Posts

A Call for Action

by Richard T. Stuebi

A Call for Action: that’s the title of the introductory report by the newly formed United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP).

The USCAP is a group of organizations who have come together to press the U.S. Federal government to stop arguing and start taking real action to address climate change. And, from what I read in the report, it’s very encouraging, not just “green-wash”.

USCAP states that “we know enough to act on climate change”, and recommends “national legislation in the United States to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions over the shortest period of time reasonably achieveable.” USCAP “pledge[s] to work with the President, the Congress, and all other stakeholders to enact an environmentally effective, economically sustainable, and fair climate change program consistent with our principles at the earliest practicable date” .

USCAP strongly argues for “mandatory approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the major emitting sectors”. And, the targets they propose are not toothless: current levels within 5 years of enactment, 90-100% of current levels within 10 years of enactment, 70-90% of current levels within 15 years of enactment, and — most importantly — 20-40% of current levels by 2050.

These are not the positions of parties that merely want to appear concerned about the environment. These statements are very consistent with those of leading environmental organizations — which shouldn’t be that surprising, given that several USCAP members are in fact leading activists on the climate change issue: Environmental Defense, NRDC, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and World Resources Institute.

Let’s give due credit to the corporate members of USCAP, who are making it increasingly acceptable for the private sector to get on board the bandwagon for promoting action to combat climate change:

Alcoa (NYSE: AA)
BP (NYSE: BP)
Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT)
Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK)
DuPont (NYSE: DD)
FPL Group (NYSE: FPL)
PG&E Corporation (NYSE: PCG)
PNM Resources (NYSE: PNM)

Unfortunately, these companies are far ahead of many others who should also be, but aren’t, on this list advocating for climate change action.

Hopefully, with ongoing pressure from the public, politicians, peers and investors, the list of USCAP members will grow to include all the major players in the energy and financial worlds. Maybe then we’ll finally see the stalemate in DC on climate change start to break. Until then, the companies on the roster of shame remains way too long for me to list here.

If you own shares in energy companies that aren’t on this list, you might write to urge management to get aboard the USCAP movement, and to reposition the company accordingly. Or, you might want to think about dumping the stock, as it might not fare well in a carbon-constrained future, given the company’s apparent preference for clinging to the past in a defensive posture rather than seeking to seize the future.

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

Ranking of Top 5 Cleantech Cities

SustainLane just ranked the top cities for cleantech incubation clusters in the nation and three out of five are in California. They are as follows:

1. Austin, TX
2. San Jose, CA
3. Berkeley, CA
4. Pasadena, CA
5. Greater Boston, MA

Very detailed discussion on Joel Makower’s blog.

Overview of SustainLane from their website:

“SustainLane provides online sustainability resources for government, business and consumers. Founded in 2004, SustainLane has benchmarked sustainability programs, policies and practices for the largest 50 U.S. cities.

SustainLane Government is the company’s dedicated desktop environment (www.sustainlane.us) and newsletter for state and local government officials and their contractors, providing a rich repository of sustainability best practices submitted by practitioners and policy makers. This password-protected content, currently free to state and local government professionals and their consultants, includes a searchable network of sustainability managers, experts and practitioners from states, cities and counties across the nation, enabling government entities large and small to work more efficiently in managing sustainable development approaches and projects.”

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

Green Fringe

by Heather Rae

Reading the New York Times Real Estate section is like pulling off the toenail of your little toe. In a world where the price of habitation climbs into the cool millions, this sweet torture leaves you bleeding and worrying for your sanity. You don’t really need the toe or the toenail, and they would have been better off left alone. And now you hurt.

Last week’s “Living Here” section of the paper was somewhat less torturous and kindled some hope in the desert – which is closer to the “here” in “living here” than the streets of New York City. It featured seven straw-bale houses. The hollow stalks of straw bales provide excellent insulation and are ideal for climates like those also ideally suited for second homes – Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and British Columbia. Common features include passive solar, radiant heat, solar photovoltaics…and views. I imagine buyers of second homes do not wince reading New York Times Real Estate section.

Up the east coast, The Boston Globe Magazine ambled into “Your (Green) Home” with three articles on green residential construction (an outlandish earth-berm and two of the “oh-it-looks-normal” urban and suburban variety). A separate article on “earth-friendly, money-saving fixes from paints to appliances” (“Is it Worth It?”) is good, but nothing you wouldn’t find on any green builder supply or architectural website or in magazines like Natural Home. What’s most interesting about this issue of the mainstream Globe Magazine is the complete absence of advertising for the green products and services referenced in the articles.

This past week, This Old House sent a Sneak Preview of an article on their first-ever green renovation project. The energy-efficient lighting section is very good and the section on green products is great fun — complete with links to product suppliers — but if energy efficiency is the heart of green (and it is) then this particular old house renovation, however beautiful, has a weak heart. I need to see the heating and cooling specs.

I would have seen more of green, energy efficiency specs at an exhibit on green architecture at Bowdoin College – a mile away from my well-insulated rental in Maine – had I even known about it.

“Homes built to those standards are significantly more energy efficient than conventionally designed homes, according to MaineHousing Director Dale McCormick. ‘By making these designs available to the public, as well as homebuilders, architects, and contractors, we hope to encourage the development of more green housing in the state,” McCormick said. “Green housing is not only more energy efficient, it is also environmentally friendly, compatible with its location, durable, and healthy for the occupants.’”

This past week, a colleague in the energy technology marketing field was at the NET2007 (New and Emerging Technologies) conference in Orlando, Florida. Orlando was also the site of the 2007 International Builder’s Show held last week. The National Association of Home Builders, a sponsor of the Builder’s Show, posted a press release on its website two days ago, “Builders Embrace Green Building To Save Energy, Conserve Resources” My landlord is on the board of NAHB, so I go easy here. The highlight of the NHBA show, so my NET2007 mole tells me, was the Kohler exhibit where models showered in skin-colored bathing suits behind glass. That’s men standing around ogling. So, what else is new? From the displays at the show, its awards and the press release (despite its assertion to the contrary), not green building. The green building action was over at NET2007, not at the builder’s show where green building is as fringe pulling off a toenail.

Other goings on this week
Ellen Goodman’s, “No Change in Political Climate”in The Boston Globe: “On the day that the latest report on global warming was released, I went out and bought a light bulb. OK, an environmentally-friendly, compact fluorescent light bulb…it was either buying a light bulb or pulling the covers over my head…I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say the global warming deniers are on par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future…I don’t expect that this report will set off some vast political uprising. The sorry fact is that the rising world thermometer hasn’t translated into political climate change in America.

“American University’s Matthew Nisbet is among those who see the importance of expanding the story beyond scientists. He is charting the reframing of climate change into a moral and religious issue – see the greening of the evangelicals – and into a corruption of science issue – see big oil – and an economic issue – see the newer, greener technologies.”

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. 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.

Climate Stabilization Wedges

by Richard T. Stuebi

The most useful framework for considering solutions to the climate change problem was developed by Professor Robert Socolow of Princeton University.

In a pathbreaking August 2004 Science paper, Socolow (with fellow Princeton co-author Stephen Pacala) coined the concept of “stabilization wedges” to illustrate the types and magnitude of actions that would be required by society to stabilize the climate. Each “wedge” corresponds to one gigaton per year of worldwide carbon reductions by 2050; seven wedges are estimated to be required to cap CO2 concentrations to less than 500 ppm and thereby achieve climate stabilization. (Incidentally, this translates to a global emission reduction of about 1/3 relative to projected business-as-usual levels.)

