Anyone who follows the clean energy industry knows it isn’t a fad. The macro environmental and economic drivers like climate change, limited fossil energies, and the growing global demand for reliable, clean energy sources are simply too strong.
No one should pretend the transition is easy. But it’s inevitable.
That’s why it makes me shudder when I read words like “green energy isn’t going to be the solution” from Congressional political leaders like Cliff Stearns, who recently criticized the industry as “not viable.”
Well, guess what Mr. Stearns? The private-sector executives who actually know something about this industry don’t agree with you. A new survey of 128 cleantech executives released yesterday by the law firm Cooley LLP finds that 74% see strong growth in this industry over the next five years — even with federal heel-dragging under a business as usual scenario.
“Our survey confirms there is an overwhelming belief by clean tech investors and entrepreneurs that private sector investment in clean tech will continue to rise. I believe that this studied enthusiasm is based on the fact that we are still just at the beginning of a multi-decade energy transformation,” said Tom Amis, co-chair of Cooley’s Clean Energy & Technologies practice and based in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. “Yet, the near term certainly presents some challenges for both investors and entrepreneurs.”
Indeed, there are numerous challenges related to political stability and capital availability. In this post-Solyndra world, venture investors are concerned that some limited partners in venture funds will pull back, waiting until we see a few more high-value exits before they move back in. Other companies worry that the federal government will roll back existing support further.
The top challenges cited by U.S. clean energy and technology company leaders include access to capital (79 percent) and weak economic conditions (63 percent), followed by the need for stronger public policy and incentives (39 percent) supporting the United States’ position as a global clean tech leader.
Only 18 percent of clean technology executives and investors think the federal government will play a larger role in funding clean tech innovation in the future, while 40 percent believe the federal government will play a smaller role, and the remainder (42 percent) believe it will remain relatively unchanged.
Around three quarters of these executives, investors and entrepreneurs believe that increased federal support through long-term tax credits, renewable energy targets and a carbon price would help keep America competitive in this sector.
With leading politicians publicly calling clean energy “propaganda,” we still have a way to go before we fully grasp the enormity of this transformation on the national level. But author and NY Times Columnist Tom Friedman said it best when addressing business leaders at last week’s Greenbuild conference: “Thank you all for being too dumb to quit.”
“Frankly, I’m amazed that you’re all here. You just didn’t get the word. God bless you. You just didn’t get the word that we’re not going to have a price signal, that the politics is all paralyzed. That we’re fighting with each other from one end of Washington…to the other. You just didn’t get the word. You are like a marine we interviewed for our new book, That Used to Be Us, when we asked him why he surged in Anbar province, he said ‘we were too dumb to quit.’ Thank you all for being too dumb to quit. Do not get the word.”
“Please don’t get the word. Because if you get the word, the word’s kind of grim right now. I wish I could tell you that some quick solution from the national level is coming. It’s not. We are where we are, we’ve got what we’ve got. It’s on you. It’s on me. It’s on us. They’re not going to solve it for us. So promise you will keep on going and you will never get the word.”
Eat your heart out, Mr. Stearns.