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Earth Power The Almighty Buck News

How the Economy Is Changing Clean Energy 227

Posted by Soulskill
from the clean-energy-with-dirty-money dept.
Al writes "The economy has hit green energy technologies hard, but technologies focused on energy efficiency and clean coal are still attracting money. Over the next few years, venture capitalists say that the biggest winners in clean tech will most likely be companies with technologies that improve efficiency. Such ventures often take advantage of cheap sensors, communications hardware, and software packages to monitor and control energy use both in buildings and on the electricity grid. High-capital businesses are now more likely to succeed if they can attract foreign funding. For instance, Great Point Energy, based in Cambridge, which has developed a process for converting coal into natural gas, has attracted $100m in funding from China."
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How the Economy Is Changing Clean Energy

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  • by icebike (68054) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:28AM (#27190601)

    There have been a number of ads by IBM lately pushing the idea that their new line of computers is needed to redesign the nation's electrical grid, claiming that half the power never makes it to any light bulb.

    In other areas power companies will actually buy you the new CCFL bulbs if you pay the tax on the bulb.

    The push for efficiency is long over-due.

    But realistically, will the replacement of a an entire power grid really save more than it costs? Is it really necessary?

    Wouldn't more energy be saved by taxing long haul trucking out of existence and putting the money into a resurgence of rail freight?

  • bugs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plopez (54068) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:34AM (#27190631) Journal

    I read about how coal could be converted to methane via bacteria.

    here's a quick example.

    http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2003/bnlpr091103b.htm [bnl.gov]

    This is one way to convert coal to a cleaner form of energy. However there are implications since there is a question as to who owns the energy: coal companies or gas companies?

    So to create cleaner coal we just may need to pump some bugs and other chemicals into the ground but we also need to sort out some legal and policy issues.

  • clean coal != clean! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by UltraAyla (828879) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:46AM (#27190667) Homepage
    Clean coal doesn't exist. Saying it is a clean energy form is like saying fusion is a clean energy form: regardless of whatever merits you can come up with for the system, carbon capture and sequestration (clean coal), like fusion, has no working plants (and probably won't for at least a decade) and is more a gimmick for public support and research funding than anything else. Money would be better spent on the efficiency efforts mentioned and commercially viable forms of clean energy that can be bought in the market today.
  • by fluffy99 (870997) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:49AM (#27190677)
    Great Point Energy has been unsuccessfully trying to drum up investors since 2005. Andrew Perlman is not a scientist, but is better described as an adventure capitalist. In venture capital, you don't actually have to have a technically sound idea. You just need to convince investors that you have some magic formula for creating a profitable business and they give you money. They still do not have a working prototype that shows a positive return on energy. They are only drawing up a proposal for a $100m plant for China. China has not committed to any funding.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:51AM (#27190857)
    If we had civilian nuclear plants that were good at producing electricity I would agree with you. Unfortunately in nearly every case we have a compromise dual use plant that produces very expensive electricity along with the weapon materials. Pebble bed is an exception and might just work well - but can you really see the USA buying such technology from China, South Africa or Germany once it is proven? It will be home grown Westinghouse 1960s white elephants painted green or nothing.

    There is also a vast amount of utter bullshit surrounding nuclear. The lobby is not happy with saying they have low CO2 emissions, they lie and say "zero emissions" and also pretend that waste at every step does not exist. If you ignore everything outside of the reactor, ignore all waste products and assume you never need to refuel nuclear is "clean" - but then under those conditions so is the sort of coal use with no pollution controls that gave London it's famous green fogs a bit over a century ago. Nuclear has to be considered over the entire process - and if it's going to be used as more than the nice side of the bomb we need to put in a hell of a lot of work to improve designs before building a lot of the things. It's possible, but private enterprise has only been interested in trying to sell old designs to fleece the taxpayer. We should be building prototypes first instead of some mad rush to force large quantities of money into the pockets of those pushing the hard line.

    Remember that Carter and Thatcher both were in favour of nuclear power and both knew what they were talking about - and they both had to cut back on the lame duck nuclear projects their countries had been conned into.

  • Re:"Clean" coal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @05:18AM (#27191105) Homepage

    According to BBCs Horizon, the UK spends more on ring tones than the world spends on fusion research.

    In terms of energy we are screwed, but at least we have custom ring tones.

  • by NReitzel (77941) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @05:41AM (#27191197) Homepage

    Let's see... We can't have nukes, because nuclear waste is dangerous for thousands of years and is produced in tonnes by reactors.

    But "clean coal" is ok, because CO2 can be stored by deep well injection. And unlike nuclear waste, it's dangerous forever, and produced in millions of tonnes by power plants.

    I guess sequestered CO2 is better than nuclear waste because giant clouds of killer gas are more "natural" than that awful "atom" stuff. After all, look at the area around Chernobyl, and compare it to the scenes around Lake Nyos.

    Oh, and while we're at it, lets consider the number of coal miners killed each year. Too bad we can't ask them about "clean coal" technology.

  • Shock and awe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Knowbuddy (21314) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @07:02AM (#27191393) Homepage Journal

    If you enjoy being depressed, you may want to read "The Next Bubble [harpers.org]", an article in Harper's by Eric Janszen from February 2008. He predicted this green bubble over a year ago, and it's a pretty grim prediction:

    Supporting this alternative-energy bubble will be a boom in infrastructure--transportation and communications systems, water, and power. (...) Of course, alternative energy and the improvement of our infrastructure are both necessary for our national well-being; and therein lies the danger: hyperinflations, in the long run, are always destructive.

    Sound something like recent legislation? Then comes the bad news:

    The next bubble must be large enough to recover the losses from the housing bubble collapse. How bad will it be? Some rough calculations: the gross market value of all enterprises needed to develop hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, nuclear energy, wind farms, solar power, and hydrogen-powered fuel-cell technology--and the infrastructure to support it--is somewhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion; assuming the bubble can get started, the hyperinflated fictitious value could add another $12 trillion. In a hyperinflation, infrastructure upgrades will accelerate, with plenty of opportunity for big government contractors fleeing the declining market in Iraq. Thus, we can expect to see the creation of another $8 trillion in fictitious value, which gives us an estimate of $20 trillion in speculative wealth, money that inevitably will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver "energy security." When the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry. FIRE, meanwhile, will already be engineering its next opportunity. Given the current state of our economy, the only thing worse than a new bubble would be its absence.

    Yes, you should read the whole article. It'll take some time, but you'll come away with a better understanding of how our global economy works these days.

    ObCredit: I found this article via Memestreams [memestreams.net].

  • by Tweenk (1274968) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:03AM (#27191613)

    I think one of the reasons people are more afraid of nuclear waste than CO2 is that after you're irradiated, you know you'll die, but are still alive for some time and aware of the fact you will die. (Regardless of the actual chance of that happening, which is extremely low.) People really fear being confronted with their mortality. That's why they are afraid of cancer and flying, but not so much of road accidents where you die instantly.

  • by Tuoqui (1091447) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:23AM (#27191951) Journal

    Actually...

    You can take the 'waste' from the reactor and re-enrich it (a process that is also used for creation of nuclear weapons unfortunately) and turn it into fuel-grade material again although you do lose some mass in the process.

    The idea of capturing CO2 is basically a result of chemical compounds/processes that turn CO2 into Sodium Bicarbonate or Baking Soda. If you put it underground in places with high Sodium content you'll end up with it converting to Baking Soda as it tries to escape.

  • by zogger (617870) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:34AM (#27192299) Homepage Journal

    We have energy demand, and energy production, two different things. We can still do a *lot* more to reduce demand and not just fixate on the production part (this is also the main article point). If you had ever been inside a superinsulated [wikipedia.org] home you would know what I am talking about (I have helped build and retrofit a few). It is quite conceivable and has been proven that-for instance- you can take a normal stick frame residential home and drop its energy demands for heating and cooling down to like 10-20% of what they are now, using off the shelf already proven technology, that in the medium and long run has a spiffy return on investment from reduced utility bills. This reduction in demand (along with better built and designed appliances) would greatly help to eliminate the need for all those coal to electricity plants in the first place, we can just shut them down and not have to deal with storing any co2 then, which then also makes the addition of home solar thermal and PV much cheaper, as you don't need as much production to get to what you still need to run the home. This same concept applies to both small houses all the way to large buildings.

    An interesting venue to see some of this tech is in the solar decathlon [solardecathlon.org] contests that are held. They even design homes that are not only capable of being self powered, but also produce enough extra power to keep an electric vehicle charged up for the daily commute.

    The main point is fixating on the production side is what wall street wants because it is big ticket profit central, whereas if we shifted emphasis to energy efficiency it would be a lot cheaper for society as a whole and give much larger and more immediate returns to just about everyone, and there really isn't a whole lot of "new" stuff that needs to be invented or developed to accomplish this. It won't make wall street and those casino banks and the entrenched energy cartels as much money though, so they tend to just "forget" about energy efficiency and push just more energy production. *Most* buildings today are still in the energy hog SUV type of mileage area for their energy demands if you want a car analogy, so a practical solution becomes easier to see once you grok this.

      The easiest quickest way to accomplish this would be by the use of credible and large tax credits for energy efficiency retrofits (this would also put a ton of builders back to work), and then additional credits for decentralized energy production like home solar.

  • "Clean" coal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:39AM (#27192333) Homepage Journal
    Just to chime in on the coal argument. Or to be more specific, fossil fuels.

    The only reason mankind as a whole has experienced explosive population growth and massive rises in standards of living, is that we discovered and exploited fossil fuels. We have taken out a massive "loan" from the earth and whether it runs out or not is irrelevant. We are basing our future survival on energy that was previously stored over billions of years. Patently, there is no point expecting coal or oil to renew themselves naturally in a useful timescale, and our population is still expanding.

    We must find sources of energy that do not rely on previously stored resources. Once those resources are gone, we are pretty much bankrupt, energy-wise. So get with the program, and finally accept that coal or oil in any guise, are only stop-gap solutions to keep us going until we can totally replace them. Spending time and effort on "clean" coal is wasting time and energy on something we will have to do without, more likely sooner than later. And I'm not even going to mention the specific environmental issues, or the myriad chemical/biological uses that fossil fuels could be put to instead of being burnt.

    Of course, nuclear fuels are a naturally stored resource too, but they are more efficient, cleaner, and hold possibilities that mere fire can never approach. Solar is the only energy source that is truly long term viable, simply because it is not produced or stored on earth. It comes from outside the system. Is it ready now ? Of course not, but it is the only answer in the universe. (Unless we can somehow harness dark energy/matter).

    I found the article about the magnetic spin battery concept interesting. Currently, all nuclear plants use nuclear material in place of fire, to produce heat and then steam to drive turbines. What if a nuclear reaction could be relied upon to directly induce a specific magnetic spin in a "wire" and thus supply the grid ? That has to be more efficient than converting heat > steam > kinetic energy > electricity. Imagine a small cylinder (0.5 " diameter) that you clamp to the power cable of a device and directly induces current to feed that device. Dreaming I know, but this is why that discovery has greater potential than many posters realise.
  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @11:46AM (#27192765) Homepage

    Few, if any, of these projectcs are remotely competitive with oil/nat gas under $75 and in many cases still higher - and even with substantial subsidies and tax breaks.

    And you know *why*? It's because oil/gas are, themselves, subsidized, you just don't seem to realize it. It's called negative externalities. I mean, could you imagine how expensive oil/gas would be if the companies were actually forced to run clean operations? But they don't. Instead, they destroy the environment around their operations (see the northern Alberta tarsand tailings ponds for some spectacular examples), and if they're asked to clean up the mess, they just whine that it's too expensive.

    The point is, this amounts to nothing more than a shadow subsidy. As such, big surprise that greener technologies can't prevail. Which is why government should be taxing the hell out of petroleum, in order to compensate for the negative externalities the industry takes advantage of.

  • by grandpa-geek (981017) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:17PM (#27194133)

    ... in the commercial building sector is the triple-net lease. This is the most common lease for commercial space. The lease put all the costs, including energy, onto the tenant. The owner has no incentive to make energy efficiency improvements, and possibly a lot of disincentive. Even if the tenant is willing to pay for the improvements (as a trade off against their energy costs) the owner has incentives to disapprove them (such as avoidance of legal liability or any other kind of hassle).

    Only owner-occupied buildings tend to get energy efficiency infrastructure technology. I've heard that is about 10% of the sector. The only way around this will be to adopt laws that cause pain to building owners that is best relieved by making or agreeing to energy efficiency improvements.

  • Re:If you ask me... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@ e a r t h l i nk.net> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:24PM (#27196687)

    Coal may be finite, but there's probably enough to last for longer than any of us really expect to be around.

    OTOH, "Clean Coal" is not something that's ever been demonstrated. There's no proof that pumping CO2 underground will cause it to remain there for any long period of time. Etc. (It's true that a lot of the places that they are planning on pumping it to once held various gases [including CO2] for very long periods of time, but that was before we drilled holes into it. When you take a lot of stuff out of an area that's under a lot of pressure, it shouldn't be surprising if cracks develop.)

  • It's anybody that acquires too much power that becomes the problem. Doesn't matter what angle they're working.

    Ah, you are right, of course!

Pause for storage relocation.

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