Stimulus Starting to Warm Up Cleantech Funding

Despite the fact that cleantech investment fell off a cliff in the first quarter of the year, talk of the “seeds of revival” (i.e. investment) is starting to creep back into both clean power projects and cleantech ventures thanks to the funds from the stimulus package. While layoffs are still hitting industries like solar and wind, and biofuels are struggling across the board, if this morning’s funding news is any indicator, then it looks like the federal funds are actually starting to thaw the pocketbooks of the capital holders. Just a little bit.

This morning we’ve heard about three different cleantech investments in smart grid, distributed clean power and even, gasp, next-gen biofuels. GE and a group of investors including Altira, Rockport Capital Partners, NGP Energy Technology Partners, and the venture capital arm of Chevron Technology Ventures, have invested $10 million into small wind builder Southwest Windpower. The stimulus package allocates $872 million over 10 years for federal tax credits for distributed clean power generation like small wind.

Then there’s Ember, a company building wireless sensor network technology, which tells us it has raised $8 million from a long list of investors including Polaris Venture Partners, GrandBanks Capital, RRE Ventures, Vulcan Capital, DFJ ePlanet Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures. Ember says the funding was fueled by the “significant surge in the deployment of smart meters,” but there’s another good $4.5 billion in direct investment and billions more in power grid construction in the stimulus package, which will really make that smart meter rollout pick up. Ember calls the stimulus funds a “significant opportunity” for its technology.

Lastly OPX Biotechnologies, a Boulder, Colo.-based startup that is working on genetically modifying microbes for biofuel production, plans to announce tomorrow that it has raised a $17.5M round of funding. The investment was led by Braemar Energy Ventures and also included Altira Group, Mohr Davidow Ventures and X/Seed Capital Management. While biofuels get a smaller piece of the stimulus package compared to clean power generation and power grid construction, they’re still getting billions in research and development and grants.

Last week Lilliputian Systems, a Wilmington, Mass.-based company developing fuel cells for cell phones, laptops and other consumer electronics, announced it has raised $28 million in funding from Stata Venture Partners, Altira Group, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Atlas Venture, Fairhaven Capital and Rockport Capital. As far as I know, fuel cells didn’t get a meaningful chunk of the stimulus but energy storage and battery technology that can be used for the grid and electric vehicles did.

Any funding flowing into cleantech looks good given the first quarter of 2009 was as barren as the Mojave: The first three months of the year saw $1 billion, which was a drop of 41 percent from the last quarter of 2008 and 48 percent from the same quarter a year ago. So in those terms we’re expecting that at the very least the second quarter of 2009 will show a pick up of the first quarter. OK so it’s not a scientific study, but let us know if raising funds is getting easier. And thanks Obama!

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