April 10th, 2011

Creating a Hitchhikers Guide to European Clean Energy Clusters

Chris Williams

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I just landed in Hamburg and I am working on getting over the jet lag. My primary goal is to visit with family that I haven’t seen in ten year, friends that I met while studying abroad in Argentina and meet some new friends. I’m also interested in exploring the cleantech industry in Europe. From my experience in Boston, I’ve found that there is no better way to learn about an industry than to meet with the people who are working in it everyday. They have insights and a closeness to the market that is unmatched by general news sources or anything that can found on Google.

As I complete research on the trip, I plan to conduct interviews, both informally and formally, and record the formal ones that will serve as “artifacts” for the journey. I’d like to share these with other curious people that will find them useful. My goal is also to create a report on the analysis and resources in each cluster that I will post on Green Light Distrikt for other peoples’ use.

While I have been reaching out to people trying to schedule interviews, I have received a lot of feedback that people want to know more specifics about what exactly I’m researching. This makes sense, people want to know what they’re getting into. I’ve laid out my 30,000 feet above goals of the trip in a previous post. In general, my goal is understand the success and challenges of the European industry and look for opportunities of international collaboration.

Now, let’s make that more specific.

What exactly do I want to know? What kind of questions will I be asking? How long would I like to meet with people?

Keep in mind, even though I’m trying to be very specific here, the questions will change based on the person and their role.

Sectors/Business Role

  • Public Policy (Local Policy, Government Development Officers)
  • University R+D
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Venture Investors
  • Corporate (Engineers, Execs, Business Development)
  • Industry Researchers


  • Interview with be 30 minutes max, video/audio recorded. I’ll only use the recorded material with consent from the individual.


  • Solar
  • Biomass
  • Wind
  • IT (software, smart grid)
  • Building Science


  • Germany
  • Spain
  • UK
  • Norway/Sweden
  • Denmark
  • Switzerland

Types of Questions – Questions will focus on 7 key areas


  • What technology and industries are successful in your cluster?
  • Which technologies are mature? Growing? Nascent? Why?
  • What are the bottlenecks to growth?
  • Is most of the innovation coming from corporations or startups?


  • What specific policies have been successful? Why?
  • Where has policy been focused at supporting?
  • What policy would be useful?
  • What policies is lacking?


  • Where is most of the money going to? R+D vs Project Finance vs Venture?
  • Is the money Venture Capital vc Public vc Corporate funding?
  • Domestic or Foreign Capital?


  • Do the local univerisites have any cleantech specific program? Labs? Spins outs?
  • What resources do the unviersities provide?
  • Are there any incubators?


  • What are the most successful companies in your area? Startups? Corporate? Multinationals?
  • Can name some of the specific companies in your area that are growing?


  • What are the strengths and weakness of the industry in your area?
  • What do you import vs export in the area?
  • What are the needs/wants of the sector here?
  • Where do you see room for and opportunities in international collaboration for large corporations, and smaller companies? Do you see a demand for any product or service that is not currently being delivered?
  • Which other clusters do you currently trade with? And not?


  • What are the best resources that an individual and/or companies should know about your area?
  • Do you have any local organizations that organize events?
  • Are there any government sponsored organizations?
  • What resources are there for entrepreneurs?


What else should I be asking? I am missing anything huge here that will be useful information to gather?


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Chris Williams

About Chris Williams

Chris Williams is the editor of Green Light Distrikt and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring . He has experience in business development, prototyping and new venture research with a focus on geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. Chris is an IGSHPA accredited geothermal installer and NABCEP certified solar installer. Chris is focused on solving customer facing issues in the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and products. Chris has installed over 300kW of solar and tens of geothermal systems. He's invented the PV Pal , developed many trainings at HeatSpring, publishes the NABCEP Study Guide , the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech and has done due diligence research for Urgent VC . Feel free to connect with him @topherwiliams , on Linkedin , or through email about new ventures, collaborating, writing, research or whatever is on your mind.