An Idaho-based company might just have the solution to the issues that currently exist for solar energy. Solar Roadways, founded in 2006, came up with the ingenious idea to replace all United States paved roadways with durable and versatile hexagonal solar panels. On May 18, 2014, a nonmember of the Solar Roadways Company released a video outlining the benefits from such a system, including easy maintenance, ability to be heated in cold climates, and versatility. “SOLAR FREAKIN’ ROADWAYS!” was heard all around the internet not even a week after the technology’s promotional video was released. That was just the beginning.

Right now, the United States is facing the issue of deciding between maintaining poor infrastructure and updating it. The government, on both national and state levels, has not been able to make a proper call yet. As a result of this indecision, highway associations, and departments of public works across the United States have been making slapdash repairs that don’t last nearly long enough and end up causing more issues in the long term. The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) released a quadrennial report in 2013 grading each sector of America’s infrastructure. Since solar roadways have the potential to affect electrical, bridge, and roadway infrastructure, the main focus in funding changes will be centered on those three aspects. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion must be spent annually through 2020 to significantly improve the conditions and performance of roadway infrastructure in the United States, representing an increase of $69 billion over current spending. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $20.5 billion must be spent annually through 2028 to improve overall conditions, an $8 billion over current levels. The ASCE estimates that between distributing energy and transmitting it from generative sources to distribution chains, the United States will spend close to $94 billion annually through 2020, a substantial increase from the current $63 billion. All of these estimates will amount to a grand total of $108 billion in extra funding per year, and is simply estimated to be the amount necessary  for the United States to catch up to, not exceed, current infrastructure standards. Conversely, The Economist in June of 2014, reported that implementing a system to replace the entirety of America’s roadways would cost an estimated $1 trillion. Furthermore, this figure does not take into account the research and development that would be necessary in order to implement solar roadways. Put another way, it is without a doubt that, in terms of principal costs, it would be more convenient and cheaper to maintain the status quo for roads in the United States. If Solar Roadways was simply a paving material, it wouldn’t be the cheaper option to  cure the United States’ infrastructure crisis.

Luckily, Solar Roadways has possibilities that far exceed those of asphalt and concrete. First and foremost, solar roadways would provide a national path towards energy independence. According to 2013 figures from the Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels, the majority of which are imported, make up 67% of the electricity generated in the United States. Constantly functioning solar panels, covering 31,250 square miles of roads, parking lots, driveways, playgrounds, bike paths, and sidewalks in the United States could change those proportions. According to Solar Roadways’ own estimates, their technology spread across the country could produce over three times the electricity that we currently use in the United States every year. Solar roadways would thus not only allow for sustainable energy independence, but would also allow for enough of a cushion to maintain energy independence even in the most drastic of situations.

Secondly, Solar Roadways could help improve energy efficiency in the Unite States. One current large issue with energy production in the United States is that energy grids are removed from energy production, especially when it comes to nonrenewable sources. However, the way solar roadways are designed would allow for the grid to run concurrently with energy production in an efficient way and could help the United States  control overall costs of energy.

Beyond the primary issue of energy, Solar roadways could improve transportation infrastructure in several other ways. Solar roadways could significantly improve highway safety. Current levels of accidents per year on asphalt roadways hover around 6.5 million accidents. Through the use of heated and illuminated panels that are easily replaceable and have storm drains installed, roadways will have increased visibility. Giving drivers more control on roads during rough driving conditions should improve overall highway safety.

Finally, Solar Roadways would have the advantage of easy recyclability. The tiles created by Solar Roadways, from the glass surface to the inner components, are entirely recyclable. In contrast, concrete and asphalt recycling are labor and capital intensive processes that are not easily undertaken by any company or government institution that seeks to repave roads, sidewalks, or the like.

A report from the National Economic Council and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers from July of 2014 illustrates that “a high quality transportation network is vital to a top performing economy.” It has already been established that the United States’ transportation infrastructure is of poor quality and may in fact be a drag on economic growth and productivity. The process introducing solar panel laden roads may also prove to be a prime opportunity for the federal government to implement more stringent quality standards on infrastructure.

