Friday, November 30, 2012

Foundation, Solar Company Partner to Help Power DRC Hospital

The U.S.-based Global Echo foundation has announced it is partnering with Chinese company Suntech to provide solar power to a hospital in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Philippe Cousteau Jr., the co-founder of Global Echo, told VOA the project will help the Panzi Hospital address its problem of depending on expensive, unreliable energy.

“You want to make sure you can have reliable hot water, you want to make sure that you can conduct surgeries regularly when there's an emergency, you want to make sure that you have good, hot meals for the patients. So indeed, what these solar panels will do is exceed the current demand of the hospital with reliable, consistent energy.”

The hospital, located in Bakavu, specializes in treating gynecological disorders, particularly those suffered through reproductive trauma and sexual violence.

Cousteau said the facility uses a mix of oil, coal, electricity and diesel, and that switching to solar energy will have both a financial and environmental impact.

“This is helping the hospital by having consistent, renewable, reliable energy that's essentially free once the capital costs — which we are all contributing — are complete, thus saving the hospital a great deal of money that it can then invest in infrastructure and in serving its patients better.”

Suntech is donating about $500,000 worth of solar panels for the project. The company says the panels will provide up to 300 kilowatts of power.

Global Echo is contributing at least $150,000 needed for equipment, design and implementation, and is working to bring others to provide another $250,000 to meet those costs.

The foundation is supported by money from the Global Echo investment fund, which launched earlier this year with a strategy of investing in companies that have a positive technological, social or environmental impact on the planet.

Cousteau said the fund began as a way to “innovate different ways of creating change.”

“Anybody has an opportunity through their investment choices to invest with value, to invest with impact, and to follow their values in terms of where they allocate their investments.”

Cousteau is an explorer and environmental advocate, and is the grandson of famous French filmmaker and oceanographer Jacques -Yves Cousteau.


China Development Bank Renews Solar Support, Journal Says

China Development Bank Corp. plans to renew a pledge of support for 12 solar companies, an indication the government is pressing for consolidation within the industry that’s suffering from excess capacity.
The state-owned lender is preparing to recommend stronger financial support for Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP), Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL) and Yingli Solar Co., the official China Securities Journal reported, citing an unidentified person. It also named Hareon Solar Technology Co. (600401), Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. (002506) and Sungrow Power Supply Co. (300274), without disclosing the other six companies in line for priority funding.

The disclosure may point to a lever the government will use to ensure the companies that dominate the global solar industry survive a 44 percent plunge in cell prices in the past year that has gutted margins across the industry. Neither the bank nor the companies named confirmed the report.

“This is important to the industry that only 12 selected companies can receive state support, indicating the government’s intention to speed up industry consolidation,” said Jessica Ng, an industry analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Beijing. “It seems like Suntech, Trina, and Yingli will survive from this with, while LDK may be struggling to get on the list.”

Solar Support

China Development Bank has extended $43.2 billion in credit lines to 12 Chinese solar companies since 2010, according to data compiled by New Energy Finance. That helped ensure Suntech, Trina and Yingli became three of the world’s top five solar module makers, pushing out German and Japanese companies that formerly led the industry.

Not included in today’s report were LDK Solar Co. Ltd. (LDK), JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd. (JKS) and JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. (JASO), which also rank among the top 10.

The report may indicate how the government will support recommendations from the State Council in July that set a target for raising the country’s solar installations to 50 gigawatts in 2020 from about 3.6 gigawatts now.

The Securities Journal, founded by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, said China Development Bank will soon submit the recommendations to the National Development and Reform Commission for approval.

Control on Loans

Lending to the rest of the industry will be strictly controlled and the bank won’t provide financing solely for the expansion of manufacturing capacity, the newspaper said.

As state policies encourage consolidation among China’s solar companies, the bank will support acquisitions of smaller firms by larger ones, the Securities Journal said.

Two calls to Feng Qihua, a spokeswoman for China Development Bank in Beijing, went unanswered. Suntech’s spokesman Rory Macpherson declined to comment. Two calls and an e-mail to Yingli officials weren’t returned.

The solar industry is grappling with an oversupply after Suntech and its rivals boosted production capacity, sending the cost of panels tumbling. The average Chinese module price has plunged about 35 percent to 77 cents a watt from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

The European Union on Sept. 6 opened a probe into whether Chinese manufacturers of solar modules sell products at a loss, following a U.S. decision earlier this year to hit the Chinese industry with anti-dumping duties as high as 250 percent.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tesla Plans To Build Solar Chargers Along Major Us Highways For Its Vehicle Owners

Tesla Motors has some of the coolest electric vehicles on the market today including the Roadster and the new Model S. Despite how cool these electric vehicles are people may still have the same range anxiety with these cars as they would any other electric vehicle, such as the Nissan Leaf or others. Tesla has a plan to address this range anxiety, and the plan has nothing to do with bigger batteries.

Tesla has announced that it plans to build a network of solar-powered chargers along major US highways to expand the driving range of Tesla vehicles. The chargers would be offered to Tesla owners at no charge. The company has already installed the first six of the high-speed chargers along highways in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

The high-powered solar chargers are able to recharge a Model S sedan at a rate of 100 kW. The high power of the souped-up chargers allows the vehicle to travel for three additional hours of highway driving with 30 minutes of charging. Each of the Chargers cost Tesla $250,000.

The charger can charge 4 to 6 Tesla electric vehicles at one time. Tesla’s overall plan is to install 100 of the new solar chargers over the next three to four years at a total cost of $20 million-$30 million. Tesla also plans to begin opening the so-called “superchargers” in Europe and Asia in the second half 2013.


EU Solar Makers Demand China Tariffs With Second Complaint

European Union solar-panel makers, which persuaded regulators to probe Chinese companies for unfair pricing, stepped up demands for tariffs, accusing their rivals of receiving illegal subsidies.

EU ProSun, an industry group led by Germany’s Solarworld AG (SWV), filed an anti-subsidy complaint today at the European Commission in Brussels, Milan Nitzschke, the group’s president, said in an interview. EU ProSun says that Chinese exporters of solar panels benefit from trade-distorting government aid.

“China seeks a monopoly in the solar sector and subsidizes the local industry with billions,” Nitzschke said in an e- mailed statement. “That’s leading to overcapacities and ruinous price competition.”

On Sept. 6, the commission, the EU’s trade authority, started to investigate whether Chinese manufacturers sold solar panels and the cells and wafers used in them in the 27-nation bloc below cost, a practice known as dumping. EU ProSun initiated the case, the biggest of its kind in Europe covering 21 billion euros ($27 billion) of EU imports, with a complaint filed in July.

The two complaints highlight European concerns about the expansion of Chinese solar companies led by Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP), which have grabbed market share from European rivals that were once dominant. They follow a U.S. decision earlier this year to impose anti-dumping duties as high as 250 percent on the Chinese industry.

The impact on manufacturers would be “far, far worse” than U.S. actions because Europe consumed a majority of the world’s panels last year, said Aaron Chew, an analyst at Maxim Group LLC in New York.
Hurt Jobs

Chinese companies including Yingli Green Energy Co. and Suntech, the world’s biggest panel-maker, have in the past denied engaging in unfair trade activities. Trade barriers such as duties imposed on solar panels would only slow the expansion of clean-energy sources and hurt jobs in Europe’s solar industry, Shi Zhengrong, Suntech’s executive chairman and chief strategy officer, said Sept. 6.

EU ProSun says Chinese companies benefit from unfair government aid including “nearly unlimited” state-owned bank financing. “The loans are often not paid back, or are paid back via additional loans or directly by the state,” Nitzschke said.

China Development Bank Corp., which is state-owned and lends to promote official policies, has extended $43.2 billion in credit lines to 12 Chinese solar companies since 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Politically Sensitive

German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted the political sensitivity of the dispute during a visit last month to Beijing, telling reporters “it would be better to solve this in talks.”

Comments from officials show they want to negotiate and may not want to impose trade sanctions, said Chew. “It’s hard to believe Germany would allow the collateral damage if this erupted into a broader trade war.”

Q-Cells SE (QCE) and Solon SE (SOO1) once were “critical solar companies” and are now foreign-owned and less important to the German economy, said Chew. Robert Bosch GmbH, Daimler AG (DAI) and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG employ more people and are “even more critical,” he said. The adverse effect upon such companies may outweigh the potential benefit that tariffs may provide to Germany’s struggling solar companies.

Solarworld gained 2 percent to 1.35 euros at the close in Frankfurt.
U.S. Levies

In addition to anti-dumping duties, the U.S. introduced anti-subsidy levies against China’s solar industry earlier this year.

