The White House announced more than $4 billion in commitments at a Clean Energy Investment Summit on Tuesday to scale up clean energy companies and address climate change.
“There’s not a single reason...that by 2020 renewables can’t be 20 percent of U.S. energy,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “And that’s the floor, not the ceiling.”
One of the reasons that hasn’t happened yet is because of funding limitations facing early-stage cleantech companies.
The money will come from philanthropists, universities, big banks and environmental nonprofits. The committed funds are more than double the goal of the President Obama’s Clean Energy Investment Initiative that was announced earlier this year. One of the key efforts will be to bring philanthropy to early-stage, high-risk and high-impact cleantech investments.
“Only with the private sector can we even mostly realize the possibility of this energy transformation,” said Biden. “Our energy future is in cleaner, cheaper renewable energy.”
A new organization, PRIME Coalition, is committed to helping foundations manage the complex pipeline process of vetting candidates and helping to lower transaction costs for foundations, as well as ensuring they’re adhering to the proper tax rules.
Along with PRIME, Cleantech Syndicate announced on Tuesday a merger with CREO Network to become CREO Syndicate. The move brings together more than 250 family offices and foundations with more than $50 billion of investable capital. CREO Network plans to invest about $2 billion over the next five years in companies with missions relating to environmental, energy and climate impact.
“For the folks who already are active for doing deals in this area, it creates a structure to find each other,” Rob Day, partner at Black Coral Capital, said of CREO Syndicate.
The Treasury Department is helping the effort to bring foundations into the fold by issuing new guidance around mission-related investments. The Treasury will also initialize rules around program-related investments (PRIs), a type of investment via which charities can fund for-profit companies that are addressing environmental issues.
Just throwing charitable money at promising startups won’t be enough, however. Arunas Chesonis, a telecom entrepreneur with a family foundation, gives away millions each year to projects in the energy sector. He has found that many early-stage companies he encounters are facing difficulties associated with bringing disruptive technologies to entrenched industries.
“It’s not a valley of death; it’s a valley of higher impact,” Chesonis said during the summit.
The current focus on climate change and the disruption already happening to the electric utility industry could make the current juncture a particularly advantageous time for investors and philanthropists to focus on cleantech. Biden added that we do not have another two or three years to try to figure out the acceleration of cleantech -- the time is now.
According to a new poll by The New York Times, 68 percent of Americans say there is “solid evidence of [global] warming,” compared to 57 percent in 2009. And yet new solutions likely won’t come from utilities -- as Biden noted, less than 1 percent of utility revenue goes to R&D.
“I hope there’s never a point of no return,” Biden said of rising temperatures due to climate change, “but man, we’re getting closer.”
Led by the University of California, a group of institutional investors has already committed more than $1 billion for “high-potential companies and projects for commercial investment that could also produce impactful and profitable solutions to climate change.” The second-largest investor to commit funds is the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
“If we are to achieve our climate goals, it is imperative that we find ways to incentivize the global capital markets to invest in clean energy,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement.
“There’s a moral argument, there’s a climate change argument, and there’s an economic argument,” Biden said of investing in low-carbon technologies. “There’s a new reality. The climate is changing.”