In Episode 73 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 18, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Lindsay Riddell who covers Cleantech, Sustainability, Startups and Venture Capital for the San Francisco Business Times.  They discuss a number of trends in the cleantech environment.
 
Lindsay Riddell photo

Lindsay Riddell covers Cleantech, Sustainability, Startups and Venture Capital for the San Francisco Business Times

Biofules and Biochemicals

Bill and Riddell start of the conversation with a discussion of what’s happening in the Bay Area biofuel and biochemical industries.  Companies in this space are looking for a variety of approaches to break down or convert renewable materials into fuels, soaps, chemicals, oils, food products, fragrances and others that typically rely on petroleum-based production.
 
With the economic downturn, capital became increasingly scarce and companies had to scale back or retool their plans for expansion.  Now, as these companies mature, they are undertaking new approaches for attracting venture investment.  The more established companies have created a roadmap for some of the emerging companies. 
 
Organizations such as the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which is a joint venture between the University of California campuses at Berkeley, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, are helping to accelerate innovation and bring discoveries to market more quickly.  Riddell discusses some of the strategies these companies are taking to survive the short term and thrive in the long term.
 

Investment trends

 
Not surprising, with the economic downfall of the past few years, Riddell acknowledges that investor enthusiasm has waned.  She observes that there is still money available for good ideas, but the investment community has been behaving more conservatively. Meanwhile, there are still resources in places like Greenstart, a startup accelerator that works with companies focused on solutions that combine cleantech and IT.  Software applications that address issues such as energy efficiency are still finding some success in the marketplace.

Carbon Data

Riddell recently wrote an article on Facebook’s voluntary reporting on their carbon footprint.  She and Bill discuss the pros and cons of releasing this data and the market pressures at play for companies to become more transparent in their operations.  This move is likened to Wal-Mart coming out several years ago with a commitment to dedicate shelf space to products that have higher levels of sustainability.  It’s clear that these big companies can have incredible influence in the marketplace and change expectations for both consumers and investors.

Electric Vehicles

The Bay Area is home to a thriving network related to the electric vehicle industry – car manufacturers, battery manufacturers, chargers and application developers for locating electric car chargers, crowd-sourcing for charging – the list goes on.  Some of the more interesting new developments include apps for available parking spaces with charging stations, car sharing apps, and there’s even an app that essentially takes the act of hitchhiking to the internet. Most of these are mobile technologies that employ various aspects of GPS tracking.
 
What do you consider to be the most important clean tech trends in the Bay Area?  What’s just over the horizon?
 
Post Links:
 
Listen to the interview with Lindsay Riddell: Episode 73 of The Wendel Forum (27:47 mins; mp3)
 
San Francisco Business Times website: www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco
 
Follow Lindsay Riddell on Twitter: @LRiddellSF
 
California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences:  http://qb3.org/
 
 
960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com
 
Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 71 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 4, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Victor Eyal, founder and CEO of UMA Solar, manufacturer and nationwide distributor of solar products.

UMA Solar logo

After spending 12 years as pilot in the Israeli air force, Eyal founded UMA Solar 30 years ago.  The company is focused on solar thermal (not electric) energy, which heats water in the way a garden hose laying on a lawn, heated by the sun, creates hot water.

Since the sun is Israel’s only natural resource, that country has been using solar energy since the 1950’s on almost every building, so much so that when children draw pictures of houses, they include solar water-heating systems, according to Eyal.  When he came to the US, he noticed that solar thermal technology wasn’t being used and saw an opportunity to bring the products here.

Although solar thermal technology has been around for decades, it’s more recently been improved to efficiently heat water for homes and swimming pools.  Specifically, in the last 20 years, the systems have evolved to include freeze protection, electronic controls, internet reporting systems and pumping systems.  The design of collectors has also improved – materials now include copper, aluminum and low-iron black tempered glass, which allow high energy penetration and permit little energy escape.

Today, most countries surrounding Israel – from Turkey to Morocco – have similarly implemented solar water heating.  It’s also “leaked into Europe,” Eyal explains, with large solar manufacturers hailing from Germany, France and Greece.  Interestingly, China is by far the largest user of solar thermal systems.

In the US, states with government incentives are the biggest users of solar thermal energy.  In those cases, commercial pools are increasingly heated with solar technology, now representing 20 percent of the solar thermal market.  In fact, one of UMA’s flagship commercial projects was heating the pool in Atlanta used for past Olympic games.  There are also industrial applications for solar-heated water, even if a company needs only to generate steam.  In Israel, hospitals and factories use solar thermal technology.

How could you use solar thermal energy?

Post Links

Listen to the interview with Victor Eyal: Episode 71 of The Wendel Forum  (27:18 mins; mp3)

UMA Solar website: http://www.umasolar.com/

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

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

In Episode 70 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on July 21, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Mark Dwight, founder of San Francisco-based Rickshaw Bagworks.

Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks visits The Wendel Forum Studio

Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks visits The Wendel Forum Studio

After leaving his Silicon Valley tech roots, Dwight joined Timbuck2, where he fell in love with the bag business.  When he moved to Rickshaw, he committed to making bags in a sustainable way, including minimizing waste and overstock. 

Rickshaw bags are made with polyester recycled from beverage bottles and industrial plastic, and the company avoids materials that are noxious in their manufacture, use and disposal.  Every Rickshaw bag features a gem tag with the letters PCQ, which stands for “passion, craft and quality,” and a five-pointed star, which represents Rickshaw’s five constituencies: employees, customers, business partners, shareholders and the community.

Bill and Dwight discuss how no business can be 100 percent impact-free and that sustainability starts at the bottom line.  That is, businesses must be sustainable financially in addition to committing to environmental and social justice goals.

Dwight is also the founder of SF Made, a nonprofit organization that promotes local manufacturing. Since its founding two years ago, 350 San Francisco manufacturers, including Anchor Brewing, have become members of SF Made. Dwight established the organization as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization (as opposed to a 501(c)(6) trade organization for for-profit companies) so it can receive tax-deductible donations. The City of San Francisco even awarded a grant to SF Made to promote local economic development. SF Made has served as a model for other communities launching similar geographic branding programs.

Does it matter to you to buy local?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bags: Episode 70 of The Wendel Forum (27:34 mins; mp3)

Rickshaw Bags Website: http://www.rickshawbags.com/

SF Made Website: http://www.sfmade.org/

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

Bill Acevedo’s Online Profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

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 67 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 23, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Lars Jacobsen, co-founder of Stalk Bicycles, which produces handmade bamboo bicycles.

Lars Jacobsen of Stalk Bicycles shows off bamboo framing

Lars Jacobsen of Stalk Bicycles shows off bamboo framing in The Wendel Forum studio.

The fastest growing plant on earth, bamboo is considered by many in the U.S. as a pesky weed, but it is also a surprisingly versatile sustainable material.  It has a finished exterior and the grain allows it to bend, but it is still remarkably strong.  In some countries, for instance, it’s used as a substitute for rebar! 

As for its use in bicycles, bamboo boasts a “supreme vibration dampening quality,” making it comfortable to ride.  Stalk Bicycle’s bamboo bikes ride beautifully, explains Jacobsen, who spent two years empirically testing the bikes, riding down stairs and along the pock-marked roads of Oakland to assess product quality.  The base model, which takes more than 40 hours to custom construct and weighs about the same as an aluminum bike, costs $2,500 and comes with a three-year warranty on the frame.  

To increase its commitment to sustainability, Stalk uses other natural fibers, such as hemp, for its products and sources as many materials locally as possible.  In fact, another Wendel Forum guest, Entropy Resins (Episode 47, Shaping a Superior Surfboard), is a supplier of the resin that Stalk uses on the joints of its bike frames.

According to Jacobsen, market acceptance in bamboo bikes is increasing.  “When people ride them, the bikes sell themselves.”  In addition to direct customer feedback, Stalk has earned support from Northern California’s local artisan movement as well as the cycling community.

Would you consider purchasing a bamboo bike?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Jacobsen: Episode 67 of The Wendel Forum(27:31 mins; mp3)

Stalk Bicycles: http://www.stalkbicycles.com/

Entropy Resins: http://www.entropyresins.com/

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

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

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