Of course there remain many large issues and question marks as to the feasibility of implementing a nationwide conversion to Solar Roadways. The largest issue that arises when switching a major amount of asphalt and concrete production to solar panel production is labor displacement. The asphalt production industry employs somewhere around 300,000 Americans, and the concrete production industry employs close to 170,000 Americans. Solar roadways thus needs to make up for close to 450,000 jobs in manufacturing, engineering, and maintenance if it can be a viable alternative for the United States to accept the technology and continue job growth. Unfortunately, projections on exactly how many manufacturing and engineering jobs Solar Roadways can produce  are unavailable due to a lack of empirical evidence.

Furthermore, solar roadways have only been produced and tested as successful prototypes in a small shop setting in Idaho. They have not been produced on a large scale. Solar Roadways has yet to analyze the impacts that different weather and geographic conditions can possibly have on their product. Making the move to mass production will also be a significant challenge. These specialized solar panels are meticulously crafted on a small scale that has not yet been translated into an industrial level operation. Before solar roadways can be implemented, the company needs to iron out all of the possible issues that can occur during mass production or implementation. While issues that can arise by the end of the prototype phase will be figured out, the fact remains that the technology is not viable in its current situation and cannot be adopted by the United States as is.

Finally, strong political interest groups may also prove to be a stumbling block for the energy infrastructure startup. Established industries such as asphalt and big oil have political clout and are certain to lobby against roadways. Oil is one of the largest industries in America and possessed deeply entrenched political power in Washington, rivaled only by the American Medical Association and the National Rifle Association. Solar Roadways, if it wants to find a solid place in America, will thus have to face and combat considerable political clout.

There is no doubt that Solar Roadways has great prospects as a technology. It will help the world reduce its carbon footprint and dependence on non-renewable sources of energy. Solar Roadways offers important improvements to the current system of highway infrastructure ranging from safety to energy efficiency. While nothing is yet concrete for solar roadways in terms of implementation, the potential for solar roadways, especially in a country with thousands of miles of roads like the United States, is limitless.

In Gasland (2010), a man lights his tap water on fire; his bitterness is mixed with images of desolate drill sites and weary faces. Though dramatic, is this scene a fair criticism of the practice? Opponents spit out the word– fracking, a word almost as ugly as the visions of uprooted landscapes and the plight of victims powerless against Big Energy yet again. For a few moments, set aside visceral reactions and quick emotion and gut-appeal. Take a glance at hydraulic fracturing, an industry slogging through the politics of energy and environmental protection.

Background

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for a long time. It was patented in 1949 and only recently has been combined with other technologies to tap previously inaccessible shale gas. The process involves the injection of a mixture of water, proppant such as sand, and chemicals into an oil or gas well.

The fluid is pumped into the horizontal bore several thousand feet under the ground and creates fractures in the surrounding shale rock. The proppant enters these cracks, “propping” them open after the water flows back out. The chemicals do many different things, such as gelling the water on its entry and reducing friction.

The shale clays under scrutiny for natural gas previously could not be used because although they held large reserves of natural gas (the Marcellus Formation in Appalachia alone holds 84 trillion cubic feet), shale is not naturally very permeable.

Now, there are a multitude of previously inaccessible natural gas sources that can be accessed, such as black shales, coal seams, tight sandstones, and deep brine aquifers. Proponents nod to these sources and note their relatively small extraction risk compared to offshore drilling, arctic drilling, or ultra deep drilling.

In 1990, the United States produced the energy equivalent of 70 quadrillion Btu (British thermal unit, equal to 1055 joules). That number remained steady through 2006, at 69.4 quadrillion Btu. That number increased as hydraulic fracturing — combined with horizontal drilling and other new technologies –became more widespread. In 2010, 74.712 quadrillion Btu were produced; in 2011, 78.091 Btu. A large part of this increase has stemmed from natural gas production; 19 quadrillion Btu from natural gas in 2006 increased to 23.6 quadrillion Btu in 2011.

The United States has become the second largest natural gas producer in the world, just behind Russia.

Benefits

In 2011, the U.S. produced 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from shale gas wells; at $4.24 per thousand cubic feet, which yielded a direct value of $36 billion. Citibank estimates that rising domestic shale oil and gas production, through reduction of oil imports and retention of “petro-dollars” in country, will reduce the current-account deficit by 1.2.-2.4% of GDP from the current value of 3%.

While other industries have spluttered in the wake of the 2008 recession, oil and gas have remained a powerhouse of employment, with the number of employees at the end of 2012 at its highest since 1987.

Through both direct (employment) and indirect (influx of people and money) economic impact, multiplier effects echo throughout local economies. Land prices surge in a state after fracking is legalized, and the high prices affect all landowners’ wealth and consumption.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in North Dakota—its per capita GDP rocketed from $34,000 to $55,000 after less than a decade of fracking, demonstrating the effect of the drilling in the Bakken formation. Apparently the North Dakotan luxury car dealers are doing a tidy business.

Gas is also the cleanest fossil fuel when burned. No sulfur, mercury, and ash are produced after combustion. No cracking or refining is required, lowering processing costs. It releases low quantities of nitrous oxides, ozones, and complex hydrocarbons, avoiding the creation of photochemical smog. Finally, it releases the lowest amounts of carbon dioxide per btu of any fossil fuel; it releases ½ of the carbon dioxide per Btu of coal and 2/3 of oil.

Finally, hydraulic fracturing has directly impacted the energy race balance between the U.S. and other countries. Between 2007 and 2011, natural gas imports in the U.S. decreased by 25%, while petroleum imports dropped 15.4% from 2005 to 2011. The Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2020, the U.S. will become a net exporter of natural gas. This, thankfully, will ease tension between the Americans and the Chinese for limited Middle Eastern natural gas resources. Countries such as Iran will also be limited in their ability to use energy diplomacy in negotiations.

Costs

Fracking does come with its cons—seismic activity, water resource risks, waste management, and extraction infrastructure, just to name a few. However, it is important to distinguish between definitive negative consequences and the assessment of risk.

Fracking’s consequences are well-defined. Each well requires 3-4 million gallons of water, 2/3 to ¾ of which is consumed and cannot be reused. Each well produces huge quantities of drill cuttings—hundreds and hundreds of tons of earth removed from thousands of feet underground to the surface.

However, many of the other environmental costs are measured in terms of risk. To be pedantic, one may define risk as the probability of the consequence multiplied with the severity of the consequence itself. Thus, though there exists risks of water quality degradation, toxic trace elements inside the earth making their way into water supplies, and even seismic activity, many of these risks only are realized through improper management of drill sites and lack of foresight regarding waste management. Like other risky fuel extraction processes such as deepwater drilling, appropriate safety processes simply have to be implemented.

Conclusion

Globally, we use roughly 113,900 terawatt hours of fossil energy per year, the equivalent of 6020 nuclear plants (14 times the number in operation today). As countries such as China and India raise their standards of living, their individual citizens have increasingly come to expect the amenities of the modern world.

In essence, all forms of energy production have environmental consequences. Waste-water disposal issues plague almost all energy production; for example, there exists a percentage of gasoline stations that routinely suffer leaks that leach benzene into the water supply.

Like it or not, the world needs energy. In light of this, hydraulic fracturing should be considered with a scientific, rational eye. Rather than demonizing fracking and instinctively rallying against a new technology, it should be considered a component of a complex solution to an enormous problem– the problem of supplying energy to a bright and tech-hungry world.

The author is deeply grateful for the guidance of Professors Devon Renock and Mukul Sharma of the Dartmouth Earth Sciences Department throughout his research project investigating the clay microstructures of Marcellus Shale.

 

Where can the U.S. and China collaborate in renewable energy? With the state of competition between the two countries both in the Olympics and in other arenas, areas for collaboration may seem dim, but actually there are possible areas for doing so.

Definitely there is a need for collaboration to make renewables reach grid parity, meaning that renewable sources become just as cheap as fossil fuel based sources. Feed-in-Tariffs, or fixed prices per kilowatt-hour that have been preset in order to attract investors in solar and wind have been under attack in many countries. This despite the fact that external impacts for coal and fossil fuel power plants (such as public health respiratory impacts ) have not been captured in their energy pricing, and their subsidies remain untouchable at the moment.  For example, ask coal plant investors about the health impact of emissions and the handling of byproducts such as coal ash, and many will say it is not their concern. A carbon tax should capture these fossil fuel external impacts, but as public opposition in Australia shows, implementing a carbon tax is not a cake walk.

Publicly funded government research institutes, such as the Department of Energy Sandia and Lawrence Livermore laboratories are probably not high on the list for collaboration venues. Unwarranted collaboration is one ticket for scientists to be charged with improper handling of classified information, such as what happened in the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who was eventually cleared by the courts. Anything is possible of course. Nixon did fly to China in the seventies for his pingpong diplomacy, but surprises like that are either fodder for films or novels. If it happens, it happens, but don’t count on secret American or Chinese government labs suddenly ushering in a new spirit of cooperation.

Nevertheless, research however in public and private universities like Tsinghua and Dartmouth should be strengthened. Jointly authored journal papers in technology areas like solar, wind, hydro, biomass, energy efficiency and other energy topics are probably the most basic way of encouraging some type of collaboration. The exchange of scientific ideas should be unfettered in order to march forward – a brilliant and breakthrough idea can now come from anywhere in the world. For example, the efficiency of polysilicon based solar photovoltaic panels are now hovering just above the 20% range. Breakthroughs in making solar photovoltaics more efficient, such as combining photovoltaic technology with the Seebeck effect on the same wafer, are possible areas that scientists can collaborate on.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethankan/263721136/

Standards are another area of collaboration. In the semiconductor industry for example, many chip companies realized early in the ballgame that it does not make sense for wafer sizes to be different, as the resulting lack of standardized deposition tools will simply redound to unwarranted expense for all. So standards result in equipment and materials that can be marketed to different companies, resulting in cost savings across the entire sector. At the moment, the situation in the solar photovoltaic sector is that some companies still resort to custom built manufacturing equipment, which is basically what made the early days of the chip industry uncompetitive.

Then there is of course private company research, both in core technologies owned by the company and technologies that reside in its key suppliers. Microsoft, Intel and other Fortune 500 companies have their own R&D labs in China, employing Chinese scientists who work closely with their American counterparts. Collaborative research in this framework is determined to a large extent by corporate strategy, including access to markets. Collaboration within companies in the same sector, such as solar, will probably happen to a larger scale in the future in the same manner that American chip companies banded through the SEMATECH alliance to improve their competitiveness. However, there is a very low likelihood that this sort of cooperation will happen between the U.S. and China, except perhaps for a couple of non-core business and technology areas.

Related to this is the global supply chain for renewables. Some materials, like polysilicon, are important for the manufacture of solar panels. While the cost of this commodity item is driven by supply and demand, and made efficient by the many decades it has been there and by the number of companies who use it, nevertheless any opportunity to lessen its cost should be examined, if at all this is still a concern. Having reliable strategic suppliers to the wind and solar sector, or a framework for developing these suppliers, can be a good area for collaboration.

Manufacturing research, both in the U.S. and China, need to be coordinated – if not shared. While asking for sharing may be difficult as there are intellectual property issues to contend with, a certain framework that allows different creative minds to dance to the same tune will always be helpful. For example, manufacturing cost savings developed by Chinese manufacturers will not help if new American technologies will not be manufacturable using those new technologies. Again, having industry standards that companies actually comply with is key.

Access to markets, in order for renewable energy companies to grow, is important. No one will pay a corporate research scientist any money to do research if there is no business. Therefore, one area of collaboration for both China and the U.S. is unfettered access to markets. This is easier said than done of course – the new U.S. tariffs on Chinese wind turbines, and earlier on solar panels, undermines access to markets.

Finally, there should be common support for the Green Fund by both the U.S. and China. Most of this Fund will be used to pay for capital expenditures in renewable technologies like wind, solar and others. By having this money available, it can jumpstart a market that will signal to renewable energy companies, be it in China or the U.S., that the slack from the slowdown in Carbon Development Mechanism (CDM or “carbon credit”) funds will be taken over by the Green Fund. Once economies of scale have taken over – with demand for renewables coming from many parts of the globe, the current opposition to renewables determined mostly by its current cost should go away, and ensure healthy growth for all renewable energy sectors such as solar and wind in the years to come.

Dennis Posadas is an international fellow (based in the Philippines) of the Climate Institute Center for Environment Leadership Training (CELT) and a former engineer/analyst for a leading U.S. semiconductor firm. He is also the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009) and Rice & Chips: Technopreneurship and Innovation in Asia (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007)

The economic crisis has caused many companies to reevaluate their business practices in order to cut unnecessary expenditures. Pursuing sustainability and green business practices in the workplace has become an important focus in the drive for increased efficiency. In order to understand the developing merge between the corporate sphere and the environmental sphere, the Dartmouth Business Journal interviewed four very diverse, yet equally insightful experts and asked them to share their opinions on corporate sustainability.

