As with every new year, a number of key cleantech outlets and journalists have published valuable 2012 wrap up pieces listing predictions on trends and developments for 2013. Some recurring trends include the precipitous drop in VC funding, the success of SolarCity’s IPO, and the convergence of energy and IT. Also, despite its actual collapse taking place in 2011, Solyndra was (unfortunately) still a recurring theme in 2012, specifically with the presidential election.
The general theme seems to be cautious optimism. This time last year, expectations ran high, and the tone has gotten notably less bullish. With that said, there is plenty to be excited about in terms of cleantech progress, as you’ll see in the round up articles on 2012 and 2013 listed below.
While this piece focuses on the VERGE theme — a term GreenBiz uses to refer to data, IT and new platforms that disrupt the markets for energy, transportation and buildings — the list illustrates the possibilities urban areas have for drastically improving and better managing energy use.
LaMonica outlines four key factors that will either drive or stymie clean technology development this year: a smaller investor pool, continued marriage of energy and IT, low-priced domestic supplies of natural gas and oil, and a focus on improving efficiency of cars rather than electrification.
Here Woody presents predictions from Dallas Kachan, founder of San Francisco-based clean tech market research firm and consultancy Kachan & Co, covering a range of issues, including clean coal, VC investment and the effects of climate change on big agriculture. Kachan also hypothesizes about the rate of solar and wind farm development, saying it will slow due to progress in cleaner baseload power from nuclear technologies, natural gas and cleaner coal power.
Day has been a cleantech private equity investor since 2004 and has been writing content for the website, Cleantech Investing, since 2005. Annually, Day looks back on how well the predictions he made the December before pan out. This year, he says he was only right 25 percent of the time, with bright spots being the launch of California’s carbon trading market, an increase of project finance and the merging of cleantech and IT/web business models.
Calling out key players that affected the pace of growth and perception of the space — such as Tesla, Solyndra, Bill Gates, Google, Advanced Equities, SolarCity and A123 — Fehrenbacher offers an inclusive overview of what went down last year.
Posted by Sarah Horn on January 9, 2013 at 8:00 AM
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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.
There was standing room only as the Renewable Energy Finance Forum (REFF) – London - Europe’s largest and most established event for renewable energy finance and investment, which celebrated its 12th year anniversary. The highly successful 2-day conference united 400 investors and project developers from over 25 countries.
Lord Browne opened the conference that facilitated thought-provoking, open and highly controversial presentations and discussions on the European global renewables financial market. Other leading speakers included, Hermann Scheer, German MP and Chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, Peter Gutman of Standard Chartered Bank, Craig Coborn of BP Alternative Energy and Yvo de Boer, Former Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change & Global Advisor on Climate & Sustainable Development, KPMG.
Over 2 days, speakers composed of almost 70 experts in the renewable energy sector continued the tradition from the last twelve years of bringing together key investors, bankers, developers and renewable energy service providers.
The renewable energy industry has achieved considerable successes here in Europe, which accounted for 44% of all renewable energy deals in 2009, up from 38% in 2008. That being said, the renewable industry is still in the midst of a very challenging period, with the EU Directive mandating 20% renewable energy by 2020 now in full force. Wind remains the most popular renewable and it has been helped along by government incentives as it has gained more than half of the roughly 26 billion invested globally in clean energy in the first quarter of 2010.
As a media sponsor, Schwartz attended the sessions and had a series of interesting conversations on our stand, leading us to take home a few key messages. Firstly, there are some real challenges in funding – the scale of investment needed for infrastructure projects such as the proposed supergrid is far beyond anything ever attempted in the history of mankind! Furthermore, the sector still hasn’t passed the institutional investment threshold – and how can it in the foreseeable future since it seems impossible to accurately calculate risks, and thus ROIs, on long-term windfarms for example.
Another interesting development was the confidence in solar and the belief that grid parity was achievable within the next five to ten years as panel costs come down. Currently, there are concerns about the key Italian and Spanish markets, but there were some positive sentiments about both. Of course the debate regarding feed-in tariffs went around in circles as usual with equally passionate supporters and opponents. However, all agreed that consistency and long term commitments from governments were essential whatever they decide.
With the momentum gained here in London, the conference moves on to San Francisco from September 29 to 30 celebrating its 3rd year of REFF West in the United States.
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.
