Corporations Leading the Way on Climate Change (Seriously)


Monday’s news from the United States regarding 13 major companies announcing they will invest $140 billion in renewable energy, to reduce carbon emissions, is proving big business is serious about climate change.

Wind farm US Ill.

Wind Energy By Jim Allen Via Flickr Some Rights Reserved

Some of the most well-known brands, including Apple, Microsoft, Google, WalMart, and Coca-Cola said in a statement from the White House they plan to add more than 1,600 MW of additional renewable energy. These 13 companies have promised their support for a climate deal ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Paris late fall.

Meanwhile, last week, Amazon added their voice in advancing the renewable energy agenda, when it advocated for renewable tax credits in US congress. Thank the world’s largest e-commerce store for purchasing a North Carolina wind farm, in championing both the Investment and Production Tax Credits.

Here are some driving factors why this is a trend that’s likely here to stay.

1. Consumers are voting with their dollars, not necessarily at the ballot box: Ok, I get this where politics is important and elections drive climate policy (including the upcoming Canadian Federal election this fall). However, consumers voting with their dollars has become a new way of doing politics outside the government realm. Ethical funds, consumer boycotts are some ways customers can voice their displeasure with how companies are doing business. Businesses, have a faster response time with consumers, rather than governments with their constituents on many problems. Case in point, Newsweek, recently highlighted Corporate America’s critical role in supporting same- sex marriage and other social issues:

Fortune 500 corporations are trying to appeal to (or at least avoid offending) the widest possible swath of Americans. “Inclusiveness” may not be good politics in this day of polarization and micro-targeting, but it seems to be good business. And that is making the business community the sort of “big tent” political force that neither major political party can claim to be.

While don’t expect the CEO of Suncor to be buddies with New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulclair any time soon, big business will have a bigger ear towards consumers going forward, or they will lose customers business.

2. The Carbon Investment Bubble is About to Burst:  Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking 2012 Rolling Stone article about how Earth could only burn 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere by 2050 before this planet can keep within the 2C limit, was the catalyst of divesting from fossil fuel investments. Now, fossil fuels becoming a more riskier investment. as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney noted these investments will become financially abandoned.

3. IT and Internet companies Are The Backbone for Renewable Energy: From Apple, who runs all their US operations on 100% renewables, to Google, who has bought 1.1 GW of clean energy, information technology and internet-based companies have been leaders in supporting renewables. Tom Friedman’s 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded exemplified how information technology was going to be critical in moving green technology forward.

We are starting to see this marriage become a reality, with these companies investing heavily in The Internet of Things, and smart grid technology. Smart grid markets are estimated by 2020 to reach past $400 billion globally. Hence, there is real incentives for the likes of Google, Apple, Cisco, in reaping the rewards of strong climate change policy.

It’s not perfect. Sure, but corporations are becoming leaders on this issue. And it may very well be driving many Naomi Klein and Milton Friedman fans bonkers.

Zapped Out: The Cost of Video Games


Recently I went to EB Games to see what was out and upcoming in the video game world. Batman: Arkham Knight, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Rainbow Six Siege will all have us gaming fanatics on the edge of our seat very soon.

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Image Credit: Adam Johnston

However, my mouth dropped. Not for the anticipation for these blockbusters. No, instead it was the prices which had me shaking my head. For example, it will take a small mortgage of $79.99 to buy Call of Duty Black Ops (which is due out in November, 2015) , $79.99 to get your kicks from FIFA 16 (will feature 12 national women’s teams and headed for a September, 2015 release), and $74.99 to get your hands on Rainbow Six Siege (coming out in October, 2015), all for Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

Many games still are $69.99 for these two systems. A few years ago new releases for when Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 were in its prime was around $59.99.

It comes down to three questions regarding video games pricing and costs related to consumers. What is pushing the costs of games up? Why is the price the way it is when you go to a video game store?  And are video games in general more expensive than in past years when factoring inflation and other factors?

