27 July 2011

CAFE Society? The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

I sat down with Stuart Varney & Company on FOX Business this morning to talk about the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards proposed by the Obama administration.

My take: I think better fuel economy is a good thing.

Here is the video:

I'm a free-market guy and don't like government mandates, but we've had these standards since 1975 and it has spurred innovation in the auto industry.

People are feeling the pain at the pump and higher MPG means more money in their pockets.

Some automakers are not happy with the proposal, but others like Mark Reuss of GM North America find the new standards tough, but achievable.

And I'm encouraged by John DiCicco of University of Michigan's Energy Institute who believes that current technologies can yield 74 mpg by 2035 if staged appropriately.

Who wouldn't want to get 74 miles per gallon?!

At the end of the day, I'd prefer the auto industry innovate without government prodding, but I think the CAFE standards may just prime the pump.

Stuart also threw me a couple of curve balls about a coal mining operation that was ceasing operation and Major League Baseball's Designated Hitter rule.  (I'm not a fan of the DH, despite my Red Sox having been the beneficiary of the rule in 2004 and 2007.)

Here is a link to the video in case the player doesn't work in your browser: http://bit.ly/nJHeru

UPDATE: Late yesterday, I learned that the White House and Automakers had reached an agreement about a slightly revised number:  Automakers and Obama Agree.
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26 July 2011

Whole Foods Highlights Creative Solutions to Earth's Pressing Problems

By 2050, the earth will support roughly 9.3 billion people; but creative visionaries around the world are doing their part to secure future access to water, energy, food and living space.

In 1981, Canadian potter Burt Cohen hand-formed a ceramic water filter with local, low-cost materials. Today, the open source model is being used to purify water in over 13 countries, and is expanding its presence worldwide. And, in an effort to eliminate dilution as a water cleaning method, Oregon engineer Mark Owen combined nanotechnology and sunlight to create a low-impact filter that kills contaminants at the source.

Whole Foods is highlighting this and other sustainable innovations in an online series called "9.3," which profiles the radical ideas of creative conservationists. Check out the video:

First Solar was also featured in a recent episode on solar power innovations:

Great to see someone focusing attention on solutions and innovations.

(Disclosure: I hold a long position in First Solar, FSLR.)
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20 July 2011

Clusterstuck: Are Industry Clusters Really the Holy Grail?

Image from Stinque.com
Last week's report by the Brookings Institution and Battelle Technologies on the clean economy was greeted with much fanfare.  I even wrote about how it ranked the Greater Philadelphia region (where I live) number 5 in the nation.

One of the key success factors the Brookings-Battelle study points to is the creation of industry hubs or clusters, such as the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings. 

I was pleased to see the reference having been a fan and supporter of the GPIC effort.  (As founder of the business network, Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, I wrote a letter of support to the DOE for Philadelphia's initial application.)

But then I came across a Washington Post opinion piece by Vivek Wadhwa titled "Industry Clusters: The Modern-Day Snake Oil."   My skeptic bone, which is located just to the right of the funny bone, in case you are wondering, started to tingle.

Wadhwa points to a recent study conducted by Rune Dahl Fitjar, of Norway’s Centre for Innovation Research at the International Research Institute of Stavanger, and Andres Rodriguez-Pose of the London School of Economics and Political Science, which found that regional and national clusters are, in fact, "irrelevant for innovation."

Rather, Wadhwa relates, "the key drivers of innovation in Norway are the communication channels that local entrepreneurs maintain to the outside world and their open-mindedness toward foreign cultures, change and new ideas.  Companies that are 'regionally minded' -- that maintain ties only with players within the same cluster -- are four times less likely to innovate than the globally connected."
What do the researchers say is the determining factor for success?  People.

Not just any people: "knowledgeable people who have the motivation and ability to start ventures," writes Wadhwa.  Knowledgeable, risk-taking people who are connected by extensive information-sharing networks.

"The same dynamics at play in Norway give Silicon Valley its advantage," according to Wadhwa.  "It is a giant, globally connected network in which sharing information and risk-taking are the norm."

