Sustainability: A new profit center for corporations

If clean energy and sustainability efforts are so expensive and such boondoggles, why are corporations embracing them? Could it be that businesses have found otherwise? The answer could come this week at this conference in Washington D.C., or, perhaps, the bright minds at GE and other corporations know.

From General Electric's 2011 annual report:

"Clean energy goes in and out of focus for governments and consumers. But, at GE, we are steadfast in our investing. In 2011, we had $21 billion of clean energy revenue, growing twice as fast as the Company average. Ecomagination drives growth because we are solving problems for our customers... We demonstrate every day that, through innovation, we can meet societal needs and do it profitably."

GE has discovered it can make money by providing clean energy solutions to others. Other businesses, such as AT&T have found they can save millions of dollars through energy-efficiency measures (check out AT&T's 2010 annual report).

ALCOA places so much value on sustainability that it ties employee compensation packages to environmental goals. " if you want to get well-compensated at Alcoa, you need to be pulling the sustainability lever hard," the company's sustainability chief, Kevin Anton, told reporter Tilde Herrera in this article.

Maybe Bill Gates was right when he said the United States should triple clean energy investment. Here is more. Making money, saving money and preserving the environment. What's not to like?

You Tube Video: By GEreports

Reports Bolster Support For Clean Energy

Two new reports on clean energy - an emerging industry that is being knocked around like a tennis ball in this economic environment - are out.

The first, produced by a venture capital firm, takes aim at some of the arguments against alternative power sources. The other, generated by Pike Research, reports on 10 trends in clean energy for this year and beyond.

We link to them here and here.

In a study entitled, "Making the case for clean energy," officials with the private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy Partners attack central tenets among skeptics, including the belief that renewable energy is too expensive.

Hudson's study notes that the cost of producing renewable-energy technology is falling rapidly; that power from wind, solar and geothermal does not require feedstock and thus is not subject to commodity price fluctuations; and that the technologies are close to parity with conventional sources even without accounting for the cost in carbon emissions.

(That contention, by the way, was bolstered by General Electric last week when its global research director said that solar power may be cheaper than fossil fuels in five years.)

The Hudson report puts it this way: "It is apparent the... key arguments put forth by clean-energy technology skeptics are flawed or unfounded."

Pike Research, which studies clean energy, made some noteworthy observations about the future of the industry, including:

  • The growth of utility-owned solar projects, particularly in California;
  • More off-shore wind farms;
  • An increase in water-borne solar arrays;
  • Advancement of solar and wind technologies;
  • Growth in waste-to-energy market in Europe and China;
  • More geothermal development in the U.S., especially in California and Nevada;
  • Direct current electricity may become more prevalent.

Electric car countdown begins

Is that an EV in the lane near you?

It may be should consumers get over their sticker shock over electric cars. A new survey by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says 44 percent of respondents would be "extremely or very interested" in buying a battery-powered unit.

With nearly three dozen plug-in electric models expected to be introduced by 2012, that's some serious potential market activity. Maybe it'll open up room at the pump.

Nissan's Leaf and Chevy's Volt are on their way. And Ford announced this week the first markets selected for its Ford Focus Electric's debut next year. They are: Atlanta, Austin and Houston, Texas; Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh Durham, N.C.; Richmond, Va., Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

"This is the first step in rolling out the Focus Electric," said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.'s president of the Americas, in a statement. He said Ford would evaluate markets as demand grows and "the country continues to build up its electric vehicle infrastructure."

The news comes on the heels of an announcement by General Electric that it will convert about half of its global corporate fleet to electrics and will partner with fleet customers to deploy a total of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015. Most of those will be Chevy Volt sedans.

“By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale, and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action," said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in a statement.

In the same release, FedEx Chairman, President and CEO Fred Smith said GE's move helps ramp up production and lower prices of electric vehicles, bringing elevated visibility and acceptability to the public at large. FedEx is also incorporating electric trucks and alternative energy vehicles into its fleet.

It means the quiet vehicles will be increasingly common.

Pike Research said its survey "found that, based on Americans’ driving and commute patterns, PEVs should be a strong fit for a large number of consumers." In fact, 81 percent of respondents said better fuel efficiency would be an important factor when purchasing their next vehicle.

However, Pike officials found some drawbacks. They said consumers may have a difficult time justifying the increased cost of purchasing an electric vehicle even when they pay nothing for gasoline. The savings at the pump could take many, many months. Unless, of course, you replaced the aging Bentley with a Leaf.

Photo: Ford Focus chassis.