In the last decade, cleantech venture capital was about reinventing the electric generator.
It's time to reinvent the utility.
Utilities, as currently structured, exist for one reason: wires. Wires connecting consumers to generators are a natural monopoly, so rather than expecting a competitive market, the market is heavily regulated and overseen by PUCs representing the public's interest. It's true in electricity, just as it's true in wireline communications. Yes, that skews the market, but there's no good alternative in the face of a natural monopoly.
But wires are less important, as distributed generation (so far primarily in the form of rooftop solar, but in the future via other means as well -- Bloom Box, anyone?) catches on. So now retail deregulation plus DG increasingly offers that alternative. Wires are still important, but less important than they once were.
Centralized utilities, as they exist today, are ultimately doomed, as DG and IT will inevitably cannibalize their currently insurmountable advantages. Someone will maintain the wires and connect remote loads and sources, so utilities as we know them won't disappear altogether. But over the long run, today's utilities will have to dramatically shift what they do -- leaving some huge economic rents to be captured by others.
I wish I saw more entrepreneurs focused on driving that shift. You want to reinvent the energy industry? Reinvent the utility. It's an incredibly tough challenge -- but one worth taking on.