Steven Chu | Secretary of Energy, US Department of Energy 

Steven Chu, current US Secretary of Energy under President Obama, has been instrumental in directing the US government to invest in clean energy and address the global climate crisis. With a double major from the University of Rochester and a PhD from UC Berkeley, he went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. As Secretary of Energy, his current endeavors are focused on research and development of biofuels in order to reduce US carbon emissions.

Dartmouth Business Journal (DBJ): How can US business leaders implement sustainable practices in the corporate sector?

Steven Chu (SC): I think that green corporate behavior pays off in the long run. There are some companies that pursue sustainability genuinely, but there are many that only want to appear as though they do. Skilled and visionary leadership at the executive level is incredibly important in carving a successful approach to sustainability. Not only do shareholders prefer to invest in companies implementing green practices, these companies enjoy greater profits due to increased efficiency. If business leaders want to stay competitive in the rapidly evolving economy, they need to be ready to look forward and  face the challenge to run their companies sustainably head-on.

DBJ: Are companies that promote their sustainable practices at risk of intellectual property infringement by foreign competitors?

SC: This is a problem that we were very wary of; similar practices have been carried out by other nations regarding high-speed rail, coal, and now, nuclear energy, where they examine the systems that we have and think of how to improve. In terms of developments, a gap between China and the United States is quickly growing as it’s now become one of the top five patent producers in the world. However, it all comes down to the behavior of a country’s researchers. Some researchers prefer to remain secretive about their work, and others, who are excited and willing to share their work, collaborate to reach success more quickly. In my experience, the latter has been routinely more useful in creating change and progressing in this race for clean energy. Sure, there are chances that you will be ripped off and copied, but those are sometimes the risks you have to take to make a greater impact in the field.

Durwood Zaelke | President & Founder, Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

In addition to his work at the Institute or Governance and Sustainable Development, Durwood Zaelke is the Director of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. In 2008, he was given the award of “Champion for Protection of Climate” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He currently teaches at American University Washington College of Law where he is the Director of International and Comparative Environmental Law. He has performed extensive research on fast action mitigation responses to climate change as well as on resolution for trade and environment conflicts.

DBJ: If efficient management and sustainability are connected, why do some profit-maximizing businesses degrade the environment?

Durwood Zaelke (DZ): Short term profit usually overwhelms sustainability, unless governments change the incentives, through regulatory mechanisms, best practices, capacity building, training, funding or other financial incentives.

DBJ: Does sustainability always make good business sense?

DZ: Some sustainability strategies provide high rates of return in the short term and are easier to convince managers to follow. However, even where you can make money with a sustainability strategy, you have to first get the attention of management, and then get the initial resources to get the strategy in place. Most managers are already busy and not looking for new work. The bottom line is that governance really matters. Some governance can be internal, but government-provided governance can truly change corporate culture.

DBJ: What steps can the future business leaders of America take to implement sustainable practices in corporate sector?

DZ: Future business leaders need to be futurists, who see the major forces affecting global business, including climate change, which will show its impacts in an increasingly powerful way in the coming years. It would be malpractice for a business leader not to educate him or herself about the impacts and risks of climate change, even if he or she doesn’t believe the science. Climate will affect water supplies, and food availability, Climate will affect the availability of other raw materials. A reasonable corporation should study, monitor, prepare, and progressively implement both a defensive plan to prepare for coming impacts, but also an offensive plan to start reducing the behavior that is causing climate change (whether in the form of emissions, sources, or sinks). There will be future liability for corporations that do not act in a reasonable way to mitigate and protect against climate change. This liability may be statutory, or it may be common law.

Todd Larsen | Corporate Responsibility Director, GreenAmerica

Todd Larsen oversees Green America’s efforts to encourage businesses to adopt greater social and environmental responsibility and to support socially and environmentally responsible public policies. Green America is the leading green economy organization in the US. Founded in 1982, this national membership organization works to harness economic power-the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace-to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

DBJ: Are sustainability and corporate social responsibility linked?

Todd Larsen (TL): At Green America, we consider sustainability to be core to a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR). We have a broad view of sustainability that encompasses both social justice and environmental responsibility, and we expect corporations to serve all of their stakeholders, including consumers and workers across their supply chain. Many corporations today focus on short-term profits at the expense of the environment, worker’s rights, and providing safe products and services. However, there is increasing evidence that sustainable companies that perform better on CSR measures have better long term financial performance. As a result, all stakeholders, including shareholders, would benefit from a company pursuing sustainability.

DBJ: Can a multinational company ever be fully sustainable?

