A Year of Change: Solar, Smart Power, and Carbon; Buying; and Cleantech Blog Moves to Texas

Dear Friends,

We think it’s time cleantech grew up and learned to play with the big boys of energy and consumer goods.  That means learning cost down and scale like nobody’s business.  We think it can.  We think green is going mainstream – for good. We think LEDs are going to win.  We think wind and solar power will continue to grow, and bear the bruises to prove it.  We think EVs may have a shot, but have it to prove. We think climate change will be tackled, and beaten, but it will be a long hard road.  We think energy storage and cellulosic biofuels are not yet teething, and investors there will pay the price.  We think water tech may yet be a real sector on the back of shale gas.  We think smart grid is the sine qua non of cleantech’s future.  We think the future of cleantech means fewer venture capitalists, more globalization, and more energy companies at the table, and scale like you’ve never seen it before.

2010 has been a year of change and learning.

  • We learned about The Quantitative Easing, and we learned government stimulus does not fix economies, but stock markets can rise anyway. 
  • We learned to beware of Greeks (and anyone) who borrows too much, but we didn’t bother to take the lesson to heart (yet).
  • Cap and trade survived in California, and the international climate change community breathed a big sigh of relief from a successful Cancun, but healthcare and a moribund economy crowded out a comprehensive climate or energy bill in the US.
  • Arguably this was the year that China passed the US in energy consumption (barely two years after taking the carbon emissions crown), and Japan in GDP to become the second largest economy, and oil prices ended on a high note (yes we do think those have something in common).  It also reached 50% of global coal consumption.  China of course, officially disputed the first and the last, and accepted the second, but provides no data.)
  • Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) (Electric vehicles), GM, and Codexis (NASDAW:CDXS) (bioenergy) priced IPOs, as did Molycorp (NYSE:MCP) (rare earth mining), but once high flyer Solyndra (CIGS PV) did not.  We learned the Chinese like IPOing things just like the rest of us, and we saw the nascent launch of EVs with the first shipments of Leafs and Volts to an unsuspecting public. 2011 will (maybe) tell us how much change Nissan and GM will see from those launches.
  • And after 5 years, moved off of Blogger and onto a new look on WordPress.  Finally!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jane Capital saw a year of change as well:

In summary, 2010 feels like one of those years we’ll look back on as a watershed year, for us, for our industry, and our planet. 

Here’s wishing you a productive beginning to 2011.


Jane Lindner, Neal Dikeman, and the Jane Capital team.

P.S. Don’t forget to shop, and yes, if you ask nicely we  might send you a friends and family discount.

Israel Awakening to Cleantech

by Richard T. Stuebi

In early November, I  participated in a week-long delegation concerning energy in Israel, at the invitation of Project Interchange, an educational program of the American Jewish Committee

In addition to learning a tremendous amount about Israel’s history, culture and political situation, my fellow travelers and I were fortunate to talk with many leaders active in various aspects of Israel’s cleantech sector.  From a cleantech standpoint, the key takeaways I gained from our tour were:

Even with a population of only 7 million people, Israel can nevertheless be an important force in cleantech, given that Jews have consistently played a disproportionately influential role in scientific and social advancement of the human race throughout history.

Ontario FIT Program Draws Unwarranted Criticism

I have seen, with growing frustration, an increasing number of comments on blogs and news sites deriding Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program and similar government incentives that encourage the use of renewable energy and create green jobs in the province. Comments like this anonymous post continue to stand out in my mind, “…‘greens’ only want one thing – the “green” in our wallet. And, thanks to the average gullible/stupid environmentally-oriented Ontarian, it is happening at an alarming rate.”

Perhaps more subtly, but with equal acrimony, an opinion piece in the Financial Post uses loaded words to indicate to the reader that there is no value in Ontario’s efforts to protect the environment – “Witness the initiatives of recent years: the messianic closing of cost-effective coal plants and implementing of higher-cost wind and solar energy initiatives in the name of the environment….”

It took me only five minutes to find these two examples, but you can easily find more of the same in the comments section following just about any online news article covering green incentives, financial or otherwise. Some of the authors’ concerns are valid. It is true that electricity prices are on the rise, partially as a result of the high prices the FIT pays to producers of solar, wind, and biofuel energy projects. It is also true that photovoltaic and wind technologies generate fewer kilowatts per dollar than traditional coal, oil, and gas. Yes, change is scary. For that very reason, it took a lot of guts for the Ontario Liberals to commit to such a sweeping, costly, and potentially career-damaging program. But this is the face of progress. Someone has to do the job. Someone has to get his hands dirty, and hard work brings rewards.

Solar, Wind Energy Incentives Create Jobs, Training Programs, and Clean Air.  Even a cursory look at the foreseeable future shows that we are getting off lightly if our only worries regarding energy are increasing prices. Prices would go up, with or without the FIT – financial costs as well as other lifestyle costs. It is not uncommon to see global warming denials used as grounds for criticism, but this is a bit of a red herring.

Global warming is not required in order for Ontario’s progressive efforts to be of value. How many oil spills can the ocean sustain before they destroy our fisheries altogether, either directly or by fatally interrupting the balance of sea life? How many airborne toxins can our bodies, and those of our children and unborn future generations, inhale or soak into our skins before we, ourselves, shut down? How many rivers and estuaries can be polluted by oil sands run-off before our declining water supply becomes undrinkable? All of these eventualities carry far greater costs to us and our pocketbooks than the higher prices that emerge with the FIT.

To me and my family, the above-mentioned issues alone justify radical policies such as the Liberals’ FIT. However, the program carries with it its own financial benefits. In Ontario, where a rapid decline in the auto and other manufacturing sectors has left many without work, the program has created solar energy jobs and photovoltaic training programs. And the FIT’s requirements for Ontario-sourced content have inspired the creation of manufacturing plants and other new business ventures in the province.

Change can be tough, but given Canada’s growing and collective commitment to a greener tomorrow, change is inevitable. In the future, we will laugh (or perhaps cry) at the way we used to fuel our lives. In the meantime, those truly concerned about their rising electricity bills would be wise to invest in solar technology or photovoltaic training, as these are quickly becoming the surest ways of putting some “green” in your wallet.

Cleantech Blog Power 5 – Top Investors in Cleantech

It’s been a long year and a half or so since we published our last Cleantech Blog Power 5 on the top investors in cleantech.  Time for round two.

As usual the criteria for inclusion.

  • Investor made a significant contribution to the cleantech investment sector
  • More smart looking investments than stupid looking investments
  • On balance, I’d like to have your portfolio.
  • I actually might like you.

And the middle two criteria have some wiggle room.

So our Power 5 this year:

  1. CMEA Capital – A long time player, with a slice of venture capital in last year’s top cleantech IPO, A123, one of this year’s top cleantech IPOs, Codexis, and this decade’s biggest cleantech gamble, Solyndra, real hard to leave them off the list.  They come in at number 1.  Hopefully Solyndra doesn’t take back all those profits when it’s solar cattle-guard finally gets caught out.
  2. CalPERS – Despite somewhat skeptical on the performance to date, CalPERS has certainly played its part, and really anchored the explosion of venture money in cleantech.  And it continues to support it with another $500 mm commitment this fall.
  3. Bayard Capital – Makes the list for 1 deal, that is all their deals in one company.  This is the Australian firm who turned their capital fund into Landis + Gyr through a series of acquisitions before anyone in the US had heard of smart grid.
  4. Us – I mean the US DOE – Single-handedly carrying the the entire cleantech venture sector on its back?  Wow.
  5. Foundation Capital – Makes it because despite a couple of deals in their portfolio that make me cringe, they’ve gotten a lot of kudos in California for sticking it out with Silver Spring in the early days, and with one of the better cleantech exits behind them in EnerNOC and multiple bets in both solar power development and financing, and smart grid, I have to like the strategy.

And the 5 for the Royal Questioner to Question:

  1. Advanced Equities – If I need to explain why, you shouldn’t be in investing.  Do your google search.  I’m not even going to give you some links to point to this time.
  2. Every single cellulosic biofuels investor – Hey you guys, start reading our blog and stop playing the “watch my magically shrinking cellulosic biofuels forecast and my oh so please don’t notice the bait and switch to bio-anything but fuels business plan”.  Let alone the, “we can be cheaper than gasoline” or “this process has solved the oh so tricky problems and it’s just a little engineering scale-up”.  And for the record, we think the Cello Energy debacle is hilarious.
  3. Kleiner Perkins – EEStor, Bloom Energy, I turn green 1/3rd of the way down their list.  They’re the originators of the fundamentally flawed “stealth in cleantech investing strategy.”  And they make me look humble (which is hard to do).  Even making a few dollars in Amyris, doesn’t come close to making it up.  Of course, maybe the latest news articles are right, and they’re pulling out of cleantech?
  4. The American Taxpayer/ errrrr, I mean US Department of Energy – Hmmmmmmh.  Who’s the genius who signed off on massive low interest loan guarantees to Solyndra, Tesla, Beacon, and friends?  But just wait until the conditional commitments in big project dollars get spent, I’m sure that will fix it.  But for the record, it’s not generally a good sign when the government brags about out investing the private sector.  How about you guys invest my share of the total in a real chief credit officer.  I’d apply for the job, but only if you term it chief workout officer.
  5. Ok, we’re stopping, now, my stomach is still churning after number 4.

