Efficiency has been on my mind in the last few weeks. The effects of the economic downturn start to sink in and are affecting the high-tech sector: tightened capital budget, frugal spending, and reduction in forces… the trend is clear. The recent failure of the banking system crisis is forcing everyone to do more with less. And energy efficiency is becoming one of the hottest Green subjects.
During a recent business trip in Southern California I decided to stop by and visit the Energy Efficiency Institute at my Alma Matter, who incidentally had asked me to look at their new outreach program. As I was walking among the numerous new buildings, I was caught by the reminiscent smell of eucalyptus trees all around campus. I realized how much the place had changed and grew from the Party School it once was. The reputation of UCSB's recent Nobel Prize winners has now replaced the notoriety of its Halloween parties…
Lost, I found comfort in seeing Engineering I building where I did my graduate research. One of the first four buildings to be connected to ARPANET project that led to the Internet, it is now surrounded by the California Nanotechnology Institute and the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management that hosts the Institute. UCSB decided to focus on Energy Efficiency last year and is once more on the leading edge with other California campuses. Stanford announced several weeks ago the creation of $100M Energy research institute. UCSD just hosted the “Greening the Internet Economy” symposium.
Finally, the Program Director of the Institute saved me from my campus wandering and walked me to her office to meet the Executive Director. “Hi Dan! How was your flight?” I asked. Dan Colbert, a pioneer in carbon nanotubes before joining one of the first VC funds focused on clean-tech, still looked haggard from his last trip. We quickly warmed up as he talked to me about the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi he had just attended.
Despite the presence of keynote speakers like Tony Blair, the conference turned out to be disappointing. The highlight of the event was the announcement by the Crown Prince of the new "Masdar city" (named after the local energy giant; imagine “Exxon Mobil" town!) and the target to get 7% of energy consumption (only!) from renewables… We both agreed that if everybody understands that the “Green train” has left and that nobody can stop its course, some definitely want to slow it down.
This type of PR events also poses another challenge: diluted among the mass of empty if not fallacious green news, many green worthy initiatives are having difficulty to find their voice. As we are talking through their e-community project, I quickly got excited and Dan came up with the term “White Room” for their new web-page. He explained to me that in Europe energy efficiency programs are tagged “white” while “green” is kept for clean technologies. “White? It is the plant you don’t need to build…”