31 October 2014

Nat Bullard's Four Moments in Cleantech Time

My pal Nat Bullard of Bloomberg New Energy Finance kicked off EY's 4th annual Cleantech CEO Retreat, which I hosted a couple of weeks ago, with a look back.

Here is his post from his Sparklines email newsletter, reprinted with his permission:

Four moments in cleantech time

EY (aka Ernst & Young) hosted its annual Cleantech CEO Forum in Napa this week.

Below is my opening presentation to the 90+ CEOs of cleantech pure-plays and high-level senior executives: "Four moments in cleantech time."

Speaking to a group of cleantech executives in 2014 is exciting, because it is an exciting time for the sector – but when is it not? Boundaries shift, companies come and go, technologies evolve, but history matters.

Let me create a sense of where we are now, and where we may be going, with four moments in cleantech time over the past 60 years.


This is the first moment – the Bell Solar Battery, invented sixty years ago. It is instantly recognizable today as a PV panel and a deep-cycle battery, simultaneously the first of its kind and an archetype. Why use this?

Even in its first year, the technology faced the same challenges it does today: forcing costs down, and efficiency up; deciding on best applications; incorporating storage if needed; choosing to manufacture in-house or through a contract manufacturer.

Just as important as what the tech was, is what it became after lowering costs by orders of magnitude: the prime mover of a distributed energy paradigm, driven by experience curves and innovative business models. Importantly, it was something both profound and easy to underestimate from its small base.


Jump ahead 20 years, and we have the first oil price shock, with a quadrupling in one year. This shock gave us three things which are key to our thinking. The first is a national and international sense of urgency to thinking about the future energy mix and security of supply. It was also a time in which corporations (in particular oil companies) began to make solar PV in commercial quantities for applications other than satellites. And it was also when the US Department of Energy, and an entrepreneur named George Mitchell, began the first efforts of another extraordinary change driver in energy: hydraulic fracturing.


Another 20 years ahead – in fact, 20 years ago yesterday – was the launch of Netscape Navigator, the first meaningful and universal human-system computer interface. It provided a way for everyone to use the internet, and also created the ability to start companies light. How many companies here, now, are web-based? How many are cloud-based? And what will another 20 years of the Internet bring us – an effortlessly connected world of smart and enabled devices?


A final 20 years forward, to last week: Tesla’s latest, the dual-motor version of its Model S. I think it is the start to an alternate path to surface transport: all-electric, safe, quiet, very low-maintenance, over-the-air-updated…and with performance better than a supercar (or, perhaps it is a supercar with four doors). It eschews the traditional dealer network, a direct challenge to a very established mode of selling and inventory organisation. It is capable of autopilot; eventually, it will be fully autonomous.

A final thought, spurred on by the dual-motor Tesla. It’s still a puzzle to explain. Read the press, and the comments are "even with the extra weight of a second motor, the car has better performance and longer battery life." Well – the extra motor is only the size of a watermelon! It’s not like grafting another four cylinders onto a big-block V8.

To take it back to the start: there’s a thread connecting the Tesla to the first solar panel. Both are promising, experience curve-driven technologies. They are still a puzzle to some. They are just getting started at scale. The most important tool for thinking of where they will go in the future, is imagination.

--Nat Bullard

©2014 Bloomberg Finance L.P. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author. 

29 October 2014

Review: SUPERSTORM: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy by Kathryn Miles

Two years ago tonight, Superstorm Sandy hit New York with a vengeance. Whatever you call her: hurricane, superstorm, Frankenstorm, Sandy was a massive, monster storm. 

Sandy was the second costliest hurricane in recorded history. Only 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was costlier in terms of damages -- $68 billion and counting as of the spring of 2014 – and Sandy was responsible for at least 286 deaths in seven countries.

Sandy’s storm surge swamped New York City, flooding tunnels, subways, and streets; cutting off power to residents in and around the city.

At 49 feet above sea level in Park Slope, where we rode out Sandy, we were relatively unscathed, safely ensconced in our apartment building, tucked up on a little one-block, one-way Place, in city parlance.

