Seeking Alpha

Neil Energy

Neil Energy
Send Message
View as an RSS Feed
View Neil Energy's Comments BY TICKER:
Latest  |  Highest rated
  • Geneva Motor Show Highlights - The Revenge of the Internal Combustion Engine [View article]
    Thanks John for posting the presentation on the LC Super-Hybrid; the drop box link worked fine.

    The presentation is very compelling, and now I really understand the title of your article: "The Revenge of the Internal Combustion Engine." It's truly amazing what is being pulled off with engine downsizing, compensated for by exhaust-gas turbochargers and electric superchargers, with stop/start and regeneration providing for even further improvements.

    I'm thrilled to see these improvements, but the presentation makes it very clear that carbon-enhanced negative electrodes are sufficient for the job, and I worry that the Axion PbC battery will not be needed. Will the Axion battery simply allow them to push the envelope further? Will the extra cost of the PbC battery be justified for the additional capabilities it brings to the table?

    Thanks again John for the excellent information!
    Mar 17 01:22 PM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Geneva Motor Show Highlights - The Revenge of the Internal Combustion Engine [View article]
    Thanks John for another excellent article, and for bringing to our attention the interesting new developments in stop/start technology. It looks like BSG (belt-driven starter generator) technology is becoming more robust.

    I couldn't find any details about the LC Super Hybrid on the Controlled Power Technologies website, but found this detailed press release/article:

    A few interesting paragraphs:

    "The technologies comprise an electric supercharger, next generation belt-integrated starter generator with an advanced belt tensioning system, carbon enhanced valve regulated lead–acid (VRLA) batteries which avoid the need for super-capacitors, and higher gear ratios to reduce engine speed."

    "The improved lead-carbon battery design employed in the LC Super Hybrid allows for an excellent charge and discharge characteristic, while the carbon-enhanced negative plate formulations dramatically improve life under hybrid vehicle duty cycles. Further battery life improvements have been achieved by careful attention to battery management. These next generation batteries are already under test in pre-production vehicles. They also retain the long established end-of-life re-cycling benefits of lead-acid batteries, providing another advantage over high voltage lithium ion (Li-Ion) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries."

    "And the carbon-enhanced lead–acid battery design (supplied by Exide Technologies) helps to maximise energy recuperation (regenerative braking) during deceleration, fully realising SpeedStart’s potential for high power generation, torque smoothing and electrical energy recovery."

    Here's another link from ALABC with yet more links:

    One question: Besides the electric turbocharger, how does the LC Super Hybrid system use the captured energy from braking? Does the BSG help turn the engine when accelerating? Or is the captured energy used to run the accessories during a stop/start event?
    Mar 17 10:34 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Stop-Start Idle Elimination Crushing Vehicle Electrification? [View article]
    CNG for passenger vehicles does not make much sense yet because the fuel savings are not significant compared to the additional cost of the engine modification, tank, valves and other components.

    CNG for long-haul trucks makes sense if they drive lots of miles and consume lots of fuel. Westport has detailed presentations showing breakdowns of long-haul tractor trailers and what percentage of them drive how many miles per year. They say that their addressable market is currently the 20 to 30% (from memory) of trucks that drive 80,000 miles per year or more. And they have publicly stated that as the incremental costs come down (which they are), that their addressable market will continue to grow to trucks that drive fewer miles per year.

    For electric drive and CNG/LNG, we investors need to break out of our little personal world of passenger vehicles and look at the commercial segment, where the miles driven and the fuel and maintenance savings justify the cost of the new technology. As fun as it is to think about our personal passenger vehicles (I have a Prius), EV and natural gas vehicles will ooch their way into the passenger vehicle market slowly, after they are proven and refined in commercial vehicles first.

    At the other extreme, from the bottom up, stop-start (which is economically feasible for almost all passenger vehicles) and HEV (which makes sense if you drive enough miles) will help further the electrification of the passenger vehicle. Perhaps they will meet up in 4 to 10 years.

    As an investor, I look at commercial vehicle opportunities like Westport (trucks, buses, trains, mining) and Maxwell (buses, trucks, cranes, rail).
    Mar 11 09:45 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Lux Boosts Micro-Hybrid Vehicle Forecast To 39M Cars / Year By 2017 [View article]
    John, thank you for explaining the complex dynamics behind a financing transaction. Most of the companies I invest in have needed financing like this at one time or another, and as an individual investor, the whole process is very opaque and you wonder if the company knows what they are doing, and why they got "taken" for such a low price.

    Your detailed explanation of the process helps us small investors better appreciate the dance that takes place between the company and the investors.

    Thank you for generously sharing your experience with us.

