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Friday, March 6, 2015

Apple, Google and the evolving economics of energy

Great report from Green Biz.  For any industry or business, how you power your facilities, and fleets, is a key new component of managing your costs and improving your CSR scores.

Within 24 hours, two of Silicon Valley's most recognizable household names once again have whipped an entire industry into a frenzy.
This time, instead of introducing a new gadget that stands to upend the market for personal computers, smartphones or an emerging field such as robotics, Apple and Google have thrown down the renewable energy gauntlet.
Google on Wednesday told Silicon Valley newspaper the San Jose Mercury News that it has purchased enough energy from a Northern California wind producer to power its sprawling "Googleplex" headquarters with 100 percent renewable energy. A day earlier, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that the tech giant is spending $848 million on a California solar farm to power all of its operations in the state. 
Sure, both companies actively have been investing in renewables such as solar, wind, fuel cells and hydropower for years. But the deals this week have much more heft in both the symbolic and financial senses, adding to mounting evidence that sustainability is increasingly being incorporated into core business decisions, rather than altruistic philanthropic initiatives or experimental research projects.
First, the new wind and solar plans for Google and Apple deal directly with corporate headquarters (complexes which, by the way, also have been criticized for their insular, suburban locations disconnected from public transit). The new energy facilities won't be part of some distant greenfield R&D projects, but rather will provide power for the main offices of two of the biggest companies in the entire world.
But perhaps more important for those considering how the moves may be received by competitors or emulators in other industries are the economics in play. Take the crystal clear statement from Cook that Apple's investment in the 280-megawatt farm in Monterey County was partially about the bottom line.
“Quite frankly, we’re doing this because it’s right to do, but you may also be interested to know that it’s good financially to do it,” Cook told the crowd at a Goldman Sachs conference Tuesday in San Francisco. “We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy."
And then there was the comment from Sam Arons, a Google energy strategist, to the Mercury News.
"Not only do we think renewable energy is important from a climate change perspective, it also makes business sense," he said. The article added, "The buy helps protect Google from higher energy prices in the future, Arons said."

Changing cost calculations

Embedded in the comments about long-term corporate energy cost predictability are several once-esoteric financial concepts becoming increasingly applicable to mainstream energy consumption.
For decades, corporate sustainability has been framed as an add-on to business operations that can bolster a company's public reputation and maybe do some good for the environment in the process. But progressively more jarring forecasts for global environmental distress — and the likelihood of ensuing economic fallout for businesses confronted with extreme storms, water scarcity, material supply shortages and the like — are turning the corporate social responsibility conversation on its head.
Front and center now are risk mitigation and financial predictability, or two variables apt to make C-suites and boards of directors much more eager to pay attention. At the macro level, the conversation is shifting to resilience, or a more holistic view of the way companies might benefit from being able to withstand shocks linked to climate issues, social unrest or political instability.
More specifically, the fiscal consideration most evident in Cook's reference to the declining appeal of "brown energy" is the economic uncertainty increasingly surrounding fossil fuels.
While oil prices have plummeted in recent months, there's no guarantee how long that might last — an uneasy reality that increasingly has global regulators and shareholders of companies such as Exxon Mobil scrutinizing the prospect of "stranded assets," or scenarios where once hugely lucrative fossil fuel reserves might become financially untenable to extract and sell due to either regulation (such as a carbon tax) or accelerating climate change.
But the next logical step in the conversation about stranded assets is how major corporate energy users stand to be impacted.
A relatively small number of firms appear willing to invest in proactively trying to stave off the risk of being stuck without energy, or facing steep price increases, by transitioning earlier to renewable energy sources. But that path, too, still has its challenges.