Note to all:  This list is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too US centric.  I’m feeling very parochial.  More international suggestions please?

African Sunrise for Cleantech?

This week I’m going to break one of my self-imposed ‘blog’ rules and dip into last week’s news. My reasoning will become clear.

On Thursday I attended Envirolink North West’s Developing New Technologies for off Shore Wind event at the Met in Leeds. Apart from gaining a new respect for gearboxes (not to mention the humble bearing), I was struck by a presentation delivered by Dr. Mike Barnes of the University of Manchester and Siemens Transmission and Distribution arm.

In particular, he highlighted a ‘desertec’ vision for future energy generation, whereby huge swathes of African and Middle Eastern deserts are used for the generation of solar and wind energy. Drawing on commentary delivered by Matthias Ruchser and Stefan Gaenzle of the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik DIE) on Deutsche Welle, Dr Barnes outlined that, once technology and cost allows, Africa could become a major source of energy.

The Desertec project aims to feed solar power from Africa and the Middle East to the EU Thursday night brought a counter perspective at EcoConnect’s Green in the City Event: ‘Future of Solar’ at the London HQ of City law firm SNR Denton. Although heavily slanted towards the investment and banking community, these events always deliver a valuable and informed insight.

Expert panel member Paul McCartie of Investec Capital Markets dismissed ‘desertec’ as unworkable. Sighting “energy security” as the primary issue, he commented: “Following the recent problems caused by a dependency on Russian gas supplies, I can’t see Europe relying on energy generated in African and Middle Eastern nations.”

Good point. Would folks in Milton Keynes rely on a light switch powered by electricity generated in the Sudan?

Last week, Environment writers Louise Gray in the Telegraph and John Vidal in Guardian offered a hint as to what the future may hold.

Both reported on a controversial announcement from International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell MP that the Coalition Government was committing taxpayers’ money: “To encourage private investors to put their funds towards ‘green’ development projects in Africa and Asia.”  Mr Mitchell said: “In Africa, a potential new fund could see up to 500MW of renewable energy per year from 2015 – enough to provide for over 4 million rural households. In Asia the project could generate 5GW of new renewable energy and create 60,000 jobs.” he said.

Aid agencies greeted the news with immediate skepticism: Would private investors be doing this just to bring light and jobs to some of the most energy deficient and impoverished places on earth? Of course not, and Government wouldn’t expect them to.

So what’s going on here? Well, if the near ‘third-world’ is to be explored as a potential source of energy then this could be a sensible way to go – encourage investment under the guise of aid.  As for security, Matthias Ruchser and Dr. Stefan Gaenzle are of the opinion that: “renewable energy sources promote development, and development promotes security.”

So what leads us to believe that the development of African renewable energy will not be just an extension of the model followed by other large extractors of raw materials from the continent? The Angola and Nigerian oil fields are by no means models of security and progressive regional development.
Does renewable energy offer an opportunity for a new, fairer approach to international development, or will the same energy security problems prevail?

Guest Submission by David Innes-Edwards of Green Frontiers

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.

California TREC Decision Side-steps Energy Infrastructure of the Future

By David Niebauer

Most of the discussions of tradable renewable energy credits (TRECs) in California revolve around the extent to which the State’s large utilities can use TRECs for compliance with the California renewables portfolio standard (RPS) program.  The utilities would like a free hand to use as many RECs as possible, derived from sources both in-State and out-of-State – presumably RECs will be easier and cheaper to acquire than new renewable generating facilities are to build.  The interests of the utilities are balanced by those of rate-payers as well as policy initiatives, such as AB 32.  These interests move sometimes in opposite directions, one toward less expensive retail energy and one toward more environmentally sustainable energy generation.

As the revised decision on TRECs winds its slow and tortuous way through the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), it is becoming clear that there will be a price cap ($50) and there will be a limit on use (30% likely) and that the cap and limit will expire at the end of 2013 “to give Energy Division sufficient time to develop [an] evaluative framework” to make sure the system works without snafu.  See procedural trail to CPUC Proceeding R06-02-012.

Lost in the shuffle, however, is what many believe will be the energy infrastructure of the future – distributed generation (DG).  The California Energy Commission (CEC) defines DG in the California Distributed Energy Resource Guide as “small-scale power generation technologies (typically in the range of 3 to 10,000 kW) located close to where electricity is used (e.g., a home or business) to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of the traditional electric power system.” The term “distributed” is borrowed from the computer industry where it has long been recognized that widely disbursed or “distributed” computing is more economic, more efficient and more secure than centralized systems.

In energy generation, “distributed” means fewer centralized generation facilities and little or no transmission.  Utilities don’t like it, naturally, because a fully implemented distributed generation infrastructure would obviate the need for a publicly subsidized electric utility monopoly – the institution feels justifiably threatened.  Whether DG will ever supply all of our energy needs is a question for the future.  In the meantime, policy makers should guard against steering the market away from its proper implementation.

Because there are a number of technologies and a variety of ways to implement DG, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the CEC have defined DG as those technologies and implementations that generate electricity on the “customer side of the meter”.   See the CEC’s Renewables Portfolio Standard Eligibility Guidebook (3d ed., December 2007), at 17-19. These would include home installations of solar photovoltaics (PV) and would also include commercial PV such as rooftop and ground-based solar being implemented by large energy users (food processing, cold storage, manufacturing, etc.) and others.  For this purpose, DG does not include solar rooftop programs being sponsored by the large utilities that utilize commercial rooftop space in order to generate energy that is then sold into the grid.  It is energy used on-site that does not require a central transmission and distribution system.

To some extent, DG has been an afterthought in the TREC considerations and decisions.  This is because the market is currently quite small compared with utility-scale projects.  However, it seems likely that DG is the next frontier in renewable energy generation.  As PV continues to drop in price, and new technologies are developed, more and more commercial enterprises will come to realize that generating their own energy from the sun (or from fuel cells or other new technologies) is simple, safe, and less expensive than being beholden to large utility monopolies.
The CEC is concerned that TRECs for DG would provide an excessive subsidy in light of current programs in place for such projects.  The CEC’s current position is as follows:

“Facilities that receive funding under the Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Partnership program, Emerging Renewables Program, or Pilot Performance‐Based Incentive Program, under the CPUC‐approved Self Generation Incentive Program or California Solar Initiative, or any similar ratepayer‐funded program, and facilities that benefit from net metering programs or tariffs approved by the CPUC or any POU, are considered distributed generation and may not be certified as RPS‐eligible at this time.”  RPS Eligibility Guidebook p. 25.

However, as argued persuasively by the Solar Alliance in its comments on the revised RPS Eligibility Guidebook:  “given the reality that, as the incentives under the California Solar Initiative [and other programs] decline, the sale of TRECs is likely to become a critical means for financing distributed solar generation.” To meet the state’s aggressive RPS goals, it only makes sense to allow TRECs for DG.  The CPUC anticipates this eventuality as it takes great pains in the revised proposed decision of Commissioner Peevey to “clarify the relationship of [the CPUC’s] discussion of TRECs from DG sources to the CEC’s authority…to determine what resources are RPS eligible.”

The CEC has also stated “[t]he Energy Commission will not certify distributed generation [DG] facilities as RPS-eligible unless the CPUC authorizes tradable RECs to be applied toward the RPS.”  This pronouncement, combined with the revised proposed decision on TRECs, which will permit tradable RECs to be applied toward the RPS, will presumably make customer-side DG eligible for the sale and trading of TRECs, notwithstanding the CEC’s concern over excessive rate-payer subsidies.

The numbers for DG are small at present.  As pointed out by the CPUC, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) will have provided incentives for approximately 1,100 GWh by 2011.  At $50 per TREC, this would amount to only about $50 million State-wide in additional financing for solar DG projects (1 TREC = 1,000 kW hrs of renewable generation).  However these numbers are anticipated to grow significantly.

It’s useful to look at TRECs for DG from a commercial application perspective.  A 250 kW solar PV system can be expected to generate at least 300,000 kWh per year in a relatively high solar radiation area, such as the LA basin.  Even at the $50 per TREC cap set by the CPUC, this is still $15,000 per year in new financing for a commercial system.  At $200 per TREC, it amounts to $40,000 per year.  Assuming the facility owner could forward-sell these TRECs, even discounted to present value, this is a significant amount of money that could be used to finance installation and maintenance of the system over its useful life – especially in the face of declining or vanishing solar incentives.

We agree with the Solar Alliance and others who urge the PUC and the CEC to coordinate their agency actions so as to accommodate TRECs for DG and to do it soon.  Other states are way ahead of California in allowing RECs to stimulate the renewable energy markets.  For example, New Jersey, which has a specific solar set-aside, has allowed RECs for RPS compliance for a number of years.  Solar RECs sold at auction in New Jersey were recently trading for as much as $600 per REC (see  California cannot afford to continue to ignore the energy infrastructure of the future.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on clean energy and environmental technologies.

California’s Cleantech War – Prop 23

According to pick your favorite cleantech and carbon media outlet, California is at war. 

