Posts

Cleantech Parasites

It dawned on me today, that after buying green ecommerce store Greenhome.com 8 months ago, we put up links to the site on CleantechBlog.com, and included special coupons for all our Cleantech Blog readers and Cleantech.org members in the monthly emailings.  Here I thought people who were making a living off cleantech might *gasp* care about walking the walk and might appreciate it.

I think Greenhome.com saw a total of 3 coupon downloads out of that, and two were spam.  Worse, I’ve gotten more than that many personal comments asking why I’d clutter up the cleantech site with blog columns about green products.  On Saturdays no less, when the weekend traffic falls off 75%.  For the record we pulled those columns a few months ago

Fine save your money or buy somewhere else, but that rate is so abysmally low, it made me wonder if the entire of my audience is completely hypocritic.  And yes, it’s the web.  And yes, I DO pay attention.   I can see what pages y’all click on, and where you comment, I moderate every single one. And several times a week I read every Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIN comment, and systematically delete and block anyone I find that spams, no appeals.  When I ignore you, it’s because you’re being annoying, I mean err, “that comment does not meet our unpublished comment policy or is not conducive to the health of the CleantechBlog.com and Cleantech.org community”.

So I’m pretty sure this group likes to read and talk and b*%&h about cleantech and a greener better world.  But do you actually care?

 

Do you actually think about cleantech, green products, and energy or water use when you’re not at work?

How many of you actually have a solar system?

How many of your light bulbs are now CFLs or LEDs?

How many have done an energy audit?

What green/ecofriendly versions of a product have you actually bought?

Do you know what makes that product green?

Do you actually recycle/compost?  Do you do the minimum required, or make an extra effort? At your home?  At your office?  Do you even know?

Do you have a clue what your energy bill is?  How many kW hours you use per square foot?  How that compares to the average? – For the record, when I asked a number of people that question at the last Cleantech Forum, I got a bunch of very polite laughs.

 

Or, and please excuse the language, are you just a cleantech parasite sucking off the teat of the government subsidies in cleantech?  Warren Buffett literally eats the food from the restaurants he owns, right?  Do you even bother to turn your lights off? 😉  What’s the phrase?  Oh yeah, “the choice is yours”.

7 Book Reviews in Cleantech and Energy

Sandor Schoichet s a longtime Cleantech Blog reader, and Director of Meridian Management Consultants.  Sandor has EE and SM degrees in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science from MIT, where he studied artificial intelligence, office automation, and business process reengineering, and completed a joint program in Management of Innovation at the Sloan and Harvard business schools. He holds undergraduate degrees in Information Sciences and Philosophy from UC Santa Cruz.  He published these book reviews on our sister site Cleantech.org, and following our Cleantech Bookshelf,  we liked them so much we’re republishing them here as a Reader’s Choice Bookshelf.

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins

If there was one key to turning around the damaging business and environmental practices of modern culture, what would it be?  ‘Natural Capitalism,’ the seminal 1999 call for a broader focus on sustainability, presents an overwhelming case that the key is resource efficiency and effectiveness.  Just as conventional capitalism is all about using financial capital effectively, so ‘natural capitalism’ is about expanding that bottom line focus to include the  natural resources and ecosystem services underlying the ability of business and society to function in the first place.  The authors argue that with appropriate shifts in business perspective and government policy, our economy could be something like 90% more efficient in its use of irreplaceable natural resources, thereby mitigating ecosystem impacts, enabling global development, and staving off climate change.

Throughout history, until very recently, man has been a small actor in an overwhelmingly large world.  Most of the book explores how this has given rise to our ingrained cultural patterns of wasteful resource utilization, limited focus on capital efficiency, and drive for production volumes, while assuming unbounded access to subsidized natural resources and ‘free’ ecosystem services.  Shifting perspective to include natural capital on the business balance sheet, and to expand lean manufacturing principles beyond the factory walls is what’s required to address the ecology/climate change nexus.  This change in perspective is embodied in a range of sustainable business concepts, including the ‘triple bottom line’ (profits, people, and planet), and the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ model for recycling products and integrating industries to eliminate ‘waste’.

The basic principles of natural capitalism put forward can be summarized as: (1) focus on natural resource efficiency (2) using closed loop, biomemetic, nontoxic processes (3) to deliver more appropriate end-user services (4) while investing in restoring, sustaining, and expanding natural capital.  Following these principles leads not to constraints on business or lowered expectations, but an enormous range of new business opportunities to profit from improved efficiencies and environmentally beneficial activities.  One of the best expressions of this perspective comes in the discussion on climate change, providing a refreshing contrast to the recent spate of bad news on this front: “Together, the [available business] opportunities can turn climate change into an unnecessary artifact of [our] uneconomically wasteful use of resources.”

While the authors deliver an awesome, deeply researched articulation of their vision, showing with many examples why it’s important and how it can work within our current capitalistic economies, the book has two key flaws.  First, it falls prey to the syndrome first articulated by Paul Saffo, founder of the Institute for the Future, of confusing a clear vision of the future with a short path.  This combines with an  excessive reliance on sheer volume of examples to make their points, too many of them poorly explained, bristling with non-comparable numbers, and substituting hand-waving for real outcomes.  Deeper exploration of fewer examples might have illustrated the principles better, and have been much easier to read.  Also, 11 years after the original publication, many of the examples are seen to be hastily chosen and and used to support glib and overreaching conclusions that make the authors seem naive.  Examples include the advent hydrogen powered cars (“hypercars”), the potential for shutting down Ruhr Valley coal production in favor of direct social payments to coal workers, or the imminent triumph of the Kyoto Protocols for international carbon trading.  And, while much attention is paid to articulating the perverse incentives, misguided taxes and subsidies, and split responsibilities that impede more efficient system approaches, there’s short shrift given to new technology adoption rates, the scale of existing infrastructure investments, or the political complexities of changing incentives and subsidies.

However, if you are interested in understanding the genesis and foundations of the modern sustainability movement, this is a fundamental text.  Despite its flaws, after 11 years the fundamental argument and principles hold up well and are still inspiring.

Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future
by Robert Bryce

Bryce bills himself as a purveyor of “industrial strength journalism,” and ‘Power Hungry’ doesn’t disappoint. Starting with a clear statement of his own energy policy – “I’m in favor of air conditioning and cold beer.” – Bryce provides a muscular, data-driven analysis of our modern industrial civilization and the changing mix of energy sources that power it. This is an eye-opening discussion that does an unusually good job of conveying the scale of our existing energy infrastructure, and the challenge of providing adequate energy supplies for the future, not just for the US and Europe, but for the developing world and the third world as well, under the constraints of economics and decarbonization. Bryce articulate four energy imperatives – power density, energy density, cost, and scale – and uses them as a consistent framework for looking at what he calls the “Myths of Green Energy.” His “myths” run the gamut from the idea that wind power can really reduce overall CO2 emissions, to the idea that the US lags other countries in energy efficiency, to the idea that carbon capture and sequestration could work at scale, and intriguingly, even the idea that oil is a dirty fuel compared to the alternatives. While the debunking of green alternatives has flaws, especially in the lack of attention to advanced biofuels, smart grid technologies, and green building materials, it is refreshingly apolitical – focused on facts, practical alternatives, and the requirements of scale. In some ways Bryce ends up with conclusions similar to those of Bill McKibben in his recent book ‘Eaarth': we will not be able to turn the tide on atmospheric CO2 quickly enough, the scale is too large, the transition times are too long, the pressure for global development is too great. We will have no choice but to mitigate some problems and adapt to the rest. However, instead of advocating acceptance of a “graceful decline” as McKibben does, Bryce lays out an energetic path forward, a “no regrets” policy he dubs N2N: shifting electrical generation aggressively towards natural gas in the near term, while investing in advanced nuclear technologies for the long run. The strongest element of the book is how he effectively links the future economic health of the US with rising prospects for the rest of the world … and that will take massive quantities of carbon-free power, not only for economic development, but for mitigating unavoidable climate change impacts as well. ‘Power Hungry’ is a challenging and valuable read for everyone interested in green energy and an effective response to the climate crisis.

Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
by Stewart Brand

Brand, as ever, is a clear and forceful writer, fearlessly putting himself on the line with specific recommendations and a call to action. This is the Plan missing from Al Gore’s otherwise excellent textbook, ‘Our Choice: A Plan to Solve to Climate Crisis’ –harder-edged, more urgent, more tech-savvy, willing to name names, kick butt, and provoke a reaction. This is the place to start if you’re ready to move beyond the conventional green perspective and really get a grip on what responding to the climate challenge entails. Frightening and exhilarating at the same time!

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben

I’m conflicted about this book, and McKibben’s style in general. First, this is a valuable contribution to the debate about how to think about climate change and appropriate goals for our planetary future. McKibben actually presents many good ideas (in the second half of the book), rooted in a realistic and compelling vision of how our world is changing and how we need to adapt. However, his writing style, especially when presenting bad news (the first half of the book) is just “one damn thing after another,” an endless listing of specifics without adequate context or meaningful analysis … he apparently does not understand that anecdotes are not evidence. While he makes his argument most energetically, and has lots of suggestive detail that appears to support it, in the cases with which I am directly familiar he is guilty of taking things out of context, then making gross simplifications and overreaching generalizations. And this is too bad, because, overall, I think he’s basically right, and that his suggestions for change are excellent. Probably the most important aspect of this book is simply his tough, clear-eyed situation assessment of the damage that’s already been done, the building momentum of environmental change, and the need to get on with a meaningful response. I worry, though, that by beating us over the head with a stream of bad news, and then framing his suggestions for a response in terms of achieving a “graceful decline”, too many people will be turned off and won’t hear the good ideas towards the end of the book. The grand project of changing our culture so that we can live in a durable and robust symbiosis with our environment on a global scale … that’s not a graceful decline, but a call to help create a new age as exciting as any that went before.

Turning Oil Into Salt: Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice
by Anne Korin, Gal Luft

This slim volume is the clearest and most direct analysis I’ve yet seen of oil’s position as a strategic commodity, and the potential for open fuel standards to enable a market-based pathway to transportation fuel choice. Especially notable for its independent perspective … we hear so much about the need for ‘drop in’ petroleum equivalents and the ‘ethanol blend wall’, but not nearly enough about other approaches that might emulate the open interface model that has driven the phenomenal growth of the internet. Absolutely required reading for anyone interested in clean energy, the potential contribution of biofuels to achieving energy security, and the practical steps that we need to take to move down the path.

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate
by Stephen H. Schneider, Tim Flannery

If you care about the big picture of climate change that’s driving the urgency behind global environmental agreements and the commercialization of greentech, then Schneider’s ‘Science as a Contact Sport’ is must reading. The book achieves two objectives in an engaging and forceful manner. First it is a great introduction to the science of climate change, presented through Schneider’s personal experience as a key participant in its development. And second, it provides much-needed insight into how the issue has played out in the US legislature and the global media, again from an up-close and personal point of view. Democracy and government are both messy systems, but still are forums where the environmental and greentech communities must ultimately triumph, and Schneider’s personal experience should be of value to everyone engaged in the battle. Some elements of Schneider’s message echo Al Gore’s discussion in ‘The Assault on Reason,’ but are presented in a clearer, more direct, and better operationalized manner. Highly recommended!

Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider
by John Hofmeister

Hofmeister writes with refreshing directness and lack of pretense about two key ideas: the disconnect between “political time” and “energy time” that drives legislative dysfunction in energy and environmental planning; and his own proposal for an independent Federal Energy Resources Board to fix it. Most of the book is a walkthrough of the current US energy business and infrastructure … the “straight talk from an energy insider” part. He convincingly lays out an array of problems with the approaches advocated by just about everyone, from left-wing environmentalists, to right-wing “infotainers”, to the energy and utility power industry itself … with special scorn for the disastrous and long-running failure of our elected officials of all stripes to address our energy needs in a serious manner. The book provides a prescient and unnerving in-depth background to current newspaper reporting on the BP spill disaster in the Gulf (it went to press just before the explosion and blowout). Hofmeister is on less firm footing, however, when he switches to his proposal for an independent energy regulatory agency modeled on the Federal Reserve. While he surely gets an ‘A’ for boldness and for thinking outside the box, how this is supposed to work and how we are supposed to get there in advance of a national energy disaster akin to the Great Depression, are both left up to “grassroots pressure.” All I can say is that I hope his non-profit, Citizens for Affordable Energy.org, is successful at pushing his ideas onto the national stage, and helping to build a consensus focus on practical solutions. Highly recommended … wherever you stand on these complex issues, Hofmeister will push your buttons and make you think about what a real solution might look like.

When Does BYOB Not Stand for “Bring Your Own Beer”?

Michelle, I’m loving the Earth Angel and BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag phrases.  But then again I like bags, reading funny t-shirts and bumper stickers, and the Earth, so it figures.

Name: Michelle Jayme, Owner/Uber Designer (Editor’s words, not Michelle’s)

Company: Bag Revolution

What’s your personal definition of greening?

Live with the future in mind and it will be easy to make “green” decisions every day.

How did you get started in green business?

Being based on the east coast of the U.S., I took a trip to San Francisco a few years ago and was inspired by the city’s green initiative. I designed bags that had a cool environmental message rather than a store logo, while staying affordable. We have since been reaching customers worldwide.

Why did you choose to supply Greenhome.com?

Green Home is a leading source for environmentally friendly products. It is easy to navigate and very shopper friendly.

What do you and your company do in your own life and operations to walk the walk?

