This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


US senators look to alter carbon tax clause amid fears of global trade war; US agrees landmark pledge to slash emissions

US senators look to alter carbon tax clause amid fears of global trade war
By Sarah O'Connor in Washington and Alan Beattie in,London
Published: July 9 2009 03:00 | Last updated: July 9 2009 03:00

Senior Democratic senators said they would change a provision that imposed carbon taxes on US imports following warnings that the clause in the House of Representative's cap-and-trade bill could spark a global trade war.
The House's bill contained tough provisions to impose carbon tariffs, aimed at protecting American companies' competitiveness against imports from countries without equivalent carbon emission controls to those in the US.
Senator John Kerry, who is helping to write the Senate's version of the bill, said yesterday in a hearing on the issue: "We have already come to the conclusion in working on the Senate bill that we're going to try and change that provision . . . we haven't landed yet completely on where we come out."
Max Baucus, the Democratic senator who chairs the Senate finance committee, said any provisions that "provoke retaliation from our trading partners will only hurt the same industries we're trying to help", adding that he was "confident we can craft legislation that strikes the right balance".
Differences in the two versions of the bill will eventually have to be reconciled before passing into law.
Barack Obama, US president, has warned that the House's carbon tariffs plan could send the wrong signal to trading partners. India called the measures "pernicious" while China said they would violate World Trade Organisation principles and amounted to "trade protectionism in the disguise of environmental protection".
A recent report from the WTO said that such "border tax adjustments" could in theory be made consistent with WTO rules, but trade lawyers stress that crafting such laws is likely to be very difficult in practice.
Gary Horlick, a prominent trade attorney in Washington, told the Senate committee yesterday that border measures were likely to pose daunting practical problems and retribution against US exports from its trading partners on other environmental grounds. "If we reinterpret WTO rules to allow trade barriers based on how things are made, we open up a can of worms and might permit other countries to block our biotech exports, including major items such as corn, soybeans and other crops," he said.
Other means of levelling the playing field, such as financial compensation or giving away permits to US companies, were much less likely to invite a legal challenge in the WTO, he said. But they could still be regarded as unfair subsidies if they distorted trade.
Lawyers stress the difficulty of working out the carbon content of imports and then calculating the cost added by different carbon control regimes compared with the US system.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

US agrees landmark pledge to slash emissions
G8 commits to cutting carbon output by 80% – and tells China and India to follow suit
By Andrew Grice, Political Editor, in L'Aquila

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome yesterday, where Mr Obama met the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano


Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome yesterday, where Mr Obama met the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano
The world's richest nations agreed last night to cut their carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in a dramatic attempt to secure a new global deal to combat climate change.
Leaders of the G8 group of countries also agreed to set a limit of C on global temperature rises, the first time they have imposed such a ceiling. In return, they urged developing countries including China and India to cut their emissions by 50 per cent over the same period.
President Barack Obama cleared the way for what Gordon Brown called an "historic agreement" at the G8 summit in Italy by signing the US up to a firm emissions target for the first time – a complete contrast to the intransigence of his predecessor, George Bush. The G8 move is designed to revitalise United Nations-led talks on a global "son of Kyoto" agreement, which reach a climax in Copenhagen in December.


Carbon Footprint Tracking Model Offered: PwC has developed a carbon emissions reporting model as a guideline for UK businesses for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions reporting.

See attachment further below...



