vendredi 30 avril 2010

Why Twitter Is the Future of News

An unprecedented analysis reveals that the micro-blogging service is remarkably effective at spreading "important" information.
By Christopher Mims

It's basically impossible for a journalist who relies on Twitter to find stories, stalk editors, rack up "whuffie" and beef with rap stars to be objective about the service.

Fortunately, I don't have to be, because four researchers from the Department of Computer Science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have performed a multi-part analysis of Twitter. They conclude that it's a surprisingly interconnected network and an effective way to filter quality information.

In a move unprecedented in the history of academic research on Demi Moore's chosen medium for feuding with Kim Kardashian, Kwak et al. built an array of 20 PCs to slurp down the entire contents of Twitter over the course of a month. If you were on Twitter in July 2009, you participated in their experiment.

This "retweet tree analysis" shows instances of retweeting. When a message is retweeted just a few times it reaches a huge number of users. Credit: Kwak et al.

Four Degrees of Separation

The ideas behind Stanley Milgram's original "six degrees of separation" experiment, which suggested that any two people on earth could be connected by at most six hops from one acquaintance to the next, have been widely applied to online social networks.

On the MSN messenger network of 180 million users, for example, the median degree of separtaion is 6. On Twitter, Kwak et al. hypothesized that because only 22.1% of links are reciprocal (that is, I follow you, and you follow me as well) the number of degrees separating users would be longer. In fact, the average path length on Twitter is 4.12.

What's more, because 94% of the users on Twitter are fewer than five degrees of separation from one another, it's likely that the distance between any random Joe or Jane and say, Bill Gates, is even shorter on Twitter than in real life.

Information as Outbreak

"...No matter how many followers a user has, the tweet is likely to reach [an audience of a certain size] once the user's tweet starts spreading via retweets," says Kwak et al. "That is, the mechanism of retweet has given every user the power to spread information broadly [...] Individual users have the power to dictate which information is important and should spread by the form of retweet [...] In a way we are witnessing the emergence of collective intelligence."

If this reminds of you early 90's hyperbole about the then-new world wide web, it should! Back then the web was a raucous, disorganized, largely volunteer-led effort full of surprisingly informative Geocities pages and equally uninformative corporate websites.

These days we have to contend with the creeping power of what can only notionally be defined as media "content"--produced purely to appear at the top of search results. But it appears that the (so far) still entirely human-filtered paradise of Twitter may come to the rescue. Owing to the short path length between any two users, news travels fast in the tweet-o-sphere.

Earlier work suggested that the best way to get noticed on Twitter was to tweet at certain times of day, and Kwak et al.'s paper sheds some light on why this is the case: "Half of retweeting occurs within an hour, and 75% under a day." And it's those initial re-tweets that make all the difference: "What is interesting is from the second hop and on is that the retweets two hops or more away from the source are much more responsive and basically occur back to back up to 5 hops away."

There Are a Lot of Lonely People on Twitter

Clashing with the service's interconnectivity, Kwak et al.'s analysis also suggests that there are a lot of lonely people on Twitter, and not just the ones who are tweeting angry political screeds at 8 pm on a Saturday night. "67.6% of users are not followed by any of their followings in Twitter," they report. "We conjecture that for these users Twitter is rather a source of information than a social networking site."

Another possibility, left unexplored by Kwak and his colleagues, is simply that on Twitter, like real life, some people are much more popular than others.

Aside from its monkey + keyboard simplicity, the fact that links on Twitter do not have to be reciprocal may be its ultimate genius. To that end, I urge all of you to follow Technology Review on Twitter. I must warn you that, as an enormously influential inanimate object, it has no empathy or conscience, so don't take it personally when it doesn't follow you back.

Source : MIT Review, 30/04/10

Top 50 VC-Funded Greentech Startups

Venture capital firms have invested almost $20 billion into hundreds of greentech startups since 2005. All of these firms are looking to launch a disruptive force into their target markets, scale rapidly and grow quickly.

Very few of these firms will actually make it.

We put our energy analysts, reporters and editors to the task of picking fifty VC startups in greentech that have at least a fighting chance of succeeding as VC-funded start-ups and making an impact on our energy-intensive lives.

Selection criteria:

  • Technological edge
  • Potential to severely disrupt the market
  • Great management team
  • Massive market opportunity
  • Substantial war chest
  • Feasible exit strategy
  • Sheer hype power
  • Only venture-backed private firms

Methodology: We spread the names of 500 VC-funded firms on the Greentech Media dance floor and cut the head off of a chicken. Wherever the chicken landed - that was a winner. We stopped when we ran out of chickens.


Brightsource Energy: Big-name investors, a large war chest, a partnership with construction-giant Bechtel, more than a gigawatt in California utility PPAs and $1.37 billion in federal loan guarantees make this power-tower solar thermal player an easy choice. Now the challenge is getting past further environmental objections to its first 396-megawatt power plant.

Chromasun: Air conditioning accounts for fifty percent of the demand for power during peak periods in California, according to Peter Le Lievre, founder of Chromasun. It's an enormous problem and market awaiting a solution. Chromasun uses solar thermal collectors to gather solar heat to run a double effect chiller which curbs peak power, broadens the market for solar thermal technology and fits well within the practices of the building trades.

Enphase Energy: This well-funded microinverter innovator has shipped more than 120,000 units for residential and commercial deployments. The contract manufacturing model is working and the company continues to grow. There are a number of microinverter startups but Enphase is the only one to reach credibility and volume shipments in a high-growth $2 billion market.

eSolar: Fifteen months ago, eSolar was on the ropes. It desperately sought funds to build solar thermal power plants. It then switched strategies and decided to license its technology and sell equipment, leaving the actual building of the power plants to others. Since then, it’s signed deals that will lead to gigawatts worth of its solar technology planted in China, India, Africa and the Middle East. A 5 megawatt demo plant went up last year and construction on the first 92 megawatts begins this year. The secret sauce: software that helps improve the efficiency of the overall plant. Funding from Google, India's Acme Group, Oak Investment Partners and NRG Energy.

Innovalight: The silicon nano-ink developer recently pivoted its business plan and shifted from solar panel manufacturing to panel manufacturing along with licensing and joint ventures. Innovalight's inks allow silicon wafer manufacturers to boost their cell efficiency by up to 2 percent with a low capital outlay. This could be one of the last novel, "new" type of solar cells to make it out for a while.

Nanosolar: The CIGS thin film pioneer got started in 2002, making it one of the earliest thin film companies supported by Silicon Valley. Since then, Nanosolar has used every avenue of funding to fund their potentially disruptive solar firm, now at about $500 million in funding to date. Nanosolar is shipping product in the 10 to 12 percent efficiency range and has panels in the lab topping 16 percent efficiency. Nanosolar faces the same challenge as every other solar panel manufacturer -- keeping up with silicon and cadmium telluride prices and efficiency.

Petra Solar: Not so much a technology play as a channel play, Petra Solar and its more than $50 million in VC funds is exploiting an untapped sales channel - solar panels on utility and power poles. Petra has a large contract with Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey's biggest power utility, to install solar panels on streetlights and power poles across the distribution network. PSE&G looks to install 200,000 panels and about 5 percent are up so far, according to PSE&G. Potential for high growth in a new application.

SolarCity: Fast growing SolarCity has emerged as one of the largest residential solar installers in California and has moved into other solar-friendly states. The start-up has innovated in the installation field as well as in the financial field by offering leasing options for homes and small businesses. U.S. Bancorp has set up a $100M fund to finance SolarCity's residential and commercial installations. Entrepreneurs are needed in the downstream solar business as much as in the technological side.

Solyndra: With almost a billion dollars in venture capital and half a billion in DOE loan guarantees, Solyndra is the clear winner in the money raising contest. The CIGS thin film solar company's S-1 is filed and the firm has customers and $58.8 million in revenue in the 9 months ending Sept, 30 2009. The investors and the company claim immense savings in balance of system costs. But skeptics abound and many believe that the company’s solar panels are more expensive than the competition. CIGS solar cells aren’t easy to make and Solyndra's cylindrical design adds to the complexity. The debate won’t be answered until the customers start taking their data public.

