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A banner year for clean energy

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TESS VIGELAND: If you were with us yesterday you know Wall Street ended the year on a sour note. In fact, the month of December saw some of the same wild swings we experienced throughout 2007. Record highs with the Dow topping 14,000. And then of course all those downward spirals because of the housing bust and credit crunch. But not everyone is weeping their way into the New Year. Turns out ’07 was a banner year for clean energy. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.

SAM EATON: Record oil prices may not be so good for the pocketbook. But for companies developing clean energy alternatives, near $100-a-barrel oil is a godsend. Oil prices closed the year 60 percent higher. That may help explain why venture capital investors poured $2.6 billion into clean-tech start-ups in the first nine months of 2007. That’s a 45 percent increase from last year. But Joel Makower of says investing in the sector isn’t for the faint of heart.

JOEL MAKOWER: Just like any other technology sector this is going to have fits and starts and bubbles and bursts.

He says overheated investment is starting to take the air out of the much-hyped ethanol boom. Shares in solar companies have also had a bumpy ride. But there are some rising stars. Innovations in energy efficiency attracted a big share of last year’s clean-tech capital. Solar-thermal technology, which concentrates the sun’s heat to run turbines, has also garnered a lot of attention. And it’s not just venture capitalists and start-ups. Makower says big-name corporations are getting into the game as well.

MAKOWER: New energy companies are not utilities and oil companies anymore. They’re companies like United Technologies and GE, I.T. companies like Cisco and IBM, financial services companies like Goldman Sachs, which is one of the largest wind-turbine developers in the world.

Despite all the activity and excitement around the green technology sector, it may still be too early to call it mainstream. especially as lawmakers in Washington failed to pass renewable energy mandates for utilities as part of the new energy bill.

In Los Angeles, I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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