Cover Story: Bright Idea –

It was a long, dark summer. There were so many blackouts you’d think God was playing tricks with the lights. First, there was the Aug. 14 North American blackout, which left 50 million people without lights. Then came the Sept. 21 post-Hurricane Isabel outage, which left another 6 million in the dark. Finally, on Sept. 29, a massive blackout blanketed nearly all of Italy, resulting in that country’s worst power outage since World War II.

If a big light bulb hadn’t gone off over venture capitalists’ heads before the blackouts, it’s certainly glowing now. There is a growing movement to create, develop and help manufacture more reliable sources of energy technology, ones that will make the generation and delivery of energy cheaper, cleaner and far more intelligent. “I’m not saying that Predictive Power, one of our portfolio companies, can actually prevent blackouts, but its power reliability products could certainly prevent failures in many neighborhoods,” says Peter Edwards, general partner with the Altira Group, a specialized energy technology VC firm based in Denver, Colo.

The market opportunity is huge. The worldwide clean energy market is forecast to grow from $9.5 billion last year to $89 billion by 2012, according to Clean Edge Inc., an energy research and consulting firm based in Oakland,

Calif. In particular, wind power is expected to expand from a $5.5 billion business last year to about $49 billion in 2012. During that same 10-year period, the solar power business will flare up from $3.5 billion to more than $27.5 billion, while the fuel cell business will surge from $500 million to $12.5 billion, Clean Edge predicts.

Driving the newfound interest in clean energy is a common and growing understanding that blackouts spell huge potential market opportunities for clean energy investors – along with increased worldwide power consumption, significant energy technology breakthroughs and even our uncomfortable reliance on oil and its ties to Middle East politics. Also working in favor of energy deals is a surplus of capital that venture capitalists have been looking to park. “We’ve seen a major up tick in the telephone calls we’ve been getting [from mainstream VCs] over the past year,” says Maurice Gunderson, a general partner with San Francisco-based Nth Power, an energy-focused venture firm. “Their capital overhang probably started the calls, but the public awareness inflection point reached with the blackouts has now added to it, so they’re calling to invest.”

Subscribers can read the rest of story in the the