Suniva: Well-funded Suniva has made numerous technological advances to raise crystalline silicon solar wafer efficiency and lower manufacturing cost. Investors NEA, Goldman Sachs and Warburg Pincus have invested more than $125 million.

SunRun: SunRun is a home solar service company located in San Francisco, California that offers residential PPAs: "home solar as a monthly service." The company has seen 8 to 10 times growth over last year. SunRun has received venture funding from Foundation Capital and Accel Partners, as well as a $105 million tax equity commitment from an affiliate of U.S. Bancorp. Residential PPAs from SunRun might be the disruptive piece that allows solar to better penetrate the residential roof market.

Smart Grid and EV Infrastructure

What will the smart grid of the future look like? Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers speaks of a utility-managed system that orchestrates smart meters, solar panels, batteries, demand response systems and plug-in vehicle chargers to serve as "virtual power plants" scattered throughout a utility service territory.

Arcadian Networks: Arcadian Networks designs and delivers wireless communication networks to utilities based on the private (licensed), secured 700 MHz spectrum. The 700MHz appears to be a better choice (than 900Mhz) is rural areas, since the signal can travel farther without relays and can penetrate physical obstacles (such as crops and hilly terrain) that higher frequencies may struggle with. The other major advantage of the 700MHz spectrum is that because it is licensed there is not any interference from other sources. While 900MHz mesh networking solutions have dominated the market due in part to their lower costs, as interference continues to create problems for utilities, and as “intelligent provisioning” becomes more common, expect Arcadian Networks to compliment 900MHz networks in situations were interference is just not acceptable. This month Arcadian announced the release of their 2nd generation router/gateway adding the ability to link with WiMax. While this router can also connect to all other major communication networks (3G/4G, 900 MHz, Ethernet, etc) clearly, Arcadian is doubling down on licensed networks for smart grid.

Better Place: A $350 million dollar funding round in January ranks as one of the largest cleantech deals in history with a pre-money valuation of $900 million. Commercial launch is targeted for 2011 for the bold electric-vehicle / charging-station / battery-swap / electricity-selling start-up with an inital focus on Israel and Denmark. Investors include HSBC, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Lazard Asset Management, VantagePoint Venture Partners, et al. Better Place is looking to install between 15,000 and 20,000 charging stations in both Israel and Denmark in the near-term. There is the suggestion that this firm could be a Google or Netscape-type market disruptor. But even a dominant role as an urban vehicle, as a fleet vehicle, as a delivery vehicle lets Better Place win big in a niche market.

CPower: With 800 megawatts of demand response curtailment under management, CPower is the third largest player in this emerging demand response/energy management market. Why do we offer you #3, and not the #1 or #2? Good question. Those competitors, EnerNOC and Comverge have already gone public, that’s why. Like their more-public-piers, CPower is looking to quickly move into other energy services, including reserves & frequency regulation, renewable energy credits, and energy efficiency for consumers. Last year the company doubled their curtailment load, became the largest aggregator on the Texas (ERCOT) grid, and now claims to provide demand response services to over 1,600 different retail sites. SCE, PG&E and Ontario Power Authority are all utility clients. The company’s investors include Bessemer Ventures, Schneider Electric Ventures and Intel Capital.

Coulomb Technologies: Coulomb builds a vital piece of the EV infrastructure -- charging stations connected to the grid with power and data. Coulomb was founded on two premises -- that every charge station should be networked and that Coulomb needed to be a self-sustaining business model -- they win revenue from the sale of the charge station and from fee-based charge services. Investors include Voyager Capital, Rho Ventures, Siemens Venutre Capital and Hartford Ventures.

EcoLogic Analytics: EcoLogic Analytics provides meter data management (MDM) software solutions and decision management technologies for utilities. They offer a suite of software solutions that include gateway engines, meter data warehouse, meter read manager, meter reading analytic, navigator graphical user interface, automated validation engine, network performance monitor and reporting engine, real time outage validation engine, data synchronization engine, calculation engine and residential rate analysis API, and virtual metering aggregation components. Their MDM solutions also integrate with other systems, such as CIS/billing, to deliver data to business users in the enterprise. EcoLogic Analytics was chosen as the vendor to provide MDM for PG&E, the biggest AMI deployment in North America – a huge win for the company. In February 2009, the company landed its second major contract with Texas utility Oncor and will serve as the MDM provider for more than three million electric meters in Oncor’s service territory.

eMeter: eMeter makes software that manages the enormous volume of data coming from smart meters, providing both MDM and AMI integration for utility information systems. eMeter’s solutions also allow for demand response and real-time monitoring of resource usage, yielding greater energy efficiency and more reliable service, while minimizing the costs of AMI deployment, data management, and operations. The company competes with AMI companies that can provide their own software AMI and MDM software such as Itron and Sensus, as well as other software companies such as Oracle. In early 2009, eMeter announced a deal with CenterPoint Energy to support the Texas utility’s plan to install two million smart meters in its territory. That follows deals with Alliant Energy, Jacksonville Electric Authority, the Canadian province of Ontario, and European energy company, Vattenfall. The company claims to have more than 24 million meters under contract. That number gets it a spot on the list. eMeter has transitioned from just providing MDM solutions for utilities into consumer services, such as demand response and consumer portals, following a strategy that seems to be working among smart grid players: get your foot in the door with one solution, then seek to expand.

Proximetry: Proximetry provides network and performance management solutions for wireless networks to enable network operators to visualize, provision, and actively manage their networks, especially to support mission-critical communications. The company's software solution, AirSync, enables real-time, network-wide visualization, management, and active network control from a single system and location for multivendor, multifrequency, multiprotocol wireless networks. This so-called "intelligent provisioning" which provides "dynamic bandwidth" matching network resource priorities to user and device needs seems like a logical extension of smart grid networking, and we expect this to be a major new trend going forward. Proximetry is currently working San Diego Gas & Electric, widely considered to be one of the most innovative utilities in North America.

Silver Spring Networks: Silver Spring Networks has been plugging away at standards-based networking for smart meters for close to a decade -- building routers and hubs that connect via a wireless mesh protocol. The firm has made announcements of utility contracts with Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, AEP and Florida Power & Light and closed a $100 million investment from blue-chip VCs including Kleiner Perkins and Foundation Capital, bringing its VC total to north of $250 million. This month Silver Spring declared it's intention to go public with an IPO underwriter bake-off -- the S-1 filing should follow soon. Revenues are estimated in the $100 million range. Easily the leading VC-funded smart grid start-up.

SmartSynch: SmartSynch's GridRouter is a modular, standards-based, upgradeable networking device that can handle almost any communications protocol that a utility uses. Four networking card slots allow a single box to handle ZigBee, WiFi, WiMax or other proprietary communications standards simultaneously. The cards can be removed so utilities can swap out and/or upgrade their networks without replacing the basic piece of installed equipment. It provides communication to any device on the grid over any wireless network, according to the CEO, Stephen Johnston. Potentially, that could eliminate some of the fear and uncertainty surrounding smart grid deployments. The Tennessee Valley Authority selected SmartSynch to serve as the communications backbone in its renewable program.

Tendril Networks: Tendril makes a varied suite of hardware and software solutions for applications such as demand response, energy monitoring, energy management and load control. It offers an energy management system for consumers (based on the ZigBee HAN standard) and utilities, smart devices (such as smart thermostats, smart plugs, and in-home displays,) as well as web based and iPhone enabled displays and energy controls. The company also develops applications for utilities such as network management, direct load control, customer load control. The startup has deals in place with more than 30 utilities and had a large commercial roll out in 2009, along with a number of field trials. In June 2009, the company raised a $30 million third round, bringing its total to more than $50 million and making it one of the better funded private companies competing in the Home Area Network space. General Electric's Consumer and Industrial division has teamed up with Tendril to develop algorithms and other technology that will allow utilities employing Tendril's TREE platform to turn GE dryers, refrigerators, washing machines and other energy-gobbling appliances off or on to curb power consumption. The GE deal gets the company on the list. Runner-up: EcoFactor.

