Author Archives: Alison van Diggelen

Alison van Diggelen is founder and host of Fresh Dialogues, an interview series featuring green thought leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond. A former columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and contributor to KQED’s Climate Watch, Alison now writes for the Huffington Post and moderates events for the Commonwealth Club and the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. She has lectured and moderated presentations on sustainability and entrepreneurship at the University of Edinburgh and UC Santa Cruz, Silicon Valley Extension. In 2001, the Women's Fund of Silicon Valley nominated Alison for a "Woman of Achievement Award" in communication. She has been an interview guest on KTVU, Silicon Valley Business, KGO radio and BBC radio. Alison hails from Bonnie Scotland and has a master's degree from the University of Cambridge.

Surge in Battery Research Fuels Hope for Cheaper Electric Cars

Revelations in lithium battery technology could mean cheaper batteries and less sticker shock for electric cars

Matt Beardsley

Stanford scientists Mike Toney and Johanna Nelson inspect a transmission X-ray microscope, a powerful device that takes nano-scale images of chemical reactions in batteries while they are running.

Imagine if Tesla, Nissan and GM could cut the price of their electric cars by 25%. That electric dream may be a wee bit closer than you think, thanks to researchers at Stanford University.

Recently a team from Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory announced a new method to analyze and potentially improve rechargeable battery technology in a radical way. A cheap, reliable rechargeable battery is the holy grail for electric carmakers that rely on costly lithium ion batteries for power. Instead of the usual pairing of a lithium compound with graphite, the study examined lithium-sulfur batteries, which in theory can store five times more energy at a significantly lower cost.

“Sulfur is an earth-abundant element and offers the greatest potential to reduce cost,” said research co-author Michael Toney, head of the Materials Sciences Division at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

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Trendspotting: Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of the Cloud

Did the Greenpeace “Clean our Cloud” campaign nudge Apple toward a stronger environmental stance?

Greenpeace

Greenpeace demands a cleaner iCloud at Apple's corporate campus.

Since April, the environmental organization Greenpeace has had a bull’s-eye on Apple in its campaign to clean up the Internet “Cloud” that stores our music, apps, and photos. It’s accused Apple of using high-carbon “dirty fuels” like coal to power its new data center in North Carolina and has used dramatic pranks and slick videos to get consumers involved.

Last week, members of Greenpeace barricaded themselves in a giant iPod at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters and dressed as giant iPhones to demand a cleaner iCloud. Two days later, in a rare demonstration of transparency, Apple released a detailed statement explaining how its new data center would be 100% green. The whole drama made me curious to learn how the Cloud’s power source and growth could impact the environment.

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Tesla and SolarCity Collaborate on Clean Energy Storage

The companies’ founders don’t just share business interests: they’re also family

Tesla Motors

Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and supported the creation of SolarCity.

Elon Musk is well-known in Silicon Valley as the founder of the luxury electric vehicle company Tesla Motors, and of SpaceX, the private space transport company.

What’s less well-known is Musk’s contribution to SolarCity, the solar installer and energy efficiency auditor. Musk inspired–and helped fund–the creation of the San Mateo-based solar company. And Tesla is working closely with SolarCity on a clean energy storage solution that would combine Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries with SolarCity’s rooftop solar arrays. The collaboration makes sense: not only is Musk the chairman of SolarCity, but the founders of the company, brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, are his first cousins.

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Jean-Michel Cousteau on Oceans, Energy, and Our Collective Fate

Explorer keeps his father’s legacy alive by shining a light on the world’s oceans

Craig Miller

The California coast near Pigeon Point.

When ocean explorer and documentary filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau brought his environmental message to Silicon Valley, I caught up with him to discuss climate change; President Obama’s energy policy efforts; and AB 32, California’s response to climate change.

Jean-Michel Cousteau is the son of legendary ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau, and chairman of Ocean Futures Society, a non-profit dedicated to exploring, protecting and educating people about the world’s oceans. He was vocal in condemning BP for its Gulf oil spill and has frequently highlighted the link between climate change and the state of our oceans and coastline. Continue reading

Why Shell Oil Supports California’s Climate Change Legislation

Shell CEO is pro-AB 32, but stands by taking legal action against environmentalists in Alaska

Shell, US

Shell has partnered with MIT to explore carbon sequestration.

Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Peter Voser affirmed his company’s commitment to AB 32, California’s climate change legislation, and also explained why a carbon trading system is crucial to the development of alternative energy sources.

“We are clearly in favor of cap and trade systems,” he said to an audience of Silicon Valley business people and climate experts Wednesday in Burlingame. “We’d like to have it globally, to level the playing field.”

This statement from Shell, the global oil and gas company headquartered in the Netherlands and one of the world’s largest companies, is notable when you consider the strong opposition to AB 32 from the oil industry at large. In 2010, Proposition 23 attempted to derail the imposition of AB 32 provisions and was largely bankrolled by Tesoro and Valero, two Texas oil companies.

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Will California be a Game-Changer for the Chevy Volt?

GM is hoping new carpool incentives and a green focus will boost Volt sales in the Golden State

Chevrolet

The Volt now qualifies for California’s HOV lane status and a $1500 state rebate.

When General Motors CEO Dan Akerson was in San Francisco last week, I spoke to him about the five-week long suspension of the Chevy Volt production — and why he thinks the re-launch of the new-generation Volt could be a winner in California.

The Golden State accounts for one-in-four sales of the Volt, the plug-in hybrid made by General Motors. The car offers a potential solution to the “range anxiety” hurdle many would-be EV buyers face; but to gain traction against rivals like the Toyota Prius hybrid and the all-electric Nissan Leaf, it still has to surmount its red-hot price and fiery reputation.

Akerson says the new Volt qualifies for California’s HOV lane status and a $1,500 state rebate, thanks to changes in the combustion configuration of the engine. The new Volt will have an additional emissions system fan to reduce tailpipe emissions and Akerson anticipates that the average 36 minutes a day that commuters save by using the carpool lane will deliver an effective “California twist” to the vehicle’s marketability here.

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Fuel Cell Reality Check: A Blooming Solution at Caltech?

The “Bloom Box” may be moving one step closer to affordability at Caltech — but is it even close to tipping point for the mass market?

Bloom Energy

Caltech needed more generation capacity to meet the demands of its energy-intensive research.

Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy made a big splash in 2010 when it came out of stealth mode – on the CBS program 60 Minutes no less – and announced its high-efficiency fuel cell, spawned by a NASA project for Mars. It has earned an impressive roster of clients including Google, eBay and Walmart.

But beyond the inevitable skeptics, the really big catch? “Bloom Boxes,” as the fuel cells have been dubbed, have a price tag of around $700,000. Hardly affordable for all but the largest companies with plenty of cash.

Yet California Institute of Technology, the private research university generally known as Caltech, had twenty Bloom Boxes installed on its Pasadena campus in 2010. Each box now produces 100 kilowatts of electricity for a total of two megawatts capacity; or 17% of the university’s electricity demand.
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Tesla’s Model X: Sleek, Climate-Friendly and Made in California

Tesla is blazing a trail for electric vehicles, but its sky-high prices are still a barrier


Tesla Motors

Production on Tesla's Model X begins in 2013.

On February 8th, Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk, unveiled the company’s latest electric car: The Model X. Probably the sleekest and sexiest SUV you’ve ever seen, and also the priciest. But what’s most remarkable — beyond the falcon wings — is that the car will be manufactured here in the Golden State, at the former NUMMI plant in Fremont.

Why did Tesla choose to locate its headquarters and manufacturing in the high-priced San Francisco Bay Area? Was it linked to the state’s ambitious clean energy targets and policies? The new rules approved last month by the California Air Resources Board require automakers to produce 1.4 million zero-emission cars for the California market by 2025, and are part of the aggressive goal of reducing the state’s emissions 80% by 2050.

Tesla spokesperson Khobi Brooklyn eschewed policy explanations and told me, “We wanted to build our cars in California, not only creating jobs in the U.S., but also California specifically.” She cited Silicon Valley as “an incredibly rich pool of talent” and said that purchasing an existing car manufacturing facility saved money and time in preparing for car production. I’ve no doubt the California sales tax rebates on capital equipment purchasing (estimated at $20 Million) helped too.

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