With half the federal stimulus funds rolling out and the other half still in the application process, green IT attracted more investor interest in third quarter than it ever has. In fact, cleantech posted high enough venture investment numbers to edge out biotech and infotech for the first time ever as the top venture capital investment sector for the quarter. But while the stimulus funds have helped move the sector along and spur more VC investment, companies and investors need to be thinking now about what they’re going to do once the stimulus has come and gone.
Smart grid continues to be a hot space with dozens of utilities announcing partnerships in third quarter as they went after government funds for pilots and larger scale rollouts. Any company without a software component is scrambling to get one as home energy monitoring remains a must-have. Thanks to all the interest in smart grid, however, talk of a bubble in the space grew this quarter with even smart-grid CEOs mentioning the b-word and worrying that VCs were not going to get the returns they expect from smart grid investments.
Battery companies—focused both on vehicles and consumer electronics—fared well in third quarter, drawing attention from VCs, the government and larger companies looking at batteries as a good business to be in. Lithium-ion technology, while currently dominating the space, is losing a bit of its luster thanks to talk of limited lithium resources and expensive manufacturing processes. Talk of going “beyond lithium” dominated many battery conversations and was the theme of an IBM-led meeting of the battery minds. While everyone seems to agree that’s the right direction, no one is sure yet of what there is beyond lithium.
The momentum behind plug-in electric vehicles got a boost this quarter as several hundred million dollars made their way into the hands of charging infrastructure companies and some of the first charging stations were unveiled. The cars that will plug into them are still lagging behind a bit, but some are on track to get here next year. And despite the excitement around EVs and PHEVs, biofuels had a resurgence in popularity in third quarter as well, thanks to major investments in algae-based fuels from Exxon, Chevron and BP, as well as several venture funding announcements tied to a variety of biofuels plays.
For the first time in a long time, we started to see the price of solar panels come down and the efficiency of such panels go up, but while federal funds and state grants are helping to finance renewable energy projects right now, something lasting needs to be done to make up for the reduction in available project financing.