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Share and Compare: October Electric Bill

Share and compare and we’ll all learn best practices, save money and decrease waste.

By the way, for those of you who are curious, I live in an 1100 square foot house that was built in 1988 but which I remodeled in 2010, after buying it through an auction (it was a foreclosure). Some upgrades included: insulated windows and doors, insulation in the crawl space and attic, a Rheem 15 SEER HVAC (installed in April 2012), high efficiency (.8 gpf) toilets by Niagara Conservation, low flow shower heads and faucets also by Niagara Conservation, a TED energy monitoring device and a Nest thermostat.

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Utility Bills: Share and Compare

Anyone else interested in sharing your electric bills? I may add some analysis too, but wanted to upload the raw data in the meantime. If we could all easily share and compare utility bills, I think we would all save a lot.

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Bonhoeffer on Optimism and the Future

Bonhoeffer on Optimism and the Future
A few words on optimism this morning from the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ...The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life and hope when others give in; it enables persons to hold their heads high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives them strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for themselves instead of abandoning it to their opponents. It is true there is a silly cowardly kind of optimism, which we must condemn. But the optimism that is willing for the future should never be despised, even if it is proved wrong a hundred times; is is health and vitality, and the sick person has no business to impugn it...This is an excerpt form a 1942 Christmas letter, which Bonhoeffer wrote to his co-conspirators in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. They were ultimately unsuccessful and Bonhoeffer would shortly be sent to a concentration camp, where he continued to encourage his fellow prisoners. Bonhoeffer was executed by direct order from Hitler only four weeks prior to the Allies taking control of Germany and ending Hitler's cruel reign. Though Bonhoeffer did not live to see it, his hope for peace and justice was eventually realized.  

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Seeking High Impact Environmental Entrepreneurs

I wrote the post below for Startup America’s blog. You can find the original here: http://www.s.co/content/seeking-high-impact-environmental-entrepreneurs

For over twenty-five years, the folks here at Cherokee Investment Partners have focused on turning environmental liabilities into assets. Now, we want to make our expertise available to other environmental and clean tech entrepreneurs. That’s why we launched the Cherokee Challenge.

The Challenge is a competition and accelerator designed to identify, fund and develop high impact environmental entrepreneurs. Based in the Research Triangle, we have recruited an outstanding advisory committee to advise, connect and support Challenge ventures.

Up to three environmental ventures will be accepted to participate in the Cherokee Challenge. In addition to access to the advisory committee’s network and mentoring, benefits include:

  • $20,000 in seed funding
  • free office space for three months in Raleigh, June-September, 2012
  • complimentary back office support (incorporation, IRS compliance, accounting)
  • opportunities to meet and pitch numerous investors

The application deadline is April 15, so send in your application as soon as possible!

As for Cherokee’s experience, back in the mid-80’s, we bought a brick plant and began using waste biomass to fire the kilns and contaminated soil to make bricks. Our goal was to get our cost of goods sold down to zero, while also remediating contaminated soil and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels.

We never quite achieved cost of goods sold = $0, but we lowered costs enough to turn around a business in distress. In the process, we remediated over 15 million tons of contaminated soil and, by using waste biomass, we offset some 5.7 billion pounds of carbon dioxide over 16 years.

The brick business spurred the soil remediation business, which in turn alerted us to the opportunity to acquire environmentally distressed real estate. Eventually, we raised four private equity funds totaling more than $2B, focused on investing in and remediating brownfields. We’ve since remediated some 550 brownfield properties throughout the US, Canada and Europe. Along the way, we also invested in over 70 startups or venture funds.

And we’re not done yet. We are now investing in utility-scale solar on brownfields, as well as launching another internal startup focused on energy and brownfields.  And, of course, we’re excited about the startups we’ll support through the Cherokee Challenge!

A Few Thoughts on Capital Allocation

Last Sunday morning, I was making brunch while listening to political pundits on the major broadcast stations. Rather than the usual national and global update, it was mainly commentary about how Mitt Romney should address the attacks on his time at Bain Capital.

As a disclaimer: I do not currently know for whom I will vote in November and I am not necessarily advocating for Romney. Generally, politics disgust me. I try to stay out of the fray. Sometimes, however, I feel it is important to comment. This is one of those times.

I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding when you begin advocating that efficient capital allocation is a bad thing. Private equity and venture capital investors take enormous risks compared to other capital providers, such as banks. That is why private equity and venture capital investors typically expect higher rates of return — their ‘failure’ rate, or risk level, is comparatively higher.

Thankfully, the United States has a relatively stable government and business climate. We are fortunate that investors continue to believe the United States is a good place to allocate capital, especially growth capital. This allows companies to expand and provide livelihoods for employees and partners.

According to the most recent stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current US unemployment rate is 8.5%. That does not include another 2.5 million people who are considered marginally attached to the labor force. The US workforce is estimated at a total of 155 million. So, to put it another way, about 15.7 million people, or nearly 10.1% of our workforce, are looking for a job.

Corporations, banks and private equity and venture capital investors play an enormous role in creating jobs when they decide to invest capital to grow enterprises. Obviously, we need all of that we can get. If you do not believe me (or the stats above), maybe you haven’t spoken lately with your unemployed neighbor who used to frame houses, or the other one who used to install fiber optic cable, or the other one who used to be a foreman for a heavy highway construction firm or the other one who used to own a brick company.

Most reasonable people probably do not have a problem with private equity investors. Especially the fund managers who are proper stewards of the resources entrusted to their care. Rather, I suspect people have a problem with being unemployed. They have a problem with seeing their savings, which would have sent their kids to university, depleted. They may also have a problem with investors who hoard capital, either personally or as a firm, rather than redeploying it into new opportunities, which create jobs.

Allocating capital in a socially and environmentally equitable manner is a wonderful responsibility. Private sector growth is the only sustainable means, of which I am aware, to create jobs, provide opportunity and preserve and protect the environment. While there are certainly many private equity firms that do not operate with integrity, that is not an accurate description of Bain Capital and numerous other reputable investment firms (if you don’t agree with me, see this editorial on Bain: http://bit.ly/z1d1Mp).

Maybe I will next add some thoughts on stewardship, because it seems to be at the core of this debate.

JTV
Raleigh, NC

Living in Debt

A friend recently posted a succinct summary of the current fiscal catastrophe in the United States. Below are the key points for 2011 (in trillions of USD):

US tax revenue:               $2.17
Federal budget:                $3.82
New debt:                        $1.65
National debt:                $14.27
Recent budget cut:          $0.038

That’s a beautifully disgusting snapshot of the effect of fiscal irresponsibility over decades. If you want to check those stats, or for more information, visit: http://1.usa.gov/vs6GXl

Now consider how much of a difference that $.038T cut will make. Not much. Especially when you consider the net present value of unfunded future liabilities associated with Medicare: $36.4 trillion, and Social Security: $15.1 trillion. http://1.usa.gov/v34vPY

That’s a total net present value of $51.5 trillion in unfunded future liabilities associated with only social security and medicare, in-case you are counting (presumably everyone except our political leaders). That’s a serious cash flow problem when annual tax revenue is $2.17 trillion.

Paying off these obligations would cost about $440,000 per household. I hope you have an extra $500,000, because Uncle Sam needs it to support his habits.

Recall that GM filed for bankruptcy for similar reasons (i.e., decades of mismanagement which led to assets of $82.2 billion against liabilities of $172 billion which led to chapter 11). http://econ.st/ssWfBK

It may still be possible to turn around USA Inc. http://www.kpcb.com/usainc/ But, fiscal discipline, lean management and unity, all of which seem outside the bounds of polarized US politics, are desperately needed. New Year’s resolution, anyone?

JTV
Raleigh, NC

The Cherokee Challenge

If you think you have what it takes to start an environmental business, you need to visit http://www.cherokeechallenge.com. Cherokee has decided to host a competition for environmental entrepreneurs. We will select up to three teams to compete in a two month competition. Take some of our ideas and run with them, or bring your own – we are open. Each team has a chance to win up to $20,000! Applications are due by 7PM on Friday, May 27.

Good luck!

Moringa in Mozambique

A close friend of mine, Gracey Uffman, is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chibuto, Mozambique. She was gracious enough to file the following report highlighting the use of moringa in Mozambique. Pictures from this event can be found on the ‘Lamp Post Photos’ link at the right.

CHIBUTO, Mozambique – Moringa[1] filled the health fair last Saturday in Chibuto. In addition to the normal booths focused on such things as blood donation, blood pressure reading, and HIV and malaria testing, there was, for the first time, a moringa booth. Workers from a Millennium Village located on the outskirts of Chibuto organized the moringa booth to introduce this highly nutritious plant to their fellow citizens in Chibuto.

Mozambicans strode curiously up to the table to learn how to incorporate moringa into their daily lives. Moringa soup and salad was made on-site, and the Millennium Village[2] workers convinced fellow citizens of the nutritional value of adding moringa to their diet. The Millennium Village workers sold small moringa trees for roughly $1 USD and encouraged community members to buy, plant, and spread the word about moringa. Marketers sold bags of ground moringa leaves, and showed community members how to mix this powder into their tea or almost any meal to increase nutrition. Finally, they demonstrated how the seeds could be used to purify water. Many Chibuto citizens left the health fair with moringa plants, powder, and important new knowledge to increase their health.

In addition to the work the Millennium Village has done in extolling the virtues of moringa, numerous community-based and non-governmental organizations have, over the past two years, began to focus on the health and nutrition benefits of moringa.

Gracey Uffman

Peace Corps Volunteer, Health Sector (2008-2010)
Chibuto, Mozambique
September 21, 2010


[1] Moringa is a hardy, drought resistant tree, whose leaves are believed to be one of the world’s most nutritious vegetables. According to Trees for Life (www.treesforlife.org), gram for gram, dried moringa oleifera leaves contain 10.5X the amount of Vitamin A as carrots, 16.5X the calcium of milk, 15X the potassium of bananas, 8.5X the amount of protein in yogurt, and half as much Vitamin C as an orange.

[2] Millennium Villages are designed to introduce innovated technologies and techniques to improve community health in rural areas of the developing world, in hopes of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. For more information on Millennium Villages, please visit: http://www.millenniumvillages.org/aboutmv/index.htm. For more information on the Millennium Development Goals, please visit: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/.

Paint the Entire Picture

Journalists are falling short in their coverage of sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, stereotypes of the region are reinforced, and the vast majority of Westerners fail to realize the potential private sector opportunities.

Two and a half weeks ago, I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner for my longtime friend, Daniel. I ended-up at a table at which I knew no one. As it happens, it was not long before the lady to my right began to inquire as to how I knew Daniel, my profession, where I lived, and on and on. After telling her that Daniel and I grew up best friends, and just as I mentioned I had recently returned from two years of work in Ethiopia, she blurted something to the effect of, ‘Ethiopia! I thought there was nothing there except starvation.’

She was a nice lady, and I am sure she did not intend to offend. This, unfortunately, has not been the first such comment of this nature since my return. Many people automatically assume the only work I could possibly have been doing in Ethiopia was missionary work or food aid relief. It blows their mind when I tell them that, among other things, I worked with an Ethiopian owned start-up focused on manufacturing appropriate technology, and small-scale renewable energy devices.

Most of this distorted view, I believe, stems from less than thorough journalism, which fails to connect the majority of Westerners with anything other than a superficial knowledge of developing world economies, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Two recent examples highlight my point – one from the Lens blog of the NY Times, and one from National Geographic.

On the Lens blog of NY Times online I discovered, ‘Unsung Allies Battle Starvation in Africa,’ submitted by Karly Domb Sadof. The cliché title was enough to persuade me to click on the link.

Ms. Sadof used the space to highlight, ‘Frustration,’ a photojournalism piece by Marcus Bleasdale, which documents the work of Médicins Sans Frontièrs and others treating malnutrition in Djibouti. Frustration is part of a larger work by Médicins Sans Frontièrs and VII Photography to bring attention to the 195 million people globally suffering from malnutrition (http://www.starvedforattention.org/about.php).

Certainly, the photos were jarring, intriguing, heart-breaking. There is little doubt Médicins Sans Frontièrs is a highly dedicated, professional organization, which has, for a long time, provided high quality medical care to those in need.

Mr. Bleasdale, the photographer, was quoted, ‘I don’t take pictures because I like pretty pictures. I take pictures because I am concerned about what is happening in the world and I want people to understand it.’

I do not question Mr. Bleasdale’s motives, nor his talent. Neither do I question the work of Médicins Sans Frontièrs. Simply, I would challenge Mr. Bleasdale to likewise consider how he might portray the economic opportunities presenting themselves in sub-Saharan Africa. For people to understand, they need to see the entire picture.

And there is more to the picture. The Wall Street Journal, in Bulls Eye on Africa: Carlyle Chief Sees Upside, reported on July 2, ‘Speaking at a conference on emerging markets in Geneva on Wednesday (June 30), David Rubinstein, co-founder and managing director of Carlyle Group, said Africa stood alone in terms of growth potential.’

This past March, I grabbed a copy of National Geographic in a European airport. Opening the magazine as I settled in for the old trans-Atlantic hop, I delved into, ‘Africa’s Last Frontier,’ written by Neil Shea and photographed by Randy Olson (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/03/omo-river/shea-text). Mr. Shea and Mr. Olson sought to highlight the plight of the indigenous tribes of the Omo Valley.

