April 21, 2011  source: Gigaom

When it comes to clean-energy investing 2.0, venture capitalists are beyond looking for the silver bullet — or the magic battery –- they spent the last decade hunting and hoping for.

Today, VCs are more likely to invest their dollars in slightly less ambitious energy-efficiency projects, Paul Kedrosky, senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, told the audience at GigaOM’s Green:Net conference. Kedrosky sat down with a panel of VC heavy hitters for a discussion on what’s hot and what’s not in the second wave of clean-tech investing.

And what’s hot, they all agreed — is incremental improvements.

Nat Goldhaber“Obviously we’ve known how to insulate a house for a long time and close the gaps underneath your door. It’s certainly about incremental improvements. The question is how to build that to scale and extract revenue from it,” said Nat Goldhaber, managing director of Claremont Creek Ventures. “We keep this in mind every day as companies visit us.”

Ashu Garg, a venture partner at Foundation Capital, pointed out several areas he thought were ripe for investing, including semiconductors and change conversion, smart grid analytics, and the intersection of social networking with greentech applications. He said he recently met a company, currently in “stealth mode” that is addressing the question of how to take the power of groups to actually drive people to use smart thermostatistics.

Kevin Skillern, managing director of venture capital for GE Energy Financial Services said he was feeling “bullish” on remote energy management for both enterprise and residential. It’s an attractive value proposition,” he said. With energy costing 25 cents a kilowatt hour in Europe and up to 30 cents a kilowatt in California, “that too big an albatross for someone to tackle.”

But Goldhaber had a different take on today’s “fancy meters” that might look like iPads but are hard to read and interpret. He said they were investment kryptonite. “People will be amused by them for a few days,” he said. “And then they will put them back in the box and never look at them again.”