Facebook hires Google’s former Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl, and increases its commitment to renewables

Christina Page, Yahoo & Bill Weihl, Google - Green:Net 2011

Google has had an impressive record in renewable energy. They invested over $850m dollars in renewable energy projects to do with geothermal, solar and wind energy. They entered into 20 year power purchase agreements with wind farm producers guaranteeing to buy their energy at an agreed price for twenty years giving the wind farms an income stream with which to approach investors about further investment and giving Google certainty about the price of their energy for the next twenty years – a definite win-win.

Google also set up RE < C – an ambitious research project looking at ways to make renewable energy cheaper than coal (unfortunately this project was shelved recently).

And Google set up a company called Google Energy to trade energy on the wholesale market. Google Energy buys renewable energy from renewable producers and when it has an excess over Google’s requirements, it sells this energy and gets Renewable Energy Certificates for it.

All hugely innovative stuff and all instituted under the stewardship of Google’s Green Energy Czar, Bill Weihl (on the right in the photo above).

However Bill, who left Google in November, is now set to start working for Facebook this coming January.

Facebook’s commitment to renewable energy has not been particularly inspiring to-date. They drew criticism for the placement of their Prineville data center because, although it is highly energy efficient, it sources its electricity from PacificCorp, a utility which mines 9.6 million tons of coal every year! Greenpeace mounted a highly visible campaign calling on Facebook to unfriend coal using Facebook’s own platform.

The campaign appears to have been quite successful – Facebook’s latest data center announcement has been about the opening of their latest facility in Lulea, Sweden. The data center, when it opens in 2012, will source most of its energy from renewable sources and the northerly latitudes in Lulea means it will have significant free cooling at its disposal.

Then in December of this year (2011) Facebook and Greenpeace issued a joint statement [PDF] where they say:

Facebook is committed to supporting the development of clean and renewable sources of energy, and our goal is to power all of our operations with clean and renewable energy.

In the statement Facebook commits to adopting a data center siting policy which states a preference for clean and renewable energy and crucially, they also commit to

Engaging in a dialogue with our utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that power Facebook data centers

So, not alone will Facebook decide where their future data centers will be located, based on the availability of renewable energy, but Facebook will encourage its existing utility providers to increase the amount of renewables in their mix. This is a seriously big deal as it increases the demand for renewable energy from utilities. As more and more people and companies demand renewable energy, utilities will need to source more renewable generation to meet this demand.

And all of this is before Google’s former Green Energy Czar officially joins Facebook this coming January.

If Bill Weihl can bring the amount of innovation and enthusiasm to Facebook that he engendered in Google, we could see some fascinating energy announcements coming from Facebook in the coming year.

Photo credit Jaymi Heimbuch

Cloud Computing’s Green Potential – my talk at the Green Economy conference

The good people in Business and Leadership invited me to speak at their Green Economy 2011 conference on the topic of “Cloud Computing’s Green Credentials”

The event was in Dublin and was attended by around 200 people from all walks of business. Fellow speakers were Yvo de Boer from KPMG, Dick Budden from the Carbon Disclosure Project and Dr. Willfried Wienholt from Siemens who talked about Sustainable Cities.

In my own talk, I said that intuitively, you might expect Cloud Computing to be more energy efficient, and in fact some Cloud Computing providers are making claims that Cloud Computing is “potentially” Green and energy efficient. However, seeing as Cloud Computing providers are not publishing any data around Cloud Computing’s energy consumption, then it is impossible to say just how energy efficient Cloud Computing is.

An exercise I tried out was – I asked everyone in the room to put up their hands if their company had deployed apps to the cloud – a good few hands went up. Then I said, keep your hands up if you know what the energy utilisation of those apps was before they went up – you can see where I’m going with this. Unfortunately, no hands stayed up at this point. The final instruction I was going to put to them was to keep your hands up if you know the energy utilisation of your app now that it is deployed in the Cloud. If you don’t have that information (and no-one does because Cloud Providers are not supplying it) then you can’t say that Cloud Computing is energy efficient.

Sure, you can say that you deployed your CRM to the cloud for example, and you decommissioned the servers which were handling your CRM internally – so you are saving energy there. But those energy savings are simply outsourced to your Cloud CRM provider and you have no idea how much energy they are burning to provide you with your CRM solution.

