Green tech finds a friend in Washington
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A year ago, everybody in green tech wondered where they'd get money to survive the financial crisis. The answer for many was Washington.
What happens after the stimulus money runs out is a gaping question, but the next three years will see real changes in technologies that touch people's everyday lives--cars and homes.
In 2009, we got a taste of the future as automakers rolled out their plans, prototypes, and near-production models. In addition to the much-hyped Chevy Volt, there was the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric sedan that its maker says will have a range of about 100 miles, along with several other electric car variants.
On the home front, the buzzword of 2009 was "smart"--as in smart appliances, smart meters, and smart grid. Utilities launched trial projects that should lead to millions of U.S. homes getting "smarter" in the sense that the electricity meter will be able to do more than just tally kilowatt-hours. But these utility-run programs are just trials. What remains to be seen is whether consumers and businesses will begin to monitor their energy use in real time and take steps--as simple as programming a thermostat or turning off video game consoles--through home energy monitoring displays, many of which can be made to work without smart meters.
Of course, there are other reasons to invest in a smart grid. With digital communications overlaid onto the existing grid, utilities can use energy more efficiently, prevent costly outages, and add more solar and wind power. But there's a missing piece: energy storage. Large-scale storage of many kinds--compressed air, flow batteries, and gigantic lithium ion batteries--became a hot area in 2009 for both utility-scale and vehicle storage.
Money continued to flow from the private sector, too, with green-tech venture capital becoming the largest investment category this year. But there were some hiccups, with start-ups closing down for lack of funds, including an
There will be more failures, despite the injection of stimulus money around the world. Even though green tech is a hot venture-capital area, there's a growing understanding of the difficulties--both financial and technical--in getting energy technology into the marketplace. Look no further than biofuels. After years of promises, making liquid fuel from feedstock other than corn won't happen at large scale for several more years.
As usual, what happens next from the federal government is a big unknown. Will there be a federal or international mandate to put a price on carbon emissions? Will subsidies to promote clean energy technologies drop off, as they did in the past with devastating effects? Will consumers take advantage of tax breaks for home weatherization programs?
Entrepreneurs and investors will no doubt continue to lobby at home and in Washington to get their nascent industries on better footing. But in the end, many are simply back at work inventing the future of energy.
--by Martin LaMonica
The president's first moves on environmental regulations signal a sharp change in direction and a bet that stronger emissions standards will yield technology innovation in energy.
Company introduces PowerMeter software for tracking home energy use, part of smart-grid plan to make energy data available on the Web for free in real time in standard formats.
In a tough economy, the companies that look a little like a high-tech outfit may be the big winners.
(Posted in Green Tech by Martin LaMonica)
Will energy storage on the power grid be more a giant mainframe computer or a small PC? A U.S. utility company will try small-scale, distributed storage later this year.
Agency approves the first loan guarantee in four years to solar start-up Solyndra, a sign that it intends to move quickly to finance cash-strapped green-tech companies.
In a missive to customers, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk argues that the $56,400 price of the Model S electric sedan is equivalent to $35,000 with $4-per-gallon gasoline.
Cisco, whose hardware is at the core of the Internet, is readying communications gear for utilities, businesses, and consumers to modernize the electricity grid.
The bill's cap on greenhouse gases, along with a renewable electricity mandate and Clean Energy Bank, is designed to promote clean energy technologies.
IT heavyweights and start-ups are eying stimulus money to modernize the grid but there's some concern that too much money and hype could lead to inflated expectations.
Utilities plan to use smart-grid technology to tap into the stored electricity of plug-in electric vehicles in exchange for an electricity rate discount for car owners.
Microsoft gets into the smart grid starting at home with a Web application that gives consumers information and tips for saving electricity and natural gas.
At its research labs, GE says it has the smart-grid technology, including solar panels and efficient appliances, to build a home that has a net-zero energy consumption.
General Motors says its electric car will get 230 miles per gallon in the city. But there are still questions about how plug-in vehicles should be rated on fuel efficiency.
Consumers are buying up big, bright high-definition TVs but they come with a bigger energy price tag. Here's what you need to know about new efficiency rules and TVs.
To boost its solar business, General Electric is planning to launch products built around new technology: cadmium telluride thin-film solar cells that lower the cost of solar.
Will A123 Systems be a bellwether for so many green-tech start-ups? In its first day on the market, the lithium ion battery maker sees its shares soar over 50 percent.
Making your home more energy efficient is not usually a single event but a journey which typically involves a combination of cheap and easy steps along with bigger investments.
Ford's newly named director of global electrification forecasts rapid growth for hybrids and markets for battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles developing in the years ahead.
The auto industry is on the brink of a giant technological jump to electrification but they don't want people to feel like driving electric means radical changes.
With more renewable energy projects trying to come online, the country grapples with the balance between local land use and a national push for clean energy.