With Japan’s Fukushima, there is an urgent need to re-examine how technology will help address climate change. What societal, economic and other costs will we pay for our technological fixes? In the case of low-carbon energy technologies, Fukushima has radically rearranged the cost-benefit balance sheet.
Next Thursday April 21, research group GigaOm sponsors the Green:Net 2011 event in San Francisco, which will examine how information and communication technology (ICT) can better manage the causes and impacts of climate change.
Despite the environmental costs of ICT, which includes growing energy consumption and mining of dwindling precious metals, ICT is an overall net positive in the battle to mitigate carbon emissions and resource inefficiency. In other words, ICT sustainability gains outweigh ICT life-cycle production, use and disposal (eventually reuse?) costs.
Areas that will likely produce the greatest ICT sustainability improvements include topics that will be covered in depth by Green:Net presentations, panels and sessions, including:
Smart Grids: In a new report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that smart grids will be key to rise of clean energy, including renewables, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.
Transportation infrastructure and logistics: This can mean getting the latest train, bus or carshare availability information on your handheld, as well as congestion and parking pricing for industries, businesses and residents.
Crowdsourcing: I love the story of how Delhi, India is using Facebook to have people
report traffic jams, blockages and illegal parking or traffic situations.
Smart buildings: Distributed energy control, analytics and energy efficiency systems for offices, commercial buildings, homes and appliances will reduce energy use in the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitting segment–buildings.
Smart cities: As urban populations and cities expand worldwide, there are growing needs to use ICT for planning, management, analytics and citizen participation. In New Songdo City, South Korea, which I visited in 2009, ICT is being designed to provide this new city with a unified management system allowing more efficient energy use, lower carbon transportation, and more efficient businesses and residential services.
Companies, VCs and experts appearing at Green:Net include Google, Tesla Motors, Claremont Creek Ventures, Pike Research, Spring Ventures, GE Energy, Silver Spring Networks, RelayRides, ABB Technology Ventures, Otherlab.com, Yahoo, Smart Grid Strategy, Global Green USA, Austin Energy, A123 Systems, Cisco, AES Energy Storage, Autodesk, Microsoft, CC Labs, Control4, CODA Automotive, Joel Makower from GreenBiz Group, Stanford’s Annika Todd and Jonathan Silver from the US Department of Energy.
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to
the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author ofa
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and
Legendary technologist and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla spoke last night about how his funded companies will soon enable cars and coal to be a big part of the climate change solution, instead of the major part of the climate problem.
All that pesky advice for people “trying to be green,” even expert energy and technology forecasts, will be made unnecessary or erroneous once Khosla and his Khosla Ventures posse reinvent the world’s energy and transportation technologies.
Such bravado would be particularly annoying were it coming from someone without as much commitment–in the form of $1.3 billion and many years of effort–as Khosla.
Khosla highlighted four portfolio companies in his presentation, which focused on, “inventing the future, not predicting it….Who would have imagined Twitter two years ago?”
“We need to get rid of fossil oil, which is 70 percent of the climate problem,” he said. Khosla’s goal as a venture backer is to fund companies that are “90 percent likely to fail,” as they have the best chance of leapfrogging current technologies, leading to the demise of monopolies such as Big Oil. He called these disruptive types of companies or ideas, “Black Swans.”
He said smaller companies in the $7 to 70 million range that are taking the big potential high-return risks should be the highest priorities for funding, whether from his own funds ($1 billion large VC fund; $300 million “science experiment” fund) or another source. Khosla credited the US Department of Energy’s year-old ARPA-E program with “doing a great job” in terms of the funding it has provided for smaller, innovative clean tech companies.
Khosla Venture’s current flock of Black Swans include:
Calera: Trying to turn the climate change pollutant C02 from coal emissions–along with other hazardous emissions including mercury–into an energy and cement feedstock. “It will be able to reduce the carbon footprint twice as much as solar,” Khosla predicted.
Kior: The start-up is aiming at turning wood waste such as wood chips into oil.
Ecomotors: Attempting to produce non-hybrid engines that are 50-100 percent more efficient, aimed at cutting world oil consumption in half.
Soraa: Engineering circuitry that may use ten times less electricity for lighting.
Khosla said his investments all share the goal of being available at “relevant cost, relevant scale and relevant adoption.” With some current green technologies, he said, “the average person in India could not even turn on the light.”
Regarding the growth of India, Khosla’s homeland, he said Indian car ownership is forecast to increase 5000 percent in 30-40 years (what, trusting a forecast?) and that to meet this demand, “biofuels are probably the right solution.”
He proposed using the 1 billion acres of abandoned agricultural land worldwide to produce biofuel crops such as miscanthus that will replace or improve that degraded soil, and also suggested using cropland for biofuels in the winter that is not being utilized year-round for food crops.
Overall, Khosla and his funded companies are pushing the envelope with some intriguing new ways of addressing our climate and resource crises.
These companies are based in The Bay Area’s Silicon Valley and in Southern California, as well as in more traditional centers of energy (Kior is based in Houston), and transportation (Ecomotors is in the Detroit area). The design innovation and the hundreds or thousands of green jobs they are producing will be critical in transforming our industrial economy.
Khosla suffers from the myopic view, however, that technology alone can triumph without the need for new behaviors, planning, policies and systemic approaches (though he did credit California’s Global Climate Change law AB 32 with encouraging innovation on the order of “creating 10 more Googles because of it”).
Such thinking about the absolute superiority of “progress”–cars, electricity, chemicals, engineered food–has in the past presented us with so many of the dilemmas that we now face.
Global climate change, along with massive resource and species depletion, demands that we not risk betting everything on the hope of techno-fixes, no matter how enticing these partial solutions may be to someone breathing the rarefied air of California’s Silicon Valley.
Next10, a research organization in San Francisco, released last week an analysis of green job growth rates in California by sector and region, “Many Shades of Green”. Looks like Golden State green job growth has outpaced other job growth since the mid-1990s into 2008 and the great recession.
Overall job growth in California’s continuously expanding green sectors was 36% between 1995 and 2008, with traditional job growth at 13% over the same period. When the recession hit California in 2007, green jobs continued to grow into 2008 at a 5% pace while the rest of the job market actually decreased 1% in the state.
The statewide region for green job growth was the Sacramento area, with an 87% percent growth rate.
Sacramento experienced the highest-level employment growth (157%) in air and
environment jobs (2.5 x 1995 levels). Energy generation employment grew by 141%.
California’s total green job growth leader is the San Francisco Bay Area with 41,674 green jobs. Bay Area trends include the largest number of energy generation jobs
(roughly 7,000). Energy generation grew by 20%, with the high concentration in
In the San Joaquin Valley, total green job growth was 48% with the highest
concentration of jobs in wind energy. Concentration in alternative fuels represent
three times the state average. The number of jobs in green transportation grew 211%.
In the Los Angeles area, energy generation jobs
grew by 35% and energy efficiency jobs grew by 77%. In Orange County green
transportation jobs grew 1,875% including alternative fuels and motor vehicles
and equipment. Energy generation jobs grew by 176%
According to Next 10, The Inland Empire’s energy generation jobs grew by 85% with the highest
concentration in solar and wind. Energy efficiency jobs grew by 91%.
Next10 is focused on innovation arising from the intersection of environmental, economic and quality of life interests. The non-profit was founded by venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.
A presentation last night in the Silicon Valley, by Mark Hartney, program director at ARPA-E, the Stimulus-funded offshoot of the Department of Energy, explained how the new agency is trying to leapfrog existing energy technologies with wild ideas hatched in the nation’s public and private labs, maybe even a garage or two.
Creating fuel to run cars by combining CO2, water and sunlight with bacteria? ARPA-E just funded it for $2.2 million. Such “out there” innovation might be the secret recipe needed to get the nation back into the game of energy-related economic innovation that is now being played largely outside US borders.
“We are not really keeping up with the world,” said Hartney, who pointed out that the US share of the global PV solar market alone went from 30 to 50 percent in the 1990s down to 7 percent this year. “It’s similar in fuel efficiencies and the situation in batteries is much the same.”
ARPA-E’s mandate is to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce dependance on foreign oil and increase economic and energy security. It is based on the Department of Defense’s DARPA program, started in 1958 in response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite. DARPA funding resulted in the Stealth fighter, the M16 assuault rifle and the backbone of the Internet (or ARPANET, as it was known in the day), among other innovations.
ARPA-E was first authorized in 2007-2008 and was sprung from theory earlier this year with funding from the The American Resource and Recovery Act of 2009. ARPA-E has $400 million to distribute for “breaking the barrier–supporting high risk, high-pontential programs,” Hartney said.
So far, as of October, a total of 37 projects were funded for a total of $151 million. ARPA characterizes the main areas funded as:
low-carbon transport fuels
industrial energy efficiency
building energy efficiency
low-carbon power (which includes carbon capture)
The breakdown of who got funded so far: 45% for small businesses, 35% universities and 20% large companies, Hartney told the audience, which was invited by CALCEF, a clean-tech fund initiated through a legal settlement with a California public utility.
ARPA-E is putting out additional requests later this year and early next year for the remaining $249 million. The money has to be out the door by September 2010. In this year’s earlier funding round, the agency received 6,000 proposals that it whittled down to the 37 awards.
“We have strong support from the Secretary (of Energy), The President and Congress,” Hartney said. “Even so, we couldn’t handle any more funding than we have.”
The CALCEF presentation also featured an update on California’s new 33% renewable energy portfolio standard, which Governor Schwarzenegger signed as an executive order in September. The 33% renewable rate for the state’s power supply needs to be hit by 2020. The previous renewable portfolio standard, explained the California Public Utility Commission’s Jaclyn Marks, was 20% by 2010, a level that the state is significantly short of at this point.
The panel, sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute, will be open to the public and is part of a larger event on urban resilience bringing together local government leaders from Canada and the United States, as well as academics and practitioners in urban sustainability–er, resiliency–management.
Vancouver has been viewed for a decade as a success story in sustainable planning and programs. From the city’s emphasis on increased downtown density, bikability and green buildings, including its sponsorship of a “21 places for the 21st century” contest, to a city farmer program for exchanging surplus fruit, Vancouver is on the vanguard of urban resiliency innovation. It also is one of Canada’s most diverse cities, home to significant numbers of Asians from many countries, including India, as well as indigenous North Americans.
The rich offerings of the Resilient Cities event demonstrates that Vancouver is thinking ahead once more. Besides its Mayor Gregor Robertson, minions of regional and local government, non-governmental and business leaders will be putting on events, including:
The Vancouver Design Nerds and Open Space Network will be facilitating an urban agriculture ideas jam while another group of food system experts and producers will examine “Planning Metro Vancouver as if Food Matters.”
A local university campus (BCIT Burnaby Campus) will be having a design charette, led by Ecocities founder Richard Register, to reduce its ecological footprint by a factor of four.
City government and groups including TransFair Canada will examine how to invigorate local economic development through fair trade and sustainable purchasing.
The city’s “Greenest City Action Team” including the manager of the City of Vancouver Sustainability Group will share advice on engaging people in change.
BC hydro will lead an interactive session on sustainable community energy.
Provincial official will examine convening action throughout British Columbia (Vancouver’s province) that achieves settlement in balance with ecology.
Real estate experts including David Suzuki Foundation author Nicholas Heap will explain how climate change could impact the region’s real estate.
Other cities, from New York City, with former Sustainable South Bronx’s Majora Carter, (a Fellow at Post Carbon Institute along with Bill Rees and myself) to Berkeley, California, will have case studies presented. AAt in
Key to a successful event will be how well presenters and activities engage systems approaches for resilient communities, rather than just repackaging siloed sustainability chestnuts under a new label.
Besides regional government organization Metro Vancouver‘s hosting of a session on “The Politics of Decision-Making for Sustainability,” Vancouver is making attempts at coordinating with Seattle and Portland on how to make the Cascadia region a more interconnected and better managed bioregional market. Cascadia forces helped push Amtrak to connect Portland and Vancouver for the first time without border fees, for instance.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams will be at the event with a contingent from that Oregon city, as will Jim Diers, author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way.
* The easy answer to my opening question, by the way, includes providing better regional
collaboration, particularly in the area of land use, planning and
Unfettered growth in car-dependent sprawled communities proved during the past few years to be the biggest economic risk factor in real estate, endangering the whole US economy. Exurban Sun Belt homes and entire neighborhoods went from being hot properties to foreclosed or even largely abandoned, as rising gas price rises changed speculative economics from 2006-2009.
Which means that because of climate change, the issue of how to control and rethink sprawl on the regulatory and policy level should become a leading order of business in metro areas, states, nations and the world.
The unplanned sprawl that already exists will need to be re-engineered or “undone,” which means that the alternatives provided by the Vancouvers and Portlands–transit-oriented development, multi-model mobility (including walking and biking), regional energy and food production–will need to be applied at regional levels throughout North America.
The suburbs and exurbs are ground zero for change, particularly in the United States, where though most people live in urban areas (79% in 2000), they do not live in big cities. Only a quarter of US residents live in cities above 100,000 in population, so no matter how green cities become, we must think in terms of metros and their smaller cities if we really want to prepare for the future.
President Obama will be bringing together the US EPA, The Dept. of Energy with NASA and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in a confab next week (Feb. 13) to create green jobs while reducing climate change, according to Gerald Geernaert, Director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The meeting marks a watershed moment. As a group these agencies have had little interaction in the past. The imploding economy and climate change are forces compelling action on a scale never experienced.
That means system approaches will be necessary to develop “World Bank-scale” economic development projects transforming local and regional renewable energy, energy efficiency, infrastructure, transportation, buildings, as well as the regulatory environment.
NASA, for instance, is developing personal rapid transportation modules at its Ames Research facility in California. This technology can greatly reduce greenhouse gases (soon to be regulated by the US EPA) and reliance on foreign oil (DOE), while providing jobs in management, design, manufacturing and construction.
In terms of NOAA, some of the impacts of climate change are already becoming apparent. This agency’s research on actual and forecast climate change effects can inform the design and adaptation of everything from energy systems, to buildings and entire developments, as well as the nation’s energy grid.
The news of the multi-agency meeting, which is set to occur next Friday in Washington, was referred to this morning in a Rohnert Park, CA conference by Geernaert.
Discussed at the Applied Solutions Conference were strategies counties or communities can use to increase their opportunties to recieve funding under the new Stimulus Package in Congress, also known as the American Recovery Act and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Among the sustainability funding currently available in the measure’s current form:
$14.3-18 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy, including $7 in federal green building upgrades and $6.5 billion upgrading the grid for energy efficiency and to accommodate transmission from increased renewable
The funding targeted at or available to local governments in the current stimulus bill includes:
$2.1 billion (out of $4.2 billion) in new federal block grants for coalitions of local government awarded by the Department of Energy as part of a green project competition. These local governments would need to be in states that meet certain federal energy efficiency standards.
$6 billion in DOE loan guarantees for research or production of alternative fuels such as celluosic ethanol and biomass energy
funding for 20-30 communities with populations of more than 100,000 as part of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new “Premier Communities” program
About $2 billion for clean technologies development as part of a competitive “Clean Counties” program, again managed by the Department of Energy.
The invitation-only conference, the Applied Solutions Workshop, put by the Sonoma County Water Agency, featured county sustainability managers, Los Alamos National Laboratory representatives,
and sustainability experts in renewables, green building, water
technologies, energy efficiency, financing and education.
Here are the top ten sustainability related stories of 2008 that we have been watching and participating in at Common Current, a global sustainability consultancy. True to sustainability system dynamics, most of these items impact the other items on the list, and they will continue to unfold in 2009 and beyond.