As for whether or not Cloud Computing is Green, or not – this is a different question entirely. I gave the examples of FaceBook and Microsoft, for example. FaceBook have a massively energy efficient data center in Prineville Oregan. It’s PUE is 1.07 which is near the theoretical maximum (of 1.0) but it is powered by Pacific Corp 63% of whose electricity is generated by burning coal – very definitely not Green. Similarly for Microsoft’s Dublin data center – again a very respectably PUE of 1.2, but it is powered off the Irish electricity grid, 87.5% of which comes from fossil fuels – again, not Green.

On the other hand, Google have gone to extraordinary lengths, investing over $400m in renewable energy and signing 20 year power purchase agreements with renewable energy providers – so you have to suspect that their Cloud Computing platform is Green, as well as energy efficient (but again, until they start producing data to back such claims up, it remains a suspicion!).

I concluded on Flip Kromer‘s great quote:

EC2 means anyone with a $10 bill can rent a 10-machine cluster with 1TB of distributed storage for 8 hours

This is a superb example of Jevons Paradox whereby Cloud Computing leads to increased computer resource utilisation, not reduced – which is also, not very Green!

The organisers put some of my talk up on YouTube – this may help get some context around the slides above –


Friday Green Numbers round-up for March 25th 2011

Green Numbers

And here is a round-up of this week’s Green numbers…

  1. Infographic of the Day: Do Americans Pay Too Little for Gas?

    Even with prices at the pump hovering around $3.50, that’s a fraction of the prices in other rich countries

    Every year without fail, as the days get longer and warmer, gas prices begin to shoot up. Throw in intense turmoil in the Middle East, and the annual price skyrocket and accompanying fretting began even earlier this year. But while gas prices have risen to more than $3 a gallon in the United States, remember that gas here is still cheaper than many places–especially developed nations–around the world.

    This infographic from Flowing Data shows where–according to gas price tables on Wikipedia–people are paying more… read on

  2. China battery plant poisons more than 100 villagers

    Lead emissions from a battery plant in eastern China have poisoned more than 100 villagers, including 35 children, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday, the latest in a string of heavy metal pollution cases in the country.

    A total of 139 villagers in a village near Taizhou city in coastal Zhejiang province have been found to have elevated lead levels in their blood, Xinhua cited the provincial health department as saying in a statement.

    Three of the adults had lead in their blood more than… read on

  3. Philips AmbientLED 12.5 Watts LED Lightbulb (Product Review)

    The Philips AmbientLED 12.5-watt A19 LED lightbulb (quite a name!) is probably the favorite LED bulb that I’ve tried so far. It beats the competition when it comes to light output (800 lumens vs. 450-590 lumens for the other LEDs that I’ve tried), the design of the bulb is very innovative, and light quality is excellent.

    Read on for my full review and more technical specs on the Philips AmbientLED…. read on

  4. Obama administration announces massive coal mining expansion

    Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday an enormous expansion in coal mining that threatens to increase U.S. climate pollution by an amount equivalent to more than half of what the United States currently emits in a year. A statement from Wild Earth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife put the announcement in perspective:

    When burned, the coal threatens to release more than 3.9 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, equal to the annual emissions from 300 coal-fired power plants, further cementing the United States as a leading contributor to…. read on

  5. The triumph of coal marketing

    Do you have an opinion about nuclear power? About the relative safety of one form of power over another? How did you come to this opinion?

    For every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,000 die due to coal, adjusted for the same amount of power produced… read on

  6. King Crabs Invade Antarctica for First Time in 40 Million Years

    King crabs haven’t historically caroused in Antarctic waters — it’s simply been too cold for the famed crustaceans. But warming waters have allowed crusading crabs to march further south than they have in millions of years. Which is bad news for the diverse sea life currently thriving in the underwater habitats around the Antarctic peninsula: Seeing as how they’ve been living in a crab-less environment for 40 million years, scientists now fear that Antarctic animals like brittle sea stars, mussels, and sponges will be sitting ducks for the marauding king crabs… read on

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Photo credit house of bamboo

Friday Green Numbers round-up for Feb 25th 2011

Green Numbers

And here is a round-up of this week’s Green numbers…

  1. After 50 Years, Nuclear Power is Still Not Viable without Subsidies, New Report Finds

    Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the U.S. nuclear power industry has been propped up by a generous array of government subsidies that have supported its development and operations. Despite that support, the industry is still not economically viable, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, ?Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable Without Subsidies,? found that more than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies often have exceeded the average market price of the power produced.