AB 32 is California’s carbon cap and trade law.   The law is most the way ready to implement, with the rulemaking in process now.  It’s aimed squarely at two goals, one, reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and two, since such a reduction is largely symbolic without the rest of the world participating as well (CO2 is the only environmental pollutant that really doesn’t care where in the world it goes in or comes out, so is a truly global pollutant requiring a global response) continue California’s trend of environmental policy leadership, and be the beacon on the hill.

As it currently stands, AB 32 rules (as with most of these things the devil’s in the details, and the 2008 law takes a long time to work out the details) are supposed to be ready to go at the end of this year, and implemented in 2012.

Proposition 23 is an initiative on the ballot designed to indefinitely delay implementation of AB 32.  And for the record, if you don’t click that link at least read the Legislative Analyst’s analysis, I suggest you skip the vote.

The actual impact according to the California voter information guide would be to suspend part of the measures in the Scoping Plan (California’s overall GHG Plan), targeting about half of the emissions in the Scoping Plan:

“Various Climate Change Regulatory Activities Would Be Suspended. This proposition would result in the suspension of a number of measures in the Scoping Plan for which regulations either have been adopted or are proposed for adoption. Specifically, this proposition would likely suspend:

  • The proposed cap–and–trade regulation discussed above.
  • The “low carbon fuel standard” regulation that requires providers of transportation fuel in California (such as refiners and importers) to change the mix of fuels to lower GHG emissions.
  • The proposed ARB regulation that is intended to require privately and publicly owned utilities and others who sell electricity to obtain at least 33 percent of their supply from “renewable” sources, such as solar or wind power, by 2020. (The current requirement that 20 percent of the electricity obtained by privately owned utilities come from renewable sources by 2010 would not be suspended by this proposition.)
  • The fee to recover state agency costs of administering AB 32.

Much Regulation in the Scoping Plan Would Likely Continue. Many current activities related to addressing climate change and reducing GHG emissions would probably not be suspended by this proposition. That is because certain Scoping Plan regulations implement laws other than AB 32. The regulations that would likely move forward, for example, include:

  • New vehicle emission standards for cars and smaller trucks.
  • A program to encourage homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs.
  • Land–use policies to promote less reliance on vehicle use.
  • Building and appliance energy efficiency requirements.”

Because it is expected to scrap CARB’s proposed expansion of the California RPS to 33% of power from renewable sources up from the current goals of 20% (we’re not there yet), and the removal of the planned Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the entire cleantech sector is up in arms. 

Contrary to popular opinion, a Yes on Prop 23 probably won’t gut the cleantech sector – since cleantech is global and California’s cleantech companies are driven by programs well beyond its borders, since all the major programs Prop 23 affects haven’t actually been enacted yet and several key programs would be untouched (as well that the LCFS probably gets served by things other than cleantech biofuels anyway at least in the first years).  But it would cut into the future growth of renewables in the state a few years down the road, esp wind and large scale solar.

What it would definitely do is kill the nascent push in the US towards real cap and trade just a month ahead of the next round of international climate change negotiations in Cancun.  Quite frankly if California can’t deliver on its own cap and trade law, who else can?

And it would send a signal to the world that California voters are not quite as ready to be the beacon on the hill for environmental issues as they once were.

Will it hurt the economy and kill jobs if we don’t pass it and AB 32 continues?  Unfortunately it depends, with the pain more certain and likely nearer term, and the huge economic benefits more uncertain and likely longer term – though quite substantial in possibilities.  Yes, in the short term and medium term LCFS and 33% RPS and cap and trade will push up power prices and fuel prices in California, hurting consumers, and pushing some production out of the state (if other states and countries don’t continue to match the increased regulation).  That’s why it’s called alternative energy – it’s still more expensive.  But yes, it will probably simultaneously catalyze more venture capital investment (VC services is a big export for us), carbon markets investment (I know about two dozen companies that moved into California specifically because of AB 32 and its first mover advantage in US cap and trade and I helped bring 2 of them in myself), and certainly add some manufacturing and construction jobs in the cleantech sector. 

Net net, higher energy and manufacturing costs in California and an effective renewable and carbon quota mean economic losses in comparative advantage and to consumers in California.  But how much depends on exactly how good a job it does of catalyzing jobs in California for export or replacing business that we currently import to offset that.  And it is very, very hard to underestimate how good California’s environmental leadership has been at catalyzing US and global change.  Meaning the that comparative advantage loss may be short-lived (higher power prices from more low carbon renewables don’t cost California many jobs if its competitors adopt effective carbon prices as well), and if a new export industry and venture capital emerges to be a world leader (which basically pulls dollars from all around the world into Silicon Valley) it means more new California jobs gained than those lost from the comparative advantage shift, then all is good.

Unfortunately, some of that depends on how well CARB actually designs the final rules, and my big fear for California on AB 32 stems from how badly the state screwed up its last major energy deal – power deregulation.  Keep in mind Texas got that one right, and California’s was a fiasco (then as now blamed on the Texans – but I can buy 100% wind power for 11.4 cents a Kwh flat rate in Texas).

So, vote yes, and kill AB 32, and carbon leadership, and ding the rest of the cleantech sector, and you’ll probably never feel the impact in you pocket book (or realize it if you do).  But if you vote yes, you lose all moral right to claim cleantech and environmental leadership for the state.

Or vote no, and keep the state headed in the direction its going – leadership in renewables and carbon, and signal to the world that you care.  More than that, you tell yourself you believe that policy enabled innovation can change your fortune for the better, and outweigh the investment.  That’s technology and venture capital, and that’s what California does best. 

But please, vote for what *you* believe – not because the cleantech sector is screaming that you’re taking away their subsidy or because a couple of independent Texas oil companies are funding the no vote (they are, but to be fair, they provide a lot jobs and taxes to the state, California has not exactly gone out of its way play fair for them in the implementation of AB 32).  And don’t vote one way or the other just because you think it create or kill jobs – because which way the net outcome sways lies on our shoulders, too, from policy makers and CARB staff to the energy industry to the California consumer and business who will pay the final price and reap the final reward either way. 

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital, has help found or has interests in businesses in carbon (as founding CEO of Carbonflow), solar, superconductors, and green products, and personally stands to lose a lot of money if Proposition 23 passes and AB 32 goes down.

My First View of Solyndra Up Close

Solyndra CIGS Panels on South Houston High

I had a chance to see my first Solyndra solar panels in action today.
Three organizations run by friends of mine, HARC, Ignite Solar, and American Electric Technologies, are partnered up to install a 145 kW uber photovoltaic test bed on two schools (Sam Rayburn and South Houston) in Pasadena ISD in Houston, Texas.  They were scrambling around on the roof doing the installation as I watched. A very cool experience.

They’re stuffing an array of 182 Wp Solyndra panels across from an array of 210 Wp Moser Baer crystalline silicon panels on a flat roof penetrating fixed mounting at a 10 degree angle, next door to Uni-Solar amorphous silicon flexible panels (there photovoltaic laminate products) from Energy Conversion Devices (Nasdaq:ENER) with a non penetrating adhesive backing on a 22 degree ribbed roof next to more of the Moser Baer in a non roof penetrating mount on that 22 degree roof. Later they’re putting in more Moser Baer crystalline on trackers.

Unisolar Stick on Amorphous Panels

All the systems are to be wired up to AETI inverters, and will have a weather station, temperature sensors and monitoring.  HARC, the Houston Area Research Council is the system owner, and will monitor the lab for Pasadena ISD, plus they are putting in a kiosk in the schools so the students can see the side by side results live, technology vs technology and school vs school.

A few interesting tidbits.  You gotta love all those slef shadows underneath the 90 Solyndra modules, we will be very interested to see what they actually deliver – though for the price difference, it had better be spectacular.   I hadn’t seen the Uni-Solar product just stuck straight on to a roof before, quite amazing.  The Moser Baer product I’d seen, but it’ll be interesting to watch it go head to head with thin film in different configurations, it’s certainly got the highest power rating of the systems tested.

What really excites me is the side by side comparison.  Ignite and HARC told me they can get actual performance data from each technology type and configuration, that we can compare to costs and rated performance, as well as weather and temperature data, and hopefully this time next year we’ll be publishing a who beat who account with an overunder graph!

Neal Dikeman is a Partner and Jane Capital Partners, a cleantech and alternative energy merchant bank.  He was a cofounder of Zenergy Power, and the founding CEO of Carbonflow, and helped launch Meridan Energy’s solar business, as well as is Chief Blogger of and Chairman of A Texas Aggie, his current project is helping grow Jane Capital’s most recent company,

Global Cleantech 100

by Richard T. Stuebi

This past week in New York, at its annual East Coast investor forum, the Cleantech Group released its 2010 Global Cleantech 100, profiling the private cleantech companies that a set of panelists thinks has the most promise for large long-term impact.

