A recent report caught our eye, called “Environmental Coverage in the Mainstream News,” which details environmental news coverage in the United States. There are some interesting conclusions on which outlets and publications are prioritizing the beat.
This is valuable for PR practitioners: In a time when coverage is often determined by the audience’s tastes, paying attention to where environmental coverage is strongest might also point to where the right audience is for your message.
Among broadcast outlets Fox News had the highest percentage of headline environmental stories (1.57 percent), beating out PBS (1.43 percent) and CNN with the lowest (0.36 percent).
Local newspapers prioritize environmental coverage nearly three times more on average
The Huffington Post was the environmental coverage leader for nationally focused news organizations with three percent of headlines (nearly three times the national average).
Independent news organizations prioritize environmental coverage five times more than the national, on average.
The report’s authors address the issue of quality over quantity, saying that “improved environmental coverage is dependent upon both, better quality of coverage, a greater quantity, and a higher visibility of that coverage.” Environmental issues are increasingly becoming intertwined with political, economic and health issues and news rooms are changing to reflect that — this fact underscored by the New York Times’ recent decision to disband its environmental desk and allocate it’s reporters to various other focus areas.
The report also details some findings (which reiterate the above thoughts) based on an advisory group of prominent journalists including Bryan Walsh from TIME Magazine and Jennifer Grayson from the Huffington Post:
Integrate the environmental angle into other stories and make that connection explicit
Make environmental stories appealing to a larger cross section of society
Focus more on solutions
Increase the visibility of environmental stories.
These strategies are invaluable for PR pros, with two main takeaways:
The first two points both show that PR practitioners need to tie their products and technologies to global trends and issues outside of your niche. That’s a no-brainer, and certainly not exclusive to cleantech, but always worth reiterating
The third and fourth points should be great news for anyone in cleantech marketing or PR— the goal is to focus on solutions and increase visibility of environmental stories. That means outlets want more people to see their environmental stories, and for those stories to cover solutions (i.e. your technology) more.
It’s been almost two weeks since Inside Climate News was the first to announce that the New York Times will be dismantling its environment desk, sending its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. Dean Baquet, the Times’ managing editor, explained that the decision was made because environmental stories have become more complex since the desk was formed in 2009, and today they are “partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects.”
The decision has yielded a variety of reactions.
Margaret Sullivan, public editor for the Times, reports on a number of adverse reactions, including her colleague, environment editor Sandy Keenan, who was not pleased with the decision: “Of course, I’m disappointed,” [Keenan] said. “I’ll try to hold everyone to their promise that the coverage won’t suffer.”
So what does this mean for PR professionals trying to secure coveted coverage in the Times? First off, it’s important to note how often outlets change their model. Newsweek for example became an online only publication in 2013, and Forbes has shifted its online format to include what seems like thousands of contributors. Even back in 2008, CNN had a similar transition and explanation when it closed its science department. All of these changes have yielded opportunities and challenges for PR pros looking to tell their clients’ stories.
For the Times, there’s been no word on whether the Green blog, often the go-to target for PR pros, will be affected. However, Baquet has said that if it has impact and audience it will survive, so it’s unclear how much coverage will shift.
If you’re a PR pro trying to secure coverage in the New York Times, however, you should already understand the other trends your client fits into and be pushing those angles. For example, maybe you’re a solar manufacturer with some projects in India or Brazil—you should already be in touch with correspondents there. Or maybe you’re a smart grid equipment maker—utility and energy reporters are as important for you as environmental.
This move by the Times only reinforces the importance of understanding the different ways an outlet might cover a given company. As PR professionals, we need to continue to stay in touch with reporters and diligently read their work – to understand how to better tell our clients’ stories, so it will resonate with the media.
Posted by Sarah Horn on January 23, 2013 at 12:24 PM
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The name of the game this election season is jobs.
And when it comes to green jobs, the sectors that are driving clean power creation, energy efficiency and sustainability have proven to be stronger, growing faster, and faring better than many other job sectors have over the past few years. (That’s at least according to groups such as the Economic Policy Institute; look at any number of websites and get a much different answer.)
That being said, if you actually look at the number of people that claim green job employment, even the most bullish interpretation is still conservative.
At Schwartz MSL, we have always leveraged the crucial role job creation and economic development play in our clients’ businesses, communities and markets. Here are a couple ways we’ve integrated the topic of job creation into our PR programs:
Hiring trends: Whether offering special training to vets or prospecting in blue collar fields, the types of industries or experience you're targeting can be an interesting story.
Q&A from the Field: The employee herself or himself is a story. Outlets such as the Career Journal section of Wall Street Journal Online are always looking for the right candidate’s story.
Survey: Gathering data from where employees worked previously, or even their current job satisfaction as part of the green economy, can make for media-worthy results.
Executive Commentary: Positioning executives as thought leaders regarding trends suchas where they’ve seen growth stemming from and how they are helping keep jobs in the US.
If you have an interesting green job story at your company and want to discuss the best ways to highlight and promote it, give us a shout. We love talking about this stuff...
Posted by Erin DelLlano on October 17, 2012 at 8:35 AM
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The solar industry’s been buzzing over the positive U.S. growth numbers in the SEIA’s Q2 2012 U.S. Solar Market Insight report, released last week--just prior to Solar Power International (SPI). Reading the report with communicators’ hats on, the Schwartz MSL team noticed a few cautionary words slotted into the executive summary that resonate strongly with those of us who plan and execute strategic PR campaigns on behalf of our solar clients.
SEIA notes that the three main segments into which they divide the solar market (residential, non-residential, and utility) all faced very different sets of market conditions, and, therefore, understandably, grew differently over the second quarter. The report urges readers to evaluate these individual segments independently, to avoid coming to any erroneous conclusions about the market as a whole by lumping them together.
This guidance is certainly common sense for industry veterans, but having a more granular understanding of the solar industry and its policy landscape is also an important watchword for communicators.
Because nation-wide energy policies like the federal ITC are vastly outnumbered by state-specific policies like renewable portfolio standards, performance-based incentives, net metering programs, and REC markets, truly effective PR must be based on knowing not only which types of policies act as levers on the various market segments, but also on tracking the status of those policies in specific, strategically important geographies.
Staying on top of developments with these policies, and mapping this knowledge onto changing business priorities lets a communications team mobilize quickly, hone in on important markets, and tell a company’s story quickly, cogently, and effectively.
(Photo by Crispin Semmens, and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License)
Posted by Dave Lipson on September 14, 2012 at 4:48 PM
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Whatever your political affiliation or personal opinion of the man, there’s no denying Bill Clinton’s skills as an orator. Fresh off his DNC speech (which is already being described as one of the best of his career), the former president spoke to a room full of solar folks today at Solar Power International (SPI). His talk was filled with kudos, ideas and some straight dope on where he sees the industry falling short.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
Solar is going to win…just a matter of when:It’s always nice to feel that you’re on the right side of history. Market leaders may change and technologies may evolve but success is inevitable. The key to getting there is through something Clinton called “creative cooperation” that he described this as different groups coming together to solve problems—public and private, across national barriers and political backgrounds. He offered one great story that his organization Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) recognized with an award.
The industry as a whole hasn’t done a good enough job of telling our story: As a PR practitioner, this point especially resonated with me. Pointing out all the ways that “Americans simply don’t realize” how much solar has achieved--including in job creation, building local economies, and becoming a sizable contributor to our state- and national-level energy mix--is indicative that we haven’t been doing a good enough job of telling our story.
This was one of the sentiments expressed by one colleague of mine in the SPI Show Daily this week and it may stem from the hesitance of some large non-US companies to engage in PR in an aggressive way. He also pointed out that yes, Obama opponents use Solyndra as an example of wasted federal spending on “pie in the sky” cleantech businesses. But you can’t blame people for believing a story taken out of context if you have, but don’t provide the context. We need to connect the dots regarding how much the industry has already contributed to communities around the country and what it realistically takes to get us to the next level.
Free beer tomorrow: Clinton seems to truly relish his life as an elder statesman with seemingly endless folksy anecdotes of his Southern upbringing. One story he shared was of a shop owner from his hometown who would hang a sign “Free Beer Tomorrow”, the joke being it brought people in but they’d never get their free beer…it’s always coming tomorrow! For solar, he sees it reaching the tipping point. There’s already been enormous success—including record growth this year—and we need to beat the drum for this success. Yes, there’s more coming tomorrow, but for today, let’s recognize how far we’ve come.
Solar is an enabler for change: How solar is playing a role in bringing opportunity and greater independence to some of the poorest regions around the U.S. and around the world is clearly a benefit near and dear to Clinton. It aligns with work coming out of the CGI, which focuses on helping communities and countries that are crippled by poverty, and in the case of Haiti, massively high energy costs. It’s inspiring to remember how energy can change lives, and how clean energy promises a very bright future for communities that would never have realized otherwise.
Having Bill Clinton join the show was a huge win for SPI this year, and a highlight of the entire show. Wonder who they’ll get next year in Chicago?
Posted by Erin DelLlano on September 12, 2012 at 1:00 PM
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It's always best to be in the know, behind the scenes, to be a part of the "in" crowd. So, we asked and you told us. Check out the surveywe conducted with reporters and analysts to find out what makes them tick- why do they cover sustainability? How do they choose their stories? Where do they see coverage going in the future? And more...
Downloadthe survey, look at the graphs, and then you'll be part of the "in" crowd too!
Today, we released the results of a 2012 summer survey of cleantech, energy and sustainability reporters and analysts. In conducting the survey, we learned a lot of interesting things about the reporters and analysts with whom we work on a daily basis here at Schwartz MSL, with many of the findings applicable for PR teams across other markets like consumer, technology and healthcare.
As we said last week, the survey results debunked some PR assumptions and reinforced others, but most importantly I think they will help us all better understand the interests and attitudes of the media and analyst community. This can only help us become better communicators.
For the purposes of this post and the video below, I wanted to focus on one major takeaway that I think all technology PR and marketing professionals can use in their day-to-day jobs: the extent to which reporters and analysts are embracing social and digital media channels in their everyday jobs.
We meet with a lot of B2B technology companies across energy, cleantech, cloud, open source, healthcare and other markets who still aren't using Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels to their full potential. It's surprising how many still think Twitter is the domain of consumer marketing.
We think conceding Twitter to your competitors is a major mistake in technology communications. Better yet, we think you should be owning it in a way that makes the competition jealous. Here are three reasons we believe using Twitter in PR is a must for almost all B2B technology companies.
Reason #1--Market influencers are on Twitter
Many companies don't view Twitter as critical because they don't believe customers get their information on technology products from Twitter. That may be true in many markets, but the primary people who influence your customers are on Twitter and they are likely on there a lot. Twitter is another channel through which you can build media and analyst relationships, manage your reputation, generate impressions and monitor breaking news. Many VCs, private equity firms and financial reporters are also on Twitter, making it a potential way to generate visibility with investors. Finally, it can be a great recruiting tool especially within the developer and engineering community, since it is easier to communicate corporate culture through social media than through press releases and traditional media.
Reason #2--Reporters and analysts are getting story and research ideas from Twitter
Our survey showed that more than a quarter of media and analysts are getting story and research ideas through Twitter. It is also a means for them to monitor breaking news and monitor stories coming from competing outlets (another source of ideas for them). If your company is not on Twitter, you are essentially missing out on a prevalent channel through which to generate visibility for your company. Many reporters also look for sources now on Twitter, so if you are missing out on that conversation, you are leaving opportunities on the table.
Reason #3--Reporters are more comfortable than ever being contacted through social media
The Schwartz MSL survey showed that Twitter is now tied with work phone as the second most popular communication channel (after email) for working with media. A close third? LinkedIn. More than one third of respondents said that they are open to being pitched through social media.
With the 2013 marketing budget season upon us, now is the time for technology companies to embrace social media as part of their communications plan. It will take a little investment in time and money, but social and digital are not fads within the technology media and analyst community, so the payoffs could be significant.
The survey and analysis of the results is available here. We’re happy to answer any questions you have in person, over the phone, via email or better yet, over social media.
Posted by Jason Morris on September 6, 2012 at 3:47 PM
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On September 6, Schwartz MSL will be releasing results of a 2012 summer survey of cleantech, energy and sustainability reporters and analysts. In conducting the survey, we think we learned a lot of interesting things about the reporters and analysts with whom we work on a daily basis here at Schwartz MSL, with many of the findings applicable for PR teams across other markets like consumer, technology and healthcare.
The goal of the survey was to help determine what the professionals covering the cleantech, energy and sustainability industries value from a media and analyst-relations perspective. We wanted to gain insight into how events of the past five years had impacted the way reporters saw the market and what that meant for cleantech communicators everywhere—both in-house and within Energy & Cleantech PR Practices at agencies like Schwartz MSL.
The survey results debunked some PR assumptions and reinforced others, but most importantly I think they will help us all better understand the interests and attitudes of the media and analyst community. This can only help us become better communicators.
So what were the results? You'll have to wait for the full download next week. But interested parties can get a sneak peek at the types of questions we asked and what we expect to learn by clicking here. For those who don’t want to forget to download the results, shoot us an email and we’ll be sure to send you a copy.
Survey says!?! Tune in next week.
Posted by Jason Morris on August 28, 2012 at 2:07 PM
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As a cleantech PR pro working in Boston, it’s easy to feel like Massachusetts, and the east coast in general, takes a backseat to California when it comes to policy support. However, despite being in California’s shadow, the Bay State has steadily built a policy landscape that’s established it as the nation’s second leading market for cleantech, and a leader in an east-coast market that is gaining momentum.
Massachusetts’ latest piece of support for renewable energy is S. 2395, “An Act Relative to Competitively Priced Electricity in the Commonwealth.” In addition to providing for extended long-term contracting for renewables, the law also notably increased the cap on net metering capacity, from 3% of peak load to 6%. With many distributors closing in on or reaching the 3% cap, this extension should continue to provide an incentive for both renewable energy producers and financers to keep building projects in Massachusetts.
With this kind of policy and incentive support available outside of California, we at Schwartz MSL are continuing to see more and more cleantech companies taking a bi-coastal approach, with a significant focus on New England and the mid-Atlantic complementing work in California.
For those with an eye on November, this drumbeat of state-based policy mechanisms may also be a sign that the upcoming presidential election may not be as “make-or-break” for the cleantech industry as many might think. Regardless of the energy stance of whoever sits in the oval office in 2013, the cleantech industry may very well continue to see crucial incentives and policy support getting rolled out at the state level.
