Apple’s Insanely Solar Deal: 3 Reasons It Makes Sense

Apple’s Insanely Solar Deal: 3 Reasons It Makes Sense

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

In announcing a massive, unprecedented investment in solar power by a private company, Apple’s Tim Cook said yesterday in San Francisco,

“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed…The time for action is now.”

Here are three reasons the $850 M solar deal with First Solar makes sense:

1. Money saving: Apple signed a 25 year purchase power agreement which will guarantee the tech company a fixed price for solar power, under the market price for energy in California. Solar prices have declined dramatically in the last 40 years (today’s panels are 100 times cheaper than in 1977) and Apple has timed its agreement to profit from this trend.

“We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” Cook said.

2. Green Halo Effect: Not only will Apple benefit from a “greener than thou” reputation from their existing fans, but will inevitably attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially Millennials who care deeply how their tech gadgets and the cloud’s data centers are powered. This will help in its battle with arch rival Samsung which it ridiculed last year in a hard hitting ad campaign.

In addition, in the race to attract and retain the top tech talent in Silicon Valley, Apple’s “green reputation” will be powerful.

The stock market liked this green halo effect and sent shares up almost 2% to history making market cap of over $720B.

“Other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

3. Pioneer for Climate Change: Last year, Tim Cook famously told climate skeptics at an Apple shareholder meeting to “get out of Apple stock” if they don’t like his clean energy strategy.  His visible passion on the issue revealed how strongly he feels about climate change and his commitment to reduce Apple’s carbon footprint.

“I want leave the world better than we found it,” said Tim Cook.

Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has forged ahead strongly with plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. A massive data center in North Carolina is powered by huge solar farms and Bloom Energy’s fuel cells. I anticipate that Silicon Valley’s Bloom Energy will also be part of Apple’s new clean power strategy in California (check back soon for updates).

Apple’s trend-setting, clean energy market making reputation is already impacting other tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, although Google gets the greenest star for its early action and massive investment in clean energy of over $1.5B.

Read more about Apple’s Green Halo and its battle with Samsung (BBC conversation)

How a clever Greenpeace campaign helped green Apple’s iCloud (KQED report)

More clean energy and cleantech stories

BBC Conversation: How Green is Google’s Driverless Car?

BBC Conversation: How Green is Google’s Driverless Car?

This week  I was invited to be a guest on the BBC’s Business Matters with host Jon Bithrey and The Wall Street Journal’s Alex Frangos. We had a lively conversation about Silicon Valley’s hot stories: The unveiling of Google’s driverless car and Apple’s purchase of Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics for $3B.

Beyond the obvious detail that Google’s new car is all-electric (which Katie Fehrenbacher points out is important), we explored why driverless cars may one day contribute to a cleaner and more efficient transport sector. Find out how below…

Here’s a transcript of our conversation. It’s been edited for length and clarity. Listen from 18:27 at the BBC World Service.

Bithrey: Google is to start building its own fleet of self driving cars…Let’s bring in our guests, Alison van Diggelen in San Francisco and Alex Frangos in Hong Kong. Alison… have you seen any in your neighborhood…Google trying out their self driving cars?

van Diggelen: I’ve seen many on Highway 85 between Mountain View and San Jose. You see them a lot, but I haven’t seen this particular one. What is unique about this is that it only goes 25 mph and it’s built from the ground up…they’re going to be building about 100 of them and we’ll probably see them in and around Google, they’re going to use it between buildings on their campus. That is the plan.

But what’s exciting about it from my point of view – I cover cleantech – and the beauty of self driving cars is that it can be a more efficient way to transport us. Self driving cars can allow “platooning” so cars can convoy really close together, you can get more cars on the road and it can include car sharing. And here’s an interesting example: in the future, you may be able to rent a car, and you may not want do the autonomous self drive car, but you just call it up on your app and it can deliver itself to your door. And that to me is an interesting, futuristic view of what they one day may be able to do.

BBC-NewsBithrey: (laughter) It is indeed. There are critics who say that… they could make traffic worse, and urban sprawl worse because people won’t have to drive any more. It will tire them out less if they’re not having to drive themselves, and so they may be happy to make longer journeys in these and thus be more polluting.

van Diggelen: Yes, that’s a possibility, however, the interesting thing with this car is that it is an electric car, so again that’s a greener alternative to your internal combustion engine. Another advantage of autonomous cars…is that you can have parking lots where you take your car to the edge of the parking lot and say, “Go Park Yourself.” It will have sensors on the car and in parking spaces, so those cars will be able to pack themselves in much more efficiently, so a more efficient use of available space. I take your point about longer commutes, but there are greener aspects to it too.

Bithrey: Alex Frangos in Hong Kong, is this the type of thing you’d like to try out? Would you trust a driverless car?

Frangos: I’d trust it probably as much as I’d trust all the other crazies who are on the road with me. Saying it’s unsafe is only in comparison to how unsafe it already is on the road, given how terrible drivers can be in various countries of the world. The thing that is, not troubling, but would take the enjoyment out of driving and misses the point, especially in the US of why people drive: the freedom and control it gives people. Or at least a sense of freedom and control to go where they want and do what they want… make a spontaneous turn or what not.

Bithrey: It’s just a more advanced version of cruise control isn’t it?

Frangos: No, I think it’s much more than that because you’re giving up control to the computer. So it could be a great improvement in life, but it would change what driving means, especially to Americans.

Bithrey: Yes, it might be slightly strange just having a stop/go button and not having all the  other things we’re used to inside a car. OK, we’ll be back with you both on Business Matters on the BBC World Service….

Want to hear the entire show at the BBC? Listen here

Other topics we cover:

On collaboration:  a group of four authors have collaborated on a single novel called “Keeping Mum.” We ask them how it’s possible to keep such a large group focused on a single plot. @26:40

On Maya Angelou: “This will resonate not just for novelists but for business people too. ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’ (Maya Angelou)” @39:05

On Apple’s acquisition of Dr Dre’s Beats Electronics. Will it make Apple cooler? @45:56

Find out more about BBC conversations

In April, we discussed Apple’s green strategy (renewable energy supply, recycling iPods etc) on BBC Business Matters

Listen to my other appearances on BBC Business Matters re. how Fresh Dialogues began; the Dalai Lama in Silicon Valley; Scottish independence and much more.



Elon Musk Tops Best Green Interviews at Fresh Dialogues

Elon Musk Tops Best Green Interviews at Fresh Dialogues

It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).


1. Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles

Elon Musk in conversation with Alison van Diggelen of Fresh Dialogues“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video



2. Mayor Chuck Reed on leveraging private funding for San Jose’s Green Agenda

Alison van Diggelen interviews San Jose Mayor, Chuck Reed for a KQED assignment, City Hall 2013“I said from the beginning that the key to being able to succeed with our green vision was to work with other people’s money.” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. Read more/ listen.




3. Carly Fiorina on fighting climate change

Carly Fiorina and Alison van Diggelen in conversation, Commonwealth Club, March 2013“The most effective thing the US should do is start substantive discussions with China on what they can do.” Carly Fiorina. Read more or listen here.




4. Jennifer Granholm on Obama and energy policy

Jennifer Granholm, Alison van Diggelen Fresh Dialogues interview, Feb 2013“He should create a clean energy jobs race to the top.” Former Michigan Gov., Jennifer Granholm. Read more/ see video




5. Peter Rumsey on Net Zero Buildings and kids

Peter Rumsey, Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues interview 2013“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem.” San Francisco Exploratorium Green Designer, Peter Rumsey. Read more/ see video



6. Gavin Newsom on why a carbon tax makes sense 

Gavin Newsom, Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues interview 2013 “I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.” Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video



7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers

Steven Chu with Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues 2013“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video



8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption

GM's Pam Fletcher, Alison van Diggelen interview 2013“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video



9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds

Laurie Yoler, Alison van Diggelen discuss Tesla at Churchill Club 2013“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20



10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet

Rick Needham, Fresh Dialogues interview 201“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video

Why is Tesla Part of Google’s Electric Fleet?

Why is Tesla Part of Google’s Electric Fleet?

Google’s Director of Energy and Sustainability, Rick Needham describes the company’s fleet of electric vehicles and how it has enabled millions of miles of electric driving (almost 2M and counting). As well as the “usual suspects” like Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus Electric, Google’s electric “Gfleet” includes several Tesla Model S, a favorite due to its range of up to 265 miles. But is that the whole story?


Google continues to grow its electric fleet. In 2011, it had 30 electric plug-ins, today it has over 50.

Here’s what Needham had to say about:
1. Google’s focus on the self-driving car

“We view that as a very interesting place to spend some time and effort and come up with a technology solution that can really help. It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads.   If you could enable that to be utilized more effectively… whether that be cars that can travel closer together (in a platoon), cars that travel and you can be doing productive things while they’re moving… There are a lot of opportunities on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham

This strategy makes a lot of sense, given Google’s ability to integrate Google Maps and traffic conditions to make driving both more efficient and safer.

2. Why it invested in car sharing companies Uber, Sidecar and Relay Rides

“It’s an enormous opportunity. Today the car sharing market is just over $3 Billion (in the US)…That’s just starting out…there quite a roadway, a runway there, to have a much bigger impact…” Google’s Rick Needham

Read more about how the Uber investment offers synergistic opportunities for Google and may help change the future of transportation.

Why it all might be related

Some commentators like Green Car Report’s John Voelcker have speculated that all this might be part of Google’s grand plan to purchase Tesla and use it to launch a driverless car-sharing taxi service sometime early in the 2020s. Tesla’s Elon Musk is good friends with Larry Page and has discussed the potential of driverless cars.

Google’s Clean Energy Struggle

Today, only 34% of the energy Google uses comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power. This is not something to boast about, especially given Apple’s claim to use 100% renewable power, but as Needham explains, he’s chasing a moving target. As the number of Google searches soars and more Google services are adopted, Google’s energy use is growing so fast that it battles to keep up with clean energy sources, despite investing over $1Billion in wind and solar power.