Trilliant: Trilliant provides utilities with wireless equipment and management software for smart grid communication networks. In 2009, Trilliant acquired SkyPilot Networks, a manufacturer of long-range, high-capacity wireless mesh networks. The acquisition allows them to offer complementary networks, both the neighborhood network and the wide-area network. Trilliant's largest deployment is 1.4 million device network spread over 640,000 square kilometers for Hydro One in Ontario, Canada. The company has been around for years so defining it as a start-up is tough, but it has been on this tack for only the last few years.

Green Buildings, Lighting

Adura Technologies: Approximately 85 percent of commercial office buildings in the U.S. are illuminated inside with fluorescent tube lights. In the vast majority of cases, these bulbs can’t be dimmed or turned off remotely. Only around 1 percent of lights in California office buildings are networked. Adura has created a wireless mesh system that effectively flips the lights off when you’re not around and dims them when the sun is out. In a recent test conducted by PG&E, Adura managed to cut the power delivered to lights by 72 percent. Next, the company plans to connect its software to other devices in buildings. VantagePoint is a lead investor. Runner up for networking: Lumenergi.

Bridgelux: Bridgelux is focused on lowering the cost of LED-based solid-state lighting to a penny per lumen -- a disruptive price achieved through clever packaging and innovating in the expitaxial processes of building the phosphor-coated film. Early this year, new CEO and ex-Seagate CEO, Bill Watkins took over the reins and announced a $50 million funding to finance a new fab, bringing its substantial fund-raising totals to over $150 million from investors including DCM, El Dorado Ventures, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Chrysalix Energy and Harris & Harris Group. Our sources indicate that the firm is generating significant revenue. The big question is whether they can outrun the big guys like Philips and Osram.

Optimum Energy: Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy in the U.S. and 76 percent of the electricity. HVAC is the low hanging fruit of energy efficiency in commercial buildings and where we can make an enormous impact in energy usage. Optimum Energy develops networked building control application and products to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings -- reducing energy consumption and GHGs while increasing operating efficiencies in HVAC plants. Optimum makes software that dynamically controls the chillers – the enormous machines that cool water for air conditioning systems in skyscrapers. According to the company, there are more than 150,000 buildings that can use their product and if the software was used in each one, 75 gigawatts could be taken off the grid. Adobe has installed it.

Recurve: Formerly Sustainable Spaces. They do energy efficiency retrofits. Recurve is assembling a dynamic software package that will allow contractors large and small around the world cut down the time, cost and errors in conducting retrofits. A lot of the employees come from Google—you can’t say that about other construction companies. In fact, a number of large contractors are testing it out now. Co-founder Matt Golden is also one of the driving forces behind the $6 billion Cash for Caulkers program recently introduced by Obama. Recurve’s next policy initiative: funding retrofits by getting them classified as carbon credits.

Redwood Systems: The company, which has received money from Battery Ventures and others, will soon disclose their technological angle, but the gist of it is this: Redwood replaces lighting wires and regular light bulbs with Ethernet cables and LEDs. Suddenly, you have a network in your ceiling that every light, smoke detector and other device can link into. Founders hail from Grand Junction Networks, the Fast Ethernet pioneer turned gold mine for Cisco when acquired in 1995.

Serious Materials: A bit heavy on hype, but Serious has the beginnings of revenue and has just won the Empire State Building retrofit project for their thermal windows. The company appears to have hit some speedbumps with its drywall product. But high-end investors like Foundation Capital and high-voltage staff like CEO, Kevin Surace have kept green building materials in the news, in the public imagination and in the tax credit checkbooks of the U.S. government. Sources indicate revenue between $25 million and $50 million in 2009.

Biofuels and Biochemicals

Amyris: Rumors abound that Amryis, a synthetic biology start-up spun out of UC Berkeley with more than $150 million in funding, could soon file its S-1. Amyris develops microbes that feed on sugars and secrete custom hydrocarbons for conversion into jet fuel, industrial chemicals or biodiesel. Amyris claims to eventually produce biodiesel that can wholesale for $2 a gallon. In late 2009 the firm paid $82 million to Brazil's São Martinho Group for a 40-percent stake in an ethanol mill project and entered into agreements with three other Brazilian companies to produce ethanol and high-value chemicals.

LS9: The company's scientists have engineered a strain of E. coli with a genome that can convert sugars into a fatty acid, methyl ester, which is chemically equivalent to California Clean diesel. It's a completely unnatural act but could lead to $45 a barrel biodiesel. LS9 hopes to show that the process is feasible next year. Added bonus: LS9 does not have to kill its microbes to get the oil. They secrete it naturally and then can live to feed, digest and excrete more dollops of oil. It's not out of guilt: re-using a microbe instead of cultivating a new generation cuts time and costs. Another added bonus: the company is working with Procter & Gamble on green chemicals and with Chevron on fuel.

Sapphire Energy: Sapphire eventually hopes to produce hydrocarbons from genetically modified algae grown in open ponds. Conceivably, it could be the cheapest and fastest technique for producing algae fuel. But it's also fraught with complications. Growing algae in open ponds for fuel oil at the moment is expensive and complex, and keeping GMO strains from being out-competed by natural strains in the open is even more daunting. The company has raised $100 million plus from top-flight VCs, including the firm that invests on behalf of Bill Gates, so stay tuned.

Solazyme: One of the oldest algae companies and the one that's also the furthest along. Solazyme eschews growing algae in ponds or bioreactors through photosynthesis. Instead, it puts algae in beer-brewing kettles, feeds them sugar and grows them that way. The sugar adds to the raw material costs, but Solazyme makes up that cost because it doesn't have to extract the algae from water, one of the most vexing problems facing most algae companies. Solazyme says it will be able to show that its processes can be exploited to produce competitively priced fuel from algae in about two years. It has produced thousands of gallons already and has a contract to produce 20,000 gallons of fuel for the Navy. The company is already selling algae for revenue to the food industry. Chevron is an investor.

Synthetic Genomics: In July of last year, Synthetic Genomics announced a $300 million agreement with Exxon to research and develop next-generation biofuels using photosynthetic algae. Synthetic Genomics' dynamic founder, J. Craig Venter, was quoted as saying, "I came up with a notion to trick algae into pumping more lipids out." Venter is a man of action and vision and if anyone can make algae produce hydrocarbons directly, it's him. In addition to the $300 million from Exxon, Synthetic Genomics has received funding from Draper Fisher Juvetson, Meteor Group, Biotechonomy, BP, et al.

Batteries, Fuel Cells, Energy Storage

Bloom Energy: Ten years in the making and $400 million from Kleiner Perkins for this solid oxide fuel cell developer garnered them a stellar list of customers, a high-powered board and a hype-tastic coming-out party on 60 Minutes. Now they have to make the economics of fuel cells work. The Bloom Energy Server costs $700,000 now.

Deeya Energy: A few years ago, flow batteries were exotic, barely understood pieces of equipment. Now at least five start-ups have received funding. Deeya was first. It has created a battery in which electrolyte flows in and out of the battery so it always stays charged. Utilities and cell phone carriers that need remote power will be the primary customers. Last year, the company started shipping its first commercial products. The products cost around $4,000 a kilowatt (or about half what Bloom currently sells its products for) and hopes to bring down the price to $1,000.

EEStor: This ultracapacitor aspirant makes the list by virtue of the hype and craziness that surrounds it. Kleiner Perkins was an original investor but appears to have backed away from EEStor as the company's corporate milestones and technological claims became less credible. The firm is attempting to make material advances in ceramic powders used in high energy ultracapacitors. The company has no revenue, no prototype, no customers -- but it has garnered an obsessed cadre of fan-boy supporters.

