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Sunday, November 30, 2008

MSN Autos Editorial Bashes Tesla Motors, skeptical of GM's Volt

Auto critic Lawrence Ulrich tells us to "get read to pull the plug" on Tesla motors. Mr. Ulrich says that transmission glitches and the delayed roll out of its model "S" roadster is proof that the demise of Tesla is around the corner:

While the fledgling electrocar specialists haven’t hung a “gone fishing” sign on the front door just yet, it might be just a matter of time. That isn’t changing anytime soon, regardless of how much money company founder and newly appointed CEO Elon Musk can scare up for his pet project. And this group of Silicon Valley geniuses isn’t alone. You can simply add Tesla’s name to the long list of electric car builders that have talked a big game and failed to deliver.
Yes, the production delays and the issues with the model S's transmission have made Tesla motor's customers, fans, and followers like myself a little anxious. We want to see this company succeed and live to be a model for 21st Century American auto manufacturing. One reason I think Ulrich is too quick to write off Tesla motors is the man behind the company - Elon Musk. I've read several interviews and stories about him in magazines such as Fast Company. He may come off to some as arrogant but you can't argue with success - and someone who puts his money where his mouth is. In his latest interview Musk discloses that has invested $55 million of his personal money in the company, which has raised close to $200 million overall. Musk also listed a string of his accomplishments and successes, which include PayPal, which he co-founded, and added "I've never had a failure, and I'm not going to add one now." Do you think that this guy would let Tesla Motors fail this early in the game?

Ulrich does expect them to fail, and it is clear that he doesn't think tech geeks belong in the auto industry. He says that starting a real car company takes billions. Well, eventually, yes, it does, but a brief history lesson is in order here. If Mr. Ulrich studied some history of the struggles of Henry Ford he would realize that starting a car company from scratch is a journey of ups and downs, and, as Ford showed, it takes perseverance and dedication to see it through. In fact, Ford's first auto company, The Detroit Automobile Company, failed soon after it was started due to financing issues.

So, while the road has been bumpy and the company is already on CEO #4, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. First, Tesla Motors will survive the devastation of our capital markets. The company did have to lay off a lot of its employees and delay its production of its 4 door $70k Sedan, but it was recently able to secure another round of financing and will soon be on the receiving end of a DOE loan, and may very well see a small slice ($400mm) of the proposed $25 billion auto industry bailout. Secondly - they are rolling vehicles off the production line, and they are still taking orders and offering test drives for potential customers. These facts seem to be absent from Ulrich's column, and while he does think GM's Volt is more likely to be accepted by consumers than Tesla's pure plug-in vehicle, he is also skeptical of GM having much success with the Volt, even saying that sales of 10,000 units in its first full year would be a "monumental success." I doubt this guy feels the same way, and I have a strong feeling that if GM can stay afloat and produce the Volt closer to the $30k price point, they will have difficulty producing enough vehicles to meet demand. The Volt is really the future of GM, they are putting all their chips on its success, and if you combine that with the Volt's range extending gasoline/E85 tank, not to mention a federal tax credit of $7500, it is difficult to think that the Volt will be a flop. Forget Ulrich's column where he is trying to hard to be a contrarian, and forget about the demise of the electric car, because the revenge of the electric car is around right around the corner!

Update: I may have found an even more ridiculous column, this time in the New York Times Business section, that is critical of Tesla Motors for requesting $400 million of the $25 billion auto industry bailout. The column's writer, Randall Stross, is so short sighted in his analysis it is painful:
The program is intended to encourage automakers to improve fuel efficiency, but should it be used for a purpose like this, as the 2008 Bailout of Very, Very High-Net-Worth Individuals Who Invested in Tesla Motors Act? Can you conceive any way that federal dollars could be put at greater risk — and for no equity in return, keep in mind — to benefit fewer people?
Does Stross really think tax payer money is in better hands if all of it goes to the big 3? Hello McFly!!! Does Stross realize that Tesla is requesting less than 2% of the total package? It is clear that he doesn't know much about Tesla Motors, and that they will be producing two electric vehicles to be sold lower price points within the next 2 to 5 years, and that the survival of Tesla Motors is actually more important than the big 3 in terms of the technological advancement of America's auto industry. Two tech heavyweights offer their take on Stross's column, including Jason Calcanis, an owner of a Tesla model S, who wrote a point by point retort of Stross at his blog. His conclusion is worth re-posting here:
Randall says “Can you conceive any way that federal dollars could be
put at greater risk — and for no equity in return, keep in mind — to
benefit fewer people?”