Seeking new models

If any companies were likely to buck existing renewable energy business models to go at the market on their own, Apple and Google likely would be the top two candidates.
Interestingly, both have opted to purchase power directly from existing providers — First Solar for Apple and NextEra Energy Resources for Google.
Indeed, other businesses ranging from BMW to Wal-Mart to IKEA are also employing varying approaches to on-site renewable energy in a bid to lower costs and cut carbon emissions.
The catch: power procurement is no walk in the park.
Facebook, General Motors and Hewlett-Packard were a few of the big name companies to sign on in July to the new Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles initiative, which seeks to better align corporate energy buyers, utilities and legislators when it comes to actually getting new power systems up and running.
Complex contracts, lengthy negotiations and antiquated regulations are a few obstacles spurring discussion about digital or otherwise streamlined Power Purchase Agreements.
While companies work through their individual frustrations, there are also collective efforts, such as the Corporate Renewables Partnership established by the Rocky Mountain Institute, World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute and BSR. The goal there is to add 60 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity to the amount purchased by businesses (about double current levels) by 2025.
When it comes to the huge hill still left to climb on corporate carbon emissions, the long-game recently was summed up by another Apple employee, sustainability chief Lisa Jackson.

"I wonder if we sometimes miss the swing-for-the-fences moment, where you throw all the incremental goals away and say, 'Why can't we go for something different and important?'" Jackson said during GreenBiz's 2014 VERGE event. "Those are the moments we are striving for.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Governors In Conn., Mass., R.I. Say They Will Collaborate On Energy Policy

As you know from watching our energy special, New England states coordinate closely on energy management and trying to keep the lights on in all cities and towns during peak demand.  Extending this level of cooperation on renewables, and expanding natural gas as a bridge fuel, is key to increasing their share of the power supple on our grids.

We think, too, this will help push the process of bringing hydro down from Quebec as a major supple of electricity.

We have felt from the very beginning that sustainability is the last great bastion of collaboration in which we will see all people, parties, states and nations work together on solutions.  Good to see some of that high-level cooperation seeding here in New England.

Thanks to Steve Holland, who runs our energy channel, for sending this over.  Be listening on WRNP 1320 for his most recent segment. 

The governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are joining together to look for ways to increase the region's reliance on renewable energy sources while also expanding natural gas capacity.

Under the plan, electric distribution companies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island will collaborate with their respective state agencies to begin a competitive bidding process to seek proposals from suppliers of clean energy resources including wind, solar, small hydro, biomass, fuel cells and other non-carbon emitting sources.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said the collaborative effort between the three states opens the possibility of procuring large-scale projects and transmission to deliver clean energy on a scale that no single state could secure.

"By working together with neighboring states we can make the most efficient use of our resources to attract new clean energy projects at the lowest possible cost for ratepayers while advancing our interests in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases," Malloy said in a statement.

Malloy said the three states took the first step in the procurement process by formally releasing a draft request for proposals, including a 30-day comment period that will end on March 26. After considering the comments, the states will issue a final request for proposals this spring.

The draft proposal request allows the states to consider projects for the delivery of clean energy through traditional power purchase agreements that don't require transmission upgrades; purchase power agreements that require transmission upgrades; and transmission projects containing clean energy commitments but without any associated power purchase agreements.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the effort is part of a push to reduce energy costs, strengthen grid reliability and increase the region's economic competitiveness. Baker said it's also important for Massachusetts to embrace regional cooperation with neighboring states to pursue natural gas expansion.

"This regional partnership will allow Massachusetts to acquire cost effective renewable resources for the Commonwealth's energy supply," Baker said Wednesday.

Baker said he reached out to his counterparts in neighboring states during last weekend's National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

Baker also said he's also directed the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to file a request with the state Department of Public Utilities to begin a process to determine how electric utilities can pursue gas capacity contracts to improve winter reliability and lower winter electricity costs.

He said the agencies will also explore ways to expand natural gas expansion under existing law.

Baker said the Department of Public Utilities may issue a written order to give direction to the electric utilities on how they should move ahead to expand natural gas capacity.

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant


We need to celebrate all positive steps forward.  This is a great example of how major companies, using their purchasing power and influence on the supply side, can impact, in a very good way, how we source, or don't source, material.  A simple change like this can clearly bring bounties of environmental benefit.  Good work.

