cleantech insights

The Shameless Politics of Military Biofuels

Greg Neichin

Outside of the office, and outside the lines of a professional forum such as this blog, I admittedly love talking politics.  I always have, and as excruciatingly frustrating as it is sometimes, I probably always will.

At the same time, I have tried to leave that game at home.  I genuinely believe that the long-term growth of the cleantech sector is tied to a number of underlying, inevitable shifts that are apolitical.  Aging & failing infrastructure must eventually be replaced, diverse resource shortages – from water to minerals to food – must be addressed, and toxic pollution – that represents a real and significant health risk in increasingly crowded and urban environments – must be mitigated.

For these reasons, I try to stay above the political fray and focus mainly on how commercial landscapes are developing.  That is until politicians act so egregiously wrong that it is impossible to not address the situation.   This week is one of those weeks.  As Rob Day wrote in response to the attempts by Republicans on the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee’s to block U.S. military spending on biofuels programs:

This simply should not be a partisan political issue. It’s not even a


The Internet of (Big) Things

Greg Neichin

Those of us fond of exploring the world of emerging opportunities at the intersection of cleantech and computing power often talk about the Internet of Things.  When he first coined the term in 1999, Kevin Ashton prophetically wrote:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.

I share Kevin’s sentiment that the Internet of Things has the potential to be world changing, but I find it is increasingly important to define what “things” we are talking about.  The world is obviously full of inanimate machines from huge to microscopic and tracking all of these disparate devices would require varying levels of investment, networks, and data crunching capabilities.

The topic was on my mind this week as I reflected on two new deals we tracked in i3 that represented opposite ends of the …

Efficiency Finance: A new perspective

kerry cebul

In our 2011 fourth quarter Investment Monitor, I asserted that 2012 would be “a proving period when bets are placed, and programs and companies either mature or wilt” for efficiency finance players. This statement was a bet on consolidation in the short term. While the year has started off with some major moves (as I discuss here), attending ACEEE’s Energy Efficiency Finance Forum last week highlighted a different perspective on the market’s trajectory. Taking a longer view, it’s clear that (1) many financing options can and should flourish, and (2) the market is still in its exciting early days.

For those who follow the efficiency finance market closely, the assertion that multiple options should flourish may seem obvious. Yet, participating in the Forum’s discussions reinforced several important facts:

  • The real estate market consists of many sub-sectors, which each have unique drivers and barriers. To emphasize this point, Deutsche Bank presented its breakdown of the real estate market, which showcased 3 sectors and 17 sub-sectors. From split incentives in multi-tenant commercial buildings, to high turnover rates in residential and office buildings, each of these sectors requires unique financing solutions.
  • All finance providers are not the same. Funding for projects comes

Why Water

Sheeraz Haji

It’s not priced appropriately; regulation is fierce; it’s so fragmented (by geography, technology, and industry); channels are difficult; investment is scarce; water utilities and their engineering firms don’t want innovation … I’ve heard it before: All the reasons why it’s so hard to build a successful water startup.

However, I believe something has changed, and water is now poised to become a top cleantech theme and investment sector over the next few years.  Why?

  • Water pricing will (and has already) improved to more realistic levels;
  • Hidden costs (e.g. from energy costs to move water or property damage associated with water) will start to become more visible – especially to corporations;
  • Businesses will sweat the risks to reputation, product quality, up-time, and supply chain. Can a beverage factory operate without access to clean water? Can a mining company move forward with a project without the community’s trust that precious water resources will be protected?
  • Corporates are investing in water. Exhibit A is Ecolab’s recent acquisition of NALCO or ABB’s recent investment in Takadu;
  • Entrepreneurial talent is starting to pay attention to water, and we shall see some outstanding repeat entrepreneurs venture into the space.

Those of you who know the …

The Quarter That Was: Outsourced Reflection

Greg Neichin

Given the pace at which the business world moves these days, there is often not enough time for thoughtful reflection.  It can be all too easy to get lost in last week’s meetings and next week’s deadlines and to completely miss the forest for the trees.  With the amount of information that we all try to consume on a daily basis, it is easy to mistake a headline for a trend, hyperbole for fact.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.  Consider us your “Outsourced Reflection”.  Every quarter, for the past 7 years, we have published a comprehensive quarterly manifesto – Cleantech Group’s Quarterly Investment Monitor.  Frankly, I think that this exercise is more important than ever.  As we wrote in opening this edition:

2012 has started on a similar note [to the end of 2011] with a rising number of cleantech companies funded despite a continuing public and media fascination with the sector’s high profile failures. In responding to erroneous press accounts of his own death, noted American author Mark Twain once wrote, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The same could be said of cleantech.

If all you read in the last three months was news of …

All together now – the case of the cleantech hub in the Basque Country

Stephen Marcus

Many in the cleantech industry bemoan that “times are difficult”. However, I argue that “times are different” – different in terms of where and how technology is conceived, developed, financed, and ultimately deployed. The encouraging truth for the sector is that there is a vast and growing amount of cleantech innovation activity occurring globally, financial appetite from investors (albeit in different pockets in different parts of the world than what we were used to), and a desire from incumbent companies in the most established industries to deploy them. The challenge is that cleantech stakeholders cannot rely on the same old tools in the tool box to rise to success, and thus new types of relationships in new areas of the world will become more crucial. This type of attitudinal change is more difficult to achieve.

However, I believe that there are regions out there who definitely “get it”. What struck me from attending the Cleantech Forum in Munich was the revolutionary mind set of a new cleantech hub emerging in the Basque Country in Southern Europe which I believe others, even those further down the path of developing a cleantech hub, can learn from. This was for three main …