Posted by Dave Lipson on August 8, 2012 at 9:48 AM
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I know that today people will be inundated with posts and stories that look to make stretch connections to the monumental and historic healthcare decision made today by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). So my apologies in advance, as I am about to join that chorus!
I believe that today's decision is a positive thing for the cleantech industry for a few reasons. And so, here we go:
Obama's second term chances just increased: The SCOTUS decision is a major boost for President Obama and the Democrats heading into the November elections. Everyone should feel free to argue whether or not a second term would be a good thing for the country and the economy. However, no one can argue that with Democrats holding the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, clean technology companies have a much better chance of receiving regulatory, legislative and agency-spending support for renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean energy R&D. The healthcare decision is also his second populist win in a week after his decision on immigration was well received by most voters. Couple that with the fact that most people who benefit from the bill will be middle-class, low-income and young voters, and Obama just solidified his position with his base and with many independents heading into November.
Energy just moved up the agenda list: The GOP will bluster about overturning the healthcare law, but without a supermajority in the Senate and the White House, they have zero chance of doing so. Given even the most optimistic GOP election projections have the Democrats with more than 40 votes in the Senate, there is almost no chance of a repeal. That means, this takes healthcare entirely off of the priority list for Obama in a second term and allows him to focus on one of the major unaccomplished platforms from his original candidacy: energy. When you couple with that the recent immigration decision that placated at least some critics of the lack of immigration reform, energy and the environment could become the cornerstone of a second Obama term.
The DOE loan guarantee program failures now become a fringe issue: The more the news cycle focuses on things other than the flame out of DOE loan guarantee recipients, the better off Cleantech is from a public and policy support standpoint. For example, the coverage of Solyndra and others has created the perception that the entire solar industry is a failure, despite the fact that solar adoption in the US has never been higher and downstream companies are doing REALLY well. The media has a myopic focus on solar module companies as synonymous with solar PV as a whole. Module margins are not a good indication of the health of the industry any more than disk drive margins are an indication of the health of the PC industry. Shipments yes, margins no.
So while the SCOTUS decision will dominate the debate cycles during this election season, clean technology companies will see a boost in their chances to have a favorable policy environment for the next four years. Now granted, a lot of things can happen between now and November, but there is no downside to the Supreme Court decision for clean technology companies in the near term.
Prior to helping start the Cleantech Practice at Schwartz MSL, my technology PR career kicked off in the late 90s with a focus business-to-business software and infrastructure companies like MapInfo, webMethods and IONA. My days were spent talking about the evolution of web services and standards like XML, UDDI, .Net, Java and others, and how they impacted the development of ecommerce, business process automation and supply-chain integration.
If ever there was a journalist that I felt followed a similar path as me to eventually "covering" renewable energy, energy efficiency and green IT companies--albeit on the editorial side--it was Martin LaMonica. Martin is a veteran journalist of more than 20 years, having spent a good chunk of time covering enterprise technology for IDG (InfoWorld, etc) and then CNET, before managing the Green blog at CNET. Recently, he joined MIT Technology Reviewas an outside contributor to cover clean technologies for the publication which is famous for writing about cutting-edge innovation before it becomes mainstream.
Martin was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his new gig to answer three questions related to his role at the publication.
Schwartz MSL:What is your new assignment with MIT Technology Review? What types of topics will you be covering?
LaMonica: The new gig at MIT Tech Review is a blog on energy. The focus is clean technologies (rather than the traditional oil & gas and power industry) so it covers a lot of ground in terms of topics and companies--both startups and established energy and materials companies. With my background in covering the IT industry, I'm always looking for crossover between the high-tech industry and energy/environment.
Schwartz MSL: What do you think makes a good MIT Technology Review story? What sources do you like to speak with beyond inventors or corporate executives?
LaMonica: Tech Review does a great job of identifying interesting companies before they get a lot of attention and identifying important trends. Broadly speaking, that's what I'm looking for. Investors and academics who have evaluated a company's technology are important sources.
Schwartz MSL: Are you focused more on news or features? What’s the best way for marketers and PR professionals to submit post and article ideas?
LaMonica: The blog mainly covers news, but I plan to do more feature/trend stories for the site as well. I plan to freelance for other media outlets as well. Email's a good way to get in touch. I'm usually pretty active on Twitter and always check story comments.
What do BP, Rolls-Royce, Barclays, Burberry Group, Unilever, Carnival Cruiselines and Royal Dutch Shell all have in common? They are part of the FTSE 100 Index marking them as the 100 companies with the highest market capitalization on the London Stock Exchange.
But the nature of CO2 reporting to financial markets squarely puts emissions in the public domain where c-level executives, board members, investors and the general public all have front-row seats to identifying the largest emitters.
You can bet that financial teams will be calling the CSR and environmental compliance departments within their organizations to get a crash coarse on the difference between a carbon credit and a carbon offset. The implications of this are broad and it is only a matter of time that other governments follow suit.
If you were expecting this post to be a comprehensive review of the new Microsoft Surface, launched this afternoon in a mysterious event in an undisclosed location hosted by he-who-shall-not-be-named (continuing with the mystery theme, not a comment on you, Mr. Balmer), then I am sorry to disappoint you. The Twittersphere has made it clear that Surface pricing details and availability had not yet been disclosed as this post went to "press."
Instead, I decided to look at this news through cleantech goggles and discuss what the impact will be from an energy perspective. So in the battle of Microsoft Surface versus Apple iPad versus Android Tablets, who wins? I have no clue.
I do, however, have an idea who loses: the consumer. Don't get me wrong, the world will continue to get top-flight devices built on platforms by companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Samsung that will keep them checking email, watching video and shooting pigs with birds long into the night.
Where the consumer loses is when battery technology can't keep pace with the accelerating power and feature race taking place in today's tablets and smart phone industries. The battery issue will continue to hold companies back from putting all of the power and features consumers want in devices, and even impact the physical form factors they take.
There are several new battery chemistries that hold promise, but most of today's devices don't employ them. Until they get beyond lithium ion, I think we're in for some bad reviews about the charge/discharge capabilities of next generation devices.
Energy storage is a major issue that rears its ugly head in transportation (electric vehicles), renewables (grid-level storage) and now, consumer electronics. It's high time that the media, government and private industry more intensely focus their attention on one of the biggest technology bottlenecks facing society.
If a smart grid program launches but no one hears about it, does it save a kilowatt hour?
As mentioned yesterday, Black & Veatch recently issued its annual electric utility report which surveys the nation's utilities on the top issues facing them in the areas of operational efficiency, profitability and regulatory compliance.
In that post, I discussed how regulatory certainty is a major issue that is causing problems for utilities in their adoption of renewable energy, smart grid and other clean initiatives. It cripples the ability of utilities to make long-term investment decisions to improve reliability, upgrade an aging infrastructure and tackle environmental concerns like carbon emissions, since their unsure what their compliance burden and return on investment will be long term.
Today, I wanted to drill down on a different, more specific finding from the survey: namely, the lack of marketing support that utilities have given to energy efficiency and smart grid programs. Nearly half of all utilities stated in the report that they have done nothing to market the smart grid and energy efficiency pilots they have undertaken. Think about that. They have purchased the technology, rolled it out and done nothing, zero, zilch to let customers know they have done so.
So, essentially these utilities have put measures in place to help their customer bases become more energy efficient and save money, and in many instances, receive better customer service as a result. But the utilities haven't done anything beyond maybe a cursory letter with a monthly bill to tell them about it?
Now many utility critics would chalk this up to an industry with the reputation of having to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything by regulator and legislators. I don't think that's true.
I attribute it to the "truck roll" mentality of the utility industry and their slow adoption of anything that involves direct customer contact. The industry spent decades developing and implementing technology that enabled minimal customer contact, including automated meter reading (AMR), automatic shut offs, etc.
Now, with smart grid programs, we expect utilities to become consumer marketing gurus that engage with their customers individually and provide slick web-based portals and mobile apps with detailed usage information and money saving tips? It is unrealistic. In fact, only about 80 percent of those surveyed even have customer portals which sounds like a lot, but puts them well behind most other service sectors.
It's time that regulators require some form of legitimate marketing of smart grid and energy efficiency programs, that also allows the utilities to recoup the costs through a minor rate increase. By getting the word out about these programs, you will have rate payers eventually conserving more energy and saving money anyway which would offset the longer-term impact of the rate increase.
Some home-energy management players offer marketing programs to their utility partners as part of smart grid programs and pilots. They have already done the work of hiring consumer marketing professionals and invested in behavioral science research to help get customers educated about and engaged in new programs.
It is important that utilities invest in these services or launch campaigns of their own to educate their customers about the benefits of smart grid and energy efficiency. If utilities market these programs and the US government does a good job with its Green Button initiative, the smart grid industry will continue its rapid growth and everyone will benefit.
Black & Veatch issued its annual electric utility report which surveys the nation's utilities on the top issues facing them in the areas of operational efficiency, profitability and regulatory compliance. The findings of this years report were fascinating on a number of levels, but one major thing stood out to me: the top four issues are definitively linked by a single problem.
According to the survey, reliability, aging infrastructure, environment and long-term investment are the top four issues, in order, on the minds of electric utilities. After reading the survey, I can't help but think that we need to ignore the order in terms of emphasis and focus on the third and fourth issues.
Reliability and aging infrastructure are both significant issues, but symptoms of the lack of long-term investment. Unfortunately, long-term investment is being hampered by the third issue, the environment, due to uncertainty around environmental regulations.
So what's the conclusion? Utilities need long-term regulation that isn't subject to the whims of campaigning politicians and short-term economic cycles in order to drive the type of long-term capital investment that is needed to upgrade its aging infrastructure and fix reliability issues. Period.
There is only one thing that regulated industries hate worse than regulation and that's regulatory uncertainty. Asking utilities to make long-term business decisions and capital investments (for some, the primary mechanism for securing rate increases) when they are unsure what regulatory burden they need to factor into their long-term projections is not fair.
While utilities wonder, for example, whether or not we'll have a price on carbon within the next five years, they are being asked to make long-term decisions on new generation (natural gas, solar, wind, etc), energy efficiency (i.e. smart grid) and other programs that will reduce exposure to carbon. Uncertainty with regards to tax incentives around renewable energy and electric vehicles is also hampering the ability of utilities to plan out new generation capacity that is supposed to provide electricity to its customer base for the next 30 years.
On the consumer side, there is a major lack of awareness and education on the different programs that utilities have put in place. This isn't helped by the fact that nearly half of all utilities have made no attempt to market their smart grid programs according to the survey. That lack of marketing is likely driven by the fact that a lot of the incentives for smart grid rollout and adoption are short term incentives.
The utility industry members need and want regulatory certainty in order to better run their businesses. Consumers want utilities to offer programs that help them become more efficient. Renewable energy, smart grid and energy efficiency companies want customers incentivised to adopt cleaner technologies.
So isn't the only thing left to do to encourage the federal government and state regulatory bodies to give everyone what they want?
It is no secret that venture capitalists and investment banks are of a like mind when it comes to the narrowness of IPO windows. It isn't uncommon for the investment community to all rally around a suspected window and pull the trigger on public offerings.
What has likely been tough for the aforementioned companies and other 2010 or 2011 filers like Silver Spring, is that an elongated period between S-1 filing and first trade likely means they have been operating at a significant disadvantage as it relates to public relations. Most companies work to establish a steady drumbeat of communications heading into the quiet period so that they can continue with communications around normal business activities post filing. Some, however, don't understand the need to build out their communications infrastructure and plan first, and may handycap their sales and business development teams for long periods of time.
It will be interesting to watch Enphase, Enerkem and BrightSource as they start trading, and see if it opens the door for any others to file and follow. Although they all fall in the broad cleantech bucket, the companies could really not be any more different in terms of technology and business model.
Enerkem is a pre-revenue company that is working off of the "storied IPO' approach that is now popular with players in the biofuels and biomass industry. The idea is that you prove your technology at pilot scale and rather than try and raise hundreds of millions of dollars in private financing, you leverage a few strategic investors and an IPO to finance the capex-heavy buildout of operations.
Enphase is a commercially succcessful microinverter company targeting the residential and small commercial solar market. The company makes a high-value product that helps boost power from solar systems that might otherwise suffer from shading, cell or module degradation, etc. With PV module prices at record lows, adoption of solar in California, Massachusetts and other markets is expected to reach record levels in 2012 which should help companies like Enphase do well.
BrightSource is a solar thermal company that is looking to build massive power plants in the desert. Although they too are a solar company, solar thermal is a much different market than Enphase's carrying with it pretty intense project finance and capital investment requirements.
Different as they may be, the trading of three innovative clean technology companies is a good thing for the industry. It may help others raise public financing, and also help some later stage private companies that are looking to close that last round of financing finally find some willing investors.
Let's hope that any who follow these companies already have a good communications strategy and PR plan in place to support their businesses throughout the entire process.
It's not hard to get me excited about clean technology companies since I believe so strongly in their impact on the economy, the environment and the overall good of humankind. And at Schwartz MSL, we're fortunate to handle public relations for a number of true "platform" type of players that are not only selling products, but also providing the necessary "building blocks" to enable an entire ecosystem of third-party products and services, like Tendril (smart grid), Picarro (GHG measurement and isotopic analysis for food safety, emissions management, etc), Enviance (environmental compliance and emissions tracking), Leyden Energy (energy storage) and too many others to mention.
Virdia's successful ramp up can come none too soon, as the market needs a scalable, cost-competitive and high quality supply of cellulosic sugars for the fermentation processes that companies use to produce biochemicals, fuels and nutritional additives. And it isn't just for the environmental good of society that we need cellulosics succeed--it is also important to the billions of private and public equity invested in companies like Amyris, Coskata, LS9 and others to deliver materials for sustainable product development.
Many of these companies launched on the assumption that cheap, scalable sources of cellulosic sugars would be a given. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened and this is where some companies launched the proverbial cart before the horse. The market has had to rely on corn and other crop-based sugars that suffer from price volatility related to the success or failure of short growing seasons, fuel prices, food prices, water prices and agricultural land prices.
Product manufacturers value cost certainty and long-term contracts, which are almost impossible when dealing with seasonal sources of sugars. The wood for cellulosics comes from sustainably harvested and replenished wood sources grown over multiple seasons, reducing exposure to weather and resourced-driven price fluctuations, to deliver a more consistent cost structure.
