Thursday, December 29, 2011

SunPower's Joyous Solar Christmas : Greentech Media

SunPower's Joyous Solar Christmas : Greentech Media:

SunPower’s Joyous Solar Christmas

A vote of confidence from its majority owner and an acquisition from same

SunPower’s Joyous Solar Christmas
Total, the French oil and gas giant, already owns 60 percent of America's SunPower, the leader in photovoltaic panel efficiency. As a nice Christmas present and in what seems a vote of long-term confidence in the solar industry, Total upped its stake by 6 percent at a cost of $163.7 million, according to a Bloomberg article. Total paid $8.80 per share, a 50 percent premium above the Dec. 22 closing SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) share price.   
Total SA is Europe’s third-largest oil producer. (While we're on the topic of oil companies, note that BP Solar, the solar group within British Petroleum, exited the solar business last week after decades of production, due to declining margins.)
SunPower's stock was down 1.3 percent to $5.92 on Tuesday. The firm has a market capitalization of $593 million.
SunPower went out and bought itself a nice present with its holiday money. SunPower agreed to acquire Tenesol, a subsidiary of Total SA, for $165.4 million in cash that puts all of Total's solar assets under one roof. Tenesol builds and installs solar panels with manufacturing facilities in France and South Africa. Tenesol had revenue of $313 million in 2010 and expects revenue of approximately $261 million in 2011, according to SunPower.
The deal looks like a wash and was part of the original agreement between Total and SunPower. Here are some stock analysts with less-than-favorable opinions of the transaction.
SunPower, along with First Solar, was one of the first solar panel manufacturers to aggressively pursue utility-scale projects and to develop its own solar parks.

When the Total deal was initiated in April, Shyam Mehta, senior solar analyst at GTM Research, noted that the deal is likely more about project development and solar power plants than solar panels.

"They have the second best -- if not the best -- track record in the industry" for project development, he said. The $1 billion line of credit, if exploited for power plants, could give SunPower a huge advantage over competitors like First Solar. The cost of capital is a substantial consideration in these projects, and Total can get access to large amounts of capital at lower rates than standalone solar companies.

Having Total as a potential financier will also potentially help SunPower circumvent the often-arduous search for money and partners on particular projects.
"SunPower is one of the few solar companies that is actually a technology play and not a commodity one," Mehta added.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

