Baby boomers’ reprise: building the green economy

There’s an abundance of guilt being a Baby Boomer these days. Our anticipated disproportionate drain on healthcare, Medicare, social security, etc. as we ebb into retirement has made us a pariah generation … a socio-economic time bomb of sorts.

So it was some comfort to read a new report from the Council for Adults and Experiential Learning (courtesy of on how Baby Boomers may provide the critical link to attaining a green economy.

How Boomers Can Help the Nation Go Green contends that green jobs are a natural fit for boomers seeking “encore careers.” Our professional skills, life experience and business savvy match up perfectly with the unmet needs of growing the green economy. And our generation is too restless and purpose-driven to adopt the more sedate retirement lifestyles of our parents, according to the report:

The 20th century vision of retirement filled with endless leisure is giving way to what think tank Civic Ventures calls a “new form of practical idealism: real jobs tackling real problems and making a real impact.”

It was even more surprising to learn – given our current unemployment woes – that experts expect skilled labor shortages across all segments of green industries, and that skilled boomers are best suited to plug the labor gap. In other words, boomers can be a catalyst for both green job creation and fulfillment.   The report says the three big areas of encore career opportunities will be in energy efficiency (e.g. energy auditing and weatherization), clean energy generation (e.g. solar contractors), and conservation (e.g. sustainability consultants). Though I personally believe there’s a lot of IT and engineering brain power the boomer generation could bring to emerging fields like the smart grid as well. But who am I to argue?   The report should also be an eye-opener to green technology marketers, who have largely ignored boomers in favor targeting their messaging towards genXers and millennials. If you want to attract the best people, you’ve got to talk to the best people. They forget that it was boomers who gave the world Earth Day, green buildings and granola.

Top green tech links for the week of 3/22

  • The Green:Net conference announced its Top 10 LaunchPad green startup company winners. My favorite: ecoATM, which pays you cash for your old electronics through an automated kiosk. (Via GigaOm)
  • Egg-beater-style windmill maker says it can double wind farm output by creating mini-tornados. (Via GreenTech Media)
  • Vegan buzzkill: Study says cutting back on animal products won’t have a major impact on global warming. (Via Green Car Congress)
  • Environmental journalist Marc Gunther calls out Corporate Responsibility Magazine for numerous implausible winners and ommisions in its Top 100 Best Corporate Citizens list. (Via
  • If you’re not a big fan of blowing up mountain tops for mining, you’ll enjoy the video of “Rev. Billy” dumping a wheelbarrow load of mountain blow at one of the mining company’s bank investors. Can I get an amen? (via TreeHugger)



Top green tech links for the week of 3/15

Once wireless foes ZigBee and Wi-Fi make up and agree to play nice for smart grid deployments (GreenTechMedia)

[sigh] Nissan Leaf electric car to cost $45K (Earth2Tech)

Frog foam can help make better bio-fuels and carbon capture (GreenBang)

Solar Ivy to grow on your house like, well, ivy? (Jetson Green)

Energy Secretary Steven Chu begins big energy efficiency push (Treehugger)

A rosy idea for clean energy measurement

In a recent news release for a cleantech client I struggled to quantify the energy savings and environmental impact that the technology delivered in a meaningful way. Communicating clean energy benefits can often trigger a mish-mash of metrics, like energy units (e.g. kilowatts/hour) made, dollars saved or potential pollutants scrubbed from the atmosphere.

To that end, Scientific American introduces us to a new scientific measurement for energy savings called the “Rosenfeld” named after the so-called “godfather of energy efficiency,” Scientist Arthur Rosenfeld.

One Rosenfeld equals an energy savings of 3 billion kilowatt-hours per year — the same amount generated by a 500-megawatt coal-run power plant. As Scientific American describes it, the Rosenfeld metric provides a much needed:

“… measurement that would help regular people visualize efficiency’s massive potential, but also be as accurate as possible.”

Weight Watchers have calories, cars have MPG and my woodstove boasts in BTUs. It’s not a bad idea that communications pros in clean tech industries coalesce around a standard, meaningful unit of energy savings measurement. And while we’re at, let’s nickname it the Rosy for simplicity’s sake.

SAGE’s re-imagining of windows will help save $300 billion in energy

This morning Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu – joined by Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar – announced $100+ million in DOE funding and IRS green manufacturing tax credits for our client SAGE Electrochromics.

These funds will help SAGE establish a new 250,000 sq. ft. facility in Faribault, Minnesota used to manufacture energy-saving, electronically tintable dynamic glass that  makes buildings more energy efficient and creates hundreds of new, skilled, green manufacturing jobs.

While hundreds of buildings have already installed SageGlass windows, this new government funding will enable the company to mass produce its glass and bring this energy saving technology to the world.

Secretary Chu has repeatedly said the biggest gains in decreasing this country’s energy bill, the amount of carbon dioxide and our dependency on foreign oil will come from energy efficiency and conservation in the next 20 years. SageGlass is a leading example of an energy efficiency technology.

SageGlass products transform windows from an energy liability to an energy source. The potential for energy savings is significant because energy loss through windows accounts for about 30% of heating and cooling energy. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), electrochromic windows like those produced by SAGE can save one-eighth of all the energy used by U.S. buildings each year. This is equivalent to about 5% of the nation’s energy budget. This translates into savings of approximately $300 billion over the next 20 years.

That’s not chump change.

SAGE focused on something each of us experiences every day – glass – and re-imagined it, transforming glass into something innovative that helps make the world a better place and America more competitive.

This is a great example of how something seemingly mundane like a window can become highly transformational.

Smart grid marketers rejoice

Marketers for smart grid products have had it rough because it’s like trying to sell a movie without a story line. Few people outside the energy industry have a clue as to how the smart grid will work. Unresolved standards keep us from knowing what it will be made out of. And the smart grid’s promise of energy efficiency and cleaner air have been unsubstantiated guesses at best.

But on this last point, smart grid marketers now have a reason to smile. The U.S. Department of Energy has done the math and has finally wrapped some great numbers around smart grid efficiencies, providing much-needed fuel for the marketing machine.

According to a new DOE report, the smart grid will enable us to cut energy consumption by 12% by 2030, and cut carbon emissions from power plants by the same amount.

Smart grid marketers can now crisply message around how they’re going to reduce your electric bill while also greening the planet.

But for the message to stick, they also have to tackle the other fore mentioned obstacles by scrubbing the unnecessary technobabble from smart grid conversations. Today, smart grid marketers trumpet things like Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), peak-load demand response and home area networks (HANs). These terms are fine for B2B sales and marketing within the energy industry. But to create the consumer pull-demand that could accelerate smart grid deployments, marketers will need to create a new consumer-friendly lexicon.

How GM can get its groove back

In an interview this week with NPR at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show, GM Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz was bemoaning how the company lost its way from the days when GM made its greatest cars in 50s and 60s. Later that day, my iPod Shuffle dished up Neil Young’s “Johnny Magic,” whose video takes place inside Young’s electrified ’59 Lincoln, the LincVolt. And that’s when it struck me … with so much of GM’s future riding on plug-in hybrids, why not be like Neil?

UPDATE: Yes, I realize that Ford built the Lincoln, not GM. I’m just saying…

Government aims to crowdsource cleantech innovation

With solar, wind, PHEVs, geothermal, biofuels and most other green technologies still out of reach for most people, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to try crowdsourcing our way to affordable clean energy.

The DOE recently launched an open-source wiki called Open Energy Information ( as a community platform for collectively solving our energy challenges. What Wikipedia did for socializing world knowledge, can do for clean technology innovation, the thinking goes.
“The true potential of this tool will grow with the public’s participation — as they add new data and share their expertise — to ensure that all communities have access to the information they need to broadly deploy the clean energy resources of the future,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in the Agency’s press release. bills itself as a linked open data platform, trying to create synapses between all the world’s energy information “to provide improved analyses, unique visualizations, and real-time access to data.” Anyone can post and edit information, upload additional data to the site and download information in easy-to-use formats.

The site currently houses more than 60 clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and best practices. To give it even more social cred, links to the DOE’s Virtual Information Bridge to Energy (VIBE), a browseable collection of widgets that provide up-to-date industry information and unique visualizations of clean energy data.

It’s a compelling idea. Most cleantech science is forged within silos, isolated in commercial and academic research labs. A global hive mind of expertise could bring a Red Bull jolt of collective creativity to unstick long-stuck science problems.
But will the labs be willing to play ball on an open source field if meant opening up their IP to competitors?

Good vibrations

If the Smart Grid is to be truly smart and deliver energy efficiency, it will have to rely on swarms of wireless sensors scattered across our work and living spaces, providing continuous feedback of our energy usage.

The problem is, even the tiny low-power sensors consume some power. And replacing a few hundred or even thousand batteries in our buildings every couple years is neither green nor realistic.

Enter energy-harvesting technology, which in theory will be able to capture slight vibrations, motion or other kinetic energy to keep the sensors humming. ZigBee, a low-power wireless sensor standard for home automation, will soon have its own energy-harvesting specification. And ZigBee is already factoring into the forthcoming Smart Grid standards big time, so problem solved, right?

The folks at the EnOcean Alliance say “not so fast,” claiming they’re way ahead of the energy-harvesting curve with their own technology. Looks like it’s shaping into a fun standards Donnybrooker. Amy Westervelt at the Earth2Tech blog has a great rundown of the energy harvesting smackdown.

Nukes, slums and GE crops: another shade of green?

Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Catalog founder and environmental movement pioneer, makes his case for why nuclear power, urbanization and genetically engineered crops are not only “green,” but a moral imperative, in a TED talk video for US State Department.

His key takeaways:

  • Slums and squatter cities aren’t full of people crushed by poverty, but rather a promising new economic model that’s helping them escape poverty as fast as they can.
  • Nukes are the only realistic near-term solution to urgent environmental threat that coal energy poses.
  • The huge increases in crop yields under adverse growing conditions that GE crops promise are an ecological advance because it feeds more people in the developing world with less land and energy.

Lots of holes can be punched in his arguments. But the presentation succeeds in stirring the pot on what our environmental priorities should be, and that’s a good thing.