We often wonder what energy will be like 50 or 100 years from now…
Perpetual motion, fusion, hydrogen, and other theoretical solutions often enter the discussion.
But we rarely pay attention to the far-off energy advances being funded and explored today, at this very moment…
Here are three such themes you’ll surely want to know more about.
1. Billionaires’ playground
I’ve heard Ted Turner, Vinod Khosla, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates talk about energy solutions.
These guys don’t talk about incrementally increasing the efficiency of solar panels or coming up with a marginally better light bulb; they talk in moonshots.
Ted says if he were to start over now, he’d be an energy entrepreneur. He’s already developed and sold a renewable energy company to First Solar for $34.3 million. And he recently completed a utility-scale solar project in New Mexico that powers 9,000 homes.
Not only does he believe “global climate change is the greatest problem humanity has ever faced,” but Ted is “excited to finally get into alternative energy in a major way [and wants] to make a little money, too.”
Vinod thinks the internal combustion engine will be around for some time to come. But he also thinks biofuels can replace the entire fossil fuel industry if they’re “produced largely from high yield non-food biomass sources.”
He also envisions “advanced biofuels moving well beyond ethanol and diesel to hydrocarbon fuels: renewable crude oil, drop-in diesel, gasoline, jet fuel and other petrochemicals.”
Richard founded the UK Peak Oil Task Force, which says the world will face an oil crunch by 2015. He’s offered a $25 million prize to anyone who can suck carbon from the atmosphere. Further, he’s committed $3 billion to funding energy investments that can wean the world off oil. His combined efforts have become known as the Carbon War Room.
He also does commercial flights to space, if you’re interested.
And then there’s Bill… Eradicating Polio isn’t enough for him. He’s also funding what he calls “energy miracles” — a nuclear company that “could generate a billion watts of electricity continuously for well over 50 to 100 years without refueling.”
Now he’s taken part in a $60 million funding round for Neos GeoSolutions, a company making sensors and software that find where to drill for oil, natural gas, and minerals with surgical precision.
This isn’t far-off pipe dream stuff. All this is going down now.
2. Bloom Box
When the Bloom Box was featured on 60 Minutes last February, it had the online community in a fervor for weeks.
This February, the Bloom Box is back in the news for a few reasons…
First: It said it would offer its fuel cell in a no-money-down service contract. Basically, you rent one and the company serves as landlord.
Second: It was reported by Dow Jones VentureWire that the company has raised another $100 million, this time from Kleiner Perkins, NEA, and Morgan Stanley.
(Kleiner Perkins, by the way, counts John Doerr, Al Gore, Ray Lane, Vinod Khosla, and Colin Powell among its team members and partners. You may have heard of some of the startups they funded: Google, Invisalign, Autotrader.com, Chegg.com, Friendster, Blue Nile, and Zagat.)
Bloom’s Energy Servers use solid oxide fuel cell technology to constantly produce electricity using either renewable or fossil fuels. Sources say the “servers” sell for $12.50 a watt: $10 a watt for the box and $2.50 for the warranty.
But you can get a 30% federal tax credit worth $3.75 a watt and in California, they’ll throw in $2.50 a watt if you use natural gas — or $4.50 a watt if you use renewable gas.
Customers are already excited about how much they can reduce electricity costs. Just look at this list of customers: Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS), Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), FedEx (NYSE: FDX), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Safeway (NYSE: SWY), Kaiser Permanente…
With a list like that, it won’t be long until the early investors that have already ponied up $500 million earn their money back through either IPO or acquisition.
The final seemingly futuristic technology that’s here today is advanced batteries.
As I write this, the office chatter is about the current Washington Auto Show and all the electric cars on display there.
Some like the sleekness and speed of the world’s fastest electric car, built by Ohio State University… Others like the extended driving ranges offered by new models like the Volt and LEAF.
No matter what you think about electric cars, they are quickly gaining in popularity and economic viability.
And they wouldn’t be possible without batteries.
From 300 miles on a single charge to pick-up trucks now getting twice the normal mileage, battery technology is at the center of it all.
In fact battery technology has come so far that we aren’t just using them to power cars and devices… New models are being developed that can power entire neighborhoods — and even cities — using stored power from the sun and wind.
Batteries are advancing so quickly, some insiders are claiming the need for fossil fuels to generate power in a modern economy is a thing of the past…
Who needs perpetual motion when you have technology like that available today?
Call it like you see it,
Editor, Energy and Capital