Thursday, January 17, 2013

Colorado Cleantech Industry Association’s Cleantech Fellows Institute

ICOSA Magazine
by: Eric Drummond

Many of us in the industry have seen the headlines in the print media and have watched the “experts” on the cable news shows discussing the early demise of cleantech—newspaper articles and TV documentaries recently claiming that cleantech is dead, that the cleantech bubble has burst.  But if we look beyond the provocative headlines, we’ll see that the industry is not dead or dying; it’s growing, and in some sectors maturing, but doing so without effective and rational policy support and during a time of financial difficulty.  And because it’s hard, investors, entrepreneurs, regulators and other industry players are still figuring out the most efficient manner in which to bring new technologies to market.

The facts, on the other hand, appear to reflect a far different story:
  • U.S. venture capital investment in cleantech companies reached $4.9 billion in 2011, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource.  This is flat in terms of deals compared to 2012 but represents a 29 percent increase from the $3.8 billion raised in 2009.
  • Nationally, renewable electricity generation doubled from 2006 to 2011, and prices for wind, solar and other clean energy technologies decreased.
  • Employment in cleantech industry sectors expanded by almost 12 percent from 2007 to 2010.
  • Locally, the Denver, Colo., nine-county region ranked sixth out of the 50 largest metro areas in the United States in cleantech employment concentration in 2011, with around 1,500 cleantech companies operating in the nine-county region in 2011.
  • Colorado had investments of $363.3 million throughout 2011, a 28 percent increase from 2010, making it the state with the third highest level of investments.
Recognized as one of the most innovation-intensive states, Colorado derives this honor from the strength of the research, investor and entrepreneurship communities built around the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).  Another data point, in the past five years, more than 450 provisional, nonprovisional and international clean technology patents have been filed by researchers at these schools.
Others have pointed out that Colorado has enormous local resources, and with NREL in our midst we have an incredibly strong link to the national cleantech ecosystem.  NREL is the leader in research in solar, wind, biomass and other clean technologies.  Indeed, known in the research and development community as “the Oscars of Innovation,” NREL has won 50 R&D 100 Awards in the last 30 years.
In addition to NREL, Colorado is also home to a number of other federal labs, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the state is also home to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).  This feature set of national labs and research centers, as well as universities, and investor and innovator communities, all reflect on the rich diversity of the Colorado cleantech ecosystem.

A Cleantech Solution
What many of us have come to understand is that most venture capital firms are quick to acknowledge that they invest in teams and people, not just products and technologies.  With that in mind, an enterprising and energetic group of people banded together to create a platform, the Cleantech Fellows Institute, to accelerate the development of cleantech in the region and across the nation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Robert Welch: Thoughts on the Cleantech Fellows Institute

Robert Welch is one of the Cleantech Fellows Institute’s invaluable Department Heads, co-leading the Technology Transfer curriculum. We asked Robert to share his thoughts about the program.

You have extensive experience in energy efficiency, would you say you have had any “ah-ha” moments in your career?

The low price of energy in the US allowed quite a few wasteful practices to become commonplace.  When I noticed every building on a single campus was operating with their heating and cooling systems running simultaneously, I started to realize how widespread the opportunities had become.  When I discovered almost every data center is operating 20 degrees colder than required by the computer equipment suppliers, I began to understand huge opportunities were present in virtually every industry.

How did you get into cleantech?

My career started with providing control systems for coal fired utility power plants.  That led me to control systems for renewable energy systems including solar, biomass, and hydro.

Debra Wilcox: Thoughts on the Cleantech Fellows Institute

Debra Wilcox is our Advanced Transportation Department Head for the Fellows Institute. We asked Debra to share her thoughts about the program.

You were one of the integral members of the Cleantech Fellows Institute’s team of Department Heads during the inaugural session in 2012.  Looking back on the experience, what were a couple of program highlights for you?

At the time I was asked to be a member of the CFI team, I had an idea of what I thought the program would be.  My vision was far exceeded by both the participants and the content of the program.  The value of the program showed itself in the level of participation from the fellows, the staff and the many guests speakers attracted to the program. The program was about learning, not teaching and each session presented learning opportunities for fellows and presenters alike.

Your background in law, aviation, aerospace and energy is quite impressive.  What most excites you about the intersection of cleantech and aviation?

I am a strong proponent of bringing industry sectors together. Through those intersections participants learn from each other and those intereactions spark more innovation.  I believe that the Cleantech Fellows Institute has created an innovative culture, not unlike that described by the Edison Achievement Award in describing the work of David Kelley, CEO of IDEO, that is the “development of an innovative culture that has broad impact.” This innovative culture will continue to be the success of the program.

Eric Drummond: Thoughts on the Fellows Institute

Eric Drummond was the 2012 Clean Energy Generation Department Head for the Fellows Institute. We asked Eric to share his thoughts about the program.

You have an incredibly varied background in the law, politics and energy. How do you tie these areas of expertise together to help support and grow Colorado’s expanding cleantech and renewable energy industries?

I’m very big on collaboration and getting the best people around the table to devise and execute on projects. This collaborative model was something I was exposed to very early in my career when several of us assisted with the formation of one of the largest electric utility holding companies in the U.S. This effort lasted around three years, involved four states plus the nation’s capitol and required our group being directly involved with a number of state and federal agencies, and state federal legislatures. I relied on these types of experiences when I was Chairman of the Economic Development Commission and, ultimately, Mayor of my city. Collaborative and creative processes led to a record amount of private investment in our city and allowed us to regain control of our economic future.

I am enjoying supporting our Colorado-based cleantech businesses and assisting with attracting capital and other like-minded businesses to our state. In addition, I believe that it is both rational and lucrative to assist Colorado businesses in developing work in foreign markets where U.S. expertise is in the global forefront of providing energy in energy intensive and emerging economies, while doing so without adding to, or possibly decreasing carbon load in these markets. I generally believe that in the most robust markets in the world there is conscious participation at the highest levels between law, politics and business and I hope to continue to facilitate those kinds of interactions to benefit our nation’s economy and our global climate.