Tag: energy

Tesla Energy, Brookfield, and Dacra Create the First Tesla Solar Neighborhood in Austin

The installation of solar panels on a residential roof at the first Tesla Solar neighborhood, located in East Austin, photo courtesy of Brookfield Residential

Not only is Tesla building a $1.1 billion Gigafactory in Austin to make trucks and other vehicles, but Tesla Energy is also creating a solar-powered local neighborhood.

Last week, Tesla Energy announced the first Tesla Solar neighborhood called SunHouse at Easton Park, 12 miles east of downtown Austin. Tesla is working with Brookfield Asset Management and Dacra.

“Neighborhood solar installations across all housing types will reshape how people live,” Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, said in a news statement. “The feedback we get from the solar and battery products used in the community will impact how we develop and launch new products.”

Installation of Tesla V3 solar roof tiles and Powerwall 2 battery storage began in June at select homes in the SunHouse community on land in Brookfield Residential’s Easton Park master-planned residential community.

The houses, being built by various homebuilders, start in the low $300,000s and go up from there.

“This initiative brings together multiple parts of our organization with innovative and forward-thinking partners that share a commitment to advance the development of sustainable communities,” Brian Kingston, CEO of Brookfield’s Real Estate business. “As consumers increasingly seek out energy security alongside sustainable places to live, combining Tesla’s solar technology together with Brookfield’s real estate and renewables development capabilities will help us meet demand for environmentally responsible communities of the future.”

“Our goal is to establish that fully sustainable neighborhoods are not only viable, but the best practical and economical choice,” Craig Robins, CEO of Dacra, said in a news release. “Together with Brookfield and Tesla, we are trying to change the world by creating technology-driven, energy-independent communities that make the world a better place.”

The master-planned community of homes seeks to become an energy-neutral, sustainable community and a model for the design and construction of sustainable large-scale housing projects around the world. The community also expects to produce enough energy to supply daily needs and reduce the daily demand on the electric grid. They will also have backup power and they will have the ability to sell excess energy back to the energy grid.

Tesla Solar will provide ongoing oversight of the homes’ energy systems, and Brookfield’s renewable power business will integrate a community-wide solar program to serve broader public use needs and surrounding neighborhoods. Brookfield Residential will also incorporate a suite of technology features, including electric vehicle charging stations in each home and throughout the community.

The City of Austin and Travis County have both announced commitments to sustainable development.

“The City of Austin is excited for the arrival of these affordable options to housing powered by renewable energy,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a news release. “I am excited for the Tesla, Brookfield, and Dacra partnership’s approach to sustainable energy and housing as an example of the out-of-box thinking that continues to make our community a beacon of innovation for the rest of the country and world.”

The Challenge Cup Competition Takes Place at Capital Factory on Friday

logoThis Friday, 27 Austin startups will compete for a spot in the Challenge Cup.
They are competing in four categories.
In the education category, the startups are: Young Potential Development, Prepify, CultureBooster, Code Arcade and Aceable.
In energy, the startups are: Water Lens, nCarbon, MaglevTrans, InfiniRel and Curb.
In health, the largest category, the startups are: ePatientFinder, vPhysicians, Visible Health, Spot on Sciences, Pristine, Help Find Care, Fuel Our Future, Filament Labs, Chiron Health and Atlas.
In the smart cities category, the startups are: Aunt Bertha Software, VoterTrove, Spokefly, Reaction, NeedTo, Local Magnet and 121Giving.
The competition, put on by 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based accelerator, is part of a global search for the most innovative startups with solutions to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
The regional competition gives the startups a chance to win a spot in the final competition, the Challenge Festival, to be held in May in Washington, D.C. The regional winners receive travel expenses a hotel for a week for the final competition.
At the final competition, the Challenge Cup overall winner receives a $150,000 prize in the form of an investment from 1776.
So far, the Challenge Cup has held events in the following U.S. cities: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. It still plans events in Denver and San Francisco in February.
International events have been held in Berlin, London. And other events are planned for Sao Paulo, Brazil, Cape Town, South Africa, Tel Aviv, Israel, Beijing, China and New Delhi, India.
The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 9:00 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. the companies will give one minute pitches. At 7 p.m., the judges will break and then announce the finalists.
The finalists, two from each category, will give five minute pitches and answer questions for three minutes from judges until 8:15 p.m. And after a fifteen minute break, the winners will be announced.
Tickets to the event are free but advanced registration is required.

