Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vail Global Energy Forum, March 2012

The Vail Valley Foundation, in conjunction with Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy (PIE) and Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC), will host the inaugural Vail Global Energy Forum (VGEF), March 3 and 4, 2012, at the Vilar Performing Arts Center (VPAC) in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

"The Vail Global Energy Forum is dedicated to the search for sustainable solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our times – how to produce enough clean, cost-efficient energy from reliable sources to power our global economy while we bridge the transition to breakthrough renewable energy solutions of the future," said Vail resident, Jay Precourt, who endowed the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.

The VGEF will examine the combined challenges of energy supply, energy security, and the impacts of energy use that will shape the energy transitions underway now and in the decades to come.

"Beaver Creek is an ideal setting for the Vail Global Energy Forum," said Harry Frampton, Chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation's board of directors. "Colorado is both an energy-producing state and an acutely environmentally aware state. It is also home to some of the fastest growing new energy business 'incubators,' devoted to the development of clean energy solutions and Vail Resorts is a recreational leader in utilizing and promoting green technologies."

The VGEF will bring together some of the world's foremost leaders in their fields to discuss how best to provide the energy the world needs to support a productive global economy while limiting adverse effects on the environment. Participants and speakers will include distinguished government officials, corporate executives, research scientists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, investors and world-renowned journalists. Confirmed participants include George P. Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Labor and now Distinguished Fellow of Stanford's Hoover Institution; U.S. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; Jeffrey Ball, Former Environment Editor of The Wall Street Journal; Tom Petrie, Vice Chairman of Bank of America; Dr. Ernest Moniz, Director of the Energy Initiative at MIT; Dr. Burton Richter, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Senior Fellow at Stanford; and Dr. Nathan Lewis, Director, Lewis Research Group at Caltech.

Additional speakers and panelists will include Gregory Ebel, President and CEO of Spectra Energy; Tom Siebel, Founder of Siebel Systems; Dr. Franklin M. Orr, Director, Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford; Dr. James Sweeney, Director, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford; Dr. Sally Benson, Director, Global Climate and Energy Project, also at Stanford.

"Satisfying the worldwide demand for efficient and clean energy presents one of the greatest challenges of the century," explained John L. Hennessy, President of Stanford University. "It also represents a global opportunity. The breakthrough research being done within the Precourt Institute of Energy at Stanford is addressing this challenge to find working solutions through technologies that are sustainable and affordable."

The Vail Global Energy Forum is organized by the Vail Valley Foundation in collaboration with Jay Precourt, Dr. Franklin L. Orr, Dr. James Sweeney and Carl Colby, Executive Director VGEF.

The event will be open to the public, with ticket sales now underway. Tickets are $100 for general admission and $175 for a "Signature Package," which includes reserved seating, pre and post event receptions on Saturday, as well as continental breakfast on Sunday.

Vail Global Energy Forum tickets are available by phone at (888) 920-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Vilar Center box office in Beaver Creek and the Marketplace box office in Vail Village. Tickets are available online 24 hours a day at

For additional information on the inaugural Vail Global Energy Forum, contact the Vilar Performing Arts Center at (970) 845-TIXS (8497) or visit . The Vail Global Energy Forum is a project of the Vail Valley Foundation. For more information on the Foundation, visit

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shell and Brazil's Cosan Launch Multi-Billion Dollar Biofuels Joint Venture

Royal Dutch Shell, the largest oil company in Europe, and Cosan Limited, the largest sugar and ethanol processor in Brazil, have formally launched a multi-billion dollar joint venture that will become the largest producer of ethanol made from sugar cane. The joint venture, called Raizen, will operate in Brazil.

