June 25th, 2012

Cleantech Opportunities China, from an American Living in Beijing

Beijing -

Image Source: http://bigbullinachinashop.blogspot.com/2012/03/welcome-to-tour-our-factory-business.html

I met with Daniel Enking a few months ago to chat about his experience living in China and being interested in cleantech. We talked about solar thermal manufacturing, something his discusses in his personal blog, politics, the nationalism associated with cleantech, his thoughts on the how the USA and China would work together, and other travel related items that globe trotting 20 year olds always tend to talk about.


I enjoyed his perspective, because he wanted to go where the action is (and he’s also from Maine, which got him many brownie points in my book) and it was clear he understood the value of seeing something for yourself.

I asked Daniel to share some of this thoughts working in China and where he thought some opportunites are. If you have any questions for daniel, please leave them in the comments. If you wan to check out his personal blog, you can find it at Big Bull in a China Shop.

Enter Daniel Enking

A friend of mine has been a pioneering elementary school educator in Maine for over 30 years. Recently she was invited to participate in a once in a lifetime opportunity: an educational exchange between some of the leading teachers in America and China. Her group was flown to China, where they participated in a weeklong conference and idea exchange. At one point during the visit, one of the Chinese teachers came up to her and said she wanted to ask her a question. “Please tell me,” said the Chinese teacher in broken English, “How can we teach creativity?”

This sums up in a nutshell China’s biggest obstacle to competing on the world stage as a leading economy and superpower, and it has implications for China’s contribution to advancing the cleantech industry and tackling climate change.

I live in Beijing were I’m the Director of a group called the Beijing Energy Network. We host bi-weekly speaker events that give mid career cleantech professionals (composed of mostly Chinese, Americans and Europeans) an opportunity to learn more about the industry and to network. A few weeks ago we had the privilege of co-hosting the China-based kick-off event for an international green business plan competition called the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. The event revolved around a panel lead by green architect and rock star William McDonough, Climate Group Co-Founder Jim Walker and Scott Frank, winner of the 2010 Green Challenge. Despite the competition’s possibly unrivaled international reach, this is incidentally the first year the challenge is being launched and making a big push in China. And while I’m completely supportive of the Green Challenge’s intentions, I’m skeptical that they will get many revolutionary entries from China.

Sure, the Chinese are the masters of incremental innovation: no one can reverse engineering, duplicate and then make slight improvements to a technology with the same precision and speed with which the Chinese can (except maybe the Japanese or Koreans?). Incremental innovation has been the main driver behind the revolution in Chinese solar panel manufacturing that has caused the price of solar to plummet in the last few years.

But when it comes to revolutionary, disruptive and game changing technologies like those the Green Challenge is looking for – and some of the past winners have been truly revolutionary (my favorite is Greensulate™, an organic insulator grown from mushroom roots that is designed to replace polystyrene) – well, let’s just say we haven’t seen one of those come out of China since the invention of gunpowder.

The problem is rooted deep in Chinese society and the Chinese education system. From childhood, students are primarily taught to memorize and regurgitate massive amounts of information. This leads to lots of skilled engineers and mathematicians, but it doesn’t breed great inventors, managers or leaders. Once students graduate from college, there is a lot of pressure from their parents to get a stable job, so entrepreneurship is not encouraged. Until Chinese educators learn to “teach creativity,” China’s role in the green revolution will be confined to assembling and churning out massive quantities of cheap cleantech products like solar panels.

But the Chinese have also begun to realize where their Achilles heel lies, and the Chinese government is bent on fixing it, despite all the inertia against them. International elementary, middle and high schools with international curriculums and teachers are popping up around China at an alarming rate. Even some American universities like Duke are building entire new campuses in China. Municipal governments around the country are trying to encourage research and development centers, vying to become the next “Silicon Valley of China.” In Beijing, a few technology incubators and other programs to encourage entrepreneurship have begun to take shape.

So for those of you looking nervously across the ocean at the roaring dragon, keep in mind that dragon can be beaten with a little creative thinking. And for those of you who want to get your hands dirty and dive into the massive opportunity that China represents, consider finding a way to bring a western education to the Chinese investors and leaders of tomorrow.

May 9th, 2012

Basic Technical Training for Renewable Energy Pros is Key (see bottom for training discounts)


Basic technical training is key for anyone interested in the renewable energy industry. Whether you are an entrepreneur who wants to sell energy services, a student looking for a job after graduation, a professional career changer, an existing business looking to expand into renewable energy, or a product or service provider that wants to sell products to EPC contractors, you MUST understand the basics of how the technology works.

For this reason, I want to give Green Light Distrikt readers some discounts on geothermal and solar training. Read more about this below.

I firmly believe that the bottleneck in the cleantech industry is NOT technical in nature. The real challenges are policy, marketing, sales and business model innovations. This is what is holding us back. However, basic technical training is extremely useful and needed to understand WHO is the best customer for a specific technology and how to sell them.

The reason I feel confident when talking about, marketing, and selling these technology is because I’ve installed them with my own hands. I’d encourage others in the industry to gain the same experience, in whatever way you can. If you’re in Massachusetts, give Co-op power a call. They have an apprenticeship program for solar thermal, and energy audit field work.

In New England, the Massachusetts Solar PV market is on fire, the thermal renewable industry (solar thermal and geothermal) are also picking up steam in Massachusetts.

Here are a few trainings coming up quickly in Massachusetts that would be useful to anyone who is serious about the industry.

Use the code “GLD” to get $100 off any of the below trainings.

NABCEP Solar Training Boston: This training course is made for people who are new to solar. You’ll learn how to design a solar PV array from a to z, how to quote a project, the installation process, and solar code.

Solar Sales Training: Learn how to sell solar from an expert, Keith Cronin. Keith build and sold his solar company to SunEdison. Keith knows how to sell jobs profitably.

IGSHPA Geothermal Training: The IGSHPA certification is the standard in the industry. In this training, you’ll learn how to design and quote residential and light commercial projects by 1) determining building loading 2) sizing equipment 3) sizing the group loop 4) sizing the distribution system and controls 5) and what sort of equipment so spec in each of the prior steps.

NABCEP Solar Thermal Training Boot Camp: The solar thermal boot camp is similar to the PV boot camp, but just that it’s based on solar thermal systems.

Selling Clean Energy to the Government: The federal government, and specifically the military, has become the largest single renewable energy customer in the US with a goal of 3GW of installed capacity, among various technologies, by 202.

 Other Free Resources

Free NABCEP Study Guide. If you’re studying for the NABCEP Solar PV installer or just want an in-depth review of solar basics this will be a good resource for you. If you want to buy the full guide, you can find it here NABCEP Study Guide.

Solar Reading List 101: A useful list of free article on solar sales, marketing, design, installation, policy and finance.

Geothermal Reading List 101: A useful life of free articles on solar sales, marketing, design, inst


April 18th, 2012

WORKSHOP: How to Make Money in Renewable Energy LIVE in Boston May 25th


On May 25th in Boston, I’ll be hosting a live seminar for companies that want to make money in the renewable energy industry.


This event has already happened, but we’re constantly adding courses and workshop to Green Light Distrikt University. Our 1 day Renewable Energy Workshop is similar to this meetup.

The seminar is for 4 specific groups

  1. Companies that are or want to be selling energy services to property owners and learn best practices for creating a rockstar sales machine.
  2. Companies that are developing new B2B products for renewable energy EPC contractors and need to get specific customer feedback, first sales, and access to distribution.
  3. Companies that need to build cleantech prototypes for investors or beta customers
  4. Companies that feel their future is in selling their services to the federal government

Here is who will be at the seminar and what they will be discussing.

Chris Williams – That’s me! I’ll be discussing best EPC best practices for creating new business, establish a referral business and making sure projects are profitable. The materials will be based from best practice research completed at HeatSpring. I’ll also be discussing what EPC contractors are looking for in terms of new products and service to help them with their business. This will be useful for companies looking to build products or services and sell directly to EPC contractors.

Ethan Labowitz – Ethan is the founder of the Boston Institute for Clean Energy Prototyping. He’s held workshops in the past and specializes in getting products built fast and much cheaper then private shops. If you need to build an actual physical product, Ethan is your man.

Ben Dunay - Ben is a former Air Force acquisition officer, and he has worked in the defense industry for ten years. Ben now runs bootcampus.com and teaches a course on selling clean energy to the government. He knows exactly how the Defense Department works and what cleantech companies need to do to be successful in the industry.

You can register here through HeatSpring for the event on May 25th. 

Background and Demand for the Event

6 Months ago, I created a free HeatSpring course called “How to Make Money in the Renewable Energy Industry”. It’s been a huge success with over 400 attendees.

The basics of the course were 1) technology overview 2) industry dynamics and 3) where the opportunities are.

The training was made for two main groups 1) career changers looking to quickly understand the new market and who want to jumpstart their learning and 2) new and existing contracting companies looking to expand into renewable energy but that need help learning the skills they needed, certifications, licenses, and typical installed costs and profits for solar and geothermal projects.

The reason I’ve decided to do a live seminar is that the level of interaction and ability to answer more specific questions in detail is difficult. Also, a lot of the advice is very nuanced and depends on the situation of the specific person and company, which again is not suited for online material well.

Here’s what’s expected from attendees

We do not want attendee that are going to sit and listen the whole time. We want you to tell us about your business and product in details, and ask good questions so we can help you. We need questions to be  asked, products to be displayed. The reason I chose the other instructors along with myself is that a lot of these areas overlap.

  • We want a lot of questions to be asked
  • We want to hear about the projects or products you’ve already created
  • We want to help you make introductions and establish relationships with other participants and people in the industry that can help grow your company.

Here is specifically we all of us (me, Ethan and Ben) want to share with you. 

  1. A technology overview. How solar PV, solar thermal and geothermal systems work. What is the basic design and installation concepts
  2. The skills a company needs to design and install these projects.
  3. Typical installed costs for these projects in New England and where you can buy equipment.
  4. The profile of the best customers for these services and best practices for profitable sales machines.
  5. Where is the opportunity for new products, tools and services for EPC contractors. What will EPC contractors PAY FOR that will help them with their business
  6. The most common mistakes companies make when prototyping cleantech products
  7. Best practices for prototyping
  8. The most common mistakes companies make when selling products to the federal  government
  9. Why the federal government is the LARGEST customer in the US for renewable energy services
  10. What a company needs to do to successfully and profitable sell to the government
  11. An overview of the govt’ RFP process

If you have any questions about the event, please leave a comment below, or feel free to call me at 617 702 2676. And yes, I prefer phone over email.

You can register here through HeatSpring for the event on May 25th.



February 29th, 2012

3 Best Practices for Selling Residential Renewable Energy Projects


The following post is for professionals or companies that are selling solar PV, solar thermal or geothermal heat pump systems or air source heat pumps system to residential customers.

At HeatSpring, we’ve been keep tabs on what the most profitable companies tend to do really well. There are three areas that the most profitable and well run residential solar and geothermal companies do really well.

  1. Turn visitors into leads and know how qualified those leads are. The most profitable companies have an extremely clear process for turning phone calls and website visits into site visits and understanding the differences between an extremely hot lead, and a cooler lead. Their website is optimized to turn visitors into a site visit OR into a subscriber for their newsletter. Newsletter subscribers can likely become a site visit sometime in the future.
  2. 1 Site Visit for the Most Qualified Leads. Site visits are expensive and should be used sparingly. The most profitable companies only go to site visits for very hot and pre-qualified leads. On the site visit, the sales person makes sure to gather enough technical information for the engineer to create a proper design and also gathers customer information to tailor the sales proposal to their specific needs. Doing more then 1 site visit decreases margins and not tailoring the proposal to each customer will reduce conversions.
  3. Referral strategy creates the majority of leads. The most profitable companies generate the vast majority of their leads from word of mouth and referral. The referrals tend to come from past clients who speak with their neighbors and their installation partners.

I’ve created three tools, one for each technology to help with better site visit. If you to download them, here you are. This will redirect you to a HeatSpring post where you can then download the tool for free. Feel free to change it, add questions, reformat it and use it however you like in your business.

A site visit will be a small, cash strapped, companies greatest asset or greatest liability. It will be a companies greatest asset if they are collecting the proper information needed to address the specific clients needs and gathering the needed information to create a proper design the first time.

