McCain-Palin is the Energy / Cleantech Dream Ticket

John McCain picked first term Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his veep choice today. I love this pick.

She’s a 44 yer old first term, youngest and first, woman Governor of Alaska. She’s known as a maverick and anti-establishment in Alaska, and has taken on Republicans and the oil industry over ethics and pork. She beat two longtime Alaskan political heavyweights to win the Governorship. She’s a fiscal conservative, anti pork, pro drilling, and pro Alaskan gas pipeline. She used to be on Alaska’s oil & gas commission, and is a progressive on climate change. Her bio from Wikipedia. So what does the choice of Palin mean for McCain’s climate change and alternative energy focused energy policy?

In some ways she and John McCain make an energy /cleantech dream ticket. He has made his reputation in energy around proposed legislation like the McCain-Lieberman climate change bill, the most well thought out climate change bill yet proposed in the US. He’s got an energy plan hinging on domestic drilling, transport fuel switching, alternative energy expansion in power, progressive climate change policy and energy efficiency. More progressive on energy and environment than any Republican in history.

And he’s adding a climate change progressive domestic energy expert to the ticket. Not a bad combo for cleantech.

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

Food for Thought is Closer than You Think

By John Addison (8/28/08). About half of the global warming caused by transportation is the result of goods and services that we all use; the other is from our personal vehicles ride. We can buy an organic apple that was grown locally, or we can buy an apple grown ten thousand miles away that used oil-refined fuel and natural gas derived fertilizers sourced another ten thousand miles away. Fish caught in Norway are shipped to China for cutting and packaging then shipped back to Norway.

Food is just one example of our potential to save. Food often requires large amounts of fossil fuels for farming machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, food processing, distribution and packaging materials. Transporting fresh products overseas by air, rather than sourcing them locally requires up to 50 times more fossil fuel energy. An air shipment of 1 kg of vegetables consumes 4 to 5 liters of petroleum, whereas the same amount of locally grown produce consumes about 0.1 to 0.3 liters (“Climate change: beyond whether,” UBS Research Report).

Millions are now buying produce locally to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, while avoiding this tragic shipping cost. During my last trip to Whole Foods, they stated that 60% of their produce is local. Each bin included a label stating where the fruit or vegetable was grown, making it easy to buy local. Organic food is more likely to be local. Many communities have local shops, farmers markets, and co-ops which offer locally grown food.

Type “CSA” and your zip code into Google or your favorite search engine. You are likely to be presented with choices of where you can buy locally grown seasonal food and/or have the food delivered to you.

Slow Food Nation, the largest celebration of American food in history, will take place in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend (August 29 to September 1, 2008). An unprecedented event, Slow Food Nation will bring together tens of thousands to experience the connection between plate and planet. The majority of Slow Food Nation’s events will be free and open to the public; certain events are ticketed.

Copyright 2008 © John Addison. Permission to reproduce if this copyright notice is preserved. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and writes about how people are reducing their petroleum dependency and carbon footprint.

Are Clean Tech and Sustainability Types Afraid of Web 2.0?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Social media and sustainability may align in at least ten ways, according to Max Gladwell, but they certainly do not intersect very much in actuality.

Proof is this quick search I conducted on Twitter, of last 24 hours of business conversations on “sustainability”, “clean tech” and “green”. Here are the results. I only kept original conversations, not automatic tweets:

19 tweets in 24 hours, that’s not very many. Of course, not all conversations on clean tech and sustainability got captured with my basic search. Still, it gives an indication of how little the green business folks are using social media. My experience of the green business people around me, is that they tend to be very engaged in real life networking, and not so much in virtual networks. This has a lot to do with clean tech and sustainability types’ lesser familiarity with Web 2.0 tools.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. She also writes for the Huffington Post.

Solar posts big gain (week ending 8/22/08)

Author: Mark Henwood

Emerging markets, EAFA, and the US market (S&P 500) were little changed on the week, commodities (DJP) rose 2.8%. Sustainable energy stocks created some excitement but overall were mixed:


Solar raced ahead for the week rising 9.5% driven by a variety of positive developments. Three of the index components China Sunergy (CSUN), Suntech Power Holdings (STP), and Rensola (SOLA.L) all rose over 25% for the week..

On the cost side silicon supplies are expected to increase in 2009 resulting, according to Suntech Power Holdings (STP), in a potential price drop of up to 20%. This may allow margins to increase while lowering the cost of the final product.

Demand continues to be strong with expectations that Italy, Germany, and other countries will offset any reduction in the Spanish market. Demand seems to also be growing for larger scale plants with announcements for a 10MW plant by Yingli (YGE) and an 800 MW project by Pacfic Gas and Electric in Calornia. Note that this one project is larger than the annual production capacity of most solar companies. Solar companies are also executing well with China Sunergy (CSUN) leading the way with an earnings suprise this week of 125% which drove its 29.%5 increase for the week. The triple play of expected lowering of costs, strong demand, and good financial execution created over USD 9 billion in increased market cap.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks.

When In A Hole, Stop Digging

by Richard T. Stuebi

I never cease to be amazed by the frequency and vehemence of opinions expressed on energy and environmental matters by people who are spectacularly underinformed. So in this exposition about oil, let’s first begin with a Top Ten List of clear-cut facts.

1. World oil production (which is essentially equal to consumption) is at approximately 85 million barrels per day, or 31 billion barrels per year — and has essentially remained at these levels continuously since mid-2005, even though oil prices have doubled (from about $60/barrel) since then.

2. The U.S. consumes about 25% of the world’s annual oil production, implying U.S. demand levels of about 21 million barrels/day (almost 8 billion barrels per year), but holds under its territory only about 2% of the world’s proven oil reserves of 1.2 trillion barrels.

3. In contrast, the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) control almost 80% of the world’s oil reserves, yet produce only about 40% of annual oil supplies.

4. OPEC production was 31 million barrels/day in 1973, and 32 million barrels/day in 2007, despite the world economy having doubled in the intervening years.

5. OPEC includes among its members the following countries that are unstable, corrupt and/or unfriendly to the U.S.: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria.

6. The Middle Eastern members of OPEC represent over 75% of total OPEC capacity, of which the single largest player (without which the world oil markets would collapse) is Saudi Arabia, alone accounting for 22% of the world’s remaining proven oil reserves.

7. This year, the U.S. will send an estimated $700 billion to the Middle East to purchase oil — more than the U.S. defense budget (about $600 billion).

8. An unknown portion of these proceeds, but widely-agreed to be a significant amount, funds anti-American (and anti-women, and anti-Semitic, and anti-homosexual, and so on) sentiment — including outright terrorist activities.

9. About 99% of the energy consumed by the U.S. transportation sector derives from petroleum.

10. The vast majority of American citizens live and work in a manner requires oil-fueled transportation to maintain their basic lifestyles (commuting, shopping, etc.)

So, here we are, the United States of America, utterly reliant on one strategic commodity supplied mainly by a powerful cartel that doesn’t hold American long-term interests at heart. What is our response to this predicament?

We complain. We complain about high energy prices, and ask the government to do something about it. When, in fact, there’s very little the government can do about energy prices. OPEC makes it abundantly clear that we are price-takers, not price-setters. Why else would President Bush travel to Riyadh, hat-in-hand, to effectively beg the Saudis to supply us more oil? And, how else could the Saudi’s rebuff their best customer?

This, of course, is the same President Bush that declared famously in 2006 State of the Union speech that the U.S. is “addicted to oil.” Factoring in all the negative connotations of the word “addiction”, that’s a strong statement, coming from a proud Texan.

As Thomas Friedman so aptly noted in a recent editorial, the President has revealed his implicit strategy for dealing with our addiction to oil: “Get more addicted to oil.”

You might ask what else we might do, beyond pandering to our pushers.

Cutting demand certainly helps. Unfortunately, we can’t quickly/easily/cheaply reconfigure our infrastructure of buildings and roads, so we’re stuck for a long time with the landscape we’ve created: we’ll unavoidably need to move around lots of people and goods for quite a while. (See Fact #10.) So, our need for vehicle-based ransportation will not diminish rapidly.

The recent passage of Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 tightens fuel economy standards to improve efficiencies of new vehicles – including, for the first time, SUVs. And, higher fuel prices are clearly beginning to discourage U.S. demand.

Unfortunately, U.S. demand-reduction measures won’t help much in the grand scheme of things. First, over its 35 year history, OPEC has clearly learned an ability to withhold production to keep oil prices high: when others produce more, OPEC produces less. (See Facts #3 and #4.) Second, the incessant growth in energy demand from the developing world (most notably, China and India) will probably eat up any declines in oil demand the U.S. might be able to achieve on its own.

So, this leads us to what has become the hottest topic in the Presidential campaign: drilling for more oil in the U.S.

You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers: “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less”. I recently overheard someone in a bar claim with pride that the recent modest drop in oil prices can be attributed to OPEC’s cowering in fear now that the U.S. is getting serious about drilling for more oil domestically.

Get real. As Executive Director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security Dr. Gal Luft, arguably one of the most knowledgeable observers of the world oil situation, said in a recent speech in the Cleveland area: “Go ahead, drill all you want, it won’t make any difference.”

This is because the U.S. only has about 3% of the world’s reserves, but demands 20% of current world production. (See Fact #2.) Bluntly, we want way more than our share of the oil allotment, but there’s no way around this inconvenient truth: we can’t change our geography or our geology. (This reminds me of another bumper sticker: “What’s Our Oil Doing Under Their Soil?”)

It is true that there are significant reserves untapped offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, in Northern Alaska (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR), and elsewhere in the U.S.: in ANWR alone, perhaps as much as 16 billion barrels. This sounds like a lot, and at $120/barrel, it is financially worth a lot. But, even with a bonanza of 50 billion new barrels heretofore inaccessible, this only supplies current U.S. requirements for not even 7 years. It supplies global requirements for less than 2 years.

Moreover, as noted previously, OPEC is capable of reducing its supply to compensate for whatever incremental production the U.S. is able to achieve, thereby nullifying the effect of the U.S. exertions to open up these assets to extraction.

With this as backdrop, let me ask a simple question: is it worth pinning the country’s hopes on a multi-year project to drill some new holes, only to find that it doesn’t solve our underlying problem? According to analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy, opening up new areas to drilling “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017.” This doesn’t sound to me like any significant solution for our dilemmas.

It sounds like all I’m offering is problems, not solutions. Well, what do you expect? With a long-held conviction to pursue an energy policy of “cheap oil, at all costs”, the U.S. has painted itself into a nasty corner. Everyone wants easy answers, but unfortunately there are none.

One ray of hope is offered by unconventional hydrocarbon production. The U.S. is the so-called “Saudi Arabia of coal”, with hundreds of years of reserves at current demand levels (although this “runway” would be reduced dramatically by a concerted move to coal-based fuels for transportation). In addition, the U.S. holds huge amounts of oil-equivalents in the form of shale in the Rocky Mountains, estimated to be far larger in quantity than the oil in Saudi Arabia. Both of these sources can technically be extracted and converted into transportation fuels — but possibly at significant financial and environmental costs. Hopefully, new technologies under development will eliminate (or at least significantly) reduce these costs — but if not, are we willing to pay them?

More fundamentally, I believe that Dr. Luft is onto the central problem: unless and until we sever the link between transportation and petroleum, the U.S. is doomed to declining power and ultimate subjugation.

Right now, just about every car and truck sold in the U.S. is constructed to run only on a petroleum-based fuel. Since each vehicle has about a 16 year operating life, and since over 7 million new vehicles a year are sold in the U.S., each consuming hundreds of gallons per year, every additional year that virtually all cars sold in the U.S. are oil-dependent “locks in” tens of billion barrels of U.S. aggregate demand for oil.

Dr. Luft’s solution: eliminate the strategic value of petroleum, by taking low-cost and rapid steps to make vehicles fuel-flexible. Only with competition among fuel types for the transportation market will OPEC lose its stranglehold on our economy.

As has been widely documented, it is possible to make gasoline powered vehicles able to run on a limitless variety of alcohol/petroleum blends with the addition of equipment that is about $100 per vehicle. Dr. Luft and other luminaries (e.g., James Woolsey, Robert “Bud” McFarlane) have formed the Set America Free Coalition to promote the Open Fuel Standard Act, which would require that 50% of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2010 must be fuel-flexible. According to Dr. Luft, the major automakers say this is doable.

(Interestingly, Dr. Luft claims that the big oil companies are discouraging their affiliated retailers from installing ethanol-capable pumps. This sounds like something worth investigating.)

In addition, Dr. Luft argues compellingly for the end of ludicrous U.S. agricultural policies that tax imported ethanol (but not, notably, imported petroleum or petroleum-based fuels) and that place quotas on sugar imports. The effect of these policies is to discourage or prevent the possibility of cost-effectively importing sugar-based ethanol from over 100 countries in the tropics around the globe where sugar (a highly efficient feedstock for ethanol production, much better than corn) can grow abundantly.

These countries tend to be poor, based on subsistence agriculture, and they are being killed by high oil prices. In Dr. Luft’s view, this represents “the worst regressive tax in history”, and he thinks we should send a few hundred billion dollars a year to those countries – “some of whom still like us” – instead of to OPEC countries. As an incidental benefit, this would increase economic aid to the developing world by about an order of magnitude.

(As an aside, Dr. Luft is convinced that the now-heated arguments against ethanol — food vs. fuel, too-lucrative incentives — are overhyped bunk, and has some interesting analyses to prove his point, but that is a subject for another day.)

So, it seems that some important answers to our energy crises may be found in skewed agricultural policies — a non-intuitive target for critical attention. If you want to take this on, contact Dr. Luft: he is looking for fellow revolutionaries to help us claw our way out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves with our oil addiction.

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.

It Only Has 3 Wheels But It’s Awfully Zippy

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Green Vehicles Triac

What is it?
The Triac is a three-wheel electric vehicle. It has a top speed of 80 MPH and a 100-mile range per charge. It takes 6 hours to charge fully.

Why is it better?
Yes, it’s yet another electric vehicle. I know I’ve already told you about the Tesla, the cityZENN, the Vectrix scooter, and the RMartin EVD scooter. So I’ll refrain from extolling the green virtues of electric cars again.

I will say that the Triac is highway speed and looks to be one of the first to hit the road. And according to their specs, an optional capacity-boost battery pack will also add an additional 25% to the range.

Green Vehicles recently announced that they expect to produce 50 to 100 vehicles per month come this September. By Q2 of 2009, they should be at 100 to 200 per month.

It also looks pretty zippy in the ad spot.

