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Updated: 1 year 38 weeks ago

Lunera Lighting, Plus the 50th Anniversary of the LED

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 14:40

October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the LED (light emitting diode) by General Electric's Nick Holonyak, father of the GaAsP visible LED.

That decade-old innovation in the lab is finally about to seriously disrupt the incandescent and CFL lamp market.

Companies bringing LED lighting to market span the value chain from semiconductors to electronics to packaging and sales channel. See recent articles about networked LEDs from Redwood Systems and Digital Lumens. IKEA ceasing sales of incandescents, utility rebates for LED lighting, and new bulbs from Lighting Science Group and startups LEDwiser. Most VC firms with a cleantech practice have a solid-state or advanced lighting firm in the portfolio; Rockport invested in Exclara and Luxim, NEA in Soraa and Shenghui Lighting, VantagePoint invested in Bridgelux and Switch Lighting.

Lunera is a VC-funded LED lighting company selling to commercial interior and general lighting markets. We spoke with Michael Keddington, the CEO and VP of Sales and Marketing, Tom Quinn.

The CEO said, "It's become clear to me that when we go out to building owners is that they're thinking about improved building performance and its value."  Quinn said, "In the long run people might become more discerning and demanding about lighting," adding that lighting in the comercial space means troffers, pendant lighting and task lighting.

There's still innovation going on in lighting technology and not just in the LED chips themselves but in:

  • Control hardware 
  • New power architecture and ways to capitalize on the DC nature of the LED 
  • Better modulating color quality of light and its potential applications
  • Thermal management

 

According to Keddington, revenues have doubled at the company this year with sales to marquee customers who cannot be named. He sees the company as sufficiently funded to make it to cash flow positive. Lunera has received more than $18 million in venture capital from The Westly Group, RCG Ventures, and Navitas Capital.

Advanced lighting companies also have a mandate on their side in California's Building Energy Efficiency Program, Title 24.

In the CEO's words, "We've reduced costs by 60 percent. We're coming up on getting rid of the price issue with fluorescents." He added that exposure to the retail market has demonstrated to customers the uniformity and quality of LED light as well as the ability "to richly render saturated colors for marketing purposes." 

Lunera designs all the fixtures "down to the PC board" with "close attention to color consistency and how we manufacture for color consistency." Quinn noted that he LED chip is less than 10 percent of the cost of the fixture.

Quinn said that LEDs at the source are 140 to 150 lumens per watt today with a roadmap to 200 lumens per watt -- compared to 90 lumens per watt for fluorescents. Lunera's "delivered light is 110 lumens per watt."

Challenges facing a startup like Lunera include low-cost competition from Asia and scaling the sales channel and manufacturing.

Here's an example of Lunera's fixtures:

 

Back to Nick Holonyak for a few more words.

Holonyak, inventor of the GaAsP visible LED called the LED the “ultimate lamp” because “the current itself is the light.” In an interview with GE Lighting the now 83-year-old Holonyak spoke of the competion which drove his discovery: “If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them because I’ve made this alloy that is in the red—visible. And I’m going to be able to see what’s going on. And they’re stuck in the infrared.”

Here' a video with an interview of Holonyak courtesy of General Electric.

 

And Holonyak in his lab.

Lunera Lighting, Plus the 50th Anniversary of the LED

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 14:40

October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the LED (light-emitting diode) by General Electric's Nick Holonyak, father of the GaAsP visible LED.

That decade-old innovation in the lab is finally about to seriously disrupt the incandescent and CFL lamp market.

Companies bringing LED lighting to market span the value chain from semiconductors to electronics to packaging and sales channel. See recent articles about networked LEDs from Redwood Systems and Digital Lumens; IKEA ceasing sales of incandescents; utility rebates for LED lighting; and new bulbs from Lighting Science Group and startups LEDwiser. Most VC firms with a cleantech practice have a solid-state or advanced lighting firm in the portfolio; Rockport invested in Exclara and Luxim, NEA in Soraa and Shenghui Lighting, VantagePoint invested in Bridgelux and Switch Lighting.

Lunera is a VC-funded LED lighting company selling to commercial interior and general lighting markets. We spoke with Michael Keddington, the CEO, and VP of Sales and Marketing Tom Quinn.

The CEO said, "It's become clear to me when we go out to building owners that they're thinking about improved building performance and its value."  Quinn added, "In the long run, people might become more discerning and demanding about lighting," adding that lighting in the commercial space means troffers, pendant lighting and task lighting.

There's still innovation going on in lighting technology, and not just in the LED chips themselves but also in:

  • Control hardware 
  • New power architecture and ways to capitalize on the DC nature of the LED 
  • Better modulating color quality of light and its potential applications
  • Thermal management

 

According to Keddington, revenues have doubled at the company this year with sales to marquee customers who cannot be named. He sees the company as sufficiently funded to make it to cashflow-positive. Lunera has received more than $18 million in venture capital from The Westly Group, RCG Ventures, and Navitas Capital.

Advanced lighting companies also have a mandate on their side in California's Building Energy Efficiency Program, Title 24.

In the CEO's words, "We've reduced costs by 60 percent. We're coming up on getting rid of the price issue with fluorescents." He added that exposure to the retail market has demonstrated to customers the uniformity and quality of LED light, as well as the ability "to richly render saturated colors for marketing purposes." 

Lunera designs all the fixtures "down to the PC board" with "close attention to color consistency and how we manufacture for color consistency." Quinn noted that the LED chip itself accounts for less than 10 percent of the cost of the fixture.

Quinn said that LEDs at the source are 140 to 150 lumens per watt today, with a roadmap to 200 lumens per watt -- compared to 90 lumens per watt for fluorescents. Lunera's "delivered light is 110 lumens per watt."

Challenges facing a startup like Lunera include low-cost competition from Asia and scaling the sales channel and manufacturing.

Here's an example of Lunera's fixtures:

 

Back to Nick Holonyak for a few more words.

Holonyak, inventor of the GaAsP visible LED, called the LED the “ultimate lamp” because “the current itself is the light.” In an interview with GE Lighting, the now 83-year-old Holonyak spoke of the competition which drove his discovery: “If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them, because I’ve made this alloy that is in the red -- visible. And I’m going to be able to see what’s going on. And they’re stuck in the infrared.”

Here's video of an interview with Holonyak, courtesy of General Electric.

 

And Holonyak in his lab.

A123 Files for Bankruptcy

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 12:15

Struggling lithium-ion battery maker A123 filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, putting the status of its proposed $465 million bailout by China's Wanxiang — as well as its $249 million in federal loans — in question. 

The Waltham, Mass-based company also said it planned to sell its automotive battery business to Johnson Controls for $125 million, though the deal could be subject to competing bids in the bankruptcy process.

That move, announced on A123’s Web site, would appear to put an end to a proposal from Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang Group Corp. to invest $465 million in A123, which would have given it an 80-percent stake in the company. A123 announced Monday that it had missed a debt payment to Wanxiang and Tuesday's announcement of a deal with Johnson Controls would leave other buyers with only A123's grid-scale storage and small-scale consumer electronics businesses.

Tuesday’s filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware marks a sorry end for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-out and would-be U.S. lithium-ion battery powerhouse. A123 has been fighting for survival after a $67 million recall of its automotive batteries and problems for key battery customer Fisker Automotive.

