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Archive for the ‘enviro capitalism’ Category

Rack Welding

photo: Skyline Solar

Silicon Valley startup Skyline Solar has joined other green energy companies beating a path to Detroit to take advantage of the down-and-out auto industry’s manufacturing might. As I write in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday:

Skyline Solar, a Silicon Valley start-up, has become the latest green energy company to tap the struggling auto industry’s manufacturing muscle.

The company announced today that components for its solar power plants were being made in a Troy, Mich., car factory operated by Cosma International, a division of auto manufacturing giant Magna International.

The same machines that stamp out doors, hoods and other car body parts are now making long metal arrays that hold Skyline’s photovoltaic panels.

“It’s literally just carving out a piece of an existing facility and putting through a product that for all intents and purposes could be a new make and model of the next family sedan,” said Bob MacDonald, Skyline’s chief executive.  “Every time there’s a new model year for a Ford Mustang, they have a tool and die set they put into this press. So you just have a different tool and die in there that forms a new shape for Skyline.”

The bottom line, said MacDonald, is that Skyline has slashed its capital costs by taking advantage of Cosma’s existing manufacturing capability. He said Skyline of Mountain View, Calif., has contracts in place for small-scale solar farms. He said he could not divulge the details of those contracts but noted that Skyline has begun to receive shipments of arrays from Michigan.

It’s also a good deal for Cosma, whose parent company has agreed to acquire Opel from General Motors.

“Renewable energy trends and forecast data suggest significant growth potential for this market — we expect to participate in this growth potential,” Tracy Fuerst, a Magna spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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solarh

Photo: BrightSource Energy

In today’s New York Times, I write about how Harvey Whittemore — one of Nevada’s biggest power brokers and a confident of Senate majority leader Harry Reid — has responded to the housing crash by leasing desert land at his mega-home development to BrightSource Energy for a 960-megawatt solar farm complex.

What to do when building a 159,000-home city in the Nevada desert and the housing market collapses?

Go solar.

The Coyote Springs Land Company this week expanded a deal with BrightSource Energy, a solar power developer based in Oakland, Calif., to carve out 12 square miles of it its 43,000-acre mega-development for solar power plants that would generate up to 960 megawatts of electricity.

Harvey Whittemore, Coyote Springs’s chairman, said his plan always was to include some renewable energy in the massive golfing community under development 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. But, Mr. Whittemore said, he decided to go bigger as the housing market crashed and solar developers like BrightSource began to sign deals with utilities.

“We’ve always said we’ll adjust the land use plan to the market,” said Mr. Whittemore in an interview. “At the end of the day we have approvals for 159,000 units and we looked at what we could do to reduce the number of units while at same time coming up with a functional business plan that takes advantage of private land.”

Private land is in short supply in Nevada, where the federal government owns about 87 percent of the state. That has forced solar developers like BrightSource – which is under the gun to supply 2,610 megawatts to California utilities — to seek leases on desert property managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management, a years-long process involving extensive environmental review.

By dealing with Mr. Whittemore, BrightSource is sidestepping all of that and acquiring an ally who knows how to get things done in the Silver State.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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ausra-kimberlina

photo: Ausra

In my new Green State column on Grist, I sit down with legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to talk about his approach to green tech. Khosla — who raised a record $1.1 billion for green tech investing earlier this month — believes that unless a technology can scale and be adopted in markets like China and India, it will not have a meaningful impact on climate change.

Getting an audience with Silicon Valley’s guru of green investing isn’t always easy.

If Vinod Khosla is not speaking at one of the innumerable, and apparently recession-proof, green business conferences that seem to happen every other week, he’s giving lectures at Google headquarters, writing white papers, or, of course, inking checks to green tech startups with the potential to disrupt multi trillion-dollar global industries like energy, automobiles and building materials.

He’s something of a Valley legend:  Co-founder of Sun Microsystems, then a longtime tech investor with marquee venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and now head of Khosla Ventures, which he started in 2004 to invest in green tech startups.

Khosla and his partners had been investing their own money, but earlier this month the firm announced it had raised $1.1 billion for two funds—one of which is the largest first-time fund in a decade. It was a rather staggering amount, given that clean-tech investing has plummeted from $4 billion in 2008 to $513 million so far this year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, as the “Great Recession” continues to take its toll.  Putting money into the two Khosla funds was the nation’s largest pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

It’s not the size of Khosla’s fund but what he intends to do with it that should command your attention. In short, he wants to take the green out of green investing and globalize the bottom line.

