Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Playing Field Was Never Level

Many folks are aware of U.S. and state government efforts to increase subsidies for clean power. These can come in the form of production tax credits for clean power producers, as well as tax rebate and incentives for consumers purchasing solar, wind power systems.

To me, when I hear the word _subsidy_, I think "crutch," and crutch in the worst sense of the word. Something that is deployed in an artificial, unnatural, non-market, and essentially inefficient way to give assistance. I think this is the reaction of most of my friends and family as well. Not sure when the souring of the word "subsidy" occurred, or if there was ever a glory time for it's positive reaction in political discourse. I have my suspects, like the much maligned farm subsidies, or the attack on subsidies that underlied our march to an era of global free trade promotion.

But I think that the general lay person, outside power industries, is probably extremely unaware of the ongoing subsidies that occur across all power and fossil fuel industries. Here is a chart and good writeup from AWEA on the broad based degree of subsidization in American energy policy. Given the source, there may be some degree of bias here. Nonetheless, one gets a sense that a truly level, market based playing field is impossible, and that cleantech subsidies have a long long game of catchup to make up for an estimated $700 billion in dirty tech energy subsidies from 1950-1980 alone.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

America's Power Footprint

I finally had a Eureka moment today in understanding the 'power footprint' data in the United States. The pie chart above shows which constituents are burning the most coal/oil/gas power in the United States for 2000. What I long struggled with was the appearent "double counting" between the "Electric Power" category, and the household, commercial and industrial categories. Weren't these users also the same end users of "electric power" ???

My Eureka moment came from the footnote on this chart. Yes, these users ALSO use electric power. In other words, natural gas electric plants + coal burning electric plants make up the Electric Power category, and your John Deere, and backup diesel generator, and propane forklift whizzing around Costco make up your residential / commercial / industrial consumers of fossil fuel power.

In some ways, there is a notion of double-counting still going on, because that "electric power" category ends up being consumed in houses, builidings and factories. But in terms of managing future carbon emissions, and pricing systems for carbon, the pie is useful as a starting point in who's going to pay, and what impacts a tax / pricing scheme will have across the economy.

Fortunately, others have appearently had similar thinking, from the National Commission on Energy Policy's Carbon Pricing Report, here's the "no double counting version" of that same pie chart that accurately breaks down the end uses from the Electric Power category. People should be required to show this version of the energy footprint chart to save others from needless confusion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

On Aesthetics, Part Two

In the past, I've written about factors outside the control of Wind-Sail, such as Wind Permits, that may directly impact our success. Another one of those factors, that clearly plays a role in future trajectories for distributed wind is Aesthetics. Specifically, much of today's buying public in America would be concerned about the visual impact of turbines, and perhaps more importantly, whether 'others' such as neighbors and future buyers would be put off be those visual aesthetics of a turbine on their property.

To me, aesthetics are more about past precedence and timing than about intrinsic beauty or not.

Past Precedence

Would anyone tolerate the aesthetics of transmission lines if they were new?

And yet, there are literally millions of these populating our landscapes because we had to have them for our power delivery. Of course, there continues to be concerns today about the safety of these transmission systems, but you don't see a lot of people making the case on the aesthetics of these. They've gotten used to them. or more specifically, there is no alternative to having them.

That's what I mean by power crunch mode, or carbon crunch mode. Someday, we could very well see the power utility mandate the local use of turbines, panels, geothermal, etc. because they'll have no traditional alternatives.


To me, nothing better exemplifies the role of timing in aesthetics than the Eiffel Tower. Today, the tower is the very epitome of European elegance and design. in fact, the tower is the single most recognized landmark in Europe. Property prices in the 7th arrondissement are some of the highest in Paris, no doubt aided by the appeal of the Champs de Mars and La Tour Eiffel. Yet, it wasn't always this way... Here's an excellent history of the early struggles Monseir Eiffel faced in trying to put up the tower.

From: (Mary Louis King, "A History of Western Architecture" pp.175-195)

The Eiffel Tower was designed by the French engineer and bridge builder Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) for the Paris Exposition of 1889. The tower is 300 m (984 ft) high and consists of an open iron framework making it the highest manmade structure in the world at the time. It was the largest attraction at the Exposition and today it remains the most recognized structure in all of Europe.

It was nearly never built.

After being awarded the contract to build the tower, Eiffel discovered that the Exposition Committee would only grant about a fourth of the monies needed to construct it. Eiffel himself would have to finance the balance. He struck a deal that would make him a very rich man. He agreed to independently find the funders for his tower but he wanted sole control of the tower and its profits for twenty years. They agreed. In a surprise to everyone, including Eiffel, the tower was paid off in the first year.

The deal that Eiffle hammered out is probably what saved the tower from destruction. Many in the arts and civic leaders felt the tower was an abomination. "They have only erected the framework of this monument, It has no skin"

The whole idea that iron -- just iron -- could be beautiful, flew in the face of architectural history. Everyone knew that the great cathedrals and palaces had all been built of stone with the careful craft of ornamentation which adorned them. Sure, iron can play a part in an unseen, underlying structure such had been done with the Statue of Liberty, but to leave it exposed was just poor taste. It was like showing your dirty laundry.

A Committee of Three Hundred was formed and they petitioned for its demise:

Honored compatriot, we come, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the beauty of Paris -- a beauty until now unspoiled -- to protest with all our might, with all our outrage, in the name of slighted French taste, in the name of threatened French art and history, against the erection, in the heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.

Are we going to allow all this beauty and tradition to be profaned? Is Paris now to be associated with the grotesque and mercantile imagination of a machine builder, to be defaced and disgraced? Even the commercial Americans would not want this Eiffel Tower which is, without any doubt, a dishonor to Paris. We all know this, everyone says it, everyone is deeply troubled by it. We, the Committee, are but a faint echo of universal sentiment, which is so legitimately outraged. When foreign visitors come to our universal exposition, they will cry out in astonishment," What!? Is this the atrocity that the French present to us as the representative of their vaunted national taste?" And they will be right to laugh at us, because the Paris of the sublime Gothic, the Paris of Jean Goujon, of Germain Pilon, Puget, Rude, Barye, etc. will have become the Paris of Monsieur Eiffel.

Listen to our plea! Imagine now a ridiculous tall tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black factory smokestack, crushing with its barbaric mass Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the dome of Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our humiliated monuments, all our dwarfed architecture, which will be annihilated by Eiffel's hideous fantasy. For twenty years, over the city of Paris still vibrant with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see, spreading out like a blot of ink, the shadow of this disgusting column of bolted tin.9

It may have taken every bit of those twenty years to change some people's minds. All of the other iron buildings built for the Exposition were torn down shortly after (a shame). Today we look upon Eiffel's tower as anything but hideous. Mary Louis King calls it "a monument to nineteenth century architectural engineering and a frank display of structure and material."

Although built of iron, it is an inherently inferior material and a single beam is unable to withstand large stresses. That is why the tower appears over engineered by today's standards. Though, from this very weakness its' simple beauty is found. If you look at the tower, the tight lattice work of beams sort of mimic the biological cellular structure of a plant.

In 1855, Sir Henry Bessmer discovered a process of converting iron into steel thereby making it much stronger and lighter, but the evolution from invention to practical use and mass production took many years. Steel would eventually replace iron and would bring the "sky scraper" to the city skylines of America and in 1885 (actually four years prior to the Eiffel's tower), William LeBaron Jenney built the Home Insurance Building in Chicago -- the first sky scraper.

On Aesthetics, Part One

I was at a local cleantech "Earth Day" fair in Atherton CA over the weekend. Had some good discussions with Akeena and Solar City sales teams. I wanted to know about 1.) how they do online internet monitoring for the power delivered from solar, and 2.) whether they saw any opportunities for "hybrid" installs combining solar and wind turbines for a better ROI.

For monitoring, I got some leads and will post an update soon. A quick internet search gets you to Fat Spaniel, but this looks like potentially overkill for my needs to monitor our first 3 kW test install. (please feel free to email me any leads/info on Internet-based remote power monitoring systems.)

For hybrid residential systems, I don't think there is any immediate traction in the Bay Area. For one, there are not that many residences in Northern California in Wind Class 2, let alone Wind Class 3-4 where the ROI and paybacks would be most compelling. Secondly, these guys are so utterly busy, that they can't scale their installers to keep up with present Solar-Only deman. (If it ain't broke...). And lastly, both sets of folks related stories about customers thinking about solar, but abandoning the projects based on "aesthetics."

We're still not in power crunch or carbon crunch mode. In crunch mode, people won't be "picky" about how their power delivery systems look.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Renewable power paybacks, Part One

Anyone who has ever contemplated installing solar panels or wind turbines to "go green" and offset their electricity consumption with renewable power has run into the payback model. The model measures how many years before the money you put into a system is "earned back" in the savings you make from offsetting your electric bill with by generating local, renewable power.

It's the primary way that the costs of installing clean power are measured and here's how it works.

To calculate your payback model, you'll need to know the following inputs:

1. Cost of System
2. Rebates
3. Expected Yearly Power Output of System
4. Today's Grid Tie-In Price For Local Power Output
5. Rate of Increase in Power Prices
6. Cost of Money (Interest Rate)

Many of these inputs have a high degree of regional variability, which is one of the reasons that payback models seem complicated. Certainly the install costs, power output, local power price, and rebates can all change depending on what State you live in. For my model, I will use California as my reference. California in many respects is the "Best Case" model for renewable power, because the rebates, power produced, and power purchased by the utilities are all some of the highest in the country. It's also more expensive to install, but those other benefits usually outwiegh that higher expense.

Let's Now Compare Power Payback Models for Home-based Solar (3kW) and Wind (3kW)

3 kW Solar System (Installed Cost) : $28,500 (aka $9.50/watt is typical in CA)
3 kW Wind Turbine System (Installed Cost): $20,000

ASSUMPTIONS: I am using conservative numbers for each of these. In theory, you might be able to get these installed for a lower cost point.



The State of California offers substantial rebates for both large and small commercial solar electric systems through the California Solar Initiative (CSI). Depending on the size of your facility, you will qualify for either the Expected Performance Based Buydown (EPBB) or a Performance Based Incentive (PBI) program.. These rebates can cover as much as 40% of the total system cost. For my math, I'll assume that the rebates get you the full 40% cost reduction.

Fortunately, the State of California is also quite aggressive with Wind Turbine system rebates. The California Energy Commission is offering cash rebates on eligible grid-connected small wind renewable energy electric-generating systems through its Emerging Renewables Program (ERP). This rebate for wind provides $2.50 up to the first 7.5kW nameplate systems.

Solar: 3,780 kw/hrs per year
Wind: 5,940 kw/hrs per year

One of the benefits of solar power over wind power, from a consumer standpoint, is that it's easier to calculate expected yearly power output, and the variance in total power produced is lower (how much your calculation could be off should be low). There are quite a number of complexities even for determining solar. See a good summary of factors afftecting solar power production here.

I've written about nameplates versus total power produced starting here, but to calculate the total power produced for wind is something I will leave for a different blog post. It's probably even more complex than the solar reference above, and there is a much higher degree of variance, site to site, in the same geographies (even same site depending on where the system is installed, shading, height, etc.)

#4. California Residential Retail Power: 13.07 c

I used the PG&E rate available from the California Energy Commission weighted rates table here.


1%, 5%, 20%

Depends on scenarios into the future...In some respects, this is the most important variable in the equation, and yet, it's the least known to us today. If you think long term energy prices will remain where they are today, you probably won't be purchasing solar or wind. The math on today's cheap energy prices "doesn't add up." When people do buy these systems, it's because they either believe long term prices are headed much higher, or they are price-insensitive and can afford to go green regardless of the economics. When I model out paybacks, I'll use three scenarios here: 1% (less than inflation), 5% (present status quo), 20% (bad moon rising).

#6. Cost of Money

5.3 %

I used BankRate.Com and assumed a best case, long term money market account with $10k minimum.

So, we're now ready to go. Check back for Part Two, how to run the model next.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Please Vote!

I've submitted a proposal for the ChangeThis manifesto site. Would greatly appreciate if you:



My proposed manifesto will highlight technical, business, and social realities required to make urban-scale wind power feasbile.


Meet Wind-Sail Live

I will be on a cleantech panel at the Palo Alto chapter of the Jewish Leadership Federation. Please feel free to stop by and say hello. Click here for details for the panel on cleantech entrepreneurship.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Today, friends emailed me almost completely opposite views on the future prospects of cleantech. From CNN, we have a bullishly 'anti-green' interview with EXXON CEO Rex Tillerson: "I don't have a lot of technology to add to moonshine," says Tillerson of ethanol.

From the New York Times, we have a very long piece by Thomas Friedman on the power of green as a "geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic" way for America to proceed.

From Tillerson, we get the unabashed champion of capitalistic pursuit of profits in oil tech. And based on Exxon performance, he runs that business very well.

From Friedman, we get some very compelling business, political, and environmental reasons to pursue green as a stratetic initiative. He is dead right to say that government must find a way to price the carbon emissions these fuels put into the air. But he totally, utterly misses when he states that: "presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry."

I don't agree. I think the mindset that says that our present consumption in the First World is supportable going forward as an a priori to considerations of green and sustainability is dangerously wrong headed. Unless and until we can find replacement technologies that provide the same (or more) aubundance than dirty tech provides, it is NOT at all clear that green can mean no hard trade-offs or reductions.

It's really two problems: how to shift away from dirty tech and maintain an acceptable quality of life (not necessarily growing aubundance for the rich), and how to bring up the worldwide quality of living for the vast billions living in abject poverty without using those easy, dirty methods to get there. Of course I want more aubundance, but I suspect that cheap, dirty fossil fuels provide a bigger pie than sustainable, green practices. Maybe we must accept a smaller pie? I want my politicians brave and capable enough to see and communicate that to the American people.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imagining the Vertical farm

One of my favorite blogs is the BLDG BLOG. They've got a post this week that makes me scratch my head though. Check out the "Vertical Farm" write up here - it describes the necessary components to build an urban-scale, self contained structure for living and agriculture.

Yet, they ruin it for me with those silly turbines on the top...Any fan of Wind-Sail or vertical axis turbines will immediately see the folly in spending all that precious rooftop real-estate to get such measely swept area from those horizontal turbines. are those fixed in wind-direction too? so you only get 1/4 of the turbines working at any one time? clearly, a well designed, much large, single omni-directional vertical turbine could get 4x-10x more power from the same footprint.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lean and Clean San Francisco

With a $100M bond, and a goal to grow renewable power from 2 MW to 35 MW in a decade, San Francisco is aggressively trying to establish itself as a Green City leader. To speed up the deployment of renewable power in the City, the Public Utilities C0mission recently posted a Request for Information (RFI). (link)

I've written in the past about Wind Permits, and seeing RFIs like these are exactly the kinds of efforts required to accelerate and tear down procedural and policy hurdles to clean wind tech.

From the RFI:

"While San Francisco has a fairly high rate of renewable-power installation relative to other US cities, these number
fall far short of the ambitious goals proposed in the City’s 2002 Electricity Resource Plan. The plan called for 50 megawatts of installed solar PV and 72 megawatts of local distributed generation capacity city-wide by the end of 2012, as well as 150 megawatts of wind power located outside San Francisco. "

In fact, Wind-Sail's first pilot install on Treasure Island is considered as a "municipal" project, and it is our hope that we can begin to accelerate the permitting and ordinance issues by working directly with the City and SFPUC to "streamline" permitting. From our response:

The single most important accelerator for our business is to demonstrate the feasibility and practicality of our systems in urban environments. As such, we are very flexible to leasing, donating or partnering with SFPUC to provide these turbines for new city projects. Our specific objective in responding to this RFI and with success, participating in the acceleration of clean distributed energy in city projects is to demonstrate that leading, flagship city municipalities such as San Francisco can accelerate the permitting and approval process for wind turbines.

In addition, we believe there exists a strong possibility to incorporate urban based jobs programs and in fact, are working with the Treasure Island Jobs Corps center[1] to train workers on the installation and management of wind turbines at the Wind-Sail Treasure Island project. We believe this limited opportunity could be expanded to additional projects city-wide that combine new, clean wind power applications with technical job skills development and training.

Addendum: Nathan Nayman of the SF Examiner also has an additional write-up for the effort here. (link)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

About Wind-Sail

Wind-Sail, Inc.

Optimized Urban-Scale Wind Power

Wind-Sail has developed a patented vertical-axis wind turbine that delivers breakthrough performance, cost, and operational benefits specifically optimized for urban-scale clean power. Based in the Bay Area, California-based Wind-Sail is now seeking venture capital to certify initial 3 kW platform and launch global sales and contract manufacturing.

Wind-Sail Overview

Wind power today is a $27 Billion market worldwide, growing at 40% yr/yr[1], with ever larger turbine systems deployed as utility-scale wind farms. To maximize the power these turbines can produce, these farms are typically placed in the highest wind regions in the world. Yet, most people don’t live in Class 5 wind regions, and furthermore, most people in urban environments would not want or could not feasible deploy these massive systems – with spinning blades that approach the speed of sound and are bigger than Boeing 777 airplanes.

Wind-Sail was founded on a belief that significant wind power opportunities exist in for urban-scale small and mid-range power applications (1-3 kW, 30-50 kW systems). However, to be successful in urban environments, new approaches, new formats, and key new features were required to make wind turbines practical for city applications.

Based on scientific and engineering research funded by Lawrence Berkeley Labs, Wind-Sail has innovated a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) with best-in-class aerodynamic efficiency and performance features for commercial and urban-scale power applications. Our competitive advantages are driven by these key urban benefits of the VAWT:

§ Optimized Efficiency: Highest CPP (40%) of any distributed wind power system. System is omni-directional, capturing the gusty, variable winds that are typical in urban and light/medium wind regimes.

§ Smaller Footprint: Compact design ideal for constrained environments in industrial, urban, campus, and hybrid solar applications.

§ Innovation Through Simplicity: System is easier to manufacture (fewer parts).

§ Scalability: Will scale from 1 to 50 to 500 kW formats.

§ Operational savings: more reliable with one bearing set, more durable with slower spinning blades, and less maintenance than any turbine on the market today.

§ Multiple configuration options: Turbines can be stacked, installed sideways, upside, or at any angular dimension for applications where space constraints or wind conditions necessitate new formats. In addition, because there are no significant blade clearance issues below the turbine, system can be installed in certain applications without costly towering installations or foundations.

Product Status

Wind-Sail’s turbine technology has been computer simulated, water and air tunnel tested, prototyped, fine-tuned, patented, and now scaled to successful working models in 1, 3 and 30 kW formats. One of the working units has a small video demonstration at:

Wind-Sail Team

Wind-Sail's executive team has over 40 years of experience in the engineering, production, sales and executive management in electric motor and power component industries.

Rich McClellan, PhD, CEO

Veteran executive of 3 electronics startups sold to Parker-Hannifin, Motorola, Printronix. Doctorate and is industry expert in power electronics.

Rick Halstead, CTO

Power industry innovator with extensive management, sales, and technical development expertise with alternators engineered for harsh environs.

Vladimir Krivopickj, PhD, Technical Leader

Leads core blade/turbine design team. Aerodynamic engineer with
30 years of experience in Russia’s premier weapons laboratory.

Chris Larson, Project Leader

25 year veteran of PG&E with project management experience across plant, grid, substation and environmental projects in the Bay Area. Leads the site management and permit applications for our Treasure Island install project.

Jeremy Stieglitz, Marketing & BD

15 year high technology veteran with experience launching and growing product lines of $2M-$800M for Microsoft, RSA, and Cisco Systems.

Competitive Position

There are several companies selling small scale wind turbines based on traditional, horizontal axis propeller based turbines, including Bergey and Southwest Wind. There are also a growing number of VAWT turbines, primarily selling in Europe. By reducing cost structures across the blades, system, alternator and electrical controls, and by introducing advanced CPP efficiencies and power control algorithms for light and medium wind regimes, Wind-Sail’s VAWT designs will be introduced with price-performance leadership, backed up with key operational, installation, and application advantages.

Patents protect key innovations in the aerodynamics of the blades, vertical orientation of the system, the system wind loading and blade configurations, aerodynamic ring structure, the alternator, and the electronic control optimizations for distributed wind.


The global market today for distributed wind power is today a $400M market, and is forecasted to grow 10x over the next 10 years to $4BN. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), “to date about 110 MW of “small-scale” community wind capacity is installed in the U.S., and from 1998 to 2003 installed wind capacity grew an average of 28% per year, and growth from 2004 to 2005 was a record 35%.” 110 megawatts of power capacity converts to approximately 22,000 wind turbines or $100 million in turbine sales in the United States alone.

