Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long May You Run: Electric Car Killer on Life Support

From Nate Silver's excellent fivethirtyeight.com blog:
Let's take something of a 30,000-foot view on the condition of General Motors. The chart below details GM's operating margin -- its profits divided into its revenues -- over the past 50 years (below).

I haven't provided the dates on the chart because they aren't important. The auto business is highly cyclical because consumers are buying expensive assets that last for years at a time. Nobody ever really has to buy a new car (they can buy a used one if their car breaks down), and therefore consumers are willing to hold on to their existing vehicles and wait out economic slumps. You can't do that with, say, a loaf of bread, or even something like a cellphone, which has a much shorter lifespan.

But you knew all of that already. The remarkable thing is that, once you account for the economic cycles, the trend for GM is exceptionally steady -- an exceptionally steady trend downward. There were still bad times thirty years ago -- but they weren't bad enough to threaten GM's survival, and conversely, the good times were much better. These are General Motors' operating margins by decade:
Average Annual Operating Margin, General Motors
1960s: 8.7%
1970s: 5.5%
1980s: 3.0%
1990s: 1.3%*
2000s: -0.5%
* Excludes one-time $20 billion accounting charge for retiree health benefits in 1992.
If I were an alien beaming down from Rigel-3 looking at this pattern -- an alien with an MBA degree -- my first guess is that it would reflect some sort of systemic problem, some chronic imbalance that magnified over time. Something, in other words, like the costs of GM's retiree pension and health care programs. It's difficult to get a precise figure on these so-called legacy costs, but they averaged about $7 billion per year between 1993 and 2007 and are probably at least $10 billion per year now. Considering that GM has never made as much as $10 billion in profit in a year and that its entire operating lossses in 2008 were $13.8 billion, you can see why this is a significant problem.

How To Save A Major Automobile Company by Neil Young of LincVolt in Huffington Post

Find a new ownership group. The culture must change. It is time to turn the page. In the high technology sector there are several candidates for ownership of a major car and truck manufacturer. We need forward looking people who are not restricted by the existing culture in Detroit. We need visionary people now with business sense to create automobiles that do not contribute to global warming.

It is time to change and our problems can facilitate our solutions. We can no longer afford to continue down Detroit's old road. The people have spoken. They do not want gas guzzlers (although they still like big cars and trucks). It is possible to build large long-range vehicles that are very efficient. People will buy those vehicles because they represent real change and a solution that we can live with.

The government must take advantage of the powerful position that exists today. The Big 3 are looking for a bailout. They should only get it if they agree to stop building autos that contribute to global warming now. The stress on the auto manufacturers today is gigantic. In order to keep people working in their jobs and keep factories open, this plan is suggested:

The big three must reduce models to basics. a truck, an SUV, a large family sedan, an economy sedan, and a sports car. Use existing tooling.

Keep building these models to keep the workforce employed but build them without engines and transmissions. These new vehicles, called Transition Rollers, are ready for a re-power. No new tooling is required at this stage. The adapters are part of the kits described next.

At the same time as the new Transition Rollers are being built, keeping the work force working, utilize existing technology now, create re-power kits to retrofit the Transition Rollers to SCEVs (self charging electric vehicles) for long range capability up to and over 100mpg. If you don't think this technology is realistic or available, check out the Progressive Insurance Automotive X prize. Alternatively, check out Lincvolt.com or other examples.

A bailed out Auto manufacturer must open or re-purpose one or more factories and dedicate them to do the re-power/retrofit assembly. These factories would focus on re-powering the Transition Rollers into SCEVs but could also retrofit and re-power many existing vehicles to SCEVs. These existing vehicles are currently sitting unsold at dealerships across America.

Auto manufacturers taking advantage of a government bailout must only sell clean and green vehicles that do not contribute to global warming. No more internal combustion engines that run exclusively on fossil fuels can be sold period.

No Big Three excuses like "new tooling takes time". New tooling is not a requirement for SCEV transition rollers.

Build only new vehicles that attain the goal of reversing global warming and enhancing National Security.

Government legislation going with the bailout should include tax breaks for purchasers of these cars with the new green SCEV technology. The legislation accompanying the bailout of major auto manufacturers must include directives to build only vehicles that attain the goal of reversing global warming while enhancing National security, and provide the financial assistance to make manufacturing these cars affordable in the short term while the industry re-stabilizes.

