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California Allocates $176M to Clean Transportation

Michael Kanellos: April 22, 2009, 4:36 PM

The California Energy Commission will spend $176 million over the next two years on the Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technology Program. Come and get it!

The ultimate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, decrease petroleum fuel use to 15 percent below 2003 levels by 2020, and increase alternative fuel use to 20 percent by 2020. Since transportation is responsible for about 38 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, hitting those goals will require plug-in vehicles, electric cars, and possibly even fuel cells.

The funding breaks down as follows: The Energy Commission will invest $46 million for electric vehicles, public charging stations and manufacturing plants; $40 million for hydrogen fueling stations; $12 million for advanced ethanol fuel production facilities and E-85 fueling stations; $43 million for natural gas vehicles, fueling stations and biomethane production facilities; $6 million for advanced renewable diesel and biodiesel facilities; and $2 million for propane vehicles. The Investment Plan also directs $27 million to fund workforce training programs, research, public education and technical assistance programs.

Cisco’s ‘EcoMap’ to Give San Franciscans Carbon Footprint Bragging Rights, Guilt Trips

Jeff St. John: April 22, 2009, 1:59 PM

My zip code is greener than your zip code.

Soon enough, San Francisco residents will be able to engage in debates like these, thanks to the "Urban EcoMap" being launched by Cisco Systems.

The map, developed with the City and County of San Francisco's Department of the Environment, will give people free insight into data such as carbon emissions from transportation, energy use and waste, broken out by zip code — once it's available to the public on May 21.

(While Cisco chose Earth Day to announce the map, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom let slip some details about it last month at the Green:Net 09 conference.)

Beyond the potential for sparking inter-neighborhood battles over which ones are helping save the planet the most, such a tool could be quite useful for neighborhood greening efforts, whether from the grassroots or from the top down.

Cities could target particular neighborhoods for energy reduction incentives, recycling programs or public transportation improvements, for example. And residents will be able join in forums over any Internet connection to tell each other what they're doing to help reduce their neighborhood's carbon footprint, Cisco promises.

The project is part of Cisco's Connected Urban Development program, created in 2006 in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, aimed at reducing cities' environmental impacts. Seoul and Amsterdam are set to launch their own eco-maps later this year.

Walmart Goes Solar

Fredrik Wass: April 22, 2009, 1:59 PM

Today Walmart announced it is going to double its use of solar panels on its own facilities, possibly setting a trend more commercial players in California could follow, said Governor Schwarzenegger.

Within 18 months, Walmart wants to expand its sustainable energy efforts by adding solar panels on 10 to 20 Walmart facilities in California. That will be in addition to the 18 solar arrays that are currently installed with existing facilities. The supplier of the new solar panels for Walmart is BP Solar.

After the new solar panels are in place, the total capacity of renewable energy coming from the Walmart facilities will be 32 million kilowatt hours per year, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 22,500 metric tons, said the company.

Walmart said that its facilities equipped with solar panels will get 20 percent to 30 percent of their electric energy from solar power when the whole installation has been rolled out.

Governor Schwarzenegger"This project is all about taking bold action so we can see solar panels on commercial rooftops all across California while putting people to work," said Governor Schwarzenegger in a prepared statement. "Today's action helps prove that even in an economic downturn, it is possible to get serious about clean, renewable energy." (The picture on the right from a press conference webcast this morning.)

Walmart always has 24-month perspective in its sustainability efforts (see Walmart Seeks Green Ideas). Projects or ideas with a longer timeline will not be considered, at least not on its Cleantech Accelerator Portal (which has been previously criticized by Green Light).

At the same time, the company's long-term goals are to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, create zero waste and sell sustainable products. It's uncertain when this will happen, which makes it a nice but a somewhat painless goal.

The current solar panel installation will create about 130 jobs, according to Walmart. After the panels have been installed, Walmart is going to consider expanding the technology to additional sites.

"Thanks to Governor Schwarzenegger's leadership, California is an excellent environment for us to grow our investment in renewable energy and help create more green jobs," said Kimberly Sentovich, Walmart's California regional general manager, in a statement.

Correction: The headline of this story has been changed to more accurately reflect Walmart's involvement in the solar rooftop project.

Nissan Partners With Oak Ridge Nat’l Labs for Tennessee Charging Stations

Michael Kanellos: April 22, 2009, 1:26 PM

Nissan, which wants to bring electric commuter cars to the U.S. in 2010, will work with Oak Ridge National Labs to "promote" the development of electric vehicles and a charging infrastructure in the state. The lab, along with other national labs, has been at the forefront of trying to figure out if the existing grid can handle electric cars and, if not, what needs to be improved.

Some of the work will involve experimenting with ways solar and hydroelectric power can be exploited for the charging infrastructure.

This marks the second announcement in a few weeks from Nissan on charging stations. It is also working with ECOtality to build charging stations in Arizona.

Which, of course, brings up the Better Place question. So far, Nissan has signed a deal with Better Place to work with that company on charging stations in Israel, but that's about it. Better Place approaches electric charging differently than most other charging station companies. Cars that use their network have to buy electricity from them. You can charge at home, but you need a Better Place charging station. Better Place also wants to swap batteries, which at lot of car makers frown on. One car exec at a different company told me the other day that a car battery is a 400 plus pound, $10,000 component that holds $1.50 of energy. You're going to swap an expensive asset like that to get $1.50 of power?

Nissan's EV, by the way, will cost between $20,000 and $33,000 before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any state credits. It will get about 100 miles to the charge. I drove the prototype (see video here) and for the price it could become one of the more attractive electrics for consumers out there. But there will be lots of competition.

Six VCs Sitting Around Talking

Eric Wesoff: April 22, 2009, 2:13 AM

Another day, another greentech event in Silicon Valley.

This event comes to you from high above San Jose at what appears to be the last bastion of the world of wood-paneled gentlemens’ clubs at The Silicon Valley Capital Club.  No denim allowed according to the invite from the Environmental Business Cluster.

Each of the investors on Tuesday’s panel highlighted one of their greentech portfolio’s pet investments and in some cases said something interesting.  Here’s the rundown:

Susan Preston / General Partner at CalCEF
CalCEF is a small angel fund we covered here in CalCEF Angels.

Preston highlighted her firm’s investment in HID Labs, an innovator in high intensity discharge lighting for high bay lighting.  Until now, according to Preston, the technology has been fairly antiquated but HID has a new take on the application and offers a 35 percent to 62 percent reduction in the power bill with better color and lighting than existing solutions.  Michaels Kanellos wrote about HID here in The Modern Dimmer Switch.

Neal Dikeman / One of the founding partners of Jane Capital Partners
Neal “Eats, breathes and sleeps energy.”  He is currently running a company in the carbon space and revised his previous statement: “I eat, breath and sleep carbon.”  (Neal needs to vary his diet because he’s looking a bit sallow, maybe invest in drinking water and vegetables.)

Neal chanted variations of his policy mantra:

  • “There is no disruptive technology, just disruptive policy.”
  • “Without policy frameworks, these sectors don’t work.”
  • “The only thing that matters is how well you understand the policy constructs.”

He highlighted his investment in superconductor firm, Zenergy Power.

Its device, a fault current limiter, is getting some real customer traction after, according to Dikeman, a typically long gestation period for energy products aimed at utilities. “If you can build FCLs there is a massive market,” he added.

Dan Rubin / Partner at Alloy Ventures
Dan started his career at semiconductor equipment companies and a semiconductor IP company in various operational roles and has been at Alloy for nine years. Alloy is now investing out of its current $370 million fund as it “continues to look at new opportunities.”

He is a linear algebra savant as evidenced by the following math: “We do 50 percent IT, 50 percent biotech, and 20 percent cleantech,” adding, “Clearly there’s an overlap in the IT, biotech and cleantech space.

“On the life sciences side we take mostly technical risk.  On the IT side we  take mostly market risk. There are a few places where you might take technical and market risk.  The problem with some cleantech deals is that there is technical risk, market risk, pricing risk regulatory risk, subsidy risk, etc.”

“We’ll take some of those risks but we like to see deals where some of those are removed.  More importantly, we like deals where there are fundable milestones that remove more of these risks.”

He highlighted a recent $1.5 million investment in a spin-out of an existing portfolio firm with some novel Si deposition tools for photovoltaics.

Cynthia Ringo /  Managing Partner at DBL (formerly with VantagePoint Venture Partners)
DBL is “currently raising their second fund, the first close looks imminent” with a heavy emphasis on cleantech.  DBL is a woman-owned firm

Their investments include Tesla Motors, Brightsource Energy, eMeter, and Powerlight (acquired by SunPower).

She highlighted Tesla Motors which she helped invest in while at VantagePoint.

Todd Kimmel / Mayfield Fund
Mayfield’s current funds total $400 million in the U.S.,  $150 million in India  and $400 million in China, Kimmel, previously with ATV, founded Coskata with Khosla Ventures and helmed that syngas ethanol firm until recently.

Some quotes:

  • “The downturn is helping new technologies enter the market.”
  • “We’re seeing a return to core technology focus.”
  • “I think we’re going to see a wave of innovation in chemicals and materials”
  • “I actually think the down turn will be good for entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the long term.”

Kimmel spoke of a recent term sheet for an unnamed firm using microbes that convert methane into a bio-plastic.  Their technology is in the form of microbes and bioreactors to create the PHB plastic.  He sees these types of deals with a very long-term horizon -- eight to ten years.

Alex Kinnier / Khosla Ventures
Khosla Ventures is an early stage investor with 50 portfolio companies in the greentech space.  Alex remarked that, “We do not disclose the size of our fund due to our sources”  (What does that mean? The sources are Russian oligarchs? Vinod’s mattress?) Choice quotes from Kinnier include:

  • “There is an overall slowdown in the pace of investment but there is a pickup in efficiency applications."
  • “Things that are cost-cutting are a pretty good place to be”
  • “The large scale projects that require financing are getting hit pretty hard.”
  • “I’ll tell you about a term sheet we put out this week. A professor at a notable university has a new way of storing energy.  This professor has some novel modeling that shows there is some promise in this new technology. Why did we invest?  The professor’s track record speaks for itself -- he has innovated multiple times before. If it works -- and that’s a big if -- market risk goes away. If this experiment works, there is still a long road until this becomes something that will affect our everyday lives.”

Six VCs and six pretty optimistic viewpoints.