JULY 8, 2009
Carbon Footprint Tracking Model Offered
carbon-emissions-sunset2In the wake of the UK government's launch of its carbon reduction goals, aimed at achieving an 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2050, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) has developed a carbon emissions reporting model as a guideline for UK businesses for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions reporting.
The new reporting model is designed to help standardize carbon reporting for UK companies. To demonstrate the model, PwC has published a 28-page sample report on the carbon reporting and finances of a fictitious UK listed technology company, Typico plc, that produces consumer durables and IT products with operations in Asia, UK, and the US, reports WhatPC?.
The report illustrates the strategy, targets, performance, and benchmarking of how the company is working to reduce its impact on and adapt to climate change, reports WhatPC? The auditor told the news site that its reporting model is the first to demonstrate the practical relationship between emissions reporting and financial and non-financial data to determine the value and impact of carbon emissions on a business.
The Typico plc carbon emissions report model includes:
  • Purpose of the report, and background to the company
  • Company climate change strategy
  • Impacts of climate change on the business
  • Governance of the business
  • Financial performance overview (impact of greenhouse gases)
  • Regulatory schemes affecting the business
  • Director's responsibility and approval
  • Primary statement of greenhouse gas emissions for the group
  • Greenhouse gas reporting policies
  • Assurance Statement
PwC also introduced two programs to drive the company's corporate responsibility efforts by empowering its employees. The program, Project Make [it] count, encourages its partners and staff, to demonstrate their responsible leadership through voluntary community service projects, while the flexible work initiative enables PwC professionals to pursue community, educational and personal interests through partially paid sabbaticals of up to 16 weeks or to take advantage of a Reduced Work Arrangement.
PwC is offering "Flexible Fridays" between May 25 and September 7, providing its employees with an opportunity to shorten their work week and to take some time off on some Fridays during the summer months. These work options provide PwC with added workforce flexibility, work load balance, scalability and the benefit of helping the firm's cost management efforts

Mandatory carbon reporting: a new page for corporate reporting in the UK?


22/05/2009 14:30

EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 25 May 2009

Following the UK government's launch of the world's first legally binding carbon budget, aimed at achieving an 80% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050, the dawn of mandatory reporting by a large number of UK companies on carbon emissions is fast approaching. 

In response, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), the professional services firm, has developed a groundbreaking carbon emissions reporting model for business climate change and greenhouse gas emissions reporting. Until now, no clear example of reporting has been available to guide businesses preparations for reporting. 

The model is based on a fictitious UK listed technology company, Typico plc, producing consumer durables and IT products with operations in Asia, UK, and the US. It illustrates the strategy, targets, performance, and benchmarking of how the company is working to reduce its impact on and adapt to climate change. 

Bringing together all existing and anticipated reporting requirements of national and international regulatory bodies in one example, PwC have provided the first comprehensive demonstration of how companies could report their strategy and performance in dealing with climate change, which can be adapted to an individual company's reporting needs and requirements. 

Paul Rew, partner, Sustainability & Climate Change Assurance, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP commented: 

"Expected reporting guidelines must balance simplicity, so as not to burden business further, with presenting the information in a way that it is valuable and comparable with others. Typico plc sets out a flexible template to help companies develop and define good reporting practices for their business. 

"While there is no one-size fits all solution, there are elements of Typico plc's activities that all companies will recognise when reporting their strategy and performance in managing the impacts of climate change on their business." 

Anticipating the potential requirements of guidelines by bodies including DEFRA, the CBI, and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, PwC's Typico plc provides a format to help companies create their own report, with a summarised version for inclusion in annual report and account statements. 

To date the format and composition of information published by business on their sustainability strategy has varied widely. While the extent of disclosure will vary according to the nature and size of the company, the Typico example sets out what PwC believes to be good practice for larger companies who will potentially face mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. 

Alan McGill, partner, Sustainability and Climate Change Reporting, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP said: 

"This model is the first to demonstrate how reporting on emissions connects financial and non – financial data to see the value and impact of carbon emissions on a business and its strategy. Information, presented in this context will more accurately reflect the real risks – and opportunities – that climate change presents. 

"Rather than compliance and data reporting alone, forward looking analysis and statements of the risks and opportunities affecting a business will become an established part of the reporting cycle. This model will support companies' preparations for that by helping them identify the right questions to ask, the right data to measure and report on, resulting in them taking the right actions for their business." 

The Typico plc model forms part of PwC's contributions to the work of the CBI Carbon Reporting Group and the international Climate Disclosure Standards Board. 


Notes to Editor: 

1. DEFRA's guidelines for carbon reporting are expected for consultation in June 2009 and to be finalised by October 2009. 