Some highlights from the list and the report:

  1. In the panel’s eyes, the most promising company is Silver Springs Networks, followed by Zipcar, Opower, Bridgelux, and BrightSource Energy. Of course, the panel isn’t infallible: one of the 2009 Cleantech 100, Imara, flamed out even before 2009 ended.
  2. Energy efficiency displaced solar as the subsegment of cleantech with the most firms on the list, with 15. Solar and biofuels each account for 14 companies on the list. As big and active as the segment is, only one company in wind energy made the list.
  3. The U.S. remains the dominant geographic region for cleantech (55), with California far and away the leading state (33), and no other state with more than 8 (Massachusetts). However, Asia-Pacific (especially China) is fast on the rise.
  4. VantagePoint is the venture firm with the most companies on the list (14), one more than Kleiner Perkins.
  5. Corporate strategic partners and investors are increasing their cleantech activities. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), IBM (NYSE: IBM), Siemens (XETRA: SIE), PG&E (NYSE: PCG), Landis & Gyr (a large global private company that itself is on the Cleantech 100) and General Electric (NYSE: GE) are at the top of the heap in engaging with companies on the list.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

A Cleantech Blogger’s Home Energy Audit – The Results Are In

Reprinted from

A few weeks ago I blogged a very bad experience trying to get an energy audit done on my home.  The vendor, Standard Renewable Energy, part of Gridpoint, just didn’t do the job.  After our blog article, the company came back to do the audit right for me, complete with a IR camera looking for hotspots, blower door test, and duct test.

I just got my report, and wanted to share the experience.  Consider it kind of like our cleantech blogger CSR report.  I’ve posted the full energy audit report on our Yahoo! Group for your reading pleasure. 

For those of you who want to blog your own home energy audit, I’d love for you to join the Yahoo! Group and send in a message with your experience or report in attachment.

If you’re looking to sort through what kinds of products are available, our sister site has a ton of them including:

as well as hundreds of articles on the how to side of things, for everything from energy efficiency to general greening.

My personal scorecard:

The results were mixed, not bad over all, but a lot of room for improvement.

I apparently have a pretty low energy rate house, at 23 kBTUs/Sq Ft, apparently a little over half the average.  Not bad for a 55 year old ranch house. This despite very little insulation in the attic, none in walls, and not particularly efficient appliances.  But for better or worse, with our total summer energy bill in the $125/month range ($8.9/kwh) plus gas bill for hot water at less than $20/month, not much makes economic sense to do.  I think we may just be very boring in our energy use! 

We didn’t do so hot on the blower and duct tests (that’s where they pull a light vacuum and measure how leaky your house envelope and duct work is.  The combination is a measure of how much your system is air conditioning things other than your home).  We are about double the recommended levels of leakage, and that’s after redoing the windows.

And we haven’t insulated the attic (current R value is estimated at 13, something like R 38 is desirable).  The nearly $1800 attic insulation quote I had gotten previously was looking like a 5-7 year payback, and unfortunately paying to seal the ducts and replace the air return looks like it would be marginal as well.  Sealing the ducts probably would pay off, however, we have an old house whose air return is way undersized and very poorly sealed, probably a vestige of the original heat only return pre air conditioning, meaning I’d need to tear up my hallway and put a new one in the ceiling to do it right.  The other big move would be to do some sort of an attic fan to do active attic ventilation, and keep my cooling load down.

One bathroom is basically an energy black hole, sucking my energy straight out to somewhere, but except for attic insulation they didn’t have a lot of good suggestions for this one. Since it’s my bathroom not hers, my wife just didn’t seem as concerned as I was.

The big contributor to be honest is likely not even in the house – we bought a very well shaded moderately sized house with 4 huge oak trees and 1 magnolia shading it, and keep the AC in high 70s in favor of a lot of ceiling fans.

And apparently, despite having big pretty windows and lots of light, we don’t have a high window area/square foot ratio, and all but one are pretty shaded. We did replace them with energy efficient double paned windows this summer, which besides an Energy Star washer/dryer was our only major energy efficiency move so far. Even more than the energy, replacing the windows made a huge difference in comfort, while still keeping the AC temperature fairly high.

On the negative side, I added 26 recessed can lights to the ceiling (I can’t help it, I like light!), about doubling the lighting capacity of the house to 5kW with very few CFLs.  But each room has multiple lighting systems (eg, ceiling fixture plus recessed or recessed plus lamps) on different switches, and we are pretty good about keeping on only what we need, so it really didn’t drive up the usage.

We’ve got a couple of small, cheap items that definitely make economic sense.   Only 1 of the 4 outside doors is weatherstripped (and one has a huge south facing single paned window that failed the IR test badly), and caulking along the base boards/sealing the various light switches (they make basically soft gaskets you can put on yourself that do the trick) and attic stairs would help seal the living area a bit (maybe just offsetting all those lighting cans!).

The south facing roof is mostly shaded by trees, and that plus our low electricity and hot water usage and low electric rates means solar is pretty much out.

We’ve done nothing about “vampires” or phantom loads, but we also don’t have a huge number of electronics, so it’s not too bad.

The one thing I was really excited about which the auditor just didn’t seem to think was worthwhile was an attic radiant barrier.  They recommended simply attic better ventilation as a first step.

In any case I’ll blog the results in a couple of months and give the blow by blow on whatever we end up doing.


My conclusions:

It’s hard to really find a lot things that were economic and environmental no brainers.  Most of the big items looked to be “on the bubble.”  Lots of little things from CFLs to those little light socket gaskets and weatherstripping need to get done.   And I do need to bite the bullet on some big items like the insulation.

Part of me really wants to see how far down I could get my energy usage. Is 300 kWh/month possible without self generating?  I’m going to have to do some calculations.

One of the problems with a house like ours is that when you start with moderately low usage, and plan on doing all the small cheap items, your bill gets so low you can’t payback any of the big ones.  So maybe energy efficiency retrofits is only really the province of the true energy hog or those who just believe.



Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger of, and is responsible for starting companies in carbon, superconductors, solar and fuel cells, as well as launching  He is a Texas Aggie, and his grandfather and great grandfather were both refrigeration and air conditioning engineers.

Can I Hate the Solar Bill of Rights and Still Love Solar Power?

by Neal Dikeman

A few of you may have run across the Solar Bill of Rights Petition that’s floating around the web.  I was really excited at the idea, until I read it.  For a good environmental conservative like me, I had a lot of trouble swallowing the actual demands, despite the fact that a whole bunch of my friends and people I respect are already signatories.  To be honest, instead of being excited over the soaring rhetoric and call to action, or enthralled by the detailed and well thought out solutions to the thorny issues around power deregulation, local choice, and distributed energy, and my first response after reading it was along the lines of “where do they get off”.  It reads like a very self serving, our child is prettier than your child, our cause is more important than your cause, partisan politics please subsidize me call to unlevel the playing field, and ignores all the devils in the details.

Whereas the reall Bill of Rights is a carefully crafted attempt to reserve rights to protect the individual from the state, this feels like an attempt to use the state’s engines to smash all opposition to particular industry, and local choice and the rights of the people and businesses affected be damned.  Not my idea of a Bill of Rights.

To my friends who know how much I believe in the solar sector and its promise – I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry in advance of you reading this.  But somebody please bring me a new version of the Solar Bill of Rights worth signing.

The text of the Solar Bill of Rights is below in italics, with my thoughts and questions after each point.  Read through for yourself, and post your comments on the blog.  Tell me whether you think I should sign, and Cleantech Blog should endorse it.  Or post suggestions for amendments we can propose, and we’ll write our own.

We declare these rights not on behalf of our companies, but on behalf of our customers and our country. We seek no more than the freedom to compete on equal terms and no more than the liberty for consumers to choose the energy source they think best.

1. Americans have the right to put solar on their homes or businesses

Millions of Americans want to put solar on the roof of their home or business, but many are prevented from doing so by local restrictions. Some homeowners associations have prevented residents from going solar through neighborhood covenants, which allow for the association to veto any changes to a property’s aesthetics. Some utilities and municipalities have also made it prohibitively time-consuming and/or expensive to have a system permitted or inspected.

I loved this one, at first blush.  A right to solar?  Terrific.  Then I started thinking, hey wait a minute.  HOAs and deed restrictions are a core defender of local property rights.  Where do we get off retroactively telling the massive number of property owners and zoning boards, we’re sorry, despite the fact that you can’t get 50% vote of your neighborhood to approve changes to the agreement you all live under in your democratic process (and that your neighborhood may have had for 100 years), here’s your new amendment.  That smacks of eminent domain to me.  I hate the use of eminent domain to benefit a specific constituency.  Needs lots of nuance before I could get behind this one.

2. Americans have the right to connect their solar energy system to the grid with uniform national standards

Currently, each state (in some cases, each utility) has a unique process for connecting solar systems to the local electricity grid. National interconnection standards will create a uniform process and paperwork, creating a simple process for the homeowner and a standardized physical connection for manufacturers. Connecting a home solar system shouldn’t be any more complicated for the homeowner than setting up an Internet connection.

Got to love standards, but who’s going to set them?  That part always creates big winners and losers.  Telecom standards for that local internet connection were supported by the government, but never did we have a mandate all ISPs shall go DSL, right?  Oh, and by the way, all local utility grids are very different in design.  Some can do things that others can’t.  How exactly will that be reconciled, and who will pay for it?  Like this one but Devil’s in the details and I don’t think these guys have thought it through.

3. Americans have the right to Net Meter and be compensated at the very least with full retail electricity rates

Residential solar systems generate excess electricity in the middle of the day, when the owners aren’t usually at home. Net metering requires the utility company to credit any excess generation to the customer at full retail rates at a minimum – effectively running the electricity meter backwards when the system is generating more electricity than the occupants of the house are using. Allowing customers to net meter is critical to making solar an economically viable option for most homeowners.

