“Chicken is boring. Chefs see it as a menu item for people who don’t know what they want to eat.” -- Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
By 2050 there will be nine billion people on earth. And most of them are going to want a steak for dinner. More livestock will place an even greater burden on land, air, and water.
Rising meat consumption in China is now double that of the U.S., according to the USDA and Earth Policy Institute.
A VC acquaintance recently mentioned that having a "fake meat" company in one's VC portfolio was becoming a must-have, like having a cloud computing firm or a failed thin-film solar company.
Kleiner Perkins has invested in a firm called Beyond Meat, formerly known as Savage River Farms, which produces a plant-based chicken substitute. Other investors include Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Ev Williams.
“We have to find a way to replace animals as a source of protein,” said Kleiner Partner Amol Deshpande in an earlier interview. “I don’t think the climate can subsist … with the amount of livestock that we have.”
A company backgrounder states, "We are really passionate about moving people to plant-based diets, because it is better for human health, animal welfare and the environment."
With technology licensed from the University of Missouri based on the work of Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff, Beyond Meat has a heating, cooling, and pressurizing technique that allows plant-based materials to mimic the texture and mouthfeel of meat, according to the firm.
Beyond Meat's product contains: "Water, Soy Protein Isolate, Pea Protein Isolate, Amaranth, Natural Vegan Chicken Flavor (Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavoring), Soy Fiber, Carrot Fiber, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Dipotassium Phosphate, Titanium Dioxide, and White Vinegar." The mixture is processed and formed to approximate chicken.
The meat substitute is available in the prepared food section at Whole Foods supermarkets in Northern California -- so I ate some of the stuff, for this, our first food review at Greentech Media.
I found the Beyond Meat chicken strips absolutely as uninteresting as chicken. (Full disclosure: I'm a vegetarian, so it's my memory of chicken I'm comparing it to.) The product sort of passes for chicken but the mouthfeel and "springiness" of the stuff are just a little off and a bit "mushy." It veers into the "uncanny valley" of very close but a little weird. I ate the stuff in a faux chicken salad, in a chicken curry, and plain atop a salad. The product was best under a thick sauce where it did not immediately betray its legume lineage.
Personally I prefer my soy, peas, and amaranth in their original non-extruded soy, pea, and amaranth form. I am puzzled by the need to go through heroic measures and processing to make grains mimic a bird. But if people are willing to substitute this stuff for livestock on their plate, the world might be more efficiently fed.
The market for meat substitutes is worth $340 million, according to David Browne, an analyst at Mintel, a market-research firm that tracks these things. RTS Resource, another market analyst firm, sees "firm growth" in the meat analogue sector. Whole Foods sells a number of plant-based meat substitutes made from soy, grains, veggies, or mushrooms. I've had some of those, which often similarly fall into the Close, But No Cigar and Why Bother? categories.
Another alternative meat firm is Sand Hill Foods, rumored to be funded by Vinod Khosla and helmed by Prof. Patrick Brown of Stanford University. According to Nick Halla, the Director of Business Development's LinkedIn page, Sand Hill Foods is "combining cutting-edge science and product development to revolutionize the food production industry and make it more efficient and sustainable." The firm employs Chris Davis as "Director of Protein Development." Founder Patrick Brown mentions the goal of "Developing practical, constructive strategies for eradicating animal farming" on his LinkedIn page.
Going even further than working with beans and redesigned proteins is the work of Jason Metheny, Mark Post and others who are focusing on stem-cell grown or cultured meat grown in the lab -- a process that is still a bit further away from commercialization. A VC colleague argued, "I think the potential for consumer backlash is huge. It's one thing to develop a soybean-based meat product. It's another to develop a test-tube engineered protein." Mark Post suggests that cultured meat could be grown much more efficiently than livestock.
As KP's Deshpande said, “If you want to talk about agricultural land use, water use, [and] energy use, it really boils down to one thing: livestock. To me, if there is a place to attack the[se] problem[s], that is where I would attack it. Everything else is minor in comparison.”
The buzz at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Fall Symposium is that AWEA hopes to negotiate a phase-down of the two-decades-old, $0.022 per kilowatt-hour incentive, the production tax credit (PTC), as part of the upcoming congressional tax reform.
The failure of Congress to extend the tax credit, which expires December 31, has sent the industry tumbling. MAKE Consulting forecasts this year’s ten-plus gigawatts of new installations will fall next year to, at best, three gigawatts. But industry watchers believe the re-election of President Obama, who staunchly defended the PTC during his campaign, foretells a one-year renewal early next year.
Such a renewal, noted Bracewell & Giuliani energy specialist Frank Maisano, may include new language essentially giving developers an extra year by awarding the tax credit to projects that start construction by the PTC’s term end rather than only those that are in service by the deadline.
