ACORE offers dour view on bioenergy

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) had this to say about the current state of affairs on bioenergy. Nice to see some realism out there:

“The prospects for a successful green energy revolution  appear problematic with the diffused applications of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the seemingly faltering relevance of carbon regulation, the lack of policy coordination  on environmental/ renewable energy issues in the Federal Government between departments and agencies with broad natural resource jurisdiction, and the controversy surrounding green  energy uses  of bioenergy sources  such as co-firing by electric utilities and other companies. The significance of these issues will be escalated if the scheduled reduction in Federal grant, tax and loan assistance programs to renewables occur in 2011.”

If you want to learn more ACORE on this subject take a look at Sustaining National Stimulus: The Bioenergy Case

marketing monday: 6 tips for marketing in the clean economy

Technologies and services that reduce natural resource consumption and emissions are the future of global growth, as well as the pathway to climate stabilization. In China alone, expectations are for a $1 trillion annual “cleantech” market by 2013.

We are now entering a transition phase in cleantech, with focus shifting from technology to market commercialization. The winning technologies will win in large part because of marketing and communications. In the case of cleantech, it’s not enough as a marketer to be a good practitioner of marketing.

In a world of ever increasing sophistication and specialization, in-depth knowledge of key drivers is essential to success. That means a deep understanding of underlying technology, cultural perceptions, policy, and consumer and enterprise behavior.

Moreover, there is interconnectedness in cleantech that does not exist in other areas of the economy, which requires maintaining unusually high levels of visibility into multiple vertical industries. Here are six keys to success:

1. Think systems. One of the unique things about cleantech is that you can’t effectively talk about what you’re doing in a silo. It is all inter-related. If you do power storage, it relates to renewable energy and smart grid. If you do water, it’s connected to energy. If you do biofuels, it impacts food, water and energy. Your point of view must be developed accordingly.

2. Market the solution, not the problem. There is enough fatigue out there already about the environmental problems we face. Be a face for the solution.

3. Be specific. Talking about “green jobs” or “renewable energy” is no longer enough and audiences are growing more skeptical about “greenwashing.” Talk about “wind energy jobs” or “solar power.” The more detail you provide, the more believable you become.

4. Drive sales by focusing on your customers’ strategic priority. While it may be tempting to lead with the environmental benefits of your product or service, our research shows that compliance and cost/ROI take precedence. Take time to research your customers and understand their primary motivations. You can adapt your message (and channels of communication) accordingly and be far more impactful.

5. Be a policy wonk. Perhaps more than any other space, cleantech requires that you have your finger on the pulse of policy. Whether you are in clean energy, water, smart grid, biofuels or transportation – national and international policy will play a major role. Ignore engagement with policy-makers at your peril.

6. Go digital. Communications have moved online. Social media is the new currency. Find compelling content that can mobilize online communities and get traction for your brand. Ad spend and press releases are becoming less and less effective as the role of online search takes stories directly to individuals at the touch of a button. It can be very cost effective, too.

This first appeared in MediaPost’s Marketing: green newsletter

David Against G-Oil-iath

This week I had the opportunity to join 200+ business leaders from 35+ states in Washington, DC to present the business case for comprehensive climate and energy policy for the US. The We Can Lead group met with senior Obama administration officials and members of the Senate. It was a great first step in kicking off an effort to provide an institutional counter-point to the fossil fuel lobby, but my conclusion from the event was that we face a major uphill struggle. Specifically:

  • the current Administration is still measuring itself against the inaction of the Bush years, and needs to measure itself against the action of China and other governments that are accelerating their steps toward a clean economy while we appear to be stuck in 2nd gear.
  • the US Senate is still nowhere near enacting any climate or energy policy. 2009 is definitely out because of healthcare (I heard last week at REFF that the market has already discounted anything for 2009 as well). And there is even the possibility (albeit remote) that immigration reform could be up for deliberation before climate.
  • There are doubts on the key Senate finance committee about imposing a cap on carbon. The complexity of the issue has people searching for band-aids, and I fear stepping away from what’s really needed – reconstructive surgery.


