Enthusiastic Business Community Focuses on Economic Opportunity
SAN FRANCISCO, January 24, 2017 — It’s not often that you walk into a business conference where the excitement is palpable, especially in the wake of an inauguration seen as an unmitigated disaster by most of the major players in that industry. Despite the glum news pouring out of D.C., last night’s welcoming event saw an overflow crowd squeezing into the ballroom and a reception with little elbow room.
Fighting through Finance
California State Treasurer John Chiang‘s evening talk was equally packed. Chiang slammed the new administration and discussed the state’s commitment to financing cleantech infrastructure and innovation — as well as an ailing physical infrastructure — through a well-researched green bonds program that has attracted positive feedback from large underwriters and investors around the state and outside.
“President Trump may believe global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive,” he said. “We Californians stand with the scientific community and the 195 nations that have declared climate change is an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet. Californians must confront the global warming deniers in the new Trump administration.”
During a brief conversation afterwards, I asked him why the investment community was bullish on the bond idea. He replied that during a listening tour of 3 dozen investor groups controlling more than a trillion dollars in investable funds “there was a pressing desire to find an alternate path that could shift investment dollars to more environmentally friendly projects.” He noted that the green bond market has been validated — it has grown to $118 billion worldwide since introduction of the first bond by the World Bank in 2008, yet in the U.S., green bonds are only one tenth of one percent of all outstanding debt. Chiang added that enabling the shift to green bonds will allow the Californian economy to flourish through a potential torrent of cash for cleantech and infrastructure projects.
2016 Yields Major Momentum
This morning, after an initial stunner of an announcement that Washington had frozen all EPA contracts for review, the mood in the hotel was both focused and combative. Cleantech Group CEO Richard Youngman noted significant progress in 2016, with more billion dollar announcements than ever before, some still unannounced. Costs continue to decrease and this affordability drives the Internet of Things (IoT) and the big data analytics required for massive increases in energy efficiency. Cleantech Group’s Jules Besnainou noted that of the Cleantech 100 companies, one third were already using IoT, a significant achievement given that in 2014 IoT was just a buzzword.
Growth of Cleantech 100 companies from Asia was also a 2016 highlight, with a jump from 20 to 35 percent in two years.
Corporate investment also continues strong. Statoil‘s Gareth Burns discussed the company’s investment in 15-25 companies they are building aimed at disruption via new technologies and business models.
Energy Storage: a dominant focus
The morning’s session on real costs and real value of energy storage was designed to clarify some of the obstacles and value propositions facing the battery market. Vic Shao of Green Charge Networks and Dan Gabaldon of Enovation Partners offered different perspectives on the industry. Gabaldon pointed to Adam Ant’s 1980s hit “Desperate but Not Serious” to illustrate the fuzziness around long term outlook and demand, while Shao said his business was seeing no drought and that the problem lies in lack of innovation around the energy industry, not lack of deals.
Financing is his pet peeve, Shao remarked — with so much capital invested in hedge funds, why not use that money for worthwhile projects that generate a measurable return? He discussed his California K-12 school deployments as an example of how the school systems immediately “get” the value proposition. Schools with solar capacity on most days are able to send excess energy to the grid, but a passing cloud bank on one afternoon (which is not unusual) can spike the school’s electrical load up to 500kW at a cost of $22,000. This makes the school district’s budgeting process extremely hard and the decision to deploy energy storage a no-brainer.
Strong International Presence
The conference was bolstered by a plethora of multinationals and overseas start-ups seeking initial deals and funding. There was an Israeli delegation as well a Swedish presence, which Cleantech Concepts will cover in subsequent pieces.
A few standouts include Israel-based MercuRemoval, which has developed non-toxic techniques for eliminating mercury from flue gas without using active carbon injection. The benefit is that mercury content can be reduced to concentrated liquid, eliminating the typical tons of contaminated waste that simply transfers the mercury from one place to another.
Stockholm-based EXEGER, featured in the disruptive materials session, has developed a completely new non-toxic solar cell — focused on indoor energy generation — that harvests energy from LEDs and any indoor lighting to power consumer electronics. The cells can be incorporated onto any surface, including e-readers and tablets, for easy cordless recharging. The company has its own production facility in the heart of Stockholm where they use completely custom manufacturing equipment.
CO2 Capture for Product
Personally the highlight of the day was a highly informative panel on the potential for CO2 capture for sequestration within durable products, which illustrated what can be accomplished with active planning and the incorporation of incentives from the private sector. Led by Dr. Issam Dairanieh of CO2 Sciences, and panelists from XPRIZE, CarbonCure Technologies and the Linde Group, the participants provided a wealth of concrete information on how the industry can take advantage of a potential trillion-dollar market for carbon-based products. Cleantech Concepts will publish a discussion of the plan later this quarter. The group’s roadmap, however, is available now at the Global CO2 Initiative.