Tomorrow’s World: Evolving Clean Tech Innovation with Digital Prototyping

Erwin Burth, Autodesk business development manager for clean technology, discusses the advantages of digital prototyping in realising clean tech advancements.

Thanks to the significant investment that clean energy attracts, the global clean technology race has, in the last few years, continued to gain momentum. Even the unfolding European financial crisis and a slump in clean energy share prices on the world’s stock markets has not held back the continuing surge of finance for clean energy from venture capitalists.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar projects drove financial investment in clean energy to $45.4bn in the third quarter of 2011, a nine per cent rise on the previous quarter and a 16 per cent increase year-on-year. And in the UK too, the results of Ernst & Young’s most recent quarterly clean tech business confidence survey suggest that, despite some recent setbacks, the clean tech sector is also still gaining ground with optimism seeing a significant increase in recent months, thanks, in part, to gathering momentum around the Government’s Green Deal.

Aside from securing vital investment, the clean tech sector also faces a range of other complex challenges – not least the need to achieve sustained innovation. While significant advancements in clean technology are continuing to take place, the urgent major environmental challenges they seek to address such as climate change, landfill shortages, dwindling fossil fuels and water scarcity are steadily continuing to worsen, and subsequently require new alternatives in the battle to conserve finite resources.

Addressing these complex challenges is not easy and requires ground-breaking technologies and new business models. For this reason, many Fortune 1,000 companies put strong emphasis on collaborating with or acquiring smaller firms to tap into new ideas and new markets, as well as to support their own future business viability.

Strong innovation can play a major role in tackling the critical environmental issues that clean tech companies are concerned with, which are typically discovered thanks to new methodologies and completely new ways of thinking. In many cases, this can only be achieved through redesigning existing approaches and using holistic design techniques to create new ones, ultimately contributing to optimised performance and reduced costs.

Digital prototyping can, for today’s design engineers, play a crucial role in enabling the innovation process. The technique helps to make clean tech product development far more efficient, by allowing manufacturers to digitally design, visualise and simulate how the solutions will work under real-world conditions before they are built. In addition, this capability also supports several different types of innovation, which are particularly applicable to the clean tech sector.

One of the major enablers of innovative design is the rapid capture of creative concepts; the sooner and more easily ideas can be captured on screen, the better – even if dozens of iterations are needed after that. The fact that the digital approach allows for the exploration of a range of different concepts gives designers greater freedom to be creative in the knowledge that mistakes made with pixels and bits are much easier to rectify than mistakes made in the creation of physical prototypes, a feature which is particularly important in the clean tech arena.

Meanwhile, in the research and development process, the ability to pass designs to manufacturing in digital form means that they are also more likely to keep their original integrity resulting in better quality, reliable products.

Digital prototyping also enables early but well-informed decisions about appearance and form to be made at the concept stage, with the ability for the design team, colleagues and clients to weigh multiple alternatives. The right design is more likely to please end consumers, and therefore makes widespread adoption more likely.

In the domestic clean tech arena, for example, energy monitoring devices must be pleasing to consumers to be successful in the marketplace. Equally, the right design can make a product more easily understandable to an operator, with renewable power equipment that is simple and easy to operate helping to enhance safety and efficiency.

Proving that an idea will work and prove reliable well before the physical prototype stage is also a key advantage of digital prototyping technology. During the engineering stage, clean tech firms must test product stress and strengths, simulate mechanical movement and analyse the performance of multiple materials to make aesthetic ideas practical. Here, the latest technology enables engineers to perform these tests in hours or days rather than weeks.

Yet innovation is, of course, only of value if the end result is commercially viable. For this reason too, digital prototypes can prove extremely valuable in helping to market a product before it is actually made, with 3D images bringing ideas to life in brochures, websites and other marketing collateral, as well as to illustrate the concept at focus groups, one-to-one customer meetings and to potential future investors.

A further key benefit of digital prototyping is in helping companies to scale solutions and evaluate their impact as they are adapted, while a more practical aspect of innovation can be found in helping to protect intellectual property, as by using a ‘shrink-wrapped’ version in the design review process, data and other commercial information can be protected from third parties.

As the clean tech sector increasingly evolves to serves mainstream consumers, for those creating the new technologies, the focus should undoubtedly continue to be on achieving sustained innovation. In realising this objective, clean tech designers and engineers can benefit significantly from implementing cutting-edge design methodologies such as digital prototyping to capture ideas quickly as well as support fast and informed design decisions.

