Archive for November, 2010

Venture Beat Editor: Cleantech Industry “Needs to Hit the Pocketbook, Not Just the Cerebrum”

Posted By mikec on November 30th, 2010

Today, the cleantech sector – renewables, green transportation, green buildings, electric motors, energy efficiency – is finally growing fast enough to pose a serious, market-disrupting competitor to traditional, status-quo industries, such as coal and oil. The dirty energy lobby doesn’t like it one bit. It has launched a concerted campaign of attacks through heavy spending an array of front groups to undercut the popularity and viability of solar, wind and energy efficiency as foundational parts of our energy future.

Countering this assault will require stepped-up and far more proactive public positioning efforts by cleantech. For this effort to be successful, however, the cleantech industry will have to connect with customers, investors and the public not just through facts and figure, but at a core values and emotional level.

The other day at Tigercomm, Venture Beat Executive Editor Owen Thomas made the case for this more “gut-level” approach to marketing cleantech powerfully and articulately, as he kicked off our new lecture series. Here’s Owen’s dead-on assessment:

… it’s that kind of challenge, where cleantech needs to figure out a way to become more visceral and immediate and actually matter in peoples’ day-to-day lives. It needs to hit the pocketbook, not just the cerebrum. So, that’s the challenge; really, cleantech needs to find an audience.

Thomas was responding to a question I’d posed about the relative size and robustness of high tech versus cleantech journalism. This part of his answer is also highly relevant:

And once [cleantech finds an audience], there are reporters who want to write about it, there are sources who want to talk about it, and there are advertisers who want to bring their messages to that audience. It just needs to find that audience, and everything starts with the audience; if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have a media business.

We find that our clients’ management ranks are heavily populated by people with engineering backgrounds. These folks are often brilliant, and especially well equipped to drive the technical innovation that generates much of the excitement around cleantech. The catch is that those extremely valuable engineering backgrounds demand numerical clarity and rigorous, empirical explanations for public relations and corporate communications. The problem is that public relations, while critically important and valuable, is almost always indirect in its nature, relying on influencing an environment in which many factors are beyond our or our clients’ control.

As Emory University psychologist Drew Westen’s research has powerfully demonstrated, people are fundamentally not inclined towards making even big decisions, such as purchasing a solar field, as a fundamentally rational act. Instead, people need to be emotionally connected with a product (Westen’s work focuses a great deal on voting patterns and political communications) before they can get to the facts and figures. That, in a nutshell, is the challenge facing cleantech today.

First and foremost, Thomas’ message is this: If the cleantech industry hopes to create strong market positioning, customer credibility and continuing public support, it will need to communicate at a powerful, “gut” level the exciting things it is doing. We’ve been making this case to cleantech clients in private conversations for the past several years, but Owen Thomas swooped in and explained it better than we ever had. Cleantech clients should put a lot of stock in what he says, as Owen is exactly the sort of high-level journalist who cleantech companies often ask us to pitch.

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The Wind’s at the Back of Offshore Wind

Posted By mikec on November 29th, 2010

Last week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched his ‘Smart from the Start’ Atlantic OCS Offshore Wind Initiative, Its objective is to “speed up development of wind energy by searching the Atlantic Coast for the most desirable places to build windmills rather than wait for developers to propose sites that could hurt the environment or sit in the middle of a shipping lane.”

This is an exciting initiative. It has drawn praise from across the political spectrum, because it addresses a major problem – the absurdly long time it takes to get an offshore wind project in this country up and running. Currently, as The Washington Post points out, it can take “up to nine years for an offshore project to get approval to build.” The $2.5 billion Cape Wind project, located off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, originally applied for a federal permit back in 2001. That application kicked off a decade (and counting) of court challenges, comment periods, environmental impact studies, hearings, and other delays – many of which were driven by dirty energy baron Bill Koch, one of the two brothers exiled from the ruling pair of Koch brothers (Charles and David), who run the dirty energy empire of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas. Earlier this month, as we pointed out on Scaling Green, Massachusetts approved a purchase agreement for half the power produced by Cape Wind. After a decade of delays, that’s great news, but it should never have taken this long in the first place.

What the Department of Interior’s new approach calls for is an “accelerated leasing process” and “a regulatory change, enabling leases to be issued in 2011 and 2012.” That’s just a few months away, in stark contrast to the decade it took for Cape Wind to get as far as it has. Also, as The New York Times points out, this new Department of Interior initiative for wind power development is “modeled after a similar scheme meant to accelerate the adoption of solar power in the West.” Fast tracking renewable energy projects is proof that government is irrelevant to cleantech. In fact, it’s worth fighting to stop the dirty energy lobby from continuing to run the tables on market positioning and policy.

Just as encouraging as “Smart from the Start” is the announcement that “Google and a New York financial firm announced plans last month to invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms.” Combined with the Department of Interior’s “Smart from the Start” initiative, construction of this transmission capacity could lead to explosive growth for offshore wind power development in the United States. At CBS Business Network, the optimistic verdict is that the “U.S. offshore wind industry has finally hit the federal fast track,” although it continues to lag far behind Europe, where “16 offshore wind farms totaling 3,972 megawatts were under construction in the first six months of the year.” And at greentechmedia, the headline declares triumphantly, “Offshore Wind Moves to Full Speed Ahead.”

