Bank of America

Demise of Green Energy Greatly Exaggerated

For an industry that supposedly is on the brink of collapse, clean energy sure is holding up well. We've seen it at the local level, where our nonprofit, which is involved in energy efficiency, benchmarking and other energy-saving programs, is gaining a higher profile.

And we're seeing it nationally, too. Three items - the restart of a billion-dollar military solar program; President Obama's $4 billion commitment to cutting energy costs; and Kachan & Co's predictions for Clean energy technology in 2012 (more here) - are indicative of the growing interest.

The big news is that Bank of America Merrill Lynch and SolarCity are combining to revive a plan to install solar panels on up to 120,000 military housing units across the nation, creating 300 megawatts of solar power. This is further evidence the military, which contends the nation's dependence on foreign oil is a security risk, is taking a leading role in the green movement. Want more evidence? The military has turned up the heat on energy technology by selecting 27 test sites for various proposals.

In addition, a just-announced Obama public/private partnership could lead to $2 billion worth energy-saving improvements on federal buildings across the nation, and $2 billion more on 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and industrial property. Some heavy hitters have signed up.

Energy efficiency has long been called the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement because a relatively modest investment can yield significant results.

Then there is Dallas Kachan's 2012 clean tech forecast. The forecast is mixed - expect declines in venture capital and for election-year rhetoric to muddy the waters - but is bolstered by his predictions that oil prices will rise, making renewables more economically viable; that innovation in solar energy will surge; and that Corporate America will "buy their way into clean technology markets in 2012, supplementing the role of traditional private equity and evidencing a maturation of the cleantech sector. "

Some states are moving faster in clean energy's various segments than others. Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown is a big proponent, embracing a multi pronged effort that features a greater emphasis on efficiency. The state seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent annually through 2020, and the Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, passed in 2006, sets a goal of 33 percent renewable energy generation by 2020.

No wonder Ernst & Young likens the momentum of clean energy to the industrial revolution.

Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

White House photo of Presidents Obama and Clinton.

Banking On Energy Retrofits

One of the largest banks in California says it will finance $55 million worth of energy-conservation improvements in older buildings.

Bank of America will provide low-interest loans and grants to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) that specialize in financing energy-efficiency improvements. The bank will select 12 community development lenders throughout the nation.

Bank officials said the program is a way to address climate change.

"Residential and commercial buildings account for approximately 40 percent of all primary energy consumption in the United States. That's why, if we really want to address climate change, we have to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings, particularly older ones that tend to be the least efficient," said Anne Finucane, the bank's Global Strategy and Marketing officer.

More information is available in this press release. And here is a list of certified Community Development Financial Institutions by state.

How much of that $55 million winds up in the San Joaquin Valley remains to be seen, but we are happy that BofA is targeting energy conservation. The SJVCEO is heavily involved in efficiency, and is helping budget-strapped and staff-decimated cities in the Valley with energy and cost-saving retrofits.

Changing lights, replacing air conditioners and installing new motors are less glamorous than solar farms, wind turbines and the renewables part of the clean-energy movement, but is the most cost effective and easiest to accomplish. In fact, Federal Department of Energy head Steven Chu called it "low-hanging fruit" until deciding even that wasn't an accurate characterization. He now says energy efficiency is "fruit on the ground" and ripe for picking.

As this blog states, minimal investment in energy efficiency can reap maximum benefits. Studies show that commercial retrofits can cut power bills in the United States by billions of dollars. That is money that can be reinvested or stimulate the economy.