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Neil Energy

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  • Electric Vehicles Are Still Not Ready For Prime Time [View article]
    HEVs like the Prius make financial sense, and BEVs generally _don't_ make financial sense unless you use the complete range of the battery every day.

    It will be interesting to see which driving cycles or other side benefits (like the 110 V power plug) make a *short range* PHEV affordable/practical for certain drivers. I can see the Prius PHEV perhaps making sense for a mom who makes several 10 mile trips per day, each time returning home to charge it up again. Sitting in the car for 10 or 15 minutes with the A/C on but the engine off is another nice benefit. That's the nicest side-benefit we've experienced with our Prius: running the A/C when we stop for gas or a bathroom break.

    Any other thoughts on what driving cycles/behaviors tip the balance in favor of a short range (like 15 miles) plug-in hybrid vs. a Prius-class hybrid? Basically, when does it make financial sense to buy a bigger battery?
    Sep 30, 2012. 10:20 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Energy Recovery: A Long Story [View article]
    Wow! Excellent article!

    I've been investing in and following ERII for about 7 or 8 years now. You did an excellent job of pulling together all of the relevant information, from the market to the technology to the financials.

    Thank you for the article, and I agree with you that the future looks bright, even though it may take a few more years to play out. I'm holding all of my ERII (which was purchased at higher prices), mainly because I believe that desalinization is an inevitable trend, but I do worry about the world economy and how we could sink into another recession starting in Europe, which would likely affect all of the Middle East as well, and China would slow down too.

    So the real question for me is: Will ERII haven enough cash to ride all the way to profitability? I hope the oil and gas market helps them get to profitability sooner, but they have been rather quiet on that front until they have demonstrated success.

    Thank you again for the excellent article!
    Jul 3, 2012. 02:30 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Maxwell Technologies: Selling By Growth Funds Looks Done [View article]
    Thank you Tom for the excellent article with good data to help understand what has been happening.

    One of the reasons I have held all of my Maxwell and sold off other stocks before the fast-approaching recession is that they have a relatively broad customer base, both in terms of number of customers and variety of applications, from wind-turbine blade pitch systems to hybrid electric buses to automotive start-stop systems to backup power in both the data center and solid-state drives, not to mention the long tail of smaller volume applications like garbage truck lift systems, cranes, trains, etc. that I hope will become higher volume over time.

    Your articles on Maxwell have been very useful to helping the individual investor evaluate what is happening with the company and with the stock.
    Jun 25, 2012. 01:25 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Battery-Powered Locomotives: Compellingly Green Economics [View article]
    Westport and Caterpillar Announce Agreement to Develop Natural Gas Technology for Off-Road Equipment

    http://yhoo.it/Lo8Yjt

    This is a big announcement, sending Westport up $4.75 to $27.02 (a 21% gain for the day). As I wrote a few weeks ago (posts above), the conversion to natural gas engines for heavy duty trucking, long-haul trucking, locomotives, mining equipment, etc. is going to be a very strong trend (at least here in the United States). Caterpillar, one of the largest engine manufacturers in the world obviously is putting their money into this. The question for me is not "if" but "when" and how fast they can move. These large engine platforms can take 2 to 5 years to develop and roll out.

    A few paragraphs from the press release:

    The substantial price difference between natural gas and diesel fuel is resulting in a strong financial incentive to enable off-road applications to take advantage of low natural gas energy costs without sacrificing operational performance. There is also a clear environmental incentive because of the reduced carbon emissions. Adding to the solid business case for this program is the potential to convert existing field units to natural gas – opening up a whole new market opportunity."

    While the agreements initially focus on engines used in mining trucks and locomotives, the companies will also develop natural gas technology for Caterpillar's off-road engines, which are used in a variety of electric power, industrial, machine, marine and petroleum applications worldwide.