On the positive side, it’s about time that the business sector representing the clean economy finally has an influential voice on Capitol Hill, and money to put behind it and against the fossil fuel lobby. I am a founder and on the steering committee of the Clean Economy Network, which was one of the co-organizers of the DC event (along with CERES).

Notes from Renewable Energy Finance Forum

Some of the trends, information I found interesting at REFF-West (rather than Tweet all of them, I’ve just listed them here):


  • Compared to REFF-West last year, the mood was considerably more positive. Especially important, project finance appears to be recovering (the “community as a whole is looking to migrate back to development projects”) and tax equity is attracting more players than just JP Morgan. Jonathan Yellen of Deutsche Bank said “the projects market… is very strong for what we just went through”. He attributed this in part to the tightening of the bond market, which was pushing institutions more aggressively into funding solar, wind and geothermal projects.
  • Some skepticism exists – Dan Reicher of Google said that without more policy support “we’re staring at the biggest cliff” for renewables when stimulus funding runs out in 18 months. Many at the meeting said DOE needs to be replaced by a CEDA (or the Green Bank), with Matt Cheney of Fotowatio less upbeat on the prospects for solar projects, and saying that “banks were not open for business” as claimed and calling for more innovation from the banking community on financing models.
  • VCs are also seeing more action – Anup Jacob of Virgin Green Fund said he’s now seeing 6 deals a day, up from 6 a week half a year ago. He lamented, however, that the quality of the deals was too low.
  • The forecast for M&A activity in 2010 is to expect “a lot of upside”, according to Jim Metcalfe of UBS Securities. IPO outlook “is improved, but there is still some way to go” to get back to the sweet spot of 2006/2007, according to Kevin Genieser of Morgan Stanley. There are 24 IPOs on file in various markets, but they will be smaller in scale, so likely to get good reception,
  • Not new, but good quote from Mike Eckhart of ACORE: “If you’re interested in clean energy, the government is your partner”. Like it or not, in the highly regulated energy space, you better get your government groove on.
  • Coal-to-liquid – I was unaware that the US CTL program began in 1944. Give it up already, or in the words of John Geesman, “after 65 years, the audacity of hope should yield to the audacity of nope”.
  • Parker Weil of BofA Merrill Lynch said the “markets doesn’t believe that the best companies are getting the government funding”. 250 reviewers in DOE building every day since May reviewing ARRA projects, Matt Rogers of DOE said. But oddly, there is little transparency in how the decisions to fund are made – the credit committee for DOE loan program is confidential. That was troubling to many.
  • Renewable energy technology entrepreneurs should not see utilities as competitors who will try to go it alone and scale their own technology, according to Weil, who said the utilities do not have as strong of a capital position as many believe.
  • Former US Rep. Vic Fazio thinks the Senate can find 60 votes for climate and energy bill in the January-March 2010 timeframe. On a similar note, Tim Newell, advisor to U.S. Renewables Group, said that the capital markets have already discounted the possibility of climate legislation happening in 2009,
  • China – good intelligence from Ryan Wiser of LBNL
    • Good chance it will surpass the US in wind installations for 2009.
    • Solar PV feed-in tariff could come this year, but more probable next year (already feed-ins for biomass and wind).
    • Expecting government to significantly increase their targets for wind and solar generation by end of 2009
  • “Biofuels is a 4-letter word in most investment shops right now” – Jacob
  • Hottest sectors in next 12 months:
    • PV, CSP – Yellen
    • “Big Wind and Small (i.e. distributed) Solar” – Weil
    • Wind for developers, smart grid for private equity – Jim McDermott
    • Smart grid and solar – Jacob
    • Smart grid (including demand response, meters and data management) – Geneiser

Interesting events mentioned that are worth sharing: US Partnership on Renewable Energy Finance and The Networked Grid

