VC and corporate investment in startups developing technology enabled solutions to climate change, and the transformation to net zero emissions, grew at a faster rate than VC investment as a whole between 2013 – 2019. In that time, US$60 billion of early stage capital was invested globally into startups contributing to tackling the net zero challenge.
As Climate Week in New York focuses attention on transforming business and economies to net zero emissions, the new research by PwC examines the global startup ecosystem critical to commercialising the innovation needed to make a net zero future a reality. The first-of-its-kind analysis defines the climate tech investment landscape, and examines global early-stage climate tech deals, volumes, trends, sectors and investors. Climate tech is defined as a broad umbrella of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across energy, transport, the built environment, industrial processes, and food and land use; in addition to shifts towards less resource-incentive business models, or carbon removal technologies.
While climate tech is a nascent sector overall in the VC market (approx 6% of total capital invested in 2019), climate tech VC investment increased from US$418 million per annum in 2013 to US$16.3 billion in 2019. That is approximately three times the growth rate of VC investment into Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the same period.
Key factors influencing investment include capital efficiency to prove and scale solutions; and the potential for the solutions to provide cost effective carbon reduction or removal.
Nearly half of all venture dollars ($60bn) went to US and Canadian climate tech startups (US$29 billion); China is second at US$20 billion. The European market attracted US$7 billion. Mobility and Transport solutions dominate US and China investment.
“The analysis shows the urgency of the opportunity, and gap to close, to support and scale innovative technologies and business models to address the climate crisis,” comments Celine Herweijer, global leader, Innovation & Sustainability, PwC UK. “Climate tech is a new frontier in venture investing for the 2020s.”
“Some of the technologies and solutions critical to enabling this transformation are proven and need rapid commercialisation, which is why venture capital is key. It will not need trillions invested in startups to make a difference. But for the trickier technologies and markets it will need targeted support, including from governments, to make it through research and development, and the early stages beyond which capital increasingly is lining up.”
Drivers for growth
Climate tech related to mobility & transport, heavy industry, and GHG capture and storage are the fastest growing segments in the analysis, followed by food, agriculture, land use, built environment, energy, and climate and Earth data generation.
Investment in micro-mobility such as e-scooter and bike platforms and wider transport innovation has grown dramatically, recording a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 151%, and representing 63% (US$37.4 billion) of all climate tech funding over the past seven years. The scale of transport innovation has also driven bigger deals.
“The climate tech market is maturing. As a society we are seeing more entrepreneurs launch startups, more investors back them, and an increasing number of larger funding rounds for later-stage high-potential deals.”, said Azeem Azhar, Senior Advisor to PwC UK, founder of Exponential View, and co-author of the report. “But PwC’s analysis shows the ecosystem is still nascent, with key gaps in the depth and nature of funding available to founders and tricky structural hurdles for them to navigate as they scale their businesses.”
Climate tech venture funding is coming from every corner of the market. Investors range from more traditional VC firms and venture funds specialising in sustainability, to corporate investors including energy majors, global consumer goods companies and big tech, government backed investment firms, and private equity players getting exposure to deals earlier.
The strategic role of corporate venture capital (CVC) in particular, is key to many climate tech startups. Particularly those typified by high capital costs, targeted at disrupting asset-heavy incumbent industries with high barriers to entry, such as in energy, heavy industry and transport. For Mobility & Transport, 30% of the climate tech deals include a CVC firm, and in Energy, 32% of capital deployed came from CVCs. Overall, nearly a quarter of climate tech deals (24%) included a corporate investor.
“The involvement of corporates will be key to the continued success of climate tech – both in terms of their net zero commitments driving demand for new solutions, and their investments into commercialising innovation. It’s not just the financial means they bring, but the commercial know-how, and industry knowledge to help startups navigate how to rapidly deploy and scale new innovations into the market,” comments Celine Herweijer.
Analysis of the top investment centres in Europe, Asia and the Americas shows climate tech startup investment in the San Francisco Bay area (US$11.7 billion) is 56% higher than its nearest rival, Shanghai (US$7.5 billion). Compared with the other regions, Europe is more invested in energy, particularly developing the core technologies for renewable energy generation (predominantly photovoltaics (PV) cells) and energy storage (batteries), demonstrating the potential for regional specialist capabilities to develop in a second wave of development of the climate tech sector, following mobility and transport.
Outside of mobility and the dominant US and China markets, Berlin, London, Labege (France) and Bengaluru, India were amongst the top ten cities for climate tech startup investment, attracting US$1.3 billion mainly across energy, agriculture and food and land use.
The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces climate tech need and opportunity
In the short term, while COVID-19 is likely to have caused a lull in VC market activity during 2020, long term investment and potential in the market appears resilient. Over the past year, close to 300 global companies have commited to achieve net zero emissions before 2050. Many of these commitments include substantial pledges to fund innovation.
“Every commitment represents a demand signal—a new customer—in the market for a solution that helps them achieve net zero,” comments Celine Herweijer. “More broadly the increased profile of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG), increasing government commitments to a ‘green recovery’, and continued rising consumer pressure to respond to the climate crisis is cementing demand for climate tech.”
“Despite significant and promising levels of growth, with just ten years to reduce by half global greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5C, climate tech needs a rapid injection of capital, talent and public-private support to match its potential to build and accelerate faster, bolder innovation,” adds Celine Herweijer.