General Compression. The cheapest form of energy storage remains compressed air, according to EPRI. To date, however, compressed air has relied upon finding geological formations where you can stuff thousands of cubic meters of air. General Compression, along with SustainX and Isentropic Energy, want to change that with mechanical systems. Both General (which recently raised $17 million) and Isentropic employ pressure and temperature differentials to store and generate heat. Duke is building a 2-megawatt trial facility for General.


Coda Automotive: Later this year, Coda will attempt to market an all-electric, mid-priced sedan to American drivers. Car start-ups like Tesla and Fisker have initially aimed at the top end of the market, where price and volume are less important factors. Can Coda, and the similarly situated BYD, do it? The entire auto market will be watching closely. Coda and BYD also will represent China’s first major foray into the U.S. auto market. Coda’s car -- which is based around a Chinese gas-burning car that’s been retrofitted by U.S. engineers -- will be assembled in China and come with a battery made through a joint venture between Coda and Lishen. A Chinese bank has agreed to lend $450 million to the battery venture. Investors include Hank “Give me $800 billion, no questions asked” Paulson. BYD counts Warren Buffet as an investor.

Fisker Automotive: A luxury EV, but unlike the Tesla, the Fisker Karma is a plug-in hybrid, combining a battery and an ICE. This firm is another Kleiner Perkins portfolio company and uses batteries from A123. A123 was also an investor in their most recent $115 million funding round. The car sells for $87,900 and already has more than 1,400 people on the waiting list. Hendrik Fisker is a noted car designer who has worked with, among others, Aston Martin.

Tesla Motors: The little EV company that might. Teslas has shipped about 1,000 units of their speedy Roadster model, opened up retail outlets in the U.S. and Europe, and just filed their S-1, which showed them raising $442 million in VC and reaching revenues of $93.3 million in the nine months ending Sept. 30, 2009. The next step is building the all-electric sedan, with far more ambitious volume sales goals.

Other Energy -- Wind, Nuclear, Cleaner Coal, Geothermal

Laurus Energy: Funded by MDV in an $8.5 million round and helmed by energy exec Rebecca McDonald, Laurus extracts energy from coal in the form of syngas while it is still in the ground using a process known as UCG -- underground coal gasification. Laurus then fractionalizes the syngas: carbon dioxide is separated and sent via a pipe to oil fields, where it is injected into other wells to help pull crude out of the ground. The rest of the gases -- a combination of hydogen, methane and hydrocarbons -- are then burnt in a gas-fueled power plant. Power from coal is not going away, so any disruptive technology that lowers the carbon footprint of coal and eliminates mountain top removal can be a new untapped piece of the energy mix. It is currently working with a Native American tribe in Alaska to build a UCG vein with a power plant.

Nuscale: NuScale’s modular nuclear reactor design could disruptively shift development away from the “cathedral model” of large-scale, over-budget, ten-year nuclear power plant projects. Investor in NuScale and partner at CMEA, Maurice Gunderson suggests that small modular reactors are the "game-changer" in energy technology. NuScale can manufacture modular reactors on a factory assembly line –- and cut the time to develop a nuclear plant in half. “Nuclear is necessary, doable, and the markets are gargantuan,” adds Gunderson. However, the question of whether nuclear belongs on a greentech list always results in vigorous debate.

Nordic Wind Power: With funding from Khosla Ventures, NEA and Novus Energy Partners, Nordic Wind Power is the only wind turbine company in the U.S. to get a DOE loan guarantee -- $16 million under the innovative renewable energy program. Nordic also received "significant" funding from Goldman Sachs in 2007. Their groundbreaking 1-megawatt 2-blade turbine design challenges the traditional wind turbine design paradigm.

Potter Drilling: Geothermal provided 4.5 percent of California's power in 2007 and advocates say that more power could be extracted from underneath the ground, even in non-geothermal hot spots. The problem has been getting to it economically and safely. Potter, founded by oil industry alums, has come up with a way to drill that's five times as fast and far less costly. is one of its investors.

Ze-Gen: Ze-Gen dips organic landfill waste into molten iron and turns it into biogas. The architecture of the system eliminates many of the inefficiencies associated with biomass. It has a pilot plant and raised $20 million in a second round last year. The big challenge is in getting a production plant off the ground.


Oasys: This water start-up is built around research from Yale with $10 million in venture funds to see if its novel desalination technique, which exploits fundamental chemistry and waste heat, can go commercial. The company claims its "forward osmosis" process can desalinate water for about half the cost of standard reverse osmosis desalination.

Miox: The disruptive aspect of Miox' business plan is distributed water purification instead of the current centralized model. The company makes onsite water purification systems for gray water remediation and water recycling. Distributed water purification could potentially open up a flood of investment into water. Miox's trick is in making the process cost-effective. The company's system can purify a given amount of liquid with a volume of salt that is one-fourth the amount of liquid chlorine that would be required. Investors include Sierra Venutres, DCM, and Flywheel Ventures.

Purfresh: If you drink bottled water or eat bagged organic lettuce, you've encountered Purfresh. The company, backed by Foundation Capital, kills microbes with ozinated water. Growers use it to keep food fresh on the way to store shelves and bottlers use it to sterilize plastic. Orders go up every time an E. coli outbreak occurs. Like Serious Materials, Purfresh is expanding from its base to become a full-service water and food company.

Green IT

Hara: Originally funded in 2008 by Silicon Valley heavyweight VC Kleiner Perkins, Hara has been making good headway attacking the nascent carbon accounting and management software space. It's still early days for this market, but a very large base of enterprise companies are actively looking for software solutions that provide actionable information, metrics, recommendations and reporting regarding their carbon footprints. Hara has amassed an impressive list of customers to date, including Coca Cola, News Corp., Akamai, Intuit, Brocade and Safeway.

Sandforce: The company has created a chip that makes it possible for search companies, banks and other companies with large datacenters to swap out storage systems made out of hard drives in favor of drives made of flash memory, which only use about 5 percent of the power. In real terms, that means dropping the power budget for storage systems from $50,000 for five years to $250. Storage giant EMC has invested.

Source : greentechmedia,8/03/10

Will Better Place Become a Power Provider?

Think storage as a service combined with strength in numbers.

Better Place, the auto startup that wants to put you into an electric car, might ultimately get into the energy business, too.

Because of its unusual business model, Better Place may be in a position some day to buy power from utilities and wind farms at night when it's cheap and then sell it during peak periods, according to Jason Wolf, vice president of North America for the company, who explained the model during a conference held by Agrion Business Network in Palo Alto on Wednesday.

This approach would effectively allow the car company to function as an independent power provider.

The possibility of selling energy -- and it is indeed a big 'if' -- largely revolves around the fact that Better Place will own the batteries in the cars on its network. Consumers will buy (or lease) their cars, but get batteries and the power to run them through a subscription contract through Better Place.

Centralized battery ownership and management could potentially simplify significantly the car-to-utility power transaction. Utilities wouldn't have to negotiate deals with thousands or millions of consumers. They would just have to sign a single performance contract, including penalties and bonuses, with a middleman. Conversely, customers don't have to track the price of power and conduct their own arbitrage trades.

An aggregator "can make that calculation" in their stead, said Wolf.

The swing between high and low power prices can be somewhat significant. In Texas, wind farm owners currently pay companies to take power generated at night. Peak power, meanwhile, can cost 35 cents a kilowatt hour or more in California. Utilities will also pay independent power providers fees to guarantee capacity, added Brett Williams, a transportation and sustainability researcher UC Berkeley.

In a sense, this would turn car batteries into an energy storage service-similar to how Beacon Power sells time on its flywheels to utilities as an energy storage service. (Side note: because it offers a power service, Beacon is registered as a utility in New York.)

Consumers would also not have to worry about the accelerated degradation of their batteries due to repeated charging and discharging to feed the grid, as they wouldn't own the battery. At the same time, it could potentially make electric cars more economical if the benefits of selling power back to the grid trickle down to the consumer in the form of lower prices. Right now, under conventional vehicle-to-grid scenarios, most of the benefit goes to the utility.

