This Wednesday, we’ll be hosting our fourth (!) quarterly cleantech editors roundtable. For us, it’s hard to believe we’ve had the privilege of convening this group on a quarterly basis for over a year. Time flies.
However, the increasing popularity of these convenings is not surprising. Growing cleantech sectors are covered by a robust group of trade publications. And they’re run by people with unique vantage points from which they see not only a stream of announcements from hundreds of companies, but also multi-sector trends. As cleantechers, we get a window into their collective trend tracking in one compact hour.
You can register for the event at this link.
Don’t just tune in this Wednesday. Send the questions you want the editors to see to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last convening, the edits covered some important questions. The first was the verdict from the Trump years. Specifically, does the clean economy commercial success during the anti-renewables Trump Administration suggest that policy is now less important than commercial execution?
The editors’ consensus? “Yes, but…”
- Utility Dive’s Catherine Morehouse: “Considering the  circumstances, clean energy did well. The market understood that what was happening under the Trump administration was not necessarily sustainable.”
- Recharge’s Darius Snieckus cited the claim of the Director General of the EIA that renewables seemed to be “immune to COVID,” and that they’d generated “Trump-defying momentum that's being built up here, both in terms of construction and the finance.”
The qualifier? Editors see policy as still having an important role:
- CleanTechnica’s Zach Shahan: “These markets are strong enough to keep growing and do well.... But the more you can have supportive policy, the better to accelerate positive change. Everyone wants to shape that as quickly as possible, especially the next two years, because we don't know what happens after that.”
- GreenBiz’s Heather Clancy: Under Biden, “There is more clarity for the people to make decisions about where companies can invest; more of a direction, at least at the national level…. We finally have a chance to see some of these technologies get to the point where they could be cost effective across the ecosystem. But by pushing that deadline for the incentives out to 2025, it really gives this marketplace a chance to try things.”
- Utility Dive’s Morehouse: “You look at these utility goals, and they're making those goals in anticipation of policies that are going to be more aggressive. I think that was in part in anticipation of a policy structure that will be more aggressive. So, I think it'll be really interesting now that we have an administration and a Congress that has pledged to be more aggressive on these policies.”
- Recharge’s Snieckus: “One of the greatest challenges facing Biden is to reconnect industrial manufacturing policy with energy policy. In the 20th century, oil and the automobile were the wealth generator. In the U.S., electrification of the grid will be the generator of wealth in the 21st century.”
The editors also noted the rising importance of SPACs, or Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, at a time when there is a lot of global capital chasing clean economy deals.
- GreenBiz’s Clancy: “We’re covering them. [I am] very surprised by the growth of SPACs that really were a factor in terms of the clean economy, especially in transportation startups during 2020. I do think it will continue to be a trend this year, though, for sure.”
- CleanTechnica’s Shahan: “I have mixed feelings in the EV space, because on the one hand, SPACs are giving a lot of funding to good companies that could do great things. On the other hand, there are some companies that probably don't deserve what they've gotten, and are going to crash, and it gets all the headlines while 10 other great companies do great but don't get headlines.”
What are the trends that the editors were tracking at the start of 2021?
- Will the U.S. and the E.U. take steps to loosen China’s control of rare earth minerals so critical to batteries used in EVs? CleanTechnica’s Shahan: “About 80 to 90% of lithium and cobalt processing and production happens in China. There's a concern that China gets a kind of OPEC-like monopoly and screws up a lot of the plans for making a more democratized, more egalitarian economy. What you need are big mining and processing facilities in North America, Europe, that are not typically huge supporters of mining and processing facilities. So, you have this balance of, if you want a full clean transport economy, you have to have these things."
- What will happen to carbon capture? GreenBiz’s Clancy: “I am watching carbon capture and storage and what's going to happen with that market this year, companies that are taking that captured carbon dioxide, and not just sticking it somewhere, but are using it as a feedstock for something else."
- The oil industry’s trajectory and its investment in cleaner technologies. Recharge’s Snieckus: “Obviously 2020 was a watershed year in terms of announced strategies for net zero. But fundamentally, we also know at the same time that the percentage of their CapEx that's actually going into renewables is minuscule. You want to unpack it on a number of levels. One obviously, has emissions targets. And there’s power storage, because this is the connective tissue that makes a variable power source, wind, solar or other more baseload valuable. All this feels like kind of confluence around accelerating the transition this year.”
- Whither FERC? Utility Dive’s Morehouse: “FERC is my number one [trend focus]. It's been referred to as the linchpin of clean energy policy deployment. What that will really do is set the tone for RTOs, and it'll be interesting to see how those wholesale markets respond. There's also an appetite to undo some of the more controversial FERC policies of last year that a lot of clean energy folks didn't like. And then there's also their DER order that we'll start to see wholesale markets implement halfway through the year.”
We are excited to see what the editors say later this week.