Pressure Drop

In residential building science, the standard (accepted) method for determining air leakage is to depressurize the house, and use an infrared, or thermographic, camera to identify temperature differences of surfaces.  The infrared image — you’ve seen it, all yellow and red and green — makes a dramatic, colorful impression, and is a great tool to engage homeowners.  They get a visual impression of all the energy the house wastes which — we in the home performance community — believe can motivate homeowners into taking action to reduce that waste.

Lately, there have been some Twittered articles about companies that claim to be able to gauge that energy waste by taking infared images, and (the secret sauce) running algorithms to estimate potential energy savings. But skepticism can be born out of knowledge, and sometimes we humans get stuck in old world thinking, too much to see the the dawning of a brand new tomorrow, and that knowledge is an impediment to progress.  And sometimes, skepticism is a useful barometer for BS. Infrared imaging is a great marketing tool, but it is only one component of the diagnostics needed to ensure that homes are tightened up properly and safely.  Tom Boothby, a home performance professional, called the house-as-a-system approach, “house ecology.” In a house, there’s the interaction among the people living there (their pets and aquariums and cooking habits), the mechanicals for heating and cooling, and the shell of the structure.    Change one and you impact all the others.

The pressure diagnostics create negative pressure within the house (which in layman’s terms is to “suck the air out of a house”) and it provides lots of data on potential energy savings, but also, and this is really important, determines how tight a house can be and remain healthy … and possibly, how much makeup air may need to be brought into the house after a tightness limit has been reached and surpassed.  This is a critical aspect of home energy upgrades. Best practices are that the pressure diagnostics, as well as the infrared, are used during energy upgrades, as a gauge of tightness and to locate specific spots in need of air sealant and/or insulation.

If the infrared and some algorithms can estimate energy savings, that’s a clever thing.  But it’s only a part of a complex endeavor called residential energy effiiciency.

I say a pressure drop, oh pressure
Oh yeah, pressure drop a drop on you
I say when it drops, oh you gonna feel it
Know that you were doing wrong.

California Gains 10,000 EV Charge Points in NRG Agreement

from original post at Clean Fleet Report

California already has over 10,000 of the new electric vehicles on the road and 2,000 public charge points. Over 10,000 new electric charge points will be added to give EV drivers added range. The charge stations will be built by NRG with private money, not public funds.

This will be the world’s largest electric car charging network and include smart grid technological advancements to level grid load, and energy storage and vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

California needs electric cars. Compared to nations, only two countries use more petroleum than California – the United States and China. The Los Angeles Basin and Central Valley historically had such severe health problems that Governor Ronald Reagan established the California Air Resources Board, which continues to encourage cleaner cars and fuel-efficiency.

California Public Utilities Commission and NRG Energy

The California Public Utilities Commission and NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) have entered into an agreement where NRG will build a comprehensive electric vehicle (EV) charging network in California, investing approximately $100 million over the next four years.

This fee-based charging network will consist of at least 200 publicly available fast –charging stations—installed in the San Francisco Bay area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego County—which can add 50 miles of range in less than 15 minutes of charging.

The DC-Fast Charging will especially be helpful for drivers of pure battery-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i, many which were purchased with DC-Fast Charge Ports. Currently many of these electric car drivers are limited to ranges of 60 to 120 miles without access to fast charging.

Additionally, NRG’s EV infrastructure commitment will include the wiring for at least 10,000 individual charging stations located at homes, offices, multifamily communities, schools and hospitals located across the State. The charging locations will be easy for drivers to find with Google Maps, smartphone apps, and electric car navigation systems.

NRG California EV Charging includes Smart Grid and V2G

  • A minimum of 200 direct current (DC) fast chargers to the state.
  • A minimum of 10,000 parking spaces retrofitted with wiring necessary to charge EVs at multifamily buildings, large worksites and civic sites such as universities and hospitals.
  • Training and jobs for the installation and maintenance of these charging stations in
  • California.
  • Smart grid and grid storage services that increase the speed and power of DC fast charging, store electricity to minimize peak-period demand, and enable EV drivers to support electrical grid reliability with needed energy services through vehicle to grid (V2G).
  • Significant additional investment in California’s clean technology economy and hundreds of jobs in construction and EV infrastructure manufacturing, maintenance and management.
  • Approximately $100 million in infrastructure investment over four years, and $20 million in cash to go to the California Public Utility Commission.