    ?Despite the fact that the nuclear power industry has benefited from decades of government support, the technology is still uneconomic, so the industry is demanding a lot more from taxpayers to build new reactors,? said Ellen Vancko, manager of UCS?s Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project. ?The cost of this technology continues to …

  2. UN reveals $1.3trn green strategy

    A new sustainable strategy by the United Nations proposes to invest 2pc of wealth generated by the global economy, or some $1.3trn annually, in 10 key sectors.

    The new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report that was released yesterday, when more than 100 environment ministers met in Nairobi, underlines a sustainable public policy and investment path that will not only launch the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy, but will also …

  3. Wind generation is not increasing wholesale electricity prices in Ireland

    The growing levels of wind generation on the Irish electricity network is not increasing wholesale electricity prices, a new study published by EirGrid and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) suggests.

    The report by grid operator EirGrid and the SEAI, employs detailed modelling tools to examine the wholesale prices in the Irish electricity system in 2011, which has a total annual value of an estimated ?2bn.

    The analysis revealed that wind generation lowers wholesale prices by …

  4. 7 Fear Factors That Move Solar Stocks

    Solar companies have seen their stocks head up over the past two months as they?ve been reporting killer sales and profits for 2010 and remain bullish about 2011. Shares of key players, such as SunPower, Suntech Power, First Solar and Trina Solar, all have seen their shares rise about 30 percent or more since the beginning of the year.

    But no stocks can keep climbing forever, and news events that …

  5. OnChip Power, aiming a shrink ray at bulky transformer ‘bricks,’ raises $1.8 million from Venrock

    I am fairly sure that if you manage to raise $1.8 million for your start-up while enrolled in a business school course called “Entrepreneurial Finance,” you are almost guaranteed an A.
    Last week, MIT Sloan student and OnChip Power CEO Vanessa Green was signing the papers on her company’s first round of funding: $1.8 million from Venrock and Arunas Chesonis, chairman of PAETEC Holding and an MIT alumnus.

    OnChip is commercializing new power electronics technology developed at …

  6. Transphorm Unveils Efficient Power Module, $38M From Kleiner, Google Ventures

    Here comes the biggest cleantech startup launch since Bloom Energy: Acompany called Transphorm has emerged from stealth on Wednesday afternoon at Google Venture?s headquarters, touting an energy-efficient power conversion module for power-hungry devices from servers to electric car batteries to solar panels, and an enviable $38 million in venture capital from Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Foundation Capital, and Lux Capital.

    Founded in 2007, Transphorm is looking to make power conversion more energy-efficient and reduce the …

  7. Harvard Study Reveals Coal Energy To Be One of the Most Expensive Forms of Power

    Advocates of coal power argue that it is among the cheapest sources of energy in the United States and allows for lower-cost power. But a new Harvard study found that whatever money is saved in operation costs is completely negated by the cost coal plants inadvertently pass on to the American public: $345 billion.

    These hidden expenses are not borne by miners or utilities, but come from the detrimental side affects of coal burning, like health problems in mining communities and pollution around coal plants. The study is the first to look at the entire cost of coal, from extraction to combustion …

  8. Oil surges nears $120 a barrel on Libya and Middle East fears

    Oil prices soared to almost $120 a barrel on Thursday amid fears that the unrest in Libya and Bahrain could spread to other oil-rich countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.

    Brent crude leapt $8.54 to $119.79 a barrel, the highest price since August 2008, and later traded at $113.93 a barrel. It closed at…

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Photo credit Tom Raftery

Green bits and bytes for Jan 27th 2011

Green bits & bytes

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Some of the Green announcements which passed by my desk this week:

  1. This year’s annual Transmission & Distribution Europe and Smart Grids Europe conference will be held in Copenhagen from 12-14 April. More than 30 utilities, as well as utility experts, regulators and technology giants from all over Europe, as well as the USA, South Africa, Japan and Australia, will be attending. I hope to be there too!
  2. Synapse Energy Economics released a report this week which outlines in detail the enormous hidden health and water impacts of coal and nuclear power in the US.

