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Earth Power The Almighty Buck News

How the Economy Is Changing Clean Energy 227

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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  • If you ask me... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TFer_Atvar ( 857303 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:14AM (#27190547) Homepage
    ... the companies that will do the best will be the ones that can maximize their profit with a minimum amount of debt. How cool their toys are doesn't factor into it.
  • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:59AM (#27190707) Homepage
    I work for a company that is retrofitting 30-40 year old steam turbines at coal power plants. Its such a difficult and expensive process to get a new power station built (of any fuel) that the power companies want to keep these coal plants running for another 40 years. You can blame the NIMBY folks, or the environmentalists that require environmental study after study before ground is broken.

    I'm in the business, and the cost of electricity is going to continue to rise pretty spectacularly. Most of the plants built in the past 15 years or so are natural gas, which is now expensive and continuing to rise in cost. Many of plants built in the 60's running on cheap fuel are getting near their end of life. Some are being retrofitted but many aren't worth it. Nobody can build a nuke plant these days and coal is equally taboo. Few people are studying engineering so the manpower is also getting scarce. Its not a crisis yet but most of the power industry is aged in thier 50s and 60s.

    We aren't in a crisis yet, but in another 10 years its going to start getting ugly.
  • by AaronW ( 33736 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:17AM (#27190755) Homepage
    In many areas of the country clean coal won't work since the geology isn't right for storing the captured CO2. Additionally, there currently are not even any working demonstration plants, only talk of plants that could be converted. The sheer amount of CO2 produced from coal is also a huge problem. It would require massive pipelines to dispose of the CO2 from areas that don't have the geology for storing it, and then there's the danger of a fissure opening up somewhere and the CO2 escaping, which would be deadly. As I see it, the only long term methods of reducing CO2 are renewable and nuclear. The only reason clean coal is happening is because the government is throwing money at it and all those coal producing states and the votes they represent. There has not been a single demonstration that clean coal actually works.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @05:21AM (#27191123)

    ... the companies that will do the best will be the ones that can maximize their profit with a minimum amount of debt.

    . . . that would normally be a very economically sound business plan. However, governments are now in the process of bailing out businesses that have minimized profit, with maximum debt, and are "too big to fail."

    So who gets to pay for that?

    "Ah, Mr. Bond, I was expecting you. I see that you have again made a tidy profit. I will forgo any unfeasible sharks-with-lasers-aimed-at-your-crotch death machines. Instead, I will simply tax you to death."

  • That's odd (Score:2, Insightful)

    by magus_melchior ( 262681 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @05:53AM (#27191221) Journal

    I thought the idea of "clean coal" was finding a way to store the CO2 to prevent it from screwing with the climate. This "coal-to-gas" does nothing towards this goal, so I don't see how one would call it "clean coal" other than the obvious lack of sulfur or mercury.

  • Re:Clean energy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tweenk ( 1274968 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:33AM (#27191741)

    Ignoring nuclear power because of controversy (...)

    Ignoring the only proven alternative to coal, as in one that is supplying a significant percent of electricity in several nations (over 50% in some cases), only because some dimwits don't understand physics or engineering, is extremely stupid.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:56AM (#27191829) Homepage Journal

    You can blame the NIMBY folks, or the environmentalists that require environmental study after study before ground is broken.

    For which you can blame the power industry, since if they had just fucking kept things clean on their own, none of this shit would be necessary.

    I will fight to the death any attempt to put a coal, oil or natural gas burning power plant anywhere. They are destroying the biosphere and putting more of them in is hastening our own demise. If the energy industry wants to be responsible and put in some cleaner power plants, then perhaps it will see more support. Don't act like these people don't have a valid agenda - they would like to have breathable air be a free resource. So would I, so I guess I'm one of them.

    I'm in the business, and the cost of electricity is going to continue to rise pretty spectacularly.

    The cost of electricity is enormous already. The problem is that instead of only the consumers of energy paying, we all pay, with our lives. Coal-burning power plants in the USA alone put out more nuclear material every year than all the nuclear tests, accidents, and even bombings combined. We can find out-of-compliance power plants as fast as we can pay people to climb their smokestacks and sniff their outputs, so I won't believe for one tenth of one second that most plants are trying to limit their output. They are not and any description of them as doing so is disingenuous.

    We aren't in a crisis yet, but in another 10 years its going to start getting ugly.