While China faces more EU anti-dumping duties than any other nation, the bloc has so far applied anti-subsidy levies against Chinese goods only once -- on paper. Two separate probes that were opened earlier this year and continue could lead to European anti-subsidy duties on Chinese bicycles and steel.

The commission has 45 days to decide whether to open an inquiry that may lead to anti-subsidy tariffs on shipments of the renewable-energy goods from China. As in a dumping case, the commission has nine months from the start of any investigation to decide on provisional measures.

EU governments have 13 months from the beginning of a subsidy probe -- rather than the 15 months for dumping cases -- to impose “definitive” anti-subsidy duties for five years.


Bosch, I2BF Invest in Utilight’s Cheaper Solar-Cell Technology

Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH and I2BF Global Ventures invested in Utilight Ltd., an Israeli producer of technology to cut the cost of making solar cells.

Waarde Capital BV, based in the Netherlands, also added to the $4.5 million financing, New York-based clean technology investor I2BF said today in an e-mailed statement.

Utilight, founded in 2009, is developing a cheaper way to apply a conducting metal layer to photovoltaic cells. Producers are trying to reduce costs after a price war between Chinese companies and European rivals cut panel prices in half in 2011. Bosch, a unit of the biggest car-parts supplier, has solar assets since buying Ersol Solarstrom GmbH & Co. KG in 2008.

“Utilight’s innovation comes at a crucial time for the industry,” Alexey Belyakov, partner and head of research at I2BF, said in the statement. “It brings solar PV cell manufacturers exactly what they need -- manufacturing efficiency and higher performance of their products.”

Utilight’s method of wafer-metallization, known as pattern transfer printing, avoids excessive use of materials including silver paste and allows cells to generate more power, I2BF said.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Getting Solar Dynamic Observatory into Focus

NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) moved into its semi-annual eclipse season, a time when Earth blocks the telescope's view of the sun for a period of time each day. Scientists choose orbits for solar telescopes to minimize eclipses as much as possible, but they are a fact of life -– one that comes with a period of fuzzy imagery directly after the eclipse.

The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on SDO observes the sun through a glass window. The window can change shape in response to temperature changes, and does so dramatically and quickly when it doesn't directly feel the sun's heat. "You've got a piece of glass looking at the sun, and then suddenly it isn't," says Dean Pesnell, the project scientist for SDO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The glass gets colder and flexes. It becomes like a lens. It's as if we put a set of eye glasses in front of the instrument, causing the observations to blur." To counteract this effect, HMI was built with heaters to warm the window during an eclipse. By adjusting the timing and temperature of the heater, the HMI team has learned the best procedures for improving resolution quickly. Without adjusting the HMI front window heaters, it takes about two hours to return to optimal observing.

During an eclipse, lack of heat from the sun causes the window in front of SDO’s Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) to change shape. This causes a blurry image for about 45 minutes after Earth finishes its transit across the sun, as shown on the left. The right half shows HMI data at its usual high resolution, data which helps scientists observe sunspots and their magnetic characteristics. Credit: NASA/SDO/HMI Over the two years since SDO launched in 2010, the team has brought the time it takes to get a clear image down from 60 minutes to around 45 to 50 minutes after an eclipse. "We allocated an hour for these more blurry images," says Pesnell. "And we've learned to do a lot better than that. With 45 eclipses a year, the team gets a lot of practice."


Solar glass that traps sunlight and boosts solar power - Cleantech News and Analysis

Researchers have long been hard at work figuring out ways that solar panels can convert more sunlight into electricity. A startup hailing from Australia, Brisbane Materials, now says it’s figured out how to do this effectively using an anti-reflective coating, and on Monday it plans to announce an AUD $5 million ($5.2 million) Series A investment to help it ship its technology to its first customers.

Brisbane Materials’ anti-reflective coating helps solar panels trap more light and the tech can boost the power output of solar panels by 3 percent, says its CEO Gary Wiseman. That means, for example, a solar panel that could produce 100 watts of energy without the coating will be able to yield 103 watts with Brisbane’s technology. Competing coating products can deliver 2 percent or less, says Wiseman.

A 3 percentage-point gain is significant not just because the panel delivers more electricity, but because the innovation could reduce the overall cost of installing a solar energy system. While you might be paying a higher price for more efficient solar panels, you can get a lot more electricity out of them, and in the end that will make the cost per kilowatt-hour of energy lower.

Whether Brisbane can deliver its coating technology at affordable prices is unclear because Wiseman declined to reveal those figures. Anti-reflective coatings are not a new idea and they are commonly found on the sheet of glass that protects solar cells in each solar panel or on the solar cells themselves.

Brisbane’s coating doesn’t go on cells but on that sheet of glass. A liquid solution containing silicon dioxide goes onto the glass and, after being heated at room temperature, forms an ultra-thin layer of porous glass that reduces reflection by 75 percent, Wiseman said. The combination of the air pockets in the layer and the glass itself, both having different light-refracting properties, is what does the trick. The intellectual property lies with the materials and the process of how the layer takes shape, and understandably Wiseman declined to disclose them.

A lot of research has looked at the use of silicon dioxide with other materials, such as silicon nitride or titanium dioxide, to create better anti-reflective coating.

The ability to form this porous glass layer in room temperature is key to keeping the cost of using the technology low, Wiseman said. Usually, high temperatures of around 600-degree Celsius is needed to coat and bond a liquid to a solid material, and that requires significant heating costs, he said. The coating can go on as the last step in making the glass or solar panels.

The company is selling the liquid material and the know-how of coating it while Austrian company, EV Group, sells the factory equipment for the process. The equipment became available for sale only this summer, and the sales targets are both glass and solar panel makers. Wiseman declined to disclose the names of customers who are trialing the technology.

Although Brisbane was founded only last year, the technology development began in 2005 at the University of Queensland in Australia. The university sold the technology to Brisbane and then provided seed funding along with some angel investors in the U.S.

The new round will enable the company to scale up manufacturing in its hometown. Brisbane also has a sales office in Menlo Park. Southern Cross Venture Partners and New Venture Partners are lead investors of the new round. Southern Cross manages a $200 million fund that counts the Australian government and Softbank China Venture Capital as investors.


Gadling Gear Review: Solar Chargers For Travel

Keeping all of our electronic gadgets charged while traveling can be a real challenge, particularly if you're visiting a remote part of the world where electricity is at a premium. But just as the gizmos we carry with us have gotten more sophisticated so have the options for keeping them powered. One of those options is taking a solar charger with us when we hit the road. A solar cell provides clean, efficient and, in theory, limitless power for our tech toys.

Here are two distinctly different solar chargers aimed at very different types of travelers. Both are excellent for what they do, and while they each use light from the sun to create electricity, their similarity pretty much ends there.

Solio Classic2

The Classic2 is Solio's second-generation, travel solar charger, replacing their older Classic model, which was one of the earliest compact chargers on the market. The Classic2 improves on its predecessor in some key areas making it a much more efficient option to have in your pack when you travel. Those improvements include doubling the battery capacity and adding a full-size USB port integrated into the device. The previous version came with a number of special adapters, which were incredibly inconvenient to carry along on a trip. Since most devices, including smartphones and cameras, now charge via USB, this was an evolutionary, but very welcome, change.

The Classic2 features three small solar cells, each embedded in its own arm. When collapsed the device is small, lightweight and compact. It weighs just 10.1 ounces and easily slips into a backpack, carry-on bag or luggage. When ready to collect energy from the sun, it opens up like a flower, exposing all three cells for maximum efficiency. The energy is then stored in a 3200-mAh internal battery, which in turn is used to charge our devices via the built-in USB port.
Solio says that it should take 8-10 hours to charge the Classic2's internal battery from the sun, but in my testing it was definitely closer to the high side of that estimate, if not longer. Cloudy days and the amount of exposure to direct sunlight can impact that charging time dramatically. Fortunately, the internal battery can also be topped off from a wall socket or from a USB port on a computer. In both cases, it takes roughly six hours to charge the battery.

The built-in USB port on this charger provides up to 1 Amp of power, which puts it on par with a typical wall charger. That means it can charge a smartphone or MP3 player in fairly short order. Solio claims charging an iPhone takes about 90 minutes, although again I found it took a bit longer. It was closer to 2 hours in my testing, although the internal battery did provide nearly three full recharges on an iPhone 4S. It should be noted that the Classic2 is also capable of charging an iPad, although it is a slow process and it will drain the entire charge.

