After being the hot venture capital investment category for the last few years, green tech appears to be cooling off.
The National Venture Capital Association yesterday released results from a survey of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs which showed that only 38 percent thought energy investment would increase in 2011. Forty percent expect it to decline.
Worries about an overinvestment, or a bubble, have subsided greatly with only 28 percent of respondents seeing clean tech as "frothy" in the year ahead.
Instead, the biggest concern of overheated investment is consumer Internet, according to the survey which is done with Dow Jones VentureWire. When ranked, the consumer Internet category was the industry most venture capitalists expect to see "froth" followed by cloud computing software.
Overall, the NVCA found that both investors and CEOs of companies have more confidence going into the new year.
When VCs were asked which sector will fare better in 2011, information technology came out way ahead with 69 percent, followed by 19 percent for biotech, and 12 percent for clean tech. CEOs had a different view, saying clean tech would to slightly better than the other sectors.
There are already signs of a contraction in venture money into the green technology area. Third quarter data from the Cleantech group found that the total venture investing was $1.6 billion in the third quarter this year, a 25 percent decrease from the previous quarter although there were more deals in total.
Lower investment levels overall does not mean that VCs are moving out of green tech en masse. But it could signal a shift in how they finance their companies' growth or which areas they invest in. Energy efficiency is often considered a promising area because it doesn't require the large amounts of capital to build a solar manufacturing plant or biofuels refinery, for example.
One of the big questions facing all VCs is whether they will have successful exits through an initial public offering or acquisition. Thirty four percent of the NVCA respondents thought that the number of IPOs in clean tech would increase, although few are publicly known at this point.
Compared to the IT industry, investing in energy, materials and water typically requires a lot of capital to develop the technology and it can take many years for it to be adopted into the market. That has prompted many companies to change their investment strategies by diversifying their funding sources beyond just venture capital.