You can read the rest of the column here.

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esolar_8
photo: eSolar

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, I write about how the rise of green technology is changing the way Silicon Valley venture capitalists do business:

Silicon Valley venture capitalists have always been about inventing the future — taking a wild idea, nurturing it with cash and creativity and giving birth to new products, companies and industries we once couldn’t imagine and now can’t conceive of living without: the Web, Google, the iPhone, Twitter.

But as green technology becomes the latest tech wave to break from the nation’s entrepreneurial epicenter, it’s now all about companies reinventing the past. Solar power companies, electric car start-ups and algae biofuel ventures aim to remake century-old trillion-dollar industries on a global scale.

Venture capitalists poured $4 billion into green-tech start-ups in 2008 — nearly 40% of all tech investments in the U.S., according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Green-tech investment plunged in the first half of 2009 to $513 million as the recession dragged on, but there are signs of a rebound: Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures announced this month that it had raised $1.1 billion — the biggest first-time fund in a decade — that would be largely devoted to investing in green-tech start-ups, many in Southern California.

But green-tech companies face unique challenges, including global markets, tough technological hurdles and a future shaped by government incentives and regulatory policy. Those challenges are changing the game on Sand Hill Road.

“If you’re starting a Web 2.0 company, your basic needs are personnel and servers — there is no physical product, no manufacturing capacity, no inventory, no steel in the ground,” VantagePoint’s Salzman said, referring to software-based companies that provide services over the Internet.

Green-tech start-ups, he said, often need big money and investors steeped in big science and big government.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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ausra-kimberlina

photo: Ausra

In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, I write about green tech guru Vinod Khosla’s new $1.1 billion venture funds — the biggest first-time fund since the halcyon days of the dot-com era a decade ago and and a strong signal that investors see a bright future in clean and green technologies. CalPERS, the United States’ biggest pension fund, is the major backer of the new Khosla Ventures’ funds:

In a sign that green technology investing is bouncing back, Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures said Tuesday that it had raised $1.1 billion to spur development of renewable energy and other clean technologies.

It is the biggest first-time fund in a decade and comes as venture capital investment in green technology is just beginning to recover from a precipitous fall prompted by the global economic collapse last fall.

In the first half of the year, investments in green tech plunged to $513 million from $2 billion in the first six months of 2008, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

But Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif., and a leading green tech guru, has managed to raise an $800-million fund to invest in early and mid-stage clean energy and information technology companies as well as a $275-million fund to finance what he called high-risk “science experiments” that may exist only in a university laboratory.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Global investment in green technology rose 12% to $1.2 billion in the second quarter after two quarters of sharp declines, according to a report released Wednesday by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte.

Electric cars attracted the most investment at $236 million while solar fell to a low of $114 million. Biofuels scored $206 million and advanced batteries received $165 million from investors.

“It looks like things have leveled out and have stabilized,” said Brian Fan, senior director of research for the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco-based research and consulting firm.

Still, the second quarter numbers are down 44% from a year ago.

North America grabbed 66% of green tech investment while Europe and Israel captured 21% percent, India 11% and China 1%.

Fan said that while investors were hot on smart grid companies at the end of 2008 their ardor has cooled so far this year.

In a sign that the green tech industry has been consolidating as the recession drags on, mergers and acquisitions jumped 291% in the second quarter to $12.2 billion.

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Stirling Energy Systems Solar One project

image: URS

Green Wombat spent several months looking into allegations that California labor unions are using environmental laws to pressure  solar developers to hire union workers to build large-scale solar power plants. The story was published last Friday in The New York Times:

SACRAMENTO — When a company called Ausra filed plans for a big solar power plant in California, it was deluged with demands from a union group that it study the effect on creatures like the short-nosed kangaroo rat and the ferruginous hawk.

By contrast, when a competitor, BrightSource Energy, filed plans for an even bigger solar plant that would affect the imperiled desert tortoise, the same union group, California Unions for Reliable Energy, raised no complaint. Instead, it urged regulators to approve the project as quickly as possible.

One big difference between the projects? Ausra had rejected demands that it use only union workers to build its solar farm, while BrightSource pledged to hire labor-friendly contractors.

As California moves to license dozens of huge solar power plants to meet the state’s renewable energy goals, some developers contend they are being pressured to sign agreements pledging to use union labor. If they refuse, they say, they can count on the union group to demand costly environmental studies and deliver hostile testimony at public hearings.

If they commit at the outset to use union labor, they say, the environmental objections never materialize.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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