"We need a system that reduces the cost of vehicle fuel without any user interaction," added Joby Lafky, senior director of business development at GridPoint. Lafky said he recently saw an in-car panel that lets consumers set buy/sell prices for power. "Consumers will not tolerate anything like that level of information."

Are there hoops and hurdles that need to be overcome? Absolutely. First, only a few car manufacturers have warmed to the idea of putting leased batteries from third-party providers in their cars. Many worry it will homogenize car design. Battery makers love the idea -- EnerDel CEO Charles Gassenheimer told us recently that some form of bifurcated ownership for electric cars and batteries is inevitable -- but even Nissan said it won't try battery leasing in the U.S. just yet. Warranties will also have to be refashioned.

Users, meanwhile, will have to become accustomed to plugging in their cars whenever they stop so that the cars could potentially feed power into the grid. In turn, the infrastructure to plug them in would need to be built from scratch; right now, it barely exists.

Policies will have to change. The city of Newark, California allows individuals and/or organizations to sell power from a car battery to the grid, according to AC Propulsion CEO Tom Gage, but this isn't a policy you find in a lot of jurisdictions.

And most importantly, utilities would have to get comfortable with the idea of buying power from millions of car batteries that will be plugged in and out by individual drivers at random times. Traditional demand response is far simpler: EnerNoc and other demand response providers literally take control of your air conditioner during peak power events. Better Place won't be able to pry the keys out of your hands and tell you to pick up the kids at school after 6 p.m..

Several megawatts' worth of car batteries would likely have to become available before a utility would be convinced that a statistically stable asset for storing (and drawing) electricity exists at any given time in cars, and even then an excess buffer would have to exist -- and that would likely require hundreds of thousands of cars at a minimum. Utilities might even require a power provider to aggregate the electricity from cars into some sort of central substation before delivering it to a utility, which could upend the economics for the power provider.

Still, Wolf added that working with companies that can centrally manage charging can be cheaper for utilities in the long run. A utility in Israel conducted simulations on the impact of a large influx of electric cars on the grid. If charging is uncontrolled, the utility estimated that it might require $4 billion in infrastructure upgrades to accommodate it. If charging were partially controlled through time-of-use schemes and other programs, the upgrades are reduced to $2 billion.

But if charging were controlled by a third-party provider with control over the charging network, the needed upgrade investments drop to $400 million.

Once a centrally managed charging station is in place, a key part of the foundation for selling power to the grid from cars is laid.

Source : greentechgrid, 7/04/10

The Two Futures for Solar

Can solar avoid the commodity trap? Yes, if it can learn from the PC industry.

Is solar a commodity?

Actually, the reality is worse than that.

Photovoltaic panels are complex semiconductors that require advanced manufacturing processes and a continual stream of innovations in efficiency, packaging, encapsulants, electronics and mounting. In many ways, it's as unlike a commodity as you can get.

Yet, because of a wide array of manufacturers and a proliferation of solar know-how, solar panels are subject to commodity-type pricing. Put another way, solar manufacturers have to behave like chip makers and medical device manufacturers when developing their products and then fight over every penny like makers of copper tubing, corn syrup or gravel when it comes time to sell them. It's tough work for an often meager reward.

PC makers have had to survive in a similar environment, but even they have enjoyed advantages that elude solar manufacturers. PCs wear out after four to five years. With products that last 20 to 30 years, solar manufacturers have virtually no replacement market to chase. PCs are also visible: Apple makes money by selling status symbols to people who pretend to disdain them. It takes some creativity to ostentatiously display the brand of something bolted onto your roof.

The closest analogy to the solar industry, in my mind, is computer memory, which is terrible news. Computer memory really isn't a business -- it's more like a bad gambling habit. Manufacturers regularly lose millions and yet have to steadily double down by putting billions into new fabs and R&D so they don't lose even more money as the state of the technology zips by. In the late 90s, memory makers enjoyed a brief surge of accelerating profitability. Then it turned out that the good times were the result of price fixing schemes. One flash memory company -- Spansion -- did not report a profitable quarter between the period before its IPO in the early part of the decade and its 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Micron Technology, one of the biggest memory makers in the world, is now exploring solar. These guys are experts at living through prolonged periods of losses. Be forewarned.

If solar follows this path, it could be bad for the entire alternative energy industry. Solar conferences would gradually transform from being exciting, well-attended events sought after by big cities to becoming generic gatherings -- Zig Ziglar to Headline Tile and Grout World and SolarCon 2014 -- in the back ballrooms at the Doubletree. The wave of talent in universities gravitating toward energy could swing back toward computer science and the Internet. Layoffs could become chronic. Solar wouldn't be the next hot thing -- it would be one step above painting your body silver, standing on a bucket and pretending to be a statue for a living.

But there is a path to avoid this fate. And here are some of the things the industry can do for a better life:

1. Marketing. I can't emphasize this one enough. Most solar manufacturers act like they are selling hot water heaters. Or industrial carpet. "It's a utilitarian product, but you need it and it will save you money in fifteen years," seems to be the overriding marketing message.

What are the main differences between a BP panel and one from Sharp or Kyocera? Few people in the industry, let alone consumers, could give you a quick answer. Most solar execs probably couldn't even identify panels from these companies in a lineup.

It's not an impossible task. Dyson has made its vacuum cleaners status symbols through touting its innovations. Bosch made brand names important in dishwashers twenty years after that product line went somewhat generic. Can consumers be swayed by important-sounding features or an exotic heritage? If you come over to my house, I will show you the kitchen sink that came from Switzerland.

SunPower has created awareness among consumers through its advertising campaign; a different-looking panel has helped, too. Manufacturers need to highlight their products' capabilities -- consumers and installers won't do it for them.

2. Diversification. Not every roof is the same. Soliant makes a concentrating PV system for flat roofs in the U.S. Southwest and similar climates. It's a sub-segment of the market, but if Soliant can provide the best solution for these sorts of customers, it might survive. Similarly, Suntech Power Holdings has begun to optimize different panels for different markets: the ones sold to utilities are different than the ones sold to houses. Suntech even sells panels to modular home builders in Japan that integrate the panels into the original construction. Others are moving in this direction, but Suntech has also been more successful in touting it.

3. Aesthetics and Modularity. Akeena Solar's Andalay panel sells for more than the average panel, but continues to get customers. Why? Consumers are willing to pay for the convenience of having easier-to-install modular racks, says CEO Barry Cinnamon. Armageddon Energy touts hexagonal solar cells. They are easy to install and nearly everyone comments on the shape. For another example, check out Zep Solar's modular rack: it saves money, but one of the selling points will be the novelty.

4. Added functionality and integration. The IT market has mastered this art. PCs have graduated from functional devices to full-fledged entertainment centers by creating applications -- search, online video, etc. -- to exploit the growing bedrock of transistors. The sun gives off heat and light. PV panels only exploit light. A few companies make all-in-one devices that combine PV with solar thermal collectors for hot water heaters and most of them are quite small. However, if the technological kinks can be worked out, the big guys should try it. Solar lighting could also be added as a function.

Integrating new functions can't stop relentless price cutting, but it can certainly help slow it down.

The smart grid/building management industry might provide help here, as well. There is no reason smart thermostats can't include better data drawn from the power produced by solar panels. These thermostats can also include a brand badge, similar to the badges on notebooks, identifying the manufacturer. (See recommendation #1.)

5. Hugging consumers. Dell did not become a multinational corporation by building the best computers in the world. Instead, it made sure that customers felt they got better service online and on the phone than they could get at stores. Michael Dell himself would often don a headset and work the support desk in the early days to highlight the importance of attentiveness and responsiveness to customer needs.

The company's decline began when a new crop of executives from Bain & Co. and McKinsey came in that disdained the sort of relentless sucking up that today's modern consumer demands.

Solar installers Sungevity and Solar City seem both to have a handle on making the person ready to shell out several thousand dollars feel like a prince. When Best Buy makes its foray into solar and energy management, expect a huge push on hand-holding.

