Ireland energy authority studies VRB Power system

VRB Power’s sale last month of a flow battery system to Irish wind developer Tapbury Management Ltd. was a major coup for the company. The $6.3 million “Redox” system will provide 12 megawatt-hours of electricity storage for Tapbury’s wind farm, allowing it to “firm up” energy produced from the farm. Now, Tapbury and Sustainable Energy Ireland (a government authority in charge of sustainable energy development in Ireland) are jointly funding a study to “ascertain and quantify the full potential economic benefits of coupling Vanadium Redox Batteries with wind farms in Ireland.”

The study is expected to be completed by end of October, 2006 and will be used to determine the economic potential for battery storage operating in the forthcoming Single Electricity Market in Ireland. With over 3,000MW of wind energy in the application process in Ireland, there are estimates that there could be a need for in excess of 700MW of storage in Ireland to enable the successful roll out of its most abundant natural resource.

Positive results from this study could add further momentum to VRB’s business prospects in Ireland and throughout Europe. I’m surprise there’s not an Irish company called Shamrock Wind Power, given that the clover is green, has three leaves (a turbine has three blades) and it’s a symbol of the Irish. (I’ll be curious to see how long it takes from the time of this posting before someone reserves the Web domain “” — which is available, btw).

In other wind news, the International Herald Tribune republished this NYT article about homegrown Indian wind-turbine manufacturer Suzlon Energy, which dominates the wind market in India and is now the fifth-largest producer of wind turbines, recently surpassing Germany’s Siemens. The article does a good job of outlining opportunities in India and China for wind development. Interesting enough, I received several e-mails from investors in India after I wrote up my feature on VRB’s deal with Tapbury. They were all keen to speak with VRB about doing tests in India, so that could represent a huge opportunity for VRB down the line.

Cleantech VCs selectively request government help

Red Herring has a great story about venture capitalists in the cleantech community who, on the one hand, have traditionally resisted government involvement when it comes to the markets, but on the other hand are backing proposed legislation in California that would require oil companies to pay extra taxes that would ultimately go toward funding research in clean technologies.

It’s an interesting debate, and it may be a double standard for the VCs, but from my perspective I think the proposed legislation in California makes a whole lot of sense and should be applied in Canada where the oil sands are spewing record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. I see nothing wrong with increasing taxes for the hugely profitable oil and natural gas companies and giving tax breaks to those companies, including old-school energy companies, who embrace clean technologies and spend money on their research. In fact, it shouldn’t be targeted just at oil companies — the behaviour of the industrial, commercial and residential sectors should all be influenced by creative policy that shifts tax revenues from polluting activities to “cleaner” activities.

BTW: Red Herring also reports the five winners of the California Cleantech Open conference. The technologies include wind power for ships; water purification using nanotechnology; low-cost rooftop solar; energy-management software that reduces natural gas use for hotels and apartment buildings; and wireless sensors for reducing power used for lighting and other appliances in buildings. The article provides names and links to each company’s Web site.

Finally, I didn’t get the chance to attend the latest Cleantech Venture Forum in New York last week but Cleantech Investing does a great job of summarizing what happened at the event, which has become enormously popular. Click here and here for commentary.

Jozef Straus as chairman brings cred to Group IV

I wrote an article in today’s Toronto Star about Group IV Semiconductor’s “coming out.” Much of what’s in the article has been written about here, but here’s a link in case you want to read. Also, just want to point out that Group IV’s chairman is Jozef Straus, the former chairman and CEO of JDS Uniphase, which if you’re familiar with the telecom industry was a giant in fibre-optics until the telecom crash. Having Straus on the board brings some real street cred to the company, along with the investment from Vinod Khosla and others.

GM planning home hydrogen station

General Motors, which still believes it will start selling fuel cell cars within five years, plans to complement such vehicles by offering homeowners their own hydrogen fueling station. News of this follows a recent announcement that it will be making 100 hydrogen fuel-cell versions of its Chevrolet Equinox SUV. The company says the home stations give homeowners a stable supply of hydrogen and overcome concerns that a hydrogen refueling infrastructure would not be in place to support larger-scale introduction of fuel cell vehicles.

GM, of course, wouldn’t be the first automaker to head in this direction. Honda has been working on a similar product, and last fall announced a third-generation prototype of its hydrogen station, which would run on natural gas and would be able to provide hydrogen for a vehicle as well as electricity for a home. Ion America, another secretive Kleiner Perkins’ investment, is also developing such a system, and the former Stuart Energy (now part of Hydrogenics) had one in development for years. Hydrogenics calls it the HomeFueler, but there hasn’t been much news about it recently, and one must wonder whether GM — which owns a minority stake in Hydrogenics — plans to base its home fueling station on the HomeFueler design.

In any event, the home station concept makes sense if you can provide fuel for a vehicle, electricity for a home, and capture waste heat from the process to help heat your home. Price will be key, and it’s also important to remember that such a system would rely on natural gas. While it would be a very efficient use of natural gas, you’ve got to wonder whether you’re getting around Peak Oil only to confront Peak Natural Gas…

Hype machine has gripped EEStor

Since first posting about EEStor back in January, followed by my Toronto Star feature on the company in March, there’s been a steady trickle of interest from readers of this blog. But in the last week interest in EEStor has exploded, mostly the result of a Business 2.0 article that was republished on Now, has picked up on it and the hype machine is in full gear.

Recently, I’ve been getting two types of e-mails/comments about EEStor. One is from those who are itching to get more details about the company. All I can say is that I post the details as I learn them on this blog. I have no special insight beyond that. The other type of e-mail/comment is from engineer/science types who believe EEStor is a scam and seem to think that just talking about the company and its claims amount to some kind of crime. 

For the record, I have my own healthy dose of skepticism with regards to this company and its claims. That said, I do think the jury is out until we learn more. This isn’t a publicly traded company, so I’m not concerned that shareholders are getting ripped off. If a venture capitalist wants to invest in EEStor, then they’ll have to do their own due diligence. If they get burned, well, that’s their fault.

As for investing in Feel Good Cars, which is publicly traded, as a way of indirectly investing in EEStor, proceed with caution. That’s a very risky strategy — do so at your own risk.

Should this story be dismissed because it flies in the face of what many engineers and researchers and ultracapacitor experts *believe* is possible? Absolutely not. Should we follow this story with a critical eye? Absolutely. But I think it’s too early to compare this story to cold fusion. Give it a chance. Have an open mind. If it doesn’t turn out to work, then move on to the next great hope. If it does, then we can take pleasure in knowing that the hype was justified.

As an FYI, don’t think for a minute that the folks at EEStor want all the attention. They’re not asking for publicity. They remain in “stealth” mode. They’re not granting interviews. They’re just trying to do their work and prove to their investors, which include Kleiner Perkins, that a commercial energy-storage product is possible.

Where’s the scam in that?