Green opportunities for storage-battery production

China Daily reports an interesting story on Energy Storage, aka Batteries, today. (see: Green opportunities for storage-battery production)

According to the paper, China account for about 25% of global lead-acid storage batteries. These batteries are widely used in Electric Vehicles. The export growth has been a staggering 23% p.a. CEEIA estimates that annual growth is likely to continue with a rate of 15% p.a. for the next five years.

As we highlighted in our China’s 12th 5-year plan piece, the government is keen to promote green technologies and has earmarked the renewable sector as part of its Magic-7 industries.

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Chinese 12th 5-year plan – New Energy, New Energy Cars

Are the days counted for China’s top-down macro economic decisions and for its state-owned monopolies? The next 5-year plan proposed by the Chinese Government focuses its attention on new energy and clean-energy cars. According to China Daily the government intents to ‘speed up new energy development and promote clean and efficient use of traditional energy, develop hydroelectric and nuclear power, and increase strategic oil reserves’.

Alongside new materials, high-end manufacturing, next generation information technology, and biotech,  these industries form part of the “new magic 7” emerging strategic industries. (The old magic 7 consisted of national defence, telecom, electricity, oil, coal, airlines, and marine shipping.) It appears that the new magic 7 are more focused on bottom-up drivers and allow companies to use their ‘innovation’ process to drive capital allocations.

Ahead of the Chinese party conference, HSBC published a report titled ‘China’s next 5 year plan – what it means for equity markets‘ which investigates the new proposal in some detail. Specifically, the overall objective of the 12th five year plan (2011-2015) lies in the pro-rate increase in domestic demand to total demand and secondly, and as importantly, the overall reduction of the carbon footprint (CO2) by 40%-45% by 2020.

Source: HSBC, China's 12th 5-year plan, New Magic 7

Further, the proposal projects that urbanisation will march on. HSBC estimates that a further 200-300m people could be urbanized over the next 20 years. If the hukou or registration simplification process moves in line with this shift, the projection suggests that consumption should increase significantly. The caveat here is that the property market development should ensure that the property bubble itself can be contained and price movements are more gradual going forward.

More importantly, there appears to be a continued drive to allow private capital to compete in what once were state monopolies or controlled industries. This should be great news for China focused private equity funds. From our view, there are still many low hanging fruits to be harvested by the largest funds in the region, including John Zhao’s Hony Capital for example. The investment pace has slowed a little since 2007 but funds are still putting capital to work. We need to wait and see whether some assets were overpriced and IRRs for Investors will be meaningful. Our views is that funds that put money to work throughout business/ macro cycles will do well for the time being.

We also note the drive to reduce high pollution and high energy consuming industries. For one, any energy price subsidies should be reviewed to allow a ‘fairer’ market price. Regrettably we feel that this process will take longer than currently proposed. We see a risk that some local producers/ polluters input cost competitiveness may be at risk on the global stage. In particular, pharmaceutical, the glass and other high water/power consuming sectors could lose some of their appeal. Can the government afford this – yet?

Source: HSBC, China's 12th 5-year plan, Roadmap

Certainly, the governments objective to double or indeed triple per capita income can only be a welcomed target. With that, domestic consumption levels should raise dramatically allowing for more propensity to consume (let’s hope little will be used for gambling!). Overall, the plan is intriguing and we look forward to seeing particulars.

To sum up, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) suggests four scenarios for a low carbon economy until 2050. Although not that specific yet, it demonstrates the authorities focus on renewable energy and commitment to cleantech. The four scenarios proposed split into four categories: (i) BaU (business-as-usual) under high growth rate (BaU), (ii) Low Carbon Scenario under high growth rate (HCL), (iii) Enhanced Low Carbon Scenario under high growth rate (HELC), (iv) Low Carbon under high growth rate (LLC). See the link above for more details.

