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Scaling Clean

Is this story about climate activist Tim DeChristopher an Onion parody or for real?

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Recently, we held a roundtable discussion at Tigercomm headquarters in Rosslyn, Virginia with former Virginia Governor (now Senator-elect) Tim Kaine, as well as 10 clean economy  business leaders from the  mid-Atlantic region. One of those leaders was Anthony Smith of Secure Futures. Here's a brief description of Secure Future's work in helping to build a clean energy economy.

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Everyone in the solar industry, as well as everyone who supports solar power, should read the superb, recent piece by Michael Grunwald of Time Magazine -- "(Almost) Everyone Loves Solar."  Here are the key points:

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I’ve been a fan of Southwest Airlines for years. It’s not luxury, but it usually gets you there with a passenger-friendly, problem-solving approach to customers’ needs. But here’s a standout exception that suggests that even Southwest can be careless with its brand: Just try to get them to stop sending you junk mail.

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It’s hard to argue with the idea that energy efficiency is the most under-told part of America’s clean energy economy, despite the efforts to date of some pretty smart, committed people. We could go such a long way to cutting our use of the most destructive forms of energy and addressing global climate disruption if we just stopped wasting so much.


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We just wanted to point out a great article by Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation called "Solyndra and the Republican Outrage Machine." Here's an excerpt, bolding added for emphasis:

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As we all know, this is an important election year - for president and control of Congress - in the United States, one with the potential to create significant changes in federal government policy towards clean energy starting in early 2013.  Along those lines, the following article at AOL Energy caught our eye:

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Last week, we interviewed Belen Gallego, Founder & Director at CSP Today and PV Insider, in conjunction with the CSP Today 6th Concentrated Solar Thermal Power USA Conference she’s putting on in Las Vegas this Wednesday and Thursday (June 27-28). In addition, yesterday we published our interview with Frank “Tex” Wilkins, Executive Director of the Concentrating Solar Power Alliance (CSPA). This Wednesday, Wilkins will be speaking on a panel moderated by Fred Morse of Abengoa Solar, and including Tigercomm Vice President Mark Sokolove.

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The following interview is with Belen Gallego, Founder & Director at CSP Today and PV Insider.  Ms. Gallego is also in charge of CSP Today's range of conferences and trade shows, including the upcoming CSP Today 6th Concentrated Solar Thermal Power USA Conference, being held in Las Vegas beginning on June 27-28.  For a helpful discussion of CSP, see the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's page on this topic. Also, thanks very much to Belen Gallego for taking time out of preparing for the upcoming conference to provide thorough, detailed responses to our questions!

Scaling Green Question #1: What do you see as the main opportunities and challenges – economic, political, technological, etc. - facing solar power generally, and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) specifically, in the United States?

Belen Gallego: In order for the CSP industry to further develop, we need to look at resolving a few challenges for sure. Economic challenges aren't a rare occurrence at the moment, unfortunately. In fact, they affect most industries, as they are to a very large extent due to the world financial and economic situation. CSP is a proven, bankable technology, and in normal circumstances  it would be possible to finance even large-scale projects.

The biggest technological challenge that we have right now is reducing costs. This is already well under way, as costs have dropped significantly over the past 6 years of plants in operation, although more remains to be done. We need to remember that the rate of cost reduction in CSP is very respectable compared to many other industries. If I remember correctly, 6 years ago we were talking about $4.50 per installed watt for PV and now we are at less than $1.00 per installed watt.  This leapfrog type of development does happen, but it needs time and critical mass. Keep in mind that the PV industry had a history of 20+ years before CSP!

The political challenge, which is also a NIMBY challenge, that we face is communication. Renewable energy appeals to the end consumer, as well as to governments, and that appeal makes sense, because to avoid climate change and an uncertain energy outlook, we must develop the right technologies. However, as a niche industry, I believe that CSP isn't doing all we can to communicate the immense value that CSP has for grid stability, for example. It is by communicating the inherent value added of CSP that the technology's full potential  and key role to play will be understood.

In the end, I feel that often the greatest challenge is to be patient. Infrastructure projects of this size and complexity take years to come to completion, and for the market to gain gravitas takes much longer. We have come a long way already, and sometimes we forget that the time scales involved makes it difficult as a speculative market. CSP development may be slower, but it is organic and sustainable.  You just can't compare the CSP industry with the dotcom boom; it doesn’t work like that.

Scaling Green Question #2: According to a recent article at CSP Today, “Growth in the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) sector faltered last year as photovoltaic (PV) module prices dropped,” but in the long run “CSP’s ability to incorporate thermal storage and to supplement conventional power generation offers benefits beyond the value of the kilowatt-hours they generate.” How do you see this situation evolving in coming years, and specifically do you believe that CSP will gain on PV in terms of cost competitiveness in the near term?

