Peter Huber: Low-Confidence in Low-Carbon

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks ago, I wrote here that it is often a good thing to read and reflect upon intelligently-crafted opinions that differ from those you hold.

A good example is offered by the essay “Bound to Burn” by Peter Huber, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. In this thought-provoking piece, Huber makes the following interesting statements about the challenges to be faced in moving to a lower-carbon economy:

· “We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach….We don’t control the global supply of carbon.”

· “We no longer control the demand for carbon, either. The 5 billion poor – the other 80 percent – are already the main problem, no us. Collectively, they emit 20 percent more greenhouse gas than we do. We burn a lot more carbon individually, but they have a lot more children. Their fecundity has eclipsed our gluttony, and the gap is now widening fast.”

· “Might we instead manage to give the world something cheaper than carbon?….For the very poorest, this would mean beating the price of the free rain forest that they burn down to clear land to plant a subsistence crop. For the slightly less poor, it would mean beating the price of coal used to generate electricity at under 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

· “Fossil fuels are extremely cheap because geological forces happen to have created large deposits of these dense forms of energy in accessible places. Find a mountain of coal, and you can just shovel gargantuan amounts of energy into the boxcars. Shoveling wind and sun is much, much harder.”

· “Another argument commonly advanced is that getting over carbon will, nevertheless, be comparatively cheap, because it will get us over oil, too….But uranium aside, the most economical substitute for oil is, in fact, electricity generated with coal….By sharply boosting the cost of coal electricity, the war on carbon will make us more dependent on oil, not less.”

· “By pouring money into anything-but-carbon fuels, we will lower demand for carbon, making it even cheaper for the rest of the world to buy and burn. The rest will use cheaper energy to accelerate their own economic growth. Jobs will go where energy is cheap, just as they go where labor is cheap.”

· “If we’re truly worried about carbon, we must instead approach it as if the emissions originated in an annual eruption of Mount Krakatoa. Don’t try to persuade the volcano to sign a treaty promising to stop. Focus instead on what might be done to protect and promote the planet’s carbon sinks.”

· “Carbon zealots despise carbon-sinking schemes because, they insist, nobody can be sure that the sunk carbon will stay sunk. Yet everything they propose hinges on the assumption that carbon already sunk by nature in what are now hugely valuable deposits of oil and coal can be kept sunk by treaty and imaginary cheaper-than-carbon alternatives.”

By no means is Huber’s writing perfect: the essay is too long by half, runs a too-circuitous path with considerable redundancies, and doesn’t lead to a very satisfying or forceful conclusion.

Along the way, some of Huber’s snide asides are too pessimistic. As an example, he claims “there is no serious prospect of costs plummeting and performance soaring” for solar and wind energy, but there is ample evidence (and lots of activity funded by prominent venture capitalists) to dispute this assertion.

And, Huber’s clearly got some facts wrong. For instance, he talks of $500/ton carbon offsets and 15 cent/kwh wind energy. If you believe these far-too-high numbers, no wonder you reach conclusions that aren’t very favorable to low-carbon energy sources.

Huber has been wrong before. About ten years ago, he and Mark Mills launched the Digital Power Report, which was touting the emergence of advanced technologies in distributed generation and energy storage to revolutionize electricity supply. Although quite compelling and seemingly well-supported, the perspectives they put forth in their periodical were at best far premature – and less charitably, inaccurate or incorrect. After a run of a few years, Huber and Mills wound down the Digital Power Report, presumably because the world wasn’t turning out the way they were predicting.

But, I still think this latest work by Huber is a worthy contribution to the discussion. Most notably, Huber’s concluding call for much more focus on carbon sinks as a no-regrets approach is hard to dispute.

Huber is no dummy. Many of the points he makes along the way are logically sound, and ought to be factored into any strategy for moving towards a lower-carbon economy. As unpleasant as some of the concerns raised by Huber may be, they are nevertheless important to hear to develop a more compelling story that overcomes the objections to thereby mobilize more real movement (rather than just talk) towards a low-carbon world.

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

If Larry King Wrote My Column….

by Richard T. Stuebi

You heard it here first: the energy consultancy Douglas-Westwood is claiming in a May 11 white paper that “peak oil” may have already happened, as far back as October 2004, and that the oil price boom followed by economic collapse is indicative of how things will play out over the decades to come as oil supplies are unable to expand in the face of increasing demands. Stay tuned….

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) exposition WINDPOWER 2009 attracted 23,000 attendees to Chicago earlier this month. Glad AWEA didn’t ask me to do the headcount!….

Your stock portfolio isn’t the only thing that’s plummeted. According to a snippet in the March 2009 issue of Power, so too have PV prices fallen, by an estimated 10% since last October, with a further 15-20% decline expected in the coming year. Seems that, after several years of tight supplies, there’s now a glut in the market, due to collapsing demand in Europe….

Lots happening in DC these days. Looks like cap-and-trade requirements for carbon dioxide emissions are making real progress, embodied in the grandiosely called “The American Clean Energy and Security Act” (H.R. 2454) — better known as the Waxman-Markey bill. Cap-and-trade might even pass the House sometime this summer. Don’t think it’s going to be so easy in the Senate, though….

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has created ARPA-E, to fund the initial evaluation of new whiz-bang ideas for energy, just like DARPA’s been doing for out-of-the-box defense gizmos for decades. One can only imagine what’s going to come out of that shop in years to come….

It also appears that the e-DII concept floated by Brookings earlier this year, to create Clean Energy Innovation Centers mainly affiliated with universities, is gaining traction, now having been tucked into the Waxman-Markey bill. Wonder what the national research labs, such as NREL, NETL, ORNL, LBNL and other alphabet soupers, think of this?….

Speaking of NREL, hats off to Joel Serface, who just completed a year’s residence there on behalf of uber-VC firm Kleiner Perkins to help accelerate technology commercialization and spin-outs from the lab. A year in Golden/Boulder is hardly hardship duty, but as Joel indicates in a recent post at this very CleanTechBlog site, it wasn’t enough time to make much of a dent in the bureaucracy….

Congratulations to my former colleague Cathy Zoi, who’s been tabbed by President Obama to lead the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at DOE. Wish her good luck: she’ll need it!….

Let’s hear it for Joseph Romm, now a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. He calls ‘em like he sees ‘em. In a note in the May/June Technology Review, Romm claims “it’s not possible to have a sustained economic recovery that isn’t green” and calls our economic system a “global Ponzi scheme: investors (i.e., current generations) are paying themselves (i.e., you and me) by taking from future generations.” Whew!….