The Solio Classic2 is perfect for travelers who enjoy traveling light and may need to juice up their gadgets a few times while on the road. It's compact, easy to pack and works as advertised. I'd recommend using it for cellphones, GPS units, MP3 players and point-and-shoot cameras. Anything more than that is likely to provide results that are a bit more frustrating.

Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit

Goal Zero's Guide 10 Adventure KitLarger and more powerful than Solio's offering, the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit from Goal Zero is designed for the adventure traveler that intends to be in the backcountry for an extended period of time. It features twin 9-inch solar panels that are capable of generating up to 7 Watts of power, charging up the included battery pack in as little as 3-4 hours. Like the Solio Classic2, this kit features a built-in USB port capable of putting out a 1 Amp charge but it also includes 4 AA batteries, a rechargeable flashlight and cables that help round out the package, providing everything you need to keep your gadgets charged while living off the grid.

Putting Goal Zero's solar charger to the test, I found that it wasn't necessarily faster at charging up my devices than Solio's much smaller device. That's in part because they both share that same 1 Amp USB charging port, which made charging times on smartphones and cameras roughly the same. Where the Guide 10 Plus shines is that it can charge its battery pack much more quickly and consistently than the Solio Classic2. Collecting power from the sun is a more viable option with the Guide 10 Plus kit, and while with Solio's offering it, it was a more uneven experience.

The Guide 10 is considerably larger than the Classic2, although it does fold up into a rather compact form for transport. The solar cells are designed to connect to a backpack so that they can collect the suns rays while hiking throughout the day. That means by the time you make camp in the evening, you'll have gathered plenty of power to charge your gadgets overnight.

It should be noted that like the Solio Classic2, the Guide 10 kit is more than capable of charging your iPad using nothing but solar power. No matter which device you use, it can be a slow process, particularly with the higher capacity batteries of the iPad 3. The larger solar cells make this a more efficient process on Goal Zero's offering, however, and that is the option I'd recommend if you absolutely need to keep your tablet powered while in the field.

Both the Classic2 and Guide 10 are viable options for using solar power and I think they are both good at what they do, provided you understand their strengths and limitations ahead of time. The Classic2 is small, compact and easy to carry everywhere. Its battery pack is good for 3-4 recharges of various devices, although it is slow to refill using the sun. On the other hand, the Guide 10 can charge much more quickly and reliably, but it is larger and bulkier to carry with you.

Most travelers will find the $99 Solio Classic2 will fit their needs quite nicely, while backpackers, mountaineers and long distance trekkers will appreciate what Goal Zero's Guide 10 Adventure Kit delivers. That $159 solution has everything they need to stay powered up for extended journeys and its more rugged construction is designed to stand up to punishment on those kinds of excursions.

It's great that we're finally to the point where solar power is a true option for gathering power while traveling.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fairbanks Solar Tour To Showcase Local Energy-Efficient Projects

A local endeavor that is part of a national solar tour is encouraging Fairbanks residents to visit homes and businesses today that are on the forefront of renewable energy use in Alaska.

Thirteen Interior homes and businesses are available to see as part of the 2012 Fairbanks Solar Tour. The local tour coincides with the national 2012 American Solar Tour taking place today across the nation in more than 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities.

The free, self-guided tours are a way to see a variety of renewable energy systems from professional installations to systems that homeowners have installed, said Karl Kassel, general manager of Arctic Sun, a local company that supports renewable energy systems and building efficiency and that also is spearheading the Fairbanks solar tour.

“The cost of most kinds of energy keeps going up,” Kassel said. “The cost of renewable energy keeps going down. A little more than a year ago, it got significantly cheaper than traditional methods of heating a home.”

Solar panels generally last 50 years, and even in Fairbanks with our arctic conditions, solar energy can have an impact on energy costs, he said. “We actually get a lot of energy throughout the course of the year. It’s usually the cleanest, cheapest and most abundant energy you can use,” Kassel said.

He cited the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District facilities building as one entity that is using solar energy as a means to cut heating costs. The facility at 1300 Minnie St., in the industrial district, is using a type of thin solar panel that looks like wallpaper. It is adhesive and has the advantage of sticking almost anywhere. The thin solar panels are attached to the outside of the building and generate a lot of power because they cover a large space.

“It’s a reasonable deal if you have the room to spread it over a large area,” Kassel said.

National Solar Day started as a grassroots approach encouraging solar energy use and the learning of how to use renewable energy. Originally, it focused on just solar power, but now many tours also incorporate wind and hydroelectric energy sources.

During today’s Fairbanks tour, which lasts from

10 a.m. to 4 p.m., representatives of the homes and business will be on hand to give tours and answer questions. Some of the businesses and homes on the tour include the Clark home, 2482 Chena Hot Springs Road; the Kuhn home, 2060 Amy Dyan Road; the Seifert home, 475 Panorama Drive; the Cummings home, 545 Fideler Road; Spirit of Alaska, 495 Harold Bentley Ave.; the Wickwire home, 2775 Hansen Way; Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, 1850 Hoselton Drive; and the Chlupp home, 2595 Allan Adale Road. A map with the addresses and names of each participating home and business can be found online at


Local Solar Company Trains Five Cities Firefighters on Solar Safety

Solarponics, the longest continuously owned and operated solar company in California, offered Five Cities Firefighters solar safety training courses. The courses took place September 4th, 5th, and 7th, each session educating a different group of 15-20 local firefighters. Classes covered the basics of how solar electric works, equipment components and other knowledge firefighters working around solar electric need to understand.

"Although solar panels have been around for some time, the fire service is now encountering more and more solar installations on businesses and residences," said Riki Heath, Five Cities Fire Authority Battalion Chief.

As solar PV systems increasingly appear on rooftops throughout the United States, especially in California, Solarponics felt that there was a need to train firefighters on system safety. Battalion Chief Heath said that though there is a training program offered by the state, he does not know how comprehensive the program is.

"The firefighters want to feel comfortable around solar electric systems. We want them to know that we are a resource if they have any questions," said Kristian Emrich, Vice President of Solarponics.

The training took place at CJ's Cafe, located at 611 E. Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande. CJ's was one of the first restaurants to install a solar panel system on the Central Coast. Using a location with an installed, operating solar system allowed Solarponics to give firefighters hands-on training, on CJ's roof.

"I believe this training is vital to the safety of all firefighters. I think it was a very good idea and I hope to repeat it on an annual basis. We greatly appreciate Solarponics for approaching us and offering the excellent training they provided us," said Heath.

The goal of the training program is to educate firefighters about the safest ways to interact with solar systems. Emrich says there are few risks for firefighters who are aware and trained on how to work with solar systems. Solarponics plans to continue solar safety training for firefighters with another round of training next month. They encourage any fire department interested in learning more about solar safety to contact them.

"I am glad to work for a team that prides itself on preventative measures and truly specializes in not just solar, but the important safety measures associated with solar such as electrical codes," said Mike Wiegel, Design Manager and Solar Safety Trainer at Solarponics.

Future PV installs are expected to feature additional preventative measures required by The National Electrical Code (NEC), Cal Fire and local jurisdictions (AHJ). Some of these safety measures include walkways around all arrays, reflective labels to help identify solar conduits and separate devices to shut off each module.

Solarponics is the Central Coast's alternative energy pioneer, helping residents achieve energy independence for over 35 years. The longest continuously owned and operated solar company in California, Solarponics has been family owned and operated since 1975. Solarponics can install and service solar electric systems, solar hot water, wind energy systems, solar pool heating and radiant heating systems.


Veer Energy Buys New Millennium Solar Panels for India Project

Veer Energy & Infrastructure Ltd. (JHI), a Mumbai-based wind-power developer, bought solar panels for its first project in India from U.S.-based New Millennium Solar Equipment Corp.

Veer plans to install 400 thin-film panels of 58.5 watts each for a rooftop project in the Sanand district of the western Indian state of Gujarat, the company said in a filing today.

It will be Veer Energy’s first solar installation. The company, which plans to pursue larger megawatt-sized projects after this pilot, expects to earn an additional 20 million rupees ($374,111) profit in the year to March 31, 2014, from its solar business, it said.

New Millennium Solar was acquired in September 2011 by Sunlogics Inc., a Rochester Hills, Michigan-based company backed by General Motors Co. (GM) Sunlogics has changed its name to ViSole Energy Inc., according to its website.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Kuwait’s Abdaleyah Solar Plant Build Proposals Due Oct. 7

Kuwait will close a request for qualifications to bid for a solar-plant project in Abdaleyah, in the west of the country, on Oct. 7, the director of studies and research at the Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water said.