Longer-term prospects for the incentive are less bright because it faces attack by conservative congressional tax reformers who claim to be ideologically opposed to federal spending.
A high-ranking AWEA officer told GTM the industry needs about two technology cycles for innovation to bring the levelized cost of wind generated electricity to subsidy-free competitiveness. A technology cycle is two to three years, he said. After the short-term renewal, he added, AWEA hopes to negotiate a phase-down of three years to five years with Congress.
Such a phase-down might involve gradually shortening the PTC’s ten-year duration or reducing its amount.
Ray Henger, Chief Financial Officer, OwnEnergy: "If the PTC ramp-down occurs simultaneous with flat gas prices and no changes in state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) or federal legislation to drive demand, it is very difficult for wind to win a contract with a utility. But I don’t think 100 percent natural gas makes sense. So what will the states require as a fuel mix?"
John Eber, Managing Director, Energy Investments, JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM): "We want to move the industry toward becoming competitive without the subsidy. That was the whole purpose of it -- to be a bridge. It is taking longer than people thought, probably because of natural gas dynamics. But you can see it coming. Look at the capacity factors this year. They are unbelievable. And the cost has come down significantly. We are on the path. The question is, how much time do we need?"
Daniel Elkort, Director, Legal Services, Pattern Energy: "What scares me a little is that we are talking about a sudden change to the PTC versus a gradual reduction in cost. What people don’t talk about much is that we are in a very low-interest-rate environment and our business is very capital-intensive. For an independent producer competing with a utility, cost of capital is a huge issue. Right now, long-term interest rates are 5 percent and 6 percent. You can absorb cost excesses or lost PTC value. What if interest rates pop up 200 basis points or 300 basis points?"
An AWEA veteran said that it comes down to having a push and a pull. The PTC was instituted in 1992, he recalled, but it didn’t start really driving growth until state RPSs were widely instituted after 1999. That, he said, added demand to the return developers could expect from providing supply.
At present, load is flat due to economic stagnation, excess capacity, energy efficiency improvements, low natural gas prices and the filling out of many state mandates. Technology advances will continue to grow efficiencies. But an economic recovery could grow demand, put excess capacity to work, and drive up the price of natural gas. And state legislatures may increase existing mandates.
Itron and Cisco have landed another smart grid project together -- and this one is on the doorstep to the world’s biggest future market.
That market is China, and the doorstep is Hong Kong, where utility China Light and Power Hong Kong has picked Itron and Cisco for a 4,500-meter pilot project. According to Monday’s announcement, the two will link Itron’s cellular-enabled meters and data collection and management software with Cisco’s grid routers and connected grid management system -- the latter, Cisco’s term for its grid network management system launched last year.
Itron and Cisco started integrating their technologies two years ago, and rolled out their first big customer, Canadian utility BC Hydro, last year. Since then they’ve added customers including National Grid, Duke Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and have also collaborated on a powerline carrier (PLC) technology for European markets.
This is their first joint project in Asia, but not Itron’s first. In fact, the Liberty Lake, Wash.-based company has been working with Hong Kong’s CLP for some time as its meter data management software provider, integrating to the utility’s SAP back-end business platform, Philip Mezey, Itron’s new CEO, said in a Tuesday interview.
But the data from the utility’s 2.4 million existing electric meters are now almost entirely collected from register reads, he said -- in other words, utility workers walking around, reading meters, and typing in the numbers. With Cisco and Itron’s joint smart grid solution on board, CLP is now testing various business cases for bringing smart meter to Hong Kong customers, he said.
“We’re evaluating various business cases for two-way communications, and near-real-time communications, as well as consumer engagement,” including both single-phase (residential and small business) and three-phase (large commercial-industrial) meters, he said. Mezey, formerly COO and president of Itron, replaced CEO LeRoy Nosbaum (who rejoined the company eighteen months ago), to lead a round of restructuring in a planned transition.
Consumer engagement would play a large role in the project, Mezey said, though he didn’t get into particulars. Neither did he say whether or not Itron and Cisco were expecting their pilots to expand to full-scale deployments in the future. But he did note that the utility plans to upgrade most of its 2.4 million meters over the coming decade or so. That’s a big customer by any account, of course, on par with some of Itron’s biggest smart meter customers, such as Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Detroit Edison and CenterPoint Energy in the United States.
Still, it pales in comparison to the broader markets opening up in China. The country expects to need up to 300 million smart meters by 2016 or so, more than Europe and the United States combined. It’s all part of nearly $250 billion in grid investment expected in China over the next five years, as the country grapples with rapid growth and the rise of intermittent wind and solar power on the grid. (For more information, read GTM Research’s report, The Smart Grid in Asia, 2012-2016, Markets, Technologies and Strategies.)