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce just released a study performed by Charles River Associates estimating 3 million jobs to lost in the U.S. by 2030 as a result of climate change legislation. Last year, the Chamber commissioned a similar study announcing a similar doom-and-gloom result. I’m not saying there won’t be job losses as a result of cap-and-trade – there certainly will – but I don’t think it’s going to be apocalyptic either….

Gotta hand it to Bob Galvin, former Chairman of Motorola. Not content to be retired, he has launched the Galvin Electricity Initiative to promote a “Perfect Power System” to help prevent future blackouts. In a sense, he’s trying to Galvinize the grid….

Last Wednesday evening, the Cleveland Chapter of the American Jewish Committee honored The Cleveland Foundation for its advanced energy initiative. Accepting the award on behalf of the Foundation was President and CEO Ronn Richard. A good time was had by all….

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

Gridlock Windblock

by Richard T. Stuebi

I don’t know if it’s a myth, but I’ve heard it said that a city’s suicide rates and average wind speeds are correlated. According to the claim, there may be something fundamental about human biology – perhaps within the inner ear – that makes windiness tend to drive people crazy.

Whether it’s true or not, it’s indisputable that, where there’s lots of wind, there tends to be few people. And, vice versa: where there’s a lot of people, there tends to be little wind.

A casual look at a U.S. wind map confirms this: most of the best wind resources are in the middle of the country, from West Texas in the South to the Dakotas in the North. If you’ve ever driven in any of these parts, you know that this is an endless expanse of desolate, sparsely-populated land.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also the case that, where there are few people, there tend to be few electric transmission lines. Logically, it follows then that there is little electric transmission capacity in the places where wind resources are greatest.

So, when parts of the Great Plains get touted as the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, it may be true, but imagine the need to build a big set of pipelines to get that useful wind energy to customers in Minneapolis, Chicago and points further East and South.

Ask any wind developer about their business prospects, and it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to transmission – or, more precisely, the lack of enough of it.

Look at the study “20% Wind Energy by 2030” released in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy to envision the implications of supplying 20% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030 from wind. Oh, there’s plenty of wind to actually supply the electricity, no problem. It’s just that tons of new transmission capacity would be needed.

And there’s the rub. It’s only marginally easier to site and build a new transmission line than a new nuclear powerplant. Transmission lines take many years and sometimes even decades to get done, due to a variety of NIMBY forces and overlapping regulatory regimes at the local, state and federal levels. And, they cost a fortune, easily a million dollars a mile, often considerably more.

So, that “pipeline” from Dakota to Chicago is on the order of a billion dollars of merely enabling infrastructure – and since there are many pinchpoints in the national power grid, that wind power probably couldn’t go much further than the terminating point anyway.

(From a technical standpoint, I’m massively oversimplifying here by comparing the power grid to a commodity pipeline, but the gist of the conclusion is essentially sound.)

Last year, most of the transmission grid operators from the Eastern half of the U.S. convened for the first time (that’s scary, isn’t it?) to develop what has come to be called the Joint Coordinated System Plan (JCSP) 2008. The JCSP report suggests that 10,000 new miles of transmission lines, at an investment of about $50 billion, will be needed east of the Rocky Mountains over the next 15 years just to meet expected load growth and current renewable portfolio standards on the books. Little of this required expansion is much beyond the drawing board.

The JCSP’s 20% wind scenario is even more daunting: 15,000 miles and $80 billion of capital. The map associated with this scenario is especially intriguing, with three major new hypothetical 800 kV DC corridors drawn right across Northeast Ohio to New York City. (No doubt, the nightmare of the August 2003 Northeastern blackout still sends nightmares through these transmission planners.)

Sorry, I just don’t see this happening in my lifetime.

In passing, the authors point out that neither energy efficiency nor offshore wind resources were investigated to alleviate these transmission requirements. My guess is that inclusion of these possibilities would change the results – a lot.

Significant penetration of energy efficiency could probably seriously reduce the quantity of new wind generation required to make up 20% of the region’s supply. Instead of nearly 230 gigawatts (!) of projected new wind capacity in the Eastern U.S. by 2024, my guess is that concerted exploitation of cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities could cut that investment requirement in half.

As for the 100+ gigawatts of new wind turbines in the Eastern U.S., it might be cheaper overall to put higher-cost installations offshore in the Great Lakes and in the Atlantic to avoid facing the perhaps impossible prospect of building lots of expensive new transmission lines to import onshore wind from the Great Plains.

The inability to expand transmission is a major impediment to the onshore wind business, and while it might be mitigated (slightly) with some regulatory reform, I don’t see it going away. Offshore wind may have its own development challenges, but for those in the wind industry, going offshore should become an increasingly interesting way to skirt the gridlock problem.

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

The Energy Policy Act of 2008

by Richard T. Stuebi

Betcha didn’t know that there was an Energy Policy Act of 2008, did you? Well, you won’t find any bill of that name. But, the passage of last week’s appropriately titled “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008″ is almost tantamount to an energy bill.

The Senate prepared a nice summary of the energy-related provisions that were stuffed into the bill during the chaotic process to get something passed promptly that would reassure the financial markets. I have yet to review all of the provisions, but it’s clear that many of them have favorable implications for a variety of clean energy technologies, inluding wind, solar, energy efficiency, hybrid vehicles, biofuels, and smart grid.

It’s nice that there has been at least one small silver lining to the dark cloud of financial implosions in the past few weeks.

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.

Inspired Windspire

by Cristina Foung
(writing from West Coast Green)

My favorite green product of the week: the Mariah Power Windspire

What is it?
The Mariah Power Windspire is a vertical axis “plug-n-produce wind power appliance.” It’s only 30 feet tall, with a two foot radius. It’s rated for winds up to 100 MPH and (based on initial testing) should produce about 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year in 12 MPH average winds.

Why is it better?
One of the coolest things about the Windspire is how quiet it is. Unlike horizontal axis turbines, the Windspire spins at only two or three times the speed of the wind. Mariah Power estimates that the Windspire has a maximum noise level of about 45 dB (compared with 65 to 100 dB levels of other turbines). To put that in context, 40 dB is like a quiet library.

It’s also really easy to install. The Windspire is on what they call a hinged monopole. All you need to do to get it up and running is pour the concrete base, assemble the unit, and pull the poll up vertically (apparently it’s been done with just a standard pick-up truck). This design saves you from having to use cranes…and that means you save money big time.

You do have to make sure that your Windspire is perfectly upright in order to achieve maximum efficiency and they don’t recommend roof mounting as the unit is heavy and does produce some vibration. But all in all, it sounds like a solid unit for residential application. Thus far, they’ve installed 30 to 40 units and are looking to ramp up production next month to 100 units and hopefully come November, they’ll be rolling 500 off the line every month.

