Alternative Profits Blog

MokuZoku - Getting Your Children Off the Computer

You might wonder what a game for kids got to do with alternative energy opportunities. It does not have anything directly to with alternative energy, but in my opinion, has a lot to do with the larger concept of sustainability. And the opportunities such a market presents.

Worldwide, the sustainability movement is gathering pace, with alternative energy being one of its components. While the core theme of sustainability is on how to lead a life that is more environment and society friendly with an emphasis on aligning ourselves with nature, I feel the concept extends to how humans get to spend more time outside - visiting places, playing outdoor games and spending time at parks and gardens instead of at McDonalds and in front of giant TV screens.

More and more parents worldwide will be keen that their children grow up to be more eco-friendly than they themselves were. This will make them encourage kids to shun video and games and "go and play outside". I think there will be sizable markets for products that enable such activities.

MokuZoku is one such. Read what it does:

“MokuZoku is tackling a growing problem facing childhood development– too much time in front of computer and television screens, and not enough unstructured outdoor play. We’re revolutionizing how kids learn and play by creating an interactive world where online games motivate kids to get outside and learn about their environment. In doing so, we hope to stimulate a movement back to a simpler, healthier form of play and adventure that extends far beyond their computer. By partaking in our unique hybrid of online gaming and outdoor activity, children develop the connection with nature that is so essential to human mental and physical development.”

What I like about MokuZoku is that it presents a seamless way in which it leads kids from what they are currently doing (computer games) to what they should be doing (playing outside).

Source credit - Eco Child's Play

Spain could generate 100% electricity from renewable resource by 2050

It would not be unrealistic for Spain to aim at getting all its electricity from renewable sources by 2050, the environmental organization Greenpeace and the renewable energy producers' association APPA said in a recent report. (Source)

Spain currently gets about 20 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, which employ some 200,000 people - a situation that would have been considered almost impossible just a few decades ago. 2050 is far away, but then 20%-100% is a dramatic increase as well!

So, if you are an entrepreneurial type living in Spain, you know that it is time for you to go out and check out the renewable energy opportunities in your country.

While other countries in Europe might not be having it so good, overall, Europe has been doing far better than many other parts of the world when it comes to generating power from renewables.

V2G + Wind - Vehicle to Grid Technology Joins Wind Energy

Here is a complementary idea, one that Denmark is already testing.

The main problem with wind energy is that it is unpredictable. This results in times when there is a lot of wind and the whole energy cannot be used and other times and when there is no wind at all. Of course, the excess wind could have been stored but that is very costly.

Enter electric cars.

Electric cars? Yep, the EVs.

It's a brilliant thought. Consider this: All EVs will have batteries that anyway needs to be charged, and these batteries store the energy. Let's say you charge the battery using excess energy from wind farms. And then, when there is no wind and the grid requires some extra electricity, why, all you need is to simply pump in the energy from the extra batteries stored in the cars. Essentially, you turn the cars into moving power storage systems.

Neat idea, isn't it?

More such intelligent ideas are likely to emerge in the alternative energy domain.

How can entrepreneurs benefit from such insights? To me, such ideas prove the interconnectedness of the coming energy industry with a lot many things that are not even connected to the industry. While in this case both the EVs and wind mills happen to be concepts that are directly in the domain of alternative energy, there will be many good ideas that result from the marriage of alternative energy and staid old things. That reminds me - did I tell you about the idea in which a company called AEST generated electricity from heavy duty vehicles? In this case, the energy was obtained when trucks drove over plates embedded into the road. The pressure on the plates initiated a hydraulic pumping system that turned a generator to produce electricity.

Who Says Aesthetics and Alternative Energy Cannot Blend?

This article about aesthetic and stylish solar cells possibly is a sign of entrepreneurial things to come in the alternative energy industry.

You might think that solar panel powered bags or micro wind turbines are just of the making-a-statement variety. And possibly some of them are.

But remember that there is a large number of people world over who are sustainability-minded (they even have a name - LOHAS). And most of these folks are well off - make that pretty well off. And possibly, they care a lot more about aesthetics than the average folks. Add all these, and what do you see? I see a decent market opportunity for sustainability + aesthetics.

Wal-Mart Needs Sustainability Managers

For those who have been positive about the careers that a green economy offers, here is another proof of the same. Wal-Mart is looking for a senior sustainability officer.

Read the article for more details on the qualifications required and the job profile. When a giant like Wal-Mart sets its sights on becoming sustainable, it can set a huge chain reaction - to begin with, its suppliers need to adopt more sustainable practices. Next, its competitors better follow suit or risk being called names.

Interesting trends.

Synergies between alternative energy and other industries

"Will Solar Cells Have Intel Inside Soon?" - At least that was the intriguing title of the article from here.

