Yes, it’s possible to make money and save the world from climate disaster.
All eyes are on Paris for the at the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference. But what if solving the global climate crisis is less about political willpower and of technical knowhow?
Peter Thiel declared the cleantech sector -- solar panels, wind turbines, and more -- a “disaster” in 2011. But today, the solar industry employs 174,000 people, more than Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined, and job growth is 20 times higher than the rest of the U.S. economy.
That includes the company I co-founded, UtilityAPI, which gets data out of utilities and into the hands of companies that can use it, such as solar, energy storage, and energy management companies.
Two major hurdles remain to be jumped — market size and the role of federal incentives. Let’s look at each in turn.
Is the market big enough?
Yes. The energy sector, worth trillions of dollars, is the second-largest economic sector in the world, behind the military. The solar industry alone is expected to be at $3.7 trillion by 2025.
Here’s why: We need to reduce carbon emission to avoid climate disaster (keep the global temperature from increasing over 2 degrees Celsius). If we don’t, the seas will rise to swallow the coasts and our food systems will break down. We can either consume the same amount of energy and generate energy with lower emissions, or we can use less energy to do the things we do. Cleantech software is doing in two ways: 1) increasing zero-carbon energy sources and 2) optimizing energy usage.
Software allows solar installers to put panels on roofs more quickly and cheaply. For example, Energy Toolbase, Sighten, and Google’s Project Sunroof use solar irradiance maps to qualify a home for solar, then they can put together a proposal using satellite images and energy usage data from the home or building. Financing platforms, like Mosaic, makes solar more affordable for more people.
Optimizing energy usage is like Fitbit for energy usage. App stores don’t have energy apps because the data is locked away in hundreds of different formats. There is even a startup accelerator, Powerhouse, devoted to solar software tools.
So how do these macro trends play out in Silicon Valley? Some progress has been made, but it’s not enough.
Sometimes it helps to talk about the grid like this: The grid is being disrupted like telecom was 40 years ago. Telecom used to be copper wire and corded phones. Now we all have cell phones in our pockets and Twilio is the great connector for communications. The same thing is happening in electricity. We’re going from a centralized coal plant in the middle of nowhere, with power lines running to the city, to every building generating electricity with solar panels or Tesla batteries and consumers having control over the electricity they use.
Nest and Tesla are only the beginning. These are some companies taking on electricity:
Isn’t solar subsidized and uneconomical?
No. It’s cheaper to get electricity from solar panels on your roof than to buy electricity from the grid. In all but four of the 50 states, solar is a better investment than the stock market. Adoption of renewable energy technologies has increased despite the powers of entrenched fossil fuel interests.
The International Energy Agency found that fossil fuels reap $550 billion a year in subsidies.. Oil, coal, and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in incentives for renewables, including wind, solar, and biofuels. G20 members are spending $452 billion a year subsidizing fossil fuel production, despite pledging to phase out fossil fuel support to tackle climate change.
“The huge subsidies fossil fuels enjoy worldwide gives incentives to their consumption, which means that I’m paying you to pollute the world and use energy inefficiently,” says Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA.
DBL Investors, a venture firm based in San Francisco, found that that historical subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear far outpace those given to cleantech. Given that early years are essential to long-term industry success, we have under-funded renewable energy.
How to get involved
Interested and want free money? Solve problems for the electricity sector, and the U.S. Department of Energy will give you funding. They had $45M last year to invest and deployed only $30M of funding. UtilityAPI received $763k of it. There is another $30M of funding for this round.
How can you get involved?
This article also appeared on TechCrunch.
Elena Lucas is co-founder and CEO of UtilityAPI, a universal API for energy data enabling new energy technologies. Elena began her career at PG&E, where she managed a $200M budget for low-income energy efficiency programs and distributed generation. She is on the board of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability. She holds a Master’s of International Economics with a focus on econometrics and energy policy from UC San Diego. She curates a website and newsletter of all the energy, tech, and career development events in the San Francisco Bay Area, ElenaLucas.co. She is originally from metro-Detroit, paints abstract landscapes, and is a Girl Scout Gold Awardee.
If you're a new founder or trying a new approach to your pitch, pitch events are a great opportunity to practice. The best way to get familiar with the startup ecosystem is to attend or participate in a pitch event. PitchForce events and Founders Space Demo Days are good entry points to startup-land. It's good to see how people pitch and they types of questions judges ask.
For founders and startups with a more developed idea, only in a rare case should you actually pitch. It's most often a waste of time. Updating an old pitch to a new audience can be time consuming and you have to remain at the event for the entire time. Pitch events are usually lengthy and you have a business to build!
Attending pitch events can be a good use of a founders' time if you attend a pitch event with a plan.