2. The Typico plc carbon emissions report model sets out 

  • Management commentary including: 
    - Purpose of the report, and background to the company 
    - Company climate change strategy 
    - Impacts of climate change on the business 
    - Governance of the business 
    - Financial performance overview (impact of GHGs) 
    - Regulatory schemes affecting the business 
    - Director's responsibility and approval
  • Primary Statement of Greenhouse Gas emissions for the group
  • Greenhouse Gas reporting policies
  • Notes
  • Assurance Statement
3. The CBI's Carbon Reporting working group recently published a report on greenhouse gas emissions reporting, laying out a simple and common method for businesses to report their emissions publicly. Amongst the proposals set out in the report was a call for the government to create greenhouse gas emissions reporting guidelines based on the GHG protocol, for reporting requirements to align with existing CRC and EU ETS schemes, and for the government to establish what size of company will be mandated to report on its emissions. Further information can be found at 

4. PwC has a 17 year track record of advising clients on sustainability and corporate responsibility issues across its assurance, tax and advisory practices. In the past eighteen months, the dedicated sustainability and climate change practice in the UK has tripled in size; the firm's global team has expanded to over 700 practitioners. 

5. PwC works with clients to develop sustainability strategy, performance management and reporting solutions including corporate governance and business ethics, environmental health and safety management, social responsibility, strategy and economics, responsible supply-chain management, and reporting and assurance of non-financial information. 

6. PwC is one of 52 companies and 32 experts in the World Economic Forum's task force on low carbon prosperity, who are working with the UK government and UN offices to develop a set of practical projects and policy proposals to significantly stimulate the low carbon economy from 2010 onwards. 

7. In 2008 PwC was appointed the global advisor and report writer to the Carbon Disclosure Project. The firm analyses company responses to the flagship CDP survey measuring companies' investment in and preparation for climate change, producing the Global 500, FTSE 350 and S&P 500 reports. The firm also offers strategic advice, including support and expertise on areas such as carbon emissions and climate risk reporting, carbon accounting systems and data verification. 

8. The Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) was formed at the 2007 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in response to increasing demands for standardised reporting guidelines on the inclusion of climate change information in mainstream reports. CDSB works to develop a globally accepted framework, based on existing standards, for corporate reporting on climate change. 


Princeton Proposes Alternative Carbon Capping Scheme

Princeton Proposes Alternative Carbon Capping Scheme
princetoncappingschemePrinceton University researchers have proposed a new way of addressing carbon emission reductions, by targeting individuals, which they hope will win support of both developed and developing countries ahead of the Copenhagen meeting in December to negotiate a new treaty on climate change.
The method is outlined in a paper, titled "Sharing Global CO2 Emissions Among 1 Billion High Emitters," published online in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The authors say the proposal would use individual emissions as the fairest way of calculating a nation's responsibility to curb its output of carbon dioxide, but the methodology does not mean that individuals would be singled out, only that these calculations would form the basis of a more equitable formula. The researchers estimate that half of the world's emissions come from just 700 million people.
How it works: The Princeton proposal establishes a uniform "cap" on emissions that individuals should not exceed.  If, for example, world governments agreed to curb emissions so that carbon levels in 2030 are approximately at present levels, then, according to the researchers' calculations, the necessary reductions in global emissions could be achieved if no individual's emissions exceed about 11 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
By counting the emissions of all the individuals who are projected to exceed that level, the world leaders could provide target emissions reductions for every country. For this specific example, there will be about 1 billion "high emitters" in 2030 out of 8.1 billion people.
Currently, the world average for tons of carbon dioxide emitted a year per individual is about five. Each European produces about 10 tons a year, with each American producing twice that amount, according to the researchers.
In addition, the research indicates that it is possible to reduce poverty and cut carbon emission at the same time. The authors calculate that addressing extreme poverty by allowing almost 3 billion people to satisfy their basic energy needs with fossil fuels does not interfere with the goal of fossil fuel emissions reduction.
However, they say the cap would need to be somewhat lower, and high emitters would need to reduce their energy consumption by a slightly larger percentage to make up the difference.
The work is part of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, which is based at Princeton.
On July 9, as part of G8 meetings in Italy, climate leaders of 17 nations that account for 80 percent of global emissions hope to hammer out a clear focus for the Copenhagen talks later this year.


