EV to be Most Hyped News of 2011: Survey

Media covering renewable energy and cleantech overwhelmingly expect the biggest news hype of 2011 to come from electric transportation, while they identified energy efficiency as the most deserving of coverage, according to my annual survey. With more than 70 respondents from newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and blogs, the survey also revealed that more than two-thirds of media expect demand for cleantech coverage to be greater this year.

The survey strongly confirmed one trend – the migration of content online; and appeared to shoot down another – lack of adequate budget. Nearly all of the respondents – 96% – said their work will primarily appear online, while almost 70% said that they would have enough resources to do a good job of reporting on cleantech this year. At the same time, there is a willingness to use content (video, animation, graphics, etc) produced by non-media sources (73% said they frequently or sometimes used content developed by companies).

In addition, the survey revealed some social media habits with regard to obtaining information, with Twitter (82%) by far and away the top choice of social tools for tracking news.  The RSS feed is also clearly not dead, with 57% naming it as the second tool of choice.

EV received 56% of the votes to be the most hyped sector in 2011, more than double the nearest competitor – smart grid, which received 20% of the votes. The only other technology that registered double-digit percentages was carbon capture and sequestration (16%).  On the flip side, media identified energy efficiency as the area that deserved the most media attention, with 42% choosing EE. This is ironic since I’ve often heard reporters say that they want to cover energy efficiency, but editors find it too boring (this is backed up by page views). The other technologies deserving attention mentioned by  more than 10% of respondents were: carbon management (20%); solar (13%); smart grid (13%) and water (11%). One of the most important sectors from an impact perspective, agriculture and foresty, got no votes.

As in previous years, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed (68%) said B2B coverage would take priority this year, with the remainder paying more attention to consumer technologies. Overall, the overall trend is also of continued interest in the sector – 62% expected increased demand for cleantech news among audiences

Interest in policy coverage also remains high, with nearly 80% expressing significant or moderate interest in tracking government developments.

Clean Energy: Too Many Interests, Not Enough Group

There is a lot of interest in clean energy. Here’s just a partial list of the US groups out there: American Business for Clean Energy,  Business Council for Sustainable EnergyEnvironmental EntrepreneursInvestor Network on Climate RiskBiomass Power AssociationRenewable Fuels AssociationClean Economy NetworkUS Climate Action PartnershipClean Energy WorksUS Clean Heat and Power AssociationSolar AllianceWe Can LeadAmerican Wind Energy AssociationAmerican Coalition for EthanolAdvanced Biofuels CoalitionWind CoalitionBusiness for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy,  Growth Energy,National Hydropower AssociationGeothermal Energy AssociationSolar Energy Industry AssociationSolar Electric Power AssociationCeresAmerican Council on Renewable EnergyAmerican Biogas Council,Carbon War RoomAlgal Biomass AssociationFuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy AssociationElectrification CoalitionAmerican Council for Energy Efficient EconomyGridwise AllianceDemand Response and Smart Grid CoalitionAmerican Energy Innovation CouncilBlueGreen Alliance, Water Innovations Alliance.

Remember, that is a partial list. And that doesn’t even include state and regional groups, of which there are dozens more.

Get the picture? A jumble of letters: “C” for council (five) and coalition (five); “A” for association (11) and alliance (four) and “S” for solar (three); plus at least four groups directly and indirectly touching “B” (for biofuels) and more than half a dozen groups broadly positioned around “E” for energy. What does that spell? Trouble with a “T”. At a time when the clean energy industry needs one powerful voice to drive policy and get federal and state lawmakers to actually do something visionary, what we are getting is a 100-part disharmony of sometimes clashing, sometimes overlapping agendas. With the recent shift in political winds in DC and many state houses signaling a tougher road ahead for a clean energy agenda, the need for that unified voice is even greater.

In fairness, an examination of the missions for the various groups often shows material differences in their focus, but how important are those differences in the broader picture? That is a question that we need to be asking ourselves.

The environmental NGOs – EDF, NRDC, WRI, etc – failed to influence national policy in a significant way during the first half of Obama’s current (and possibly only) term. But the truth is that, when it comes to getting more aggressive adoption of clean energy policies, the same can be said for the business interest groups listed above. A rationalization and consolidation of these groups is a reasonable expectation, and even if that fails to materialize, there is a strong need for an all-encompassing umbrella “organization of organizations” that rises above the petty jealousies and turf wars that often make the trade association, non-profit world ineffectual and scattered. Just as a consolidation of the cleantech industry itself is overdue, so too is one for the organizations that represent it.