    "This agreement does more than pair two leaders in their respective industries," said Steve Fisher, vice president of Caterpillar's Large Power Systems Division. "Many of our customers are asking for natural-gas powered equipment in order to reap the financial and environmental benefits. The program positions Caterpillar to become the first manufacturer to bring HPDI technology to the high horsepower off-road market, offer the broadest product line of natural gas-fueled machines and equipment, and capitalize on the attractiveness of natural gas as an alternate mobile fuel – all within the shortest time frame for our customers."
    Jun 5, 2012. 09:57 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Stop-Start Realities And EV Fantasies [View article]
    So last night I marked all 29 posts by JRP3 with the Report Abuse link at the bottom of each link. None of them contain profanity, but they do meet the "troll" requirement. When someone posts 29 times on one article (and this is normal for JRP3's postings on John's articles), and perhaps only a few of the comments say anything new or different or contain actual information, I consider that abuse, as it affects the value of the content to all readers.

    So this morning, I got this email from Seeking Alpha:

    Hi,

    I noticed that you reported abuse on a number of comments that were not abusive.

    Blanket reporting abuse of other commentators is a violation of our Terms of Use: "Seeking Alpha encourages civil, thought-provoking debate and idea-sharing among investors and stock-market followers. In order to maintain a level of discourse appropriate to our user base, we are strongly opposed to trolling, uncivilized discussion, mudslinging, inappropriate language, and blanket dismissal of others' ideas."

    We take abusive comments seriously, and will take appropriate action where necessary. However, we also ask that you refrain from reporting comments that are not abusive.

    Respectfully,
    Customer Service - Seeking Alpha
    ______________

    In my frustration, I went overboard in marking every single JRP3 post with Report Abuse. Going forward, I will be more judicious and mark those that are in line with Seeking Alpha policy: "we are strongly opposed to trolling, uncivilized discussion, mudslinging, inappropriate language, and blanket dismissal of others' ideas."

    And here was my response to Seeking Alpha:

    I am thrilled that you have taken a look at this issue. I love Seeking Alpha.

    JRP3 is regularly posting dozens of comments on each and every article written by John Peterson. While the comments are not profane, they are destroying the usefulness of the comment threads on these articles because of their volume and meaningless content. He repeats the same opinions (usually just opinions without any facts to back them up) over and over again without adding any value to the discussion. This helps makes the comment section so long that it becomes "unreadable." When I see a comment thread with 300 comments, I don't even bother to read it because I know I'll never be able to get through it.

    Many readers of John Peterson's articles have tried to encourage JRP3 to be reasonable with his comments to no avail. He posts and posts and posts, trying to rebut every statement he can, but says nothing new or meaningful. His opinions could be expressed with a few well-thought-out comments and that would be enough. He is essentially a troll (just looked this up on Wikipedia), and his comments devalue Seeking Alpha content for all of your readers.

    Are you working on any feature that would allow us readers to place certain individuals on "ignore"? That would be an excellent feature and allow us committed readers to enjoy the content of Seeking Alpha without having to read through tons of drivel.

    Thank you for your consideration!
    Neil
    _______________

    I encourage all readers of John's articles that want to see valuable, well-though-out content in the Comments section to report abusive postings, and perhaps we might clean up these discussions just a little bit.
    May 28, 2012. 04:39 PM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Stop-Start Realities And EV Fantasies [View article]
    John,

    I want to thank you again for your articles, and for your endless contributions in the comment section. I particularly appreciate your method of citing reports, statistics and financial results, as that takes things out of the realm of "wouldn't it be nice" to "here are the facts." You and I might not agree on everything, but I clearly understand the case you are making and the reasoning behind it.

    I used to read the comment section for the intelligent discussion of ideas, technology, and most importantly, the merits of investing (or not investing) in certain companies and/or industries. It's getting almost unbearable to wade through the drivel and repetitive statements of certain individuals that I have to admit I am ready to give up. I'll still read your articles, but the comments section has been "hijacked" and the signal to noise ratio trashed by those who post many times but say nothing new.

    Do you know if Seeking Alpha is working on a feature to put certain individuals on "ignore" so we can whittle down the comments to a readable subset? I don't mind contrary opinions at all, as long as the reasoning is clearly stated and the subsequent discussion is well behaved.

