Blog Post

The Green Rich List: Wealthy Doesn't Mean Savvy

Just because you’re among the world’s wealthiest doesn’t mean you’re good at investing in clean technologies. The London Times has released a “Green Rich List,” which looks at the world’s top wealthiest people that have some sort of investment in clean technology — from alternative vehicles to solar power. The list ranks the investors by net worth, not by how much they’ve invested in cleantech. Perusing the list, you can see that despite some smart green moves, these investors, particularly in the top 10, have made more than a few missteps.

Take No. 2 Bill Gates, worth £26 billion ($36.42 billion). He is lauded for his investment in corn ethanol maker Pacific Ethanol through the private investment and holding company he controls, Cascade Investments. Well, Pacific Ethanol, like most of the corn ethanol industry, has been crippled by the downturn and high corn prices last year, and just last week announced yet another round of plant suspensions. In late 2007, Gates’ Cascade Investments announced a plan to sell its 20 percent stake in Pacific Ethanol after the stake lost a good deal of its value. In mid-2008 Cascade started to chip away at that stake, selling it off trade by trade. We’re not sure if it’s all gone by now, but it wasn’t pretty.

Then there’s No. 8, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, worth £11.5 billion ($16.10 billion). Allen’s Vulcan Capital invested $250,000 in Seattle biodiesel-maker Imperium Renewables. Remember Imperium? That was the company that ended up withdrawing its IPO last year and since has lost a valuable contract to supply Royal Caribbean with 18 million gallons of biodiesel annually. The company shot for the moon too fast, but it’s just not a good time in general to be a large biofuel maker that needs a lot more capital to keep scaling up.

And last but not least there are the Google co-founders — Sergey Brin and Larry Page — who share the spot at No. 10, both worth £7.5 billion ($10.50 billion). Beyond their impressive work getting Google to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency they were also early investors in electric vehicle maker Tesla. As many of us know by now, Tesla hit a capital snag last year, and was unable to raise the cash it wanted at the valuation it wanted. Now it’s betting everything on a DOE loan, and has even stooped to jacking up prices on already delayed Roadsters.