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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.

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Birds in Balance: The Environmental Costs of 'Green' Energy

Our new series on sustainable business wonders what to do when your wind farm goes to the birds.

In our new series on sustainable business, Erica Grieder explores how businesses are responding to consumers, governments, and markets to make their practices and their products more sustainable.

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Harnessing the Untapped Energy in Water Pipes

Sometimes, instead of designing away wasted energy, it's easier to repurpose it.


Water is often stored high above the city that consumes it. To reach its destination, water travels through a system of gradually shrinking pipes until it comes out the faucet. As the water travels, excess pressure gathers in the pipes, which is dissipated by pressure valves. All that built-up energy leaves the system, wasted.

This type of energy waste is hard to design away. Some water systems are so old they still have hollowed-out cedar logs as pipes. And huge numbers of people depend on the systems continuing to function without a break. So rather than figuring out ways not to waste energy, it's easier to harness and repurpose it. Rentricity, an energy company based in New York City, is doing exactly that by creating electricity from excess pressure in water pipes.

Frank Zammataro, Rentricity’s president, learned about the inefficiencies of municipal water systems after he spent too many hours thinking about a New York City water tower. In 2001, he and his colleagues looked down from their 40th floor Midtown office on the building below and joked about how every time someone flushed on the first floor, water had to travel from the tower on top of the building all the way down. Someone, they thought, ought to put in a wheel in the pipe to capture that squandered energy.

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Incubator Provides a New Boost for Clean Tech Startups

Startup accelerator Greenstart is providing four clean tech companies with money, mentorships, and a chance to pitch a bevy of investors.


Less than two years ago, Jennifer Indovina’s job at a semiconductor company in Rochester, New York, was shipped overseas, to China. So she and four colleagues started brainstorming ideas for what would come next in Rochester’s less-than-booming job market. The team landed on an idea for a product — a plug that would monitor electricity use and allow users to switch off the power to their appliances from a computer or smartphone.

Within a year, Indovina and her colleagues had a prototype. At the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, their new company, Tenrehte, won a “Best of CES” award in the green technology category. Soon they had customers, too. But Indovina, Tenrehte’s CEO, was still looking for ways to grow the startup. One day, she received an email from Dave Graham, who suggested that she apply to his program, Greenstart, a San Francisco startup accelerator focused exclusively on clean technology.

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