You know what’s fun? Reminiscing about old, iconic commercials is fun. You’ve got your “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner,” the California Raisins dancing across your screen, and some excessively persistent kid giving a limping and clearly frustrated “Mean Joe” Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers a Coca-Cola in exchange for his sweaty, disgusting football jersey. Ahhhhhhhh, good times.
Here’s one that I thought of recently. Do y’all remember The Clapper? A classic 1980s beauty, this television ad gave us the “clap on, clap off” jingle and took convenience to a new level. So you don’t want to get out of bed to turn off the lights? Now you don’t have to! Fun fact, you can still buy The Clapper.
What I think made The Clapper so remarkable is that it made a very ordinary act seem extraordinary. Flick a switch and voilà, you have lights! Just so simple, and we do it mindlessly.
Think with me though, for just one moment, on what actually happens with this act. That tiny plastic switch moves a couple of centimeters, allowing a circuit to close, allowing electrons to flow into our light bulbs, electrons which travel along miles of wires that connect to a power plant, which required millions of dollars to build so that it could burn a fuel source or split an atom to generate the electrons, with such power plant being owned by a utility, which has been regulated by a government entity for decades to set fair rates to allow the utility to recoup its millions of dollars of investment while still earning a modest profit for investors, who are ordinary people expecting the lights to come on when they flick a switch, just like you and me.
Having conducted these mental gymnastics, you might be able to see why a recent announcement by a group of 28 billionaires is a big deal. This group, which includes the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and is called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, has pledged investment dollars to bring to market and scale clean and affordable energy technologies. They are committed to partnering with Mission Innovation, a coalition of 20 countries that have announced a plan to increase spending on clean energy research.
The model is simple: governments are good at financing research but bad at commercializing early-stage technologies. Investors can fill that gap, bringing to life businesses that can do what they do best in the marketplace – compete. Unfortunately, start-up energy companies struggle to compete because of this sector’s extreme barriers to entry (remember what goes into turning on your lights?) and long pay-back periods. That’s why these particular investors are so important: they have billions of dollars to invest and are willing to be patient with those dollars. This long-term thinking is a welcome relief.
Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful public private partnership (old movies are fun too). But what if we added a fourth “P” to this P3, namely “philanthropy”?
Well, I’d say that has the makings of another blog post. See y’all next week.