Recent Posts:

Will We See More or Fewer Car Companies?

Michael Kanellos: December 21, 2009, 2:23 PM

WAYNE, Mich. -- Is consolidation or expansion the future of the car industry?

It's an interesting debate. One one hand, Saab is flirting between life and death at the moment.

On other other hand, in the last five years a proliferation of brands – Tesla, Fisker, Aptera, Coda – have emerged and some Chinese manufacturers are trying to go global with their low-cost cars. Moreover, customers seem excited: Think has 2,300 people on a waiting list for its electric town car. New brands are a definite possibility.

Bill Ford Jr., Chairrman of Ford (still confirming any family relationship), was asked that question at a briefing last week. He recalled a project he worked on 25 years ago at the company in which strategists tried to paint a picture of the auto industry.

"We concluded that there would be six auto manufacturers: two in North America, two in Europe and Two in Asia," he said. "That wasn't exactly right. There are more companies today than there were then."

Then again, producing cars is a big company, industrial sort of activity. Ben Rosen, one of the most successful VCs in the early days of tech, tried to break into the car business with Rosen Motors in the 80s. Didn't work out.

One big stumbling block looming for start-ups is crash and safety testing, predicted Gunnar Herrmann, director of the Global C Platform.

"When this happens in 2012 and 2013, we could see a clearing rain," Herrmann said.

So stay tuned.

Ford CEO: Things Are Looking Up

Ucilia Wang: December 18, 2009, 5:06 PM

WAYNE, Mich. -- Ford's CEO Alan Mulally spoke to reporters from the company's Wayne, Mich., factory Friday and offered an upbeat outlook on the economy: "We are banging around the bottom right now. All the data says the economy is beginning to improve."

A better economy is what any business in the auto industry would hope for, after enduring a depressing 2009 that saw layoffs, bankruptcies, idling factories and a host of unsuccessful attempts to execute business plans.

Just this morning, General Motors said it would shut down iSaab after repeated attempts to find a buyer before the end of the year failed.

Ford seems to fare better than some of its major rivals. The company didn't need financial aid from the federal government, unlike GM and Chrysler. Ford posted a net income of $997 million for the third quarter of this year when many Wall Street analysts had expected to see losses.

Ford, GM and Chrysler have received federal grants to develop and build electric cars and components, and each has done its fair share of marketing its efforts to produce fuel-efficient vehicles.

But Mulally reiterated on Friday what he had said previously: Ford's main focus in the near term will not be about these electric drives, even though the carmaker does plan to launch plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the coming years.

"Our fundamental platform will be based in the internal combustion engines," he said.

The company plans to use a four-cylinder version of its EcoBoost engine in 2010. Ford said EcoBoost could improve gas mileage by 20 percent while reducing each car's tailpipe emission by 15 percent. And it's more powerful than regular four-cylinder engine.

EcoBoost is set to power around 90 percent of Ford's new cars by 2011. 

Editor-in-Chief Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

Smart Meter Backlash, Part 2: Smart Grid RF Alert

Eric Wesoff: December 18, 2009, 3:20 PM

Smart grid equipment CEOs have claimed:

  • A $2.2 billion meter deployment would have a questionable ROI if most of the savings came from reduced truck rolls
  • Smart meters currently being deployed are not smart enough
  • Consumers don't want Big Brother controlling their thermostat, AC and appliances

We wrote about it in Smart Grid Backlash.

Jeff St. John blogged about it here.  According to St. John's reporting: Those complaints have focused attention on PG&E's $2.2 billion, 10 million smart meter deployment, with the California Public Utilities Commission demanding that PG&E find a third party to investigate the accuracy of the meters.

We've covered this topic repeatedly over the last few months.  The energy folks at the New York Times got around to covering it this week

The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle actually got a visit from representatives of PG&E and smart meter manufacturers as they try to deal with this public relations mess. From the article in the Chron:

  • Representatives of PG&E and the manufacturer of the meters visited our editorial board this week to explain that they have followed up on 1,100 customer complaints - and in each case, the source of the problem was not with the meter but in customer confusion or a spike in electrical usage.
  • They came with charts and detailed technical explanations of how the meters are made and tested to a degree that ensures they are far more precise than the analog models they replaced. They noted that they have received just 1,100 complaints out of the 4 million SmartMeters they have installed. But all the PG&E assurances in the world are not going to persuade us - let alone the customers whose bills jumped by hundreds of dollars - that everything is hunky dory...The California Public Utilities Commission recently asked its energy division to hire a third-party technical expert to independently test the Smart Meters and related software.

On to the next problem.  Dana Hull, on the San Jose Mercury News' Greentech beat, brought this to my attention.  This one might require you to don your tin foil hat.

Sonoma County, California's EMF Safety Group has started a petition for a public review of smart meters and has collected over 400 signatures.  This group is worried about the RF frequencies added to the environment by these meters. 

An email from Sandi Maurer of the EMF Safety Group claims:

There are no safety standards for chronic long term RF exposures that these meters emit. The FCC safety standards are for short term only, 6 min and 30 min exposures.

PG&E claims to have done a thorough RF evaluation to ensure customer safety. They commissioned an independent evaluation of possible health impacts. We have asked PGE for a copy of this report and were told they never published it. That means it was not peer reviewed. They also were granted a CEQA exemption. 

The petition goes on to state:

Sebastopol and Sonoma County are slated by PG&E to have a new wireless grid installed in May 2010.  Lampposts, buildings, and telephone poles will host the wireless repeater infrastructure to serve the new wireless PG&E Smart Meters, which will be installed in every home and business. These devices will add yet another layer of radio frequencies (RF) to our homes and environment and will emit RF signals throughout the day and night.  In light of the lack of FCC safety standards for chronic long term exposure to RF and in light of the of the call for the precautionary principle for wireless technology from global scientists, environmental agencies, advocacy groups and doctors, we, the undersigned request you:

      1. Thoroughly investigate the PG&E Smart Meter proposal and potential health risks of these devices by holding public hearings.

      2. Require PG&E to submit a characterization study of the smart meter system planned for Sonoma County and Sebastopol.

      3. Obtain the Smart Meter health and safety study PG&E commissioned and make available to the public.

      4. Explore alternative metering- possibly through the phone lines and refuse broadband over power line option.

      5. Allow “opt out” for people who are electrically sensitive.

      6. Place a 6-9 month moratorium on all new wireless installations to allow time for a thorough scientific review.

More from the petition:

The FCC safety standards for wireless devices are based on short term heating and do not address the non thermal health effects which are documented in the Bioinitiative Report, which has been recognized by the European Parliament.  RF is under investigation as a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program.

In the interest of protecting public health and in light of the call for the precautionary principle from scientists and environmental agencies, the EMF Safety Network has started a petition asking the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Sebastopol City Council to investigate the PG&E Smart Meter proposal and hold public hearings. We ask they require PG&E to submit a characterization study, the health and safety study, to allow customers to “opt out” as well as place a 6-9 month moratorium on all new wireless installations to allow time for a thorough review.

Already there is a class action lawsuit filed against PGE in Bakersfield over the new meters and many people are complaining about price spikes in their utility bills.

There are a number of additional reasons to oppose smart meter technology aside from the public health issues mentioned above and it’s use by utilities to overcharge customers (discussed at the TURN website). These include Big Brother-like questions regarding local utilities monitoring one’s use of home appliances and making adjustments in this use without the consent of their consumers, and national security issues that arise becasue wireless networks are easier to hack into and compromise than their conventional wired counterparts.

* * *

Link to lots of scary headlines about big brother, increased electric bills, and RF dangers here.  If this idea spreads (Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto can't be too far behind) and communities start enacting six to nine month moratoriums and opt-outs on wireless smart grid programs, PG&E, Landis & Gyr, and Silver Spring Networks might not have a happy 2010.


1. PG&E and the other hardware and software parties could have handled the smart meter roll-out in a better way in regards to community outreach and public relations.  Now it's just damage control.

2. RF pollution is a fact of life in today's world. It's reasonable to investigate new sources and their impact on humans - but these folks should also be prepared to turn off their radios, cell phones, blue tooth devices, wireless computers, and every other RF source in their environment as well.

I've contacted PG&E and Silver Spring Networks and will post their comments if they choose to respond.

Carbon Debt: What Is the Industrial World’s Responsibility to Developing Countries?

Lee Barken: December 18, 2009, 1:28 PM

As we begin the final day of the Conference of Parties (Cop15) climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the grueling hours and stressful conditions are surely taking their toll on official delegates. It is, however, extremely impressive to see how tactful and diplomatic the country representatives are, even when speaking with observers and civil society participants.

After one particularly late night at the Bella Center, home of Cop15, I waited at the Metro station at 1:30 a.m. in the snow and freezing temperatures and happened to engage in conversation with a negotiator from Bolivia.

The position of Bolivia and others in the region is that the atmosphere is polluted with emissions lingering from the dawn of the industrial era. In other words, developed countries spewed all these gasses into the air and now the developing world is suffering the consequences. This is sometimes called the "equity" or "fairness" argument. What is our responsibility to pay for the "sins of the past"?

I suggested to my new Bolivian friend that the Carbon Debt argument reminded me a little bit of the cigarette lawsuits. Sure, we all know now about the dangers of cigarettes and the link between smoking and cancer. However, the demands for reparations only made sense when it could be demonstrated that cigarette companies intentionally and knowingly caused this harm.

Did he really believe that we've been polluting for the last 200 years knowing that undeveloped countries would later suffer? He conceded that while we may not have known 200 years ago, we should have known in the last 20 years about the effects of carbon emissions.

Still, the 500 gigatons or so of carbon that he claims is floating around in the atmosphere certainly didn't all appear in the last two decades. In addition, since CO2 molecules don't have country of origin labels attached, it will be very difficult to assign responsibility.

Coming to Copenhagen has been a remarkable experience. Although metro station exchanges at 1:30 a.m. may not change the world, my hat's off to the organizers for creating this two-week conference where conversations can take place between participants from over 190 countries. Interactions with other delegates have been extremely positive and provide hope that constructive dialogue can lead to meaningful progress.

Lee Barken, CPA, LEED-AP is the IT practice leader at Haskell & White, LLP and serves on the board of directors of CleanTECH San Diego and the U.S. Green Building Council - San Diego chapter. Lee writes and speaks on the topics of carbon accounting, green building, IT audit compliance, enterprise security and wireless LAN technology. He is currently in Copenhagen attending the COP-15 conference. You can reach him at 858-350-4215 or

‘Warmers’ and Climate Change Denialists

Eric Wesoff: December 17, 2009, 11:16 PM

Joining the derogatory terms "Truthers"  and "Birthers" is now the term "Warmers" which refers to those who accept the science of anthropogenic global warming in spite of the recent data-massage climategate scandal. I saw this term in an article found on a nuclear power-oriented blog, Nuclear Street. Which worries me. 

Does accepting nuclear power as a necessary part of our energy mix mean that you're automatically a climate change denialist? Here's a long video from progressive, Stewart Brand on the necessity of nuclear power.

Here are some quotes from both sides of the climate change "debate."


John Doerr, Partner at KPCB: "Put a price on carbon, put a price on carbon, put a price on carbon. It will be a signal to have private investors move their capital to low carbon energy."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: "I understand there are mistakes made in the environmental community but I see [the impact of global warming] first hand, with the fires we have in California and the lack of water in the state."

Al Gore: "Our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it's a challenge to the moral imagination."

Climate Change Denialists

Sarah Palin: "I'm not one though who would attribute it [climate change] to being manmade."

Senator James Inhofe: "The claim that global warming is caused by manmade emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science … With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it."

3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley aka Christopher Monckton: A hereditary peer and former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, believes that global warming and Copenhagen are part of a global conspiracy by former communists. "They are about to impose a communist world government."

Geologist Ian Plimer: He likens the concept of human-induced climate change to a “Fundamentalist religion adopted by urban atheists looking to fill a yawning spiritual gap plaguing the West."

Our future will be decided by one of these camps?

EDF Lines UP €500M for Solar in Europe

Ucilia Wang: December 17, 2009, 2:03 PM

EDF Energies Nouvelles said Thursday it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to get €500 million ($716.2 million) to pay for building solar power plants in France and Italy.

The financing would be able to cover up to 50 percent of the cost for each of the projects EDF wants to build from 2010 to 2012. EDF didn't specify how many projects or their sizes will be covered by EIB's investments. EDF will have to raise money from other banks as well.

Paris-based EDF did say the money would help pay for the 2010 construction of a 36-megawatt solar farm in France and a 12.5-megawatt project in Italy.

Solar panel maker, First Solar, will benefit from EDF's agreement with EIB. EDF said it plans to use First Solar's products for all the projects to be partly financed by EIB's €500 million.

EDF and First Solar already have teamed up to build a solar panel factory in France. The two companies announced this plan in July this year, and said the initial, annual production capacity would be 100 megawatts.

EDF would provide a low-interest loan to cover half of the construction and startup costs. EDF, which said it plans to install 500 megawatts by 2012, would get to use all of the factory's output for the first 10 years.

Back in July, First Solar said the factory would be up and running by the second half of 2011. But company executives told financial analysts yesterday that the factory would likely be operational in 2012. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company plans to expand its manufacturing operation in Malaysia by adding 424 megawatts of annual capacity starting in 2010.

More on Nuclear: Back at EPRI

Eric Wesoff: December 17, 2009, 1:01 AM

I'm on a bit of a nuclear binge of late (and possibly at odds with the editors at Greentech Media regarding the topic). 

Questions that pop up around here are:

  • Does nuclear even belong on a "greentech" site?
  • Is nuclear power green power?
  • Is nuclear a low carbon emission energy generation source?

Clearly a nuclear plant doesn't emit carbon during operation. But studies looking at the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of nuclear plants – examining the carbon footprint of uranium extraction and enrichment, plant construction, and spent fuel disposal make the carbon footprint picture a little murky. Here are a few links to nuclear power LCA studies.

* * *

Jeffrey Hamel and Tom Mulford of EPRI's Nuclear Program presented at EPRI headquarters on Wednesday. EPRI is essentially a research arm of U.S. utilities, is a nuclear supporter and their viewpoints have to be viewed from that perspective.

Here's a guide to EPRI's 2010 nuclear research. The other research referenced at this event was EPRI's Integrated Generation Technology Options – good LCOE data on a variety of energy generation technologies  

EPRI's Mr. Hamel gave a succinct presentation covering the state of the nuclear industry to a room of engaged attendees. He had a bit of trouble sticking with the presentation amidst a constant barrage of probing audience questions.

* * *

Pressures to lower carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants have provided the opportunity to reboot the U.S. nuclear industry. Operating nuclear reactors have zero carbon emissions and the technology has grown more reliable and more efficient. In the U.S., reactors now run more than 91 percent of the hours in a year, the highest capacity factor of any energy source (vs. less than 60 percent in 1979).

Quick set of nuclear factoids:

  • Currently the U.S. gets more electricity from nuclear than any other country. 
  • The U.S. has 104 nuclear power plants in 31 states 
  • Fuel represents 25 percent of nuclear's production costs

Hamel said that electrical power from existing nuclear power plants is "very competitive" while new plants "are absolutely expensive and capital intensive."  He maintained that economic performance continues to improve.

Random energy factoids:

  • In California today the load will max at 32 GW at about 7:00 p.m. at and drop to its minimum of 20 GW at 3 a.m.
  • Peak peak in summer is about 60 GW
  • Production cost determines dispatch order and market price of electricity
  • The last plant to be dispatched sets the price

In determining levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for nuclear, EPRI uses a plant construction cost of $4860/kW which yields an LCOE of 8.3 cents per kW/hr. (That $4,860 is termed an "all-in-number"). Note that the LCOE of parabolic trough-based solar is $.225 to $.29 per kWh (!).


(Charts from EPRI's Integrated Generation Technology Options Report)


The U.S. has 32 new nuclear units proposed at 21 sites. Four sites have been downselected for the Federal loan guarantee program. With $18.5 billion available "The DOE loan guarantee program is very important for providing access to competitive capital to make these projects a reality," according to Hamel.

Two last points from Hamel:

  • "Standardization is at the core – if something is going to happen in the U.S. nuclear power market – it will center on standardization."
  • "Permitting construction time is the elephant in the room."


A few links...

Stewart Brand In favor of nuclear power (video

7 Reasons Why Nuclear Is Bad for the Enviromenment

Details on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in this report. Plus here's a panel discussion at EPRI on SMRs on Jan 21.