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If you had a few million dollars to invest, where would you put it? In the first quarter of the year, citizens of the venture capital world were a bit less likely to say “clean tech” than they were last year. Venture firms were skittish about the industry—and solar in particular—during the first three months of 2012. They invested less than in previous quarters and made smaller individual deals, according to a report by market intelligence firm Cleantech Group.

MayFewerDaredWorldwide VC investment in clean tech fell 19 percent from the previous quarter to $1.8 billion. And the drop would have been event sharper if it hadn’t been for a massive $420 million investment by Chinese firm Wanxiang Holdings in a Massachusetts energy company.

The Wanxiang deal was part of a $1.3 billion partnership with GreatPoint Energy of Massachusetts to build a large coal-to-gas plant in China. The Wall Street Journal called it the biggest ever Chinese venture investment in the U.S. In general, though, the clean tech deals in Q1 were relatively small, averaging $9.8 million, compared with $12.6 million in 2011.

The average deal in the solar space shrank even more, from $16.3 million to $8.9 million, though the number of deals held fairly steady. That might not be terribly surprising—there are some scary things going on in solar. The collapse in silicon prices and China’s increasing support for its solar panel manufacturers didn’t just help wreck Solyndra last year, they made things uncertain for just about all U.S. solar manufacturing companies. Meanwhile, government support for photovoltaic installations in the U.S. and Europe is iffy and growing iffier.

Still, Cleantech Group sees reasons for optimism about the industry. The total number of deals remained about level from last year, and their smaller size shows that investors are supporting new, early stage companies. Mergers and acquisitions also stayed active, with 77 transactions. That’s a pace just a bit under 2011’s record-setting level.