Making loans is a tricky business — sometimes you bet on the wrong horse. For example, there's the Obama administration, which doled out 1.4 percent of its Recovery Act cleantech investments to failed solar company Solyndra, in a move that everyone and their uncle is now calling a giant embarrassment. And then there's private venture capital, which invests in green energy companies that fail at least 30 percent of the time.
According to Susan Kraemer at CleanTechnica, the Obama admin's hit rate far outperforms venture capitalists:
The US government guarantee of a private loan to Solyndra, at $535 million, represented a minuscule 1.4% of the Department of Energy investment in all renewable technologies. By contrast — VCs (who were out $1 billion to Solyndra, for example) expect much higher failure rates. Richard Stuebi, who advises VCs on expected green energy failure rates, says that just 3 in 10 successes represents a successful VC investment strategy. That is 70% losers — not 1.4%.
It's not an apples-to-apples comparison, because the 1.4 percent is based on how much money went to Solyndra, whereas Stuebi's figures are about number of ventures. DOE lists 38 guaranteed loans; one failure out of 38 investments would be closer to 2.6 percent. And while Stuebi shows only 30 percent of investments being successful, there's another 40 percent that just drag along, not failing but not providing sufficient return on investment. Still, it looks like private investments go belly-up at a much higher rate than the government's.
So, are we still calling this a "scandal"?