Rather than patting ourselves on our backs for developing clusters of innovation, we need to focus on people.  And we need to continuously ask the following questions:

  • Do we have the right people and are we connecting them in ways that will help them start companies?  
  • Are we connecting them with the right mentors and networks and access to financing?   
  • Are we getting government out of the way of their success?  
  • Are we making the pathways to commercialization clear and efficient enough to encourage repaid growth?

If not, we may be creating nothing more than a government-sponsored enduring clusterf*ck that will lead to nothing more than an academic exercise and more fodder for reports.

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14 July 2011

Philadelphia Ranks 5th in Brookings' Clean Economy Tally

A report released yesterday, “Sizing the Clean Economy,” which is based on the Brookings-Battelle Clean Economy Database, ranks the Philadelphia metro area 5th among the 100 largest metro areas for overall size of its share of the clean economy in the US.

The database from which these data are derived is a collaborative effort of Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and the Battelle Technology Partnership Program. 

The report ranks the size, growth, and geography of the “clean” economy in the US, which it defines as "economic activity—measured in terms of establishments and the jobs associated with them—that produces goods and services with an environmental benefi t or adds value to such products using skills or technologies that are uniquely applied to those products."

Philadelphia has, according to the study,  54,325 "clean" jobs.

Other points of interest to the region:

  • Philadelphia's 54,325 clean economy jobs make up 2.0 percent of all jobs in the region.
  • Between 2003 and 2010 Philadelphia added 6,573 clean jobs.
  • On average each clean economy job in Philadelphia produces $15,693 in exports.
  • Estimated median wage in Philadelphia's clean economy is $43,913; compared to $42,722 for all jobs in Philadelphia.
New York had the most clean jobs at 152,034, followed by Los Angeles (89,592); Chicago (79,388); and the DC metro area (70,828).  The Greater Boston area topped in at 41,825 jobs, landing the 8th spot.

According to the study, "the clean economy grew more slowly in aggregate than the national economy between 2003 and 2010, but newer 'cleantech' segments produced explosive job gains and the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession."

The report points to the recently established energy innovation hubs, such as the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings (GPIC), as an important factor in continued growth for the sector. 

Among the other recommendations for scaling up the clean econmy, the report's authors suggest, "Ensure adequate finance by moving to address the serious shortage of affordable, risk-tolerant, and larger-scale capital that now impedes the scale-up of numerous clean economy industry segments."

They also recommend the creation of a water sciences innovation center and the establishment of a regional clean economy consortia.

"Metropolitan areas, large and small, are now and will increasingly be the nation’s critical centers of clean
economy talent, innovation, and finance and so its top hubs of commercialization, deployment, and trade," the report concludes. "Regions and metropolitan areas, in short, are not a part of the national clean economy; they are that economy."
You can find interactive maps here to dig deeper into the findings.

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11 July 2011

Review: A Sea in Flames by Carl Safina

I wanted to like Carl Safina's new book, A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout.  In fact, I did like it for the first 40 pages or so.

Safina is at his best in this book when reconstructing the events of the blowout itself and sharing the stories of those in the region whose lives felt the negative impacts.

He's skillful at building narrative tension, explaining what went wrong and why, describing decisions that were made or not made that led to the explosions, the subsequent destruction of the oil rig and death of eleven workers.

But Safina lets his journalistic guard down and his opinions, speculations, and grinds personal axes and he loses me.  There are one too many asides such as, "Really? Is that all you've got? Sorry; I have a lot of respect for professors, but I don't believe her," he writes in reaction to a professor who was demonstrating how to sniff food for traces of oil.

Also annoying is Safina's juvenile and relentless butchering of names (Admiral Thad Allen, of the Coast Guard, becomes the "Thadmiral").  Safina loses control of his story -- a story, well-told as certain passages are in this book, about which we should be left to make our own judgments.

And then, as almost an afterthought, Safina has a change of heart about the government's handling of the disaster, after sitting down with Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA, and now-retired Admiral Allen, to hear their side of the story.  A better approach, in my view, would to have been to write the book with that perspective and knowledge, simply letting the story stand on its own.

