by Ruben Aronin, Director, California Business Alliance for a Clean Economy
While progressive advocates and businesses throughout California and across the country are identifying critical shovel-ready clean and green infrastructure investments for the federal government to support that can put people back to work asap, we must not forget to include the at-risk cleantech startup small businesses that can create an exponentially higher percentage of high-growth jobs. Unfortunately, today these small businesses are struggling for capital to stay alive.
Today’s robust and cost-effective solar, wind and battery storage clean energy companies as well as our growing clean electric transportation sectors grew out of decades of public investments in cleantech startups. We’re at risk from losing billions of dollars in federal and state grant investments in companies that have been developing promising technologies for the past 10 years or more. These technologies will create domestic jobs – including many manufacturing jobs – and they will accelerate our country’s ability to implement innovations that will help us tackle climate change, reduce energy costs and be at the forefront of exporting these technologies to other countries.
Without a lifeline of support we’re at risk from thousands of these companies going out of business before bringing their innovations to the marketplace. According to the National Venture Capital Association, “since March 11, 2020, about 300 U.S. startups have laid off about 30,000 employees across the country. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg for what will be tough times for startups over the coming months.”
One local Santa Barbara cleantech startup, Next Energy Technologies, Inc., has licensed technology developed at UC Santa Barbara that allows them to manufacture transparent photovoltaics designed to advance the sustainability of buildings which currently account for more than 40% of global energy consumption. Next Energy’s window technology has a payback of just 1 year and can help building owners and tenants dramatically save on energy costs while creating new glass manufacturing jobs. They are poised to help accelerate zero energy and carbon neutral buildings in cities throughout the US and across the world. Next Energy’s innovations were recognized by the Department of Energy and received funding from its SunShot Tech-2 market program. They have 30 employees on staff today, are mobilizing demonstration projects and are within 12 months of manufacturing a unique solar window product that could help transform how buildings generate some of their own electricity.
There are more than 1,600 cleantech businesses that have received over $1.6 billion dollars from popular federal programs at the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. By doubling down on these investments, we can save thousands of jobs that are immediately at risk and ensure that the tens of thousands of jobs this sector will create in the coming months and years will come to fruition.
The New York Times recently reported that the DOE is holding onto more than $40 billion dollars in low-interest loan funds for clean tech and clean transportation projects. Just a small portion of those dollars could be redirected to support existing cleantech grantees with forgivable loans without Congress having to even appropriate any new stimulus funds.
As we prioritize public investments in companies that will drive innovation and put our country back to work tomorrow and in the tomorrows to come, let’s not leave our cleantech small business startups behind.