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Expert Voices: John Tough of Energize Ventures

Alan Neuhauser
Sep 29, 2022
Photo Illustration of John Tough, CEO of Energize Ventures

Photo Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: courtesy of Energize Ventures

This week we're talking with John Tough, managing partner of Energize Ventures, a Chicago-based VC that focuses on early- and growth-stage companies in climate tech.

Why he matters: Energize had a big week, announcing lead investments in Sitetracker, which has developed management software for critical infrastructure, and Sinai Technologies, a San Francisco-based decarbonization software provider focused on industry.

  • Before launching Energize, Tough also spent time in startup-land, as one of the first employees at Choose Energy, a website that allowed users to compare electricity costs.

What in your view has been the big story in clean energy/climate tech this week?

  • The Energy Independence & Security Act initially included parameters to rapidly expand transmission lines and renewables-related interconnection requests in the United States.
  • It now appears that the transmission portion of the bill is off the table, likely impacting both the timelines and unit economics for large-scale renewables projects.

What would you add to the narrative?

  • The best renewables firms were already charging forward and not relying on government funding. Renewables developers are taking lessons from the construction technology landscape and adopting digital solutions that help manage the deployment of increasingly distributed assets.
  • Critical-infrastructure-focused software can help deliver and manage the increasing scale, interconnection needs and network management of solar and wind projects.

By contrast, what's going under-noticed?

  • An overabundance of decarbonization tools focus on serving the technology landscape, while ironically, asset-heavy and emerging market emitters — where the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions reside — lack access to effective reduction strategies.

In three-ish words, what change would you make to clean energy/climate-tech investing?

  • Cost of capital matters: Renewables and sustainability-focused capital projects have historically been hurt by rising interest rates that are passed through in project finance mechanisms.
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