DBL: Solar investors are helping build the ‘iconic energy firms of the 21st Century’

October 27, 2015

By Andy ColthorpeInvest­ment in solar is help­ing to build “some of the iconic firms of the 21st Cen­tury”, accord­ing to a ‘social impact’ investor who was one of the early back­ers of Tesla and was behind the recent US$330 mil­lion sale of NEXTracker.

Nancy Pfund is one of the founders of ven­ture cap­i­tal (VC) firm DBL Part­ners, which com­bines returns on invest­ment with pos­i­tive social impact, mea­sured through a num­ber of met­rics. The VC looks to make invest­ments that will pro­vide social mobil­ity for poor and dis­ad­van­taged groups, for exam­ple, or in the case of DBL’s invest­ments in SolarCity and Tesla, will com­bat cli­mate change.

DBL’s lat­est invest­ment has been in rural elec­tri­fi­ca­tion spe­cial­ist Off-​​Grid Elec­tric, lead­ing a US$25 mil­lion Series C fund­ing round announced by the White House as one of a raft of mea­sures to help alle­vi­ate energy poverty in the devel­op­ing world. Off-​​Grid Elec­tric is cur­rently help­ing power com­mu­ni­ties in Rwanda and Tan­za­nia with Pfund and her team hop­ing the impact will be spread across sev­eral of those metrics.

Hap­pily, if one of your social impacts is to address cli­mate change, your goals are aligned between your social and your finan­cial because any­thing you can do to cre­ate a bet­ter prod­uct that’s cost-​​effective and acces­si­ble, it’s going to be not only a good com­pany, it’s going to be good for address­ing cli­mate change,” Pfund said to PV Tech in an inter­view on Monday.

That’s one of the rea­sons we do so much in the sus­tain­abil­ity field, it also cre­ates a lot of jobs which is also one of our met­rics. That’s why so many impact investors are inter­ested in sus­tain­abil­ity and vice versa because it’s quite fer­tile, in that sense.”

Accord­ing to Pfund, the growth of solar in the US, where DBL’s invest­ments to date have been based, has also fol­lowed this path to some extent.

In the US, the solar indus­try is big­ger than the coal indus­try in terms of employ­ment. In Cal­i­for­nia, it also hires more peo­ple than the ‘big five’ util­i­ties. So this is not some fringe, mar­ginal indus­try that doesn’t have eco­nomic and polit­i­cal clout – quite the contrary.”

At SolarCity for exam­ple, 20% of the work­force is Latino, which, the tech com­pa­nies have a very, very, dif­fi­cult time with that kind of [recruit­ing]. So, this can also be a job cre­ation engine which has all sorts of pos­i­tive effects.”

To read the full arti­cle, visit PV Tech.