Thursday, February 25, 2010

California and China - 2 - Why?

In an earlier post ( , I introduced some of the government and NGO efforts to foster joint China-US  research and deployment in renewable energy and energy-efficiency.

But, of course, some Americans might ask, why cooperate with China?

It may be hard to believe now that China and US have a history of cooperation.  We were on the same side during WWII, a fact no middle age or older Chinese citizen would let me forget during my 5+ years in China, some who offered a 'thumbs up' and a toothless grin.

And the Americans are still singled out among foreigner powers for having helped Chinese education 100+ years ago, while other foreign powers seemed intent on carving up territory.  (Where did Madame Chiang Kai Shek go to school?)

And maybe hardest to believe is that before 2000, China was considered a "strategic partner" to America.   (Apparently, shortly before being selected as National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, a Soviet expert, authored a paper calling China a "strategic competitor."  I would like to find this paper.)

So why work with China on energy?

Here are some of reasons I've put together, some obvious, some may require a little getting used to, some debatable.   

  • we breath the same air, in particular air pollution in Calif  (Nature:
  • we share an ocean, and the garbage now in it
  • the Chinese people respect the US, and will proudly point to the hotel Bill Clinton stayed in (you did know Bill Clinton went to China, right?)
  • together we emit 40% of co2 
  • China can learn from us, but we can learn from China (ask anyone who's been there)
  • China can be a new business model for developing countries: When China 'saturates' (everyone has a refrigerator), it will do so at lower energy use per capita then any previous developing country (and certainly lower than us)
  • Other developing countries (India, Brazil ...) look to China as the model 
  • This can be globalization in the best sense, sharing of complementary resources and talents
  • A little friendly cooperation?
  • A giant market to help jumpstart entire new industries, in which companies and workers on both sides of the Pacific and beyond will benefit.
  • A laboratory to test technologies,  energy policies and best industry practices
  • Combine China's lower cost labor, ability to get things done quickly with our own vast R&D, innovation and resources.  To maintain R&D, however we must build some here.
  • Cooperation builds trust in other areas (like co2 emissions or compliance, in general)
  • Competing for influence in Central Asia or Africa is so 19th century.  We can not afford a military or energy arms race - the stakes and economic costs are simply too high.
  • We need China - they have a lot of smart people, too.

Here's one example between California EPA and China

Another example,  developing a Climate Registry in Guangdang Province,  based on the one in California

Next:   Lawrence Berkeley Lab and China


Why Should Californians Care About Energy Efficiency in China?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Low-Carbon: Venture Capital, Policy - at i4Energy

I was a bit disappointed with John Zysman talk at Citris/i4Energy last Friday (2/19/10) at UC Berkeley, entitled:

 "The Transition to a Low Carbon High Efficiency System: Implications for Venture Capital, Policy, and Climate Negotiations"

I am not a venture capitalist, whom I think was his target, and I did not understand some of the language or references.

And Prof. Zysman announced, a little too boldly, that he is not a scientist or engineer, and indeed I thought his talk showed a lack of data or evidence or causality that I would expect.

And at times I thought he was repeating, in a different vocabulary, what is obvious to all of us:  a change to low-carbon high-efficiency economy is going to be a big change, an "system systems transition."

So why write about this talk?

Because it needs to said, in every possible language and to every possible audience: the old rules must change, and this includes financing.

Unlike the IT/semiconductor revolution, which Prof. Zysman seemed to know well and  referenced several times in which VCs profit (or 'bet') on  'incremental' improvements, such as  transistor density or CPU power to an established base, the move to renewables is anything but clear and will be difference from IT.   It will  not be a bet on a specific product, not a bet on a specific technology, but more correctly:   a bet on whole suite of technologies, which won't work if one technology is missing.

He cited electric cars, for example.   Without a recharge grid, electric cars won't take off.   Without a truly smart grid, perhaps renewables can not take off.   And if you bet on wind, and then solar takes off, where does that leave the VC?

So it is more than a carbon price, more than optimizing an old technology in a new form.  (He cited the problems of building a lighter aluminum engine as replacement for internal combustion engine - tried and did not work.)

He mentioned the semiconductor industry road-map and urged a similar carbon road-map.  He stressed the need for policy to drive technology, i.e. choose a 'trajectory' and not discrete technologies alone, so multiple developments are completed correctly, and in parallel.  The old VC model isn't going to cut it.

And he argued, which we all know, that India and China are pursuing systems change and we are just not a player.

I'd like to see Prof.  Zysman rewrite his talk in a form and language non-VC professionals can understand and not use words with ambiguous meanings to laypeople (paradigm shift, transitions, hedge vs. VC models).   Perhaps he could draw more concretely on past energy transitions, wood to coal, which he said took 100 or so years.  

Then we can appreciate what he is trying to tell us, which may be of vital importance.

And what if the VC model fails?  Energy supply and climate change are world problems.   Surely we should consider that huge pools of capital, talent, ideas can be tapped with different rules.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Cool Cars" - coming soon to California - Part 2

With "Cool Cars" window glazing 15-day comment period completed and the California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff now finalizing proposed regulations for car window glazing (, this a good time to overview briefly the ARB regulatory process. The ealier "Cool Cars" post is here.

The regulatory process is the intersection of science, goals, industry, government and us - the public. Ultimately, what interests me are questions like:

- Why is California considered a leader in energy, automobile emissions, reducing GHG?
- What can we do insure this continues?
- Is the science being used to achieve maximum effect?

As always, the 'devil is in the details.' ARB's regulatory process seems straight foward. Roughly, after initial notice the ARB has 1 year to complete a 45-day comment period (plus public hearing), then modify the proposed regulation and finally allow a 15-day comment period before preparing final regulations. All of these are transparent process which allow public participation and comments.

Cool Cars is now at this final stage, preparing final regulations, in a timeline that officially began in May 2009, but was actually informally in public discussion before that. Cool Cars is one the ARB's Early Actions, under AB32.

To actually come into effect, a California regulation must go through two more steps. The California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) has 30 days to check the rule. The California Secretary of State then prints the regulation in Code of Regulations and the rule goes into effect 1 year later. All of this is governed by the California Procedures Act. (More info here:
- -

The ARB group studying "Cool Cars" is headed by Dr. Marijke Bekken, who has been helpful in answering questions and pointing me in the right direction.

Of course, the primary responsibility of ARB is to regulate. But I can not help puzzle over what roles the following play:

  • teach (or inform) us of the latest science and options
  • focus our attention on problems requiring a solution
  • provide a more independent complement to legislative process, i.e. political

Overview of the regulatory agency process and how to participate: