cleantech insights

Data & Cleantech: Fewer Adjectives, More Verbs

Josh Gould

As the many attendees of our recent Cleantech Forum know, the buzz around cleantech for quite some time has been about the convergence of cleantech and data.  All kinds of people – myself included – have described (using adjectives) all the ways in which this will be the next major cleantech wave.  But I wanted to use this post to drop some of the adjectives, and focus on the verbs (the doing).

At our forum, I hosted three panel discussions – each of which touched on specific actions in integrating data into cleantech:

1. Intelligent Buildings

“Version 1.0″ of the intelligent building was about swapping out old, inefficient light fixtures and HVAC systems for newer, more efficient ones.  Certainly 1.0 still has a long ways to go but lighting controls and software companies like Lumenergi, efficiency consulting and implementation firms like Ecos, and traditional HVAC companies like Trane are all increasingly shifting their focus to managing and optimizing data around energy building use, rather than just providing more efficient devices.  

2. Financing Energy Efficiency

Traditional energy efficiency financing is based on the ESCO model.  While certainly a profitable business for companies like Johnson Controls, this model has …


Powergetics and the rise of the business case

Josh Gould

One of the key trends we’ve seen in cleantech recently is what we call, colloquially, “the rise of the business case.”  When large companies and startups have been able to quantify the benefits of a given investment to customers – providing some sort of financial metric like an IRR, ROI or simple payback period – they have weathered the headwinds of a tough economy.  Examples include large energy services businesses like Johnson Controls, Honeywell, and Schneider Electric.  Startup examples include efficiency-related companies who can quantify their value propositions – names like Scientific Conservation and BuildingIQ in the building, and Lumenergi, Daintree, and Digital Lumens in lighting.

But in energy storage, making a business case can be very hard.  Not only is the data sometimes ambiguous/flawed/non-existent, building that data into a business case is difficult. Energy storage company Ice Energy, for instance, has a link to a 65 page guide for modeling the value proposition for distributed storage on their website.  Grid storage may be even more difficult; to make economic sense a deployment must (almost always) address multiple benefits.  But addressing certain benefits involves the opportunity cost of operating the device in a way …

Energy Storage: Washington D.C. Is Not All Bad

Josh Gould

Yes, we’re all well aware of the current opprobrium United States’ citizens have for the politicians in Washington D.C.  But – regardless of your political views – one excellent event happened in early November in D.C.  And that was the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Storage Systems Program (ESS) Update Conference at the Washington DC Marriott Hotel on Nov. 2 - 4, 2010.

The annual conference was attended by over 500 people, which blew past the typical attendance of roughly 150.  The program covered the ESS program’s  energy storage-related projects, and featured the latest in cutting edge storage technologies, startups, and products.

The conference was notable for the increasing influence of big companies in the storage space.  It marks the continued shift of the industry away from one dominated by venture investors and startups, to one where large companies are developing, scouting, investing in and partnering with new storage technologies and startups.

For those not able to attend this ground-breaking event, please read our Research Note here on what we learned in Washington D.C. (Cleantech Group subscribers only)…

The B.S. Barometer

Josh Gould

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about the boundaries of clean technology.  He was quick to point a fundamental responsibility we have to provide “B-Squared alerts.” B-Squared he explained is the B.S. Barometer. We had a good chuckle about his terminology.  But now I realize that a good “B-Squared” is useful not just for us, but for the industry as a whole.  How does the cleantech industry violate the B-Squared rule?  That’s a topic worthy of a book – not a blog entry – so I’ll limit my discussion to three common instances:

1.       Unclear or nonexistent value proposition

Can a company point to a quantifiable value proposition where it makes economic sense to buy their product or service instead of the others on the market?  Sounds very basic, but many commentators have (rightly) pointed out that some cleantech companies are either obfuscating their value proposition, or are missing one entirely.

Take biofuels, for example.  Biofuels were all the rage in the 2006 – early 2008 boom days of high gas prices and a strong economy.  But many of these companies went bust in the subsequent credit crunch.

However, that doesn’t mean biofuels necessarily lack a value …

Rational Exuberance: The Future of Grid Scale Storage

Josh Gould

Energy storage for the grid has been referred to as something of a “game changer” for integrating intermittent sources of renewable energy – such as wind or solar – onto the grid.  If done properly, energy stored when these sources are producing energy could be discharged when users demand it – even if the source is not producing energy at that moment.

But if you ask utility executives about grid-scale energy storage options available today, it’s likely you’ll hear a response indicating that they are unimpressed with their current choices.  Many have remarked that – in some cases – there isn’t a solid business case justifying the investment necessary to site, build, and interconnect a grid-scale storage solution.  Or that it’s hard to predict operations and maintenance costs over a long period for (what can be) relatively new technologies.  Or that there can be major permitting obstacles.  Or that they struggle to choose from a bewildering range of electrochemical solutions that seemingly span the entire periodic table.  And this is not to mention mechanical, thermal or electrical solutions like compressed air energy storage (CAES), ice storage, or capacitors.

Given these challenges, why bother with grid-scale storage at all? Is it …