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Cleantech’s Solar Conundrum

The solar market is still going strong, despite the financial crisis, and turmoil in some of its key markets. But that doesn’t mean all is well on the venture financing end.

As a number of longtime Silicon Valley solar darlings start to demand even more serious money to build plants for commercialization, the financing picture gets clouded. Conventional wisdom has been suggesting it’s market issues. Maybe so, and then again, maybe not.

Greentech Media has been reporting on the funding efforts of Solyndra, including a recent discussion of struggles by Goldman Sachs to raise structured finance for the startup, which claims it is shipping some of its very weird looking CIGS product, though little evidence let alone field data exists.

It’s not the only one. Recently CPV darling SolFocus was reportedly struggling to raise capital arranged by Advanced Equities. The cash was to fund the buildout of a commercial manufacturing plant, and at least twice the company drastically cut its pre money valuation ask.

The conventional wisdom is that the finance crunch is hurting solar. I have another thought. Perhaps its just the riskiest solar technologies and businesses coming home to roost. Both of these companies have been pitched to investors as late stage, helping to justify massive capital needs and valuations. I’d argue they are actually very, very early stage, with all the risk still in front of them.

Maybe it’s not the market? Maybe its the ludicrous suggestion that the first plant should be 420 MW in size. How about two new ideas: 1) Stage gate, or 2) Walk before you run.

Take Solyndra, which has raised hundreds of millions to coat CIGS on a glass cylinder. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be is solar getting hurt by the credit crunch, but should be who exactly thinks its a good idea to invest hundreds of millions to build a plant to coat CIGS in a circle, at “pre IPO style prices”? The question everyone I know has been asking is, if they really can coat CIGS with good yields, why didn’t they just do it? That’s world beating on flat plate glass, if it works as advertised. Why wrap the same amount of solar material around a long glass paper towel roll?

With SolFocus, maybe its just that CPV isn’t as good an idea as applying manufacturing process improvement to CdTe and tandem cell thin film?

Who knows, but let’s look a bit closer at the particular technologies before we just blame it on the the financial crisis.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, and Chairman and CEO of Carbonflow, Inc. He edits the Cleantech Blog and chairs Cleantech.org.

Solar Powers more Vehicles as Gasoline use Drops

By John Addison. Solar is powering more vehicles. American’s have reduced their use of petroleum 5 percent this year. So far, petroleum reduction is the result of fewer miles traveled solo as people cut travel to deal with high gas prices and a slowing economy. At the margin, however, solar power is replacing oil.

There are now 40,000 electric vehicles in use in the United States. They are primarily the 25 mile per hour light electric vehicles. Fleets are starting to use heavy electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids, that formerly required copious gallons of diesel and gasoline. In 2010, consumers will start buying freeway speed electric vehicles.

The U.S. Marine Corp at Camp Pendleton, during my last visit, showed me an 8-station solar car port that they use to charge their 320 light-electric vehicles. Petroleum fuel is a multi-billion dollar part of the U.S. Defense budget. Once the solar panels are installed, however, the sunlight is free. Solar is increasingly also used by the Marines and Army for stationary power in the U.S. and Iraq, reducing the need for petroleum in the form of diesel and JP8 jet fuel for running gen sets to air condition tents and buildings.

Every 44 minutes, sufficient energy from the sun strikes the Earth to provide the entire world’s energy requirements for one year, including the energy needed to move vehicles. Solar power grows 40 percent per year, as we become increasingly efficient at turning sunlight into electricity and heat.

Most importantly, with continued innovation and larger scale manufacturing, the price of solar keeps dropping. There is enthusiasm for advancements in photovoltaics (PV) and for large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP). As I researched and wrote this article at the Solar Power 2008 Conference, last week, the evidence of growth was everywhere. 17,000 from 92 countries attended the conference in San Diego, California. 425 companies exhibited, with 450 more turned away due to lack of convention floor space.

8 GW of solar power are now installed. Deutsche Bank forecasts that the photovoltaic market will growfrom $13 billion in 2006 to $30 billion in 2010. Polysilicon supply is expected to triple by 2010. New technology continues to delivers more electricity output with less silicon. These technologies include thin film, high efficiency PV, organic, concentrating PV and balance of system improvements.

For those interested in transportation, one notable area of growth is solar covered parking structures – a cool solution for a planet that is getting hotter.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the Solar Power International conference, he highlighted Applied Materials’ 2 MW solar power that also shades their parking lot. The vast solar shading is designed to efficiently capture energy using SunPower 19% efficient panels implemented horizontally with a system that rotates the panels to track the sunlight.

Envision Solar specializes in solar parking structures. Designed by architects, Envision uses biomimicry to have parking structures that suggest groves of trees. NREL in Colorado uses an Envision solar carport with a charging station for two vehicles including its plug-in hybrid and EV. Other organizations have installed Envison solar parking structures with the support poles pre-engineered with wiring for future charging or integration of nighttime energy-efficient lighting. These organizations include the University of California San Diego and major solar panel maker Kyocera.

New Jersey Transit is preparing for a future where parked cars can be charged with sunlight while people use public transportation. Premier Power Renewable Energy recently completed the first of two 201kW solar canopies, on the rooftops of two large six-story parking garages at the new Trenton AMTRAK Transit center. Each project includes more than 600 solar panels. The solar systems will eliminate approximately 141 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The New Jersey parking structures are also equipped with 110v charging stations for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Electric Vehicles (EVs). Participating in the October 14 ribbon cutting was the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars (MAGIC) consortium, which includes the University of Delaware, Pepco Holdings, Inc., PJM Interconnect, Comverge, AC Propulsion and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, created to further develop, test and demonstrate Vehicle-to-Grid technology.

At Google, part of their 1.6 MW solar PV installation is a solar carport structure that includes charging stations for Google’s plug-in hybrid converted Toyota Priuses and Ford Excapes.

The conference included many lively debates about whether the financial crisis would stop solar’s growth in 2009. Large projects usually require millions for project financing. Allowing customers to pay by the kilowatt with power purchase agreements requires long-term financing. Illiquidity will surely slow growth.

In most U.S. states, however, electric utilities are required by law to expand the percentage of power that is delivered with renewables. In California, for example, the renewable portfolio must be 20 percent by 2010. Pacific Gas and Electric is installing 800 MW of utility scale solar PV to meet part of that. Arizona Public Service has contracted with Abengoa to install 280 MW of concentrating solar thermal that includes molten salt towers to store six hours energy for delivery during peak hours.

Utilities have deep pockets and these volume projects are lowering costs. With illiquidity in other sectors, utilizes will increasingly drive centralized solar. In areas with positive regulatory environments and with robust grids, utilities will also encourage decentralized solar PV as part of their mix.

