Xconomist of the Week Christina Lampe-Onnerud Talks Cleantech

It’s been less than a year since Boston-Power, a lithium-ion battery maker, announced it had raised a whopping $125 million Series F funding round from Beijing-based GSR Ventures—and was moving most of its operations to China to chase down the electric vehicle market in that country.

It’s seeing the first big payoff from that decision. Today, the company is announcing that it has inked an agreement with Beijing Electric Vehicle Company (BJEV), the electric vehicle arm of Beijing Automotive Industry Company (BAIC). The Chinese company will use Boston-Power’s products in hundreds of electric vehicles starting this year, and in thousands of vehicles come 2014.

Boston-Power—previously based in Westborough, MA—has also added to its bankroll since the China shift. At the end of last year, the company announced another $30 million in funding, for a total pool of $346 million.

I took the time to sit down with founder and now international chairman Christina Lampe-Onnerud, an Xconomist, to chat about some big themes in cleantech. (Think China’s policies, U.S. stimulus funding, and strategies for building a company. Oh, and the talent crunch extends all the way to China, too.)

They were timely subjects, given the month we’ve seen from Waltham, MA-based A123 Systems (NASDAQ:AONE), a battery maker that’s been considered a competitor to Boston-Power. At the beginning of July, A123 told investors that it had four to five months of cash left to fund its operations. That’s after it reported a $125 million loss during first quarter 2012.

Read on for highlights from our conversation.

Xconomy: What does the deal announced today mean for the company?
Christina Lampe-Onnerud: It takes a long time to build a real company that can do things. I feel like now we have built a real boat and it’s sailing on international waters. This is the first time we’re acknowledged by big, real, Chinese customers.

X: What has the climate been in China for cleantech?
CLO: The reason we decided to move to China as our primary market is the recognition that China really has an energy problem they’re trying to solve

China is very, very focused on deploying sustainable energy. They have levels of pollution that the general population doesn’t appreciate. They need more energy, and energy translates into growth—economic growth. They’re deploying everything they have for energy. You wonder why other countries don’t do that.

X: What do those efforts look like? Is it better charging infrastructure for electric vehicles?
CLO: It’s charging infrastructure, and there’s innovation around deploying that in cities. It’s also policies. They have one where you can buy a [traditional, gasoline-run] car, but you have to enter into a lottery to buy it. You may win the opportunity to buy, but you can only drive it every other day in the streets. But with an electric car, you can drive it every day and it is immediately available. It’s very simple and worked really well.

X: How does the U.S. differ as an environment for cleantech?
CLO: Policy. It’s the lack of policy. In the U.S. and Europe, and India as far as we’re concerned. The lack of coordinated policy. You can … Next Page »

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