Silicon Valley investors putting big bucks into clean-tech start-ups

Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists are seeing green in clean energy — and we’re talking gobs of profit, not the whole planet-saving thing. Investor interest in clean-energy tech firms has jumped in the past year, fueled in part by escalating global demand for electricity and the rising price of oil. This month, a consortium of moneybags put $20 million into Nanosolar, a solar energy company based in Palo Alto (gajillionaire Googlemeisters Sergey Brin and Larry Page were early investors). Other California energy innovators are raking in millions in investment funds as well. Total venture capital going into clean tech is still relatively small — the $520 million invested in 2004 was only 2.6 percent of the total pool of funds — but trailblazers who have focused on the sector for several years feel validated. “The reason we’re allocating dollars to this sector is we think we can deliver attractive returns,” says one happy venture capitalist; that it helps the earth is a “great byproduct.”