Why I Love Solar, Even Though I’ve Never Bought It

My article last week was entitled Can I Hate the Solar Bill of Rights and Still Love Love Solar?  The comments back ran the gamut, including posters ripping me suggesting I must have oil company ties (to be fair I kind of do) and one asking did someone “pee in my cornflakes” and calling me an “uneducated teabagger”.  But by and large the comments and emails I’ve received agreed that the Solar Bill of Rights as written is not kosher, and supporting my reluctance to sign it.

So I thought I should follow with a short summary of why, despite the costs, the hassles, and the so-called “Solar Bill of Rights”, I love solar and solar technology anyway.

#1  It’s the only love it and leave it, plug and play, solid state, fuel-less, clean, no moving parts engine known to man (that doesn’t include the words Tesla, perpetual, or overunity). And it can scale up OR down.
#2  The largest potential energy resource on the planet, and as any good oilman knows, the only technology that matters is that which is applicable to the biggest honking resources one can get one’s dirty little hands on
#3  It’s got the fastest falling cost curve of any energy thing of any type on the planet
#4  It’s the only distributed generation technology worth a damn, and even if I never buy solar or try to go “off the grid”, I want to know I can tell the government and my energy provider to pound sand (maybe I am a closet teabagger!)
#5  Power with no fuel + no emissions = theoretical heaven on earth
#6  The cleantech sector needs it, and it can make us money
#7  It’s just d#%$ sweet and I like it, for crying out loud!

So Long Live Solar, and Die Solar Bill of Rights!

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, the creative force behind companies in solar, superconductors, fuel cells, and carbon, chief blogger of and Chairman of, and a partially reformed energy guy.

Why My GridPoint Energy Audit Sucked

Bad day for energy efficiency the other day.  I have a new house (actually a new to me 55 year old house), and was all excited to have an energy auditor come out and energy audit me.  After all, I write Cleantech Blog, and did an article not too long ago urging all homeowners to get an energy audit – see What You Should Do if You Really Believe in Cleantech.  So after an admittedly limited job of looking around I went with Standard Renewable Energy.

Most of the big box home improvement retailers have a energy audit practice, as do tons of little companies, but I figured, owned by Gridpoint which is backed by investors like Altira who I know and like, would be a good “pure-play” choice for a cleantech blogger.

But perhaps I’m a naive chump who just expected too much.

I ordered a their $149 Essential Energy Audit (full details below) figuring if I liked the audit I could order a more expensive one complete with more toys and high powered analyses later. I’d get my audit done, get my plan, and then geek out for a bit thinking about all the marginally economic things I could do (windows have been done, insulation is coming).

“Which Home Energy Audit is Right for You?

An energy audit from SRE is an extensive home energy efficiency evaluation. It’s performed by an energy efficiency expert and shows you how your home uses energy and how it wastes it. The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle. And our energy efficiency experts can help make it easy for you to implement the recommendations you choose.

Essential Energy Audit ($149) – A great starting place to identify issues affecting your home’s energy efficiency.  The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.

Complete Energy Audit ($499) – Builds on the Essential Energy Audit by incorporating diagnostic tests that can pinpoint specific energy efficiency issues and identify your best money-saving improvements:

  • Duct blaster test to diagnose duct leakage
  • Blower door test to identify leaks in your home’s envelope such as around doors and windows
  • Thermographic infrared scanning to evaluate the flow of heat through your home and pinpoint problem spots due to leaks and missing insulation

Comprehensive Energy Audit ($849) – Combines the Essential and Complete Energy Audits with an analysis using energy modeling software that calculates your home’s HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index. We’ll use the software to provide a cost-benefit analysis of each of our energy-saving recommendations so you can see which have the greatest payback.

The Energy Efficiency Experts

As environmentalists with a passion for finding ways you can use less energy in your home, we’re committed to mastering home energy efficiency:

  • We incorporate industry-leading building science knowledge to ensure a complete picture of how your home uses energy
  • Our extensive technological and practical experience helps us make the best energy efficiency recommendations
  • We use a total approach to evaluate your home’s individual performance and address all areas of your home’s energy use
  • We provide custom solutions tailored for you and your home”

Frankly what I was looking for was the “41-point detailed visual inspection” plus the “customized plan”. I will quote again in bold italics just for the record:

“The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.”


“The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle.”

So here’s what happened.

I ordered the audit.  It got scheduled quickly (though they were a little backed up so they came out a couple of days later).  My wife and I both worked from home that day so we could be audited, watch what he did and take notes.  As an environmental scientist she was almost as interested as I was.

On the appointed day our energy consultant showed up.  We spend a few minutes chitchatting about why we want an energy audit, how we use the home, what we like in comfort, that sort of thing.  At this time I do tell him that I’m a blogger in the sector and am excited to blog about my energy audit.  He’s a very nice, and knowledgeable guy.  He’s never heard of Cleantech Blog though.  We show him our utility bills.  He takes copious notes.

Then he says it won’t take him too long, he needs to go through the house, inside and out, and in the attic, and go through his checklist.  Then we will sit down and review it.  We say great.  We follow him some trying to watch, but he tells us not to worry, he will take us through it all when he’s done.

. . .

30 minutes or so pass.  He comes back, we gather in the dining room and sit down. Our auditor asks a few more questions.  Gives us some good information.  We discuss the advantages / disadvantages of insulation vs radiant attic barriers.  He tell us our duct work isn’t sealed well, but is still tight enough that it’s not worth worrying about yet.

Karen my wife, starts to take more notes.  Karen likes home constructor projects. He says don’t worry about notes he will send us his write-up afterward to make it easy for us.

We ask him what we should do.  He tells us a solar attic fan.  SRE3 sells them for an “excellent price”.  $950.  And radiant barrier or more insulation, price maybe a couple of thousand each.  SRE sells that too.  I say, but my utility bill in the heat of the summer in July was only $126, without insulation, and before the new double paned windows got put in.  We ask him how much each of those items is likely to save, he mentions 10-20% each at most, without lifting his pencil.  I’m thinking thousands out, and $10-$20 a month back?  He agrees. Then discusses how important a solar attic fan is.  I ask what about one of those cheap metal silver fans instead of a $950 solar attic fan.  He says they never work.  But the solar attic fan is warrantied and the price includes installation.

A few other things happen.

I say I’m not sure I’m interested in the solar attic fan (to save $20 bucks in June, July and August?), but we will need insulation and I’d like to know what a radiant barrier costs.

We end the conversation (on Friday) where he promises to send me a quote on Monday.  I did note that my detailed inspection and customized plan, became a write-up of his notes and now a “quote” on insulation/radiant barriers.

I say nothing except I’m looking forward to getting the write-up.

I then ask, as he’s about to leave, what about weather stripping around the doors.  He says, “Oh, I didn’t check that” – note to self to check, isn’t weather stripping like the standard everyone should do it home energy efficiency item?  He now takes us around to the doors and discusses the weatherstripping.  He gives us some good tips, but we notice he is no longer taking copious notes. Note to self, aren’t you also supposed to have your hot water heater wrapped in insulation?  Ours isn’t.

Energy consultant leaves.  Time allocation:  1/3rd chit chatting on what we want, 1/3rd walking around the house looking for expensive things they sell that we might buy, 1/3rd trying to get us to buy a $950 solar attic fan for an uninsulated house with a $126 July bill, interspersed with a few tidbits of useful info.  Ok, that’s flippant, but it’s close.

Energy consultant comes back.  Says he called the office and they asked him to get the $149 check.  I pay it.

Day 25+, still waiting for my customized plan, checklist on the detailed 41 point visual inspection, write-up of the energy audit notes, or sales quote, or whatever he actually intended to send me.  At least we know the Gridpoint sales management process is working.  They don’t bother sending quotes to cheap homeowners people who aren’t going to buy a $950 solar attic fan – even those who thought they bought an energy audit.  Maybe I’ll send this blog to their PR department and see how well that process is run.  I already found out their A/R department is well run.

PS I still believe in energy audits, obviously just not a Standard Renewable Energy, a Gridpoint company, energy audit.

Neal Dikeman is a Partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger for, the chair of and a founder of cleantech ventures Carbonflow and Zenergy Power.  He is a Texas Aggie.

Cracking the Codes

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the big line-items in the energy-related provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was energy efficiency. Over $3 billion was allocated to efficiency investments, with the expectation of a 7:1 economic return, based on previous results of the DOE’s State Energy Program since its inception in the late 1970’s.

Alas, it’s becoming evident to some observers (see article) that results will not be so good this time around. Part of this is almost certainly due to declining marginal returns: the $3.1 billion in ARRA efficiency investments is fully 70 times the normal annual investment by DOE in efficiency. Thus, it should be no surprise that returns will be diluted with such a huge one-time spike in funding.

But one of the big, and highly unfortunate, impediments to good returns on these ARRA energy efficiency investments is the obsolescence of building codes around the country. As building professionals know so well, building codes tend to be difficult to change, often due to resistance from builders and trades who prefer to maintain the status quo because…well, just because they’re more comfortable with and accustomed to the status quo.

While retrofit opportunities represent a large portion of the potential energy and emissions savings afforded by increased efficiency — and many of these, as analysis by McKinsey suggests, can be done at negative societal costs — it will be important to surmount this inertia and opposition to establish new and more stringent baselines for our new building stock, if we’re going to tackle our energy and environmental challenges in a permanent fashion.

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.

Blogroll Review: Corny Carpet, Cocoa Car, and Carbon Consolidation

Pretty much everything you eat these days contains corn, whether in the form of corn syrup, sauces, starch, or other food additives. Pretty soon, we will also get upholstery made from this plant. Already being used for biofuels, corn is also a chemical feedstock.

Joel Makower shared this story from his attendance of a gathering of investors and entrepreneurs in cleantech:

For example, there’s a carpeting fiber made from corn instead of petro-based nylon that requires nearly a third less energy and emits nearly two-thirds fewer greenhouse gases. It is being manufactured at a repurposed polyester factory.

This is just one example of many, where businesses see as an opportunity to further sustainability goals into their plans.

Imagine eating your furniture once it’s ready to be disposed! :)

And speaking of food, Megan Treacy at EcoGeek reports of a racecar that runs on the waste products of chocolate manufacturing. Even more remarkable is that the steering wheel, seat and car body are made from plant fibers including carrots, flax, soy, and other vegetables.

In other news…

* Greentech Media says a shopping spree has begun for carbon accounting software.

* Karla says that Waxman Bill is flawed.

* At VentureBeat, Matt says funding is falling except for energy storage.

* Maria has some cool pictures from the American Wind Energy Association meeting. Check out the small wind turbines!

Ontological Shock

by Heather Rae

The term came up over lunch. A group of home energy evaluators convened at King Eider’s pub in Damariscotta. That morning, we had completed filming of an energy evaluation with the film crew from Maine Public Broadcasting Network. We were talking about the future of the country and the economy and our children; these topics, with this group, erupt out of discussions about energy and oil and staying warm in Maine. Curry Caputo, principal at Sustainable Structures, Inc. was one of the energy evaluators. He said his uncle, a therapist, uses a term to describe the end of cheap oil in America: Ontological Shock.

Everything as you know it and believe it to be true — will come into question. After an evening of “Googling” ontological shock, and watching the indie film, Crude Awakening/The Oil Crash, (a chillingly calm alarm) it occurred to me that we in Maine are getting a taste of what’s to come as the age of easily accessible and cheap oil comes to a close.

February’s storms put a stranglehold on mid-coast Maine. First, there were the power outages. Wide swathes of mid-Coast Maine remained without power for days. Which meant many were without heat. Which meant water pipes were a-freezin’ and a-crackin’. The toilets didn’t flush. Parents shuttled their broods to coffee shops and YMCAs and college gyms to find warmth and hot showers.
Generators rumbled throughout the neighborhood and town. The regulator on the propane tank froze somewhere around 5am. (For a minute, it appeared that the silencing of the generator’s roar meant the resumption of grid power, but no.) The 90-year old great-aunt in the apartment unit was out of power and heat and hot water. Schedules were scrambled; meetings were canceled and offices closed.
As if we were living in a third world — struggling to engage in a first world economy — we shoveled snow from roofs, walkways, driveways. And then we were hit with back-to-back storms. Construction workers removed the sky’s deluge before they began repairs. Snow plows plied the roads throughout the night long, their drivers appearing bleary eyed at the local Irving station to down coffee and donuts…or as the day became night, they joined the plumbers at the local bar, on emergency call for bursting pipes and flooded basements, smelling of oil in their insulated overalls, taking in a beer or two before the next call. The hair is greasy and the clothes aromatic. For all of us. A giant yellow DOT plow had stuck in a towering bank of snow, and the plow itself had cracked into threes. The tips of trees bowed into roads, cracking huge limbs, strewing twigs and draping power lines.
My drive to town was glistening and beautiful. We settled in to simply getting by.
And, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if there were no fuel for the furnaces and boilers and DOT trucks…or it were so expensive to operate snowplows and heat homes that we could only wait for the sun to melt us into recovery?
Spring is officially here, event if the snow lingers. Trees remain bent to the roads, and the memory of this winter will be forced upon us for a while.

The Appraisal

by Heather Rae

A homeowner who recently relocated from New Jersey to one of the swishier towns of Maine asked me last week, in the context of his search for a home energy renovator in the State, ‘why is Maine so far behind?’

That same day, a friend delicately offered, in the midst of admiring my taste in a wood burning stove and counseling me on my life, ‘you’re at the beginning of something that hasn’t really caught on yet.’ She was refering to home energy renovations.

My mood mercurial around this topic of tightening up homes, Matthew Wald’s informative article “Emphasis on Weatherization Represents Shift on Energy Costs” in the New York Times brought a twinkle of promise.

Yet, it was just this past week when the results of an appraisal on my renovated home arrived by mail. (The upside to the downside of this latest financial debacle is the opportunity to refinance at a lower rate and take out some cash to pay for that new wood burning stove…or insulating the attic roof…maybe better yet, use the dough for a trip to Asia to visit family; it’s been a rough year. Then again, with employment — even in the “green” sector — an unknown, the money will likely be parked in a bank account.)

The house appraiser was an attractive, communicative and intelligent, middle-aged woman. I showed her the air sealant and insulation in the basement with its moisture-remediating rubberized floor covering. I described how the roof over the bay windows had been rebuilt and filled with air sealant and insulation to stop the air flow between the floors of the balloon frame and add thermal resistance. With a Vanna White wave at the new Rinnai energy efficient on-demand water heater, I described how the old leaky electric water heater and the leaky ductwork for the old furnace had been heaved, along with the furnace which was replaced with a Monitor. I told the appraiser I was directing money to reducing energy demand in the house, rather than on increasing energy supply. I noted that the new refrigerator and the new high-end dual fuel stove were energy efficient. Where once were window weights, I fingered over the cavities that are now filled with foam. These improvements should result in “deep energy” savings. The appraiser was concerned about the interior doors that I still have yet to scrape, sand, paint and rehang…and the old windows that will be refurbished (not replaced) as time goes on. She said the house is pretty. (It is.) I should have mentioned that there would be a test to measure the reduced air infiltration from the improvements — that along with the other improvements translates into energy and carbon savings. Though it might not have mattered a whit.

Matthew Wald’s article describes the sleuthing skills of building evaluators very well (“Call is CSI: Thermal Police”). He writes of the macro upsides of tightening up homes: reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and relief for the national energy grids. But when it comes to the micro upsides of weatherization (what it might mean to the homeowner needing assistance in financing the energy improvements), the article takes the common veer into the world of low-income weatherization and federal funding of those programs. The segue is so deft, I reread the article a few times to pinpoint the detour. A similar detour is found in Senators Snowe and Feinstein letter to President-Elect Obama urging tax credits for energy efficiency in the built environment.

The road not taken seriously enough is weatherization for everybody else, those who do NOT qualify for low-income programs. What of weatherization (or home performance or whole-house energy renovations or whatever you like to call it) for the middle class — my class with its sinking wages and layoffs? I am no stranger to it…or the enormity of tightening up a leaky old house, financially, emotionally and physically — or the turning of the stomach at the site of the oil bill.

Maine has a robust program under the community action programs and financing through the State’s housing authority to weatherize homes of the poorest (a designation that was expanded by the governor to include more families.) In a recent study by Efficiency Maine, 82% of the 80 new homes evaluated throughout the State on energy performance failed to meet the International Energy Conservation Code.

Before the New Jersey transplant called, another man had called to ask if the State had any rebates or incentives for insulating a home. The answer has always been easy: no, there aren’t any. I direct these callers to Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiencies and Tax Incentives Assistance Project rather than follow closely the policy twists and turns of legislators near and far. I hear rumors of all kinds, but as yet, the answer is still, no, there are no incentives or rebates for energy efficiency measures from the State.

In the “Improvements” section of my home appraisal, under “Additional features (special energy efficient items, etc)” the appraiser wrote: “Open deck (7×27), covered entry porch & attached barn (15×27). No addditional value considered for woodstove due to being considered personal property.” Not one word about the energy efficiency improvements — nor that the old wood stove is leaky and extremely inefficient.

I feared the appraisal would not account for the money dumped into the house, spent to upgrade plumbing, heating, electrical and structure — many with “green” elements. It barely did: One of the many downsides of this latest financial debacle is falling real estate prices, reflected in the appraised value.

The energy-efficiency improvements might have found a home in an energy-efficient mortgage. These mortgages were rolled out beginning the fall of 2008, but my lender, a large State-based bank, never mentioned them. The efficacy of “EEMs” in achieving “deep energy” savings is being questioned in other parts of the country.

I described the appraisal to the man who called looking for insulation rebates; he said that the energy improvements will make a difference at time of sale. I can only hope.

The Catholic Church has been in the news recently, defending its treatment of Gallileo, a man who dared to assert heliocentricity as fact in the halls of theology. Give our addiction to oil the weight of theology, and an analogy to the man with a telescope is apt. We are all at the beginning of something that hasn’t really caught on yet — and it challenges nearly everything in which we have had faith.

Ich Bin Ein Freiburger

by Richard T. Stuebi

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining a delegation led by Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson to visit Baden-Wurttemberg, the southwestern-most state in Germany. The aim of the trip was to begin building stronger commercial bridges between the Cleveland area and Baden-Wurttemberg – two heavy industrial economies of similar size. I was there to represent our region’s interests and activities in advanced energy, in an aim to identify and explore potential collaborations in the academic, civic and private sectors.

As part of our tour, we spent a day in Freiburg, a delightful university city nestled in the corner where Switzerland and France abut Germany. And, in their lovely city hall, we had the privilege of meeting with Freiburg’s dynamic Mayor Dr. Dieter Salomon and the city’s environmental minister, Dr. Dieter Worner.

Though I had previously heard of Freiburg, the two Dieters opened my eyes to what Freiburg had been able to accomplish – and, alas, what also remained to be accomplished – in the realm of sustainability, with their Freiburg Green City plan.

Freiburg frequently hosts public sector leaders from around the world to learn how to put a city on a low-carbon trajectory, as it is widely recognized to be the foremost green city in Germany, which in turn is widely recognized to be the country farthest down the sustainability path in Europe, which in turn is widely recognized to be far ahead of other continents in dealing substantively with the climate change threat.

We were humbled by what we learned. Way back in 1996, before climate change was much of a concern in the U.S., Freiburg officials decreed that it would aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by the year 2010. To achieve this, Freiburg pursued two priorities.

First, it established very ambitious building energy efficiency standards – 20% below already-stringent German national levels. Yes, building professionals (architects, engineers, contractors) initially objected to this stance as being too hard or too costly. However, over time, the building community learned how to meet these tough standards at a minimal 1% cost premium over conventional buildings not meeting the standard. Now, the Freiburg-based businesses have a substantial competitive advantage in the German building marketplace. This goes to show that good policy can drive private sector innovation and subsequently economic health of a key sector of the economy.

Second, Freiburg seized upon its natural advantage – it is the sunniest place in all of Germany – to become the leading player in the soon-to-be-booming German solar market. With a major investment to establish the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy, affiliated with the University of Freiburg, the city became Ground Zero for R&D on new solar technologies. This, in turn, spawned many businesses – either spun-out from Fraunhofer or founded by people who worked or studied in Freiburg – that were able to catch the wave as the solar market in Germany took off.

The net result: Freiburg now lays claim to an environmental business cluster of 1500 companies, employing 15,000, generating over 500 million euros of annual revenues. For a city of roughly 200,000 population, this is green economic development writ large.

We were also surprised by what we learned: namely, that Freiburg was really struggling to achieve significant emission reductions. Despite strong mechanisms to drive reduced emissions in the economy, Freiburg had only been able to achieve a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1996. Freiburg readily admits that it won’t be able to attain the 25% reduction target it had set for itself by 2010.

So, Freiburg is finding out it’s not so easy to be as green as it wanted to be, as we all need to be.

That being said, I did take heart in noting that Freiburg wasn’t giving up in the face of adversity, as it is ratcheting its goal for 2030 to reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.

I also noted that a key reason for Freiburg failing to achieve its emission reductions was economic/population growth. Although aggregate CO2 emissions had only fallen by 7%, on a per capita basis, CO2 emissions had declined by about 30%. In other words, Freiburg’s population had grown substantially – one of the few places in Germany to experience population growth.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Freiburg’s environmental posture and ambitions are key attractors for this growth. The best and the brightest of Germany seem to be flocking to Freiburg to be part of the vanguard in moving to a low-carbon economy.

Lastly, I am inspired by Freiburg’s civic motto. By my transcription (and excuse my lack of knowledge of German), Freiburg’s credo is “Gut leben stadt viel haben”, which translates approximately to “A good life is more important than lots of possessions.”

A lovely city, Freiburg is living proof that one can live a good life and be at the forefront of sustainability.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President at NextWave Energy, Inc. In 2009, he will also become a Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Let’s Get Small

by Richard T. Stuebi

In a recent story, CNN profiled the new home of Bill and Sharon Kastrinos.

154 square feet. That’s right, 154 square feet. Actually, it’s 98 square feet downstairs, plus a 56 square foot loft upstairs. The closet — well, that’s inside the car.

Why would the Kastrinos live in such a miniscule dwelling? Apparently, it’s driven by economics. Mr. Kastrinos wants to live on $15,000 per year, but also wants to live in a nice place, California wine country (specifically, Calistoga), where real estate costs are astronomical. With this home, costing $15,000 and with a utility bill of $15 per month, he and his wife can make it work. And, when they get the urge to go elsewhere, they can tow their home, which has wheels and a chassis on the bottom, making it essentially an RV.

The small pre-fab home market has become a bit of a “cottage industry” (sorry, couldn’t resist). Mr. Kastrinos himself has made and sold 11 of them in the last half-year. In nearby Sebastopol, Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Company offers a full range of home designs between 65 (!) and 774 square feet.

The common theme of the customers is a desire to downsize their lives and their consumption patterns, the equivalent of a colonic cleansing. It’s a bit extreme for me; I couldn’t imagine making such a big change in lifestyle in one fell swoop. But there’s little doubt in my mind: unAmerican as it may be, if we as a society are to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption and emissions output, some degree of downsizing will occur. The question is going to be: will it be by choice, or will it be forced?

