Forget buying your kids a computer this holiday season. Buy them a tape measure instead.
In his speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington today, President Obama outlined a strategy for economic recovery. One of the big elements revolves around construction projects to rebuild the national infrastructure and retrofitting homes for energy efficiency.
"We're proposing a boost in investment in the nation's infrastructure beyond what was included in the Recovery Act to continue modernizing our transportation and communications networks. These are needed public works that engage private sector companies, spurring hiring across the country. Already, more than 10,000 of these projects have been funded through the Recovery Act. And by design, Recovery Act work on roads, bridges, water systems, Superfund sites, broadband networks, and clean energy projects will all be ramping up in the months ahead," he said.
A year ago, we wrote that construction would likely be the the biggest driver of growth in greentech. Why? Nearly every major greentech idea revolves around revamping infrastructure: solar panels to replace the need for coal-burning plants; desalination facilities to provide water; energy efficiency retrofits for data centers and homes. Even seemingly capital-lite sectors like smart grid will depend on sending crews out to the field to swap out old meters and install sensors. One of the key moments in this shift occurred earlier this year when Bechtel became a partner in building a solar thermal power plant with BrightSource Energy. Comparatively, building a Web 2.0 company is easy: The founders of Yelp might understand consumer psychology, but let's see them build a 1-megawatt tidal turbine off the shores of the Orkney Island.
As a result, the biggest green companies will likely be those companies that rose to prominence in the first of half of the 20th century: Bechtel, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Webcor, California's largest contractor, already gets a substantial portion of its revenue from LEED projects. There are only a few companies with the scale and size for many of these jobs. One potential company that may not benefit so much from this trend: Haliburton. It opened a second headquarters in Dubai to concentrate on "Eastern Hemisphere growth." That probably doesn't sound too good these days if we're talking about a formal bid on federally funded wind corridor projects.
In September, California earmarked $3.1 billion for retrofits. There hasn't been this much interest in infrastructure since the 1950s in the state.
On a smaller scale, expect to see companies like Recurve, formerly Sustainable Spaces, to expand. It specializes in energy retrofits and is trying to develop software it can sell to other contractors for retrofits. Recurve is also behind the Cash for Caulkers proposal. Another possible growth company is Renewable Funding, which provides PACE style services for retrofits.
The danger is that green could look too much like the military industrial complex, with its cost overruns, delays and sometimes controversial lobbying tactics. The White House says it is keeping tabs on this.
"So I asked Vice President Biden and others to make sure – to the extent humanly possible – that the investments were sound, the projects worthy, and the execution efficient. What this means is that we're going to see even more work – and workers – on Recovery projects in the next six months than we saw in the last six months," Obama said.