Here's another sign the clean-energy sector is coming of age: It no longer lives a charmed life, but is getting gutpunched by the credit crisis just like the rest of us.

Preliminary investment numbers for the first quarter out today from New Energy Finance, London-based analysts that track clean technology investment, show how dwindling liquidity and roiled markets are affecting even the go-go sector.

Times are tough for clean energy too. (Associated Press)

Venture capital and private equity investments fell to $2.4 billion in the first quarter of 2008, from $3.7 billion in the first quarter last year. Private equity, in particular, tanked: First-quarter investment totaled $878 million, down from $2.5 billion a year earlier. "Partly, this was a reflection of the uncertainty and volatility in the financial markets and the drying up of credit availability," New Energy Finance says.

Tumultuous public capital markets weren't a safe haven, either. Financing fell to $807 million from $5.2 billion in the first quarter last year, and several companies cancelled listings. That's one reason that late-stage venture capital played a bigger role—increasing its funding to $1 billion compared with $668 million the year before. And though there are still some big clean-energy listings in the pipeline, such as Energias de Portugal's spinoff of its renewable-energy unit, market sentiment seems to have turned. New Energy Finance says that last year's listing of Iberdrola Renovables "looks like it marked the top of the market."

Higher corn prices, a supply glut, and increasing concern over the environmental impacts of biofuels also kneecapped the U.S. ethanol sector, where investments plunged to $311 million in the first quarter, against $1.7 billion in the first quarter last year. Global interest in biofuels, from Brazil to Mozambique, kept the sector from free-falling entirely, with total investment falling just 15% from 2007 to $3.1 billion.

But wait—it gets worse. New Energy Finance also says that clean-energy firms are struggling with a talent shortage. According to a new survey the firm commissioned, 96% of clean energy companies describe the executive recruitment situation as "moderately" or "very serious," and that finding top people now ranks alongside the industry's other big challenges. Managers said it was "at least comparable with other concerns such as the availability of projects and assets, capital availability and cost, and government and regulatory support," New Energy Finance said.