As you could have guessed, Intel is working quietly, trying to apply its huge mass of knowledge in making world-class semiconductors to solar panels - in this case, organic solar panels. It appears to be facing stiff competition from much smaller companies, but well-funded all the same, but companies that have a dedicated focus on organic solar cells - Konarka, 3G Solar,DyeSol, Heliatek and G24 Innovations.

Now, what is interesting about this is the intersection between the biggies in the IT industry and the alternative energy industry. Another example of such an intersection can be seen in the way Google is moving in to develop software for enabling the smart grid. Cisco is trying to muscle in as well in this domain (well, smart grid is closer to Cisco than it is to Google, for sure - see also Cisco's statement that smart grid will eclipse the Internet). IBM is not exactly wanting to be left behind on the smart grid front, either.

Well, energy is something that touches most every industry, so it is only natural for many other industries to start working on solutions for the energy and sustainability industries. Another interesting example of such an intersection happens in the combination of biofuels and wastewater treatment. Admittedly, this is in the research phase, but some companies are trying this out: Algae grow well in sewage and wastewater and can actually cost-effectively clean the water of its nutrients, so companies are exploring if they could use algae instead of their standard ETP (effluent treatment plants) to cut water treatment costs while at the same time produce algae biomass that can be used to make biofuels.

I can keep telling more and more industries that are getting into the alternative energy industry, but let me not make this too long. I will end with another example - this from the railways; yes, the Indian Railways is getting into biofuels.

These case studies will be interesting and instructive to entrepreneurs who have their eyes on the alternative energy industry. How can entrepreneurs benefit from such synergies between various industries and alternative energy? One obvious answer is to analyse the current industry they are in and evaluate the emerging alt energy business opportunities that are closest to their core competencies. Another is to explore joint venture opportunities (a transport service provider getting into a JV with a biofuel equipment manufacturer to become a biofuel producer). And thirdly, if the entrepreneur is already in the alternative energy industry, consider backward and forward integration possibilities to make the most of the synergies.

We live in exciting times.

Investing in Water - Less Glamorous, More Basic

In all the hype we read about electric cars and solar powered handbags, it is easy for us to miss some less-glamorous but far more significant opportunities.

Take water for instance. Did I say water? Yes, I did. You are justified in asking - so what has that got to do with alternative energy. And I say - lots.

Read this: (source)

"It's easy to overlook, but water and energy are very tightly linked.

Bottom line: Without water, it's impossible to generate energy. Whether it's nuclear, hydro, coal, or oil - abundant supplies of water are absolutely necessary when it comes to generating energy. Take a look:

* It takes as much as 2 billion gallons of water per day to refine just 800 million gallons of petroleum products...
* Oil shale extraction uses about 5 barrels of water for every one barrel of oil produced...
* 800 gallons of water are required to generate one megawatt-hour of electricity...
* Nuclear plants suck up more than 33 million gallons of water each day for cooling purposes...
* And a typical 500-megawatt coal power plant uses up about 2.2 billion gallons of water each year - enough to support a city of 250,000 people.

The bigger reason why water is an attractive investment is of course that going beyong energy, it is needed for us to live. And developed nations such as the US spend ginormous efforts to keep their water clean. Now, look at the $11.28 billion funding provided to water industry by the US government in order to ensure that its citizens get clean and healthy water (source):

* $3.9 billion for EPA Water Loan Programs
* $6 billion for EPA Clean Water State Revolving Funds
* $1.38 billion for the USDA Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program

And remember, in many parts of the world - and this includes many developed countries - water supplies are getting scarcer, and getting clean water to people is becoming more difficult than ever before.

As this article at Energy and Capital cleverly argues, all these funds will be reaching many companies operating in the water supply industry. So, it is not difficult to see how some of the companies benefitting from the funding could be doing very, very well indeed.

It is quite possible similar funding and investment support are happening in other rich countries worldwide.

So, add up the facts together on water, and you can clearly see attractive investment opportunities there.

Natural Gas Investing Opportunities

An excellent article in Energy and Capital on why it is a good time to invest in natural gas companies.

I found the following quote interesting: "A stake in one of the low-cost producers would be a fine way to play it, but for now I like getting natural gas exposure not through the producers, whose hedging strategies and rising and falling rig counts will cause their stock prices to moderate and lag significantly behind the price of gas, but by buying into the United States Natural Gas Fund. It invests directly in the near-month futures contracts, so it will respond to rising gas prices fairly quickly."

This is a very useful article for all those looking at making some decent profits over the next 6-12 months, so go read it.

Arctic Oil - Question of When and Not If?