As China’s power consumption grows, GE invests in clean energy to meet future demand

The tremendous drive toward clean energy exists because of increased demand for fossil fuels from China and the developing world.
“I’m not a clean energy guy, I’m an energy guy,” said Kevin Skillern, managing director of venture capital for GE Energy Financial Services.
He spoke to several hundred people attending the second day of the Clean Energy Venture Summit 2011, the fifth annual event at the AT&T Executive Education Center in Austin.
Skillern’s key points are a huge need exists for software to drive new energy applications, solar is becoming more affordable and microbes show great promise for providing fuels of the future.
So why is GE interested in the clean energy market? It is the biggest industrial company in the world with a market capitalization of $550 billion. GE is bigger than Exxon plus Wal-Mart plus another company, Skillern said.
“About a third of the world’s power comes from equipment made by GE,” Skillern said. “We’re the biggest company in the renewable industry with wind and solar power.”
GE has backed about 40 renewable energy startup companies since 2005, Skillern said. And about 1,500 business plans come across its desks every year, he said.
In the U.S. people take energy for granted, Skillern said. He has four kids and lives in California. When the power goes out, within two minutes his kids “are going crazy,” he said. But in India, days go by without power, Skillern said.
Fuel and energy is fundamental to our lives and that’s why GE formed Energy Technology Ventures with NRG Energy, an energy retailer, and ConocoPhillips, global energy company. The $300 million joint venture invests in emerging energy technology companies. The venture’s key objectives are to make money, collaborate, gain new technology insights and strengthen relationships.
The current investing environment is challenging, Skillern said. Energy tech stocks were negatively affected in the recent market sell-offs. The clean energy index is down 33 percent year to date. And Solyndra , a solar panel maker in Freemont, Calif. that filed for bankruptcy in Sept. 1 and laid off all its workers, proved one of the biggest venture capital busts ever, he said.
“There are few energy venture capital success stories with real profits yet,” Skillern said.
But on the positive side, the demand for energy innovation is strong and energy remains the largest venture capital segment. An estimated 15 percent of all venture capital dollars are going in energy startups. That’s up from less than one percent 10 years ago.
“The world needs new energy technologies,” Skillern said.
Mature companies and breakthrough technologies are beginning to emerge, he said. And the U.S. remains the most fertile hub of innovation for energy.
Overall, China’s energy consumption will soar in the next decade and that’s driving the need for more energy sources, Skillern said.
“China, in aggregate, consumes as much energy as the U.S.” Skillern said. Seven years ago, it was 40 percent, he said.
In China, the big power source is coal, Skillern said. Twenty years out that trend is not going to go away, he said.
By 2020, the passenger car fleet in China will hit 225 million. Meanwhile the U.S.’s passenger car fleet is shrinking
to an estimated 246 million vehicles, down from an all time high of 250 million a few years ago.
“China will consume the equivalent of all the oil produced in Saudi Arabia,” Skillern said. “That’s a long term trend. But it’s a big, big deal.”
The software industry is driving innovation in the energy industry, Skillern said. He quoted from Netscape founder and Venture Capital Investor Marc Andreessen’s essay in the Wall Street Journal from Aug. 20.
“We are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy,” Andreessen wrote. “Six decades in the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades in the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”
Today, more than 2 billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago, according to Skillern’s presentation. And in the next 10 years, at least 5 billion people will own smart phones giving access to full power of the Internet every moment of every day, he said.
“On the back end, programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software power startups,” Skillern said.
For example, in North America one in every six home energy meters is a smart meter, Skillern said. In five years, it’ll be 55 percent, he said. Worldwide smart meter adoption is at 6 percent and it will grow to 19 percent with five years.
“It’s not going to put power plants out of business,” he said.
But it does provide low costs and easy savings for consumers and allows them greater information about energy consumption and control, Skillern said.
Skillern said his household pays 35 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, compared to 10 cents nationally. Software will allow consumers to cut their consumption, he said. Smart meters lead to a 10 percent to 15 percent reduction in their bills.
Consert has a major deployment underway with CPS Energy in San Antonio. Energy efficiency savings from 140,000 homes generates 250 megawatts to create a virtual power plant with the potential to double. The rollout starts in mid-2012 and will be completed over the following three years.

After his keynote, Kevin Skillern with GE visits with people attending the Clean Energy Venture Summit

Already, Consert has hired 20 people in San Antonio since June and it plans to hire eight to ten more by the end of 2011 and more than 150 during the next three years.
Another big trend is making solar energy more affordable. Solar energy costs 30 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with an average of 10 cents nationwide for traditional energy sources. The idea is to make solar a “grid parity” technology which means it can be produced at or less than the cost of delivered grid power without subsidies. Right now, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts have achieved grid parity with government subsidies.
The fluctuation in price of solar energy has to do with location, Skillern said. In Hawaii, solar power is just 9 cents.
“The economics of solar have gotten better by 54 percent in the last three years,” Skillern said. Solar energy is a $70 billion industry today. GE has invested in Solar Edge.
The last big trend is microbes, Skillern said. Some types of algae and other microbes offer potential fuel sources for the future.
“Energy represents one of great societal challenges of our time,” Skillern said. “Breakthrough energy technologies are an essential part of the solution.”