    Some of the costs mentioned in the report include 200 billion gallons of water withdrawn from America?s water supply each day ? annual costs to society from premature deaths due to power plant pollution so high that they are up to four times the price of all electricity produced in the U.S. ? and four metric tons of high-level radioactive wastes for every terawatt of electricity produced by nuclear reactors, even though there is no long-term storage solution in place.

  3. Optimum Energy, maker of heating, ventilating and air conditioning software solutions, has rolled out a new partner program with enhanced project development tools and training resources. Optimum Energy’s software maximizes the energy reduction potential of high-efficiency, variable speed heating and cooling systems, leading to energy savings for customers and the ability to improve overall project return on investment.
  4. Tropos Networks, maker of wireless IP networks for Smart Grids, has added two new products to its portfolio – the Tropos 1310 Distribution Automation (DA) Mesh Router and their Directional Radio Systems to deliver economical long range, high capacity wireless communications for sparse suburban and rural areas or as backhaul for Tropos Mesh networks.
  5. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg launched an Urban Technology Innovation Center at Columbia university. The center brings together academia, the public sector and companies like IBM to design and deploy new technology that will help the city’s buildings save energy, water and other resources. The challenge is to use advanced IT systems – analytics software and powerful new hardware – to create facilities that reduce energy, streamline operations and optimise real estate use.

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Photo credit .faramarz

Friday Green Numbers round-up 06/25/2010

Green numbers

Photo credit Unhindered by Talent

And here is this week’s Green numbers:

  • Australia is no stranger to tight water supplies, and fortunately that means smart water conservation strategies are being devised all the time. Australia is leading the way in everything from strategies to combat desertification to using renewable energy for desalination plants, and now it is putting that knowledge to work on six new infrastructure projects that can save 1.3 billion gallons of water.

    tags: greennumbers, australia, smart water, water conservation, desalination, renewable energy, desertification

  • GROWING numbers of girls are reaching puberty before the age of 10, raising fears of increased sexual activity among a new generation of children.

    Scientists believe the phenomenon could be linked to obesity or exposure to chemicals in the food chain, and is putting girls at greater long-term risk of breast cancer.

    A study has revealed that breast development in a sample of 1,000 girls started at an average age of 9 years and 10 months ? an entire year earlier than when a similar cohort was examined in 1991.

    tags: greennumbers, girls, puberty, obesity, chemicals, food chain, breast cancer

  • There’s some interesting new data out on recent shifts in electricity demand and consumption, courtesy of the DOE/EIA.

    In 2008, total U.S. power generation was 4.1 million GWh. In 2009, that fell by 4 percent, to 3.9 million. That’s a 4 percent reduction — clearly the result of the economic slowdown. Nothing surprising there.

    What’s interesting, though, is how generation shifted by fuel type. Over the same year, coal-fired power generation fell by 11 percent, from almost 2 million GWh to just under 1.8 million.

    tags: greennumbers, fuel, type, coal-fired power generation, coal, DOE, EIA, U.S. power generation, electricity demand, electricity consumption

  • Just how important is turning off computers at the end of the day in an office building? Very, if a company wants to save big bucks on electricity bills. According to UC San Diego researchers, 50-80% of a modern building’s electricity use goes to IT equipment, particularly desktop computers. A report last year showed that not shutting down PCs equated to $2.8 billion in wasted electricity. Still, many offices don’t encourage their employees to hit shut-down on their PCs for a variety of reasons, including updating software while everyone is out or being able to keep the computer attached to the network so information on the machine can be accessed at any time. However, Microsoft’s new Sleep Proxy system claims it can help cut energy consumption by 60-80%, without getting in the way of office systems.

    tags: greennumbers, IT equipment, electricity use, Sleep Proxy

  • At a presentation at the Oxford Energy Futures conference on June 11th, Andy Duff, non-executive chair of RWE npower, made some controversial assertions about the future of electricity in the UK. He focused on three propositions.

    a)????? The UK cannot meet its carbon targets without new nuclear

    b)????? Electricity demand will grow at 1% less than GDP growth

    c)?????? The UK will not have enough electricity capacity by the latter part of this decade unless UK society accepts a doubling of wholesale electricity prices, which is the minimum required to free the capital investment required to 1) meet demand and 2) decarbonise sufficiently fast.

