Cleantech is making a comeback and this time it’s sustainable
In 2006 cleantech was a thriving sector, but the global financial crisis – combined with a variety of other factors – meant it quickly lost momentum. Now interest from the investment community is accelerating once more, and this time cleantech is in it for the long haul.
Fundraising for cleantech companies in the UK is increasing exponentially, according to startup database Beauhurst. Writing in Forbes, sustainable resources private equity investor Rob Day suggests the global cleantech sector is far more stable this time around. This is due to a greater variety of funding models – not just venture capital – and serious commitments to a sustainable future from businesses and governments replacing token gestures and greenwashing. The COVID-19 pandemic is also playing a role by exposing both businesses and communities to systemic, life-threatening risk, and indirectly increasing awareness of the climate crisis.
As a specialist technology PR agency, we work with a variety of cleantech companies and are excited about the possibilities for the coming decade.
What is cleantech?
Cleantech is a term used to describe a variety of innovative technological solutions that transform the way traditionally harmful industries function, making their operations more environmentally friendly and improving the long-term health of the planet. Cleantech solutions enhance operational performance, productivity or efficiency while at the same time reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste or pollution.
The phrase cleantech, is often used interchangeably with terms such as ‘green technology’ or ‘environmental technology’, but these don’t necessarily mean the same, with cleantech referring to a sustainable business model rather than just an individual product or service. As explained by the CleanTech Group:
“Clean is more than green. Clean technology, or ‘cleantech’, should not be confused with the terms environmental technologies or ‘green tech’ popularized in the 1970s and 80s. Cleantech is new technology and related business models offering competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges. Where greentech, or envirotech, represents the highly regulatory driven, ‘end-of-pipe’ technology of the past with limited opportunity for attractive returns, cleantech is driven by market economics therefore offering greater financial upside and sustainability.”
Categories within the cleantech ecosystem
Cleantech innovation spans multiple verticals and includes both hardware and software solutions, as well as a wealth of enabling technologies that allow automation and continuous development. These enabling technologies include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics, which all contribute to industrial efficiency and decarbonisation. Here are just a handful of categories to watch over the coming months.
Energy: One of the key focusses of the sector is inevitably energy and power. Pioneering technologies are used to increase efficiency as well as enable use of renewable, clean energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro.
Clean energy technologies include Akselos, which uses an engineering simulation platform to create digital twins of energy infrastructures to improve design, maintenance, reliability and lifetime. There is also Neuer Energy, a cleantech venture that simplifies net zero planning, procurement and transparency by making renewable energy accessible and helping businesses select the right energy mix to achieve green business targets.
Resources: Making better use of the world’s natural resources is another cleantech goal and solutions in this sector have a range of objectives, from managing waste and shifting to a circular economy, to reducing dependence on plastics and enabling carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS).
Citrine is a company in the resource space, with an informatics platform for data-driven development, enabling rapid innovation in sustainable materials and chemicals. In addition, Xpansiv is a global market for ESG-inclusive commodities that enables businesses to quantify environmental and social attributes of commodity production.
Transport: Providers in the transport sector are focussed on moving to more efficient systems, and specifically on enabling a shift to electric vehicles.
They include Volta, a network in the US that offers free electric vehicle charging to drivers funded by digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising at charging points. There is also Electriphi, a provider of software for fleet electrification planning and energy management, and Swiftly, a supplier of applications to manage transit data in cities.
Food: Cleantech businesses in the food sector aim to promote sustainable production, as well as efficient distribution of agricultural produce.
These include Karma, a food-rescue app that enables retailers and restaurants to sell surplus food to consumers at a discount instead of throwing it away. There is also Winnow, an artificial-intelligence enabled technology that helps chefs reduce food waste in commercial kitchens.
The cleantech revolution is arriving a little later than Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder expected when they published their 2007 book of the same name, and described the sector as “the next big growth and investment opportunity”. But cleantech is clearly making a comeback for the 2020s, and this time it’s sustainable.