Pros and Cons to Being Into Alternative Energy

This past week I’ve been working with a couple of alternative/renewable energy companies here in NYC.  Both are at the top of their games, with great expertise and major players in NYC and the industry.

One is growing like crazy and the other is struggling.

And while both are on the leading edge of what they do, they are challenged by much of the same challenges most entrepreneurs face.

Except it is more difficult for them.

Why?  Because most alternative energy companies follow a new model of doing business:  the Triple-Bottom-Line.

And it’s hard enough focusing on just one bottom line (profits), it becomes exponentially more difficult when you incorporate the two (people and planet).

Even in one of the fastest growing industries on the planet right now.


Pros to the Alternative/Renewable Energy Industry

  1. Wild West– the industry is in its infancy.  And in very high demand.  Special and renewable sources of energy are being explored and integrated together:  geothermal, solar, wind, water currents, biomass and bio char, just to name a few.
  2. Gotta Happen– we all know that oil and gas are driving our energy needs today, but that is rapidly changing… and must change.  Reliance on oil will not get better nor go away.
  3. Innovations—just in the past few weeks I’ve seen some pretty astounding R&D in the space:  from solar paint (think paint on houses and cars that collect energy) to efficient bright lighting that lasts DECADES.
  4. Mainstream— we all know alternative energy is important and most of us understand we must go in this direction.  There is less and less converting people’s way of thinking on this.
  5. Support—at the government, corporate and community level have become paramount.  New Jersey, for example, has one of the best solar government incentives in the country.  Corporations are just now experiencing how much money they can save all while improving community relations.
  6. Supply— oil is increasingly unreliable as a source of energy, both in the Middle East as well as at home.  Meanwhile natural gas is under attack from anti-fracking organizations that worry about polluting our water resources.


Cons to the Alternative/Renewable Energy Industry

  1. Wild West– many different companies are going at the renewable energy sector in different and sometimes competing ways.  This creates market confusion and mistrust as to which technologies/companies to back.
  2. Status Quo– dealing with the “establishment”.  Some of the world’s wealthiest companies are against moving from oil and gas.  These companies have powerful lobbies and organizations to help their cause.
  3. Multiple Sources– unlike fossil fuel, renewable energy will come from many sources.  Solar alone, for example, will not solve our need for energy.  But combined with wind, water current, geo, etc., it is more likely to.
  4. Difficulty— energy consumption of any kind is complicated enough.  Just add issues like carbon emissions, regulatory issues, supply-chain processes, etc.  Best solutions are no longer obvious.
  5. Scalability— how much energy can be generated from renewable vs. fossil?  What would the ROI be on investing in R&D to find out the answers to this?
  6. Adaptability— we’re all used to our lifestyles:  our cars, houses, lighting, heating and motor fuels. Asking the mainstream to change even a little is a challenge.


How to Be a Successful Alternative Energy Entrepreneur:

The most successful companies in renewable energy that I’ve seen and/or worked with all have a very clear vision.  They know how their company and its technology fits in the industry, and how they are unique and competitive with all the others.

Successful companies also get super specific on exactly what you do in the industry.  For example, if you’re an “alternative energy consultant” that means almost nothing to the average person.  If you are an expert that integrates geothermal with solar installations, that means something to many.  The more specific and specialized, the better.

Remember it’s one thing to come up with a super-cool gadget or service, it is completely another to get people to buy it.  Especially when you take into account the best interests of your communities, employees, customers and the environment.

These companies also know how to Be UnReasonable.  “Reason” comes from the mind, “unreason” (passion) comes from your heart/intuition.  Successful companies are clear on where they want to take the business and then create a serious stretch goal to achieve it.

And lastly, highly successful entrepreneurs of alternative energy companies are relentless.  They all get knocked on their butts… a lot.  They get back up.  Try again and again.  They are following their “unReason” (passion), which keeps them going.

And many create a mantra:  “Failure is not an option.”

The key difference between the two companies I’ve been working with is the one that is highly successful has found the answers to these points of success.

And the other is still in the process of figuring it out for them.

Action Steps for the Week:

As an entrepreneur of an alternative (renewable) energy company, what are you most committed to?

For example, are you committed to just making a lot of money or trying to be the best at all areas of the industry?  Or are you committed to switching people from fossil to renewable fuels?

Next, build a powerful vision.  A vision is something never meant to be achieved.  Microsoft’s used to be, “A computer on every desk.”  They changed this when they got close to achieving it.  Use this vision to inspire your team, customers, vendors, etc.

Then, own your specialty.  Take a small piece this wild-west industry and make yourself the best at it.  And unique.

Next, create an UnReasonable goal.  Make sure it includes your passion and it is a serious stretch for you and your company.  Don’t forget to make it specific and measurable.

Lastly, build your team and game plan.  Give yourself a short leash from which to work from.  Keep the energy, excitement and urgency in it.

And most importantly, have a blast!