United States power utilities spend $70 billion annually for new power plants and transmission, plus added billions for coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel. For $26 to $33 billion per year investment, ten percent of United States electricity can be from solar by 2025, details the Utility Solar Assessment Study, produced by clean-tech research firm Clean Edge.

By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions. In their Scientific American article, Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis detail the scenario. A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity by 2050. This quantity includes enough to supply all the electricity consumed by 344 million plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The price tag for the transition would be $400 billion, but this could be spread over a number of years. Should this seem too expensive, consider the alternatives. This is a fraction of what the U.S. has spent for the war in Iraq.

In the final keynote of the Solar Power International conference, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) explained that both Republicans and Democrats ultimately supported an 8-year extension of solar and other renewable investment tax credits in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This bill also included $7,500 tax credits for the purchase of new plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Senator Cantwell also strongly supports United States investment in a smart and robust grid, and in bringing high-voltage lines from major sources of renewable energy to major markets.

The transition to clean energy is increasingly recognized as an excellent investment. Due to rapid cost reduction, solar is a growing part of the solution that includes electric vehicles, energy efficiency, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and other renewable sources. Compared to business as usual with oil and coal, renewable energy is downright cheap. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, $5.4 trillion must be invested to increase global oil production.

Read the Full Article

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and writes about cleantech and renewable energy. He has a modest stock holdings in Abengoa and Q-Cells.

8 Lessons From Twitter Energy Monitoring

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Two weeks and 77 tweets later, the Twitter “green_watch” project has come to an end. Lots of insights, problems raised, and beginning of answers.

The goal was to use Twitter as a real time, online reporting tool for my personal energy consumption, round the clock.


Lessons learned from the project:

#1. The more engaged we are in flow-like activities, the less our propensity to consume energy and buy things that depend on energy for their production:

Adults and children should be encouraged to develop capacity to engage in activities that are deeply satisfying by themselves, eg, hobbies, work, physical activities. Early education could play an important role in that respect. Children’s creativity should be encouraged more, including the ability to do much with little.

#2. Energy vampires, although well known by now, continue to do their silent work of sucking up electricity unnecessarily, and with no added benefit for the end user.

Smart meters, power strips, are available. But how many people use them? How many know much they could save? The effort required is still too great for the mainstream.

#3. There are no readily available monitoring system to alert us when we are consuming energy, and how much, and in ways that talk to us.

I understand $, comparisons, savings, cute pictures, and sensorial signals such as bells and changing colors. Forget kWhs, tables, and graphs. Lots of work is currently being done in this field. But it still has a long way to go, and is still in pilot stage.

#4. The switch from car to alternative low energy mode of transportation requires that people experience first hand the superior benefits of those alternatives.

From riding my bike a few times, I realized that biking was better for my health, took no more time than driving, avoided traffic jam and parking problem, was a lot of fun, and cost me nothing. Same with taking the train, and realizing that I could use time riding productively, working on my laptop, or reading, plus I did not have to find parking. This shows the importance of jumpstarting the conversion process by eliminating barriers to trial of other mode of transportations.

#5. We are addicted to convenience, even more than to things. Rather than fighting that addiction, we should focus on sustainable alternatives that are as, if not more convenient that current solutions.

The bike example also applies here. If we can convince people that biking is as fast, and less hassle than driving, at least for short distances, then we will have an easier sell. Trying to go against that cultural reality of our Western world, is likely to be met with great resistance, and be counterproductive.

#6. There is a huge fuzzy area in collective energy consumption, and indirect energy use. How does one establish the share between individual and institutional responsibility?

At home, and in my car, I am in charge. What happens when I consume electricity from lighting on the freeways, or university campuses? Or when I buy processed food, without any knowledge of the energy that went into producing it? Information becomes critical, as in food carbon labeling, or public display of energy consumption, for let’s say a public pool. Although not a mainstream reality yet, such information would empower individuals to make informed decisions about their use of such collective services.

#7. Green-ness is a privilege of the rich. People with money to spend on home solar installations, hybrid cars, and carbon offsets for air traveling, can lower their carbon footprint, a lot more easily than their less well-off fellow citizens.

That is a fact. In the absence of significant government subsidies and investments, the average person needs to work a lot harder to decrease his or her carbon footprint

#8. Energy efficiency and conservation, the two low hanging fruits of climate change remediation, have not yet entered the public consciousness.

I am dreaming smart homes, smart transportation, smart consumption. No fancy new technologies required. Only a shift in mindsets, and the pulling together of existing technologies.

Any ideas how to make this happen? I am asking you . . .

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media. Her green blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Marguerite is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Since Sarah Palin’s VP nomination, she has also been impersonating Ms. Palin at What’s Sarah Thinking? blog

Energy Monitoring With Twitter

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

This week, I started a new experiment, this time using Twitter to monitor my energy consumption 24/7. A Web 2.0 version of my earlier Daily Footprint Project, when I kept a diary of all my carbon footprinting activities for 30 days. The project is called “green_watch” and you can follow it on Twitter. I was inspired by IBM researcher Andy Stanford-Clark‘s recent home energy monitoring project, “andy_home”, also on Twitter, and also by my ongoing fiddlings with Twitter. I am convinced Twitter is an underused social networking tool, that offers tremendous potential for business applications. Here is what “green_watch” looks like:

At the end of each day, I take a look and report on key insights at La Marguerite, my green blog. So far, here is what I learned:

“Solar is Still a Privilege of the Rich”

“Energy Monitoring is Everybody’s Business”

Next week, I will continue to report on my “green_watch” findings. In the mean time, I urge you to start your own “green_watch”. Who knows, you may discover your next business idea in the process?

Marguerite Manteau-Rao
is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. She also blogs for The Huffington Post.

What’s the Buzz About Clean Tech and Other Green Stuff?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Green or sustainability? Clean tech or environmental conservation? If you want to get a sense for what topics generate the most buzz at any point in time, Nielsen BlogPulse is the place to go:

‘Green’ is a word understood by all. Sustainability is still a concept for the business elite.  

I thought clean tech would have an edge over conservation. Nielsen statistics are proving otherwise. I find it rather encouraging. Note the peak on Earth Day, for conservation. Conservation is still very much associated with big environmental events.

Solar is still generating more buzz, ahead of other clean tech approaches. As more and more of the public discourse shifts towards energy efficiency, it will be interesting to see if it gets reflected in blogging conversations.


Now you play!

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues.

Key sustainable energy indices rise, LED-Lighting suffers (week ending 8/1)

Author: Mark Henwood

EAFA fell 2.2%; Emerging Markets, S&P500, and commodities (DJP) treaded water.


The two key strategies, Renewable Electricity and Solar, posted gains for the week.

Solar’s 4.1% gain reduced the index’s loss for the year to 31.7%. This highly volatile strategy saw some big gains with Day4Energy (DFE.TO) leading the way with a 24.6% rise. Most of the increase occurred after the company reported on July 30 that they had achieved a 19% efficiency with multi-crystalline cells in the lab and they expect this development to drive costs down by up to 25% in 2009.

