The New York Times reported last week that the government has distributed six percent of the money appropriated in the stimulus package passed three months ago. Now, there are various reasons why this is the case, and the White House overall says the plan for dispersing the funds is on track, but the story no doubt was read closely by the many companies looking for stimulus financing opportunities.
At Schwartz, we run government relations and advocacy programs to help our clients navigate Washington. Over the past few months, we have pounded the pavement in D.C. numerous times in an effort to learn about how the stimulus funds are being spent.
In the process, we have seen first-hand why the process is taking a little bit of time. For example, many Cabinet departments have many unfilled appointments. Without these policy individuals, it's difficult to define priorities for specific agencies.
Since the stimulus bill appropriates funds to existing programs, the key is to remain in consistent contact with key managers within various agencies and departments. That is fundamental to any government relations program. And for our practices in cleantech PR or greentech PR, wearing a little rubber from the bottoms of our shoes seems to be the best advice these days.
Tags: government relations
, stimulus package
Posted by Ross Levanto on May 19, 2009 at 2:08 PM
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I’m a cycling fiend – have been since high school. Every 10 years or so I buy a new road bike and last week I picked up my new rocket – a high-end German carbon-fiber bike. Everything on it is carbon: frame, seatpost, handlebars, stem, crankarms…I’m going to have to get carbon fiber feet and teeth to ride this thing. It weighs a little more than 15 pounds, which is getting down to an almost irreducibly light weight until they can make a bike out of air. It weighs about half as much as the bike I rode in college.
It got me thinking about the role of carbon fiber materials in the green revolution. For more than 20 years cars have been getting heavier. My old 1984 GTI weighed 2050 pounds – the latest GTI weighs 3,300 pounds. So even as engines become more efficient and less polluting, the pork factor limits greater fuel savings.
But what if you could replace a substantial part of the metal in a car with carbon fiber? Carbon fiber can be three times stronger than steel, with one-quarter the weight. Formula One racecars already make extensive use of carbon fiber, but in that sport price is irrelevant, and the “Tub” – the structure of a car can cost close to a million dollars.
GM is experimenting with carbon fiber to replace steel and fiberglass in its high-end Corvette ZR1.
The problem, of course, is the material and manufacturing cost for carbon fiber. The material has been around since the late 1950s, where it started as an advanced project for the British Royal Air Force. Slowly, over decades, it’s moved into military and sports applications where low weight and high strength trump cost. It’s even showing up in some parts of costly sports and luxury cars. For now, though, the manufacturing process is too costly to make your standard cheapo subcompact with a carbon fiber frame and body. Today the material cost of carbon fiber is $8 to $10 per pound, and that doesn’t include the high cost of fashioning it into exotic shapes. Researchers suggest that if that price dropped to about $3/pound car companies would use a million tons of carbon fiber, replacing about four million tons of metals.
But let’s jump ahead a few years and assume that the development cycle reduces carbon fiber costs to something closer to steel or aluminum. (Remember, years ago aluminum was a rare, expensive and exotic material. Now we make disposable cans out of it). Picture a roomy but small car with a carbon fiber unibody, a carbon fiber body shell that provides additional structural rigidity and safety, and perhaps a small turbodiesel engine as part of a hybrid drivetrain, or a pure electric drivetrain (this would be much more practical is a car that weighs half as much as the electrics of today). This car could weigh much less – perhaps 1200 to 1500 pounds in total. Obviously it would never rust. The basic structure could accept plug-in modular upgrades of systems like the engine, battery and transmission. It could get, what? 90 miles per gallon? More than 100? Easily.
With less than half the power of today’s standard sedan it would be quicker. With a smaller drivetrain it would be roomier. Its emissions could be reduced by 10 to 20 percent, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratories. I have no doubt this will happen in the next 10-15 years.
Back in the 1990s our agency represented a company that was building a hybrid-electric drivetrain under contract to Chrysler. That system used a high-speed flywheel instead of batteries for energy storage. It was part of the Partnership for a Next Generation Vehicle, which was a government program. It was great fun doing PR for this project and we generated tremendous amounts of coverage.
Most of that exotic technology – except for the flywheel – is in the one million hybrids on American roads today. So the pace of technology adoption in cars actually can be pretty fast. Today carbon fiber is in the fairly expensive frame of my new bike. But I’m sure that in 10 years, when it’s time for my next bike, I’ll be driving to the bike shop in a super-lightweight, super-efficient, non-polluting carbon fiber car.
Tags: hybrid+electric+drivetrain carbon+fiber 90+miles+per+gallon flywheel
Posted by Dave Close on May 12, 2009 at 12:17 PM
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The usual suspects were at Wind Power 2009 this week, including GE Energy Wind, Vestas, Broadwind Energy and Siemens. Each brought with them their normal buzz and booth heft, and most big players tried to focus a good portion of the discussion on the potential of offshore wind farms.
But perhaps the most consistently well trafficked portion of the show floor was the small wind pavilion, which boasted a number of companies with interesting solutions to providing distributed wind power. Southwest Windpower, a company with a lot of installation traction in the market, was very well received at the show. Mariah Power was another beneficiary of a lot of interest.
One company that didn't make it into the small wind pavilion, but qualifies as a provider in that category is Helix Wind. The company was several rows and columns away from Southwest Windpower and Mariah Power, but seemed to draw nearly as much interest for its unique design.
Small wind is not a new category--some of these companies have been producing product off of a manufacturing line for several years, but it is clear that many commercial and residential customers like the idea of small wind and the asthetics of some of the solutions. From a PR perspective, a lot of small wind companies have yet to make a big PR splash, but as the technology improves, home equity and financing come back, and more states begin offering tax credits, the market will likely take off.
Posted by Jason Morris on May 8, 2009 at 9:00 PM
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When gas prices soared in the summer of ’08 Toyota and Honda were perfectly positioned with their Prius and Civic hybrids. Four dollar gas sent customers rushing for hybrids, bidding up prices and emptying inventory, briefly. Now hybrids are sitting on lots, car makers are offering incentives, and even Honda’s impressive new Insight is off to a slow start. Cars as fashion statements, I guess.
This week’s Newsweek has a story that suggests the hybrid era is already waning, in favor of pure electrics. Ford just announced it’s converting a truck plant to build the new Focus, including an all-electric Focus. The conventional wisdom is that hybrids are a transitional technology. So are hybrids really yesterday’s news?
I doubt it. While I’m not a big fan of hybrids -- I’m a sports car guy and hybrids are not exciting to drive – I think they’ll be around for along time to come. Why? Here are a few reasons:
Hybrid technology is proven. It works. There are Priuses (Priuii?) with more than 300,000 miles on them, on the original battery pack. Toyota has achieved economies of scale with its hybrids and that will only get better.
Hybrids are getting better. The new Insight has impressed the car buff magazines. Ford’s Fusion hybrid has gotten excellent reviews and squeezed 1,400 miles from a tank of gas in a recent publicity stunt. These things are faster, better-handling and more mainstream than the “look at me, I’m green!” second-generation Prius.
Pure electrics are still a pipe dream. Fawning Tesla coverage aside, the battery problem remains. Range is too short, recharge time is too long. Tesla will sell you a big recharging cable for $3,000 – without it the car can take 37 hours to recharge. 37! Pure electrics are not well-suited to cold climates…the well-known list goes on.
Pure electrics are energy-efficient, quiet and fast. They have enormous acceleration. But they’re still not ready for primetime. New hybrids with small turbodiesels and more powerful electric motors could be the technology that will show that we’re at the start, not the end, of the hybrid era.
Tags: hybrid Tesla Ford battery recharging Fusion turbodiesels
Posted by Dave Close on at 1:08 PM
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Much like Solar Power International last fall, Wind Power 2009 had the feel of a boom economic environment on Day 1, with the exhibit hall pretty well trafficked and most people upbeat about industry progress. That's not to say I didn't hear the phrase "credit crunch" during the day, implying that the financial lending thaw hasn't taken full effect.
But what amazed me wasn't that the industry seemed upbeat or that people braved swine flu to come to the heartland of the meat packing industry. What amazed me was how much the wind industry has become a national industry in the US. I don't mean that as much from an adoption standpoint, as I do from an innovation standpoint.
My more than a decade in PR has been centered on the coasts, where everyone assumes innovation is a monopoly. Schwartz has done PR for MIT start ups featuring some of the world's brightest minds, and in Silicon Valley/The Bay Area, the global epicenter of clean tech, technology and medical innovation and PR. Everyone knows that the upper midwest, Colorado, Texas, Southern California and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina have their own pockets of innovation (and I am leaving out dozens of others). Yet, I don't think people give enough credit to the rest of the country for building and nurturing innovation and solid companies.
In solar and biofuels, most of the attention is on coastal business areas (Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, etc.) that have done a good job recruiting cleantech talent and nurturing the industries from a public policy perspective. I think most assumed the same was true with Wind. They couldn't be more wrong.
Wind Power 2009 is littered with component, inverter, blade, machine tooling, cabling, services, modeling and turbine innovators, from all around the country. The commitment to wind power in the country's interior was evident from the number of politicians, companies and visitors from landlocked America. Heck, Siemens even announced a new manufacturing plant in Kansas. I talked to some of the companies at the event from Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and others, and it is clear that they are helping lead the next wave of wind innovation.
Final note: Kudos to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) for a really well-run event. I was in a mammoth line for registration and it moved quickly, with conference staff making sure people were paying attention and offering help when it was needed. A line half as long at a solar event in 2007 took almost three times as long to move. They also released their quarterly report and a call for a National Renewable Electricity Standard.
Posted by Jason Morris on May 5, 2009 at 10:42 PM
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