6. Relentless Hucksterism. Sungevity also recently came out with a leasing program that guarantees consumers that they will save money with solar or they will get their money back. Those are magic words in this country. As time goes on, expect more solar companies to move away from the sanctimonious aspect of solar -- you're helping the earth, you're reducing your power bills, etc. -- toward putting cartoon Aztec sun gods all over their websites.

7. Go big and make friends. Like the PC industry, consolidation will become inevitable in solar. The top ten will likely become the Big Four in a few years. Thus, these companies should start finding a partner now. Forging tighter links with home builders and retrofitters will help, too.

8. Impulse buying. Right now, the biggest problem in solar is paperwork and planning. Because of the way state and federal rebate programs work, many of these headaches are unavoidable. The SolarTech Consortium is working on a standardized contract, according to executive director Doug Payne. Once it's out, installers and panel makers will then have to figure out ways -- group buying at corporations, online specials, etc. -- to capitalize on it.

9. Accept Death. In high tech, companies with great ideas regularly die. Packard Bell helped create the home PC market before it died. Tablets have been tried several times in the past to little fanfare. But the executives live on. So give it a shot -- the worst than can happen is that you will get a new job.

Source : greentechsolar, 8/04/10

Why Intel Wants to Get into Energy

Intel will show off an experimental device this week in China that could someday substantially cut the costs of wiring homes and offices for energy efficiency, one more step in the company's foray into energy.

The device is a server/sensor that monitors the power consumption of the various appliances in a home or small commercial building in real time. The device then sends the data, via Wi-Fi, to a phone, PC or a home energy management console, like the one Intel showed off at CES earlier this year.

"Turn-on and turn-off signatures are like fingerprints," said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer in an interview. "Compressors, motors, TVs, stereos -- all of them have a unique signature. It is relatively easy to train the system to recognize these things."

In the first stage, these devices will merely provide data to home energy consoles, but over time, remote control capabilities will be added so that lights can be turned off or thermostats turned down -- either by a person or a computer -- to save energy. Think of it as a Digital Mom ("Did you turn the lights off in your room...," etc.) without the guilt. Intel will work with Flextronics to get the first commercially available versions out later this year.

Ideally, these sorts of devices and the pattern recognition software that powers them will curb the amount of hardware that will be required for home automation. Everyone loves the idea of home automation. The problem is the cost: outfitting lights and appliances with sensors and radios scares white-goods makers. With devices like this, manufacturers might be able to get away with inserting only basic computing functions into appliances and letting a central server conduct more of the computing tasks needed. In other words, forget intelligent appliances and say hello to the merely competent refrigerator.

A million homes or small office buildings rigged with automation equipment could curb the need to build a good number of 600 and 700 megawatt power plants, he said.

"We believe that 30 percent of energy consumption is controlled by the consumer," said Rattner, who will show off the device and conduct other demonstrations during a speech at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing this week.

Part of Intel's interest in home automation stems from the lopsided nature of energy consumption when computing is compared with the rest of the world. Computers and IT equipment only account for two percent of the world's power consumption.

"If we were to hugely succeed and cut IT power in half, we'd only improve things by one percent," he said.

A bigger motive, however, lies in the opportunity to sell more chips. Intelligent appliances will need processors, boards and communications silicon. Last year, Intel began to vaguely discuss the opportunity in home automation (see the story we broke on the effort here) before coming out with its energy console and making it official.

Some of the technology behind these energy management applications to some degree can be traced back to sensor research Rattner and others showed off at IDFs in the early 2000s. (Here's a walk down memory sensor lane for you silicon fans.) With energy, remote sensors are finally finding a lucrative application to exploit.

Sensor servers and management consoles in some ways could also allow consumers and even utilities to postpone or downgrade smart meter rollout. Who needs a smart meter if your DSL router can already control your home? These devices, however, need data to work; hence, Intel is part of a coalition to get utilities to give third parties access to consumer energy consumption data.

Here's a laundry list of some of Intel's other energy efforts:

--Smart grid. Intel is working with the State Grid Corporation in China. It is also a big supporter of Grid Net, the company that wants to use WiMax in the grid. Intel has been behind the WiMax concept since the beginning.

--Wind. There are ten processors in the average wind turbine. Intel sells to some large vendors already.

--Demand response and efficiency. The company is already an investor in CPower.

--Green IT. Intel in 2001 kicked off an effort to reduce power consumption in chips. That was to prevent computers from melting. The company shifted its emphasis to power savings as electricity prices climbed.

--Solar. Intel has spun out a few startups in solar already and Intel Capital has invested in some as well. Solar cells are basically just semiconductors. Intel may not ever produce solar cells itself, but expect it to try to get its technology for chips more integrated into solar.

--Talent. A growing number of green startups are headed by Intel alums. The company has a knack for producing people well-versed in technology and marketing, running employees ragged and wearing down anyone that tries to resist their sales pitch. VCs love that. Others not listed in that link are Carlos Perea, CEO of Miox, Dan Russell, CEO of PowerMand, and First Solar president Bruce Sohn.

Source : greentechenterprise, 16/04/10

Bundling Energy and Telecom Down Under

Aussies package everything from your home phone to natural gas in one bill.

If you look west of Wollongong and just east of Wagga Wagga, the future of bundling is here.

ActewAGL, a utility down under in Australian Capital Territory, or ACT, has roved far beyond the ubiquitous phone, internet and cable package offered to most U.S. consumers. Instead, the utility tosses together up to seven services, including electricity and natural gas, allowing for customers to save on bills.

Telecom companies stateside have been eagerly venturing into smart grid alliances. AT&T has offered up its wireless network to carry smart grid traffic with SmartSynch, and Comcast invested in home energy startup iControl, but utilities and telecom companies have not been not focused on teaming up to offer their services as a single unit -- at least not yet.

ActewAGL, which serves the national capitol Canberra and its surrounding area, was deregulated and opened up to competition in 2003, although electricity rates are still heavily set by government tariffs.

In an effort to stay cost-competitive, ActewAGL thought it was natural to start bundling the electricity, natural gas and phone services that the majority of their customers already had. The bundling options between the utility and telecom partner TransACT have grown since 2003, and the more services that are included, the more consumers can save. It’s mandatory to start with the basic three services, which saves three percent, but if customers add in green energy, cable, cell phone and internet, they can save up to 25 percent on either their telephone or electricity bill. The savings are capped at $500 (AUS) annually.

Bundle more, save more. The concept is familiar to most of us, but packaging kWh with phone minutes is not as intuitive as it seems. “We invested a lot of money in our systems and processes to make our customer experience as seamless as possible,” said Ayesha Razzaq, ActewAGL's general manager for retail. “It’s important to be able to do it seamlessly so the customers feel like they’re dealing with one company.”

Customers see their bill broken down by service, to avoid price shock. About one-quarter of ActewAGL's 135,000 customers are signed up for some level of bundling. Razzaq said the company has seen the rates of participation slowly increase over the years, and the appeal of sticking with the local guys -- both TransACT and ActewAGL only serve ACT and some surrounding areas -- has paid off.

“It’s a very unique model that I don’t think would work in other places,” said Kylie Van Steenbeek, the marketing manager for ActewAGL. “We have a whole heap of customers who have been there for a long time and are very local to the brand.”

Not only is ActewAGL local, it has a customer-service model from which some smart meter-embroiled utilities could learn a thing or two. When customers call up ActewAGL, a human answers the phone. Not a human-sounding voice -- a breathing, bipedal human. While talking about bundling with ActewAGL, the conversation constantly returns to customers, finding out what they want and discovering how to deliver new products in a user-friendly way.

Although the formula may not be easily replicable on a larger scale, telecoms and utilities are still bound to move beyond back-end partnerships as smart grid applications enter the mainstream.

The potential appeal of customers checking their energy use on a flat screen TV is certainly just one incentive for Comcast, Verizon and other cable providers to offer energy management portals over their networks. T-Mobile and AT&T would probably like to see customers manage energy over their smart phones and networks, too. EcoFactor, a Calif.-based energy management startup, is betting that a broadband gateway, and not smart meters, will be how consumers will manage their energy use at home in the future.