Success! Private sector Soy Moratorium effective in reducing deforestation in the Amazon


Today, fewer chicken nuggets can trace their roots to cleared Amazon rain forest.
In 2006, following a report from Greenpeace and under pressure from consumers, large companies like McDonald's and Wal-Mart decided to stop using soy grown on cleared forestland in the Brazilian Amazon. This put pressure on commodity traders, such as Cargill, who in turn agreed to no longer purchase soy from farmers who cleared rain forest to expand soy fields.

The private sector agreement, a type of supply chain governance, is called the Soy Moratorium and it was intended to address the deforestation caused by soy production in the Amazon. In a new study to evaluate the agreement, published today (Jan. 22, 2015) in Science, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Holly Gibbs and colleagues across the U.S. and Brazil show that the moratorium helped to drastically reduce the amount of deforestation linked to soy production in the region and was much better at curbing it than governmental policy alone.

Holly Gibbs "What we found is that before the moratorium, 30 percent of soy expansion occurred through deforestation, and after the moratorium, almost none did; only about 1 percent of the new soy expansion came at the expense of forest," says Gibbs, a professor of environmental studies and geography in the UW-Madison Nelson Institute's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE).

Between 2001 and 2006, prior to the moratorium, soybean fields in the Brazilian Amazon expanded by 1 million hectares, or nearly 4,000 square miles, contributing to record deforestation rates. By 2014, after eight years of the moratorium, almost no additional forest was cleared to grow new soy, even though soy production area had expanded another 1.3 million hectares. Farmers were planting on already cleared land.

The findings are intended to help policy makers and industry leaders make informed decisions going forward.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Seafloor Volcano Pulses May Alter Climate

It is fascinating how complex our eco-system and the cycles we still do not understand.  Interesting, too, you wonder how such eruptions might influence off-shore wind?

Seafloor Volcano Pulses May Alter Climate


Vast ranges of volcanoes hidden under the oceans are presumed by scientists to be the gentle giants of the planet, oozing lava at slow, steady rates along mid-ocean ridges. But a new study shows that they flare up on strikingly regular cycles, ranging from two weeks to 100,000 years—and, that they erupt almost exclusively during the first six months of each year. The pulses—apparently tied to short- and long-term changes in earth’s orbit, and to sea levels--may help trigger natural climate swings. Scientists have already speculated that volcanic cycles on land emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide might influence climate; but up to now there was no evidence from submarine volcanoes. The findings suggest that models of earth’s natural climate dynamics, and by extension human-influenced climate change, may have to be adjusted. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“People have ignored seafloor volcanoes on the idea that their influence is small—but that’s because they are assumed to be in a steady state, which they’re not,” said the study’s author, marine geophysicist Maya Tolstoy of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “They respond to both very large forces, and to very small ones, and that tells us that we need to look at them much more closely.” A related study by a separate team this week in the journal Science bolsters Tolstoy’s case by showing similar long-term patterns of submarine volcanism in an Antarctic region Tolstoy did not study.

Volcanically active mid-ocean ridges crisscross earth’s seafloors like stitching on a baseball, stretching some 37,000 miles. They are the growing edges of giant tectonic plates; as lavas push out, they form new areas of seafloor, which comprise some 80 percent of the planet’s crust. Conventional wisdom holds that they erupt at a fairly constant rate--but Tolstoy finds that the ridges are actually now in a languid phase. Even at that, they produce maybe eight times more lava annually than land volcanoes. Due to the chemistry of their magmas, the carbon dioxide they are thought to emit is currently about the same as, or perhaps a little less than, from land volcanoes—about 88 million metric tons a year. But were the undersea chains to stir even a little bit more, their CO2 output would shoot up, says Tolstoy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

1 Million Solar Power Jobs Potential For India

We think data like this is key to the clean energy revolution.  We know the environmental benefits of shifting away from fossil fuel.  But the economic returns, not as well understood by many, are as key to our future.

Here's another great example of a country creating jobs while building new infrastructure for cleanly powering many lives for many generations. 

Indian Prime Minister Modi's 100 gigawatt solar energy goal by 2022 could create as many as one million jobs says the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

Additionally, a proposed target of 60GW of wind energy could generate another 180,000 jobs in the country.

New analysis recently released by the two organizations says the 1 million jobs could be created within a decade and doesn't include employment generated in the manufacturing sector.

