By: Ucilia Wang, Contributor for Forbes.com
Global green tech investments tumbled in 2012, but a few sectors, such as water and agriculture, attracted a greater interest from investors than the year before, according to market data released by the Cleantech Group on Thursday.
Venture capital investments totaled $6.45 billion worldwide last year, down 33% from 2011. Solar deals accounted for only 11.8% of the investments in 2012, compared with 60% in 2011. It’s not surprising to see this big change in investor attitude. The 2011 bankruptcy of Solyndra, which had raised over $1 billion in private capital, highlighted the reality that solar investments over the previous half a dozen years had yet to make money for many investors. Plus, the big imbalance of supply and demand for solar panels over the past two years prompted factory closures and bankruptcies, and many more manufacturers are sure to disappear over the next three years.
Biofuel and green chemical companies drew 14.8% of the investments in 2012, while transportation took in 14.4% and energy efficiency accounted for 14.1%. Most of the sectors tracked by the Cleantech Group saw fewer deals in 2012 than in 2011. Only three sectors saw an increase in the deal count: biofuel, water/wastewater and agriculture/forestry. Investors are warming up to technology that promises to produce healthier crop efficiently and promote local consumption, given the challenge of managing the existing land, water and other resources to feed a growing population worldwide.
“The world of agriculture hasn’t benefited from the IT revolution, and there is a whole host of companies that are making ag more efficient, healthier, more local and better eating,” said Sheeraz Haji, CEO of Cleantech Group, during a conference call with reporters Thursday.
The inclusion of food production also points to a broadening of the definition of green tech, which in the past referred more narrowly to technologies such as those for renewable electricity and biofuel production, electric car development and new materials and services that help consumers and businesses use energy more efficiently.
A new crop of startups that use sensors, the web and mobile apps in order to offer rentals of cars, scooters and private residences also have become part of the green tech world. These companies promote a more efficient use of resources by, say, renting out people’s cars that would otherwise go unused for hours during the day. Those who rent the cars, in turn, wouldn’t need to buy their own.
For 2013, Haji expects to see strong investor interest in five areas:
1. Water: The price of water is set to go up. Businesses are paying more attention to whether they us water efficiently and how much they pay for: T it.
2. Clean web: Software and data analysis — coupled with the use of mobile apps — will nurture new ways to manage resources, from electricity to transportation. Renting out cars and homes falls in this category. Haji called out Streetline, a startup whose sensors and software help drivers find parking spots.
3. Oil and gas: Yes, the fossil fuel industry isn’t going away soon, and it’s keenly interested in managing its operations, such as its water and electricity consumption, more efficiently. In fact, some solar technology companies are finding customers in oil companies that need cheaper steam for get more oil out of their wells.
4. Waste-to-energy: Turning garbage or agricultural wastes into products such as electricity, transportation fuels and industrial sugar (for making plastic), already has attracted a good amount of venture capital. Trash collection giant Waste Management has invested in many companies in this space.
5. Agriculture and food: Using technology to improve farming is getting a lot of investor interest partly because of the growing, worldwide demand for food and because crop production hasn’t been a fertile ground for tech innovation. Using sensors to check soil and nutrient levels and software to analyze those data are examples of how technology could help.
source: Forbes.com Greentech