A123 got a $249 million DOE grant, along with $100 million in state tax credits, to build its battery plant in Livonia, Michigan. That has opened it up to attacks from political opponents of the Obama administration’s multi-billion-dollar green energy programs, calling the deal a giveaway of taxpayer money. Tuesday’s bankruptcy filing will no doubt increase those attacks, adding it to a long list of companies that received federal funds only to declare bankruptcy later on — the best known example being solar company Solyndra.

At the same time, A123 is not Solyndra, which has sold off its factories for pennies on the dollar. In particular, the potential for Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Johnson Controls to take over A123's automotive battery assets and IP, which include in-development, next-generation battery chemistries as well as controls and software smarts, is a welcome sign. 

Indeed, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit founded and chaired by former Republican lawmakers, praised the role of federal funding for green technology in a Tuesday statement on A123's bankruptcy, calling it not a failure of the model but an indication of "how far U.S. advanced battery innovation has come and how much farther it has to go to become globally competitive."

Asia dominates the world's advanced battery markets today. LG Chem produces batteries for the Chevy Volt and the Opel Ampera, the EU version of the Volt, while Leaf batteries are assembled by Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), a joint venture between Nissan, NEC and NEC Energy Devices. A123 is an investor and battery supplier to Fisker Automotive (A123 lost the Volt contract to LG). Tesla's Model S uses batteries and battery packs from Panasonic. Earlier this year, Sony declared that it will produce lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and start selling them by the middle of the decade. U.S.-based lithium-ion maker Boston-Power is both building batteries in China and selling them to Chinese automaker Beijing Electric Vehicle Co.

A123 customers include Fisker Automotive, General Motors, BMW, SAIC Motor Corp., Tata Motors and Smith Electric Vehicles. A123’s battery defects did end up playing a role in problems for key customer Fisker, which has stopped work at its Delaware factory and faced problems meeting the terms of its own $529 million federal loan.

Transportation remains A123's most important line of business, although its grid storage business has been growing in the past year or so, with installations and orders that added up to 100 megawatts by the end of 2011, much of it in partnership with AES Energy Storage

A123 had assets of $459.8 million and debt of $376 million as of Aug. 31, according to its bankruptcy filing. The court documents state that Fisker and AES Energy Storage were its two biggest customers, accounting for about 26 percent and 24 percent of total revenue in 2011.

A123 reported a second-quarter 2012 loss of $82.9 million, compared with a loss of $55.4 million in the same period last year. That comes on top of a $125 million loss in the first quarter, more than double the loss from the same quarter last year.

A123 Files for Bankruptcy

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 12:15

Struggling lithium-ion battery maker A123 filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, putting the status of its proposed $465 million bailout by China's Wanxiang -- as well as its $249 million in federal loans -- in question. 

The Waltham, Mass.-based company also said it planned to sell its automotive battery business to Johnson Controls for $125 million, though the deal could be subject to competing bids in the bankruptcy process.

That move, announced on A123’s website, would appear to put an end to a proposal from Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang Group Corp. to invest $465 million in A123, which would have given it an 80-percent stake in the company. A123 announced Monday that it had missed a debt payment to Wanxiang and Tuesday's announcement of a deal with Johnson Controls would leave other buyers with only A123's grid-scale storage and small-scale consumer electronics businesses.

Tuesday’s filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware marks a sorry end for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-out and would-be U.S. lithium-ion battery powerhouse. A123 has been fighting for survival after a $67 million recall of its automotive batteries and problems for key battery customer Fisker Automotive.

A123 got a $249 million DOE grant, along with $100 million in state tax credits, to build its battery plant in Livonia, Michigan. That has opened it up to attacks from political opponents of the Obama administration’s multi-billion-dollar green energy programs, calling the deal a giveaway of taxpayer money. Tuesday’s bankruptcy filing will no doubt increase those attacks, adding it to a long list of companies that received federal funds only to declare bankruptcy later on -- the best known example being solar company Solyndra.

At the same time, A123 is not Solyndra, which has sold off its factories for pennies on the dollar. In particular, the potential for Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Johnson Controls to take over A123's automotive battery assets and IP, which include in-development, next-generation battery chemistries as well as controls and software smarts, is a welcome sign. 

Indeed, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit founded and chaired by former Republican lawmakers, praised the role of federal funding for green technology in a Tuesday statement on A123's bankruptcy, calling it not a failure of the model but an indication of "how far U.S. advanced battery innovation has come and how much farther it has to go to become globally competitive."

Asia dominates the world's advanced battery markets today. LG Chem produces batteries for the Chevy Volt and the Opel Ampera, the EU version of the Volt, while Leaf batteries are assembled by Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), a joint venture between Nissan, NEC and NEC Energy Devices. A123 is an investor and battery supplier to Fisker Automotive (A123 lost the Volt contract to LG). Tesla's Model S uses batteries and battery packs from Panasonic. Earlier this year, Sony declared that it will produce lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and start selling them by the middle of the decade. U.S.-based lithium-ion maker Boston-Power is both building batteries in China and selling them to Chinese automaker Beijing Electric Vehicle Co.

A123 customers include Fisker Automotive, General Motors, BMW, SAIC Motor Corp., Tata Motors and Smith Electric Vehicles. A123’s battery defects did end up playing a role in problems for key customer Fisker, which has stopped work at its Delaware factory and faced problems meeting the terms of its own $529 million federal loan.

Transportation remains A123's most important line of business, although its grid storage business has been growing in the past year or so, with installations and orders that added up to 100 megawatts by the end of 2011, much of it in partnership with AES Energy Storage

A123 had assets of $459.8 million and debt of $376 million as of Aug. 31, according to its bankruptcy filing. The court documents state that Fisker and AES Energy Storage were its two biggest customers, accounting for about 26 percent and 24 percent of total revenue in 2011, respectively.

A123 reported a second-quarter 2012 loss of $82.9 million, compared with a loss of $55.4 million in the same period last year. That comes on top of a $125 million loss in the first quarter, more than double the loss from the same quarter last year.

Benchmarking Drives 7 Percent Cut in Building Energy

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 12:00

Energy efficiency makes so much sense that it rarely finds champions in political circles.

But outside the Beltway, in cities and states across the U.S., energy benchmarking and disclosure laws for commercial buildings are driving efficiency gains that produce savings that are substantial enough that they should make people sit up and notice. 

In the most recent report of data trends from Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which most buildings use to benchmark energy use, 35,000 buildings saved 7 percent over a three-year period. 

For buildings that started with below-average energy efficiency scores, they saved more than twice the energy of those above average. The majority of buildings -- 90 percent -- saved between 0 and 10 percent annually.

“These findings show the power of information,” Cliff Majersik, Executive Director of the Institute for Market Transformation, said in a statement. “Energy Star benchmarking is a powerful tool to guide and motivate building improvements to cut waste and save big money. In fact, a recent survey showed that more than 60 percent of building operators who benchmark use benchmarking to decide where to invest their resources and to make the business case for those investments.” 

With the country still suffering from high unemployment rates and a slow economic recovery, one of the most interesting findings is that if the trend continues through 2020, there could be a total savings of 25 percent in energy per building.

The EPA snapshot did not look into how buildings are saving energy, but the trends “suggest that slow and steady improvements over time are typical of buildings that consistently track and benchmark energy consumption,” the report stated. 

