The top ten trends for cleantech in 2011

Katie Fehrenbacher,  earth2tech, December 22, 2011

Yep, it’s that time of year where we look back at the trends of the year and then look forward to what we think the next year has in store. We know these lists have become a bit cliche by now, but they really do enable us to reflect on the big picture.

So, here we go. The top 10 trends in greentech in 2011:

1). Solar prices plummet: One of the most overwhelming market drivers of 2011 was the massive price drop of solar modules. Researchers have found that the price of solar dropped by 40 percent in 2011. Part of that had to do with Chinese solar manufacturers flooding the market with low cost solar, creating an oversupply and benefiting from low cost loans from the Chinese government.

The result of these rock bottom prices has produced several things: 1). solar module makers are selling solar for below prices they can afford and that has led to bankruptcies for many solar companies; 2). super low cost solar will just help the proliferation of solar panels for consumers as it has become even more economical; 3). solar panels are now substantially cheaper than solar thermal in many cases and some solar developers that previously were focused on solar thermal have decided to use solar panels instead.

2). India set to become cleantech power house: When you think of developing countries and cleantech, you think of China. But India is creating a major market through its solar initiatives, smart grid plans and water infrastructure buildout. A large part of the 1.2 billion population is moving into the middle class and that means they will want more energy, more clean water and more quality food. It’s one of the few markets where cleantech will be able to grow without major subsidies.

3). Biofuel companies push for IPOs., aftermath varies: The bulk of the IPOs from greentech companies in the U.S., came from biofuel firms with little revenues, no profits, and often times no commercial product. Amyris hit the public markets at the end of 2010, Gevo went public in February, Solazyme in March, and KiOR in June. Companies that have filed but haven’t actually gone public include Coskata (filed in December), Mascoma (filed in September) and Fulcrum BioEnergy (in September). Most of these stocks have faltered in recent months — will the ones waiting in the wings have a good response if they go public in 2012?

4). Batteries still suck: Batteries are still the pain point for electric cars and power for computing technology. While information technology is still moving at a lighting pace, thanks to Moore’s law, battery tech hasn’t progressed any close to IT. That doesn’t mean startups and researchers aren’t trying it’s just taking an awfully long time. Will 2012 show any surprising improvement?

5). Solar CIGS players held on: Despite the high profile bankruptcy of Solyndra and the difficult economics of the solar market, many of the thin film solar companies using the material CIGS are still holding on for dear life. HelioVolt and Stion found backers in Korea, Nanosolar is still around, and Miasole has changed its management team but is still pushing forward. However, we’d predict that some of these players will start to struggle even more in 2012.

6). Slow going for electric vehicles: GM’s Volt didn’t hit its sales goals for 2011 of 10,000 cars sold, particularly due to production issues. Nissan’s LEAF sold around 20,000 globally in 2011. And these were the largest EV sellers in 2011. Even worse, some electric car companies struggled and bowed out of the difficult market including Think and Aptera.

We’ll see if GM and Nissan can get their numbers up significantly in 2012, while startups Fisker and Coda have a lot to prove next year. Meanwhile Tesla will be launching its Model S sedan, so all eyes will be on Tesla as it continues to pioneer the independent EV market.

7). Waiting for IPOs: Despite a couple of biofuel IPOs, the IPO market for most of greentech remained shut throughout 2011. Companies that had been planning for months, if not years, to go public in 2011 were forced to find other options. Smart grid company Silver Spring Networks raised private financing even though it filed an S1 earlier this year, and eMeter opted for an acquisition to Siemens, instead of a long contemplated IPO.

8). Year of large solar power developers: While 2011 will be remembered as a troubling year for solar manufacturers, it also is a year when major U.S. power companies took a plunge into investing and owning a lot more solar power plants. Cheap solar panels mean solar developers are even more ready to buy them up and install them in sunny areas of the U.S. and a variety of state mandates are requiring more solar farms for utilities.

9). The politicization of clean energy and green jobs: Unfortunately Solyndra was the biggest — and the longest running by far — news story in greentech in 2011. That’s because the bankruptcy of the company and the lost DOE loan turned into a political talking point for house republicans. Expect more Solyndra sprinklings all the way up until the election in 2012.

10). The cleanweb is here: In early 2011, when cleantech exits were scarce and funding had dropped, many investors and startups were turning to the cleanweb, or essentially using mobile and web to manage resource constraint, from energy to water to food. These technologies, investors are hoping, will offer better returns similar to Internet companies. They are also much more capital efficient than large scale clean energy projects.


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