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Todd Woody's Posts

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Symptom: High utility bills; Diagnosis: Full energy efficiency workup

Photo illustration by Tom Twigg / Grist The red Honda Fit from a local car-sharing service pulls into the driveway of a suburban San Francisco Bay-area home, and two clean-cut young guys in khaki jump out and start unloading a Ghostbusters array of gadgets -- something resembling a giant black megaphone, a glowing tube attached to a video screen, and a handheld device that looks like it was pilfered from Dr. McCoy's sick bay. Meet the "greenup" team from Sustainable Spaces, a four-year-old San Francisco firm that conducts residential energy audits and energy efficiency retrofits to shrink a home's carbon …

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Hot new clean-tech startups are plug-and-play

You gotta be crazy to start a green-tech company these days, right? Venture funding has fallen off the proverbial cliff since the economy imploded last September, and even established renewable energy companies are struggling to stay afloat until the Obama stimulus cash begins to flow. But it seemed more 1999 than 2009 this week at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters when a crowd of entrepreneurs showed up to elevator-pitch their startups to a panel of VCs and win $40,000 in services. Competition to just get in the door was fierce, with 400 companies vying for 30 slots at Launch: Silicon Valley, …

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Our peak oil future? Electric vehicle startup unveils Chinese-made, $45K ‘economy’ car

Open one of those minimalist black boxes that contain a shiny new iPod and you're greeted by five words -- "Designed by Apple in California." In much smaller print would be the phrase "Made in China." Will Americans warm to a Chinese-built car when they can buy a domestic EV like the Chevy Volt for a similar price?Courtesy Coda AutomotiveThat, in a nutshell, describes the strategy of the latest entrant in the electric car sweepstakes: Santa Monica-based Coda Automotive. At a defunct Wilshire Boulevard Jaguar dealership on Wednesday, the startup emerged from stealth mode and CEO Kevin Czinger literally pulled …

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With green home venture, Sierra Club mixes profits with passion

Photo illustration by Tom Twigg / GristIt's not unusual these days for big green groups to get in bed with business, but one of the oldest and most-respected environmental organizations -- the Sierra Club -- is going them one better by getting into business itself. The San Francisco-based Sierra Club has launched a for-profit online venture called Sierra Club Green Home as a one-stop shop for information and services to green up your lifestyle and decarbonize your abode. Sierra Club Green Home is a joint venture between the 117-year-old institution and a group of individual investors -- or "donors" as …

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Planting green moles in corporate America

On the 28th floor of a San Francisco skyscraper, a cadre of 26 young men and women called the Climate Corps is being briefed. They won't be planting trees or serving as Al Gore's cap-and-trade shock troops. Rather, these are MBAs on a mission to infiltrate the Fortune 500 and help them save ... money (and the planet too) by rooting out energy inefficiency and developing strategies to cut corporate carbon budgets. The Climate Corps is an internship project of the Environmental Defense Fund, and I'm at EDF's San Francisco outpost as a three-day boot camp gets underway to train …

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In solar biz, simple and cheap are keys to success

Skyline Solar is betting that its High Gain Solar technology will beat competitors on total costs and speed to market.Photo courtesy Skyline Solar There is, it seems, always something new under the sun in Silicon Valley. Which is why I'm standing behind a chain-link fence at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority bus depot, wedged between the sprawl of tech giant Cisco Systems' mile-long corporate campus and, incongruously enough, a mobile home park. Before me are four 120-foot-long parabolic solar troughs. They're similar to those you'd find in the middle of the Mojave Desert at a massive solar thermal power …

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Pinko bastion spawns capitalist solution to solar financing

Berkeley is Fox News' nightmare. The city's political spectrum runs from center left to left of Lenin. Malcolm X not only has an elementary school named after him but his birthday is a public holiday. The best pizza in town comes from a workers' collective (veggie only) located across the street from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse -- she who would smash the agricultural-industrial state. And did I mention Breast Freedom Day at People's Park? A lot more solar panels like these could be installed across California if more cities adopt Berkeley's model for financing installation.City of BerkeleyBut this hotbed of …

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Shai Agassi: Green’s Steve Jobs

The more you talk to Shai Agassi, the more the Steve Jobs comparison seems apt. Shai AgassiCourtesy Better PlaceLike his fellow Silicon Valley impresario, Agassi, the founder of electric car infrastructure startup Better Place, is as much a green-tech visionary as entrepreneur bent on cashing in on the "Next Big Thing." Just as Jobs elegantly married hardware and software to create the iPod and iPhone and disrupted the telecommunication-entertainment industrial complex, Agassi aims to do the same with transportation. In case you missed the spate of national magazine stories on the former software executive and his company, Better Place has …

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Policy chatter is on everyone’s lips at Fortune’s green-business conference

Fortune Magazine's annual Brainstorm Green confab in sybaritic Southern California locales brings together Fortune 500 types (naturally), green tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and environmentalists. As such it's a barometer of sorts for the state of green in the Green State. At last year's conference, the chatter was all about tech and the latest cool green innovations. But at the event that concluded this week on Earth Day, the suits, scientists, and activists sounded more like a bunch of Washington wonks than Silicon Valley geeks. In the Obama era, innovative public policy will drive green tech as much as the latest …

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California utility bets on space-based solar power

A conceptual image of what a space-based solar power plant would look like. The image was commissioned by the National Space SocietyMafic Studios, Inc. Space... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of PG&E. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new technologies, to seek out new sources of renewable energy and new revenues, to boldly go where no regulated utility has gone before. Captain Kirk's voice keeps popping into my head as I read through utility PG&E's 24-page application seeking regulators' approval for the world's first space-based solar power plant. Yep, a flying a solar farm. It's to be built …