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Lack of technical talent slowing clean-tech industry

Add people, particularly CTOs and CEOs, to the list of shortages in green tech, along with capital and commodities.

The much-heralded clean-tech revolution needs a bigger army.

The absence of technical and managerial talent in the clean energy sector is putting a strain on the development of the industry, a survey finds.

Research firm New Energy Finance and recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles queried 75 executives in clean energy companies from around the world and found that the lack of people in the field is a problem.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said that the recruitment issue is "very serious," and 59 percent said it was "moderately serious."

Getting appropriate people, particularly chief technology officers and chief executive officers, is a challenge comparable to getting sufficient capital and regulatory support, according to the study.

Without the appropriate people, leading green-tech companies will not be able to scale up, which "threatens to hamper the growth of this important industry," Anita Hoffmann, co-head of the alternative and renewable energy practice at Heidrick & Struggles, said in a statement.

Hundreds of new clean-tech companies have been created over the past five years.

Some of them have gone public and are ramping up their operations, but many are still in the technology development phase and need to test whether their technologies, such as creating biofuels, are cost-effective at a commercial scale.

On Thursday, the New England Clean Energy Council launched a fellowship program to attract entrepreneurs into the clean energy industry. The requirements stipulate that the individual, which will do a three-month fellowship, has been a CEO or business leader in another start-up but not necessarily in clean energy. (See here for more details.)

The fact that the fellowship doesn't require previous energy experience isn't surprising. In fact, many people have made the transition from the IT business into green tech. And a number of universities are spinning off companies from research.

But that's still not enough.

"Now there's a crisis where we've got a bunch of work to do, and given the capital intensity in this sector, what's missing today is serial entrepreneurs," Hemant Taneja, a managing director at venture-capital firm General Catalyst Partners,told Greentech Media on Thursday.

The Greentech Media article also notes that job boards in the field have plenty of unanswered listings for clean-tech related jobs, including C-level positions.

New Energy Finance CEO Michael Liebreich said that the rapid influx of capital and strong demand for clean technologies is at the root of the talent problem.

"There is strong momentum behind the growth of clean energy worldwide, with new investment up nearly fivefold between 2004 and 2007, but this is creating shortages not just of components such as silicon and transport infrastructure such as crane ships for offshore wind, but also of human capital," he said in a statement.