While utilities have long been seen as the most fickle and conservative of organisations in their approach to corporate venturing, further upstream in the exploration and production chain the energy companies have been bolder. Though beholden to similar regulatory constraints and government oversight, a longterm outlook, strong cashflows and history of risk-taking and working in joint ventures and syndicates to exploit wells have given them greater potential understanding and interest in the use of technology to improve existing procedures and potential game-changing new sources of energy. The risks remain constant, as about 100 years ago the US broke up the Standard Oil Trust and the Gulf coast discovered oil. Royal Dutch Shell remains unique in the success of its incubation programme, GameChanger, while Chevron, Global Corporate Venturing’s most influential in-house venture capital division, has celebrated more than a decade of consistent, top-level support and an enviable track record of backing innovative technologies. Chevron, BP, Total and ExxonMobil have all invested heavily in alternative energies and in probably no other sector would a list of the top 20 most interesting and potentially disruptive technologies have had so many corporate sponsors. This, however, is in part due to the challenges of building nascent energy production and support businesses without incumbent approval, investment and partnership. Venture capital firms have struggled to find suitable investments in clean-tech and relied heavily on government loans. US President Barack Obama might be called by some news providers "America’s venture capitalist-in-chief" and the US Department of Energy a $90bn venture capital fund, but it is a trend seen round the world, with state support underpinning renewable energy and clean-tech industries in China, India, Singapore, Germany and Spain. One industry executive said the only difference between a clean-tech conference and one for the oil industry was the former was attended by lawyers trying to work out how to fill in the state’s forms and the latter filled by engineers incredulous that any of the renewables would actually work well enough to replace fossil fuels and meet the long-term rise in energy demands. Corporate venturing, therefore, prepares for an eventual breakthrough in 10 to 40 years while meeting short-term challenges in fuel supply and production with an ageing, shrinking workforce. Clean-tech more broadly is global and while climate change has fallen down the political scale of importance in the past few years there still remains impressive commitment by a host of large companies to change. Leaders, such as Dow Chemical,…
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Energy venturing powers clean‑tech revolution
Oct 4, 2010 • James Mawson
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