A Cleantech State of the Union

With October now upon us, data providers are beginning to issue their preliminary analyses of cleantech investment in the third quarter of 2012 that just closed. This quarter, the Clean Energy pipeline service of London’s VBResearch is the first to weigh in, counting cleantech venture capital & private equity investment (excluding buyouts) as approximately $1.7 billion.

Data from other providers, like Dow Jones VentureSourceBloomberg New Energy FinancePwC/NVCA MoneyTree, and Cleantech Group will follow in the coming days. No two providers’ numbers will be the same, given differences in how they define cleantech and what exactly they track.

Based on latest quantitative and qualitative data we at Kachan & Co. have access to, here’s our own analysis of the state of the union in the global cleantech market, and why.

Consider the following a snapshot of the current health of the cleantech sector, informed by—but not simply an analysis of—the third quarter numbers.

3Q12 investment is expected to be approximately the same as the one previous. Venture investment in cleantech is going to be down overall this year over last.
The second quarters of the year in cleantech are usually down, if you look at historical data—so a relatively poor 2Q12 was no surprise—but third quarters are historically usually the best quarter of the year for global cleantech investment. Based on deals we’ve seen, we’re expecting about $2b in venture investment in global cleantech in the third quarter of this year once all the data is in, and that sometimes takes a few month after the quarter closes. $2b is not great, as compared to previous years on record, but it’s okay. It’s not as if cleantech investment has halted. Cleantech is still one of the world’s dominant investment themes.

For interest, some of the largest deals of the quarter:

  • $200m to China Auto Rental, efficiency/collaborative consumption, Beijing
  • $136m to, efficiency/smart grid, Virginia
  • $104 to Elevance Renewable Sciences, biochemistry, Illinois
  • $104 to Fiskar Automotive, transportation, Irvine CA
  • $93M to Element Materials Technology, advanced materials, the Netherlands

Venture #s aren’t just down because of natural gas.
Last year, we predicted global venture and investment into cleantech to fall. Not dramatically. But we expected cleantech venture in 2012 to show its first decline following the recovery from the financial crash of 2008. Why? Three big reasons: the lag time of negative investor sentiment towards cleantech that started in 2011, waning policy support for cleantech in the developed world and an overall maturation of the sector that’s making it arguably less dependent on venture capital as corporations take a more significant role.

When you the continued low price of natural gas undermining clean energy innovation and project deployment, it should be no surprise that cleantech metrics are down.

But while the price of natural gas is one of the reasons cleantech is depressed, it doesn’t mean the end of the line for the whole of the space. Natural gas is eroding the compellingness of clean energy, but cleantech is more than just energy. Cleantech, as defined, is much broader, and includes transportation, agriculture and other categories that may actually see benefit from lower natural gas prices.

Plus, there are natural gas innovations that could be key to the success of future renewable energy. Renewable natural gas—gas from non-fossil-based sources—could end up the most important form of renewable energy, because it could be distributed in today’s transmission infrastructure, and help utilities generate baseload renewable power without solar or wind, or expensive renewable energy storage. Kachan & Co. has published a report in conjunction with a gas company that profiles seven firms at the forefront of generating large quantities of pipeline-grade renewable natural gas from biomass, based in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the U.S. and Canada.

With venture down, pay attention to the increasingly important role of corporations in cleantech. Large global multinationals are increasingly participating as clean technology investors, incubators and acquirers. With the largest companies worldwide sitting on trillions in cash, the climate is right for increased corporate multinational M&A, investment in and purchases from cleantech companies. Corporations have become the source of cleantech capital to pay closest attention to going forward.

Investors are worried about returns in cleantech; some are distancing themselves from the sector. Will that leave governments and large corporations to help companies through the valley of commercialization death?
Not all cleantech investments have worked out as planned. Investors are still waiting for their cleantech portfolios to produce expected returns. Why? Many cleantech investments are still sitting in managers’ portfolios waiting for an exit.

