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Experience Curves: Why Doesn’t Your Senator Understand Them?

Rob Day: May 29, 2012, 8:43 PM

Do you know what an experience curve is? Does your representative in Congress know what it is?

It's a well-established and oft-proven truth of manufacturing costs that as you make more of something over time, costs come down. This is separate from manufacturing scale effects, which can also drive costs down, but, simply put: the more we make of something over time, the more we figure out how to drive the costs out. 'Incremental innovations' add up to significant cost savings over time.

BCG summarized this way back in the mid-1960s this way: Costs fall about 20 percent to 30 percent every time cumulative installations double.

This is not rocket science. It's well understood,...

Lessons From the Past Ten Years (Part One): Trust

Rob Day: May 21, 2012, 6:40 PM

Over the past ten years of cleantech venture capital, there have been a lot of hard-earned lessons learned. I'm going to start a periodic series of recapping some of what I think we cleantech investors and entrepreneurs have learned, and discussing ways to address those lessons.

To start off, today's topic is the importance of building trust in these markets.

With a few exceptions, cleantech markets (energy, water, etc.) are very reticent to adopt new technologies. They are risk-averse customers by design (you don't want your lights going off, do you?) and by tradition, and also just because often the buyers of these technologies have a million other things going on and so they...

The Boston Cleanweb Hackathon Rocked

Rob Day: May 7, 2012, 8:50 AM

I was absolutely blown away by how creative and productive the hackers were at this weekend's cleanweb hackathon here in Boston.

As a recap: Around 15 teams of programmers and other hackers came together at Greentown Labs to spend 30 or so hours creating new cleantech-related web and mobile apps from scratch. Most came in with ideas in mind, of course, but they had to write fresh code to compete. Many worked through the night Saturday, and then, bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated, they presented their work on Sunday afternoon to a panel of entrepreneur and investor judges. They were all scored on the categories of Impact, Originality, User Experience, and Completeness.

I frankly...

Greentech Policy: Back to the Drawing Board

Rob Day: May 4, 2012, 12:58 PM

It's clearly political silly season yet again, and we can all expect that the rhetoric will continue to be dog-gone bad. We can also tell, unfortunately, that federal clean energy policy will be a lightning rod for a lot of that mendacious rhetoric this year. So I don't expect anything significantly good or bad to happen this year on a federal energy policy front. Just lots of shouting and lies, and maybe some small token legislative actions.

So it seems like a good time to step back and reflect on the choices the cleantech sector has made, in terms of how we position ourselves with regard to policy. Thus, I've come up with four basic questions I think everyone should be asking...

Some Thoughts on the Boston Cleanweb Hackathon

Rob Day: May 1, 2012, 2:01 PM

Home Depot is terrible at selling LED light bulbs. Amazon is even worse.

Have you had the experience yet of trying to buy LED bulbs at one of these places, realizing once you try the product at home that you hate: a) how it looks, b) how it fits; c) the light quality; or d) all of the above? And then you have to go through the trouble to take it or send it back for a refund. When you're paying $30 per bulb and making a 20-year purchase, these things kind of matter.

I don't blame Home Depot or Amazon -- they're not really designed to be the places where people discover which new products are up to PAR (sorry, bad pun). But if they're not the answer, what is? Lighting...

How to Interpret Q1 Greentech VC Numbers

Rob Day: April 20, 2012, 12:42 PM

Over the past couple of weeks, various deal-trackers have come out with their Q1 tallies for cleantech venture capital dealflow, and it's a bit confusing this time around.

The Cleantech Group came out with its totals (see the great slide deck here), showing that Q1 saw an increase in the number of cleantech deals (from 176 in Q4 to 185), even as dollar amounts went down. Interestingly, they talk up a rebound in early stage (Seed + A) investing, as well.

DowJones Venture Source has a pretty different number reported in the overall tally reported today, showing energy deal counts drop from 30 in 1Q11 to 29 in 1Q12, of which 23 were in renewables. This isn't from the helpful...

An Experiment

Rob Day: April 20, 2012, 8:39 AM

Regular readers of this column will know that I often describe non-tech entrepreneurial efforts, like channel disruption and implementation services, as crucial to the next phase of development of the cleantech market. We still need technical innovation, of course, but it's not the limiting factor in this market right now -- actual implementations are. There are now lots of commercially viable, economically sustainable clean technology solutions available for customers, but we need to see buyers start to adopt and implement them. 

Regular readers of this column will also know that I believe VCs have not yet done a great job of tackling this other type of business opportunity, at...