Net metering is a terrific idea in principal, but 1) again, not all grids are capable of handling the impact easily, especially if it’s at volume, 2) right now our always available power distribution system is paid for by charges buried in your power usage bill, if the net metering house still wants the benefit of being hooked up to the grid, how are they compensating the rest of us for the on demand infrastructure use?, and the big one 3) why is retail a fair price?  Saying the utility (in many places owned by you and I) has to buy all the power its customer produces at the same price it would retail it to you is about like saying your local grocery store has to buy the 10 lbs of tomatos you grow at retail.  They buy the rest of their tomatos in volume, with delivery and quality restrictions, for a much lower price (and for the non produce they send back the unsold volumes to the manufacturer);  and 4) which utility has to buy it?  In places like Texas which are deregulated, you can choose your provider.  Shall we pick one at random and force them to buy our power at the highest price they’ve ever sold to any customer?  That sounds fair.

Then I read that last line again, ummh, so you deserve a “right” because the only way it’s profitable for you is if you make somebody else buy it at higher than their current cost?

4. The solar industry has the right to a fair competitive environment

The highly profitable fossil fuel industries have received tens of billions of dollars in subsidies from the federal government for decades. In addition, fossil fuel industries are protected from bearing the full social costs of the pollution they produce. The solar energy industry and the public expect a fair playing field, with all energy sources evaluated based on their full, life-cycle costs and benefits to society. Therefore it is critical that solar energy receive the same level of support, for the same duration, as the fossil fuel industry.

I’m getting really, really tired of this argument.  Renewable and solar advocates conveniently ignore that even incorporating a kitchen sink approach to fossil fuel subsidies (and heaven forbid we add the massive percentage of solar R and D spent by governments over the years), the solar subsidy is many, many, many times higher the fossil fuel subsidy level on a per unit basis (i.e, if we gave the solar guys the same subsidy per kilowatt hours or btu equivalent that they claim the fossil fuel industry gets, the solar industry would never have started.  And it smacks of total smarminess to have this argument right below the “let us sell back power at retail rates” subsidy demand).

Or maybe we should just add as a corollary that all Americans have the right to shares and dividends from any venture capital backed solar company which receives greater than 1/3rd of its funding from a DOE loan program or other public R and D funding and later benefits from a subsidy that Americans pays for in their regulated utility bill.  I’ll go look in my mailbox tomorrow and see if my check arrived.

5. The solar industry has the right to produce clean energy on public lands

America has some of the best solar resources in the world, which are often on public lands overseen by the federal government. But even though oil and gas industries are producing on 13 million acres of public lands, no solar permits have been approved. Solar is a clean, renewable American resource and solar development on public lands is a critical component of any national strategy to expand our use of renewable energy.

Hang on, big fan of leasing national natural resources in a fair and responsible manner, but I don’t necessarily want solar, oil, or ANY industry to have an unrestricted right to use my share of the public lands without environmental reviews, an open and transparent process with stakeholder inclusion, and a competitive market.  While I want to see solar thrown up all across the country, why should the solar industry be demanding this as a right?  The wind industry doesn’t?  The hydro industry doesn’t?  The geothermal industry doesn’t?

6. The solar industry has the right to sell its power across a new, 21st century transmission grid

Over the last 100 years, the transmission grid in the United States has been built as a patchwork of local systems, designed and planned to meet local needs. As the needs of customers have changed, so has the way the electric industry does business. What haven’t changed are the rules crafted in an era of coal-fired power plants. What is needed now is an investment in infrastructure to connect areas rich in solar resources with major population centers.

Uh, I’m a big advocate of an advanced grid.  And the cost here is measured well into the 11 or 12 figures, or significant portions of total GDP.  Let’s not write checks and demand someone else’s body has to cash them.  This is a tremendous topic but totally does not belong in a solar bill of rights unless the solar industry is ready and willing to pay for it (which in turn would be unfair to ask of them alone either).

7. Americans have the right to buy solar electricity from their utility

Many utility companies have never considered offering their customers the option to purchase clean solar energy, rather than dirty energy from coal or other fossil fuels. Nation-wide over 90 percent of people support increased use of solar energy, and over three-quarters believe it should be a major priority of the federal government. Despite this, only around 25 percent of utility customers in the U.S. have the ability to actually purchase clean, renewable power from their utility, and only a fraction of those programs offer solar energy. Utilities should be required to offer the electricity source that their customers want.

Dude, a few years ago California voters voted down a solar initiative because of cost, only to have the CPUC implement it anyway.  We could do the right thing and just deregulate like Texas and New Zealand did (instead of stupidly like California tried), and I could buy dirt cheap 100% wind power, hydro power, 20% wind power, natural gas only power, average grid mix, cap and save, fixed rate, floating rate, or any other different combination a marketer can dream up.  Oh wait, since all other forms of renewable power are cheaper than solar, I’d buy that 11.4 cent/kwh all wind power than the solar.  Maybe that’s why the solar industry wants their private right.  How about, every American has the right to buy power in a free market and switch providers when they want to?  And then let’s make the subsidies we give all energy companies transparent, as opposed to making new back door ones?

8. Americans have the right to – and should expect – the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry

Solar energy systems are an investment as much as a physical product. Consumers deserve top-quality information and treatment from solar energy providers and installers. Consumers should expect the solar industry to minimize its environmental impact and communicate information about available incentives in a clear, accurate and accessible manner. Finally, consumers should expect that solar systems will work better than advertised, and that companies will make every good faith effort to support solar owners over the life of their systems. Read SEIA’s code of ethics.

This is just plain odd.  I wasn’t aware we needed this.  Maybe I missed something important about how ethical the solar industry is today?

I’m sorry guys, this whole SOB of Rights just reads as very self serving.  But bring your comments, if the weight of Cleantech Blog readers want me to, I will sign it and we will support.

Neal Dikeman is the chief blogger of, and creator of, a huge advocate of solar and policy powered financing and R&D, he just doesn’t like using his government to support hidden subsidies to pick winners.  He is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, and has helped found or invested in companies in carbon, solar, superconductors, and fuel cells.

A New Cleantech Taxonomy

Classic definitions of cleantech, and the industries under its umbrella, have gotten long in the tooth. The sector has changed, and taxonomies haven’t kept up.

Why is a clean technology taxonomy important? As a list of nested categories, it shows where a clean technology “fits”. It helps vendors understand their competitive sets. It defines and helps investors understand the breadth of the sector and its sub-categories, and helps research and data organizations report consistently.

So if it’s so important, why haven’t leading cleantech taxonomies kept pace with the sector’s evolution? Because it’s hard. Especially for cleantech data companies like Dow Jones, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, GTM Research, PwC/NVCA MoneyTree, or Cleantech Group. Any edit could mean having to re-tag years of data in difficult-to-change back end systems. And, truth be told, there are usually more profitable things for a data company to do than pay people to sit around and think about what cleantech is, what it’s not and how the industries it spans should be organized.

Ah, but it’s a different story for a fledgling new cleantech research and advisory shop. At our firm, the taxonomy of cleantech is something many of us have been itching to dig into for years. We’ve seen the limitations in today’s taxonomies. And so, the last few months, I and the high profile consulting, analyst and writer colleagues I’ve been lucky to work with in the cleantech research and consulting team at Kachan & Co. have been quietly working on our own take, which I now get to share with you for your feedback.

[Click here to view this post with embedded taxonomy graphics view]

As a new firm, it was an important exercise for us:

  • It gave us a brand new framework for tagging and scheduling current and future research and analysis
  • We were able to rethink what many organizations have been holding up as 11 hallowed categories of cleantech (we think there are only 8 that deserve to be high-level categories. See our detailed classification, below.)
  • We were able to use our collective dozens of years in this sector to make some logical changes that we’d all been wanting to make, e.g. categorizing smart grid as a subset initiative within the larger phenomenon of energy efficiency. Or collecting green building-related materials under a category we call clean industry, recognizing that these materials are used more widely than just in structures for green building.
  • We adopted terms the market has settled on, and did away with outdated terminology
  • We chose not to categorize projects financed. Therefore wind, solar, even aquaculture farms don’t appear here as categories. We intentionally framed this as a taxonomy of technology and business model innovation.
  • It required discipline to remember the exercise was a classification for technologies, i.e. when hardware/software or other systems are involved. It was not a categorization of larger climate change initiatives, for instance… just where tech that’s supposed to get commercialized is involved, and where entrepreneurs and investors hope to make a return.
  • It forced the internal discussion of whether nuclear is a clean technology. While some argue nuclear has no place in cleantech, we opted to include it, as we’ve recently been made aware of nuclear-related innovations being pursued to derive power from non-weaponizable fuels, and other new R&D aimed at cracking that other historical nut of nuclear power: waste. But those are other stories.
  • It forced a focus on cleantech-related innovation. For instance, just because recycling is a category doesn’t mean that everything in the recycling industry is cleantech. Likewise semiconductors. Or hydro. But these areas are ripe for clean technology innovation, and there are new cleantech breakthroughs happening in each there today. Hence their inclusion.

