New York, New York – We often wonder when the next Google of clean energy will materialize. When will the lone inventor finally emerge from his garage to change the world and solve our energy problems? What stealth company will bring the establishment to its knees? Our recent experience with IT makes these questions seem relevant. But some analysts say they ignore the realities of energy.
“It’s a dangerous distraction,” says Mark Bünger, a research director with Lux Research. “There’s such a long distance between invention and implementation in these really physical technologies.”
It’s convenient to compare solar cell manufacturing to chip manufacturing or smart meters to personal computers. But a variety of factors make these sectors very different, says Bünger.
Firstly, the regulatory barriers in energy mean that projects often take a long time to develop. This will make the transition to renewables less like the IT Revolution and more of an evolution. Secondly, while information technologies were being deployed within an entirely new framework, energy technologies are competing against well-established incumbents. And thirdly, the capital needed to roll out renewable energies is orders of magnitude greater than in IT.
There’s basically zero variable cost associated with information technologies. And that’s exactly the opposite of most renewable energy technologies,” Bünger says.
The path to commercial adoption in energy is littered with all kinds of financial, political and regulatory barriers. These make it difficult for entrepreneurs and start-up companies to bring technologies to market.
This brings us to the “Valley of Death,” the gap between venture capital and project finance. The Valley of Death is where a technology is too capital intensive for a venture capital firm to continue investing, but too risky for a bank or private equity firm to bring it to scale. This gap is particularly wide in renewable energy where many technologies are still unproven and up-front capital needs are much higher.
If a framework for financing next-generation renewables is not established, say experts, new game-changing technologies will get stuck in this lonely Valley and wither away before they reach their potential.
That’s what this week’s podcast is all about: How to cross the Valley of Death.