A Canadian roundup of underappreciated cleantech happenings

Toronto-based RuggedCom continues to defy the economic downturn and prove the smart grid is the market to be in by posting a 52 per cent increase in fourth-quarter revenue and 49 per cent increase in same period profits. For the fiscal year, the company’s profit jumped 154 per cent. The company’s annual revenue now tops $60 million, 63 per cent of which is coming from the utility industry through sales of smart-grid networking gear. Find me another company that has seen its stock value jump 75 per cent higher than what it traded at just before the October 2008 market crash. RuggedCom is indeed a rare bird. It’s why I’m always amazed to see the U.S. media ignoring this story. There is so much attention to Cisco getting into the smart grid that nobody has noticed that little RuggedCom leads the market in the sale of networking equipment for the grid, or that RuggedCom plans to leverage that leadership position and expand its presence throughout other aspects of grid modernization. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cisco is doing its due diligence on RuggedCom as a possible acquisition. It fits the Cisco purchase profile, and compared to other smart-grid plays its P/E ratio isn’t that rich.

Another company that’s overlooked by U.S. media is Ottawa-based Cyrium Technologies, which just announced record performance from its commercially manufactured multi-junction solar cells, which are based on quantum dot technology. “Cyrium’s first generation solar cells offer efficiencies of 40 per cent or higher together with a nearly constant conversion efficiency for solar concentrations from 200 to greater than 1,000 suns,” the company said. This is a big deal, given that the other “records” touted to date, which range from 40.8 to 42.8 conversion efficiency (these claims are in dispute — see Wikipedia entry), have been limited to the lab. Cyrium, on the other hand, is actually manufacturing limited quantities of its cells for testing by potential customers. And the company isn’t resting on its laurels, either. “Cyrium anticipates its second generation product will reach 43 per cent efficiency within one year and third generation products are targeted to be at 45 per cent within two years,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Montreal-based Enerkem has been granted a permit to commence construction of what it’s calling the “world’s first commercial municipal waste-to-biofuels facility.” The $70 million facility, located in Edmonton, Alberta, will take municipal solid waste that’s left over after recycling and composting and will convert that waste into ethanol using Enerkem’s process. The project is a joint-venture between Enerkem (technology supplier) and Greenfield Ethanol (ethanol producer). “This unprecedented project is set to change the dynamics of the waste and fuel industries by making waste — that would otherwise be landfilled — a resource for transportation fuels,” said Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet. I know I won’t be the only one following this project closely.

Finally, honorable mention goes to Toronto-based WhalePower, which has just made it as a finalist at the prestigious INDEX international design competition in Copehagen, Denmark. You may recall WhalePower’s new wind-turbine blade design, which is inspired by the humpback whale’s tubercle-line flipper. This bumpy leading edge gives the whale more agility in water. WhalePower has adapted the design to turbine blades, allowing for more efficient capture of wind energy and access to this energy at lower speeds. There are five categories in the Copenhagen competition, and the winner of each category gets 100,000 Euros. Winners will be selected in August and the winning designs will also become part of a touring show through Asia and Europe. WhalePower is competing in the “community” category against some tough competition, including Shai Agassi’s Better Place.

But enough with the bragging Canuck — let’s end on a more negative note. Continue reading A Canadian roundup of underappreciated cleantech happenings

Are we entering an age of reverse-globalization?

The International Energy Agency is getting a bit worried. It sees that low oil prices — or at least low compared to last summer — have led to under-investment in energy infrastructure, particularly exploration of oil and gas. It also knows that when the economy shifts into recovery mode demand will pick up fast and supply will be slow to respond. It predicts there will be a supply crunch by 2012, and of course that means oil prices will be rocketing back up.

This scenario, of course, may be understating the problem about to hit world economies, says former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin, whose new book Why Your World Is Going to Get a Whole Lot Smaller hit the market today. I’ve got a feature book review here, but in a nutshell Rubin believes conventional oil production has already peaked and unconventional production won’t be able to keep up with demand once global economies recover, and not just because of the incredible appetite the Chinese have for oil. Rubin argues that excessive consumption in the Middle East, massive local subsidies there for oil, and the use of oil-fired power plants to run energy-intensive desalination facilities will shrink the amount of oil supply that OPEC puts on the world market. Ultracheap cars to appear in India and likely to spread around the world, thanks to Tata Motors, will mean even more demand for oil products.

Oil prices are destined to once against skyrocket into triple-digit territory, and the impact will be inflation on everything, including our food and the fuel we use to drive our cars and heat/power our homes. In fact, gas prices will become so high that people will be forced to ditch their cars, housing prices in the suburbs will plunge, urban areas will grow more dense, and there will be a renaissance in local agriculture and urban farmers’ markets. The high cost of transporting goods from far-off markets will lead to the re-emergence of domestic manufacturing. High oil will override any labour-cost benefits that countries such as China can offer.

What Rubin is describing is essentially a deathblow to globalization and a return to regional economic trade, similar to what world trading patterns were like in the 1970s. Continue reading Are we entering an age of reverse-globalization?

James Lovelock to speak in Toronto May 26

UPDATE: As promised, here’s the Lovelock Q&A from Saturday’s Toronto Star.

If you’d like to hear from the man who developed the Gaia theory, James Lovelock will be speaking in Toronto on the morning of May 26 at the Glenn Gould Studio, CBC headquarters building, 250 Front St. West. The event is organized by Corporate Knights magazine, and you can click here for details. Lovelock recently released his latest book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, and his outlook on the world isn’t pretty. I had a chance to interview Lovelock last week and the Q&A will be appearing in this Saturday’s Toronto Star. He’s a delightful man, turning 90 in July, but his message regarding the impact of climate change on humanity is quite alarming, and depressing. I’ll link to the Q&A when it appears on Saturday. If you’re interested in checking out his talk, word is there are still a few tickets available.

Toronto Hydro first Canadian utility to test-drive Google PowerMeter

About 10,000 Toronto Hydro customers already on smart meters will soon be moving to time-of-use pricing and the rest will be moving by the end of this year, so it makes sense that the utility give folks a way to actually see their electricity use. The company just announced this morning it will be testing out Google’s PowerMeter on select customers, making it the first Canadian utility to do so. If the trial is successful, Toronto Hydro said it may make the software available to all of its customer. Keep in mind the information provided through the Google PowerMeter won’t be granular — i.e., it won’t provide energy usage of individual appliances; just overall residential energy use.

NOTE: My story in the Toronto Star.

Desperation or long-term planning? Daimler AG acquires 10 per cent of Tesla

The subject line speaks for itself. Perhaps this will spark Ford and GM to take similar equity stakes in other emerging EV companies. Now, some may point out that the big car companies also had/have stakes in fuel-cell companies (i.e. remember Ballard). But this is different. Tesla has a car and is selling it today. It’s expensive, but it already has plans to sell its less flashy sedan in the coming year.

Here are a few places to read about the news:

Actual announcement here. Earth2Tech coverage here. CNET coverage here. And AP/CP coverage here.