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Interview with Jigar Shah: Operating A $200 Million Venture Fund and The Future of Clean Energy

Steven Li

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Jigar Shah

Many are skeptical about the prospect of shifting over the more renewable and clean energy. After all, America gets over 80% of its energy from coal, oil, and gas. But some entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are bullish about the future of cleantech and sustainability, and that includes Jigar Shah, Co-Founder and President of Generate Capital, a $200 million fund that backs cleantech entrepreneurs.

Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Shah and pick his brain on the future of sustainability and why he’s confident that investing in it will both generate enormous wealth and help lead positive systemic change.

Shah’s Start In Investing And His Idea Of The Future of Clean Energy

How were you influenced to capitalize on sustainability and pursue a career in clean energy, both as an operator and as an investor?

This really came from a book I read as a child. I was captivated and the more I learned to more it reinforced my hypothesis. Once hooked I kept going and got lots of encouragement along the way.

What was your motivation for starting Generate Capital?

We didn’t have a go-to investor when we started SunEdison. Generate Capital is that go-to investor and we want to make sure every entrepreneur that works hard has fair access to project finance for their ideas.

What is your vision for the future of energy and tech, and how do you believe climate change can generate that enormous of wealth?

The numbers come from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports on what is needed. The work I have done is work bottoms up to see what is possible and how many entrepreneurs we need to make it happen. 

It is a remarkably small number. Just a million folks around the work pushing in their hometowns for $1 million of deployment per year gets us to a $1 trillion annually. This is already happening. What I do is work to empower these folks with access to projects financing.

Shah On Solar Energy

What spurred your commitment to solar energy in particular?

Frankly solar is just amazing. Almost every electricity source comes from a spinning mass with magnets – but not solar power. It is brand new, empowering, small, and distributed. Just amazing. I don’t think solar power can give us 100% or even 30% of our direct energy, but I do think it can be substantial.

You pioneered “no money down solar.” Can you elaborate on this idea?

In general, people are not used to buying an electric plant that serves them.  Buying a solar power plant is not normal or in the budget. No money down means someone else owns it and leases it to you which included maintenance and all other headaches. You get the best prices because of competition and a worry-free experience.

Shah On Climate Policy And Corporations

Some politicians say climate change is one of our most pressing issues today. Would you agree?

Climate changes the way the Earth and its complex systems work.  I don’t know what will happen, but the warnings from scientists have us bracing for the worst.

What do you wish more politicians and big corporations would do in order to combat the issue of climate change?

The main thing is to recognize that we have all the tools we need already to reduce carbon emissions by 50% in 12 years. We simply need the will power and motivation to get it done. The technologies exist and are cost-effective.  We just need the mandates to deploy at scale.

Getting the Word Out About Clean Energy

You currently co-host Energy Gang, a podcast over at Greentech Media. What’s the goal?

Honestly, it is about giving people a little color behind the news. Clean Energy news can be dry and the nuances matter. We are trying to give people a little insight into how things work and how folks can use the information to further their careers.

How would you encourage people to help build a more sustainable nation? What can young people do specifically to help?

Frankly, it is just by doing.  Figure out what you are good at and use your skills to good use. Whether you are a musician, marketing major, business person, or an engineer, we need you. We need everyone to pitch in. Talk to your sphere of influence – family, friends, elected officials, and others. We need more people to know that the technology is cost-effective and ready to be deployed at scale.

Conclusions

The Future of Clean Energy | The Rising

Investors like Shah (who’ve been operators in the past) are going to be essential in the transition over to cleaner and renewable energy. It’s not enough to have investor support though; founders and operators are also essential.

Fortunately, in Shah’s words, anyone can help. With investors like Shah’s Generate Capital on board to support cleantech initiatives, it’s now up to founders and the next generation to act.

Business

Tesla Battery Sees An Improvement, The Company’s Latest Patent Shows

Maryanne Derkaloustian

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As Tesla CEO Elon Musk continues to make a bet on renewables, Tesla battery patents are also rolling in. The most recent patent, though? An improvement to its existing lithium-ion battery chemistry that may even be transferable to technologies like grid energy storage.