Cellulosics will happen and so will the categories of products they enable, and so the major question is (as Virdia's CEO Philippe Lavielle says), "who will win the sugar wars?"
With 21st century politics at their most polarizing since the battles of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (Alien & Sedition Acts anyone?), there is a lot of talk of hypotheticals based on various election scenarios for the House, Senate and White House. Speculation is that the expert predicted best case scenario for the GOP (maintain control of the House, even split in the Senate and capturing the White House) would be the worst case scenario for the cleantech industry.
There may be some truth to the notion that GOP-led houses and a Republican president would eliminate any chance of meaningful energy legislation at the Federal level that sets a renewable portfolio standard, caps carbon, pursues agressive regulation at the agency level or provides funding support for different cleantech industries. But unless the Democrats have a clear majority in the House and a super majority in the Senate, any such meaningful legislation is a pipe dream anyway. Let us not forget that energy is not a clear party-line vote with Democrats from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states with heavy coal and oil interests unlikely to support anything that rocks a local economy.
So what then are the likely outcomes of different federal scenarios? I don't believe there is a huge variation in impact based on the different election scenarios unless a super-majority situation unfolds which most experts agree, is very unlikely. There are a number of checks and balances that would prevent a GOP super majority situation from killing cleantech innovation and adoption. Some of these include:
The ability of California and other progressive states to continue most of their current and future initiatives;
The ability of state regulators to continue to enforce smart grid adoption and a modernizing of the grid;
Billions in investment by strategic investors like Total, ABB, GE, Siemens and others in clean energy and efficiency products and services helping to support continued adoption, education and growth;
International leadership on climate change forcing US exporters to become more sustainable abroad.
Simply put, the clean technology industry is in much better shape than it was four years ago, when a crashing economy, rampant federal deregulation and support for legacy energy sources threatened any momentum lent to the sector by venture capitalists. Today, the sector could probably weather a worst-case election scenario. But will it have to? Most experts agree it is incredibly unlikely.
In fact, in one of his most recent posts, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com and the New York Timessays that President Obama is now a 60-40 favorite to retain the White House based on recent polling and economic trends (projected GDP growth of 2.5% this year, and unemployment below 9%). This is not Silver's opinion, but a prediction model based on historical data from past election cycles. That trend, combined with rampant gerrymandering of Congressional Districts by GOP-led state assemblies, means that we're likely to wake up on a Wednesday in November with exactly the same government dynamics we have today. And don't forget that the GOP would not only need a majority in the Senate, but a super majority that could overcome the parliamentary tricks of filibusters and stopping bills and appointees from coming to a vote.
So what does the status quo look like post November for cleantech? We'll explore that in a post later this week.
With the 2010 midterm elections resulting in a GOP majority in the House, a lot of pundits predicted that federal government support of renewable energy would dry up. But now it looks as though support for renewables will come from what is widely regarded as the most conservative of all government institutions: the US military.
According to a new report from Pike Research, military deployments of renewable energy will increase more than 10x over the next two decades. According to a release outlining the report, “military agencies’ spending on renewable energy technologies will continue to rise rapidly over the next two decades, growing from $1.8 billion per year in 2010 to $26.8 billion by 2030. The majority of this spending will be for Mobility applications including portable soldier power as well as land, air, and sea vehicles. Energy for Facilities operations will represent a significant portion of the market, as well.”
This is a public relations and public affairs win for solar, wind and biofuels, as the industries try to continue to win the support of some democrats and social conservatives whose fates are not directly tied to coal, natural gas or oil production in their states or districts. Given the remoteness of many military installations, distributed generation makes a lot of sense.
This should come as no surprise, given recent buzz around military test driving renewable energy systems on bases and the most recent Quadrennial Report which identify climate change as a direct threat to national security.
On the heels of Total's acquisition of SunPower, this is another piece of great news and validation for the industry.
I remember in fifth grade having to write an essay on "what the Statue of Liberty means to me" and being impressed by the number of different points of view expressed by my classmates for what seemed to me to be a one-angle topic (freedom). Well today, we will see what Earth Day means to people around the world and I think the number of different interpretations would be mind boggling.
We get to see a small sample of this disparity between how people view Earth Day and the different issues they view as important on Enviance's blog page. The company is today hosting an Earth Day blogathon featuring 24 different posts in 24 hours from thought leaders across different business disciplines. IDC, Ovum, The451, TriplePundit and a number of others will offer up posts discussing some of the issues they see as core to environmental stakeholders (i.e. all of us) on this 41st Earth Day.
Yours truly contributed a post about how Earth Day has finally transcended the (and I say this affectionately) "Tree Hugger" audience it has traditionally been associated with. Instead, it brings together a growing coalition of surprising stakeholders, activists and proponents, all of whom see sustainability as core to the environment, our economy, our security and our future. Who are those stakeholders? How has Earth Day finally moved to mainstream relevance? By learning a simple PR lesson. Click on over to find out more...
One of the biggest changes in renewables over the last decade was the shift in motivation from environmental to economical. Through rapidly decreased costs and major policy changes, solar and wind became a viable alternative and even a strategic economic investment for many businesses and individuals. Economics is still the driving message, but a new and interesting message has emerged: National Security.
A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, calling for renewables and energy efficiency for military operations, highlights that a staggering 1,000 troops have been killed in fuel-related missions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering that total deaths in these wars are estimated at less than 6,000, energy security is becoming a key issue to military officials.
For this and other reasons, the military has recently been stressing the importance of energy independence, both domestically and abroad. The DoD recently launched the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), to procure and test promising new renewable energy technologies (full disclosure, Schwartz client Skyline Solar was selected). A renewable energy marketer couldn’t ask for a better type of exposure—Military endorsement is a great GR tool, particularly when working with republican officials. Furthermore, these companies now have a chance to build a relationship with the US military – a group with literally the world’s deepest pocketbook.
Outside of the military, Hawaii is another example of security as a benefit to renewables. The state imports nearly all of its fuel resources, which isn’t cheap and certainly isn’t secure. Because of this, Hawaii has become is perhaps the most ambitious of all states, seeking to shift to 70 percent renewable energy for the entire state by 2030. Governor Linda Lingle has sought for quite a while to make energy security part of the conversation. A state making such a huge leap into renewables, and focusing on energy security, is all the more reason marketers should consider adding security to their messaging
Because this conversation is still new, smart marketers will begin discussing energy security early (thought leadership, press release key words, contributed articles) to not only steer the conversation in their favor and build a long-term voice on the subject, but even to build SEO. A Google search of the key words: “Renewable”, “Energy” and “Security”, doesn’t turn up a single vendor on the first page—leaving the window wide-open to those who want to initiate the security conversation.
Fortunately also, the shift in messaging may not be that extreme from what many are already doing. Most of the key words and messages associated with economic benefits (reliability, cost-effectiveness, scalability) remain just as important from a security perspective. A quick project installation time may also be beneficial to stress, for entities looking to interfere with operations as little as possible. Pay back period and ROI, on the other hand, may be less important of a message.
Regardless of how security fits into your company's message, if your product is near-ready or already shipping, the emphasis on energy security should be on your radar for 2011.
As a PR professional and as someone who works for a firm that also offers GR services, there is no silver lining in this news. In an political era of absolutes and no middle ground, Evergreen has given clean technology naysayers ammo to argue that government support of renewables is a bad idea.
As someone who lives in the Bay Area, but grew up 20 miles west of Devens in a small town called Westminster, I am sad for Central Massachusetts, which could certainly use the 800 paid jobs and seeds of a new industry that Evergreen had planted.
As a realist, it has reinforced what has long been a belief of mine: That when a company has a choice between shareholders and Joe and Jane Taxpayer, they will choose shareholders every time as is their obligation as a public company. Does this mean that the government shouldn't invest in helping develop private industry in its region to stimulate jobs? No. But it may give the government pause about exactly the type and size of investment they should make.
Would it be great it just one company stood up and said, "margins be damned, we're going to stick by the commitment we made to the state of X and the millions of taxpayers who have supported us?" Sure. But they would be hammered by investor lawsuits immediately thereafter and likely have to reverse course.
So what is the only potential savior in this situation? That another company that can compete on cost while manufacturing in Massachusetts acquires the plant and starts production soon, similar to what Tesla has done with the NUMMI plant in Fremont. We have to hope that those skilled, 800 workers get their jobs back with a company committed to the region.
From a more macro point of view, it begs the question if more regions should take a page from Ontario and set a requirement that a certain percentage of product included in a system must be manufactured locally to qualify for a tax credit. Otherwise, there is little incentive for companies--especially public companies--to maintain a facility that increases its cost. Either that, or governments need to take a harder look at making more small, early-stage investments in companies that aren't yet beholden to Wall Street.
Luminus Devices manufactures the biggest LEDs in the world. The company works with many of the largest electronics companies and lighting companies, including Samsung, LG, Acer and Philips VariLite. The company is redefining the solid state lighting market. Their LEDs can last upwards of 50,000 hours (about 25 years of normal use), contain no mercury and use a fraction of the energy used in traditional incandescent light bulbs. The $40 billion lighting industry is going through an epic transformation with innovative companies like Luminus leading the way. Just one example: typical LEDs emit anywhere from 70-100 lumens per watt while some of Luminus' big chip LEDs provide an output of 20,000 lumens. Wow!!
This amazing story should be seen by everyone, so the Luminus team at Schwartz Communications recently organized a visit to their corporate headquarters in Billerica-MA by 5th Massachusetts Congressional District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. She met with senior management, toured the manufacturing facility and took questions from employees. This gave the PR team an opportunity to pitch local media outlets and to further educate reporters about the company, its products and how it has created more than 40 new local jobs in 2010. This was the first of what we hope is many steps in educating local and regional elected government officials. To learn more, visit: http://www.luminus.com/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1667#1667.
With planning underway for 2011 and Marcom budgets being finalized, now is the time to begin planning a visit by elected officials to your company. Ask yourself some simple questions. First, would your company benefit from government funding in the renewable energy or cleantech markets? If you answer yes then what are you waiting for? Second, reach out to elected officials to confirm a date for them to visit. Prepare a corporate overview with a few simple slides that the CEO can speak to. Then plan a walk-through of the manufacturing plant to give the official a first-hand look at the innovative technology your company is developing. After that, gather employees for an informal Q&A. Close the visit by having a short meeting between just the CEO and the official to discuss jobs and the challenges of manufacturing and employment in the United States. Shoot video of the visit and take many photographs for the company's web site. From start to finish the visit should last 60-90 minutes.
Even better – contact the Schwartz Government Relations Group and let’s talk about it. We do this frequently and we can help you make the most of working with public officials.
I'll be the first to admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the venue and location of this year's Solar Power International. The LA Convention Center, although very spread out, was a good venue to hold an industry event that is almost bursting at the seams with interest and enthusiasm.
So what was the buzz at this year's Solar Power event from a public relations' (PR) perspective? Here are some quick snapshots of what buzz I thought dominated the show:
1) Policy: This is a no brainer as ever since Solar Power 2008 in San Diego, policy has been a major focus of every event I've attended.
Top of mind? The US Treasury Grants for renewable energy projects. The grants are scheduled to expire and many think that failure to extend the grants would be a huge blow to an industry that has regained its legs after the financial crisis of 2008/2009. This is likely the top priority of the renewable energy lobby right now and should be through the end of the year.
The final hot topic was the Reverse-Auction Mechanism Feed-in Tariff (RAM FiT) under consideration by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The program, which would fund up to 1 GW of solar projects over the next five years, would be a huge boost to the wholesale solar energy market, equaling the California installed solar figure for all of 2009 (220 MW) just through the RAM FiT program.
If the Treasury Grants are extended, Proposition 23 is defeated and the CPUC program is implemented, we could see a golden age of solar adoption over the next five years.
2) Inverters: When Schwartz helped launch a DC Power Optimization technology at Intersolar Munich in 2009, the inverter market was fairly stagnant from an innovation standpoint. Enphase and microinverters were still relatively new, eIQ Energy and Sustainable Energy Technologies hadn't launched their offerings yet and major vendors like Satcon and Xantrex were taking their lumps for poor performance.
Today? Innovation is happening at all levels of the inverter market, from residential to utility. It seems every month there is a new microinverter or DC power optimization technology being launched, aimed at making systems cheaper and "smarter," and providing new ways to maximize solar investments. Combined with some new architectures and products at the utility-scale level from vendors like Advanced Energy (which acquired PVPowered) and Satcon, and you have new life in what was considered to be a "dumb box" market several years ago. Now many experts are saying a shake out and M&A wave will come, that will result in some of the larger vendors acquiring some of the more cutting-edge technologies. It also will be interesting to monitor inverters as the renewable energy interface with smart grid deployments.
3) Tracking, CPV and CIGS: Several technologies have gained wider spread-acceptance and adoption over the last year, resulting in Engineering, Procurement & Design (EPC) firms taking a harder look at where they fit in future project plans. More than one company mentioned that CPV technologies are on the cusp of seeing widespread deployment as developers look for ways to improve returns on solar implementations and reach a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE).
Tracking is another area that, albeit not new, is starting to generate some buzz among large EPCs. Whereas the technology has, in the past, had some bankability problems the entrance of European project financiers into the North American market is beginning to increase investor appetite for risk in terms of incorporating less proven tracking technologies into systems. Most of the market is focused on single axis tracking currently, but dual-axis tracking could soon be popping up in more project designs.
No cell technology market has been more maligned than CIGS over the past few years with the well-publicized missteps of some of Silicon Valley's most well-funded CIGS companies. But with a renewed emphasis on capital efficiency, performance and new BIPV form factors, CIGS is seeing a bit of a rebirth. The technology has always been the lab darling of the thin-film crowd with great theoretical efficiencies and solid small-scale performance. Many are predicting that it will finally live up to its promise.
4) SunPower Advantage Almost Gone? Over the past few years SunPower has been seen as the market leader in module performance, commanding a premium over other technologies. But now many are saying that the low-cost module makers from outside the US are shifting their attention to performance which could erode SunPower's performance advantage and eat into the company's premium status. On the installation side, several technologies are emerging which could rival SunPower's T5 Roof Tile. Zep Solar, Lumeta Solar and others are generating a lot of buzz
So that is one Cleantech PR flack's take on the topics that seemed to dominate the event. We talked to our 12 clients attending the show in some capacity, and all of them agreed there is a good deal to be optimistic about in 2011. On to Dallas...
