Energy Infrastructure Finance Lead, IronOak Energy Capital
Co-founder and Managing Partner, Energy Intelligence Partners (EIP)
What do you do within the renewable energy sector and why is it essential?
EIP provides insight, expertise, and operational support to startups and large corporates alike. Our backgrounds allow us to not only support innovation, but also financing, growth, and strategic decision making. This full “life-cycle” experience gives us the ability to make recommendations, but then, if needed, step in and help execute on a day-to-day basis to make those recommendations realities.
Can you describe 2 of your most impactful past projects or engagements?
We were engaged by one of the world’s largest R&D organizations to help build a business model around a new grid-edge technology they had developed. Initially, we helped assess the opportunity and delivered go-to-market recommendations. As the engagement evolved, we were asked to become more and more involved resulting in us helping to spin out a new company. I took the role of CFO and VP of business development of the new entity, helped secure several million dollars in seed financing, signed the first two large customers as we deployed the technology in a commercial setting. Being able to not only identify the opportunity, but also help execute, is very rewarding.
In a more challenging situation, we were engaged by an investor with a large interest in a project that was not going as planned. They realized they needed not only financial support, but also energy and project expertise to totally understand their risks, opportunities and options. We were able to accurately assess the situation both operationally and financially, quantify the risks and opportunities within the decision matrix, as well as provide new options that were previously not available. Having investment, operational, and technical experience from financing and operating power plants allowed us to provide a one-stop-shop to resolve this difficult situation.
What are you most excited about for the renewable energy industry in 2017-2018?
Non-battery energy storage. We are seeing a lot of innovative ways to store energy at well below the cost of batteries and there are lot of very smart people developing the technologies to leverage these novel approaches. We have helped groups take advantage of these resources and leverage utility tariff structures to save significant amounts of money. This trend will only grow, and it could be a game changer for the power grid and the environment.
What are you most concerned about for the renewable energy industry in 2017-2018?
The pace of innovation is far outstripping the grid’s ability to understand and incorporate it. The result is often a reluctance to test and implement new technologies, or a sporadic deployment that has suboptimal results. Energy decisions often have very long term implications. For example, for every gas plant that is built instead of implementing demand side management technologies, we lose years of potential cost and performance benefits. We see massive changes happening as technologies are being deployed that allow consumers to manage when they use electricity which the grid must deal with.
What is one trend in the renewable energy sector that few are paying attention to?
Biofuels and biomass. This sector has been really beaten up over the last 8 years, after being the darling of the clean tech revolution. Much of the failure of the sector was a poor understanding of the challenges beyond just the technology. We have a lot of experience in this sector and have seen a number of new ideas that could make the promise from 8 years ago a reality.
If you asked one of your early stage clients what they value most from an engagement with you, what would they say?
Early stage companies and investors are often short on resources and time, but need expertise and execution support from professionals who understand the sector and the challenges of startups. We have found they appreciate our experience and insight into their business, and come to truly value our ability to provide flexible hand-on support as they execute over the long term.
What has surprised you most about your career in the renewable energy sector?
The rapid evolution of the demand side. Consumers have so many options and are impacting the grid like never before in both good and bad ways. As an example, our experience with isolated and island grids has taught us that even efficiency can have unintended negative impacts.
What are 1-2 pieces of advice you would give someone thinking about entering the renewable energy industry today?
Success in the energy sector takes a long time, so be patient. While it would be great if we could replace certain infrastructure overnight, the reality is that these are long-lived high cost assets. Having said that, hold on tight, because there are few industries as volatile.
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