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Archive for October, 2009

San Diego region receives mega-allotment of Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) for solar energy

Treasury Department SealUnder the leadership of CleanTECH San Diego, nine local governmental bodies have received bonding authority for over $154 million of Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs).  Announced by the Treasury Department today, the allocation is 19% of the $800 million awarded for the entire country.  This over-sized allocation is the result of a substantial collaborative effort which included several San Diego companies, non-profits and even a team of four UCSD students.    

All of the applications submitted from San Diego were for solar energy.  The largest total award in the U.S. went to the San Diego Unified School District which received an allocation for $74 million bonds for 111 projects.  The financial benefit to the School District is the indirect subsidy provided by the IRS which greatly reduces the interest expense.  “These bonds function as tax credit bonds which allow investors to receive federal tax credits in lieu of the payment of a portion of the interest on the bond.  For CREBs, the federal tax credits will cover 70 percent of the interest on the bonds”.  

The local winners were City of Chula Vista, City of Lemon Grove, Fallbrook Public Utility District, UC San Diego, San Diego State, San Diego Unified School District, San Dieguito Union High School, City of Santee and Santee School District.  Click here for the national list.

Today’s good news really amounts to a knock on the door to opportunity.  In the months ahead each award winner will have the real work of issuing bonds and implementing the solar projects. 


San Diego Gas & Electric scores $28.1 million DOE stimulus for smart grid

San Diego Gas & Electric was one of one hundred recipients announced today to receive a smart grid investment grant from the Department of Energy.  Three hundred other applicants were not as fortunate.  SDG&E will provide matching funds of over $32 million for their GridComm wireless smart grid project.  Click here to see their grant application.  Last month SDG&E announced a major Smart Grid coalition formed with CleanTECH San Diego, UC San Diego and two dozen other entities including tech giants Qualcomm, GE, IBM, Intel, Cisco, and a local rising star, On-Ramp Wireless.

The good news has many layers.  The DOE funds will accelerate a project which SDG&E has (more…)


Sapphire Energy presents at WEB 2.0 Summit

Web 2.0 SummitWEB 2.0 Summit, the by-invitation-only conclave of the internet intelligentsia was expanded this year to focus on “demonstrating proofs: showing how the founding principles of Web 2.0 have been put into practice to address the world’s most pressing problems”.  Cynthia Warner, president of Sapphire Energy, presented “High Order Bit: Burning Algae: The Green Crude Revolution”.  Her four bullet points for algae are: scalable, drop in fuel, low carbon and sustainable.  Click here for the 13 minute video of her presentation.


Two San Diego auto firms vie for $10 million prize

XPrizeQuick.  How many automotive firms are there in the United States?  Way more than I ever dreamed.  The Progressive Automotive X PRIZE attracted entries from 111 teams of which 88 are from the United States.  Competing for the $10 million jackpot are names we recognize  like Tesla Motors and those we do not including my favorite,7K Hamsters, which unfortunately did not make the cut.  On Monday the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE announced that 43 teams with 53 vehicles from 18 US States and 11 countries had made it through the stringent Design Judging phase.  Making the short list were two San Diego innovators, Aptera and SSI-Racing.  These teams will now be entering the final competition events that will be taking place from May 2010 with the announcement of the winners that Fall.  A no-show in the competition was Fisker Automotive.  I guess the opportunity to score $10 million looks like chump change compared to (more…)


Algae spoken here

Algae 101 BitmapOn the opening night of the 3rd Annual Algae Biomass Summit, I attended a roof-top soiree hosted by the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology.  In addition to hob-knobbing with the Shaquille O’Neal’s of algae, I also had the opportunity to compliment the founders of SD-CAB on the high quality of their website.  Getting up to speed in clean tech is like learning a new language.  Lesson one for algae begins at SD-CAB’s website.   This frequently-updated website serves a broad audience from the lay person who seeks introductory information to the industry insider who seeks direction.  I found the Q&A to be particularly useful.  You will want to become a SD-CAB Associate Member.  Click here to join for $100.

Now that you have committed yourself to becoming proficient in algae-speak, you will want to tap into other resources.  This month, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published The Promise of Algae Biofuels.  It is everything you need to know in 72 pages. 

Another timely resource is provided by Stoel Rives LLP Attorneys at Law.  In nine chapters, the Law of Algae covers IP, licensing, financing, the specifics of Renewable Fuel Standard and much more.  It’s the green pathway to gold. 

To prepare for the vocabulary section of your algae SATs you can refer to the following glossaries:  U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and  

Please chime in with your comments about any useful sources of algae wisdom.


