Weren’t we just saying that money talks? A new “green cities” plan to install 50 gigawatts of renewable energy over the next ten years is in the works, courtesy of a man who at a cool $20 billion is estimated to be the largest single private investor in solar companies worldwide. That would be Cheng Kin Ming, founder and chairman of the Hong Kong firm Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment (APRD).
If you never heard of Mr. Cheng before well neither have we, so while he’s on a whirlwind tour of the US promoting his Age of Green Cities vision we’ll try to catch up with him. From what we’ve seen so far, our favorite fossil fuel stakeholders (that would be the Koch brothers) are going to have some new worries on their hands.
The Fast Track To Green Cities
First, a quick rundown of the current state of investments. According to the latest press materials, the APRD solar umbrella consists of a 30 percent stake in the solar developer and operator Shunfeng Photovoltaic International Ltd., acquired barely two years ago.
Since then, APRD has pushed the evolution of the company into this:
…the world’s largest integrated clean energy company with capabilities in design, engineering, manufacturing, construction, finance, insurance, operation and maintenance, energy storage, solar products and applications.
That’s been accomplished partly through a rapidfire series of high profile solar investments including Suntech, Sunways, and S.A.G Solarstrom.
Creating the vertically integrated Sunfu, as Shunfeng is now called, is just part of the Green Cities strategy.
Green Cities is aimed at assembling companies with integratable systems that bring together “total solutions,” so aside from supplying clean energy Mr. Cheng is also looking at how energy is consumed in a city, for example by electric vehicles and buildings.
That explains Mr. Cheng’s interest in advanced energy storage, heat pumps and other forms of energy management, electric vehicles, and LEDs.
APRD also has a stake in Nobao Renewable Energy Holdings, described as “the number one provider of fully integrated energy systems in China.”
Other investments in China include LED manufacturer Lattice Power, and the EV manufacturer Green Wheel Electric Vehicles.
What’s All This About Seawater?
We’re most intrigued by APRD’s interest in a company called TCNT (short for Taiwan Carbon Nanotube Technology Corporation), which is developing a seawater-to-energy system.
That’s an interesting hedge.
Assuming that part of the Green Cities vision is locally sourced energy when possible, coastal cities pose a challenge for siting local solar energy. Urban populations are rising, pressurizing land competition for housing, commerce, and recreation.
We’re guessing that APRD’s next deep dive could be into offshore wind power (here’s another possibility), but in the meantime it appears that Mr. Cheng is looking to seawater as a means of providing coastal cities with an alternate means of locally sourcing their clean energy.
The TCNT website doesn’t give much away, other than the header “Proposal of New Seawater Battery using Solar Energy and Nanotechnology.”
That’s a new one on us, although we do know that the US Navy is experimenting with an on-the-go system for sucking fuel out of seawater. It works by using small amounts of electricity to split carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater, and reforming them to create a class of hydrocarbons fuel precursors called olefins.
The Navy is working with an iron-based catalyst, but given TCNT’s experience with carbon nanotubes we’re going to guess that theirs is an altogether different approach.
You can also generate energy from the salinity differential between seawater and freshwater, so we’re thinking TCNT is working on something similar to Teledyne’s lithium battery, which is designed to produce power when immersed in seawater.
If you have any idea what TCNT is up to and how that fits into the Green Cities vision, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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