Where can you find it?
You can reserve your Triac using this reservation form. You’ll need to deposit a 10% reservation fee for the $19,995 base model.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at Huddler.com, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

Everyday Olympians Bike to Glory

By John Addison (8/19/08). After bicycling for 152 miles in 6 hours and 23 minutes in Beijing’s smoggy air, the gold medal was determined by a fraction of a second. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez willed a supreme effort to out-sprint the world’s great riders like David Rebellin and Fabian Cancellara. Although Sanchez could ignore pain and exhaustion during the 152 miles, he could not hold back his tears while listening to Spain’s national anthem being played in recognition for his gold medal victory.

Fifty-seven million U.S. citizens ride a bicycle, at least, on occasion. Over one billion globally use bicycles, famously including millions in our Olympic host nation. For all of us “Everyday Olympians,” the pace is gentle as we enjoy exercise and fresh air. For some of us, the bicycle is a practical part of our commuting and reaching other destinations.

Visit any college or university, and you are likely to see thousands of students, staff, and professors bicycling instead of driving. Parking is normally such a challenge that it is faster to bicycle, or even walk, rather than drive and search for parking. Some universities encourage students to start on the right foot, by having both feet on pedals. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, for example, freshmen are not allowed to have a car on campus. My niece, Lindsay Short, rode to classes and work on bicycle and buses, not missing the car that she left behind.

Gary Bulmer often commutes 25 miles round trip to and from work with breathtaking rides through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge. He is a master chef who enjoys great food, yet never gains a pound because of all his bike riding. He and his wife Sue live in beautiful Sausalito, a community located where the Marin Headlands reach down to the Bay, and both work in San Francisco.

When his work extends into the evening, Gary usually returns home on an express bus with a bike rack in front of the bus. Public transit in most major cities, such as San Francisco, permits boarding with bikes, making one-way bike commutes easy.

Gary is serious about fitness. He normally rides to work year round, rain or shine. In addition to the health and environmental benefits of bicycling, Gary saves $35 per day in parking, gas, and bridge tolls.

Sue enjoys recreational bike riding. As a director at a major publisher, bicycle commuting does not normal match her need for business attire and the lack of a shower at work. During the summer, however, on “casual Fridays,” Sue enjoys riding to work, then riding home with Gary as the stress of the work week disappears into the infinity of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a wonderful way to start their weekend together.

During my rides with Sue and Gary, I have always been impressed with their attention to safety including wearing helmets, inflated tires, using bike lanes and dedicated pathways when possible, riding clear of car doors that could suddenly open, and being visible to drivers.

Safety concerns, however, do keep many Americans from bicycle commuting to work. As Mark Twain quipped, “Ride a bicycle and you won’t regret it, if you live.”

Nichole Cooke survived the intense Olympic bicycle race in rain that made downhill hairpin turns dangerously slippery and caused four great riders to crash. She is proud of her first Olympic gold medal. She is no stranger to great victories. Paris has acclaimed her for twice winning women’s most demanding bicycle race, La Grande Boucle Féminine (the women’s Tour de France).

Paris encourages “Everyday Olympians” to use bicycles by offering 750 stations where over 10,000 bicycles are available to quickly get between major destinations including transit stations.

Thanks to what started in Paris, 5 million Europeans in 16 cities are now members of Cyclocity® with locations near major public transit stops, large buildings, and near major employers. Paying an average of thirty euros per year, members do not need to own a bike. They simply use a bike for less than 30 minutes without paying a premium. Members use their smart cards to unlock a city bike at a transit center, ride one way to the Cyclocity® bike rack nearest their destination and lock the bike. The same bike is used by various members for up to 50 times per day.

Our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, is starting with 10 stations and 120 bikes. But D.C. officials are eager to expand it quickly if the response is good. Proponents say the program easily could be expanded to more than 1,000 bikes at more than 100 stations within a year.

SmartBike D.C. is similar to car-sharing services like Zipcar. Users sign up for a $40 annual membership to gain access to a network of bikes stored at computerized racks around the city. To unlock the bike, users simply scan their access cards. The bikes can be used for up to three hours at a time and can be returned at any SmartBike station.

LeBron James, high point shooter in the NBA, is committed to the USA will again achieving Olympic gold in basketball. In an interview with Time Magazine’s Sean Gregory, LeBron described how he visualizes wearing gold on the medal stand. “It’s going to be like waking up on Christmas Day. All you dreamed about this whole month was having that bike you wanted, and you get down to your living room – it’s there.”

If not in your own living room, check the garage and your bike is probably there. Now, close your eyes and visualize more health for you and the planet. Then open your eyes and smile. Your dream is there. All you need to do is enjoy the ride.

(c) Copyright 2008 John Addison. John Addison publishes of the Clean Fleet Report. While researching and writing this article, John ran a few errands on his bicycle.

The image is copyright © 2001 by James F. Perry and is hereby made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike 3.0 license

Wanted: Carbon Productivity Revolution

by Richard T. Stuebi

The think-tank arm of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the McKinsey
Global Institute (MGI), has been releasing some pretty darn interesting analyses to frame the overall energy and environmental situation the world faces.

The breakthrough was MGI’s February 2007 work to develop a “cost-curve” for GHG reductions, showing the quantities and relative costs associated with various emission reduction technologies and approaches that could be pursued. Since its release, the cost curve framework has been an incredibly valuable and widely-used analytic and communication tool for policy-makers worldwide, and it has been used to good effect by MGI’s researchers.

In February of this year, MGI issued a report on energy productivity, which showed the compelling financial returns offered to society by massive investments in energy efficiency. This summer, MGI issued a subsequent report on carbon productivity, which presents a simple but stunning challenge to the human race:

Over the next 40 years, we need a new industrial revolution equivalent in magnitude to the 120-year Industrial Revolution, to enable a ten-fold increase in economic output per unit of carbon emissions. If such a “carbon productivity revolution” is not achieved, we will not be able to get the planet onto a climate stabilization path, or the world’s population will face significant global economic declines, or both.

Think about the changes wrought upon society between 1850 and 1970: railroads, steel, oil, telegraph, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, computers, Internet. Now, think about changes of comparable magnitude, occurring from today’s technological and infrastructure base, occuring during the next 40 years.

Do you think the human race can do it? According to McKinsey, we had better do it, or else.

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.

More on what’s wrong with biodiversity?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Last week I published the following post, titled “What’s Wrong With Biodiversity?” on the La Marguerite blog:

Why do the efforts of biodiversity groups such as Conservation International receive less attention than climate-change studies, though they are equally crucial? This question from Tom Friedman has been on my mind. After all, I am just as guilty as the rest of my fellow bloggers. I can only remember once writing a post recently about the bees.
That biodiversity suffers from a PR image, was confirmed by a November 2007 Gallup Survey, on “Attitudes of Europeans towards the issue of biodiversity”. Published by the European Commission, the survey reveals that, only 35% of Europeans know what biodiversity means, and most see no immediate personal impact of biodiversity. It also shows a lack of understanding of the causes and consequences of biodiversity.


How would you fix this problem?
A lively discussion ensued amongst readers, that inspired me to raise similar questions on Linkedin and Twitter.

And now comes yet another alarming news on the biodiversity front, that Ocean Dead Zones Are Becoming a Worldwide Problem.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Starting this week, she will also be a regular contributor on The Huffington Post.