Dynegy and Enron were famously accused of manipulating California’s energy markets leading to a crisis 12 years ago. The agreement, pending approvals and finalization, resolves outstanding litigation arising out of a long-term electricity contract entered into over a decade ago by a subsidiary of Dynegy, then a co-owner with NRG of the portfolio of power generating plants currently owned by NRG in California. NRG assumed full responsibility for resolving this matter in 2006 when NRG acquired Dynegy’s 50% interest in the assets.

“California already leads the way in the development of an alternative energy transportation sector and, with the price of gasoline above $4 per gallon and rising, all Americans need to be giving serious consideration to the increasingly attractive electric vehicle alternative to what former President Bush called ‘our national addiction to foreign oil’,” stated NRG CEO Crane. “This network will be built with private funds on a sustainable business model that will allow NRG to maintain and grow the network as EV adoption grows.”

NRG has been making major investments in utility-scale solar and wind. AeroVironment has been one of its charge station suppliers in Texas.

Over 7 Million Charge Points by 2017

California is often the first point of sale for new electric cars, which are then offered in other states, then all 50 states. Other states gaining momentum in electric car sales and public charge points include Oregon, Washington, Florida, Michigan, and Texas where NRG is also developing a charge point network for subscribers.

Clean Fleet Report forecasts 60,000 to 100,000 electric car sales and leases in the United States in 2012 and 200,000 in 2013. Pike Research forecasts 7.7 million charge points installed globally by 2017.

Afternoon, Deloitte

The consulting firm Deloitte recently released a report entitled “Every Company Is An Energy Company (And If It Isn’t, It Will Be Soon)”.

The main message is that, with increasing energy prices, it will be imperative for every company to consider how to reduce energy consumption in its buildings and its shipping/fleet, as well as what kind of self-production of electricity and/or heat.

The secondary message is that a long-term shift to “values-based capitalism” is afoot.  Companies need to minimize their environmental footprint – in large part, through their energy strategy – because customers, shareholders and employees alike are increasingly demanding that companies do so.

The authors, Nick Main (Deloitte’s Global Managing Partner of Climate Change and Sustainability) and Joseph Stanislaw (independent senior advisor to Deloitte), make the case that the clean energy game is just beginning:  Clean Energy 1.0 will evolve to Clean Energy 2.0 and 3.0 and so on over the generations to come.  And, it will take generations, because the energy asset base is long-lived and human behaviors of those making decisions are hard to change.

More bluntly, good ideas often become widely adopted only when those opposing the good ideas die off.

It is notable that Deloitte’s white paper appears to be aiming for, and solely references (with one exception:  National Grid (NYSE: NGG)), companies that are currently only consumers of energy — and major consumer brands to boot:  Unilever (NYSE: UN), IBM (NYSE: IBM), United Parcel System (NYSE: UPS), Dell (NASDAQ: DELL), PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP).  The text is essentially silent in its (potential) messages to companies that are energy suppliers themselves or that supply to the energy industry. 

Is it because Deloitte has already told this message in another format to companies that are already generating revenues (as opposed to incurring costs) from energy?  Or, is it because such companies just don’t like the message and don’t want to hear it again?

Will it take generational turnover in the energy sector itself before Deloitte’s story is more widely endorsed?

Dr. Sherwood Rowland – Tribute to a Nobel Laureate

This excerpt from my book is a tribute to Dr. Sherwood Rowland who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his co-discovery of how CFCs were destroying our atmosphere. He died on March 10, 2012 at the age of 84. His wife Joan survives him. They would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this June. He was a brilliant researcher and an engaging teacher. I was fortunate to be one of his students at UCI.