1. Election of Barack Obama
After Barack Obama’s historic November 2008 election, he continued to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the risks posed by global climate change and the nation’s dependency on foreign energy. In addition to making green jobs and clean technologies a major part of a national economic stimulus package and a precondition for many cabinet appointments, Obama’s view of sustainability as an opportunity shows he will take on vexing problems with new solutions.
Obama’s statement on “60 Minutes” when asked about his energy priorities with oil going from $147 a barrel to under $60 a barrel was telling: “We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start filling up our SUVs again. And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.”
Obama’s dipping into the Clinton well to appoint former EPA politcal warhorse Carol Browner as Energy and Climate Czar demonstrates that his new solutions don’t necessarily mean new people will be addressing them.
Barack Obama with new Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA chief Lisa Jackson and “Energy and Climate Czar” Carol Browner (AP photo)
One of Obama’s sustainability-related appointments, though, does demonstrate how multi-sector collaboration will reshape the US economy to be more energy efficient and less carbon intensive. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy is a savvy choice. Chu, a Nobel-prize winning director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has piloted economic-development enhancing climate change solutions with the energy industry, the green building sector, venture capital firms and alternative fuel academic researchers. He also supervised the Helios Project, which is trying to bridge the gap between transportation and solar energy technologies.
Unlike previous elections where “The Environment” garnered nary a mention, the months leading up to the 2008 election of Barack Obama saw the big-time advent of sustainability topics.
Both McCain and Obama supported carbon cap and trading for industry to reduce greenhouse gases. Obama also made a vague campaign pledge of investing $150 billion over 10 years on clean tech and energy efficiency.
But the most memorable sustainability campaign moments came in spring when gas prices began to hit their historic high of more than $4 a gallon. McCain’s call for a consumer federal gas tax holiday was met with derision from most including Obama, as it would only make foreign oil dependence worse, not to mention increase carbon emissions. The McCain “gas tax holiday plan,” supported by then-candidate Hillary Clinton, died on the vine during the heat of June.
3. 2008: The Highest Gas and Oil Prices Ever
When oil reached $4-5 a gallon at the pump and more than $145 a barrel in July, a future of energy volatility and potential energy scarcity came into sharper focus. Record numbers of Americans took to public transit, while others reconsidered where and how they could use less gas not only in their cars but in their lives: “Mixed-use” real estate (neighborhoods with shops, jobs and homes) with good public transit were suddenly hot tickets. Meanwhile, people started using web tools such as “WalkScore“to judge whether potential jobs and homes were easy walking distances to shopping, schools and entertainment. Offices or homes that were too car-dependent were suddenly out of fashion.
4. 2009: The Lowest (Relative) Gas and Oil Prices Ever?
The world economic meltdown of 2008-2009 demonstrates how closely energy supply, particularly oil, greases the gears of commerce–and vice versa. As the stock market and demand plunged, so did oil prices. Oil reached a year low of under $40 a barrel in late December, when OPEC’s announcement of production cuts did little to stop the slide.
The real hand on the throttle of pricing is the economy, as global demand has slowed considerably. When the economy does pick up, scarce supply (or speculation about scarce supply) might again force steep price hikes, as private oil companies and nationally owned oil producers are canceling development plans for refineries and exploration because of the large drop in prices. In the meantime, alternative fuel development will be hurt as this emerging market, when unsubsidized, requires a minimum oil price of about $50 a barrel to be competitive with crude.
5. Arctic Ice Cap Melting Accelerates Wildly
The surprising loss noted by scientists in 2008 of the Arctic ice cap and inland Arctic ice is major cause of on-going global environmental, economic and geo-political concern, with the area now up to ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was in the 1980s.The newly open Arctic waters will cause even warmer temperatures in the region and beyond, as water absorbs far more heat from the sun than does ice.