The site visit will be a great liability if enough, or the proper, information is NOT collected, meaning that multiple visits must be made – reducing profits – or if the sales proposal is generic and does not address the clients specific needs, leading to low conversion rates.

For each site visit checklist focused on three areas.

1 – Customer Sentiment. Every sales proposal should be tailor to the desires and concerns of each client. If you’re using generic sales proposals, you will convert less then if you tailor the message to the client. It is key to gather customer specific data about why they’re interested in renewable energy.

2 – Technical Information. Technical information about the site must be gathered in order to properly quote and design any type of system. If the proper information is not collected you’ll have to go back to the site many times, or you will prices job incorrectly.

3 – Financial Information. For each sales proposal there is certain financial information you’ll need to gather about the customer, their energy usage, and the design to create a sales proposal.

The majority of this article was re-printed, with permission, form HeatSpring Magazine

January 18th, 2012

5 Lessons You Can Apply to Prototyping New Products


Last year, I built and sold my first cleantech product. It is a tool used to install solar PV modules more efficiently.

Here is the story and what I’ve learned about prototyping in the process. Hopefully, it will be useful to you as well.

Here’s a quick snippet of what I learned.

  1. Closeness with customers is key, especially if you’re getting them to change their behaviors. If you’re building a new product and are not building relationships with beta customers, this is a problem. It is critical for time between iterations and testing. This is also critical for them providing you blunt feedback. Lastly, with many cleantech products you’re interrupting existing operations. If they don’t trust you, they won’t want to risk it.
  2. Don’t assume you know the answer. I was the target customer but 15 minutes of feedback on our alpha prototype enabled us to reduce manufacturing costs by 400% for our beta. This is key because unlike software or internet products, cleantech products are EXPENSIVE and tend to require face to face relationships.
  3. Work on your communications. The concept must be clear to the customer quickly or it will be difficult for them to provide useful feedback that can use to enhance the product.

Click below to read the full story. Also, apply for Cleantech Prototyping Academy if you want to learn best practices of how to build products faster (and cheaper) in order to impress investors or find beta customers. CPA is taught by Ethan Labowitz.

January 10th, 2012

Green Light Distrikt in 2012 – Can We Increase the Velocity to $1 for Cleantech Companies?

Chris Williams

Written by



Another year has passed and Green Light Distrikt is still alive.

The goal of Green Light Distrikt is constantly changing as my work, and the work of other industry insiders, continues to shift. Currently, I’ve published a study guide for the Solar NABCEP exam, invented a solar installation tool, I’m responsible for all marketing and sales at HeatSpring, and am consulting with both renewable energy installation companies and companies launching new products, technologies or services targeted  at the solar or geothermal industry. All of these experiences have provided me a valuable skill, into how to build a product quickly, get it in front of customers, and collect money, or not.

What started as a personal blog, turned into a blog about the cleantech industry in Boston, then about the industry in multiple cities, and now Green Light Distrikt is a blog that is for people who are building cleantech companies. The goal is to make the blog for other people like myself, those that are constantly exploring opportunities and working to build successful companies in the cleantech industry.

Here’s a review about who Green Light Distrikt is, what we’re writing about, the projects that we’re working on and how they relate together and then topics and themes we’ll be writing about in 2012.

Most of the topics fall under one simple concept that GLD is beginning to focus around: How can we increase the velocity of cleantech companies to $1 faster ? By this I mean, what can we do to get companies out of “idea stage” and into “making money stage” as quickly as possible.

Continue Reading >

December 8th, 2011

NYC GLD Meetup: How can we Create Profitable, Easy to Test, and Cash Flow Positive Businesses Focused on Cleantech?

Entrepreneurship -

The renewable energy and cleantech industries need to be making more money. This might seem like a simple observation, but I don’t think it’s talked about as much as it should be within our industry. I certainly do not hear it enough.

In order to help facilitate this process, I’m creating a meetup in NYC for entrepreneurs looking to build companies and make money in the renewable energy industry. Read below for the backstory, meetup details, types of opportunities we’re look at and the types of individuals who will be at the meetup.

Continue Reading >