Today, I’m going to tell you about an intriguing sustainability start-up called Energy Points, and its founder, a Greenpeace activist turned physicist named Ory Zik. But first, a word or two about the kinds of questions that Energy Points hopes to answer.
A not-so-serious question: I used to go through 3-4 pairs of running shoes a year, and hated to throw old ones away. So I’d pack them in a box, and send them to Nike in Oregon. The company’s ReuseAShoe program makes old shoes into playgrounds, or tennis courts, or materials for new shows. Nike has collected 28 million pairs of shoes since 1990. Does this make sense? Or would the world have been better off if I’d just trashed them?
A more serious question: You’re the chief sustainability officer of a big company. Working with the chief technology officer, you’ve just saved $1 million in energy costs by consolidating data centers and replacing old desktops and printers with efficient ones. Your CEO is so pleased that he’s told you to invest some of the savings in a sustainability project that will make a difference. Do you buy LED lights? Put solar on a warehouse roof? Install low-flush toilers in the restrooms?
“We don’t have any numbers to drive decisions,” says Ory Zik, the CEO of Energy Points, who, at age 48, is starting his third company. Particularly when comparing impacts across different arenas — energy, water and materials — there’s no common language.
“Saving a billion kilowatt hours versus saving a billion gallons of water — what is most important?” he asks. “What do you do–drip irrigation, solar panels, hybrid vehicles?”
Absent good data, the alternative — for companies and individuals — is feel-good environmentalism, or what a scientist I know calls “green bling” — rooftop solar in a shady neighborhood, or bike racks that score LEED points but rarely get used.
Energy Points, a software company, hopes to put science and data into the hands of sustainability decision-makers. The company says its platform
combines advanced analytics with complex resource scarcity data to translate all resources into primary energy, enabling a direct, one to one comparison of domains such as electricity, water and fuel.
Energy Points achieves this
by providing a universal metric and the first calculation engine that converts all metrics and resource domains into energy. Each of these resources require energy to produce, consume or manage – and the amount of energy that each require is measurable to a high degree of accuracy.
That sounds complicated, and behind the scenes, it is. But the goal is to take an immense amount of data and turn it into accessible metrics to help guide corporate and government actions around sustainability.
I met Ory recently in D.C. to learn more. He was visiting EPA, DOE and GSA to try to sell them on the value of Energy Points, which publicly released its software just six months ago after more than a year of development. The company has raised about $4.5 million in financing from Plan B Ventures, a Boston-based angel-style investor that backs clean tech and life science start-ups. It is based in Cambridge, MA, and is advised by scientists from MIT and Harvard.
Before starting Energy Points, Ory was the founding CEO of HelioFocus, a solar thermal company, and of QuantomiX Inc., a microscopy company. A native of Israel, he has a Ph.D. in physics from the Weizmann Institute of Science and started Greenpeace Israel in the 1990s.
“Greenpeace uses a lot of numbers, but the numbers don’t have context,” he told me. “As a physicist, you’re trained to analyze data and use it rigorously.”
What Energy Points has done is created a unit of measurement known, not surprisingly, as an Energy Point. One point is the amount of crude oil needed to produce one gallon of gasoline. Other resources — kilowatt hours of electricity, gallons of water, a ton of solid waste — are then translated into energy points. (Ory compares these to the points that are part of the Weight Watchers’ weight-loss system.)
This isn’t simple because the accounting depends on local conditions. An array of solar panels in a state that depends heavily on coal-generated electricity has more sustainability value than the same array in a state where more of the power comes from wind or hydro. Beyond that, solar in Phoenix also delivers more sustainability value than solar in Boston, for obvious reasons.
Here’s a map created by Energy Point that compares the fuel mix across the US. Higher numbers indicate a fuel mix with lower carbon emissions. So a company with facilities all around the country that wants to buy renewable energy would do so in regions with low numbers, if it wanted to maximize its impact. (Other maps are here.)
None of this, alas, would be necessary if energy, water and materials were priced right. But of course the costs of carbon emissions are not priced into our electricity bills and some places int he US actually give away water for free. Price, Ory told me, is at best a very imperfect indicator of the scarcity of a resource or of its environment cost.
Several customers are now experimenting with Energy Points. They include researchers at Harvard University and several FORTUNE 500 companies, which Ory declined to name.
Unfortunately, for now, the software can’t be used to guide personal decision-making. Should I spend my extra bucks on wind-powered electricity, organic food, carbon offsets, new windows for my home or none of the above? Until we price things right, it’s anybody’s guess.
Click around our global energy map to see what’s causing oil prices to spike into the triple digits.
The European Union (EU) has announced that it will link its emissions trading system with Australia’s emissions trading scheme, allowing businesses to use carbon units and comply under either system.
Mr Combet said: “Linking the Australian and European Union systems reaffirms that carbon markets are the prime vehicle for tackling climate change and the most efficient means of achieving emissions reductions”.
Ms Hedegaard proclaims that: “The European Union is the first regional emissions trading system and spans the largest part of the European continent. We now look forward to the first full inter-continental linking of emission trading systems”.
At Allen & York we think that this would be a pivotal move for both the EU and Australia and will further strengthen international efforts and cooperation on climate change. Furthermore, this will support the growth of an international carbon market.
Initially, an interim link will be put in place, whereby Australian businesses will be able to use EU allowances to help meet liabilities under the Australian emissions trading scheme from July 1 2015.
Australian businesses will therefore then be able to have access to a larger market and Europe will be provided with European market participants with enhanced and more flexible business opportunities in Australia.
Allen & York are International Sustainability Recruiters and have offices in both the UK and Australia, as well as the Middle East. Please visit our website today for job opportunities and recruitment solutions.
