It was early for a Friday to be at the PG&E auditorium in San Francisco, Calif. to talk about the dire state of our planet. Hosted by the US Green Energy Conference (USGEC) and the Asia Society, it started with a pleasant breakfast spread of fruit, bagels and coffee, and continued via two serious panel discussions. One on policy and increasing energy efficiency and the second on business and tech development.
And while there were the usual issues discussed about cleantech (wind, solar, biomass) and their tradeoffs, this certainly wasn’t your every day panel about sustainability issues.
I discovered a few interesting characters, including one American who had just returned from Beijing who was conversing in Mandarin with Chinese USGEC reps visiting for three days.
With movies like the Inconvenient Truth, we’re fairly aware that global warming is an issue, but when Dian Grueneich, Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission spoke, my brain finally connected.
Gruenich wasn’t the only high-level official up there. The Chinese officials are concerned too, and had been working on this issue, despite all the recent criticism (or rumor) that Beijing is too polluted for the Olympics.
Several times, panelists echoed director general of Energy Research Institute, Zhou Dadi, in saying, “there is an urgent need to increase energy efficiency.”
The economy is slow to react even though the social urgency for global action is evident: China’s energy demand is growing at a rate of 4.4% per year and while California’s energy demand levels remain about the same, the national US rate of demand continues to grow.
Despite the various challenges that both Chinese and American panelists discussed, these crises represent a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs and the VCs that back them to solve global problems in the long term.
Matthew Rogers at McKinsey called this a “good news story…we need to take energy productivity seriously” because increasing populations and increasing demand for energy represents a huge opportunity to make countries in economic development “cleaner, safer and richer.”
Scott Sandell of venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA) said there is currently $1.4 billion of foreign direct investment from the US into China and the US cleantech market is at $2.1 billion.
And as Carolina Woo, real estate development consultant said, “We cannot say that this is somebody else’s problem” which is why the connection between China and the US is so important because both countries recognize that the problem not local – but global.
Problems usually equal opportunity, and even if there isn’t any single magical formula to solving the climate change crisis, what would be your solution?