Cleantech Policy Needs Clarity, Consistency and Cojones

EarthTechling recently interviewed me and asked for my perspective on trends in cleantech, including marketing, communications and PR. Some themes that emerged:

  • Five suggestions for cleantech companies to set themselves apart in a crowded market
  • Backing “boring” businesses usually works
  • Technology innovation we have plenty off; we need marketing, financing and business innovation (plus the 3Cs from energy policymakers – clarity, consistency and cojones

See the full interview

Roundup: Cleantech Predictions for 2010

Based on the rash of predictions for cleantech in 2010 from investors, consultants and media (see the full list at the end of this post), I’ve pulled together a “trend of trends” list below that attempts to synthesis the broader, over-arching themes. As always, I’m amazed that water isn’t on the top of every list, every year, although there are some positive signs on that front. So here are the 12 things that filtered to the top:

  • Energy efficiency will have a big year, with buildings and information and communications technology (ICT) front and center (nice to see the “wow” factor over technologies like solar being tempered by the realization that there are a lot of cheaper ways to meet immediate goals for reducing emissions)
  • Private investment will revive (with one prediction for a record-breaking year), but fears persist that the pending end of stimulus dollars will cast a long shadow over the market
  • Differentiation – i.e. marketing – will increase in importance as we move from a technology-heavy phase to a commercialization-focused phase (something I’ve called attention to in the past).
  • Consolidation and industry shake-out will accelerate, as will increased involvement of major corporates. Many VC-backed firms need an exit (especially in smart grid, solar and biofuels), so expect a few IPOs, but mostly M&A or failure as scale becomes more important and winners and losers emerge. And as the market grows and the issues being addressed become more complex, big multinationals with vested interests will try to play a larger role
  • Smarter transportation – especially electrified – continues to gain traction, while next generation liquid fuels (cellulosic in particular) takes baby steps
  • It’s more than energy, stupid. Land, water, rare earth metals, etc take more mind share as understanding grows  that the issues we face go beyond energy and carbon
  • Importance of carbon measurement and management will increase, but folks seems pretty skeptical that even if climate legislation/treaties get enacted that they will be aggressive enough (some expect sector specific carbon regulation – i.e. aviation and shipping – instead of economy-wide measure
  • Distributed solutions continue to erode the power of centralized systems (in energy generation, building, transportation, etc)
  • Some technologies expected to garner attention: Waste to energy, waste biomass, power storage, geothermal, aquaculture, ultracapacitors, desalinization, building materials, large-scale solar
  • There is a lot of expectation around advancements and interest in upgrading the electric grid; although there was a warning to expect at least one major failure of a smart grid rollout (not to mention that people have been predicting an intelligent grid for many years)
  • Standards gain a higher profile – whether building codes, water or carbon labeling, unified standards for the smart grid, etc, creating a clear marked playing field grows in importance, including communicating the rules to consumers as needed
  • International competition to be the cleantech leader intensifies (again this is something I’ve written about in the past, so not really news in my opinion)

If you want to read for yourself, the various predictions I’ve pulled from are here: Energy stocks to watch from Seeking Alpha; Overall industry outlook from the Cleantech Group; Clean energy predictions from Deloitte; Two different VC perspectives, one from Lightspeed Venture Partners  and the other from Rob Day at Black Coral;  5 biggest hurdles from Earth2Tech; IT and corporate green from Greenmonk’s Tom Raftery; Green building trends from Earth2Tech;  Top 10 promises from cleantech companies from Cleantech Group; Smart grid from Earth2Tech.

Frontseat to Cleantech Future: COPENMIND

Cleantech events abound these days, but the organizers of COPENMIND are taking a novel approach – creating a giant shopping mall for the most cutting edge cleantech ideas coming out of academia. Besides having a clever name, COPENMIND will hopefully drive more rapid technology transfer from leading research institutes to the market. In September, the event in Copenhagen will bring together 200 top-notch universities from around the world to provide potential business partners with an inside look at what’s next in cleantech, according to event founder Steffen Moldow. Joining the scientists will be thousands of corporations, as well as investors and leading public figures. It’s no secret that universities are poor marketers, so providing a venue that allows them to get their IP in front of the people who might fund commercialization is key to a more rapid development of the cleantech sector. Pre-event match-making will kick off on May 1 through COPENMIND’s website.

Besides technology transfer, the event will also focus on sponsored research and recruitment. “The event will help solve the issues that are discussed at Davos,” Moldow told me, referring to the World Economic Forum. Cleantech areas of focus include: climate change & air pollution, energy, water, waste & recycling and agriculture & land.

The event will also provide a nice prelude to COP15, the highest body of the UN Climate Change Convention, which is set to take place in Copenhagen in 2009 and will set global climate change direction from 2012.

Capitol Hill Update: Cleantech Finding a Voice

The Clean Technology and Sustainable Industries Organization (CTSI) organized a “DC Policy Tour for Clean Technology” this month, taking 50 cleantech industry players (representing cleaner coal, solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen, demand response, water, biomass and fuel cells, plus investors) on a Congressional walk-about. I spoke with Patti Glaza, executive director and CEO, to get her take on the day and the outcomes. After a total of 45 meetings with elected officials from more than 20 states, Ms. Glaza reported that renewable energy tax credit extensions will happen, but only for one year (longer term extensions will most likely come in the next administration) and that climate change legislation will be considered in June, although again it would be surprising to see anything being signed into law prior to the next administration. She also said that both the House and Senate have requested a significant increase in the Dept. of Energy (DOE) budget from what was in the department’s original request, and that more funding should be available than last year. Ms. Glaza added, however, that it was unlikely that the Advance Research Projects Energy (ARPA-E) program that was approved in the America Competes Act last year will get off the ground.  More details from the day can be gleaned from the Q&A below, including tips from Ms. Glaza for how companies, even start-ups, can work with their elected officials to make a bigger difference at the Federal level.

Q: Any humorous moments from the tour?

A: We learned to never let a tour member tell a Republican official that we should pay for the renewable energy tax extensions with funding for the Iraq war.

Q: Who did you visit and get traction with?

A: The primary focus of the meetings was with members of the Appropriations and Ways & Means Committees as Congress is currently finalizing agency budgets and funding programs slated for this fiscal year. We also targeted the Science & Technology, Small Business, Energy Independence & Global Warming, and Energy & Commerce committees and subcommittees, in addition to several executive-level meetings at the DOE. The highlight was Sen. Byron Dorgan (ND) who leads the Democratic Policy Committee and sits on key committees including Appropriations; Commerce, Science & Transportation, and Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. Sen. Dorgan and his staff took a significant amount of time with our group and showed real interest and knowledge of the challenges the sector faces.    There are a lot of champions on the Hill and we need help in reaching out to all of them. Congressmen that took the time to meet with the tour directly included: Tom UdallVito FossellaDale KildeePhil EnglishJay Inslee, and Dorgan. Additional offices showing high-level support included: Cantwell, Clinton, McNerney, Barrow, Capuano, and Candace Miller.

Q: It seems there is a scarcity of coordinated government relations work being done on the part of the cleantech industry. Is that an accurate read on the situation?

A: My initial assessment is that as an industry or sector, clean technology has not had strong representation in Washington DC. Inslee made the comment that he has been waiting for a group like CTSI and is glad we have started our efforts. That being said, there is strong government relations work being done for specific clean technology segments, solar, wind, and biofuels being examples. The role CTSI is trying to fill is to advocate for policies and programs that address the complexity and interrelated issues of energy, water, and the environment. Renewable energy needs smart grid needs cleaner base load generation needs distributed generation support needs water management/reduction, etc.

It was obvious from our meetings that the Hill is extremely receptive to a sector they see as providing new jobs, energy security/independence, and increasing the US global competitiveness. Regardless of the group organizing, a broad technology platform is essential. Industry has to be seen as working together on solving the bigger issues (growing energy demand, climate change, etc.) and not just advocating for specific industry segments in isolation.

Q: How can companies make a difference on the national level?

A: I see three immediate ways that organizations can make a difference:

- Companies need to take the time to educate their local representatives on their companies, technologies, and how they are working to solve the larger issues.

- Executives need to participate in Washington DC based meetings to emphasize the important role policy and regulation play in developing the clean technology sector. Nothing grabs attention like a company telling their representative that they expect to start laying off workers in June/July because the renewable tax credits haven’t been extended.

- Overall, companies need to recognize that policy isn’t just for the big players. Policy and regulations have and will have a significant impact on the rate of development and adoption of clean technologies, and growing technology companies need to be at the table when those policies and regulations are being created. Yes, resources are limited. Yes, policy is complicated and difficult to understand. Thus the role of policy and trade organizations.

Human Poop: Too Much Respect…Too Little Investment

Every day, I pass the Elliott Bay Book Co. on my walk to work. Last year, for a period of time, I noticed in the window of the children’s section that all the books on display were about poop. Some great titles like “Walter the Farting Dog”,“Zombie Butts from Uranus” and “Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable”. I know where poop comes from, but I know only a bit about where poop goes, in part thanks to my friend Dick Manning and his book “A Good House”. As he so matter-of-factly points out: “As much of a third of the water used in our houses does not bathe us, it bathes shit. It is a curious habit, the ritual washing of feces.” It’s also a waste of energy and terrible for the environment.

My parade past poop at Elliott Bay got me curious to find out what was the latest on poop technology. I was especially interested in commercially viable ways to dispose of it without the use of water. Is there an end in sight to washing our crap? What I found was that there are lots of companies and organizations making money from turning other animal poop - elephantcowdog even worm - into energy or other products. But given the fact that we are 6 billion animals, and that water is only going to become more precious, where are the brave souls out there challenging the Western tradition of treating human poop with such dignity? Sadly, the number of self-composting, or dry, toilets on the market is pitiful, with Biolan, Biolet and Envirolet apparently the only ones who make enough money to advertise. Nor was I able to find any evidence of a company on the Internet that has a next generation waterless toilet technology, despite the fact that only one-sixth of the world’s population is served by sewage systems. To my mind, that means a great market opportunity since there is no way we are going to be able to wash the poop of 5 billion more people. Other companies use air to literally blast the shit out of shit – compressed (pressure-assist), vacuum or displaced. But all use some water. Envirolet seems to get close with a combination of vacuum and compost that it calls vacuum flush (VF), but it still requires H2O. A newer company called Propelair, says its “displaced air” toilet uses 84% less water than a normal toilet, and at least made an attempt to make their toilet look cool, although its not actually available on the market yet. None of them seem particularly scaleable. All of this to say there is an opening to invest in new solutions. (NOTE: If there’s a company out there that has a mass market cleantech toilet technology let me know because I want to buy one and I would love to promote your product to media and investors).