Saturday, January 19, 2013

More Disruption in the Green Tech Marketplace

There is more turmoil in the green technology marketplace.

In October, Shai Agassi left his post as CEO of Better Place, GmbH, the firm announced another change. Evan Thornley, who replaced Agassi as CEO.  Thornley previously served as Chief Executive of Better Place Australia, is now himself out of that position after only three months. .

Better Place is an electric vehicle infrastructure company focused on providing a rapid battery replacement system to support wider adoption of electric vehicles (EV).  Better Place's patented inventions seek make the installation and management of EV batteries easier to eliminate long charging times and support longer driving distances through a network of battery swapping locations.  Better Place's rapid battery swapping approach may have the potential to overcome some of the issues impacting the expansion of the market for electric vehicles.  The battery swapping approach might make electric vehicles more acceptable for taxi and livery uses as well.

Better Place is one of the Young Guns firms that received patents under the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program. Young Guns are new and emerging entrepreneurial firms that bring new business models, new products, and new ideas to market. On the innovation, invention, and intellectual property front, Young Guns are the firms to watch because these are likely to be the engines of new economic growth and new markets.

Israel’s Globes reports that differences regarding the company’s future, “especially over plans to reduce activity in global markets and focus on its core markets of Israel and Denmark” between Thornley and company Chairman Idan Ofer were behind the departure. Better Place reportedly has $490 million in losses since it was founded in 2007. The firm has already laid off 140 people with another 150-200 person layoff in the works.

The worldwide cleantech industry as a whole has been undergoing significant growing pains over the past several years, between numerous high profile bankruptcies or significantly depressed sale of the business and/or its assets:

Solyndra  (Solar - Bankruptcy and liquidation)
A123 Systems (Batteries - Bankruptcy and pending sale to a Chinese company)
Twin Creeks Technologies, Inc. (Solar - Bargain basement sale of assets to GT Advanced Technologies)
Sunpower (Solar- Reorganization and downsizing)
International Battery (Batteries - abruptly closed operations in March 2012 citing an inability to turn a profit)

Sales of emerging green tech companies and their intellectual property assets to foreign interest has raised  national security questions like the sales of A123 Systems (sale pending to the Chinese) and MiaSole (sale of the thin film solar products company to the Chinese).  This list only scratches the surface of the changes taking place in the nascent clean tech marketplace.

Some prognosticators view this as the pending demise of clean technology business.  Others view it as part of the inherent nature of capitalism according to the principles of “creative destruction” put forward by economist and political scientist  Joseph Schumpeter's discussion  in his book, "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy",

"Capitalism, then, is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. And this evolutionary character of the capitalist process is not merely due to the fact that economic life goes on in a social and natural environment which changes and by its change alters the data of economic action; this fact is important and these changes (wars, revolutions and so on) often condition industrial change, but they are not its prime movers. … The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates. … The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U. S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation — if I may use that biological term — that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in."
From: Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy; Chapter VII, The Process of Creative Destruction. New York: Harper and Brothers, third edition, 1950

Time will tell.