Needs from Investors:

Wind-Sail has had no external investment and corporate structure remains flexible. We are seeking $1.5m-$2m in seed/angel funding to establish key first customer deployments in strategic and tactical sales opportunities. An additional investment of $5-$7M will be sought to grow the launch team, scale contract production, establish global distribution and sales offices, and expand sales and marketing programs worldwide.

Summary Contact Information:

Jeremy Stieglitz, VP of Marketing,

(650) 575-2317

Friday, April 6, 2007

More Pitching Advice

Guy Kawasaki has a solid set of advice for pitching to VCs posted to his blog. (link).

I would add one more rule/advice...

Don't try to move investors in two dimensions of risk. (If you are in a new market, you better have a solid team/differentiator/track record, and vice-versa. investors won't be inclined to take risks in any more than one of these, preferably none.

From firsthand experience pitching Wind-Sail to more than a few VCs at this point, the small and mid-scale wind market is deemed risky, and since our technology and product are not commercially certified, risks are present in two dimensions. Clearly, we are working to get our first installs to overcome product/technology risk, but that takes time and money :)

Updated Pitch

I really enjoyed Bill Reichert's advice for pitch decks and have tried to update the Wind-Sail pitch to better match the advice outlined in his piece.

Check out the new Wind-Sail pitch, now with new and improved, BIGGER FONT SIZES. Click the pic!

Wind-Sail At Demo Show (Someday...)

Chris Shipley is the founder and director of the Demo trade show. It's billeted as the launchpad for emerging technology, and true to it's advertising, every year some of the coolest new product launches happen there. (Google, Ebay, E*Trade, Sun's Java, Tivo, Skype, the Palm Pilot, etc. etc. ).

Well, in reading about this year's upcoming show, I decided to make a run at pitching "Wind-Sail" with a very short email to Chris: "wouldn't it be sweet to see one of these beauties up on stage..."

Well, we did end up discussing Wind-Sail in good detail. And we agreed that we are probably "too early" for a Demo launch - at least, until we are in production with a certifiable unit.

The conservation wasn't all in vain, as it also led to a very excellent write up by a collegue's of Ms. Shipley's, please check out Janet Rae-Dupree's Wind-Sail blog post here. It's the rarest of interviewers who gets things exactly right, and nothing wrong, and lucky for us, Ms. Rae-Dupree has done this in this most excellent write up. (link)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Wall Street Journal On Wind Economics

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today on the "new math" of renewables and how they are approaching cost-competitiveness with traditional dirty tech energy sources.

..."Wind power stands out as one of the splashiest success stories in renewable energy. Over the past 10 years, as wind farms sprouted around the world, the cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen dramatically.

In 1980, wind-power electricity cost 80 cents per kilowatt hour; by 1991 it cost 10 cents, according to the International Energy Agency.

Today, production costs at the best on-shore sites have dropped as low as 3 cents to 4 cents per kilowatt hour, but are more typically 6 cents to 9 cents, not counting subsidies -- getting closer to the cost of generating electricity from burning coal. In fact, costs are approaching the point where wind power may be able to prosper without subsidies -- currently 1.9 cents a kilowatt hour in the U.S. -- particularly if natural-gas prices stay high.


All Bearings Fail

Recently, I was presenting to a venture capital firm and got asked about the maintenance features of our turbine platform. It was a fair question, and one that I didn't answer very well. We do have some significant features in maintenance/durability/simplicity, and I did cover some of the blade resiliency characteristics. Where I got into trouble was around the determination in which one of the VCs believed that "all bearings fail." On the notion of bearings and mean time between failures (MTBF) the conversation went something like this:

VC: What will you do when the bearings fail?

Jeremy: Talks about loads being center-balanced, talk about 180 RPMs as our max, talks about the six-bladed design giving continious, smoothed and non-sinusoidal power pulses to the system...

VC: All bearings fail. When your bearings fail, this is going to rip out of the rooftop when it comes falling over...

Jeremy: Dumbfounded and deer in headlights reaction...

In hindsight, I could have also talked about the expected 15-18 years of mean time to failure ratings on our bearing sets (our bearing sets are rated for 200-300 million RPMs under designed loads)... But of course, I had to go look that up later with the technical team. I also found out that we can promote that there are no flexing or moving parts in the Wind-Sail alternator, and the magnets move past fixed coils. So other than age effects on materials, or thermal problems from overload, the alternator should never wear out. I could have also talked about wind loading on the system, and that frozen bearings present nearly the same load as the system is under braking scenarios (e.g. we don't model our loads so that we are dependent on spinning as a way to prevent being torn away from the roof.)

A couple of closing comments:

1. One of the challenges that I actually enjoy about presenting to VCs is that there are countless holes/traps that you can fall in, and you can never predict which ones are coming. It's mental surfing and it's invigorating learning how to stand on that board. In time, maybe I can ride some of the bigger waves.

2. I can also add "all bearings fail" to my growing list of dispassionate VC beliefs that I need to learn how to avoid falling into, other traps have included: 'distributed grid power won't work', and 'farmers don't care about bird kills- they kill birds for a living', and lastly 'unless you get under $1 a watt, this won't ever be viable.'

On Maps, Innovation and Cleantech

I love maps. Any kind, new or old. And I've been known to spend literally hours in map stores agape at their beauty, elegance, and moment-in-time aspects. When I can afford them, it is my longstanding goal to be an avid collector.

I used to think that maps were static, and with our modern GPS and satellite driven imagery, a limited space for innovation. But I also remembered a whole team of geographers and mappers that were hired into Microsoft in 1992. That was my first early signal that mapping could be matched to technology to produce new innovation. Microsoft went on to create a $100 million business in online mapping software, but more importantly, mapping online and mapping mashups have exploded onto the scene.

Play the tape forward to 2007, and the notion of mapping technologies as cool is bleedingly obvious. In fact, not a day goes by that I don't see new map mashups. Here's one for London that is color-coded to transportation ease of use.

Clearly, updated daily traffic maps are well known and found on every morning tv news broadcast. But with digital mashups, what about mixing traffic patterns with London regional house prices, or if you think that there will be more plague-born insects, or if you think it's going to get hotter, house prices, pools.

Basically, since the calibrations are constantly changing, so will the maps. In time, I hope to look for more mashups specific to cleantech and have already looked at some cursory notions of geography and cleantech in previous posts, starting with All Power Is Geography.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Are Green Robes Next

In a stunning ruling expanding EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions, the Supreme court handed environmentalists, and by extension, the cleantech industry, a very generous prize yesterday. I am surprsied that more cleantech bloggers are not recognizing the importance and benefit that this ruling will have for our industry. Paul Kedrosky was the only prominent blogger to chime in here. (link)

Specifically for cleantech, the ruling means that:

1. What begins with more emission controls for Duke Energy - the heart of this case - could be easily extended and expanded into carbon taxes and increased fee structures for carbon emitters. Whether market-based or by regulation, anything that increases the cost structure for coal or fossil fuel power and transportation is a boon for cleantech.

2. Another foundation stone towards a real and valued carbon credit trading system.

3. A more naunced benefit from this ruling is a reinforcement that States and environmental groups have sufficient "standing" to bring these cases forward. This was the key "objection" by the conservative bench; Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito wanted to limit and essentially remove the court's participation in this matter (and most environmental matters if Scalia had his way). They indicated in their dissent that Congress and The President were better "deciders" on the issue. Thank goodness they were overuled.

The text of the bill is online here. (link)

For now, green is the new black at One First Street, DC (Supreme Court's address.)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Small Wind Tax Credits

The U.S. Congress is considering a new blockbuster bill to support small wind. The size of this federal tax credit is _massive_ and could dramatically change the pace and acceptance of small wind in the United States.


"Tax Credit Bill Now Introduced in House

A bill was introduced yesterday, March 29 by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom Cole (R-OK) in the House of Representatives that would provide an investment tax credit to consumers looking to purchase small wind turbines. This bill, H.R. 1772, comes on the heels of an identical bill that was introduced in the Senate last February (S. 673). Both bills call for the following:

  • A tax credit of $1,500 per ½ kilowatt (kW) of capacity for a small wind system. The proposed credit would have no cap and would be available for 5 years for all wind systems 100kW in capacity and under.
  • Carry-over of credit: In the event that using this credit puts the consumer’s taxable income below the minimum threshold, this provision allows the unusable excess credit to be carried over to the next tax year. This essentially allows a consumer with a low annual income to take full advantage of the credit.
  • Accelerated depreciation of three years, rather than the standard 5 years.

Go Distributed Wind Power!