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 beginning to look a lot like Christmas for a number of cleantech companies in solar and smart grid, as the project finance, venture capital and IPO markets continue their winter thaw. News of new deals has capped off what has been a pretty good PR month for the cleantech industry.
SunRun, a residential PPA provider, also received $90 million more in backing from Bancorp to help finance residential solar installations. SunRun has been very successful in markets like California, Massachusetts and Arizona.
Finally, First Solar announced the completion and sale of a utility-scale plant in California. The new plant will power 17,000 homes and as VentureBeat reports, is likely a harbringer of more utility-scale plants in the near future.
These are all good signs for the solar industry as more experts predict growth in number of US projects and shrinking solar supplies in 2010. All told, outside of the weak international agreement from Copenhagen, it has been a pretty good December for Cleantech.
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.
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.
The DOE issued a release today about the $3.4 billion in grants issued as part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA, aka the Stimulus Package). The release is here and there are links for downloading details on who will receive the funds as well as a map of where the funds will be invested.
It is a happy day for Smart Grid technology and service providers.
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.
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.
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.
A recent report from CleanTech Brief highlighted an increase in cleantech venture funding and investing to $1.2 billion. This was a quarter-over-quarter increase of 12 percent and illustrates that the green portion of the Stimulus package and other cleantech regulatory measures are helping to renew interest in cleantech start ups.
Companies in batteries, biofuels, smart grid and others were the main beneficiaries, including a $17.3 million investment in Control4. Solar investment is way down from past years, but it also saw an unprecedented run with nine-figure rounds. If the Intersolar 2009 conference is any indication, solar is surviving the recession fairly well with Uncle Sam poised to become the world's largest solar consumer.
Speaking of government green spending, more good news for the cleantech industry came from the G8 Summit, where leaders of some of the world's largest economies recognized the potential of the cleantech industry to help boost the global economy. The summit discussed cleantech policy measures, investment and adoption.
As we look at 2010, it is clear that world governments will spend unprecedented dollars on cleantech, energy efficiency, etc. It is also likely that other technologies will start to come to the forefront that have to date, gone under publicized, such as water desalination technologies and advances in tidal energy. All of this is pointing toward a much better second half of 2009 for cleantech companies.
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.
The New York Times reported last week that the government has distributed six percent of the money appropriated in the stimulus package passed three months ago. Now, there are various reasons why this is the case, and the White House overall says the plan for dispersing the funds is on track, but the story no doubt was read closely by the many companies looking for stimulus financing opportunities.
At Schwartz, we run government relations and advocacy programs to help our clients navigate Washington. Over the past few months, we have pounded the pavement in D.C. numerous times in an effort to learn about how the stimulus funds are being spent.
In the process, we have seen first-hand why the process is taking a little bit of time. For example, many Cabinet departments have many unfilled appointments. Without these policy individuals, it's difficult to define priorities for specific agencies.
Since the stimulus bill appropriates funds to existing programs, the key is to remain in consistent contact with key managers within various agencies and departments. That is fundamental to any government relations program. And for our practices in cleantech PR or greentech PR, wearing a little rubber from the bottoms of our shoes seems to be the best advice these days.
April may be taxing for many, but for the Cleantech industry it seems as though things hit rock bottom in Q1. Based on the news of the last two weeks, April funding showers may bring Q2 flowers.
Venture capital, state tax credits and stimulus money have started flowing into a number of cleantech and energy markets, giving the market a lot to PR about. During this week alone, we have seen two lighting-related technology companies announce a round of funding. Nuventix and Luxim each scored rounds for different approaches to the sustainable lighting issue, with the former cooling LEDs and the latter offering a plasma-based ligthing technology.
Meanwhile, energy storage technologies, such as batteries and fuel cells, are getting big tax breaks in Michigan to the tune of $300 million. Technologies that help replace lost auto manufacturing jobs will likely get some public affairs love from states like Michigan, Ohio and Indiana for the rest of 2009 and beyond. The DOE is also joining the party by kicking in $41.9 million in stimulus funds for fuel cell technologies.
Can the cleantech industry sustain the momentum into May? With Wind Power 2009 on the horizon, I expect we'll see some signficiant news from major renewable manufacturers related to that space. We then move into Intersolar Munich before we get to June. Everything considered, it looks as though cleantech could be rebounding from the funding doldrums that slowed things in Q1.
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.
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.
Every time President Obama delivers a major speech energy is front and center. Tuesday's Congressional address was no exception. His words:
"Now is the time to act boldly and wisely, to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.