It is then fairly straightforward mathematics to postulate actions that can achieve one wedge. For instance, an increase in fuel economy from 30 mpg to 60 mpg for 2 billion cars achieves one wedge. The authors then imagine several hypothetical mutually-exclusive wedges, to demonstrate that climate stabilization can be achieved just by using the palette of technologies that are already commercially available (wind, nuclear, solar, efficient lighting, land-use practices, etc.).

At last July’s annual conference of the American Solar Energy Society held in Denver, the plenary discussions were framed around designing relevant climate stabilization wedges for the U.S.: what it would take for the U.S. to achieve its necessary contribution to climate stabilization — a more severe challenge, requiring about a 60-80% emission reduction by mid-century. These plenary discussions, and the resultant calculations, have been aggregated into a new report that presents wedges of emission reduction strategies that the U.S. could undertake.

The results suggest that the U.S. can achieve the required emission reductions through a mix of energy efficiency and renewable energy options alone — without requiring a mass-shift to nuclear. In other words, a robust move to the rich mix of available renewable resources in the U.S. — wind, geothermal, solar and biomass — along with a dedicated focus to capturing the vast efficiency improvement opportunities that can be found in our relatively wasteful energy system can alone produce an aggressive emission reduction to get us to climate stabilization.

Technology advancements can only make it more economic, but the point is: we absolutely can achieve climate stabilization, if we have the will to employ the technologies we already have at hand.

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

Could Solvent-Free Manufacturing Technology Help Make Lithium Polymer Batteries a Reality?

I had a chance to chat with Dr. Klaus Brandt, EVP of Lithium Technology Corporation (Ticker symbol LTHU.PK). LTC has been in the business of Lion battery development for over 10 years. They are focused on large energy content / high power applications, primarily using lithium polymer technologies.

The Company was formed 4 years ago through a merger of a German battery startup called and LTC. Dr. Brandt is the Executive Vice President of LTC and Managing Director of their GAIA GmbH subsidiary, joining GAIA in April, 2005. A 25 year battery industry veteran, Gaia is his 5th battery company. He previously worked for Duracell (US) and VARTA (Germany), Moli Energy & Ionity. He holds a PhD, Physics from Tech Inst of Munich.

They haven’t disclosed much on their customers, but are focused on the military markets (especially for unmanned vehicles, like UAVs, they have one announced participation with Phoenix), and in niche industrial markets like robotics. The holy grail opportunity, of course is the EV, HEV and Plug-in hybrid automotive markets, where LiOn technology has an opportunity to displace NiMh, if it can drive costs down far enough. So far LTC has been working on early demonstrator projects in this area, but doesn’t appear to have hit the big one yet.

A quote from a recent press release on some of LTC’s activities in the plug-in hybrid sector.

“LTC has powered a project in conjunction with Innosys Engineering in which a four passenger Daihatsu Cuore was converted into an electric car using the lithium-ion batteries and a three-phase asynchronous electric motor. The battery, built with cells manufactured by LTC subsidiary GAIA, has a capacity of 25 kWh and an approximate highway range of 180-200km (100-125 miles) at 90-100km/hr (56-60 mph). These results are similar to the expected performance of the recently announced Volt slated to be made available by General Motors in 2010. “The technology is here today. LTC has it, and we’ve demonstrated it,” says Dr. Brandt. “Price is the biggest factor holding back the production of these more environmentally friendly, fuel efficient vehicles. By committing to work together, the auto manufactures and battery companies can bring the cost down and make cars like the Volt an affordable reality for the consumer.” LTC’s technology was recently highlighted in a video produced by Plug-In Partners, a national grass-roots initiative to demonstrate to automakers that a market for flexible-fuel PHEVs exists today. The full video discussing the economic and environmental benefits of PHEVs can be viewed on the Plug-In Partners website.

The piece featured a project in which LTC provided cells to the University of California, Davis Hybrid Electric Vehicle Group for the conversion of a Chevy Equinox to a PHEV as part of the Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility engineering competition. The lithium-ion battery has the same capacity as the original metal hydride battery but with half the weight. The battery can be charged by either the internal combustion engine (ICE) or a standard AC household electrical socket and can drive over 40 miles on the overnight electrical charge. The converted vehicle has a fuel economy of 36 mpg in the city, and 38 mpg on the highway, as compared to the original Chevy Equinox range of 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.”

As a result of the merger with Gaia, Arch Hill Ventures, NV, the venture capital firm behind Gaia, now has a dominant stake in the company. I couldn’t find much information on Arch easily available, though.

The company trades over the counter in the US, and has struggled financially (revenues are around $2 mm/year), and it loses money, and the stock price for the last several years has reflected this. Of course, it doesn’t help that the company doesn’t seem to have filed a 10-K or 10-Q since May of 2006. In December the company earned a reprieve raised $3 mm in a Series C Preferred Stock at a valuation on the order of $23 mm, and converted about $2.4 mm in debt.

In Germany the company is manufacturing cylindrical cells, and packaging them into batteries, and doing some prod development, along with EU sales. In the US Dr. Bradnt says they do a limited production of flat cells, the US sales and marketing, as well engineering and assembly of batteries for American customers.

But aside from all that, I asked Dr. Brandt to give me a summary walk through of the technology, what makes it neat, and what the cost and performance advantages are.

The brief from their website:

“LTC’s unique technology allows for the production of very large cells with a high capacity and high power capability.

LTC’s wholly owed affiliate GAIA Akkumulatorenwerke in Nordhausen, Germany employs a unique patented extrusion process for producing electrodes for lithium ion cells. This process is environmentally friendly (no solvent) and eliminates the need for expensive explosion proof coating and solvent recovery equipment. Using high speed winding and a unique assembly technology, large cylindrical cells are manufactured. In our Plymouth Meeting facility, we have the capability to build large footprint flat cells and stack them to form large batteries. Our proprietary technology includes critical composition, processing, and packaging aspects of the battery. Our coating, lamination and extrusion know-how enables us to achieve uniformity and consistency through a range of application techniques. Batteries for the consumer, transportation, and industrial markets require different electro-chemical systems that we believe can be easily accommodated by our extrusion process.”

According to my conversation with Dr. Brandt, LTC has two core technologies. The first is this extrusion process for a part of the cell manufacturing for either LiOn or Lithium Polymer batteries. The uniqueness is a way to avoid the use of large amounts of solvents in the process of manufacturing electrodes from electrode powders.

Normally, you make electrodes by a coating process. Taking electrode powders and mixing them in an organic solvent with has a binder and any additives dissolved in it. This results in a fairly viscous slurry with typically more than half organic solvents . Then battery manufacturers typically use a coating process (usually a printing type roller process or some sort of foil through narrow slit, controlling deposition quality mechanically) to coat the slurry onto a current collector, usually a thin metal foil, and in a post process step heat the electrode to evaporate the solvent, which by volume is often greater than the active material.
Typically the make-up of the solvents used is key intellectual property for the battery manufacturer, but most are highly volatile and toxic chemicals, and need to be recycled in some sort of a closed loop system that is generally equipment and energy intensive (read costly, and not very green).

The LTC process is different. LTC runs an extrusion process as follows – make the electrode powders into mixture of powder materials directly with a special polymer binder, which flows under some pressure and temperature, and extrude the mixture into a film sheet. The process runs in the range from 200-300F up to 350-400F, and uses off the shelf plastic extrusion equipment. As second step, LTC then laminates the film to the foil. The lamination allows good control of all kinds of properties. The whole thing is roughly similar to low temperature polymer membrane construction process.

