Monday, July 16, 2007

Who's side is the government (and private equity) on???

Andrew Revkin of the New York times had a big splash on the promises and perils (with emphasis on the latter) of relying on solar as a solution to our global energy pickle. The problem cited is of the often heard, "broken record"variety--that solar technology is too expensive for mass market. If you had to point fingers, you would think that the U.S. government (underinvesting in renewable R&D and oversubsidizing fossil/nuclear energy) is in bed with the fossil/nuclear lobby:
In the current fiscal year, the Energy Department plans to spend $159 million on solar research and development. It will spend nearly double, $303 million, on nuclear energy research and development, and nearly triple, $427 million, on coal, as well as $167 million on other fossil fuel research and development...“Coal and nuclear count their lobbying budgets in the tens of millions,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “We count ours in the tens of thousands.”

The New York times also had interesting side bars on solar thermal and storage of solar power.

A rural solar initiative in the Phillipines faces the challenges of the high costs of solar panels and realted maintenance.

A little more good news to ease the pain of the global polysilicon (feed stock of conventional silicon-based solar cells) shortage--Wacker Chemie (talk about a wonder stock!), one of the world's leading producers of polysilicon, is planning to build a new granular solar polysilicon site in Burghausen, Germany.

In terms of state policies, solar power prosptects are looking sunny in Arizona (read also Vote Solar's analysis on Arizona) and Oregon (50% solar tax credit).

Finally, some recent venture capital transactions: SoloPower (thin filim CIGS) raises $30 million; MWOE Solar (thin film amorphous silicon) raises $7 million; Solaire Direct (French designer and installer) raised €6.1 million and Heliatek (organic solar cells) raises €3.2 million. But this article warns that private equity money directed to solar is drying up due to slow development of certain startups, slow shift towards higher solar conversion efficiencies, the threat of China entrants producing cheap yet high quality solar cells, and the continued expansion and increasing market share of the public solar companies (e.g. BP Solar's Frederick expansion). This is substantiated by a Red Herring article describing the increased caution that venture capitalists are taking towards cleantech investments.. Are we entering a PE/VC money dry spell?

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