30 September 2009

Boxing Match in the Senate? Boxer-Kerry Climate Bill Being Introduced Today

With Democratic Senators Boxer and Kerry preparing to launch their Climate Bill salvo into the Senate, opponents are gearing up for a fight.

According to USA Today, "Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., one of the Senate's most vocal opponents of climate-change action, predicted the bill won't even be debated on the Senate floor before the end of the year, let alone come up for a vote."

The New York Times reports that "...the 684-page Senate draft bill (pdf) diverges from the House measure in its push for a 2020 emissions target of 20 percent, compared with the House's bill's 17 percent limit.

Both the House-passed bill, H.R. 2454 (pdf), and the preliminary Boxer-Kerry proposal contain the same longer-term emissions limits of 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and an 83 percent cut for 2050."

I haven't had a chance to read the Senate draft bill, but will try to have a look at it in the next day or so.

But it sounds like Senators on both sides may want to get out their boxing gloves.

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24 September 2009

A123 Systems Electrifies On Its First Trading Day

Image representing A123Systems as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBase

I've been watching Lithium-ion car battery maker A123 Systems (NASDAQ:AONE) for a few years now and have been anxiously awaiting their IPO. Thus far, AONE shares have not disappointed, rocketing as much as 45 percent in its NASDAQ debut.

$AONE began the trading day at $17, got as high as $20 before noon, and is hovering around $19.86 as I write this post. The IPO delivered a premium over its $13.50 share price.

The brain-child of MIT scientists, Waltham, Massachusetts-based A123, develops batteries and battery systems for electric vehicles, including plug-ins using a proprietary nanophosphate technology.

A123 has an impressive list of investors among its principal shareholders, including GE, Qualcomm, Motorala, and North Bridge Venture Partners, an equally impressive client list, and a recent vote of confidence from the federal government, receiving $249M as part of the stimulus funds for electric car advancement.

I know there are plenty of naysayers out there. After all, A123 has been losing money since its launch in 2001 ($146M on $168M in revenue). But it has done one thing extremely well: focused on improving its technology and becoming the leading developers of advanced car system batteries and battery systems for the electric grid and consumer markets in the US.

(Disclosure: Long AONE)

22 September 2009

Of SmartGrids and HANs: The Future is Here @ GridWeek 2009

I dropped into the GridWeek conference today and found that the Smart Grid is alive and well and flush with dreams of stimulus money and full of players both big and small.

But as I toured the exhibit space in between press briefings, I couldn't help thinking that there are a heck of a lot of smart meters, Home Area Networks (HANs) and energy management web portals competing for the same, well, bandwidth.

A company I've been watching, Boulder-based Tendril was there showing off its TREE (Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem). TREE is an in-home wireless network that allows appliances and electrical outlets to talk instantly and directly to a home energy monitor or web portal. Through the web portal consumers can understand and manage their energy consumption in real-time and adjust usage according to their needs -- even remotely. (No more calling the neighbor to have them adjust the thermostat you accidentally left set too high or too low.)

And Redwood City's Silver Spring Networks was there, too, announcing this morning that they are acquiring Greenbox Technologies (the latest venture from the creators of Flash).

This is likely the first of many such mergers and acquisitions in this space -- both vertically integrated and otherwise -- as others are talking about various interoperability partnerships.

"Interoperability" is the buzzword at GridWeek 2009, along with cybersecurity. It will become an even more important concept once the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reveals its plan for interoperability standards and protocols. NIST is responsible for developing what amounts to the next generation communications protocols and standards.

Interoperability, according to NIST, is "the ability of diverse systems and their components to work together" and "is vitally important to the performance of the Smart Grid at every level. It enables integration, effective cooperation, and two-way communication among the many interconnected elements of the electric power grid."

In other words, these standards will allow "smart" appliances and meters to inform consumers about their power consumption and its cost. Consumers will have much more control over their power consumption and energy bills.

Such standards will also allow utilities (and decentralized power generators) "mix and manage varying supplies of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources and better respond to changing demand."

Department of Energy Secretary Chu announced his vision for the Smart Grid on Monday (here's a link to his presentation in PDF format).

As part of his presentation, the Secretary announced a $144 million jobs training program to support implementation of the Smart Grid and an additional $44.2 million in awards to State Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) to hire and retrain PUC staff as utilities ramp up Smart Grid activities.

Secretary Chu stopped short of announcing when the first round of DOE stimulus awards would be made in the Smart Grid space, and a spokesperson later asserted that the announcement would not be made until November.

But for today and the rest of this week, the future has arrived -- and it is connected, networked, and smart.

16 September 2009

Venture Fair Wraps Up GoodCompany Ventures' Inaugural Class

Tomorrow the summer comes to an end for the ten companies to be graduated from the inaugural class of GoodCompany Ventures, the social business incubator.

The session wraps with a Gala Venture Fair. The Venture Fair, sponsored by Blank Rome LLP, Investors' Circle, and RSF Social Finance, features Karen Randal of the Philadelphia Department of Commerce as a key note speaker.

For the last few months, ten companies in the social business sector have been participating in GoodCompany Ventures’ incubator program. The curriculum has included expert speaker panels, strategic and industry advisers, and information sessions aimed at providing the companies with the resources they need to maximize growth.

One of the entrepreneurs, Emily Landsburg, co-founder of BlackGold Biofuels, credits the incubator with providing BlackGold "the structure and space to think more strategically." For Landsburg, the incubator's expert speaker panels offered "new insights and approaches to business planning."

Similarly, for Angela McIver, founder and CEO of Math Foundations, "GCV's support has been key in positioning our company to become a major player in the education industry."

GoodCompany Ventures' Gala Venture Fair brings together investors, entrepreneurs, and colleagues who seek to promote good business in Philadelphia.

The graduation is a two-part event that formally begins with company pitches to accredited investors at 2:00pm, followed by speakers including Bart Houlahan of B Corporation.

The Venture Fair will provide a showcase for some of the region’s most promising early and expansion-stage triple bottom line businesses, and will also mark the launch of Investors' Circle's Philadelphia chapter.

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15 September 2009

Israeli Companies Pitch at US-Israel Cleantech Conference

More than a dozen Israeli companies pitched at today's US-Israel Cleantech Conference at the University of Pennsylvania.

The companies promoting their renewable energy and other green technologies were joined by business leaders, investors, and government agency representative from Greater Philadelphia who shared keys to business development in the region and the state.

The conference, part of a three-day tour of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey for the companies, was organized by the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce and was designed to give exposure to some of the best new start-ups in Israel.

"The high tech sector took 15 years to develop in Israel," said Hillel Milo, Managing Partner of AquAgroFund, which at $100M US is one of the largest venture capital firms in the cleantech sector in Israel. "I have a feeling we will have a robust cleantech sector in five years."

If the companies featured today are any example Israel is on its way.

Of particular interest were several companies developing small-scale alternative technologies, especially solar and wind, for the distributed energy market. As expected, there was a high concentration on solar and wind solutions. Among the noteworthy companies:

AORA is developing community-scale solar thermal power stations that are 100kw in size, enabling an off-grid option for remote communities. (See photo above.)

Variable Wind Solutions, which has developed a voltage regulation system that improves wind turbine performance and efficiency in low, high, and variable-speed winds and connecting small wind turbines to the power grid.

TransBiodiesel, which has developed an enzymatic biocatalyst that can replace corrosive alkaline and acid catalysts in biodiesel production from plant oils, animal fats, and recycled greases.

And finally, Cequesta Water, which has developed low-cost technologies for recycling gray water at the domestic, multiunit dwelling, and large resort scales.

Notable Pennsylvania-based presenters and panelists included Audrey Zibelman of Viridity Energy, Gary Feldman of Lockheed Martin, Brian Yerger of AERCA Advisors, Jay Goldman of Exelon, Mark DeGrandpre of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and Joyce Ferris of Blue Hill Partners.

Curtis Gregory from the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor, also addressed the audience.

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11 September 2009

BuildGreen 2009 Conference Next Month in Philly

I learned this week that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will attend the 2009 BuildGreen Conference in his home town next month.

That's a coup for this conference that is the first conference in the region that will convene all green building stakeholders in the design/build, policy, manufacturing, and economic development/investment community.

Mayor Nutter has a lot on his mind right now with his budget woes, but he clearly sees the connection between green building and economic development and its importance to the region and his goal of making Philadelphia the "Greenest City in America" by 2015.

I'll be live blogging from the conference here on the green skeptic.

NOTE: Early Bird Registration is Monday, September 14th.

Where and when: October 14 - 15, 2009, Sheraton City Center Hotel, Philadelphia

For more information: buildgreenconference

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06 September 2009

Van Jones From Pillar to Pariah in Six Months

Van Jones speaking at the 2008 Dream Reborn Co...Image via Wikipedia

Six months ago the appointment of Van Jones was widely anticipated and hailed as a win for the new green economy.

On the subject of green jobs, Jones had hopes of being a uniter not a divider, but remarks from throughout his career -- some as recent as a month before his appointment in the Obama administration -- along with some mistakes and questionable affiliations and associations, have brought about his downfall.

Early this morning, Van Jones resigned his position as the so-called "green jobs czar" in the Obama Administration.

