While investors bet billions on ephemeral-photo-sharing platforms like Snapchat, those same investors have been frustrated in their efforts to grow and exit alternative energy and grid modernization startups.
GTM has covered VC investment and IPO activity in cleantech for a decade -- and it's not a pretty story. We've covered the cleantech investment attempts of startup accelerators and corporate investors in cleantech, as well. Still, there's a short list of cleantech IPOs and exits, and an even shorter list of successful long-term company creation. The list includes EnerNOC, SolarCity, Tesla, Silver Spring, Opower, Enphase, Sunrun, SolarEdge, Vivint Solar, eMeter and Nest. Bloom Energy has reportedly filed a confidential IPO registration.
The cleantech industry will have to do better than that if it aims to replace fossil fuels.
And yet, some VCs are still willing to invest in the non-selfie-driven economy. Here's some recent funding activity in cleantech.
Rodgers and Doerr invest $10M in Enphase
T.J. Rodgers, founder of Cypress Semiconductor, and John Doerr, chairman of Kleiner Perkins, have emerged as white-knight saviors for troubled solar microinverter firm Enphase. The Silicon Valley icons are investing $10 million in the firm, and Rodgers is joining the board of directors. Kleiner was an investor in Enphase under the normal order of things, back when it was a startup.
Doerr has invested in some of venture capital's most famous successes (Google, Amazon, Sun, Intuit), as well as in some less-than-successful efforts (GO Corporation, MyCFO, Segway). He spearheaded KPCB's investment efforts in greentech, including funding Silver Spring Networks, Fisker Automotive, Bloom Energy, Opower and Proterra. T.J. Rodgers is the founder of Cypress Semiconductor, a force in Silicon Valley, and an early equity investor in SunPower.
Rodgers and Doerr are also on fuel-cell vendor Bloom Energy's board.
GreenSync's energy integration software
GreenSync’s energy integration software won $8.7 million in funding from the Australian government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Southern Cross Venture Partners. GreenSync originally offered peak demand management services, but its smart software control platform is now meant to optimize the use of distributed energy resources in power grids.
Ioxus, a maker of ultracapacitors for transportation, alternative energy, medical, industrial and consumer product markets, raised $6.5 million. The firm raised a $15 million C round in 2013 from investors including The Westly Group, Northwater Capital Management, Braemar Energy Ventures, Energy Technology Ventures (a joint venture of General Electric, NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips), and Aster Capital.
QOS Energy's hub for energy information
QOS Energy, originally a maker of solar monitoring software, is now building a "data hub for centralized energy information." The company raised $3.2 million from ETF Partners and Go Capital to "enrich analytics, develop grid balancing and storage-ready services, and support continued international expansion."
ViZn Energy's flow battery
ViZn has raised more than $40 million entirely from "high-net-worth individuals" for its alkaline electrolyte-based flow battery. Deployments include a project with Blue Sky Energy for an Austrian microgrid project, a second system for the Montana-based utility Flathead Electric Cooperative, and a system that is part of a solar project for Virginia utility Dominion Resources.
CEO Ron Van Dell told GTM, "We will be hands-down the lowest-cost solution in the battery space. I don't think that's typically what people say about flow batteries. We're not concocting a 20-hour-long discharge time that's going to make the economics look better on a dollars-per-kilowatt-hour basis by pumping up the hours. We know how to get below $200 per kilowatt-hour. We can do that by 2018, and we don't need blue-sky, leading-edge R&D to make that happen. All we have to do is basically scale up our business, which is happening rapidly right now."
Other zinc-based flow battery makers include Redflow Energy Storage Solutions, which is bringing a residential-sized battery to market, and Primus Power.
Powerhouse Dynamics' energy monitoring, control
As GTM has reported, the Newton, Mass.-based startup was funded in 2008 to create an energy monitoring and control technology platform for the residential sector. But in 2011 it raised $3 million to pivot to the small commercial field.
Since then, it has landed customers including Arby’s, Ann Taylor, AT&T, Dunkin' Donuts, Panera, Pinkberry, T-Mobile and Wendy’s, with “several thousand” sites using its combination of monitoring, analytics and control, according to CEO Martin Flusberg.
Constellation Energy was an investor in the company's B round as well as a business partner along with Ingersoll Rand, the big HVAC provider with its own line of smart thermostats under its Trane brand.
ZAF Energy Systems' zinc-air batteries
ZAF Energy Systems, a developer of zinc-air batteries, raised $1.5 million, according to an SEC document. The company claims that its rechargeable nickel-zinc battery is "a competitive replacement for lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries" with "better performance, safety, cost, and reliability."
ZAF recently named Randy Moore, previously the president of EaglePicher Technologies, as its new CEO.
Faradion's sodium-ion batteries
Faradion, a developer of sodium-ion technologies, raised $1.6 million from investment firm Mercia Technologies, joined by Finance Yorkshire and Haldor Topsøe as part of a $4 million round. Faradion claims its sodium-ion materials will achieve high enough energy densities to compete with LiFePO4-based batteries.
Kinestral's smart-tinting glass gets $65 million
Kinestral Technologies raised $65 million in a round C funding for its tintable glass. The investment was led by AGC Asahi Glass, and included Hermes-Epitek, 5AM Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, Capricorn Investment Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, and Versant Ventures.
As GTM's Stephen Lacey reported, "There are three main types of smart glass -- electrochromic, thermochromic and photochromic. Electrochromic glass utilizes a thin film of metal oxides that can tint a window when hit with a small amount of voltage. The glass stays clear or translucent on the inside and gets darker on the outside, lowering cooling loads and reducing the need for window shades. Thermochromics and photochromics perform the same basic function by reacting to heat and light, respectively, rather than a jolt of electricity."
View, the Milpitas, Calif.-based tintable-window startup, has raised more than $500 million since its inception as Soladigm seven years ago from investors including Corning, Madrone Capital Partners, Khosla Ventures, General Electric, Reinet Investments, NanoDimension, DBL Investors, Navitas Capital, Sigma Partners and The Westly Group. View’s major competitor, SageGlass, owned by Saint-Gobain, has been shipping dynamic glass for more than a decade and counts various universities, government buildings and healthcare facilities as clients. Glass Apps also claims a number of customers for its window-tint technology. Startup Heliotrope can filter out light and heat at the same time using an electrochromic material made of indium tin oxide crystals.
GTM Research analysts Andrew Mulherkar and Paulina Tarrant contributed to this article.