Many of us may not like governments going around drilling in places like the Arctic - we simply do not know what kind of damage such untrammelled exploration can cause to such ecosystems - but this article says willy-nilly, Arctic oil drilling is bound to happen. And many major governments - USA, Russia in specific - are likely to drill, drill, drill in the Arctic.

What types of opportunities does this present? Specifically is there anything at all small entrepreneurs can do in emerging opportunities such as these, or will these opportunities be gobbled up head, body and tail by the big oil companies alone? And what timeframes are we talking about in the context of Arctic Oil? These are questions we at AltProfits will continue working on present you with answers over the next few posts.

Happy reading.

Saudi Arabia Expects $150 Crude Oil in Three Years

Those folks who were bemoaning lower oil prices (because these hurt alt energy investments) can take heart from the following:

"Saudi Arabia warned oil prices could spike to beyond the near $150 record high of 2008 within three years as it joined other energy leaders on Monday to call for more investment to boost production over the long term.

...Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Naimi said the world was heading for a fresh spike after the current phase of faltering demand and lower prices, which he said reflected the economic downturn rather than being an indicator of things to come."

Crude oil prices are already inching towards $75 per barrel. And if the recession has indeed bottommed out and if the OPEC countries stick to their agenda of lower crude output every day, it's not difficult to see a $90 per barrel in the next couple of months. And oh well, $100 is only a few dollars from there.

Let's face it - predicting crude oil prices if almost becoming similar to predicting outcomes in a Russian Roulette, because we all know it is not only a question of demand and supply. There are other, external forces at work - OPEC cartel's funny decisions, speculative forces in the trading and futures market, governmental taxes on oil, and more. But the fact is, it's difficult to envision a future in which oil prices can be much less than say $50 per barrel. Pure economics simply wouldn't allow it.

So, whether it is going to be $150 or not in three years, I would be happy to bet that it will not be anything less than $80-90 per barrel. And that is a number at which many renewable energy sources start looking more promising.

Peak Oil and Peak Blue Crabs

An interesting parable here that provides a comparison between what's happening to blue crabs and their prices, and what could happen if oil follows a similar route.

I think parables such as these also help us get our perspectives right: Unless one believes that oil companies are somehow able to get oil at low prices from oil shale and tar sands (and oh yeah, I forgot, gas hydrates), alternative sources of energy are certainly going to get more and more attractive from a business and profits viewpoint.

Fat Spaniel Technologies - Renewable Energy Monitoring and Reporting Solutions

Fat Spaniel is a nice intersection of renewable energy technology and web technology. The company was founded in 2003 and appears to be going great guns. The following were inputs I collected from the company's web page.

Fat Spaniel Technologies is an independent provider of critical monitoring and reporting services for the renewable energy industry, with the company’s solutions utilized by solar power producers, financiers, system integrators, and OEMs, and growing a growing number of wind power companies. Fat Spaniel solutions help optimize energy output, reduce operations and maintenance costs, and increase RoI for renewable energy power plant projects.

Fat Spaniel solutions address industry needs in three areas:

* Operations & Maintenance: Optimize uptime and output while keeping the costs of O&M under control
* Revenue-Grade Data Services: Gain independent, verifiable data for billing, agency reporting, Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) reporting, and production analysis
* Marketing & Education: Review and share web-based, graphical visualizations of system status and performance, to increase the impact of clean energy systems

For energy producers:
Fat Spaniel Insight Manager™ – A complete set of web applications that capture critical service information, detect system faults, generate actionable alerts, help managers analyze plant performance vs. predicted output, and deliver revenue-generating reports. Energy analysts and financial professionals can perform complex what-if analyses using empirical plant data, view animated performance charts, and engage in deep regression analysis.

For consumers:
Fat Spaniel Insight Views™ – An interface that lets renewable energy plant owners publicly display their energy production and environmental stewardship on the Internet. Integrated Web 2.0 technology encourages rapid adoption and fosters interaction in the renewable energy community.

For application developers:
Fat Spaniel Insight Platform™ – The foundation for all Fat Spaniel solutions and the world’s first open energy intelligence platform for building, sharing, and running energy data applications. It enables software developers to extend in-house monitoring systems, explore new energy management capabilities, and leverage an open architecture that supports multiple vendors, hardware types, and integration with the energy IT infrastructure.

I'm not sure how critical the solutions are for the consumer. I mean, unless the solution can show real return on investment from monitoring RE usage, it might just be a cosmetic thing. For the producers, it is quite a different story, however. It could be a much needed solution for them, as RE producers wish to get critical insights and reporting on their performance as they gear themselves to propel their companies into the future.

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The Alternative Profits Blog will focus on providing updates and insights on how to profit from the alternative energy revolution