Lockheed Martin, best known for its military aircraft and other cutting edge airborne machinery, is switching gears in a big way. The company has signed on with Victorian Wave Partners Ltd. to engineer a 62.5 MW ocean power project off the coast of Australia, billed as the world’s largest wave energy project.
The new project will feature a little gizmo we’ve been following for several years now, the PowerBuoy® wave-powered electricity generator developed by a company called Ocean Power Technologies (OPT).
So, let’s see what these guys have been up to since we last checked in.
The World’s Largest Wave Energy Project – We Built This!
Victorian Wave Partners was formed by OPT’s special-purpose company, OPT Australasia Pty Ltd., to develop the project. Lockheed Martin will leverage its experience at the manufacturing end to get the PowerBuoy components into production and integrate the wave energy converters.
The concept behind the PowerBuoy is relatively simple. The shell of the PowerBuoy is literally a buoy that bobs up and down on the waves. That produces a mechanical stroking motion, which is transferred to a converter called a “take-off unit,” which powers an on-board generator. Electricity from the generator is conveyed to shore by cable.
That’s all well and good but the next challenge is to scale up the mechanism into a useful size while maximizing efficiency, and developing a cost-effective manufacturing stream.
By 2012, the Navy was expanding and enhancing its wave energy facility, and OPT developed a utility-scale version of the device.
Aside from scaling up the design, one key efficiency improvement was the switch from a hydraulic drive take-off unit to a direct drive unit.
The device is also tunable on a wave-to-wave basis, meaning that it adjusts to squeeze the most electricity out of each individual wave.
For extra bonus points, the PowerBuoy only rises about 30 feet off the surface of the water, with the bulk of its guts resting below. That low height, relative to offshore wind turbines, could give wave energy an edge on site selection where aesthetic concerns come into play.
Although the Australia project is expected to be the world’s largest of its kind (according to OPT, there’s a potential for 100 MW), let’s note for the record that OPT also has been testing the Powebuoy off Scotland since 2011, and it is in the process of commissioning another one off the coast of Oregon.
As for Lockheed Martin, expect more of the unexpected from this aeronautics firm. As part of a move to rebrand itself as climate-focused, “smart energy” company, Lockheed Martin also recently partnered with Concord Blue Energy to commercialize that company’s high tech waste-to-energy process in global markets.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.
After a big boom in early stage investments and a green policies kick-off a few years ago, the cleantech industry has been through the struggles that always come with a young and maturing industry. Where are we standing now?
Unavoidable growing pains
Back in 2008, VC funds for cleantech were blossoming; some of them arguing that it would be the next internet boom. Politics started to raise their awareness about climate changes and environmental issues. Europe had led the way with the first feed-in tariffs for renewables and even a cap and trade market for CO2 in 2005. The US introduced Renewable Energy Standards in 30 states, and created ARPA-E as the new government agency to support innovation in the energy industry.
However, overproduction of solar cells and panels, combined with rapidly falling prices for that and other reasons, led to the demise of numerous solar startups. Meanwhile, many European countries, facing a financial crisis, stepped back and reduced their support for cleantech. The early growing pains that face all industries as they mature also showed up. That included some innovators going bankrupt or struggling to make it to their teenage years. Iconic cleantech companies such as Fisker, Better Place, and A123 went bankrupt; a lot of other startups had poor exits as they were struggling raising new funds.
Now VCs are defiant and most of the main teams are being dismantled as their cleantech portfolio did not perform well enough. Was that to be expected? Actually, VCs historically targeted rapidly growing markets in order to ensure high returns in a few years, whereas the energy industry bets on 20+years returns. There has obviously been a mismatch. Also, a lot of investors and entrepreneurs — new to the energy industry — underestimated the barriers of entry for this market, as well as the resistance of utilities.
However, a few VCs did well and are still in the game. Today, most of them are either targeting this new “cleanweb” segment, which is more likely to be capital-light with a rapid return by focusing on apps and softwares. Others are partnering with corporates to ensure a more sustainable investment and facilitating industry alliances for the ventures.
The cleantech coming of age
Funding a hardware cleantech company is currently very difficult, if not impossible. However, we still need those technologies to evolve and mature, as they will be the pillar of the next infrastructures. Cleanweb, new business models, and financing are key and definitely necessary to mainstream those innovations, but let’s not forget our final goal by focusing too much on the means….