China’s Pathway Towards a Low Carbon Economy

China’s Pathway Towards a Low Carbon Economy

Tresalia Capital makes Artega Investment: Fraunhofer’s EV platform/ Electromobility concept

What do BMW, Aston Martin and Artega have in common? Its designer: Klaus Dieter Frers. He was instrumental in designing BMW’s Z8 and Aston Martin’s Vantage. The Artega GT was his latest work. Now Artega has been sold to Mrs Maria Asunción Aramburuzabala. She heads Tresalia Capital.

Tresalia Capital is probably most famous for its interest in ‘Corona’ brewer Modelo Group. Tresalia essentially acts as a family office to the estimated $2bn net worth of Mrs Aramburuzabala. The office is relatively secretive and information is difficult to come by. Nonetheless, it appears an odd addition to the stable of deals the office has made recently or are electric vehicles only a ‘lifestyle’? We would disagree if that is what Mrs Aramburuzabala and her team think.

On a more serious note, Germany’s Fraunhofer institute uses the Artega GT to test its latest research in electric hub motor technology. The Fraunhofer Institute has been granted significant resources to pursue Germany’s thought leadership in electromobility. The institute secured €14m of the Stimulus I package and a further €44m are likely. The electromobility research is overseen Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF. Recently, the Economist issued a critical piece on Germany’s research heritage. The paper cites that the nations research capabilities measured by researchers age 25-24 years is the smallest in the EU. For what it is worth, the fact that both the public and private sector appear to be working together to put resources into this paradigm shifting industry and technology may just be enough. Germany’s Mittelstand and corporates are likely to be among those firms that will drive the future of electromobility.

The electric hub engine research appears to gather momentum. Firms such as Continental, Protean Electric, Bosch, Michelin and other traditional tire manufacturers appear to make progress.

To echo the efforts made by the Fraunhofer’s Institute, the political debate surrounding Electric Vehicle’s (EV) and electromobility continues to get ever more attention not only among parliamentarians but with the general public also. The German government released a 2009-report (German Federal Government’s National Electromobility Development Plan) that set forth the neccessary investment that is needed ‘to speed up research and development in battery electric vehicles and their market preparation and introduction in Germany’.

The forecasts made by the Fraunhofer Institutes are exciting. As ever, execution will be key. We will monitor in which ways corporates engage. Thus far, Aral Petrol Company (in German) has published a study that shows that Germans are willing to pay a small premium for EV’s. That premium is between €2000-€3000. Thus the cost of new technology has to come down further or the price for fossil fuel to raise substantially before a significant change in consumer trend may be observed.

Efficiency, the alternative Alternative

Earlier we wrote about the superior returns on investment efficiency plays offer when measuring reduced energy and emissions per dollar spent. Today we tackle the question- what does a region do that is renewable energy resource poor? What if there are no windy areas? When solar, biomass, geothermal and nuclear play a limited role- how do we lessen emissions, energy use and the need for additional power plants? The answer is not a surprise- reduce wasted energy.

A recent report by both Duke and Georgia Tech Universities gives further support to the argument that focusing efforts on efficiency can have a more dramatic effect than other methods, and can do so in areas where renewables are not competitive or available. The SouthEastern US is a perfect place to focus- an area that has virtually no wind resources.

Here are the highlights from the report:

  • In 2020, energy bills in the South would be reduced by $41 billion, electricity rate increases would be moderated, 380,000 new jobs would be created, and the region’s economy would grow by $1.23 billion. (regional GDP)
  • The cost/benefit ratios for the modeled policies range from 4.6 to 0.3, with only two showing costs greater than benefits. When the value of saved CO2 is included, only one policy is not cost effective
  • The initiatives would involve actions at multiple levels (state and local, national, utility, business, and personal). In the absence of such initiatives, energy consumption in these three sectors is forecast to grow by approximately 16% between 2010 and 2030.
  • The nine illustrative policies show the ability to retire almost 25 GW of older power plants and also avoid over the next twenty years the need to construct 49 GW of new plants to meet a growing electricity demand.
  • 8.6 billion gallons of freshwater could be conserved in 2020 (56% of projected growth in cooling water needs) and in 2030 this could grow to 20.1 billion gallons of conserved water (or 45% of projected growth).

Investments of $31.5B over the 20 years (to 2030) would generate a savings of $126B (4.0x ROI.) Clearly this is a net positive investment for any region and returns numbers that most renewables currently can not beat. The nine suggested policies include: increased appliance standards, weatherization of buildings, retrofit incentives, enhanced building codes and more (see page 15 of study.) Increasing appliance standards has the best ROI at 4.6x and all of the policies together have a 3.4x ROI.

Energy Use with & without efficiency (Duke/ Ga. Tech Report)

The South consumes 43% of the nation’s electric power, 40% of the energy consumed in residences, and 38% of the energy used in commercial buildings, says the study- thus a successful efficiency policy would have a major impact on both the US as well as any other renewable resource region in the world.

One would expect resistance for any political measures that mandate clean energy requirements from areas that are not fortunate enough to have the natural resources to comply. Accounting for improved efficiency standards in commercial and residential homes is a worthy compromise that achieves the same goals as clean energy and does so, at times, at a more economical rate. Because the numbers speak for themselves, it likely is a good idea for the capital and policies to follow.

Batteries, Lithium Ion and the Automotive Industry

MEET (Muenster Electrochemical Energy Technology), Germany is getting ready to launch a new 2000sqm research hub focusing on battery technology, most likely a significant effort will go into lithium-ion.

Prof Winter, MEET (University of Muenster, Germany)Professor Winter (recently at Graz, Austria) will chair the workgroup at MEET (homepage). Research-in-Germany.Org gives a summary of the plans and objective proposed by MEET. We note that the commitment by the regional government, the University and the private sector (including Volkswagen, Evonik and Chemetall) is impressive, on a regional scale: “The Ministry of Innovation, Science, Research and Technology of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is funding the project to the amount of €5.5 million for the coming three years. Münster University is contributing €7.5 million. Further funding is coming from the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy as well as the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.” The private sector is financing the chair at the University with some €2.25m which is certainly impressive given the economic climate we are in.

We wrote about Evonik previously and consider it a very interesting company that may be in the position to shape the future of lithium-ion batteries. Naturally, since Volkswagen is one of the key sponsors of the centre we must assume that they have a commercial interest to link themselves with Professor Winter and his battery research team. The automotive industry is bound to change forever, no doubt. My colleagues focused on the supply side of the lithium-ion market and whether, subject to a successful scale of electric vehicles, the supply chain is secure. In his piece “The Great, Fake Lithium Supply Scare” Brett draws the conclusion that we should not worry. Although the market is too young to make credible predictions the debate is certainly worth watching. Arguably we need to better understand whether lower grade lithium-ion can be used as an input into a high-end technology process.

Autocluster, NRW (

Autocluster, NRW (

We wrote about the need to direct further money into research for energy storage and continue to see this as one of the most important research and investment themes for any serious cleantech venture investor. It is interesting that governments can play a significant role in kick-starting a debate as well as put money into the area with a targeted approach. Autocluster.NRW gives a strong, systematic approach how to create a new hub/ cluster that can concentrate core capabilities in a region. We would like to draw readers of the report to page 58ff (‘Screening of R&D project in NRW’). It highlights the efforts of various academic institutions and how their co-ordinate their efforts to maximize their combined research capabilities. The report highlighs efforts currently made by industry to drive battery technology forward. ‘According to the German government, the number of electric vehicles on the road will be 1 million by 2020’ and ‘[a]ccordingly, the resultant higher electricity needs for 1 million vehicles in 2020 must be addressed’. The authors deduct that this would require some 5 power plant blocks of 600 megawatts each (~total need about 3TWh).

To contrast the recent UK initiative of a Green Investment Bank, Autocluster’s core competence building based on a regional level sounds proactive, constructive and combines both a coordinated effort made by governments and the private sector. Can the UK mirror the effort and come up with a strategy that is as visible? Bob Wigley, good luck!