Renewable Electricity also saw a 1.1% advance with Canadian Hydro Developers (KHD.TO) leading the way with a 23.7% gain, the best performance for the week in the TSX Composite Index. The company had an analyst upgrade during the week which apparently triggered the gain. Another notable gain was notched by Suzlon (SUZLON.NS) which reported strong earnings growth in their last quarter.

LED-Lighting had a dismal week with the group falling 9.4%. Rubicon (RBCN) led the way down despite reporting in their Wednesday morning call that they beat guidance. The sell-off started on Thursday after Oppenheimer downgraded the stock and continued through Friday declining 23.5% for the week. Management reported continued enthusiasm for the LED segment but expressed some uncertainty regarding their SoS segment which accounts for about 30% of their business. Investors apparently have almost written off the SoS business line.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks and has positions in Renewable Electricity, including KHD.TO.

The Dating Rules for CIGS in Solar

I’ve been saying for a while, that with enough money, someone is bound to crack the CIGS nut in thin film, and deliver the cleantech sector another First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) like renaissance for the always around the corner technology.

That’s not because it’s easy, or even because it’s a good idea to try, but when well over a billion dollars in investment pours into a given technology, something is bound to come out the other side – eventually. A seductively high efficiency potential technology with very low potential materials costs, CIGS has been just over the horizon for a decade or more, but has enjoyed a huge influx of capital and increase in the number of programs chasing in over the last 5 years. Similar to other solar thin film technologies, device complexity, effective yield, throughput, and process control issues are always the bugaboo.

Given its seductivenes, its somewhat capricious nature, and the siren filled history of the technology, perhaps we should think of CIGS like a woman, and all men need a few dating rules of the road to keep in mind before we jump in. Here are mine (for CIGS, not women):

Number one, like most thin film technologies, $100 mm in investment is the ante up to play the game. Just because you spend it doesn’t mean you get real product out, and with CIGS, you tend not to know whether anything is workable until oh, say $50 to $100 mm is already spent.

Number two, what you think you know, you don’t. Until the pilot plant has been operating for a few years, companies generally really underestimate what they don’t know.

Number three, remember those experiments and great idea you sold your investors on, the hard part is not there, the hard (read risky) part is ALL in the “it’s just engineering” end of the scale up process you told the investors was “fairly straightforward”. This isn’t IT, it’s deposition with a very commoditized end product.

Number four, whatever the projection as far as timing, add 3 years, maybe 5. I’m not kidding here, I said years.

Number five, when the words “fast”, “roll to roll”, “reel to reel” or anything else equating to speed in the process are in the pitch deck, translate that to read excruciatingly slow in the development timeline, and lots of “issues” popping up in those nasty yield and process control areas.

Number six, when investing, be very careful about that “yield” number and the “capacity” numbers they made up based on it. All thin film development companies keep “little black books” with the data and charts on every process run they’ve ever made. Read every single one of those charts, and ask lots of stupid questions about why only 4% of the total square footage produced is above 6% efficiency in run XYZ. Think in terms of “effective total average yield”. That’s where the problems are hiding.

CIGS watchers have a number of darlings to follow. There’s Miasole, which now under new management is rumored to have substantially tightened down its development discipline to take it’s shot, Nanosolar, another Silicon Valley venture darling that has been described by many observers along the lines of, “never met hype they didn’t like”, but with a seductively low cost printable process if they can get it to work, Solyndra, the “stealth” company with the big sign on I-880, Heliovolt, the Texas-based hot CIGS deal of last year, which burst on to the fundraising scene on the back of it’s still extremely early stage “FASST” technology. And those are just the largest of the US based venture backed deals, without including Honda, IBM, DayStar, Ascent Solar, Solopower, and literally dozens upon dozens of others around the world with significant backing (though all at a very, very early stage). Wikipedia has a decent cut at a list, though by no stretch of the imagination comprehensive.

My best estimate is that most of the venture investors in each of those deals personally looked in depth at the manufacturing process of single digit numbers of competing approaches before investing. And only read the little black book on two of them. That strategy was tried, with ahem, “mixed” results, in fuel cells a few years back. We’ll see how well it works in thin film solar.

And of course, as with most things in solar, the major players should probably be watched more carefully than the startups. I’ve always liked larger companies to crack thin film issues, in no small part because the term “stage gate” tends to mean something to them.

But my personal favorite for front runner currently is Arizona based Global Solar, a solar company I have been following for years. Their announcement a few months ago of 10% efficiency in production runs, was pretty much lost in the crush of press around solar, for reasons unfathomable to me.

While admittedly not yet proven in a full production environment (they are working on the scale up to 30 MW plants) they do have the massive advantage of having run virtually the only operating CIGS pilot plant in the world – and I believe has shipped more volume of CIGS product than anyone if not everyone else. True to form, that technology, which originally came out of the Tuscon Electric backed ITN Energy Systems labs in Colorado which later did Ascent Solar, has had an estimated $150-$200 mm plus invested in it over the last decade, before Solon AG bought the company for a reported $16 mm. Though to be fair, current management under CEO Mike Gering was brought on well into that process. So while I’ll keep my fingers crossed that some one will crack the CIGS nut, and continue to be flabbergasted at the $1 Bil plus valuations estimated to have been acheived by some of the startups named here for very large science projects, when it comes to the one to watch, Global Solar is my personal pick.

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

Tech Giant Intel Joins IBM and Applied in Big Solar Bet

Following on the 2006 and 2007 announcements of technology giants Applied Materials and IBM moving into the solar sector, Intel has joined the fray in 2008 with the spinout of SpectraWatt, its newly created solar division.

I had a chance to chat with Andrew Wilson, a longtime Intel guy who is the CEO of Spectrawatt, about what he is doing. The venture is the result of the last 3 years of extensive business planning, that Andrew said grew out of an off the cuff conversation he had internally four years ago.

While they have very early stage development in the works for some new and novel technology to reduce the manufacturing costs of solar cells, they are not sharing details. The Spectrawatt core business today will be about building a company to manufacture crystalline silicon based solar cells. In the near term the business will be buying wafers and manufacturing cells. According to Andrew, they have a significant supply of silicon secured, and while he cannot say who the vendors are, at least one of those vendors will likely be announcing soon, as the Spectrawatt contract is a material event for them.

So the first question is why x-Si and not thin film? Besides the obvious that it is far and away the biggest market today and a natural fit for Intel, Andrew added two more. Customers care about per kwh cost, and all things equal, how much energy they can get out of the real estate they have (read, efficiency matters). So they think x-Si makes a lot more sense than thin film, especially given the additional issues around stability, manufacturing complexity and materials resource constraints.

