The Cruel Realities of EV Range

John Petersen An English proverb teaches us to hope for the best but plan for the worst. With the imminent introduction of a variety of plug-in vehicles that will begin hitting showroom floors in the next few months, the phobia du jour is range anxiety, an entirely rational terror that an EV will get you to your destination in eco-chic style but only get you home with the help of a tow-truck. Sadly, most people who extol the virtues of electric drive are incurable optimists that have little or no regard for the risks inherent in complex systems...

SatCon Receives a Follow-on Order For a Second Rotary Uninterruptible Power Supply from NIST

SatCon Technology Corporation (SATC) announced that it has received a follow-on purchase order for a second 2200 kVA Rotary Uninterruptible Power Supply (RUPS) on a government contract valued in excess of $1.1 million. SatCon's StarSine(TM) Rotary UPS is designed to provide both high quality electrical power during normal operation, as well as prevent any interruption of electricity to critical manufacturing processes, telecommunication centers, data centers, and healthcare facilities in the event of power grid failures such as black-outs and brown-outs. The RUPS is connected directly to SatCon's patented flywheel for short duration power disturbances and is integrated...

The Alternative Energy Fallacy

John Petersen In 2009, the world produced some 13.2 billion metric tons of hydrocarbons, or about 4,200 pounds for every man, woman and child on the planet. Burning those hydrocarbons poured roughly 31.3 billion metric tons of CO2 into our atmosphere. The basic premise of alternative energy is that widespread deployments of wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles will slash hydrocarbon consumption, reduce CO2 emissions and give us a cleaner, greener and healthier planet. That premise, however, is fatally flawed because our planet cannot produce enough non-ferrous industrial metals to make a meaningful difference and the prices...

Battery Investing For Beginners

John Petersen I've been blogging about the energy storage sector since last July because batteries, single purpose devices that most of us take for granted unless they need to be recharged or replaced, are an essential enabling technology for cleantech, the sixth industrial revolution. With this week's impressive launch of A123 Systems (AONE), the tsunami of investor interest I've been predicting since last fall has finally arrived. Since the A123 Systems IPO has introduced an entirely new class of investors to the energy storage sector, this seems like a particularly good time to go back to square...

When Will Polypore Payoff?

by Debra Fiakas CFA   Diagram of a battery with a polymer separator. Lithium ion batteries make it possible to recharge your smart phone, camera and a multitude of other have-to-have-with-us-every­-moment devices.  Yet the average person knows very little of the inner workings of something so important to our daily lives.  One little item in a battery is a highly specialized membrane that fits neatly between opposing electrodes  -  the positive and negative poles that make an electrical charge.  This membrane manages the charge and discharge process. ...
Hydrogen

Hydrogenics: Will Hydrogen Skeptics Be Blown Away?

The hydrogen technology developer Hydrogenics Corporation (HYGS: Nasdaq) is taking on wind energy.  The company’s fuel cell power systems for stand-by and site power sources, hydrogen generators for industrial situations, and energy storage and fuel solutions for fleet owners. Hydrogen has gained in popularity because it is a zero-emission fuel source when burned with oxygen.  The energy efficiency of hydrogen as a transportation fuel is also enticing.  An electric motor powered by hydrogen fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine running on gasoline. Hydrogen is not without its critics.  One of the criticisms is that hydrogen is not entirely a carbon-neutral...

Vanadium Flow Battery Stocks: Barely A Dribble

by Debra Fiakas CFA   The previous post “Investing With The Flow Battery” introduced a series of articles on flow batteries for grid-scale energy storage.  Investors focused on renewable investments should at least consider the implications of storage requirements in evaluating renewable energy technologies even if storage developers are not considered portfolio-worthy.  Owners of grid-connected solar and wind power systems must design a network that can meet the highest peak load of the year even if a large part of the generating capacity sits idle for extended periods.  Storage technologies convert electrical power into chemical or mechanical energy...

Hypersolar: Hydrogen In A Baggie

by Debra Fiakas CFA The last post “Man Makes Mother Nature Look Like a Lazy Maid” featured the work of Harvard scientists who have developed a breakthrough ‘bionic leaf’ system that uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and then combine it with carbon to make isopropanol, an alcohol that can be used as fuel.  It is very much like reverse combustion.  Kudos to Harvard!  However, the good folks at Harvard are not alone in their quest to outsmart Mother Nature. In the late 1990s, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado had reported progress...