Improvements could be low- or no-cost, even just starting with reducing waste. “No matter the building type, organizations across the country are using EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager to demonstrate that you can't manage what you don't measure," Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the Energy Star Commercial & Industrial Branch, said in a statement. 

The savings were highest for retail, offices, warehouses and K-12 schools, with hotels and hospitals realizing the lowest savings. The EPA found that for an 800,000 sq. ft. school district, the cumulative energy savings of $140,000 over three years would be an average salary for 1.2 teachers. 

In New York City, the first city to make the benchmarking data public, benchmarking scores are already informing the city’s operations and maintenance programs for its own buildings. A new program that reviews energy efficiency operations and maintenance, and has nothing to do with retrofits, is expected to cut citywide energy use 10 percent to 15 percent per year, a cost savings of at least $51 million. 

Benchmarking, whether mandatory or voluntary, is bringing scores of new players to the market. Melon Power, for instance, offers a low-cost service to produce an EPA score. Noesis gives away energy monitoring for free with the hopes of selling upgraded services as buildings look for more significant savings. 

Companies like Retroficiency, SCIEnergySkyFoundry and BuildingIQ all have offerings for companies that want to go a step further and dive into retrofits.

It’s still early days for benchmarking laws in the U.S., so the EPA figures could look very different in just two or three years, especially as low-performance buildings are forced to comply in large cities. And if all buildings in the U.S. followed a similar trend, IMT calculated that would save $4.2 billion in just the first year. 

Benchmarking Drives 7 Percent Cut in Building Energy

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 12:00

Energy efficiency makes so much sense that it rarely finds champions in political circles.

But outside the Beltway, in cities and states across the U.S., energy benchmarking and disclosure laws for commercial buildings are driving efficiency gains that produce savings that are substantial enough that they should make people sit up and notice. 

In the most recent report of data trends from Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which most buildings use to benchmark energy use, 35,000 buildings saved 7 percent over a three-year period. 

For buildings that started with below-average energy efficiency scores, they saved more than twice the energy of those above average. The majority of buildings -- 90 percent -- saved between 0 and 10 percent annually.

“These findings show the power of information,” Cliff Majersik, Executive Director of the Institute for Market Transformation, said in a statement. “Energy Star benchmarking is a powerful tool to guide and motivate building improvements to cut waste and save big money. In fact, a recent survey showed that more than 60 percent of building operators who benchmark use benchmarking to decide where to invest their resources and to make the business case for those investments.” 

With the country still suffering from high unemployment rates and a slow economic recovery, one of the most interesting findings is that if the trend continues through 2020, there could be a total savings of 25 percent in energy per building.

The EPA snapshot did not look into how buildings are saving energy, but the trends “suggest that slow and steady improvements over time are typical of buildings that consistently track and benchmark energy consumption,” the report stated. 

Improvements could be low- or no-cost, even just starting with reducing waste. “No matter the building type, organizations across the country are using EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager to demonstrate that you can't manage what you don't measure," Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the Energy Star Commercial & Industrial Branch, said in a statement. 

The savings were highest for retail, offices, warehouses and K-12 schools, with hotels and hospitals realizing the lowest savings. The EPA found that for an 800,000 sq. ft. school district, the cumulative energy savings of $140,000 over three years would be an average salary for 1.2 teachers. 

In New York City, the first city to make the benchmarking data public, benchmarking scores are already informing the city’s operations and maintenance programs for its own buildings. A new program that reviews energy efficiency operations and maintenance, and has nothing to do with retrofits, is expected to cut citywide energy use 10 percent to 15 percent per year, a cost savings of at least $51 million. 

Benchmarking, whether mandatory or voluntary, is bringing scores of new players to the market. Melon Power, for instance, offers a low-cost service to produce an EPA score. Noesis gives away energy monitoring for free with the hopes of selling upgraded services as buildings look for more significant savings. 

Companies like Retroficiency, SCIEnergySkyFoundry and BuildingIQ all have offerings for companies that want to go a step further and dive into retrofits.

It’s still early days for benchmarking laws in the U.S., so the EPA figures could look very different in just two or three years, especially as low-performance buildings are forced to comply in large cities. And if all buildings in the U.S. followed a similar trend, IMT calculated that would save $4.2 billion in just the first year. 

The Solar Industry’s Living Dead: 180 Module Manufacturers to Succumb to Consolidation by 2015

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 00:01

With GTM Research estimating global PV supply to be in excess of demand by an average of 35 gigawatts per year over the next three years, 180 existing module manufacturers will either expire or acquiesce to acquisition by 2015. The largest number (88) of casualties will exit high-cost manufacturing markets in the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Today GTM Research publishes Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013: Competitive Positioning, Consolidation and the China Factor, a report analyzing more than 300 module manufacturers, their global facilities, business models, financial health and chance of acquisition or expiry. The report also examines the market conditions and competitive metrics that will affect the trajectory of these firms over the next three years, including global demand, manufacturing costs, the influence of Chinese lenders, and the innovative upstream and downstream strategies that will buoy business lines.

FIGURE: CRYSTALLINE SILICON FACILITIES IN HIGH-COST LOCATIONS LIKELY TO FACE CONSOLIDATION IN 2013-2015


Source: Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013 (GTM Research)

“It’s the devil or the deep blue sea for the majority of these high-cost firms,” said Shyam Mehta, Senior Analyst at GTM and the report’s author. “Manufacturing costs for firms in Europe, the U.S. and Japan are currently over 80 cents per watt. The cost for their Chinese competitors is between 58 cents and 68 cents per watt. The writing is on the wall: these companies will either take what they can get via acquisition or they will bow out.”

While part of the report’s consolidation analysis focuses on companies operating in high-cost PV manufacturing markets, the question of Chinese module manufacturers, their strategies in the face of U.S. and potentially European import tariffs, as well as their domestic demand, debt and diversity are explored extensively in the report.

The report estimates that 54 of the 180 ill-fated firms will come from China. Most of these are so-called “solar zombies,” companies with manufacturing capacities less than 300 megawatts that have operated uncompetitively with support from the government. China’s number of ill-fated firms could be much higher if not for an aggressive downstream build-out that will prop up select domestic suppliers. China’s recent announcement to increase its cumulative 2015 solar target from 15 gigawatts to 21 gigawatts will most likely provide captive demand for firms such as Alex Solar, LDK Solar, and Astronergy.

In addition, as evidenced by the municipal loan to LDK Solar in July 2012 and the China Development Bank’s renewal of its pledge to support twelve selected domestic suppliers, GTM Research anticipates that the Chinese government will continue to provide financial support to established firms with large workforces in order to cover near-term debt obligations, or possibly to encourage diversified Chinese industrial conglomerates to acquire these companies. Potential beneficiaries of these strategies include Trina Solar, Yingli Green Energy, Suntech Power, JA Solar, Jinko Solar and Renesola; these companies make up more than 20 percent of existing global module capacity.

FIGURE: SUPPLY-DEMAND RECONCILIATION, CHINESE MANUFACTURERS, 2013E


Source: Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013 (GTM Research)

“To date, the consolidation in the PV manufacturing space that has occurred has done very little to relieve the industry of the ongoing problem of overcapacity,” said Mehta. “Profitability in the PV supply chain will continue to be extremely challenged until and unless there is significant capacity rationalization in China. For numerous reasons, we do expect this to start taking place in 2013. Combined with the exit of most firms in higher-cost locations and a stronger end-market, 2014 should see a more stable balance between supply and demand, which will position a select group of suppliers for sustained profitability. However, the road ahead will be strewn with casualties: between 2012 and 2014, we estimate that nearly 60 percent of existing PV suppliers will be forced to exit the market.”

