Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year Everyone!

Make it a Clean & Green 2010

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Distributed Hydropower for Irrigation Districts

Irrigation districts can be found in nearly every state in the US. Operated, and often owned, like any other utility, irrigation districts provide water for crops, orchards, vineyards spread along the length of their maintained canals.

For many irrigation districts, electricity, primarily to power water pumps, is a significant cost--sometimes the second largest line item in their operating budgets, costing $1,000,000 or more every year.

Hydrovolts turbines can halve the cost of electricity in gravity-fed irrigation canals, providing a capital ROI to the districts of less than 5 years in Washington state. Because Washington State has the cheapest electricity in the entire US, the payback period in other states is even better. In California the expected capital ROI is 2-3 years.

These payback periods compare very well to other forms of distributed renewable energy generation--wind at 10+ years and solar at nearly 20. Plus, Hydrovolts turbines run continuously with the flow of the water; the power is neither intermittent nor variable.

One can think of an irrigation canal as a water terrace system, or a series of long shallow steps. Maintaining each "tread" at a specified height is very important to allow the pumps along the banks to have their intakes properly positioned, ensuring steady delivery of water to the fields.

The height in each tread of the canal is controlled by a check weir, the "riser" in this metaphorical water staircase. Each check weir has one or more adjustable sluice gates that control the flow of water from one canal section to the next. By raising or lowering the gate, the water behind (upstream from) the check weir can be kept to a specific level with great accuracy.

Just below the check weir the water is moving fast and has a lot of power. We have measured many flows in eastern Washington canals at greater than 10 knots (5 m/s) where even a small Hydrovolts turbine could generate 20kW, enough to run five 5 h.p. pumps. Many such locations would accommodate multiple turbines, as many as 6-10 in the larger canals.

A typical irrigation canal may stretch for 50-100 miles and typically has scores of check weirs. Each irrigation district is a potential customer for hundreds of turbines.

Many foreign countries also have extensive canals and irrigation systems well-suited to the Hydrovolts turbine.

There are many kinds of canals other than those in irrigation districts which could host turbines to create power. Transit canals, systems of locks, aqueducts and other fresh water supply systems could all be customers for new, distributed hydropower.

See also: Distributed hydropower for

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Moving Quickly on Trains

Even as the Eurostar has "fluffy" moisture problems, stranding people in the Chunnel for up to 16 hours, over in China people Saturday started taking trips on the fastest high-speed train in the world.

The new line is 664 miles long, connecting Guangzhou to Wuhan, and will eventually extend all the way to Beijing. Trains average 217 mph, faster even than France's TGV and Japan's Shinkansen.

Here in the United States high-speed rail remains a distant hope. It was 50 years ago that Japan started work on the original Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed train, at 130 mph slow by modern standards, but still faster then than anything built in the US since. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, the "Stimulus Bill") allocated starting funding, but it won't get much built. Washington, New York, California and other states are fighting over scraps of it and asking for funding well beyond the $8B specifically allocated by ARRA. California voters approved a visionary project with a currently estimated cost of $45B.

Current European problems are somewhat anomalous. High speed trains have been operating for many years throughout Europe with few problems and heavy ridership. The system is extensive.

As as is implied by the color-coded segments of European high-speed trains, most passenger trips are of a few hundred miles rather than intercontinental. Trains don't replace airplane trips; they replace car trips because they are faster, cheaper, and more comfortable. Airline travel is increasingly unpleasant, and new security measures are likely to make it more so. In the high-travel transportation corridors especially trains are looking better and better:
...rail has several advantages that make it worth taking even if the terminal-to-terminal time is considerably longer than on air: less time on security lines; arrival in the city center, which is usually closer to where you want to go; electrical outlets!; and 3G internet as I travel.
I'd also add the obvious: you don't need to tuck your knees under your chin to fit in the seat, and you're pretty much free to get up and move around as much as you'd like.

The new Chinese line was built in 4 years. 42 more lines are planned by 2012.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Although we may not all share our beliefs or our faith, all of us take stock in this festive season of what has been and what we hope will be.

We remember those that we love, and those we have lost.

As the days grow longer again, let us take the spirit we hold in this season of light, and use it as our guide to a better future.

Your support and encouragement has made a difference as we have worked to pursue the vision of a world made better by what we make. More than one and half billion people today live without electricity, and many of them live on flowing water. Even a small turbine making 5kW can light a school and power its computers. It can keep a refrigerator of vaccines fresh and run medical equipment in a community clinic. It can charge batteries and operate a base station that allows once-isolated communities to communicate with the rest of the world. It can have a powerfully positive impact on the lives of more than a billion people.

Thank you to our friends for a great year. We look forward to working with you as we go forward.

Best wishes for a festive holiday season, and a prosperous and green year ahead.

From all of us at Hydrovolts, Chris, Burt, Brian & Chris.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blowing Harder

Behold the recent trifecta of climate change denial know-nothingness.

First there was half-term Gov. Sarah Palin's screed, rushed into print without seeming benefit of any fact-checking by the WaPo. What will she write about next? The Large Hadron Collider and the mysteries of dark matter?

Next was Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) who, despite stiff competition for the title, can fairly lay claim to being the Most Embarrassing Member of the US Senate. Inhofe threatened for months to lead a "truth squad" to the Copenhagen Conference, but in the end showed up as a truthiness squad of ... himself, with no real plan, no meetings with delegates ... nothing. His aides cobbled together some reporters whom Inhofe addressed from the top of a staircase, inveighing against the "hoax" of global warming. Asked one reporter, “If there’s a hoax, then who’s putting on this hoax, and what’s the motive?” Inhofe responded that it was "perpetrated on the world by the UN" and sold to Americans "by the Hollywood elite." The European press, unlike many of its US counterparts, did not give such unsupported ravings equal time with the peer-reviewed findings of scientists. Said a reporter from Der Spiegel, "that's ridiculous. You're ridiculous."

