This picture of Brazil cutting rain forest for fuel is too powerful to not share. It’s from this week’s cover story in TIME, The Clean Energy Scam. Check out the story. It reinforces the extra due diligence that needs to be paid to anything relating to green business, the environment and politics. Perceived short-term progress can turn backwards quickly (although the article makes it seem like questions about ethanol are just starting which leaves out the major year of debate in 2007). With any “green” progress will be tradeoffs and articles like this bring them to light. When progress starts looking like the opposite, it gets scary.
I had the opportunity last week to attend the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs presented by Clean Edge. Ron Pernick and team put together a diverse agenda for attendees. Sessions covered everything from green building and carbon markets to “clean coal” and Wall Street’s take on clean tech.
The range of topics covered and companies represented illustrates the growing influence clean tech is having on businesses across industries. Thursday’s corporate keynotes brought together representatives from Wal-Mart, BP and Cisco. Each provided a different slant on going green either through internal initiatives or product development. Hearing perspective from an operations/business person, scientist and engineer showed how sustainable thinking is being incorporated into every level of an organization.
Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of sustainability, claims that it will spend more for products that are environmentally-friendly and last longer, but not necessarily at a higher cost. Wal-Mart’s goal is to one day use only renewable energy and create zero waste. Mark has been in a sustainability role for 90 days – likely not an uncommon level of experience in most companies that are starting green initiatives. The BP chief scientist comes from an academic background and Cisco’s green engineer recently joined the company from American Power Conversion Corporation. Diverse backgrounds and diverse approaches to green.
The keynote on “clean coal” from Greg Boyce, Chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy, also drew a lot of attention. The conference organizers were quite open-minded to invite a coal company to speak at a clean tech event and Boyce was equally brave to accept the invite. Whether or not you agree with the idea of “clean coal,” isn’t listening to companies with different propositions and participating in a “friendly” debate what clean tech is all about? Whether or not investors and consumers buy into the idea is another story.
Over the next 25 years, Greg says there will be a 75% increase in coal use. And a quarter of the world’s coal reserves. As the price of oil continues to rise, companies are bound to give clean coal a second look. Tech Review discusses a new porous material that can soak up 80 times their volume of carbon dioxide. The material could be used in coal gasification plants. The idea of clean coal has created a great deal of discussion in the industry. Questions that came up in the Q&A following Greg’s keynote included: should there be a national charge on coal to help companies move to clean coal? Why should there be a public subsidy? Why shouldn’t the coal industry pay? My thought: the sun as a resource is endless; let’s make sure the long-term solutions are a (BIG) part of this mix!
In the Bay Area alone, there are at least three or four more clean tech conferences taking place this month. Industry discussion and excitement around clean tech keeps moving.
— Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Practice
Industry heavyweights, political leaders and celebrities gathered in Davos Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum and one of the primary issues up for discussion was sustainability. Check out this video from Forbes TV which highlights Al Gore, Bono and Bill Gates.
Corporations in attendance included Campbell’s, who Forbes TValso interviewed. Following Davos, will companies in attendance take a stronger stance on sustainability or were they just in for the great company at the event? I’d love to hear your comments.
— Barbara DeConto, Text 100’s Clean Tech Practice
Happy New Year! We’re only a few days in to 2008 and news of clean tech funding, awards and predictions for the year ahead are already in full swing. Here are a few highlights from the week:
- Gap, Nike, Dell and Xerox were among the 21 companies classified for “exemplary disclosure that placed performance in the broader context of sustainability challenges, risks and opportunities” and named as finalists for the 7th annual awards program from Ceres and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Winners will be announced in April.
- Greentech Media reports that clean-energy companies globally pulled in $117.3 billion in public and private funding in 2007. According to London-based New Energy Finance, that’s 41 percent more than the $83 billion the firm tracked in 2006.
- Deeya Energy, a battery energy storage startup, kicked off 2008’s funding news by raising $15 million in a Series B funding. Deeya is developing battery storage technology called “L-Cell,” which has been describe as “flow battery” technology.
- Looking ahead to 2008, check out Earth2Tech’s interview with with Draper Fisher Jurvetson’s partners Steve Jurvetson and Raj Atluru that appears on the GigaOM TV Show. Steve and Raj discuss where they see clean tech investing heading in 2008.
– Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Group
Even with the holidays approaching, there was no shortage in clean tech news this week. Not surprising, end of year analysis and predictions for the clean tech market in 2008 are in full swing. Here are a few highlights from the week:
The National Venture Capital Association released its 2008 predictions from Venture Capitalists and not surprisingly, the majority (80%) of VCs surveyed said 2008 will be a big year for clean tech investments.
- According to a Forrester report “Green Progress in IT,” as of October 38 percent of IT professionals said that their companies were using environmental criteria in their evaluation and selection of IT equipment, compared with 25 percent in their April survey. The main motivation? According to 55 percent of respondents, was to reduce energy-related operating expenses. While that is not surprising, the number two motivator was “doing the right thing for the environment.”
- A new study from IBM, “Plugging in the consumer: Innovating utility business models for the future,” finds that of countries survived (Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States), 67 percent said they’d pay as much as 20 percent more for energy from sources with a lesser effect on the environment. Responses came from 1,894 bill-paying households over 18 years of age. However, only 14 percent expect their energy use to decrease somewhat. Check out the finding: PDF.
- In clean tech investing news, greentechmedia reports several new deals in energy-efficient lighting including Element Labs, a provider of LED-based products for entertainment, architecture and signage applications, raising $12.75 million Series B funding.
- After a year filled with funding announcements, it is great to start hearing more clean tech product news. San Jose based Nanosolar, a maker of thin-film solar cells, announced it has shipped its first product. Along with Beck Energy of Germany, Nanosolar won a contract to create a solar farm on the site of a former landfill owned by a wastewater treatment plant in Luckenwalde, Germany. The facility will generate 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to power 750 California homes.
- If you have friends, family, colleagues looking to learn more about clean tech heading into the new year, there is a good (and brief) clean tech overview posted on ZDNet from venture firm Foundation Capital.
No “Week in Review” next week as I’ll be off for the holidays, but I’m sure we’ll have plenty more news to highlight in the new year. Have a happy (and green) holidays!– Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Group
Below are a few top stories in clean tech from the past week. Of note for PR folks, Text 100’s global clean tech guru, Jodi Olson, outlines the seven steps that any organization can take to assess and communicate a corporate sustainability program. Check out her article on the International Public Relations Associations‘ website. Other interesting news:
According to the new Avastone Corporate Sustainability Study (ACSS), a missing critical step in achieving a company’s sustainability goals is a scarcity of higher-capacity leaders. The study — Leadership and the Corporate Sustainability Challenge: Mindsets in Action — examined the progress of 10 global corporations with revenues ranging from $1 billion to over $100 billion.
Fortune’s Toddy Woody reports that Silicon Valley start up Ausra is building the United States’ first solar power plant factory in Nevada. The facility is expected to go live in April. Ausra looked at location options in California and Phoenix and decided on Las Vegas because of its transportation center, workforce and central location for where they think all the power plants will be. Another example of renewable energy creating jobs.
As reported by Ted Samson of InfoWorld, Google unveiled photos highlighting the 9,000 plus solar panels featured atop its headquarters, Googleplex. According to Google, the installation will produce enough electricity for approximately 1,000 California homes or 30% of Google’s peak electricity demand in its solar power buildings.
The Guardian reported this week that Shell is bailing on its solar business. Terry Macalister reports that Shell sold its photovoltaic operations in India and Sri Lanka and similar sell-offs are expected in the Philippines and Indonesia.
treehugger reports that wind energy could power all of Britain’s homes by 2020. The Brown government is unveiling a proposal to build 7,000 new wind turbines off Britain’s coast by 2020. Britain’s offshore wind farm system currently produces enough energy to power 1.5 million homes.
– Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Group
It’s a big day for green press releases in Silicon Valley. Check it out:
- Google’s Goal: Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal. A new initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. The initiative, known as RE<C, will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies. RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. The company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns. It’s interesting to see who is covering this: everyone from social networking blogs like Mashables to tech visionaries like Tim O’Reilly. It’s not just the green business and environmental blogs.
- HP Expands Renewable Energy use in its Operations. HP announced relationships with two renewable energy providers, SunPower Corp. in the United States and Airtricity in Ireland, as part of the company’s strategy to reduce its global carbon footprint. Under a power purchase agreement with SunPower, HP will install its first-ever, large-scale solar power installation at its San Diego facility. The contract with Airtricity will ensure that nearly 90 percent of HP’s energy use in Ireland is renewable, exceeding the company’s 2007 target for carbon emission reductions.
This weekend’s news: “The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed a Democratic rewrite of U.S. energy policy that strips $16 billion in tax incentives away from Big Oil and puts it toward like wind and solar power.”
In a time when it’s standard to see overall clean tech and renewable energy funding or incentives barely put a dent into what’s going into fossil fuels, it’s a big moment when $16 billion is in the same sentence as renewable energy. David Roberts at Grist talked yesterday morning about the need for a national renewable energy standard, highlighting a new 150-page report, “Renewing America: The Case for Federal Leadership on a National RES.” I’m curious what David and the report’s authors think about yesterday evening’s news.
Many states have enforced similar measures but we’ve yet to see big action at a federal level. Reuters sums up how the skeptics feel… House Republican leadersaid the bill “cuts the lifeblood of our economy off at the knees by increasing taxes to pay for green pork projects.” Green pork?
Clean tech, clean energy and whatever else you call them are new industries that need new infrastructure and new innovation. Aside from the often talked about reduced reliance on fossil fuels and global warming benefits of cleaner energy, what gets me excited about this “green pork” are the jobs already being created around the country. The same people talking about green pork are raising red flags about losing U.S. jobs and our ability to compete in a global market. The same way Silicon Valley become a global hub for technology innovation (and helped boost Calif. to become the world’s sixth largest economy), clean energy can do it again for the U.S. It’s a nice goal, right?
Century-old incentives and subsidies are what got fossil fuels to where they are today. Let’s not forget that when we try to compare the real cost of our energy. Those coal plants have had some help along the way (understatement).
How a bill like this could impact the clean tech industry is a good topic for a policy communications expert like Sean Garrett at 463 Communications. Maybe he’ll have something to add…
Most of us in technology communications have at some point crossed paths with Martin LaMonica at CNET. He has covered everything from application development to big Internet industry trends and news. For the past few years, he has cranked up his clean tech coverage to point where it is now part of his daily beat at one of the most popular sources for news on the Web. He comes at this emerging space from many perspectives and is one of the people that is making a real difference in keeping the public informed as the pieces connect in clean tech. Add him to your list of reporters to watch if he’s not already on it.
Swain: What was your first exposure to clean tech and sustainability issues?
LaMonica: I first wrote about “clean tech” back in 2004 when–guess what!–a PR person pitched me on a solar data center story which I eventually did because I had been interested in alternative energy media for a couple of years. Later in 2004, I did an interview with Nick Parker at the Cleantech Venture Network which gave me a broader perspective on clean tech. It was an important moment because I saw that the clean tech label was large enough to include all sorts of environmental-related technologies–not just solar and wind. I’ve cared about environmental protection for years means so I’ve been aware of sustainability issues.
I subscribe to a lot of green newsletters and feeds and more seem to be popping up every day. Is there currently enough news to support all of the people writing about it? Has the number of green-related pitches increased over the past few months or has it started to level off?
The number of green/clean tech pitches is definitely up in the past few months. It’s a bit early to say if things have leveled off yet. The rising pitch count is clearly a result of companies getting funding and marketing themselves. But even once the VC money slows down, the whole “green” movement won’t go away. It’s clearly becoming a mainstream/front page issue.
Obviously, there’s a lot of experimentation in green media–and I suspect not everyone will stick with it. I think the challenge for tech journalists–and PR folks too–is to get beyond the “clean tech company gets funding” stories that are so common now.
Between you and Michael Kannelos, you’ve been able to stay ahead of things in clean tech – did you start to focus on this topic because of a personal interest or did CNET see that you needed a solid channel covering news relating to business, sustainability and the environment?
I got into it purely out of personal interest but now it’s just part of what CNET covers. Michael’s got a good read on Silicon Valley VCs so he saw that energy/clean tech was a hot area and jumped on it.
