Syndicate content
Headlines from the Greentech Media Grid Channel
Updated: 1 year 27 weeks ago

Fuel Cell Round Up: VC Funding, FCEL, UTC, and Bloom

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 13:00

Funding Fuel Cells: ACAL Energy and Lilliputian Systems

ACAL Energy, a U.K.-based fuel-cell developer, raised $5 million from existing investors. ACAL builds platinum-free or low platinum-content catalysts and PEM fuel cells for applications requiring more than one kilowatt of power. The firm raised $4.8 million in 2008 from CT Investment Partners, Rising Stars Growth Fund, NorthStar Equity Investors, Porton Capital, and Synergis Technologies, along with more funding in May of 2010.

A recent $25 million investment by RUSNANO in Wilmington, Mass.-based fuel cell firm Lilliputian Systems brings the firm's VC investment total to more than $150 million. Previous investors include Intel Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Atlas Venture, Fairhaven Capital, Rockport Capital, Stata Venture Partners, and Altira Group. The firm was spun out of MIT in 2001 with technology that involves a silicon "chip-based" power generator and recyclable fuel cartridges, aiming to replace batteries in smartphones, tablets, and cameras. Lilliputian has a sales channel deal with retailer Brookstone.

 

Bloom Buzz

There's been a recent uptick in Bloom Energy-related news. Here's the roundup:

Jeff St. John of GTM reports on Bloom's valuation and stock sales in the secondary market.

Dana Hull at SiliconBeat reports that Santa Clara County Valley's Transportation Authority will get $750,000 in federal monies to help finance a 400-kilowatt Bloom Energy fuel cell facility at a total cost of $4 million. Using the numbers supplied, that works out to $10,000 per kilowatt, which sounds about right for a Bloom Box, although a bit high for a competitive power source. Hull reports that the "VTA has yet to enter into a contractual agreement with Bloom, currently slated to be brought before the VTA Board of Directors for approval in November."

Crain's Chicago Business reported that Advanced Equities and its founders had agreed to pay $1.15 million to settle SEC charges regarding two private equity offerings for Bloom Energy in which Bloom's backlog was wildly overstated. GTM has covered the Advanced Equities saga in recent months.

A lawsuit filed by John Nichols and FuelCell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) in the Delaware courts asserts that an incentive provided by the state for a Bloom Energy fuel cell factory to supply utility Delmarva was unfair and disadvantaged some Delaware citizens, according to DelawareOnline. This week, attorneys for the Delaware governor and the Public Service Commission countered that claim.

 

Fuel Cell People

MTI (Mechanical Technology Inc (OTC: MKTY)) fired CEO Peng Lim, according to a filing, after Lim's fuel cell aspirations met with limited success. MTI had spent tens of millions in an effort to commercialize a consumer-targeted fuel cell battery. Kevin Lynch, the firm's independent director, will serve as Acting CEO until Mr. Lim's replacement is named. MTI's test and measurement business appears relatively healthy.

MTI's market failure and withdrawal from the consumer portable fuel cell market serves as an object lesson to those (like Lilliputian) seeking to develop viable, commercial fuel cell solutions for this segment.

 

Fuel Cell Incentives

In a futile move in an election year, U.S. Rep. John Larson and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, are looking to institute tax credits to spur development of fuel cells. Connecticut is home to fuel cell suppliers Fuel Cell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) and UTC.

"The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Infrastructure for America Act" would create an investment tax credit (ITC) for stationary fuel cells using a combined heat and power (CHP) architecture. Higher efficiency fuel cells would garner higher tax credits.   
 

The Continuing Saga of South Windsor High School's Fuel Cell

In 2002, South Windsor High School in Connecticut was first powered and heated by a $2.1 million 200-kilowatt fuel cell, built and installed by South Windsor-based UTC Power. A decade later, in the wake of a severe 2011 winter storm, the power for 200 people living and sleeping in the high school while it served as an emergency shelter was provided by that fuel cell.

But now the town is learning that the fuel cell needs to be restacked at a cost of $500,000 every five to seven years and is considering buying a $220,000 generator instead, according to a report in the South Windsor Patch. The fuel cell was never net metered because of permitting issues. Reports indicate that the fuel cell saved the town $40,000 to $65,000 a year. 

Fuel Cell Round Up: VC Funding, FCEL, UTC, and Bloom

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 12:00

Funding Fuel Cells: ACAL Energy and Lilliputian Systems

ACAL Energy, a U.K.-based fuel-cell developer, raised $5 million from existing investors. ACAL builds platinum-free or low platinum-content catalysts and PEM fuel cells for applications requiring more than one kilowatt of power. The firm raised $4.8 million in 2008 from CT Investment Partners, Rising Stars Growth Fund, NorthStar Equity Investors, Porton Capital, and Synergis Technologies, along with more funding in May of 2010.

A recent $25 million investment by RUSNANO in Wilmington, Mass.-based fuel cell firm Lilliputian Systems brings the firm's VC investment total to more than $150 million. Previous investors include Intel Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Atlas Venture, Fairhaven Capital, Rockport Capital, Stata Venture Partners, and Altira Group. The firm was spun out of MIT in 2001 with technology that involves a silicon "chip-based" power generator and recyclable fuel cartridges, aiming to replace batteries in smartphones, tablets, and cameras. Lilliputian has a sales channel deal with retailer Brookstone.

 

Bloom Buzz

There's been a recent uptick in Bloom Energy-related news. Here's the roundup:

Jeff St. John of GTM reports on Bloom's valuation and stock sales in the secondary market.

Dana Hull at SiliconBeat reports that Santa Clara County Valley's Transportation Authority will get $750,000 in federal monies to help finance a 400-kilowatt Bloom Energy fuel cell facility at a total cost of $4 million. Using the numbers supplied, that works out to $10,000 per kilowatt, which sounds about right for a Bloom Box, although a bit high for a competitive power source. Hull reports that the "VTA has yet to enter into a contractual agreement with Bloom, currently slated to be brought before the VTA Board of Directors for approval in November."

Crain's Chicago Business reported that Advanced Equities and its founders had agreed to pay $1.15 million to settle SEC charges regarding two private equity offerings for Bloom Energy in which Bloom's backlog was wildly overstated. GTM has covered the Advanced Equities saga in recent months.

A lawsuit filed by John Nichols and FuelCell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) in the Delaware courts asserts that an incentive provided by the state for a Bloom Energy fuel cell factory to supply utility Delmarva was unfair and disadvantaged some Delaware citizens, according to DelawareOnline. This week, attorneys for the Delaware governor and the Public Service Commission countered that claim.

 

Fuel Cell People

MTI (Mechanical Technology Inc (OTC: MKTY)) fired CEO Peng Lim, according to a filing, after Lim's fuel cell aspirations met with limited success. MTI had spent tens of millions in an effort to commercialize a consumer-targeted fuel cell battery. Kevin Lynch, the firm's independent director, will serve as Acting CEO until Mr. Lim's replacement is named. MTI's test and measurement business appears relatively healthy.

MTI's market failure and withdrawal from the consumer portable fuel cell market serves as an object lesson to those (like Lilliputian) seeking to develop viable, commercial fuel cell solutions for this segment.

 

Fuel Cell Incentives

In a futile move in an election year, U.S. Rep. John Larson and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, are looking to institute tax credits to spur development of fuel cells. Connecticut is home to fuel cell suppliers Fuel Cell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) and UTC.

"The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Infrastructure for America Act" would create an investment tax credit (ITC) for stationary fuel cells using a combined heat and power (CHP) architecture. Higher efficiency fuel cells would garner higher tax credits.   
 

The Continuing Saga of South Windsor High School's Fuel Cell

In 2002, South Windsor High School in Connecticut was first powered and heated by a $2.1 million 200-kilowatt fuel cell, built and installed by South Windsor-based UTC Power. A decade later, in the wake of a severe 2011 winter storm, the power for 200 people living and sleeping in the high school while it served as an emergency shelter was provided by that fuel cell.

But now the town is learning that the fuel cell needs to be restacked at a cost of $500,000 every five to seven years and is considering buying a $220,000 generator instead, according to a report in the South Windsor Patch. The fuel cell was never net metered because of permitting issues. Reports indicate that the fuel cell saved the town $40,000 to $65,000 a year. 

