Long one of the world’s most influential economies, France is firmly taking its place as a major player in the cleantech sector. That much was apparent this week at the Cleantech Forum XXVII in Paris.
Last year saw the most-ever cleantech VC deals for France, which was second in Europe for the number of deals done after the United Kingdom, said Richard Youngman, managing director and vice president of research at the Cleantech Group, during the event. The progress amounted to a compound annual growth rate of 80 percent during the past four years, he said.
Cleantech companies in France raised $157 million in 33 deals in 2009—an increase of 15 percent over the previous year, despite tough economic conditions that saw investment levels drop around the globe. There were a further 20 deals in France in the first quarter of 2010, Ernst & Young Cleantech Leader Philippe Grand said at the forum.
The French Parliament is throwing its support behind the growing industry, last month renaming its atomic energy agency to Nouvelles Technologies de l’Energie au CE, with a staff of about 600.
“It’s an important symbol representing what’s changed,” said Paul Lucchese, program director for the agency, which is performing R&D in photovoltaics, building-integrated PV, smart grid, and other sectors.
France’s reliance on nuclear energy as the majority supplier of energy may have slowed its cleantech progress compared to countries such as Germany and Spain that enacted aggressive subsidies for solar adoption. But armed with a renewable feed-in tariff, the market is picking up alongside investment in the space.
Firms including Demeter Partners, Total Energy Ventures and the European Investment Fund all reported at the forum that they expect to be more active in the coming year (see Total dives further into biofuel with Coskata investment). Veolia has also ramped up its cleantech activities, announcing a program to partner with cleantech startups earlier this year at the Cleantech Forum San Francisco (see Veolia: Bring us your cleantech).
Among the French startups at the forum were WatchFrog, which is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to test its small tadpoles that illuminate in response to contaminants, CEO Gregory Lemkine said. Another water startup was NeoSens, which developed a low-energy sensor technology for online, continuous, in-situ water quality monitoring.
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