Cosan has invested $3.3 billion and Shell has invested $1.62 billion in the venture. The investments include a 15.7 percent stake in enzyme producer Codexis Inc., a developer of "super-enzymes" for the faster conversion of plant waste into transport fuels, and part of Shell’s interest in Iogen Energy, which uses enzymes to break down plant waste into ethanol. Click here to read more . . . .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

US Ex-Im Bank Finances Small-Scale Renewable Energy Exports

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is facilitating the sale of solar panels from California to a private sector project in Belgium under the bank's "Renewable Express" project financing program. The solar panels for the project will be supplied by Solyndra LLC, a manufacturer of photovoltaic systems headquartered in Fremont, California.

The Ex-Im Bank’s “Renewable Express” project financing program provides streamlined post-completion project financing to small renewable-power producers that meet the bank's credit standards. The bank will consider project financing for small renewable power producers seeking loans of $3 million to $10 million. Renewable Express is available for both corporate balance sheet and limited-recourse transactions that fit within the program’s parameters and where the repayment is generated from the project’s cash flows. Click here to read more . . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Energy Efficient Business Attire

One hot August day, I organized a luncheon in New York City where the President of the Philippines gave a speech to about 150 bankers and business leaders. When I say it was hot, it was a day that defined sweltering. You could see the heat waves rising from the asphalt.

Arriving early to make sure everything was ready, I found that the luncheon hall had been refrigerated (air-conditioned would be a gross understatement) to feel like a walk-in freezer. The manager explained that he had turned the air-conditioning on full blast two hours earlier to get the room so cold. He said this was his standard practice during the summer months because people are pretty hot after walking a few city blocks wearing wool suits. "Don't worry," he assured me. "They'll be so hot when they get here that the room will warm up to a reasonable temperature very quickly." Click here to read more . . . .

Monday, October 10, 2011

Warren Buffett, Sustainable Energy, and American Competitiveness

Warren Buffett explains the root of his success as acting rationally about capital allocation over the long term. Our elected officials would be wise to take note of this investment advice when building a budget. By focusing on where to allocate our society's capital over the long term, we can make wiser decisions.

Start with education. In the 20th century, America allocated more capital to education than any other country in the world. This investment gave us the most highly educated and innovative workforce in the world, and it explains much of our economic dominance of the past century. But today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we are falling behind. The United States ranks 27th out of the 29 most developed countries in the percentage of college students pursuing degrees in science or engineering, and we rank 48th out of 133 developed and developing countries in the quality of our math and science instruction. Click here to read more . . . .

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Renewable Aviation Fuels Standard Gains Preliminary Approval

Biofuels may be powering airplanes sooner than you think. ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, has given preliminary approval for airlines to use a renewable jet fuel blend that includes algae and other plants.

The new ASTM annex to the alternative jet fuel specification D7566 (Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons) details the fuel properties and criteria necessary to control the manufacture and quality of a renewable fuel to ensure safe aviation use. Click here to read more . . . .

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Study Finds Air Pollution May Trigger Heart Attacks

The American Journal of Epidemiology has published a report finding a dramatic correlation between spikes in air pollution and hospital admissions for heart attacks, suggesting that high-pollution days may trigger heart attacks in some people.

The study examined data on more than 10,000 heart attacks between 2002 and 2005. When the heart attack data were correlated with changes in air pollution levels, researchers in Italy found that an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter in the air correlated with a 0.01 percent increase in hospitalizations for heart attacks over the next two days. The researchers found a similar correlation between heart attacks and increases in carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Click here to read more . . . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Philippines Starts Bidding Process for Infrastructure Projects

The Philippine government has started the bidding process for infrastructure projects with the smallest of the 10 projects that it plans to open for bidding this year.  The first project is the proposed Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) Link in the Province of Cavite, one of the fastest growing areas near Metro Manila. Interested parties can begin the pre-qualification process now, with initial documents due before the end of September.  For more details, click here.