This reminds me of a piece I read about a month ago in Wired, by Erin Biba, on why science, and specifically the global warming movement, needs to “step up its PR game”. The message is quite simple: perception of the threat of global warming is muddled and confused leaving the public lethargic and complacent.
The global warming movement needs serious work in relating to the public (get it?). Sure, individual companies and groups do a good job at marketing their products and services, but the overall industry suffers from doubt, confusion and severe skepticism. In the article, Kelly Bush, founder of entertainment PR firm ID, offers some great insight on how the issue isn’t brought close enough to home. Here is an excerpt:
“They need to make people answer the questions, ‘What’s in it for me? How does it affect my daily life? What can I do that will make a difference?’ Answering these questions is what’s going to start a conversation,” Bush says. “The messaging up to this point has been ‘Here are our findings. Read it and believe.’ The deniers are convincing people that the science is propaganda.”
Oddly, the piece doesn’t mention the BP oil spill once, which seems to be the best example of how to make the clean energy movement hit home (even though the consequences of the oil spill are not really comparable to the consequences of global warming). On top of that is the shocking “Gasland”, a documentary that reveals the massive environmental legal loopholes awarded to natural gas companies, and the deplorable impacts of the operations on local drinking water. With examples like these that literally bring the environmental impact to our front door, environmentalists and the clean energy industry should have enough ammo to counter just about any argument. So why can't they?
The full, 821-page Climate Bill, aka the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, is available here.
Kerry's synopsis, focusing on green collar jobs, national security and the broader economy is here.
We'll have some thoughts on the bill as a whole, including the public relations, public affairs and funding implications for Cleantech Companies soon.
My apologies to the Senior Senator from Massachusetts as the title and focus are better than I expected in terms of targeting economic and national security audiences. That said, I think that legislative communications teams could do a better job of branding bills in advance of their release with more context for the media.
The largest news in April for clean energy could have been Solyndra’s debt woes, a PR debacle that could prevent its IPO, result in millions of dollars of squandered federal funding and provide a massive PR salvo for opponents of government investment in cleantech movement.
CapeWind - This announcements is important in scope and, perhaps more importantly, precedent. Despite 9 years of protests from a wide-range of opponents, the federal government has acknowledged that our nation’s energy needs are more important than ideological or NIMBY opposition, no matter how heavy-handed. This is an important case for the PR and GR efforts for the entire clean energy industry. Hopefully this is the first of a number DOI-supported wind farms off the Atlantic Coast and in the Great Lakes.
DOE funding – This funding was for research focusing on electrofuels, batteries and carbon capture. From a PR point of view, this is a much-deserved acknowledgment of the importance and potential of these technologies, which often play second-fiddle to solar, wind and smart grid technology. And though the second fiddle status makes sense from a market maturity standpoint, these technologies still address important problems that require solving.
Amonix – Like most clean energy PR, “scalable” and “cost-reduction” are more important phrases these days than “break-through” or “cutting-edge”. Amonix, which emphasizes “scale” and “low energy production costs”, is an example in the shift in how companies position and market their clean energy technologies. Clean energy financing will likely continue this trend, as VCs demand quicker payback and more manageable reliable products. Schwartz is fortunate to work with several interesting companies in solar that are solving the scale and cost issues around traditional solar technologies.
What does this all mean? In a month where a cleantech bellwether fell on hard times, we saw a number of good developments that are fueling cleantech adoption and acceptance. This good PR for cleantech concerns across the board is more than welcome. Let’s hope it continues and reduces the squabbling over the long-awaited climate bill.
Approval of the Cape Wind project is a major government relations and public relations boost for the wind industry, as project developers, financiers and clean-energy supporters look to develop the gigawatts of power available along the eastern seaboard. As the most hotly contested offshore wind project in history, Cape Wind could be a bellwether for future projects up and down the east coast.
With the WindPower 2010 conference less than a month away, Cape Wind approval is sure to dominate discussion at the event. While Europe has had significant offshore wind power generation for nearly two decades, the US has lagged behind due to coastal community opposition and the lack of longer-term tax incentives which can help fund projects through the years of development it takes to get them up and running.
No matter how you slice it, the DOI decision is a major PR and GR win for the cleantech industry.
One quick hit this Monday morning involving a Schwartz PR client and the cleantech start-up world. Forbes created a slide show featuring the 12 hottest cleantech start ups according to SharesPost.
At SharesPost.com, you can find bulletin boards of private company shares, including offers to buy and sell in companies like Suniva, Bloom Energy, Amyris Biotechnologies, Altra Biofuels, Altarock Energy, eSolar, GreatPoint Energy, GridPoint and Bright Source Energy. These are some great early stage companies backed by a "whose who" of cleantech VCs, including NEA Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia and others, in markets like smart grid, solar, biofuels and fuel cells.
As investors wonder about private company liquidity even amid some potential cleantech IPOs, secondary market options like SharesPost are stepping in. It is an exciting time to be at the intersection of clean technology and private equity.
The cleantech VC world will come together next week at AlwaysOn GoingGreen East in Boston, where the organization showcases the GoingGreen 50. Drop us a line if you're planning to attend, as Schwartz handles the public relations for that event.
There have been a few big announcements this week that have been good visibility for the Cleantech and Green industry from a public relations and government relations standpoint, including a long-time stealth player drawing back the covers and a major DOE loan guarantee for a big solar thermal player. The news comes as the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco and Renewable Energy World in Austin attempt to monopolize attention.
-BrightSource Energy received a major loan guarantee from the Department of Energy to develop plants in California. This is a big government relations win for the solar market overall, as the government continues to back solar.
Everyone we talk to is bullish about cleantech in general in 2010, with a potential second boom cycle beginning in 2011. The question is how much new technology ground will be broken and how instrumental will Uncle Sam be in driving adoption/investment.
It's been awhile since we posted on Renewablog and with good reason. After a very busy 2009 in which we saw the federal government's attitude toward renewables and cleantech change overnight, the blog team went on a short hiatus to focus on 2010 client planning.
It also served as good time to reflect on what worked in 2009 from a green public relations, government relations and search-engine marketing perspective, and what else needs to be done in 2010 by cleantech stakeholders. I think most would agree that 2009 ended much stronger than some would have anticipated entering the year.
Even with an underwhleming Copenhagen and the lack of a climate bill, 2010 holds a lot of promise. European and Asian companies continue to look at the US as TNBT in green adoption, even without a climate bill. The EPA's naming of carbon as a public danger and the willingness of the agency to enforce reporting rules has many saying it is only a matter of "when" and not "if" carbon emisssion reductions (CERs) become mandatory. Obama continued to accept and promote new ideas, like "Cash for Caulkers."
But even with some positive signs, there are some things that keep cleantech marketers and public affairs pros up at night, the biggest of which is the midterm elections. It is now unlikely that a climate bill will get passed in 2010. The big question will then be what will Congress look like when it takes up the bill in 2011? If the Democrats have significantly smaller majorities in the House and Senate, will a bill be so watered down that it will have little meaning?
The silver lining is that there are a lot of ways to skin the climate cat, including further EPA regulation or very aggressive, big economy states, like California and New York passing laws that become de facto national standards for cap and trade. The hope is that the federal government takes the renewable-powered torch and runs with it in 2011, but it is comorting to know that if it doesn't, there are ways to move climate measures forward.
So this is the backdrop as we approach the first two renewable energy shows of the seaon: Retech 2010 in Washington DC and Renewable Energy World in Austin. Both are interesting events that tackle very broad themes and market segments, including solar, wind, biofuels, waste to energy, waste heat to energy, geothermal and a number of others. Retech is a bit more policy focused, whereas REW will help shine light on Austin's rapidly growing cleantech credentials.
We'll do our best to take the temperature of both events and report back what we learn.
President Obama "filled in the cracks" on the long-rumored Cash for Caulkers program yesterday as part of a new jobs plan. The latest details have consumers eligible for a $12,000 tax credit if they take steps to weatherize their homes. The goal would be to put contractors back to work and also stimulate the buying of home products aimed at energy efficiency, which would be good news for Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart and others sellers of home improvement materials.
Speaking of energy efficiency, the New York Times reports on a new study that says that focusing on efficiency could reduce energy consumption by 30 percent by 2030, thereby reducing the need for the US to build new power plants. The article reminded me of the fact that renewable energy continues to get the lion's share of media attention, even as people look for cost-effective, pragmatic and near-term ways to cut energy usage in a down economic environment.
That is not to say that renewables get too much attention as they are a critically important part of energy independence and the US economy. But rather that companies with legitimate energy efficiency products need to do a better job marketing the size of the problem they solve and the potential ROI for customers--and the economy at large.
We've had Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Could today be Green Monday? Based on the positive news we have seen today for the Cleantech industry, maybe it should be.
While the world had its eyes firmly planted on Copenhagen and the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the US government said, "Bring your gaze back to this side of the Atlantic" with a couple of significant announcements.
First, the EPA has declared that carbon dioxide is a public danger giving it the right to further regulate and curb emissions without the consent of Congress. This is a huge step forward in the Obama administration's move to cut US carbon emissions. Essentially, the White House just told the US Senate that it better tune out the energy lobby and focus on the issue at hand. It will be interesting to see if this lights a fire under the Senate to get legislation passed before the EPA enforces something more draconian than private industry would like.
Second, the Obama administration has announced that Green patent review will be fast tracked to 12 months from the current 40 in the hopes of getting new technologies funded and viable in a shorter period of time. This is bound to fuel even more R&D and investment in clean technologies.
All of this comes as the world focuses its attention on Cop15 and the world's largest and fastest-growing carbon emitters, like the US, China and India. How important is the Cop15 event to Cleantech companies?
So important that Earth2Tech's Katie Fehrenbacher and other US-based cleantech reporters and bloggers are on the ground covering and Tweeting from the conference. It should be an interesting 12 days as we learn more about the seriousness with which the world's largest economies will fight climate change.
The final piece of good news was from the solar market which apparently has seen demand start to grow for the first time this year. Many are expecting the US to be 2010's big solar market as PPAs continue to gain traction and renewable portfolio standards, feed-in-tariffs and other policy measures start to have a bigger impact on demand. The EPA declaration could also drive adoption as industrial and utility audiences expand their renewable energy portfolios and accumulate credits ahead of any federal carbon policy.
No matter which way you slice it, today has been a very good day for Cleantech stakeholders.
The next few days will be fun as the Silicon Valley VC and private company investment community comes together at two Cleantech events. Full disclosure: We're doing PR for one of the events and have six clients speaking at the other.
Then, tomorrow afternoon, VentureBeat kicks off its GreenBeat 2009 event, The Conference on the Smart Grid. The event has an elite roster of speakers including John Doerr, Al Gore, Don Wood and Vinod Khosla. It also brings together innovative Smart Grid companies large and small, from Siemens, IBM and Cisco, to Tendril and EcoFactor. Schwartz is a Silver Sponsor of the event and we hope to see you there!
Monday morning saw two pieces of good news for the Green Economy as it relates to job creation.
A study published by three universities shows that President Obama's focus on Green Collar jobs will help create 1.9 million jobs and boost annual household income by $1000. If the $1000 figure focuses on an increase in gross household income, the study likely fails to measure the increase in discretionary household income that could result in more efficient home energy practices driven in part by Smart Grid adoption by consumers. Consumer spending is a huge economic stimulus in its own right and reducing one of the largest monthly budgetary items for households, while boosting gross income, would be a huge boon for other sectors.
A separate study by iSupply shows that the solar panel supply glut is working itself out, which could lead to recovering solar prices and kickstart a new wave of solar cell and module manufacturing. With many Asian and European solar manufacturers looking to boost manufacturing capacity inside the US to take advantage of government incentives and grants, and a number of US companies ramping up their manufacturing capactity, the result could be a wave of new manufacturing jobs in places like Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Silicon Valley.
These trends, combined with a thawing in financing and a broader economic recovery, point to 2010 and 2011 being boom years for Cleantech job creation.
With much of the US utility market and solar industry gathered in Anaheim for the SPI conference, this will no doubt give the cleantech industry as a whole a major boost. Venture Capitalists made cleantech the top funding market for Q3, but were having trouble raising new funds. With government dollars flowing, policy driving cleantech adoption and a slowly improving economy, it is only a matter of time before we start seeing the health of VC and private equity fund raises improve as LPs jump back on the cleantech bandwagon.
The news will also inject even more life into the GreenBeat 2009 event in November, where leaders in smart grid policy, technology and adoption will get together to discuss the market environment for 2010. Al Gore and others will be keynoting the event and Schwartz is a Silver Sponsor.
For updates at Solar Power, follow @jasonmorris and I'll try to report back on major happenings at the show.
In retrospect it seemed inevitable, but according to a new report by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte & Touche, cleantech has emerged as the number one sector in U.S. venture capital investment. This is a big deal...literally. The numbers are staggering--in Q3 2009 $1.59 billion was invested in 134 cleantech companies.
The report indicates that over the next few quarters cleantech is expected to stay on top of the investment heap (over IT and biotech). Reasons include investment risk mitagation in the form of government support through grants and loan guarantees and the "A123 Systems" halo effect--a monster IPO that gives VCs hope for lucrative cleantech exits.
Cleantech investors, companies, media and green PR folk watched today's A123 Nasdaq debut with intense interest as the battery maker became the first cleantech concern to IPO in some time. Up 36 percent in early trading, A123 has not disappointed. With cleantech patents at an all time high, cleantech investing on the rebound and stimulus money starting to flow, there could be more green IPOs in the coming months.
A123 benefits from being at the intersection of two important trends: energy storage and the electrification of cars. Batteries have long been cited as a technology that needs to improve for renewable energy to reach its full potential. Car electrification dominated discussion among some of the panels at AlwaysOn GoingGreen last week as Tesla, Bright Automotive, Coda, Fisker and their investors littered panels at the event.
Expect A123's IPO to be a further boon to battery start ups in the coming weeks and months, as VCs look to find the next big technology in that sector.
Yesterday we had the pleasure of having Camille Ricketts, the lead Green writer for VentureBeat, into our San Francisco office. For the twenty PR clients we work with in solar, smart grid, biofuels, water desalination, carbon management and Green IT, Camille is a top contact--especially for those looking to reach a green investment audience. Camille considers herself to still be a bit new to the Green space, although at more than six months she is a grizzled veteran in the high-turnover world of media.
She ran through a good background of VentureBeat and her specific focus, all of which was useful. But perhaps the most helpful information for a Green PR person is tips and tricks for working with a journalist more effectively. So onto Camille's preferences:
-Follow Up: She is very conscientious about email pitches and will follow up on nearly everything if given the time. Therefore, she prefers second contact to come in the form of an email and requests a bit of patience because she will try to respond.
