Looking at America’s progress and policies regarding cleantech, the short-term future looks grim. Continued Washington gridlock means that even noncontroversial, supposedly bipartisan legislation on sustainability is difficult or impossible to pass.
Looking state-by-state, however, the picture brightens. According to the latest report on cleantech industry leadership by CleanEdge, a market research firm, many states maintained their edge in cleantech investing in 2012 even as total numbers nationwide declined. California remained on top with $2.25 billion in venture capital cleantech investment, followed by Massachusetts with $504 million, Illinois with $191 million, Colorado with $168 million and $139 million in Michigan.
Such investment patterns may be somewhat correlated with patent activity, which grew by 30% in 2012 to an all time high of 3,061. Here again California led the pack with 345 new patents, the majority in Solar. New York added 217 patents, with strength in wind energy components, and Michigan came in third with 202 patents, dominated by patent activity in fuel cells, earning them the second and third spots respectively. Fuel Cell patents led all other technologies, closely followed by Solar, and Biofuel/Biomass patents had the highest growth rate at 70%, according to law firm Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti.
“Anecdotally I would imagine there certainly is a correlation between the early-stage venture capital investments, the tech transfer shops and patent applications,” said Troy Ault, an analyst at the Cleantech Group who contributed ,some of the venture data included in the CleanEdge report. “For seed-stage VC’s, a key thing they do is help companies through the patent process.”
The CleanEdge report also contains a few surprises. Tennessee and Georgia both placed ahead of traditional clean energy pioneer Hawaii and the far more populous state of Florida in terms of total capital invested in cleantech, even though both Tennessee and Georgia fell well in the bottom half of all states in terms of policy support for cleantech, according to the report. Massachusetts, California and New York led the rankings in terms of policy support for cleantech.
“We saw a couple big deals in places like Tennessee and Georgia that typically don’t see a lot of venturing,” Ault said.
Other surprises? One is the Geothermal industry, which “bounced back from recent doldrums, adding more than three times as much new capacity in 2012 as the two previous years combined,” CleanEdge found. Looking just at deal activity for states that account for the majority of 2012 venture investment (California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Texas, Oregon, Georgia and New York), the number of Geothermal deals jumped 300 percent in 2012 (from only one deal 2011 to four last year.)
Venture deals in the Biomass sector in those top states doubled, from just two deals in 2011 to four in 2012, and Conventional Fuels increased 133 percent to 14 deals.
Since 2012 was a rough year for cleantech investing, it makes sense that other sectors lost ground. Deals in Advanced Materials dropped 46 percent from 2011, and deals in Fuel Cells and Air both dropped by about half.
To see the full CleanEdge report, click here