Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wave and Tidal Energy - again the Next Big Thing?

Thanks to Laurel Krause at Mendo Coast Current for capturing this story from yesterday's Christian Science Monitor.

I live not far from Pennington, NJ, the home of Ocean Power Technologies, but that's not the only reason hydrokinetic energy interests me. Wave and tidal energy resources off the New Jersey Coast could add as much as 100MW to New Jersey's renewable energy potential. That's 50% of the state's still contentious target for onshore wind.

OPTT and other US wave and tidal companies have always struggled in the States, but have gotten a lot of attention from Spain, Portugal, the UK ( especially Scotland) and Northern Ireland. Spanish and Portugese projects have fallen victim to the dryup of alternate energy investments but the US now actually seems interested. If wave and tidal actually take off in the the US, California and New Jersey are probably where they will happen first.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) maintains a complete directory of active wave and tidal projects, along with extensive reports on wave and tidal R&D. They also published a very informative research report in 2007.

Wave and tidal technologies compete with elevated offshore wind turbines for public and policymaker attention - and funding. They also cost a lot to build and maintain. Another problem is that tidal and wave technologies are still in the early, pre-commercial stage and probably five years away from large scale deployment. While they are coming up to speed, wind, solar, biomass, conservation and efficiency technologies will continue to advance.

That creates the risk that wave and tidal technologies could permanently lag behind in the competition for investment and customers, and remain niche technologies forever. The upside is that niche technologies can do really well if the niche is big enough.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thinking nuclear

I have always looked at nuclear power with a lot of skepticism. Not because I think it is impossible to solve the plant safety and waste disposal issues, but because I have no faith in the industry's willingness to put those issues first and profitability second.

Still, the idea of safer, smaller, distributed nuclear plants has intrigued me since the 1970s. A recently-updated article on the subject makes the idea seem a little closer to reality.

Chrysler-Fiat deal looks promising

More details about the Fiat-Chrysler deal.

I doubt that Fiat will make mistakes of the magnitude that Daimler made in trying to make this deal work. THAT debacle resulted in a lot of serious studies of the risks inherent in international mergers, such as this from Emory University.

What encourages me most is that this is being structured as a global alliance, a la Nissan-Renault, not an acquisition of Chrysler by Fiat. Nissan-Renault seems to be working out, under very tough conditions. A global alliance means that Fiat will work with, not massacre Chrysler's current management.

Also, Fiat is doing a lot better, or at least a lot less bad, than all of its rivals except Volkswagen because of "scrappage payments", European government incentives to trade in old cars for new. Both VW and Fiat have the cars that Europoeans want, and now how the government incentives to make them more marketable.

The Canadion Government has a modest scrappage program but the US has nothing as yet. S.247, the "Accelerated Retirement of Inefficient Vehicles Act of 2009" introduced by Diane Feinstein and co-sponsored by Susan Collins and Chuck Schumer, and its companion House bill, HR 520, are arousing a lot of well-0rganized opposition from dealers and enthusiasts of low-MPG, high-emission cars, and from dealers who want incentives for used cars included.

My own feeling is that real incentives such as scrappage payments could get a lot more people who really need new, efficient cars to move now rather than later.