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.

Getting Content Into Sustainability Wikis

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

(This post originally appeared on La Marguerite blog)

Sustainability wikis such as Wikia Green or Appropedia have an important role to play, in the gathering of solutions for a sustainable future. The big challenge of course, is how to engage contributors into volunteering free content. As a content creator in the sustainability field, with hundreds of articles to my credit, all on blogs, I yet have to contribute to a collaborative platform. I started sharing some of my reasons in previous posts, here and here. In a nutshell:

  • I am comfortable with blogging. It is what I know, and past the initial hurdle of setting up a blog, which by the way is very low, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
  • I like the feeling of being in control, and of having all my stuff in one place.
  • When I contribute to other blogs, it is usually a boost for my recognition and helps enlarge my audience.
  • Contributing to other blogs is a no brainer; hardly any setup is required, and I usually do a slight rewrite to address issue of duplicate content.
  • I love the creative freedom of writing whatever I want whenever I want.
  • My blog is also a social place to meet cyberfriends I have made along the way, and who keep coming back for more discussions.
  • I get tremendous satisfaction from direct feedback from readers, particularly when something they read on my blog, either from me or other readers, is making an impact on their thinking or behaviors.
  • There is lots of reciprocity going on amongst bloggers, thanks to linking, trackbacks, and pingbacks. As a result, the give and take feels very fair.
  • Although I am very familiar with wikis, have consulted for wiki startups, and have started several private wikis of my own, I find making the move from blogging to contributing to public wiki platforms a huge step.
  • First, there is the issue of time. If I could somehow export content that’s already on my blog, automatically, I would consider it.
  • Second, is the problem of attribution, and ownership of content. Although, I am not one to hang on to my creative product with steel claws, it is very important to me that I be given credit for it.
  • Third, is the issue of duplicate content, and how that might affect ranking of original content with search engines. If content is going to be exported automatically, and frequently, I would not have the time to do rewrites to avoid duplicate content problem.
  • My blog is not my only source of content either. There are quite a few projects I have been working on, that are sitting either in some files on my desktop, or in Google groups discussions, and that I wouldn’t mind sharing, if I could just turn those over with one click.

The bottom line is, if you want my content, make it super easy for me, and make sure I get credit for it.

There is a huge pool of potential content providers like myself, scattered all over the Internet, and elsewhere, who could share their knowledge, under the right conditions:

I will end by sharing my dream of the perfect sustainability wiki. Imagine a place where you can find nearly all that has been published about sustainable solutions all over the world. Imagine that contributors would not have to worry about adapting their content to the specific wiki requirements. Wiki editors would take care of that chore. Imagine that contributors could get credited each time, with ample linkage back to their original websites. Imagine a widget that would allow contributors to send their content automatically to the wiki in one click. Imagine that getting my content on the wiki would be all benefit for me, in addition to the reward from helping the greater community. Imagine . . .

Maybe this discussion can be continued at the upcoming Open Sustainability Network Camp that will take place in October, in San Francisco?

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

Cap-and-Trade Gold in the Golden State

By John Addison (7/2/08). Obama and McCain have both stated that climate change requires decisive action. Both support cap-and-trade, putting a limit (cap) on greenhouse gases and enabling the market to work by allowing the trading of permits.

How would this work in the United States? We will all learn from California’s progress with its enacted law – AB32 Climate Solutions Act. The implementation is detailed in the 93-page Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan.

By requiring in law a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, California has set the stage for its transition to a clean energy future.

Since the law was enacted in 2006, the lead implementing agency, the California Air Resources Board (ARB), has been getting an earful from everyone from concerned citizens to industry lobbyists. It moves forward publishing data from the California Climate Action Registry, facilitating 12 major action teams, conducting public workgroups, and drafting plans which get more feedback in public meetings. The ARB Board will next meet to review the proposed Scoping Plan on Novembers 20 and 21.

Climate change is already impacting everything in California from draughts that cause agricultural loses to water shortages that impact industry. But instead of seeing the glass as half empty, the California Plan states, “This challenge also presents a magnificent opportunity to transform California’s economy into one that runs on clean and sustainable technologies, so that all Californians are able to enjoy their rights to clean air, clean water, and a healthy and safe environment.” Cleantech will be a major winner.

The plan is ambitious because California’s population in 2020 is forecasted to be double the 1990 level. The Climate Solutions Act will require that per capita CO2e emissions be reduced from today’s 14 tons per year to 10 tons per day by 2020. The total state cap for 2020 is 427 MMTCO2e. Keys to success will include:

  • Green buildings with improved construction, insullation, energy efficient lighting, HVAC, equipment, and appliances.
  • Electric utilities that use at least 33 percent renewable energy.
  • Development of a California cap-and-trade program that links with other western states and Canadians provinces to create a regional market system.
  • Implementation of existing State laws and policies, including California’s clean vehicle standards, goods movement measures, and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

The Plan shows that California has learned from the Kyoto implementation. California’s scope is much broader, covering 85 percent of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions from six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). AB32 calls for incremental improvements all the way to 2050.

The transportation sector – largely the cars and trucks – is the largest contributor with 38 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity generation is 23 percent. Industry 20 percent. Commercial and residential buildings are 9 percent.

Look for economic growth in a number of areas. New buildings will increasingly be LEED certified, often at the Silver level. Building efficiency retrofits will be an active area employing contracts large and small.

Distributed power generation will grow. Combined heat and power will be actively deployed. Process efficiency will continue.

Renewable energy will experience strong growth including wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy. Ocean power pilot projects will continue. Controversial new power from nuclear and petroleum coke gasification with CSS will be considered. In-state coal power generation is history in California. Using out-of-state coal power will continue to decline as GHG emissions are priced into the equation.

Wind continues to grow in California and the nation. A fascinating read is the Department of Energy (DOE) report, entitled 20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030, which identifies the real feasibility of the United States reaching meeting 20 percent of its energy requirements from wind by 2030. A path to over 300 GW of wind power by 2030 is detailed.

