Mar 22, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Greentown Labs CEO on climate tech's next steps

illustration of Kevin Knobloch of Greentown Labs surrounded by squares and pictures of trees

Greentown CEO Kevin Knobloch. Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios; Photo: Courtesy of Greentown Labs

HOUSTON — While fossil fuel executives get the biggest spotlight, startups are increasingly all over CERAWeek.

Why it matters: It signals climate technology's growth and intersection with legacy industries, something apparent when startup incubator Greentown Labs chose Houston as its second location in 2020.

  • Axios chatted with Kevin Knobloch, who became Greentown CEO last September, on CERAWeek's sidelines.

The intrigue: Asked what's a below-radar topic, Knobloch said startups will help meet Energy Department efficiency rules issued under former President Obama for various kinds of appliances and equipment.

  • "I'd like for us to recruit more companies in that space," said Knobloch, who was DOE's chief of staff during Obama's second term.
  • Manufacturers "have to go back to the drawing board and come up with technology solutions."
  • Elsewhere, he cited the need for more progress on difficult-to-decarbonize sectors — and talked up several Greentown Houston companies like Hertha Metals and Elemental Advanced Material.

The big picture: "It's a challenging time to be a startup in any sector, but certainly in the climate tech, clean energy sector ... because of high interest rates," he said.

  • "Even if the Fed starts to moderate, it's going to take a long time to come back down. So the cost of debt financing is high."

What we're watching: The 2022 climate law provides a "direct pay" option for clean energy tax credits, which means companies that lack tax liability can still tap incentives.

  • "As they get closer to graduating from the incubator stage, and/or if they partner with a corporate partner ... I do see them being able to step up and take advantage of those," Knobloch says.
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