Space-Time Insight Raises $14M for Mapping Energy Data

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 12:00

Space-Time Insight, a geospatial data analysis startup with customers including Florida Power & Light, San Diego Gas & Electric, California ISO and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO), has raised a $14 million Series B round of funding. Chalk up another vote of confidence in the burgeoning world of geospatial information systems (GIS) for utilities and the smart grid -- in other words, making the flood of smart grid data fit into some sort of mapping system to help make sense of it all.

New investors EnerTech Capital, Novus Energy Partners, and ClearSky Power & Technology Fund joined existing investors Opus Capital Ventures and Start Up Farms International (SUFI), in the new round. The Fremont, Calif.-based startup, founded in 2007, raised a Series A round in 2009 from Opus Capital, and while the parties didn’t disclose the dollar amount, one source pegged it at $2 million.

Space-Time Insight crunches loads of real-time data and maps it to geospatial models to help utilities make sense of it all. It has gotten a lot of press for its mapping tools, such as the huge mapping displays that power the California ISO grid operator's new control center. 

In January, it launched a “situational intelligence suite” of products, starting with a smart meter intelligence business application, meant to plug directly into utility deployments en masse. It’s the first in what’s intended to be a string of out-of-the-box systems to take utility asset management, smart grid and renewable power integration data and map it out on screen, in near-real time.

It has also partnered with big data company EMC to analyze data pertaining to "non-technical losses" (i.e., energy theft) in power systems. Space-Time Insight is working with EMC Greenplum -- the same platform that Silver Spring Networks recently announced it was working with to manage smart grid data -- as well as SAP HANA, and IBM, OSIsoft, Accenture and Oracle on the massive data integration needs that today’s smart meter deployments have brought to utilities.

Steve Ehrlich, vice president of marketing, spoke to Greentech Media in January, when he differentiated the company from the masses of other GIS vendors by saying, “what those systems generally do not do, or do in a simple way, is integrate the data from multiple systems. Their ability to display analytics based on customer information, weather, and real-time grid information, is really non-existent.”

Managing the floods of data from new smart grid technologies is going to be a challenge. Network management system offerings trying to help manage it include SK Telecom’s GridMaven U.S. subsidiary, Cisco’s field area network and network management system products, startup Proximetry’s cloud-based network management platform and the launch of a meter data analytics suite from meter data management provider (and Siemens acquisition) eMeter.

Space-Time isn’t seeking to replace these types of platforms, but rather to augment them, Ehrlich said, particularly in the geospatial and visual analytics department. “Their analytics are fine, but they don’t have any geospatial capabilities,” he said of today’s smart meter management systems. “Their options are build it, license it, or partner. That’s kind of where we fit in.”

Space-Time is also a listed partner of Cisco’s smart grid ecosystem. While Ehrlich wouldn’t say much about how the two work together, he did confirm that a software demo that Cisco CEO John Chambers conducted for an audience in September was using some of the startup’s technology -- a fact that emerged in comparing the likeness between the geospatial software Chambers showed on stage and the system Ehrlich demonstrated in an online presentation.

Space-Time has some roots in the big data world: its CEO, Robert Schilling, is a former senior vice president and GM of SAP North America, and the company was formed by Oracle vets, said Ehrlich. One of the reasons the startup chose smart metering as its first application is because utility customers are struggling with that area of operations, he noted.

“The primary focus of our customers has been revenue protection, and on making sure that customers are satisfied and happy with the meters,” Ehrlich noted. While today’s smart meters are beginning to turn on additional features like outage detection, remote connect-disconnect and voltage-sensing capabilities, they’ve also seen some problems in delivering accurate bills to customers.

Looking at the next set of applications on offer, utilities “see operational benefits by getting more people to work together,” he said. “What our software does for them is allow them to get up and running in a matter of weeks.” Renewable power integration could be one particularly interesting field, given how hard it’s going to be for utilities in solar and wind power-rich states like California and Texas to manage all of that on-again, off-again intermittent power.

Space-Time Insight saw about 300 percent revenue growth last year, Ehrlich said.

Space-Time Insight Raises $14M for Mapping Energy Data

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 11:00

Space-Time Insight, a geospatial data analysis startup with customers including Florida Power & Light, San Diego Gas & Electric, California ISO and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO), has raised a $14 million Series B round of funding. Chalk up another vote of confidence in the burgeoning world of geospatial information systems (GIS) for utilities and the smart grid -- in other words, making the flood of smart grid data fit into some sort of mapping system to help make sense of it all.

New investors EnerTech Capital, Novus Energy Partners, and ClearSky Power & Technology Fund joined existing investors Opus Capital Ventures and Start Up Farms International (SUFI), in the new round. The Fremont, Calif.-based startup, founded in 2007, raised a Series A round in 2009 from Opus Capital, and while the parties didn’t disclose the dollar amount, one source pegged it at $2 million.

Space-Time Insight crunches loads of real-time data and maps it to geospatial models to help utilities make sense of it all. It has gotten a lot of press for its mapping tools, such as the huge mapping displays that power the California ISO grid operator's new control center. 

In January, it launched a “situational intelligence suite” of products, starting with a smart meter intelligence business application, meant to plug directly into utility deployments en masse. It’s the first in what’s intended to be a string of out-of-the-box systems to take utility asset management, smart grid and renewable power integration data and map it out on screen, in near-real time.

It has also partnered with big data company EMC to analyze data pertaining to "non-technical losses" (i.e., energy theft) in power systems. Space-Time Insight is working with EMC Greenplum -- the same platform that Silver Spring Networks recently announced it was working with to manage smart grid data -- as well as SAP HANA, and IBM, OSIsoft, Accenture and Oracle on the massive data integration needs that today’s smart meter deployments have brought to utilities.

Steve Ehrlich, vice president of marketing, spoke to Greentech Media in January, when he differentiated the company from the masses of other GIS vendors by saying, “what those systems generally do not do, or do in a simple way, is integrate the data from multiple systems. Their ability to display analytics based on customer information, weather, and real-time grid information, is really non-existent.”

Managing the floods of data from new smart grid technologies is going to be a challenge. Network management system offerings trying to help manage it include SK Telecom’s GridMaven U.S. subsidiary, Cisco’s field area network and network management system products, startup Proximetry’s cloud-based network management platform and the launch of a meter data analytics suite from meter data management provider (and Siemens acquisition) eMeter.

Space-Time isn’t seeking to replace these types of platforms, but rather to augment them, Ehrlich said, particularly in the geospatial and visual analytics department. “Their analytics are fine, but they don’t have any geospatial capabilities,” he said of today’s smart meter management systems. “Their options are build it, license it, or partner. That’s kind of where we fit in.”

Space-Time is also a listed partner of Cisco’s smart grid ecosystem. While Ehrlich wouldn’t say much about how the two work together, he did confirm that a software demo that Cisco CEO John Chambers conducted for an audience in September was using some of the startup’s technology -- a fact that emerged in comparing the likeness between the geospatial software Chambers showed on stage and the system Ehrlich demonstrated in an online presentation.

Space-Time has some roots in the big data world: its CEO, Robert Schilling, is a former senior vice president and GM of SAP North America, and the company was formed by Oracle vets, said Ehrlich. One of the reasons the startup chose smart metering as its first application is because utility customers are struggling with that area of operations, he noted.

“The primary focus of our customers has been revenue protection, and on making sure that customers are satisfied and happy with the meters,” Ehrlich noted. While today’s smart meters are beginning to turn on additional features like outage detection, remote connect-disconnect and voltage-sensing capabilities, they’ve also seen some problems in delivering accurate bills to customers.

Looking at the next set of applications on offer, utilities “see operational benefits by getting more people to work together,” he said. “What our software does for them is allow them to get up and running in a matter of weeks.” Renewable power integration could be one particularly interesting field, given how hard it’s going to be for utilities in solar and wind power-rich states like California and Texas to manage all of that on-again, off-again intermittent power.

Space-Time Insight saw about 300 percent revenue growth last year, Ehrlich said.

Silver Spring Teams Up With Dominion on Voltage Optimization

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 10:00

"Integration" and "interoperability" are popular terms to sling around in smart grid circles. But the reality is not always as advertised.

Dominion’s Edge platform, which is used primarily for conservation voltage reduction, can work with various smart metering platforms, but Silver Spring Networks has gone the next step to fully integrate the Edge software into its offering, which is called UtilityIQ Voltage Optimizer. 

Unlike many other voltage optimization products on the market, Dominion’s Edge does not require modeling of circuits, or anything much more than smart meters and some control equipment on the grid itself, to adjust the voltage. 

Controlling voltage to tens of thousands of endpoints would overwhelm the AMI communications system, so instead, Edge monitors a subset of meters but constantly looks for abnormalities to add into the subset. That allows Edge to leverage the smart meter’s communications platform without requiring additional bandwidth that some distribution automation applications would require.

The UtilityIQ Voltage Optimizer comes with all the components pre-integrated, including the advanced metering manager software, power monitor and Dominion’s Edge.

“We have a really strong partnership, and we’ve worked through a lot of the issues so when they deploy, it is turnkey,” said Mark Donsky, senior manager of product management at Silver Spring Networks.

For utilities that already have smart meters and are incentivized to save energy, conservation voltage reduction is a value-add service for an investment already made. Dominion Virginia Power used CVR as part of its business case for smart meters.

“For any of our customers looking at CVR, they’re realizing AMI plays an important role in optimal CVR,” said Donsky. He said that after looking at various products on the market, Edge was the most sophisticated that they encountered, from the scalability to the measurement and verification features. The two companies have been working together for more than two years. 

Utilities that have already deployed smart meters are now starting to look for added value from the investment, even if it wasn’t initially included in the business case. For many, that means looking toward network and meter vendors for additional offerings, such as conservation voltage reduction.

“The interest is really high, and we’re confident we’ll have really high energy savings,” said Donsky.

Silver Spring has raised just under $300 million to date, and intends to raise as much as $150 million on the Nasdaq, for a valuation that could be as much as $3 billion. That is, if the IPO ever comes to fruition.

One of the keys to market share growth in coming years will be effective integration, which Silver Spring has been making an effort to clarify with its partner network, which it rates as platinum, premiere or associate. Silver Spring has more than 60 partners, for everything from distribution automation applications or home area applications.

The UtilityIQ product was just released, so Silver Spring has no reports of customers using the platform, and would not elaborate on whether the application is currently being used in customer pilots. For Dominion, which said it could barely keep up with the interest in Edge, a partnership with Silver Spring should help to bring the product to utilities.

Now that the meters are deployed for many utilities, the question is, what now? “The next level is, how do they optimize?” said Donsky. “CVR is an obvious way.”

Silver Spring Teams Up With Dominion on Voltage Optimization

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 09:00

"Integration" and "interoperability" are popular terms to sling around in smart grid circles. But the reality is not always as advertised.

Dominion’s Edge platform, which is used primarily for conservation voltage reduction, can work with various smart metering platforms, but Silver Spring Networks has gone the next step to fully integrate the Edge software into its offering, which is called UtilityIQ Voltage Optimizer. 

Unlike many other voltage optimization products on the market, Dominion’s Edge does not require modeling of circuits, or anything much more than smart meters and some control equipment on the grid itself, to adjust the voltage. 

Controlling voltage to tens of thousands of endpoints would overwhelm the AMI communications system, so instead, Edge monitors a subset of meters but constantly looks for abnormalities to add into the subset. That allows Edge to leverage the smart meter’s communications platform without requiring additional bandwidth that some distribution automation applications would require.

The UtilityIQ Voltage Optimizer comes with all the components pre-integrated, including the advanced metering manager software, power monitor and Dominion’s Edge.

“We have a really strong partnership, and we’ve worked through a lot of the issues so when they deploy, it is turnkey,” said Mark Donsky, senior manager of product management at Silver Spring Networks.

For utilities that already have smart meters and are incentivized to save energy, conservation voltage reduction is a value-add service for an investment already made. Dominion Virginia Power used CVR as part of its business case for smart meters.

“For any of our customers looking at CVR, they’re realizing AMI plays an important role in optimal CVR,” said Donsky. He said that after looking at various products on the market, Edge was the most sophisticated that they encountered, from the scalability to the measurement and verification features. The two companies have been working together for more than two years. 

Utilities that have already deployed smart meters are now starting to look for added value from the investment, even if it wasn’t initially included in the business case. For many, that means looking toward network and meter vendors for additional offerings, such as conservation voltage reduction.

“The interest is really high, and we’re confident we’ll have really high energy savings,” said Donsky.

Silver Spring has raised just under $300 million to date, and intends to raise as much as $150 million on the Nasdaq, for a valuation that could be as much as $3 billion. That is, if the IPO ever comes to fruition.

One of the keys to market share growth in coming years will be effective integration, which Silver Spring has been making an effort to clarify with its partner network, which it rates as platinum, premiere or associate. Silver Spring has more than 60 partners, for everything from distribution automation applications or home area applications.

The UtilityIQ product was just released, so Silver Spring has no reports of customers using the platform, and would not elaborate on whether the application is currently being used in customer pilots. For Dominion, which said it could barely keep up with the interest in Edge, a partnership with Silver Spring should help to bring the product to utilities.

Now that the meters are deployed for many utilities, the question is, what now? “The next level is, how do they optimize?” said Donsky. “CVR is an obvious way.”

US DOT Announces $59.3M for Clean Energy Transit Projects

Thu, 09/20/2012 - 08:00

While consumers wait for alternative fuel vehicles to be cheap and reliable enough for mass use, municipal programs have been enthusiastic about the trend away from gas and diesel-powered transit vehicles. On Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced almost $60 million in new funding to help transit agencies purchase and support cleaner vehicles.

According to Secretary LaHood, the funds will be used to power 27 different transit projects across the nation. Emphasis will be placed on securing cleaner, greener buses capable of reducing harmful emissions and improving fuel economy while also delivering a more comfortable, reliable ride for passengers.

The funding will be divided up between the winning applicants as grants. The competition for a grant was very intense, with 146 project applications totaling around $516 million in funding requests. The winning transit projects are those believed to be most in need of upgrading, or those where use of alternative fuel vehicles will have the most impact on the budget and environmental health of the community. In this way, smaller towns had just as much of a chance as big metropolitan transit programs.

Some projects selected for funding include:

  • $4.4 million for the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, Kentucky, to replace outdated, high-emission trolley cars with zero-emission buses, which will bring the transit system into compliance with federal clean air requirements for the first time and enable the transit authority to save on operating costs for years to come.
  • $2.5 million for Florida’s Miami-Dade County to retrofit older buses with new electric engine cooling systems that will improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and prolong the life of the transit bus fleet.
  • $4.5 million for the Worcester Regional Transit Authority in Worcester, Massachusetts, to replace aging diesel transit buses with zero-emission, all-electric buses, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease fuel consumption, and save on operating costs.

For the past several years, America’s infrastructure has ranked among some of the worst in the world. Experts estimate that the federal government has invested about 40 percent of what is needed to repair and upgrade the country's rapidly disintegrating roads, bridges, and public transportation systems. Despite the lackluster offerings when it comes to U.S. public transit, high gas prices and a trend away from vehicle ownership has resulted in an increase in transit ridership across the U.S. In July 2012, ridership was up by 2.5 percent over the prior twelve-month period.

“As more and more Americans choose to ride the bus to work and elsewhere, it’s good to know that they can depend on vehicles that won’t pollute their neighborhoods, while also helping us to achieve greater energy independence,” said FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff. “By investing in these clean-fuel projects today, we’re helping to ensure that the nation’s transit services are good for the environment for years to come.”

***

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

Green Jobs: Suntech, Battery Ventures, Tigo, Geostellar, MTI, and More

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 16:00

Battery Ventures Partner Jason Matlof has departed the firm, as first reported by Fortune. He's no longer listed on the Battery Ventures website. Behind Matlof, Battery had invested in solar microinverter firm SolarBridge, networked lighting company Redwood Systems, and light-touch building efficiency firm FirstFuel. Speculation has Matlof returning to an operating role in his original field of networking. Matlof's departure is another data point in the marked retreat of venture firms from the greentech sector.

 

Jeff Krisa, longtime Tigo Energy solar optimizer champion, is no longer with the company. No word on where Krisa is headed.