This is possibly a step towards Musk’s goal to produce a million-plus mile battery, after having partnered up with a battery research team at Dalhousie University to test new ideas for longer-lasting, crack-proof rechargeable batteries.

Since then, however, researchers looked beyond the anode and cathode for optimization, hence the proposal of mixing new chemical additives for the ideal Tesla battery.

Tesla Battery Innovates on Number of Additive Elixirs

Optimal batteries have long lifetimes at high cell voltages and temperatures but are not too expensive to produce. Previously, studies have shown promising results with the addition of three to four additives to an electrolyte, but two was a stretch.

Tesla’s patent is unmatched, however. Researchers are in the process of testing pairs of known additives in many different percentages to find the right “elixir.”

For a lot of combinations, no one can predict the outcomes; it’s a trial-and-error process. Because this technology is still at such an early age, it may not even be patentable. However, it still makes a statement and is likely to provide interesting findings.

Tesla Battery Has Positive Outcomes

All the testing going on may be costly and lengthy, but that won’t be a problem in the long run. Eventually, once the team finally discovers the right recipe and starts producing in bulk, the company will have saved a considerable amount of money.

Not to mention, using a two-additive system as opposed to the conventional three or four will definitely make the battery more accessible at scale.

The patent also mentions that some formulas doubled the amount of possible recharges maintaining 95% capacity reduction. Consequently, this would reduce the number of batteries people would need to buy (and hence, waste).

And since this technology is applicable to larger batteries, Musk may actually be able to have his million-plus mile vehicle battery. Additionally, grid energy storage systems can also benefit from this chemical innovation and set the bar high for future improvement.

Tesla’s Continued Focus on its Energy Business Yields

Tesla’s renewed focus on its energy business is an interesting one. Several of Tesla’s patents, including this one and “storable” solar energy harvesting, exhibit solutions for sustainability and accessibility. What’s next for Tesla Energy? We’ll have to see.

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Business

Tesla Energy: The Division Elon Believes Can Grow Faster Than Tesla’s Vehicles Business

Haider Sarwar

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Most people know Tesla for its electric vehicles, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes that Tesla Energy, an operating unit focused on energy storage and solar, is poised to potentially grow faster than its EV business.

Musk believes that the demand for sustainable energy will continue to grow, and with a series of moves in recent years, including Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity three years ago, he hopes that Tesla Energy will be a market leader.

Tesla Energy has already made several moves that exemplify the attention to clean energy imperative for any modern energy business. For instance, it, not too long ago, deployed a huge battery unit in Alaska with the goal of replacing a fossil fuel plant.

But what’s next? And why is Tesla’s CEO so bullish on its energy division?

Elon Musk’s Vision For Tesla Energy

While we first learned about Tesla Energy back in 2015, Musk started by explaining that most power in the world is powered by fossil fuels. Consequently, such a phenomenon has caused a J-curve in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions.

But Musk shared that the surface area needed for the United States to transition fully away from fossil fuels over to solar really isn’t much. Tesla depicted this idea in a graphic:

Surface Area Of Solar Panels Required To Power Entire US | Graphic Credit: Tesla

And one better, Musk believes that most of that area can be fulfilled on rooftops. In other words, Tesla won’t necessarily require clearing land for the purpose of installing solar panels to make its plan work.

Tesla Energy Doubles Down On Solar Roof Tiles With SolarCity Acquisition

That’s why Tesla Energy’s $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity made sense three years ago. Both companies aimed to make the most reliable solar roof tiles and had a clear synergy in terms of moving the needle for renewable energy.

By joining forces, SolarCity and Tesla hoped to reap a slew of benefits, including helping to reduce carbon emissions. But the release of their roof tiles hasn’t been smooth-sailing.

For example, in October, Walmart sued Tesla after the solar panels caught on fire atop seven of the retailer’s stores. And many of Tesla’s shareholders filed lawsuits against shareholders for acquiring SolarCity.

Shareholders believed that solar would be a horrific investment.

Could Tesla Energy Grow Faster Than Its Vehicles Business?

As Tesla continues to mature as a vehicles company, many have faith in it long-term. But some Tesla watchers simply believe that there is not enough demand for solar energy.

Musk thinks otherwise.

Tesla installed over 1 GWh of storage capacity around the world in 2018. And in 2019, the company plans to double that. Many people believe that the profits from Tesla Energy will amount to maybe 20% of the total. Conversely, Musk claims that profits from the company will make up 50%.

Elon Musk wants the energy produced by Tesla’s solar panels to surpass the energy consumed by the company’s cars. Therefore, he believes that the demand for solar energy will only increase in the future.

Adoption of Solar-Energy-Driven Infrastructure Will Take Time

Though he is optimistic about the future of solar, Musk admits that the integration of solar panels at scale will be slow. However, he believes that society will eventually adopt solar-energy-driven infrastructure.

From reliability to pricing, there are many obstacles to properly implementing the technology. Musk has managed to present a variety of different ideas that help increase the sustainability in modern-day products.

Whether solar energy is something that people believe is worth the investment, Musk and Tesla Energy are willing to test it out.

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Energy

Here’s How European Homes Are Curbing Energy Emissions

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People and governments around the world are now making a serious effort to curb energy emissions. Ranging from policy reform to the emergence of greentech startups, it looks like people are finally realizing the gravity of the consequences of energy emissions. No doubt, the structural changes that come with this realization will ultimately impact the neighborhoods we live in. So naturally, housing is often the place to begin when considering where to implement environmentally-friendly changes.

Fortunately, homeowners can do quite a bit to cut their own energy wastage. With appliances such as routers and printers consuming energy even when not plugged in, residences are the third-highest source of energy consumption within the United States. But is it any surprise?

How European Homes Compare To The U.S. In Terms Of Energy Emissions?

In contrast, UK homes actually fare quite well when it comes to reducing their energy emissions. Results from the Environmental Performance Index consistently rank European countries as the most environmentally-friendly. The UK placed 6th last year, jumping six places in two short years. On the other hand, the U.S. placed 27th.

The EPI results are in line with the European Union’s mission to become the world’s first carbon-neutral economy by 2050. And undoubtedly, housing will have to play a big role in achieving this goal. After all, our neighborhoods tend to take a significant toll on natural surroundings.

Concrete Changes Within The Housing Landscape

Recently, the EU passed a ‘right to repair’ regulation that makes it easier for people to get their large appliances repaired.

This regulation can yield significant results, as manufacturers are required to make appliances last longer while also supplying parts for machines up to 10 years old. These regulations work to supplement current initiatives by manufacturers.

After all, properly maintaining appliances is one of the key ways to ensure your house emits less energy waste. HomeServe UK states how heating insurance is very important nowadays as it will ensure that homeowners have fully functional heating systems and aren’t wasting energy because their boilers aren’t working efficiently.

Engineers are generally available 24/7 which means they can rectify issues immediately. It is also worth getting professionals to check your water supply, pipes, drainage systems, and roofing so that they are helping to minimize heat loss.

Similarly, home services company Pacifica Group recently launched a partnership with GAP to recycle old fridge units responsibly.

Once the ‘right to repair’ regulations are in effect, homeowners should expect easier access to maintenance professionals.

These initiatives can help reduce the carbon footprint in households, especially as old appliances can end up causing far more energy emissions to do the same amount of work.

A macro-level approach would be to take a look at the neighborhoods themselves. Cooperative and social housing provides for citizens all across the continent, which offers a natural entry point for renewable energy sources and greener buildings.

Cities like Madrid and Leeds are now part of a program to create net-zero buildings, citing energy renovation as a potential key to improving citizens’ overall wellbeing. The program seeks to eliminate carbon emissions from building stocks.

The Importance Of Individual Choices In Reducing Energy Emissions

These developments also run in line with moves made by homeowners to live a more sustainable lifestyle. European citizens are known to make more environmentally-conscious choices, from leaning on public transport to using eco-friendly bags.

Trying to reverse the effects of climate change will require serious structural change, which is why such interventions are necessary. The truth is that much of the nation’s emissions are due to large corporations and factories.

But as a consumer, you can take steps to reduce energy emissions too. Coupled with large changes to the housing landscape, everyone can make a difference.

Europe continues to pave the way in this regard. And its new legislation and projects prove that how we live plays a direct role in shaping our environment.

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