Solar, wind and biofuels are the Larry, Curly and Moe of the greentech industry. And that makes green buildings the Shemp. He's needed for eye pokes or zoo animal gags -- but he doesn't always rank with the triumvirate. Some of that has to do with the nature of green buildings. While the first three are primarily about new forms of energy, green building companies largely seek to reduce the amount of energy consumed, regardless of the source. Initially, that makes the benefits and ROI seem nebulous.
But green building is coming on strong as a segment. Buildings, after all, consume about 39 percent of all of the energy in the U.S. – that's just running the buildings, according to the Department of Energy. Construction takes up another 12 percent. The cost of building structures to LEED standards is coming down and owners report that they payoff comes in lower utility bills and higher rents. Several startups also received large amounts of funding this year. With the election of Barack Obama and the appointment of Steve Chu to Secretary of Energy, expect to see conservation and buildings on the front of a number of policy agendas.
Here's a quick overview of the year that was:
Can Greentech Make Housing Cheaper? (May 21)
Building a house in a factory. To an American, that sounds like a mobile home, but modular homes are popular and upscale in Europe and Asia and are coming here. Zeta Communities, Michelle Kaufmann Designs and Living Homes are all erecting factories to plant them here.
Home Sweet Home (Oct. 16)
Looking for a realistic looking plastic lawn, or countertops made from old paper pulp? Look no further than West Coast Green, the premier green fixtures show. The toilet with the built in sink is particularly intriguing.
Global Crossing Founder Gets Into Cement (Sept. 26)
IT veterans have discovered green buildings. Tom Siebel of Siebel Systems wants to hold a $20 million dollar green building contest, he said this year. And Gary Winnick, the high-flying financier who built Global Crossing, started iCrete, a green cement company. It has already won the cement contract for the Freedom Tower.
Here Comes the Green Brick (Oct. 21)
Attention entrepreneurs. Here is a name to log into your memory: Marc Porat. The General Magic founder has been seeding green building companies like Serious Materials and Cal-Star Cement. He's looking for more candidates.
California's Biggest Builder Dips Into VC Investing (Nov. 25)
Navitas Capital emerged this year as the world's first green building VC. Webcor, the large California contractor, is a limited partner.
Startup Converts Old Shipping Containers Into Homes (Sept. 26)
Now you know where those old shipping containers are going. Check out the video too.
Buildings Without Air Conditioners: The Latest in Energy Efficiency (Dec. 22)
Air conditioners and heaters consume about 16 percent of the energy in the U.S. and they aren't particularly efficient. To gain LEED points and to cut power costs, some buildings are going without aircon.
Peddling Green Cement and Concrete Abroad (Nov. 12)
There's a credit crunch everywhere, but they are still building in Abu Dhabi and other places. Panasonic will make a push into green homes as well.
Lighting the Way to Efficiency (Nov. 18)
Lighting sucks up a big part of that. 22 percent of the electricity in the U.S. goes to lighting. VCs put $174.2 million in lighting in the first three quarters of 2008, up from $85.6 million in 2007. Some of the names to watch include HID Laboratories (an electronic dimmer for high intensity lights), Eden Park (plasma lights) and Bridgelux (inexpensive LEDs due at the beginning of 2009). Philips spent $5.4 billion from 2005 to 2007 on promising startups, and Cree, which makes LED components, spent $303 million from 2007 to the most recent quarter for acquisitions, including LED Lighting Fixtures for about $77 million in cash and stock in February.
Luminus Devices Closes $72M to Light Up New Applications (March 17)
Rather than make small LEDs that might measure 1 millimeter a side and take up a little more than a square millimeter in area, Luminus Devices makes products like its PT120 that can sport 12 square millimeters of light emitting surface (that's 4.6 x 2.6 millimeters). A larger LED means that fewer LEDs are needed to produce a lamp, which in turns leads to higher efficiencies. The secret: The light gets channeled by photonic lattices that effectively take the light that would radiate in all directions and force it out through the surface of the chip.