More money than ever is going to energy venture capital deals, but spread across fewer start-ups. This needs to change if venture capital is to have a significant impact on energy transitions.
Among the many takeaways from the UN Climate Action Summit earlier this week was the need for capital to be reallocated to clean energy solutions around the world – The Economist talks of the Climate Capitalists who see the golden lining in the climate cloud.
These investors can play a crucial role in bridging the gap between lab and market, for example via venture capital (VC) funding that enables entrepreneurs to commercialise their first low-carbon products and hone their business models. Among the companies that have had a boost from venture funding, some are reshaping the energy landscape. Tesla has been at the vanguard of creating today’s USD 80 billion market for electric cars. BBOX and its peers have turned off-grid renewables into a highly competitive sector. Risk-taking capital like VC is an essential complement to government and corporate research dollars.
But how much of this investment is actually happening? World Energy Investment 2019 has already looked at companies that are allocating revenue to investments in energy technology start-ups. Now that we have added the results for the first half of 2019 to our improved and updated database of investors, we see that companies have already invested a record level in energy technology start-ups in 2019, more than in any year since the “cleantech boom” from 2005 to 2012. Some of this is Corporate Venture Capital (CVC), which is the subset of early-stage VC activity that comes directly from large companies in related sectors, and not from dedicated VC funds or financiers. Some of it is later-stage investing, such as corporate-led private equity or acquisitions.
Importantly, these investments in energy technology start-ups are not just coming from energy companies. More money is flowing from corporate investors from the transport and information and communication technology (ICT) sectors in particular.
The growing presence of these firms in the development of energy technologies reflects a blurring of the boundaries between “traditional” and “non-traditional” energy companies, largely driven by the types of new technologies that are expected to shape our energy future. Digital sensors, batteries, electric vehicles and smart algorithms are among the main recipients of the more than USD 4 billion of deals in 2019. This is more than all of 2018 and nearly three times more than the average over 2012-15, before the current uptick began.
Companies inside and outside the energy sector are increasingly using corporate venture capital investments as part of a flexible and more open energy innovation strategy. As we’ve noted previously, there are several reasons large established companies provide capital to early-stage technology companies.
For example, the purpose of an investment might be to learn about a technology, acquire human capital, or build a relationship with the owner of the technology. This approach can cost less and involve less risk than developing a technology in-house, especially if the technology landscape is uncertain, as it is today in many parts of the energy system. This approach is often used with technologies that are outside the core competence of the corporate investor but that could potentially add significant value to existing businesses.
However, the most recent data reveals that the earliest, and riskiest stages of corporate venture capital represent a declining share of the total deal value. In fact, Seed, Series A and Series B funding was just 10% of in 2019, with the rest made up of growth equity, late-stage equity and even buy-outs.
Examples of these later stage deals include: Chevron and BHP’s investment in Carbon Engineering, an atmospheric CO2 removal firm; Johnson Controls’ investment in Carbon Lighthouse, a smart energy efficiency service; Suncor’s investment in Enerkem, a waste-to-biofuel company; VW, Siemens, Vestas and Vattenfall’s investments in Northvolt, a battery producer; Hyundai, Kia and Porsche’s investments in Rimac Automobili, an electric sports car company; Ford and Amazon’s investment in Rivian, a maker of electric vehicles; Daimler and Amperex’s investments in Sila Nanotechnologies, a battery materials company; and BP’s investment in Solidia, a low-carbon concrete developer. In addition, there evidence that major energy companies are building capacity in new areas not only by taking stakes in innovative firms but also, increasingly, by acquiring them. In 2019, Shell acquired virtual power plant, home battery and electric vehicle charging companies. Others, like Centrica, continue to build portfolios of consumer-facing companies with software expertise.
While corporate entities are investing mostly in later-stage deals overall, traditional energy companies are playing a larger role in riskier early-stage CVC deals. Roughly half of CVC activity for energy start-ups in 2019 has come from the oil and gas, utilities and electricity equipment sectors.