Go “Gig” or Go Home

At the launch of the Gigaton Throwdown in DC last week, entrepreneurs and investors adopted a new metric for cleantech businesses other than internal rate of return – something called gigaton scale. The herd mentality that has characterized cleantech over the past three years continues today. In 2007 it was biofuels, in 2008 it was solar, and this year it appears to be smart grid and efficiency (which is ironic because for the longest time investors swore up and down that energy efficiency didn’t fit the VC model). What is so captivating about the Gigaton Throwdown is that it challenges businesses, investors and policymakers alike to focus on the technological pathways that have the potential to abate one gigaton of carbon or GHG equivalent per pathway per year by 2020. And executives with vision appear to be buying in. The CEO of Novozymes, Steen Riisgaard, for example told me during a recent conversation: “Thinking at gigaton scale is helping us identify our ultimate potential. Novozymes has the aim to help our customers achieve a 75 million tons reduction in greenhouse gases by 2015. But we actually believe the potential is much, much higher if you look at the entire industrial biotech space, where we think can reach gigaton scale within 10-20 years.” Similarly, Marty Lagod of Firelake Capital referenced one company, EOS Climate, in his investment portfolio that he bet on precisely because it has the potential to reach gigaton scale. Marc Porat, who has founded three cleantech building companies (Serious MaterialsCalStar and ZETA Communities) has focused on building materials and building efficiency for the same reason. In his typical candor, he said that a lot of cleantech businesses in Silicon Valley are “vanities, which will not make a difference”. He’s absolutely right. And while businesses and entrepreneurs seem to be getting it, according to Cathy Zoi, the newly confirmed assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy, policymakers in DC “don’t fully understand the potential scale of clean energy”. If the Gigaton Throwdown is successful it will change that, and bring all parties involved in the clean economy to the common realization that gigaton scale – besides meaning the possibility of climate stabilization within the necessary timeframe – also means gigadollar scale.

Clean Economy Has New National Voice

The creation of the Clean Economy Network (CEN) is long overdue. A number of clean energy, clean technology advocacy groups already exist such as the Clean Technology and Sustainable IndustriesE2Apollo AllianceACORE. But none has been focused exclusively on generating the influence in DC and in state capitals needed to compete with the lobbying might of the power, manufacturing and oil and gas industries. CEN is looking to change that by bringing together a “nonpartisan collection of professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, workers joined by like-minded professionals and thinkers from across the economy and across the political spectrum.” The goal is to advocate for policies that “catalyze clean development and create green jobs”. The group has already started making an impact, through targeted advertising (take a look at their “We Can Lead” campaign launched in collaboration with CERES Business for Innovative Climate + Energy Policy (BICEP)), regular face-to-face interaction with policymakers and bi-weekly policy briefings for executives in the cleantech sector. I am a founding member, and encourage others who work in the field to get involved.

Peer-Reviewed Cleantech Journal Launches

The Cleantech Law & Business Review has officially launched with the release of its first quarterly issue. The goal of the Review is to accelerate cleantech commercialization by addressing a current deficiency in the sector: the absence of a forum that has the ability to look holistically, and through expert eyes, at the opportunities and challenges of cleantech.

The journal will be peer reviewed (the first such publication in cleantech) and solicit contributions from business, academic, policy and legal experts to address the most topical and strategic issues facing cleantech commercialization today.

“We want people to start thinking more laterally, not in silos… because a one dimensional approach is a non-starter,” says managing editor Bill Pentland. “Understanding the problems is something that will determine the success of the solutions, and that requires a systems approach.”

Existing cleantech publications are doing a good job of reporting on specific solutions. The Review hopes to take all of the pieces and fit them together. The publication will be supported by sponsorship and subscriptions. The inaugural issues was built around the theme of carbon offsets. Other issues this year will focus on water, renewable energy and climate change.

marketing monday: dot freako, pickin on pickens, GEe whiz

This is installment #1 of a regular update – short snippets of commentary – I’ll be doing on happenings related to cleantech marketing. It’s intended to be a smell test. So let’s clear those nostrils:

  • There’s talk of a new dot “eco” domain, with Al Gore attached as the celebrity. First, the last thing we need in the world is another web domain to manage (I’m still trying to get over the buzzkill from .biz). Second, the whole .eco thing will turn into a greenwashing tsunami before you can say Chevron. I can see it already –,… the first one I would probably register would be a squatter site at According to reports, the founders behind the domain plan to foil possible greenwashing by policing whether people deserve to have the dot or not (they use the term “filter”, but let’s just call it what it would be – a subjective value judgment, aka censorship, aka a non-starter). How about we spend our time doing something substantive instead? Gore is too polarizing for the dot eco thing to gain significant mainstream traction (one eco-leaning journalist recently told me that he’s sick and tired of hearing Gore give the same speech over and over, and even after all that Gore-speak people still don’t believe him). The idea behind the new dot – give 50% of profit to environmental causes – is a fine one, but the people who already own URLs at .com, .net, .org and whatever other dot could just as easily save their dot eco registration money and give 10 bucks a year to a good cause through KivaINVESTGreen MicrofinancePractical ActionGlobal Green and Global GivingConclusion: Marketing ploy that’s too clever by half, and ultimately a distraction. Besides, isn’t environmentalism dead?
  • I confess I’m intrigued by the Virtual March that T. Boone Pickens’ organization has announced for early April. If 2 million people really do make their voices heard by policymakers in DC (by phone, email and yes, even something called “fax”) then how bad can that be, right? But I question the whole motivation of Pickens himself. Is it merely coincidence that two central components of the Pickens plan for planetary salvation – wind power and natural gas – just happen to be two of his major areas of investment? Further more, natural gas is just as much in the control of the Middle East and Central Asia as oil (more than two-thirds of world proved reserves). Why replace one foreign addiction with another? Conclusion: I enlisted in the “army”, but I’m pretty sure Congress is only paying attention to the bazillion lobbyists now lurking around every corner of DC (including Pickens) looking for stimulus money.
  • GE’s ecomagination has pulled together an interactive campaign to help people visualize the Smart Grid through an “augmented reality” digital hologram. (Reality is enough for me as is thanks, I don’t need it augmented). But give GE credit for experimenting with something new and different. Unfortunately, I only got as far as the five-part instructions that began with a requirement to print a “Solar Panel Marker” (a what?). Instead, I watched an accompanying video that “shows how it works”. Looks cool. Conclusion: Good if you have 45 minutes in a 6th grade science class. Bad if you are a working stiff like me with two kids that want to go outside and play. Also, need to tone the geek speak way down.

If you have ideas for other issues to explore, send me a note on Twitter @mrcleantech

Global Cleantech Race Quickens: SEZ to LCZ

China’s amazing surge as an economic power started with the creation of special economic zones (SEZs) nearly 30 years ago, as did my “it’s complicated” love affair with the country. The zones provided a blueprint for the rest of the country toward accelerated wealth creation. They also marked the beginning of a catastrophic decline in environmental capital. Now the country may be dusting off the SEZ concept and considering the creation of Low Carbon Zones (LCZs). My involvement in the US-China Clean Energy Forum and JUCCCE has put China front of mind, as has my front-row seat in the international race to see who becomes the superpower of cleantech. In the resource-constrained world of the future, the economies that are most efficient (i.e. best at innovating and adopting clean technologies) will win. First proposed in 2007, the idea of Low Carbon Zones was an outcome of interaction between EU and Chinese think tanks, with the support of the UK Foreign Ministry and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The concept, thumbnailed here and here with even greater detail here, states:

LCZs would aim to stimulate transformational regional political leadership, endorsed at the national level, to create an enabling environment for large-scale innovative low carbon private and public investment. Just as SEZs provided China with a laboratory to shape its participation in the global market economy, the LCZs could pioneer approaches to decarbonisation compatible with Chinese institutions and development approaches.

It appears an initial pilot of the LCZ concept is planned for China’s heavy industrial province of Jilin. I hope the idea flies, as it’s clearly in the global long-term interest. But no doubt questions of IP, tech transfer and ultimately money could create concerns within the industrialized democracies that the West is once again funding China’s development, only to be left holding the bag.

