Grid Scale, Solar

Investors Address Renewable Energy Potential

Garage Technology Ventures gathered experts and investors to address the potential of new energy technologies at its latest State of the Art conference at the Quadrus Conference Center, where speakers cited how a new generation of energy technologies ranging from fuel cells and micro-turbines to cost-effective solar cells and thin-film batteries, as well as grid optimization and network management systems, promises to radically change the way that energy is generated, managed and stored.

Menlo Park, California – December 17, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] “The time is finally right for new energy technologies to be commercialized,” said Garage Technology Ventures Director Matt Horton. “We are seeing clean energy technologies entering mainstream markets. For example, Toyota’s Prius hybrid has been named ‘car of the year’ by Motortrend and Southern California Edison has announced the construction of the world’s largest solar power plant.” According to Horton, Garage Technology Ventures, as an early stage investor, is actively looking for innovative energy technology companies, especially those that leverage semiconductor, nanotech, software, and materials science technologies to achieve breakthrough results. Horton stated that over the past decade the market for these technologies has been “perpetually five years in the future, but that is now changing.” According to a State of the Art conference moderator, Joel Makower (co-founder and principal of the research and consulting firm, Clean Edge) venture capital investments in the clean energy sector have increased sharply, as a percentage of total venture activity in the U.S., over the past three years. Makower urged conference attendees not to equate the new energy technologies revolution with the Internet revolution of the 1990s. “There’s a huge difference,” said Makower. “We are not talking about untested entrepreneurs pushing dubious business models for unproven technologies designed for nonexistent market. Makower added that new energy sector is about “real products and markets designed to address life’s essential needs.” Also participating in the conference were venture capital investors in the new energy technologies field, who included Raj Atluru, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson; Nancy Floyd, co-founder and managing director of Nth Power; Jim Gable, director of Chevron Texaco Technology Ventures; and Joel Serface, venture manager of Eastman Ventures. “We are very bullish about this sector,” said Atluru. “The level of innovation is enormous. A lot of core technologies that have been developed in laboratories over the past ten years are now ready to come to market.” According to the venture capitalists, in contrast to the information technology sector, in which entrepreneurial activity is clustered in the Silicon Valley and a few other centers of technology development, energy startups are geographically dispersed around the U.S. and beyond. “The quality of management teams at energy startups has improved as seasoned managers are drawn to the field,” said Floyd. “Markets for their products are developing and the technologies are progressing. So we are now getting serious traction and a good flow of deals.” According to Eastman Ventures Venture Manager Joel Serface, the early markets for many new energy generation, storage and management products will be outside the U.S. “The market drivers are global,” Serface said. “We see important market opportunities in China, the European Union and Japan.” At State of the Art: New Energy Technologies Garage also spotlighted three up-and-coming private companies: Hoku Scientific, VoltaFlex, and Solaicx. Hoku Scientific CEO Dustin Shindo described his company’s development of high-efficiency hydrogen fuel cells. Hoku Scientific plans to launch its first product, a unit that will generate electricity and supply hot water for a family home, in 2005. Shindo said that primary markets for the unit would be Japan and parts of Asia where electricity costs are high. VoltaFlex CEO Michael Sauvanie predicted rapid growth in the battery market. Sauvanie said that breakthrough technologies such as the dry solid polymer electrolyte developed by VoltaFlex that can be used to create batteries of any shape and size will drive this growth. Solaicx Chief Technology Officer Bill Yerkes said that his company has developed new manufacturing technology that promises to sharply reduce the cost of solar panels, while also increasing their efficiency and reliability. According to Yerkes, his company is designing advanced equipment for producing crystalline silicon wafers. Garage Technology Ventures provided conference attendees with a “New Energy Technologies Primer” detailing technology segments and the key companies involved in this emerging field.