The cleantech industry has fallen on some hard times. The U.S. energy boom - and especially the "shale gale" of cheap natural gas - has led to lower prices for fossil fuels.
While good news for the U.S. economy, the energy boom has taken the air out of cleantech investing, especially in the areas of wind power, solar and biofuels.
Key quote from SiliconValley.com's article Latest cleantech funding woes spark fears of industry slide:
New figures from the National Venture Capital Association paint a sobering picture: Investments in alternative energy and related fields have dropped for five of the past six quarters. The $368 million that venture firms poured into cleantech in the first three months of this year was roughly a third of the total from the same period in 2012.
So what is the Cleantech industry doing? Pivoting, of course.
And they're calling their new focus the Cleanweb. The Cleanweb marries information and Internet technologies - think the social web, big data, mobile, apps and sensors - with clean/environmental initiatives.
According to an article in Gigaom, this means staying away from capital intensive hardware and clean energy production companies. Instead, Cleanweb investments focus on companies "that are “capital efficient” and have business models that deliver immediate value to customers, like asset recovery, reuse and efficiency."
A presentation on the Cleanweb has a number of interesting company examples. They include firms that make immediate sense like smart thermostat company Nest. But they also have a few that I find to be a bit of reach, like peer to peer travel rental company Airbnb.
Yes, I get that the sharing economy reduces the demand for resources. But this claim seems more like a PR ploy to try to counter act the negative press Solyndra and Fisker have given Cleantech rather than an accurate description of their business.
Regardless, this pivot will be good for small businesses. The Cleanweb focus is on improving energy efficiency, the mitigation of environmental problems and a greater focus on conservation. All of these create opportunities for small businesses to play a role.
And the Cleanweb is needed. Climate change continues to be a major economic and political risk, environmental degradation is still all too common and resource efficiency is becoming more critical. We need innovative companies to help fix these problems.