Toyota Tsusho Corp. (8015) conducted a feasibility study for the 280-megawatt power station, of which 60 megawatts will be solar power, Suhaila Marafi said at a conference in Dubai today. A tender to build the facility will be issued in April, she said.

The country also plans a 70-megawatt solar and wind plant. The project will be a joint venture between the ministry and Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and will be tendered next year as well, Marafi said.

In addition, solar panels have been placed on top of the ministry that will generate 1 megawatt of electricity soon, she said. Kuwait aims to generate 10 percent of its electricity from sustainable sources by 2020, Eyad Ali al-Falah, assistant undersecretary for technical services at the ministry, said last year. The country’s total power-generation capacity is 11,300 megawatts, according to a 2011 analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Agency.


U.S. Poised To Hand Over $197 Million To Another Solar Panel Start-Up

A tiny solar company named SoloPower will flip the switch on production at a U.S. factory Thursday, a major step toward allowing it to tap a $197 million government loan guarantee awarded under the same controversial program that supported failed panel maker Solyndra.
Solar panels are pictured in the Nevada Desert as U.S. President Barack Obama
visited the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada March 21, 2012

SoloPower has initiated a strategy to differentiate it from struggling commodity players in the solar panel industry. Still, there are several similarities between SoloPower and Solyndra - which became a lightning rod in the U.S. Presidential campaign this year after taking in more than $500 million in government loans and then filing for bankruptcy.

Like Solyndra, SoloPower is a Silicon Valley start-up and uses the same non-traditional raw material in its solar panels. And, like its now-defunct peer, SoloPower is one of just four U.S. panel manufacturers to clinch loan guarantees under the Department of Energy's $35 billion program to support emerging clean energy technologies. The DOE payments to SoloPower will come on top of the $56.5 million SoloPower has collected in loans, tax credits and incentives from the state of Oregon and the city of Portland, where its first factory will be located.

And, perhaps most importantly, SoloPower is entering the market at a time of cutthroat competition from cheaper solar products made in China.

Though global demand for photovoltaic solar installations is expected to grow about 8 percent this year, rapid expansion of panel manufacturing in Asia in recent years - combined with a pullback in government incentives in key European markets - has left a glut of solar panels in the market, sending prices down 30 percent this year alone.

Companies that make those panels are now struggling to survive. Even the world's largest solar panel maker, China's Suntech Power Holdings Inc, warned on Friday that it may be delisted by the New York Stock Exchange because its share price, which reached $90 in 2008, is now less than $1. Debt-heavy Suntech has also been hurt since it said in July that its partner in a solar development fund might have defrauded it with a bogus collateral pledge of hundreds of millions of German bonds.


These struggles have heaped political pressure on the sector. Republicans, intent on taking back the White House in November's election, are using Solyndra and other U.S. Department of Energy loan failures to brand the Obama administration's green incentives a waste of public money and fountain of cronyism. Solyndra, for instance, was backed by George Kaiser, a major fundraiser for Obama.

As the failures accumulate, Obama is under pressure to show better results for the program.

Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a "No More Solyndras" bill that would phase out the program for energy loans. It is highly unlikely to be taken up by the U.S. Senate or signed by Obama.

SoloPower says the comparisons to Solyndra are unwarranted.

The San Jose, California company's lightweight, flexible solar panels have a unique advantage, Chief Executive Tim Harris said in an interview. They are pointed squarely at commercial and industrial rooftops that can't support traditional panels, according to Harris, who said half of the buildings in the world can't bear the weight of heavy, rigid panels made with silicon. This includes many of the buildings that house warehouses and big box retailers, Harris said. In addition, he said SoloPower panels are commanding a price premium in a market that has become increasingly commoditized.

"We have way more demand than we have capacity at a very substantial premium price," Harris said in an interview. He declined to specify the premium SoloPower is able to charge, but said his company's product is best suited for markets such as Japan, Italy and Korea, which have high electricity prices and favorable incentives for rooftop systems.

The company has been able to raise more than $200 million in venture funding from investors including Crosslink Capital, Hudson Clean Energy Partners, Convexa Capital Ventures and Firsthand Capital Management.

"Before one dollar of the DOE loan is relied upon it will be demonstrable that this is a company that absolutely can manufacture a product that there will be verifiable demand for," said John Cavalier, a managing partner with Hudson Clean Energy Partners, which invested in SoloPower. "I don't think anyone will question the wisdom of making a loan of this nature to this company."

But some in the industry are skeptical of SoloPower's ability to succeed without having to lower its prices to compete with cheaper products from Asia.

"They are flexible and lightweight. Is anyone willing to pay a price premium for that? I would lean toward saying no," said Matt Feinstein, a solar industry analyst with Lux Research, a research and advisory firm that specializes in emerging technologies. "They have to compete head-to-head with the Chinese."


SoloPower must have its first production line up and running and meet other undisclosed milestones before it can begin to draw down funds from its U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee. Harris expects that to happen later this year or early next year. Funds from the loan guarantee will pay for construction of the rest of the Portland, Oregon factory, which is expected to be completed in 2014. DOE spokesman Damien LaVera would not provide details on the terms of SoloPower's loan guarantee and said the company's technology was not similar to Solyndra's, but would not elaborate.

Once completed, the plant will produce 400 megawatts of solar panels annually and employ about 400 people. There are 60 people working there currently.

SoloPower will be profitable once the first line is up and running producing panels, Harris said. Many solar companies, meanwhile, have been losing money as they scramble to cut costs as quickly as the prices on their products are falling.

Solyndra, for its part, drew down 99 percent of its $535 million loan guarantee without turning a profit.

Some project developers, bankers and others are wary of newer "thin film" solar technologies like SoloPower's that are less efficient than traditional panels at transforming the sun's light into electricity.

Thin film, a broad term for solar panels that don't use silicon as their raw material, became a darling of investors five years ago when solar-grade silicon prices soared to $500 a kilogram. Thin film makers argued that despite their shortcomings in efficiency, they could deliver far cheaper solar power than their silicon-reliant rivals. Today, however, an influx of capacity from Asia has driven spot prices for polysilicon to about $20 per kg, raising questions about the need to fund alternatives to silicon-based panels.

"SoloPower is going to have to deal with the industry perception right now that thin film is a dying technology," said GTM Research solar analyst MJ Shiao. "A start-up thin film manufacturer makes a lot of developers uneasy."

But SoloPower's Harris disputed that view, saying his company already has more orders than it can fill. "There is a pipeline of projects that are about ready to go that are just waiting for this lightweight module. If you want to put solar on, we're the only choice," he said. "It would be impossible to start a factory today unless you had a unique product."


Like Solyndra, SoloPower's panels use copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, as their raw material. CIGS panels have long held the promise of being cheaper than polysilicon-based panels while delivering efficiencies that are higher than other thin film technologies such as cadmium telluride, the raw material used by U.S. solar heavyweight First Solar Inc. The drastic drop in the price of traditional panels over the last few years, however, has kept CIGS manufacturers from delivering on that promise on a commercial scale.

In the last year, CIGS solar companies HelioVolt and Ascent Solar Technologies Inc have sold stakes to South Korean conglomerate SK Group and TFG Radiant Group, respectively. Another, Miasole, has cut staff and said publicly that it is searching for a partner. Rival Nanosolar earlier this month said its chief executive left after just eight months.

Though Solyndra is the best known solar failure of the last year, it was far from the only one. GTM Research estimates that the United States produced 281 megawatts of PV modules in the first half of 2012, compared with 561 MW in the first half of 2011. That's a big reason why a string of manufacturers in both the United States and Europe have closed their doors in the face of competition from increasingly cheap Chinese panels.

First Solar, for example, postponed indefinitely its plans for a second U.S. factory in Arizona because of the weak market conditions. Start-ups are being hit too. Of the four companies that received loan guarantees for photovoltaic solar manufacturing, two - Solyndra and Abound Solar - have filed for bankruptcy. SoloPower and Lexington, Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies Inc, which received a $150 million loan guarantee, remain. 1366 also has yet to draw down funds from its loan guarantee.

Even the Chinese manufacturers, whose products are the cheapest in the world, are losing money and struggling with ballooning inventories. One of the biggest Chinese solar companies, LDK Solar Co Ltd, said earlier this month that it was looking to raise cash and may sell a strategic stake.

For its part, SoloPower has hired Macquarie Capital to help it explore partnership opportunities. Such a deal could include giving distribution rights to a European or Asian partner in return for a stake in the company. SoloPower is not up for sale, however, Harris said.

