You may be wondering, "What's the latest in cleantech investing?" Well, here's the rundown.

Baidu invested in electric vehicle startup NextEV and its NIO brand last week, as a part of what Reuters reports is a $600 million funding round. The firm has already received backing from Tencent Holdings and Hillhouse Capital. Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's former CTO, is U.S. CEO of NIO, a Chinese startup aiming to compete with Tesla. As GTM has reported, Tesla intends to build 500,000 vehicles in 2018.

Sunnova, one of the larger residential solar energy providers in the U.S., recently landed $80 million in tax equity commitments from U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of U.S. Bank as part of a $200 million fund. According to the firm, the $80 million in tax equity funding will enable the development of residential solar projects with a total value of more than $200 million. The deal is the first between USBCDC and Sunnova, as well as being Sunnova’s initial foray into the tax equity market. Sunnova has tended to zig when the industry has zagged -- and Sunnova's survival in a difficult market environment is a testament to the success of that strategy. Sunnova has raised nearly $1.5 billion in capital over the past three years.

And now, from the Aurora Solar blog, some quotes from an interview with David Arfin, the "inventor" of SolarCity’s residential solar lease.         

  • "Solar financing has evolved in a few small ways, but today’s product does not look all that different from what we had in 2008. I think that’s a shame. There are still evolutions of the product that we need to see."
  • “There is still asymmetric information between the solar provider and the solar adopter. Very few people know much about how electricity rates work, where their rates have been, or where they likely to go over a period of decades. That makes homeowners subject to believing whatever representations a zealous solar salesperson chooses to present to them in the sales process."
  • "Other products have come into the markets, like solar loans and property-assessed clean energy (PACE) loans, but they are still not priced very well and pass off a lot of risk to homeowners."
  • "I would like to see shorter-term obligations. I think 20 years is a terribly long time for someone to sign up for an obligation like a solar installation. I would like to see solar installers and developers -- and I will disclose that I have an interest in this -- guarantee savings to homeowners who sign PPAs, loans, leases or make cash purchases."

In other investing news, GTM's Jeff St. John reports that ChargePoint, a startup that has come to dominate the U.S. market for networked electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, has raised its biggest venture round to date -- $82 million in funding led by Daimler. Existing investors BMW i Ventures, Linse Capital, Rho Capital Partners, and Braemar Energy Ventures also participated. ChargePoint has about 33,260 EV charging systems networked across the U.S., about 450 of them “express” DC fast chargers. That makes the firm the largest EV-charging provider in the country, ahead of such contenders as EVgo and Car Charging Group (owner of the network of Blink stations built out by now-bankrupt Ecotality). ChargePoint doesn’t own the stations themselves, but instead provides the underlying technology to connect the stations with EVs, their drivers and the businesses that host them. The company has raised a total of more than $255 million in VC funding.

Zinc-bromide flow battery stalwart Primus Power just won $32 million in equity financing from new investors Success Dragon and Matador Capital, the investment office of a Saudi family, along with existing investors Anglo American Platinum, DBL Partners, I2BF and the Russia Kazakhstan Nanotechnology Fund. CEO Tom Stepien's firm has raised $94 million in equity and $20 million in government grants since 2009. The company claims "multi-hour performance and a multi-decade life at an industry-leading low total cost of ownership."

Other zinc-based flow battery makers include Redflow, which is bringing a residential-sized battery to market, and ViZn which is deploying a 200-kilowatt (4-hour) flow battery in Central America that is combined with an 800-kilowatt solar array. (Read GTM's soon-to-be-updated flow battery industry survey here.)

POD Point, a U.K.-based EV charger supplier, has launched a $1.9 million crowdfunding effort, part of an $11 million fundraising push led by Draper Esprit along with Barclays Capital. The firm claims to have built and sold over 27,000 charging points since its 2009 founding.

Thomas Siebel's C3 IoT announced a Series E financing round at a $1.4 billion pre-money valuation, according to Business Week. The round was led by Breyer Capital along with TPG, Sutter Hill, Wildcat Venture Partners, Pat House and Thomas Siebel, although the amount of the financing was not disclosed. "The C3 IoT platform is a cohesive development environment for enterprise-scale big data, predictive analytics, AI, and IOT applications," according to the firm.

Urjanet, a startup with software that collects utility data for customers ranging from the municipal government of Washington, D.C. to energy services and analytics vendors, raised $20 million in funding led by Oak HC/FT along with existing investors Grotech Ventures, Correlation Ventures, Imlay Investments and the Georgia Research Alliance. The company claims that its core competency is "aggregation and standardization of utility data." (Read Urjanet CEO Sanjoy Malik's views on energy-data-as-a-service here.)

SunLink, a builder of solar tracker and mounting systems, closed a $10 million credit facility with Heritage Bank of Commerce this month.

GreenFire Energy won a $1.48 million grant from the California Energy Commission to develop the world’s first closed-loop geothermal power plant using supercritical carbon dioxide rather than water. “GreenFire Energy’s ECO2G technology is the culmination of years of research with the U.S. Department of Energy, national laboratories and universities." This is the type of research that will be lost if NREL, the national labs and ARPA-E are decimated by the Trump administration.

Dukosi, a battery management systems developer, won an additional $2.5 million in funding, led by IP Group plc along with the Scottish Investment Bank, the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise, and members of Par Equity. Dukosi has developed a wireless battery management system that collects, processes and stores data at the cell level for EV and stationary energy storage applications. 

Polis raised seed funding from Jennus Innovation for its app that optimizes door-to-door sales, intended to facilitate political canvassing, solar sales, and other applications.

U.S. Capital Partners advised on an equity raise of up to $5 million for Illuminergy, a private firm that designs and builds LED lighting products.

Heating things up, Brillouin Energy recently closed a $7.75 million Series B round led by James (Jim) Farrell with a mission to produce useful amounts of thermal energy from low-energy nuclear reactions (that's what cold fusion is called these days). The company claims the money was raised "following the successful replication of 'over-unity' amounts of thermal energy from its LENR renewable energy technologies." According to the firm, its technology "includes a method of electrical stimulation of nickel metal catalyze LENRs, which generate excess heat in a controllable process. The excess heat produced is a product of hydrogen and a nickel metal lattice." Here is an informative article on the subject from Chemical and Engineering News.

On the relatively rare topic of new VC funds focused on energy and sustainability:

  • Dick Kramlich, co-founder of New Enterprise Associates, founded Green Bay Ventures, a $130 million early-stage fund, with partner Anthony Schiller. The fund looks at artificial intelligence applications in energy, transportation, manufacturing and logistics, according to a TechCrunch source.
  • Abe Yokell, a partner at RockPort Capital, along with Joshua Posamentier, are listed as co-founders and managing partners at Congruent Ventures, which is "investing in early-stage sustainable technology," according to the firm's website. It has filed for two funds, a $50 million seed and Series A fund, and a $40 million follow-on fund. According to the firm, it is fully subscribed on its follow-on fund and will hold a second close for the early-stage fund in Q2. The firm expects to make its first investments in the coming months.


GTM Research analysts Andrew Mulherkar and Paulina Tarrant contributed to this article.