27 August 2008

Clean Tech: Wind Breaker; It's All About the Grid

The New York Times has a good piece this morning examining the major obstacle in switching to wind power: the outmoded electricity grid.

What's needed is an electricity transmission superhighway, says one Federal Energy Commission rep.

Read the full article:

23 August 2008

Clean Tech: WSJ-NBC News Poll Suggests Americans Want it All When it Comes to Energy

US voters want solar and wind energy, but that doesn't mean they are against drilling for more oil, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released this week. 

According to a WSJ article by Stephen Power on Thursday, "72% of respondents said developing alternative energy sources could 'accomplish a great deal.'

"When the question was asked another way, 61% of respondents chose 'developing alternative energy sources' as the step that should receive the most emphasis from policy makers."

And yet, "twenty-five percent responded that 'exploring and drilling for oil' in the U.S. should get the most emphasis, and 12% picked 'having Americans conserve and use less oil.' 

"When asked whether expanding areas for drilling for oil off coastal states was a step in the right direction, 63% said it was, with 44% saying it would accomplish 'a great deal.' Only 27% said that allowing more drilling off coastal states was a step in 'the wrong direction.' 

"Asked about building more nuclear plants, 53% said it was a step in the right direction. Thirty-one percent said it was a step 'in the wrong direction.'" 

Congress will come back to Washington in a few weeks and head into a debate about continuing alternative-energy tax credits and lifting the 27-year drilling ban off US coasts.

The poll suggests a need for a balanced approach. Hope Congress is listening.

For more on the poll: http://tinyurl.com/5cf6go

(Composed on BlackBerry; links to come; updated 8/30)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

20 August 2008

Review: Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

You may want to read this book by starting with Part II. Either that or make sure all the knives are locked away so you won't slit your wrists during Part I.

Lester Brown has his facts straight and uses them liberally, but reading about how dire is the current situation on the Earth leaves you feeling hopeless.

Increasing shortages of water, rising CO2 levels, food security, health, education, and natural systems under stress. What can we possibly do to change this for the better?

Luckily, Brown pivots after the first 127 pages and devotes the rest of the book to solutions.

"There are many things we do not know about the future," Brown writes. "But one thing we do know is that business as usual will not continue for much longer...Will the change come because we move quickly to restructure the economy or because we fail to act and civilization begins to unravel?"

That is the critical question of this book. Can we move fast enough and for the right reasons?

Brown, the founder of Worldwatch and the Earth Policy Institute, has been promoting a sustainable future for over 30 years.

He includes recommendations for eradicating poverty, stabilizing population (through education and contraception), restoring natural systems, feeding the projected 8 billion we are likely to see in this century, and shifting to greater energy efficiency and alternatives.

And he budgets out the necessary costs, estimating Plan B will take an additional annual expenditure of $190M, "roughly one third of the current U.S. Military budget or one sixth of the global military budget."

Brown concludes: "The choice is ours -- yours and mine. We can stay with business as usual and preside over an economy that continues to destroy its natural support systems until it destroys itself, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that changes direction, moving the world onto a path of sustained progress."

What choice do we have?

(Blogging by BlackBerry; links to come later.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

19 August 2008

Nature: Magpies Recognize Themselves in Mirror

From New Scientist: "Self-recognition, once thought to be an ability enjoyed only by select primates, has now been demonstrated in a bird.

"The finding has raised questions about part of the brain called the neocortex, something the self-aware magpie does not even possess.

"In humans, the ability to recognise oneself in a mirror develops around the age of 18 months and coincides with the first signs of social behaviour.

"So-called 'mirror mark tests,' where a mark is placed on the animal in such a way that it can only be observed when it looks at its reflection, have been used to sort the self-aware beasts from the rest.

"Of hundreds tested, in addition to humans, only four apes, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have passed muster.

"Helmut Prior at Goethe University in Frankfurt and his colleagues applied a red, yellow or black spot to a place on the necks of five magpies.

"The stickers could only be seen using a mirror. Then he gave the birds mirrors.Catch a glimpseThe feel of the mark on their necks did not seem to alarm them.

"But when the birds with coloured neck spots caught a glimpse of themselves, they scratched at their necks - a clear indication that they recognised the image in the mirror as their own.

"Those who received a black sticker, invisible against the black neck feathers, did not react.

"Self-recognition was thought to reside in the neocortex, but birds don't have one. Franz de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta points out that the magpie does nevertheless have a big brain. 'You need a large brain with a lot of connectivity,' he says. 'If it had been a sparrow, it would have been a problem.'

"The authors suggest that self-recognition in birds and mammals may be a case of convergent evolution, where similar evolutionary pressures result in similar behaviours or traits, although they arrive at them via different routes.

"De Waal agrees: 'Magpies are known for their ability to steal shiny objects and to hide away their loot. It's not too far-fetched that a master thief like a magpie has that perspective-taking ability,' he says, referring to the idea that the birds have a 'theory of mind.'"

But do they care what they look like in the morning?

(Blogging by BlackBerry; links to come.)

15 August 2008

Clean Tech: Unlocking the New Green Economy

"How do we begin reorganizing the industrial economy?" Umair Haque asked in his Edge Economy essay "A Manifesto for the Next Industrial Revolution."

Haque answers his own question: "By using markets, networks, and communities to alter the way resources are managed: to weave a fabric of incentives for sustainable growth and authentic value creation into the economy – a new economic fabric that's meaningful to people."

I've been thinking a lot about this call to action while developing my new idea to "organize" (to use Haque's term) the green energy financing space. And I've been wrestling with the following questions (among others):

What would it take to infuse new DNA into the way green energy is financed?

Can we redraw the boundaries of value creation in the 21st century?

Can we expand the access to participation in this space?

Can we create a company that is based on the values of integrity, openness, transparency, and "a fierce embrace of what's good" (as Haque writes elsewhere)?

Can we create a company that develops incentives for people to reorganize and manage resources in a way that reduces the barriers to entry for most people?

I'm becoming obsessed by these questions and am trying to create a response to Umair's challenge.

I hope that what I'm working on with a few very smart people will help reduce or eliminate the "clear, durable, structural barriers to efficiency and productivity" in this space.

The pursuit of answers to these questions is one of the reasons I'm leaving Ashoka at the end of this month. I need to focus my time and energy on trying to explode the boundaries of value creation and unlock the new green economy.

Call me a fool, wish me luck – or come along for the ride.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

12 August 2008

What Are You Doing? Wallstrip Does Twitter

Okay, this is outside my usual subject matter, but I've been a fan of Twitter ever since Fred Wilson sold me on the microblogging service over a year ago. (You can follow me at greenskeptic)

I know a lot of people who don't get Twitter, including some who are near and dear to me. Most think it's an unnecessary distraction; some actually think it's evil.

I used to think the former, but then I became addicted. After many months of using it, I realized the best answer to Twitter's simple question, "What Are You Doing?" is NOT, "Having a sandwich" or "Drinking my 3rd cup of coffee."

It's also a good idea not to answer, "Having a bad day at the office." You never know who is watching...unless they follow you. Like any communication tool it needs to be used judiciously and thoughtfully. (I've learned that lesson the hard way.)

What Twitter does best is allow you

1.) to stay in touch with people you don't get to see or speak to often -- or meet new people with whom you would otherwise not be connected;

2.) to post quick takes on subjects you are interested in but don't have time to write a blog post about, and

3.) to wrestle with business problems, the answers to which may already be out there in the Twitterverse.

I've even used it to ask my followers -- now over 350 people -- to help name my book or my green energy investing start-up. (More on THAT later...)

Recently, a number of us are using Twitter to muse about the rise and fall (mostly fall) of our stock portfolios and to gauge what others are thinking about companies we are interested in.

StockTwits scans your tweets (as long as they contain a stock ticker preceded by $, such as $FSLR) and automatically indexes and displays them with a chart of the ticker.

Now, two of my favorite addictions, er distractions, Twitter and WallStrip have come together, trying to answer the question, "What ARE you doing?"