Another seemingly similar initiative in China has recently emerged from the Climate Group, outlined in a new report, which also focuses on developing low carbon cities. According to the Climate Group, the program aims to recruit, motivate, and engage 20 Chinese cities in a five-year campaign to transform and accelerate the local market for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. MOUs have already been signed with the cities of Guiyang and Dezhou.  It’s unclear from the materials I’ve read what the specific funding mechanism for either of these concepts will be, although with the backing of groups like the NDRC at the central government level, it’s certainly within the realm of the possible. As I’ve written about before, China’s scale offers the greatest potential for any country (except for maybe India) to drive down costs of cleantech and make clean solutions truly commercially viable.

But that doesn’t mean other countries aren’t trying to compete. Less developed ideas seem to be emerging in the US and Europe. Cities like Seattle and Boston have been floating the idea of cleantech innovation hubs. Various states are also vying to attract cleantech investment and economic stimulus money, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Michigan. In Europe, efforts are also under way to create the region’s first cleantech incubator, which if successful, might be followed by others. And of course, there is the Oz-like effort in MASDAR in Abu Dhabi (“pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”), where the Wizard is oil money.

It’s great to see a growing understanding that low carbon leadership will mean future political and economic leadership in the world. I just hope that those in the emerging Cleantech Great Game keep in mind the lessons of the original Great Game – that the fight for supremacy over a largely unmapped, strategic territory often leads to unnecessary pain and suffering at the expense of the common good. Let’s hope that the newly announced International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) can play a role in fostering the needed collaboration and help us put aside the myopia often caused by financial gain.

Green Eggs & Spam: Work Remains for Marketers

According to the State of Green Business 2009 released today, consumers aren’t buying it when it comes to corporate green marketing. The most damning excerpt of the report’s section on marketing cites a report that found readers could think of not one brand that was “truly green or going green”. Nice try ecomagination! I guess we’ll have to see if GE’s Super Bowl ads on its smart grid business make any difference in perception. In the meantime, thefederal government is also doing its part by refreshing rules governing green marketing claims. The rules are badly needed. As is evident from the SOGB report, it’s still possible to build practically any argument for or against green marketing depending on the data/research you use. We need standards. Here’s the section on green marketing from the report:

A rise in green marketing efforts has been matched by a nearly equal rise in claims of greenwashing by activists, bloggers, and others. Increased concerns about energy, climate, toxics, and other environmental issues have led some of the largest consumer brands to enter the green marketplace, prodded by retailers such as Wal-Mart, which has been pushing suppliers to offer affordable green products. But with the new players and products has come a new wave of claims about greenwashing, or at least public frustration that companies aren’t doing enough, aren’t telling their stories well, or both.

Green claims have continued to grow. An Earth Day report revealed that 2007 saw the largest number of green trademark applications since 2000, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: More than 300,000 applications for green brand names, logos, and tag lines. Companies like Apple, Canon, Clorox, and Fiji Water entered the green marketplace for the first time, raising awareness — but also questions and, sometimes, controversy. Given the lack of definitions, just about anything can be claimed as “green” — or “greenwash” — further muddying the waters.

One problem is that consumers are ambivalent at best about shopping green. They claim they want to, but they also say that they don’t trust companies. For example, surveys show that the number of people concerned about climate change continues to grow, and that consumers believe businesses should bear the heaviest load in addressing it, but they aren’t convinced that the business sector is doing as much as it should. Marketers aiming to shift their audiences toward making greener purchasing decisions are coming up short for the vast majority of the population, although a small subset is green enough to helpspread the environmental awareness on their own, according to one study. Although about half of those in another survey said they trust companies to be truthful in their environmental marketing and believe companies are accurately presenting information about their impact on the earth, nearly 60 percent would like to see more government regulation of green claims to ensure they are accurate. Given the Federal Trade Commission’s review of green marketing claims launched last year, they just might get it.

The upshot is that despite the continued upswing in green business activity, there’s no concomitant rise in consumer awareness or trust. Case in point: With no prompting, nearly half of all respondents to one survey were essentially unable to name a single feature of a green home — not solar power, compact fluorescent light bulbs, home recycling, or Energy Star-labeled appliances. And when readers of were asked what brand they think of as truly green or going green, the top answer: none at all.