What’s in store for EEStor?

Back in September it was revealed through a BusinessWeek Online story that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had invested $3 million (U.S.) in a Texas battery-technology startup called EEStor Inc.

According to the BusinessWeek article, the company was founded in 2001 by former senior managers at Xerox PARC and IBM. Little information is known about EEStor, which prefers to operate in stealth. In fact, to this day it still doesn’t have a corporate Web site.

However, BusinessWeek did learn that EEStor has developed a “parallel plate capacitor with barium titanate as the dielectric,” and that it claims to make a battery at “half the cost per kilowatt-hour and one-tenth the weight of lead-acid batteries.” It also learned that EEStor planned to build its own assembly line to prove the technology works, and following that, would license the technology to manufacturers for volume production.

Last week BusinessWeek reported an interesting comment from Kleiner’s John Doerr, who recently spoke at a California event where tech VCs gather to make their predictions for the year. Doerr reportedly referred to an investment in an energy storage company he declined to name, calling it Kleiner’s “Highest-risk, highest-reward” investment.

This is a big deal given Kleiner’s history. Keep in mind that this is the venture capital company that struck it rich with early investments in Google, Amazon.com, Netscape and AOL — all household names of the online world. The company is now going after similar success in the energy market.

Given all this, I’m super curious about this EEStor company and what it’s working on. And here’s what I’ve manage to dig up myself, beyond the useful tidbits from BusinessWeek:

* A simple Google search reveals that EEStor has a relationship with a Canadian maker of low-speed electric vehicles called Feel Good Cars, which I’ve written about on this blog several times. According to a press release from Feel Good Cars released on Nov. 15:

“On September, 30, 2005, FGC entered into a Technology Agreement with EEStor Inc. located in Austin, Texas, to acquire the exclusive worldwide right to purchase high-power-density ceramic ultra capacitors called Electrical Storage Units (ESU) that are under development by that company. An ESU can store over 10 times the energy of lead-acid batteries and are expected to be available for use in the ZENN and regular electrically powered small cars. FGC’s exclusive worldwide right is for all personal transportation uses under 15 KW drive systems (equivalent to 100 peak horse power) and for vehicles with a curb weight of under 1200 kilograms not including batteries.”

On top of this release, a reliable source familar with EEStor had this to say about the company’s technology:

* The batteries fully charge in minutes as opposed to hours.

* Whereas with lead acid batteries you might get lucky to have 500 to 700 recharge cycles, the EEStor technology has been tested up to a million cycles with no material degradation.

* EEStor’s technology could be used in more than low-speed electric vehicles. The company envisions using it for full-speed pure electric vehicles, hybrid-electrics (including plug-ins), military applications, backup power and even large-scale utility storage for intermittent renewable power sources such as wind and solar.

* Because it’s a solid state battery rather than a chemical battery, such being the case for lithium ion technology, there would be no overheating and thus safety concerns with using it in a vehicle.

* Finally, with volume manufacturing it’s expected to be cost-competitive with lead-acid technology.

“It’s the holy grail of battery technology,” said my source. “It means you could do a highway capable electric city car that would recharge in three or four minutes and drive you from Toronto to Montreal. Consumers wouldn’t notice the difference from driving an electric car versus a gas-powered car.”

These, of course, are bold claims. But given Kleiner’s involvement in this Texas company, you can bet the promise is there. Without a doubt, this will be a company to watch, and if the above claims prove true, this could have a profound impact on transportation and large-scale renewable energy production/management.

EEStor could, indeed, become the Google of the cleantech world that VCs have been looking for.

What’s in store for EEStor?

Back in September it was revealed through a BusinessWeek Online story that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had invested $3 million (U.S.) in a Texas battery-technology startup called EEStor Inc.

According to the BusinessWeek article, the company was founded in 2001 by former senior managers at Xerox PARC and IBM. Little information is known about EEStor, which prefers to operate in stealth. In fact, to this day it still doesn’t have a corporate Web site.

However, BusinessWeek did learn that EEStor has developed a “parallel plate capacitor with barium titanate as the dielectric,” and that it claims to make a battery at “half the cost per kilowatt-hour and one-tenth the weight of lead-acid batteries.” It also learned that EEStor planned to build its own assembly line to prove the technology works, and following that, would license the technology to manufacturers for volume production.

Last week BusinessWeek reported an interesting comment from Kleiner’s John Doerr, who recently spoke at a California event where tech VCs gather to make their predictions for the year. Doerr reportedly referred to an investment in an energy storage company he declined to name, calling it Kleiner’s “Highest-risk, highest-reward” investment.

This is a big deal given Kleiner’s history. Keep in mind that this is the venture capital company that struck it rich with early investments in Google, Amazon.com, Netscape and AOL — all household names of the online world. The company is now going after similar success in the energy market.

Given all this, I’m super curious about this EEStor company and what it’s working on. And here’s what I’ve manage to dig up myself, beyond the useful tidbits from BusinessWeek:

* A simple Google search reveals that EEStor has a relationship with a Canadian maker of low-speed electric vehicles called Feel Good Cars, which I’ve written about on this blog several times. According to a press release from Feel Good Cars released on Nov. 15:

“On September, 30, 2005, FGC entered into a Technology Agreement with EEStor Inc. located in Austin, Texas, to acquire the exclusive worldwide right to purchase high-power-density ceramic ultra capacitors called Electrical Storage Units (ESU) that are under development by that company. An ESU can store over 10 times the energy of lead-acid batteries and are expected to be available for use in the ZENN and regular electrically powered small cars. FGC’s exclusive worldwide right is for all personal transportation uses under 15 KW drive systems (equivalent to 100 peak horse power) and for vehicles with a curb weight of under 1200 kilograms not including batteries.”

On top of this release, a reliable source familar with EEStor had this to say about the company’s technology:

* The batteries fully charge in minutes as opposed to hours.

* Whereas with lead acid batteries you might get lucky to have 500 to 700 recharge cycles, the EEStor technology has been tested up to a million cycles with no material degradation.

* EEStor’s technology could be used in more than low-speed electric vehicles. The company envisions using it for full-speed pure electric vehicles, hybrid-electrics (including plug-ins), military applications, backup power and even large-scale utility storage for intermittent renewable power sources such as wind and solar.

* Because it’s a solid state battery rather than a chemical battery, such being the case for lithium ion technology, there would be no overheating and thus safety concerns with using it in a vehicle.

* Finally, with volume manufacturing it’s expected to be cost-competitive with lead-acid technology.

“It’s the holy grail of battery technology,” said my source. “It means you could do a highway capable electric city car that would recharge in three or four minutes and drive you from Toronto to Montreal. Consumers wouldn’t notice the difference from driving an electric car versus a gas-powered car.”

These, of course, are bold claims. But given Kleiner’s involvement in this Texas company, you can bet the promise is there. Without a doubt, this will be a company to watch, and if the above claims prove true, this could have a profound impact on transportation and large-scale renewable energy production/management.

EEStor could, indeed, become the Google of the cleantech world that VCs have been looking for.

Hydrogen-wind system supported by Hydrogenics

The news is a few days old now, but Hydrogenics Corp. of Mississauga, Ontario, has been awarded a contract to supply an electrolyzer-based hydrogen refuelling station, as well as compression, storage and dispenser equipment, to Basin Electric Power Cooperative of Bismarck, N.D.

“The station is one of the first United States-based hydrogen fueling stations to use electricity from wind power resource to produce hydrogen from water, in this case using electricity generated by wind resources either owned or contracted by Basin Electric,” the company said in a statement.

Hydrogenics has been involved with a similar project at Exhibition Place, where the turbine is (was once?) rigged to produce hydrogen that dispensed from an on-site filling station. I believe another project of this type is being done on Prince Edward Island. It’s all very neat, and while these projects prove it can be done, I’m still waiting to hear the economic argument to justify going down this path.

Update on Ontario’s planned feed-in tariffs

It’s been nearly five months since I wrote in the Toronto Star (and posted) about Ontario’s intention of introducing a European-style feed-in tariff — also known as a Standard Offer Contract — for operators of smaller-scale renewable energy systems (on left see picture of German solar farm).

The idea behind a feed-in tariff is that the government creates a simple set of rules and a standard contract that makes it possible for farmers, schools, community co-ops and even homeowners to sell wind, solar and biomass power into the provincial grid at a fixed premium. Doing so would spark use and deployment of renewable energy technologies and help displace fossil fuel power as the province shuts down its coal-fired plants.

At the time, then Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said he was fully behind such an initiative, which would rank as the most progressive in North America, and planned to make an announcement about it that September. “We shouldn’t miss the boat,” Duncan said.

Well, that announcement was never formally made, and since then I’ve received many inquiries about what’s going on and when something concrete will be announced. So here’s an update on the situation, from what limited information I have:

* It is known that last August the ministry instructed the Ontario Power Authority and Ontario Energy Board to investigate a workable pricing scheme and look at policy changes that would assure non-discriminatory access to the grid.

* While Duncan never formally announced the province’s plans, he did refer to them in a handful of public speeches since the Toronto Star article appeared. Those within his office said they didn’t feel it was necessary to put out a formal public notice.

* In the months that have passed, the OPA has since come back with a draft pricing scheme, which the ministry is currently reviewing. One source at the ministry said the OPA’s suggestions on fixed premiums are based on economic considerations alone, and don’t take into account the province’s willingness to sweeten the pot a bit to stimulate greater deployment of renewable energy systems. Ultimately, the final decision is political — the OPA’s recommendations are merely used as guidance.

* Rumour has it that the sticking point right now is how to set the premium for solar photovoltaics, and there’s even speculation that the province may exclude solar technology altogether. The ministry apparently is hesitant to include systems that are smaller than 500 kilowatts, which would essentially exclude all homeowners from taking part in the program, since the average home is 4 or 5 kilowatts at best (I think the largest residential system ever installed in Canada is 8.5 kilowatts). Consider that the largest commercial solar PV system in operation today in a city such as Toronto is less than 50 kilowatts. A 1 megawatt system is planned for the Exhibition Place, and while it would be the largest so far in Canada, it won’t be built for a couple of years. I suppose the ministry’s thinking is that operators of small solar PV systems can still take advantage of net metering, which unfortunately doesn’t offer a premium on the energy or any other incentive for that matter.

* There’s also speculation that the ministry, on top of setting a minimum size for PV systems (assuming it doesn’t exclude them altogether), is considering a fixed premium of 20 cents per kWh, versus the 67 to 83 cents per kWh initially proposed by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.

* OSEA was expecting the government to publicly outline its Standard Offer Contract plan last week, but so far there’s been no news. Melinda Zytaruk, general manager of OSEA, believes the ministry will come out with something in early February. “It seems they are going to be doing some more work on it after all, and we are hopeful that our patience will pay off and the continued work will produce a better policy,” she told me in a recent e-mail.

I can understand the concern from both sides, and perhaps the best outcome will be some sort of compromise: Say, 40 cents per kWh on systems no smaller than 50 kilowatts, below which the net metering policy already kicks in. It would still exclude homeowners, but given homeowners would likely use most of the solar energy they produce anyway, I’m not so sure they would have much left to sell back to the province. I would prefer to see a rebate program, similar to that recently passed in California, that would spark deployment among homeowners.

Update on Ontario’s planned feed-in tariffs

It’s been nearly five months since I wrote in the Toronto Star (and posted) about Ontario’s intention of introducing a European-style feed-in tariff — also known as a Standard Offer Contract — for operators of smaller-scale renewable energy systems (on left see picture of German solar farm).

The idea behind a feed-in tariff is that the government creates a simple set of rules and a standard contract that makes it possible for farmers, schools, community co-ops and even homeowners to sell wind, solar and biomass power into the provincial grid at a fixed premium. Doing so would spark use and deployment of renewable energy technologies and help displace fossil fuel power as the province shuts down its coal-fired plants.

At the time, then Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said he was fully behind such an initiative, which would rank as the most progressive in North America, and planned to make an announcement about it that September. “We shouldn’t miss the boat,” Duncan said.

Well, that announcement was never formally made, and since then I’ve received many inquiries about what’s going on and when something concrete will be announced. So here’s an update on the situation, from what limited information I have:

* It is known that last August the ministry instructed the Ontario Power Authority and Ontario Energy Board to investigate a workable pricing scheme and look at policy changes that would assure non-discriminatory access to the grid.

* While Duncan never formally announced the province’s plans, he did refer to them in a handful of public speeches since the Toronto Star article appeared. Those within his office said they didn’t feel it was necessary to put out a formal public notice.

* In the months that have passed, the OPA has since come back with a draft pricing scheme, which the ministry is currently reviewing. One source at the ministry said the OPA’s suggestions on fixed premiums are based on economic considerations alone, and don’t take into account the province’s willingness to sweeten the pot a bit to stimulate greater deployment of renewable energy systems. Ultimately, the final decision is political — the OPA’s recommendations are merely used as guidance.

* Rumour has it that the sticking point right now is how to set the premium for solar photovoltaics, and there’s even speculation that the province may exclude solar technology altogether. The ministry apparently is hesitant to include systems that are smaller than 500 kilowatts, which would essentially exclude all homeowners from taking part in the program, since the average home is 4 or 5 kilowatts at best (I think the largest residential system ever installed in Canada is 8.5 kilowatts). Consider that the largest commercial solar PV system in operation today in a city such as Toronto is less than 50 kilowatts. A 1 megawatt system is planned for the Exhibition Place, and while it would be the largest so far in Canada, it won’t be built for a couple of years. I suppose the ministry’s thinking is that operators of small solar PV systems can still take advantage of net metering, which unfortunately doesn’t offer a premium on the energy or any other incentive for that matter.

* There’s also speculation that the ministry, on top of setting a minimum size for PV systems (assuming it doesn’t exclude them altogether), is considering a fixed premium of 20 cents per kWh, versus the 67 to 83 cents per kWh initially proposed by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.

* OSEA was expecting the government to publicly outline its Standard Offer Contract plan last week, but so far there’s been no news. Melinda Zytaruk, general manager of OSEA, believes the ministry will come out with something in early February. “It seems they are going to be doing some more work on it after all, and we are hopeful that our patience will pay off and the continued work will produce a better policy,” she told me in a recent e-mail.

I can understand the concern from both sides, and perhaps the best outcome will be some sort of compromise: Say, 40 cents per kWh on systems no smaller than 50 kilowatts, below which the net metering policy already kicks in. It would still exclude homeowners, but given homeowners would likely use most of the solar energy they produce anyway, I’m not so sure they would have much left to sell back to the province. I would prefer to see a rebate program, similar to that recently passed in California, that would spark deployment among homeowners.