24 February 2009

On Obama's Address to Joint Session of Congress and His Energy Investments

Tonight President Barack Obama addressed concerns that many of us were feeling the past few weeks, that the President who rode in on hope had changed to the steed of despair.

His address tonight was to the Joint session of Congress, but he was also delivering a message to the American people: "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

He needed to reassure us that his economic solutions were not a pump and dump play, that he remains confident and hopeful that the American people have the wherewithal to succeed.

"It begins with energy," Mr. Obama said. "We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea."

All valid points and something a number of us have been saying for some time: we need to lead in this space and others are already at the table.

President Obama sounds much like candidate Obama on this point, "I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again."

He is still calling for doubling the US supply of renewable energy in the next three years, and for laying down "thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country."

Even energy efficiency got its due: "We will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills."

He pushed the point further by saying that "to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy."

He asked Congress to send him legislation that "places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

In support of that, he outlined how the US "will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks."

I got some flak for defending clean coal in Obama's list. (It's okay, I'm used to it.) I simply think we need to invest in figuring out whether clean coal technologies CAN be developed before we dismiss it outright. (Someone on Twitter reminded me of GreenFuel Technologies Corporation, which "recycles" CO2 emissions using high-yield algae farms. The CO2 recyclers seemed to get stiffed in the StimPack, which is unfortunate in my view.)

I'd like to see more details and look forward to tracking this as it develops.

For now, the message was positive: "We can and will," rather than, "Holy Shit, this is worse than I thought." Thank you, speechwriters!

20 February 2009

Don't Get Depressed, Get Creative

The market sucks. And all the government intervention in the world isn't going to help. People are moving into cash and holding onto it more than ever. We could see 10 percent unemployment by the end of the year, if not sooner or worse.

More and more billionaires are turning out to be crooks and once stalwart companies and even our own government is stealing our money.

Time to slit your wrist, jump under a train, or off a rooftop, right? F***-it. That's never done anybody any good. Suicide is for losers or, as the recent string of financial suicides has shown, for people who don't know how to create anything but false value and a lavish lifestyle for themselves. (My apologies to their families, who have certainly suffered as a result. I'm sorry for your loss.)

At times like these the only thing to do is to get creative. Start making things, something, anything. Make something out of yourself. Create your own path, your own existence.

What hidden talents do you have? What interests do you have that you never had time to explore? What value can you create for the world? What can you build that will be best positioned for a sustainable future?

Only the creative will survive this economic mess. What are you waiting for? Start creating.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

17 February 2009

Obamulus Rex: President's B787 Ready to Fly the Friendly Skies

After passing with a large majority of Democratic votes and 0 Republicans in favor, the $787B StimPack, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was signed into law today by President Obama, ringing in what he hopes will be the beginning of the recovery process.

The Administration hopes to kick-start the new green economy by rapidly increasing development of renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, as well as throughout major sectors of the economy.

The major energy investments in the StimPack, include:

-A three-year extension to the production tax credit for wind and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. In addition, the credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
-$4.5 billion in direct funds to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
-$6.3 billion in state energy-efficiency and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
-$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
-$2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
-$5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
-$3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as carbon capture and storage underground at coal power plants.
-A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, to the first 200,000 in service.

Time will tell whether this baby can generate the kind of short-term impact our economy needs, but it should spur some longer-term outcomes, especially in the efficiency and renewables space. (Curious why the market didn't react more positively, especially the renewable energy stocks.)

Read this summary analysis of the StimPack from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE): Overview (Note: this is a link to a PDF.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

13 February 2009

The Story is Where It's @: Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference 2009

Every time I get out into the Philadelphia entrepreneur and start-up scene, I marvel at the amount of great ideas, people, and companies there are here.

(Photo: The Green Skeptic--in StockTwits cap--with Donny Deutsch at Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference, Philadelphia.)

It really does feel like a groundswell forming beneath our feet -- or between the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers.

The Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference, sponsored by Morgan Lewis, has been running for the past twelve years to become one of the country's most widely attended entrepreneurship gatherings.

This year, the conference was all about stories.

And what better way to open than to hear from Julian Brodsky, founder, director and chairman of Comcast Corporation and the brain behind Comcast's venture arm.

Brodsky, who helped found Comcast back in 1963, told the story of the company's rise from a Philly-based owner of a few TV licenses in Tupelo, MS, to the powerhouse it is today.

Along the way, Brodsky revealed the intricate web of Philly connections to just about every major technological/media innovation over the past 46 years, from QVC to half.com, from Safeguard Scientifics to Internet Capital Group. (Hint: the common denominator is, once again, Pete Musser.)

I've heard another veteran of the Delaware Valley, Steven Goodman from Morgan Lewis, tell another piece of the story and I'm more convinced than ever that someone needs to chronicle this history. A phascinating story.

Panels on Clean Tech, Monetizing Web 2.0 and Mobile communications, and a couple of real-world case studies were also served up during the course of the day. (You can check out my live Tweeting from those sessions and the entire conference here.)

Twenty-five of the region's most promising start-ups were also featured in WEC25 expo, running during the conference, including three green companies: eco, green.konnect.me, and American Resource Conservation.

In the closing keynote, Donny Deutsch, Chairman of Deutsch, Inc. and host of CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch shared his story and insights to encourage the entrepreneurs in the room to stay focused on their ideas and do what they love.

My three take-aways from the conference today:

1) There's so much great stuff happening in Philly;
2) We need 10-15 year horizon for real clean tech advances to be made; and
3) "Why NOT me?" (Donny Deutsch)

Read more about the Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference
and @ Phillypreneurs

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

11 February 2009

Obama Urges Energy Efficiency, But Is Anybody Buying?

Window air conditioner, from left sideImage via Wikipedia

Last week, Barack Obama urged the energy department to adopt higher efficiency standards for household appliances. That's good news.

I happen to believe that energy efficiency will have some of the greatest impact on not only energy use, but CO2 emissions reductions, and will have long-term impact on the economy.

Energy efficiency is an effective and often neglected aspect of the new green economy. Studies by the Rocky Mountain Institute, McKinsey & Co., and others have demonstrated that achieving greater efficiency through improving appliances and retrofitting buildings can be an effective way to reduce energy consumption.

"Improving energy efficiency in the buildings-and-appliances and industrial sectors," according to McKinsey Global Institute, "could (assuming substantial barriers can be addressed) offset some 85 percent of the projected incremental demand for electricity in 2030, largely negating the need for the incremental coal-fired power plants assumed in the government reference case."

Saving energy costs less than buying it, and the new standards recommended by Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, are meant to encourage innovation in a range of household and commercial electrical items, starting with ovens, lamps, microwaves, dishwashers, and air conditioners.

The question is, will anybody be buying new appliances any time soon? And where are they going to get the money?

08 February 2009

On Ideas, Status, Conversation, and Flow: Life and Twitter

Svg version of a water molecule. The file was ...Image via Wikipedia

Fred Wilson wrote on his blog, A VC, yesterday about how the status update has become the primary user experience, whether you're on Facebook or Twitter or another social networking option.

"I believe Facebook's recognition of status as the most important and most powerful social gesture seals the deal," wrote Fred. "Status is where it's at in social networking. This is very good for Twitter and it's also very good for the other social nets who recognize this and move quickly to provide status updating features and open them up to the social web."

Howard Lindzon, whose latest idea StockTwits, is built on the Twitter API and features a clever twist on the status update (Substitute "What Are You Trading?" for "What Are You Doing?"), countered that "It's about Ideas."

I agreed with both and said so in a tweet yesterday afternoon: I think it's about Status + Ideas + Conversation.

Jeffrey McLarty,
who knows about such things from his study of global water issues, commented that it's all about flow. More specifically, "the flow of it all."

He's right too.

My wife, who is always right, really doesn't get Twitter or why I'm hooked on it. She asked me yesterday whether I preferred my "Twitter life" or my real life. Of course I said my real life, but later I started thinking about it.

There are plenty of moments during any given day when I do prefer my life online, connected to the folks in my various social networks over what I'm doing at that moment. And there are other times when I want to shut off that online world.

But then, it's becoming increasing apparent to me that there is no real difference between the two. And that is where the flow happens: I'll tweet something that feeds into StockTwits, it's picked up and retweeted by a total stranger, and then one of my good friends sees it on my Facebook status feed and comments on it or sends me an email about it.

Another friend calls me to set up a meeting in a couple of weeks and asks me about another tweet, which is in turn commented on by someone else. That comment might trigger another idea in my head, which I might share with my wife or someone with whom I'm having coffee or a beer, which sets off another flow.

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted something about my son collecting coins. One Twitter friend picked up on that and, because he is a coin collector himself, offered to send me some coins from the British Raj. Amazing flow.

The trick is to learn to "go with the flow" and not get swallowed up by it or run ashore. Now that the Dalai Lama (or at least his office) is following me on Twitter, I'm hoping the flow leads to some harmonic convergence or something. Or at least a continuous flow of ideas and status and conversation.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

03 February 2009

REBN Mid-Atlantic Launches at Cleantech Investment Forum in Philly

The cleantech technological revolution has come to Philly. Of course, it was more of a homecoming, as Tucker Twitmyer of EnerTech Capital pointed out. "Cleantech investing got its start in Philly," Tucker said. "With the formation of the first dedicated cleantech fund in 1996."

(Photo: Tucker Twitmyer, EnerTech Capital, Ronald Fisher, Blank Rome, and Barry Yerger, Jessup & Lamont Securities)

Today Blank Rome's Energy Industry Group, in conjunction with Fairmount Partners and the Renewable Energy Business Network (REBN) hosted the Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum, featuring a panel of experts and thought leaders discussing cleantech venture and corporate investing.