The trick is the mix of the polymers. If mix isn’t right you can’t keep mechanical consistency or can’t control thickness of the film and uniform distribution of the components. The polymer mix also affects the binding properties.

They claim the process does not really affect the cell manufacturing or the electrolyte relative to other processes. And Dr. Brandt says it has applicability for lithium ion as well as lithium polymer.

The advantage – no solvent extraction, cleaning, and recycling process equipment, and reduced energy use. Basically a more efficient, greener, cleaner process. LTC estimates their process can reduce a cost structure on the order of 5-10% improvement over conventional technology, a big improvement in battery manufacturing techniques.

The main challenges are those similar to all lithium ion and lithium polymer battery manufacturers. In the area of automotive and HEVs, they need to address cost. Scale of production is obviously a main cost down concern for LTC at this point, but materials costs are a close second. Like all lithium polymer technologies, the materials in general are still quite high.

On the performance side, Dr. Brandt walked through another interesting technology development.

They are able to build relatively large systems at a similar power density and power rate to smaller systems compared to other manufacturers, especially useful in areas like submarine and UAV batteries.

They also get high power and excellent charge/discharge rates – on some cell types up to 80% of the energy in 2 – 3 minutes.

The trick here is LTC’s technology to manage the thermal issues in the way they make the electrical connections between electrodes and terminals in the wound cells. LTC essentially makes electrical connections at every turn of a wound cell, directly connecting each cell to the terminal, using massive (relatively) terminals. They do it with a special trick they have developed to easily allow a large number of the multiple connections.

All in all, a fascinating story. One I will have to follow closely and see how well the company pulls through its recent financial straits.

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

Proposed: National Center for Sustainable Technologies

by Heather Rae

The Brunswick Naval Air Station on the midcoast of Maine is on the Pentagon’s list: the base realignment and closure process, a recurring cost-cutting procedure, also known by the acronym BRAC, has targeted the Brunswick station for closure in 2011.

In April 2005, The Times Record ran an editorial by Walt Rosen, a retiree from the Commission on Life Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences. Rosen proposed turning the base into a national center for sustainable technologies, including residential and industrial uses.

Walt Rosen died last year. His idea is worth repeating, as developers and government begin the wrangle over what to do with the Brunswick land. The Brunswick Sustainability Group is gathering ideas from around the globe to put some fire under Rosen’s proposal, from Freiburg-Vauban in Germany to Dongtan in China. The Sustainability Group and Walt Rosen’s proposal should be at the table with developers and government.

Summary
This is a plan for use of a portion of the 3,000-acre site if and when the Brunswick Naval Air Station is decommissioned. Existing structures on the site are mostly hangars and housing units, easily adaptable to the proposed project.

This proposal would create a National Center for Sustainable Technologies that will promote research, education, training and demonstration of what have been termed “sustainable” or “appropriate” technologies — that is, procedures and practices that utilize alternatives to fossil fuels and minimize or eliminate the production of heat-trapping combustion products that can cause global climate change, and some of which are toxic to humans and other organisms. These alternatives utilize renewable energy sources such as solar radiation, biomass, wind and tides.

The heart of the project, and of the center, will be a planned residential community and industrial park showcasing state-of-the-art sustainable technologies.

Background
Conversion from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) to renewable alternatives would free our society from dependence on these finite energy sources and from the toxic byproducts of their use. Because the supply of these alternative energy sources is essentially unlimited, and because their use is nonpolluting, they are termed “sustainable,” a term that distinguishes them from energy sources such as petroleum, of which the earth has limited stores, and the extraction and use of which creates pollution and causes global warming.

Rising fuel costs, global warming (caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gasses), and concerns about the security of overseas sources of petroleum have combined to reawaken recognition of the desirability of moving to renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.

It is proposed to make part of the BNAS site a national center for such efforts. Properly implemented, such a center will provide jobs, training and revenue to replace what will be lost to the state and the community by the base closing. Demonstration projects and other training opportunities will draw people from throughout the country and beyond for education and training in the development and use of renewable and sustainable technologies. Just as agriculture colleges and the National Institutes of Health play host to graduate students and senior investigators, so will the proposed Sustainability Institute.

A model sustainable community
Successful large-scale planned communities are those of James Rouse in Columbia, Md., and Reston, Va. Another is the Disney Corp.’s Celebration, Fla. Design of these communities focused on motor traffic and pedestrian flow and on distribution of residential and commercial areas and civic amenities. Energy generation, consumption, conservation and recovery was left to local practice.

At the heart of this proposed development will be a planned residential community in which the objective in design and function will be maximization of the use of renewable energy — largely solar energy captured on site. Systems for the recovery of energy from biomass will be deployed wherever and whenever feasible. Homes — and where possible public facilities and businesses — will be furnished with biomass recovery systems (such as dry composting toilets), solar space and water heating, fuel cell technologies and photvoltaics.

Manufacturers of the required hardware will be given incentives for locating in a community industrial park, thereby providing employment and training opportunities for residents of the community.

Much planning will be required to establish policies concerning management of the community and eligibility for admission to residence there. Among the strategies and policies to be considered are low-interest or interest-free mortgages, leases, co-op governance, individual or community gardens, preferential placement in on-site jobs and internships.

Potential development and demonstration programs: glass-house food production; heating with biogas generated on-site from municipal sludge and cultivated biiomass; a wind farm (if wind velocities are sufficient to generate the electricity required by a small community); sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry; ecological restoration; photovoltaic hardware production and research; hydrogen fuel cell research and demonstration; and electricity generation from tidal flow.

Resources
Our community is richly endowed with people and programs that can provide the relevant expertise. These include the Bowdoin College Environmental Studies Program; USM’s Muskie Institute; the Chewonki Institute’s biodiesel and hydrogen research and development programs; Morris Farm; Wolf’s Neck Farm; the Maine Center for Economic Policy; the Maine State Planning Office and its director of Energy Independence.

The SPO’s “2003 Directory of State Energy Programs and Reources” reveals a wealth of relevant businesses and programs already active in Maine, providing a highly supportive environment for this project.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has a Web site that provides a wealth of information on relevant programs, demonstrations and literature.

Implementation
At least a year of intensive research and planning will be required for the preparation of detailed proposals for the funding and implementation of this concept. A planning grant will be essential for proposal preparation.

A 50-acre to 100-acre Peace Park in, or bordering the residential area, can include a solar-heated swimming pool and community center, bike paths, playing fields and demonstration organic gardens. Indeed, it was Hersch Sternlieb’s idea for a Peace Park on the BNAS site that triggered this proposal.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. 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.

Cool Commutes

Innovative solutions for energy independence and ending the climate crisis are manifest in Silicon Valley: breakthrough energy storage, biotech conversion of waste to fuel, electric vehicles, fuel cells, materials science, converting sunlight to energy and more.

200 members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) convened to advance a different type of innovation – programs that make employees more effective anytime and anywhere. Organizations are increasing productivity whether employees are at a primary work location, secondary, home, customer site or other remote location. Work Anywhere and Cool Commute programs get increased job results with fewer wasted hours from people trapped in gridlocked traffic.

“Cool Commutes” was the title of the January 31 meeting. “Cool Commutes” is a friendly competition between Bay Area employers to determine which can encourage the greatest number of employees to commute without driving solo. Several attending corporations and government employers shared their success in helping thousands reach work using ride sharing, public transit, bicycling and walking. One CEO in Redwood Shores even canoed to work. Employer programs are both reducing the fuel wasted in commuting and eliminating unnecessary commutes.

Cool commuting is improving the profits of a number of Silicon Valley companies. The new workforce is mobile, at times working at their office, other times at home, other times at a customer site. Effective mobile working often requires wireless services, Internet services, VOIP, VPN, security, laptops, mobile devices with better energy storage and so on. Companies benefiting from secure mobile commuting include the meeting host Hewlett-Packard (HP), plus IBM, Oracle (ORCL), Hyperion (HYSL), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Sun Microsystems (SUNW), Cisco (CSCO), Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), Symantec (SYMC) and hundreds of others.

In addition to revenue improvements, many of these corporations and government employers are seeing cost savings. Healthcare costs lower when employees get more exercise walking and bicycling. Productivity goes up when the stress of rush hour commutes goes down. Mobile workforce strategies coupled with commute programs has allowed many to reduce facility costs. Reduced parking saves up to $2,400 per space. Shared facilities have a much higher payoff.

Cool Commute and flexible work location programs helped several participating high-tech firms with employee recruiting, retention and productivity. The programs did more than benefit employers; all of us benefit from reduced burning of fuel that results in more energy independence and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Ann Zis detailed a number of areas of success at Applied Materials (AMAT). Their program, “Applied Anywhere,” addresses their global business environment and provides agility to be closer to the customer as well as supporting the needs of many employees who perform some or their entire job outside the traditional office place. Through the program Applied Anywhere supports eligible employees that at different times may need to work from one of several corporate offices, at home, at an airport, or at a customer site.

“Applied Anywhere” is far more comprehensive than traditional telework programs. The program has made global teams more effective, reduced commute hours, increased productivity, saved gas miles and jet miles. Ann Zis advised workshop attendees to start by interviewing senior executives and to make a program align with corporate and executive goals and objectives. Conduct design workshops to facilitate the creation of program policies, places, technologies and details. Periodically, validate the program goals with focus groups.

All workshop attendees agreed that flexible work location programs fail when the approach is “one size fits all.” In some countries, the management culture requires most employees to be together most of the time. Yet, even in those countries sales and customer engineers are often mobile and at various locations so drop-in centers and satellite office could be a better alternative to solely a “work from home” approach. The nature of the job dictates where people need to be. All attendees also agreed about the importance of technology enablers to support flexible work location programs.

Ann Zis recommended a phased implementation, starting with a group near headquarters that is likely to succeed. It often takes four to six months for people, both managers and employees, to adjust to a new style of work location flexibility. Over time, categories of employees emerged including those that could work from home, mobile, drop-in, while for some, it is still appropriate for them to retain a dedicated seat in an Applied building. The policies, practices, technology and locations were created to support each category.

Currently, over 2500 Applied Materials employees now participate in Applied Anywhere, including over 1400 located outside the U.S.

Flexible work locations reduce unnecessary travel. When travel is necessary, organizations are innovative in making commutes better from employees, employers and the community.

36% of Yahoo headquarters employees get to work without driving solo, reported Danielle Bricker with Yahoo! This is double the 18% mode-shift that the corporation committed to the City of Sunnyvale when building permits were first issued. Yahoo’s cool commute program is comprehensive, popular and getting results.

As one of two dedicated Commute Coordinators at Yahoo, Daniel practices what she preaches. For three years, she has commuted 90-miles daily without owning a car. She commutes by train, using her bicycle to handle the “last mile” at both ends. Intermodal commuting is used by many.

Yahoo provides employees with free VTA Eco-Passes for bus and light-rail. Many of the Yahoo commuters are able to get extra work done using laptops and other mobile devices while commuting on public transit.

Yahoo’s results are impressive considering that Silicon Valley workers are widely dispersed in search of affordable housing. Technologists work long and irregular hours, which makes ridesharing more challenging. Many Silicon Valley locations provide a long and uncomfortable walk in the dark to public transit.

Yahoo addresses these problems in a number of ways. One is that it provides a guaranteed ride home. Yahoo will pay for a late worker’s taxi or rental car. Many at the workshop agreed that a guaranteed ride home is critical to a commute programs success. All agreed that employees rarely use the guarantee, making the cost minimal.

Yahoo has a fleet of shuttles to get people to and from transit, between Yahoo locations, to airports and sometimes providing an emergency ride. Some of the shuttles run on B20 biodiesel.

It is not easy to get employees to change their commuting behavior. Yahoo used surveys, education, an intranet website to help people find others for ridesharing, and YahooGroups to encourage collaboration, and monthly reward competition for those who avoid driving solo.

Yahoo encourages the use of the zero-emission vehicle owned by one billion people on this planet – the bicycle. Yahoo provides bicycler riders with secure storage of their bikes. Free lockers and showers are available. To help people quickly navigate Yahoo’s campus of buildings, loaner bikes are also available.

Many meeting participants recognized the value of the humble bicycle. SVLG CEO, Carl Guardino, commutes to work emission-free three times weekly, riding his bike 30 miles roundtrip. Lockheed Martin will make it easy for employees to zip across its campus with 200 yellow bicycles available for anyone.

Many presenters and attendees praised the non-profit organization “511.org.” 511 is an example of friendly systems that allow people to easily travel without getting in their car. 511 allows you to put in your departure and destination locations, then see or hear the best way to travel with public transit, train, even carpooling and bicycling. It even includes current traffic conditions. I have used this wonderful system with everything from an Internet browser (511.org) to my cell phone (dial 511). 511 is widely used in Northern California.

511.org offers consulting to employers. Employee surveys, employee home locations, flexible work locations and plans are all considered. Plans and recommendations often include public transportation, carpools, vanpools, bicycles, guaranteed ride homes. Employers like Genentech (DNA) and Stanford University have custom 511 implementations as part of their employee intranets.

Nationwide there are many organizations that offer some of the services provided by 511. Using your favorite search engine type “rideshare” plus your zip code.

Cool Commutes is just one of a dozen exciting initiatives included in SVLG’s “Clean and Green” Energy Action Plan. You can join Cool Commutes at SVLG.

John Addison is the author of Revenue Rocket and the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. He has conducted workshops for several of the firms mentioned in this article. He publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Let There Be Dark, Or At Least Fewer Watts

by Richard Stuebi

Last week, as virtually everyone with an interest in energy and the environment knows, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gathered in Paris to release the first report of their Fourth Assessment. (see article) The report presents the accumulated evidence of physical change that has already occurred in the climate, and what is expected to or might occur by the end of the 21st Century.

If someone were to read this report and continue thinking that climate change is a hoax, then that person is either unable to read or unable to think.

To show their support for the climate scientists that had assembled there, Parisian officials decided to make their statement about the need for solutions to climate change by shutting off the lights to the Eiffel Tower for five minutes. (see article)

You might say, “five minutes, big deal.” Certainly, in and of itself, the act of turning out the lights is solely a symbolic act. But, it had one effect on me: I began thinking about all the ways in which we celebrate lighting things needlessly — and how much energy is wasted in doing so. Does the Eiffel Tower (or any other big building, for that matter) really need to be lit up, so brightly, for so much of the time?

If we’re going to light things for purely ornamental reasons, we should at least do it efficiently. I’m glad to hear that the Eiffel Tower uses much more efficient lights than it used to. But my speculation is that a lot of public lighting continues to be based on energy-intensive incandescent lightbulbs. We need to stop it.

In that vein, a bill has been introduced in the California Assembly to ban the sale of incandescents in the state, through the wonderfully-named “How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act”. (see article) Once again, California leads the nation.

Let’s begin a public conversation about our public lighting practices: what deserves to be lit, how much of the time, with what kind of bulbs.

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

BP Awards $500 MM Bioconversion Research Center to Berkeley

BP announced the award of $500 MM Bioconversion research center to Berkeley. The award follows a process where BP had shortlisted several major universities, so I’m really glad to see a local university win it. I had a chance to meet with some of the BP technology team working on this project some months ago, and had gotten some early insight into what it would mean. This had been rumoured for some time, and I had a rumour not too long ago that Berkeley had won.

This is a big part of BP’s low carbon technology strategy, and is an anchor of the open innovation model of technology development BP is doing that we have blogged about before.

Just wait until their next research center gets announced. They are serious about an outsourced based tech transfer model of R&D.

What ever you want to say about BP, when it comes to spreading the wealth in cleantech, they put their money where there mouth is.

The announcement from Berkeley below:

“Colleagues, students, and friends:

I am proud and excited to tell you that a partnership led by UC Berkeley has been selected to receive an unprecedented $500 million from global energy firm BP to lead the way in research to develop new, clean, renewable sources of energy. With this remarkable support, the work Berkeley will undertake will be transformative for our nation and, indeed, our planet.

The campus will partner with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in this 10-year effort, which was announced this morning at a campus press conference by Robert A. Malone, chairman and president of BP America Inc., along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

This new research effort — the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) — will focus initially on biotechnology to produce biofuels, that is, transportation fuels that are made from plants. Berkeley and its partners will bring the most creative science, innovative technologies, and astute understanding of social sciences to bear to develop viable solutions to global energy challenges, among the most fundamental problems facing us today.

I firmly believe that the depth and breadth of excellence at Berkeley are what sets us apart. That depth and breadth allow us to reach for such an opportunity, win it, and, I am certain, succeed over the next decade in changing the impact of energy consumption on the world’s environment.

My congratulations and gratitude go to the faculty and staff who have worked so hard and with such vision to take this idea from proposal to reality. I invite you to read more about this good news for Berkeley– and view a webcast of the press conference later today — at http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/ebi.

Yours sincerely,

Robert J. Birgeneau
Chancellor”

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

God’s Country

by Heather Rae

The whipping winds of central Spain and the sultry, slow-spinning blades of wind turbines play central roles in Pedro Almodovar’s most recent creation, “Volver.” One of Almodovar’s women sighs, “este maldito viento se vuelve loca la gente.” (“This hellish wind drives people crazy.”) To me, a student in Madrid the summer of 1982, the topography of central Spain was arid, harsh and unforgiving. To someone else, Spain is God’s country – as are Nantucket Sound, the ridges along the Appalachian Trail, the plains of eastern Wyoming and the shores of Denmark. They are all God’s country; they are all special places, giving spiritual and ecological sustenance to someone and something.

Opponents of the Reddington Pond Ridge, Maine wind farm, parroting opponents of the Nantucket Sound and the Spanish La Mancha wind projects, say the Reddington site is inappropriate…it’s special. On the local radio, opponents say, if this project is approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission, then the bar will be so low that all wind projects proposed in Maine will be approved. They say, those coal-plants out west should clean up their acts; that is a better way to address climate change, a better way to meet demand for electricity.

In the mid-90s my former mate, a wind developer, came home to the agricultural preserve of Montgomery County, Maryland where we had a farmhouse. He had been to Upstate New York walking ridges and talking to farmers and local governments, looking for a good site for a wind cluster of eight or so turbines. He told me that he had found a really good one, but a woman, recently relocated from Manhattan and a self-proclaimed environmentalist, opposed the project. My mate moved on.

I was pissed.

Down the road from our farmhouse, along the Potomac River, 40 miles outside Washington, DC were two electricity generators – one coal-fired, the other a trash burner. A good old boy in Poolesville, Maryland paying 50 cents on the dollar to farmer widows, sold the land to these industrial developers. It was relatively easy to locate these polluters in what was then a poor, agricultural, uneducated and politically-weak backwater. A local citizen’s association extracted as recompense an old barn, abandoned when the county purchased a farm for a commercial composting facility; the barn was renovated into headquarters from which to educate and to monitor shipments of coal and trash, plant emissions, the incessant and monotonous drone from the plants that ebbed and flowed over farm fields, and, potentially, accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia. The good old boys settled disagreements with shotguns, stalking and paintballs; they aligned with industrial polluters and government. They joked that one day they would leave the agricultural preserve for “real farmland” in Pennsylvania; they would take their money and move on to another special place.

Close to the Mason Dixon line, Montgomery County’s agricultural preserve is culturally rich (guns and good old boys and all). With its fecund soil and the sleepy Potomac, it is God’s country – as are Pueblo, Colorado and the Dinai Indian Reservation out west, homes to huge coal-fired plants that feed a ceaseless and increasing hunger for electricity.

This week Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission rejected the proposed Reddington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain wind projects in western Maine, prompting the editors of the Maine Sunday Telegram to proclaim: LURC wind farm vote a lost opportunity.” The editorial page editor, John Porter, called the rejection “a fit of immaturity.” The Associated Press weighed in that same day with, “Town blows hot and cold on wind farm” referring to the newly erected Mars Hill Project. Another wind project in Maine, Kibby, is up for review.

From Spain to Maine, it’s all special; it’s all God’s country. Nobody can lay claim to ‘specialness’ as a reason to oppose wind projects.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. 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.

Climate Tectonics

by Richard Stuebi

The climate changes only slightly faster than the continents shift. Climate policy changes only slightly faster than the climate is altered by greenhouse gas emissions. So, when one begins to see a few elements of U.S. climate policy moving, in a relatively short period of time, it’s hard not to take note and consider the implications.

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush (kinda-sorta) acknowledged climate change as an important policy aim, referring to it as a “serious challenge”. While there was no mention of a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade mechanism that would seriously address this serious challenge, at least Bush proposed an important mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that had been anethema for decades — to tighten the fuel economy standards of new vehicles. (Not to mention an increased push for renewable fuels to displace petroleum fuels.)

The new Congress is sticking its neck out further, not waiting long to take up legislation that more directly and forcefully combats climate change. (see article) At the most important annual gathering of world leaders, the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, the Republican Senator John McCain — a likely candidate for the Presidency in 2008 — expressed his conviction that the U.S. will soon tackle climate change in a meaningful way. (see article) No doubt, it will take a while for a true policy change on climate change to emerge in the U.S., but the strong ramp-up in attention and activity is unambiguous.

It has become virtually impossible to think that climate change will not be addressed by more than merely political platitudes within any relevant forecasting horizon.

The corporate world can thus no longer afford to assume a continued stalemate that denies true action on climate change from being taken in the U.S. More foresightful companies — even major energy companies such as BP (NYSE: BP), FPL (NYSE: FPL), Duke (NYSE: DUK), and PG&E (NYSE: PCG) — have banded together to form the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which is committed to reversing the trend of increasing carbon emissions in the U.S. (see article)

Even the most lingering latecomers of the U.S. corporate community are finally beginning to see the writing on the wall: that climate change is a real concern, and that actions will be taken in the near-future to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, unnoticed (by me at least) was some reportage from late 2006 that ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) has finally stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a think-tank that is widely viewed to be spreading misinformation about climate change, so as to muddy the waters and delay anything meaningful being done to address it.

The pent-up forces pushing for action on climate change are starting to become unstuck. Major breakthroughs haven’t happened, yet, but shifting is occurring and the warning tremors are increasingly clear. I used to think that it would take until the next President after Bush for us to see a real U.S. policy dealing with climate change — but recent indicators suggest that we might not have to wait that long, after all.

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

REEF break for Australian wave power co.

Nick Bruse runs StrikeConsulting, a cleantech venture consultancy, and works with Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd; the organiser of the AustralAsian Cleantech Forums, and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia.


As the summer sun continues to blaze here in Australia, Climate change continues to feature strongly on the headlines on front pages of newspapers. Most of December’s headlines caught up in watching the megafiresbushfires spanning months and more than 1 million hectares (3,861 Sq miles). Most of January take up with continued talk of the worst drought in recorded history, real possibilities of cities running out of water and the federal government announcing a A$10 billion water package to deal with agricultural irrigation and water management.

Whilst many Australian’s are now back from their beach and surfing holidays – the green edge of Australia the only respite from a burnt or cracked dry bushland – Australian wave and ocean power company BioPower Systems has announced it has closed its latest round of funding.

CVC REEF is the cornerstone investor in this latest capital raising, which will be used to develop prototypes of BioPower Systems technology and plan for full scale ocean trials.

BioPower Systems bioWave and bioStream technologies have been designed using biomimicry of natural ocean organisms and their movement in wave and current systems. BioWave technology uses a tethered kelp analogy to generate electricity from wave movement across a broad range of wave frequency and power situations. BioStream technology uses a shark/tuna tail design operating in reverse deriving power at efficiently from tidal or current streams.

CEO Dr. Tim Finnigan states in BioPowers media release:

“The demand for renewable energy technologies that promise inexhaustible supplies of carbon-free electricity is currently high and is growing rapidly. With the prospects for wave and tidal current power now well established, global markets are eagerly awaiting commercially-viable technologies that can utilise these sources,” says Dr. Finnigan. Founded in March 2006, BioPower Systems Pty Ltd has a strategy for rapid development and is targeting 2009 for production of the first commercial units. “The upcoming funding rounds will support design and development of ocean-based pilots, leading in to production of commercial units.”

“The investment by CVC REEF concludes the first major phase of the company’s funding plan,” says Chief Executive Dr. Tim Finnigan. “The value added goes well beyond providing the necessary funds to test our ocean power systems. CVC REEF brings recognised experience to the company board and is committed to being actively involved in the growth of the company.”

BioPower Systems is developing the bioWAVE and bioSTREAM, which both borrow specific traits from highly evolved marine species to derive competitive advantages in converting the energy in ocean waves and tidal currents into grid-connected electricity. By adopting natural configurations and mechanisms, these systems maximise efficiency using minimal engineering structures. This allows streamlined low-cost designs to survive in the harsh marine environment. The cost advantages are the basis for BioPower’s commercial competitiveness in the looming global ocean energy market.”

Technology overviews and company contact information can be found for the bioWAVE and bioSTREAM technologies at the BioPower Systems website www.biopowersystems.com

AeroVironment IPO – Technology Developer Makes Good in Market

Aerovironment, Inc. (Nasdaq:AVAV) priced its $114 mm IPO this week, with Goldman Sachs as the lead underwriter. Shares popped up 54%.

From the prospectus “We design, develop, produce and support a technologically-advanced portfolio of small unmanned aircraft systems that we supply primarily to organizations within the U.S. Department of Defense, and fast charge systems for electric industrial vehicle batteries that we supply to commercial customers.”

I have always liked this company. Basically it’s an R&D company in power controls and aviation that has built its R&D practice into a provider of next generation solutions of UAVs to the US military.

On their small UAVs:

“Our small UAS are well positioned to support the transformational strategy of the U.S. Department of Defense, or DoD, the purpose of which is to convert the military into a smaller, more agile force that operates through a network of observation, communication and precision targeting technologies, and its efforts to prosecute the global war on terror, which have increased the need for real-time, visual information in new operational environments. . . .

We designed all of our small UAS to be man-portable, launchable by one person and operated through a hand-held control unit. Our small UAS are electrically powered, configured to carry electro-optical or infrared sensors, provide real-time situational awareness and intelligence, fly quietly at speeds reaching 50 miles per hour and travel up to 20 miles from their launch location on a modular, replaceable battery pack. These characteristics make them well suited for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment operations. “

On their battery charger products:

“Our PosiCharge products and services are designed to improve productivity and safety for operators of electric industrial vehicles, such as forklifts and airport ground support equipment, by improving battery and fleet management. “

I love these products. My grandfather flew some of the predecessors to these UAVs in WWII. They were flying converted torpedo planes controlling TDR-1 radio controlled TV guided drones against Japanese installations in the South Pacific. It worked then, and the technology makes it hugely effective now for a much wider range of missions. And one of my former clients used to provide fuel cell technology to some of their earlier protoypes, so I’ve followed these guys for a while. This area of technology has tremendous military potential.

On the financial side, I’m a little torn.

On $140 mm in 2006 revenue, this kind of backlog is pretty impressive, and it’s clear they’ve been able to drive growth.

“As of October 28, 2006, our funded backlog was $69.5 million and unfunded backlog was $491.5 million. “

And margins have been good for a business of this type.

But I’ve got a lot of heartache over a defense contractor / aviation supplier trading at a 20+ P/E (defense contracts are three quarters of revenues,, almost all of its UAVs, total US government is over 80%). Especially when selling shareholders cashed out 1/3rd of the IPO proceeds. Ouch. The post IPO pop may have taken it higher than I’d be willing to go.

But maybe for this particular firm I can get over it.

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

What has Changed in the Alternative Energy Investment Landscape

Is the time right to invest in alternative energy? We’ve seen a lot of this before in the 1970s and 1980s. Solar and biomass hot, big regulatory pushes, and then companies and investors lost a lot of money when things changed. We’re still a bit skeptical. We’re also all about not getting pulled in to each and every overpriced hype (read, the ethanol race) – but fundamentals are fundamentals. And they’re hard to ignore and pretty darn impressive. We think the real question today is not “are alternatives a good investment?”, but “which ones have legs and make a good investment bet?”

In four words – broad-based critical mass – Unlike alternative energy of yesteryear, this alternative energy explosion has been slowly building for 10 to 15 years, and is reaching critical mass in multiple markets. Take a couple of examples – the solar market is on pace for a $20 Billion per year number globally within 3 years (SolarBuzz.com), across several major jurisdictions (in the 1980s we were talking less than 5% of that). World ethanol production is on the order of $12 Billion/year. In the US wind capacity production has growing at 25%+ per year for the last 2 years wind generation capacity additions have been second only to gas-fired generation adds in the US mix.

“It’s the global economy, stupid” – Don’t forget, this is global now, and it wasn’t really like that 25 years ago. The US pioneered solar photovoltaics, but Japan and Germany (with China catching up) are the biggest markets today. The US pioneered large scale wind power (remember Altamont Pass?), but 3 of the top 4 wind turbine companies today are European. The US engineered cap and trade in carbon, but Kyoto is a European driven engine. Lots of examples of why it’s not just us anymore. For an investor worried about the legs of the industry, that’s a really big point.

