What You Should be Doing if You Really Believe in Cleantech

Believing in cleantech should mean walking the walk.  Believing that technology can change the world, but that consumers have to play their part.  Not just believing that technology will fix everything at the same price or that we can offload our problems to policy makers who can’t stumble out of their own way.  Not slamming oil and power companies for providing us with exactly as much energy as we choose to consume.  The title says it all, how’s your score on the checklist?


If you own a house – get an energy audit. It will tell you to a) buy CFLs, b) blow in more insulation, c) seal your ducts, d) programmable thermostat, e) swap out the older appliances.  If you don’t own one (and in California you’re probably better off it you don’t), still buy the CFLs.  As a side note, I tried to get my wife to let me buy LED lights instead of CFLs.  $60 for 30,000 hour life and 12 watts (equivalent to a 65 watt incandescent).  And very cool looking. CFL was 6,000 hour life for 15 watts same equivalency.  Price $10.  Oh, but the CFL had a 5 year warranty vs. 2 year for the LED.  For some reason after seeing the warranty she didn’t believe the 30,000 hours were real.  That last part may well be a cleantech problem.  So get cracking folks, I am not permitted to buy LEDs until the warranty matches the rated life.

Turn off your lights – my Dad has been telling me this since I was 10.  Amazingly enough, it still works, and it still needs to be said.  And if you are too eye-hand coordination challenged, we’ve just invented these amazing things called motion sensors and timers.  Walmart has them by the dozens. 

Water your lawn anytime but the middle of the day.  Your Dad told you to do this growing up, and you still forget.  And can we say timer and drip system?

Learn to use, in this order – windows, curtains and fans before you use air conditioning.  And when you buy it, buy the most advanced and efficient window, thickest curtain, best fan, AC, heater, appliance whatever gadget is available.  It will be more expensive.  Cleantech usually is.  But it’s the right thing to do.

Buy as little processed foods as possible – everything from your carbon to water to energy footprint will thank you.  As well as your budget.  And your waistline.  Except for cakes and Girl Scout cookies.  You’re forgiven for those.  Box cakes and Thin Mints are still the greatest things ever.

Keep your car another year.  Don’t be fooled.  Going hybrid does NOT equate to doing the right thing (though it does make you feel better, and it is a way cool status symbol).  Driving your car longer does do the right thing.  And next time, just buy one car size smaller.  That combo can cut your transport costs in half AND save the world.  (Of course, if you work in cleantech PR, I might recommend the hybrid anyway.)  My car was built when Netscape went public.  I think I can get 5 more years out of it.  I may be able to get away with only one or at most two more cars in my entire life.  Which is good, because I’m going to need the savings to pay for rising health insurance costs and my share of the new, new national debt.  But seriously, if I could get a 25 year Corolla with 35 mpg for <$17K, do you really think the planet wants me to buy two $25K 50 mpg Priuses instead?  Keep in mind the average car in the US is half of that 25 years, and the average consumer keeps a car for only half of that, and your average hybrid payback is longer than either your average hold period, the car’s warranty, or the manufacturer’s rated life.  But that’s ok, just tell your neighbors that compared to your option ARM home loan, the hybrid is a very, very good deal.

Stop b*%^hing about smart meters.  Heaven forbid we should drag our power company into the 21st century.  Heaven forbid the power company that supplies you electricity should actually know how much you used.  And bill you for it.  I think they have term for the anti-smart meter movement – luddite.  Or the super highly technical term “whiner head case”.  I’ll paraphrase a favorite quote of mine from the Duke Energy CTO from sometime back – “why is it again that our power meters aren’t just software in our PCs”?  Hmmmh, it couldn’t be because, gasp, we’re regulated?  Or maybe because we like little round spinning dials.  Kind of like bringing 50s retro style back?

Buy your power green.  In real states like Texas, you can choose from different vendors what mix of power you want.  Real grid, 8.4 cents/kwh.  All wind? 12 cents/kwh.  All natural gas? 20% wind?  Take your pick.  Can we say, everywhere else in world can figure out how to do energy deregulation, why can’t California?  Jerry? Meg? How about taking a run at doing it right this time?  Or we could just do it California style and try and replace an IOU monopoly with a municipal monopoly.