Where can you find it?
You can reserve a Windspire for $4,995 from Mariah Power. Or if you’re interested in learning more (and you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area), stop by their booth at West Coast Green tomorrow to check out some videos and a fun little model.

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

There’s water in dem dar clouds!

With seawater covering seventy-one per cent of the Earth’s surface, at an average depth of four kilometers, and another 1,000,000,000,000,000 liters of water in the first kilometer alone of the earth’ atmosphere, water could hardly be described as a rare element. Its more a case of ‘water water everywhere and not a drop to drink‘. I’m going to highlight a few different ways in which renewable energy can be used to produce drinking water.
One of the readers last week commented that use of wind turbines or wave energy to power desalination would be a great idea. Well in Perth Australia they are doing exactly that. Perth Australia has now established one of the largest desalination plants outside of the Middle East and set up a wind farm to power it. Electricity for the desalination plant, which has an overall 24MW requirement, comes from the new 80MW Emu Downs Wind Farm, located 30km east of the town of Cervantes. (anyone else see the irony here… Miguel Cervantes, …Don Quixote, Windmills?)

Speaking of windmills, another Australian, Max Whisson, an energetic septuagenarian inventor, believes he can solve the current water crisis with his Water Windmill invention, a unique technology to extract moisture from the atmosphere. The concept is to use windmills to cool air and extract water directly from the air and was partly inspired from an African beetle, Stenocara, who manages to be completely water sufficient by standing on his head in the desert and using cooling plates on his body to extract water vapor from the air. Here is a link to a video
showing the wind turbine in operation. The “Whisson Windmill” will make it possible to get adequate water anywhere at any time, drought or no drought” says Dr. Whisson. Given that between 1% and 4% of the earths atmosphere is water vapor, he may be onto something.
Max also had another concept he called a ‘Water Road’ which Nick Bruce featured on his podcast, the CleanTech Show. In the “Water Road”, seawater is transported inland in black pipes covered with Perspex; solar energy heats up the water at it travels through the pipes to 70-80 C. Water vapor is produced and condensed several hundred kilometers inland to provide water for irrigation. The genius of both of his ideas is the direct conversion of primary energy to the desired end result which is pure water. They are very early stage, conceptual as far as I can tell.

Another technology being developed by the New Mexico State University uses low grade heat and a vacuum to run a distillation process. The system can convert saltwater to pure drinking water on a round-the-clock basis – and its energy needs are so low it could be powered by the waste heat of an air conditioning system. At the risk of losing you, here’s the 101 of how it works. The system consists of two 30-foot vertical tubes – one rising from a tank of saline water and the other from a tank of pure water – which are connected by a horizontal tube. The natural effect of gravity creates a vacuum in the air space above the water column. The lower pressure in the headspace causes water to evaporate at a lower temperature, (this is why water boils at lower temperatures on top of a mountain). Then they use waste heat, for example from an air conditioning system, to heat up the saline water (e.g. seawater or brackish groundwater) to 10 -150 C more than the freshwater. Water vapor from the salt water column travels across the horizontal bridge and condenses in the freshwater column.
Commenting on its energy efficiency, one of the inventors, Nirmala Khandan, an environmental engineering professor in NMSU’s Department of Civil Engineering said “That’s the trick of this vacuum, we don’t have to boil the water like normal distillation, so you can use low-grade heat like solar energy or waste heat from a diesel engine or some other source of waste heat.”
So there you have it. Both energy and water are present in abundance on the planet and if we can use our ingenuity, we may be able to harness and access both in a sustainable manner.

Paul O’Callaghan is the founding CEO of the Clean Tech development consultancy O2 Environmental. Paul is the author of numerous papers environmental technologies and lectures on Environmental Protection technology at Kwantlen University College. He is chair of a technical committee on decentralized wastewater management in British Columbia, is a Director with Ionic Water Technologies and an industry expert reviewer for Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

A Boon(e) for Wind

by Richard T. Stuebi

It’s been about a year since T. Boone Pickens announced that his investment firm BP Capital Management (note that BP stands for “Boone Pickens”, and thus the company bears no relation to the oil behemoth BP) planned to invest about $6 billion to install the world’s largest windfarm of nominally 4,000 megawatts in western Texas.

When a man like T. Boone Pickens — a billionaire, an oilman, an ardent capitalist — makes such a play, the corporate and finance worlds take notice: clearly, wind isn’t just for tree-huggers anymore.

Sure, Pickens is into wind so that he can make a lot of money, but now he’s taking even bigger stances. In early July, Pickens announced the so-called “Pickens Plan” — a massive lobbying campaign targeted towards DC with the key theme of reducing America’s dependence on oil. And, he wants YOU! to join his campaign.

Pickens — remember, he’s a self-described oilman — says that he thinks that oil production has peaked, and that “this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” For Pickens, the answer is: renewable energy. “If we create a new renewable energy network, we can break our addiction to foreign oil.”

It must be pointed out that, at least until vehicles fundamentally fueled somehow by electricity are widely in use, adding more wind energy to the U.S. supply base is going to displace almost no oil consumption. That said, with a move towards plug-in cars (hybrids or pure electrics), or hydrogen-powered vehicles, electricity from wind and other renewables can (someday) achieve what Pickens dreams of.

In any event, it’s hard to fault anyone who wants to elevate the importance of the energy debate in national politics. If he wants to spend some of his money not on wind turbines but on other forms of hot air, more power to him.

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. (Note that Mr. Stuebi has no professional relationship whatsoever with BP — either the oil company or Mr. Pickens’ firm.)


by Richard T. Stuebi

I have the pleasure of writing this posting from one of the most beautiful places on the planet, Hawaii, where I am lucky enough to travel regularly to visit family.

In 1995, while lounging on the Big Island, I decided to shift my career away from conventional energy towards alternative energy. I saw what was then considered a big windfarm at South Point — 37 Mitsubishi 250 kw turbines. Many of the hulking machines were not turning, even though the wind was consistently strong, no doubt because of mechanical difficulties. Still, I was intrigued, and foresaw the need and possibilities for renewable energy — especially in places like Hawaii that rely upon imported oil for virtually all of its energy needs. I had just been reading The Prize, Daniel Yergin’s awesome history of the oil industry, and it wasn’t hard to conclude that we as a society needed to move off of oil for a variety of environmental, economic, and geopolitical reasons.

Every time I return to Hawaii, I take measure of how much renewable energy has been installed. Solar, wind and bioenergy technology and economics have improved considerably, and of course oil prices have skyrocketed. The local utility companies, owned by Hawaiian Electric Industries (NYSE: HE), have actively pursued collaborative integrated resource planning efforts to engage the public in shifting to a more diversified and cleaner energy supply.

