For years, the knock on fuel cell maker Bloom Energy Corp. has been that its boxes cost more to make than they cost to buy. Not exactly the sort of dynamic that would help Bloom make it up on volume.
But perhaps things are finally about to change, after 10 years and nearly $1 billion in venture capital funding.
Fortune recently obtained confidential documents sent by Bloom to its "significant investors," detailing third quarter earnings and the company's broader financial position. We also have managed to learn some broader context around the numbers, and have received what is believed to be the company's first on-the-record statement about its top-line projections for 2013 (all prior requests for information had gone unanswered).
For the uninitiated, Bloom was founded by K.R. Sridhar in 2001 to translate a NASA science experiment into self-generating energy boxes for commercial customers like warehouses and data centers. The idea is basically to place solid oxide fuel cells on a company's premise, which convert air and natural gas into electricity via an electrochemical process. After several field trials, it shipped its first boxes to Google (GOOG) in July 2008 and since has secured paying customers like Wal-Mart (WMT), Federal Express (FDX) and AT&T (T). It also has expanded the business model to include box rentals (where customers pay on a consumption basis, kind of energy-as-a-service), and also is rolling out advanced boxes that can operate independent of the gas grid if needed (the new module also can be added onto existing boxes).
Despite the customer wins and technological advancements, however, Bloom has a reputation for burning money.
Today, GE celebrates its 20,000th wind turbine installation in conjunction with its 10-year anniversary in the wind industry. Altogether, GE's 20,000-turbine fleet has the capacity to power the cities of Hong Kong and London for an entire year.
"We couldn't have achieved this milestone without our development partners," said Vic Abate, vice president of renewable energy for GE. "Together, we have advanced wind to its current status as a relevant, reliable, competitive source of energy."
In the U.S. and Europe, 40 percent of new power generation installations over the last four years have been wind. GE achieved its 10,000th turbine milestone in November 2008, its 15,000th in February 2011 and in 2012 celebrates its 20,000th installation.
"We congratulate GE on this impressive achievement," said Jim Shield, Invenergy's executive vice president and chief development officer. "Our longstanding association has resulted in the installation of more than 2,000 GE wind turbines at Invenergy projects across the United States. As America's largest independent wind power generation company, we look forward to a continued, successful relationship with GE in the years to come."
Governors from states with wind farms and manufacturing plants to serve the industry called on Congressional leaders for an immediate extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) that is set to expire at year’s end.
The Governors’ Wind Coalition (GWC) is seeking at least a one-year extension of the PTC. Wind farms must be put into service by Dec. 31 to qualify for the 10-year subsidy.
In a letter to Congressional leadership today, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber urged Congressional leadership “…to take swift action to extend the PTC before the end of this congressional session.” Gov. Branstad (R-Ia.) is the chairman of the coalition and Gov. Kitzhaber (D-Ore.) is the vice chairman.
“Thousands of jobs in the wind industry have already been impacted by the credit’s looming expiration and thousands more are at risk,” the governors wrote. “We urge you to take swift action to extend the PTC before the end of this congressional session.”
China’s $20 billion solar industry is avoiding loan defaults and mergers by taking aid from local governments, preserving jobs at money-losing companies such as LDK Solar Co., the world’s second-biggest maker of solar cells.
LDK agreed last month to sell a 19.9 percent stake to a renewable-energy investor part-owned by the city of Xinyu, home to its headquarters. Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP), the world’s largest solar-panel maker, got a $32 million loan in September organized partly by Wuxi, the city where it’s based. The aid helps as the companies prepare to report combined 2012 losses of $987 million, analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg show.
The moves counter efforts by the central government to engineer mergers that create a handful of larger solar companies, said Jeremy Haft, founder of BChinaB Inc., a New York-based consulting company that specializes in Chinese business practices. The country has previously pushed consolidation to strengthen industries such as steel and coal.
Provincial governments mostly want solar manufacturers “to keep the lights on and not lay people off,” Haft said. “There are a lot of people unemployed” in China and local government officials don’t want to see solar factories close up, he said.
European Union regulators ramped up their investigation of the Chinese solar panel industry on Thursday by accusing the Chinese government of unfairly subsidizing manufacturers of the panels.
The latest step in an increasingly acrimonious battle engulfing the clean-energy sector came a day after the United States made a final decision to impose duties on billions of dollars of solar products from China over the next five years to shield producers against lower-priced imports.
It also came after the government in Beijing said Monday that it had filed a case with the World Trade Organization accusing some E.U. countries of violating free trade rules with policies that favored the purchase of solar energy equipment produced in Europe.
