cleantech insights

Obama, Wal-Mart, and the Changing Face of Cleantech

James Mwaura

obama walmart

When it was announced that President Barack Obama’s west coast swing would conclude in Mountain View, CA (home of Google, LinkedIn, and a variety of other tech starlets), the location of his speech took a lot of people by surprise – Wal-Mart. Despite being in the heart of Silicon Valley, 40 minutes away from the bustle of San Francisco, and a stone’s throw from Stanford University, Obama chose the Mountain View branch of a behemoth retailer which is far from representative of Silicon Valley and seems like an odd choice for a speech centered on energy efficiency.

Or was it? As it turns out, Wal-Mart is a great example of the huge role that large corporations are playing in the clean energy economy. The branch in Mountain View has replaced many of its in-store lighting fixtures with ultra-high efficiency LEDs, added two electric vehicle charging ports in its parking lot, and installed solar arrays on its roof. Wal-Mart, in fact, has more solar installed than any other company in the United States, and has 335 renewable energy projects in operation or development, generating over 24% of the electricity that its stores consume. Wal-Mart, like many other corporates, is quietly yet …


Obama Executive Order: Triple Renewable Energy Usage


[originally posted on Mosaic’s blog]

President Obama used to campaign on his theme of hope and change.  Despite numerous political hurdles and geopolitical events that have diverted his attention since his 2008 election, it can proudly be said that the president has taken another step towards bringing about positive change. In his second State of the Union address, President Obama lifted the hearts of environmentally-conscious people everywhere with his bold statement “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”  Though the rhetoric was there, actual change was certainly slower in coming to fruition.

Today, President Obama issued an executive order (bypassing the inefficiency of Congress) to mandate that the federal government (including the military) triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, at which point renewable power would provide 20 percent of the government’s energy.

Setting a good example

According to …

As Goes LanzaTech, so Goes Cleantech

Greg Neichin

If you are in the cleantech sector and had not previously heard about Lanzatech, you likely have now.  The company raised a big, $55.8M round last week that has been widely applauded and covered.  Students of the company had seen this coming for awhile.  Lanzatech was the highest ranking company in the Asia Pacific region in our Cleantech 100 survey earning it “APAC Company of the Year” at our gala banquet last year.  It was featured as part of GTM’s Trendspotting post on the Top 12 Greentech Startups to Watch in 2012.   We’ve made Lanzatech our featured “Company of the Week” in i3 this week, but it may just turn out to be cleantech’s company of the year (and its only January!).  Here are the top reasons that I think Lanzatech exemplifies a number of key themes happening in cleantech:

1.) Cross-Border Financings – I have previously written about Chinese and Korean investors taking large stakes in Western cleantech companies.  Now we can add the Malaysians to that list.  The round was led by the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund and included participation from Malaysian state oil company, Petronas.  With the US venture community still experiencing …

Cleanweb NYC Hackathon: Top 3 Unsung Winners

Greg Neichin

On the same weekend that the Giants broke the 49ers hearts, Sunil Paul playfully added some insult to injury in the bicoastal rivalry by declaring, “New York has stepped up with an event [cleanweb hackathon] that is, dare I say, bigger than San Francisco.”  And while, as a true bicoastal executive, I have no interest in stoking the cliché Silicon Valley v. Silicon Alley fire, we can safely say that New York represented this past weekend.

The New York cleanweb hackathon organizers, which included Sunil, Blake Burris of Dynamo Labs, Micah Kotch from NYC ACRE, Nicholas Eisenberger of Pure Energy Partners, Matt Solt of Civvic, and a number of others, put on a great show and took a big step forward in evangelizing the cleanweb movement.  Judging by the turnout, the “cleanweb”, the increasingly popular term for applying IT solutions to global resource constraint problems, is a hit amongst the East Coast digerati (even meriting an appearance by NYC’s trendminting venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who had previously cast off cleantech as an entirely separate form of VC).

There were a number of awards presented at the end of the event to standout teams (check out …

Top 5 Cleantech Predictions For 2012: The Expanded International Version

Greg Neichin

It’s that time of the year when pundits and prognosticators begin to opine about what will happen in 2012.   Frankly, I don’t like this game.  In mid-2001, I worked for a technology “futurist” firm and wrote a piece predicting that CD-R/W music players would continue to dominate in the year ahead.  That was a couple months before the ipod came on the market and made me look like a fool.  Not that I mind looking like a fool, but I think I’ve shied away from these declarations ever since.

However, I was inspired this week by Rob Day (@cleantechvc) to throw my hat back into the ring.  Why? Because Rob actually went back and wrote a post critiquing the predictions he made from the previous year.  I found this remarkable precisely because most analysts write these odes with zero accountability.  As an investor, Rob actually has to bet on his predictions, so I enjoyed his self-critique.  I promise to do the same – someone hold me to it!

So without further adieu, here are my top 5, slightly irreverent, predictions for cleantech internationally in the year ahead. Why international? Because I’ve spent most of the last 6 …

Ford’s ‘Power of Choice’ Tour Stops in San Francisco – Is Detroit Leading Again?


I sold my car when I moved to San Francisco. I have my Zipcar membership, and as a sustainability nut am quite content riding public transportation in the city. But I know that, eventually, my dream job as a soccer dad will require that I once again own my own wheels.

