Climate Change Policy Poll

by Richard T. Stuebi

I’ve written before that I’m very skeptical of polls. It seems to me that poll respondents give themselves far too much credit for being well-informed or magnanimous, relative to what they actually know or what will they will do when making real decisions that really affect them. Accordingly, I’m always bothered when pundits use poll results as a basis for what policy ought to be.

However, this past summer, a poll conducted and reported by New Scientist magazine did seem to shed some useful insights that policy-makers ought to consider.

The reported highlights of the survey were that there was substantial public support in the U.S. for carbon limitations, that the public preferred outright standards to cap-and-trade or (egads!) carbon taxes, and that the desired focus of carbon reductions should be on the electric power sector than on vehicles (don’t tread on SUV!).

In my view, the most illuminating finding was the weakness of support for carbon limitations if they induced any significant economic pain. In other words, respondents were fine with climate legislation — as long as it really didn’t cost much. On the other hand, when asked if they would support carbon emission requirements that would increase energy prices significantly — which is likely to be the case to achieve the magnitudes of emission reductions that are widely viewed necessary to have meaningful impact in protecting the planet — support evaporated.

This is one of the few instances where I actually believe what the poll results say, without any bias. I take from this finding that — to avoid catastrophic climate change during the balance of this century — either we need to quickly develop a zero/low baseload carbon energy source that costs essentially no more than conventional coal generation, or that we quickly need to substantially increase U.S. political will and courage to endure economic sacrifice. Either will be tremendously challenging. Failing on both counts could doom the planet.

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.

Blogroll Review: Beer, Homes, and Geo

by Frank Ling

This Kirin’s For You!

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

In the latest article featured in Japan for Sustainability:

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

Green Home Boom

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

Jeff Stevens at EcoGeek writes that:

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

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

Piping Hot Geo

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

Tom Konrad at AltEnergy Stocks writes:

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

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Australia the untapped market – new report on Australian Cleantech investment activity

by Nick Bruse

A new report co-authored by the Cleantech Network and Cleantech Ventures will be released today that details the PE & VC investment occuring in Australian cleantech companies.

At the launch breakfast this morning we heard from Jan Dekker (CV) and Anastasia O’Rourke (CN) present the key findings of the study. I’ve summarised some of these below, but you can download the full report from the Cleantech Ventures website.

Key findings

  • A$540m of venture capital dollars invested from 1999-2007
  • 174 rounds in 75 companies
  • Around 3% of total VC invested
  • 66 IPOs between 1974-2006 and 24 in 2005-06 alone

The Cleantech space in Australia is becoming more and more interesting as international and domestic investors are realising that Australian cleantech investment opportunities are relatively untapped, compared with the rest of the world.

Key drivers that are seeing a growth in the sector in Australia are:

  • commodity boom increasing economic activity
  • technology readiness from research institutions
  • environmental pressures including water shortages and climate change impacts
  • increasing policy push as a result of upcoming election
  • strong media interest in the sector
  • increasing capital availability

However there still remains some challenges for Australian Cleantech including:

  • lack of early stage capital
  • more technology transfer to business required from Australian University and Research institutions
  • more corporate venture funds and company investment & engagement required
  • stronger policy particularly around Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, emissions trading and Kyoto
  • better analyst coverage of listed companies

By way of reference Cleantech Ventures has screened around 450 companies and made 11 investments via its CEGT fund over the last 4 years. In October this year Cleantech Ventures announced it has completed the first close of its new Cleantech Australia Fund.

The fund’s first closing of $50 million is made up of $20 million provided through the Australian government’s Innovation Investment Fund (IIF) program and $30 million from VicSuper, a superannuation fund committed to sustainability.

Article posted from The Cleantech Show

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

Bio-fuel Cells

by Richard T. Stuebi

Earlier this month, here in Ohio, the fuel cell developer Technology Management Inc. issued a press release that it had succesfully operated its 1 kw solid oxide fuel cell stack on vegetable oil from soybeans. As reported on the Internet, it is claimed that this is the first instance of a solid oxide fuel cell running on vegetable oil, and that this development could break open the market for fuel cells in the developing world.

This does seem to be an innovation of merit. I have no reason to doubt the assertion, but I’m curious if any of our readers know of other examples of biofuels in fuel cells.

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.

Is Australia approaching ‘K’ day?

by Nick Bruse

Last night in Australia we had Prime Minster John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd go head to head in a televised debate. Key issues were the economy(interest rates and tax cuts), the war in iraq and climate change- you can check out a video summary here

Interestingly for Australia one might say that all three of these issues are highly integrated with foreign policy and have quite significant leverage points with the US. Namely our involvement in Iraq, and the governments position on climate change.

I think its worthwhile to provide some insight as to what is happening in Australian politics right now on The Cleantech Blog because the climate change policy of both contenders is quite different and may have significant bearing on world politics if Australia does sign the Kyoto agreement – ‘K’ day.

Essentially, if Kevin Rudd wins the next election and he is winning by around 10points in polls currently, he will has promised to sign up to Kyoto, and commit to the proposed Australian state government coalition recommendations on an emissions trading program.

The Howard government announced last night that it plans to start up a clean energy technology fund, though with little details on it currently. “He says its priorities would be to invest in clean energy technology and to support households who are most affected by the higher prices after a carbon price is set. He also said that if he wins the election he would try to push the United States to do more on climate change, including lobbying George Bush.”

In addition to the most notable action in the climate space by the Howard Government have been:

  • Establishment then removal of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target of 2% in early 2000s
  • A taskforce report on carbon emissions trading – but no commitment
  • No commitment to Kyoto protocol – but to a new Kyoto framework
  • A$100m to Asia pacific technology pact
  • A taskforce report on bring nuclear power to Australia
  • A$200m to reduce regional deforestation
  • Establishment of A$500m Low emissions technology development fund – of which $335 has been spent on coal projects
  • Achievement of our Kyoto targets, predominantly through our reduction in land clearing in 90s, not by curbing our emissions. (clive hamilton – scorcher)

Many criticise the current government for its years of inaction on climate change due to lobbying and strong personal links to the mining and energy industries – See the maniac times article for a critical view

So the real question is if we vote for Howard, has he really changed his tune – sceptic to realist, and is a vote for Kevin Rudd a vote for a greener cleaner future with his promise to sign Kyoto. For many the promise of becoming a kyoto signatory is a strong impetus.

What for one I would like to see is a strong commitment by both parties to a comprehensive acknowledgement that many different technologies, and solutions will play a part here. It seems that politicians struggle to implement bipartisan solutions from bodies specifically setup to take climate change like The Australian Greenhouse office. They also need to commit to the fact that we need to alter the playing field significantly to pro-actively support low emissions – through a tax or a trading scheme. More funds are all well and good – particularly to companies that require them – but it still means that someone is picking winners and that’s where the politics keeps weighing in. If the Howard government is throwing so much money at cleantech in Australia, why couldn’t Ausra get funds to build their plant here instead of the US?

Unfortunately with all the politicking going on at the moment prior to an election, its hard to see the real vision and leadership that’s required to actually make a difference on climate change. Perhaps we need an Australian version of Mr Gore? A change agent. Someone that can be both political and apolitical at the same time, singular minded and belligerent.

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

Carboholics Anonymous

by Richard T. Stuebi

This weekend, there was an extraordinary editorial in The Washington Post. The essence of the message was “Save me from myself: I can’t stop emitting carbon. Unless the government changes the rules to induce me to stop, I will kill the planet.”

The author of this plea was David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), the 10th largest power generation company in the U.S. In effect, he is saying that his company is willing to undertake major changes to reduce emissions — but only if competitors do so too, because NRG would be disadvantaged in the marketplace to take proactive action on its own.

I am very sympathetic with Mr. Crane’s argument. It’s a fine thing if people want to engage in emission reductions voluntarily. As for me, I admit that I’m not enthusiastic to unilaterally make changes that I otherwise don’t prefer in order to reduce my carbon footprint. My rationale is that my miniscule contribution to solving the climate problem is individually meaningless, and I don’t want to be just one of very few parties incurring costs or inconvenience without having any macro-scale impact anyway. Put another way, I’ll do what it takes without complaining if everyone else is in the same boat, but I’m not going to be put out if most people aren’t. I don’t mind sacrificing, but if I’m going to sacrifice, it’s only just that the sacrifice must be shared.

This is where public sector leadership comes in, which in turn is based not only on courageous voting by citizens, but also by visionary companies that demand a new world order. I’ll gladly pay the price if everyone else does, and I’m eager to change the rules of the game so that we all bear our share of the burdens — and it looks like NRG is of the same opinion. With more corporate leaders committed to taking the same stand, maybe we’ll finally get somewhere with sound climate policy in Washington.

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.

Renovation Disorders

by Heather Rae

During my summer hiatus from writing for cleantechblog, the focus of my house renovation shifted to landscaping and miscellaneous demolition. Eight giant willow trees and two large spruce that blocked winter sun came down. John and James chopped them into mulch which I dispersed on the expanded gardens. The gardens displace much of the lawn for which I purchased that electric mower back in May. (Oh, well.) This parcel of land breeds stones, and I unearthed a grand pile for the front yard. Dusty, the mailman, took them to build a retaining wall at this house. He’ll also take the logs of willow (which are sprouting in the stack) for one of those outdoor residential wood heaters that has caused a bit of a stink in Maine. Like the pile of metal that was amassed on the front yard (ducts and copper at $2/pound), somebody else, gratefully, has use for my refuse.
I ripped out the 1970s cardboard ceiling tile in the kitchen, cringing under the shower of plaster and rodent feces, of mice near the exterior door and of something larger near the interior. I thought of hantavirus while sweeping up the rubble of plaster and lathe and poop…and kept the face mask tightly affixed. All the lathe from the house demolition is piled for kindling. I have yet to find a home for the plaster and old drywall but for the dump.
The designated renovation funds have seeped to zero (the trees were an unplanned $3K), so I quickly purchased a Monitor heater so there would be one heating source besides the wood stove. I discovered, after numerous conversations with heating technicians and biofuel suppliers, that Monitors, which take kerosene, cannot run on biofuel. But a Monitor, for myriad reasons, it had to be until I can find something ‘greener.’ So much, for now, for my biofuel idea.
This week, Charlie Huntington of I&S Insulation, provided an estimate to place ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM or rubber) on the basement floor and an air barrier (two-part closed cell foam) on the brick portion of the foundation. Charlie is an engineer with a degree from MIT and a former manager with two large lighting companies. He now runs three insulation crews and has completed training in home performance. He, like James and John, exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of Maine, and I feel blessed to have them working on this old house.
As the fall approached, I ushered along an EPA media campaign for the Maine Home Performance with Energy Star program and joined the marketing committee of Maine Interfaith Power and Light which has signed up with SmartPower to launch a marketing campaign around clean energy. And, Dylan Voorhees of Natural Resource Council of Maine, asked if I could speak on a panel on global warming at NRCM’s annual meeting. The question to ‘noodle’ is, ‘is global warming a movement?’ My noodle feels rigid and pre-cooked these days, so I did some due diligence in front of the magazine rack at Hannafords. Time magazine, National Geographic, This Old House, and others, have dedicated covers to global warming and ‘greenery.’ This was, possibly, the sign of a movement. I collected up several magazines, tallied the cost, and put them all back rationalizing that I could read them at the library and save on waste paper.
OK, so I kept This Old House to read about the psychological profiles of house renovators: if one has a mildly repetitive-compulsive profile, try sanding. If one has an attention deficit hyperactivity/hyperactive disorder, try demolition. And if one is slightly codependent, try wallpaper hanging. As the leaves turn and fall, and the house remains unheated and not fully insulated, it’s clear that my compulsive, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders have gotten the best of me. But you won’t find me hanging wallpaper.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Triple-Digit Oil Prices Ahead?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, as reported on Yahoo!, the chief economist of the investment bank CIBC went on record that “We’re in a world of triple digit oil prices for the foreseeable future,” beginning by the end of 2008.

Increasingly, I’ve been hearing through the grapevine prognostications of $100/barrel oil. I put a lot more weight on CIBC’s view than on Hugo Chavez’s. Why? Based in Canada, CIBC prides itself on being a banker of note to the huge Canadian oil and natural resources industry. Besides, Canadians in general seem less prone to hyperbole than we Americans (or Venezuelans). As a result, I expect that a firm such as CIBC doesn’t put out such statements very lightly.

What does $100 oil mean? By my calculations, each additional $10/barrel increase in oil prices, translates to about $0.40/gallon in gasoline prices — assuming no changes in oil transportation costs, oil refinery economics and oil taxation. So, if we’re seeing gasoline close to $3.00/gallon today with oil at $80/barrel, I would expect almost $4.00/gallon at $100 oil.