[Click here to download the taxonomy as PowerPoint slides from the Kachan & Co. website]

After years of writing thousands of clean technology articles and reports, our team proposes this categorization as a cleantech category taxonomy. But consider this a ‘crowdsourced’ first draft. We’re interested in industry feedback before calling this done. Weigh in with comments on this same taxonomy posting on OUR site, and we’ll incorporate your best thinking in a final version we’ll publish on our website here a few weeks from this writing. We’ll then start using the final as a framework for other forthcoming cleantech information products, and invite you to use it, too.

(Credit: dozens of others’ frameworks were reviewed in this process, but special acknolwedgement to taxonomies from Cleantech Group, China Greentech Initiative, StrategyEye, Greentech Media, Skipso and Wikipedia, all of which informed our final structure below.)

In outline form, Kachan & Co’s taxonomy of what fits where in cleantech:

  • Renewable energy generation
    • Wind
      • Turbines
      • Components, incl. gearboxes, blades, towers
    • Solar
      • Crystalline silicon
      • Thin film
      • Thermal
      • CSP
        • Thermal
        • PV
      • Organic
      • Nanotech
      • PPA providers
      • Systems
    • Renewable fuels
      • Grain Ethanol
      • Cellulosic Ethanol
      • Biodiesel
      • Biogas
      • Algal-based
      • Biobutanol
      • Hydrogen [when produced from non-fossil sources]
    • Marine
      • Tidal
      • Wave
      • Run-of-river and other new hydro innovations
      • Ocean thermal
    • Biomass
      • Wood
      • Grasses (e.g. miscanthus, switchgrass)
      • Algae, non-fuel
    • Geothermal
      • Hardware & systems
    • Waste-to-energy
      • Waste heat recovery
      • Anaerobic digestion
      • Landfill methane
      • Gasification
      • Plasma torching
    • Nuclear
      • New designs
      • Non-uranium fuels
      • Waste disposal
    • Emerging
      • Osmotic power
      • Kinetic power
      • Others
    • Measurement & analysis
      • Software systems
      • Sensor and other hardware
  • Energy storage
    • Batteries
      • Wet cells (e.g. flow, lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, sodium -sulfur)
      • Dry cells (e.g. zinc-carbon, lithium iron phosphate)
      • Reserve batteries
      • Charging & management
    • Fuel cells
      • PEM
      • DMFC
      • SOFC
      • MCFC
      • Zinc air
    • Thermal storage
      • Molten salt
      • Ice
      • Chilled water
      • Eutectic
    • Flywheels
    • Compressed air
    • Super/ultra capacitors
    • Hydrogen storage
  • Energy efficiency
    • Smart grid
      • Transmission
        • Sensors & quality measurement
        • Distribution automation
        • High voltage DC
        • Superconductors
      • Demand management/response
      • Management
        • Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) & smart meters
        • Monitoring & metering
        • Networking equipment
        • Quality & testing
        • Self repairing technologies
        • Power conservation
        • Power protection
        • Software & data analysis
    • Green building
      • Design
        • Green roofs
      • Building automation
        • Software & data analysis
        • Monitoring, sensors and controllers
        • Metering
        • Networking & communication
      • Lighting
        • Ballasts & controllers
        • Solid state lighting
        • CFLs
      • Systems
        • HVAC
        • Refrigeration
        • Water heating
      • Consulting/facilities management
        • ESCOs
    • Cogeneration
      • Combined heat and power (CHPDH)
    • Electronics & appliances
      • Efficient power supplies
      • Data center virtualization
      • Smart appliances
    • Semiconductors
  • Transportation
    • Vehicles
      • Improved internal combustion
      • Hybrid ICE/electric
      • All electric
      • Rail transport innovation
      • Water transport innovation
      • Components
    • Logistics
      • Fleet management
      • Traffic & route management
      • Lighting & signals
      • Car, bike, equipment sharing systems
      • Parking management systems
    • Fueling/charging infrastructure
      • Vehicle-to-grid (V2G)
      • Plug in hybrids
      • Induction
    • CNG
      • Engine conversion
      • Storage improvement
  • Air & environment
    • Carbon sequestration
      • Carbon capture & storage
        • Geological
        • Ocean
        • Mineral
        • Bio capture, incl. algae
        • Co2 re-use
      • Geoengineering
      • Biochar
      • Forestry/agriculture
    • Carbon trading/offsets
      • Software systems
    • Emissions control
      • Sorbents & scrubbers
      • Biofiltration
      • Cartridge/electronic
      • Catalytic converters
    • Bioremediation
    • Recycling & waste
      • Materials reclamation
      • New sorting technologies
      • Waste treatment
      • Waste management & other services
    • Monitoring & compliance
      • Toxin detection
      • Software systems
      • Sensors & other measurement/testing hardware
  • Clean industry
    • Advanced packaging
      • Packing
      • Containers
    • Design innovation
      • Biomimicry
      • Software
    • Materials innovation
      • Nano
        • Gels
        • Powders
        • Coatings
        • Membranes
      • Bio
        • Biopolymers
        • Biodegradables
        • Catalysts
        • Timber reclamation
      • Glass
        • Chemical
        • Electronic
        • PV
      • Chemical
        • Composites
        • Foils
        • Coatings
      • Structural building material
        • Cement
        • Drywall
        • Windows
      • Ceramics
      • Adhesives
    • Equipment efficiency
      • Efficient motors
      • Heat pumps & exchangers
      • Controls
    • Production
      • Construction/fabrication
      • Resource utilization
      • Process efficiency
      • Toxin/waste minimization
    • Monitoring & compliance
      • Software systems
      • Automation
      • Sensors & other measurement/testing hardware
  • Water
    • Generation
      • Desalination
      • Air-to-water
    • Treatment
      • Filtration
      • Purification
      • Contaminate detection
      • Waste treatment
    • Transmission
      • Mains repair/improvement
    • Efficiency
      • Recycling
      • Smart irrigation
      • Aeroponics/hydroponics
      • Water saving appliances
    • Monitoring & compliance
      • Software systems
      • Sensors & other measurement/testing hardware
  • Agriculture
    • Crop treatment
      • Natural fertilizers
      • Natural pesticides/fungicides
    • Land management
      • Erosion control
      • Sustainable forestry
      • Precision agriculture
      • Soil products/composting
    • Aquaculture
      • Health & yield
      • Waste management
      • Containment

Thoughts on how to improve? Please leave a comment on the official comment thread for this discussion on our site.

A former managing director of the Cleantech Group, Dallas Kachan is now managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and advisory firm that does business worldwide from offices in San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver and London. Its staff have been covering, publishing about and helping propel clean technology since 2006. Kachan & Co. offers cleantech research reports, consulting and other services that help accelerate its clients’ success. Details at

Why Conservatives Are Bad on Energy: It’s All About the Costs

By Tom Rooney, CEO SPG Solar

Conservatives,  let’s talk about energy. And why so many conservatives are so wrong — so liberal, even — on wind and solar energy.

Let’s start with a recent editorial from the home of ‘free markets and free people,”
the Wall Street Journal. Photovoltaic solar energy, quoth the mavens, is a “speculative and immature technology that costs far more than ordinary power.”

So few words, so many misconceptions. It pains me to say that because, like many business leaders, I grew up on the Wall Street Journal and still depend on it.

But I cannot figure out why people who call themselves “conservatives” would say solar or wind power is “speculative.” Conservatives know that word is usually reserved to criticize free-market activity that is not approved by well, you know who.

Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar business. Many more receive their power from solar.

Solar is not a cause, it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

Just ask anyone who installed their solar systems five years ago. Today, many of their systems are paid off and they are getting free energy. Better still, ask the owners of one of the oldest and most respected companies in America who recently announced plans to build one of the largest solar facilities in the

That would be Dow Jones, owners of the Wall Street Journal.

Now we come to “immature.” Again, the meaning is fuzzy. But in Germany, a country 1/3 our size in area and population, they have more solar than the United States. This year, Germans will build enough solar to equal the output of three nuclear power plants.

What they call immaturity our clients call profit-making leadership.

But let’s get to the real boogie man: The one that “costs far more than ordinary power.”

I’ve been working in energy infrastructure for 25 years and I have no idea what the WSJ means by the words “ordinary power.” But, after spending some time with Milton Friedman whom I met on many occasions while studying for an MBA at the University of Chicago, I did learn about costs.

And here is what every freshman at the University of Chicago knows: There is a difference between cost and price.

Solar relies on price supports from the government. Fair enough — though its price is falling even faster than fossil fuels are rising.

But if Friedman were going to compare the costs of competing forms of energy, he also would have wanted to know the cost of “ordinary energy.” Figured on the same basis. This is something the self-proclaimed conservative opponents of solar refuse to do.

But huge companies including Wall Mart, IBM, Target and Los Gatos Tomatoes figured it out. And last year so did the National Academy of Sciences. It produced a report on the Hidden Costs of Energy that documented how coal was making people sick to the tune of $63 billion a year.

And that oil and natural gas had so many tax breaks and subsidies that were so interwoven for so long, it was hard to say exactly how many tens of billions these energy producers received courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer.

Just a few weeks ago, the International Energy Agency said worldwide, fossil fuels receive $550 billion in subsidies a year — 12 times what alternatives such as wind and solar get.

Neither report factored in Global Warming or the cost of sending our best and bravest into harm’s way to protect our energy supply lines.