Now is the time to jump-start job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy."
Obama later detailed his plans for energy, stating:
"Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America."
Take a close look at that language. Obama specifically calls for a US cap and trade system and pledges to invest $15 billion a YEAR in new clean tech technologies. Quite a committment.
To deliver on this committment, the entire cleantech eco-system--entrepreneurs, scientists, big energy, bankers, VCs, lawyers, cleantech PR professionals--needs to mobilize. One upcoming event here in Boston moving cleantech innovation forward is the AlwaysOn GoingGreen show (full disclosure, Schwartz is a sponsor). GoingGreen matches up entrepreneurs with the business eco-system (VCs, bankers, lawyers) they need to make their science reality.
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.
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.
For weeks now we've been hearing doom and gloom about the health of cleantech investing amid the financial services meltdown and how cheap oil and VC turtling would cripple renewable energy. Well yesterday, SunRun, a residential power-purchase agreement (PPA) provider and in full disclosure, a Schwartz client, received $105 million in backing from a banking institution (of all places).
And it is not just SunRun. EnerG2 (ultracapacitor), ReGen (waste heat to power convertors) and Qteros (biofuels) raised close to $40 million combined in the past week. It's clear that as President-Elect Obama talks more and more about cleantech being a priority, investors continue to bet on renewable energy and green as a good investment for their dollars. For those companies not getting venture or bank backing, the government is a good option B.
I held off on posting immediately following the election results to avoid letting any excitement or disappointment seep into any analysis of how it impacts green and cleantech public relations and government relations. However, I think it is safe to say that the results mean big things for cleantech companies and the green movement as a whole.
Green bloggers everywhere started immediately discussing what an Obama presidency means to the green industry with some examples here, here and here. Martin LaMonica's post on CNET (the first link) is particularly comprehensive.
So here is my bottom line thought and I have written this in the past: The government is going to become a huge financer of renewable energy projects both in terms of greening government buildings and providing incentives and appropriations for individual companies. If you are an emerging growth cleantech company looking for funding, GR may be a good supplement to a venture round. Both direct GR contact and local PR campaigns are great ways to target government grants and funding.
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 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.
There likely will be a mixed mood when Solar Power International kicks off tomorrow. On the one hand, rejoice at the extesion of the ITC (invetsment tax credits) and PTC (production tax credits). On the other, fear about the impact that a recession and dropping oil prices will have on the economy. VentureBeat does a great job summing it up here.
I am an optimistic person to begin with, but I honestly think there is a wild card here: The Presidential election. Obama sees renewable energy as not just an economic or oil-price issue, but as an economic and geopolitical one. Ten years ago an oil price dip may have been enough to stem the momentum, but with policy makers now accepting global warming as a real issue and seeing the impact of fossil-fuel dependence on geopolitical issues (Russia, Iraq/Iran, Venezuela, etc) there will still likely be some investment in Green. There are also plenty of projections related to the creation of jobs from the cleantech and green market, including solar, biofuel, electric car and wind manufacturing, solar and wind installation, and office jobs. Call it a Green New Deal.
McCain also has made the link between oil dependency and geopolitical issues. He just tends to favor domestic oil and gas exploration and harvesting as a major piece of the equation. Regardless, I think that there will be a commitment to renewable energy over the next four years that may help somewhat offset the impact of a recession.
So how does it impact cleantech and green PR professionals? If you have an early-stage product that isn't shipping then the tendency will likely be to hunker down, cut spend and try to ride it out. I am not saying that this is necessarily the right approach, but many will likely embrace it. If you are a company with shipping product or a solid pipeline, then turtling from a marketing perspective is dangerous since the last thing you want coming out of a recession is to be an unknown brand in an exploding market opportunity.
I'll be reporting from Solar Power International this week and will do my best to capture the mood of the companies involved.
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.
With Solar Power International (formerly known as Solar Power 2008) under one week away, it will be interesting to see what topics take center stage at the event. Here are some quick predictions:
-Thin Film: No market has been a bigger investment darling than thin film manufacturing in 2008 and so it is pretty clear that there will be significant attention on emerging players in the market.
-Solar Concentrators: The big star of WIREC back in March will again be widely talked about at the event, as companies explore concentrators on thin film, new types of concentrators and other uses of the technology.
-Solar Inverters: One of the current bottlenecks of system efficiency, next generation inverters will allow you to improve the performance of each individual cell or string, eliminating mismatch losses.
