Sun King

Capitalist David Gelbaum doesn¿t just fund the hot solar companies, he funds anything and everything a solar economy will need

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The New York Times has scored a coup this week, running a rare interview with the reclusive green investor and environmental philanthropist David Gelbaum. Besides taking stakes in U.S. solar and clean-tech companies like Entech Solar, eSolar, First Solar,  and SunPower,  as well as similar companies in Australia and China (not to mention Toyota, because of the Prius), Gelbaum also has put money into smart-grid-relevant companies like GridPoint and startups developing energy storage systems to back up renewables. Yet Gelbaum’s support for solar is not indiscriminate. He has fought a large solar project slated for protected land in the Mojave Desert, which the Wildlands Conservancy acquired to preserve. A co-founder of Wildlands, Gelbaum has donated $250 million to the conservancy, as well as $200 million to Sierra Club. (He also has given similar amounts to support veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and to the American Civil Liberties Union.) According to the Times profile, which is worth reading in its entirety, Gelbaum lives modestly and gives away most of the money he makes through his main investment vehicle, Quercus Trust.


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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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