Renewable Thinking

500 terawatts of instantaneous laser energy is shot at a 1-cm gold cylinder!
by Alex Osteen -- March 15th, 2013

The first big common theme we’ve heard across several energy organizations here in Silicon Valley is the way people take an idea from mind to money: going from an experiment in a lab to a profitable and growing business is not an easy undertaking.

Fusion at Lawrence Livermore National Lab: AJ Simmons gave us an insider’s glimpse into the current status of the R&D of FUSION. We joked that we’ve been just a couple decades away from achieving fusion for about 60 years now. With the construction of the 2009 NIF lab, Simmons is optimistic that Lawrence Livermore is actually getting really close. He showed us a cartoon animation of how the laser system works at his lab (to Indiana-Jones style theme music) and it’s really quite stunning. I expected to see Doc Brown pop up in the background. If we can achieve a self-perpetuating fusion reaction, we could start to build power plants on the scale of the largest coal plants today, though clean and safe.

Automated Demand Response at EnerNOC: Talk about an esoteric energy term, though a really cool one. David Meyers talked about how his company is leading this newly-emerged, highly technical niche to go between utilities and large electricity consumers to help manage the steep peak loads. The company, EnerNOC, installs devices and software at industries that allow them to shut down certain energy-intensive processes during especially high demand moments. There is money to be made in doing this because it allows utilities to avoid starting up additional plants, which are always their least efficient plants and they are happy not to have to do so. Of course, getting industries to cut back on their electricity use at any given random moment is far from being easily automated, as Meyers knows first-hand. However, it will be interesting to see how EnerNOC continues to shape their market into the future.

Switch-station EV Charge Stations at Better Place: Are electric vehicles (EV) possible on a large scale in the United States? Would you drive an EV if it were cheaper than a gas car and if you never had to worry about charging hassles? That’s where Better Place, an emerging EV business, hopes to enter the market in the United States, according to Andrew Lee. Their model is to build “Switch Stations” that use a robotic arm to replace used batteries with fully charged ones, in a drive-through fashion similar to a car wash. Although they don’t build cars, they plan to act like cell phone companies that subsidize phones in exchange for customer contracts, Better Place will subsidize EVs in exchange for a per-mile batter use contract. It’s an interesting business model and we will see if it takes off in the U.S.

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