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

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In Episode 51 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on February 25, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Dick Lyons welcomes Ted Ko, Associate Executive Director of the Clean Coalition, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to implement policies and programs that “transition the world to cost-effective clean energy now while delivering unparalleled economic benefits.” Ted is a co-founder of the group and currently oversees policy development and strategy for both regulatory and legislative efforts. 

Photo of Ted Ko

Ted Ko, Associate Executive Director of the Clean Coalition

Ted explains how the group goes about fixing problems and issues facing those looking to build small to medium scale clean local energy projects such as wind farms, biofuels, solar, fuel cells, etc.  Their mission is to help make it faster and easier for these projects to come to fruition.

Dick and Ted discuss energy distribution issues and the Coalition’s position on how to best get the most cost-effective energy to market.  They touch on the challenges of the current energy distribution system, with its long, inefficient transmission lines and the environmental, permitting and construction issues associated with large scale power plant production.  In contrast, Coalition projects focus on small, local projects that benefit local economies. While many projects employ solar PV technology, the program is designed to be source agnostic.

Small projects are generally done on a custom basis, so transaction costs are often an impediment to a project’s success.  By trying to standardize and simplify the contracts across utilities, cities and jurisdictions, the Coalition is focused on simplifying the communication about these types of projects, as well as the process to get them up and running.  Clearly, as smart grid and energy storage technologies come into play, the landscape for energy distribution will change.  The Coalition believes that it’s important for policymakers and lawmakers to get serious about these issues.
In the meantime, the Coalition will continue to push for clean local energy.

For those local and municipal entities interested in launching their own projects, the Clean Coalition has a Local Clean Program Guide that is a free how-to manual available for download on their website (link).  

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Ted Ko:  Episode 51 of The Wendel Forum (27:53 mins; mp3)

Clean Coalition website:  http://www.clean-coalition.org

Free Guide download: http://www.clean-coalition.org/local_clean_program_guide/

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

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

In Episode 39 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 5, 2011 on Green 960 AM radio), show host Dick Lyons speaks with Cynthia Ringo, Managing Partner of DBL Investors.  Cynthia was also on a panel at the California Cleantech Innovation Conference held in Oakland on November 2-3, which the firm sponsored. And on the heels of his recent trip to Korea, Dick presented at the conference discussing issues cleantech companies should consider when looking to expand in global markets.

DBL Investors is a San Francisco-based venture capital firm with a double bottom line investment strategy. They focus on companies that value their communities and the environment, in addition to favorable profits.  What kind of companies are in their portfolio?  A pretty wide range, many with names you’ve heard, representing a variety of aspects of the cleantech economy, including alternative energy, solar, green vehicles, bio materials and fuels, and lighting.

Cynthia and Dick discuss the types of companies that appeal to DBL.  They find themselves working with companies in almost a proprietary manner to develop social, environmental, and economic benefit in communities in which the companies operate.  Portfolio companies are generally looking to transform neighborhoods and communities. 

Of course, DBL is an investment firm, so financials and returns are measured as one might expect.  But beyond that, twice a year DBL also issues a report to their investors on a number of qualitative and quantitative metrics that they employ to analyze the portfolio on factors such as the number of jobs created in low- to moderate-income areas, employee diversity and opportunity, and green initiatives.

The conversation explores the topic of international growth for cleantech companies.  Dick and Cynthia discuss issues related to when companies should start to consider the foreign market opportunities, as well as hurdles, including foreign certifications and entity ownership and partnership requirements imposed in some jurisdictions.  Many countries (such as China and Korea) require the company to form a joint venture with a party in that country, raising possible complications to protecting intellectual property, among other challenges. 

Cynthia mentions some of the cutting edge technology coming out of a few of the companies she works with, wich include Solar City, BrightSource Energy, Solaria, Tesla, OPX Bio, and Primus Power.

Take a listen and then drop us a line with your thoughts on impact investing and the market for cleantech innovation in the current economy.

 

SHOW NOTE:
Tune in at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 12, 2011, to hear Dick’s conversation with the Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com, Joel Makower.

 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Cynthia Ringo: Episode 39 of The Wendel Forum (27:43 min, mp3)

DBL Investors: http://www.dblinvestors.com/

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

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

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

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

Are you looking for the latest in employee benefits for your recruitment and retention efforts in a challenging economy?  Group Energy thinks they have found an employee benefit that’s a win-win-win-win (we’ll get into that later) for companies that value sustainability.

