cleantech insights

High Altitude Wind Power: A Race to the Top

Lorenzo Chiesura

Compared to conventional wind farms, high altitude wind technology can harness kinetic energy with 5x greater capacity factors, allowing for highly scalable electricity production (thanks to the cube of velocity at high altitudes). While first imagined as a source of useful energy back in the 19th century, airborne wind technologies such as floating wind turbines, aerostats, sailplanes and kites are still imagined as nascent discoveries. Yet we are seeing high altitude wind manufacturers achieving more traction in the US as well as Europe and especially in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. Moreover, corporate and strategic players across the globe seem keen to invest in and be engaged with high altitude wind companies.

In Germany, for example, Skysails received €15 million from DSM Venturing in 2010 and has since implemented both a towing kite technology for the shipping industry and an offshore-based kite power generation system. Additionally, Kite wind innovator Nature Technology Systems (NTS) received $1 million in 2012 from the multinational technology corporate, 3M, and the German bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau(KfW).

Dutch producer of autonomously controlled glider planes tethered to ground-based generators, Ampyx Power, has received capital from several international institutions and the large corporate KLM Royal


The Week in Cleantech: Sept. 23 – 29


The cleantech space produced several new financing rounds, partnerships, and acquisitions last week. Here’s a recap of some of the top deals:

Khosla Ventures announced that it would invest a further $50 million privately into publicly-traded biofuel maker KiOR. The company has missed production targets in the past but the investment is intended to help the company double capacity. KiOR’s stock price jumped 50 percent on the news.

Local foods start-up Good Eggs raised $8.5 million in a Series A round led by Sequoia Capital and joined by Baseline Ventures and others. The round will fuel expansion beyond the company’s current coverage areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and New Orleans.

Synthetic biology-to-chemicals start-up Synthace raised £1.3 million in seed money from Soffinova Partners‘ Green Seed Fund and angel investors. The company indicated that the funding would help it demonstrate production of chemical products prior to approaching the chemical industry to form partnerships.

Zoltek, a publicly traded manufacturer of advanced carbon fiber products for wind power, efficient vehicles, and other industries, was acquired by Toray for $584 million.

Ormat secured a contract with eBay to construct a recovered energy generation power plant in Utah to support …

Wind Turbines – What’s Under the Hood?

Christopher Reid

From the outside, most wind turbines look similar – three blades at the top of tall tapered towers, painted light grey – but exciting developments are taking place hidden from sight, inside the nacelle. This is where the next wave of innovation in wind is happening.

Wind turbines face two notable engineering challenges: variable-speed operation and gearbox failure. In early wind turbines, the grid-connected generator required the blades to spin at a fixed speed, corresponding to the power line frequency. In high-wind conditions, the turbine would suffer high mechanical loads and perform inefficiently. Modern wind turbines have a variable-speed rotor that allows the turbine to capture a greater fraction of the wind energy, but require costly power electronics to perform the conversion process.

Gearbox failure is a problem encountered by both fixed- and variable-speed turbines. Often cited as the least reliable component of wind turbines, the gearbox converts the rotor’s 15-20 rpm speed to the 2000 rpm required by the generator. The industry expects today’s gearboxes to last 7-11 years, which means they may have to be replaced several times in the 20-year lifetime of a wind turbine. In 2009, gearboxes in all 30 turbines forming the Kentish Flats …

Storage: Week in Review

Alon Gavrielov

The last couple of weeks were full  of energy storage activity: Leyden Energy and Aquion Energy both raised new rounds from VC’s, A123 Systems announced that it will provide a storage system for a wind installation in China, and Zinc Air reached an agreement to supply an advanced energy storage system to Juhl Wind.  For more news and information, please read below:

M&A/ Partnerships/Investments:

Lithium-ion battery start-up Leyden Energy raised $20 million in venture capital funding to help expand their production capabilities.

Zinc Air reaches agreement with Juhl Wind for the installation of a 1MW advanced Zinc Redox flow battery storage system developed by Zinc Air.

Canon Investment Holdings closes investment (initiated in September 2010) in advanced battery company Altair Nanotechnologies.

Contour Energy Systems Announces Distribution Agreement With INEC for Spain and Portugal

Aquion Energy, a developer of sodium-ion batteries, has raised $20m from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Foundation Capital.

