30 June 2008

Clean Tech: UC Davis Hosts 2nd Annual Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy

The University of California at Davis (UC Davis) Center for Entrepreneurship announced today that 50 students from around the world have been selected to attend the second annual Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy in Incline Village, Nevada.

The Academy will be held July 7-11, 2008, and is being taught by experts from some of the nation's top venture capital firms, law firms, and research institutions.

The idea? To help students move their research out of the lab and into the market.

This summer's academy, according to people close to the Center, will host students from 23 universities around the world, including doctoral students, post docs, and research faculty working in a wide range of science and engineering fields.

"The diverse student body at this year's Academy will bring a fresh batch of ideas to the table, and will leave armed with the tools they need to propel their ideas forward," said Associate Professor Andy Hargadon, director, UC Davis Center for Entrepreneurship.

It's kind of a "boot camp" for entrepreneurship, with sessions focusing on intellectual property, elevator pitches, development strategies, market validation, business plan presentations, and the logistics of building a team, among other topics.

Students will also get to network with and vet their concepts with other students and even pitch it to faculty members.

The Academy’s faculty includes VCs from American River Ventures, CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, DFJ Frontier, MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures, Nth Power, Physic Ventures, and Sierra Angels, as well as researchers from National Instruments, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center.

Efficiency and sustainability guru Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, will be the keynote speaker at a networking dinner on July 9.

29 June 2008

Clean Tech: Market Folly's How To Play Energy in the Intermediate Term

My blogging pal over at Market Folly (check out his in-depth series on Hedge Fund 13F's here) has been dipping into alternative energy stock analysis now and again, and we've swapped interesting companies to watch and some sector research.

His recent post caught my eye because he's reviewing both the recent Economist special report, which I have read, and a piece in Forbes, which I haven't. And because I'm on vacation in Alaska, I'm going to reblog his post here in hopes that my readers will find it useful:

Check out Market Folly's How to Play Energy in the Intermediate Term. And subscribe to his RSS feed for future reading.

28 June 2008

Clean Tech: Bjorn Lomborg's Call for R&D Investments

Although we don't always agree, I share a healthy skepticism with Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Business School.

And, as his opinion piece in the Washington Post last week revealed, we are both concerned that the United States is "missing the opportunity of a lifetime," as Sam Wainwright said to George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Lomborg's assertion? That "the least effective use of resources in slowing global warming would come from simply cutting carbon dioxide emissions."

In other words, we need to get beyond global warming concerns and focus on accelerating the new green economy.

We are focusing on the wrong things.

As an example, "solar panels are one-tenth as efficient as the cheapest fossil fuels. Only the very wealthy can afford them. Many 'green' approaches do little more than make rich people feel they are helping the planet. We can't avoid climate change by forcing a few more inefficient solar panels onto rooftops."

The answer? We need to "dramatically increase research and development so that solar panels become cheaper than fossil fuels sooner rather than later," Lomborg asserts. "Imagine if solar panels became cheaper than fossil fuels by 2050: We would have solved the problem of global warming, because switching to the environmentally friendly option wouldn't be the preserve of rich Westerners."

"This message was recently backed up by the findings of the Copenhagen Consensus project," according to Lomborg, "which gathered eight of the world's top economists -- including five Nobel laureates -- to examine research on the best ways to tackle 10 global challenges: air pollution, conflict, disease, global warming, hunger and malnutrition, lack of education, gender inequity, lack of water and sanitation, terrorism, and trade barriers."

This group of experts did a thorough cost-benefit analysis of various response to these challenges. In the end, they "didn't conclude that the world should ignore the effects of climate change. They pointed out that a better response than cutting emissions would be to dramatically increase research and development on low-carbon energy -- such as solar panels and second-generation biofuels."

I've long argued here in The Green Skeptic that we've missed the opportunity thus far -- a 30-year opportunity to invest in the kind of R&D that gave us the Internet and other technological and economic advances. Lomborg agrees.

"The United States has an opportunity to lead the world on research and development," Lomborg argues. "Which would give it the moral authority to demand that everyone else do the same. The world's sole superpower could finally provide the leadership on climate change that has been lacking in the White House.

"Even if every nation spent 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product on research and development of low-carbon energy, this would be only about one-tenth as costly as the Kyoto Protocol and would save dramatically more than any of Kyoto's likely successors."

