Energy | March 2011
Energy In the 21st Century
02. Japan: The Shock Heard Around the World
04. Veolia | Resource scarcity is driving the future.
06. Stalking the Magic Donut | Fusion: An overview
08. Advantage for Analysts | Follow the money.
10. American Electric Power | Itâ€™s jobs, jobs, jobs.
14. Acorn Energy | Making what we have better-much better.
Letter from the Publisher
s we have been asking industry leaders about the state of a green economy, the crisis in Japan focused us on energy technologies, efficiency and financing. We look at the future in the face of a new reality, and the continuing lack of a national energy policy. Energy is not telecom. We wonâ€™t build utility scale power in anything under ten years. The policies that are driving energy efficiency and investment are developing through a patch work quilt of initiatives from cities, states and regions. We could say that now is the time to energize public and private leaders to think seriously about energy, but in truth the time was years ago. We are currently falling badly behind, driven by fears about foreign oil rather than the opportunities for new industries, better use of our natural resources, and support for the technological innovation that will keep us the worldâ€™s number one economy. We pass on that opportunity one more time, and it may not come around again.
A. Tana Kantor
04. Shock from Japan | What will
it mean for global energy policy
06. Veolia | R esource scarcity is driving the future. 08. Stalking the Magic Donut | Fusion: An overview 10. Advantage for Analysts | Follow the money.
14. American Electric Power | Itâ€™s jobs, jobs, jobs.
16. Acorn Energy | Making what we have better-much better.
THE GREEN ECONOMY Green | 2011
The Shock Heard Round the World.
The reality of a highly technological and developed economy struggling with the repercussions of nuclear failure will have long lasting effects on policy around the world.
M. V. Ramana, of the Nuclear Futures Laboratory & Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
“I think we have to remember that we have seen all these cases in the past. But we’ve been told it’s a special case, that we’ve learned, that Chernobyl was Russia and that was a closed society, and so forth. Now we’ve seen a problem in a developed Westernized country, and that will have real repercussions.”
Ramana’s view is that countries have different responses based on the strength of the nuclear industry, coupled with policies of the government. But that alliance may face harder push back from citizens on the face of the evidence from Japan. Many will feel that nuclear is nuclear, and the size, technology or approach is not likely to resonate with people asked to host a nuclear plant in their back yard.‑
Alex Glaser, PhD is Assistant Professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Germany, which has 17 facilities, is looking at closing about half. France and India may be trying to ride the crisis out, while China has already put a moratorium on all nuclear construction.
He added that Germany and some other European countries are already reassessing their policies. Germany, which has 17 facilities, is looking at closing about half. France and India may be trying to ride the crisis out, while China has already put a moratorium on all nuclear construction. But in the United States everything is likely to be on hold. He sees years to even re-frame the discussion.
Glaser noted that there has been a movement toward smaller, modular plants that can be developed at a capital cost of closer to $1 Billion than $10 Billion, which makes them attractive to developers. Smaller is also more flexible in a future moving toward smart grids. However, one of the advantages of smaller—
the ability to be built underground away from terrorists in planes—could become a liability in the face of earthquakes. Ramana pointed out that smaller facilities tend to be placed together in order to share resources. But in Japan a single plant failure triggered failures in other plants: ie a failure in the #3 reactor triggered #2. He also noted that the same event—the earthquake and tsunami—caused multiple failures in one plant, which makes developing failure strategies much more difficult.
Future of Energy Policy
The impact, especially in countries like Germany which have set aggressive carbon reduction strategies, is unclear. Glaser believes that many will have to re-calibrate climate milestones. He expects a massive push for more renewable energy. He thinks that Japan, which will face a substantial reduction in their nuclear fleet, could go toward offshore wind. Even though that won’t solve the energy problem, it will be a shift in major debates. In the US, Senators like Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Alexander Lamar (R-TN) are hanging tough. Shumer, on Meet the Press, said that the US has to become free from foreign oil, and that means he’s still willing to look. Lamar was reported to say on MSNBC, that he is still supportive of building more plants, because he believes that reactors in the United States are built to the highest standards in the world. He added that: “We don’t abandon highway systems because bridges and overpasses collapse during earthquakes. We cannot stop drilling after a tragic oil spill unless we want to start relying on foreign oil.” Whether the American people agree with him is yet to be seen. Whatever happens, the future for us all has changed.
