Author: alca8779

Colorado: A Cleantech Collective

Global Clean-Energy Projected Growth 2012-2022The need for alternative energies in the 21st century has fostered an entire industry in cleantech. The cleantech sector refers to any renewable energy manufacturers and providers, as well as, any products that increase efficiency in production and distribution of energy. In 2012 the global cleantech industry was valued at $250 billion by Clean Edge, a market authority of cleantech, and is expected to grow to a $400 billion in 2022. Despite these optimistic projections, there are challenges that need to be addressed for full scale implementation. The major gatekeepers to this industry are governments. Prudent policy in the area of cleantech is crucial for this growing industry. Policy initiatives can combat the cost gaps between these technologies and more traditional forms of energy. Policy can also improve infrastructure to accommodate and promote these players. Cleantech is the future, governments however have been hesitant to take action due to high costs and complexities surrounding these issues. We need action now, we need an example to learn from, we need momentum, we need policy.

The Colorado Cleantech Industries Association or CCIA is a statewide, industry-led, organization, that promotes the cleantech industry in Colorado. CCIA believes that Colorado is poised to becoming a global leader in the cleantech industry if we can take advantage of the opportunity. Quoting their website, Colorado’s cleantech industry the fastest growing out of any state with over 300 companies and counting. Colorado is also No. 3 in the U.S. for cleantech venture capital financing and No. 4 in the country for percentage of jobs in the cleantech sector.

The CCIA is a vocal lobbiest at local, state, and federal levels. To promote the growth of this industry they specifically support policy that:

  • Accelerates the cleantech research and development pipeline.
  • Speeds cleantech technology transfer and support the growth of early stage companies;
  • Expands our rich base of management talent able to move cleantech into the marketplace;
  • Promotes a business climate that is friendly to cleantech companies, and;
  • Supports policy to use all forms of energy, water, waste and more as efficiently as possible.

2013 was a productive year for the CCIA, gaining traction and helping pass 8 proactive state bills that helped achieve these goals. Among these bills there are a couple awesome steps in the right direction. The Advanced Industries Acceleration Act is a major state investment in economic development. As a result, cleantech will receive $2 million dollars in grant money. Grants will also be tiered into 3 categories allowing for funding of various types (seed, early stage and infrastructure). The Renewable Energy Standard graduated Colorado’s energy portfolio goal of 10% renewables by 2020 to 20% renewables. The Special Fuel Tax Electric Vehicle Highway Use Tax Fund, is not only hard to say but promotes and funds electric vehicle infrastructure. In effect it created the Electric Vehicle Grant Fund, estimated to collect over $400 thousand in the  the next five years which will be used for charging station build out.

The future for cleantech looks promising and recent developments may signal that it is catching on. This traction is only bound to increase as the world changes and begins to recognize the need for sustainability. These developments could mean massive economic growth for cleantech worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Policy can have a dramatic impact on the speed of these changes and will be the ultimate deciding factor in how we will adapt. Industry lobbyists are often portrayed in a bad light, but in the case of cleantech, they could be able to push agenda’s towards sustainability. Whether or not you think lobbying is a encroachment on democracy, or an unfair advantage, there’s one thing I’ve learned from the world we live in today, money speaks all languages.



Wind Energy: a Guide for Household Implementation.


Is wind energy the best for me?

In the pursuit of reliable and affordable sources of renewable energy people are looking at wind turbines. Although the space requirements  (generally requiring one acre+ of land) and wind requirements for these systems make it hard for some to implement, wind power is still an opportunity for roughly 25%of the US population. People living in windy areas, on large plots of land and energy bills exceeding $150 per month should seriously consider a small wind electric system.

What are some obstacles to look out for?

Before committing to a wind energy system you should research local zoning laws. Most residentially zoned areas have a height limit  of 35 feet. In order to find out and and obtain a building permit call your local building inspector or municipality. Regardless of zoning laws one should be respectful of neighbors that might complain that the turbines are aesthetically displeasing or too noisy. Objective facts should be used to ward off naysayers. For example the noise level of a residential  turbine is no more than a household refrigerator.

What size of wind turbine will do the trick?

A 2.4 kW Turbine

This 2.4 kW turbine generates approximately 230 kWh per month.

Depending on application, you will need to consider what size turbine to use. Small turbine system outputs can range anywhere from 20 watts, to 100 kilowatts. Based on your local wind patterns and electricity needs one will need to evaluate what size works. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average household in 2012 consumed a yearly average of 10,800 KWH. Depending on average wind speed, wind turbines rated in the range of 5-15 kW will provide significant contributions to this demand. Because wind speeds increase with height, tower height also plays a role in maximizing potential output. Increasing tower height can have positive effects on cost and return. For example increasing tower height from 60 feet to 100 feet may involve a 10% increase in cost but could potentially increase output by 30%.

