cleantech insights

Musings on Microgrids

Yakov Berenshteyn

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we’ve seen a renewed focus in the media on climate change. As it so often does, the conversation points to technology as a lever for both mitigation and adaptation.

Microgrids in particular are suddenly top of mind again, covered in MIT Technology Review, Fast Company, Christian Science Monitor, and Huffington Post in a span of just five days. These pieces praise microgrids for enabling distributed renewables (mitigation) and taking critical customers like hospitals off the main power grid in emergencies (adaptation).

While we applaud any effort to raise awareness of clean technology, it’s important not to have a knee-jerk response to climate events like Sandy. In the case of microgrids, it’s not what these authors wrote – but rather what they didn’t write – that has us giving a word of caution: the latest reports lay out microgrids’ great technological benefits, but give little advice as to how an institutional or commercial electricity customer should navigate the overwhelmingly complex regulatory structure behind utility operations in order to actually develop and deploy a microgrid.

In many regions of the US, the reality is that it will be up to the utilities and …


Tropos Networks: A Mirror On Ourselves

Greg Neichin

Don’t make the story about yourself.

This is an old adage that journalism professors telling aspiring reporters.  Luckily, I’m not a reporter, so I can ignore that advice.

The story of Tropos Networks, which was successfully acquired recently by ABB, is a story about me.  In fact, it’s a story about many of us and that, to me, is what makes it so compelling.

It is a story of how technologies & executives originally groomed in the hype to reality cycle of the datacom and software world found their way into the cleantech sector only to find themselves on a similar roller coaster journey.  In the case of Tropos, as I hope for many of us, I think this story has a happy and productive ending.

Tropos Networks was born during the first boom in early 2001.  This is when I, a fresh Silicon Valley transplant, first became aware of the company.  I was working in the datacom equipment business for Redback Networks on Strategy & Business Development when I had the chance to meet early Tropos investor Curtis Feeny at Voyager Capital.  At the time, a calm before-the-storm moment in history, Tropos had a vision for building …

The Internet of (Big) Things

Greg Neichin

Those of us fond of exploring the world of emerging opportunities at the intersection of cleantech and computing power often talk about the Internet of Things.  When he first coined the term in 1999, Kevin Ashton prophetically wrote:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.

I share Kevin’s sentiment that the Internet of Things has the potential to be world changing, but I find it is increasingly important to define what “things” we are talking about.  The world is obviously full of inanimate machines from huge to microscopic and tracking all of these disparate devices would require varying levels of investment, networks, and data crunching capabilities.

The topic was on my mind this week as I reflected on two new deals we tracked in i3 that represented opposite ends of the …

Cleanweb NYC Hackathon: Top 3 Unsung Winners

Greg Neichin

On the same weekend that the Giants broke the 49ers hearts, Sunil Paul playfully added some insult to injury in the bicoastal rivalry by declaring, “New York has stepped up with an event [cleanweb hackathon] that is, dare I say, bigger than San Francisco.”  And while, as a true bicoastal executive, I have no interest in stoking the cliché Silicon Valley v. Silicon Alley fire, we can safely say that New York represented this past weekend.

The New York cleanweb hackathon organizers, which included Sunil, Blake Burris of Dynamo Labs, Micah Kotch from NYC ACRE, Nicholas Eisenberger of Pure Energy Partners, Matt Solt of Civvic, and a number of others, put on a great show and took a big step forward in evangelizing the cleanweb movement.  Judging by the turnout, the “cleanweb”, the increasingly popular term for applying IT solutions to global resource constraint problems, is a hit amongst the East Coast digerati (even meriting an appearance by NYC’s trendminting venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who had previously cast off cleantech as an entirely separate form of VC).

There were a number of awards presented at the end of the event to standout teams (check …

AlertMe, Lowe’s, and the role of retail channels in the smart grid

Tatum Nolan

AlertMe’s recent announcement of its partnership with Lowe’s marks an important milestone in the industry’s efforts to extend smart grid functionality to end users. The partnership could represent a new strategy for companies with good channel access to customers.

For the last few years, home energy management system (HEMS) vendors have debated whether customer-facing smart grid technology should reach homes by way of top down utility deployments, or by way of retail channels. Each strategy has presented opportunities and obstacles: The top down approach would guarantee mass deployment, but utilities have generally moved slowly in rolling out hardware-based solutions to customers.  By contrast, if consumers could select their own HEMS through retailers, early adoption would drive innovation and lead to market-based (rather than utility-selected) winners and losers, but utility integration would not be assured. The announcement of this partnership, combined with Best Buy’s own commitment to selling HEMS products, indicate that retailers are staking a claim to this market.

