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Expert voices: Making an impact

Apr 13, 2023
Photo illustration of Carmichael Roberts with electric power lines and Breakthrough Energy Ventures' logo.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: courtesy of Breakthrough Energy Ventures

Of all the climate tech topics Carmichael Roberts is focused on at the moment, one stands out: the grid.

Why he matters: Roberts is co-founder and managing partner of Boston-based venture firm Material Impact and a member of the investment committee at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the venture arm of the Bill Gates-founded climate group.

This interview was lightly edited for length.

What, in your view, was the big story in climate tech this week?

  • We’ve seen more and more articles on the impact the grid plays in ensuring a clean energy transition in the U.S. This week it seems like we really reached a high point, and the issue is starting to resonate with mainstream audiences.
  • Improving the grid is the key to unlocking the historic investments the government has made over the last three years.

What would you add to the narrative?

  • Innovation can play a big role. There are great startup companies out there that could play an important part in improving transmission.
  • But don’t forget about the impact of policy: Our team at Breakthrough Energy, in partnership with BCG and Third Way, published a series of reports Thursday about the impact recent U.S. policies are having on technologies and U.S. competitiveness.

By contrast, what's going under-noticed?

  • Over 1,000 GW of potential clean energy projects are waiting for approval — about the current size of the entire U.S. grid. The primary reason for the bottleneck is the lack of transmission.

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

  • Help beyond the money/investment.

Three fun things:

💼 First job: Working in a local hardware store — sweeping floors, stocking shelves and servicing customers.

👑 Proudest investment: All 160+ investments I’ve made through Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Material Impact. Couldn’t pick just one.

🤦 Facepalm investment: I once invested in a NASCAR driver. The investment didn’t pan out the way I hoped, but on the bright side I discovered my love of racing.

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