Solar and LED-Lighting rise sharply, BioFuel Energy highlights risk and drags Biofuels down (week ending 8/15)

Author: Mark Henwood

Emerging markets, EAFA, and commodities (DJP) fell while the US market (S&P 500) was flat.
While Biofuels is the forth largest strategy behind Renewable Electricity, Solar, and LED-Lighting it highlighted an all too familiar risk for energy producers. Many energy producers seek to reduce their risk associated with volatility in commodity prices by entering into hedging strategies. The key point of these actives is to reduce risk, not profit from speculative positions. After all, the largest, professionally managed financial institutions are proof even the pros get burned by speculation and I certainly don’t want any sustainable energy companies I invest in engaging in speculative positions.

Apparently, even engaging in hedging involves a certain amount of skill. If management doesn’t get it right the hedging strategy can wipe out the value of a company faster than the worst operational decisions. BioFuel Energy (BIOF) is a case in point. On Tuesday the company opened at USD 2.60/share. After reporting at 12:46 pm that it had insufficient current liquidity to cover USD 46 million in hedging losses on corn contracts, roughly equal to its market value, the stock started plunging 64% to close at USD 0.94/share. While the stock rebounded some late in the week, shareholders lost 38.5% of their value for the week. Coming after Aventine’s (AVR) February problems with the not-so-safe auction rate securities, I hope management of biofuel companies devote enough attention to their financial dealings to avoid crises.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks.

A Truly Magical (Organical) Soap

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-In-One Classic Castile Liquid Soap

What is it?
If you’re looking for a low-barrier-to-entry green product, you can’t beat a bottle of soap. Dr. Bronner’s classic castile soap is all-purpose: it can be used for body-washing, household cleaning, toothbrushing, and even clothes washing.

Why is it better?
Dr. Bronner’s is 100% organic (certified by Oregon Tilth and the USDA National Organic Program). It’s also fair trade (certified by the IMO). On the business side, they take good care of their employees, cap executive pay at five times the lowest-paid position, and all their profit not needed for business development goes to support various charities and causes.

Beyond those two seals of approval, the soap is fully biodegradable and vegetable-based. It’s also bottled in 100% post-consumer recycled containers and paper labels.

And they say it has 18 uses! I can’t speak to all of those uses, but it works fantastically as hand soap and an all-purpose house cleaner.

Where can you find it?
You can get a 16 oz. bottle from the Dr. Bronner’s website for $8.99 (or you can pick it up at your local Whole Foods).

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at Huddler.com, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

A Passion for Plug-ins

By John Addison (8/7/08). Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe spoke about his dream of building a car that could cross the United States on a single tank of gasoline. A plug-in hybrid running on E85 would potentially use only one gallon of gasoline every 500 miles in a blend with five gallons of ethanol, with the rest of the energy being fueled by electricity and biofuel.

In a recent article, I shared the stories of fleets and enthusiastic advocates and individuals who have converted their hybrids to be plug-in hybrids. Most people, however, will wait for vehicles that are designed from the ground-up to be plug-in hybrids. These vehicles will be warrantied by major manufacturers. Future plug-in hybrids will have larger electric motors, smaller engines, lithium battery stacks, and optimized control systems.

GM has announced plans for new plug-in sales by the end of 2010. Toyota is more likely to first deliver hundreds of fleet evaluation cars in 2010 and may follow with sales in 2011. Because both may start with limited numbers of vehicles and long wait times, it may be 2011 before you could get delivery of a new plug-in hybrid.

Toyota has put ten of its prototype plug-in hybrid into test applications in Japan and California. These test vehicles are Priuses with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Toyota is being a bit secretive about its new plug-in hybrid. The car is likely to be smaller and lighter than the Prius and use lithium batteries. By carrying less weight and more advanced batteries, Toyota can give the vehicle greater electric-only range, possibly 40 miles which would accommodate the daily range requirements of 78% of all U.S. drivers.

General Motors has made clear statements that it will start taking orders for the Chevy Volt from U.S. consumers by the end of 2010. Last December, I attended a General Motors showing of its Chevy Volt – an elegant four-door sedan shown in this photo which I took. One GM designer admitted that the Mercedes CLS gave some inspiration for the Volt. The Chevy Volt can be driven 40 miles in electric-mode using 16kW of lithium batteries, before its small one liter engine is engaged. 16kW is twelve times the storage of my Prius NiMH batteries.

The Volt uses an electric drive system with a small ICE in series that is only used to generate added electricity, not give power to the wheels. GM’s modular E-Flex propulsion could be adapted to various engines including diesel, fuel cells, and potentially battery-electric.

Ford currently has the SUV with the best fuel economy in the Ford Escape Hybrid. A number of fleets have contracted with vehicle system integrators to convert the Escape Hybrid to be a plug-in. Ford delivered twenty of its own Escape Plug-in Hybrid prototypes to major electric utility SCE. The SUV uses a 10 kWh lithium-ion battery pack from Johnson Controls-Saft. The PHEV uses a blended operating strategy, and delivers an equivalent 30-mile all-electric range.

A hybrid battery might use a state of charge depletion window of twenty percent. A plug-in hybrid conversion kit might use a state of charge depletion window of 80 percent, and only be willing to warranty the battery for two or three years. GM will want to offer customers ten year warranties by having 150,000 mile target lives for their batteries. GM will likely use a state of charge depletion window of 50 percent with the Volt. While GM and Toyota see long-term market share advantage by being first to market with a plug-in, other auto makers are cautious.

Daimler is actively expanding the use of electric drive systems in a number of vehicles. The Mercedes Smart Car will be offered as an electric vehicle. The larger Sprinter Van will include a plug-in offer in the future. Several fleets have demonstrated Sprinter Vans converted to be plug-ins. In the future, Daimler may offer its own Plug-in Sprinter.

Plug-in hybrids will face growing competition from electric vehicles, which have more limited range, but have no engine and therefore never require a fuel like gasoline or diesel. At times some of these EV makers have floated the idea of plug-ins in the future. Such comments have come from Nissan-Renault, Tesla, BYD, and others.

In this era of record gasoline prices, people are using many successful approaches to spend less for gas and cut emissions. A record number are cutting personal miles by taking part in employer flexwork programs, car pooling, using transit, and grouping trips. Households are maximizing use of their most fuel efficient vehicles while leaving the gas guzzler parked. More are buying fuel efficient cars. Plug-in hybrids will become a growing part of the solution to save gas and slow global warming.

Plug-in hybrids are destined to be a major success. According to the California Electric Transportation Coalition, if automakers begin producing plug-ins within the next few years, 2.5 million cars could be plug-ins by the year 2020, saving 11.5 million tons of CO2 and 1.14 billion gallons of gasoline each year.

Complete Article about New Plug-ins

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

What’s the Buzz About Clean Tech and Other Green Stuff?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Green or sustainability? Clean tech or environmental conservation? If you want to get a sense for what topics generate the most buzz at any point in time, Nielsen BlogPulse is the place to go:

‘Green’ is a word understood by all. Sustainability is still a concept for the business elite.  

I thought clean tech would have an edge over conservation. Nielsen statistics are proving otherwise. I find it rather encouraging. Note the peak on Earth Day, for conservation. Conservation is still very much associated with big environmental events.

Solar is still generating more buzz, ahead of other clean tech approaches. As more and more of the public discourse shifts towards energy efficiency, it will be interesting to see if it gets reflected in blogging conversations.


Now you play!

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues.

Blackout + 5

by Richard T. Stuebi

Over the weekend, an article in The Plain-Dealer reminded me that it has been five years ago since the infamous blackout that sent much of the Northeast U.S. and Ontario into the dark for a day or two.

Once the power was restored to everyone, U.S. and Canadian authorities quickly commissioned a Power System Outage Task Force, whose April 2004 report conclusively identified the root causes of the outage: a sequence of generation and transmission outages on a hot summer day at facilities owned and operated by First Energy (NYSE: FE) in Northeast Ohio.

At the time, pundits decried that the electric utility industry must make major changes — technologically and institutionally — to bring it from an early 20th Century analog design to the requirements of the 21st Century digital economy. Installed in an era without computers and before demands for inter-regional shipments of large quantities of power, the grid had not kept pace and was showing signs of inadequacy.

Calls became increasingly vocal for the adoption of a “smart grid” that would both improve power quality and increase the economic efficiency of the grid, by facilitating the widespread adoption of faster electric transmission and distribution switching and control systems, distributed generation devices (such as fuel cells and solar photovoltaics) and demand-reduction approaches (such as demand-response programs).

Calls also escalated for greater real-time coordination between the organizations operating neighboring power grids. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has jurisdiction over high-voltage transmission in the U.S., accelerated their efforts (albeit with limited powers to do so) to encourage utilities to adopt regional transmission organizations (RTOs).

Five years on, there has been some progress — but not nearly enough. RTOs now pretty much cover the country, but by and large they remain untested under crisis conditions, so it is unclear how effective they will operate in a crunch. Distributed generation remains a rarity, as the vast majority of power supplied to the grid still comes from central-station powerplants. Smart-grid technologies have not moved far off of the drawing-board — though Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) has recently announced a major pilot program for Boulder, Colorado.

Will we see another major power outage in the U.S. in the next decade? I’d bet on it. Bear in mind that the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) projects declining “reserve margins” — the amount of generating capacity over and above peak demands — in most parts of the country in the coming years.

Why? Due to uncertainties about future fuel prices, powerplant construction costs, regulatory rules for recovering generation investments, and new environmental requirements (especially carbon legislation), suppliers are reluctant to add new generating capacity, as they doubt their ability to earn attractive returns on major capital outlays. Meanwhile, economic growth (with only weak emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation) is driving ever-rising demand levels.

From this, I derive a simple formula: shrinking generation reserve margins + a slow move to the smart grid = future outages.

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.

What is Cleantech?

By Neal Dikeman

Google recently opened its Wikipedia competitor, styled “knol” or unit of knowledge. I wrote a definition of what is cleantech to put up on knol, and upon reflection, it’s probably an overview worth passing around.

Cleantech, also referred to as clean technology, and often used interchangeably with the term greentech, has emerged as an umbrella term encompassing the investment asset class, technology, and business sectors which include clean energy, environmental, and sustainable or green, products and services. (See various definitions below.)

The term has historically been differentiated from various definitions of green business, sustainability, or triple bottom line industries by its origins in the venture capital investment community, and has grown to define a business sector that includes significant and high growth industries such as solar, wind, water purification, and biofuels.

Cleantech was popularized in large part through the work of Nick Parker and Keith Raab, founders of the Cleantech Venture Network (now Cleantech Group) from 2002 onwards beginning as a term to describe the “green and clean” technologies, especially including solar, biofuels, fuel cells, water remediation, and renewable power generation, that venture capital investors were turning to in increasing numbers as the next trend in technology investing after the collapse of the tech boom in 2001. The Cleantech Group developed and operates a popular conference series and investor membership organization for the category. They registered or acquired a large number of the cleantech related domain names, and a number of cleantech related trademarks, though no trademark exists for the term cleantech itself. The initial target of the conferences were venture capitalists and startup companies operating in sectors covered by the term. Since then the term has come into wide use in the media, broader investment community, and many of the underlying industries that make up the umbrella sector, and spawned numerous conferences, websites, magazines, indices, newsletters, and companies, growing into the third largest venture capital investment sector behind IT and biotech.

While no one person or organization is generally credited with coining the term for its current purpose, besides the Cleantech Group, attribution is sometimes also given to energy technology consultancy Clean Edge, whose principals include green business journalist, author and speaker Joel Makower, and Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder, authors of the 2007 book Cleantech Revolution. Before it’s popularization as an investment asset class and technology category, “cleantech” as a word typically referred to dry cleaning or cleaning supplies equipment, as evidenced by the fact that many cleantech related domain names are still owned by companies in those fields.

The sector and the term came into its own in the 2005 and 2006 time frame, when mainstream institutional investors, led by CalPERS and CalSTRS, began allocating investment into venture funds in the environmental, alternative and renewable energy sectors, and adopted cleantech as a term of choice for the description of that asset class, lending credibility to the sector.[3] Also the 2005 time frame saw the emergence of blogs dedicated to following the sector, the earliest of which included Clean Break by Canadian journalist Tyler Hamilton, Cleantech Blog edited by merchant banker Neal Dikeman (ours of course), and Cleantech Investing (since acquired by Greentech Media) written by venture capitalist Rob Day, which helped to proliferate the sector and the term. But possibly most significant, the 2004 to 2006 time frame saw the emergence of financial and capital markets successes in the solar, wind, and ethanol industries that make up large portions of the various cleantech related stock indices, driven by changes in policy incentives and fuels standards in the US and Europe. Other factors attributed as major drivers in that time frame include rising energy and commodity prices, increased consumer awareness of sustainability issues, and the start of the Kyoto Protocol based carbon trading mechanisms. The combination of these events began to attract significant amounts of capital and awareness to the sector.

Definitions of what is included in cleantech vary among among industry participants, but the most cited definitions of cleantech would certainly include the running definition in Wikipedia and the definition provided by the Cleantech Group.

From Wikipedia:“Cleantech or clean tech is generally defined as knowledge-based products or services that improve operational performance, productivity or efficiency while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste or pollution.Cleantech is differentiated from green technology since it generally refers to the emerging financial industry (as opposed to the actual technology in which the industry invests). Specifically, the investment focus includes water purification, eco- Efficient production techniques, renewable energy, green technology, sustainable business. Since the 1990s the financial community began more active interest and investing into the Cleantech space.” Note: The definition on Wikipedia has changed since this 2007 version.The Cleantech Group also developed within their own definition a market segmentation and taxonomy of what sectors was included in the the cleantech sector, which has served as a reasonable proxy for an official definition. Cleantech Defined by the Cleantech Group:

“Clean is more than green. Clean technology, or “cleantech”, should not be confused with the terms environmental technology or “green tech” popularized in the 1970’s and 80’s. Cleantech is new technology and related business models offering competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges. Where greentech, or envirotech, represents the highly regulatory driven, “end-of-pipe” technology of the past with limited opportunity for attractive returns, cleantech is driven by market economics therefore offering greater financial upside and sustainability. The concept of cleantech embraces a diverse range of products, services, and processes across industry verticals that are inherently designed to,
Provide superior performance at lower costs, Greatly reduce or eliminate negative ecological impact, Improve the productive and responsible use of natural resources

Cleantech spans many industry verticals and is defined by the following eleven segments,
Energy Generation
Energy Storage
Energy Infrastructure
Energy Efficiency
Transportation
Water & Wastewater
Air & Environment
Materials
Manufacturing/Industrial
Agriculture
Recycling & Waste”

