Clean Tech Economy
Washington Will Help Clean Tech Boom

January 21, 2009

Listen to the showWashington will help clean tech boom

Clean energy initiatives are still attracting investors, but oil is no longer
in the driver's seat as prices remain low. Sam Eaton reports why policymakers
are important for the clean tech industry now.

Steve Chiotakis: Hundreds of clean energy investors are meeting today in the
California desert. They're hoping for a presidential boost. In his inaugural
speech, President Obama touched on the use of alternative energy. And that could
mean the difference between success and failure. From the Marketplace
Sustainability Desk, here's Sam Eaton.

Sam Eaton: Six months ago, the record price of oil was the key driver for clean
energy investments. So much so that companies specializing in everything from
renewable fuels to energy efficiency technology, raised a record $8.5 billion
from venture capital firms last year.

Brian Fan with the trade organization Cleantech Group says today, the money's
still coming in. It's just that oil's no longer in the driver's seat.

Brian Fan: In 2009, the main action in these markets are going to be driven by
the policymakers.

In the meantime, the industry is already experiencing a shake-out, as low oil
prices make big-ticket purchases like solar and wind power less attractive. But
for companies that fit into Washington's plans, business is booming.

Scott Lang: We can't hire great people fast enough.

Investors have poured millions into Scott Lang's California start-up. And for a
reason. Silver Spring Networks makes smart-grid technologies. House Democrats
want to spend $11 billion on those as part of the economic stimulus package.
Cleantech Group's Brian Fan says other winners include car battery makers and
just about anything to do with energy efficiency, especially as Congress
promises to spend billions of dollars retrofitting government buildings and low
income homes.

Fan: That is a big driver of investment. Because people now start saying what
are the building efficiency technologies and who are companies that can be
producing those that I should invest in?

But there's one glaring challenge:

Dan Esty: Politics hasn't gone away.

That's Yale environmental policy expert Dan Esty. He says if political wrangling
delays President Obama's clean energy initiatives, cleantech will ultimately
survive. What's lost is precious time.

Esty: Good policy can ensure that we move this process faster, and it can
position clean energy as part of the engine that pulls the economy back on the
rails and gets it moving again.

Esty says the economy's collapse was in part a result of overconsumption. So why
not rebuild it with technologies that help us use energy and naturally resources
more efficiently?

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.


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