In Episode 23 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on July 9, 2011), Jessie Denver, CEO and Founder of Group Energy, talks with show host Bill Acevedo about her consulting firm, which works with organizations to set up employee engagement programs that pool employees’ buying power for energy improvements in their homes.

Jessie Denver, CEO of Group Energy in Studio

Jessie Denver, CEO of Group Energy in Studio

At no cost to the employer, Group Energy organizes employee buying groups that have resulted in savings of up to 40% off the cost of home solar installation. 

The process starts with employee education to build program awareness.  A group forms within the company, and the group appoints a committee to work with Group Energy to review responses to an RFP process based on the needs of the participants. 

Each campaign gets its own webpage for internal promotion, status tracking and communication.  Once installations occur, there’s even a dashboard for tracking energy savings for the group, giving the program a quantitative element that will be particularly attractive to those responsible for tracking and communicating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts for companies.

The Win-Win-Win-Win

With a variety of projects completed now, Group Energy has found that these campaigns have a number of benefits:

  1. Employees Win . . . by getting substantial savings on home energy improvements, including for solar, water heaters, insulation, etc.  Employees are engaged in the management of the process and have a high degree of engagement with their company and each other.
  2. Employers Win . . . by offering a relatively rare (so far) benefit to employees, aiding in employee loyalty, retention and recruitment.  They can also tout the program as a part of their CSR programs and use the campaign tracking statistics in their sustainability measures. 
  3. Lenders Win . . . by offering financing for these projects, including some new products that have evolved out of recent specific campaigns. One credit union developed a new low interest unsecured loan model for participants that don’t have a lot of equity in their homes.
  4. Installers/Contractors Win . . . because these pooled buying groups streamline the sales process, an expensive and time consuming component of running a solar installation business. 

This type of innovative thinking has the potential to make solar and other energy improvements available to a much wider audience of people than might otherwise pursue it on their own. 

Listen to the entire interview and let us know what you think.  Are you aware of other programs that engage employees in similar ways? 

 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Jessie Denver: Episode 23 of The Wendel Forum (27.26 min)

Group Energy website: www.mygroupenergy.com

Group Energy email: info@mygroupenergy.com

Group Energy information: Group Energy Info Sheet  [PDF]

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

About host Bill Acevedo: www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In the second part of our two part series, show host Dick Lyons chats with three more finalist companies from this year’s San Francisco Business Times Cleantech & Sustainability Awards, held on June 16, 2011.  In Episode 22 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on July 2, 2011), Dick learns more about the following companies:
 

Winner: Cleaire (interview with Brad Edgar, President and CTO, and Gale Plummer, CEO)
Category: Transportation

Description: Based in San Leandro, Cleaire designs and manufactures diesel engine filtration systems that could be used to remove particulate matter from exhaust in one million diesel engines in California –- and an estimated potential universe of 40-50 million vehicles already in service world wide.  They distribute and service the technology through a qualified dealer network whose customers include fleets of buses, construction equipment and trucks.

Winner: Solazyme (interview with Harrison Dillon, Co-Founder, President and Chief Technology Officer)
Category: Sustainable Fuels/Chemicals

Description: Solazyme makes oil – all kinds.  Their renewable oils are used in applications ranging from jet fuel to food products.  Dillon and his partner, CEO Jonathan Wolfson, started the company eight years ago in a garage in Palo Alto (where have we heard a story like that before?), originally setting  out  to make a diesel oil substitute from algae.  Since then, they’ve expanded to be able to custom design oils that can be used in a multitude of products.  Their oil can even be found in natural products carried by retailers such as Whole Foods and GNC.  By putting these healthy oils into food products, they are able to take out the saturated fat and keep the products both low fat and satisfying.

Winner: Driptech (interview with Peter Frykman, CEO)
Category: Water

Description:  Driptech makes affordable drip irrigation systems that allow small-plot famers in developing countries to have access to the same water-efficient irrigation that large plot farmers have used for decades.   The key to the technology (which includes some nifty precision laser manufacturing technology) is distributed local manufacturing.  Amazing what a class project at Stanford might turn into!

Coming up this week:

Tune in Saturday morning (July 9) to hear from a company that gives collective buying power to individual employees in organizations for home energy improvements (such as solar panels, insulation and water heaters).   If you’re out of radio signal range, remember you can always click the “Listen Live” button on the station’s website at www.green960.com

Post Links:

Listen to the Interviews: Episode 22 of The Wendel Forum(22.17 mins)

Cleaire website: http://www.cleaire.com

Solazyme website: http://www.solazyme.com/

Driptech website: http://driptech.com/

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

About show host Dick Lyons: www.wendel.com/rlyons