South Korean investment in green industry, US Carbon Tariffs, Smart Grids and Geo-engineering (again)

South Korea To Raise $1.6 Billion For Green Industries
Date: 06-Jul-09
 Cheon Jong-woo and Lee Shin-hyung

SEOUL - South Korea aims to raise 2.0 trillion won ($1.58 billion) from the private sector and increase fiscal and financial aid to help so-called "green industries," the government said on Sunday.
The money for the industries, which include companies developing alternative energy and eco-friendly cars, will be raised by funds, bonds and savings which are subject for tax incentives, the government officials said.
"It is necessary to build up funding mechanisms that fit the characteristics of green industries by using capital markets as much as possible," the government said in a statement.
The plans come as the country takes steps to ensure a recovery in Asia's fourth-largest economy and as President Lee Myung-bak pledged to support such industries.
From the public sector, the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB) and state-run pension funds plan to set up a 500 billion won private equity fund in the second half of the year, officials said.
The KDB also aims to set up a 300 billion won fund for research and development (R&D) for the industries. The government will increase a fund for smaller firms in the industries to 1.1 trillion won by 2013 from a 60 billion won this year.
South Korea plans to raise fiscal support for R&D in the industries to 2.8 trillion won by 2013 from 2.0 trillion won this year.
The government will increase credit guarantee support for such companies and projects to 7.0 trillion won by 2013 from 2.8 trillion won this year and triple export financing.
On Thursday, the government said it would help launch a 5 trillion won fund aimed at providing financial support for investments by companies as part of plans to encourage corporate spending.
($1=1265.7 Won)

U.S. Carbon Tariffs, Still Long Way Off, Draw Asia Ire
Date: 06-Jul-09
 David Stanway and Krittivas Mukherjee

U.S. Carbon Tariffs, Still Long Way Off, Draw Asia Ire Photo: Amit Gupta
A laborer works in a ferrochrome factory at Bharibramna, 20 km (12 miles) west of Jammu, July 15, 2008.
Photo: Amit Gupta

BEIJING/NEW DELHI - China and India lashed out on Friday at the possibility of tariffs slapped on carbon-intensive exports, even though analysts said proposed U.S. measures were years away and would be hard to implement.
Green protectionism is likely to cause unease at next week's G8 meeting in Italy and separate 17-member Major Economies Forum gathering. It is also a growing concern in U.N. talks that aim to seal a broader climate pact at the end of the year in Copenhagen.
China, the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, said carbon tariffs would violate the rules of the World Trade Organization as well as the spirit of the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol.
Carbon tariffs would "seriously hurt the interests of developing countries" and "disrupt the order of international trade," the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement posted on its website.
While it did not directly refer to the United States, China's comments come a week after the lower house of the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, which includes so-called "carbon equalization" provisions that could kick in from 2025.
The measures are meant to give rich nations a way to protect their domestic industries that fear putting a price on carbon emissions will make their goods more expensive compared with exports from developing nations. Some industries also fear jobs and energy-intensive manufacturing could shift to poorer nations.
"We are completely surprised and rather dismayed by the development. This is an attempt to bring trade and competitiveness into environmental negotiations," a top Indian climate negotiator said in reference to the U.S. legislation.
The steps in the Waxman-Markey Bill would involve raising duties on imports from countries that are not making the same effort to cut emissions and would focus on goods such as cement and steel, which need a lot of energy to make.
"This is the quid pro quo for cap-and-trade, but the international community can't be held down by the domestic political compulsions of President Obama," said the Indian official, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Obama said last week he was not in favor of climate-linked protectionism.
Concerned their efforts to curb greenhouse gases would put their industries at a competitive disadvantage, the United States, Canada and the European Commission have all put forward proposals to "level the playing field."
Under the U.S. bill, which still needs to pass the Senate, a U.S. cap-and-trade scheme would start in 2012 and the most trade-sensitive sectors would be given emission allowance rebates to cover the costs of complying with the carbon trade scheme. Those rebates will last till about 2025.
By mid-2022 the president must decide how to tackle competitive concerns after 2025 and would examine whether competitor nations have agreed to emissions reduction targets, energy intensity targets or steps such as sectoral caps or export tariffs that place a price on carbon.
The idea is to give India and China and other major developing nations time to enact climate-friendly measures.
"I think generally they're using this as a means to pressure developing countries to take stronger action on emissions," said Zhang Haibin, a professor of environmental politics at Peking University and an adviser to the Ministry of Commerce on trade and climate change policies.
"But if the United States takes unilateral action without proper multilateral consultations and agreement that could spark big trade disputes, a trade war even," he said. That kind of clash comes at a sensitive time in the world's battle to slow climate change, with this December's meeting in Copenhagen seen as a pivotal moment.
"This is completely unacceptable. It will completely derail the Copenhagen process, which is already at a complicated stage and completely gridlocked right now," said Sunita Narain, head of New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment.
But some experts say the risk of such measures is small, given the logistical complexities involved.
"If you look at real life, how is it going to be implemented? That's going to be a very complicated matter. I'm not sure people have thought clearly, technically how to make this happen," said Changhua Wu, Greater China Director of The Climate Group, an NGO that helps governments and companies trim carbon emissions.
"In the meantime, there are other stakeholders in the U.S., big companies that operate in China and India. They have their opinions as well. So it's going to be a very complicated picture," she added.
Ultimately, the measures could accelerate the development of domestic carbon exchanges in emerging countries, which have thus far sold most of their carbon abatement tariffs internationally.
"If the Senate approved similar legislation before December, the likelihood of domestic carbon pricing being introduced in Asia potentially increases," said Simon Smiles, Asian thematic analyst for UBS in Hong Kong, who has studied the cost impact of domestic emissions trading and carbon tariffs on Asia firms.
"I continue to see the political expediency of carbon-related import duties. But as the legislation currently stands, the near-term risk of border adjustments based on the amount of carbon in goods imported into the U.S. appears very low."
(Writing and additional reporting by David Fogarty)
(Editing by Ben Tan)
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Just add lime (to the sea) – the latest plan to cut CO2 emissions

