Renewable energy VC funding to triple


VC investment opportunities in solar photovoltaics, wind, biofuels, geothermal and marine/hydro energy were all considered in the analysis from Frost & Sullivan, which has indicated that the outlook for early-stage investments will remain bright to 2020. It notes that more than half of all VCs surveyed have made investments into clean technology companies.

In a statement announcing the "Venture Capital Funding in Renewable Energy in Europe" report release, Frost & Sullivan Financial Analyst Vinod Cartic noted that there is a trend towards smaller deals. "2011 was a stellar year for renewables deal-making with the number of deals rising by two-thirds year-on-year, although total deal value went down by one-third," said Cartic.

Solar photovoltaic technology, notes Frost & Sullivan, has received the most VC funding between 2006 and 2008, for new technology and capacity expansion. It also notes that thin-film solar was, "among the most pursued green energy technologies," according to Cartic.

However, despite this rosy long-term outlook and historic analysis about VC investment in renewable-energy technology, for the short term, raising money for cleantech VC funds is proving difficult. Alois Flatz from Zouk Capital reported that this was the case at the Ecosummit last week, in Düsseldorf. "Financing cleantech," said Flatz, "is at a crisis point."

Damaging to the VC’s recent attempts to raise new funds for cleantech and renewable energies is the recent spate of bankruptcies of photovoltaic manufacturers. In particular, investments made to a range of thin film technologies, which were squeezed out of the solar market by rapidly falling crystalline-silicon module prices.

Flatz’s Zouk Capital was also not immune to the failure of some thin film firms. Zouk had made a significant investment in German CIGS manufacturer Soltecture. After raising more than €150 million, Soltecture only managed to build a manufacturing capacity of 35 MW. In the face of hostile market conditions, the company commenced insolvency proceedings in May of this year.

But despite this and other bad news stories, Flatz and others at the Ecosummit are still bullish on cleantech investments more generally. "Cleantech is beginning to affect all aspects of life," Flatz reported.

Areas that are proving most interesting for cleantech and renewable energy investors are business models, applications and services that meet at the junction of cleantech and web-innovation. Various names, such as "cleanweb," "digital green" and "cleantech meets IT" have all been suggested for the space. Companies such as Sungevity and Solar Mosaic are said to fit this model.

pvXchange co-founders Kai Malkwitz and Florian Meyer-Delpho are behind a new company Greenergetic, which plans to introduce an online sales model for residential photovoltaic systems, including a solar leasing component. Greenergetic launches in 2013.

"We knew that grid parity was coming and we just had to adapt the solar leasing model to the German ecosystem of energy producing and energy consumption," Malkwitz told pv magazine. Greenergetic will work with local utilities to roll out its online model, which hopes to make buying a solar photovoltaic residential system, "as easy as buying an Ikea kitchen," he adds.

The December edition of pv magazine will feature an exclusive feature on the early-stage solar companies presenting at the recent Ecosummit.

The next Ecosummit conference will be held on June 4-5, 2013, in Berlin.