-The ITC Extension: The single biggest boost for the US market in 2008 was the recent inclusion of the ITC extension in the bailout bill. The news will result in a much better market for Solar in 2009 with the promise of even more federal help likely after a new administration takes office in January.
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.
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.
Some random thoughts on which I may expand later after digesting the week at GoingGreen:
-There is a debate between two camps in solar and other incentive-boosted renewables. One camp says there needs to be a focus on markets with resources (abundant sunlight) and less emphasis on public policy. The other camp thinks that policy is the major issue short and long term. I think they are both right in that eventually the technology will be so efficient and cost-effective that it will end the ROI debate, but incentives will still help the market and can't be ignored (hello, Germany).
-Most experts agree that the country cannot afford to ignore nuclear in the short term. That said, many believe that new nuclear wouldn't have an impact for a decade or more (kind of like new oil fields) and so the emphasis should not be on nuclear as the primary solution. Most support keeping it at 20% of our energy source. Elise Zoli of Goodwin Proctor had some of the best points on the subject on the GoingGreen fossil-fuels panel. One point on nuclear by Vinod Khosla that was interesting: The innovation cycle for nuclear is 15 years whereas solar thermal and other technologies will have gone through 15 innovation cycles in that same time period.
-Green and cleantech are the fastest-growing venture asset classes, attracting between 10-14 percent of all venture dollars. It is now the "third leg on the VC stool" with technology and life sciences. -Ira Ehrenpreis, General Partner, Technology Partners
-The most depressing panel of the event was the clean-coal panel. Not depressing in the sense that they made bad points or failed to make a case, but it just seem like the participants anticipated objections and weren't passionate about the subject. One interesting point was made by Oorla Protonics about using natural gas to turn materials into oil. The CEO said that natural gas is the champagne of fossil fuels with oil being the wine and coal the beer. Using champagne to turn materials into low-grade wine or beer is ludicrous.
-Not surprisingly Khosla was the hit of Tuesday and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) the draw on Wednesday. Khosla talked about how it is "main tech" not "cleantech" that matters and that the market should embrace solutions that can capture 80 percent of the market. He said that using one sheet of toilet paper as suggested by Sheryl Crow is not a solution and that the Prius is a nice status symbol but so are Gucci bags. This is probably the area where I disagree with Khosla most. I know he is looking at it more through an investment lens, but from a practical standpoint EVERY little bit helps. So if what I can afford to do today is buy a Prius and use less goods that leave a footprint, then I should do it. It is analagous to weight loss. If someone focuses on the sixty pounds they need to lose, instead of making small changes to their habits (less sugar, don't eat at night) that result in gradual weight loss, then they will never succeed. I am not saying that we should settle, but there has to be bridges to that 80 percent market solution.
-The most daunting thing from a green and cleantech PR perspective was this: There is SO much noise in the market and we still haven't really seen anything yet. Imagine for a moment that the current financial crisis dies down in Q4, the federal climate becomes green friendly and boosts incentives, the states and municipalities continue their charge. What will that do? Increase funding in cleantech to astronomical levels, likely open the public markets to green IPOs and pour millions upon millions into the marketing and government relations coffers of cleantech and green companies. Most are operating on marketing budgets under $1 million annually today, investing primarily in manufacturing, R&D and go-to-market. Any money they are spending now (and it is not much) is on public relations, search-engine marketing and some local government relations. The second half of 2009? We may see double the number of public companies and marketing budgets in the millions. Advertising will get better and more frequent, and the PR and lobbying noise will get louder. There may be a HUGE government cookie that begins to open in six months.
GoingGreen was a fantastic event held at a great venue. It was yet another cleantech event that was oversubscribed showing the health of the industry. It has made me even more excited for Solar Power International in San Diego. Feel free to get in touch with me if you will be there the week of October 13. firstname.lastname@example.org
Yesterday, Vinod Khosla captivated the GoingGreen audience (the "pin drop" effect) and today it is Elon Musk. He opened his discussion with a quick overview of his new space venture before delving into some Tesla news.
He announced that the new Tesla Model S will be manufactured in San Jose with 20,000 units per year rolling out of a $250 million plant starting in late 2010 with chances to expand (drawing a round of applause). He said the new Sedan will be, like the Roadster, pure electric and seat five adults with more cargo space than any other sedan on the market. It can also fit two rear-facing car seats in the hatch and will have a 300+ mile range option.
