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Rob Day: The Blair/Schwarzenegger climate talks & what we can do

Rob Day
Today may prove a big moment in California's role to start the dominos falling toward a new international regime capping greenhouse gases. At a meeting in Los Angeles in a few hours, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may announce the creation of a joint market for greenhouse gases.

With that as a backdrop, here is a "guest post" by Rob Day, a San Francisco venture capitalist with Expansion Capital Partners who specializes in clean technologies. Here is his bio, and his well-written blog, and below is his argument about what we can do now:

With our ever-growing appetite for energy, some people say that we can't afford to address climate change. But it's clear that we're going to need to make some big changes in response to this serious threat. And soon.

What a lot of people don't recognize is how much progress could be made simply in doing one thing: Conserving energy, by exploiting the technology we already have to become more efficient. When you consider the potential devastation of climate change, and the fact that a lot of what we could do would actually reduce costs, not increase them, you realize: We can䴜t afford NOT to address climate change.

Conservation, in fact, is probably the most profitable clean energy technology. It may not be a sexy message, but it's a no-brainer.

Lost in all the hype about solar and fuel cells and such is the fact that there are a lot of energy-saving opportunities out there that businesses aren't capturing. To give just one small example: Warehouse owners can save 50 percent of their lighting expenses, and get better lighting in the bargain, simply by getting rid of those old yellow round lights we all remember from our high-school gyms and replacing them with fluorescent lighting with specially-designed fixtures. Not exactly rocket science. Those who've made the switch not only tell me they've seen 1 year payback periods -- they've also gotten better productivity since the lighting's better. Such lighting is a huge energy user, and this would make a big difference in the Bay Area during these heat waves and energy shortages. And yet...only a minority of such building owners has made the switch so far.

Furthermore, we should apply the technology of "intelligent networks ' to the problem. This doesn't require any big breakthroughs, we just need to take advantage of all the capital already spent commoditizing telecom and IT solutions. Add communications to that warehouse's lighting fixture so that you can remotely turn the light on and off when no one's working in that section, or so that you can turn it down a small amount when it makes sense, without the workers really noticing. Then connect the fixture to an intelligent system that talks to the local utility and knows when they need to free up some capacity, and sell them back that capacity by adjusting the lights -- it's cheaper for the utility than buying power on the spot market. Connect the whole thing to a bigger system that䴜s connected to the building's refrigerators and other energy using equipment, and use an automated agent that makes intelligent usage trade-offs when appropriate. Introduce daylighting. Put low cost, next-gen solar PV up on the roof, and connect that to storage which is also plugged into this intelligent network, so you can sell power back into the grid when it䴜s most needed. Finally, give customers the incentive to save by charging them more when electricity demand is higher (mid-day), and less when it䴜s lower (evenings). The complexity of this system is really not that great,.

For much of my job as a cleantech investor, it's not about invention, it's really about execution. It䴜s not about reinventing whole economic systems (although such creative destruction is steadily going on regardless, we just don䴜t need to try to guide it). It's not about betting on changes in regulations and policy. It's simply about finding solutions that customers tell me work well and for which there's a clear market need. And identifying strong management teams that have proven they can sell like crazy.

There are a lot of solutions out there that do make a lot of sense. And that's why things are so exciting in cleantech right now.

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Our electric industry and regulatory landscape was developed over 100 years go. There is an myth that industry is causing global warming, but it is only a surrogate for consumers. Everytime we turn on a light, we make a decision to conserve or use.

We could change this today--immediately. We could make everyone pay the electric bill based on the actual costs at the time of use. That will generate more conservation than any state run program, any utility developed efficiency measure or any tax incentives. And -- by the way have the greatest impact on global warming.

Alan Gartner on July 31, 2006 11:44 AM
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We have a particular problem. My son added a granny unit to his property for me and his handicapped sister. Having two hot water heaters, refrigerators, stoves, etc., has put us in the "high use category" for charges and our electric bills are impossible. We don't waste a bit of electricity. We have timers on our hot water heaters, new high efficiency appliances, florescent lighting throughout the house to name a few conservation measures. When we contacted PG&E about putting in a meter for the granny unit seperately, they said we would have to pay nearly $10,000. to make the change even though it would take nothing but a meter on our separate box in the garage. No matter what conservation ideas are put in effect, we have to make it fair for everyone.
I think PG&E is not intersted in conservation or saving me any money, I think they are in the business for profit alone no matter what they say.
Because we live in the country, PG&E often estimates our bill and it seems most of the charges are heaped into the 3rd month causing the biggest part of our bill to be charged to the higher fees. I don't know if anyone has looked into this practice, but some months we have $250. charges and other months $600. charges. We do not have a lot of guests or changes in our power usage from month to month, it remains quite the same. Are there any answers out there for me?

Marsha Whited on July 31, 2006 10:34 PM
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When I was helping a company achieve their ISO14001 status a few years ago, I remember the British Standards rep saying that companies should be going green to save money. "If it doesn't save money, it's not worth doing" was his line. And true enough, most of the steps that can be taken do save money - recycle don't send to landfill, switch unused equipment off, replace old systems with new (the pay back period is less than you expect) etc.

Jane on August 3, 2006 6:47 AM
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