    Ten years is more than enough time for motivated individuals to move out into the boonies and go onto some alt power (wind and hydro being the prime candidates) and start growing some of their own food for the various disasters coming down the pike. History is repeating itself more closely than I would have imagined, and it looks very much like another Great Depression is coming. The midwest is already turning into a dust bowl again, the storms are on the rise year by year. Personal savings is below zero for the first time since the G.D. You think the energy crisis is going to be a big deal? I don't think there's going to be enough people (and corporations) to purchase it for it to be a problem. Have you seen any news reports about the shanty/tent towns starting to crop up around the US? They're peopled by citizens...

  • by Daswolfen ( 1277224 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:59AM (#27191847)

    Cold Cathode Florescent Lighting (CCFL) is currently used to backlight most laptops. I know that neon is a type of CCFL, and that you are attempting humor. However one can not help to think that you expected it to fail because you posted anonymously (Yes.. I see the Canadian football league reference).

    Back to the lighting subject. We would be better served to switch to LEDs rather than CCFLs because less power is used and less waste after they are at end of life.

  • by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:43AM (#27192025) Homepage

    The 'economy' didn't hit all these green energy projects, the plummeting price of oil did. 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.

    As we saw with ethanol, energy 'policy' is just another boondoggle of lobbyists and special interest groups seeking government funds so they can make some bucks. Wind, solar, clean coal and so on all live off the government teat to one degree or another. Would they even exist without those tax breaks and direct funding?

  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:49AM (#27192053) Homepage Journal
    "And working with finite resources like coal is a dead end. You will end up with the dirty parts regardless."

    Well, it isn't like these resources are going to 'go away' in any of our lifetimes....so, at this point in time, for reasonably short term (20+) years success and profit, it IS a good business move to work with these.

    The smart things to do for a company would be to maximize their profits on finite resources we still have plenty of today....and spend some of that profit on the next generation energy sources, so they can be ready to profit when a switchover is mandated by loss of said finite resources.

  • Wealthfare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:00AM (#27192103) Homepage Journal

    That is the new governmental hybrid business model. Private profits, but public debt socialism for the same guys.

    IMO, "too big to fail" should translate into "too big to be allowed to exist in the first place".

  • by MikeURL ( 890801 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:50AM (#27192401) Journal
    I don't know if words can fully describe the degree to which I am angered by the focus on CO2 to the exclusion of concern about the particulate and heavy metals that coal contains.

    We have literally poisoned the ocean with mercury to the point that we need to issue warnings to people about eating too much fish. We load up our rhetorical cannons and open fire over the CO2 issue while we are LITERALLY poisoning ourselves every single day with particulate pollution and heavy metals from coal fired plants.

    It is stupid and misguided and ignorant in amounts that make me think that only a deliberate effort could achieve.
  • Have a look around at the current state of biodiesel in the USA, for example. Right now, despite a $1 a gallon subsidy, promising players such as Nova Biosource Fuels are shuttering their doors. The country has nearly 2 billion gallons of plant capacity for biodiesel, and a fraction of that is produced. The situation is the same for ethanol. And, just when things are gloomy for the USA, of course, along come our so-called European friends to jack up tariffs on American biodiesel and put the screws to even more American jobs.

    Those high gas prices that Bush ushered in did more to boost alternative fuels and alternative energy than any stimulus package Obama will ever sign, and now that gas prices are lower again, alternative fuels in the USA is being destroyed, just as it was in the 1980s.

    I'm bitter about this. In my lifetime I've seen two political parties make great use of spike in gasoline prices. Republicans did it in the late 1970s when attacking Jimmy Carter, and now, Democrats did it when attacking George Bush.

    The worst is, Obama KNOWS that this was the wrong thing. He complains that the USA made the wrong choices in energy for 20 years, but had he actually been more positive about the increase in fuel prices during the campaign, instead of bitching about Bush's runup, we might actually have a credible renewable fuels industry in the USA. But, we don't.

    Instead, we have a supposedly green President doing the same damn thing Reagan did - slinking off to the middle east to give more concessions to the Muslims in order to keep the oil pumps working, with the added stupidity of placing the USA back on the imported oil problem while at the same time pulling American troops off the top of the 250 billion barrels of Iraqi oil that they are sitting on.

    When coupled with the recent killing off of nuclear energy, we are basically left with nothing. We have no biofuels left, ethanol is dead, nuclear power is being killed, and we're walking away from even getting access to the largely untapped sources of oil domestically and abroad.


  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:55PM (#27193937) Homepage

    Never mind the CO2 that coal plants produce.

    Indeed, never mind the things like arsenic (that remain toxic forever) that are in coal ash.

