Industrial revolution

Hopeful Signs On The Green Jobs Front!

Two recent news items - one an announcement by a manufacturing plant in Fresno and the other a story in the San Luis Obispo newspaper - underline the impact of the emerging solar energy industry in Central California and the western United States. They also help fulfill the promise of green jobs.

First was this: PPG Industries said it will make components for the solar power industry at its Fresno plant. The company said it is the only maker of Solarphire PV glass on the West Coast, which will enhance its ability to serve an industry that is expected to surge in the Southwest and Asia - two regions that have strong potential for new solar projects.

Then there was this: About 400 workers are employed at two solar-power construction sites just west of the San Joaquin Valley. The construction is expected to take about three years.

Read more here and here.

While PPG officials say the current expansion of capacity won't add any jobs to the Fresno plant, who is to say that won't change if solar gains in popularity? PPG is smart to carve out a niche.

Meanwhile, the solar construction jobs in the Carrizo Plain of San Luis Obispo County could be the first of many more in the area. Dozens of other proposals - some of them pretty substantial (check this out) have been approved or are awaiting approval - in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, in addition to those under way in San Luis Obispo County.

Those proposals combined with projects earmarked for the Southern California desert (think industrial revolution!) could provide construction jobs for the next several years. They also help California meet or exceed its ambitious 33 percent renewables mandate.

Of course, it is unlikely that all of the proposed projects will be approved. Financing issues, conflicts with farming groups and habitat/environmental concerns will probably knock some out, but I wonder if green energy could become a new industry in the Valley and beyond.

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.

The Green Movement: Defying The Naysayers

Things sure get weird in a campaign year. Statements and misstatements. Lies and half-truths. I-said-this-but-really-meant-that. It's easy to get swept up in the negativity and for positive messages to get lost in all the noise.

But a funny thing is happening amidst the chatter: The green movement is gaining traction despite the naysayers. It's happening at the corporate level, where Ernst & Young is expanding its sustainability business and even devised "renewable energy attractive indices" (China, to no great surprise, is at the top) to track the world's appetite for clean energy.

And it's happening at the local level. My hometown newspaper, The Fresno Bee, today has this story about a proposal for a huge solar project. It's on land that cannot be farmed, and is indicative of what this region could become. Reporter Kurtis Alexander notes, "While the proposal joins nearly three dozen other solar plants pitched in Fresno County, the venture by Recurrent Energy is by far the biggest and underscores the county's standing as a hotbed for solar development."

The politicians may not acknowledge it, but the green movement is a bullet train on the fast track - despite an expected drop in stimulus funds. Ernst & Young puts it best: "A revolution is underway, and the renewable energy industry is adapting to a changed world. "

It's just not renewables. Energy efficiency and sustainability are helping power the train, and corporations are at the wheel. Pike Research projects spending on energy efficiency to increase 50 percent by 2017 as it becomes more important. has more, and makes particular note of Johnson Controls' clogged pipeline of work. Efficiency remains the biggest bang for the buck since buildings such as those in the photo above consume 40 percent of the world's energy. Often, minimum effort can yield maximum results.

Says Ernst & Young: "Global corporations across numerous industries are moving quickly to pursue cleantech revenue opportunities. The revenue opportunities are transformational because 1) they arise from a shift to a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy, and 2) they are changing corporate business strategies." There is more here and here.

The companies realize that efficiency cuts cost - AT&T slashed $44 million - and contributes to a stronger bottom line; that clean tech is a new revenue source; and that it helps corporations meet internal sustainability goals. Fifty-eight percent of the corporations that responded to an Ernst & Young survey said they plan to increase clean tech spending between 2012 and 2014, and 25 percent said their expenditures will remain the same.

As corporations go, so goes the military, which says the nation's dependence on foreign oil is a security risk. And the military isn't alone in that assessment. Check out this video from the Rocky Mountain Institute, which says threats - and not just those related to security - are leading to a national discussion on energy issues.

Of course, change won't happen overnight. Or will it? Technological advancements are coming at a dizzying rate. Costs are dropping rapidly and it won't be long until solar power, for one, achieves grid parity. I'll keep my beret handy, just in case this revolution is around the corner.

Photo of Seattle skyline by Lars Sundstrom

New Initiatives Bring Even More Green To California

California's already green tint is spreading.

Today's release of draft regulations to protect consumers from toxic chemicals in products on store shelves is part of an overall Green Chemistry Initiative indicative of increasing environmental awareness in California.

Debbie Raphael, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which issued the draft regulations, summed up the program this way: “More and more, there’s an understanding that some of the health and environmental problems we see in the world today may, in fact, stem from toxic chemicals in consumer products," she said in a press release. "A number of other countries are already taking action, but our Green Chemistry Initiative puts California at the forefront.”

California is at the forefront of the sustainability movement in other ways too. Its 33 percent renewables mandate is one of the most ambitious in the nation. The state recently resumed a green tax credit, passed a cap-and-trade program and starting next year sellers of commercial property have to benchmark energy consumption.

Benchmarking is something my employer, the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in Fresno, understands. The SJVCEO, as implementing partner of the Valley Innovative Energy Watch (VIEW), is helping six cities and two counties benchmark all of their facilities into the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager so they can better track energy usage.