Sure, how about the Iraq war, which costs around $400m a day–dollars
that we have no chance of ever seeing again (as opposed to a loan,
which is paid back with interest).

Your editorial should have started with this fact: if we leave Iraq a
week early, we can give two billion dollars in loans to *five*
electric car companies. That’s your lead right there, Randy. That’s
leadership, that’s the truth and that’s your job as a journalist. Not
this “damn the billionaires” crap. In fact, the billionaires in this
country have done a hell of a lot (see Gates, Buffet, Turner and
countless others)…But that’s for another email. Let’s get back on
the subject.

You need to put things back in their proper perspective instead of
obsessing about the fact that some of the investors in Tesla are
really rich, that the first version of the car is slightly more
expensive than a luxury car, and that battery power is *only* going to
*double* every ten years.

You really should rewrite the editorial and give the public a fair
world view instead of one warped by some short-term populist
propaganda. Tesla isn’t about rich Silicon Valley guys in sports cars:
it’s about extracting ourselves from the environment-killing,
human-rights violating, terrorist-supporting regimes in the Middle
East. The only reason we deal with countries that suppress women and
homosexuals and give money to terrorists who kill based on a religion
is because we are dependent on their oil. If we didn’t need their oil,
we would treat them like we treat other rogue regimes–isolate them
until they got their act together.

Companies like Tesla are the direct path to our independence from such

Friday, November 28, 2008

The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a blog!

I found a very useful blog brought to us by none other than the Department of Energy's Office of EERE. The blog is titled Energy Savers, and the blog contains, you guessed it, tips on how each of us can save energy in and around our homes. I found the blog while doing research on ways to weatherize our house. Although the Energy Savers blog was created just this past September they have already posted helpful information on a wide range things from energy audits to tax incentives for energy efficient appliances and home improvements.

The following are a few of their best posts to date:

Six Places to Find Help with your Energy Costs
Two Stories of Successful Energy Audits
Energy Tax Credits: Stay Warm and Save MORE Money!
EERE's Energy Calculators

According to their first post from back in September, we can expect about 2 posts a week on the Energy Savers blog:

Welcome! The Energy Savers Blog is a new undertaking here at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. We've been hearing so much great feedback from consumers who visit the Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that we decided to offer a new way to share your ideas, needs, and issues around energy. And this is it!

This blog is our place to discuss important energy issues with you, and your place to converse with us and others facing those issues. We've gathered a small team of bloggers who each offer a different perspective on saving energy and using renewable technologies. We hope that (at least occasionally) you'll find an outlook that you can relate to and information you can use.

Since many of us are already feeling a bit of a chill in the air, we are well aware that the approaching winter and high energy costs are probably on your mind as well. To help you get prepared before the snow flies, over the next two months we will be gearing our blog posts specifically toward "winterization" strategies that can help you save energy and money.

Expect to see regular posts approximately twice a week, with more posts throughout the month of October, widely known around here as Energy Awareness Month.

Finally, here are a few more helpful links from the Office of EERE:

EERE Consumer's Guide
Energy Saver's website

Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
EERE Information Center

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low Carbon Economy

Tickets to the event in DC are sold out but click here to RSVP for the live Webcast

Live Webcast

Green Recovery

December 1, 2008, 12:00pm – 1:30pm

Please join the Center for American Progress and three of the country's leading advocates for investments in a green economy for a discussion on how each step of an economic recovery package (stabilization, stimulus, recovery, and growth) can be greened, and explore both national and state perspectives on policy solutions towards transforming our economy to a low-carbon model.

Introduction by:
Joseph Romm, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Featured Speakers:
Governor Ed Rendell (D - PA)

Thomas Friedman, columnist, New York Times; author, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America

Moderated by:
Bracken Hendricks, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Green Building Report with some awesome statistics on LEED certified buildings

Joel Makower points us to a great report on the impact of LEED certified buildings. The Green Building Impact Report, written by Robert Watson, one of the brains behind the creation of the LEED certification program, is free to download or view online. The report, at only 24 pages long, is worth your time if you have an interest in green building, especially if you, like me, are trying to sell the idea of building LEED certified to stakeholders in your town or company.

