Archive for December, 2007

Progress is never a straight line

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Wired has posted on the recent Always-On investment conference panel on Green Tech.
This project has benefited from the Always-On folks support so I keep track of their coverage and network. Always-On is a great new media resource, and I expect a prosperous enterprise.

What you see in the Green investment space are a certain amount of committed investors- they do think they are going to save the world, or at least our modern western civilized version of it. They are already rich and they have foundations and their own investment firms that put their money where their hearts and minds are. They want to make money, but they aren’t there for the quarterly return. Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of these investors are posting great quarterly returns and growing businesses right now in this sector.

Then you have the people who are making a play. They are quarterly statement driven, and a huge part of that opportunity right now is guessing where the government subsidies are going to make early cash flows appear, and scraping off the top of a big number flow. This is where a lot of the ethanol and bio fuel investment is, with hydrogen fuel cells riding on government enthusiasm too. Like any volatile area, you have gamblers, and some of these are working every angle to improve their odds. When the time comes, and clean green tech is really a gold rush, these early adoptive gamblers will be joined by all the other con artists, flimflammers and representative opportunists that human nature produces. Like corruption in certain places, it is just a part of the geography that we need to work on, but it will be a sign of the success of the transition to a new economy when they show up in the space.

Seeing these guys at other meetings is how I developed my opinion that much of what is going on right now is all about who gets front row at the federal feeding trough, which is itself all about maneuvering interests to co-opt the community need to have something alternative to fossil fuel, especially oil. When the Feds (meaning Congress) get ready to shift the petroleum and coal related subsidies, this will get really ugly, with sex scandals, gun play, and rigging elections.

Somewhere in the middle of those two you have most of the solar and wind folks- people who are trying to time their risk and investment to the increasing (linked to the price of a barrel of oil?) demand. These two are the mid to long term ‘free clean’ energy sources that make the idea of really cheap energy (“like salt”) feasible. And in this space you see a pretty normal distribution of winners and losers, and I would have expected more losers frankly. Both have been around since the early 20th century, and their time hasn’t arrived yet. Edison supposedly endorsed solar lamenting that he hoped it wouldn’t take us running out of oil and coal to get round to it. These guys have some real patience and will deserve their rewards, provided they stay around to collect it.

The positive take away is that this is a lively market, and normal stuff like reported in the Wired account is a good sign that it isn’t being twisted like Russian you name it.