Bright Green

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

The last sips of the French merlot finished dry, and the just uncorked Italian sangiovese began too chocolatey, so I looked — left and right in the empty kitchen — and blended the two together in a wine glass. I have been taught that this is not done; oenephiles may shudder. And, it was delicious.

Speaking at a podium before a gathering of enviros about faith and spirituality and religion presented a similarly ingrained reservation; it’s just not done. The blending of climate change science and the inspiration to do something about it that comes from the heart, from the soul and scripture, I feared, could lead to dismissal from the environmentally-, scientifically-leaning audience: she’s an ignoramus, a dreamer.

Beside me on this panel to talk of the climate change movement (and to answer the question, is there a movement?) were Jared Duval a youth Energy Action Coalition leader and David Foley, an architect of high performance homes. Jared and David went before me and gave energetic, inspiring and educational presentations; I yearned to give in to my dread of public speaking and slink off stage…but journeyed on. We each touched upon values while addressing climate change, broken political systems, the building trades, a new order for organizational cooperation, clean technologies, the future and history.

Like wine, faith perspectives are varied and numerous. At a talk I gave to a senior’s group at a UCC Congregationalist church in Colorado (it could have been called, “An Inconvenient Truth Lite,”) the most vocal response came from a handful of self-described human secularists who shrugged and responded, in short: whatever. The collective shrug took me by surprise, coming from a gathering of “the faithful.” It’s a little less surprising from the likes of “bright green environmentalism.”

On the website “What is Enlightenment,” integral ecologist Michael Zimmerman speaks about “bright green, a transformative approach to environmentalism that offers a fuller and more hopeful way to respond to the global ecological challenges we face.”
Says Zimmerman, “I acknowledge a forward-thinking visionary attitude: Look, we have to remake the world. We have twenty, thirty years to do the job, and we have to do it in a way that is going to appeal to the glamour in people; and moral condemnation and blaming, it’s not effective. So, in a way, you have to find a way to harness people’s energy, to harness people’s hopes for the future, for themselves, for their families, their countries and the planet and to provide them with the tools, concepts and insights necessary to really bring about any credible transformation of how we make a living on the planet, basically. That allows the planet to prosper in terms of its ecosystems as well as human beings who are dependent on it. So all that’s terrific. So if that’s bright green, then I’m on board.”

There’s a human secularist shrug within the “bright green” movement, however. Zimmerman speaks of the loss of connection with tradition and spiritual awakening, an element affiliated with the “bright green” movement.” He goes on to say, “Once you have reached a modernist kind of development, there’s a kind of secular humanist where humanity is its own kind of trip.”

When Zimmerman says, “we ought to also be working with spiritual development along with technologies — in ways that are developed morally, aesthetically,” then I, too, am on board. It can be a delicious blend.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

A VC Going Carbon Neutral?

I have mentioned my friend Justin Label, one of the partners at Bessemer Ventures, before. Among other things he writes the Venture Again Blog. Bessemer is a highly respected old line Silicon Valley venture capital firm. They have been an active investor in cleantech for a while, and are backers of Miasole as well as SV Solar. I found myself on a plane recently with one his colleagues, Ted Lin. But more than their investments, Ted was describing to me a new carbon friendly initiative that Bessemer itself is undertaking internally.

Their logic is simple, if they are investing in cleantech because they believe in being part of the global warming solution, not only making money, then they should practice what they preach. While still early days, they are targeting both their power and travel usage, and expect they will likely implement an internal reduction plan as well as purchasing offsets.

I asked Ted where this came from, and he said this initiative has come down from the top of the firm. It makes sense, and it is good to see the activity happening. My hat is off to them.

Ted also pointed out that Bessemer is also going to be buying offsets for their smaller portfolio companies (those under 50 people). “The goal is that when these companies grow into bigger companies and leave the nest, they will continue the tradition. We want them (our portfolio companies) to lead the next generation environmentally responsible enterprises.”

One of the things he did ask, did I know any good offset providers, because as with any venture capitalist, they are looking for the “best of breed”. So if you are interested in helping Bessemer email Ted at Ted@bvp.com.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Climate Change Policy Poll

by Richard T. Stuebi

I’ve written before that I’m very skeptical of polls. It seems to me that poll respondents give themselves far too much credit for being well-informed or magnanimous, relative to what they actually know or what will they will do when making real decisions that really affect them. Accordingly, I’m always bothered when pundits use poll results as a basis for what policy ought to be.

However, this past summer, a poll conducted and reported by New Scientist magazine did seem to shed some useful insights that policy-makers ought to consider.

The reported highlights of the survey were that there was substantial public support in the U.S. for carbon limitations, that the public preferred outright standards to cap-and-trade or (egads!) carbon taxes, and that the desired focus of carbon reductions should be on the electric power sector than on vehicles (don’t tread on SUV!).

In my view, the most illuminating finding was the weakness of support for carbon limitations if they induced any significant economic pain. In other words, respondents were fine with climate legislation — as long as it really didn’t cost much. On the other hand, when asked if they would support carbon emission requirements that would increase energy prices significantly — which is likely to be the case to achieve the magnitudes of emission reductions that are widely viewed necessary to have meaningful impact in protecting the planet — support evaporated.

This is one of the few instances where I actually believe what the poll results say, without any bias. I take from this finding that — to avoid catastrophic climate change during the balance of this century — either we need to quickly develop a zero/low baseload carbon energy source that costs essentially no more than conventional coal generation, or that we quickly need to substantially increase U.S. political will and courage to endure economic sacrifice. Either will be tremendously challenging. Failing on both counts could doom the planet.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Blogroll Review: Beer, Homes, and Geo

by Frank Ling

This Kirin’s For You!

Even beer manufacturers are now getting on board the bio-ethanol train. In Japan, the Ministry of Agriculture has selected Mitsubishi Corporation and Kirin Brewery Co. to build a bioethanol production plant for a “fuel-grade bioethanol production project” in the Tokachi District of Hokkaido.

In the latest article featured in Japan for Sustainability:

“A bioethanol plant with an annual production capacity of 15,000 kiloliters and using sugar beets and wheat as raw materials will be built on the premises of Hokuren’s sugar refinery in Shimizu Town, Kamikawa County, Hokkaido.”

Green Home Boom

Just when you thought the real estate market might be slowing down, the market for green homes is about to grow.

Jeff Stevens at EcoGeek writes that:

“According to the recently released Green Homeowner SmartMarket™ Report produced by McGraw-Hill Construction, the market for ‘true green homes’ is expected to rise from $2 billion to $20 billion over the next five years.”

And I thought all you needed was green paint to make your home green! 🙂

Piping Hot Geo

Geothermal power has been around a long time. Although geographically limited to regions that are accessible, utilities have recently gained interest in develop geothermal for baseload power.

Tom Konrad at AltEnergy Stocks writes:

“In fact, geothermal plants often have capacity factors 86-95%, well above traditional base load generation such as coal. So geothermal power is a premium electricity because of its reliability. Until a recent fire (not caused by the geothermal facility) the plant installed last year at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, was running at 99.4% availability.”

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Australia the untapped market – new report on Australian Cleantech investment activity

by Nick Bruse

A new report co-authored by the Cleantech Network and Cleantech Ventures will be released today that details the PE & VC investment occuring in Australian cleantech companies.

At the launch breakfast this morning we heard from Jan Dekker (CV) and Anastasia O’Rourke (CN) present the key findings of the study. I’ve summarised some of these below, but you can download the full report from the Cleantech Ventures website.

Key findings

  • A$540m of venture capital dollars invested from 1999-2007
  • 174 rounds in 75 companies
  • Around 3% of total VC invested
  • 66 IPOs between 1974-2006 and 24 in 2005-06 alone

The Cleantech space in Australia is becoming more and more interesting as international and domestic investors are realising that Australian cleantech investment opportunities are relatively untapped, compared with the rest of the world.

Key drivers that are seeing a growth in the sector in Australia are:

  • commodity boom increasing economic activity
  • technology readiness from research institutions
  • environmental pressures including water shortages and climate change impacts
  • increasing policy push as a result of upcoming election
  • strong media interest in the sector
  • increasing capital availability

However there still remains some challenges for Australian Cleantech including:

  • lack of early stage capital
  • more technology transfer to business required from Australian University and Research institutions
  • more corporate venture funds and company investment & engagement required
  • stronger policy particularly around Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, emissions trading and Kyoto
  • better analyst coverage of listed companies

By way of reference Cleantech Ventures has screened around 450 companies and made 11 investments via its CEGT fund over the last 4 years. In October this year Cleantech Ventures announced it has completed the first close of its new Cleantech Australia Fund.

The fund’s first closing of $50 million is made up of $20 million provided through the Australian government’s Innovation Investment Fund (IIF) program and $30 million from VicSuper, a superannuation fund committed to sustainability.

Article posted from The Cleantech Show


Nick Bruse is runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts The Cleantech Show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Bio-fuel Cells

by Richard T. Stuebi

Earlier this month, here in Ohio, the fuel cell developer Technology Management Inc. issued a press release that it had succesfully operated its 1 kw solid oxide fuel cell stack on vegetable oil from soybeans. As reported on the Internet, it is claimed that this is the first instance of a solid oxide fuel cell running on vegetable oil, and that this development could break open the market for fuel cells in the developing world.

This does seem to be an innovation of merit. I have no reason to doubt the assertion, but I’m curious if any of our readers know of other examples of biofuels in fuel cells.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Is Australia approaching ‘K’ day?

by Nick Bruse

Last night in Australia we had Prime Minster John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd go head to head in a televised debate. Key issues were the economy(interest rates and tax cuts), the war in iraq and climate change- you can check out a video summary here

Interestingly for Australia one might say that all three of these issues are highly integrated with foreign policy and have quite significant leverage points with the US. Namely our involvement in Iraq, and the governments position on climate change.

I think its worthwhile to provide some insight as to what is happening in Australian politics right now on The Cleantech Blog because the climate change policy of both contenders is quite different and may have significant bearing on world politics if Australia does sign the Kyoto agreement – ‘K’ day.

Essentially, if Kevin Rudd wins the next election and he is winning by around 10points in polls currently, he will has promised to sign up to Kyoto, and commit to the proposed Australian state government coalition recommendations on an emissions trading program.

The Howard government announced last night that it plans to start up a clean energy technology fund, though with little details on it currently. “He says its priorities would be to invest in clean energy technology and to support households who are most affected by the higher prices after a carbon price is set. He also said that if he wins the election he would try to push the United States to do more on climate change, including lobbying George Bush.”

In addition to the most notable action in the climate space by the Howard Government have been:

  • Establishment then removal of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target of 2% in early 2000s
  • A taskforce report on carbon emissions trading – but no commitment
  • No commitment to Kyoto protocol – but to a new Kyoto framework
  • A$100m to Asia pacific technology pact
  • A taskforce report on bring nuclear power to Australia
  • A$200m to reduce regional deforestation
  • Establishment of A$500m Low emissions technology development fund – of which $335 has been spent on coal projects
  • Achievement of our Kyoto targets, predominantly through our reduction in land clearing in 90s, not by curbing our emissions. (clive hamilton – scorcher)

Many criticise the current government for its years of inaction on climate change due to lobbying and strong personal links to the mining and energy industries – See the maniac times article for a critical view

So the real question is if we vote for Howard, has he really changed his tune – sceptic to realist, and is a vote for Kevin Rudd a vote for a greener cleaner future with his promise to sign Kyoto. For many the promise of becoming a kyoto signatory is a strong impetus.

What for one I would like to see is a strong commitment by both parties to a comprehensive acknowledgement that many different technologies, and solutions will play a part here. It seems that politicians struggle to implement bipartisan solutions from bodies specifically setup to take climate change like The Australian Greenhouse office. They also need to commit to the fact that we need to alter the playing field significantly to pro-actively support low emissions – through a tax or a trading scheme. More funds are all well and good – particularly to companies that require them – but it still means that someone is picking winners and that’s where the politics keeps weighing in. If the Howard government is throwing so much money at cleantech in Australia, why couldn’t Ausra get funds to build their plant here instead of the US?

Unfortunately with all the politicking going on at the moment prior to an election, its hard to see the real vision and leadership that’s required to actually make a difference on climate change. Perhaps we need an Australian version of Mr Gore? A change agent. Someone that can be both political and apolitical at the same time, singular minded and belligerent.


Nick Bruse is runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts The Cleantech Show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Carboholics Anonymous

by Richard T. Stuebi

This weekend, there was an extraordinary editorial in The Washington Post. The essence of the message was “Save me from myself: I can’t stop emitting carbon. Unless the government changes the rules to induce me to stop, I will kill the planet.”

The author of this plea was David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), the 10th largest power generation company in the U.S. In effect, he is saying that his company is willing to undertake major changes to reduce emissions — but only if competitors do so too, because NRG would be disadvantaged in the marketplace to take proactive action on its own.

I am very sympathetic with Mr. Crane’s argument. It’s a fine thing if people want to engage in emission reductions voluntarily. As for me, I admit that I’m not enthusiastic to unilaterally make changes that I otherwise don’t prefer in order to reduce my carbon footprint. My rationale is that my miniscule contribution to solving the climate problem is individually meaningless, and I don’t want to be just one of very few parties incurring costs or inconvenience without having any macro-scale impact anyway. Put another way, I’ll do what it takes without complaining if everyone else is in the same boat, but I’m not going to be put out if most people aren’t. I don’t mind sacrificing, but if I’m going to sacrifice, it’s only just that the sacrifice must be shared.

This is where public sector leadership comes in, which in turn is based not only on courageous voting by citizens, but also by visionary companies that demand a new world order. I’ll gladly pay the price if everyone else does, and I’m eager to change the rules of the game so that we all bear our share of the burdens — and it looks like NRG is of the same opinion. With more corporate leaders committed to taking the same stand, maybe we’ll finally get somewhere with sound climate policy in Washington.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Renovation Disorders

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

During my summer hiatus from writing for cleantechblog, the focus of my house renovation shifted to landscaping and miscellaneous demolition. Eight giant willow trees and two large spruce that blocked winter sun came down. John and James chopped them into mulch which I dispersed on the expanded gardens. The gardens displace much of the lawn for which I purchased that electric mower back in May. (Oh, well.) This parcel of land breeds stones, and I unearthed a grand pile for the front yard. Dusty, the mailman, took them to build a retaining wall at this house. He’ll also take the logs of willow (which are sprouting in the stack) for one of those outdoor residential wood heaters that has caused a bit of a stink in Maine. Like the pile of metal that was amassed on the front yard (ducts and copper at $2/pound), somebody else, gratefully, has use for my refuse.
I ripped out the 1970s cardboard ceiling tile in the kitchen, cringing under the shower of plaster and rodent feces, of mice near the exterior door and of something larger near the interior. I thought of hantavirus while sweeping up the rubble of plaster and lathe and poop…and kept the face mask tightly affixed. All the lathe from the house demolition is piled for kindling. I have yet to find a home for the plaster and old drywall but for the dump.
The designated renovation funds have seeped to zero (the trees were an unplanned $3K), so I quickly purchased a Monitor heater so there would be one heating source besides the wood stove. I discovered, after numerous conversations with heating technicians and biofuel suppliers, that Monitors, which take kerosene, cannot run on biofuel. But a Monitor, for myriad reasons, it had to be until I can find something ‘greener.’ So much, for now, for my biofuel idea.
This week, Charlie Huntington of I&S Insulation, provided an estimate to place ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM or rubber) on the basement floor and an air barrier (two-part closed cell foam) on the brick portion of the foundation. Charlie is an engineer with a degree from MIT and a former manager with two large lighting companies. He now runs three insulation crews and has completed training in home performance. He, like James and John, exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of Maine, and I feel blessed to have them working on this old house.
As the fall approached, I ushered along an EPA media campaign for the Maine Home Performance with Energy Star program and joined the marketing committee of Maine Interfaith Power and Light which has signed up with SmartPower to launch a marketing campaign around clean energy. And, Dylan Voorhees of Natural Resource Council of Maine, asked if I could speak on a panel on global warming at NRCM’s annual meeting. The question to ‘noodle’ is, ‘is global warming a movement?’ My noodle feels rigid and pre-cooked these days, so I did some due diligence in front of the magazine rack at Hannafords. Time magazine, National Geographic, This Old House, and others, have dedicated covers to global warming and ‘greenery.’ This was, possibly, the sign of a movement. I collected up several magazines, tallied the cost, and put them all back rationalizing that I could read them at the library and save on waste paper.
OK, so I kept This Old House to read about the psychological profiles of house renovators: if one has a mildly repetitive-compulsive profile, try sanding. If one has an attention deficit hyperactivity/hyperactive disorder, try demolition. And if one is slightly codependent, try wallpaper hanging. As the leaves turn and fall, and the house remains unheated and not fully insulated, it’s clear that my compulsive, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders have gotten the best of me. But you won’t find me hanging wallpaper.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Triple-Digit Oil Prices Ahead?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, as reported on Yahoo!, the chief economist of the investment bank CIBC went on record that “We’re in a world of triple digit oil prices for the foreseeable future,” beginning by the end of 2008.

Increasingly, I’ve been hearing through the grapevine prognostications of $100/barrel oil. I put a lot more weight on CIBC’s view than on Hugo Chavez’s. Why? Based in Canada, CIBC prides itself on being a banker of note to the huge Canadian oil and natural resources industry. Besides, Canadians in general seem less prone to hyperbole than we Americans (or Venezuelans). As a result, I expect that a firm such as CIBC doesn’t put out such statements very lightly.

What does $100 oil mean? By my calculations, each additional $10/barrel increase in oil prices, translates to about $0.40/gallon in gasoline prices — assuming no changes in oil transportation costs, oil refinery economics and oil taxation. So, if we’re seeing gasoline close to $3.00/gallon today with oil at $80/barrel, I would expect almost $4.00/gallon at $100 oil.

Higher prices for motor fuels should provide further support for the emergence of biofuels markets (both ethanol and biodiesel). Although biofuels continues to receive lots of public sector push and mass-market discussion, the economics of biofuels have suffered recently, as feedstock prices (for corn and soybeans, respectively) have been bid up by surging demand for biofuel production. The price spreads between feedstock and fuel have become so narrow that biofuels producers now have little opportunity for profit. With higher prices in motor fuels markets, there is more prospect for investments in new biofuel production to be profitable, and for existing biofuel producers to return to reasonable profitability.

Perhaps more interestingly, higher oil prices will provide greater impetus — both from the government and from private sector investments — for the development of next-generation biofuel technologies (e.g., cellulosic ethanol, algae-based diesel), coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids projects, oil shale retorting approaches, and the hydrogen infrastructure. These are very capital-intensive and long-term opportunities that many parties are leery of pursuing, in the fear that oil prices will fall back to lower levels and render the efforts uncompetitive and therefore wasted.

If we are truly going to wean ourselves off of oil, we really need high oil prices for a long duration, in order to provide ongoing economic sustenance and continuing urgency for the development of these new energy technologies. The forecast of triple-digit oil prices should therefore not be something to dread, but rather something for economic opportunists to seize.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Solar Power 2007

By John Addison (10/2/07) Like a castle under siege, Solar Power 2007 was such a hot event that registration had to be closed a week prior to the conference opening in Long Beach, California. Over 12,500 people attended last week. There was enthusiasm for high growth and technology advancements in photovoltaics (PV) and in large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP).

In 2006, PV grew over 40% to $20 billion in revenue and over 2,500 MW of new solar power. Renewable Energy World. The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), forecasts a €300 billion industry by 2030 which will meet 9.4 per cent of the world’s electricity demand. By 2030, solar is forecasted to be the least expensive source of energy in many sunny regions of the world.

In the last 12 months, over 40% of PV installations were in one country – Germany – where high feed-in tariffs make it financially compelling to sell solar power to the electric utility than to buy power from the utility. Some presenters argued that even in select U.S. markets, such as Hawaii, subsidized solar is at price-parity with grid delivered electricity.

PV prices have fallen 90% in the past twenty years; 40% in the past five. This is good news to counter a hot-climate future as solar prices drop and coal prices increase.

The PV growth rate would be higher, but polysilicon will be scarce through 2010 according to most forecasts from the conference’s CEO panel. Polysilicon supply is expected to triple by 2010 from 2006 capacity. The shortage has also been a driver of technology that delivers the required electricity output with less silicon. These technologies include thin film, high efficiency PV, organic, concentrating PV (CPV), and balance of system improvements.

World leader, Sharp (SHCAY) is participating in all these technologies. Sharp continues with market share leadership, despite little growth due to the polysilicon shortage. Sharp plans to bring online new capacity to maintain leadership. Q-Cells (QCEG.F) and Kyocera (KYO) have taken market share from Sharp with their high growth. Suntech (STP) wants to take advantage of China’s low cost structure and vast market to surpass all.

