The holiday season will be here in a few weeks, and it's shaping up to be a mighty disappointment for retailers, raising questions about how bad will it get for the consumer side of greentech businesses.
Only a month ago, solar industry executives at a conference in San Diego, Calif., said the future wouldn't be as bleak as some had envisioned. After all, Congress had just extended tax credits that would shave thousands of dollars off a residential solar energy system.
But consumer confidence is plummeting. The U.S. Commerce Department reported last Friday that retail sales dropped 2.8 percent, the biggest monthly decline since 1992 (prompting The New York Times' Thomas Friedman to opine that one of Barack Obama's priorities is to inspire all of us to go shopping).
Meanwhile, a 4.5-kilowatt solar energy system in Colorado could cost roughly $14,000 after all the federal and local tax credits and rebates kick in. Even with leasing or other financing options offered by solar installers, consumers will still have to fork over money that they could otherwise hold on to in case the economy tanks even further.
Are solar energy installers seeing fewer inquiries from people than previously expected? With the housing market is a deep funk, should U.S. companies developing green building materials be looking more earnestly for customers outside of the country? (see Peddling Green Cement and Concrete Abroad).
How about all those solar-powered gadgets that seem so nifty – will their sales suffer along with other consumer electronics or will they draw more interest because, hey, sunlight is a free source of energy?
It's not completely bleak: Investors and companies continue to announce deals. Two large, recent deals came from outside of the United States. BioTherm Energy of South Africa said it had raised $150 million from Denham Capital for roughly 300 megawatts worth of projects to generate electricity or steam from industrial wastes, reported New Energy Finance (via Cleanedge).
In Australia, Starfish Ventures has closed a $185 million fund for investing in cleantech, life sciences and other sectors. The firm already has invested in several companies, including solar-thermal power plant developer Ausra. Ausra, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup with Australian roots, just did a grand-opening ceremony for its 5-megawatt project in California (see Ausra's First U.S. Solar-Thermal Plant Lights Up).
Here is some of the recent funding news:
- Connecticut is setting up a $9 million greentech fund for investing in early-stage companies in areas such as renewable energy generation and clean water. The Connecticut Clean Tech Fund will give each chosen company up to $1 million.
- Clean Energy Fuels, a natural gas distributor in Seal Beach, Calif., raised $32.5 million by selling shares and warrants. The company (NSDQ: CLNE) has attracted more scrutiny because its largest shareholder is T. Boone Pickens, who made his fortune in oil and is now an advocate for wind energy and natural gas. The company just reported quarterly losses of $10.64 million and saw its deal to buy FuelMaker fell though, reported Earth2tech.
- Solix Biofuels, which is working on making fuels out of algae, raised $10.5 million (see Solix: Another Me-Too Algae Company Raise $10.5M). The company, based in Fort Collins, Colo., raised the money from I2BF Venture Capital, Bohemian Investments, Southern Ute Alternative Energy, Valero Energy and Infield Capital. The algal biofuel startup has secured an additional $5 million from the investors for building a pilot refinery on a 10-acre site on the Southern Ute Indian reservation in Colorado.
- ElectraTherm raised $2.6 million for developing a generator that produces electricity from waste heat that is generated during geothermal or other industrial operations. The Carson City, Nev.-based company has signed a distribution deal with Taiwan-based Kaori Heat Treatment for its 50-kilowatt generator. Distributors for the U.S. market include Eisenmann Corp., Roughrider Power and Gulf Coast Green Energy.
- NanoMas Technologies raised $3.2 million for developing nanocrystal ink for producing solar cells, flat-panel displays and other electronic devices. The technology will deposit semiconducting materials in a way that is similar to printing. The company, based in Vestal, N.Y., raised the money from BASF Venture Capital, Earthrise Capital Partners and NanoMaterials Investors.
- Raser Technologies Inc. (NYSE: RZ) said it will raise $20 million by selling shares of its common stock to an undisclosed investor. The Provo, Utah-based geothermal energy developer plans to use the money for project development and general corporate expenses.