With estimates of potential power generation capacity ranging as high as 1,000 gigawatts from the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf alone – the equivalent of powering 800 million homes – these are developments that should be encouraging to the over 90 percent of Americans who want clean energy promoted.

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Have We Found the Real “Climategate” Scandal?

Posted By mikec on November 24th, 2010

Despite overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic climate change is real, potentially catastrophic, and accelerating, the theft of the East Anglia emails a year ago was turned into “Climategate” by the dirty energy lobby.  This non-scandal was nothing but a bunch of hot air, perpetrated by “deniers,” and to a large extend funded by the leading dirty energy (coal and oil) industries. (For more on this subject, see the superb book, “The Climate War,” by Eric Pooley.)

Congressman Joe “Apologize to BP” Barton of Texas was among those honking on the “Climategate” horn the loudest. The problem is that Barton lacks intellectual integrity of his own. As Salon reports:

A couple of years ago, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, asked a statistician named Edward Wegman to produce a report that would cast doubt on climate change science, because Barton — then the chairman of the House energy committee — is less a citizen legislator than the whims of the oil and gas industries made animate and elected to Congress.

The report criticized some statistics used to prove that the last century was the warmest one in centuries, which means it proved that global warming is pretend, in the eyes of most Republicans…

The only problem, other than the fact that the report is overwhelmingly without merit, is that it was largely plagiarized.

“The report was integral to congressional hearings about climate scientists,” says Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. “And it preceded a lot of conspiratorial thinking polluting the public debate today about climate scientists.”

But in March, climate scientist Raymond Bradley of the University of Massachusetts asked GMU, based in Fairfax, Va., to investigate “clear plagiarism” of one of his textbooks.

Bradley says he learned of the copying on the Deep Climate website and through a now year-long analysis of the Wegman report made by retired computer scientist John Mashey of Portola Valley, Calif. Mashey’s analysis concludes that 35 of the report’s 91 pages “are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning.” Copying others’ text or ideas without crediting them violates universities’ standards, according to Liz Wager of the London-based Committee on Publication Ethics.

In other words, it appears that we’ve found the real “Climategate” scandal here — the relentless, well-funded propaganda effort to discredit climate science and climate scientists.  The deniers’ new plagiarism problem is just the latest in the fast-and-loose, fact-free zone in which they operate.

We have a call in to the House Ethics Committee, inquiring as to whether plagiarism represents a violation of House Ethics rules, and will report back what we hear.  As we’re waiting for an answer, keep in mind that Rep. Joe Barton, who requested the aforementioned report, is the same individual who infamously apologized to BP for how it was treated after it created one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the country.

I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown.

No, the real “tragedy” is that people like Joe Barton get to come to Congress at all, not to mention rise to powerful positions.

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Great News from Massachusetts on Wind Power!

Posted By mikec on November 23rd, 2010

On October 12, I suggested one answer to the question: How can solar and other renewables possibly push back against the fossil fuel industries, which have so many more resources to commit to the fight?”

One way is focusing cleantech advocacy efforts on wearing down scaling barriers. For example:

Today, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved an agreement for National Grid, the large Northeastern electric utility company, to purchase half of the clean power produced by the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, to supply to its Massachusetts customers after the project is completed and the turbines start spinning…

…Some argued against that the Cape Wind project by saying it would be too expensive – but this agreement showed Massachusetts can trade out its dirty energy for clean, renewable wind power with only an additional $1.25 per month on the electric bill for the average National Grid customer.  And this small charge will reap large cost-savings benefits for all customers on the electric grid – ranging from reductions in wholesale electricity and natural gas prices for other utilities, to hedging against volatile natural gas prices because unlike fossil fuels, wind energy prices stay stable and are not prone to dreaded spikes in your bill.

Congratulations to Massachusetts for moving a major, clean energy project closer to reality.  This decision follows great news on Election Day a few weeks ago, when a wide and deep coalition in California convinced voters in that state to roundly reject Proposition 23. That oil-industry-funded effort would have effectively overturned that state’s landmark, clean energy and climate law, the “Global Warming Act of 2006.”  Increasingly, and with the apparent defeat of comprehensive legislation at the federal level, it appears that the battle for clean energy and climate change action will take place in the states and through private sector initiatives.  Given yesterday’s action by Massachusetts, as well as polling indicating strong support for renewable energy throughout the United States, that’s a hopeful trend.

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WATCH: Successful solar install strategy featured on PBS

Posted By admin on November 22nd, 2010

Last week on PBS’ Nightly Business Report, Sungevity president and co-founder Danny Kennedy discussed the business model that has made his California-based company so successful. The story was sponsored by Planet Forward, a media project from the George Washington University’s Center for Innovative Media. The program highlighted how Danny is overcoming the financial challenges to home solar installations through use of the Internet to give virtual (and visual) estimate and cutting-edge financing, which puts the heaviest burden on banks instead of the individual. The interview, done by CNN veteran Frank Sesno, was the first we’ve seen done on mobile phones. Expect this to prove a trend, as ABC has taken to conducting interviews by computer screen. Watch the interview below:

Planet Forward on Nightly Business Report from Center for Innovative Media on Vimeo.

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