The unglamorous approach to impact investing in energy – pv magazine USA


[1] $715 B at end of 2019; from, Annual Impact Investor Survey 2020, Global Impact Investor Network Research Team

[2] As a 26-year-old Senior Associate I couldn’t really “do” anything, so that’s romanticizing a bit.  But I was certainly a willing, table-pounding voice in the room.  Let’s just say I was a big Nanosolar fan.

[3] This was a big deal back then

[4] The solar cell was invented at Bell Labs in 1954.  Nearly all solar installed today uses the same technology they stumbled upon that day in 1956.  The Idea Factory, by Jon Gertner, tells the discovery tale well

[5] Tomakin Archambault


[7] Obviously assumes quite a bit of efficiency improvement; again, let’s not split hairs that’s not the point of the article

[8] For those keeping score at home, 178 GW of new renewable capacity was installed in 2019 according to Irena

[9] Berkeley Labs produces a very nice annual review of utility scale solar costs.

[10] Lux Research “Global Energy Storage Market Forecast 2019”, accessed 9/4/20

[11] Data from database, universe of all cleantech transactions into solar, wind, hydro, other renewable generation “seed”, series A, series B, series C rounds of financing; certain rounds the proceeds of which are known to have been used for asset financing were excluded (e.g. late stage Bloom Energy rounds)

[12] Remember that thought.

[13] Methodology: start with Cambridge Associates’ spectacular database (, which does most of the work but does not breakout Project Development/Construction/Operations, so we used a combination of Crunchbase and Pitchbook data to apply the % breakdown between those categories to the broader universe size of the CA data set.  The methodology is not perfect, but I believe directionally useful.

[14] Data from the Global Impact Investing Network “Annual Impact Investors Survey: 2020”, Goldman Sachs’ Clean Energy Impact Report, and Cambridge Associates’ private investments database; “construction” and “operations” not delineated so combined; the universe are those who self-identify as impact investors, and the data is self-reported and therefore subject to differences in interpretation and application of definitions.


[16] (some nice work from a couple MBA candidates)


[18] Breakthrough already gets so much attention I hesitate to mention them; there are a handful of other fabulous institutions with brilliant people, money, and the latitude to shift the technology frontier. Ecosystem Integrity Solutions, Prime Impact Fund, come to mind

[19] Bill Mckibben – founder of and considered, by many, to be the preeminent expert on this point – thinks we may have passed it.  Which is unfortunate.

[20] CapitalIQ database of all active private equity funds which self-report mandate in clean energy infrastructure (or telecommunications, healthcare); accessed early September 2020

[21] Just because you don’t require a revenue contract on day one doesn’t mean you’ll never have one

[22] There isn’t room in this piece to launch into the deeper discussion these concepts warrant; watch this space


[24] Though considerably lower risk than cleantech, generally.

[25] If I had a nickel…

[26] Crowdfunding investment pools, app-based community solar customer procurement, drone-based imaging/analytics/services

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