Today in Cleantech

Noted thinker and academic Vaclav Smil penned a lengthy critique of renewable energy this month titled “A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy.” Smil makes a number of points but the most important to my mind are: 1) As much as the U.S. and Europe do to shift to renewables, India and China are now the real problem in terms of growth of carbon emissions and 2) Subsidizing renewables long term is unsustainable unless everyone is willing to pay much more for energy which is improbable, particularly in the developing world.  Smil does a good job at pointing out how long it took to research, invest, and build infrastructure/networks for coal, nuclear and natural gas, often as long as 45 years in the case of natural gas. And there’s little reason to believe renewables won’t take at least that long. But where I disagree with Smil is around his assessment of the costs of fossil fuels. We assume their cost is just the spot price of the natural resource but there are hard economic costs to carbon emissions, which are admittedly much harder to model, but are still going to be real and should inform how we think about the price comparisons between fossil fuels and renewable energy.

The green guide to CES 2012

Every year, we try to dig into some of the innovations around energy, batteries, energy-efficient homes and the smart grid at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, and deliver this green guide for your reading pleasure.

The new year brings continued solar strife

The turning of the new year didn’t make the solar industry any easier for solar manufacturers. Power electronics maker, Satcon Technology, announced Wednesday that it’s laying off 35 percent of its workers and shutting down its factory in Canada.

A startup’s plan to sell solar like cell phones

Cell phones are one of the few products that have found mass success in developing countries. So why not use the model to sell other stuff, like solar power? That’s the idea behind Simpa Networks, a startup based in Bangalore, India.

DuPont buys solar ink maker Innovalight

DuPont announced on Monday that it has bought Innovalight, a Silicon Valley startup that makes silicon ink that solar-cell makers can use to improve the amount of electricity that the cells can squeeze out of sunlight. DuPont declined to disclose the purchase price.

Solar: Now for renters, too

California regulators have approved a program, called virtual net metering, for residents who until now have been underserved by the state’s popular solar incentive program.

Feds offer $105M loan guarantee for “Project Liberty” biofuel plant

Poet’s so-called “Project Liberty” biofuel plant, which will use corn waste instead of edible corn, is getting some support from the U.S. government. On Thursday, the Department of Energy announced it will offer Poet a $105 million loan guarantee to build out Project Liberty in Iowa.

Got EV Range Anxiety? There’s an App for That

Cell Phone and EV Panel: Edward Pleet, Ford Motor Company, and Nick Pudar, OnStar, at Green:Net 2011The electric car has encountered a number of hurdles in its ongoing path to the mainstream, and they haven’t all been technical. More human challenges, like range anxiety, have served as hindrances in the wide-scale consumer adoption of electric vehicles (EVs.)
As big carmakers move more and more into the electric vehicle market, engineers are working overtime to develop applications that will help ease customers’ minds and smooth the transition to EVs, representatives from Ford Motor Company and vehicle technology firm OnStar said in a panel at Thursday’s Green:Tech 2011 conference.
“When we did development of the [first Ford] electric vehicle, we discovered that the EV requires a different level of connectivity,” Edward Pleet, a business development manager in Ford’s connected services organization, said.
Providing consumers with in-depth information about their vehicles creates a positive feedback loop that benefits both car drivers and the environment. “With better choices, people will make better decisions,” said Nick Pudar, the business development VP at OnStar, which develops technology for General Motors.
While many industries, including healthcare, have benefitted from opening up to using independently developed applications, it may be a while before developers can hack out new apps for cars. “We’re very interested in making available appropriate APIs for third party developers,” Pudar said. “[But] our primary objective is to ensure vehicle operation is safe and secure.”
But amid all the opportunities to develop new apps, carmakers have to be careful to not alienating consumers with too much technology at once. “The key is keeping it simple for the consumer,” Pleet noted. “If the process is [too] complex, at that point, people check out.”