Friday, October 9, 2009

Small World

Cathy Zoi & Al Gore

This is not a well researched article. It has almost no underlying fact checking. It doesn't have a central organizing principle or unifying theory. Just a set of related questions. It's being written only partially as a public service to anyone hoping the Obama administration lives up to it's goal to be the most transparent administration ever. It's written by someone who simply wants the United States to recognize the need we have for better batteries and to prioritize around that fundamental fact.

Point Number 1: The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article highlighting the fact that Fisker Automotive received some funds from the Department of Energy and is backed by Kleiner Perkins with whom Al Gore works. Presumably, what makes this news above and beyond other similar announcements is that Gore is on the Kleiner team. Certainly, there is a story there about potentially deserving firms not receiving funds and sorting out the details of selection criteria, etc. But, honestly, I don't see that one having legs unless someone is going to lay out a substantiated theory about deliberate fraud on the part of DOE. That'll never happen. In the meantime, it's news primarily because Gore is involved. Agreed?

Point Number 2: The article does mention that Kleiner Perkins partners donate significantly to political campaigns. $2Mil recently. That's a good fact to report since it launches a set of related questions. What I can't figure out is why the article didn't address them directly. Here are the related questions:

1) Did Al Gore personally lobby the Dept of Energy on behalf of Fisker? (Not a problem at all provided the DOE selection criteria is easy to understand, explain and apply)

2) Has Al Gore had any contact with Cathy Zoi since she was appointed over the program that awarded funds to Fisker? (after all, she was Gore's first CEO for the Alliance for Climate Change Protection. Anyone home at the Wall Street Journal? )

3) Of the companies who have received DOE funds, what percentage have made campaign donations and to whom? Also, how much has been spent on lobbying by the winners vs the losers? (Everyone has a right to lobby congress and donate to elections. It's a fundamental aspect of participating in the political process. It's an opportunity every individual in this country enjoys. But, the question is, are procedures in place to ensure this participation in our Democracy does not afford less deserving projects with federal financing advantages? Not a pot shot at anyone--just a relevant question any ordinary tax payer may contemplate)

4) What exactly is the criteria DOE is following to provide funds to a foreign firm like Fisker? (We have no doubt that Fisker employs a great group of individuals of the highest character and caliber. They have great ideas, great designs and a rosy future. But, on what basis were they selected? Surely, the DOE staffs competent, fair and insightful staff. Laying out how they conduct their work is to their advantage.)

5) Does the DOE only look to provide funds to firms who seek them? Is anyone at the DOE proactively going out and looking at firms who have not submitted applications to learn whether or not they could be encouraged to gain some advantages with federal funding? (hint hint: EEStor).

6) What sort of lobbying does Kleiner Perkins perform? Does John Doerr's role on President Obama's Economic Advisory Board constitute lobbying?

Point Number 3: Let's dissect this last question a bit because maybe lobbying isn't the proper word. According to the white house press release from Feb 6, 2009, one of the functions of the Advisory Board is to:

"meet regularly and provide advice directly to the President on the programs to jump-start economic growth and facilitate economic stability. "

That is interesting because according to the Department of Energy website, Cathy Zoi's role includes the following:

"Ms. Zoi oversees EERE's $16.8 billion in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. EERE is responsible for education, conservation, regulation, and efficient use of our nation's energy resources, including federal energy management, building codes, appliance standards, vehicle technologies, and the ENERGY STAR® program. EERE works to strengthen the United States' energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality through public-private partnerships.

In her role as Assistant Secretary, Ms. Zoi manages the U.S. Department of Energy's $2.1 billion applied science, research, development, and deployment portfolio, which promotes marketplace integration of renewable and environmentally sound energy technologies."

Do you see the issue here? It seems we have one of those innocent and accidental situations where a group of loosely or tightly connected individuals comes together in a configuration that can only lead honest, hard working people to wonder. This wondering, if conducted unfairly, has no place in the constructive advancement of this country. So, let's put some fairness on the table.