A. Tana Kantor Photo from Allvoices.com.
An t i c i p a t i n g the W AV E .
“The realit y i s that resou r c e scarcity, with all of its econom i c and politic a l implication s , is driving t h i s change.” William F. Wescott Ph.D., Vice President of Innovation, Americas Veolia Environnement North America Operations LLC Interviewed by Maryruth Belsey Priebe
The future of the green economy is to simply be “the economy,” meaning that hopefully in the future our approach to infrastructure, to manufacturing and to every economic activity will be efficient, thoughtfully optimizing economic, social and environmental outcomes.
If you had to choose, what has been the most disappointing aspect of the green economy? The most encouraging?
I see the recent heightened interest in the green economy in a similar light—while this wave has its share of froth that will not last, there are many fundamental changes in the basic economy brought about by the latest surge in interest. The world of clean technology is no longer populated only by dreamers, but is now the domain of those seriously seeking economic opportunity and power, which is actually a good sign.
have been working in the cleantech space for over 25 years and have seen a number of of major waves of “green” interest including:
industrial environmental in the late 80’s post-Bhopal; holistic, multi-stakeholder approaches to “sustainability” started at the Earth Summit in the early 90’s; and
addressing climate change at the turn of the millennium. People became inspired with each wave, but reality always fell short of expectations. Nonetheless, each wave contributed to real, lasting progress.
There’s been so much talk of green jobs, stimulus funding, etc—what aspect, in your opinion, might have started turning people off?
While some groups may have had unrealistic expectations of clean technology as a panacea for the current economic The world of clean technology is no longer populated only by dreamers, but is now the domain of those seriously seeking economic opportunity and power, which is actually a good sign. Do you think dubious green marketing has tarnished the glimmer of green?
s with other waves, there has always been a tendency for words to get far ahead of reality due to wishful thinking, lack of understanding, or even deliberate misrepresentation. Being able to discern what is aspiration, misinformation, and reality requires a fair amount of maturity that is gained in part from learning from errors. The good news is that I think all stakeholders are becoming better consumers of information and therefore less likely to fall off a cliff of unrealistic expectations. Being better consumers of information makes it less worthwhile for others to attempt to “greenwash.”
he fundamental changes required to have a “green economy”—such as better infrastructure, new manufacturing approaches, and new workforce skills—do not occur quickly. While some groups may have had unrealistic expectations of clean technology as a panacea for the current economic crisis, I think there is a general realization that this is the only way forward. It’s very impressive to see how major powers like China are picking up the needle and putting it into a new, greener groove to position the country for continued economic growth in the mid- and long-term. Even with the great focus and drive of a country like China, change will not be immediate or complete.
What holds the greatest potential for a turnaround?
eing more thoughtful about how we invest in infrastructure has huge potential. Infrastructure is a necessary condition and engine for economic development. We continue to spend significant resources on new infrastructure and upgrading existing infrastructure. if we do so thoughtfully, considering the long term needs and opportunities to deploy better technologies and approaches, we can have a “future-proofed” foundation. Encouraging trends include the convergence of approaches across issues and technologies, including: the relationship between water and energy, recovering energy and material value from so-called “waste” resources, and leveraging information and communication technologies to create “smart” networks for water, energy, waste and transportation. These are all areas in which Veolia Environnement operates.
Wave photo: Clark Little in TreeHugger.com.
Stalking the Magic Donut
William (Bill) Wescott manages the deployment of the Veolia innovation Accelerator (VIA) in the Americas, working closely with Veolia Environnement’s Research and Innovation group and with all of the company’s business units, with a particular focus on innovations in the water sector. While he works with each and every business division, Bill is particularly active in the water innovation area. Bill has worked with environmental technologies across industries and across the world for more than 20 years with organizations such as the Cleantech Group (where he led the project to support the launch of VIA) and Arthur D. Little, Inc. Having lived in Brazil, Mexico, Italy and India, he is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, conversant in Italian and looks forward to learning French. Bill has a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon and BSE in Chemical Engineering from Princeton.
Other talks with Bill Wescott
The search for utility scale energy that is cheap, carbon neutral, plentiful and safe has been this millennia’s search for the alchemist’s dream to turn lead into gold. Nuclear fission, using heavy atoms like uranium, is one approach. The other is fusion, in which light atoms, like hydrogen, are fused at high temperature with an accompanying release of energy. This is the dream that has energized scientists at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, (PPPL) working with the US DOE, for decades. It is a dream that has inspired 23 nations to come together to build a fusion plant in France, called ITER, latin for “The Way”.
To visualize the process, imagine a very hot donut (100 million degrees Celsius) in a cylindrical container. The donut (plasma) is suspended by magnets so that it never touches the sides of the container. The reason is that the donut would cease to be a donut if it touched the sides, immediately cooling below the temperature needed to remain a plasma. (PPPL) has fired up their donut countless times—although for a duration of a second or less—which has enabled them to study the plasma,
creating both photographic and computer simulated images.
According to PPPL, the abundance of raw materials, their wide distribution, and the environmental acceptability make fusion a win for all. They believe that the costs of development are balanced by the expectation that fusion will be a safe, economical source of electricity.
Abundant Fuel Supply The major fuel, deuterium, can be readily extracted from ordinary water. The tritium could be produced from lithium, which is available in land deposits or from sea water which contains thousands of yearsâ€™ supply.
No Risk of a Nuclear Accident The amounts of deuterium and tritium in the fusion reaction zone are considered to be too small to result in a large uncontrolled release of energy. In the event of a malfunction, the plasma would strike the walls of its containment vessel and cool.
No Air Pollution Since no fossil fuels are used, there would be no release of chemical combustion products.
No High-level Nuclear Waste Similarly, there would be no fission products to present a handling and disposal problem. It is intended that careful materials selection would minimize the handling and ultimate disposal of radioactivity produced by neutrons interacting with the reactor structure.
Future Fusion is still a dream, despite plans going forward in France. Decades away, energy deployment strategies may make large single source energy production obsolete. However, the dream continues, producing research that can lead to unknown technology innovations.
To produce net power, fusion reactions must take place at high temperatures. The power production process which can occur at the lowest temperature and, hence, the most readily attainable fusion process on earth is the combination of a deuterium nucleus with one of tritium. The products are energetic helium-4 (He4) the common isotope of helium (which is also called an alpha particle), and a more highly energetic free neutron (n). The helium nucleus carries one-fifth of the total energy released and the neutron carries the remaining four fifths. Since nuclei carry positive charges, they normally repel one another. The higher the temperature, the faster the atoms or nuclei move. When they collide at high speeds, they overcome the force of repulsion of the positive charges, and the nuclei fuse. In such collisions energy is released. The difficulty in producing fusion energy has been to develop a device which can heat the deuterium-tritium fuel to a sufficiently high temperature and then confine it for a long enough time so that more energy is released through fusion reactions than is used for heating.
No Generation of Weapons Material The by-products of fusion are not suitable for use in the production of nuclear weapons.
Images from ITER and PPPL By A. Tana Kantor
“We advise clients on how to go about getting financing for renewable energy projects. I think it’s going to be frustrating, but calling it dead is an exaggeration. It’s definitely down.” PROJEC T F I N A N C I N G 20 0 9- 2 0 1 0 SOLAR
ALL PROJECTS Richard D. Homich, CEO of Advantage for Analysts, Inc.
From our perspective the renewable energy industry project financing is down about 30% from the prior year and most of that is because of close to about a 55% reduction in financing for wind projects which overwhelmed the growth in solar project financing.
If you look at the trajectory in the growth, year on year value of the projects financed, they’re going in opposite directions. Solar is climbing around 40% but coming from a small base in terms of installed capacity, and wind declined substantially in this past year. It went down about 55% from the 2009 level.