    Feb 11 02:03 PM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Understanding Manufacturing Economics For Grid-Scale Energy Storage [View article]
    I followed and invested in Beacon for something like 6 to 8 years. I got very excited about their superior approach to frequency regulation, and hoped they would survive long enough to reap the benefits of the recent "pay for performance" regulations that would make their solution much more attractive. Of course it sucked when they went bankrupt; my holdings weren't large, but it wasn't chump change either.

    I've thought a lot about this over the years and in the last few months, and my conclusion is this:

    The traditional frequency regulation market will mostly go away. By that I mean we will no longer need gas turbines on standby or dedicated flywheel or battery facilities offering frequency regulation services.

    Why? With the advent of smart meters and utility control of behind the meter loads, the utility (or the larger balancing authority) can achieve frequency regulation by aggregating many smaller loads.

    I was at a conference here in Austin, Texas last summer, and the CEO of Austin Energy made an offhand comment about how they had been cycling residential air conditioners on and off all afternoon to manage the extremely high load. These are customers that have smart meters and they get some benefit (don't know what it is) for letting Austin Energy control their A/C and electric hot water heaters. I think Austin Energy uses it to manage more than just the frequency, although I'm sure they can't reduce actual energy consumption by too much, otherwise the customer's home will get more than 1 degree higher than their set point and they won't be happy. Hot water heaters are another story, as the utility could jack them up by 5 or 10 degrees earlier in the day and let them drift down to 5 degrees below the set point throughout the afternoon.

    So it's only a matter of time before this approach is used to reduce the need for frequency regulation. Standalone equipment for this purpose will just be too expensive compared to adjusting end-user loads. I will be very cautious going forward on dedicated frequency regulation plants.
    Feb 9 06:52 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Aggressive New CAFE Standards: Economic Impact Will Be Immense [View article]
    Over the last 2 months I have sold (or gifted) all of my Westport (WPRT) shares, even the ones with a $3.92 basis (price today is $35). It was hard to let go of a favorite, but my reasons are strictly based on the overall global economy and I believe I will have another chance to get back in.

    Westport's profits are highly dependent on new trucks being built with natural gas engines. I believe we are about to enter a worldwide recession, starting with Europe and spreading to the U.S. and Asia. Even if the debt problem in Europe is "solved," significant austerity measures will drag down GDP across Europe for at least a few years. Worst case, it gets much nastier. Oil prices will fall again (for a few years at least). Companies will scale back on new truck purchases, and with lower oil prices, the price differential between gas and diesel will not warrant the extra cost for the natural gas powered engine (at least in the mind of a CFO scrambling to cut costs NOW!).

    I'll be waiting though, to pick up Westport shares when they are a bargain.
    Jan 23 02:24 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A123: Clear Sector Leader In Lithium-Ion Battery Space [View article]
    Valence is also supplying batteries to Smith. Has A123 taken the business away from Valence, or is A123 just a second supplier to Smith? Anybody know the dynamics there?

    Valence had been claiming Smith as a solid customer for quite some time, and of course Valence is always touting their next generation battery with Vanadium (I think), but I don't think that generation is shipping yet. Any thoughts on Valence (both technology and financing)?
    Jan 23 02:00 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Morgan Stanley's New Dance Step: The Electric Crawfish [View article]
    Wow! Thanks for the link to ExxonMobil's 2012 Energy Outlook to 2040. I spent almost an hour studying it, and it contains a wealth of great information! It's sobering just how slowly things change in the world of energy. But it also shows how important it is to be on the right side of a trend. Thanks again.
    Dec 10 10:16 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Fuel-Cell Vehicles May Replace Battery Vehicles As The Cleantech Poster Boy [View article]
    I am pessimistic about hydrogen fuel cells for passenger cars because of the infrastructure issues. However, fuel cells might make sense for long-haul trucks or locomotives which consume huge amounts of fuel and just can't carry that much energy in batteries.

    Near term (until 2020), I see long-haul trucks, heavy equipment and mining trucks as well as locomotives transitioning over to natural gas. They will combust the gas in modified diesel engines. This is a relatively straightforward conversion and infrastructure is dealt with more easily for these vehicles. Westport is helping to lead this change.

    Where fuel cells come in is their (relative) efficiency compared to combustion. If you can convert hydrogen to electricity in a fuel cell at an efficiency of 60% (compared to about 30% for combustion), it could be a huge win for these applications that consume huge amounts of fuel.

