* Article updated August 22, 2022 with new content and an updated list of renewable energy startups.
Good for the planet, key to the future - that’s what usually comes to mind when we talk about renewable energy startups. In 2020, the burning of fossil fuels for energy accounted for 73% of total GHG emissions and 92% of all human-generated CO2 emissions in the US. This is exactly why we need to be on the lookout for revolutionary ideas and encourage the growth of disruptive and promising renewable energy startups. After all, energy tech solution companies are on their way to becoming an integral part of our transition into renewable energy.
While the general idea of renewable energy is pretty consistent in its ideology, the types of projects vary greatly from one technology to the other, and from one business model to the next.
Renewable energy startups come in all shapes and sizes - yes, some companies develop solar and wind energy technologies, but some energy tech solution companies simply facilitate the development and financing of such projects. Other renewable energy startups come up with eco-friendly, efficient grid batteries, or explore the potential of microgrids to utilize the local climate to their advantage.
But before we get into the top renewable energy companies, let’s take a look at the criteria we used in our selection.
Criteria: how we picked our top renewable energy companies
There are thousands upon thousands of renewable energy startups, many of which are doing their share in designing future-proof technologies and solutions. Alas, we can’t cover them all, so we focused on 10 companies that we really liked and that also satisfied the following criteria:
- Innovation. These renewable energy startups have designed either innovative, disruptive technologies or highly efficient solutions (like software, funding systems, etc.) that could be game-changers in the industry and help move it forward.
- Sustainability. These energy tech solution companies work to minimize their own carbon footprint and/or that of the industry. If possible, our favorites would completely eliminate CO2 emissions, and in a best-case scenario, even sequester them.
- Fiscal stability. These energy startups have received sufficient funding for operations and development, but they also present models that have a high profit potential in the present and/or future.
All the renewable energy startups in this list were found using our platform’s search tools.
The Renewable Energy Startups that you should keep you eye on:
Let’s kick off the renewable energy startups list by going to Scotland. They are known for their scotch whiskey, but what about draff and pot ale, the by-products of making scotch whisky?
Celtic Renewables is an Edinburgh-based biotech startup that utilizes these by-products to create renewable energy in the form of sustainable biofuel and renewable chemicals. The technology is low-carbon and seeks to replace traditional fossil fuels in the long run.
This startup was founded in 2011 by Martin Tangney, who also founded the Edinburgh Napier University’s Biofuel Research Center in 2007. The result of the ABE, Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol process that utilizes bacterial fermentation is a biofuel called biobutanol.
In 2017, the Celtic Renewables team showed the potential of biobutanol by driving a Ford Focus around the Napier University campus. This promising biofuel can be used to replace regular fuel without the need for any adjustments to a car’s engine.
One of the global challenges of renewable energy startups is funding, which is why the next entry on our list does just that. responsAbility Renewable Energy Holding is a Nairobi-based company headed by CEO Chris Bale that finances and co-develops renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
responsAbility realized there was a gap in the market - while most large companies fund large energy projects, small and medium-sized startups are left in the dust. What’s more, there’s an increasing demand for affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that’s become even more evident during the covid-19 pandemic.
One of the global challenges of renewable energy startups is funding, which is why the next entry on our list does just that. Serengeti Energy is a Nairobi-based company headed by CEO Chris Bale that finances and co-develops renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
Serengeti Energy realized there was a gap in the market - while most large companies fund large energy projects, small and medium-sized startups are left in the dust. What’s more, there’s an increasing demand for affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that’s become even more evident during the covid-19 pandemic.
So, Serengeti Energy’s target group for investing and co-development are small and medium-sized renewable energy startups in different project stages, which can range from development to operations. To date, the company’s portfolio includes the funding and co-development of various hydropower, wind, and solar energy projects.
Although hydrogen itself is a carbon-free fuel, the same is not true of the recovery process. Proton Technologies is out to change that with the use of disruptive technology that keeps the carbon in the ground during the hydrogen acquisition process. Therefore, Proton Technologies are well on their way to making hydrogen fuel extraction a zero-emission process, which is what makes them one of the top renewable energy startups in the world.
This energy tech solution company was founded in Calgary, Canada, in 2015 by Ian Gates and Jingyi Wang. As Proton has the most eco-friendly and cost-effective technology for clear hydrogen extraction, Clear Hydrogen UK has recently acquired a license from them in order to produce 5,000,000 kg/day of hydrogen using their technology.
Cherry Street Energy
For both ecological and financial reasons, large organizations and companies have started to branch out into the renewable energy startups sector to cover a part of their energy needs. Cherry Street Energy is an Atlanta-based startup founded by Michael Chanin and operating since 2015 offering solar energy solutions to large-scale clients, such as universities and municipal buildings.
The company provides custom solar energy projects that would benefit the specific architectural and infrastructural needs of each customer. They come up with tailor-made, smart solar energy projects that are effective and cost-efficient, and then handle the installation at no additional cost to the client. Cherry Street also provides analytics insights to clients so they can stay on top of their carbon footprint and the cost-effectiveness of the project overall.
Cherry Street Energy has already been a part of a handful of large-scale projects including setting up solar panels for Jekyll Island, municipal buildings in the city of Atlanta, and Emory University. According to the company’s own calculations, it provides the city of Atlanta with 23% and the University of Emory with 10% of their energy during peak demand.
Enernet Global is a New York-based renewable energy startup that specializes in building microgrids. Microgrids are decentralized energy systems that integrate sustainable energy from multiple sources, so it could be a combination of any renewable energy that’s available in a given area or community, like solar solutions, wind parks, etc. That’s why Enernet Global projects create custom solutions that focus on utilizing the natural resources that a certain geographic location has to offer.
Enernet Global was founded by Michael Oster and Steve Hellman in 2015, and it has since set up projects in sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Australia. Their microgrids ensure that underserved markets have an affordable, sustainable, and reliable supply of electricity, which is especially useful for remote rural areas and islands - some of Enernet Global’s top clients so far.
In fact, Enernet’s microgrids have been mainly set up in remote communities and islands, as well as for corporate clients in sectors such as tourism and hospitality, agriculture, mining and resource extraction, industrial complexes, food processing, among others.
One of the main challenges of solar energy is the negative effect of soiling on the performance of photovoltaic modules. Dirt and dust deposits build up over the surface that captures the sun's radiation, which results in energy loss ranging between 3% and 45% on average if a solar plant is not cleaned properly.
INTI-TECH is a Chilean company that was founded by Camilo Flores and Camilo Contreras (college friends) in 2016. It’s interesting how they’ve tackled the problem in a creative way that essentially takes care of the efficiency loss of photovoltaic systems and offers an alternative to resource intensive cleaning methods.
INTI-TECH has found a solution that makes operating and maintaining a photovoltaic system cheaper, and more effective in the long run. This is done through semi-autonomous and autonomous cleaning systems (depending on the plant's size) that clean solar farms without requiring any shift in infrastructure, with absolutely no water and less people compared with traditional cleaning methods .
The proprietary technology can clean weekly and on-demand on small scale solar plants. And can be implemented with a semi-autonomous mode on large scale solar plants to comply with the needs and requirements of each operator (frequency and time are customizable). Each robot is specifically designed for dry desert and semi-desert climates, where it’s a real waste not to take advantage of the power of the sun.
Siqens Gmbh is a biotech startup that was founded by Volker Harbusch in 2012 and won the f-cell award for outstanding developments in hydrogen and fuel cell technology that very same year. This Munich-based startup aims to address the lack of electricity in parts of the world.
Many aren’t aware that as many as 1.3 billion people around the world don’t have electricity, and off-grid power is most commonly drawn from sources with a high carbon footprint - gasoline and diesel generators.
Enter Siqens and their methanol-fueled battery that’s designed to be highly efficient and convert the fuel’s energy directly into electricity. This makes the methanol fuel cell more efficient in its energy conversion than traditional internal combustion engines.
Because there aren’t enough renewable resources like wind and sun in all climates, Siqens GmbH’s methanol-fueled battery gets paired with whatever amount of solar energy, for instance, it is in an area and provides the rest itself. The technology enables the cell to eliminate emissions and 70% of the cost of regular fuel.
Peak Clean Energy
Founded in 2017 by Illan Caplan, Louisville-based Peak Clean Energy (PCE) seeks to provide renewable energy to local communities, oftentimes rural. Though the company initially focused on providing clients, or rather, partners, with solar energy, Peak Clean branched out into wind energy as well.
In fact, the main idea of the startup is to work on creating renewable energy systems that are compatible with the resources of a given land. So far, they’ve developed solar energy projects in twelve states and wind energy systems in eleven states. PCE has worked with electric co-ops, municipalities, landowners, various local communities, commercial and industrial plants, etc.
In April of 2020, PCE also partnered up with Germany’s GmbH, a renewable energy fund to further develop utility-scale solar projects. But PCE doesn't just set up the renewable energy systems - they maintain their status as owner and operator, making sure everything is financially backed and maintained for years to come, which gives their partners confidence and safety.
Another one of the top renewable energy startups comes from the USA, and this time it’s Renewable Properties. Founded by Aaron Halimi in 2017 and headquartered in San Francisco, Renewable Properties works on both investing in and the development of solar energy.
Mainly focused on small-scale communal, commercial, and utility projects. They are now boasting a team of professionals with experience in investment and development and cooperate with landowners, financial institutions, utilities, and developers as clients.
Renewable Properties actually offers an invaluable service by evaluating what an overall project needs, its specific risks and challenges, how much it would cost, and so on. More specifically, they work with their clients to find the best site for the project, suitable power purchase agreements, construction contracts, and finally, project acquisition.
But the involvement of this company doesn’t stop there - they continue working with their clients throughout the project’s lifespan and engage in project monitoring, financial reporting, and maintenance. In 2020, Renewable Properties raised an additional $30 million from CarVal funds to accelerate growth.
Innovation and renewable energy startups
While solar projects seem to dominate the renewable energy startups ecosystem, this is far from the whole story. What we witnessed here are innovative solutions that take the renewable energy game forward in all kinds of different directions - and all of them are quite promising.
For instance, when we’re talking about solar energy projects, it’s not just companies selling photovoltaic systems anymore. It’s startups finding ways to improve operational efficiency; it’s groups of professionals combining any sort of renewable energy (like wind and solar) that’s available in a given area to provide locals with clean, zero-emission electricity. It’s people who care about sustainability that strive to provide off-grid areas with much-needed power.
[Related Article - Innovating Sustainability: The Future of Energy Generation]
We also see energy tech companies devoted to remedying any vacuums left by renewable energy startups and projects so far. The Ocean battery, for instance, is a disruptive technology that sets out to completely eliminate any residual need for traditional fuels to supplement fluctuations in renewable energy supplies. INTI-TECH, as another example, seems to improve the efficiency of solar panels through regular cleaning. Proton Technologies have created the technology that makes hydrogen a truly clean fuel.
The conclusion? The overarching theme of the top renewable energy startups is constant innovation in the field of sustainable solutions.