A key prediction in venture capitalist firm Lightspeed Partners' cleantech outlook for 2009 is that energy players like Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) are likely to play an increased role as venture incubators. That role is very clear in a pair of green energy projects recently announced.

First was last week's announcement by BP (NYSE:BP) and Verenium (NASDAQ:VRNM) that the pair are pushing beyond their initial technology partnership formed back in August. The firms have formally launched a 50-50 joint venture to commercialize cellulosic ethanol technology, with an eye to hitting first production by 2012.

The price tag on the maiden 36-million-gallon-per-year facility is estimated at $250 million to $300 million. That's a steep $7 or $8 per gallon install cost, and would require some pretty heroic subsidies to have the economics to make sense. Then again, the partners are probably more heavily focused on getting the technological jump on rival efforts being funded by the likes of DuPont (NYSE:DD) and GM (NYSE:GM).

Over in the solar space, NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) made a splash with a partnership of its own. The independent power producer is teaming up with eSolar to build 11 solar thermal power plants in the Southwest and California. With each modular facility kicking in 46 megawatts, that's around half a gigawatt of juice at peak capacity. This is more than double the amount awarded to eSolar by Southern California Edison in mid-2008.

Both BP and NRG are posting pretty modest sums up front: $22.5 million for BP, and around $10 million for NRG. Still, the firms are stepping up at exactly the time when other forms of project financing are restrictive at best. As long as nimble startups can bring differentiating technology to the table, it appears that well-financed multinationals are prepared to propel them forward through these sorts of partnerships.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.