Friday, December 31, 2010

16 Predictions for 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Backward

The Tarot | The Tower
It's that time when people make predictions for the coming year.

This is my first try at making a formal list of prognostications, which I plan to revisit a year hence when I make my second list.

Many are about cleantech and renewable energy, or about things that will affect the future of them.

I hope I'm wrong about many of these.

Without further preamble:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Job on Climate Change

Why Global Warming Can Cause Extreme Cold

Frozen harbor in Toronto, Canada
For years thinking people have had to endure the snide remarks and puerile antics from the anti-science pettifoggers, often funded by fossil interests, who aim to thwart action on climate change.

One of their favorite tropes is now a hardy winter perennial: every year, with the arrival of snow and cold we hear from the usual clods something like "Well! So much for global warming!" Recent snow in places that receive it rarely, such as Seattle and England, have encouraged more of this nuttery.

Ha ha.

Apart from the obvious fact that winter is colder than summer and sometimes (gasp!) has snow, such ignorant foppotees are just confusing weather—the day-to-day fluctuations of meteorological phenomena—with climate—the decades, centuries, or milennia-long trends in such things as temperature.

There are, for those interested in the methods of science, good explanations for such phenomena. Climate change models predict and explain extreme cold, as well as extremes of precipitation, such as the soaking of southern California and the droughts in Florida.

Also, it turns out that snow in Siberia has a direct effect on snowy cold winters on the US East Coast and elsewhere. Ad hominem attacks on Al Gore aren't needed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Where's It Wednesday—XIV

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eight is Enough

The Endless Promise of Energy Independence

Jon Stewart in one of his typically acerbic pieces on the promise of oil independence:

Jon Stewart reviews the energy independence promises of the last 8 US presidents

Coming on the heels of President Obama's speech on the BP spill, and with video clips detailing 4 decades of imprecations and high-minded exhortations from 8 presidents, Stewart complains, roughly, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 8 times, I am a freaking idiot."

We fail to demand real action from our leaders, or to hold them accountable for mouthing bromides. With our current president, I fear the audacity hope has become the folly of wishful thinking. As Pogo said, originally in a poster for Earth Day 1970, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Video here.

(h/t earth2tech)

This was originally posted on the Hydrovolts blog 6/22/10

Monday, December 27, 2010

Off-Grid Africa

Distributed Power is Growing All Over

Solar-powered yurt in western China
Yurt in western China with solar panel
Low-cost, small-scale, simple distributed power generation continues to make gains. It was part of the original business model for the Hydrovolts turbine, the genesis of Clarian Power, and the market power of Nokero light "bulbs."

Now general-purpose solar panels are going up in remote locations around the world, especially Africa, where the sprawling grids of centrally-generated power plants don't reach.

Providing even a small amount of electricity makes an enormous difference in the quality of life for people in the developing world. It provides lighting which allows students to read and study at night, improving education, a key precursor of upward economic mobility. It can replace unhealthful sources of illumination, cooking and heating, especially animal manure, charcoal, and wood, many of which are burned inefficiently and with limited attention to adequate ventilation.

The economics make sense. The cost of charging equipment (particularly cell phones) in both time and direct expense is rapidly recovered by the value of local generation capacity.

The biggest impediment to more distributed generation is the initial capital cost. Traditional lenders prefer large central projects because the due diligence is both familiar and easier--there is only one location to examine, and to subsequently monitor, over the course of the financing. Micro-lending could pick up the slack, but there still needs to be a business model that creates revenue to pay back the investment. While selling a goat may work for some, providing a local charging station may work for others. As remote villages gain dribs of electricity, however, more models will arise. Entrepreneurs exist in rural Africa too, and having a enabling platform technology like electricity opens the way to many kinds of businesses. As costs of solar panels continue to decline, and as other forms of distributed generation become available, the effect on rural areas of the developing world will be transformative.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Leadership Lessons from Yoga

Breathe, Stretch Yourself, Focus

I'm just over 3 months into my practice of Bikram Yoga. It's still practice; some days are easier than others. Some days I can do what I have not done before. Other days I feel less strong. But every day I challenge myself to stretch a bit deeper, or to hold a pose a bit longer.

The benefits are physical of course--aerobic conditioning, strength, flexibility. Interestingly, one's mental self receives the same benefits--conditioning, strength, flexibility. And more: focus, stamina, resilience.

Many of the attributes of good yoga practice are also good leadership practice. It has other benefits too.

More on this as I practice more, both in, and outside, the studio.

Join me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Supply & Demand

CEOs Suggest Tax Cuts Aren't Helpful

President Obama signs tax bill
The lame-duck but surprisingly active Congress has packed it in for the year and, along with the President, left town. We should all enjoy the next few weeks and the respite from partisan posturing and wrangling while we can; the 2012 campaign for president will begin shortly.