Australians are notoriously green-minded and light years beyond most Americans in terms of how they think about power and water consumption, so any partnership like the one in ACT might not appear in the U.S. for some time. After all, other Australian utilities have not even replicated the bundling services.

Despite the bundling partnership, the alliance down in ACT surprisingly ends at monthly savings. TransACT does not have arrangements for smart grid start-up projects or demand response networking, despite the fact that ActewAGL currently has a smart grid pilot with an in-home display made by EcoVision.

That could change in the future, however. Because it already has a successful partnership in bundling services, TransACT could be a natural partner to provide broadband networking if ActewAGL wants to update or expand its grid communications.

The move in the other direction by U.S. companies, from smart grid network coalitions to consumer partnerships, will most likely be marked by baby steps. A lesson from Down Under when it comes to bundling is not to lure customers into new smart grid applications by packaging them with existing technologies. Instead, build confidence with what customers already know and have, and then let them add in products over time. “The services are ones people have already,” said Razzaq, “so it’s not asking people to make a jump into solar panels right away.”

Source : Greentechgrid, 16/04/10

Top Ten Green Giants

What are the most important companies in greentech? Hint: many are over 100 years old.

While startups have played a crucial role in getting the green industry off the ground, the future will likely be dominated by large, sprawling conglomerates. Why? Green technology essentially involves revamping the physical infrastructure of the modern world: replacing coal-fired power plants with wind turbines, building homes from materials concocted in chemistry laboratories, and swapping out engines for electric motors. Established companies are simply in a far better position to muster the capital, technological depth, managerial expertise and factory capacity that will all be needed to make the transition.

Familiarity plays a big role, too. Millions have flocked to play Farmville, but you won't see the same sort of giddy enthusiasm for those installing high voltage power lines or sewage-to-drinking-water plants. If the internet boom was a twenty-something billionaire, clean tech is a science teacher with a comb-over.

With that in mind, here is our list of the top ten Green Giants: the companies most likely to produce, develop and promote the ideas and products that will have the widest ranging effects.

  1. Communist Party of the People's Republic of China
  2. General Electric
  3. Siemens
  4. Nissan
  5. Dow Chemical
  6. Panasonic
  7. Johnson Controls and Honeywell
  8. Wal-Mart
  9. Veolia
  10. Cisco

Honorable mentions: Philips (lighting, electronics), Samsung (electronics, aims to be biggest solar maker by 2015), LG (whatever Samsung does, we will do too) Ford, Schneider (grid, green data centers), IBM (consulting and technology for water, grid, data centers and supply chain), Oracle, SAP (software, rampant acquirers), Chevron (oil, solar) Suntech, SunPower, First Solar (solar), Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing (contractors, project managers).

1. Communist Party of the People's Republic of China

What isn't China doing? The country has kicked off at least 13 electric car trials, issued somewhat strict gas mileage standards for cars, and set aggressive renewable energy standards. The Chinese government will invest an estimated $300 billion in green stimulus over the next decade or so, and assist the effort by direct investments in companies through its estimated $200 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Just as importantly, the government is encouraging state-owned banks and manufacturers (as well as private companies) to collaborate with Westerners. First Solar will build power plants in China and provide Chinese utilities with the know-how to build them on their own, while Intel and IBM are working with state grid companies.

Exports will climb, too. Duke and Chinese conglomerate ENN will build and manage alternative energy power plants in the U.S. Meanwhile, Chinese wind power turbine maker A-Power Technologies will build a massive 1.6 GW power plant in Texas and a turbine factory in Nevada with financing from a Chinese bank. And electric car makers BYD and Coda Automotive want to bring cars made on Chinese assembly lines to the U.S.

Japanese companies established worldwide brands with cars and TVs. China will do the same with energy. Your next job might be with a Chinese conglomerate.

Other governments -- Germany, Spain, the U.S., California -- have set up stimulus programs, too, but the one-party government and state-owned status of many companies and banks (Coda will make its car on lines in a state-owned factory and funding for its battery venture comes from a state bank) put the PRC in the category of a market participant.

2. General Electric

No surprise here. In its second century of operation, GE remains one of the dominant forces in energy. It jousts with Vestas for the top spot in wind, is trying to establish WiMax as a standard for grid communications, and its oil and gas unit has a $400 million contract to provide compression equipment and services to the world's biggest carbon capture project. Last May, GE unfurled a plan to start producing sodium batteries for trains and the grid, giving Japan's NGK Insulators its first major competitor.

Recently, it said it would re-enter the market for solar panels in 2011 with cadmium telluride solar panels that will set a new efficiency standard. The announcement marked the first challenge from a major player for First Solar in a while. LED light bulbs come out later this year. OLEDs? Hopefully soon.

This energy behemoth has also devised an electronic home strategy so that all of your GE appliances will link smoothly into demand response and smart grid services. John McDonald, the chair of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel Governing Board at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will oversee home grid standards. He came from GE.

3. Siemens

GE with a German accent. The two focus in many ways on the same markets. In 2009, Siemens' environmental portfolio generated $23 billion euros in revenue, an 11 percent increase. The conglomerate seems be a little more active than GE when it comes to acquisitions lately. Siemens spent $418 million in 2009 to acquire Solel, which builds solar thermal power plants and said in December that it wants to be a top-three supplier of wind equipment by 2012. In the past, it scooped up a number of water companies. It also has investments in startups like Energy4U and Israel's Arava Energy.

If there's a big project in the world, like the massive Desertec project that will harness North African sun for power for Europe, Siemens will invariably be involved.

4. Nissan

Back in 2007, when Nissan was a distant third among Japanese car makers, Minoru Shinohara, who runs the company's technology division, told me that Nissan would largely skip over hybrids and start producing all-electric commuter cars in 2011 or 2012. It sounded intriguing, but he was a lab exec, after all. Were the higher-ups listening?

Apparently so. Renault Nissan announced a push into electric cars a few months later. Perhaps the most surprising part, however, is that Nissan has kept on track. The Leaf will make its debut later this year at a price, $32,800, which will make it comparable or cheaper than equivalent gas-powered cars after tax credits.

More electric cars -- all equipped with the lithium polymer battery developed in conjunction with NEC -- will spill out in 2011 and 2012. The Leaf brought much-needed credibility to electric cars.

Along the way, Nissan has also been a boon to charging station and electric car service providers: it has alliances with nearly all the major players (Better Place, Ecotality, eTec, etc.). Arguably, Ford -- which is coming out with all-electrics, plug-in hybrids, and a series of energy-efficient EcoBoost engines -- belongs here instead, but Nissan has in many ways been the biggest champion of electric vehicles.

5. Dow Chemical

The chemical giant, founded when William McKinley sat in the White House (1897), has embarked upon a multi-pronged strategy to exploit its know-how in membranes, coatings and material science to reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed by others in manufacturing their own products. Think of it as invisible green.

Last September, Dow Corning, a joint venture between Dow and Corning, brought a silicone sealant originally devised for outer-space solar panels to the conventional solar panel market. Silicone protects better than standard coatings, the company said, but also increases factory output. In November, Dow signed a multimillion dollar, multi-year research alliance with Caltech to develop next-generation solar technologies.

This year, the company will sell copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar roofing tiles. Initial customers for the tiles, developed in conjunction with Global Solar, include mass market home builders Lennar and Pulte Homes. It also has an investment in small CIGS developer NuvoSun, which was founded by Miasole founder Dave Pearce.

Meanwhile, Dow Kokam, a joint venture, makes batteries for electric cars. Water is also on Dow's ambitious agenda: it bought Rohm and Haas to expand into desalination.

6. Panasonic

When Fumio Ohtsubo, who runs the Panasonic conglomerate, announced that the company would invest $1 billion into expanding its green market, it was less a breakthrough than a coup de grace.