In fact, the company could even pursue an initial public offering next year, Cavalier of Hudson Clean Energy Partners said.

"If the capital markets come back next year, I think we will be able to articulate the value that we offer to potential IPO investors," he said.


Three Vermont Companies Launch Solar Hot Water Installation Service

Three local organizations have joined together to help Vermonters save money by installing solar hot water systems. Sunward Systems is providing the solar collectors, EnergySmart of Vermont is installing the systems, and Washington Electric Co-op (WEC) is offering a discount to its members who go solar. All residents of Washington and Orange counties will receive $500 off an installed solar system. WEC members will receive an additional $250. The program will move to other areas of Vermont next year.

A typical family of four in Vermont spends $600 per year to heat water for domestic use. The Vermont Solar Hot Water Initiative will harness the power of the sun to reduce those costs.

In addition to sales tax-free equipment, savings include a 30% federal tax credit, a Vermont incentive of up to $1200, and additional discounts of $500 – $750 for Vermonters in Orange and Washington counties through December 31. Other areas of the state will follow. The cumulative savings allow for a solar hot water system to be installed at almost 50% off the typical cost.

“Adding a solar hot water system is one of the best ways to make your home more energy efficient and save money. The Vermont Solar Hot Water Initiative lowers the costs even further,” said Sunward CEO Thomas Hughes. Sunward is based in Vergennes.

EnergySmart is a social enterprise venture of the Central Vermont Community Action Council (CVCAC). “EnergySmart knows homeowners want the whole package – homes that are tight and comfortable powered by affordable renewable energy. It’s a great fit with our experience in energy renovations. We see a sustainable home as series of interconnected systems, working together to provide comfort and financial security. The Sunward solar hot water systems deliver both in an attractive, economical package,” said Paul Zabriskie, General Manager of EnergySmart and also a member of the Washington Electric Cooperative.

WEC was formed in 1939 to bring electricity to rural Vermont communities and to provide its members with a voice in their energy future. WEC General manager Avram Patt feels that the initiative aligns with the cooperative’s commitments to provide energy from clean and renewable sources, and to help its members use energy efficiently and wisely. “The Vermont Solar Hot Water Initiative supports several aspects of WEC’s mission. Using energy from the sun helps to minimize the environmental impacts from burning fossil fuels and generating electricity. The program also serves to support and promote our local economy and community organizations,” said Patt.

The Vermont Solar Hot Water Initiative is under way and runs through December 31, 2012. To get started, WEC members are encouraged to go to and click on the “Go Solar” link. Vermonters not served by WEC can go to and click the “Free Solar Consultation” link. They can then sign up for a free analysis of their current hot water use, as well as a free solar consultation.

Financing is also available through the VSECU Solar Loan program,, which can make the solar hot water systems cash-positive from Day One. For more information, go to or call Sunward toll-free at 1-877-803-2480.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rooftop Solar Installer SolarCity Files for IPO

SolarCity Corp., an installer of rooftop solar electric systems, on Friday filed initial paperwork for taking the company public in stock offering that could raise about $200 million.

The company, based in San Mateo, Calif., will trade on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol "SCTY." No details on the pricing or the timing of the IPO offered in the preliminary filing.

SolarCity and other installers have benefited in recent months by a plunge in the price of solar panels brought on by a worldwide manufacturing glut. The price plunge has crushed the profits of solar-panel makers, but has made solar electricity more competitive with retail electric rates and helped installers market systems to homeowners and businesses.

By combining federal and state subsidies for renewable energy, SolarCity and others can offer to install solar systems for no upfront payment that will lower customers' overall electricity costs.

Through the first six months of this year SolarCity had net loss of $23 million, according to the filing. The company's revenues grew 250 percent, to $71.4 million from $20.3 million over the same period last year.


Can California Cap And Trade Program Help Bridge Solar Financing Gap?

61.2 million greenhouse gas allowances go on sale November 14, in the first auction under California’s cap and trade program. That means it’s about time to decide how we’re going to spend the revenues, which are projected to be somewhere between $660 million to $3 billion. A billion of those dollars are already earmarked for General Fund relief and existing programs, but that still leaves a lot to work with. We know the funds must be spent to meet the goals of AB32—making California less carbon-intensive—but we don’t know exactly what that will mean in practice.

Which brings me to a new report about the vast potential for new rooftop solar projects in California. According to the research, conducted by Energy and Environmental Economics for the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), the state could add 15 GW of new local solar – we’re talking about rooftops, not utility-scale installations—to the grid by 2020, making the state’s electricity system more diverse and saving utilities the cost of transmission infrastructure and maintenance to boot. You can find a great synopsis of the report here.

So how do the auction and these solar projects relate to one another? Well, ideally, if we have all this solar potential in California, one great use for auction revenues would be to somehow use them to dramatically scale up distributed solar across the state.

There are a number of ways to do this, but one I’ve been noodling on ever since the cleantech CEO retreat I went to 2 weeks ago is to give solar project developers the upfront capital they need to overcome what’s been the most major barrier to solar development: inability to find tax equity partners. The Federal Investment Tax Credit could be a great solar financing tool, but many of these developers are small and scrappy, and don’t have high enough taxes that a tax credit is meaningful to them. What they need is up front capital to do their projects, which they can they pay back through consumer energy savings once the solar system is up. For them, a state revolving loan fund might be a great use of AB32 revenues – a fund that, because it would be constantly replenished, would be a smart use of government resources to boot.

These are the kinds of issues that my team at The Center for the Next Generation will be thinking about over the coming months. We’d love your thoughts, as always.


Mass. Businesses Driving Growth In Solar Investments

The solar energy market is booming in Massachusetts, as commercial building owners, municipalities, and name-brand retailers like REI and Kohl’s take advantage of state incentives that have made it more affordable to fund solar power projects.
Outdoor retailer REI added a rooftop solar installation at its Framingham
store in December (above) and built a solar-powered parking area in June.

Even as activity has slowed in several other key states, the number of installations here has grown so steadily that the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group, expects Massachusetts to rank in the top 10 among states that will add the most solar power this year.

A recent report by the association and Boston market analysis firm GTM Research showed that in the first half of the year alone 27.1 megawatts of solar energy-generating capacity were installed in the state’s nonresidential sector, the fastest-growing major market segment.

“Massachusetts, among a handful of others — but not many others — is a pretty hot market,” said Carrie Cullen Hitt, the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Massachusetts-based vice president of state affairs.

In the last two years, solar energy-generating capacity in Massachusetts has more than tripled to 143.1 megawatts, according to the state Department of Energy Resources. That’s enough to power at least 21,465 homes.

That growth has been spurred partly by the state’s traditionally high energy costs, which make solar systems more competitive here.

But Hitt and others in the industry also cite aggressive renewable energy policies, which promote sun-generated electricity — especially by utilities and commercial buildings. Governor Deval Patrick has said that he wants the state to have 250 megawatts of solar-generating capacity by 2017 and that utilities should get 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020.

Such policies have lead to the creation of incentive programs such as Commonwealth Solar, which offers rebates for projects, and Solarize Massachusetts, which encourages residents and businesses in some communities to join together to install solar panels and save money through bulk purchases.

“Patrick and his administration in the last few years have been clear that they see this as a growth opportunity,” which Hitt said is “increasing the confidence of developers and installers and the people who finance the projects.”

One such company is Ameresco Inc. of Framingham, a firm that audits customers’ energy use and finds ways for them to save money.

Jim Walker, who heads Ameresco’s solar division, said he’s seen an uptick in industry activity in Massachusetts as markets in other states have stalled because incentives expired or government support disappeared.

“That brought in more investment and more companies taking a look at Massachusetts,” Walker said.

Another driver of the surge, he said, is “that everyone in the state knows that the incentives that make solar economically viable have a shelf life [so] the towns and customers view it as, ‘If I don’t do this now, I may never be able to do it.’ ”

With Ameresco’s help, the city of Lowell has installed nearly 350 kilowatts worth of solar energy generation at several schools and the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, and will add another 1.5 megawatts when a solar installation currently under construction at a former landfill is complete.

“The city council has been striving to make the city more renewable,” said Michael Vaughn, Lowell’s chief procurement officer. “This gets us electricity cheaper than we can buy it from the grid.”

Retailers have also been a boon to the state’s solar energy industry, with big-name chains such as Whole Foods, REI, Kohl’s, and Ikea using solar panel installations at their Massachusetts stores or planning to do so in an effort to cut utility costs and become more environmentally friendly.

