Blue Is the New Green: Why Energy Entrepreneurs Need to Think Different

12/22/09Follow @BobMetcalfe

Many innovators lament that the time-honored VC model does not work for what they call “cleantech” or “greentech.” They raise as proof the capital intensivity and long timeframes for energy start-ups.

I say they have it backwards. Energy will get solved when the energy ecology changes to fit the VC model, not vice versa.

Take for a trivial example the names “cleantech” and “greentech,” both wrong.

Cleantech? Wrong. Energy solutions cannot just be clean—they also have to be cheap.

Greentech? Wrong. Because green is the wrong color for the energy movement. Green stands for environmentalism, fine, but The Greens are also anti-capitalism, anti-technology, anti-trade, anti-American, all those people green-tea-partying in Copenhagen—they are against all the tools we need to solve the energy problem. Green is the new red.

So, for the energy movement’s color, I urge we adopt blue. Long-term, energy solutions are very likely to come from the oceans, which cover 71 percent of Earth’s surface, and from the sky. Of course the color most associated with the oceans and skies is blue. Blue is the new green.

Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet and the founder of 3Com Corporation, is Professor of Innovation and Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Follow @BobMetcalfe

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  • http://www.i-nalysis.com Drew Hession-Kunz

    Dead on target. Many seem to have been cowed into thinking “green”. Its time to get to work solving the energy problem with the right tools.

    Governments may have a role, but are more often in the way and don’t get econ 101.

    The VC model, which many have again declared dead, is exactly right for the scale of energy investments.

  • http://www.gilberttweed.com Neil Greco

    Bob,

    Some points in your argument are valid – some are not. There is truly a higher requirement for capital in many energy sectors. Perhaps some parallels can be drawn to the early hardware and networking days where investments in manufacturing were required and were also capitally intense. The Green (or Blue) businesses that require intense R&D and long gestation periods appear to make the financial paybacks challenging for VC’s to play (e.g., Beacon Power) That being said, there is an entire software industry poised to emerge as our grid infrastructure is overhauled. So yes, some of the New Energy industry needs to align to the VC model we’re accustomed to – I argue some New Energy businesses do not fit the model. The real question is can the VC weather the changing investment paradigm, improve hit rates and manage longer time to market for New Energy technologies?

  • http://www.perillon.com D.J. Charles

    Bob,
    Your statement, “The Greens are also anti-capitalism, anti-technology, anti-trade, anti-American…” is not at all true. I am the CTO of an environmental software company in Massachusetts (Perillon) and our entrepreneurial spirit, our technical innovations, and our understanding of the importance of cost savings within the supply chain are all important and essential contributions to the green movement. “Green” may seem like a tired descriptor but it’s done much in the way of marketing and global awareness; in all areas of production and to the general public – let’s not attempt to dilute a strong message by introducing another “color to the palette.”
    I know that former members of the armed forces within my company would take offence to your characterization of the “Greens” being “anti-American,” as you put it.
    In my opinion, the problem with the VC community right now is that they lack the important combination of *vision* and *technical expertise* to navigate and foresee what a solid investment is within this emerging market. It’s time to get some smarter and leaner blood into your arsenal if you’re going to succeed with the rest of us.

  • w. sweeney

    Bob- some good points, however flipping the model to fit the VC model seems rather simplistic and unrealistic, don’t you think. “Greens being anti-American”- couldn’t disagree with you more on that one.

  • http://twitter.com/bznotes Bilal Zuberi

    Bob,
    You seriously spending time worrying about the color of this movement? Who would have thought 15 years ago that some of the most popular internet companies today would be called Google, Twitter, Flickr, etc? Let’s focus on how to make these startups succeed – green, red or blue.

  • Bob Metcalfe

    Hey, Bilal, Happy New Year! but it wasn’t ME who brought up the color thing about energy and environment. All that GREEN this and that are cloying, no? Greentech,… Greenwashing? One of the things seriously broken about the energy-environment movement is its inquisitorial religiosity — a movement with a color and, it turns out, the wrong color. Even plants don’t like green.

  • Bob Metcalfe

    What? You say “Greens” are NOT anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-trade … anti-American? Whoa!

    Just for one example: At this year’s capital of the Green movement, Copenhagen, Hugo Chavez’s rant was not surprising, not even the anti-Obama part, but the standing ovation and thunderous applause he got from the audience was proof: Green is the new red.

    See: http://bit.ly/7sRlqj

    /Bob Metcalfe

  • Dr Strangelove

    I think the greens are trying to steal our vital bodily fluids.

  • Bob Metcalfe

    You can’t be the REAL Dr. Strangelove because he would know that the Greens are probably not trying to “steal our vital bodily fluids” (as above) but rather “sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.”

  • Bill Aulet

    Agree with many of points but want to refer to and as such we carefully use the term “Clean Energy” at MIT with no colors. The problem that needs to be solved is clean energy – which has three dimensions: economic, national security and environmental. Solving one or two without the third is not really a solution. Tech is only one potential solution (and not necessarily the best investment either – see EnerNOC, SunEdison, OPower, ZipCar).
    Can we leave color and politics out of this?
    But thanks for stirring the pot Brother Bob. Who would every have expected that?!

  • Alan McEwen

    I hate the cleantech name. How much energy and environmental impact does it take to get the materials to create the devices? Birth to grave analysis needs to be at the forefront of any thinking in this arena. Several comments above allude to this. Solar, wind, batteries, ultracapacitors, etc. all use exotic materials to capture and store energy. Society needs to change to make any impact on this Green, Blue vision. It is like the drug problem, supply and demand.

  • Bob Metcalfe

    It is hilarious how often people say “leave the politics out,” when it’s MY politics, but then they invite me to meet their congressmen, their governors, their presidents or to donate to their candidates or support their legislation, all of which is OK when it’s THEIR politics.

    Notice: When they are yours, you call them “ideas.” When you disagree with them, they are called “ideology.”

  • Dr Strangelove

    Nice comeback. Still all sounds a bit paranoid though (from a non-US reader).

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