Double-sided Story: Wind Power IPOs in China

Hans Chen

On June 10th, 2011, Huaneng Renewable Energy Holding, the renewable energy (predominately wind energy) subsidiary of state-owned power company China Huaneng Group, raised HK$6.23 billion (~$800 million) through its second attempt at an IPO on Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

It would turn out to be the largest cleantech IPO globally in 2Q 2011. After Sinovel Wind Group’s $1.4 billion IPO in 1Q 2011, it’s likely that we will get used to at least one gigantic IPO in China every quarter these days.

It’s already the third IPO on the China/Hong Kong stock markets for a wind energy subsidiary of a state-owned power company. Of the five major Chinese state-owned power companies, Guodian, Datang and Huaneng have already had their wind energy subsidiaries making public market debuts. The remaining two, Huadian and China Power Investment, both already established renewable energy subsidiaries.

The story here seems to be: Wind energy in China was boosted by lucrative subsidies. Rich power companies invested billions of RMB to establish renewable business. These businesses, aided by huge financial support from parent companies, are able to develop rapidly and go public in a relatively short amount of time, bringing even more capital.

Stock …

The Lonely Turbine of Seward, AK


A recent vacation took me to Seward, Alaska, a fishing and tourist town on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. Pulling into this windy coastal town in a rental car, I was distracted by a lonely 121 ft tall, 100 kW wind turbine standing idle in a lot in the city’s commercial park; an area otherwise dominated by garages housing dilapidated boats and men wielding belt sanders.

I wasn’t in the driver’s seat, so we survived the sighting. But I was driven to find answers. Why just one? And why is it not spinning?

After tracking down answers the old fashioned way (on foot and by asking locals instead of Google), I was able to glean that the turbine was a collaboration between AVTEC, an Alaksan vocational college, and Northern Power Systems (link to I3 Platform content requires subscription), a wind turbine manufacturer and solutions company that happens to be based in my home state of Vermont. AVTEC is launching a new program of study for up and coming wind power technicians and erected the turbine in late 2010 both to supply power for three out of four of its Seward-based buildings and to provide an onsite case study …

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 …

Overcoming the barriers to renewable energy

Kate McArdle

Coming off the heels of Cleantech Forum New York, where I got the chance to interact with a lot of exciting cleantech startups, I’m always looking for more ways to help entrepreneurs get the resources they need to enter the cleantech market. Building a successful company takes more than just developing a novel technology or service, and getting all the pieces in place can present a lot of challenges. From getting startups into our Innovation Pipeline to partnering with organizations like the Cleantech Open, Cleantech Group is committed to accelerating cleantech innovation from startup to sustainable business. That’s why I’m excited to announce an upcoming webinar, hosted by our partner Autodesk, that will focus on overcoming the barriers to renewable energy.

Renewable energy technology providers face a high barrier to entry into established energy industries. As a result, many start-ups and corporate R&D efforts get caught between the desire to innovate and the need to generate a healthy ROI. Autodesk’s Seth Hindman will discuss these issues and explain how Autodesk can help you address them, during Autodesk’s first free Clean Tech Webinar, focusing on Renwable Energy.

Renewable Energy: Overcoming the Barriers
Presented by Seth A. Hindman, Autodesk …

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 …

Supreme Court patent ruling is good news for cleantech business models

Guest Analysts: Rodger Sadler and Chi Cheung

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bilski v. Kappos is good news for clean energy innovators. The Bilski ruling ensures that the door to patenting business method inventions remains open, ending months of speculation that the Court might find such inventions categorically unpatentable. It helps ensure that our patent protection system stays robust, and this will spur innovation and attract the investment capital needed for research, development, and commercialization of clean energy technologies.

The Bilski patent application claimed a business method for buyers and sellers in the energy market to protect, or hedge, against changes in the demand for or price of energy.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the invention as unpatentable, reasoning that it “is not implemented on a specific apparatus and merely manipulates an abstract idea.”

The rejection by the Patent Office was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which held that the claimed invention failed the court’s newly-established “machine-or-transformation” test for determining the patentability of a method.  More specifically, the method was found unpatentable because it (1) was not tied to a particular machine or apparatus; and (2) did not transform a particular article into a different state or thing.  …