The investment world is made up of boxes. Capital providers decide which boxes interest them and then hunt for deals that fit the shape. Whether it is a high-rise building, a new energy technology, or even a cutting-edge piece of software, everything gets categorized into a box.
But what happens when you do not fit into a box? What if you have deliberately built a company to break the mold? How do you package your great, albeit oddly shaped, idea in a way that makes a stubborn investment world start to think outside their standard-shaped box?
Wind energy is not a new concept for the investment world. Wind energy is a proven technology that currently makes up 7 percent of the United States’ electricity needs. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to convince an investor that a wind project will provide a safe, steady return. But One Energy does not do large wind projects that fit into a standard box – we do behind-the-meter, on-site wind. What makes sense for a large wind project that interconnects into the power grid (specifically for the wholesale market), does not necessarily make sense for a Wind for Industry project. As it turns out, when you take a proven technology but apply it in a new and innovative way, the constraints of a standard deal process must be tossed out.
I’ve gone through many rounds of due diligence during the fundraise process. And each time, no matter how much an investor swears they understand our business model is different, they ultimately give us due diligence requests designed to force the deal to look like one the group has already done before. We are constantly squeezed into a standard-sized box. Phrases such as “industry standard” are used frequently.
For example, installing multiple meteorological masts on-site for two years might make sense from a scheduling and financial standpoint for a 100-turbine job that takes years to develop – but it is nearly impossible for a five-turbine job that can take a fraction of the time. LiDAR technology, something the large wind industry is only starting to adopt as a stand-alone data source, is now our go-to for on-site data campaigns due to its deployment flexibility. We have had to adapt our wind resource methods to meet the timeline and financial constraints of on-site wind, while still meeting or exceeding the accuracy required of a large wind project. This has been quite a challenge to explain to investors who claim they want to be a part of the next big thing, but in reality, would much rather stick with the same old thing.
For years, my team has studied the best way to take the existing industry standards and dissect them into the core scientific principles they’re governed by. In our published methodologies, we explain our creative solutions that make Wind for Industry projects possible. The science is the same, the answer is the same, but the process is different. I wish I could spend more time explaining the science behind our impressive methods to potential investors, rather than explaining over and over why it is unreasonable to expect on-site wind to fit into the same box as a large wind project.
Investors and third-party engineers must take the time to listen to the science behind the deal instead of running through a predetermined check list. If you always use the same standard boxes, innovation is impossible. The exact same deals will be funded time and again, industry standard will never be challenged, and out-of-the-box thinking will be nonexistent. Where’s the fun in that?
Jessica Grosso is the Head of Project Planning and Technology at One Energy.