Shout-outs to Howard Lindzon and Soren Macbeth, who got me into StockTwits early -- another great distraction, er tool.

Reblog this post

09 August 2008

Clean Tech: Village Green Energy and Wineries Team Up to Promote Renewables Through Facebook

Four Sonoma and Napa County, California, wineries are trying to power their operations with renewable energy.

Now you can help them by loading the "Green My Vino" application on Facebook.

"Green My Vino" allows Facebook users to promote environmental change in the wine business. The application, developed by Village Green Energy, creates three free gifts in Facebook, representing 1, 5, and 10 minutes of renewable energy.

When a user gives the gift, Village Green Energy purchases an equivalent amount of renewable electricity from a wind farm or solar array on the Facebook user's behalf, according to Village Green. If Facebook users pass 10,000 minutes, the first winery will convert to green power.

Seems like a tall order, but it is based upon the success of other applications with high volume of use and effectiveness, such as the Lil' Green Patch, which helps save rainforest as friends give each other cartoon plants.

To date, according to the application developers, the Lil' Green Patch community has saved 29,259,567 square feet of Rainforest by using sponsorship revenue from advertisers to make donations to the Nature Conservancy's Adopt an Acre program.

The first four wineries to participate in Green My Vino are Iron Horse Vineyards, Girard Winery, Windsor Vineyards, and Windsor Sonoma. Village Green intends to recruit additional wineries once the original four have converted.

"We jumped at the opportunity to participate in the application," said Pat Roney of Windsor Vineyards. "'Green My Vino' gives the community the opportunity to interact with businesses and make their voices heard. When people participate in the application, they're telling us that clean energy is a priority for them, and we'll make supporting renewable energy a part of our commitment as a business."

Village Green Energy enables households and businesses to purchase renewable energy from wind farms, solar arrays, and other renewable technologies through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), the legal rights to renewable power.
Zemanta Pixie

04 August 2008

Clean Tech: Biomimicry May Unlock the Power of Solar

"In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine."

Read the full story by Anne Trafton from MIT and watch Dan Nocera's video description: http://tinyurl.com/5uu53h

(Composed on BlackBerry; UPDATED with embedded video content.)
Zemanta Pixie

01 August 2008

Energy: Speculating on Oil Speculators, Wallstrip and others Weigh In

Is the high price of oil due to oil speculation? Opinions differ on the impact of investors looking to make a buck on limited supplies and rising demand.

Some point out that while the White House would like to blame supply shortages, that's the same argument given back when Enron was fleecing California by manipulating energy prices.

"Many members of the media have forgotten how in 2001 the White House deflected any blame for California's suddenly stratospheric electrical costs away from their Houston friends," wrote Ed Wallace in his Business Week Viewpoint piece on 27 June 2008.

"Likewise, our Energy Secretary has a real problem discussing issues with facts. Like a broken record, he continues to maintain that in no way has speculation had anything to do with today's high oil prices. No, to hear Sam Bodman tell it, they are now and always have been caused by too many buyers chasing too few barrels of oil."

But, as our friends at The Oil Drum (TOD) reported last week, a recent report by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), "threw cold water on the recent rhetoric in Congressional testimonies and television commentary that high oil prices are caused by investment speculators."

TOD quotes from the report, "The Task Force's preliminary assessment is that current oil prices and the increase in oil prices between January 2003 and June 2008 are largely due to fundamental supply and demand factors." And pulls this graphic to illustrate this view:

"During this same period," according to the report, "activity on the crude oil futures market – as measured by the number of contracts outstanding, trading activity, and the number of traders – has increased significantly. While these increases broadly coincided with the run-up in crude oil prices, the Task Force's preliminary analysis to date does not support the proposition that speculative activity has systematically driven changes in oil prices."

Now, our favorite Web tv daily, Wallstrip, takes a crack at explaining the links between the run up and commodities speculation:

Now, we'll believe anything Julie tells us (except that she'll call when she says she will), but the fact is, the run-up in oil prices is probably a bit of everything: less supply, higher demand, speculation, and good old-fashioned free-market profiteering (not that there's anything wrong with it...).
Zemanta Pixie