Outdoor gear and clothing retailer REI, for instance, added a rooftop solar installation at its Framingham store in December, and built a solar-powered parking area in June. Together, the installations have 200 kilowatts of energy-generating capacity — enough to produce about 60 percent of the electricity the store uses annually.

Swedish home goods retailer Ikea is in the process of installing a 591-kilowatt solar system at its Stoughton store. The system, which is expected be operating by the end of October, is just one of 39 that the company is building across the United States.

The company flipped the switch on a nearly 941-kilowatt solar installation at its New Haven, Conn., store Thursday.

“The technology has become straightforward enough and affordable enough that we felt we could make the investment,” Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth said. The chain plans to spend more than $700 million on renewable energy projects in the next few years, he said.

Several Kohl’s locations in Massachusetts are also being outfitted with solar panels. Construction is expected to begin next month at the first two stores, in Taunton and North Dartmouth.

“As a retailer with a nationwide presence . . . managing energy consumption and using, where possible, renewable energy sources like solar, makes sense,” said Vicki Shamion, a Kohl’s senior vice president, “both in terms of costs savings and being a good environmental steward.”


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lanai to Become Eco-Lab That Runs On Solar, Billionaire Ellison Promises

Four months after snapping up nearly the entire island of Lanai, billionaire Larry Ellison has presented his vision of paradise: an eco-lab based on solar power, with electric cars replacing gas guzzlers and sea water transformed into fresh water for an organic farm export industry.
Polihua Beach is among the draws for tourists on Lanai. Billionaire
Larry Ellison says his plans for an eco-lab aim to help locals start small
businesses around organic farm exports.

Ellison, CEO of the business software firm Oracle, bought 98 percent of the 141-square-mile Lanai from billionaire David Murdock in June, reportedly for around $500 million.

The Lanai holdings include two resorts and golf courses, commercial and residential structures and vast acres of former pineapple fields that now rest undeveloped.

Since the purchase, Lanai's 3,000 residents have been waiting to hear what Ellison, who doesn't currently have a residence on the island, means to do with it.

During a Tuesday interview with CNBC, Ellison addressed his plans for the first time.

"What we are going to do is turn Lanai into a model for sustainable enterprise," he said.

"I own the water utility, I own the electric utility," he added. "The electric utility is all going to be solar photovoltaic and solar thermal where it can convert sea water into fresh water."

Photovoltaic is the more traditional solar technology of panels that absorb the sun's rays and directly create electricity with semiconductors, while large-scale thermal involves using mirrors to direct heat to run a turbine and thus make electricity.

Electric cars will be brought in, Ellison added, and farming will be transformed.

"We have drip irrigation where we are going to have organic farms all over the island. Hopefully we are going to export produce -- really the best, organic produce to Japan and elsewhere," he said.

"We are going to support the local people and help them start these businesses," Ellison said. "So it is going to be a little, if you will, laboratory for sustainability in businesses of small scale."
This solar thermal station is in Spain. Larry Ellison said he
plans to bring solar thermal to Lanai.

Ellison's Lanai representatives did not immediately respond to requests for elaboration on his comments.

Residents of the island who spoke with Reuters largely welcomed the plan.

Alberta de Jetley, owner of Lanai's 18-acre Bennie's Farm, was one of those who voiced support.

"We have been working towards sustainability for years. We know tourism alone can't sustain Lanai. We all understand this has to happen," de Jetley said.

"I think that will go over really well if he can do it," said resident Caron Green.

Ellison, one of the world's richest men with a fortune estimated at $41 billion, has not had any community meetings with residents. De Jetley said this may be a better approach than Murdock's public meetings which left some residents frustrated when plans didn't materialize.

"Ellison is doing it the right way, not making promises that don't get fulfilled," de Jetley said.

She pointed to the recent refurbishment of the island's public pool and recreation center as well as upgrades to workers' housing around the island as proof of Ellison's positive intentions for the island's future.

As a farm owner, de Jetley hopes Ellison's plans for desalinated water could help water-starved Lanai become the state's "breadbasket" and a major fruit supplier to Japan.

Not all residents were so optimistic about how their island might fare under the billionaire's tenure, saying they would judge the plans only once they were in place on the ground, although many of those declined to be quoted by name.

With the high cost of land, water and labor in Hawaii, agriculture faces an uphill battle to be competitive and could require Ellison to continuously subsidize it to make it work on Lanai.

"It's going to take a lot of work and there are challenges," said Jennifer Chirico, executive director of Sustainable Living Institute of Maui.

"It's a long-term strategy but it's exciting. Because of the size of Lanai, with just 3,000 people, this is really an opportunity to test sustainability for islands around the world," she said.

Mary Charles, an owner of the island's smallest hotel, Hotel Lanai, points to Ellison's vast personal wealth as proof he can make it happen. "He has the resources, so if anybody can make it successful he and his team can."


First Solar's Latest Rally Is Losing Momentum

Over a month ago, I claimed that First Solar (FSLR) is just a trading stock, meaning that sentiment would primarily drive the stock and both bears and bulls would find great setups to trade. In this time, the stock has gone essentially nowhere but it has gained as much as 28%, lost all those gains and then jumped up 33% before stalling again. These quick moves are certainly not for the faint of heart, but they confirm FSLR's station as a trading stock, especially with the stock neatly bouncing between key moving averages. The chart below reviews this action including some major highlights for FSLR since April. Note how recently the stock has twice met stiff resistance overhead from the 200-day moving average and found support from the 50DMA twice since august earnings launched the stock from that support.

Working in FSLR's favor has been the on-going rally in the S&P 500. FSLR is a component in the S&P 500 (perhaps not for much longer), and the stock bottomed in June with the rest of the market. However, FSLR's failure to print a fresh high in mid-September as it failed for a second time to break through resistance at the 200DMA is a red flag. This behavior signals a bearish divergence from the S&P 500 which now sits near 5-year highs. Moreover, FSLR declined 14% last week on no new major headlines while the S&P 500 remained essentially flat. I am now watching for a break below the 50DMA to confirm that FSLR's last rally has come to an end. FSLR is exhibiting a loss in momentum somewhat similar to what I observed back in February of his year, prompting me to write "The Solar Fun Is Done For Now." FSLR's uptrend at that time broke down even as the S&P 500 was still rallying strongly. The news of Energy Conversion Devices bankruptcy seemed to all but confirm the bearish signal.

The one positive about FSLR's rally has been it occurred despite a steady increase in short interest. From the June lows to August 15th, shares short in FSLR steadily rose from 21.6M to 31.9M shares. In other words, the rally over that time was NOT from a short squeeze. At the end of August, shares short declined for the first time (over a two week period) since April. It is hard to guess whether that 8% drop in short interest had anything to do with the 28% gain within those two weeks since FSLR lost all those gains in just two days of trading before the last reported settlement date for short interest. The next report on short interest will cover the first two weeks of September during which FSLR rallied sharply. So, I will be VERY interested to observe whether short interest declined, thus implying a short squeeze may have finally started. I suspect only a short squeeze can provide much of an upward catalyst for FSLR in the coming weeks until more clarity comes from November earnings or perhaps even the annual guidance update which typically occurs in December.

Over the past month, I traded the gyrations in FSLR by purchasing October calls married to September puts. I am currently positioned with October calls and October puts (a same-month "strangle"). Implied volatility is high but remains in-line with historical volatility, so I think the current premiums are "fairly priced." I fully expect FSLR to make at least one more 20%+ swing (either up or down) in the next month given the current setup.

I also still think FSLR presents major upside opportunity if it manages to survive in the coming year. I still prefer to play that longer-term potential by selling long-dated puts despite near-term price targets on FSLR as low as $9. For example, the January $20 put expiring in 2014 is selling for $6.25/$6.80 (bid/ask). This provides protection to almost $13 on FSLR with the additional benefit of allowing the seller to largely ignore the kinds of gyrations FSLR has experienced in recent months.

Regardless, whether you are bearish or bullish on FSLR, I continue to expect the stock to provide each camp profitable setups in the coming weeks (thus my choice to hold both puts and calls). The current advantage rests with the bears unless FSLR can hold the rising 50DMA as support and/or unless shorts are finally starting to unwind their death grip on the stock (58.4% of float). Some insider buying would be another positive sign, but I suspect such transactions will not happen before FSLR issues its guidance for next year.

Be careful out there!


Bhagalpur, Gaya to be Solar Cities

Two ancient cities of Patna - Bhagalpur and Gaya - will flaunt solar power. They have been selected under the solar city scheme of the union ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). Under the ambitious scheme, 60 cities across the country are proposed to be developed in such a manner,
that a major part of their daily energy needs are met by solar power combined with other forms of renewable energy.