The cleantech exit environment is indeed suffering. The North American and European IPO markets remain shut, while public exits are alive and well in China. There were 9 clean technology IPOs raising a total of $1.79 billion in 2Q12, the last quarter for which data is publicly available at this writing, and ALL of them took place in China. We first raised alarms about this trend a couple of years ago. It’s the major area of concern for investors currently. And cleantech mergers and acquisitions are still depressed. Global cleantech M&A activity totaled $16.3 billion in 3Q12, according to VBResearch. That’s a 68% increase on the $9.7 billion in 2Q12 but a 30% decrease on the $23.2 billion recorded in the same period last year.

Of the capital that is being deployed, less of it is going to early stage deals. Venture investment in early stage cleantech rounds fell to a mere $382 million in 3Q12, the lowest quarterly volume since 2009, by today’s Clean Energy pipeline numbers. The large year-on-year decrease was caused by an absence of large solar deals, according to the company.

Limited partners (LPs), the institutions that fund venture capital firms, are less enthusiastic about cleantech today. Why? Mixed returns. The 5-year old CalPERS Clean Energy and Technology Fund, a fund-of-funds-type program, had a net internal rate of return since inception of -10% on $331.7 million invested as of Dec. 31, 2011, the last period for which data is available, according to data obtained by Pensions & Investments. Contrast that with the performance of Riverstone/Carlyle Renewable and Alternative Energy II. While only some $172 million of its $300 million commitment in September 2008 has actually been invested, the pension fund has seen a 12% net IRR from the investment as of Dec. 31, 2011. CalPERS’ $25 million commitment to VantagePoint CleanTech Partners LP, made in 2006, has earned a 12.4% net IRR—again, according to Pensions & Investments.

Most cleantech investors will have heard of Moore’s Law. Now some are learning, if they hadn’t known of it by name previously, of Sturgeon’s Law, that ‘90% of everything is cr*p.’ Which, unfortunately, but clearly, also applies to cleantech investments.

It begs the question: If venture investing is down and large corporations are taking more of a role in fostering cleantech innovation, can they and governments (which we argue should get out of the business of funding cleantech companies) be trusted to support emerging cleantech innovation as it struggles to reach meaningful commercial scale and availability? Increasingly, venture investors are proving reluctant to play this role in cleantech, given the large sums required.

What will propel cleantech’s success.
While much has been written about how global policy support has waned in cleantech, a silver lining is to be found in Japan. Japan’s new feed-in tariffs are among the most impressive the planet has yet seen, even more so than Germany’s former solar support. Japan is showing signs of helping breathe life back into the solar sector in an important way (download this free report that details Japan’s newfound commitment to cleantech.)

Say what you will about the murkiness of the future of clean energy, the fundamental drivers of the wider cleantech market persist. The sheer sizes of the addressable markets many cleantech companies target, and the possibilities for massive associated returns, will continue to spur innovation and support for the sector. Why? The world is still running out of the raw materials it needs. Some countries value their energy independence. More than ever, economies need to do more with less. Oh, and there’s that climate thing.

Cleantech is the future, undeniably. It can’t NOT be. We need to reinvent every major infrastructure system on the planet, from energy to agriculture to water to transportation and more. And we have to live more efficiently to accommodate more people than ever. Large corporations see record opportunity for profits in doing this—and that’s what’s going to be the biggest driver of clean technology, we believe, institutional investment hiccups aside.

Don’t focus too much on quarterly ups and downs.
Finally, note that quarterly numbers are a good leading indicator of transitions. But there’s a danger in reading too much into quarterly figures, and lumpiness of individual quarters, which are easily skewed by large individual deals.

This article was originally published here and was reposted with permission.


A former managing director of the Cleantech Group, Dallas Kachan is now managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and advisory firm that does business worldwide from San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. Kachan & Co. staff have been covering, publishing about and helping propel clean technology since 2006. Kachan & Co. offers cleantech research reports, consulting and other services that help accelerate its clients’ success in clean technology. Details at

Look What’s Now Patently Obvious in Cleantech

Anyone can look up at the sky and make a guess at tomorrow’s weather. But having actual data informs your opinion and makes your guess a little more accurate.

