Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Simple Solution for a Very Poor World

Imagine if you had no electricity. No lights. No radio. Don't even think about television or internet. When sun goes down, your world becomes dark and silent. Or worse. Using kerosene lamps, your world becomes dirty and dangerous.

This is what the world is like for 1.3 billion people. Including children who never have a chance to get the kind of education that could release them from a pernicious cycle of poverty.

Now imagine just one light. One light that gives children a chance to read. That gives a family the ability to stop wasting their money, health and safety on kerosene. Think about how just one light could improve the lives of a child and their family.

ToughStuff solar panels are providing desperately poor communities around the world with enough power to light their homes and charge batteries for radios and cell phones. The company does this with a tiny, inexpensive solar panel that costs about $15. Equivalent to the cost of about 12 weeks of kerosene.

The ToughStuff solar panel is designed to deliver high performance while being durable enough to survive in even the most extreme environments. The panel is very robust, UV-resistant, and water-proof. It works in even low light conditions

Here's the best part. ToughStuff is doing this without any government or aid agency grants. People pay for the solar panels. Distributors earn a commission selling the solar panels.

ToughStuff also has a "buy one/give one" program for those of us in more economically developed parts of the world. Half the purchase price of every ToughStuff solar kit bought in developed countries goes towards funding the company's Business in a Box programme. You will be supporting a Solar Village Entrepreneur (SVE) to set up a business selling or renting ToughStuff products, generating profit to improve his/her livelihood, and improving access to sustainable products in off-grid communities. The company provides vital training and assistance to run a profitable enterprise – the average ToughStuff SVE earns $500-1000 each year – ensuring a sustainable and lasting route out of poverty.

For more information, go to

John J.P. Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Venture Capital Cleantech Investments Flat in 2011

A new analysis by Ernst & Young concludes that US venture capital firms invested $4.9 billion in cleantech companies in 2011. That is 4.5% less than 2010. The good news is that the amount of capital invested in 2010 was up 29% from 2009.

Energy and electricity generation attracted $1.5 billion of venture capital investments, about 5% less than in 2010, with solar power accounting for 91% of the capital invested in the generation sector.

The energy storage sector saw a whopping 253% increase in venture capital investments, with $932.6 million invested in 28 deals. Much of this capital was invested in new battery technologies.

Although energy efficiency companies attracted $646.9 million of new venture capital investments in 2011, that represented a 29% decrease from 2010.

Corporate cleantech investments were concentrated in solar and wind power generation. Google Inc. and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) invested $189.0 million in four California solar farms totaling 88 MW of capacity. The projects will be built by Recurrent Energy Inc., a unit of Sharp Corp. NRG Energy Inc. acquired solar-power developer Solar Power Partners, deepening NRG's involvement in the solar power market.

MidAmerican Energy bought 49% of the $1.8 billion 290 MW Agua Caliente wind power project based in Yuma County, Arizona, which is being developed by NRG Energy. Duke Energy Corp. and American Transmission Co. bought a power line project to bring wind energy from Wyoming to the US Southwest.

John J.P. Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Saturday, January 28, 2012

President Obama's Green Report Card

In his State of the Union address (a.k.a., his re-election campaign launching speech), President Obama took Republicans to task for their love of fossil fuels and laid out a reasonable case for a diversified energy strategy. He even mentioned the words "climate change" for the first time in months. The big question is: Can we believe him this time? Or is this just political posturing?

The fact is, this is not a green President, but a grey one.

He has been an open and fervent supporter of so-called "clean" coal. Many experts believe the concept of "clean" coal is a fallacy, and the utilities that have been working on carbon capture and storage technologies have stopped because they do not think it is economically viable under current regulatory conditions. It is unclear whether the President continues to argue for "clean" coal because he thinks the experts are wrong, or whether he is just playing to voters in important swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where coal is an important part of the local economy. Either way, this President is not going to shift our economy away from its overwhelming dependence on coal to generate electricity.

The President should be given high marks for restructuring the auto industry in a way that has increased production of electric vehicles (EVs). Unlike many of his other initiatives, shifting the U.S. away from a transportation sector monopolized by petroleum to one that allows competition from all fuels that are capable of producing electricity is a major structural change that could have long-lasting impact.

But so far he has only taken half the steps necessary to make this a reality. EV sales are heavily influenced by gasoline prices. As long as gasoline prices remain much lower in the U.S. than in Europe and other countries, it is unlikely that EVs will capture a large share of the market. Without scale, EVs will ultimately fail and we will be right back where we started from -- reminiscent of when Jimmy Carter promoted energy conservation and synfuels, only to have all his policies reversed when Ronald Reagan took office and launched the era of the gas-guzzling SUV.