How much will it cost?

According to the American Wind Energy Association’s 2011 U.S. Small Wind Turbine Market Report, small wind turbine systems cost $3000-$5000 per every generating kilowatt of generating capacity. This is much cheaper than solar systems but can still have long payback periods. Although there is significant initial investment wind turbines, eventually, depending on the system, you will break even where the cost will equal the present value of all the electricity bills you have avoided. It is hard to calculate an encompassing payback period because of the variations in machine output to region and cost. To estimate the power output of your system used to further evaluate the payback period, this simple equation is used by the wind turbine industry:

Power output kilowatts=k Cp 1/2p A V^3 , where:

  • k=.000133 (constant)
  • Cp= maximum power coeffiecint ranging from .25-.45
  • p= air density (lb/ft^3)
  • A= rotor swept area (ft^2)
  • V= average wind speed (mph)

Instead of doing this calculation yourself it maybe just easier to contact a local wind turbine manufacturer.


Obviously before making a huge investment one should consider the risks and benefits of the decision. In the case of small scale wind power, the benefits have almost no associated risk and the cost per energy output is higher than solar alternatives. But the payback period may be long and not worthwhile. Also one must evaluate their households capacity for wind power and be wary of legal barriers. More research should be done if you are actually considering an installment, but hopefully this article helps open the door to new possibilities of energy independence.








Technical Solutions: Battery Innovation

My most recent video post was an introduction to the topic of battery innovation. Donald Sadoway from MIT explains that in our current energy grid, the energy supplied must be in constant balance with the energy demanded. This principle poses a challenging technical difficulty in implementing renewable energies on a full scale. Because wind and solar power do not produce a constant flow of energy, when the sun goes down or when the wind stops, energy supply from these sources drops below energy demand. Immediately this  difference in energy supply and demand needs to be contributed to the grid by other generators or grid storage but there is a infrastructural problem:

Today, 99 percent of grid storage takes the form of “pumped hydro”—water is pumped uphill to a reservoir and released to turn a generator when energy is needed. This low-tech method is efficient, and it’s cheap over the long term, but it’s limited to places with mountains and readily available water. As a result, it provides less than 1 percent of the power capacity in the United States on a given day, according to Mark Johnson, director of the grid storage program at the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E research agency.

 Coal and nuclear plants are not fast enough  and current grid storage is inadequate to supply this difference, but as Donald concludes, new forms of batteries could be the key to solving the renewable intermittancy problem.

Molten Metal  Batteries

steel container

Promising scalability demonstrated by Ambri’s liquid metal battery prototype the “Pizza.”

Innovations in battery technology could potentially make renewables a comparable energy source to coal and nuclear, but batteries today do not meet the demanding performance requirements of the grid. A feasible battery would have to be able to recharge, withstand uncommonly high power for a long time, all at a low cost. Donald Sadoway presents a new technology that may flip the switch for renewable energy. Traditional batteries use two solid metal electrodes and an electrolyte solution that transfers electrons between the two electrodes. Understanding the economies of scale gained by current aluminum metallurgy (conversion of bauxite ore into metal aluminum), Donald considered a new compositional state of the traditional battery. Instead of using two solid state electrodes and a liquid solution of electrolytes, Donald proposed a high temperature battery using two varying density molten metal electrodes and a molten salt electrolyte to facilitate the transfer of electrons. The incoming currents are strong enough to keep these metals in molten state. Quoting an article on Technology Review about Donald and his company “Ambri”, the advantages of this technology are apparent:

Conventional rechargeable batteries have solid electrodes that degrade with use, but a battery with only liquid parts could last for years without losing much of its energy storage capacity. The molten materials can also operate at much higher current densities than solids, and for longer periods of time.

The molten composition of this battery provides the durability and capacity to perform on our power grids. This diagram shows rough representation of the chemical energy exchange between low density high density liquid metals in a molten salt medium similar to Donald’s.

Molten-Air Batteries

The most recent development in battery technology has yielded  a rechargeable battery with the highest storage capacity of any battery to date. The technology, developed by Stuart Licht, Baochen Cui, Jessica Stuart, Baohui Wang, and Jason Lau, at George Washington University, is called Molten-air. Similar to Donals Sadoway’s Molten metal technology, Molten-air batteries are rechargeable and operate at  high temperatures with a molten electrolyte. The difference is that molten metal batteries use a molten metal cathode, whereas Molten-air batteries use ‘free’ oxygen from the air as a cathode. This not only makes these batteries substantially lighter and less material intensive, research also shows that these batteries have extremely high capacity and have excellent recharge capabilities.  Stuart Licht and his group at George Washington University has demonstrated 3 viable chemistries for this technology. Their composition and storage capacity are shown in the following table:

The molten vanadate anode provided the highest energy capacity because of an 11 electron to one molecule storage ratio. Vanadate’s electrochemical pathways are still widely unknown in this molten context.

