Cleantech VC Dipped 4.5 Percent In 2011

Not a banner year, but in the face of a difficult economy, not bad. That was the verdict from Ernst & Young as it released new cleantech venture capital data today that showed total investment in 2011 at $4.9 billion, down 4.5 percent from 2010 but still nearly 30 percent higher than 2009’s $3.8 billion. The accounting firm, crunching data from Dow Jones VentureSource, said 70 rounds of financing brought $940.5 million in venture capital into U.S. cleantech companies in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Strictly by total dollars, the energy/electricity generation segment was the leader in 2011, with $1.5 billion raised—but that was a 5 percent dip from 2010. For the fourth quarter, the segment saw investment of $312.9 million, with the solar power sub-segment leading the way at $284.5 million. Thin-film solar panel company Stion, based in San Jose, accounted for a big chunk of that change, raising $130 million.

2011 cleantech venture capital

image via First Solar

Among the yearly totals, perhaps most noticeable was the big growth in energy storage investment. It ranked third as a segment (behind industry products and services, in addition to energy/electricity generation), but the $932.6 million raised in 28 deals represented a 253 percent increase from 2010 in dollars invested and a 47 percent increase in number of deals.

Ernst & Young cited five initial public offerings as important in cleantech sector investment growth, a jump from the three that took place in 2010. Biofuels were the big players in IPOs, with Solazyme, Gevo and KiOR all going public earlier in 2011.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.