30 September 2011

Clean Energy Is the New Black -- Eye, That Is...

The Tonight Show, Starring John Doerr
There's so much noise about "clean energy" and "green jobs" and "Obamacare"...oh, well, maybe not Obamacare, but it's tainted by the same brush these days, I'm afraid.

I was talking with my cleantech colleague Scott Moon of Ernst & Young the other day at the ribbon cutting for Renmatix's new technical facility in King of Prussia, PA.

Renmatix has developed a technology that converts wood waste into cellulosic sugar for use in biofuels and biochemicals.  It's not just an energy play.

The world in which we live -- tech, manufacturing and service companies that are trying to disrupt energy, building materials, chemicals, and even finance -- is getting a black eye from a peanut gallery full of enemies. 

As if that wasn't enough, then came Solyndra, which was like getting hit by friendly fire as we were taking the hill.

"We can't get a break," I said to Scott.  "Good companies that have solid solutions and good products and even customers lined up out the door are being lumped into the rubbish bin of broken dreams."

Even my pals at Fox Business are trash-talking the entire sector while attacking the President's policies and insider shenanigans.

"We need to come up with a new name for 'cleantech,'" Scott said. "I can't get anybody to pay attention to it."

Inside the spartan facility, Renmatix's presentation was beginning.  John Doerr, venture partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and a long-time advocate of and investor in cleantech, came on the stage to a rock music intro.  It was a talk show entrance.  He even did a Johnny Carson move to silence the music.

"There were basically three revolutions over the past 30 years," Doerr related. "computer technologies: IT; biotech: BT; and now we have the third, energy tech or ET."

"Energy Tech."  With all due respect to Mr. Doerr or my brethren at Enertech Capital, who were prescient in being inclusive when naming their firm, I'm not sure that does it either.

Sure you can lump stuff like "clean coal," natural gas, nuclear, and maybe even tar sands under the "ET" label, but wasn't that what "clean energy" was accomplishing over "renewable energy."

At the end of the day, we really need to find not a new brand, but to make a better case for the energy technologies we need to power the future. 

The debate over whether we can make money in this stuff has started, but that's still too early.  The real test is still a way off.

Until we do make some green from green, however, we'll never see cleantech, clean energy or even energy tech become the new normal.  And I just hope we don't get caught with the lights off one day.

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