Productizing Clean-Tech

Had the opportunity yesterday to attend the Clean Energy Expo up in Fort Collins, sponsored by the Clean Energy Supercluster at Colorado State University.  Had in my mind that I would do some networking and maybe even a little clandestine reverse selling of Zebulon Solutions productization services to the clean-tech companies exhibiting there.  Instead I got a good education on the challenges faced by clean-tech entrepreneuers from luminaries like Bill Ritter, the former governor of Colorado, and Dr. Sam Baldwin, Chief Science Officer for renewable energy at the DOE, as well as some distinguished members of the CSU faculty and various entrepreneurs. Some takeaways:

1. Raising money for clean-tech is tough.  Long time to volume combined with the lack of a pricing premium when selling to early adopters makes this tough.  Add in uncertainty in government support (some interesting graphs showing how wind energy installations gyrates year after year based on tax credit status) and general low R&D spending by energy companies.

1.1 Raising money for clean-tech in Colorado is even tougher.  In California, VCs match every dollar of DOE funding for clean-tech with $2.  In Boston its $4.  In Colorado its $0.12.  Ouch

2 There are some intriguing technologies out there.  But there are lots of milestones for these emerging companies to hit before they get to productization, before they get to market.  Technology hurdles, policy hurdles, climate change deniers, and relentless competition from cheap fossil fuels.

3. For those who defy science and want to believe that CO2 will not / does not cause global warming, here is an issue that may be a whole lot tougher to deny: all this CO2 in the air is leading to acidification of the oceans.  Basic chemistry, or so I am told.  Like a poorly kept swimming pool, the PH is dropping.    If the PH drops enough, marine life takes a hit. Basic biology.  Think devastation of fisheries…

3.1 For those who are not climate change deniers, acidification of the oceans may be an even worse nightmare. Think devastation of fisheries…

3.2 Oh yeah, and it’s coming soon, like 30 years. 

3.3 Worry. Care. Act.

4. Kudos to Governor Ritter for sticking with clean energy when he left the governor’s mansion.  It’s clearly not the path to quick money in lobbying or even big oil that many other exiting politicians take.

In terms of productization, I foresee a massive demand for our services–DFMEAs, validation testing, supply chain development and the like. Clean-energy products will need to be reliable, manufacturable, and really really cheap to compete with fossil fuels.  They will need to be well tested and proven out to compete with 50-year-old technologies.  They will have complex supply chains, hopefully a good portion of which will be domestic.  But it will take some time to mature, to flourish.

We’re already working in this area; we have five clean-tech customers by latest count, mostly smaller projects. Some neat products: electric bikes, industrial equipment that uses CO2 for cleaning, hybrid motor electronics.  We’re doing DFMEAs, supply chain development, design reviews, and helping with business plans. But many of these customers have other challenges too, raising capital ranking high on nearly every list.

We’re in this for the long haul; hopefully a lot of others are too.

Chuck

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