Panasonic has been building its green portfolio for years. The company makes the nickel batteries for the Toyota Prius and the lithium ion batteries for the Tesla Roadster. Last year, it started selling home fuel cells though local utility Osaka Gas that turn methane into electricity. And, like a lot of TV manufacturers, it has begun to tout energy efficiency as a selling point in its TVs. Some of its plasma TVs consume only 142 watts, explained Pete Fannon, vice president of technology, policy and government regulation at Panasonic.

The company also has plans to release a LED light bulb that costs $40, consumes about 7 watts, and emits as much light as a 60-watt incandescent. Panasonic also participates in electronics recycling facilities and is a member of a number of smart grid panels in the U.S.

Last year, in a move geared to let it get into solar panels and beef up its battery portfolio, the company bought a controlling interest in Sanyo, which was started in the first half of the 20th century by one of Panasonic's early employees. The company is also working with a number of Japanese companies on smart grid trials in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The next push? Homes. The company has a construction unit that can produce modular homes complete with energy efficient washing machines, TVs, new forms of insulation, standby lithium battery packs, solar panels and passive air conditioners from various divisions in the company itself. (See the video). It helps to have thousands of engineers and lots of factories at your disposal.

The big question mark is how aggressive Panasonic will be. Like many Japanese conglomerates, the company has been somewhat skittish about taking some of its domestic products overseas. I asked Ohtsubo about the company's green home plans in 2007. Japan, and maybe Europe, he said. Whether you see the blue Panasonic label all over the place again, or whether most of this stuff says in trade show purgatory will become one of the more interesting issues in the green consumer market.

7. Johnson Controls and Honeywell

Yes, it's cheating to declare a tie, but these two companies are mentioned in tandem quite a bit. In fact, I can't think of the last time someone mentioned Johnson Controls without adding "...and Honeywell" and vice versa.

The two companies are primarily known for building management systems, a growing market that will likely undergo a rapid evolutionary spurt, but they have other interests, too. Honeywell is the parent of UOP, which is leading the charge in developing catalysts required to transform feedstocks into "drop in" fuels like renewable diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline that require no changes to fuel infrastructure or fleet engines.

Johnson, meanwhile, is participating on the retrofit of the Empire State Building, while its battery group received $299 million from the DOE to develop nickel cobalt batteries for hybrids. The joint venture Johnson Controls-Saft makes lithium ion batteries for Ford.

The company also likes solar steam. "It is about a 40 percent efficient process. Solar thermal has advantages we need to capitalize on," Don Albinger, vice president of renewable energy solutions, told us last year.

Another interesting, and ancient, company that will loom large in green building: Alcoa.

8. Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart plays three roles in the green industry. As the world's largest retailer, it is both a buyer and seller, a consumer and provider, of goods. Its sprawling real estate holdings make it one of the richest targets for reducing energy consumed in operations.

The sheer size of the company makes almost anything it does noteworthy. Earlier this year, it launched a plan with the Environmental Defense Fund to help its suppliers reduce packaging and their own energy consumption. Streamlining undertaken at Wal-Mart's behest, of course, will invariably lead to lower-carbon products at other stores. Roughly 30,000 factories in China will be affected.

The company will also begin to put tags on its own brand-name clothes telling consumers that they can be washed in cold water, thereby saving downstream energy. Locavores have cheered the programs the discount giant has put in place to encourage farming in close proximity to its superstores.

Inside stores, experiments with LED lights in freezer cases, solar panels, fuel cells and other technologies move relatively quickly from prototype installations to commercial practices. The little things add up. Taking the lights out of soda machines in break rooms cut $1 million from operating costs.

9. Veolia

Veolia shares three distinct characteristics with many other companies on this list. One, it's old, founded in 1853 to provide irrigation services. Two, it's not based in the U.S. -- Veolia hails from France. And three, it pulls in a tremendous amount of revenue ($50 billion euros annually) providing relatively anonymous, arguably dull services that modern civilization can't live without.

Veolia, in fact, could be considered the king of unsexy green. The company has four lines of business: public transportation, water treatment, heating and cooling and garbage. Ever take the SuperShuttle to the airport? Veolia owns that. Roughly 75 percent of its revenue derives from providing services to public agencies and government.

The trust that governments are willing to give the conglomerate, however, explains its inclusion on the list. For the foreseeable future, governments will remain some of the largest consumers of green technology and services. Homeowners might own their own solar panels to get off the grid, but don't expect to see an explosion of eco-friendly home sewage systems anytime soon. Like GE and Siemens, Veolia has something of a free pass when it comes to the initial stages of due diligence.

Earlier this year, the company has created an accelerator program to recruit startups to participate in live prototype projects. It is working with NanoH2O, a company that has devised an energy-efficient desalination membrane, and Veolia wants to find a trash company to help it separate recyclable metals in waste streams.

"What we can provide is the customer base and pilot capabilities," said Philippe Martin, senior vice president of Veolia Environement.

10. Cisco

More of a potential giant than an actual one -- yet. The networking king unfurled its EnergyWise platform last year to reduce the energy consumed by PCs, networking equipment, and phones. Ultimately, Cisco wants to manage energy in buildings. It has already bought Richards-Zeta Building Intelligence to expand in that market. It has also entered into a few smart grid projects and plunked an investment into Grid Net, the broadband smart grid provider.

Another market: videoconferencing and city planning. Cisco cut its own travel budget by $500 million using video.

Granted, that pales in comparison to what others on the list have accomplished. Even Silver Spring is still a bigger name in smart grid. Nonetheless, two factors make Cisco a threat. One, it has a somewhat strong history of acquiring companies and then actually exploiting their technology in their own products. (That flip camera one notwithstanding.) With a market that will see a tremendous amount of M&A activity, this is a subterranean skill.

Two, smart grid is all about networking and Cisco has quite a bit of expertise here. Still, we'll have to wait and see. Various IT companies have laid plans to expand from their core markets and never quite succeeded. Only time will tell on this one.

Rick Thompson, Co-Founder and President of Greentech Media, contributed to this article.

Source : Greentechmedia, 19/04/10

Sustainability Gets Sophisticated

Report finds a shift from tracking carbon emissions to analyzing every link in supply chain efficiency.

Less carrot and more stick is the driving factor that may compel many U.S. manufacturing firms to mind their carbon footprint and more, according to a new report from AMR Research and software giant SAP.

The survey of 189 companies in both energy-intensive and non-energy-intensive industries paints a slightly different picture than a recent Johnson Controls study of more than 1,400 companies as to what is pushing companies towards energy and carbon efficiency.

When it comes to drivers for sustainability, one-third of those surveyed said corporate branding and staying competitive were high on their list in 2008, but that figure plummeted to 12 percent in 2010. Compliance to regulatory requirements, however, jumped up from 11 percent to 27 percent of companies that identified it as a factor driving sustainability.

The larger Johnson Controls study, however, found that energy cost savings and brand image were the most significant drivers for investing in energy efficiency.

"Sustainability is alive and kicking," said Peter Graf, SAP's chief sustainability officer, who qualified the results of the survey by noting that the real motive that is fueling interest in energy efficiency is the bottom line. "It's not because of climate change. There is money to be made and money to be saved."

No matter the reason, investment and consideration of efficiency at all points in the business chain are being considered at every level in a way they have not been in previous years, according to the survey.

That translates into potential profits for SAP, which also announced its acquisition of TechniData on Wednesday. TechniData makes software to help companies with environmental, health and safety compliance. The acquisition will boost SAP's offerings for companies that are increasingly focusing on sustainability and carbon compliance given the EPA's Mandatory Reporting requirements and other drivers to focus on carbon and efficiency.

Both surveys found that the most prevalent approach to saving energy is through building management and reducing on-site energy consumption. Looking beyond buildings, there is expected to be a growing focus on re-engineering manufacturing processes, sub-building smart grid upgrades, and on-site energy production in the next three to five years.

Steven Stokes of AMR Research said that business sustainability will become fundamentally more sophisticated in the coming years, as real-time data replaces Excel sheets to track the organizational metabolism of a company, rather than simply its output.

"If a week is a long time in politics," he said, "boy, a year is a long time in sustainability."