Which is why, as a managing director of a leading cleantech data provider and responsible for the presentation of its quarterly global cleantech data, I developed a real respect for venture investment figures.

Because while everyone’s got an opinion about the health of the cleantech space, as in weather forecasting, data matters.

Venture investment, the rationale goes, is one of the best leading indicators of the health of the cleantech sector. Where venture investment goes, so eventually goes private equity, corporate investment, and—if all goes well—exits, ultimately. Venture investment serves as a sort of proxy for what tech sectors are hot, what geographies are up and coming and is an indication (though not the only one) of which companies and investors to watch.

In presenting this quarterly data, however, I’d always been interested in other data types so as to be able to offer a fuller picture of the overall health of cleantech globally. I’d always wanted insight into patents, specifically. So I’m pleased that Berkeley, Calif.-based IP Checkups, a longtime collaborator, just introduced its CleanTech PatentEdge service—an online searchable database of international patent data.

IP Checkups has performed custom patent searches in cleantech since 2006. It has supported us at Kachan & Co. with data in our cleantech advisory consulting engagements, such as the competitive assessment project abstracted here that leveraged patent data to find companies quietly pursuing ethylene from methane.

And now, with its new service, anyone can access the patent database IP Checkups has built, query 1.5 million patent grant and application entries from the US, EP, WO and JP patent databases and produce attractive charts and tables.

Why do we believe this patent service is a big deal?

  • Cleantech vendors can use this data to learn about competitors
  • Large corporations can find emerging or established companies with strong patent portfolios for strategic partnership and/or acquisition
  • Investors can verify the protection (and defensibility) of their portfolio companies’ IP and potentially find new investment opportunities in cleantech sectors rife with innovation
  • Market research firms can study cleantech patent trends over time, compare technology sectors and research individual companies

Doesn’t patent information want to be free?
With free data available from patent offices, and in a world where digital information is chomping at its virtual bit, why pay for the PatentEdge service? Because it’s not easy to search the multiple free online patent databases around the world and normalize the results you get back. When importing into Excel, you’re limited to pasting 65,000 records at a time, and can only have 1,048,576 rows total (and there are a lot more than 1,048,576 patents in cleantech.) Then you then need to cut the data and develop the charts you seek, and even run the risk of the data being out of date by the time you’re done.

By contrast, PatentEdge pre-sorts patent data in a nice online interface, features analytic tools, monthly updated results and enterprise sharing capabilities.

The relationship between cleantech funding, products and patents
I’d long wondered whether the quarterly velocity of patent filings in cleantech mapped to quarterly venture investment. Could they also be used as a leading indicator of where the industry was heading?

Unfortunately not. There’s a lag in being able to access patent filings because patent offices insert an intentional 18 month delay between filing and publishing so as to give entrepreneurs a head start in commercializing their innovations from the time of filing. As a result, patents only appear in the PatentEdge database a year and a half after they’re filed. But they give insight into where to expect cleantech products, according to IP Checkup President Matt Rappaport.


Cleantech investment and patents quarterly

Is there a correlation between venture investment and patent filings? Does one lead the other? Historically, the two are correlated, as these two graphs show, but while an 18-month lag in patent data prevents it being used as a leading indicator of innovation, patent data is a good indicator of where to look for market-ready products. Sources: Cleantech Group and IP Checkups.

Cleantech products, Rappaport notes, generally emerge soon after the 18 month hold period. Cut the patent data by sector or geography, and you suddenly get educated insights about whether a bevvy of new thin film solar offerings are about to emerge from China, say, or what exact types of new biological drop-in biofuel processes from algae you should start to expect to see written about in the press soon. Those are different types of insights than you get from cleantech venture data.

Which sounds like it might help make the business of cleantech market weather forecasting a little more interesting.