Philippine American Chamber to Host Infrastructure Conference

The Philippine American Chamber of Commerce will host a conference on Philippine Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects on September 21, 2011 in New York City. Speakers will include senior government officials responsible for major infrastructure projects, executives from private-sector companies in the Philippines, and representatives of global infrastructure development and finance companies. For more details, go to the Chamber's web site at

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Philippines Begins Renewable Energy Push for Energy Self-Sufficiency

The Philippine National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) launched last week has set ambitious targets, including Php 1.2 trillion (US$27.6 billion) in renewable energy investments between now and 2030. This will nearly triple the country’s renewable generation capacity to 15,300 megawatts (MWs) in 2030 from 5,400 MWs today.

For more information, click here.

Wealth of Biodiversity Found In Philippines

Researchers from the California Academy of Sciences believe they have identified 300 new species during a 42-day expedition in the Philippines. The new species — found in rainforests, coral reefs, and the ocean floor — include “dozens of new insects and spiders, deep-sea armored corals, ornate sea pens, bizarre new sea urchins and sea stars, a shrimp-eating swell shark, and over 50 colorful new sea slugs.”

For more information and photos, click here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

China Gets Aggressive in the South China Sea

China warned Asian neighbors to stop searching for oil near disputed islands in the South China Sea and vowed to assert its sovereignty over the area despite rival claims.  China also accused the United States of trying to provoke disputes between China and its Asian neighbors.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have each asserted claims to all or part of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, and islands in the South China Sea.

The combined land mass is less than four square kilometers spread out over more than 425,000 square kilometers of the South China Sea.  The islands have very little economic value on their own, but they are important to establish international boundaries and the rights to exploit rich fishing grounds and potentially significant reserves of oil and natural gas.

China's warning to its neighbors follows on a series of incidents in which China has used harassment and property damage to assert its presence.

In February of this year, a Chinese navy vessel allegedly fired warning shots to disperse Filipino fishermen from Jackson Atoll, which is claimed by the Philippines and close to its shore.  The Philippine government has cited five other instances in its complaints to China, including one in March when two Chinese patrol boats tried to ram a Philippine survey ship.

Last month, Chinese vessels cut a cable on a Vietnamese ship conducting seismic surveys in waters well within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and more recently harassed a Vietnamese vessel conducting seismic surveys within Vietnam’s continental shelf.

Adding to the concerns in the region, China confirmed this week that it will launch its first aircraft carrier.

China has become very sensitive to criticism of its actions in the region, most recently complaining that  the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director, Leon Panetta, was trying to interfere with China's relations with his neighbors by frightening them.  In testimony before a Congressional panel considering his nomination to be the next U.S. Secretary of Defense, Panetta said that China appears to be building the capability "to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity conflicts" along its borders.

John Howley

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Became of Republicans

After suffering the humiliation of Richard Nixon's resignation, the Republican Party found itself again with Ronald Reagan.  A key part of Reagan's appeal was his reliance on the intellectual firepower of Nobel Laureate Milton Freidman, Alan Greenspan, and other conservative and libertarian economists.

Agree or disagree with their policies and theories, you have to admit that these economists were serious scholars who analyzed their data.  That rigorous analysis caused many of them -- including Friedman and Greenspan -- to conclude that by keeping the price of fossil fuels artificially low, we were stunting innovation and competition.

Too low, you say?  Yes.  Applying "price theory," these conservative and libertarian economists determined that the prices of fossil fuels did not include all of their costs.  Most importantly, the prices of fossil fuels did not include the cost of pollution.  Rather, the cost of pollution was "externalized" (i.e., imposed on the commons) resulting in a misleading price.  That misleading price made it impossible for the free market to make rational decisions (e.g., to invest in alternative energy).

So how did the Republican Party go from rigorous data analysis and disciplined application of economic theories, to the party of "that was not meant to be a factual statement"?

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Power Outage Strands Delta Passengers at Minneapolis Airport

Delta Airlines was forced to cancel 250 flights after a power outage at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport shut down its computers and about 60 to 80 gates and 4 concourses for more than 9 hours on Saturday.