Higher prices for motor fuels should provide further support for the emergence of biofuels markets (both ethanol and biodiesel). Although biofuels continues to receive lots of public sector push and mass-market discussion, the economics of biofuels have suffered recently, as feedstock prices (for corn and soybeans, respectively) have been bid up by surging demand for biofuel production. The price spreads between feedstock and fuel have become so narrow that biofuels producers now have little opportunity for profit. With higher prices in motor fuels markets, there is more prospect for investments in new biofuel production to be profitable, and for existing biofuel producers to return to reasonable profitability.

Perhaps more interestingly, higher oil prices will provide greater impetus — both from the government and from private sector investments — for the development of next-generation biofuel technologies (e.g., cellulosic ethanol, algae-based diesel), coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids projects, oil shale retorting approaches, and the hydrogen infrastructure. These are very capital-intensive and long-term opportunities that many parties are leery of pursuing, in the fear that oil prices will fall back to lower levels and render the efforts uncompetitive and therefore wasted.

If we are truly going to wean ourselves off of oil, we really need high oil prices for a long duration, in order to provide ongoing economic sustenance and continuing urgency for the development of these new energy technologies. The forecast of triple-digit oil prices should therefore not be something to dread, but rather something for economic opportunists to seize.

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.

Solar Power 2007

By John Addison (10/2/07) Like a castle under siege, Solar Power 2007 was such a hot event that registration had to be closed a week prior to the conference opening in Long Beach, California. Over 12,500 people attended last week. There was enthusiasm for high growth and technology advancements in photovoltaics (PV) and in large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP).

In 2006, PV grew over 40% to $20 billion in revenue and over 2,500 MW of new solar power. Renewable Energy World. The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), forecasts a €300 billion industry by 2030 which will meet 9.4 per cent of the world’s electricity demand. By 2030, solar is forecasted to be the least expensive source of energy in many sunny regions of the world.

In the last 12 months, over 40% of PV installations were in one country – Germany – where high feed-in tariffs make it financially compelling to sell solar power to the electric utility than to buy power from the utility. Some presenters argued that even in select U.S. markets, such as Hawaii, subsidized solar is at price-parity with grid delivered electricity.

PV prices have fallen 90% in the past twenty years; 40% in the past five. This is good news to counter a hot-climate future as solar prices drop and coal prices increase.

The PV growth rate would be higher, but polysilicon will be scarce through 2010 according to most forecasts from the conference’s CEO panel. Polysilicon supply is expected to triple by 2010 from 2006 capacity. The shortage has also been a driver of technology that delivers the required electricity output with less silicon. These technologies include thin film, high efficiency PV, organic, concentrating PV (CPV), and balance of system improvements.

World leader, Sharp (SHCAY) is participating in all these technologies. Sharp continues with market share leadership, despite little growth due to the polysilicon shortage. Sharp plans to bring online new capacity to maintain leadership. Q-Cells (QCEG.F) and Kyocera (KYO) have taken market share from Sharp with their high growth. Suntech (STP) wants to take advantage of China’s low cost structure and vast market to surpass all.

First Solar (FSLR) has the cost to beat with its cadmium telluride (CdTe) alternative to polysilicon. First Solar’s (FSLR) production costs are $1.25 per watt of generating power vs. $2.80 for traditional solar systems. In the next few years, First Solar plans to be the first to achieve $1 per watt. This year, First Solar did not have an exhibit at Solar Power 2007. It is backlogged for several years, with contracts for $4 billion through 2012. Other cadmium telluride producers are in early-stage mode.

Public utilities had a record presence at Solar Power 2007. Many are mandated to increase their renewable portfolio. For example, the California RPS program requires that by 2010, 20% of their electricity will be from renewables. By 2020, it must be at least 33%. SB1368 closes California to coal produced electricity unless CO2 sequestration is used. This leaves California utilities highly vulnerable to the price of natural gas, providing an added incentive to diversify to renewables.

Utilities are especially interested in large-scale CSP plants delivering 10 to 600 MW. Four GW of CSP is being installed globally. Southern California Edison and San Diego G&E have contracted for 500MW with Stirling Energy Systems. This large-scale plant will include 20,000 curved dish mirrors each concentrating light on a Stirling engine. Other large-scale plants in Europe will also provide hours of thermal storage so that plant output can match the peak load demands of utilities. This counters the utilities’ concerns about intermittency of PV and wind. CSP costs are projected to drop to 8 cents/kWh, making it competitive where coal and natural gas greenhouse gas producers must buy greenhouse emission credits.

By 2010 major utility PG&E will meet its 20% target of delivered electricity from clean renewable energy. This will include 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world. Solel utilizes parabolic mirrors to concentrate solar energy on to solar thermal receivers. The receivers contain a fluid that is heated and circulated, and the heat is released to generate steam. The steam powers a turbine to produce electricity.

FPL Group announced $2.4 billion investments in CSP and smart-grid technology. The planned investment includes up to $1.5 billion in new solar thermal generating facilities in Florida and California over the next seven years, and up to $500 million to create a smart network for enhanced energy management capabilities. FPL plans to build 300 MW of solar generating capacity in Florida using Ausra solar thermal technology. The company recently received a $40 million in funding from Silicon Valley venture capital firms Khosla Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

Ray Lane, a Managing Partner at Kleiner Perkins gave a compelling opening keynote speech at Solar Power 2007. He declared that there is no energy shortage, because there is no shortage of sunlight. Mr. Lane showed a map of 92 x 92 miles of desert in California and Nevada. Using CSP, that unoccupied area could generate enough solar power to meet all power needs in the U.S. Challenges of such a project include multi-billion dollar investment in high-voltage lines to carry the electricity to remote cities. Storage is another major challenge. Although these investments are significant, the potential will drive strong CSP growth.

Expect solar to continue with its historic 35% growth over the next decade. Forecasts for solar supplying over 9% of the world’s energy needs by 2030 are achievable.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. For articles describing the use of solar power in transportation.

Electric cars and hybrids: Silicon Valley vs Detroit

As consumers, we generally like choices. In the world of cleaner cars, those choices have been few and far between, but slowly that is changing.

I had a chance recently to test drive two of the cars whose creators are bent on changing the way we view transportation, a converted all electric Scion eBox by Silicon Valley startup AC Propulsion, and a Saturn Vue Greenline hybrid. Both were highly enjoyable. The first, with a $70,000 price tag and a $10,000 deposit, is clearly an EV targeted at Conspicuous Sustainability consumers. I guess then, that the Saturn Vue Greenline with a $24,000 price tag, is perhaps the hybrid for the rest of us.