We sent proposals for Bhagalpur and Gaya and the MNRE approved them. Both cities will emerge as solar cities at the national level. The scheme aims at bringing down the dependency on conventional energy systems by enabling urban local governments to address energy challenges at the city-level, said Bihar Renewable Energy Development Agency (BREDA) director, Manish Kumar when HT appproached him.

Several towns and cities are experiencing rapid growth in peak energy demand and they are finding it difficult to cope with it. The intention is to cut the projected conventional energy demand by 10% at the end of five years, added Kumar.

In Bihar, BREDA is the nodal agency for the scheme, while a solar city cell would be created in the chosen cities to implement it. The district administration, municipal bodies, as well as, other stakeholders like businessmen, industrialists and important people would be part of the cell.

MNRE will provide financial assistance of Rs. 50 lakh to each city and technically assist the urban local governments to prepare a master plan to assess the current energy situation, future demand and action plans. Various stakeholders of the city would be involved in the planning process.

The initial funds would also be used for capacity building and increasing public awareness through promotional activities. Once it is all set, the scheme would be implemented in the cities through public-private partnerships (PPP). Rooftop solar panels would be used for lighting, water heating, and other energy needs in residential and commercial areas.

BREDA officials said, they have written to the district magistrates and municipal commissioners of both the selected districts to expedite the process of creating the solar city cells and prepare master plans. But, the district officials are yet to respond despite several reminders.

In fact, Chandigarh and Nagpur have become the first two cities to formulate the master plans on the way towards becoming solar cities.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Builders Aim For Super-Energy-Efficient Homes

Crowned with three gables and painted in hues of gray and white, the suburban home in Lake Forest doesn't look much like the domicile of the future.

But as summer heat radiates off the fresh asphalt outside, the home runs comfortably at full tilt indoors. Recessed lights shine, radios blare and air-conditioned splendor greets hot skin. Despite all systems going, the property is producing more electricity than it can consume on a warm summer day — and that's the goal.

Unveiled late last year, the ZeroHouse model by Los Angeles builder KB Home embodies the industry's bid to move beyond the one-of-a-kind vanity project and make subdivision building a green practice. Net-zero homes such as the one KB Home has built are highly efficient properties paired with renewable energy technology such as solar panel systems, resulting in homes so green they produce at least as much juice as they consume.

California has had expansive policies mandating and incentivizing the development of greener new homes for years, but the implementation of those goals has been slowed by the weak housing market and the dearth of new construction.

With the market healing, and with builders trying to distinguish their products from homes they built as recently as six years ago, companies such as KB Home, Lennar Corp. and others are rolling out more options for consumers and increasingly making energy efficiency part of the basic package.

"For new homes, it is becoming more of a standard feature, and the reason is that builders need a compelling reason that somebody should buy a new home rather than a resale," said Patrick Duffy, principal for research firm MetroIntelligence Real Estate Advisors.

In coming years, California guidelines will call for ever more energy-efficient homes, with the goal of having all homes built in 2020 being net zero. For now, net zero remains more of an aspiration for the industry, though experts say builders are increasingly making standard some of the fundamental elements of green design, including more efficient appliances, lighting and solar panel systems.

In Southern California, KB Home has made solar systems standard. Lennar, Pulte Homes and Pardee Homes offer solar home projects. ABC Green Home of Newport Beach will be building a net-zero home to showcase green technology for consumers. Clarum Homes in Palo Alto is a custom builder that has gained praise for incorporating energy efficiency and passive solar features into homes with modernist flourishes.

Moving to Southern California from Maryland, Ray and Linda Frilot wanted to buy a new home because the resales needed too much work, from $20,000 to $50,000 worth of remodeling. They were attracted to the solar offerings at KB Home's Fox Hollow at the Crown Valley Village development in Murrieta, said Ray Frilot, a retired government worker and former military man.

Aside from a 2.25-kilowatt solar system, the home has a tankless hot water heater, some LED lighting and Energy Star appliances. Although the home wasn't advertised as a net-zero property when they bought it, he and his wife conserve so much energy from habits picked up while living in Germany that the electricity bill from Southern California Edison Co. is close to zero.

"The energy that I don't use Edison buys from me," he said. "It looks like I may not have an electric bill next year, because the electricity, all of it is going to keep on adding to that credit. I still have to pay delivery and handling charges, but that is just a couple of bucks a month."

Net-zero homes couldn't exist without this type of subsidization, called net metering. Net-zero homeowners rely on power from utilities at night but get credit for the energy they produce during the day that they don't consume.

Net metering allows homeowners to get credit for the power they produce at a retail rate rather than a wholesale rate. There is currently a cap on net metering programs for that reason. Although the cap won't be hit any time soon, experts said, the future of net metering is uncertain.

Environmentalists began pushing for California to mandate that new homes come with renewable energy systems in the early 2000s, as the technology became more scalable and available.

The effort to get builders to build green morphed into state law SB 1, which focused on incentives and created the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, calling for the creation of 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-generated electricity by 2016.

Gov. Jerry Brown has increased that goal to 12,000 megawatts, or roughly the equivalent of 12 nuclear power plants, according to the group Environment California. A thousand megawatts of solar energy could power about 250,000 homes.

Also created as part of the law was the California Solar Initiative, which uses rebates to promote renewable energy use in previously owned homes, as well as commercial, agricultural, government and nonprofit buildings. The similar New Solar Homes Partnership targets new houses.

"Unfortunately, as soon as the bill was passed, we had the housing market collapse, so everything stopped," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, director of clean energy and global warming programs at Environment California. "As the housing market ticks back up again, I would expect solar to pick back up again."

In 2008, California energy regulators adopted a long-term plan that called for having all new residential buildings achieve zero net energy use by 2020 and having all commercial buildings achieve zero net energy use by 2030.

Regulators now mandate solar-ready roofs, more efficient lights and better-insulated hot water pipes, among a variety of other requirements. Despite the rebates that California provides, the tightening of requirements could make new homes more costly.

"It is kind of a double-edged sword because the construction costs of these new homes get passed on to the new home builder," said Christopher G. Cardinale, an attorney at Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin, a firm that specializes in real estate. "In a tough economy, there is always that risk-reward for new environmental standards."

There is evidence that consumers are growing increasingly interested in green features as an investment. A recent study by economists at UCLA and UC Berkeley found that a green label on a single-family California home provides a premium to a comparable home that isn't identified as using energy efficiently.

The researchers found that homes certified as energy efficient by Energy Star, LEED for Homes or GreenPoint Rated sold for about 9% more than other homes.

Researchers estimate that premium at about $34,800, based on the average $400,000 price of a standard home in California. The premium was significantly more than the cost of making a home energy efficient, estimated at about $4,000 to $10,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house. The premium also was bigger than the average $700 in annual utility-bill savings for owners of green homes.

Some economists and green building practitioners say that the building industry is still moving too slowly. Mark Broud, principal at the firm Real Estate Economics, said that builders in Japan, China and many European nations have employed more sophisticated building techniques for years, including the use of autoclaved aerated concrete, a type of high-tech material that replaces lumber in some cases.

"We have constructed with lumber for hundreds of years and lumber tends to be very inefficient," Broud said. "The construction techniques of homes need to change."

Others believe that mass production home building by its very nature is antithetical to constructing green properties and that strategies should focus on refurbishing previously owned properties or doing more infill building rather than new subdivisions.

Angela Brooks, a principal of architecture firm Brooks & Scarpa, is one of those critics. She and her husband, Lawrence Scarpa, the other principal in the firm, live in a super-green redesigned home.

Called the Solar Umbrella, inspired by Paul Rudolph's Umbrella House of 1953, the home has photovoltaic solar panels that form a canopy over the property and provide the residence with nearly all of its energy needs.

Preserving parts of the original property — a 1920s Venice house — the couple installed energy-efficient features including eco-friendly building materials and large sliding glass doors on the second floor to help improve the air flow. The home won several awards, including one in 2006 from the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment.

"Tract housing in and of itself is kind of anti-environmental," Brooks said, adding that factors such as climate, orientation and design should be considered, and when homes are just plopped down, much can be lost. "Production home builders have really lost sight of the forest for the trees."

Nevertheless, green construction by large companies is becoming big business, particularly in California.

Anticipating that California will ultimately move toward more stringent energy policies, and that consumers will demand them, major builders have begun partnering with solar panel providers to equip their homes.

California company SunPower Corp. created a business unit for catering to new-home building in 2006. The company produces highly efficient black panels that on homes resemble skylights.

Matt Brost, national sales director for SunPower's new-home division, said equipping new homes with solar panels is one of the most effective ways of making homes more energy efficient because it costs less than adding panels to older homes.

"The cost at new construction is substantially lower because you have things working for you, a much higher rebate and builders buying in volume," Brost said.

Dan Bridleman, senior vice president for sustainability at KB Home, said big builders play an important role in creating more sustainable homes.

The company focuses on making the most energy-efficient home possible before adding a solar system. KB Home found an "inflection point" where the home was as energy efficient as it could be using available technology that could be bought in bulk, he said.

Few of the features of ZeroHouse in Lake Forest are obvious, including the model's insulation and wall assembly, low-E windows, LED lighting and Energy Star appliances. Even the solar panels look more like skylights than the gleaming armor that many envision.

Inside the KB Home model, an oversized flat-screen TV planted above the living room's fireplace shows the model home's cycle of energy consumption and production, graphed out in hourly segments.

By 2:15 p.m. on a warm summer afternoon, the model home had gobbled up 33.32 kilowatt-hours of electricity, including nighttime hours when the house draws from the grid. Its solar panel system had produced 20.21 kWh. As the sun moved across the sky, the home's analytics showed, production was outpacing consumption.

KB Home has yet to sell a ZeroHouse in Southern California as it is marketed, but buyers are attaining the net-zero goal, or very close to it, choosing energy-saving options that fit their lifestyles, executives said.

"We could take any one of our plans …," Bridleman said, "and we could make that house a net-zero house."


Solar Installations Is Sign Of Growing Green Economy

Covering the 1 million-square-foot roof of a Walmart distribution center, these 14,000 solar panels will produce 30 percent of the building's energy needs.
Albert Laird, SolarCity's regional vice president, stands in
front of 1 million square feet of solar panels his company
installed atop a Walmart distribution center in Buckeye.
He says solar has become a major industry in Arizona.

To Gary Pierce, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission who attended a dedication here recently, it's a sign that renewable energy is on a roll.

"I clearly see it growing into the future as we do more and more solar and other projects to bring green energy to Arizona," he said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a national trade association, reported earlier this month that Arizona ranked second in the nation in installation of photovoltaic solar panels in the quarter that ended in March.

Arizona now has over 620 megawatts of photovoltaic solar energy capacity, enough to power about 80,000 homes, and the group expects that number to double by the end of next year.

"This report shows the trajectory of Arizona in comparison to other states and is a great indicator," said Lon Huber, Arizona lead for the SEIA. "We've had some hugely innovative projects that have come online recently that have propelled us to second place."

The growth includes residential and commercial installations as well as much larger power plants like Agua Caliente and Solana, which are due online in 2013, the group noted.

Gov. Jan Brewer seized on the report, issuing a news release praising Arizona's standing in photovoltaic installations and adding incorrectly that SEIA ranked Arizona second in the nation in renewable energy production.

But by any measure, advocates and political leaders say, solar power is creating a major industry in a state rich in sunshine.

"Solar energy means not only clean and renewable energy but also quality jobs for Arizona," said Kevin Kinsall, Brewer's natural resources policy adviser.

Rioglass Solar, a company that recently opened a $50 million facility in Surprise, has 81 employees splitting three shifts, 24 hours a day, five days a week. The firm is supplying nearly 1 million mirrors to Solana, which is under construction in Gila Bend.

"The solar industry sooner or later is going to take over as the main clean energy in Arizona," said Jordi Villanueva, the company's business development manager.

According to the National Solar Jobs Census 2011, over the past year, U.S. solar jobs increased at nearly 10 times the rate of the rest of the economy.

SEIA's Lon Huber noted that Arizona's solar industry already employs 5,000 people.

"You can see how we're growing, and we can become a major part of the Arizona economy," Huber said.

The company that installed the solar panels on the Walmart project, SolarCity, has expanded to five operations centers in the state with a workforce of more than 180.

"Solar is already a major industry in Arizona," said Albert Laird, SolarCity's regional vice president. "Arizona's solar energy production increased 333 percent from 2010 to 2011."

Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, a member of the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said Arizona's solar industry is providing jobs and innovation, though there is always room for improvement.

"We are pushing towards No. 1," she said. "Arizona ‘the solar capital' would be fabulous."


Going Solar With A Group Makes Switch Cheaper

Joan Schrammeck not only has a $461 credit on her electricity bill, the state of Washington owes her $800 as well.
Kevin Bell (left) and Guy Knoblich place a solar panel into
an array on the roof of a Camano Island home Wednesday
afternoon. The panel is part of a 16-panel installation.
Each panel fits into the frame installed across the roof.

That's because she generates power at her Camano Island home with solar panels, sells some of it back into the grid and also is given credits by the state for the power she produces.

"I'm thrilled, and I'm thrilled to be helping strengthen the grid," said Schrammeck, whose solar panels were installed in May.

Schrammeck was not only interested in putting a solar power system on her own home, she wanted to help others get it done, too. That's why she volunteered as an organizer for Solarize Stanwood-Camano, in which 23 residents signed up for solar installations as a group, saving the contractors money and in turn knocking about 10 percent off the price.

People signed up for the program earlier in the year and most of the installations have now been completed, Schrammeck said.

A similar program is now under way in Mukilteo. Others could come later, depending on interest.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District is working with Northwest Seed, a Seattle nonprofit organization that promotes green power, to get the groups started and sort through the options.

In addition to the group discount, help in sorting out the choices is one of the biggest advantages of the program, participants say. Representatives from the PUD, Northwest Seed and, later, installers attend community meetings and explain the various types of systems and incentives available.

"It narrowed all the zillions of options down to three for our community," Schrammeck said.

Solar power systems are expensive up front, and every discount helps. Schrammeck laid out about $20,000 for her system but will wind up paying about $12,000 after incentives, she estimates.

The initial cost did not include sales tax, which the state waives for all solar installations. This incentive will expire next June.

The federal government allows 30 percent of the system's cost to be deducted from the following year's taxes.

The Snohomish County PUD offers customers an incentive of either $500 per kilowatt capacity installed, up to $2,500 for residences or $10,000 for businesses, or a 2.9 percent loan of up to $14,000 to cover the cost of a new system.

The state of Washington pays 15 cents per kilowatt hour produced for systems with out-of-state components and 54 cents per kilowatt hour for systems with equipment made in-state.

Schrammeck went for the in-state option. These companies' equipment tends to be more expensive, but over time, the incentive flips it the other way, said Reeves Clippard of A&R Solar of Seattle, one of two installers chosen to do the work for the Mukilteo group.

Schrammeck's system is about 3 kilowatts. This is enough to cover 25 percent of her power needs over the course of the year, she said, with production expected to drop in the winter months. During the summer, the solar power system covered more than 100 percent, and she's been selling power back into the grid, resulting in the credit on her bill.

Schrammeck can apply the state production credit toward her bill in the winter or roll it over, she said.

She estimates her system will pay for itself in seven years. The average for most systems in Washington is about 10 to 12 years, Clippard said.

He attended a meeting recently at the home of Mary Shank, who is helping organize the Mukilteo group. The meeting was attended by about 10 people.

The Mukilteo group followed a similar process used in Stanwood. Interested people attended meetings early in the process, then volunteers interviewed installers and previous customers to select a company for the job.

In both Mukilteo and Stanwood, two installers were chosen and teamed up to do the work for the group.

The PUD chose the areas for the "Solarize" programs based on interest, the number of past installations, the percentage of single-family homes and income level, spokesman Neil Neroutsos said.

About 250 people in Snohomish County and on Camano Island have installed solar panels, Neroutsos said, and a healthy percentage of those were in the Stanwood-Camano area even before the program.

"We knew we could build off that momentum," he said.

Ads are bought in local papers and signs put up in communities to get the word out.

Northwest Seed has run three similar programs in Seattle.

"We're there sort of guiding that community group through that installer selection process," said Alexandra Sawyer, project coordinator for Northwest Seed.

The residents take it from there. Each registration period is only three months long, to spur people to sign up and take advantage of the incentives while they're available. In Stanwood it ran from February to May; in Mukilteo it started in July and ends Oct. 10.

"It's a one-time campaign to get a group of people together and talking to each other about solar," Schrammeck said. "What's left is 23-plus solar advocates who can share their experiences."

Shank had a system installed on her home last year, before Solarize Mukilteo started. She had to do all the research herself, a long and laborious process, she said.

"I knew how difficult it was," she said. That's why she decided to help out with the program.

"I felt if I could make it easier for someone else to go solar, I'd do it."