Archive for June, 2010

An Intro to ‘Green’ Chemicals

June 29, 2010

Marketing Intelligence & Strategy recently assessed market opportunities in the US and Western Europe for selected commodity industrial chemicals made by a new biology-based process. Key conclusions included:

1. In both the US and Europe, users of large volume commodity chemicals and solvents are eager to learn about and purchase ‘greener’ alternatives.
2. There is widespread acknowledgement that claims about the ‘green-ness’ of materials and processes are difficult to verify and thus difficult to accept as the basis for important business decisions.
3. Most industry figures would welcome a consistent, comprehensive way to assess cradle-to-grave carbon footprint of incumbent materials and ‘greener’ alternatives.
4. New REACh regulations being implemented in Europe represent a substantial hurdle, especially for smaller manufacturers, particularly those not already established in the Europe and marketplace.

For more highlights from this study, visit The Market Intelligence Blog
Read our ‘Green’ Chemicals Whitepaper

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Growing a Solar Business

June 28, 2010

A specialty subcontractor, who installs residential solar–electric systems as an adjunct to his primary line of business, engaged Marketing Intelligence & Strategy to develop and help execute a business plan to dramatically grow his solar energy business.

MISA research presented a comprehensive portrait of the local residential and commercial building marketplace through interviews with homeowners and commercial building operators, architects, residential and commercial builders, and electrical and plumbing subcontractors. Key insights (which likely apply in many localities) include:

– While a handful of the region’s architects and builders have significant appreciation for the possibilities of alternative energy systems, the large majority lack sufficient expertise to effectively advocate for, or help their customers fairly evaluate, solar alternatives.
– The initial costs of PhotoVoltaic PV systems are high enough (even with subsidies), and Return on Investment ROI predictions sufficiently uncertain, so as to discourage most homeowners who are not committed solar enthusiasts.
– Particularly for homeowners who do not have a natural gas fired hot water option, both the initial investment and the projected ROI for a solar-thermal domestic hot water system can be much more attractive.

Building on these insights, MISA created a business development plan which the Client:

– Pro-actively meets with an ever increasing circle of important architects, builders, and plumbing and electrical contractors to broaden the awareness and appreciation within the builder community of solar energy opportunities, and to establish the Client as the regional ‘go-to’ expert.
– Regularly addresses local civic groups, church groups, etc, and regularly engages in community activities, to educate a broader cross-section of the community about the benefits of alternative energy – and of the locally available expertise.
– MISA prepared news releases, and assisted the client in placing them in newspapers and local magazines.

The Client has earned increasing recognition and respect within the building and construction community as the leading authority on solar energy design and installation in the region. The Client has recently been awarded a contract to install solar electric plus solar hot water systems in a major new building at a local educational institution.

A Fatal Flaw

June 1, 2010

I try hard to keep politics out of my editorials about the energy world, but the major energy story today is the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the really consequential parts of that story are all about politics.

The political philosophy which has reigned over the past 30 years says “Any regulation that restricts the oil industry’s freedom to operate is bad – doubly bad, if it comes from Washington. Accidents or mistakes? Don’t worry – market forces will incentivize companies to do the right thing.” On its surface, it’s an appealing policy. It has enabled the ‘can do’ attitude of great innovation in oilfield technology which has kept oil flowing to our gas tanks and factories. On a philosophical level, it satisfies our urge for personal freedom and the ability to earn great reward for great success.

Appealing as this philosophy might be, the way it has been implemented these past 30 years is fatally flawed. In this case, BP gambled big – perhaps by stretching its technology beyond its limits, perhaps by cutting safety corners – with little prudence or restraint. While BP will pay some of the costs of their mistakes, most of the assets they gambled with – the homes and livelihood of Gulf coast residents, the barrier islands which provide protection from hurricanes, the shrimp and oyster fisheries, and Gulf and Caribbean environment – weren’t theirs to wager.

The bottom line problem – it’s a problem that runs to the very core of American society – is that over the past 30 years, politicians of both parties have designed the rules so that the big and powerful can gain great rewards, while the government and society in general are there to back-stop their great failures. As the BP case illustrates, there’s no one sitting at the regulatory table who represents the interests of the average American people, making sure the Big Boys are not playing fast and loose with our assets.

As columnist David Brooks, certainly no friend of big government, said in a recent editorial:
If this disaster teaches anything, it is that we are a venturesome, entrepreneurial society. We rely on corporations like BP to bring us energy. At the same time, it is clear that even well-meaning corporations sometimes take shortcuts when it comes to controlling pollution and protecting worker safety.
So we want government to regulate business. We want regulation to be strong enough to reduce risk but not so strong as to stifle innovation. We want regulators to work cooperatively but not be captured by those they monitor.
We have known, for a long time, that regulation is about balance. The proper regulatory regime has to be set case by case and year by year.

The problem is that today, the balance between entrepreneurial freedom and the public interest is badly out of whack. Whether it’s the oil industry, Wall Street, or mortgage bankers, the existing regulations – and the way the regulators apply them – all too often allow the rich and powerful to get richer and more powerful, while the rest of us pick up their tab.