RANKING: LEADING GLOBAL MODULE MANUFACTURERS BY 2015 (ordered alphabetically)

  • Canadian Solar
  • First Solar
  • Hanwha Solar
  • JA Solar
  • Jinko Solar
  • SunPower
  • Talesun
  • Trina Solar
  • Yingli Green Energy


Source: Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013 (GTM Research)

For more information on Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013: Competitive Positioning, Consolidation and the China Factor, visit http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/report/global-pv-module-manufacturers-2013.

The Solar Industry’s Living Dead: 180 Module Manufacturers to Succumb to Consolidation by 2015

Tue, 10/16/2012 - 00:01

With GTM Research estimating global PV supply to be in excess of demand by an average of 35 gigawatts per year over the next three years, 180 existing module manufacturers will either expire or acquiesce to acquisition by 2015. The largest number (88) of casualties will exit high-cost manufacturing markets in the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Today GTM Research publishes Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013: Competitive Positioning, Consolidation and the China Factor, a report analyzing more than 300 module manufacturers, their global facilities, business models, financial health and chance of acquisition or expiry. The report also examines the market conditions and competitive metrics that will affect the trajectory of these firms over the next three years, including global demand, manufacturing costs, the influence of Chinese lenders, and the innovative upstream and downstream strategies that will buoy business lines.

FIGURE: CRYSTALLINE SILICON FACILITIES IN HIGH-COST LOCATIONS LIKELY TO FACE CONSOLIDATION IN 2013-2015


Source: Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013 (GTM Research)

“It’s the devil or the deep blue sea for the majority of these high-cost firms,” said Shyam Mehta, Senior Analyst at GTM and the report’s author. “Manufacturing costs for firms in Europe, the U.S. and Japan are currently over 80 cents per watt. The cost for their Chinese competitors is between 58 cents and 68 cents per watt. The writing is on the wall: these companies will either take what they can get via acquisition or they will bow out.”

While part of the report’s consolidation analysis focuses on companies operating in high-cost PV manufacturing markets, the question of Chinese module manufacturers, their strategies in the face of U.S. and potentially European import tariffs, as well as their domestic demand, debt and diversity are explored extensively in the report.

The report estimates that 54 of the 180 ill-fated firms will come from China. Most of these are so-called “solar zombies,” companies with manufacturing capacities less than 300 megawatts that have operated uncompetitively with support from the government. China’s number of ill-fated firms could be much higher if not for an aggressive downstream build-out that will prop up select domestic suppliers. China’s recent announcement to increase its cumulative 2015 solar target from 15 gigawatts to 21 gigawatts will most likely provide captive demand for firms such as Alex Solar, LDK Solar, and Astronergy.

In addition, as evidenced by the municipal loan to LDK Solar in July 2012 and the China Development Bank’s renewal of its pledge to support twelve selected domestic suppliers, GTM Research anticipates that the Chinese government will continue to provide financial support to established firms with large workforces in order to cover near-term debt obligations, or possibly to encourage diversified Chinese industrial conglomerates to acquire these companies. Potential beneficiaries of these strategies include Trina Solar, Yingli Green Energy, Suntech Power, JA Solar, Jinko Solar and Renesola; these companies make up more than 20 percent of existing global module capacity.

FIGURE: SUPPLY-DEMAND RECONCILIATION, CHINESE MANUFACTURERS, 2013E


Source: Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013 (GTM Research)

“To date, the consolidation in the PV manufacturing space that has occurred has done very little to relieve the industry of the ongoing problem of overcapacity,” said Mehta. “Profitability in the PV supply chain will continue to be extremely challenged until and unless there is significant capacity rationalization in China. For numerous reasons, we do expect this to start taking place in 2013. Combined with the exit of most firms in higher-cost locations and a stronger end-market, 2014 should see a more stable balance between supply and demand, which will position a select group of suppliers for sustained profitability. However, the road ahead will be strewn with casualties: between 2012 and 2014, we estimate that nearly 60 percent of existing PV suppliers will be forced to exit the market.”

RANKING: LEADING GLOBAL MODULE MANUFACTURERS BY 2015 (ordered alphabetically)

  • Canadian Solar
  • First Solar
  • Hanwha Solar
  • JA Solar
  • Jinko Solar
  • SunPower
  • Talesun
  • Trina Solar
  • Yingli Green Energy


Source: Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013 (GTM Research)

For more information on Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013: Competitive Positioning, Consolidation and the China Factor, visit http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/report/global-pv-module-manufacturers-2013.

SkyFoundry’s Building Energy Analytics Goes to China

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 16:21

Here are some basic facts about China and building energy efficiency. The first, from Berkeley Labs, comes from 2007, and estimates that China’s share of total energy going to heating, lighting and otherwise powering buildings was set to rise from 23 percent (compared to the official 19-percent figure for 2007) to nearly 30 percent in 2010.

The second, in a June report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), puts perspective on the pace of China’s building boom, which despite recent trouble signs and slowdowns has still been adding about 1.7 billion square meters (18.3 billion square feet) of new floor space per year over the past several years.

All that floor space may be energy efficient, or it may not be -- and the difference could spell promise or peril for China and the world in the struggle to contain energy demand in the world’s most populous nation. China’s government has pledged to spend $373 billion on efficiency and emissions controls between 2010 and 2015, with an overall goal of shaving energy per GDP by 16 percent over that time.

That spending is being targeted by companies across the globe, as well as by Chinese incumbents. The list of partners in the joint U.S.-Chinese CERC-Building Energy Efficiency consortium, a Department of Energy-backed partnership formed in 2009, gives a good sense of the players involved, with names like Honeywell, Dow Chemical and Saint-Gobain, as well as C3, the San Mateo, Calif.-based energy software startup founded by Siebel Systems billionaire Tom Siebel with former Bush administration cabinet members Condoleezza Rice and Spencer Abraham on its board.

Indeed, China’s massive efficiency buildout can spell opportunity for startups as well. Take SkyFoundry, the building energy analytics software startup that’s now analyzing energy use across more than 100 million square feet of U.S. real estate. Partner John Petze said in an interview last week that the Glen Allen, Va.-based company is now working with China’s Institute of Building Environment and Energy Efficiency, or IBEE.

IBEE, a branch of the China Academy of Building Research, does a lot of R&D and engineering work in energy efficiency, building physics, green building and intelligent buildings. But it’s also an important standards development organization in China, Petze said, with some 152 standards under its belt and 37 more under development.

SkyFoundry came on board with IBEE several months ago to evaluate some of its technology, and has now signed up the organization as a reseller partner in China, Petze said. While he wouldn’t talk about any specific projects, he said that IBEE could use SkyFoundry’s software in its work engineering other projects, as well as for internal standards development.

SkyFoundry differs from other building management startups like SCIenergy and Serious Energy (now defunct) that are building up software-as-a-service offerings for the marketplace. SkyFoundry, by contrast, licenses its software to partners like Activelogix, Advanced Power Controls, Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI) and others that use it for their own building systems controls, project engineering, efficiency services or other lines of business. 

