A week has passed since our flagship event, Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2011 (the theme: From Data to Impact). This has been my fourth Cleantech Forum San Francisco. I attended the prior three when I was an associate at a cleantech venture capital fund. This one was special. Not only because I was one of the organizers, but 2011 may be the year we (as investors, entrepreneurs, analysts and policy-makers) will begin to see the impact prior cleantech investments are making on our overall economy. This foundational investment creates a virtuous cycle, enabling new applications to measure, monitor and control data in energy, water and resource end markets, which in turn will lead to new impacts. I helped organize three panels (moderating two of them). Here are my thoughts and takeaways on them:
Lessons from Cleantech China
The Takeaways: Andrew Beebe cautioned that China’s success in cleantech wasn’t a zero-sum game for the US or the rest of the world. The other panelists agreed that Chinese competiveness lowered the cost of renewable generation for global consumers, and in the case of the IFC, yielded outsized returns for their earlier China-based IT investments. Looking only at solar, the impact of Chinese solar (e.g., Suntech, YingLi, JA Solar, etc.) has helped foster innovation in more data-centric downstream markets, such as balance of system products (micro-inverters and trackers), financing (SunRun and Solar City) and software (Clean Power Finance).
Counting Carbon: Does Carbon (and Our Ability to Measure It) Still Matter?
The Takeaways: As the organizer of this panel, I came into this session with the thesis that a corporation can limit its carbon footprint and see positive bottom-line (and top-line, in some instances) implications. This panel did not disappoint. Sujeesh recalled a funny anecdote of how a supplier to PepsiCo’s potato chip brands use to weigh down their potatoes with water because they were being paid based on weight. This led to water inefficiency and overpayment by PepsiCo. By recognizing these inefficiencies through the measurement of energy, water, waste and resources, the corporation moves closer towards lowering its carbon footprint, becoming more sustainable and also rewarding shareholders. New data products like Hara’s environmental and energy management software are enablers of this new paradigm.
Vehicles on the Grid: Energizing EVs
The Takeaways: Perhaps the meta-theme that emerged from this panel was best summarized by Dave’s perspective as a consumer (as well as GM’s rep): Make it easy for me (i.e., the consumer). To make the EV buying and driving experience painless for the consumer requires the synchronization of multiple parties, including the regulator (Andy), the utility (Saul), the auto OEM (Dave) and the service providers (Colin and Jason). Here, data is paramount. Data will tell the utility which regions have higher EV purchases, which can drive upgrades to the local transformer. Data will allow the service providers to best manage charging at commercial and residential charging units. Data will enable the consumer to drive anxiety-free because she has access to the location of nearby charging units in the car’s display.
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