Whatever that costs, you know it starts with a T.

All this without hockey stick graphs, purloined emails or junk science.

When you compare the real costs of solar with the fully loaded real costs of coal and oil and natural gas and nuclear power, apples to apples, solar is cheaper.

That’s not conservative. Or liberal. That comes from an ideology older and more reliable than both of those put together: Arithmetic.

Tom Rooney is the CEO of SPG Solar, one of the largest solar installers in the US.

A Good Green Story

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the more promising stories to emerge from Cleveland in recent years is the formation of the Evergreen Cooperatives, a holding company to fund start-up companies that:

  • Employ disadvantaged citizens from some of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Cleveland
  • Are founded on the principle of being worker-owned cooperatives, to enable employees to participate in the wealth-creation of the business
  • Serve the needs of the local community, anchored by the market requirements of major enduring institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University
  • Provide a product/service that is truly sustainable and consistent with the green economy of the future

Since Evergreen was formed and seed-funded in late 2009, the first three businesses launched are the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar, and GreenCity Growers Cooperative. With just a few months of operation, these green economy enterprises are now employing dozens of Clevelanders who otherwise would be challenged in finding meaningful employment opportunities, affording true career-tracks and wealth-creation (as opposed to merely a meager wage).

Admittedly still in its early days, the long-term impact of Evergreen will only be known and felt years from now. But, the prospects are promising. In the late 1950’s, the Mondragon region of Spain suffered from many of the same economic travails now besetting Cleveland, but the formation of the Mondragon Corporation (a similar network of cooperative businesses) has now led to an economic powerhouse of more than 100 firms employing 120,000 people and annual revenues of more than $20 billion.

The world is taking notice of this social experiment: so far in 2010, Evergreen has been reported on in The Economist and Business Week, but perhaps the most thorough story on the Evergreen Cooperative is found in “The Cleveland Model”, an article appearing in a recent issue of The Nation. I urge you to read this article to learn more about a truly positive glimmer of hope in the revitalization of the industrial Midwest of the United States — and in the mainstreaming of cleantech throughout the American economy all the way into its inner cities.

There are too many heroes underlying the birth of Evergreen to list in one place, and I’m sure I don’t know them all, but I cannot complete this posting without special tips of the hat to: Lillian Kuri and India Pierce Lee of the The Cleveland Foundation, Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative, Stephen Kiel of Ohio Cooperative Solar, Mary Ann Stropki of ShoreBank Enterprise, and the late and deeply-missed John Logue of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

Renewable Energy Reaches over 60% of new capacity additions in 2009

by Jigar Shah, Founder SunEdison and CEO of the Carbon War Room

As wind come out at a robust 9.9GW in 2009, Solar at maybe 600MW, etc, it looks like the zero-emissions folks will again install a majority of incremental MWs. The balance is mostly natural gas a little bit of Coal. Getting this number of 100% by 2012 and then above 100% by 2015 will be critical to achieving emissions reductions in our electricity sector. So what are the barriers:

1) Project Finance — we have to acknowledge that the arms race that we have on the tax credit side has to be reversed. Natural gas, coal, wind, solar, etc will have to agree to eliminate their Federal Tax Credits. If we can take all fossil fuel credits a phase them out over a few years and allow the wind and solar credit to expire when they are due, project finance would get a lot easier and you could go offshore for the money.
2) Respect — we are still looking to build new Nuclear, Coal, and other resources when we can show on paper that distributed energy combined with aggressive energy efficiency, smart grid, and storage can compete favorably while creating more jobs. This means that we need the DOE and other credible bodies to start publishing research in this area at an accelerating pace.
3) Liquidity support — many renewables projects can cost less than $10MM. For these project, efficient access to capital markets are difficult. Using a Fannie Mae like body to buy these projects under fixed rate of return formulas and selling them to Wall Street would help bring liquidity to the system
The technology is ready to meet the price points of the electricity industry, but integration and scaling takes a level of cooperation that we have here-to-for not seen. This can be done without more money from the Federal budget and at a cost that is less than new Coal, new Nuclear, and new Transmission.
Watching this play out will be fun. For more information this is a good report from Black and Veatch.
You can find out more about Jigar Shah and the work of this new organization at

SPG Solar CEO vs Bill O’Reilly on Solar

Bill O, the Art of Journalism and Me.
By Tom Rooney, CEO of SPG Solar

Journalism, says the wag, is the art of speaking with absolute authority about something you know nothing about.

Earlier this week, America’s most dominant cable TV news host, Bill O’Reilly, of course, took that definition to a new level when he went on a jag about solar power.

Solar power is just too expensive and too complicated for Bill O.

“I’d like to put solar panels on my house,” said Bill O . “And heat my house through the sun. I would like to do that for a reasonable amount of money. I don’t want to buy the oil every month. They can’t do it for a reasonable amount of money, number one.

“And its so complicated … I can’t do it. … So don’t tell me about my grandchildren. If they can figure out the solar panels, they can have them. But its all bunk. It’s all bull at this point for a guy like me. …I want a clean planet. But I’d like the stuff to work.”

But in meeting the definition of journalism, Bill O also broke its first rule: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Bill O did not.

His curiously uninformed comments came just hours after the Irvine Unified School District selected my company, SPG Solar, to install solar panels on each of its 21 solar panels on 21 of its schools — the most comprehensive school solar project of its kind.

The district will soon be getting about 45 percent of its energy from solar, as well as a 10 percent reduction in its energy bills.

And all for no money.

People in the business know this works because the cost of buying and installing panels has gone down so much, and the incentives are so strong, that the energy savings from Irvine basically financed the deal.

That’s it, Bill O. Nothing expensive or complicated about it.

You want complicated? Go to one of our solar installations at the Far Niente winery in Napa Valley, one of the finest in the world, where we built a solar energy array on top of a pond of water. The panels actually float. The first such project ever built in the world.

Maybe it was a bit challenging to build. But that is what we do.

But as far as running it, all the winery has to do is watch the sun shine and enjoy paying less for energy.

That’s it, Bill O.

You want complicated? How about building five acres of solar panels in one of the most desolate — and beautiful places on earth: Furnace Creek Hotel and Resort in the middle of Death Valley.

Same in Livermore, California, where we installed the largest solar array ever on a movie theater. The movie patrons never even knew we were there.

Whether you are in Death Valley or Napa Valley or anywhere in between, all you have to do is pretty much the same: Just sit back and watch the sun shine.

If the sun doesn’t shine, your other power takes over and you don’t do anything. You would not even notice, Bill O.

All Bill O has to do with his solar energy system is ask his accountant how much money he would save every month.

Then sit back and smile.

Bill O is fond of telling us that bloviating is his job. So is being informed about how more and more Americans tare taking charge of their energy future with easy, and inexpensive, and simple solar energy systems.

See the O’Reilly video here, about 3:23 into this six minute clip.

Tom Rooney is the President and CEO of SPG Solar, one of the largest solar integrators in the US. You can find SPG at Tom Rooney is a guest blogger on, and the opinions stated here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the team at Cleantech Blog.

Concentrating PV – The Artificial Industry

About 2 to 3 years ago, CPV was all the rage among solar startups and especially their venture investors.

But none of them ever came to market. I’ve been calling this one a siren’s song since the beginning. An artificial market enabled by venture capitalists desperate to find the next big thing.

The story ran something like this:

  • “Glass and metal are cheaper than silicon”
  • “At the levels the ultra high efficiency cells are moving to, CPV will be cheaper than flat plate x-SI”
  • “It’s just engineering to get product out the door”
  • “In two years we can match today’s power output and cost”

And so everyone needed a CPV deal. But what really happened was classic.

  • The EU feed in tariffs created a fast acting demand bubble.
  • The silicon suppliers refused to invest ahead of the curve.
  • The module manufacturers couldn’t keep up because of shortages of silicon supply, so their prices and margins shot up.
  • New companies popped up claiming the world therefore needs modules, especially high power ones.
  • And since glass is cheaper than silicon . . .
  • We should concentrate the sun and make a better product.
  • And venture capitalists needed a different story, since they missed the money being made in the silicon shortage/FIT boom.


  • The silicon shortage was not fundamental (as everyone knew), and now the module margins eroded moving the cost bar back down drastically
  • As one hope would, thin film supply did come on, and flat plate got better and better, moving the bar again
  • The high efficiency cells came on slower and shorter (never seen THAT happen before), gutting the rose colored business cases for high concentrating CPV
  • The bar moved in efficiency and cost (both at cell, module, inverter, tracker, et al level)
  • Putting moving parts on solar systems seems to gut the advantage of glass is cheaper than silicon and gee whiz, engineering does take some time (never could have imagined THAT either).

It’s actually pretty simple – if you believed the solar industry could continue to take costs out and improve, then CPV never had a real place. If you believe it couldn’t, why invest in solar at all?

Moral: Technology and venture capitalits do not create markets in solar. FITs do. The best technology / product available at the time of the FIT makes a fortune since it takes a while for other products and the supply chain to catch up. Those chasing it lose a fortune.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at Jane Capital Partners, and has cofounded, run, invested in, or served as a director of multiple startups in cleantech and technology. He is Chairman of Carbonflow and, and a Texas Aggie.