Eventually the SCEV technology could be built into every new car and truck as it is being assembled and the stop gap plan described above would have completed its job of keeping America building and working through this turbulent time.

Detroit has had a long time to adapt to the new world and now the failure of Detroit's actions is costing us all. We pay the bailout. Let's make a good deal for the future of America and the Planet. Companies like UQM (Colorado) and others build great electric motors right here in the USA. Use these domestic electric motors. Put these people to work now. This plan reverses the flow from negative to positive because people need and will buy clean and green cars to be part of World Change. Unique wheel covers will identify these cars on the road so that others can see the great example a new car owner is making. People want America to win!

This plan addresses the issue of Global warming from our automobiles while enhancing our National Security and keeping Detroit working.

Neil Young, activist (Bridge School, Farm Aid) rock legend, has assembled a team that is in the process of transforming his gargantuan 1959 Lincoln Continental from a gas guzzler into a showcase for green technology and sustainability. The car will be entered into the Automotive X Prize that offers a $10 million prize to develop a vehicle that can get 100 miles per gallon or better. The almost 50 year old Lincoln, one of the biggest, heaviest production cars of all time, has been re-named "Linc Volt" and is the subject of a feature documentary called "Repowering The American Dream" that is now in production under the aegis of Young's Shakey Pictures. New york times article link.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs...City Hall in San Jose

"Clean Tech Open Stretches its Reach, Adds More Prize Money"

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal 3.20.09
By: Lisa Sibley

Clean Tech Open Executive Director Rex Northen on Thursday unveiled the nonprofit’s newest challenge — and it goes far beyond its initial endeavor of connecting entrepreneurs with a network of vendors and funding.

Northen said the Open’s goal is to create 100,000 jobs in 10 regions by 2015.

To accomplish this, Northen said, “We need to take the best of Silicon Valley and bring it to the rest of the nation. It’s about giving regional players access to venture capitalists and venture capitalists access to these businesses.”

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, an early champion of clean techology, jumped right on board. “ I am signing up for 25 percent of this cleantech challenge,” he said.

Reed announced his commitment to add 25,000 jobs to the industry at the launch of the fourth annual Clean Tech Open competition at the City Hall Rotunda.

This year’s competition will also be the richest with $1 million in regional prizes -- including a grand prize of $250,000 -- and will add two more regions to the field, the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. Already 120 competitors have signed up in the three regions, which Northen said is ahead of schedule.

Since it began four years ago, the Clean Tech Open has spawned 125 companies, raised $125 million in capital and added 500 jobs.

GroundSource Geo, a 2008 winner and San Jose Environmental Business Cluster member, developed non-impact drill technology for ground-source heat pumps. GroundSource aims to be a major provider of green collar jobs locally, through equipment manufacturing and HQ operations -- as well as nationally by spurring streamlined installations of ground-source heat pumps throughout residential, commercial and institutional buildings in North America.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Hub of Green Inventions: Clean Tech Open

By Natasha Chen, posted in Earthzine on March 17th, 2009

Dennis Murphy
Dennis Murphy

“I heard someone say on the news this morning that entrepreneurs are to bring us out of this recession. And with the help of the utilities’ social capital, we hope to help you guys do that. No pressure.”

Laughter erupted in a conference room after that comment from Robyn Zander, program manager of the California Public Utilities’ Technology Resource Incubator Outreach, or TRIO. She and fellow commissioners responsible for bringing in new, energy efficient technologies to public utilities were invited as guest speakers at a Clean Tech Open breakfast in Palo Alto, Calif. on Wednesday. California Clean Tech Open, an organization sponsoring a business competition for entrepreneurs in clean technology inventions, launches their 2009 contest on March 19. The goal is to help innovators go from a green idea to full-fledged business by connecting these contestants with mentors, potential customers and potential investors. Semi-finalists from this competition will go up against those from the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains regions, and finalists compete for the nationwide prizes in October.

Rex Northen, the executive director of Clean Tech Open, said, “We are the organization that’s built the largest business competition in our space, and what we say by business competition or clean tech, is that we’re not just here to get their business plans written. We’re here to help them with creating an entire viable, fundable business out of what in most cases is a very small company. So we start with people who are in an embryonic stage…and we give them all the components of a real business.”