A few days before signing the multi-partisan tax bill President Obama met for several hours with 20 CEOs from some of America's largest companies. Few details were disclosed regarding what was discussed and what, if anything, was offered by either side. Nonetheless, what was said shed an interesting light on the tax bill.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oceans of Plastic Trash

Plastic Fouls All Our Oceans

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a heaving flotsam of plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. It's bigger than Texas. And it's not the only repository of plastic garbage.
Debris found by dragging a net in the ocean
Millions of pieces of plastic — most smaller than half an inch — float throughout the oceans. They are invisible to satellites, and except on very calm days you won’t even see them from the deck of a sailboat. The only way to know how much junk is out there is to tow a fine net through the water.
22 years of towing nets through swaths of the Atlantic Ocean confirm a large plastic garbage patch in its northern gyre too:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where's It Wednesday—XIII

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

R&D Investment

Invest or Decline

Hewlett-Packard (HP) cut their investment in research and development for much of the past decade. The result? A decline in the growth of their patent portfolio. A decline in their market share. A decline in their competitiveness. A decline in their reputation.

Graph of HP internal investment decline over 10 years
From a brief examination of the data over the past decade it is clear that the company has cut R&D spending significantly and it is very possible that this has interfered with the ability of HP engineers to develop products in-house that are now being purchased at steep price tags through acquisitions.

Policy makers in the United States would do well to consider carefully if the same outcomes would attend a decline in national spending on research and development, but for the nation as a whole, and not just one company. And we would be acquiring the technology we need not from other companies, but other countries. The price for that will be steep indeed, and not just in dollars, but also in our competitiveness, our standard of living, our national security.

We must keep investing in our future, especially in cleantech and renewable energy.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Engrossing Image Viewer

Hoover Dam 360-degree view of generators
Many get the meaning of the word nonplussed (or, nonplused) wrong, variously thinking it means "surprised" or "unimpressed." While the images from the namesake web site may not perplex, they certainly intrigue.

Note that you can not only scroll left-right but also up-down as well as zoom in and out.

That these are real places realistically captured astonishes; some, especially Hoover Dam remind me of scenes from Myst.

Be sure to check out the archives.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cleantech Investment in Trillions by 2020

Private Investment Pouring into Asia

The Pew Charitable Trusts have issued a new report on global cleantech investment over the next decade. The principal conclusion? Investment from private sources in the G-20 industrialized nations will be $1.8T under the "business as usual" scenario and as much as $2.3T if "enhanced" clean energy policies are consistently adopted.

However, that all depends on one key factor: strong, supportive government clean energy policy.

Says Pew: "The center of gravity of renewable energy investment has really shifted to Asia."

"The extraordinary worldwide growth in clean energy investment over the past five years has been defined by a simple fact: where supportive clean energy policies are adopted, investment follows."

There is a "gigantic economic opportunity for the United States" that Pew estimates to be $342B of private investment, but it requires the US to step up and implement policy, and one of the best would be a Renewable Energy Standard for electricity generation from renewable sources. The result would be an opportunity "up and down the supply chain" to export to China, India and other Asian countries technologies and products that they need for their own renewable energy projects. "Business as usual simply isn't working."

The question for US policymakers and especially the sclerotic Senate is "will they seize the opportunity or simply let it pass them by?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rare, But Not Unusual

Rare Earth Elements

Rare Earth Elements in oxide form
News stories about rare earth elements (REE) are becoming more frequent as greater attention focuses on the rise of the cleantech and renewable energy industries, the growing economic competition between the US and China, and issues of natural resource scarcity and security.

REE are under increasing control by China, which dominates world production and supply. The Chinese have used their effective monopoly to further their industrialization, but also as part of a broader effort to establish their position in the global economic and political order.

The physical properties, commercial uses, economic factors, and political considerations of REE are not widely known or appreciated by the public, yet their importance is real and growing. An examination of the different aspects of REE will illuminate not just their future significance, but also serve as an example of the broader economic and political trends of the next few decades.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The World's Changing

Speculate on the Next 50 (or 200) Years...

I've posted before about Gapminder, one of the most engaging and useful date presentation tools freely available on the web. This 4 minute presentation details how income levels and life expectancies of the world's countries over the past 200 years. Thought-provoking.

How will the future look? Will countries bunch, or separate into discrete clusters? The separation of China into provinces is suggestive; not all benefits will be spread equally.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Smells Like Money"

Farm Power Northwest Turns Poop Into Power

Kevin Maas, co-founder of Farm Power Northwest at the Rexville, WA installation
Farm Power Co-founder Kevin Maas
at the Rexville installation
Anaerobic digesters take various kinds of biomass, typically animal manure, and extract methane. The methane can either supply a generator to make electricity, or be used directly as fuel for cooking, heating, or other equipment. The residual liquids and solids can, with some caveats, be used as fertilizer or for soil amendment.

The first anaerobic digester was built more than 150 years ago, but has not previously seen widespread use. That could be changing, for several reasons: preventing uncontrolled emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more troublesome than carbon dioxide; mitigating the mountains of manure produced by modern concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs); and generating distributed local power and commercial byproducts that raise revenues and cut costs.

Danger! Liquid Manure Storage!
Up in Western Washington's Skagit Valley, Farm Power Northwest is building anaerobic digesters for local dairy farmers. This week I traveled up to the Mount Vernon area and met with Kevin Maas, who, with his brother Daryl, founded and run the company. The rest of this post is mostly photos of the Rexville installation, the company's first, online since August 2009. There's lots of good links and information, as well as pictures of construction on their web site and Kevin's blog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where's It Wednesday XII

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...
Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hydropower Kinds

Many Approaches to Tap an Underused Resource

More than a billion people get their electricity from hydropower. Worldwide, hydropower produces 675,000MW, 24% of all electricity generation. In the Unites States there are about 2,000 hydropower plants which together supply about 10% of all electricity to the grid. Here in Washington State nearly 70% of electricity comes from hydropower. Despite the attention given to wind and solar energy, hydropower remains the dominant source of all renewable energy in the US.

Hydropower has many advantages--it is renewable, has relatively low carbon impact, and is fully dispatchable, i.e it can be turned on and off quickly whenever needed. So why aren't we hearing more about hydropower? Why aren't we building more of it?

Monday, December 13, 2010


Gaseous Emissions Ongoing

COP-16 is finishing inconclusively, as expected. Individual countries may take action on their own, but it's a mixed bag at best, and subject to shifting political fortunes. The annual conference, in Cancun this year, is held under the auspicies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which has urged the member nations to adopt more binding protocols to address the inevitability of climate change.

While success in herding the nearly 200 national cats remains elusive, the UNFCCC has produced a great web site with lots of material as well as a nifty on-line tool that provides graphical displays of greenhouse gas (GHG) data displayed on a map of the world.

Very educational stuff, but some refuse to be educated, alas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ocean Oases

Marine Life Thrives Around Offshore Platforms

The Department of the Interior's (recently reorganized) Minerals Management Service has studied the effects of using decommissioned oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico as habitat for marine species for almost 30 years. Turns out they provide a remarkably fecund environment:
Whether it’s an operating oil and gas (petroleum) production platform or a retired platform intentionally placed for conservation and fisheries enhancement, a typical 4-pile platform jacket (the underwater support structure of an offshore platform) provides 2-3 acres of living and feeding habitat for thousands of underwater species.


Petroleum platforms function as entirely new places to live; niches for countless animals. In addition to harboring numerous species of juvenile fish and adult life stages, these platforms serve as hunting grounds for swift open-ocean pelagic fishes, such as mackerel, tuna, and jacks. These fish species use the steel platform reefs as places to grab a quick meal, but also for orientation in an otherwise featureless environment, and as areas to rest where the platform structure weakens or deflects currents, and as places to hide from species that may prey on them. Marine researchers have reported fish densities to be 20 to 50 times higher at oil and gas platforms than in nearby open water, and each platform seasonally serves as critical habitat for 10 to 20 thousand fishes, many of which are of recreational and commercial importance.
As with petroleum platforms, so too with offshore wind or other renewable ocean energy platforms. For years commercial and sports fishers have resisted any advance in offshore renewable energy structures and have provided a litany of fears regarding how fish and crab populations would be decimated. It seems unlikely, however, that submerged species will much care what's on top of the platform, above them, out of the water. And unless they feed on spilled hydrocarbons, the lessened pollution from renewable energy rigs would also be a plus.

Fishing objections to offshore renewable energy platforms, such as those used for wind turbines, must be supported by facts, not fears. The onus should be on those who oppose, since decades of studies seem to provide an existence proof that there is little harm, and arguably some benefit.

Friday, December 10, 2010

NW Energy Angels

Angels in the Infrastructure

Northwest Energy Angels logo
Tonight I had the pleasure of attending the Northwest Energy Angels (NWEA) annual holiday party, held at the Talaris Conference Center in Seattle's Laurelhurst neighborhood. Many of NWEA's members are veterans of local technology startups, entrepreneurs/business owners, or both. Others include financial, engineering, service and other professionals. The organization has been very active since its founding in 2006, investing over $3M in 18 companies, including such success stories as enerG2, Farm Power, MicroGREEN Polymers, Novinium and Propel Fuels.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rating Ocean Transport for Efficiency

Impact Beyond Talk in Cancun

Why can't all business leaders be like Sir Richard Branson?
A free internet database set up by Richard Branson will today list the energy efficiency of almost every ocean-going vessel, in a scheme designed to reduce shipping emissions by nearly 25%.

Using publicly available data on the engine size and CO2 emissions of nearly 60,000 ships, exporters and importers, as well as holidaymakers on cruises, will be able to choose between clean and dirty ships.

The initiative, called, rates ships from A-G in a similar fashion to ratings given to fridges or washing machines. It will allow supermarkets, oil and mining companies, food importers, retailers and manufacturers to specify that their goods are sent from places like China or Australia only by the least polluting ships.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where's It Wednesday XI

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...
Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Building Startup Teams That Work

Chemistry beakers
I was chatting with a colleague about building teams in startups and the challenge, especially in the earliest stages, of making the right hiring choices. What are the key considerations? What's most important? When is a candidate good, but not good enough? Reflecting on lessons I've learned in some of my previous startup companies, I believe that there are three aspects that matter ahead of all others, and one of those three that matter ahead of the other two.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Green Garbage

Making the Waste Stream More Sustainable

Waste Management is the largest trash hauler in the United States and ranks 196th on the Fortune 500, generating almost all of its revenues from transporting garbage from homes and businesses to landfills. They have 273 of them throughout the country with enough capacity to last for at least the next 40 years.

So it's noteworthy that Waste Management is actively looking to cannibalize the "landfill pricing" that drives their own business. How? By taking sustainability seriously. Says CEO David Steiner:
Picking up and disposing of people's waste is not going to be the way this company survives long term. Our opportunities all arise from the sustainability movement.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Climate Change Megadeath

Large Impacts Can Be Mitigated

Rusted ships abandoned on the receded shore of the Aral Sea
The former port city of Muynak, Uzbekistan
What will happen in the absence of an effective response to address climate change? The following estimates are key findings of a report issued Friday by DARA International:
  • Nearly 1,000,000 climate change-driven deaths estimated every single year from 2030
  • Some 5,000,000 climate deaths over the next 10 years
  • Already 350,000 climate deaths each year currently
  • 80% of those deaths are of children in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa
  • 99% of all mortality occurs in developing countries
  • 2,500,000 people are living under threat from climate-driven desertification today
  • By 2030 those under such threat will rise to 10,000,000
  • "All estimated mortality statistics or deaths are representative of much wider harm. Every 100,000 deaths would normally indicate several million cases of illness or disability (DALYs), or people displaced, injured or in need of emergency assistance."
  • More than 50 countries are acutely vulnerable to climate change today
  • Some 170 countries have high vulnerability to climate change in at least one area
  • Climate change causes around $150,000,000,000 in economic losses today
  • More than half of those losses take place in industrialized countries
The report's introduction is blunt:
Previous generations were not aware of the environmental impact of economic development and the resource constraints of our planet. We are. They did not have the technology and the know-how to pursue a different path to prosperity. We do. Our generation must seize this unique moment to build a better, more equitable and more sustainable world. If not, our generation will carry a conscience that will never be clear, from failing to act when we had the chance.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oil and Water Don't Mix

How Much Water Must We Shale Out?

"We should understand what the impacts on water quality are before we even consider the idea of commercially developing oil shale."—David Abelson, oil shale policy adviser for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates
Oil shale surface mining
Last Monday the US General Accounting Office (GAO) urged the Department of Interior to take a closer look at the impacts of oil shale development, specifically on water:
Climate change, increasing demand for water from growing cities, interstate water compacts, and needs of threatened and endangered species in the West all could limit how much water is available for oil shale development, the GAO said.
Oil shale extraction uses a lot of water at a time and in a place where competition for water is already acute. It will only grow more contentious, and likely sooner than later.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ignoring History

VC Herd on the Move

Blowing bubbles: MySpace, Facebook, Youtube

Here we go again.
Less than a decade after the dot-com bust taught Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors that what goes up does not keep going up forever, a growing number of entrepreneurs and a few venture capitalists are beginning to wonder if investments in tech start-ups are headed toward another big bust.

The chief evidence, according to industry experts and analysts, is the way venture capitalists and established companies are clamoring to give money to young companies, including those with only a shred of an idea. They are piling into me-too start-ups that imitate popular Web companies that already received financing. Companies that involve social shopping, mobile photo sharing and new social networking are finding it easy to attract investors because no one wants to miss the next big thing.


Fred Wilson, a prominent venture capitalist, said he had watched the trend accelerate over the last six to nine months. “I am seeing many more unnatural acts from investors happening,” he said in a recent blog post. He attributes it to competition among investors eager to participate in popular young start-ups. And he notes, “I have never seen phases like this end nicely.”
How could we avoid the next bubble? The answer is actually rather easy. Rather than fretting about missing out on "the next big thing" that others have already started, go start your own next big thing by investing in a new sector, a new concept, a new market. Hint: try cleantech.

Who took the venture out of venture investing?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

10 Reasons Against Government Cleantech Funding...

...And Why None Are Persuasive

Tightening the belt on planet earth
Business and investors, as well as a significant portion of the general public, have taken a mostly skeptical view of government’s spending tax (or worse, borrowed) dollars on new technologies. It matters little which sector, or whether the funds are termed stimulus or investment, or whether funding is deemed short-term or some kind of “commitment” or even whether it is a response to a catastrophic emergency.

Such skepticism sometimes stems from inchoate reasons. Negative reactions can arise reflexively (“we need to control spending!”), from unexamined prejudices (“government spending is bad!”), or because of ideological biases (“all government spending is wasteful!”) Digging beyond slogans and sound bites, objections are of three basic kinds: (1) Cleantech isn’t important and shouldn’t be a priority; (2) Cleantech is important, but government should not be involved; and (3) Cleantech is important, but funding is not how government should be involved.

Further distillation yields 10 specific objections to government funding of cleantech:
  1. Other things are more important
  2. It’s a waste of money
  3. We cannot afford it
  4. It would increase the deficit
  5. Government would fund the wrong things
  6. Government is inefficient and wasteful
  7. Private enterprise should do it
  8. It distorts markets
  9. It’s unsustainable
  10. Other approaches are better
Are any of these objections compelling? A closer examination suggests not:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where's It Wednesday X

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More on Energy and Sputniks

ARPA-E Director Dr. Arun Majumdar

Yesterday's post covered US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu's address on the importance of government support for energy innovation. Included on the dias at the National Press Club was Arun Majumdar, Director of ARPA-E. Below is a repost from the Hydrovolts blog of 2/20/10 with remarks made by Dr. Majumdar on the "Three Sputniks."

Director of ARPA-E, Dr. Arun Majumdar
Arun Majumdar, Director of ARPA-E, spoke to about 150 people in the atrium of the Paul Allen Computer Science & Engineering Building at the University of Washington on Thursday. Dr. Majumdar provided a detailed explanation of the role of his agency in building a technology "pipeline" connecting the creators of new solutions to the integrators searching for solutions to the "three Sputniks" of energy security, green house gas (GHG) emissions, and US global technological leadership. He sees these as all connected, composing three axes of the same 3-D reality. We must stop importing 60% of our oil from "places hostile to us" and then burning it, exacerbating damage from climate change. Finding other ways to create the energy we need that are clean and renewable will also power US innovation, economic prosperity, and global leadership. Tackling these Three Sputniks is the Congressional directive to ARPA-E.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Is the Energy Race our new 'Sputnik' moment?"

Energy Secretary Chu Calls for Action

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke today to the National Press Club. His core message: "Federal support for energy R&D is going to be critical to our competitiveness" and "time is running out" to act. His entire address is worth watching, but I abstract a few key ideas here.

Chu noted how the 1957 launch of Sputnik by the USSR galvanized America into action and encouraged a generation of students, including himself, to pursue careers in science and technology. Support for students, and funding support to provide them careers are critical to American innovation, which in turn is essential for our competitiveness.

Investing in innovation creates wealth in addition to all the direct results of that innovation and is key to our prosperity and progress. The US has a long history of innovation that has generated substantial wealth: automobiles, airplanes, the transistor, integrated circuits, satellite and optical communications, GPS, the Internet and others. However, we cannot take innovation leadership for granted and in some ways we are no longer leaders in high tech energy innovation or manufacturing. The competition is real. Chu noted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's comment at last year's World Economic Forum:
We should see scientific and technological innovation as an important pillar and make greater effort to develop new industries of strategic importance. Science and technology is a powerful engine of economic growth... We will make China a country of innovation... We will accelerate the development of a low-carbon economy and green economy so as to gain an advantageous position in the international industrial competition.
Here in the US we are not rising to the challenge. It is "startling" how little we invest as a country in energy R&D: just 0.3% of sales by the private sector and a mere 0.14% of the federal budget. The amount invested peaked in 1979 and has steadily declined since. What will happen after the stimulus funds for energy run out? "The benefits of energy R&D are not recognized or rewarded by the free market" which is why "the government must play a key role in accelerating energy innovation." At Energy, they are designing programs to advance technologies to the point where they are economically competitive without subsidies or other support.

Finally, Chu stated two immediate priorities:
  • Formulate sensible long range policies on energy that have bipartisan support
  • Increase support for energy R&D
The entire event was just more than an hour long:

The event concluded with some good questions. The final question asked, in essence, how Dr. Chu dealt with people in Washington who "just don't get it." Chu answered diplomatically, drawing a parallel to his years as a professor and taking responsibility for finding the right way to educate others. Amusingly, at the start of his talk he provided a more unguarded response. He noted that he was unable to show the PowerPoint deck he had prepared and added that PowerPoint was very good for showing pictures and data. Then he quipped: "I know data is maybe a new concept here in Washington but I think it's a good one."

Given the novelty of paying attention to data by some in Washington, the prospects for a long range energy policy with bipartisan support don't appear as strong as would be desirable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Alien Concepts

What if Climate Change were an Alien Plot?

David Horsey | Seattle P-I | Aliens, Climate Change, and Liberals

Nowadays even reality is partisan.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Inventing to Outcomes

Innovation at Pacific Northwest National Lab

J. Michael Davis, Associate Laboratory Director for the Energy and Environment Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
J. Michael Davis, Associate Laboratory Director for the Energy and Environment Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL) gave a thought-provoking keynote address November 9 at the Future Energy Conference in Seattle. He spoke both about PNL's role in national energy innovation and on the importance of formulating a national energy policy. His remarks echoed some of those made at the conference by US Representative Jay Inslee and by Puget Sound Energy President Kimberly Harris, from the government and utility perspectives, respectively.

Davis spoke compellingly of the essential role played by the national laboratories in shaping our energy future. Quoting Bill Gates, Davis declared that, as a nation, "we have to be swinging for the fences." We are making progress, but not quickly enough, and results are too incremental. Innovation is key to seizing real opportunities and making progress towards our energy future; however, an unfocused approach doesn't reflect the urgency of the challenge. This is why PNL seeks to "invent to outcomes" thus harnessing innovation to critical objectives.

There are four desired outcomes that inform PNL invention:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Solar-Powered Light

Self-Contained Light Bulbs

Nokero N200 solar-powered light bulb
Capturing sunlight during the day to use that night. Brilliant.

The need spans the globe. More than 1 billion people in the world have no electricity at all. For most, that means no source of nighttime illumination. Some burn kerosene, dung, or other fuels, exposing themselves to potentially serious health effects. In Guinea, students travel miles to study at the airport—under light standards in the parking lot. And there are recreational and other uses.

Nokero claims that theirs is the world's only solar powered light bulb. Last week they introduced the model N200, just months after introducing their original model N100. The single integrated solar cell charges a nickel metal hydride battery that powers 4 LEDs for 2.5 hours at high brightness or 6 hours (3x longer than the N100) at higher brightness. The N200 retails at $20.

These bulbs bring sustainable cleantech at affordable cost and can alleviate one aspect of energy poverty. They can provide a benefit that will materially improve the lives of people in much of the world. These would also make a great addition to a shelter box or relief kit of any kind.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's been another challenging year, tough at times, but I am grateful for many things:
  • Colleagues who have encouraged me as I searched for my next position.
  • My friends who have stood by me
  • A most hounderrific fellow
  • A respite, until the 2012 campaign begins (January?), from political ads
  • Kids, still in school, who continue to build stronger foundations for their future
  • My wife, who made yet another great holiday repast
  • Snow! And still having time for some fun
  • Good health and good spirits to face the future
  • Less than a month until the days start getting longer...

Thanks too to my readers; I love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where's It Wednesday IX

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Elements in Common: Carbon and Lead

Plumbing Profits at the Cost of People's Health

Lead (Pb) 82nd element in the periodic table
Leaded gasoline was the norm in the United States for more than 60 years, until it was finally phased out in 1986. In the years since, blood-level concentrations of lead, a toxic poison and known carcinogen, have declined 75%.

How lead became a gasoline additive despite its known health effects, and how it remained so is an instructive story, which has been exhaustively documented.
The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for ... twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle of scientific uncertainty.
Even though we've gone unleaded in the US, profits can still be made. Almost all gasoline in Africa and the Middle East still contains lead, as does nearly 1/3 of gasoline in Asia and South America.

I suspect that, decades from now, when the history of anthropogenic carbon emissions is written, there will be overwhelming parallels to the sordid history of lead: peddling poison for profit, obfuscating that truth, and frustrating any and all attempts at alternatives. As was true with the story of lead, so too with the saga of carbon: significant numbers of those we elect to serve the public interest will not do so, choosing instead to serve those interests on whose campaign contributions and expenditures they depend.

When will we learn?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Creeping Socialism

Saving Energy is Destroying America

Incandescent bulbs giving way to compact fluorescent
Apparently replacing incandescent light bulbs with efficient energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs is another sign of the rising danger of a socialist state. As with polemics against recycling, one cannot make this crazy stuff up. Once again, it prompts the question of exactly what values do most of us think are uniquely and proudly American? Which is more quintessentially American:
  • Using resources (energy, materials, and, ultimately, money) to any extent whim suggests, because our wealth affords it.
  • Gratitude for the bounty America provides and a desire to use such blessings sparingly, conserving for the enduring benefit our family, community and country.
The first is epitomized by gas-guzzling automobiles, McMansions, and, yes, by wasting energy and materials in one's day-to-day being. Conspicuous consumption may display our lingering economic primacy, but not our national maturity.

The second is epitomized in part by Ben Franklin's bon mot: "A penny saved is a penny earned." Remember when thrift was a virtue?

Reveling in pointless waste is not conservative. It is folly in the face of our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It is reckless when we lack a sustainable energy policy. It is un-American.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Climate Change Positions

Posturing in Luxury Resorts

COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico

This year's version of climate change talks starts next week in Cancun, Mexico. Countries are issuing statements ahead of the conference as part of the diplomatic pre-positioning and for shaping public opinion. China has urged rich nations to "show sincerity" according to Huang Huikang, special representative for climate change negotiations of China's Foreign Ministry: "Developed nations have the responsibility to take the lead in drastic emissions cuts, and offer funds and technology to developing nations." The Brazilian Environment Minister cautioned that rich countries must have "a clear climate aid plan for developing countries if they want to avoid a fiasco." UN Chief Ban-ki Moon echoes the need for an aid package of $100B per year, with funds raised "from banks, carbon taxes, carbon permit auctions and new transport taxes."

There is no doubt which countries are widely considered the "rich" ones by their neighbors. Never mentioned is the impossibility of convincing any significant segment of the US population that their country is rich enough to send billions to developing countries for climate change mitigation, especially when a large number of people refuse to believe the science. Too much of the electorate doesn't trust the US government to spend money wisely; they are certainly not going to trust a foreign government to do better with US taxpayer dollars.

This is the 16th such conference (COP-16) held annually since 1995. The meetings have generally been held in major cities, including Copenhagen, Bonn, Buenos Aires and Kyoto, where in 1997, at COP-3, delegates reached agreement on the eponymous Kyoto Protocol. Lately meetings have been held in venues seemingly selected for the enjoyment of the attendees and their traveling companions: Bali, Cancun, and, next year, South Africa.

Sixteen years of posturing and sometimes wrangling. Might the delegates be more motivated if they met where the impacts of climate change were more apparent? Instead of lollygagging in sun-splashed Cancun, they should meet somewhere more evocative. Perhaps Darfur, where crops fail because the rains no longer come? Or maybe one of the islands in Kirabati which is seeking help to relocate its residents as the ocean reclaims it. The Arctic Ocean in the winter might have the same value as a conference room without chairs--less aimless talk and a shared focus on being brief and to the point. No meeting is useful unless it produces action items.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

National Entrepreneurs' Day

Mere Gestures are Not Helpful

Chart of increasing cash flow problems of small business
I learned today that yesterday was the first (annual?) National Entrepreneurs' Day, as announced by President Obama and written up on the White House blog:
Entrepreneurship is a core American value. And supporting a culture that is conducive to entrepreneurship and startups is a core component of the President’s National Innovation Strategy, for achieving sustainable growth and quality jobs. Startups are inherently bold and by their nature constantly facing the risk of failure. But startups also bring an unparalleled wealth of transformative innovations to market—think of everything from the airplane to the automobile to—and have been the Nation’s engine of job creation over the past three decades. It is the entrepreneurs who are tackling the Nation’s challenges in clean energy, medicine, national security, and other fields. They will build the leading industries of the 21st century.
The affirmation of the importance of entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem is good, but it reminds me of one of my favorite aphorisms: "When all is said and done, there's a lot more said than done."

There are the usual paeans to the importance of innovation and to small business being the source of most new jobs, but there's not much beef under this bun.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Utility Perspective on Energy Policy

Constancy and Urgency Needed

Kimberly Harris addressing the Future Energy Conference 11/10/10
Kimberly Harris, President and incoming CEO of Washington gas and electric utility Puget Sound Energy (PSE) gave a keynote address to this year's Future Energy Conference at Seattle's Trade and Convention Center on November 10, 2010. Her remarks were primarily about PSE's approach, but also touched on specific generation choices and included several "soapbox" observations on energy policy.

Her main point was to underscore the importance and urgency of acting:
I don't think we can overstate the challenges ahead of us... There are few things more important to the country than a new energy future that is secure and clean, and a new economic future that is secure and clean.

Specifically, she called for significant investment and especially the creation and constancy of a long-term vision. Noting that utilities must look out 20 years or longer, Harris articulated the concern now heard from many business quarters: "I hope [energy] policies are not revisited every year. We can't plan with policies moving around."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things I Learned from my Dad II

Chris & John Leyerle, c. 1995
At the birthday party of kids of friends, c. 1995
I've learned many things from my Dad, including my first lesson in entrepreneurship.

My Dad had a unique sense of humor, and taught me not to take myself too seriously. I'm still learning that one.

Thank you Dad.

John Frank Leyerle, 11/18/26 - 8/2/06, RIP

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where's It Wednesday VIII

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Climate Change Recklessness

Conservatives Aren't

Toles cartoon on climate change
What does it mean to be a conservative? Conservatives who believe in actual conservation are surprisingly few. Conservatives elsewhere seem truer to actual conservative principles, as did conservatives of an earlier time. When it comes to climate change, today's so-called conservatives abandon their principles:
Far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk. When faced with uncertainty and the possibility of costly outcomes, smart businessmen buy insurance, reduce their downside exposure and protect their assets. When confronted with a disease outbreak of unknown proportions, front-line public health workers get busy producing vaccines, pre-positioning supplies and tracking pathogens. And when military planners assess an enemy, they get ready for a worst-case encounter.