Finally, we have Sean Hannity of Fox News in a momemt of unintentional lucidity during a bombastic exchange with former Education Secretary Bill Bennett on climate change and SwiftHack:
Why would a scientist -- and I have really not gotten a satisfactory answer from anybody -- why would scientists risk their careers and their reputations to lie and manipulate data if there wasn't some agenda? And if they are, and there is an agenda, what is it?
Here's a quick lesson in logic for Hannity called modus tollens:
If Scientists lie and manipulate data
Then Scientists have some agenda
Scientists do not have some agenda
Scientists do not lie and manipulate data
There is ample evidence to discredit the SwiftHack allegations for what they are--a smear campaign--but without even getting into those details, the whole notion fails any analysis of cui bono: to whom is the good, i.e. who benefits? It is easy to see how one side benefits: the constellation of carbon spewing industries, their funded "think" tanks, advocating pols and sycophantic press apologists. On the other side the scientists ... benefit how? No wonder Hannity cannot get "a satisfactory answer."

I'm no expert on climate change but, unlike the nincompoops quoted above, at least I can research sources and weigh competing viewpoints based on their logic, reasoning, veracity of sources, use of verifiable facts and appearance of conflicts of interest. Ultimately, however:
Most of us, most of the time, are like historian and blogger Josh Marshall: "The fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the field think there's a problem is good enough for me," he wrote. "I can't be knowledgeable about everything. And I'm comfortable with the modern system in which the opinions of really knowledgeable people with expertise counts more in cases like this than people who know nothing at all."
If I had a medical condition I would seek the advice of doctors, not politicians or millionaire TV infotainers. I also wouldn't decide what to believe based on a poll. If the Earth doctors (climatologists) tell us in overwhelming numbers that the planet is ailing and intervention is necessary, why would we not trust them? They owe allegiance to their profession and to the truth, rather than, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, to those who pay their salaries.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Distributed Hydropower for Resource Exploration

Hydrovolts turbines provide distributed generation from hydropower, a great benefit to those who live in remote areas where no grid exists to deliver centrally produced electricity. These people need a distributed, i.e. locally produced and used, energy generation technology which works when and where they need it, and is portable, rugged, and cost-effective.

Another example of an off-grid need for electricity is remote resource exploration, such as for mining. Almost all mining operations use quite a bit of water; feasibility of a particular mine site is dependent in part on the availability of a reliable water supply, generally from a natural watercourse such as a river. Consequently, such sites are well-suited for power generation using a Hydrovolts turbine.

The existing solution in almost all cases is a diesel generator. It has the advantage of providing steady power when and where needed, but has several serious drawbacks, including smell and noise, but most especially cost. In most remote locations the fuel must be brought in by truck, sometimes on very bad roads that can take days to navigate. In extreme cases, fuel must be flown in by helicopter. As a result, the effective cost of the generated electricity can be $1.00/kWh and up, compared to the average US retail price of $0.11/kWh, and less than $0.02/kWh from a Hydrovolts turbine.

Many companies engaged in resource exploration, including mining companies, are acutely sensitive to the needs and values of the communities in which they operate. Commonly such companies will build infrastructure (sometimes as part of their operations) which they will leave to community ownership upon project completion. According to one potential Hydrovolts customer, such infrastructure helps satisfy the "social license" companies crave to smooth the acceptance of their operations by local populations. In creating a "prideful and positive experience" they gain support of communities, reduce conflict and lower costs. Mining companies seek a social license when starting a new project or entering a new community not only because it is a best practice in sustainability, but because it increases the prospects for a successful project:
In 2003 Pierre Lassonde drew attention to the observation that “Without local community support, your project is going nowhere.” He described social license as “…the acceptance and belief by society, and specifically our local communities, in the value creation of our activities, such as we are allowed to access and extract mineral resources. … You don’t get your social licence by going to a government ministry and making an application or simply paying a fee. … It requires far more than money to truly become part of the communities in which you operate” (Lassonde 2003). A primary objective of gaining a Social License is to minimize project risk.
Hydrovolts turbines are an excellent choice for mining companies in the exploration phase of projects, as they are easily and rapidly deployed at modest cost. Hydrovolts turbines in larger numbers are also appropriate to the production phase, where they can save in overall capital costs as well as reduce costs during operation. Companies leaving the turbines behind for community would cement the social license and generate the goodwill and positive reputation that could aid in future projects. Creative partnering may also allow sharing the capital cost with NGOs or even the community itself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peak Buffalo

Yep, we'll never run out of oil as long as we keep drilling.

There were alternatives to buffalo too, but just not so obvious or acceptable to those who lives were defined by hunting buffalo.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Doctors Smoke Camels

Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science, wrote in the WaPo on-line (via):
Don't be fooled about climate science. In April, 1994 -- long after scientists had clearly demonstrated the addictive quality and devastating health impacts of cigarette smoking -- seven chief executives of major tobacco companies denied the evidence, swearing under oath that nicotine was not addictive. Now, the American public is again being subjected to those kinds of denials, this time about global climate change.
It is not surprising that corporate interests flack for their own financial advantage with no regard to anyone or anything else.

It is not surprising that mendacious pols write shabby op-ed pieces like the one to which this is a response.

It is not surprising that stenographic hacks publish them. (Kathleen Graham would be mortified.)

What is surprising is that so many find such people more credible than the thousands of scientists whose work has been subjected to decades of peer review and who have nothing to gain and everything to lose by the slightest misstep. Even when we've seen this movie before.

Did the tobacco companies pay the Camel-loving Doctors and Marlboro Men enough to compensate them for their shortened lives?

