Five Big Surprises on the Global Cleantech 100 List

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The Cleantech Group just released its first Global Cleantech 100, a ranking by analysts and experts from around the world of the top 100 companies working in the space today.

While there are some obvious picks (among them electric car darling Tesla Motors, smart grid giant Silver Spring Networks, and longtime battery leader A123 Systems, all of which wound up in the Top 10), there are a number of surprises.

Here is a look at the five biggest:

1. China Got Denied

It seems really strange that a list of the top 100 cleantech companies, chosen on the basis of their commercial viability and overall growth and success, would not include a single Chinese company (there were 55 U.S. companies by way of comparison).

In fact, in a summary of the Cleantech 100 by sector and geography, The Cleantech Group acknowledged this fact, stating:

“While China has no companies on the 2009 list, China’s importance and leadership in this area should not be understated, nor the evident rise in entrepreneurism and company-building in that region.”

2. Biofuels Are Back

Biofuels nosedived last year and continued their descent into the early part of 2009 as company after company declared bankruptcy. But that was back in the corn ethanol days.

With algae-based biofuels making headlines and cellulosic ethanol back in the mix, biofuels are starting to look like a good bet again … at least according to the analysts and other experts pulled in by Cleantech and their Guardian newspapers partners to come up with the top 100 list.

The lists includes three biofuels companies in the Top 10 (algae-based biofuel companies Solazyme and Sapphire Energy, and cellulosic ethanol company ZeaChem, all hailing from the United States).

3. Water Is Still Waiting for Its Close-Up

Despite the ubiquity of the phrase “Water is the new oil,” water and wastewater companies accounted for only 11 spots on the list. Although water is still clearly in the shadow of energy, some analysts considered the fact that water had more than 10 companies on the list as proof that the sector is in fact growing.

4. The Sun Is Not Shining on Solar

Energy has always been the star of the cleantech realm, and until the appearance of the words “smart grid” in every newspaper on the planet a year or so ago, solar dominated the energy space. But with solar stocks struggling on the public markets and energy efficiency and storage seeming like better bets for venture capitalists looking to cash in on the buzz surrounding the smart grid, the energy market is shifting.

Out of the 74 energy companies that made the list, energy generation accounted for 37, while energy efficiency accounted for 18, energy storage for 10, and energy infrastructure for nine. Those numbers speak volumes about the lay of the land in the energy world.

In a statement about the list, panelist Iyad Omari, investment director at London-based Frog Capital, said the same survey, if taken a year or two ago, would probably have awarded the most top spots to companies generating wind and solar power.

“It’s a sign of the times. Even from a government perspective, there’s a lot of support for rolling out or trying out smart grid technology,” he said.

5. Smart Grid Really Is Booming

We knew there was a lot of buzz around the build out of the smart grid and a huge amount of potential (the stimulus package set aside several billion dollars for smart grid investments and utilities are announcing new roll-outs daily), but the inclusion of three smart grid companies in the top 20 (Silver Spring, plus GridPoint and eMeter) really brings home the point that smart grid is booming.

The Global Cleantech 100 list was compiled by experts from cleantech innovation and venture capital companies from Europe, the Middle East, North America, Africa, India and China. According to Cleantech Group, some 3,500 companies were considered.


See also:

What’s Next in Smart Grid? IBM Picks 5 Companies to Watch

America Beats Europe on Clean Energy Funding for 6 Straight Years, and Counting