10 Cleantech Companies Doing It Right, And a Few That Aren't

by: Neal Dikeman

This year, picking the Top 10 Cleantech companies felt a little more challenging than 2009 and 2008. The sector is growing (and growing up), and struggling under its first cycles. Biofuels is a bit smashed up (as we've been predicting), water tech still has not emerged, solar is learning how to play with the big boys, smart grid is growing up fast but still a bit young, carbon is still under a policy uncertainty cloud. And EVs, well "where's the beef?" is still the phrase that comes to mind.

I spend most of my day meeting and talking to companies in the cleantech sector. And those of you who know me know I have opinions on who is doing it right, and who is doing it wrong. This is the Cleantech Blog Power 10 Ranking of cleantech companies doing it right.

Eligibility for inclusion in the ranking requires meeting a 6 point test. Suggestions for inclusions in future volumes are welcome. The 6 point test:

1. The company is energy or environmental technology related
2. I like their products
3. The market needs them
4. The company is smart about building their business
5. I’d like to own the company if I could (for the right price, of course!)
6. It is not already one of mine

So here we go:

1. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) - Still growing, still maligned, still taking market share, still the cost leader by 5,233 miles. The whole solar category owes them big time. And it bought Nextlight Renewable Power, which might have made the list in its own right.

2. A123 (AONE) - A123 has huge challenges in front of it, and we debated whether they should come anywhere near the list at all. But to be honest, without their IPO, the last year would have looked really bleak (and the A123 c. 50% downround before that really was bleak). Thanks guys, we're rooting for you. Don't make me regret this one.

3. Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY) - Is it Leafs or Leaves? No matter, kudos for rolling dice to make a serious play in EVs. Fingers crossed that the actual launch keeps you on the list. Of note, before you ask about Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), see below.

4. Sharp (OTCPK:SHCAY) - Still a solar king, so I still won't dethrone them. But we got close this year to just listing only one PV manufacturer.

5. JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM) - Kudos for snatching up the best asset in the carbon markets at a bargain price. The first mover in over $1 Billion in M&A in the carbon markets that has announced since the fall (JPM/Ecosecurities, Barclays/Tricorona, ICE/Climate Exchange PLC, Reuters/Point Carbon). Smart money is buying, and you moved first.

6. Enphase Energy - I'm very, very curious to see if microinverters finally have real legs. Kudos for essentially making the category real.

7. Landis+Gyr - Still my favorite in smart grid. Until one of the US venture backed players delivers enough to challenge them for market share, they stay the smart grid representative. Though perhaps Silver Spring can push them this next year?

8. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) - We pushed GE off for Wal-Mart this year. I expect to get hammered for this one. But be honest with yourself, the company's push for greening up its supply chain was serious, was massive, and can be the single biggest impact on the cleantech sector ever. Wal-Mart haters, go home. The market leader is leading.

9. Iberdrola Renewables (IRVSF.PK) - Keep on trucking. Wind energy is still our cleantech crown jewel, and you are still the king.

10. Philips Lumileds (NYSE:PHG) - We probably should have had them on last year's list, as LEDs continue to thrive and may be one of the biggest unsung stars in cleantech, and Lumileds is long the key LED powerhouse.

Applied Material's (NASDAQ:AMAT) well publicized issues have knocked them off this year's list, but we have hope they'll be back. And I really really wanted to add both Schott and Solel, the solar thermal receiver kings, but ran out of room.

This Year We Add a Dishonorable Mention to:

1. Any company raising money with Advanced Equities, which would include Bloom Energy, SolFocus, Fisker, Serious Materials et al. If that statement doesn't make sense to you, just google the words advanced equities scam. Has the potential to sink major venture firms and the whole cleantech venture sector if we're not careful. Or read below.

Garbage In, Forbes Magazine

Advanced Equities Takes Its Investors on a Bad Trip, Venture Beat

2. Solyndra (SOLY) - Tsk, tsk, $3.50/Wp for CIGS is not very exciting after $1 bil in capital, and $500 mm of taxpayer money? Aren't we supposed to be selling CIGS for $1/Wp these days without subsidies? No wonder the IPO got pulled. How happy do you think Barack Obama is with his investment now?

3. Tesla - Selling 10 cars a week? With $400 mm of my taxpayer money? Come on people. Sell to your rich friends without my money. All Tesla fans should read the Michael Kanellos article with the "selling 10 cars a week" bit. I think there are 10 dealerships within 10 miles of the NUMMI plant alone that outsell that. Is this an EV company or an SNL skit? Go Nissan!

Disclosure: No positions