What is driving down projects?
art of it has to do with the cycle time for the development of wind and solar
projects. Excluding the gigantic projects that have been approved in southern California, solar projects can be installed in about three to six months. So you don’t have to have financing lined up as far in advance. Whereas with a wind project, it’s not unusual for the construction to go on for 12 to 18 months. If you go back that far from 2010, that takes you into the valley of the financial crisis. So what would be the slow down in 2010 has a lot to do with the dearth of financing that was available in the latter part of 2008 and early 2009.
What is the capital supply for project financing? We went through a rough spell and have recovered a bit. We have more suppliers of capital active in 2010 than in 2009. In 2011, because we have more participants in cash grants* returning, we expect to get more financing for projects.
What is driving demand for renewable energy?
hank goodness Proposition 23 wasn’t approved here in California, which would have reversed AB32. So we still have an RPS (Renwable Portfolio Standard) in California which leads to a tremendous demand for renewable energy. Hopefully we can get a clean energy standard on the legislative agenda for 2011 which would also help.
Aside from that, with activity picking up in the overall economy, we’re going to see an increase in demand for electricity. Our demand for electricity—any form of electricity—has declined by about 3% to 5%. In the face of this decreasing demand and low natural gas prices, there hasn’t been a strong driver for utilities to buy new production, especially not in the more expensive renewable sector. With the economy picking up, I would expect to see the cost for electricity to increase in response to increased demand and cost of natural gas. These increases would probably make it easier for renewable energy projects to be built.
nother consideration is the 60 GW (GigaWatts) of coal capacity that will retire by 2018. That’s a huge amount of capacity. I would find it hard to believe these old coal plants will be replaced by new coal plants. Definitely I can see natural gas playing a role in replacing it, but it won’t be all natural gas. I think it will be a portfolio of different power generating technologies including renewables that replace the coal plants that will be retired.
What holds the greatest potential for a turnaround?
would think it’s going to be the economy turning around, and the government getting a national clean energy standard implemented. That’s going to be the strongest short term stimulus for demand.
* See http://www.thegreeneconomy.com/tax-creditsgrants/ for a description of cash grants. Advantage for Analysts, Inc. is a provider of project financing solutions for the renewable energy industry. Since its introduction in 2003, Advantage has helped finance approximately $7 billion in renewable energy projects; approximately $2 billion in 2010. Throughout his career, Mr. Homich has adapted disruptive solutions to business needs—structuring and closing $500 million in transactions in the process. He has held senior management positions at Keane, a business process outsourcing solutions provider and Rapt, a leading provider of pricing analytics for the advertising industry. He has helped leading businesses and entrepreneurs in the finance, entertainment and high-technology industries conceive and implement strategies based on internet technology, and developed and marketed technology solutions at an early innovator in the microcomputer software industry. He also developed database and publishing systems for generating the print and online versions of the Standard & Poor’s News Services. In 2009 Mr. Homich led the management buyout of Advantage from Babcock & Brown, a private equity and asset management firm known as an innovator of creative financial structures.
Interview by Maryruth Belsey Priebe, Edited A. Tana Kantor
I think it really depends on what you call the clean energy economy. We would say that it includes everything: renewables, nuclear, clean coal, natural gas. I think we’re going to see a green energy economy in a more pragmatic approach. You’re seeing push-back in terms of cost and of some efforts made in the jobs that are being created. While we’re hopeful that’s a much more balanced approach moving forward, advancing the technologies of pure renewables like solar and wind will be key for us.
If you had to choose, what has been the most disappointing aspect of the green economy? The most encouraging?
think the most encouraging aspect is that technology is moving forward. We have to remember it is moving forward across the board—not only in terms of solar and wind— but also in terms of coal and nuclear. Everyone who’s looking at resources for the future are looking at resources that minimize the environmental impact, regardless of the actual source. Probably the most disappointing aspect has been that each faction has talked about their focus at the exclusion of everything else: “We can do it all with solar and wind”, or “We can do it all with nuclear or coal”. That’s not something we want to hear. As a utility responsible for providing resources to our customers, we want to be able to choose from a gamut of different resources. In fact, we need everything to move forward toward a low-carbon, green economy. That’s going to be key for us not only in terms of energy efficiency but also gridSMART® activities. Those types of things are going to provide the optimization of the resource mix that is going to be key.