I believe that the solar industry has never been better than it is today. It is true that a lot of people are struggling, we have seen the number of module manufacturers dramatically dropping over the last two years, and now the pressure is put on other types of hardware from the balance of system, such as inverters. But the price drop has been so strong and the emergence of new business models so impactful that PV is becoming mainstream. The market has been maturing into a more sustainable industry, and it will keep growing but likely with a trend towards verticalization.
Also, storage is going to see a huge change this year. A lot of companies have been working on their technologies for years now, and the market is finally getting ready, one step at a time. Timing is always critical for innovations: now as energy demand keeps increasing despite limited and decreasing capacities, storage starts making sense even at a higher price. California once again pioneered by introducing the AB 2514 bill that makes storage capacities mandatory for the state IOUs (PG&E, SCE, SDG&E). Is storage on the same path as solar was a few years ago?
I will just add a few words on the energy efficiency industry, this low-hanging fruit that companies have been trying to grab for some years now. Despite huge potential, energy efficiency is still looking for the right model. The concept of monetizing negawatts needs a lot of structure: policies, regulations, standardized measure, and verification processes. Some promising technologies for consumption disaggregation and new financing structures could dramatically change the picture with the right business models.
The energy industry is re-shaping itself as it faces new challenges. The emerging segments of this market have definitely been going through difficulties to reach technology viability and find the right business model. This market is a tough one, where you need heavy investment and strong will to upgrade infrastructures and modify a legacy system which has been running for decades. But we are finally witnessing the development of those technologies at large scale, creating new economies. Beyond solar, the grid is finally starting to change with storage, energy efficiency and consumer-oriented services.
About the Author: As an engineer, Maud dedicated her efforts towards the energy market. She hails from the oil & gas industry, and started her career working in electricity markets. As an analyst on a power trading desk, she studied the market mechanisms that can develop new demand-response models. She has been scouting new technologies such as renewables, storage or energy efficiency for a large power utility in Silicon Valley before joining a solar start-up.
As part of President Obama’s executive order last week, which included directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, Obama instructed agencies to incorporate “Green Button” data further into their energy management practices.
First unveiled in 2012, the Green Button Initiative is literally a green button on a utility’s website that allows consumers to download their energy consumption data in a format that’s easy to understand.
According to the Department of Energy, 48 utilities and electricity suppliers serving more than 59 million homes and businesses have committed to giving customers Green Button access, and over 100 millions Americans already have access to their Green Button energy data.
The Green Button website says that the data provided to customers can be used to save energy in a number of different ways. These include customizing heating and cooling settings, helping facilitate energy-efficiency retrofitting, verifying energy-efficiency investments, and optimizing cost-effectiveness of solar panels, to name a few.
This kind of information can be especially useful in managing large campuses or apartment complexes where energy demands differ across different spaces.
In 2011, for the fifth consecutive year, American households paid more for electricity than they did the year before, reaching $1,419 that year. If having more access to data can help reduce energy use and energy costs, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Next year a similar Blue Button will be offered to provide data for healthcare records, which will allow clients to easily compile medical history and information.
Senior editor at the outstanding progressive news outlet AlterNet, Tara Lohan, recently contacted me because she was writing a story on “which developments in clean tech are the most promising in terms of making renewable energy more prevalent.” She asked if I had any suggestions. If you know me and know how easy it is to get me to go on a monologue about clean energy and electric cars, you already know that I responded at length. Tara actually ended up making the 3-page article more or less an interview piece. It’s a very good read, imho, and she does well to add some other points and perspective, so I recommend checking it out.
Of course, I provided far more commentary than would be utilized in that story, but I didn’t want it to “go to waste,” so I am reposting my comments below. As is almost always the case, looking at my comments again, I felt there was a need to clarify or better communicate some of my points and to add some other pertinent information, so I’ve added those points in brackets (American brackets — [ ] — not British brackets, which I use obsessively and used in my initial responses to Tara).
Before finally sharing my response with you, just remember that Tara was asking about ”which developments in clean tech are the most promising in terms of making renewable energy more prevalent,” not “which developments in clean tech do you think are the best.” On to the comments…
Feed-in tariffs have been used for the majority of wind and solar power capacity growth around the world. They continue to be very important for growth in these industries, especially the solar industry. However, as the costs of those technologies fall off a cliff (as they’ve been doing in recent years), many FiTs are getting scaled back or cut completely — just as was always planned. I think FiTs will continue to be extremely important, especially in countries without mature markets, and also for more nascent technologies (e.g., wave energy and tidal energy), but they are already accomplishing their key target, which is to bring down the price of renewable technologies through a ramping up of deployment and resulting economies of scale. Without turning this into a long and detailed article about FiTs, I’ll just add a couple more things. Firstly, one of the wonderful things about FiTs is that they enable the renewable energy revolution to be democratized more than almost any other policy. Also, they can very simply make up for the unpriced externalities of dirty energy sources — decision-makers can just add that missing price into the rates given to renewable energy producers. I may not be in the majority, but I actually think that FiTs should be used in that way and that, rather than scaling them back when solar and wind become competitive, an estimated “externality cost” for natural gas or coal should always be provided above and beyond what solar and wind power plants could themselves earn on the “fair market.” [Clarification: I don’t think this is actually how legislators use the policy, and I don’t think this is an ideal solution for dealing with externalities — better would be an adequate tax/price on GHG and other pollution. But I do think that as long as the playing field is not level — as long as fossil fuels are not forced to internalize all of their costs — adding on a certain $/kWh that clean technologies should get boosted, perhaps as part of a FiT, would be a half-decent solution.]
Net metering is another simple policy that is not exactly “sexy” but is very effective. The short summary, as this is often used, is that it pays owners of renewable energy systems (most notably, solar PV systems) retail electricity rates for extra electricity they produce and send back to the grid. While this may often be lower than what is offered through FiTs, the policy is implemented in a more stable and long-term fashion, and it still goes a long way in helping owners of renewable energy systems to get their investments back and eventually make money off of their systems. Also, being one of the simplest policies out there, it’s easy to explain, easy to replicate, and hard to deny. Net metering is currently in place in 43 US states. [Of course, there are currently some ALEC-led and utility-led attacks on net metering, but net metering should theoretically exist “forever” — it’s a policy to pay solar electricity generators a more or less fair market value for the electricity they generate. Also worth noting is that not all net metering policies are of the same quality. Freeing The Grid offers a great evaluation of net metering policies state by state if you want to dive deeper.]
Solar leasing is a much different and I would say much more controversial type of cleantech development. Nonetheless, I think it could eventually have as much impact as the policies above. The key thing about solar leasing is that the leasing company takes care of almost everything for the customer, including the upfront cost of a system. Most people (I’m not one of them) prefer to pay as little as possible up front for something, even if that means they pay more down the road. People are also not that thrilled about taking out large loans that put them in a lot of debt. Solar leasing allows people to go solar and save money on their electric bills from day 1 without having to put much (if any) money down and without having to deal with a bank or loan. People are very, very attracted to this model, and it dominates in the places where it exists, often accounting for 75% or more or the residential solar market. There are some strong critics of the solar leasing model. These people often complain and warn people that it sends more of the homeowner’s profits to a large (leasing) company. I think that is often the case. However, solar leasing companies are [supposedly] often able to take advantage of solar incentives that their customers can’t take advantage of, theoretically allowing them to make their profit on money the customer wouldn’t get anyway. Also, I’ll just reiterate two points I stated and implied above: 1) even if it isn’t logical when you crunch the numbers, people are very averse to large, upfront investments (even taking out loans) and will pay more to avoid that; 2) many people don’t want to think or worry about anything, especially technical and financial matters, so they will pay to be able to avoid that. It’s not just people, either. Large companies such as Walmart and GM have gone the solar leasing route in order to leave it in “the expert’s” hands. [Note that there are actually nationwide $0 solar loans and PACE programs available that seem like they’d be much more competitive than a solar leasing contract. However, there’s no denying that solar leasing companies have been very effective at convincing customers that their options are the best around… I’m still scratching my head a little bit, but there’s no denying that solar leasing is a huge trend in the industry, and no one is forcing 75% of Californians who are going solar to lease rather than buy.]
