Rumors of Clean Tech's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Investors haven't abandoned clean tech projects, they're just reevaluating how they fund them.

Suddenly is seems as though everyone is talking about clean tech's demise. It’s true that the signs have not augured well: The federal government made a bad bet on Solyndra. Policies supporting wind and solar are expiring. Venture capital funding for clean tech went down in 2011. Last month, Wired published an article claiming that “the clean-tech bubble has burst.” The argument was that antsy venture capitalists had tried to import the get-rich-quick ethos of the internet to clean tech, where investments take longer to pay off. That didn’t work. Therefore, clean tech is screwed.

The Wired article was correct in its conclusion that venture capitalists are not going to build the wind and solar projects that will wean America off of coal and oil. That’s not their job, and there are signs that more patient investors—banks, for instance—are becoming more comfortable with funding those projects. But risk-loving venture capitalists are still interested in clean tech projects. While their investments in clean tech did drop last year, it was a mere 4.5 percent decrease from 2010 funding. Meanwhile, investment levels are up 29 percent over dismal 2009 recession levels, and up 16 percent over healthier 2008 levels.

The largest portion of that money is still going to energy generation. But in at least one corner of the clean tech world, the focus is shifting towards faster-moving projects. Greenstart, the clean tech startup accelerator, just announced its second round of companies and a new focus on projects with some IT component—more traditionally fertile ground for venture capital.

When Greenstart launched last fall, its founders knew they didn’t want to focus on cumbersome infrastructure projects but on “fast clean tech.” For the first round of companies accepted into the program, the Greenstart team chose a biodiesel project, a smart windows company, an Internet-based consumer energy portal, and a company that made smart plugs. But only the latter two would be admitted under the accelerator’s new, software-focused mandate.

That new focus means the companies Greenstart funds will be working on problems like energy efficiency and “how to move energy around,” says founder Mitch Lowe. The range of possibilities is still wide—companies might look at anything from how electric vehicle batteries interface with the grid to how a building can achieve maximum energy efficiency—but every project should have some software component.

The idea to adopt this focus “kept getting reinforced in conversations with investors,” Lowe says. “It was where the investors were saying: 'This is what the most interesting to us, what has the two-to-five-year time frame and the most potential for profit.'”

The incubator will also benefit from the fact that the broader venture capital world has more money to spend than clean tech venture capitalists. “Now we open the world to our startups, not just to clean tech investors,“ Lowe says. “We probably quadruple the number of interested investors in our companies.”

Efficiency and connectivity problems are going to be important in moving clean tech forward. But that’s far from the only work that needs to be done. For batteries to communicate with energy sources and the grid, for instance, they must be efficient enough and cheap enough to be commercially viable. Venture capital isn’t going to move the world past coal and energy on its own. Government has a role to play, as do other investors. But there’s still plenty of money betting on cutting-edge clean technology, of one sort or another.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user zzzack

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet