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Entrepreneurs Betting on Green

Clean Energy conference hosts see no shortage of venture capital

Nitin Joglekar, an SMG assistant professor, and Srikanth Gopalan, an ENG assistant professor, are cohosting the conference.

With climate change finally capturing the attention of the public, entrepreneurs and investors are more interested than ever in new technologies that can make our lives greener — and make a few bucks in the process.

Many of the more promising technologies will be discussed tomorrow at a daylong conference sponsored by the School of Management and the College of Engineering department of manufacturing engineering. Clean Energy: Pathways to Adoption presents speakers and panelists from academia and from industry and investment firms involved with technologies related to fuel cells, hydrogen generation and storage, bioenergy, and photovoltaics. These experts will talk about market needs and investment opportunities in clean energy, including high-efficiency power generation from fossil-based and biofuels, as well as renewable energy technologies like fuel and solar cells. The event is being held at the School of Management as part of the Emerging Technology and Best Practices Seminar Series.

To learn more about the issues and technologies that will be discussed at the conference, BU Today sent several questions to conference co-hosts Nitin Joglekar, an SMG assistant professor of operations and technology management, and Srikanth Gopalan, an ENG assistant professor of manufacturing engineering. The two experts collaborated on answering the questions.  

BU Today: How do you define a clean energy technology?
Gopalan and Joglekar:
Broadly, a clean energy technology is one that  offers solutions that are environment-friendly in terms of production, use, and disposal and that offers reduced emissions. Attention towards clean technologies is a growing phenomenon. It touches most sectors of our economy, and we anticipate that this growth will continue for the foreseeable future.

Is there increased interest in clean energy products among individuals and companies?

There seems to be a real desire and no dearth of venture money available in the marketplace to promote high-potential clean energy–related start-ups. In a conversation, our keynote speaker Tony Lent [founder of U.S. Renewables Group] indicated that many types of investors have been moving into energy space in the past year, and anecdotal evidence indicates that there is an increase in energy procurement and savings initiatives in a wide range of user segments, such as city governments, universities, and large corporations.

Are there market barriers to these technologies becoming products you can buy?

There are a variety of economic and behavioral factors that can create market barriers. For instance, there is need for complementary technologies such as fueling stations and customers changing their fueling habits before the use of electric vehicles can become commonplace.

What challenges do entrepreneurs face in bringing a clean energy technology to market?
The entrepreneurial challenge involves developing comprehensive solutions that can overcome barriers to adoption.
What clean energy technologies will take off in the next few years?
There are several choices in different segments of the energy markets. For example, biofuels, solar energy, and hydrogen-based solutions are attracting considerable attention.

How does concern about global warming help investments in alternative energy technologies?

Concern about global warming helps raise awareness and attracts both end-user and investor interest. However, it is difficult to establish a direct link between such concerns and growth in investments.

Would you recommend investing in the traditional energy sector or in alternative energy technologies?
The need for traditional energy sources, like oil, is not going away anytime soon. It is safe to assume that the marketplace will value solutions from both traditional and clean energy sectors, and the evolution of various technology alternatives is not an independent event — they are linked through mechanisms such as pricing.

What is the significance of having such a conference at BU?

We recognize that clean energy adoption comes with many open questions. The spirit behind the conference is to invite input from different stakeholders that will contribute to a meaningful debate and raise awareness of the underlying issues. Indeed, there are many talented groups and researchers in various parts of BU who are addressing different aspects of this opportunity. This conference is an example of the potential for collaboration across our community, for instance between ENG and SMG, in order to address the clean energy puzzle in a comprehensive manner.

Catherine Santore can be reached at csantore@bu.edu.