(Our organization has created ‘Benchmarking Made Easy’, a ten-page training manual on how to use the online energy management system and how to create a benchmarking policy using data from benchmarking. The nonprofit also helps lead webinars and training sessions on the benchmarking.)

Critics say that going green is cost-prohibitive and unwise in this economic climate, but there is strong evidence of just the opposite. Many businesses have found that implementing sustainability programs, especially energy-efficiency measures, saves them much money with relatively minimal investment. Often, they can recoup the cost within a few years.

AT&T, for example, saved $44 million through energy conservation in 2010. Math whizzes at IBM thought their company could shave energy use 3.5 percent through efficiency, but wound up slashing 5.7 percent, or $30 million. Read more here.

The city of Fresno crunched data from PG&E and forecast a $260 million economic boost if residential and commercial property owners reduced energy consumption 30 percent. Learn more here.

Raphael expects the green chemistry program to benefit businesses as well. "Companies are finding new revenue opportunities as shoppers look for products they don't have to worry about," she said. "Early adopters, such as Apple, Green Toys, California Baby, Method and others...are proving it is a profitable business strategy."

And growing. A trip to Orchard Supply Hardware last week led me to an aisle filled with cleaning products. Nearly one half of it was products described as eco friendly. If that is a niche category, it is a much larger niche.

We are in the early stages of a transformation. Who knows if it will reach the industrial revolution status that some experts project, but clearly momentum is building. The younger generation will likely push it, as evidenced by UC Davis' recent announcement that student interest is leading to a new major in sustainable agriculture.

Photo of San Francisco

NASA, NIKE Team Up For Energy Innovation

NASA is joining with a corporate partner, NIKE, and others to "LAUNCH" energy innovation.

NASA's scientists are proven problem solvers, and energy innovation is a huge opportunity for this nation to create jobs, reduce its carbon footprint, lower costs and gain efficiencies. Some analysts, in fact, are calling clean energy the new Industrial Revolution.

Here's more on the LAUNCH program from Imagine the possibilities!

Photo by S. Braswell

Solar Power's Industrial Revolution

I was going to write about advancements in solar-energy technology, but Karl Burkart at Mother Nature Network saved me the trouble. Here are 5 cool things that MIT is working on as solar goes through its own Industrial Revolution

This type of research is vital to the future of solar and other types of clean energy. There is some concern that subsidies are the main thing keeping the industry going, and that a big crash is on the horizon when the supports are pulled.

In this post, an econmist says it's crazy that so little of the investment into clean energy (we include energy efficiency in that) is directed into innovation and new technology.

I'll quote the economist, Tapan Munroe: "It does not make any sense for us not to lead the world in clean energy. We have the people to do it. We have the world's best high-tech innovation regions. We can and must be a leader in this field. This is a wonderful opportunity for America but we must be willing to make substantive long-term private and public investments in the clean-energy industry to assure its success."

Great strides are being made in clean energy, as the MIT work shows, but more can be done. Some people have called for a Manhattan Project to boost clean energy, which would help create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and save money.

As Munroe says, clean energy "is a powerful tool capable of simultaneously addressing society's goals of economic growth, enhanced security, environmental health, and decarbonization."

The Next Industrial Revolution

  • The evolution of clean energy could, in the eyes of Ernst & Young, become a revolution.

    An industrial revolution.

    That's right. The global auditing and analysis firm says the emerging green energy movement could be as revolutionary as the era that produced the cotton gin and steam engine.

    "The cleantech-enabled transformation to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy may be the next industrial revolution. As this transformation accelerates, global corporations are increasingly realizing that they must understand the impact of cleantech on their industries and develop strategic plans to adapt to this change," Ernst & Young says in this story on its Web site.

    Almost 90 percent of the companies that responded to its annual global survey of corporations with more than $1 billion revenue said cleantech is an "organization-wide or business-unit-level initiative."

    About a third of them said they plan to earmark at least 3 percent of their revenue over the next five years to clean technology, and 75% said their clean-energy spending will increase.

    More demand for energy, higher prices, security concerns and diminishing natural resources will be catalysts for the growing movement. In addition, Ernst & Young says, progress toward a low carbon energy-efficient economy presents an economic opportunity for investors and others.

    Ernst & Young cites these trends:

  • The price of solar and wind energy will fall as they grow in magnitude (Check out this blog from my colleague);

  • Going green is a strategic business decision;

  • More businesses are developing sustainability measures, and reporting them to stakeholders and customers.

    Of course, this won't happen overnight. The first industrial revolution spanned decades, and this one is stumbling along in its early stages. Ernst & Young says raising capital to fuel the transformation will be an issue, especially in these austere times.

    Interestingly, the Ernst & Young report was the second one this week to sound a similar theme. Pike Research cited a different revolution - the proliferation of the Internet - when it said the military's embrace of green energy could drive renewable energy into the mainstream of society. More on that here.

    None of this surprises us. We have witnessed over the past few years the bumpy beginnings of change. More homes, businesses, cities and farms are using the wind and sun to partially run their operations. Investment into potential biofuels is robust, and energy efficiency - the most cost-effective and fastest way to lower power bills and shrink a carbon footprint - is gaining a faithful following.

    Let the revolution begin.

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