Last week, TCC attended MIT’s annual student-led Energy Conference. A ‘Who’s Who’ of leaders from industry, government, and academia offered an unflinching look at the clean energy transition in the context of our climate, energy security and geopolitical objectives. As keynote speaker, Fatih Birol of the IEA noted the bulk of the world’s emissions in the next decade will come from developing countries. We as a global society are in this together, and “emissions have no passport” so we cannot push production offshore and pretend the emissions go away. Birol advocated for renewables and continued investment in nuclear as the way forward.
This will require a lot of investment, but as Audrey Choi of Morgan Stanley pointed out, retail and institutional investors want to map their investments to their values. According to Choi, on the retail side “this trend began with millennials, then women, and eventually, men.” Professionals from Blackstone and Congruent Ventures cited boundless institutional demand for high-quality clean energy transition-related real estate, private equity and venture capital offerings. The investment managers on panels were uniformly bullish on the SEC and IASB/ISSB standardizing climate disclosure frameworks.
Oil and gas supermajors appear focused on hydrogen and the development of carbon capture and storage technologies. Hydrogen may help improve the economics of offshore wind and other renewables. Carbon capture, though elusive to date, could dramatically alter the nature of the required transition, and has interesting material science implications. Both are squarely in the wheelhouse of oil and gas companies. Not surprisingly, the City of Houston believes it has ‘the right stuff’ to become a hydrogen hub. Climate tech incubator Greentown Labs recently opened a site there. Related to the growth of hydrogen, Preeti Pande, CMO of Plug Power talked about fuel cells replacing batteries. Lindsay Ashby of Avangrid Renewables cited the importance of partnerships like Cummins’ with Iberdrola on a gigawatt electrolyzer plant in Spain to produce green hydrogen.
Solar and wind continue to advance and are cost competitive at scale with fossil fuels, but intermittency and storage costs remain a challenge. Mary Werner of NREL noted First Solar’s plans to double their manufacturing capacity domestically and attain major cost reductions through process automation. Werner also mentioned perovskite-based solar technology as an emerging area of interest. Glen Llewellyn of Airbus talked about the world’s first zero emissions aircraft, while others articulated futures in which small modular nuclear reactors, hydrogen, battery technology, and carbon capture technologies provide revolutionary advances.
As a reflection of the fact that deep energy technology is different than SAAS or internet companies favored by many VCs, a new 20-year fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, with its illustrious investors, is hoping to help deep tech energy startups overcome the "valley of death." Many of these will have emerged from the hallowed halls of MIT.