The American Way of Change

The American Way of Change

May 25, 2010

Article

The American Way of Change

The American Way of Change: A One Way Street? Picture: Augie Schwer (Flickr.com) CC License
 
by Till Kötter
Researchers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists go beyond politics to find, on their own account, openings for green energies.

It is ironic. While the US is being internationally lambasted for its lame climate policies, nationally Al Gore has to justify himself for his investments in renewable energies. Critics in the Republican Party claim that the Nobel laureate‘s support for stricter climate policies has mainly financial reasons. They point to the former vice president‘s investments in low-emission technologies that might make him – should new energy and climate laws be passed – the first green billionaire in economic history.

The fact is: For years Gore has not only been a backer of new energy policies, he has also put his money where his mouth is.The public may know Gore mainly as the founder of the Alliance for Climate Protection and the author of yet another successful book (Our Choice. A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis), but he is also a business consultant for leading companies such as Apple and Google. As co-owner of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) he is backing new green technology companies. The aim is to provide them with solid investment and give them the time and means to get ready for the market. The passing of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, currently under review in the Senate, would make the US market, starting in 2012, the globally largest marketplace for emissions trading. The resulting cost of CO2 emissions would provide billions to be invested in low-emission technologies and renewable energies. Al Gore seems to be backing a winner: the power of the American economy to press home.

The criticism voiced by the adversaries of Al Gore, the venture capitalist, is late in coming. Business leaders within the US are supporting a green transformation. George Soros, philanthropist and former broker, intends to inject a billion of his own money into renewable energies and a new climate foundation. Billionaire Warren Buffett has a 10% share in Chinese battery and car manufacturer BYD – and has thus far made a 1.6 billion dollar profit out of his investment. While BYD‘s e-cars will not be introduced to the US market before late in 2010, Buffett predicts rapid growth for the combination of e-cars and renewable energies. The chances of BYD, to become the world‘s biggest car manufacturer, are not so bad. The major US car companies, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, are aware of this and are vying with each other to introduce hybrid cars and e-cars to the US market. Intel is considering millions of investments into new technology to predict wind levels so that e-cars could be predictably powered by wind energy. In the third quarter of 2009, across the US, private investment into low-emission technologies from batteries to intelligent grids has risen by a whopping 46%. «Going green» is the new slogan of US companies. For some it is nothing but a PR exercise in green-washing, for others a profitable venture capital investment; most, though, have realized that it is a solid concept with future potential.

Further changes are under foot, if only slowly, and many a promising company is as yet unknown. On November 17, 2009, in San Francisco, for the fourth time a winner was announced in the Clean Tech Open, in which 277 companies had participated. Largely unnoticed by the media, the aim is to identify and nurture innovative new founders of companies. The organizers are convinced that technical and financial pioneers will help the US to master the economic crisis – and the climate crisis, too. They want to follow in the steps of their sponsors, erstwhile nerds such as the founders of Google. Today, the Californian internet giant is not only a global force on the web, but also pioneers energy efficiency. The company has managed to reduce its energy consumption by 50% and is investing millions into small and medium-sized businesses such as eSolar and BrightSource Energy. Such investments will also profit the winner of the 2009 Clean Tech Open, EcoFactor. The Silicon Valley-based company has developed software enabling intelligent grids to control heating and air conditioning in private homes. There is a lot of potential in this: A third of all emissions within the US could be avoided, if energy were being used more efficiently.

Such auspicious investment opportunities may soon silence Al Gore‘s critics. They might still attack Al Gore, the activist, but they already concur with Al Gore, the venture capitalist. Their vociferous criticism is possibly nothing more than a last effort to avert something that has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt: Investments into low-emission technologies will not only safe the climate, but also pull the US economy out of its malaise.

Till Kötter
Project Coordinator
The Climate Network-Transatlantic Solutions for a Low Carbon Economy

 
 
 
 

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