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Archive for the ‘corporate green’ Category

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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deutsche-bank-green-bankPresident-elect Barack Obama may dismiss notions of a New New Deal to stave off a Great Depression 2.0, but signs of a Rooseveltian shift in thinking abound.

Case in point: This week, Deutsche Bank called for the establishment of a “national infrastructure bank” to create “green” jobs, fight global warming and ensure U.S.  energy independence by investing in an array of projects – from energy efficiency to upgrading the Eisenhower-era power grid to large-scale renewable energy power plants.

The idea of a national infrastructure bank is not new – versions have been proposed by Obama and Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to finance the repair of the nation’s crumbling highways, water systems and cities. Deutsche’s twist is to give such an institution a green mission.

“We believe this confluence opens up an historic opportunity for a new U.S. administration and Congress to take a global leadership position on the issue of the environment and energy security, while addressing current financial problems,”  wrote Deutsche Bank’s Climate Change Investment Research team in its report.

“We’re calling for the national infrastructure bank to go green because in the long run it will save us money and create more jobs,” Deutsche senior investment analyst Bruce Kahn told Green Wombat.

He says Deutsche Bank is not putting a dollar figure on the capitalization of such bank, but the report notes others have suggested a $100 billion investment would generate two million green jobs.

Deutsche Bank (DB) recommends a green infrastructure bank focus on energy efficiency, the transmission grid, renewable energy and public transportation. The green bank would dispense federal funding, make grants to states and cities, issue loans to governments and companies, underwrite public and private bonds, and provide tax credits for public and private projects.

In Deutsche Bank’s analysis, the biggest bang for the buck would come from a massive retrofit program to increase the energy efficiency of the nation’s commercial buildings and make sure the 1.8 million new homes constructed every year are green. Buildings consume as much as 50% of the electricity generated in urban areas and emit about 20% of the country’s greenhouse gases. The work of installing energy-efficient heating, lighting and air conditioning systems is labor intensive and would spike demand for green building materials.

Upgrading and digitizing the power grid to create a “transmission super highway” to bring solar and wind energy from the deserts and Great Plains to the cities could generate as many as 500,000 jobs, according to an estimate by the American Wind Energy Association. The price tag to modernize the grid: $450 billion over the next 15 years by New Energy Finance’s estimate.

One area given short shrift by the Deutsche report is how a green infrastructure bank would support large-scale renewable energy power plants. Wind farms and solar power stations typically require billions of dollars in financing to get built and rely on investors buying the tax credits the projects generate. Those investors have been in short supply thanks to the credit crunch and the collapse of the Wall Street banks that often put up the cash for such deals.

“Everyone’s lost money, there’s no tax equity to be had,”  says Kahn. “But we expect that tax credit equity investors will return to the market, not next month, but in the next couple of years.” Kahn says an infrastructure bank could support green energy power plant projects through loans and loan guarantees.

A green bank would also be good business for Deutsche Bank.

“We have large number of investments at stake, current investments in all these sectors,” says Kahn. “It provides an investment opportunity as this infrastructure bank would not be able to exist all on its own. It would need private capital to invest alongside it.”

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