Melanie Nakagawa: Rhetoric Versus Reality Around Climate Change Solutions

Melanie Nakagawa

According to recent International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates, the United States’ carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions grew by 3.1 percent in 2018. CO2 emissions are the primary cause of global average temperature rise, which countries are seeking to curb to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. Despite the obvious need to address this global issue, there still remains skepticism from U.S. policy makers around climate change. The negative rhetoric ranges from a distorted perspective about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to the perceived notion that government leaders generally don’t support climate and clean energy focused policies and programs. Melanie Nakagawa, Head of Climate Initiative with Princeville Capital, an investment firm focused on backing rapidly growing technology-enabled companies around the world, gave a keynote presentation during the Sustainable Practice Impact Award Luncheon at our OPEN conference. Her talk focused on today’s alignment of investment, technology, and policy that’s catalyzing solutions to climate change.

We spoke with Melanie Nakagawa about the rhetoric versus reality surrounding U.S. environmental policies to address climate change. Here’s a highlight of that conversation.

In today’s current political climate, there’s a perception that policymakers aren’t focused on clean energy policies and programs. What’s the reality?

I’m disappointed by this notion. The reality is there’s actually bipartisan support in Congress for policy, such as battery storage innovation and grid modernization, for example. While the administration might want to push to roll back funding or defund other key programs, the reality is that states and localities are also taking aggressive action to address climate policy. They’re putting in place their own mandates for clean energy. Look at states like California, New Mexico, and New Jersey that have passed 100% clean energy policies. That’s really encouraging. There is a bipartisan effort underway and Washington has glimmers of hope for real action to address climate change.

Tell us about the current state of investment opportunities for cleantech and climate-focused startups. How does the reality differ from the rhetoric on this topic?

I’m optimistic about the ecosystem for clean energy startups and climate innovators. More and more funders are excited to invest in these solutions of today and for tomorrow. There are also many government lab projects taking on solutions to climate change. We’re also seeing innovative technologies and ideas coming out of the lab, moving into commercial production and finding follow-on investors like Princeville Capital or corporations looking to acquire these disruptive solutions.  For cleantech innovators and startups out there, I find this to be a really exciting time for investment to flow to those smart brains and smart ideas.

Some may feel discouraged by the bad news about climate change or the negative rhetoric around the topic. What good news can you share to balance the story?

There’s lots of technology and innovation happening around this issue. There’s an ecosystem of investors and financiers to support that innovation, and there’s lots of policy pull for that technology in the market. For instance, businesses have mandates for sourcing a certain amount from renewable energy, for increasing energy efficiency, and for greater environmental responsibility. These are all creating great opportunities for people to be innovating in climate solutions, as well as for people like me who are investing in those high-growth technology companies that we want to help further scale.

Tell us about some emerging cleantech innovations that you have your eye on.

There are several areas that I think are really exciting. One is precision agriculture. For instance, some startups are using drone technology to look at farmland, see where it’s wetter, see where it’s drier, and basically use precision agriculture technology to smartly irrigate the land. This saves water and money. I also like what’s happening in the area of smart cities. There are some impressive innovations around smart meters, connecting those meters to the grid, and making utilities smarter around how they actually move their energy. I am also inspired by innovations in the air pollution space in what we consider the resilient health sector. We all want to know how clean our air is and what we can do to purify polluted air. There are some impressive startups developing ways for people to check the air quality of any building via a smart app. I also like the new technologies at the water-energy nexus. Moving and cleaning water are not only expensive processes, they require a lot of energy. We can address these twin challenges with one solution with technologies that address energy consumption while also purifying water.

Melanie Nakagawa OPEN Keynote

Melanie Nakagawa gave a keynote presentation during the Sustainable Practice Impact Award Luncheon at our OPEN conference in March 2019. Her talk focused on today’s alignment of investment, technology, and policy that’s catalyzing solutions to climate change.


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