We do not own a filing cabinet. We do our best to reduce on office supplies and papers by doing all of our work electronically.

What is the best greening advice you can give our customers?

Reduce the earth’s waste by eliminating the use of plastic bags one day at a time.

What’s your personal favorite of your products that Greenhome.com carries?

Bag Revolution Bags, of course. 
 
What’s been the biggest change in the green sector since you got started?

Awareness is broader than ever.

Do you really think green products make a big difference and why?

Yes. It simply makes sense.

Do you think consumers now are aware green products exist, or is there still a lot more education to do?

Yes, but more media coverage and education wouldn’t hurt.

If you could invent a green product that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

That is top secret!

 

Thank you for your time- we are looking forward to many more years working with you!

Texas A&M Sustainability Day and The Aggie Green Fund

I had a chance to stop in at the Campus Sustainability Day at my alma mater, Texas A&M today.  It was great to see all the activity.  We definitely didn’t have such when I was in school.

The turnout included various Texas A&M facilities and utilities departments, a number of student committees and organizations, and local businesses. As one example, the Department of Residence Life was showcasing now the series of programs it runs and an Energy Challenge to get students engaged in greening the campus (my old dorm, Lechner, came in bottom third, I noticed).

And the University now also has a 2 year old Office of Sustainability, which has developed the university master sustainability plan around 12 target areas:

  • Management of Climate Change
  • Purchasing of Sustainable Goods and Services
  • Optimization of Energy Use
  • Sustainable Food and Dining
  • Management of Water Resources
  • Waste Management
  • Sustainable Land Use
  • Use of Green Building Practices
  • Utilization of Alternative Transportation and Fuels
  • Improving Social and Economic Factors
  • Education and Research
  • Management and Funding Support

I had a chance to chat with the Office of Sustainability’s Director, Kelly Wellman, about some of the programs they are working on.  A massive city unto itself, the campus has a huge potential to be a force for sustainability.  A&M’s self assessment highlights a long term plan to improve, but it was great to see it hasn’t been standing still.

Highlights include:
A free biodiesel powered transit bus system
A 65% reduction in per square foot water usage since 1991
And a 33% per square foot energy use reduction since 2002

But the one that struck me the most was the newly launched Aggie Green Fund.  The Green Fund is “a student initiated and student controlled fund that will empower students to take action and bring about novel and creative sustainability initiatives to our campus. It will cost only $3 per semester or $1.50 per summer session, generating approximately $300,000 per academic year for sustainability initiatives.”  Basically it allows a student committee to select and fund student proposed sustainability projects with student approved and student funded money.  This year is the first year of operations, as it was passed in a student vote last year with 57% voting to assess themselves a dedicated sustainability fee to make it happen.

Quite inspiring.  Especially in a world where public funding for state universities has been under pressure.  I hope when I was a student that I’d have been one of the 57% voting yes.

Neal Dikeman is a Texas Aggie, Class of ’98, and a Partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC.  He is one of the owners of the leading ecostore on the web for green and environmental products, Greenhome.com.

Our Green Executives Speak Out

The Green Home Blog is very excited to begin profiling the owners and executives at a few of the companies making and supplying the green and ecofriendly products you’ve come to know and love from us. 

Many of our friends and suppliers have been in the green business since way before it was cool, and we thought you’d like to hear from a few of them about what they think being green means, and their vision, passion, thoughts, and advice.  So we’ve been interviewing a few of them, and we’re looking forward to sharing what they have to say.

If you’re a long time customer or supplier and you’d like to be profiled or want to share your green story, just drop us an email at marketing@greenhome.com, and share a few of your thoughts or answer the interview below.  We can’t publish everyone, but I guarantee we’ll be reading your perspective even if we don’t get it up the blog.  And if you’re a media type and would like to meet one of our suppliers and learn more about their products, just drop us a line and we’ll facilitate.

Name:

Company:

What do you or your company do?

What’s your personal definition of greening?

How did you get started in green business?

What do you and your company do in your own life and operations to walk the walk?

What is the best greening advice you can give our customers?

What’s your personal favorite of the products that Greenhome.com carries?

What’s been the biggest change in the green sector since you got started?

Do you really think green products make a big difference and why?

Do you think consumers now are aware green products exist, or is there still a lot more education to do?

If you could invent a green product that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

 

And for those of you don’t yet, join the discussion on how to be greenest on twitter and facebook, and tweet us or post your best green thoughts there as well.

www.twitter.com/greenhomey

www.facebook.com/greenhome

EcoCAR’s Top 10 Green Resolutions of 2010

by Richard T. Stuebi
 
I’ve been crunched for time over the holiday season, so I’ve dropped the ball on writing original content. Sorry about that. To fill the gap, I received the following email from Katy Rohlicek representing EcoCAR, which I’m posting verbatim:

“When it comes to making a fresh start at the beginning of the year, we usually listen to ‘experts’ – leaders, celebrities, doctors, coaches, therapists, etc. In 2010, we say, let’s listen to our youth. Better yet, how about a group of young engineers from 16 universities across North America who are part of a competition to design and build a greener car of the future. They’re part of the EcoCAR Challenge, which means they think about green automotive engineering 24/7. But that wasn’t quite enough – they wanted sustainability to touch all aspects of their lives. So, EcoCAR students from Victoria, Canada to Daytona Beach developed the following list of ten green resolutions to help them, and others, live a more sustainable, eco-friendly life in 2010:

1. Drive smart. We appropriately begin with a no-brainer resolution for the EcoCAR teams. There are many small changes you can make to green your time behind the wheel. Planning trips to avoid traffic and stop lights, maintaining steady and legal speeds, slowly accelerating, limiting use of air conditioning, heated seats, and rear window defoggers, and avoiding unnecessary heavy loads can all improve fuel economy.

2. Set car-free goals. Whether it is biking to work or running errands on foot, it’s easier to stick to a greener transportation plan if you set goals. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Dan Grice set an ambitious goal for 2010: 3,000 commuter miles by bike. He says, ‘Bike commuting is my goal. I want to average four days a week which would eliminate 3,000 miles of driving in 2010.’ No bike? EcoCAR’s Mississippi State University team takes advantage of the free bicycle-share program. Look around or start one in your area.

3. Try sharing. Car pooling may have been an invention of necessity to dodge traffic, but it’s greener than ever even if it’s still not the most popular option – 77% of Americans drive to work alone. EcoCAR’s Texas Tech University team is doing its part and has started car pooling to their garage daily. Local car sharing programs are taking off too and chances are we could all benefit from taking up one of these options. EcoCAR’s University of Waterloo and University of West Virginia teams both take part in new campus car share programs which rent hybrids by the hour.