-Social Media: Camille doesn't mind direct messages on Twitter as long as you have something that can be of use to her. She'll read them and Tweet you back if she is interested.
-Sources: While Camille likes speaking with venture capitalists, she doesn't want a VC source that is simply going to cheerlead for a company. She wants details on why a deal came together and why the VC chose your company over a competitor.
-Embargoes & Exclusives: Both Camille and VentureBeat as an outlet, appreciate the use of embargoes and exclusives by PR people. They will honor embargoes as long as a PR firm is good to its word and VentureBeat does not get scooped after agreeing to one. VentureBeat writers pride themselves on integrity and will not agree to something they won't honor. Like almost all media outlets, they like an exclusive because it allows them to do a longer piece without fear of being scooped. The good news is that I think they're likely to get more exclusives moving forward thanks to a strong syndication relationship with the New York Times web site.
-Future Focus: Camille expects to be writing a lot about Smart Grid and Green IT in the coming weeks as VentureBeat ramps up for its GreenBeat 2009 event in November. With Al Gore, John Doerr and other high profile presenters, it should be a great event.
Overall, Camille shared some great information about working with a top outlet covering how finance and policy are impacting the cleantech market.
The last few weeks may have been the best PR stretch of 2009 for solar, wind and other cleantech and green markets, especially from a finance standpoint. It should provide a considerable uplift to spirits at AlwaysOn GoingGreen next week as the cleantech venture capital, private equity and investment banking community gathers to discuss industry issues in water, smart grid, energy management, solar, wind, energy storage and renewable fuels. Some of the positive news from the past few weeks:
-Treasury grants started flowing from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), promising to fund a new way of renewable energy projects in wind and solar.
-Cleantech patents hit an all time high in Q2, showing that companies and entrepreneurs continue to innovate and that many new Green technologies are likely coming to market in 2010 and beyond.
That last bullet flew under the radar in many circles (a partner in a late stage VC firm I talked to said he had not heard anything about IBM's interest in water) and water as a whole gets less attention than energy on a national level. I am a firm believer that water is the next big sector that will attract massive investment and media attention, as the US comes to better understand that water is a national issue.
Couple all of these developments with Hara and other companies being successful in their fundraising activities, and you have what looks to be a significant financial thaw across various green industries. It could also be with Obama's speech on healthcare reform tonight that some form of bill gets passed and that the Energy & Water bill moves back to the top of the legislative priority list, which could result in the creation of the Green Bank and more funding avenues for cleantech companies.
With GoingGreen, PVSec, Solar Power International, Dow Jones Alternative Energy Innovations Conference, Power-Gen, Clean Tech Futures and a number of other events upcoming, we'll be able to monitor the impact of all of this news on the collective psyche of the cleantech market. It should be a fun final third to 2009.
**Schwartz Plug Alert**
We issued a release today highlighting the growth of our Cleantech & Green PR and Public Affairs Practice during 2009. We've become the Agency of Record for ten great organizations thus far in 2009, thereby doubling our footprint in the market. It's an exciting time to be in PR.
Important news yesterday that the Treasury Department has granted more than $500 million in grants to some major cleantech projects, most of them related to wind power. These grants are in cash versus the traditional 30 percent tax credit that companies had been receiving. Expect solar, wind and biofuels projects to receive additional funding in the coming months.
With new cash flowing in from the government, green VCs and foreign investors, the market is looking at a major rebound in Q4 and 2010. All of the positive news around financing should help offset falling solar panel prices, declining wind patents and biofuel production snafus, leading to a better green PR environment in the coming months.
It also seems incredibly Warren Buffet like to be raising a fund at a time when others have turtled and to be investing capital when other VCs are a bit concerned about the corporate viability of their investments. Maybe now is the best time to be investing, when cleantech company risk seems low due to more reasonable valuations and with an increase in government loans and support. If the recent boom in cleantech and green patents is any indication, there will be a lot of companies looking for money in the coming 12-24 months.
It means that the demise of cleantech has been dramtically exaggerated and that we're likely to see an investment recovery in 2010, continuing the trend that started in Q2. It also means that cleantech and green marketers should use the Khosla fund as a proof point that things are only going to get noisier and that competitor marketing coffers are likely to increase over the next 12 months.
Schwartz represents a large patent and intellectual property firm, Finnegan, with an established Green industry practice, and we're guessing business has been pretty good for them and firms like them.
What does this mean? Well, we know that Cleantech and Green Venture Capitalists love patents since investing in companies without some legally enforced technical barrier to entry is seen as somewhat foolish. New technology development and a spike in patents could lead to an even bigger rebound in early-stage investing. And while the spike could have been driven in part by emerging-growth companies like Bloom Energy, it also points to the fact that large company R&D is likely increasing in cleantech, for example, automakers in fuel cells, GE and others in wind and smart grid, etc. It also could lead to future acquisitions of smaller companies with strong patent positions, by some of the larger companies in the market.
Many of these patent holders will also likely look for Department of Energy (DOE) grants and R&D grants from other government entities, in order to commercialize some of these technologies. This points to even more competition in the green public affairs world.
Overall, this is yet another sign that the cleantech financing environment and green PR noise will further rebound in 2010.
Schwartz Communications is proud to announce that the firm is now a member of the Coalition for the Green Bank, an industry organization in support of the creation of a cleantech financing fund at the federal level. The Green Bank is a measure in the Waxman-Markey energy bill which is currently slotted behind healthcare insurance reform in Congress.
The measure will be an important part of financing future cleantech companies and market adoption. With the Green Bank, a financial recovery and a rebound in cleantech venture capital investment, 2010 promises to be a bright year. There are a number of leading companies, including Applied Materials, Blue Source and GE Energy Financial Services putting their cleantech public affairs and public relations support behind the organization.
We're excited to be part of the Green Bank support team.
Few regions of the country have been hit harder by water scarcity issues than California. From Santa Cruz, Monterey, Long Beach, Carlsbad and Huntington Beach-seawater desalination has been turned to in a big way to combat the problem. It also has had to fight an uphill PR and Public Affairs battle thanks to outdated perceptions around the process, especially regarding energy costs. In working with Energy Recovery, Inc., a company that manufactures an energy-saving pump for seawater reverse-osmosis (SWRO) desalination, we've seen firsthand how much misinformation persists with government, media and general public audiences.
On Wednesday, the Marin County water board approved (unanimously) the creation of a $105 million dollar desal plant. Unfortunately, town halls in San Rafael (where the plant will be) echoed the inaccurate perceptions around what this will mean for people's drinking water as well as NIMBY-related aesthetics objections—all which aren't helping to pull California out of its water emergencies. Water recycling and conservation are great and more of each is needed, but those measures alone won't help save a water system built to serve 18 million people in a 36 million resident state.
Venture capitalists realize that water is the next looming crisis nationally and something that goes beyond the bounds of local communities. By building plants along the California coast—and other coastal regions such as Florida and Texas—more of the existing water can go to agriculture, lessening the need to draw water from river deltas and reducing the impact on fish and wildlife along rivers and their tributaries. That is why companies in reverse osmosis membranes, carbon nanotubes and other technologies are beginning to see a significant amount of private investment.
At least the proposed Marin County desal plant is raising the issue, and presenting an opportunity for stakeholders in the industry to teach people how new technologies are improving the process by reducing energy consumption and impact to wildlife. Perhaps then more people will appreciate how and where desalination fits in as one piece to solving the water crisis—which includes recycling, conservation, and most importantly, education.
What struck me about this piece was not just the fact that I think LaMonica's premise is right, but that PR firms like Schwartz have also found themselves entering cleantech company engagements at an earlier point than in security, application development, virtualization, medical devices, etc. The question is why? It is complicated question with several answers--some generic and some only applicable to the firms involved.
Generally speaking, the cleantech market is a dogfight. The days of nine-figure VC rounds for cleantech companies are likely over and so companies need to be visible, talking about the technology or service they have developed, why it is unique and the corresponding market opportunity. If you consider there will likely be 3-5 companies that get to $100 million in revenue in each market niche, that means dozens will be left in the cold. Selling off IP or worse, going out of business. The race to be one of the handful of success stories starts day one since every day a company holds back, competitors are generating awareness and mind share with government audiences, venture capitalists, investment banks, partners, customers, etc.
For Schwartz, our technology business has always followed the venture capital and private equity markets. If VCs start pouring dollars into a market, they typically advise their portfolio companies that the first external marketing spend should be PR. We have also represented a number of firms themselves, including PR for Charles River Ventures, Matrix Partners, Pod Holdings and Fairhaven Capital. Given the fact that many cleantech companies are taking VC money earlier, it leads them to hire firms earlier. This also attracts larger companies to a market, like GE in wind or Sanyo in solar, and results in our working with some innovative divisions of bigger concerns.
We've seen this early trend explode recently. We've launched three cleantech companies out of stealth in the past three months from a PR standpoint--two in solar and one in renewable fuels. One of our clients asked us to come in before they had a public-facing web site. They wanted us involved in grassroots messaging, category branding, web site development, etc. We helped them manage the entire process and worked with them for multiple months before one ounce of external communications was executed. It was one of the most successful launches we've ever had by a number of different PR and business metrics. This is the new PR paradigm for agencies in cleantech and the point at which many clients should begin engaging with their firm.
The message: Be able to support them early on or get out.
Another Schwartz-specific dynamic is the fact that we offer public affairs, which can help early-stage cleantech and green companies raise capital from government grants, loan guarantees and appropriations requests. This can be in the form of direct R&D type grants, loan guarantees for building or retrofitting a plant, or revenue from a government funded project.
That said, even though it is starting earlier, PR and Public Affairs need to be grounded in pragmatism in what is an increasingly cynical environment. "If I had a nickle for every company that said 'energy independence' I'd be rich," said a Forbes reporter during a recent interview with a client. The fact of the matter is that 2005 through mid-2008 saw a number of solar, biofuel and wind start ups make some outlandish claims based on assumptions that $100 million rounds would forever grow on trees and that they had the silver bullet to thin-film manufacturing or algae biofuel extraction.
We've heard a lot about "shovel ready" projects for government funding. Well, companies need to have "PR ready" claims that are defensible not necessarily in the moment, but definitely over time.
The message: Hyberbole is the enemy of credibility.
So as I look at the marketing and business lifecycle of a Cleantech start-up, technology development and patent protection are obviously the first steps but that is also a good inflection point for targeted public affairs looking at grants. After that initial funding is received, companies are then looking to reach a broader government audience, gain support from pilot partners and customers, and immediately go into their next fund raise. This creates the need for a web site and a targeted public relations campaign. Once there is product or service to sell, the full-blown public affairs and PR campaign begins, supporting lead generation, brand awareness and appropriations drives for customer projects.
What does it all mean? It means that the world gets noisier in PR and public affairs for companies in solar, wind, biofuels, batteries, geothermal, batteries and smart grid, than it does in security, open source and the data center. It means that plenty of really early stage companies make announcements at PVSEC, National Biofuels, Intersolar, Wind Power, PowerGen, AlwaysOn GoingGreen and Solar Power International, and demand attention.
So while PR has always been the emerging growth company's best marketing weapon, for cleantech companies, it becomes a bigger part of the puzzle at an earlier stage than ever.
There was an interesting piece from Martin LaMonica at CNET this morning focused on what it will take from an investment standpoint to drive the coming greentech or cleantech revolution. He talks about the different options (government, investment banks, VCs) and where each could fit in the puzzle.
LaMonica points out that several years ago, VCs were the source of investment for capital-heavy technologies like solar and biofuels. As a result, they got into nine-figure VC rounds that were supposed to get many manufacturers to $1 per watt solar cells or $50 per barrel oil equivalents. Instead, many companies fell short of their promise and VCs have been faced with either pumping in more cash or helping portfolio companies find new sources of money (hello DOE!). Unfortunately, all of the fancy PR in the world cannot rewrite history to show that companies actually made those projections about 2013 instead of 2010.
He also mentions that many companies just don't fit the old VC approach of finding a great technology, a solid patent position and a large market opportunity, and then invest. It will take the government and banks to get many companies to commercialization.
One expert, Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress, thinks that the creation of the Green Bank, a proposal in the House version of the Energy Bill, would be a key cog in government driving cleantech innovation. I agree completely.
What does it all mean? Financing has significantly dampened cleantech progress both from a macroeconomic standpoint, as well as from an individual company financing point of view. However, more and more companies and VCs are figuring out the cleantech financing puzzle which could be another critical factor in 2010 being a year of hyper-growth in cleantech.
There is also a next wave of cleantech start ups who are not just innovating from a technology standpoint, but also from a manufacturing/commercialization standpoint that will eliminate healthy percentages of the capex requirements to reach full-scale manufacturing. Keep an eye out for such companies in solar, biofuels and wind.
Get prepared for more citizien "rage" at town halls. No, not town halls where the discussion is focused on health insurance reform. But instead town halls focused on the energy bill---legislation that could help alleviate US dependence on foreign sources of energy, ease geopolitical tensions by reducing our interest in politically unstable regions like the middle east, battle the effects of climate change, create thousands of Green Collar Jobs and reduce the cost of energy for every American.
The American Petroleum Institute issued a memo (Daily Kos has it) asking "Energy Citizens" (i.e. employees, retired people, anti-environment protestors and the bored) to demonstrate against climate legislation. It seems API has data that suggests jobs will be lost and energy costs will skyrocket if this legislation is passed. Only offshore drilling apparently creates jobs in this country. What does Greenpeace think?
"It's the most powerful among us, masquerading as grass-roots outrage to stifle debate on global warming," Michael Crocker, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said in a statement printed in the Washington Post. I'd agree with that assessment. Drill baby, drill.
Is the energy bill perfect? No legislation can be. But when you are talking about a long-overdue bill to address a ticking timebomb like climate change (or healthcare, or social security, etc), perfect is the enemy of good.
What's maybe most interesting is that there are a number of members of API that also dabble in renewables like BP and Shell, both of whom manufacture solar products and both of whom are also members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Talk about PR conflicted.
Now skeptics may say that Shell and BP only belong to the group to try and moderate policy positions that come out of the group, but it could also be that they have read the tea leaves and know that only the election of Dick Cheney as our next president would stop the movement to renewable energy and stronger climate change policy in the US.