The REAL Story on Moore’s Law for Solar

All new industries seem to think they deserve a Moore’s Law. The photovoltaic solar really, really thinks it deserves one, since it kind of sort of looks like a semiconductor business: Photovoltaic Moore’s Law Will Make Solar Competitive by 2015,, Understanding Moore’s Law,, and Silicon Valley Starts to Turn Its Face to the Sun, NY Times.

However the nuances are mischevious. The cost implications of Moore’s Law at heart are built around a constant rate of technology performance improvement (2x transistors every 2 years), implying certain cost improvements. PV’s falling costs curves have had more variables at play. In fact, the real equivalent to Moore’s Law in solar would be to say that cell efficiency or a similiar measure doubles every x years. Most people have tried to apply a Moore’s Law like concept in solar directly to the cost curve, not the technology improvement curve. In fact, the solar costs “Moore’s Law” that seemed the simplest was the idea that every doubling of industry size equaled 10% in cost reductions. But that is not a Moore’s Law, that’s mainly just a description of the supply curve shape and shift, it’s a totally different animal.

I’ve been researching this topic for some time, trying to develop a simple conceptual model to understand falling solar cost curves and their impacts, and I update my cost analysis spreadsheets based on numerous inputs from energy companies, solar developers, solar integrators, as well as module manufacturers. I think I now have a simple, economically sound model with good explanatory power, that allows us to shed some light on why and how the cost curves fall.

We’ll call it the Dikeman Solar Cost Model – DiSoCo Model, and it’s somewhat simple and axiomatic: the value on the supply side = the value on the demand side, broken down into fixed, sticky, and variable components, by market segment.

Over the last couple of years, I’d argue that roughly half of the cost reduction in solar have come from massive increases in larger installations (primarily spreading NRE and installation cost across a larger projects at the installations, as well as dealing improved economics of scale in manufacturing), not really from solar costs themselves. And roughly the other half from actual technology cost reductions.

This is an important distinction as it means that arguably with say 2003 solar technology, if the subsidies and demand had been there to build a whole bunch of 10 MW PV farms, a similiar cost could have been achieved to today’s costs, at least within striking distance (as opposed to a Moore’s law industry where the fundamental technology performance curves would have been 8x better, with drastic cost improvements resulting). Technology costs haven’t necessarily fallen as much as we think, so much as the scale has changed, making costs look like they’ve fallen a significant amount.

And we have to be careful about making generalizations of the technology cost reductions, too. A large chunk of the technology cost reductions at scale (perhaps 50%?) have come from one company, First Solar, out of the hundreds that manufacture PV products. If you take them out of the equation, the falling technology cost curves don’t look so great.

But I’ll posit a cost reduction law for solar that may hold. Roughly speaking, the per unit solar industry costs at a system level fall every year in line with the reduction in per unit subsidies for the key solar subsidy programs in that year, adjusted for interest rates and margin changes. Because if they don’t, they don’t sell product.

Why? We argue that the market is basically willing to pay a set rate per kwh for solar that is reasonably constant over time. The underlying conceptual DiSoCo Model is this: the market’s set rate for solar + the cost of capital + the per unit subsidy = solar system cost + solar system embedded margin. My primary use of the model has been to break out each component, market by market, segment by segment, and analyze how fixed, variable, or sticky they are, to better understand their interactions as conditions change. If this is true, then for a given set rate, same interest rates as last year, then changes in the subsidy either come out of cost or margin. If margin were mature and fixed, then cost changes would equal subsidy changes.

We could extend the model by suggesting that changes in the market set rate is a function of retail and wholesale energy prices, and non direct subsidy programs like a RPSs and RECs, and non market based buyers willing to accept low equity ROEs. We could further extend it by suggesting that some subsidies, like the ITC, may manifest in the cost of capital, not the per unit of subsidy.

In a real life example, when the subsidy programs have built in per unit reductions in them over time or volume (like the Japanese industry maker did, and California does, and many of the FITs do), then the industry has to find a way to take enough costs out to match the reduction, otherwise the margin gets hammered. This suggests that market won’t actually see the cost reductions until the subsidy ends, except where the industry cost reductions exceed the subsidy reductions in a given period (in fact, this was true, and available manufacturing capacity seems to have a big impact on this component also, as for several years, the manufacturer’s didn’t pass on ANY technology costs reductions, but fattened margins and prices instead).

And extending on that, we realize that the swing variable has been manufacturer’s margin at the ingot/wafer, cell, and module levels, not cost, which has tended to be more fixed or sticky than we thought. And in a period of tight supply, as we had in the silicon refining shortage, margin goes up, all else equal, and in period of oversupply, where we are moving too, margin goes down, since the other major components (including, unlike the corollary to Moore’s Law, technology cost) are relatively fixed or sticky over short time frames. The market still only pays what it will pay per kwh, and the subsidies and interest rates are what they are, and so known coming reductions /volumes in per unit subsidies force the industry to find a way to take it out of costs, see margin suffer, or find new markets with new subsidies. Hence, the model allows us to posit the law that the real long term linkage is subsidy reductions to cost reductions, adjusted for swings in margins.

This would help explain the rise of the grid linked industrial market in California and Germany, effectively as a partnership between public policy, manufacturers with limited near term technology cost reduction potential needing economies of scale, and the rise of the PPA/developer model as the facilitator between the two, and explain the continual skinny economics for end users/PPA owners, despite falling costs.

We could further extend that last point by suggesting it can be applied niche by niche, country by country. And better understand the market by realizing that manufacturers, starting with the Japanese firms 5 years ago when the Japen rebates rolled off, and extending currently to First Solar’s and Suntech’s et al moves into power plant development, effectively applied this model on a country by country, niche by niche approach seeking new markets as the subsidies fall and move, in a bid to maintain margins while cost curves were steady.

So the DiSoCo Model is simple enough, it states that the value on the supply side = the value on the demand side, and when breaking the components out and evaluating market by market which are fixed in the short term and which are variable, it has seemed to us to shed some light on why the solar markets have moved the way they’ve moved. And it posits that a market set price exists segment by segment, and therefore that if margins are normal in that segment, reductions in the per unit subsidy levels roughly equal reductions in cost, and only when reductions in cost drastically exceed those of subsidy levels, can price be effected.

And it gives us a very different picture of falling cost curves and price implications than pretending Moore’s Law works for solar.

Neal Dikeman is CEO fo Carbonflow, Inc., a Partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, the Chairman of, and the founding contributor to

Cleantech Blog "Power 10" Ranking Vol II 2009

Last year I did my first “Power 10″ ranking for 2008 of cleantech companies, and the response was so good we’re doing it again.

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.

As before this is 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.

  1. Sharp – Makes the list again as top dog battling to hold its crown in solar PV. Keep on trucking.
  2. GE – Their M&A strategy delivered venture like returns, and they still hold power positions in wind, T&D, clean gensets, and water capital equipment. Hard to dethrone.
  3. Iberdrola – Barely didn’t make the cut last year. Largest wind operator in the world now. Deserves it.
  4. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) – Still the low cost producer in PV and growing. Smart move swapping expensive stock for the Optisolar project pipeline. Keep those factories full!
  5. Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) -The only investor to merit consideration, but area a part of too many power plays in cleantech to leave off this time.
  6. DNV – Their auditors underpin roughly half of the carbon markets. In carbon, audit and verification is everything. Their market share slipped some, but they hold their crown as the only one of the big carbon auditors yet aggressively investing in the US.
  7. Applied Materials – The future of thin film if they can deliver on their strategic moves. But I need to see some of your customer’s production taking serious market share, or making next year’s list could be tough.
  8. Cleantech Group – The business is now definitely more than just a conference operator. Despite massive competition in conferences (long a cash cow for them), the Cleantech Group hasn’t lost its footing as the preeminent brand. And now seems to be learning how to play well with others. Great job guys on both creating an asset class AND building a cool company.
  9. Bayard Group/Landis Gyr – Smart grid is the big cleantech play along with carbon and solar. Bayard, now branded around Landis Gyr, is a global Metering/Smart Grid roll up powerhouse. Bought Cellnet, Hunt, Enermet, and Landis Gyr et al.
  10. Valero – Texas refiner’s acquisition of VeraSun and move into renewable fuels gets it the nod. Now where to from here?

Honorable mention to Zenergy Power plc (AIM: ZEN.L), one I helped cofound. I couldn’t resist this year since the team is making hay off of fault current limiter technology we bet on in 2004, and deserves the nod. Also to Smart Fuel Cell (XETRA:F3C.DE) – Still the most mature fuel cell company in the world by a mile. But revenues flattened in 2008 and it made no moves allowing it to stave off the newcomers to Power 10. 2009 is the make or break year. And finally to Sindicatum – Mover of the year in carbon in 2008. Raised a warchest into the teeth of a tough carbon market. Now we’ll see what they can do with it.

Also on our watchlist for next year: Abengoa, Acciona, SGS, Duke Energy, SoCal Edison, Origin Energy, Ecosecurities, Q-Cells, SunPower, Oerlikon, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell.

Of note, no CIGS or solar thermal this year. The list is indicative of a shift towards carbon and projects. Still no cellulosic, and I can’t bring myself to add EVs to the Power 10 until somebody shows something real. Perhaps the 2013 list?

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, Chairman of, and the Chairman of Carbonflow, Inc..