Texas’ future energy needs depends on wind and solar power

In 1999, the Texas legislature passed a law to mandate the state diversify its energy resources.

The legislation, dubbed the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard, required all electricity providers to collectively generate 2,000 megawatts of additional renewable energy by 2009. The state estimates that 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy generates enough electricity to power more than 800,000 homes.

The 2005 legislature increased that to nearly 6,000 megawatts by 2015, said Robert J. King with Good Company. He moderated a utilities futures panel at the Clean Energy Venture Summit 2011 in Austin Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve blown past that,” King said in an interview following the panel. “We’re already at 9,000 megawatts.”

That shift to renewable energy has kept the power flowing in Texas despite a huge demand for air-conditioning power from a sweltering hot summer. Renewable energy from coastal winds prevented a blackout on Aug. 4, King said. An additional 2,000 megawatts from coastal wind farms, combined with conservation prevented outages, he said.

The energy utility futures panel at Clean Energy Venture Summit 2011

“Wind is a competitive resource,” said Cris Eugster, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer with CPS Energy, San Antonio’s utility company. Wind energy costs just 5 cents per kilowatt, he said. That compares to 11 cents per kilowatt for nuclear, 4 cents for gas, 5 cents for coal and 15 to 30 cents for solar, according to the Pure Energy Systems Wiki.

Wind energy will play an even bigger part in the state’s future. King estimates that energy generated from wind will double to 18,000 megawatts within three to four years. Texas is spending $6.7 billion to put in new energy transmission lines in the next four to five years, King said. That’s nearly $2 billion a year statewide to upgrade the energy infrastructure system, he said. That presents huge opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovation in Texas, he said.

CPS Energy plans to generate 20 percent of its energy portfolio from energy efficiencies and renewables by 2020, Eugster said. It’s halfway there with wind energy making up 97 percent of its renewable sources, he said. But CPS also sees growth coming from solar. It runs that state’s largest solar farm, located on the south side of San Antonio, generating 16 megawatts of energy.

CPS also gets 250 megawatts of energy from 140,000 households participating in its energy efficiency program, Eugster said. And it has hundreds of customers enrolled in its home-based solar program, he said.

What’s starting to hook everyone together is the idea of the smart grid, according to panel members.

“Some entities out there think that having their own energy at hand, and not being dependent on the grid, is a good idea,” said Mark Carpenter, chief technology officer of Oncor.

Advanced meter legislation in Texas requires that utility companies install smart meters or digital readers inside people’s homes, King said.

“We have $3 billion being spent in the next couple of years on advanced meter infrastructure in Texas,” King said. That is a huge opportunity, he said.

Innovation in the last 18 months has been incredible, said William Clayton, vice president of customer care with NRG Reliant Energy.

“It seems like every day something new is coming out.” Clayton said.

Jon Shapiro, founder of the Texas Institute, told the audience that while energy companies focus on saving pennies they should be focused more on Cybersecurity.

“It’s really going to be the loss of power that is going to be a big win for smaller companies that diversify their energy sources,” Shapiro said.

Could a cyber-terrorist or hacker kid take down the energy grid?

“The systems were designed for straightforward communications and some of the equipment has been sitting in the fields since the 70s,” Shapiro said. “Many of these devices have a high degree of susceptibility to hacking. As you bring on more devices you have more vulnerability. The smarter you get the grid, the more entry points there are for hackers,” Shapiro said. He didn’t think a hacker or terrorist would take down the grid, but they could cause lots of painful problems and outages in parts of the system.

“100 percent of the customers want reliability,” said Larry Weis, general manager of Austin Energy, the nation’s ninth largest publicly-owned utility serving more than 410,000 customers.

Yet residential customers think about energy just six minutes a year, he said.

“I’m fascinated with all the things we can do,” Weis said. “I just hope the customers want it.”

Richard D. Williams, director of corporate development with Energy Future Holdings, based in Dallas, says the company has been trying to put solar panels on customers roofs for a long time.

But the cost to install solar panels from $10,000 to $30,000 has been prohibitive for many customers, he said. So the energy company went to a lease model and now it’s over-subscribed for its solar program, he said.

“Change the business model and attract more customers,” he said.

The leased program costs just $50 a month with no upfront costs, he said.

A lot of customers want a renewable energy package but they just don’t want to pay for it, he said.

During a question and answer session at the end of the panel discussion, an audience member asked about Algae as an energy-generating resource. King said the University of Texas is one of the leaders in Algae-based energy research and it has more than 3,000 strands of Algae in its research database.

Williams with Energy Future Holdings said the science behind Algae energy production is still about five years away from mass production.

Another audience member asked about the safety of smart meters in the home. She said a lot of California city governments have already banned them because of concerns about safety. The panel members said there is always concern when it comes to utility companies putting technology into customers’ homes, but the safety concerns are unwarranted.

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