Clean Tech Open is expecting as many as 200 team applications for the California division, which will be whittled down to 45 semi-finalists. Those teams, along with the semi-finalists from the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains competitions, will receive all the benefits of mentorship and guidance Then twelve finalists in six categories go to the national final competition, which will be held in San Francisco this fall. The six categories are in Air, Water & Waste, Green Building, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Transportation, and Smart Power (including smart grid applications and battery storage). Winners will receive what Clean Tech Open calls a “startup-in-a-box,” $100,000 worth of cash and services donated by sponsors to help the entrepreneurs launch their businesses.

Previous winners have included Nila Lighting, now responsible for lighting many of Hollywood’s blockbuster scenes. “[Nila] is an LED based lighting system. If you consider what goes on in a Hollywood studio, these are high intensity, heavy duty lights in the major studios in Hollywood…well you see they’re very very hot,” said Northen. “So what they do is they have an LED array, a very bright LED array that takes all their problems away. You can actually put your hand on this thing. And if all the movie studios in Hollywood were to use the Nila Lighting system, that would remove an entire power plant in a grid.”

Winner of last year’s sustainability prize and runner-up for the green building category, Dennis Murphy is the president and founder of GroundSource Geothermal, a company that enables drilling technologies for ground source heat pumps. “What we’re working on is technology to simplify the adoption of ground source heat pumps, which have been long considered the most effective way to heat and cool buildings. That was a joint assessment by the EPA and DOE back in ‘93,” Murphy said, addressing the entrepreneurs in the audience. “The problem has been, how do you do that? It’s essentially creating heat sinks in the ground. That involves drilling; it’s kind of a mess. So we’re working on that part – we’re working on making better holes in the ground.”

GroundSource Geo officially launched in September 2008 as a spin-off of a different company called Potter Drilling, and Murphy won the sustainability prize from Clean Tech Open in November. His company anticipates a hybrid franchise model in which they serve Northern California residential clients and then offer that to regional partners around North America. Murphy said, “One thing I can say is that no matter how well versed you are in a certain technology or field of study, that no one really knows everything about everything, especially when it comes to starting a business.”

green crowd
A crowd of green entrepreneurs competed in the
California Green Tech Open (Photos by Natasha Chen)

That’s why Murphy said he was extremely appreciative of the support Clean Tech Open gave him in starting his business. Clean Tech Open is on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but Murphy calls it an “old-fashioned social network” of people sharing common interests and goals. He especially values the guidance he received from Ron Long, a business model strategist for emerging clean technologies and the mentor matched to this project.

Long said that this year’s political climate affects that of entrepreneurship: “The new stimulus program is a perfect match for bringing the funding and the expertise in the green tech environment to help emerging businesses.” In regard to his own GroundSource Geo, Murphy added, “The stimulus package recently includes a 30 percent tax credit for residential heat pump installations, because they recognize the power of the demand reduction involved. It’s even better in bigger buildings, in commercial institutions. It’s basically a replacement for furnace and air conditioning as usual.”

Northen recognized that this year’s competition occurs during a time of economic distress, and although none in attendance claimed to be investors, he has faith in the stimulus package in encouraging clean technology innovation.

In particular, Northen said he hopes to see leaps in development of smart power. “There’s a lot of money in the stimulus for smart grid applications,” he said. “Applications that plug into a smart grid will be very, very important. There is a saying that if you brought Alexander Graham Bell into today’s world, and showed him today’s telephone systems, he wouldn’t recognize them. But if you brought back Thomas Edison, who was one of the founding fathers of the grid, and get him to look at what we have today, he would recognize most of the components. So our grid has not moved on in a very long time. It’s very ancient technology.”

If necessity is the mother of invention, those at the Clean Tech Open breakfast made clear the great need for their products, currently in infancy but perhaps in full-fledged form by year’s end.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A proposal for government seed stage funding in cleantech

From Rob Day's Cleantech Investing blog
March 9, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a few thoughts on the chatter about government money being directed to cleantech venture capital firms (and then discovered I’d given fodder to the Globe, who knew?). At the end of the column, I mentioned that I wished to see more government support for cleantech startups at the early end, too early for many venture capital investors. It prompted some thoughtful replies from several readers.

