Week of February 8, 2009

William Goldman, the author of screenplay for the movie classic "Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid" famously said of the film industry, "nobody knows anything." The same could be truthfully said about the alternative energy industry.

Nobody knows of a certainty how the industry is going to develop in the years to come. Expectations are high, in large part due to the verbal support given the industry by the new Admininistration, but what precise expression such support will take remains to be seen. As Mike Eckhart, head of the American Council of Renewable Energy once told me, purveyors of alternative energy products and services rarely present a united front and in the past their practice has been to denigrate one another in their competition for scarce government funds. The wind guys hate the solar guys and they both hate the biofuel guys.

And even within a given sector one finds hatreds and rivalries. There's no love lost between the biodiesel camp and the ethanol industry, for instance.

Because most folks who write professionally about alternatives have some sort of stake in one of the sectors, disinterested, dispassionate commentary is passing rare.

I used to consider myself to be a fairly impartial observer, but no more. For the past several monthes I have been attempting to launch a venture to develop an electrical storage medium of unprecedented performance. It is based on existing technology utilized in a new way, and I can't say much more about it than that at present.

If this technology works as intended, it will be able to store many times the amount of electrical energy as a lithium ion battery of the same mass. Moreover, it can be cycled hundreds of thousands of times and recharged almost instantly provided one has enough electrical power on tap.

The device would have obvious applications in transportation but the interested parties are involved in wind farm development and are seeking mass storage for stabilizing the always fluctuating output of wind farms.

Were it to work as anticipated it could permit an individual wind turbine or an aggregation of turbines to emulate a base load coal fired generator. And that would open up the possibility of an all renewable energy grid, a possibility I virtually dismissed in an article in the Primers section of this Website. The objections I posed in that piece were and are valid in as much as no really cheap, versatile mass electrical storage medium exists today, but should this new device prove out, that will no longer be the case.

Truly effective mass electrical storage would also allow fossil fired generators to operate much more efficiently increasing efficiency and reducing emissions by perhaps 40% according to DOE estimates. Combine that with a vastly augmented renewable energy generation sector and we will have launched a powerful frontal attack on CO2 emissions. Utilize the devices in plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles and we're close to meeting the goal of 80% carbon reduction which NASA scientists recommend.

I'm not saying that this will happen. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But from what my consultants tell me, there's a reasonable chance of success.