Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Clean Sweep 25

A round-up of recent news in clean technology and cleantech investment.

Mid-market bank investor Barclays Ventures has backed the buyout of two green building services companies, Solar Home Energy and Warmroof. The Hampshire-based sister companies provide domestic solar thermal installations and spray foam loft insulation, respectively.
The £10m+ deal's described as a BIMBO (that's a combined buy-in and management buy-out, for those not versed in private equity jargon), with new MD Arun Sahajpal and FD Martin Jackson taking over from the previous owner-managers. Invex Capital Partners also backed the deal, with the two investors taking a majority stake.
While not exactly a cutting-edge tech deal, it's further proof that the domestic solar and energy efficiency market is well within the (arguably rather conservative) mainstream of UK mid-market private equity. Kent-based renewables contractor Cel-F Solar secured £1m investment from Bank of Scotland Growth Equity in October.

Up in Norway, wind-power software company WindSim has raised undisclosed funding (Update: Euro500k, according to Library House) from local tech investor Sarsia Seed. WindSim develops wind and terrain simulation software to help turbine operators select optimum locations and layouts, with the new funding going towards hiring new development and sales staff. The firm reports a significant increase in interest from potential customers in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.

Israeli solar tech business SolarEdge Technologies has secured a $11.8m first round from Silicon Valley VC Opus Capital, alongside Genesis Partners and Walden International Ventures.
SolarEdge is one of those stealth operations - they seem to have a website here, but there's nowt happening there yet. They're reportedly working on combined hardware/software tech to improve power conversion efficiency from PV installations. According to the VentureWire report, the IT-focused investors at Opus were wary of investing in a cleantech company - a sign of developing investor nervousness?

In other solar deals, Vermont-based installer GroSolar raised a $10m second round from NGP Energy Technology Partners and existing investors. And Canadian CPV cell developer Cyrium Technologies raised $5.5m top-up funding from existing investors - Cyrium's semiconductor quantum dots promise to increase cell efficiency by over 40%.

Elsewhere in the US, International Battery raised $25m from Digital Power Capital. The funding goes towards completing manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania for the firm's large-format Li-ion batteries for use in hybrid and electric vehicles.
University spin-off OPX Biotechnologies raised $3.6m in a first round led by Morh Davidow Ventures. The Colorado firm is developing genetically modified microbes for biofuel production.
And Californian wind tech business Viryd raised $2.1m from undisclosed private investors. The firm is a spin-out from Fallbrook Technologies which produces novel drivetrain technologies, primarily for bicycles.

Canadian waste-to-energy group Plasco Energy raised a C$54m third round. Lead investor First Reserve also committed to invest an extra C$115m next year. Plasco is commercialising its plasma-based gasification tech, with a pilot plant in Ottawa capable of converting 85 tonnes/day of municipal waste into fuel gas.

Fund news
New European investor Sustainable Energy Technology Venture Partners launched with a networking bash in Amsterdam. The first fund, which recently closed at Euro50m, will focus on early-stage opportunities in alternative energy generation, emission control, applications such as micro CHP and fuel cells, and energy efficiency tech - pretty much the cleantech gamut.
SET VP is backed by Canadian specialist investor Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Dutch asset manager Robeco and headed by former Philips corporate VC chief Rene Savelsberg. Lead investors include Dutch utilities group Delta and energy group Essent.

Policy news
In what's presented as a significant boost to the UK's offshore wind industry, energy secretary John Hutton announced a Strategic Environmental Assessment of future development. According to the headline rubric, this could open up Britain's shores to a total 33GW of capacity, or enough to power all UK homes by 2020. Some researchers and industry insiders call the figures pie in the sky, however.
Britain is already set to soon overtake Denmark as the nation with most offshore wind capacity (well, we do have a lot of windy coastline). The rights for offshore installations are held by the Crown Estate, which has been allocating leases in a series of competitive rounds - current plans under the first two rounds include 8GW capacity by 2014. The new assessment considers opening up a third and subsequent rounds, allowing for up to 25GW extra.
The consultation document is available as a PDF here.

Further reading
Last week's New Scientist had a good accessible overview of the state of the art in solar tech, focusing on its increasingly competitive costs compared to established generation:
The prospect of relying on the sun for all our power demands - conservatively estimated at 15 terawatts in 2005 - is finally becoming realistic thanks to the rising price of fossil fuels, an almost universal acceptance of the damage they cause, plus mushrooming investment in the development of solar cells and steady advances in their efficiency. The tried-and-tested method of using the heat of the sun to generate electricity is already hitting the big time, but the really big breakthroughs are happening in photovoltaic (PV) cells.
The full feature is subscription-only on the NS website, but the mag's still on the racks till Thursday.

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