Andrew did say that they may vertically integrate later. So I asked why did they start at cells? Andrew explained that since the business comes out of Intel, and Intel is accomplished at processing wafers into products, cells made sense to start with. And at the end of the day they hold the view that the biggest point of value in solar value chain is in creating the cell, moving from low value silicon to high value device. They consider it the largest single value add step.

Andrew and I are in agreement that 2004 was a kind of a magic year changing what the photovoltaic industry is. Andrew stated it was the first year where the average company in every segment of the value chain in solar became profitable. So given today’s environment Intel and Spectrawatt could have conceivably started at numerous places in the value chain. This is where the vertical integration may come in. His view on the silicon supply is that no glut is coming, or at least not a long lived one. The end demand market is growing at 30 to 40% per year, and the silicon supply that is coming on line is in large part subject to long term contracts with fixed prices. The silicon supply additions then are pretty much already spoken for. In Andrew’s mind while growth at the margin will definitely cause some level of boom bust cycles, those long term supply contracts may moderate it more than other people believe. If he is right, and he has secure supplies, a horizontal business like cell manufacturing is a great place to be. If he is wrong, he sees continued vertical integration to manage the growth issue as one of the major avenues industry participants will go done. In this he and I also agree, rapid movements in supply cycles tend to reward vertical integration. And if he gets big enough with Spectrawatt, vertical integration could be a move Spectrawatt makes, too.

It is great for the solar industry to see more technology giants like Intel joining the fray, and perhaps helping drive down crystalline product costs the same way Applied Materials and IBM are looking to drive down then film costs.

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

Into the Blue

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, the International Energy Agency released a study entitled Energy Technology Perspectives 2008, in which the agency estimated the shifts in the world’s energy system required to reduce CO2 emissions substantially.

In their so-called “BLUE” scenario (I haven’t figured out what “BLUE” refers to), a 50% CO2 reduction from 2005 levels by 2050 — what many scientists believe is about what needs to occur to stabilize the climate — is only achievable by tackling emission reductions that have a marginal cost of over $200/ton CO2. Ouch!

Even more provocatively, IEA estimates that the BLUE scenario would imply a widespread move to near-zero carbon buildings and the deployment a billion electric/hydrogen vehicles plus annual investments between 2010 and 2050 of 55 coal plants with carbon sequestration, 32 nuclear plants, 17,500 utility-scale wind turbines, and 215 million square meters of solar panels. By their accounts, this represents $45 trillion of investment above and beyond business as usual.

In IEA’s words, “BLUE is only possible if the whole world participates fully” in shifting to “a completely different energy system.”

Does anyone doubt the magnitude of the CleanTech challenge/opportunity in the coming decades?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Solar Rises 10.8%, Renewable Elec and Biofuels increase also (week ending 5/16)

Author: Mark Henwood

Broad market indices (Emerging Markets, EAFA, S&P500) all rose significantly this week. Camino’s PurePlay™ indices, with the exception of Fuel Cells, were up. Commodities (DJP) retreated slightly.

Solar was the story of the week with our 34 member index increasing 10.8%. Six constituents rose more than 20% with the top three, SolarFun Power (SOLF), Renesola (SOL), and China Sunergy (CSUN) increasing more than 40%. Renesola reported strong Q1 results on the 14th. SolarFun and China Sunergy are scheduled to report earnings next week.

Even after its 53.85 % price increase last week, SolarFun’s current year PE is 32.2 (corrected) and its 09 PE is 19.5 (corrected). With continued high growth rates expected, and unless there is a negative surprise next week, I wouldn’t be surprise to see this stock rise further. Renesola’s current year PE is now 22.3 but with expected growth in the 50% range it may support a higher price also. China Sunergy’s 44.9% increase is harder to understand. The company isn’t profitable this year and has a 09 PE of 32. Offsetting this are consensus expectations of revenue growth of over 50% this year and next.

After last weeks big gain at Energy Conversion (ENER) the stock rose an additional 19.2%. Other then hope for an ITC extension in the US I didn’t see any events specifically related to the company that would drive this change. The stock is in both of the solar ETFs so money flowing into them may have lifted the stock last week. At a current period PE of about 80 I can’t justify owning it.

Biofuels bounced up 4.9% last week. Some of the gain was no doubt driven by oil prices but some was driven by the 27.3 % increase in Brasil Ecodiesel (ECOD3.SA). The company reported a significant block transaction of stock during the week. Next week we’ll look at the correlation of this strategy with oil prices.

Fuel Cells continued to suffer with Medis (MDTL) leading the decline. The company reported an increased YoY quarterly loss. This strategy is now down 33% of the year and is still searching for the winning product mix.

LED & Lighting is a new strategy being tracked at Camino. It consists of 9 companies that pass our screens and are producers of energy efficient lighting using LED, flourescent, or other technologies. We expect this sector to grow as technical improvements and rising retail electric prices make advanced lighting more compelling to customers.

In total our five indices, which track just PurePlay™ sustainable energy companies, have aggregate market capitalization of USD 227 billion.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks.

Only Renewables Gain (Week Ending 4/25) + Solar ETFs

Author: Mark Henwood

Broad market indices were mixed this week and so were Camino’s PurePlay™ indices.

The Solar index followed last week’s 7.0% gain with a small 0.2% decline. The index members were also mixed with 15 stocks increasing and 19 stocks declining. Most notable in the group was Centrosolar (C3O.DE) which gained 26.2% for the week. The stock jumped on the 23rd after the company announced provisional results that were above expectations. Sales for the quarter were up 86% over the previous year and EBITDA almost tripled. One analyst suggested the stock was undervalued.


Camino’s Renewable Electricity index managed a small 0.1% increase with 8 stocks climbing and 15 retreating.


Biofuels reversed last week’s 1.5% gain with a 1.9% loss. There were 7 advancing stocks to 8 stocks falling. Several of the ethanol stocks (AVR, PEIX, VSE) seemed to benefit from coverage by Oppenheimer whose analyst believes that overcapacity in the sector will resolve itself in the next 12 to 18 months.

Fuel Cells slumped 5.1% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) reported a sale to Posco which was well received by the market resulting in a 11% price increase for the week. The sale involved delivering 25.6 MW at a contact value of USD 70 million, or over USD 2,700 / kW. Analysts believe this number is below cost but will help the company reduce its cost. After years of losses FuelCell needs to get it right and get its costs down so it can compete in a very competitive natural gas fired electric generation market.

Solar ETFs It came as no surprise that solar ETFs have been launched by Claymore (TAN) and VanEck (KWT). These two providers worked hard to differentiate their products by using slightly different company selections and weighting schemes. Unfortunately they didn’t decide to compete on cost coming out at an identical 65 basis points.

