Posts Tagged ‘solar power’

photo: SunRun

In The New York Times on Tuesday, I write about SunRun, a San Francisco solar leasing company that has scored a whopping $55 million round of equity funding:

SunRun, a San Francisco start-up that leases rooftop solar arrays to homeowners, said Tuesday it had raised $55 million from investors.

The equity investment led by Sequoia Capital, a prominent Silicon Valley venture firm, is one of the largest made in a solar leasing firm and a sign that companies are poised for a major expansion beyond the industry’s core market in California.

The investment follows a $100 million tax equity fund PG&E Corporation, the utility holding company, created last week to finance residential solar installations for SunRun customers. PG&E Corporation in January formed a $60 million financing pool for SolarCity, a Silicon Valley competitor to SunRun. SolarCity is also tapping $190 million in tax equity funds created over the past year for the company by U.S. Bancorp.

“If the $55 million is going to actual corporate expansion, it is one of the largest corporate fund-raisings we’ve seen for that purpose in this space,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It speaks to the opportunity outside of California, in the Southwest and the Northeast.”

The investment is nearly double the $30 million SunRun had previously raised from Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners and Foundation Capital.

“We’re seeing early signs of an inflection point in the market where the cost of offering a solar solution is becoming cheaper than utility pricing,” said Warren Hogarth, a partner at Sequoia Capital, an early investor in Apple, Google and Yahoo. “We’re moving from people buying solar because it’s a nice thing to do to buying solar because it makes economic sense.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Skyline Solar

This post first appeared on Grist.

Grist’s David Roberts sent out a Tweet to his Tweeps today asking which city has installed the most solar. I’ve got an answer for you, David: Nipton, California.

The desert micropolis – population 38 – announced Thursday that it had installed a solar array that will provide 85 percent of its electricity. (The population of the outpost on the edge of Mojave National Preserve spikes to 250 or so during tourist season.)

The solar system is ground-mounted rather than on rooftops and only generates 82 kilowatts. But what is notable is the technology developed by Skyline Solar, a Silicon Valley startup I first wrote about for Grist last year.

The company’s power plants resemble solar thermal parabolic trough installation that deploy long rows of mirrors to heat tubes of liquid suspended over the arrays to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Skyline’s system is purely solid state, however. Each 120-foot-long trough concentrates the sun on photovoltaic modules attached to the edges of the arrays. That boosts the solar cell’s electricity production as does a tracking mechanism that allows the arrays to follow the sun throughout the day.

Such concentrating photovoltaic systems – which Skyline calls “high gain solar “ – have been a niche market due to their relatively high costs. But as solar cell prices decline and solar thermal projects get bogged down in environmental disputes, they have become increasingly attractive as they can be built near utility substations and plugged directly into the grid without the need to build expensive new transmission systems.

Skyline has pushed to lower costs by using common materials – glass, steel – and designing the arrays so their components can be mass-produced by automotive manufacturers. The company last year struck a deal with the Michigan subsidiary of Canadian auto manufacturing giant Magna International to make components for its HGS 1000 solar system.

In other news on the solar frontier Thursday, Silicon Valley startup MiaSolé said the National Renewable Energy Laboratory had confirmed that the company’s copper indium gallium selenide solar cells have 13.8 percent efficiency in production. Such thin-film cells typically have a lower efficiency than standard polysilicon solar cells but are cheaper to manufacture. But with an efficiency approaching 14 percent, MiaSolé could give some standard module makes a run for their money.

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photo: Curt Carnemark /World Bank

At the Solar Power International conference this week, one of the more interesting panels was one that looked at bringing solar to the developing world. As I wrote in The New York Times:

By 2020, the world’s biggest potential solar markets will be found in the developing world, areas largely ignored by solar industry today, according to executives working to bring renewable energy to rural regions.

Just 1 percent of the world’s solar panel production has been installed in developing countries, said Michael Eckhart, the president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“This is a scandal for our industry and we must find solutions,” said Mr. Eckhart, who has worked on solar projects in Africa and India.

