Viewing posts tagged: "Efficiency"

Greentech Innovations: Storing Wind Power With Sodium Batteries

Michael Kanellos: November 9, 2008, 2:17 PM
The wind blows. In more ways than one. Timing has always been the bane of wind farms. Winds can be stronger at night in California and Texas than in the day. Unfortunately, most regional customers are asleep, so utilities and power providers often have to dump the power generated by windmills during the wee hours. When utilities dump power, not only do they lose a sale, they lose the attendant tax credits. GeoBattery will try to solve this problem with sodium sulfur batteries, said CEO Dan Vogler. Sodium batteries are one of the best vehicles on the market for storing electrons. (Vogler will speak at the upcoming Greentech Innovations End to End Electricity conference on November 17.) "They have the lowest cost and highest charge density of any battery," he said. Sodium batteries, however, are also extremely heavy. Worse, they only work at high temperatures of 285 Celsius and higher. Below that level, the batteries go into a dormant state. That makes them a tough choice for a notebook or an electric scooter. But weight, temperature and extra real estate aren't problems for wind farms. GeoBattery's plan is to build datacenter-like rooms of these batteries next to renewable energy facilities. A single 6U-tall sodium battery can hold a kilowatt hour worth of power. (A U is 1.75 inches tall. It comes from the computer industry and is not some ancient Celtic term.). A 25,000 square foot facility could hold enough batteries to store 10 megawatt hours worth of power. Once in place, these sodium storage facilities could be used in a variety of ways. They could capture and store energy generated at night. Some wind farms could also try to work the system to sell their power at peak times, thereby increasing profits or reducing the time to break-even. Conceivably, these systems could also be used to store waste heat in factories. Power storage is often called the Google opportunity in greentech. The various ideas for storing power include large-format fuel cells, vanadium flow batteries, molten sodium, flywheels, compressed air and water columns. Most of these ideas are only moving out of the experimental stage now. Like GeoBattery, Japan's NGK is also working with sodium batteries.

A Fondue for Steel: Greentech on the Factory Floor

Michael Kanellos: November 7, 2008, 1:36 PM
What steel really needs is a fine bath in an acid degreaser. So says Robert Patterson, product manager from NexChem, which was a runner up in the energy-efficiency category at the California Clean Tech Open. NexChem has devised a process, called SteelCleaner Pro, that eliminates many of the steps necessary for processing and finishing steel. Traditionally, steel needs to be run through a twelve step chemical cleaning process. Otherwise, it rusts and becomes useless. NexChem has it down to five steps. The NexChem process also only takes about 20 to 30 minutes, way less than the hour-per-beam time for the traditional process. Overall, this cuts down on the amount of nasty chemicals required (particularly those deployed to pickle steel) and energy. SteelCleaner Pro also results in a higher quality steel. The secret sauce is NexChem's acid degreaser. Steelmakers effectively dunk fresh beams into large vats filled with the stuff. The traditional process uses a base degreaser. "The formulation is totally radical," he said of the formula. "It's basically fondue for steel."

CarbonFlow, the How-To Guys in Carbon Credits, Get More Cash

Michael Kanellos: November 6, 2008, 6:55 PM
CarbonFlow, which has developed software tools that the company says will make it easier for organizations to devise strategies and corporate policies for managing carbon credits, has pulled in more money from investors, this time from @Ventures. Other investors include Clean Pacific Ventures, OVP Venture Partners and Meridian Energy. Think of this as Sarbanes-Oxley services for the green market. Carbon regulation is already in place in Europe and will likely be imposed in the U.S. in the near future. Barack Obama wants to reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. (whoops--that said 2010 earlier.) But measuring, tracking and putting a value on emissions, and the emissions that were produced by your suppliers, isn't easy. By automating the process, CarbonFlow says it can cut the costs or speed the time required for compliance. Experts on carbon trading have devised the software and it has a relationship with Det Norske Veritas (there's a name you don't see everyday), the largest verifier of carbon credit projects in the world. What's to stop Oracle or SAP from getting into this market? Nothing. But those companies often show a preference for just buying a startup in a new market than concocting their own software tools if it looks like the idea might take a long time to copy. So who knows, Carbonflow migh get snapped up. In the past two years, green software has been increasingly grabbing the attention of investors. Unlike many other greentech outfits, software developers have low capital requirements, which makes them attractive to investors. A few million dollars, a foosball table and an Internet connection and you are on your way. Compare that to a money suck like Bloom Energy -- the $100 million plus invested in the company has yielded exactly zero commercially available units. Other green software companies, or companies that use software to reduce the cost of green technology, include Sungevity (Internet enabled solar estimates), Greenbox and Fat Spaniel Technology.

Intel: The Secret Alumni Club of Greentech Execs

Michael Kanellos: November 5, 2008, 5:56 AM

Will the high-tech world ever get away from Intel?

Probably not. The company supplies chips for around 80 percent of the world’s PCs and servers and heavily influences the standards for packaging, manufacturing, lithography and computer design.

But the company also plays a large, and often unseen role, in corporate management. Intel alumni are everywhere, and they take their aggressive obsessions with numbers, manufacturability, constructive confrontation (i.e., yelling at meetings; drinking afterward), scalability and "two-in-a-box" management wherever they go. Two of Silicon Valley’s most storied VCs, John Doerr and Bill Davidow, came from the Intel sales department. Chip companies like Rambus and National Semiconductor are run by ex-Intel guys. It’s like a finishing school for the hard-nosed.

And now, you’re seeing the Blue Shirts pop up in greentech. Paul Misso, CEO of small wind turbine specialist Marquiss Wind Power came out of the Folsom offices of Intel. Ron Smith, who ran the wireless and flash memory units for Intel during the go-go late '90s, will soon come out of stealth with a startup that takes the heat produced by solar panels to power solar water heaters. Sub-One Technology, the anti-corrosion company working with Chevron Texaco? Run by Intel alum Andrew Tudhope.

GainSpan, a smart metering company that can control the power consumption of household appliances, is run by Vijay Parmar. The company grew out of a project he ran at the Intel labs.

Pete Van Deventer, who marketed chipsets out of Intel’s Folsom facilities, is the CEO of SynapSense, which monitors and controls power consumption in data centers with sensors and software. (Yahoo managed to cut its cooling power consumption by 21 percent in a Synapse-rigged datacenter.). The company plans to move into the market for building control.

Claude Leglise, the suave former head of Intel Capital, also has a company, say sources. It leases space on rooftops for solar installations.

Several Intel engineers have gone to work at OptiSolar, according to sources. And earlier this year, Intel spun out SpectraWatt while Intel Capital began to invest in alternative energy and energy efficiency companies.

And Andy Grove is going to teach a course on plug-in transportation at Stanford next year. The company itself is also involved in pretty much every green IT panel you can imagine.

Given the size of the company, it’s natural that you’d see Intel alums pop up. But Hewlett-Packard and IBM are big companies too and you don’t see those names popping up on executive CVs as much.

If you find yourself in a pitch meeting and the speaker uses eight three letter acronyms in five minutes, chances are you're listening to one of them. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Greentech Innovations: Smart Meter Technology Deployed for Heart Patients

Michael Kanellos: November 4, 2008, 2:52 AM
GainSpan has a chip that can curb energy consumption in the home, and notify your doctor if you're about to have a heart attack. The company has produced an energy efficient WiFi chip that it hopes to install in dryers, electrical meters and other devices in the home. The idea is that utilities and consumers will shut off and/or power down  appliances with wireless signals remotely to curb electricity consumption. GainSpan is currently working with manufacturers to insert its chip into cold storage units, meters and other devices. Hitachi Plant Technologies, the industrial technology arm of the Japanese giant, makes sensors incorporating GainSpan's chips. The company was spun out of Intel. In an experiment, a large South Korean manufacturer asked the company to put the chip onto an electrocardiogram monitor, said CEO Vijay Parmar. It took about a month, but the company did it. A demonstration took place recently in Seoul. The chip fits onto a pad that is stuck onto a heart patient's chest. (In a real-life situation, security and other issues would have to be navigated, but you can imagine this would be the sort of thing you'd like to stick on an ailing parent at home. When the heart begins to wobble, a signal could be sent from a home base station to the hospital and the kids.) The "smart home" concept has been bandied about for years. Remember those refrigerators in the late '90s with built-in screens and Internet connections? Consumers didn't exactly snap them up. The rising cost of electricity, water and gas, however, is breathing new life into the concept. Powering down devices will cut the monthly power bills for consumers. Installing this type of equipment broadly will also allow utilities to avoid brown-outs or the need for expensive peaker plants. Two of the biggest greentech IPOs to date -- Comverge and EnerNoc -- essentially focus on this market. The question over the next five years is which standards and technologies will win. GainSpan directly competes against Zigbee as well as proprietary standards. All of them work, but it's unclear where and how utilities, equipment manufacturers and services companies will adopt them. Zigbee so far has amassed the broadest support, but Parmar and others argue it's a standard that's not loved by those that have to buy the equipment. Companies representing each of the approaches will debate it as the upcoming Greentech Innovations: End to End Electricity on November 18. Tune in if you can -- the sparks should fly.

HP Puts a Power Cap on Servers, Saves Millions

Michael Kanellos: November 3, 2008, 5:28 AM
Think of Dynamic Power Capping from Hewlett-Packard as a circuit breaker for the circuit breaker. The company has devised a technology (embodied in software and hardware) that effectively prevents servers and other equipment from exceeding a pre-set electrical threshold and thus tripping the breakers. If a datacenter (or some portion of a large one) is only supposed to get 1,000 kilowatts of power, that's all it will get. Setting a finite limit on power consumption in turn allows datacenter managers to reduce their margin of error, explained Peter Gross, CEO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, a company that designs datacenters. (Hewlett-Packard bought it and made EYP a subsidiary.) Now, if a couple of server rows need 500 kilowatts, an IT manager might provision 1,000 kilowatts to it in order to cushion against unforeseen spikes. As a result, a lot of power is going to waste. With a cap, you can increase the number of servers in a room, reduce power consumption or some combination of the two. Datacenter managers, of course, can re-evaluate their power needs as time goes on. Dynamic Power Capping is part of HP's Thermal Logic portfolio of energy efficiency technologies and services for datacenters, said Gottsegen. HP estimates that the technology can save a company $16 million in a 1 megawatt datacenter in a year. Other companies are working to reduce the power consumption of their products as well, notably IBM, Sun Dell, Yahoo, Google, Intel and Seagate. Starting in early 2006, IT managers began to loudly complain about their electrical bills: coming out with energy efficient servers and PCs in turn became one of the more popular ways to market a computer. Power bills have also help spur demand for thin clients. (See aesthetically intriguing video that will challenge your assumptions about modern cinema here.) Some companies are considering building datacenters in Iceland because of the prevalence of geothermal power and free cool air, Gross told me. Air conditioning consumes about half the power going into datacenters. “Datacenters will use more power than a small town with 20,000 to 30,000 households,??? Gross said. “It is becoming the most glaring element of energy consumption in a corporation.??? A modern data center can cost $200 to $300 million to build and stock with power supplies and air conditioners. Datacenters a few years ago consumed about 25 watts per square foot. Then in 2004 and 2005 the figure shot up to 52 watts per square foot. Blame it on multi-core chips and virtualization software. These increase computing utility but also increase the power density. The average server cabinet at a typical large company will consume 2 to 3 kilowatts. One at a search engine will gobble up 8.5 to 9 kilowatts.

Will the Computer Giants Invade Lighting Too?

Michael Kanellos: October 31, 2008, 4:14 AM
This year, we saw Intel, IBM, LG and others jump into the solar market, following a path blazed by Applied Materials two years ago. Cisco, Freescale and several startups like GainSpan are busy porting wireless chips and equipment originally designed for consumer electronics and computers into smart meters and energy efficient appliances. WiMax, the wireless broadband protocol, is coming to connect homes and utilities. What will the computer world colonize next? Probably lighting. Solid state light sources such as LEDs, plasma lights and OLEDs are expected to become popular over the next five to ten years as the price declines and mass manufacturing cranks up. Right now, LEDs are primarily made by the large lighting subsidiaries of conglomerates, like Philips Lighting. The nature of the industry and the technology, however, is opening the door to PC-centric companies. Foundries, which make computer chips for people who don't want to own their own factories, will likely enter lighting. Although LEDs are technically chips, the process and chemistry are different than what you need to make computer chips. Still, TSMC, the world's biggest foundry for silicon chips, is tinkering with strategies to serve as a factory-for-hire for LED designers. Applied Materials, meanwhile, is examining whether it should make equipment to produce OLED lights, which are thin and somewhat flexible. The OLED process is similar to the thin-film solar process, which in turn is similar to the process for making LCD TVs. (Applied also has a boatload of equipment that can be used to make regular LEDs.) And then you have companies like HID Laboratories that will use IT technologies to control and dim high-intensity discharge lights. Panasonic is putting automated light and air conditioner controls in green homes in Japan. Interestingly, the LED companies themselves are moving from making individual chips to entire lighting solutions -- i.e., packaged light sources for specific applications or even lamps. Early next year, LED manufacturer Bridgelux, which has raised $71 million already, will release white light LEDs in a variety of color temperatures. Rather than sell them to the general market, Bridgelux will target these for specific applications, said CEO Mark Swoboda. Philips Lighting, meanwhile, will begin to emphasize lamps in the future. These are the initial burbles of the flood. When you see Intel, Samsung and Cisco talking about the crisis in lighting and their ideas for paving the way to a new world of energy efficient lighting, don't say you weren't warned.