But China has also made it clear that its domestic meter manufacturers will reap the lion’s share of this in-country deployment, with companies like Ningbo Sanxing Electric, Wasion, Hi Sun Technology, Linyang Electronics and Holley Metering lining up pilot projects, some of them reaching millions of endpoints.
China will also require cheaper, less richly functional meters for the bulk of its residential deployments. State Grid Corp. of China, the world’s largest utility, is targeting mass-market residential meters at about $50 apiece or less, compared to the $150-and-up ranges seen in North America and the $100-and-up for European smart meter projects.
Still, there’s plenty of room for smarter, and thus costlier, technology. Smart meter vendor Echelon has a joint ventures with China’s Holley Metering that’s putting its technology into Holley’s gear -- a model the San Jose, Calif.-based company has followed in Southeast Asia and Brazil as well. In China, Holley’s utility partners are installing Echelon’s PLC smart grid networking technology into already-deployed “smart” meters that haven’t yet been connected to a network -- a virtue of the country’s separate tracks for metering and communications.
It’s likely that utilities will pick and choose high-value customers for such applications. Brazil is another country that wants its smart meters to be able to reach specific, high-value customers. Of course, many commercial and industrial meters have been networked for decades, first by plain old telephone lines (so-called POTS systems), and then via succeeding generations of cellular networks, all the way up to today’s modern smart grid offerings on tap from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and their European and Asian counterparts.
Itron is definitely exploring cellular communications for its Hong Kong pilot, Mezey said, though he added that Cisco’s IPv6-compliant wireless technology, now used to connect smart grid networks for all the partners’ projects, will also play a role in Hong Kong. The two are also looking at powerline communications in Hong Kong, he added -- a testament to the city’s high-rise landscape, where meters in basements may find it impossible to get a wireless signal up to apartments in the upper floors.
Interestingly, Itron is also using its 3G cellular modems, built on top of its acquisition of SmartSynch last year, in a partnership with Panasonic aimed at the Japanese market. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) plans to order about 17 million meters by 2019, and that’s drawn competitors including Panasonic/Itron, Elster, Silver Spring Networks and Japanese partner/investor Hitachi, and Toshiba, which bought Swiss metering giant Landis+Gyr last year. Beyond Tokyo, the country at large is putting smart grid spending in high gear to deal with its post-Fukushima disaster power crisis.
As for Cisco, it has been embedding its IPv6 wireline-and-wireless grid routers and switches in meters from Itron and Elster, as well as smart grid distribution gear from Alstom and Cooper Power Systems (now part of Eaton). Cisco has a deep set of smart grid developer partners, including OSIsoft for big data management, Proximetry for multi-communications network management, and Space-Time Insight for real-time geographic information systems (GIS), to name a few.
It’s all part of a growing trend toward integration in the smart grid field. Schneider Electric and OSIsoft are working on smart meters-as-grid sensors applications, as are Silver Spring Networks and big data management partner (and investor) EMC, and competitors such as Echelon, Elster, Landis+Gyr, Trilliant and Sensus. All will be targeting Asian markets at various price points. After all, if you include China in the picture, it’s the biggest market there is.
New solar module rankings from Principal Solar Institute (PSI) based on manufacturers’ own data could add downward pressure to solar prices and move the industry to higher quality standards.
“You always hear about dollars per watt,” explained PSI Executive Director Matthew A. Thompson. “That is a comparison. It helps make some decisions early on, but what you really need to know is how much energy a solar project is going to produce over its lifetime.”
PSI identified seven key characteristics that measure and describe a module’s energy output. “We took these seven characteristics and used publicly available data, largely from the manufacturers themselves,” Thompson explained, “to create a model that would show the modules' 25-year lifetime energy production [LEP].”
“The seven characteristics are a great start,” noted Michigan Technological University professor Joshua M. Pearce, co-author of a landmark solar LCOE study. “The industry must maintain consumer and investor confidence that modules will produce the lifecycle electricity promised. There are reports that some companies are selling lower quality modules to keep up with falling prices.”
The just-released rating system white paper details the seven characteristics.
1. Actual Tested Maximum Power vs. Advertised is the power value and “a primary factor in the design of any solar power system.”
2. Negative Power Tolerance is the manufacturer’s deviation from its design target. “Higher quality production lines control this variation better and manufacture products with a smaller (tighter) tolerance.”
3. Temperature Coefficient at Maximum Power describes the decreasing power output with increasing temperature. “Products with a higher temperature coefficient will have lower LEP.”
4. Nominal Operating Cell Temperature (NOCT) is the characteristic operating temperature of a module. “A higher NOCT amplifies the negative effect caused by the temperature coefficient.”
5. Power at Low Irradiance / Power at High Irradiance Ratio reflects a PV module’s performance in off-peak conditions. “The insolation response combined with the daily insolation is a key component of the LEP.”