And yet, 13 years after I first took note of the situation and opportunity, oil still dominates Hawaii energy supply, even though there’s been significant additions of renewable energy. Solar panels are nowhere near ubiquitous. A few new windfarms have been installed, but considerable potential remains untapped, stymied presumably by aesthetic issues. With its history of sugar production, biofuels should do well here — but they aren’t much of a factor so far. Even the geothermal resources associated with the volcanic activity is not fully exploited.

If renewable energy can’t make massive/rapid inroads in Hawaii, where can it do so? It seems to me that the Aloha State represents an excellent laboratory for CleanTech Revolutionaries to study the barriers to widescale advanced energy technology/infrastructure adoption — and more importantly, how to overcome them. At minimum, Hawaii represents a cautionary tale of how hard and slow it will be for CleanTech to change our world.

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

"A Special Report on the Future of Energy" by Mother Jones

by Richard T. Stuebi

I’ve never been a fan of the periodical Mother Jones – it’s always seemed a bit too “alternative” for me. That said, I was recently given a copy of the May/June 2008 issue – a special report on the future of energy – and was surprised by the quality and balance of the articles.

I particularly found “The Seven Myths of Energy Independence” by Paul Roberts (author of The End of Oil) to be a compelling read. To him, the seven myths are:

1. Energy Independence Is Good
2. Ethanol Will Set Us Free
3. Conservation Is a “Personal Virtue”
4. We Can Go It Alone
5. Some Geek in Silicon Valley Will Fix the Problem
6. Cut Demand and the Rest Will Follow
7. Once Bush Is Gone, Change Will Come

I think many advocates are well-advised to really reflect on #7. Bush is unquestionably the bête-noire of all things environmental, but he’s only a part of the problem – and arguably not even the biggest part. Congress and the entrenched interests completely stymie good energy/environmental policy. A new President will help, but won’t be a simple cure-all, for what ails us in the energy and environmental arenas.

Which brings me to another article in the issue: “Congress’ Top 10 Fossil Fools” by Chris Mooney, profiling the “foes and thwarters of renewable energy”. In his list, they are:

1. Senator Pete Dominici (R-NM)
2. The Southern Company (NYSE: SO)
3. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
4. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)
5. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) and “Coal-State Dems”
6. Representative John Dingell (D-MI)
7. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
8. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
9. Senator John Thune (R-SD)
10. Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

Probably no surprise that there are more R’s than D’s on the list, but I was really surprised at the omission of Senator James Imhofe (R-OK), and by the inclusion of McCain. Apparently, the League of Conservation Voters gave the impending Republican Presidential nominee a rating of 0 (that’s right, zero) last year “because McCain missed every single environmentally relevant vote”, including ones in which he could have been the tie-breaker to overcome a filibuster on the 2007 clean-energy bill. Alas, what could have been…

Other good articles in the issue include:

“The Greenback Effect” by Bill McKibben on why markets aren’t necessarily antithetical to the environment, but can be the driving force for environmental solutions.
“Breaking the Gridlock” by Jennifer Kahn on how the smart-grid could be the major enabler for energy efficiency.
“The Nuclear Option” by Judith Lewis – a reasonably fair and balanced view of the pros and cons of nuclear energy, without the expected hyperbole.
“Tar Wars” by Josh Harkinson, which paints a not-at-all pretty picture of what’s happening to the landscape in Northern Alberta as the tar sands are mined to make oil.
“Put a Tyrant in Your Tank” by Joshua Kurlantzick, profiling the bad guys leading many of the major oil producing nations – who are financed every time you fill up at the pump.

Lots of interesting nuggets to be found in the sidebar boxes too. For instance, did you know that 30% of the electricity supply at the infamous Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is provided by wind turbines?

Well worth spending $5.95 at the newsstand, pick up the May/June 2008 Mother Jones.

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.

Liquid (Green) Goodness for the 21 and Over

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: VeeV Açaí Spirit

What is it?
VeeV is a liqueur (yep, in the US you have to be 21+ to drink it) made from açaí berries
– these berries come from the Amazon and are known as a superfood full of nutrients and antioxidents (far higher than levels found in pomegranates or blueberries, although those are delicious too).

Why is it better?
First of all, if you’re going to drink, you might as well drink right. VeeV is made from 100% all natural ingredients (besides açaí, it’s got prickly pear and acerola cherry in there). It’s quite tasty straight up or mixed with other liquid organic treats (I’m a fan of adding a little lime juice and a few mint leaves, myself).

But more importantly, from berry to bottle, VeeV is green. The company ensures sustainable harvesting of the berries through the Sustainable Açaí Project (founded by the Sambazon, the makers of a delicious açaí smoothie). VeeV donates $1 from every bottle to the organization which goes to the farming communities, organic certification, and ensuring “wild harvesting” to preserve the surrounding rainforest biodiversity.

VeeV also offsets their carbon footprint with Climate Clean. VeeV’s distillery (which also distills Square One vodka) is the only one in the United States to be powered in part with renewable wind energy, not to mention VeeV’s distillation process uses 200% less energy than a traditional pot still. The company is also a member of a variety of social responsibility organizations, including Business for Social Responsibility and Co-op America, and they utilize a variety of recycled materials such as glass for their bottles and post-consumer waste for their shipping boxes.

Where can you find it?
Check out the VeeV website to find a retailer in Los Angeles, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Napa Valley. If you’re outside of California, you can order it online for $34.99 from Mel and Rose or for $68 from 1-877 Spirits.

And if beer or wine (or juice) is more your thing, check out “Organic, Local, Solar Powered Booze” over at the Green Home Huddle.

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

The Answer May Be Blowing in the Wind

by Cristina Foung

My favorite green product of the week: Southwest Windpower Skystream 3.7 Wind Turbine

What is it?
The Skystream 3.7 is a residential wind generator that hooks into grid-tied homes. It has an estimated energy production of 400 kWh per month (at 12 MPH or 5.4 m/s). Its rotor measures 12 feet and towers are available ranging from 34 to 70 feet.

Why is it better?
The wind industry, ranging from offshore wind projects to residential turbines, has been steadily growing. Southwest Windpower manufactures the Skystream 3.7 which is the first all-inclusive wind generator with controls and an inverter built right in.

For the average single family home, it can produce about half of all electricity needs (or course that depends both on how much electricity you use and the average wind speeds in your area). But that’s not too shabby in terms of reducing your carbon footprint.

I also hear Skystreams are quiet, easy to install (or easy to work with dealers to get them installed), run in very low winds, and are easy to maintain. All good things, for sure. I can’t wait to stop by Robin Wilson’s house in San Francisco to see hers in action.