Initial reports were that Delta issued about 1,000 vouchers for hotel rooms to passengers who were stranded at the airport and could not get booked on other flights. The airline initially said that about 500 passengers actually stayed in hotels overnight, then revised the number to 100. One news report said, "It was impossible to say how many flights were affected, because Delta's computers were down."

As of Sunday morning, electricians said they had isolated the problem and restored power to about half the gates, but the cause of the outage was still unknown.

Xcel Energy, the local utility, said the problem was not on its grid but was internal to the airport's electrical distribution system. But there have been no definitive statements on the cause of the outage.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Monday, May 16, 2011

Second Largest US Oil Refinery Threatened by Flood

All eyes are on the Mississippi river and the decision to open nine floodgates in an effort to save the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  While most attention has properly been focused on the innocent people in other towns and farming communities who will be flooded by this action, the flood also poses another significant threat.

The second largest oil refinery in the United States is within the area subject to mandatory evacuation and is threatened by the rising waters from the spillway.  The refinery in Krotz Springs is owned by Alon USA Energy Inc.  It refines 83,000 barrels of oil per day.

So far the company has been granted an exemption from the mandatory evacuation order and is building a temporary levee to protect the refinery and surrounding homes and buildings.  While the refinery has not yet been forced to curtail operations, the prices of oil and gasoline rose in trading early on Monday on fears that flooding could affect refinery operations in Krotz Springs and elsewhere.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saving Public Libraries

News that Borders, the book store, may disappear reminded me of another great source for books that is under attack.  The public library.  State and local governments facing tight budgets are cutting back, and this once grand institution may soon be extinct.

That would be a tragedy.  Having lived in other countries where public libraries do not exist, I have always had a fondness for this particular institution and its critical role facilitating the American dream.

Yes, the internet can give you access to all sorts of information with the click of a mouse.  Yes, e-readers are making e-books more accessible.  But there is both symbolism and substance in the ability of anyone to walk into a public library off the street and have access to books, newspapers, periodicals and other sources of information.

People still want to commune in a centralized location to browse through books and magazines in a public setting.  Just go to any Barnes & Noble store and see all the people who are there browsing, reading, and socializing over a cup of coffee.  The fact is, not everyone wants to sit alone with an e-book all the time.

Perhaps Barnes & Noble can fill the need for those who live near major shopping malls and can afford to buy Starbuck's coffee while they browse through a magazine.   But what about those who do not live near shopping malls?  or who do not have transportation?  or who do not have internet access at home?   Public libraries are essential to their individual and community growth and development.

Borders may be no more.  But we cannot let the same thing happen to our public libraries.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Friday, May 13, 2011

Who's Really to Blame for $4 Gasoline?

Faced with blistering criticism from Senators this week, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson blamed "speculators" for the high price of gasoline at the pump.  He claimed that the market price of oil really should be $60 to $70 per barrel, and that the extra $30 to $40 per barrel being paid right now is the result of speculation by traders making bets on margin.

Bloggers on Forbes picked up the cry, calling speculators "social parasites, gamblers who produce absolutely nothing of value."

Think about what this means for a moment.  It means that the CEO of Exxon Mobil said that we do not have a supply problem.  Or a demand problem.  The only problem we have -- a problem that costs $30 to $40 per barrel -- is speculators using margin to run up the price of oil and make a profit at society's expense.

How I wish someone would have pushed him on this point.  How I wish someone would have said:

"So, Mr. Tillerson, are you saying that we have adequate supplies?  That the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf following the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is not giving traders legitimate reason to hedge against increasing prices for oil?  That your inability to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not affecting the price of oil?  That increasing demand from China, India, and other developing nations is not affecting the price of oil?  That unrest in the Middle East is not a legitimate cause for concern in oil markets?"

"Are you really saying, Mr. Tillerson, that speculation is the only reason why prices are above $60 to $70 per barrel?"