He also envisions a fast charging option that will give it 85% charge in 45 minutes and battery pack swap out capabilities that take less time than filling a tank of gas. He expects to unveil the model early next year.
One other interesting aspect of his talk was his endorsing of solar as the power source of choice for electronic transportation. He is a believer in solar on homes, as well as utility-scale solar thermal. The more that Solar PR can draft the Tesla, the better it is for the solar market.
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.
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.
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.
Great to see KPCB raising another round for green investment. It shows that despite a softening economy, people believe that green is still a good investment. It is probably a good bet since the political climate at the federal level will likely change dramtically in t-minus nine months. Maybe Kleiner's celebrity fund raiser, Al Gore, will play a role in changing that political climate?
Why is this important? Because it feeds the marketing and lobbying coffers of green companies, allowing them to better compete with traditional industries trying to slow green adoption.
Last week saw the release of a report predicting that solar would see a serious speedbump in 2010, as the current shortage of polysilicon eases and solar cells flood the market. The report predicts difficulty for both thin-film players and the chrystalline silicon makers that depend on polysilicon as a key ingredient in their products. For green marketers in solar, this could mean that the window of opportunity is much smaller than previously thought.
This report looks at the supply side of the equation and sees doom for manufacture profits and gloom for their investors. I wonder, however, how much the report thoroughly investigated the demand side of the equation. There are a number of things that should increase solar demand in the coming years and may partially or substantially offset any increase in supply:
Improved storage capacity--one of the biggest technology bottlenecks to the adoption of all renewals has been battery and storage efficiency. That said, millions are being invested in battery companies right now, including A123, Lion Cells and Seeo, which will help in terms of power storage in applications like electric cars, solar and wind. If the storage gets better, then the demand and ROI will go up significantly.
Speaking of electric cars--one of the biggest contradictions in my mind is the use of an electric car charged on coal-generated electricity. What's the answer? Charging it with renewables. The use of solar combined with good battery technology and electric cars just makes too much sense. It also doesn't require substantial infrastructure overhauls like changing the types and locations of fueling stations. A solar implementation on a house, office building or even carports, would be a huge advantage.
Government support--next January will definitely see a change in the political climate for solar and other renewables. All three major presidential candidates have stated that they believe in renewable sources of energy and will commit more investment in areas like solar. This includes direct investment in R&D and other areas, but also better federal tax incentives and rebates. These rebates will allow solar companies to protect some of their margins as the supply of solar increases.
There is no doubt that solar is riding high right now because of the perfect storm of high demand, low supply and large sums of investment. It also makes sense that the market wil mature eventually and it will be a bit more commoditized. But to predict it is going to get there in two years is a bit silly IMHO, since we have just begun to scratch the surface of building integrated photovoltaics and other solar applications beyond the panels you see today.
-Word is that geothermal is getting investor attention and beginning to take off. This is very interesting because the government is also boosting its investment in geothermal in the FY 2009 budget. Others getting a boost? Solar PV, Wind and Biomass. The news is not quite as good for tidal energy.
Finally, a cool round-up of money-saving, green gadgets on CNET.
So I am going to have to report back on how WIREC day two went in a future post as our meetings today took us to locations off site, but still some interesting tidbits I didn't get to yesterday:
-One business development executive at a solar concentrator company said that he got in "very early" on sponsoring and exhibiting at WIREC, giving him a large booth size and prime location alongside the big boys (BP, Chevron, etc). If you are a green marketer with a gambler's mentality, there is definite risk and reward to taking this approach. He saw enormous reward as they were front and center to anyone entering the expo. A solid relationship with ACORE also helps.
-On which shows should you gamble if any? The best shows are obviously ones in which there are other local key audiences that can be leveraged in case the event is a bust. If you can schedule some local meetings/drop-bys off site, you can still end up with qualified prospects from the travel associated with an event. DC is a great location since there are a lot of companies with headquarters in the area, as well as a media and government-rich audience with whom you can network. The San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and New York are also good locations. Anything beyond those markets can be tough depending on your vertical focus.
-From a speaking perspective, it can be tough to justify the time and expense to present at an unproven event. Nothing is worse than having your executive speaking to a room of six unqualified attendees who don't ask questions. Therefore, while taking a chance on exhibiting costs can be prohibitive, so is the credit capital cost of sending your executive to an unknown conference.