Find out more about Google’s strategy to green its energy supply, green its buildings, and reduce its carbon footprint.

From the archives, here’s an interview with Google’s Parag Chokshi about Google’s Green Dream, which predicts electric vehicles could command a 90% market share by 2030.


Green Jobs Advice from Google, SolarCity, San Jose City, VC at Commonwealth Club

Green Jobs Advice from Google, SolarCity, San Jose City, VC at Commonwealth Club

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

This month, I moderated a panel of green jobs experts for the Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley. Experts included: Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager, Google; Josh Green, General Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures; Linda Keala, Vice President Human Resources, SolarCity and Nanci Klein, Deputy Director, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose.

You can listen to the conversation here. The event will soon be televised: Contact us or check back soon for details.

The panel shared insights about the green economy, as well as tips for finding and securing green investments and green jobs. Here are highlights of our conversation (edited for space and clarity).

What are hot sectors in the green economy?

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “In the current environment, we’re looking for less capital intensive deals (energy efficiency, LED lighting and building management systems), so that means we’re on the side of energy demand much more than energy production. People call this cleantech IT – Information Technology. I’m an investor in Xicato, an LED module company. The LED convergence will happen…the payback is less than two years and (it’s) equivalent to halogen light. You don’t have to replace them for ten years or more and especially in a commercial settings, you end up lowering your maintenance costs.”

On cleantech growth sectors in Silicon Valley

Nanci Klein, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose: “People say manufacturing has left the US…but manufacturing is very exciting here. When you talk about innovation and commercialization, Silicon Valley is a hub around new product introduction. Contract manufacturers will take a low volume, high mix of products. …the ten largest in the world – Tier One contract manufacturers – are all here in Silicon Valley, six of them in San Jose. They’re like a secret weapon resource. We try to link baby investors to these companies. You take someone with a hot idea and you put them with all of the accelerated services…if the product is good you can have a rocket in terms of acceleration.”

Nanci said the following Silicon Valley cleantech companies are currently hiring: Flextronics, SunPower, Solar Junction, Nanosolar, Lunera, Enlighted, Philips Lumilix, Coulomb/ChargePoint, Echelon, Cypress Envirosytems.

On Solyndra

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “The loan guarantee program is operating well within the loan loss reserves. Certain loans are going to fail…The Solyndra mess became a big political football…the good news is that we’ve passed the half life…Congress officially stopped all its hearings. There will be continued efforts to end the loan guarantee program…but Solyndra itself: it’s over in terms of an issue.  As investors, it never was an issue, it was a company that was not successful…I’ve got a portfolio with lots of companies that are not successful.  Out of 100 investments, if you have 10 that meet your investment objectives (10x your money or better) then you’re ‘wildly’ successful, that makes you a top venture capitalists. That means you have a 90% – under your expectations success – rate.”

Tips on getting a green job

Linda Keala, Director of HR, SolarCity: 

1. “A background in cleantech is not a prerequisite.”

2. “Differentiate yourself – what about the job (post) got you inspired? What resonated about the company?”

3. “I love getting handwritten letters. A personalized message tells me this is who I am, this is what I can bring to the company. Sometimes I get them in little pink envelopes…”

4. “Touch a spot in our hearts and we’ll take a close look at that resume.”

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “Have passion to change the world.”

How to get a job in Google’s Green Team (there are currently seven openings in the sustainability/green team areas)

Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager at Google:

Here are the qualities Google looks for:

1. “Be a self starter, work independently and drive forward a project.”

2. “Think about creative solutions. We value innovation and creativity.”

3. “Show passion and new ways of thinking about things…that is very valuable.”

How is the City of San Jose helping entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond?

Nanci Klein, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose: Here are some of the resources available – The Entrepreneur Center in downtown San Jose; Business Owner Space; Opportunity Fund. Check out She also recommends the Cleantech Open competition and SolarTech an association for those in solar and financing sectors. The City of San Jose is working in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and others to create Prospect Silicon Valley, a demonstration and commrecialization center for cleantech startups.

On storage and battery technology

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “Storage is the most important development that could happen for our grid at the utility scale storage level as well as the emerging EV market to encourage the widespread adoption of EVs. ON the grid side, there is NO storage…the second you produce an electron it has to be consumed…this results in the creation of “Peaker Plants” used for 5-15 hours a year (especially in August). Storage has the greatest potential to unlock value.

In the transportation sector, lithium ion batteries are the lightest batteries and they still weigh about 1400 lbs in the new Tesla Model S. To the extent that you can get these to be a smaller battery pack you can unlock incredible advantages.

For the next 10 years, lithuim ion technologies are going to be where batteires and storage are focused. There are about 50-60 venture backed companies in the Bay Area, working on advanced battery technology. Mohr Davidow has invested in extracting lithium from geothermal brine at goethermal plants in Southern California. Its the lowest cost producer in the world with the best environmental footprint. We believe that lithium will help fuel the storage revolution.