Tesla, First Solar, Better Place and Comments on a Weird Quarter in Cleantech

Wow.  This has been a really interesting few months in cleantech.

First Solar announced a $0.99 cent/Wp target within 4 years for installed with trackers utility scale in its investor deck.  That equates to around $4-5 henry hub gas price in a new combined cycle gas plant.

The scary thing is that best utility scale PV solar is already approaching the $1.50/Wp range in the LAST quarter, equating to $7-8 Henry Hub.

The Top 5 PV manufacturers announced module costs all south of $0.65/Wp.  First Solar says <$0.40/Wp in 4 years. Greentech Media says the best Chinese C-Si plants will do $0.42 within 3 years.  Screw the EU and US dumping  trade wars.  That my friends, is grid parity for a massive swath of the electricity market wholesale AND retail.

These companies are learning to work on GP margins of sub 10%.  They are getting lean, and mean and good.


Better Place finally went bust with a whimper.  $850 mm in venture money gone.  As we predicted, battery changing for electric cars is a really bad idea.  But this time, unlike the billion that Solyndra took down, nobody noticed.  Maybe because EVs are being rolled out right and left.

Why was it a bad idea? Well, 1) they would make car companies have to change their fleets, and effectively COMPETES not leverages what the rest of EV and battery world was doing, 2) it implicitly assumes fast charging and better cheaper batteries were not coming, so we needed a work around – meaning if the industry succeeds, Better Place has no advantage, if the industry fails, Better Place has no leverage, a really bad bet for an EV lover, 3) it assumes the costs of the swappable battery car and changing stations were not high, and could come down as fast or faster than conventional EVs and battery technology, 4) it means basically all fillups are full service, which I consider a really dumb idea.  We stopped that in the US in 1980s?


Tesla got profitable, sort of.  Announced a positive EBITDA.  Well, ok, but a big loss if you excluded emissions credits that are expected to be a 2013 only event –  about 12% of revenue.  Exclude those and the car manufacturing business had <6% gross profit margins and still loses a lot of money.  But a huge step forward.  Especially as the Model S is now the best selling EV.  Oh, and seriously, even GETTING GPs to positive this fast is a big deal as well as EBITDA positive under ANY circumstances this fast.  Kudos!

This is huge, because as we reported last year, Tesla by itself holds up the venture returns in the cleantech sector.

An analysis of Stifel’s monthly report on EVs and Hybrids shows the Leaf, Volt and Model S making progress, still young and small and choppy sales, but EVs as a group outpacing sales of the HEVs at the same point in their lifecycle.  EVs + HEVs is now consistently at 4% of new US sales. Not half the market, but definitely real.


But somehow, nobody’s making much profits.  This industry is looking like profits will always be elusive and come either in the bubbles, or only to the #1 or 2 player.  2013-2014 are looking like set up years for cleantech.  Our prediction? By 2015 NO ONE will question whether cleantech sectors are viable.  It will be about how fast they erode other people’s profits.

Top 10 Cleantech Subsidies and Policies (and the Biggest Losers) – Ranked By Impact

We all know energy is global, and as much policy driven as technology driven.

We have a quote, in energy, there are no disruptive technologies, just disruptive policies and economic shocks that make some technologies look disruptive after the fact.  In reality, there is disruptive technology in energy, it just takes a long long time.  And a lot of policy help.

We’ve ranked what we consider the seminal programs, policies and subsidies globally in cleantech that did the helping.  The industry makers.  We gave points for anchoring industries and market leading companies, points for catalyzing impact, points for “return on investment”, points for current market share, and causing fundamental shifts in scale, points for anchoring key technology development, points for industries that succeeded, points for industries with the brightest futures.  It ends heavy on solar, heavy on wind, heavy on ethanol.  No surprise, as that’s where the money’s come in.

1.  German PV Feed-in Tariff – More than anything else, allowed the scaling of the solar industry, built a home market and a home manufacturing base, and basically created the technology leader, First Solar.