Again there was no lack of quality in the photography – the photographs were stunning, vivid, alluring. They depicted a wild, vast frontier, in which people kept traditional dress and customs, waged war with neighboring tribes, celebrated bravery and victory in battle, and ornamented one another (men and women alike) with scarring marks. The reporting provided snippets of life in the Omo Valley which, even having lived and worked throughout southern Ethiopia (though not explicitly in the Omo Valley – I missed my chance to travel there for well surveying last December), I was not entirely aware of.

Unfortunately, once again, I would imagine far more people read this romantic piece in National Geographic, which reinforced stereotypes of Africa – indigenous people, traditional dress (or lack thereof), constant tribal warfare, persistently surviving on the margin – than saw the slim, dull column in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the perceived opportunities abounding in Africa.

Job creation, business development, and foreign investment are every bit as integral to development as providing food aid relief, health care, and quality education. Aid, as we all know, is not sustainable long-term; at some point the private sector must begin to drive growth. This is slowly, but surely, beginning to happen in sub-Saharan Africa.

Journalists, your work is too important to neglect highlighting economic opportunities alongside challenges to development in sub-Saharan Africa. Help individuals, investors, and businesses to understand and see the entire picture. There is more to it than malnutrition, virgin frontiers and tribal conflicts – there is real, private sector growth taking hold.

JTV
Norwood, NC

Electricity for Rural Health Clinics

AWASSA, EthiopiaSelam Awassa Business Group (SABG), Dorcas Aid International, and Practica Foundation have partnered to address the scarcity of electricity in rural health clinics in Ethiopia. In a population of 88 million[1], making it the second most populated country in Africa, the UN estimates only 16% of the population has access to electricity[2]. It is believed, however, that the actual number of persons who can afford to access the grid may be closer to 6%[3].

SABG, Dorcas, and Practica have developed the Fit for Purpose Energy Box to provide rural health clinics a reliable, renewable, and affordable source of electricity. The Fit for Purpose Energy Box provides sufficient steam for sterilizing medical devices, cooking, and laundry, and sufficient energy for refrigeration and lighting. SABG will manufacture, install and maintain the Fit for Purpose Energy Box.

Currently, Dorcas Aid International is offering to cover the expense of drilling a well and installing a pump if an organization decides to purchase the Fit for Purpose Energy Box for a rural health care unit. The cost for the Fit for Purpose Energy Box for a health care unit, plus installation, will be about $10,000 USD. This $10,000 USD investment includes:

Functional specifications HCU

The product will deliver:

  • 3 hours of light per 24 hours for 50% of the bulbs.
  • Lights for baby deliveries and other medical work.
  • Sufficient electricity for a small TV.
  • Sufficient cooling for 110 liters of medicine for 48 hours with no sun.
  • Steam (solar thermal energy) for 1 time per day sterilization of a 40-liter autoclave, 10kg food to be cooked, 20 liter pasteurized water for drinking, and 50 liter of 100 degrees C water for laundry.
  • Easy to use / operate by medical staff or guards.
  • Maintenance and repair warranty including twice a year technical check.

Technical specifications for the HCU

  • Solar PV system output 12 V, panel Wp 220, including batteries 2x100Ah.
  • If applicable 10 m high windmill generating Ah 0-200 per day.
  • Solar dish collector 1.4 m diameter on a frame, automatically adjusted to the sun
  • 10 LED lamps 5 Watt (50W traditional) including fitting.
  • 10 LED lamps 3.5 Watt for veranda (30W traditional).
  • 2 LED lamps 30 Watt (300Watt traditional) for medical work including stands and fittings.
  • Electric refrigerator, cool box type 110 litre.
  • Small TV.
  • Adaptation of electrical installation.
  • Connected to adapted autoclave.
  • Connected with valves to devices for cooking and laundry.
  • Pipes and valves being thermally insulated.
  • Cooking device

If you or your organization is interested in providing clean water and electricity to rural health posts and/ or rural health clinic units in Ethiopia, please contact Selam Awassa Business Group at selamabg@ethionet.et. To learn more about Selam Awassa Business Group, please visit http://www.selamawassa.org.

JTV


[1] The World Fact Book, July 2010 estimate, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html

[2] UN country profiles, 2006/07 estimate, http://www.unethiopia.org/About_Ethiopia.aspx

[3] Study on the Energy Sector in Ethiopia, September 2008, Embassy of Japan in Ethiopia