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cleantech insights

The End of Wattenomics: Energy-As-A-Service

Greg Neichin

An insightful piece this week entitled, “Hot Water, Lights, and AC as a Service”, caught my eye as I have been spending a good deal of time thinking about future business models in the utility industry.  The article highlighted Metrus Energy and Skyline Innovations. Both of these firms finance the procurement, installation, and maintenance of energy efficient equipment and are paid based on energy savings recognized by their customers. 

Shifting the burden of capital expenditure and system upkeep away from the end user should, in theory, have a significant impact in lowering both real and psychological hurdles to adopting efficiency technologies.  This is not rocket science or even new science however, the same basic economics are the foundation for billions of dollars of energy savings performance contracts initiated by a diverse range of traditional building equipment and services vendors such as Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Carrier, Schneider Electric, and Siemens.

By illuminating what amounts to a financial arbitrage opportunity, all of these firms are nudging the world closer to a day when energy is bought and sold as a service.  Yes, there are massive regulatory, political, and entrenched corporate interests standing in the way of this ultimate evolution, but …

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Behavior Modification – Icing on the Cake

Debjit Mukerji

I do not place great faith, in principle, in solutions that require changes in end user behavior.  For the majority – and particularly those that lack discretionary income and time – economics and convenience rule.  We stick with what we know, and what costs the least.  But while behavior modification may not be as impactful as scientific breakthroughs or create and move markets, it does play a supporting role. 

My research colleague Emma Ritch touched upon this topic last week.  While the benefits articulated there were economically insignificant, they were “freely” obtained – by a simple adjustment in a repetitive daily practice.  Examples of conscious habit-change for the sake of energy or emissions reduction abound. On the transportation front, “hypermiling” has made its way into the automotive lexicon as well as the cabins of thousands of enviro-drivers.  The prospect of zero-to-sixty in twelve seconds and coasting to a stop rather than slamming on the brakes inches before the limit line may lull redline-craving motorsports enthusiasts to gentle slumber.  But proper execution of such “ecological” driving guidelines can reduce fuel consumption by 5-10%.  These are not huge numbers, but a step in the right direction and a complement to …

How green was my trip to the Dry Creek Valley

Whitney Michael

Up in wine country last week, I got a chance to taste some delicious wine and see first hand how some innovative wineries are implementing clean technologies.

Ridge Vineyards, aside from making amazing Zinfandel, have built an energy efficient, environmentally friendly tasting room at their Lytton Springs location.  The building itself is made from rice straw bales encased in a natural earthen plaster made from soil from the surrounding vineyards.  It was the largest straw structure in the US at the time it was built.  The straw is highly insulating and reuses rice straw that rice farmers used to burn until the practice was banned due to air quality concerns.  The tasting room was built with recycled lumber and features a smart heating and cooling system that monitors indoor and outdoor temperatures and opens and shuts louvers around the floors and ceiling to warm or cool the interior.  Additionally, they installed solar panels that currently supply 75% of the winery’s electricity needs.

Quivira Vineyard in Healdsburg has, since 2005, gotten 100% of it’s energy from a solar installation. Concerned too about the amount of water used in the wine making process, Quivira has “dramatically reduced [water usage] thanks to a …

Choosing energy audits wisely

Emma Ritch

It has the makings of a reality show on the Discovery Channel. Let’s call it When Energy Audits Go Bad. Each week, you can tune in for tales of predatory energy auditors that seek to sell high-cost appliances instead of economical and effective solutions.

The real-life tale I’m going to tell you isn’t that bad. But it does illustrate the need in the building efficiency sector for regulations that protect consumers and businesses.

A well-known investor in the cleantech sector, Neal Dikeman, sent me a link to his latest blog post that tracked his attempts to improve the energy efficiency of his new home. He went for the energy efficient windows and added insulation. And he hired a company to perform an energy audit. As he tells it, they offered to sell him a $950 solar attic fan that could result in marginal improvements, and overlooked low-cost solutions such as weather-stripping.

With his extensive background in finance and energy, Dikeman knew the suggestions didn’t make sense for him. He declined to buy the fan and blogged about his dissatisfaction, and the company is now offering to conduct a more-thorough audit. All’s well that ends well, right?

But this incident …

More light on solar maturity

David Hague

I want to shine more light on my previous post in which I said: “after a long period of adolescence (1970s-2004) and explosive investment through the teen years (2005-2008), solar has entered adulthood.” Let’s consider a basic disconnect between technologists (scientists/engineers) and investors. Technologist think in terms of f(t) aka functions of time while investors consider return on investment (ROI). As an engineer and entrepreneur, I find myself constantly balancing the simplicity of adjusting the variable (time) in f(t), against the complexity of market forces driving ROI.  During solar’s explosive investment period (2005-2008), I think solar technologist’s f(t) aligned with investor’s ROI expectations. In this context, investors were keen on accepting capital investments and time commitments required for cell/module production expansion as solar investment hit a peak in the summer of 2008.

I remember watching the economy implode on CNN from my hotel room while attending SolarPower International in October 2008 and considered the potential impact on the industry. Shortly after, credit markets were locked up and within weeks rumors circulated that customer side module orders were being canceled or at best delayed indefinitely.  I had grave concerns the hot solar market might return to an ice age as I …

10 reasons why the UK is a global cleantech leader

Guest Analyst: Shawn Lesser

The UK’s official commitment to cleantech is strong and growing. In its official Renewable Energy Strategy, the UK set a target of deriving 15 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2020.

In keeping with that ambitious goal, the new UK Prime Minister, Conservative David Cameron, has wasted no time in highlighting the importance of the cleantech sector. “I don’t want to hear warm words about the environment. I want to see real action. I want this to be the greenest government ever… I intend to make decisions put off for too long to fundamentally change how we supply and use energy in Britain… To give the power industry the confidence it needs to invest in low carbon energy projects,” he said.

Here are my top ten reasons why I believe the UK is a cleantech leader:

1. The UK government has strong cross party political support for cleantech and climate change. The government recently passed the Climate Change Bill with cross party consensus meaning that the three main political parties in the UK agree that climate change is a serious challenge. Moreover, the Climate Change Act sets ambitious statutory limits on carbon emissions requiring a 34 percent cut …

UK opportunities abound in mixed, bio-based plastics recycling

Lisa Sibley

A new report out this month from Banbury, UK-based Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) snagged my attention today, offering updated insights into the UK market for recovered plastics.

According to the report, the UK continues to be dependent on export markets for recycling its recovered plastics. More than 700,000 tons of recovered plastics were exported last year for recycling, primarily to China (accessed via Hong Kong), with about two-thirds being packaging.

In 2009, about 900,000 tons of plastic was collected for recycling, including 590,000 tons of plastic packaging. The rate of plastic bottle recycling is now at more than 40 percent in the UK, with attention going to collecting and developing infrastructure to recycle mixed packaging plastics, the report suggests.

Mixed plastics are non-bottle plastic packaging from household waste streams, such as plastic trays and films. The UK’s first mixed plastic reprocessing facility is expected to launch in 2011, and this appears to be an area for potential growth.

Another UK market that’s still in its infancy also caught my eye: bio-based plastics, or plastics that come from crop or non-oil sources. Volumes are currently too low to make the recovery of such plastics economical, the report points …

Revisiting Guidelines for Cleantech Entrepreneurs

Kate McArdle

We all know that any company, regardless of sector and development stage, needs a marketable product and strong leadership. What does it take to be a successful cleantech startup? Agrion hosted a panel discussion last Wednesday to dig deeper into this question as it applies to early-stage cleantech companies. On the panel were several San Francisco Bay Area early-stage and venture investors, a serial entrepreneur who has orchestrated successful exits for three previous companies, and one of the founders of a leading cleantech startup competition.

The main takeaways from this session were familiar reminders for many of us. I compiled some of the conclusions below to serve as a “quick guide” for cleantech entrepreneurs.

If you are an entrepreneur, consider the following:

Your product:

  • Must have differentiation that is protectable by patents and IP. However, the timeline of actually applying for patents or hiring an IP lawyer was debated. Some panelists said that getting patents early is crucial, while others said that patents are less critical than the team and company structure.
  • Needs to start out focused on one market, one application. This point was really driven home hard. Prove your technology in one place first, then consider broader

The Road Less Traveled: News On FTTH/PLC

Greg Neichin

When it comes to the “last mile” of the smart metering world, wireless technologies (RF and cellular) have grabbed the lion’s share of contracts, venture investment, and press attention over the last 18 months.   And while wireless is fast becoming the most well-beaten path, utilities looking to take the road less traveled have a variety of options.  There were a number of noteworthy announcements (and announcements of announcements) last week that should remind utility decision-makers that the most popular idea is not necessarily the best idea.

First, the Jackson Energy Authority, a Tennessee Valley municipal utility, announced the selection of Tantalus for the roll-out of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) metering deployment that will not only install smart meters, but will leverage the same infrastructure to deliver triple-play (voice, video, data) media service.  The aptly named “Homerun” from Tantalus adds “energy intelligence” into the more common mix of bundled consumer services.

FTTH as a stand -alone metering technology is cost-prohibitive in most circumstances, but the ability to use the lit fiber to offer a full suite of services may shift the economics.  According to the FTTH Council, 5.3 M North American households are now fiber-connected, so while this remains a relatively small market, FTTH, …

Israeli Company Addresses ‘Recall’ Outbreaks

Mia Javier

Water quality management continues to draw the attention of industries most vulnerable to water contamination in their products. Unilever’s subsidiary, Slim-Fast, is a case in point with the company’s recent recall of their canned diet drinks due to possible bacterial contamination that could cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. I suppose that’s one, albeit uncomfortable, way of losing weight.

In fact, a quick google of “food recall” provides a wealth of data points that highlight the increasing need for water quality management across manufacturing processes.

Israel-based, TACount, is developing a technology that will allow real-time bacterial process control to prevent such recall incidents from happening, according the company’s CEO, Isak Duenyas. Duenyas noted the grim reality of current quality control processes for both industry and water utilities as being fundamentally reactive.

The culture dish remains the standard method for contaminant detection but it takes two to three and in some extreme cases, 21 days for cultures to be counted and bacteria to be identified, according to Duenyas. During that time, contaminated drinking water and or products are distributed to end users and the rest, shall we say, is history.

TACount, however, has discovered a mechanism in …