Written by Rafael Reyes Thursday, 07 February 2008 21:12certain Republican nominee the Bush administration begins to flip its position on mandatory carbon caps. Now industry will really rush to get the best deal possible - possibly by signing the McCain-Leiberman "Climate Security Act". Is it the right bill? Depends on who you talk to: Friends of the Earth or Environmental Defense.
The risk? That passing a bill now, even well intentioned might preempt a better bill next year.
Written by Rafael Reyes Wednesday, 06 February 2008 02:19
The first internal combustion engine automobile was fueled by hydrogen in 1807. Inventors tried out steam power, coal-gas, and oil fired cars. Electric cars however predominated throughout most of the 1800s until the muffler was invented shortly before the turn of the century. Three-wheel, four-wheel, rotary engines, two-stroke, four-stroke, chain-drives, drive-shaft and various types of tillers were used for steering throughout the 1800s and experimentation continued through the early 1900s.
We are once again in a similar era of creativity and invention.
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers made a multimillion-dollar second-round investment intended to put the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports sedan into production in 2009.
...General Motors and Toyota are racing to put the first plug-in hybrid - a vehicle that allows home charging of the electric portion of its electric-gasoline powerplant - into production.
...Meanwhile, Khosla Ventures has invested in EcoMotors, a Detroit company working to create a 100-plus mpg diesel engine by 2011.
The debates are raging over what type of car and fuel will best serve our needs. More from Khosla here (Part 1). And here (Khosla Part 2). And here (Khosla Part 3). And Romm 1, Romm 2, Romm 3.
And for an in-depth presentation from Khosla:
For the impatient, the short story on the debate is that Khosla says cellulosic ethanol is a better bet since there are fewer infrastructure changes required and the incremental additional cost of hybrids (several thousand dollars for parallel hybrids like the Prius) will always make them poor performers in the market especially with new entries like Tata. Romm in turn argues that cellulosic ethanol (the good ethanol) is years away and that hybrids and electrics will become cost competitive as they scale and implement newer technologies.
Meanwhile entrepreneur Shai Agassi is making his own waves mass marketing all electric vehicles as part of Project Better Place. The key is the battery replacement network.
By using lithium-ion phosphate batteries that can be lifted out of a vehicle and replaced, he extends the range of the vehicles beyond the 100 miles that they can now go on a single electrical charge. He also eliminates the time it usually takes to recharge batteries.
The plan is to set up service stations that will pull out and replace the spent batteries in about the time required to fill a conventional car's tank with gasoline.
Israel has made a major commitment to develop the network and Renault has committed to building the cars. "Today is a new age with new dangers and the greatest danger is that of oil. It is the greatest polluter of our age and oil is the greatest financier of terror," said Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Video from Project Better Place:
So in watching all of this I couldn't help but be curious when I met a well known senior advisor on climate and new technologies (who holds an office at Kleiner Perkins and advises Richard Branson on this new fuel ventures among other things) and ask what she thought of the debates. She basically said it's silly. We need everything - especially a biodiesel, plug-in hybrid.
Now, about biodiesel...
Written by Rafael Reyes Monday, 04 February 2008 22:58NY Times:
While interest in alternative energy is climbing across the United States, solar power especially is rising in California, the product of billions of dollars in investment and mountains of enthusiasm.
In recent months, the industry has added several thousand jobs in the production of solar energy cells and installation of solar panels on roofs. A spate of investment has also aimed at making solar power more efficient and less costly than natural gas and coal.
...They point to companies like SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells based in Foster City. Since its founding in 2006, it has grown to 215 workers and $29 million in annual sales. “It is hard to find installers,” said Lyndon Rive, the chief executive. “We’re at the stage where if we continue to grow at this pace, we won’t be able to sustain the growth.”
The momentum is substantial and VC funds have been flowing. Does this portend a new bubble?
Janszen projects the alternative-energy bubble could outstrip both the dot-com and housing bubbles combined, generating in excess of $20 trillion in speculative wealth -- "money that will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver 'energy security.'" At their peaks, the tech bubble had a speculative value of $7 trillion and the housing bubble $12 trillion.
It's certainly possible that a cleantech bubble is emerging, but no one disputes that the dot-com revolution fundamentally changed commerce and how we communicate - despite the the dot-bust.
More importantly, the structural conditions pushing the development of cleantech are only going to become more pronounced:
- Peak oil and increasing cost of energy
- Accelerating climate change impacts
- Imminent regulation of carbon
- Accelerating new technology in key areas such as batteries and thin film solar
Let's hope that dot-green transforms the landscape just like the dot-com.
Written by Rafael Reyes Saturday, 02 February 2008 10:04
The future is not coal. The US Department of Energy pulled the plug on what was supposed to be the leading edge "clean coal" project in the country, "FutureGen". "Clean coal" is an oxymoron - even if sequestration were implemented, it would likely leak.
Here in California it's sometimes easy to think that coal doesn't touch us but the reality is more complicated. Check out where your electricity comes from. Not only does California have a couple coal plants but it imports somewhere around 20% of its power. Determining the source of that is difficult.
The good news is that more and more proposed coal plants are being denied or withdrawn (even in Kansas). To see where coal plants have gone down in flames check out this Google map. Coal's prospects in the US are dimming but Big Coal presses on. And they have the gall to claim they are after "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a cooler planet."
Written by Rafael Reyes Saturday, 02 February 2008 09:31
Updated with clip (McCain's comments half way through):
It appears McCain is not going to take Romney's attacks on his position on global warming sitting down. This is a good thing and could portend a positive competition between McCain (assuming he is nominated - which seems probable) and the Democratic nominee.
But there are still a lot of uncertainties about how this will play out. With the economy weakening the presidential election debates on global warming may yet go in the wrong direction.