cleantech insights

The S-Curve Index: Week of November 19, 2012

Jill Bunting

This week’s index number is 2017, which, according to the International Energy Agency, is the year the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer. The U.S. is projected to be a net exporter of oil by 2030.

These developments will create a cloudy horizon for stakeholders invested in improving environmental performance. With U.S. energy “independence” within sight, we may see a renewed focus on energy efficiency standards and programs aimed at pushing the U.S. over the line. At the same time, low prices and a sense of plentiful reserves could depress efforts to develop fossil fuel alternatives. This is particularly relevant for countries like China and India, where lower prices for oil and gas will also put downward pressure on the price of imported coal.

This is the first entry in our new weekly series, The S-Curve Index, where we highlight a number that’s impacting the world of sustainability. Click here for more information about the S-Curve and our approach to environmental innovation.  This post was originally published on GreenOrder’s blog.


All of the Lights: Not LEDs, says Lumiette

Josh Gould

Even those with only cursory exposure to the lighting industry have heard about LEDs (light-emitting diodes).  Extremely energy efficient and manufactured in a process analogous to semi-conductors, LEDs have spawned a tremendous amount of corporate activity – from heavyweights like Philips making major LED pushes, to high profile startups like Bridgelux and Lemnis Lighting (all of which we cover in our lighting industry analysis here).

But despite all the LED hype – which is particularly strong here in an innovation hub like Silicon Valley – has anyone stopped to recognize that over 80% of the installed base of lights are still “old school” fluorescents and incandescents?  And have all those LED enthusiasts encountered some of the (admittedly debatable) complaints about LED light color and quality?  Further, does anyone realize that the biggest ESCOs like Johnson Controls are still almost entirely swapping old fluorescent fixtures for newer ones, instead of installing LEDs or fancy lighting controls systems?

Lumiette is a Silicon Valley based flourescent lighting startup playing to these contrarian facts.  Founded in 2007 by lighting and semiconductor industry veterans, the company has IP around an ultra-efficient, flat panel lamp with cathodes on the exterior; moving the electrode from the

India loses 45% of the electricity it produces, expect surge in energy efficiency investment

Stephen Marcus

India faces a formidable challenge in meeting the growing energy demands of its vast population and in providing clean energy at competitive prices.

India Energy Consumption Levels

Source: BP Statistical Review 2010

It therefore doesn’t help that India suffers huge electricity losses during transmission and distribution of between 30-45%. India consequently had an energy generation deficit of approximately 10% in 2009–2010 and a respective peak load deficit of 13.3%. The electricity shortages often cause halts in valuable economic output with an estimated cost of 5-6% of GDP every year.

What can be done about such a problem?
Much of the high rate of electricity loss is attributed to India’s focus on building new energy generation capacity at the expense of investment in grid improvements and advanced metering and monitoring solutions. This needs to change. It is clear to me that the best way to do it is to make more efficient use of the energy that is already produced rather than continuing to add more capacity.

Improving the way electricity is transmitted and distributed is likely to play a vital role in reducing base load power demands and will remove the cost of building additional power generation plants. This will …

The IT Cleantech Debate Comes to Energy Efficiency

Josh Gould

Perhaps it’s because we’re located in Cleantech Group’s San Francisco office, but time and time again we hear comparisons between cleantech and IT.  Sometimes the comparisons make cleantech look good.  When drawing analogies between cleantech and IT we often hear about the size of the market opportunity, the many smart people dedicating their time and careers to the industry, and the investment dollars from nearby Sand Hill Road (and all across the world, for that matter) which are pouring into cleantech.

Yet we also hear people point out the many ways in which cleantech is different than IT.  These comparisons typically cast the industry in a more negative light.  We hear about how cleantech startups are less capital efficient than their IT counterparts, how sales cycles can be long and challenging, how the industry is regulated and reliant on policy decisions which may or may not be forthcoming.  Clearly there is some truth to these criticisms – though many of them tell parts, but not the whole, of the story.

Whatever one thinks of this never ending debate, there is one area where we can confidently draw a cleantech/ IT comparison: energy efficiency.  Let me count the ways.  First, …

Guest Analysis: Meet the Rodney Dangerfield of Cleantech

Guest Analyst: David Gold

Wind turbines stand tall and mesmerize with their motion. Solar cells bask in the sparkling sun.  Meanwhile, hidden down in the dark dirty underworld, a compelling technology sits quietly and gets no respect.  Once installed it largely goes unseen and, it seems, it’s equally invisible in the world of clean technology press, venture funding and government R&D funding.  Yet this technology provides some of the most intriguing economic returns available for reducing a building’s net energy consumption and I would welcome the right opportunity to fund an exciting business in this category.