Sure, we heard the howling winds and saw the rain ripping sideways like an overzealous carnival shooter trying to win the prize kewpie doll. And in the aftermath of the storm, we saw the downed trees scattered about the neighborhood, across blocks, on top of cars, or simply uprooted.

But down the hill – down the slope – in Gowanus and Red Hook, across the bay in Staten Island, and out on Rockaway, the devastation was stunning. While we had power, food, water, and even Internet access, many others had barely anything, forced from their homes or unable to return. We had shelters and help centers and volunteers. It felt far from the madness of the storm’s wrath.

As the days unfolded after Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, we began to learn about the devastation in her wake. We felt even more fortunate. The images and stories that emerged were at times horrific: an uncontrollable fire raging on Breezy Point, caused by rising sea water; a Staten Island mom who lost her twin boys in the storm surge; cars floating in the flood waters outside the Battery Tunnel; a couple crushed by a tree while walking their dog in Ditmas Park.

There were many other stories, as Kathryn Miles reveals in her new book Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, some familiar from the media coverage, others impossible to know unless you were living it. Miles first wrote about Sandy for Outside Magazine; her story on the wreck of the replica HMS Bounty was a powerful piece of magazine reportage.

But Miles proves, as she did with her previous book, All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, The Legendary Irish Famine Ship that she excels at long-form narrative. That earlier book was about the lone ship to sail during the famine years without losing a single passenger where countless others had failed. As in that earlier book, Miles writes well not just about the sea (she lives in Maine and is an avid sailor), but she deftly brings to light the lives of the people whose stories she tells.

Miles follows the storm as it first hits the radar of the National Weather Service and then National Hurricane Center, and builds as the storm itself metastasizes, swallowing up another storm to its north, and eventually colliding with not just land, but with a nor’easter plummeting down towards the coast from the north.

The result reads like an historical potboiler as she builds the narrative of the storm out of the lives of the people tracking it, trying to avoid it, and getting trapped in it.

There are the requisite colorful characters worthy of a novel: the Hurricane Hunters, who fly a C130 into the hurricane to collect data; Lixion Avila, torn between his two loves, storms and ballet, as he attends a ballet convention in Cuba at the time Sandy starts to build; Chris Landsea, whose name must have determined his profession; and Claudine Christian and Robin Walbridge, the former a late-comer to the crew aboard the Bounty who died at sea; the latter, the captain who is presumed to have gone down with his ship.

Readers familiar with Miles’ previous book will recognize her technique, which builds and swirls much like the hurricane it depicts, time-lapsed glimpses of each character as they try to understand what this storm will do and where it will go or how to avoid and get around it. Superstorm is a page-turner, as they say, and I couldn’t put it down.

The end result is a remarkable chronicle of Sandy’s impact, not just on the land, but on so many people, on the way such storms will be reported in the future, and about the need for resilience measures for our cities and coastal areas.

Superstorm is a gripping read and, despite a few very minor editorial flaws -- she doesn’t close the loop on a couple of stories she sets up, such as the fate of the couple in Ditmas Park and their dog who waited by its fallen caretakers, for example -- should be read by all who want to understand the storms of the past to help deal with or keep out of the way of the superstorms of the future.

As Miles herself writes in her afterward (sic): “Sandy was the worst-case scenario that was never supposed to happen. New York may have fared better than Haiti, but the storm show just how vulnerable we all are…But sometimes, that’s just not enough. Sometimes, Nature breaks all the rules. And it always plays to win.”

Hopefully, that's a lesson Miles can help us learn before the next superstorm hits.

19 September 2014

Top 10 Reasons You Won't See Me at the People's Climate March

"This is an invitation to change everything."


So says the notice about the (so-called) People's Climate March. It goes on to say, 

"In September, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis. UN Secretary­ General Ban Ki-­moon is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.
With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities."

Blah, blah, blah. Yet another UN summit on climate change that will result in a lot of hot air and empty promises, grand-standing, and long-winded proclamations and "commitments" that will never be fulfilled. No accountability, no solutions, just a lot of blah-blah and rhetoric and well-meaning folks taking to the streets.