First, let’s look at what’s pushing the costs up: Increased budgets. Video games today, are not like its 8-bit NES predecessors.  Technology today is far more effective and cheaper, helping push what gaming developers can do. Today’s video games resemble more like a big budget theatrical movie. It’s common for video games to have budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars today. This requires a lot more help to produce these games, including voice actors, and designers, The Economist noted:

As characters, items, levels and visual effects have become more intricate and detailed, developers have had little choice but to throw more and more artists at the problem. Another reason costs are rising is the increasing professionalism of the industry. These days, Hollywood actors are hired (and paid handsomely) to voice characters. The biggest developers market-test their products to destruction. Like political parties honing a slogan, they offer snippets of gameplay to focus groups. If anything is found to be too difficult, too obscure or simply not fun, it is sent back to be re-done. That kind of quality control costs serious money.

Expect budgets of your favorite video games to increase as the current next generations systems are starting to gain market traction said The Economist. 

Now question two, who sets the price of a video game?  It’s not the store where you buy it, but the distributor, according to a CBC article. For example, Activision will set the price of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, or EA Sports for FIFA 16 at $79.99 when it first comes out. Stores like Best Buy, EB Games do not have much of a say on pricing for when games first come out.

This is also created a debate on how much value gamers get in hours of play vs. the cost, which CBC argued about the short play time for The Order 1886 vs. its $74.99 price tag.  Expect this trend to continue as budgets rise and distributors need to maximize profits in order to costs.

Which leads me to question three. Are video games, in general, more expensive to buy now than in previous times?

The answer is muddled.

If you add inflation to this mix, according to IGN then no. For example, An NES game twenty-five years would cost you $50, would be $89.00 now. An NES system, which cost $199.99 in 1985, is around $434.69 in today’s cost.

Meanwhile, a Playstation 2 (PS2) game in 2000 at $60.00 a pop would set you back about the same now. A PS2 system in 2000 which was $299.99 is $407.44 now. Very little increase with inflation factored in.

In fact, Forbes technology columnist Erik Kain argued video game prices should cost more, thanks to massive budgets, and more realistic gameplay. He argues today’s gamers are getting a bargain, in compared to other times in history when inflation is added.

However, his argument is kind of flawed considering when you factor Moore’s Law, where exponential technologies have improved all aspects of technology, driving cost down. Does anyone recall laptops in 2000 being $2,000? Now you can get a laptop for around $300-$400.00.  You can argue this for video games which have brought technology costs down for this industry, and cancelling Kain’s ideas of increasing gaming prices.

Add constant bombardment of downloadable content (around $20.00 to $35.00), Internet costs ($65.00 a month for high-speed Internet with a local provider), yearly online fees ($49.99 for Playstation Plus) and headphones ($150.00 for high quality ones) to get the most interactive movie-like experience, and it’s not as cheap as you think.

Lastly, stagnant wages, plus a low Canadian dollar, stifles consumer purchasing power. Consumer may likely not want to spend on games, as they feel the pinch with increased prices. Hence, why it’s unclear as to why it’s cheaper to buy video games than in the past. Ironically, this may not deter millennials (one of the video game industries top demographics), as they are willing to spend more on entertainment, despite not having the wealth of past generations.

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Image Credit: “PS4-Console-wDS4” by Evan-Amos – Media:PS4-Console- via Wikimedia

Let me know what your thoughts are. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+

 

 

US Adds 1.3GW of Solar PV in 1st Quarter of 2015: GTM Research/SEIA


United States solar market continues its growth, fuelled by residential PV installations, which advanced by 76% (437MW) in the first three months of 2015.

Solar Energy Industries Association/Green Tech Media (GTM) Research, who co-publish the US Solar Market Insight quarterly reports on the state of the industry, said overall installations were 1.3GW in Q1 2015. This was the sixth straight quarter where more than 1GW of new solar capacity was added.

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Image Credit: Photon Energy via FlickrSome Rights Reserved

This also accounted for 51% of new US electricity generation brought online, said senior vice president of GTM Research Shayle Kann.

