The Green Wall Street Summit http://www.wsgts.com/ happened this past week as it has every year since 2002. It was an amazing gathering of thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and general investors who want to see Wall Street become a source of restoration for the whole planet and not just wealth for the few.
But this year was different. It was more mature and more about getting the job done. There were less new technologies to get excited about... it was less like a flower show of exciting colors then a lecture on soil science that gets down to the nitty-gritty that makes the flowers grow; less entrepreneurs speaking and more innovators in the financial space, intra-preneurs from big companies, advisers who are seeing that environmental, social and governance management boosts performance; green banks and other state programs, private/public/ partnerships and innovators who are pushing new infrastructures for isolated micro grid solutions to strengthen the resilience of the general economy.
Instead of the excitement about new technologies there was more of a sense that we have the technologies already... we already know what we can do. We simply need the will to make it happen. Governments can certainly help and should (www.ctcleanenergy.com ), but it is the investors that can tip the balance. And here comes the rub: many people with good will have invested in smart technologies and lost their shirt! To scale and modify the risk we need innovation in portfolio management that aggregates the great solutions that are out there (e.g. www.missionmarkets.com or www.cagix.com ). Energy-efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable materials, etc. can work together in portfolios that are ecosystems and balance out the winners and losers.
Still, as investors who want to do good, we cannot help but be drawn to brilliant solutions. One of my favorite entrepreneurs of the day was a Latvian, who has figured out how to modularize on-site waste to energy, using a simple system of drying and pelletizing almost any natural material, from demolition lumber to rice hulls to human sludge. Enertecgreen ( see www.enertecgreen.com ) can produce 1 to 10 megawatts of power in a very small modular system that looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption. The module can be sent anywhere in the world so that if you're in a remote area you could have electricity with whatever natural waste there is, and besides providing electricity with no carbon or methane footprint, the byproduct is biochar! This charcoal like substance is full of air pockets and not only sequesters carbon in the soil but provides housing for micro-organisms that multiply agricultural harvests. If you're in the city there is always plenty of sludge so she's doing this in cities in the UK now and has been for five years in Latvia. There the biggest resource is virgin wood. They can use the offcuts from wood production, converting fresh timber to biochar while at the same time producing electricity. Little modular units can be seen in the middle of cities because there are no carbon emissions. Here is an example of a proven technology that could be scaled given the will of investors to back it.
But the focus of the day was on mature solar and hydrogen solutions that are getting tremendous financial backing, at least until the subsidies are scheduled to reduce in 2017. We all know hydrogen power emits H2O, the cleanest solution available. But like the electricity for a Tesla the hydrogen needs to be produced by electricity too...so we keep coming back to the source...is it a renewable one like solar or wind? Tesla has proven the maturity of the electric car but it's still too expensive for most of us. Affordable hydrogen cars are becoming available in California with fueling stations paid for by the state, and in the northeast paid for by a $50M commitment recently made by Honda and Toyota. While DC is stuck in political and traffic gridlock, states and corporations are recognizing the need to move.
The good news for investors is that we are only 5% of the way to 100% green! It is a growth space! About 5% of the world's people live in the USA and we are trained to think that we are the biggest and best. Green innovators should have the same bravado! Currently only 5% of the world's energy is produced with renewable resources. This can change fast and leapfrog into the future, especially in countries that are building systems from scratch. Here we excel at Rube Goldberg like legal/financial contraptions with tax incentives and multiple layered partnerships designed to get the job done. We need to keep up the momentum here both as financial engineers and as green inventors designing a better world. The big money is only 5% invested in positive impact. Why not 100%? Watch this change!
If you missed this proven venue and want to participate in finding the best solutions you may want to consider the Impact Capital Summit in Chicago, April 21st and 22nd (http://impactalpha.com/the-big-path-to-the-impact-capitalism-summit-q-a-with-michael-whelchel/ ) or the new Sustainatopia venue in LA , May 27th -30th (http://www.sustainatopia.com/ ). The time is now.