One of the biggest advantages to light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, is their inherent controllability. That controllability means that people can create settings for when they’re home or away, or better yet -- a sensor can tell when people are in the room.
Unless of course that person is not a person, but rather a robot in a warehouse, where the lights aren't always needed for it to do its job.
An Australian LED company, enLighten, recently took a trip across the Pacific to introduce its technology to Bay Area investors after winning the 2012 Australian Clean Technologies competition. That technology looks a lot like various other companies that tout LEDs and controls. But there is one major difference.
EnLighten’s latest product, which will be released in a few months, takes out the human element, according to David Whitfield, CEO of enLighten. “From the grassroots, it’s philosophically different,” he argued.
The lighting system, which runs on a mesh radio network, is connected to what Whitfield called a “big brother” of an RFID card. Just like a building ID security card that most office workers carry around, the lighting card can tell the system where the people are. The company, however, also has other products that rely on more traditional motion sensors.
You might be thinking that seems redundant if there are occupancy sensors attached to the lighting network, but not so, says Whitfield.
He claims his company has a solution that’s far more cost-effective than those from competitors. Like other LED companies that are experiencing substantial growth, enLighten saw 500 percent growth year over year from 2011 to 2012. Whitfield said the average payback for its projects was about 18 months.
For warehouses or other industries where there are non-humans on the move, the solution does not turn off and on unnecessarily. “Because it’s a people-based system, we don’t have problems with equipment or other heat sources,” said Whitfield. For large office buildings, Whitfield argued that many people are already carrying access tags.
Like other LED companies, enLighten has realized energy savings from the technology is just the beginning. “It wasn’t until we were developing our lighting controls that we realized how much intelligence we were gathering,” said Whitfield. His company is currently talking to a large industrial building controls company and looking at HVAC companies that might be able to integrate enLighten’s information into their products.
EnLighten was traveling as part of an international Cleantech Open group in San Francisco, but it seems as if the company has plenty in Australia to keep it busy. Australia’s carbon tax will continue to fund energy efficiency investments as the country focuses on lower-carbon energy use at home while exporting much of its coal and gas to Asia.
EnLighten was primarily visiting the U.S. to meet investors, but there is plenty of competition from other startups in the LED space, such as lighting controls companies like Lumenergi and Daintree Networks to LED providers like Cree and Digital Lumens.
For now, there’s space for plenty of new ideas in the burgeoning market. “The awareness level is at the bottom of the hill, but it is already climbing,” said Whitfield. “Energy efficiency appears to be something that still hasn’t really been discussed by most people in business.”
The race for the lead in concentrating solar power (CSP) development accelerated in recent weeks with major advances from SolarReserve, BrightSource Energy and Abengoa, the three primary contenders. Each advance moves solar power plant technology closer to its future.
BrightSource Energy (BSE) got final California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approval of revised twenty-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) with Southern California Edison (SCE) (NYSE:EIX) for a 250-megawatt power tower project at its Rio Mesa site and for a 250-megawatt tower project at its Sonoran West site with two hours of storage capacity.
BSE will deploy its next-generation technology at Rio Mesa, scheduled to go into service in 2015. Sonoran West, scheduled for completion in 2016, will be BSE‘s first use of its steam-heated molten salts storage system.
Spain’s Abengoa (PINK:ABGOY) began construction on two South African CSP projects. Both Khi Solar, a 50-megawatt power-tower project with two hours of storage, and KaXu Solar One, a 100-megawatt parabolic trough project with three hours of storage, won long-term PPAs from South Africa’s publicly owned Eskom utility in competitive bidding. Both are expected to be operational in 2016.
SolarReserve secured PPAs with Eskom for its Letsatsi and Lesedi 75-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) projects and its 88-megawatt Jasper PV project. PV is not SolarReserve’s first priority. But at its current low price, “photovoltaics have traction,” SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith said. “There is a demand and we are responding to the demand.”
“In our hearts, we view CSP with storage as the long-term solution,” Smith said, “but we are a development company. We have been looking at PV for a number of years. Sometimes technology is site-specific and sometimes it is market-specific. South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Chile and the Western U.S. are very good for towers with storage, but those markets are going to build PV, too. We are in both.”
To bid in South Africa, Smith explained, development had to be “pretty much complete,” with fully permitted sites, the interconnection and ancillary requirements in place, twelve months of solar resource site studies done, and debt and equity commitments approved.”
Abengoa had “a bit of a head-start,” Smith said. “We weren’t quite ready with CSP so we bid our PV projects. They are a bit easier to permit.” But SolarReserve’s 100-megawatt Redstone CSP project with storage is now fully permitted and will be bid in the May 2013 round, Smith added.
Smith wanted to talk about the CSP technology race. He discounted Abengoa’s trough technology because, he said, it cannot get its therminol fluid heated above “about 750 degrees Fahrenheit (F).”