Where can you find it?
Southwest Windpower has a network of dealers worldwide that retail the Skystream 3.7. See the website for information on where to buy. A complete ready-to-install package with a 34 foot tower costs $8,725.00.

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

The Increasing Ubiquity of Cleantech

by Richard T. Stuebi

I have subscribed to Forbes for over a decade because, unlike many other popular business journals, it seems to have a genuine voice — even if I sometimes disagree with it.

On a plane flight from Cleveland to L.A. last Thursday night, I read the March 10, 2008 issue, and was amazed at how pervasive cleantech has become — even in its stoutly conservative pages:

It was the SKF ad that really floored me, making me take notice just how ubiquitous cleantech is truly becoming. I’ve never seen SFK advertise anywhere before. Just which decision-makers is SKF trying to reach with this placement in a mass-market magazine?

Cleantech is seemingly everywhere. True, some of it may be “greenwash”, but a lot of it is real, and it is growing.

Then I went back to reading the magazine, and realized we still have a ways to go: on p. 19, Steve Forbes writes yet another editorial continuing to stoutly deny climate change. I laugh and shake my head: some things never change.

Maybe Mr. Forbes should take better note of what the major corporations showing up in the pages of his magazine are actually doing to make money. After all, isn’t Forbes the paragon of capitalism? If companies are rushing to cleantech in droves, shouldn’t Forbes take heed of what the market is leading these companies to do to increase their profitable growth?

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.

Powering the Planet

by Richard T. Stuebi

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

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

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

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

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

‘Nuf sed.

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

2007 Roundup

by Richard T. Stuebi

As has become my custom, with the year drawing to a close, I now look in the rear-view mirror and try to distill what I see. In no particular order, here are my top ten reflections on 2007:

1. Popping of the ethanol bubble. Not long ago, it seemed like anyone could get an ethanol plant financed. Now, no-one will touch them. Why? Corn prices have roughly doubled, and producers can’t make money selling ethanol into the fuel markets when having to pay so much for feedstock. Along with the increasing realization that public policies so far to build ethanol markets has largely been for the financial benefit of big agri-businesses such as Arthur Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM), ethanol has now become a dirty word to many. Progress on cellulosic ethanol technologies may not happen fast enough to redeem seriously diminished public perceptions about ethanol generally.

2. Continuing photovoltaics bubble. For illustration of this phenomenon, let’s take a look at First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR). Nothing whatsoever against the company; indeed, they make a very fine product. It’s just that their share price has increased by a factor of 10 — from $27 to nearly $280 — in one year. At current levels, the company’s market cap is $20 billion, at a P/E ratio of over 200. I know the solar market is hot, but geez, c’mon. A 10x return in one year on a publicly-traded stock is simply not supposed to happen.

3. Increasing costs for wind energy. For many years, wind energy has become more competitive, as the industry matured and production efficiencies were tained. However, with increasing prices for virtually all commodities (e.g., steel, copper, plastics) and a weakening dollar against the Euro (note that most turbines are made in Europe), the economics of wind are unfortunately moving in the wrong direction right now.

4. Gore as rock star. First, an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth. Then, the Nobel Peace Prize. To top it off, becoming a partner at top-notch venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. What next for the what-could-have-been 43rd President? Whatever it is, at least the cleantech sector now has its iconic poster-child.

5. Cheers to Google. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has gotten into the cleantech game in a big way by creating an initiative with the mission to develop and launch renewable energy technologies that produce electricity more cheaply than coal. Once that aim is achieved, renewable energy will rapidly become ubiquitous, and we really will start getting on a path of serious carbon emission reductions.

6. Death of the incandescent lightbulb. Early in 2007, Australia led the way to ban incandescents, to force a shift to more energy efficient lighting technologies (fluorescents for now, perhaps eventually LEDs). Amazingly quickly, the U.S. followed suit, passing an energy bill by year-end that effectively phases out incandescents by 2014. This should have a major energy efficiency impact, and yield a big cut in greenhouse gas emissions, in a relatively short amount of time.

7. Tightening CAFE — finally! After decades without change, the U.S. Congress finally acted to impose more stringent corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for auto/truck manufacturers. The main milestone is a 35 mpg combined car/light-truck standard by 2020. For the first time, trucks are now part of the CAFE equation, closing the loophole that helped propel SUVs to prominence. Strengthening CAFE is probably the most important thing that American politicians could do to actually make a meaningful dent in reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

8. Uncertain future for coal. On the one hand, MIT released a major study entitled “The Future of Coal” that compels a radical R&D push to commercialize technologies for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), underscoring the reality that coal-fired electricity generation is going to be a major factor for a long time. On the other hand, I don’t see any such coal R&D push actually happening, nor even that much progress on CCS. A recent statement by the U.S. Department of Energy concerning its oft-touted FutureGen program for piloting CCS technology indicates a possible retrenchment. Meanwhile, Pacificorp — which is owned by Warren Buffett’s legendary holding company Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRKA and BRKB) — recently cancelled a coal CCS project in Wyoming, with a spokesman quoted as saying that “coal projects are no longer viable.” Ouch.

9. Oil at $100/barrel. Starting the year at about $60/barrel and then promptly falling to near $50, oil prices increased steadily from February to November, reaching the high-90’s. I suspect we’ll see $100/barrel sometime in 2008; I don’t suspect we’ll see oil below $40/barrel very much anymore. Even at prices not long ago considered absolutely stratospheric, it appears that there’s been very little customer/political backlash so far: the world doesn’t seem to be ending for most Americans.

10. Serious dollars betting on energy technology. There’s been a lot written about the big surge in venture capital invested in new energy deals. I find even more intriguing the increasing amount of corporate and public sector investment in new energy R&D. As perhaps the most prominent example, in the U.K., the government has pledged up to $1 billion over the next 10 years in matching support to private investments in the Energy Technologies Institute, which includes the participation of such leading corporate lights as BP (NYSE: BP), Shell (NYSE: RDS.A and RDS.B), Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), Electricite de France (Euronext: EDF), E.ON (Frankfurt: E.ON), and Rolls-Royce (London: RR.L). That’s a lot of money and corporate weight in the mix. I can’t imagine that such an initiative will produce nothing of use.

Best wishes to you and yours for 2008. Let’s hope it’s a good year, even better than the one wrapping up.

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.

Offshore Wind Report

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, I traveled to Berlin with a delegation representing Northern Ohio’s Regional Energy Development Task Force to attend the European Offshore Wind Conference and Exhibition, put on by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). We visited to learn about the status of offshore wind energy technologies, as part of the Task Force’s assessment of the proposed Great Lakes Wind Energy Center, which is envisioned to accelerate the development and emergence of offshore wind in the United States.

With offshore currently just a tiny niche of the booming wind industry, I expected the audience to be on the order of 500 people. The impressive turnout of an announced 2000 is a clear testament to the vast future potential offered by offshore wind energy. But, we also knew that, at present, offshore wind is still very much an uphill push to accomplish. Indeed, the lack of any booth at the show by GE (NYSE: GE), who had been until relatively recently prominently touting their offshore project at Arklow Ireland, indicates some retrenchment by companies with early experience in the waters. The conference validated the technical – and hence economic – challenges related to offshore wind, and therefore some fruitful directions for further pursuit.

For me, the “a-ha” moment – perhaps it should be described as a “duh” moment – was really seeing that offshore wind is at least as much about offshore technologies as it is about wind technologies. Yes, it is true that significant advancements are necessary for major components (such as blades and gearboxes) as turbines get larger for offshore projects. Also, there are many interesting possibilities for innovative turbine designs that dramatically depart from the standard approach (e.g., two-blade downwind) when one considers offshore deployment.

But the real drama of the maturation of the offshore wind sector is now being, and for the foreseeable future will almost certainly be, played out under or on the water. Note that offshore wind activity to date has been driven by the turbine manufacturers, not highly populated with marine engineers nor hugely capitalized for marine R&D. As a result, the wind turbine companies pushing for offshore wind have leaned heavily upon the one industry in which offshore deployment of above-surface infrastructure has become commonplace: oil/gas exploration/production. Today’s approaches to wind tower erection and turbine installation are thus heavily based on those used for oil/gas platforms, employing massive custom-tailored ships and cranes working on the seas.

Such installation approaches work, for sure. But the problem is cost. Too much of the cost structure of an offshore wind project relates to installation logistics. Note that each oil/gas platform yields huge revenue streams: a platform might produce ten thousand barrels of oil a day, which at today’s prices implies over $300 million per year. In contrast, each wind turbine – even really big ones of 5 megawatts or more – represents a much smaller revenue potential, maybe $2 million per year. The expensive installation techniques of the former just won’t be viable on the latter.

This is reflected in the data. According to a presentation made by the consulting firm Douglas-Westwood, the installed cost of an onshore wind project is projected to increase from an actual cost of Euro 1540/kw in 2003 to a forecasted cost of Euro 2940/kw by 2013. For an improving technology in a growing marketplace, this cost trend is clearly opposite of what should be expected.

Of course, there are many legitimate factors for such cost increases. As explained well in a presentation by the leading wind turbine manufacturer Vestas (Copenhagen: VWS.CO), the input costs of virtually all commodities relevant to wind installation – from steel to shipping – have risen substantially in the past few years, beyond the control of any player in the marketplace. And, given that the wind sector is sizzling hot, all companies up and down the supply chain are in a seller’s market, and are able to charge highly profitable prices – arguably for the first time in the history of the industry.

However, also stated by Vestas was that players in the offshore wind industry have learned from their previous projects that they substantially underestimated actual costs and implementation risks (e.g., bad weather or heavy seas limiting installation productivities), and are now building “more realistic” contingency cushions into the economic projections of upcoming projects.

By my interpretation, the current players in the offshore wind industry are on the one hand admitting that the technical path chosen to date for offshore installation has become much too costly, while on the other hand are nevertheless committing to pursuing that same path with more projects and merely accepting substantially higher costs as an implication.

It is also evident that the offshore industry has largely cleaved into two sets of companies: wind technology developers/manufacturers and marine engineers/contractors. At Berlin, a few exhibitors were tackling the offshore turbine/installation challenges holistically – see Blue H as an example – but none of the major wind turbine players seem to be following suit. Instead, their approach was to extend/refine their onshore turbine products for offshore deployment, and look to marine engineers to solve the installation challenges separately.

I therefore spy the opportunity for someone to lead the way in developing fundamentally cheaper philosophies and techniques for offshore wind installation, and I suspect that this may (only?) be enabled by integrating the engineering challenges of both the turbine and offshore deployment into new solutions offering substantially lower cost for the overall system of turbine/tower/foundation. There’s simply got to be a better way – and if so, great rewards are for the taking.

Let’s see how the industry intends to make a meaningful dent in reducing installation costs at EWEA’s next biannual offshore wind show in Stockholm in September 2009.

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.

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the spirit (though not the length) of a back-to-school book report, I dedicate this column to reviewing three energy-related books that I read in the last few weeks as the dog-days of summer wound to a conclusion.

Cape Wind

I first read Cape Wind by Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb, which profiles the eponymous offshore windfarm in Cape Cod, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the mischief that has so far thoroughly stymied its progress.

The story makes just about everyone involved in the local, state and federal political arena look awful – petty, elitist, short-sighted, unprincipled. The list of bad guys is headed prominently by Senator Ted Kennedy (of course) and Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, but less obviously also includes players such as Senator John Warner of Virginia and Congressman Don Young of Alaska. (Alaska! You are absolutely right to ask: “Why Alaska?”) The only person emerging from the story smelling like a rose is Cape Wind’s lead developer, Jim Gordon, who is portrayed as truly heroic.

The book reads quickly and well, and is getting good reviews, even from usually not-so-wind-friendly places like the Wall Street Journal. However, I am concerned that the book comes off a little too much like an in-house PR piece for the developer of the windfarm: I put the book down sincerely questioning the authors’ objectivity. The tale seems so one-sided, it’s hard to believe that it could be really accurate. If it is, our political system is in dire shape, and our prospects for good energy/environmental policy are dim.

The Grid

I most recently finished The Grid by Phillip F. Schewe, a very readable history of the electricity industry. This was the first text I have found that, in less than 300 pages, spans the mad-scientist inventors Edison and Westinghouse and Tesla, through less-known but equally pivotal industry giants such as holding company progenitor Samuel Insull and TVA legend David Lilienthal, into the turbulent days of Enron and deregulation.

The book does a particularly good job reconstructing the 1965 Northeast blackout (not much different from the 2003 version), touring the reader through massive nuclear (Indian Point) and fossil steam (Ravenswood) powerplants, and accompanying a distribution crew on a routine but not-to-be-taken-lightly line repair job in Idaho. Most interestingly, Schewe weaves in contemporary commentary and observations from social critic Lewis Mumford, whose writing excerpts offer an insightful countering perspective questioning the contribution of energy technology to the fundamental advancement of humanity.

The author’s writing style was not to my taste (for reasons that alas I can’t pinpoint), and I think the electricity industry still deserves a more gripping seminal treatment comparable to the gift Daniel Yergin gave us of the oil industry in The Prize, but until then, this will suffice pretty well.

The Long Emergency

In between, I read a thought-provoking but highly disturbing tome entitled The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler. Its premise is not unique: peak oil + climate change = end of the industrial era = return to pre-industrialism. Indeed, one of my recent posts covered this very topic.

