Google Inc. (GOOG) agreed to put $280 million in a new project financing fund for SolarCity Inc., a financier, installer and owner of rooftop photovoltaic systems, in the Internet search engine's biggest clean-energy investment. The deal with San Mateo, California-based SolarCity is also Google's first investment related to distributed solar energy, Rick Needham, the search engine's director of green business operations, said by telephone yesterday. The investment is a "quadruple-win" because it will enable more homeowners to lower their energy bills while also shifting to renewable energy, allow SolarCity to expand its business and facilitate wider deployment of solar, Needham said. Mountain View, California-based Google will also make a return on capital upfront, he said, since its investment is supported by the Treasury Department's cash grants program. As an alternative to tax credits, the program reimburses investors for 30 percent of project expenditures for solar. The program was created after the 2008 financial crisis to revive spending on clean energy. Projects must begin construction by the end of 2011 to be eligible.
Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) manufacturer, Bloom Energy, has announced a new deal to build a 200,000 square-foot manufacturing plant on a portion of an old Delaware Chrysler plant. This new manufacturing plant is expected to bring 1,500 new jobs to the Delaware area and boost the University of Delaware’s vision of a thriving high-tech center. This news comes after two months ago Bloom Energy quadrupled their manufacturing size with the expansion of their Californian based manufacturing facility. That facility was expanded to over 210,000 square feet and is expected to provide California with over 1,000 new jobs. They also announced a major increase in manufacturing of their Energy Server, a 100 kW SOFC unit, from just one unit produced every month in their early days of operation, to now producing one Energy Server every day. Over the next five years, Bloom expects to hire about 900 workers for the Delaware manufacturing facility and predicts a minimum of 600 more jobs to follow as suppliers open Delaware bases of operations. A number of these expected suppliers are expected to also set-up shop on the Chrysler property, which qualifies as a "brownfield" given its 60-year history of auto-making. "Brownfields" are abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re-use and redevelopment.
The renewable energy space is expected to see a high level of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the next 12 months, with Europe predicted to be the most active, according to a new report published by mergermarket, in association with Rödl & Partner. In a survey conducted in Q2 2011 of 100 senior M&A practitioners involved in the renewable energy sector, 72% expect an increase in renewable energy M&A activity. This bullish sentiment could be attributed to a number of factors, including the devastating effects of the Fukushima disaster. "Investors of all shapes and sizes are competing against one another in this flourishing sector, therefore sustainable future growth can only be assured in two ways - by beating out the competitors or by acquiring them," explains Michael Wiehl, Rödl & Partner Nuremberg. 67% of respondents expect Europe to be at the forefront of this increase, forecasting the region will see significant activity. This is attributed by some respondents to Europe's variety of resources, with one respondent noting that: "Europe has a great diversity: The Nordics are great for wind power; Italy, Spain and Greece for solar; and continental Europe for geothermal and biomass." The long-term feed-in tariffs introduced by Germany are also highlighted as an important aid in bolstering renewable energy investment. The renewable sector globally has seen 51 deals at a total value of €10.6 billionthis year-to-date. Iberdrola's pending 20% stake bid for Iberdrola Renovables SA is the biggest deal of the year at €2.6 billion, followed by Electricite de France SA's €1.5bn bid for EDF Energies Nouvelles SA (50% stake).
A power plant planned for Turkey will use a combination of energy sources--wind, solar, and natural gas--to deliver round-the-clock electricity service. General Electric today said that it will supply the equipment for a 508-megawatt plant to developer MetCap Energy, which expects to complete the project by 2015. The plant in Karaman, Turkey, is projected to power more than 600,000 homes. The project is unusual in that a single facility will draw on three sources to deliver "baseload" power, or the power needed to meet the continuous energy demand for the area. GE said that the plant's overall efficiency will be 66 percent, higher than a modern natural gas plant. GE is touting the project as a showcase for its FlexEfficiency power plant system anchored around a natural gas turbine designed specifically to ramp power production up and down to accommodate variable wind and solar power. The other main power-generating components are GE wind turbines capable of producing 22 megawatts and a 50-megawatt eSolar concentrating solar thermal plant. GE yesterday announced that it invested in California-based eSolar and has a license to use eSolar's solar technology for hybrid power plants. eSolar plants generate heat with thousands of sun-tracking mirrors to produce steam, which is driven through a turbine to make electricity.
