GoingGreen 2011 gathered executives and investors from Silicon Valley during the last two days at the City Hall of San Francisco. The mood was decisively optimistic in response to numerous questions on the cleantech market after the fall out of Solyndra. Vinod Khosla explained that green tech has generated huge profits for its fund. “The greentech revolution is alive and well” according to Tony Perkins, the founder of AlwaysOn that organized the conference.
The conference also confirmed the difficulty of Silicon Valley’s “innovation engine” to see beyond the Bay Area. Out of the global 200 top private companies in greentech, the AlwaysOn editorial team picked 110 companies based in California and only 12 outside the US. Apart for bio fuels, where Sand Hill VC firms have done well, Silicon Valley does not dominate the cleantech sector. It was the case in the level of Government funding before; it is now the case with M&A and IPO with many liquidity deals happening lately in China and Europe.
Gene Wang, the CEO of People Power, challenged the audience to get out of the “Palo Alto bubble” in a panel on “How to get the rest of the country behind green tech?” (see picture). He made the point that broader support will require faster feedback to consumers, real social proofs and stronger competition. For him, the social media transformation of green tech is critical and Silicon Valley is well positioned to offer new green games and green deals & discounts.
The “gamization” of green-tech was echoed by Carrie Armel from the Precourt Energy Efficiency Institute at Stanford University, which has 20 projects in green tech. For Bill Weill, Google Energy Czar, it is a matter of simple economics: "renewable energy must be cheaper than coal". Consumers won't change their behavior if going green does not make economical sense. As a result, Google embraces energy efficient technologies for its data centers that are cost competitive although they could afford more advanced solutions.
In an effort to engage the 500 attendees beyond the US borders, the conference staff appropriately added Martin Pierce to the panel. Martin is the Global Chief Strategist at the International Self Powered Building Council (ISPBC). ISPBC leads the Building 2.0 movement with more than 1,000 business members and 3,000 prosesional members. Based in Los Angeles but originally from Asia, Martin had an international perspective and reminded the audience that the iPhone and other Apple products were engineered in Taiwan.
“The point is to take the load off” Martin explained to me aside of the panel. Buildings will continue to be connected to the grid but he is convinced that all buildings will include a source of energy and some storage capacity. “It adds value to home ownership as well”. Martin promoted technologies developed by companies that are members of ISPBC, including ControlNet that manages 23,000 power stations in China and more than 1,000 projects in Taiwan.
Interestingly, Martin Pierce is not pushing an agenda to produce in Asia for the rest of the world. On the contrary, he believes that products should be built locally and create green jobs evenly around the world. ISPBC provides certification services based on best pratices in its network. The US has an opportunity to create local jobs with in the Green Building emerging market. However, the construction sector has been slow in a saturated market. One of the 5 largest projects that ISPBC is working on is a smarter city landscape design to optimize solar energy and resource re-use. The architect is American but the city project is in Malaysia.
Ed Lambert, SVP at Bridge Bank, thinks that conference organizers can do a more effective job reaching out to international agencies in Silicon Valley. They have a good knowledge of what is going on their respective countries, like try to promote innovative companies there. Next year, he believes that we should see more international companies represented at GoingGreen. Tony Perkins was behind Red Herring before starting AlwaysOn and can pull this off.