Page 3 of the report summarizes the following statistics related to the environmental impacts of LEED certified non-residential buildings:

  • Nearly 400 million vehicle miles traveled have been avoided by the occupants of LEED buildings, thanks to efficient locations and the myriad of alternative transportation options supported by LEED. This will grow to more than 4 billion vehicle miles by 2020.
  • Expected water savings from LEED commercial buildings will grow to more than 7% of all non-residential water use by 2020. The equivalent of 2008 LEED water savings would fill enough 32-ounce bottles to circle the Earth 300 times.
  • LEED buildings consume approximately 25% less energy on average than comparable commercial buildings. By 2020, these energy savings will amount to more than 1.3 million tons of coal equivalent each year, representing approximately 78 million tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions.
  • LEED has helped spur an entire industry in green building materials. Certified projects to date have specified a total of more than $10 billion of green materials, which could grow to a cumulative amount exceeding $100 billion by 2020.
  • Companies with employees working in LEED buildings realized annual productivity gains exceeding $170 million resulting from improved indoor environmental quality, a number that will grow to nearly $2 billion of annual productivity improvements by 2020.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Green Wishlist for Obama

Renewable energy trade groups came together on a conference call last week to submit their wish lists for the Obama administration. Here is the summary courtesy of the Green Wombat blog:

  • A five-year extension of the production tax credit for the wind industry (it currently has to be renewed every year) to remove uncertainty for investors.
  • A major infrastructure program to upgrade the transmission grid so wind, solar and geothermal energy can be transmitted from the remote areas where it is produced to major cities. Obama advisor Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google (GOOG), recently joined with General Electric (GE) chief Jeff Immelt to launch a joint initiative to develop such smart grid technology as well as push for policy changes in Washington to allow the widespread deployment of renewable energy by rebuilding the nation’s transmission system.
  • Impose a national “renewable portfolio standard” that would mandate that utilities obtain a minimum 10% of their electricity from green sources by 2012 and at least 25% by 2020. Two-thirds of the states currently impose variations of such requirements.
  • Mandate that the federal government - the nation’s single largest consumer of electricity - obtain more energy from renewable sources.
  • Enact a cap-and-trade carbon market.
I am supportive of all of the above, but here are a few things I would add to that list:
  • A green bailout for the auto industry. If we're not building cars here in America then that means we no longer build anything - period. If all it takes is $25 billion of the remaining $350 billion that the Treasury dept. will have left to its disposal in 2009 then I say we bail out the big 3 with the following conditions: they must manufacture enough plug-in electric hybrids to meet President-elect Obama's goal of 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015. They must also raise the average fuel economy of the fleets and they must do so by 2020. Joseph Romm of Climate Progress, and a former employee of the Dept. of Energy, lists some additional reasons for the green bailout over at Salon.com. The following is his bottom line for the bailout:
If we are going to bail out Detroit, the deal has to be based on meeting the new fuel economy standards of 35 mpg by 2020, and meeting them increasingly with hybrids. The deal has to be for multiple plug-in hybrid car models. And most important, the deal has to include a management team that is wholly committed to that inevitable transition, a team that will not waste a penny of the taxpayer-funded bailout lobbying against the even tougher standards and regulations that will be needed to avoid the harsh consequences of global warming and peak oil.
  • The introduction of feebate system for all new automotive purchases from 2010 and beyond. Allow people to purchase 10 mpg SUVs but only with a gas guzzler fee attached to it. The gas guzzler fees will go towards paying incentives in the form of rebates to purchasers of hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles. For more information on recent legislation please read this article on the bill proposed in California.
  • A new New Deal - a massive infrastructure program for new roads, bridges, and network of high speed rail. If we have to spend $200 billion then great, spend $200 billion, but the total cost of current infrastructure needs has been estimated to be in the trillions of dollars. China is planning on spending close to $600 billion on infrastructure projects over the next 2 years.
  • A National Infrastructure Bank like the one proposed by Senators Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel, so we have a systematic way of awarding taxpayer money for roads and rails to somewhere and not bridges to nowhere.
  • Is clean coal for real or are we going to continue to waste billions on research and pilot CCS plants? If clean coal is viable then let's go for it, but if its BS then let's stop wasting our time and money and move on.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A huge win for environmentalists and energy progress

Earlier today California Representative Henry Waxman defeated Michigan Rep. John Dingell in a secret ballot vote to claim Dingell's seat as the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. From Politico:

The ascension of Waxman, a wily environmentalist, recasts a committee that Dingell has chaired since 1981 with an eye toward protecting the domestic auto industry in his native Michigan. The Energy and Commerce Committee has principal jurisdiction over many of President-elect Barack Obama's top legislative priorities, including energy, the environment and health care.
This is a huge win for both the Obama administration and each one of us who has been advocating change at the top for a long time. We now have an environmentally savvy Congressman heading the energy committee instead of a protector of the status quo, as Dingell has held that post since 1981 and has been a thorn in the side of anyone attempting to raise fuel standards for the Detroit automakers. I don't have to go into details telling you how abysmal his track record over the past 27 years has been. My friends - the change we need is on the way!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"It doesn't hurt to dream"

I just came across yet another Pittsburgh transit blog, this one titled the East Busway Blog. The Busway's latest post has an interesting idea for a light rail extension that would utilize the MLK East Busway (coincidence?) to reach towns to the northeast and southeast of the city of Pittsburgh. Here is the sketch of the proposed extensions courtesy of the East Busway blog:

As the East Busway blogger said, it doesn't hurt to dream. Hopefully the East Busway blogger finds his or her way to the Pittsburgh wiki's Regional Integrated Transportation Plan, which is entering its final stages of development. If you have dreams of a better transportation future for Pittsburgh please visit the site and let us know!

Sustainable Business Symposium at Duquesne University

This Thursday I will be attending a symposium on sustainability at Duquesne University here in Pittsburgh. I will be posting more following the event. Here is the event website.

Program schedule »
Daniel C. Esty, co-author, Green to Gold

Envisioning a Sustainable Future

Daniel C. Esty, co-author, Green to Gold

An author and businessman, Esty has worked with large global companies—including BP, Toyota, GE, IKEA, Coca-Cola, Unilever and Shell—to foster innovation and competitive advantage through environmental thinking in a range of industries. Expect to capture viable ideas for reducing costs and risks while building your organization's reputation and revenues. Esty will be on hand to autograph complimentary copies of his book.

CEO Forum: Identifying Strategic Opportunities

Moderated by (photos from left to right):
Dr. Alan R. Miciak, dean, Palumbo-Donahue School of Business
Greg Babe, president & CEO, Bayer Corporation
Todd M. Bluedorn, CEO, Lennox International
Joseph C. Guyaux, president, PNC Financial Services Group
Diane P. Holder, president and CEO, UPMC Health Plan

Dr. Alan R. Miciak, dean, Palumbo-Donahue School of Business Greg Babe, president & CEO, Bayer Corporation Todd M. Bluedorn, CEO, Lennox International Joseph C. Guyaux, president, PNC Financial Services Group Diane P. Holder, president and CEO, UPMC Health Plan

Capture the leader's perspective on how sustainable practices fit into corporate strategy in different industries. Chief executives from three Fortune 500 companies and an internationally-renowned healthcare system will present their views. Learn what motivates an executive to support sustainability initiatives and gain insight to the issues that lie ahead for corporate leaders.

Christine Todd WhitmanLuncheon Keynote Address:
Governing for Sustainable Development

Christine Todd Whitman

50th Governor of New Jersey and
Former Head of the Environmental Protection Agency

As head of a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues, Governor Whitman will share her perspectives on sustainability related to emerging regulatory issues, connecting the public sector with the business community, and comment on post-election expectations from a new administration.

Read Bio »

Putting Sustainability into Practice

Moderated by (photos from left to right):
John T. Buckley, SVP and director of corporate social
responsibility, BNY Mellon
Nate Hurst, director, stakeholder engagement, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Susan Baker Shipley
, SVP & managing director, Citizens Bank
Dr. Norbert Verweyen, vice president, RWE (Germany)

John T. Buckley, SVP and director of corporate social responsibility, BNY Mellon Nate Hurst, director, stakeholder engagement, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Susan Baker Shipley, SVP & managing director, Citizen's Bank Norbert Verweyen, vice president, RWE

Senior managers, empowered to execute, share their experiences from building sustainable practices into their organizations. Learn about carbon trading from a leader in the European community; explore the challenges and rewards of metrics-driven accountability for sustainability commitments in a large organization; and follow the path that an organization traveled to leverage its scale while implementing high impact programs across the supply chain.

William R. Blackburn, president of William Blackburn Consulting and author of The Sustainability Handbook

Building a Sustainability Action Plan

William R. Blackburn
president, William Blackburn Consulting
author, The Sustainability Handbook

William R. Blackburn's global consulting firm focuses on sustainable development; environment, health and safety management; and emergency and crisis response. A 35-year veteran in the field, Blackburn will discuss practical tactics for building a customized sustainability action plan in any organization. He will offer tools and advice for getting started, developing an action plan, adapting for unique operating needs, establishing criteria and implementing initiatives.

Pittsburgh's $6 million subway system

While doing some research on Pittsburgh's transportation history I found a reference to a report from 1925 titled "Report on a recommended subway in the first and second wards of Pittsburgh: Or, Proposed first step in a rapid transit program"

The reference was found in a report in the American City Planning Institutes's archives:

For Pittsburgh, there is a report published by the Traffic Commission, prepared by
Messrs. Turner and Haydock* on Recommended Subways in the First and Second Wards,a
proposed first step in a rapid transit program. In 1919, $6,000,000 was voted by the
citizens of Pittsburgh for such a subway, and in 1924 a Traffic Commission becoming
the Bureau of Traffic Relief was named to determine the character and route. The
Report strongly recommends construction with a sub-street to care for pedestrians
and such a route as will spread the business district out from the over-concentrated
"Triangle". The plans and diagrams to show the advantages of through-routing are of
particular interest.

So we could have had a subway system for $6 million back in 1925?
(roughly $73 million in today's dollars - still a bargain!)

Who is responsible for not implementing those plans?! Well, according to the City
Paper story, the Port Authority screwed it up! So we have something to add to the
list of terrible decisions during the Port Authority's reign over the region's
transportation system: the East Busway, the SkyBus fiasco, the rejection of the
Spine Line plan, and last but not least, today's North Shore Connector aka the chunnel to nowhere.

From the 2005 City Paper story titled "Lost Tracks" :

Reworking concepts first proposed in 1917, city engineers Daniel L. Turner and
Winters Haydock offered up their 1925 Report on A Recommended Subway in the First
and Second Wards of Pittsburgh, or Proposed First Step in a Rapid Transit Program.

They proposed a rail system beyond the imagination of T riders today. It would have
joined East Liberty to the Central North Side, Squirrel Hill to the South Side,
Beltzhoover to Perry Hilltop -- and all of them to Downtown. Such a system could
have made Pittsburgh the Manhattan of the Alleghenies.

Turner and Haydock's top priority? A route they called the "Fifth Avenue Line" --
a two-track subway line with 17 stops connecting the Central North Side to Downtown,
Soho, Oakland, Shadyside and East Liberty.

Future lines could be built later, they noted. But "this line will furnish a rapid
transit connecting link between East Liberty, the Oakland center, the Triangle
District and the North Side business area." Taken together, the Golden Triangle,
the North Side and East Liberty made up the city's largest commercial engine;
the planners sought to "weld such separate centers more nearly into a single

If money were scarce, the engineers urged, at least go from the North Side to Oakland.

That dream persisted for decades. And the year 1964, when the Port Authority was
formed, might've seemed a good time to begin work on it. Instead the transit agency,
built from the merger of dozens of struggling private bus and trolley companies,
hung its hopes on a scheme that was even more ambitious: Skybus.

Proposed to replace old trolley lines in the South Hills, Skybus was a novel system
featuring rubber-tired, driver-less coaches that would run on elevated guideways.
Controversial from the start (some objectors preferred rail while others were
spooked by buses that drove themselves), arguments grew so feverish that by 1974,
funding for Skybus was suspended by the federal government. One year later, the
Port Authority decided to give the South Hills light rail instead. The rest of the
city -- particularly the East End, home to the region's largest number of transit
users -- had to content itself with bus service.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

12 Clean technologies make Time Magazine's list of Top 50 Inventions of 2008

Earth2Tech lists the cleantech inventions that made Time's The Best Inventions of the Year list. The Tesla Roadster (pictured) was #2 while GM's Chevy Volt was #7.