Research the VCs or angels who are listed as judges to see if it would be connect with any of them. Target one or two people at the event. As a female founder, I always make a point to meet any woman angel or VC in the room. When I'm researching other VCs, I take it as a bad sign if there is zero diversity except for the executive assistant.
My strategy is to know what they look like and say hello before the main event of the evening. If you wait until after the event, there will likely be a line to talk with them. I've been successful connecting with people after the event when I'm the first one to move. It's like rushing the stage, but it works. Make your interaction as sort as possible.
Keep it quick
Peak their interest so they give you their card, then get out. My interaction is one sentence why you think they would be interested , then a 2 sentence elevator pitch, then suggest a short call the following week to continue the conversation. Take their card. Here is an example of an exchange:
Elena: "Hi Ann, I'm Elena Lucas and I'm co-founder and CEO of UtilityAPI."
Ann: <she has some response> "oh they're just great, aren't they. It's great to see how their portfolio is developing." <Usually it culminates in:> " What is UtilityAPI? " or "What are you working on"
Elena: "We're a universal API for energy data. We get data out of utilities for solar and storage companies like SolarCity and Tesla. We're the Twilio for energy data. We have paying customers and we've grown from a team of 2 to 11 this year."
Ann : <she says something.> "Are you working with so-and-so?" <She could say that it's interesting or she's not too familiar with the space, but she's like to learn more about the industry. >
Elena: "I'd love to continue the conversation. How about a short call or coffee next week? Do you have a card so I can follow up?"
When I'm researching people, there is usually one investment in their portfolio which makes me think that they might be interested in my startup.
Follow up with them afterword since they'll be busy at the event. My emails look like this:
Subject: Following up for X event, UtilityAPI
"It was great to meet you at X event. How about a short call early next week? I've attached our executive summary so you have more context about where we are and where we're going. "
Other power-networking tips
Meet the organizers of the event and let them know what you're working on, then ask if there is anyone specifically who you should meet.
Do not spend too much time with any one person at an event. Get their contact info and follow up with them later if you like them, but while you're there, ask them if there is anyone else in the room who you should meet. The point of attending the event is meeting and getting contact info for as many people as you can, and filtering them out. It's much better to get 1 good person vs 5 mediocre ones. :)
If the event is long, only attend the networking portion at the beginning or end. Talks and content can be found online.
When to pitch
I'm pitching Nov 10th at an event for a couple of reasons
What's not on my list of reasons: winning the money.
Guest blogger Paricha Duangtaweesub
Last Thursday, September 10th, the energy party of the year went down at the New Parish, Oakland. Boasting an eclectic crowd and generous sponsors, food and drinks, the annual "New Dawn" party hosted by sfuncube is a perfect mix of business and pleasure for those of us working or transitioning into the solar industry. It's hard to imagine a friendlier crowd.
The big announcement of the night, of course, is the rebranding of SfunCube to “Powerhouse” - a name that signifies a bigger and bolder challenge of the renewable energy as a whole. And it is easier to pronounce!
At the beginning of the night, Powerhouse co-founder and CEO Emily Kirsch recounted the incubator's humble beginnings and the support from the community, setting the scene for many a great conversations on stage. One of the sponsors discussed a vision of the energy industry transforming into a sharing economy, with solar energy leading the way by enabling people like you and me to produce energy and sell them in an open marketplace. Yet another encouraged everyone to help the incumbents of the solar industry get better - by challenging them with new ideas and better business models.
The camaraderie, the collaborative spirit, and the perpetual willingness to improve - that’s what makes the solar industry, indeed the community around clean energy, so welcoming. We make friends who work hard and who we play hard with.
Look out for Powerhouse on Twitter and LinkedIn, and the New Dawn tradition next year!
Saying that things have been busy would be an understatement. Between business and family - there has been a lot of things in flux.
What always helps me in times of chaos is a big piece of paper and a sharpie: I write down everything which is buzzing around in my brain. Clearing out my thoughts and seeing them on paper helps me organize them. It also helps me put things to perspective since all the noise in my head comes down to a few main changes or projects in my life.
There have been many changes in my life, including what I self-identify as (female founder and CEO, wife) and changes have been coming so quickly that I needed to re-ground myself in who I am. (For example: whaaaat?!?!?! I'm on CNBC?!?!?) The best way to do this? I drew a picture of myself:
I've never drawn many glasses, so I left them out since the rest of it turned out so well. I took a picture of it this morning to share with you.
With Valentines day coming up, I'm sharing the products and services which make my life better. While it may border on love, I certainly am infatuated with:
Quartz daily new brief - I read this email everyday, even their Saturday morning weekend edition. It's just the right amount of news so I san stay up to date with macro economic trends and current internet obsessions. (Subscribe in the upper right corner of their site.)
PV Solar Report - My daily read for all my industry news and gossip.
MailChimp helped me format my newsletter and keep track of subscribers. The interface is a delight to use.
Canva is an easy design tool to create graphics, like the header on my newsletter. They have quite a few free designs, and premium designs are an extra $1.
Weebly makes creating a website as easy as a powerpoint. I've created two new sites in the last week, UtilityAPI's FAQ Blog and Scott Luca's bio site.
How to Start a Startup - Y Combinator's Sam Altman hosts a class on how to start a startup. Available via videos and podcast.
Startup - The podcast about Planet Money's Alex Blumberg starting a podcasting business.
SoFi- Do you have unsubsidized student loans? Refinance them with SoFi. I saved .5% by refinancing my loans through SoFi. My greatest joy is never seeing SallieMae or their affiliated companies again. I also love SoFi because they have a career services department and entrepreneur program. When I was unemployed, I had 1:1 career coaching. With UtilityAPI, I have access to advice, mentors, and the SoFi investor network. They also have excellent customer service/call centers and they're located in the Presidio. Use this referral link and we both get $100: https://www.sofi.com/refer/4/3173
There are an incredible number of great events coming up in the cleantech space in the Bay Area over the next few weeks - so many that it's almost overwhelming. It's possible to triple booked at least once a week!
As I'm putting the list of events together, I can't help but have a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
The solution: Have a game plan.
When I see my calendar becoming impossibly full, I ask myself some questions:
What would I get out of this event?
Am I going the event to meet a certain type of person?
How is this event different from others?
It's much better to go to one event with a purpose than bouncing from one event to another without making any connections. Be judicious with your time and energy!
I just cashed out my Ohmconnect account ----> $41 in my pocket!
I love what Ohmconnect is doing.
Ohmconnect pays you for participating in demand response events by selling your demand response action into the California energy market, and you get a part of the market price. As demand for electricity rises, a dirtier power plant will turn on to meet the growing electricity need, so demand response can prevent dirty plants from turning on. It's a win-win-win.
Sign up with my referral code OHM17582!
They also have this cool map which shows you which power plants are powering your home.
Last month, Google offered vouchers to Code School to any women and minorities interested in learning how to code. I applied, because why not? I could use the skills to better my brand and mission.
Today, I received an email informing me that demand had been high and I would not be one of the people selected. Bu this is a good thing! Women want to learn to code! The demand is high when barriers, like price, are removed.
While it's disappointing that I won't be receiving free training, they included some wonderful resources that I'd like to share with you. I'm including the full text of the email below. Enjoy the resources!
Thanks for your interest in the Code School learning opportunity sponsored by Women Techmakers. There has been a high demand for our limited number of Code School codes, and unfortunately we are unable to allocate one for you. However, we encourage you to explore Code School for two free days with their Hall Pass initiative. We also recommend the free resources below from some of our favorite online learning resources. All of these resources are free, self-paced, and are great for all levels of experience.
We also encourage you to join online and offline communities that can help you practice the skills you’ve learned, and will provide a supportive community while you pursue your areas of interest:
Google Developer Groups - In-person, local meetups for developers who are interested in Google’s developer technologies like Android, Google Cloud Platform, Chrome/HTML5, Google Maps API, and more. (533 chapters across 103 countries).
Women Techmakers - Inspiration, community, and collaboration for women making an impact through technology.
Girl Develop It - Empowering women of diverse backgrounds from around the world to learn how to develop software (29 chapters across North America).
Women Who Code - Is a global non-profit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers (41 chapters across 13 countries).
Pyladies - A group of women developers worldwide who love the Python programming language (27 chapters across 12 countries).
Thank you again for your interest in learning with Google,
-The Women Techmakers team
Last week, Young Professionals in Energy Bay Area hosted a wonderful panel on Building a Software Business in Smart Grid at Morrison & Foerster.
The takeaways were:
1. Say no to VCs - since they'll be after you each quarter about performance
2. Don't try and sell to utilities - Utilities are slow moving and dependent on the regulatory cycle.
3. IT will torpedo your idea - Convincing the IT department of any company is crucial.
4. Go overseas - Markets overseas can be more open to smart gird technology because electricity is more expensive or countries are building out their grid for the first time.
Thank you to all the panelists and YPE for putting on the event. It was part of a 3-event series, so see you at the next one!
Some great jobs from Green Jobs Network LinkedIn Group:
CA - Oakland
CEO, Build It Green
CA - San Francisco
* Global CSR Program Associate, HandsOn Bay Area
* Health Policy Advocate, NRDC
CA - Los Altos
Grantmaking Operations Coordinator, David & Lucile Packard Foundation
More can be found on greenjobsearch.org
These posts compliment my weekly newsletter: