Will software and associated services be one of the Northwest’s claims to leadership in cleantech? Microsoft appears to be preparing to unveil a meaningful platform to address its role in green IT (probably sometime this fall), something it sorely needs to do to catch up with the likes of Google, IBM and Sun. It makes sense that the Northwest has a significant role to play, being a hub of the computing and Internet revolutions. In Seattle, two companies stand out for me: V2Green, which is a “smart charging” – a value-add service that controls when an electric vehicle charges or not – and a vehicle to grid (V2G) software company, and Verdiem, an enterprise-focused power management solution for PCs and monitors. While a fair amount of attention (and capital) has been paid to Verdiem, V2Green is little known. But they occupy a great space, have a very strong team and appear to have little if any direct competition. Even Google likes the V2G space, according to the director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, Dan Reicher, a sign that V2Green is ripe to pick up some great strategic partners. V2G is one of the cornerstones of the electric economy (see a nice perspective by the late Nobel laureate, Richard Smalley, who outlined what he called the Terrawatt Challenge). The electric economy concept is gaining momentum as the most viable way to address the future of clean power and transportation through a combination of renewable energy inputs into the grid and a world of PHEVs that have the ability to store electricity from or return electricity to the grid in a two-way relationship. Several progressive utilities have been working on V2G, most notably Austin Energy and PG&E. V2Green was founded by ex-Microsoft exec Dave Kaplan and is off to a promising start. They expect to announce field trials with major utilities in the coming months, in which V2Green will develop a first generation hardware/software solution that includes an in-car box, wireless modem and server. One of the challenges will be whether the utilities and the car manufacturers like GM, not known for being the most limber of institutions, will be able to come together to deliver on the promise that V2G holds, instead of adopting half measures that are in effect “kitchen timers” for cars that lack intelligence. The COO and president of V2Green,John Clark, believes that the OEMs will start to make their cars grid-aware, and large-scale deployment of V2G could happen as early as 2010. In the meantime, other promising software companies are also appearing in the Northwest. Look out for Carbonetworks and Sokets, two other favorites of mine.
Every day, I pass the Elliott Bay Book Co. on my walk to work. Last year, for a period of time, I noticed in the window of the children’s section that all the books on display were about poop. Some great titles like “Walter the Farting Dog”,“Zombie Butts from Uranus” and “Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable”. I know where poop comes from, but I know only a bit about where poop goes, in part thanks to my friend Dick Manning and his book “A Good House”. As he so matter-of-factly points out: “As much of a third of the water used in our houses does not bathe us, it bathes shit. It is a curious habit, the ritual washing of feces.” It’s also a waste of energy and terrible for the environment.
My parade past poop at Elliott Bay got me curious to find out what was the latest on poop technology. I was especially interested in commercially viable ways to dispose of it without the use of water. Is there an end in sight to washing our crap? What I found was that there are lots of companies and organizations making money from turning other animal poop – elephant, cow, dog even worm – into energy or other products. But given the fact that we are 6 billion animals, and that water is only going to become more precious, where are the brave souls out there challenging the Western tradition of treating human poop with such dignity? Sadly, the number of self-composting, or dry, toilets on the market is pitiful, with Biolan, Biolet and Envirolet apparently the only ones who make enough money to advertise. Nor was I able to find any evidence of a company on the Internet that has a next generation waterless toilet technology, despite the fact that only one-sixth of the world’s population is served by sewage systems. To my mind, that means a great market opportunity since there is no way we are going to be able to wash the poop of 5 billion more people. Other companies use air to literally blast the shit out of shit – compressed (pressure-assist), vacuum or displaced. But all use some water. Envirolet seems to get close with a combination of vacuum and compost that it calls vacuum flush (VF), but it still requires H2O. A newer company called Propelair, says its “displaced air” toilet uses 84% less water than a normal toilet, and at least made an attempt to make their toilet look cool, although its not actually available on the market yet. None of them seem particularly scaleable. All of this to say there is an opening to invest in new solutions. (NOTE: If there’s a company out there that has a mass market cleantech toilet technology let me know because I want to buy one and I would love to promote your product to media and investors).