Cleantech Investment Outlook Session

On the morning of June 2, we had our first series of concurrent sessions here at the SJF Summit on the New Green Economy.  Attendees could choose from three options: Supporting Green Jobs Growth, Supporting Social and Green Entrepreneurship and Cleantech Investment Outlook.  Here is a brief report from the cleantech session, but check back later for updates from the other panels.

Cleantech Investment Outlook session attendees got diverse perspectives during this morning panel, with representation from an investment bank, an energy technology holding company and a venture fund that invests in brownfields remediation projects.

Mary Bacon, of Ewing Bemiss & Co., said amid the current credit crisis, investment in alternative energy sources has dropped off.  However, she said the federal stimulus will provide many opportunities for green investment.

She said biomass energy is more popular now, whereas “it used to be the stepchild of renewable energy.”  In addition, she said private equity and hedge funds, while more cautious about their investments, still are pouring funds in green energy.

“It’s the right place to be in this current economic time,” she said.

Next, John Moore of Acorn Energy focused on environmental problems as drivers for green investment.

“Wind and solar is the future,” he said. “I hope it’s going to be a huge success. (But) we have to be worried about our present.”

He added that solar power needs to be targeted to areas that will yield “the highest return on investment.”

“I believe we should consider solar a specialty solution,” he said.

Three keys to success, he said, are: to transition from analog to digital technology, harness America’s strengths and use software and silicon infrastructure.

Last, Tom Darden, of Raleigh-based Cherokee Investment Partners, talked about his firm’s efforts to turn around polluted brownfields sites.

Through Cherokee’s work, he said 525 sites have been purchased globally, with the intent of improving local communities that previously had blighted land.

During his presentation, Darden showed an illustration of a triangle with three points: ecology, equity and economy.  He said he’s witnessed a change in which the business world is more concerned with social equity and environmental stewardship.

He said investors are more likely to consider projects that include community benefits, although he noted the difficulties in securing investment in the current economy due to little available funding.

Darden also encouraged people to consider government incentives, while keeping in mind that those funding streams will eventually end.

Later, during a question-and-answer period organized by panel moderator Nicholas Parker of the Cleantech Group, panelists offered differing views on private-public collaborations.

Darden urged attendees to steer clear of the public sector, calling government a “fickle” partner.  But Moore said the private sector should tap into government funding.  “You cannot afford to not have those (government) relationships,” Moore said.