The smart grid...is just an incredible opportunity
My latest interview from our "Scaling Green on the Scene" booth at the CleanTech OC 2013 Conference and Expo is with Greg Trimarche, who has served as the President and Chairman of the Board of CleanTech OC since its inception in 2010. According to his bio, Trimarche is also an attorney with "vast experience dealing with federal and state energy and environmental regulatory programs relating to renewable energy and clean technologies."
My first question to Trimarche was about his vision for CleanTech OC.
According to Trimarche:
...We started CleanTech OC because we recognized that we had really a very vibrant cleantech industry here in Orange County, but it was very fragmented. There wasn't a lot of interplay between government and the private sector...between academia and the private sector...so one of the things that we initially sought to accomplish was essentially to be the glue or the vehicle that brought together those three sectors: public, private and academia. And it's been remarkably successful...the formation of the new Orange County Sustainability Council...[will allow us to] really reach out beyond the clean technology sector and reach into all of the big businesses here in Orange County, because all of corporate America is now focused on sustainability.
Next, I asked Trimarche about converting "brownfields" into solar fields.
Trimarche said that this makes sense, but he also added a cautionary note:
...In the last year or two, there's been a little bit of a movement away from the big, centrally-located solar projects...to more projects but at a lower concentration, so you lower the environmental impact and you take up less land...If you look around, what I think we're seeing is more distributed generation and smaller projects spread around, and that opens up a whole host of opportunities as far as where we would locate these projects."
What are the biggest barriers to growth for Orange County's cleantech industry?
In Trimarche's view:
Far and away the biggest challenge we've faced over the last two years is just not as much private capital going into the cleantech sector...I think we got a bit of a black eye over the past couple years with some very high-profile failures like Solyndra, I think it became a bit of a political football in the election last year...For a whole host of reasons, pension funds and other institutional investors haven't been putting as much money into this sector as we had been seeing prior to maybe 2011.
According to Trimarche, "corporate strategic investment" in cleantech is now helping to "pick up that slack." Which is fortunate, because "that's really the biggest hurdle we've got: getting these early-stage technology companies the capital they need to grow their business."
In which area of cleantech, both in Orange County and nationally, does Trimarche see the most potential for growth?
Trimarche's answer was clear:
I think the smart grid is maybe the biggest opportunity right now. Our electric grid is ancient in terms of its operational history and the technology...We're in the process of modernizing the entire electrical grid for this country and really worldwide. If I remember the numbers...they say we're going to spend $2 trillion modernizing the electrical grid worldwide and about $480 billion in the U.S. alone...staggering amounts of money, so there is tremendous opportunity in that technology sector, and you see early-stage companies in that sector doing a better job than most of the others in raising venture capital...
Why is this the case? In Trimarche's view:
It's a convergence of a number of factors...utilities have antiquated IT systems and so they need to completely replace all of that...equipment and software and hardware with modern stuff; same thing with their communications equipment...The opportunity to turn what is now a very primitive electrical grid into this so-called smart grid where we incorporate digital technology and communications technology and turn the grid into a communications device as much as an electrical transmission device is just an incredible opportunity.
Finally, Trimarche commented on the importance of social media in the growth of cleantech.
According to Trimarche, "what we have now is an entire generation of human beings who expect to be able to communicate and actually do business...with their hand-held devices...control the appliances and electrical uses in your home...That technology already exists; there are smart homes, smart thermostats, smart appliances. And I think what we're going to see over the next 5 or 10 years is that revolution take place in terms of the consumer side of it.
In sum, as we've now heard from several cleantech leaders like Greg Trimarche who we interviewed at the CleanTech OC conference, these are exciting times for clean technology in Orange County, California and beyond. At Tigercomm, we are very happy to be a part of the rapid growth of this sector.