Stimulus Money to Halve Solar Costs? Think Again

Can the stimulus money really help to drive down the price of solar electricity by half in the next five years? Yes, according to a White House report on Tuesday touting the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But think again.

CMEA’s Maurice Gunderson Talks Tactics

As the stimulus and the recession both leave marks on the cleantech industry, cleantech investors, along with entrepreneurs, are adjusting to a new landscape. And CMEA Capital is one venture capital firm that seems to be navigating it successfully, so far. The company backed A123Systems, the lithium-ion battery manufacturer whose much-celebrated initial public offering surpassed expectations in the midst of an IPO drought in September, as well as Solyndra, the thin-film solar startup that received the first renewable-energy manufacturing loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.
We recently sat down with Maurice Gunderson, senior partner at CMEA, who previously co-founded venture-capital firm Nth Power, to discuss his thoughts on the future of the greentech industry, and the how CMEA – and its portfolio companies – are prepared to thrive in the new economy. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
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Does Medium Affect Behavior?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people behave in different environments. It first crossed my mind a month or so ago, while out shopping with one of my sisters. She was driving, someone cut her off, and she commented on the person’s rude behavior. I said that I wondered if the person would act the same in person.

I act quite differently in my car than I do when I meet strangers in a store. I’m much more likely to be aggressive while driving, whereas in a store, I’m generally very courteous and tend to go out of my way to hold doors open for people, and that sort of thing.

It’s strange, really. I’m “in a rush” when I’m on the road and don’t have time for niceties, but after parking my car and walking into a store five minutes later, I can take the time to be polite. It made me wonder if medium influences behavior. Read More about Does Medium Affect Behavior?

Today in Mobile

The two federal agencies in charge of the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program have pushed back the deadline for first-round mail applications from today until Aug. 20. The move was due in part to a flood of applications — despite the fact that most major carriers aren’t angling for a slice — but it’s likely to spur a flurry of activity from those who weren’t going to get their submissions done in time. And as Stacey notes, a healthy chunk of the initial $4 billion appears headed toward wireless providers.

Green Job Seekers: Online Map Shows Green Businesses in Cali

President Obama has called for the creation of 5 million green jobs in the coming years, and the billions of dollars available for clean technology in the stimulus package — notably the $600 million aimed at green job training programs — is supposed to help get them off the ground. But how does a job hunter go about finding these green businesses? The Environmental Defense Fund today launched an online, interactive map of California’s green economy that should help job seekers — and those already employed— survey the sector in that state.

The more than 2,200 businesses featured on the map are divided into four categories: energy generation, energy efficiency, green building and transportation. Users can search the Google Maps-based layout by city, county, congressional district and sector; a brief description is included about each company listed.

image 2 map

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Biden, Chu Dole Out $8B in State Energy Efficiency Funds

Today is like Christmas morning for energy-efficiency funds. Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu today are allocating $8 billion dollars from the stimulus package for weatherization and energy-efficiency upgrades to the states. Those funds, which are supposed to create 87,000 jobs, will be available to invest an average of $6,500 per home to install new insulation and efficient heating, and will also be used for rebates for home energy audits, efficiency upgrades for government buildings, and the promotion of Energy Star goods.

Energy efficiency for buildings is one of the smartest energy investments the new administration can make. According to the DOE Weatherization Program, $1 invested returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits, like lower energy bills, and at the same time can draw an additional $1.54 in additional resources from private funding, utilities, state funds, and other federal funds. A home that’s “weatherized” at a cost of several thousand dollars can save some $350 per year on energy bills, claims the Obama administration (that’s conservative, as the Weatherization program sites a number closer to $413). Here’s the breakdown of what Biden and Chu have allocated to the states:
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Let the Magnitude of the Clean Power Funds in the Stimulus Sink In

Just four graphs into President Obama’s address this weekend, in which he highlights the importance of the recently passed stimulus bill, he touts the magnitude of the funds for renewable energy. With an estimated total of more than $50 billion in combined tax credits and spending signed into law last week, the package is the most significant funding for the clean power and alternative vehicle industries in decades.

“Because of what we did, companies – large and small – that produce renewable energy can now apply for loan guarantees and tax credits and find ways to grow, instead of laying people off; and families can lower their energy bills by weatherizing their homes” — President Obama.

While the federal government might not be cut out to be a green VC, its grants, tax credits and overall subsidies will prove invaluable to the industry. And the funding marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s leadership on fighting climate change. Next up: the headache of allocating the funds to the companies begins shortly!

The Most Important Words in the Stimulus Package for Energy Efficiency

The most important provision in the stimulus package for promoting energy efficiency in the U.S. could be a piece of ambiguous language wrapped up in a section on state energy grants. A few sentences encourages states to consider a policy for utilities known as decoupling (though the stimulus text doesn’t name it specifically) in return for energy grants. Decoupling, a strategy that has proven successful at promoting energy efficiency in states like California, disconnects utilities’ sales from their profits, and thus encourages utilities to implement energy efficiency programs. The text in the stimulus bill doesn’t require decoupling per se in order to get funds, but requires the state governors to get certification from their respective commissions that the states in question will:

“….seek to implement…a general policy that ensures that utility financial incentives are aligned with helping their customers use energy more efficiently and that provide timely cost recovery and a timely earnings opportunity for utilities associated with cost-effective and verifiable efficiency savings, in a way that sustains or enhances utility customers’ incentives to use energy more efficiently.”

Yeah it’s ambiguous, but industry watchers say if that text has the desired effect it could be a landmark on two fronts: For one of the first times in years, the federal government will lead the states in terms of energy conservation, and energy efficiency programs will get a dramatic boost over the long term by encouraging reform of state utility policy.
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