I concur. It's time to unleash the creativity and innovation that has long made this country a leader on the world economic stage, and set us on course for a low-carbon, economically prosperous future. A new green economy.

Alaska: As Colonel Norman Vaughn used to Say, "Dream Big and Dare to Fail"

Last weekend while Twittering about my trip back to Alaska -- a place I left 10 years ago this August, one of my stalwart followers, globalgirl, revealed that she is the great niece of one of my heroes, Colonel Norman Vaughan.

For those of you not familiar with the man or the legend, Norman Dane Vaughan dropped out of Harvard in 1928 to pursue Admiral Byrd's Expedition in Antarctica. He was the chief dog driver on the two-year Byrd expedition and later Byrd named an Antarctic mountain in his honor.

He also mushed as part of a search and rescue unit in World War II, in the Olympics, and in the Iditarod, as well as in three Presidential Inauguration ceremonies.

On 16, 1994, Vaughan climbed his eponymous 10,302-foot peak, three days shy of his 89th birthday. National Geographic documented this trip in a film, Height of Courage

My encounters with Colonel Vaughan via my work with the Nature Conservancy in Alaska were inspiring and humorous. The humorous included bringing him to a TNC party in New York as part of an Alaska exhibit where he posed with a sled dog team from Long Island.

He was a man of tremendous courage, opinion, and drive. And he gave me three things that I still hold as inspiration: a zipper pull he had designed for clumsily shod gloved hands, which now dons my sleeping bag; words of wisdom he imparted to my young son when they first met; and a playing card he had developed bearing his face, bio, and motto: "Dream Big and Dare to Fail."

Vaughan died on December 23, 2005, 4 days after his 100th birthday. (Hear an interview with Colonel Vaughan from NPR, recorded just prior to his centennial birthday.

How wonderful to be reminded of Colonel Vaughan, and to be back in the Alaska we both once called home.

(Thanks to globalgirl for reaching out about her Great Uncle!)

26 June 2008

Global Climate Change: Brits Skeptical About Climate Change, But Does Anyone Care?

An Ipsos MORI poll released last Sunday found that a majority of the British public does not believe human activity has caused global warming.

According to the poll, which first showed up in The Observer, found that 60 percent of the 1,039 British adults surveyed agreed that "many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change," with a further 40 percent saying they "sometimes think climate change might not be as bad as people say."

Still, 75 percent of the respondents said they were "concerned about climate change."

According to the Observer, "More than half of those polled did not have confidence in international or British political leaders to tackle climate change, but only just over a quarter think it's too late to stop it. Two thirds want the government to do more but nearly as many said they were cynical about government policies such as green taxes, which they see as 'stealth' taxes."

But does it matter what folks in the UK think? Last we checked, it was the US that still needs to come around.

See original article in The Observer/Guardian online

24 June 2008

Clean Tech: The Economist Looks at the Future of Energy

The energy landscape is changing, says The Economist, but where is it heading?

This week's issue (21 June) has a special report looking at the options facing the world, including alternative sources and

The market for energy is huge. Estimated at US$6 trillion a year, it accounts for about a tenth of the world's economic output -- and by 2050, power consumption is likely to have doubled from today's levels. High fuel prices and worries over energy security and global warming mean that a technology boom based on alternative energy may soon be upon us.

Wind and solar both are approach cost parity with traditional sources, at least in terms of new development. Biofuels caught on and we were all heading to Abilene with them, until some folks pointed out the issues with corn- and other food-based sources. And even electric cars and nuclear power seem to be rising from the dead.

It's clear the future of energy must change if economic development and prosperity are to continue.

The Economist report looks at the full range of alternative energy options that may fuel the new green economy and asks the critical question, can they break our addiction to oil and coal?

22 June 2008

Clean Tech: Clean Edge/Co-op America Report on Utility Solar in US

A new study by Clean Edge and Co-op America shows that the US could achieve 10 percent solar by 2025:

While the U.S. currently gets less than one tenth of one percent of its electricity from solar power, our research shows that solar offers the opportunity to provide a significant portion of the nation’s electricity supply for both distributed and centralized generation by 2025—up to ten percent from a combination of solar PV and CSP. As storage and smart grid technologies evolve, we see the potential for solar to provide an even larger percentage of U.S electricity needs.

Their analysis -- based upon proprietary Clean Edge data, company research, and expert interviews -- provides the following key findings:

1. Solar resources are ubiquitous.
2. Solar can provide utilities with a peak-power hedge.
3. Environment and carbon are becoming central drivers.
4. Solar power will soon reach price parity with conventional sources.
5. Utility participation is critical to solar success.
6. Smart grid deployment is imperative.
7. Distributed solar PV offers utilities unique advantages.
8. The solar industry needs to cooperate with utilities.
9. Standards must be implemented.
10. It’s not just PV, but also CSP (Concentrated Solar Power).
11. Utilities need to be able to integrate solar expenditures into their
rate base—and to be able to take a full life-cycle cost approach.
12. Utilities have a unique relationship with customers.

Download the report here: Clean Edge

19 June 2008

Conservation: A Farewell to TNC's Stephanie Meeks

I've crashed a few parties in my day. But tonight I found my way into an invitation-only special event, thanks to my old TNC-pal David Whitehead.

The occasion? Saying farewell to Stephanie Meeks, the acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, who will step down at the end of the month. I was glad I went.

I've known Stephanie for a long time; we came into the Conservancy around the same time, and we each contributed in our own ways to the organization's tremendous success over the past decade and change.

Over the past eighteen years, Stephanie rose in the ranks from a humble start in the Tennessee chapter to acting CEO. She took over the top spot last October, when Steve McCormick left to run the Moore Foundation.

But in reality, Stephanie was capably running much of the organization by the time she stepped into the acting president and CEO role. Since the late 90s, Stephanie oversaw the fundraising, marketing, and operations functions and later became chief operating officer.

Her able leadership, decisiveness, and laser focus fueled the dizzying growth and, ultimately, navigated the ship through unchartered waters: enabling her team to mobilize billions of dollars in support of conservation outcomes.

A colleague told me that when Stephanie stepped up to the plate last Fall, the organization let out a huge exhale. Such was the confidence the staff and board had in her abilities and leadership.

She was an inspiring and tireless leader; in part because she understood the real value in shared leadership and trusting her team. This was a lesson she -- and all of us -- learned from the late John Sawhill, and from Stephanie's former boss, the late Mike Coda.

The Conservancy ultimately decided to go in a different direction, bringing in Mark Tercek to lead its next chapter. This was not a reflection on Stephanie's promise as a leader; most of us who worked under her believed in her capabilities.

As with any leader, we didn't always agree with particular decisions she made. (In the last few years a wall seemed to be building between the staff and executive team, and staff and board, for instance. That was disconcerting, but it never hampered TNC's growth.)

We all understood, however, that Stephanie always lived the Conservancy's values, and her decisions were driven by an insatiable desire to advance the Conservancy's mission.

Some smart group -- non-profit or for-profit -- will snap her up. They will not be disappointed.

Stephanie Meeks will go on to lead another organization of committed individuals to great growth and new heights. She will also learn a lesson a number of us have learned: there is life after TNC.

Thank you, Stephanie, and good luck in your future endeavors. I won't say goodbye, hoping our paths will cross again down the road.

(Blogging by BlackBerry; updated with links and photo courtesy of TNC on 6/20/08)

16 June 2008

Clean Tech: Simple Questions Require Simple Answers

Technology entrepreneur and strategy consultant Sramana Mitra asked some simple questions in a Forbes.com article last Friday:

"What would it take? What would it take for the U.S. to move to a 50% renewable energy economy by 2020? What would it take for India to become a 100% solar economy by 2050?

"The answer lies in aggressive innovation and entrepreneurship in all parts of the solar ecosystem coupled with resolute policy decisions. And please note that policy alone, without innovation and entrepreneurship, will not solve the problem.

"Take the United States. Building a 100- to 300-megawatt solar power plant costs $750 million to $1.5 billion. To really move the needle, hundreds and thousands of such plants need to pop up all over the country and funnel clean energy into power grids.

"The best outcome would be if technology obviates the need for solar subsidies. 'Eventually, it is a technology race,' says David Chen of Equilibrium Capital, a new sustainability fund and a long-term technology industry veteran. We've seen this for over 30 years in cycle after cycle, whether it is in integrated circuits or disk drives, LCDs or flat panels. Moore's Law, it is called. We will see it again in solar. But in the meantime, policy will need to intervene, and make it worthwhile for investors and entrepreneurs to play in the market.

"In India and China, a distributed power strategy would be ideal. But batteries, which store solar energy captured during the day and release it at night, are still too expensive to be used on a mass scale.

"Here's another question: What would it take to stimulate small businesses to build up solar farms and sell energy into utility grids? I suspect, again, both policy and entrepreneurship would need to go hand in hand."

Simple questions require simple answers.

But, thus far, the simple answers ellude us. What's required is, as Ms. Mitra suggests, for Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to "sit down with entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors, and understand through candid exchanges what sort of policy is needed to unlock the enormous entrepreneurial energy that sits boiling amid the ocean of human potential."

These leaders and others would do well to heed Ms. Mitra's advice.

15 June 2008

Clean Tech: Wind Energy ETFs Will Soon Offer Investors Opportunities to Tilt at Windmills

Tate Dwinnell at Self Investors, LLC, reported last week both PowerShares and First Trust Advisors have filed docs with the SEC to provide Wind Energy ETFs (exchange traded funds):

"The PowerShares Global Wind Energy ETF requires a minimum market cap of 200 million and will likely include some or all of the big wind players such as Vestas Wind Systems (Denmark), Clipper Steam Turbine (China), Gas Turbine Efficiency (Sweden), Gamesa Corp Technologica (Spain), Windflow Technology (New Zealand) or Wind Energy America of Eden (US).

"The First Trust ISE Global Wind Energy ETF will be made up of 2/3 pure plays and 1/3 of companies with a portion of their sales from wind and include companies of all sizes. Countries with the most installed capacity of wind power include Germany, US, Spain, India and China with China leading the growth by tripling its capacity in 2007 over 2006. Some expect China to be the leader in wind power generation in just a few years.

"Currently, the best way to play wind with a diversified strategy is through the Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy ETF (GEX) which lists Vestas Wind Systems (Denmark) as it's largest holding at just under 13% of the fund."

This is good news for investors looking for a way to ride the wind wave. Currently, large-scale wind is one of the most viable alternative energy solutions and is on a par with new coal generation capacity in terms of costs.

10 June 2008

Global Climate Change: World Bank Says, Oil Will Come Down Hard; Sovereign Wealth Can Fund Climate Fight

So, this morning on CNBC's Squawk Box, the show that never met a bear it didn't like, Uri Dadush, the dowdy and drowsy chief of International Economics at the World Bank, told the lovely and smart Becky Quick (she's quick too) that oil will be at $95/barrel by end of year and $88/barrel by 2010.

Watch video: Squawk Box

But how does that jibe with what the World Bank's Latin America chief, Pamela Cox told Reuters today that, "essentially, emerging economies can help fund the fight against climate change through sovereign wealth funds, swollen by oil and other exports receipts"?

"'It would be great if some of these sovereign wealth funds started investing in alternative technologies, some of the climate change funds that are being put forward,' Cox said, but added that the World Bank could not tell countries how they should invest their sovereign wealth."

"Emerging economies control up to US$3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds," according to Reuters, much of which have been padded by skyrocketing oil and commodities prices," along with bulging trade imbalances.

But those sovereign wealth funds will be a lot less swollen at $95-88/barrel.

Meanwhile, CNBC reported that oil prices fell today, despite an earlier advance to $137 on greatly reduced oil consumption projections from the Energy Department.

"The Energy Department, in a monthly report, indicated that high prices are cutting oil consumption more than expected in the industrialized world," according to CNBC. "Consumption is now expected to fall by 240,000 barrels a day in 2008; last month, the department forecast consumption would be unchanged from 2007 levels."

Still a long way to go from $131/barrel to $95. And it remains to be seen what this news will have on investments in climate change initiatives and alternative energy?

Very little, it appears.

According to Reuters, some emerging economy oil exporters are already planning clean energy and other climate initiatives:

--OPEC is planning a US$750 million research fund into burying greenhouse gases underground and has committed about US$35 million so far.

