March 14, 2005 11:24 AM PST

More venture dollars directed toward clean energy

As part of its bankruptcy settlement with California, Pacific Gas and Electric has created a $30 million venture fund directed at alternative energy, one of the growing sectors of the venture market.

The California Clean Energy Fund, set up by PG&E, will place $8.5 million with each of three venture firms: DFJ Altaterra, a subsidiary of Draper Fisher Jurvetson dedicated to clean technology investing, Nth Power and VantagePoint Venture Partners. The three firms will then manage investments on behalf of the CCEF. Both DFJ Altaterra and Nth Power will match any investments made on behalf of the fund, while VantagePoint will make CCEF a limited partner.

The remaining $4.5 million will be reserved for future programs. The Clean Energy Fund is a nonprofit organization, so the gains will not be funneled back to PG&E but will get plowed back into developing this market.

Once a relic of the 1970s, alternative-energy technologies such as solar power and hydrogen fuel cells are gaining momentum again. The interest derives in part from rising oil prices, fears about global warming and ominous predictions of an peak in oil production.

The technology, however, has also improved: Some companies have come up with fabrics that can harness solar energy. Other clean-technology start-ups are focusing on water desalination and purification.

Nth Power estimates that venture capitalists invested approximately $500 million in United States-based energy technology companies in 2004, representing well more than 2 percent of all VC investing. In the past year, a number of venture firms have assigned partners to seek out these investments. Many are expected to attend the CleanTech Venture Forum, which is scheduled to take place in San Francisco next week.

 

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