Not to be outdone, the coal industry and other conservative lobbies will join in the rally. Will SEIA, SEPA, AWEA and others turn out people to counter those rallies? If so, the biggest beneficiaries may be people who drag coolers of springs water to the events to sell for $4 apiece as protestors bake in the August sun.
It has been well covered that VCs have poured billions into cleantech and green the last few years with markets like solar, wind, biofuels, smart grid and batteries receiving a good chunk of those investments. In fact, thin-film solar alone received several hundred millions of dollars in 2008, creating the potential for several big winners or losers among cleantech investments. Very respected firms like Draper Fisher Jurvetson, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Khosla, Kleiner Perkins and Good Energies led the way, and many VC firms followed.
And while cleantech and green PR firms, the media and venture capitalists all did a great job publicizing the investments, there was an undertone of concern with regards to how the companies would deliver a return to their shareholders (VCs, entpreneurs and employees) and how well served the limited partner (LP) community would be by such investments.
With the credit crunch and struggles of the broader economy, many predicted a cleantech M&A shakeout that would last into 2010 before the market started a recovery. While there has been some M&A, the stimulus package, government adoption, follow-on rounds from existing investors and other measures have helped many cleantech companies weather the storm. So while private companies are not selling themsleves for dimes on the dollar (good news for investors), the market is still not strong enough to support a rash of cleantech IPOs. Or IPOs in Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
So what is the best exit for some private cleantech company shareholders? Enter SharesPost and the hassle-free secondary market exit. The company brings together buyers (private equity firms, VC firms, high net-worth investors and the companies themselves) and sellers (angel investors, VC firms, entrepreneurs and employees) of shares in private companies to provide a third exit for private company sharesholders. SharesPost already has had one Tesla Motors transaction go to contract and escrow, and just released a third-party report on SolarCity which may help facilitate more trades. Multiple buy and sell posts exist for both companies.
Private company data has been a major missing component in facilitating secondary market trades in the past and SharesPost is looking to solve that. This will be a good thing for the market, as it will help keep executive talent working at emerging growth companies, versus seeing everyone head to larger cleantech companies like First Solar, GE and Applied Materials.
Expect to see more Cleantech companies on SharesPost in the near future as some of the market darlings realize they are in it for the long haul and founders, employees and early-stage investors decide they need liquidity.
This week saw the Intersolar conference come to San Francisco, hosted by a bigger event: SemiCon. And while Intersolar was relegated to Moscone West, with the larger SemiCon in the North and South halls, popular opinion was that the situation could be flipped in the near future.
Want proof? How about Applied Materials exhibiting at Intersolar and not at SemiCon. Unthinkable five years ago. At least their site's meta tags still have semiconductors listed first...
With public policy getting more and more aggressive in its support of solar and a federal government that promises to be very solar friendly through at least the midterm elections next year, you are bound to see this trend not only continue, but maybe even accelerate. I wrote during Solar Power International last year about how it seemed we were living in a bubble (versus experiencing a bubble). The tax credits were being renewed and uncapped, with the promise of an Obama energy policy that would carry the market through 2009.
Intersolar was a bit more pragmatic, as I expect PVSEC and SPI to be this year. But, I think everyone agrees that the question is "when?" and not "if ?" the US solar market resumes its skyward trajectory again.
Some other quick observations:
-Clients, industry observers and media came back from Intersolar Munich with one conclusion: the US will be the dominant market in solar during the second half of 2009 and 2010. This is in large part to a government that is spending money on credits, rebates, etc. while some European governments turtle on spending. That feeling was reiterated by a number of US and international players at Intersolar US. Bottom line: If you are a major solar player in Germany, Europe, China or Spain, now is the time to look at the US market and/or start US subsidiaries.
-A couple of exhibitors said that the Intersolar crowd is much more sophisticated than Solar Power International. Many more engineers, project managers and large integrators. This leads to longer, more informed discussions about large-scale projects and how engineering firms should be building out specifications for projects. SPI is more of a mish-mash of audiences, including smaller time local installers looking for new products and distirbutors.
-I loved the event. One thing though: Does the floor layout need to be so confusing? The 9000 booths were on the lowest level and the 7000s are up top. The numbers are not very well ordered or laid out and make almost no sense. Plus, are there really 10,000 booths? I am originally from Massachusetts and Boston is the capital of unmarked roads and one way streets, so for me to feel that disoriented is a bit rare.
-Are you attending PVSEC or Solar Power International? Tweet @jasonmorris and maybe we can meet while your there.
Word today that Tesla ($465 million), Ford ($440 million) and Nissan ($1.4 billion) are beneficiaries of government loans to turn out next-generation, fuel-efficient cars. The loans were awarded as part of the government's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.
The next 12 months will be extremely interesting in terms of seeing how the Green auto supply chain shapes up with regards to batteries, charging infrastructure and other types of technologies. The battery manufacturers themselves have also been the beneficiary of some recent government funding, which means more and more companies will bring technologies to market which will in turn make the PR world a bit more noisy. There is already a feeding frenzy among state governments to attract green car and battery manufacturers to abandoned automotive plants.
According to a post on VentureBeat this week, cleantech stimulus funds targeted at wind, solar, smart grid, biofuels, carbon management and other key categories, will starting trickling into company coffers come September. New Energy Finance Group predicts that while some cleantech funding will flow in 2009 resulting in a thawing of bank loans and cleantech venture capital, the bulk of the money will be invested in 2010 and 2011.
As a result, September through December will likely be a critical time for cleantech companies in search of government investment or project financing, In addition to the stimulus money, the fourth quarter will begin the FY 2011 appropriations process in earnest. Cleantech companies will likely need to focus on public affairs and government relations during that time to take advantage of what could be the last budgeting cycle with a cleantech-friendly White House and Congress in control.
A new study covered by Kate Galbraith at the NY Times says that Green Collar Jobs grew twice as quickly as jobs in the rest of the economy from 1998-2007. Given that this study doesn't cover the hyper investment in solar, wind, smart grid, green IT, biofuels, geothermal, batteries, green autos, etc. during 2008, and the hiring that resulted, my guess is that the next study will show even faster growth over the past 10 years. Factor in green stimulus measures during 2009 and you likely have something approaching a Green New Deal.
It would be interesting to see what they specifically classify as a green job. Take Schwartz PR. We have more than a dozen cleantech clients and more than 40 people working with those companies. We couldn't say that in 1998, so technically they have been created by the movement to green products, services and technologies. My guess is that this study dramtically underestimates the number of people who have part or all of their employment driven by the growth in the cleantech market, especially people working in green pr, public affairs, marketing, legal services, media and investing.
How is that possible? Khosla says that Cleantech is not about solar, wind or biofuels, but about re-engineering the way society lives, from lighting to concrete. When asked about the size of the problem, Khosla says that he sees only opportunities. Furthermore, he talks about how clean technologies have to achieve unsubsidized market viability within 5-7 years or they will struggle to be an investment and commercial success. Overall, just a very interesting interview with someone with an amazing track record of finding breakthrough technologies and companies.
Do I agree with every thing Khosla says? Nope. However, I do agree that Cleantech is bigger than the Web. This is an important point since many have called it a fad.
Cleantech, green, sustainability or whatever you want to call it, deals with a number of fundamental issues that impact all aspects of human life. Examples include drinking water (desalination) and irrigation in drought-ridden regions of the world, transportation (biofuels, batteries, green auto), remote and distributed energy generation (solar, wind, batteries), manufacturing, consumer products, energy efficiency (smart grid, energy management), etc.
But perhaps the most consistently well trafficked portion of the show floor was the small wind pavilion, which boasted a number of companies with interesting solutions to providing distributed wind power. Southwest Windpower, a company with a lot of installation traction in the market, was very well received at the show. Mariah Power was another beneficiary of a lot of interest.
One company that didn't make it into the small wind pavilion, but qualifies as a provider in that category is Helix Wind. The company was several rows and columns away from Southwest Windpower and Mariah Power, but seemed to draw nearly as much interest for its unique design.
Small wind is not a new category--some of these companies have been producing product off of a manufacturing line for several years, but it is clear that many commercial and residential customers like the idea of small wind and the asthetics of some of the solutions. From a PR perspective, a lot of small wind companies have yet to make a big PR splash, but as the technology improves, home equity and financing come back, and more states begin offering tax credits, the market will likely take off.
The New York Times today ran a front page story reviewing how the government's stimulus package has affected Anderson, Indiana. It includes a nice graphic showing how the stimulus money was allocated to the state and the town and how those funds have created jobs.
I also noticed a quote from the chief executive officer for the Flagship Enterprise Center, who noted the difficulty in navigating the various federal agencies doling out the federal funds. Flagship is producing hybrid vans, and executives there are investigating what stimulus money might be available to them.
It made me realize that once the federal funds are distributed, there is going to be a rush to demonstrate that the funds are working. Green public relations will mean stimulus public relations.
The White House blog published regular updates noting "the recovery in action," though for the most part the entries put the spotlight on municipalities that staved off reductions in police forces or started infrastructure projects.
Soon, we will start seeing media coverage of private companies, and how they have benefitted from the stimulus funds. The stories will no doubt connect the strategic objectives of the companies (selling more products) to the strategic objectives of the government (showing how the funding led to job growth).
When green companies are involved, stimulus public relations can dovetail green public relations. Any company looking to receive federal stimulus money should have a clear plan for the public relations opportunity that will result.
It is really a no brainer since the technologies in development, from solar and wind, to biofuels and deslination, solve a large number of global economic, geopolitical and environmental problems. Beyond just energy generation and creating potable drinking water, there will be billions in investments in smart grid, energy monitoring and management, and batteries.
We're big believers that the current economic environment has simply delayed the inevitable and that cleantech will be a New Deal-type growth engine for the US in the decades to come. We'll be reporting back from Wind Power in Chicago later this month where it will be interesting to see what the mood is of some of the companies involved in the event. If you're planning to attend, drop us a line.
With Wind Power 2009 coming up in Chicago in early May, there will likely be a lot of discussion about major wind farm projects and the public affairs and public relations challenges with getting them planned, developed and built.
Earth2Tech has an interesting post on the fact that the stimulus package and cleantech funding from the federal government may be starting to thaw the VC funding freeze. Three companies announced funding this week, which was newsworthy in itself. But also interesting is the fact that none of the companies were in solar and instead were in markets that took the brunt of VC indifference during Q1.
The third company that received funding was Ember, the company behind the ZigBee wireless networking and control standard for smart meters. All three of the aforementioned markets, wind, smart grid and biofuels, stand to benefit from the stimulus package, including renewable energy and smart grid loan guarantees, tax credits, state energy projects and direct investment from the DOE.
We've talked before about how the Federal Government would serve as a bridge investor for the cleantech industry and eventually attract VC dollars back into the market. When companies can get capital from other sources that don't dilute company equity, it takes some of the risk out of the investment for private equity groups and VCs, while making the return potentially much more lucrative.
It used to be that PR was the engine that drove visibility with investment audiences. Now cleantech companies, including solar, wind, smart grid, energy management, biofuels and others, should be thinking about integrating public affairs and PR together to secure government funding and VC dollars.
Will the stimulus ultimately bring back the cleantech VC market? Time will tell, but having the government as a customer and/or financial backer could be the thing that gets cleantech and green companies through the economic downturn.
A lot has been made about Solar M&A the past few weeks as solar companies get snapped up or acquire each other's business pipeline. ActSolar was just acquired by National Semiconductor, while Optisolar, Recurrent Energy and a number of others have been involved in acquisitions of business pipeline and assets recently. At issue for most is the ability to get funding and for others it is the ability of their customers to get loans or bonds to finance a solar installation.
How long will this last? The answer lies in Washington where Public Affairs teams for solar companies are working to tap stimulus money and where the financial market bailout will likely begin to free up the ability of solar consumers (business, consumers, government) to get loans and finance projects. For solar manufacturers, it depends on the ability of solar companies to get grants and loan guarantees, a la Solyndra, BrightSourceand others, to finish projects and expand operations.
In the residential market, home values (many people use home equity for downpayments on power purchase agreements or to pay for systems) play a big role, as do tax breaks and the long-term adoption of feed-in tariffs. Gainesville was recently the first municipality in the US to adopt a solar feed-in tariff and the interest was unprecedented. Feed-in tariffs were one of the major drivers of residential and commercial solar adoption in Germany, making it the number one solar market in the world.
My guess? The combination of all of the aforementioned government policy measures, combined with the return of credit markets and a slightly improving economy will help stabilize many solar companies for the rest of the year, allowing them to survive the current turmoil. I strongly believe that the combination of solar-friendly public policy, legislation, government incentives and the recovery of energy prices and the broader economy will return the market to a boom phase in 2010.
As Scott Kirsner says, everyone from top VCs to Secretary of Energy/Environment Ian Bowles to the CEOs of 1366 Technologies, Ze-Gen, Mascoma, Oasys Water, and GreatPoint Energy will be in attendance. Check out both Renewablog and the live show feed on the GoingGreen site for real-time updates.
I think everyone would agree with me that regardless of whether you support the stimulus package or are against it, any sort of resolution is welcome so we can stop hearing about the different machinations of the bill.
In any event, lots of stimulus-related talk today:
The NY Times says Tech will get a big boost, including high-speed connectivity ($7 billion), digitizing of health records ($20 billion for EMRs) and smart grid support ($20 billion). This definitely creates a large public affairs opportunity for relevant companies.
The U.S. House passed an $819B economic recovery program on Wednesday. Dusting off the old high-school civics books, the bill is still a long way from becoming law. As White House press secretary Robert Gibbs noted, we're only in "the third inning." The bill will be introduced next week in the Senate, and members there will no-doubt make changes. If the Senate passes a bill that varies from the House's version, a conference committee will be necessary, and both bodies will have to vote again.
Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is confident the final bill will be on the President's desk by February 13. She told Larry King last week that the bill will be passed by Congress's President's Day recess, or "there won't be a President's Day recess."
Some notable parts of the House bill for the cleantech and greentech industries:
-- Roughly two-thirds of the bill ($594B) is new spending (the rest is tax cuts). The Congressional Budget Office recently declared that 64-percent of the spending would be completed within 19 months.
-- Thirty billion dollars are appropriated for highway construction, plus tens of billions for other transportation projects, water projects, park renovations, military construction, local housing projects and other efforts.
-- Twenty billion dollars are appropriated for school renovations.
-- According to today's New York Times, there is some scrutiny that the appropriations for alternative energy projects will take too long to be spent and will not have an immediate effect on the economy.
