How Will We Fund the Clean Tech Revolution?

There are great clean tech ideas out there. They just need money to go forward.

As exciting as new ideas are, they need money to become reality. And for America's clean tech sector, it’s not entirely clear where that money is going to come from. Finding funding for any new business is a challenge, but the obstacles facing clean tech are piling up so quickly that some thinkers, inside the Beltway and out, are predicting a crisis in clean energy.

Say you’re a solar entrepreneur with a great idea for how to cut the cost of manufacturing solar panels. First, you must look for funding to investigate and test your idea. More likely than not, that funding will come from the government, one of the most generous funders of clean tech research and development. But you’ll be lucky to get a slice of the money on offer: Not only is the government funding clean tech innovation at levels far below what business leaders and climate campaigners say is necessary, it has cut budgets for agencies like the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, which funds leading-edge clean energy ideas.

But say you do get a little bit of money and develop a prototype of your idea. Your product works, and it promises a better, cheaper product than is available currently, so you start looking to scale up. In the past, you might have applied for a loan guarantee from the government, but that program is ending. Now might be the time you’d start meeting with venture capitalists to sell them on your idea and scrape together enough money to start filling orders for your few customers.

Here you run into a new difficulty: Venture capital is in short supply right now, and although funders have been favoring clean tech over other investment opportunities, they’ve shied away from funding early-stage clean energy companies. A few new clean tech accelerators have opened recently, but they’re more interested in funding projects that focus on software or energy-saving tools. Most clean tech venture capital money is still going to energy production or energy storage projects, but the total amount of available money has shrunk. And investors are balking at committing to new projects because Congress is making noise about ending the subsidies that help make renewable energy projects profitable.

One potential solution is the creation of a federal renewable energy standard, which would require utilities to source a growing percentage of their power from renewable sources. With an assured share of the energy market, clean energy projects would have an easier time attracting private funding. Others have suggested creating a new agency to focus on developing clean energy projects. The agency would expect a return on its investments, just like a venture capital firm.

It’s nice to imagine what the world will look like when clean energy takes over from dirty energy. One day soon, solar power will be the cheaper than fossil fuels. But the technology is not going to become cheap on its own. In order to avoid a crisis in the sector, somebody needs to find a way of getting innovators the money they need—and soon.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user lumaxart

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less