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Archive for the ‘corporate green’ Category

2009 CC Fellow Group Shot

photo: EDF

In my new Green State column on Grist, I catch up with the Climate Corps, a group of green MBA students sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund. The Climate Corps recently finished 10-week internships with Fortune 500 companies, saving them an estimated $54 million through energy efficiency measures the students identified:

Back in May I wrote about the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps, a cadre of 26 MBA students who were then prepping for summer internships at Fortune 500 companies. Their mission was to green up corporate operations to save money and cut carbon emissions.

With winter on the way and school back in session, I checked in to see how successful the Climate Corps was at combining the students’ financial smarts, technological know-how—half are engineers by training—and environmental ethic.

Pretty successful, it turns out. According to EDF, the interns identified energy efficiency measures that will collectively save an estimated $54 million at 22 companies (and one university), including eBay, Dell and Sony Pictures Entertainment. That translates into 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases avoided a year with an annual energy savings of 160 million kilowatt hours.

A couple of caveats are in order. Energy efficiency programs were already under way at many of the companies. And whether the projected $54 million in savings will actually be realized won’t be known until the energy efficiency efforts are completed—actual results may vary.

Still, anything close to $54 million is quite a return on investment, given that the companies altogether spent only $260,000 on intern salaries during the 10-week program.

But the long-term payoff is likely to be the emergence of a new corporate class- – the green financial engineer—and future CEOs—who reflexively view environmental performance as a bottom-line concern.

You can read the rest of the column here.

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37659756My latest Green State column on Grist is an interview with Adam Werbach about his new book, Strategy for Sustainability:

Adam Werbach’s career is something of a lodestar for the trajectory of the 21st century American environmental movement. A student activist tutored at the knee of the Archdruid himself, the legendary David Brower, Werbach was elected the youngest president of the Sierra Club in 1996 at age 23.

Then business beckoned and he launched a startup, Act Now Productions, to advise companies like Wal-Mart on going green. Global advertising and marketing goliath Saatchi & Saatchi acquired Act Now last year, rebranding it as Saatchi & Saatchi S (for sustainability) and installing Werbach as the CEO.

“To be successful, you need to peel off the green blinders and start thinking of sustainability as a new tool set, like information technology or globalization, that can help you reinvigorate a business,” Werbach writes.

In fact, Werbach would like to take the environment out of environmental sustainability.

“The battle I’m trying to fight in the business world is to adopt a broader definition of sustainability that is not just about environmental sustainability,” says Werbach, who at 36 sports a touch of gray in his hair. “That’s a limiting factor to sustainability. What are the tools you need to be around for the long term? What is your long-haul strategy?”

You can read the rest of the column here.

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ibm-smarter-planet

While the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday issued nearly $8 billion in loans to Ford (F), Nissan and Tesla Motors to manufacture electric cars and batteries, IBM unveiled an initiative to develop a next-generation battery technology that would allow those vehicles to travel 400 miles or more on a charge.

Big Blue will investigate the potential of lithium air technology to replace current state-of-the-art lithium ion batteries. Lithium air potentially could pack 10 times the energy density of lithium ion storage devices by drawing oxygen into the batteries to use as a reactant. As a result lithium air batteries would weigh less than lithium ion batteries, C. Spike Narayan, manager of science and technology at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, told Green Wombat.

So besides powering cars, lithium air batteries could store electricity generated from solar power plants and wind farms, turning them into 24/7 energy sources.

But don’t expect to see the super-charged batteries anytime soon.”This is a five-to-10-year project,” says Narayan. “The first phase is to go after the big science problems. Then we’re ready to engage with automotive companies and battery manufacturers.”

The technological hurdles are high and even IBM (IBM), with its expertise in nanotechnology, green chemistry and supercomputing, won’t try to go it alone. It’s seeking partners at research universities and government laboratories to crack the tech challenges, which include developing a membrane that will strip water out of the air before it enters the battery and the development of nano materials to prevent layers of lithium oxide from interfering with chemical reactions.

IBM intends to limit its role in the battery business to R&D. “We have no desire to make batteries,” says Rich Lechner, IBM’s vice president for energy and the environment. “We will license the IP.”

In another sign that climate change and the imminent imposition of carbon caps are creating opportunities for Big Business and rearranging the competitive landscape, IBM also announced “Green Sigma,” an alliance of erstwhile competitors that will offer solutions to companies seeking to shrink their carbon footprint.

Green Sigma includes business software giant SAP (SAP), Cisco (CSCO), Johnson Controls (JCI) and Honeywell (HON). Dave Lebowe, an IBM executive with the Green Sigma program, acknowledged the potential for conflicts of interests among these frenemies but said such problems were outweighed by the upside of bringing together a broad range of expertise to help customers cut their CO2 emissions and save money.

