Happy New Year… from the Boys of Cleantech

NOTE: Apologies for the original post. Had meant to upload President-elect Obama’s photo as the sixth dancer but forgot.

What better way to bring in the new year than to have venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, incoming Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, former VP Al Gore, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens come together and shake their greentech groove thang.

Click here for the goods. (BTW: This Web video will self-destruct on Jan. 15)

Happy New Year to all my readers. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with me and each other. Best wishes in 2009!


Smart grid destined for role as enabler of renewables, efficiency, and distributed generation

I’m encouraged by many of the end-of-year stories coming out of the greentech community. Most of them argue that the “smart grid” will be a major story in 2009, and as my own year-end musings show I couldn’t agree more. In fact, my final story of the year is about the smart grid and its inevitable coming into being. Much of my story is through the seasoned eyes of Marzio Pozzuoli, founder and CEO of Woodbridge, Ontario-based RuggedCom Inc., the leading supplier of hardened communications gear to utilities around the world. In other words, RuggedCom sells routers, switches and wireless equipments for electrical substations. As more of this gear is installed we begin to see the grid as an extensive two-way communications network, able to collect and transmit information to where it’s needed. The next step? Creating the software and setting up the systems that can organize, analyze and ultimately act on the information collected in a way that improves the efficiency, reliability and self-healing capability of our electricity system and makes integration of renewables and distributed generation much easier. No wonder the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, Google and other giants of the IT sector are beginning to take notice and position themselves in what promises to be a massive market.

Anyway, check out the story. Also, here are two other recent stories about the smart grid you might enjoy: Greentech Media and Technology Review. For your further reading pleasure, check out a new report from the Electric Power Research Institute and an excellent smart-grid technology overview released in September by the U.S. Department of Energy.

UPDATE: Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this happened with the publication of my smart grid story, but RuggedCom’s stock shot up 25 per cent today and hit a 52-week high. There are not many companies ending 2008 who can claim they’re trading at a 52-week high!

What to expect from greentech in 2009

This column is Ontario-centric, but if you’re interested I list the Top 10 headline-makers that are likely for 2009. Here’s a quick look at the list:

  1. Obama’s “green stimulus” plan.
  2. Greentech VC funding survives downturn.
  3. Peak oil talk goes mainstream.
  4. Ontario Green Energy Act.
  5. Offshore wind on the Great Lakes.
  6. Plug-in vehicles justify auto bailout.
  7. Smart grid and smart storage.
  8. Power demand down, nuke costs up.
  9. Time-of-use, smart meters go live.
  10. Conservation programs hit their stride.

Lockheed names EEStor in “body armor” patent

A new Lockheed Martin patent published last week by the World Intellectual Property Organization gives us a glimpse of the miltary contractor’s relationship with Cedar Park, Tex.-based EEStor. It could also explain why EEStor has been reluctant so far to reveal its progress.

Lockheed’s patent details plans for “body armor having an electrical energy storage unit formed as a layer that substantially conforms to an armor plate.” According to the document, the electrical energy storage layer has “a plurality of sections.” The idea being that if one section is damaged in combat the other sections would remain operable. Two or more sections can be electrically coupled, either in parallel or series. Electrical connectors would “provide access to electrical power stored in the electrical energy storage layer.”

The armor would be a form-fitting utility garment worn like a vest. The patent goes on to say the electrical energy storage would be composed of lithium ion polymer batteries, or alternatively “one or more solid state, capacitive, electrical energy storage devices, such as those provided by EEStor Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas… Such solid state electrical energy storage devices comprise calcined composition-modified barium titanate coated with aluminum oxide and calcium magnesium aluminosilicate glass. Continue reading Lockheed names EEStor in “body armor” patent

Renewables and the challenges of snow, cold

In discussions about renewables such as wind and solar we often forget to talk about the challenges of using these technologies in certain climates. The same goes for electric car batteries and biodiesel. Folks in California probably don’t give this much thought, but being Canadian — and having shovelled my driveway four times this month — it’s a reality that can’ t be avoided.

Take earlier this month. I was supposed to visit OptiSolar’s solar farm in Sarnia but the forecast called for snow — lots of it. We cancelled the visit, thank god. Later on the news that night I watched as police on snowmobiles rescued people whose cars were stranded in snow-filled ditches at the edge of the highway — the main highway into Sarnia that I was supposed to take. Needless to say, OptiSolar’s panels got blanketed by snow, again, and again, and again this month.

The New York Times has an interesting story about winter and its impact on renewables. It talks about snow on solar panels, ice on wind turbines, and how the cold can turn biodiesel into thick goo. But winter, it should be pointed out, does have some advantages: the wind blows better in the winter and solar panels are more efficient in the cold (though the days are shorter).

The story also talks about the new work opportunities that winter presents. Removing snow from neighbourhood solar panels or solar farms could be the new “green-collar job” for local kids!