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Episode 4 - From Dotcom Bust to Clean Energy Visionary

Episode 4 January 8, 2020

Show Notes:

In this episode: how a forward-looking energy expert saw the macrotrends in cleantech before most utilities, oil companies and investors — and then convinced them it would transform their business.
Michael Liebreich is the founder and former CEO of New Energy Finance, a research and analysis firm that was acquired by Bloomberg in 2009. It’s become one of the premier organizations focused on clean energy investment and deployment trends.

 

Michael is one of the savviest and most vocal energy experts out there. His talks, articles and twitter threads are closely watched in industry circles. He has a knack for explaining things clearly and provocatively.

 

And as it turns out, he has a pretty wild story. We’re going to hear about how he went from McKinsey cheese consultant to olympic skier to a debt-laden founder who lost almost everything in the first internet bubble.
“You’re not expecting 10 years out of Harvard Business School…you’re unemployed and you’re unemployable. Your Rolodex is gone, because everybody that you know has also lost their job,” reflects Michael.

 

In spite of his dotcom bust, Michael later created a highly-influential research company focused on wind, solar, biofuels, hydrogen and other cutting-edge energy sectors. It made him an early visionary on the global energy transition.

 

“I saw all of these problems in the fossil and in the incumbent energy system, and I had had enough exposure to technology and venture capital to understand that there were alternatives. And I had the very great fortune in my pre-business school career of being forced to calculate experience curves,” he explains.

 

“And I decided ‘I’m just going to follow my gut. There’s something big here.’ And I started with another unemployed friend. We started New Energy Finance just started collecting data about energy.”

 

We’ll talk with Michael about the ups and downs of his entrepreneurial career. And we’ll examine the economic and technology trends that convinced him of the transformative impact of clean energy.

 

Resources:

Transcript:

Devren:
When people look to the rise of clean energy, they often compare experience curves and solar or batteries to say semi-conductors or telecom, but there’s something else we can look to: cheese.

Brad:
Wait, hold on. I’m sorry. Did you say cheese?

Devren:
Yeah, cheese.

Brad:
Okay. How exactly?

Devren:
Well, it may seem unrelated, but for Michael Liebreich, cheese turned out to be foundational to his expertise in biofuels, renewables and storage.

Michael:
They had a lot in common, which was around logistics and operations. A lot of them are very operationally intense. And even cheese, even the work I did nearly a year on the German cheese industry in Southern Germany was highly relevant because cheese is bioprocessing. You take a natural raw material, in this case milk. You try and keep it absolutely standard or at least keep the output absolutely standard irrespective of the time of year. It’s bioprocessing. It’s biofuels. It’s bio-plastics and so it was incredibly useful to spend that time. I didn’t know it at the time. I couldn’t have told you how I would use it, but you know what? It’s been quite useful.

Devren:
For Michael, it wasn’t just cheese. He was an analyst at McKinsey in the early 1990s where he became an expert in photographic paper, life insurance, perfumes, even food flavors.

Brad:
That is an impressively odd range of expertise.

Devren:
And two decades later, that eclectic background helped Michael launch one of the most influential companies in clean energy, but not without making and losing a lot of cheese first.

Brad:
So just to be clear, we’re talking about money now, right? Not actually edible cheese anymore.

Devren:
That’s right. We’re talking about making and losing a lot of money and then making a lot more.

Devren:
This is Illuminators, a show about the people and the forces transforming the business of energy. I’m Devren Hobbs. I run a product team at Uplight.

Brad:
I’m Brad Langley. I run a marketing team at Uplight.

Devren:
In this episode, we talked to Michael Liebreich, the founder and former CEO of New Energy Finance, or more commonly known as Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Now Michael’s one of the savviest and most vocal energy experts out there. His talks and articles, Twitter threads, they’re closely watched in industry circles, and he just has this knack for explaining things clearly and provocatively. And as it turns out, he has this pretty wild story. We’re going to hear how Michael went from cheese consultant to Olympic skier to debt-laden .com refugee and then he rose up to become this early visionary on the global energy transition.

Brad:
So let me guess. Do we start with cheese?