    If the "ignore" button is not in development, do you know the mechanics of the Report Abuse link? Is it only for profanity? Or if everybody that cares about the quality of the comments section in your articles reports the abusers that post over and over again with no meaningful content, will it really get them removed?

    I know this must be very frustrating for you as an author, but are there any practical measures we can take to improve the situation?
    May 27, 2012. 11:34 PM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Battery-Powered Locomotives: Compellingly Green Economics [View article]
    Here's a nice chart that shows the spread between crude oil and natural gas from 2000 to now and estimates from now to 2020.
    http://bit.ly/JlwOIW
    I encourage you to look at it - it's easy to understand and compelling.

    Here's another one that goes back to 1965, clearly showing that the spread has widened considerably in the last few years and is expected to remain that way for a while.
    http://bit.ly/LEj13G

    Besides significant cost savings for switching from diesel to natural gas, there is an often overlooked factor that motivates fleet operators. For decades, they have been at the mercy of diesel prices, which they have no control over, and can seriously affect their business and profits, and they can do nothing except try to react.

    With natural gas prices at record lows, and supply expected to exceed demand for at least several more years, fleet operators are getting more comfortable with the prospect of lower prices for years and years. Furthermore, if they are willing to pay for "insurance," they can get longer-term contracts that lock in the low fuel prices.

    While I sold all of my Westport last year at $30 (that I acquired between $4 and $15 per share over a 6 or 7 year period), I will be buying back in after the next Great Recession triggered by Europe. I will also be picking up natural gas stocks on the cheap in a few years when demand is low due to poor economic conditions. But make no mistake, the transition from diesel to natural gas for heavy duty trucking, buses, refuse trucks, heavy machinery, mining equipment and locomotives will be fast and furious over the next decade here in the United States. To miss out on this would be a huge investing mistake.

    Now back to batteries on locomotives: they'll still be useful regardless of diesel vs. natural gas, as they will allow the recapture of kinetic energy on long-haul locomotives, and for local railyard switchers, they may be able to replace the engine altogether.
    May 26, 2012. 01:14 PM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • More Insider Buying At Maxwell Technologies [View article]
    This comment from Wedbush in their downgrade of MXWL is scary:

    "Industry sources indicate Lishen has been selling Lishen-branded UCaps and modules directly to Chinese customers in Wind and other markets, which we believe goes around the spirit of the original outsourcing agreement with Maxwell"

    http://bit.ly/KR9urN

    This is starting to feel like American Superconductor, who got screwed by Sinovel.

    Thoughts?
    May 25, 2012. 02:44 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Battery-Powered Locomotives: Compellingly Green Economics [View article]
    >>DRich: Diesel to NG. That little science fair project has been built & tested.

    It looks like the article you posted was from 20 years ago, and a few things have changed since then: Natural gas engine technology has advanced significantly, with HPDI (high-pressure direct injection) injectors from Westport, with a decade of refinements and real-world testing. Heavy-duty trucks are adopting natural gas (instead of diesel) at a decent pace. Waste Management (the largest waste pickup/hauler in the U.S.) has publicly stated that 80% of all the new trucks they buy this coming year will be natural gas fueled instead of diesel.

    Most significantly, the price spread between natural gas and diesel is so compelling right now that any long-haul trucking company or railroad that chooses to ignore the conversion to natural gas will be putting their business at peril, since fuel costs are overwhelmingly their largest cost.
    May 25, 2012. 02:18 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Battery-Powered Locomotives: Compellingly Green Economics [View article]
    Fuel cells may eventually make it for long haul trucking and locomotives, due to their efficiency. A PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell can be 50 to 60% efficient in turning hydrogen into electricity. A reciprocating engine is typically 15 to 25% efficient, but I think some diesel generators (and micro-turbines) running at the ideal speed can be 30 to 35% efficient.

    If fuel were very expensive, the extra efficiency of the fuel cell would be compelling, but with cheap fuel, and PEM fuel cells still expensive due to platinum in their catalyst and limited lifetimes, it will take a while. Not to mention, creating hydrogen for the fuel cell takes energy, so initial attempts will use natural gas (methane) and reform the natural gas onboard the locomotive into hydrogen before feeding it into the fuel cell. Besides the reformer, you need to clean up the hydrogen before feeding it to the fuel cell, so all that capital cost adds up.

