31 January 2011

First Solar to Build Solar Module Factory in Ho Chi Minh City

First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), a United States-based solar panels manufacturing company, has reportedly received investment license to build a solar modules producing factory in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The company has plans to invest around $1 billion in the project.

The proposed plant will be constructed in Dong Nam Industrial Zone located in Cu Chi District and will manufacture thin film solar modules. In the first phase of the project the plant will have four operating lines to manufacture a maximum of 238 MW every year. The company has plans to increase the production capacity by four-fold in the next phase.

According to Tymen DeJong, First Solar’s Deputy Director In-charge for its global productions, the first phase of the construction work will commence in January 2011 and the plant is anticipated to become functional from the middle of 2011.

Source: First Solar

(Disclosure: I hold a long position in FSLR. This post is for informational purposes only and is neither intended to be investment advice nor an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities.

28 January 2011

Green Skeptic Friday LinkFest - 01/28/11

Snow Day at Water Tower
Snow hit us hard this week in Philadelphia, causing postponement of the Water-Energy Nexus conversation I was to moderate at Morgan Lewis yesterday.  The event, co-sponsored by the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic and the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology (PACT), and featuring a top notch group of investors in the water space, has been moved to February 16th.  More details here.

Here are my links for this week:

NRG, ConocoPhillips and GE dive into energy venture capital together with a $300 million fund: Corporate Investors

Cold Fusion From Italy Nearly Commercial Ready. Now this could be a game-changer: Cold Fusion

News about a couple of Green Skeptic portfolio holdings:

EnerNOC Buys M2M for Its Wireless Tech and Utility Contracts in California, Midwest: $ENOC

Cree raises stakes in LED bulb race with a 60W replacement: $CREE

One Degree Solar, which supplies solar products in developing countries is trying to raise $8,000 in 50 days to win the Unreasonable Institute competition.  Join me in supporting this excellent social enterprise: One Degree Solar

DOE's Energy Innovation Portal links energy technologies with market opportunities: DOE

Advancing the clean energy partnership between the United States and China: China-US

And, finally, my pal Alexander Conrad is just trying to get his wife back from China.  But the USCIS is being a pain in the you-know-what.  Read this story and then write to Congressman Larsen to urge him to reunite this family. 

Have a great weekend everyone!

(Disclosure: I hold a long positions in ENOC and CREE. This post is for informational purposes only and is neither intended to be investment advice nor an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities.  I also serve on the advisory board of One Degree Solar and am co-founder and board member of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic.)

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26 January 2011

80 Percent Clean Energy by 2035? I'm Skeptical, Mr. President

Source: AE2011, US EIA
I missed President Obama's State of the Union address last night because I was meeting with the good people at Investor's Circle.

On my way home, however, my Twitterstream was all abuzz  about the President's shout-out to a clean energy future.

Did he really commit to "80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources" by 2035?

Apparently, he did. It's right there in the transcript (along with a liberal sprinkling of the word "applause").

While many applaud the sentiment, some of us remain skeptical about the feasibility of such a target.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with two of the statements the President made on clean energy. The first is, "clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling."

True enough. And it is also true that industry needs a clear signal on the price of carbon or the regulatory constraints they will face. Still to be determined how we get that, and no mention of it last night.

I also agree with the President that we need it all: wind, solar, clean coal, natural gas...and nuclear.

But 80 percent renewables clean energy by 2035? Well, I'm skeptical.

Even our own US Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook for 2011 (AE2011), released late last year, projects that renewables will climb to only 14 percent by 2035. This does not take into account natural gas, which they project will climb to 25 percent, or nuclear, at 17 percent.

If you take an inclusive view of clean energy, that adds up to 56 percent by 2035. With coal at 43 percent in the AE2011 (and the last one percent coming from "oil and other liquids") making up the difference, I'm assuming a large chunk of that is going to have to become -- rather quickly -- clean coal.

And by the way, China, with its aggressive investments in clean technologies, has set a goal of 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020 and 30 percent by 2050.

So forgive me if I remain skeptical about the 80 percent target. I'd prefer to see a realistic plan, with real targets, real investment (public and private), and a real demonstration that the political will exists to make it happen.

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24 January 2011

Water Investing on the Brain

Impact of water in a water-surface
I've got water on the brain these days. Especially water investing opportunities. In part, because I'm moderating a panel on water investment this week.

The panel is a mix of private and public market experts, including Judson Hill of NGP Global Adaptation Partners, William Brennan of Summit Global, Kevin Brophy of Meidlinger Partners, and Karl Kyriss of Aqua America. 

You can register for the event, which takes place on Thursday, January 27th, 11:00-1:30 PM, in Philadelphia, here.

