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.

EV Turning a New “Leaf” in Seattle

Here’s a post from my colleague Chris Elliott on the electrification of urban American transport:

The future of transporation in the US rests in the hands of Seattle.

That might seem like a bold statement, but the Emerald City is key player in deciding the role vehicles (EVs) will play in our lives.

Seattle, along with cities in Oregon, California, Arizona and Tennessee were selected by The Electric Vehicle Project as ‘test markets’ for Nissan’s LEAF zero-emissions electric vehicle. This effort, with the support of ECOtality’seTec, the backbone of the charging infrastructure, will be the largest deployment of EVs and charging stations in history.

Today, I attended a presentation by Nissan’s North America Product Planning Director, Mark Perry, which served as a kick-off to get people excited about this historic endeavor. This rah-rah event drew a full house at the Rainier Square Atrium and was held in part with the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Seattle Climate ProjectClimate Solutions and others. I was thoroughly impressed by the number of attendees that either belong to one of the many EV clubs in town or own electric cars themselves. Everyone seemed to walk out of the room excited about the future and aware of how much work needs to be done before it gets here. According to Perry, the LEAF will hit Seattle in December, 2010.

The presentation ranged from why Nissan moving into the market in the first place to specifications of the LEAF itself to how the infrastructure and charging stations might look like. Overall it was very informative and was gobbled up by hungry Seattleites looking to change the world one eco-friendly bite at a time.

I found the topic of charging the LEAF the most fascinating as there’s a variety of ways to do so. First, you can just plug it into any ordinary 110-volt outlet you have in your home or garage. Simple enough right? However, the major drawback here is that it could take up to 18 hours to fully charge this way. As we all know, us American’s can’t wait for anything, right? Plug the LEAF into a 220-volt outlet (commonly found where home dryers and other major appliances are plugged-in), and the time is cut in half—about eight hours. Good enough to charge while you sleep. These 220-volt outlets will have to be installed at your home and most likely, sold to consumers when the buy/lease the LEAF. Charge Northwest showed one of their charging stations off in the lobby after the presentation. But here’s the cool/fascinating part: use a 550-volt outlet and the LEAF can charge in 20 to 50 minutes. The LEAF can go a hundred miles on a full charge but if you need to go further, imagine just pulling over at a charging station or coffee shop, plugging in, and within 20 minutes (time enough to grab a cup of joe and hit the bathroom), you’re back on the silent road. Pretty amazing.

Seattle is truly in the driver’s seat when it comes to changing the world. However, the road ahead is a bumpy one as there’s a lot of work to be done, from educating consumers about the benefits of EVs, to developing incentives for businesses to offer charging stations at work, to developing the infrastructure that would support thousands of LEAFs. But with the right support, drive and will-power, Seattleites can all show the world how really green the Emerald city is.

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.

“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.

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

Brammo! The Green “Apple” of Motobikes

This is a very cool company out of Ashland, Oregon. Think Tesla Motors, but for two wheels – the latest in motorcycle EV technology combined with amazing industrial design. Brammo is still early days, but when I chatted with their CEO Craig Bramscher he indicated that they have a very healthy list of pre-orders for their first bike – the Enertia. Check it out. I’m signing up for mine.

Green Software Emerging in Northwest

Will software and associated services be one of the Northwest’s claims to leadership in cleantech? Microsoft appears to be preparing to unveil a meaningful platform to address its role in green IT (probably sometime this fall), something it sorely needs to do to catch up with the likes of GoogleIBM and Sun. It makes sense that the Northwest has a significant role to play, being a hub of the computing and Internet revolutions. In Seattle, two companies stand out for me: V2Green, which is a “smart charging” – a value-add service that controls when an electric vehicle charges or not - and a vehicle to grid (V2G) software company, and Verdiem, an enterprise-focused power management solution for PCs and monitors. While a fair amount of attention (and capital) has been paid to Verdiem, V2Green is little known. But they occupy a great space, have a very strong team and appear to have little if any direct competition. Even Google likes the V2G space, according to the director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, Dan Reicher, a sign that V2Green is ripe to pick up some great strategic partners. V2G is one of the cornerstones of the electric economy (see a nice perspective by the late Nobel laureate, Richard Smalley, who outlined what he called the Terrawatt Challenge). The electric economy concept is gaining momentum as the most viable way to address the future of clean power and transportation through a combination of renewable energy inputs into the grid and a world of PHEVs that have the ability to store electricity from or return electricity to the grid in a two-way relationship. Several progressive utilities have been working on V2G, most notably Austin Energy and PG&E. V2Green was founded by ex-Microsoft exec Dave Kaplan and is off to a promising start. They expect to announce field trials with major utilities in the coming months, in which V2Green will develop a first generation hardware/software solution that includes an in-car box, wireless modem and server. One of the challenges will be whether the utilities and the car manufacturers like GM, not known for being the most limber of institutions, will be able to come together to deliver on the promise that V2G holds, instead of adopting half measures that are in effect “kitchen timers” for cars that lack intelligence. The COO and president of V2Green,John Clark, believes that the OEMs will start to make their cars grid-aware, and large-scale deployment of V2G could happen as early as 2010. In the meantime, other promising software companies are also appearing in the Northwest. Look out for Carbonetworks and Sokets, two other favorites of mine.