By Jim Kiles
Like many of my friends, I first arrived at the consideration of solutions to the supposedly impending climate disaster inspired by Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth. It was a big idea being flogged by an important guy and the “catch” was right up my alley—if I did not do something, I was acting against the interests of my children! That’s what they told me; that’s what I bought into and why I decided to change my professional life and focus on climate change solutions.
Since I was an investor in content and enabling technologies, where my biggest deals involved technology and sports, I was easily absorbed by the idea of a movement that believed the climate change solutions should be mandated by behavior modifications for energy companies, corporations and individuals—the early Green New Deal.
I fell in line in a big way, diving into saving rainforests and blaming energy companies, attending climate change events and giving speeches at rallies for about two years. The more I dug in, the more I realized that it was an altruistic path that had millions of people engaged, but one whose progress was like a snail going uphill. And contrary to my experience with investments, there was no way to accelerate people toward a goal—it moves incrementally until the tipping point happens; in this case that was looking a long way off.
The miracle that changed things for me was when a friend invited me to one of the National Labs to look at renewable energy and energy efficiency science ideas for startups. After a day of listening to very big ideas with enormous potential, I threw in the towel on “people movements” as the solution and started thinking about investing in climate change science.
Overnight I was on a fast track to big deals, meeting with hundreds of US National Lab scientists who were working on the biggest ideas imaginable to accelerate wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, bio-gas and hydrogen; to find efficiency solutions with batteries and for buildings, smart grid smart cities and drones. I invested in wind and drone solutions and spent time with every stakeholder who would see me to pitch these concepts. Surprisingly, everyone I met with in the energy business had accepted that the goal I was working toward working WAS GOING TO HAPPEN and that the markets would be huge!
“Do you know any little boys who dream about the day they can crawl down into a coal mine?”
There were two instances of confirmation that led me to double down and push harder. These amazing moments happened in 2019 with people and in places that the Green New Deal in me would never have believed! In August, I met the chief engineer for the utility that serves most of the US southern states. He told me they were betting the Company on renewables. I asked why. He responded with a question: “Do you know any little boys who dream about the day they can crawl down into a coal mine?” Later, I made a trip to a western state utility that serves Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota. He kicked off the meeting by telling me that the company was phasing out all coal fired energy. Having watched sentiments like that lead to modest goals in my home state of California (50% by 2030), I asked him when. He responded, “Next year.”
I have been telling people of these experiences ever since so that we can aid businesses in this accelerating market driven movement. We are seeing good progress, even in a time where some governments do not support a renewables agenda. No doubt, given the catalytic effect of COVID-19, a market-driven climate change technology movement is an idea whose time has come. Let’s all get on board and catch this wave.