"Prime Minister Modi's clean energy plan creates enormous potential for India's booming population. It provides job opportunities and access to electricity that will power rapidly growing cities and villages," said Anjali Jaiswal, Director of NRDC's India Initiative.

The analysis states the jobs will be spread throughout the country, creating positive ripple effects on local economies across India.  Patchy data indicates grid-connected solar and wind energy combined are estimated to have created nearly 70,000 full-time jobs so far.

If India’s solar goals are realised, the nation will become the world’s biggest solar electricity powerhouse. It’s only taken 4 years for India’s solar market to have grown more than a hundredfold – the country currently has around 3 GW of installed solar capacity.

India is currently the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer, with 22 GW of installed capacity.

NRDC and CEEW’s analysis looks at different scenarios based on how solar projects might be split up between large and small scale, and the effect on employment opportunities.

Of the three scenarios presented, a split of 60GW rooftop and 40GW large-scale could generate the most jobs given the labor-intensive nature of rooftop solar.

“This scenario could create a potential 1,000,000 short-term FTE and 310,000 long-term FTE jobs, totaling more than 1,310,000 FTE jobs by 2022,” states the analysis.

The full report can be viewed here: Clean Energy Powers Local Job Growth in India (PDF).

Local and international solar companies are quickly gearing up to assist India in reaching its goals. US-based SunEdison has strong ties to India and among its upcoming local projects is 5GW of mega-scale grid-connected solar plants in Rajasthan, plus 5 other solar PV projects around the nation totaling 150 megawatts capacity. Another important initiative is SunEdison’s “Eradication Of Darkness” program that brings off-grid solar to impoverished communities.
- See more at:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Tim Cook: New solar farm

We did a great show with a major shareholder of Apple's who was upset, and said so loudly at a meeting, with their significant investments in clean energy.  He, and the group he represented, thought the spend was too much.

Tom Cook blasted him and said, in essence, "we will not put earnings and profits over environmental protection".   He also pointed out, and this has been our experience, the investments in renewables have brought tremendous ROI's to Apple, and he expected to continue to expand those investments.

Keep in mind, too, Apple is fixing their electricity costs with these systems.  We see the same great costs reduction and solid returns at Arpin.

Tim Cook: New solar farm will be Apple's 'biggest and boldest project ever'

Summary:"We're not focused on the numbers. We're focused on the things that produce the numbers," asserted Apple CEO Tim Cook on successes and failures under his tenure since 2011.
SAN FRANCISCO---The upcoming Apple Watch might be the most anticipated release from the iPhone maker in 2015, but there is plenty more coming for the enterprise market this year too.
Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference at San Francisco's Palace Hotel on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook elaborated on Apple's new business software deal with IBM first announced last summer.
"Just how we changed consumers' lives, we want to change the way people work," Cook posited, admitting Apple didn't have the right foundation to start on this strategy alone.

Though historically Apple and IBM have been considered rivals, Cook insisted the "skills of the two companies are complementary."

"IBM has very deep knowledge of a number of verticals. Apple doesn't have that. IBM has enormous field resources. Apple doesn't have that," Cook acknowledged.

However, Apple has the devices enterprises want to deploy, Cook continued, but IBM doesn't.

"We'll begin to see that relationship bear fruit this year as apps begin to roll out," Cook promised.

The first wave of mobile apps from the Apple-IBM collaboration already began to trickle out in December. Built specifically for iPhone and iPad, the 10 industry-specific apps are targeted toward enterprise customers in banking, retail, insurance, financial services, and telecommunications for governments and airlines.

Bolstering its infrastructure for that project among many others, Apple announced at the beginning of February that it would be converting a failed Arizona sapphire plant into a data center.

Cook followed up on Tuesday by dropping news about what he characterized as Apple's "biggest and boldest project ever."

That would be the construction of a 1,300-acre solar farm in Monterey County, California, just a few hours south of corporate headquarters in Cupertino.

