Technology Advancements in Electricity and Mobility Services

By Danny Kennedy, CEO, New Energy Nexus and MD, California Clean Energy Fund

Danny Kennedy, CEO, New Energy Nexus and MD, California Clean Energy Fund

Electricity and mobility services are going through rapid change globally. Witness the scooter on your sidewalk and the solar panels on your neighbor’s house. These two industries, which had been saddled with incumbent companies and monopoly regulation are being positively disrupted by upstart entrepreneurs and better technologies the world over.

Innovation is driving down cost while improving service. Electricity is being contracted from wind farms in Oklahoma - an oil state - at the lowest costs of electricity from any technology ever in America! And there’s solar power being sourced from new projects in the Middle East, India, and Mexico for about the same. As for mobility, I don’t drive to work because it’s better and cheaper to take one of a range of active transit options there than pay $30 to park.

All these new service models and ways of creating the energy that powers are lives and lifestyles and move us around are the product of companies, many of whom were fanciful ideas a few years ago. The reality is that the big business’ of these spaces like General Electric and Ford have failed to maintain the rate of innovation and been superseded by startups. GE has fallen out of the Fortune 100 companies after a century of dominating electricity. And Tesla is worth more than Ford Motor Co despite being little over 10 years old.

"Innovation is driving down cost while improving service"

And the work of the energy transition from coal and oil to clean has only just begun. While most people, including Royal Dutch Shell and the Saudi Arabian government, will tell you it is inevitable we will one-day be a solar-powered civilization we still have a lot of work to do. We are around 10 percent right now (even though it’s doubling incredibly quickly as a share of power - once every five years or so). And that means much more invention, ingenious combination of ideas, investment and job creation in clean energy by, for and of entrepreneurs.

To make that happen we need more startup spaces and support, especially in cities and countries where energy services are going through the most change. That means Asia and Africa. Would you believe there are more people living without electricity today, than there were when Edison and Tesla were alive and arguing about AC and DC in New York!?

The opportunity to leapfrog markets from Bangladesh to Zimbabwe over the central station model of fossil fuel electricity generation is enormous. Tying together homes and business with solar, storage and smart appliances in new microgrids, layered together with software is already happening from Kenya to the Caribbean. But to date, the companies in that space have probably reached a few million people – there are 100s of millions more to serve!

Similarly as tens of millions of consumers from Indonesia and Nigeria start expecting transit options like the rest of us, their vehicle platforms are likely to be electric. That’s the path China and India selected with policies and incentives to shift their two and three wheel vehicle fleets to battery power – and it’s coming to cars too, with 10 percent of new autos in China this year expected to be electric. The chance to build new designs, new supply companies, new servicing and sales models is going to be the grist for startups locally and globally for decades to come.

But it’s not just abroad we need new energy entrepreneurs.

Take charging infrastructure. As cars, buses, and even trucks go electric all the service station business’ that have been built up around the world have to transition too. Gas pumps will be replaced and refueling depots turned into assets for grid planners and local power companies. The construction, finance and operation of all those new tools and locations are opportunities for entrepreneurs. Lithium batteries came down in cost by 35 percent in the last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance – the cheaper they get they are going to be a big business displacing diesel gen sets and gas peaker plants. Again, a huge opportunity for creative destruction by startups.

Similarly, almost every roof will go solar in years to come. In California it’s just been mandated that all new homes have to be Zero Net Energy from 2020, meaning they have to have solar panels. By 2045 the whole state has to be running on renewables and carbon neutral. Hawaii, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico are also going to 100 percent. Other jurisdictions are expected to follow across the country. Those mandates are like mana from heaven for entrepreneurs, creating their markets.

Some of these folk may not be as dynamic as Elon Musk. But the companies they build can be good growth stories, delivering value to their communities, meaningful employment to their teams, service to their customers and a return to any investors. We will have to have many replicant startups from state to state and country to country to scale and drive the services that can make this transition happen in the time required to stop the worst effects of climate change. What have we got to lose! Shine on.

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