Several weeks ago, Wells Fargo, along with other industry representatives, sponsored and attended the 2014 World Energy Innovation Forum at the Tesla Factory in Fremont, California. Yes, that’s right, at the Tesla Factory. Tesla and the forum team converted the electric vehicle manufacturing factory into a conference setting for two days to host key leaders, innovators, industry partners, and many others to learn about the direction and future of the clean technology sector. This was really the who’s who in cleantech.
Ira Ehrenpreis, chairman of the event and general partner at Technology Partners, put together a lineup of speakers that included Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla; Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE; Steven Chu, 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy; Tony Fadell, Founder and CEO of Nest; Tom Werner CEO of SunPower Corporation; Lyndon Rice, CEO of Solar City; Jennifer Granholm, former Governor of Michigan; and many others. In addition, we had the chance to tour the factory and test drive the sleek model S, Tesla’s premier all electric sedan.
It’s difficult to capture all of the knowledge that was shared over the two-day event. Core themes on where the industry is headed included:
- Energy integration
- How to couple storage with renewables
- Jobs – we need to think about the next generation of leaders and train and inspire them to enter the clean energy market
- Creative financing and policy – we need clever solutions in finance and policy to support the technology innovation
- China and India: these countries will serve as early adopters to major technological innovations
- Working together toward global success.
During the opening remarks, it was announced that in Q1 of 2014, an astounding 92% of all new energy installed in the U.S. was renewable. Additionally more innovation has occurred in cleantech in the last decade than the last 100 years combined. Developing countries will be the early adopters of technology solutions; China alone will build two and a half cities with the population of Chicago every year for the foreseeable future, while India will build one new city of that size each year. Adding renewables will continue to increase, however grid integration and storage still remain a major priority of the sector, as well as the continued growth of green jobs.
We got to hear directly from Elon Musk, regarding some of the future advancements and opportunities for California-based Tesla. The company just installed its 100th supercharger on the East Coast. So now, drivers can drive from Los Angeles to New Jersey by using the strategically placed, solar-powered, supercharger stations along major highways at no cost to the owner. Each supercharge provides the Tesla with 250 miles of driving range.
Elon talked about the design of the car and of future versions; there are already 1,500 people (and probably more after this conference) on the waiting list for the SUV due out in 2015. He also talked about the demand and sales increases in China as well as plans to build a “Gigafactory” battery plant in the U.S. Clearly, Tesla is doing some amazing things to help advance the electric vehicle adoption in the U.S. and around the world. Additionally, he was asked about how he had the capacity to do so many things across various sectors (he was the original founder of PayPal and has another company, SpaceX, working on satellites and trips to Mars). He responded with, “People self-limit too often,” and added “people don’t know what they are truly capable of.” – Those are inspiring words from one of the great innovators of our time.
We also heard from other major industry CEOs like Jeff Immelt from GE. Here are a few points he shared:
- GE has filed more than 35,000 patents since 2010; the company is innovating at every corner of their business.
- Shale gas may be a future game changer for many countries like Africa.
- Everyone in the industry is laser-focused on energy integration; how we work together to integrate all forms of energy to deliver more efficient, reliable and cleaner power is a challenge for everyone.
- GE Wind is constantly evolving; they have developed sensors that can sense wind patterns 50 miles away to optimize the turbines.
- Small changes can make massive impacts; for example: 1% fuel efficiency = $3B in revenue for airlines.
- Stay focused on innovation – start with a quarter of an idea and build a team around it.
- We are “15 minutes into the solar business” – we will continue to see massive innovation in the technology and financing.
Lastly, there will continue to be many opportunities for companies like Wells Fargo to be a leader in accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy. Since 2012, we have provided $12 billion in lending and investment to “green” businesses, well on our way to meeting our $30b goal by 2020. Thanks again to Ira and his team for creating a platform for leaders in the industry to gather and share their vision for the future, it looks bright!
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