The molten salts used by all three technologies to store heat solidify at just below 500 degrees F, Smith explained. Power towers get their fluids, compressed steam for BSE and molten salts for SolarReserve, to over 1000 degrees F, allowing almost twice the heat to be transferred for storage.
“Our direct competitor is BrightSource Energy,” Smith said, and he believes SolarReserve’s Pratt &Whitney-Rocketdyne technology is ahead.
“Our project with storage is in construction and will be in commercial operation next year. BSE is transitioning their technology and have a ways to go until they have a storage solution. It is a work in progress. They won’t start construction until 2014 or 2015. We have a technology that exists.”
BSE has repeatedly said it is following its own roadmap, though its timeline matches Smith’s claims and SolarReserve’s 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes project, which will have ten hours of storage, remains on schedule in northern Nevada. It has a twenty-year PPA with Nevada Power with a publicly announced PPA rate of $0.135 per kilowatt-hour.
“We have four U.S. projects in development,” Smith said. “The 150-megawatt Crossroads project in Arizona will soon receive its final permits.” It also has a transmission interconnection, though not a PPA. “We would like to begin construction by the end of 2014.” Quartzite, SolarReserve’s second Arizona project, “is in late-stage permitting. We hope to get the final permits by mid-2013.”
The Saguache Project, two 100-megawatt Colorado power tower units, is also fully permitted. “We are in discussions with power off-takers but don’t yet have PPAs.”
The 150 megawatt Rice power tower project in Southern California, with a PPA from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) “is our next project. It should be in construction by the end of 2013,” Smith said. “It will have 7.5 hours of storage. For us, that amount of storage will be easy,” he added, but for BSE “7.5 hours of storage using a direct steam system is very expensive.”
BSE uses solar-heated compressed steam to drive a turbine. For storage, it will use the steam to heat molten salts. SolarReserve uses the sun to directly heat molten salts. Both will release the stored, heated salts to create steam that, even in the absence of sun, can drive the plant turbine and generate electricity.
BSE has frequently expressed reluctance to participate in a public tit-for-tat about the technologies’ merits but Smith was unhesitating. “Steam is the wrong thing to use to heat salt. You should be using the sun’s energy to heat salt. A steam to molten salt heat exchanger is not very cost effective or efficient. They go from steam to salt and back to steam. Why would you do that?”
Individual elected Republicans have stood up in support of the wind energy production tax credit, even if it means cozying up to folks like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. But now wind-friendly Republicans have a wind-backing group they might feel more at home with: the new Red State Renewable Alliance.
The group, launched this week, is headed up by John Feehery, a Washington, D.C.-based Republican consultant, strategist and pundit (you know how that works in the capitol) who has had stints as the communications man for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay on his resume.
Image via Red State Renewable Alliance
“Studies show that the wind energy production tax credit pays for itself, cuts utility costs for consumers, and we all know that it is a clean energy resource,” Feehery said in a statement. ”We at the Red State Renewable Alliance will tell the story of wind energy and the wind PTC in new and innovative ways, and we will convert the doubters out there.”
The group notes that 75 percent of U.S. wind capacity is in Congressional districts held by Republicans; that 67 percent of wind manufacturing plants are in GOP districts; and that 71 percent of districts held by Republicans have either wind turbines or component manufacturing facilities.
Red State Renewable Alliance comes on the scene at a time of considerable soul-searching among Republicans about the degree to which the party seems fundamentally at odds with a changing electorate. As the party struggles to become less repellent to women and various minorities, might it also temper the anti-renewables stance that gripped it like a fever through much of President Obama’s first term?
It might not be a bad idea. A new survey shows that independent voters -- and even Republicans -- might be opening their eyes to the climate-change threat. Pollster John Zogby just reported that “half of Republicans, 73 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats” are worried about the growing cost and risks of extreme weather disasters fueled by climate change, a big shift from a poll three years ago that “showed two-thirds of Republicans and nearly half of political independents saying they were ‘not at all concerned’ about global climate change and global warming.” And renewable energy isn’t looking too bad to these folks, Zogby said:
Asked to pick the highest priority to help solve America’s energy challenges, twice as many voters select renewable energy like wind and solar power (38 percent) than any other choice. Independents favor wind and solar over fossil fuels by a 4-to-1 margin -- 48 percent pick renewable energy while just 12 percent select the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and only 11 percent prioritize more oil and gas drilling on America’s public lands.
Savvy politicians seem to be picking up on this: This week, Republican governors Terry Branstad of Iowa and Sam Brownback of Kansas, along with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), joined with Democratic governors John Kitzhaber of Oregon and John Hickenlooper of Colorado to push for the wind production tax credit to be renewed beyond Dec. 31.