-I met with an investment company (hybrid of an investment fund and a venture firm) that actually sees the renewable energy world very similarly to the way that green marketers and marketing/PR firms see the industry. Solar and wind are the most mature, with biofuels, hydro power and others a bit further off. That is not to say that companies in those markets cannot benefit from government relations, public affairs and PR, but those campaigns would be built around early mindshare, driving investment and and educating the market. Solar and wind tend to be the companies in a position to commpete on a product basis.
-WIREC was not very well attended from a media standpoint, but there was a young analyst firm exhibiting, Emerging Energy Research. It is interesting to see some of the boutique firms beginning to pop up offering advisory services to vendors of renewables and consulting services to commercial and government organizations. Who will be the Green Gartner?
-The most interesting item to come out of the WIREC show? How much government money there is that can be invested in renewable companies, but how few companies understand how to tap it. Government relations seems to be the great untapped market opportunity for a lot of renewable companies. It is money that requires no diluting of equity, no forfeiting of intellectual property rights and no decision as to whom you sell the product. If I were a VC concerned about becoming over invested in one of my portfolio clients, this would seem a like a great option since my equity stake and value would only be positively impacted by bringing on the government as an investor. With $152 million going into solar and $53 million (approximately) going into wind, GR seems like a great place to get a significant ROI.
Here endeth my WIREC visit. Off to Dulles to complain about the lack of midday direct options to the West Coast.
It's been a very busy week as I prep for a trip to WIREC in Washington D.C. The Washington International Renewable Energy Conference is a gathering of renewable and cleantech companies of all types. It just so happens that WIREC is taking place just as the wind lobby gets together in Washington for a major push.
Everyone has seen solar and wind really take off over the past two years. What's next? Well, if you follow the money it could be biofuels. Mascoma got $50 million in funding. It will be interesting to see if 2008 is the year new fuels really start coming to market ... maybe 2009 will be the year we see the changes in infrastructure to support those fuels. In any event, the market is about to get noisy for you biofuels marketers.
But let's be honest ... the markets of all renewables will explode in the next year as we have the perfect storm of increasing demand, huge rounds of financing and an anticipated change in the political climate for renewables.
I'll be sure to report some of the interestings things I see and learn at WIREC. For those attending the event, safe travels.
This past week was interesting, highlighted by a study, a survey and a political plea.
First, an interesting survey was released this week that said that green features are finally delivering in terms of home sales by adding a $9,000 premium to the sale price. This gives consumers yet another way to recoup the up-front costs of installing a solar, wind or other renewable system. This is undoubtedly great news for green marketers. This type of data can help overcome some of the concerns about ROI, especially in a market where home values are dropping. Now we just need the home appraisers and banks to catch on.
Second, a controversial study released from UC Berkeley that basically lables solar a waste of money from a residential perspective. It says that the cost of installing a solar system makes is too expensive when compared to its benefits. There are some things, however, that the study seems to have overlooked. Not all states allow consumers to sell energy back to the grid (net metering) or go negative on their energy bill. If that happened, it would certainly help in terms of offsetting the cost of the system. It also ignored the survey that showed the impact of green on the price of a home. For green marketers, this is not the type of study you want to see when it seems the market is taking off. The research did take a very narrow view, but we will likely see more of this and not less in 2008 and beyond.
Finally, a plea from the governors of coal-producing states that clean coal not be forgotten as part of the renewable-energy agenda. This is critical to states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other large, coal-producing states. It will be interesting to see where this goes. Many have called "clean coal" a farce, based on technology that hasn't even been developed yet. There are also serious concerns about the way in which coal is harvested, including strip mining and other environmentally unfriendly means. Is clean coal real or a dream? We'll see in the years to come, but we should see a lot more noise about it given the number of state economies that depend on it.
This is huge news as the credits help offset the cost of implementing solar, wind and other renewable technologies. The more quickly economic incentives increase, the quicker we will be out of early adopter phase in the market. This will help cleantechs grow more quickly and result in better education of the marketplace. It also will help encourage continued investment in renewables by VCs and Wall Street, which will help preserve the marketing budgets of cleantech companies.
As mentioned in previous posts, federal incentives make the most sense because they encourage nationwide adoption. The states and municipalities can still add on top, but the move to cleantech should be a national effort. There are some holes in the legislation as pointed out by Rubens, but overall it is a great step in supporting continued market growth.
