Three Years of Seeking Alpha in Energy Storage

John Petersen Today is the third anniversary of my blog on investing in energy storage. While the last three years have been profoundly troubled by a market crash, a slow recovery and more ups and downs than a roller coaster, energy storage has been surging to prominence as investors realize that batteries, products we all love to hate, are a critical enabling technology for wind and solar power, efficient transportation, the smart grid and hundreds of other applications that make life more pleasant. With each passing day it's increasingly clear that energy storage is an investment mega-trend that...

Plug-in Vehicles, Unconscionable Waste and Pollution Masquerading as Conservation

John Petersen For eighteen months I've been blogging about the energy storage sector and discussing the current and potential markets for batteries and other manufactured energy storage devices. A recurring theme that I've discussed many times is the unrecognized but undeniable truth that while plug-in vehicles masquerade as conservation measures at an individual level, they're incredibly wasteful at a societal level. The conclusion is counter-intuitive and my articles on the subject invariably draw heated criticism from self-anointed defenders of the faith. Their arguments, however, do not change the inescapable truth that plug-in vehicles are one of the most...

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...

Geneva Motor Show Highlights – The Revenge of the Internal Combustion Engine

John Petersen March is Motor Show time in Geneva and it was fascinating to witness the shift in emphasis away from plug-in vehicles as European automakers highlighted their accomplishments in fuel efficiency technologies like HEVs, micro-hybrids and dual fuel drivetrains that can switch back and forth between gasoline and compressed natural gas. While there were modest displays for Tesla (TSLA), Fisker and other emerging brick-makers, and space was set aside for the obligatory plug-ins that most real manufacturers are toying with, the substantial majority of front-line vehicles at display entrances and halo cars on turntables were HEVs...

Why Long Range EVs Can Never Be Cost Effective

by John Petersen America’s love affair with the automobile has always been based on the freedom of the road and the ability to hop in the car and drive wherever we want to go; be it to the corner store to buy a loaf of bread or out to the lake for a long weekend. Even though most of our trips are short, people invariably want the flexibility to go for a long drive when the open road beckons. Unfortunately, that mentality is disastrous when it comes to EV economics. I’ve been writing about energy...

Will A123’s Batteries Make the Great Leap from Design Bench to Store Shelf?

by Debra Fiakas CFA In my last post Paper Power I outlined the attempt to develop a battery using carbon nanotubes and paper.   The materials seemed a bit unbelievable and it sent me into the history books to look at the battery.  In the mid-1700s Ben Franklin may have been the one who first coined the term battery to describe the capacitors had strung together for his experiments.  We all know about the scientist, turned politician.  What is less well known is that the ancients may have also attempted a battery-like instrument now called the “Baghdad Battery.” ...

Exide: Many Alliances, Fewer Results

Debra Fiakas Alliance photo via BigStock  Exide Technologies (XIDE:  Nasdaq) is one of the largest transportation and industrial battery suppliers in the U.S., vying for market share with Johnson Controls (JCI:  NYSE) and EnerSys (ENS:  NYSE) among others.  Batteries are a competitive business, even as the automotive sector has attempted a recovery from the 2008 free fall in new car sales.  Electric vehicle and renewable energy storage applications have helped expand addressable market.  However, for a conventional battery producer capturing a share of these...

Alice in EVland Part III; Cost Benefit Analysis For Dummies

John Petersen Sometimes I think bloggers like me are the real dummies. We spend so much time delving into the minutiae of a stock or sector that we manage to obscure the big picture with too much detail. I've certainly been guilty of that particular flaw over the last couple years and want to offer an apology to readers I've confused rather than enlightened. Yesterday a reader sent me a copy of a presentation that Exide Technologies (XIDE) used in its December 2010 Investor Meetings. The slide on page 6 of the presentation did a great job...

Energy Storage: Q3 2012 Winners and Losers

John Petersen I usually write a quarterly recap to summarize what happened in the energy storage and vehicle electrification sectors, but Q2 was a tough enough period that I don't see much sense in dwelling on the bloodletting. So instead of focusing on the past, I'll offer a quick summary table with lots of red ink and turn my attention to Q3, which is shaping up as a time of bright opportunity for some companies and profound risk for others. I expect three companies in my tracking group to perform very well in Q3 –...

Axion Power’s Potential For Explosive Growth

Tom Konrad, CFA Axion Power International, Inc. (OTC:AXPW) has been developing its patented PbC lead-carbon battery technology, and in 2013 those efforts seem on the verge of paying off.   Unfortunately, Axion’s financing situation makes me unwilling to recommend its stock as an investment in the near term, but I do consider it one to watch.  This article will take a look at Axion’s technology and near term potential markets.  A follow-up article (published here) will discuss the company’s financing situation, and the things which will need to change before I consider the stock an...

Energy Storage: A Bloody Q3 is Creating a Great Buying Opportunity

John Petersen Tom Lehrer is frequently credited with a quip that perfectly summarizes my feeling about the financial markets in the third quarter, "Apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" During the quarter we were given box seats to classic political opera in two acts. Act One was set in Washington DC while Act Two moved to Europe so we could hear the same tortured songs of woe in a different language. We all know the opera has to end with the immensely popular "Kick the Can Chorus," but we suspended disbelief, bought into...

Stop-Start Realities and EV Fantasies

John Petersen Last week Johnson Controls (JCI) released the results of a nationwide survey that found that 97 percent of Americans are ready for micro-hybrids with stop-start idle elimination, the most sensible automotive innovation in years. A micro-hybrid turns the engine off to save fuel and eliminate exhaust emissions when it's stopped in traffic and automatically restarts the engine when necessary. While the overwhelmingly positive consumer response didn't surprise me, JCI's short-term growth forecast for micro-hybrids did. I've been writing about the rapidly evolving micro-hybrid space since 2008 and during that time the market penetration forecasts have...

Lithium-ion Batteries and How Cheap Beat Cool in the Chevy Volt

Since November of last year, I’ve argued that cheap will beat cool when it comes to the commercialization of battery chemistries. As details on the design and construction of the Chevy Volt battery pack emerge and are publicized on sites like Green Car Congress and Popular Science, it’s clear that cheap Li-ion chemistry has already beaten cool Li-ion chemistry and many of the concerns I’ve expressed about using Li-ion batteries in cars have been considered and resolved by thoughtful automotive design engineers. It bodes well for the introduction of PHEVs as long as the tax incentives remain in place,...

Tesla’s Gigafactory: Guessing Games

James Montgomery Tesla Motors (NASD:TSLA) made a splash last week with its proposed $5 billion "Gigafactory" and its eye-popping numbers: a 10 million square foot facility on an entire land area of 500-1,000 acres, with output of 35 GWh/year of battery cells and 50 GWh/year of battery packs by 2020. That'll be enough to support 500,000 of the company's forthcoming Gen-3 vehicles, compared with a little over 20,000 annual demand for its cars today. By comparison, the entire lithium-ion battery supply-chain produced about 34 GWh in 2013, the vast amount going not to electric vehicles but consumer electronics....

The Rocky Road to Lithium Ion Battery Commercialization

by Debra Fiakas CFA A bit of history… Schematic of a Lithium Ion Battery by Materialsgrp, via Wikimedia Commons Lithium ion batteries are a relatively recent innovation.  Scientists and engineers first began working with lithium applications in the 1970s.  A number of companies and laboratories worked through the next decade to perfect lithium ion batteries, using various materials for the business ends of a battery  -  the anode and the cathode.  It was not until the mid 1980s that developers settled on cobalt as...

An Overlooked Christmas Gift For Energy Storage Investors

John Petersen Monday morning a reader sent me a link to a December 23rd press release announcing that the OM Group, Inc. (OMG) had agreed to buy EaglePicher Technologies LLC, a well regarded name in the battery industry, for $171.9 million, or roughly 1.4x sales. While I overlooked the release during the build-up to Christmas, the transaction is important because it provides a current bright-line reference point for energy storage investors on the difficult question, "what is a battery company worth?" EaglePicher was previously a unit of Eagle Picher Holdings, a public company that filed a...
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