One of the topics of our conversation will be the perceived barriers to entry in water investing.

Many investors simply don't understand the water space and that keeps them out.  Some feel the barriers to entry are too high.  For example, here are three things commonly heard:
1.) "The water business is too fragmented to allow new technologies to scale."
2.) "Water is a highly conservative, public sphere" – even investor owned utilities seem to have that stigma – and "the sector lacks innovation and money."
3.) "Water technologies take too long to be adopted" in the sector (thus, water doesn't fit well into the typical VC model).

While water is a $500 billion/year industry, it garners a little over $120 milllion in venture capital funding, according to Global Water Intelligence.  This can only grow if investors are educated to reduce their fears of getting their feet wet in water investing.

And like the surge in energy interest over the past decade, I think interest and money will eventually flow into water and flood over time. (Pun intended.)

Increased awareness about water shortages and scarcity is driving innovation as everyone looks for ways to use water smarter and more efficiently.

Other innovations that seem poised for potential investment include desalination, water management devices, reuse and recycling, filtering, leakage sensor technologies, and agriculture.

Demand for clean water in developing countries is on the rise – and will be increased if climate change impacts snow pack, glacier-fed streams, and aquifer recharge.

Water is getting more expensive and is increasingly being seen as a valuable commodity rather than a cheap, easily dispensable resource. As a colleague in the space said to me a few weeks ago, most of this is being ignored by the investment community other than a handful of big players. 

And most of those are not based in the US, with the recent exception being some of the biggest names in the VC business: Khosla, Kleiner Perkins, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. 

Assuming others will try to catch their wave, Jud Hill may be right in saying that "Buckets, buckets of money" can be made in water," as he told a meeting of bankers and investors in Geneva last November.

The event is jointly presented by Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic and the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies, and sponsored and hosted by MorganLewis.

(Disclosure: I am a co-founder and board member of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, a business network for cleantech professionals.)

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21 January 2011

Green Skeptic Friday LinkFest - 01/21/11

China State VisitImage by TalkMediaNews 
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the US this week and cleantech cooperation was on the agenda, along with a flurry of collaboration announcements.

Terry Cooke attended the welcome ceremony and writes about it on his US-China Energy blog: What's the Real Deal with Hu Jintao's State Visit?

Timed with the visit was the announcement of an agreement between Duke Energy and China’s ENN Group to cooperate in developing coordinated technologies to power the cities and transportation: Duke-ENN

GE and China also announced plans to partner on clean coal technology:  GE and China.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu wrote about the big picture on the DOE's blog energy.gov: "Discover and Deliver: The Big Picture on Energy". 

Secretary Chu also told the Conference of Mayors on Wednesday that the United States might not get its “groove back” as the world leader in manufacturing high-quality clean technologies: Chu Groove.

Meanwhile, Ucilia Wang pondered whether natural gas is a serious foe or friend to renewable energy: Don’t Underestimate The Impact of Natural Gas on Renewables

Scientific American's David Biello considered the path for scaling up renewables: Green Energy’s Big Challenge: The Daunting Task of Scaling Up.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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20 January 2011

Will "Peak Water" Provide Opportunities for Investors?

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev... The phrase "Peak Water" was featured as one of the New York Times words that made the year for 2010.  But is it a useful concept and what does it mean for investors?

I've been thinking about the term peak water since a friend of mine asked if I'd seen it on the Times' words of the year list.  As described on that list, peak water is "like 'peak oil,' a theory that humans may have used the water easiest to obtain, and that scarcity may be on the rise."

Meena Palaniappan and Peter H. Gleick, of the Pacific Institute and authors of The World's Water 2008-2009, parse the phrase and find it wanting in this chapter (PDF) from their new book.

Ultimately, the authors point out, water and oil don't correlate as resources go.  The former is infinitely available globally and essential to life; the latter is a finite resource and one for which, despite our addiction to it, we can find or fabricate alternatives.

That said, the world's freshwater reserves are estimated at around 35 million cubic kilometers, according to Gleick and Palaniappan, with the majority of that being "locked up in glaciers and permanent snow cover, or deep groundwater inaccessible to humans."

And while the earth has an overall stock of 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water, almost 97 percent of it is salt water in the oceans. The authors point out that "the concept of running out of water at the global scale is of little practical utility. There are huge volumes of water -- many thousands of times the volumes humans appropriate for all purposes."

However, regional and local impacts of water use and scarcity can be huge and the disparity of access to freshwater can be great.  So, while the authors conclude that "the use of 'peak water' may be flawed in key ways," it may help to call attention to the need for recognizing the true value of water as a commodity rather than as a cheap resource.

For investors willing to get their toes in the water, so to speak, there may be opportunities trailing the "peak water" trend, as demand for clean, fresh water grows in developing countries and even in the US. 

