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Cleantech’s Creative, Data Renaissance

Greg Neichin

Fred Wilson and Chris Dixon are two guys at the top of my reading list every morning.  Both primarily inhabit the internet software and services world and so it gets me particularly excited when I see threads of their thinking that are relevant to the cleantech world.  Fred wrote this week on the evolution of internet innovation towards creativity:

“The digital technology revolution was, from the day the transistor was invented in the late 40s until the early part of last decade, largely about engineering. It is still very much about engineering but I’ve been thinking for a while now that as this revolution matures, it is becoming more and more about creativity and less about engineering… You could call it the difference between the front end and the back end. You could call it the difference between the lower layers of the stack and the upper layers.”

Chris picked up on a similar theme when he wrote on instrumenting the offline world:

“In the last decade there have been major advances in storing, analyzing, and acting upon extremely large data sets.  Data sets that were previously left dormant are now being put to constructive use. But the vast majority of information in the world isn’t available for analysis because it isn’t being electronically collected… In the next decade, there will be a massive amount of innovation and opportunity around the big data stack. Instrumentation will be the foundational layer of that stack.”

Chris specifically called out ZigBee and the increasing amount of information available to help consumers make decisions around energy use.  Both of them struck on a meme that increasingly comes up in nearly every discussion that I am having with corporate clients and cleantech investors: namely, the emerging opportunity for data and analytics to fundamentally transform nearly every sector of what we define as cleantech – energy, water, transportation, waste, agriculture, air/environment, manufacturing, and materials.

Much of cleantech’s first investment wave poured into lower layers of the stack, hence the boom in solar technology, communications infrastructure, batteries and vehicles, and biofuels.  Smart dollars are continuing to find the good ideas in these areas and I am by no means suggesting that this wave is over.  That said, I think that we will see increasing attention to how cleantech’s creative upper stack develops.  We will see software and analytics innovators look for opportunities to break open closed data models and unleash insight.  We will see real-time intelligence that has transformed the worlds of advertising, consumer goods, financial services, reservations, and various other industries begin to  transform how energy moves, water flows, and how goods and people are efficiently routed.

As a guy who has a particular affinity for both crunching data and cleantech, I can’t help but be giddy with what the future holds.

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