Tag Archive | laser beam

Five companies vie to build wind farms

Five companies are interested in developing wind farms in the ocean off North Carolina, hoping to take advantage of what could be the East Coast’s most promising chance to create energy through giant turbines anchored to the sea floor.

The idea is embraced by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Sierra Club alike, who see North Carolina as the next potential center for renewable energy in America. But big obstacles remain before the whirling farms become a reality. Offshore wind is an expensive form of energy, and Congress is losing interest in federal subsidies to encourage it. There are no offshore wind farms in the United States, although they’re common in Europe.

The federal government asked companies in December if they’d be interested in North Carolina offshore wind development. Five responded positively in filings released Tuesday. One is Virginia Electric and Power Co., part of the Dominion utility that serves Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

“We responded we are interested, but there is a long way to go,” said Dominion spokesman Dan Genest. “We are interested. We would like to be a player. There’s a lot we have to learn, though.”

The federal government has to finish an environmental study before auctioning the offshore leases. The agency also needs to decide whether to change the areas considered for wind farms in light of newly released public comments. Those include the assertion of the World Shipping Council, a trade association that represents container vessels , that inviting wind farm proposals off Kitty Hawk, N.C., is “dangerous and imprudent” for shipping.

Two potential development areas are between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C., while another is beyond the Outer Banks, across from the island towns of Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and Manteo. All potential areas are at least six miles from shore.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates suggest that North Carolina’s offshore wind potential is the highest on the East Coast. The five companies interested in leasing did not make binding commitments or detailed proposals. But Brian O’Hara, president of the North Carolina Offshore Wind Coalition, said their responses are still a good sign wind farms will be coming.

Wind farm development is not a fast process. O’Hara said it could be at least five years before the turbine construction would begin.

“There has to be some sort of agreement for where the power is going,” he said.

That’s the roadblock, said Bruce Hamilton, a California-based wind expert with the global firm Navigant Consulting. Offshore wind is much more expensive than other sources of electricity, Hamilton said, and utilities are not going to buy it unless there’s something forcing them to do so.

He said that means a requirement such as the one Maryland is considering. The Maryland legislature is poised to pass a bill requiring the state’s electricity providers to buy a certain amount of power from a proposed wind farm off Ocean City. It would increase monthly electricity bills for ratepayers by an estimated $1.50 a month.

“Absent those kinds of specific policies, offshore wind probably won’t make the short list – at least in the near term,” Hamilton said.

North Carolina has a law saying electric utilities must generate 12.5 percent of their retail sales from renewable energy or energy efficiency by 2021. But any offshore wind production is at least several years off and could be too late to be part of that mix. Also, some Republicans in the state legislature are trying to gather the votes to overturn that renewable energy requirement.


High in Fiber, Low in Valuation

Zoltek Companies is in the business of fibers, mostly carbon fibers.  Plain, simple fibers may not seem very impressive.  However, Zoltek’s carbon fibers are in wide demand for renewable energy applications such as wind turbines blades and deep sea oil and gas wells.  After two years swimming in red ink, Zoltek has managed to bring sales back up to 2008 levels.  The company earned $22.9 million in net income on $186.3 million in total sales in the fiscal year ending September 2012.  During the same period Zoltek cleared 9.3% of total sales as operating cash flow.

Analysts are expecting modest growth in the next fiscal year.  The consensus estimate is $0.69 on $189 million in total sales in fiscal year 2013.  The estimate has remained unchanged in the most recent weeks, even though Graftek failed to meet earnings expectations for the September 2012 quarter.

Zoltek’s management is a bit more enthusiastic about its future.  That is because the carbon content of durable goods is rising at a fast pace  –  so fast some manufacturers are concerned about a shortage of carbon fibers in the future.  For example, aircraft are adopting carbon composites for floors, luggage bins and even seats as a means to reduce overall aircraft weight.  Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 is the first large-scale commercial aircraft made using 50% composite materials including plastics and carbon fiber.

The company has been working on new technologies for cutting and milling carbon fibers to facilitate mixing carbon fibers with thermoplastics.  Such plastics are now used in electronics such as computer hard drives and printers.  Lacing the thermoplastic with carbon would add durability and extend the range of potential applications. Most likely new markets would be automotive and aerospace.

