28 December 2007

Clean Tech: Solar Cell Production up in 2007, Says Earth Policy Institute

Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute (EPI) has issued its "Eco-Economy Indicators" for the global solar industry in 2007. And it's positive news. Here are the "top ten points of light" from the report as I see it:

1.) Production of photovoltaics (PV) jumped to 3,800 megawatts worldwide, up an estimated 50 percent over 2006. At the end of the year, according to preliminary data, cumulative global production stood at 12,400 megawatts, enough to power 2.4 million U.S. homes. This represents an average growth of 48 percent each year since 2002 -- essentially doubling every two years.

2.) Among PVs, new thin-film technologies, such as that being developed by Green Skeptic-favorite First Solar (FSLR), is fast-growing taking advantage of the worldwide shortage of polysilicon, which is used in more traditional solar cell technologies. EPI reports that thin film grew from 4 percent of the market in 2003 to 7 percent in 2006. Polysilicon supply is expected to match demand by 2010, but not before thin film grabs 20 percent of the market.

3.) The top five PV-producing countries are Japan, China, Germany, Taiwan, and the United States, according to EPI. After almost tripling its PV production in 2006, China is believed to have more than doubled output in 2007. With more than 400 PV companies, China’s market share has exploded from 1 percent in 2003 to over 18 percent today. Having eclipsed Germany in 2007 to take the number two spot, China is now on track to become the number one PV producer in 2008. The United States, which gave the world the solar cell, has dropped from third to fifth place as a solar cell manufacturer since 2005, overtaken by China in 2006 and Taiwan in 2007.

4.) China is planning a 100-megawatt solar PV farm in Dunhuang City in the northwestern province of Gansu, which would have five times the capacity of the largest PV power plant in the world today.

5.) Despite its skies being cloudy two thirds of the time, Germany has been the leading market for PV installations since it overtook Japan in 2004. In 2006, Germany, adding 1,050 megawatts, became the first country to install more than one gigawatt in a single year. Japan, the United States, and Spain round out the top four markets with 350, 141, and 70 megawatts installed in 2006, respectively. (See EPI data.)

6.) Growth in US installations increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2006, primarily driven by California and New Jersey. The California Solar Initiative was launched in January 2006 as part of the state’s Million Solar Roofs program to provide more than US$3 billion in incentives for solar power. The goal is to generate 3,000 megawatts of new solar power statewide by 2017. New Jersey’s Clean Energy Rebate Program, which began in 2001, offers a rebate of up to US$3.50 per watt for residential PV systems, contributing to a more than tripling of installations between 2005 and 2006.

7.) Of the world’s PV manufacturers in 2007, Sharp (Japan), Q-Cells (Germany), and Suntech (China) claimed the top three positions. (See EPI data.) But after holding the top spot for more than six years, Sharp, hampered by limited access to polysilicon, is likely to post only a 4-percent growth in production in 2007, well below the 50 percent industry average.

However, Sharp’s annual thin-film production capacity is on track to increase from 15 megawatts today to 1,000 megawatts per year in 2010. Suntech, a relatively new firm started in 2001, was the fourth-largest PV manufacturer in 2006, and eclipsed Kyocera in 2007 to take third place. In the first half of 2007, Suntech produced almost as much PV as it did in all of 2006.

8.) Capitalizing on the polysilicon supply crunch, First Solar in the United States moved into the top 15 global manufacturers in 2006 by producing 60 megawatts of cadmium telluride thin-film PV, triple its production in 2005. In the first half of 2007, First Solar leapt onto the top 10 list, moving up five spots to number eight and continuing its reign as the fastest-growing PV manufacturing company in the world.

9.) The average price for a PV module, excluding installation and other system costs, has dropped from almost $100 per watt in 1975 to less than $4 per watt at the end of 2006. (See EPI data.) With expanding polysilicon supplies, average PV prices are projected to drop to $2 per watt in 2010. For thin-film PV alone, production costs are expected to reach $1 per watt in 2010, at which point solar PV will become competitive with coal-fired electricity.

10.) With concerns about rising oil prices and climate change spawning political momentum for renewable energy, solar electricity is poised to take a prominent position in the global energy economy.

For a more complete report, see EPI Eco-Economy Indicators: Solar

24 December 2007

Global Climate Change: An Email from Santa (Reprint)

Last Christmas, we published this email from Santa, which arrived on the night before the night before Christmas. We had so much fun with it, we thought we'd share it again. Enjoy!

I received this email from Jolly, or not so Jolly St. Nick tonight:
TO: Global Warming Skeptics
FROM: Santa Claus
DATE: A few nights before Xmas
SUBJECT: My Christmas List

This is Santa, writing from the North Pole. Soon I'll be gathering all the toys for all the good little girls and boys and packing them in my sleigh to begin our journey, our night of nights.

The reindeer, however, are starting to complain about hoof-rot. Apparently, they've been standing around in too much slush. This has put me in a decidedly prickly mood this Christmas.

You know me; I'm not a single-issue guy. I believe that as long as you are good, and I mean good for goodness' sake, you deserve some slack on the other stuff. I'm an equal opportunity distributor. I know whether you've been bad or good or just plain evil. You also know I'm not one to discriminate against one group of people or another, believers or non-believers.

But this year is different. This year, I'm making a few changes to my list. I'm checking it twice and have decided that the naughty include any one of you out there who do not believe in global warming. All you climate change skeptics out there, you are on the naughty list this year.

Oh, you know who you are. And I've got one special gift for you: Nothing but COAL. You like the stuff so much -- and it's such a big part what's leading to climate change -- you might as well have bags and bags of it and nothing more.

Make no mistake. Global warming is happening. You don't have to show me any scientific reports, although some nifty ones have shown up in my email box lately, sent to me from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

No, you don't have to convince me; I'm a believer. All I have to do is look out my window to my back yard, what's left of it! It's a soupy mess out there.

We usually have a good bit of ice up here at the North Pole -- and early. That's important, too; you see, every year the elves and I construct a temporary workshop up here where we make the toys and assemble the other goodies. The earlier the ice, the sooner we get started. Although I have figured out a way to deliver the entire shipment of gifts on my list in one night, I still haven't perfected the manufacturing process. I can't speed it up. (Some of that I blame on the unions.) We need all the ice we can get up here for there is no solid ground.

But this year, the ice cover was the lowest it's been in almost 30 years. And at least one of those science groups studying this stuff tells me that, according to their models, by 2040, we'll have mostly open water up here. (They sent me this short animation clip, which sends chills up my spine: Arctic Ice Melt.)

Mrs. Claus has even started looking for Houseboats on Craig's List!

So, dear boys and girls, you better not pout or cry or whine or deny climate change any longer. And I'm telling you why: because climate change is coming to town. Time's a wasting. We need to do something about this now, before it's too late. Or before I have to move all of my operations to the South Pole!

Here's wishing a carbon-neutral Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

S. Claus, North Pole

23 December 2007

Clean Tech: Nanosolar Tries to Do Good; eBay Balks

Nanosolar, the private company that intends to manufacture the world's most cost-efficient solar cells using nanotech innovation, produced and released its first printed thin-film solar panels just last week.

Then they put Panel #2 from their production up for auction on eBay. Bidding quickly rocketed from 99 cents to US$13,000 and Nanosolar decided to use the proceeds for a charitable purchase.

But as Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen (pictured, and you gotta love that picture) notes on the company blog, "without warning eBay today decided to delete our auction due to the promised charitable use of the proceeds."

Nanosolar's legal team tried to get eBay to reinstate the auction, but to no avail.

"Upon review," Roscheisen writes,"we decided this isn’t a battle we care to fight more than an afternoon, so it’s back to building cells and panels for us."

For now, Panel #2 will stay at Nanosolar. Unfortunate and shortsighted on the part of eBay. Kudos to Roscheisen and Nanosolar for wanting to do something more than just take the money and run.

Our only outstanding question is: when is the IPO?

21 December 2007

Philanthropy 2.0: America's Giving Challenge

The Case Foundation and Parade Magazine has launched America’s Giving Challenge and will award $500,000 to nonprofits whose supporters attract the most unique donors to their cause using new and innovative online tools.

To "champion a cause" you must be a legal U.S. resident aged 13 years or older, using a valid credit card or other form of payment accepted by donation processing partners Network for Good and GlobalGiving.

There are two ways to participate:
Champion a Cause and have the chance to get $50,000 for the charity of your choice. The eight individuals whose charity badges attract the most unique donors through the America’s Giving Challenge will get $50,000 for their cause.

Give to a Cause and help the charity you care about get $1,000. The 100 nonprofits with the greatest number of unique donations made to them through America’s Giving Challenge will each get $1,000.

The Challenge will close January 31 at 3pm EST.

Check out the video one of GlobalGiving's staffers posted on YouTube:

Very cool stuff. And just in time for the holiday season you last minute shoppers!

(Disclosure: My longtime pal, Lee Kravitz, was editor of Parade when this partnership was begun. He has since left the magazine.)

20 December 2007

Global Climate Change: EPA Tells States "No, No, No" On Own Auto Emissions Standards

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected the rights of California and 16 other states to set their own standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

Claiming federal authority, EPA administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said the proposed California rules are made moot by the energy bill (HR6) signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday.

According the the New York Times, "The decision immediately provoked a heated debate over its scientific basis and whether political pressure was applied by the automobile industry to help it escape the proposed California regulations. Officials from the states and numerous environmental groups vowed to sue to overturn the edict."

Johnson was quick to defend his agency's decision, stating, "The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone."

For over two years California, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, along with 13 other states have waited as the Bush administration debated the issue of a state's right to adopt stricter air quality standards than the federal government.

The emissions standards California represented GHG emissions cut of 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, beginning with 2009 models. That's significantly higher -- 43 miles per gallon for cars and some light trucks and about 27 miles per gallon for heavier trucks and SUVs -- than the Energy Bill's 35 MPG.

I always find it interesting that state's rights are evoked inconsistently when its convenient. One wonders whether the Bush administration simply didn't want to be trumped by Schwarzenegger.

"It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "We will continue to fight this battle."

You can almost hear him say, "I'll be back..."

19 December 2007

Clean Tech: Solar! Solar! Solar!

The Sun will always shine on its little sister, Earth. Well at least until it enters the asymptotic giant branch of a planetary nebula phase in about 7.8 billion years. (You think global warming is bad now? Trust me, you don't want to be around for the sun's nebula phase and the boiling rivers.)

Meanwhile, however, there is growing interest in harnessing the Sun's energy for the purposes of continuing life on Earth. And solar power, once de rigeur for unwashed hippies and counter-culture, off-the-grid, back-to-the-landers. And Libertarians. Did I forget to mention Libertarians?

Anyway, we've been pimping solar plays here on The Green Skeptic for some time, and it seems the sun is shining all over these days. Some of my favorite investor/pundit-type dudes, like Howard Lindzon and Jim Cramer, are getting frothed about it, and even private plays like Nanosolar are getting attention for its "buck a watt" solution.

Despite the fact that Congress excluded alternative energy incentives from its Energy Bill, which I thought might actually hurt solar plays, these stocks and companies seem to be on the rise. And this is a good thing: for the economy, for the environment, and for investors.

As Howard put it yesterday: "This is the beginning, not the end of solar energy. Very exciting times. If you get mucked up focused on the averages and the financials, you will miss all the great new trends just beginning."

My Solar Portfolio (12/19/07)


Disclosure: Very Long Solar

Energy: House Sends Bush Energy Bill to Sign

President Bush is to sign a compromise Energy Bill (HR6) this morning, which will help reduce US dependence on foreign oil and scratch the surface on climate change impacts by cutting about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say the US must slash.

Highlights of the Bill:

-New auto fleets must average 35 miles/gallon by 2020 -- a 40 percent increase in fuel-efficiency standards

-Mandate use of 36 billion gallons/year of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022, a six-fold increase over today's ethanol production.

-Phase-out conventional incandescent light bulbs by mid-teens, replaced with CFs and LEDs.

Those of us interested in alternative energy development were disappointed by the failure of congressional supporters to roll back US$13.5 billion in tax breaks for oil companies. The savings were to be used to create incentives for wind, solar and biomass energy development, as well as energy conservation.

The Bill actually represents the first increase in auto fuel economy since 1975 and the compromises made on both sides represents a true bi-partisan effort. So the House, Senate, and President Bush should be applauded for making this happen.

17 December 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Barack Obama Calls for Social Sector Investment

In a speech last week in Iowa, presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama, called for a new focus on social entrepreneurs as agents for positive change, and for increased investment in the social sector:

"The second thing I’ll do is invest in ideas that can help us meet our common challenges, because more often than not the next great social innovation won’t be generated by the government.

"The non-profit sector employs 1 in 12 Americans and 115 nonprofits are launched every day. Yet while the federal government invests $7 billion in research and development for the private sector, there is no similar effort to support non-profit innovation. Meanwhile, there are ideas across America – in our inner cities and small towns; from college graduates to folks making a career change – that could benefit millions of Americans if they’re given the chance to grow.

"As President, I will launch a new Social Investment Fund Network. It’s time to get the grass roots, the foundations, the private sector and the government at the table. We’ll invest in ideas that work; leverage private sector dollars to encourage innovation; and expand successful programs to scale. Take a program like the Harlem Children’s Zone, which helps thousands of kids in New York through after-school activities, mentoring, and family support. We need to make that model work in different cities around the country. And I’ll start a new Social Entrepreneur Agency to make sure that small non-profits have the same kind of support that we give small businesses."

Spurring private action through public programs. Obama almost sounds like a Republican with his call for "personal responsibility" and acknowledgment that "the next great social innovation won’t be generated by the government."

Does Barack Obama have a chance to become President? He got this Independent's attention with this speech.

Read the full speech here: The Swamp

Global Climate Change: At Bali, Everyone Blinked; Bumpy Road Ahead

Compromise is necessary in any negotiation, but in Bali, where delegates from 187 countries met to begin framing a new global warming treaty, the US and EU were holding a staring contest. In the end, everyone blinked.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Senate settled for a compromise energy bill instead of one that sets out a clear path to a cleaner energy future.

The Bali delegates agreed to negotiate by 2009 a new and more comprehensive global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The countries pledged to address deforestation, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. There was also a vague offering from China, likely to assume the lead as a producer of greenhouse gas emissions, that they will pursue "measurable, reportable and verifiable" emissions reductions.

The US delegate pledged only to participate in the forthcoming negotiations, but they rejected setting provisional targets for greenhouse gas cuts, and they flat-out refused to commit to reducing their own emissions.

"The Bali road map sets out a process but it doesn't tell us where we'll wind up," head of The Nature Conservancy delegation Andrew Deutz told Asia Times. "The science should have given us a clear picture of where we need to go. But the agreement doesn't paint a picture of the destination."

Indeed, it seems a bumpy road from Bali to Copenhagen, where the final deal will be sealed in 2009.

Despite the drama of extending the meeting by a day, the hard-line stand of the US -- its refusal to accept a target of 25-to-40 percent cuts in GHG emissions by 2020 -- was the headline grabber. It points to a bumpy road ahead, as the US continues to assert its muscle and insists on doing things its way.

White House Council on Environmental Quality chairman James Connaughton is quoted in Asia Times, saying, "The US will lead, and we will continue to lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy two-year ride.

Update: download the Bali Action Plan here.

14 December 2007

Global Climate Change: Bali Yields REDD, a Deal on Forest Conservation

Reuters reports that the Bali talks have achieved at least one positive outcome, and it has greens seeing REDD:

Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is an indicator of the sense of urgency felt by developing nations in the face of global warming.

"The breakthrough might eventually allow poor but forested nations to turn conservation into a tradeable commodity, with the potential to earn billions of dollars selling carbon credits," according to the Reuters article.

"But," Reuters reports, "one of the scheme's key architects warned that, if successful, it will create such large emissions reductions that carbon markets could collapse unless rich nations take on more stringent reductions targets."

Forest destruction produces about 20 percent of human generated carbon dioxide emissions, and groups such as The Nature Conservancy have long argued that forest conservation, also known as "avoided deforestation," is central to reducing emissions globally.

"Deforestation had been left out of previous climate deals," such as Kyoto, "because of concerns about how to work out which trees were threatened, and that any scheme would reward countries destroying forests rather than those protecting their resources."

"'Forests have been the elephants in the corner of the climate change process,' said Andrew Mitchell, executive director of Global Canopy Programme, adding that markets were the only way to find the billions of dollars a year needed to protect forests.

"'We cannot expect philanthropy or governments to come up with this amount of money sustainably,' he said."

read the full story: Reuters

(Full disclosure: While with The Nature Conservancy, I was part of its Climate Change Strategy Team, which developed the strategy linked to above. I am no longer employed by the Conservancy.)

13 December 2007

Global Climate Change: Showdown in Bali, EU and US Deadlock Threatens Talks

According to reports from Bali (wish I was there; for the diving, not the talks...)the European Union (EU) is now in a "showdown" with the US over climate change policy, saying the US needs to "wake-up."

Deadlocked (as usual). In what are the final hours of the Bali talks, EU officials called President Bush's Hawaii summit to be held next month "meaningless" without binding targets and an "ambitious roadmap" coming out of Bali.

According to reports, the US opposes the directive that industrialised countries reduce emissions by between 25% and 40% by 2020. But Stavros Dimas, EU commissioner for the environment, called the 25-40% cuts for rich countries "indispensable."

The deadlock threatens failure for the Bali talks and a huge waste of time for officials and reps from more than 180 countries. Surprise, surprise. Anyone who thought things would be different in Bali was kidding herself.

"What is a roadmap without a destination?" Dimas said in a statement. "Now is the time for other industrial nations to wake up and show leadership, not only in words but in deeds."

More hot air and carbon emissions generated to fuel the acceleration of climate change. When will we learn that there has to be a better way?

I hope at least the diving was good for the delegates!

12 December 2007

Clean Tech: New Cycle Capital, Profits and Social Benefits

Readers of this blog know I am interested in innovative approaches to making social change while making money.

One of my best readers pointed me to a Venture Beat story about a new venture capital firm designed to maximize profits and social benefits. The guys behind New Cycle Capital want to prove that companies that are doing good can make money too. Very cool.

Two Silicon Valley venture capitalists are creating a new venture capital fund that aims to produce competitive profits and also “social benefits.” The fund, to be kicked off next year with at least $50 million, will focus on the “green economy,” as well as financial and other services that help low-income groups.

Called New Cycle Capital, the firm is led by Josh Becker (pictured left) and Benjamin Black (pictured right), both investors who have worked for mainstream venture capital firms. Becker spent time at Redpoint Ventures, while Black worked at Maveron and Rosewood Capital, and was VP of corporate development at Harris Interactive.

Becker has long been socially active in the community, serving on the board of the Full Circle Fund, a San Francisco group of executives that fosters relationships between businesses and non-profits.

Early this year, the two began to raise the fund, after they realized it’s wrong to assume that investments in companies that provide tangible social benefit don’t make as much money as other investments, Becker said. They want to focus on early-stage companies, producing stellar returns in areas such as the ecosystem of services around clean-technology.
New Cycle Capital, LLC specializes in early stage investments. The firm seeks businesses that protect the environment, reduce economic bifurcation, and transform exploitative industries.

Read the full story: Venture Beat

07 December 2007

Philanthropy & Environmental Change: Why Gore Chose I-banking over Non-Profit

"It certainly was not for the money," writes Susan Raymond of the philanthropic consulting firm Changing Our World (see onPhilanthropy), since 100% of former Vice President Al Gore's salary will be donated to the Alliance for Climate Protection.

"Rather, Mr. Gore's new affiliation with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, announced on November 12, reflects the evolution, and even maturation, of the environment as a matter of for-profit markets rather than as a matter of nonprofit endeavor."

Readers of this blog know I have been skeptical about the ability of the philanthropic capital market to address the growing and pervasive environmental problems we face. Ms. Raymond, whose opinions I have quoted before, adds some numbers to the argument:

1.) On the nonprofit side and in the U.S., an estimated $6 billion flows to environmental causes. This represents more than a tripling of funding in the last 20 years. Still, that $6 billion represents just 2% of all philanthropic giving. An examination of the grant making of private foundations finds a similar pattern.

2.) In 1998, foundations made nearly 5000 grants to the environment totaling $455 million. By 2005, that had increased to 6500 grants for over $800 million. Yet, environment as a percentage of all grants remained at 5%, and the portion of total grant value only increased to 5% from 4.7%.

Now to the other side,

1.) The total value of the global environmental technologies market is $600 billion, 100 times the size of environmental philanthropy.

2.) Environmental technology and services companies represent over 1.4 million jobs in the U.S. in 115,000 private companies. And those markets are growing as the drive for environmental protection spurs innovation and new technologies.

But "technology is increasingly the least of the market," writes Raymond. "Pollution, water rights, and even biodiversity are themselves becoming financial markets....the market for SO2 allowances is valued at $4 billion, with swaps, puts and calls, and emissions allowances are used as collateral, being loaned or swapped for other pollutants. And pollution? In the U.S. SO2 emissions are on track to fall to half their 1980 levels by 2010."

Raymond goes on to note that "some financial observers expect the environmental commodities market to have a valuation of $1 trillion by the end of 2012."

Payments for ecosystem benefits is also making progress, albeit slowly. Raymond cites a Costa Rican example, wherein "forest owners are paid for the environmental services provided by their bio-assets, carbon, biodiversity, watershed management, and natural beauty. In the decade 1996 to 2005, the program preserved the forests and increased household income by 15%."