The program featured a panel of industry veterans, including

-Tucker Twitmyer, Managing Partner, EnerTech Capital
-Baruch Levy, Bank of America Strategic Investments Group
-Mark Stancroff, General Manager of Commercial Roofing, CertainTeed Roofing
-Ying Wu, Senior Analyst, Lux Research

Presentations by several cleantech companies followed the panel, including Comverge (COMV), Field Diagnostics, and IQWind. A reception to launch REBN's Mid-Atlantic Chapter was held immediately after in Blank Rome's Comisky Center.

(Photo: Former PA DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty and Doug Smith of Hobbs & Towne)

Katie McGinty, former Secretary of PA DEP, was the keynote speaker at the event. She said, paraphrasing Dickens, "It is the best of times and the worst of times." After dispensing with the worst (as exemplified by this morning's New York Times article "Dark Days for Green Energy"), Katie quickly moved on to opportunities.

"I think there will be a Federal RPS by the end of the calendar year," Katie told the crowd of 150. That should spur growth in the sector. She offered a cautiously optimistic tone, saying, "Hang in there and be ready."

The event marked the launching of the Renewable Energy Business Network (REBN) in the Mid-Atlantic region. REBN enables business professionals, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to connect with one another, and to promote the growth of the renewable energy industry. REBN provides opportunities for networking, collaboration, education and business creation.

(Photo: Kevin McPoyle of KMRD Partners and Merle Gilmore, Merle Gilmore & Associates)

"We hope to catalyze your efforts in our region and to spur further development in this sector," REBN MA co-founder Kevin Brown said to the crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, and company representatives. "We believe the Mid-Atlantic region is poised to play a significant role in renewable energy, clean tech, and energy efficiency innovations in the years to come."

REBN Mid-Atlantic will host a series of informal gatherings and build partnerships with others to promote the sector throughout the region.

You can register on REBN.org or sign up for the REBN Group on LinkedIn to get connected with other members in the six other chapters around the country.

(Disclosure: I am co-founder of the REBN Mid-Atlantic Chapter.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

02 February 2009

Review: Strategies for the Green Economy by Joel Makower

Joe Makower is truly a green guru.

Two decades ago he wrote The Green Consumer (which we published when I worked at Viking Penguin), and over the past 20 years he's become one of the leading advisers and sustainability strategists to Fortune 500 companies.

He knows how to navigate green waters and has ridden enough green waves to show you how to do it too.

Best of all, he doesn't take himself too seriously -- and he doesn't think consumers will ever completely make the change. In other words, you can believe what he says.

Countless pretenders would have you believe that people will change their way of living and buy their way to a better future or greener pastures. Makower, in his new book, Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business, says it's probably not possible, given how much consumer habits -- and people in general -- would have to change.

And after more than two decades, Makower seems to think that the more things change the more things stay the same. All the green marketing efforts -- and even the greening of many products and services -- has failed to move the needle when it comes to taking action.

And it turns out, we're all to blame.

"The result of all this--motivated but distrustful consumers, proactive but humble companies, aggressive but often misguided activists, the media's mixed messages, and the lack of norms and standards of what is 'good enough' -- is that it is almost impossible to create a workable green strategy that meets the expectations of a confused and cynical marketplace," Makower writes. "Did I mention that this is a dysfunctional conversation?"

Makower has the research to back up his claims, although the lack of any notes in the book makes it difficult to verify some of the source materials. He has reviewed and studied most of the major consumer-related research on green awareness and attitudes, and he shares with his readers how to interpret such data for their own use.

Part of the problem, according to Makower, stems from the relative complexity of the issues, whether it's climate change, environmental degradation or what it means to be a "good enough" green company. It turns out; it really isn't easy being green, after all.

"What many people don't seem to know (or have forgotten) is that the 'three R's' [reduce, reuse, recycle] represent more than just a clever alliteration; they are a hierarchy of priorities," Makower writes.

He identifies a corresponding hierarchy when it comes to climate change: Reduce your overall consumption of energy; purchase as much as possible from Renewable sources; and Remedy the climate impacts of nonrenewable energy consumed by purchasing carbon offsets.

The staccato style of the book's chapters, which read a bit like a series of loosely connected blog posts (maybe they were?), can be a little disconcerting. Makower covers a lot of ground in such a relatively short book.

Makower concludes that the "virus called the green economy has not hit critical mass." More companies are paying attention and developing programmatic strategies (look at Wal-Mart, GE, and others). "But a high level of interest does not a tipping point make."

Still, in the end, Makower believes there are enormous opportunities for success -- for consumers, companies, and for ordinary citizens. And green will be an enduring issue for businesses and shareholders for years to come.

Strategies for the Green Economy begins to provide a roadmap for companies to create lasting value by going green.

(Disclosure: I formerly wrote for GreenBiz.com, one of Joel Makower's publications.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]