On this post, I report on the 3000 feet view presented by the panel. There were also a number of CCTO entrants presenting at boots in the hallway. I will mention some of them in my next post covering the contest finalists.
Bill Weihl, Green Energy Czar at Google and Hal LaFlash, director, Emerging Clean Technology Policy at PG&E spoke about their respective company’s strategies. They both aim to make competitively priced carbon-free power a reality in the marketplace, in “years, not decades”. “It’s imperative, [laudable], and feasible. PERIOD”.
Both PG&E and Google walk the talk. Not only are they repeat CTO category sponsors, but also cited other examples of their laudable leadership, namely Google’s RE<C initiative (i.e., renewable energy less than coal), and PG&E’s competitively bidding to pick the absolute best greenhouse gas emissions’ reduction projects into their portfolio.
Todd Woody, Fortune Magazine Sr. editor and Green Wombat blogger, moderated the group. He was be joined by Dan Adler (California Clean Energy Fund, a non-profit VC), Jon Bonanno, (Principle Power), Jim Shandalov (e-Solar), Neil Renninger (Amyris) and Marianne Wu (Mohr Davidow Ventures).
Dan spoke of the recent big concept moves by Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens. “The six trillion dollar global energy market [needs to] internalize the externalities of green house gases”.
Marianne sees a recent cross-disciplinary invigoration of resolve to confront the greatest challenge facing the planet.
Jon and Jim explained that their companies are physical-asset, capital-intensive plays. Jim said that as a power developer in the US, they had the need of finding distribution synergies. Yet, Jon mentioned that mass capital distribution investments might be much lower in Europe. For instance, grid owners are actively looking for power developers.
However, Dr. Wu explained that there are also a great number of renewables plays that look a lot like the traditional SV high-tech in sectors such as software or biotech.
From an exit perspective, even though exits are lengthening, alternatives after either commercial and/or hybrid/semi-commercial viability is proven are still available and include going public, or material acquisitions by large utility or energy companies.
For those looking to start a company today, C-funding investors are exiting the first wave of solar and bio-fuel plays. However, brighter spots exist in the higher efficiency (especially in lighting such as LED), energy storage, carbon management (trading/ capturing), and water management, to name a few. In addition, given the potentially catastrophic risk of blackouts, grid operators and regulators are particularly concerned about improving reliability of the grid, from production through distribution.
Public policy could play an important role in helping promising start-ups caught in the so-called funding “valley of death” to survive. For instance, the California Clean Energy Fund developed a program to provide seed funding for companies that are still be struggling to reach the point where significant venture investments become possible. However, the panel agreed that the most important factor to the investment community is policy stability and continuity (i.e., as opposed to creating uncertainty by changing the rules in the middle of the game).
In the US, Dan explained how policy leadership has shifted to the States, with the Federal government staying quiet and more than 30 States picking up the slack with significant and bold initiatives. For instance, he gave an update on CA AB32, which required ARB to develop a “discrete list of early action items” to implement in 2010. (His fund served as an advisor to ARB).
Carbon pricing is definitely coming to California. The initial scope of what to cap and trade practices to adopt will be completed by the end of the year. Details that still needed to be worked-out include how to divide burden between the different stakeholders.
However, cap and trade alone cannot do the job, it is merely a foundation from where to start building.
Next, the entrepreneurs talked in detail about many of their challenges, which include the upward spiral of piloting at a 1/8th scale, proving the reliability at that point, plugging the holes, and then scaling-up again.
The greatest lesson learned is that when one is trying to save the planet, technology or business model breakthroughs and innovation are global, while markets are worldwide.
Finally, the meeting closed with a copious Q&A session with the speakers and visiting several 2008 CA Clean Tech Open contestant entrepreneurs with boots on the hallways.