One reader pointed me to Sustainable Development Technology Canada. This is a non-profit, quasi-governmental corporation that makes direct investments in Canadian cleantech companies to help them in later-stage growth or for initial project development purposes. It has taken in $1B from the government and has already made investments in 144 projects to date — they’re looking to issue their 15th round of funding later this year. So here’s a model for some to look at, but it doesn’t really address that seed-stage gap I pointed to.

Another reader reminded me about OnPoint and In-Q-Tel, two government-sponsored firms whose missions are to invest in startups that are developing technologies of interest to the Army and the CIA respectively. These groups are investing in some early stage opportunities, but also are coming in later stage in some cases as well. But it’s certainly a good model to draw upon for inspiration when it comes to government financing of cleantech.

Of course, a couple of people reminded me about the proposals for an “ARPA-E”, a counterpart to the Department of Defense’s DARPA research grant program. DARPA is another good tool to consider, and has certainly been the source of grants for a number of cleantech startups. It’s not an investment, however, and so it comes with a very specific set of requirements (and bureaucratic headaches) for the grantee. It’s useful, but no panacea.

Finally, Reem Yared wrote to bring up a DOE program that was in place to support seed-stage companies up until a couple of years ago:

In fact, the DOE used to run a program called Inventions and Innovations, where they funded promising clean technologies with grants of $50,000 and $250,000. The grants went to inventors who were still at the patent-filing stage, helping them go through the patent process and on to commercialization. There was a whole selection process which worked quite well.

I was one of the consultants hired by the DOE (working for Vista Ventures) to help seven of the start-ups develop their commercialization strategy. Another company was DOE-sponsored market research services. The DOE had enough experience with the program to know that simply funding the research would not be enough: the patents would just be filed and shelved. The inventors/entrepreneurs really did need the hand-holding through the commercialization process.

The start-ups I worked with were all over the country and in all different fields: wind, glass manufacturing, paper manufacturing, LP gas distribution, biofuels, car engines, AC pumps. The irony, of course, is that the year Pres. Bush mentioned a focus on cleanTech in his state of the Union address, the administration pulled the plug on the program (April 2007).

I don’t think it would take too much effort to restart it, rather than creating something from scratch.
See http://www1.eere.energy.gov/inventions/about.html

Government-run investment programs have historically been challenged for a) having unintended consequences like the patent-shelving Reem mentions, and b) not being able to bring on board top investment talent because the government salary structure and even profit-sharing aren’t possible. That latter objection also points to operational challenges — such simple questions as “are we looking for jobs growth” versus “are we looking for strong investment returns” become pretty fundamental to the exercise.

But merging a few of these ideas together, a quasi-governmental, independent corporation sponsored (and funded) by the DOE could be launched, to focus on seed stage companies commercializing technology out of the DOE labs and DOE-funded research. It wouldn’t have to be a huge amount of capital to have a major impact — a few tens of millions of dollars would be very significant in this context, but relatively small in comparison to the “billions” being discussed by Krugman et al. Then the questions to be answered around staffing and incentives and compensation would be very similar to those faced by OnPoint and In-Q-Tel, which have been able to bring in experienced, motivated investors. So no need to reinvent anything at all, we can borrow from what’s already working elsewhere.

I bet right now we could get some of the brightest investors in the cleantech venture capital world to support this and even join such an effort.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Catching the Omnibus

"What's in the $410B Omnibus Spending Bill for Climate and Energy?"

by: Josie Garthwaite at earth2tech

The Senate passed a catch-all $410 billion spending bill Tuesday that’s packed with appropriations for 12 cabinet departmentsHouse Committee on Appropriations web site: and lower federal agencies. Several hefty investments for clean energy, climate science and energy efficiency made their way into the act, with multimillion-dollar increases on the way for the Department of Energy and EPA budgets if President Barack Obama signs the bill into law (as he’s expected to this week). Some of the highlights, based on information from the

Environmental Protection Agency: $7.6 billion ($174 million above 2008). This includes $224 million ($7.2 million increase) for grants to states to implement the Clean Air Act, $60 million ($11 million above 2008) for grants to reduce emissions from diesel engines, and $50 million for the Energy Star program. Congress also appropriated $10 million for new grants to encourage communities to find ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Department of Energy: $27 billion ($2.5 billion increase) to build on stimulus-funded efforts to conserve and produce clean, efficient, domestic energy, and to improve nuclear security. Solar energy R&D and demo projects meant to make solar power more affordable get $175 million, while collaborative vehicle technology initiatives to help the auto industry improve efficiency with better batteries and clean-fuel engines get $273 million.

Weatherization grants and innovative technology loan guarantees figure large, with $200 million and $18.5 billion, respectively. The DOE’s Office of Science sees a $755 million increase to $4.8 billion in appropriations this year over 2008. That’s for “basic scientific research critical to addressing long-term energy needs,” and more than 2,500 more researchers.

Climate Change: $232 million ($39 million above 2008) for various programs to addressstudy it. This includes $10 million to meet the mandate that the U.S. produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, and $3 million for carbon capture and sequestration research at the U.S. Geological Survey. Another $6.5 million is set to help fund development of a registry for greenhouse gas emissions. Congress appropriated $14.7 million for the Global Climate Change Mitigation Fund to encourage businesses to use green practices. global climate change, and nearly $2 billion to

National Institute of Standards and Technology Research: $819 million ($63.1 million above 2008) to “promote American innovation and economic competitiveness by improving scientific measurements, standards, and technology.” $110 million goes to a public-private partnership program designed to provide small and midsized manufacturers with technical advice and access to technology, and to leverage private funds for job creation. Crucially for cleantech companies, the Technology Innovation Program gets $65 million for “high-risk high-reward research into areas of critical national need” at businesses, colleges and national labs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Research Pays for Itself

Investments in clean energy will unleash innovations, create jobs.

USA Today 3/5/09

By Steven Chu

To lift our economy and put Americans back to work, President Obama is making a major investment in clean energy.

Clean energy is the best opportunity we have to create jobs today and launch the industries of tomorrow. It's also critical for our security — to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil — and to save our planet from the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

We have begun the transformation to a clean energy economy through the president's economic recovery plan. And to truly rise to this challenge, President Obama has pledged to invest $15 billion a year to develop and deploy the next generation of renewable energy technology here in America.

As history has shown repeatedly with science funding, this investment will pay for itself many times over. Americans will save far more on their energy bills than we spend on research.

At a time of economic crisis, this bold action is absolutely necessary.

Meeting our energy challenge will require a partnership between government and private sector companies, but the government must lead.

With a network of 17 national laboratories and researchers at 300 colleges and universities, the federal government knows how to do this work. Public investment in research has been critical to developing everything from hybrid-vehicle batteries to lifesaving cancer treatments.

As we have in the past, we will work with the private sector to take breakthroughs on energy from the research lab to the manufacturing plant to the retail store.

We will move with the greatest speed, transparency and accountability because we cannot afford to fail. We will post our progress on www.recovery.gov so you can know how your tax dollars are being spent.

With these investments, we will unlock the true potential of solar and wind energy. We will develop advanced biofuels and learn to use coal in a clean way. We will make highly fuel-efficient cars and trucks. And those are just the technologies we already know about.

This strategic investment in clean energy will unleash the innovations that will power our economy for years to come.

Steven Chu is secretary of Energy and a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for physics.

Ye Reapeth What Ye Soweth

Forces continue to conspire and coal-fired power generation is on the ropes. As Alexis Madrigal of wired.com highlights in his June 2008 blog post, the DOE released a report showing that in 2007, 225 Gigawatts of wind power were in the queue, far more than were for coal or natural gas.

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal interview, Google CEO Eric Schmidt discusses wind power's near price parity with coal, "Wind is, on a kilowatt-per-hour basis, roughly similar to the cost of coal after the subsidies it gets today, and without the subsidies it's a couple cents higher per kilowatt. So that's pretty good. It's the one that's closest now to being a free substitute for coal..."