And, as I've reported previously, some big name players, such as David Brand, founder of New Forests Pty Limited, and Priceline.com co-founder Jessie Fink, are getting into the game.

This is not to say that the non-profit approach to environmental change is dead in the water. But I think it's important to take notice of the emerging market being created from the intersection of financial innovation and environmental private action.

If it all leads to an accelerated response to global environmental issues -- water, climate change, or biodiversity loss -- then perhaps the market herd will move to greener pastures.

05 December 2007

Clean Tech: More News on First Solar

First Solar is one of my favorite alternative energy stocks. I've been tracking it for a while now, for 100 points or so, (52-week low = 26.40; high = 252.390). And I liked what I heard on last month's conference call.

Earlier this week, Lazard raised its price target to $250 from $225, citing "its overall strategy to garner leading and defendable market share in the mainstream electric power generating market, without subsidy, while maintaining a superior return on capital through people, processes, technological leadership, scale, strong financial discipline, and risk control"...and that First Solar "reiterated its cost-reduction goal of achieving module ASP of $1-$1.25/watt by 2010-2012."

Analyst Sanjay Shrestha of Lazard Capital Markets said, "We believe this strategy will allow First Solar to successfully migrate from subsidized markets, to renewable energy markets, to mainstream electric power markets over the next several years."

And today, First Solar (Nasdaq:FSLR) announced that its Chief Financial Officer, Jens Meyerhoff, will present to the investment community on Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 3:00 PM PT (6:00 PM ET), at the Lehman Brothers Global Technology Conference in San Francisco, CA.

Live and replay audio web casts of the Company's presentation will be available on the "Investors" section of the Company's website at investor.

First Solar, Inc. manufactures solar modules with an advanced thin film semiconductor process. For more information, see First Solar.

03 December 2007

Global Climate Change: Expecting a Miracle in Bali? Don't Hold Your Breath

The Bali Climate talks begin today. The goal is to develop an agreement that can replace Kyoto.

Perhaps it's the skeptic in me, but I don't hold out much hope for this week's sessions. Especially with continued posturing by the US and China.

Maybe they'll prove me wrong. I doubt it.

I continue to feel we need stronger economic incentives before we will seriously address climate change.

Perhaps this will come out in Bali, but I'm not holding my breath.

02 December 2007

Global Climate Change: Glen Barry's pre-Bali Essay Calls for Equitable Emissions Cuts

Before the Bali Climate Talks begin next week, everyone should read the latest Earth Meanders essay by Dr. Glen Barry, called "Poverty Sucks, the Earth and the Soul."

Barry writes that "To avoid run-away abrupt climate change, all nations must embrace equitable, ambitious and urgent emission cuts in Bali.

"The rich are richer and the poor, poorer -- even as the Earth they share shrivels and dies. Billions live a life of misery on a dollar or two a day, as a sizeable minority enjoys creature comforts fit for kings of old, and a relative few with more wealth then entire nations live in unimagined splendor...

"Humanity is well along the path of cutting and burning ourselves to oblivion. The combined filth from centuries of burning fossil fuels and clearing native vegetation -- primitive practices that continue to this day -- is causing the climate and global ecology to not only change, but collapse...There is perhaps Bali and a few years to get policy right to reduce emissions and avoid total global ecological decline through cooperative international policy-making..."

Read the full essay

Source: Climate Ark

01 December 2007

Clean Tech: First Solar buys Ted Turner's Renewable Play

First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) announced that it has acquired Turner Renewable Energy, LLC for a purchase price of approximately $34.3 million paid in a combination of common stock of First Solar, Inc. and cash.

The company will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of First Solar, Inc. under the name First Solar Electric, LLC. Turner Renewable Energy, LLC has operated under the name DT Solar, a Turner Renewable Energy Company, since January 2007 when entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner invested in the company.

DT Solar has designed and deployed commercial solar projects for utilities and Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. since 2004. The acquisition brings to First Solar a team of people experienced in the development of independent power projects, marketing of energy, and operation of commercial power plants in the United States.

Source: Clean Edge News

30 November 2007

Philanthropy 2.0: DonorsChoose on Wallstrip!

What happens when two of my favorite web gems come together?

Take a look as the lovely Lindsay Campbell of Wallstrip sits down with heartthrob handsome Charles Best of DonorsChoose.org. Charles does a fantastic job telling the story of how DonorsChoose came about and why it's successful. His enthusiasm is infectious and Lindsay, as only the best talk show hosts do, does a great job letting him shine.

I was so moved, I was the first to click the donate button on the Wallstrip Challenge. And partially funded a project in Brooklyn called "iPod as a Prize for Investing Guru," where 8th graders are learning how the stock market works by receiving a hypothetical $100,000 to "invest" over the course of the next six months.

Read more about my own recent experience with DonorsChoose: Green Skeptic Gives

You can watch Wallstrip daily from my sidebar below, right.

(Disclosure: Charles Best is an Ashoka Fellow; I currently work for Ashoka. Further disclosure: long on Wallstrip; long on DonorsChoose.)

(Updated with embedding fixed - thanks, Adam!)

24 November 2007

Blogging: Thank you, reader, for 3 Years of The Green Skeptic

I started this blog 3 years and 330 posts ago, on 24 November 2004. It's been a good run and the past year has been the best ever. Readership is up, as is my RSS subscriber list, and it would seem the switch I made a year or so ago to narrow the focus to the four areas that consume my interests -- global climate change, social entrepreneurs, microfinance, and clean tech investments and innovation -- has been a success.

Thank you, dear reader, for your continued interest, comments, emails, and dialogue. Without you, The Green Skeptic would be just a voice in the wind. Keep reading and letting me know how I'm doing.

21 November 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Acumen Fund Launches New Web Site, Fellows Blog

We like Acumen Fund's approach to "building transformative businesses to solve the problems of poverty."

Today, Rob Katz @ NextBillion.net points us too Acumen Fund's new, RSS-compatible web site. Here's Rob's take:

"In addition to being syndication-friendly, the new site is rich with stories, photos, videos and lots of dynamic content. I like how they've organized things around their three pillars: capital, knowledge and talent. For more on this three pillars approach, check out my post from the annual Investor Gathering last week.

While you're checking out the new Acumen site - be sure to read Jacqueline Novogratz's recent Pakistan and India journals, by the way - also add Immersion to your RSS feeds or bookmarks. Immersion is the title of the 2008 Acumen Fund Fellows blog. The seven fellows - with whom I met a few weeks back - are working in India, Pakistan and Kenya, and have been blogging regularly about their work and personal lives 'in the field.' I've enjoyed the early posts, and encourage NextBillion readers to check it out."

On first glance, I like the look. It's clean and easy to navigate. There are a couple of broken links, but that will probably be worked out in the coming days. I also like the links to video content, photo essays, and stories. Wondering why it's not so easy to navigate to Fellow profiles from the list or even find such profiles. But these are minor complaints; the content is rich and the look and feel is an improvement.

20 November 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Two Competitions with Deadlines Approaching

Emily Gertz @ Worldchanging alerted us to two leading social entrepreneurship competitions are open for applications from around the world:

The Global Social Venture Competition is seeking entrants for its 2008 competition. The winning business plan will receive $25,000 for its blend of high economic and social returns. There's a total of $45,000 in the pot; winners also get professional feedback on their ventures -- "[N]early 25% of past GSVC entrants are now operating companies," according to GSVC materials. For the 2007-08 Competition, executive summaries are due on January 16, 2008.

