venture capital

Heavy hitters add heft to clean energy future

We may not be seeing it in the trenches, but clean energy is generating quite a bit of buzz.

Eric Wesoff of compiled a great post on venture capital activity for March 2011. He called it amazing, saying "In just one month there were more than 40 deals and more than $900 million was invested in every greentech sector from smart grid to solar to biofuels."

At the corporate level, General Electric Co. went big for thin film solar announcing it will spend $600 million on a new factory to make what it promises will be a more efficient product than is now on the market, reported Scott Malone and Matt Daily of Reuters. They said the company projects thin film will generate up to $3 billion by 2015.

And Neal Dikeman, a founding partner of Jane Capital Partners, says (and I'm paraphrasing) "Yeah sure there's a lot of static" but asks in a blog post whether those investors are making money. He proceeds to analyze the deals of BrightSource Energy, manufacturer of concentrated solar; electric automaker Fiskar Automotive; and Solyndra, manufacturer of cylindrical photovoltaic systems.

His conclusion: There's hope.

I believe there is more than that. We've got issues, and they're all seemingly related to fossil fuels. First and foremost, the environment needs a break. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune ties it all to sea turtles and energy. "Whether it's the effect of climate disruption from burning fossil fuels or the increasingly harsh environmental consequences of extracting coal and oil," he says on Huffington Post something's gotta be done.

And there's the issue of national security. The military has brought up the issue repeatedly and is seeking solutions in the development of alternative fuels.

President Obama brought up the subject during a speech at Georgetown University. "Even if we doubled U.S. oil production, we’re still really short," he said.

Obama said the only way to secure the nation's energy supply is by reducing oil dependence. "We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy," he said. "And we’ve got to do it quickly."

The news shakes off some of my natural pessimism, at least momentarily. Maybe I'm full of malarkey, but it's starting to sound a little like Christmas for clean energy. Maybe.

News would be good for the San Joaquin Valley where February 2011 jobless rates hovered near 20 percent for Kern, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Tulare counties. Add in the dropout rates, which hover near the same percentage point, and it spells difficulties to come.

Poverty, crime, despair. I prefer the optimism.

Renewable Energy Industry Finding New Financing Sources

Financing renewable energy programs is getting harder as government budgets face deficits, and as austerity becomes the new watchword.

Many lawmakers are casting critical eyes toward such programs and some, as Christian Wolan of Forbes writes, want to do away with loan guarantees that pioneers in the upstart green-energy field say are crucial to securing sure footing.

But all is not lost. Not by a long shot, if this item that appeared in Marketplace is true. Corporate America is taking a lead on green energy, declaring it makes sense economically and socially.

The industry, as it gains heft and advances technologically, is lowering costs at the same time utility rates are climbing. As a result, more financing methods are being developed. Conventional banks are more willing to make loans, and businesses have more options - such as purchasing the power from systems they don't own. In addition, young startups are turning to established better-capitalized companies for help, as this story states.

"Innovation in financing and new financing models can have as much impact as any technological breakthrough. It becomes very attractive to business investors," says energy analyst Sam Jaffe in the Marketplace article.

This is an industry in its infancy. Venture capital has climbed, according to this article, but can be risky, as this blogger notes.

Missteps will occur and progress will be uneven, but renewable energy could be a game changer in places such as the resource-rich San Joaquin Valley, where the sun shines brightly, power bills take big bites out of local budgets and out-of-production farmland beckon an entirely new industry.