You cannot expect us to be based in Berkeley, California and not have an interest in the green space. It’s part of the DNA of the region and infused within the local culture.
With this in mind it was nice to attend this weeks Going Green 2009 event and get an update on how this sector of the market is developing. The Going Green event is predominately an opportunity for green tech companies to network with potential investors and for industry experts to discuss the issues driving new innovation and change.
Two sessions were particularly interesting to me – “Terrawatts of Solar” and “Urban Development”. The solar experts discussed the issues around industrial scale delivery of solar for grid electricity and highlighted the issues blocking this. Incredibly second to financing and ROI (which is a huge obstacle) the next one they noted was “environmentalists”. Ironic I thought that legal protests from those protecting habitats would delay a technology that could save the planet!
The “urban” panel drew attention to the difficulties of executing on major renovation/modernization projects like Boston’s “Big Dig”, Seattle’s tunnel project and London’s Cross Link Railway. Most noted that going underground was in most cases the only option left without massive disruption to existing infrastructure, while again the cost and political will was always a challenge especially for publicly funded and managed projects. In many cases providing an infrastructure upgrade necessary to facilitate the “greening” of a city (less traffic, more pedestrian areas, more mass transit, bike lanes, etc) simply are never going to get the financial support. Money it seems is the stumbling block to so many green initiatives.
Finally a very important theme came through about who controls the future of green tech success.
The US is simply a terrible industrial environment to realize the change needed to help green tech succeed. Let me qualify that – in terms of innovation it’s all happening here and to an extent in Europe too. But and it’s a big BUT – the commitment required to actually realize the technology and bring it to market only exists in one market – China. The economy and commitment in that market is geared towards the long term. We all know green innovations and change pay off long term but US culture now thinks short term, quarter to quarter and so to thrive, green tech must utilize China’s phenomenal industrial might. The downside of this…an ever faster leaching of intellectual value from the US to China and even greater reliance on one economy to provide long term global solutions.
Bottom line – the world needs a strong US/China relationship, perhaps more now than ever before. Only then will green tech really come of age.
NOTE – Just Media have handled media campaigns for Solar City – targeting residential customers and encouraging installation of solar systems for the home; Applied Materials – running a global campaign promoting Applied’s solar manufacturing equipment and San Francisco Environmental – promoting recycling habits amongst city residents and business.