The deadline for initial applications for the Echoing Green Fellowship is December 3. EG is looking for "visionary idea(s) for social change – be it a sustainable energy system, a new model for middle schools, or a cutting-edge public health program." Winners get substantial seed funding, as well as technical support in developing a strategic plan and a budget, and running an organization. Funded fellows have created projects that run the gamut of social change, ranging from Teach For America, to EarthRights International, to City Year, to SKS India, to Rocking the Boat.

What are you waiting for?

18 November 2007

Global Climate Change: UN Summary Report, Dire Warnings

Associated Press reported this morning that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) successfully completed its summary report yesterday.

That's the good new. The bad news is the panel concluded that we are in deep doo-doo.

"The Earth is hurtling toward a warmer age at a quickening pace," according to the Nobel-winning UN scientific panel, and heading toward a future of "inevitable human suffering and the threat of species extinction."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said climate change imperils "the most precious treasures of our planet."

The potential impact of global warming is "so severe and so sweeping that only urgent global action will do," Ban told the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after it issued its fourth and final report this year.

The IPCC, following six days of sometimes tense negotiations, adopted a concise briefing paper on the science of climate change and the effects of human-produced greenhouse gases. It lays out various scenarios of future impacts, depending on how quickly and decisively action is taken.

The Summary for Policymakers, and a longer version called the synthesis report, distill thousands of pages of data and computer models resulting from six years of research compiled by the IPCC.

It will be a how-to guide for policy makers meeting next month in Bali, Indonesia, who will begin discussing a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

I'll be posting reactions to the Summary for Policymakers, which I've previously read in draft form, over the next day or so. Meanwhile, you can access the Summary here: IPCC Summary for Policymakers

16 November 2007

Philanthropy: DonorsChoose.org, a gift that keeps giving

Philanthropy can be a thing of beauty when it goes well. The donor is pleased to make a contribution to a worthy cause, those in need are helped directly, and an efficient market is created around an exchange of values.

I recently had such an experience with an innovative new approach to philanthropy called DonorsChoose.org. (In the interest of full disclosure, DonorsChoose founder Charles Best is an Ashoka Fellow and, while I recently went to work for Ashoka, I did not have any role in selecting Charles as a Fellow.)

My story goes like this: Charles came up with a new way to reach a potential new audience on line, blog readers. He approached some of the top bloggers in the U.S. and asked that they post a challenge to their readers during the month of October.

The challenge also had a competitive aspect, as the top bloggers were competing with one another to reach more readers and get them to take action. Support your favorite blogger by donating to a project on their list, thereby contributing to the cause, but also helping the blogger beat the other guy.

I'm a regular reader and fan of fellow blogger Fred Wilson, the Union Square Ventures VC, whose blog A VC is on my Google Reader feed. Of course I wanted to help him beat the competition, and I have been curious about DonorsChoose for some time.

So, when his challenge was posted, I followed the link to Fred's DonorsChoose Challenge page and found a project I could get behind, "An Invite to Write." A teacher in a rural North Carolina school, located between Hickory and Boone, wrote the proposal:

"I teach 21 3rd graders at Sawmills Elementary School. Forty percent of my third graders are considered at-risk students in reading/writing," she wrote. "I am currently attending ASU to earn a Master's Degree in Reading Education. I would like to make writing more enjoyable for my students as well as myself! In my graduate classes, I am learning new and exciting ways to integrate writing into all areas of the curriculum."

The need? To create a writing station "in our classroom which will hopefully "invite my students to write." I would like for the students to be able to write letters, compose poems, or go to the station to write freely in their journals. In the writing station, the students would have access to construction paper, envelopes, stationary, colored pencils, pens, pencils, erasers, etc."

Her idea was to prepare these students for the statewide reading test they must pass in 4th grade. "More importantly," she wrote, "it is my goal to help my students become better writers, and to instill a love for writing.

As a writer, this appealed to me right away. It's also a place I'm familiar with because my mother-in-law lives about an hour from there.

The request? The cost of an easel on wheels, a tabletop writing center and a classroom mailbox is $391, including shipping and fulfillment. My $100 contribution would help them get towards their goal, clearly having an impact. (The goal was met six days later.)

My gift had an immediate impact. I felt good and Fred was on his way to meeting his challenge and winning lunch with Jerry Yang of Yahoo. (You can read more about that story, and what Fred did with that lunch, here.)

I received a prompt receipt and thanks for my contribution; very efficiently handled by DonorsChoose.

This would have been a nice story if it stopped there. But it didn't.

A few days ago, I received an email in response to my donation. One of the DonorsChoose sponsors of the Blogger Challenge had provided a gift certificate worth $100 for me to apply to another project.

This time, we searched for a project closer to home, in Philadelphia. We found one called "Making Science Come to Life," a subject my son loves. The school is in North Philly and the request came from an 8th Grade science teacher who wanted to equip her new science lab with materials: 8 dissection instrument sets, sorting trays, a periodic table poster, and 7 rocks and minerals sets. Very cool.

But that’s not all, when we went to make the donation last night, we found the project was 85% of the way toward its goal, meaning our $100 gift certificate could complete the funding!

In other words, my original contribution was leveraged three times: 1.) funding the first project; 2.) helping (however modestly) Fred rise to the Challenge and get the Jerry Yang lunch (and you have to read about what he did with it -- awesome; and 3.) funding this science project in North Philly. Wow.

I can't express how this makes me feel. My gift was leveraged, the projects are funded, the teachers will inspire their students, and students in two classrooms will have a better educational experience this year. Who knows? Some of the students may become writers or scientists, as a result.

An efficient market for philanthropy recognizes that donor-to-recipient exchanges are not just about cash contributions or transactions; they are an exchange of value and values. Kudos to DonorsChoose for making this possible -- and to Fred for rising to the challenge.

DonorsChoose is now supporting public schools in all 50 states. You can even create a Gift Registry, as I've done to encourage family and friends to give a gift that keeps giving.

This holiday season, consider donating through DonorsChoose.org. You won't regret it.

Clean Tech: Another Record-breaking Year for Investments

The Financial Times reports today that 2007 was another record-breaking year for investments in Clean Technology:

"Nick Parker, chairman of the Cleantech Group of analysts, said: 'There is no doubt this year will break records in terms of the amount invested. But this year will also be notable for the amount of commercial take-up of clean technologies.'

"Last year, more than $4bn (£1.9bn) of venture capital was invested in environmental technologies such as renewable energy, water technologies and carbon reduction technologies. The sector is now the biggest recipient of venture capital funds in the US, and in the first three quarters alone about $3.8bn of venture capital was invested, Mr Parker said."

"Such large flows of capital are now pouring into clean technology in response to record high energy prices and governments' perceived willingness to regulate carbon. Total investment, not just venture capital, in 'clean' or low-carbon technology reached $74bn last year, according to Michael Liebreich, founder of New Energy Finance, a consultancy."