Kann expects greater than 3 million home solar installations in the next five years, thanks to a more extensive movement towards customers engaging in energy creation, management, and use.

California (not surprising) lead the way in 2015 first quarter installations, followed by Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, New Mexico, and Maryland, round out the top ten in new capacity

Image credit via: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

Image credit via: GTM Research

Prices also fell this past quarter for home solar systems by 10% compared to 12 months earlier, at $3.48/watt. This is especially good news for consumers who are looking to take advantage of solar’s falling prices, with improved technologies.

One interesting side note from this report which kind of surprised me was how North East US record snowfall this past winter did not hamper new solar capacity:

The Northeastern U.S. experienced one of its worst winters ever recorded, but that didn’t prevent the residential solar market segment from having its best quarter of all time. The first quarter tends to be the slowest time of the year for the solar market due to weather, accounting and tax considerations. Despite these headwinds, the residential market still grew 11 percent over last quarter, its previous high-water mark.

What this recent report is solar is becoming the real deal. It’s a testament when despite pitiful weather conditions could have hurt new solar pv in Northern Atlantic states, places like New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland were in the top ten for new overall installations.

As SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch said “Solar continues to be the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States. By 2016, the U.S. will be generating enough clean solar energy to power 8 million homes.”

Resch added solar power can 8 million cars off the road, or 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Not bad, considering fossil fuels like Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson mocks renewables, despite its growth,and ignoring 97% of scientists who suggest climate change is real.

If you want to go deeper into this report go to the SEIA website, where you can download the report.

Climate Change Today: Weather Underground Infographic


Today in the food for thought category, Weather Underground had put out a nice, clean, infographic explaining the causes and effects of climate change.

Considering 97% of scientists agree that carbon emission levels (which are currently over 403 parts per million) is pushing man-made climate change, the effects are nothing to ignore.

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Image Credit: Climate Change Today via Weather Underground

What this infographic does nicely is show what effects (extreme weather, higher temperatures, higher sea levels) will occur.

So pick what concerns about our changing climate and advocate for it.  For me, it’s the cost of inaction of doing nothing. Plus my second problem is how governments need to update old and outdated infrastructure, in order to meet the needs of a warming world, as Bloomberg discussed in April:

Severe weather is the leading cause of power disruptions, costing the U.S. economy from $18 billion to $33 billion a year, and climate change will only make it worse, a White House review on energy infrastructure concludes.

The report, released Tuesday by the Energy Department, recommends investments in the electric grid to protect it from the severe storms that may be occurring more frequently because of global warming, as well as from physical and cyber-attacks.

Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz unveiled the report at Peco Energy Co. in Philadelphia. Biden noted that more electricity is being generated from solar and wind, which are challenges to the grid. Renewable energy resources often are in rural areas where power is needed least, requiring lines to bring it to consumers.

 “How and where we’re producing energy is changing and our energy infrastructure has to keep up,” Biden said.
Infographics provide information to people who don’t have the time to read a 20-page report. It’s critical to nail the key points in a specific issues (like climate change) within one page, so people can advocate for their concerns better. This is one of the better infographics on climate change geared towards the general public.

Wind Energy Slowly Powering Automotive Plants Globally


Wind Energy, on one hand, blows freely. It’s becoming cost competitive with fossil fuels across North America.

On the other hand, the automotive industry has been slow to change, until recently as electric vehicles, driverless cars, and car-sharing are changing the landscape.

Now what happens, when both collide?

Check out this April, 2015 The Weather Channel report, showing how the Russells Point, Ohio Honda plant is powered by wind energy.

Southern Minnesota company Juhl Energy provides three turbines, which powers 60MW or 10% of the plant’s electricity.

While wind energy providing electricity to automotive plants is a new game in North America, In Europe it’s more common to see this.

Ford plants in both Belgium and the United Kingdom have wind as an electricity source. BMW added four wind turbines to its Leipzig, Germany plant, in supplying 25% of its power over two years ago.

Meanwhile, expect the trend to grow in North America. General Motors announced this past February it’s adding 34MW of wind power to its Mexican plants in order to reach its renewable energy goals four years earlier.

GM Wind Energy

Image Credit: Wind Power Propels GM Past Renewable Energy Goal via General Motors

With US total installed wind capacity at 66GW, and 9.694GW in Canada, the question of who is the next US (or Canadian) automotive plant to feel the breeze? Perhaps a Ontario Canada plant? But even better, why not one in Michigan? This was the backbone of automobiles. Ford, GM, are you listening?

SolarCity Tops 6GWh, Doubled Electricity Generation Since April 2014


SolarCity keeps on rolling and breaks its own milestones at rapid rates.

According to a post on LinkedInthe top US solar panel installer on June 2nd reached 6GWh of solar electricity in a single day, doubling its generation rate in one day of 3GWh in April, 2014. SolarCity said on their LinkedIn page they “Can not wait to see what summer brings,” referring to reaching 7GWh soon.

It was only in late March they reached 5GWh, easily smashing 4GWh, two weeks prior.

I had predicted in the same CleanTechnica post 6GWh in solar electricity generation in a day was feasible by early summer for SolarCity, which they easily accomplished as noted by the below graph.

SolarCIty 6GWh Graph

Image: SolarCIty 6GWh via SolarCIty LinkedIn page

Even more astonishing is how fast this was achieved in five years to reach 6 GWh of solar electricity production. Consider, by 2013, only 1 GWh was produced in a day. Within two years it’s now six times that!.

Declining solar costs, driving climate change concerns will factor into SolarCity’s ferocious appetite to push clean electricity further.

All that solar power will come in handy as US energy demand could increase up to 95 gigawatts within the next 5-25 years, in order to meet cooling needs from increased heat waves.

With “The dog days of summer” on its way, and peak consumption period from the hot weather, I would not be surprised if SolarCity reaches 7GWh in a day by early July.

Until then, I am excited by the possibilities Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s CEO & Co. have in store.

Millennial Minds: Understanding What Makes Us Tick


As a fringe millennial (Generation Y) who turns 35 soon, I have had the good fortune of memories from both the pre and post Internet era. Back in the good old day, we had the 13-channel universe, VHS tapes and played 8-bit Nintendo to our hearts content. Meanwhile, reading hard bound paper books on the Winnipeg Transit bus was the cool thing to do, smartphones was something out of Star Trek, and computers were modestly clunky monstrosities in themselves.

Now times have changed in 2015. Millennials are an important and powerful purchasing group. We crave instant, rapid-fire information bombarding our senses. We now can read books on computer tablets, watch videos on our mobile phones, and snap a photo to anywhere in the world within seconds.

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A Look Into the Millennial’s Mind [Infographic] via We Are Social Media

If you are looking at marketing products to this group, We Are Social Media in April this year published an infograph, from a study from PinPoint Research, showing millennials preferences for video consumption, social media use, and what technology we own. Consider, 81% of Generation Y own their own television; 76% have a laptop; 40% an iPhone/smartphone; and 48% still have a desktop computer (strangely enough).

Factor in Facebook (36%), Twitter (30%) and Instagram (30%) are the three social media outlets of choice for millennials, and marketing departments have of effective outreach tools in advertising products or services.

Marketing and advertising to our demographic is a constant evolution. Companies can not use the same five-year-old campaigns  (let alone 80’s style ads) for success in 2015.

This is critical, considering millennials are willing to spend more on entertainment (including premium television channels and ad-free videos), despite being more thrifty as PinPoint Research said in Adweek:

“In fact, their view on personal finances sounds more like the Boomer generation emerging from the Great Depression than the ‘entitlement’ label they keep hearing,” the study said. But “despite their frugality, millennials are expected to spend money on lifestyle and entertainment more than prior generations.”

With limited time, limited marketing budgets, companies who best understand millennial minds through customer engagement will be very successful for a long time.