Petze, who helped lead multi-protocol building management technology company Tridium to its 2005 acquisition by Honeywell, said that’s allowed the bootstrapped company to fund ongoing operations and expand into multiple partnerships with several major retailers, though he declined to name them. SkyFoundry is also working on a project with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and IBM, along with ESI and Honeywell’s Tridium, to test energy-saving technology in 50 of the federal government’s highest energy-consuming buildings.

SkySpark, the company’s software platform, utilizes up to 150 or more analytic functions to detect issues related to equipment operation and energy performance, and runs across multiple buildings on a single dashboard. The idea is to find energy waste and efficiency investment opportunity in places hidden from view, or at least hard to find, to the human eye, he said.

Just how the China partnership might move SkyFoundry’s technology into China’s market is hard to predict. Most of the company’s clients use the technology for active management of building portfolios, but Petze said that more and more energy consultants are using the technology as part of services like measurement and verification (M&V) work, or proving that one’s efficiency upgrade or initiative is delivering as promised.  

Together, China and the United States are responsible for about two-fifths of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, in a world where buildings use about 40 percent of the energy generated globally and generate nearly half the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu believes that could be cut by at least 30 percent through efficiency retrofits and better-designed new buildings -- and has set a long-term goal for 80 percent more efficient buildings. He's also named China's built environment as a key target of energy efficiency R&D and investment.

We're sure to see more examples of international partnership emerge on this front.

Keystone, the Largest Solar Project in Pennsylvania

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 16:14

The Keystone Solar Project is the largest solar deployment in Pennsylvania.

It's a five-megawatt (AC) ground-mounted solar project that will produce approximately 7.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

Here are the vital statistics:

  • Developer: Community Energy in conjunction with Exelon, the wholesale power purchaser for the project on a 15-year power purchase agreement (PPA)
  • Customers: Franklin & Marshall College, Eastern University, Clean Air Council, the Philadelphia Phillies, Millersville University, Marywood University, Juniata College
  • Site: Located along Lancaster Pike south of the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the project aims to support farmland preservation and agricultural soil restoration. The Project is designed so the land can support agriculture when the project is decommissioned.  
  • Solar panels: Approximately 20,000 290-watt solar modules from Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ)
  • Inverters: Manufactured by Advanced Energy (AE)
  • Mounting: Fixed-tilt, ground-mounted aluminum racking from Schletter installed on driven posts
  • Contractor: groSolar  
  • Jobs created: Approximately 50 construction, electrical, and other jobs were created at the site. 

 

Andrew Krulewitz, Solar Analyst at GTM Research, notes, "With Pennsylvania SREC prices hovering between $10 and $25 each, Exelon probably isn't gaining much economic advantage, if any at all, by meeting RPS compliance with this project."

Here's a time-lapse construction video from Community Energy.

 


 

US ‘Solar Zones’ in Place, Ready for Big Projects

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 15:00

The Obama administration on Friday gave final approval to a plan that opens up 285,000 acres in 17 zones in six Western states for streamlined utility-scale solar power development. The Department of the Interior said the fast-track sites are “characterized by excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources.”

The Programmatic Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development doesn’t limit such power plants to the solar energy zones, but the benefits to siting projects in them will be substantial. The government’s major land caretaker, the Bureau of Land Management, has committed to “facilitating faster and easier permitting in the SEZs, improving and facilitating mitigation, facilitating permitting of needed transmission to the SEZs, encouraging solar development on suitable adjacent nonfederal lands, and providing economic incentives for development in SEZs.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the Record of Decision codifying the plan in Las Vegas on Friday, joined there by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), proving that even in the face of a recalcitrant Congress, the executive branch has tools to make things happen.

“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” Salazar said in a statement. “This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American-made energy and create jobs.”

There are zones in six states, but that’s a little bit misleading: Of the 285,000 acres, more than half -- 147,910 -- are in California’s Riverside County, which borders Orange County on its western flank and then stretches all the way east across the Mojave and Colorado deserts to Arizona.

Pre-Obama, no big solar energy projects had been permitted on public lands. But according to the Interior Department, under Obama, 33 renewable energy projects have been approved for construction on or involving public lands, including 18 solar plants, seven wind farms and eight geothermal plants. In May, the first of those big projects --  Enbridge Silver State North, a 50-megawatt solar PV array 40 miles south of Las Vegas -- went on-line.

Additional information (PDFs) from the Department of the Interior:

 

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Editor's note: This article is reposted in its original form from EarthTechling. Author credit goes to Pete Danko.

Intel Tests Whole-Home Smart Power Sensors in Texas

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 14:00

Intel has a deep and broad line of work in greentech, with its technology embedded in wind turbines, microgrids, data centers and building energy controls, and home energy management systems, to name a few examples. It also has Intel Labs, where some of its far-flung science experiments sometimes find their way into mass market adoption.

One long-running Intel Labs experiment involves wireless sensors that plug into building power sockets and analyze the power to “disaggregate” power use within the building. Now Intel is taking the technology out of the lab and into the home, via the Austin, Texas-based Pecan Street Project smart grid showcase.

Intel has deployed its two-plug-per-home whole power energy sensing units in about 50 homes in the project, Lorie Wigle, general manager of Intel’s Eco-Tech Office initiative, said in a Monday interview. It's the first deployment outside the lab, though Wigle reiterated that Intel has no plans to commercialize the technology just yet.

Intel's system uses two wireless sensors that plug into ordinary power sockets. Those read the subtle changes in circuit voltage that specific appliances or home power-using systems like lights and air conditioning cause to household-wide signals. From there, these sensors can figure out when appliances or systems are turning on and off, and compare that data to overall power usage across the circuit to intuit which appliances are using power and how much.

Similar “one-plug” home-load sensing technologies are being developed by startup PowerMap and consumer electronics giant Belkin, via its acquisition of Zensi in 2010, as well as Navetas, a U.K. startup working with smart meter giant Sensus. Smart appliances, smart light bulbs, wireless plug sensors and other such energy-smart home systems can do the same thing, of course. But it would be a lot easier, and cheaper, to just plug one or two devices into any socket in the house, turn them on and start learning a home’s power profile.

The first part of Intel's Pecan Street sensor deployment is focused on making sure the technology works, Wigle said. From there, Intel and partners are interested in figuring out how to use the data coming from its sensors to engage consumers in energy efficiency and feed the utility and other interested parties useful information.

“In the research phase, you may be using a supercomputer to do all this analysis,” Wigle said of the project’s current stage. But as data rolls in and analytics engines begin to get to work figuring out which data is critical and which peripheral, and how to put data together to yield new information, “you get a lot smarter and learn what analytics could be pushed down to the home,” she said -- a nod to the importance of research to figure out how best to architect the IT connections between homeowners and utilities.

Intel has been working on home energy management technology for years, and released a hardware reference design for would-be partners in 2010. Last year it announced that French IT consulting giant Capgemini would offer customer a tablet based on Intel’s design, though the companies didn’t set a deadline for bringing the product to market. Pecan Street isn’t using Intel’s home console tech, Wigle noted.

In the longer run, Intel wants to provide consumer energy engagement insights, as well as cybersecurity and privacy protections, across the Pecan Street Project, Wigle said. The Department of Energy smart grid demonstration grant-funded project is testing out various smart grid-smart consumer technology mashups, including plug-in Chevy Volts and smart charging apps, solar panels and energy storage systems, and smart meters and home energy management devices. Partners include Sony, Whirlpool, Best Buy, General Motors and SunEdison, to name some big ones.

Solyndra Suing China’s SunTringli for $1.5 Billion Antitrust Violation

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 13:00

Solyndra, apparently still able to pay its lawyers, is suing China's solar manufacturers Suntech, Trina, and Yingli for $1.5 billion.

In a 52-page complaint on behalf of its client, Solyndra, law firm Winston & Strawn is seeking to demonstrate violations of the Sherman antitrust laws in a $1.5 billion lawsuit. (Here's a link to the document.)

Here's some text from the complaint:

This is an action for attempted monopolization, conspiracy, predatory pricing, tortious interference, and price fixing that seeks redress for the anticompetitive acts of an illegal cartel of Chinese solar panel manufacturers who conspired to, and succeeded in, destroying Solyndra, a company that was once named one of the "50 Most Innovative Companies in the World" by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Defendants initially came to the United States to raise money from American investors by selling American Depositary Shares ("ADS") on the New York Stock Exchange. Incredibly, Defendants elected to deploy the capital they raised from Americans to destroy American solar manufacturers, like Solyndra. To achieve this goal, Defendants employed a complex scheme, in collaboration with each other and raw material suppliers and certain lenders, to flood the United States solar market with solar panels at below-cost prices.

What is more, Defendants' plan to dominate the United States solar market was coordinated by Defendants, trade associations, certain government-related commercial entities, such that Defendants conspired to export more than 95 percent of their production and dump their products in the United States and achieve market domination. In fact, Suntech's then-CEO even admitted to the illegal conduct at issue, noting, "Suntech, to build market share, is selling solar panels on the American market for less than the cost of materials, assembly, and shipping."

Further to their dumping conspiracy, the three Defendants' prices moved in tandem, falling 75 percent in four years as their massive imports hit the United States market. Consistent with their conspiracy, two Defendants share an address (Yingli and Trina), and the two senior-most executives of Trina and Suntech work together on the board of a Chinese trade association with the stated purpose of "collaboration."

Unfortunately for Solyndra and American consumers, Defendants' plan worked -- Defendants' actions destroyed not only Solyndra, but nearly a dozen other United States solar manufacturers, who have all sought bankruptcy protection.

 

The complaint goes on to say:

As demonstrated in the chart below, all three Defendants began dumping products inthe United States market at the exact same time and in markedly parallel form. The timing and remarkable similarity of Defendants' pricing behavior completely belies any claim of independent action.

 

The complaint cites the recent Department of Commerce anti-dumping decision and adds "below-market" interest rate loans from The Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Back as participants in the conspiracy. 

The complaint also lauds the technological achievement of the Solyndra CIGS solar panel design with its lightweight, wind-resistant, non-penetrating architecture. Other CIGS solar companies such as AQT, have gone out of business, or like MiaSolé, HelioVolt, and Ascent, have sold off their assets to Asian conglomerates at deep losses.

The complaint from Solyndra sees a conspiracy "to fix prices at predatory levels."

Trina has responded in a statement, saying it "believes the lawsuit is without merit and will vigorously defend itself against the baseless allegations in the complaint."

EcoFactor Closes $8M in Funding

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 12:30

EcoFactor, the hands-off energy management service provider, has raised $8 million in venture funding.

The money will be used as it scales up its reach, and in particular, its offering to Comcast Xfinity home customers. Although EcoFactor could potentially tap into millions of homes with just its Comcast deal, it is also looking for new paths to the thermostat.

EcoFactor is working with Reliant Energy in Texas and completed a successful pilot with NV Energy.

 "EcoFactor has demonstrated significant commercial progress across a number of different channels -- including utilities, broadband providers, and home energy service companies -- by providing both the end customer and strategic partners with real, measurable value. We believe that EcoFactor will continue to solidify its leading position in the marketplace," Todd Dauphinais, partner at Aster Capital, a new investor, said in a statement.

The company keeps the temperature within one degree of a preferred temperature range through pre-cooling using weather, air conditioner capacity, and the thermal storage capacity of each individual home.

"After following the energy management software market for some time, we found EcoFactor's approach of using Big Data concepts and software algorithms to be far superior to any other residential energy management solution on the market today," said Dauphinais.

Other home energy companies have started to integrate weather data and other inputs into their energy management algorithms, but EcoFactor was one of the first to successfully do it. The company, which was launched in 2006, offers double-digit energy savings on electricity bills with an average of 17 percent. Heating and cooling savings can be closer to 30 percent.

For competitive utilities, like Reliant, the service can help keep cut down on customer churn. For telecoms and cable companies, it can be used to attract new customers or be an add-on service for others. Comcast is expected to rollout its EcoFactor-powered offering in the next year. For utilities, it can increase participation in demand response, since homeowners don’t have to do anything and are less likely to notice the changes EcoFactor is making to the thermostat.

"The EcoFactor home energy management service continues to help our partners take advantage of broader initiatives for energy efficiency, demand response and load shaping while delivering effortless energy savings to their customers." Roy Johnson, CEO of EcoFactor, said in a statement. "EcoFactor partners continue to roll out our solutions en masse, and this investment ensures our ability to match anticipated demand."

The demand could be substantial if the Comcast offering gains traction, but the deal was announced last February and there is still not a set date for the service to be launched by Comcast. Although telecoms and cable providers move faster than many utilities, the time from inking the deal to getting into homes is still substantial. As EcoFactor waits for the Comast deal to be put in place, the energy management company will likely pursue other deals.

Finding partners should be getting easier, as home security companies, telecoms and utilities all jockey for a position -- and market share -- in the connected home.

To date, EcoFactor has raised $13.5 million from Claremont Creek Ventures, RockPort Capital Partners and Aster Capital.

Wind Power Spurs Jobs, Income Gains At County Level

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 11:00

The authors didn’t intend it as an an analysis of the wind power production tax credit, but it’s hard not to see the results as one more argument to keep the PTC alive: Wind power reaches right down to the local level as an economic engine, boosting incomes and jobs in the counties where turbines go up, according to a new study.

“Taking into account factors influencing wind turbine location, we find an aggregate increase in county-level personal income and employment of approximately $11,000 and 0.5 jobs per megawatt of wind power capacity installed over the sample period of 2000 to 2008,” write researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eoconomic Research Service, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The authors said their study was unique in that it moved beyond project-level case studies as well as modeled input-output estimates and instead evaluated actual county-level impacts from the wind power development in 12 contiguous states in the central United States.

Nevertheless, the authors said, the results were in line with those seen using other analytical methods.

“These estimates appear broadly consistent with modeled input–output results, and translate to a median increase in total county personal income and employment of 0.2% and 0.4% for counties with installed wind power over the same period,” the authors write.

12-state study area (image via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

The overriding argument for wind power, of course, is that it can be a significant source of clean power, helping move the world off climate-damaging fossil fuels. But the economic piece is important as well in a time of steady but frustratingly modest improvements in the U.S. jobs picture.

That’s why the National Resources Defense Council, which supports wind for environmental reasons, recently backed research into the economic impact of wind power development.

That report asserted that a typical new 250 megawatt wind farm would create 1,079 jobs. But a second part of that report [PDF] — looking at wind’s local impacts in particular places – was even more relevant to the new county-level impact study.