Read the full article: Financial Times

14 November 2007

Innovation: 13 Days Left to Give One, Get One XO Laptop Per Child

Only 13 days left to give an XO laptop to a child somewhere in the world and get one for your child -- or to give away to someone needy in your neighborhood. This is a great idea I've blogged about before.

One learning child. One connected child. One laptop at a time.

The mission of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. In order to accomplish our goal, we need people who believe in what we’re doing and want to help make education for the world’s children a priority, not a privilege. Between November 12 and November 26, OLPC is offering a Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. During this time, you can donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and also receive one for the child in your life in recognition of your contribution.

Find out more: One Laptop

12 November 2007

Clean Tech: Al Gore Joins Kleiner Perkins as Partner

VentureBeat reports that Al Gore has joined Kleiner Perkins, the well-known venture capital firm that backed Google, Netscape, Sun, Amazon and many others.

Former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore will join Kleiner Perkins as a partner, in what VentureBeat says is a "continued effort to ramp up its investments in the area of green technology. It’s the firm’s latest big name addition. It hired former Secretary of State Colin Powell two years go, and has an arrangement with former eBay executive and California politician Steve Westly, who works out of the firm’s back office."

"There’s an exclusive story in Fortune about Gore’s move, which contains a detailed description of the collaboration between Gore and Kleiner’s leading partner John Doerr. It’s a great piece, written in the classic, engaging style of author Adam Lashinsky." Here’s the opening, as quoted by VentureBeat:

After “a conversation that’s gone on for a year and a half,” according to Gore, he has decided to join his old pal [Kleiner Partner] John Doerr as an active, hands-on partner at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley’s preeminent venture firm.

The move is more than another Colin Powell moment (the former Secretary of State signed on as a Kleiner “strategic limited partner” two years ago and has hardly been heard from since). Gore is joining the firm as Kleiner makes a risky move beyond information technology and health-care investing into the fast-growing and increasingly competitive arena of “clean technology.”

According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner’s latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner’s 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.

"Doerr, in turn will join the advisory board of Generation Investment Management, the $1 billion investment company Gore started three years ago in London with David Blood — to invest in publicly traded “sustainable” companies, and Lashinsky’s piece has more."

Read the full article: VentureBeat

09 November 2007

Global Climate Change: Virgin Money to Launch Climate Change Fund

From Citigroup (NYSE:C)to Wells Fargo, (NYSE:WFC) the financial services industry is taking a hard look at climate change as an investment opportunity. The latest entry is Virgin Money (VM), Richard Branson's play to help people with a range of investment, insurance and loan products, including securing loans from friends, family and others.

In January, VM will launch the Virgin Climate Change Leaders Fund, a product to support green companies or companies that are working toward environmental challenges.

"Customers will be able to invest in companies at the forefront of reducing their environmental footprint...without having to compromise on performance," said CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia in a statement.

GLG Partners LP, the largest independent alternative asset manager in Europe, will advise the fund.

"The Virgin Climate Change Leaders Fund provides investors the unique ability to combine a commitment to environmentally sound investing with the competitive advantages of the GLG Partners investment process," said Ben Funnell, a GLG co-founder.

Virgin Money is a subsidiary of Virgin Group.

For more on Virgin Money, read this article from the Times of London.

07 November 2007

Microfinance: Silicon Valley Microfinance Network Hosts Calvert Foundation & eBay's MicroPlace

I wish I lived in Silicon Valley, if only to attend the meetings of the Silicon Valley Microfinance Network (SVMN). Better still, perhaps someone should start a Greater Philadelphia Microfinance Network. Any takers?

Meanwhile, I can live vicariously. SVMN is sharing slides from their meetings on their web site. Here is a link to slides from the November 5th SVMN meeting, featuring Shari Berenbach from the Calvert Foundation, and Karl Wiley from eBay’s MicroPlace: SVNM Meetings

06 November 2007

Clean Tech: Cramer's Mad Money Green Week

I'm a Cramer fan and was pleased to see he's hosting a Green Week series on his favorite Green stocks, including one of my favorites, First Solar (FSLR) and a surprising feature, Wells Fargo (WFC).

Check it out if you haven't already on CNBC (cnbc.com). (I'll update this post with a real link and tags when I get to my computer.)

And one of these days I'll post a model Green Skeptic portfolio.

P.S. Here's the link: Mad Green

05 November 2007

Microfinance: CNN Interview with Mohammad Yunus

CNN's Talk Asia features an interview with Muhammad Yunus, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in microcredit. Readers of The Green Skeptic will be familiar with Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded, which brought financial services to the poor, and which as of September, 2007, has 7.31 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women.

His main points:

"Women have a long-term vision, she wants to move up to something."

"It's not Grameen Bank came and told them to do that; it is in their hearts."

"We developed a system which doesn't need collateral, guarantee, legal."

"We citizens, we individuals, are capable people addressing social issues."

Read the full interview here: Talk Asia

02 November 2007

Clean Tech: A VC Going Carbon Neutral

Neal Dikeman, founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech, and founding contributor of the Cleantech Blog, writes about Bessemer Ventures' new carbon friendly initiative.

"Their logic is simple, if they are investing in cleantech because they believe in being part of the global warming solution, not only making money, then they should practice what they preach. While still early days, they are targeting both their power and travel usage, and expect they will likely implement an internal reduction plan as well as purchasing offsets...Bessemer is also going to be buying offsets for their smaller portfolio companies (those under 50 people)."

"'The goal is that when these companies grow into bigger companies and leave the nest, they will continue the tradition. We want them (our portfolio companies) to lead the next generation environmentally responsible enterprises,' said Bessemer's Ted Lin, who also told Neal that they are looking for a good offset provider, because as with any venture capitalist, they are looking for the 'best of breed'."

If you can help Bessemer, Neal suggests emailing Ted at Ted@bvp.com.

Let's hope this is a trend, not just among cleantech VCs, but others.

29 October 2007

Global Climate Change: Stuebi on New Scientist Climate Policy Poll

Polls can be meaningless. Sometimes its the sampling. Sometimes its untrustworthy respondents. Often, it's the interpreters who run roughshod over the results. It's easy to make a poll say what you want it to say: just ask the questions in a way that will give you the answers you want.

I'm skeptical about polls.

So is Richard T. Stuebi, the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc:

"It seems to me that poll respondents give themselves far too much credit for being well-informed or magnanimous, relative to what they actually know or what will they will do when making real decisions that really affect them," Stuebi writes over at the CleanTech blog:

However, this past summer, a poll conducted and reported by New Scientist magazine did seem to shed some useful insights that policy-makers ought to consider. The reported highlights of the survey were that there was substantial public support in the U.S. for carbon limitations, that the public preferred outright standards to cap-and-trade or (egads!) carbon taxes, and that the desired focus of carbon reductions should be on the electric power sector than on vehicles (don't tread on SUV!).

In my view, the most illuminating finding was the weakness of support for carbon imitations if they induced any significant economic pain. In other words, respondents were fine with climate legislation -- as long as it really didn't cost much. On the other hand, when asked if they would support carbon emission requirements that would increase energy prices significantly -- which is likely to be the case to achieve the magnitudes of emission reductions that are widely viewed necessary to have meaningful impact in protecting the planet -- support evaporated.

But, Stuebi confesses, "This is one of the few instances where I actually believe what the poll results say, without any bias." The finding that changed his mind, Stuebi says, is "that -- to avoid catastrophic climate change during the balance of this century -- either we need to quickly develop a zero/low baseload carbon energy source that costs essentially no more than conventional coal generation, or that we quickly need to substantially increase U.S. political will and courage to endure economic sacrifice."

Stuebi's conclusion? "Either will be tremendously challenging. Failing on both counts could doom the planet."

Access the poll here: New Scientist

25 October 2007

Social Entreprenuers, Microfinance & Security: Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change

Good workshop today hosted by UC Irvine's Center for Unconventional Security Affairs on the subject of how social entrepreneurs and microfinance can help address climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Much of our conversation focused on whether microfinance is a viable solution for alleviating poverty, especially among the poorest of the poor. Microcredit started out as a mission-focused option for providing credit to those who do not have access to traditional institutions. But it has matured and evolved to a point where commercial interests are moving into microfinance.

There are many questions surrounding this entry of big finance, including Citicorp, into this space. Chief among them: what happens to the "real bottom" of the pyramid if commercial interests are appealing to those already up a couple of rungs on the ladder out of poverty?

We seemed to arrive at consensus around the need for donor money -- with its greater tolerance for risk -- to back fill at the bottom.

Anne Hammill, of IISD, presented some of her excellent work on climate change adaptation issues, which led to a discussion about appropriate responses for microfinance and social entrepreneurism.

Where are the clear "no regrets" needs for such interventions? How can investments be directed to the best adaptation strategies and most promising mitigation applications?

How to address the perpetual concerns about the need for increased, longer term capital for social entrepreneurs who are acting in this arena?

A few thoughts emerged:

1.) clearly identify the opportunities for enhancing adaptation and mitigating the known impacts of climate change;
2.) identify the most promising social entrepreneurs working on agriculture/food security, water, and alternative, distributed energy;
3.) stratify the financing products and asset classes associated and develop new products and mechanisms;
4.) integrate environmental concerns into MFI offerings much the way HIV concerns have been integrated, rather than creating yet another layer of complexity to due diligence by loan officers.

Anne Hammill and Richard Matthew, director of the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, will be compiling recommendations about social entrepreneurs and microfinance to bring to the climate change adaptation community at December's Climate Change meeting in Bali.

David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World and The Price of a Dream, gave an inspiring talk in accepting the Center's 2007 Human Security Award. The talk was videotaped; I'm hoping it will be posted on the Center's web site in the near future.

23 October 2007

Philanthropy & Environmental Change: Should Social Capital Markets Take Over?

I'm taking up a friendly challenge here.

Lucy Bernholz, who writes the excellent blog Philanthropy 2173, and I started a blogalog (Did I just coin that term?) between our blogs about the state of philanthropy and environmental change.

It began in response to Lucy's listing of green blogs in the wake of Blog Action Day last Monday, and her noting the lack of discussion of philanthropy on the sites listed (including mine).

My defense stemmed from a concern about philanthropy and its effectiveness as an agent of change in the environmental sphere, which actually was the origin of this blog. I have grown increasingly concerned about the ability of traditional philanthropy to effect lasting change at a pace commensurate with the global challenges we face.

I expressed this concern in my essay for GreenBiz, "Confessions of a Green Skeptic," several years ago about the Earth Charter.

Back then (March 2003), I wrote, "we need to demonstrate how profitable being green can be, and how essential it is to a truly global sustainability. If we can turn the greed motivation to green motivation, effectively turning it on itself, does the means justify the end? Hard to say. But if greed isn't going away anytime soon, we are left with trying to redirect the motivation any way we can. Guilt has worked, but only gets us so far. 'Envy trumps guilt' every time."

This sentiment was influenced by Thomas Friedman's thoughts on the subject expressed in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, that "if conservationists are going to get ahead of the greedy we need to move faster. 'For now, the only way to run as fast as the herd is by riding the herd itself and trying to redirect it,' Friedman writes. 'We need to demonstrate to the herd that being green, being global, and being greedy can go hand in hand.'"

And it was echoed by Gretchen Daily and Katherine Ellison in their book, The New Economy of Nature, from which I quoted, "the record clearly shows that conservation can't succeed by charity alone. It has a fighting chance, however, with well-designed appeals to self-interest."

Things have changed quite a bit since I wrote that essay -- the world has gotten flatter, green has become the new black, Al Gore won an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize for his work on climate change, and the herd has started to move to greener pastures.

But a lot hasn't changed. In Philanthropy, as Susan Raymond points out in a two-part piece called "Does Philanthropy Scale?," the "vast majority of American nonprofits are small; 60 percent or more...have less than $100,000 in annual revenue." And, Raymond notes, "the average foundation grant to nonprofits is on the order of $25,000."

Raymond also points out that "the number of nonprofits with $10 million or more in revenue has increased by 73 percent in the last decade," and asks, "when $25,000 is the average grant, is philanthropy the answer to organizational growth? Indeed, is it even relevant as a source of capital?"

I'm going to quote one more thing from Raymond's essay: "The evolution of microfinance teaches that, when what had been a philanthropic initiative matures and proves its worth, alternative capital sources step in and redefine the opportunity. Is achieving scale, then, the clue for philanthropy to either evolve or exit? And, if so, do we need to rethink what we mean by 'philanthropy' for large organizations or proven initiatives in social markets?"

I quote Raymond's piece at length because it corroborates some of my own thinking on this subject. She rightly points out that the biggest advantage of philanthropic capital is its "ability to take significant risk, to seed a promising idea and recognize that all promising ideas can be failures."

So risk tolerance or tolerance for failure, playing on the field of ideas and at at the edge of problems "where the probabilities of success are unknown, is the key playing field for philanthropy."

For many ideas, perhaps chief among them those addressing environmental issues, it may be time for other types of capital to be brought to bear. I'm particularly interested in what Raymond describes as "a multiplicity of approaches to organizational finance in the nonprofit sector...for self-reliance, sustainability, and (yes) profit" to come to the stage.

This is not far from what Lucy refers to as "tri-sector solutions," such as the B Corporation she has described or the bond purchase strategy Raymond describes in her piece. (In the latter, Raymond explains, "'Donors' took on the role of guarantor rather than funder, and the resources flowed at levels that donations would never have been able to sustain.")

Elsewhere in the web pages of onPhilanthropy, John Bloom of RSF Social Finance, posits that "social finance holds that the purpose of money and finance is to support human initiative and to foster the evolution of new community."

And, Bloom suggests, social finance recognizes "the human and environmental consequences of economic activities...[and] presents a picture of a healthier sustainable future -- and one that leaves behind the industrialist model of philanthropy..."

I will continue this dialogue here on The Green Skeptic, because I think it is an important one, and part of an ongoing, evolving thought process for me that started over four years ago and which led to this blog. Thanks to Lucy for calling me out about it and fostering this dialogue.

22 October 2007

Clean Tech: Nanosolar Cells, or What the...?

A friend of mine invoked Warren Buffett in a comment on an earlier post about nanotechnology on this blog some time ago, and I'm straying out of my Warren Buffett territory with this one. In other words, I don't really understand this stuff enough to invest in it, but it's cool.

