IPOs and Bankruptcies and Cleantech “Hot or Not”

Last night while watching Office reruns, I realized I’d been remiss, and a lot’s had been happening in the public equities end of the cleantech sector.  Not to mention yesterday’s billion dollar BK broiler announcement by the one-time Next Greatest Thing, Solyndra.

So, with my usual aplomb, I thought I’d simply peanut gallery what’s “Hot or Not” in cleantech.


Bled Out on the Operating Table

Solyndra – BK (and not the burger kind). Well, we wrote about it a lot, and nobody believes us.  But bad product is bad product, and high cost is high cost, regardless of how much money you throw at it.  So who’s going to calculate the impact on the DOE loan guarantee program’s projected loan losses? Not.

Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR)  – :(  And it was such cool technology, too.  I’m very sorry to see this one go.  At one point some years back it was the savior deal of the sector.  But we are in a race to cost down or die. Not.


Filed, Not Yet Hell for Leather

Enphase – I’m very very interested in seeing these guys make it.   Lots of growth.  Very thin margins so far.  Product costs looks miserably high.  Need to cost down like a banshee running from the Bill Murray.  But you’ve got to love the category killer potential and how fast they’ve executed.  First microinverter guy to manufacturing maturity eats the others like oatmeal (sloppy but eaten nonetheless). Hot.

Silver Spring – Hmmmmmmmmh.  Home run potential, but what’s the term?  Very high beta?  These contracts are massive, far strung, very very tight margin.  They’ve shown they can get the growth.  But with long lead time sticky contracts, it’s about managing costs during slippage and change-orders well, and it’s a very competitive business.  One blown contract gives back all the profits on the last 8.  But, give kudos for getting this far and making it to be a real player.  Now we’ll see if you can execute. Hot.

Luca Technologies – Hello?  Are you serious?  I read this S-1 cover to cover.  I had my technologist read it and go find their patents.  We love this area.  The concept of microbes for in situ is old as can be, but very very interesting..  The challenge is always cost and performance (not really a new nutrient mix?).  How do you get the bugs, nutrients, whatever you’re doing, down the hole and into the formation far enough and cheap and effectively enough to make a difference.  But in the entire S-1 and website, there is not a single technology description, fact, proof point or ANYTHING that suggests they’ve actually cracked the real nut.  The few numbers they do mention are not even to the ho-hum level.  Did a real investment banker really sign up to this?  Who wrote this?  Their PR guy with a liberal arts studies degree?  Really?  This smacks of a “trust us I’m Jesus and daddy needs an exit” deal.  In reality, probably interesting, but still very very very very very very very early science project.   Not.


We have a whole collection of biofuels stocks to discuss now.

Solazyme (NASDAQ:SZYM) – half of its 52 week, less than a buck over its low. Not.

Kior (NASDAQ:KIOR) – Somebody correct me, but did the filings really indicate Khosla put money IN to this IPO?  And it got off at low end of the range even after that? From one of their filings: “In conjunction with the Issuer’s IPO, an entity affiliated with the Reporting Persons purchased 1,250,000 shares of Class A common stock, resulting in an increase in beneficial ownership by the Reporting Persons by that amount. The
purchase was made at the initial public offering price of $15.00 per share, for an aggregate purchase price of $18,750,000. The source of funds used to purchase the shares of Class A common stock was Khosla’s personal assets.” At least it’s money where it’s mouth is.  Not.

Amyris (NASDAQ:AMRS) – 58% of its 52 week high, 20% over it’s low. Not.

Gevo (NASDAQ:GEVO) – 40% of its 52 week high, c. 20% off it’s low. Not.

Codexis (NASDAQ:CDXS) – 55% of its 52 week high, c. 20% off it’s lows. Not.

I’d comment on the fundamentals of each one, but I don’t want you to think I’m depressed.  Oh, by the way.  Did I ever tell you the story about the cleantech sector’s magically changing cellulosic biofuels business plans to “cellulosic bio-anything-but-fuels” plans as people finally woke up and realized how tough using lousy feedstocks and high cost processes in a commodities market actually is.  Of course, careful you don’t change from targeting fuels to making feedstock for dirt cheap who would want to be in that business commodity chemicals or specialty chemicals with a global aggregate gross margin market less than your cash on balance sheet.

And a Few Tidbits

Advanced Energy (NASDAQ: AEIS) – I still really like this company.  Somebody’s going to own inverters.  And the numbers look very interesting.  Very. Need to dig deeper. Hot.

American Superconductor (NASDAQ:AMSC) – Ummm.  Do you believe their wind business ever recovers?  One customer.  Buying a competitor with one customer.  Both in China.  Customer doesn’t like single supplier risk where the supplier makes high margins?  What did you think was going to happen?  Ugly ugly story.  Very real possibility that they trade on a log curve to straight zero.  Some chance of sunshine, but I’d cancel the picnic. Not.

