by Brett Richardson
| February 3rd 2014
Africa is in the midst of an agricultural revolution, with innovation driving new avenues for increased crop yields, better resource and capital operating efficiencies, and general farm management knowledge. Africa is home to almost 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, or about 60% of the world’s total. This contrasts the fact that 1/3rd of sub-Saharan Africans are undernourished, with population expected to grow to 1.2 billion people by 2050. The cleantech world is driving the changing scope of African agriculture with an influx of new companies offering innovative solutions which will alleviate stresses to the current system and support farmers.
Both local and international startups are addressing some of the most basic challenges of agricultural production in Africa. 20%, or 4 billion dollars of grain harvest, is lost every year and 35-50% of fruit and vegetables spoil from crop and storage pests. UK based companies Plant Health Care and Exosect are targeting this inefficiency with pilot projects in Africa using their proprietary crop protection technologies. Plant Health Care provides natural pesticides which leaves no residual impact on the environment and helps to activate certain defensive and growth responses. Exosect also makes bio-control pesticides that can be applied to …
by Janelle Heslop
| September 17th 2013
On September 10-11, Cleantech Group hosted its second annual Water Innovation Summit in Berkeley, California. Representatives from VC firms, corporates, startups, municipalities, and more gathered to debate issues ranging from repair drones in water pipes to financing infrastructure in emerging markets. Our strategy for the Summit was simple: define top challenges throughout the ‘water cycle’ and uncover opportunities to accelerate innovation at each step. However, what quickly became evident, as with many water-related conversations, is that the challenges are complex and solutions are interconnected.
In fact, in summarizing the Summit, Peter Gleick from the Pacific Institute, referred to a few ‘water clichés’ that seem to emerge from any discussion of water challenges and solutions:
- Water is more than technology; we must consider cultural and political challenges. The confluence of all three—technology, culture, and politics—is the key to making water work. This was particularly noted by leaders from the World Bank and WaterHealth as critical to solving challenges in developing countries. New technologies and business models must be accompanied by an authentic understanding of personal, cultural aspects of water in addition to local regulations. Some innovators in the room provided insight on how to leverage these competing factors—for example,
| August 22nd 2013
The majority perception of the term “cleantech” dictates that folks often think my company, Cleantech Group, must be entirely uninterested in working with large traditional players in the oil & gas (O&G) industry. Indeed, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, our data from i3 and my interview with Jean-Michel Gires, former President & CEO of Total E&P Canada and now the newest Venture Partner at Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, reveal that the O&G industry is embracing clean technology more closely than ever before.
O&G Corporates Partnering with Proven Innovators
Cleantech start-ups often have it tough. Those developing technologies that require more capital and time to scale than traditional “tech” startups lead some investors to argue that the sector just doesn’t fit the traditional venture capital model. And, like biomedical start-ups, some cleantech start-ups often face highly-regulated or otherwise-entrenched traditional industries where innovation is slower to take root.
It is with this backdrop that we see large O&G companies as important drivers of cleantech innovation. Large balance sheets allow for impactful investments and we’re seeing more and more O&G majors starting to embrace innovation more directly with dedicated venturing arms and co-investments with industry peers (see chart at …
by Josh Seidenfeld
| July 11th 2013
InterSolar is on this week in San Francisco. While it’s been a rough year for the upstream folks, and the tradeshow floor may have a New-Year’s-Day-hangover feel about it (notable exception: the focus on the burgeoning energy storage field), some bright spots emerge. As I nurse my own hangover from last night’s Solar Battle of the Bands, I’m reflecting on a terrific side-event that featured some of the world’s most exciting energy innovators.
The Bay Area Energy Access Working Group (a name only an engineer could love) yesterday convened entrepreneurs blazing pathways out of energy poverty. The group, hosted by Google.org at Google’s San Francisco offices, shared new approaches to delivering energy services to some of the 1.3 billion energy-poor people across the globe. New financial tools, new communication technologies, and new business models drive energy innovation in the developing world just as they do in the rich world. The event’s three panels addressed these drivers.
Finance innovation might be the most important current development. Many of the technologies used to deliver life-altering energy services to off-grid, rural communities have long been established. Solar lanterns come to mind. Now, though, we require the money to deploy these technologies at scale. …
| January 18th 2013
Investments in water & wastewater technologies were on a supposedly unsustainable high during the first half of 2012. The latter half of the year saw relatively minimal activity, accounting for just over 12% of total water dollars invested in 2012. What happened?
According to preliminary data from Cleantech Group, the number of deals dropped significantly – hovering near 50 in 1H12 but falling to less than 20 in 2H12. It seems investors lost all interest in supporting private companies focused on drinking water treatment, as I saw no deals tracked for pure filtration or disinfection technologies. I also noted the absence of big money going towards service providers like Golden State Environment and Doshio, which together accounted for $80MM in growth equity in 1Q12.