Now a new paper begins to explain nanotechnology's potential applications in the solar arena:

Researchers at Harvard University have made solar cells that are a small fraction of the width of a human hair. The cells, each made from a single nanowire just 300 nanometers wide, could be useful for powering tiny sensors or robots for environmental monitoring or military applications. What's more, the basic design of the solar cells could be useful in large-scale power production, potentially lowering the cost of generating electricity from the sun.

Each of the new solar cells is a nanowire with a core of crystalline silicon and several concentric layers of silicon with different electronic properties. These layers perform the same functions that the semiconductor layers in conventional solar cells do, absorbing light and capturing electrons to create electricity.

To make the cells, Charles Lieber, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University, modified methods he'd previously used to make nanowires that could serve as sensors or transistors. He then demonstrated that his solar cells can power two of his earlier nanowire devices, a pH sensor and a set of transistors.

"This paper provides the very first example of using a single silicon nanowire for harvesting solar energy," says Zhong Lin Wang, professor of materials science and engineering at Georgia Tech. He calls Lieber's work "breakthrough research in the field of nanotechnology."

This is wild stuff. And something to watch, even if we don't yet understand it.

See the story in Technology Review

Here's a link to Lieber's Paper

Photo credit: Charles Lieber, Harvard University, "a cross section of silicon nanowire that converts light into electricity. The image has been colored to highlight the functional layers of the device. Each layer is made of silicon modified with another material that gives it distinct electronic properties."

19 October 2007

Clean Tech: Wind Some, Lose Some

Why do people hate wind farms?

Sure they are huge; the turbines have a large footprint, and may even chop up a few birds. But they also generate a heck of a lot of power, and are comparatively free from negative environmental impacts.

From a design perspective the sleek white towers and aerodynamic blades seem, well, elegant and forward-looking.

It's clear that opinions about wind farms, however, blow whichever way the wind does.

When I was visiting some friends in northern New York late in the summer, I learned about objections to the St. Lawrence Windpower project, a project of ACCIONA SA (Other OTC:ACXIF.PK). Even my friends don't want it and speculated about graft and insider deals going on behind the scenes. (I couldn't corroborate any of the latter.)

The project is supported by many small, family farmers in the area as a source of additional income. Objections stem from many weekenders and locals who claim the farms will spoil their viewsheds, interfere with migratory bird patterns, create excessive ambient sound -- there are even some outrageous claims that wind turbines cause cancer or sterility.

Who's right? It's hard to say.

There seems to be little evidence that birds are victims of wind turbines and, as for the other claims, the jury is out on whether turbines or transformers can lead to physical ailments beyond certain setbacks.

But the debate keeps getting more charged.

This week, two developments speak to the complicated business of wind farms. And, for those of us who want the US economy to fully embrace alternatives, it's a one-two punch between China and our own backyard(s).

On the one hand, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) announced plans to venture into renewable energy with the first off-shore wind farm in China. The project will be situated 37 miles from shore, in the Bohai Bay, home of a significant part of the company's oil production, according to CNOOC president Fu Chengyu.

It's a welcome move by CNOOC (NYSE:CEO), which needs to diversify beyond oil, something also much needed in a country where cleaner growth is a top priority of its leaders. And there will likely be more of a push for such clean tech moves in China in the wake of the pending environmental embarrassment of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Why offshore? Offshore wind generation is more expensive, but has greater capacity. On land, siting is critical; you need enough open space, unobstructed wind patterns, and minimal interference by the natural or built environments. On the open water, it is easier to capture sustained, higher wind speeds; there less surface resistance, especially in deep water.

But on sea as on land, it turns out, you still get a "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) reaction.

This week in Massachusetts, the Cape Cod Commission denied Cape Wind's application to bury electric cables in Nantucket Sound. The company needs to lay the cables on the Sound floor to connect its proposed 420-megawatt offshore wind farm to the state power grid.

Cape Wind plans to challenge the Commission's decision; the Commission said it did not have enough information to make a decision. The proposed wind farm will consist of 130 GE 3.6 megawatt wind turbines, capable of supplying most of the electricity needed in Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket combined.

So what's holding it up? Although the farm will be located more than 5 miles away from the Cape Cod coast, the turbines will stand -- from blade tip to water's surface approximately 440 feet -- and the transmission lines connecting the project to the grid crosses land controlled by state and local authorities.

Among those who object to the project: Senator Ted Kennedy, who along with other residents, claims he will see the wind farm from his coastal complex. Some extreme environmental groups also object to the project, on the grounds that migratory bird and sea life patterns may be disrupted.

Supporters, among them even some green groups, posit that the benefits outweigh the losses, among them renewable energy, improved air quality, lower electricity bills, and added security and reliability for the Northeast power grid. And even Audubon has discounted the impact on birds.

A recent global wind mapping project may help guide where to site wind farms for maximum return in the future. But what happens when a Nantucket Sound or the St. Lawrence Seaway makes the top of the list?

That question is a complicated one, and it often involves some big, influential neighbors.

But the larger question is do we want to invest in alternative energy or do we want to continue to rely on foreign oil, domestic coal, and other polluting sources?

With oil flirting with $90, it seems imperative to put our objections to rest and start turning ill-winds into gains.

17 October 2007

Clean Tech: Space, The Solar Frontier?

One of our favorite clean tech writers, Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star has an intriguing post about the space race for solar energy development. No, this isn't about creating a new "man on the moon" mission to catalyze investment. This, deployment of solar receptors and technologies into space. Maybe getting closer to the source generates more energy?

His Clean Break column this week talks about how a U.S. government agency is promoting the idea of space-based solar technology and putting up some serious money.

The National Security Space Office, a part of the U.S. Department of Defense, posits that energy is a security issue and that such concerns, along with the need for addressing climate change through advancements in technology, calls for a massive government investment in space-based solar power systems.

NSSO proposes a 10-megawatt pilot, which could, Tyler says, "spur private investment in commercial ventures, much like early government investment in the Internet and GPS eventually transformed the way we do business."

Perhaps space is the final frontier for solar. We can hear Scotty calling out to Kirk, "I canna get no power Captain." To which Kirk replies, "Move a little closer to the sun, Scotty."

Read his blog piece: Tyler in Space

Or the full article: Tyler in Toronto Star

16 October 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Orri Vigfússon Saves Atlantic Salmon

Orri Vigfússon
Originally uploaded by greenskeptic

I just spent the morning with a group of folks at Ashoka meeting with Orri Vigfússon, the vodka tycoon (ICY), Ashoka and Goldman fellow, and flyfisherman who is single-handely rescuing Atlantic salmon from the brink.

His idea is a simple one: buy the netting rights from commercial fishers across the North Atlantic, essentially paying commercial fishermen not to fish salmon in the North Atlantic.

His organization North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) has also brokered moratorium agreements with several national governments. These efforts have dramatically improved salmon fish stocks in numerous countries.

According to NASF estimates, commercial open-sea fishing in the Atlantic has dropped by more than 75 percent in the last 15 years, and river anglers in several countries in areas where nets have been closed have reported substantial increases in salmon catches.

NASF estimates that in excess of five million North Atlantic salmon have been saved to date.

Orri told us that he needs 2-3 years to complete his work of purchasing and retiring the netting rights, then he wants NASF to turn its attention to restoring the historic salmon rivers of Central Europe, which he says is possible.

See: Goldman Prize

And Salmon

(P.S. Orri is not telling us how big was his last salmon in the photo...)

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