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.
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.