Devren:
No, actually it starts with skiing but we’ll get back to cheese. Skiing directly influenced Michael’s career as a young consultant and eventual founder of two startups. Hi, Michael. So I have to be honest. When I found out that you had been on the Olympic skiing team, I had to Google it, and I actually have a photo pulled up in my browser right now of you and this awesome yellow kind of one piece ski suit catching some air.

Michael:
Hi Devren. Yeah, thanks for bringing that up. Let me just say at this stage, that is not a one piece. It just looks like a one piece. But that’s right. I was a long time ago. I still ski. But it was a long time ago. I was on the British Olympic team, and I wasn’t too bad. I was mid placed. Some people go crazy and they say, “So you went to the Olympics. Did you win?” And I say, “Well, I was on the British Olympic team, but actually I placed midfield. It was fine. It was creditable and it was an amazing experience.”

Devren:
So Michael grew up in London, but his mother was from Czechoslovakia and his grandparents lived there. So he’d visit a lot, and that’s where he learned to ski at the age of three. And Michael is a super ambitious kid. He applied that ambition to skiing and to his studies. So when it was time for him to go to college, he followed in the footsteps of his father who was a mechanic and he studied engineering at Cambridge. He studied thermodynamics and nuclear power, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be an engineer. He was also really interested in business, which took him to Harvard where he got his MBA. And while he was there, he actually skied for the British Olympic team. After that he went to work for the mega consultancy McKinsey. But he wasn’t that excited about it. He just did it for the money and the lifestyle, and he figured out that he could work part of the year as a consultant and then jet off to skiing competitions for months at a time.

Michael:
As I left Harvard Business School, I really didn’t want to be a consultant. It’s not something I really enjoy. I am a doer. I like doing things. I don’t only like advising other people and then having to say, “Well, I did my best to persuade, but they did something stupid anyway.” And so being a consultant is not ideal. But I did want to ski. I did want to go to the Olympics. And I joined McKinsey. And you pointed to a couple of the things I worked on. I actually did insurance, I did cheese, I did photographic paper, I did food flavors and fragrances. But basically what I did was what I was told to do because I was off skiing all the time. And so I specialized in studies that nobody else wanted to do that would be finished by December if I’m honest.

Devren:
Michael didn’t realize it then, but all of those years working on seemingly random industries would be foundational to his expertise in energy years later. And the skiing on the side? That didn’t just earn him a place in the Olympics. It also opened a door to a book deal, which then led Michael into the world of startups. I’m curious how you got into entrepreneurship. Can you tell us about how you started ifyoutravel.com and what that was all about?

Michael:
I sort of fell into entrepreneurship. I mean ifyoutravel was this… It started actually… I wrote a book about skiing while I was in the Olympic season. My sister who did a bit of work for the BBC got a contract to write a ski book, and I thought, “Well, yeah, I’ll do that. Why not? That’s very interesting.” And then it was a sort of bestseller of its year, but that was ages ago. And then I got the IP back and put it online because the internet was coming along. And then we started to sell ski holidays simply because people would contact us and say, “Loved your website,” which was of course because it was like the only website there was, “And I’ve got two kids and I want this sort of ski holiday and where would you go?”

Michael:
So I started to make recommendations and then I thought, well hang on a second, this is a pain. What I’ll do is I’ll pass these emails or these contact forms on to a travel agent that I knew who booked ski holidays. And so I had the kind of the world’s first profitable online travel business and then got a bit out of hand. We started to put snow reports. We became one of the UK’s most popular websites in about 1997 I think, ’97, ’98. And it just kind of happened. And then I thought, okay, I can’t be doing this. It’s eating my time. I’ll bring in a management team. But I’ll have to raise money. And so I went through and that’s what I did. So I sort of fell into… Complete Skier became ifyouski. I raised money from Bernard Arnault, group Arnault. And then of course you can’t stop. Once you’ve raised money, you have responsibilities to fiduciary duties. So you better be an entrepreneur at that point and a good one.

Devren:
So in 2001 when the .com bubble burst, a lot of companies imploded overnight and a lot of money was lost. What happened to you?

