Our Clean Tech Future and the Sexiness of Standards

The Tesla Roadster: As hot as the J1772 electric vehicle charging standard?

By Charles Shereda

Next week marks the sixth annual Clean Tech Investor Summit, a gathering of entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives, and trendsetters who will shape the future of clean tech. The speaker list is loaded with a spectrum of sustainability heavy-hitters ranging from Ray Anderson, chairman of Interface, to Craig Venter, famous for mapping the human genome, to Amory Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who will deliver his keynote on ‘reinventing fire’ (translation: the shift from burning stuff to not burning stuff to create energy, such as moving from coal-fired power plants to wind turbines). I have the good fortune of being your eyes and ears at the summit. I’ll tell you about the stories and surprises that emerge. Together we’ll figure out where clean tech is headed, and in our spare time, we’ll determine what the investment climate will be like in 2010 for companies looking to get funded. I’ll also listen to your suggestions for topics you’d like to hear about.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Ron Pernick about the upcoming summit and his vision of our clean tech future. Pernick is the co-author of The Clean Tech Revolution and cofounder and managing director of Clean Edge, a market research firm focused on clean tech. He’s also co-producer of the Clean Tech Investor Summit.

The Dawn of Clean Tech Standardization

One of the important changes afoot, Pernick told me, is that standards are beginning to emerge in the clean tech world. It’s much like the early 90s, when standards were adopted that eventually fueled the explosion of the Internet and drove the late 90s business boom and investment bubble.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at electric cars. Most people would agree that the Tesla Roadster is scintillating. Yet something as seemingly mundane as a standard for electric vehicle charging has the power to shape the future of cars like the Roadster, along with our entire vehicle fleet and electricity infrastructure. A standard for plug-in electric vehicle interfaces will open the door to production by numerous market participants, driving down costs in the process and increasing adoption. Using standards for Smart Grid communication, utilities will interact with plugged-in electric cars to let them know when it’s OK to charge themselves and when to hold off because the grid is near capacity.

Later, standards may lay the foundation for utilities to draw on electric vehicles as a back-up power source. The cars could act as a substitute for fossil-fuel plants and a buffer for intermittent clean electricity sources. By powering the grid when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, the electric vehicle fleet could increase the allowable percentage of our power that can come from wind and solar. A Smart Grid panel at the summit will likely be exploring issues like these that are rooted in standards. The mandate for utilities is now, as Ron says, ‘to deliver reasonably priced, clean electrons,’ and standards will drive how they go about this.

Readers: What do you see as the trends in clean tech for 2010? What stories are you most interested in hearing about from the summit?

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Charles Shereda is a computer scientist turned clean tech entrepreneur. He is passionate about empowering people with the means to lower energy costs and improve their lives in the process. He is working with The Amada Group to launch a clean energy bond fund and with ClearPath Sustainability Advisors to help companies reduce costs in their IT departments. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School.

(image from teslamotors.com)

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