More research still needs to happen in order to optimize this technology. Molten air batteries have potential to displace Donald Sadoway’s molten metal batteries because of their advantages (more capacity, less material intensive).

These technologies are great examples of how innovation will accelerate the switch in energy dependency from fossil fuels to renewable sources. With these new batteries and their large storage capacities solar power will be able to power homes even when the sun isn’t shining. The future is looking bright.

Couple links

Cool Technologies in a Hot New World: The Need for Sustainable Energy

No doubt our world is in the midst of climate change and our earth is getting warmer. With these changes potential costs and hardships could be devastating in worse case scenarios. Science has warned us of apocalyptic scenes involving rising oceans, water shortages and volatile climate systems prone to severe weather. Indisputably our industrious greenhouse gas emissions are correlated to trends in climate change. Take a look at this graph on the right. For the past 800,000 years world temperature have risen and fallen in significant correlation with rises and falls in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The CO2 concentrations have ranged between 200-280 PPM. Currently CO2 concentrations hover just below 400 PPM, higher than any concentration seen in the past 800,000 years.

Has the earth ever witnessed concentrations this high? Should this spark any fear? The answer may surprise you but paleoclimate scientists looking at historical climate trends reveal that our earth has experienced numerous swings in carbon dioxide and temperature. The Pliocene  between five million and three million years ago is the most recent geologic era that had CO2 concentrations similar to ours. Quoting an article from Scripps Institution of Oceanography UCSandiego:

Recent estimates suggest CO2 levels reached as much as 415 parts per million (ppm) during the Pliocene. With that came global average temperatures that eventually reached 3 or 4 degrees C (5.4-7.2 degrees F) higher than today’s and as much as 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) warmer at the poles. Sea level ranged between five and 40 meters (16 to 131 feet) higher than today.

There is broad consensus among paleoclimate scientists, that the earth has even experienced CO2 concentrations substantially higher than today, but in a larger scale of tens of millions of years ago. So whats the big deal with climate change? Are there reasons for concern? Whats the difference between climate change today and climate changes of the past?

Even though the earth has experienced global warming many times in it’s geologic past, there are several critical differences between these past climates and the human induced climate change we are in now. First of all, geologic changes in climate take place on a geologic time scales where a change of 10 ppm could take a thousand years. Currently the at projected rates of emissions we could reach 1000 PPM in the next hundred years ( ). The radical change in such a short period of time leaves climate scientists guessing what will happen exactly in the short and longterm. Earth’s heat transfer system could be tipped out of its equilibrium state from dramatic shocks in overall CO2 concentrations today. While today the effects of this shift may not be seen, snowballing positive feedback loops will accelerate climate changes and swing them into a new climate plateaus. The question is how far will the effects reach?  How does this threaten our geographic distribution and environment? Do we have the responsibility to mitigate or alter our current course?

Despite the uncertainty of outcomes, we still have a chance today to influence our future. Our undying need for energy in our technocapitalist certainly stokes the problem. Energy demands are only increasing as more countries start developing and as technology becomes more apart of our lives. Fossil fuels power our growing nations and economies, but their emissions drive a volatile storm on our not too distant horizon. In addition, the lengths to which we go to extract these fuels threatens the environment, air and water supplies. On top of all this fossil fuels are non-renewable energy source.

Lets face it, carbon emissions pose substantial threat to our environment, and the world we know and love today. While they are the cheapest energy source, with the most existing infrastructure, their external costs are ignored in the equation of cost. Economics would say that, these external costs will eventually be factored in by the actions of a free market. Eventually in the case of fossil fuels, is taking too long. If the free market wasn’t so short sighted in cost evaluations, renewable energies even at current cost, could be cheaper.

So what? What are our options? We need a combination of  ground breaking policy and ground breaking technology. We need the true costs of fossil fuels to be recognized while innovating to make renewables cheaper and practical to implement. Maybe carbon credits/taxes are the solution by incentivizing industry to clean up their act while at the same time  bumping up the price of fossil fuel generated energy. On the flipside, the only way renewables can compete against fossil fuel is through drastic innovation and upheaval of existing infrastructure.