After a slow start to the year, investment in clean-tech rose 56% over the past three months to $1.76 billion, compared with $1.10 billion in the previous quarter and $1.50 billion in the last quarter of 2012.  Sheeraz Haji, CEO of San Francisco-based Cleantech Group, said that US President Barack Obama’s recent climate action address has helped re-energize the cleantech industry.  The second quarter investment rise, along with the “strong performance of SolarCity and Tesla” – two publicly listed clean-tech firms – “underscore our belief that we are turning a corner”, Haji said.  The largest VC transaction was the $150 million investment by Credit Suisse and E.ON in California-based fuel cell maker Bloom Energy, which is eying an IPO.

In terms of regional trends, North America accounted for 71% of total venture investment and Asia Pacific for 15%, its highest share since 2010.  In contrast, investment in European and Israeli companies fell by almost a third to $235 million, and the region made up 13% of global investment.  Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) also increased in the second quarter, as investment activity by large corporations rose, the CleanTech group said. Among the deals were Swiss power engineering company ABB’s acquisition of solar inverter maker Power-One for $1 billion.

As we posted last week, VCs are looking for new ways to invest in the energy economy, utilizing new sources of capital such as foundations, strategic corporate investors, and family offices, and becoming less reliant on investments by pension funds and university endowments.  When the Menlo Park-based venture firm The Westly Group raised a $160 million cleantech fund earlier this spring, pension funds and university endowments were absent and the gap was filled in part by multi-national corporations who have been hoarding cash since the Great Recession.  Since then, The Westly Group, among others, have been very active.  See the below round-up of the last few weeks’ cleantech VC funding.

  • Enerkem, a waste-to-biofuels and renewable chemicals startup, raised $48 million in its latest financing round — joined by strategic investor Investissement Québec and existing investors Waste Management of Canada, Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, The Westly Group, Cycle Capital, Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Fondaction. Enerkem converts non-recyclable municipal solid waste into methanol, ethanol and other chemical intermediates. The company registered for an IPO in 2011 and withdrew its IPO registration in 2012.
  • Solexel, an advanced silicon solar cell startup, just raised $14.7 million from undisclosed investors, according to an SEC document caught by Bloomberg. It was the third close of the company’s now $51.3 million C Round, according to the firm.  Previous investors include SunPower, KPCB, Technology Partners, DAG Ventures, Gentry Ventures, Northgate Capital, GSV Capital, Oak Hill, Ecofin, and Spirox. The firm’s Board of Directors are Mehrdad Moslehi and Michael Wingert of Solexel, as well as John Denniston of KP, Ira Ehrenpreis of Technology Partners, Doug Rose of SunPower, Les Vadasz of Intel, and Greg Williams of DAG Ventures. Gentry Securities has been enlisted as a placement agent in this and previous fundraising efforts. Gentry’s investments include Fisker, Bloom Energy, Amyris, Agrivida, and Glori Energy — all Kleiner Perkins portfolio companies.  The startup’s total VC funding to date is north of $150 million. Solexel has also scored $17 million in DOE and NSF grants.
  • Goal Zero, a manufacturer of portable solar power and power packs, just got an investment from In-Q-Tel, the VC arm of the CIA.
  • Blu Homes, a builder of precision-engineered, prefab green homes, just closed a $65 million round of investment. Existing investors include the Skagen Group and Brightpath Capital Partners. The startup will use the funding to build out a series of fifteen to twenty display homes in key markets across the U.S. Blu Homes and its display homes are built in the company’s California factory, transported by truck, and then “unfolded” on site. Blu Homes are LEED Silver certifiable, and feature recycled steel framing, radiant heat flooring, high R-value walls and energy-efficient appliances.
  • Honest Buildings, an online marketplace for building professionals, just won $5.5 million in round A funding from The Westly Group and RockPort Capital. The company is looking to streamline the process for building upgrades. According to a release, approximately $25 million in contracts were originated through the Honest Buildings platform.  According to Dhiraj Malkani, partner at RockPort Capital, “Honest Buildings is pioneering a business platform for the real estate market that uses information technology, social networking and big data to more efficiently connect and catalyze transactions amongst all the stakeholders.” Malkani continued: “It sits squarely at the intersection of web, IT, big data and smart cities that is bringing our physical world into the digital domain.”
  • Amalyst gained funding from VC firm Midven and UCLB for a fuel cell and electrolysis catalyst technology which generates hydrogen fuel from the passage of electricity through water.
  • SJF Ventures invested in Vital Farms, a Texas-based sustainable agriculture company providing pasture-raised eggs and poultry.
  • E.ON, the world’s largest investor-owned utility, became a limited partner in the The Westly Group, which focuses on renewable energy, smart grids, and energy efficiency for buildings.