Go ahead and march if you want. Hopefully, it's a nice fall day and you can enjoy being outside. And hopefully, the NYC Police Department will be on its best behavior and won't choke-hold marchers or tear-gas them.

Don't you know you can count me out. Why? Don't I believe that climate change is real? Am I really that much of a skeptic?

Yes, I believe the climate is changing, in some ways irrevocably and with consequences we'll have to deal with in the near- and long-term, and in other ways we have no way of knowing what we've set in motion or how to stop it. I've witnessed it first-hand in places near and far.

But marches and UN summits will never solve this problem, and the strident, petulant voices leading the charge will never be heard. It's just wasted energy (and wasted carbon from all that travel) that could be better spent finding, supporting, and investing in solutions. 

"Bend the course of history"? I'm sorry People's Climate March, you won't even succeed in bending anyone's ear long enough to make a modicum of difference.

So here's my Top 10 Reasons You Won't See Me at the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21st:

10. Because even though John Lennon is one of my heroes, "Power to the People" was never one of my favorite Lennon songs.

9. "People, Planet and Peace Over Profit." I'm not an either/or kind of guy. Besides, without profit, no change is a-coming, people. Find a way to make it profitable, and the change you seek will be the change we get.

8. One word: "portapotties." 

7. The Patriots-Raiders game is on CBS at 1:00 PM Eastern.

6. The last time a UN summit on climate change accomplished something tangible and lasting was...was...anybody?

5. I actually have to be in Brooklyn with three of my six kids. (Whoa, before you shout me down, these three are stepchildren!)

4. Because I really don't mind telling my grandkids that I wasn't at "the largest climate march ever." It may be that, but it will only be a blip on the radar screen of history. 

3. "Hope Not Heatwaves." Seriously, they are still hanging on to that Hopey-Changey-Promisey stuff. How exactly did that work out again? 

2. Because the whole world may not actually be watching, but some folks from the NSA may be and they'll be taking GPS coordinates on your ass from that day on.

And, finally, the Number 1 reason you won't see me at the People's Climate March:

I prefer to focus on solutions and meaningful, measurable, and sustainable action on climate change rather than hot air, empty promises, and acerbic rhetoric. 

"To Change Everything, We Need Everyone," says one placard produced by the PCM. But they don't really believe that any more than the Koch Brothers believe they are a "model company for a clean environment."

Just more empty rhetoric and hot air. March on and turn your lights off, people, and try not to trip over your own naivete.

We all want to change the world, but this march isn't going to change anything.

16 July 2014

My Top 5 Reasons Cleantech Is Alive and Well

Here's My Top 5 reasons cleantech is alive and well:

1.) China. China finally seems poised to address its outrageous pollution problem. The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection estimates it will cost China upwards of $800 billion to clean its air. $800 billion. Cleaning up Beijing alone could cost as much as $163 billion. And its water doesn't fair much better: seventy percent of the groundwater in the north China plain is unfit for human contact. Not just consumption, contact. And only half the water sources for Chinese cities are safe to drink. The Chinese government says it will commit 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) to combat air pollution over the next five years, which is a start, but until then we'll keep seeing scenes like the "LED sunrise" on Tiananmen Square that went viral.

LED sunrise on Tiananmen Square. Credit: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

2.) Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion. This is a cleantech success story. I don't care whether Nest Labs ever considered itself a cleantech company since its founding in 2011. If cleantech is the set of new technologies and business model innovations that help use natural resources more efficiently, effectively, and responsibly, then Nest, which took a ubiquitous, yet poorly designed technology (the thermostat), made it smart and fun to save energy in homes because its cool and easy to use. That is cleantech.

Nest thermostat. Photo: Nest Labs

3.) Solar, distributed solar. I know, solar was a dirty word for some investors, including the American tax payer, who got burned by solar 1.0. But there's a new game in town now that solar panels are cheap and financing distributed solar has become easier thanks to innovators like SolarCity, Sungevity, and the like. Installations are on the rise and investment is pouring back in.

