New Energy + Mature Energy = Scale

Because of my work with PetroAlgaeSkyFuelEarthTronics and other cleantech companies, it has become clear to me that the degree of success achieved by “new energy” technologies (wind, solar, biofuels, electric vehicles, etc) will in large part be the result of their ability to integrate into and leverage the existing, “mature energy” infrastructure. Whether it’s plug-in, drop-in, co-fire, bolt-on or some other term, it is these types of technology – which DO NOT require significant retooling of refineries, transmission, storage, etc – that will have the best chance to scale, and thereby win in the long-term. Exxon’s recent announcement to invest $600 million in algae is a good indicator of this trend. Similar to the discussion of gigaton scale in my last post, cleantech companies need to be thinking about this issue when developing their positioning and go-to-market strategy.

Cleantech Media Survey: 2009 is Policy, Blog Year

Media covering cleantech expect to pay significant attention to policy in 2009 and they also have declared it the year of blogging and video, according to results of my first Annual Cleantech Media Survey released today. With an Obama administration set to take office and the next president’s commitment to end oil dependence and address climate change, 77% of those surveyed said they expect media to place “significant” emphasis on policy-related cleantech coverage, with the remainder saying policy coverage would be “moderate”. In addition, the survey of more than 100 media – leading blogs as well as mainstream newspapers, magazines and broadcasters – revealed that roughly three-quarters expect to see growing demand for cleantech sector news (from both readers and editors) this year compared to 2008.

Solar will remain king of the renewables. Two-thirds of those surveyed named solar as the renewable energy source to be most covered in 2009, with wind and next generation biofuels coming in a distant tie for second at 15% each. And of note, media expect energy efficiency – long a tough sell to editors and readers – to be the top non-renewables cleantech story for 2009, with 40% naming it their top choice. Carbon market and related technologies was second at 25%, with EVs and industry consolidation coming in at 17% and 15%, respectively.

As far as delivery of cleantech news, a majority of survey participants – nearly 60% – said blogs would be the key tool to tell the cleantech story in 2009, with video garnering one-fifth of the vote (Twitter, podcasts and slideshows also received mention). Concerning to the overall state of cleantech media, a total of 62% of those surveyed expect new media to continue to grow and traditional media to continue to shrink, or for new media to take market share from traditional media. A quarter had a balanced POV, expecting both new and traditional media to look for mutually beneficial distribution relationships.

Among the respondents, there is little consensus on the major untold story for 2009. Categories that received multiple votes included efficiency (including smart grid, building energy use and demand response), coal, power storage and cleantech as the engine for economic recovery. Others receiving votes included CleanNano, bioplastics, the Mideast as solar mecca, urban windmills and water as the next “peak” story, Several media also expect the main untold story to be a negative one – examples included: realization of how long it will take for renewables to become more than a rounding error in the energy diet; new forms of greenwash as companies scramble for Obama dollars, and how solar PV and hybrid cars will contribute nothing significant to cutting GHG.

Some reporters and organizations have done their own stand-alone predictions for the new year. Kerry Dolan of Forbes, for example, predicts that the grid will be big in 2009, and that solar will continue to soar. American Wind Energy Association also did their predictions for wind in 2009, Jetson Green offered up seven trends to expect in 2009 and Greener Buildings offered up their forecast as well.

If you’ve seen other media forecasts for 2009, please add them to the Comments section of this post.

60,000 Green Jobs Projected for NW

newly released report says Washington and Oregon states can assume leadership in five cleantech sectors with the potential to generate up to 63,000 direct jobs by 2025 (up from 11,000 today), and outlines what it says is a plan to be the first US region to achieve 75% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2025. By the report’s own admission, there is nothing particularly new about the five presumptive areas of strength (PV manufacturing, wind power development, green building design, smart grid and bioenergy), and the 75% figure is somewhat misleading, given that the two states already get 62% of their electricity from clean hydro and renewable sources (The hydro, of course, has nothing to do with anything we’ve done, but merely the luck of living in a place with lots of mountains and rivers). That said, the report is a very helpful first step for a region that has struggled mightily to get its act together and to find a clear identity and focus amid the clean technology boom in the Bay Area and Boston. It points to a number of signals that point to the potential for future leadership – home to big PV plants from REC and Solar World, home to big wind developments, etc. The report, produced by Climate Solutions and CleanEdge, also proposes a top-level series of 10 actions for the Northwest to achieve its role as a cleantech leader. The top 10 list: 1. put a price on carbon, 2. increase Washington RPS to 25 percent by 2025, 3. implement low carbon fuel standards, 4. pass aggressive green building codes, 5. foster regional cooperation, 6. ensure public funding for clean technology via PERS investments and through targeted clean-tech funds, 7. implement effective tax credits for renewables development, 8. deploy cleantech workforce development programs, 9. establish government procurement policies for cleantech products and services and 10. build out regional smart grids and 21st century transmission backbone.

