Author Archive

Next Generation Solar Solutions

June 3, 2009

The topic of FountainBlue’s Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum on June 1 was “Next Generation Solar Solutions.” The three presenting entrepreneurs were:
· Kuldip Sethi, NanoInnovations
· Fareed Sfard, PhD, Ahura Energy Inc.
· Helmuth Treichel, SunSonix

The first wave of clean energy investments have been in solar solutions. Now that investments have taken place for decades, the verdict has been coming in on solar solutions: some have evaporated, some have excelled, some are STILL up and coming, and some are amongst the walking dead. This leaves investors wary about funding new solar solutions, particularly if they are ‘me-too’ solutions, without innovation in technology or business models. This month’s panel featured:
· Facilitator Craig Lobdell, Partner, KPMG
· Panelist Matthew Garratt, Senior Associate, Battery Ventures
· Panelist Bob MacDonald, CEO, Skyline Solar
· Panelist Lorenza Moro, Senior Researcher, Materials Science Laboratory, SRI International
· Panelist Ryan Murr, Partner, Business Law Department, Goodwin Procter LLC
· Panelist PR Yu, CEO, Optony

Although it is not a revolutionary technology, silicon solutions remain in the forefront for residential, commercial and utility solutions due to 1) their low cost with the current glut of availability in the market and general availability of silicon as a natural resource, 2) their alignment with current infrastructure needs, and 3) the availability of technical resources transferring from the semiconductor to the clean energy market. With that said, there is predicted to be many evolutionary changes to improve the silicon solution design, for example: making current designs more modular, making the manufacturing process even more efficient and cost-effective, improving energy storage and distribution capabilities, and affecting business model innovations needed to ensure wider adoption, including increasing financial options and turnkey solutions.

The next generation of silicon will be thin film, but the general consensus is that thin film’s efficiency levels do not justify the higher costs overall, and we are not likely to reach grid parity for 3-5 years, depending on factors such as land cost, cost of energy, availability of technical resources, infrastructure readiness, etc.

We were cautioned not to be complacent with the dominance of silicon in the near term, but to proactively consider the next generation solar solutions as the US PV market is growing at a healthy clip, expected to grow ten times in the next year from 300-350 megawatts to 3000 or so, and orders of magnitude growth is expected for larger projects. There will therefore be an increased demand for all solar solutions provided that they are efficiently priced and delivered, including silicon, concentrated photovoltaics, thin film, compressed air technologies (CATs), and solar cells with nano and organic and other novel materials.

In conclusion, the panel advises us to bank on a range of solutions, depending on the needs of the customer, from commercial, to residential to industrial, to local available resources, energy pricing, policy standards and requirements, etc. Each case is different. Crystalline silicon solutions, for example, make perfect sense for retrofitting existing residential structures, but PV solutions might be better for new construction projects. Farms of solar panels might make sense in sunny regions with access to water, like Hawaii, but CAT might be better for desert-like areas like Arizona, which has sun but no water. Large industrial plants with ‘buffer zones’ may consider using the land for solar panels, wind turbines, etc., depending on local conditions and regulations. Consider these types of variables when making solar technology decisions.


Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum: Local to Global Clean Energy Solutions

May 13, 2009

FountainBlue’s May 4 Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum was on the topic of “Local to Global Clean Energy Solutions” and featured:

· Facilitator Elise Zoli, Clean Tech Practice Lead, Goodwin Procter LLC

· Panelist Tony Chao, Associate, Applied Ventures

· Panelist Wayne Gluhan, Director of Sales and Principal, Raident Technologies

· Panelist Gerd Goette, Managing Partner, Siemens Ventures

· Panelist Andres Wydler, co-founder and shareholder, BPL Global

Below are note from the conversation:

In this day and age, adopting a local to global business strategy is both a necessity and a challenge for clean energy entrepreneurs. It’s a necessity as 1) global markets and products can be served through a global strategy, 2) global companies can take advantage of labor, financing and raw materials from countries around the world, 3) local presences in different countries across the globe make it easier to navigate taxes and regulations and other local requirements for doing business and 4) high-level corporate and investor partnerships require entrepreneurs to adopt and implement a global strategy.

However, with the time and finance challenges of early stage entrepreneurs, this becomes a bit of a challenge. Below are some pointers from our esteemed panel on how to make this work.

· Have an underlying global strategy and understand why, when and with whom you would partner to implement this strategy.

· Hire an experienced team with the international connections and mindset to plan and implement that strategy.

· Adopt a step by step, one continent at a time, approach.

· When going global as a young company, sometimes opportunistic decisions are made in the sales room rather than in the board room. In other words, the sales staff might be able to take advantage of serendipitous events through their established channels and relationships. And, provided that the strategy is in alignment with the overall goals and objectives of the company, this may be a good thing for the company, accelerating growth plans into a new market.

· Have the tools to manage international relationships so that you can leverage the advantages (a round-the-clock team in different geographic locations, less invested in salary, etc.) while minimizing the disadvantages (communication problems, task/role confusion, time zone issues, etc.).

· Design the product or service to serve the needs of customers around the globe, even if you’re not yet targeting that particular country or continent.

· Treat foreign employees as well as you would headquarter employees.

· Make it easy for your channel partners to sell to their local networks.

· Timing is everything – position yourself for serendipitous events by working hard and being persistent, and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

· Patent only your core technologies, and only in the predominant countries for which you plan to have a presence. Patents are expensive, and it may not be worthwhile to also file application specific patents in multiple countries as that would be expensive and time-consuming, especially for a small start-up.

o Consider that the patent protection period is about 18 months, and it might be a better option to be in stealth mode rather than announcing your technology through the patent issuance before your company is ready.

· Partner with strong, established, regional firms with the relationships and track record needed to help your business. It’s better to work with people with which you have a history, but sometimes entrepreneurs must just take that chance with a new entity, provided that due diligence has been performed, and that the partnership starts on a small projects initially.

o To find the right partner, turn to your personal network, and those of all those you trust in your network, quality service providers, peers, other partners and entrepreneurs, the US Department of Commerce, etc.,

o Consider doing a non-circumvent partnership agreement rather than an exclusivity agreement, which is not generally granted or an NDA, which may not provide adequate protection.

o It’s difficult to find the right partner on another continent, and sometimes you have to work with people in power who do not have the experience or judgment to make or drive a successful partnership.

· Consider acquisitions as part of your growth strategy, but if you do this make sure that you have a team experienced in managing this, and make sure that you start small, and that it’s the right/best way to grow, adding new products and markets which are in alignment with your company’s objectives.

· Consider your target market – whether it’s utilities or consumers or commercial, whether they are local or global.

The panel also discussed how the US compares with other countries around the world in different clean energy sub-industries. For example, Germany has a dominance in solar, with wind being prominent in Denmark, biofuels in Brazil, Renewables in the Middle East and nuclear in Japan and China. The US continues to lead in the smart grid and biomass areas, and with its capacity and history of reinventing itself, may again be a leader in other clean energy sub-industries. The bottom line is that there is a tremendous opportunity for clean energy solutions, and government investment and support has impacted the success of this nascent industry.

The panel ended with remarks about the current administration and the huge investment in growing US leadership in the clean green space – from simplifying the application process to focusing on helping specific companies to succeed, to the sheer volume of financial support – ten times more than venture investment dollars. Everyone is watching to see how these activities will help positioning the US to again assume leadership in clean energy technologies and businesses.