Ron Pernick: “Clean tech has risen significantly in the past decade”

What are they key success factors for the clean-tech economy? Clean tech has risen significantly in the past decade. The solar and wind markets alone have expanded from a U.S. $12.2 billion global market in 2003, to U.S. $150 billion last year.  Similarly, green buildings, hybrid vehicles, and smart meters...

What are they key success factors for the clean-tech economy?

Clean tech has risen significantly in the past decade. The solar and wind markets alone have expanded from a U.S. $12.2 billion global market in 2003, to U.S. $150 billion last year.  Similarly, green buildings, hybrid vehicles, and smart meters have all experienced double-digit annual growth rates.

A number of major factors are at play, including the significant cost reduction of a host of clean-tech products as they experience economies of scale (LEDs, hybrid cars, and solar PV are all notable examples); the growing deployment of these technologies, often combined in unique ways; and state and national goals to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewables deployment.

Moving forward we expect solar to continue gaining ground. In fact, 2013 marked a significant tipping point in the history of clean energy: for the first time since Clean Edge began tracking global markets in 2000, the world installed more new solar photovoltaic generating capacity, 36.5 gigawatts, than wind power (35.5 GW). With the installed cost of solar expected to fall around seven percent annually, Clean Edge projects that by 2021, global cumulative installed solar PV capacity will reach 715.8 GW, surpassing wind power’s projected 697.3 GW in that year.

What lesson have clean-tech entrepreneurs in the USA learned in the past 5 years?

There’s been a shift in the U.S. away from early stage venture capital deals and towards corporate investment and project development. This bodes well for more established players, especially those with proven technology seeking to massively deploy their offering. Google’s more than $3 billion acquisition of NEST, the home thermostat and automation company, symbolizes the growing role of corporate activity in the U.S. Similarly, the expansion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other DG project development in the form of real-estate investment trusts (REITs), yield cos, and green/solar bonds have demonstrated a shift to getting projects into the ground.

The other significant trend in the U.S., not surprisingly, is the importance of state support and activity. There’s nothing really new about this, and it’s why we track state and metro activity in our U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index. In the aftermath of the most recent midterm elections in the U.S., with fossil-fuel friendly Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate, we expect this shift to states calling the shots – like California, Colorado, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New York – to only intensify.

What are the no-brainers for the Dutch Government to help the Dutch to be among the Top 10 clean-tech nations?

In the most recent Ernst & Young Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (September 2014), The Netherlands placed at 13, up two spots from 15. While this Index looks at attractiveness, and not just deployment, it is a decent indicator of progress. According to the report, The Netherlands increase was because the nation “secured one of the biggest project finance deals of the year to date following financial close of the 600MW Project Gemini offshore wind project, worth €2.8b (US$3.7b). The US$430m financing of Westmeerwind’s  144MW onshore project also reinforces the market’s ongoing attractiveness for large-scale wind projects.”

But clearly, much more can be done to bring The Netherlands up in the rankings – and increase awareness and activity. In our 2012 book, Clean Tech Nation, we outlined a number of actions or steps that the U.S. could take to remain competitive. These included:

  • Enacting a renewable energy mandate of 30 percent by 2030
  • Creating and funding a national infrastructure bank
  • Leveraging proven investment tools from the oil, gas, and real estate sectors
  • Open source collaboration to set clean-tech standards
  • Funding nationally backed prizes to promote clean-tech innovation

Some of these actions might have similar relevance for The Netherlands. Before I arrive in The Netherlands in December, I plan to think about this question more and outline some ideas during my keynote.

What is your message to young starting clean-tech firms?

I don’t see the main drivers of clean-tech adoption going away anytime soon – which is good news for clean-tech startups. These include resource scarcity, a growing world population, and the need to reduce our global carbon footprint in the face of climate change.

And there are number of areas that I believe offer significant opportunity. The include, but are not limited to:

  • net zero buildings that consume less energy than they produce, recycle all of their wastes, and utilize gray water for much of their water needs
  • electrified transportation, everything from better hybrids to all electric vehicles, spanning cars, trains, cargo ships, and more
  • energy storage, from distributed building-level solutions to utility scale applications
  • the utility of the future, pairing renewables, energy efficiency, and distributed assets that are more secure, reliable, and resilient.

Now, building a competitive, robust, and thriving business is never easy. It requires both great talent and luck. It requires the right mix of technological prowess and managerial acumen. Young entrepreneurs should study the industry carefully; look at leaders who’ve succeeded before them; and most importantly, build high performing teams. In the end, a great idea will only get you so far. To succeed, you need to sell your vision and garner internal and external buy-in and collaboration. And of course, the price has to be right!

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