Belen Gallego: When people ask me this question, I like to compare the Spanish and U.S. markets  because I feel that the Spain is a small case study of what will happen in a bigger market like the United States. In Spain, we have a very well-managed national grid, which is relatively modern.  We built in 2008-2009 over 4GW of PV, as well as over 21GW of wind capacity as of 2012. The renewable energy electricity production share hovers around 20%. However, what is not widely known is that at certain times of the year, sometimes in the right conditions the share of energy produced from renewables can reach as high as 50%. That amount of peak power is difficult for the grid to integrate, to the extent that plants sometimes need to be disconnected, meaning that the energy is lost because the grid can´t absorb it. It is only a matter of time until the United States has this kind of peak power integration problem, and CSP with storage can really help manage this issue.

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What should every startup know about public relations (PR)?  Communications consultant Lindsey Green tells us in a helpful article at The Daily Muse. The key points:

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Introducing: Deep Accountability

by Mike Casey on 1/2/12 5:55 AM5 min. read

This is the first in a series of occasional posts I’m writing to grow an idea I’m calling “Deep Accountability.”

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Over at the Smart Blog on Leadership, there's an interview with James Epstein-Reeves, president of Do Well Do Good, "on corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, and cause marketing," as well as on "what to expect in 2012."   The first question, of course, is "Why are companies engaged in sustainability?"  The answer, by Epstein-Reeves, is that there are six reasons:

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A few weeks ago, my Tigercomm colleague Mark Sokolove and I were able to take Scaling Green’s Communicating Energy lecture series on the road to the Solar Power International 2011 (SPI) conference and trade show in Dallas, Texas. While there, we spoke with several leaders in the solar and cleantech industries. You can read about and view the interviews on The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) National Solar Jobs Census 2011 – a census showing record jobs growth in the industry - on Scaling Green. Today, we turn our focus to the wildly inflated Solyndra story.

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Prior to the eruption of the Solyndra story, we had the opportunity to have Stephen Lacey of ClimateProgress as a Scaling Green “Communicating Energy” lecture series guest. He became well known in cleantech circles during his years as editor and producer at Renewable Energy World, where he won a 2010 Neal Award for his Inside Renewable Energy podcast. Since then, Lacey’s risen to wider national recognition as an influential energy and environmental writer at ClimateProgress, run by climate policy blogging giant Joe Romm.

Summer vacations and the Solyndra swirl had me wait an embarrassingly long time before posting the highlights of Stephen’s visit with us. His points back then? That clean energy policy will be “a long slog;” that energy policy circles largely ignore government welfare to dirty energy while exaggerating the relatively miniscule policy support provided to clean energy; and that Washington generally doesn’t “get” cleantech. The post-Solyndra salience of his pre-Solyndra remarks show the quality of Stephen’s periscope.

His thoughts on where clean energy is heading:

Generally, the trends within the business community are pretty positive, and moving from reporting on the business of clean energy and coming down to DC to be closer to the political environment, I’ve been struck how difficult things are here…we reached the 1-year mark last Friday of when Congress and the President dropped a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill.  And one year on, we have no movement on a clean energy standard, we have the loan guarantee program running out of funds. …and our biggest political fights are over the efficiency of light bulbs and whether or not we should have Styrofoam in the congressional cafeterias.

Lacey also noted, in a discussion preceding this lecture, that, although “cleantech is hot in lots of parts of the country…people in DC don’t get it. The national policy discussion is very backwards,” a combination of “institutional inertia and the influence of polluting industry lobbyists.” As a result of these forces holding back clean energy, Lacey concluded, the policy discussion in Washington, DC is “going to be a long slog.”

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Over at Grist, David Roberts does a great job explaining the flaws in media coverage generally, and Politico's coverage specifically, of the Solyndra non-scandal. Here's an excerpt:

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Sad news; an outstanding leader in corporate sustainability has passed away.

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Cross posted from the Great Energy Challenge blog

What wasn’t to dislike about the spectacle of this summer’s recently concluded budget battle? There was the impending economic disaster, the Full Monty on just how dysfunctional Congress has gotten, and the outsized role given by those operating on the political fringe.

But for clean energy advocates, there was another reason to throw the remote at the TV: Pro-clean energy elected officials missed the opportunity to cut government handouts to fossil energy companies.

I’m no budget expert, but when we need to cut a lot of spending, shouldn’t we cut the really big stuff that people dislike anyway? Nothing qualifies for that category like the combined welfare check we cut each year to the oil, coal and gas industries: $52 billion a year according to the most comprehensive count to date. For those in elected office trying to scale the clean economy, shouldn’t kicking these highly profitable, mature industries off the dole have been a policy and political no-brainer?

The answer given by Democratic pollster Mike Bocian is an unqualified “yes.” (See video above.) Bocian, now with GBA Strategies, spoke at our Communicating Energy lecture series before the budget standoff hit its climax. His message was the same I heard echoed roughly a week later by top Republican pollster Neil Newhouse: Cutting government handouts to big oil companies is a political winner with practically no electoral downside.

By similarly large majorities of over 70 percent, Americans want to cut the massive government welfare check fossil energy, and they want the relatively inexpensive federal policy support for clean energy left alone. Plenty of Republicans around the country want this waste ended, and we ought to have the two political parties racing to see who can cut the most from the handouts to fossil energy.

But the plans offered by Congressional Republicans – the “Ryan Plan,” named for author Rep. Paul Ryan (WI); or the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan from Speaker Boehner –would have done exactly the opposite. For President Obama and other clean energy advocates, this gap created an opportunity to put small government advocates in the position of defending large, unpopular forms of government waste.

However, whether you’re marketing products or policies, busy Americans want things bottom-lined. You just can’t win their attention without message discipline, simplicity, repetition, and the plain language that connects to where their attitudes are.

To win the budget fight in the court of public opinion, each side –President Obama and his staff on one side, and Speaker Boehner and his caucus on the other – should have been trying to boil this messy situation down to a bottom line, anchored by key phrase.

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Courtesy of Trevor Winnie, Clean Edge's senior research analyst, comes a strong rebuttal to Bill Gates' comment that currently available cleantech technologies were "cute," but won't be sufficient to solve the planet's energy challenges.  To the contrary, Trevor Winnie argues:

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Cross posted from The Great Energy Challenge.

Just as the traditional news media began its current freefall of layoffs, staff cuts, closures, and substitution of ideology for journalism, The New York Times, thank goodness, decided to double down on good (albeit not perfect) journalism.

That's why it’s baffling to see a dirty energy front group operative, Robert Bryce, getting a seat last week next to Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof on the Times’ opinion page, with a piece of pro-dirty energy propaganda, without having to say if he’s paid by dirty energy.

I remember from journalism school that opinion pages are run separately from the news pages. But is it really that hard for someone on the Times’ opinion page staff to ask Bryce where his host organization, the Manhattan Institute, gets its money? Don’t Times readers deserve to know that the Manhattan Institute gets a significant amount of money from dirty energy?

I’m not even expecting that the Times actually demand a factual grounding for the opinion pieces it runs. That seems to have gone out of style a while ago. The Washington Post demonstrated this new normal with its tortured sidestepping of questions about why it let columnist George Will demonstrably lie about the wide and deep scientific consensus around global climate disruption. Basically, it seems that you can lie without consequence on the nation’s most influential opinion pages.

But Bryce got away with something much more preventable: pretending he’s some sort of intellectually honest thinker when his organization has ties to dirty energy money that no one bothered to note.

The ease with which intellectual burglars like Bryce can break into the major media’s house of standards is why dirty energy underwrites dozens of PR firms masquerading as think tanks. And they have done so for decades, going back to the call to start farming these groups in the 1971 Powell Manifesto. The result is what can be described as a Front Group Industrial Complex for polluting industries, a network including the Manhattan InstituteCato InstituteCompetitive Enterprise InstituteCitizens for a Sound Economy, and the Institute for Energy Research.

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On Monday, the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Interior announced “a coordinated strategic plan to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy… including new funding opportunities for up to $50.5 million for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority Wind Energy Areas in the mid-Atlantic.”

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Greentechmedia has an excellent post, “DOE’s Cathy Zoi on the Perils of Not Investing in Cleantech R&D,” that is well worth reading.  A few highlights:

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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.

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The Wind’s at the Back of Offshore Wind

by Mike Casey on 11/29/10 6:14 AM3 min. read

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."

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Taking Action to Grow Solar

by Tigercomm Team on 9/20/10 12:50 PM2 min. read

Americans love solar energy and 92 percent of them are demanding greater access to it.

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Looking for the Public Outrage

by Mike Casey on 7/14/10 9:01 AM2 min. read

Monday’s Washington Post piece, “Historic oil spill fails to produce gains for U.S. environmentalists was right, but not complete. So far, the BP oil disaster has brought tar balls and Tony Hayward into the public arena, but it has not brought about the dramatic sea change needed to move America to a clean energy future.

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A recent REW post by SolarFred highlights the latest legislative efforts by dirty energy lobbyists to stop the growth of solar, wind and clean energy industries that Americans favor by more than 90 percent.

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Senator Byrd: His Legacy vs. His Vision

by Mike Casey on 6/28/10 2:28 PM2 min. read

Senator Robert Byrd passed away early this morning, just days after a study showing that coal is a money loser for his home state of West Virginia.

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