It may surprise you just how many jobs are available in the "green energy" industry. LoveToKnow editor Sally Painter discussed some of these job opportunities with green energy investor, author and entrepreneur Tom Rand, Director of VCi Green Funds and Planet Traveler. Learn more in this exclusive expert interview.
Tom Rand Interview on Green Jobs
LoveToKnow (LTK): Why did you change your business and personal focus to a green lifestyle? Was there a single defining moment that inspired you?
Tom Rand (TR): Rather than a green 'lifestyle,' I would describe my transition to be more of a career change. I decided about seven years ago to dedicate my career to moving the needle on carbon. I've always been an over-educated observer of climate change. I recall as a young adult, going back to the early '90s, there were many table-pounding discussions at family dinners over the science itself, the many reasons few politicians seemed to understand the urgency of the situation and so on. There was a catalyzing moment, however. I sold my software company in the spring of 2005, and shortly after, I was out on the town with a number of people deeply engaged in the business side of climate change, who I found inspiring and challenging. They included a magazine founder, people from the sustainable investing side of pension funds, a climate deal negotiator and others. It was then I realized I needed to "get on the ice," and do more than talk and understand. That night was when I decided to start my green fund and get more engaged in helping build companies with promising clean technology. Everything followed from there: the book, the hotel, my work at MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) and the policy work on Green Bonds.
Clean Energy Investments
LTK: What is the mission of your company, VCi Green Funds, and what types of clean energies do you seek?
TR: VCi Green Funds is a private fund. It's really just a corporate entity through which I make my own investments focused on early-stage technology that might deliver clean energy solutions. Investments include solar (concentrated PV), geothermal heating and cooling, smart-grid firmware, small and large wind and energy storage. The investment I'm most proud of, though, is Planet Traveler. PT is North America's greenest hotel here in downtown Toronto. It's a 114-bed hostel built to the standards of a boutique hotel, but using less than a quarter of the energy a typical hotel would use. We incorporate geothermal, solar thermal, solar PV, drain-water heat recapture, LED (Light-Emitting Diodes) lighting and smart thermostats.
Leading Green Energy Market
LTK: You not only have quite a few green projects and investments, but you also sit on the board of several green businesses and organizations. From this perspective, what do you see as the leading green energy job market?
TR: The leading green energy job market right now is in Ontario, Canada. That's because it takes policy to ignite the clean energy revolution, just like it took government involvement to start up the Internet, microchip, aerospace and auto sectors. The policy in Ontario is based on paying homeowners and businesses to produce clean energy, so there is a very strong market here for wind and solar farms, rooftop solar and other types of green energy. All that infrastructure takes local engineers, local trades and in many cases, local technology.
World Economy Impact on Start-Up Green Companies
LTK: How has the world economy impacted green technology and green-related start-up companies?
TR: Like all other sectors, it's taken a hit. The real downside is that it's allowed us to take the eye off the climate change issue. The bankers that took the economy to the edge will effectively delay action on climate change for many years, and have sapped the will of governments to pony up the seed capital it takes to launch a new industry. There are plenty of good start-ups out there, and there is risk capital if you have a solid value-proposition. If you're an entrepreneur, remember - the market is global, not local. It's still inevitable that the economy will de-carbon, just target your markets to those places that are early movers on the issue.
Promising Green Careers
LTK: If a person wanted to pursue a career in a green energy field, what do you think are some of the most promising careers in this industry, especially those that would offer growth and challenges?
TR: Project development. Clean energy is not just about tech start-ups; it's wires, pipes, metal, engineering, financial structure and so on. This is an infrastructure issue, and infrastructure projects not only employ people across many sectors, but require good project management and finance. Clean energy is not for kids, it's not about small toy-like installations. This is big infrastructure, energy projects - it requires a skill-set that understands the demands of delivering on those sorts of projects.
Degreed or Non-Degreed Green Careers
LTK: What type of degree would best serve a green industry professional? Is there a specific degree that would lend itself to greater job versatility and more opportunities?
TR: Clean energy is not like the Internet; it's the single largest global market of the 21st century, and the largest infrastructure build in human history. Clean energy is project-financed infrastructure and requires professional engineers and business people to manage it. Also, the noble trades, from plumbers to engineers and carpenters, will all be in huge demand once this picks up. For a start, pretty much every building in the United States will need to be retrofitted to be more energy efficient. That's a lot of non-degreed skills!
New and Emerging Technologies
LTK: Are there any new or emerging technologies that look promising for long-term development and practical application as well as job possibilities?
TR: One favorite of mine is concentrated PV (Photovoltaics) using optics, like Morgan Solar. They promise to significantly reduce the cost of solar. The other is energy storage. The companies that crack the storage problem of low-cost, grid-scale storage will deliver a huge value to the clean economy.
A Special Thank You to Tom Rand
LoveToKnow would like to thank Tom Rand for taking time from his many business interests to share his experience and insights on this important topics.