4.) Tesla Model S. Motor Trend Car of the Year. 2014 Detroit News Readers' Choice Award as North American International Auto Show Most Innovative Vehicle. Yes, D-E-T-R-O-I-T News. Tesla  announced earlier this year it had sold 6,900 of its Model S in the fourth quarter -- twenty-five percent higher than the previous quarter and roughly twenty percent more than expected. And they recently announced the Model 3 (formerly, Model E, but it turns out Ford owned that), which will sell for about $40,000, Tesla is in line for growth and more growth. That's for a company with $27.25b market cap.

Tesla Model S. Photo: SEA

5.) Many more innovations are needed. Energy efficiency, recycling, water use, as well as purity and scarcity, and food are all ripe for cleantech disruptions, innovations, and solutions. There are still plenty of opportunities out there for entrepreneurs, investors, and others to tackle resource scarcity, use, and management. We've only just begun to address the issues our planet faces. And the need for innovative financing to enable these solutions is also going to grow. Call it what you will, "cleantech" is going to be a growth engine for many years to come.

Cleantech isn't dead. It hasn't crashed, it hasn't lost its value, and it has only grown more important and necessary. Cleantech is alive and well.

(NOTE: This is a slight, updated edit of an earlier post I wrote on The Green Skeptic.)

17 April 2014

Ideas on Energy: Mid-Atlantic Energy Technology Forum Looks to the Industry’s Future

(Note: This is reposted from my friends at Pepper Hamiliton LLP, co-hosts of the Mid-Atlantic Energy Technology Forum with the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, of which I am co-founder.)

Mid-Atlantic Energy Technology Forum panel photo

The future of the energy industry; the technologies with the potential to impact energy exploration, delivery and efficiency; and the energy industry investment climate were on the agenda at the 6th Annual Mid-Atlantic Energy Technology Forum.

Pepper’s Energy and Emerging Company Groups hosted the April 3, 2014 event in Philadelphia, along with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (which served as the event venue) and the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic. Nearly 300 energy industry professionals were in attendance.

The Forum kicked off with an investor panel moderated by Pepper partner Thomas P. Dwyer that discussed the current strategic and financial climate and what to expect in the energy sector in 2014. The featured panelists were George Coyle, manager, investments technology ventures, ConocoPhillips Company; Bill Kingsley, managing director of EnerTech Capital; Michael Smith, vice president, head of Constellation Technology Ventures at Exelon; and Annie Theriault, vice president of the Northwater Intellectual Property Fund.
Thomas P. Dwyer at podium photo
Dwyer asked the panelists how the long-term viability of energy technology is perceived in the marketplace, to which Coyle responded, “Energy technology has always been there and will continue to be. While we saw a drop in cleantech investment, we’re still invested in a number of cleantech companies, including the first commercial carbon capture plant in Texas.”

“Oil and gas are booming, and those industries continue to drive the need for technologies that help them to be more efficient and sustainable. It’s difficult to supply energy and it takes energy to do that, so there’s no shortage of need for technology that streamlines those processes,” Coyle said.

Smith said that as an electric power provider, his company is seeing a paradigm shift in how businesses and individuals make and use power, which will likely change the way energy and related services are provided going forward. “Disruption in our industry is coming from the outside. People are making devices to make buildings smarter, and those innovations are coming from technology people, not energy people,” Smith said.
Dwyer then posed a thought-provoking question to the panelists: Will there be a Google or Apple of the energy space, or is the industry too regulated for that to happen?

Kingsley said, “It won’t happen in the next two or three years. The utility system in the United States is brilliant in the way it was set up in the 1920s and 30s. But, that investment model is now creaky. Everyone is looking at doing something with natural gas – there wasn’t much going on in that space 15 years ago. Utilities can’t plan effectively in that environment.”

“That’s right from my perspective,” Smith said. “Customers increasingly determine their fate, and we’re seeing an erosion of the energy paradigm that’s been around for 100 years.”

Coyle added, “We’re seeing a reversal of roles. Instead of creating more devices to take power off the grid, we’re seeing new ways of putting power back on the grid.”

Dwyer asked the panelists about trends in exits in the energy space, and Theriault said that exits involving IP in the software space are doing well. “On the M&A side and public company exits, energy is still a tricky market and will continue to be challenging,” she said.