Besides releasing the trapped methane (worse than carbon dioxide in terns of greenhouse impacts) from permafrost, melting inland ice is raising global sea levels. Two trillion tons of arctic ice has melted since 2003, according to NASA. Sea ice in the arctic region broke up earlier in the season, opening up a potential permanent shipping lane around the former polar ice cap and precipitating an international scramble for the region’s energy resources.
6. Super Storms and Global Climate Change Adaptation
The strength, duration and location of major storms in 2008 led many to speculate how much global climate change is contributing to deadly and economically devastating events.
Burma’s southern coast before and after (May 2008) Typhoon Nargis. A present day image providing a snapshot of what many climate change forecasts project for some coastal areas.
On the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Ike came ashore as a dangerously large hurricane (though only officially Category 2 strength) near the Houston-Galveston area, killing at least 17, and destroying or damaging thousands of homes as well as knocking out refineries, oil platforms and major supply pipelines. Southeastern US cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte, NC were hit with severe price hikes and gas shortages for the month that followed Ike, demonstrating the vulnerability of the nation’s economy to storms that may be intensified by climate change.
7. China’s Industry Impact on Olympics, Consumer Products, Global Food and Air
(Thanks to Jared Press on this)
After taking up a “Blue Skies” campaign and relocating or ceasing industrial production and much of Beijing’s downtown traffic, China barely cleared its polluted skies in time for the opening Summer Olympic ceremonies. Air, water and toxic waste pollution have been increasing steadily in the nation as a result of consumer demand in the United States for inexpensive products. Only one tenth of the nation’s sewage is treated, according to a University of Hong Kong scientist. This “ask no questions” mentality has created runaway cancer rates, turned rivers bright green or black, and smudged the atmosphere so much that at times in Beijing airplanes have not been allowed to land.
Then there is product contamination from China, which began with lead-tainted toys and jewelry, and spread to exported poisonous toothpaste by 2007. In 2008 the industrial and agricultural by-product melamine, first detected in animal feed for chickens, cattle, and fish has now gone up the food chain into eggs and milk. The tainted baby formula has caused kidney failure and illness in 294,000 Chinese infants and six deaths. Tainted chocolate, chickens and hogs have been found in the US, though the meat was not recalled, so it’s likely that many Americans have been unknowingly exposed to China’s dangerous practices not only in the air that they breathe, but in the food they eat.
The foreclosure crisis that started in 2007 when gas prices began to skyrocket and that magnified in 2008, had its beginnings in the areas of the United States that largely lack public transit, walkability and mixed real estate uses. Meanwhile as gas prices rose to record levels, metro areas that had housing and jobs close to good transit and walkable amenities saw their value hold steady. Any plan for preventing future housing sector meltdowns needs to include an analysis of how gas and transportation prices pushed many over the financial edge, despite the plentiful supply of distant housing from job markets that seemed (or seems) affordable with low gas prices.
One smart move in policy in 2008 was California’s Senate Bill 375, the nation’s first law designed to limit sprawl and provide communities and developers incentives to build transit-oriented “infill.”
9. US Auto Fleet to go Electric?
With the survival of the current US auto industry in doubt, whatever rises from the ashes will likely be greener and cleaner than anything Detroit ever thought possible before the 2008 downturn. Leading the “charge” for an electric US fleet is none other than Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Ford III, grandson of Ford founder Henry Ford. Bill Ford met privately with Obama during the campaign and with Obama and his advisors after the election: Ford is reportedly advocating for a mostly consumer electric fleet as a way of restructuring the industry to be competitive with imports while reducing climate change emissions.
10. Green Jobs
Through the leadership of Van Jones, president of Green For All, the reality of “Green Collar Jobs” came roaring into the United States during 2008, culminating in the “Green Jobs Act” which could be included in Congress’s 2009 economic stimulus package. The act aims to provide 25,000 jobs in solar panel installation, home and business energy retrofitting and other high-paying jobs for Americans, launching new training centers and education programs in high unemployment areas with disappearing manufacturing jobs.The US Conference of Mayors estimates growth of 4.2 million new “green collar” jobs in the nation over the next 30 years. Welcome news after a sobering year.