Navigant Research Blog

Bill Gates: How to Fund Energy Miracles

— August 21, 2014

Through the Gates Foundation, Bill Gates has taken a stand on improving global public health, investing in programs focused on basic advances such as developing a next-generation condom to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, creating a standalone vaccine cooler for communities that are stranded without electricity, and inventing a toilet that can solve sanitation issues by pyrolizing human refuse into something more usable (using solar power, no less).  Meanwhile, Gates is also challenging U.S. energy policymakers and their funding practices for energy R&D.

In a June blog post titled “We Need Energy Miracles,” Gates called for the United States to look hard at R&D allocations, potentially redirecting funding from the military and healthcare sectors toward energy research and pilot projects (presumably renewable ones).  Given the imperfections (intermittency, inefficiency) of existing renewable resources, Gates argued, this research is necessary to establish an equitable energy mix, both in the United States and abroad – especially in developing nations that must increase energy use to grow their economies.  He stressed the need to invest in projects that are “high risk/high reward,” in order to achieve the sort of miracle needed to support growing demand and limit climate change.

Memo to Bill: DIY

Responding to Gates, Solar Wakeup (republished by Clean Technica) noted that Gates has been active in investing in energy storage with Aquion and LightSail but challenged him to be the major financer of the next energy miracle.  Why? Simply put, it’s unreasonable to expect increased investments (private and public) in risk-agnostic energy R&D, and if one of the world’s richest men wants it to get done, he should do it himself.  Payoffs are slow for energy projects, the uncertainties many: macroeconomic conditions, volatile energy and resource markets, policy reversals, infrastructure needs, and high operating and maintenance costs.  Solar Wakeup’s challenge is based in reality.

But the cleantech and renewable energy sectors are already substantial in countries all over the world, and growth is accelerating.  China has recognized this.  In recent years, China’s public and private investments in cleantech, both at home and abroad, have explodedReports by Azure International explore the drivers for increasing investment in cleantech in China.  Risk is inherent in investors’ strategies for expanding their energy-related portfolios, and intangible values, such as technological and innovative prestige, sometimes compete with return on investment (ROI).  Encouraged by the government, Chinese investors have become increasingly willing to fund energy efficiency and conservation projects, such as smart grid and smart buildings.

The topic of investment in renewables and smart grid is thorny, with many caveats and nuances that tend to shape the potential for ROI – but it’s safe to say that with China’s example, maybe Gates has a point in his stance against being risk-averse toward investing in potential energy miracles.

 

Time for Automakers to Get Real on Vehicle Security

— August 21, 2014

Recently, the annual Black Hat and DefCon computer security conferences took place in Las Vegas, and this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications.  Hacking cars was once again one of the hot topics at the two security conferences this year, in part because automakers don’t appear to have done much to improve the security of the vehicles we drive.  Each year researchers announce some newly discovered vulnerability that gets blown out of proportion by the mainstream media.

Fortunately for drivers everywhere, none of the issues discovered so far have actually amounted to anything worthy of concern.  However, as vehicles continue to get increasingly advanced in the coming years, the potential for attackable flaws will only increase.  Automakers are notoriously quiet when it comes to publicly discussing anything that might potentially be deemed a flaw in any of their products, but it’s time to change that attitude when it comes to electronic security.

Calling All Cars

Over the past half-decade, advanced driver assist systems such as adaptive cruise control, automatic parking systems, and lane departure warning and prevention have rapidly migrated down-market from expensive European luxury models to mainstream, high-volume family cars, such as the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion.  With the addition of just a few extra sensors and a lot more software, these are the building blocks for tomorrow’s fully autonomous vehicles.

One other piece of that puzzle is the V2V communications that the NHTSA would like to mandate.  Along with vehicle-to-infrastructure  communications, cars will be able to send and receive messages that can influence the behavior of the vehicle.  Initially, the plan is to send these alerts only to drivers.  However, it’s only a matter of time before that expands to include autonomous vehicle capabilities like automatic braking or steering to avoid a collision.

Anyone who’s ever worked on software will acknowledge that it’s virtually impossible to write absolutely perfect and bug-free code, and the task gets exponentially more difficult as systems get more complex.  Automakers often like to brag about how many millions of lines of code are in the latest and greatest new vehicle and how many gigabytes of data are processed every second.  They neglect to mention how every additional byte of code means more potential for mistakes or security flaws.

No Such Thing as Bug-Free

Companies with vast software engineering expertise including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have acknowledged that they cannot possibly find every potential issue in their products.  The impact of a Facebook or Google breach can be annoying, and potentially expensive, but not life threatening.

It’s time for automakers to follow suit and acknowledge that despite their best efforts to secure vehicles, the potential does indeed exist for security vulnerabilities.  Tesla Motors started on the right track this year with the hiring of security expert Kristin Paget away from Apple.  The company also sent a team of recruiters to the Black Hat and DefCon conferences to find more talent.

Each automaker should also set up a bounty program similar to those established by the big tech firms, which pay researchers cash rewards for disclosing security vulnerabilities to the companies.  The corporate lawyers might not be crazy about the idea, but with the recent flood of vehicle recalls from General Motors and other manufacturers, the increased focus on safety and quality might actually make this an ideal time to do this.