A123 (NASDAQ:AONE) – I really really really want this to work.  But what’s the path to profits?  Not feeling it. Not.

Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) –  “Don’t worry, the NEXT car will fix my company’s fundamental problems” – quote attributed to the Tesla CEO who replaces the next Tesla CEO. Not.

Active Power (NASDAQ: ACPW) – Hey, did anyone notice these guys are growing revenues AND margins?  A long haul, but keep it up!  Need careful consideration before I’d jump into flywheels, but someone deserves a ton of credit as coach of the year.  Hot.

Satcon (NASDAQ:SATC) – Hammered, but still a market leader.  Got to think about this one – it’s historically traded for more than it’s fundamentals justified, but with PV Powered and Xantrex snapped up, hard to imagine they stay independent for long. Hot.

SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR)  – Wow.  Total. No guts no glory.  Highest cost producer, shall we call it the “performance queen”.  I do like this bet by Total, but it takes guts.  But when a market leader’s stock’s been hammered that far down somebody’s got to move and Total did . . .  Whether an individual investor can play is another story. Hot.

Ascent Solar (NASDAQ:ASTI) – Holy star solar batman!  These guys can sell ice to eskimos are have always been great R&D guys.  Still maybe the highest cost CIGS process known to astronauts.  I like these guys, but I’m not sure more cash fixes anything. Not.

Solon – What does “New US operational strategy” mean?  It means solar is a game of scale and execution.  Not.


Ford and SunPower Simplify Solar Charging of EVs

Ford and SunPower offer a rooftop solar system that will allow Focus Electric owners and other electric car drivers to “Drive Green for Life” by providing renewable energy to offset the electricity used to charge the vehicle. The SunPower rooftop solar system also will be compatible with the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle Ford is rolling out in 2012.

This pre-configured solution makes solar charging easy for new customers.  Many of the first 50,000 U.S. buyers of electric cars have been early adopters of solar power and renewable energy. Music legend Jackson Browne lives off-gird and charges his Chevrolet Volt with his own wind and solar power.   Johnson and Johnson installed 1.1MW of SunPower solar covered parking structures that includes 5 Coulomb electric car chargers. The U.S. Marine Corp at Camp Pendleton showed me their solar powered parking structure that charges their 291 electric vehicles. Solar Parking Structures

The 2.5 kilowatt rooftop solar system is comprised of the SunPower® E18 Series solar panels that produce an average of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. These high-efficiency solar panels generate approximately 50 percent more electricity than conventional panels and utilize a smaller footprint on the roof. The system was sized to accommodate an electric car owner who drives about 1,000 miles per month.

The complete SunPower solar system is offered at a base price of less than $10,000 after federal tax credits. Local and state rebates, along with other incentives, may drive the system cost down even more, depending on a customer’s location. Included in the purchase is a residential monitoring system, which includes the ability to track the performance of their solar system on the web or through an iPhone application. Affordable financing options for the solar system are available through SunPower.

When Ford customers order their Focus Electric or C-MAX Energi they will have the option of indicating an interest in the SunPower system. SunPower leads the industry with more than 400 dealers in the U.S., and can support the initial Focus Electric roll out in all 19 markets. A participating SunPower dealer who will visit their home to begin the installation process will contact interested Focus Electric customers. Ford also has an agreement with consumer electronics leader Best Buy to offer a 240-volt home charging station for the Focus Electric and future electric vehicle owners.

I was impressed with my test drives of early versions of the Ford Focus Electric, which will challenge the Nissan Leaf. In 2013, NISSAN opens its new Tennessee plant with the ultimate capacity of making 150,000 LEAFs each year. The Ford C-MAX Energi will challenge the Chevrolet Volt’s leadership of plug-in hybrids. Chevrolet will make 65,000 Volts and Opel Amperas next year.

Electrification is an important piece of Ford’s overall product sustainability strategy, which includes the launch of five electrified vehicles in North America by 2012 and in Europe by 2013. Ford launched the Transit Connect Electric small commercial van in 2010 and will launch the all-new Focus Electric later this year. In 2012, these models will be joined in North America by the new C-MAX Hybrid, a second next-generation lithium-ion battery hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. This diverse range of electrified vehicles allows Ford to meet a variety of consumer driving needs.

Electric car critics and many oil industry executives claim that there will only be coal power charging electric vehicles. In my two years of interviewing electric car owners and fleet managers, I have yet to met someone who only uses coal to power their electric vehicles. Most use zero coal power. Many use 100 percent renewables. One oil giant who does not make the false coal claim is Total, which is buying the majority of SunPower stock. Total sees a billion dollar opportunity to charge cars with renewable energy.

