The state of cleantech in the United States right now is trying to trend positive, despite calls by some to cut government funded research and a staggering national budget deficit. If the recently concluded ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit proved anything, it showed that (1) there is at least some interest in investing in clean energy and (2) a lot of companies are still in the early stages of figuring out how to make money in this growing industry.
Also present in the mix are companies looking to guide these young cleantech start ups in one fashion or another, including Weber Shandwick, a marketing communications firm out of New York with a number of specialty areas that include cleantech. Figuring they probably have a good pulse on this industry, we recently turned to William Brent, Weber Shandwick’s Global Cleantech Practice Lead, with some questions around how he thinks things are going.
EarthTechling (ET): What do you see as the current state of the cleantech industry in the United States? Is it strong right now or does it still seem to be in its infancy?
William Brent: The industry is still tiny from a market adoption point of view, but that said, it is at an inflection point with a number of forces converging at the same time. Some of the things I think we can expect to have major impact in the coming 12-18 months:
- Consolidation: there are far too many players and not enough resources (capital in particular). The market cannot sustain the number of companies and technologies that are currently out there competing for the same market share. As a result, we are already starting to see a rationalization and consolidation in the market. Some companies will die or merge with peers, and others will be acquired by strategic companies that are looking for ways to enhance their cleantech portfolios.
- Policy uncertainty: Currently the state of federal and state policy, generally speaking, is pitiful compared with other governments around the world. Whether you were in favor of it or against it, the complete failure of cap and trade legislation was a major setback because a price on carbon became a political no-fly zone. There is an appalling lack of consistency, clarity and cojones on the part of Congress in seizing the opportunity to contribute to our long-term economic vitality through cleantech.
- Financing woes: Because US investors have pulled back and with government loan guarantees and grants drying up, many companies are now looking outside the US for money, including at China. From a US job creation and economic competitiveness perspective, developing IP here in the US that is then commercialized in other countries (and the US) with money from those countries does not bode well. It already happened with wind in Denmark and solar in Germany and China. We now risk ceding remaining key technology leadership to other countries as well.