Obviously, he would never have agreed that speculation is the only reason why oil prices are so high.  He threw that out there because we live in a world of soundbites, where blaming speculators on Wall Street will shift the blame and get you good press in certain circles.

So why did Senators not press him on these points?  Because that Senate hearing was not about finding solutions to our energy problems.  It was about creating soundbites that Senators could use in the next election.

Which points out the real problem we face as a nation.  Neither our corporate leadership nor our political leadership is willing to have a serious conversation about the real problems and tough solutions we need to create a viable and sustainable energy policy.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Acceleration of Artic Ice Melting

A new report by the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, or AMAP, concludes that Arctic ice is melting faster than expected and could raise the average global sea level by as much as five feet this century.

The report says that Arctic temperatures in the past six years were the highest since 1880.  The report also says that its authors also found evidence that feedback loops have started.  A feedback loop occurs when warming of the earth's atmosphere causing an effect, such as melting of ice sheets, which results in more absorption of heat by the earth's oceans, which results in further warming of the earth's atmosphere, which results in further melting of ice sheets, etc.

Scientists fear that once started, it will be difficult to impossible to stop feedback loops.

Click here for a news story with further details on the latest report.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

Monday, April 18, 2011

Looking for Nuances in the Nuclear Debate

The must frustrating thing about politics in America is that every issue becomes a debate between black and white, right and wrong, Democrat and Republican.  Or maybe it's blue and red.

The fact is that most Americans are far more nuanced in their views on almost any subject.  And most solutions to our biggest problems are not binary.  The solutions are not either/or, yes/no.  The problems are far too complex for such simplistic thinking.

Take nuclear power.  It offers an abundant, low-carbon source of electricity without using up acres upon acres of land.  It can reduce our dependence on dirty fuels such as coal and oil.  It could make us energy self-sufficient at a time of great global unrest and uncertainty.

The question is how to we keep it safe?  More to the point, how do we keep it safe at a time when the debate in America is over which party will impose deeper cuts in government regulations and spending?

At least with nuclear power, we cannot have it both ways.  Nuclear power is not financially viable without government subsidies, guarantees, and/or free insurance in the form of liability limitations.  And nuclear power can turn catastrophic without vigorous safety regulations and enforcement.

If we want nuclear power, then we need to accept that it is sui generis (Latin, meaning unique in its characteristics).  We cannot just lump it into the overall black and white debate over the size and role of government in society.  Whatever we do with any other program or policy, we need a more nuanced approach with nuclear power.  Because if we're not willing to create unique solutions to the unique and potentially catastrophic risks of nuclear power, then we shouldn't go there at all.

John Howley

Sunday, April 10, 2011

About John Howley

John Howley is an internationally recognized expert, educator and thought leader in the field of sustainable energy. He founded a global energy management company with operations in the US and Asia, and he edits a monthly newsletter read by more than 10,000 business leaders around the world.

John's professional focus has been at the intersection of technology, competition, and government policy for more than 30 years. He has advised energy and technology companies on intellectual property and competition policies and strategies. He has also advised the governments of the United Kingdom, India, Mongolia and the Philippines. He is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and the US-China Green Energy Council

Throughout his career, John has played a leadership role in education. He has served as Vice Chair of the Skidmore College Board of Trustees and as Chair of its Presidential Search Committee, Chair of its Infrastructure Committee, and Co-Chair of its Strategic Planning Committee. John has also served on the Board of Trustees of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, as a Trustee of New York Law School, and as Vice Chair of the Board and Chair of the Financial Policy Committee of the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.

John speaks frequently on sustainability issues at corporations, universities, and conferences around the world. He has been invited to speak at the Harvard Business School, the Asian Institute of Management, the Global e-Services Conference, Elliott Masie's Annual LEARNING Conferences, and the Asia Society, among other well-known conferences and institutions.

John is known as an approachable speaker, blending humor, intellectual substance and story-telling with high levels of audience involvement.