2. Japanese Solar Rebate Program – The first big thing in solar, created the solar industry in the mid 90s, and anchored both the Japanese market, as well as the first generation of solar manufacturers.

3. California RPS – The anchor and pioneer renewable portfolio standard in the US, major driver of the first large scale, utility grade  wind and solar markets.

4. US Investment Tax Credit for Solar – Combined with the state renewable portfolio standards, created true grid scale solar.

5. Brazilian ethanol program – Do we really need to say why? Decades of concerted long term support created an industry, kept tens of billions in dollars domestic.  One half of the global biofuels industry.  And the cost leader.

6. US Corn ethanol combination of MTBE shift, blender’s, and import tariffs – Anchored the second largest global biofuels market, catalyzed the multi-billion explosion in venture capital into biofuels, and tens of billions into ethanol plants.  Obliterated the need for farm subsidies.  A cheap subsidy on a per unit basis compared to its impact holding down retail prices at the pump, and diverted billions of dollars from OPEC into the American heartland.

7. 11th 5 Year Plan  – Leads to Chinese leadership in global wind power production and solar manufacturing.  All we can say is, wow!  If we viewed these policies as having created more global technology leaders, or if success in solar was not so dominated by exports to markets created by other policies, and if wind was more pioneering and less fast follower, this rank could be an easy #1, so watch this space.

8. US Production Tax Credit – Anchored the US wind sector, the first major wind power market, and still #2.

9. California Solar Rebate Program & New Jersey SREC program – Taken together with the RPS’, two bulwarks of the only real solar markets created in the US yet.

10. EU Emission Trading Scheme and Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanisms – Anchored finance for the Chinese wind sector, and $10s of Billions in investment in clean energy.  If the succeeding COPs had extended it, this would be an easy #1 or 2, as it is, barely makes the cut.


Honorable mention

Combination of US gas deregulations 20 years ago and US mineral rights ownership policy – as the only country where the citizens own the mineral rights under their land, there’s a reason fracking/directional drilling technology driving shale gas started here.  And a reason after 100 years the oil & gas industry still comes to the US for technology.  Shale gas in the US pays more in taxes than the US solar industry has in revenues.  But as old policies and with more indirect than direct causal effects, these fall to honorable mention.

Texas Power Deregulation – A huge anchor to wind power growth in the US.  There’s a reason Texas has so much wind power.  But without having catalyzed change in power across the nation, only makes honorable mention.

US DOE Solar Programs – A myriad of programs over decades, some that worked, some that didn’t.  Taken in aggregate, solar PV exists because of US government R&D support.

US CAFE standards – Still the major driver of automotive energy use globally, but most the shifts occurred before the “clean tech area”.

US Clean Air Act – Still the major driver of the environmental sector in industry, but most the shifts occurred before the “clean tech area”.

California product energy efficiency standards – Catalyzed massive shifts in product globally, but most the shifts occurred before the “clean tech area”.

Global lighting standards /regulations – Hard for us to highlight one, but as a group, just barely missed the cut, in part because lighting is a smaller portion of the energy bill than transport fuel or generation.


Biggest Flops

US Hydrogen Highway and myriad associated fuel cell R&D programs.  c. $1 Bil/year  in government R&D subsidies for lots of years,  and 10 years later maybe $500 mm / year worth of global product sales, and no profitable companies.

Italian, Greek, and Spanish Feed in Tariffs – Expensive me too copycats, made a lot of German, US, Japanese and Chinese and bankers rich, did not make a lasting impact on anything.

California AB-32 Cap and Trade – Late, slow, small underwhelming, instead of a lighthouse, an outlier.

REGGI – See AB 32

US DOE Loan Guarantee Program – Billion dollar boondoggle.  If it was about focusing investment to creating market leading companies, it didn’t.  If it was about creating jobs, the price per job is, well, it’s horrendous.

US Nuclear Energy Policy/Program – Decades, massive chunks of the DOE budget and no real technology advances so far in my lifetime?  Come on people.  Underperforming since the Berlin Wall fell at the least!


Solar Eclipse

The sections of the blogosphere concerned with energy topics were abuzz last week with the news that Solyndra had filed for bankruptcy.  

Until recently one of the poster children for cleantech, Solyndra’s apparent demise was all the more notable due to its blue chip investor roster and its prominent selection by the Department of Energy in March 2009 for a $535 million loan guarantee.  Indeed, President Obama visited Solyndra’s facilities only 16 months ago touting the company as a shining example of cleantech innovation, job-creation, and wealth-creation.

Solyndra follows closely in the footsteps of fellow solar module manufacturer Evergreen (NASDAQ: ESLR) to receive substantial government financial support…and fail not long thereafter.

So many commentators have written about Solyndra in the last few days that I’m tempted to look at another topic for this week’s posting, but I feel compelled somehow to chip in my $0.02.

The first penny:  what is going on in the solar business that’s causing companies like these to crash and burn?  Isn’t the solar business booming? 

Yes, the solar business continues to grow rapidly.  One of the reasons that the industry is growing is that the price of solar energy is falling, becoming more economically attractive for more potential customers.  This is a good thing.  However, it does put pressure on the companies that make products for the solar marketplace.  Simply put, like most forms of energy, solar energy is generally a commodity, where lower-cost producers win and high-cost producers either have to improve or die.

By its own account, Solyndra was not the lowest-cost producer:  its product was inherently more expensive, but promised other advantages that would reduce costs elsewhere in the total installed solar energy system.  It’s quite possible that these theoretical advantages never really materialized, as most implementers of solar projects – while still with plenty of room for innovation – have begun to standardize their business practices (e.g., sales, marketing, procurement, installation) relative to conventional PV modules, most of which are available from other suppliers at a lower cost.  In other words, Solyndra’s proposed solution did not neatly “fit” the marketplace in which it was competing.

While it is indeed good news that the price of solar modules has been falling, it’s nevertheless inescapable to point out that this trend is driven heavily by increasing penetration of supply from Chinese PV module manufacturers, capitalizing on their low cost structures and immense financial/policy support from the central government – neither of which are readily available to U.S. PV module innovators.  In other words, for newbies in the PV industry like Solyndra to succeed, they are going to have to produce a module at a cost comparable to those sourced from China – yet with higher wages and taxes, more stringent rules for doing business (e.g., environmental regulations), and less government support. 

If you say it can’t be done, you’d be wrong:  U.S. based First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) is widely-recognized as the leader in today’s global PV market, with a very low cost structure due to several proprietary inventions.  The Chinese and new entrants from the U.S. alike will have to aim at First Solar as its target.  At the same time, First Solar will have to hustle to maintain its competitive edge in the dog-eat-dog solar business.

My second cent:  the hue-and-cry from many pundits that Solyndra’s collapse is evidence of faulty energy policy from the government – not just the loan guarantee program and Solyndra’s selection, but all of the efforts to promote clean energy technologies like solar energy.

There’s no question that the government is not great at picking winners.  In my view, it’s far more effective for the government to put in place market-based mechanisms with overarching goals, and then let the private sector players compete fairly.

The problem is, when it comes to the energy markets, those who oppose subsidies for renewable energy like the loan guarantee program are almost unanimously also opposed to any market-based mechanism that aims to internalize the cost of emissions associated with fossil fuel energy so as to make the playing field for clean energy closer to fair. 

(As an aside, these same opponents also tend to oppose the removal of subsidies for fossil fuel energy.  And, these same opponents also tend to deny that anthropogenic climate change is likely to be happening.  And, these same opponents also tend to oppose a variety of environmental regulations.  And, these same opponents are often led by sources of information that derive financial gain from fossil fuel interests.  A lot of generalizations in the above passage, and while generalizations are often dangerous and there are undoubtedly some exceptions, I feel comfortable in making these statements on the whole.)

