05 November 2009

MAC Alliance: Promise of Clean Tech in Region

Day Two of the 2009 Mid-Atlantic Capital Alliance Conference this week featured the first clean tech track in the history of the conference, an indication that the sector is emerging in this region.

The clean tech track opened with a "financing panel," a good mix of investors, analysts, and utility service companies, including the publicly traded demand-response play Comverge and PJM, which operates the largest regional electricity transmission grid in the country.

Rob Day, a partner at the venture capital firm Black Coral Capital, came down from Boston, and Tucker Twitmyer of local heroes EnerTech Capital offered the investor perspective, along with John Roy, an energy analyst from Janney Montgomery Scott.

Day opened the session with a humorous take on the myths of clean tech in the US.

"If you read national media or the New York Times," Day opined. "You know that the only good clean tech is happening in Silicon Valley -- and it's only solar, wind, and cars. You also know that it is a capital-intensive business that is only for whiz-bang PhDs, and has nothing to do with service providers or implementers."

After letting the audience in on the joke, Day countered that, in fact, "What we're seeing is a growing awareness of clean tech innovation around the country. Real value chains are emerging here in the Mid-Atlantic region and up and down the east coast, not just the left coast."

Twitmyer agreed, suggesting that the "trend is positive for clean tech: there will be fundamental changes in our energy infrastructure; some chosen, some forced. Carbon will be priced in."

With Comverge and PJM at the table, the talk turned to demand-response and systems that will monitor and control energy assets. The panel could not come to agreement about who will benefit more: central generators and the utility industry or distributed generation resources.

But all agreed that subsidizing the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and smart grid, will enable a range of ancillary energy assets: transportation, reserves, storage; indeed, the entire enabling infrastructure stands to benefit.

As with everything in this sector, however, it will come down to price. (What isn't about price?)

How is the Mid-Atlantic region positioned for clean tech development? The panelists agreed it is well positioned.

"But it isn't really about one region or state over another, " John Ray of Janney reminded the audience. "It is really the US against the rest of the world -- and we have some catching up to do."

My three take-aways from the 2009 MAC Alliance Conference, especially the clean tech track:

1.) The Mid-Atlantic region has great potential, but is competing globally;
2.) We need to keep up the momentum presented by events like this and the REBN events we've held over the past year;
3.) We need more clean tech investors in the region and need to build on existing assets to attract more investors and companies.

(Eleven companies also presented at the conference. I'll write about a few of them in a future post.)