The result is indices that have a 74% overlap in their 27 constituents. Between the two indices the only company not included in Camino’s Solar index (34 constituents) is MEMC Electronics (WFR). By our computation in 2007 at most MEMC has a 25% exposure to solar so we’re not sure why Claymore included them. We don’t think they currently belong in our PurePlay™ index.

Going forward we expect these ETFs will have comparable performance and very high volatility. We routinely calculate Sharp ratios for our indices in an effort to assess the risk/reward profile of the sector. Over the last 365 days our solar index’s Sharpe ratio was 0.8 and over the last two years the ratio was 0.48, both periods measured against the 13wk T-Bill. Traditional fund managers would probably not find these values attractive particularly considering their high beta. That said, we think there are plenty of opportunities in the sustainable energy sector.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark has no positions in solar.

Only Renewable Electricity Stocks Advance (Week Ending 4/11)

Author: Mark Henwood

Sustainable energy stocks followed the broader markets down this week with only Renewable Electricity able to show a gain.

The Solar index followed last week’s 14.5% advance with a 4.7% decline. The retreat was broad-based with only 4 stocks increasing and 30 stocks declining. Aloe Solar SG (AS1.DE) led the declines falling 13.1% for the week despite positive news on April 3 that it’s production expansion was on track and it had received orders in 2008 for EUR 150 million. With First Solar (FSLR) also falling 3.5% the decline was not limited to the silicon world as some commentary alluded to. Without extraordinary news to push the sector down the relatively modest change for this highly volatile group seems to be primarily driven by broader market movements.


In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index advanced 0.3% with 14 stocks climbing and 9 retreating. German wind farm developer Planbeck Neue Energien Ag
(PNE3.DE) led all increases with a 13.1% gain. On March 31 the company reported on 2007 results and conducted a press and analyst conference. The company reported a solid pipeline and positive news about its wind blade subsidiary SSP Technology. While the stock price didn’t react for a few days it looks like this week’s price gain is a reaction to the recent news.

Biofuels reversed last week’s small gain with a 7.5% decline culminating in a YTD decline of 32.4%. There were 3 advancing stocks to 12 stocks falling. Aventine (AVR) led the way down lowering 23.1 % for the week. 9.5 % of the decline occurred Friday after a USB analyst lower their target price due to concerns over corn prices and shrinking margins. Aventine is now valued at USD 0.97 per gallon of production capacity. This compares favorably with VeraSun’s (VSE) value of USD 0.67 per gallon of production capacity (after this year’s 5 new plants start-up). If it is possible to make any money producing ethanol, the company valuations have to be getting low enough to be attractive.


Fuel Cells also reversed last weeks gain with the index falling 2.2% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. Ceramic Fuel Cells LTD
(CFU.L) kept the index from falling further with its 13.6% gain for the week. We found no public news that would explain Ceramic’s being able to move counter to the market unless these are second reaction to the company’s Feb 28 order announcement. ITM Power (ITM.L), on the other hand, continued to lose ground with a 12.4% decline. I share the market’s skepticism about the impact of the company’s recent electrolyzer development.

Solar continues to move with the broader markets, all of which were down for the week. With its high beta over any period during the last 500 days the index’s performance this week is to be expected. Biofuels continue to be plagued by questions regarding profitability. Clearly, getting bigger, like VeraSun did with it’s acquisition of US Bioenergy, isn’t perceived as materially helping the basic operating cost issue. At some point stock prices for Biofuel companies will get low enough to present a compelling price / cash flow return and investors will start taking positions.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark has a position in PNE3.DE

The Week in Sustainable Energy Stocks (Week Ending 3/14)

Author: Mark Henwood

The Dow traded in a 569 range this week reflecting negative credit market news and strong intervention by government institutions. Global results were mixed with EAFA advancing and the S&P and Emerging Markets declining. The final changes were not dramatic. This translated into mixed results for the Camino indices with three indices retreating and one, Solar, advancing.

The Solar index increased 1.8% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –41.5%. LDK Solar Co. LTD (LDK), which fell 21.3 % last week, led all stocks in the index with a 16.3% increase. Most of this gain happened Thursday and Friday after the company’s press release reported it had sold 100% of its 2008 production and 90% of 2009. The communication also shed some light on the inventory issue. This strong sales picture may be supportive of the view that demand for PV product hasn’t been affected much by larger economic concerns. Overall the sector had 19 stocks climbing and 14 stocks falling.

Biofuels experienced a 1.9% decline with 6 stocks rising and 10 stocks falling. Gushan (GU) was the leader recovering 7.5% after last weeks 24.9% decline. On the declining side, Schmack Biogas (SB1.DE) led the field with a 11.6% decrease. This may be a delayed reaction to the company’s 2/26 release of 2007 results where strong sales growth (47% !) was coupled with a wider than expected loss. VeraSun (VSE) and US BioEnergy (USBE) also suffered steep declines after VeraSun reported on Wednesday that ethanol prices weren’t increasing as fast as corn costs. Getting bigger with the merger isn’t going to change that equation.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Camino’s index retreated 0.5% with 8 stocks climbing and 11 retreating. Geodynamics Ltd. (GDY.AX) led the pack with a 17.2% decline. The only news we found was an ASX note on 3/11 that a flow test had been delayed until 3/14.

Fuel Cells had another down week with the index decreasing 3.2% on 3 stocks advancing and 4 stocks declining. ITM Power (ITM.L) suffered a 25.2% decline. On Feb 5 Citigroup criticized the company’s unfocused business strategy and apparently the company’s 3/14 announcement of a testing contract with Bi-Fuels did little to sharpen the strategy.


What did I learn this week? Traders are listening carefully to company communications and are very quick to take decisive action on news, both positive and negative. I also think LDK’s order news may be significant as a bell weather for overall demand in the solar sector.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, an information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark holds a position in GDY.AX .

Edison International Says Solar is the Great Untapped Resource

Cleantech Blog had a conversation last year with Stuart Hemphill, now the newly appointed Vice President for Renewables and Alternative Energy at Southern California Edison, a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX), one of the largest purchasers of renewable power in the US. We caught up with him again today in a lively discussion around his predictions for the renewable sector.

Today they are announcing their sixth competitive solicitation for renewable energy. On peak delivery from the Tehachapi region is preferred, as they are currently building a massive transmission line to tap into the 4,500 MW of wind potential. But wind produces only 35% of the time. This major pipeline needs to be balanced. So they are looking for creative proposals from developers to fill up the rest of that transmission line with on peak power deliveries.

Renewable and alternative energy are still top goals for Edison. Stuart says his promotion is part a reflection of the business’ expanding interest in leadership in renewables in the US.

Prediction Number 1 – The next 10 years are going to be a wild, wild west in the solar industry. Companies around the globe are exploring new solar technologies of every variety. Stuart thinks it’s way too early to tell which ones are going to be successful. But he considers solar to be the great untapped resource in California and elsewhere.