You may remember the buzz about country music legend Willie Nelson and his brand of renewable fuel, BioWillie. It made for a good story, (“His Car Smelling Like French Fries, Willie Nelson Sells Biodiesel”), but it didn’t amount to much. As best as I can tell, BioWillie is now being sold in a handful of filling stations in Hawaii but nowhere else.
No one is writing songs about the Renewable Energy Group but the Ames, Iowa-based firm has quietly become the leading North American producer of biodiesel. Yes, some French fry grease is involved–used cooking oil is one of the company’s inputs–but there’s a lot more to it than that. REG, as it’s known, makes biodiesel, which is mostly sold to trucks, from a variety of waste products, including inedible animal fats that are left over after companies like Tyson Foods and National Beef process cows and chickens, inedible corn oil and soybean oil.
This company, in other words, is a key player if you care about getting zero waste, energy security, carbon emissions and even food security, because its business provides added income to the ag/food industry. The company’s growing, too, largely by acquiring and reactivating dormant plants to meet increased demand: Its revenues were $85 million in 2008, $132 million in 2009, $216 million in 2010 and $824 million in 2011. Impressive.
I met recently with Daniel Oh, the president and CEO of Renewable Energy Group. The son of a Korean immigrant father and a mother from Illinois, Dan, who is 47, is an interesting albeit low-key guy. A native of Bloomington, Indiana, Dan graduated from West Point, and spent more than a decade in the army, serving in the first Gulf War with the 3rd infantry division and later as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He got an MBA from the University of Chicago, and worked at McKinsey & Co., Eli Lilly and agriculture consulting firm ABG Inc. before joining REG in 2006. He was named CEO last September.
REG has nine biodiesel plants, six in production and three partially completed, mostly in the midwest, because the industry grew up around the soybean and corn industry. Farmers have been big backers of biofuels because they want to extract more value from their crops. The company, which dates back to the late 1990s, has since then developed or acquired technologies that allow it to use a variety of feedstocks, depending on costs. “Your absolute biggest expense is feedstock,” Dan told me. “It can be 80 or 90 percent. We’re focused on waste and co-products first.”
As a result, he said, REG has been able to “motivate the collection of waste,” so that, for instance, fast-food restaurants organize to collect and sell their used cooking oil. “They’re in business to produce some other product, and we’re buying their waste,” he said.
Biofuels generate other benefits, too. REG’s biodiesel qualifies under EPA rules as an “advanced biofuel,” which means it must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% when compared to petroleum-based diesel. (REG says its products reduce lifecycle GHG emissions by 57% to 86%, depending on the feedstocks. Animal fat feedstocks, as it happens, reduce emissions more because so much corn and soy must be grown to feed cows, pigs or chickens.) Biodiesel reduces the US’s oil imports. By generating revenues for farmers or meat processors, and eliminating waste, biodiesel supports rural economies and keeps food costs down.
All of this, alas, comes at a price: Federal support in the form of a Renewable Fuels Standard, a mandate imposed upon so-called “obligated parties,” which are mostly big oil companies, to buy renewable fuels, as defined by energy laws passed in 2005 and 2007. You won’t be surprised to hear that these are incredibly complicated pieces of legislation–the energy industry lawyers are surely doing well–but essentially they require that transportation fuel sold in the US contains a minimum volume of renewable fuels. For next year, for instance, EPA has proposed that oil industry be required to us 1.28 billion gallons for biomass-based diesel. (The controversial mandate for ethanol isn’t relevant here.)
The biodiesel program has been plagued recently by corruption. Small producers of biodiesel sold credits for fuel they never produced, the government has alleged, and a Maryland company known as Clean Green Fuel was convicted of fraud. Setting that aside, Renewable Energy Group and other biodiesel producers rely on two streams of revenue — one from the distributors and fleets thatburn their fuel, and the other from the “obligated parties” who buy the credits they get for producing the fuel.
“We make a gallon of energy and we make a gallon of compliance,” Dan says.
So the benefits of biofuels are being financed, effectively, by oil refiners like ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips and Valero who, presumably, pass those costs along to their customers. Does that make sense? That depends on how you value the benefits of biofuels.
As Dan says: “We really help with energy security. We really help with food security. We really help with emissions. And we really help with rural development.”
“The Renewable Fuel Standard is working as intended and delivering desired results,” he says.
Those who favor the mandates argue that, as oil prices rise over time, and the biofuels industry scales up even more, the Renewable Fuel Standard won’t be needed because the cleaner, domestic fuels will be able to compete on their own. That’s the theory, anyway The reality is that once an industry wins special benefits from the government — whether it’s production tax credits for wind and solar, or fossil fuel subsidies — it’s hard to take them away.
By adopting the British Standards Institution’s (BSI) new energy management standard, ISO 50001, the 115 universities in the UK could potentially save £13.8 milion. Having already implemented ISO 50001, Sheffield Hallam University have saved £50,000 so far between January – May 2012.
ISO 50001 was introduced in June 2011 and exists as an international standard which has been developed by professionals from more than 60 countries and outlines the very best practice in energy management.
BSI proclaim that if all the other universities in the UK implemented similar changes as Sheffield Hallam University has then the total saved on electricity bills across the board could amount to nearly £14m.
The standard details the latest practical measures for reducing energy usage which includes energy saving technology such as smart metres, guidance on how to measure and document energy consumption and advice on how to build and maintain an energy saving culture within an organisation.
BSI chief executive Howard Kerr said: “As central government funding for universities has fallen many are under an increasing amount of cost pressures. Whilst higher tuition fees are helping plug the gap, the reality is that each of the UK’s 115 universities could save up to £120,000 a year if they implemented the world’s newest energy management standard ISO 50001.
“From installing new energy management technology such as motion sensors to embedding a culture of energy efficiency, there is a lot more UK universities can do to save money”.