Danish Ideas: Making Solar Power cheaper than Fossil Fuels

Welcome to our new series aiming to present a number of Danish developed ideas and new technologies that showcase what the Danish start-up scene is all about:

Heliac in action at Roskilde Festival. Photo by Trendsonline
The sun foil from this month’s start-up Heliac in action at Roskilde Festival. Photo by Trendsonline.dk

Despite a population of only 5.6 million people, Denmark boasts a large number of talented entrepreneurs as well as skilled developers, scientists, and engineers.

In the coming newsletters, we will highlight some of these ideas and start-ups.

Are you a start-up yourself, ready to present yourself to Silicon Valley? Then let us get in touch!

Danish technology start-up focus on sun-foil as an energy source
The Danish newly launched company Heliac produces cheap thin plates of plastic, a product using a “sun-foil” technology. Among other uses, the foil can concentrate sunlight in order to cook food or clean water, without having to burn wood or garbage. The ambitious target is to revolutionize the field of concentrated solar power through low cost micro-structured foils.

The foil is named SMILE: Solar Mobile Independent Low-Cost Energy system, and earlier this summer, the foil was presented in a rather untraditional venue – at Roskilde Festival, the biggest music festival in Scandinavia – that being the closest Danish comparison to a camp in a developing country.

Latest, Heliac has launched a Kickstarter campaign that runs until late August, where contributors can either get a SMILE-foil for themselves to be used for camping, or can donate kits to families in the developing world.

Check out the campaign here.

Major Danish biogas potential in California

Biogas plant

A recent study by Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley reveals major potential for Danish biogas companies in California.

Biogas plant
Biogas plant

The Californian biogas sector is at a tipping point triggered by strong political support and one of the largest input potential available in the United States.

“This will accelerate the development of biogas facilities and with it open the opportunity of major export potential for the world leading Danish biogas sector” says Ali Mushtaq, from the Clean Energy Advisory at Innovation Center Denmark.

Potential to power three million American homes

California is considered the state with the largest potential for biogas development. As one of the world’s top ten economies, California has a large volume of municipal and agricultural waste from a 37 million population, major industrial sectors, and an enormous dairy- and agro sector.

According to CalRecycle, the governing body for recycling and waste management in California, more than 20 million tons of organic waste is annually diverted to landfills – equivalent to the weight of 70,000 of the world’s biggest airliner Airbus 380 – with a potential of being used for biogas production.

The total biogas potential for California is 7,000 megawatts of power, which is enough to supply approximately three million American homes with power, according to Bioenergy Association of California and UC Davis.

The tipping point to growth

California is leading the fight against climate change and has ambitious goals within environmental protection. This has caused policy makers to acknowledge the great potential in biogas production and its multiple applications along with positive environmental impact. A number of regulatory initiatives have been introduced to provide the industry with improved overall framework conditions and funding opportunities to significantly accelerate the development of new biogas facilities.

“Many more governmental agencies are getting aware of the opportunities within biogas and new policies have therefore been introduced. This is a clear indicator of the industry being at a tipping point”, says Julia Levin from Bioenergy Association of California

Among the most important bills that have been passed is a new feed-in tariff requiring utilities to purchase 250 MW of bioenergy at preferential prices, a requirement to divert 75% of organic waste from landfills, and a cap-and-trade program providing producers with another source of revenue. These are all expected to be game changers by industry experts.

Huge opportunity for Danish export

In the wake of the recent political support to extend the regulatory system in support of biogas, it is expected that new biogas projects will become significantly more attractive in terms of financial bankability, causing the local feedstock suppliers, developers, investors, etc. to look for companies to collaborate with. Currently, the industry is underdeveloped and has e.g. only 14 running plants in agriculture, indicating that Danish companies will have great opportunities with the state-of-the-art solutions and technology they possess.

“We see a huge potential for Danish companies to enter the Californian market. The local players are looking for many of the strongholds we have in the Danish industry. E.g. technology, know-how, R&D, capital, etc.”, says Jesper Arndt Andersen, External Advisor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“The political support to lower methane emissions is causing new regulations. These are major drivers for the biogas industry, and we expect a rapid development going forward”, continues Jacques Franco from University of California Davis

To support the market entry of Danish biogas investors, the Clean Energy & Technology Advisory at Innovation Center Denmark has established a team of highly experienced advisors with technical biogas expertise and knowledge of local conditions. The team offers full spectrum services from providing market insights to on-the-ground business execution and public liaising as well as assisting with the establishment of subsidiaries in California.

For further info, contact Ali Mushtaq on the information below.

Ali Mushtaq, Cleantech Advisor
Innovation Center Denmark
Director, Clean Energy & Technology Advisory

T: +1 312 852 2224
E: alibut@um.dk

Future vehicle technologies – the holy grail of zero emission vehicles

The metaphor of the green eco-friendly car

Glimpses into the future of clean vehicles are already here – they’re just not evenly distributed: Automakers have in recent years launched a multitude of clean(er) vehicle technology platforms ranging from increasingly efficient traditional gas guzzling vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs), to hybrids and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

Continue reading “Future vehicle technologies – the holy grail of zero emission vehicles”

Solar Mosaic –Financing Solar with Crowdfunding


A new solar financing start-up has emerged with a vision of becoming the Kickstarter of solar, as it allows small-scale investors, for as little as 25 Dollars, to invest in solar projects in need of capital. The company, Solar Mosaic, currently employs 14 people, and is a private, venture-backed start-up that was founded in 2011. In May 2012 it raised $2.5 million dollars in a first round of venture funding led by Spring Ventures of San Francisco. In June 2012, the department of Energy in the USA awarded Mosaic a 2 million dollar Grant through its SunShot initiative.

