Industry Evolution in Climate Tech, Energy & Transportation in New YorkDecarbonizing the economy through policy, innovation and investment Noa Simons
Contributor: Ella Spungen
Overview: This article addresses why climate tech is one of the biggest sources of innovation in New York, and what is happening in New York to advance decarbonization. We explore challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors who are building and supporting startups, as well as major organizations fostering innovation.
Why Is Climate Tech Such a Big Deal in New York?
With the nation’s most ambitious climate plan, New York is leading the charge toward a future based on renewable energy. The 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) requires net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 20501. The 2019 legislation coincides with a rapid increase in climate tech investing from venture capital investors. According to a recent PwC study, climate tech investing globally grew from nearly $500M in 2013 to over $16B in 20192. Commitments to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 from both governments and corporations are also on the rise, creating opportunities for both innovators and investors.
While climate tech is broader than power generation and consumption, decarbonization of the energy supply is essential for reaching these mandates. Today, looking at power used for electricity, heating and transportation, New York has a diverse energy production mix, although only 11% of consumption is produced in-state. In 2018 in-state production was 50% renewable sources including hydro, wind, solar, biofuels and other renewables and nearly 50% nuclear power. While a substantial amount of in-state production comes from renewable sources, overall consumption in the state is still over 70%3.
Commercialization of new technologies has been slow, especially in risk-averse industries like power production and distribution, and many investors are leery. There was a boom in cleantech investing between 2006 and 2011: $25B in venture investments resulted in dismal returns. Jennifer Tegan, Managing Director of NY Ventures, spoke to the challenges for investors: “Some of these technologies take a long time and a lot of capital to bring to market,” she said. “About 10 years ago it felt like there was more excitement to invest in clean energy and clean materials, but that excitement waned when it took companies too long to get to market and the returns were modest, at best.”
Today, New York has substantial infrastructure to drive innovation in climate tech. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA, was created as a public benefit corporation in 1975 during the oil embargoes. At the time, NYSERDA’s focus was to develop renewable energy technology to replace petroleum. Through the 1990s, the charter expanded to include not just energy security, but also environmental sustainability. Today, NYSERDA invests north of $100M annually to drive climate tech development and commercialization. NYSERDA fosters a vibrant start-up ecosystem with partners across New York. “Our core focus is on de-risking research and development, de-risking the innovation in clean energy and the types of solutions that can drive climate impact,” said Erica Iannotti, Program Manager for NYSERDA’s Technology to Market team. Her team runs a multi-million dollar accelerator called 76 West, funds climate tech incubators across the state, manages a statewide Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program, and invests both grants and founder-friendly investments into promising companies.
“The ecosystem supporting clean tech innovation in New York has grown by leaps and bounds since my first venture-backed company in 2006. The resources that NY Ventures and NYSERDA and others bring to the table now have really helped accelerate our launch of technology from Cornell and other universities and have accelerated our time to market.” said Charles Hamilton, the CEO of Conamix, a venture-backed battery materials company based in Ithaca.
While there have been challenges over the past 15 years, reorienting cleantech to climate tech is engaging more investment into new technologies. The markets drive the demand; more than 300 global companies and governments have pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Investors and entrepreneurs can be assured that customers exist for innovative solutions.
The upcoming event, Invest NY: Energy & Transportation on October 22 online, brings together entrepreneurs, investors and industry professionals moving climate tech innovation forward in New York. This event is presented by NYSTAR and the Upstate Capital Association of New York. Learn more at investny.net.
- https://www.nrdc.org/experts/miles-farmer/unpacking-new-yorks-big-new-climate-bill-primer-0, accessed 10/5/2020
- https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/sustainability/assets/pwc-the-state-of-climate-tech-2020.pdf, accessed 10/2/2020
- https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=NY, accessed 10/5/2020