But Lowe’s consumer smart grid strategy differs from Best Buy’s. Rather than providing a market place for various HEMS products from vendors such as Tendril, EnergyHub, or Control4, Lowe’s has announced that it will sell its own solution, …

Finding (EV) Religion in Israel: 4 Reasons to Believe in Better Place

Greg Neichin

Like many American Jews visiting Israel, I found religion today.   It was not religion of the spiritual kind however, it was religion of the electric variety.  Today, I stand amongst the converted.   Converted to Better Place’s view of the world and the potential for the company to be a transformative force in the electric vehicle market.

I am a most unlikely convert.  I don’t own a car, let alone an electric one, and I’m quite content to not own one.  From a policy perspective, I would prefer to see governments focus on subsidizing better forms of public transportation before promoting more personal vehicle ownership.  More pointedly, I’ve been known to utter skeptical thoughts out loud in front of journalists about the electric vehicle market.  Apparently, last month I told a group of reporters that “electric vehicles are a bet that could turn out to be wrong”.  The point that I was attempting to make was that I believe some of the adoption forecasts in the market were too aggressive.  That nuance doesn’t make for a good headline.

Assuming that electric vehicles are indeed a bet though, there is no one with more chips on the table than …

Beacon Power’s Flywheels Boost NY Grid


The end of June saw Beacon Power’s flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, NY reach its full operational capacity of 20 MW, and the company held an inauguration ceremony at the site just last week.  The Stephentown plant is the largest operating advanced energy storage facility in North America (traditional storage such as PSH and CAES are not included in the advanced category) and the first large-scale, grid-connected flywheel energy storage operation in the world.

Beacon’s flywheels consist of a substantial carbon-fiber composite rim, supported by a metal hub and shaft attached to an electric motor/generator.  This rotor assembly is stacked vertically with the massive rim at the top and levitated magnetically within a vacuum chamber to minimize friction.

When charging, the flywheel acts as a load, drawing electricity from the grid to rotate the rim at speeds reaching 16,000 rpm.  This spinning mass holds rotational energy that can then be harvested at a moment’s notice using the same electric motor/generator unit to feed power back onto the grid.

Such quick-responding, high capacity storage assets are useful for grid operators in providing frequency regulation services; following a variable load and balancing it more closely and efficiently with generating capacity than …

Schneider Electric’s Indian Shopping Spree

David Cheng

At Cleantech Group, we spend much of our time featuring the most innovative cleantech companies with the most important technologies and business models.  Some of these companies are found down the street from us, some are embedded in one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies and some may be founded by entrepreneurs and climate scientists in the UK.  But sometimes, the most interesting things in cleantech can be coming out of a 175-year old French company.  This is the story behind Schneider Electric‘s recent moves in cleantech, particularly on the smart grid and energy efficiency side.…

The Fifth Pillar of the Smart Grid – Get ‘er Done

David Cheng

This week, the White House released their policy framework for the Smart Grid, entitled A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future.  In it, they outlined four key pillars for success: 1) Enabling Cost-Effective Smart Grid Investments; 2) Unlocking the Potential of Innovation in the Electricity Sector; 3) Empowering Consumers and Enabling Informed Decision  Making; and 4) Securing the Grid.  The 108-page report (which I’m still going through) says all the “right things,” which makes sense as we approach the beginning of the 2012 election cycle.  But while it sounds good to “create national markets for smart grid technologies and promote plug-and-play operability for devices,” what I really want is a guarantee from the government that we will just “get ‘er done.”  The public and private markets have demonstrated a two case studies of “getting ‘er done” when confronting similar monumental tasks.  Let’s see what lessons we can learn from them.

Atlantic Wind Passes FERC Hurdle – A Murky Process Explained


The United States has significant wind energy resources offshore and a significant proportion of its population concentrated on its coasts.  Yet installed, grid connected offshore wind generating capacity in the U.S. in 2011 is… zero!  Perhaps not for long.

Prospects for the Cape Wind project off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts are looking a little brighter.  And on May 19, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent and self-funding agency within the U.S. Department of Energy charged with overseeing interstate wholesale energy transmission and sales, approved incentive rate treatment for several proposed transmission projects, including the 250-mile Atlantic Wind Connection project that plans to connect up to 6,000 MW of offshore wind power to the grid.

Sure, considerable obstacles remain.  The project still needs to be approved as part of the PJM Interconnection’s Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP) and consensus would have to be gained among coastal Governors as to the design and location of interconnections.  But the approval for incentive rate treatment is a significant step, basically assuring the project’s investors (which include the likes of Google, Good Energies, and Marubeni) that the price paid on wholesale energy markets to utilize the generation and transmission capacity …