There is a big difference, however, between the paid tobacco shills and those gaining advantage (political, pecuniary or both) today--in the past they put their own future at risk; today they imperil it for everyone, for generations to come.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Clean Tech Open Video and Pictures

There were a lot of fun things about our week in San Francisco. Winning the National Sustainability Award at the Clean Tech Open (CTO) Gala. Being a finalist for Newpreneur of the Year competition. Seeing many old friends, and meeting new ones. Learning about many new companies doing exciting things. Especially cool was watching a professionally made video about Hydrovolts (as opposed to our home-made efforts):

Thanks to Dia North, Jonathon Angelini and the team at ExpertInABox for putting this together! (Also now on Youtube.)

Here are a few more pictures, from the Pacific Northwest region through the Gala in San Francisco:

Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire
with Department of Commerce head Rogers Weed,
Pacific Northwest CTO Co-Chair Byron McCann,
Events Chair Andy Braff, and the PNW Semifinalists

Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open Sustainability Award
(l-r, Sustainability Chair Karl Unterschuetz, Hydrovolts' Brian Peithman,
Chris Leyerle and Burt Hamner, Andy Braff and Byron McCann)

Pacific Northwest Regional Finalists Award
(l-r, Andy Braff, LivinGreen Materials' Dr. Guozhong Cao,
Green Lite Motors' Buzz Hill and Tim Miller, CTO Executive Director Rex Northern,
Hydrovolts' Chris Leyerle, Burt Hamner and Brian Peithman, and Byron McCann)

Burt Hamner and Chris Leyerle demonstrate the
Hydrovolts Flipwing turbine at the CTO Gala

Burt Hamner addresses the CTO Gala audience

Chris Leyerle and Burt Hamner receive the CTO National
Sustainability Award from CTO Sustainability Chair Julia Hu
and Michael Closson of CTO Founding Partner Acterra

Finally, a reminder: if you can, please support the Clean Tech Open as it expands to the midwest and east coast next year by being a sponsor, a volunteer, or by making a donation. Thanks!

Links to recent media stories about Hydrovolts:

Globe Innovator
Triple Pundit
Renewable Energy World
Clean Tech Open Blog
News Blaze

There are many other sites that have reprinted these stories as well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Message from the Blue Man Group

I doubt supplemental oxygen will appear.

Is the climate changing? Well, 2009 is shaping up as the 5th hottest year on record. So obviously global warming is bunk:
How do we know this? Because, 2009 is only the 5th warmest year on record.

Don’t you see what that means?  1998 was warmer than 2009!  This means that, if anything, the earth is cooling. And it certainly is not warming.  If it was warming, wouldn’t each year be successively warmer? (Heck, wouldn’t each month be warmer?  Each day? Each hour?)

Seriously, there is a trend--the 11 hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 13 years. So much for the sunspot cycle.

h/t FDL

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Climate Walruses

Climate change deniers have been in full throat since the breaking of SwiftHack (often poorly and misleadingly named as "Climategate".) This supposed "scandal" is a calculated piece of propaganda, timed for maximum impact on the Copenhagen conference and transmorgified and regurgitated for brazenly craven reasons by the right-wing noise machine.

Their intellectual coherency, the relevancy of what they say... it reminds me of something I heard once...
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
You cannot relate such nonsense to anything real; it is all blather and pomposity masquerading as deep thinking. Fortunately, there are some who cut through the miasma of misdirection.

Our oceans are in serious trouble. US Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) brought factual relevancy as well as some authentic passion to a hearing on the damage happening to them from climate change:

Rep. Inslee confessed to having "a little emotion" about the issue of the fisheries in the shallow Pacific coast waters and whether they could survive the growing acidification. This is the key part (about 4:03 in the video):
I want to ask: Is there anybody in this room, including the two witnesses, and my Republican colleagues, and my Democratic colleagues, and anybody in this room, who has information to suggest that the oceans are not becoming more acidic? Has anybody got information like that? Anybody? Has anybody got an explanation why the oceans are becoming more acidic, other than the fact that there is massive amounts of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere? Has anybody got an explanation for that?


Lost in the sturm and drang about whether climate change is "real" are indisputable effects such as the encroaching death of our oceans due to radically increased carbon in the atmosphere.

The buffering long provided by the oceans is starting to fail.

The skeptical response usually falls back on the history of carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, arguing that carbon concentrations have been higher for much of geological time.

The objection that the carbon dioxide level was higher in past eons is specious. It's not that it has been higher, it's the rate at which it is changing which alarms. Given sufficient time species can adapt to changing temperatures, changing pH levels, or changing concentrations of atmospheric constituents.

Imagine the windshield on your car is covered in frost (this doesn't require much imagination around western Washington the past week or so!) One way to deice it would be to heat it up slowly with the car's defroster, which would slowly melt it away. Another way would be to pour warm water on it; you'd rid it of the ice in a trice, but the rate of temperature change would almost certainly break the glass. The glass ends up at the same temperature, but the rate makes all the difference.

The rapidity of the change in atmospheric carbon concentrations is breaking our oceans.

The concern trolls speak portentously about "junk science" and the supposed corruption of science to political ends. Their sincerity, however, rings hollow.
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes. 
What do you think will become of the oysters if the climate walruses prevail?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Energy Future

Interest is surging in nuclear power as a solution to our energy future. Why? Advocates argue that nuclear is clean energy, produces no carbon emissions in operation, makes continuous, firm power, and reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

Any currently plausible plan for commercial scale nuclear power relies on conventional uranium-fueled nuclear power plants (UFNPP) that use fission reactors. (Despite decades of research and advocacy for thorium-based and fusion reactors, they remain impractical.) The uranium, like oil, coal or gas, must be extracted from the earth, and is not replenished naturally in human time-scales.

Current nuclear technology cannot be described as renewable; but, given its supposed clean tech benefits, does that matter?

Replacing fossil fuels with nuclear would have an arguably positive effect on the environment by reducing carbon emissions, at least in operation. (The environmental impacts of uranimum mining, plant construction and waste disposal remain problematic.) The economic impacts are troubling, given the enormous cost of nuclear energy compared to all alternatives, and the enormous but nearly impossible-to-quantity costs of waste disposal.