However, Kunstler’s writing is incredibly powerful, with pithy snippets about every other line, and some of the directions he explores are truly distinctive. For instance, he argues that mankind’s one-shot exploitation of the non-renewable fossil energy inheritance is but a reflection of the entropy mechanism inherent to our universe (as described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics), and that escalating energy extraction/use only accelerates the rate at which our world winds down.

Kunstler is somewhat hopeful about the ability of the human species to adapt and survive, though not in its current social structures and industries/economies, and not at anywhere near current population levels. And, he is clearly pessimistic about the transition: basically, Kunstler doesn’t think there’s enough time or enough remaining energy to avoid cataclysmic change characterized by mass famine, economic depression, drought, migration, war, etc.

While I appreciate Kunstler’s wisdom and expansive disparate set of knowledge and insight, I’m not totally sold on some of his conclusions. As an example, as long as the amount of solar radiation provides more than enough energy to the Earth’s surface to supply all of mankind’s energy needs (with a few orders of magnitude to spare), I believe there ought to logically be a way to maintain a standard of living similar to what we have now – it will just cost more. I don’t think Kunstler has some of his facts straight, which always causes me to be a little shy about buying everything a writer tries to sell. For certain, Kunstler makes a lot of assertions that are not backed up solidly by facts, therefore exposing his arguments to question.

Unlike Kunstler, I’m somewhat optimistic that the combination of technological innovation and market forces (under a big assumption: that policy allows market forces to work, prices energy appropriately highly, and doesn’t provide incumbents huge protective barriers against the impact of innovation) can allow us to colonize a very attractive future. Kunstler doesn’t seem to incorporate an economic view in his thinking, whereas I believe energy prices with increasing scarcity and the resulting downward force in demand will ameliorate (though not eliminate) the pain of transition. However, I admit that it would require a huge allocation of global economic capacity towards the rapid implementation of a new energy paradigm to completely smooth the transition, and present markets with their pricing signals and investment incentives aren’t making that happen as urgently as it probably should.

Therefore, ultimately, I agree with Kunstler that the ending of the conventional energy age will be extremely painful for many constituencies, who are blindly accelerating into the wall with voracious consumption. I agree that exurbia lifestyles spreading across the U.S., especially across the southern half of our country, will someday be viewed as a cul-de-sac of history, burdening us with enormous social costs due to the massive infrastructure investments that will become untenable. I agree that life will tend to become more localized, less materialistic, simpler.

In summary, I tend to agree with Kunstler on the general direction and trajectory of our collective situation, but he and I do differ in degree regarding the likely pace and magnitude of the impending discontinuities.

All three of the above books get my “thumb’s up”, but if I had to recommend just one, it would be The Last Emergency. Read it and see. Or, actually, read it and think.

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.

LIPA-Suction: A Shift in the Future of U.S. Offshore Wind

by Richard T. Stuebi

This past week, it was reported (for instance, see article in Newsday) that the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), or at least its Chairman Kevin Law, was in favor of pulling the plug on the 140 megawatt wind project being developed just south of Jones Beach by FPL Energy, a subsidiary of FPL Group (NYSE: FPL). This development came in the wake of a report by Pace Global Energy Services commissioned by LIPA on the potential economics of the proposed offshore project.

Meanwhile, here in Cleveland, the Great Lakes Regional Energy Development Task Force continues in the opposite direction, committed to exploring the potential for offshore wind in Lake Erie. As reported in an article in The Plain-Dealer, the Task Force announced that it will begin negotiating a contract with a project team, led by the wind developer juwi international, to conduct a feasibility study for an offshore wind research center to include a small (5-20 megawatt) demonstration project.

Why is Long Island going one way and Cleveland going the other? On Long Island, the offshore wind project was solely about economics, as the region needed more low-cost kilowatt-hours. When it appeared that the costs of the offshore wind project were going to be higher than expected, LIPA got cold feet.

In contrast, Cleveland knows that a small offshore wind project will NOT be an economic way to generate electricity. There aren’t enough economies of scale in offshore wind to make it economic today in most places in the U.S., and especially in the Midwest, no matter how much the project is expanded. Because there’s no point in making a huge offshore project, Cleveland is aiming for a project just big enough to matter in addressing the real needs of the future of offshore windfarms.

Cleveland wants to tackle offshore wind so that it can identify — and then overcome — the technological challenges and institutional barriers that make offshore wind so expensive today. By overcoming the factors that make offshore wind currently uneconomic, Cleveland seeks to become a leading center of offshore wind R&D. In subsequent years, when offshore wind does become economic (as offshore wind technology improves, the best onshore wind sites are exploited, and conventional energy costs further increase), this can lead Cleveland to becoming a major hub of offshore wind manufacturing and services for the Great Lakes and possibly beyond.

In short, Cleveland aims to build an offshore wind support/deployment industry in the decades to come, just like the offshore oil/gas industries that have bloomed in Houston and New Orleans when they led the way in tackling the challenges of offshore E&P in the Gulf of Mexico a few decades ago. The offshore wind effort in Cleveland is thus an economic development initiative, not an economic power generation project.

With Long Island’s retrenchment, and the continuing travails in Cape Cod related to the Cape Wind project, Cleveland can step in to fill the leadership vacuum in offshore wind. It takes guts to be a contrarian, but that’s where the biggest rewards lie. It’s not going to be easy, but in Cleveland, most people recognize that easy answers aren’t adequate to bring the region back to economic health.

Given their favorable situations, Long Island and Cape Cod can probably afford to be cautious, prudent, skeptical. Given the economic challenges here, leaders in Cleveland know that boldness is required. So, pending the results of the team’s feasibility study, ahoy to offshore wind.

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.

Big, Green Power is Flowing – But Where Are the Power Lines?

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Stuart Hemphill, the Director of Renewable and Alternative Power for Southern California Edison (SCE), the power company for Los Angeles and Southern California, on SCE’s activities and views of renewable and green power. SoCal Edison is a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX). Stuart has a direct team of 40 staff working entirely on developing and managing new renewable generation, not including the teams across the company that support from legal, operations, transmission, and marketing.

One of big challenges for SCE in building its renewables portfolio is that even though they already stand at 17% of total generation from renewables (which Stuart touted as placing SCE the farthest ahead of any US utility), customer demand in SoCal is growing rapidly – 4 of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the country are in SCE service territory.

But SCE is working to do its part. They have been the leading purchaser of renewable power for the last 20 years and don’t intend to relinquish the crown any time soon. In 2006 they purchased 13 Billion kwh of electricity, about 17% of their needs. More than half of this green power is geothermal, with solar and wind making up the rest. 50% of the power was produced locally in Southern California itself, with most of the rest from Northern California, and the remainder from surrounding states.

