The residential solar market is still at the lift-off stage, but Swedish home furnishing giant Ikea already is looking at a future when consumers could roll through the checkout lines with ready-to-assemble solar-power systems.
Ikea's pledge to invest €50 million ($77 million) in greentech points to a vast new market in which people would make more buying decisions that reduce their carbon footprint and allow them to use energy efficiently.
The company plans to invest in companies developing products that it could carry in its stores, including solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and water-purification kits (see Green Light post).
To be sure, consumers already can replace incandescent bulbs with the energy-saving compact fluorescent (CFL) variety, or opt for other household items made of recycled materials. Stores also offer solar-powered garden lights, radio and even mosquito repellent (it emits a high-frequency sound wave).
But many of these items are sold in specialty stores and online sites and are not always affordable. Homeowners who want to install solar panels largely have to pay others to do it.
A growing number of investors are betting on renewable-energy technologies that could show up in Home Depot or Wal-Mart one day.
Morgan Stanley Principal Investments has put $20 million into G24 Innovation, a U.K. company that launched a solar-powered cell-phone charger last year and plans to begin selling solar-powered LED lights this year (see Funding Roundup: Solar, Biofuel, Batteries and More).
Berkeley, Calif.-based Better Energy Systems, which has developed palm-sized solar-power chargers for portable gadgets, last month raised $5 million from TBL Capital (see Funding Roundup: Solar Still Reigns). Sold under the brand Solio, the chargers can be plugged into a standard wall outlet and use lithium-ion batteries to store electricity.
Apple also is following the trend. Four Apple employees in May filed a patent for integrating solar cells into portable devices such as iPhones and iPods (see Charge Your iPhone In the Sun).
Aside from consumer products, investors are putting millions into plenty of other renewable-energy companies.
Ernst & Young just released its second-quarter venture funding report, which showed that U.S. investments in cleantech companies rose to a record $961.7 million, up 83 percent from the same quarter in 2007 and 41 percent from the first quarter this year (see Cleantech Investing blog).
Here is some other recent funding news:
- Large-scale solar-power developer Ausra raised $25.4 million from Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, reported Pehub.com. Ausra, based in Palo Alto, Calif., engineers and builds power plants that use the sun's heat to drive generators for electricity production. The company in June opened its first reflector factory in North America, located in Las Vegas, and has a deal with PG&E to build a 177-megawatt plant in central California (see Ausra to Build 177-Megawatt Solar-Thermal Plant).
- Draker Laboratories, which is developing monitoring equipment and software for solar, wind and other power systems, raised an undisclosed amount of money from FreshTrack Capital and Vermont's Clean Energy Development Fund. The company, located in Burlington, also lined up Campbell Scientific and Nathaniel Group as technology development partners. Draker plans to unveil its monitoring system in October at Solar Power 2008 in San Diego.
- 4JET raised an undisclosed amount of funding from e-CAPITAL, a German investment firm. 4JET, also based in Germany, develops laser systems for removing layers of semiconductors and cleaning the glass substrate during the manufacturing of solar cells and other solar-power system components.
- Rive Technology, a materials company that is developing zeolite catalyst technology to get more gasoline from crude oil, raised $14 million. Investors for the Cambridge, Mass., company include Nth Power, Advanced Technology Ventures and Charles River Ventures.
- Electric-car maker Zap received $10 million from Dubai investment firm Al Yousuf Group. The company, in Santa Rosa, Calif., has shipped more than 1,000 models of its three-wheeled Xebra, Zap CEO Steve Schneider told the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Verenium, based in Cambridge, Mass., expects to receive $90 million over 18 months from BP to jointly develop cellulosic ethanol-processing technologies, which the two companies plan to use to build and operate refineries. The funding also would give BP the right to use Verenium's existing technologies (see BP Invests $90M in Verenium for Ethanol).
- ReCellular, which recycles and re-sells cell phones, raised $15 million from Investor Growth Capital. The Dexter, Mich., company said it recycled more than 4 million phones in 2007, half of which went back to the retail market as refurbished models.
- BPL Global, a smart-grid software and equipment maker in Sewickley, Penn., raised $23 million from IFA Group, Novitas Capital, El Dorado Investment, Morgan Stanley and Cross Atlantic Capital Partners. Of the $23 million, the company is getting $8 million in cash, $7.5 million in a bank loan and$7.5 million from IFA Group, a Kuwaiti investment firm, to buy an undisclosed company.
- Nextreme Thermal, which makes micro-scale power-management products, raised $13 million from Chart Venture Partners, Redshift Venture Partners, Harris & Harris Group, Itochu and In-Q-Tel. The company, based in Durham, N.C., is developing devices for cooling integrated circuits, LED lighting and sensors. It shipped the first commercial products last October.
- Miox, which is developing water-disinfection systems, just raised an undisclosed amount of money from investors including Sierra Ventures (see Green Light post). The company, in Albuquerque, N.M., uses salt as a main ingredient of its systems, which produce a chlorine-based disinfectant.
- A123Systems, a lithium-ion battery developer in Watertown, Mass., aims to raise up to $175 million through an initial public offering. The startup has lined up contracts with carmakers Think Global in Norway and General Motors to develop batteries for hybrid and all-electric vehicles (see A123Systems Files for $175M IPO).
- Petratherm, which is traded on the Australian Stock Exchange under the ticker "PTR," won a Aus$57 million ($50.67 million) commitment from TRUenergy for its Paralana geothermal project in South Australia. The deal would enable TRUenergy, also in Australia, to own up to 30 percent of the Paralana project over time, provided that Petratherm hits certain milestones. The project is in the exploratory stage, and two wells are scheduled to be drilled later this year.
- Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX), a New York City investment firm with $113.5 billion in assets, has created a cleantech team. James D. Kiggen, who created and managed an emerging science and technology team at AllianceBernstein before joining Blackstone, will lead the cleantech team.
- Pangaea Ventures in Vancouver, Canada, raised $32 million for its second fund, adding Asahi Glass, Umicore and Bekaert to its roster of investors. Pangaea invests in early-stage companies and previously raised money from BASF Venture Capital, Solvay, Ciba Specialty Chemicals and Toyota Tsusho America.
- Mohr Davidow Ventures is starting to invest a $600 million fund that it raised last summer, the Wall Street Journal reported. The fund is $200 million larger than the firm's previous fund. Mohr Davidow, based in Menlo Park, Calif., plans to invest in 40 to 50 companies in cleantech, health care and other fields.