Earlier this year, the Wharton Energy Club made its annual trek across the country to the Bay Area to visit with nine of the top clean energy firms in the country. This year thirteen passionate students departed for San Francisco to spend two full days talking with industry executives. As a part of a broader effort to re-connect with alumni in the area, the club hosted a happy hour Thursday night for clean energy alumni enthusiasts. We welcomed many alumni and non-alumni as the event proved to be a worthwhile networking event for those in the clean energy space. Thank you to the Kleinman Center for providing funding for the happy hour.
We designed the trip to gain exposure to companies across the clean energy value chain from cleantech financing to residential solar to storage to many others. The list includes Tesla, Google, NextEra, Sunrun, Stem, Bidgely, Generate Capital, Presidio Partners and Obvious Ventures.
Although there were many highlights from the trip, below are a select few that we wanted to share as well as some photos. A special thank you to all the wonderful hosts. We appreciate each of you taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with a group of eager Wharton students.
Presidio Partners: The trek began by visiting with Wharton alum, Peter Gajdos at Presidio Partners. Presidio is a venture capital fund that allocates a significant portion of their fund towards companies in the renewable energy space. It was our first meeting and the group was eager to jump into questions. Peter shared with us a vision that solar would eventually make up almost 100% of power generation in the future. Pairing solar deployments with storage would be crucial to reaching this goal.
Stem: Stem is a leader in software technology for battery storage technology. The conversation felt even more relevant after Peter Gajdos had enthusiastically endorsed the storage sector. Stem should benefit positively from cheaper inputs as plans for battery ‘gigafactories’ are being announced globally. The group was highly engaged as we were eager to dig into the details around storage. We learned that Stem partners with Generate Capital to facilitate much of its financing needs to deliver an Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solution, compatible with the billing model customers are used to for energy needs.
Generate Capital: With that introduction, we were off to Generate. Generate is a cleantech financing company. Its unique structure allows the firm to raise permanent capital with the goal of investing in long-term infrastructure assets. The company shared with us its vision on the ‘resource revolution’ or more effectively using the planet’s resources. We discussed the details on the IaaS model that Stem had described earlier, with Generate effectively serving as a balance sheet for distributed energy resources. The company is also expanding into other sectors including waste management. You may have heard the company’s co-founder Jigar Shah on the Green-Tech Media podcast (plug: download the GTM podcast if you aren’t already a subscriber).
Obvious Ventures: It was getting later in the day and we were pleasantly surprised that Obvious welcomed us to their office with an assortment of local IPAs and a cheese plate. Obvious Ventures is a venture firm looking at earlier stage companies across the energy, health, and food spaces. The conversation began by discussing a recent investment in Lilium, an electric air taxi company. This was a great case study into the kinds of companies that Obvious looks to invest in. Joe stressed the importance of finding companies that are “game changers” and are delivering a 10x value improvement to the customer.
Bidgely: We had the pleasure of hosting Bidgely at the Wharton San Francisco campus. Bidgely is at the forefront of big data. The company aims to improve energy efficiency through engagement with the consumer. They have a best-in-class platform that itemizes home energy usage data to the appliance level without using any plug level monitors. We had a robust discussion with the VP of Marketing. It was the last meeting of a very productive and insightful day. We were off to celebrate by hosting a happy hour for cleantech enthusiasts in the Bay Area.
Sunrun: The next day started with a visit to the Sunrun offices. Wharton alum, Brian Korgaonkar, welcomed us with coffee and breakfast burritos (much to our delight). Sunrun is one of the leading residential solar installers. Brian had prepared a slide deck that discussed the business model of Sunrun as well as industry trends. The coffee must have been extra strong as Brian fielded question after question. Sunrun is at an exciting inflection point as the company is pairing storage solutions with their flag ship solar product.
Google: Most people do not think of Google when designing a cleantech trek. Google however matches 100% of its power needs with clean energy, and has become one of the leaders and experts on the buy-side of clean energy. We met with Wharton alums Amanda Peterson Corio and Marsden Hanna. Google’s energy appetite seems to be limitless as the company continues to build out new data centers. Globally data centers account for almost 2% of energy demand. In fact, Google uses as much energy as the city of San Francisco.
NextEra Energy Resources: NextEra is the world’s largest operator of wind and solar energy, having invested more than $20 billion in renewables. The conversation was very lively and covered everything from the company’s near-term strategy to longer term secular trends likely to impact the sector. It was clear to us that NextEra took pride in being the largest renewable energy operator. The company stressed the importance of being disciplined and not extending out on the risk curve.
Tesla: Last stop on the trek – Tesla. The group jumped into Ubers and raced down the 101 to Fremont. The visit started with our very own factory tour – we buckled our seat belts as a Tesla employee drove us around the facility highlighting different aspects of the facility. We were in awe of the automation and technology inside the factory. Immediately following the tour, we met with several former Wharton alums who discussed everything from the supercharger network strategy to the synergies from the Solar City – Tesla merger. Not a bad way to conclude the Wharton Cleantech Trek.