The geothermal resources that make up the bulk of their green power come from three regions: The Geysers in Northern California – primarily developed by Calpine; The Salton Sea (better known for its status as a massive migratory bird stopping place and an environmental headache) – primarily developed by Ormat (NYSE:ORA) and CalEnergy; and Eastern California/Western Nevada in the Mammoth Lakes region – primarily developed by Caithness Energy. The wind power comes from all over the state.

In Stuart’s mind, the biggest issue is not supply of green power but transmission. He says they have plenty of contracts in the pipeline. But it takes roughly 7 years to permit and build major transmission lines, and the California RPS itself is less than 7 years old.

So even though SCE has several big lines proposed and under review, he considers it a major limitation to rolling out green power plants. This makes sense, as by their nature renewable power plants have to be built where the ground is hot, the wind blows, or the sun shines, not where the people and the transmission lines are. He reiterated, permitting is a real challenge.

As an example, SCE has a $1.8 billion transmission project to Tehachapi just north of L.A. which has finally received initial approval. They have a 1,500 MW wind contract in place in the region with Alta Wind Power, waiting on getting the transmission built. This is the single largest wind power contract ever developed (it was signed in December of 2006). The Tehachapi region already has 800 MW of wind generation (I drove through the pass just a few months ago – and am always awed by the site of spinning wind turbines), but Stuart says SCE believes there is the potential to get 4,500 MW more, if the transmission is built to bring it down to L.A.

He also took pains to mention a recently signed contract with Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) for a wind project which Sempra is developing in Baja, Mexico – I believe one of the only, if not the first cross-border Mexico – US wind farm projects.

They are also active in large scale solar – SCE buys 90% of the country’s solar energy now, according to Stuart, and has signed two recent agreements (2005) with Stirling Energy Systems and (2007) with California Sunrise to buy more solar power – both also waiting on transmission according to Stuart.

Stuart told me that SCE has $17 Billion in capital to be spent over the next 5 years in transmission and distribution to address these issues, but much of the solution lies in the hands of more aggressive stances by regulators and environmental groups, not just SCE. This isn’t just an SCE problem. The US has invested heavily in generation capacity in recent years, but our T&D investment has lagged – and the regulatory, environmental and political hurdles to get new power lines built may be even steeper than those for new power plants.

I asked why they weren’t building the new renewable power plants themselves. He indicated that they were prepared to, but currently saw no need because developers are really active these days – in the last 5 competitive solicitations they have received excellent response (including the 2007 solicitation). In short, there is plenty of interest and capital to build green power plants for SCE, and they have their hands full getting it to market.

When we got to talking about the future of energy in California, Renewable Portfolio Standards, greenhouse gas emissions and upcoming issues that concerned them, Stuart highlighted a few. SCE feels that while it is working hard to do its part, Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) as a group currently produce virtually zero percent of their eligible power from green sources as defined in the California RPS – but like the major investor owned utilities (SCE, PG&E (NYSE:PCG), and Sempra) ESCOs are also supposed to be generating 20% of their power of renewable sources by 2010. Stuart wasn’t sure where that supply was going to come from given long lead times to develop projects. We did discuss whether Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which don’t currently qualify under California RPS standards, could play a role. Both he and I are personally fans of RECs and view this as an emerging area for opportunity and debate. If the free market is going to help meet our green power objectives, it needs more regulatory permitted tools to do so (the paradox of that statement notwithstanding).

We both also clearly see renewables as part of the overall solution for reducing greenhouse gases. Stuart quickly highlighted carbon credits, energy efficiency and reforestation as the other legs of that broader solution from a utilities’ perspective. But when I put to him the question of what should we be doing first on greenhouse gas emissions, he stated flat out that energy efficiency is the first area in his mind. “Energy not consumed is the best way of reducing any source of emissions.” Of course, SCE is a leader in energy efficiency, too. They don’t intend to be left behind there either.

I must admit, throughout the conversation I was struck by their insistence on maintaining a leadership position in clean energy for SCE. I guess this is just part of the California ethos about leading the nation in environmental issues.

And before I let him go, Stuart asked me to make sure to mention that they are always looking for new renewable power suppliers, and always looking to hire in renewables, so come find him. Their information is located at, and he can be reached at

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

High-Altitude Wind Farms

by Richard T. Stuebi

Having been working in the cleantech field for almost decade, it is rare anymore for me to see or hear about something that I find revolutionary.

However, a recent article in The Economist profiled a new technology concept that threw me for a loop: a multi-pronged wind turbine contraption floating aloft like a kite, six miles in altitude in order to capture the winds of the jet stream, tethered to the ground via a transmission cable.

The company develping this technology is a San Diego firm named Sky WindPower. The company’s founder, Dave Shepard, claims that the cost of power from this technology could approach 2 cents/kwh. In addition to bringing the costs of renewables down dramatically, the technology would enable wind energy to serve baseload power requirements, given the perpetual (though not entirely constant) wind velocity of the jet stream.

I have to admit: I’m pretty skeptical of Sky WindPower’s idea. Beyond the obvious challenges about making such a technology actually work — both constructing it, launching it and controlling it — it strikes me that maintaining such an apparatus would be a nightmare, and having a bunch of cables criss-crossing the sky would no doubt pose havoc to aviation.

But, I gotta give these guys credit: they are thinking way outside the box.

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.

Pepsi Generation

by Richard T. Stuebi

Today, PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) announced that it was buying from Sterling Planet about 1.1 billion kwh worth of renewable energy credits (RECs) per year for the next three years to offset 100% of its corporate electricity requirements in the U.S., thereby making Pepsi the largest buyer of green power in the U.S.

Press release

According to reportage in the USA Today (article), PepsiCo will spend about $2 million on this REC purchase. That seemed like a steal to me: Pepsi probably got $20 million worth of good PR just by showing up with good press on the front page of USA Today‘s Money section.

PepsiCo’s action will serve as a catalyst to expedite development of renewable energy projects in the U.S. Since wind is generally the most economic form of renewable energy, windfarms will likely constitute the lion’s share of the new capacity that is added to serve PepsiCo’s needs. By my calculations, using some generic assumptions, I estimate that the Pepsi REC purchase could trigger about 350 new megawatts of wind development.

Given the high visibility impact that Pepsi was able to achieve at relatively low cost with their green commitment, I suspect that many other large retail and consumer products companies will be following suit in the coming weeks and months. If so, we could see many more megawatts of new renewables — primarily new wind — being built in the U.S. to serve the large corporates, which are now in a race to appear more green than their peers.

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, Inc.