Now, add a ton of stimulus dough for clean energy, a forthcoming national renewable portfolio standard, a carbon tax and/or cap and trade system, a 2007 landmark Supreme Court decision making CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, the difficulty of carbon sequestration, a good doctor named Stephen Chu, and a generous dose of economic calamity to the mix and you get, courtesy of the folks at earth2tech:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Making Buildings Work 50% Less

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005) provides tax incentives--rebates of $1.80 / SF--for commercial buildings that are designed to use 50% (or less) energy than typical code buildings as measured against ASHRAE 90.1-2001. (This is but one of the many existing and forthcoming local, state and federal incentives.)

Since ECAPT '05 went on the books (and as awareness grows that the pesky problem of global warming may be feedback-spiraling beyond redress), several trade and industry organizations have hitched their wagons and brought in new horsepower to help designers, contractors and building developers achieve the laudable goal of cutting building energy consumption in 1/2.

In 2007, The New Buildings Institute organized and hosted the Getting to Fifty Summit of 60 experts within the fields of design and construction in order to network, strategize and develop concepts all aimed at accelerating the efficiency of commercial buildings. The detailed report of their conclusions and recommendations can be found here. Below is a quick synopsis of key takeaways:
  • It's critical to build the business case for high-performance buildings
  • Early design process improvements can improve information, choices and adoption
  • Plug-and-play integrated technology packages can capture the next step in efficiency for lighting and HVAC
  • Climate-specific response design greatly increases efficiency
  • Case studies and post-occupancy evaluations are key to reducing real and perceived risks
  • Tax incentives and progressive codes / standards are essential
NBI also provides a cool database listing buildings that meet these higher standards. Noteworthy: while ground-source heat pumps (GSHP) only have a general market penetration of less than 1%, they are found in roughly 30% of these advanced buildings.

Luckily for the planet and her advocates, there are many organizations working to reduce building energy consumption by 50%. The American Institute of Architects developed a program known as 50>>50: 50 Strategies toward 50% reduction in fossil fuel reduction in buildings. The strategies, or tools as they are referred to "span a spectrum from broad-based site and planning objectives to specific, building-based concepts." Essentially, the strategies create a handy toolkit of how-to resources for architects and construction folks and their ilk. Featured prominently, of course, GSHP, or Geoexchange as it is referred to in the colloquial.

The 2030 Challenge, a program of Architecture 2030, is focused on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and notes that 76% of all coal-fired juice is consumed by buildings. Thus, to turn the noxious smoke-belching titanic away from the (melting) iceberg, and to to slow and reverse GHG emission, the development industry must step it up and set its sights on these targets:
  • All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.
  • At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.
  • The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations shall be increased to:
    60% in 2010
    70% in 2015
    80% in 2020
    90% in 2025
    Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).
GSHP PLUG: Although smarter siting, controls, materials, and use of on-site and purchased renewable energy is integral to meeting the above goals, the most bang for the buck is right under our feet. If you haven't yet read the recent ode to GSHP by the Dept. of Energy, please do so: 3.9 Quadrillion BTUs a Year.

Efficiency is the new Green

from The Shelton Group blog
February 26, 2009

“Green” may have been the buzzword of 2008, but “efficiency” will be the buzzword of 2009. Despite lots of press coverage to the contrary, Americans are willing to buy. And they’re willing to buy green. The difference is they’re now willing to buy green products that immediately put green back in their pockets.

In our Fall 2008 Energy Pulse® study we saw that propensity to purchase every energy efficient product we tested — from programmable thermostats to solar panels — was up. On March 20 we’ll be releasing a new study called Utility Pulse. We looked specifically at the impact monthly utility bill savings messages had on willingness to purchase, as well as the impact utility rebate messages had on willingness to purchase.

Though the propensity uptick varies by product, in general, 32-46% of the population expressed a likelihood to purchase various energy efficient products upon simply hearing likely monthly utility savings information (cited from the DOE). Another 17-31% expressed likelihood to purchase once specific utility rebate offers were thrown into the mix.

Now, before you run out and change all your ads to scream “save money!” remember this: like with any purchase, there are deeper emotional drivers at play. (Though many of us would like to make marketing a logical, predictable science, consumers are emotionally driven decision-makers.) Underneath the desire to earn a good ROI is the desire to feel smart and in control in this unpredictable, out of control economy. So, yes, you must be clear that if they invest X they’ll save Y immediately…but you must also appeal to their deeper desire to be in charge of what’s happening around them. The peace of mind generated by seeing one’s monthly utility bill go down $10-20 is a huge motivator.

The one other thing to keep in mind is this: conserving energy is, in fact, the greenest thing anybody can do. A third of our greenhouse gases come from electricity generation, but according to two years of tracking in Energy Pulse, only 4% of the population knows that. So consumers are NOT buying more efficient products because they want to save polar bears. It really boils down to ROI.

For my very green friends, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Folks who devote their lives and careers to battling climate change often feel, “if we just educate people about the impact their actions have on the environment, they’ll see what they’re doing and they’ll change their ways.” Our countless focus groups and quantitative studies tell us differently. The best way to get Mainstream Americans to change their behavior is to tell them what’s in it for them. Right now it’s ROI and feeling smart and in control. In the end, we still get to a more sustainable world. It’s just a different path.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Capitol Power Plant: A Symbolic Clean Energy Hurdle GSHP Can Overcome

Imagine a loop field under the White House Lawn and a massive Capital Mall project to provide a community heating and cooling network to Congress and all the Federal buildings in the surrounding area. We would just be keeping up with Canada once again, as the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, gets retrofitted.

Yes We Can! When thinking people call energy issues into question, we have the answer. Let's start with the DOE buildings....


WASHINGTON (AP) _ They are calling it one of the biggest U.S. protests on climate change _ hundreds of activists gathered around a tiny power plant in Southeast Washington that heats and cools the Capitol.

While small in size, the 99-year-old facility is a symbol of the challenges ahead for Congress on energy and the climate.That's because as lawmakers gear up to pass legislation to reduce the gases blamed for global warming and clean up the nation's energy sources, they have yet to succeed in their own backyard.

"We are holding it up as a symbol for how we can and must do better," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of 40 environmental groups organizing the protest to call on Congress to pass a bill to curb greenhouse gases. Among those expected to attend are NASA scientist James Hansen, who first testified before Congress about the perils of global warming in 1988.

Hansen has called for a halt on building any new coal-fired power plants without technology to capture and store carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas and the chief one at the Capitol Power Plant.

In 2007, the facility released 118,851 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Energy Department _ a fraction of what the nation's 600 coal-fired power plants produce.

But despite repeated attempts by Congress to clean it up _ including provisions in two 2007 laws _ the plant still burns coal and accounts for a third of the legislative branch's greenhouse gas emissions.

Further updates here.

An Anecdote from Mike Sidwell's "SeeYou in Jail" article on Grist:
I'm reminded of the labor leaders who visited Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. After hours of talks they persuaded the President to support a pro-union proposition. But FDR then surprised them. "Okay you've convinced me," he said. "Now go out and pressure me." That's kind of the weird way politics works. Obama and Congress need this pressure to help them keep doing what, for the most part, they already want to do.

German Threesome Ponies Up For Geo Drilling

Sourced from CleanEdge via New Energy Finance
March 2, 2009

The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, development bank KfW and reinsurer Munich Re have launched a 60 million euros ($75.9 million) credit initiative for the expansion of geothermal power in Germany.

The investment will be used to finance drilling of geothermal projects, a Munich Re statement said, adding that this was launched specifically 'to minimise the productivity risk of the projects'.

Geothermal projects are high-risk projects due to the high drilling costs involved and do not guarantee availability of sufficient volumes of water at the required temperatures. This often leads to an investment risk of at least EUR 10m for each individual project, the statement said.

Up to 80% of the cost will be financed by KfW loans for deep geothermal wells by way of commercial banks. If no find is made and the project is declared a failure, the investor will not be required to repay the remaining loan amount.

"With more financial support being provided for geothermal plants in the market stimulation programme and the amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act that has been in force since 1 January, we have again improved the general conditions for this technology. The new credit scheme will ensure a further reduction in the risks encountered by operating companies," said Sigmar Gabriel, federal minister for the environment.

Germany has three regions primarily considered to be geothermal hotspots: the molasse basin south of Munich, the Upper Rhine Rift, and the North German Plain.

The country's largest geothermal power plant of a combined heat and power capacity of 38MW was the first to receive productivity risk insurance cover by Munich Re. It was erected in Unterhaching near Munich.