Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Information Technology a key driver to sustainability

(prompted by Tim Pozza:)

My interest in Johnson Controls is that I believe that infomatics is key to sustainability. Sustainable technology solutions are derived or impelled by infomatics as they allow us to:

1. Measure. better ability to measure effects and to synthesize the data gives us the ability to see what is happening in our energy systems.

2. Manage. with this resolution of the operation of systems and new controls brought on by networking technologies we have the ability to manage energy use, transmission and production

3. Integrate. with advanced systems we can begin to model, design and manage the intersection of once disparate systems. We have the processing power to visualize and model these interactions and this allows us to create virtuous cycles, where conjoined systems create synergy (the waste from one is energy for the next).

... this is a general high level thesis that is driving my work writ large.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Solar Thermal in Canada - Impact of the Canadian Government Budget of 2010

The Federal government will let a popular solar thermal incentive program (EcoEnergy for Renewable Heat) expire this year, except it will continue to provide support for small residential solar hot water systems (a $1250 grant per system). This is mostly bad news for solar thermal manufacturers in Canada. This is obscure, as the majority of solar thermal manufacturers in this country focus on non residential systems, such as EnerWorks, an Ontario based manufacturer of glazed solar thermal collectors. For the most part the small residential solar hot water systems are thermo-siphon/glass tube collectors that are manufactured in China. Thus, this budget decision essentially favours the non-domestic manufacturers. It also ends an important market for commercial and larger scale solar thermal applications, such as the promising solar for process heat (commercial uses of heat) and the "killer app" for solar thermal, using solar heat to drive chilling equipment (solar air conditioning). This, in combination with the Federal governments inaction on CO2 (Carbon) legislation has put a huge dent in this industry.

Thus in summary, the 2010 Canadian Federal Budget will not renew funding for the EcoEnergy for Renewable Heat program, which will expire in 1 year and whose budget is now largely expired. Without provincial level programs commercial/industrial solar thermal in Canada will disappear, particularly as natural gas prices (which solar thermal substitutes) continues to be depressed.

Moving forward, solar thermal companies in Canada will have to focus on residential solar hot water products. There is no requirement for domestic manufacturing, so the only barrier to this market is for a company to achieve CSA 378 certification (a Canada specific certification).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quick thoughts on Solyndra solar tubes in Ontario

(disclaimer: I have not studied this extensively, so the following is not authoritative)

The Solyndra solar tubes are mounted over a roof covered in a white plastic. Their added efficiency claims are due to light reflected off the roof and captured by the back side of these tubes. Because the tubes are round as the sun changes position during the day and through the year they plausibly can capture a bit more of the sun than a flat panel. My concern with this technology for Ontario is that the design is to have the tubes mounted at 1' which means that for a few months of the year they are likely to be covered by snow, or the angle of reflection off the snow below the tubes is less optimal. That may erase the gains that this system would have in other times of the year. This system requires that the roof needs to be flat, with little slope and needs the white plastic coating on it. So this is suited for commercial flat roofs that are new, or that require a "new roof" (typically every 20 years).

Another issue with these tubes is that they use "CIGS" which is considered the most environmentally detrimental of solar technologies (cadmium in particular). Supposedly this material is recyclable, but that may not be cheap or easy to do. I suspect that it is easier to recover these materials from these glass tubes than on laminated surfaces?

In terms of financial position, Solyndra is gearing up to IPO but they may have a tough time if silicon prices do not increase, or they cannot drive prices down comparatively. They and other thin-film technologies looked much better leading up to 2009 when technologies comparatively cheaper to silicon based solar and hence why Gunter Report predicts that Solyndra will flop this year. Strangely many in the solar industry are quite conservative about new technologies (I say strange as solar is all relatively new and one would expect that the field attracts more risk takers), so refutation and pessimism about new ideas always abound. I think that perhaps Solyndra is an interesting niche technology, but that it is better suited for lower latitudes and places without snow. I welcome input if you have any.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My thoughts on the Samsung-Ontario deal

The deal Samsung-Ontario deal provides incentives to the large South Korean conglomerate to locate significant wind, solar and component manufacturing here in Ontario and also obliges them to develop a significant amount of wind and solar parks in exchange for favourable terms.

Overall my belief is that it is good thing for the province, for green energy and for the renewables business writ large in the province. It will certainly create some losers, but I believe that by in large what it does is to validate the importance of what is happening in green energy in the province and that it will significantly propel the place of Ontario in the world of renewable energy. Perhaps even the number of zeros in this deal will finally awaken our financial giants and stir their interest.

I work with a number of start-up manufacturers including Power Panel, SolGate and previously with Menova Energy*. The impact to these businesses varies. Power Panel is focused on the world market and has a unique product, but I believe that the Samsung deal will bring more interest, capital and expertise to the Ontario market and thus that this deal will also lift Power Panel's boat. This too would be the case for Menova if they are able to eventually get their products out the door.

For SolGate, however, the story is more tenuous. SolGate is a direct competitor to Samsung as the small Vaughn based manufacture makes photovoltaic modules, like the ones that Samsung plans to manufacture in large quantities here. Referring to the image above, SolGate is in the third step of the value chain (module creation). At the announcement of the feed-in-tariff on the 24th of September in 2009, SolGate was the only PV module manufacturer in the province. Since, a litany of companies have announced that they will be coming to manufacture in Ontario, though so far these announcements seem more like casts of fishing line to see what they might catch. In the interim projects can meet the domestic content requirements by ordering locally assembled inverters and racking systems until these requirements become more stringent in 2011. So what does this mean for SolGate? First, Samsung will not likely be in production for 2011, or it will be in limited production then. Same perhaps for Canadian Solar and other candidate manufacturers who are no doubt clamouring for similar deals with the government such as Samsung's. There may be a window in which SolGate's panels fill a gap in the market, particularly if Ontario assembled inverters run in short supply. There is considerable posturing by the panel manufacturers who are trying to determine how much to manufacture in Ontario -- too small and they cannot build their panels and achieve sufficient economies of scale to export, but if demand is too weak than they lose considerable capital.

Has the Samsung deal dissuaded some? Yes perhaps. What is sure is that some will delay their entry (or re-entry) until they can reach similar deals, or until they are able to get a trade ruling from the WTO in their favour (such as Arise alluded to on Friday). Thus in the next couple of years there should be a market for made-in-Ontario panels by SolGate. The prices for these panels should also command a premium as demand picks up. As happened in Spain, too, when scale-backs, or reductions of incentives were announced project developers rushed to complete projects before the deadline dates. The ability of a local manufacturer to meet that demand and to deliver will provide SolGate with a second period of opportunity. This may also apply to Centennial who plans to move from Quebec to Ontario.

Moreover, referring to my sentiments above, it is likely that there will be some positive glow from the Samsung deal across the industry and even a few rays of this light should fall on SolGate. By the time the big guys enter fully SolGate will have had time to channel its efforts (and windfall capital) into producing a unique, or at least better product to fill niches left unfulfilled by these hulking producers. Or, perhaps SolGate may go the way of our many small brewers like Sleeman's, now owned by Sapporo. The drama of the markets are yet to be written, but I'm betting it will be one heck of a story.

* Menova Energy - I left this position because they were not paying me and I am still owed months of wages and expenses.