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northern-hairy-nosed-wombat-alan-horsup-qpws

photo: Alan Horsup, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

In the ultimate in green corporate branding, Swiss mining conglomerate Xstrata is spending millions of dollars to save one of the world’s most imperiled large mammals, Australia’s northern hairy-nosed wombat. It’s the first time a corporation has agreed to finance the recovery of an endangered species, and in return Xstrata gets its name on everything from wombat websites to educational DVDs to the shirts worn by wildlife workers. Not to mention lots of green goodwill.

My story on Xstrata and the northern hairy-nosed wombat appears in the March 23 issue of Time Magazine. (See “Wombat Love” and the accompanying photo gallery.)

Only about 115 northern hairy-nosed wombats — a nocturnal, bearlike burrowing marsupial — survive in a single colony at Epping Forest National Park in a remote part of Queensland. The Xstrata money is paying for the creation of a second colony some 700 kilometers away as an insurance policy against a calamity at Epping that could wipe out the species.

I’ve been following the efforts of a small band of dedicated wildlife officials, led by conservation officer Alan Horsup, to save the northern hairy-nosed for the past couple of years. I have been privileged on a few occasions to encounter the extremely reclusive critter, which has rarely even been photographed. (Warren Clarke, who took the photos for my Time Magazine story, captured some of the best shots of the northern hairy-nose ever taken.)

Below is a video I shot of a wombat grazing during my most recent visit to Epping in January. It’s not the best quality but is notable for the fact that once we spotted the wombat it did not disappear down a burrow but let us get an extended glimpse of its behavior.

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header_cngAT&T said Wednesday that over the next decade it will replace 15,000 vehicles, or about 20% of its fleet, with cars and trucks powered by compressed natural gas, electricity and other alternative fuels.

“AT&T is making the largest-ever commitment by any U.S. company to purchase alternative fuel vehicles,” AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said Wednesday morning in a speech in Washington.

He said the $565 million initiative will cut AT&T(T)’s gasoline bill by an estimated 49 million gallons and reduce carbon emissions by 211 million metric tons over ten years as its alt fuel fleet grows from about 100 vehicles now on the road. “That’s good for the environment and it will reduce our reliance on foreign oil – my new neighbor Boone Pickens and I have talked a lot about that,” Stephenson said.

Pickens, the Texas oil wildcatter-turned-wind magnate, advocates using natural gas as fuel for cars and trucks rather than to make electricity, which would be supplied by massive wind farms.

“Smart American companies can be green and profitable and they don’t have to trade one for the other,” Pickens said in a statement Wednesday.

The communications giant will spend $350 million to buy 8,000 compressed natural gas, or CNG, vehicles and $215 million on electric hybrid cars made in the United States. That could be a small boost for battered automakers General Motors (GM) and Ford (F). (Of course, it could also be good news for those other leading “domestic” alt fuel manufacturers, Honda (HMC) and Toyota (TM).)

A U.S. car maker will build the chassis for the CNG vehicles and AT&T will have them converted to run on compressed natural gas. The company will also build a network CNG fueling stations. All told, AT&T said 5,000 jobs will be created or saved through the program in the first five years. About 7,100 AT&T passenger cars wi
ll be retired in favor of electric hybrids and other alt fuel vehicles.

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clintonbill1Another reason Green Wombat will be spending Earth Day in Southern California this year: Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote speech at Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Green conference on April 22.

Clinton will be joining a gathering of business and environmental leaders, including Ford (F) executive chairman Bill Ford, PG&E (PCG) chief executive Peter Darbee, SunPower (SPWRA) CEO Tom Werner and executives from Fortune 500 companies like IBM (IBM),  Wal-Mart (WMT) and General Electric (GE). On the green side of the aisle, execs from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and Greenpeace will be attending the confab in Laguna Niguel.  Former California State Treasurer Phil Angelides, now chairman of the Apollo Alliance, and green jobs guru Van Jones will also be present.

We now end the shameless self-promotion and return to our regular Green Wombat programming.

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optisolar-panels
photo: Optisolar

SAN FRANCISCO — With the financial crisis dimming solar’s prospects to become a significant source of renewable energy, utility giant PG&E on Tuesday said it will spend $1.4 billion over five years to install 250 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic panels in California while contracting with private developers for another 250 megawatts. PG&E chief executive Peter Darbee said the utility is also prepared to be a “green knight,” rescuing distressed big centralized solar power plant projects by providing financing so they can get built.

“We have contracted for 24% of our energy to be renewable and we’re concerned whether our [developers] will have access to capital,” Darbee said at PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters during a press conference. “We think financing for these projects may be in jeopardy. PG&E is well-positioned with its $35 billion balance sheet to step up and help.”

PG&E’s (PCG) move to take a direct role in obtaining the renewable energy it needs to comply with California’s global warming laws could be big business for solar module panel makers and installers like SunPower (SPWRA), Suntech (STP) and First Solar (FSLR). The action was prompted in part by a change in the tax laws that lets utilities claim a 30% investment tax credit for solar projects.

Fong Wan, PG&E’s vice president for energy procurement, said most of the 500 megawatts of solar panels will be installed on the ground in arrays of between one and 20 megawatts at utility substations or on other PG&E-owned property. (The utility is one of California’s largest landowners.) A small portion may be installed on rooftops, he said.

PG&E said the solar initiative will generate enough electricity to power 150,000 homes and will provide 1.3% of the utility’s electricity supply.

“There’s no or little need for new transmission and these projects can plug directly into the grid,” said Darbee. “Given our size and our credit ratings and our strength, we can move forward where smaller developers may not be able to do so.”

The California Public Utilities Commission must approve PG&E’s solar initiative, which Wan estimated would add about 32 cents to the average monthly utility bill.  An $875 million program unveiled by Southern California Edison (EIX) last year to install 250 megawatts of utility-owned rooftop solar panels has run into opposition from solar companies that argue it is  anti-competitive and from consumer advocates who contend the price is too high. The state’s third big utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE), has also proposed a rooftop solar program.

Wan acknowledged that objections to Edison led PG&E to design its program so that private developers would have a 50% stake in the initiative. PG&E will sign 20-year power purchase agreements for privately owned solar installations.

PG&E will also need regulators’ approval to inject equity financing into companies developing big solar power plants. The utility has signed power purchase agreements for up to 2,400 megawatts of electricity to be produced by solar thermal  and photovoltaic power plants to be built by companies like Ausra, BrightSource Energy, OptiSolar and SunPower.

“We are looking at the least risky and most developed opportunities to see where we can be the most helpful,” Darbee said.

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malta-smart-grid

Photo: Visit Malta

The Mediterranean island nation of Malta on Wednesday unveiled a deal with IBM to build a “smart utility” system that will digitize the country’s electricity grid and water system.

Granted, Malta is a microstate with a population of 403,500 (smaller than Sacramento; bigger than Iceland). But the world — and utility infrastructure giants like General Electric (GE) — will be watching closely. Not only is Malta the first country to green its national grid but it will also serve as a test case for whether integrating so-called smart technologies into both electricity and water systems can help mitigate the increasing deleterious effects of global warming on the island.

As with other island states, power and water are intricately linked on Malta. All of the archipelago’s electricity is generated from imported fuel oil while the country depends on energy-intensive desalinization plants for half its water supply. Meanwhile, rising sea levels threaten its underground freshwater supplies.

“About 55% of the cost of water on Malta is related to electricity – it’s a pretty staggering amount,” Guido Bartels, general manager of IBM’s Global Energy & Utilities Industry division, told Green Wombat from Malta on Tuesday.

So how can digitizing the grid help? IBM (IBM) and its partners will replace Malta’s 250,000 utility meters with interactive versions that will allow Malta’s electric utility, Enemalta, to monitor electricity use in real-time and set variable rates that reward customers that cut their power consumption.  As part of the $91 million (€70 million) project, a sensor network will be deployed on the grid  –  along transmission lines, substations and other infrastructure – to provide information that will let the utility more efficiently manage electricity distribution and detect potential problems. IBM will provide the software that will aggregate and analyze all that data so Enemalta can identify opportunities to reduce costs – and emissions from Malta’s carbon-intensive power plants. (For an excellent primer on smart grids, see Earth2Tech editor Katie Fehrenbacher’s recent story.)

A sensor network will also be installed on the water system for Malta’s Water Services Corporation. “They’ll indicate where there is water leakage and provide better information about the water network,” says Robert Aguilera, IBM’s lead executive for the Malta project, which is set to be completed in 2012. “The information that will be collected by the system will allow the government to make decisions on how to save money on water and electricity consumption.”

Cutting the volume of water that must be desalinated would, of course, reduce electricity use in the 122-square-mile (316-square-kilometer) nation.

With the U.S. Congress debating an economic stimulus package that includes tens of billions of dollars for greening the power grid, IBM sees smart grid-related technologies as a $126 billion market opportunity in 2009. That’s because what’s happening in Malta today will likely be the future elsewhere – no country is an island when it comes to climate change. Rising electricity prices and water shortages are afflicting regions stretching from Australia to Africa to California.

IBM spokeswoman Emily Horn says Big Blue has not yet publicly identified which companies will be providing the smart meters, software and other services for the Malta grid project.

Malta’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise 62% above 1990 levels by 2012, according to the European Environment Agency, and as a member of the European Union the country will be under pressure to cut its carbon. A smart energy grid will help but Malta, like Hawaii and other island states, will have to start replacing carbon-intensive fuel oil with renewable energy.

