I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.
General Electric on Wednesday gave a jump-start to Better Place, the Silicon Valley startup developing an electric car infrastructure in several countries.
Better Place plans to deploy a network of urban charging posts and swapping stations where drivers can exchange depleted company-owned batteries for fresh ones when they need to make trips that exceed their car’s range. GE has agreed to help finance up to 10,000 of those batteries in Better Place’s first two markets: Denmark and Israel. That’s no small matter, given that Better Place faces huge capital outlays for battery purchases.
The global conglomerate will also make its WattStation, a sleek electric car charging post that it unveiled in July in San Francisco, compatible with Better Place’s network.
In addition, GE and Better Place will collaborate on an effort to persuade companies to electrify their vehicle fleets and plug into the electric car charging networks that Better Place plans to build in the San Francisco Bay Area; Ontario, Canada; Australia; and Europe.
It’s not the first time GE has dabbled in the nascent electric car industry. In 2008, the company invested $4 million in Think, the Norwegian electric carmaker.
In yet another deal involving a multinational conglomerate and a California startup, Sharp late Tuesday said it had acquired Recurrent Energy, a San Francisco-based solar developer, for $305 million in cash.
While most people may associate Sharp with televisions and other consumer electronics, the Japanese company is also one of the world’s biggest solar panel makers. Recurrent builds small-scale photovoltaic power plants. It has signed contracts for projects that would generate 330 megawatts, and has another nearly another 1,700 megawatts’ worth of deals in development.
During a conference call on Wednesday, Recurrent’s chief executive, Arno Harris, said Recurrent would retain its name and become a division of Sharp and that he and his team would remain in place.
While the buyout is another sign of the consolidating solar industry, it also indicates that big solar panel makers like Sharp feel pressure from the fast rise of low-cost Chinese manufacturers to diversify their business.
Acquiring Recurrent gives Sharp another source of revenue but it won’t necessarily provide a market for Sharp’s own solar panels. In a telling provision of the acquisition, Harris said Recurrent won’t be compelled to buy Sharp solar panels and can keep its current suppliers. Those include Yingli Green Energy, a Chinese company that captured a third of the California market last year thanks in large part to a big deal with Recurrent.