Island nations and desert countries have already had to get more creative about how they access clean water, which has led to innovations in desalination, rainwater collection, water reuse, and treatment technologies. 

Agriculture and energy provide additional opportunities for investors, as both are large consumers of water.  Smart irrigation, filtration, and efficiency technologies will be key in these sectors, as both try to better manage and increase the productivity of this essential resource.

We've seen an increased interest among investors in clean energy technologies over the past decade, will water be next in line for growth? 

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18 January 2011

US-China Cleantech: A Call for Cooperation and Healthy Competition

President Barack Obama and Chinese President H...Image via Wikipedia

All eyes will be on Washington when Chinese President Hu Jintao comes to town to meet with President Obama this week.

While the two leaders have much to talk about, including the situation in North Korea, ongoing trade, currency, and human rights issues, we hope they leave room on their agenda for constructive dialogue on cleantech and energy.
The two countries began a collaboration in November 2009 launching the joint US-China Clean Energy Research Center, with financial support to the tune of $150 million over five years coming from both sides.
Yet recent conflicting statements from Obama administration officials demonstrate ambivalence when it comes to US-China relations on cleantech and energy.  
Department of Energy Secretary Chu has called China's cleantech ramp-up our "Sputnik moment"; while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called for "implementing the agreements on transparency, funding and clean-energy technology."

The Hu-Obama meetings could set the tone for relations.  Let's hope it is more about cooperation and healthy competition than posturing and protectionism.

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14 January 2011

Green Skeptic Friday LinkFest - 01/14/11

Okay folks, the picture at right has nothing whatsoever to do with cleantech, the environment, or green...well, unless you count the Jets colors. 

As my readers and Twitter-followers know, I am a lifelong New England Patriots fan, from the time they were the Boston Patriots.  (The famous Patriots place kicker, John Smith, of the "Snowplow Game" was a substitute teacher in my elementary school. Nice guy.)  Anyway, go Pats!

Here are my links for this week:

Home energy upgrader Mark Group Wins $1.7M Contract with PGW.

Global investment in green energy hit record in 2010, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

On electric vehicles:

Martin LaMonica of CNET's Green Tech blog, pointed us to this old study from NRDC about the emissions reductions of hybrid vs. plug-in cars. "Hybrids are clutcher than you think," said Martin: Plug-in (PDF),

Treehugger featured an interesting comparison of the life cycle environmental costs of combustion and electric vehicles: EV vs CO2,

and Mercedes-Benz Unveils its Electric Supercar at Detroit Auto Show.  I hope they have it in Philly in Feb!

Our pal Gregor MacDonald pointed out that new governors in Ohio and Wisconsin are "killing rail and building highways. Because driving cars on government roads with imported oil = freedom."

Meanwhile, my pal Wes at the American Partnership blog wrote about "The 112 Congress, Federalism and Transportation Policy"  

On the China-US relations front, three important posts:

Dance of US-Chinese 'Mutual Dependence' Moves from Wall Street to Main Street.

US Must Cut $100 Billion from Defense to Compete with China on Clean Energy. 

China’s Green Ambition, US Sees Red.

Finally, if you like my Tweets (or what you read here) please nominate me for a Shorty Award

Have a great weekend and Go Pats! (No offenths Jets fans...)

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13 January 2011

Is Water the Next Carbon? from Harvard Business Review

Andrew Winston and Will Sarni ask Is Water the Next Carbon? in last week's Harvard Business Review blog.  Here's how they opened their post:
We all take water for granted. Even though water is critical for human life, ecosystems and as a major process or product input for industry, it's a resource that very few of us think actively about managing. And of all environmental issues, it's the least debatable; when there's no more water in a region, you don't need scientists to tell you.

Companies need to develop strategies for managing this important resource as water stress becomes the norm in many regions of the world. As a starting point, some organizations are now conducting "water footprints" to figure out where in the value chain their businesses are vulnerable.

Doesn't this sound familiar? Haven't we been down this road before with energy and carbon emissions? It's very easy to describe water as 'the next carbon', and many have, but it's not really the same.

It's worth reading both for what the authors point out as the differences between carbon and water, and for the opportunities inherent in the increasing constraints on this most valuable resource.

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11 January 2011

Will an Electric Car Save You Money? The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

Earlier today I helped Stuart Varney on FOX Business answer a question from a viewer about the cost to charge an electric car versus a gasoline-powered engine. 

The bottom line is, electric vehicles will be cheaper than gas.

Here is a video:

If the viewer doesn't play in your browser, here is a link: Green Skeptic on FOX Business.

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07 January 2011

Green Skeptic Friday LinkFest - 01/07/11

Hockey in 1901.
A new year and some of the same old arguments and debates.  Will this be the year we break the logjam and get the new green economy running in the US?

Here are my links for the first week of the new year:

The Breakthrough Institute's Shellenberger and Nordhaus on Why Climate Science Divides Us But Energy Technology Unites Us

The new Chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, Texas Republican Representative Ralph Hall is not a climate skeptic.  He believes it is happening but wants to Probe 'Quality' of Climate Science

In a curious twist, the Sierra Club is suing to stop a landmark solar development: Whose Side Are They On?

Meanwhile, China's Goldwind wins wind energy order of 76.5 MW in Ethiopia: Goldwind.

and Arch, Peabody seek coal exporting deals to Asia. 

Ciris Energy raised $24 million to biochemically convert coal to methane at large scale and low cost: Serious about Ciris,

and battery company Ener1 Completes $25 Million Capital Raise, while

CleanTechies blog speculates that Electric Vehicles are in for Remarkable Ride in 2011.

And, finally, Paul Kedrosky talks about the "Webification" of Energy in Harvard Business Review's HBR Agenda 2011.

Have a great weekend everybody.

05 January 2011

Review: The Hidden Cleantech Revolution by John Moore and Toby Shute

An ugly truth of the new green economy is that the energy transition away from carbon-based fuels will be slow and powered by the very fuels from which we're transitioning.  We'll be using coal, oil, and natural gas for many years to come. 

Here at The Green Skeptic we've long made the point that we need to fire on all cylinders during this long transition, but do so in a way that is less destructive, less harmful to the environment and that seeks efficiency and fosters innovation.

John Moore and Toby Shute, authors of The Hidden Cleantech Revolution share this view and extrapolate on it in their slim book subititled "Five Priorities for Securing America's Energy Future -- Without Breaking the Bank."

Moore is Chair and CEO of Acorn Energy, a holding company focused on improving the efficiency and environmental impact of the energy infrastructure, and Shute writes about energy for The Motley Fool

They suggest that alternative generation is "destined to have negligible impact on our energy challenges for at least two decades." (Emphasis theirs.)

Yet already available technologies can get more out of our current energy system.

Improving productivity, in addition to finding efficiencies and reducing consumption, can be accomplished, the authors argue, by using information technology to make our energy better, which means cleaner and safer, as well as less expensive and more reliable.

The authors suggest we need to get more out of the grid, oil and gas, coal, and nuclear while investing in safety, security and resilience in the energy infrastructure. 

They further postulate that our energy portfolio should be diverse, but that there is much "that is happening today without government subsidies to choose the lowest cost, lower risk and highest return investments to secure our future."

The book will anger some -- especially those who just don't believe another nuclear plant should ever be built in the US again or that coal plants can't be re-engineered to burn cleaner and more efficiently. 

But Moore and Shute make a good case in a briefing style format, backed by a deep understanding of some of the latest technologies (albeit it some technologies from companies clearly disclosed as part of the Acorn portfolio).

"Simply maintaining our electrical grid at its current capacity will soon require a $1 trillion capital investment," the authors offer. "The coal-fired plants that supply 50 percent of our electricity, for instance, on average have a 40-year life expectancy. At this writing, 70 percent of them are over 30 years old."

"Even if we set aside the enormous sums of money involved, these are not trivial concerns," write Moore and Shute. "Choices we make in the next ten years may determine the prosperity and security of our nation for the next hundred."

The book is available for free as a PDF at The Hidden Cleantech Revolution

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03 January 2011

ThinkEco Introduces "Modlet" for Home

Image representing ThinkEco as depicted in Cru...Modlet, CrunchBase
ThinkEco, a New York City-based company that I've written about previously on The Green Skeptic, will debut the home version of its "modlet," at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas later this week.

The modlet, which is short for modern outlet, is a wireless "intelligent" outlet that will trim energy waste from plugged-in appliances and consumer electronics.

ThinkEco's modlet will be available for home use this spring for around $50 for a starter kit, including one two-plug modlet and a USB receiver.

"There are more appliances and consumer electronics in homes today than ever before, and many draw power all the time, even if they are not being used," said Jun Shimada, ThinkEco's president and CEO in a press release. "This wastes energy quietly and invisibly, in stark contrast to the very visible waste associated with other resources such as keeping your faucet on or idling your car."

With ThinkEco's modlet, according to the company, you can schedule your outlets to shut off automatically when plugged-in devices are not needed and turn them back on at a scheduled time based on usage patterns. You can even control it from your mobile phone (as long as it is not power-down by the modlet, I suspect).

I'm hoping to test one of these babies in my own home, specifically on an outlet where I charge my BlackBerry overnight and can't be bothered to get up in the middle of the night to unplug it after charging.

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