"To date, the Obama Administration has created and supported pro-solar policies that have been vital to the success of the industry. Solar installations and jobs have risen dramatically throughout the U.S, while costs have fallen. Today, the solar industry employs more than 119,000 Americans at 5,600 companies, mostly small businesses, across all 50 states – this is more than double the number of Americans working in solar in 2009.
"Since President Obama took office, the amount of solar powering homes, businesses, and military bases has grown by 400 percent – from 1,100 megawatts in 2008 to more than 5,700 megawatts today. The Administration enacted a policy allowing solar installations for the first time on public lands and set a goal to permit 10 gigawatts of additional renewable energy projects on public lands by the end of 2012, which has been a great driver of this growth. The U.S. now has enough installed solar capacity to power nearly a million households, and 2012 will be another year of record growth for our industry.
"Policy certainty is crucial to continue the growing role of solar in America's energy mix. Stable policy frameworks at the federal and state level, including maintaining and expanding commitments to renewable energy initiatives, spur and leverage private sector investments in the solar industry to meet our nation's future energy needs."
China has given the go-ahead for the wind energy counterpart of its massive Three Gorges dam, the world's largest. The 1.4 gigawatt (GW) wind farm in Inner Mongolia will be the largest in the country so far.
Each of seven wind farms that comprise the project will be built by different developers - Huadian, Guodian, Huaneng, Longyuan, CPI, Beijing Jingneng New Energy and Xiehe Wind Power - at a total cost of $2.18 billion.
Construction should be finished by the end of next year.
As of 2011, Inner Mongolia had 17.6 GW of wind, providing 13.8% of the city of Baotou's electricity. Another 10 GW of wind is planned for the area.
Baotou is the largest city in Inner Mongolia with about 2.3 million residents.
The Chinese wind industry has been languishing waiting for the transmission infrastructure to connect projects already built.
A solar cell made entirely from carbon, one of the most abundant elements on earth, has been developed for the first time by a research team from Stanford University. The discovery opens the door to much cheaper energy generation capabilities in the future. The results are published in the Oct. 31 online edition of the journal ACS Nano.
Stanford Professor Zhenan Bao says:
"Photovoltaics will definitely be a very important source of power that we will tap into in the future,"
said study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University .
"We have a lot of available sunlight. We've got to figure out some way to use this natural resource that is given to us."
Stanford University scientists have developed the first solar cell made entirely of carbon. This new solar cell promises a cheaper alternative to the expensive, silicon-based photovoltaic solar panels available today.
The world's largest offshore wind farm produced its first electricity on Monday around 20 kilometres off the east coast of Britain, boosting the country's position as the world's top offshore wind market.
The first 151 wind turbines of the London Array project generated electricity for the first time and the remaining 24 will power up by the end of the year, owners DONG Energy (50 percent), E.ON (30 percent) and Masdar (20 percent) said.
Britain aims to build around 30 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity at sea by 2020 to make use of high wind speeds for electricity generation to help meet the governments legally binding emissions reduction targets.
Once the London Array project is fully operational at the end of the year, Britain will have nearly 3 GW of offshore wind capacity in operation.
The London Array wind farm could be expanded to 870 MW if a second phase receives required permits, the owners said.
Photovoltaic cell efficiency may soon get a big boost, thanks to next-generation antireflection coatings crafted from nanomaterials capable of cutting down on the amount of light reflected away from a cell's surface.
Materials boasting a "tunable" refractive index have been developed within the past few years, and they show tremendous potential for photovoltaic applications. Professor E. Fred Schubert, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, is investigating ways to exploit this newly gained controllability and will present his findings at the upcoming AVS 59th International Symposium and Exhibition, held Oct. 28 - Nov. 2, in Tampa, Fla.
The refractive index is the property of a material that changes the speed of light, and is computed as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light through the material. Among the most fundamental properties of optical materials, the refractive index determines important optical characteristics such as Fresnel reflection, Bragg reflection, Snell refraction, diffraction, and the phase and group velocity of light.
Air and other gases have a refractive index very close to 1.0, but unfortunately aren't viable for thin-film optoelectronic applications. Among transparent dense materials suitable for use in thin-film optoelectronic applications, magnesium fluoride (MgF2) has the lowest refractive index (n=1.39); no dense materials with a lower refractive index are known to exist.
Hanwha Group, a top 10 Korean business group and Fortune Global 500 company with businesses in manufacturing, construction, finance, retail and resorts, today launched Hanwha Q.CELLS. The launch marks the completion of the acquisition of German solar company Q.CELLS, one of the worlds' largest solar cell manufacturers and a leading photovoltaics company. Mr. Charles Kim will lead Hanwha Q.CELLS as CEO, joining the company from Hanwha SolarOne. Mr. Min Su Kim will replace Mr. Charles Kim as the president of Hanwha SolarOne and joins the company from Hanwha Group.
The launch of Hanwha Q.CELLS establishes Hanwha as the third largest solar manufacturer in the world. Hanwha's 2.3 GW of manufacturing capacity is distributed across Germany, Malaysia and China, a competitive advantage to supply any region in the world, free of trade sanctions.
According to the latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects, 433 MW of new electrical generating capacity was added in the U.S. in September -- all from solar and wind sources. The total consisted of five wind projects totaling 300 MW and 18 solar projects totaling 133 MW.
For the first nine months of 2012, 77 wind projects (4,055 MW), 154 solar projects (936 MW), 76 biomass projects (340 MW), 7 geothermal projects (123 MW), 10 water power projects (9 MW), and 1 waste heat project (3 MW) have come on-line. Collectively, these total 43.8% of all new generating capacity added since the beginning of 2012. By comparison, new natural gas capacity additions since January 1, 2012 totaled 61 projects (4,587 MW) or 36.8% while 3 new coal projects added 2,276 MW (18.3%). Nuclear and oil represented just 1% and 0.1% of new capacity additions respectively.
The new renewable energy generating capacity added in 2012 represents a 29% increase over the level recorded for the same period in 2011. Renewable energy sources now account for 14.9% of all installed U.S. electrical generating capacity.
The U.S. wind industry reached a milestone during the third quarter, surpassing 50 GW of total installed generation capacity, according to a new American Wind Energy Association report.
The industry installed 1,832.7 MW during the quarter, bringing total wind power capacity installations to 51,630 MW. Wind capacity additions in 2012 have totaled 4,728 MW so far, AWEA said in its third-quarter market report. At least 40 electric utilities own or have contracted wind from projects currently online through the third quarter, the association said.
The third quarter saw a 52% increase in installed capacity over the year-ago quarter. Twenty-seven wind projects were installed in 15 states during the quarter.
The wind industry installed 40% more capacity during the first three quarters of 2012 than the same period in 2011, primarily due to developers racing against the clock to complete projects before the production tax credit, or PTC, expires. The PTC provides wind plants that are in service by Dec. 31 with a tax credit for the first 10 years of electricity production from utility-scale turbines.
"This is what a successful policy looks like when it's working, but whether wind will continue to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy now depends on whether Congress acts to extend the production tax credit by the end of the year," AWEA CEO Denise Bode said in an Oct. 18 statement.
Siemens AG announced plans to give up its loss-making solar business and concentrate its renewable energy business on wind and hydroelectric power.
The German industrial conglomerate, whose products range from trains to turbines, said Monday it's in talks with possible buyers, but offered no details. It said the move is part of a wider effort to increase its productivity and efficiency.
The solar power industry has been hit by falling subsidies, weaker sales and increasingly stiff price competition, especially by Chinese manufacturers.
Siemens said that "due to the changed framework conditions, lower growth and strong price pressure in the solar markets, the company's expectations for its solar energy activities have not been met."
Several German solar manufacturers, including Q-Cells SE and Solar Millennium AG, have filed for insolvency over the past year. Another German company in the solar market, SMA AG, announced last week that it will slash up to 1,000 jobs — about a fifth of its global workforce — amid falling revenues and a possible annual loss in 2013 due to the growing price pressures.
The energetic use of solid biomass such as wood will increase to a larger extent than ever before in the years to come. At present, more than 2,200 biomass power plants are operational throughout the world. They have a total capacity of about 32,000 megawatts (MW). In Europe alone, there are more than 1,100 active biomass power plants. Another 130 coal power plants co-incinerate biomass.
Over the past five years, about 150 biomass power plants went operational per year worldwide, each one with an average capacity of 11 MW, which is more than ever before. However, this growth will once more accelerate in the future: by 2016, 165 plants with an average capacity of more than 15 MW will be commissioned per year. Investments in new construction and maintenance of biomass power plants will increase from currently 10 to more than 14 billion euros annually.
The trend for developing biomass follows the trend for developing renewable energies. More and more countries introduce feed-in tariffs for electricity from biomass. The increasing prices for fossil energy sources, the fact that many countries aim at increasing the use of domestic raw materials and the introduction of CO2 certificates for fossil fuels in Europe have over the past years improved the competitiveness of electricity generation from biomass.
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