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The Good and Not So Good from State of Green Business 2010

Overall, I liked this event and there is a lot other conference organizers can learn from Joel Makower and his team

Recently I attended the “State of Green Business Forum 2010″ organized by Greenbiz.com in San Francisco.

There were a lot of Good and Not So Good discussions during the forum and I would like to share a few of them with you.

Overall, I think it was a good event to attend and to learn from others in the cleantech industry.

Moreover, I got an opportunity to connect with some cleantech gurus like Marc Gunther and Andrew Winston.

The Good

  • Zero Waste Upgrade of Empire State Building Windows: Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace talked about energy efficiency retrofitting of Empire State Building, a $20 Million project that was announced early last year. One of the major components of this retrofitting is replacing 6,500 R2 windows with a higher insulation R8 windows. This will enable Empire State Building stop the energy leakage and reduce its energy bill by 40%.

This is a great project, but imagine the amount of waste it will generate. There are about 26,000 panes of glass in this building. If each of this pane is replaced with a newer higher efficiency glass pane it will generate tremendous amount of waste.

So as to cut down the waste, Serious Materials has proposed setting up a micro-factory on one of the floors of Empire State Building. This factory will be used to transform the old R2 windows to better insulation R8 windows. Since all this is being done on site and by using the old windows, there will be minimal waste, no transportation costs and smaller carbon footprint for manufacturing these windows. This is a highly sustainable way of retrofitting Empire State Building.

Kudos to Serious Materials for proposing such innovative methods.

  • Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program: Autodesk is a leading provider of 2D and 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. And they have made some serious commitment to cleantech industry. They are giving out free software to early stage cleantech companies in North America who are working on solving some of the world’s pressing environmental challenges. I think this is a great program and is a win-win for the early stage startups as well as Autodesk.

Kudos to Autodesk for putting together such innovative program.

  • The GreenBiz Index: GreenBiz.com developed a GreenBiz Index, which is a basket of 20 indicators that can used to measure the environmental performance of US companies. The third annual edition of this index was shared with the audience and it has some visual legends like “Swim”, “Tread” and “Sink” to indicate the performance of the 20 metrics.

I think GreenBiz.com has done some good work in defining the metrics and figuring out ways to measure the performance. This is a still the third edition and I am sure there are still a lot of modifications and tweaking they need to do before they get all the metrics right. But overall great work in developing the index.

With that said, there was one metric that I do think needs to be looked over again. “10 Large Telecommuting Firms”  index has three large consulting/audit firms in there. I think GreenBiz.com needs to look into the business model and working of these firms to decide if they fit the framework of this metric. These firms have their employees travel locally, nationally and internationally to their clients’ sites from Monday to Thursday. And then they provide them the option of telecommuting on Friday. So if the goal of telecommuting is to reduce number of miles traveled to work and hence the corresponding carbon emissions, these firms would be at the bottom of the list and not the top. Something that GreenBiz.com should consider.

  • China’s run to become Cleantech Leader: One of the panelist in the forum said “China is going to kick our (US) butt in cleantech industry if we do not act quickly”. This was validated by Peggy Liu from Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, but in a nicer way. Peggy shared with the participants the cleantech developments in China, why China behaved the way it did in Copenhagen and how US companies could be a part of China’s developing cleantech space.

    Photo Courtesy Steve [email protected]

I was amazed by the speed with which China is moving into the cleantech space, both in terms of developing green cities as well as building products for the cleantech industry. Mayors of China’s cities have the authority to approve green city projects within weeks, if right type of financing, project plan and technologies are presented to them. China has plans to pilot smart grid in 4 cities over the next 4 years, as well as plans to build many more green cities.

About Copenhagen, Chinese like to set the bar low and then exceed expectations. Hence China forced the bar to stay low at Copenhagen but plans to exceed the expectations. Well it is to be seen if China achieves that, but surely enough other countries will be very happy just meeting the low bar. China gains but the Earth loses.

Opportunity for US Companies to be part of China’s cleantech march is to provide them services. Chinese companies are good about building products but not so good about delivering services, which is a forte of US companies. So it is a great opportunity for US companies to be a part of developing green cities in China.

About US position in cleantech industry, let us just say that we are happy with procrastinating Democrats and filibustering Republicans who are all tea partying their way to the bottom of this industry.

The Not So Good

  • Best Buy’s Greenwashing: Many companies like to just talk about being green, without doing much to be green. Best Buy seems to be one such companies. Though they are making investments into electric bike startups, they do not seem to making investments into cutting down their energy usage. Rick Rommel, Sr.VP of emerging business at Best Buy was one of the panelists. He had a lot of good information that he shared with the audience, including a pretty loose reference to “Vampire Energy” (i.e. energy used by electronic equipment in standby state). Well, since he had bought up the topic I went and asked him about Vampire Energy at Best Buy Stores and I did not get a satisfying answer.

To give you a bit of a background, recently I had taken pictures of energy wasted at Best Buy and uploaded them to www.usefulorwaste.com. Many of you viewed these pictures and voted the energy used at Best Buy as “Waste”. So I had to ask Rick Rommel about any plans for identifying and cutting down Vampire Energy at Best Buy stores.

Click on the Picture to Rate the use of always on demo TVs as "Useful" or "Waste"

More specifically, the picture that you see on the side is the energy wasted at Best Buy in running the demo model TVs. There are many ways to save energy used by these demo TVs, like demo switches or motion initiated demos. But Best Buy believes that always on demo TVs are required for the ambiance of the store , so they are not going to stop the Energy wasted here.

Well, many of the consumers rated the energy used by the demo models at Best Buy as “Waste” of energy. But looks like this big electronics retailer still believes in the old ways of demoing the products.

Click on this picture to rate the energy used here as "Useful" or "Waste"

Another picture that I have of energy wasted at Best Buy is that during off hours. The picture on the side was taken at 5:00 AM, and this particular Best Buy store was closed during that time. But you can see from the window that all lights and the demo models were still on and consuming energy. Many of consumers rated the energy used in this picture as waste as well, but Best Buy sees value in keeping all the lights and demo models running during off hours. The value is that it requires less resources to open store the next day. If they turn off the lights and demo models, then their staff would have to spend considerable time in rebooting the systems. And this could lead higher resource costs. I somehow do not buy this argument and I think Best Buy should do some cost benefit analysis and cut down this energy wastage.

  • Saul Griffith’s old presentation: At Poptech 2008, Saul Griffith gave a wonderful presentation about individual energy usage and how we should measure it and cut down the energy usage. At State of Green Business Forum 2010, he gave the same presentation with same jokes (like Canadians are Americans living somewhere colder). Saul, you are famous and people like to follow you. They do not like to listen to the same presentation over and over again.
  • Out of focus panel: Though this was a great event, there were panel discussions that were not aligned with the topic of the panel. Though the moderators were great and asked targeted questions, the panelist decided to ignore the question and talk about something on top of their mind. It is difficult to conduct a day long event with focused panel, but I believe that GreenBiz.com can improve its ability of choosing the right panelists for the right topics and keeping the panels focused. Somehow there was not much discussion about smart grids during the forum, something that GreenBiz.com should consider for future events.

Overall, I liked this event and there is a lot other conference organizers can learn from Joel Makower and his team at GreenBiz.com. 

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More Stories By Jagan Nemani

“Business Executive who is passionate about discovering innovative concepts and converting them to revenue earning businesses. Happily married to a beautiful woman, and has two lovely kids. Avid skier, photographer and story-teller” I have spent about 5+ years in management consulting industry focused on “Growth Strategy” challenges. During those years, I have helped many clients devise some innovative strategies. Through the execution of those strategies, I have learned that Innovation is more of an Art than Science. And there is a lot more effort that goes into developing a successful business than just an innovative idea (ideas really a dime a dozen). So I have decided to share my learning through this blog. Hopefully you would enjoy this blog as much as I enjoy writing it.

My current employment situation: I am happily employed as Head, Innovation & Strategy at a software company, focused on establishing an innovation culture/process within the company. Needless to say, my focus is on “Concept 2 Revenue” at my current job as well.