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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.

Is Al Gore Nuts?

In his speech in Constitution Hall this week, former Vice President and renewable energy investor Al Gore extolled a stretch goal challenging America to achieve 100% renewable power within 10 years. The quote: “Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.” And my favorite part: “When President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely in 10 years, many people doubted we could accomplish that goal. But 8 years and 2 months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon.”

That statement is about like challenging your 2 year old to finish college by the time she is 12. Not exactly practical, more than a little crazy, and likely to be either ignored, or if you push it, to cause lots of therapy sessions by the time she is 8. I will, however, credit him with getting almost every renewable energy platitude I’ve ever heard into one succinct speech.

He does raise lots of good points about the need for a new energy policy not built around shipping dollars to the MidEast for oil (a definite must), for long term support for renewables (it is critical for us to get off our fits and starts mish mash idea of renewable energy policy), and for moving faster and larger to fight climate change (a topic near and dear to my heart, and one that is only partially helped by making broad statements about how fast the sky is falling, I mean, the glaciers are melting). In fact, there is no better way to give anti renewable energy and climate change naysayers fuel and ammunition than to make statements like these. Any path we go down, I’d still rather challenge that two year old to do something they can achieve, not try and make it through college by age 12 – especially if I’m asking her to pay for it. Slow and steady wins the race.

The core of Al Gore’s argument in his speech on the practicality of a 10 year all renewable energy goal boils down to this quote from his speech on fuels:

“What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don’t cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?

We have such fuels. 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.

And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.”

And this one on costs and technology:

“To those who argue that we do not yet have the technology to accomplish these results with renewable energy: I ask them to come with me to meet the entrepreneurs who will drive this revolution. I’ve seen what they are doing and I have no doubt that we can meet this challenge.
To those who say the costs are still too high: I ask them to consider whether the costs of oil and coal will ever stop increasing if we keep relying on quickly depleting energy sources to feed a rapidly growing demand all around the world. When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.”

These quotations, while partially true and very seductive, are highly misleading in this context. The effective conversion rates of that energy to usable electric power or liquid fuel is still horrendously low, and requires lots and lots of capital expenditures, and thousands of miles of new transmission lines to implement. And that’s not taking into account the state of technology – as an industry we really are the two year old in my analogy.

So given those conversion rates and the current high capital expenditures per unit of energy, the cost is still 5-20x (depending on what you count) the cost of conventional electric power generation (yes I know, unless you add in the carbon price and environmental externalities, but that’s still extra cost any way you slice it . . . unless you’d like to subsidize mine). Frankly no serious analyst is suggesting that within 10 years, given the state of technology and the best case forecast capacity, that solar can make up more than a small single digit fraction of even electricity needs or that wind can make up more than a meaningful minority share (let alone after doubling the global power demand by replacing liquid fuels in cars with electricity, which Al Gore also suggests), especially given lead times on power plants and transmission lines.

Most likely even if the technologies were already cost comparative, which they are not – if you need evidence, just look at our wind and solar industries in their current tizzy because their biggest subsidy programs are up for renewal this year – most analysts wouldn’t project a fabled grid parity on cost for renewables for at least the next decade, and certainly not at scale. So Mr. Gore’s statements on cost and technology are in part true, but imply a maturity level in these industries that just doesn’t exist yet. Given manufacturing scale up issues on the technology, transmission infrastructure requirements at least as large as the new generation requirements, and long lead times on building projects of this size (industry executives point to seven year time frames just to build a single transmission line), probably reaching even significant low double digit percentages of carbon free power within ten years is a stretch (excluding large hydro and nuclear which we already have but are hesitating to expand) across the whole nation. Notwithstanding that California has managed to come close to its target 20% number over the last decade, that’s one state leaning on the resources of many states, using the best available sites, federal subsidies paid for from all of our pockets, and that took a decade. When it comes to carbon capture and storage for coal fired generation, a concept with lots of legs – if it works – 10 years just isn’t enough time to achieve scale. The first big pilots are scheduled over the next several years, and there are too many unknowns to bet the farm on, without the lead time and capital cost issue. Though still definitely worth trying.

And as far as paying for it, there was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle today calculating our Federal government long term liabilities at $450,000 per American already mainly for Medicare and Social Security. Actually trying to replace our entire fossil fuel infrastructure within 10 years would push that to how much? Somebody please do the math before we launch a government funded mission to the moon, or legislate that our citizens pay for it instead. On costs, Mr. Gore made the statement in his speech “Our families cannot stand 10 more years of gas price increases.” I agree, but Mr. Gore, your 10 year, hell for leather, man to moon race for 100% renewable energy would guarantee just that.

So while extolling stretch goals for a two year old is probably a good idea, let’s keep it within the realm of possibility, and not just make grandiose statements for media effect. Now if Al Gore’s silly challenge on renewable energy was simply a trojan horse to get people talking about how to move forward on fighting climate change and addressing our long standing energy policy issues, I’m all for that and am happy to help. After all, the words Al Gore and climate change make for very searchble blog articles! But personally when I make outlandish statements, I do like to bring an modicum of practicality to the discussion.

I will leave you with one final note, and please remember, I am actually a proponent of the ideals in Al Gore’s speech, I just prefer to get there in one piece. One theory on the effect of the history of the man on the moon driven space race that Mr. Gore challenges us to copy basically says that we pushed for a single high profile goal so fast and furious that we effectively skipped ahead and outran our infrastructure and capabilities to get a nonscalable shot at the moon in the target time frame. The theory goes on to suggest that’s why after reaching the moon so fast we haven’t progressed at the same rate in space since, and had we taken it slower, we would have gotten there a few years behind, but might be on Mars by know. Akin in a military campaign to outrunning your supply chain, and then getting your army surrounded and destroyed – or perhaps invading a country half way around the world, winning the war in weeks and forgetting to prepare for the peace. And just to show that I can deliver as many platitudes in one article as Mr. Gore, that’s why you never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Energy and environment are the two pillars of everything in our lives. Mr. Gore and I want the same thing, but he thinks we can’t afford not to swing for the fences – I think we can’t afford to mess it up.

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

Al Gore opens FEX SIM launch – dedicated cleantech stock market

by Nick Bruse

Yesturday I had the pleasure of being present when Al Gore opened the new FEX-SIM sustainability and cleantech stock exchange in Sydney. Here’s a wrap up.

The exchange is the creation of Brian Price, whom I interviewed recently on the cleantech show during which we discussed the FEX-SIM in detail. You can listen to the show here if you didn’t catch it earlier.

The launch has been covered in a AAP news article to a degree particularly about the FEX-SIM, if you want a few more details at a glance the FEX website has a press release.

Much of what Mr Gore had to say was about the worlds past experiences and success in dealing with the global problem of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and ozone layer depletion, a future where in 25 years we may no longer have an artic sea ice in summer, and the near future and how select countries and companies are showing the way by moving quickly to deal with climate change.

He highlighted that both in Australia and in the US we are seeing significant movement amongst the state legislators and governments in driving emissions reduction targets and signing onto the Kyoto protocol limits at a state and city level. In the US he stated that 600 cities and 12 states are in the process of have done this already. In Australia state governments have moved quickly also to push an emissions trading and reduction goals.

In fact he went so far as to say that activities and the speed of change in industry, investment and policy in Australia may well allow it to regain a leadership position in this issue if it continues on this path.

He highlighted during question time that we do face significant challenges when it comes to issues of nuclear proliferation based around nuclear energy as a solution to climate problems. He highlighted that historically all cases where nuclear material has found its way into weapons program in countries have been found to be associated with nuclear energy programs.

An innocent question was asked by a young 10 year old student, there as a result of winning a school competition, which was “If you were elected to be the president of the united states in 2008, what would you do to deal with climate change.”

Mr Gore’s response was “Bless your heart” with a lot of laughter in the room, followed by, “I’m not running for president… but… if I was in that situation I would look at abolishing employment taxes and instead place taxes on pollution.” He said it was ridiculous that we live in a world where we are happy to penalise employment but not penalise pollution [including emissions]

I had the opportunity to pose a question myself, and asked Mr Gore if over the last year since he was in Australia had he come up with a dinner party ‘Zinger’ response sceptics of climate change, as posed by Andrew Denton in an interview on Enough Rope in September 2006, given we still need to move more quickly.

His response was no he didn’t have the zinger yet to convince climate sceptics but said that the challenge with climate change is “This this change is hard… really hard.. in fact its at the limits of what we as a society can do.” He went on to say that for laggards and sceptics at this stage of the process, we must lead by example, help bring them along, as the world is changing under their feet and its tough.

I’ll leave you with the quote from the end of his presentation, an old African quote, which sums up our future pretty well.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” The problem Al Gore highlighted is that we need to go quickly and far, so we must devote ourselves close to completely to this challenge.

If you want to catch the first 5 mins of his 20 minute presentation you can catch it on the FEX website

Cheers
Nick

Article posted from The Cleantech Show


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