One of my friends, who was considering buying an eBox invited me to take it for a spin up and down some of the San Francisco hills with him while he was test driving. I have to admit, coming down California Street into downtown, one of the City’s steeper hills, is an entertaining way to get used to the feel of regenerative braking on a true EV. I highly recommend it. For most of the drive I never touched the brakes. To stop you simply take your foot off the accelerator. And for those who have not driven an EV before the acceleration itself is phenomenal. Touch, and Go. Of course, with a $55,000 price tag for the EV conversion (you provide the Scion), limited range, and few electric charging stations, a purchase would be a hard call for me to make. The payback on fuel savings, many times the useful life of the car.

In contrast, General Motors (NYSE:GM) had given me a 2007 Saturn Vue to drive around for a week, to get the feel of it. If anything, GM is not known as an innovator of clean technologies. They are still tarred with the who killed the electric car brush by many environmentalists. That has only made it harder for GM to get out the message on things like its massive R&D effort in fuel cell cars, its push into flex fuel and ethanol with the Live Green Go Yellow campaign, and now hybrids. Having been to a number of their press luncheons on some of the new technologies they have been developing, I had some idea what to expect, but had not written about it before. The Vue is what is known as a mild hybrid, and its lack of bleeding edge, ultra green technology compared to a Prius had a few of my greener friends turning their noses up at it. But this didn’t really phase me after I drove it. As a car and SUV, I found it quite impressive. It handled wonderfully, was extremely quiet, and quite comfortable. You can feel the regenerative braking, but only as a slight tug, so besides the lack of noise, it is like driving any other SUV. Saturn bills it as getting the best highway gas mileage of any SUV, and the cheapest hybrid SUV on the market (not to mention a little quicker than the conventional Vue). Like all hybrids today, the payback is real, but not so great. At the average miles driven per year for most Americans we are talking 9 to 11 years or so compared to the standard Vue, according to my conversation with the Saturn people. If you happen to a real heavy commuter 25,000 to 30,000 miles per year type of thing, the payback may be down towards 5 or 6 years. In short, despite the c. 20 percent fuel savings, a consumer is looking at 120,000 to 150,000 plus miles before reaching a payback, depending on your assumptions, for this or almost any hybrid. The real payback, as always, comes from just buying a smaller car, hybrid or not.

What I love is that the Vue Greenline is really just the first in the Saturn line of hybrids and cleaner fueled cars. GM is basically planning on making virtually the entire Saturn line as green as can be. It is rolling out something like 8 new hybrids or hybrid versions of existing Saturn makes as we speak over the next couple of years. And at a $24,000 price tag, I could actually see buying one of these.

So whether you have the pocket books to look for full EV conversion or just a mild hybrid to make a small difference like the rest of us, the choice is there.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Living in a Material World

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few months ago, the renowned eco-architect Bill McDonough came to Cleveland to speak to an audience convened by perhaps our area’s most distinguished organization, The Cleveland Clinic.

Upon hearing his talk, I felt guilty that I had never read McDonough’s seminal book (co-authored with Michael Braungart), Cradle to Cradle. So I finally got around to reading it – and what an interesting read it is!

One of the key points of Cradle to Cradle is that it is critically important to adopt an entirely new design philosophy for products and buildings in which all of the intrinsic materials have a valuable post-life use. Put another way, given our planet’s finitude, nothing is really disposal, so the materials that things are made from must ultimately have many uses over many life-cycles.

As McDonough argues, this is a bigger idea than recycling or efficiency – which he calls merely doing “less bad”, not good enough for the long-haul. Rather, McDonough’s proposed approach is more revolutionary, fundamental and profound. It requires a much broader way of thinking during the design process, expanding beyond solely customer considerations in narrow “use” contexts. The supplier needs to become the de facto owner of the thing for not only its service life, but for after as well. In other words, this mindshift compels the designer to ask “what can the thing be used for, after the customer no longer uses it?”

In some ways, materials companies may be uncommonly well-positioned to employ what McDonough terms “eco-effective” design principles. Integrators may actually be “too close” to the customer in order to see, understand or frankly care about the post-customer experience. On the other hand, materials companies are in the business of developing materials with superior functionality. This functionality can not only be characterized by parameters associated with direct product uses, but also by parameters relating to re-usability.

McDonough’s message should have found an interested audience in Cleveland, given our region’s long-held pre-eminence in materials science and development. Many local corporations – such as Ferro (NYSE: FOE), RPM (NYSE: RPM), Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW), Lubrizol (NYSE: LZ) – generate billions of dollars of revenues based on expertise in materials, so companies such as these should acutely recognize the large long-term opportunities afforded by developing “eco-efffctive” materials – and products/buildings based on those materials.

Let’s hope that leaders from these companies were in the audience that evening a few months ago when McDonough came to town. Or, at the very least, that they have since read a copy of Cradle to Cradle.

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.

The Wright Way to the Electric Car

As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about electric vehicles. Last Friday Ian Wright and I spent a couple of hours around my conference table discussing our philosophies on electric cars. Ian knows something about this topic, as he was formerly an executive at EV startup Tesla Motors, and is now the founder and CEO of Wrightspeed, a Silicon Valley based startup whose first car is going to be a high performance electric supercar, price tag just shy of $200K. And as it’s electric, Ian expects it should outstart, outrun, outturn, and generally outperform anything in its class.

While it has been a hot topic recently in the cleantech sector, I am known among my friends as being a real skeptic when it comes to EVs, but behind Ian’s business plan he got my attention with two ideas that are worth repeating: payback and plug-ins.

First, Ian doesn’t care about gas mileage per se – he cares about performance, power, and most importantly, payback. Focus on the vehicles actually burning the most gas, irrespective of fuel efficiency. That is, instead of making tiny, compact, fuel efficient target cars more efficient with EV and hybrid technology – focus on the gas guzzlers. Ian’s point is well taken. A small, fuel efficient car that gets 35 mpg and drives a typical 12,500 miles per year only uses about 350 gallons per year. A large pickup truck that gets 12 miles to the gallon uses over 1,000 gallons for the same mileage – nearly 3x as much. And if that truck is a work truck driven 25,000 miles per year, it would use over 2,000 gallons of fuel per year, nearly 6x the little car. That truck owner may spend upwards of $50K in fuel over its life, where the commuter car owner may spend a small fraction of that.

When I asked him for comments on my example Ian added: “The special case of congested city driving might be worth mentioning, since everyone thinks a lot of fuel is wasted there. But if you drive a Prius 10 hours/week in congested city traffic, it’s only about 150 gallons/year! Not much point in trying to improve on the Prius for that use. (The arithmetic: congested traffic is defined as 12mph average; 10 hours/week would be 120 miles/ week, or 6240 miles/year. The Prius shines in this application, getting maybe 40mpg, so 156 gallons/year.)”

Putting expensive hybrid and EV technology in the small car not only has a worse financial payback – compounding the perennial problem of EVs being too costly, but the same 20% efficiency improvement does very little to reduce overall fuel consumption for society compared to the same efficiency gains in a big truck that drives a heck of lot of miles.

So Ian asks, if we want to both find a way to save car owners money, AND save the world – wouldn’t we focus on applying technology to where the problem is the worst and the returns are the best?

When Ian looked at the automotive landscape and asked the question, where is the most fuel being burned, and how do we reduce that with technology? The answer? Performance cars and big work trucks. Not surprisingly, these are his target markets.

And why are high performance vehicles like sports cars and Ford F350s so fuel inefficient anyway? Take this as an example answer. If you need a big truck to have lots of power for short periods of time (for instance, in towing), then the truck engine and systems have to be sized to deliver the maximum power. But anytime you’re not using all that power (ie, most of the time), the truck is usually running well below its optimum – and burning lots of fuel for no extra gain. It’s the same rationale for a sports car designed to run optimally at 90 mph, which performs worse at the average driver’s speed of 50- 60 mph.

Ian’s more detailed explanation to me put it very elegantly: “Roughly speaking gasoline engines are most efficient at wide open throttle and the rpm that gives max torque. If you try to operate a supercar at wide open throttle, it will be doing 200mph, and of course you’ll be losing most of the energy to aero drag. The ENGINE will be operating efficiently… but if you operate the car down where aero drag is reasonable – 50mph – then the engine will be operating at a few percent of rated power, and very inefficient. Why is it inefficient? The simple answer is that since the throttle is almost closed, there is almost a vacuum in the intake manifold, and the EFFECTIVE compression ratio is very low. You are trying to compress a vacuum. Engine efficiency is very dependent on compression ratio.

80 years ago, there were cars that could transport a family of 4 at 50mpg. The Austin 7 comes to mind. Engine technology has improved dramatically since the 30s, yet the best modern cars don’t do any better than the Austin 7. Why is that? One big reason is that the Austin 7 had, well, 7 horsepower (actually about 10hp – the “7” was “RAC hp”). So it was working hard most of the time. The family car that my wife drives makes 250 hp, and that’s just an average family car these days.S o if you displace the Prius with an EV, you can get maybe a 2x efficiency gain. But if you displace a high performance vehicle that operates most of the time at low power settings, you can get a 10x efficiency gain. That’s the main reason that 18 wheelers aren’t a good target. They have powerful engines, but their power/weight ratio is very low (when fully loaded) and the engines work pretty hard. So in fuel per lb mile, they are pretty good already.”

To deal with this issue, Ian isn’t all about the all electric. He’s pushing plug-in electric hybrids. Electric motors powered off of batteries charged from the wall or with an onboard diesel generator. The generator also acts as a booster for those times when extra power is required. Hybrids are really good at solving these power vs. efficiency problems, since you can essentially design a system that can optimize for either performance or efficiency much easier than a straight gas or electric engine could.

Ian’s vision also addresses one of the long running achilles’ heels of electric cars – the lack of fueling infrastructure. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it’s generally bad business to try and bet on an expensive infrastructure rollout. And if it means slower and lower uptake of fuel efficient vehicles, then calling for infrastructure change that’s not going to happen is bad for the environment, too.

That’s why I’ve been such a big fan of plug-in hybrids. We can have our cake and eat it too. It’s all about payback and plug-ins. And it’s good to see electric car gurus finally getting this message.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Utilities Ramping Up Energy Efficiency

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the early 1990’s, before deregulation, the big issue for electric utilities was demand-side management (DSM), often pursued in the context of least-cost integrated resource planning efforts, to help customers reduce energy consumption in ways that were financially beneficial to the utility as well as the customer.

Alas, with the move to competitive markets, energy efficiency largely got lost in the shuffle. Utility expenditures on DSM plummeted.

It appears that utility activism on energy efficiency has returned. Earlier this month, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade association for the electric utility industry, announced that it was creating a new institute for electricity efficiency. Last year, several utilities (and other energy industry leaders) launched a National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency. Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) is increasingly vocal about its view of energy efficiency as the “fifth fuel” — after coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables. PG&E (NYSE: PCG) runs its Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco to educate building professionals on energy efficiency technologies.

Renewables might be sexier, and in the long-run extremely important, but there’s little that offers greater impact to address our energy and environmental challenges in the near-term than energy efficiency. Thankfully, we now seem to be getting the utility industry back on-message.

Want to learn more? A good one-stop shop on energy efficiency is the aptly named American Council on an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

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.

Riding on Sunlight

By John Addison (9/20/07). Electric light rail is a popular way to whisk millions through cities with speed, ease, and minimal emissions. Per passenger mile, source-to-wheels emissions are far less than people trying to navigate busy cities in their cars. Even if there is a coal power plant supplying the electricity, the efficiency of moving masses with efficient electric drive systems results in very clean transportation.

Unfortunately, the initial capital expense of light rail prevents many worthy projects. MTA New York City is spending over $7.5 billion to extend its sub-way. Most light-rail costs over $10 million per mile.

Buses can move millions for a fraction of the cost of light-rail. Bus routes can be easily changed as cities grow, change in shape, and alter in transportation demands. Light-rail tracks are likely to be fixed for over forty years; bus routes may change annually. For most major cities, the ideal is intermodal solutions that include both bus and light-rail.

Now AC Transit in Oakland, California, is making bus travel as appealing as light-rail. Each day, over one thousand people ride on three hydrogen fuel cell buses in Oakland and in environmentally conscious Berkeley. By 2012, five thousand people daily will be riding on twelve such buses. The only emission is water vapor.

At the heart of these electric buses are Siemens electric-motors, similar to the larger motors which power electric light-rail. The motors are powered by electricity generated from 120kW fuel cells and from 95kW of batteries. The batteries are also used to capture braking and downhill energy. The batteries are recharged nightly, making these buses plug-in hybrid hydrogen fuel cell buses.

The hydrogen is made by onsite reformation of natural gas. Basically CH4 is combined with steam (H2O) to produce hydrogen. The electricity to power the reformation and the compression of the hydrogen gas is from solar power. The 150 kg/day of hydrogen is used by the three buses and up to eleven Hyundai vehicles for supervisors.

The net result is electric buses that can run hundreds of miles up 18 percent grades, and then be cleanly refueled in minutes. By 2010, the buses are likely to run 16 hours daily, up from the current eight. In five years, AC Transit is likely to buy at least seven hydrogen buses annually, staying ahead of California’s zero-emission bus mandate.

These are the most advanced buses used in the world with 40-foot Van Hool A330 bus chassis modified to accommodate UTC’s PureMotion™ 120 kW fuel cell power system and ISE’s hybrid-electric drive system. Hydrogen tanks on the roof give the bus a range of 300 to 350 miles, and batteries recharged during braking can provide an extra 95kW of power for acceleration and climbing steep grades.

HyRoad, this exciting model of public transportation, was made possible by more than $21 million of funding from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, California Transportation Commission, CalStart, Chevron Corporation, Department of Energy, and the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a preliminary report on its evaluation of AC Transit’s fleet of fuel cell buses. The report includes eight months of performance data on three fuel cell buses in service, as well as data from a fleet of diesel control buses.

AC Transit; SunPower (SPWR); MMA Renewable Ventures; and PG&E (PCG) dedicated the AC Transit’s state-of-the-art 621-kilowatt solar electric system. The system, located on AC Transit facilities in Hayward and Oakland, is expected to generate approximately 767,000 kilowatt hours of power each year.

Over the 30-year life of the system, AC Transit expects to save $5 million in utility costs as a result of the clean, renewable solar power that the system will generate. It will offset the production of more than 14.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions – equivalent to planting 2,000 acres of trees or removing 1,400 cars from California’s highways.

“AC Transit is committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and improving the quality of life for the entire region in which we operate,” said AC Transit General Manager Rick Fernandez. “While installing a solar system to power our facilities makes a great deal of financial sense, it will also provide more than enough power to offset the 189,000 kilowatt hours per year required to operate AC Transit’s hydrogen production facility, and help lower the overall amount of energy we use from conventional sources.”

Instead of spending millions to install the solar system, AC Transit arranged to pay 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour to MMA Renewable Ventures, which finances and owns AC Transit’s solar power systems under a SunPower Access™ program. “AC Transit selected an innovative financing structure to effectively meet its financial goals and environmental objectives,” said Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures. “With its forward-thinking approach and commitment to clean energy, AC Transit is demonstrating that solar power is an affordable option for public agencies concerned with reducing carbon emissions.”

“AC Transit is an environmental leader that is doing its part to address our ongoing energy challenges,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower vice president. “By generating solar power, AC Transit is reducing demand from the utility grid, reducing operating costs, and improving air quality for its community. This energy solution saves money while helping the environment.”

A large portion of the installation cost of these solar systems was covered by a $1.9 million incentive from PG&E, under California’s Self Generation Incentive Program. Through this program, PG&E can provide almost $950 million in incentives over the next 10 years to help customers buy their own solar systems.

In the past twenty years, solar power has dropped 90% in price due to technology breakthroughs and production volume. Over the next twenty years, we will see the same improvement with hydrogen transportation. Already, the hydrogen used cost AC Transit no more per mile than diesel fuel used in similar buses.

As fuel cells reach lives beyond 10,000 hours, and as costs are significantly reduced, advanced transportation like AC Transit’s HyRoad will become available worldwide. When it does, we can thank AC Transit and its partners for leading the way.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report ( September 24 to 27 he will be researching future articles at Solar Power 2007. On October 25 he will be a featured speaker at the California Hydrogen Business Council. Permission is granted to reproduce this story.

Al Gore opens FEX SIM launch – dedicated cleantech stock market

by Nick Bruse

Yesturday I had the pleasure of being present when Al Gore opened the new FEX-SIM sustainability and cleantech stock exchange in Sydney. Here’s a wrap up.

The exchange is the creation of Brian Price, whom I interviewed recently on the cleantech show during which we discussed the FEX-SIM in detail. You can listen to the show here if you didn’t catch it earlier.

The launch has been covered in a AAP news article to a degree particularly about the FEX-SIM, if you want a few more details at a glance the FEX website has a press release.

Much of what Mr Gore had to say was about the worlds past experiences and success in dealing with the global problem of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and ozone layer depletion, a future where in 25 years we may no longer have an artic sea ice in summer, and the near future and how select countries and companies are showing the way by moving quickly to deal with climate change.

He highlighted that both in Australia and in the US we are seeing significant movement amongst the state legislators and governments in driving emissions reduction targets and signing onto the Kyoto protocol limits at a state and city level. In the US he stated that 600 cities and 12 states are in the process of have done this already. In Australia state governments have moved quickly also to push an emissions trading and reduction goals.

In fact he went so far as to say that activities and the speed of change in industry, investment and policy in Australia may well allow it to regain a leadership position in this issue if it continues on this path.

He highlighted during question time that we do face significant challenges when it comes to issues of nuclear proliferation based around nuclear energy as a solution to climate problems. He highlighted that historically all cases where nuclear material has found its way into weapons program in countries have been found to be associated with nuclear energy programs.

An innocent question was asked by a young 10 year old student, there as a result of winning a school competition, which was “If you were elected to be the president of the united states in 2008, what would you do to deal with climate change.”

Mr Gore’s response was “Bless your heart” with a lot of laughter in the room, followed by, “I’m not running for president… but… if I was in that situation I would look at abolishing employment taxes and instead place taxes on pollution.” He said it was ridiculous that we live in a world where we are happy to penalise employment but not penalise pollution [including emissions]

I had the opportunity to pose a question myself, and asked Mr Gore if over the last year since he was in Australia had he come up with a dinner party ‘Zinger’ response sceptics of climate change, as posed by Andrew Denton in an interview on Enough Rope in September 2006, given we still need to move more quickly.

His response was no he didn’t have the zinger yet to convince climate sceptics but said that the challenge with climate change is “This this change is hard… really hard.. in fact its at the limits of what we as a society can do.” He went on to say that for laggards and sceptics at this stage of the process, we must lead by example, help bring them along, as the world is changing under their feet and its tough.

I’ll leave you with the quote from the end of his presentation, an old African quote, which sums up our future pretty well.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” The problem Al Gore highlighted is that we need to go quickly and far, so we must devote ourselves close to completely to this challenge.

If you want to catch the first 5 mins of his 20 minute presentation you can catch it on the FEX website


Article posted from The Cleantech Show

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

In the real world, solar often gets barely a passing grade

I’m a big fan of solar power. But as with anything, I like to know exactly what I’m getting. One of the big unspoken issues in the solar sector is the difference between the rated or estimated potential output of a solar system–and the actual production of kilowatt-hours. A range of factors from the margin of error in the modules, to temperature, dust and losses from wiring, conversion to AC power and any batteries all can contribute to as much as 30 percent lower actual power production–even in the first year.

Compounding this problem in my mind is that in California only about a third to half of our solar installations are actually independently monitored, according to one of my friends at Fat Spaniel, one of the leading monitors of solar systems.

The California Energy Commission did some good thumbnail analysis of solar in the real world several years ago.

Here’s the punch line from their analysis:

“So the ‘100-watt module’ output, reduced by production tolerance, heat, dust, wiring, AC conversion and other losses will translate into about 68 watts of AC power delivered to the house panel during the middle of a clear day (100 watts x 0.95 x 0.89 x 0.93 x 0.95 x 0.90 = 68 watts).” From A Guide to Photovoltaic System Design and Installation (PDF) by the California Energy Commission. If you are interested in solar, you need to read their report.

But this 68 watts is only part of the story. If you have battery storage on the system they say it could reduce the power another 6-10 percent. They then stated that poor installation layout problems–including shading can take an additional toll. Another big issue is the angle of the roof and the direction it faces (in California, where your roof faces can affect the power output up to another 15 percent for many roofs). And interesting enough, for all the talk about making windows out of solar in what is typically described as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), a vertical installation can reduce the power output up to about half all by itself!

Their bottom line: if the system is perfectly installed under perfect conditions the best case scenario for San Francisco would be 1,724 kwh, or electricity per year for each kilowatt installed and for Los Angeles would be about 1,758. But that’s before all the “real-world” adjustments. When you make all those real-world adjustments–take another 25-30 percent or more off the top, even for a well designed system. This fits with our best San Francisco benchmark, our major 675 kW rooftop solar facility in the San Francisco at Moscone Center, which produces around 1,200 kilowatt-hours per year per rated kilowatt installed.

So when it comes to solar, let’s make the right choice for solar power, but make it with our eyes open to the real world.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

Reflections on Energy Policy

by Richard T. Stuebi

At the beginning of my career in the mid-1980’s, I participated in numerous economic analyses pertaining to the “acid rain” debates that were then raging in DC. This work ultimately culminated in the implementation of Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which included a cap-and-trade program on sulfur dioxide emissions. This program was among the first environmental policies to employ a market-based (rather than command-and-control) approach, and its widely-appreciated success has set the stage for the cap-and-trade programs now being considered for greenhouse gas emissions.

It was rewarding to know that I was part of an effort that had real impact in creating effective policy, but it was also incredibly draining and tiring — an emotional roller-coaster of optimism, disappointment and frustration. Correspondingly, I stepped out of the policy fray entirely, focusing the next 15 years of my career squarely on the private sector in an effort to achieve positive impact (and perhaps make a little money too) in the energy industry through the forces of thoughtful capitalism. I had had enough of the political arena.

Alas, flash forward to the mid-2000’s, and now I’m working again in energy policy, this time at the state (Ohio) level. The challenge today is to secure the adoption of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Ohio, and it looks like the pro-RPS forces are making decent progress.

In late August, Governor Strickland released a comprehensive energy plan that includes an RPS, along with his proposed approach for cleaning up the messes created by Ohio’s flawed “deregulation” initiative back in 1999. Opponents of an RPS — primarily manufacturing/industrial concerns and (of course) electric utilities — have argued that RPS policy is “social crap”, which can be put off to another day so that everyone can focus on the electricity restructuring issues. The Strickland Administration forcefully insists that the two issues cannot be separated and must be dealt with holistically. This is fortunate, and wise, because bundling the two issues creates better negotiating leverage with the utilities and ensures more prompt attention to RPS.

Several RPS bills are in the pipeline. One was introduced last week by Representative Skindell (HB 313), another is in the works by Representative McGregor, and other bills will be released soon in both the Senate and the House to reflect the Governor’s proposal. Over the summer, I have spent considerable time with lawmakers and thought-leaders in Columbus to educate them on the RPS issue, and its importance in attracting/building an advanced energy industry in Ohio to create jobs and revitalize our struggling economy.

Anti-RPS parties argue that an RPS will raise electricity prices, that Ohio doesn’t have enough renewables to supply an RPS, and that renewables will make the grid more unreliable. A recently released study commissioned by The Cleveland Foundation found that an RPS in Ohio like the one next-door in Pennsylvania would have minimal impact on electricity prices — virtually no impact if Federal carbon legislation is implemented sometime in the next several years anyway. The other two concerns about an RPS are also refutable.

But, many opponents of an RPS are hard-headed, and some fall back on the weakest of threads: ideology. To them, it is abhorrent to contemplate the addition of mandates to the energy supply mix.

A conversation I had last week with an Ohio Representative was illuminating. This person, who I’ll leave anonymous, felt that renewables would come into the market once that their economics were competitive with conventional energy, which would be coming without government intervention sometime in the next 10 years anyway, so why force it?

To this legislator, the “free market” was paramount — never mind that we don’t have a free market for energy today — and he was only secure in the cozy bed of his pre-set beliefs. The legislator didn’t seem to understand (actually, didn’t want to listen) that many of the basic precepts for perfect competition weren’t in place: all participants in the market don’t have perfect information, and there are players in the market that do have market power. Either the Representative was satisifed with unregulated monopolistic behavior, or didn’t realize that it wasn’t just the private sector that needed to be competitive but the public sector as well.

You see, 25 (or 26 or 27, I can’t keep track) other states already have an RPS. The renewable industry is amassing in these states, largely bypassing Ohio. And, indeed, it’s not just competition between the states, but between countries. Ontario across Lake Erie has compelling renewable energy policy, and of course European countries far lead the list. Ohio is behind in capturing the renewable energy industry opportunity. If Ohio doesn’t want to capture that opportunity, we’re doing a good job.

I’ve come to conclude that, more than energy policy or environmental policy, RPS is industrial policy — and the U.S. just doesn’t do industrial policy very well. We’ve never needed to. We’re America: we have the most natural resources, the most talent, the biggest/free-est markets. Our country has always been ascendant. Well, I’m not so sure anymore.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. dominated the world scene in every respect. But in the past few decades, communism fell, Europe has rebounded from WWII, and the Asian economies have become tigers. While American entrepreneurs focused on high-tech opportunities, the U.S. let the industrial manufacturing sector largely slip away elsewhere. The rank-and-file has become an economy of Wal-Mart greeters: low wage employees selling low price products to customers who can’t afford high price products because of their low wage jobs.

I also see a significant difference between the mid-2000’s and the mid-1980’s in regards to policy: the rise of ideology and demonisation of the “other side”. It used to be that the pros and cons, the costs and benefits, of alternative policies were evaluated by both Democrats and Republicans with at least a modicum of objectivity. Now, dogma rules the day. Issues are labelled as “D” or “R”, not to be entertained (much less endorsed) by the other side.

As citizens, we must hold our politicians accountable to work together, to not be so closed-minded, to advance the true public interests (not to special interests of just a few wealthy constituencies). The urgency of the energy issues demands no less.

Lastly, I stand chagrined at the difference between Ohio and a state like California. Last year in California, the billionaire titans of the high-tech 21st Century economy went to their Governor (Schwartzenegger) to argue that the passage of climate legislation (what became AB32) was essential for their state to capture a significant share of the economic opportunity afforded by the cleantech sector, the biggest industry to arise in the next 50 years. This year in Ohio, the big corporates of the low-tech mid-20th Century — steel companies, industrial manufacturers, et al — are going to their Governor (Strickland) to argue that the passage of a measly RPS will kill our economy.

I am reminded by a quote about Ohio attributed to Mark Twain: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times.” It’s not just Cincinnati — Columbus may be there too.

Richard T. Stuebi is 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.

APEC Aftermath – 2 steps forward or 1 step back?

by Nick Bruse

Well, its been a big week here in Australia terms of both international and domestic politics with the ending of the APEC summit and the recent pre-election opinion polls being released today showing a further drop in support for John Howard’s re-election.

The papers here are wrapping up on the outcomes of the APEC summit, and the biggest aspect being reported about is the decisions or lack of specific decisions made around Climate Change.
Those in the community who were wanting specific targets set or caps agreed to had to go home disappointed, and its been quoted that perhaps their expectations where too high for this event.
Ive taken a few of the comments from the press and added my own thoughts to this. Here’s the link to the full Sydney Declaration on Climate Change and Energy

1. Each country has agreed that climate change is a problem and needs to be addressed. This builds momentum before a series of international meetings on climate change being hosted by the US later this month and the next UN climate meeting in Bali in December.

Well its nice to get a stake in the ground…only took 10 years plus of hammering.

2. The declaration sets out tangible responses on protecting forests and improving energy technology. Australia has offered $30m to an Indonesian forestry initiative to prevent deforestation. With the goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020.

Deforestation is probably one of the most critical issues in terms of loss of habitat, because once its gone it takes a significant period to return to its original state. Also with climate change putting pressures on habitats, the removal of migration corridors means that when a habitat changes, species are unable to move which increases the possibility of extinctions.
But are we trying to continue Australia’s historic approach to emissions reduction by advising our neighbours to do the same? My concern here is that Australia has stabilised most of its emissions since 1990 through a reduction in land clearing, not through industry action.

3. We also saw the increasing negotiations regarding the US led global nuclear energy partnership which which aims to expand the safe use of nuclear technology.

What can you say, of course this is going to continue, its all to obvious when Australia has rich supplies in uranium, big business and governments that will benefit from the rewards and you probably need less than a 100 lines of excel spreadsheet to model the economic model. But can you blame a government that sees in the next 20 years the cost of providing healthcare to an aging population, paying for infrastructure and and keeping those budget surpluses do anything different?

4. Other positives were that the goals are to reduce energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030 from the 2005 level.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but probably no where near enough what is required. Take for instance the built environment. In a recent study by Deacon University in Australia, they determined over a 3 year study that the built environment demands 40-50% of global energy, consumes 40% of non-renewable resources, generates 40% of landfill waste and uses 30% of fresh water reserves. The good news, 33% of energy related CO2 emissions are generated by energy use, 29% of that can be cut by existing tech by 2020 (new scientist August) . So there’s a 10% reduction right there, by 2020, and most of these initiatives can be done with paybacks of around 2-5 years.

I was recently down in Launceston, Tasmania, presenting at the Australian Direct Property Group with my colleagues from Thinc Projects on achieving sustainability in the property industry. Most of the activity in the sector around green building is not being driven by the government, but by business now wanting to be seen as being green, and investors and tenants driving the process. So lets hope that government in the coming months can step up to the plate more with assistance and stronger policy in this area.

In all of this, and its outside the scope of today’s blog but its probably worthwhile to step through if you have some time and do your own checking of the declaration against the stabilisation wedges and see what progress is being made. See if you can map out how far we have managed to get from these talks towards the required solutions.

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

Is Microsoft Vista Global Warming Friendly?

Is Microsoft Vista global warming friendly? Could Vista be the best selling cleantech product in the world? I was thinking about this question the other day, and started emailing the Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) press relations folks looking for an answer.

The Microsoft answer – yes it is. They have a recent release entitled “Windows Vista Power Management Features Can Help UK Companies Reduce Their Carbon Footprint” on some independent research they had done by PC Pro Labs in the UK.

Here’s their quote:

“Windows Vista is Microsoft’s most energy efficient operating system to date with its power management system, functionality, reliability and default settings focused on helping to reduce overall PC energy consumption. The key areas where the Sleep mode in Windows Vista has been improved compared to the equivalent Standby mode in Windows XP include:

• Enter Sleep mode after being inactive for 60 minutes
• In Windows Vista, it is much easier for users to change the power management settings themselves
• The Sleep mode is more reliable than Windows XP’s Standby mode, both in terms of entering the mode and safely resuming back into Windows
• Windows Vista is much quicker at resuming from Sleep, now taking two to three seconds compared to five seconds for Windows XP”

They also published a whitepaper entitled “Windows Vista Energy Conservation“. Reading through it all, Vista does seem to be an energy efficiency masterpiece.

But I wonder – the description of these tests seemed to quite fairly compare the XP and Vista operating systems running through a series of different scenarios – but it’s not a survey of real world conditions.

So I’m probably convinced that if you run the same computer post-Vista the exact same way you ran it on XP, that you’d use less power. Vista itself may actually BE the best selling cleantech product in the world. But in the real world, we don’t work that way. Each year we add a whole lot of new features and programs that suck down power, and buy more powerful PCs to run them on with every upgrade. And part of the promise of Vista is to enable even more such goodies – possibly offsetting the energy savings.

So are Windows users who have upgraded to Vista running the same programs in the same way, and the same (or more energy efficient PCs) and therefore using less power? Or are they actually using more or different features, or on a more powerful energy hog PC, and despite Microsoft’s energy efficiency efforts, using more power on a daily basis anyway after the upgrade? That might not be something Microsoft could control – but I’m sure curious as to the answer from a carbon standpoint.

As a matter of full disclosure, I run XP at the office, Vista at home, own a small amount of Microsoft stock (and am a very big fan) and have a very bad habit of leaving my computer and monitor on – but I’m working on that.

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, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.