And possibly of most importance, just because you drive a hybrid and put solar on your roof does NOT mean you’re doing your part.  Especially if you tell your friends it’s cheaper while you neglected the other items.  What’s the technical term, “it ain’t”.  It may be, however, better.  This is cleantech.  Go for better.  Make a difference.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners, and has cofounded several cleantech startups from carbon to superconductors.  He is a Texas Aggie.

6 replies
  1. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    I thought this column was on CLEANtech not CHEAPtech. I say this with absolutely no disrespect to Cheaptech…You should spend your time explaining how cleantech is better, not pretending that commonsense is cleantech, while lashing out at people that have had bad experiences with so called "smart meters". Make the flipping things reliable, useful and informative (or exhorting cleantechies to do so–or describing how they are all these things)and you'll be on a smarter track than insulting your readers.

  2. Neal Dikeman
    Neal Dikeman says:

    Daniel,Good points – though perhaps my comments should be taken to mean to often in the cleantech world we ignore the CHEAPtech as you call it, in the chase for a high tech solution that should come second, not first.Underneath all of cleantech is a resource problem, not a technology problem. And when we assume a technology solution alone will solve it we do so at our peril. If you didn't see it, I'd encourage you to read the recent National Geographic special report on water. It had an excellent overview of what exactly that means.As for smart meters, I will stand my ground there. The issues in the media with them are overblown. Albeit that smart metering rollout is a massive undertaking that should be expected to take some time to get right. They are unequivocally the right thing to do, even if we got it wrong 5x before we got it right. They are the force multiplier and sine qua non of energy efficiency, the fight against climate change, effective power deregulation, and frankly as well almost any form of CHEAPtech we can imagine.We should have done it a decade ago, and have no excuse for not making it a top national priority if we expect to compete in an increasingly higher cost resource world for the first time in our history.As always, thanks for reading, and your opinions are valued.Neal

  3. Curtis Grinn
    Curtis Grinn says:

    For a little over 1-year now I have been reviewing all of the various comments, blogs and reports regarding the renewable and clean energy discussion. Anyone that is truly interested in advancing the use of alternative energies needs to understand that it can actually happen if and only if, they start appealing to individual’s “common sense”. When spoken about from a Political tone or even from a Social and Environmental voice, people tend not to want to listen. The fact is most people are disgusted with the political overtures thrown around the country. Once they get a sense that a politician is speaking of the subject, whether it be for the good or not, they tune out and the movement goes nowhere. The same rings true if spoken by an environmental activist type. The fact here is, most people do not want to be thought of as some “environmental greenie” type. Although, if the discussion were framed as an appeal to their “common sense” such as: 1) do you think we should STOP buying/importing oil from overseas…? Everyone spoken to would without a doubt answer emphatically YES! 2) Mention, are you aware that the U.S. uses 25% of all the world’s oil but, can only produce 2% – so unless we do something else, we can’t stop importing oil to survive. 3) Ask, are you aware that the U.S. Government, especially the military are currently using all sorts of renewable and clean energy to conduct their various business. 4) Express to the U.S. public that in China, only 1% of the population owns a car, yet the Chinese Government is aggressively pushing with big incentives its’ citizens to purchase automobiles, and that China’s population of course, is 3-times the size of ours – then ask, where do you think gasoline prices are going once their driving citizens get onboard? 5) Explain how by going renewable your electric bills will decrease. Of course however, if there is not a great demand for the renewable energy source, the prices will initially be higher to the U.S. consumer but, if the demand were to arrive, prices would decrease.The tone of the conversation must change if there is to be any headway made in the advancements of renewable energy. EVERYBODY would welcome the change if and only if, the texture of the discussion was different. Take a peek at a new site online, http://www.reepedia.com It is my understanding that they are trying to change the texture of the discussion. Good for them, but better for the American people because, the current dialog hasn’t and isn’t getting us anywhere.

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