Power failure

After the dismal outcome in Copenhagen, James Harris speaks to last year's winners of the Rosenblatt New Energy Awards about what the future holds for the sector.

Dubbed “Hopenhagen” in the official advertising campaign, the climate change summit in Denmark’s capital actually delivered very little for green campaigners and entrepreneurs committed to reducing carbon emissions.

Jeremy Leggett, a seasoned green campaigner and executive chairman of renewable energy business Solarcentury, says: ‘We’re in trouble. People talk optimistically about the next summit, but at some point the chain has to be broken. A lot of politicians said that Copenhagen was the last chance saloon and it was a major disappointment.’

Lights out

Shaken by the disappointment of Copenhagen, green energy businesses also have had to negotiate a tricky funding environment. Martin Wright, chairman of tidal wave business Marine Current Turbines, says: ‘Like many renewable energy businesses, we require a high initial capital expenditure and a long lead time, it’s perfect for venture capital (VC) investment. Unfortunately most VC firms have been through the financial equivalent of the Battle of the Somme.’

Energy efficient components manufacturer CamSemi raised $26 million in 2007 in a funding round led by VC investor Carbon Trust, which was followed by a further $8 million from BankInvest Group in 2008. For David Baillie, CEO of the company, it’s getting more difficult: ‘Look a the statistics of VC investments, 2009 was a bleak year.’

According to research by growthbusiness.co.uk, venture capital investment shrunk in the UK from £2 billion in 2006 to an estimated £750 million last year.

Unfortunately, other sources are just as dry. Wright says: ‘Capital markets are a dust bowl and bank appetite, even for good projects, is very limited.’

A helping hand

Although finance remains tough, the government is providing a helping hand to the cleantech sector. As of April 2010, the UK government will be introducing a set price for a fixed period on electricity generated using small-scale low carbon technologies, such as solar panels and wind turbines. This will apply to companies spending more than £1 million a year on energy, thereby encouraging larger corporates to explore ways of adopting alternative sources of energy.

Matt Taylor, a partner at Foresight Group, an environmental private equity investor, believes the new tariff system ‘will unleash a wave of investment’.

Unfortunately the measures aren’t enough for some people. Leggett says: ‘Tariffs will make an interesting market for us but they aren’t as generous as countries like France and Italy. I know that if the tariffs were 10 per cent higher, more companies would get involved and that’s when you get more innovation.’

Even if the UK government is moving in the right direction, the failure to reach an agreement in Copenhagen still rankles. Wright says: ‘We have a serious issue and last time I checked, we only have one planet. People claimed that economies are more important than the environment and that is concerning.’

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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