California and much of the nation is blessed with an abundance of sunlight. The Utility Solar Assessment (USA) Study, produced by Clean Edge and Co-op America, provides a comprehensive roadmap for utilities, solar companies, and regulators to reach 10% solar in the U.S. by 2025 with both PV and CSP.

C02 costs are not likely to significantly increase the cost of fuel, but rocketing oil costs have changed the game. Use of corporate flexible work programs, commuting, and use of public transportation are now at record levels in the state and will grow in popularity.

California High-Speed Rail (HSR) is likely to be on the California ballot this November, with a price tag that will be a fraction of the cost of expanding highways and adding an airport. HSR would link major transit systems throughout the state, and save billions in fuel costs and emissions.

AB32 is also likely to reach its goals because cars will increasingly outsell SUVs and trucks in California. By 2020, electric cars and plug-in hybrids may experience and explosion of popularity. New low-carbon fuels are likely to be widely used.

California is working closely with six other states and three Canadian provinces in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) to design a regional greenhouse gas emission reduction program that includes a cap-and-trade approach. ARB will develop a cap-and-trade program for California that will link with the programs in the other partner states and provinces to create this western regional market. California’s participation in WCI creates an opportunity to provide substantially greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from throughout the region than could be achieved by California alone. AB32 may give the United States a head-start in its own cap-and-trade program.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

The Next Big Thing in Cleantech Venturing

As always, the venture community is looking for its next big thing. The cleantech world is no exception. Despite the dearth of exits, so much capital has flowed into the cleantech sector that investors need new places to put it. So despite my promise to certain friends not to blog certain funding rumors in each category, the top 4 contenders are:

  1. Green building materials – I’m not sure it would be my thing, but investors across the board seem to think this area is ripe for a hit.
  2. Carbon IT – With some sort of cap and trade a near certainty, the interest is picking up in one of the few areas in carbon that looks like a “venture bet”. I should know, I have one of these companies myself.
  3. Food related technologies – High food prices and rising fertilizer costs, what can I say?
  4. N-generation solar technologies – Everyone not in the first wave is looking to get in to the 4th wave. Not sure venture investors will fare better in the 3rd or 4th wave than they did in the second, but they are going to try.

I had a chance to visit one of the Gaia Hotels, which bills itself as a new eco-hotel chain, this weekend. The experience put those four contending areas in a bit of a new light, as the creator of the Gaia ecotel concept toured me around and shed some light on the decisions that went into them from the demand side. (Note: “ecotel”, “bit of a new light”, “shed some light”, “demand side”, all good cleantechisms).

After launching a LEED Gold Certified facility in Napa Valley a little under two years ago, Gaia opened a new one in Northern California, focused on outdoor recreational travelers, which they expect to achieve at least LEED Silver. I had lunch with Wen Chang, the creator behind Gaia, this Saturday. When it came to green building materials, I was frankly amazed how much impact the LEED program had on the design and materials selection, and how big a selling point LEED was to this concept. Everything from using photovoltaic panels and Solatube daylighting, to low flow shower heads, low water usage and local landscape selection, and chemical free gardening and stormwater management, all the way to the carpet made from recycled materials, CFLs in the night stand, and sustainable forest products. Talk about demand stimulus, after an extensive tour, I was ready to buy a green building materials company myself. Especially since the ecotel was booked solid!

And of course front and center in the lobby, there were Renewable Energy Credits (though not carbon credits) purchased from our friends at Renewable Choice Energy, to offset the power usage, and a monitoring system to show power and water usage, and solar production.

Moving on to the food technology, the Gaia Anderson restaurant is not yet open, but is intended to be an organic and locally grown food (I assume that Napa will count as “local” for the wine, but I did not ask!).

No eco friendly building in this day and age would be complete without a solar panel on the roof. Gaia Napa’s solar system is apparently providing 10% of the electricity needs on site, while at the Gaia Anderson, the panels have not yet arrived. But perhaps the most telling for would-be solar barons, Wen Chang did not know or care whose technology powered the solar panels. Only that they arrived and worked.

All in all, quite an eye opening one day “deep dive” into the demand side of the four top contenders for cleantech’s next big thing. (Pardon the expression deep dive, I’ve always found that term amusing, especially since cleantech VCs use it all the time now to describe the 6 conferences they went to and 12 business plans they read to become an expert in, say, solar, so I couldn’t resist.)

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

Death of a Dream?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, both CNN and the Wall Street Journal ran stories that similarly raised the heretical question: is the American dream of suburbanism being killed by high gas prices? Increasingly, the answer seems, yes.

Eastern philosophies teach us that our strengths are also our weaknesses. In the case of the U.S., our abundance of land led to a pervasive trend of sprawl in the last half of the 20th Century. We fled cities and towns to massive homes on big tracts in subdivisions, premised on the convenience afforded by independent vehicles on running on low-cost roads and gasoline.

The boon of growth has now become our bane. No longer can people rely upon cheap fuel, and as gasoline purchases fall, so too will the quality and/or affordability of the road infrastructures as Departments of Transportation become underfunded. In short, many Americans are now trapped living in a system of deteriorating fundamentals.

The pathway out of the conundrum may lie in the concept of New Urbanism — a smart-growth philosophy based heavily on transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD implies mixed-use clusters of green buildings, highly-walkable communities, nested around mass transportation nodes. TOD seems increasingly inevitable as a response to the new realities of the 21st Century.

It won’t (can’t) happen quickly, but I speculate that America will slowly but surely begin to look more European: cities and towns with refocused density, linked by mass transit corridors (e.g., rail), allowing the rural countryside to re-emerge in its glory between the developed areas. CleanTech innovators and entrepreneurs are well-advised to be working with this macro-trend in mind.

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.

My aura is…

by Heather Rae

One of three dealers of Benjamin Moore paint in my travel distance (which is getting shorter and shorter with the increase in gas prices) carries the new Aura line, as well as the EcoSpec low-voc line of paints.
Farther north, along Route 1, another dealer is weighing the costs of the investment in the new machines needed to carry the Aura line against the sales potential; this dealer carries the EcoSpec line and, as evidenced by the dust on the paint can, it’s not a fast moving product. (And the sales guy told me so.)
Inland a bit and north, the third does not carry Aura or the EcoSpec line. For those unfamiliar with Maine, the progression up the coast and inland is an economic transition as much as geographic one. It’s also a transition from areas where “green” products are known, respected and carried…to one where they are not, or not so much.
What’s got my goat in making the decision to try the new Aura line is the marketing. I sat in my car outside the paint store down south and stared at the promotional poster for some time. The marketing is clearly aimed at women …“What Color is Your Aura.”
It took some sleuthing on the part of the paint dealer to tell me the VOC content of the paint (pre-colorant). To my surprise, the Aura paint line is backed by GreenGuard and qualifies for LEED credit. The dealer printed out the product information buried somewhere on their website where I couldn’t find it.
Aura, which uses only waterborne colorants for tinting, comes in at 47 Grams/Liter of VOCs.
By comparison, the Regal line (the standard line I’ve been using) comes in at nearly three times that amount of VOCs. (“Unthinned, this product is formulated not to exceed 150 Grams/Liter.”)
I can’t bash Benjamin Moore for putting the eco-benefits of this paint low on the list — number seven out of eight in the list of attributes of Aura paint with ColorLockTM.
In marketing home performance, our limited market research indicates that homeowners follow-through with making significant energy-saving improvements to their homes not because it’s “green” or “the right thing to do,” but because the improvements make the home more comfortable, healthier, safer and/or increase the value of the home. The checks get written to tighten up the house to get the bats and the squirrels out of the attic, not necessarily because they reduce carbon footprints.
Here in Maine we market home performance as an investment-grade evaluation. The energy and money savings, the innoculation against rising fuel costs…while these are the measurable goals we seek to obtain, these have not been the messages used to sell home performance services. I’ve been monitoring comments submitted by homeowners seeking these home performance evaluations. It’s a mixed bag of desires.

So, if Benjamin Moore wants to appeal to my feminine aura with the simplicity, freedom, versatality, harmony and great design ideas found in this paint, have at it. I just wish somewhere on that promotion was a mention of GreenGuard or LEED compliance.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, is a consultant in sustainability. She currently manages a home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built out a biobus using green building materials and wrote on cleantechblog of her drive from Colorado to Maine and her quest for biofuels. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

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.

Blogroll Review: Beer, Homes, and Geo

by Frank Ling

This Kirin’s For You!

Even beer manufacturers are now getting on board the bio-ethanol train. In Japan, the Ministry of Agriculture has selected Mitsubishi Corporation and Kirin Brewery Co. to build a bioethanol production plant for a “fuel-grade bioethanol production project” in the Tokachi District of Hokkaido.

In the latest article featured in Japan for Sustainability:

“A bioethanol plant with an annual production capacity of 15,000 kiloliters and using sugar beets and wheat as raw materials will be built on the premises of Hokuren’s sugar refinery in Shimizu Town, Kamikawa County, Hokkaido.”

Green Home Boom

Just when you thought the real estate market might be slowing down, the market for green homes is about to grow.

Jeff Stevens at EcoGeek writes that:

“According to the recently released Green Homeowner SmartMarket™ Report produced by McGraw-Hill Construction, the market for ‘true green homes’ is expected to rise from $2 billion to $20 billion over the next five years.”

And I thought all you needed was green paint to make your home green! :)

Piping Hot Geo

Geothermal power has been around a long time. Although geographically limited to regions that are accessible, utilities have recently gained interest in develop geothermal for baseload power.

Tom Konrad at AltEnergy Stocks writes:

“In fact, geothermal plants often have capacity factors 86-95%, well above traditional base load generation such as coal. So geothermal power is a premium electricity because of its reliability. Until a recent fire (not caused by the geothermal facility) the plant installed last year at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, was running at 99.4% availability.”

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.

Market demand for green buildings – no less than 5 star

by Nick Bruse

Currently I’m doing quite a bit of work in the Green Building Industry and we are currently seeing a very rapid transformation in the thinking of leading developers around green building development.

In today’s ‘The Age’ one of Australia’s major newspapers we have Daniel Grollo, one of the high profile developers in Australia, admitting to the market that 2 years ago he was wrong in only shooting for a 4 star Green Building Rating (6 currently the highest) on a number of developments. The demand from tenants has sky rocketed recently, and luckily design consultants advised him to go for one star higher. While this cost the company more, had they not done so they would have delivered an obsolete building.

Next week I will be heading down to Tasmania to moderate a panel session of the ADPIA (Australian Direct Property Investment Association) dealing with sustainability and green building development. Through my work with my current client who advises property developers and project manages construction projects, the biggest issue clients are stating is “How do I achieve sustainability in my property portfolio or asset effectively?”

Whilst the technologies to achieve significant reductions in energy use, water consumption and waste production, and the tenant market in Australia is demanding green star rated buildings, there is still a lot of uncertainty in developers of how to actually transition their portfolios. Quantifying the returns, choosing between alternative solutions, even choosing a service provider is challenging in this space.

That said, the expectation is that there is unlikely to be any new major developments in Australia now with a green star rating of less than 5. Water pressures is one thing driving this issue, but for the most part, major tenants are willing to pay more for a green star rated office in Australia, because it offers them better productivity, better employee attraction and retention and lowers their overall costs.

For more information on the Australian Green Star Building Rating you can go to you can find the background articles on Daniel Grollo’s comments here ( 1 and 2 )

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

The love and hate relationship with platform technologies

by Nick Bruse

One of the terms that is used to describe companies every so often is the word “platform technology”. Companies who have been labelled as “platform technology” companies invariably fall into two camps. Those which all the investment community easily understand the technology and it has applications that they all can visualise – and hence they want to throw money at. Secondly those that they don’t really get the potentially for the applications and brand as “complicated” or “no clear business model” or “Not focused”

Recently I interviewed David Forder from TAG Technology, which is a platform technology company. Their product, or their additive ( an often even scarier term for investors) has applications in over 25markets that they have identified so far. Now its been several years to get their product to the stage at which it is now, and David tells me has taken some committed Investors who have stuck with them for the long run. But it hasn’t been a case of money being thrown at them… but now they are getting some attention.

The interesting thing about Thermally Active Granules (TAG) technology is that when applied to buildings in the form of a paint additive can reduce the heat flow by 15% which results in up to 7 degrees warmer/cooler. You can apply it on the outside of the building to keep it cool, or paint it on the inside to keep it warm. Oh and it can be added to windows also to reduce heat flow.

It can be impregnated into candy bar wrappers or food packaging and reduce refrigeration costs, and can even be added into fast food packaging to keep your fries hotter and your soda cooler.

The other neat thing is when applied to power lines in the form a clear coating it can reduce the line temperature by 25% or from 100C down 75degree. This in turn reduces the resistance, in turn reducing the power losses form the line by 10% or more.

It really starts to sound interesting doesn’t it? We’ll I heartily commend David and his Team on this platform technology – and for sticking with it. This is one platform technology we should be thankful for someone having the innovation to produce. If you would like to hear more from David about the technology you can tune into the interview on The Cleantech Show here.

If anyone has any other Cleantech Platform Technologies they would like to commend – please shoot us some comments.

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

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.

Building a green future – Light-weight high strength concrete

by Nick Bruse

When one begins to look at the built environment – examining its lifecycle, the resources and materials used in its construction and stakeholders from suppliers to developers to regulators to occupiers – a very complicated and fragmented picture arises.

This presents challenges for the property industry when trying to reduce emissions throughout the lifetime of the building. Design is important in understanding how the building will be used for its internal space, but also its load externally on the surrounding environment. Materials must be chosen to reduce embodied emissions. Construction must be achieved in a sustainable and energy efficient manor.

When i hear about technologies in the construction industry which provide benefits across a range of aspects of the industry, my interest certainly piques. One such technology is a revolutionary new light weight high stength concrete technology being produced by the Australian company HySSIL Pty Ltd in collaboration with CSIRO. I blogged briefly about this technology last year, but the more I hear about the company the more I think they have real potential.

In a recent interview I spoke with Gary Bertuch, the Managing Director of HySSIL Pty Ltd, In the interview we learn from Gary about the massive market applications of the product and of new concrete technologies they are helping the CSIRO to commercialise.

Hyssil’s technology allows the production of concrete panels that have and unique combination of lower weight, higher strength, lower embodied energy and lower construction costs due to their lightweight nature. At the same time they have excellent thermal properties than existing concrete products which minimises heat loss / absorption. Fabricated into panels, these have a strength allows them to be used in building up to 20 storeys high. The low load on foundations and hence reduced foundation requirements, means that buildings constructed of them are perfect for markets like Asia and the Middle east where alluvial or sandy soils in coastal regions normally require bedrock braced foundations.

With over 30% of emissions worldwide associated with the built environment, this technology is surely going to be a significant player in the coming years to help reduce both embodied and operating emissions from buildings and reduce the energy requirements in construction and heating.

You can listen to the full interview with Gary first posted on The Cleantech Show here

Nick Bruse runs Strike Consulting, a cleantech venture consultancy; hosts the cleantech show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment; and advises Clean Technology Australasia Pty Ltd and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia.

A Head-Knocker

by Heather Rae

Consider a basement, a typical basement in rural Maine. Call is what it is — a cellah — a five foot high, dirt-floored head-knocker, with a boulder emerging from beneath its easternmost foundation wall. Add some radon, as radon is pervasive in these parts. Throw down some plastic sheathing; ‘affix’ this sheathing to the craggy foundation ledge with bricks and rocks. Tromp all over it in muddy boots. Add to this spider den a new 275 gallon oil tank and an older horizontal Thermapride forced air furnace. Connect the furnace to a badly built, unlined, chimney and a labyrinth of ductwork that heats only the first floor. Note the flexi-duct added as an afterthought to route warm air to the upstairs bathroom. Bring in a metered town water pipe with a spigot that does not entirely turn off the main water supply. Watch the copper plumbing waver unsecured from the floor beams. (See the plumbing break at random joints when James and John go to reconnect the copper pipes to the clothes washer. See the undulating plumbing trickle water, preventing James and John from soldering joints for hours on a Friday afternoon. Hear John ask his wife to take a taxi to a meeting; he won’t be home too soon.) Rejoice that the electrical box and wires appear to be new, functioning and properly installed (although the remnants of knob and tube wiring remain.) Consider that this homeowner would prefer the furnace and the decrepit chimney go away altogether, along with the $1800 cost to line the chimney with steel…steel because the emissions from burning oil are so corrosive. Know that I would also like a tighter, more comfortable, healthier and more energy-efficient house, whether or not this basement, this crawlspace, is included in the thermal envelope…most preferably, not. Can the house be made energy efficient enough to warrant a propane-based heating system? Rephrasing that, can it be done without huge costs for landscaping and water and radon remediation prior to air sealing and insulating? I have been jonesing for PEX (cross-linked high-density polyethylene) that won’t bust in freezing temperatures. It’s easier to install and move and repair. (I’m hoping it’s greener than copper, but that’s another matter entirely.) By replacing the copper with an insulated chase of PEX and foaming the underside of ceiling of the basement can I consider ridding the basement of the furnace and its leaky ducts and removing the chimney? Can I then phase in an on-demand hydronic heating system — the one that will heat hot water, too? It’s all so easy in theory to make a house energy efficient, but these conundrums are as painful as knocking a head on a cellah beam.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine 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 begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.