 

E-Bikes Gear Up in North America

— August 20, 2014

While Tesla, Nissan, and BMW get most of the headlines around electric transportation, the electric bicycle (e-bike) market is quietly gaining momentum in North America.  E-bikes are simply traditional pedal bikes with a battery pack and electric motor for propulsion.  Usually a throttle or user control module is attached to the handlebars to allow the user to adjust the power levels of electric assistance.  E-bikes offer a unique market solution for the transportation problems many cities in North America currently face: traffic congestion, fatalities from road accidents, local air quality, climate change, and the economic burdens associated with car ownership.

While the e-bike market has historically been strongest in China and Western Europe, emerging trends have helped position the industry for increased growth in North America.  Combined throttle-control and pedal-assist models, electric cargo bikes, all-in-one retrofit kits and wheels, an aging baby boomer population, and the use of e-bikes in police patrol and various security industries have all contributed to a growing market with strong potential.

Battery Prices Fall

As is the case with the broader electric vehicle market, the increasing quality and affordability of lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries is attracting new customers.  Most Li-ion e-bikes in North America range from $1,500 to $3,000.  While not as cheap as traditional bicycles, this is a relatively small upfront cost to adopt electric transportation.  If the plan is to reduce car trips or ditch your car altogether, your investment will be recouped within a few years of reduced trips to the pump and avoided insurance, parking, and vehicle maintenance costs.  Not to mention the health benefits that come with increased exercise and the avoidance of traffic jams.

Automakers Climb On

Several automotive manufacturers are joining the e-bike party.  In the United States, Ford recently partnered with Pedego Electric Bikes to design a throttle-controlled e-bike, the Ford Super Cruiser.  Daimler AG’s smart unit is one of the most aggressive automotive brands in e-bikes, partnering with GRACE GmbH to deliver an e-bike sold through dealers in Europe.  BMW recently released its pedal-assist Cruise e-bike 2014, which features a Bosch 250 W motor and 400 Wh battery.  Audi, Opel, and Volkswagen have also shown e-bike concepts, though these vehicles have not yet been announced for production.

Navigant Research’s upcoming report on e-bikes, scheduled for publication in the third quarter of 2014, will contain a detailed analysis of global market opportunities, barriers, and technology issues, along with market forecasts for e-bikes, e-bike batteries, and overall sales revenue by region.

 

Solar PV Helps Eliminate Kerosene Lamps

— August 20, 2014

About 250 million households, representing 1.3 billion people, lacked reliable access to electricity to meet basic lighting needs in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency.  Until recently, kerosene lamps were one of the few options for illumination in communities with household income as low as $2 per day.  Kerosene is highly detrimental to health and the environment, subjecting people to multiple pollutants, including fine particulate matter, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.  Exposure to these pollutants can result in an increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and death.  Despite these hazards, kerosene is the leading source of illumination for most people in developing countries.

There’s now growing momentum to displace the estimated 4 billion to 25 billion liters of kerosene used each year, driven by a combination of government policy, clean energy businesses, and investment.  Kenya, Ghana, India, and Nigeria are a few of the countries that have announced initiatives to phase out kerosene and replace it with solar and other clean energy options, as covered in Navigant Research’s report, Solar Photovoltaic Consumer Products.

  • Kenya’s kerosene phase-out program, announced in 2012, aims to eliminate the use of kerosene for lighting and cooking, replacing the fuel with clean energy products.  Norway has pledged $44.5 million toward the initiative.
  • India’s National Solar Mission seeks to achieve 20 GW of solar power by 2022, in part through the installation of rooftop PV systems.  It has also set the specific goal of providing 20 million solar lighting systems in place of kerosene lamps to rural communities, with the goal of reaching an estimated 100 million people.
  • The Ghana Solar Lantern Distribution project provides subsidies to support sales of 200,000 solar lanterns between 2014 and 2016 using money formerly allocated for fuel subsidies.

Kerosene remains the most important lighting fuel for off-grid and under-electrified households and small businesses in Africa, and accounts for approximately 55% of total lighting expenditure for those living on less than $2 per day, according to Lighting Africa.  Kerosene has been increasing as a percentage of household expenditure.  Ted Hesser developed the following chart with data from the United Nations, Saviva Research, World Bank, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, highlighting the growth in kerosene prices.  Between 2000 and 2012, kerosene prices increased 240% in the developing world, from an average price of roughly $0.50 per liter in 2000 to about $1.20 per liter in 2012.  In high-cost markets – including Burundi, Guatemala, and Panama – kerosene costs can be as high as $1.80 to $2.10 per liter.

Price of Kerosene by Country, Selected World Markets: 2000-2012

 

(Source: Ted Hesser)

Beyond CO2

The climate impact of kerosene lamps has been dramatically underestimated by considering only CO2.  Recent studies estimate that 270,000 tons of black carbon (i.e., fine particulate matter that results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass) are emitted from kerosene lamps annually – leading to a warming equivalent of about 4.5% of U.S. CO2 emissions and 12% of India’s, according to a Brookings Institute study.

The Brookings study points out that kerosene lamps are not the largest emitters of black carbon.  The leading source is residential burning of solid fuel, such as wood and coal for cooking – which emits 6 times more black carbon than lamps.  Similarly, diesel engine black carbon emissions are 5 times that of lamps.

Solar PV and other lower-emissions consumer products, such as improved cook stoves, are making their way to the market through a variety of private, non-profit, and public initiatives.  Education and awareness of the options available to consumers are the biggest challenges to changing the behavior of customers in remote communities.  But the combination of new business models, government leadership, and technical innovation are leading to a growing number of success stories that could lead to significant reductions in black carbon emissions.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Storage, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Grid Practice, Smart Transportation Practice, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Blog","path":"\/blog?page=2","date":"9\/3\/2014"}