Now, clean/green tech is an official part of my beat, rather than something I write about once in a while. Other CNET reporters cover green tech, too. We’ve also hired some high-profile people in the industry for the green tech channel on our Blog Network, so we’re committed to it.
The news is coming from the tech, VC and energy industries, and when you add in verticals like building, auto and consumer products, things can get complicated. Are there specific sectors or areas you’re paying closer attention to than others?
Yes, you could argue that the clean tech label is too broad. We don’t have very specific beats–yet, anyway. But I write about power generation technologies (solar, wind, biomass), fuels, financial stories, green buildings, and a bit of policy. Generally, I want a tech/innovation angle to a story, which is natural to me as I’ve covered IT for years.
Unlike the technology industry, the success of many clean tech companies and products has a lot to do with public policy and changes in old industries that are notoriously slow and resistant to change. On one side we have Web 2.0 and changing delivery models for software that allow startups to get moving and see success in a year or two with little up front capital. On the other, we have clean tech where things can move slowly and could take years if not decades to see real results. Do you think the reporting process for clean tech will change in the coming years when the industry starts to mature?
A lot of clean tech coverage these days is about start-ups trying cool things. These are great stories but at a certain point, if that’s all a media outlet is doing, it’s going to look shallow. We’re starting to see some stories about companies merging, failing to develop the technology they promised, or replacing CEOs. So I think the better media outlets will do these follow-up business stories.
Another thing that the better outlets will do is follow the larger issues and trends around clean tech. A lot of these new energy technologies have lots of tradeoffs–think biofuels and the whole food versus fuel debate, for example–that media outlets should try to cover.
Do you have trouble finding the products, people and companies that have the potential to make a real difference?
Clean tech is tricky in this regard. Many old ideas are being dusted off and tried again. And some of them–like solar thermal at utility scale–are totally viable. But then again, you run across claims from academics or entrepreneurs claiming to make “free energy” or enable the “hydrogen economy” tomorrow. So you have to be discerning. That said, I’m always looking for more great stories and interesting people who have the potential to make a difference.
Are you most interested in hearing from big technology companies, clean tech startups, or companies who are making investments in new technologies like solar or green data centers that can make their businesses more sustainable?
Startups tend to be the most fun because entrepreneurs are generally passionate about what they’re doing. But large corporations have a huge amount of weight and the money to invest in R & D, so I’d like to hear more from them. I haven’t done a lot of coverage of “sustainable business” practices but I think it’s got potential.
What should the clean tech community know about CNET?
We cover clean/green tech in various forms in different places. You’ll see more consumer oriented items in places like Crave or CNET.com while more of the business coverage at News.com and in the Blog Network.
Suggestions on how to work with you and what you look for in a story?
I’m always looking for news so timeliness is important. And in general, I’m looking for a tech-related story, although that’s not all I’ll do. It seems that certain areas got lots of attention, like solar these days, but I think I’m not afraid of less glamorous topics if it looks like it could have wide appeal. (I did a story on a combined heat and power home furnace and readers loved it.) Email’s generally the best way to pitch me.
It’s been a busy year for produces of green business news. We’ve seen dozens of new blogs emerge, mainstay outlets like CNET, BusinessWeek, Technology Review and Business 2.0 have cranked up their dedicated green coverage, and major players like Greener World Media, Green Options and World Changing have continued to up the ante with more content focused on business, technology and the environment. So it’s no surprise that GigaOm has formally introduced its green channel, Earth2Tech, which they describe as:
One part clean tech startup coverage – (a quick look at clean tech venture numbers shows the growing ranks of startups in hot areas like solar and biofuels); One part reviews of tech giant’s eco-initiatives (is Google’s carbon neutral initiative more marketing or responsible plan?); One part a resource page for entrepreneurs and Valley types looking for green tech [tools, rules, tips] – LBS meets ethanol?
I met with Om in April and he said this was coming so it’s great to see the official roll-out. Looking forward to seeing how Adena DeMonte, Katie Fehrenbacher and the GigaOm team approach the space. There’s no shortage of places to turn for green business news… all of this competition between content producers should lead to some great coverage.