These regions are right to do what they can to advance the use of renewable technologies, but long term something needs to be done nationally. People who do their part to reduce their carbon emissions and reduce the strain on the power grid should get some sort of universal credit or break. You could have one neighbor receive thousands in incentives and tax breaks, while the other gets little incentive to install a renewable energy system. This is wrong.
It is analogous to two households with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 getting dramatically different tax rebates as part of the economic stimulus plan just passed. Cities and states should continue to do what they can to advance the use of renewables while the federal government sits in gridlock. But long term, Washington needs to do something aggressive that improves upon and superscedes local incentives.
It is unlikely that the political environment will change until January of 2009. In the meantime, marketers will have to continue to target areas where tax breaks and incentives make adoption more likely. National campaigns certainly don't hurt in terms of education and awareness, or in priming the pump if the federal climate does change, but direct lead generation is more likely to happen in localities. Some may even invest most of their marketing dollars in Europe where Germany, Spain, the UK and others continue to adopt renewable plans at a furious pace.
So why did we wait? Well, clients always ask us when they should announce a new product or service offering. Our response is usually, "If PR is the only driver of the announcement date, we should wait until you have a compelling story around the product or service, including customers that support the fact that what you are bringing to market is truly differentiated."
The news is not that we are entering the Green PR world. It is that we have a differentiated services offering, including aggressive media and government relations, that is already helping our cleantech clients achieve their business goals. The news is that we are taking what is our single biggest core competency--helping emerging growth companies facing heavily entrenched, better-funded competition level the playing field through PR--and applying it to a market that needs it more than perhaps any other technology market in history.
Renewable energy companies face significant challenges, many of which I have blogged about the past. They face one of the largest and most entrenched industries in the world in the form of traditional energy (oil, gas, coal, etc), as well as the marketing and lobbying arms of numerous industries that don't like being regulated (auto, utility, manufacturing).
They also face very steep, well-funded competition within their own markets now that VCs around the world are sinking eight and nine-figure rounds into companies in solar, wind, fuel cells and biofuels. They also face large corporations in other markets who have begun developing and acquiring their way into renewable energy.
Bottom line: This is the ultimate David versus Goliath story and a story in which we are relishing the opportunity to play a part. We now have officially been cast in a role and are packing a pretty big slingshot.
Great story today in the NY Times by John Markoff and Matt Richtel about how California is leading the solar charge, with massive amounts of investment, subsidies and jobs being created as a result. There was also news today of Applied Materials making a large acquisition of an Italian solar company for $334 million dollars.
These two stories are both great news for emerging-growth solar companies. They both support the position that solar technology is not an energy-crisis fad, but a long-term viable market. The Applied Materials deal will continue to send the message to investors that there are lucrative equity events waiting for them in renewable energy. It also may signal to Applied competitors that they need to be more active in investigating the market. As I've mentioned before, the market needs some big fish to bring their marketing budgets, lobbying arms and workforces to market to educate key audiences renewables and move the industry forward.
This is a trend that is not going away anytime soon.
Reports have begun trickling in regarding the level of green investment during 2007 and they are impressive. VCs continue to see green as a major investment vehicle for their funds, especially in light of the high-flying performance of thin-film provider First Solar. Green tech companies took home $3.4 billion in 2007 and some estimates have placed that figure in excess of $4 billion. In any event, green is getting greener.
What does it mean for marketers? Well, there is good news and bad news.
First the bad news: If you think things are noisy now, you ain't seen nothing yet. More investment means more marketing dollars spent on advertising, PR and other awareness campaigns by your competitors. It means that the market is going to become even more competitive. It means that start-up companies may have enough cash to do in two years what took you three or four. Not to mention some of the massive rounds from 2006 and 2007 went to companies building out R&D and manufacturing, so some of those companies haven't even started marketing yet.
The good news? It means that other companies will be helping to advance renewable energy technologies in the mainstream consciousness with legislators, consumers and corporations. It means more money in the coffers of the renewable energy market to educate key audiences and battle the fear, uncertainty and doubt put forth by lobbyists, critics and some traditional energy companies. Anyone who has spent any time in marketing knows that trying to create a market or raise its visibility is tough to do without a budget that is in the millions of dollars. It can be done, but it helps to have others pulling the cart with you.
The increased investment and competition may also allow marketers to make the case for more budget in 2008 and 2009. Nothing riles a management team or board of directors more than a less mature competitor getting more attention from media, buyers and investors.