Also of key note, the term “greentech”, which as previously noted is often used interchangeably with cleantech, was popularized by venture capitalists John Denniston and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, and has become almost a synonym for cleantech since about 2005 as more mainstream venture capital and Wall Street investors began entering the sector increasing numbers, and arguably searched for a term to use to differentiate their investment strategies from past investors. Largely because of its use[1] by these notable venture capital fims, the term was heavily picked up in the mainstream media – as well as new media startups like Inside Greentech (since acquired by the Cleantech Group) and Greentech Media. Riding on the coattails established by “cleantech” – greentech is sometimes characterized as more than just a subset of the cleantech umbrella. It has also been suggested that greentech is the re-emergence of an older term that never quite found broad appeal from its use in the early 1990s or prior. This contrast is illustrated by a quote from John Doerr in Red Herring Magazine on the differences: ““Clean tech,” as many past efforts at environmentally friendly industry have been called, hasn’t panned out from an investment standpoint, said Mr. Doerr, but “greentech” will. The difference? The word “green” means money is to be made, he said. It’s about advances in areas such as nanotechnology and alternative fuels that mean that companies will succeed in the future where past efforts have failed.” – Red Herring[4]This rise of the term greentech began a small debate on which term was most appropriate, and the Cleantech Group responded in numerous articles, with one example here: “”Who wants green air or green water”? The greentech term (and we use small caps unless referring to an org) is very retro and smacks of EPA type regulation. The whole reason we brought the cleantech term to market five years ago was to advance a new concept that reflected technological improvement and new concept. As you know, often cleantech is purchased primarily for non-environmental reasons even though it may offer significant environmental benefits. While some media outlets may be using the greentech term, just about all corps, Wall Street players and VCs who are active in the area use the term cleantech. We think there is room for various terms, eg “resource efficient” but from a capital markets perspective its important there is one term so that a defined asset (allocation) category emerges.”[2] – Keith Raab, CEO and Founder, Cleantech Group

References
KPCB’s Greentech Initiative http://kpcb.com/initiatives/greentech/index.html
Cleantech vs. Greentech http://cleantechblog.wpengine.com/2007/07/cleantech-vs-greentech.html CalSTRS/CalPERS 2005 Cleantech Conference Announcement http://www.calstrs.com/newsroom/2005/news03082005InvestConf.aspx
John Doerr Touts ‘Greentech’ 01 October 2006, Red Herring Magazine http://www.redherring.com/Home/18901

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

Breakthrough in solar energy storage

The hydrogen economy is heralded in certain quarters as the green alternative to oil as an energy carrier. At present the vast majority of hydrogen generated is generated from natural gas. So right now a hydrogen fuel cell car, is most likely still ultimately reliant on a fossil fuel source, natural gas, to provide the hydrogen required. In the future of course the thesis is that we could use renewable energy sources to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and generate our hydrogen in that way, thus getting away entirely from fossil fuels.

There was an interesting development on this front reported in the media last week. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology University have developed an efficient method of using solar energy solar energy to produce hydrogen from water. Nothing new there I hear you say. But the breakthrough appears to be the use of some specific catalysts which make the process of splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen much more efficient and therefore viable.
There is no doubt catalysts can work some magic and if they have identified something that can do this here, they may well be on to something.

Daniel Nocera of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, said the discovery could remove one of the major obstacles that has prevented solar power from being taken up widely as a viable alternative to fossil fuels such as oil and gas.
“The discovery has enormous implications for the large-scale deployment of solar since it puts us on the doorstep of a cheap and easily manufactured storage mechanism. The ease of implementation means that this discovery will have legs,” Dr. Nocera said.

So will solar panels and water solve our energy problems? Dr. Nocera thinks so stating that ‘sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world’s energy problems given that in one hour enough energy from the Sun strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet’s energy needs for a year’.

Now there is another group out there, more of a fringe element perhaps, which is proposing the idea that you run your car on water. There is some interesting discourse and commentary on this in the green tech gazette. If you really want the hyperbola and sales pitch on this, check out ‘Run Your Car with Water

The basic premise is that you can use electrical current from the alternator in your car to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then burned along with the gasoline which helps increase fuel efficiency. I have to say I am very skeptical about this. I am inclined to think there is no such thing as a free lunch. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that: In any reaction, energy cannot be created or destroyed. The energy to split the water has to come from somewhere and in your car the energy source is your gasoline. If you use the alternator in your car to run your A/C it consumes fuel, so too would running your alternator to generate hydrogen. In fact the new Toyota Prius will have solar panels on the roof to power the A/C for this very reason.
However ….. a caveat to this, may be if there is a synergistic or catalytic effect of co-burning hydrogen with gasoline which makes the whole process more efficient (at present your typical car is about 20% efficient, i.e. 20% of the energy in your gasoline tank goes into moving the vehicle, the rest is lost mostly as waste heat).

Also if you were able to use say for example the braking energy of the car to generate electricity and use this electricity to split hydrogen, THEN you would be taking advantage of wasted mechanical energy to produce that hydrogen fuel. Again, the Toyota Prius already takes advantage of this phenomenon to power the battery.

Paul O’Callaghan is the founding CEO of the Clean Tech development consultancy O2 Environmental. Paul is the author of numerous papers on environmental technologies and lectures on Environmental Protection technology at Kwantlen University College. He is chair of a technical committee on decentralized wastewater management in British Columbia, is a Director with Ionic Water Technologies and an industry expert reviewer for Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Send some clean power with Green My Vino

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Green My Vino Facebook application from Village Green Energy

What is it?
Green My Vino let’s you bring your passion for clean energy and your Facebook profile together. In a nut shell, you get to send free online gifts of renewable energy to all your friends. The gifts come in denominations of 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes (but you have to “unlock” the 5 and 10 minute options). When you send these gifts, Village Green Energy purchases that amount of renewable energy from specific wind farms and solar arrays on your behalf.

Why is it better?
The world of social networking can be a scary place. But this application is really easy to use and it’s free. Not to mention, when you send these clean power gifts, you’re not just getting those minutes of green energy purchased. You’re also helping four wineries convert their entire operations to run on wind and solar.

Once Facebook users have sent 10,000 minutes, Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma County has agreed to convert its operations to green power. And there are three other wineries on board! Mike Jackson of Village Green says “If the application is successful, the wineries will purchase over 1.2 million kWh of renewable power.” The broader goal of the campaign is to encourage California wineries to add green power purchasing into their business practices.

Where can you find it?
As long as you have a Facebook account, you can get in on the action! Just check out the application page. And if you’re so inspired, support clean power and Village Green Energy with their RECs.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at Huddler.com, which focuses on electric cars, energy efficient appliances, and other green products.

Press Release:
August 6, 2008 (San Francisco, CA) – Iron Horse Vineyards, Girard Winery, Windsor Vineyards, and Windsor Sonoma Vineyards in Sonoma County and Napa Valley are launching an innovative green energy campaign on Facebook to generate awareness about renewable energy and provide a way for Facebook’s 90 million users to actively participate in motivating wineries to go green. San Francisco-based Village Green Energy created the Facebook application, named “Green My Vino,” which will launch on Wednesday, August 6. “Implementing renewable energy is something that people want to have happen, and by participating on Facebook, the users can actually see change occur. It is a unique opportunity to witness and participate in companies going green,” says sustainability consultant John Garn, who worked on developing the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing workbook for the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. The application enables Facebook users to give each other free online gifts worth One Minute, Five Minutes, and Ten Minutes of renewable energy. For each gift, Village Green will purchase the equivalent amount of renewable energy on the user’s behalf. The wineries step forward as certain milestones are achieved. Iron Horse Vineyards is going first and has agreed to power their entire operation with renewable energy when Facebook friends have gifted each other with 10,000 minutes of solar and wind power. “It’s like a petition with a guaranteed outcome from participation. If Facebook users get behind this effort, they know they can make a change,” says Iron Horse CEO Joy Sterling. “For us, it’s an incentive to incorporate green energy in our sustainability strategies.” Girard Winery, Windsor Vineyards, and Windsor Sonoma Vineyards are lined up to take over with each new milestone. “We jumped at the opportunity to participate in the application” said Windsor CEO Pat Roney. “Green My Vino gives the community the opportunity to interact with businesses and make their voices heard. When people participate in the application, they’re telling us that clean energy is a priority for them, and we’ll make supporting renewable energy a part of our commitment as a business.” If the application is successful, Village Green estimates the wineries will purchase over 1.2 million kWh of renewable power – enough to power the four initial wineries entirely with green energy for a year based on their past electricity use. The renewable power will be purchased via renewable energy certificates from Mountain View II Wind Facility in Palm Springs and several solar arrays in Los Angeles. “Our goal has been to develop programs that make business sense for our customers to participate in,” says Village Green Co-Founder Robby Bearman. “Rather than relying on the charity of businesses to help save the environment, we’re drawing them in by speaking their language, especially from a marketing standpoint.” “I am excited about the power of social networking,” says Sterling. “My hope is that this will be so successful that more wineries will become involved, broadcasting our message to as many people as possible.” Roney agreed, adding “this is part of an effort to bring together the wine community around a common cause.” Village Green has partnered with 750 Industries, a leading social marketing startup based in San Francisco, to design and launch the Green My Vino Facebook application. The 750 team is working with Village Green to fully understand how users are engaging with the application and optimize for friend-to-friend sharing. The application website off of Facebook can be found at www.villagegreenergy.com/facebook. Here visitors can track the application’s progress, learn more about renewable power and ways to help, and get involved in outreach efforts on behalf of green power.

Plug-in Drivers Get Charged

By John Addison (7/31/08). In 1971, a bright engineer, Dr. Andy Frank, was looking to the future. He knew that oil production had peaked in the U.S. and that cheap oil would later peak globally. He calculated how to get 100 miles per gallon, and then he built a hybrid-electric car.

A few years later there was a crisis in the Mideast. Oil tankers stopped moving through the Suez Canal. There were hour gas lines in the United States with engines fuming emissions and drivers fuming with anger. Gasoline was rationed. The crisis intensified Andy Frank’s commitment to build great vehicles with outstanding fuel economy. He has been on that mission ever since.

Andy Frank took me for a ride in a big GM Equinox SUV that got double the fuel economy of a conventional SUV because he converted it to a plug-in hybrid. The ride was the same as in any other SUV except it was more quiet. Fuel economy doubled because much of the time the vehicle ran on electricity with the engine off.

This vehicle was typical of many projects. The large engine was removed. An engine less-than half its size was put in its place. His team saved hundreds of extra pounds by replacing the standard GM transmission with a smaller and lighter continuously variable transmission. Even with an added electric motor and lithium batteries, the vehicle weighed less than a standard Equinox. The air conditioning and other accessories ran electrically, instead of placing mechanical demands on a large engine. Converted to be powered electrically, the air conditioning could run with the engine off.

Andy Frank is the father of plug-in hybrids. His students at U. C. Davis have gone on to be some of the brightest minds in automotive design and transportation management. Over the past 15 years, he and his students have built over ten different plug-in hybrids. They have ranged from sport cars to full-sized SUVs. Typically these PHEV can go over 40 miles (64km) in electric-only range and weigh no more than their standard counterparts. U. C. Davis Team Fate Vehicles

The idea of plugging-in is not new. We are in the habit of recharging our mobile phone every night. Soon, we may also be recharging our vehicle every night. Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) look and drive like regular hybrids. They have a large battery pack that captures braking and engine-generated energy. Like hybrids they have computer chips that decide when to run only the electric motor, using no gas, when to run the gasoline engine, and when to run both. Many plug-in hybrids are programmed to run on only electricity for ten to forty miles before engaging the engine. Heavy duty vehicles, and eventually some passenger cars, will use more efficient diesel engines, not gasoline.

Andy Frank was all smiles as a crowd of 600 applauded at the Plug-in 2008 Conference in San Jose, California, last week. Many in the crowd now drive plug-in hybrids as part of their fleet demonstration programs. A number in the crowd had converted their personal Toyota Priuses or Ford Escape Hybrids. This was a crowd of plug-in converts.

Some visionary fleet managers have accelerated the development of plug-in hybrids. Rather than wait years for major vehicle manufacturers to offer plug-ins, these fleets have contracted for conversions then used their own maintenance teams to keep the experimental vehicles running. For example, Google is getting 93 miles per gallon (mpg) with its converted plug-in Priuses, over double the 48 mpg of its normal Priuses. Google uses solar power to charge the cars. Google’s RechargeIT.org

In Southern California, 24 million people live in an area where the mountains trap smog and damage people’s lungs. South Coast Air Quality Management District plans to reduce emissions by contracting the conversion to plug-in of 10 Priuses, 20 Ford Escape Hybrids, and several Daimler Sprinter Vans. The vehicles are being put into a variety of fleets with hopes that “a thousand flowers will bloom.”

Fleets are piloting plug-in conversions around the country. These fleets include New York City, the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, King and Chelan County Counties in Washington, Minneapolis and the City of Santa Monica.

Electric utilities have started a variety of plug-in hybrid pilot projects involving everything from cars to large trouble trucks. These utilities include Southern California Edison, Austin Energy, Duke Energy, Wisconsin Power, and Pacific Gas and Electric to name a few. At a time when there are desperate discussions about being more dependent on oil, including taking ten years to get oil from environmentally sensitive areas, electric utilities are coming to the rescue by increasingly powering our vehicles.

Because some plug-ins will go up to 40 miles in electric mode at slower speeds, it is possible to get over 100 miles per gallon. With short trips in cold weather, little improvement might be seen. Driving on freeways without recharging will not help. However, for most driving cycles, plug-ins can dramatically reduce the need for expensive gasoline fill-ups.

You can get over 100 miles per gallon (mpg) by either adding a kit to an existing hybrid, or by waiting until late 2010 to order a new car from the car makers that will be discussed in next week’s article. Due to probable wait lists, it may be three years before individuals can get delivery of plug-ins from car makers. If you are now getting only 20 mpg, getting 100 mpg would cut your gasoline bill 80%. Over the next few years, you will have a growing number of choices of plug-in hybrids.

Plug-In Supply unveiled its $4,995 Conversion Kit at the Plug-in 2008 Conference. The lead acid (PbA) conversion kit, based on the CalCars Open Source design, converts a Prius into a plug-in hybrid with an all-electric range of up to 15 miles if kept to a maximum of 52 mph. At freeway speed the gasoline engine will be engaged. Green Car Congress Article

Most fleets and people who convert prefer to deal with a system integrator, garage, or mechanic that is experienced with plug-in conversions and can maintain the vehicles. For example, Luscious Garage has converted about 20 vehicles. A garage might charge $2,000 or more to install a plug-in kit.

A123 Hymotion is establishing certified conversion centers throughout the nation so that people can convert their Toyota Priuses to plug-in hybrids for $9,995 per car. The conversion kit includes interfacing to the Prius computer that controls hybrid operation, interfacing with existing Prius NiMH battery, and includes a 5kWh A123 lithium battery.

Many early converts are enthusiastic about their plug-in hybrids. They report that electricity is only costing the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon, compared to over $4 per gallon of gasoline. If you plan to convert a hybrid to a plug-in, be sure that you have a safe and convenient place for recharging at home, work, or other location. For most, a 110 volt garage line will be the best option.

CalCars.org, a leading plug-in non-profit group, has been a major force in the growth of plug-in hybrids. Technical guru, Ron Gremban converted a Prius in 2004, and now contributes in many areas including the development of an Open Source plug-in platform. CalCars Founder Felix Kramer has patiently nurtured the expanding support of electric vehicle groups, environmental groups, media, legislatures, and auto makers. He has made “plug-in” a household name. There are a growing number of batteries, plug-in conversion kits, and garages for plug-in conversions. CalCars summarizes offerings and provides links.

In California, Sven Thesen converted his family’s Prius to a plug-in with help from CalCars.org. He and his wife love it, and share the plug-in Prius as their only vehicle. For them, it was not about saving money, rather it was to protect the future for their young daughters and everyone’s children. In Boston, students Zoë and Melissa converted because they see conventional cars as bad for the environment. In Texas, Jim Philippi replaced his 12 mpg Yukon with a converted plug-in that gets over 100 mpg. He buys renewable energy credits to use wind power for the plug-in charging. See Videos and Read about over 100 Plug-in Drivers

There is some truth to the old adage that you can recognize the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. Early conversions have sometimes produced problems and downtime. The conversions typically add an expensive second battery pack to the vehicle’s existing nickel metal hydride battery pack. To make the plug-in hybrid controls work, the manufacturer’s control system must be “fooled” with new input signals.

The added battery pack often displaces the Prius spare tire. In the Escape, a larger battery pack is often placed in the rear cargo area, behind the passengers seating in the rear seat. Battery life is a function of the state of charge. In hybrids, auto makers only use a narrow range of charging and discharging, so that they can warranty batteries for up to ten years. In plug-in hybrids, batteries are usually deeply discharged, reducing battery life. Kits may only warranty the expensive batteries for up to three years.

If anything goes wrong, auto makers like Toyota and Ford, may claim that the conversion created the problem and that their warranty is void. Although the car owner may have legal recourse, many are leery of warranty issues.

Even if vehicle lifecycle operating costs are higher with plug-in conversions and warranties limited, these issues have not stopped plug-in hybrid enthusiasts who strongly feel that we cannot wait for the big auto makers. They want rapid adoption of solutions to address global warming and oil addiction to end now. These early drivers of plug-in hybrids are leading the way — at 100 miles per gallon.

I returned from the conference to learn that my wife was spending $2,000 for new drapes. This was good news, for I assumed that it would therefore be no problem for me to spend $24,000 on a new Prius, less a nice trade-in for our 2002 model, and another $10,000 to convert it to a plug-in. An interesting discussion ensued.

We both want to save gas and take some leadership in making the future better, but $25,000+ (after trade-in) is a lot of money, especially in this economy. If the battery is dead in three years, that could be another $10,000, or less if kit providers offer extended warranties. Giving up the spare tire space is another concern. At least three times in my travels, I have needed to put on the emergency spare.

Like many, we are more likely to wait until the end of 2010, hoping for several electric vehicle and plug-in offerings for auto makers. These vehicles will be designed to be plug-ins, with smaller engines, only one lithium battery pack, better drive systems, and balanced vehicle weight. These new offerings will be discussed in my next article.

We can all be thankful for those who refuse to wait, often concerned with climate and energy security issues. There are over 200 converted plug-in hybrids now on the road. One year from now, there may be over 1,000 plug-in hybrids of all shapes and sizes in use.

By the end of 2010, we may be able to start buying plug-in hybrids from major auto makers. Once cars designed from the ground-up to be plug-ins are made in volume, prices differentials will drop to a fraction of the current charge of converted hybrids. In a few years, plug-ins, with long battery warranties may cost less than $5,000 more than their hybrid counterparts.

Plug-in hybrids will succeed because of Andy Frank and the early leaders who converted their vehicles to use more electricity and less petroleum. We will all benefit from the reduced gasoline use and cleaner air that started with the courageous pioneering of the plug-in converts.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences.

Copyright (c) 2008 John Addison. Portions of this article will appear in John Addison’s next book.

Green, a Dead End For Social Networks?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

A while ago, I wrote about ‘Why Green Social Networks Don’t Work‘:

Green social networks are popping all over the place. Frankly, I have stopped keeping track. They want us to become engaged, and to change our behaviors, fast. They claim to have all kind of tools to help us accomplish the impossible. How come then, I am not more enthused? I, out of all people, who spend so much time on the topic, should be an easy sell.

Here is what I think is missing from all these sites. A lack of understanding of basic psychology, and of the way real people change their behaviors. I do not decide ‘I want to be green’, and ask for someone to whip me into shape. Actually, I may, but the truth is, that kind of intention is not sustainable. I do not need to add yet another thing on my already long to-do list. I want solutions to my everyday problems, as in more convenient, cheaper, smarter.

Two months later, with the gas, food, and mortgage crisis hitting the American people on multiple fronts, more than ever is it important for green social network entrepreneurs to revise their strategies. And to come down from their lofty green goals, and start addressing Josephine’s pain, as related here in a recent New York Times article:

‘Josephine Cage, who fillets fish, said her 30-mile commute from Tchula to Isola in her 1998 Ford Escort four days a week is costing her $200 a month, or nearly 20 percent of her pay. “I make it by the grace of God,” she said, and also by replacing meat at supper with soups and green beans and broccoli. She fills her car a little bit every day, because “I can’t afford to fill it up. Whatever money I have, I put it in.”’

Josephine, and a growing group of citizens, from all socio-economic stratas, have much to say to social entrepreneurs. ‘Grab us where we are hurting the most, and offer us tools that we really need, not just ‘nice to have’ green networks.’ It may very well be, that the best way to engage users into adopting greener behaviors, is not through a direct green message. But rather, by helping them ease the pinch in their pocketbooks.

I am curious, what is your experience with green social networks, both from a personal and a professional standpoints? Do you share my views? Which strategies do you suggest for current and future green social networks?

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues.

Is the U.S. Really Behind?

by Richard T. Stuebi

It’s somewhat fashionable to bash the United States in terms of its energy/environmental policies and progress. But, is the rest of the world really that far ahead?

This article in Sustainable Facility magazine suggests that maybe Europe isn’t quite as green as it fancies itself to be.

Meanwhile, this story points out that Tokyo citizens — living only a few hundred kilometers from Kyoto itself — aren’t terribly committed to taking actions that will reduce emissions.

I’m certainly not going to dispute that Americans are energy gluttons, and that our current non-position on climate change is untenable. However, before we undertake a fit of self-flaggelation, it’s worth reflecting upon the point that fundamentally solving our environmental and energy challenges is going to be much harder than merely talking about solving the challenges — as perhaps the rest of the world may be finding out all too starkly.

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.