The State of Cleantech in 2014

by Guest Contributor Maud Texier.

Where does cleantech stand?

 

Renewable Energy. A technician standing on top of a wind turbine. Image Credit: Glenn J. Asakawa.
Renewable Energy at work. A technician standing on top of a wind turbine. Image Credit: Glenn J. Asakawa.

After a big boom in early stage investments and a green policies kick-off a few years ago, the cleantech industry has been through the struggles that always come with a young and maturing industry. Where are we standing now?

Unavoidable growing pains

Back in 2008, VC funds for cleantech were blossoming; some of them arguing that it would be the next internet boom. Politics started to raise their awareness about climate changes and environmental issues. Europe had led the way with the first feed-in tariffs for renewables and even a cap and trade market for CO2 in 2005. The US introduced Renewable Energy Standards in 30 states, and created ARPA-E as the new government agency to support innovation in the energy industry.

However, overproduction of solar cells and panels, combined with rapidly falling prices for that and other reasons, led to the demise of numerous solar startups. Meanwhile, many European countries, facing a financial crisis, stepped back and reduced their support for cleantech. The early growing pains that face all industries as they mature also showed up. That included some innovators going bankrupt or struggling to make it to their teenage years. Iconic cleantech companies such as Fisker, Better Place, and A123 went bankrupt; a lot of other startups had poor exits as they were struggling raising new funds.

Now VCs are defiant and most of the main teams are being dismantled as their cleantech portfolio did not perform well enough. Was that to be expected? Actually, VCs historically targeted rapidly growing markets in order to ensure high returns in a few years, whereas the energy industry bets on 20+years returns. There has obviously been a mismatch. Also, a lot of investors and entrepreneurs — new to the energy industry — underestimated the barriers of entry for this market, as well as the resistance of utilities.

However, a few VCs did well and are still in the game. Today, most of them are either targeting this new “cleanweb” segment, which is more likely to be capital-light with a rapid return by focusing on apps and softwares. Others are partnering with corporates to ensure a more sustainable investment and facilitating industry alliances for the ventures.

The cleantech coming of age

Funding a hardware cleantech company is currently very difficult, if not impossible. However, we still need those technologies to evolve and mature, as they will be the pillar of the next infrastructures. Cleanweb, new business models, and financing are key and definitely necessary to mainstream those innovations, but let’s not forget our final goal by focusing too much on the means….

I believe that the solar industry has never been better than it is today. It is true that a lot of people are struggling, we have seen the number of module manufacturers dramatically dropping over the last two years, and now the pressure is put on other types of hardware from the balance of system, such as inverters. But the price drop has been so strong and the emergence of new business models so impactful that PV is becoming mainstream. The market has been maturing into a more sustainable industry, and it will keep growing but likely with a trend towards verticalization.

Also, storage is going to see a huge change this year. A lot of companies have been working on their technologies for years now, and the market is finally getting ready, one step at a time. Timing is always critical for innovations: now as energy demand keeps increasing despite limited and decreasing capacities, storage starts making sense even at a higher price. California once again pioneered by introducing the AB 2514 bill that makes storage capacities mandatory for the state IOUs (PG&E, SCE, SDG&E). Is storage on the same path as solar was a few years ago?

I will just add a few words on the energy efficiency industry, this low-hanging fruit that companies have been trying to grab for some years now. Despite huge potential, energy efficiency is still looking for the right model. The concept of monetizing negawatts needs a lot of structure: policies, regulations, standardized measure, and verification processes. Some promising technologies for consumption disaggregation and new financing structures could dramatically change the picture with the right business models.

The energy industry is re-shaping itself as it faces new challenges. The emerging segments of this market have definitely been going through difficulties to reach technology viability and find the right business model. This market is a tough one, where you need heavy investment and strong will to upgrade infrastructures and modify a legacy system which has been running for decades. But we are finally witnessing the development of those technologies at large scale, creating new economies. Beyond solar, the grid is finally starting to change with storage, energy efficiency and consumer-oriented services.

