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VCs still keen on green tech, thanks to Uncle Sam

A KPMG survey of venture capitalists shows muted expectations on green-tech investing and a recognition for more government involvement in the clean-energy business.

Even after a massive jolt from the U.S. government for green technologies, investors are tempering their expectations.

Consulting company KPMG on Tuesday is expected to release results of a survey that reflects the conflicted feelings of many venture capitalists.

The societal forces toward clean energy--including energy security and climate change--continue to gain momentum. But the financial crisis has hit the clean-energy industry so hard that even the recently passed stimulus plan cannot completely reverse its course.

"There is no doubt that the green-tech sector remains an attractive investment area, but the lack of available credit and the difficult economic environment has investors operating in a cautiously optimistic fashion," Brian Hughes, KPMG partner, said in a statement.

KPMG said it expects the level of green-tech venture investment will grow in 2009, one of the few technology sectors that will. But the survey showed that investors and entrepreneurs are far less optimistic than they were last year.

In September, 93 percent of survey respondents said they expected investment to increase. In a similar poll in February, the percentage of people who thought green-tech investment would rise slipped to 53 percent, with 26 percent forecasting a decrease.

Data from the survey also reflects the changing attitudes toward government involvement in energy technology.

Just over 90 percent of respondents expect that federal funding for green tech will increase and 93 percent said that there will be more "public/private partnership activity."

At the MIT Energy Conference on Saturday, some speakers said that government policies need to change significantly for the green-tech industry to scale beyond niche status.

For example, Ford Motor's director of sustainable business strategies said that the automaker is increasingly looking to collaborate on advanced technology development, calling the U.S. government the "biggest venture capitalist out there."

Also at the conference, Lux Research President Matthew Nordan said that there would need to be a "fairly radical rethink" of utility regulations for storage to become widely used, which would allow for more use of wind and solar power.

Investors queried by KPMG said they expected that renewable energy, such as solar and wind, as well as energy storage and efficiency will be the areas to receive the most funding this year.