--The United Arab Emirates has launched a $15 billion "Masdar Initiative" to help plan for an era of falling oil reserves by investing in low carbon-emitting energy like solar power.

--Tokyo will contribute US$1.2 billion to the planned US$10 billion of developed country Climate Investment Funds (CIF) administered by the World Bank.

--The United States has pledged US$2 billion to the CIF and the UK will add part of a 800 million pound (US$1.57 billion) environment fund to the mix.

--The CIF will invest roughly US$5 billion each in funds to help developing countries cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, and to plan for climate change.

But how much of this could materialize without oil prices being what they are? And what happens if the oil bubble bursts or tankers are sitting just beyond the Verrazano Narrows waiting for the signal?

06 June 2008

Social Entrepreneurs: CNN Interview with Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx

Majora Carter is one of my green heroes. As the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, she has effectively turned around an area that was once best known as the poster child for urban blight.

The South Bronx was once a thriving, working-class community; it was also home to rich cultural traditions and influences. (Think: hip-hop, which first emerged from there in the 70s.)

Majora wants to see the South Bronx restored and respected, and is committed to its bright, green future.

Highlights from the story:

-Carter, who grew up in the Bronx, set up Sustainable South Bronx in 2001

-She wrote a $1.25M Federal Transportation planning grant for the South Bronx

-The 11-mile-long stretch now Hunts Point Riverfront Park is the first South Bronx waterfront park in 60 years

-Carter wants to see the South Bronx become a thriving community again

Her organization promotes green-collar jobs and sustainable development as a route out of poverty and to create stronger, healthier and greener communities. She wants Manhattan to start handling its own waste rather than dumping it on the local communities

CNN spoke to her about her inspiration, her work and her hopes for the future:

Majora Carter Interview

Here is more on Majora: Bio

More about her organization: Sustainable South Bronx

And a slide show of her work: Slides

Majora at Aspen Institute Environment Forum: Big Idea

And don't miss Majora's TED Talk, "Greening the Ghetto":

She is so damned inspiring! We need more Majora Carter's in the world.

Clean Tech: KPMG, AlwaysOn and Vator.tv Launches Online Competition

Readers of The Green Skeptic know how much we like online competitions. Here's an innovative approach from KPMG's venture unit, AlwaysOn, and Vator.tv

They are looking for game-changing players in the clean tech industry. Check out the intro video:

As with all the Vator.tv/AlwaysOn winners, the founder or executive of the winning business plan will be invited to present at the AlwaysOn Going Green in September 2008.

At the event, the winner will have the opportunity to give a six-minute CEO pitch to an audience of AlwaysOn investors and attendees. They will also be featured in AO’s quarterly print "blogozine" and on the Vator.tv and AlwaysOn websites.

KPMG is a global network of professional firms who operate in 145 countries and have more than 123,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. KMPG's purpose is to turn knowledge into value for the benefit of their clients.

02 June 2008

Changemakers: Vote for Winners in Geotourism Challenge

As previously mentioned on this blog, Ashoka's Changemakers and National Geographic (link) have teamed up for a competition they call The Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places/Changing Lives.

A panel of judges, including Keith Bellows, VP of National Geographic Society and Editor-in-Chief NG Traveler; Susan Berresford, Past President of The Ford Foundation; Leonard Cordiner, CEO of whl travel; and Nachiket Mor, President of ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth, has picked a handful -- 3 handfuls actually -- of finalists from among the 323 entries submitted from 84 countries. Now it's up to the changemaking (kingmaking?) public to decide the winners.

To vote, click over to Geotourism Challenge and vote for your favorite.

But hurry: Voting ends June 11 at 6PM EST.

For the complete list of entires, visit Changemakers.

And the nominees are:

Exotica Cottages, Dominica
Rios Tropicales Lodge, Costa Rica
Tourism Board Bhutan, Bhutan
Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries, Greece
Canopus Maldives - MPO for WHL in Maldives
Blue Ventures Conservation, Madagascar
Eco-Health Farms, Latvia
Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, India
Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon
3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, Nepal
Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa, Thailand
CC Africa, South Africa
Great Baikal Trail, Russia
Chumba Island Coral Park, Ltd., Tanzania

[Disclosure: The author is a vice president with Ashoka, but does not work directly for Changemakers or National Geographic, although he has friends at both organizations and admires their work.]