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Is the U.S. Really Behind?

by Richard T. Stuebi

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

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

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

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

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

Jump In My (Green) Bed

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Keetsa eco-friendly mattresses

What is it?
Keetsa mattresses are made with 100% recycled steel coils, scrap memory foam bits, and a variety of sustainable materials like bamboo fabrics and unbleached natural cotton.
Keetsa offers six different types of mattresses.

Why is it better?
Most people sleep on mattresses.
Most people spend one-third of their lives in bed. But most people don’t know that conventional mattresses are covered in flame-retardants, petroleum-based pesticides, and other harsh chemicals. Well, not Keetsa mattresses. Not to mention, all those recycled materials I listed before? A lot of them can be recycled if you jump up and down a few too many times and need a new one.

One of my favorite things about the Keetsa mattress is that they can be compressed and rolled into box – that means that while 140 conventional mattresses can fit on one truck, 540 Keetsa mattresses can fit in the same space. The carbon footprint is much smaller from factory door to your bedroom door. (And the mattress boxes have wheels so you can take it home yourself.)

Last but not least, they’re comfortable. I got to take two different mattresses for “test drives” at the San Francisco Green Festival. And I personally own the Keetsa Plus and I think it’s incredibly comfortable (and my friends agree).

Where can you find it?

The Keetsa showrooms are located in San Francisco and Fairfield, CA.
You can buy mattresses there, a variety of mattress showrooms, or order them online at the company website. Queen sized mattresses range in price from $549.99 to $1649.99.


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

Cleantech Blogroll Review: Sulfur, Flipper, and Cellulose

by Frank Ling

Sulfur Batteries

The EPA has banned sulfur in gasoline but not in batteries. Sulfur, in the form of a sodium salt, has been used as large-scale storage systems. Pioneered in Japan, these batteries are gaining acceptance in the US as a reliable form of energy storage.

Due to the intermittent nature of wind energy, storage systems are needed to make wind power more reliable. The sodium sulfur battery is not only affordable and compatible with these turbines, they are robust and responsive to the output of the generators.

Jim Fraser writes in the Energy Blog:

The 50-kilowatt battery modules, 20 in total, will be roughly the size of two semi trailers and weigh approximately 60 tons. They will be able to store about 6.5 megawatt-hours of electricity, with a charge/discharge capacity of one megawatt. When the wind blows, the batteries are charged. When the wind calms down, the batteries can be used to supply energy to the grid as needed.

Such systems will can power up to 500 homes for over six hours.

Whale Inspired Wind Turbines

The shape of sea creatures have inspired the design of ships. Now, they are also inspiring the design of blades used in wind turbines.

Like the wings of an airplane, the blades can also suffer from drag, reducing it’s overall efficiency. Now, a company in Canada has developed a new design that greatly improves the efficiency.

Hank Green writes in EcoGeek:

Using these little “tubercles,” a new firm in Toronto has created fan blades that have 32% less drag and are, overall, 20% more efficient at moving air. The new design could lead to similar gains in wind turbines, though the testing and certification process for turbine efficiency takes some time.

For an in-depth analysis of the science behind these modified blades, take a look at the paper recently published in Physical Review Letters.

Cellulosic Ethanol Dead on Arrival?

Clearly, cellulosic ethanol would have much more environmental benefits to corn-based fuel. Scientists believe that cellulosic technology may be viable within five to 10 years but there are many logistical issues that have yet to be solved.

Robert Rapier in R-Squared Energy Blogwrites:

…you still have to haul all of this biomass to the plant, convert the cellulose (and get a low concentration of ethanol for your efforts), and then get rid of a sopping wet mess of waste biomass. Sure, it can be burned – if you spend a lot of energy drying it first. Because of the very nature of the process, I don’t believe this challenge will be solved…

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

Freshaire Choice: The Only Tinted Paint With Zero VOCs

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: The Freshaire Choice Paint

What is it?
The Freshaire Choice Paint is a zero volatile organic compound (VOC) paint. It comes in 65 colors and three different sheens. It is an interior paint, a ceiling paint, and an interior primer. It is manufactured by ICI Paints and became Greenguard Certified in September 2007. Greenguard Environmental Institute sets strict limitations on environmental toxins including VOCs, formaldehyde, aldehydes, phthalates, and particles.

Why is it better?
First, let’s talk about VOCs. VOCs are emitted as gases from some solids and liquids; they include a variety of chemicals, some of which have short or long-term negative health effects. For example, several types of VOCs are known carcinogens and are directly related to childhood asthma. According to the EPA’s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology studies, indoor levels of VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher than they are outside. This isn’t such a good thing since each of us spends an average of 90% of our time indoors and specifically 65% inside our homes, according to the National Safety Council.

I think it logically follows that you would want to choose products that help you better your indoor air quality and create a healtheir space for you and your family. That’s where your paint comes into play. According to Aerias Air Quality Sciences, conventional oil-based paints contain 420 to 450 parts VOCs per gallon. That’s quite a bit in comparison to low-VOC paints that have VOC levels of less than 100 parts per gallon. And in comparison to The Freshaire Choice of zero VOCs? Well, there’s no contest.

Many paints that offer claims of zero VOCs forget to tell you that when you add color, you’re adding back the VOCs. But The Freshaire Choice leaves out the VOCs in both the paint and the colorant. They call it the ColorFresh system: a pre-mesasured colorant pouch dissolves into the base free of organic chemicals (and free of that new paint smell). Beyond the indoor air quality benefits, The Freshaire Choice offers chips and brochures made from recycled materials which can be further recycled, a can made from 100% recycled materials, and a label made from 75% recycled fiber and printed with soy ink. As their tag line says, “no matter which color you choose it’s guaranteed to be green.”

Where can you find it?
Come April 1st, you can find The Freshaire Choice Paint at your local Home Depot. One gallon will retail $35-38.

Besides her green products column on Cleantech Blog, Cristina is a passionate advocate for green living, and manages the content for GreenHome.Huddler.com.

Cleantech Blog Review: Green Tongue, Water Bikes, & Solar Land

by Frank Ling

Green Message Crafting

Americans and the US have a reputation of flaunting their wealth. Today, however, they are starting to proudly (sometimes loudly) show off their greenness. It’s a debate whether this is just a fad and the start of a nationwide trend to support sustainable practices.

Companies around the world are now racing to establish their credibility in green production. But they must also be careful of not being perceived as greenwashing.

On the other hand, being too inconspicuous in their efforts could hurt a company. With public awareness and demand for products that have smaller impacts on the environmnet, companies are forced to let the public know what they’ve been doing.

Joel Makower writes :

Companies are being pressed to talk about what they’re doing — and not doing — by customers, employees, investors, activists, and others. Previously reclusive companies are rethinking their taciturn strategies.

With the hype building up for greenness in corporate America, it may be a while until the public can properly discern the genuine stuff from noise.

Pedaling for Water

Bikes have many uses including generating electricity and powering the internet in rural villages. Some people even use it for transportation.

But a group of students in California has just developed a new use. Actually it’s for a tricycle but the idea is a foot-powered water filtration device-vehicle hybrid. Called the Aquaduct Mobile Filtration Device, the vehicle sucks water from reservoir in a rear tank and cleans it through a filtration system. The purified water is stored in a reservoir in the front.