    Even if long-haul trucks and locomotives switch over to fuel cells in the 2020s, they will likely not use hydrogen directly. They'll probably still carry natural gas onboard and reform it to hydrogen right there on the vehicle. That might change over time as wind turbines become ubiquitous and their off-peak electricity production is used to produce hydrogen.
    Dec 2 10:34 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Fuel-Cell Vehicles May Replace Battery Vehicles As The Cleantech Poster Boy [View article]
    JRP3: what EV are you driving that cost you less than any new car? Please tell us how much you paid for your EV? What is it's range? How many does it seat,etc. etc.

    I'm very interested in the up-front cost differences and operating cost differences.
    Dec 2 10:17 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Stop-Start Idle Elimination Crushing Vehicle Electrification? [View article]
    That's a great data point, especially since you have a direct comparison to the same vehicle without the hybrid configuration.

    What was the cost difference between the base and the hybrid model and do you think it has or will pay for itself in gas savings?
    Nov 28 02:13 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Micro-Hybrids: The Fuel Efficiency Innovation Of The Decade [View article]
    JRP3: "You compare a Focus with an EV Focus and pretend they are the same car but they target completely different markets because of the price. The ICE Focus buyer is not in the market for a $40K vehicle of any kind."

    This is hilarious! I don't even need to make my point - I can just let you do it for me (in a twisted,reverse logic kind of way)!

    Yes, I compare a Focus with an EV Focus, because they ARE the same car. They only differ in their engine/propulsion system. Same seats, same radio, same steering wheel, windows, glovebox, etc. etc.

    Just think of a house with a choice of a gas furnace vs. an electric furnace. If you are paying attention to the furnace, and one is more expensive than the other, you make an economic decision as to which is best for you. But the usefulness of the house is not much affected by the furnace.

    An EV Focus will get you a lower operating cost for a higher initial cost. The regular focus will cost less, but cost more to operate with gasoline. Both cars will have similar functionality in every other respect. You can't compare a $40,000 EV Focus with a $40,000 luxury car when the EV Focus is based off of a $16,000 - $20,000 ICE base model.
    Nov 10 11:51 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Stop-Start Idle Elimination Crushing Vehicle Electrification? [View article]
    "Come on guys, have we not heard enough already about RETROFIT MARKETS and AFTERMARKET ADD-ONS OR CONVERSIONS not being feasible???? "

    I agree that retrofits probably don't make sense for passenger vehicles, but there might be a limited (yet profitable) market for HEV or BEV retrofits of commercial vehicles that log a lot of miles, currently have terrible mileage, where emissions are a problem, or where the investment in the vehicle itself is large compared to the cost of the engine/drivetrain.

    Can anybody think of economically viable retrofit opportunities for commercial vehicles?
    Nov 6 05:39 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Stop-Start Idle Elimination Crushing Vehicle Electrification? [View article]
    "If they (Azure) find a significant market, won't Ford just produce the electric trucks and sell into that market themselves?"

    I worried about the same thing, and still have a lingering concern there, but it appears that Ford sells a LOT of chassis to companies that finish off the truck with the needs of the end customer. The same Ford chassis might be used for a UPS or FedEx truck, or a hotel or airport shuttle bus, or a food delivery vehicle, etc. For most of these "integrators," I assume they buy the chassis with the engine and drivetrain in it already, but Azure probably buys it even more bare-bones.

    I share your concern that Ford might want to include an electric drivetrain with the chassis at some point, but there is also a great deal of variability in such a product, mainly based on the desired range and hence the number of batteries, and perhaps other aspects of the drivetrain (strength of electric motors) based on the expected laden weight of the vehicle.

    I have only dipped my toes into Azure's stock, more as a reason to follow their progress over the coming years.

    The other thing I like about a company such as Azure or Smith is that they can benefit from cost reductions and advances in battery technology as their suppliers battle each other in a price war.
    Nov 6 05:33 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Stop-Start Idle Elimination Crushing Vehicle Electrification? [View article]
    Thanks H.T. Love,

    Very interesting indeed! I'm all over HEVs, and think they _can_ make economic sense with the right drive cycles.

    What I like about Wrightspeed is that they are using a Capstone microturbine for the range extender. I've been investing in and following Captsone for almost 8 years now.

    Once you've electrified a vehicle sufficiently to decouple the ICE from the electric drive, it's silly to use a traditional gasoline or diesel engine anymore. The microturbine is incredibly simple, with minimal maintenance.

    I also like that they are focusing on retrofits of medium duty vehicles. That's a very smart place to start, as there has to be a nice population of delivery vehicles whose engines are at the end of their useful life, but the chassis is still useful. It's going to be hard to compete with Azure and Smith right now in the new vehicle space.

    I do wonder what they will do with the power steering and A/C if they were previously running off the engine. Seems they will need to replace with electric versions, or retrofit trucks that don't have A/C.

    I'll follow Wrightspeed from now. Thanks!
    Nov 6 10:34 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment