Top 15 Stories from 2009 | Earth2Tech

By Katie Fehrenbacher

While the articles that drove the most clicks this year were a combo of lists and FAQs, we know our loyal readers came back on a daily basis to check out our solid reporting, our trend-spotting, our startup profiles and our scoops. We worked hard in 2009 to cover the entrepreneurs and innovators of green technology and we’ll work even harder in 2010. Happy New Year’s!

Here’s our top 15 favorite posts of 2009:

Why the Smart Grid Won’t Have the Innovations of the Internet Any Time Soon: I wrote this in June after I realized how controlled and closed the networks that the utilities would be building would be compared to the build out of the Internet.

How Google’s PowerMeter Will Affect the Smart Meter Industry: This was when Google’s energy management tool PowerMeter first emerged, and this post covered our predictions for how the tool would affect the industry. I also like this scoop we did on Google’s first gadget partner: Google’s PowerMeter Bypasses the Smart Meter, Signs Up First Gadget Partner

Guide to Car 2.0: We put together this comprehensive snapshot of the landscape of the next generation of the connected car, or Car 2.0.

Earth2Tech’s Top 15 Smart Grid Influencers: Who are the big influencers in the emerging smart grid industry? Here’s our 15 top picks about the movers and shakers of tomorrow’s digital power grid.

How Risky Bets Like Startup EEStor Lure Political Backers: I think this post will prove to be very forward-thinking, politicians are way too eager to buddy up with greentech firms, regardless of the risks.

The Winners and Losers in the Smart Grid Stimulus Funds: The $4 billion or so in smart grid stimulus funds was the biggest thing to happen to the smart grid industry of the last decade. We tracked the applications and winners closely and here’s who we thought would emerge on top and who would be left behind.

10 Signs Your Next Car Won’t Be Electric: There were a lot of reader comments and reactions to this post, and I think it’s an interesting look at the realities of how electric vehicles will be sold.

The Story of Grid Net: How Ray Bell Is Betting WiMAX Can Fix the Grid: This story was a quintessential startup story, about an entrepreneur who had a strong vision of how the smart grid industry would look. It also won second place at the Stanford Innovation Journalism conference.

Lessons from the Cello Energy Biofuel Fraud Case: Do Your Homework: Josie delved into the important lessons that came out of the Cello case, where the company was found to have defrauded investors, well after the EPA had incorporated the company’s production estimates into its biofuel mandates.

How to Hammer Out Smart Grid Standards In 30 Days or Less, Or Your Money Back: Alongside doling out the smart grid stimulus funds, establishing standards was the other important milestone for the industry in 2009. Here’s an early story on just how hard that would be.

As Green Car Loan Funds Dwindle, What’s Plan B for Startups? As we move into 2010 and the DOE has already handed out a big chunk of the green car loan funds, what are the options left out there for all those green car startups that are struggling?

Tesla Lawsuit: The Incredible Importance of Being a Founder: Tesla’s founder lawsuit was one of the spots of tabloid drama out of the greentech industry this year. But it did offer a blueprint for what not to do when choosing a founding team. Something to think about for all those entrepreneurs out there.

The World’s Coolest Utility: Yello Strom’s Got Smart Meters That Tweet: This German utility has such a different mindset to most of the ones in the U.S., I thought they were just really innovative.

Chu: For Green Building Design, We Need to Go Open Source: Chu — the nerd’s rockstar — talks about open source of green building design. Gotta love it.

Lesson Learned from the PG&E Smart Meter Suit: It’s a Communication Problem: The lawsuits from the Bakersfield smart meter case probably aren’t a technical problem, but they sure were a communication issue.

Source: Earth2Tech

Maricopa Solar has now officially been online with all 60 SunCatchers | Stirling Energy Systems

Editor’s Note: GBDS.US has a deep history as an advocate for renewable energy and sustainable development including one of our founders raising angel funds for Stirling Energy System over a decade ago – now fully capitalized and building the two largest solar thermal power plants in the world in southern California in 2010.

Press Release: December 23rd, 2009

We started bringing dishes on sun shortly after 11am via laptops at each Dish Group. Once each unit was on closed-loop tracking control of it was transferred over to the SCADA system. At 12.30 we put the 60th dish on sun and were generating 1,058kW. We ran the field for a full hour and hit a peak output of 1.12MW. we then successfully took the field back off sun one dish group at a time using the SCADA system to put dishes back into windstow. This was achieved with dirty mirrors, DNI of approximately 850 Wm2 and maximum shading due to sun position so the outlook of hitting our performance targets under standardized operating conditions looks very positive. Its also worth mentioning that the controls software, SCADA and Hydrogen systems all performed as expected on the day.

This is a very significant milestone and I want to thank everyone involved across all the teams and from both Tessera Solar and SES for the enormous push over the last few months to get this over the line before the end of the year.

Well done everyone – now we can really relax and enjoy the break!!

- SES & Tessera team

GBDS.US Sales Presentationv20

The Business Case: The Hard Realities of Soft Benefits | CIO Update

By Jack M. Keen

I was stunned when I first heard it. The directive came from a senior executive of a global, old-line firm in a capital-intensive industry. He was encouraging his ROI business-case developer to use soft, rather than hard, benefits for justifying a proposed systems project. What a sea change from the “all tangibles, all the time” mentality of the previous 40 years! If select senior managers in the most conservative of industries are finally beginning to see the power of soft ROI benefits, can the rest of the world be far behind?

I was curious why this successful leader now supported the “soft” side of ROI justification strategies. When asked, he said that all the true “hard” benefits had been exhausted by prior systems implementations. There weren’t many operations staff members left to be laid off, there were no materials left to be saved, and there was no overhead left that could be chopped. In short, he was forced to recognize soft ROI benefits. But he wasn’t about to quit investing in IT.

The timing of this shift in ROI decision-making mentality is fortunate. We are now facing more IT project justifications that are oriented toward soft benefits. Knowledge-management systems, Web infrastructures, and employee support systems are prime examples. These projects bring small increments of productivity improvements to hundreds, if not thousands, of employees. They may also bring ROI decision-making advantages, which are only one or more steps removed from a hard benefit result. In the case of infrastructure projects, ROI soft-benefit justifications are means to a more distant end, like telephone poles along streets, which eventually make home telephone service possible.

To take advantage of managers who are now beginning to understand soft-benefit advantages, here are four considerations to help make your soft-benefit-oriented ROI business case more successful.

1. Distinguish the type of ROI benefit. ROI benefits are distinguished in three types: hard benefits, soft benefits, and quantified-soft benefits. Hard benefits, also called “tangibles,” are both quantifiable and expressed in monetary units. Labor savings from the dismissal of four finance department clerks is an example. Soft benefits, or intangibles, are those payoffs considered by the ROI business-case audience as neither quantifiable, nor expressible in monetary units. “Improve employee morale” might be an example cited by a hard-nosed CFO with little tolerance for anything less than “shoes-out-the-door” benefit computations. Quantified soft benefits are calculated monetarily, but kept out of the ROI equation. An example might be an HR director’s claim that “improving employee morale” will save $200,000 in replacement costs. The HR director documents it, includes it in the business case, but uses it as an addendum to the ROI calculation, not an integral component of it. (An example of this “bundling” of quantified soft benefits is outlined below.)

2. Preach that “tangibles” exist only in the eye of the beholder. Tangible benefits, in spite of their name, are an opinion-based ROI forecast. The hard ROI benefit example cited above is tangible only because the action–employees being fired–is measurable, highly visible, easily understandable, and consistent with the observer’s prior experience.

In contrast, items classified as soft benefits, such as “improve employee morale,” may actually produce hard savings. However, only an HR director may see this cause-and-effect relationship because of their in-depth knowledge of the true reasons behind employee turnover.
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Labeling a benefit as “soft” doesn’t necessarily mean that hard ROI payoffs don’t exist. It only means that its tangibility is not apparent and/or acceptable to the decision maker.

3. Bundle enough soft ROI benefits to make them hard. If you put enough pillows into a sufficiently big container, then its weight will crush the hardest of stones (or hearts). The same is true of intangible benefits. A successful technique is bundling groups of quantified soft ROI benefits together into categories called “high impact benefits,” “medium impact benefits,” and “low impact benefits.” Strive to make the total calculated value of each group at least equal to the tangible savings that have already been identified.

For example, let’s say a knowledge-management project requires a savings of $500,000 per year to be funded, but the official tangible benefits total only adds up to $300,000 annually. Your job is to uncover quantified soft benefits of at least $300,000 for each of the three impact categories. That adds up to $1.2 million in total savings ($900,000 in total intangible savings, plus $300,000 in tangibles) and puts you $700,000 over the needed total savings goal. This extra savings gives you a buffer zone for intangible assertions that may, in spite of your best intentions, be discarded by the final ROI decision makers.

4. Be on the offensive. You need to believe in the power and relevance of soft ROI benefits. Many of the world’s greatest business success stories are built on the back of courageous business-case creators who convinced IT executives that “hard to measure” IT investments don’t automatically mean “bad” investments.

For example, Wal-Mart’s decision to employ an ROI project that was not justified with hard benefits (a cleverly automated logistics system), which led to an eventual takeover of retail leadership from K-Mart, is a prime example of a “competitive-edge-based” soft benefits business case reaping hard benefit rewards.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s comments after an early World War II British victory, recent developments are not the end of tangibles-bias in ROI business cases. They are not even the beginning of the end-but they might be the end of the beginning. Taking a hard stand on soft ROI benefits may be just the message your executives need to get IT funding right.

Seen other examples of the hard realities of soft ROI benefits? Give me the hard facts via e-mail to jkeen@decidingfactor.com.

Jack M. Keen is founder and president of The Deciding Factor, a Basking Ridge, New Jersey- based international consulting firm specializing in the development of simple, but powerful ROI calculation models, tools, best practices, and workshops for building better business cases faster. A frequent guest speaker, Keen has advised more than 100 organizations in 15 countries.

Source: CIO Update

We Need Each Other | Ning Blog

By Douglas Aiken

Editor’s Note: This is first in a series of  guest posts we plan on publishing on the Ning Blog. If you are interested in penning a guest post for the Ning Blog, let us know in the comments below! Today’s post come from Douglas Aiken, the author of The Culting of Brands: How Customers Become True Believers. He is a partner at Purpose, an organization that creates 21st century movements and was previously the Chief Community Officer and Partner at Meetup.

Community is making a comeback.

This is good, because for decades groups, clubs, unions, associations and communities of all kinds have been in decline. And we’ve felt it. Over the years, I’ve examined research that has shown a steady annual increase in the number of people who want to spend more time with families and friends, and be more involved in their neighborhoods. We’ve been craving more connection at the very time that we’ve driven it from our lives.

We’ve been deviant for decades.

We’ve been indulging in aberrant behavior for too long.

Whatever the culprit…commuting, working two jobs, sprawl, relocation, fear of strangers, computer games, focus on getting stuff versus getting time for friends and family… not being part of a high functioning community is just not natural.

Belonging is not an option. Humans have depended on it for survival since one of our ancestors realized he needed his friends if he was going to eat when he faced a woolly mammoth alone with nothing but a stick. It’s wired into our species. As Richard Layard notes in his book Happiness:

All primates live in groups and get sad when they are separated. An isolated individual will repeatedly pull a lever with no reward other than the glimpse of another monkey.

Even today belonging and survival are intertwined. There is a ton of research that shows that those who are part of a social network live longer and survive life-threatening diseases and events significantly better than those who don’t. And they’re happier.

Now we’re normalizing in new ways.

Technology is enabling more connection and engagement. Platforms like Ning help us find and engage with others that share our passions and interests. Facebook and Twitter are keeping us connected. Tens of thousands of Meetups are recreating local community. We’re sharing, mobilizing, educating, supporting, and acting together to enrich our lives online and offline. Some are even using these tools to retool their societies.

But there’s a problem.

We’re a generation of lost skills.

In the 1950s, five percent of American adults were presidents, not just members, but presidents of some club or voluntary association or other. Being a high functioning member or leader of a community was both expected and supported. It was in the air they breathed. With the pervasiveness of association came ready access to the collective wisdom and support from others who knew how to run a network effectively.

We don’t have that. We’re groping our way back to what De Tocqueville identified as a unique characteristic of America (and an engine of its democracy); associating with each other in all kinds of ways for all kinds of common interests. Somehow we have to fill this knowledge vacuum. And do it fast.

Launching and running networks is hard. You realize this very quickly once you start. From observing and interviewing hundreds of leaders and members of communities of all kinds, I’ve seen that most fail because the leaders have good intentions, but few skills.

We need help… from each other!

Some of the best advice you can get is from others doing what you do. Sharing how you succeeded, or failed with others in the same situation is immensely powerful. How do you recruit? How do you create stickiness? How do you run successful events? How do you get rid of toxic members? How do you keep the great ones?

These issues are universal. Whether your network is online or offline, or both; whether it’s in Manchester or Manila, whether it’s about a better social life or social change, we need a place where we can share common needs and get advice from our peers.

The Ning Creators Network is a great place to get this. And I’m trying to do a similar thing on my own Network and blog: The Glue Project. The idea is that these tools will be used to make more social glue by enabling a key ingredient: skilled-up leaders.

And then we can enjoy doing what feels natural; being high-functioning members of social networks.

Source: Ning Blog

Green Growth: How the Eco-Stimulus Can Generate Jobs

GPEVBy Cascadia Capital CEO Michael Butler and Senior Vice-President

Part I, Picking the Winners

We are living in the Age of Uncertainty. Nobody knows how bad the economy really is or how long the pain will persist; nobody knows what type of stimulus package we need or whether a stimulus will actually work. And nobody knows where clean technology innovation is headed, given the current tumult in the capital markets.

Despite financing the future for hundreds of emerging growth companies over the past 25 years, I admit to not having all the answers today, at a time when that would be immensely helpful.

But I do know that the current stimulus package – with approximately $90 billion worth of energy-related spending and tax breaks – has the potential to boost certain sustainable industries and renewable energy sectors that have enormous job-producing potential, and that these good-paying and high-value positions will enhance economic growth both today and tomorrow.

An Extended Keynesian Injection

Unlike the New Deal stimulus, this 21st century eco-stimulus offers us an extended Keynesian injection because new green companies and new clean industries will be created from the ground up while existing – but still maturing – segments of the New Energy Economy will expand and extend their reach.

The businesses and sectors that stand to gain the most from Washington’s legislative initiative will be the ones that can best harness public and private sector capital flows to generate a fairly quick payback. Every enterprise in the clean tech world is looking for stimulus money, but if you can’t break even on a cash flow basis anytime soon, there’s little sense in approaching lawmakers on Capitol Hill for financial aid.

Energy Expenditures

Congress is still not officially signed off on the size and composition of the stimulus. So, my informal, conservative and real-time dollar break out, which is subject to change as legislators crunch the numbers, currently looks like this:

  • Energy Efficiency and Transmission – $50 billion
  • Renewable Energy Tax Credit Extensions – $13 billion
  • Tax Breaks for Large-Scale Renewable Projects – $11 billion
  • Energy Efficiency Improvement – $9 billion
  • Renewable Energy Manufacturing – $1.4 billion
  • Department of Defense Energy Upgrades – $4 billion

Yet even as the legislation is hammered out before going to President Obama for signing, it’s possible to identify three potential winners that will have a tremendous economic – and job-creation – impact on the post-petroleum era.

First, the solar and wind power industries. These sectors are struggling today because debt funding and critical tax equity take-out financing has dried up; but I believe they could experience a reversal of fortune if Congress includes a refundable tax credit in the stimulus package (See Part II, following this story).

Taxing Matters

Amending the tax code in this way makes sense because the refundable tax credit would be a financeable arrangement and go directly to the solar and wind developers, who created a combined 30,000 new jobs in 2007 and 2008.  With the right tax policies in place, the solar energy sector alone could create 440,000 permanent jobs and spur $325 billion in private investment by 2016, according to Navigant Consulting.

The second potential eco-stimulus winner will be the green building industry, which represents a mammoth opportunity and offers a powerful

long tail in terms of new employment possibilities.

Building for the Future

The numbers tell the story in a stark way here: There are currently 120 million homes, 5.1 million commercial buildings and legions of government office structures in the U.S. today. These structures account for approximately 40 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions and consume 60 percent of its raw materials, so if even a reasonable percentage of them were retrofitted and became more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, we’d be setting a major economic multiplier in motion.

The material science sector could especially benefit from a green building stimulus surge if it develops and markets products like clean cement and other building products; and the software industry could also prosper by creating automation services and systems to manage the homes, offices and buildings that are working toward greater energy efficiency.

A Jolt of Prosperity

The third stimulus beneficiary will be the nation’s outdated and outmoded electricity infrastructure, which needs to be upgraded with intelligent and breakthrough digital technology that will boost efficiency and reliability while lowering cost.

A number of skeptics talk about how daunting this overhaul would be. And they are right. The current electricity grid feels like a 19th century creation rather than a 21st century innovation. And it’s a jumble of fraying old wires, decaying transmission stations and antiquated analog equipment that is holding the nation’s global competitiveness back.

But this effort would be well worth it. A recent analysis by the Grid Wise Alliance reveals that $16 billion in smart-grid disbursements over the next four years would serve as the catalyst for projects worth $64 billion. These projects would create nearly 300,000 direct and high-value jobs between 2009 and 2012; and 150,000 of these positions would be established before the end of 2009. In addition, the Grid Wise report indicates that 140,000 indirect jobs would be generated between 2013 and 2018 as a result of smart-grid investment.

A Rising in the Valley

Smart grid innovation and infrastructure improvements would – in the same way as green building retrofits – help the software industry play a much-needed role in clean technology. And, with information technology hitting a plateau, Silicon Valley could reinvigorate itself by embracing a modernized electricity grid through two-way communications devices, smart meters and advanced control systems that take all the gathered energy information and manage it in real-time.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal spending programs struggled to reverse The Great Depression for almost a decade, and it wasn’t until the United States geared up for the Second World War that the economy finally righted itself.

A New New Deal

I believe Barack Obama is more fortunate than Roosevelt because the nation is on the brink of a New Energy Economy today. If Congress and the new President choose eco-stimulus programs and policies wisely, we may see prosperous and peaceful new horizons sooner rather than later.

Michael Butler is Chairman and CEO of Seattle-based Cascadia Capital, LLC, a national investment-banking firm that is helping sustainable industries finance the future; Jamie Boyd is a senior vice president at Cascadia.

The above opinion piece is from independent writers and is not connected with Greentech Media News. The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not endorsed by Greentech Media.

Source: Greentech Media

Toward A New American Infrastructure

By Julia Levitt

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Yesterday I sat in on a press teleconference with the three co-chairs of the bipartisan coalition Building America’s Future: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The main topic of discussion: the results of a national poll, paid for by their group, which suggest that U.S. citizens across party lines overwhelmingly support infrastructure improvement, and that most would willingly approve a one percent increase in taxes to pay for the work.

The conference call involved a lot of hopeful rhetoric. The Governor of California cited the hefty investments his own state has already made in improving schools, housing, roads and levees, and future improvements in the states’ prisons and a high speed rail plan, and commented that he looks forward to developing public-private partnerships that will not only help get these programs running, but that will help sustain them over time.

Mayor Bloomberg stressed the role of local governments in choosing which infrastructure projects are right for their districts, and allocating funds accordingly. New York City, he said, will be spending $10.4 billion of its own funds on infrastructure improvements this year. But if federal money is allocated, he said, it must be allocated wisely. “If all we do is spend money on the same old things for the same old places, that would take away the opportunity to use a crisis to instill change.”

And though infrastructure improvements are an important part of the economic stimulus plan forthcoming from the Obama administration, Rendell cautioned, the plan for infrastructure will need to continue into the future long after the stimulus programs are no longer needed. Rendell called for a ten-year commitment – and dedicated federal budget — for rebuilding nationwide infrastructure, and acknowledged that the process would likely come in phases.

Repairs to crumbling bridges, roads and levees, for example, are “shovel-ready” projects that don’t require the months for environmental impact assessments and permitting that new projects demand. Because they offer state governments the ability to turn federal money into jobs and projects most quickly, these projects will be the likely first recipients of the stimulus package funds. To ensure that there will be funding in place for new projects that require lengthier approval processes like high-speed rail connections (not to mention, I would add, projects such as smart grids that will likely take even a few years’ more of engineering, planning and scientific evaluation) we should be planning now to continue supporting these initiatives well into the future.

The other main point of the conversation was the issue of transparency and accountability in government, buzzwords that have held constant in American politics — from early in the presidential primaries to Wednesday’s announcement that Nancy Killefer will fill the newly created position of chief performance officer — and which I’m sure we’ll continue to hear well into the year to come.

Although we at Worldchanging agree with the broad points outlined by Building America’s Future – certainly we should harness the opportunity before us to repair and rebuild our broken and outdated infrastructure; and certainly, there should be a mode of accountability in government – I need to state that a poll reporting such overwhelming numbers in favor of investing in our infrastructure which has been paid for by an organization whose website is www.InvestInInfrastructure.org should be taken with a handful of salt (You can see a summary of the survey online here). That said, I still think that it’s safe to say that the question is not “should Americans invest in infrastructure,” nor is it “should those investments be tracked to ensure transparency and accountability.” The answer to both those questions is yes.

The real question is, what kind of infrastructure are we going to build? There are so many opportunities out there to rebuild in a forward-thinking, sustainable way that it’s understandably difficult to know where to begin.

When it comes to pouring concrete, our allies at Transportation for America are speaking out in favor of repairing existing bridges, roads and highways before we invest in new highway projects. And whether federal money should now go to new highways at all is in serious doubt, considering our need to wean the country off fossil fuels, and the negative social, psychological, economic and environmental consequences of long commutes in traffic, and the fact that studies have shown that new lanes of highway will only increase transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (PDF). Improving existing roads to create complete streets that support cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians, however, will encourage alternative, healthier modes of mobility that our neighborhoods need.

And the ways in which we invest in the built environment will play an important role also. Suburban development in the United States – the large, single-family homes on large lots that we’ve seen much of since the end of World War II – is extremely costly when it comes to providing utilities and other municipal amenities to residents: as noted in this Brookings Institute study (PDF), development on lots of one acre in size is estimated at $90,000 per home. So choosing where our infrastructure dollars go will also ideally mean choosing how we develop our land.

And, as we discussed in a recent feature, now is the time to invest money in projects that will ultimately pay off in the long run by saving energy or replacing sources that currently come at an unsustainable price. Obama has shown he understands the need to do this in the built environment by pledging to retrofit federal buildings for energy-efficiency – large up-front investments that will create jobs today, and will save millions in taxpayer funds in the future. Other investments in infrastructure that is literally smart – smart grids, and the Smart Garage concept under testing by RMI — where our vehicles will interact with buildings and utilities to store and distribute power with les waste.

What I see emerging here are two major needs as President-Elect Obama and the members of Congress decide which projects deserve federal stimulus, and how best to meet the goal that many before me have stated: turning crisis into opportunity to rebuild a more sustainable America. We encourage leaders, like those at the helm of Building America’s Future and others, to develop a system for accountability that will ensure that the projects we choose are held to the highest standards for quality, efficiency and environmental effectiveness that we know. And we encourage Americans to be watchdogs themselves, staying informed so that they understand what solutions are possible … and why the best time to embrace the possible is right now.

Source: WorldChanging.org

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