Clean Tech Big Money

Fuel cells. Energy efficient light bulbs. Waterless urinals. Recycled construction materials. Smart chemicals. Water filtration and desalination equipment.

Lauren Bigelow says so-called clean technologies just may be the biggest jobs and wealth generation opportunity of the 21st century.

As the director of programs for the Cleantech Network, an organization working to build the market for new technologies and services that simultaneously help sustain the planet and turn profits, Ms. Bigelow is watching investors plow a ton of money into the cleantech industry.

In fact, Ms. Bigelow says, clean tech is now the world's 3rd largest venture capital category, receiving 11 percent of global VC.

What does that mean in real dollars? About $8.5 billion in North American investment in energy innovation, waste reduction, and other sectors since 2003. The U.S. market has grown 253 percent since 2001 compared to 67 percent for electronics, 53 percent for medical devices, and 29 percent for biotech. Public offerings and mergers and acquisitions are brisk business too.

Despite infantile public policies to help advance the industry, the American Midwest ranks 6th in a 2006 listing of the Top Ten Cleantech Regions with $293 million in economic activity. The West Coast led the way with $1.9 billion followed by the Northeastern U.S. ($777 million) and Eastern China ($420 million).

"We're seeing a lot of comfort right now with VC investment in clean technologies," Ms. Bigelow says, "particulary in the energy generation sector."