    In summary, we need nuclear and we all need to accept a substantial rise in electricity prices to pay for it.

    tags: Oxford Energy Futures, greennumbers, npower, nuclear, electricity demand

  • Chinese consumers are becoming as cynical as those in the West about the way companies communicate about their social and environmental performance, according to the latest wave of GlobeScan’s annual global tracking research on public views of corporate social responsibility.\n\nThe study, which interviewed over 30,000 people across 34 countries, finds that while in 2005 more than 80 per cent of Chinese consumers felt that companies communicated ‘honestly and truthfully’ about their social and environmental performance, this has now fallen sharply, with only 40 per cent feeling this way in this year’s study.

    tags: CSR Communications, csr, china, consumers, GlobeScan, greennumbers

  • Today, the chief executives of the five big oil companies ? including BP?s Tony Hayward ? are going to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. According to an e-mail released by that Committee yesterday, a BP drilling engineer warned that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was a ?nightmare well? that had caused the company problems in the past. The e-mail came just six days before the well exploded:

    tags: bp, oilspill, deepwater horizon, Macondo well, Gulf of Mexico, nightmare well, greennumbers

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Friday Green Numbers round-up 06/18/2010

Green numbers

Photo credit Unhindered by Talent

And here is this week’s Green numbers:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Suddenly the business case for being an ethical, non-polluting business seems all the stronger

BP Oil Spill

Photo credit NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Is the massive environment, health and safety (EHS) risks, which fossil fuel companies represent, starting to hurt their businesses?

Reading this morning about the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico I note that BP’s market value has fallen from ?122bn last week to ?102.5bn today - a loss of almost ?20bn in a week (or just over 16% of its value).

What has to be really worrying for BP investors is that

Things must be pretty grim at present in BP’s plush London HQ but it is not like BP have an exceptionally poor record by fossil fuel producers standards. For example:

And this EHS risk is not limited to oil and gas companies. On the contrary:

Massey Energy, the owner of the Upper Big Branch coal mine which exploded four weeks ago, killing 29 miners, has a terrible record of environmental and health and safety abuses. In fact, so bad are they that the FBI announced recently that they would be investigating Massey for the possible bribery of federal officials overseeing mining industry regulation and for potential criminal negligence.

Massey’s main competitors in the US are little better –

With the rapidly increasing number of environmental lawsuits taking place companies like the above are going to be spending more and more of their time in the courts with the consequent losses in time, productivity and reputation which that entails.

When you couple that with the growing interest in environmental issues being taken by the SEC, the EPA and investors and suddenly the business case for being an ethical, non-polluting business seems all the stronger.

After all, as many people noted on Twitter in the last few days, spills of air from wind farms or sun from solar plants are not going to have the devastating environmental consequences we have witnessed in the last decades as a result of our addiction to fossil fuels.

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Smart Grid Heavy Hitters – Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – part 2

Jon Wellinghoff is the Chairman of the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – the FERC is the agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil.

I recorded an interview with Jon a few weeks back. The resulting video was too good to reduce to a single piece, so I split it into two. I published the first part of the interview a couple of weeks ago, this is part two.

In this second video we discussed:

  • Why it is a good thing for utilities that customers consume less electricity – 0:36
  • How smart grids help increase the penetration of renewables on the grid – 2:12
  • How electric vehicle owners are being paid up to $3,600 per annum to provide regulation services for utilities while charging! – 2:54
  • How renewable energy sources can be used as baseload power (no coal or nuclear baseload need ever be built) – 4:34

Smart Grid Heavy Hitters – Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – part 1

Jon Wellinghoff is the Chairman of the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – the FERC is the agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. As such, the FERC was the agency which Google Energy applied to for its licence to buy and sell electricity on the wholesale market, for example.

Shortly after his appointment as Chair of the FERC in 2009 by Barack Obama, Chairman Wellinghoff made headlines when he said

No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States… renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands

A chance came up recently to have him on this show, so I obviously jumped at it!

We had a great chat – so good, in fact that I turned it into two shows rather than edit any of it out.

In this first video we discussed:

  • What a smart grid is and its benefits
  • The backlash to early smart grid rollouts in Texas and California
  • How long it will be before we see full smart grids deployments

I will publish the second part of the interview next week.

In part two Chairman Wellinghoff will once again state that the US does not need to build any more coal or nuclear power plants, that renewables can meet the energy requirements of the US and he will discuss how electric car owners in some trials are being paid over $3,000 per annum for use of their batteries for grid regulation services by their utilities!