“Right now, jobs, jobs, jobs is the key issue. So we have to focus as much on existing resources as with developing new resources. For example, we’ve had thousands of people working on scrubbers cleaning coal emissions, and we’re also working on gridSMART®, transmissions, and optimization activities on the grid itself. Those are the kinds of things we need to continue to look at to advance this country’s future from an energy standpoint. And that’s the greatest potential for turnaround.” Nick Akins, President American Electric Power
Do you think dubious green marketing has tarnished the glimmer of green?
hen we talk about doing everything with renewables—wind and solar power—that’s just really ridiculous. From a system perspective we’re not only looking at the baseload requirements needed to serve our customers into the future, but also the transmission needs. System operations have to be adjusted so that we can actually operate with intermittent resources, like wind and solar, along with all the other resources on the system. With the shale activity, there’s a lot of discussion about natural gas as the key to the future. It is a part of that key, but every other available resource is part of that mix as well. What we’re looking for is a more balanced approach: one that is a more reasonable and rational approach so that we don’t end up driving electricity costs up too much for our customers at one time. But I think that’s ultimately what is going to happen.
There’s been so much talk of green jobs, stimulus funds, etc - what aspect, in your opinion, might have started turning people off?
n this economy, jobs and existing jobs are critical. We don’t need more people who are out of jobs or families being affected. What we need is a plan that includes existing resources, but continues to develop the new technologies of the future. We really want the best of both worlds. We can’t do either one to the exclusion of the other. It’s going to be key for us to recognize that there is a long transition period that is required for changing to the resource mix of the future.
Transmission line Image: FlyingGoose.com
The other thing, that we could do a lot more of, is help customers understand the usage patterns of electrical energy. That is key to the gridSMART® initiative that we have. From a gridSMART® perspective, you want customers to understand the time of use, and the impact that has on the system. And, it has to be simple to understand, so that we can see those adjustments as they affect the energy efficiency and optimization around the power grid. This is important as well. AEP is also pushing transmission. Moving renewables to load centers, where they are needed, will require large transmission and we can support that. We have regional issues to resolve, particularly in terms of cost allocation to ensure that the green economy can move forward. And we need a credible analysis, where people are coming to the table from various factions of the resource mix, understanding that we can’t do one thing to the exclusion of everybody else. When people recognize that we need everything—we need a balanced, rational mix—then the green economy will move forward by default.
ENERGY GRID GETTING TO SCALE 80 megawatts
Cleantech America will build the world’s largest solar farm. When completed in 2011, the 80megawatt spread of solar panels will cover roughly 640 acres and be 17 times the size of the largest US solar farm in existence. The project will generate enough power for nearly 21,000 homes.
781.5 megawatts The Roscoe Wind Farm is the world’s largest wind farm (as of 10/09) with 627 wind turbines and a total installed capacity of 781.5 MW. The project provides power for more than 250,000 average Texan homes, spans parts of four Texas counties, and covers nearly 100,000 acres, several times the size of Manhattan.
AEP serves about 5.3 million people in 10 states, services 39,000 miles of transmission lines and 216,000 miles of distribution lines, employs 18,712 people, and generates about 38,000 megawatts.
In your opinion, is the green economy dead?
don’t think that the green economy is dead. Even in the decisions that we make, for future resources, we’re obviously looking at the most environmentally friendly solutions. We’re continuing to work on advancing our existing fleet to more of an environmentally friendly type of scenario. Any decisions we make for the future will move us toward that green economy. I’m optimistic because in the end, this country will recognize that we do have a substantial amount of natural resources across the board. The more we work on the technological advances that will optimize throughout the energy grid, the more we’ll see big benefits to our customers and to the energy future of this country.
Do you have any thoughts as to how long it will take for the green economy to become business-as usual?
t certainly is starting now—you’re seeing the advancements of solar, wind, natural gas facilities, and clean coal facilities. So that transition has already started to occur. And as we move forward, we’re going to see—I’d say within the next decade—substantial movement toward a green economy. It’s driven by several aspects: legislation continues to be looked at in Washington, but I don’t know in what frame it’s going to take. We hope, from an AEP perspective, that there’s a clean energy standard that includes not only renewables, but also energy efficiency, clean coal, nuclear, and natural gas. If we advance with that kind of process, we can advance pretty quickly and I think it will set things up well into the next decade. It takes time to actually construct this stuff; it takes time to go through the process of getting decisions made around resources; and probably the most critical path is the regulatory approvals to get this kind of thing done. Once we get past that, and people get on the same page, we’ll be able to move forward pretty quickly. I think
in the next decade it’ll really pick up and it’ll really accelerate after that.
Do you have a sense as to which type of energy will be the most prominent in terms of adoption rates in the next decade?
learly, in the next decade, you’ll see wind power, solar, natural gas. Natural gas in particular, because of the shale activity, with the price of natural gas and the fundamentals changing around that. So natural gas will probably be the primary incremental fuel source of the future, until we get to the point where we can make logical decisions about what a base load mix needs to look like. In other words, we need to see how much coal or nuclear we will need. Nuclear is certainly having a hard time moving forward because of a massive capital investment. It will take some long-term thinking in terms of resources to really move nuclear—or for that matter new coal units—forward at this juncture, because those kinds of investments, with the risks involved, would require a sustained long-term thinking about the energy supply of this country. There might be some coal unit additions, or some nuclear additions in the South East, but primarily the move will be toward natural gas and others.
ne big driver will be the cost of electricity for customers. When you think about the economy, jobs, and the industrial environment that we want to maintain in this country, it will be critical for us to manage this in a reasonable fashion so that electricity costs don’t shoot out the roof. If you look at it from this perspective, the cost of a coal unit or a nuclear unit is still very good compared to other sources. We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re making policy shifts toward resources that are much more expensive—$0.10 a kWh (Kilowatt) for wind and $0.20 to $0.25 per kWh for solar. We have to be really measured in that approach. And I think if you have a rational plan that moves forward that makes sense, we’ll be able to achieve the technological advances required to move the cross-points down and continue to advance other sources.
Interview by Maryruth Belsey Priebe, Edited A. Tana Kantor
Nick Akins became president of American Electric Power (AEP) Jan. 1, 2011. Previously, Akins was executive vice president– generation, responsible for all activities related to AEP’s approximately 38,000 megawatts of generation resources. From 2004-2006, he was president and chief operating officer for Southwestern Electric Power Company, an AEP utility serving approximately 439,000 customers in Louisiana, Arkansas and northeast Texas. Prior to this, Akins was vice president–energy marketing services. He was also was vice president–industry restructuring for AEP, responsible for enterprise-wide program management for restructuring initiatives in preparation for customer choice in AEP’s various jurisdictions. Before Central and South West Corp.’s (CSW) merger with AEP, he served in various director and manager roles within CSW and its operating companies involving mergers and acquisitions, industry restructuring, fuels, system dispatch operations and system planning. Akins received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Louisiana Tech. He has completed executive management programs at Louisiana State University, the University of Idaho and the Reactor Technology Course for Utility Executives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Akins is a registered professional engineer in Texas. He currently serves as the chairman of the Coal Utilization Research Council (CURC), the vice chairman of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and on the boards of the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
I’d say the future for the green economy is very bright, if that means making our existing infrastructure smarter.
The hidden cleantech revolution is in inexpensive ways to apply productivity to get more out of what we already have. This will have a much greater impact than some of the technologies that have captured the public imagination. Currently, only 2% to 5% of overhead lines or transformers have monitoring, so we have the world’s biggest network and it’s analog. The cost of making the network smarter is much smaller than building new sources: layer intelligence on the big dumb network. By digitizing it with very inexpensive systems we can defer $100 billion of capital expenses. We’re better than anyone else in software and innovation. Fuel cells, solar, wind, ethanol/ biofuels are trying to get to economies of scale. But it’s hard to compete against conventional technologies. As a country, we want energy to be cheap and abundant, and I don’t see that wind and solar will get us there. One small example: Acorn Energy makes load switches for air conditioners so that during periods of peak demand, air-conditioning cycles, thereby consuming less energy. We have these on 5 million homes in the US. To
get a similar result from solar cells on houses would be much more expensive.
If you had to choose, what has been the most disappointing aspect of the green economy? The most encouraging? We’re going to continue to squeeze productivity out of what we’ve got because there’s going to be less resources to fund experimental technologies. The future is in what I call bridging technologies: those that tap what exists, but that we could be used more economically. That includes natural gas, which has half the carbon footprint of oil and is one-third the cost for a given amount of energy. Then there’s enhanced oil recovery. Conventional oil is considered depleted, but The Department of Energy believes that if we could better pinpoint the oil in just 10% of our existing reservoirs, we could replace 10 years of OPEC imports. And I think we’re going to get more production out of nuclear power plants and mini reactors which are carbon-free. You know, a lot of people don’t like the word regulation these days, but when we regulate,
we’ve been tremendously successful. Since 1970, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), estimates that the emissions from coal plants has doubled while the regulated pollution has fallen by 60%. The bottom line is that it’s just very difficult to layer new sources of energy supply on top of the existing built environment. So I’m afraid that people are focused on the wrong things if they think that being green means we are going to stop building coal plants. The reality is that a modern society requires those things and you can’t scale solar and wind in the same way as conventional fossil fuels. You can bring externalities into the cost of these energies to make them more affordable, but that will mean reducing subsidies for oil or putting a price on carbon. So far, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that.
Do you think dubious green marketing has tarnished the glimmer of green? I’d put it differently. I think that the real problem is that the energy industry is primarily an industry of engineers—doers and not communicators. The energy community is so busy doing or building a company that they haven’t, in the past, considered the importance of communication. They are selling a commodity product, and believe me, consumers are going to choose the cheaper electron. The funny thing about greenwashing is that there are some exciting
stories about how the energy industry is being transformed, but it goes beyond the 30 second attention span of the audience. I ask you, why is a solar cell more a sign of the green economy than a load switch? I think it’s because it’s visible. It’s a symbol. People can see solar panels on houses and wind farms on hills, but the invisible ways that make energy move faster, more efficiently and balance the load are much more effective on a dollar per dollar basis. The tools at our disposal are very powerful. We don’t need new technology, we just need to implement the technology that we already have. But we need enlightened leaders to go below the surface and understand the system in a deeper sense.
What holds the greatest potential for a turnaround? The foremost requirement for the green economy to happen is for society to be prosperous, and have surpluses that can be reinvested. There isn’t a lot of green in green—there hasn’t been the margins in the new sources of energy, so I think we have to change what we think of as green. Acorn Energy is working to make coal plants less polluting, our power grid smarter, our infrastructure safer, and ensuring that enhanced oil recovery and unconventional gas is extracted in the most environmentally friendly and productive way. So from our point of view, the future for energy and the environment is very bright.
John A. Moore has been a director and Chief Executive Officer of Acorn Energy Inc. (ACFN-NASDAQ) since March 2006. He also serves as a director of Voltaix, a leading producer of specialty gases used in the production of solar cells and semiconductors. He was previously a Director of Comverge and served on its IPO committee. He serves on the Advisory Council of EnerTech Capital a $350 million energy technology fund. Mr. Moore was formerly President and co-founder of Edson Moore Healthcare Ventures, and cofounder and CEO of Optimer Inc. John has invested in many different industries over the past 25 years, but he has never been as excited as he is today about Acorn’s opportunities to help create smarter infrastructure. Mr. Moore is the co-author of a book titled the Hidden Cleantech Revolution which can be downloaded for free.
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