6. Annual Power Reduction shows the degradation of a PV module’s output over time from lab testing. “It is of extreme significance to the manufacturers’ warranty policies [and] is used to calculate LEP and contributes to a PV module’s PSI Rating.”
7. Total Area Efficiency is “the degree of coverage of a module” with cells.
Thompson hopes to eventually add a measure that will capture panel durability. “The potential for absolute failure in the field is not part of the seven characteristics, because data is not available from the manufacturers,” he said. But financiers and developers with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake want that information, Thompson said. He hopes to convince more manufacturers to submit their modules for testing. “When failure rates are known, durability will become an eighth characteristic.”
Two numbers were derived from the seven characteristics: the PSI rating and a percentile.
“On the crystalline PV list,” Thompson explained, “we only display 500 of the database’s 10,000 modules, from 375 manufacturers. The percentile ranking is the percent of all modules in the database to which that module’s performance is superior.”
The rating number was derived to share the findings without compromising Principal Solar’s competitive advantage, Thompson said. “We invented the concept of an ideal PV module with 100 percent efficiency that does not waste a single drop of sunlight. It has ideal values for all seven characteristics.”
Industry-leading modules, he went on, “produce somewhere in the ten megawatt-hour range over their 25-year lifetime. We divided the calculated LEP by the ideal LEP. That is the PSI rating. It is a ratio.”
The PSI rating and percentile ranking can provide a side-by-side comparison of modules, Thompson said. Price and other factors should be considered. “This is just one factor in the due-diligence process.”
The model does not reflect location, he noted. It cannot, therefore, compare module performance in south Texas versus Massachusetts. “One of the goals of the institute is to develop that level of research [in the future].”
The SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) 343-watt (DC) module is SPI’s top-rated panel with a 100 percentile ranking and a PSI rating of 11.22, almost 7 percent better than the number-six Ningbo Utica’s PSI rating of 10.61, Thompson said. “But maybe the Ningbo costs 20 percent less. That might make it a better value.”
A developer planning on buying 10,000 modules could, Thompson suggested, go to SunPower to negotiate a better price.
Thin film modules are listed separately. The top 500 modules on the crystalline list go from 100 percent to 95 percent of the ideal LEP. The 250 modules on the thin film list go from 100 percent to 2 percent. “I’m not yet sure how to compare thin films,” Thompson said.
Because the ideal LEP calculation is proprietary, to protect PS Inc.’s competitive advantage, the ratings have not been validated by a neutral third party. Thompson said users can decide from the method described in the white paper whether to trust the numbers’ legitimacy.
“I was unable to find their formula for combining the seven characteristics into a single score,” Pearce pointed out. “Similarly, I did not see any mention of them yet in the academic literature. Publishing their protocols openly and all the data would be an enormous benefit for solar PV.”
Image Credit: Ford
Ford, on the other hand, is launching a total of six EVs across the U.S. and Europe. The carmaker already has a partnership with Leviton for its consumer car sales, but will market GE’s Wattstation EV charger for commercial applications as part of the new collaboration.
As part of GE’s push to overhaul its own fleet, the company will purchase 2,000 Ford C-MAX Energi cars. Just as GE is also purchasing other EVs, the partnership with Ford is hardly exclusive. The announcement is the first agreement of a commercial charging partnership for Ford, but it might not be the last.
The agreement also involves research projects, including research at Georgia Tech to study the driving and charging habits of GE drivers. General Electric also has its own Vehicle Innovation Center, which will use some Ford cars for its customers to test alternative fuel vehicles.
“Understanding driving and charging habits is key to advancing vehicle and charging infrastructure,” says Professor Bert Bras of the Sustainable Design & Manufacturing laboratory at Georgia Tech. “Through access to vehicle data, we can accelerate research and development of new technologies to further improve efficiency, driver satisfaction and environmental benefits.”
Ford and GE are hardly alone. For every company with a stake in the EV game, whether it's the vehicles or supporting infrastructure, there is usually at least one partnership. Charging companies look for shelf space at big-box stores and partnerships with carmakers. Power electronics companies like ABB are also teaming up with carmakers and utilities to investigate a second life for the car batteries.
One of the most important factors in the success of EVs and plug-in hybrids will likely be on-board telematics that can tell people how their battery is performing. Ford announced earlier this month its SmartGauge feature for its plug-in hybrids that allow the cars to learn frequent destinations to maximize the use of the electric-only mode.
This is another area where partnerships abound. Duke Energy, which is working with GE and Ford, is also working with Toyota on a different pilot. Honda has joined with IBM and Pacific Gas & Electric.
All of these collaborations, and probably many more to come, could be an exercise in futility. Or if electrified personal transportation takes off, they will be key to the future of mobility.