There are other challenges [pdf]:
Nuclear energy must become dramatically more attractive to utilities, governments, and publics around the world. This would require reducing costs, preventing any substantial accident, avoiding terrorist sabotage, finding politically sustainable solutions to nuclear-waste management, and ensuring that nuclear energy does not contribute (and is not seen as contributing) to the spread of nuclear weapons to proliferating states or terrorist groups.
While these challenges are real, they can perhaps be solved given sufficient political skill and technical effort.

Uranium fuel supply, however, is a different kind of challenge.
If the United States were to sharply increase its use of nuclear power, from whence would the uranium fuel come? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is sanguine, declaring in the announcement of its core study of uranium supply and demand (the "Red Book") that:
... new discoveries and re-evaluations of known conventional uranium resources will be adequate to supply nuclear energy needs for at least 100 years at present consumption level. Growing demand and higher prices have spurred greater investment in exploration and led to larger identified conventional uranium resources over the past two years.
But the present consumption level will almost certainly change, as the IAEA admits:
The demand picture is increasingly complex, with significant nuclear power builds underway in China, India, Korea, Japan and the Russian Federation, and phase-out programmes underway in several European countries. Yet the report notes that new builds along with plant life extensions should increase global installed nuclear capacity in the coming decades, thereby increasing demand for uranium. Projections for 2030 indicate a range of expected growth in demand from a low estimate of 38% to a high case of roughly 80%. Demand, however, is increasing, and will increase more sharply still if current discussions in the US Senate play out.
Thus, when considering only the currently projected increase in demand from this identified capacity growth, global supply might not last even 70 years. Climate change policy globally and partisan politics in the US will likely spur even more growth in UFNPPs and demand for uranium, shortening the timeline further.

A typical UFNPP in the US receives an NRC operating license for 40 years which is routinely renewed for an additional 20 years. To make the economics of nuclear power work, the plants need to operate for 60 years. With the long lag times to permit and build plants, however, the uranium supply will not be secure for the full lifetime of operation for plants yet to be built. This will, of course, have a major impact on the overall economics of any UFNPP project.

The supply of uranium is of two kinds. The IAEA, in its latest summary [pdf] writes of uranium:
Supply exceeded demand until 1990 when that relationship was reversed. The gap between newly mined and processed uranium (primary supply) and uranium requirements that developed after 1990 was filled by secondary supply including highly enriched uranium (HEU) from military stockpiles and inventory drawdown. In 2003, total demand was covered about equally by primary and secondary supply.
In other words, in 2003, only just over half of demand was met by new mining, with about 40% coming from previously mined but unused supply, and on re-purposing uranium originally part of weapons. (This so-called Megatons to Megawatts Program provides about 10% of US uranium supplies by the dismantling of former Soviet warheads. Would that there were more of this sort of swords-to-ploughshares program for weapons of all kinds throughout the world.) While energy security is rightly seen as an increasingly key part of national security, it is unlikely that the weapons stockpile will be cannibalized for its uranium to any great degree. At length, the secondary supply will become exhausted and the primary supply must increase to match demand.

The IAEA supply estimates are not beyond question. Michael Dittmar, a researcher at CERN in Switzerland believes the Red Book numbers are suspicious, if not wholly unreliable [pdf]:
Analysis shows that neither the 3.3 million tons of “assured” resources nor the 2.2 million tons of inferred resources are justified by the Red Book data and that the actual known exploitable resources are probably much smaller.
At The Oil Drum there is disagreement about short-term supply problems, but a recognition that the long-term picture is other than the IAEA picture would have it. Others see shortages of uranium by 2050.

One of the leading uranium consulting entities, Ux Consulting is cautious in its Uranium Market Outlook:
The market that we now find ourselves in is like no other in the history of uranium. Production is far below requirements, which are growing... Supply has become more concentrated, making the market more vulnerable to disruptions if there are any problems with a particular supply source. Another source of market vulnerability is the relatively low level of inventory held by buyers and sellers alike.
So far, this transition has been subject to considerable price volatility. The question is whether this volatility will continue. This will depend on the procurement, inventory, and investment decisions that are made in anticipation to and in reaction to the developing trends. Will governments get into the act, and how might this affect the future market? What other surprises may there be?
The global supply is not uniformly distributed, and any aggregate numbers mask the considerable differences in geographic concentration, economic feasibility and political availability. Much of the future increase in world-wide supply is thought to be coming from Kazakhstan and secondly from Africa and Canada. While the bulls see increased exploration and production making up for the inevitable decline of the secondary supply, the heterogeneous nature of the suppliers should give one pause.

The US supply situation is not favorable. Per the 2007 Red Book, annual uranium demand in the US was 22,890 tonnes. Domestic production, however, was barely 2,000 tonnes. The total identified uranium resource which is feasibly extractable in the US, assuming a resource price of less than $130/kg, is 339,000 tonnes. US domestic uranium supply, assuming 100% extraction, would last less than 15 years at current consumption rates.

Security concerns around nuclear power stem not just from keeping the materials and technologies away from the bad actors, but also on not becoming dependent on others for uranium supply. China, India and other countries are net importers of uranium to feed their ambitious and growing programs. The United States imports almost all of its uranium today, with about half coming from Canada and half from Russia. The gap between demand and supply will only grow as pressures mount to replace dirty coal plants with something else.

The United States continues to have a serious and potentially existential problem with its dependence on oil imports from foreign countries with capricious policies and despotic leaders. Decades in the making, this situation is the result of our failure to transition from an oil-based economy following the Hubbert's Peak in US oil production in the early 1970's. Instead of aggressively finding and adopting a different and indigenous energy source, we chose to become dependent on foreign suppliers.

Today our electricity generation has no significant reliance on foreign supply. An increased reliance on generating electricity by UFNPPs risks repeating the historic mistake of our reliance on foreign oil. What confidence do we have in our uranium supply in 2030? Or 2050? Is there a future risk of a uranium cartel akin to today's OPEC, composed of Kazakhstan, Russia, Niger and others indifferent, corrupted or even hostile to our interests? Perhaps we can rely on Canada and Australia to remain friendly and cooperative, but 40 years is a long time, and climate change will re-order the world in ways we cannot readily predict.

Can we afford to make the same mistake a second time? Nuclear power using uranium may be a brief stepping-stone on the journey to a secure energy future, but it is not the destination.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Distributed Hydropower for Military Use

Fuel tankers are a prime war zone targetRenewable energy has many benefits, but usually saving lives isn't one of them. However, Hydrovolts turbines have the potential to do just that for the United States military.

Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer is based in Fallujah, Iraq, and has responsibility for dangerous Anbar province. He and his 30,000 troops generate electricity from diesel generators for cooking, refrigeration, communications, charging batteries and especially for cooling their tents in the 135-degree weather.

The fuel for these generators comes over land in long, snaking convoys of slow-moving and vulnerable tanker trucks. These convoys have been a repeated target of attack and, even with considerable security measures, are extremely vulnerable and very risky for all personnel involved. In an urgent 2006 memo to commanders at the Pentagon, Zilmer warned that US forces "will remain unnecessarily exposed" and will "continue to accrue preventable ... serious and grave casualties" unless they were provided with "a self-sustainable energy solution."

The problem is not new, and dates back at least to the US military effort to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1990. A 2004 study by the Rocky Mountain Institute outlined how, "before the recent rise in oil prices, the U.S. Army spent some $200 million annually on fuel and paid personnel an estimated $3.2 billion to transport it. The Defense Energy Support Center reports that in 2005, the U.S. military spent around $8 billion on some 128 million barrels of fuel; in 2004, it spent $7 billion on 145 million barrels." The cost of fuel is higher now than in 2004, and will almost certainly continue to climb.

In response, the US Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF) may soon solicit proposals from companies to supplement front line diesel generators with renewable-energy power stations using a mix of solar and wind power. Such an approach continues a growing interest in alternative energy sources by the Pentagon.

Projected costs for a hybrid solar/wind solution are high, as much as $100,000 compared to about $20,000 for a comparable Hydrovolts turbine. Wind and solar are also inherently variable and intermittent, and so still require a ready supply of diesel fuel and the risks that entails.

Notes Zilmer: "Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success." A Hydrovolts turbine solution could provide electrical power in deployments near moving water without an expensive and dangerous supply chain and the mortal risk to soldiers and civilians it entails.Adds Al Shaffer, the executive director of the Pentagon's Energy Security Task Force about efficiency from renewable energy: "We save money; we simplify our logistics supply line, which makes us a more effective fighting force; we free ourselves from dependence on oil controlled by our adversaries; and above all we save lives." Weaning the military, however partially, from oil dependence also has strategic value long term.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Hydrovolts has made a lot of progress in the past year. There is much for which we are thankful!

Being recognized. By entrepreneurs. By the clean tech community. By investors. By the media.

Having a great entrepreneurial team. Expertise, engineering, and experience.

Technological validation. Going from an idea to a full Flipwing prototype making power.

Commercial validation. Purchase inquiries from 15 countries (and counting!) A hosting agreement for a demo project. Engaged customers. (More on all of this in a new post soon.)

Being small. It's a good thing in a crummy economy:
If you think of the big companies as dinosaurs who’ve just been hit between the eyes with a gigantic meteor, remember that you’re the smart, agile, adaptable monkey who’s going to inherit the earth.
Policy momentum. Better policy. Sober but hopeful vision. Slowly, slowly, changing attitudes.

Finally, thanks to all of you for advising, challenging, supporting and encouraging us. Thanks to the thousands of you who have visited our web site, voted for us, and come to our pitches and presentations. Thanks to the dozens of you who follow our Twitter feed, look at our LinkedIn company page, watch our Youtube channel, and join our Facebook fan page. And thanks to the awesome few who have subscribed to this blog, our blog lurkers and visitors. You are all greatly appreciated.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Newpreneur of the Year

Hydrovolts won a $5,000 prize as a national finalist for Newpreneur of the Year in a contest sponsored by and Inc. Magazine. The grand prize winner was Joel Smith and Forward Mobility, a Washington State maker of medical devices, including the innovative Freedom Leg. Although Hydrovolts did not win one of the top prizes we were very pleased to make it all the way to the finals; the $5,000 prize will be a big help in the construction of a full-size version of the Flipwing turbine.

Hydrovolts CEO Burt Hamner gave the 90-second elevator pitch, which, according to the scoring criteria, emphasized the business, the impact of the recession, and how plays (or will play) a role in its success. Sorry for the initially shaky video, the result of some jostling and (finally) finding a stable shooting posture:

All of us at Hydrovolts would like to thank the thousands of you that voted for us on-line. The voting was to select the finalists for the trip to San Francisco. Unfortunately, as some of you found, the voting system had some problems, so, in the end, Publisher Whelan Mahoney made a great decision: to invite all the competing companies!  We were ecstatic to go to the finals, and we really enjoyed meeting and talking with our fellow "newpreneurs" and keynote speaker Tom Peters.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence,
makes a point to Burt Hamner and the rest of the audience
at the Newpreneur of the Year finals in San Francisco.

There were over 1000 original entrants in the competition, each of whom submitted an essay describing their business, the impact of the recession and how Alibaba was or would be key to its success. Burt's essay was one of only 30 selected. These 30 competed in six regional competitions of 5 semifinalists each, giving a stand-up elevator pitch (with no PowerPoint!) and answering questions about their business from a panel of expert judges. Chris Leyerle gave the elevator pitch at the regional semi-finals in Seattle:

Hydrovolts COO Chris Leyerle shows the turbine
prototype at the regional semifinals in Seattle.

Congratulations to Joel, Forward Mobility, and the rest of our fellow finalists. And thank you to the good folks at Alibaba and Inc. for a great gala evening at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco, the national recognition and some money to help Hydrovolts succeed!

Hydrovolts press release [pdf]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hydrovolts wins National Sustainability Award

Hydrovolts, already a winner of the Sustainability Award in the Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open in Seattle, last night also won the first Clean Tech Open (CTO) National Sustainability Award.

The Award includes a prize package of $20,000 worth of software and services that will help Hydrovolts measure and improve its sustainability efforts.

The Regional and National Sustainability Judging panels consisted of sustainability executives and thought leaders. They chose Hydrovolts first from amongst the nearly 300 original entries because of the company's commitment to all three areas of sustainability:
  • Product--the sustainability of the turbine itself, as measured by its overall impact and end-user savings in carbon emissions, waste, water and chemicals.
  • Process--the sustainability of the methods the company plans to use in its operations and in manufacturing the product, including impacts on the environment, mitigation approaches and quantitative process analysis.
  • Pitch--the sustainability of the company's environmental and social efforts that uniquely create value for employees, customers, communities and other stakeholders. It includes transparency and disclosure, employment practices, investors, social equity and community responsibility.
The presentation of the Award came towards the end of an eventful day at San Francisco's Masonic Center that also included an exhibition by CTO finalist, semifinalist and alumni companies, demo presentations, videos from the entrants in the international ideas contest, keynote speakers, and much celebration of the growing success of the CTO.

 Hydrovolts co-founders Chris Leyerle and Burt Hamner
show the turbine prototype during the morning exhibition.

The CTO has been a powerfully positive experience for Hydrovolts. Said Burt:
Unlike any other business contest we know of, the CTO really digs down deep into the roots of sustainable performance. They provided tools and guides to examine almost every aspect of a business with a green lens, while constantly staying with proven management principles that startups need to succeed. The CTO sustainability training for entrepreneurs is gutsy, not gushy.
Added Chris:
The educational value, caliber of coaching, and prescriptive instruction throughout the CTO far exceeded my expectations. The CTO has been instrumental in helping us build our skills, craft a better plan and create a stronger business. I heartily recommend the CTO to both aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs.
In accepting the Award, Burt noted the importance of incorporating sustainability measures into all aspects of  company operations, including into the standard financial statements. He commended the CTO for championing sustainability throughout the process and for highlighting its importance to the broader entrepreneur and business community.

Hydrovolts would like to congratulate the Grand Prize Winner, ecoFactor, and salute the other 10 finalist companies who competed at the Gala. All are exciting businesses with huge potential, and we are pleased to have made so many new friends amongst our fellow contestants, judges, mentors and others. The organizers and hundreds of volunteers of the CTO deserve recognition for their outstanding effort and the superb success in building the CTO from a California competition to a national one. They could use some help, too, for next year, so if you can, be a sponsor or volunteer, or make a donation.

Many people have helped Hydrovolts throughout the CTO process and without which winning this prestigious Award would not have been possible. We wish in particular to thank those that provided mentoring, feedback and ideas on the sustainability parts of the business: Joshua Skov, Itzel Orozco, and Kiran Jethwa. Thank you all!

CTO Press Release

UPDATE: fixed a broken link and some broken grammar...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hydrovolts wins PNW Clean Tech Open

On October 29th Hydrovolts won the inaugural Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open (CTO) and, as a regional finalist, now heads to San Francisco to compete in the national finals November 16-17. The CTO also recognized fellow semi-finalists Green Lite Motors and LivinGreen Materials as regional finalists. Each of the three regional finalists wins a package of cash and in-kind services worth at least $50,000.

Hydrovolts also won the CTO Sustainability Award in recognition both of how its turbines promote sustainability for its customers and the communities in which they are used as well as how the company is being built to use business practices that are in themselves sustainable. CEO Burt Hamner's more than 15 years as an international consultant in cleaner production has been a large benefit to Hydrovolts in shaping its sustainability approach.
We're off to San Francisco Monday morning for the grand finale Tuesday at the Masonic Center on Nob Hill. If you're in the Bay Area or traveling there, come see us! The Clean Tech Open is a nonprofit and the Awards Gala is intended as a fundraiser. Tickets normally go for $129 and up – but I have some discounted tickets which will give you a 40% reduction – just use this code: CTOGala when you register.
The Pacific Northwest Awards Gala was held at Seattle's ACT Theater following an afternoon investor showcase and exhibit by all ten of the CTO semi-finalists. Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire provided an inspiring keynote speech on the importance of clean technology for the state, the country, and the world. The Governor also toured all of the exhibits and spoke with each of the companies.

Washington Governor Gregoire interested in water power from Hydrovolts
Hydrovolts CEO Burt Hamner shows the company's unique technology and business to Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire. Looking on are Pacific Northwest CTO Co-Chair Byron McCann and Hydrovolts Co-founder Chris Leyerle.

Said the Governor: "In its first year the Clean Tech Open has become a critical driver for the type of technology innovation our state needs to create new green jobs and find clean energy solutions for our future. I commend the contestants and the Clean Tech Open community for their dedication to our state's green economy and improving the way we produce and use energy."

Hydrovolts CEO Burt Hamner and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire
Hydrovolts CEO Burt Hamner and Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire recall the days when both worked at the State Department of Ecology.

In accepting the Sustainability Award Burt thanked the CTO organizers profusely for their enormous efforts, the amazing quality of the coaching and the sterling caliber of the many mentors that worked tirelessly to make the entire process such a resounding success. "There are many many people I would like to thank--too many to name, but you know who you are. We could not have done this without you." Burt also saluted all of our fellow semi-finalists, noting their formidable abilities and ingenuity. "We were even a bit intimidated by the strength of our competitors; these are all excellent companies."

Perhaps because he had already spoken, Burt was uncharacteristically speechless in accepting the recognition as one of the three finalists, saying only after a great pause: "Wow!" and "Thank you so much!"

There are far more people we could thank ("you know who you are"!) than time and space will allow. However, we would like to explicitly thank two of the many people who worked with us, exhorted us to aim higher, focused us where we were vague, spotted weaknesses, pushed us to be more specific and generally did what all good coaches do--made us better. Thank you first and foremost our two CTO mentors, Kendall Bodden of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and John Castle of the University of Washington. We recommend both of them highly to anyone looking for dedicated and valuable guidance in building their business.

All of us at Hydrovolts would also like to congratulate our fellow finalists and recognize all of our fellow semifinalists with whom we have spent the last many months side-by-side working, learning, and encouraging each other. This has been an amazing journey, and it has been a privilege to have been a part of such a high energy, motivated and stimulating group. We wish all of our fellow CTO alumni continued success in their businesses.

Clean Tech Open press release news article

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vote for Hydrovolts

Vote for Hydrovolts!Do you believe in Clean Energy? Then vote for it!

We need your help.

As a reader of this blog chances are you believe in clean energy and its importance for our future.

Hydrovolts is the only clean energy company in a national competition that relies on popular voting, and, while we are catching up, we are still lagging behind.

Vote for us! Give clean energy get the national recognition it must keep getting to make the mission in which we believe into a national movement.

Please vote for us! It takes literally 10 seconds, and just 2 mouse clicks. No registration, no giving your email.

Oh yeah, you can vote very day through Friday, November 6, so vote early and please... vote often!

Tell your friends. Broadcast on Facebook and Twitter. Know someone running a relevant email list? Please tell them too! The world needs distributed hydropower! The country needs more momentum behind clean energy!


About us:

Hydrovolts makes power from water by building small hydrokinetic turbines that generate electricity from fast flows for agriculture, industry and sustainable community development world-wide. The turbines literally drop in without dams, weirs, or changes to the watercourse of any kind in as little as an hour. They create electricity at a fully capitalized cost of less than $0.02/kWh and typically pay for themselves in less than 5 years.

Learn more about us here: (web site) (blog) (YouTube) (Twitter) (Facebook fan page)

The competition:

Inc. Magazine and are sponsoring this high-profile national contest called "Newpreneur of the Year" to recognize an outstanding new start-up company in the US.

There were over 1000 entrants from which 30 (5 each in six cities nationally) were selected based on an application essay. Each of the 5 then competed in a stand-up competition giving 90-second elevator pitches and answering questions about their businesses from a panel of expert judges.

The current phase involves voting by anyone who cares to do so to select 5 from the final 13. These 5 will go to the national final in San Francisco where they will again be judged on merit to pick the winner.

The final 13 are an eclectic group, and include some interesting companies and business models. Hydrovolts is, however, the only clean technology company in the group.

While doubtless some would benefit from a costume company, a new breath mint or folding ballet slippers, Hydrovolts is the only company that can have a powerfully positive impact on the lives of more than a billion people!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Save Paper and Ink

Atmospheric carbon needs to be back below 350 ppmMinimizing waste has been an interest of mine since the 60's.

Green Print is a great piece of software that can really help on the Reduce part of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I've been using it on my laptop and home computer for more than a year. Exactly as it promises, it saves lots of paper and ink.

It also provides a really simple way to turn documents into PDF so you don't need to print them at all.

It installs as a printer driver which makes it really easy to use; just pick it like any other printer. When you print to it, it creates a preview screen that allows you to choose which pages not to print. For programs that have a print preview this is perhaps not as useful, but it's indispensable for printing stuff off the web (like boarding passes or travel receipts) that often print these maddening extra pages of advertisements or are completely blank except for a header/footer. The program can even be set up to largely strip these automatically.

This saves money, of course, but it also is a small step to reduce the impacts fueling climate change. The program not only tracks how many pages you've saved but also how much less carbon you've put into the environment.

Do you care about climate change? Then do something. This could be a good step. Or you could do something more.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Sorry all to have been away so long. Busy, but in a good way. Will return to more frequent posting soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Hydrovolts Turbine - IV

Here's another video of the flume testing at the University of Washington noted in the last post. It shows tests of the Hydrovolts Flipwing Turbine using various numbers of blades:

Other posts on the Hydrovolts Flipwing Turbine:
The Hydrovolts Turbine
The Hydrovolts Turbine - II

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Hydrovolts Turbine - III

Thanks to the assistance of Professor Bruce Adee and his students at the University of Washington, we had some fun testing of the Hydrovolts turbine in their flume. The video shows testing of a 5-blade design in a 0.5 m/s current:

Having a really low cut-in speed is another advantage of the patent-pending cross-axis design.

Other posts on the Hydrovolts Flipwing Turbine:
The Hydrovolts Turbine
The Hydrovolts Turbine - II

Senator Inhofe: Oil and Gas Don't Pollute

How did this man become a US Senator?

Says James Inhofe, the Senate's biggest climate change denier (via):
People complain that we are buying — importing from the Middle East — oil and gas. And then they find out that we have it all right here. We don’t have to do that. If their argument there is “Well, we don’t want to use oil and gas because we think it pollutes” — which it doesn’t — but if that’s their argument, then why are we willing to import it from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East?
Oil and gas aren't polluting!? Is there something else in the water in Oklahoma that causes this kind of insanity? How can anyone take this man seriously? Of course, only in Oklahoma did every single county vote for John McCain over Barack Obama, so re-electing Inhofe twice may seem, well, OK.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Math is Math

El Nino 2009Looks like this will be an El Nino year, perhaps a strong one, which pleases some for the schadenfreude it provides:
1998 was the hottest year on record because of an extraordinarily powerful el Nino that heated up the entire planet dramatically. But because it was so hot, climate disruption deniers have been using it as the starting point from which they claim, wrongly, that “the global temperature has been cooling for a decade now.” This false claim was strengthened by the lucky coincidence that 2008 turned out to be a la Nina year, when the global temperature dropped significantly. Climate disruption deniers then took advantage of an unfortunate fact of least-squares linear trend estimates - they’re VERY sensitive to endpoint variation, especially in short, noisy datasets. And not only is global temperature noisy on a monthly and yearly basis, but ten years is a woefully short amount of data. And don’t even get me started on Joe D’Aleo’s, Lord Monckton’s, and Ross McKitrick’s 5-year “trend” from 2003 to 2008 which, conveniently enough, has another el Nino to la Nina transition.