Lacking any political will to try and structure the energy marketplace in the most logical manner to drive towards clean energy solutions, the government thus resorts to incremental, tactical, second-best (actually, probably closer to nth-best) policy mechanisms like the loan guarantee program.

As a venture capitalist, the loan guarantee program does very little to spawn technology innovation and support start-ups of interest to me.  Rather, the program is aimed to provide some security to lenders to offer debt for scaling up companies whose technologies are essentially proven.  The loan guarantee program mitigates execution risk in the growth or expansion stage, or in early project deployment.  Typically, the assets against which the loans are made (e.g., manufacturing equipment) have substantial residual value. 

Thus, as Solyndra goes through the liquidation process, the private sector lenders behind the company are likely to get some of their money back – and the hit to the taxpayer will probably end up being less than the face value of $535 million, although my fellow CleanTech Blog colleague Neal Dikeman is not too optimistic.  Time will tell.

As for concerns that Solyndra was improperly or inappropriately selected by the Obama Administration to receive the loan guarantee in the first place, this is an issue worth further investigation.  Improprieties wouldn’t surprise me, as I’ve sensed improprieties of similar flavors in various governmental operations and civic affairs over the past few years.  In my opinion, the U.S. has become a country in which government – federal, state and local – has become increasingly “pay-to-play”. 

If Solyndra turns out to be yet another example, it would bother me…but I would also add two further comments: 

1) I would be willing to bet a considerable sum that the list of companies in conventional energy that have recently received public sector finance benefits unfairly or unethically is very long (as “big energy” has lots of money and they throw it around very liberally in the lobbying arena), and

2) Let’s implement market-based mechanisms in the energy sector to discourage emissions, so that we can get rid of targeted subsidy programs where undue influence in government selection can occur.

The Triple Crown in Solar

Like it or not, solar is still the crown jewel in cleantech.  Whither goes solar, there goes cleantech.  So I got to thinking about the next decade in solar, and what will determine which companies achieve primacy.  I think there are three races in solar technology to watch these days.  Call it the Solar Triple Crown.  The three races that matter.

Yield! Yield! Yield! – The race to yield performance at volume in thin film.  In thin film, getting the best performing device has never been the issue.  Getting a repeatable process, at scale, on the second and third plant, with solid performance, but most importantly yield, yield, and yield has always been the issue.  We’ll call this our Kentucky Derby of solar, and First Solar has just about won it.   Whether anyone else ever catches them may even be considered irrevelant to the solar industry as a whole now, the race has been run.

Thin X Marks the Spot – The crystalline race to thin.  I was quoted a while back saying that the future of solar in the US was all about thin film, since we’d missed the boat on building a solar manufacturing base in the first wave, and everything else was about fighting low cost manufacturing in China, where we were unlikely to win.  I’ve got a caveat to that now.  A friend of mine in the solar test equipment business told me about a year ago that he knew of a large number of crystalline companies whose research programs were targeting taking two-thirds to an order of magnitude out of the thickness of their technology, in an effort to stay relevant in an increasingly thin film ruled world.  Then at the Cleantech Open Gala I emceed last week, the people’s choice winner was announcing the same thing, a path to higher performance at one quarter thickness.  In crystalline, thickness generally equals cost.  And the materials cost difference between the devices was the core value propostion thin film always pitched over crystalline.  So I’ll caveat my earlier comments that the US solar future is all about thin film.  Maybe it’s about the race to thin in crystalline.  If they can, the thin film (or First Solar if you prefer) Triple Crown coronation might not be cake walk, Kentucky Derby win or not.  We’ll call this the Solar Preakness.  It’s a little longer, a little tougher, and it’s still being run.

Tracker, tracker burning bright – The race to the perfect moving part.  But thin film versus crystalline is no longer the only game in town.  Now it’s about trackers, too.  I never liked trackers.  I always felt one big advantage of solar as a long lived, low operating cost technology was its lack of moving parts.  Using trackers of course, would eliminate that.  But I’ve started changing my thinking.  As the winners of the first two races emerge, trackers become the next big thing.  The technology that makes all others better.  The next largest area of potential performance and $/kwh performance improvement. Serious power for serious people.  The long race, that’s less flashy, and more a grind than the first two.  The Belmont of Solar.  And in trackers, it’s going to be about simplicity, yes, cost, yes, but just like the Belmont, mainly about longevity.  11 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978.  All fell short to the grind of the Belmont.

According to Wikipedia, as of 2008 3,889 horses had entered one of the three races.  274 horses have won a race.  50 have won two legs.  Only 11 have won the Triple Crown.  I think in the Solar Triple Crown the Kentucky Derby’s been run and won.  Maybe still a fight, but the we’re largely on to the next race now. The Preakness is just beginning, and no clear winner has yet emerged.  And Belmont hasn’t really started.  But it will.

And that’s good news for all of us in the industry.

Solar Energy’s 33 Percent Annual Growth will Accelerate

By John Addison (7/26/10)

Solar energy growth continues its strong growth. For the 30 years from 1979 to 2009, solar energy has grown 33 % CAGR (compound average growth rate). For this decade, over 40 percent is forecast. Although 2009 was hurt by a sever recession and difficulty in financing large projects, most additional power brought online in the United States, Europe, and much of Asia was renewables. 32 GW of solar power is installed globally; 7.2 GW was installed last year.

Yes, it is discouraging that U.S. electricity generation is dominated by coal and natural gas, and 97 percent of our transportation is from petroleum. The U.S. continues to spend over a trillion dollars of tax payer money each year subsidizing fossil fuels, covering health bills from pollution, and fighting wars to secure our oil supply. We suffer from our policies that support flattening mountains for coal, dangerously drilling our oceans for oil, and expanding highways instead of public transportation. Yet help is on the way as renewable energy continues to cleanly power more homes, workplaces, and rail transit. Public Transportation Renewable Energy Report

I joined 2,500 conference attendees at Intersolar North America, a premier exhibition for solar professionals. The co-located Intersolar North America and SEMICON West events, which took place this week in San Francisco, presented over 700 solar exhibitors to more than 20,000 trade visitors.

The exhibition took place at the Moscone Center, LEED certified conference center with 675 kW of solar on the roof (yes, I climbed on the roof and saw the acres of Sanyo and Shell solar panels). Equally impressive is the 80% improvement in energy efficient lighting at the conference center.

The Future is Europe buying U.S. innovation manufactured in Asia

Germany leads the world in buying most of each year’s solar production. German businesses and homeowners make money installing solar and then selling excess kilowatts with guaranteed feed-in tariffs (FIT). Although Germany is now reducing FIT rates, the cost of installing solar is dropping even faster. Germany will continue to lead in adding solar. With help from Italy and other countries, Europe will buy over 80% of solar PV in 2010. Only 6% of solar will be installed in the U.S., even though we have enough sunlight to power the entire nation.

An excellent summary of the solar market is Renewable Energy World’s Solar PV Market Analysis by Paula Mints, Navigant Consulting.

U.S. innovation has been a key driver for solar. First Solar’s CdTe thin film has brought manufacturing cost below $1.00 per watt. SunPower has achieved record 24% commercial efficiency. Key inventions of PV and semiconductors are from the U.S. Innovation continues everywhere from universities to venture backed start-ups. Optimistic presenters predicted that their technology would reach 50 cents per watt to make. Balance of system and installation costs could double or triple that number. A major issue for start-ups is difficulty in getting projects financed. Risk aversive lenders often prefer established companies who can back 20-year warranties, to start-ups with the perceived risk of staying in business 20 months. Installed PV is expected to drop from around $3 per watt today to $2 per watt in 2014.