Examples of these earlier stage deals include: BP’s investment in Belmont Technology, an artificial intelligence provider for oil and gas exploration; Comcast’s investment in Dandelion Energy, a geothermal provider; Eni’s investment in Form Energy, a long-duration electricity storage developer; Total and Equinor’s investment in Level10 Energy, a renewables marketplace; NTT Docomo and Statkraft’s investment in Metron Labs, an energy analytics platform; APICORP and Equinor’s investment in Yellow Door energy, a solar leasing firm; Iberdrola’s investment in Wallbox, a smart electric car charger; and Tepco’s investment in Zenobe Energy, a UK battery storage firm.
Corporate activity in energy venture investing is taking place against the backdrop of rising energy VC activity in general. At USD 2 billion, more money went into early-stage venture capital deals for energy technology companies in the first half of 2019 than the first six months of any previous year, except 2018.
While the growth in energy VC activity in recent years has been driven by transport deals, non-transport deals have made up more than half of the deal value in 2019 so far. This may indicate a rebalancing between sectors after a flurry of recent activity around electric vehicles in particular, but it remains too early to say. Some of the major recipients of early-stage VC funding in 2019 include: Hozon Automobile and Enovate Motors, Chinese developers of performance electric cars; Commonwealth Fusion; a lower-cost nuclear fusion system designer; CalBio, producers of new biogas digesters; and Faraday Grid, an inventor of novel power grid transformers.
There are two trends behind these numbers that reveal a changing sector.
First, the growing deal value represents fewer, larger deals. The number of VC deals for energy start-ups is not rising. Yet, even excluding all outlier deals of more than USD 50 million, the average deal size in the first half of 2019 was higher than for any year since 2012.
Second, the geographical rebalancing of the energy VC market continues. As recently as 2013, 80% of the money went to energy start-ups in North America. Yet over the last three years, Chinese companies have represented over 50% of deal value as well as most very large deals, some of which have been as large as USD 1 billion.
In the first half of 2019, there have been fewer deals in China, but Europe is on track to claim its highest share of the market yet. If we exclude deals over USD 50 million, one-third of the 2019 deal value went to companies in Europe, also representing one third of the deals by number.
Overall, VC and corporate investment in energy technology start-ups have returned to growth, and the types of technologies they are supporting are broadly aligned with clean energy transition goals. Both types of investment serve energy innovation and bring private capital in support of pressing global challenges. The IEA will continue to monitor these trends as useful indicators of where companies and markets are placing bets on future technology value.
However, VC deals still remain a small element in the context of total R&D spending. We estimate total public research and development (R&D) spending by governments to be at least three times larger than the VC market, and private sector spending on R&D may be three or more times larger again. Furthermore, certain types of technologies are underserved by the type of capital that is mobilised by VC. These notably include capital-intensive hardware for renewables and large-scale low-carbon technologies, such as carbon capture. The risks for investors in technologies that have long lead times and uncertain markets are higher. As if to illustrate this point, Faraday Grid, a top fundraiser as recently as January 2019, entered administration in August. Boosting economic growth and transforming the energy sector through low-carbon innovation will require governments and the private sector to strengthen the interface between policy, research funding and VC investment.
Energy transition is a global challenge that needs an urgent global response
COP26 showed that green energy is not yet appealing enough for the world to reach a consensus on coal phase-out. The priority now should be creating affordable and viable alternatives
Many were hoping that COP26 would be the moment the world agreed to phase out coal. Instead, we received a much-needed reality check when the pledge to “phase out” coal was weakened to “phase down”.
This change was reportedly pushed by India and China whose economies are still largely reliant on coal. The decision proved that the world is not yet ready to live without the most polluting fossil fuels.
This is an enormous problem. Coal is the planet’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, but also a major source of energy, producing over one-third of global electricity generation. Furthermore, global coal-fired electricity generation could reach an all-time high in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Given the continued demand for coal, especially in the emerging markets, we need to accelerate the use of alternative energy sources, but also ensure their equal distribution around the world.