Another of President Obama's achievements, and one with potentially longer lasting impacts, is his Executive Order requiring all government agencies to reduce their carbon footprints. Since the U.S. government buys $500 billion worth of private sector goods and services every year, this has the potential to create rippling effects as private sector vendors are forced to meet ambitious carbon footprint goals or lose government business to competitors who will.

Oil, on the other hand, is another story. While President Obama imposed a brief moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico during the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, he did not use that high-profile incident to promote any new initiatives. To the contrary, President Obama allowed BP to avoid the scrutiny of very public lawsuits by agreeing quickly to a compensation fund that may or may not be adequate. And as soon as Anderson Cooper stopped showing a live feed of the oil gushing out of BP's pipe on the ocean floor, the President authorized and promoted more deepwater drilling in the Gulf.

On the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama made the classic election year move of telling his green supporters that he was not approving it, while telling everyone else that he wasn't disapproving it either -- he just didn't have enough time to make a final decisions. Let's face it, if the President is re-elected, he will probably approve the Keystone XL pipeline, thereby advancing the commercial prospects for the dirtiest petroleum known to man and continuing our economy's dependence on oil for a few more generations.

Perhaps the President's most significant major green initiative has been to promote lower-priced natural gas by doing absolutely nothing to regulate hydro-fracking, leaving that for the states to decide (as any good Republican would do).

Our growing dependence on natural gas has kept electricity prices low, avoided the need for more coal-burning power plants, and arguably reduced our dependence on foreign oil. But these benefits come with a steep environmental cost. Investments in fracking for natural gas have crowded out needed investments in cleaner and more sustainable technologies such as geothermal, wind, and solar. Fracking has also raised very frightening concerns about groundwater pollution at a time when everyone is starting to recognize that clean water scarcity may be our next environmental catastrophe.

Clean air has not been President's strong point. When his EPA Commissioner announced new rules to reduce smog, the President provided absolutely no political backing or support. Even though these rules have been in the works for 20 years, even though the utilities were given more than adequate notice to prepare for these rules, and even though many utilities had already taken steps to comply with the new rules, the President allowed his EPA Commissioner to be pummeled mercilessly by the few utilities that want to keep spewing pollutants like it's 1955, and ultimately President Obama withdrew the rules from consideration.

It is understandable that the President must pursue green energy policies in the context of current economic conditions and the equally pressing need to create more jobs. But even taking these economic and political realities into account, the President has been a disappointment. His stimulus package contained tens of billions of dollars for investments in green and sustainable energy. The lion's share of that money went to weatherizing old buildings that should be torn down because he wanted to create construction jobs quickly. This emphasis on immediate job creation is understandable, but very short sighted because the jobs that were created were completely temporary. They disappeared again as soon as the government money ran out.

The President could have created just as many jobs in the short term by investing in the construction of smart grids, the installation of smart meters, and other infrastructure essential to building a green economy. Those types of infrastructure investments would have provided a multiplier effect by attracting private sector funding as well, and by putting in place the infrastructure needed to create even more jobs over the long term. Instead, we got temporary construction jobs and slightly better insulated buildings that will ultimately be torn down over the next 5-10 years. This insulation project will turn out to be as long lasting as Jimmy Carter's solar panels on the roof of the White House, which were taken down immediately after Ronald Reagan took office. What a waste.

I have not even begun to talk about President Obama's funding of individual renewable energy companies and projects. The problem with Solyndra is not that it failed, it is that the government was never going to get anything in return. If President Obama wants the government to invest in next generation renewable energy technologies, then the funding should go to our great research universities. That way, the government wins whether or not the specific technology proves commercially viable. Here's why.

When the government invests in private companies, the best that happens is a single company benefits and we get a few more jobs. Private companies have an incentive to keep their technology advances to themselves with patents and trade secrets. They have no incentive to share their breakthroughs with actual or potential competitors. And if the company fails, the government gets nothing.

In contrast, when the government commits the same dollars to research universities, any resulting technology advances are usually broadly licensed, thereby allowing entire industries to grow. And even if the research fails, at least the government has advanced our nation's knowledge base and funded the next generation of Ph.D. scientists and teachers.

Where does that leave us? With perhaps the most depressing fact about President Obama and Green Energy: Given the alternatives, he's the best hope we've got.

John J.P. Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Sunday, January 15, 2012

U.S. Surpasses China in Clean Energy Investments

US clean energy investments rose 35% in 2011 to a record $55.9 billion, while China's clean energy investments rose one percent to $47.4 billion. Together, these two countries accounted for almost 40% of the record $260 billion invested in clean energy worldwide last year. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global clean energy investments in 2011 were five times the investments made just seven years ago.

Much of this investment came from private investors who understand that the enormous risks climate change poses for companies and countries are also creating tremendous investment opportunities.

These risks were addressed recently at the biennial United Nations for the Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy Solutions, sponsored by Ceres, the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations Office for Partnerships. Some 450 global investors representing more than $26 trillion in assets gathered at the summit to discuss the risks and opportunities of climate change.

The investors called for greater private investment in low-carbon technologies and tougher scrutiny of climate risks across their portfolios. They also announced new guidelines on how companies should address climate risks and opportunities, and promised closer scrutiny of companies that ignore the risks of climate change.

Click here for more information and to watch a webcast of the summit.

John J.P. Howley

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kia Introduces Electric Vehicles (EVs) at Consumer Electronics Show (CES)

Kia Motors will introduce two new electric vehicles (EVs) at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas. The company will display both its Ray production Electric Vehicle (EV) and Naimo EV concept car. Both vehicles feature advanced lithium polymer battery packs.

The Naimo EV concept car also introduces an all-new User Centered Driving (UCD) telematics concept. The UCD concept features future possibilities in safety, media and entertainment in-vehicle technologies including facial recognition technology and a number of interactive features.

Launched in December, the new Ray is the first EV in the world assembled on the same production lines as its regular combustion-engine sibling, and is built exclusively for the domestic Korean market.

Capable of a range up to 86 miles on a single charge, the Ray EV is powered by a 50kW electric motor and a 16.4 kWh lithium ion polymer battery pack engineered to be capable of a 10-year lifespan. The battery requires only six hours to be fully charged using a 220V outlet and just 25 minutes while in "fast charge" mode.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Largest Solar Plant in Texas Goes Online

A 30 Megawatt (MW) solar power plant has gone online in Webberville, Texas, making it the largest solar plant to date in the Lone Star State. The new solar plant is the first utility-scale solar deployment for Austin Energy. Austin Energy is the nation's ninth largest community-owned electric utility.

The 30 MW solar project is comprised of more than 127,000 photovoltaic solar modules mounted on single-axis trackers that follow the sun to maximize solar energy production. It is expected to produce more than 61 million kilowatt-hours of clean solar energy in the first year of operation alone. It will also help Austin Energy achieve its ambitious goal of a 35% renewable energy mix by 2020.

Under a 25-year solar power purchase agreement, Austin Energy will purchase the energy at a fixed rate along with the renewable energy credits. It is expected the 30 MW solar project will generate more than 1.4 billion kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy over 25 years. That is enough clean energy to offset more than 1.6 billion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mass Megawatts Wind Power Reports First Wind-Powered Water Pump System Delivery in Colorado

Mass Megawatts Wind Power, Inc. has announced the delivery of its first wind-powered water pump system in Colorado. Construction was completed on the initial unit which provides a low-cost solution for water pump applications commonly needed on farms and ranches throughout the central plains of the United States.

The wind-powered unit provides a greener and lower-cost solution when compared to more traditional water pumping systems, including those powered by diesel generators. Water pumps are commonly used for agricultural purposes, including irrigation and for the delivery of water to livestock in remote locations.

The Company's wind-powered water pump leverages a patented wind augmenter technology to increase the wind velocity directed at the wind turbine. This, in turn, results in a significant increase in power output which provides considerable torque for mechanical applications.

The wind-powered system is designed to operate efficiently without high towers or complicated, expensive technologies. The system utilizes off-the-shelf parts, is capable of operating in lower wind-speed locations, and with reduced maintenance costs. Production of additional wind power units is underway at the company's manufacturing facility located in Morrison, Colorado.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shell and Brazil's Cosan Launch Multi-Billion Dollar Biofuels Joint Venture

Royal Dutch Shell, the largest oil company in Europe, and Cosan Limited, the largest sugar and ethanol processor in Brazil, have formally launched a multi-billion dollar joint venture that will become the largest producer of ethanol made from sugar cane. The joint venture, called Raizen, will operate in Brazil.

Cosan has invested $3.3 billion and Shell has invested $1.62 billion in the venture. The investments include a 15.7 percent stake in enzyme producer Codexis Inc., a developer of "super-enzymes" for the faster conversion of plant waste into transport fuels, and part of Shell’s interest in Iogen Energy, which uses enzymes to break down plant waste into ethanol. Click here to read more . . . .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

US Ex-Im Bank Finances Small-Scale Renewable Energy Exports

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is facilitating the sale of solar panels from California to a private sector project in Belgium under the bank's "Renewable Express" project financing program. The solar panels for the project will be supplied by Solyndra LLC, a manufacturer of photovoltaic systems headquartered in Fremont, California.

The Ex-Im Bank’s “Renewable Express” project financing program provides streamlined post-completion project financing to small renewable-power producers that meet the bank's credit standards. The bank will consider project financing for small renewable power producers seeking loans of $3 million to $10 million. Renewable Express is available for both corporate balance sheet and limited-recourse transactions that fit within the program’s parameters and where the repayment is generated from the project’s cash flows. Click here to read more . . . .