The island could present opportunities for other types of smart networks. According to the Maltese government, Malta has the second-highest concentration of cars in the world, with 660 vehicles per square kilometer. That also contributes to the country’s dependence on imported oil and its greenhouse gas emissions.

Given that Silicon Valley company Better Place has described islands as the ideal location to install its electric car charging infrastructure, perhaps CEO Shai Agassi should be looking at adding Malta to the list of countries that have signed deals with the startup.

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cemex-eurus-wind-farm1

photo: CEMEX

The cement industry’s contribution to global warming is pretty concrete – it’s responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, fueled by demand from the rapidly industrializing economies of China and India.

Now CEMEX, the Mexican building materials giant, has taken steps to green up its operation. Not by changing the way it makes cement but how it powers the process. Late last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderón inaugurated the first phase of what will be a $550 million, 250-megawatt Oaxaca wind farm – Latin America’s largest – that will generate the equivalent of a quarter of the electricity CEMEX consumes in Mexico.

The EURUS wind farm is a joint development between CEMEX (CX) and Acciona, the Spanish renewable energy powerhouse. The first 25 turbines will go online by March and the final phase will be completed by the end of 2009. A CEMEX spokesman said Acciona will retain ownership of the wind farm and sell the electricity to CEMEX under a 20-year contract.  The electricity from EURUS will go into the power grid and CEMEX will receive “electricity credits” for the power produced.

Mexico has become the next frontier for the wind industry. The same day Calderón presided over the opening of EURUS he also dedicated a nearby 80-megawatt wind farm built by Spanish company Iberdrola Renewables.

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tendril

In case you missed it, this Green Wombat story appears in the current issue of Fortune.

A house that thinks

The high-tech networks that Reliant Energy is installing in the homes of its 1.8 million customers will help them save electricity.

By Todd Woody, senior editor

(Fortune Magazine) — Inside a white-brick house nestled in Houston’s leafy Montrose neighborhood, a gray handheld video display sits on the living room coffee table. But this is no ordinary remote control. Called the Insight and made by Tendril, a Boulder startup, the device communicates wirelessly with the home’s utility meter, letting you track real-time information about the cost of the electricity you consume.

The house is actually a demonstration project set up by Reliant Energy (RRI), a reseller of electricity with $12 billion a year in sales. Glen Stancil, Reliant’s vice president for smart energy R&D, taps the Insight’s screen. “Right now we’re spending $1.40 per hour,” he says, noting that the electricity prices and usage are updated every ten seconds. (Customers can also access the same data on the web or their iPhones.)

Stancil presses another button. “The bill so far is $86, and for the month it looks like it’s headed to $367,” he says. The Insight system also warns that you’ll fork over another $100 this month if you crank up the air conditioner a couple of notches. So keep your hands off the thermostat.

That’s just the kind of behavior that Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs would like to see. Until now, Reliant has made its money by entering contracts with utilities for a fixed amount of power at a fixed price and then reselling it to its 1.8 million customers. If demand unexpectedly soars on a hot afternoon as everyone turns up the air conditioning, Reliant often must buy extra power on the spot market, where prices can spike as much as 60%.

That cuts into profits. “It’s like running a beachfront hotel, charging the same room rate all year round, and then building more rooms to guarantee that everyone has a room on the busiest weekends,” says Jacobs.

In November, Reliant started installing the Insight in homes, which means it will be able to pass along those high spot prices to its customers, or better yet, in sweltering Texas, let customers buy a month’s worth of cool at a set price – say, 72 degrees for $200 or 74 degrees for $160.

The Insight offers another advantage – Jacobs believes it will encourage his customers to cut back on electric use and save money. “What if you knew you could run your clothes dryer at five o’clock, and it would cost $3,” says Jacobs, “or you could wait until eight o’clock at night, and it would be only a dollar?”

PG&E (PCG), Southern Edison International (EIX) and other utilities are rolling out smart meters but have yet to to integrate them with smart energy systems for the home. But Reliant operates in a competitive, deregulated electricity market. If homeowners get cool technology that helps them avoid the unpleasant surprise of a big electric bill, Jacobs believes Reliant will retain more customers. And then there’s the green angle. “We as an industry are the single largest emitter of greenhouse gas, and our goal is to help our customers use less, spend less, and emit less,” says Jacobs.

For Jacobs, a 46-year-old Goldman Sachs (GS) veteran, smart energy technology is just the wedge to shake up what he calls “an industry in the Dark Ages” while opening new markets for his company, whose stock has been walloped by the one-two punch of Houston’s Hurricane Ike and the credit crunch.

Hurdles, however, remain. Will consumers already suffering from information overload want to obsessively monitor their electricity habit? Will a sweating Houstonite on a 104-degree day say to hell with the cost and crank up the AC anyway? Jacobs isn’t worried. He believes nothing influences behavior better than knowing the true price of what you’re buying.

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