Kingsley said, “We had people who walked away from the cleantech sector who are now coming back, so it’s a cyclical market. I like it – there are fewer investors, so the deal prices are better.”

The discussion closed with the panelists’ thoughts on opportunities and challenges for energy technology in the Mid-Atlantic region. Coyle said that while there are many very good energy technology professionals in the region, the challenge is getting the best and brightest minds to care about energy and see it as a career path, as it is seen in Houston and other parts of the country where the energy sector is more dominant. He also said that perspective may change now that Pennsylvania is one of the largest energy production states, thanks to the Marcellus Shale.

“There is no dearth of activity in this region, and I am not at all concerned about the viability of energy technology in the Mid-Atlantic,” Smith said.

Reception in the Academy’s Dinosaur Hall photo

A company showcase followed the panel discussion, and featured five innovative companies, which each presented a snapshot of their company’s energy-focused technologies. Kevin Brown of Hobbes & Towne introduced the presenting companies:
  • Applied Communication Sciences has developed an innovative grid technology product that is getting traction in the marketplace. For example, the company’s utility pole sensors are deployed in the Sacramento Utility District to better monitor its network.
  • Essess is a mobile thermal imaging technology company that can map a building’s energy loss – identifying leaks in a building envelope undetectable by the human eye – and provide remediation services.
  • Infinite Invention LLC provides the ConnectDER, an electric power meter that mounts between a standard utility meter and the meter case to provide a quick, safe, inexpensive way to connect solar homes to the grid.
  • Preferred Technology, LLC provides environmentally friendly resin-coated sand products to the fracking industry; coated sand prevents wells from clogging during the fracking process.
  • Solar Grid Storage LLC “makes solar better with batteries,” providing a containerized storage solution that changes solar power into grid power by adding batteries to solar photovoltaic installations.
Bob Inglis at podium photoScott Anderson of Ernst & Young’s Global Cleantech Center then introduced keynote speaker Bob Inglis, a former congressman from South Carolina and executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI) at George Mason University, to close out the program.

Inglis founded the E&EI in 2012 on the conservative principles of free enterprise and economic growth, limited government, liberty, accountability and reasonable risk avoidance to solve the country’s energy and climate challenges.

“At E&EI, we believe that free enterprise can fix climate change,” Inglis said. “Our proposal involves cutting income taxes and replacing it with a carbon tax – in effect, reducing taxes on income, which you want more of, and taxing something you want less of.”

The event program is available online at http://www.pepperlaw.com/pdfs/Energy_Tech_Forum_Program_Book_2014.pdf.

03 March 2014

Coming Up: 6th Annual Mid-Atlantic Energy Tech Investment Forum

Six years. We've been running these cleantech and energy tech investment forums for six years. And by "we" I mean my co-founder of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, Kevin Brown of Hobbs & Towne, and me, along with our pal Tom Dwyer, who was part of the original team putting this show together.

Now Tom is at Pepper Hamilton, which joins us as co-sponsor this year, but we'll be at the same venue, as the past few years, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Or as my kids used to call it, the "dinosaur museum."

This year, we've got another stellar line up, with keynote speaker Bob Inglisformer U.S. Representative for South Carolina's 4th Congressional District, who lost his seat to a tea-party challenger because of his outspoken free-market acknowledgment of climate change and support for green energy solutions. 

Bob went on the found the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University, an independent think-tank devoted to promoting free enterprise solutions to climate and energy issues. In other words, he's one of the good guys and you won't want to miss what he has to say.

We'll also have an investor panel, featuring

    • George Coyle, Manager, Investments Technology Ventures, ConocoPhillips Company
    • Michael Smith, Vice President, Head of Constellation Technology Ventures at Exelon
    • Annie Theriault, Vice President, Northwater Capital
    • Tucker Twitmyer, Managing Director, EnerTech Capital

And, of course, our ever-popular company showcase and cocktails with the dinosaurs.

When: April 3rd, 2014, from 4:00 - 7:30 
Where: Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia, PA 

Be there or be square. Here's how to register for the event: REGISTER