cleantech insights

Energy innovation opens doors for the world’s 1.3B “energy-poor”

Josh Seidenfeld

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 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. …


Riding the solar coaster – a free mini-report from Cleantech Group

Whitney Michael

Just released – a special excerpt on Solar from Cleantech Group’s Quarterly Investment Monitor report (normally available only to subscribers).

Venture investment in solar in the first quarter of 2012 was down following on the back of a strong 2011. Companies innovating in various areas of the solar sector raised $250 million in the first quarter, down 53 percent from the previous quarter and down 56 percent when compared with the same quarter a year earlier. While the total amount invested dropped steeply, the number of deals done remained relatively strong at 28 (right near the long-running sweet spot for the sector of 30 deals per quarter).

This suggests investors are both cautious about market conditions and capital-constrained and are choosing more efficient fund allocation while still keeping an appetite for deals. The average round sizes for both the quarter as a whole and the top three deals were also down around 50 percent compared with the quarterly averages for 2011.

SolarCity’s $81 million round, the biggest round of the quarter for the solar sector, drove the large dollar share for the segment. In addition to SolarCity’s round, other PV integrators/developers including SungevityOneRoof EnergyISIS Solar

Who’s Brave Enough to Start a Solar Fund Today?

Sheeraz Haji

The other day an investor was updating us on his fund’s activities. He said their partnership had decided to focus on – you won’t believe this – capital efficient investment opportunities. Shocking! He was then quick to point out that they had only invested in one solar deal, and they were definitely avoiding solar going-forward. Sound familiar?

This conversation got me thinking – is anyone out there brave (or crazy) enough to start a new solar fund today. I’m not talking about folks willing to invest only in the downstream side. It’s well-understood that companies like SolarCity and SunRun are benefiting from cheap panel prices, government incentives, and financing vehicles. Many investors have noticed (for example, Silver Lake Kraftwork’s first investment was in Solar City); SunRun just raised another $60 million. I’m wondering if you know of any investors willing to focus new investments on solar technology (manufacturing) companies.

Why? My basic rationale is that it feels like the pendulum has swung too far to the negative, and there should be a plethora of solid solar companies to invest in at very reasonable valuations. Our i3 database captures almost 1800 solar companies. Yes, I know it’s tough out there …

The Post-Solyndra Tug of War


Following Solyndra’s recent sudden collapse in the news has felt like running a marathon.  Apparently the company’s executives are now dodging testimony before Congress.  It’s of course spawned plenty of hyper-partisan attempts to spin the issue every which way but at the end of the day, the high profile failure of a heavily subsidized cleantech company has rightfully inspired an important debate around the issue of energy policy.

In an article in the days following Solyndra’s Chapter 11 announcement, CTG CEO Sheeraz Haji hinted that perhaps Solyndra was simply a high risk bet from the start – a bet on a new form factor (cylindrical cells designed to capture sunlight at any angle of incidence) at the precise moment in history when standard crystalline silicon modules were reaching commodity-status and costs were coming down.  Perhaps the company’s technology will simply go the way of the dinosaurs, and standard flat panels (crystalline silicon or thin film) will have won out.  But when the dust and lawsuits settle, Solyndra’s technology could still  be made available to the world – just under another name and likely via a factory in China.

Now, I hate to disappoint, but this is not going to …

Don’t let large-scale solar eclipse the market for the poor.

Daniel Coles

Whilst being a massive advocate for the push to make solar technology more affordable to reduce the industry’s reliance on feed in tariffs, I have come to realise it has somewhat taken the attention away from another important application of solar: to provide light for people in developing countries. It is a market that is potentially worth billions.

Currently 1.6 billion people live without electricity, with the majority of them burning kerosene to produce light. This comes with numerous problems: kerosene lighting is more expensive per unit of light than what we pay in the developed world for electric lighting, and there are huge health implications attached with using kerosene – breathing in the indoor air pollution from kerosene lamps is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day! Furthermore the environmental effect of 1.6 billion people using kerosene fuel accounts for approximately 9% of global carbon emissions from lighting.

So the challenge we are now facing is to make solar lighting products available to developing world countries at an affordable price. Easier said than done.

Currently there is not one proven approach to market entry for providing solar energy in developing rural areas. Each country differs in terms …

Storage: Week in Review

Alon Gavrielov

The last couple of weeks were full  of energy storage activity: Leyden Energy and Aquion Energy both raised new rounds from VC’s, A123 Systems announced that it will provide a storage system for a wind installation in China, and Zinc Air reached an agreement to supply an advanced energy storage system to Juhl Wind.  For more news and information, please read below:

M&A/ Partnerships/Investments:

Lithium-ion battery start-up Leyden Energy raised $20 million in venture capital funding to help expand their production capabilities.