TL: There really is no such thing as being fully sustainable. For all companies that want to pursue sustainability, it is a constant process of making improvements. There are no fixed goal posts for sustainability because as we learn more about environmental and social impacts, and how to reduce harmful practices and increase beneficial ones, the goals of sustainability keep advancing. That being said there are multinational companies whose very business models preclude sustainability, such as coal mining corporations. Other companies only somewhat pursue sustainability, such as WalMart, which improved its environmental standards but still relies on low-paid labor both in the US and abroad. In general, smaller companies have been more willing to pursue sustainability as a core component of their business model. Green America has strict social and environmental criteria for earning its Green Business Seal of Approval, and most of the companies that are able to earn our Seal are small. We do have some larger companies that have earned our Seal, including Clif Bar, Aveda, and Organic Valley, and these are companies that built sustainable practices into their business model from the start.

DBJ: How can business leaders implement sustainable practices?

TL: Most companies will only adopt sustainable practices if there are champions within the company that make the case for them. Even if a sustainable practice will save the company money over time and/or improve its brand image, a company may not adopt the sustainable practices due largely to inertia or fear of unintended consequences. Increasingly, younger business leaders are supporting sustainable practices, carefully demonstrating the benefits and addressing concerns of upper management, and, as a result, more and more companies are becoming more responsible. Also, many younger business people are starting their own business, making it sustainable from the ground up. At Green America, we have over 4,000 business members who consider sustainability a chief concern of their company. That number is only going to grow.

Joe Coleman ’11 | Public Relations Chair, Big Green Bus

Joe Coleman ’11 is pursuing a major in Environmental Studies with a concentration in chemistry and economics. He hails from Poway, California and has been a part of the Big Green Bus since Fall 2010. During his time at Dartmouth, he has volunteered at a clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina and taught English and math to children in Yambiro, Ecuador. He is currently the President of the Class of 2011 and was a lab TA in chemistry and Presidential Scholar in organic chemistry in past years. This is his first summer with the Big Green Bus, and he is incredibly excited to spend his senior summer promoting environmental issues across the nation.

DBJ: Is this the first year that the BGB is planning to address corporate social responsibility specifically? How successful do you think your presentations will be?

Joe Coleman (JC): I’d say this is the first year that we have an emphasis on businesses. We are definitely planning on visiting some businesses. As of now, we are planning to visit Waste Management, Boloco, and LL Bean. I don’t anticipate that our presentations will directly influence these companies. I do, however, think that we will influence individuals. Through our presentations, website, and even the bus itself, I think we can raise general awareness and this will indirectly penetrate corporations in a grassroots manner. Overall, we plan to learn from our conversations with people along our trip, extend our knowledge, and spread the important messages. The bus will essentially serve as an educational classroom on wheels.

DBJ: What role do you think sustainability plays in corporate social responsibility?

JC: I think it is a critical element. Sustainabilityisasocialjusticeissue and I anticipate that the realm of corporate social responsibility will continue to grow in the future.

DBJ: Why should a company pursue CSR? What is the most important message the BGB wants to give businesses?

JC: I think it just makes practical business sense. A company can no longer focus on profit maximization in isolation. It’s not sustainable. Moreover, companies that are preemptively implementing sustainable initiatives can minimize their vulnerability to fluctuating energy prices, while also boosting their brand’s image.


The solar sector represents an attractive, alternative solution for large scale energy production due to its environmentally friendly nature and potential to achieve economies of scale. The capability to scale solar energy production to meet all of humanity’s electricity generation needs is enormous; the sun radiates 3.8 million EJ of energy to the earth every year, 200 times our current rate of use. However, other sources of alternative energy like wind and hydroelectric power presents considerable competition for investor capital. In order for the solar sector to withstand the competition, the future of solar power depends upon its price competitive technologies in centralized power generation. Currently, Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) system presents the only viable solution, which still remains more expensive than other sources of alternative energy. This economic equation will soon change due to SkyFuel Corporation’s development of the SkyTrough. SkyFuel’s inventions have allowed it to reduce the cost of CST arrays by 35% and will allow CST plants to deliver electricity at rates lower than those of wind or other forms of solar technology.

