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May 2014 Issue

How Crowdfunding Can Propel the Ocean Energy Industry
Stephanie Thornton

Most of us continue to rely on expensive, dirty energy to fuel our homes and businesses, while the immense power of the ocean remains untapped. Our continued reliance on fossil fuels—which is growing during the current natural gas boom—threatens our environment, and, in the case of the inevitable price spikes or interruptions in overseas supply, our economy.

The world's oceans can produce more energy than we need in a clean, renewable manner. Harnessing just 0.1 percent of the ocean's energy alone could support the needs of 15 billion people, or twice the world population.

Ocean energy visionaries across the globe have already conceived technologies that could provide widespread renewable energy. But to keep viable ocean energy technologies advancing through testing to energy production, we need to introduce investors to ambitious entrepreneurs whose ideas have gained traction and social proof.

Meanwhile, global crowdfunding has provided a new way to fund great new ideas across all sectors. Platforms like Kickstarter have raised more than $1 billion from nearly 6 million people for all kinds of projects, from films to consumer products. The power of crowdfunding connects willing donors with good ideas, and helps people bridge the early-stage funding gap.

We created Clean Reach, a new crowdfunding platform, to serve as a high-profile, low-risk way for ocean energy developers and supporters to raise money—and for millions of interested people to learn more about and contribute to the advancement of ocean energy.

The concept is simple. An idea or project is converted into a funding campaign for evaluation by potential contributors. If contributors like what they see, they pledge toward the funding target. If the campaign raises the target amount before an established deadline, the funds are transacted. Unlike investment crowdfunding, where donors expect a financial return, ocean energy project managers maintain complete ownership of their project.

When people contribute to projects through Clean Reach, they support more than technology. They support a cause and propel the success of an industry that has the capacity to offer an almost limitless supply of clean power to the world.

Access to adequate funding is the largest challenge facing ocean energy today. A 2011 report from the Breakthrough Institute Energy and Climate Program documents the challenges facing American energy entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize advanced energy technologies to enhance U.S. energy, economic and environmental security. A lack of capital at a critical time is deemed a 'valley of death.'

Clean Reach can help start-up and early-stage ocean energy technology developers avoid two 'valleys of death' that are perceived as high risk: the proof-of-concept phase and the time between pilot and commercialization phases. These funding gaps are often where new energy technologies perish.

Crowdfunding for ocean energy supplements traditional funding mechanisms, such as venture capital, loans, public or private grants, angel investors and joint venture partners, which can be hard to find and secure, and may not be project appropriate. Securing traditional financing may also require long, involved application processes, come with a lot of restrictions and may require matching funds. Only a limited number of companies or organizations successfully navigate and secure funding through these means. Traditional financing is a 'closed door' activity not normally seen by communities, other industry members or the public.

Crowdfunding, on the other hand, is a visible, powerful force that has a wide reach and a community-building aspect. It is not intended to be a replacement to traditional funding; rather it is a new and exciting supplemental option.

Clean Reach hosts crowdfunding campaigns designed to advance the ocean energy industry, including tidal, wave, ocean thermal, current and offshore wind. From developing more affordable and efficient technologies to creating educational opportunities, Clean Reach connects passionate supporters to forward-thinking ideas.

Moving beyond the technology, there are a number of organizations around the world that recognize ocean energy as a global challenge that requires global connections. Creating new ways for ocean energy visionaries to cooperate and engaging students in immersive educational endeavors are critical to advance the industry. From fostering international research collaborations to recognizing industry leaders, Clean Reach can help generate interest and funding for these initiatives.

Additionally, Clean Reach can help isolated coastal communities by creating public engagement and raising money to bring clean energy technology to these communities.

Clean Reach aims to bridge the gap between great ideas and making widespread ocean energy a reality. We know that ocean energy can work, and we know that people around the world support it. Crowdfunding fosters the growth of an industry by providing alternative funding for great ideas.

A crowdfunding campaign can create an effective cycle of engagement and growth by leveraging community relationships and driving further investment. Successfully implemented crowdfunding campaigns demonstrate credibility, thus cementing existing supporters and attracting new funders, traditional and nontraditional alike.

By uniquely marrying two growing industries—ocean energy and crowdfunding—together we can help entrepreneurial start-ups, coastal communities and even mature ocean energy developers secure the funding and support needed to create marketable green technology. You can learn more at www.cleanreach.com.

Stephanie Thornton is the CEO and Founder of Clean Reach. She has served as the executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, worked directly with technology developers in Norway and Australia, and co-founded and served as CEO of Ocean Energy Industry Australia. She has a B.S. in marine science from Humboldt State University and an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University.


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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.