The market in Africa, Asia and Latin America is potentially vast given that nearly 44 percent of the population of the developing world lacks access to electricity, according to Simon Rolland, a policy and development officer for the Alliance for Rural Electrification, based in Brussels.

Therein lies a conundrum: Bringing solar energy to those communities means building and financing off-the-grid solar arrays in remote locations that use batteries to store the electricity generated by the photovoltaic panels.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Stirling Energy Systems Solar One project

image: Tessera Solar

In a feature published in today’s New York Times, I look at a water war breaking out in the desert Southwest over plans to build dozens of large-scale solar power projects on hundreds of thousands of acres of land:

AMARGOSA VALLEY, Nev. — In a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs.

But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of this desert valley’s available water.

Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope to make money selling water rights to the company against others concerned about the project’s impact on the community and the environment.

“I’m worried about my well and the wells of my neighbors,” George Tucker, a retired chemical engineer, said on a blazing afternoon.

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.

Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.

In California, solar developers have already been forced to switch to less water-intensive technologies when local officials have refused to turn on the tap. Other big solar projects are mired in disputes with state regulators over water consumption.

To date, the flashpoint for such conflicts has been the Southwest, where dozens of multibillion-dollar solar power plants are planned for thousands of acres of desert. While most forms of energy production consume water, its availability is especially limited in the sunny areas that are otherwise well suited for solar farms.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Photo: BrightSource Energy

In another sign that old-line corporate giants see solar power as big business, engineering and construction giant Bechtel has signed a deal with BrightSource Energy to build the solar developer’s first solar power plant, a 440-megawatt project in Southern California on the Nevada border. As I write in Wednesday’s New York Times:

Bechtel, the global engineering and construction giant, has jumped into the solar power plant business in a deal with a developer to build a 440-megawatt energy complex in California.

The agreement, being announced Wednesday, calls for Bechtel’s development and finance arm, Bechtel Enterprises, to take an equity stake in the solar project known as the Ivanpah Solar Electricity Generating System. The collection of three solar power stations will deliver electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison.

Bechtel is teaming up with BrightSource Energy, a start-up company based in Oakland, Calif.

Ivanpah is the first large-scale solar power plant to undergo regulatory review in the United States in nearly two decades, and the selection of Bechtel as BrightSource’s engineering, procurement and construction contractor is considered a significant step in obtaining financing needed to build the project.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Even in the depths of the downturn, Silicon Valley keeps the tech faith, and these days that faith has a green sheen. So while the news is full of layoffs and cutbacks — even at companies like electric car maker Tesla Motors — the California Clean Tech Open competition Thursday night was handing out $600,000 to a half-dozen startups that hope to be the green tech titans of the future.  For instance, GreenVolts, a 2006 winner, is now building a solar power plant for utility PG&E.

The Clean Tech Open held its first bake-off in the more economically optimistic times of 2006 but bleak days doesn’t appear to have cooled the competition. This year 43 finalists vied for “start-up in a box” packages that include $50,000 in cash and $50,000 worth of business services. The contest is backed by a who’s who of Silicon Valley tech firms (Google (GOOG), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) ), utilities (PG&E (PCG), Southern California Edison (EIX), San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) ) and government energy labs. Venture capitalists and other business leaders serve as judges.

Here then are six startups that the judges think point the way to the future:

  • Viridis Earth of San Jose, Calif., has developed a product to retrofit air conditioners to reduce their electricity consumption by 20%.
  • Focal Point Energy, also of San Jose, is developing industrial solar hot water and steam generation systems.
  • ElectraDrive of San Francisco retrofits gasoline-powered cars to run on electricity.
  • BottleStone will produce a substitute for stone and concrete building materials that is 80% recycled glass. The Los Altos Hills, Calif., company claims its production process cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 42% .
  • Power Assure of Santa Clara, Calif., is developing energy efficiency management software for power-hogging data centers.
  • Over the Moon Diapers, another San Francisco startup, makes environmentally friendly diapers.

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