Want energy independence? 5 on-site generation players to watch

Combined heat and power, and waste-to-heat systems are among the technologies attracting more venture capital activity, according to a new report on green buildings VC from Lux Research.

Chances are you have heard of venture capital darling Bloom Energy, aka creator of the energy server concept.

So far, the company has announced something like $800 million in funding, after its latest round of $150 million in mid-June 2012. So far, the advanced fuel cell technology maker has installed Bloom Energy Servers at customers including Google, Wal-Mart, AT&T, eBay, Staples, The Coca-Cola Company and notable non-profits including Caltech and Kaiser Permanente.

But Bloom Energy is just one company in the fast-emerging market for on-site generation systems, which has captured roughly $585 million in venture capital investment since 2006, according to a new report by Lux Research.

That's a drop in the bucket when you consider the entire green buildings venture capital pie amounted to about $4 billion over the past 11 years, according to Lux estimates. Still, on-site generation technologies are benefiting from new regulations, new incentives and new feed-in tariffs that are making them part of net-zero energy building projects.

I've written plenty about Bloom Energy and some of the other fuel cell players including FuelCell Energy and UTC Power that are helping give some semblance of energy independence.

But this sector also is attracting development of micro-combined heat and power (micro-CHP) generators, micro-wind turbines and systems that convert waste heat to electricity. One player, solar thermal technology company Enerworks, was actually snapped up by Proterra Energy for $15 million in June 2011.

So what on-site technologies might find their way onto your turf in the future?

Here are five companies that Lux suggests are harbingers of innovation and business models to come the broader green buildings marketplace, especially as regulations take effect over the next few years for net-zero energy consumption -- when a building generates as much electricity or climate control capacity as it needs.  

Baxi - The origins of this private U.K. company reach back to 1866. It latest innovation centers on combined heat and thermal systems, including a series powered by solar and biomass sources. 

ElectraTherm - The Reno, Nev.-based organization turns waste heat into electricity with its Green Machine.

Sangle Solar - A Chinese maker of solar hot water heaters.

TAS Energy - Based in Houston, Texas, the company's technologies include geothermal and industrial waste heat power generation solutions, generation storage, chilled water systems, modular data centers and clean heat and power on-site energy systems.

WhisperGen - Hailing from Spain, the company makes a gas-fired microCHP system that can produce 1 kilowatt of energy and 12 kilowatts of heating capacity.  

In my mind, building integrated solar photovoltaic (BIPV) and glass technologies are a related area of technology that also deserve attention. 

The two companies I continue to watch in BIPV are Soladigm, which closed $55 million in Series D financing in late June 2012, and Pythagoras Solar, which was one of the companies nabbing a pot of $63 million in funding through the GE ecoimagination challenge in June 2011.