CST systems use long parabolic mirrors to focus sunlight on a vacuum pipe that runs through the trough of each mirror. The mirrors and pipe move throughout the day to maintain the focus on the pipe. The pipe contains a heat transfer fluid (traditionally an oil derivative) that carries the collected heat energy to a heat exchange system, effectively converting water into steam. The steam drives steam turbines and produce electricity. One major advantages of CST lies in
its applicability to current turbine systems present in most power plants. “Recycling” turbines in this manner enables conversions from fossil fuel to CST plants at very low cost, making CST easily scalable if energy demand increases. CST can also easily and cheaply store energy in the heat transfer fluid with almost 100% efficiency. A CST power plant can thus draw on the heat in the fluid (stored during the day) at night to continuously produce electricity. Solar panels only produce electricity during the day and wind power is naturally intermittent, hence disqualifying both from becoming
major supports of a power grid. Furthermore, CST has proven its reliability: CST has been used in the United States since the parabolic collectors at the SEGS plants in California for nearly 20 years. Among the options for alternative energy production, CST plants may prove to be the primary means of producing the constant power supply necessary to become a substantial part of electricity production.

Because of these advantages, CST is projected to grow massively, with research reports predicting that 12 GW of CST capacity will be installed by 2020, almost all of it in large plants over 100MW. Recently, political concerns about high natural gas prices, pollution from coal plants and climate change have led to many states passing renewable energy mandates. This assures demand for new CST plants as utilities search to meet environmental policies like the California Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates that 20% of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources by 2010. However, the problem with CST systems lies with its cost, not its efficiency. Fields of huge, precisely shaped, breakable glass mirrors are extremely expensive to build and maintain. And even a cutting-edge CST plant must charge more than 13 cents per kWh, a standard price for wind power.

SkyFuel is positioned to capitalize on CST growth because it presents an ingenious solution to the cost problem. SkyFuel’s system, SkyTrough™, uses its patented Reflectech™ mirror film in the parabolic reflector troughs instead of traditional glass mirrors. Reflectech™ mirror films are similar to plastic, consisting of many polymer layers over an inner layer of pure silver that gives it reflectance equal to a parabolic mirror. Furthermore, Reflectech™ is shatterproof and significantly lighter than heavy glass mirrors. Reflectech™ is so light that it can be laminated to aluminum sheets to create larger panels than the largest feasible glass mirrors, increasing accuracy of light concentration (and thus efficiency), while decreasing assembly costs. Since the support apparatus of SkyTrough™ can maintain lower weight than glass mirrors, engineers could use a tubular aluminum space frame that is 30% lighter. The space frame not only lowers weight strains, but also allows easier installation, hence reducing labor costs.

These benefits aggregate to make SkyTrough 35% cheaper to build and significantly cheaper to operate than any CST system on the market today. Additionally, Reflectech™ films eliminate the bottleneck in the parabolic trough production process (making the sagged glass mirrors) allowing SkyFuel to rapidly produce SkyTroughs™ and reducing lead time for orders. Armed with this innovative solution to its cost problems, CST power is positioned to supplement the conventional means of electricity production in the United States.

Green cars that are widely available, reasonably priced and profitable to build? A Tokyo dealership is where to find them. To meet the demand for clean‐air vehicles, Japanese car companies across the board are accelerating production of their fully electric concepts. The goal: electric vehicles available to the public by 2010, just over a year away.

Over the past few years, the increase of consumption in the emerging economies of China and India, combined with higher extraction costs, have contributed to skyrocketing prices of fossil fuels in the US and abroad. There are a few diverging opinions about the concept of “peak oil,” but everyone agrees that oil production will decrease steadily over time. Even taking into account the recent drop in crude oil prices, the cost of fuel has grown more than 560% over the past ten years, which has left consumers itching to find a better, budget‐friendly alternative to current transportation. Clearly, every car company wants to be the first to provide a solution. The race to an ideal state of energy efficiency has begun, and at the moment, the contenders at the forefront are all based in Japan.

The idea of the fully electric vehicle, or EV, is not a new one in Japan. In fact, Keio University has been experimenting with electric technology for several years. The university’s work culminated in the development of Eliica, a fully electric concept car powered by a long‐lasting battery, which can reach speeds up to 240 mph. The Eliica was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2005 as the first “high performance” fully electric vehicle. At the time, the Eliica team saw their work as a step towards the creation of a commercial line of similar vehicles.

Mitsubishi is clearly one of the major players in the push for electric vehicles. The company is working on completing their “iMiEV,” a fully electric model reminiscent of a Smart Car, on track for the projected launch date of 2010. Initially, the release will be limited to the Japanese market, but Mitsubishi has plans to sell the car in the US and Europe as well. The price for this vehicle, which runs 93 miles per charge and reaches a top speed of 90 mph, will be equivalent to roughly 19,000 USD. The technology and lithium ion batteries used to power the car will be supplied by Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture set up by Mitsubishi itself.

Nissan, also at the forefront of the race to spearhead the EV market, plans for fleet sales of its car in the US and Japan to commence in 2010, with worldwide marketing beginning in 2012. “The first production vehicles will be for regional areas like California,” Nissan’s Manager of Advanced Vehicle Engineering Masahiko Tabe explained. “We will later expand the EV all over the world.” This tall, boxy four‐seat vehicle, modeled on the gasoline‐powered Nissan Cube currently for sale in Japan, will have a daily range of 100 miles, a top speed of 75 mph and a recharge time of just 8 hours. Automotive Energy Supply Corp, a joint venture set up by Subaru, Nissan and electronics mogul NEC Corporation, will provide the battery pack to power the car. Nissan officials have high aspirations for the car’s success, hoping that its release will bring them “zero emissions vehicle leadership.”

The automotive designers of Subaru share a similar vision. Subaru has scheduled the release of Stella, a four‐seat lithium‐ion battery‐ powered electric for 2009. This vehicle, traveling only 50 miles on an 8‐hour charge, is much less heavy duty than its rival counterparts and caters most directly to the needs of city commuters. However, Subaru currently has no plans to market the car outside Japan. The batteries for this EV will also be provided by Automotive Energy Supply Corp.

Lastly, Toyota is also preparing for the release of its own version of an electric vehicle. The ultra‐compact E‐Com which has been on the drawing board since 1999, will seat only 2 passengers and feature a small gasoline engine to recharge the battery. According to Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe, the car will be adequate for limited distance travel only.

With so many Japanese companies producing electric vehicles, it is easy to see that anyone who demands an energy‐efficient car worldwide will look to Japan. But why is Japan, of all places, the birthplace of this new market?

First of all, strong economic motives will encourage consumers to consider the purchase of an EV. In a country where gasoline pump prices average 150% higher than in the US, a $19,000 MiEV will be in high demand.

In addition, Japanese companies are known to have a strict reverence for customer satisfaction. In recent years, this convention of serving the customer in the best possible way has become closely associated with “having a developed sense of social responsibility and valuing environmentally friendly practices.”  For instance, the Daily Yomiuri reported in July that Toyota was publically funding reforestation endeavors in the Philippines to augment its image as a “green” business.

Another important factor that has contributed to Japan’s primary role in the budding EV industry is the availability of the complex technology required to efficiently manufacture lithium‐ion batteries for automo;ve use. This technology, which was largely referred to as “untested” and “unproven” as recently as five years ago, was assumed to be expensive and impractical. Today, however, each major Japanese car company has its own in‐house produc;on of EV batteries, with the exception of Subaru and Nissan, which share the same technology.

Lastly, the Japanese people and market have a profound willingness to accept the electric car into their lifestyles. With the knowledge that fully electric cars will be launched in Japan as early as 2009, Japanese supermarket chain Aeon Co. is preparing to install car‐charging ports at prime loca;ons in its shopping malls. The ports Aeon plans to set up will be powerful enough to charge EVs in just an hour, a fraction of the time employed using a household socket.

Together, high fuel prices, Japan’s cultural mores, the availability of advanced technology and the enthusiasm for a more environmentally conscious lifestyle have created the perfect situation for the rise of the EV market. This constitutes a positive step for Japan and the world as a whole, but are EVs really the ideal answer to pollution that environmental advocates play them up to be?

First of all, if a large fraction of the cars that used to run on gasoline start running on electric power, power systems might not be able to cope with the addi;onal demand for energy, especially if the switch happens too quickly, and the capacity margin for electricity genera;on might disappear.

Secondly, electric cars are only as green as the kind of generating capacity used to charge them up. If the power does not come from wind or nuclear sources and instead comes from oil or coal, then EVs might be even bigger pollutants than gasoline cars. So if electric cars do result in increased demand on power grids, governments and power companies will need to focus on creating low carbon generating capacity in order for these cars to be a blessing rather than a curse.

The world will have to wait a few years before the true effects of the EV can be fully observed. What is clear today, however, is that the electric car’s debut into the global market is as much a question as an answer.