>>The world turned upside down
November 20, 2008, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Investing, Transport

In a press release on Wednesday, the German photovoltaic manufacturer SolarWorld offered to buy the Opel division from General Motors for $1.25 billion. GM promptly scorned the offer.

Opel makes very efficient cars and trucks. The very existence of Opel technology legitimizes GM’s request for a share of the auto industry’s $25 billion federal loan to cover retooling costs to build smaller, fuel-sipping cars. GM wouldn’t be near bankruptcy today if it had begun two years ago to replicate the Opel tooling in Detroit. Opel is in fact the future of the company, so I can understand why they’d think $1.25 billion is too little.

On the other hand, GM’s stock sold for under $2.80 on Thursday. That’s a market cap of $1.9 billion. If SolarWorld is serious about the automobile business, it could buy a controlling share of GM stock for under $1 billion, put the American divisions into bankruptcy, liquidate most of it but keep enough of the infrastructure to make and sell Opels rebranded as Chevrolets.


>>SUV to FFFPHEV: A bronx cheer for detroit
November 18, 2008, 3:48 pm
Filed under: Policy, Transport

With its request for another $25 billion bail-out, on top of the $25 billion they’ve already been promised to help with small-engine retooling, Detroit’s travails have turned into a black comedy. We’re asking the big car companies to improve CAFE standards and make plug-in hybrid vehicles. The infuriating thing is that they already build efficient small cars for sale in Europe, Brazil, Korea and China. Why not build those cars here? They want us to pay the costs of conversion, up front, because they don’t believe people will buy small cars. Right now they’re justified in believing that we won’t buy cars at all, at least not from Detroit.

In December, 1941, Detroit had just introduced the 1942 model cars. After Pearl Harbor the government asked them to build tanks, and then airplanes. They did it with enthusiasm and efficiency. The difference is that they had a qualified buyer: the government.

So here’s an idea. Let’s offer Detroit the $25 billion. For that price tag, we’ll expect the factories to replace the entire federal fleet — tanks, trucks, postal vans, limousines, Forest Service jeeps — with flex-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Last year, the feds operated some 642,000 vehicles. Subtract the 8,800 Abrams battle tanks, which would soak up the whole budget by themselves, and add a few hundred thousand vehicles for state and municipal fleets to round the production up to 1 million vehicles.  So $25 billion would replace the whole fleet for an average of $25,000 per. Not a bad wholesale price, especially when you figure in the fuel savings and then balance the cost of a Forest Service fire truck against a cheap sedan. A big chunk of the cost could be covered by selling off the old fleet to equatorial countries where palm-tree mechanics will happily convert them all to run on sugar ethanol.

The flex-fuel requirement is important. It means that a gasoline engine would also accept ethanol or methanol, a diesel would also accept jet fuel or vegetable oil, and a natural gas engine would also run on propane or methane. It means that every fuel source has market competition, and a fleet operator can look further afield for low bids.

A federal flex-fuel plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle is a FFFPHEV.  I can’t wait to hear a senator pronounce that. And a five-year replacement plan for flex-fuel plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle replacement plan is a FYRPFFFPHEV.

Below, an electric postal van from Baker Electromotive of Rome, N.Y.


>>Axxis of Oil
November 17, 2008, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Climate science, Fossil fuel

Sunday’s New York Times ran a solid look at Exxon, the world’s largest corporation. Business writer Jad Mouad reports that company is dedicated to squeezing every drop of profit out of every barrel of oil it can find over the next half century.

Mouad says:

During the tenure of Lee R. Raymond, who ran the company from 1993 to 2005, Exxon became the lightning rod in the debate about climate change. Throughout the 1990s, the company was vilified by environmental groups and scientists for questioning the impact of human activities — especially the use of fossil fuels — on global warming.

In fact, according the Union of Concerned Scientists, Exxon spent about $16 million on a misinformation campaign meant to delay carbon-mitigation measures (NREL’s Chuck Kutscher discusses the UCS report in the upcoming January/February issue of SOLAR TODAY). Now, Mouad says,

Gingerly, over the last three years, Exxon has moved away from its extreme position. It stopped financing climate skeptics this year, and has sought to soften its image with a $100 million advertising campaign featuring real company executives, scientists and managers. One of the ads said the company aimed to provide energy “with dramatically lower CO2 emissions.”

That’s a smokescreen. The current chairman, Rex Tillerson, is even more rigidly devoted to fossil fuel strategies. Unlike some of its competitors, Exxon has made no moves to diversify into non-fossil energy sources. Last summer, Tillerson beat back an attempt by rebellious shareholders — including members of the founding Rockefeller family — to take a broader view of the company’s future.

>>Renewable industries offer to-do list for incoming politicos
November 13, 2008, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Policy

Renewable industry execs are putting together wish-lists for quick government action after Democrats take over Congress and the White House in January.

According to Matt Nauman, writing in the San Jose Mercury-News, SunPower VP Julie Blunden has asked Barack Obama to put PV panels on the White House roof. The symbolism would be strong for solar advocates, who recall the day Ronald Reagan had Jimmie Carter’s solar array torn down.

And Washington-based advocacy organizations released the following joint statement:

The leaders of the American Wind Energy Association, Geothermal Energy Association, National Hydropower Association and Solar Energy Industries Association today released the following statement:

The fast-growing renewable energy sector is poised to help lead the U.S. economic recovery with millions of new jobs and billions of private investment dollars. However, the new Administration and Congress need to take action to ensure that the renewable industries’ growth continues, given the current economic realities.

President-elect Obama has made a commitment to key policies that will spur substantial growth in America’s clean renewable energy industries and create millions of new jobs.  Building upon these key policies, the renewable energy industries’ top priorities for the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress include:

  • Immediate Action: Adjust renewable energy tax credit policies so incentives work as intended given current economic conditions.

  • 111th Congress:
  • Adopt a national renewable electricity (portfolio) standard to ensure that at least 10 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S. is derived from renewable energy sources by 2012, and at least 25 percent by 2025;
  • Approve a minimum five-year extension of the federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) and additional funding for the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) program;
  • Issue an Executive Order expanding federal procurement of renewable energy generation to meet the government’s substantial energy supply needs;
  • Launch a major initiative to support investment in our nation’s interstate electrical grid infrastructure and smart-grid technology to deliver green energy from areas with renewable resources to population centers and to support distributed power generation;
  • Invest $30 billion in 2009 for financing options that support new project development and installations for all renewable energy technologies as part of the Administration’s commitment to investment of $150 billion over the next ten years in clean energy technologies;
  • Adopt a cap-and-trade regime to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that rewards production of clean renewable energy.

If the Administration and Congress can quickly implement these policies, renewable energy growth will help turn around the economic decline while at the same time addressing some of our most pressing national security and environmental problems.  Expansion of renewable energy production will mean billions of dollars in economic growth, millions of new jobs, enhanced energy security as we increase domestic energy production, and critically important progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Randall Swisher, Executive Director, American Wind Energy Association,, 202.383.2508
  • Karl Gawell, Executive Director, Geothermal Energy Association,, 202.454.5261
  • Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director, National Hydropower Association,, 202.682.1700
  • Rhone Resch, President, Solar Energy Industries Association,, 202.682.0556

>>Gore’s 5-point plan
November 10, 2008, 5:04 am
Filed under: Policy

Al Gore ran an op-ed in The New York Times on Sunday, outlining a 5-point energy-economy recovery plan for the new Obama administration.  It’s worth a read.

Briefly, Gore calls for:

1. Large-scale investment in Southwestern utility-scale solar plants, Great Plains windfarms and Mountain State geothermal plants.

2. Deployment of a unified national smart grid, using high-voltage underground lines.

3. Help for the auto industry — start-ups as well as the Big Three — to convert quickly to production of PHEVs.

4. A program to retrofit building with energy-efficient insulation and windows, coupled with help for mortgage holders.

5. A price on carbon emissions.

Here in Boulder County, we’re doing our share. We passed our Proposition 1A, putting the county into the business of loaning money for rooftop solar installations.

And Yamavolt, the electric road racer, is tidied up and back on commuting duty. Looks good enough now that I think I’ll start showing it off at renewable energy functions.


>>Berkeley, Boulder move forward with PV finance plans
November 5, 2008, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Policy, Utilities

In Boulder, Colo., voters on Tuesday approved Proposition 1A, establishing a county-wide program to finance rooftop photovoltaic installations. The program, based on a similar program approved a year ago by the Berkeley City Council in California, will lend a homeowner the funds to build a solar system, then recoup the investment over 20 years with a surcharge on the home’s property tax.

The Boulder measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin, and will be implemented during 2009.

Meanwhile, the Berkeley FIRST program launches . . . today, Nov. 5.  See details here.

>>Coal and oil industries scared of Obama
November 5, 2008, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Fossil fuel, Investing, Policy, Utilities

President-elect Barack Obama long ago named a carbon-cap program as a keystone in his energy plan. He expects to use the sale of emission permits to fund clean-energy incentives, with the goal of creating five million new jobs.

All this has fossil fuel extractors in a dither. Climate Progress today picked up a CNN story on the dark days ahead for coal and oil companies, and ran it with a few judicious comments by Joe Romm.

Read it here.