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.

You have been the Co-Department Head of the Technology Transfer curriculum.  What do you see as the biggest challenge in technology transfer? 

Most of the Universities and Labs do a great job with new innovations and extending current technologies into new applications.  However, they often are not very skilled at selling and promoting these new ideas to the outside world.  Conversely, entrepreneurs quickly recognize market opportunities, but it’s tough for them to search through hundreds of universities and labs to see if anyone has developed a potential solution.  The Cleantech Fellows Institute provides a great conduit to connect these segregated groups allowing them to discover powerful synergies, which can launch new companies and solve big problems in the market.

With your experiences and observing the Fellows’ progress with their capstone projects, any tips for cleantech entrepreneurs?

Be sure to consider global markets when looking for new opportunities.  Oftentimes, new products may not have the best ROI in the US due to our low cost of energy.  However, the same concept may be very successful for billions of people where the cost of power is 2 to 10 times higher than the US.

With over 160 speakers, 30 tours, and a robust portfolio of technology, what would you say is the single greatest benefit offered by the Institute to the Fellows? 

The biggest value I see is in the network of world-class experts, which have become closely linked to the Fellows.  The information these experts present in formal class sessions is high quality, current, and often ‘battle tested.’  However, when the Fellows need to acquire additional knowledge on a specific topic, this network can easily direct them to right expert and even provide the crucial advisor to guide their new company to success.

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