State Cleantech Experts Debate Policy, Finance, and Global Opportunities at MITEF Event

1/21/10Follow @gthuang

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cap and trade” policy, and represented the state at the recent Copenhagen climate change summit. (That was in response to Berst saying that the role of government is leadership, and that the legacy in Washington state is to “offend the fewest.”)

On the price front, Woodworth pointed out, from a utility’s perspective, that any increase in the price of electricity is a “tax on the population who can’t pay their bills today.” Berst sympathized, saying, “Utilities are between a rock and a hard place. They get paid for selling electrons, and they’re being asked to send fewer electrons.”

The importance of thinking globally—particularly about Asia, given its geographical proximity—was another theme of the evening. “We’re a gateway to Asia Pacific,” Weed said. “We’ve done a great job in this state building relationships. We need to double down.” He told a story about a Chinese real estate mogul (“Mr. Jiang,” he told me later) who reached out to him, wanting to invest in U.S. cleantech companies and bring them over to an incubator in Shanghai, starting this spring. “We’ll make sure that guy gets a bang-up tour of Washington when he starts looking for investments. That’s about foreign direct investment,” Weed said.

Zenger said the Asian consumer market also plays a big role in the potential growth of local companies. Northwest companies can “demonstrate how these technologies work in a real-world environment and how they pay,” before scaling up operations for overseas, he said. (This sounds like a very tough slog to me, but it is absolutely crucial to our global competitiveness as a nation.)

Lastly, each panelist gave his or her most promising area for growth (except for Weed, who maintained there are opportunities in every area of cleantech)—here are some useful takeaways for entrepreneurs:

Irving: “Sustainable design, life cycle design. A product shouldn’t have a lifetime, it should constantly cycle.” (That goes for everything from cellphones and computers to power plant equipment.)

Zenger: Energy storage. “The real innovation is driving efficiency without requiring a significant change in behavior.”

Woodworth: “Electrification of vehicles, processes, and devices…And my sleeper would be the [agriculture] space.” That means modifying how farms operate.

Berst: “From the smart grid, we’re heading toward smart infrastructure” that will extend out to water, gas, farming, and other equipment.

Indeed, Berst foresees a world where smart devices and networks give consumers, utilities, and regulators real-time information and control of their resources, and better efficiencies. Which is to say, the green will be returned.

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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