Taking a look at the investments that were made, it is apparent that wastewater is continuing to garner significant attention, with nearly half of 2H12 investor dollars going towards companies involved in the treatment of industrial and/or municipal wastewater. Reuse was one of the more prominent themes here, which comes as no surprise given the heightened anxiety around climate change (and its impact on water scarcity) in the aftermath of events like Hurricane Sandy and global …
by Sam Shrank
| December 13th 2012
Since setting up auto-pay the day I moved into my apartment, I’ve given no thought to my utility bill. Given that my job is to analyze and advise utilities, I’d venture to say most people are no more engaged. However, with an evolving set of customer offerings—energy efficiency (EE), alternative fuel vehicles, demand response, and the like—many utilities are realizing that they may require better, different, or more communication. In short, they are discovering what it means to sell.
And not only are they beginning to market things customers may not feel they need, they now have competitors as well, particularly in the EE market. Various other entities are looking to advise large electricity and gas users about how to lower their bills and provide help with financing, sell devices directly to customers that increase automation and control, or take over the utility’s role as the provider of EE offerings funded through utility bill surcharges. All of these reduce both the direct benefit to utilities from performance incentives and the indirect benefits from higher customer satisfaction, improved regulatory relationships, and perceived leadership.
Mining the extensive body of knowledge on consumer behavior provides insight on how utilities can more effectively communicate …
| December 3rd 2012
I spent Thanksgiving week traveling through Thailand. It was my first trip there, and hopefully not my last – the country is amazing! I love the people, the culture, the food, the views….and the free bottled water? Yes, you read that correctly – free bottled water. In Thailand, it is standard to receive 2-3 complimentary bottles of water in your hotel room, despite assurance from the government that the tap water is safe to drink. As most tourists do, I erred on the side of “better safe than sorry”, and took the bottled water. Though I must admit, I was somewhat ashamed to do so.
Isn’t the tap water in Thailand subject to WHO guidelines for drinking water quality, which would ensure that I am protected from harmful contaminants? Doesn’t the organization pride itself on “producing international norms on water quality and human health in the form of guidelines that are used as the basis for regulation and standard setting, in developing and developed countries world-wide”? Indeed it does, but I overlooked the difference between a guideline and a requirement – an extremely important distinction. Guidelines are mere recommendations or targets that help ensure the quality of …
by Jill Bunting
| November 19th 2012
This week’s index number is 2017, which, according to the International Energy Agency, is the year the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer. The U.S. is projected to be a net exporter of oil by 2030.
These developments will create a cloudy horizon for stakeholders invested in improving environmental performance. With U.S. energy “independence” within sight, we may see a renewed focus on energy efficiency standards and programs aimed at pushing the U.S. over the line. At the same time, low prices and a sense of plentiful reserves could depress efforts to develop fossil fuel alternatives. This is particularly relevant for countries like China and India, where lower prices for oil and gas will also put downward pressure on the price of imported coal.
This is the first entry in our new weekly series, The S-Curve Index, where we highlight a number that’s impacting the world of sustainability. Click here for more information about the S-Curve and our approach to environmental innovation. This post was originally published on GreenOrder’s blog.…
by Yakov Berenshteyn
| November 9th 2012
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we’ve seen a renewed focus in the media on climate change. As it so often does, the conversation points to technology as a lever for both mitigation and adaptation.
Microgrids in particular are suddenly top of mind again, covered in MIT Technology Review, Fast Company, Christian Science Monitor, and Huffington Post in a span of just five days. These pieces praise microgrids for enabling distributed renewables (mitigation) and taking critical customers like hospitals off the main power grid in emergencies (adaptation).
While we applaud any effort to raise awareness of clean technology, it’s important not to have a knee-jerk response to climate events like Sandy. In the case of microgrids, it’s not what these authors wrote – but rather what they didn’t write – that has us giving a word of caution: the latest reports lay out microgrids’ great technological benefits, but give little advice as to how an institutional or commercial electricity customer should navigate the overwhelmingly complex regulatory structure behind utility operations in order to actually develop and deploy a microgrid.
In many regions of the US, the reality is that it will be up to the utilities and …
| November 7th 2012
The term “disruptive” is thrown around by just about everyone these days – investors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and even Cleantech Group! I fear the word is doomed to follow the same projected path of the word “sustainability”… Before heading too far down that road, I’d like to get in my two cents on some of the water technologies I perceive to be “disruptive” in today’s world.
- Amoeba. A majority of commercial and industrial cooling tower operators have used the same [chemical] treatment system for decades and are hesitant to try anything new, even in the face of rising water and energy costs. Many alternative treatment systems have been on the market for over a decade, but market penetration has been slow. Non-oxidizing agents such as biocides, though more expensive, are increasingly being tested and talked about.
- Axine Water Technologies. According to data tracked through i3, over a quarter (27%) of venture capital dollars in the first half of 2012 went to companies providing solutions primarily applicable to industrial water users. The growing presence and importance of this consumer segment stems from concerns around toxicity of wastewater streams, the use of treatment chemicals (and potential creation of byproducts), discharge