Correction appended below.
The green-tech industry is caught between two gale forces.
Pushing it toward success are powerful efforts, notably government policies to regulate greenhouse gases and reduce oil imports.
Working against it are the challenges inherent in cracking into the energy business.
Unlike software or Internet start-ups, most clean-tech businesses--be they automotive start-ups or renewable-energy manufacturers--need a lot of capital to succeed. They also need long-term, supportive policies, which are often victim to politics and economic swings.
And so it went in 2008. Driven by high oil prices and climate concerns, the beginning of the year was marked by a surge in green investment, with venture capital expected to top $3 billion this year. By the end of the year, there were troubling signs, linked directly to falling oil prices and the financial crisis that took hold in the autumn.
Tesla Motors, the high-profile electric luxury carmaker, provided perhaps the most drama among start-ups. After hitting delays, it finally began shipping the $109,000 Tesla Roadster. But Chairman Elon Musk took over the CEO position, laid off staff amid cash-flow problems, was forced to scrap plans for going public, and delayed its second car.
Detroit's Big Three--under unaccustomed pressure from start-ups--pleaded with Washington for "bridge loans" (also known as a bailout) and promised to accelerate delivery of electric and other fuel-efficient cars.
Due in two years, General Motors' Chevy Volt had high expectations heaped upon it when it was officially unveiled at GM's 100th anniversary, although there are many other electric cars under development.
Oddly, Washington's bailout of the financial sector also aided the renewable energy industry, most favorably, solar. After multiple failed attempts, tax credits for wind, solar, and geothermal energy were extended.
On the technology front, utility-scale solar thermal plants that use heat to make electricity will reappear in the U.S. Southwest after a long hiatus.
Companies developing alternative solar-cell materials--such as First Solar's cadmium telluride or CIGS (a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenide)--are challenging the incumbent silicon, promising lower panel prices and a shakeout among suppliers.
Computing heavyweights Google, IBM, and Intel each upped their clean-technology activities, while dozens of smart grid companies set out to equip the creaky electricity grid with a Net-savvy communications network.
In biofuels, lowly algae has become the darling of scientists--and even Bill Gates--as a source of biodiesel. The race to make ethanol from wood chips, trash, and other non-food feedstock sped up, with a handful of pilot plants now nearing reality.
In a world increasingly focused on energy and environment, there was no shortage of grand plans. Google, former Vice President Al Gore, investor Vinod Khosla, and billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens all got into the act. President-elect Barack Obama and his retinue continue to show their clean-tech savvy, a bright spot for the industry.
But as Pickens found out when trying to finance what he hopes to be the world's largest wind farm, the financial crisis has dampened many ambitious plans.
This story originally misspelled the surname of the head of Tesla Motors. His name is Elon Musk.
General Motors buys undisclosed share in the cellulosic ethanol company Coskata to bring E85 fuel to market faster.
Start-ups are using software and financing to try to crack open the big residential market for solar power.
A report from clean-tech analysis firm New Energy Finance quantifies the relative impact that booming biofuels production has on food.
Supersize power plants are taking root, but different technology designs are battling it out for dominance.
Big Blue and Japanese semiconductor equipment manufacturer Tokyo Ohka Kogyo plan to develop technology that can hit $1 per watt in two or three years.
Storage on the grid would allow use of more solar and wind power and avoid the need for new power plants. So what's holding up grid storage?
Wind power can supply 20 percent of America's electricity in 10 years, freeing up natural gas to fuel cars and reduce dependence on oil, says the billionaire oilman.
Inspired by photosythesis, chemistry researchers at MIT devise a catalyst that can help store the sun's energy by splitting hydrogen and oxygen from water.
At its centennial party, GM unveils the production Chevy Volt, an electric car that can reach 100 mph and be driven for less than a dollar a day.
Giants in their respective fields, the two companies plan to lobby for government energy policies to modernize the electrical grid and promote renewable energies.
The financial turmoil is slipping into clean energy, affecting mature businesses like wind, while early-stage clean-tech ventures forecast continued access to capital.
Wind and solar get another lease on life with eight-year extension, while plug-in hybrids, geothermal, and small wind installations get supports.
The ocean has great potential as a renewable energy source, but the industry struggles with technical challenges, harsh environments, and environmental permitting.
Elon Musk, CEO of the all-electric luxury carmaker, says Tesla is raising more than $20 million, which is less than it had hoped but enough to meet its basic needs.
Energy policy is poised to change, with renewable energy, efficiency, and biofuels to benefit. But a down economy means climate change regulations are likely to wait.