    Perhaps we will eventually see high temperature solid oxide fuel cells on locomotives, as they can consume natural gas directly (no need to use pure hydrogen) and with a second stage turbine to capture the waste heat, may achieve electrical efficiencies even better than PEM. They will last a very long time (compared to PEM fuel cells), but I'm sure it's a challenge building such a fuel cell to stand up to the vibrations on a locomotive. Several companies, including Versa Power, a subsidiary of Fuel Cell Energy, are working on solid oxide fuel cells for APUs on trucks, so the technology is inching its way forward...

    For now, let's just convert locomotives from diesel to natural gas!
    May 24, 2012. 11:27 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Stop-Start Realities And EV Fantasies [View article]
    Good point John. The customer will not be forced to replace the battery - they will just lose the stop/start functionality (and the savings it would give them). If you're like me, you don't replace your battery until it's dead! So the fuel savings that are touted for a brand new vehicle will tail off with time, but we have to start somewhere...
    May 23, 2012. 07:17 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Stop-Start Realities And EV Fantasies [View article]
    apmarshall62:
    Excellent observations! I think you have correctly pointed out the fuzzy math that is taking place, and the difference will be made up by the consumer as they pay for battery replacements. Automotive consumers are used to replacing their lead-acid batteries every 2 to 5 years (2 years down here in very hot Texas) and you can be sure the automotive manufacturers are running lots of numbers to figure out just how many start/stop batteries they'll have to replace under warranty and just how many will squeak over the finish line and become a customer replacement cost.

    2 to 3 years after significant rollouts of start/stop vehicles, we'll probably start to hear grumblings about $200 AGM battery replacements by consumers who were used to $75~$125 batteries.

    I'm guessing that high-end vehicles will be more likely to use ultracaps or Axion batteries so as to avoid the customer ill-will, but low-cost vehicles will push the burden of battery replacement on the vehicle owner.
    May 23, 2012. 03:03 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Stop-Start Realities And EV Fantasies [View article]
    So JCI and Exide are prepared to deliver AGM batteries by the tens of millions. I wonder what the ramp will look like for Axion and Maxwell.

    Maxwell is opening a new facility in Arizona for producing their proprietary electrode material and they claim it will be up and running in late 2012 or early 2013. I'm guessing they must have some visibility from some automotive manufacturers for limited use on one or two lower volume platforms (like a pickup truck or luxury vehicle that sells in lower volumes than a low-cost sedan).

    My assumption is that Axion and Maxwell will get used for low-volume platforms which will give them time to ramp their production and validate the benefits. Any other thoughts on how this will play out for the "minor" players outside of the likes of JCI and Exide?
    May 22, 2012. 03:05 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Norfolk Southern: Hybrid Locomotives, Vehicle Electrification At Relevant Scale [View article]
    Yes, that's a mighty expensive "battery!" But it is for the life of the vehicle, and Maxwell claims that each failed start costs hundreds of dollars, not to mention the penalty if the truck is late for a planned delivery.

    Also, when you know you've got the ultracap to start your engine, you can run the remaining batteries into the ground, and not replace them as often "just in case."
    May 1, 2012. 08:59 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Norfolk Southern: Hybrid Locomotives, Vehicle Electrification At Relevant Scale [View article]
    Maxwell's ultracapacitor-based Engine Start Module might be part of the solution to the engine idling problem for large trucks. You can drain your batteries down to almost nothing (to where they would never be able to start the truck), but the Engine Start Module will start the truck no problem. And it operates down to -40 C.

    The catchphrase for this product is "Start your truck everytime, all the time, in any weather."

    See the product page here:
    http://bit.ly/KoR5xi

    Maxwell just got hammered on Friday after a weaker than expected quarter and a reduction in their annual growth guidance from 30% down to 15-20% for 2012. I think their long-term prospects are still bright, and picked up a few thousand more shares. If you've been interested in Maxwell, now might be a good time to take a second look.
    Apr 29, 2012. 11:36 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
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