Though Ford was not among the American auto makers to receive a bailout from the federal government during the height of the financial crisis, the company did find itself saddled with some of the negative stigma assigned en masse to American auto companies who have for some time been seen as latecomers to the cleantech table. For many American drivers in my generation, ‘buying American’ has seemed more of a patriotic decision – not one based on quality. I assumed I’d end up buying a Prius. After attending the San Francisco stop of Ford’s ‘Power of Choice’ tour yesterday, however, the company may have found its way back onto my short list.

Hosted by Dan Kapp, Director of Powertrain Research & Advanced Engineering at Ford, the session was attended by Ford dealerships, representatives of the City of San Francisco, and interested members of the media.

Ford certainly seems to …

A report from SDTC Cleantech Focus (or how Canada is going to take over the world)

Whitney Michael

If cleantech world domination was based on sheer passion and enthusiasm, I have no doubt Canada would be #1.  At last night’s kick-off reception for the SDTC Cleantech Focus in Toronto, I was reminded of the bar in Cheers – a place where everybody knows your name.  We at Cleantech Group specialize in helping cleantech stakeholders make new connections, but here the attendees are already old friends greeting each other with hugs and smiles.  It really underscored for me the collaborative spirit in which Canadians approach both their nation’s resource and climate change issues and the task of making Canada a cleantech superpower on the world stage.

In terms of cleantech VC investments since 2005, Canada is in a very respectable fourth place behind the US, China and the UK.  2011 is trending to the be the all-time high for cleantech venture investments in Canada with $381 million year-to-date.  That should overtake by year-end the previous all-time high of $385 million from 2007.  Ontario, where we are hosting this conference, is the most active province in cleantech VC investments with 48% of total dollars since 2005. (All data sourced from Cleantech Group’s i3 Platform.)

Co-produced by Cleantech Group and …

Guest Analysis: Obama Cleantech Stimulus: Bad Policy, Bad Politics and Bad for Cleantech

Guest Analyst: David Gold

The Solyndra debacle is no surprise to this cleantech venture capitalist. The inherent conflict between trying to get money out of the U.S. Treasury as quickly as possible to stimulate the economy and, at the same time, have government agencies that are ill-suited at making business decisions do just that was nothing other than a recipe for disaster.

Anytime a government program is giving money to the private sector with the intent of getting the money back, the program is doomed to failure.  Bureaucracies, politics and the lack of a profit motive simply don’t allow government to succeed in business.   Anyone who was surprised that politics played a role in the loan decision for Solyndra (and almost certainly other awardees) is very naïve.

Even if, by some miracle, the government could make good business decisions void of political influence, such programs are still doomed to failure because the public and media won’t allow for even one loan or investment to fail. In venture capital we make investments that don’t succeed and we fail often.  Yet, we are still successful on the whole.  Our successes more than compensate for our failures.  The government has no ability to operate this way.  Even …

Seven ways the US military is embracing cleantech

Whitney Michael

Great piece today from Earth2Tech on seven ways the US military is “investing and proselytizing the value of clean power, biofuels and energy efficiency products and services for job creation, energy security and (insert your favorite cliché here).”

It makes sense.  According to this post, the Defense Department accounts for 80% of the energy used by the federal government.  As huge employers, users of fuel and energy, and stakeholders in cutting-edge technologies, the armed forces have a lot to gain (and save) by conserving energy and reducing fuel consumption.

We’ve just confirmed Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Navy, Energy, to headline a panel on the Government’s Role in Cleantech at the Global Cleantech 100 Summit in October.

He’ll speak to the Navy’s biofuel, energy storage and renewable energy initiatives.  Tom will be joined on the panel by Keith Curtis, Senior Energy Advisor from the US Department of Commerce.

We’re going to announce the 2011 Global Cleantech 100 list at this event and bring together cleantech’s thought leaders to discuss the companies and market forces that will drive the global clean economy forward.  Seats are still available and early registration discounts are in place through September 16.  …

Continuing the East Coast – West Coast battle: Boston’s Cleantech Cluster takes on Silicon Valley

Amanda Faulkner

When it comes to cleantech startups, it can feel like Silicon Valley is the center of universe. The area boasts successful startups like Solyndra, Coda Automotive and Bloom Energy as well as established giants like Google and Cisco. Indeed, in 2010, 59% of cleantech VC investments in North America went to California-based companies.

Yet Massachusetts is also emerging as a cleantech center, attracting 8% of North American cleantech VC dollars in 2010, the second largest amount after California. As a proud Bostonian myself, I’m thrilled to see companies like A123, Boston-Power and Zipcar coming out of the area.

Today’s re-emergence of Boston as a cleantech cluster comes after its dramatic decline in high-tech thirty years ago. In “Regional Advantage”, AnnaLee Saxenian analyzed the growth and dominance of Silicon Valley over the Boston tech hub in the 1990’s. Both areas had large research universities (MIT and Stanford), generous government support for tech research and plenty of VC. But Silicon Valley’s open, collaborative culture and acceptance of failure dominated over Boston’s vertically integrated and secretive business culture.

So what has changed in the business culture of Boston since the 1990s? Boston still has the constant stream …