The list of economic benefits cited for Sherman County, Ore., for example, gives some insight into what might be driving the growth figures arrived at in the county study:

  • $17.5 million in property taxes and fees
  • Annual payments of up to $7,800 per turbine to landowners
  • Per capita income increases, from $18,354 in 2001 to $52,530 in 2011, to become the highest in the state
  • $1.8 million grant to school district in 2011 to fund new equipment, classes, and teachers
  • Five-hundred onsite construction jobs
  • Eighty long-term jobs in operation
  • Increased economic activity helps keep small businesses alive
  • Annual check of $590 to all residents

The new study, “Ex post analysis of economic impacts from wind power development in U.S. counties,” appears in the November 2012 issue of Energy Economics, and unfortunately is behind a $31.50 pay wall. But a draft-version PDF of the article is available, as is a two-page fact sheet prepared by the Department of Energy, which financed the work, and a briefing summary prepared by the authors.

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Editor's note: This article is reposted in its original form from EarthTechling. Author credit goes to Pete Danko.

Record 44 Percent CPV Efficiency From Startup Solar Junction

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 06:00

Pushing the envelope on CPV triple-junction cell performance is VC-funded Solar Junction, which just hit an NREL-verified 44 percent cell efficiency (at 947 suns), an improvement over the previous record, also set by Solar Junction with 43.5 percent (at 418 suns). The hope is that these more efficient compound semiconductors can improve the economics of concentrated photovoltaics.

Vijit Sabnis, VP of Technology and a co-founder of Solar Junction, told GTM in an earlier interview that no other PV technology has the headroom to improve its efficiency like multi-junction solar cells.

Vital stats on Solar Junction:

  • Founded in 2007
  • Headquartered in San Jose, California with 44 employees
  • Pilot production line is approximately 5 megawatts of 500X annual capacity on 4-inch wafers
  • Commissioning a 6-inch production fabrication facility, partially funded by a U.S. DOE SUNPATH contract, with shipments beginning early 2013
  • The firm has raised more than $50 million from ATV, DFJ, NEA and strategic investor and epi-manufacturing partner IQE.
  • Currently holds triple-junction cell efficiency world record of 44.0 percent


CPV has a few tens of megawatts in the field. The largest CPV deployment in North America is the 30-megawatt Alamosa site in Colorado, with hardware from Amonix. The Carlyle Group recently bought that project from Goldman Sachs. Systems manufacturer SolFocus has a project in development in Mexico that could eclipse the Colorado CPV farm. Soitec has large CPV plants in the works and more than 150 megawatts of PPAs with San Diego Gas & Electric and a 50-megawatt plant in South Africa.


But Amonix had to shut down its Las Vegas production facility in July. SolFocus needs more VC. GreenVolts is selling off its assets.

While Greentech Media has observed Demi Moore's law in c-Si progress, Sabnis asserts that M-J solar cells are more able to harness a Moore's law cost and performance progress. He notes that Solar Junction can get two kilowatts from one 4-inch wafer under concentration at 1000 suns and could produce 200 megawatts of power from its relatively small factory floor if fully populated with equipment.

Sabnis cited several studies showing 70 percent theoretical efficiencies from a 5- or 6-junction cell. More practically, he sees 50 percent cell efficiency as being achievable in three to five years, which could get DC module efficiencies to over 40 percent. 

So great technological progress at the CPV cell level is being made by Solar Junction (and Semprius, JDSU, Emcore, and Spectrolab), but vendors have to aggressively cut cost at the systems level to keep up with the plummeting cost of single-axis c-SI. Last week, Barclays quoted a c-Si solar panel spot price of $0.69 per watt.

Where’s the Apps Store for Green Button?

Fri, 10/12/2012 - 13:00

Just over a year ago, Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer for the U.S. at the time, challenged the utility industry to develop a green button for consumers to access their own electricity data, much as the healthcare industry had done with bluebuttondata.org.

 He also noted that his office was "extraordinarily concerned about cybersecurity in the grid." 

Thirteen months later there haven’t been any major strides made in the domain of grid cybersecurity; in fact, there have only been more public breaches. However, there has been plenty of enthusiasm for Green Button, which is a far easier endeavor than implementing comprehensive cybersecurity for the electrical grid.

The Green Button initiative allows commercial and residential customers to download their electric utility data in a standardized format that can then be shared with third parties who can offer energy-saving services. If you really want to geek out, you can dig into the data yourself.

The movement has garnered the support of dozens of smart grid and energy management companies, along with utilities that serve nearly 30 million customers. California has led the way, which is often the case with smart grid initiatives. But there’s much more that needs to be done. 

“The technical problem has been addressed,” said Lisa Wood, director of the IEE, an institute of the Edison Foundation focused on innovation, electricity and efficiency. “Now we’re at the point [where] it’s being put to use.”

There is still one more step in the technical process for Green Button, however. Green Button Connect, the next installment, will allow customers to share their data with third parties (ESCOs, cool energy apps) directly, instead of downloading it and then uploading it to the third party. Aclara, one of the early supporters of Green Button, has already enthusiastically supported the next step to “Connect My Data.”

The technical problems are the easy ones, however. The real challenge is getting people to use it, although companies continue to announce their support (BuildingIQ was one of the most recent additions).

One of the issues is that many of the utilities that have committed have not actually activated Green Button access. Of 33 utilities committed, seven have implemented. Security concerns are another hurdle. California has outlined rules for sharing customer data, but there is not a federal framework for safe data access.

Neither of those issues has stopped startups from building apps to help customers -- mostly residential, but some commercial -- save energy or at least understand usage better. There have been various hackathons and apps contests, and the White House recently hosted an “Energy Datapalooza."

But go out on to the street and ask people about Green Button, and you’ll mostly get blank stares.

“When I first started this [study], I was looking for examples where a customer would find the app and there’d be a benefit story,” said Adam Cooper, research manager at IEE. “We didn’t quite see a go-to place for these apps.”

Most of the apps gain visibility through partnerships with larger organizations. WattzOn, for example, says it has about 400,000 people who have logged on. The company has been around since 2009, however, far before Green Button came into existence, and has partnerships with military housing contractor Balfour Beatty, the city of San Jose and other business partners.

Cooper would like to see the federal government take the initiative to put all of the apps that leverage Green Button data into one place, like an apps store for energy. He noted that some of the largest California utilities are already interested in such a format and are discussing it with the California Public Utility Commission.

One of the problems is that if utilities support an apps store, then the apps would need to be vetted. “They don’t just want to white-list them,” said Cooper. “Customer feedback [channels] need to be developed.”

The concern is not just about ensuring that companies are securing the private data, but also determining whether the app is useful and worthwhile.

As utilities and regulators (probably in California first) figure out ways to bring the Green Button data to the masses, the first uptake will continue to be with commercial customers.

Retroficiency was one company that the IEE pointed out as an example as an organization that had improved operational efficiency by using the Green Button data. Unlike the average residential customer, businesses are already focused on their energy bills, and having an easier way for companies, or their energy management services, to access the data just hastens the course of action. 

Going into 2013, there will likely be even more utilities, and a slew of additional companies, that support the Green Button format. The pace at which they move from support to implementation, however, is yet to be seen. But don’t hold your breath for the time when millions of homeowners start clicking on the Green Button just yet.

“The uptake will first be with commercial,” said Wood. “The potential is there to do something.”

The Breakdown on the DA Communications Market

Fri, 10/12/2012 - 12:00

At its heart, distribution automation (DA) technology is aimed at turning a deaf, dumb and blind swath of the power grid -- the low to medium-voltage distribution networks that connect substations to customers -- into a modern IT asset. That means lots of computers and chipsets running the systems that actually control power on the grid, and a modern communications system to manage it all.

The market for DA communications is undeveloped, fractured and complex, however. Utility-to-substation communications via fiber-optic or high-speed radio connections and SCADA control systems are well established. But from substation to end-user, the distribution grid is being lit up by different technologies, all being asked to perform functions that put the last generation of SCADA and grid estimation and modeling techniques to the test.

At the other end, U.S. utilities are also trying to put their smart meters and AMI networks to use in DA. That can include using smart meters as remote outage detectors and power quality monitors, or using the AMI wireless network that supports them as a common communications channel to the utility for all kinds of gear.

At the same time, utilities are also seeing new models emerge for them to rent, rather than own, their DA communications. Public wireless carriers are offering M2M grid communications platforms and services at prices competitive with privately owned and operated utility communications networks, which are the traditional way of doing things in an industry that gets a regulated rate of return out of such capital investments.

GTM Research’s new report, Distribution Automation Communication Networks: Strategies and Market Outlook, 2012-2016, gets into these and other findings in depth, while providing a low- and high-scenario estimate of the U.S. DA communications market at between $600 million and $1.8 billion over the next four years.

That figure represents the communications portion of private utility spending on intelligent distribution grid management and distribution grid operations automation, which comes from vendors like Schneider Electric/Telvent, ABB/Ventyx, General Electric, Siemens, Alstom, Eaton/Cooper, S&C Electric, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory, UtiliData, Dominion's Edge platform, etc.

That figure is for utility-owned investment, which means it doesn’t include spending utilities may direct at carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint et al. that are making big pushes into M2M communications for smart grid in the U.S.

That figure also doesn’t include network management systems from the likes of Cisco, GridMaven, Proximetry Networks and many others, GTM Research Smart Grid Analyst Ben Kellison noted, as that’s a class of enterprise IT investment not directly calculated in the research figures. That’s not to say that utilities and vendors aren’t spending on NMS for their AMI and DA projects, however. As the report states:

“Utilities are currently managing AMI networks with solutions supplied by the vendors of communications and networking equipment. Network management is not the core competency of these vendors. As a result, these element management systems (EMS) provide services with limited analytics and data to measure and manage network performance.”

That means, in turn, that “technologies that can improve the interoperability of deployed equipment are in high demand by utilities looking to use some AMI equipment to support DA, demand response (DR) and other systems,” the report continues. At the same time, the report warns utilities that the benefits of DA can be “severely eroded if utilities that are now looking to deploy DA plan their systems in the same way that many planned AMI: as a lowest-possible-cost, single-purpose communications system.”

All of this is by way of stating that the benefits of doing DA right can be huge for utilities. Smart meters, at least in the U.S., have turned into a front for consumer opposition for some utilities, and a potential flashpoint for others. DA, on the other hand, is entirely within a utility’s control, with clear operational and regulatory benefits.

Indeed, a recent Ohio PUC audit of Duke Energy’s smart meter and DA programs showed that the benefits of voltage conservation reduction (CVR) alone were equal to the benefits derived from AMI operations and maintenance savings, or about 40 percent of the overall system benefits of $379 million. CVR projects elsewhere are proving their worth as well: one at Progress Energy is saving enough peak power to avoid spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new power plants.

In the meantime, hosted and cloud-based services are quietly running many of the production smart grid platforms in operation today. Silver Spring Networks runs millions of networked smart meters for big utility customers over what’s essentially a cloud-based platform, and is also conducting DA data over its network for customers like AEP. Other smart grid players moving in the same direction include Accenture, General Electric, Honeywell, Sensus and S&C Electric, to name a few.

While GTM Research doesn’t find the same opportunity for hosted systems in DA as found in the AMI space, “it will likely be a strong offering for many utilities seeking to minimize project and operations-based risk,” according to the report. That could be particularly true for the smaller to mid-size municipal and cooperative utilities that don't get to nail down returns for capital expenditures in rate cases, and thus have less incentive to own their own networks.

Video of the Day: Wind Floats!

Fri, 10/12/2012 - 11:00

The talk of the offshore wind community is the success of Seattle-based Principle Power’s two-megawatt WindFloat floating turbines off the coast of Portugal and Norway-based StatOil’s (NYSE:STO) three-megawatt Hywind floating turbines to be used for the proposed twelve-megawatt Gulf of Maine project.

Most of the presentations and many of the conversations during the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Offshore WindPower 2012 included excitement about the deep-water technology.

Several existing technologies continue to compete for prominence and innovators are proposing new solutions. In the hallways of the Virginia Beach Convention Center, GTM heard talk about venerable multinational energy power Alstom (EPA:ALO) developing floaters and an old-school independent developer looking to take the technology to Hawaii.

Newcomer PelaStar’s innovative approach is rumored to be winning attention in the U.K., where there are nearly two gigawatts of installed offshore capacity and they are building so fast they have exhausted the supply chain. The U.K.’s next step will be to move into deeper waters where floating technology will lead the way toward the national goal of fifteen gigawatts by 2020.

The U.S. DOE, NREL and AWEA are leading a serious effort, according to National Wind Technology Center Principal Engineer Walt Musial, to establish standards for floating technology.

Floating wind promises to be the answer to harvesting wind off the Pacific coast where the continental shelf is too deep for the traditional seabed-supported offshore wind that is being planned along the Eastern seaboard to be economically viable. DOE is said to be ready to launch pilot projects off the California and Pacific Northwest coasts any moment.

The takeaway is clear: What was a slightly unbelievable hypothesis as recently as two years ago is now the future of wind.

Green Jobs: Agassi Really Out at Better Place, Plus Suntech, Boston-Power, Voltaix, Centrotherm

Thu, 10/11/2012 - 17:30

A few weeks ago, Better Place founder Shai Agassi stepped down as CEO of the electric vehicle battery swapping firm Better Place. He remained on the board. Now, according to reports from the Associated Press, Agassi has left the board of directors. AP quoted a spokesperson saying the firm is now seeking additional financing, but could not confirm reports of layoffs.

 

Suntech's recently installed interim CFO, Anlin Ting-Mason, stepped down due to personal reasons, according to an SEC document. David King, the current CEO, will temporarily assume the position of CFO. King had been CFO of Suntech prior to founder Dr. Shi's departure from that position. Suntech also named E.L. “Mick” McDaniel as Managing Director for Suntech America. McDaniel was formerly Director of Performance Services for First Solar’s EPC division.

 

PV equipment supplier centrotherm photovoltaics continues to make wholesale changes in its management. CTO Peter Fath is leaving his role, as is CEO Robert Hartung. Jan von Schuckmann, previously chief restructuring officer, has been appointed CEO.


On-Ramp Wireless added Scott Foster VP of Smart Grid Sales. Foster was previously with Sensus USA Inc., Cooper Power Systems, and Southern California Edison.


Boston-Power, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer based in China, announced that Founder Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud has resigned from the Board of Directors. Tony Shen is now Boston-Power's CFO, and Dr. Rick Chamberlain has now emerged as Boston-Power’s CTO. 
 

Voltaix, a provider of semiconductor and solar materials such as Germane, named Matthew D. Stephens to the post of Executive VP, Sales & Marketing. Stephens remains as CTO, as well.