First Solar (FSLR) has the cost to beat with its cadmium telluride (CdTe) alternative to polysilicon. First Solar’s (FSLR) production costs are $1.25 per watt of generating power vs. $2.80 for traditional solar systems. In the next few years, First Solar plans to be the first to achieve $1 per watt. This year, First Solar did not have an exhibit at Solar Power 2007. It is backlogged for several years, with contracts for $4 billion through 2012. Other cadmium telluride producers are in early-stage mode.

Public utilities had a record presence at Solar Power 2007. Many are mandated to increase their renewable portfolio. For example, the California RPS program requires that by 2010, 20% of their electricity will be from renewables. By 2020, it must be at least 33%. SB1368 closes California to coal produced electricity unless CO2 sequestration is used. This leaves California utilities highly vulnerable to the price of natural gas, providing an added incentive to diversify to renewables.

Utilities are especially interested in large-scale CSP plants delivering 10 to 600 MW. Four GW of CSP is being installed globally. Southern California Edison and San Diego G&E have contracted for 500MW with Stirling Energy Systems. This large-scale plant will include 20,000 curved dish mirrors each concentrating light on a Stirling engine. Other large-scale plants in Europe will also provide hours of thermal storage so that plant output can match the peak load demands of utilities. This counters the utilities’ concerns about intermittency of PV and wind. CSP costs are projected to drop to 8 cents/kWh, making it competitive where coal and natural gas greenhouse gas producers must buy greenhouse emission credits.

By 2010 major utility PG&E will meet its 20% target of delivered electricity from clean renewable energy. This will include 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world. Solel utilizes parabolic mirrors to concentrate solar energy on to solar thermal receivers. The receivers contain a fluid that is heated and circulated, and the heat is released to generate steam. The steam powers a turbine to produce electricity.

FPL Group announced $2.4 billion investments in CSP and smart-grid technology. The planned investment includes up to $1.5 billion in new solar thermal generating facilities in Florida and California over the next seven years, and up to $500 million to create a smart network for enhanced energy management capabilities. FPL plans to build 300 MW of solar generating capacity in Florida using Ausra http://www.ausra.com/ solar thermal technology. The company recently received a $40 million in funding from Silicon Valley venture capital firms Khosla Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

Ray Lane, a Managing Partner at Kleiner Perkins gave a compelling opening keynote speech at Solar Power 2007. He declared that there is no energy shortage, because there is no shortage of sunlight. Mr. Lane showed a map of 92 x 92 miles of desert in California and Nevada. Using CSP, that unoccupied area could generate enough solar power to meet all power needs in the U.S. Challenges of such a project include multi-billion dollar investment in high-voltage lines to carry the electricity to remote cities. Storage is another major challenge. Although these investments are significant, the potential will drive strong CSP growth.

Expect solar to continue with its historic 35% growth over the next decade. Forecasts for solar supplying over 9% of the world’s energy needs by 2030 are achievable.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. For articles describing the use of solar power in transportation.

Electric cars and hybrids: Silicon Valley vs Detroit

As consumers, we generally like choices. In the world of cleaner cars, those choices have been few and far between, but slowly that is changing.

I had a chance recently to test drive two of the cars whose creators are bent on changing the way we view transportation, a converted all electric Scion eBox by Silicon Valley startup AC Propulsion, and a Saturn Vue Greenline hybrid. Both were highly enjoyable. The first, with a $70,000 price tag and a $10,000 deposit, is clearly an EV targeted at Conspicuous Sustainability consumers. I guess then, that the Saturn Vue Greenline with a $24,000 price tag, is perhaps the hybrid for the rest of us.

One of my friends, who was considering buying an eBox invited me to take it for a spin up and down some of the San Francisco hills with him while he was test driving. I have to admit, coming down California Street into downtown, one of the City’s steeper hills, is an entertaining way to get used to the feel of regenerative braking on a true EV. I highly recommend it. For most of the drive I never touched the brakes. To stop you simply take your foot off the accelerator. And for those who have not driven an EV before the acceleration itself is phenomenal. Touch, and Go. Of course, with a $55,000 price tag for the EV conversion (you provide the Scion), limited range, and few electric charging stations, a purchase would be a hard call for me to make. The payback on fuel savings, many times the useful life of the car.

In contrast, General Motors (NYSE:GM) had given me a 2007 Saturn Vue to drive around for a week, to get the feel of it. If anything, GM is not known as an innovator of clean technologies. They are still tarred with the who killed the electric car brush by many environmentalists. That has only made it harder for GM to get out the message on things like its massive R&D effort in fuel cell cars, its push into flex fuel and ethanol with the Live Green Go Yellow campaign, and now hybrids. Having been to a number of their press luncheons on some of the new technologies they have been developing, I had some idea what to expect, but had not written about it before. The Vue is what is known as a mild hybrid, and its lack of bleeding edge, ultra green technology compared to a Prius had a few of my greener friends turning their noses up at it. But this didn’t really phase me after I drove it. As a car and SUV, I found it quite impressive. It handled wonderfully, was extremely quiet, and quite comfortable. You can feel the regenerative braking, but only as a slight tug, so besides the lack of noise, it is like driving any other SUV. Saturn bills it as getting the best highway gas mileage of any SUV, and the cheapest hybrid SUV on the market (not to mention a little quicker than the conventional Vue). Like all hybrids today, the payback is real, but not so great. At the average miles driven per year for most Americans we are talking 9 to 11 years or so compared to the standard Vue, according to my conversation with the Saturn people. If you happen to a real heavy commuter 25,000 to 30,000 miles per year type of thing, the payback may be down towards 5 or 6 years. In short, despite the c. 20 percent fuel savings, a consumer is looking at 120,000 to 150,000 plus miles before reaching a payback, depending on your assumptions, for this or almost any hybrid. The real payback, as always, comes from just buying a smaller car, hybrid or not.

What I love is that the Vue Greenline is really just the first in the Saturn line of hybrids and cleaner fueled cars. GM is basically planning on making virtually the entire Saturn line as green as can be. It is rolling out something like 8 new hybrids or hybrid versions of existing Saturn makes as we speak over the next couple of years. And at a $24,000 price tag, I could actually see buying one of these.

So whether you have the pocket books to look for full EV conversion or just a mild hybrid to make a small difference like the rest of us, the choice is there.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Living in a Material World

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few months ago, the renowned eco-architect Bill McDonough came to Cleveland to speak to an audience convened by perhaps our area’s most distinguished organization, The Cleveland Clinic.

Upon hearing his talk, I felt guilty that I had never read McDonough’s seminal book (co-authored with Michael Braungart), Cradle to Cradle. So I finally got around to reading it – and what an interesting read it is!

One of the key points of Cradle to Cradle is that it is critically important to adopt an entirely new design philosophy for products and buildings in which all of the intrinsic materials have a valuable post-life use. Put another way, given our planet’s finitude, nothing is really disposal, so the materials that things are made from must ultimately have many uses over many life-cycles.

As McDonough argues, this is a bigger idea than recycling or efficiency – which he calls merely doing “less bad”, not good enough for the long-haul. Rather, McDonough’s proposed approach is more revolutionary, fundamental and profound. It requires a much broader way of thinking during the design process, expanding beyond solely customer considerations in narrow “use” contexts. The supplier needs to become the de facto owner of the thing for not only its service life, but for after as well. In other words, this mindshift compels the designer to ask “what can the thing be used for, after the customer no longer uses it?”

In some ways, materials companies may be uncommonly well-positioned to employ what McDonough terms “eco-effective” design principles. Integrators may actually be “too close” to the customer in order to see, understand or frankly care about the post-customer experience. On the other hand, materials companies are in the business of developing materials with superior functionality. This functionality can not only be characterized by parameters associated with direct product uses, but also by parameters relating to re-usability.

McDonough’s message should have found an interested audience in Cleveland, given our region’s long-held pre-eminence in materials science and development. Many local corporations – such as Ferro (NYSE: FOE), RPM (NYSE: RPM), Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW), Lubrizol (NYSE: LZ) – generate billions of dollars of revenues based on expertise in materials, so companies such as these should acutely recognize the large long-term opportunities afforded by developing “eco-efffctive” materials – and products/buildings based on those materials.

Let’s hope that leaders from these companies were in the audience that evening a few months ago when McDonough came to town. Or, at the very least, that they have since read a copy of Cradle to Cradle.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.