    The fact is, if coal plants had to meet the same standards for radioactive release that nuclear plants do, they'd all have to be shut down. There's all kinds of radioactive stuff in coal (radon, thorium, etc) -- not very much per ton, but coal plants burn millions of tons of the stuff. Indeed, if you could extract the thorium from coal you'd get more energy burning it in a reactor than you would from burning the carbon in a furnace. (Don't take my word, look it up.)

    "Clean coal" is an oxymoron.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 14, 2009 @02:22PM (#27194167)

    I'm not entirely sure it's pointless given that debt is the fundamental basis of our modern economy.

  • You go on a rant like that and then purport to somehow be different from those you hate?

    Yes, because I want people to more energy at their disposal. Energy is wealth. If you are in favor of more energy, you want humanity to get richer. If you are against it, you want humanity to get poorer. It's pretty cut and dry, actually.

  • Where've I heard such simpleton logic before? You're either WITH US or AGAINST US, you dirty traitor. Pretty cut and dry!

    Yeah, it is, actually.

    Any energy or environmental economist would be laughing their ass off at your sophomoric view of what "wealth" is

    Actually, a lot of energy economists would agree with me. The more energy people have, and the less expensively they have it, the more their lives improve. It's cheaper for them to travel, to get to work, to power electronic devices and get new features in them. In so many ways, the more energy you have, the richer you are. It's just the way it is.

    Even if you argued that increasing energy prices resulted in some efficiency, the fact of the matter, if you are investing a fixed set of dollars into a device to make it more energy efficient, you are losing out on other features as well.

    For example, let's say cars didn't have to worry about fuel efficiency, for example, what would a designer not have to worry about? First off, weight could right out the wind. You could afford to make a car much heavier and use different materials. Indeed, the need to save weight might itself force the use of different, more expensive materials but with a compromise on other properties such as strength.

    Similarly, what if power costs were not a consideration for data centers? Well, they could add other features, add more servers. Instead, they have to invest in efficiency, which doesn't really help their feature set too much. It's less brand differentiation and more commoditization, and makes them more likely to be outsourced.

    Those are just two examples. There are countless others.

  • companies and pets (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @01:20PM (#27200923) Homepage Journal

    I guess I'd have to disagree. I can't think of a single company, or to put it better, some manufactured item or offered service, that is so necessary that it is the only one that needs to be doing it, and I would include real big ticket items like ships and subs and power plants etc. Monopolies suck, fullstop.

        There's room enough for several companies at least even at the most complex levels, heck, I'll include space exploration there as well. If companies aren't allowed to fail from incompetence or a changed business environment in society, what's the point of their capitalism stance then? That's why I would have MUCH preferred if they let those ludicrous casino derivative spewing monster banks go bust, because 99% of their so called "financial products" are complete fantasy BS contracts based on bets on bets on bets and shouldn't be tied to the real economy in any manner whatsoever, they should be firewalled off and allowed to go bust. Let them have fun ripping each other off, but not the general poulation they are now. I think they are thieves and bunco artist fraudsters at extremely scary levels. Jail not bail in other words for those gents. Madoff is a piker compared to most of them, IMO. Frankly, I think the US government now is so corrupt and so much in bed with supporting those wall street criminals and parasites I would support a second secessionary effort by some state or states, just to get away from those lying thieves and blood profits murderers.

    As to the pet thing, that sucks! Someone has an injury or loses their job, their economics go down the crapper, they are already bummed out and psychologically damaged, and their loving pet which means a lot to them and that loves them back needs some care so that charity place will only help if they take the pet away? That's nuts! That's not charity it is elitism cruelty!

        Doubly so with children. Human children are remarkably resilient, taking them away from the parents that love them is cruel beyond belief. Removal of children from a home should only be done under extreme abusive conditions by the parents, and for no other reason, and just being poor doesn't count as abuse in my book, especially as the official government and wall street economic policy lately has been to utterly ripoff and destroy the middle class in the US for short term globalist race to the bottom labor arbitrage profits.

    The pet thing, glad I know that now, I am going to check into that spca thing and if true rank them soundly around the internet. We take care of a boatload of rescue animals (right now have 7 dogs and around a dozen cats) and my income is pretty low, I make well under ten grand a year, and I will never approach spca then if this is the case. I just suck it up and pay for what vet care I need and do without for myself if I have to. For instance the bulk of my fed return this year, I get most back from my income level, is going to spaying/neutering and vaccinations for my newest arrivals here, a coupla puppies someone dumped off and a few cats. Ya, I'd like a new computer, but my responsibility to my pets come before that. Out in the country, pets just show up. I like what I do, all my pets like me back (just got back from a good run in the mud with the pack, we got all slimed, been raining like ..cats and dogs lately here, pretty funny really) and also consider this to be my tithing for the most part.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall