I have to begin by admitting my own ignorance of the clean energy and green tech sectors particularly as far as Africa is concerned. However, it would appear that there are great opportunities for Africa and African startups to venture into the areas of cleantech/ greentech. In fact, consider this as setting the stage for further inquiry and more investigation from Afrinnovator in this area in future.

A fair place to begin would be to frame the area of inquiry. The terms ‘cleantech’ and ‘greentech’ have become almost synonymous in their usage. The CleantechBlog attempted to make the distinction but it still leaves a lot of ambiguity. Turning to Wikipedia here’s what we get:

Cleantech: Clean technology includes recycling, renewable energy (wind power, solar power, biomass, hydropower, biofuels), information technology, green transportation, electric motors, green chemistry, lighting, Greywater, and many other appliances that are now more energy efficient. It is a means to create electricity and fuels, with a smaller environmental footprint and minimise pollution. To make green buildings, transport and infrastructure both more energy efficient and environmentally benign….

While there is no standard definition of “clean technology,” it has been described by Clean Edge, a clean technology research firm, as “a diverse range of products, services, and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and wastes.

Greentech: (Searching the term on Wikipedia redirects to a page on ‘Environmental technology’)

Environmental TechnologyEnvironmental technology (abbreviated as envirotech) or green technology (abbreviated as greentech) or clean technology (abbreviated as cleantech) is the application of one or more of environmental science, green chemistry, environmental monitoring and electronic devices to monitor, model and conserve the natural environment and resources, and to curb the negative impacts of human involvement. The term is also used to describe sustainable energy generation technologies such as Photovoltaics, Wind Turbines, Bioreactors, etc. Sustainable development is the core of environmental technologies. The term environmental technologies is also used to describe a class of electronic devices that can promote sustainable management of resources.

So really, there appears to be no really significant distinction between the two. We shall stick to the more inclusive definition of Environmental Technology or envirotech for our purposes, although we will use the terms interchangeably.

Framing the topic in the global context

Next, let’s look (very briefly) at the state of envirotech in the world specifically from an investment point of view.

Much of the reporting on the cleantech sector indicate that investments in cleantech VC has slowed down in the recent past as opposed to boom-like investing in the earlier years of 2006 – 2009. According to an article on Inc.com from 2009 titled ‘Cashing in on Clean Technology‘, Inc notes that $6 billion was raised in 2007 in the cleantech sector, and $8.4 billion in 2008. Areas such as solar have particularly had it rough in recent times as far as raising capital goes with some huge casualties such as Solyndra going into bankruptcy. (Check out this great analysis of Cleantech Investing by Rob Day)

However, much investing in cleantech is shifting from efforts at increasing energy supply to consumer-focused tech as VentureBeat reports:

Since the 2008 recession, venture capital firms have refocused their funds away from solar and onto different areas of greentech. Physic Ventures has found success investing in consumer-focused green technology startups, as well as startups applying green principles to already viable technologies, such as cloud, mobile, and social.

Startups that take the latter approach have gained VC firms’ attention because their more-familiar business models can set them up for successful exits, says Williamson.
Read more at http://venturebeat.com/2012/06/25/greentech-investments/#CXym6wqJtBJqWSJP.99

Framing the topic in the African context

Ok, so what about Africa? Where do we stand in the world of cleantech?

First off, it seems almost impossible to find content online about this. So these are more like quick hits from around Africa on some interesting initiatives/sources regarding cleantech in Africa.

Some of the sources for information on cleantech in Africa include:

There’s actually a clean energy investor in Africa event taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa which is probably an indication of some interest in investing in cleantech in Africa.

IceCairo is a co-working space/hub in Cairo that has a specific focus on environmental projects and greentech.

The Gauteng Innovation Hub in South Africa is also holding a competition called the “Gauteng Innovation Competition” that has a green theme . The Innovation Hub held a similar competition last year as well.

Conclusion

This has been more of a quick look around at what exists out there as far as cleantech in Africa goes. The next installment on this topic will be more detailed and perhaps make a case for ‘Why cleantech in Africa?’ In the meantime…

What do you think about the prospects for this area of technology in Africa? Are you an African startup in this area? Comment below and give us your feedback and thoughts on this topic.

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