Earlier this week, I attended a roundtable on clean tech manufacturing hosted by DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson. Participants included a cross section of established industry, startups, R&D firms, and think tanks. As a former clean tech venture capitalist and PhD materials scientist, Dr. Danielson knows this space intimately. What the panel was able to provide was an on-the-ground perspective on barriers and opportunities for clean tech manufacturing.
I noted that typically these technologies are embodied in “new-to-the-world” products, often developed and manufactured by new-to-the-world companies. Young companies often get lost in the valley of death because the market adoption cycle is much longer than they anticipate. This is especially true in energy where the new company needs to fit into an existing supply chain. Part of the delay is the market understanding and accepting their value proposition. Once that milestone is achieved, the other delay in market adoption is a function of their ability to fulfill orders on time, with quality, and at a cost that fuels the company’s growth.
Many of our member companies have come to value our “design review” service. This is a structured process that is conducted at EWI to identify issues in the new product development approach that may present difficulties in manufacturing. Companies that take advantage of this service find that, once that first hand-built prototype is made to work, they are well positioned to begin volume manufacturing. In fact, a venture capital firm recently became a member just so their portfolio companies could take advantage of this service.
The DOE is placing bets on technologies that will lead to American jobs in clean tech manufacturing. It might be a good idea to hedge those bets by investing in some early design reviews to ensure that the products that embody those technologies can be manufactured competitively in this country.