Zoltek has spent $23.8 million or 5% of sales on research and development efforts over the past three years.  Indeed, R&D has taken on added visibility over the past couple of years with the central effort carried out at the company’s plant in St. Peters, Missouri.  Much of the effort is aimed at improving production processes, but management is also keen on finding new ways to use carbon.

The automotive industry figures prominently in Zoltek’s growth plans.  In 2010, the company formed a new subsidiary, Zoltek Automotive, to help facilitate the adoption of carbon materials in cars and trucks.  Tesla Motors already uses Zoltek fibers for its electric sports cars.

Zoltek can afford to move aggressively on market opportunities.  At the end of September 2012, there was $29.9 million in cash on its balance sheet.  Debt totaled $27.1 million, but the debt to equity ratio is a modest 0.09.

We have added Zoltek to the Materials Group in our Mothers of Invention Index for innovators in energy, efficiency and conservation.  The stock trades at 11.1 times forward earnings, which looks like a bargain for a well-capitalized company that appears poised to offering significantly higher growth.

Debra Fiakas is the Managing Director of Crystal Equity Research, an alternative research resource on small capitalization companies in selected industries.

Stealth Bastard Deluxe

Swearing creatively; difficult thing to get right. You just about get away with ‘Stealth Bastard Deluxe’, but as soon as the subtitle ‘Tactical Espionage Arsehole’ comes up we go from laugh to cringe. It’s a bit try-hard, and its greatest sin is misrepresenting the game behind it – SBD is a refined and original take on the sneaking genre, not a crass parody. The most heartfelt profanities here are delivered, as they should be, by the player.

SBD is first and foremost a 2D platformer from the modern indie school – precise twitch controls, instant restarts, and plenty of messy deaths. Insert obligatory Super Meat Boy comparison, except in this case there is a similarity in how SBD has come to market. This is an expanded and remade version of a freeware original from Curve Studios, the team behind Explodemon, and Stealth Bastard’s big idea was speedy sneaking. All the stuff you expect in a stealth game, faster.

This is an expanded and much-polished remake, but despite the instant premise it takes a good few levels to warm up, as the opening takes its time to explain the basics when the stealth mechanic is really quite simple. You’re either in the gloom and not visible (the character’s goggles glow green), in dull light and partially visible (amber), or in bright light and fully visible (red). Levels are made up of dark corners and big bright expanses, with all sorts of cubbyholes and grey areas in-between. They’re all filled with switches, cameras, lasers, turrets and sensor beams that interlink, as well as light sources and terminals that need hacking. These ostensibly simple and easily-manipulated elements will kill you so many times it’s untrue. SBD’s that kind of game.

You control a squat Sam Fisher lookalike, one of infinite clones being produced to undertake a sinister science facility’s testing regime (ho-hum), and have to unlock and then get to each level’s exit. One of SBD’s best qualities is how much play it gets out of few buttons, with your main abilities jumping and flicking switches. The complexity and gadgets flow from its level design, when it’s done right, and often it’s done right indeed.

Take something simple, like a switch that moves a block from left to right and back again. Under that block, it’ll be dark. But if you hit the switch then try to run under it, you’re not fast enough. The solution, then, is to hit the switch while running and keep perfect pace with the moving block. The level Shadowrunner introduces this idea, then begins chaining these little dashes together, throwing a few obstacles in the middle of the path; making it harder, bit by bit, until a final crazy zigzag you’d never have managed two minutes ago. Later, teleporters will chain together for concertina-like jumps from a standing start, whipping you across the screen in several different directions from a single leap – and woe betide if you get the angle of entry wrong.

These moments of freewheeling speed and stunts are the payoff for SBD’s stretches of thinking time, standing in darkness working out what connects to what and running it all mentally before a step. It’s here that Stealth Bastard lives up to its name, capturing the delicious thrill of picking through a trap under the nose of your enemy. Despite the stealth simplifying things down to a trio of absolutes, the essential aspects are still there; spotting patterns in patrol routes, kinks in the environments, then dashing from cover to cover. The difference in SBD is that you work things out quicker, and the consequences are more immediate.

The generous checkpointing is important, letting you experiment with each challenge rather than tiptoeing around in fear, and mitigating the fact that you usually learn things are deadly by triggering them. SBD is pretty funny with it, too, one of its neatest touches the acerbic text projected onto level surfaces from an observer, ‘warning’ you of imminent dangers and exulting in failure. At times the words offer false reassurance, even false hope, right before you blithely step into another laser beam.