Tuesday, April 15, 2008

California Clean Tech Open 2008 Launch

The California Clean Tech Open (CCTO) 2008 competition was launched at the San Jose City Hall Rotunda last Wednesday, April 9th afternoon led by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and David Rodgers from the US DOE. What was significant about the event was that this was the first time since its inception that the event was held in San Jose.

Maybe San Jose wants to show that the center of gravity for clean technology is in Silicon Valley. The venue was appropriate. It was the steel and glass rotunda of the gleaming new San Jose City Hall. This was my first visit to the new building and I must say it is quite stunning. You can check out pictures of the new City Hall here. There was a glittering reception with the usual Silicon Valley crowd of entrepreneurs, VCs, investment banker, attorneys and the like.

Mayor Reed issued a challenge to solar installers to enable zero upfront cost solar installations for homeowners within 60 days. Seemed like a tall order to me. But, SolarCity seems to have responded to the challenge with a proposal today which eliminates all up front payment for new installations in San Jose. But, unfortunately, the program only lasts for slightly more than 60 days, till the end of July :-) Solar City is funded by Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson and Steve Jurvetson was one of the speakers at the event. Its always interesting to listen to Jurvetson speak. His rapid fire delivery has a high content density and you can lose a lot in a minute if you are not listening. :-) In any case, he believes that the future is clean tech from a VC perspective.

Marc Gottschalk gave an overview of the 2008 competition. Eric Cummings of Cool Earth Solar talked about his company's success and his team's experience during the 2006 CCTO competition. Cool Earth Solar was the first runner-up in the Renewable energy category in the 2006 CCTO competition. They just raised $21M in Series A funding in February 2008. Gunther Portfolio has an even more detailed writeup on them from February. Hopefully, GP will be back in action with more interesting posts soon.

I had a chance to talk with Eric Cummings at the CCTO event. He remembered our meeting during one of the CCTO events in 2006. They have come a long way since then and the competition has helped them build a successful company. There was a poster at the Cool Earth Solar booth which implied that current renewable energy technology was inefficient and would lead to losses by the utility companies who invested in them. Eric seemed to imply that Dr. Borenstein's comments along these lines, a few months back were valid and more efficient alternatives were a few years out.

Overall it was a fun event to kickoff an exciting 2008 competition. Maybe this year's competition will breed more companies along the lines of Cool Earth Solar. The stakes are huge, if the latest award by PG&E to Brightsource is an indicator. The award is for 900 MW of electricity from five solar thermal plants to be built in the Mojave desert. If several of the other clean tech startups in the Valley start delivering on their promise, Silicon Valley will drive yet another global industry after semiconductors and the internet.


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