renminbi will bolster demand from China. U.S. crude for July delivery rose $1.69 to as high as $78.87, its highest level since early May.

The Chinese have been racing forward on an aggressive cleantech agenda that is motivated by a range of factors including national security and environmental concerns.  The need for low cost energy to fuel sustained economic growth however …

Smart Meter Hard Truths: Bills May Go Up And Be Accurate

Greg Neichin

As a technology analyst, I try to remain above the political fray and will rarely weigh in, in a professional capacity, on advocacy issues.  However, with yet another legal battle launched against smart meter deployments, I feel compelled to offer a brief commentary.  The latest challenge to meter upgrades is being waged by my hometown San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera; an ironic challenge given the vast number of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in the city that are now engaged in financing and developing the software and communications infrastructure to control said meters.

Dennis has been an otherwise courageous and commendable City Attorney, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this one and chalk it up to a lack of accurate information.  To clear things up, I would recommend that he give a thorough read to a recent EPRI white paper (courtesty of SmartGridNews) on the efficacy of solid state meters.  The paper does a strong job of summarizing some of the potential reasons why select consumers may see bills rise with the introduction of smart meters.

Data from this paper suggests that reduced registration (i.e. drag on the rotating disks of old electromechanical …

Elephants and fleas: learning to dance for a cleantech future

Richard Youngman

Hardly a day goes by in my cleantech world where I don’t pick up on an example of elephants and fleas coming together in some way to develop clean technologies of the future. Borrowing Charles Handy’s metaphor from his famous book, the elephants represent the large incumbent, slow-moving organizations, the fleas the nimble, upstart, entrepreneurs who feed off the elephants. The two are inter-dependent, albeit dancing together is awkward.

Yesterday, in my daily caffeine-supported scan of the wires, I read about the relationship of Novozymes and Lignol, and EnOcean and Texas Instruments. Earlier in the week, more details of the partnership originally announced in May between Tesla and Toyota surfaced through the filings for Tesla’s forthcoming IPO. I could have picked other examples. But these are good ones, as they illustrate the inter-dependencies, the international nature of such marriages of convenience, and the broad spectrum of industrial players and sectors involved.

Novozymes, the Danish industrial enzymes producer, and Lignol, a TSX-listed, pre-revenue, Canadian cellulosic ethanol developer, have agreed to collaborate on research to develop a process of making biofuel from forestry waste which can compete on price with gasoline and corn ethanol in the US.

Enocean, a German developer …