Attack of the Killer Hairspray

By John Addison. A thin layer of ozone in the stratosphere protects us from getting zapped and fried by gamma rays, x-rays, and ultraviolet rays. This ozone shield was saved thanks to the brilliant work of Nobel Prize chemists Dr. Sherwood Rowland, Dr. Mario Molina, and Dr. Paul Crutzen.

I interviewed my former chemistry professor, Dr. Rowland, to understand the difficult process of scientific discovery, industry opposition, global treaties, and winning the Nobel Prize. Several scientists contributed to our understanding of the atmospheric shield. This is one man’s story – Dr. Sherwood Rowland.

When Dr. Rowland’s breakthrough occurred, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were used in everything from hairsprays to air conditioners. DuPont and a few other chemical companies were making billions from CFCs and similar chemicals.

Drs. Rowland and Molina questioned the conventional thinking that if the gases were inert at ground level, then they would not breakdown under any conditions. Sherwood Rowland recalled, “We realized that CFC molecules could rise into the atmosphere where sunlight is far more intense and then breakdown, freeing chlorine atoms. Under laboratory conditions, we created a chemical reaction demonstrating that chlorine is activated on the surface of ice cloud particles in the polar stratosphere.”

Returning home from a long day in the lab, Sherwood’s wife Joan asked him how is research was going. Dr. Rowland replied, “The work is going well, but it looks like the end of the world.”

The results were frightening. Dr. Rowland discovered that CFCs would rise in the stratosphere, breakdown, and free chlorine atoms which destroy ozone molecules for at least 100 years. In 1974, Dr. Rowland and Dr. Molina published a seminal paper in Nature Magazine on the CFC destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer.

Predictably, businesses that were making billions by producing CFCs launched a campaign to discredit the research, disparage the scientists, and go for another good quarterly earnings report.

DuPont and other chemical manufacturers argued that millions would die without refrigeration and air conditioning. Life as we know it would end with people having “bad hair” days. “Aerosol Age Magazine published an article stating that we were probably agents of Russia’s KGB,” Dr. Rowland recalled with a weary smile.

DuPont argued that substitutes could not be created for CFCs. As we know by looking back 30 years, substitutes were created by DuPont and others. Human life was preserved, and DuPont profits continued to grow.

The Unlikely KGB Agent

What takes someone down the one-in-a-million path to being recognized as a Nobel Laureate?  Rowland grew-up in a small town in Ohio in a loving family. Sherwood Rowland demonstrated an early passion for mathematics and science. There was no television in his childhood to distract him from reading and learning. As a young teenager, he was allowed to collect temperatures and precipitation data for the local weather station. He was proficient in all studies and graduated high school at age 15.

Sherwood Rowland excelled when he attended Ohio Wesleyan University, graduating with all “A’s”. Contrary to later personal attacks that questioned his loyalty, Rowland demonstrated his America patriotism by volunteering and serving in the United States Navy during World War II.

Rowland’s doctoral studies at the University of Chicago included the good fortune to be assigned as a mentor Dr. Willard Libby, who had just finished developing the carbon-14 dating technique for which he received the Nobel Prize. He was also able to study with Nobel laureates Drs. Enrico Fermi, Henry Taube, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Harold Urey. By the time that Dr. Rowland discovered the damage to the ozone, he had progressed from teaching at Princeton to being a full professor and chairman of the chemistry department at U.C. Irvine, where his ozone discovery was made.

Ten Years under Attack

Sherwood Rowland UCIFor ten long years, from 1974 to 1984, Dr. Rowland and Dr. Molina continued to be attacked by the chemical industry. Even though no one could find flaws in the chemical equations, manufacturers insisted that absolute proof should be secured before taking any action.

During these ten years of struggle, the banning of the killing CFCs did not start with a global agreement; it started with grass roots efforts. Local nonprofit groups campaigned for local bans. Earth Day events educated.

Citizens of Oregon showed early leadership by actively campaigning to save the protective ozone shield. Oregon accepted the chemistry and banned use of aerosol in 1975. Aerosol damage got media attention to the point that it was even debated on TV’s most popular show – All in the Family. Celebrities and super models gave-up their hairspray and went natural.

Dr. Rowland remembered, “Leading scientists started taking us seriously in 1976, when the National Academy of Sciences accepted our research.” In 1977, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Governing Council adopted the World Plan of Action on the Ozone Layer.

An Image from Space

In the late 1970s, the first scientists that measured actual ozone depletion were so surprised that they believed their instruments had malfunctioned. Tragically, they did not publish their findings for years, not until 1984 when the British Antarctic Survey published their findings that ozone levels had dropped a frightening 35 percent in only 20 years. The U.S. satellite Nimbus-7 confirmed the results with images from space.

Ten long years after Dr. Rowland and Dr. Molina first published their CFC findings, they finally had empirical proof – an ozone hole over the Antarctic. After suffering years of industry sound-bite attacks, the good scientist started to develop his own clever remarks. When interviewed by newspapers and TV, Rowland quipped, “First they said there was no ozone problem, now you can see it from Mars.”

Ordinary people witnessed the hard evidence on television and in magazines showing satellite images of a life threatening hole in the ozone. Public pressure intensified for all nations to take action. The United States, Canada, Scandinavian countries, and several other nations, imposed bans on CFCs as aerosol propellants when used in antiperspirants, hairsprays and deodorants. These forward thinking nations did not wait for all nations to agree, they did not even wait for most nations. They took action.

In Montreal, Canada, on September 16, 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed into agreement by 24 major countries of the world, including the United States. These countries recognized that it was critical to be leaders, rather than wait years for all nations to agree.

A process for nations to phase-out production of dangerous CFCs and halons was established. Later, other dangerous chemicals were added to the list. The agreement was strengthened in Copenhagen. Developing countries were giving extra years to comply. Now 191 nations have agreed to the Montreal Protocol and are phasing-out the destructive gases.

Many brave leaders in science, government, and industry are taking action inspired by the work of Sherwood Rowland and his colleges. Twenty-one years after their published research, Dr. Rowland, Dr. Molina, and Dr. Crutzen were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This is the highest recognition a scientist can achieve.

Now a new generation of scientists – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has been awarded the Nobel Prize after suffering years of attack on their scientific integrity for documenting the tragic effects of increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

The Montreal Protocol is proof that the major nations of the world can agree to take climate action. We now hope for a new climate agreement that protects our future. It does not need to be perfect, but it does need leadership from the United States and China if other nations are to take action.

Living near the Pacific Ocean, Sherwood Rowland once broke his arm in big waves as he rescued one of his graduate students caught between rocks and pounding surf. Sherwood Rowland put his life on the line to rescue another. In fact, he rescued all of us.

This post is an excerpt from John Addison’s book – Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Cleantech Venture Competitions

On March 1 in Chicago, I attended the Clean Energy Challenge, a business plan competition among energy tech ventures from the Midwest, convened by the Clean Energy Trust.

With $250,000 of prizes sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Challenge was the culmination of several weeks of screening and coaching of over 100 ventures from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio, organized in two flights of competition:  start-up companies and student-run spin-outs from universities. 

The winners from each of these two categories were Hyrax Energy (start-up company) and NuMat Technologies (spin-out from Northwestern University).  From my perspective, these were good choices by the judges — most of whom were from venture capital firms. 

Frankly, Hyrax was far and away the most compelling of the start-ups, whereas NuMat had much stronger competition from its student-led spin-out peers.  I’m still trying to decide whether the student team pitches were generally better because they were involved in more coaching, were more receptive to coaching, or were less encumbered by the still-to-be-discovered challenges of actually running as businesses.

Onwards and upwards:  the student portion of the Clean Energy Challenge is in essence a regional qualifier for a national tournament, the DOE’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, to be held this summer.

Also being held this summer, and not just limited to clean energy ventures, is the Cleantech Open, another business plan tournament that involves bigger prizes and leads even to a global competition in the fall.  (The Cleantech Open currently appears to be lacking a Midwest region — something I hope to be a part of remedying for future years.)  If you want to get into this contest, entry applications are due May 8.

While the cash prizes involved in these contests won’t make or break a new venture, the credibility associated with winning is very valuable.  Even those that don’t win benefit from the exposure to investors and, maybe more to the point, from the discipline of running the gauntlet.

Let the games begin!

SnuggHome Surges Ahead

About ten years ago, my employer was a large investor-owned electric and gas utility in Denver. I was hired to manage the marketing of new energy technologies. Problem was, we didn’t have any new energy technologies. Not really. Our little team of two (plus a consultant) traveled to Minnesota to talk with Honeywell about smart gadgets, and then we flew to Manhattan for a trade show at the Javits Center to look at smart home networking. We hired a product ideation outfit out of San Francisco to test concepts in the newly re-structured electric market Texas called ERCOT. We met with Xanboo, a server-based web- and video-integrated home management company (err, start-up). Then it all tanked. Enron. The California power crisis. The utility dropped its pretense of interest in new energy technologies and decided to focus on ‘core offerings.’ Today, the interest in energy management has a lot more going for it. Investors and mentors, for one. Surge Accelerator out of Houston calls together entrepreneurs in energy efficiency software — among other energy-related technology — to convene for 12 week mentoring sessions: “Have you answered the call with a software solution that will manage and optimize energy consumption? We are looking for software entrepreneurs that are interested in making energy efficiency a worldwide reality with innovation.” Their key areas of interest in energy efficiency are home energy management, remote energy monitoring, and site energy optimization. The software design team of SnuggHome has answered the call and is participating in the current 12 week mentoring sessions. They are also delivering energy efficiency software solutions to that very same electric and gas utility in Denver!

Record Public Transit Ridership Reduces U.S. Oil Dependency

from original post at Clean Fleet Report

The United States is reducing its dependency on oil as we now consuming 18.3 million barrels a day, down from our peak of 21 million barrels a few years ago. Record use of public transit is a major factor – less solo driving in gridlock and we use less oil. Other major factors, of course, include high gasoline prices and more fuel-efficient cars. Since 96 percent of our transportation is from oil refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, we will take all the help we can get.

According to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans took 10.4 billion trips on public transportation in 2011, the second highest annual ridership since 1957. Only ridership in 2008, when gas rose to more than $4 a gallon, surpassed last year’s ridership. With an increase of 2.3 percent over the 2010 ridership, this was the sixth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. During 2011, vehicle miles of travel (VMTs) declined by 1.2 percent.

A number of U.S. regions demonstrated leadership in improving bus and rail systems, often doing more with less. The best systems use rail as the backbone of the system integrated with more cost-effective bus.

Light rail systems that showed major increases in 2011 include these regions: Seattle, WA up 37.2%, Dallas, TX  up 31.2%; Buffalo, NY up 15.6; North San Diego County up 14.8%; Salt Lake City, UT up 14.4%. These rail systems use local electricity, not foreign oil.

Cities with highest transit ridership use heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) to move millions. Heavy rail systems 2011 ridership growth was greatest in Cleveland, OH (12.3%), San Juan, PR (12%), Baltimore, MD (8.7%), Boston, MA (7.2%), San Francisco, CA (5.6%), Chicago, IL (5%), Miami, FL (4.9%), New York, NY (4.9%), and Philadelphia, PA (4.7%).

Buses, including bus rapid transit, are the heart of getting riders to their final destination. Cleaning the air and improving U.S. energy independence, most new buses are hybrid or run on natural gas. Bus systems with largest 2011 growth include Columbus, OH (10.1%), Saint Louis, MO (10%), Orlando, FL (8.4%), Miami, FL (8.3%), Washington, DC (7.1%), San Diego, CA (6.8%), San Antonio, TX (6.3%), Arlington Heights, IL (4.6%), Minneapolis, MN (4.3%), and Baltimore, MD (3.9%).

“U.S. public transportation ridership in 2011 is now the second highest ridership since 1957,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “What is exciting is that the uptick in ridership occurred in large, medium and small communities, showing the broad support that public transportation has nationwide. In fact, the largest rate of growth was in rural communities with populations under 100,000 where public transit use increased by 5.4 percent.”

“Two top reasons for the increased ridership are higher gas prices and in certain areas, a recovering economy with more people returning to work,” said Melaniphy. “Since nearly sixty percent of trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, it’s not surprising to see ridership increase in areas where the economy has improved.”

Transit also helps car drivers by relieving gridlock. Transit helps reduce the burden on taxpayers to widen highways and expressways. Most tax-payer transportation funds go to widen highways. Transit is funded by federal, state, local, and rider fares.

It is an election year. Congressional Republicans tried and failed to only continue funding transit only if states were forced to approve offshore drilling everywhere and approve eminent domain for the XL pipeline. That effort failed, but transit is still threatened with budget cuts and regional shutdowns. “There should be no doubt Americans need and want public transportation,” said Melaniphy. “Congress needs to pass a well funded, multimodal, multi-year transportation bill that will help meet current and growing demand.”

Fortunately, Americans act smart, even when Congress acts dumb. Millions look at smart apps like Google Maps and compare driving with transit. In a given week, more people intelligently mix transit, driving solo, driving with others, and some healthy walking. More smarts, less oil.

APTA 2011 Ridership Report PDF

Ten Ways to Reduce U.S. Dependency on Oil

Blinded By Science

It’s virtually impossible (for me, at least) to understand or keep track of the organization of the U.S. Department of Energy.  And so, when I encountered the booth at the recent Energy Innovation Summit (as reported last week) for the generic-sounding DOE group called “Office of Science”, I had to stop and ask to find out more.

How can there be an office for something so broad as “science”? 

Well, it probably could be better termed as “Office of Research”, though I’m sure DOE leadership explicitly rejected that name as sounding way too academic and hence divorced from the commercial marketplace (i.e., private sector).

It’s true that the DOE Office of Science, the largest sponsor of basic research in the physical sciences in the U.S., is oriented to the needs of universities and research centers.  Notably, the Office of Science recently created 46 Energy Research Frontier Centers (ERFCs) spanning the U.S. to address some highly-specialized technical fields of relevance to energy requiring world-class capabilities.

To illustrate, there’s the Center for Atomic-Level Catalyst Design (CALCD), led by Louisiana State University.  Not to mention the Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Center, led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Plus 44 other similar networks of scientific exploration.

While it’s true that this work is largely conducted by the ivory-tower, these ERFCs represent a very compelling resource for cleantech companies – large and small alike – facing particular technical challenges in developing new products and services for the energy sector.  When tackling especially thorny problems, it may be worth running the risk of getting blinded by science and peering into the bright shining light of a possibly-relevant EFRC.

Paving Path to Realistic Energy Modeling

Once upon a time, in a land called Maine, a girl (of a certain age) couldn’t help but wonder, “if you want to reward homeowners for saving energy in their homes, doesn’t it make sense to look at actual energy usage, something that accounts for behavior, as well as structures?” Soon, there were others, too, in lands far to the west and south who shared this wonder, antagonized by a protocol of projecting energy savings based on structural details. Perhaps modeling needs to be in line with actual utility bills and oil deliveries, and those actuals would better reflect energy savings, and more realistic carbon savings. Perhaps there needs to be a “before and after improvement” verification of savings, and a way for everyone to keep track.
The girl (of a certain age) checked out of the world for a couple years, to Southeast Asia where she found her bliss in colorful silk, and when she returned to the world of energy, she met a man who had a vision, in a land called New York. And he was called Tom. And he introduced her to people paving a path of realistic energy projections. And they were called Snugg Home.

Report from Energy Innovation Summit

Last week, many of the leading minds of the cleantech world congregated in suburban Washington DC for the 2012 Energy Innovation Summit.

The Summit is mainly oriented as a showcase of some of the most interesting and promising technologies that have surfaced directly or indirectly as a result of ARPA-E:  the Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy, a subgroup of the U.S. Department of Energy that was launched in 2009.

Of all the cleantech conferences I’ve attended in the past 12 years, and there have been far too many, this was one of the best, for several reasons.

First, most of the speakers were excellent (= interesting + informed).  Often at these kinds of events, the roster is populated by some combination of bureaucrats that in actuality are mid-level paper-pushers and geeks that speak in such granular detail about science or engineering topics that no-one can understand.  Either way, the comments are usually delivered in monotone, to overeager junior audience members busily taking notes they’ll never read and dozing or smartphone-checking senior audience members that have heard most of the same boring nonsense before.  (Cynical, much?  Yeah, I know.)

In contrast, we got to hear from Dr. Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, who is arguably the most brilliant cabinet member of all time (having won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for the cooling and trapping of atoms with laser light).  Dr. Chu reiterated some of his recent stump speech on the need for technological leadership to maintain/enhance U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, and the risks encountered from the need to stay on the frontier (Solyndra, anyone?)

We got to hear from Dr. Arun Majumdar, the Director of ARPA-E, who is just about as smart and knowledgeable, and perhaps more passionate and dynamic, than Dr. Chu.  Just one nugget from Dr. Majumdar:  the design life of a utility transformer is 40 years, yet the average in-service age of transformers on the U.S. utility grid is 42 years.  (Yet another factor in the drive for the “smart grid”.)

We got to hear from Bill Gates – yes, that Bill Gates – who revealed a depth of insight and concern that one would only expect of someone who had been playing in the cleantech game and fighting the good fight for decades.  Sample observation from Gates:  “Energy innovation in the U.S. is underfunded by at least a factor of 2.”  Gates talked at considerable length about the need for more research in carbon sequestration and in nuclear – noting his interest in TerraPower.

We got to hear from the Fred Smith and Ursula Burns, CEO’s of Fortune 100 companies FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and Xerox (NYSE: XRX), along with Lee Scott, the former CEO of WalMart (NYSE: WMT), talking about how energy technology innovation is critical to these goliaths of business.

I couldn’t attend all of the sessions because of various other commitments, and I purposely avoided sitting in on the remarks of the politicos – including Bill Clinton, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – because (a) I’m disgusted with the state of the political environment and discourse in the U.S. these days,  (b) I’m confident that these speakers have arbitrarily-close-to-zero to say that would be useful or relevant to someone trying to actually create value with new cleantech innovations entering the commercial marketplace, and (c) I had better things to do when they were talking.  But, what I did hear from the keynotes and panels I did attend was generally pretty interesting and informative.

The networking at the event was impressive.  Many of the leading cleantech venture capitalists were milling around, along with actually-empowered senior executives of leading industrial corporations sponsoring truly novel stuff in energy technologies.  I only wished the name tags were of a larger font, so I could better see the identities of some of the people I was passing by, knowing that I was missing connecting with someone I really wanted to get to know.

But perhaps the most important reason that the Summit was such a positive event for me was the quality of the technology innovations and innovators that exhibited at the show – spanning from university research projects to start-up ventures to large corporations such as General Electric (NYSE: GE), Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Cree (NASDAQ: CREE).

At times over the years, I feel like I’ve seen or heard pretty much everything in cleantech, which sometimes makes me wonder if everything that could be invented or needed to be invented was already being worked on.  An event like this put lie to this misbelief.  People were talking about exotic/crazy stuff like wireless electric vehicle recharging while roaming.

After just the first day, I could see that there were lots of promising technologies being worked on really big opportunities beyond the set I kept seeing over and over again.  Moreover, most of these initiatives were led by entrepreneurs that were not only committed but also much more competent and capable than the tinkerers that represented most of the cleantech innovation realm a decade or so ago.

My overall impressions of the Summit gave me good hope that we are making real progress in the cleantech world, and that there’s a lot more for me to do and be excited about in the decades to come.  I myself was recharged on the fly.