Oh, is that all? Not to mention that how we achieve all of that in 17 years is still unclear. But it is clear from the report that the proof of Northwest leadership is building in drips rather than torrents. It points out several major weaknesses, including some that make the top 10 actions look easy:

  • Absence of a leading university technology incubator like MIT or Stanford
  • Technology investment climate that pales in comparison to Silicon Valley and Boston
  • Small size of public clean-energy support funds compared to other state leaders
  • Aging electric utility grid system challenged to carry increasing distributed and variable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar
  • Small regional market served by cheap hydro, compared to densely populated markets with high-power prices in other cleantech centers

Another issue that is particularly troubling to me: the lack of synergy between Oregon and Washington. They are working very much in silos, despite the best efforts of Climate Solutions. The one bright spot is the Western Climate Initiative, so that’s hopefully something to build on. And the absence so far of any attempt by Oregon and

Washington’s Fortune 500 companies to be advocates for the region and to work together to bring their influence to bare.

Nevertheless, the report is rather optimistic in its job creation forecasts, with an acclerated forecast of 63,000. The less aggressive target is 40,000. Nearly two thirds of the growth is expected to come from the PV and bioenergy sectors.

Disclosure: I was one of the 50+ people interviewed for the report and I’m a member of the Climate Solutions Business Leaders for Climate Action group. I’ve written about many of these obstacles and opportunities here in the past.

Suppliers See Red over Green Building

I’ve spent a lot of time in building technology since starting work with concrete innovator Hycrete. This sector screams business opportunity. In part because of what US groups like Healthy Building Network are developing with the Pharos Project and Bill McDonough and his crew are doing with Cradle to Cradle. Other groups are also in the space, such as UK-based The Green Standard. These groups, although taking somewhat different approaches, have one goal in mind — to ensure that building materials are safe for humans and the environment, which often means more energy and water efficient as well. Pharos is essentially a graded scale identifying what range of sustainability and health various products fall within, while C2C is a more transitional approach that gets companies that are manufacturing to buy in to a “back to the soil” design methodology and work to gradually improve their process. The Green Standard is very focused on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) life cycle assessment. Either way, this new type of thinking and the standards that are sure to emerge will force suppliers to the building industry to come up with alternative solutions or go the way of the dodo. Perhaps an even bigger red flag for suppliers – leading architecture and design firms are working independently and with the various emerging standards to come up with their own list of supplies that are deemed bad for human health and the environment. The number of young companies in this space is growing quickly, you might say as quickly as a mushroom (one of the most fun companies is Ecovative Design, who just won the2008 PICNIC Green Challenge for their mushroom-derived Greensulate product). A resource for other materials that has received some attention is an online database and book called Transmaterial. All of these initiatives will surely further ruffle the feathers of the Vinyl Industry and other powerful lobbies in the building sector. But if the incumbent suppliers buck the trend, they will be missing a huge business opportunity for the creation of new markets for more sustainable supplies. Just think what will be needed to replace PVC? It’s not about ideology, it’s about business opportunity.

Wireless Comes Clean

Cleantech is fun because it touches so much, although technically in the case of wireless there is no touching going on (alas). Wireless is particularly effective when applied to more efficient use of energy, water and other resources. I first took notice of the growing wireless/cleantech ecosystem when I learned that Vulcan Capital (my neighbor in Seattle) had invested in a company called Ember. Other companies in the space, many of which use wireless for various sensing applications that monitor and automate demand of  energy and water use for utilities, buildings and facilities, have attracted investment including SynapSenseEka SystemsAccuwater and Powercast to name but a few. Of course major players such as Honeywell and Siemens (through spin-off EnOcean) are also heavily involved. A newcomer called On-Ramp Wireless is claiming orders of magnitude greater capacity and range when compared to other systems based on the Zigbee standard (a full list of companies involved with Zigbee can be seen here). Wayne Manges, a leading wireless advocate with the Oak Ridge National Lab, put the whole “green wireless” opportunity into perspective in an interview with Green Mountain Engineering. Mr. Manges noted: “The ‘holy grail,’ of course, is low-cost ubiquitous sensors. With improvements in process visibility users get better energy efficiency, materials use, quality control, inventory tracking and reduced waste.” He predicted that wireless sensing will spark “a tidal wave of change” to industry and culture. Pacific Northwest National Labs is also doing work in this area, focused more on managing HVAC systems wirelessly, something my client Optimum Energy is working on as well. The Department of Energy (DOE) has largely been responsible for creating the industry for wireless in energy management, in part through itsguaranteed loan program. One of the keys, according to Manges and others, to really blowing out the wireless cleantech segment is promulgating standards that take away the hesitation of end-users, many of whom are wary of investing without protocols that can talk to each other. ISA 100 intends to do that, and expects its first standard to come out in December 2008. Suffice it to say that cleantech is more than just the sexy, shiny (and high risk) renewable energy gadgetry. It is also the more mundane, but equally if not more impactful, world of wireless controls and automation and their importance in delivering on the promise of the smart grid. Even so, there is also cutting edge work being done to achieve Nikola Tesla’s dream of wireless transmission of energy, including experimentation with magnetic resonance by Marin Soljacic at MIT, which might eventually have even bigger ramifications. This will continue to be a fun space to watch.

(Another) call to action for the NW

Here’s an op-ed that I penned with Dan Rosen that appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune. If you haven’t joined Business Leaders for Climate Solutions, you should.

For a long time, “green” in Washington state has stood for Granny Smith and pine trees. With the Legislature’s passage last session of the Climate Action and Green Jobs bill, the state took a big step in creating a future based on the new green – a vibrant economy based on clean technology (cleantech), the green consumer and green exports.

Gov. Chris Gregoire deserves congratulations for requesting and championing the bill. But we all still have more work to do. The window for establishing leadership in the cleantech economy is fast closing. The opportunity to have a strong voice in shaping federal climate policy is closing fast, too. According to the Cleantech Network, while the total amount of venture capital invested in clean technology grew explosively in the last year, the Northwest accounted for just four percent of the total. The Northwest’s share was $261 million out of a national total of $6.4 billion, barely placing it in the top 10 regions. And that’s not just Washington state, but Oregon and British Columbia as well.

 

Discount the investment in the local biodiesel company Imperium Renewables in 2007, and Washington easily trails the Vancouver, B.C., cleantech cluster and is arguably far behind Oregon, where business leadership has articulated a much clearer vision for establishing an industrial base around the theme of sustainability. California and the Northeast have taken significant leads, and places like Austin, Texas, and Chicago are mobilizing civic leadership around this sector.

 

 

 

 

As members of Business Leaders for Climate Solutions, we are proud to have supported the Climate Actions and Green Jobs bill. We were joined by 32 other state business leaders, representing cleantech entrepreneurs, investors, energy consultants, service providers or simply business people passionate about sustainability.

 

 

 

 

But if the Evergreen State is going to emerge from the ongoing cleantech boom with a significant piece of the green that is being created, the broader business community must rapidly and definitively elevate its game.This is not a niche issue; the challenge of using energy more efficiently and developing sustainable products and services affects every sector of the economy and will provide both opportunities for leadership and tremendous risks for the laggards. A recent survey found 61 percent of business executives around the world expect climate change solutions to boost company profits. That’s why the major corporations that provide Washington’s economic backbone and their executive leadership need to bring their vitally important participation to the table: It’s of great economic interest to all of us.

 

 

 

Washington state arguably has several characteristics that will help us as we strive for a piece of the green economy. Our assets include: unrivaled branding as a center of “green” ideas; a consumer base that is highly sophisticated and demands truly sustainable products and services; and strong trade and economic ties with China and the Far East, which is fast emerging as a leading consumer of cleantech products and services. We applaud Sen. Maria Cantwell’s efforts to make Seattle the center for the dialogue with

China about these issues.We also have a vibrant green building-and-design industry, which is one of the key pillars of the green economy. And we have the potential to become a power in providing integrated design solutions that will be needed to reduce energy usage worldwide, including “green software” and smart-grid applications. 

 

 

Along with these strengths, we need to find sustainable and verifiable ways to leverage our vast forestry and agricultural resources as sources of renewable fuels and carbon sinks as regional and international markets take root.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But key pieces are missing. Specifically, for Washington to compete and lead in the cleantech economy, the business community must demand and achieve three things:

• Legislation next year that commits Olympia to put a price on carbon through a regional cap-and-trade system, along with complementary policies that promote clean energy, sustainable development, transportation and land use, energy efficiency and training for the green-collar workforce;

• Pressure on the federal government for strong climate policy that achieves reductions in global warming pollution that is science-based and beneficial to the economy;

• And we need a business community that is focused on and organized around the vision of making the region an international leader in the coming cleantech transformation.

We have a chance to truly be Evergreen. Now let’s seize it.

Notes from a Green Brainstorm

Hundreds of leaders from business, policy and NGOs in the same room for two days, naturally some interesting things will emerge. Below is a quick sketch of trends and comments from the just wrapped Fortune Brainstorm Green that I thought of particular note:

  • The media “needs to get off cars and on to buildings” - Autodesk executive chairman Carol Bartz on the fact that the issue of buildings sucking energy, material and water is still not getting the attention it deserves. The numbers back her up. Conversely, it was noted by others in the green building space like Hycrete and Serious Materials that after a two decade hiatus, venture funding has found its way back to building in the past 2 years.
  • A new version of LEED is set for unveil at Greenbuild in Boston and will be a “quantum leap” - head of USGBC Rick Fedrizzi
  • Seems to be growing unease, and even skepticism, that cap and trade is going to be as easy at many thought. 2011 was heard repeatedly as a possible timeframe for legislation. Will a nascent business consensus fray into a mess? Are the economics fully understood to push forward aggressively? Is the Hill ready? Anecdotally at least, the answer is still clearly in the balance. One interesting alternative presented was Cap and Dividend.
  • Like building, energy efficiency is still struggling to get more than a lot of lip service. Is recession the catalyst for cracking that nut? It was mentioned as a possibility.
  • Hybrids and small cars are the fastest growing segment of US automotive market, according to Beth Lowery of GM. “The price of fuel is driving behavior,” she said.
  • “Living building” that taps into biomimicry is going mainstream. HOK - the giant architecture and design firm is starting to position itself as “bio-inspired”, according to Janine Benyus, the founder of the Biomimicry Guild. Benyus’ group is also looking to launch Asknature.org – a cool idea that allows anyone to query a database with questions about how nature addresses specific issues.
  • Coke’s environmental guru Jeff Seabright said look for something soon about consumer-facing information about “water used” in the company’s products. It may not be on-package information, but something is coming. This would be welcome, since embedded water in consumer products is still very opaque to the consumer (for example, according to Dow Chemicals’ Scott Noesen, it takes 2,000 liters of water to make a McDonald’s hamburger if you do the whole-cost analysis.) There is nutritional information, now carbon labeling information has appeared, and water is the logical next step. Let’s hope it happens.
  • Vinod Khosla was the most provocative in my opinion during a 1:1 with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky. Highlights include:
    • Next generation batteries are not on a rapidly declining cost curve and require a quantum jump with a high probability of failure
    • The “Prius is more greenwash than green”
    • Technology for clean energy will only succeed if it passes the Chindia price test. If it’s affordable in China and India then it has a shot.
    • Carbon emissions from all-electric cars are 3x more than that of cars powered by cellulosic ethanol.
  • The highest correlation in the movement of solar stocks is the price of oil (not the price of natural gas as would be expected) - David Edwards, analyst at Morgan Stanley
  • Both Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant and Khosla cited the same statistics placing biofuel as the fourth leading cause for the spike in global grain prices. The top three – rise in oil prices, drought in Australia and change in eating habits in developing countries like China (to more meat). I found one paper on Khosla’s site about Fuel vs. Food, but it didn’t appear to include the above list. Anyone know where it comes from?
  • When Fortune’s Marc Gunther asked a panel of Xerox, GM, SC Johnson and Dupont executives what grade corporate America should get in addressing environmental challenges (10 being the best grade), all of them said “1″, with the exception of GM’s Lowery, who gave a “2″ because of innovation happening around new technologies. If you want to actually score a company, you can thanks to the CEO of Stonyfield Farm Gary Hirshberg, who has created an online corporate scorecard at Climatecounts.org