 

Suntech (NYSE:STP) continues to make personnel changes as it "optimizes its organization." Following the recent announcement that Andrew Beebe, Chief Commercial Officer, was leaving the firm, Suntech just announced that Jerry Stokes, president of Suntech Europe is leaving the solar module manufacturer as well, as first reported in PV-Tech. Vedat Gürgeli will assume the role of managing director of Suntech in Europe, reporting to David King.

 

Geostellar added to its ranks CMO Gary Hahn and VP of Sales Len May (formerly of GCL Poly and Suntech). Geostellar’s online platform lets property owners assess the value of a rooftop solar system at a given location.

 

Energate, a supplier of residential demand response and home energy management systems, named Thomas Martin as its new CFO.  

 

Teresa Ribera Rodríguez is the newly appointed Director General of Strategic Development and New International Markets for Isofoton.

 

Mechanical Technology Inc. (OTC: MKTY) fired CEO Peng Lim, according to a filing, after Lim's fuel cell aspirations met with limited success. MTI had spent tens of millions in a failed effort to commercialize a consumer-targeted fuel cell battery. (Lilliputian Systems is a VC-funded startup also going after this market.) Kevin Lynch, the firm's independent director, will serve as Acting CEO until Mr. Lim's replacement is named.

 

Redwood Systems, a VC-funded networked lighting firm, named Frank Kull as VP of operations. Before joining Redwood Systems, Kull was the VP of operations at Pliant Technology and also held director-level roles at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Polycom (Nasdaq: PLCM).
 

 

Elster Joins Cisco’s IPv6 Smart Grid Train

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 14:59

Cisco’s (Nasdaq: CSCO) smart grid plan is to slowly replace the tangle of proprietary technologies that make up utility communications with an Internet Procotol-based alternative. Amongst its long list of partners, there are a few, like smart meter vendor Itron (Nasdaq: ITRI) and grid control player Alstom, that have taken a deeper dive into integrating their technologies into Cisco’s end-to-end IP-based architecture.

Add Elster to that list. The German smart metering giant announced Tuesday that it’s licensing Cisco’s reference design and software development kit (SDK) to integrate its newest line of smart meters into Cisco’s smart grid networks.

That means that Elster’s new REX meters will run on the same IPv6-compliant wireless mesh networking technology that Cisco and Itron are using to connect their jointly deployed meter networks with BC Hydro and other utility clients, or that partner Alstom is using to connect substation gear.

Compared to the mesh networks traditionally used by Elster, along with fellow meter networking companies like Landis+Gyr, Itron (Nasdaq: ITRI), Silver Spring Networks and Trilliant, Cisco’s technology is a different animal. Based on technology Cisco acquired from startup Arch Rock in 2010, it has been developed as part of the 6LoWPAN working group of the IETF, which puts it in the position of being able to claim end-to-end IPv6 compatibility all the way down to the physical layer -- that is, the radios that send the data.   

Of course, IP is a central part of Silver Spring Networks’ smart meter networking technology, and companies like Elster, Itron and the rest have been saying for years that they’re moving their networks away from their proprietary networks and toward standard, IP-based technologies. But as Dave Buster, director of solutions architecture at Elster, put it in a Tuesday interview, partnering with Cisco has cut years from the time it would take to achieve that goal.

“All the vendors are making noises about moving to IPv6, but they’re moving at different speeds along that path,” he said. Elster, which was bought by U.K. investment firm Melrose for $2.3 billion earlier this year, will continue to support and make technology to support its existing base of tens of millions of meters, over time, he believes that utilities will increase pressure on vendors to move toward more interoperable, standards-based systems.

One reason is to capture the enhanced features of IPv6, noted Sanket Amberkar, Cisco’s senior manager of energy and smart grid marketing. Those include the built-in enterprise-class networking capabilities, such as quality of service and network management tools, multi-channel data traffic separation and prioritization.

IPv6 also offers the latest and greatest in cybersecurity, he noted. That’s an issue that may leap ahead of other technical considerations in terms of importance to utilities, given the reported security challenges that smart grid systems out there today have been having.

Behind it all is a broader push toward interoperability across multiple platforms, Buster said. For example, Elster and Landis+Gyr (now owned by Toshiba) announced last year that they’re working to make their systems interoperate with one another, to allow products from one vendor to run on networks from another, and vice versa.

Moving to an IPv6 format should make these kinds of one-to-one integrations much simpler, as well as open the potential to connect to devices not yet imagined for uses in the smart grid, Amberkar said. Duke Energy, for example, has been pushing for distributed intelligence in its transmission substation devices like the Cisco hardened routers and switches that are its core smart grid product. The networking giant competes against the likes of RuggedCom (now owned by Siemens), Alcatel and Juniper Networks in that space.

Elster’s meters, which also perform functions like outage notification, voltage monitoring and loss detection, have been called into play to support distribution automation projects like conservation voltage reduction (CVR), as well as helping utilities pinpoint which customers are being affected by blackouts and direct maintenance and repairs. So have smart meter competitors like Silver Spring, Echelon and others, to name a few.

Someday, utilities will want all these different smart meters to talk to all these different grid sensor, automation and control systems in new and flexible ways, Sanket noted. Cisco offers a smart grid networking and communications architectural framework, called GridBlocks, that it hopes will become the standard way of doing that, using its core routers and switches and tying in to other devices from a long list of partners.

Of course, that’s a common goal in the industry. Silver Spring, for one, is hoping to grow its revenues in pursuit of a long-awaited IPO, partly by growing the value of its deployed smart meter networks to manage distribution automation, home-area networks, plug-in EV charging and other such functions. Like Cisco, it has a long list of partners that are striving toward interoperability, not just in the laboratory but in the field.   

WaterSmart Delivers 5 Percent Savings on Your Water Bill

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 14:00

For decades, water conservation in the home has centered on parents telling their children to turn off the water while they brush their teeth or to take quicker showers.

Like electricity use, there’s a lack of knowledge and transparency about what actually saves significant amounts of water, but software is here to help.

WaterSmart Software, a software-as-a-service with a focus on utility-customer engagement, which raised $1 million in a second round of funding in June, just released the first results of a pilot with the City of Cotati, Calif.

The pilot, which had nearly 1,000 households and a similar control group found that those using WaterSmart reduced their water demand by 5 percent in the first six months and maintained that savings throughout the year.

The offerings and results are similar to Opower in the electric sector, which uses behavioral science, neighbor comparisons, and customized efficiency tips to drive conservation.

Water infrastructure across the country is desperately in need of upgrade. The price of water is rising proportionately faster than electricity in the U.S., according to Circle of Blue. Even though money is tight, water investment increasingly cannot be ignored. The EPA reports that the U.S. loses about 6 billion gallons of water from leaks every year.

“This pilot program proves WaterSmart’s customer-engagement platform is one of the easiest and most efficient ways for utilities to reduce water demand,” Peter Yolles, CEO of WaterSmart Software said in a statement. “By engaging rate payers directly with proven behavioral science methodologies, WaterSmart drives down demand without costly retrofits and capital improvements.”

Many water utilities are municipal-owned, which are often even more cash-strapped than their investor-owned counterparts. In 2000, about 85 percent of the U.S. population was served by public water supplies, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

As important as the savings is the fact that the group using WaterSmart in the pilot engaged with water conservation programs ten times as much as those who did not use the software.

“WaterSmart’s solution enables us to have sustained, personalized communications with our customers. The Home Water Reports generated a measurable increase in interest in the City’s water conservation programs,” said Damien O’Bid, director of Public Works/Engineering for the city of Cotati.  “We now have consumption, real estate and program participation information in one place, so we can make intelligent, cost-effective choices.”

WaterSmart has four other pilots with different utilities and is closing in on a contract with a California water utility. Like Opower, WaterSmart’s software won’t solve all of the water loss problems that utilities have, but given the success of Opower, it offers utilities a low-cost place to start.

There are increased software offerings for utilities to manage their aging infrastructure without having to make wholesale upgrades. The market for smart water meters is growing and so is water data management, with both meter companies and MDM looking to win municipal contracts by offering solutions for both water and gas and/or electricity.

Meter companies and others, like Echologics, offer acoustics technology that can monitor mains and pipes for leaks and help detect the infrastructure most in need up upgrades. Multinational players like IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) are also increasingly focusing on the water sector with software offerings. With about $14 billion water wasted globally every year according to the World Bank, there’s space for everyone to jump in.

Winning Solar Strategies, Part 3: Yingli Solar

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 13:00

Yingli Solar (NTSE: YGE), founded in 1998, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2007. Globally, it has sold over four gigawatts of modules. It saw a 13.7 percent jump in sales from Q1 to Q2 this year, sold more in 1H 2012 than any other panel maker and is on track for sales this year of over two gigawatts. Some analysts expect Yingli Solar to take world leadership away from perennial top dog but now-troubled Suntech (NYSE: STP) in 2012.

The Chinese company opened its Yingli Americas New York and San Francisco offices in 2009. The division has cumulative sales of 550 megawatts, including over 180 megawatts in 1H 2012. It had an approximately 15 percent U.S. market share in 2011 and is expected to match that this year. Business does not seem to have been inhibited by the recent Commerce Department-imposed tariff on inexpensive Chinese solar cell and module imports.

MEMC (NYSE: WFR) CEO Ahmad Chatila recently told GTM the tariff is having no appreciable impact except to shift business to Malaysia, Korea and Taiwan, and Yingli Americas Managing Director Robert Petrina confirmed Chatila’s point in describing his company.

“From its beginnings,” Petrina said, Yingli Solar “wanted to control its destiny by manufacturing its own ingots, wafers, cells, modules and providing an integrated product. It hasn’t really deviated from that except, due to the rules and regulations set up by the tariff investigation, we have to source cells from Taiwan to continue to be compliant.”

The company remains focused, Petrina said, “on innovating, moving up the efficiency curve quickly and trying to differentiate from other products.”

Petrina touted the Yingli Panda monocrystalline panel’s “19-plus percent average cell efficiency and 16.2 percent module efficiency.” He said the company’s roadmap predicts efficiencies in “the low twenties by 2014-15.” Those efficiencies put the Panda among the leaders of the top-selling modules, though not as efficient as SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) or Sanyo.

The Panda YGE series, Yingli promises, has the highest PVUSA Test Condition (PTC) to Standard Test Condition (STC) ratio (92.2 percent) of any monocrystalline silicon module in the California Solar Initiative database. SunPower is at 91.8 percent, Suntech at 90.3 percent and Trina at 90.0 percent.

“We also have a new panel for the utility market, the YGE-U 72 cell series,” added Marketing Head Helena Kimball. The new panel has 72 cells to the Panda’s 60 and is UL-certified to 1,000 volts, which, Yingli says, will reduce BOS costs, presumably by allowing longer strings.

“That market has grown so rapidly,” Kimball said, “customers were demanding the new product. It might not seem like that big a deal, but the thing you have to recognize is that we can now custom-tailor modules for specific needs.”

The bankability of the company’s products have won it a place on the preferred supplier lists of large-scale installation funders in the third-party-finance space like SolarCity, Sunrun, and Sungevity, Kimball said.

“They only choose a select handful and they do evaluations of their suppliers on a fairly regular basis. You need to be up to snuff on your bankability, your quality and performance and your warranties. It is a very extensive process. For a Chinese manufacturer to come in and build those relationships, there was a lot of work done to overcome the stigmas.”

Yingli currently offers a warranty that covers performance for 25 years and product for ten years, based on a 0.7 percent annual degradation rate. But it is currently re-examining its warranty, Petrina acknowledged, because of SunPower’s recent industry-shaking move to a 25-year performance and product warranty based on a 0.4 percent degradation rate.

The Yingli products’ compatibility with other industry names is something Petrina and Kimball repeatedly noted.

Its panel-backing is DuPont’s industry-standard Tedlar, and Yingli “announced a substantial supply agreement with DuPont (NYSE: DD) earlier this year,” Petrina said, for other high quality materials. Yingli’s quality control processes match DuPont’s, Kimball added.

The YGE-U series was manufactured to be compatible, Kimball said, “with tracking systems like those from Array Technologies.”

The YGE series is compatible with Enphase (Nasdaq: ENPH) microinverters, Kimball said, and the company has explored power conversion options offered by Tigo and Ampt. The series was also designed, Kimball added, to be compatible with Zep Solar’s innovative grooved-frame concept which, both companies claim, reduces installation labor by 25 percent.

“That’s what the industry is demanding right now,” Kimball said, “better, faster, smarter.”

Yingli’s successful relationships with European developers, Petrina said, also validate its bankability, especially because many of those European developers are now being supplied by the Americas division as they move into the U.S. and Latin American markets.

Yingli has “been active in South America for the better part of the last year and a half,” Petrina said. “We are seeing ever-increasing demand in countries like Mexico, Chile, and Brazil.” The company recently opened an office in Sao Paulo.

Emerging markets broadly, Petrina said, “are at the point that solar will grow at ever-increasing rates. The new economics that are trickling through are beginning to drive demand as people realize solar has become very competitive very quickly.” Europe remains a significant part of demand, Petrina said, but the U.S. is “poised to become Yingli’s second-largest market within the next two years.”

In the first segment of the Winning Solar Strategies series, SunPower showed how vertical integration and best technology allow a high-priced product to succeed. SunPower’s risk is that newer innovation can supersede its efficiency edge, which explains its recent foray into concentrating PV.

In the second segment, MEMC showed how global expanse and vertical integration can successfully be combined. The risk is being spread too thin, which explains the company’s cautious avoidance of anything too big and preference for balanced financing.

Here, Yingli shows how a respect for the market’s demand for better, faster, smarter can succeed as long as the company brings those three things, which is why Yingli is aggressively reaching out to industry partners. 

Vivint, a Home Automation-Plus-Solar Player, Acquired by Blackstone for $2B

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:30

Vivint, one of the country’s biggest home alarm system companies, which has been branching out into offering its customers solar power financing and services recently, is being acquired for more than $2 billion by The Blackstone Group, according to the companies. Consider it another big investment in the growing third-party residential rooftop solar space.

Under the terms of the deal announced Wednesday, Vivint investors Goldman Sachs, Jupiter Partners and Peterson Partners will sell their shares in the company to give Blackstone more than 50 percent control of the private equity-backed company. That includes Vivint Solar, the Provo, Utah-based company's third-party solar business, as well as 2Gig Technologies, a home device maker which is partly owned by Vivint executives.

Vivint switched its name from APX in 2011 after a $565 million senior debt financing from previous equity investor Goldman Sachs, and has about 675,000 customers of its home security and automation services across the country. As for its solar efforts, it started them in New Jersey and Massachusetts last year and expanded to Hawaii in May. In July, it branched out into California, where third-party solar pioneers such such as SolarCity, Sungevity and Sunrun have brought more than half of the residential rooftop solar in the state under the third-party ownership model.

Vivint has lined up some hefty financial backers, including US Bancorp, which pledged a $75 million fund for the company’s solar business in March. In February, Kleiner Perkins and Google-backed startup Clean Power Finance announced it was working with Vivint as one of a number of partners it was using to pursue its own third-party solar financing plans.

The company also has some ambitious growth plans, according to an interview with Vivint CEO Todd Pedersen, who told Fortune that the company plans to be "the largest developer of residential solar in North America by many times over at the end of this year," He also mentioned the planned IPO for third-party-financed solar pioneer SolarCity, noting that, "If it's successful, and we hope they are, it's possible that our solar division could do an IPO with our parent company remaining private."

In our July story on Vivint's launch in California, President Tanguy Serra discussed how the company is moving into solar from its strength in home automation and customer service, starting with keeping customers informed on how the system is providing green power in an up-to-date fashion. Here's our previous coverage of the company:

“Right now, we use the homeowners’ broadband to monitor the panels and the power produced,” Serra said. “Every month, we send the homeowners a bill for the amount of solar power they use … and we monitor in real-time to make sure the array is working.”

That setup runs on the same technology that Vivint now uses for its home security and automation systems, he said. Vivint connects to its home controller panel via GSM cellular, and thence to smart thermostats, lighting control systems, door locks, security cameras and other in-home devices via Z-Wave, the proprietary wireless technology that’s also being used by such would-be home automation players as Verizon.

