Cleantech Overcoming Challenges, Rough Years, Tesla VC Investor Says

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to get lost, to get confused in the myopia of the moment and to blindly extrapolate and reach a mistaken, distorted view of the larger picture,” Ehrenpreis said.

—Ironically, natural gas might be showing the way. One of the major headwinds facing cleantech is the price of natural gas. Prices have plummeted as oil and gas drillers have found more gas they can extract, and demand for gas is enough to lead to a boom in that industry as utilities turn away from using coal to produce electricity.

That industry’s fate provides lessons for cleantech, Ehrenpreis said.

Ehrenpreis noted that a number of prominent voices such as Allen Greenspan and The Economist magazine had written premature obituaries for the natural gas industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, it was thought the U.S. would soon tap out its supply of natural gas that could be profitably extracted.

Then hydraulic fracturing, better known a fracking, and other innovations revolutionized the drilling industry, making gas reserves more accessible and productive. Fracking might be the bane of some environmentalists and cleantech advocates, but its impact has been staggering, turning the U.S. into “Saudi America” and making it possible that the nation will become a net energy exporter for the first time in decades.

The renewable energy industries have felt the impact, as power from cheap natural gas has cut the cost advantage that solar and wind energy were expected to gain against fossil fuels when the economic models for many renewable energy companies were developed in the mid-2000s.

“It has become clear that one of the most significant breakthroughs not just of the last decade, but maybe … Next Page »

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