PV panel prices dropping precipitously

 Buyer’s market. For companies with financial muscles, it’s a good time to invest in solar, be it taking a share in a tech company or a power project. Many big energy companies have done just that,from Exelon in the U.S. to Total in France. Google got rid of its solar research effort but has made some big investments in solar power projects this year, including the $94 million in four solar projects near Sacramento, Calif., that it announced last week. There are many firsts. Warren Buffett’sMidAmerican Energy Holdings is buying its first solar farm and has agreed to purchase a 49 percent stake in a second one. Investment firm KKR made its first renewable energy investment in the U.S. by putting an undisclosed sum in the same Sacramento-area solar farm. Hey, maybe we will see Chinese oil giants gobbling up some solar and wind projects abroad.
3. Game over. We know of seven companies that have declared bankruptcy or have shuttered their solar businesses. Energy Conversion Devices temporarily suspended production last month and is doing massive layoffs, and though it hasn’t filed for bankruptcy or otherwise announced its exit, the company’s prospects are bleak. If there are truly hundreds of solar panel manufacturers in China, then many of them won’t live much longer, and some should have expired by now. The Chinese government’s own research recently concluded that the number of domestic solar panel makers could fall to 15 before this decade is over. LDK Solar, a silicon producer that has added solar cell and panel manufacturing in recent years, is one of the struggling Chinese companies. Wells Fargo recently dropped its coverage of LDK because the solar company no longer presented “a viable solar investment.”
Although some of the high-profile U.S. solar startups have lined up big investors, as we mentioned earlier, their survival is far from assured, and, well, Solyndra won’t be the only big VC-backed solar investment that flames out.
4. New entrants keep on coming. Sure, times are tough now, but the solar market is supposed to grow and grow, right? So here you have Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest contract
maker of consumer electronics such as the iPhone, plotting its entry into the solarmarket and planning on starting trial production next year. Other solar manufacturers should be worried, because solar panels are commodities and margins are shrinking quickly. Foxconn will join some of the largest consumer electronics makers that also have vowed to become major solar manufacturers: Samsung and LG (and Sharp and Panasonic already are big players in solar).
Although government incentives have played a key role in boosting the solar market growth, they are falling, drying up or changing too often, and many project developers and installers are looking forward to the day when they can build without subsidies (meaning they can do it more cheaply).
5. Changing strategy. It is interesting to see how companies change their strategies during tough times. We have seen more money devoted to boosting the sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies by companies that have historically spent more heavily on expanding factories to drive down costs. First Solar, which is laying off workers and throttling back its factory expansion plans, is undergoing a major strategy shift to focus on projects that serve utilities and in markets that aren’t so driven by government subsidies. All eyes will be on First Solar to see how it plans to tackle that in 2012.
6. The bane of election year politics. The U.S. is the third-largest solar market in the world, and it still has a lot of room to grow. The growth so far has been propped up by government incentives, and the expiration of a key federal subsidy this month and an ongoing trade complaint against Chinese manufacturers have stoked worries of a slower increase in installations in 2012. Add that to the fact that Republicans and Democrats both are trying to show who can manage the country’s finances better and cut spending. Getting more government help in 2012 will be as difficult as getting Newt Gingrich to be humble.
7. Emerging markets. China and India have been among the most-talked-aboutnew markets this year, and the conversation will continue. But we also will hear more about other, lesser-known markets such as the Middle East and Africa, where the necessary ingredients for solar development — money and interest from utilities and government — are increasing. Latin America is starting to show signs of solar power development activities, though they are tiny still.
8. What will the IPO market bring? Not much. This year has proven a terrible time for making that public market debut. Companies that filed this year to go public, such as BrightSource Energy and Enphase Energy, are waiting for the right time. Until we see successful solar IPOs in the U.S. — and it’s been a while — very few will try their luck.
9. Beyond solar. Some solar installers see opportunities in the emergence of electric cars — both businesses promote their cleantech cred and sell to consumers directly. Companies such as REC Solar and SolarCity are selling electric car charging stations (SolarCity has erected solar power charging stations for Tesla owners). Automakers such as General Motors and Nissan are building electric car charging stations that use solar power. Up until now, solar retailers have largely focused on selling solar energy equipment and installation services. But as they grow in size and generate moremoney, they might want to diversify to offer other cleantech equipment and services.
10. Solar’s impact on the grid. The increase in solar energy generation has nudged utilities and electric grid regulators to give more thought and investment to the impact of solar in their mission to deliver electricity reliably. Since solar production can ebb and surge depending on the time of the day and the weather, new technologies and policies are cropping up to monitor solar energy production and minimize interruptions of power delivery. Storing solar energy in batteries and discharging it into the grid when needed is one solution that is being considered or tested in pilot projects. Inverters will play a greater role in regulating solar power’s flow into the grid. Some of the technologies already exist because of technical requirements in Germany, and they will make their way into the U.S.
Photos from GigaOM, First Solar, Enphase Energy, Duke Energy, Solaria

10 solar trends to watch for in 2012 — Cleantech News and Analysis

10 solar trends to watch for in 2012 — Cleantech News and Analysis:

'via Blog this'

Monday, December 26, 2011

Will biofuel produced from algae power the future?

Will biofuel produced from algae power the future?: "Environmental tradeoffs

Another great thing about algae is that they can be cultivated even with sea water or waste water, which is a plus point as this helps to conserve the depleting fresh water resources. As algae are biodegradable, they will not cause any harm to the environment. Algae grow really fast and generate copious amounts of energy. Also they require only water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow. Therefore, biofuel manufactured from algae is an excellent source of clean and green energy."

'via Blog this'

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ingredients of Transition: Intermediate Technologies » Transition Culture

Ingredients of Transition: Intermediate Technologies » Transition Culture:

'via Blog this'

Ingredients of Transition: Intermediate Technologies

Cob greenhouse at the Hollies Centre for Practical Sustainability, West Cork, Ireland.


When planning for STRATEGIC LOCAL INFRASTRUCTURE (5.5), careful consideration of the technologies and strategies employed will be very useful. Whether it is planning LOCAL FOOD INITIATIVES (3.10), PRACTICAL MANIFESTATIONS (3.9) or a COMMUNITY RENEWABLE ENERGY COMPANY (5.4), bear this Ingredient in mind.

(We are collecting and discussing these Transition ingredients on Transition Network’s website to keep all comments in one place. Please leave feedback and comments, suggestions for alternative pictures, anecdotes, stories and projects for this ingredient here).

The Challenge

It is easy to be dazzled by what are put forward as low carbon technologies. They can entice us to stay within our comfort zones, of someone else providing a solution for us that we don’t need to take responsibility for without any fundamental change. When discerning which technologies are going to underpin the transition of our communities, it is key to avoid those that end up creating more dependency.

Core Text

This ingredient was inspired by an email I received from Matt Dunwell at Ragman’s Lane Farm in Gloucestershire shortly after the ‘Great Freeze’ of 2009/2010. It offers a powerful insight into the essence of this ingredient:

“I have the exquisite pain of no heating at the farm, having installed a biomass system with a titanic budget, which has decided to break just as we start our three month residential permaculture course. Having decided to get the best German boiler money could buy, I now realise that actually no one has a clue about fitting and running this stuff. It’s still the right way to go, but it will take a good few years of mugs like me to pioneer systems like these before they are safe to be let loose on an unsuspecting public.

Hey ho. Now it has been bust for ten days (first they thought it was the electric motor on the flue (£400), now they think it’s the circuit board that controls the whole boiler (£800), all the pipework that is meant to be super insulated to carry hot water to outlying buildings has frozen solid. We have finally got the boiler working, but are now faced with the task of thawing super insulated pipes that have frozen whilst the ambient temperature slips to –15C. The task of turning this all around is interrupted every 40 minutes when we have to tow another student onto the farm with a tractor that is running with no cooling system, as the anti freeze froze in the tractor engine and frayed the fan belt as it passed over the water pump. Meanwhile the entire shower block has frozen solid promising all sorts of water sports when the terrifying halogen heaters that we have hired start making an impact.

How precarious it all is. I had the strange experience of passing the engineer for the boiler, (who has practically taken up residence at Ragmans) whilst I was servicing Reinhart’s Ceramic Stove. I had a bucket of clay dug from the pond that I had mixed with a bit of sharp sand. I had the chimney off swept and replaced in about 20 minutes. The ceramic stove is what is making the whole course possible at this stage. He was standing over a box of capacitors, probes, and electric spare parts, on the phone to the wholesaler in Lincoln, who was trying to source parts from Austria while the airports were closing down all around”.

Designing and putting in place a Transition infrastructure of urban agriculture, community-owned energy generation, low carbon transportation systems and so on will require some very real decisions about what technologies we will choose. As a working principle, we might perhaps give preference to equipment that can be manufactured locally, or if that is not possible, ensure at least that it can be repaired locally and that parts aren’t too difficult to obtain.

The image above shows a cob greenhouse, built as part of a commercial market garden at The Hollies Centre for Practical Sustainability in West Cork in Ireland, which beautifully models this Ingredient. It is made using subsoil from onsite, mixed with local straw and sculpted to produce the walls which are very aesthetically pleasing, as well as having excellent thermal mass properties, that is, they can store heat from the sun and re-radiate it slowly back into the space. Much of the glass is recycled and easily replaced. Its owners understand how it was built, and how to repair it. This is a very different proposition from a kit greenhouse imported from, say, Germany, with complex heating and cooling systems and reliant on regular maintenance.

The Solution

Implement technologies which can be made or at least repaired locally, which you can understand, and where you can see the supply chain for parts. Ensure that any technologies bring social, economic and community benefits to the local area.

Connections to Other Ingredients

When evaluating the tools and technologies you will be utilising, CRITICAL THINKING (1.2) is very useful for being able to effectively evaluate, from the evidence available, which will be the most effective choices. Also, an ENERGY RESILIENCE ASSESSMENT (4.5) can help in understanding the vulnerability of particular technologies, and their potential future reliability in a world of increasingly volatile energy prices.

Please leave any comments here.


22 Dec 3:39pm

I think that expertise in “low-tech” technologies is essential, so it would be valuable to expand this section. Two problems: a tendency to look down on them; training in them is rarely offered.
A reference that comes to my mind is Mike Abbot “Green Woodwork”.

Kenrick Chin
23 Dec 2:07pm

Brings to mind the 10,000 Year Clock project at The Long Now Foundation ( where they built an awesome clock that can be maintained and repaired using commonly available materials and knowledge.

25 Dec 9:04pm

“Low tech” technologies make sense in SO MANY ways! Little or no transportation, fewer resources required to build, supporting the local community, ease of/lower cost repairs. We just need to learn more about these under advertised technologies & figure out a way to make others aware of their significant value…

Alexandra Groszek
30 Dec 2:59pm

Seems to be a gap in the market – environmental building services installation and maintenance

Michael Poremba
3 Jan 10:01am

Marcin Jakobowski has launched a project here in the States to design, produce, and publish open source farm technology. The vision is to openly share designs for equipment that can be produced and maintained by individuals and small local communities rather than being wholly dependent on a network of industries producing proprietary gadgets somewhere far away. They’ve identified about 40 labor-saving machines most useful to homesteaders trying to maintain import ants bits of our industrial society but doing so on a community scale. It’s not really technofix but more like “let’s save what we can and do it together.” check them out at Definately a unique project. They have some prototypes already finished. Lend some support if you think it’s worthy.

James Robertson
4 Jan 3:09pm

Quick typo in the link to Ragmans Farm; you lost the www part and now it’s a dud… – sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings…