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The Clean Energy Revolution

05/03/2010 4:30 PM Copley Place Marriott
Brian Dumaine, Sr., Editor at Large, Fortune Magazine; Nancy Floyd, Founder & Managing Director Nth Power; Scott Stern, Visiting Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management; Kevin Surace, CEO, Serious Materials

Description: Beyond guts, a great business plan, and friends with deep pockets, clean energy entrepreneurs will need patience and perhaps most of all, a favorable policy environment to succeed. Fortune magazine editor Brian Dumaine leads a discussion with panelists from the worlds of venture capital, academia and industry on "how to build a winning green tech company."

Nancy Floyd sees talented and practical entrepreneurs "solving problems we see in front of us." Some of these may be "game changers," although they are "certainly not science experiments." Her firm insists that investment"worthy renewable energy ventures must not pose an additional cost premium, which means that projects must be "at grid parity or below." She also dismisses the notion that a great idea will be totally disruptive, completely upending or bypassing current powers in the energy and utility industries. "I think that's a stupid strategyYou need to engage those incumbents in a smart way. That's the only way to get companies launched here." The good news is that there are "many, many companies requiring less than $50 million that may have a huge impact on core technologies."

Kevin Surace's company replaced 6,500 windows on the Empire State Building with new energy efficient glass, saving the owner $410 thousand per year. Green tech, he passionately believes, "has to pay back, and pay back fast, or cost less up front." Government subsidies for energy conservation, and public incentives for consumers to buy green don't last forever, so entrepreneurs need to create a cost"saving product that will sell itself. Surace sees market"friendly green tech as vital to turning around the U.S. economy, bringing manufacturing back home, and reducing the nation's $16 trillion debt. But while he believes that "the best business plans don't require government intervention," Surace acknowledges not only the necessity of government backing in such giant energy startups as solar installations, but a wholesale shift in the regulatory environment. "The solution to all of this nobody wants to talk about is a carbon tax."

"We need an ecosystem for energy that is more developed," agrees Scott Stern, who worries that the U.S. has squandered its global leadership role in addressing climate change, and is currently in political gridlock around comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. In spite of this paralysis, Stern recommends that entrepreneurs look ahead and invent for the future. "Right now, we have bad prices for carbon We must think down the road: How will the institutional environment for paying for energy change over time, and how will the institutional environment for supporting energy infrastructure change?" Stern suggests that eventually, society will recognize that the cost of emitting carbon will be more expensive than a carbon tax. This is a long"term challenge that poses an opportunity to entrepreneurs to develop "a range of technical options." Stern hopes that some of these new energy products might eventually diffuse through the market and become universally adopted, as did semiconductors and the Internet.

About the Speaker(s): Brian Dumaine, Sr. oversees Fortune magazine's international coverage and its European and Asian editions. He also directs Fortune's green technology and environmental policy stories. He is the author of the The Plot To Save The Planet: How Visionary Entrepreneurs and Corporate Titans Are Creating Real Solutions To Global Warming.

Dumaine has worked at Fortune for 28 years in various writing and editing positions including assistant managing editor. He has won numerous journalism awards and written more than 100 feature stories for the magazine, including covers such as "America's Toughest Bosses," "The Innovation Gap," and "America's Smartest Young Entrepreneurs." Throughout his career, he has produced investigative pieces as well as articles on marketing, investing, technology, and corporate crime.

Host(s): Alumni Association, MIT Enterprise Forum

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