Without question, lawmakers are very intent on stimulus ideas that will provide an immediate effect to the economy. The words "shovel-ready" (meaning projects that are ready to get moving right away) are very common.
Bibliography: Figures above taken from: "Following the Money," by David M. Herszenhorn; The New York Times; January 29, 2009; page A1.
All eyes in Washington are on one piece of legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Given President Obama's priorities, there's little doubt the Act will include monies that are ultimately invested in renewable energy initaitives. But while our elected officials discuss the specifics of the legislation inside the beltway, those not in Washington have plenty of tools to follow along at home.
During his weekly address to the country, which was broadcast via YouTube, President Obama announced recovery.gov, a website that will track where the money within the Act goes once the legislation is passed.
Even before the legislation is approved, we learn about various decisions that affect the cleantech industry. The New York Times is watching day-to-day developments, which of late have included:
Yesterday, the Times reported that Congressman Edward Markety (D-MA) will be authoring the cap-and-trade legislation that is inteded to curb the production of Greenhouse gases.
Today, the paper noted that the House version of the bill, which will be voted on this afternoon, includes significant sums for public schools around the country. Some of the money is intended for "school renovation and modernization." It follows that schools can invest this money in projects that will conserve energy.
Of course the bigger question is how the money will be alloted and spent. It's a question no one really has the answer to. And we're watching closely.
On Smart Grid: President Obama has really driven Smart Grid into the public consciousness and it is showing in the media and blogosphere. Expect it to be a hot topic at DistribuTECH next week when the "who's who" in grid and energy technology meet in San Diego to discuss new developments in the industry. More than $50 billion will be sunk into Smart Grid under the proposed stimulus package currently in the House. So while escalating media coverage makes for a ripening public relations opportunity, the government investment has to make government relations another priority.
Transparency & Green: Back when outing cases of green washing was all of the rage, it became apparent to cleantech marketing and PR organizations that transparency was going to be key (it should be anyway) if people were going to believe the substance or objectivity of a company's claims around going green. FoodServiceWarehouse.com (Full disclosure: a client) is taking the right approach by turning its Green Commercial Kitchen Certification Program over to an independent panel. This is at a time when there are plenty of companies out there that are introducing green certifications for the sole purpose of generating consulting dollars. FoodServiceWarehouse.com's program doesn't require any purchases from the company and is free. Bravo to a company doing it right.
To say that the stimulus package currently under review contains significant support for renewable energy, green and cleantech would be a gross understatement. Depending on whose data you use, it is roughly five-to-seven times the total of all VC investment in cleantech in 2008. Or, a little more than twice the total revenue of the solar industry. Wow.
Biofuels will get $800 million. Batteries will get a big chunk. Bottom line: Even if this bill is halved before being signed by President, it will create the largest government investment in renewable energy, likely exceeding all past investments combined.
Government subsidies have been critical to the growth of solar and wind in Europe. The US has lagged behind. This is a major step forward in making the US the world's top producer of renewable energy.
Companies need to take advantage of this opportunity because it will not exist again in our lifetime. It is analagous to being a contractor or steel producer during the New Deal Era. Opportunities exist for both commercially mature and pre-commercial technologies.
Many companies avoid engaging in Government Relations because they don't understand it or they rely on industry associations to execute it on their behalf. If you have a technology that you believe can solve the energy, environmental and geopolitical challenges facing the country, now or in the future, then you should learn about how it works. You will learn a lot about policy making, appropriations, government project management and how to sell to government entities. It also will add to your executive's expert credibility when your public relations team is executing a thought-leadership campaign.
Uncle Sam's House is about to become much more energy efficient and whether you directly engage with him or not, there are many companies that will play a role in helping.
As we enter 2009, we wanted to take a look at cleantech markets we think will get the lionshare of the media attention during the year. We're calling it the Clean (Baker's) Dozen. We made our selections based on a variety of factors including 2008 venture funding, 2008 media attention, ties to existing large industries (auto, construction) and viability for commercialization.
Here is the list:
-Monitoring & Management
-Storage & Batteries
-Green Building Materials
There are others that should be on this list and that have significant public relations and government relations potential, including Water conservation, purification and potability, but they just haven't taken off yet. We'll do a post on each of these during Q1 and highlight some approaches we think are worth watching. Through our government relations team, we'll also keep an eye on Federal and State funding and policy to see if the G-men agree with our choices.
First off, apologies for the holiday blogging break which grew into a European-style summer vacation. We say every year that the holidays will slow things down a bit, but as usual there was lots going on despite the economy and more companies shuttering their doors for the holidays than in the past. That said, being busy is a good thing and working in the markets we serve is pretty fun.
In any event, we are starting to see some serious momentum surrounding a trend we predicted at the start of Q4: The government serving as a funding bridge between the last Green VC boom and the next one.
It's not just VentureBeat and the VCs talking about it either. There is a definite buzz in cleantech start-up circles about the value of government relations, the impact of the next stimulus bill and how to approach federal, state and local audiences. When you consider that all VCs contributed $8 billion in funding in 2008 and the government is talking $20 billion just in tax breaks, it is easy to get excited.
There will be some big winners (the ones that get indirect funding through projects) and losers (those that drag their feet or don't take the time to understand it) in GR circles in 2009.
Carpooling startups are cropping up everywhere, including Schwartz client Avego, because between exorbitant gas prices and escalating environmental concerns, we’ve realized we must find a better way.
For Avego, it's matching a driver's wasted seat capacity (all those empty seats in the single commuter's car) with willing commuters. Avego’s iPhone app incentivizes the casual carpool with convenient text messaging and GPS, a simple PayPal exchange and a rating system.
With similar goals, PickupPal launched in August to lend Web 2.0 tools to the carpooler. Unfortunately, some Canadians won’t be able to use the service.
As Michael Arrington reported on TechCrunch, PickupPal was "sued under an Ontario law that limits carpoolers to traveling only from home to work and back, riding with the same driver every day and paying only by the week, among other restrictions."
It's basically illegal to rideshare in Ontario and trying to implement such practices resulted in an $11,336.07 fine for poor PickupPal.
Hopefully the Ontario Highway Transportation Board (OHTB) will change its restrictions (ever heard of global climate change?) and other cities will take heed: Carpooling is an asset to your city, its people and the planet.
Avego will soon release its much-discussed iPhone app to beta users who sign up online. Don’t bother if you live in Ontario, eh? Or better yet, demand that the OHTB lets you use it!
I do think that the overall VC dollars will drop, but that will be in part because valuations will temporarily come down as part of the economic environment. I think that green start ups will still get funding and will be giving up the same equity for less money. And while venture funds will struggle to raise capital from limited partners, most of that fund raising wouldn't have an impact for some time from an investment standpoint anyway. Most VCs will still be closing out healthy funds for the next 6-12 months and that means it is a great time to be a VC.
What does this mean for green marketers and PR professionals? Maybe not much long term. As I have mentioned in the past, I am a big believer that the federal government will be a much bigger player in renewables in the future including agency grants and appropriations. Legislation and regulatory compliance will also help drive spending on green technologies. Call it Green Regs and Ham (pork sounds so dirty, especially since cleantech has a halo right now in government eyes).
Savvy management teams will offset any loss in VC capital with a government relations push that can result in some sort of grant with no loss of equity or IP. If you are a green marketer or PR professional looking to protect your cleantech PR budget amid growing competition, suggesting a GR program may be a means to more means.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
I was watching a CNN political roundtable the other night (Larry King or AC 360) and one of the guests was Joe Klein, a TIME Magazine journalist that just had an interview with Obama (which was published today). He said something that wasn’t explored by the host or other panelists, but I felt was monumental for both its specificity and its implications. Here is the quote from the piece:
"The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit." But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, "because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt." A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and "there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy ... That's going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office."
Lots of arrows have been flung at both candidates for the lack of specifics around their economic plans and priorities should they be elected. This comment from Obama was about as specific as it gets.
So what does it mean for cleantech companies and the green PR firms that work with them? It means that the ITC and PTC extensions were just the tip of the iceberg (not making a climate change pun) and that an Obama administration would make renewable energy investment and development his number one goal over his first four years as president.
This means more legislation and agency investment in renewable energy projects and a much bigger market for cleantech companies. This could be the funding stopgap that companies need should the VC market begin drying up and means that integrated GR/PR campaigns could become much more critical in the next five months.
Bottom line: This is a very, very good thing for the market.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
Happy day for the Cleantech and Green Market as Congress did what everyone was hoping and extended the Investment Tax Credit and the Production Tax Credit. Earth2Tech gives a good rundown of the joy in Greenville and what is included in the bill. It ends an emotional and long battle to get renewed Federal support for renewable energy.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
A lot of folks have been upset with the House of Representatives sudden embrace of fiscal responsibility and as a result, the lack of approval for a Senate bill last week that would have extended the production tax credit and investment tax credit. Now some are grumbling that the inclusion of the ITCs and PTCs in the rescue or bailout bill is also not ideal.
So people fall into two camps: those that want a fiscally sound, stand-on-its-merits bill and those that think ANY bill that extends the ITCs and PTCs is a good thing. It is an interesting debate, although one that is probably moot with the likely passage of the bailout bill today.
I can honestly say that this is the most anticipated piece of public policy in the more than 10 years I have been in PR and certainly the most antipcated by green and cleantech PR agencies in the recent development of the market.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
What financial crisis? Cleantech investing hit another record in Q3 as money poured into the market at a clip of $2.6 billion (thanks, Cleantech Group). Amazingly, I still am not among those that thinks there is a Green Bubble since this trend has largely been unsupported by the Federal Government.
Yes the ITCs and PTCs have been good for the industry, but with a new administration and bigger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, I think we have only scratched the surface of advancement and adoption. When you also throw in a weakening economy, a weak dollar and technology bottlenecks yet to be solved, like energy storage, it is plain to see that greener days are ahead.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
The bill is expected to pass through the Senate quickly and has a number of other popular additions (including the alternative minimum tax) that they hope will get more House support. I can't imagine Bush not signing the bill if it makes it to his desk unchanged.
This is a critical week for the solar, wind and other industries, as well as for cleantech and green PR agencies, law firms, VCs and every other market that services them.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
Some random thoughts heading into the most critical five weeks in the history of wind, biofuels and solar, and by extension, the green PPR sector.
-The Senate picked the wrong week to pass an ITC extentsion, as the federal government spends its time focusing on the financial crisis. Hopefully the financial bailout package will be finalized by Sunday and the House will not try to ramrod its own version of the ITC bill through. It will go a long way in determining what kind of mood companies are in at Solar Power International 2008.
-Last night in the Presidential debate you heard Obama waiver on how much of his energy plan he can push through with a huge financial bailout figuring into the budget for 2009 and beyond. This only heightens the importance of renewing the ITCs before the end of the year.
-I know that many see the energy bill as just that...energy policy. However, consider the economic impact that the ITC extension will have on growth of the renewable energy industry, helping create green collar jobs across the country. This includes engineering, IT and office jobs at the cleantech companies themselves, as well as jobs in solar and wind installation and plant construction, and factory workers at new US-based plants for the production of biofuels. Contractors, construction workers, electricians and other skilled workers will be put back to work after watching the new homes market dry up. Bottom line: The ITC extension is as much of a jobs bill as it is an energy bill.
So there are environmental, economic and geopolitical reasons to get something done before the end of the year. Let's hope it happens.
PG&E spoke at yesterday's GoingGreen event and talked a bit about their work in renewables. The speaker didn't take any questions from the audience at the end of the presentation and really just read a laundry list of investments they have made in plants.
Now everyone knows that they are mandated to get a certain percentage of energy from renewables, so the traction they have made is not surprising. The big question is would they be doing it if not mandated? At least their efforts are real, regardless of motivation. As Vinod Khosla said later in the say, he suspects more than half of all green claims are green washing.
The most interesting part of the presentation was when the spokesman cited a statistic that solar costs drop 19 percent for each doubling in manufacturing capacity.
Posting from the AlwaysOn GoingGreen conference and kicking off with the 8am solar panel. As you can imagine, the first question was related to how the ITCs and other policy-driven subsidies around the world dictate the focus of solar companies.
David Holland, managing director of Australia-based Solar Systems, Ltd. sounded the call for government to support emerging technologies and reinforced how critical subsidies are to the market early on. He did raise the point that the industry and those technologies then have a responsibility to deliver on their promise.
The most interesting point came from John Woolard, CEO of Bright Source who basically said that "eventually the market will shift its focus to markets with a high level of resources," with subsidies taking on less importance. This is actually an interesting way of looking at things and the type of long-term view I think companies should take.
A lot of people are predicting that a change in administrations in Washington, along with a larger anticipated Democratic majority will give the solar industry and other cleantech companies the boost they need in 2009. But given the overall policy uncertainty, companies need to proceed as if they are not banking on the ITCs or take proactive steps to drive government action on subsidies. This includes green public awareness and PR campaigns, and industry collaboration to combat cleantech FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).
A whole crew of Schwartzers is here at GoingGreen, a dynamite show on cleantech (full disclosure, Schwartz is a sponsor). The speaking list is a who's who of leaders in the space, from both the investment and company sides. We'll be filing posts throughout the next two days.
To paraphrase show head Tony Perkins, it's nice to be 3,000 miles away from Wall Street. Morgan Stanley has a big cleantech practice, and two of their senior foks, Michael Grimes and David Chen, laid the foundation for green investing. Insights include:
In times of short-term market "volatility" (polite word for Wall Street exploding), long-term asset investing produces oversized returns. Cleantech fits this bill perfectly.
While cleantech feels a lot like the dotcom boom (and bust), differences like 1) the fact that "end markets" are real (ie--we need to develop new energy sources), and 2) the "grid parity environment" will produce multiple winners in multiple sectors, bodes well for the market's future.
There are three big factors in 2009 cleantech growth: 1) Need three or four good IPOs, 2) the next US president's green policies must help, and 3) credit markets need to stabilize.
Loads of impactful panels over the next two days, more to come...
News this morning that thin-film solar has seen one of its players get another nine-figure round of funding. First was news of Nanosolar and ASA Solar, and now Solopower is rumored (Earth2Tech via VentureBeat) to have raised a $200 million round.
So much for the expiring ITCs impacting financial interest in solar technologies. It is amazing how much investment has gone into the market but even more shocking how much of it has gone into pre-production companies.
It will be interesting to see if thin film dominates Solar Power International the way it did PVSEC. Back in March, it seemed as though solar concentrator companies were getting the most attention.
Next week at GoingGreen we'll also see if the thin-film investment topic dominates the solar conversation. In any event, the break in the noise green and cleantech marketers and pr professionals thought they would get from the ITCs potentially expiring is likely gone. As long as there is cash flowing into these companies they will continue to make noise.
Like many industries, the cleantech PR world is watching anxiously as to what is going to happen with the ITCs. Expiring green rebates and credits, will undoubtedly have some impact on venture funding, the IPO market and company valuations, all of which could shrink PR budgets.
I think what we'll find though is that a lot of companies will view the political climate as turning favorable over the next 12 months and will continue to invest so they can come stronger out of any green recession. We'll know more next week after the AlwaysOn GoingGreen event at Cavallo Point where we are the representing PR agency and a sponsor. Many of the industry's most influential cleantech VCs and investors will present on trends they see in the market. We'll also get a look at some exciting companies and the CEOs of those companies.
It should be fun and educational. We'll be reporting back all of next week from the event.
Scott Kirsner recaps an interesting post about the M&A climate at the end of 2008 in traditional technology and how the softening economy hasn't necessarily killed M&A activity. In it, a Boston-based VC talks about how 2008 saw some relatively major acquisitions in lieu of companies testing a frigid IPO market.
Unlike traditional technology sectors, Cleantech is one area that seemed immune to the cooling of the IPO market during 2008 (specifically, solar companies). There were a number of companies rumored to be filing for an IPO, some who went public and still others getting hundreds-of-millions of dollars in valuation. Now cleantech seems to be cooling too (or at least the success rate is dwindling) and there have been several acquisitions (Schneider Electric acquiring Xantrex is one). So is green like tech after all and the IPO desert is upon us?
Not really. Most say that the cooling of the IPO market for cleantech has more to do with the expiring ITCs, an aversion to investment risk and lack of action at the federal level. I spoke to a VC at the recent PVSEC conference and he said that "every major solar integrator on the west coast was on the chopping block" due to the uncertainty of tax credits. Hyperbole? Maybe.
More likely, opportunists are trying to drive down valuations and acquisition prices by playing on the ITC fears. Our government relations team which follows the regulatory market believes that the cooling of cleantech IPOs is more of a delay in the inevitable than a long-term trend. The fact of the matter is that the federal political climate will warm significantly in February when a new administration is entrenched. Both McCain and Obama promise to be friendlier to cleantech companies than the current administration boosted by, in all estimates by political pundits, larger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Cleantech companies just need to resist the M&A urge and hold out for a couple of quarters.
Expect more action at the federal level in 2009, bolstered by more legislation and regulation to drive forced adoption of renewables at the state and local levels. This will reenergize the IPO market for cleantech companies and push even more VC investment. Solar will continue to be the major public-market focus during the first half of 2009, before wind, biofuels and others catch up.
The public market darkhorse? Energy storage which many VCs and entrepreneurs say is the bottleneck in green efficiency and adoption.
And if the climate doesn't warm at the federal level in 2009? Expect that many regions of the country will fill the void with state and local legislation and tax incentives. This includes New England, the mid-Atlantic, Southwest and California. These measures will still give the market enough fuel to support a number of successful companies and prevent any M&A firesale.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
If there is one thing that struck me most at PVSEC is how much companies need branding help when targeting international events and markets. There are plenty of examples of serious branding errors by US companies, including Chevy "Nova" ("no go" in Spanish) or the Gerber baby food example in some African markets (don't ask). Those companies had millions to spend on brand and marketing research but made mistakes.
So what happens when you attend an international event with companies that maybe, if lucky, have a seven-figure green marketing, pr and branding budget? Plenty of things lost in translation. Below are some of my favorites at the event, some just slightly comical when you make a play on words and others shockingly wrong. Here we go:
I think they meant "up and coming?" The slogan you can't see under their name also said, "The next level company." I think it is just a tag line lost in translation. Next:
Solar with a slightly unpleasant smell? As long as it produces clean energy. Next:
Translation: Death to the sun. Next:
What is that word running vertically on the left? That would be the word, "lust." I love solar just as much as the next guy, but I mean......okay. Last but not least:
Um. Ah. Not sure anyone else will try to trademark that so the registered symbol might be a bit unnecessary. Enough said.
Next up in the green pr and marketing event calendar? AlwaysOn GoingGreen at Cavallo Point in San Francisco. It should be much more tame than PVSEC and less of a green field opportunity for branding companies.
One of the more notable things we noticed at PVSEC last week is that investment is obviously flowing into solar and is now beyond just funding R&D and manufacturing capacity. Companies are investing a great deal more money in green and cleantech marketing, PR and government relations.
The difference between the booths at this year's show and the booths at Solar Power 2007 are very striking. It used to be that 70-80 percent of the booths looked like this one (no disrespect to the owner as budgetary constraints and stratregic value of an event obviously dictate size and scope):
Today, the silicon valley influence of cash, marketing and PR are obvious, as well as the entrance of some companies that make their name in consumer electronics. The result a much more sophisticated event and booths that rival some of the best at a global technology event. Some of the ones that stood out:
It had an interesting closed off area and food bar that made you want to go in. Not closed in terms of "don't cross this line" but in terms of making you want to see what was behind the curtain. Given the only alternative to eating free food and drink at the booths was to wait in long lines for pretty rancid cafe solo and bocadillos, I thought it was pretty smart.
This booth had ample chairs and meeting space, both on the floor and in closed off spaces. You need to spend to get this much room, but given most attendees just want to sit at some point, it is a good way to get an extra 5-10 minutes of a prospect's attention.
A booth that captured attention for its size and prominant display of panels. Nothing explains what you do better than visuals. And finally.....
This booth was very open and inviting, displaying the company name and logo several times. Nothing is worse than a big booth where you have to search for the company name or that has a clear boundary that screams "pizza counter."
So what does this all mean? Again, it is clear that some solar companies have become very successful either through organic growth, venture capital or thanks to their critical mass in other areas. It means that the marketing landscape is more competitive than ever and that the noise will only increase. If you can't afford the large booth areas, the best way to get attention at cleantech and green events is through free giveaways (including food and drink) or through aggressive PR to get in the show issues of industry trade publications.
I have a feeling Solar Power International in October will reinforce this point.
One of the things that has struck me the most about the PVSEC conference is where a lot of the exhibiting companies fall in the supply chain. There are a lot of silicon suppliers and robotics/equipment manufacturers. Most of the rest are actual cell and string producers themselves.
Along those lines, the sessions and panels were extremely technical focusing on new developments in cell technology. There was a lot of discussion about a-Si, CIGS and other types of solar technology that promise to reduce cost, improve efficiency and deliver on the promise of building-integrated PV (BIPV). By far, the most common technology on the show floor was thin film solar.
It will be interesting to juxtapose this conference versus Solar Power International (or Solar Power 2008 for those who missed the name change) and see if the focus shifts more toward the integrator/consumer of solar technology. I still think there is room for a show focused strictly on renewables for consumers. Obviously, this was never meant to be that and nor did I expect it coming in.
More later including signs that the solar market is indeed very healthy and maturing (heavy investments in cleantech PR and marketing), as well as some unfortunate name and slogan choices for some of the companies at the event (images will be included).
A few first impressions of the city and the conference:
-Having never been here I was expecting a dry, hot Mediterranean climate not unlike California. What I learned is that it is much more variable with my first night feeling like Miami in July. It is still an amazing place and the New Englander in me was a bit nostalgic once I felt the humidity.
-This is an amazing place of "old meets new." There are plenty of buildings and landmarks older than the US itself, but also some amazing modern architecture, including the Arts and Sciences buildings across from where I am staying.
-I was a bit concerned because everything that I had heard about Valencia was that it was not a tourist destination and therefore, people were not as friendly to foreigners as other cities and the percentage of English speakers was quite small. That did not bode well for my high school Spanish 101 capabilities. It has turned out to be the exact opposite. The city is amazingly accomodating to visitors, there are many English-speaking natives and the people are very friendly. Good thing for me because I would be walking the thin line of playing the "Ugly American Flack." Valencia needs better PR as Spain's third-largest city....think of Chicago's international reputation versus NY and LA.
-The PVSEC conference is a melting pot of companies, much more so than a high-tech conference. There are companies from seemingly every country and the cultural differences are somewhat on display in their booths, with different types of designs, marketing slogans and promotional items. Countries I saw represented include the obvious, like the US, Germany, Spain, Japan and China. Also represented were Thailand, Canada, France, Italy, Belgium and Nigeria. That's at least four continents I saw represented without specifically looking for companies from South America and Australia, and I would be shocked if there were not at least one from each. Think a VC would fund my solar start up in Antartica? One word: monopoly.
-I spoke to a lot of people about the solar climate in the US and most are disappointed with the amount of support being given to solar by the federal government. They see no reason why the US should not be leading in renewables. How do you say, "preaching to the choir" in Spanish? They are not confident that making the ITCs retroactive (if not extended) would have much impact. I still think that companies that continue to invest during this bump in the road will come out on the other side much stronger than the competition.
-From a cleantech PR standpoint, it did not seem as though there was a lot of news from the show, nor was there much media walking around the convention hall. A majority of the people manning booths were salespeople and engineers, with a small smattering of marketing people mixed in.
-A quick Google News search confirms my last point. There are only 19 original articles that pop up when you search for "PVSEC" with an increase to 53 when you expand out the full spelling of the conference name. I am not sure if this is because of a lack of announcements or the scant physical media coverage at the event. It may be worth moving the event to another city next year that is closer to the European media centers, especially if travel costs remain high. The good news for the cleantech marketer and PR professional is that it is not nearly as noisy as other events, so there is a fairly decent chance of getting some attention at PVSEC.
-One of the most interesting early conversations I had was with a director of the EPIA. The European Photovoltaic Industry Association is pretty well organized and is very much taking a coopetition approach to the market. They anounced some staggering figures this week that say that solar could employ 10 million people by 2030 and power 4 billion people. That is a lot of green collar jobs.
That's all for now. Off to attend sessions and meet with more folks.
Great post from Katie Fehrenbacher at Earth2Tech today about how the selection of Biden would impact the future of cleantech. This is especially important at the time when many are concerned about the expiration of the ITCs and the impact it will have on adoption.
Regarding the ITCs, I have spoken to many people in the cleantech industry in the past months and will speak with many more at PVSEC, AlwaysOn GoingGreen and Solar Power International. Everyone with whom I have spoken expects the change in political climate come January to compensate for any lag in incentive coverage at the beginning of 2009.
What does this mean from a marketing budget standpoint? It varies by company, but many are pushing ahead with cleantech PR, government relations and advertising spend in Q4, looking to be well positioned when the new administration and Congress push a renewable-friendly agenda in 2009. Others are sure that even if action by the federal government is delayed, enough large (population) states will increase incentives (California, Texas, New England, New York and New Jersey) to make the investment worth it.
I know many think that green has reach a bubble stage and this is the natural cycle of the bubble bursting, but I don't think we have even scratched the surface of green adoption and investing.
Some other thoughts since my last post:
-WSJ post on a recent survey saying that Americans want their energy clean and cheap. Well, duh? My guess is that most would accept clean and comparably expensive for the short term, in order to reach clean and cheap. They just have to see a clear path to getting there and it will be tough since regional solutions make the most sense.
-Interesting post from Michael Kanellos of Greentech Media on "Five Inconvenient Truths" for the cleantech revolution. The most interesting was #5, which predicts that Haliburton, Chevron and others will eventually benefit. Do people think that the cleantech revolution will result in the collapse of these companies? I think history shows that whenever there are disruptive technologies in a market, the established forces try to slow adoption but then ultimately work to become part of the revolution through R&D or acquisition. Think of the Internet (Microsoft), open source (IBM) or software-as-a-service (Oracle) as examples. The bigger issue won't be the adoption and driving of geothermal by large energy interests but the manner in which they go about exerting their influence. Provided the PR around their entrance into cleantech is done correctly (honest, transparent and sincere), they can counteract some (but never all) of the skepticism.
-CNET does a great round up of clean car technology. It will be interesting to see how it plays out long term. Will it be plug-in electrics and hybrids, which will require a non-coal based electricity grid to have the most impact or hydrogen fuel cells which require a complete overhaul of the fueling infrastructure? Out of all of the markets, including solar, wind, hydro and others, this is the one that will have the biggest impact on everyday life.
-Ping me if you'll be in Valencia, San Diego or at Cavallo Point in the coming weeks. The next two months should be fast and furious in the cleantech world.
After a long hiatus in which I took a couple of trips and battled a sinus infection, it's great to be back in the saddle on Renewablog. Not to mention I returned with exciting news.
Schwartz has partnered with AlwaysOn to sponsor and represent the GoingGreen event. GoingGreen has become the premiere cleantech industry event focused on green financing, venture capital and emerging growth companies in solar, wind, green IT, sustainability, biofuels, etc.
GoingGreen kicks off what will be an action-packed Fall for the renewables market, as PVSEC Europe, GoingGreen, greenXchange Xpo and Solar Power International (the artist formerly known as Solar Power 2008), all take place between Labor and Columbus Day week. If the other conferences have a line-up like GoingGreen (Raj Atluru and Steve Jurvetson, Vinod Khosla, Ajit Nazre, Ray Lane, etc.), we are in for one great stretch of conferences. One topic that is sure to be top of mind? The expiring renewable tax credits and the impact that a change in Washington will have on industries like solar, biofuels, wind and hydro.
If you attend the events, let us know what you think. I've been waiting for this stretch all year long.
This is another example of the considerable movement at the municiple and state levels to drive green adoption. While this is a great thing for green vendors, it makes the job of cleantech PR practitioners and marketers much more difficult, as they are tempted to take a patchwork local-market approach to selling their wares.
While local PR programs are effective (we've been executing them for medical clients for nearly two decades), green is a different market that requires as much nationwide education as it does adoption. This is especially true as the federal climate becomes more politicized in an election year and much of the legislation introduced in 2008 is more about drawing battle lines than about getting things signed into law. That will change in early 2009, which makes national PR programs integrated with government relations even more critical. For this reason and this reason alone, it is important that green marketing and PR organizations not get too myopic.
With all of that said, bravo to San Francisco for taking the initiative to get a program in place. It will lead to an influx of companies setting up shop in the city and create a number of green collar jobs in the area.
It will be interesting if this also helps draw conferences to the city that have to date been the domain of Southern California, including Solar Power 2008 and GreenXchange Expo. Good days for solar are ahead.