For years, entrepreneurs who want to help solve the climate crisis through clean energy have sought funding from two main sources: venture capitalists and the government.
Now, a $7.8 million cash infusion from the Department of Energy is taking a baby step to solve that problem, by exploring new routes to connect startups to sources of wealth that usually stand on the sidelines, like pension funds, insurance companies and philanthropic foundations.
“We saw a need to look at some of these underlying structural challenges that keep energy projects from moving along,” said Johanna Wolfson, the technology-to-market director at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
The search for awardees got underway last October while Obama was still in office and survived the vetting process for energy projects that was installed by Trump’s DOE. Obama tried many avenues to grow clean energy at DOE through steady funding of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and EERE, while also exploring ways to commercialize energy technology through the national laboratories.
Another project seeks to use artificial intelligence and neural networks to automate one of the most
difficult and unpredictable parts of fundraising: connecting the right entrepreneur with the right
benefactor. “I’m constantly on a plane, doing all these kinds of events and meeting people,” said
Joel Moxley, the founder of Rho AI, and a serial entrepreneur whose work overlaps both energy and
artificial intelligence. “I started to think about how could we do this more efficiently.” These sort of
meetings happen organically in a place like Silicon Valley, where the who’s who of computer
technology reside. But energy technology has no such hub. Rho AI will, in Moxley’s description, use
its DOE funds to stand up a massive data edifice composed of many sources that emulates the
socially connected brain of an experienced energy entrepreneur or venture capitalist.
Another project, ADL Ventures out of the San Francisco Bay Area, will introduce energy startups to medium-size, or mid-cap, companies, which make up an enormous chunk of America’s gross domestic product but individually don’t have the resources of larger companies to work with energy innovators.
Two professors at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio will invent new financial models that could make clean energy a more sensible investment for monied interests that rarely buy into clean energy, such as insurance companies, philanthropic foundations and pension funds.