4. Drop mileage from your food. Country of origin labels, wait lists for CSAs and the overcrowded farmer’s market scene add up to one thing: Americans are paying more attention to where their food comes from. Beth Bezaire from Ohio State University’s EcoCAR team says, ‘Purchasing food that has to fly across the world has become less appealing.’ The teams suggest buying local as much as possible and setting a goal, like resolving to incorporate one local food product into your meals every day. Push your school or office to incorporate local foods into the menu, like they did at the University of Victoria in Canada (UVic) cafeteria, or eat out at restaurants that support regional farms.

5. Grow a garden. Seriously. Take a page from food author Michael Pollan and don’t be afraid to grow a garden, even if you only have a small space. You may discover it’s easier than you think. If land is at a premium, find a community garden. UVic’s Campus Community Garden rents 15 foot long plots for $30 a year and they currently have a waiting list! Get one started on your campus or sign up for a space in your local community garden.

6. Read or watch something new. The EcoCAR teams may know a lot about green engineering, but they are also challenging themselves to learn about other issues this year as well – whether it’s sustainable food, water footprint or other environmental issues. Jeff Waldner from UVic says, ‘I find that knowing more about the problem makes me think more about the solution. The first time I picked up a book about global climate change, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know about the issue.’

7. Remember the little things. Switch your light bulbs, look for products made from recycled or lower footprint materials, buy energy efficient electronics and appliances, go paperless, and conserve heat and water. The EcoCAR teams say it’s easier for young adults to start small, especially when time and money are often a factor. Also, these behavioral changes may seem minor, but they add up.

8. Don’t forget the trees. It’s easy to toss a plastic bottle or empty can into a recycling container, but it’s paper that typically gets the cold shoulder. The average American uses 650 pounds of paper per year and a lot goes to the landfill – paper products make up the largest percentage of waste at about 36%. Find simple ways, especially at work, to make sure paper gets tossed into the recycle bin. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Brian Lee offers this tip: ‘Get an empty cardboard box, put it under your desk and when it gets full, empty it in the actual paper recycling bin. This works for me because I don’t have to go out of my way and since the box is right at your feet, I always remember to recycle.’

9. Assess energy. Alternative energy sources are becoming more affordable and there is new funding available for smaller solar and wind installations. If you can’t consider renewable energy at home, look at the other areas of your life. For the EcoCAR teams, that means getting involved and encouraging their schools to go green. At UVic, solar panels heat the indoor swimming pool, parking ticket dispensers and lights around campus. An added selling point is hiring local renewable energy companies to do the job.

10. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to say something to help change behavior. Dana Bubonovich who is on Penn State University’s EcoCAR team says, ‘I remind people on campus to throw their bottles in a recycling bin. It may cause a little embarrassment, but they recycle it.’ If that’s not your style, share ideas and advice or get involved. Go to city meetings on sustainability topics and offer opinions, volunteer with local organizations or keep tabs on your government’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

I look forward to your feedback and hope you’ll be interested in working together to spread the word. You can read more about the teams on their website (http://www.ecocarchallenge.org/) or blog (http://www.greengarageblog.org/).”

Well, I did my part. Best wishes for 2010 to everyone.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Robert Metcalfe Is Wrong, Clean Technology Alone Will Not Work

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Huge Opportunities to Do Good and Do Well with Green IT

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

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


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

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

8 Lessons From Twitter Energy Monitoring

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Two weeks and 77 tweets later, the Twitter “green_watch” project has come to an end. Lots of insights, problems raised, and beginning of answers.

The goal was to use Twitter as a real time, online reporting tool for my personal energy consumption, round the clock.


Lessons learned from the project:

#1. The more engaged we are in flow-like activities, the less our propensity to consume energy and buy things that depend on energy for their production:

Adults and children should be encouraged to develop capacity to engage in activities that are deeply satisfying by themselves, eg, hobbies, work, physical activities. Early education could play an important role in that respect. Children’s creativity should be encouraged more, including the ability to do much with little.

#2. Energy vampires, although well known by now, continue to do their silent work of sucking up electricity unnecessarily, and with no added benefit for the end user.

Smart meters, power strips, are available. But how many people use them? How many know much they could save? The effort required is still too great for the mainstream.

#3. There are no readily available monitoring system to alert us when we are consuming energy, and how much, and in ways that talk to us.

I understand $, comparisons, savings, cute pictures, and sensorial signals such as bells and changing colors. Forget kWhs, tables, and graphs. Lots of work is currently being done in this field. But it still has a long way to go, and is still in pilot stage.

#4. The switch from car to alternative low energy mode of transportation requires that people experience first hand the superior benefits of those alternatives.

From riding my bike a few times, I realized that biking was better for my health, took no more time than driving, avoided traffic jam and parking problem, was a lot of fun, and cost me nothing. Same with taking the train, and realizing that I could use time riding productively, working on my laptop, or reading, plus I did not have to find parking. This shows the importance of jumpstarting the conversion process by eliminating barriers to trial of other mode of transportations.

#5. We are addicted to convenience, even more than to things. Rather than fighting that addiction, we should focus on sustainable alternatives that are as, if not more convenient that current solutions.

The bike example also applies here. If we can convince people that biking is as fast, and less hassle than driving, at least for short distances, then we will have an easier sell. Trying to go against that cultural reality of our Western world, is likely to be met with great resistance, and be counterproductive.

#6. There is a huge fuzzy area in collective energy consumption, and indirect energy use. How does one establish the share between individual and institutional responsibility?

At home, and in my car, I am in charge. What happens when I consume electricity from lighting on the freeways, or university campuses? Or when I buy processed food, without any knowledge of the energy that went into producing it? Information becomes critical, as in food carbon labeling, or public display of energy consumption, for let’s say a public pool. Although not a mainstream reality yet, such information would empower individuals to make informed decisions about their use of such collective services.

#7. Green-ness is a privilege of the rich. People with money to spend on home solar installations, hybrid cars, and carbon offsets for air traveling, can lower their carbon footprint, a lot more easily than their less well-off fellow citizens.

That is a fact. In the absence of significant government subsidies and investments, the average person needs to work a lot harder to decrease his or her carbon footprint

#8. Energy efficiency and conservation, the two low hanging fruits of climate change remediation, have not yet entered the public consciousness.

I am dreaming smart homes, smart transportation, smart consumption. No fancy new technologies required. Only a shift in mindsets, and the pulling together of existing technologies.

Any ideas how to make this happen? I am asking you . . .

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media. Her green blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Marguerite is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Since Sarah Palin’s VP nomination, she has also been impersonating Ms. Palin at What’s Sarah Thinking? blog

Energy Monitoring With Twitter

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

This week, I started a new experiment, this time using Twitter to monitor my energy consumption 24/7. A Web 2.0 version of my earlier Daily Footprint Project, when I kept a diary of all my carbon footprinting activities for 30 days. The project is called “green_watch” and you can follow it on Twitter. I was inspired by IBM researcher Andy Stanford-Clark‘s recent home energy monitoring project, “andy_home”, also on Twitter, and also by my ongoing fiddlings with Twitter. I am convinced Twitter is an underused social networking tool, that offers tremendous potential for business applications. Here is what “green_watch” looks like:

At the end of each day, I take a look and report on key insights at La Marguerite, my green blog. So far, here is what I learned:

“Solar is Still a Privilege of the Rich”

“Energy Monitoring is Everybody’s Business”

Next week, I will continue to report on my “green_watch” findings. In the mean time, I urge you to start your own “green_watch”. Who knows, you may discover your next business idea in the process?

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

The Shiny Copper Penny Plan for Energy and Cleantech

I wrote a piece last week arguing that McCain / Palin was my energy/cleantech dream ticket, and promptly got slammed by my readers on the left (who generally think McCain’s plans for the environment /cleantech investing are nowhere near aggressive enough and that Palin is way too conservative), AND friends on the right (who think that Palin is anti-Big Oil). There were more of the former than the latter since Cleantech Blog has been more of a progressive voice than anything else. I think I have published all the comments that came through on the blog (though not the emails), even those ripping me to shreds.

But pretty much everyone agreed I was crackers for one reason or another. So of course I’ve expanded the discussion, and am opening the floor to you. I am looking for comments that reflect at least one pro AND con for each candidate as the best candidate for energy / cleantech. Comments that only offer pros on one side or the other will be sent straight to the trash can.

Here’s mine to get you started – and while you’ll see my opinion come straight through, attached are the reasons behind it:

Barack Obama – Dubbed the Shiny Copper Penny Plan

His environmental and energy issues page

His stated plan’s objectives (editor’s notes in [brackets])

“Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump [How, by raising taxes elsewhere to subsidize energy and thereby support increased demand but oppose any increase in domestic production? Our gas prices are already way lower than Europe’s. The best policy I’ve seen to reduce gas prices is corn ethanol, yes the much maligned corn ethanol, which has reduced prices at the pump $0.29 to $0.40 / gallon. That plus CAFE plus domestic drilling, and we may have a viable answer. The real short term answer to high gas prices is break the back of OPEC as a cartel, but NOBODY wants to go there.]

Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. [Despite the fact that this would likely make me quite rich (I have significant interests in several companies that could milk the hell out of this), I’m not really interested in massive increases in government spending. And let’s be clear, Presidents do not create jobs, you and I do. Oh, and Barack wants to get the US government into the venture capital business in cleantech. On what planet is THAT a good idea?]

Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined. [We don’t import a lot of our oil from the Middle East, it’s too far away, we get a large chunk of ours from Mexico and Canada :)].

Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America. [I’m a big fan of PHEVs, but right now the technology is just not there yet, despite all my electric car friends. This is definitely a shiny copper penny. I would rather focus on CAFE, car size, and biofuels.]

Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. [2012 is just around the corner in energy terms, virtually nothing the next President can do would really change our trajectory here. 25 x 25 is a good goal, and probably his best energy plank in my opnion, but he’s short on the details of how to actually achieve it, even at astronomical energy price increases. One main challenge is that to accomplish this, we need more clean baseload (coal, gas, nuke or hydro) to underpin it and lots and lots and lots of new transmission lines – which are 7 to 10 year projects in of themselves. And of course, it depends on what you mean by renewable, right now every state in the US defines it differently.]

Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. [I’m very pro cap and trade, but Obama’s plan is the high cost, unilateral way to do it, resulting in the most revenues to the government. The other issue here (which McCain will also face), is that even reducing the US impact on CO2 emissions is pretty much lost in the wash if China and India et al don’t commit to some sort of reductions (And of course if we do and they don’t the net effect is to push manufacturing jobs overseas. THAT is why neither the US Senate, the Clinton administration nor the Bush Administration, Barack Obama or John McCain has supported ratifying Kyoto (Hillary used to, then flipped once she figured it out))]”

The Pro

  • Clearly the most aggressively stated energy and environmental plan – if you like all green with costs taking a back seat, Obama is the way to go. But it’s very hard to conceive of cheap energy and aggressive switchs to alternatives.
  • Supports most aggressive climate change proposals out there – would definitely put us in the lead in solving the climate change problem – if you believe that us solving our part of the problem internally is more important than the world working to solve it together.
  • Supports long term not short term incentives for alternatives in general (as does McCain)
  • Would likely spend mega bucks on new energy techology spending and subsidies – great for me personally, bad for you and the country in the near term, possibly good for the country in the long term.

The Con

  • Very limited resume of actually authoring any legislation on energy or the environment
  • No experience in domestic energy policy
  • Anti- drilling (or was until he realized that like two-thirds of Americans support it)
  • Supports climate change plan that would represent a wealth transfer from the central US to the coasts and result in a several hundred billion dollar per year new tax on energy (that’s on the order of the Iraq war size)
  • Picked a VP with no real energy experience
  • Seems to have little respect for the cost of his energy plan to you and I – read Jimmy Carter all over again?

John McCain – Steady Wins the Race

John McCain’s energy page. His stated plan’s objectives (editor’s notes in [brackets])

  • “Expanding Domestic Oil And Natural Gas Exploration And Production – John McCain Will Commit Our Country To Expanding Domestic Oil Exploration. John McCain Believes In Promoting And Expanding The Use Of Our Domestic Supplies Of Natural Gas. [You may not like it, but most Americans do, and underpinning domestic supplies should be a part of every energy policy discussion. Tax the output at the pump if you want, but this country was built on cheap domestic energy, never forget that.]
  • Taking Action Now To Break Our Dependency On Foreign Oil By Reforming Our Transportation Sector – The Nation Cannot Reduce Its Dependency On Oil Unless We Change How We Power Our Transportation Sector. John McCain’s Clean Car Challenge. John McCain Will Propose A $300 Million Prize To Improve Battery Technology For Full Commercial Development Of Plug-In Hybrid And Fully Electric Automobiles. John McCain Supports Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) And Believes They Should Play A Greater Role In Our Transportation Sector. John McCain Believes Alcohol-Based Fuels Hold Great Promise As Both An Alternative To Gasoline And As A Means of Expanding Consumers’ Choices.Today, Isolationist Tariffs And Wasteful Special Interest Subsidies Are Not Moving Us Toward An Energy Solution. John McCain Will Effectively Enforce Existing CAFE Standards. [I hate prizes. The government shouldn’t be in the l0ttery business, but battery technology IS the ultimate force multiplier in energy and transport. Flex fuel, should be a basic requirement. See above on ethanol’s impact on prices already. CAFE standards, here is our near term transport lynchpin, I’d like to see McCain stronger on this.]
  • Investing In Clean, Alternative Sources Of Energy – John McCain Believes That The U.S. Must Become A Leader In A New International Green Economy. John McCain Will Commit $2 Billion Annually To Advancing Clean Coal Technologies. John McCain Will Put His Administration On Track To Construct 45 New Nuclear Power Plants By 2030 With The Ultimate Goal Of Eventually Constructing 100 New Plants. John McCain Will Establish A Permanent Tax Credit Equal To 10 Percent Of Wages Spent On R&D. John McCain Will Encourage The Market For Alternative, Low Carbon Fuels Such As Wind, Hydro And Solar Power. [Long term R&D tax credit, finally! This is part of a policy that has helped Australia punch outside it’s weight in technology for years. Nukes + clean coal, we may not like it, but it HAS to be done to baseload all those new renewables. Obama will figure this out, eventually.]
  • Protecting Our Environment And Addressing Climate Change: A Sound Energy Strategy Must Include A Solid Environmental Foundation – John McCain Proposes A Cap-And-Trade System That Would Set Limits On Greenhouse Gas Emissions While Encouraging The Development Of Low-Cost Compliance Options. Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets And Timetables: 2012: Return Emissions To 2005 Levels (18 Percent Above 1990 Levels)2020: Return Emissions To 1990 Levels (15 Percent Below 2005 Levels) 2030: 22 Percent Below 1990 Levels (34 Percent Below 2005 Levels) 2050: 60 Percent Below 1990 Levels (66 Percent Below 2005 Levels). The Cap-And-Trade System Would Allow For The Gradual Reduction Of Emissions. [See below, the most practical multi-lateral plan yet devised in the US]
  • Promoting Energy Efficiency John McCain Will Make Greening The Federal Government A Priority Of His Administration. John McCain Will Move The United States Toward Electricity Grid And Metering Improvements To Save Energy. [Investing in the smart grid and smart metering, now there’s an interstate highway style policy I can support. Smart grid is THE key to underpinning a generational shift in our power use or EV fleets. It’s our electric power sine qua non – without which there is nothing]”

The Pro

  • His energy plan is balanced, focuses on the force multiplier’s like R&D tax credits, batteries, and smart grid, and cleaning up cheap domestic resources like gas, coal, nuke, and ethanol, not the shiny copper pennies like a US Venture Capital Fund, PHEVs, and cool sounding names like 25×25.
  • Only candidate to actually author a climate change bill. It gets dinged for not being aggressive enough, but it is MORE aggressive than Kyoto, and probably the most reasonably practical one that’s come through Congress.
  • Picked a VP with lots of domestic energy experience (The state of Alaska is basically an oil company) who while pro drilling is not pro Big Oil.

Con

  • Legislative record on environmental protection issues is generally considered spotty. I’d like to see more balance here.
  • Hasn’t pushed CAFE like I’d like.
  • I’d like to see explicit support for a 10 year PTC (Obama supports a 5 year one)
  • Depending on your position, pro nuclear (which is a very climate change friendly answer, by the way), but often viewed as anti environmental.

So sorry folks, I think McCain’s energy and environmental plan is as spot on as any presidential candidate in a long time. Yes his record on the environment is “spotty”, but energy and environment always involve tradeoffs with economic and technological reality, and I think any balanced plan will look spotty to some.

My rationale for McCain getting the crown on energy and cleantech, because it’s real and focuses on the long term force multipliers that will keep us competitive, clean and safe in the most economic manner, not Obama’s shiny copper penny plan.

In full disclosure for those of you who don’t know me, of my two largest clients, one is an oil company, and the other is an all renewable power company. I have been helping them develop their solar and low carbon strategies and businesses. I have founded cleantech startups myself in superconductors and carbon, and stand to see more financial benefit from Obama’s plan than McCain’s. But that doesn’t make it right.

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, Chairman of Cleantech.org.

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

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

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

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

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

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


Now you play!

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

Green, a Dead End For Social Networks?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Media Buy-outs Going Green

Green and clean media is going through a flurry of activity right now. And while still small as media companies go – just wait.

A few of the notable deals:

  • Just announced yesterday: The Cleantech Group, who popularized the term cleantech as an investment class, acquired Inside Greentech, an emerging media outlet for the green sector, for an undisclosed amount. Both of these businesses are run by friends of mine – and make for a great hook up. We did a blog in July on “Cleantech vs Greentech” that proved to be a bit prescient, it now seems. The inside scoop on this deal from a chat I had with my friend Dallas Kachan, the publisher and founder of Inside Greentech “Inside Greentech is already the most widely-read trade publication covering daily business and technology developments in cleantech. As Cleantech.com, we will become the highest profile, go-to media platform for cleantech-related developments.”
  • Leading green blog portal Treehugger was acquired by Discovery Channel just a few weeks ago. The deal metrics were rumored to be a $10 mm purchase price for a 1.4 mm hit/month site. This deal got a tremendous amount of press – and helps anchor the feeling that mainstream media deals and cleantech title launches are not far away.
  • Lightspeed Ventures and Northpoint Private Equity recently backed the launch of Greentech Media, including the acquisition of the cleantech focused Venture Power Newsletter – popular in the venture capital sector.
  • And while I can’t say who, there are a couple of other big names in the sector with deals in the works.

Before Dallas Kachan and I finished our chat, I asked him what we should expect from all of this – his short answer was that as the cleantech sector continues to explode the big media names are going to take notice.

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 Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Blogroll Review: Sustainable Snobbery, Curry, Wind Tower

by Frank Ling

My Sustainability is Greener Than Your Sustainability

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says that people are motivated by a sense of importance. For many people that means gaining status.

Now that green is entering the mainstream, it is also a status symbol among a growing segment of the population. Should we be concerned with what Helen Priest from Meridian Energy calls “conspicuous sustainability”?

On CNET’s Green Tech Blog, Neal Dikeman observes that the notion of sustainability is being driven by the need to be cool.

“Nouveau riche tech execs out here in Silicon Valley put ultraclean, and even more, ultraexpensive, solar power on their roofs. Buckingham Palace offsets the carbon footprint of the Queen’s recent trip to the United States. Dell has Plant a Tree for Me Program, which I used when I bought a new Dell last month. There is an exponentially increasing number of examples of consumerism driving green.”

But is this good or bad? Back in the 20th Century and even before that, economist Thorstein Veblen described the rush to accumulate wealth as “conspicuous consumption”, which he thought to be evil.

Mr. Dikeman cautions “for green tech and the environmental movement, is conspicuous sustainability a good one?”

So, did anyone hear about the fake solar panels in Japan?

Keep it real. :)

Chew on This

Who could have thought that food chemistry could play such an appetizing role for plastics? The Japanese have found a way to incorporate one of the main ingredients of curry into biodegradable plastic.

Japan for Sustainability notes that

“curcumin, a plant-based yellow colorant, is highly compatible with biodegradable plastic and has appropriate colorfastness and mechanical strength properties. It has also been proved that curcumin does not harm human health even when it comes in contact with the mouth, making it applicable to food packages, processing equipment and toys. Curcumin can color biodegradable plastics not only yellow, but also bright red, blue, etc.”

Now if only we could eat the plastic… :)

Castle House

Putting wind turbines on the top of skyscrapers may be becoming reality.

In this week’s EcoGeek, Hank Green writes about a proposed high-rise that will get its power from wind.

“Take up residence in the Castle House, a proposed London Skyscraper, and you’ll find yourself paying as much as 40% less on power, as the building will be generating most of it for you. The building is designed to aerodynamically channel wind through the three nine meter turbines that sit on top of the 43 story building. “

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.

Blogroll Review: Sinks, Oranges, Woz

by Frank Ling

Power Bathroom

For many years, the Japanese have recycled sink water for their toilets. Now an American company is taking it further.

WaterSaver Technologies from Kentucky has developed the AQUS system, which Philip Proefrock at EcoGeek says:

“…collects the water from a bathroom sink and filters and disinfects it before it gets re-used as flush water for an adjacent toilet. (There is nothing that would prevent this from being used in a large-scale LEED project either.)”

The toilet can save up to 7300 gallons of water each year.

According to the Word Water Council, that’s enough water to produce 2 kg of beef. :)

Orange-ol

Apparently you can get more out of oranges than just orange juice. Some guys have figured out how to convert the citrus peel into ethanol.

Jim Fraser at the EnergyBlog says:

“FPL Energy said that ethanol from citrus peel could result in a new Florida industry producing over 60 million gallons of fuel per year, which could replace about one percent of Florida’s annual gasoline.”

If only they had a way to make Pine-sol smell orangy….oh wait, I guess they already have. :)


Green Woz

Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz are all out there pushing for a greener future. But it doesn’t hurt to have more celebrities out there to garner support.

Steve Jobs (from his own blog!) quotes his old buddy Steve Wozniak as saying he wants to reduce his emissions:

“I have a long dream to build my own house in a very energy-efficient approach. That’s going to be very soon. It uses the right kind of wood that serves as a heater and as an air conditioner.”

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.

Blogroll Review: Bottles, Biobutanol, Bagasse

by Frank Ling

DIY Solar Water Heater

The Chinese have done it again. In a country that puts waste to good use, they have found another use for beer bottles: solar water heating.

Matt James writes about a Chinese farmer who made his own solar heater in the EcoGeek blog:

“…we get the story of a man who made his family a solar hot water heater from 66 recycled beer bottles. He should have called, I could have helped him empty the bottles.”

In this setup, 66 bottles were linked by hose to collect solar energy from the sun to heat up water. The farmer says this is enough to provide water for all 3 members of his family.

Bottoms up or as the Chinese say “ganpei.”

Biobutanol Bust?

While ethanol received more attention than any other alcohol out there, it’s time to rectify situation. Methanol, which causes blindness, has a bad rap. Propanol is best known as a disinfectant.

But butanol with four carbons could be the next alcohol rock star. Scientists say it is superior fuel to ethanol.

However, it may be years until we see biobutanol pumps along the highways. Robert Rapier at R-squared Energy Blog argues that biobutanol’s time has not come yet. He says:

“Sad to say, but I believe biobutanol is dead. While research will (and should) continue, the process is currently at least 10 years from any sort of commercial feasibility. And I would point out that ‘never’ falls under the umbrella of ‘at least 10 years.'”

One of the problems with biobutanol is the energy intensive process needed to remove water from the product. Nevertheless, companies like DuPont and BP are investing heavily to develop butanol from biological processes.

Bagasse Hope

At the end of the day, ethanol still holds the spotlight. Brazil has now shown how to make ethanol even more competitive. Toward realizing energy returns from the cellulosic components from sugar cane, Dedini SA has developed a process to convert bagasse or leftover can stalk into ethanol.

Jim Fraser at the Energy Blog explains:

“The technology uses two pretreatment steps to convert bagasse, the lignocellulose-rich byproduct from cane processing, into ethanol: (1) pretreatment of the biomass with organic solvents, and (2) dilute acid hydrolysis. The innovation consists of adding a first stage pretreatment step which allows the diluted acids to do their work much faster and more efficiently. The liquid hydrolyzates are then easily fermented and distilled into ethanol.”

Now if there was only a way to convert Spam into fuel. :)

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.

Cleantech Media Juggernaut is NOT Slowing Down

There is still lots of talk about a bubble in cleantech, in part because the media juggernaut that cleantech has become is NOT slowing down. You can always track the substance by watching what happens in the media and networking, so . . .

New things launched from some of my favorite media in cleantech:

Yahoo! has launched Yahoo! Green. The cleantech website for the mass market.

AltEnergyStocks.com, my favorite stock site in this sector, has launched a Cleantech News section.

The Wall Street Journal has launched Energy Roundup of the best of the blogosphere.

Major conference operator Terrapinn has entered the cleantech sector with GreenVest 2007 coming up locally in San Francisco on June 25-27. (I’m chairing it, so I promise it will be good!). But the real draw to this one are the point and counterpoint keynotes of Khosla Ventures and Cleantech Capital Group.

And my friends at Cleantech Capital, who started it all, have launched CleantechSearch.com, which since I have three of our startups actively out looking for execs, I can attest is in serious demand.

Just for grins, let us know in our comments section of any new product or website launches in cleantech and clean energy that you find of note, and whether you think they represent bubble, or substance.

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 Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Cleantech Venture Capital – Still Rising

As part of our ongoing series on stories on investment in the cleantech sector, we had a chance to discuss the sector with one of the venture capitalists at Emerald Technology Ventures.

Scott MacDonald is an Investment Director with Emerald Technology Ventures, a global leader in cleantech venture capital. Founded in 2000 under the name SAM Private Equity, Emerald is a pioneer in this rapidly emerging sector and is focused on innovative technologies in energy, materials and water. With offices in Zurich, Switzerland and Montreal, Canada, Emerald manages three venture capital funds and two venture capital portfolio mandates totaling over US$380 million. Scott currently serves as Chairman of RuggedCom and as a Director of Solicore and SoftSwitching Technologies. Prior to joining SAM, Scott held the position of Managing Director at OPG Ventures Inc., the venture capital subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation. Previous to OPG Ventures, Scott worked for ACF Equity, an early-stage venture capital company focused on investing in information technology companies. Scott graduated with a Bachelors degree from McMaster University and an MBA from Dalhousie University. He is a member of the North American Advisory Committee of the CleanTech Venture Network.

I know a bit about the history of SAM and Emerald Technology Ventures, and as one of the oldest cross-border investment groups in the cleantech area, I am very curious to get the Emerald Technology take on a number of issues. So we put to Scott a few thoughts and questions to get their take:

Emerald sponsored the San Francisco GreenVest 2007 conference I am chairing in June, and you are speaking there – can you share a few of your insights on the future of the cleantech area as an investment asset class?

I think we are in the early days but there is certainly an element of notoriety that the sector has attracted over the past 12 months with scientists, politicians and venerable VCs claiming action is required now to save the planet from global warming. A reputable and experienced LP in the venture asset class told me just last week that every generalist fund they speak with mentions an initative in cleantech. I think the great generalist funds will invest in the sector (as you know a few already are) and they will likely be successful. The specialist funds like Emerald will continue to map out and invest in innovating technologies because of our technical expertise and experience. Based on a number of successes exits to date in our first funds (Evergreen, Schmack Biogas, Pemeas), the specialization strategy seems to be working well. A really exciting development is that we are starting to see repeat entrepreneurs. Cleantech entrepreneurs that have successfully exited and are looking to try it again – and we couldn’t be happier. This was a key factor in the growth of the IT sector in the late 80s and 90s.

And can you fill me in a bit on the ins and outs of the recent fund history – the mandates with CDP and Ontario Power, your fund raise last year, and the subsequent MBO to form Emerald?

In 2000, SAM Group (Sustainable Asset Management), a leading asset management company specializing in sustainability investments and headquartered in Zurich, launched SAM Private Equity as its venture capital arm. That same year SAM Private Equity closed the SAM Sustainability Private Equity Fund and the SAM Private Equity Energy Fund with a combined EUR 90 million in commitments from leading institutions and strategic corporations. Both of these first funds are fully invested. In 2004, SAM Private Equity was awarded the portfolio management mandate from la Caisse de Dépot et Placement du Québec (CDP), a large Canadian-based pension fund, to manage its direct energy technology venture capital portfolio. Following the awarding of this mandate, SAM Private Equity increased its North American presence with two former members of the CDP team and established a North American office in Montreal, Quebec. In 2005, SAM Private Equity was awarded its second portfolio management mandate from Ontario Power Generation, a large Canadian electric utility, to manage its direct energy technology venture capital portfolio. To further strengthen its North American investment focus, two members of the former venture capital arm of Ontario Power also joined the team.

In March we announced the final close of our latest cleantech focused venture fund with commitments of EUR 135 million (US$180 million). We are going through a name change but the fund will be renamed Emerald Technology Ventures Fund II. Strong investor demand helped us exceed our original target for the new fund of EUR 100 million. Investors in the new fund are leading investment companies, financial institutions and multinational corporations from around the globe including: GIMV – Belgium, Rabobank – Netherlands, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec – Canada, Axpo Holding – Switzerland, Springbridge Limited (Advised by Consensus Business Group – UK), Credit Suisse – Switzerland, Deere & Company – USA, DSM Venturing – Netherlands, The Dow Chemical Company – USA, KPC Energy Ventures, Inc. – Kuwait, Piper Jaffray Private Capital – USA, Suncor Energy Inc. – Canada, Unilever Corporate Ventures and Volvo Technology Transfer AB – Sweden.

I have to ask, the name change – Sustainable Asset Management was an old brand in the cleantech investment sector, why the name change to Emerald?

Following the buy-out we are a private independent VC manager now and as such can no longer use the SAM brand. The SAM brand is powerful but it also was the source of some market confusion for our venture capital division. It’s clear now that Emerald is an agile and independent global VC manger with in-house expertise in the cleantech sector focused on investing exclusively in the cleantech sector and we have a new fund to do deals.

How many deals have you done from the new fund, how much capital have you employed, and what are you expecting to do over the next 12- 24 months?

We have made three investments out of the new fund and are closing on two more which should be announced within the month. We have only announced two of the investments to date – Vaperma and Identec (details of each is on our web site) www.emerald-ventures.com
I would expect we will invest in about 6 portfolio companies in total this year. We like to invest between US$2 -5 million in the first round depending on the opportunity and the stage. Technology, market and management are what’s important to us – we will consider all stages. Well…if it’s just a conceptual idea on a bar napkin we need to know the entrepreneur has made himself and others very wealthy in the past (preferably us – back to the serial entrepreneur comment).

What’s your passion these days? What technologies are you focused on?

I think there is an incredible opportunity for new technologies to help upgrade the antiquated electricity grids in Europe and North America and to leap frog into the incredible build-out that is going on in countries like India and China. China last year built an average of five 300 megawatt electricity plants a week and energy consumption is expected to continue rising fast as China aims to quadruple the size of its economy by 2020. This means a lot of new grid infrastructure technology will be deployed. We have a number of portfolio companies in the “smart Grid” space and will continue to seek out investments in this space.

You’ve had a couple of recent exits in fuel cells – what fund were they from, and has that changed your appetite for similar technology areas in the future?

We have had recent exits in this area: Pemeas which we sold to BASF and Cellex which we sold to Plug. We still have an number of other FC investments in our portfolio that we are bullish on – Angstrom Power and PolyFuel. I would say we have learned a lot about the general FC market and understand many of the technology challenges and market adoption risks much better. We are still interested in the FC space – I would just say we are a more sophisticated FC investor now.

What does Emerald see as the main differences between investing in cleantech in Europe versus the US?

The topic of an article in itself but quickly: Deal structure, Corporate governance model, Company history (many family business in Europe), labour laws, language, proximity and access to stock exchanges which are more accommodating to VC backed companies (Frankfurt Prime Standard, AIM), valuations (typically more favourable than the US – comparable to Canada where we are also very active). The short answer is lots but both regions provide great opportunity to generate investor returns. Again or investment thesis is based on the fact that unlike IT, cleantech is a global business and as such, investment opportunities are not limited to Silicon Valley or any other specific geography. At Emerald Technology Ventures we have taken a distinctive approach to addressing the challenges associated with technology specialization and geographic diversity. Our approach includes having technically competent people in-house and locating our Partners and Technology Specialists in two of the most important Cleantech markets in the world: North America and Europe.

We have done a lot of writing at Cleantech Blog on topics including ethanol, solar – so I’d like to get your 1 sentence rapid fire take on a couple of always topical cleantech investment debates:
– Thin film vs. Conventional PV – Thin film if you have deep pockets and patience
– Solar concentrators vs. Flat Panel – No comment, yet.
– Cellulosic vs. Corn Ethanol – Science project vs. commodity. I’m a VC…science project always wins.
– Cleantech vs. Greentech – Make great products, build great businesses and provide great returns to investors (and hopefully help out our world along the way) and no one will care what you call it.

Thanks Scott. Especially with those last comments, you’ve provided some good food for thought. The venture capital sector is built around high risk, high reward, and you guys are certainly in the mix. We continue to keep our fingers crossed that cleantech sector can deliver on the rewards side. You can find more on Emerald at www.emerald-ventures.com. And don’t forget to visit GreenVest on June 25 in San Francisco.

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 Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.