Despite all the innovation taking place in the U.S., it is less expensive to manufacture in Asia. Navigant estimated that 77% of solar PV is made in Asia; only 5% in the U.S. Asia’s lead is likely to grow, with companies with integrated supply chains like Suntech and Sharp playing major roles.

PV growth is likely to be over 40% annually this decade. Solar is now 100X less than in the 1970s. The learning curve continues with costs falling 20% each time volume doubles. Industry leaders are squeezing out costs in everything from panels to paperwork, from inverters to mounting. Now, 95% of PV is grid connected, by 2014 it will be 97 to 99%.

By 2015, several researchers expect thin-film solar to reach about 30% of the market, but they expect silicon to continue to dominate. c-SI costs more per watt to make, but it is less expensive to install. Importantly, more efficient SI takes less space on roofs and in open areas. GTM also offers free summaries of a number of excellent solar research reports about silicon and thin-film PV.

Solar Growth Accelerates in Middle Markets

Several conference presenters examined the solar market in 4 categories:

  • Residential
  • C&I (commercial, industrial) 100 kW to 2MW
  • Utility DG (distributed e.g. commercial rooftops) 500 kW to 20 MW
  • Utility CG (central) > 20MW

Several forecast that the highest U.S. growth in the middle categories of 100 kW to 20 MW. These segments appeal to electric utilities that face RPS requirements in 30 states. Commercial distributed solar is often well matched with the location of electricity demand, minimizing transmission and distribution investment. Transit operators including LA Metro, New Jersey Transit, and MARTA are among the dozens of agencies heavily investing in solar in the 100kW to MW category. Public Transportation Renewable Energy Report

Smaller residential solar in the U.S. has been seriously injured by the wonderful companies in the middle of the recent mortgage crisis, namely Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who have stopped city PACE programs around the country that made residential solar affordable. If you want to laugh or cry about how the U.S. is giving the solar industry to Asia, take a look at PACE NOW.

Utilities will also continue to invest in large scale solar PV and concentrating solar power. In much of the U.S. large solar cannot compete with large-scale wind. There is 20 times as much wind power installed in the U.S. Utility-scale projects also face years of delays due to NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) opposition to the renewable projects and the high-voltage lines needed to transmit power to major residential and industrial centers.

Intersolar Exhibitions and Conferences will take place in several locations over the next 12 months and return to San Francisco next July. In 2011, we are likely to see that solar grew strongly from rooftops to utility scale projects.

Truly impressive is solar energy’s decades of growth that exceeds 30 percent annually. Efficiency continues to improve and cost continues to fall. Energy is more secure as generation moves closer to consumption in homes, commercial centers, and transportation.

By John Addison. Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker.

Sustainable energy indices mixed, broad markets and commodities retreat (week ending 7/25)

Author: Mark Henwood

Emerging Markets, EAFA, and S&P500 all fell this week. Commodities (DJP) fell another 4.4% on top of the previous week’s 7.8% decline.

Renewable Electricity suffered a modest loss for the week. One of the components, EarthFirst (EF.TO), continued its steep decline losing another 20.9% on the week. Since the company appointed its new CEO on June 12 the stock has dropped 46% on thin volume. In the intervening period the company reported an approximate 10% increase in cost for its Dokie project, a reduction in the project’s estimated energy of 2.3%, and delivery of 24 MW of wind turbines to the project site. Investors are betting the company lands its project financing and secures additional contracts in other solicitations. As I previously noted, project issues have magnified effect on company valuations in this strategy.
Solar gave up 5.4% this week and is now down 34.4% for the year. But not all the companies are suffering the same decline. In particular, First Solar (FSLR) is only down 1.8% for the year and has now become 25% of the market cap of Camino’s index. Does their technology warrant this dominant position in the strategy? Examining one of their recent project’s sheds some light on the question.