So I asked him if by that he meant solar thermal or photovoltaics. The answer is “Yes”. Stuart responded that in the past couple of years we have seen incredible amounts of venture capital investment going into solar firms, and PV is only part of that equation.

When I pushed Stuart to predict a winner between conventional solar parabolic trough and other types of solar thermal technologies, Stuart refused, suggesting that it is still too early to tell which technologies will be the winners. That’s what makes it exciting to watch, in his opinion. As an example, he stated that we are now seeing renewed interest power tower technologies with pretty high efficiencies. The challenge is to see which ones get done.

When it comes to what’s important to SoCal Edison itself, it is really important that they sign PPA contracts with viable companies and viable technologies. He sees a wide spectrum of proposals in terms of viability, and is always looking for at least some sort of demonstration plant to prove it up and a significant level of backing for the companies before they can get involved.

Prediction Number 2 – I did ask him what his take on run of river hydro is. He responded that he hopes to be wrong, as he likes run of river hydro, but doesn’t see any major increases in the resource coming in California. Hydro in California in general has a very a limited resource potential left to be developed and lots of stakeholder concerns to be addressed in each case, so while he is hopeful, he is not predicting any great increases.

Prediction Number 3 – US Offshore Wind – We will not see much from offshore wind in California, as the limitations both from physical layout of shoreline as well as policy and consumer concerns.

We then switched to what the industry challenges are. Stuart nailed two big ones, transmission and interconnection.

He believes that transmission is getting even more challenging than last time we spoke. What’s interesting to Stuart is that most people agree and are in support of renewables in California, but very few people support the way that the goals need to be attained, ie, significantly increase transmission infrastructure. There tends to be lots of local opposition, or federal agencies that aren’t always in support of particular local goals. This makes sense, as transmission by its nature always touches a lot of different land and communities in its path, meaning lots of different stakeholders need to be involved.

Interconnection queue bottlenecks are the real next challenge in California and in the Midwest according to Stuart. This is a challenge that is addressable and there are proposals into FERC to do so. But currently it is a first come first serve system, and easy to get into the queue. Getting in the queue starts a study process based on FERC rules, including a feasibility study, then a system impact study and a facility study. The bottleneck arises because according to the current rules, if your facility is further back in the queue, your studies assume that the facilities ahead of you are up and running, but if at any point in time someone ahead of you drops out, your studies need to be effectively redone. Because it is relatively easy to get into the queue, nonviable projects that do not end up coming online as planned have been upsetting the applecart, causing all the projects behind them to go back to the drawing board as far as the study process is concerned. Since 2002, we’ve seen a steep ramp up to a level that is just unmanageable given that dynamic. CAL ISO has a proposal in with FERC to change this, so Stuart believes a solution is coming, just not here yet.

As usual, SoCal Edison is pushing forward aggressively on renewables, and we were excited to see the new solicitation and changes they are making. As we have said before, let’s just get it done.

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

The week in sustainable energy stocks (ending 3/7/08) ….

By Mark Henwood

Continuing concerns with economic conditions drove all the broad stock indicators into negative territory for the week. With one expectation our sustainable energy indices followed suit with three indices retreating and one, Renewable Electricity, advancing.

The Solar index suffered another large drop of 5.9% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –42.5%. In perspective, even with this large YTD decline the index has 46% to give up before it losses all of the huge gains in 2007. LDK Solar Co. LTD (LDK) led the move downward falling 21.3% and closing below its IPO price. Apparently there remains some lingering angst over inventory issues. Overall the sector had 4 stocks climbing and 29 stocks falling.

Biofuels suffered a significant 12.5% decline with all 16 stocks falling and 5 falling more than 20%. It looks like concerns about rising corn prices and reduced margins affected the ethanol producers. Gushon (GU) reported a Q4 loss and, despite management explaining the loss was due to a large non-cash charge, the stock declined 24.9%

In the Renewable Electricity sector our index advanced 0.9% with 10 stocks climbing and 9 retreating. Suzlon (SUZON.NS) is a big component of the index and was down 13.1% percent after reporting a turbine blade replacement program for 1,251 blades. This represents a market cap decline of more than USD 1 million per blade against management’s estimated cost of USD 24,000 per blade.

Fuel Cells had a down week with the index decreasing 6.3% on 1 stock advancing and 6 stocks declining. FuelCell Energy Inc. (FCEL) led the movement downward with its stock price falling 14.3% for the week. Most of the loss came after their earnings call on March 6.

What did I learn this week? Oil prices hit record highs and sustainable stocks fall sharply with the broader market. Given the relatively high beta of the Solar, Fuel Cell, and Biofuels indices, their stock performance seems to be weakly correlated to oil prices and much more strongly influenced by broad market trends. Renewable Electricity, with its lower beta, may offer some portfolio diversification benefit.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks. Mark doen’t hold a position in any of the specifically mentioned stocks.

GE: Doing Cleantech The Right Way

I have long had a respect for GE (NYSE:GE), and how it runs its business. In cleantech, I am very, very jealous. They have made themselves into the company to beat. Whether by plan, luck, or simply applying sound business discipline, GE has made itself into a top 3 global cleantech player no matter happens. And they did it for a fraction of the price, and a lot less risk than anyone in Silicon Valley or the energy sector. Venture capitalists beware, in cleantech, the behemoths have beat you to the punch, have done it cheaper, faster, and with more grit than you realize.

5 step Cleantech Program by GE

Wind – In 2002, GE bought Enron Wind out of Enron’s bankruptcy for about $300 mm, making GE one of the top 5 wind players overnight (it’s now well in excess of a billion in revenue). It was their first cleantech steal, right before the wind industry got amazingly tight (and huge).

Power – In 2003, GE acquired one of the leading gas engine manufacturers in Jenbacher, making GE an overnight leader in small, clean power systems, and powering their way into everything from distributed generation to landfill gas markets.

Solar – In 2004, just before the solar boom, GE acquired Astropower, one of the top 5 solar energy companies in the US, for less than $20 million out of bankrupcty, after the company was delisted following accounting irregularities. You cannot even build a single solar manufacturing line for $20 mm. Only the subsequent silicon supply shortages, and a lack of the needed investment in the business and next generation technology kept GE from making a homerun out of it. But despite that, there will never be another steal in solar quite like this.

Water – In 2005, GE acquired one of the largest water technology businesses in the US, Ionics, to complement its previous acqusitions in the water sector. Paying a full price of $1.1 Billion, it virtually guaranteed GE a top 5 position in the reverse osmosis, desalination, and water purification markets going forwrad, right after Ionics was shored up through a merger with Ecolochem.

Ecomagination Brand – Then on the back of these deals, in 2005 GE launched its Ecomagination initiative, and anchored the entire company’s image around its new cleantech empire.