There are a number of steps policymakers and business leaders are taking to tackle this challenge, but all of them need to be accelerated if we are to incentivise as rapid shift away from coal as the world needs.
The first action to be stepped up is public and private investment in renewable energy. This investment can help on three fronts: improve efficiency and increase output of existing technologies, and help develop new technologies. For green alternatives to coal to become more economically viable, especially, for poorer countries, we need more supply and lower costs.
There are some reasons to be hopeful. During COP26 more than 450 firms representing a ground-breaking $130 trillion of assets pledged investment to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement.
The benefits of existing investment are also becoming clearer. Global hydrogen initiatives, for example, are accelerating rapidly, and if investment is kept up, the Hydrogen Council expects it to become a competitive low-carbon solution in long haul trucking, shipping, and steel production.
However, the challenge remains enormous. The IEA warned in October 2021 that investment in renewable energy needs to triple by the end of this decade to effectively combat climate change. Momentum must be kept up.
This is especially important for countries like India where coal is arguably the main driver for the country’s economic growth and supports “as many as 10-15 million people … through ancillary employment and social programs near the mines”, according to Brookings Institute.
This leads us to the second step which must be accelerated: support for developing countries to incentivise energy transition in a way which does not compromise their growth.
Again, there is activity on this front, but it is insufficient. Twelve years ago, richer countries pledged to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the financial assistance failed to reach $80 billion in 2019, and likely fell substantially short in 2020. Governments say they will reach the promised amount by 2023. If anything, they should aim to reach it sooner.
There are huge structural costs in adapting electricity grids to be powered at a large scale by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Businesses will also need to adapt and millions of employees across the world will need to be re-skilled. To incentivise making these difficult but necessary changes, developing countries should be provided with the financial support promised them over a decade ago.
The third step to be developed further is regulation. Only governments are in a position to pass legislation which encourages a faster energy transition. To take just one example, the European Commission’s Green Deal, proposes introduction of new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, incentivising the electrification of vehicles.
This kind of simple, direct legislation can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and encourage industry to tackle climate change.
Widespread legislative change won’t be straightforward. Governments should closely involve industry in the consultative process to ensure changes drive innovation rather than add unnecessary bureaucracy, which has already delayed development of renewable assets in countries including Germany and Italy. Still, regardless of the challenges, stronger regulation will be key to turning corporate and sovereign pledges into concrete achievements.
COP26 showed that we are not ready as a globe to phase out coal. The priority for the global leaders must now be to do everything they can to drive the shift towards green energy and reach the global consensus needed to save our planet.
Pakistan–Russia Gas Stream: Opportunities and Risks of New Flagship Energy Project
Russia’s Yekaterinburg hosted the 7th meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation on November 24–26, 2021. Chaired by Omar Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s Minister for Economic Affairs, and Nikolai Shulginov, Russia’s Minister of Energy, the meeting was attended by around 70 policy makers, heads of key industrial companies and businessmen from both sides, marking a significant change in the bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad.
Three pillars of bilateral relations
Among the most important questions raised by the Commission were collaboration in trade, investment and the energy sector.
According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, the Russian-Pakistani trade turnover increased in 2020 by 45.8% compared to 2019, totaling 789.8 million U.S. dollars. Yet, there is still huge potential for increasing the trade volume for the two countries, including textiles and agricultural products of Pakistan and Russian products of machinery, technical expertise as well as transfer of knowledge and R&D.
Another prospective project discussed at the intergovernmental level is initiating a common trade corridor between Russia, the Central Asia and Pakistan. Based on the One-Belt-One-Road concept, launched by China, the Pakistan Road project is supposed to create a free flow of goods between Russia and Pakistan through building necessary economic and transport infrastructure, including railway construction and special customs conditions. During the Commission meeting, both countries expressed their intention to collaborate on renewal of the railway machines fleet and facilities in Pakistan, including supplies of mechanized track maintenance and renewal machines; supplies of 50 shunting (2400HP or less) and 100 mainline (over 3000HP) diesel locomotives; joint R&D of the technical and economic feasibility of locomotives production based in the Locomotive Factory Risalpur and other. The proposed contractors of the project might be the Russian Sinara Transport Machines, Uralvagonzavod JSC that stand ready to supply Pakistan Railway with freight wagons, locomotives and passenger coaches. In order to engage import and export activities between Russian and Pakistani businessmen, the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum with Ural Chamber of Commerce and Industry, marking a new step in bilateral relations. Similar memorandums have already been signed with other Chambers of Commerce in Russian regions.
— Today, the ties between Russia and Pakistan are objectively strengthening in all areas including economic, political and military collaboration. But we, as businessmen, are primarily interested in the development of trade relations and new transit corridors for export-import activities. For example, the prospective pathways of the Pakistan-Central Asia-Russia trade and economic corridor project are now being actively discussed at the intergovernmental level, — said Mohsin Sheikh, Director of the Pakistan Russia Business Council of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry. — For Islamabad, this issue is one of the most important. Based on a similar experience of trade with China, we see great prospects for this direction. That is why representatives of Pakistan’s government, customs officers, diplomats and businessmen gathered in Yekaterinburg today.
However, the flagship project of the new era of the Pakistan-Russia relations is likely to be the Pakistan Gas Stream. Previously known as the North-South Gas Pipeline, this mega-project (1,100 kilometers in length) is expected to cost up to USD 2,5 billion and is claimed to be highly beneficial for Pakistan. Being a net importer of energy, Pakistan will be able to develop and integrate new sources of natural gas and transport it to the densely populated industrialized north. At the same time, the project will enable Pakistan—whose main industries are still dependent on the coal consumption—to take a major step forward gradually replacing coal with relatively more ecologically sustainable natural gas. To enable this significant development in the Pakistan’s energy sector, Moscow and Islamabad have made preliminary agreements to carry on the research of Pakistan’s mineral resource sector including copper, gold, iron, lead and zinc ores of Baluchistan, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab Provinces.
A lot opportunities but a lot more risks?
The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipe Project undoubtedly opens major investment opportunities for Pakistan. Among them are establishment of new refineries; the launch of virtual LNG pipelines; building of LNG onshore storages of LNG; investing in strategic oil and gas storages. Yet, it seems that Pakistan is likely to win more from the Project than Russia. And here’s why. The current version of the agreement signed by Moscow and Islamabad has been essentially reworked. According to it, Russia will likely to receive only 26 percent in the project stake instead of 85 percent as it was previously planned, while the Pakistani side will retain a controlling stake (74 percent) in the project.
Another stranding factor for Russia is although Moscow will be entitled to provide all the necessary facilities and equipment for the building of the pipeline, the entire construction process will be supervised by an independent Pakistani-based company, which will substantially boost Pakistan’s influence at each development. Finally, the vast bulk of the gas transported via the pipeline will likely come from Qatar, which will further strengthen Qatar’s role in the Pakistani energy sector.
Big strategy but safety first
The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline will surely become an important strategic tool for Russia to reactivate the South Asian vector of its foreign policy. Even though the project’s aim is not to gain a fast investment return and economic benefits, it follows significant strategic goals for both countries. As Russia-India political and economic relations are cooling down, Moscow is likely to boost ties with Pakistan, including cooperation in economy, military, safety and potentially nuclear energy, that was highlighted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during visit to Islamabad earlier this year. Such an expansion of relations with Pakistan will allow Russia to gain a more solid foothold in the South Asian part of China’s BRI, thus opening up a range of new lucrative opportunities for Moscow.
Apart from its economic and political aspects, the Pakistan Stream Project also has clear geopolitical implications. It marks Russia’s growing influence in South Asia and points to some remarkable transformations that are currently taking place in this region. The ongoing geopolitical game within the India-Russia-Pakistan triangle is yet less favorable for New Delhi much because of the Pakistan Stream Project. Even though the project is not directly aimed to jeopardize the India’s role in the region, it is considered the first dangerous signal for New Delhi. For instance, the International “Extended troika” Conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Moscow last spring united representatives from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan but left India aside (even though the latter has important strategic interests in Afghanistan).