130 exajoules (EJ) per annum for solar photovoltaic and solar thermal electric energy, 110 EJ for wind energy, 40 for hydro, 55 for geothermal and 300 for bioenergy. A closer look at the IPCC summary report on the potential of renewable energy shows that this latter source will remain the leader in primary renewable energy production in 2050. It is two weeks since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented its special report on renewable energy and climate change mitigation in Abu Dhabi. One of the first points to come out of reading this report is that bioenergy accounted for almost 80% of the contribution of renewables to primary energy supply in 2008. The next point is that the majority of this contribution, approximately 60%, was from traditional biomass used for cooking and heating in developing countries, although a greater increase in the use of modern biomass was also highlighted. 10% of the 492 EJ of annual primary energy produced in the whole world is generated using biomass, biogas and biofuels. The report warns that this contribution is likely to diminish in the coming decades, although this will not stop bioenergy from continuing as the renewable energy leader, with an average of 150 EJ/year in 2050. Indeed, the IPCC reports even proposes a range of between 100 and 300 EJ, a ceiling that clearly exceeds that of the other five technologies discussed in the IPCC's work: solar photovoltaic and solar thermal electric, hydro, geothermal, wind and marine (tides, waves, currents).
The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST) is aimed at reducing CO2 emissions by 70 percent compared with 1990 levels. The completely networked town will be a 19-hectacre subdivision built on a former Panasonic plant site some 30 miles southwest of Tokyo. It will house about 3,000 people whose lives will revolve around being energy conscious: the 1,000 homes and other buildings will have solar panels to generate electricity and smart appliances, as well as home fuel cells. The batteries might include the fridge-sized Ene-Farm developed by Panasonic and Tokyo Gas. They say the Ene-Farm can reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions by 35 and 48 percent, respectively, from typical Japanese household usage and can help lower home utility costs by up to $740 annually. Plans for the SST call for features such as EV recharging stations, LED lighting, surveillance cameras, and "wind paths" to accommodate wind patterns in Fujisawa, a city of 400,000 on Sagami Bay. There will be plenty of trees, too. The project will cost some $739 million, and all homes are expected to be occupied by 2018. I wouldn't be surprised if SST gets way too many applicants. Fujisawa has beaches, a surfing culture, and plenty of sunshine, so it's an ideal location for this experiment. If it's successful, it could become a model for future green communities.
The U.S. wind industry is growing again after taking a big step backward last year. Yet turbine makers and wind farm developers are finding few reasons to celebrate as the clean energy source struggles to secure long-term government support while facing stiff competition from cheap natural gas. Once the world's top wind market, the United States ceded that mantle to China last year as a weak economy halted its growth and cut new installations to half of the 10,000 megawatts of capacity built in 2009. Since then, business has picked up, but not for the reasons the industry would like. Energy demand is still tepid due to a gurgling economic recovery, and the low cost of natural gas is keeping power prices low. Pricing in long-term power sales contracts signed by wind developers has fallen 30 percent in the last two years and will fall further this year, according to IHS Emerging Energy Research. Currently, the market is being shepherded by developers who are scrambling to put turbines in the ground ahead of a 2013 expiration of lucrative federal tax credits for wind. Beyond that date, the industry's fortunes are hazy.
Boston, Massachusetts (USA) saw the opening of the world's largest large-scale wind turbine blade testing facility this week. The Wind Technology Testing Center—in partnership with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory—can test blades up to 90 meters long, which is expected to be the industry's largest blade size in coming years. Prior to the facility's opening, domestically produced large-scale wind turbine blades had to be shipped outside of the U.S., usually to Europe, to be tested. The largest predecessors in the U.S. to the Wind Technology Testing Center could only support turbine blades no longer than 50 meters. The facility has the capacity to test up to three blades simultaneously. Standard tests measure fatigue through a four-month endurance process. Two-week-long static strength and resonance testing are also commonplace. The Wind Technology Testing Center itself took roughly two years to build at a cost of just under $40 million. $25 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. $13.2 million in additional funds was provided through loans and grants furnished by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.
AWEAWINDPOWER 2011 Conference & Exhibition will be held May 22 — 25, 2011 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition is produced by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) to provide a venue for the wind industry to network, do business, and solve problems. Recognized as one of the fastest-growing trade shows in the U.S, WINDPOWER includes Nearly 1,400 exhibiting companies, thousands of qualified wind energy professionals, engaging educational information and unmatched networking opportunities and special events. As a media partner AltEnergyMag.com is hosting a Special AWEA newspage sponsored by KRWind. We invite all exhibitors and attendees to check out and submit all your Conference news here. Also, stay tuned for our WindPower Conference report which will go online following the show.
Landis+Gyr is said to be on the auction block — and big smart grid suitors have come to bid. Reuters has reported that General Electric was offering $2 billion for the Swiss-based smart metering giant, an offer that was followed by Toshiba's 200 billion yen ($2.48 billion) counter-offer, and entry by strategic bidders including Honeywell and ABB. And while some reports say GE had withdrawn its bid, I've heard that GE is very much still in the running. Landis+Gyr earned about $200 million on about $1.5 billion in annual revenues in the last year, Reuters' anonymous sources report. That puts a $2 billion-plus price firmly in the realm of long-term investment. But strategic buyers could squeeze a lot more value out of L+G by integrating its existing technologies and utility projects into their own lines of business. For example, GE's smart meter business relies on a host of partners for communications and networking, while L+G has its own 900-megahertz communications system, as well as back-end software to manage it all. With L+G, GE could stop just churning out smart meters like widgets, and start supplying a more holistic offering to utilities.
In its first year the Chevrolet Volt has garnered several awards, including 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, Green Car Journal's 2011 Green Car of the Year, and Automobile's 2011 Automobile of the Year. And now the electric car with extended range is going to be built in a solar-powered facility. General Motors announced it is building the photovoltaic solar array, the largest in Southeast Michigan, at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. Sunlight will help to create the $41,000 Volt. Once it's completed, the 516-kilowatt project built by GM and DTE Energy will generate 54,750 volts. Plus, the 6-acre land tract will generate 15 megawatts of electricity throughout Southeast Michigan. According to GM, the U.S. automaker will save about $15,000 a year over 20 years with the 264,000-square-foot array. DTE is investing $3 million into the project.
The U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday that it has stopped accepting applications for loan guarantees to help finance new solar, wind or other renewable energy facilities and suggested there would be winners and losers among companies that have applications pending. The loan guarantee program for renewable energy generation projects, called "Section 1705," after the portion of the 2009 Recovery Act that supports it, expires Sept. 30 and only projects that can start construction and close their loan guarantees by that date will be considered for a guarantee, Jonathan Silver, the head of the agency's loan programs office, wrote in a blog post on the DOE web site. The agency has issued roughly $1.6 billion in loan guarantees for 19 renewable energy projects to date. Loan guarantees for roughly $800 million in remaining funds will be issued to companies that have already applied, whose applications are "farthest along in the process," and whose projects are most likely to meet the Sept. 30 construction deadline, Silver wrote. "Not all these projects will succeed by September 30th," he wrote. The DOE placed another group of applications "on hold" after determining that the projects were unlikely to meet the Sept. 30 deadline, Silver wrote. He added that if the program received more funding in the future, those applications could be revived. The DOE notified companies on Tuesday whether their applications would proceed or not, Silver wrote.
Renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower could fulfill almost 80 percent of the world's energy demand by 2050 with the right policies, according to a U.N. report which won backing from governments on Monday. The 26-page study, by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), broadly matched a draft written by scientists. It was approved by government delegates at talks in Abu Dhabi. Environmental groups hailed the report as a guide to the shift from fossil fuels to combat climate change, a process set to cost trillions of dollars. But they said some draft findings were watered down, partly due to opposition by oil exporters. "Close to 80 percent of the world energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies," the IPCC said. The report said moves to cleaner energies including geothermal or ocean energy would help cut greenhouse gas emissions, which it blamed for global warming including floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.
U.S. venture capital investment in cleantech companies increased by 54% to $1.14 billion in the first quarter of this year (Q1'11), from $743.3 million in the first quarter of 2010 (Q1'10). This increase occurred despite a 13% decrease in deals year-on-year from 79 to 69, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource. The top 10 deals in Q1'11 totaled $683.1 million, 60% of the total raised for the quarter, and two deals accounted for 18% of the total dollars raised. "The U.S. cleantech market experienced continuing momentum - both from a venture capital perspective and among the larger investment community," says Jay Spencer, Ernst & Young LLP's Americas cleantech director. "The second generation of solar companies and larger, later-stage rounds dominated VC investor interest in Q1." The energy/electricity generation segment, led by strong solar investments, raised $450.3 million through 16 deals in Q1'11. The solar sub-segment accounted for 32% of the total dollars raised for the quarter with $362.7 million, a 162% gain from Q1'10.
Changes in solar incentives in key markets such as Germany and Italy are making life difficult for major players such as First Solar, which reported a flat first-quarter revenue and lower earnings on Tuesday afternoon. "With a lot of pending changes, the market started out really slow in 2011," said Rob Gillette, First Solar's CEO, during a conference call with analysts. "We expect the European industry demand to go through a period of adjustment in the second and third quarter." Manufactures saw solar panel prices falling faster than expected, Gillette said, and the lower selling prices were partly responsible for the company's financial results. Europe is the largest solar market, a result of a type of incentive policy that requires utilities to buy solar electricity at government-set, premium prices. The prices are supposed to fall over time as the market grows and production costs drop, but political leaders in Europe in recent years have taken to making extra cuts to curb explosive growth and minimize the impact on consumers, who help to pay for these incentives through their electric bills.
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