So now, with a new el Nino heating up the summer and autumn global temperatures by some as-yet-unknown amount, climate disruption scientists and activists have their own convenient endpoints to the data. 1999 was a la Nina year, after all, and 2009 is an el Nino year, so any trend calculated from 1999 to 2009 will be huge, given that global temperatures for July through December are significantly warmer on average than January through June. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that 2009 could be warm enough to turn the supposed “cooling trend” into a “warming trend” all by itself. And that’s the first reason I’m happy about a new el Nino.

Of course, we’re talking weather here, not climate, and the exact same statistical tools that I and others use to debunk the bogus cooling trends touted by deniers could be used against any climate scientist who touts a hot 2009. But that brings me to the second reason I’m happy about el Nino - I’m actually looking forward to climate disruption deniers screaming “a hot year in 2009 is only weather, the cooling trend since 1998 is a real trend!” Because in return, I get to call the denier a hypocrite.

Math is math, after all. If the data statistics says that there’s too much noise in the data to extract a meaningful trend from 1998 to 2008, the the same will almost certainly be true from 1999 to 2009. And as a result, any denier who looks at the 99-09 trend and says “that’s just weather, not climate” or “the trend has endpoint problems that make it inaccurate” or even “you cherry-picked your endpoints” will immediately be revealed as a liar and a hypocrite.
Yes, it will be amusing to see the responses from those who confuse weather and climate, have been shouting about supposed global cooling, how Al Gore got it wrong, how cold spring has been this year, blah blah. No, I won't link to them, but they're easy to find if you search on something like "global cooling trend".

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shale Game - II

Everyone's confident...Oil shale development continues to wait:

The Obama administration has been granted a third extension of a deadline for responding to lawsuits that challenged the Bush administration’s oil shale decisions. The government says it needs the input of people nominated but not yet confirmed for top offices overseeing public lands.

U.S. District Court Judge John Kane on Friday agreed to postpone the deadline until Aug. 31.

The environmental groups' lawsuits challenge the Bush administration's oil shale decision on environmental grounds as well as for failing to set royalty rates high enough to provide the legally required fair return for the use of public resources.

Interestingly, both the environmental groups and the industry groups (Shell and the API) agree on the postponement, albeit for different reasons. For the enviros, delay forestalls the rapacious development. Forestall long enough and it might never happen. Industry doesn't mind the wait because the cost of development is not feasible currently, and won't be until the price of oil (or its future prospect) rises above $80 or so per barrel and stays there. Unless the global economy turns around that could be a long wait.

The government has said it needs time for the new administration to determine the appropriate course of action.
The government's motion specifically begs time for the confirmations of Bob Abbey as director of the Bureau of Land Management and Wilma Lewis as assistant secretary for land and minerals management in the Interior Department.

Both had a hearing in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Thursday. John McCain (R-AZ) announced the next day that he would oppose the confirmation of both until the Obama administration takes a position on a land swap enabling a copper mine in his state. McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said that McCain intends to place holds on both nominees if and when they come before the full Senate for a final vote. He seems ready to allow the nominations to proceed if he gets his way on the copper mine bill [pdf], but the Obama administration has stated that they need more time to study that too.

I'd like to think that the Obama administration wants to carefully assess oil shale development as I wrote last November. And perhaps they will. For now the Obama administration is likely stalling for time, taking advantage of the willingness of both parties to delay. The reason they present to the court, wanting to have their key staff in place, is reasonable, and the court agreed to the extension. But how long will having staff in place take? Will these public servants have anything like the time they need for a detailed review and the filing of legal briefs between their (eventual) confirmation and August 31? Even without the threat of a hold, the confirmations could take a while; Republicans haven't exactly expedited the process for Obama's nominees in general, and these seemed destined for special treatment.

Delay satisfies a political purpose as well. Obama has a lot of moving parts in his legislative agenda, and a large, visible and critical piece is climate change legislation--the Waxman-Markey bill, HR 2454. Oil shale is one of a few current issues that pit environmentalists against the legacy energy industry (others include offshore oil and gas drilling, so-called clean coal, and nuclear power.) While Waxman-Markey is still on tenterhooks it is expedient to defer decisions on these other matters as much as possible, keeping some powder dry for the later fight, and forcing the opposing sides to largely hold their fire. All parties have more at stake right now than just a decision on oil shale.

Unless oil prices rise dramatically, rekindling imminent development interest by Shell, the oil shale lawsuit will be repeatedly delayed because no one benefits by moving it forward in the near term. By not taking sides (yet) the Obama administration prevents needlessly aggravating either camp while it attempts the tortuous guiding of Waxman-Markey into law. McCain, in pursuit of his tactical parochial interest may actually be helping Obama's strategic objective. Environmentalists, while suspicious of Obama's commitment to the environment prevent for now the development of oil shale by delay. Developers expect delay to increase their bargaining power, as they expect energy costs to increase and pressure for domestic fossil fuel development to grow.

In some respects, all of this maneuvering will in time prove a sideshow; any apolitical decision on oil shale development will necessarily be one based on a resource more critical and more threatened than energy supplies or political capital--water.