Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Forget Batteries, Store Energy in Concrete Blocks

Much progress has been made in recent years with solar and wind technology.  Costs have dropped dramatically for both these two renewable energy sources, bringing them within striking distance of economically competitive electric power sources.  The levelized cost of photovoltaic solar power is now near $0.07 per kilowatt hour and on-shore wind power about $0.05.  This compares to conventional gas-powered plants near $0.05 per kwh and coal near $0.12. 

Yet there remains one niggling problem  -  intermittent power production.  Gas, coal and nuclear proponents like to snicker and jeer, calling solar and wind by the energy industry pejorative, “non-dispatchable.”  Nighttime rolls around and winds die down, solar and wind power generation come to a halt.  These sources cannot be counted on to supply the consistent power supply required to keep the electric grid working properly.
To solve this problem, wind and solar power developers have leveraged battery technology and various smart grid solutions that smooth the flow of electricity into the grid.  Unfortunately, grid-scale batteries are expensive and the more affordable pumped hydroelectric storage is not available in many regions. 

Friday, November 02, 2018

Capex: Floatie for U.S. Economy

There have been a number of prognostications in recent months regarding prospects for the U.S. economy in the coming months.  Some of them may be driven by political operatives seeking to claim a strong economy as one of Donald Trump’s accomplishments.  True enough, the U.S. economy is growing and in the second quarter 2018, growth hit an impressive 4.1%.  Federal government spending and a tax stimulus have been key elements in that growth  -  both of which have come about because Congress has been eager to curry favor with Trump’s program. 
It is yet to be determined just how long the U.S. can continue to spend so much more than it collects in taxes.  Donald Trump is very familiar with bankruptcy and therefore may have a greater comfort level with that calamitous outcome than the rest of us.  While some voters appear unfazed by the building federal deficit, others are grasping about for the life vests. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Accidental Enzyme

In April 2018, scientists announced a near miracle  -  the discovery of an micro that eats a common plastic used in bottles.  The public has been chattering ever since.  The microbe could potentially help solve the nagging environmental problem of plastics pollution.  Plastics take hundreds of years to degrade, leaving a stream of toxic ocean flotsam and poisonous landfill scum.     
A series began here with the post ”Plastic Contagion” on April 13, 2018, discussed the downside of plastics and existing remedies to reduce plastics contamination.  There are few investment options in part because there are few options to deal with plastic  -  other than making more of it.  Thus the prospect of investing in plastic eating microbes is tantalizing.  Even then, the most patient investor may be disappointed.  There is lengthy research and development still ahead before the technology is perfected and can be translated into a commercial product or service.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Prize Money and Innovation

The last post “Less Obvious Sources:  Prizes and Water” on October 23, 2018, focused on the Skywater Alliance and its innovative system to generate potable water.  As part of an effort to help solve the growth problem of inadequate water supplies around the world, architect David Hertz and his partners have developed a system to snatch water right out of the air.  The Skywater system creates rainstorms in a container by heating wood chips to the right temperature to cause condensation of moisture in the air and the organic fuel.  As the condensation is collected ozone is pumped through the water to purify the water before storage. 
Prize Money
Hertz’s group sought financial support from an unusual source.  The group entered the Xprize for Water Abundance competition, edging out over 90 other inventors for $1.5 million in prize money.  The XPrize Foundation awards seventeen different prizes in nine categories aimed at bringing about a safer, healthier and more sustainable world.  Since inception in 1994, Xprize has awarded over $140 million in prize money.