Those thermostats, lights and other energy-using home systems can already be pre-programmed to turn themselves down when people leave their houses, or can remotely controlled via smartphone while they’re away, he noted. Now Vivint is working on a “generation 2.0” platform that can record up-to-date solar power output at the home, he said -- and that, in turn, could lead to linkages with home energy management

“Because you’ve got this remote control panel with a big touchscreen display, we’ll be showing the homeowners usage, as well as the solar production, on that panel,” he said. “If you show a power curve of when their solar power is produced, […] you can adjust people’s consumption behavior,” such as encouraging them to turn on energy-hog devices like dishwashers and clothes dryers when the solar system is cranking out the most kilowatts per hour, he said.  

All of them connect via Vivint’s home gateway to a cloud-based system that’s accessible via website or smartphone. “If you log onto your own personal account, you can select the rules you want to apply, whether you want to be aggressive, or less aggressive, on saving your energy,” Serra said -- a set of features common to many of the companies contending for a slice of the as-yet-unformed home energy management market.

The company is also looking at more sophisticated applications, like pre-cooling homes using solar power when it’s at its peak production -- say, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. -- and then letting air conditioners idle through the hours when people come home from work, to avoid stressing the grid, he said.

Vivint is working with 2Gig, to build its home automation devices, which it has been selling as part of its service since 2009, and it also works with Radio Thermostat Co. of America for smart thermostats, he said. On the solar side, Vivint uses Enphase Energy microinverters and Zep Solar mounting systems.

Of course, Vivint doesn’t have a monopoly on the idea of combining residential solar with home energy management. Big third-party residential solar financing companies like SolarCity have been monitoring and managing their “fleet” of solar systems for some time now, and could bridge into home energy management as an add-on to their solar installations. Indeed, SolarCity has also been testing out lithium-ion batteries from Tesla Motors to back up its solar rooftops.

Vivint has about 50,000 home automation system customers in California, Serra said, compared to about 100,000 in Texas and more than 100,000 in the Northeast, where it has concentrated its solar business so far.

Serra told us in February that the company was on target for 3,000 to 5,000 solar installations per year in its first six months in the business, and hoped to grow the business to match the 150,000 home system installations or so it does annually.

Of course, Vivint isn’t limited to pitching its existing customers for solar systems either. In fact, Serra said, solar sales could open the door to home security and automation sales.

Think of it this way: for the amount of money a homeowner can save on their monthly power bills with a third-party-financed solar system, they can cover, or at least partly cover, the $50 to $69 per month cost of Vivint’s home automation system.

As far as combining the still-expensive costs of home automation with a target market that has shown its interest in going green by asking to learn more about solar, it isn’t the worst sales pitch we’ve heard so far. 

GTM Research Examines US Solar Market at Industry Conference

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:00

Read the full press release here

Last week the solar industry gathered in Orlando, FL for Solar Power International 2012. Companies released news on products, partnerships, and capacity, including findings from GTM Research that solar installations grew 116 percent from Q2 2011. This week, GTM Research announces the U.S. Solar Market Insight Conference, an executive-level event covering national and state-specific analysis and forecasting of the U.S. solar market.

The U.S. Solar Market Insight Conference is designed to demystify the U.S. solar industry by leveraging the exclusive data, insights, and trends from the U.S. Solar Market Insight Reports. The reports are the product of a GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) partnership. The event will take place Oct. 29-30, 2012 at The Westin Millbrae, near San Francisco, CA.

Conference attendees will learn how industry leaders are navigating complex market dynamics and local policies to reduce installation costs and increase project returns. Register to connect with leading financiers, policymakers, developers and technology providers to ensure project success. 

"The U.S. market continues to be a promising growth story with more than 3.2 gigawatts of annual PV installations expected in 2012," said Shayle Kann, Vice President, GTM Research. "However, the shifting project finance landscape, increasing competition from new entrants and often frustrating disarray of local policies makes navigating the U.S. market a challenge, even for incumbent players. The U.S. Solar Market Insight Conference leverages our partnership with SEIA and our U.S. research coverage to provide actionable intelligence to companies exploring or actively involved in the U.S. solar market."  

Registration discounts are available for SEIA members and early-bird discounts are in effect through Sept. 28, 2012. The full agenda, speaker list, and registration information are available on the conference website -- visit: www.solarmarketinsight.com

Siemens Joins Forces With Chinese Meter Maker Wasion

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 11:00

Siemens has teamed up with Wasion Group, a Chinese smart meter manufacturer, to develop the market for meter data management solutions in China.

The joint venture, in which Siemens is a majority shareholder, will allow Siemens access to the growing Chinese market. Growth in MDM is expected to grow in the double digits in China, as tens of millions of smart meters are installed.

"By joining forces with Wasion, we will significantly advance our business with meter data management solutions on the Chinese market. We are contributing our expertise and our experience with the EnergyIP meter data management system, which has become an integral part of our portfolio following our acquisition of eMeter," said Jan Mrosik, CEO of the Smart Grid Division in the Siemens Infrastructure & Cities Sector.

Siemens acquired eMeter late in 2011, and for eMeter one of the appeals was the prospect of tapping into Siemens’ international network. Earlier this summer, eMeter landed a contract with CPFL Energia, the largest utility not owned by the government in Brazil. At the time, Chris King, chief regulatory officer for eMeter, said that being a Siemens business gave the MDM company an obvious boost.

“We don’t have to go in and say we’re reliable and dependable and we’ll be around for years to come,” he said in July. “Our sales capability has been immediately expanded.”

That sales capacity could increase exponentially with a domestic partner in the Chinese market. In 2010, Wasion held 12 percent of the meter share in China, according to GTM Research. For Wasion, the partnership will help move its product beyond China. "According to our joint venture, Wasion can sell its smart power, water and gas metering products to countries outside China through the global sales network of Siemens," said Ji Wei, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Wasion Group.

The meter maker is one of the market leaders, with most of the meters purchased by State Grid Corporation of China and China Southern Grid. China will invest nearly $250 billion into its grid in the next five years, according to GTM Research’s report, The Smart Grid in Asia, 2012-2016, Markets, Technologies and Strategies.

The two technology companies have been working together in a partnership since May 2010, and in December 2011 signed a supply agreement that laid the groundwork for the joint venture.

"For us, the joint venture is an additional milestone on our way to becoming one of the leading global suppliers of solutions for smart grids,” added Mrosik. “Collection and analysis of consumption and network data is considered to be one of the keys to the intelligent management of supply networks of the future."

Getting Past Building Efficiency’s Low-Hanging Fruit

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 09:00

What do you get for the multi-billion-dollar property trust that’s already squeezed millions of dollars in energy efficiency out of its buildings?

That’s the question that Malvern, Penn.-based Liberty Property Trust was asking itself earlier this year. The $7 billion real estate investment trust had already earned a 2012 Energy Star Partner of the Year award in March, having certified more than 89 buildings with the U.S. EPA program and cut some $3.4 million from its energy budget over the past four years.

Liberty had also taken a step beyond most REITs by developing a proprietary building wide area network to track and display real-time energy use for its property managers, Marla Thalheimer, director of sustainability, said in an interview this week.

At that point, the company started asking itself, where else could it find waste across its hundreds of properties? In other words, “We hit a bit of a plateau,” she said.

It’s a common situation for building owners that have replaced the lights, tuned up the HVAC systems and taken care of the other low-hanging fruit in the building energy efficiency game. What’s left over is much harder to pinpoint, particularly when the scope of possible effort spans lots of buildings across different regions.

Enter Retroficiency, a Boston-based startup with a technology a platform that combines public and proprietary data to create building energy models -- ones it says can shed light on where energy is being wasted without even entering the building.

In the case of Liberty, Retroficiency was able to take an energy assessment process that could have taken a team of engineers weeks to process, and squeeze it down into one day, Thalheimer said. In the process, it identified about $2.3 million more in energy savings potential, ranging from lighting and HVAC to building controls and plug loads, as well as helping to prioritize just which buildings and systems were likely to pay themselves off most quickly.

Buildings waste a lot of energy, and much of that waste is theoretically very easy to fix and keep fixed. A study from Deutsche Bank and the Rockefeller Institute found a $279 billion investment opportunity in U.S. commercial building efficiency over the next decade, with the potential to return more than $1 trillion, or nearly four times the investment, over that time.

But building owners and managers have a lot of other things to worry about, such as tenant attraction and retention, property improvements and upgrades, and other competing priorities for investment, Thalheimer noted. Any money spent on efficiency needs to show a clear payback over a known period of time, she said. Simple lighting replacements deliver very clear cost reductions -- but investigating beyond those simple projects opens up a lot of variables that are hard to quantify, she said.

“The challenge for building owners is, you have to get the biggest bang for your buck,” she said. “Retroficiency’s recommendations are very useful, because they tell you things you haven’t looked at yet.” While Liberty hasn’t yet fixed all the energy-wasting problems that Retroficiency’s scan caught, it’s on a path to do so, both in terms of prioritizing high-value projects and providing individual building managers access to the data to set their own goals, she said.

It’s important to note that Retroficiency doesn’t do energy efficiency retrofits or building controls itself. That’s more the realm of building controls and energy services giants like Honeywell, Siemens, Johnson Controls and Schneider Electric, as well as startups such as SCIEnergy, SkyFoundry, BuildingIQ and many others targeting various aspects of the built environment.

Retroficiency, on the other hand, is a tool for the parties involved in that process, whether they be property owners, big management firms like Liberty or customer Jones Lang LaSalle, or building energy control and service vendors like SAIC and Schneider Electric.

Retroficiency, funded with $3.3 million in VC from Point Judith Capital and angel investors, isn’t the only company targeting this analysis and insight portion of the building energy efficiency process. Another is FirstFuel, a Lexington, Mass.-based startup with $12.5 million in VC and customers including the U.S. Department of Defense and several unnamed state government agencies, large U.S. utilities and European utilities.

FirstFuel uses utility interval meter data to gain its insights. Retroficiency started out approaching the data-crunching challenge from the property data side, then expanded into interval meter data with its acquisition of Nexamp last year.

Amid Solar Turmoil, Concentrating PV Maker Readies Plant

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 18:00

Semprius, a company that incubated with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is nearly ready to step out into the real world, announcing that its first manufacturing plant, in North Carolina, will officially open on Sept. 26.

Talk about going against the flow.

This is a time of retrenchment in the solar manufacturing sector, the result of years of exuberant capacity additions and slowing installation growth. But Semprius, with its concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) technology that yields a sky-high efficiency of 33.9 percent, figures it has something special that will allow it to flourish while competitors fade.

How did it get to this point?

The Department of Energy-backed NREL incubator program helped Semprius develop its concept with $3 million -- and guidance from experts -- in what’s now known as the SunShot Incubator, but private capital has hardly forsworn the company. Siemens put in the biggest chunk: $20 million in June 2011.

The state of North Carolina and Vance County chipped in $8 million in incentives to lure the company to the Tar Heel State.

Whether that all qualifies as government entities “picking winners” could be a matter of opinion; the federal contribution was a pittance, at least in dollar terms and compared with what Semprius raised privately. And the local incentives are de rigueur in the U.S. these days, in both blue states and red ones.

In any case, it will be fascinating to see how the company fares. Since it won the Siemens investment and said it would build a plant with a five-megawatt capacity, expandable to 35 megawatts, its task has become only more challenging as vanilla PV has become even cheaper.

In that environment, CPV manufacturer Amonix in July shuttered its Las Vegas plant, and just last week, GreenVolts suspended operations, having lost the investment of major backer ABB. ABB told GigaOM’s Katie Fehrenbacher the “decision reflects the uncertainty in the PV market, and the lack of transparency on when it will stabilize.”

Of course, none of those folks had the efficiency that Semprius can boast.

According to an NREL write-up of the company, Semprius’ gallium arsenide triple-junction cells are used in a system at 1,100 suns. 

“Their tiny [chip] size means they occupy only one one-thousandth of the entire solar module area, reducing the module cost,” NREL said. “In addition, the use of a large number of small cells helps to distribute unwanted heat over the cell’s structure, so there’s no need for expensive thermal management hardware such as heat fins.”

Semprius is aiming its modules for use in commercial and utility-scale developments, particularly in very sunny areas where CPV in general is favored. For utility-scale applications, the company says its tracking, concentrating arrays will do a better job meeting peak power demand, which tends to come a few hours after fixed-tilt standard PV is at its peak.

***

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

Guest Post: Cleantech VC-Backed M&A Exit Numbers

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 16:00

When people ask me if investors are making money in cleantech, I tell them yes, but I don't mention which type of investors or the sector.   

Most of the analyses of cleantech exits do not differentiate for venture-backed companies. So we conducted our own study.

In the last ten years, Cleantech.org’s Cleantech Venture-Backed M&A Exit Study shows a grand total of 27 venture-backed cleantech deals greater than $50 million.

All in all, very tough returns. A number of eight- to ten-figure fortunes made, just largely not by the investors spending the nine- and ten-figure investments.

We had data on both exit values and venture capital invested for 19 firms and revenue estimates for eight. We found a 2.78X Median Exit Value Multiple on venture capital invested. Those exit numbers include the founders' and management’s shares, so average returns to investors would be somewhat lower. We found a 2.2X Median Exit Value Multiple on Revenues.

There was $13 billion in total M&A exit value.

Not bad, until you realize that’s over a span of ten years where cleantech has seen tens of billions in investment, and we used a pretty broad definition of “venture-backed.” To get there, we included Toshiba’s Landys+Gyr, Total’s SunPower, EDP’s Horizon, and ABB’s Ventyx deals. Those are the top deals by value, and they represent 60 percent of the $13 billion. None were backed by investors you would normally think of as cleantech venture capital powerhouses (Bayard Capital, Cypress Semiconductor, Zilkha and Goldman Sachs, Vista Energy). Three of them included prior acquisitions themselves.

Excluding those and looking at only the transactions where we had both valuation and exit data, we found an even weaker $3.8 billion on $1.8 billion in venture capital, amounting to a 2.1X multiple.

Most surprising, if you looked at the list of investors in these nifty 27 exits, you’d have heard of very few of them. This is truly not your father’s venture capital sector.

The exits have a surprisingly low-tech flavor, and were carried by renewable energy project developers, ESCOs, and smart grid and solar balance-of-system manufacturers.

If we had limited this to Silicon Valley venture investors in high-tech deals, well, you’d have wondered if M&A were a four letter word.

Interesting, isn’t it?

 

***

Contact me at dikeman@janecapital.com if you have deal data you’d like to see included.

***

Neal is a founding partner of Jane Capital Partners LLC, a cleantech merchant bank whose clients have included the technology arms of multinational energy companies. He has served as a director of several technology companies and is chief blogger for Cleantech Blog.  He is currently the Chairman of Jane Capital’s recently acquired Greenhome.com operating company, the original ecommerce ecostore, and serves on the board of American Electric Technologies, Inc. (Nasdaq: AETI). He is a cofounder of venture-backed smart grid company Smart Wire Grid, Inc., where he served as founding CFO and director, and venture-backed carbon IT startup Carbonflow, a Jane Capital spin-out in SaaS workflow for the carbon markets, where he served as founding CEO and raised the first two rounds of finance. 

This article appeared originally on Neal's Cleantech Blog.

A Boom in Utility Rebates Drives LED Lighting

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 15:00

Four years ago, when Consolidated Edison was designing its commercial and industrial rebate programs, LEDs weren’t mature enough to make it into the prescriptive program. Instead, solid-state lighting was lumped in with the custom rebate program.

When the programs are redesigned next year, some LEDs will probably move out of the custom category. “In the past few years, the LEDs have come on fast,” said David Pospisil, program manager of the Con Edison Commercial & Industrial Energy Efficiency Programs.

Many companies are looking to their utilities to provide rebates for LED retrofits, which offer a huge energy savings but can still come with a significant upfront cost -- despite falling prices. Davis & Warshow, a nearly 90-year-old family business in ConEd’s territory, recently spent more than $250,000 to retrofit its Queens distribution center from fluorescent tubes to LED tubes.

The retrofit was the largest single-facility LED tube installation with the most energy efficiency lighting in watts per square foot to date, according to ConEd. Before the switch, lighting ate up nearly 65 percent of the building’s total power usage, costing nearly $50,000 per year. Now that figure is less than $20,000, about 60 percent lower.

