Venture capitalists invested $2.57 billion in the clean technology sector in the first quarter, up 31 percent from a year earlier, with most of the money going to companies involved in solar power.

That was the most money invested into the space since the third quarter of 2008 — when the financial crisis started — a report from the San Francisco-based consulting company Cleantech Group LLC said on Tuesday.

The overall number of deals, at 159, was the lowest since mid-2009, meaning that investors were making fewer but larger bets.

“You’re seeing a much, much larger average deal size, which just indicates a much stronger bias toward later-stage, bigger-check deals,” said Sheeraz Haji, chief executive of San Francisco-based Cleantech, adding that investors are showing less interest in early-stage “pre-product, pre-revenue” companies.

Overall, the sector is on pace to raise the most money since Cleantech started tracking it in 2002, Haji told reporters on a conference call.

“We’ll have a record year overall,” he said. One helpful factor is the recent spate of successful green-company initial public offerings, including electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors.

The solar sector drew $641 million in capital, with the largest chunk going to BrightSource Energy Inc, a developer of solar fields. Investors see that company as likely to seek an IPO this year.

source: reuters

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