Zinc Air reaches agreement with Juhl Wind for the installation of a 1MW advanced Zinc Redox flow battery storage system developed by Zinc Air.

Canon Investment Holdings closes investment (initiated in September 2010) in advanced battery company Altair Nanotechnologies.

Contour Energy Systems Announces Distribution Agreement With INEC for Spain and Portugal

Aquion Energy, a developer of sodium-ion batteries, has raised $20m from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Foundation Capital.

Dirty Cleantech? GlassPoint’s Challenge to the Scope of our Sector


If you were to spend time in our research department you would normally hear only the patter of keyboards, with occasional bubbles of technical questions punctuating the tranquil atmosphere. However one morning this week the peace was broken by animated argument, all over one company and whether it should be profiled in our i3 platform: GlassPoint Solar.

A perfect test case for any definition of cleantech, GlassPoint has developed an innovative solar system for producing steam to be used in extracting oil. On the one hand this technology removes the need to burn natural gas to produce steam, on the other it reduces the cost of extracting oil. You can imagine the lines of debate, one side pointing negative environmental impact of oil and therefore anything that makes its extraction cheaper, while the other pointing to reduced natural gas consumption.

An over-simplistic labeling of this dichotomy would be to characterize the two sides as ‘idealists’ and ‘pragmatists’, however I believe this is to miss a fascinating insight into the nature of cleantech. If you were to measure the immediate environmental impact of GlassPoint and its customers you would find little clean to justify its inclusion as clean

Solar in China, Version 2.0

Hans Chen

The Chinese Government has amended the solar portion of its recently released 12th Five-year Plan. The new plan suggests that by 2015, total solar capacity within the country will reach 10,000 megawatts, doubling from the original plan of 5,000 megawatts.

Among the 10,000 megawatts, about 6,500 will come from large utility-scale solar power plants in provinces and regions such as Qinghai, Xinjiang, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Shanxi, all of which are inland, less-developed provinces. Around 3,500 megawatts will be in the form of smaller-scale projects spreading throughout the mid-eastern provinces and regions, where factories need large amount of electricity to support the country’s gigantic manufacturing industry. The final 500 megawatts will be off-grid solar systems aiming to solve the issue of power shortage in countryside and the least developed regions.

Taken into consideration that the total solar capacity in China is merely 768 megawatts at this moment, this amended plan sounds quite ambitious. But let’s not forget that China owns a total solar cell production capacity of 8,000 megawatts, good for 60% of the global capacity. The problem is just that 95% of those cells were exported. Apparently , solar cells and modules will likely experience the process …

Is cleantech a service industry?

Josh Gould

Services, as any economist would tell you, are hugely important to the economies of developed countries.  In the European Union, where this post is being written (I’m here for our wonderful Amsterdam event), services make up 71% of the economy.  In the US, it is even higher (at 77%).  In fact, it’s likely that you – the reader – are part of the service economy.

Against this service-centric economy, popular media has often portrayed cleantech as a starkly different type of industry – one that is manufacturing-centric and commodity-reliant.  Think of utility scale wind turbines, or solar manufacturing, or even hybrids.  And these examples illustrate the stereotype is not entirely off the mark.  But we at Cleantech Group believe the next wave of cleantech will be much more heavily focused on services.  Here are just a few examples of where and how this is happening, in cleantech-sectors stereotyped as “dumb” or hardware-centric:

  • Lighting: Innovation in lighting types (e.g., LED, OLED, etc.) is extending the operational life of fixtures up to 100,000 hours.  While this is excellent for consumers, it challenges the traditional, large lighting companies’ business models of selling fixtures, waiting a few years, and selling the consumer new fixtures when the

The UK’s Innovative Entrepreneurs can’t go it alone: Government must lead the way with a strong hand


As an analyst with the Cleantech Group, I have been privileged to meet some of the UK’s most creative and committed people: its cleantech entrepreneurs. This small group of innovators are working courageously, often against the odds, to produce the next generation of technologies that will allow society to prosper through looming challenges. If Winston Churchill were born 100 years later he may well have said of these entrepreneurs, “Never in the field of human innovation was so much owed by so many to so few”.

When it comes to cleantech innovation, the UK has much to be confident about: The INSEAD Global Innovation Index ranks the UK 4th in the world for ‘culture of innovation’ and ‘quality of scientific research institutions’ and we have a government that has stated its desire to be the “greenest government ever”. UK cleantech entrepreneurs have benefited from partnerships with world leading universities and a raft of helpful legislation, including the Renewable Heat Incentive, Code for Sustainable Homes and Feed-in Tariff. However they still face significant challenges: in a Cleantech Group research project, conducted in April 2011 on behalf of the Carbon Trust, 29% of UK cleantech entrepreneurs cited …