With fuel prices rising with no end in sight, both consumers and
automobile companies have become more and more concerned with
fuel-consumption. While drivers attempt to cut down their gasoline
usage, automobile companies are researching and producing more
fuel-efficient cars, some to come out as early as next year.
Solutions range from hybrids, fuel-efficient engines, pure
electric, plug-ins, solar panels, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Even with all these seemingly promising solutions, will we have
fuel efficient cars available for consumers at an affordable price
To help us imagine just what the market has in store for us over
the next 5 years here’s a timeline based on the self-reported
release dates of various major auto manufacturers (visual
first, followed by extensive text):
- Released by General Motors late 2008, early 2009, is the
Saturn Vue 2-Mode hybrid. Touted as the world’s most
fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Vue 2-Mode
hybrid has up to a 50% fuel economy increase for urban driving and
an overall 30% increase through the use technology such as
low-speed, electric only propulsion and regenerative breaking. It
will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
- In February, Shelby SuperCars will be releasing the
Ultimate Aero EV, which will be the world’s fastest electric
car. SSC is known for the EV’s
predecessor, the Ultimate Aero, the world’s fastest gas-powered
car. The Ultimate Aero EV will have twin 500 hp electric motors
powered by a battery. Other details regarding its production have
not been disclosed.
- Sometime in the Spring, the next generation of Toyota
Prius will be released, equipped with solar panels that will
provide a portion of the energy to run the air-conditioning unit.
Toyota is planning on bringing 450,000 of these solar-power capable
vehicles to the market.
- Audi will be bringing out their 2009
A2, a compact, fuel-efficient car that manages to feature more
cabin space than Minis. The A2 will have 1.2 to 1.8 liter engines,
as well as diesels and will have a lowered amount of CO2 emissions, due to the European CAFE regulations.
Lucky for us the sun is a wonderful source of clean energy. Its
rays can be harnessed and transformed into electricity using
semi-conductor-based solar cells that power homes, buildings, and
even transportation. Researchers have spent decades trying to
refine this process.
Recently, MIT researchers have made a
significant mark in this endeavor. Associate Professor Marc A.
Baldo, leader of the project, and a team of four graduate students
of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,
have constructed a cost-efficient solar concentrator device based
on a failed 1970s model that uses glass and dye. In practical
terms, the concentrator device is a high-efficiency window.
Currently, solar concentrators on the market track the sun’s
rays using large mobile mirrors that are both expensive to arrange
and to maintain. Furthermore, Baldo explains, the solar cells that
house these concentrators must be cooled, thus the entire assembly
Baldo’s new solar concentrator increases the amount of usable
energy by a factor of 40, all while cutting costs by reducing the
amount of solar cell, which because its base is silicon is rather
The device consists of glass coated with a mixture of relatively
inexpensive dyes that absorbs the light and re-emits it on a new
wavelength into the glass to be collected by the solar cells, which
are located on the edges of the glass.
Baldo says the 1970s model failed in two ways: the collected
light was absorbed before it reached the edges of the glass and the
dyes were unstable.
Using optical techniques developed for lasers and other diodes,
the MIT engineers found the perfect ratio
of dyes that would allow the light that is absorbed and emitted to
travel a longer distance before reaching the solar cells.
2009 might turn out to be a great year to be a startup involved in 'smart' energy solutions that tap the power of software, sensors, microcontrollers and storage systems.
Energy bloggers are all talking about 2009 as the 'Year of the Smart Grid', and energy analysts expect to see major public-private investments over the next two years in efficiency and energy management.
We have written about visions of a 'smart' planet being promoted by companies like IBM, Honeywell and Johnson Controls. But now we have the first major '09 investment in start up Sentilla, which has raised $7.5 million to deliver solutions for commercial and industrial facilities.
It might be premature to call Sentilla a 'smart energy' startup since its vision is much broader than electricity. It's future growth is based on a vision of an 'embedded object' world often described as 'Pervasive' or 'Ubiquitious' computing. In this future every object has built in awareness, intelligence and networked capabilities (e.g. Zigbee). Sentilla's offerings span energy managment, safety and security, and logistics/asset managment. But in 2009, selling themselves as a 'smart energy' company might be the best route!
