Archive for July, 2007

Corn is For Ethanol, Grass is for Cows

Last year my wife and I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s
Dilemma
, and it changed we eat.  My wife was greatly affected by how animals are mistreated in production farming, while I was attracted by the health
benefits of eating grass fed beef
and other foods grown in the manner to which they are evolutionarily adapted, as well as by the lower degree of harm to the environment.  We haven’t become all-natural, all-organic, all-the-time at the Konrad household, but we’re now much more willing to pay more when we have the opportunity to do so for food which we consider healthier and more environmentally and morally sound.  For a world-class tightwad like myself, being willing to pay more is a considerable step.

In any case, the book also got me thinking more sympathetically about the ethanol industry, because it serves as a relatively benign outlet for the mountain of corn produced by America’s insane farm policies.   I find rising price of corn and other grains is more a cause for celebration than despair, because I see current prices more as a return to sanity rather than a likely cause for starvation.  Even in the third world, low agricultural productivity is (in part) due to a lack of incentive to compete with subsidized first world production, rather than an inability to grow enough food.  The market for corn has been massively distorted by oversupply caused by too many subsidies.  Ethanol represents a new source of practically inexhaustible demand which is restoring balance to a market too long out of kilter.

One practice which the massive flood of cheap grain begat was feeding corn to cattle.  In my AltEnergyStocks
column this week, I look at one way I think the market may be starting to find its equilibrium again.  As corn prices rise, there will be less incentive to fatten cattle in feedlots (or Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operations, CAFOs ad Michael Pollan calls them), and more to feed them grass.  I believe that long before we can perfect the art of using energy crops such as switchgrass to make cellulosic ethanol on a commercial basis, the rising price of corn will make it economic to feed those same energy crops (i.e. grass) directly to cattle, more than doubling the amount of corn currently available to the ethanol industry.

Click here to read the entire column.

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Energy Efficient Homes & Performance Contracting

I have now posted the last two articles in my series on the WGA Energy Efficient Buildings Workshop.

The third article (here) talks about some of the “above code” standards, such as Energy Star and Built Green, why I feel the code should resemble these standards a lot more than it does now (above code should mean measures that are not viable on a pure economic basis, but that people want because it makes them feel good… when total cost of ownership is taken into account, these “above code” standards actually produce homes that are cheaper to live in and own than houses built just to code.)

I also talk about several companies that my benefit from a move to wide adoption of these above code standards, as well as from energy retrofits of existing homes.

Article number four (here), talks about the trend to performance contracting, where a building owner contracts for a certain level of service (lighting levels, temperature, etc.) with a third party, and that party upgrades the building’s efficiency, with the savings from efficiency gains not only paying the energy bills, but also paying for the upgrades (which can include solar panels and other renewable energy projects as well as energy efficiency upgrades) as well as a profit for the contractor.

Investing in Energy Efficient Homes
Investing in Performance Contracting

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Western Governor’s Association Energy Efficient Buildings Workshop

This week, I’ll be covering the WGA’s Energy Efficient Buildings Workshop, which took place in Denver on July 17 and 18. I have drafts of 4 articles, the first two of which are an overview of the workshop, and a Western States Energy Efficiency Political update, which I just published on AltEnergyStocks. I’ll be publishing articles on Homebuilding and Performance Contracting later this week.

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Some difficulties getting information on Global Resource Corporation

I have been looking into Microwave Waste-to-energy pioneer Global Resource Corporation (OTC:GBRC) for the last couple weeks… much of it spent in phone tag with Global’s CFO. I didn’t get anything from him, but the firm’s 10K and other SEC filings made interesting reading.

I was left with a lot of unanswered questions, and an urge to short sell the company. You can read about what I found on my AltEnergyStocks column, here.

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ABB Group: Efficient Electiricty Transmission and Distribution

TransformerThis week, I highlight ABB, (the maker of all those boring green boxes most people see every day without even wondering what they are) in my AltEnergyStocks column.

As I have written before, a smarter, more efficient grid is key to integrating more renewable energy and replacing fossil fuels. ABB is well placed to profit from the increase investment that’s needed. You can read the whole column here.

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The Week in Energy Storage and Carbon Regulation

This week, I sat in on Charles Morand’s weekly The Week in Cleantech column on AltEnergy Stocks. It may be just me, but it seemed like there were a ton of interesting articles about energy storage this week, from utracapcitors to sodium-sulfur batteries. Maybe it wasn’t the week, though: batteries are one of the areas I’m most interested in investing in right now… better energy storage is critical to a better functioning electricial grid, as well as to replacing foreign petroleum.

I also go a plug in for a move to a Colorado Carbon Tax… much simpler and less open to special interests than a cap-and-trade initiative. And, as Lori Bird of NREL says, a cap-and-trade regime for carbon must be very carefully designed in order for voluntary REC (Renewable Energy Credit) purchases by consumers to help decrease carbon usage, while RECs will always help reduce carbon emissions in a Carbon Tax regime.

You can read The Week In Cleantech, July 9-15, here.

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Socially Responsible Finance Jobs?

Live Earth seems to have had a big effect… both this (my personal blog) and Alt Energy Stocks have seen a big boost in readership this week.

So if you listened to Live Earth, and had a life-changing experience, you might be just looking for a new, socially responsible career. I can tell you one sector that does not have enough good talent: Socially Responsible Finance. The folks over at the ForEx Blog have put together a list of Four Careers in Social Finance, although they call it 13 (perhaps because there are a few tips and pointers thrown in as well.) This neatly deflates two myths about money-men:

1. Some of us do want to make the world a better place
2. Not all of us are good at math.

I do have one major gripe: They didn’t mention my job: Renewable Energy Investment Analyst/Advisor/Writer. Maybe because it’s too long… or actually three jobs… but, really, guys, there’s no real competition. C’mon in, the water’s fine!

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