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Transportation Takes the Day in Cleantech Funding

Maybe funding for cleantech companies is stabilizing -- or maybe there's just excitement over a particular segment. The latest report detailing cleantech fundings is out, and of its $1.2 billion in deals, up 12 percent over last quarter, almost exactly half went to companies in transportation.

The big winner was vehicles themselves, by dollars if not number of companies. Just four startups split $236 million. V-Vehicle, a secretive car startup in Louisiana, took $100 million in a single swoop from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and oilman T. Boone Pickens. Kleiner Perkins also had its fingers in Fisker Automotive's $89 million round.

With another $371 million split between biofuel and batteries, which are at base competing technologies for cleaner driving, what was left for other ideas? Solar slipped in with $115 million, according to the report's authors, the Cleantech Group and Deloitte. Compare that to the $330 million logged by Greentech Media in its most recent report, sent out a couple days ago. The difference is in the definition of "venture capital".

The good news is that the Greentech's larger number does suggest that there's more money flowing into solar manufacturing plants and deployments, besides the deals scored by Deloitte, which include solar thermal plant builder Ausra.

The bad news, at least if you're a new solar startup, is that the recent wave of investments into a hundred variations on standard and thin-film solar panels appears to be well and truly dead. Now, not even supporting technologies (like micro-inverters or improved manufacturing techniques) appear to be attracting much money.

Even worse for the startup crowd is the near dearth of investments in wind and geothermal, as well as some typically ignored sectors like water, both the kind you drink and the kind that generates energy.

Still, there's not much unusual to the numbers. With General Motors and Chrysler teetering near collapse, venture investors were bound to herd into transportation, and areas like the smart grid did get attention, if less money. The important thing is that some money is finally flowing back toward innovation. If cap-and-trade passes into law in the United States, the number of new deals will only rise.