Cook touted this solar farm would be able to produce enough power for almost 60,000 California homes, or translated another way, enough energy to fuel Apple's new spaceship-like campus still under construction as well as all of its retail and data center locations in California.
Few further details are available at this time, but the seeds for Apple's solar farm are already sprouting praise.

Greenpeace analyst Gary Cook wrote in prepared remarks soon after on Tuesday arguing the tech giant still has a lot to do in shaping up its environmental footprint, but Apple's CEO has already demonstrated an understanding of the urgency demanded here.

"It's one thing to talk about being 100% renewably powered, but it's quite another thing to make good on that commitment with the incredible speed and integrity that Apple has shown in the past two years," he lauded.

Ringing up to a roughly $850 million investment, Cook told the analysts and investors in the audience that he knows "this is a financial conference, and some of you are interested if this is a good use of funds or not."

Nevertheless, Cook said Apple can expect "significant savings because we have a fixed price for renewable energy," which is quite a difference from the pricing model for "brown energy."

According to Goldman Sachs, Apple has seen its stock rise by 120 percent and annual revenue up 56 percent under Cook's tenure thus far. Since he became CEO in 2011, Apple has sold 750 million iOS devices and returned more than $100 billion to shareholders.

When asked about Apple's biggest accomplishments in 2014 alone, Cook retorted that one of the many lessons instilled by the company's co-founder and his predecessor Steve Jobs was that "putting limits on your thinking are never good."

"We're not focused on the numbers. We're focused on the things that produce the numbers," Cook asserted.

Nevertheless, Cook highlighted a number of releases that did generate plenty of buzz (and money) last year, including but not limited to iOS 8, Yosemite, the iPhone 6, and the addition of Touch ID on iPad.

"We've taken iOS and extended into your car, into your home, and into your health," explained Cook. "All of these are critical parts of your life and none of us want different platforms for different parts of our lives. That is huge for our future."

Apple Pay alone -- a project that has been in the works and expected to roll out for years before finally becoming available in 2014 -- is already accepted by more than 2,000 banks and credit unions.

Cook also boasted about Apple's continued path into China, growing its online and brick-and-mortar retail footprints in the market as well as a partnership with state-owned telco China Mobile.

Still, Apple Watch will be one of the core products to, well, watch in 2015. Cook quipped one of the biggest surprises to Apple Watch will be "the breadth of what it can do."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Electric range-extended trucks

Improving fleet efficiency is a very important part of the clean-air equation.  EPA, through their Smartway Program, has done a great job of helping commercial transportation companies improve their miles-per-gallon, and switch to alternative fuels.

We've reported on companies like e-Now ( that add solar/batteries to large trucks to take load off the alternator, and replace small diesel engines completely on other equipment.

Now we see electric range-extended trucks--with terrific ROI's--coming onto the market.  Interesting, as you will see, that the founder was a a co-founder of Tesla.  No organizations seem to understand electric transportation better than Tesla, so we have high hopes for these trucks and their acceptance by buyers.

Electric range-extended trucks can double fuel economy

When it comes to electric vehicles, we hear plenty about electric cars being launched into the consumer market but not too much about commercial vehicles. Maybe that’s because not too many people have to concern themselves with what type of delivery or garbage truck they are going to buy next. Nevertheless, such considerations matter, since the electrification of commercial fleets promises considerably larger efficiency gains than cars.

Four-year-old California company Wrightspeed, started by Tesla co-founder Ian Wright, has developed a technology that zeros in on a specific niche of the commercial fleet market, bringing both fuel savings and emissions mitigation for commercial fleet operators.

Coming from his background at Tesla, Wright remains convinced of the benefits of going electric, but he recognizes that EVs can be perceived as expensive in some markets. In starting Wrightspeed, he says the mission was to figure out, “How do you get more bang for your buck?” And the answer was to just focus on building power-trains for trucks.

Staying true to vehicle electrification, Wrightspeed’s power train combines powerful electric motors and batteries, but in order to cover the distances commercial trucks run, the power-train incorporates a gas-turbine range extender; the whole package is then retrofitted into vehicles from truck OEMs. While the company sources the gas-turbine extender and batteries from outside, the electric motors, inverters, transmission and control electronics are all of the company’s own design.