Algae VIP reception on the USS Midway

Midway Press Conference 10-6-09The future of algae as a source of alternative energy is being played out in research labs and corporate boardrooms in dozens of San Diego locations.  On one special night earlier this month, San Diego invited the rest of the algae universe to come together at a location where test tubes are rarely scene.  The flight deck of the USS Midway provided a memorable venue for algae aficionados from all points of the compass to socialize before the onset of the 3rd Annual Algae Biomass Summit the following day.  Science, finance and politics were in attendance.  Hosted by CleanTECH San Diego, the event drew over 300.  The full-moon evening was one of the most crystal clear in memory.  Prior to the cocktail hour a press conference was held.  CleanTECH San Diego’s CEO Lisa Bicker introduced Mayor Jerry Sanders, an ardent supporter of clean technology in San Diego.  Councilman Ron Roberts and a host of algae rock stars added their support.


Think outside the pipe

Brick, Timothy

Timothy F. Brick

The conundrum of water is the socio-economic disconnect between the absolute necessity of water in our daily lives versus a pricing mechanism which signals both ready abundance and global scarcity.  On Thursday, Procopio’s Environmental Breakfast Club included Chairman Timothy F. Brick of the Metropolitan Water District, David Pierce, Analyst in Climate Research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Procopio’s John Lormon as the always insightful moderator.  The provocative presentations will serve as stimulus for several future posts to this blog.  This post will be limited to some core truths about H20, reflections on the nature of water risk and, finally, a brief thought about the clean tech opportunity in water. 

We hold these water truths to be self evident:  The population of the world continues to grow.  The supply of fresh water does not.  Life-essential water is more valuable than the biggest diamond ever found, but is, in many cases, presented as if for free.  The external energy cost of water in aggregate is surprisingly high.  Chairman Brick said about 19% of California’s electricity is used to transfer, treat or heat water.  And, always with us, is the partially lit stage of special interests on which the water play takes place.  Agriculture in California gets 80% of the water.  Think rice growers in Japan and the corn/ethanol colossus in the Midwest.  The Ag lobby’s political clout overwhelms the forces of supply and demand.  Of course, cheap water for growers is an indirect subsidy for food for California and beyond (and cheaper hay for your Arabian horse if you have one).  

SIO’s David Pierce’s macro views of climate change were a background for Chairman Brick’s closer view of the state of our state’s water.  There’s no shortage of disturbing scenarios.  San Diego receives about 50% of its water from the Colorado River, 34% from Northern California and 16% locally. 

Risk #1  For decades, California’s pull of water from the river has roughly increased with the population.  Within a short period of time, that correlation will cease.  California’s divvy of the Colorado will be locked in at a fixed amount. 

Risk #2 San Diego’s 34% share from Northern California is directly tied to mountain snowpack and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The snowpack is functionally a larger water reservoir than anything man has built.  Climate change has greatly reduced our frozen water-in-the-bank.  An equal amount of precipitation with a lower ratio of snow versus rain changes our ability to capture and contain.  The water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta comes from a levy-protected system which in some areas is several feet below sea level.  Levies built prior to 1920 straddle at least two earthquake fault lines.  The United State Geological Service estimates there is a 62% probability of an earthquake of 6.7 magnitude or greater striking the Bay Area before 2032.  A massive failure of the infrastructure would mix salt water with fresh destroying a primary water source for all of California.

Risk #3  The water we drink is from a crazy quilt of infrastructures spread out over most of the western United States.  Many of us who fear the impact of climate change are greatly concerned about regional variance.  It is possible that a planet which is gradually warming may be experiencing regional climate changes which are more extreme.  A more extreme regional climate change could have a negative impact which would reverberate far beyond regional bounders.  (e.g.  A sudden and dramatic reduction in the snowpack.)   Our limited ability to evaluate a risk of this type adds to its “riskiness”.    

What are some of the San Diego clean tech opportunities in water?  San Diego receives about 84% of its water from outside the region.  There is no reasonable hope that this supply will grow in the years ahead.  The longer the distance of transport the greater the possible event risk to the water infrastructure.  Therefore, the focus should be on technologies for local solutions including desalination, recycling, reclamation and conservation.  The math of desalination is better than the deniers will admit when you take into inconsideration the increasing cost of traditional sources of water and the progressive improvement in desalination technology.  Can you imagine satisfying the thirst of a billion new humans without effectively using the water which blankets 70% of our planet? 

Future posts will cover the close-to-home water supply solutions of recycling, reclamation and conservation.  Of particular interest are the opportunities to provide systematic cues to influence human behavior.  In the meantime, you can check out the 36 Water & Wastewater companies in the CleanTECH San Diego company database.


SIDEBAR: Is it crowded in here or is it just me?

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has a service area of about 5,200 square miles in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.  The area served is only 3% of the total area of California.  However, the population served by the MWD of about 19,000,000 people represents over 50% of the entire state.  If the MWD achieved statehood, it would rank 5th in the nation in population.


Senate vote transports Aptera closer to Green Car Funds

My October 12th post, Surf City as Motor City, noted that Aptera’s “quest for funds was stymied because the Aptera 2e’s design is one wheel short of the standard four”.  A Senate vote on Thursday expanded the scope of qualifying vehicles to include Aptera-like designs.  If the bill is signed into law by the President, Aptera can apply for funds under the Department of Energy loan program for green cars just like their four-wheeled competitors.


Car dealer runs moonshine? (Part 2)

E85In my post of September 1st, Car dealer runs moonshine?, I noted that locally owned Pearson Fuels was teamed with AE Biofuels of Cupertino to build and supply 55 public E85 ethanol-fueling stations across California over the next 42 months backed by a $6.9 million Federal grant.  The State of California has upped the ante with an additional award of $4.0 million

The Pearson Fuels’ business model can be explained in a dozen words.  A massive government mandate flows through the pipes.  Spigot owners win.  The Renewable Fuel Standard mandates a blending of transportation fuels from renewable sources increasing annually to a target of 36 billion gallons in 2022.  California could account for 20% of the mandated amount.  Obviously, renewable fuels represent a longer list (more…)


Surf City as Motor City

The frequent references to San Diego as a global leader in clean tech are often illustrated by regional activities in solar, wind, water, smart grid and energy efficiency.  A perusal of the CleanTECH San Diego company database also reveals a mini-Mo Town of 25 ventures in the Transport Technology category.  Five of the companies have made the headlines recently.

v vehicle logoKleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is the living legend in the venture capital universe.  Their successes include, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Genentech, Google, Intuit, Lotus Development, Netscape, Segway, Sun Microsystems and scores of other ventures over a 37 year history.  Their lead in the launch of San Diego-based V Vehicle Company is just one piece of their huge commitment to invest in clean tech and transportation.  Kleiner Perkins is joined in their investment by the VC arm of Google and part-time San Diegan T. Boone Pickens.  Manufacturing of the yet-to-be-unveiled automobile will take place in Louisiana.  If all the Federal and state loans fall in place, the total investment will exceed $500 million.  Former Oracle executive, Frank Varasano of San Diego, is the company’s CEO.  Wrapped in product secrecy, V Vehicle’s website has a video and information about their plans to hire 1400 workers.

apteravehicle1wallpaper1Carlsbad-based Aptera has a waiting list of over 4,000 early adapters who have written deposit checks for the yet-to-be-offered three-wheeled, super aero-dynamic electric vehicle.  Looking like a cross between an albino lobster and George Jetson’s commuter car, the Aptera comes with a built-in fan club that is drawn to the car’s futuristic appearance, three-digit MPG comparisons and cocktail-party-conversation features such as solar assisted climate control.  Originally funded last year for $24 million from Google, Idealab and individual investors, Aptera seeks Federal loans to accelerate their production capability.  Their quest for funds was stymied because the Aptera 2e’s design is one wheel short of the standard four.  Local Congressman Brian Bilbray is grinding through the legislative process to include “fully enclosed vehicles that are capable of carrying two adults and get at least 75 mpg.”

AchatesPower_engineThe recent input of over $12 million will rev-up San Diego’s Achates Power in their efforts to build the internal combustion engine equivalent of Doctor Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu.  Their 4.2L automotive engine design is a high-efficiency two-stroke power plant which features two opposing pistons in each cylinder.  The Achates Power value proposition is an “unparalleled combination of fuel efficiency (more…)


Finding Federal funding

Dollar BillTechnology hubs like the San Diego’s clean tech cluster exist symbiotically with their legal communities.  An example of that interdependency was the full-day event last Wednesday sponsored by Foley & Lardner LLP.  The strong attendance at Foley’s Emerging Technologies Conference: Navigating a New World is evidence of the appetite for informed insights.  The panels on Alternative Energy and Accessing Government Funding were of greatest interest to me.  The Funding presentation was enhanced by the specific guidance of Tyler Orion and June Chocheles.  The Federal Technology Funding Guide was one recommendation.  Also recommended were the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) website and the Department of Defense SBIR website.  All government agencies offer periodic notification (more…)


A SCRUB for clean tech


This morning I participated in the latest CleanTECH San Diego SCRUB session.  SCRUB is an opportunity for early stage clean tech companies to present their business story to a group of CleanTECH San Diego members.  Three local emerging clean tech ventures made their case this morning to a panel of 28 CleanTECH San Diego members representing a mix of venture capitalists, engineers, marketing specialists, intellectual property attorneys as well as local leaders from industry, research and government.  The objective of SCRUB is to provide immediate feedback and assistance to take each company to the next stage. 

Today’s SCRUB showcased three distinctly different clean tech businesses.  Marine Power Partners has developed a patent pending waterwheel that generates continuous base-load electricity from flowing water at lower capital and operating costs than either solar or wind systems.  A Smart Grid innovator, On-Ramp Wireless, is a systems provider for low-power wide-area scalable sensor networking and location tracking.  New Leaf Biofuel collects waste cooking oil (more…)