Kleiner Perkins’ earmarks $100 million for “greentech”

Rob Day over at Cleantech Investing has some great tidbits today so I’ll start by encouraging you to drop by the site. But one I’d like to focus on is the announcement that Kleiner Perkins plans to spend $100 million on cleantech investments out of three new funds totalling $900 million. “In so doing, they become one of the highest-profile firms to officially set aside capital for funding cleantech firms,” writes Day, who then draws our attention to a great quote from Kleiner’s John Doerr that appeared in a Red Herring article: “Greentech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century.”

Cowabunga! Now that’s an endorsement. Of course, we all know Kleiner Perkins are the folks who gave Google, Amazon.com, Compaq Computer, Sun Microsystems and Symantec their early financial kickstart. More recent investments in the clean energy space include fuel-cell maker Ion America and next-gen battery wonder EEStor — the latter having tremendous potential to, well, completely turn the world on its head.

I had a nice conversation today with Chris Grundler, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s transportation lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’ll save most of his comments for another day, but one thing he did say seems relevant in the larger discussion about heightened interest in cleantech: “We don’t have a technology problem… what we had up until recently is a marketplace malfunction. What we need to do is design policies that will move this technology to the marketplace in numbers that matter. That’s the trick that people like me and others are thinking about day and night. How do we create the right conditions so these technologies show up in the right numbers.”

The reason I included that quote is because it seems to me you’ve got a number of things happening right now that makes VCs like Kleiner Perkins take notice of the fantastic opportunities in the cleantech space. You’ve got high fossil fuel prices. You’ve got increased consumer awareness and desire for cleaner, greener, more efficient products and processes. You’ve got companies competing for that consumer attention. You’ve political concerns dealing with domestic energy security. And you’ve got guys like Grundler trying to design public policy that draws scientists and researchers out of the labs and gets technologies in the marketplace. In other words, policy that creates certainty — something investors, like VCs, like a lot.

So while Kleiner Perkins’ growing interest in cleantech should come as no surprise, consider it a positive sign that things are heading in the right direction and the stars continue to align for all things clean.

Kleiner Perkins’ earmarks $100 million for “greentech”

Rob Day over at Cleantech Investing has some great tidbits today so I’ll start by encouraging you to drop by the site. But one I’d like to focus on is the announcement that Kleiner Perkins plans to spend $100 million on cleantech investments out of three new funds totalling $900 million. “In so doing, they become one of the highest-profile firms to officially set aside capital for funding cleantech firms,” writes Day, who then draws our attention to a great quote from Kleiner’s John Doerr that appeared in a Red Herring article: “Greentech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century.”

Cowabunga! Now that’s an endorsement. Of course, we all know Kleiner Perkins are the folks who gave Google, Amazon.com, Compaq Computer, Sun Microsystems and Symantec their early financial kickstart. More recent investments in the clean energy space include fuel-cell maker Ion America and next-gen battery wonder EEStor — the latter having tremendous potential to, well, completely turn the world on its head.

I had a nice conversation today with Chris Grundler, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s transportation lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’ll save most of his comments for another day, but one thing he did say seems relevant in the larger discussion about heightened interest in cleantech: “We don’t have a technology problem… what we had up until recently is a marketplace malfunction. What we need to do is design policies that will move this technology to the marketplace in numbers that matter. That’s the trick that people like me and others are thinking about day and night. How do we create the right conditions so these technologies show up in the right numbers.”

The reason I included that quote is because it seems to me you’ve got a number of things happening right now that makes VCs like Kleiner Perkins take notice of the fantastic opportunities in the cleantech space. You’ve got high fossil fuel prices. You’ve got increased consumer awareness and desire for cleaner, greener, more efficient products and processes. You’ve got companies competing for that consumer attention. You’ve political concerns dealing with domestic energy security. And you’ve got guys like Grundler trying to design public policy that draws scientists and researchers out of the labs and gets technologies in the marketplace. In other words, policy that creates certainty — something investors, like VCs, like a lot.

So while Kleiner Perkins’ growing interest in cleantech should come as no surprise, consider it a positive sign that things are heading in the right direction and the stars continue to align for all things clean.

PARC dives into cleantech

The Palo Alto Research Center, the Xerox subsidiary simply known as PARC, announced today that it is contributing core patents and long-term development support to SolFocus Inc. in exchange for equity in SolFocus and royalties from its commercial products.

SolFocus’s concentrator photovoltaic technology creates electricity “using precision optical components such as lenses and mirrors to direct and ‘concentrate’ sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells,” according to PARC. “SolFocus’s prototype solar panels are smaller, cheaper, and easier to manufacture than the flat-plate photovoltaic panels that currently dominate the market.”

How much better? SolFocus CEO Gary Conley says the company’s second-gen panels with PARC technology will produce electricity for half or less than the $7 per watt typically associated with flat-plate PV systems. In fact, Conley has given presentations regarding SolFocus’s goal of reaching $1-per-watt for solar.

“Among the advantages of the new module: it does not use scarce silicon, it has no moving parts that could lead to mechanical failure, it has minimal components, and assembly technology is automated. Together, these features have yielded breakthrough improvements in cost, size, durability, and scalability,” according to the companies.

This is all part of PARC’s new clean technologies initiative, through which a research team identifies cleantech market opportunities and aggressively goes after them with a multidisciplinary approach. Joel Makower has an interesting take on PARC’s move beyond the computer world to the cleantech arena. “It’s a watershed moment of sorts: the birthplace of today’s user-friendly computing wants to be the birthplace of tomorrow’s clean and green innovations.”

Reminds me of a recent interview I had with Ian MacLellan, vice-chairman and CEO of Arise Technologies Corp. in Kitchener, Ontario. Arise, with help from the University of Toronto, claims to have figured out a new lower-cost manufacturing process for solar cells based on many of the same processes used in disk drive manufacturing. The result is 18-per-cent efficient solar cells produced for less cost than a 14-per-cent efficient cell, and the company says it has already sold two years worth of product — about 20 megawatts worth — before the first cell has even come off the production line.

MacLellan, who in a former professional life worked in the computer industry, draws clear comparisons between the computing and solar worlds.The solar industry today, he says, “reminds me of the personal computer industry in 1982, and we’re just seeing the beginning of what I think will be a multi-decade boom.”

“The reason is that energy is the largest business on this planet, and we’re going through a fundamental shift in energy. You have these big oil refineries, big nuclear plants, coal plants — it’s all big plants. This all reminds me of big mainframe computers, and solar is the personal computer of the energy world. We’re going to go through a fundamental shift to solar, and eventually we’re going to see solar farms in the desert, which will be like server farms made up of 100 of PCs.”

The comparison is solid. And we all know how much things improved between 1982 and 2006. In other words, we ain’t seen nothing yet.