Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ultracapacitor technology improves

Judged by media buzz and venture capital dollars, lithium ion batteries are the name of the game in the emerging field of storage for electric vehicles and the power grid. But there is a cadre of companies pursuing ultracapacitors that can work hand in hand with batteries.
South Korea-based Neescap on Tuesday said that it has raised $9 million in bridge financing to expand production of its ultracapacitors for the transportation, power industry, and consumer electronics markets.
Ultracapacitors: an alternative route to energy storage than batteries.
(Credit: Ioxus)
In the U.S., early-stage companies designing the materials and electrolytes for ultracapacitors include Graphene Energy,EnerG2, and Ioxus. Much hyped EEStor, backed by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has signed asupply deal with electric vehicle company Zenn, although its products are still not commercially available.
Compared to batteries, ultracapacitors can't store a lot of energy, so they wouldn't typically be used alone to run plug-in electric vehicles. On the other hand, ultracapacitors are "power dense," which means that they can discharge the energy they do have quickly. Conversely, they can be recharged quickly--in seconds or minutes, and with almost no degradation in performance over time, say backers.
Ultracapacitors are already used in consumer electronics such as digital cameras to help provide a burst of power for flashes, which extends overall run time, said Chad Hall, the chief operating officer of Oneonta, N.Y.-based Ioxus, on Tuesday. The technical challenge for ultracapacitor companies in the coming years is to build storage devices that can operate in high-voltage applications, he said.
Ioxus, which means "power" in Greek, was spun off from its parent company three years ago to pursue energy storage in electric transportation, renewable energy storage, and backup power. Rather than replace batteries, the company expects that its ultracapacitors, which it began manufacturing earlier this year, will complement them. "It all comes down to hybridization. We've got hybrid cars, so you need to hybridize energy storage," he said.
One of the first markets the company is pursuing is fork lifts. An ultracapacitor could be used for the jolts of power needed to lift heavy things, which would give a longer life to fork lifts' lead acid batteries, said Hall. Other promising uses include maintaining the stability of grid frequency, he said.
"Ultracapacitors enable battery technology, or fuel cells, or solar and wind. They become the bridge you need for most of those applications to go forward. It's gotten to the point technology-wise so that you can do that," he said.
Another advantage is that Ioxus ultracapacitors don't use hazardous materials. But getting the price low enough for these applications remains a barrier, he said.
Breakthroughs ahead?
Joel Schindall, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicts that ultracapacitors will make a jump in energy storage capacity in the years ahead.
Right now, ultracapacitors discharge 10 times faster than batteries but only store about 5 percent of the energy as comparably sized batteries, Schindall said last Wednesday at the EmTech emerging technology conference.
"It's still useful in applications when you charge and discharge frequently, such as regenerative braking, but it's not a replacement for batteries at a large scale," he said.
For the past five years, Schindall has been leading research on ways to replace activated carbon--the porous material in ultracapacitors that stores electric charge--with a "shag carpet" of carbon nanotubes on a conducting substrate. The company FastCap Systems was formed earlier this year to commercialize the technology.
Schindall projects that ultracapacitors eventually will be able to store as much as 25 percent of the energy of batteries, a jump he said would be "disruptive." Right now, nanostructures developed by MIT researchers can hold twice as much energy as activated carbon. In the coming months, his team expects to show it can hold five times the energy as activated carbon, he said.

Monday, September 14, 2009

National Renewable Portfolio Standards

Getting to a National Renewable Energy Standard

by Matthew I. Slavin, Ph.D.
Renewable energy executives are rolling up their sleeves for what promises to be a contentious battle this fall to gain Senate approval of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, including establishment of a mandatory national renewable energy standard (RPS).
How difficult will the battle be? The House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill by the slimmest of margins, with 219 votes in favor and 212 against. The House bill provides for 20 percent of the nation’s electricity supply to come from renewables by 2020, with energy efficiency improvements allowed to account for a quarter of this. Although a recent Washington-Post-ABC news poll shows fully 91 percent of survey respondents support expanded wind and solar generation, the bill reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) in July set the 2020 RPS at only15 percent. According to theNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), this standard will deliver no more new renewable capacity than what is likely to come to market in the absence of a federal RPS.
The renewables industry would like to see the federal RPS at 25 percent in 2020, with a 10 percent requirement beginning in 2012, as opposed to the 6 percent in the House bill and 4 percent in the Senate ENR version. According to Roby Roberts, Senior Vice President for External Communications at Vestas, strategy for strengthening the renewable standard will focus upon the 3 principles of climate, jobs and security, or planet, prosperity and protection. Here are some suggestions to sharpen the point.
Cap-and-trade is the centerpiece of the bill the Senate will consider, and renewable energy advocates are keenly aware of the tie between global warming and RPS.  TheAmerican Wind Energy Association (AWEA) forcefully argues that “wind power is a powerful climate solution, ready to deliver emissions reductions that are large in scale and effective immediately” while the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)points to the need for a “carbon constraint optimized for solar deployment” so that solar energy can provide a ‘clean-energy wedge’ in reducing green house gas emissions.
Sticking to the need to limit carbon emissions as a path to a stronger RPS is a necessity. While the cost of new renewable capacity continues to come down, it is still higher than conventional coal generation. Short of a carbon tax or adoption of the type of feed-in tariff described by Dan Martin in RenewableEnergyWorld.com, cap and trade offers the best avenue to forcing a price on coal generation that reflects its environmental externalities and levels the playing field for renewables.
Geothermal Energy Association Executive Director Karl Gawell sees a scenario in which climate and energy might be broken into two separate bills if the going over cap and trade gets too tough in the Senate. Possibly, but according to Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming “Climate change is the glue that holds the Waxman-Markey bill together. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Breaking the bill apart could further estrange the renewable industry’s environmentalist allies whose support for the legislation is already frayed due to the decision to give away rather than auction carbon credits. Industry strategists should keep this in mind that at a time when “rally round the rotor” unity is needed, and environmentalists have a key role to play in organizing rallies to counter the Astroturf campaign against Waxman-Markey being underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute.
Opponents are basing their campaign on jobs and cost. They have an opening here. The Post-ABC poll shows that support for the energy and climate bill drops from 58 to 29 percent if household electricity costs rise from $10 to $25 per month. 
Opponents cite studies that show that cap-and-trade will result in job loss, that the energy and climate bill will cost the average American household as much as $1,900 per year and lower gross domestic product. Climate and energy advocates will counter these, starting with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change study showing that modernizing our energy sector will create 1.7 million new jobs and the 2008 report by Navigant Consulting Group projecting that an expanding solar energy sector could employ 440,000 and lead to the creation of an additional 750,00 jobs in 2016. Analyses by the Congressional Budget Office and Environmental Protection Agency puts household costs in the much more likely range of $140-$175 per year than the numbers put forth by opponents.
This said, conflicting assumptions make it hard for most people to sort through competing economic studies. Attention should be paid to putting a human face on the renewable energy jobs story. Recount the tale of Clipper Windpower, which in 2005 took over a former printing press manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that had been closed for four years and began producing wind turbine blades with employment growing to 400 in 2008. And highlight SolarWorld’s acquisition of a former 480,00 square foot Komatsu manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oregon where the company produces solar cells with employment that may reach as high as 1,000.
Attention should also be directed towards tying European-based renewable energy firms more closely to the domestic U.S. market. For example, Spain’s Iberdrola won 5 of the 10 renewable energy cash grants totaling $500 million that were announced during the first week of September and authorized under the ARRA recovery act. At a time when economic insecurity is stirring protectionist instincts, following Toyota’s example by making a commitment to increase the share of domestically produced components that go into renewables technology sold in America would be a good step.
Expanding domestic renewables will play an important role in insulating the U.S. from price volatility and supply disruptions linked to imported hydrocarbons. Beyond this, the Department of Defense sees global warming as increasing expenditures for humanitarian interventions in regions that will experience sea level rise, flooding and drought. Hunger and mass migrations of displaced populations across international borders are likely to stoke wars and breed terrorism. Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni summed up the military’s concerns as follows: “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today…or we will pay the price later in military terms…and that will involve human lives.”
The Defense Department already derives 10 percent of its power from alternative sources and is looking to expand use of wind and solar energy. The military is a poster child for why we need to tackle global warming and expand renewable energy, so call in the troops. Doing so can be particularly effective in reaching out to skeptics who continue to doubt the role of anthropomorphic emissions in warming of the atmosphere.
Opposition ensures that there will be a lot of heat generated as the energy and climate bill moves through the Senate. Sticking to the strategy of planet, prosperity and protection offers the best path forward for bolstering the role renewable energy plays in mitigating and adopting to global climate change.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

SMA introducing a micro inverter?

SMA Acquires Micro-Inverter Platform from OKE-Services

Niestetal, Germany [RenewableEnergyWorld.com
SMA Solar Technology AG has acquired the micro inverter technology platform from Dutch company OKE-Services.
It was agreed to keep the exact purchase price confidential.
SMA plans to develop this technology further in the next few years, to launch its own product line of micro inverters into the market. The product portfolio will be expanded in the area of smaller power ranges, the company said.
It was agreed to keep the exact purchase price confidential, however a consultancy contract was drawn up with the owner of OKE, Hendrik Oldenkamp that will run until September 30, 2012.
Unlike the photovoltaic inverter with string technology, which converts the direct current of numerous interconnected photovoltaic modules into alternating current (AC), a micro inverter converts the DC to AC separately at each individual photovoltaic module.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

H&R Block Goes Franchise Route

H&R Block Inc. plans to sell a pool of 500 company-owned offices, converting them to franchises throughout the fall and winter.
Kansas City-based H&R Block (NYSE: HRB) hopes to target entrepreneurs already operating in or interested in the tax business.
“H&R Block believes that success will be driven through a hands-on operator involved with the business,” Ken Treat, senior vice president of franchise development, said in a release Thursday. “As such, these locations will be sold to entrepreneurs who will dedicate their time and enthusiasm to the business.”
H&R Block is offering new and established offices throughout the country. H&R Block said in the release that the existing offices have an established client base, equipment and experienced tax professionals that enable the franchisee to take over and immediately begin developing the market as an H&R Block franchise.
H&R Block is offering a refundable initial deposit and no franchise fee, business development support and year-round revenue opportunities through Block’s various business services programs.
“There is no better time to join forces with the leader in the tax industry,” Treat said in the release. “As one of the most recognized brands, H&R Block has processes and tools in place that can help you realize your business goals, whether you are a current independent tax firm or an entrepreneur.”
Treat said in an interview that the locations for sale aprimarily are in rural areas outside a 50-mile radius of a district office, but that there also are inner-city locations in areas with large ethnic populations. He said Block thinks these offices are better run by people who live and work in those communities and understand the culture and heritage of the people who live there.
“These are not unprofitable offices,” Treat said. “The strategy is not to raise capital, but to right-size our footprint and get more local ownership. We identified these markets, which tend to do better as franchise locations.”
Treat said that any capital raised would be used at the discretion of the company, which has stated goals of buying back shares, paying dividends and making investments that increase shareholder value.
Block ranks No. 4 on the Kansas City Business Journal’s list of area public companies.