Got a (LED) light?

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: the GeoBulb LED Light Bulb from C. Crane

What is it?
The GeoBulb is an LED light bulb that uses less than 8 watts of electricity to produce 14% more light than the average 60 watt incandescent bulb. It’s roughly the same size and shape as an incandescent bulb and serves as a direct replacement for any indoor fixtures.

Why is it better?
First of all, the energy savings of using LED light bulbs over incandescent bulbs or even compact fluorescent bulbs. Not to mention, the bulb has a life span of 30,000 hours (which at continuous use, that would work out to be about 3 years; even using the bulb 8 hours a day, you’d still get 10 years out of it).

The reason the GeoBulb is a great option is because the quality of light and the brightness is in fact similar to an incandescent. I got a chance to check out some bulbs at West Coast Green. I was amazed at how bright they were, how cool to the touch they were, and how they didn’t buzz at all.

Where can you find it?
The GeoBulb does have a steep up-front cost of $119.95. You can order it through the C. Crane website (but it appears to be out of stock until December).

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, organic personal care, and other green products.

Voters and Congress Decide the Fate of Public Transportation

By John Addison (10/31/08). A record number of Americans are saving thousands per year by using public transportation from one day per week to living car free. In 2007, a 50-year record was set of 10.3 billion transit trips per year, saving over 4 billion gallons of car gasoline use. 2008 will set a new record that may approach 11 billion trips as more commuters leave their cars parked to brave standing-room-only train and bus rides.

Public transportation and corporate commute programs have helped America finally reduce its dependency on oil, with vehicle miles traveled reduced for the first time. Now, our financial crisis is putting this in jeopardy.

Although public transportation is rescuing Americans, will Americans rescue public transportation? Record ridership, shrinking tax revenues, frozen funds, and fuel prices are overwhelming transit budgets. Where more routes and buses are needed, cutbacks are instead being made.

This Tuesday votes in 33 states will make decisions about the fate of transit funding. In California, decided will be the fate of High Speed Rail.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) called on Congress on October 29 to pass economic stimulus legislation that includes funding public transportation projects to create new jobs. APTA has identified 559 public transit “ready-to-go” projects, worth $8 billion, from Chicago to Atlanta, and from NY to LA.

Testifying before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, APTA Chair Dr. Beverly Scott, who is also general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), testified, “We simply must get our economy back on track, and the most important way to do that is to create new jobs, and give our citizens the tools they need to find jobs and keep working.”

Dr. Scott continued, “Not only do transit systems need assistance for capital projects, transit providers also need help to maintain their current services. Transit systems across the United States are being forced to choose between raising passenger fares or cutting service to make up for shortfalls in local funding and the increased cost of diesel fuel this past summer. The burden is so great that 35 percent of public transportation providers who responded to another recent APTA survey have been forced to cut or plan to cut the level of passenger service they provide in spite of the growing demand. Transit needs to be part of the solution to – not the victim of – the current economic crisis. This could not happen at a worse time. Public transportation ridership has grown dramatically this year, and we need to continue that growth.”

Even the collapse of AIG is having a devastating effect on transit. Dr. Scott as testified, “From the early 1990s to 2003, the Federal Transit Administration urged transit systems to enter into innovative financing deals known as Sale-in/Lease Out and Lease-In/Lease Out (SILO/LILO) transactions. These transactions helped transit systems finance large, capital intensive projects by selling their assets to investors and leasing them back. The transit agencies received up-front one time payments in consideration for future tax benefits for the investors, until these transactions were prohibited in 2003. To secure these transactions, sale proceeds in the form of Treasury securities were placed into an account that AIG and a small number of other insurers guaranteed. Under the terms of the contracts, transit agencies are responsible for replacing the guarantors of the secured assets if they fail to maintain a certain bond rating- often ‘AAA’ status. Unfortunately, because AIG and the other insurers have lost their ‘AAA’ rating, and there are no available financial institutions to replace them, the equity investors are able to find the transactions in default. Under this scenario, through no fault of their own, transit agencies could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to make the investors whole. The banks have the opportunity to gain 100 percent of the tax benefits that have been disallowed, which would in turn devastate transit agencies, which will be required to pay more than $2 billion to the banks immediately.” Congressional Testimony

Will we keep America moving, our will be go back to being stuck in our cars in gridlock, burning billions of dollars of extra gasoline from countries that are glad to take our money?

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

What’s It All About, Algae?

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the hottest areas of cleantech investor activity in the past year has been algae. Yes, algae. More specifically, technologies that enable the production of fuels from algae.

The concept is premised on the fact that algae is a rapidly-growing organism that converts sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce lipids, which in turn can be refined into various hydrocarbons. In other words, a carbon-neutral fuel cycle. Pretty cool.

A number of start-up companies — such as Solazyme, Live Fuels, Solix Biofuels and GreenFuel Technologies — have emerged in recent years to pursue this possibility, some fetching sizable quantities of capital from blue-chip investors.

I frequently receive emails with links to videos promising interesting energy/environmental technologies, and most strike me as quackery of some degree or another. However, I recently was pointed to a video produced by a company named Valcent Products (OTCBB: VCTPF) that appears particularly compelling. To be clear, I am not recommending this company or its stock, but I do like the tack that Valcent seems to be taking.

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.

Robert Metcalfe Is Wrong, Clean Technology Alone Will Not Work

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

I got a sneak preview of Scientific American’s Earth 3.0 special issue on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Progress’. Mostly great stuff, with the exception of one article, that prompted me to write this rebuttal.

In ‘Learning from the Internet’, Robert M. Metcalfe, venture capitalist and Internet pioneer, expands on the dangerous idea that,

I don’t think for a moment that we’re going to conserve our way out of the energy crisis. Internet history shows that prosperity depends on abundant bandwidth. Prosperity (gross domestic product, per capita) is proportional to energy use. We are not going to lower per capita consumptionof energy in the U.S. We are going to enable the rest of the world to be as prosperous by using not less but more energy. We need to make energy cheap, clean and therefore abundant – really abundant, for a really long time.

Sounds familiar? This is the same kind of thinking endorsed in an earlier McKinsey study, and also to a lesser extent, by Al Gore in his Moon Shot Challenge speech.

Makes me mad. The average citizen is already confused enough. The last thing we need is more tenors in green tech and green biz to lull us into thinking that technology will get us out of our mess. Besides, I do not see what climate change has to do with the Internet.

We need to get out of this pervasive either-or thinking. Energy conservation and new energy technologies are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are meant to work together. One without the other will not work. It’s a matter of simple maths, and of mitigating our risks, in the unlikely event that technology does not deliver on all its promises.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media. Her green blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Marguerite is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. You can follow her on Twitter.

Solar Powers more Vehicles as Gasoline use Drops

By John Addison. Solar is powering more vehicles. American’s have reduced their use of petroleum 5 percent this year. So far, petroleum reduction is the result of fewer miles traveled solo as people cut travel to deal with high gas prices and a slowing economy. At the margin, however, solar power is replacing oil.

There are now 40,000 electric vehicles in use in the United States. They are primarily the 25 mile per hour light electric vehicles. Fleets are starting to use heavy electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids, that formerly required copious gallons of diesel and gasoline. In 2010, consumers will start buying freeway speed electric vehicles.

The U.S. Marine Corp at Camp Pendleton, during my last visit, showed me an 8-station solar car port that they use to charge their 320 light-electric vehicles. Petroleum fuel is a multi-billion dollar part of the U.S. Defense budget. Once the solar panels are installed, however, the sunlight is free. Solar is increasingly also used by the Marines and Army for stationary power in the U.S. and Iraq, reducing the need for petroleum in the form of diesel and JP8 jet fuel for running gen sets to air condition tents and buildings.

Every 44 minutes, sufficient energy from the sun strikes the Earth to provide the entire world’s energy requirements for one year, including the energy needed to move vehicles. Solar power grows 40 percent per year, as we become increasingly efficient at turning sunlight into electricity and heat.

Most importantly, with continued innovation and larger scale manufacturing, the price of solar keeps dropping. There is enthusiasm for advancements in photovoltaics (PV) and for large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP). As I researched and wrote this article at the Solar Power 2008 Conference, last week, the evidence of growth was everywhere. 17,000 from 92 countries attended the conference in San Diego, California. 425 companies exhibited, with 450 more turned away due to lack of convention floor space.

8 GW of solar power are now installed. Deutsche Bank forecasts that the photovoltaic market will growfrom $13 billion in 2006 to $30 billion in 2010. Polysilicon supply is expected to triple by 2010. New technology continues to delivers more electricity output with less silicon. These technologies include thin film, high efficiency PV, organic, concentrating PV and balance of system improvements.

For those interested in transportation, one notable area of growth is solar covered parking structures – a cool solution for a planet that is getting hotter.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the Solar Power International conference, he highlighted Applied Materials’ 2 MW solar power that also shades their parking lot. The vast solar shading is designed to efficiently capture energy using SunPower 19% efficient panels implemented horizontally with a system that rotates the panels to track the sunlight.

Envision Solar specializes in solar parking structures. Designed by architects, Envision uses biomimicry to have parking structures that suggest groves of trees. NREL in Colorado uses an Envision solar carport with a charging station for two vehicles including its plug-in hybrid and EV. Other organizations have installed Envison solar parking structures with the support poles pre-engineered with wiring for future charging or integration of nighttime energy-efficient lighting. These organizations include the University of California San Diego and major solar panel maker Kyocera.

New Jersey Transit is preparing for a future where parked cars can be charged with sunlight while people use public transportation. Premier Power Renewable Energy recently completed the first of two 201kW solar canopies, on the rooftops of two large six-story parking garages at the new Trenton AMTRAK Transit center. Each project includes more than 600 solar panels. The solar systems will eliminate approximately 141 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The New Jersey parking structures are also equipped with 110v charging stations for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Electric Vehicles (EVs). Participating in the October 14 ribbon cutting was the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars (MAGIC) consortium, which includes the University of Delaware, Pepco Holdings, Inc., PJM Interconnect, Comverge, AC Propulsion and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, created to further develop, test and demonstrate Vehicle-to-Grid technology.

At Google, part of their 1.6 MW solar PV installation is a solar carport structure that includes charging stations for Google’s plug-in hybrid converted Toyota Priuses and Ford Excapes.

The conference included many lively debates about whether the financial crisis would stop solar’s growth in 2009. Large projects usually require millions for project financing. Allowing customers to pay by the kilowatt with power purchase agreements requires long-term financing. Illiquidity will surely slow growth.

In most U.S. states, however, electric utilities are required by law to expand the percentage of power that is delivered with renewables. In California, for example, the renewable portfolio must be 20 percent by 2010. Pacific Gas and Electric is installing 800 MW of utility scale solar PV to meet part of that. Arizona Public Service has contracted with Abengoa to install 280 MW of concentrating solar thermal that includes molten salt towers to store six hours energy for delivery during peak hours.

Utilities have deep pockets and these volume projects are lowering costs. With illiquidity in other sectors, utilizes will increasingly drive centralized solar. In areas with positive regulatory environments and with robust grids, utilities will also encourage decentralized solar PV as part of their mix.

United States power utilities spend $70 billion annually for new power plants and transmission, plus added billions for coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel. For $26 to $33 billion per year investment, ten percent of United States electricity can be from solar by 2025, details the Utility Solar Assessment Study, produced by clean-tech research firm Clean Edge.

By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions. In their Scientific American article, Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis detail the scenario. A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity by 2050. This quantity includes enough to supply all the electricity consumed by 344 million plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The price tag for the transition would be $400 billion, but this could be spread over a number of years. Should this seem too expensive, consider the alternatives. This is a fraction of what the U.S. has spent for the war in Iraq.

In the final keynote of the Solar Power International conference, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) explained that both Republicans and Democrats ultimately supported an 8-year extension of solar and other renewable investment tax credits in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This bill also included $7,500 tax credits for the purchase of new plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Senator Cantwell also strongly supports United States investment in a smart and robust grid, and in bringing high-voltage lines from major sources of renewable energy to major markets.

The transition to clean energy is increasingly recognized as an excellent investment. Due to rapid cost reduction, solar is a growing part of the solution that includes electric vehicles, energy efficiency, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and other renewable sources. Compared to business as usual with oil and coal, renewable energy is downright cheap. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, $5.4 trillion must be invested to increase global oil production.

Read the Full Article

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and writes about cleantech and renewable energy. He has a modest stock holdings in Abengoa and Q-Cells.

LED There Be Light

by Richard T. Stuebi

As some of my long-time readers may know, I have never been a truly ardent fan of compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). Why?

1. Probably most importantly to me, in my experience with CFLs, I haven’t been satisfied with their start-up characteristics. They take a little while to “warm up” to full luminescence, and until then, the light seems very sickly to me. It actually makes me a bit nauseous. I know that better quality (i.e., more costly) CFLs perform better than cheaper generics, but even CFLs from General Electric (NYSE: GE) that I’ve bought still don’t turn on as well as I have come to expect from four decades of living with incandescents.

2. Except for some new (and considerably more expensive) products, CFLs generally don’t work with dimmers. I once found this out the hard way — snap, crackle, pop. I don’t know about you, but a lot of the light circuits in my house are on dimmers, and as a result I continue to run incandescents on them.

3. It is becoming more well-known that CFLs contain mercury, and hence their disposal is a real issue. Even worse, if one were to break, the release of mercury represents a significant risk — at best a big clean-up nuisance.

4. CFLs aren’t cheap. True, CFL prices are coming down to become closer to the levels of old/inefficient incandescents, but they are still substantially more costly. For lights that are rarely used, the extra investment doesn’t make much sense to me, as the energy actually saved is small.

So, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the emergence of LED (light-emitting-diode) products for consumer application. I like the quality of LED light, and LEDs don’t have the mercury issue, so it seems like the superior long-term lighting solution.

I’ve been told that household LED lighting is still many years away, but at least some products are trickling into the marketplace. For instance, see EarthLED Lightbulbs, which are available at Think Geek. Clearly, they are still a niche item for the early adopters, as they cost $60-100 per unit, but at least their emergence into the market now puts consumer LED lighting on the gameboard, hopefully on a quicker path of cost reduction as learning curve and scale production effects are achieved.

Since LEDs have virtually infinite lifetimes, in the future, there will no longer be a need to make lamps with removable bulbs in sockets. Savvy marketers out there should begin working to overturn the old paradigm of reusable lamp/disposable bulb, making way for LED lamp fixtures that are inherently designed to capitalize on the unique and compelling advantages offered by LED lighting.

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.

Renewable electricty dominates California utility plans

by Mark Henwood

On Thursday (10/16) I attended the User Group meeting of Plexos Solutions LLC, a boutique firm providing software and consulting to the rapidly changing California electric market. One of the presentations covered issues surrounding integration of renewable energy resources into the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). This is important to sustainable energy investors because virtually all the growth in generating capacity in California is forecast to come from renewable resources. While the fundamentals of this market have been overwhelmed by broader market conditions this last month, over time the fundamentals provide the tailwind that will lift stocks. And the growth expectations for renewables are very high in the California market.

Over the period 2007 – 2012 the CAISO is planning for increases over existing capacity of:

  • 5,053 MW of wind, a 187% increase,
  • 1,064 MW of geothermal, a 68% increase,
  • 946 MW of concentrating solar, a 203% increase,
  • 508 MW of utility scale PV solar, a 2,032% increase, and
  • 221 MW of biomass, a 28% increase

These are huge numbers representing billions of dollars of projects and electric revenues. Particularly striking to me are the growth expectations for the two main solar approaches.

In the concentrating solar sector, the state currently has 354 MW of large projects operating with the last one completed in 1990, 18 years ago. Most of this capacity is owned by FPL Energy, part of a large regulated utility. So the new capacity has to come from a sector that hasn’t, in California at least, been able to construct a project for many years. Equally noticeable it the paucity of publicly traded companies in the concentrating solar sector. Solar Millennium (S2M.DE) is one the few with significant concentrating solar activity.

The state currently has 8 projects with 3,689 MW of large concentrating solar projects in the permitting pipeline. But these numbers are deceptive. Of the 8, two projects are actually “solar/thermal” hybrids like the existing operating projects. These two projects represent 1,180 MW of capacity with 112 MW attributable to solar. The remaining 6 projects are a gamut of technologies ranging from troughs, reflectors, towers, and Sterling engines. These projects are all owned by private companies or municipal utilities and currently don’t present an opportunity for public market investors.

The PV solar sector provides more avenues for public investors to participate via investment in the PV supply chain. If the numbers work out the utility market represents a multi-year, very large opportunity. Let’s take a look.

As of the end of 2007 California had an estimated 279 MW of installed PV in homes and businesses and 25 MW of utility scale projects. This makes sense since the home and business markets are net metering against retail rates whereas utility scale projects have to compete against wholesale markets. So the premise is that PV solar is now becoming sufficiently competitive at the wholesale level to install over 500 MW in the next 5 years.

One of the first test cases was recently announced. On July 10, 2008 the California Public Utilities Commission approved a 7.5 MW contract between First Solar’s (FSLR) FSE Blythe project and Southern California Edision. Unfortunately much of the economic information was not disclosed but some key data can be gleaned from the record. First, the company is projecting an excellent 27% capacity factor for the project, significantly higher than typical estimates for PV projects. But equally important is the company is pursing the development receiving a price at or below the “market reference price” which is based on a highly efficient modern thermal plant. After accounting for some messy seasonal and time-of-use factors I calculate the project will receive approximately USD 0.14/kWh on average plus a 30% tax credit now that the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 passed. If FirstSolar can make money at this project then they are very near the holy grail of grid parity (at least until the credit expires December 31, 2016). And the utility systems can, according to the CAISO, absorb large amounts of solar power for years to come. Game on.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. Mark has no position in the stocks mentioned in this article.

Market Turmoil ….. just when you thought is was safe to invest in Water!

With the recent turmoil in the markets, optimism has been a commodity in short supply and good investment opportunities as scarce as hens teeth; though this may be changing if you believe Warren Buffets ‘buy now’ call. In the midst of this, two  new water based investment funds were recently launched.

On September 30, 2008, the investment group Calvert launched the Calvert Global Water Fund (CFWAX). This fund is its latest Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) mutual fund, part of a new series of investment portfolios known as Calvert Solution™ Strategies. Calvert have partnered with KBC Asset Management International, Ltd., of Dublin, Ireland, to sub-advise them on the management of this fund. KBC apparently ‘boasts an eight-year track record of strong performance in the global water sector’. Be that as it may, their timing for the launch probably wasn’t great given the stampede out of equities and they have dropped 18% from $15 at the start of October to approximately $12.20 today.
KBC say that they stay on top of the technological issues involved in the water cycle through its outside environmental advisory committee of scientists. Jens Peers, lead portfolio manager of the Calvert Global Water Fund says ‘we believe that no other water asset management group has set up a comparable committee of unbiased experts.”
Another recent development was that Four Winds Capital Management launched the first London listed water fund on July 24th. The fund, which is referred to as the Aqua Resources Fund was launched on the London Stock Exchange and will invest in water related assets in areas such as infrastructure, technology, recycling, treatment, distribution and water to energy, mainly by taking direct stakes in unquoted companies and projects. The investments must be at least 60% involved in water activities.

Aqua Resources could have done with some help on their website however, it really isn’t very inspiring, it doesn’t have very much meat to it and contains platitudes such as ‘The Company intends to implement its investment policy via its investment strategy. Using global research and sourcing, the Company intends to build a portfolio focused on investments that offer water-related returns.’ Yawn!

However one thing which differentiates Four Winds from other water funds is that they are focused on unquoted assets. This enables them to access a broader base of investments and go after small cap, pure plays, in the water sector. Most other water funds focus on public equity investments with significant non water business activities, e.g. Nestle and General Electric. Leonora Walters provides some good commentary on this at the Investegate.

Despite all the long term positive signs and reasons to invest in water, this didn’t however stop a number of water indexes from taking a hammering in the past few weeks, the ISE-B&S Water Index (^HHO) is down approximately 30% since the start of August and the Global Water Intelligence (GWI) Global Water Index was down 9.9% between 10th August and 19th September 2008. So it seems like in the old movie, when people hear the scary music they still go running for the beach. 