I don't blame Safina for this; I blame his editors at Crown, who clearly didn't do their jobs in the rush to get this book out before most Americans thought the "Deepwater Horizon" was a new water ride at Six Flags rather than the disaster that captivated us for most of the summer of 2010.

The story of the incompetence, poor decisions, neglectfulness, hubris and bad judgment on the part of BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and others is one that needs to be told.  And when Safina sticks to that story, he tells it well.  We don't need the author to point out the absurdity of some of the things said by BP's then-CEO Tony Hayward; his statements and blunders do a fine job on their own.

Instead, Safina gives us knee-jerk environmental rhetoric and juvenile attacks on those involved.  So much so that I kept putting the book down in frustration, but picked it up again hoping Safina would tell me something I needed to know about the disaster.

He did.  My three-take-aways from the book: the disaster was preventable; we were neither prepared for this nor are we prepared for the next such disaster; and it didn't turn out to be as bad as the media led us to believe it was going to be.

I'm a fan of Carl Safina's Eye of the Albatross and Song for the Blue Ocean; both books are illuminating and enlightening.  Where A Sea in Flames sticks to the story of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Safina succeeds; too often, however, he fails to deliver the goods and lets his own story – of his shock, anger, and second thoughts -- get in his way.

The book is not a disaster, but its troubles -- like the blowout itself -- could have been prevented.

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07 July 2011

We Need More Crazy-Smart Women Leaders in Cleantech

Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe
My friend Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe always makes me think.

She's "crazy-smart," as she likes to say of others.  One of the smartest people I know.  So I pay attention to what she says or what she writes about.

Lucinda is a serial CEO.  Her gift is to see the potential in a company or its product and take it to the next level.

More often than not, this results in a sale of the company and Lucinda moving on to her next thing.

Lucinda's two posts on women in tech got me thinking this morning.

Specifically, her thoughts on the lack of women in number one positions in tech companies.  She posted her thoughts about Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg on her great new blog here and linked to this story about Google's Marissa Mayer here.

Women in tech is not my usual subject, but I couldn't help drawing parallels with the cleantech world.

Of the cleantech companies I've worked with or advised in the Philadelphia area, two have women CEOs: Emily Landsburg of BlackGold BioFuels and Elinor Haider of NovaThermal Energy.  They are two of the best CEOs I know -- women or men -- and they possess, as Lucinda describes, "all the normal super-powers: crazy-smart, hard working, clearly emotionally intelligent."

In this old (2007) list of Top 10 Women in Cleantech, only one is identified as a CEO, and a couple are listed as Founders or Managing Directors.  The Women in Cleantech and Green Industry group on LinkedIn has 424 members and, while it is managed by a woman, Catherine Bowers, it appears to be owned by a man, Robert Hokin, founder of UK-based ecoConnect.

Ann Goodman, founder of the Women's Network for a Sustainable Future, profiled one cleantech CEO, former undersecretary of energy Kristina Johnson, of hydropower startup Enduring Energy, in her post on GreenBiz.com this past April, How to Grow Women's Potential in Cleantech and the Economy.

Few cleantech companies have women on their boards.  According to an article in VentureBeat in March, Cleantech's sausagefest: 25 companies with all-male boards," the majority of the top 10 cleantech companies as ranked this year by the Wall Street Journal have no female board directors."

Lindsey Riddell, writing in the San Francisco Business Times last year, offered a hopeful outlook for woman leading cleantech and social media companies.

"There is a lot of hope that unlike the semiconductor, telecom and other technology fields, cleantech and social media will become sectors where more women advance to the top, even if that isn’t necessarily the case today, said Caroline Simard, vice president of research and executive programs at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto."

So, while the future may be bright for women CEOs in cleantech and social media, there's still a long way to go.

As Lucinda concluded her post this morning, she finds Sandberg an interesting model, "Yet it pisses me off that she’s the newest girl tech darling. Why?  Because she’s a #2.  She may be the best #2 in history, but I wish we had #1 role models."

Lucinda just sold her latest venture, Click Equations, where she was CEO.  I know she'll be #1 again in her next venture.  I hope she finds something in the cleantech space where I think she could have a real impact.

We need more crazy-smart leaders like her.

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