As the first federal stimulus funds began to make their way across the country, second quarter saw a slight thawing of investor pocketbooks when it came to Green IT.
The smart grid, in particular, continued to attract both media buzz and venture capital investors (who couldn’t seem to contain their excitement over finding cleantech investments that looked just like traditional IT plays: low capital, quick return, little to no technology risk). In fact, there was so much interest in the consumer-facing software component of the smart grid — home energy management systems — that there is already talk of a “bubble” in that space. Which was not enough to keep software giant Microsoft from making noise in the home-energy realm.
On the networking and utility-facing software fronts, infotech leaders Cisco and Oracle also threw their sizeable hats into the smart-grid ring in second quarter, both with solutions aimed at utilities: Cisco on the networking and communications front and Oracle with a software package to help utilities integrate with smart meters, balance system loads, respond to outages, manage customer billing and offer time-of-use pricing.
The two primary issues hanging over the smart grid space continue to be energy storage and a lack of standards for interoperability. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is so far on-track to meet its ambitious September 2009 deadline to resolve the standards issue, and many industry watchers were relieved to see that the first batch of standards (released in second quarter) mirrored those that already dominate the industry. The energy storage problem is farther from a resolution, but a few promising startups emerged this quarter with potential solutions.
Meanwhile, second quarter saw more leaps forward in the plug-in vehicle space, including several corporate fleet agreement announcements and a number of funding announcements for battery startups. Tesla also (finally) secured a much-needed Department of Energy loan plus a “double-digit million-dollar” investment from Daimler, while Ford and Nissan both banked DOE loans for electric vehicle programs, and Chrysler teamed up with A123 Systems after GM canceled its deal with the battery startup in favor of a deal with rival Sakti3.
Solar and wind picked up slightly from first quarter, and while both sectors continue to struggle in the face of massive decreases in capital investments, as well as valuations and deal volume, analysts predict a better year ahead in 2010. Biofuels are still on a downward spiral, with more bankruptcy announcements crossing the wire in second quarter as Congress debated the merits of holding biofuel producers accountable for their carbon emissions, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel for next-generation biofuels thanks to federal mandates.
On that note, the United States got closer than it ever has been to putting a price on carbon — a hugely important policy in terms of support for the cleantech industry —when the Waxman-Markey bill passed the House of Representatives late in second quarter. Though historic, the House passage doesn’t guarantee a U.S. carbon law or market — not by a long shot. There remains a Senate vote on that chamber’s version of the bill; passage there would be followed by discussion between the chambers on what the final bill will be, and then decisions from various federal organizations about how to interpret climate legislation.