The global financial crisis continues to affect the clean technology industry. In 2009 venture capital investment in cleantech dropped to $4.85 billion, from a record $7.6 billion in 2008.
Yet despite the downturn, the number of cleantech deals completed in 2009 exceeded the 2008 total, according to Greentech Media Inc. These seemingly Jekyll and Hyde results reflect several important trends that began to take shape last year and will continue to impact the financing climate in 2010 and beyond.
First, pressures from the global financial crisis are causing venture capitalists to seek new, less capital-intensive business models, a trend that benefits the energy efficiency and management sectors, on both the supply and demand side.
Historically, the concentration of venture capital in cleantech has been limited to a small number of companies receiving a disproportionate share of the capital: As of June 2009, 16% of cleantech companies in the United States had received 65% of the capital. Such companies focused primarily on capital-intensive, large-scale clean energy projects. But necessary later-stage funding to develop first commercial projects has not generally materialized.
Less capital-intensive business models offer faster paths to profits and are accordingly receiving increased attention in the post-financial crisis environment. Funding for energy efficiency projects rose from $253 million in 39 deals in 2006 to $803 million in 93 deals in 2009. Expect this trend to accelerate into 2011.
A 2009 survey of corporate leaders conducted by Ernst & Young LLP revealed a second trend. The survey found that 85% of respondents reported to be "significantly or moderately accelerating the pace" of their company's strategic involvement in cleantech and renewable energy initiatives and that the financial crisis had intensified their need for cleantech strategies to increase their sustainability and reduce operational costs.
Noteworthy examples of such efforts include Morgan Stanley's recent implementation of energy management solutions supplied by EnerNOC Inc. and Intel Corp.'s leadership of a $3.5 billion fund that will seek to invest in early-stage cleantech companies. This shift in corporate focus will help provide cleantech companies with the opportunity to bring their products to the wider commercial marketplace.
Another development that will impact the cleantech funding climate in 2010 is a wave of innovative financing strategies being explored to drive demand for "green" products and services and create jobs. The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and federal loan guarantee programs offer key support for the industry. And across the U.S., utilities and others are implementing initiatives with the goal of reducing up-front costs for energy efficiency retrofits.
One example is the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program, which allows property owners to take out 20-year loans for efficiency projects that can be repaid through their property taxes. At the federal level, the Homestar and Building Star rebate programs to spur efficiency retrofits have been considered by House and Senate committees and may be included in comprehensive energy legislation this summer. These and other innovative financing mechanisms will give consumers more capacity to invest in cleantech products and services.
One cannot write about financing trends without addressing the initial public offering market. Cleantech as an industry category will require robust exit markets in M&A and public equities for long-term sustainability. Based on S-1 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the first quarter of 2010, it appears that the cleantech IPO market may finally have arrived for segments other than solar. We believe 2011 will be the real year for cleantech exits, both in M&A and IPOs.
We are in the midst of several shifts in the cleantech financing climate, many of which are cause for optimism. According to Deloitte LLP and Cleantech Group LLC,
venture investments in cleantech totaled $1.9 billion in first-quarter
2010, up 83% from the same period a year ago. With increased government
and corporate support, sector shifts in venture capital and an opening
of the public capital markets, this year and next will be seminal years
Tom Burton founded and chairs the energy and clean technology practice group at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC. Evan Bienstock is an attorney at Mintz Levin and is part of the energy and clean technology practice group. Steven Rafferty, a project analyst at the firm, contributed to the article.