On July 10, 2008 the California Public Utilities Commission approved a 7.5 MW contract between First Solar’s FSE Blythe project and Southern California Edision. Unfortunately much of the economic information was not disclosed but some key data can be gleaned from the record. First, the company is projecting a significant 27% capacity factor for the project, significantly higher than typical estimates for PV projects. But equally important is the company is pursing the development receiving a price at or below the “market reference price” which is based on a highly efficient modern thermal plant. After accounting for some messy seasonal and time-of-use factors the project will receive approximately USD 0.14/kWh plus a 10% tax credit. If FirstSolar can make money at this project then they are very near the holy grail of grid parity. Maybe their dominate valuation makes sense and the company is becoming an execution risk on how fast can they grow.
Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks and has positions in Renewable Electricity, including EF.TO.

Cleantech Blog "Power 10" Ranking Vol. I

I spend most of my day meeting and talking to companies in the cleantech sector. And those of you who know me know I have opinions on who is doing it right, and who is doing it wrong. So I thought it was about time to initiate the Cleantech Blog Power 10 Ranking of cleantech companies doing it right. Eligibility for inclusion in the ranking requires meeting a 6 point test. Suggestions for inclusions in future volumes are welcome. The 6 point test:

1. The company is energy or environmental technology related
2. I like their products
3. The market needs them
4. The company is smart about building their business
5. I’d like to own the company if I could (for the right price, of course!)
6. It is not already one of mine (my apologies to my friends Zenergy Power)

I have included cleantech companies big and small. Volume I surprisingly ended up with a lot more solar companies than I would have guessed, and no biofuels. Perhaps I really am a closet solar fanatic.

  1. Sharp Electronics – In solar, still the biggest, and still growing. Enough said.
  2. Det Norske Veritas – DNV is a massive 150 year old risk management firm. Their auditors underpin roughly half of the carbon markets. In carbon, audit and verification is everything. I could not leave them off.
  3. IBM (NYSE:IBM) – What IBM is doing in smart grid is very exciting. They are part of a large proportion of the smart grid implementations that are in process, and a huge proponent of open standards. Smart grid is to electricity what fiber is to telecom. It underpins everything.
  4. Applied Materials (NYSE:AMAT) – The future of photovoltaics lies in scaling thin film manufacturing process. Who better to do this than the dean of semiconductor capital equipment. I broke the story of Applied’s entry to solar in the blogosphere in 2006, and if anything underestimated how hard they were pushing. The whisper mill has been whirring that the installations of their plants are not on track. Not only do I have faith they will get there, I think it is critical to the industry that they do.
  5. Fuel Tech (NASDAQ:FTEK) – I wrote about them in 2007. The CEO John Norris is a long time friend and an excellent operator. Cleaning up coal is a huge business that needs to be done, and they do it well.
  6. Fat Spaniel – Distributed power, solar included, is a ticking time bomb without independent monitoring. Fat Spaniel does it the best.
  7. Smart Fuel Cells (XETRA:F3C.DE) – I wrote about them recently. I helped create a fuel cell business in 2002. This is the first fuel cell company in 5 years that has intrigued me. They actually ship product with solid gross margins. That is a start.
  8. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) – Lowest cost producer in the photovoltaic business. Guaranteed to make the list until dethroned.
  9. Global Solar – I have been following this company for a long time. CIGS is very hard and has broken (or is currently breaking) hundreds of millions or billions of dollars worth of wannabes. This management team, led by Mike Gering, respects how hard it is. And since they have actually been running a pilot plant shipping product for 3 years, so we need to take note when they say they have cracked the manufacturing scale nut.
  10. Schott – Long a major player in crystalline silicon photovoltaics, amorphous silicon photovoltaics and concentrated solar thermal, where they are one of the top manufacturers of solar thermal receivers. That balance is unique, and exciting.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog.