As a leader in executive recruiting for the renewable energy, solar, wind power, and geothermal industries, The Whitham Group was in full attendance at the recent World Energy Innovation Forum. 

Hosted by Elon Musk at Tesla, the Forum featured a stellar line-up of thought-leaders over the two-day event.Besides Musk, former Secretary of State George Shultz; John Morton, National Security Council; Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy; John Hennessy, President of Stanford University; Steve Chu, Secretary of Energy; Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, Tony Fadel, Found/CEO of Nest, and other prominent speakers led thoughtful discussions about the future of renewable energy and how it promises to change…perhaps even save…the world.After attending every Forum discussion, and meeting with dozens of thought-leaders from around the world, here’s our takeaway from the event.

1. Renewable energy projects are ahead of schedule. 

Although The Whitham Group is deeply involved in the renewable energy sector, even we were surprised to learn about the progress being made in developing technologies.We were reminded of this on our way to the Forum when we happened to see two Google self-driving cars. And then later, when we took test drives in the Tesla S model (Ludicrous version) equipped with Auto Pilot (0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds and hands-free driving on a busy freeway). 

Batteries and storage were a constant theme throughout the event, and the next five years promises breakthroughs that will have an enormous effect upon electrical storage…and the many new devices, from cars to homes, that will rely upon it. Solar power already accounts for large shares of energy production around the world and is growing exponentially. Just since 2008, solar power installations have grown an astounding seventeen-fold. At the same time, the average cost of rooftop solar photovoltaic panels now cost about 50% less than three years ago. 

Of particular interest to The Whitham Group, the job growth in this sector is ten times the national average job growth rate. 1 in every 78 jobs created in the U.S. during the past year was created by the solar industry. 

Advances in wind power, including new and more efficient design of wind turbines, will transform this source of energy. New wind turbines can be over 300 feet tall (higher than the Statue of Liberty) with blades that are up to 260 feet long. Most of the wind turbines and their approximately 8,000 components are manufactured here in the U.S., creating thousands of new jobs. As a result, America produces more wind power than any other country except China. We learned from two attendees at the Forum about how they are addressing the opportunities that water currents and tides represent to generate power. And from a German company we heard about how geothermal energy can be harnessed to complement other forms of energy production as a dependable source. While currently producing less than 1% of energy, the potential is much larger.  

Renewable energy initiatives promise to make America energy independent, with all the positive repercussion that entails. The effect upon the world at large will be transformative.

2. Technology (and Silicon Valley) will produce world-changing ideas in the next 10 years.The concentration of technical knowledge and money (either from corporations or from VC funding) is fueling hundreds of companies who are working on energy projects. And while there are companies from around the world working on transformative energy ideas, most of the leaders are in Silicon Valley.Also, some of the brightest minds in the San Francisco Bay Area, from corporations and universities such as Stanford and U.C. Berkeley, are focused on solutions to the energy crisis. What the Valley did for technology and the Internet, it now promises to do to address energy challenges.

3. Energy innovation should not be a partisan issue.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who at 96 has seen a thing or two during his distinguished lifetime in government, spoke eloquently about the need for solutions to energy challenges and climate change. This important issue, he pointed out, should not be a partisan issue since it affects everyone. Science, and not dogma, should dictate our actions.

4. America’s best and brightest are focused on energy.Where our best minds were once focused on computers and the Internet, now they are moving on to tackling energy challenges. Those who are mindful of future trends, and who want to make a difference in their career, are migrating toward renewable energy.Elon Musk is the poster boy of energy innovation, announcing 400,000 advance sales deposits for his new affordable Tesla, new developments in the super-efficient Hyperloop that could potentially cut travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to just 30 minutes, building new battery factories, installing solar in tens of thousands of homes, and successfully launching and landing a space rocket (on a barge in the ocean, no less). Others, like Google, are deeply involved in energy projects that are well-funded and headed by the best minds in technology. 

The self-driving vehicle is already a reality and will soon dramatically alter the world in ways we cannot even imagine.While our world faces enormous challenges from climate change, pollution, and energy efficiency, we can be confident these problems and opportunities have many of the brightest minds working hard to solve them. We came away from the Forum excited and confident that America still has what it takes to be a world leader. And personally, we are proud to be part of this world-changing industry.