Ironically, my involvement in the Clean Economy Network (CEN) was motivated by a desire for an industry defined by “distributed energy” to become more centralized in its approach to policy. Whether its CEN or some other group that occupies a higher, more unified plane, one thing is certain: faced with a torrent of cash-infused lobbying from big oil and coal companies, a drip campaign from dozens of groups representing a fractured clean energy industry won’t have the desired impact – rapid and decisive action from policymakers.

I plan on being in Washington, D.C. on January 24-25, 2011 to attend the first CEN business leaders summit, with the hope that at least part of the proceedings will be a serious dialogue on organizational strategy for the clean energy industry. It would be great if the representatives of all the groups owning patches of the industry can be there too to create a more cohesive quilt.

Roundup: Cleantech Predictions for 2010

Based on the rash of predictions for cleantech in 2010 from investors, consultants and media (see the full list at the end of this post), I’ve pulled together a “trend of trends” list below that attempts to synthesis the broader, over-arching themes. As always, I’m amazed that water isn’t on the top of every list, every year, although there are some positive signs on that front. So here are the 12 things that filtered to the top:

  • Energy efficiency will have a big year, with buildings and information and communications technology (ICT) front and center (nice to see the “wow” factor over technologies like solar being tempered by the realization that there are a lot of cheaper ways to meet immediate goals for reducing emissions)
  • Private investment will revive (with one prediction for a record-breaking year), but fears persist that the pending end of stimulus dollars will cast a long shadow over the market
  • Differentiation – i.e. marketing – will increase in importance as we move from a technology-heavy phase to a commercialization-focused phase (something I’ve called attention to in the past).
  • Consolidation and industry shake-out will accelerate, as will increased involvement of major corporates. Many VC-backed firms need an exit (especially in smart grid, solar and biofuels), so expect a few IPOs, but mostly M&A or failure as scale becomes more important and winners and losers emerge. And as the market grows and the issues being addressed become more complex, big multinationals with vested interests will try to play a larger role
  • Smarter transportation – especially electrified – continues to gain traction, while next generation liquid fuels (cellulosic in particular) takes baby steps
  • It’s more than energy, stupid. Land, water, rare earth metals, etc take more mind share as understanding grows  that the issues we face go beyond energy and carbon
  • Importance of carbon measurement and management will increase, but folks seems pretty skeptical that even if climate legislation/treaties get enacted that they will be aggressive enough (some expect sector specific carbon regulation – i.e. aviation and shipping – instead of economy-wide measure
  • Distributed solutions continue to erode the power of centralized systems (in energy generation, building, transportation, etc)
  • Some technologies expected to garner attention: Waste to energy, waste biomass, power storage, geothermal, aquaculture, ultracapacitors, desalinization, building materials, large-scale solar
  • There is a lot of expectation around advancements and interest in upgrading the electric grid; although there was a warning to expect at least one major failure of a smart grid rollout (not to mention that people have been predicting an intelligent grid for many years)
  • Standards gain a higher profile – whether building codes, water or carbon labeling, unified standards for the smart grid, etc, creating a clear marked playing field grows in importance, including communicating the rules to consumers as needed
  • International competition to be the cleantech leader intensifies (again this is something I’ve written about in the past, so not really news in my opinion)

If you want to read for yourself, the various predictions I’ve pulled from are here: Energy stocks to watch from Seeking Alpha; Overall industry outlook from the Cleantech Group; Clean energy predictions from Deloitte; Two different VC perspectives, one from Lightspeed Venture Partners  and the other from Rob Day at Black Coral;  5 biggest hurdles from Earth2Tech; IT and corporate green from Greenmonk’s Tom Raftery; Green building trends from Earth2Tech;  Top 10 promises from cleantech companies from Cleantech Group; Smart grid from Earth2Tech.

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

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 – friendsofcoal.eco, monsantolovesmothernature.eco… the first one I would probably register would be a squatter site at puertor.eco. 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

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.

“Follow the Green Brick Road” to Recovery?

Back on September 9, John Podesta’s Center for American Progress released a study called Green Recovery, which promised two million new jobs from a $100 billion investment over two years. That day was also my birthday, so my attention was elsewhere. But nearly two months later in the wake of the financial meltdown, taking a second look at the report seems worthwhile, since now more than ever, a road to recovery for the United States and the world could very well be paved with green bricks. Conversely, it could also be a story of “low carbon prosperity” that sounds good, but ends up dead on arrival. The landscape has changed greatly since September 9. To use one last Wizard of Oz allusion – we are no longer in Kansas. Credit has dried up, global stock markets are in chaos, unemployment is spiking and consumer confidence is at record lows. As a result, does this now put the basic assumptions in the Podesta report in question? ($50 billion in tax credits, or half of the proposed $100 billion, for example, would seem a non-starter today). More importantly, even if the assumptions are unchanged, will the perceived cost of carbon policy at a time of economic instability suck the political will out of Capitol Hill, a place over the last three decades renowned for monumental cowardice in the face of monumental challenge. The stakes couldn’t be higher, especially on the eve of an Obama presidency and Podesta heading the transition team. It would be great for the Center to produce an update to their report, taking these new factors into account. But until that happens, some prominent voices in October continued to build a case for this notion of a Green Recovery as a message/vision worth rallying around.

Deutsche Bank, in its Investing in Climate Change 2009: Necessity and Opportunity in Turbulent Times, argued that the economic turmoil of the past month sets the stage for a one-time windfall:

We believe that, when combined with energy security, climate change policies will play a role in government efforts to stimulate their economies in 2009. Governments now have an historic opportunity to define long-term regulatory frameworks to encourage private investment in climate change initiatives. Additional opportunity exists for governments to boost their economies by funding infrastructure projects that will serve to foster energy independence and climate-proof their economies.

As a result, the debate around climate change has started to shift away from issues of cost and risk toward the question of how to capitalize on investment strategies that span a vast array of asset classes and industries.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs GS Sustain weighed in, citing a “warming investment climate” for sustainability, and an increasingly clear rationale for corporations to view low carbon action as a key business driver:

Going forward, we expect the importance of climate-change performance to rise further and extend to an increasing number of sectors where the direct costs and benefits of companies’ different strategies may currently be less quantifiable but will, in our view, become increasingly important aspects of their ability to achieve and sustain industry leadership.

Finally, economist Nicholas Stern has also provided a valuable perspective, noting that the right policies will offer a globally sustainable model for growth:

 

Let us grow out of this recession in a way that both reduces risks for our planet and sparks off a wave of new investment which will create a more secure, cleaner and more attractive economy for all of us. And in so doing, we shall demonstrate for all, particularly the developing world, that low-carbon growth is not only possible, but that it can also be a productive and efficient route to overcome world poverty.

It all sounds good. Public works programs, a la the New Deal, to make smart upgrades to the outdated grid and public transportation infrastructure, jobs that can’t be exported coming from installation of solar panels and other clean energy solutions, cost curves from McKinsey that provide a roadmap of affordable carbon abatement measures including significant savings from energy efficiency, etc.

But there will also be those that counter with a picture of inefficacy and a price tag that’s too high, as we caught a glimpse of during Senate infighting in June over possible climate policy. Already, new messaging against aggressive climate policy is emerging. A recent letter to a Florida paper offered a glimpse of the opposing camp and its messaging, criticizing Gov. Crist’s recent recommendations on climate, and warning of a “carbon police state”.

What’s so exciting right now from a positioning and messaging point of view, is that the global economic crisis provides the first real opportunity for the clean energy industry to fundamentally pivot away from the politically and emotionally charged topics of “global warming” and “green” (and their polarizing, Al Gore/treehugger affiliation, which turns off a large part of the population) and own outright the promise of growth, recovery and prosperity, issues that everyone can relate to and support.

The rubber is about to hit the road. The next three to six months offer a chance in the United States for elected officials to be heroes or hucksters. It is no secret that the oil and coal industries have outspent the renewables industry by tens of millions of dollars in the past two years in campaign contributions, so it won’t be surprising to see some of our politicians fold. What’s needed is a concerted effort on the part of the broader clean energy community – the Apollo AllianceCleantech and Green Business for ObamaEnvironmental EntrepreneursChange to WinUSCAPEvangelical Climate InitiativeClimateWorks FoundationUS Conference of Mayors, etc – to unite and make sure that the message that is delivered in Washington, D.C. and state capitals is this – climate change notwithstanding, the clean energy economy is a legitimate and feasible road to recovery. It appears that two additional stimulus packages are set to emerge from DC in the near term, one lame duck and one post inauguration. The industry achieved its biggest win so far in the $700 billion stimulus package, with an 8-year extension of the investment tax credit for solar, and it is possible clean energy will benefit from the two upcoming packages as well. But that is just a start, and our thinking needs to be more expansive and inclusive. It’s the Recovery, stupid.

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.

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.