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Audacious Ambitions – Part 1, California

This paper explores contributions that the California Government makes in funding clean energy startups, and also the roles of clean energy funds in California.


John Benson's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 22, 2019 5:37 pm GMT

John, as I look through the companies featured in your paper with audacious ambitions for renewable energy, I see a list of non-transformative tweaks to existing technologies which will only serve to solidify natural gas's stranglehold on California energy. There's nothing having to do with 4th-gen nuclear, of course, because anything truly transformative would break that stranglehold. And there was a time when I, too, was skeptical that California energy could be so firmly under the thumb of Shell, Chevron, and Sempra.

Then in 2015 I attended a CEC public meeting, post-San Onofre but pre-Diablo Canyon, when a companion was permitted 2 minutes of time to comment. He spoke of the importance of not letting the fate of SONGS befall Diablo Canyon, that nuclear energy made a significant, carbon-free contribution to California. With about 30 seconds of time left to speak, he was interrupted by CEC Chairman Robert Weisenmiller, who claimed his time was up, that the Commission had to move on to other business. It was not just rude, but dismissive. "We've heard all we need to hear; 30 more seconds of your nuclear babble is a waste of our time," was the non-verbal, unmistakable message. After the meeting, we waited outside the door for Weisenmiller - my friend was furious, and determined to get an answer for his irrational refusal to listen to reason. When Weisenmiller saw us, he turned his back and walked away. As my friend followed him, Weisenmiller realized he would be forced to answer. Abruptly, he turned around and snarled three words:

"Legislature wants gas."

It was a transformative moment. In three words, the exasperated Chairman of the California Energy Commission taught us more than we had learned during the entire meeting. How the $billions California had dedicated to renewables was little more than a distraction from the real reason for closing San Onofre and Diablo Canyon: nuclear made enough clean energy, and did it so cheaply, that together with electric vehicles it had the capability of putting both natural gas and gasoline out of business in California. After the meeting I learned more about Weisenmiller's background in natural gas, about the consulting company he had started, MRW Associates, which profited directly from "consulting" with natural gas interests while its CEO ran the commission in charge of overseeing them.

So please forgive me if I can't get excited about solid-state lithium battery formulations, about "early stage clean energy design concepts", about "support for zero- or lower-carbon mobility" etc. etc. - as I know now, they are designed to fail. Why? The California "legislature wants gas."

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 22, 2019 11:29 am GMT

This is a great resource, thanks again for your contribution John. I recently purchased a book that investigates and outlines the history of how and why California became the policy leader in energy and environmental topics (don't remember the name of the book at the moment, but I can find out if anyone is interested) so reading this informative paper goes along really well with that topic. As an East Coast resident, I'm always surprised and grateful for the trendsetting from my friends on the left coast!

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jan 22, 2019 8:25 pm GMT


Thanks for this article  - its a great resource.

Regarding lithium sources - just recently saw this about potential Berkshire Hathaway deal to get lithium from Salton Sea  geothermal plant.

Quantumscape does look interesting.  But super tough biz to compete in.

By the way, I ran a company (early 90s) at 1754 and 1798 Technology Drive - right down the block - small world.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Jan 23, 2019 3:50 pm GMT

Thanks for the positive comments.

Bob - Solid State Lithium Batteries will be transformative for a number of reasons: 1) they have better performance than liquid-electrolyte lithium, 2) for EVs they can accept a much quicker charge (comparable to refueling an IC car), 3) for EVs they are safter. They will give a big boost to mobility electrification. That's why QuantumScape is a Unicorn, and will apparently be part of the VW team. I posted a mobility paper yesterday that discussed another team (Toyota-Panasonic, link below).

Joe - Landis & Gyr Systems was at Skyport and Technology, Your former locations were about 3 and 4 blocks north of there. This was a great location in the 80s and 90s when I worked there - right at the heart of Silicon Valley.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 23, 2019 6:32 pm GMT

John, as the owner of three electric cars in the past, I've never been able to view on-the-road charging as something other than an anachronism of the internal-combustion era. 90% of EV charging occurs overnight at the home of the car's owner, and though I have my trusty ChargePoint card in my wallet, I've probably used it less than 10 times in the last eight years. Part of the problem is knowing whether charge stations will be available. Though I suppose having quick-charge capability will make that less of an issue, charging on-the-road is seldom necessary.

Underappreciated in discussions of quick-charge batteries, whatever the format, are the cables needed to carry that much energy quickly. 0000-gauge copper cable, the maximum commercially-available thickness, is a half-inch-diameter stranded cable in a durable rubber sheath. It can carry 380A of current safely, or 114kW for a 300V electric car battery. To charge a 60kWh battery would require a minimum of 60/114 = .52 hours, or 32 minutes. The cable would be warm to the touch - and heavy as hell.

There have been other connections proposed, using various spring-assisted arms. Safety also becomes an issue - any short involving the driver in a circuit carrying that much current would be certainly fatal.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Jan 30, 2019 6:28 pm GMT

Hi Bob:

Since you are an EV-owner, you might be interested in the three posts linked below. The first is almost a year old, the second from November, and the thrid from a few weeks ago.

I'm not an EV-owner. I probably would be if I still commuted, besides, my '93 Civic has less than 300,000 miles. It is a business for the company I occasionally work for (albeit lately buses), see section 5.2 in the second paper linked above.

Regarding your issues with EVSE, there is no help for the laws of physics. Fortunately, you do most of your charging at home.


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