Greed Is Good, and Other Takeaways from Xconomy’s Cleantech Forum

3/30/09Follow @gthuang

Last Thursday, we hosted a fantastic event on energy innovation at K&L Gates in downtown Seattle. The panel discussion—moderated by Michael Butler of Cascadia Capital and featuring Mark Aggar of Microsoft, Jesse Berst of Global Smart Energy, Jeremy Jaech of Verdiem, and Linden Rhoads of UW Tech Transfer—did not disappoint in its edgy treatment of energy issues in the Northwest (you can read the previews here). The panel touched on Seattle’s software expertise, policy and funding issues, and the near- and long-term commercial opportunities in cleantech.

For my money, though, the short company intros at the tail end of the program stole the show. Kirt Montague of Prometheus Energy gave a rousing talk on how his company is capturing methane from landfills, gas wells, and wastewater treatment plants and converting it into liquid natural gas for fuel. Chris Wheaton of EnerG2 followed with the story of his startup (“My name is Chris and I’m a recovering IT addict”) and how it’s diving into the energy storage market with ultracapacitor materials technology. Finally, David Grieger of Vu1 used props to show how his company has reinvented the light bulb, making it cleaner and more efficient.

The Xconomy Seattle shop has been pretty busy lately, so I’m just getting around to posting my thoughts on the event. This will be the opposite of comprehensive, so if you want the details, you’ll have to show up next time. Here are my top five big-picture takeaways:

1. It’s not just about the Northwest.
A premise of the event was to come up with steps the Seattle community can take to build leadership in energy. But as UW’s Linden Rhoads pointed out, “We also need to look away from Washington state and think about what will make really disruptive things happen as a nation.” Mark Aggar added, “Microsoft is used to having a global partner network. Proximity has never been a barrier to collaboration.” (From this, I took away that if Microsoft decides to fully invest in cleantech, it could be a powerful ambassador for the sector.)

2. It’s not just about software—but in the short term, it is.
OK, all of the panelists came from (or are still in) the IT industry. They acknowledged the most disruptive technologies may come from materials, biofuels, or other areas. But in the next five years, Verdiem’s Jeremy Jaech said, “With IT, let’s start by capturing how much [energy] is wasted. It’s technology that’s all available today, and it’s an untapped market….Let’s start with conservation.” Jesse Berst of Global Smart Energy disagreed somewhat, saying, “Conservation and efficiency isn’t the next big thing. … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.ovp.com Rick LeFaivre

    Greg, sounds like a great discussion. So sorry I had to miss it because of my travel schedule. On your last point about local VCs not buying into cleantech yet, OVP is about to make our sixth cleantech investment, two of them spinouts from UW. It’s an incredibly exciting time for disruptive technology plays, applying IT, biotech and materials science technology to cleantech applications. Full speed ahead!

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    Thanks, Rick. I should have said MOST local VCs… OVP is an exception to the trend. Sorry we missed you at the event.