Like other third-party solar financing companies, Solar Mosaic allows individuals to install rooftop solar for little to no upfront cost and then either lease the panels or buy power on a long term contract with the financing company. Rather than raise capital from banks and large accredited investors like the larger established solar financing companies Solarcity, SunRun and Clean Power Finance, Solar Mosaic allows any individual to invest in solar projects in increments down to $25 USD.

These small investments are structured as loans with a minimum fixed annual return of 4.5%, often higher. In mid December, Solar Mosaic celebrated financing their sixth solar project. This specific project, involved an installation financed by 51 individual investors and an anonymous donor. Together they raised $40,325 to purchase and install a 47 kw solar system on the roof of the Youth Employment Partnership (YEP) facility in Oakland, California. With this project, the non-profit organization (YEP) is projected to save $160,000 in reduced electricity over the lifetime of the project. YEP will be leasing the solar system for monthly payments based on the electricity generated, Solar Mosaic expects an annual return of 6.38% over a 60 month term for investors in the project.

Solar Mosaic is a good example of the crowdfunding method making its way into financial models. Crowdfunding has often been used to raise funds for philanthropic efforts, cultural events and projects such as art or film and consumer products. With the rapid success of startups like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and many others, crowdfunding has fostered a new marketplace bringing together projects and entrepreneurs with funding disperse funding sources.

Solar Mosaic’s innovation is that for the first time average individuals are able to invest in solar in small increments for a stable, low risk return on investment. This gives people passionate about clean energy, a chance to put their money to work. On the other side Solar Mosaic provides a low cost financing option for facilities interested in going solar. It will be exciting to follow this new company and the recent trend that accelerates the deployment of renewable energy by connecting new financing sources to quality projects.

The Hidden Revolution

Ever wonder about the billions of dollars of equipment and infrastructure needed for you to be able to turn on your bedroom light, wash the laundry, or perform any of the hundreds of daily tasks one does that require steady, reliable electricity?   As the Director of Commercial Clean technology here at the Innovation Center Denmark, I think about it all the time.  I think about it because there is a mostly hidden revolution happening around the world with Denmark and California leading the cause.

At the Innovation Center Denmark, Silicon Valley, we recognize the unique bridge we form between these two innovative Smart Grid economies.  In 2013, we will therefore launch the Smart Grid Advisory Group to bring together experienced operators, researchers, and entrepreneurs from both Denmark and California Smart Grid sectors to foster partnerships, transactions, and to push the state of the art in grid technologies and operations.

We want to change the fact that most people have little idea of what makes the power grid tick or how dependent their lifestyles are on it.  However, when you experience a prolonged power outage, you soon realize how important a reliable power supply is, how quickly it can be interrupted, and how long – and frustrating – it can be to get it back.  Part of the reason for all of this is that we are dealing with electricity and it cannot (yet) be efficiently collected for example, on a sunny day and stored for a rainy one.  Instead, engineers, utilities, regulators, and entrepreneurs have had to build a machine so vast and so complex that it can generate electricity virtually at the instant when you turn on a light switch or plug your phone into its charger.  Multiply that responsiveness across billions of devices demanding electricity, hundreds of power plants producing the electricity, and thousands of miles of wires transmitting the electricity, and it’s pretty close to a miracle that the machine works at all, never mind that it works steadily and constantly throughout the day and year.

In addition, demand is anything but steady – people turn on and turn off devices throughout the day.   This unsteady demand requires electricity supply and generation that can meet it even at the busiest ‘peak’ times, and quickly ramp down when it slows.  Fortunately, for the incredible people who work in the power supply field, there is a lot of historical data and hard lessons learned such as the great Northeast blackout of 2003 that enable operators to pretty accurately predict what the demand will be and when, and how much power they will need to meet it.

Adapting big changes to this equation is extremely challenging. Failure to adequately adjust can be catastrophic, which is one big reason why the utility industry tends to be so conservative – when power goes out, people don’t just lose money, they can lose life and limb.

It is incredible then to consider that grids around the world are experiencing just such rapid change right now with the push for electric vehicles, solar power, wind farms, iPhones, and the mammoth data centers to power all of our Google searches and Facebook posts.

Meeting the entire unprecedented surge in electricity demand is a rapid increase in the proportion of renewable energy making up the supply.  That renewable energy, often sourced from wind and solar energy, is relatively unpredictable.  This unpredictable supply or intermittency effectively adds yet another challenge to keeping the power demand and supply of the power grid in balance.

With a goal of moving from 30% today to 100% renewable electricity generation by 2050, Denmark is arguably the most experienced market in the world with balancing these new electricity supply and demand dynamics.  California also has ambitions goals too increase the share of renewable generated electricity in its energy mix, but on a far larger scale than even Denmark due to the relative sizes of the two economies.

Viva la Revolución Oculto!!

By Patrick Stanton

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