Fall 2008

Feature Story

Green Haas

A surge of interest in sustainable energy sparks collaboration at Haas, Berkeley, and beyond.

Wind Warrior
The energy industry has changed dramatically since Brenda LeMay, MBA 01, entered the field in the mid-'90s. Back then, LeMay had turned an undergraduate finance degree into a job with Enron's international development group, working on projects in Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Thailand. Seeking a break from travel, she enrolled at Haas, taking a particular interest in the Energy and Environmental Markets course taught by Haas Lecturer James Bushnell, research director of the UC Energy Institute, and Haas Professor Severin Borenstein, director of the UC Energy Institute.

Shortly after she graduated, Enron went bankrupt, the California energy crisis unfolded, and LeMay was ready for a new direction. She spent two years traveling, and on a plane back from Costa Rica, she ran into the chief development officer for Horizon Wind Energy, based in Houston, Texas.  LeMay worked for Horizon as a consultant, then opened a California office, which now has five employees.

LeMay leads development, including the permitting work necessary to create wind farms throughout the Pacific Southwest. The complex process involves negotiating with landowners, entities like the Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utility Commission, and community stakeholders such as the Sierra Club.

It's a job for the patient and the tenacious: While Horizon currently owns seven US wind farms and has developed another six, none are up and running in California to date. However, LeMay played a major role in helping broker a deal this July for Pacific Gas & Electric to buy power from a Horizon subsidiary in Oregon. "California is a great state in terms of its awareness and its desire to have renewable energy, but the hurdles take several years to overcome," says LeMay.

LeMay has taken an active role in helping shape state policy. She has helped implement Senate Bill 107, enacted in 2006, which requires electricity companies to procure 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010. Now LeMay is working with the governor's office to boost that requirement to 33 percent. LeMay's advice to current students: "Don't underestimate the public policy aspect of renewable energy development!"


Greening the Gas Tank
When Aurora BioFuels CEO Matthew Caspari, MBA 06, arrived at Haas to study entrepreneurship, oil prices were rising and biodiesel was gaining buzz. "Algae had been researched in the past and wasn't economical when oil was at $20 a barrel," says Caspari. But today, he says, it has "a ton of potential" as a cleaner fuel source for trucks and ships.

Although burning biodiesel releases carbon dioxide, algae sequesters the gas as it grows, creating an eco-friendly "neutral cycle," Caspari says. And while biofuel sources like soy or corn divert crops from the food market and are in short supply, algae can grow quickly in large yields on marginal land, he adds.
The UC Berkeley Management of Technology (MOT) program introduced Caspari to Aurora's future co-founders: Guido Radaelli, MBA 06, now Aurora's VP of engineering; and Bertrand Vick, now Aurora's chief scientific officer, who finished his Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology this year. Caspari met Vick in MOT Executive Director Andrew Isaacs' Opportunity Recognition class. Haas classmate Radaelli, meanwhile, was transitioning from an engineering background to renewable energy.

"I was thrilled by not only the promises of a rapidly expanding industry, but especially the feeling that I could play a critical role in the development of a technology with the potential to radically improve our lifestyle," Radaelli recalls.

In 2005, the trio conceived of Aurora as a renewable energy company focused on transforming algae into fuel. In 2006, they won the Berkeley Business Plan Competition and the Global Intel +UC Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Noventi signed on as the lead investor in Aurora's first round of venture capital funding after Aurora won the business plan competition. Aurora also received a boost from David Charron, executive director of the Berkeley Entrepreneurship Laboratory, which initially housed the startup.

What a difference two years and nearly $5-a-gallon gas have made. Aurora, now based in Alameda, Calif., completed a $20 million second round of funding in June. With that funding, Aurora, still in the research stage, is shifting its focus to improving and scaling up its processes.

"When we first started, people said, 'You want to do what?'" Caspari says. "Now the problems of first-generation biofuels from food crops have pushed a lot more interest onto algae."

Guido Radaelli and Matthew Caspari, both MBA 06, are focusing on transforming algae into fuel at their startup Aurora BioFuels.


Conservation Queen
Janice Berman, MBA 96, started her career at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) 21 years ago in the division that plans power plants. "Within a year," she says, "I had switched to focusing on energy efficiency and how we could avoid the need to construct power plants."

Today Berman, who attended the Evening & Weekend MBA Program, manages 350 employees as PG&E's senior director of customer energy efficiency, solar, and product development. She oversees a $900 million annual budget to help customers install solar energy and become more energy efficient. PG&E provides rebates for energy-efficient products, from compact fluorescent light bulbs to high-efficiency air conditioners. It seems to be working: While per capita energy use has increased by 50 percent nationwide over the past three decades, it's stayed relatively flat in California, Berman notes.

But California has an ever-expanding population, and Berman's goal is to address at least half of that new demand via energy efficiency and solar installations, rather than new power plants.
"California's objective is to have 1 million solar roofs installed over the next decade, and we're trying to do our part to make sure that happens," Berman says. So far, almost 25,000 PG&E customers have gone solar.

Part of Berman's job is brainstorming what she calls "future frontiers" — ideas about creating sustainable, energy-savvy communities. "In areas where whole new communities are being developed, there are opportunities to build in sustainability and energy efficiency, and reduce the carbon footprint," she says.
For example, California uses an enormous amount of energy pumping water to homes, then pumping it back to centralized water treatment plants.  What if wastewater could be treated on-site, and the resulting "gray water" used for watering plants or flushing toilets? Or, what if new homes could be designed so that their roof angles and orientation maximize their solar energy collecting potential?

Berman also designed PG&E's ClimateSmart program, which lets customers balance out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their PG&E electric and gas use for a small monthly charge.
Although much interest in green energy has focused on startups, Berman notes that working within an established utility can yield big results. She says, "I have a lot of resources to work with in a large company and can have a big impact steering those resources to programs that advance clean and green technology."

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Brenda LeMay, MBA 01

Brenda LeMay, MBA 01, leads development for Horizon Wind Energy.
















Guido Radaelli and Matthew Caspart, both MBA 06

Guido Radaelli and Matthew Caspari, both MBA 06, are focusing on transforming algae into fuel at their startup Aurora BioFuels.















Janice Berman, MBA 96

Janice Berman, MBA 96, is PG&E's senior director of customer energy efficiency, solar, and product development.