In life, Cathy Zoi is an accomplished winner. She's devoted herself to important topics, ie, energy. Her list of accomplishments is a mile long and Obama was very fortunate to have her join the DOE. Indeed the whole country is fortunate someone of her caliber would mix with the historically unaccomplished federal government. Additionally, these energy issues for which Zoi is on the front line affect me deeply as an individual since I'm a staunch advocate of cleaner fuels and energy independence for this country. I salute Zoi.

Secondly, Al Gore is, to say the least, a politically interesting character in our time. His campaign for climate control is admirable even to those who do not agree with his evidence or conclusions. He's shown passion for his goals and I count myself as one of those who felt An Inconvenient Truth really humanized Gore and made him an endearing figure.

How can you criticize John Doerr? For what? For being a successful businessman whose personal activities rightly bring him in contact with political figures? I mean come on. He's made clear that his passion for climate change is not about money but in keeping a promise to his children and future generations to act now in the event climate change will make the earth uninhabitable for humanity. I'm sure even he would agree that as far as being a spokesperson for cleantech and renewable energy, his conflicts of interest run deep. No issue there.

So, what's my beef with all of this? Why even write any of the above? It's about means versus ends. Luxury sedans such as Fisker's or Tesla's or even GM-Volt's for that matter are secondary technologies whose impact is limited by the lack of a key, enabling technology that makes them viable: batteries! Energy Storage! Nothing Fisker or any automaker can do changes the fundamental importance of energy storage as a catalyst for economic change in our country. The lack of energy storage is what is preventing the adoption of electric vehicles. The lack of energy storage is preventing the adoption of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It's preventing our grid from being efficient, thus, requiring power plants to produce twice as much energy as we actually need (and all the pollution that goes with that). It's the most important issue in all of renewable energy.

When you wake up to that reality and begin asking questions like, "how can we accelerate the delivery of better energy storage? Who can bring it to us the fastest?" and then you then start to wading into the available technologies such as lead acid, lithium ion, lithium from Bolivia, lithium from China, etc, you quickly arrive at a crossroads. The crossroads is this blog that you are now reading and a fundamental question sticks out: What is EEStor Inc.? How does it relate to all of the above? What is being done to advance EEStor?

Honestly, I don't care if Fisker and Tesla or even EEStor competitors A123 Systems or Johnson Controls have received federal funds or even if they gained advantage of available funds via political connections. What gets me is the distinct lack of attention to the more fundamental energy storage problem. And yes, here's where I take everyone to task:

Is Al Gore out there talking about better batteries or mentioning EEStor?

Is John Doerr out there talking about better batteries or mentioning EEStor?

Is Cathy Zoi or Steven Chu out there talking about better batteries or proactively contacting EEStor?

Is anyone anywhere talking about better batteries? President Obama, for example?

Robert J. Stevens at Lockheed Martin seems to know what is going on. Congressman John Carter seems to know what is going on. Senator Carl Levin and the Michigan political establishment would appear to know what is going on. Need I even suggest that Kleiner Perkins doesn't know what is going on? Why can't everyone know what's going on? Most especially, why can't the Department of Energy know what is going on? Is EEStor IT or not? If it is, let's acknowledge it and move on. If it is not, let's acknowledge it and move on. The stakes are too high to keep rearranging deck chairs or dipping one's hands in the various cookie jars.

I'll end this article with two things. One, as I've mentioned before, like Kleiner Perkins, I have an investment in EEStor via owning shares of Zenn Motor Company. Secondly,

UPDATE: Last but not least, it's only fair that I lump EEStor into the mix partially. After all, if I'm criticizing these public figures for not saying/doing more about EEStor, it only makes sense that I include EEStor. Wait a second, I guess I have to criticize everyone then except for me for not talking about EEStor as much as I talk about it. That's really arrogant and pompous of me. I apologize. :-)