What is this Rodney Dangerfield of cleantech?  Geothermal heat pumps, also referred to as ground source heat pumps or geoexchange.  Anyone who has gone down a hundred feet or so in a cave on a hot day probably noticed how nice and cool it was down there.  That is because in most geology, a zone of nearly constant 55-degree Fahrenheit temperature exists 50-200 feet below the ground we walk on.  Even at shallower depths the temperature hovers within a much narrower range than on the surface. Geoexchange is technology that uses the constant temperature and huge heat sink that the earth represents to generate heat in the wintertime …

Small Scale, Big Impact: A Day At West Coast Green

Whitney Michael

Most of what we are talking about at cleantech group is on a huge scale.  We write about revolutionizing the US Smart Grid, billion dollar stimulus efforts and the billions China is investing in clean technologies.  So it was a nice change of pace to spend a day with the consumer- and small business-focused technologies showcased at West Coast Green.

Rainwater HOGs

I’m not a homeowner (I live in San Francisco, nuff said) but suddenly in the face of all these innovations, my dream home started to appear.  I am in love with cork flooring.  So durable, renewable, good looking, comfortable – and not so expensive!  It even naturally repels bugs and mold.

My dream home must also have a Rainwater HOG, a modular water storage system to capture rainwater for garden and lawn use (you can see two units attached to the adorable sustainable in-law house to the left).  It’s a simple concept, but the modular design makes it easy to implement and it’s designed not to detract from your home’s appearance.  As water resources become more scarce, these types of systems will be a small, but key, way for homeowners to conserve water resources and make use of rainwater.…

Big promises, but can lighting control systems deliver?

Emma Ritch

Lighting control systems are a hot sector within cleantech. The technology holds the promise of up to 75% reduction in energy use with little, if any, change in occupant behavior. Lighting accounts for about 20% of electricity use in the U.S., for example, so adoption of LCS can have a significant impact on worldwide energy consumption and emissions.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy Buildings Energy Data Book, Sept. 2008

There is significant buzz around the four startups that have come out of stealth in the past year—Adura Technologies, Redwood Systems, Daintree Networks and Cavet Technologies—as well as startups with slightly longer track records, Encelium Technologies and Starfield Controls. There are numerous other startups we’re tracking with complementary and tangential technology solutions, including Lumenergi, Digital Lumens, Juice Technology, Octus Energy and Echoflex.

ESCOs and major lighting corporations are amongst those in trials with LCS startups, and many LCS solutions are near commercial deployment thanks to the overlap in expertise with the IT sector.

Yet for all this attention, the LCS sector is still very early. Estimates are that fewer than 1% of buildings have advanced LCS installed. And there has been little …

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 …

Cleantech is a bunch of hot air!

Guest Analyst: David Gold

While renewable energy often captures most of the cleantech headlines, if anyone doubts why energy efficiency must play a significant part in the cleantech effort -– as significant, if not more so, than the role of renewable energy — just examine the energy flow graphic developed by McCall and Bassett and reprinted in the June edition of Technology Review. At least half of U.S. energy consumption goes to nothing more than creation of hot air through waste heat. And, when one realizes that much of the 13.9% of electricity output from power plants shown in the graphic also ends up as hot air from our computers, lights, etc., the portion of energy consumption going up in hot air is actually greater than 50%.

Couple this with the following facts… According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), on a worldwide basis renewable energy currently supplies roughly 10% of the energy consumed. Over the next 25 years the EIA forecasts worldwide energy consumption to grow by more than 50%. They also forecast a 100% increase over that period in the supply of renewable energy, which, in isolation sounds modestly impressive. But this would equate to less than 15% of all energy …

DOE Awarding $76M to Energy Efficiency Projects

Whitney Michael

Today the US Department of Energy announced it is awarding over $76 million to fund energy efficient building technology and training programs.  This is amazing validation of the Cleantech Focus Chicago one-day conference for the businesses, investors and entrepreneurs exploring the opportunities for energy efficiency technologies in the built environment.

We are putting the final touches on the agenda, which includes presentations from DOE award recipients Andrew DeGuire, VP, Strategy & Acquisitions at Johnson Controls and John Van Dine, CEO of SAGE Electrochromics.  The program also features keynotes from Gregory Kats of Good Energies, author of “Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies” and Roger Platt, SVP, Global Policy & Law at the US Green Building Council.

The DOE awards are going to innovators in five categories:  Advanced Building Control Strategies (including Communications and IT); Analysis, Design, and Technical Tools; Building Envelope and Windows; Residential and Commercial Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC); and Water Heating, Residential, and Commercial Appliances and Miscellaneous Electric Loads.

According to the Cleantech Group’s Quarterly Investment Monitor, energy efficiency is one of the fastest growing investment categories.  It already ranks third in terms of venture outlays and is poised to overtake solar as …