Intouch : Comment On: Clean energy innovators meet investors in the ‘dragon’s den’

The New Zealand Clean Energy Centre (NZCEC) recently hosted the first of series of clean energy innovation forums to be held across New Zealand, bringing together innovators, investors, and government agencies at a-one-and-a-half day event in Taupo.
The event was designed to give investors, NZCEC and government representatives insight into the current state of clean energy innovation in New Zealand, to highlight potential investment opportunities, and to begin the process of networking among the innovators and the investment community.
I’m delighted with the breadth of clean energy innovation taking place in New Zealand. Wind, solar, biomass and hydro, as well as some interesting solutions for improving energy efficiency were all represented at the forum.
There are three compelling reasons why New Zealand should be doing all it can to stimulate growth in the clean energy sector: dramatic growth in the sector, high-value job creation, and strong fit with New Zealand’s clean, green brand.
Sector growth is indeed compelling. According to United States research firm Global Insight, clean energy could be the fastest growing segment of the US economy over the next 30 years, dramatically increasing its share of employment. The market for wind systems and components is currently growing at 40 percent annually; investment in solar power has grown 90 percent over the past year, and the Chinese clean-tech market is expected to grow from US$186 billion next year to US$555 billion by 2020.
With this growth comes new job opportunities. study just released by the US Conference of Mayors has concluded that the shift to renewable energy and efficiency may produce as many as 4.2 million new environmentally friendly “green” jobs over the next three decades. In Germany, global leader in renewable energy innovation, jobs in the sector rose to 249,300 in 2007, up from 160,500 in 2004. Germany is predicting as many as 400,000 people could be employed in the renewable energy industry by 2020.
With New Zealand’s clean, green brand now firmly ensconced in the global psyche, there is no time to lose if we are to capitalise on our brand to gain share of the global market for clean energy technology. What I saw at the Taupo forum was encouraging from an innovation point of view, however there are significant obstacles that will hinder growth if not addressed in the short term.
I believe the biggest obstacle is lack of marketing and international business skills. Most of the companies presenting at the forum were not clear on the size of the market they were pursuing, their strategy for capturing share of that market, the funds they required, how those funds would be deployed, and the projected returns for investors. I don’t believe this is just training and education issue, it’s the fact that these companies are strong on engineering talent, but weak on business and marketing talent. The trouble is, they can’t afford to go out and hire the talent they need, which means that the solution lies in “smart money” – angel investors who appreciate the potential of these innovations, and who can bring money, management and governance talent to the table to fully capitalise on the market opportunities.
Another opportunity became clear at the forum: The opportunity for innovators to collaborate with each other. Innovators toil away in their silos, often oblivious to the fact there are other companies here in New Zealand with whom they could partner or collaborate to accelerate their path to market. Because the forum was set up in way that allowed the innovators to sit in on all the presentations, the event stimulated lot of networking among the innovators themselves. The investors too could see synergies, not only between presenting companies, but also between presenting companies and others in their portfolios.
NZCEC has two key areas of focus. The first is accelerating industrial uptake of clean, renewable energy. Our primary strategy here is establishing projects in which neighbouring industrial heat users work together to pursue cost-effective collaborative solution.
The second is accelerating the growth of clean energy innovation in New Zealand, and the energy innovation forum in Taupo was our first step towards this goal. In addition to hosting such events in the future, we intend to build physical facility which will be home to cluster of clean energy innovators and be national and international focal point for clean energy innovation. As I saw at the forum, there are very real opportunities for collaboration which if exploited, will also accelerate growth for all concerned.

Rob McEwen is the chief executive of the New Zealand Clean Energy Centre. www.nzcleanenergycentre.co.nz

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