Michael:
Oh, so 2001, what happened was I raised money from Group Arnault and I brought in a professional team to run ifyoutravel. So we’d grown from ifyouski. We did ifyoudive, ifyougolf, ifyouexplore and all sorts. Monsieur Arnault wanted, he was building a team to manage his tech investments. So actually I joined Group Arnault and I lived through that whole .com boom bust period. At one point, I’m going to tell you, I haven’t told this story to very many people, at one point I was worth $30 million on paper and I didn’t believe any of that. I knew from the experience with ifyoutravel that it was very difficult to actually make money to sell things online, particularly complicated things like dive trips or ski holidays. This is not just car rental. This is hard.

Michael:
If I’m completely honest, I probably thought that 90% of that paper value was nonsense and that I would maybe be able to kind of land 10% of it, $3 million. And in the end when the .com bubble burst, I got 1% of it out. I ended up with. $300,000 unemployed. I actually fired myself because I was running at that point Group Arnault’s London office. Arnault didn’t want to make any further investments. You can’t be a venture capitalist with no capital. So I said, “Look, we need to shut this down.” And I fired the team that I had built, and the last person out the door was me and ended up unemployed and unemployable with about $300,000 to my name, which is not nothing, but it’s not generally regarded as much of a stash if you want to go off and start your next business and invest in it.

Michael:
And I ended up realizing that I was carrying scar tissue. I lost a lot of self confidence. You’re not expected 10 years out of Harvard Business School having a brilliant degree and thermodynamics prize and McKinsey and all these things, and you’re unemployed and you’re unemployable. Your Rolodex is gone because everybody that you know has also lost their job. And even though the businesses that I had worked on actually turn out to be quite good, ifyoutravel, ifyouski still exists. You can look it up, www.ifyouski.com, and book a holiday, right? I won’t benefit and neither will Arnault and so on. But I lost a lot of self-confidence and I went back in that period to think about what could I do? Where would I apply my skills? I still believe that I was a capable person. And I was watching my little stash go down every month. I was spending money. I was traveling and having extensively a good time, but very anxious. And I just started to think more and more about energy.

Brad:
Wow. So he lost tens of millions of dollars. That had to hurt. What eventually gave him the confidence in to start a new company and why energy at this point? It wasn’t really playing a big role in his life. So why all of a sudden an energy company?

Devren:
Yeah. I don’t think it happened all the sudden. It built up over the years. It was around 2003 when things really started clicking. He was ready for the next move and there were a bunch of different threads on energy that he started pulling together. So when did you start noticing clean energy trends? What made you start connecting the dots on a trend that it seemed like only a few people were noticing in the early 2000s?

Michael:
So there wasn’t a single thing. It wasn’t just one aha moment, but there were a lot of signposts that I was spotting that I think other people weren’t. I know now other people weren’t spotting. So obviously we had 2003. We had the Second Gulf War. You had the IPCC. I think it was the third big report by the IPCC. So you had already this sort of climate. I was naturally skeptical about climate change. But I had time to read that report and actually managed to worry myself about climate change with my scientist hat on. I also went down to Bolivia climbing. I climbed some very nice mountains down there, and there had just been a firefight between I believe the police and the army in Bolivia, but there’d been some unrest, and it had gotten very, very heated. And the topic of it, the dividing line was whether Bolivia should sell its gas to North America, to the US to the damn Yankee.

Michael:
And that’s an energy conflict. So we’ve got the Second Gulf War going on in the Gulf. You’ve got this conflict in Bolivia. I went back through Brazil, and there were power cuts in Brazil because the Brazilian economy was outgrowing its energy supply. And while I was there, astonishingly there was a power cut in the US because of its aging infrastructure. It was the one that went through New England, and there was another one in Europe because of its aging infrastructure. And so there were these signposts and there was of course the issue of depletion. Do you remember? Those are the days people talked about peak oil. As a climber and a skier, I knew that I could see pollution because when you go up on a mountain, you look down, you see the yellow kind of layer of smog. So I knew that.

Michael:
And I guess I saw all of these problems in the incumbent energy system. And I had had enough exposure to technology and venture capital to understand that there were alternatives and wind, solar, fuel cells. There was a hydrogen economy people talked about. And so I could see these other technologies and they seemed very interesting. And I had the very great fortune in my pre-business school career of being forced to calculate experience curves. And I’ve calculated at that time. I did crazy experience cars like trucks and stone quarrying because everything has an experience curve. And so when I looked at solar and I looked at wind tunnel, I said, “Well hang on a second. Conventional energy, all these problems going to get worse and worse. Depletion, tougher and tougher geopolitics, tougher and tougher and so on.”

Michael:
And then you look at these new technologies and you think there’s no reason why they shouldn’t just get cheaper and cheaper forever. And at some point they’ll cross over. And with that insight was born New Energy Finance. And I committed my time and my energies not to getting a job and trying to repair my trashed curriculum vitae, my resume, which had these big gaps in it now, and I decided, no, I’m just going to follow my gut. There’s something big here. And I started with another unemployed friend. We started New Energy Finance, just started collecting data about energy.

Devren:
Did you have doubts about becoming an entrepreneur again? Did that feel like a risky move given what had just happened with if you travel?

Michael:
It was risky but I didn’t have any choices. There’s a lovely scene. There’s a film and a book called Touching the Void where these two climbers, one of them falls, gets injured, his friend tries to rescue him and can’t and then cuts the rope and he ends up in a crevasse. And what he does in this crevasse, because he can’t climb out with a broken leg, he lowers himself down further and he hits the bottom and he can walk, he can pull himself along and he can crawl out. And of course he survives to tell the story and sell the film rights. And I just feel like that’s what I did. I didn’t have choices in my career and I lowered myself even further into the abyss by starting a company. Completely mad.

Devren:
And so with not much to lose, Michael started a new venture and it was devoted to cataloging deals, projects, and market trends in emerging sectors like wind and fuel cells, energy efficiency and biofuels. Now, these sectors today add up to well over 300 billion in yearly global investment. But back in 2004 it was a fraction of that, and few people were taking the space seriously. So you started New Energy Finance. How did you get it off the ground? What were those early years like?

Michael:
I pulled the trigger in 2004 in April. My co-founder, Bozkurt Aydinoglu, who’s still in this sector, he’s went back to the investment side, but he and I were very intrigued by stories of the hydrogen economy, and we spend a lot of time trying to get our heads around it and building data sets of deals. So the initial beginning was just finding deals and putting them in a spreadsheet and then getting frustrated because the same investor might invest in two companies, but the same company might have two investors. And so you need a relational database. And we built up these data sets and eventually I got frustrated. I tried to learn Access. Access is impossible. I went online to a website called Rent a coder, and I secured the services of a guy in Poland I’d never met to build a relational database.

Michael:
And we worked on its structuring, and we created a structure for all of these hydrogen and fuel cell deals. And we were going to raise a fund to invest. Bozkurt wanted to raise a fund particularly. I was a bit more ambivalent between a fund or an information business. And we showed this data set to a few people and they started to say, “Well, I don’t know about investing in you guys. Where’s your track record?” which Boz had but I didn’t. But actually where did you get that data from? And so that was a signpost to me. But very quickly in June, 2004 I went to something called the Renewable Energy Finance Forum, and I listened with rapt attention to what was going on on Wall Street. And I noticed something very, very important. The wind project lawyers were the only people wearing decent suits.

Michael:
So I went back to London and I said, “Boz, we’ve got to get into wind and there’s solar and there’s this thing called bio mass. And I don’t know if it’s different from biofuels, but I think we should look at that as well. “And very quickly we morphed it and we became all singing, all dancing across clean energy. Literally I was paying 10 pounds a day in cash to interns to create these data sets. And then we said, “Oh, we’re going to do these other sectors as well.” And I was paying for this out of my $300,000 stash, which was gone and I borrowed money from my brother-in-law. Boz put some money in. We were living hand-to-mouth and we had almost no revenue. Our revenues in 2004, our revenues were about 2000 pounds, 2000 or 3000 pounds. The revenues in 2005 was about 175,000 which was of course a massive improvement, but not when you’re running a staff of 15 or 18 by the end of the year, even if most of them are interns.

Michael:
So early 2006 we had to raise money. We closed the financing on the 17th of January, 2006 not that I remember the day, but I do because payroll was the 26th of January and I had maxed out the credit cards and would not have been able to make payroll. 2006 was difficult. We did about a million pounds of sales in 2006, and then by 2007 when we did I think it was 3 million, it was already clear and these are pounds. So that’s already a very rapid growth rate and it was clear we were going to be fine and we were building something of quite considerable value.

Devren:
And you built it by hiring a coder from rent-acoder.com and gathering a team of interns who were working in your living room. So in a lot of ways you’re projecting to the world this brand of a really refined operation and not giving a peak about what’s going on behind the curtain. How did you do that?

Michael:
That’s right, Devren. Absolutely. That was one of the things that I was most kind of assiduous about managing. I always wore a suit. They never saw me not in a suit because you’ve got to have a certain brand and self-confidence and you’ve got to go out and talk to your potential clients. I wanted to become the McKinsey of clean energy data or the Bloomberg of clean energy data. And I was in competition for headspace for insight and so on with Goldman Sachs cell site analysts. So we had to have no spelling mistakes. We have to have a consistent brand, a consistent font on all our documents. And I had to look, not like somebody running a startup in a disused chocolate factory or his front room or whatever. I had to look like somebody that could turn up to present McKinsey quality material.

Michael:
So what I did was I cozied up to the UN Environment Program Finance Initiative. We wrote a report for them, which we still write. Bloomberg New Energy Finance still writes to this day. And I forced my way into the World Economic Forum. And then we did some work. We produced some reports at pro bono for them to associate the brand because what we wanted is when the analyst or when the associate or the manager at a private equity company goes to their boss and say, “I need to subscribe to New Energy Finance. And it’s going to cost a $75,000 a year” and their boss, the vice president of whatever the managing director says, “What? How come? Who are these people?” I needed that analyst or associate or junior person to be able to say, “Oh, this is the guy that works with the UN and with the World Economic Forum and who was jousting with the guys from McKinsey over the carbon abatement curve.” You need to get to the point where nobody gets fired for subscribing to your service.

Devren:
And the reaction from the rest of the industry. I know initially, at least from the financing side, there was pushback and skepticism. How did you get them to listen? When did they change their minds?

Michael:
When I started New Energy Finance, I got the same reaction from my peers, my business school peers, other people, friends as I had had when I left Cambridge and was the only person who didn’t take a job. They thought I’d thrown away my career completely on alternative energy, and they were rather sort of sympathetic with what was obviously a crisis I was going through some sort. And that was 2003 as I talked about in for when I founded it. 2005 they ware sort of intrigued. As I say, 2006 now all of the investment banks were starting up research groups. 2007 the whole thing was going crazy and by that time, of course I was looking like the smart guy in the room and not the stupid guy in the room. The funny thing is that I’ve worked in this area, and I’ve been perceived as somebody who has helped. I’m sometimes called an an activist, a clean energy activist.

Michael:
I’m not an activist. I’m an analyst. I’m an information provider. But had I wanted to be an activist, had I said my mission in life is to try to accelerate the shift to clean energy and transportation, what is the best thing that I could do with my skillset? Having done all those crazy things in my past, what could I do? I could have started an information provider based on hardcore collection of data around the world, building a team, building a data architecture, building services, newsletters, insight services, and working flat out to get that data into the hands of decision makers, politicians, investors, big corporates, tech providers, startup energy companies, you name it. I couldn’t have had more influence and I believe it’s been an influence for the better. I can’t think of any other route, anything else I could’ve done that would’ve been more influential.

Devren:
So by 2009, Michael was five years into this venture. From the outside it was looking really good. Clean energy was exploding around the world. Banks and venture investors, utilities, even oil companies, they were all buying the research coming out of New Energy Finance. But for Michael, well, he was still in debt. He owed money to banks and to family. But he knew he was on to something. The trends were clear. The company was growing. And then in December of 2009, New Energy Finance was acquired by Bloomberg. Michael’s second bet, the one that many of his peers in finance and consulting thought was crazy, it finally paid off.

Michael:
Having had my bad experience with the .com boom bust, my balance sheet personally was destroyed and it remained destroyed throughout the New Energy Finance years. So I wanted to exit, get some money out. I always knew it was going to sell and so did my team. Everybody in the team, even those early interns, if they stayed beyond about eight or 10 weeks, they got options. They all knew it was coming. I had done things like be very careful not to be too rude about other players, obviously particularly about Bloomberg, but also the others that could end up as acquirers because I knew that at some point I would sell and it would be my responsibility to make sure that I delivered the company in a good state, including its staff. So I very actively planned that sale from the beginning, literally from the beginning. The day you’ve closed the deal and the money is in the bank and you just suddenly think now the doors are opening to a different phase in my life.

Michael:
The first thing I did, by the way, I paid off my brother-in-law, I paid off American Express and I was left sort of wandering the streets going, I’ve gone from being this sort of impoverished entrepreneur with a tremendous mission to being this rather wealthy employee and just having to try and recalibrate. And also a father very recently. I didn’t have a lot of time because I was off to Copenhagen to the climate conference the next day. But I did have this kind of feeling of coming out of the rapids and into some sort of calm that I had to process.

Brad:
That had to be so vindicating, especially after there were so many people around him that questioned his choices.

Devren:
Yeah. And Michael had doubts at points too. But looking backwards, all of his contrasting career steps from engineering, cheese consulting, building a travel website, they all directly led to that success, although he might not have realized it when it was happening.

Michael:
Steve Jobs said you can only ever join the dots looking backwards. And now I know why I studied engineering was so that I could found New Energy Finance and become this kind of bizarre sort of sort of guru figure around clean energy and climate and [inaudible 00:27:09]. But I did not know that at the time. No. It’s funny, I sort of took the Cambridge thermodynamics and the cheese industry and how you run an international subscription business and knowledge as an outdoors man of what’s happening in climate and the environment and my knowledge of experience curves and micro economics. No way could anybody have pulled together those experiences and moved faster than I could at that point. That was just how I felt.

Devren:
So let’s look more broadly at the industry that you cover. If we can only connect the dots backwards, as you say, what makes you optimistic about the future of our energy system? Optimistic that we’ll be able to address climate change and that incumbents will be able to embrace change and remain competitive in this new energy world.

Michael:
So let me break that down into a few pieces. First of all, in terms of optimism, if I frame it as carbon budgets decarbonization, then I guess I’m sort of optimistic that we’ll probably come in somewhere, let’s call it two to two and a half degrees I think is doable. The Paris pledges don’t get us there, but I think we’ll easily outdo them because I think generally humans smart and we will tend to have innovation to the positive. And I think that there’s a lot of smart, good people working on it. So I’m optimistic we can. Not only I think that countries will generally meet their Paris commitments. I think we’ll go beyond that.

Michael:
In terms of looking at the industrial players and being optimistic about their ability to roll with it and to remain to be part of it, to play leading roles, in any industrial transformation, there’s a big debate to be had between incumbents versus newcomers, Amazon versus Barnes and Noble, Microsoft, IBM. It’s too glib to say that the attacker always has the advantage and these big companies never survive because it’ll be a combination. So I look at some of the big companies being remarkably light on their feet now, which does fill me with optimism.

Michael:
If you look at obviously Tesla, the poster child in automotive, will they win against the car companies? I’ll tell you, those incumbent car companies will be restructuring and merging and combining and going through a lot of pain, but they’re not all going to go out of business in favor of Tesla and NIO and Rivian and all of the new names. It’s going to be much more nuanced and we will end up with a combination of older companies and new companies. So there’s all to play for absolutely. And great example we’ve been talking about, right? The older company, Bloomberg bought the younger company, Mew Energy Finance, and it’s done just a magnificent job of custodianship, and we’ll see a lot of that as well in the energy and transportation space.

Devren:
But even today, there are skeptics about clean energy. They might not totally disregard renewables or electric cars anymore, but I bet they’re not planning for the future. So what would you say to those companies, executives, analysts who might be underestimating this shift?