Readers of the green skeptic know that I have been a fan of Van Jones' work on the new green economy. His "eco-capitalist" approach is in keeping with how I feel we need to rebuild our economy: focus on alternative energy and clean tech development and create jobs for as many Americans as possible.

I am no apologist for Van Jones. His widely circulated remarks strike me as foolish and hurtful and divisive -- not in keeping with someone who has often said he wants to bring people together to promote clean energy and jobs that bring people out of poverty. And they in no way represent the Jones I know.

But make no mistake: he said what he said. And taken at face value, his statements are pretty damning and, well, just plain dumb.

In February, Jones called Republicans who prevented environmental legislation "a-holes" and, in June 2008, characterized then President Bush as "sounding like a crackhead" addicted to oil. These are the kind of divisive statements made to appeal to the left-leaning audiences to which they were delivered. (Note the cheering crowds in both videos.)

Were Jones a comedian, he might be able to get away with this stuff -- his delivery of the crackhead line and his adlibbing after are actually pretty good stand-up -- we might not think anything of it.

But coming from someone who told the East Bay Express in 2005 that he was "interested in managing conflict with an eye toward maximizing unity," it seems disingenuous at best.

"There's a tradition of very nasty polemics on the left. I've seen it split coalitions, movements, parties," he told the Express reporter. "This is my concern: it's easy to start a fight, it's hard to finish a fight."

So what exactly did Jones have in mind with the comments in the above videos: entertainment value or divisive politics-as-usual? (The irony is that Jones in these two videos comes across as a kind of lefty equivalent of Glenn Beck, the guy who brought him down, fanning the rhetorical flames with sweeping generalizations and personal attacks.)

And whatever he says about it now, the fact is Jones signed the 911 Truth Statement, along with a bunch of other flaming liberals, boomer lefties, and even Catherine Austin Fitts, a member of the first Bush administration. Did he know what he was signing? If he didn't read it, why sign it?

His comments on Columbine have been widely shown, but here Jones seems to have been taken out of context.

"You’ve never seen a Columbine done by a black child. Never," he says. "They always say, 'We can't believe it happened here. We can't believe it's these suburban white kids.' It's only them. Now, a black kid might shoot another black kid. He's not going to shoot up the whole school."

If you watch the entire video, however, his remarks are not racist.

He's actually calling for compassion for troubled young white males who are "suffering in our society and nobody is saying a word about it," and asks "where is the concern, where is the love, where is the compassion for these young men..." and where is the "loving, affirmative male leadership" that will show the "kind of masculinity that is not brittle and or mean-spirited?"

He could have and should have made his point about the alienation and neglect that young people of all colors and backgrounds feel without bringing up such unfortunate comparisons, but he didn't.

Similarly, his comments in the East Bay Express, about his being communist are easily misconstrued.

In the wake of the Rodney King assault trial verdicts, the 25-year-old Jones, who got swept up in mass arrests at demonstrations in San Francisco, fell in with a group of radicals he met in jail who shared his notions of "trying to be a revolutionary."

"I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th," he said. "By August, I was a communist."

As someone whose opinion I respect said to me last night, it's "hard to dispute someone's own words."

But did he mean he was really a Communist? Did he join the Communist Party?

According to the Express, Jones joined "a socialist collective, Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, which held study groups on the theories of Marx and Lenin and dreamed of a multiracial socialist utopia."

But a decade later, Jones was renouncing the old radicalism of his youth and trying to "present a positive vision Americans can latch onto and vote for," as the Express reporter put it.

"The country is waiting for a movement that inspires people, that doesn't just critique," Jones said. "That's my gut instinct. And when it's resonant, when it's right, people feel how they fit into it. We want a green economy that's strong enough to lift people out of poverty."

In other words, he grew up. This is actually a pretty typical western liberal path: early radicalism, even socialist idealism followed by an awakening of more moderate, free-market leanings and -- sometimes -- followed by an ascent (or fall, depending upon your political persuasion) into neo-conservatism.

The "grown up" Van Jones is the one those of us who believe in the potential of the new green economy embraced and supported. It's too bad the Van Jones that most will remember is the one who is flip and divisive and extreme.

Van made his own bed and must wake up in it. Hopefully, he will learn from his mistakes and renew his commitment to contribute to the vision that inspires and doesn't just critique.

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02 September 2009

Is Green Tech Investing Making a Comeback?

Vinod KhoslaImage via Wikipedia

Tuesday was a big day for green tech investing news: Khosla Ventures announced it had successfully raised $1.1 billion in capital for renewable energy and clean tech investments and the Department of Energy and the Treasury Department announced the first round of "Recovery Act" funding of $502.6 million.

Does this signal the beginning of a public-private investment bonanza for green tech? Only time will tell. But a lot of us are glad to see all the new green economy talk finally turn into action.

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