• Project 'could turn back clock' on carbon dioxide
• Guardian conference will select top 10 climate ideas

Buzz up!
Digg it

Duncan Clark
The Guardian, Monday 6 July 2009
Article history
Putting lime into the oceans could stop or even reverse the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to proposals unveiled at a conference on climate change solutions in Manchester today.
According to its advocates, the same technique could help fix one of the most dangerous side effects of man-made CO2 emissions: rising ocean acidity.
The project, known as Cquestrate, is the brainchild of Tim Kruger, a former management consultant. "This is an idea that can not only stop the clock on carbon dioxide, it can turn it back," he said, although he conceded that tipping large quantities of lime into the sea would currently be illegal.
The oceans are a key part of the natural carbon cycle, in which carbon dioxide is circulated between the land, seas and atmosphere. About half of the CO2 released into the air by humans each year is soaked up by the oceans. This helps slow the rate of global warming but increases ocean acidity, posing a potentially disastrous threat to marine ecosystems.
Kruger's scheme aims to boost the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 but to do so in a way that helps reduce rather than increase ocean acidity. This is achieved by converting limestone into lime, in a process similar to those used in the cement industry, and adding the lime to seawater.
The lime reacts with CO2 dissolved in the water, converting it into bicarbonate ions, thereby decreasing the acidity of the water and enabling the oceans to absorb more CO2 from the air, so reducing global warming.
Kruger said: "It's essential that we reduce our emissions, but that may not be enough. We need a plan B to actually reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We need to research such concepts now – not just the science but also the legal, ethical and governance considerations."
Kruger's plan was one of 20 innovative schemes proposed at the Manchester Report, a two-day search for the best ideas to tackle climate change staged by the Guardian as part of the Manchester International Festival.
A panel of experts chaired by Lord Bingham, formerly Britain's most senior judge, will select the 10 most promising ideas. These will be featured in a report that will be published in the Guardian next week and circulated to policymakers around the world.
Climate change secretary Ed Miliband told the conference the biggest danger faced by campaigners was creating a sense of defeatism. "We need to show people how they can aggregate their individual actions and be part of a bigger whole," he said.
Cquestrate is one of a number of so-called "geo-engineering schemes" that have been proposed to intervene in the Earth's systems in order to tackle climate change.
Kruger admits there are challenges to overcome: the world would need to mine and process about 10 cubic kilometres of limestone each year to soak up all the emissions the world produces, and the plan would only make sense if the CO2 resulting from lime production could be captured and buried at source.
Chris Goodall, one of the experts assessing the schemes, said of Cquestrate: "The basic concept looks good, though further research is needed into the feasibility."
Another marine geo-engineering scheme was presented by Professor Stephen Salter, of Edinburgh University.
His proposal is to build a fleet of remote-controlled, energy-self-sufficient ships that would spray minuscule droplets of seawater into the air. The droplets would whiten and expand clouds, reflecting sunlight away from the Earth and into space.
Salter said 300 ships would increase cloud reflectivity enough to cancel out the temperature rise caused by man-made climate change so far, but 1,800 would be needed to offset a doubling of CO2, something expected within a few decades.

Old and new players chase smart-grid technology

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Jul 06, 2009 04:30 AM
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Nearly four years ago, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates told me the software giant had no interest in playing a direct role in the development of "smart-grid" technologies. In fact, he seemed rather uninformed about its potential.

That, of course, was before the U.S. Department of Energy set aside nearly $4 billion (U.S.) to throw at smart-grid development and demonstration projects. As one of the hottest areas of venture capital investment these days – similar in many ways to the early days of the Internet boom, thanks to an energy-literate U.S. president – the smart-grid opportunity is now drawing some big names, including Microsoft.

The company announced on June 24 a new web-based home energy management application called Hohm, "an easy-to-use tool that helps consumers lower their energy bill and reduce their impact on the environment." It is a rather simple application but it gets Microsoft inside the smart-grid bubble, where Google Inc. is also hoping to establish its brand through the launch earlier this year of its PowerMeter home energy management tool.

If the smart grid is to become the next big area of technology investment – some say even bigger than the Internet – then it is understandable that Microsoft, Google, Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp. and other giants of the computing and networking world want some flesh in the game. It also means there is a chance for new Googles and Microsofts to emerge, and some are already making that attempt.

Arlington, Va.-based GridPoint Inc. is certainly giving it a shot, at least in the area of power management. The six-year-old company has developed a software platform that helps utilities go through the complex task of integrating renewable energy, energy storage and even electric cars into the grid.

At the same time, it is empowering homeowners and businesses by giving them detailed information of their energy use while also allowing them to reduce consumption based on market signals.

Some must like what GridPoint is doing, because it has so far raised $220 million and has top-tier investors in its corner, such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. It has used part of those funds to bulk up. Last fall, it purchased V2Green, a Seattle-based start-up that has developed software to manage the interaction of electric cars with the grid.

Last week, it purchased Lixar SRS, a stealthy software developer in Ottawa that, within the industry, has quietly emerged as a North American leader in energy management software for households and businesses. Its Web-based tool can be used on pretty much any device, including your home computer, BlackBerry and iPhone.

Lixar is an example of a local company that knocked on many doors in Canada but found most of the welcome mats were in the United States. It has worked on a small trial with Milton Hydro, in partnership with Direct Energy and Bell Canada.

More recently, it's working on a smart-grid demonstration project with Toronto Hydro. Back in November, few would have noticed that Lixar signed an exclusive distribution deal with HD Supply, which sells wholesale supplies to utilities, construction companies and other industrial customers. (Home Depot sold off HD Supply in 2007 for $10.4 billion).

Through that relationship, Lixar has landed substantial smart-grid pilot projects with major U.S. utilities Xcel Energy and Progress Energy.

Industry sources say the company is also working with Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light and National Grid, as well as Cisco. Neither GridPoint nor Lixar would confirm those relationships.

GridPoint's chief of smart grid operations, Mike Carlson, who was recently vice-president and chief information officer at Xcel Energy, said Lixar is developing the equivalent of TiVo while everyone else is still working on the VCR.

"We started recognizing the attention Lixar was getting in the utility industry," said Carlson, adding that Lixar brought a fresh perspective to an emerging market that is complex, and to utilities that have never really paid much attention to the needs of their customers. "They're not a bunch of utility guys who presuppose how it's supposed to work."

The upshot of all this is that Lixar now becomes GridPoint North, and will remain in Ottawa and become a hub of software development for the mother ship in Virginia. There are plans to significantly expand the Ottawa workforce, partly to handle new opportunities in Ontario now that utilities here have been empowered with the recently passed Green Energy Act.

"There are tonnes of initiatives going on with utilities in Ontario," said Richard Oh, who before the GridPoint acquisition was a managing partner at Lixar. "We will be hiring to support those initiatives."

In an ideal world, Lixar would stay Canadian but the next best thing is to be purchased by a foreign company committed to bulking up the local workforce. Of course, GridPoint also could end up being scooped up by a bigger fish as the smart-grid hype grows.

Or maybe not. Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a Netscape, circa 1994, or Google, circa 1998. As the smart grid evolves, it will be fascinating to see new giants emerge and old giants struggle to keep up.

Tyler Hamilton's Clean Break column appears Mondays. Email him at