The cleantech bust

My debut column for Reuters just went up. Here’s the kernel:

If the world is counting on innovative companies to solve global warming, we may be in trouble. Venture investment in cleantech is slumping. Venture capitalists in the US poured $2 billion into 139 cleantech start-ups in the first half of 2008, according todata from PricewaterhouseCoopers. In the first half of this year, venture investments in the sector plummeted to $513 million in 89 companies…

At the root of the cleantech bust is that there are fundamental science problems that need to be solved before many of the current ideas are investable. For all the strides in solar power, photovoltaic cells are still too inefficient to be cost-effective. No one has cracked the problem of energy storage for solar, wind and tidal energy. Carbon sequestration is a regular mantra in political speeches — particularly for legislators from coal-producing states — but it’s still a largely theoretical exercise.

Venture capitalists, for all their rhetoric about pushing ground-breaking innovation, are bad at science projects. In fact, one of the most damning verdicts a VC can offer is to tell someone that their start-up idea is a “science experiment”.

But there’s more, much more, if you go to the Reuters Commentaries site — the clever tagline is “raising intellectual capital”.  Reuters is putting significant effort into beefing up its commentary. Richard Edelman posted an interesting summary of their strategy just last week.

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