CleanTech PatentEdge annual subscriptions begin at $180/month for individual users, and $450/month for 3-5 users. Month-to-month plans, corporate and educational group rates are also available, according to IP Checkups.

This article was originally published here and is reposted by permission.


A former managing director of the Cleantech Group, Dallas Kachan is now managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and advisory firm that does business worldwide from San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. Kachan & Co. staff have been covering, publishing about and helping propel clean technology since 2006. Kachan & Co. offers cleantech research reports, consulting and other services that help accelerate its clients’ success in clean technology. Details at

Tesla’s Progress with a 300-Mile Electric Car Range

Tesla S Sedan Tesla’s Progress with Model S and 300 Mile Electric Car Range

Tesla recent quarterly financial results show progress on several fronts. Over 1,650 customers are now driving the Tesla Roadster, the impressive electric car with a 240-mile range per charge. Customers have driven these 100-percent electric cars more than 11 million miles. Tesla will soon have over 2,000 customers who have paid over $100,000 for their Roadster.

The Model S Sedan is on track for completion and customer deliveries mid-2012. A much bigger market is expected for this premium sedan that starts at $57,400 and has an optional battery pack with that gives the car a 300-mile range. When Tesla begins delivery of the Model S, over 100,000 electric car customers will be driving their Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric and other electric sedan competitors. Tesla will compete against these less expensive competitors with a luxury interior, electronics like a 17-inch display, 7 passenger capacity, switchable battery, and options to triple the electric range of competitors. A new generation of lithium batteries is at the heart of the vehicles range of 160 miles with optional packs that provide 230 and 300 miles of range per electric charge. 4,600 customers have already placed reservations for the Model S with a starting price of $57,400.

CEO Elon Musk stated, “Our Model S alpha build proceeded as scheduled during the quarter. In fact, our engineering and manufacturing teams have now completed the construction of all of our Model S alpha vehicles, having finished the final alpha in April. These vehicles are successfully undergoing the planned cold weather brakes testing, ride and handling evaluation, safety validation, electrical integration, and noise, vibration and harshness evaluation,” continued Musk. “As has been our plan, we will continue testing this quarter with a particular focus on durability and systems integration as we prepare for our beta build later this year. Overall, we remain on track for first customer deliveries of the Model S in mid-2012.”

Tesla Progress with Toyota RAV4 EV and Daimler Electric Cars

Tesla is also making significant progress as a battery and electric drive system provider. Tesla delivered a record number of production battery packs and chargers for both Daimler’s Smart fortwo and A-Class vehicles for the fourth quarter in a row. Daimler increased its total orders for the Smart fortwo electric drive components from 1,800 to 2,100 sets. All of these will be delivered in 2011. Daimler owns 5 percent of Tesla.

Tesla successfully completed the initial milestones for the development of the powertrain system for the Toyota RAV4 EV and remains on schedule for the completion of the development portion of the program. The powertrain system includes a battery, power electronics components, motor, gearbox and associated proprietary software. Toyota owns 2 percent of Tesla stock. Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive

Meeting product deadlines will depend on staying on-track in opening its new factory in Fremont, California – The Tesla Factory. Intensive site preparations are underway at each of the stamping, plastics, and paint shops as the facility is being prepared for the upcoming Model S beta build. Equipment testing in carefully controlled manual modes of operation has begun in both stamping and plastics shops, with robots and other automation equipment scheduled for installation later this year. Installation of the hydraulic press line remains on schedule for manual operation in the second quarter.

Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) announced its preliminary unaudited financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2011. Revenues for the first quarter of 2011 were $49.0 million, a 35% increase from the $36.3 million reported in the prior quarter. Gross margin improved to 37%, up from 31% for the prior quarter. Net loss for the quarter was $48.9 million as compared to $51.4 million in the prior quarter on a GAAP basis.

Like its Roadster, Tesla has been growing the company at zero to 60 in four seconds. Revenues are strong, but profitability is not in sight as the company invests for high growth and big plans for the Model S and Model X.