Interview with Stephanie Thornton, CEO of Clean Reach Ocean Energy Crowdfunding Platform
Last week, we covered the launch of a new crowdfunding platform, Clean Reach, which is working to advance the ocean energy industry by enabling more targeted access to funding for this clean energy movement.
Q: What do you personally see as the biggest opportunity in ocean energy? (Is it through tech innovations, education programs, new policies, investment, cross-sector collaboration, etc.)
Stephanie Thornton: There are several areas of opportunity in the ocean energy industry. One of the biggest I see is for isolated coastal communities to incorporate renewable ocean energy to reduce dependency on imported diesel or other sources of high cost electricity production.
Expanded research and job creation are critical. Increasing engagement among universities and research institutions will lead to a greater investment in ocean energy research. We need to foster young minds and inspire the future generation of ocean energy leaders. As the industry grows, so will the job market.
Paralleling the growth of ocean energy technologies will be a growth of the supply chain. These are the services and infrastructure ocean energy developers require to move their devices into the ocean. These types of services and support mechanisms include manufacturers, specialized ships, unique technical skills, ports and harbors, etc. This will lead to economic vitality and job growth, especially for coastal communities.
Public interest and support for renewable energy development is another opportunity for the industry. Growing public support will facilitate important policy changes and allow licensing of ocean energy projects in local communities.
We saw the incredible lack of early stage funding as an opportunity to break the industry mold and create a new funding paradigm. Until now, the ocean energy community hasn’t been advantageous in the ever-growing crowdfunding space. Clean Reach provides new opportunities for developers to seek funding while also gaining public interest.
Q: Is there a specific ocean energy technology that stands out to you as being a game-changer right now?
Thornton: Several tidal energy technologies are advancing quickly through the development process. Some of these technologies can be applied in streams and in oceans. That versatility has tremendous potential.
Although some people do not consider offshore wind part of the ocean energy industry, Clean Reach does. Offshore wind leverages the knowledge and lessons learned from land-based wind development. Those takeaways apply to the ocean, but key challenges for ocean development include high installation costs and licensing or permitting approvals.
Q Is there a technology in the works in another field that looks extremely promising in relation to ocean energy?
Thornton: While I’m not aware of a specific technology, there is interesting research and development underway to explore hybrid technologies. These include wave and wind device combinations, transforming abandoned oil rigs to ocean energy platforms, and integrating solar into ocean energy devices.
Q: Which countries are leading the advances in ocean energy, and why?
- Scotland has government leadership, strong funding investment and well established supply chain evolved from the oil and gas sector.
- Countries in Western Europe – France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Ireland – have excellent ocean energy resources and evolving supportive policies, including renewable energy mandates. There is also growing support through European Union and specific country governments.
- Norway is able to leverage their oil and gas expertise to renewable ocean energy development. They also have progressive innovators, excellent ocean energy resources and established supply chain/infrastructure.
- Australia has excellent resources and an innovative culture
- Japan wants to advance quickly as a result of Fukishima
Q: What are the biggest challenges for getting more ocean energy projects actually installed and operating in the field?
Thornton: There are myriad of challenges in the ocean energy sector, including government policies, regulatory requirements, public understanding, support and funding.
When it comes to support and funding, technology developers generally lack the breadth of knowledge and experience required to simultaneously build an international business, move a technology from concept to commercialization, market and promote their business, garner public awareness and support, and navigate the incredibly complex policy and licensing requirements for ocean energy testing and project development. All of this while raising multi-millions of dollars to deliver a successful commercial-scale renewable energy device.
Q: Does Clean Reach offer any marketing or PR assistance for project creators that could help make their campaigns more successful?
Thornton: Clean Reach provides the following free services to all campaigns:
- Help write campaign descriptions
- Provide campaign success tips to help create and implement promotion plans
- Tell the story of the people or organizations behind the campaigns
- Provide exposure to all campaigns by attracting viewers to the projects page on the Clean Reach web site
For individuals or organizations who do not want the responsibility of running their campaign, they can hire Clean Reach.
Q: What advice would you give to someone that is interested in getting started in ocean energy?
Thornton: The answer depends on what that person’s starting point is.
- For a young person freshly graduated with a technical degree associated with ocean energy: my advice is to diversify their experience, including gaining skills in marketing, finance and international business.
- For a new project developer, someone who is not building their own technology, but wants to implement an ocean energy initiative in a specific location(s): my advice is to do what it takes to learn the nuances of the emerging technologies and associated supply chain requirements to select the right device and associated infrastructure requirements. This would be accomplished by visiting and spending time in communities where ocean energy development is established and/or spending time at the ocean energy test centers.
- A technology developer, an entrepreneur who wants to invent and only sell an ocean energy device: my advice is to expect to become a project developer and plan for a very long and costly road. Many technology developers get into the ocean energy business thinking they can design, invent, build and sell their ocean energy device. The reality is that these developers must do more than that. The ability to prove out and establish marketability of their device doesn’t occur until after a developer successfully implements his device in the ocean at a mature level. To accomplish this, the developer must implement a fully developed ocean energy project. For example, build the technology and implement at sea, acquire all necessary licensing/permitting approvals, gain public support in the community where the project is occurring and acquire sufficient funding to do all this.
Q: Are there universities or mentoring programs that you could suggest to people who are looking for experience or guidance in ocean energy?
Thornton: There are many excellent ocean energy research programs, but at the top of my list is a program that combines both academia and mentoring, the International Network on Offshore Renewable Energy (INORE). INORE is currently running a campaign on Clean Reach to foster perpetual international research and collaboration.
INORE was created 2007 to connect graduate students, PhD and Post Doc researchers, across industry and government, in the area of offshore renewable energy: wave, tidal and offshore wind energy. They are a nonprofit with 1,094 members from 73 countries. Their purpose is to advance education and spread multidisciplinary knowledge about offshore renewable energy.
Their collective research is often directly applied to solve problems and accelerate development of technologies or ocean energy projects. INORE hosts international and regional symposiums and workshops to facilitate information exchange and enable their members to create personal and professional bonds. These successful collaborative teams work to solve some of the most challenging technical problems facing ocean energy technology development today.
“Clean Reach is a growing, global community where ocean energy leaders, entrepreneurs, companies, communities and contributors raise money, share ideas, collaborate, problem solve and join in the ocean energy conversation. Anyone anywhere can contribute to a Clean Reach campaign through the online platform.”