When it comes to climate change, conservatives are doing none of this. Instead, they are recklessly betting the farm on a single, best-case scenario: That the scientific consensus about global warming will turn out to be wrong. This is bad risk management and an irresponsible way to run anything, whether a business, an economy or a planet.
We need some climate insurance. To eschew prudence courts disaster. It will also lead to a substantially more intrusive set of big government programs and regulations to effect the pound of cure then required due to the folly of failing to implement the ounce of prevention needed today.

Monday, November 15, 2010

National Recycling Day

The Value of Values

Recycling water bottles
Recycling is easy for most of us
Today is National Recycling Day.

Why do we have a special day for this? As far as I'm concerned, every day is a recycling day, but apparently that's because I'm a socialist.

Why is it that Yankee ingenuity has given way to wanton wastefulness and why, incredibly, do so many proudly consider profligacy a defining American characteristic?

To the contrary, it is fundamentally American to be thrifty, to conserve, and to make ingenious use of what comes to hand.

When we throw away what we might usefully recycle we jettison more than those materials. We also discard our values.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Fiction of Michael Crichton

Celebrity is Not Expertise

A new Florida coast?I remember reading The Andromeda Strain as a teenager and finding it both engrossing and morbidly enjoyable. The original film (haven't seen the remake) was good too, and of course, Jurassic Park has become a modern Hollywood classic.

Thus it was disappointing for me to discover that Michael Crichton's enormous talent for fiction was not confined to his novels. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and the damage done is magnified through celebrity and a media that shirks its most noble purpose if not its basic duty [pdf]. Instead of questioning what it is told it slavishly parrots discredited viewpoints, creating a faux equivalence between credentialed experts and peer-reviewed science on one hand, and a legion of poseurs, cranks and industry shills on the other. The result is to foster a "controversy" not to provide a forum for a debate on the merits, but out of laziness, naivete and simple commercialism:
Of course we must not forget that the bottom line with media is sales, not truth (or accuracy). Stories of scientific certainty are only interesting once, controversy is eternally newsworthy.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Business As Unusual

Time to Prepare

We're moving to a post-carbon future, one way or another. There will be pain.

Well-run businesses strive to be anticipatory, not reactive, whenever possible. Where people would like governments run like businesses those governments will perform better if they take pragmatic steps to plan for the future. Business as usual (BAU) is not sustainable. When it comes to climate and energy, it is time for a new way of doing business. Pretending that we cannot change because we are too dependent today is an addict's rationalization.

Friday, November 12, 2010

8 Poo Bah Principles

Entrepreneurial Success

Richard Tait at NWEN Entrepreneur University
Richard Tait
Richard Tait, the one-time Grand Poo Bah of Cranium, was one of four keynote speakers today at the annual Entrepreneur University (EU) put on by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN.) Tait is a highly engaging and entertaining speaker who presents startup business insights with flair and energy. Mostly abandoning the stage, he frequently strolled into the audience, establishing an intimate rapport and punctuating his observations with humor and humility.

His talk centered on eight principles for entrepreneurial success:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

5 Degrees of Uselessness...


Philosophers on Strike cartoon
Will they still be on strike
if we ignore them?
I couldn't resist clicking on an article with the headline "How to Succeed with a 'Useless' Degree" not to learn how to succeed, but rather to find out what degrees were deemed useless.

It was not much of a surprise to learn that the five featured "useless" degrees includes one of mine--Philosophy. While I recall no one asking me to what use I could put my Philosophy degree, there's no doubt that many think discussions of philosophy to be pointless and recondite—navel gazing where no one cares about the navel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where's It Wednesday VII

Somewhere in Seattle.... where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

All Aboard the B Ark

Does Recycling = Socialism?

Douglas Adams Don't Panic logo
Is consolidating trash collection and starting curbside recycling another slip down the slide to socialism? Yes it is, say some Arizona teabaggers. They're also unhappy that they can no longer pick from 5 overlapping trash haulers. Some have termed it "trashcare" to echo their distaste for recent healthcare legislation, called "Obamacare" by opponents. Their bile has risen nearly to pitchforks and torches level:
Last week, a flier was circulated around Fountain Hills with an ominous icon and the phrase, "The Hills Will Have Eyes," and that claimed the "Fountain Hills Green Police" checked residents' garbage and recyclables, and as a result, "you are wanted for questioning." ... That single issue generated a nearly five-hour public hearing and council debate that went past midnight.
Said Councilwoman Ginny Dickey:
It seems counterintuitive, but in order for this proposal to pass, I believe I had to downplay the benefits of recycling. When ideology prevents rational discussion of a really pretty mundane topic, trash, there is no perspective. Everything is suspect, which paralyzes us.