In Episode 69 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on July 7, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Gary Price, a tax partner at Sensiba San Filippo, one of the Bay Area’s largest accounting firms and a green business certified under the Bay Area Green Business Program

Gary Price

Dick and Price discuss how in the last few years, it’s become economical for businesses to use renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind, which provide energy without using oil or gas. Because buildings and their occupants produce a significant amount of pollution, even  businesses like accounting, law and other service firms can help the environment by buying clean energy from roof-mounted solar power systems that replace or supplement power from the grid. Even if those businesses occupy just one floor of a big building, they can contribute to lower energy consumption.

Renewable energy used to cost more than electricity purchased from utility companies.  But the 2008 renewable energy credit program helped bring prices down.  Within just four or five years, companies using renewable energy will see the payback, resulting in real cash savings. Using solar and wind energy also has related insurance and bank loan benefits.

A new clean tech trend is that larger renewable energy companies – perhaps a solar company or even a company that produces a part of a solar energy system – have accelerated the use of solar power by become financing companies.  As a result, customers may not need cash at all to buy electricity from roof-mounted solar systems. Solar and wind energy options will continue to grow and experience increased demand, which will further drop the price point.

If a business is interested in switching to renewable energy, Price recommends finding an expert to “put the whole thing together.” Construction and engineering companies, for example, have savvy energy departments. Law and accounting firms also have specialists that put green projects together.

What would it take for your business to buy clean energy?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Gary Price: Episode 69 of The Wendel Forum(27:53 mins; mp3)

Sensiba San Filippo website: http://www.ssfllp.com/

Price’s article on Sensible Savings: http://www.ssfllp.com/sustainable-savings-how-businesses-can-profit-big-from-clean-technology/

Bay Area Green Business Program website: http://www.greenbiz.ca.gov/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 68 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 30, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Councilmember Damon Connolly of San Rafael and Councilmember Tom Butt of Richmond.

 

Damon City Hall Photo

San Rafael City Councilmember Damon Connolly serves as Chairman of the Board for the Marin Energy Authority

Connolly is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Marin Energy Authority (MEA). The MEA is the not-for-profit public agency formed by the County of Marin and several Marin cities and towns in 2008.  MEA administers the Marin Clean Energy program.

MEA is the first operational example of a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program in the state of California.  In California, Community Choice Aggregation was developed through legislation (AB 117) in 2002 as a response to the rolling blackouts of several years ago (remember Enron?).  It’s a system that allows cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts.

MEA’s program is a hybrid to traditional utility models, which might include a municipal utility or privately-owned utility (such as PG&E in Northern California).  In MEA’s model, the public agency purchases or produces the energy, but a third-party energy company handles distribution and maintenance of the energy transmission infrastructure.

In 2002, California addressed base renewable energy goals through SB 1078, which set the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).  These goals were expanded in 2011 under SB 2.  California, under the RPS program, requires investor-owned utilities, electric service providers and CCAs to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resource to 33% of total procurement by 2020.

MEA’s plan is considerably more ambitious than the state requirement.  They plan to get to 100% renewable procurement in the next 10 years. Today they are at 28% (8% more than the current RPS requirement).  The program is getting a tremendous response from new renewable energy suppliers, and MEA has initiated an “Open Season” procurement process to manage proposals.  

So, how does it work?

When a community joins, all of the residents are included in the CCA program.  If they do not want to participate in it, however, they are free to opt out.  If they choose to participate, the MEA offers two plan levels – a “Light Green” and a “Dark Green” option.  The first delivers energy to customers with 50% coming from renewable energy sources.  The latter offers energy to customers that is 100% sourced from renewable energy.  The dark green plan costs the average customer $5-10 more per month and currently includes 8% of their customer base.

The City of Richmond is one of the latest cities to join the MEA.  So how did a city in Contra Costa County get involved in a program from Marin?  City Councilmember Tom Butt explains that Richmond’s General Plan 2030 includes multiple environmental goals, including offering a CCA toRichmond residents and businesses. When analyzing how best to go about implementing a CCA, the City decided it just didn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel, according to Butt.  MEA, as a clear leader in the space, was a logical partner.  As Richmond comes online, the MEA expects to add about 30,000 new customers – a significant influx of new customers, which will give MEA even more purchasing power with energy producers going forward.

Would you pay $10 more on your energy bill each month to know that the energy was made up of 100% renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass? 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Councilmembers Connolly and Butt: Episode 68 of The Wendel Forum (27:18 mins; mp3)

Marin Energy Authority: http://www.marinenergyauthority.org/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 37 of The Wendel Forum(originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on October 22, 2011), show host Donald Simon talks with Randy Hawks of Claremont Creek Ventures to discuss current trends in the cleantech investment landscape. 

Claremont Creek Ventures is a venture capital firm investing in early stage information technology companies.  Their East Bay location allows them to work closely alongside many excellent research-driven “incubating institutions,” such as UC Berkeley, UC Davis and the Lawrence Livermore and Berkeley Laboratories.

According to Randy, the investment climate is actually seeing some positive moves, despite what you read in the papers.  He claims that there is a 12% uptick in 3rd quarter investing over 2nd quarter in the cleantech space this year.  And Northern California is a great place to be in this sector.  We still get 35 – 40% of the deals being done in the United States and about half of the total dollars.  While the early part of the year saw increased IPO activity, the overall venture capital investment climate is stronger now than it has been in the past couple of years.

Donald and Randy discuss the impact of the research and development funded by U.C. Berkeley and local labs.  Historically, these types of institutions have not been as nimble as some of the private schools and institutions when it comes to licensing the technology they develop.  Even so, the fundamental “game changing” research that they can inspire sets a great stage for technology to evolve into the marketplace.

Further, Randy shares his view on the market shift in the types of deals being done.  Previously bigger amounts of money went to fewer projects. More recently the trend has move toward smaller deals that look like early stage software technology deals.  The models of lean investing that have been previously used in the technology industry are becoming more popular in cleantech.  Deisgn, develop and deploy runs parallel to programs for customer engagement to speed the time to market and ensure a strong company launch.  While these tactics have been used for consumer internet companies for a number of years, other industries including cleantech and healthcare are adopting the tactics.

The two wrap up with a brief discussion of the common pitfalls that Randy has seen with early stage companies when they neglect some fundamental legal issues in their early development.  So often, young companies start out with a couple of friends and a handshake. That may be a fine way to start out, but ignoring issues regarding how the company will be structured and who owns what rights to innovation can lead to problems down the line.  As he says, “It matters if you’re successful.”  So what are the three key areas that deserve attention?  Randy suggests:

  1. Corporate Formation 
  2. Intellectual Property and Licensing
  3. Employment

If you’re interested in hearing more perspectives on the investment climate and meeting some of California’s “Game Changing” clean tech companies, check out the California Clean Tech Innovation Conference happening in Oakland on November 2-3.  Randy will be a panelist at the Energy Efficiency session.  Go to the conference website for more information or to register. 

California Cleantech Innovation Conferencecleantech conference icon
November 2-3, 2011
Kaiser Center Auditorium

At the Kaiser Center in Oakland CA, you will see California’s leading Clean-Tech policymakers… Hear from “Game Changing” Clean-Tech companies on Energy Efficiency, Water, Recycling & Environmental issues along with renewables such as Solar, Water, & Wind & Green transportation. Also speaking will be Clean-Tech experts from California’s leading Universities & Federal Labs, as well as numerous Angel Investors, Venture Capitalists & Private Equity Funds. Grow-California brings all the influencers together at one Clean-Tech Conference.  http://www.grow-california.com/conferences/clean-tech-innovation/

Post Links:

Interview with Randy Hawks of Claremont Creek: Episode 37 of The Wendel Forum (27:35 mins; mp3)

California Cleantech Innovation Conference website: http://www.grow-california.com/conferences/clean-tech-innovation/

Claremont Creek Ventures website: http://claremontcreek.com/view.cfm/3/Home

Green 960 AM radio website: http://www.green960.com/main.html

Donald Simon website bio: www.wendel.com/dsimon

In Episode 33 of The Wendel Forum(originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on September 24, 2011), show host Dick Lyons welcomes Peter Walters, COO of Zinc Air Inc. and an expert on the topic of how to deliver utility-scale energy (particularly from renewable sources) more efficiently.  Peter provides explanations regarding the concepts of power firming and peak shifting, along with a number of other aspects related to safe and predictable energy delivery. 

His company, which is based in Kalispell, Montana, is the developer of the Zinc Redox flow battery.  According to the company’s website:

Zinc chemistry reduces cost through the use of abundant and locally available materials. Zinc Redox batteries have high energy density, low cost, safe operation, and are designed to be the greenest battery technology on the market. Using a flow battery technology, Zinc Redox focuses on grid storage applications including energy peak shifting and renewables (solar/wind) integration, designed to address the issues of matching demand with supply and variability.

Peter identifies several of the problems we face in the U.S. related to our delivery of energy to consumers.  According to him, we waste about 60% of the energy we produce, we have an aging energy infrastructure, and demand continues to increase.  Not only that, but new applications (such as electric vehicles) are placing new stresses on our energy delivery systems.

Current generation and transmission of energy throughout the grid fail to adequately address the issues of real time supply and demand. Historically, we have struggled to effectively store energy so that it can be harnessed and released to the grid when needed.  The development of better battery storage technologies opens the possibility of load shifting and other tactics to deliver energy when supply is required, not just when we are able to produce it.

During his interview, Peter explains some of the limits of our current infrastructure and how battery storage may solve many of the problems. He and Dick also discuss some of the specific challenges as they relate to the production of energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind. 

Need more proof that this technology is heading in the right direction?  The flow battery solutions being developed by Zinc Air start with safety.  The chemicals used are non-toxic and not corrosive, a step forward from what we typically think of in batteries.  The company spends a lot of time on the issue of safety in the product development and the installation of these systems, addressing concerns related to both man-made and natural disasters. And they know they have to do this all at the right price point.  
Show Note:
This Saturday (October 1, 2011) tune in to The Wendel Forum at 11:30 a.m. on Green 960 AM radio for a conversation with Flory Wilson of B Labs, who will reveal the new Global Impact Investing Ratings System (GIIRS), which is a comprehensive and transparent system for assessing the social and environmental impact of companies and funds with a ratings and analytics approach analogous to Morningstar investment rankings and Capital IQ financial analytics.
Post links:

Listen to the interview with Peter Walters:  Episode 33 of The Wendel Forum(27.48 min, mp3)

Zinc Air Inc. company website: www.zincairinc.com

Wikipedia entry for “flow battery”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

Dick Lyons website bio: www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 4 of The Wendel Forum on Green 960 AM radio (originally aired on Saturday, February 26) Dick Lyons discusses the surprising green industry emerging from China. Wind seems to be the next big thing (again) for renewable power generation. Will the Chinese wind turbine market be as successful for them as their forays into solar panel production? Take a listen to the episode and let us know what you think.

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