Electric cars, in general. They’re better than gasmobiles in almost every way. They have better pickup. They drive more smoothly. They are much quieter. They are much greener, and do not emit any pollution near the consumer/driver. [Woops, I should have been very clear that they don’t emit any pollution. Power plants that produce electricity might, but the cars don’t, and the cars can run on clean power.] They are much simpler and require much less maintenance. And many are also cheaper than their gas cousins over the lifetime of ownership, something that will become more and more common. As people come to realize that electric cars are on the road and so much better than gasmobiles, sales will take off. They’re already starting to. Furthermore, because much of the upfront cost of an electric car is in its fuel — its battery — I think innovative ways of financing these cars will help them to really take over the market. Elon Musk, who is the CEO and Chairman of Tesla Motors (the world’s leading electric car company) and also the Chairman of SolarCity (a leading solar leasing company), has stated that he thinks electric cars will go this leasing route, just as solar has. It matches the reality of how most consumers approach purchases. Shai Agassi, a longtime tech leader and electrification entrepreneur has recommended a route more similar to that taken by cell phone companies or by Apple (or a combination). You can read that in detail here and here. As a final note on electric cars, I’ll just add that I was once a big “car hater.” My master’s degree is in city and regional planning — cars are horrible for cities — and my master’s thesis was on bicycle planning. But I became a huge electric car fan because they are so much greener, they are so much better in other ways, and I think that cars will be a big part of society indefinitely and need to be much cleaner. [Since writing this, I have actually come to the conclusion that buying EVs makes much more sense than leasing them for most people. But, again, consumers seem to be very attracted to the leasing model, and if I am correct, the majority of EV drivers are leasing their cars. Furthermore, I wouldn’t bet against Elon Musk’s opinion in this sector. Also, aside from the standard “leasing the car” vs. “buying the car” options, I do think the “buying the car but leasing the battery” option will grow in popularity, and perhaps even something similar to what Shai Agassi described/recommended in one of those article linked above.]
Also, notably, electric cars are a great support for renewable energy, as they need their electricity to come from clean power plants in order for them to be most effective at reducing pollution and helping to stop global warming. A lot of people get that, and many EV owners also own solar PV systems. Each technology supports the other environmentally, financially, and on the market.
Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing wind and solar projects is an interesting and powerful development that is just getting off the ground. It is hard to know how far these options will go, but if they really take off, the potential for democratizing the electricity sector is huge. Speaking of…
Democratization of energy. Both solar PV and electric cars help the average person to become producers and owners of the energy they use. They help to democratize the entire energy industry. The ramifications are immense. They are probably beyond our imagination. This process, though just beginning, is already having a paradigm-shifting effect in some locations, such as solar-leading Germany and Australia. But we’re just at the beginning. The democratization of the energy system is coming like a slow but very powerful wave, and it is going to change the world.
Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
The world’s largest LED streetlight retrofit was recently completed by the City of Los Angeles — the enormous street light swap-out, one that saw the installation of 141,089 brand-new LED street lights, was finished up just towards the end of June.
Thanks to efforts such as this — and the policies that accompany/precede them — the LED market has changed considerably over the past couple of years, quickly changing from a market catering to speciality applications to one that’s more or less the new standard for lighting.
Los Angeles is certainly not alone in making the switch to LED street lighting. I’ve reported at this blog, for instance, about the many other California cities, big and small, that have done the same. In March of this year, the City of Las Vegas finished outfitting 42,000 street lights with LED fixtures. One month later, the City of Austin, Texas, announced plans to install 35,000 LED street lights. And, in December of last year, CPS Energy said it would install 20,000 LED street lights in San Antonio.
But, owing to its size and influence, Los Angeles, with its partners, the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), have done much to jump-start the market. Navigant (formerly Pike) Research recently predicted that shipments of LED street lights will increase from fewer than 3 million in 2012 to more than 17 million in 2020.
When you look at advantages of LED street lighting, this sharp rise/growth isn’t surprising. The City of Los Angeles, for example, has estimated that it will reduce its annual electric bill by at least $7 million dollars, with a further $2.5 million dollars saved as a result of reduced maintenance needs. According to Eric Woods of the Navigant Research blog, the LEDs that have been installed in Los Angeles use (on average) about 63% less electricity than the high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures that they have replaced, while also lasting much longer, and also being more pleasant to the human eye.
The second phase of Los Angeles’ LED replacement program will see the retrofit of about 70,000 decorative street lamps located throughout the city.
Nathan For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 3:19