Bosch: a Strange Bedfellow for GE

by Debra Fiakas CFA The post “Energy Storage Restart” highlighted General Electric (GE:  NYSE) efforts to get back into the market for renewable energy storage.  Two of the company’s most recent contract wins requires GE to install lithium-ion batteries rather than its own battery technology.  This serves up an entertaining game of ‘who’s the supplier.’  Indeed, GE has partnered with a variety of companies for battery development and any of those could be candidates.  One of the reasons GE might have won two utility-scale contracts is its ability to manage large, complex...

Storm Warnings For Lithium-ion Batteries and Electric Vehicles

John Petersen Before moving to Switzerland in 1998 I lived and worked in Houston, Texas, a place that teaches you the importance of keeping an eye on long-term weather forecasts, particularly during hurricane season. Most of the time it turns out to be wasted effort because Mother Nature is fickle and highly unpredictable, but when it's important it's really important. The same logic holds for investments in energy storage and electric vehicle technologies. You have to keep a close eye on the industrial and regulatory climate and be ready to change your plans when conditions change. For...

Toyota Tests And Rejects Lithium-ion Batteries For The Prius

John Petersen Over the last couple of years, the mainstream media has been awash in reports of how automakers are lining up to build fleets of PHEVs and EVs using lithium-ion batteries as a principal power source. I've consistently argued that investing in objectively expensive lithium-ion battery company shares on the basis of testing decisions was dangerous. The reason for my caution is simple, a decision to test a new concept is very different from a decision to commercialize a proven concept and failures in the preliminary testing stages are far more common than successes. In...

USPS Study: EV Economics Depend On Smart-Grid Revenue

John Petersen On August 28th, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service published the results of a feasibility study titled, "Electrification of Delivery Vehicles." While the feasibility study reaches a foregone conclusion and recommends the purchase of a 3,000 unit demonstration fleet, I was surprised by the high level of Federal subsidies the Inspector General thought necessary to bring EVs within Postal Service capital investment policies. I was even more surprised by the conclusion that the tipping point in the economic analysis was revenue from ancillary vehicle to grid, or V2G, services. The...

Can ZBB Grab a Piece of the Energy Storage Pie?

by Debra Fiakas CFA There are a lot of different technologies in the energy storage space.  ZBB Energy (ZBB:  NYSE) has staked its future on zinc bromide.  Batteries using zinc-bromide consist of a zinc negative electrode and a bromine positive electrode with a porous separator in between them.  Unlike conventional batteries, these electrodes do not take part in the reactions but merely serve as substrates for the energy reactions.  Thus there is no loss of performance from repeated cycling causing electrode material deterioration.  The zinc-bromine battery can provide two to three times the energy density...

Graftech Takes a Leg Down

by Debra Fiakas CFA   Shares of graphite producer Graftech International (GTI:  NYSE) took another long step downward in trading earlier this week, extending a lengthy slide since the beginning of the year.  The shares have attempted a comeback at least twice, but with no success.  GTI has sunk back near its three-year low.  For contrarian investors, this is a good time to take a new look at Graftech  -  a company that has become habitually profitable. After successive losses in the difficult economic period that ensued just after the start of the new millennium, Graftech management regained...

Saviors and Saboteurs in Alternative Energy

John Petersen Last week Societe Generale published a thematic research report titled "A new world order, when demand overtakes supply" which examines the macro-economic and demographic trends that will transform the global economy over the next 20 years. It mirrored the theme of Jeremy Grantham's April 2011 quarterly letter titled "Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever" and did a great job of summarizing an issue I touched on in "How PHEVs and EVs Will Sabotage America's Drive For Energy Independence." In the words of Societe Generale: "So, while...

Lithium-ion Battery Stocks: Investment Opportunities or Subsidized Laggards?

John Petersen I'm often critical of public lithium-ion battery manufacturers based on objective investment metrics including their financial condition, their results of operations, their potential markets and the fundamental soundness of their business plans, but I don't usually drill down into thornier issues like technical merit and business execution because those questions are out of my depth and in the words of Harry Callahan, "A man's got to know his limitations." Every once in a while, however, organizations that are competent to evaluate those issues publish analytical reports that can help investors cut through the hype...