Clean energy needs federal policy commitment, project funding

I attended the third annual Cooley Clean Energy and Technologies Conference November 2 in Redwood Shores, and there were several interesting speakers and discussions. The event focused on innovative models in business, financing, policy and regulation. Some of the highlights:

There is a huge potential for the reduction of emissions in global shipping using dozens of existing technologies—the estimate is a reduction of 500 million tons of carbon annually by 2020.

The solar industry globally is way down: global leaders Spain and Germany have reduced spending, a worldwide surplus of equipment has driven down prices, and smaller companies have merged or gone under. Now energy efficiency is the strongest cleantech growth engine.

One panel discussed the need for more creative ideas for funding to help start-ups gain cash flow to make it through the “valley of death” that follows the first round of angel funding, to get them to the next stage of additional VC or PE funding.

Another interesting comment, which most of the panel members agreed with, is that the government provides initial funding from grants and loan guarantees, but there isn’t a long-term policy commitment to see it through to fruition.

The panelists also believe that more government money should go to clean energy projects (such as infrastructure and the smart grid) and not just new technologies. This is where the jobs will come from in greater numbers. Personally, I think this is on target. The current national grid was designed many decades ago, and upgrading it is critical. This investment in our infrastructure would have an immediate effect on job creation and energy savings; it is also critical for our national defense.

Speaking of jobs, Clint Wilder from Clean Edge presented the annual jobs report for the industry. There are 3 million cleantech jobs globally, and 500,000 of those are in California. In fact, the Bay Area is ranked No. 1 in the country, followed by L.A. at No. 2, San Diego at No. 7 and Sacramento is No. 15. Four out of the top 15, that’s not bad!

The bottom line seems to be that to make an impact on the environment and creating more jobs, now and in the future, there should be more focus on using existing technologies, more project-based funding, and a long-term policy plan from the government and industry.