With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, Moscow has become literally the only warden of Central Asia’s security. As Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the Central Asia, the main defensive buffer in the South for Moscow, the recent decision of Vladimir Putin to equip its military base in Tajikistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, seems to be just on time. Obviously, Islamabad that faces major risks amidst the Afghanistan crisis sees Moscow as a prospective strategic partner who will help Imran Khan strengthen the Pakistani efforts in fighting the terrorism threat.
From our partner RIAC
How wind power is transforming communities in Viet Nam
In two provinces of Viet Nam, a quiet transformation is taking place, driven by the power of renewable energy.
Thien Nghiep Commune, a few hundred kilometres from Ho Chi Min City, is a community of just over 6,000 people – where for years, people relied largely on farming, fishing and seasonal labour to make ends meet.
Now, thanks to a wind farm backed by the Seed Capital Assistance Facility (SCAF) – a multi-donor trust fund, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – people in the Thien Nghiep Commune are accessing new jobs, infrastructure and – soon – cheap, clean energy. The 40MW Dai Phong project, one of two wind farms run by SCAF partner company the Blue Circle, has brought new hope to the community.
For the 759 million people in the world who lack access to electricity, the introduction of clean energy solutions can bring improved healthcare, better education and affordable broadband, creating new jobs, livelihoods and sustainable economic value to reduce poverty.
“It’s not only about the technology and the big spinning wheel for me. It’s more about making investment decisions for the planet and at the same time not compromising on the necessity that we call electricity,” said Nguyen Thi Hoai Thuong, who works as a community liaison. “The interesting part is I work for the project, but I actually work for the community and with the community.”
While the wind farm is not yet online, a focus on local hiring and paying fair prices for land has already made a big difference to the community.
“I used the money from the land sale to the Dai Phong project to repair my house and invest in my cattle. Currently, my life is stable and I have not encountered any difficulties since selling the land,” said Ms. Le Thi Doan.
The energy sector accounts for approximately 75 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). UNEP research shows that these need to be reduced dramatically and eventually eliminated to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Renewable energy, in all its forms, is one of humanity’s greatest assets in the fight to limit climate change. Capacity across the globe continues to grow every year, lowering both GHGs and air pollution, but the pace of action must accelerate to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 °C this century.
“To boost growth in renewables, however, companies need to access finance,” said Rakesh Shejwal, a Programme Management Officer at SCAF. “This is where SCAF comes in. SCAF works through private equity funds and development companies to mobilize early-stage investment low-carbon projects in developing countries.”
The 176 projects it seed financed have mobilized US $3.47 billion to build over one gigawatt of generation capacity, avoiding emissions of 4.68 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent each year.
But SCAF’s work isn’t just about cutting emissions. It is bringing huge benefits across the sustainable development agenda: increasing access to clean and reliable electricity and boosting communities across Asia and Africa. SCAF will be potentially creating 17,000 jobs.
This is evident in Ninh Thuan province, where the Blue Circle created both the first commercial wind power project and the first to be commissioned by a foreign private investor in Viet Nam.
Here, the Dam Nai wind farm has delivered fifteen 2.625 MW turbines, the largest in the country at the time. These will generate approximately 100 GWh per year. They will avoid over 68,000 tCO2e annually and create more than an estimated 302 temporary construction and 13 permanent operation and maintenance jobs for the local community.
Students from the local high school in Ninh Thuan Province were also given the opportunity to meet with engineers and technicians on the project, increasing their knowledge about how renewable energy works and opening up new career paths.
SCAF, through its partners, is supporting clean energy project development in the Southeast Asian region and African region. SCAF has more than a decade of experience in decarbonization and is currently poised to run till 2026.
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