Navigant Research Blog

Meet Us at Storage Week

— June 30, 2009

John Gartner and I will be attending Storage Week, being held July 13-16 in La Jolla, CA, and are available for meetings, so please drop a line if you’d like to set up a briefing.  And if you’re attending the show, please be sure to stop by and attend the panel session I’m moderating on July 16 on the topic of “Storage, Smart Grid, and Next: The Micro-Grid?”

To schedule a meeting: Contact Us

More information on Storage Week is on the conference website.

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Increase in Renewables Aids Human Rights

— June 30, 2009

In recent years the legion of supporters of renewable energy has expanded to include labor unions concerned about jobs, as well as national security and energy independence experts such as George Schultz and James Woolsey.

These advocates of domestic and clean energy production strongly consider the geopolitical implications when dollars leave the country to potentially embolden individuals in unstable and unfriendly regions. While renewable energy depletes resources that could be used against U.S. citizens, it also can reduce the amount of money going to foreign governments that often have poor records in human rights.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, would establish a National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) provision, requiring investor owned utilities to purchase a minimum of 15% of their energy from renewable sources. This domestic energy production, combined with energy efficiency initiatives, will to a degree reduce the consumption of foreign petroleum. This will come in the form of the expansion of biofuels as a transportation and home heating fuel, as well as electricity from wind and solar to power the upcoming plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles that will slash the use of gasoline.

Since 2002, U.S. energy companies (along with the government) have increasingly looked to nations in Africa for crude oil as an alternative to Mid-East oil. While African nations pose less of an international threat, many of the governments of the leading oil exporting nations have a poor recording in sharing the oil wealth and in respect for human rights.

The “curse of oil,” which says that national per capita income often goes down after oil is discovered in a nation, is well documented in cases around the globe. Many nations in Africa, which have seen a boom in oil exploration during the past 5 years, simultaneously experience a decline in both human rights and financial equality as “strongmen” leaders have used the oil wealth for personal gain, and limited civil rights to remain in power.

Numerous examples of this, as documented in the book Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil by John Ghazvinian, include Angola Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. Recently Shell paid $15.5 million to settle an action brought by the Ogani people whom alleged that the company looked the other way as civil rights were being violated, culminating in the death of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

In these unstable regions, energy companies negotiate with powerful leaders and sometimes make undesirable concession in order to extract oil. This creates a windfall that even in “democratic” nations often hurts rather than helps the indigenous people.

This misuse of fossil fuel revenue is yet another justification for renewable energy both here and aboard. Renewable energy is almost always a local and distributed resource that does not concentrate wealth. Instead of the potential to prop up tyrants, it creates jobs and encourages innovation by small businesses.

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Military Hybrid Vehicles: Strong Promise, Slow Progress

— June 30, 2009

Hybrid versions of military vehicles make a lot of sense.  In a world where many of the battles are mired in the politics of oil, reducing oil consumption on the battlefield will certainly help with the politics.  The military also likes hybrid vehicles for their ability to run almost silent, reduction of heat, power generation capabilities, and oh yeah, they also reduce fuel usage.

So, where are the hybrid military vehicles?  There are many prototypes out there.  The U.S. Army has been testing a variety of hybrid trucks and hybrid “aggressor” vehicles.  The army was even testing GEM neighborhood vehicles for around the bases.  But so far there has not been significant adoption of hybrids.

The main reason appears to come down to the effectiveness of the vehicles.  However, the military does recognize the high cost of the fuel, particularly when arguing the budget within the Pentagon.  The military is expected to announce a replacement to the Humvee this year, and it’s not likely to be a hybrid.  However, it is likely to take advantage of some fuel saving technologies such as improved efficiency in transmissions, tires and driveshafts.  A new Bradley makeover is expected to yield prototypes in 2010 and 2011; whether these will be hybrids is unknown, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see prototypes with hybrid powertrains showing up.

Part of the challenge to hybridizing military vehicles is their weight and the abuse they have to stand up to.  The vehicles are not likely see the substantial gains in fuel economy that regular consumer vehicles do because they are so heavy – the new MRAP (“Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected” trucks) is a 10-ton vehicle and is reported to get less than one mile per gallon in city driving.  However, even modest gains in fuel economy can make big gains in budgeting challenges within the Pentagon.  While batteries have been proven on the battlefield in other electronic equipment and unmanned vehicles, the sheer size of batteries needed for vehicles adds new concerns about safety, reliability, and effectiveness.

It is highly likely that towards the end of the decade, the military will be utilizing some hybrid vehicles.  The number of prototypes and the variety of applications and benefits point to something coming soon (perhaps a combination of fuel cell and diesel engine).  The biggest challenge to adding hybrids to the military fleet may be the introduction of synthetic fuels made from coal which will do nothing for the logistical costs of transporting fuel on a battlefield, but will help with the oil-based politics.

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EV Charging Begins to Take Shape

— June 29, 2009

The first charging station “networks” are being developed by cities and utilities that want to proudly wear the green badge. During the ramp up to when vehicles go on sale, these groups will largely determine where vehicles and recharging are available.

Actually, the term “charging station network” is a bit of a misnomer, unless you consider the competing gas stations that dot major intersections across the country as a “network.” They will more realistically be islands unto themselves until smart grid technology begins to monitor and share information about vehicle charging. Also, some will be run by utilities, some by government, and some by retailers, so the customer service experience and billing systems are likely to be unique.

Madison Gas and Electric is the most recent utility to announce the installation of charging stations, purchasing six Coulomb Technologies units. Utilities are kicking the tires (literally) on how EVs will connect to the grid, and as detailed in my new report for Pike Research “Electric Vehicles on the Grid,” they and government agencies will lead the way as early adopters in non-residential charging station installations.

A few dozen utilities today have EV charging demonstration stations for their own vehicle or vehicles, and the next step will be to develop a limited number of vehicles that will be available to the public.

Cities that install the most charging stations and provide incentives will likely have the largest inventory of the new vehicles available to them. The big OEMs are choosing their infrastructure partners and locations carefully, and will allocate vehicles to regional dealerships party based on local support.

For example, the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Francisco, San Jose and the suburb of Walnut Creek have all begun to install charging stations, so auto makers who have been monitoring this will likely give first dibs on many of first the PHEVs and EVs shipped to Northern California.

Coulomb Technologies is working through dealers, and has resellers in all 50 states, plus extensive reach in Europe (Germany, Holland, Denmark, Spain, France) through a relationship with 365 Energy, according to CEO Richard Lowenthal. He expects government to be 50 percent of Coulomb’s business this year, thanks mostly to stimulus funds. To meet the incoming orders, Coulomb has ordered $19 million in equipment CTS Corporation. He also told me that the company will expand from standalone charging stations to residential equipment.

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