Getting Started With Digital Prototyping

The Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program provides significant support for early-stage clean technology companies who are working to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges by providing them with design and engineering software worth up to 120,000 euros – and/or £100,000, for a nominal fee. Many are now using Autodesk software and digital prototyping functionality to achieve pioneering innovation.

The wide range of partners already signed up to the programme includes Pyrum Innovations, a start-up company based in France, which is working on a newly invented recycling process for used rubber from tyres, which would otherwise be burned, and UK-based Cleaner Air Solutions, a specialist in solar power that has been providing renewable energy systems to the domestic and commercial market since 2004.



“Can solar power help shipping go green?”

Here is a peak at an interesting article from about Solar Power and its potential green impact on the shipping industry!  Click here link for the full article!

From a distance, the yellow-and-blue ferry docking at the pier resembles the scores of other vessels that hop between Hong Kong’s outlying islands and the peninsula every day.

But a closer look as passengers disembark, reveals a grid of gleaming solar panels on the ferry’s roof and, instead of the usual throbbing engine noise, there is a barely audible buzz.

The Solar Eagle and three similar vessels shuttle golfers to tee off on an 18-hole island course. Together they form the world’s first hybrid powered ferry fleet and a commercial proving ground for technology that could transform the future of marine travel.

The technology, similar to that used in hybrid cars, has been developed by an Australian company called Solar Sailor.

Electricity created by the solar panels and stored in a battery powers the engine while the vessel comes in and out of the harbour. Once out in the open ocean and a faster clip is required, the diesel kicks in.

One of the fleet, the Solar Albatross, sports two sails covered in solar panels that can be raised to harness both the sun and the wind to further reduce reliance on fossil fuel.

Robert Dane, Solar Sailor’s founder, says that the technology offers ship owners huge fuel savings and has the potential to be used on all types of vessels from humble ferries and luxury super-yachts to bulk carriers shipping iron ore and navy patrol ships.

“I think in 50 to 100 years, all ships will have solar sails,” he says.

“It just makes so much sense. You’re out there on the water and there’s so much light bouncing around and there’s a lot more energy in the wind than in the sun.”


Small-Scale Solar, Cleantech Funds Shine Brightly

As we head into February, some exciting new developments are afoot in the UK’s cleantech market. Firstly, the UK government seems to finally be putting its weight behind the development of a domestic, commercial micro-solar power market. A new scheme announced by the government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to support small-scale renewables generation includes feed-in tariffs, which can help stimulate domestic markets as well as renewables manufacturing firms. For example, Nao Nakanishi reports that Sharp, which manufactures solar panels in Wales, only installs around 1 per cent of the 5,000 panels it produces in the UK. The rest are exported to more developed renewables markets, such as Germany.

The announced feed-in tariffs will provide a boost to manufacturers through the creation of a domestic photovoltaic (PV) market: households will be able to sell the excess power they generate through their PV panels back to the grid. IMS Research has estimated that the domestic market for micro-solar at the PV level could reach 250MW of installed capacity in 2011, up from just 5MW in 2009. Indeed, PV installations of up to 5MW would receive £0.413 per kWh, which represents a positive incentive for installation.

One key question remaining, however, is whether the new tariffs will benefit the small-scale generation market and the residential market, but not the commercial building PV market. Indeed, as an executive at the Energy Saving Trust recently told me, ‘The difficulty in stimulating the installation of solar power in the commercial building sphere is due to property tenure: much of the UK’s commercial buildings are rented, so neither the current tenant businesses nor the landlords have a long-term interest in solar installation and the potential returns or savings they can make.’

These news come amid signs that interest in cleantech at the venture level is continuing to increase, albeit more cautiosly than during the ‘hot’ years before the crisis. The landscape for UK cleantech was one of VC uncertainty in 2009, with the largest declines in investment amounts since the tech bubble in 2000: in 2008, £1,001 million was invested in VC in the UK; this had dropped to £622 million by the end of 2009. While the VC funding picture remains largely unclear and uncertain, other types of investors are dipping their toes into the cleantech market in a big way these days.

Some of the good signs to have appeared over the past two weeks include the launch of the £125m Hermes Environmental Fund (HEF). The fund was jointly launched by Hermes Private Equity and the UK government’s UK Innovation Investment Fund (UKIIF), a governmental investment vehicle for high technology firms, technologies and innovation. It represents a welcome tie-up between private equity’s management experience and fund-raising capabilities, and strong government backing. Indeeed, Hermes will manage £75m in the fund of funds, while UKIIF will directly contribute £50m.

The fund will be invested by around 50 fund managers, and a minimum of 50% will be invested in the environmental sector. Around half of the fund is expected to be directly invested in Britain. The fund is allegedly expected to contribute to the creation of around one million new jobs in the low carbon economy: as Simon Havers, chairman of the British Venture Capital Association (BVCA) recently told the Wall Street Journal, ‘Today’s launch of the Environmental Investment Fund represents a positive step forward for clean tech financing in the UK’. Other firms are following suit: on 1 February, private equity firm HgCapital announced that its renewable energy investment arm, HgCapital Renewable Power Partners, had invested £260 million in three wind and solar power projects, including Scout Moor, the UK’s largest onshore wind farm.

Reporting by Federico Caprotti, writing for Skipso from London


What’s Hot in Cleantech for 2010

What’s hot in cleantech for 2010

Writing from San Francisco, it is hard to imagine that 2010 will be anything but a good year for cleantech. Then again, San Francisco is not your normal cleantech city, and California is not your normal cleantech state. Indeed, as Earth2Tech’s cleantech startup map clearly shows, the Golden State is one of the main engines for cleantech innovation at the startup level. This is particularly true in the case of venture-backed companies investing in today’s ‘hot’ tech, like solar.

San Francisco, therefore, is a good place from which to do some blue-sky cleantech thinking. While working here and avoiding the dark and gloomy depths of the British winter, it feels appropriate to gaze into my crystal (or silicon) ball and to highlight the top three trends for cleantech in 2010.

1. Renewed cleantech VC activity

Compared with 2007 or even early 2008, cleantech VC funding remained fairly low in 2009. The year started badly, with record low amounts of VC investment compared with 2008: indeed, in the first quarter of the year, investment was down 46% on the previous year.

However, 2009 was not uniform by any means. Indeed, by end of the third quarter, VC investment had actually increased by 182% compared to the first quarter. Venture capital’s ‘exit velocity’ from 2009 is high. However, as data from Ernst & Young shows, what has changed is the emphasis on commercialization: 61% of new capital investment has been directed at companies which are currently shipping products to market.

This implies a continued, strong flow in terms of capital amounts, financing rounds, and number of deals in 2010. However, it also implies more caution in capital allocation at the VC level. Expect venture backers in 2010 to focus closely on firms well past initial development stages, or firms which can generate revenue streams with their early or established products.

2. Service provider consolidation

Cleantech service providers – from research and analysis firms, to consultancies, to web-based platforms and networks – are key to this information-intensive sector. As Matthew Kiernan, founder of sustainability research firm Innovest, argued in his book Investing in a Sustainable World, (published in late 2008) service providers have often been the innovative thinkers in cleantech, pointing towards new directions for more established investors, finance houses and asset managers. As cleantech grows, those firms which have a finger on the sector’s pulse will be of increasing importance as gatekeepers and providers of information and analysis.

So, expect consolidation among service providers as the cleantech service space becomes more mature in 2010. This will mean increased involvement in cleantech service provision by larger firms needing to incorporate a cleantech dimension in their research, media or consultancy offerings. Indeed, Kiernan’s own firm Innovest was taken over by the RiskMetrics Group in early 2009, so as to provide a ‘ready to go’ sustainability research arm for the group. Another sign pointing towards consolidation in 2010 is the takeover of cleantech information and research company New Energy Finance by Bloomberg in 2009. As Michael Kanellos, senior cleantech analyst at Greentech Media here in San Francisco, recently told me, ‘When these larger more established players come into the sector, that’s when these firms or their activities can take off; that’s when established firms’ structures and management can really play a role in developing cleantech service providers’.

3. 2010: the year of solar?

The technology to watch in 2009 was, supposedly, solar. It seems, however, that 2010 will really be the ‘solar year’. Indeed, 2009 provided a strong basis for the build-up of interest in solar, with the IPO landscape dominated by solar offerings. However, 2010 will see solar investment concerning not only specialised funds and venture firms, but larger companies too.

In part, this will be backed by government interest, by the tranches of stimulus packages focused on green energy, and by the continued interest in green building. In part, it will be fuelled by the more cautious investment approach taken by cleantech investors; as such, solar is an established and understandable technology, and investors will be especially conversant with solar panels, photovoltaics, and established components.

By Federico Caprotti, reporting for Skipso from San Francisco