In two words – cost structure – alternative energy is still more expensive than conventional energy – that’s why we call it “alternative”. But the cost curves for each and every alternative energy source have fundamentally changed for the better over the last 10 years (NREL), are moving into striking distance, and continue to improve. This trend is not going to reverse, so it’s just a matter of time.

In three words – carbon, carbon, carbon – The carbon credit trading market, driven by Kyoto protocol was $21.5 Billion in the first 3 quarters of last year (World Bank and IETA) – that’s up from virtually zero three years ago. Now we’re talking real numbers. The US has been left out of this so far, but not for long. California is committed, the Democrats are in control of Congress, and we will likely be seeing a strengthening of some sort of cap and trade system before long.

The bottom line – alternative energy is cool and the consumer cares. Of all this activity, it’s really high gas and electricity prices and climate change that have put alternative energy on the map in the consumers minds. And they care. And they vote. And they blog. And they are buying hybrids, uneconomic hybrids, lots of them. And as the battery technology continues to advance (think lithium ion overtaking nickel metal hydride), they’ll start buying HEVs and Plug-in HEVs in massive quantities. And they are buying green power. And little pieces of paper certifying their green power. In enough quantities for Toyota and Walmart and GE and Google to brand green as part of their core strategies. How’s all that for impact?

And finally, the regulations are here. Don’t kid yourself, alternative energy has ALWAYS been a regulatory driven market. But now the regulations are pretty widespread. Take electric power, for example – it’s not just the federal production tax credit anymore, or just the solar tax credit, or the state solar subsidy programs – 23 US states now have Renewable Portfolio Standards for electricity production (Pew Center) , including Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Illinois, etc. That’s up from 1 in 1991. Put another way, if you could swing the electoral votes from just the RPS states, you’d have a landslide presidential victory.

Yes, it’s still possible that if oil and gas prices prices fall back to 1990s levels (we expect them to pull back somewhat, but are scared to make a precise prediction) and we have 5 or 6 normal, cool winters that make the climate change debate disintegrate, then a new political wave will come in (in 30 different western countries), and each and every major alternative energy regulatory program along with all the consumer demand will collapse – in a dozen major nations worldwide. But as the saying goes, that ain’t the way to bet it.

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

Maine: a market for solar

Is there enough sunshine — and consumer drive — to sustain a solar market in Maine? You betcha.

EnergyWorks, LLC operates out of Liberty, Maine and is busily expanding. It recently opened a Portland office and is eyeing the business market in Waldo County, a stretch of Maine’s coastline. Maine Housing webstats show Waldo County resembles many other counties along the Maine coast. In Maine, the median house price increased 67.4% over the last five years, while over the same time period, median incomes increased 14.2%, making 62% of Waldo County’s housing stock unaffordable to the average Mainer.

Someone else (someone likely from Boston or New York) can afford these coastal homes and is driving up the housing market. If you’re going to market greentech, why not harness the sun and sell it to this upper income segment, creating jobs for Mainers along the way?

EnergyWorks has been successful doing just that.

Rebates through the Maine Public Utility Commission’s State Energy Program and support from Governor John Baldacci don’t hurt. Says Judy Perry of EnergyWorks, “We did a lot jobs because of the rebates. The incentives go a long way to making it happen in Maine.” (Funding for the solar PV rebates have been exhausted, but rebates remain for solar hot water systems.) “The State of Maine did some PR to support the rebates. It didn’t penetrate. The Maine State Energy Program website talks about the program. Few people knew about it. We’re about to run ads saying there are still state rebates.”

EnergyWorks will focus on the commercial market. It has completed some big commercial projects, and its commercial work has doubled over the last couple of years. It recently completed Maine’s largest installation of a solar PV array at Maple Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast in Hallowell, just south of Augusta, Maine’s capital.

Says Perry, “We’re trying to work close to home, trying to reduce travel. We’re focused on Maine’s MidCoast…Camden, Rockland, Belfast, Liberty. There’s a lot of money along the coast, and in Southern Maine, and that’s where the jobs are.”

Perry adds, “Everyone thinks it’s too cold here for solar thermal, but it’s not. Some of our customers have drastically reduced their energy bills. They reduce use first; then they do solar, and they’re coming up with really low bills, as low as $10.”

A PV system, says Perry, can run $18K, so they aren’t cheap. One of EnergyWorks’ clients expects a return on investment of under 10 years even without an electric rate increase. The equipment will last 30 years, more than the lifetime of the house. “You can do quite well in Maine. The technology of panels has improved; even without true south solar orientation, you can still produce quite a lot. And with solar thermal, the evacuation tubes are round, so there’s a slight increase in production because of the shape.”

I ask Perry why her customers are installing solar. “For our customers, it’s the green aspect; it’s the right thing to do. There are the ones who want to get off oil; they understand that connection. The core of our clients are those who are aware of the environment and want to get to independence. Some of these jobs are expensive; there are big systems on the roof. Clients can offset use, even though they’re not reducing use. We have plenty of clients who are off the grid completely, and there are no rebates for off-grid.”

Perry also sees a direct connection between the price of gasoline at the pump and the phone ringing at her shop. These consumers are worried about home heating, and then they think about getting off oil. They look at these issues, what’s going to happen when oil is over.

Says Perry, “We have interesting clients. They’ve thought through all of their choices. They think about the embodied energy in building materials, where the materials came from — where lots of people don’t think these things through. Our clients chart oil; they are engaged in systems and monitoring things. That’s the way their brains work. Something is going on with the math, science people. We did several projects for people teaching in those departments. I’d get an email; it would say the department name of a college. Campuses in Maine have sustainability departments, and some of those teachers are our clients.”

I ask Perry, do customers think about where there electricity comes from? If they see the oil-Iraq-solar thermal-gas pump connection, do they see the electricity connections, that electricity in Maine isn’t generated from oil? Perry says, “I bet most people don’t know where electricity comes from…nuke or coal or whatever. There’s a direct connection between Iraq and the gas tank, but not the other way, not for electricity.”

As for educating the public and marketing, Perry says, “We get it down to things like monthly budgets. That’s how we keep it simple. If there were easy financing, there would be more installation jobs. We need to leverage loans for solar. I’m dealing with people who know what solar can do. Other people think it’s out of reach, or it’s some hippy thing or it looks bad, or it can’t be done. Some people don’t understand the technology; they think that with solar, you’re sitting in the dark.”

Perry says PV can raise the value of a home and it can insulate customers from raising costs, but she wonders, does the general public understand? “People don’t see all of it. It’s complicated. For most people, when they pay more for electricity, that’s when they start to act. Climate change does not equate to action around PV and energy efficiency. Running out of oil is dicey. This is a progressive area, so they make the connection. Others aren’t making the connection that we are causing this problem [of climate change].

“It’s booming in ways. There’s lots of interest. But it’s not everyone.”

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. 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.

Oil Usage Drops in Developed Nations in 2006

By John Addison (1/23/07)

Thank you to the millions that used less oil in 2006. For the first time in 20 years, the International Energy Agency show oil consumption in the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development fell 0.6% in 2006. The drop was slight, but most encouraging to all who seek energy independence, averting a climate crisis, and healing an economy “addicted to oil.”

Yes, global oil demand did grow in 2006, but only by 0.9% in 2006, compared to 3.9% growth in 2004 and 1.5% in 2005. Oil demand may be moderating for a number of reasons including these:

1. When oil prices rose, demand shifted to more energy efficiency.
2. Some vehicles have become more fuel efficient by reducing vehicle weight, air and road resistance, and by using hybrid technology.
3. Less heating oil was needed due to global warming.
4. The Kyoto Protocol is starting to work.
5. Biofuels are increasingly used to substitute for fuels refined from oil.
6. Clean distributed energy and more reliable grids reduced the usage of diesel generators, propane and butane.
7. The ratio of people living in cities increased relative to suburbs. Oil demand per person is less in cities due to effective public transit and closer proximity of home and work. The U.N. forecasts that 80% of people will live in cities by 2050.
8. More people are riding together with car pooling and public transit.
9. Trucks and buses are reducing the wasteful idling that keeps engines running up to 40% more than is necessary. Use of auxiliary power units are increasing.
10. People spend more time working and shopping at home, using broadband Internet services.

Neal Dikeman commented on the OECD drop, “That really is huge news. Supply and demand economics does work after all, despite what some people may think. Historically, new supply discoveries drove price declines (in the 1st half of the century). Since OPEC however, supply shocks and constraints have driven major price increases, and overestimated demand / negative demand shocks have driven declines.” Mr. Dikeman is a merchant banker, originally from Houston, Texas, and now a partner with Jane Capital.

Moderation of oil usage is timely. Next week, the first phase of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be released. This will be a major update from the respected 2001 report that involved hundreds of leading scientists globally. “The smoking gun is definitely lying on the table as we speak,” said top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, who reviewed all 1,600 pages of the first segment of a giant four-part report. “The evidence … is compelling.” CNN Report

As the oil reduction numbers are analyzed a picture may emerge about how to continue our path to a brighter future. To all of you who conserved – Thank You!

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to reproduce. He publishes the Clean Fleet Report (www.cleanfleetreport.com) and is a popular speaker.

Ethanol, NAFTA, Tortillas and Walmart?

Quick, what do Ethanol, NAFTA, Mexican Tortillas and Walmart have in common? Don’t know? Well here’s the story.

I am fascinated by the discussion about ethanol feedstocks issues. There has been a lot of talk about corn production for ethanol either crowding out beef or food production, or driving up the price of food, or failing to supply the demand for ethanol.

I have stated before on Cleantech Blog and other sites that I believe corn is a lot more substitutable than the anti-ethanol and cellulosic ethanol advocates give it credit for. Our take: that the corn price rise from ethanol demand will not be as steep as the worst case, that the industry will find more acreage than expected for corn, and that costs will fall, in part because corn producers (and beef producers) are highly flexible and relatively global. Also that cellulosic processes are a lot harder and will take a lot longer to make economic than expected, and that the end result will be corn ethanol for a long time.

But the subject just keeps rolling – quoting an Inside Greentech interview with David Aslin of 3i:

“Leaving the issue of food substitution out for a moment, as your article pointed out, the sheer acreages that are going to be required are daunting.

There was a dramatic increase in 2006 in corn plantings over the prior year, and the industry forecasts an additional 10 million acres in 2007 in response to the need for fuel. How much of that is going to be available for food if all these ethanol plants being constructed actually come online, and at what price? (Heck, there’s way too much corn syrup in U.S. food industry products anyway, so if we take a bit of the excess sugar out of people’s food, that won’t be a bad thing for the nation’s health!)”

At the same time, we have also been saying that corn ethanol is inherently a high cost fuel ($1.50-$2.50/gallon direct cost on a btu basis compared to $0.50-0.60/gallon for gasoline on a direct cost basis – read our blog, and please don’t email me arguing the price of crude is over a $1/gallon, it’s the COST of finding and producing that crude, not the price the oil companies can sell it at, that matters), with lots of new supply coming on that is going to hurt the economics of US ethanol producers like VeraSun, Aventine, etc.

But this is a whole new angle – the political ramifications of our ethanol industry driving up prices for our neighbors food supply.

One of my friends, the CEO of a fuel cell startup who happens to read Cleantech Blog, emailed me an article today. Basic gist – the Mexican government is concerned that ethanol demand is driving up the price of tortillas! And is trying to decide what to do about it. As they describe the impact:

“Prices for white corn used to make tortillas have been hit the hardest. Although local corn prices are typically volatile around harvest time, which mostly falls in the second half of the year, traders say the farm gate price for white corn saw an unprecedented rise of up to 45 percent in 2006 compared with the year-ago levels in the Mexican market.

Grains traders have forecast tortilla prices to rise between 20 percent and 25 percent during the last quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007. “

My friend’s commentary on the subject:

“Even more funny, in the story I heard on NPR, Wal-Mart Mexico is taking advantage of the tortilla price run up to undercut independent tortilla shops. But besides the humor, there may be something here. I think the Mexican government is just out in the lead. I’ve seen at least one piece predicting that additions to ethanol production have been under estimated and that significant corn feedstock shortages will occur in 2008.”

Now, nobody’s talking NAFTA yet, but one of the things free trade does is globalize commodities. I’m just waiting for the next reverse “giant sucking sound” attack on NAFTA to follow this corn price rise. Or worse, some blogs are bound to start complaining that corn ethanol is racist, and anti-Mexican. To an economist like me, this price rise is just a perfect example of how globalization can even out the impact of something like ethanol demand on corn prices by spreading the effect across multiple markets and multiple commodities (and drive a new energy commodity export business – see our recent blog) – an example of my point that corn ethanol has longer legs than the cellulosic guys would like. But I’m sure that’s not how it’ll get reported.

Though you do have to admit – our ethanol craze could make Mexican tortillas too expensive to eat? That’s kind of funny.

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

EEStor and Zenn Motors – What’s the real story?

As reported in the Energy Blog and Clean Break, EEStor, a perenially stealthy Kleiner Perkins backed energy storage startup (KP invested $3 mm in EEStor according to the Zenn filings), is reportedly slated to deliver product to Canadian electric car maker Zenn (“Zero Emission No Noise”) formerly Feel Good Cars Inc, in 2007. Zenn’s business model is to buy diesel neighborhood vehicles (low speed vehicles) from Microcar, and integrate into them their all electric power system based on EEStor storage technology.

Previous reporting from Clean Break about delays at EEStor last year here. More detailed on EEStor technology claims on the Energy Blog as well. This story has been well covered, but always worth a little reading.

From a recent Zenn annual report (available at Sedar.com if you search for Feel Good Cars), EEStor’s ceramic ultracapacitor is supposed to deliver for a 52.2 kwh device of 300 lbs 4541 cubic inches, and 3-6 minute charge time (a comment from the Energy Blog link above, that it’s really the cost, not performance, that is the unique claim here. I haven’t dug through the old Zenn reports to see if I can find their supply agreement and any pricing information). Zenn has licensed the technology from EEStor for certain markets for $2.5 mm ($.75 mm already paid, the rest subject to milestones).

The Zenn site claims it sent its first production vehicles to dealers in November (unclear if this includes EEStor technology or not – but it does not appear so). And no mention of the number – so we shall have to wait for the next filing.

The bad news for KP and EEStor afficianados, though, is that Zenn is not exactly highly capitalized for a vehicle startup. At Jun 06 it had a US$2.8 mm/year burn, $2.2 mm in bank, which along with a subsequently raised $1.5 mm, would give them about 9 months of cash on hand today. Barring of course, the ramp needed to actually put a vehicle in production, or needing to pay almost all that cash to EEStor to make the license payments.

Not exactly the kind of stellar first customer you expect from a KP backed startup, but EEStor has apparently always been about the big bet, and likely there is some story with Zenn history here that I don’t know. As usual, it’s the EEStor mystery keeping the blog tongues wagging.

Author 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 contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.