This month Chevron and its pragmatic green strategy takes the lead of our monthly list. Our ranking takes into account a player’s ability to influence the cleantech industry, whether it be because of a forceful policy position, access to funding or a combination of the two.

1: Chevron

Over the last decade, some oil and gas majors jumped right into the green energy revolution, hoping to leverage their considerable cash and energy expertise into a profitable sideline in renewables. That tactic has not weathered the recession well, as BP has shown in the last year. Enter Chevron with a new approach. The California-based company has been easing into green energy with an eye towards making its core oil and gas business less energy intensive. In March, The company opened Project Brightfield, an 8-acre facility to test solar panels under different conditions and compare the performance against benchmark technologies. Chevron is also testing concentrating photovoltaic technology at a mine in New Mexico and solar steam technology in Central California. It’s not a strategy that’s going to save the world, but it is moving green energy forward.

2: Steven Chu, Energy Secretary

Every day, there is one thing you can be sure Energy Secretary Chu thinks about: China, and how can the U.S. beat the rising green power to lead the global green economy. These days, the Secretary is not mincing words, reminding anyone who’ll listen that failure is not an option. He’s blunt and says that  right now, void of any climate change law and paralyzed by the loud voices of climate change deniers, the U.S. is losing that race! At a press briefing last month, Chu told reporters that on China, “the U.S. should sit up and take notice.” He added: “The [Chinese] leadership increasingly sees economic opportunity in cleantech… Having missed the industrialized revolution and the semiconductor revolution, they do not want to miss this opportunity.”

3: Old-school Techies Become Cleantechies

Comparisons are often made between the innovation that drives Silicon Valley companies and the kind of game-changing ideas that cleantech companies need to succeed. It’s not surprising, then, that the two industries have started to share some brainpower. In March, we saw Geoff Tate, formerly of chipmaker AMD and Rambus, take over at Nanosolar, a solar cell maker. A week later, Tony Fadell, the not-quite-James-Brown-but pretty-good-anyway “Godfather of the iPod,” announced that he was leaving Steve Jobs’ kingdom to work with consumer greentech companies. Another former chips guy, John Van Scoter of eSolar, told Earth2Tech that the solar markets today are reminiscent of the semiconductor industry 25 years ago. Things are ready to take off and the techies know how to achieve ignition. Let’s hope so.

4: Alcoa

The aluminum giant looked at its aluminum raw product and saw cash. Last month, the company rolled out an innovative aluminum-based concentrating solar power (CSP) parabolic trough, that could act as the company’s entry-point into the trillion-dollar global cleantech business. The parabolic trough is being tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Colorado campus. If test results are good, Alcoa would be well-positioned to turn its budding CSP technology into a full-fledged business. The move by the Pittsburgh-based company in some ways is reminiscent of General Electric’s own entry into the wind turbine business more than a decade ago.

5: Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario

Ever heard of Dalton McGuinty? He’s the Premier of Ontario and these days, probably one of the most effective (and low-key) green politician in North America. As Washington endlessly debates climate change and carbon pricing, McGuinty and his left-leaning government have passed some of North America’s most effective (and investor-friendly) climate change regulations. The regulations have helped attract  billions in new investments, creating the types of green-collar jobs that gets a lot of political airplay south of the border. Over the past year, shepherded by McGuinty, Ontario has debated, passed, and implemented a province-wide feed-in tariff. A couple of years earlier, it launched the RESOP program, an effective system that links renewable energy power projects with long-term power purchase agreements. Ontario is plowing ahead, laying the foundation of a green economy.

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