Alter NRG sees strategic collaboration as key to growth in geoexchange market

I’ve written before about Calgary-based Alter NRG, a provider of plasma gasification systems that in recent months has started to become a serious player in the geoexchange system design and installation market. It began back in October 2009, when it acquired Mississauga-based geoexchange developer Clean Energy Developments Corp. for $18.4 million.  It’s an odd fit — gasification and geoexchange — but whatever works. What I like about Alter NRG’s move into geoexchange is that the company is beginning to consolidate the market, with a particularly focus on Ontario. Today, for example, it announced that it had acquired 35 per cent of Groundheat International Inc. for $2.3 million. Groundheat and Clean Energy are competitors in one sense, but Alter NRG’s minority stake in Groundheat will promote more collaboration between to the two companies. It’s well known that the bottleneck in the geoexchange market is drilling — i.e. there simply aren’t enough drill rigs to keep the pipeline moving fast enough. Groundheat has six drill rigs versus Clean Energy’s one rig. “CleanEnergy will use Groundheat drilling services in the Ontario market to expand its ability to offer a turnkey product for larger commercial installations and under the terms of the acquisition agreement will jointly schedule the usage of the installation assets,” according to Alter NRG. On the flip side, Clean Energy will be the preferred supplier of equipment for all Groundheat installations.

Of interesting is that the Remington Group, a leading commercial developer in Ontario, owns 50 per cent of Groundheat and has used the company to install geoexchange systems for the condominiums and other large buildings it develops. Remington alone is planning a number of geoexchange projects totalling about $15 million over the next two years. “The geoexchange market has only a few large scale competitors and Clean Energy’s strategy is alignment and collaboration with key service providers in the industry,” according to Alter NRG. “The market potential is so large, that collaboration will improve quality, lower the cost structure and provide our customers the maximum financial value which will potentially increase adoption of geoexchange technology.”

This might sound like boring stuff, and, well, it is. But it’s significant to see the geoexchange industry grow from a bunch of ma and pa operations to being larger, smarter and more aggressive in the way they tackle the market. Now, it doesn’t help that major federal incentives are no longer available through the EcoEnergy retrofit program, but Alter NRG is going after commercial-scale projects so is mostly not affected.

Earth Day: The next time you drink a glass of water…

… think about where it came from, what it took to get it clean and fresh to your tap, and how much energy is consumed to get it to that point. Think about how much water is required for industrial use, for cooling thermal power plants, for making fuels, and for your teenage daughter to have that 40-minute long morning shower. Think about places in the world where booming population, climate change and/or water pollution is creating shortages that are creating human hardship and setting the stage for future water wars. Think about all the water infrastructure we rely on and how it is aging, failing and in need of urgent repair or replacement at a cost of trillions of dollars.

I have a feature column on WATER in the Toronto Star today. Please give it a read.

“By 2050, the global population is projected to exceed 9 billion people, and with the continued increase in water demand it is expected that over 4 billion of these people will live in regions with chronically short water supplies,” according to a report published last month called “The Water Opportunity for Ontario.”

Happy Earth Day. Now, what to do with those pesky humans…

Can ocean thermal energy conversion work? Sure, but for how much?

My Clean Break column today takes a look at ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a way of generating electricity by leveraging the temperature differential between warm ocean surface water and deep seawater that’s more than 20 degrees C colder. Lockheed Martin has been experimenting with OTEC for three decades, but it’s now getting ready to construct a 10-megawatt plant off the coast of Hawaii that it hopes will prove that 100-MW-plus plants can be built around the world in areas where the temperature difference between upper and lower ocean layers exceeds 20 degrees. OTEC isn’t much different than extracting thermal energy below the earth’s surface to generate electricity or harness heat, but geothermal has the advantage of being able to tap much hotter temperatures the deeper you go. However, with OTEC you don’t have to drill through 10 miles of rock, and since we already have expertise in building oil and natural gas platforms in the rough seas that can handle crazy weather and big waves, why couldn’t we build floating energy plants that carry clean power back to shore through underwater transmission? Actually, there is no reason, but like many other clean technologies out there, it will come down to cost before OTEC moves beyond early-stage demonstration to commercial reality. Will be interesting to see where Lockheed takes this.

Wente owes full disclosure to the reading public

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente is a board member at Energy Probe, as is University of Toronto economics and law professor Michael Trebilcock, who was quoted extensively in Wente’s column two weeks ago trashing Ontario’s green energy policy. Energy Probe is an environmental research group founded 30 years ago by its executive director, Lawrence Solomon, who is also a columnist for the National Post where — along with Terence Corcoran — he regularly trashes renewable energy initiatives and is an outspoken climate-change denier. Energy Probe, to its credit, is for a number of sound reasons against the use of nuclear power. But it’s also an organization that supports continued use of coal plants in Ontario and believes the oil sands isn’t that much of an environmental threat. In essence, it comes across more like a libertarian thinktank posing as an environmental group.

Why Wente doesn’t disclose her long-held role within Energy Probe when she writes columns reflective of its mandate strikes me as odd, given the standards of fair journalism we expect from the Globe and Mail. But even worse, she goes ahead and quotes a fellow board member of that same organization without acknowledging their mutual connections to Energy Probe.

Never mind that she, like Trebilcock, apparently owns rural property near a proposed wind development so has a personal bone to pick with wind energy and the provincial policies that are enabling such developments.

Energy auditors speak out, and they’re angry

Earlier I had a post that asked energy auditors and anyone else affected by the premature halting of the federal ecoEnergy program to share their concerns. Dozens wrote back, and for the most part they’re extremely disappointed with the federal government but still holding out hope that the provinces will step up to fill the gap, or that the feds will have second thoughts. Here is a sample of how the decision to scrap the federal program is affecting folks:

Laid off 4 of the 5 I originally hired. Laying off 2 to 3 more staff over the next few weeks. No plans on hiring the 12 staff I was originally going to hire. $1.5 million in sales disappeared. I do not know if my company will have enough sales in my other divisions to keep the larger rental space I took specifically for solar. I may have to claim bankruptcy because of this early cancellation of a program that was supposed to run until March 31, 2011.  Continue reading Energy auditors speak out, and they’re angry