About the Author: As an engineer, Maud dedicated her efforts towards the energy market. She hails from the oil & gas industry, and started her career working in electricity markets. As an analyst on a power trading desk, she studied the market mechanisms that can develop new demand-response models. She has been scouting new technologies such as renewables, storage or energy efficiency for a large power utility in Silicon Valley before joining a solar start-up.

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This article, The State Of The Cleantech Industry, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy

by Silvio Marcacci

Pro-solar energy state-level energy policies are arguably as strong right now as they’ve ever been across America, just in time for consumers to take advantage of affordable technologies to generate their own clean electricity.

Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) concluded the policy outlook for distributed generation from solar energy is bright as ever in Freeing the Grid 2013, the 7th annual report card ranking all 50 US states on net metering and interconnection policies.

The report helps policymakers, regulators, and renewable advocates understand the best approaches to these two wonky but critical influences on the growth of solar energy and small-scale renewables across the country. States are “graded” on an A to F scale depending on their policies – and America’s grades just keep getting better.

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid
Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

Sustaining Solar Energy’s Surge

Thanks to plummeting prices, solar power installations are surging across the US, especially among middle class families. But with many state incentive programs set to expire in coming years, progressive net metering and interconnection policies need to be in place in order to sustain the solar boom.

“Renewable resources are now at the scale and cost necessary to allow them to be a real and growing part of our energy landscape,” said Adam Browning, Vote Solar executive director.

Now that we’ve built this new energy economy, it’s critical we keep the way clear for Americans to keep going solar with strong net metering and interconnection policies.”

Net metering is the more controversial and thus better-known policy. At its most basic, net metering means homes or businesses who have installed their own solar systems are paid in full for the electricity they generate but don’t consume and put back onto the grid. Net metering threatens many existing utility business models and has led to high-visibility fights in states like Arizona, California, and Colorado.

By comparison, interconnection is the more boring of the two, often not even registering a blip on most people’s radar screens. However, it may be the more important policy for the future of solar energy. Interconnection procedures are the rules a solar system must follow in order to “plug” into the grid, meaning net metering may not even come into play until solar panels can interconnect.

Good Grades On Net Metering & Interconnection

But enough with the wonky background – let’s get to the good news. More than two-thirds of US states now receive an A or B grade on net metering, with zero states getting a worse grade in 2013 than in 2012. In order to get an A or B, customers must receive full retail value for electricity contributed to the grid, and the state must maintain several other pro-solar policies.

The results for interconnection are a bit less impressive – while half of US states received an A or B grade, the rest are in need of significant improvement. In order to get an A or B, states must maintain good interconnection rules that incorporate best practices, with few or no customers blocked from interconnecting their systems.

Many states should be commended for having good policies in place, but four in particular, aka the “head of the class” states, lead the nation. California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Utah (surprisingly) received top grades in both net metering and interconnection policy. California, the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, and Massachusetts, home to one of the country’s fastest-growing green economies, aren’t a surprise, but Utah and Oregon seem primed for solar growth.

Freeing the Grid also recognized Washington as its “most improved” state, with a big jump from a D to a B in interconnection procedures by removing unnecessary requirements and procedures for smaller systems and expediting review of larger systems.

Best Practices Light The Way Forward

America is just now starting its transition to a clean economy. Renewables, and solar energy in particular, are becoming a real part of a distributed generation power system that moves toward grid freedom away from a traditional infrastructure of centralized fossil fuel generation and hundreds of miles of inefficient transmission lines. With nearly 20 best practices listed for states to emulate, the path forward is clear.

“Policy design on the frontiers of our fast-changing clean energy marketplace can be a challenge to get right,” said Jane Weissman, IREC president and CEO.

Freeing the Grid helps policymakers and other stakeholders make better sense of best practices and what needs to be done in their own state to clear the way for a 21st century approach to energy.”

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

This article, 4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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