Honeywell recently bought Akuacom, which makes automated demand response technology that Honeywell can marry with its own technology to help utilities reduce the power load on their systems at times of stress.
The technology is based on an open-source approach Akuacom had developed with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and was selected by the government for use in the smart grid.
Before the acquisition, Honeywell had worked with Akuacom to develop an interface for Honeywell’s systems. “The business model, and the dashboard they had built, was ahead of anything we had,” said Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions.
Startups often aren't looking for a merger partner, but an alliances with bigger firms. For instance, eMeter,which is developing enterprise softwarefor smart grid applications, looks to corporations like IBM and Siemens “to get my products broadly into the marketplace,” says Gary Bloom, the firm's CEO.
IBM and Siemens provide services at utilities that eMeter can complement with its software technology, says Bloom. "They provide us with the leverage and reach to get out across the world and cover these accounts."
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Cleantech is also being driven by corporations that recognize their businesses will be hurt as resources like water become scarce even if they aren’t directly affected, says Peter Williams, chief technology officer at IBM Big Green Innovations. The unit develops cleantech products and services, such as a Smarter Water Management system that essentially applies smart-grid technologies to managing water.
“Even a company operating in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s wet all the time is going to have to worry about water if their supply chain is in a water-parched area in China,” says Williams.
Companies like Waste Management recognize resources, such as landfill space, or oil, won’t be around forever. Waste Management, which is capturing methane gas from some of its landfills and turning it into fuel, has begun investing in companies that can convert garbage into biofuels, says Neil Suslak, managing partner at Braemar Energy Ventures, a venture capital firm.
Earlier this year Waste Management invested $51.5 million in Enerkem, a private waste-to-fuel company.
General Electric (parent of CNBC.com) is an active acquirer and investor in various clean technologies. In the third quarter, the industrial conglomerate was the most active of all corporations, investing in 66 percent of all deals, according to the Cleantech group.
One of GE’s strategies is to invest in emerging clean technologies through GE Energy Financial Services, a venture capital arm. Through these investments, GE gains knowledge of innovative technologies and in turn, can lend GE expertise and capital to young companies to help get them to the next stage, says Kevin Skillern managing director.
“We think we can make money,” says Skillern. “We believe investing in these companies allows us to better understand the emerging technologies that matter going forward.”
Dan Bakal, director of the electric power program at Ceres, a network of investors and environmental organizations that push corporations to address issues like climate change, thinks corporate interest in clean tech will be lasting.
“The companies that actually seem to be taking action, it seems to be real, and they don’t seem to be pulling back,” says Bakal.