Joshua Liberles writes in Carectomy:

Five California-based design students built the Aquaduct for rural, third-world countries where many people either walk for miles or use a motorized vehicle to retrieve water, and then use up time and energy to boil the water. The Aquaduct provides the transportation sans fossil fuel, eliminates the need for wood or other fuels to heat the water, and is emissions free.

US Solar Check

It’s been said that each of the renewable energy sources could theoretically power the US many times over if they were exploited to their full technical potential.

But how reliable are these figures. For instance, can the US really get all of its electricity from the sun?

Robert Rapier in R-Squared Energy Blog in Green Tech Media did a quick calculation:

Peak U.S. demand, according to the EIA, is almost 800,000 megawatts. Actual available capacity is 900,000 megawatts. So let’s make our solar capacity equal to today’s total installed electrical generating capacity.

Assuming the entire 1,900 acres is needed for the plant (maybe not a good assumption, but all I have), then this breaks down to (280 megawatts)/(1,900 acres), or 0.147 megawatts per acre. This of course includes all of the land associated with support functions, and it may include area for future expansions. So the calculation may be conservative.

The second assumption is that the areas in which will be put our plants will be as productive as this one in Arizona. That is not a conservative assumption, and will somewhat offset the previous conservative calculations.

Then to get 900,000 megawatts is going to take (900,000 megawatts)/(0.147 megawatts per acre), or 6.1 million acres. How large of an area is this? I don’t know. I have to get out my calculator.

My calculator indicates that 6.1 million acres is an area of 9,531 square miles, which is equivalent to a square of just under 100 miles by 100 miles (which would be 10,000 square miles).

Of course, this doesn’t take into account transmission losses and the fact that the sun is not around 24 hours a day. Still, that is a lot of energy coming from the sun.

Just how many square miles would Las Vegas need? 🙂

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

Up in the Air With Biofuels

by Richard T. Stuebi

Over the weekend, Virgin Atlantic Airways flew a passenger-less Boeing 747-400 partially fueled by a biofuel mixture of coconut oil and babassu oil from London’s Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. (Read USA Today story.)

The test flight, performed to evaluate comparative engine performance and emissions rates with standard jet fuel and biofuel mixtures, was conducted by Virgin along with partners Boeing (NYSE: BA), the engine-maker General Electric (NYSE: GE), and the biofuel company Imperium Renewables.

No matter how the results of the experiment pan out, and no matter your personal view on the fundmental utility of biofuels, this is yet another example of how a passionate entrepreneur — albeit one with billions of dollars on his personal balance sheet like Richard Branson — is exploring the cleantech frontiers of what is possible, what is economical, what is environmentally-beneficial.

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.

McKinsey on Energy Productivity

by Richard T. Stuebi

The McKinsey Global Institute — the think-tank offshoot of my alma-mater, the management consultancy McKinsey & Company — recently released a study claiming annual global investment of $170 billion between now and 2020 would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, while producing an internal rate of return on investment of about 17%.

Interestingly, none of this investment is in renewables or other forms of zero-carbon energy. Rather, all of the investment is in energy efficiency.

Actually, McKinsey employs the term”energy productivity”: squeezing more economic output per unit of energy input. Maybe McKinsey is wise to be using the phrase “productivity” rather than “efficiency”, since it conjures up “more good stuff with less input”. As we all know, the concept “energy efficiency” has hardly caught the world by storm, as it seemingly falls prey to the same challenge as the word “conservation”, evoking the unpleasant images of sacrifice, making do with less, and Jimmy Carter wearing the cardigan.

Whatever the semantics, I hope that a study such as this one compels serious economic actors to deploy more capital to reduce energy consumption, and thereby reduce emissions. Per a quote in an article in The Financial Times from Diana Farrell, director of the McKinsey Global Institute, “it shows just how much deadweight loss there is in the economy in energy use.” Sounds to me like a big opportunity for savvy capitalists.

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.

Can We Actually Reduce Energy Usage without Hurting GDP?

I was thinking today, in cleantech we often talk a lot about energy efficiency. Californians often cite that this state has grown its economy for the last 20 years without a significant increase in energy usage per capita, compared to the rest of the country, where GDP per capita goes up, and energy usage goes up just as much. But of course, California has lost much of its manufacturing sector over that same 20 year period, too. Perhaps no coincidence?

But if we wanted to actually do it, where could we actually save energy without impacting GDP growth, make a serious difference in our power bill, and do it in a big way – targeting say, 50% of our total power usage on a per capita basis?

  • CFLs & LEDs – We are already moving aggressively towards compact flourescent light bulbs, and the penetration rates are still low. As that trend continues, and LEDs come into the mix for more and more applications, our lighting bills should trend straight downward for the next decade. Now if we can just stop cringing at the thought of a $3 lightbulb!
  • Heating and Air Conditioning – I know whenever my power bill goes higher than I like, I just watch how often I turn the heater on, and adjust the thermoset a bit. The answer here has always been some combination of improved technology, smart metering and more transparency in billing and usage, and energy prices rising high enough for consumers to feel the pinch. Oh, and did I mention insulation, California?
  • Hotwater heaters – Can anybody say, “tankless”?
  • Power generation -If every power plant was upgraded to the latest generation of technology – in the power generation world – newer tends to equal more efficient all else being equal – the impact could be staggering. But bottom line, this means our regulators would have to approve the increase in utility capital expenditures and pass those costs on through to us in the short term. That’s about as likely as George W announcing a plan to tax every SUV Detroit makes and give the money to the poor to buy solar systems.
  • Solar – As for solar – which is typically sold on a “reduce your energy bill” pitch, not a chance. At $0.15 to $1.00/kwh (depending on who’s counting and how they count), if we actually reduced a significant amount of our building load with solar power we’d likely send our GDP plummeting. There are lots of reasons to love solar, but decreasing energy usage per unit of GDP is not one of them. At least, not yet.

These aren’t new ideas. But definitely worth repeating until we learn the lesson.

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

Taking Control

by Heather Rae

Maine Congressman Tom Allen hopes to dislodge Senator Susan Collins from her Senatorial seat. Allen spoke a few weeks back at an event sponsored by the Hydrogen Energy Center and other energy-oriented organizations at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick. Allen said that without the right kind of leadership in the executive office, real progress on clean energy will not be made. As we’ve seen.
While the Pentagon asks for the biggest budget hike since World War II, the Bush clean-tech plan gets mixed reviews. Christian Science Monitor Reporter Brad Knickerbocker writes: “After seven years in office, President Bush’s positions on energy and climate change are clear: Emphasize increased energy supplies over conservation, favor voluntary steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, oppose international efforts to force changes in national policy, and make sure nothing puts too much stress on the economy.” (See Dick smile.)
Grist has posted a chart of the presidential candidates’ positions on energy and climate, and Solar Nation has posted the League of Conservation Voters’ round-up.
Not waiting for the leaders to get on board, or steer the nation into a ditch, Maine’s Midcoast Green Collaborative is organizing its second clean energy exposition in Damariscotta. Last April, the Expo was well-attended, focused and informative. Peter Drum, a young attorney who moved his practice from Washington to his home state of Maine, is one of the founders of the Collaborative. In the leadership vacuum, smart, hardworking visionaries step in.