Michael:
So if anybody is saying that the shift to clean energy, clean transportation is a bubble and a temporary phenomenon, they’re wrong. They’re wrong. Just look at the micro economics of whether it’s solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles. These things are taking off now of their own micro economic accord. In other words, they’re just cheaper than the alternatives. And there are lots of rate limiting factors around how do you integrate that much variable renewables into the grid or where do you charge your vehicle? But those are temporary. Those are rate limiting factors. They’re not showstoppers. We’ve seen variable renewables go from the conventional wisdom being you can’t do more than 3% to you can do 30%, 40% and it will go to you could do 60%, 70%, 80%. The last 15 or 20 gets very difficult. But we’ve got a huge runway ahead of growth in that side of things.

Michael:
On vehicle charging, I remember when there weren’t enough modems. The internet couldn’t possibly work because there weren’t enough modems and you’ve got a busy signal, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998. And that issue suddenly just went away. But it was replaced by another issue. You couldn’t possibly watch video on demand because there isn’t enough bandwidth, and they were learned people, smart people saying that there’ll never be enough bandwidth. And of course we now all watch video on demand, Netflix, et cetera, et cetera. So vehicle charging will be just the same. We’ll have endless discussions and people will say it’s a show stopper and range anxiety this and how will you charge all the cars when there’s these huge peaks and how do you deal with emergencies? We will get to the point where suddenly there’ll be chargers everywhere. The grid will have been built out a bit more. It’ll be digitally controlled, smart. And we’ll simply forget that there was this huge thing called range anxiety and people thought they were never going to be enough chargers in the world.

Michael:
Does that mean everybody who in any is involved in the sector will make money? Absolutely not. There will be many, many, many people will lose money doing clean energy and transportation and precision agriculture and all those other good things. So you’ve got to keep your discipline as an investor or as a executive, but as an investor as well and think through in a value chain. Where does the power lie? Is it in the raw materials, the fabrication? Is it in the assembly? Is it deploying the technology? Who’s going to make the money? And we already know it tends to be the software, the knowledge intensive or the people who can establish maybe not a monopoly position, but a strong position in the supply chain. Bearing all of that in mind, there are tremendous opportunities then. For those that do understand, just good business people but have good forward visibility, I think there are just tremendous, tremendous opportunities.

Devren:
You’re clearly super passionate about clean energy, but if you ever get sick of it, there’s always cheese or skiing. Right.

Michael:
Well, I’m thinking of new ways that I can combine all of my passions, climbing, skiing, cheese, renewable energy from nuclear power. I kind of have a soft spot still having studied it. I’m sure I could think of many, many other things to fold into this mythical existence that awaits me.

Devren:
Well, it’s been so great to talk to you, Michael. Incredible story. Lots of really good information you shared with us, so thank you so much for your time.

Michael:
It’s an enormous pleasure. Thank you so much.

Devren:
Michael Liebreich is the CEO of Liebreich Associates. He’s the founder and former CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Brad:
That’s a really compelling story. It makes me think of when Tendril was founded back in 2004. For those that don’t know, Tendril is the old name of our company before we became Uplight. And at the time Tendril saw a lot of different things happening in the residential energy management space that very few people did. I mean, we were very much ahead of our time, and as a result, we went through some bumps along the way. So it’s really gratifying to hear other stories of successful companies that rode that wave early.

Devren:
Agreed. And we’ve plenty more stories like that to come. In a future episode, we’re going to be speaking with Tim Healy, the co-founder of EnerNOC, and we’ll also talk with Rachel Botsman, who is an award-winning author and expert on the new era of trust for businesses.

Brad:
Illuminators is a podcast from Uplight. If you like this show, we hope that you do, please support us by subscribing and then send out the word on social media or rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. You can also find out more at uplight.com/illuminators.

Devren:
Illuminators is produced by Post Script Audio in collaboration with Uplight, Stephen Lacey and Daniel Waldorf are our producers. Our theme music is composed by Title Card Music and Sound. I’m Devren Hobbs.

Brad:
And I’m Brad Langley. This is Illuminators, a show about the people and the forces transforming the business of energy.

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