2012 Energy Policy After Solyndra – Axelrod Interview

2012 Energy Policy After Solyndra – Axelrod Interview

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The implosion of Solyndra last year was a blow to the Obama administration’s clean energy technology program, but as the 2012 State of the Union underlined, it hasn’t dampened the president’s enthusiasm for encouraging renewable energy sources. In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, I sat down with David Axelrod, Obama’s Chief Political Strategist, to find out why. Interview transcript here

President Obama chose to address clean energy in his first 2012 Campaign ad – Why?

“The ad that it was responding to was an ad sponsored by a SuperPAC…sponsored by the Koch brothers… two oil billionaires … and it was an attack  particularly on the Solyndra issue but it was really an attack on the whole green energy initiative of the president’s. We’re proud of that initiative…we’re proud that we’re on par to double renewable energy during the course of his first term. He believes very strongly that we need to command the clean energy technology of the future and that as a country we need to be encouraging the development of clean energy technology or we’re going to see that go to other parts of the world.”

Solyndra appears to have become a thorn in the side of Obama. How does he intend to remove the thorn?

“All you can do is be open and candid about it. We knew when made investments in clean energy technology that some would do well and others would not. That’s the nature of this…these are speculative investments. And that’s the reason why they needed some nudging from the government in order to blossom…We’ve seen real growth in solar and wind energy and so these are investments that are paying off for the country. I’m very certain that we’re going to look back at the seeds that were planted during this period and we will say that it has made a big difference for the country in a positive way.”


What percentage of the program’s investment went to Solyndra?

“There were forty under this specific program, so it was a small percentage of the entire program. It was a program… that was begun under the Bush Administration and we accelerated that program because we do believe that we are in a real competition for the clean energy technology of the future and we as a country have a great interest in developing alternative energy and home grown domestic energy and renewable energy. These were investments that made sense. Some will pay great dividends, others unfortunately will not.”

Note: in a recent report at ClimateProgress, Stephen Lacey confirmed that Solyndra’s loan guarantee amounted to 1.3% of the DoE’s total loan portfolio.

On the importance of clean energy technology

“We have our eye on the future and really encourage and develop renewable sources of energy. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the economy, it’ll create great jobs…high end manufacturing jobs.”

On the future

“This is going to continue being a thrust for us. We’re not going to back off.”

The interview took place backstage at Foothill College’s Celebrity Forum on January 27, 2012. Check back soon for more with David Axelrod:

On Michelle Obama’s influence on green policy

On The First Lady’s organic garden at the White House

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Google’s Green Spending Spree: How it chooses

Google’s Green Spending Spree: How it chooses

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Google is on a green spending spree. By July 2011 it had invested over $700 M in clean energy. Today the figure is over $850 M and set to grow (approaching $1 B as at August 2012). Fresh Dialogues asked Google: How does it choose green startups and projects?

Google’s Parag Chokshi sheds some light on the company’s decision making.  “We invest in projects other investors might not invest in…we look for innovative technologies or the capacity for transformation in the sector.”

He’s talking about large solar power tower projects, like BrightSource’s Ivanpah project in California’s Mojave Desert to which Google contributed $168 M; and one of the world’s largest wind farms, Alta Wind Energy Center, also in the Mojave Desert where Google invested $55 M.

In June this year, Google demonstrated its game-changing strategy by  investing in SolarCity. This time it was a $280 M investment, to create a fund enabling the solar company to make residential rooftop installations more affordable (often eliminating the upfront cost for homeowners).

“Google is setting an example that other leading American companies can follow,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity. “The largest 200 corporations in the U.S. have more than $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. Investments in solar energy generate returns for corporate investors, offer cost savings for homeowners, create new local jobs…and protect the environment.”

Despite the departure of Google’s Green Czar – Bill Weihl – this week, Parag Chokshi confirms that “we have a strong team and our work will continue. ..we actually have several executives that work on our green initiatives … other executives include Rick Needham, who has led and oversees our $850M in clean energy investments; and Urs Hoelzle, who oversees our entire infrastructure and has spearheaded our energy efficiency work.”

This video was recorded at the Google Headquarters in Mountain View CA on July 8, 2011.

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Google’s Green Dream

Google’s Green Dream

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Google’s infamous Don’t Be Evil mantra has inspired some remarkable projects, including the newly launched Google Ideas, but it’s Google’s Green Dream that caught my attention this week.


On Friday, I sat down with Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager, at Google’s Mountain View Headquarters. We discussed Google’s recently published report, The Impact of Clean Energy Innovation which paints a picture of green nirvana in the US economy and energy market –  if green investment and government incentives spur rapid innovation. And it’s a big IF, based on some rather optimistic assumptions, that’s why we’re calling it Google’s Green Dream.


Among the report’s predictions… By 2030, clean energy innovation will:

– boost US economic growth by $155-$244 Billion in GDP/year

– create over one million new jobs

– help electric vehicles command a 90% market share (small cars and trucks)

– save households almost $1000/year in energy bills

– reduce US oil consumption by over 1 B barrels/ year and greenhouse gases by 13-20%

The report concludes that if investment and incentives are delayed five years, the opportunity cost will be $2-3 Trillion.

Is this a realistic Green Dream by Google’s Green Czar Bill Weihl and his team? Or naive wishful thinking? Chokshi acknowledges that Google is examining some “aggressive scenarios” but underlines that the report’s purpose is to stimulate debate on how to get to this Green Dream; and to spur more investment by both the public and private sector. In this Fresh Dialogues VIDEO, Chokshi outlines the dramatic improvements in battery technology that are crucial to increasing the adoption of electric vehicles, but declined to confirm whether Google is investing its considerable financial and engineering muscle in the already crowded race to build a better EV battery. We can only speculate.

Check out the VIDEO below and read the TRANSCRIPT.

Coming soon: more Google interview segments on:

Google’s $700 M green spending spree – How Google chooses green investments

Green@Google – A day in the life of a Googler

The interview was recorded on July 8, 2011 in the Nairobi Conference Room, Building 43, Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California.

For more videos and interviews check out Fresh Dialogues policy archives and Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel.

Science Friday Host: Japan’s Nuclear Disaster – An Opportunity

Science Friday Host: Japan’s Nuclear Disaster – An Opportunity

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Ira Flatow, the exuberant host of NPR’s Science Friday came to Silicon Valley this week. At a reception for KQED at the St. Claire Hotel Atrium in downtown San Jose, Ira took the stage for an animated conversation with Andrea Kissack, Senior Editor of KQED’s QUEST. Here are some of the highlights:

On Japan’s nuclear disaster

“This is an opportunity to build something new – infrastructure for solar thermal (power plants) for example, or wind power…we could be the Saudi Arabia of Wind. Why do you need one solution? We should look at science – see the biodiversity lesson.”

On nuclear power

“Japan was ‘prepared’ but didn’t plan for the Perfect Storm. Nature will find a way to outsmart us.”

On Global Warming

“Over 50% of incoming Republicans don’t ‘believe’ in global warming. The great majority of scientists AGREE on global warming…we don’t talk about ‘the debate’ on Science Friday. Should you bring creationists in to debate evolution? Or have a debate that the world is not flat?”

On Clean Energy and California

“We look to California as a leader in clean energy. We have to get over cheap gas and pay the real value of gas. We expect $2 a gallon while Europe is paying $10.”

How to change the energy status quo?

“If you want change, you have to DEMAND IT. Like in the 60’s. You can’t change people’s minds if they’re entrenched. With Global Warming however, change is happening and the evidence of melting ice is visible.”

On Science Education

“All kids are natural scientists – they need good teachers and mentors to nurture it.”

I was surprised to learn that Science Friday gets only 10% of its budget from NPR. The remainder it has to raise through fundraising. If you enjoy Science Friday and want to learn more about supporting it, check out this link.

For other Fresh Dialogues interviews with an education focus, click here

Here’s an interview with Ocean Scientist, Robert Ballard

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Lena Wilson: Scotland’s Low Carbon Ambition

Lena Wilson: Scotland’s Low Carbon Ambition

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh DialoguesLena Wilson on Fresh Dialogues

Download or listen to this lively Fresh Dialogues interview


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Lena Wilson has been described as one of the most powerful women in Scotland. She’s CEO of both Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International, two publicly funded organizations focused on stimulating sustainable growth in Scotland. The country has an ambitious target to provide 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

I caught up with Lena on a recent trip to Scotland and discussed her role as “Scotland’s chief salesperson.”   She explained the political will for its energy targets and described the green strategy:  focus on a low carbon future and leverage Scotland’s natural advantages: 25% of Europe’s wind and wave power potential,  cool climate;  infrastructure and research strengths.

On Scotland’s value proposition

“Scotland has moved significantly up the value chain. It isn’t about cheap assembly plants anymore…Scotland has natural assets, talent, a business infrastructure and science base that can make it the most competitive business location for R & D.”

Who is the Al Gore of Scotland?