cleantech insights

Recap on Biofuels & Biochemicals Innovation Report

Leo Zhang

Cleantech Group recently published a sector whitepaper focused on innovation trends in the Biofuels & Biochemicals sector. In this report, we provided a comprehensive overview of the industry’s value chain, ranging from feedstocks to end products. Despite several setbacks throughout the development of this sector, there are still an increasing number of innovations during the past five years – at both industry and company levels – in an effort to push through some of the scale-up challenges since the sector’s initial rise.

Several themes emerged through our analysis of this sector. First of all, building a streamlined supply chain for year-round production is the first bottleneck to overcome. In essence, there is no single silver bullet solution to feedstock and as a result, we are seeing innovative technologies being developed ranging from crop yield improvements to direct production of fermentable sugars. Looking closely at the latest investment trends, 2013 showed a significant spike in both sum and number of deals to feedstock companies.

Another key trend in the Biofuels & Biochemicals sector centers on the shift from biofuels to biochemicals, where companies are starting to focus on high-margin products due to their pricing premiums. In addition, such shift has also …

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The Rise of Distributed Energy Storage Systems

Thomas Roccanova

In the age of up and coming distributed energy resources, one must put energy storage in the conversation.  While Solar PV may be the current breadwinner in many people’s minds, recent developments show the future for energy storage is bright. In October 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a new mandate that requires Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020. Paired with the recently re-established SGIP incentive, energy storage is poised to become a driving force in California in the coming years.

While it is early to attribute too many specific energy storage projects directly to the newly initiated mandate, energy storage companies such as Stem and Green Charge Networks are among the emerging start-ups that are focusing on reducing demand charges through a customer-side, behind-the-meter approach of distributed energy storage. Stem, Green Charge Networks, and Coda Energy have received notable recent funding within the past year, which has helped them develop zero-money down energy storage finance programs in order to incentivize adoption among industrial and commercial customers.

Keeping in tune with the general movement toward automation, Stem and Green Charge Networks

Aiming For the Stars: Google’s Acquisition of Skybox Imaging

Gannon McHenry

Skybox_Google_GraphicSkybox Imaging was acquired by Google last month for $500 million. This purchase ranks as the 10th largest by disclosed deal amount in Google’s history and is a very important acquisition. Skybox, which is based out of Mountain View, CA, has developed a micro-satellite capable of taking highly detailed images of the earth’s surface. They were venture-backed having received a total of $91 million in VC funding from notable firms including Khosla Ventures, Canaan Partners, Northwest Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners. Skybox builds their satellites with off the shelf components, including some traditionally used in the automotive industry. This innovative approach has allowed them to build satellites which are 20x smaller than traditional imaging satellites; at a significantly lower price point. Building smaller satellites not only saves on component cost, it greatly reduces the price to launch an individual satellite (traditional imaging satellites cost upwards of $1 billion to build and launch). The smaller footprint of these satellites will allow Skybox to deploy their initial constellation of units much quicker than traditional satellite imaging companies have been capable of in the past. Skybox deployed their first satellite in November of this past year, and currently …

New cleantech startups challenging a risky business (and climate) environment

Natalie Volpe

This week, a landmark report was released on the devastating and real effects of climate change on business as usual within the United States. (Spoiler alert: Things won’t remain business as usual.) Deviating from the tomes released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year that assert medium to high confidence assurances that climate is changing, this report clearly states the economic risk facing U.S. business resulting from climate change.

Armed with dollar figures supported by a substantiated risk analysis, the report, entitled “Risky Business”, delivered a cautionary message rather than a much needed how-to manual for the business community. The real win, however, were the report authors: Former Mayor Bloomberg, Former Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulsen, and Tom Steyer; an unlikely group of climate advocates from opposing political groups that, in and of itself, amplifies the importance of the present issue.

At this point, however, the “cleantech community” (ostensibly, those interested in how a changing climate necessitates new, sustainable innovation) is well-versed in the latest facts and figures, and now is one step ahead: innovation sourcing. But innovation is all around us, and it’s hard. Companies are asking themselves how they can discover the next ride-sharing …

Discussing the ABB + Solar Impulse Partnership with ABB SVP Maxine Ghavi

M Paschich

ABB_Maxine _GhaviEarlier this quarter, ABB announced their technology alliance partnership with Solar Impulse. We spoke with Maxine Ghavi—SVP & Head of the Solar Industry Segment Initiative at ABB—about the nature of this corporate partnership and what she sees lying ahead for the team.   

Hello Maxine… Can you tell us the genesis story for the ABB + Solar Impulse partnership?

If you look at ABB and Solar Impulse we share a common ideal, and that is to address the growing energy demand with increased efficiency and minimal environmental impact. Both organizations value innovation, value pushing the envelope on the limits of technology. We also share the cultural characteristics of being Swiss-based companies. We both have novel approaches to solving problems in a responsible way, and endeavor to make significant contributions to the areas of renewable energy and storage. All of these together – our shared visions for technology, innovation and sustainable energy – they set a solid foundation for collaboration and to take these common areas of expertise to the next level.

ABB_Blog_Image1Yes, that’s quite interesting. How do you fit into this story? Can you share a bit on your background, and what you’re doing at ABB? Also, what do you like

Red Hot: Agriculture & Food Investment Sets Record Pace in 2014

Gannon McHenry

Precision Agriculture has burst onto the scene as one of the most discussed sectors of 2014. This is due in no small part to the recent commercialization of multiple disruptive technologies. Technologies such as drones, formerly limited to military use, are now being deployed on farms to help greatly increase production. Large corporations and venture investors have begun to notice the immense opportunities involved with mitigating the effects of a changing climate and an ever-growing need for better yields.AgInvestment

Total 2014 Q1 venture investment in companies covered by our Agriculture and Food sector was $230M, over double the amount from 2013 Q1. In a sign of the sector’s increasing momentum, the dollar amount of deals made in 2014 has already eclipsed the total for 2013; so far coming in at $331M. Current deal levels are also set to exceed the record number of investments which occurred last year.

The largest individual rounds of the year have so far occurred in the area of genomics. Arcadia Biosciences, a company focused on the production of genetically engineered hardy crops, closed a $33M funding round in early May. Chromatin, a developer of sorghum seed technologies, received $36M in January from a …

What do the EPA’s proposed new rules mean for cleantech?

Sheeraz Haji

You’ve most likely heard the big news: on Monday of this week, the US EPA proposed new rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Since the EPA is using the Clean Air Act—specifically Section 111(d)—as its framework for the proposed regulations, it’s no surprise that these rules focus on a specific pollutant (CO2) emitted by facilities already in operation. In an interesting twist, however, the rules give states significant latitude to figure out how they will reduce their emissions.

Will these new rules drive investment in cleantech? Yes, I believe they will. First a bit of background… while we have seen a number of success stories (e.g., Tesla, SolarCity, Nest, Opower), overall investment in cleantech innovation has declined these past couple of years. According to i3, investment in cleantech declined by 15% from $8.3 billion in 2012 to $7.1 billion in 2013.

When we explore the macro challenges with our clients, we often hear concerns about US policy: “Too much uncertainty”, “there is no national policy” or “policies are prescriptive” are all common refrains. While the new rules are a long way from law, they represent an important step in addressing these …

How Behavioral Water Efficiency Can Change Our Relationship with H2O: an Interview w/ WaterSmart CEO Peter Yolles

M Paschich

PYcWaterSmart Software recently raised nearly $5 million in Series A round of funding: we chat with Peter Yolles, Co-Founder and CEO, about the company, its growing team, the value of data-driven water management, and the future of the water system.    

Hi Peter… Can you walk us back to the beginning of WaterSmart Software?

Yes, I’d be glad to tell that story. I’ve been in the water sector for over 20 years, and so when I moved to my first home in 2001 it was very important to me that the home use water efficiently. So, I installed hardware like efficient toilets and other appliances, and at the same time I was very interested in knowing what impact these investments would have and how much money I was saving on my water use. Tracking these savings meant gathering data, which—I thought—meant going online to my local water utility’s website. Surprisingly, I found a page called “Water Consumption History”. Frustratingly, the page said “Under Construction / Check Back Soon”. And so I waited and waited and waited and, after 8 years, nothing changed. Looking back, it makes some sense because, when you think about it, water utilities just don’t have a core …

China’s Smog Triggers Investment in Air Pollution Mitigation

Wendy Bao

During the opening keynote at Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014, Cleantech Group CEO, Sheeraz Haji, stepped on the stage while wearing a facemask commonly seen in China. Attendees immediately realized his reference to the infamous air pollution problem in China. According to China’s Development Research Center of the State Council, smoggy weather costs China approximately $100 billion a year. To mitigate such loss, Chinese government plans to invest $290 billion for air pollution treatment technologies from 2013 to 2017, said Xiaoqing Wu, Vice-Minister of the China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. These investments and mandates by the government will create a huge market demand for innovating technologies within the Air sector.

 China Investment in Air

Per chart below, desirable investment environment created by the urgent needs for air pollution mitigation technologies resulted in a peak in investments last year. According to Cleantech Group’s i3 Platform, deal count in the Air sector rose from just two deals to ten deals between 2012 and 2013. We saw leading global ventures such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB),  Qualcomm Ventures, and Sequoia Capital, along with local ventures such as Qiming Venture Partners and TusPark Ventures actively investing in the Air sector in …

The Last Frontier of the IT Revolution: A Chat with Ecofective CEO Mats Pettersson

M Paschich


[UPDATE: Ecofective was ranked 1st in the Energy Efficiency category (and 3rd overall) in the 2014 Nordic Cleantech Open]

One of our sessions during the Cleantech Forum Europe that will be held in Stockholm (May 19-21) is titled The Entrepreneurs Track. Building Innovations Meet Their Target Purchasers: Where the Rubber Truly Hits the Road. In this session, selected building technology companies developing solutions for the buildings industry deliver their “customer pitch” and discuss their products with a group of targeted corporate buyers from the real estate and building industries. Mats Pettersson, CEO of Ecofective, is participating in this session at the Forum. In this related interview, Mats talks about the last frontier of the IT revolution…

What is Ecofective’s genesis story, how did this company come to be?

Ecofective started off as a consultancy with one customer – Wallenstam. Wallenstam is a multi-tenant building owner with around 150 large residential properties here in Sweden. The original project was to develop technology to help these buildings to be more energy efficient, with particular attention on heating systems, since we have long and cold winters here. Ecofective used a thermodynamic optimization research technology, developed for at the Royal Technical Institute in …