Paul O’Callaghan is the founding CEO of the Clean Tech development consultancy O2 Environmental. He lectures on Environmental Protection technology at Kwantlen University College is a Director with Ionic Water Technologies and an industry expert reviewer for Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Drive as green as the inside of a kiwi

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: the PLX Kiwi Fuel Saving Device

What is it?
The PLX Kiwi is basically a fuel efficiency monitor for any car. It’s an on-board display that shows you quite a bit of information, including your miles per gallon and how much you spent (or saved) on fuel in a given trip.

Why is it better?
Before the Kiwi, you might have been guessing at your car’s fuel efficiency. But now, you can see your MPG at the exact moment you’re driving. It gives you real time feedback which helps you adjust your driving style to maximize your fuel efficiency and minimize your carbon footprint (and save money). Just don’t keep your eyes on the Kiwi and forget about the road.

The Kiwi also comes with another nifty feature. It’s called the “Drive Green” mode. This setting lets you run through different driving lessons. The lessons teach you strategies to maximize smoothness, acceleration, and deceleration (among other things).

By making drivers more aware of their habits, their fuel economy, and their potential gas savings, the Kiwi helps cut gasoline consumption and therefore emissions. Now mileage monitors are no longer just for Prius drivers.

Where can you find it?
You can get the Kiwi for $299 directly from PLX Devices.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, organic personal care, and other green products.

Huge Opportunities to Do Good and Do Well with Green IT

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

McKinsey is on a roll, with yet another eye opening report, this time on How IT Can Cut Carbon Emissions’. The study highlights the key role IT can play in maximizing energy efficiency across sectors, more than compensating for carbon emissions from IT equipment manufacturing and operation.

Yet another example of the blatant business opportunities awaiting those willing to jump in the green tech train. What a great time to be in IT!

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

Cleantech Venture Capitalists Beware – What You Don’t Know About Energy Can Kill You

Oil prices quietly (at least in the cleantech world), slipped below $80 last week, off some 50% from its highs a few months ago. Did I say 50%? Yes 50%. And gas has slipped, too, as with some variations, natural gas historically trades at a roughly 10:1 price ratio of Barrels to MCF.

It’s easy to get caught up in the cleantech hype and forget that only 10 years ago this year oil prices fell two thirds caught between rising supply from a decade of drilling and nasty Asian flu, triggered in part by, wait, a financial debt crisis, that time in emerging markets. Sound familiar? And oil hit less than $11 per barrel, less than 1/13th of its recent high, with people talking $6.

And it’s easy to forget that the half decade following 1998 the not yet named as such cleantech investment sector hyped fuel cells, microturbines and distributed generation on the back of clean cheap natural gas, which was the fuel of the future.

And it’s easy to forget that rising commodity prices wiped 99% of those business cases (only a few billion in value, though!) off the map until not a single cleantech venture investor today discusses distributed generation at all. But after a short hiatus, solar and ethanol exits on the back of some huge subsidies came through and cleantech was boomed.

And it’s easy to forget that only a couple of years ago we as an industry debated the viability of hybrids and biofuels – because of a breakeven at $40-50/barrel or higher (the oilman’s breakeven in Saudi Arabia is maybe $5/bbl)? Breakeven at $40 in biofuels? Corn ethanol maybe, cellulosic, dream on. But the switch from MTBE to ethanol came through on the policy side and unforeseen Chinese demand growth pushed oil prices stratospheric. And the corn ethanol plant owners built hundreds of plants at 5% of the size of average refinery, made hay and traded at tech multiples. Only to get crushed when corn prices, driven up by (gasp!) demand and higher natural gas and oil drove up their feedstock, fertilizer and transport costs and margins down. Welcome to refining, freshman.

And it’s easy to forget that the core economic value proposition for solar has the ever present cost escalation analysis – “lock in your power costs, energy prices have risen x% per year, if they continue to do so you’ll be paying 2.5x your current power prices in 30 years”. And that the solar industry quietly ignores that energy prices will decline not rise with economic turmoil. But the ITC and feed in tariffs came through paying more than half the cost and so the party goes on.

It’s easy to forget that energy is about commodity prices. And commodity prices are about cycles, supply AND demand. And that demand is GDP growth driven in energy. And that in our global markets GDP growth is more interlinked than ever, making it more, not less subject to cycles.

And that alternative energy is called alternative because it’s the most expensive form of energy, meaning it’s the swing producer, the type of guys who get killed in cycles (subsidies aside, of course).

And that the big fortunes made in cleantech investing todate have not been made on high risk early stage technology bets, but on 10 or 20 year old technologies who were in the right place at the right time when the policies came in. Or the low cost manufacturers of mature known technologies (think corn ethanol or wind developers and Chinese solar manufacturers) who moved fast when policies moved, making hordes of “that’s not a venture” bets. Disruptive technology has never been the winner.

In energy, there is no disruptive technology, only disruptive policy that makes some technologies look disruptive after the fact. In energy, the risk is in the scale up, not the R&D, and the end application is so massive, so capital intensive, and so utterly dependent on commodity prices, that you can’t invest in it like you invest in IT. It takes longer, 10x as much money, and the ante up to play the game for one project is the size of your largest fund. At scale, there is no capital efficient strategy in energy.

But we are Silicon Valley and we smash open gates with technology, and we know better than those energy dinosaurs in Houston, London, and Abu Dhabi, right? They just don’t get it, right? One game changing technology can force the oil companies and power companies to their knees. The one I’ve found really is new and different. This entrepreneur has discovered something new. And it can be *cheaper* than oil (if you define cheaper right).

Beware Silicon Valley, the great fortunes, wars, and economic crises of the world for 100 years are not technology ones, they were energy made. Half the schools you went to were built by oil money. And the entreprenuerial spirit in this industry was born in the hardscrabble oilfields of Pensylvania and Texas, and grew up in the far reaches of the globe. And the oil companies those entrepreneurs founded have forgotten more about technology in energy than you even know existed.

Be forewarned, you do not have a comparative advantage here. The oil men invented risk taking, AND risk management. The oil men are bigger, faster, smarter, richer, have more scientists and more entreprenuerial spirit than you, AND they know energy.

So while you fight the good fight to develop technology to change the world, don’t forget, be humble, learn what can be learned, build what can be built, and walk softly, because the elephant in this room floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, and he has yet to take the field.

. . .

The little guys whose pension funds are paying you a cushy 10 year guaranteed contract are counting on you to put aside your hubris.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at Jane Capital Partners and the CEO of Carbonflow. He is the Chairman of and edits Cleantech Blog. He is from Houston, is a Texas Aggie, and believes in both energy and the power of technology to change the world.

Update on Offshore Wind

by Richard T. Stuebi

In Cleveland, the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force (a collaboration involving many local public, private and academic organizations, led by the Cuyahoga County government) has commissioned a feasibility study for developing the Great Lakes Wind Energy Center (GLWEC). The GLWEC would include a demonstration offshore project in Lake Erie off of downtown Cleveland, along with an applied research center to facilitate the development of lower-cost next-generation offshore wind energy technologies and approaches.

The long-term market opportunity for offshore wind just in the Great Lakes (much less the oceans of the world) is huge. A 2004 study indicated a theoretical potential for almost 250 gigawatts (250,000 megawatts!) of wind installations in the Great Lakes, and the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University recently released a report indicating 322 gigawatts of potential in the waters offshore the state of Michigan alone. Of course, nowhere near this much offshore wind generating capacity is likely to be installed, but even if 50 gigawatts becomes installed in the coming decades, at $4 million per megawatt, this would represent $200 billion of investment in the Great Lakes. This seems worth pursuing with some vigor.

As a member of the Task Force, I recently traveled to Hamburg to present the state of progress in developing the GLWEC at Germanischer Lloyd’s annual offshore wind workshop. This gave me an opportunity to “take the pulse” of how the wind industry was currently assessing prospects for offshore wind.

The general state-of-affairs is that the wind industry is preoccupied with prospects in the onshore markets around the world to pay much more than tangential attention to offshore opportunities. For instance, according to the 2007 Report of the Global Wind Energy Council, 20,076 megawatts of wind energy was installed worldwide in 2007, but according to statistics from the European Wind Energy Association, only 210 megawatts was installed offshore (all in Europe). With only 1% of the market, it’s easy to see how much a runt offshore wind remains in the overall wind industry.

A key theme of the discussions was the need to maximize reliability/availability/lifetime of offshore turbine designs to minimize overall life-cycle costs of offshore wind energy, given the costs and challenges associated with installation and servicing turbines on top of tall towers in the middle of large bodies of water often exposed to heavy seas and weather.

The wind industry appears to be realizing how naive it was in thinking it would be relatively straightforward to move from onshore to offshore, while simultaneously seeing that offshore wind market needs are rapidly approaching because onshore wind prospects will not be sufficient to meet overall demands for new wind energy installations. In other words, the wind industry is likely to become more serious and earnest in taking head-on the offshore promise and challenge in the relatively near-future. The industry leaders can’t avoid it forever. But, in the main, they are avoiding it for now.

In the meantime, I am aware of several entrepreneurial companies — some of whom working in stealth mode, some of them with substantial wherewithal — that are following Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma playbook and aggressively developing innovations to take on a market niche that the “big boys” aren’t terribly interested in right now. As a result, the current leaders of the wind industry — Vestas (CO: VWS), General Electric (NYSE: GE), Siemens (NYSE: SI), Gamesa (MCE: GAM), Suzlon (NSE: SUZLON) and so on — may wake up a few years ago and find that they “missed the boat” in offshore wind.

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.

Keeping America Moving

By John Addison (10/11/08). A record number of Americans are saving thousands per year by using public transportation from one day per week to living car free. In 2007, a 50-year record of 10.3 billion trips per year, saving over 4 billion gallons of car gasoline use. 2008 will set a new record that may approach 11 billion trips as more commuters leave their cars parked to brave standing-room-only train and bus rides.

Fifteen thousand who run global transportation systems convened in San Diego from October 6 to 8 to examine a range of strategic issues and to review 800 exhibitors at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Expo.

As transportation managers accommodate record numbers of passengers, they face challenges. Most transportation funding is spent on highways, not on public transportation. Fare revenue is only a fraction of budgets. Loss of property and sales tax funding is forcing operators to cut budgets. Diesel fuel prices have increased 166 percent in four years.

Buses designed to stay on the road for 12 years are being kept in operation longer. When new buses are ordered, reduced fuel cost is a priority. 63 percent of buses ordered in 2007 were alt-powered using hybrid technology, natural gas as a fuel, or both. City light-rail is typically powered by electricity. Public transportation is increasingly using renewable energy (RE) by installing more solar power and contracting for RE with public utilities.

The shift to fewer car miles on highways and alt-powered transportation is helping the nation need less oil. U.S. use of oil refined products in transportation is estimated to be reduced 5 percent this year. Should rail and public transit resolve their budget crises, oil use will drop further.

Member organizations were encouraged to overcome all obstacles in accommodating record riders by Dr. Beverly Scott, APTA’s new Chair and also CEO of MARTA in Atlanta. When federal funding of public transportation expires in 2009, APTA will ask the new Congress for a $123 billion 6-year funding package.

Pushed to the wall, several major transit systems are making politically unpopular fare increases. Some are cutting routes, frequencies, and making layoffs.

In his speech, Jim Simpson, Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) Administrator encouraged executives to consider public-private partnerships (PPP). At the Expo, I visited with Veolia (NYSE: VE), the world leader in transportation service contracts and management. Veolia has 120 contracts to run transportation in 30 countries for annual revenues of about $8 billion.

A good example of an effective PPP since 1993 is Veolia’s partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada. I have personally been impressed in using their bus rapid transit while attending Las Vegas conferences. During the life of this partnership, ridership has increased from 15 to 60 million per year. At the APTA Expo, on of Las Vegas’ new 62-foot rapid transit vehicles was on display, looking more like a bullet train than a bus. The vehicles are designed by Wright with ISE doing the hybrid-electric drive systems using Siemens components. Fifty of the new vehicles will be delivered to Las Vegas.

For transportation operators that cannot make capital expenditures, PPP can provide a way for private corporations to buy needed equipment, then utilize the rail and buses as part of service contracts. Unfortunately, the expansion of public-private partnerships (PPP) envisioned by the FTA goes in the face of some of its obsolete legislated rules for funding.

In the long-term public transportation will serve a growing number of Americans because of increasing oil prices, plus increased preference for urban living by the young, by families, and by retiring boomers. As transit stops being a neglected child compared to highway funding, it will meet the financial challenge of expanding routes and increasing frequency by adding rail, adding buses and employing more drivers and maintenance professionals. Significant growth will reduce or oil dependency, make people more productive, and unclog the streets and freeways. Even those who never use transit will benefit from lower gasoline prices, less time in gridlock and breathing cleaner air.

Significant growth will be supported by high speed rail linking suburbs and linking transportation systems. Jim Simpson, (FTA) Administrator, regularly takes the 3 hour Amtrak Acela regularly from New York to Washington, D.C. Often he cannot get a seat as record demand soars ahead of investment in more rolling stock. Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million people in fiscal year 2008. The company has posted six years of ridership and revenue growth, recently benefiting from high gas and airline prices. The number of trips over the past year increased 11% and revenue 14%.

On November 4, voters in 33 states will be making decisions about approving transportation funding. In California, voting on Proposition 1A will decide if the nation has a second high-speed rail system that could cover 800 miles and carry forecasted ranges of 32 to 68 million annual rides by 2020. It will cost far less than the alternative of expanding highways and airports. Should voters give the system the green light, the $10 billion of California taxpayer funded bond will need to be matched with $10 billion federal and $10 billion of public-private partnership money. The system will be electric, using no petroleum.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile. The IRS allows you to deduct 58.5 cents per mile for business. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, insurance, and tickets add up. Most households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year.

More Americans will save thousands by using public transportation. For some it will be one day per week, for others it will be the primary way that they travel. City and regional systems are offering trip-planners, dynamic maps, and realtime GPS information to those using the Internet, text messaging, and smart phone technology. I have frequently used Google Transit to plan trips that have several transit legs. Enjoy the savings of time and money from public transportation.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with over 100 articles and reports about vehicles and transportation. Disclosure: the author is a modest long-term stockholder in Veolia. All his stock holdings are getting more modest every day. John now uses transit more frequently than his car.

A Swash(buckling) Bidet Seat

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: the Brondell Swash Ecoseat Bidet Seat

What is it?
The Swash Ecoseat is a bidet seat. It gets installed in place of your traditional toilet seat and has a control panel to help you select the water direction and flow. The Swash Ecoseat has two retractable “cleansing wands” which are self-cleaning. The seat also has a body sensor, so it can tell when you’re not seated and will automatically shut off the flow of water. The seat operates with only 4 AA batteries.

Why is it better?
By nature, a bidet seat does use more water per use than a standard toilet. However, a standard toilet without a Swash Ecoseat also requires toilet paper. The Swash Ecoseat was designed to reduce toilet paper use by 75%.

According to Brondell, in one day, Americans use 34 million rolls of toilet paper. But in order to make all that toilet paper, there are a lot of resources required (221 thousand trees, 255 million gallons of water, 161 million kWh of electricity). Just imagine offsetting 75% of that toilet paper use – it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 thousand tons.

Besides some serious resource conservation, the Swash Ecoseat is simply more hygienic. The only thing you have to touch with your hands is the control panel.

I can tell you from personal experience, the seat is really comfortable and the water pressure is quite strong. At the Huddler office, we experimented getting around the body sensor to see what was really going on. There’s even a Swash Ecoseat video to prove it.

Where can you find it?
You can buy the Swash Ecoseat (and a variety of other bidet seats) directly from Brondell for $360.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living at the Green Home Huddle at, which focuses on electric cars, organic personal care, and other green products.

Climate Change a Game Changing Factor for Corporate Valuations

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Smart industry leaders better listen to McKinsey’s just released study on the likely impact of climate change mitigation scenarios on corporate valuations.

Depending on the type of industry, and the preparation level of businesses, including strategic planning and adaptation, the outcome for a particular business could run the gamete, from opportunistic gains, to spectacular losses.

For companies, climate change is no longer just a CSR issue, but a matter of long term financial survival.

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

TheFreakOut: Button It Up, A Confession

by Heather Rae

Here in Maine, politicos making hay of rising (and now dipping fuel) costs are calling for troops of weatherization crews to be unleashed into the homes of the state’s neediest residents. This initiative is not “low-income weatherization” which services the poorest, but an attempt to button up the homes of the next economic tier. These troops of state-trained energy auditors will be armed with state-subsidized air infiltration measurement devices (“blower-doors”) and infrared cameras.

Political jockeying of a prominent state financing organization over the training and oversight of these troops — and angling for the monies made available via RGGI, forward capacity markets, Federal “green jobs” funding and a proposed, but rejected, request for bond funding — is evidence that there’s something at stake here, something significant enough for the governor himself to broadcast tips on weatherization via satellite link-ups. I hope it’s not just money, power and turf, but I’m not convinced.

The State has no energy office; it was dissolved years ago. There is no authority under which these home energy improvement initiatives and programs, those that serve the general public, comfortably fit. A governor’s task force plan, released this past summer, did not call for establishment of such an authority. That’s a shame. The State is mired in political gamesmanship, as homeowners FreakOut over the costs of staying warm against the cold weather that is already upon us. I’ve stoked the wood stove many times in the last week.

For two years, the Maine Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, with funding from various state and federal resources, has aimed to raise the bar for energy improvements, to build awareness of the economic benefits of buttoning up a home and to train people who understand the complexities of interacting building systems, indoor air quality, ventilation, and combustion safety (that is, entry of toxic gases into the home from combustion appliances). I am the project manager of this program. We have aimed to transform the market. We have aimed to uphold nationally-recognized standards for energy renovations for a new profession that still has no recognized name. We have aimed to build a sustainable “whole house” industry, aka, jobs.

This week I am at a conference in Massachusetts for specialists in the whole house/home performance field. I can say that in two years, despite enormous obstacles and a fast-changing landscape, this little program has made enormous strides, not by the criteria of a program that must demonstrate kWh and therm savings, but in elevating the standards of home energy audits and improvements in the State, and in moving this “whole house” industry forward.

Weatherization (or winterization as is the case in Maine) is a catch-all word; there is much more to to it than a tube of caulk and bundles of pink asbestos batts. Not too many years ago, just after a layoff from an electric and gas utility (where one might presume employees would gain a clue or two about home weatherization…I never even heard the term while there), I launched into an energy improvement of my own home. At the time, I also sat on the energy committee of a local Sierra Club where a fellow member was an energy auditor. I’d seen pictures of that “blower door” thing. To me, it was geeky, strange, incomprehensible.

Unsurprisingly, I royally botched my home energy improvement. I had no understanding of thermal boundaries, air infiltration, carbon monoxide backdrafting, or energy savings to investment ratios of the improvements. I purchased $600 of pink asbestos batts from a big box store (which provided no instructions about proper installation…no guidance on air sealing prior to installation…no description of which way the barrier should face, or if I needed one at all, for the application.) I had no measure of the leakiness of the house prior to my big pink batt project, and I had no way to verify whether or not I had actually made an improvement. (I can take an educated guess, now, that in removing from the attic floor the blown in cellulose and its perpetual plumes of dust, that the pink batts made the home less energy efficient.) I took no steps to ensure that the beastly gravity furnace was safe, though I knew it was energy inefficient. I liked it because it was silent. When I sold the house, it was determined to have a crack in the heat exchanger and was replaced. (It wasn’t safe.) I had placed a carbon monoxide detector in the outlet at the floor of the house, not in the upper part of the room where the carbon monoxide would have been.

Call me stupid. I was, and I offer this confession as a caution: my ignorance is prevalent.

A few things I did do right such as the storm windows and the pleated thermal blinds to block the blazing southern Colorodo sun. Those are the sorts of Do-It-Yourself improvements that politicians love to impress upon their constituents. The rest of it, the building science and the physics of the building’s systems, I have been told by politicians, are too complicated, too much for people to grasp. We all recognize that home improvements can be very expensive and many homeowners cannot afford them…so I am asked to give them the Do-It-Yourself talk and to leave out the bits about thermal boundaries and all that science stuff.

I can’t. If weatherization crews — as opposed to fully trained “whole house” professionals held to energy renovation standards — are unleashed, there is the risk of damaging a home and the health of its occupants…to the point of killing someone with toxic gases. If the only solution politicians want to hear is DIY without the geeky science, there is the same risk. A political solution to the FreakOut that eschews professional guidance is dangerous and irresponsible.

The Energy Policy Act of 2008

by Richard T. Stuebi

Betcha didn’t know that there was an Energy Policy Act of 2008, did you? Well, you won’t find any bill of that name. But, the passage of last week’s appropriately titled “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008” is almost tantamount to an energy bill.

The Senate prepared a nice summary of the energy-related provisions that were stuffed into the bill during the chaotic process to get something passed promptly that would reassure the financial markets. I have yet to review all of the provisions, but it’s clear that many of them have favorable implications for a variety of clean energy technologies, inluding wind, solar, energy efficiency, hybrid vehicles, biofuels, and smart grid.

It’s nice that there has been at least one small silver lining to the dark cloud of financial implosions in the past few weeks.

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.

VantagePoint Snares Kiwi Cleantech Venture Capital Talent

Leading cleantech venture capital firm VantagePoint Venture Partners this week lured away New Zealand power sector veteran Helen Priest to join its Silicon Valley office in cleantech. Helen had been heading corporate ventures for Meridian Energy, New Zealand’s largest and all renewable state-owned power company. With a reputation for being one of the largest cleantech venture investors, behind such moneyraising fiends as Miasole, BrightSource, Tesla Motors and Mascoma, but also as one of most polarizing firms in the venture capital sector, VantagePoint added some needed benchstrength.

Helen brings experience doing deals in carbon, green building, and a decade of energy experience prior to Meridian as head of strategy and then CIO for New Zealand’s grid operator, Transpower. In one move VantagePoint landed expertise in three of the hottest areas in cleantech venture: carbon, green building, and smart power. Helen’s linked in profile and bio are here.

Meridian is a story all by itself. The state-owned company is not even 10 years old since its formation in the breakup of the New Zealand national power company ECNZ in 1999. It was guided in its early years by Kiwi power icon Dr. Keith Turner, and since his retirement by longtime power and telecom executive Tim Lusk. While generally not on the radar screen in the US, Meridian has been one of the earliest and most aggressive energy technology investors in the world, with a tech portfolio of over $150 mm, and a track record for investing into energy trends years ahead of the curve.

All renewable, Meridian put in the first wind farms in New Zealand, and now has 2.6 GW under development or consent.

A few years after its formation, it made a hedge fund like bet on the Australian deregulation and renewable sector clearing over half a billion in profits when it sold (in contrast to US utilities like TXU who were never able to effectively profit from investments in the deregulating Australian market).

On the technology and services side, Meridian has backed investments or done corporate spin-outs in smart metering and energy IT (Arc Innovations and Powershop), distributed generation & efficiency (Energy for Industry, Damwatch and Whispertech – the largest stirling engine technology company in the world), green building (Righthouse), and carbon IT (Carbonflow, one of mine). It was also an early investor in fuel cells, superconductors (under founding CEO Keith Turner’s watch Meridian’s predecessor funded some of the original work behind 1G superconductor wire at the New Zealand national lab IRL), and energy venture capital (Nth Power). And it runs it all from a state of the art five star green building. And has recently begun making noises about a solar run.

As with venture, every bet didn’t always pay of. The Nth Power investment was in Nth’s second fund, which was before the current cleantech boom and hasn’t delivered returns, and its early fuel cell investment was Ceramic Fuel Cells, which did later deliver a successful AIM listing, but Meridian had declined to re-up. And as with most cleantech investors except for solar, their big tech bets haven’t yet exited to prove the returns, and it has been the project oriented side of the portfolio that carried the early profits. But with a portfolio loaded with energy efficiency and energy IT bets whose time has come, and a state-owned entity’s cost of capital behind it, Meridian will probably be punching outside their weight in the tech category, too.

Besides renewable energy and technology, Meridian also did some of the earliest carbon credit projects under Kyoto off its first windfarms, and later issued some of the first Gold Standard VERs ever (verified by DNV), again reaping profits from its early move. It holds the record for the highest price ever paid for voluntary carbon credits at over $100/ton for a tranche of Gold Standard VERs auctioned on Trademe, New Zealand’s eBay (proceeds donated to charity). And it also used its carbon project experience to brand as one of the first utilities globally to certify its whole utility as carbon neutral in 2007.

Meridian was not the first energy technology stop for Helen. Prior to Meridian, Helen held the CIO’s role as head of IT for Transpower, New Zealand’s transmission grid operator, and was Transpower’s head of strategy before that. A chemical engineer by training, she previously oversaw global strategy for New Zealand’s 11,000 strong diary cooperative, Fonterra. She has been Meridian’s representative to the boards of the NZ Green Building Council and Carbonflow. And now she’s moved back global with this position, moving to Palo Alto join VantagePoint.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at Jane Capital Partners and the CEO of Carbonflow. He is the Chairman of and edits Cleantech Blog. Note; Meridian has been a longtime client of mine, and is an investor in Carbonflow, where I am serving as CEO.

Californian City Considers Buying back lawns to save water

How ‘green’ is your lawn? The City of Fresno in California think’s not very ‘green’ at all and is proposing to ‘buy back’ lawns from home owners in an effort to stop people pouring the States’ precious water resources all over them. This is part of an Urban Water Management Plan approved by the Fresno City Council last month. The Assistant Director or Public Utilities, Garth Gaddy, said he could see the City paying $9 or $10 a square foot to homeowners who sign contracts saying they won’t reinstall lawns.

Given that Fresno’s peak water usage during the winter, when most residential sprinkler systems are shut off, is approximately one third of what it is in the summer, this makes good economic and environmental sense. In a City with an expanding population based, it’s a cheap of way of not having to find, treat and deliver new water.
Those “cash for grass” type programs are growing in popularity, said Jennifer Persike, public affairs director for the Association of California Water Agencies.

In Minnesota people were also concerned with the environmental footprint of lawns and enacted the Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law to restrict application of phosphorus fertilizers to prevent nutrient enrichment of their lakes and rivers. While they are the only state so far in the US to enact such a law, the Province of Manitoba in Canada has just followed suit and enacted a similar law.

In addition to a plentiful supply of water and fertilizer, any home owner worth his salt knows that it’s only right and proper to give his lawn a good dose of herbicide every now to keep any insolent daisies at bay. This practice too however is coming under pressure, with several municipalities across North America enacting by-laws to ban the use of cosmetic pesticides and herbicides to protect the environment.

The solution to all of this? Jim Hagedorn, the CEO of and Chair of ScottsMiracle-Gro thinks it genetically modified grass. ‘When it comes to grass, people worry about watering, maintenance, and weeds, three headaches that genetic engineering – transgenic turf – could dramatically alleviate. “That’s the big kahuna for consumer lawns,” he says. “Solve those three issues and you’re a friggin’ hero!”
Nearly 50,000 square miles of the continental US is covered by lawn, according to estimates by ecologists at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Using satellite and aerial imagery, the team calculated that irrigated grass covers three times more land in the US than irrigated corn does. That makes turf the nation’s most widespread irrigated crop.
Lawn care and gardening is also the most popular outdoor leisure activity in the country, and the global industry supporting it generates an estimated $7 billion a year. ScottsMiracle-Gro accounts for more than a third of that – $2.4 billion in 2005.

It’s safe to say that no other nation commits even a fraction of the land, resources, chemicals, and water that the US does in pursuit of the perfect greensward.
So how did such a wholly unsustainable practice become so deep rooted in the fabric of suburbia? In American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, historian Ted Steinberg traces it to three factors: 1. Indoor plumbing, 2. Suburbia, and 3. Clever marketing on the part of the lawn care industry.

The lawn care industry saw tens of thousands of men returning from the war to a society where leisure time was increasing. These men, disciplined by military service, were looking for something to do in their spare time, so the lawn care industry gave it to them. Through their marketing efforts, they convinced people that clover and various other weeds were ‘enemies’ to be ‘eradicated’. Prior to the late 1950s, most lawns were a mix of Kentucky Bluegrass and clover. It was an ideal mix because of clover’s ability to take nitrogen out of the air and self fertilize the lawn. However this cut into sales of nitrogen fertilizers, so the lawn care industry decided the clover had to go. This created a market for both nitrogen fertilizers and herbicides in one fell swoop.

In the article ‘Turf Warrior’ David Wolman reports that all that vegetation does however have some environmental benefit. According to the NASA group, lawns collectively absorb some 12 billion pounds of carbon each year – effectively cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And if that grass weren’t there, much more soil would run off into storm drains, waterways, and rivers, polluting reservoirs and hastening the erosion of hillsides and valuable farmland.

So maybe hold off on concreting that lawn, cut back on the water, hold the fertilizer, embrace those daisies and at the risk of being burned as a heretic, consider some GMO grass???

Paul O’Callaghan is the founding CEO of the Clean Tech development consultancy O2 Environmental. He lectures on Environmental Protection technology at Kwantlen University College is a Director with Ionic Water Technologies and an industry expert reviewer for Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Sustainable Development Ends Suburban Sprawl

By John Addison (10/3/08) Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law SB 375 stating, “This landmark bill takes California’s fight against global warming to a whole new level and it creates a model that the rest of the country and world will use. When it comes to reducing greenhouse gases, California is first in tackling car emissions, first to tackle low-carbon fuels, and now with this landmark legislation, we are the first in the nation to tackle land-use planning. What this will mean is more environmentally-friendly communities, more sustainable developments, less time people spend in their cars, more alternative transportation options and neighborhoods we can safely and proudly pass on to future generations.”

Sprawl has been an enormous problem in California as 38 million people crawl through jammed suburban streets, then chocking freeways, only to finally search for a parking space near work. In California there is a car, SUV, or truck for every adult driver. California has a frightening dependence on oil. Compared with nations, only the U.S. and China guzzle more gasoline than California. Yep, California slurps oil products faster than all of Japan, all of Germany, all of India, or all of Russia.

Recent draughts and wild fires have also brought the early effects of a climate crisis to California, which produces food for much of the nation. With global warming, there is less snow storage of water, more polluted water, and therefore less water. Given an emerging crisis, California is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. SB 375 will build on AB 32, California’s first-in-the-nation law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Who says that Republicans and Democrats cannot work together? SB375 was a process that involved getting a wide range of issues on the table that included suburban and urban development, climate change, oil dependency, children’s health, air quality, and transportation. Although the bill was opposed by groups like the Western States Petroleum Association (drill baby drill), it was supported by divergent interests including the American Lung Association, the Building Industry Association, the Coalition for Clean Air, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Developers and environmentalists had to work for common ground, both groups achieving important goals but neither getting all that they wanted. All had to compromise and work together to accelerate smart growth, sustainable planning, funding, and development. People avoided the refrain, “It’s my way or the highway.”

Speaking of highways, in the future communities will be linked with more than highways. Development will be encouraged near effective public transportation. Major transportation systems will be linked with high-speed rail if Californians vote in favor of Proposition 1A, as they are forecasted to do on November 4.

Because of SB 375, at the heart of city plans will be people not cars. More Californians will enjoy easy access to public transportation, safe walking, and more local services. In two years, regional plans and city general plans will include specifics for reducing greenhouse gases and integrating transportation with sustainable development.

SB 375, sustainability and smart growth were actively discussed at West Coast Green. As the largest conference and expo dedicated to green innovation, building, design and technology, West Coast Green serves each year as a gathering place for 14,000 designers, innovators, business leaders, and building professionals.

Sustainable communities shared their success. John Knott, CEO of Noisette, detailed how 80,000 people in North Charleston, South Carolina, transitioned from an area of economic depression and crime, to a community of job growth, walkable streets, pathways, and beauty.

At the Conference’s host city, San Jose’s Mayor Chuck Reed described how they are thriving as a city of cleantech innovation with companies such as Nanosolar and Tesla, adding 25,000 green jobs, while moving to 100 percent renewable energy and all major buildings being U.S. Green Building Council LEED certified.

Communities are becoming more healthy, efficient, and livable. So are homes. At West Coast Green 400 exhibitors showcased the latest in resource-efficiency among a stunning array of green and healthy building technologies that allow us to work and live more efficiently in our homes. A wide range of energy efficient appliances, complete kitchens, and LED lighting was on display. No VOC paints, low-carbon materials, and better insulation were on display that improved indoor health. Displayed were the latest in solar power and solar hot water heating. Experts were on hand to help architects, builders, and homeowners with their plans.

Horticulturalists displayed landscapes that improved on the quintessential water intensive and pesticide intensive lawns. Displayed were plants for roofs, walls, and edible gardens.

At the center of the Expo was SG Blocks Harbinger House which brought many of the resources together into a beautiful home that collected rainwater, minimized home water use, brought in all welcomed sunlight while managing the home temperature. Whirlpool energy-sipping appliances were showcased. Vetrazzo counters dazzled without using imported granite. All energy and resources were monitored and managed by Agilewaves.

Al Gore spoke Saturday morning on the final day of the conference. The Nobel Laureate eloquently reminded all of the urgency needed to deal with the climate crisis and offered positive solutions. In the face of draughts, wild fires, hurricanes, and disappearing artic ice, we cannot delay another year. Decisive action is need.

Vice-President Gore reminded us, “Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses. Enough wind power blows to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.” New energy storage and smart-grid technology makes possible the complete transition to renewable energy.

Vice-President Gore called for a moratorium for new coal power plants. He warned of the climate dangers, water, and energy demands of oil from shale, now being approved in Congress. He renewed his call for “100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.”

Vice-President Gore applauded the innovation and energy efficiency being implemented by those participating in West Coast Green. Mr. Gore sees the opportunity for the U.S. to create millions of jobs and lead the world with innovative products and solutions.

This weekend solar home tours are available across the nation. See first hand the exiting progress and possibilities that are unfolding. Tour

John Addison writes about clean transportation and environmental issues. Over 100 articles and reports are available at the Clean Fleet Report.