Solyndra files for bankruptcy. BrightSource Energy cancels its IPO. SolarCity's IPO prices at little more than half of what the company had originally planned for and during the roadshow bankers for the panel installer play up the company's consumer finance angle to distance it from a number of high-profile failures in the sector.
Investors in the solar industry and clean technology in general have been skittish and the industry's been plagued by bad headline after bad headline in the past year.
Lawyers acknowledge that a slowdown in cleantech deals is altering their practices. Capital is more difficult to come by for many cleantech companies, lawyers say, and more of the work within the sector is focused on restructuring and turnaround situations.
Nonetheless, lawyers who advise cleantech companies say rumors of the industry's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
"It is not uncommon in Silicon Valley where early movers are unsuccessful, there is a retreat, and then another wave comes through," said Sayre Stevick, a Fenwick & West partner focused on green technology and life sciences. "I don't expect the next wave to be more than three or four years away."
In the past year venture capital financings have declined as a whole, and money going towards clean technology has dropped much more drastically. According to figures from the National Venture Capital Association for the third quarter of 2012, the most recent period for which numbers are available, total venture funding fell 6.5 percent to about $6.5 billion from the year-earlier period. Total deals actually ticked up slightly by about 1.6 percent to 890.
Meanwhile for cleantech, which the NVCA says includes alternative energy, pollution and recycling, power supplies and conservation, the total invested fell 11.2 percent to $791 million while the number of deals plummeted 27.5 percent to 58.
On the public company side there were at least 19 U.S. equity deals, including initial public offerings, follow-ons and convertible debt sales, in 2010 from cleantech companies, compared to eight in 2011 and 10 in 2012, according to data provider Dealogic.
While fewer startups are venturing into the cleantech space, more mature startups are still "alive and kicking and getting funded," said Fenwick's Stevick.
There are also more "pay-to-play" rounds, which are a type of restructuring, and refer to the process of forcing a company's existing investors that do not want to participate in further financings to convert their preferred shares into common stock, Stevick said. Preferred shareholders control a greater percentage of the voting rights in a company than do common stockholders.