That, my friends, is the way you make money in cleantech venture capital. I would venture to guess that GE has made 10x its money, no matter how you spin it. Or put another way, an IPO of the GE cleantech business would be the hottest thing in years.

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

FedEx’s Absolutely, Positively, Cleaner Fleet

By John Addison (3/4/08). When something must absolutely, positively, arrive the next day, people increasingly turn to FedEx. Shipped is everything from million dollar loan documents to birthday presents. FedEx is also integral to the just-in-time supply chain that allows businesses to grow, even as they shrink inventory. FedEx generates over $35 billion annually.

FedEx uses 48,000 vehicles global to deliver our goods. Fed Ex probably utilizes another 30,000 vehicles at its airport operations. At the heart of FedEx operations is a hub-spoke private fleet of jets. Fed Ex has made Memphis, Tennessee, the busiest freight airport in the world.

I valued talking with FedEx Chief Engineer of Hybrid & Alt-Fuel Fleet, Sam Snyder, after he presented at the WestStart Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicle Conference. He discussed a number of areas of fuel savings. The volume and weight of an average package is now less. People are shipping more iPods; less big stereos. This allows FedEx to expand its deployment of Sprinter Vans, and reduce its need for the larger 16,000 pound (GVWR) vans. Sam Snyder stated that FedEx uses, “The right truck for the right route, saving millions of gallons of fuel.”

With oil topping $100 per barrel, FedEx is evaluating alt-fuel, and electric vehicles while continuing its investment in hybrids. FedEx hybrids have accumulated more than 2,000,000 miles in revenue service.95 diesel hybrids are in service globally, primarily in the U.S; 77 more hybrids will be added in 2008. The hybrids are an excellent investment with a 42% improvement in fuel economy. FedEx Hybrids

FedEx is making a bigger investment in hybrids than its major competitor UPS. UPS Clean Fleet

An indicator of the future is the 48 FedEx E700 Eaton hybrids in New York. In Milan, ten Iveco, a Fiat Group company, diesel hybrids will be used in a van similar in size to the Sprinter; a Bosch electric motor and Johnson Controls batteries are used. Green Car Congress

In May 2008, 20 Azure gasoline parallel hybrids (Ford E450 chassis and Utilimaster body) will be placed in service in LA and Sacramento. WestStart is managing this program.

Also being hybridized are the traditional FedEx 16,000 pound vans with a cargo capacity of approximately 670 cubic feet. Eaton’s hybrid electric system has been placed in the standard white FedEx Express W700 delivery truck, which utilizes a Freightliner chassis and an Utilimaster body, and designated E700.

FedEx would like to move towards more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder diesel hybrids, but it may not see an EPA certification until 2010 or later. Until then, FedEx may forge ahead with the less fuel-efficient 6-cylinder diesels. EPA continues to certify based on engine emissions, rather than more efficient hybrid duty cycle.

Hybrids are just one way that FedEx is becoming less oil dependent. Currently, FedEx Freight is actively testing hydrogen fuel cell forklifts, hybrid electric Class 7 trucks, and alternative fuels.

FedEx Express and FedEx Freight are members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership with fuel efficiency strategies such as:

* Instituting policies and technologies to reduce or prevent vehicle idling
* Locating FedEx facilities in order to eliminate idling from overnight trips
* Installation of tractor/trailer/van aerodynamic packages
* Use of advanced, low-friction synthetic oils and lubricants
* Introducing automatic tire inflation devices to increase fuel economy
* Introducing wide-based tires to increase fuel economy through reduced road friction

As one of the world’s largest private air carriers, FedEx is a major user of oil-refined jet fuel and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. To improve its carbon footprint, FedEx Express is replacing the B727 model aircrafts in its fleet with the Boeing 757 model. It has 20% greater payload capacity, but it also uses 36 percent less fuel. FedEx Express also plans to acquire Boeing 777 model aircraft, with a greater payload capacity, and 18% reduction in fuel use.

FedEx also saves annually over 5.5 million gallons of aviation fuel by using in-gate aircraft auxiliary power units, eliminating more than one hour of fuel usage per flight throughout the fleet.

FedEx is also taking a leading role in using renewable energy at its facilities. At the FedEx hub in Oakland, California, 80% of the facility’s electricity and is provided by a 904 kilowatt Sharp solar rooftop system that over its 25-year life cycle this plant will offset 10,800 tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of removing 2,100 cars from the road. Another 550kW will be added at its Fontana and Whittier facilities.

FedEx Kinko’s, Inc. purchases renewable energy at more than 520 branches in 26 states, for an estimated 69 million kWh per year. FedEx Kinko’s, Inc. is procuring its power from a wide variety of sources, including wind, geothermal, landfill gas, solar, and small hydro.

This year, Fed Ex was recognized as #6 on FORTUNE’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies and #7 on FORTUNE’s list of America’s Most Admired Companies. For the seventh consecutive year, Fed Ex has been part of this prestigious list. Fed Ex’s leadership in clean transportation helps keep it at the top.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at cleantech conferences.

The week in sustainable energy stocks….

By Mark Henwood

Neal says “keep going”. So let’s start with the big picture.

Stocks were down – S&P, EAFA, emerging markets. Commodities advanced. The broad based ETN tracking the DJ AIG commodity index (DJP) increased 3.1% for the week. This was the week of oil history. Our sustainable energy indices were mixed with one, our biggest, declining and three advancing.

The Solar index suffered another large decline dropping 5.2% bringing the YTD decline for the sector to –38.9%. Solarfun Power Holdings Co. Ltd (SOLF) -16% and JA Solar Holdings Co (JASO) -13.9% led the decline after an analyst downgrade prompted by declining margins and weaker demand. With 25 stocks declining versus 8 advances, these concerns must be widely held.

In Biofuels our index advanced 1.8% led by an impressive 52.7% increase, in US dollars, for Basil Ecodiesel (ECOD3.SA). Despite Basil Ecodiesel being the largest biodiesel producer in Brazil, none of our usual news sources reported any developments to explain the sharp increase. Aventine (AVR) continued downward off another 7.3% in the wake of its liquidity issues, despite S&P leaving Aventine’s rating unchanged.

In the Renewable Electricity sector our index advanced 1.8% with 12 stocks advancing and 7 declining. Our scan of the news showed a series of normal announcements typical of an industry with some traction. The index results this week, moving counter to broad markets, are not surprising given the index’s 100 day beta of only .3.

Fuel Cells had a strong week with the index increasing 7.8%. The increase was due in large part to the 44.6% gain for Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd. (CFU.L) Ceramic reported it was constructing a manufacturing plant in Heinsberg, Germany and a substantial order for 50,000 2 kW micro CHP units from NUON. If these units are able operate reliability at a reasonable cost this could be an important breakthrough in a significant market targeted by a number of fuel cell companies.

