Black Coral’s Rob Day Talks Cleantech By Way of IT, Why Evergreen Solar’s Bankruptcy Isn’t the End, and Boston’s Energy Future

8/30/11Follow @xconomy

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the end user. It could lower the cost for them to adopt and install the technology, and then pick the vendor themselves—instead of trying to guess at the state level. Politically it makes more sense, too. You’re still going to end up being wrong one out of 10 times [when choosing specific companies to support]. That one time ends up being political blowup.

Part of it is it’s just the old way of doing things. The economic development office has the budget and makes the decision. I do think it’s shifting, though.

There’s also this political story that people love to tell, around encouraging clusters of innovation—they get encouraged by a lot of the folks that have the incentives.

In Massachusetts, they are encouraging a cluster that already exists, not trying to grow these clusters from scratch. I think the work of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is phenomenal. They make this state be an attractive place for companies to locate even if they’re not getting the Evergreen Solar type of deal.

X: Speaking of clusters, what do you think of what is happening in Boston with new incubators like Greentown Labs?

RD: I think its pretty cool. I just absolutely love the fact that these entrepreneurs are getting together and almost guerilla warfare-style getting their startups up and running. They’re obviously sharing a lot of good lessons with each other besides helping each other save money, since a lot of cleantech entrepreneurs are first-time entrepreneurs.

I actually think they’re right in that a lot of these businesses formed around making something don’t have to be capital intensive in their early days. Get dirty, grungy space and just build stuff. You can go a long way doing that. That might be one of the ways we figure out how to make the more physical side of cleantech work. There should be similar efforts focused on the more IT side of it, too.

There’s also the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems. They’re building out a big facility as a test bed for green building products. That’s the kind of stuff that’s really going to help this cluster evolve—for entrepreneurs to see what’s working and what’s available on the marketplace. So much of winning the game is knowing what the playing field looks like. Having that test bed of products within walking distance—that’s pretty cool.

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  • noisetosignal

    I believe the following rational is poorly thought through …”It’s one on a long list of painful lessons learned by those who are investing. You need to look pretty far out on the cost curve, and make sure you’re not investing in a temporary part of the cost curve. It’s tough to do because you don’t know what other people are working on.”

    It is not so much about looking far out on the cost curve or worrying about what else someone is working on; it is more about understanding the fundamentals of the “who is writing the check?” For example, what is this entity’s (government, consumer, business) source of funding? Is the source of funding stable? Government funding should never be assumed as stable neither should financing provided by banks, which at this point are still heavily leveraged and continue to receive backing from government programs.

    Lastly, how do you propose consumers will have the CapEx to invest in solar or have sufficient disposable income to afford low OPEX options? Your premise fails the basic test for consumer spending.

    Consumers go into debt or stretch their dollars for the following: children’s education; entertainment, and productivity tools (communication). Solar is none of these.

    Have you forgotten that the majority of today’s homeowners struggling to do their best to not repeat the another great depression in their lifetime? Now you propose renewable generation with another form of debt. My question to you — why do you continue to build a business out of consumer debt?

    Lastly, it appears you know a lot about consumer behavior — what motivated you to install solar panels — assuming of course, you have installed solar panels? We’ve had solar for 11 years with local storage. And you?