Cleantech, Jobs and Silicon Valley

Cleantech, Jobs and Silicon Valley

One of the things I learned last week was that an event that combines cleantech, jobs and great food—along with effective advertising—can deliver an excellent turnout.

Indeed that formula worked at the recent Cleantech Outlook:Growing Green Jobs panel. The event, moderated by Rex Northen, executive director of Cleantech Open, was co-sponsored by the Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, Applied Materials, and PayPal, which hosted the venue.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 215 attendees heard topics ranging from utility-scale solar generation and battery energy storage for vehicles, to energy-saving electrochromic windows, efficient solid-state lighting, and low carbon green cement for buildings, and of course… jobs.

With a backdrop of the economic recession, unemployment as a centerpiece in the recent elections, and unprecedented U.S. federal stimulus focused on energy-related projects, attention is being squarely placed on “clean technology” as a key to the country’s future prosperity. Supporting this premise, the Clean Tech Jobs Trends report references two separate studies that found money invested in clean energy creates two to four jobs for every single job created if the money were spent on fossil fuel industries.

As a panelist alongside Arnnon Geshuri (VP HR, Tesla), Michael Peterson (CEO, Solargen Energy), and Todd Lukesh (Manager of Sustainability, Webcor Builders), it was fascinating to hear how cleantech can play a powerful role in the country’s economic recovery.

Some highlights from the discussion:

Silicon Valley cleantech jobs

There wasn’t any argument that Silicon Valley continues to be where innovation happens, this time not just in the IT domain (eg, smart grid) but in the hard sciences as well (eg, for biofuels, photovoltaics, energy storage). A question about whether Silicon Valley will ever be able to also support manufacturing was addressed by two examples: Tesla’s electric vehicle production plant in Fremont and chip manufacturers’ producing high-brightness LEDs here in the Valley as well.  In both cases, high value, proprietary product content and technical expertise help keep manufacturing from moving overseas.

Government role in cleantech

The panel agreed that governments around the world play a critical role in encouraging and accelerating the development of clean energy technologies and industries through mandates, regulations and incentives. You’ll find plenty of entries in this blog and elsewhere on the continued need for renewable portfolio standards, aggressive fuel efficiency targets, carbon-related legislation, EV incentives, and R&D funding programs.  More than one panelist also commented on the flip side of government involvement: learning to work more efficiently with the U.S. government, be it in the case of funded R&D programs or regulatory approval processes for projects on public land.

Transitioning into the cleantech industry

The panel noted that there are opportunities out there for people with general as well as specific skill sets. As an example, Applied Materials is planning to hire excellent candidates for a number of energy-related positions.  Tesla’s Arnnon noted that they are seeking to hire at their new Fremont factory and continue growing at its HQ.

For those looking to transition into cleantech, there are multiple strategies and paths. My own story is four years ago I moved into the cleantech industry after working in the optical networking and semiconductor areas.  Because I wanted to get back to my roots in materials science, I accepted an opportunity to join a startup that was developing nanomaterials for LEDs, batteries, solar, and printed electronics.  In landing that first cleantech job, it helped that I knew several key people at the startup from previous interactions. (Hint: keep networking!)  From there I accepted a great opportunity to join Applied Materials as a business developer, working on alternative energy applications.  As I mentioned to the audience, it’s great to work in cleantech because there is that extra layer of meaning, contributing to much needed solutions.

For those of you who have also transitioned into cleantech, what is your story?  What trends do you see for Silicon Valley and cleantech in general?

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