What did I learn this week? Market developments reinforced the highly “leveraged” nature of solar stock prices. High growth expectations result in high volatility. I also realized I need better information sources for some of the lesser developed markets like Brazil. These are important investment centers and I’ll be looking for improved resources. We also saw investors are carefully looking for the key breakthrough. Ceramic is now center stage.

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks.

The week in sustainable energy stocks….

Neal asked me if I would comment on the markets for sustainable energy stocks in the last week. It’s an area I follow closely so he hopes I will occasionally stumble across some nuggets.

Let me start by saying I believe there is potential for good returns in sustainable energy stocks over time. In the short term though, it was a tough week. Sustainable energy stocks in all four of Camino’s sectors declined. In contrast, broader indicators such as the S&P, EAFA, and emerging markets were all positive for the week.

The Solar index, comprised of 33 companies, suffered the largest decline with a 5.3% drop bringing the YTD decline for the sector to -35.5%. Suntech (NYSE:STP) was hardest hit with a 20.3% price decline after it reported earnings and revenue below expectations, driven in part by silicon supply issues. If other producers report similar problems I would expect to see further declines in the sector as prices adjust to lower growth expectations.

In Biofuels Aventine (NYSE:AVR) was off 17.4% after it reported Thursday it had liquidity issues stemming from its $211.5 million invested in auction-rate securities. This issue may delay plant development. I expect analysts are reviewing the balance sheets of other sustainable energy companies to see if they have “cash equivalents” that aren’t exactly equivalent to cash. If you don’t understand what you’re investing in don’t invest in it.

In the Renewable Electricity sector Solar Millenium (FRA:S2M) declined 10.1% . The company announced a rights issue on Feb 19 that may have triggered concerns about dilution. Overall 8 stocks advanced and 11 declined resulting in relatively modest decline of 1.1% in the index.

In Fuel Cells all of our companies reported price declines with Fuel Cell Energy (NASDAQ:FCEL) falling the most at -6.3%. The company presented at the PiperJaffray conference on February 20, 2008 and didn’t highlight any items of concern that I noted.

What did I learn this week? Apparently growth constraints are still a factor in the high growth solar sector. I also relearned that unexpected risks occur when broader markets are having problems. Are there more surprises from the credit markets waiting to be revealed in sustainable energy companies?

Mark is the founder of Camino Energy, a information provider specializing in globally traded sustainable energy stocks. He also is an investor in sustainable energy stocks.

Let in the Sun Shine

(11/28/07 by John Addison) Gene Coan does not worry about the price of gasoline, nor is he concerned with his gas and electric bill. Gene powers his home and car with solar photovoltaics (PV) and also uses solar hot water heating. With his Zenn electric-vehicle (EV) Gene rides on sunlight.

Gene is following his beliefs. He is a Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. From PV to EV, Gene is living zero-emissions from energy source to wheels.

The Zenn is a stylish three-door hatchback, which makes it handy for hauling stuff from stores. It is fully enclosed. It is a light electric vehicle with a curb weight of only 1,200 pounds because of its aluminum frame and ABS plastic body panels. It has a range of 35 miles and a legal speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

There are over 25,000 battery-electric vehicles on the road in California. Most are the $9,000 to $12,000 light electric vehicles (LEV) such as Gene’s Zenn. These electric vehicles are often referred to as neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV). LEVs are popular in university towns, such as Palo Alto, California, where Gene lives. There are over 100 in use at nearby Stanford University. Many silently zip around the campus carrying the people, goods, and equipment necessary to keep the university running.

New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, but often not kept, especially when the price tag is $45,000. In January 2002, Michael Mora convinced his wife that they should buy a Toyota RAV4 electric vehicle for $45,000. Michael had to practically beg the dealer to sell his last one. Today, Michael could sell his RAV4 as a used-vehicle for $20,000 more than he paid for it. After a showdown with the California Air Resources Board, all major auto makers including Toyota stopped selling their EVs. Freeway speed EVs are in hot demand. Now Michael could pocket a handsome twenty grand after driving the vehicle for almost six years.

Michael is not selling. He powers his RAV4 with the solar power installed on his roof. The daily cost to drive the vehicle is zero. Because the RAV4 has NiMH batteries, he can achieve up to 100 mile range. Freeway speeds are a piece of cake.Hundreds of individuals are lining-up to order freeway-speed electric vehicles from Tesla, Miles Motors, AC Propulsion, and others. Price tags of up to $100,000 do not faze these electric vehicle enthusiasts.

Electric vehicles are equally popular with individuals and with fleets. The U.S. Marine Corps is vitally concerned about the nation’s energy security. At Camp Pendleton, in Oceanside, California, the Marines use 320 LEV’s for routine maintenance, goods hauling, and transportation on the vast base. The LEV’s 25-mile per hour speed matches the use. The vehicles are recharged at an eight-station solar carport. Just as two-car families may have one electric vehicle and a heavier vehicle for range, the Marines use different vehicles for different purposes. At Camp Pendleton, five million gallons of B20 biodiesel is used annually, powering heavy duty and long distance vehicles.

The City of Santa Monica is rapidly installing solar power on roofs throughout the city. It intends to be the nation’s first Net-Zero City. The city uses many electric vehicles including EVs: 24 RAV EVs, a GEM electric truck for the popular Third Street Promenade, a demo electric scooter, and even a Segway.

National Renewable Energy Labs turned to Envision Solar to cover part of its parking lot with solar shaded vehicle charging. Envision CEO Robert Noble is an award-winning LEED architect. His solar design follows the metaphor of trees and groves that convert ugly “heat island” parking lots into beautifully landscape. A pre-fab version for homeowners will be showcased as the vehicle charger of choice at the EVS conference. Envision is in partnership with Kyocera (KYO).

Why not just cover a car with solar panels and skip the separate solar charging station? Each year teams build demonstration solar cars that do. This year, 38 vehicles covered with solar panels crossed 3,000 kilometers of Australia in the Panasonic Solar World Challenge. This year’s winner, Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, accomplished the feat in 33 hours and 17 minutes.

Big auto makers are demonstrating concept vehicles with integrated solar roofs. VW’s (VOW) “Space Up! Blue” includes 150W solar roofing to help charge the vehicle’s 12 lithium-ion batteries. This vehicle is designed to travel 65 miles in electric-only mode and only then use added electricity from an on-board fuel cell to achieve a 220 mile range.

The new Mitsubishi iMiEV Sport also includes solar roofing for the next major automaker commercially sold battery-electric vehicle. By 2010, we may be seeing these sleek freeway-speed electric vehicles being sold for well under $30,000 by Mitsubishi (7211:JP).

Over 40 million electric vehicles are in use globally, often silently whisking by without attracting our attention. Increasingly those driving will experience the added joy of riding on sunlight.

This article is Copyright © John Addison and will be part of his upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. Permission is granted to reproduce this article with the preservation of this copyright notice.