“On April 18, 2008, Midcoast Green Collaborative is holding our second annual Maine Sustainable Energy Expo). This event is designed to showcase sustainable building and remodeling methods and technologies, sustainable energy production technology, and more sustainable transportation choices.
The Expo puts consumers in touch with vendors and contractors who specialize in green home building and renovation and renewable, disperse energy production. Some attendees told us that from the vendor/contractor side, they had more serious contacts at our show than at any other event in the State including the Bangor and Portland home shows.
From the consumer side, they were thrilled to see that so many sustainable energy technologies were available in-State. We would love to get input from all of you and invite you to attend. Last year, we had an overwhelming response.
Though we marketed the event from Portland to Bangor, we actually had attendees from as far as New Hampshire and New Brunswick, Canada. Thousands of people attended our event and we believe that it is the biggest event of its kind in Maine. The exhibitor lists were filled shortly after they were sent out. We are now trying to locate additional space for other exhibitors who have contacted us.
The greater social impact of this effort might not be obvious, but we feel that the potential impact of efforts like our Expo are incredible. Maine Watch, this weekend, highlighted LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). While programs like LIHEAP are critical to getting people through this winter, the answer, really, is to make it easier to get through the winter.
Our governments have been woefully irresponsible with our energy policy. By keeping energy artificially cheap, we have provided little incentive to winterize and weatherize homes, introduce more efficient transportation choices, and consume locally. On the other end, we have provided very little regulation for home/factory home/mobile home construction for insulation, CAFE (coporate average fuel economy) standards have not been raised in over two decades, and very little money has been provided for renewable energy research.
Therefore, U.S. policy has provided neither significant market incentives nor increasing efficiency regulations over the last 28 years. Our efforts will make it easier for people to make it through the winter here. Our goal can be reached with green home building, better energy standards that are enforced for all new homes, and renovating the current housing stock.
With our initiatives, we are hoping to ‘teach people to fish’ rather than giving them a fish (i.e. LIHEAP). Our energy audits offer performance improvements that range from very inexpensive (replacing old bulbs with CFLs) to expensive (replacing all of the windows in a home) and gives the approximate energy savings of each improvement.
People are grumbling about the economy and with good reason. The stimulus package, as it was so aptly pointed out by a morning edition commentator, is a little like the Federal government saying to its close friend ‘Gee, I am sorry that you have cancer. Have a cookie, you’ll feel better.’
If we truly want to change our economic well-being, we HAVE to get our energy use under control. Frankly, every President and Congress since Carter has been completely irresponsible about the most pressing issue of our time; fossil fuel dependence. Nixon arguably did more than Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Second put together.
If you want to track the U.S. economy, you need only look at fossil fuel prices. In the 1990s, fuel was cheap and the economy roared. Today, oil is nearly three times the cost it was just a few years ago. When the average home heating budget goes from $1200 to $3600 a year, that is a big decrease in disposable income and does not include the additional expenditures for gasoline that further erode disposable income. These increased fuel costs make everything more expensive because of the structure of our economy. Food is grown in intense cultivation, shipped and average of 2500 miles in cold storage, and then consumed. The same is true of retail goods made and shipped all over the world.
This is probably the most counter-productive structure for an economy and can only exist in an era of dirt cheap fuel. Those days are fast becoming history. This goes for all goods. Of course, as everything gets more expensive, more people are pushed into foreclosure, bankruptcy, etc.
Fossil fuels are not going to get less expensive, significantly, ever again. In fact, they are even undervalued today. If you want an idea of the amount of ‘human labor’ stored in a gallon of gas, just try to push your car the number of miles that it gets per gallon. If your car gets 20 miles per gallon, try to push it 20 miles.
If we, as a nation, don’t do something soon, we are looking at a long term, perhaps never-ending depression in this country from today’s standard of living as oil prices rise, global climate change and ocean level rise (and the huge impacts from such events), and increasing marginalization and indebtedness of the U.S. as a world power (see the Wall Street Journal’s recent article about the diminishing power of the U.S. vis-a-vis Russia and other oil states) . That is why these are such critical issues.
Our energy Expo is just our first step in trying to help solve, what is really a quiet national emergency. The good news is that there is still time, though very little, for the U.S. to retool its economy and civilization. We must dramatically change but such change is possible. The Expo is a way for us to do our part to get our communities to change and is thus a positive and empowering event. We can take control of our energy future and usher in a new era of energy independence, local sustainability and domestic economic development, we need only make the commitment to do so.”

Other Goings On This Week
I was to head to Washington with my husband of 2.5 months, and scheduled to ask Senator Collins a few questions about federal energy policy to “fair and balance” Allen, Grist, Solar Nation and all. It turned out to be a wretched week; my husband collided with a sand truck on icy Route 1. He emerged alive and OK, but with cracked neck vertebrae. Washington (and heaven, thankfully) can wait. My thanks to everyone who has expressed support, to PenBay and Maine Medical Hospitals, to amazing family, and especially to Dr. Chip Teel.

Wake Up Call

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, three financial titans — Citigroup (NYSE: C), J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) — announced “The Carbon Principles” to provide guidance to energy companies in managing carbon risks. The upshot of The Carbon Principles is that these big banks are stating explicitly that, going forward, they will only provide debt financing to new power projects if proponents can prove that the proposed plants will remain economically viable under future climate change policies. (Read Citigroup release on The Carbon Principles.)

Put another way, Wall Street sees federal carbon legislation as imminent, and doesn’t want power sector executives to try to “sneak in” any last coal plants before the legislation whose economics might be threatened in a carbon-constrained world. The banks’ interest is not necessarily environmentally-motivated — they simply don’t want to see any more loans go bad — but the effect of this announcement is likely to be positive.

The energy sector can’t claim they weren’t at the table. The Principles were developed by the banks in consultation with a who’s-who of power industry giants: American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE), NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), PSEG (NYSE: PEG), Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), and Southern Company (NYSE: SO).

But, apparently, the willingness of these utilities to participate in the process of developing The Carbon Principles doesn’t mean that everyone in the energy sector is reading yet the writing on the wall regarding climate change. In the February 4 Wall Street Journal, reporter Jeffrey Ball quoted Jeffrey Holzschuh, Vice Chairman of institutional securities at Morgan Stanley, as saying “We have to wake up some people who are asleep.”

If a remarkable July 2006 letter from Stanley Lewandowski, the General Manager of Intermountain Rural Electric Association in Colorado is any indication, it would seem that there’s still a number of Rip Van Winkels out there in the electric utility world.

Rise and shine! Climate change is a real phenomenon, and carbon legislation is coming — let’s begin to deal with it!

Given how Wall Street didn’t seemingly exercise any leadership whatsoever on the subprime mortgage debacles, it’s refreshing to see that they’re actually out in front (at least a little bit) on the climate change issue.

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

Blogroll Review: Biocrude, Alaska, & Policy

by Frank Ling

Waste to Oil

Think you need special enzymes to convert plant materials into fuel? It looks like science is getting closer to eliminating that step. Pretty soon we might be able to directly convert crop residues, waste paper, and pretty much anything organic into bio-crude, which is essentially oil.

The secret ingredient? Heat. It turns out that raising the temperature breaks the bonds of organic materials (in fact heat pretty much breaks any bond at a high enough temperature) through a process known as pyrolysis.

Jim Fraser, in a recent article at the Energy Blog, explains how this works:

Fast pyrolysis is a process in which the organic materials are rapidly heated to 450 – 600 °C at atmospheric pressure in the absence of air. Under these conditions, organic vapours, pyrolysis gases and charcoal are produced. The vapours are condensed to bio-oil. Typically, 70-75 wt.% of the feedstock is converted into oil.

The product can be used not only to replace gasoline and diesel, it can be used as feedstock for the chemical industry.

Steamed Alaska

Geothermal power is coming to a resort near you. At least the ones in Alaska.

At the Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska engineers have created a breakthrough hydrothermal system that generates power using “low-temperature” reservoir water at 165 F, in contrast to conventional systems that required at least 300 F.

Jack Moins writes in EcoGeek:

The plant cost a mere $2.2 million to build as it uses all off the shelf parts. It produces 200 kw at a cost of 5 cents per kwh, compared to the former costs of 30 cents per kwh when using diesel. The design is projected to pay for itself within four to five years. Hydrothermal power is very promising, as it is estimated that the water beneath the Earth’s surface holds 50,000 times the amount of energy in the remaining gas and coal resources

Among its innovations, the system uses a three-pressure system and ammonia-water cycles, which limits the use of toxic coolants. With this early success, the entire town of Chena is adopting hydrothermal for its buildings and a greenhouse for food production

U.S. Climate Legislation

All the major US presidential candidates are making global warming a part of the their platform. Whoever wins, policy for energy, environment, and even agriculture are bound to change significantly.

But democracy is not always a fast process. Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives for Google.org and former U.S. assistant energy secretary, says that the next president will indeed push for change but any regulations will take time to phase in.

Rachel Barron, in Green Tech Media, writes:

2009 could bring a dramatic increase in support from Congress for R&D and more favorable approaches to clean-energy incentives.

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

Super Tuesday was Super for US Carbon Cap and Trade

One things for sure, post Super Tuesday with Governor Mike Huckabee far behind, Mitt Romney out, and McCain the all but crowned Republican nominee, the US is getting a cap and trade system for carbon. The question is which one. I thought I’d track a little of the candidates’ various positions.

The major differences that are left between the parties are on how to do it. In general the Republicans favor US based systems, the Democrats favor a Kyoto based approach, sort of. The Democrats favor 100% allowance, the Republicans favor a slower adjustment scheme (The Kyoto mechanisms today are actually closer the Republican stance).

Don’t forget, the real reason the US has not ratified Kyoto is less about whether to use the market based mechanisms (we were the ones who actually advocated putting carbon trading in), and more about the fact that under Kyoto, our major economic competitors in China and India have no commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, and under Kyoto effectively receive foreign aid from developed nations to build out their powerplants and infrastructure. And this concern has gotten worse, as China has now passed the US as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but has consistently refused to consider its own emissions reductions. So in reality, even if the Democrats win, we may still get a US focused cap and trade system if that is all that can get through the Senate.

But while any candidate election would likely make a US cap and trade a foregone conclusion, unlike McCain who has actually put forward US cap and trade legislation with a Kyoto “linkage”, Hillary and Barack both talk a new treaty and about a G-8 plus major emitters “extra Kyoto” approach that includes China. This sound surprisingly like the approach George W Bush took at the G-8 summit proposing to work within a group of the 15 largest emitters. Not surprisingly, it failed when the Bush Administration refused to sign up to commitments without China and India on the hook, and China still is not interested in signing commitments. Unlike McCain, I’m not sure Barack Obama and Hillary have figured out the details here. But we shall see.

First, the last naysayer.

Mitt Romney

In 2004 Mitt Romney told the Boston Globe he was not sure global warming is happening.

In 2007 on the global warming issue he continued to be anti Kyoto, at least. “As governor, I found that thoughtful environmentalism need not be anti-growth and anti-jobs. But Kyoto-style sweeping mandates, imposed unilaterally in the United States, would kill jobs, depress growth and shift manufacturing to the dirtiest developing nations.” Source

And the Republicans.

Mike Huckabee

Bottom line, likely no Kyoto and but maybe a cap and trade.

Huckabee has come out in support of “economy-wide” cap and trade, in a Bloomberg article on Huckabee’s support for the McCain sponsored bill.

Huckabee adopted the National Governors Association policy:

“not sign or ratify any agreement that mandates new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the US, unless such an agreement mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for developing countries within the same compliance period;”

Kyoto was a mistake, but “Earth in the Balance” is not. You do not have to hug a tree to appreciate one. It would have been a mistake to sign the Kyoto Treaty since it would have given foreign nations the power to impose standards on us. But Al Gore was not entirely wrong when he spoke of earth “in the balance.” Balance is exactly what we need more of in this discussion. All of us need to have a healthy respect for our resources, a responsible level of use of those resources, and a comprehensive plan for either preserving or renewing those resources. Source: From Hope to Higher Ground, by Mike Huckabee, p. 70 Jan 4, 2007 Source

John McCain

A keen proponent of market based environmental solutions, and anti tax to boot. He is heavily in favor of cap and trade, and as coathor of the McCain-Lieberman Senate bill backing a US cap and trade is the only candidate who has actually been doing anything about it. But he has not necessarily supported ratifying Kyoto without Chinese participation like Hillary Clinton (her husband was the one who signed it originally) used to advocate.

Among other things McCain-Lieberman calls for cap and trade, with the amount of allowances to be determined in the future, up to 15% of allowances permitted from other systems (like Kyoto’s CDM mechanism), and an enforcement penalty of 300% of the per ton market price for companies over their cap. A good summary has been done by the Pew Center, as well as a comparison with other climate change legislation.

In 2003 he did a good LA Times Op Ed piece defending cap and trade as a solution to global warming.

In a further interview he reaffirmed his belief that market based environmental solutions will work.

“Is your party where it needs to be on global warming yet?

Sen. McCain: It varies in my party, so I can’t say “my party.” But where I think our party needs to be is to be more involved in market-based economically beneficial green technologies which will then reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.In other words, Lieberman’s and my cap-and-trade proposal is market based. General Electric, the world’s largest corporation believes they’re going to make profits off of green technologies. I was just out at the port of Los Angeles with Schwarzenegger and BP is going to sequester carbon and take some offshoot materials and convert them into some kind of fuel, as I understand it. That’s going to be beneficial to BP to do that; in other words, it’s economically profitable to do these things.

Ponnuru: One of the stumbling blocks people sometimes have is that they look at these proposals to deal with the problem and they seem, not the ones you’re talking about but some of these other ones, incredibly draconian, like Kyoto, and then you look at the pay-off and it’ll solve 0.7 percent of the problem. Is the problem so enormous that these kinds of measures can’t really get you very far?

Sen. McCain: [They can] if they’re market-based. If business and industry sees a way to make money and get returns to their stock holders, then they’re going to move in that direction. And I really believe that again, this cap and trading thing, which is still being sorted out a bit in Europe, is a good market-based approach to it. And again, carbon sequestration is fine, all of these things are fine, but if you want an immediate impact on reduction of greenhouse gases then start building nuclear power plants. And I’m not saying that’s the only answer but I think it’s a significant part of the answer.”

McCain has adopted the Republican Main Street Partnership issue stance:

“The Republican Main Street Partnership supports the goal of immediate, near-term reductions in greenhouse gases, and would move toward this goal by providing strong incentives that have minimal adverse impact on the economy, and to continue to apply our best scientific minds to developing a better understanding of the long-term nature of climate change and the means to cope with it.

Two objectives should be accomplished:

create an “early action crediting system” to provide assurances to companies that actions taken now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will be recognized and credited in the eventual system of emissions reductions standards that will be developed; and

commit the necessary resources to national and international scientific efforts to better understand the cause and effect of global climate change.

With regard to global warming, the Republican Main Street Partnership recognizes that a longer debate over the proper U.S. role in implementing the Kyoto Protocol should and will occur. In so doing, we hope to bolster our scientific understanding of the problem and perhaps, in turn, provide immediate incentives for communities and corporations to act in their own and the nation’s best interests in reducing emissions. We are strongly committed to acting on the emerging consensus for progress and constructive change, and maintaining America’s ability to lead the world in the critical area of environmental protection. Source: Republican Main Street Partnership Issue Paper: Environment 98-RMSP2 on Sep 9, 1998″

Ron Paul

A strong environmentalist and free market libertarian, who opposes the Iraq war, Kyoto, and energy company subsidies for all the same reasons, for one, the constitution does not permit it, two, it is the job of the private sector, not government. Despite being the only non cap and trade Republican left in the mix, I always find it hard to disagree with Ron Paul. He and I are kindred spirits when it comes to small government.

Ron Paul on the environment:

“The federal government has proven itself untrustworthy with environmental policy by facilitating polluters, subsidizing logging in the National Forests, and instituting one-size-fits-all approaches that too often discriminate against those they are intended to help.

The key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights. The strict enforcement of property rights corrects environmental wrongs while increasing the cost of polluting.

In a free market, no one is allowed to pollute his neighbor’s land, air, or water. If your property is being damaged, you have every right to sue the polluter, and government should protect that right. After paying damages, the polluter’s production and sale costs rise, making it unprofitable to continue doing business the same way. Currently, preemptive regulations and pay-to-pollute schemes favor those wealthy enough to perform the regulatory tap dance, while those who own the polluted land rarely receive a quick or just resolution to their problems.

In Congress, I have followed a constitutional approach to environmental action:

  • I consistently vote against using tax dollars to subsidize logging in National Forests.
  • I am a co-sponsor of legislation designed to encourage the development of alternative and sustainable energy. H.R. 550 extends the investment tax credit to solar energy property and qualified fuel cell property, and H.R. 1772 provides tax credits for the installation of wind energy property.
  • Taxpayers for Common Sense named me a “Treasury Guardian” for my work against environmentally-harmful government spending and corporate welfare.
  • I am a member of the Congressional Green Scissors Coalition, a bipartisan caucus devoted to ending taxpayer subsidies of projects that harm the environment for the benefit of special interests.

Individuals, businesses, localities, and states must be free to negotiate environmental standards. Those who depend on the land for their health and livelihood have the greatest incentive to be responsible stewards.”

From an interview with Grist:

“What, if anything, do you think the government should do about global warming?
They should enforce the principles of private property so that we don’t emit poisons and contribute to it. And, if other countries are doing it, we should do our best to try to talk them out of doing what might be harmful. We can’t use our army to go to China and dictate to China about the pollution that they may be contributing. You can only use persuasion.

You have voiced strong opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. Can you see supporting a different kind of international treaty to address global warming?

It would all depend. I think negotiation and talk and persuasion are worthwhile, but treaties that have law enforcement agencies that force certain countries to do things, I don’t think that would work.

You believe that ultimately private interests will solve global warming?
I think they’re more capable of it than politicians.

What’s your position on a carbon tax?
I don’t like that. That’s sort of legalizing pollution. If it’s wrong, you can buy these permits, so to speak. It’s wrong to do it, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Then the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has previously stated she would ratify Kyoto (though has discussed “fixing” it first), and has come out in favor of aggressive cap and trade systems. It is a little hard to understand how she will reconcile her stated desire for environmental protection as a key part of trade policy, and a Kyoto protocol that places no emissions reduction commitments on major US trading partners like China and India. The short answer may be she has backed off Kyoto, focused on cap and trade and a new treaty for Kyoto.

The Hillary Clinton global warming agenda from her website:

“Hillary’s plan to promote energy independence, address global warming, and transform our economy includes:

A new cap-and-trade program that auctions 100 percent of permits alongside investments to move us on the path towards energy independence;

A requirement that all publicly traded companies report financial risks due to climate change in annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission”

Her previous statements were very strongly pro Kyoto. “As Senator, I will work for New York to get its fair share of federal mass transit funds and to increase the amount of money that goes to transit funds. And, I will vote to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to bring all nations together to address global warming and build a better future for us all. Source: www.hillary2000.org, “Environment” Sep 9, 2000”

But recently she has started hedging a bit, talking about the flaws of Kyoto. “I will start by reigniting our international involvement. We cannot sit here, in the United Sates and expect to deal with global warming if we do not cooperate with other countries. Getting back into process, you know when President Bush took us out of Kyoto, I regretted that but he had an opportunity to start his own process, he didn’t want to do Kyoto, do something else. Reach out to India and China they have to be part of this. One of the flaws of the Kyoto process was I don’t think people anticipated, even in the early 90s how quickly China and India would grow. China is now growing at 12 percent a year. They are the second highest user of energy but they are now the highest emitter of green house gases in the world. India is not far behind. We have got to get a new international process.” “Energy and Environment: Speech on the Green Building Fund,” Hillary Clinton’s official candidate website, July 24, 2007

And further here.

“The President’s failed unilateral energy policy is a part of our failed unilateral foreign policy. It’s deprived us of the credibility and the leverage we need to solve the climate crisis. I’ll change that by leading the process to develop a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012. One of the worst messages the President sent was when he took office and rejected completely Kyoto. He could have said we don’t like Kyoto but we’re immediately starting a new process. But that didn’t happen. Well, come January 2009, I’m sending a different message. I want to act quickly to help develop a new treaty. I will engage in high level meetings with leaders around the world every three months, if that’s what it takes to hammer out a new agreement. My goal will be to secure a deal by 2010. We can’t wait for two more years. I will establish an E8 that’s modeled on the G8 which is where the big industrial economies come together. We need the world’s major carbon-emitting nations to come together to tackle these challenges.”

Barack Obama

As aggressive a global warming activist as you will find in the election, he is actually more Republican on his global warming position that he looks. He like Hillary, favors cap and trade, technology investment, and a 100 percent auction for allowances. But with his extra-Kyoto Global Energy Forum and a noncommital “re-engage” Kyoto strategy, like Hillary he does not appear to have worked out the details.

The Obama statements:

“Restore U.S. Leadership on Climate Change

Create New Forum of Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters: Obama will create a Global Energy Forum — that includes all G-8 members plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa –the largest energy consuming nations from both the developed and developing world. The forum would focus exclusively on global energy and environmental issues.

Re-Engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change: The UNFCCC process is the main international forum dedicated to addressing the climate problem and an Obama administration will work constructively within it. “

“Reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050

Cap and Trade: Obama supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Obama’s cap-and-trade system will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. A 100% auction ensures that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these emission rights away to coal and oil companies. Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development of clean energy, to invest in energy efficiency improvements, and to address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition.

Confront Deforestation and Promote Carbon Sequestration: Obama will develop domestic incentives that reward forest owners, farmers, and ranchers when they plant trees, restore grasslands, or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 24-27 Feb 2, 2008″ Source

“Q: What do you think the toughest choice you have left to make is? What haven’t you made up your mind on yet? And why haven’t you?
A: The issue of climate change. I’ve put forward one of the most aggressive proposals out there, but the science seems to be coming in indicating it’s accelerating even more quickly with every passing day. And by the time I take office, I think we’re going to have to have a serious conversation about how drastic steps we need to take to address it.
Source: 2007 Democratic radio debate on NPR Dec 4, 2007″ Source

“As president, I will place a cap on carbon emissions and require companies who can’t meet the cap to buy credits from those who can, which will generate billions of dollars to invest in renewable sources of energy and create new jobs and even a new industry in the process. I’ll put in place a low carbon fuel standard that will take 50 million cars worth of pollution off the road. I’ll raise the fuel efficiency standards for our cars and trucks because we know we have the technology to do it and it’s the time to do it.”
Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

“I proposed a cap-and-trade system, because you can be very specific in terms of how to reduce the greenhouse gases by a particular level. What you have to do is you have to combine it with a 100% auction. Every little bit of pollution sent up into the atmosphere, that polluter is getting charged for it. Not only does that ensure that they don’t game the system, but you’re also generating billions of dollars that can be invested in solar & wind & biodiesel. On a carbon tax, the cost will be passed on to consumers. Under a cap-and-trade, plants are going to have to retrofit their equipment. That’s going to cost money, and they will pass it onto consumers. We have an obligation to use some of the money that we generate to shield low-income and fixed-income individuals from higher electricity prices. We’re also going to have to ask the American people to change how they use energy. Everybody is going to have to change their light bulbs and insulate their homes. It’s a sacrifice that we can meet.”
Source: 2008 Facebook/WMUR-NH Democratic primary debate Jan 6, 2006

So here comes the cap and trade. But the how is still up in the air. In the interests of full disclosure, this is an area I fully believe in, and I am not only involved with at least one business that would likely benefit from a US cap and trade, though also a few businesses that would likely suffer from a cap and trade.

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

Microsoft buying Yahoo? The Yahoo shareholder’s dilemma

Last fall Cleantech Blog did an article on asking whether Microsoft Vista could be considered the best selling cleantech product in the world. And we have long admired the Green.Yahoo.com portal, so while maybe a stretch for Cleantech Blog, I couldn’t help but weigh in on the recent Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) offer to acquire Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO).

One of my friends who formerly worked at Yahoo still holds some shares there. He knows I have liked Microsoft as a stock, and asked me to write him a quick note on the Microsoft bid for Yahoo. As a Yahoo shareholder, how does he decide whether to sell or hold? What’s the analysis?

The first part of the answer depends on some simple numbers around the tax basis and impact. If he sells now, he pays his 20% in taxes on the gain (depending on whether it’s long term or short term). If he holds and it does go through, it should go through at a roughly 10% higher price ($31 vs. $28), and he can possibly roll his tax basis (check this with your tax advisor, as the proposed deal is half cash and/or half stock – but I believe it is intended to be tax free at least for the stock portion). If he holds and it doesn’t go through, Yahoo could well give back the 50% it has traded up.

There is a reasonable likelihood of failure of the deal, as these discussions between Microsoft and Yahoo are not new. But perhaps the risk of failure is no worse than 50/50. The market has basically said it believes there is a greater than 70% likelihood on the deal going through, or Microsoft getting beat out by someone else, i.e., a $31 offer price, $19-20/share previous price, and a Yahoo price that traded up immediately to $28 today. I can’t see anyone else easily outbidding Microsoft at this scale (though Microsoft may well have to sweeten the deal), as Google would have antitrust issues, and while that’s always a possibility, too, probably not too likely.

So we are left with perhaps a 10-20% upside versus a 50%+ downside, and our market estimate of a 70%-75% likelihood of the upside. This analysis would argue possibly for a sell rather than a hold, but not by much.

But I still think from a product perspective a Microsoft / Yahoo combination could be a formidable challenge to Google and deliver long term growth to Microsoft – in which case holding gets him Microsoft stock at up to a 20% discount from where it is today – 10% from Yahoo’s current trading price discount to the $31 offer, and depending on the tax analysis and your basis likely another 10%+ on the tax deferral. Think about it – a Yahoo portal, instant messenger, search, advertising, groups, and all bundled directly to my desktop – and tied long term into my corporate back office. Very intriguing.

I am personally into Microsoft at around $24/share, and like it as a buy probably up to $35 or so. I have never owned Yahoo. But if I were a Yahoo shareholder, I think I’d like this deal. Yahoo’s PE has been trading in the 30s, and is currently at 50+ on the back of this announcement, while Microsoft’s has been in the mid-teens. So, if you are Yahoo shareholder and hold through a deal, you also get a much cheaper stock in the bargain.

No real answers here, just the analysis.

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

In Search of A Better Story

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the best things I’ve read recently is an oped in The Washington Post entitled “Going Green? Easy Doesn’t Do It” by Michael Maniates, a professor of political science and environmental science at Allegheny College.

Prof. Maniates gets right to the heart of one of the things that bothers me about what I hear from some of the more ardent proponents of the cleantech movement: the unexpressed sense that saving the world can be easily accomplished with a few minor changes in behavior, and that technological advancements will be coming to save the day at little incremental cost to all of us.

His punchline: “Never has so little been asked of so many at such a critical moment.”

I hope we’re wrong, but Prof. Maniates and I both believe that, if we’re going to seriously address our energy and environmental challenges, we’re going to be exposed to major economic and behavioral sacrifice, relative to our current standards of living. I don’t see how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from present levels without a fundamental shift in how we do things at every level of existence.

This takes courage and determination. As Prof. Maniates exposes, what we get instead from politicians, the media and (yes) many advocates is a mixture of hyperbole and half-truths that serve to relax the masses.

In a conversation I had about a year ago with David Orr, one of the true pioneers in environmental thinking at Oberlin College, I said to him that we all needed to create and broadcast a story about energy and environment in the U.S. that clearly induces urgency to action without inspiring panic and depression. I know that I haven’t been able to craft such a well-balanced story. Has anyone out there?

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.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Bob Metcalfe is a friendly, handsome, easy-going sort, and he sported a bit of Saturday stubble when we spoke over a Thai lunch in Boston a few weeks back. Bob, an MIT grad who wears the school ring, is also the founder of 3-Com and the interim CEO of a biofuel startup, GreenFuel. Over lunch I did not learn much more about GreenFuel than is available on the company’s website, nor more than is available on xconomy.com. Xconomy.com has been goading the company, and back in July 2007 published Bob’s five-point plan to rejuvenate it and the technology.

Which is fascinating: high yield algae farms recycle carbon dioxide from flue gases to produce biofuels and feed. Algae’s ’bout as green as it gets, and the GreenFuel process has biomimicry going for it: “Why expensively sequester CO2 when it can be profitably recycled?” However, growing algae, the kind needed for GreenFuel, isn’t as easy as it would seem, thus the five-point fix-it plan.

I wanted to ask Bob, “you’re a wealthy guy; you don’t need the money; so why do you invest in this greentech stuff?” … but instead peeled back a suggestion of an answer from the table banter. He invests in non-cleantech ventures as well as cleantech, would love to get into nuclear…and he is impressed with McCain and Romney, presidential candidates with same-old-oil-and-coal-box energy ideas that nod to cap-and-trade. What I surmised chatting with Bob is that his world view is one of business and technology and finance; solutions to problems aren’t found in government, and GreenFuel is a business venture.

It’s a world view with its own language, and it reminds me of heady days in 1980s-New York, dating investment bankers whose European and Asian compatriots oriented to the oppulence of Hotel Plaza Athenee — an airy space floating out of touch with the masses, delivered by private car with driver. I heard the language and the world view again on E&E TV as Monica Trauzzi interviewed Michael Liebreich, CEO and founder of New Energy Finance, a London-based company that specializes in research of clean energy and carbon markets. He was talking about game theory in negotiations around climate change: nice, retaliating, forgiving, clear. The Liebreich interview is a fun, intellectual ride, but within it, like conversations I have with engineers and financiers, some critical link to success is missing…people and their own motivations to buy what engineers and financiers are selling.

Bob Metcalfe and I first met on the plaza outside of the Christian Science Mother Church, so it was curious when a September 2006 issue of the Church’s publication, Sentinel, Exploring the World of Spirituality and Healing, recently crossed my desk. In an article, “Love Enough to Change the Climate,” the editors wrote:

“[There isn’t] much doubt that the primary cause of climate change is rooted in human behavior, and especially in the world’s accelerating deforestation and the consumption of fossil fuels.” Asking how to respond and adjust, the editors wrote, “We don’t know how to ‘engineer’ attitudinal and social change. But we do know something about change at the level of individual experience–at the mental, moral, and spiritual levels. The one thing we are sure of is that lasting and universally beneficial change comes through spiritual transformation. We know, too, the importance of understanding what it is that actually needs changing, what produces the alterative effect, and how change for the better can come about in a systematic and dependable way. All of these steps are essentials in healing spiritually. And ultimately, the solution to every challenge is spiritual–it lies in the human mentality yielding to divine intelligence and thereby being reborn, or re-formed…Transformation of human character and behavior does not happen solely by national leaders signing treaties, by legislatures passing laws, by government agencies making policy or regulatory enforcement changes. Public attitudes change one heart at a time…Just as our bodily health mirrors the quality and tendencies of our thoughts, our states of collective social well-being and environmental health reflect humanity’s mental state.”

The article delves really deep into CS-speak which I find hard to comprehend, and ends: “Cannot we, as a global family, love enough to change the mental climate for the better? Can’t we love Earth and those living on it it enough to commit to a Year of Thinking Differently. God’s gift is the space to do just that.”

This past week, I heard Elton John on the radio for the hundredth time, but the words of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” meant something for the first time. With the launch of Focus the Nation, a national student teach-in on global warming solutions for America, I reflected on the need to heal the planet, but in the context of markets and the global financiers, the venturers and the angels, the rounds and flights, as money in Silicon Valley and New York rushes to cleantech:

Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light

I can’t help but wonder, can Focus the Nation transform the consciousness of the sons of bankers and the sons of lawyers? Will global financiers respond to a transformed and healing world view or are these world views forever disconnected?

One day, I’ll ask Bob a clearer question: for you, as an individual, what is the connection between markets, your companies and healing the planet?

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, is a consultant in cleantech market management and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

FutureGen Stalled?

FutureGen is the major US Department of Energy backed effort to pilot a technological solution to prove that carbon capture and sequestration from coal fired power plants is possible. At a slated price tag of $1.5 Billion ($1 Bil estimated originally, now estimated at $1.8 Billion), it is one heck of a science project – but one that sorely needs to be done.

Now that project appears to have hit a snag. While the site the consortium picked to build the project was selected in December as Mattoon, Illinois, after a short delay in responding, the DOE is now hesitating to give formal approval – their Record of Decision.

The CEO of the FutureGen Alliance, Michael Mudd, seems confused as to why, though cost overruns, disagreements about the scope and technological objectives, and objections to moving to fast for good practice have been suggested.

After thinking about it this morning, I had a few initial reflections:

  1. We are a nation of massive coal reserves and 50% of our power comes from coal generation. Investing in clean coal technology should definitely be a prime DOE objective. let’s keep our comparative advantage in energy.
  2. While CCS is likely to be an expensive way to abate greenhouse gases, if we are going to solve the global warming problem, we are going to need help from everything and the kitchen sink. Pilots exactly like this need to be tried.
  3. At the kind of price tag and scale up risk we are talking about with CCS, government research support and funding is vital.
  4. On a practical level, the Department of Energy is 74% of this project. I really do not understand why there should be any miscommunication. He who writes the checks makes the call. If they have real concerns over cost overruns, technology, or management, make the changes and get going.

There, I said it. Now let’s just get it done, people.

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

Smart Grids and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (1/28/08). In the future, utilities will pay you to plug-in your vehicle. Millions will plug-in their electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fuel cell vehicles (FCV) at night when electricity is cheap, then plug-in during the day when energy is expensive and sell those extra electrons at a profit. Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology is a bi-directional electric grid interface that allows a plug-in to take energy from the grid or put it back on the grid. V2G helps solve the major problem that demand for electricity is high during the day when everything from industrial plants to air conditioning is running full blast and then excess electricity is wasted at night.

Several early models of passenger vehicles have enough energy stored in advanced batteries to power several homes for hours. Hybrid electric buses and heavy trucks could power many homes or a school or a hospital in an emergency. Recent announcements demonstrate that electric utilities and some auto makers want to make V2G a reality.

The Smart Grid Consortium, established in December 2007 by Xcel Energy, will select a community of approximately 100,000 residents to become a Smart Grid City using V2G. Potential benefits include lower utility bills for residents, smarter energy management, better grid reliability, improved energy efficiency, and support for EVs and PHEVs.

Current consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. Smart Grid City will use a realtime high-speed two-way communication throughout the distribution grid. Smart meters and substations will be integral. Installation will be made of thousands of in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use.

The current electrical grid is poorly designed for distributed generation of power. Individuals and businesses lose months and connect fees when they add solar and other forms of renewable energy to the grid. Smart Grid City will easily support up to 1,000 easily dispatched distributed generation technologies including PHEVs, distributed batteries, solar and wind.

In addition to Smart Grid City, another major EV/V2G initiative is unfolding.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance and Project Better Place have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a mass-market for electric vehicles in Israel which is an excellent target market: it has a sales tax exceeding 60% for gasoline vehicles, gasoline costs over $6 per gallon, most driving fits the range of electric vehicles, and the government strongly supports energy independence.

Project Better Place plans to deploy a massive network of battery charging spots. Driving range will no longer be an obstacle, because customers will be able to plug their cars into charging units in any of the 500,000 charging spots in Israel. An on-board computer system will indicate to the driver the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC, has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will produce it in mass volume. The entire framework will go through a series of tests starting this year.

The Israeli model is different than the rapid battery swap model that Better Place has promoted as better than “dangerous” fast charging. For the future, Renault is working on development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility.

As part of the solution framework, the Israeli government will provide tax incentives to customers, Renault will supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place will construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country. Electric vehicles will be available for customers in 2011.

Just as wireless service providers offer smartphones at discounted prices, Project Better Place will offer discounted electric vehicles with usage pricing plans. Pre-paid 600 kilometer cards are one approach that is suggested. A free car on a four-year plan in France is another idea mentioned by Shai Agassi, CEO of Project Better Place. Annual use of an EV should be less than the average cost of $8,000 per year for using a gasoline in many countries including the USA.

Shai Agassi predicts that Israel will have over 100,000 electric vehicles in use by 2010. This will be five percent of the nation’s vehicle population. The number represents a significant step towards energy independence.

Project Better Place has already received over $200 million of venture capital investment. Shai Agassi presented their new business model at Davos. Mr. Agassi was an executive at SAP that lead the software company to being the enterprise software leader ahead of Oracle, IBM, and all others. Agassi’s Davos Insights

Success with V2G would be a double win for electric utilities. Millions of EVs and PHEVs would expand the sale of electricity as an alternative to oil. Utilities could avoid building more dirty peaking power plants. Instead they could buy back electricity at peak hours from vehicle drivers. Clean Fleet Article It would be a financial win-win for all.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with archives of over 60 articles and reports about electric vehicles, V2G, biofuels, fleet success and more.

Powering the Planet

by Richard T. Stuebi

“Powering the Planet” is the title of an extraordinary speech that is regularly given by Nate Lewis, Professor of Chemistry at CalTech. It is a bit long and detailed, but very much worth reading, as it elegantly frames the scale of the worldwide energy/environmental challenges to be faced in the coming decades.

The gist of the presentation is that aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency is critical — but we still need to supply the remaining human energy requirement in some carbon-free fashion, which leaves us relatively few viable options:

  • Nuclear power, which concerns Lewis not for safety/security reasons but because of inability to expand nuclear utilization quickly/sufficiently to meet the world’s needs
  • Carbon sequestration of fossil fuel burning, which Lewis says may not be available in time or at the volumes necessary to have significant beneficial impact on climate change
  • Hydro, geothermal, wind and ocean energy, which are all fine in Lewis’ view, but inadequate in scope to supply global energy demands
  • Bio-based energy, which Lewis finds to be highly inefficient and therefore unlikely to be able to provide more than a small fraction of worldwide energy requirements

This leaves solar energy, which Lewis concludes is the best hope for the planet — technologically known to work, scalable with no binding supply limitations, at potentially reasonable economics with continued advancement. Then Lewis closes with the clincher: if we’re going to succeed with solar energy, our priorities need to change:

“In the United States, we spend $28 billion on health, but only about $28 million on basic solar research. Currently, we spend more money buying gas at the pump in one hour than we spend funding basic solar research in our country over an entire year. Yet, in that same hour, more energy from the sun is hitting the Earth than all of the energy consumed on our planet in that year. The same cannot be said of any other energy source.”

‘Nuf sed.

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

Blogroll Review: Cleantech Bubble, Patents, & Jobs

by Frank Ling

Almost As Hot As Healthcare

Nothing is more important than our health. Even the environment, you ask (which arguably affects our health directly and indirectly)? At least that’s what the markets are telling us…for now.

Clean technologies are now becoming mainstream, yet investors are cautious for many reasons.

Rob Day, in a recent article at GreenTech Media, says that business news tends to be suggests a greater possibility of a bubble in cleantech than in healthcare. Here are some reasons:

1. Health care is a huge market, but so are global markets for energy, water and materials, so sometimes it might be useful to take a step back and recognize just how early we are in the process of creative destruction of these huge industries.

2. Another reason is that a few cleantech entrepreneurs and investors persist in making bold statements about how their ideas/ investments are going to re-make the world in the blink of an eye.

3. Finally, there’s always confusion about publicly-traded stocks versus venture investments, in terms of thinking about valuations, etc.

Reason two suggests that journalists are wary of hype and while companies need to impress investors, there is going to be a lot of skepticism. From a media point of view, this makes sense. Journalists should be objective and cover all relevant points of view on any story.

Here are some numbers. The US spent $2.5 billion on cleantech in 2007, which was in increase of 67% from 2006. In contrast, healthcare got $10 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion or 17% from the previous year.

And so cleantech is definitely on the radar and there is going to be growth. But for now, healthcare is a hotter sector.

Open Source Green

Popcorn styrofoams in packaging are the stuff of childhood memories, but no more. Due to their volume and their persistence in the environment, companies are phasing them out.

It turns out not only are companies adopting environmentally friendly practices, they are sharing their techniques openly.

Heather McKee writes in EcoGeek:

Inspired by open source movement behind Creative Commons and the Linux OS, the WBCSD and these companies believe that by sharing patents that reduce pollution and waste, they will provide a spawning ground for new collaborations in efficiency and sustainability.

The WBCDSD or World Business Council for Sustainable Development includes big players like IBM, Sony, Nokia, and Pitney Bowes.

I’m sure the penguin would be proud! 🙂

Job Safety

So are we in a recession or are we just hitting a little rough spot? There is still debate but with uncertainty in the minds of many, it may be a good idea where to look for jobs.

Well, the oil and petroleum industries are actively recruiting. While some may not find that to their taste, the entire energy sector is in fact growing and this includes alternative energy.

Robert Rapier, in his R-squared Energy Blog, writes:

I always recommend that people look for something that interests them in either the energy or health care field. I am not as familiar with the manpower issues in the health care field, but we have serious shortages in the energy sector.

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

Big Technology: Geo-Engineering

by Richard T. Stuebi

For a while now, I’d been reading bits and pieces about the concept of geo-engineering: undertaking macro-scale actions in the atmosphere to counteract the impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. From what little I’d read, it seemed like the ideas of crackpots.

That was until my Cleveland Foundation colleague Kathleen Cerveny sent me a most intriguing link to a videoed lecture by David Keith from the University of Calgary on the website TED.

No kook, Prof. Keith argues that it’s very possible to inject large quantities of sulfates high above the stratosphere, and in so doing put a brake on climate change far more rapid than can be accomplished by shifting our energy system to reduce emissions.

In this talk, he leaves unstated the technological approach for accomplishing this task, though he claims interestingly that it could be done at relatively moderate costs of a couple percent of world GDP.

He also points out how dangerous this pandora’s box of geo-engineering would be to open. It seems akin to the dilemmas associated with the discovery of how to harness atomic energy: once you know about it, it so profoundly affects the future fate of the human species that it becomes imperative to institute a global approach to controlling this knowledge for the forces of good rather than evil.

Interesting watching — have a look.

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.