A Look at Wind Opportunities at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week

Opportunities relating to climate change were a major theme during the 2024 New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

Entrepreneurial opportunities relating to climate change were a major theme during the 2024 New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW). Louisiana is both a state of high risk from climate change, and of high opportunity in terms of addressing it. Louisiana is also an energy state, and as we finally make the turn toward renewable energies, many entrepreneurial doors are wide open.

One NOEW panel in particular focused on this potential. Titled “The Climate for Climate Tech in the Gulf of Mexico,” it was moderated by Beaux Jones of The Water Institute, and featured panelists Christy Swann from RCOAST, Alex Kolker of LUMCON, and SeaAhead’s Donna Hazard.

Kolker established the context early on.

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“We are on the front lines of climate change here in the Gulf,” he observed. “There are opportunities across the board, from reducing emissions to affordable energy.”
“We need hardware, software, biological solutions, chemical solutions,” added Hazard. “And we need to consider the impacts and roles of other industries, like shipping or seafood.”

Renewable energy sources are perhaps the most obvious arena of opportunity. Early-state wind energy projects are getting under way, and these facilities will require much of the same expertise and support as oil wells. Louisiana’s existing infrastructure and experience is a real asset moving forward; several state companies have already been involved in wind projects on the East Coast.

Kolker pointed out that “green” energy opportunities go well beyond wind. “It’s very sunny here. We have moving water, with the river and tides. Between sun, wind and water, we have a lot of potential for renewable energy in the Gulf.”

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Kolker also highlighted another important but perhaps less obvious opportunity areas.

“The Gulf has some of the highest emissions in the country,” he noted, “and we could be looking at emissions as a waste or inefficiency. Discharged chemicals are not going into another product. Heat being emitted could have many uses. Greenhouse gases could be going into something productive. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, can you save a company money by reducing inefficiency, or finding uses for these emissions?”

The panelists were clear-eyed about the challenges as well. The problems are large scale and complex, and many of the solutions will have multiple aspects. This requires collaboration across various sectors, and a good deal of investment within each of those sectors, including government.

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Jones posed the question directly: “How do we fund the process, not just the product?”
“One big problem is having everyday people pay for climate tech growth,” Swann responded. “How do you convince individuals to pay for this? You have to show people that their taxpayer dollars will save them in the longer term on energy costs and insurance rates.”

Hazard of SeaAhead, whose mission is to provide support infrastructure and access to funding in blue energy and infrastructure, explained the private sector perspective.

“As investors, we are looking for companies that can generate returns while also having a positive impact on our environment and our communities. We bring not just capital, but also a network of partners and resources. But this is new technology, new markets, new entrepreneurs, all of which increases risk.”

The rewards, however, could be substantial. First and foremost is repelling the existential threat of climate change to most of the Gulf Coast, but ours is certainly not the only region in peril.

“Remember that climate change is a global thing, and people all over the world are waiting for solutions,” said Kolker. “The market for what we develop here goes way beyond the Gulf of Mexico.”

Swann concurred, citing the increased emphasis and investment in these technologies that is already under way as reasons to be optimistic about the future.

“We are poised to become the resilience and climate tech hub of the world,” she concluded.

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.

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