Via Earth2Tech, here is the list:

2. The Tesla Roadster: Even though the company has hit a rough patch as of late, the Roadster is an undeniable automotive force that has electrified the industry. We’ll see how long it takes for the Model S to deliver a car to the masses.

7. The Chevy Volt: The range-extended electric offering is a bridge to full-on electric cars. GM hopes that it will also be able to prop up its faltering business. Too bad a slew of competitors are debuting all-electric models the same year.

11. Green Crude: The prospect of making a carbon-neutral crude from biomass that can be refined and transported in the existing oil infrastructure has given birth to a significant number of startups - Sapphire Energy, Aquaflow Bionomic, Live Fuels and Solix Biofuels, to name a few. And now even big players like Dow Chemical, Boeing and UOP are getting in on the action.

21. The Synthetic Organism “Life by design” is Craig Venter’s idea. Being able to build organisms to spec could allow for breakthroughs in medicine and energy. Venter’s Synthetic Genomics is currently working on a microbe, which he says will be ready within the next year, that will eat carbon dioxide and secrete fuel.

25. Thin-Film Solar Panels: Nanosolar has made a lot of headlines with its goal of printing cheap solar panels. A slew of startups, like Xunlight, HelioVolt, OptiSolar and Innovalight, along with larger players like Sharp, LG and Intel, are racing toward the same goal.

31. Einstein’s Fridge: Scientists at Oxford University have resurrected a design for a low-energy refrigerator that Einstein patented in 1930. Instead of harmful freon, the design uses ammonia, butane and water — and a fraction of the energy. It’ll take some tweaking to boost the efficiency, but the researchers say it could work.

33. Biomechanical Energy Harvester: The hustle and bustle of the average day is full of energy, we just need to figure out how to capture that motion. M2E is working on a “battery” that could convert kinetic energy into electrical energy to power military devices or even your cell phone.

35. Airborne Wind Power: The energy of wind is related to the cube of its velocity, meaning faster wind is much more energetic. Those high-speed winds are high up and startups like Makani Power and WindLift are sending kites up to bring the energy down.

37. Smog-Eating Cement: Italian firm Italcementi claims its cement, called TX Active, can eat up nasty smog particles. A number of startups are also working to make cement greener — Hycrete and Arxx have both pulled in big backers for cleaner, greener concrete.

41. The Peraves MonoTracer: With a BMW engine and a look straight out of “Minority Report,” the Peraves MonoTracer is part car, part motorcycle and all about fuel efficiency. The vehicle gets 65 miles to the gallon and can go from 0 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds.

46. Aptera Electric Car: Although its space-age design might put some off, the all-electric Aptera has gotten backing from Google to help bring the three-wheeled vehicle to fruition.

47. Google’s Floating Data Center: Not so much an invention as an awesome idea, Google made waves with a patent filing it made that suggests the idea of a “water-based data center” that floats on a platform and uses “a sea-based electrical generator” and “sea-water cooling units.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis.

"The electrifying redemption of America’s revolutionary declaration that all human beings are born equal sets the stage for the renewal of United States leadership in a world that desperately needs to protect its primary endowment: the integrity and livability of the planet." - Al Gore
If you haven't already read Al Gore's New York Times Op-Ed from the other day titled "The Climate for Change", where the former Vice President shows us his five-part plan that he is recommending to President-Elect Obama and the new Congress. I agree with all five of his recommendations and have followed each of them with my comments, which are in bold.

1. The new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

This is essentially 1/2 the Pickens plan. Notice how Al Gore is not recommending or pushing natural gas vehicles on us. This is a great first step since we will increase the pace of utility-scale solar plants and wind farms if we want to generate 100% of our electricity from carbon free source in 20 or 30 years, let alone the 10 years that Al Gore wants us to shoot for. Vice President Gore does not mention Nuclear Power but I agree with Obama's position which is that Nuclear should be part of the mix as long as we implement safe and secure procedures for storing spent fuel.

2. We should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Do you know how often our power is out for hours due to your standard thunderstorm? Far too often, and it is due to the updated and dumb electricity grid that spans every corner of our nation. If we are going to invest trillions in new 21st century electricity generation we need a 21st century grid that will deliver that electricity to our door steps and to our electric vehicles, which, if powered by clean electricity, will be the solution that kicks our oil dependency habit.

3. We should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

Well, any bailout is going to be controversial, but I have to agree with both Al Gore and Tom Friedman, who in his column today, wrote that while we should not give the automakers a blank check but we should consider giving them a bailout with strings attached - as long as those strings insist on the automakers transforming their vehicle fleets to become hybrid electrics:

I would add other conditions: Any car company that gets taxpayer money must demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol.

4. We should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Can we start with Pittsburgh's City County building at 414 Grant Street? It has to be the least energy efficient government buildings in all the land. The effort to retrofit buildings should start with schools and public buildings, and then the federal government should leave it to the individual utilities to manage this program, which will work as long as the utilities are given incentives to reduce their average customer's electricity consumption. California has been doing this for a while now and despite having a growing population and expanding economy over the last twenty years their per capita energy usage has remained flat.

5. The United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

Do we implement a carbon tax or do we implement a cap and trade system? I've seen good arguments for both sides, and I'm not sure where I stand on the issue since either one would be difficult to achieve politically, not to mention the costs that would be passed on to consumers would be too burdensome on many citizens who are already struggling in today's economy.

One policy initiative that I am in favor of that would fall under a carbon tax is a feebate on vehicle purchases. I don't consider myself to be a libertarian, but I do think individuals should have the freedom to purchase big gas guzzlers - as long as they are adequately paying for the full cost of doing so. That full cost would come to fruition if there was a fee charged to consumers on all purchases of vehicles that are consider gas guzzlers. On the flip side, consumers who choose to purchase fuel efficient vehicles and hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles should be rewarded with incentives such as rebates. This proposal is gaining steam in some states and I expect it to get some consideration at the federal level.

We're #10!!!

Forbes ranks Pittsburgh as the 10th hottest market for green jobs. How did they compile the rankings? You got me. While I'm not sure if we have a better green jobs market than Austin Texas, which is not in the rankings, I do think we have some promise when it comes to being a leading region for the green economy. I mentioned in previous posts that we have a growing biofuels sector, with SteelCity Biofuels and GTECH Strategies leading the way. We have some smaller market for solar manufacturers, which include the Mon Valley's Solar Power Industries, who recently announced that it is expanding and hiring 1500 workers over the next 3 years. Pittsburgh is not a region that with a substantial capacity for generating wind power, but we do have PPG industries, which manufactures coatings and materials that go on wind turbine blades. Unfortunately, while PPG gets credit for being green Pittsburgh doesn't get credit for the green jobs, since these jobs will be in one of PPG's plants in North Carolina.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New addition to Green is Good

As we anticipate the inauguration of what should be our first Green President I figured it is time to start ramping up Green is Good's coverage and analysis of energy technology and what should be our first real wave of public policy aimed at fighting global climate change. I would like to welcome James Dillard to the team of contributers at Green is Good. James is currently an Executive Director at Nourish International, an organization that is working to eradicate global poverty, and he was an intern at Pittsburgh based startup Plextronics, a manufacturer of thin film solar cells. James was also a columnist for UNC's student paper, The Daily Tar Heel, s o I have high hopes that he will bring some quality writing to this blog.

James anticipates using some of his earlier posts to inform us of some of the things China is doing to combat climate change. If you've read the book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" you are well aware that covering China's efforts is something we could use more of. With that, welcome aboard, James.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More on President-elect Obama's Energy Priorities

The New York Times posted a Q&A with a number of energy and enviromental gurus over at their Green Inc. blog. Note the pessimism of the first expert, Vaclav Smil, who tells us not to get our hopes up for some type of overnight changes from the Obama administration. I see his point, but I think the differences between the Obama administrations approach to energy policy and the current administration's approach will be night and day. Oil executives will no longer drive the agenda of the White House when it comes to energy policy. That major change right there is reason to be hopeful that we will start to see progress towards energy indpendence and reasonable policies addresssing climate change. We are not expecting President-elect Obama to make us energy self sufficient by the end of his second term, but we are expecting him him to put us on a path towards energy independence. This blog will be cheering him but we will be critiquing his decisions as well.

Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba who has authored numerous books on global energy issues, told us informally that anyone expecting Mr. Obama to “transform the world” will be quickly disabused of the idea — particularly when it comes to energy policy. “The degree of disappointment that must follow such a gross naivete will be phenomenal,” Mr. Smil wrote.

“There will be precious little of any rapid change,” he added, “as
energy systems are inherently inertial and as energy transitions take decades to
accomplish. Besides, he will preside over a bankrupt nation.”

Also participating their Q&A:

Roger Ballentine, the chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force during the Clinton administration and now the president of Green Strategies, an energy and environmental consulting firm in Washington.
Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate change strategy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy research organization in Washington.
Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned utilities.
Carol Raulston, senior vice president for communications at the National Mining Association, a trade group in Washington.
Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

Below are the list of questions that the experts answered via email. The URLs will take you to their answers.

1) What should the new administration’s top three energy priorities be? What can and should the administration push in terms of energy in its first 100 days?
2) What do the election results signify for the future of renewable energy?
3) How likely is it that a meaningful cap-and-trade bill to limit carbon-dioxide emissions will pass Congress and be signed by the President in the next year?
4) After 4 years, will the new administration have moved us closer to severing our dependence on foreign oil?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The First Green President of the United States

With regards to Obama and his strategies for greening American, his policies may not be perfect, but when it comes to the big picture Barack Obama gets it. The following candid statement of his on the ridiculousness of some of the debate questions gives us an inside look at his approach to solving the climate crisis.

When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."
With our economy and financial markets in shambles, it is fair to ask what could a President Obama realistically achieve early in his first term in the White House to put us on the track to energy independence and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. My friend Costa beat me to the punch and wrote a nice summary of the potential green measures taken by the new Obama administration over at Sustainable Research.

The following sites also detail Obama's energy and environmental policies.

Earth2Tech: FAQ: The Obama Energy Plan
Gristmill: Is Obama's energy plan change we can believe in?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr: Obama's Energy Plan will create green gold rush
Reuters: Obama's Energy Plan may be Curbed but not Halted

In addition to some of the action items listed in Obama's policy papers and the aforementioned websites I have a short list of the top priorities that I think the Obama adinistration will address starting during its first 12 months.
  1. Launch the $150 billion clean tech venture fund ($15 billion in clean tech investments and grants each year)
  2. Work on a detailed plan that incentivizes American automakers to retool their factories and start building more hybrid electric and plug in hybrid vehicles. Back in 2006 Obama co-sponsored legislation called "Health Care for Hybrids" where the government would provide assistance for the automakers' employee health insurance in exchange for a commitment and investment by Detroit automakers in more fuel efficient vehicles.
  3. Create a National Infrastructure Bank which would be in charge of distributing funding for billions in dollars of new infrastructure and infrastructure improvement projects. My friends - this would be real fiscal stimulus we can believe in.
  4. Create the ground work for a national cap and trade system - this probably will not come into effect until at least year two or three of his first term
  5. Create an incentive program to reach Obama's goal of 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road by 2015
  6. Re-launch the federal initiative for a carbon sequestration pilot plant (FutureGen 2)

The following details are from the Obama campaign's New Energy for America Plan:

The Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan will:

  • Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump
  • Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
  • Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.
  • Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars -- cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon -- on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America.
  • Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
  • Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Provide Short-term Relief to American Families

• Enact a Windfall Profits Tax to Provide a $1,000 Emergency Energy Rebate to American Families.
• Crack Down on Excessive Energy Speculation.
• Swap Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Cut Prices.

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Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years

• Increase Fuel Economy Standards.
• Get 1 Million Plug-In Hybrid Cars on the Road by 2015.
• Create a New $7,000 Tax Credit for Purchasing Advanced Vehicles.
• Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
• A “Use it or Lose It” Approach to Existing Oil and Gas Leases.
• Promote the Responsible Domestic Production of Oil and Natural Gas.

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Create Millions of New Green Jobs

• Ensure 10 percent of Our Electricity Comes from Renewable Sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
• Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency.
• Weatherize One Million Homes Annually.
• Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology.
• Prioritize the Construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline.

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Reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050

• Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
• Make the U.S. a Leader on Climate Change.