A Holy Moly Gutsy Week in Cleantech

Reading cleantech news and SEC filings this last couple of weeks makes for a holy moly OMG damn that takes guts set of moments. Well, the cleantech sector is nothing if not entertaining.  I’m obviously going to have to up my game and find more entertaining deals.


Total buys controlling stake in Sunpower. Sunpower was certainly a pioneer, and really kicked off vertical integration in photovoltaics with its acquisition of Powerlight in 2006. $2.3 Billion equity valuation? 46% share price acquisition premium? Wow. No guts, no glory. But at something like a little south of a PE of 30 on the 2011 earnings guidance as well as 2011 year over year revenue growth forecast of close to 30%, probably not too far out of line. And they didn’t even have to buy the whole thing!

Sunpower has had a hell of a run, but basically every solar analyst on the planet has been crowing that its core strategic advantages have seriously eroded. And maybe they have. We shall see. But growth is growth, and high performance panels are high performance panels. With another $1 billion in letter of credit from Total to backstop it, I think this is a gutsy, but strong move. If I’m Sunpower, I needed to do something. And with my stock price at not much over 10% of my high? This is a deal I’ll take. And if I’m Total, buy control of Sunpower for a 7th of it’s price peak and a PEG of around 1 to get a Tier 1 position in solar and stacks of growth potential I can pour cash into? Or build another offshore platform? Hmmmmmmh. I think I’d actually like the solar play this time. And take the margin risk.


KiOR files for IPO. Um, wow. Fascinating technology, though still a lot of scale-up to be done. We know for sure that Vinod Khosla has a cast iron stomach and more guts than me. I read the S-1 cover to cover last night. S-1s are notoriously messy reading and tricky to decipher how the venture rounds were done, but here’s what it looks like at first read:

July 07 Khosla invests $2.5 mm in a milestone deal of $1.4 and $1.1 for c. 50% of the stock excl option plan, a c. $2.5-3 mm pre money/ $5-6 mm post.  Great, nice cheap deal.
Mid 08 Artis (who was also heavy into Solyndra) and Alberta Investment pump in another c. $12 mm for c. 55% excl option plan, about a 1x uptick c. $10-12 mm pre-money.  CEO comes in here.  Price and capital in still within normalcy, but rolling almost as fast as we did our Zenergy deal in superconductors a few years back. But then it gets really gutsy.
Aug 09 Khosla $15 mm bridges a conv note, and gets paid handsomely when in
mid 2010 Khosla puts in another $80-90 mm in addition to the prior Convertible note for 35% of the Company, but all of the voting control.

Somewhere in there the state of Mississippi gives them $75 mm in no interest loans kicking in this last quarter (which sounds like it goes into default if KiOR doesn’t invest $500 mm into the state of Mississppi by 2015).

They then file for an IPO with Credit Suisse, UBS, and Goldman. All with like just a 15 barrel of oil equivalent per day pilot plant, planning to scale to a still miniscule 800 BOEPD with the couple of hundred million dollar investment from Mississippi and Khosla.

This isn’t just Khosla priming the pump and dumping on the rest of the venture world.  This is money where your mouth is.  This is make ’em pay to play style Texas Hold’em.  Pushing all in on a pair of queens with a straight flush showing on the flop.  Figuring pot odds be damned, the pair of queens is worth a shot if we can push half the table in with us, and we’ll just buy back in and do it again  if it doesn’t work out.  Damn. No guts no glory.


And of course, for BrightSource, one IPO filing and more “tortoise troubles”. Basically the regulators now think there are more endangered desert tortoises getting moved or killed than they had permitted Brightsource at Ivanpah.   The week after you file for an IPO and Google gives you money? 😉

And phase II and III are on ice or partial ice. I asked my wife how exactly it happens that they miss this badly on the number of tortoises (she’s been doing environmental risk assessments in the SoCal desert her whole career).  Her answer, usually means somebody on one side or the other doesn’t understand statistics.

This is already a very tight deal. And I was never sure exactly what a measely $250 mm in IPO money was going to do to help, when each project costs $2 billion, and takes fifty to a hundred million and years to develop. I’m thinking they need some real Total style money in this one to win.  But at this time in my reading, I’m beginning to think I have no guts.

Time to think about upping my game again.  My partners will be glad to hear that.  They think I’ve gotten a little risk averse.

Solar Energy’s 33 Percent Annual Growth will Accelerate

By John Addison (7/26/10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solar Growth Accelerates in Middle Markets

Several conference presenters examined the solar market in 4 categories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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