Byron Reeves is a man with a vision: using video games to teach and to help mold behavior. When we get a smart grid and smart devices that track and report on their energy consumption, we'll have the data we need to understand our energy usage in the home. But will we really take advantage of that information?
"Games have the potential change behavior," says Reeves a professor at Stanford University and co-founder of Stanford's MediaX; he conducts research on the emotional and social effects of immersive environments including complex online games . "I became interested in building a game platform that could change behavior around energy usage," he says. To that end, he's been showing a vision video he created with Millions of Us in which he brings to life a game where homeowners compete with each other to see who can become the most energy efficient.
Efficiency is widely considered the 'low hanging fruit' for improving the energy sector.
And while it is tempting to seek out gains via some mass market consumer push with hybrids and new lightbulbs, the greatest near term returns are to be found within the utility sector (electricity power generation) and among power hungry industrial clients.
Rocky Mountain Institute's consulting arm RMI ERT has identified US opportunities to 'close the electric productivity gap' around tremendous cost and carbon savings.
Johnson Controls is quietly becoming one of the most relevant companies in the new energy world. And while it is often off the radar of most cleantech and eco-enthusiasts it might have the best set of tools and systems to accelerate our shift into a new energy economy based on software, sensors and micro-controllers. And it is possible that by mid century Johnson Controls could be behind some of the most measurable advances in energy efficiencies on the planet.
Reinventing itself for the 21st Century
Johnson Controls is one of those companies that touches our lives every time we drive our cars or step into a building. Yet it remains an obscure industrial brand to most consumers.
But make no mistake about it, Johnson Controls is massive and by most accounts it sees the future quite clearly. Its 140,000 employees stretch across 1,300 locations with clients in 125 countries. It has been around since 1885 and understands the need to change and reinvent itself as the world transforms its major industries.
Today, Johnson Controls touches almost every aspect of mechanical life with its systems used inside vehicles, buildings and industrial appliances. And, without sounding too much like a love fest or a stock endorsement, this is a company that could change the world dramatically in years ahead around electric vehicles, smart infrastructure and building systems.
MIT Technology Review has a great post on the use of (bee) 'swarm' inspired algorithms to reduce energy consumption of networked appliances like air conditioners, computers and heating systems. Toronto-based startup REGEN ENERGY is building smart energy platforms using new technology standards like Zigbee and micro-controllers to 'maximize collective efficiency'. Their trick is to enable 'bottom up' self organized smart grids for appliances without having to actively manage their energy consumption with a 'single order'.
A new Ceres report on company supply chain and operation efficiencies that support climate change strategies, has named IBM the #1 company for its internal practices and green innovation strategies. The RiskMetrics Group authored report analyzes climate change governance practices at 63 of the world's largest retail, pharmaceutical, technology, apparel and other consumer-facing companies.
Using a 100-point scale, the three highest scoring companies were IBM, UK-based grocery retailer Tesco and Dell, with 79, 78 and 77 points, respectively. More than half of the 63 companies scored under 50 points, with a median score of 38 points.
Beyond 'green' recognition, what does IBM see in a a Smart Planet? The big story is not the 'green' award recognition for IBM, Tesco and Dell - it's the brand association IBM is trying to build between its core practice as a hardware-software service provider and the transformation of global industries that deal with infrastructure and the transmission of information, goods, energy and water.
Consumers can change light builts, but companies like IBM and Johnson Controls can transform industry level supply chains, built environments, and national infrastructure systems. This is where we are likely to find the greatest ROI.
IBM (and others) sees an opportunity to improve industrial scale efficiencies in a near term future shaped by software, sensors and micro controllers. The vision? A Smart Planet.
For IBM the world is quickly becoming, instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. This is the driving force behind 'Big Blue' trying to enable a 'Big Green'world. Sensors and Software can lead to a greener world.