The retrofit was possible in part to ConEd’s commercial and industrial rebate program, which gave Davis & Warshow a rebate check for $63,704. The project is expected to have a five-year payback. The company, based in Maspeth, NY, also has a rooftop solar array that puts out more than 200,000 kilowatt-hours annually, which makes the new lighting system net-zero.

ConEd is not alone in treading lightly into shifting LEDs from custom rebate programs to prescriptive programs. Utilities across the country show limited prescriptive rebate support for LED lighting, according to a report by Groom Energy and GTM Research, Enterprise LED 2012: Commercial and Industrial Market Trends, Opportunities and Leading Companies. But that is changing.

New York is second only to California in dollars spent by utilities in energy efficiency rebate incentive programs. In 2008, there was about $3.1 billion in total U.S. rebate dollars, with the money concentrated in ten states. The figures are expected to more than double in coming years, with $7.4 billion to $12.4 billion available by 2020.

As the LED market matures, utilities will aggressively start moving. “When satisfied that savings can be successfully achieved, utility program managers will typically authorize custom rebate amounts up to 50 percent of the entire cost of the project, as opposed to a prescriptive rebate for each fixture,” the report authors wrote.

ConEd falls squarely into this category. The utility, which serves New York City and some surrounding areas, is seeing a booming demand for LED lighting, but is still waiting for more standards. The report notes that other Northeast utilities, including National Grid and NStar, are some of the most progressive, offering prescriptive rebate programs for a range of LED lighting applications.

Commercial customers look to the utilities to be a trustworthy source when it comes to picking new products, which is why so many utilities are wading carefully into the world of LEDs. “There are a lot of products that are substandard, and it’s hard for customers to separate products,” said ConEd’s Pospisil. Inclusion on the Design Lights Consortium-approved product list has moved to being the key criterion for most utilities, according to the Groom report. Rather than creating a standard, DLC is a group of utilities and energy efficiency groups that approve lighting products.

While utilities don’t want to back the wrong horse, they also don’t want to miss out on the growing interest in LED retrofits. ConEd has $50 million per year to spend through the end of 2015 on C&I rebate programs total.

California, New York, Florida and Massachusetts have some of the most robust energy efficiency programs, but others, like Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arizona and Ohio, have started building new programs entirely, according to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency. North Carolina and Michigan are also increasing spending, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The falling cost of LEDs is a driver for the interest on the part of customers, but it is only one piece of the puzzle, according to Jon Guerster, CEO of Groom Energy. Even if states that are new to the game aren’t putting in as much money as California, for instance, the increased utility funds will help push LEDs into the commercial and industrial mainstream.

“The answer is not just that this is cheaper,” he said. “Our customers say, ‘LEDs are here and they’re still expensive, but I have to be thinking about it.’ That’s a massive shift.”

Winning Solar Strategies, Part 2: MEMC

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 14:00

MEMC’s (NYSE: WFR) half-century in the semiconductor business made its 2009 acquisition of SunEdison seem an ideal match. It was -- at first, noted CEO Ahmad Chatila.   

“Then the price of silicon collapsed,” Chatila said. “As 2011 wore on and supply exceeded demand significantly, MEMC struggled.” In response, he said, “we became aggressive in restructuring the company.”

Before moving from Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ: CY) to MEMC in 2009, Chatila said, he visited 150 solar and semiconductor companies worldwide. “I came to the conclusion that everybody would get crushed,” he said. “But I thought it would be 2014-15. I thought I had enough time to build capacity, do innovation and grow downstream. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

In the solar business, Chatila said, “you have to have volume, price, and costs. When you own the customer, you own the price and you own the volume.” In a commodity business, Chatila added, “if you don’t have the lowest cost in the world, you don’t win. When I walked into the company, we had lost that race.”

But, Chatila said, “we had customers and long term agreements. We had to satisfy these instead of just building capacity.”

Though they could not avoid the crisis of 2011, Chatila said, “the team and I understood that the way you win is through technology innovation upstream and focusing on brand and customer relations downstream. When we get more pipeline and service customers downstream, we profit. And if we differentiate our technology upstream, we profit.”

MEMC is a complex business, Chatila said. “The supply chain begins with polysilicon, then you make a crystal, a wafer, a cell, and then a module. Then you use other products to install and you sell the project, by financing it. And then you maintain the project. We make all the products. We don’t manufacture modules ourselves, but we have partnerships in making them. And we do development and operations and maintenance.”

The cheapest place to make polysilicon and crystals is the U.S., Chatila said, because factories are deployed in low-cost-electricity states. The cheapest place to manufacture modules and cells is China, because that part of the process is labor-intensive.

Most balance-of-system (BOS) products, except the inverter, he said, are made near the project, because transporting them adds to project costs. And the best inverter companies are German and American, Chatila said, because they have first-mover advantage.

Development, Chatila said, “is complicated. You have to be global. But decision making is always local. If you are tied to one country, one day you will wake up and there will be zero demand.”

The solar industry is trending toward midsize projects, Chatila explained, because “banks don’t like the high risk of projects above 100 megawatts and, because of that, you have to give them a lower price. And projects of less than one megawatt are not big enough to be interesting to banks and investors.”

Banks and investors, he said, “love 20- to 50-megawatt projects. They are under the radar, they are not very complicated and low risk. Banks don’t want to put a half-million dollars into a $3-million, one-megawatt deal. They want to spend a half-million dollars on a $100 million deal. And they don’t want to spend a half-million dollars on a $1 billion deal. That’s very high risk.”

MEMC recently moved its headquarters to Belmont, California, because, Chatila said, “we think California is the most interesting market in the world.” There is a business for residential and small commercial development, he said, “but you have to do it as a flow business.” California’s innovation in third-party ownership and other project finance models is facilitating such flows, while “in some places, third-party ownership is not as allowed as it should be.”

There are three elements in project finance, Chatila said. “During construction, you need money to build the project, before it is ready to be sold. When it is sold, there are two elements. One, the debt, you get from banks. The other, equity, you get from investors. We bring all that money together. That is one of the complexities of doing downstream.”

In MEMC’s Bulgaria project, he added, “The investors are from the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The debt holders are OPIC, IFC and Italy’s Unicredit. On one project, 60 megawatts, a quarter-billion dollars, you have three investors and three debt holders, one from Italy, one international and one is U.S.”

MEMC is building around the world, Chatila said. Panel cost is “70 cents per watt, plus or minus.” The costs for building a project range “between less than $2 per watt to $3 per watt, depending on the country and the size of the project.”

From his experience in the semiconductor business, Chatila knew the Chinese would be able to make silicon modules cheaper than their competition. When they began taking market share, he said, other countries began imposing tariffs. “When you do that, you are saving 3,000 jobs. I do care about those jobs. But, since 80 percent to 90 percent of solar jobs are local, you are going to destroy 97,000 jobs, which I care about even more.”

And the tariff, he added, “is not impacting anything. When two countries go to war, guess who gains? The countries not at war. Guess where all the business is going -- to Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan.”

GOP Makes a Statement With Solyndra Bill

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 12:00

On the strength of overwhelming Republican support, the House of Representatives voted today to torpedo a U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee program that by objective analysis has fared better than it was expected to when a Republican-led Congress and a Republican president invented it.

The “No More Solyndras Act” won’t become law -- the Senate has no appetite to take it up and President Obama would surely veto it if it somehow landed on his desk.

Republicans -- who voted 223-4 for the bill -- were well aware of that, but said it nevertheless was important to send a message about where they stood.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who led the charge for the bill, summed up their stance well, writing in the Washington Times today: “We need a Keystone economy, not a Solyndra economy.”

Keystone, of course, is a reference to the pipeline that would bring oil sands petroleum down from Canada, which environmentalists oppose for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the Canadian government says [PDF] that boosting production of the stuff will account for almost all of the country’s increase in greenhouse-gas emissions up to 2020.

Solyndra? Well, surely you’ve heard about Solyndra; the Republicans have been beating on the Solyndra drum for more than a year now, since the DOE-loan-backed company failed and swallowed up more than a half-billion taxpayer dollars in the process.

Despite that DOE face-plant, an independent analysis of the loan guarantee program determined that it actually “holds less than the amount of risk envisioned by Congress when it created and funded the program.” Also, a Bloomberg Government analysis found that since nearly 90 percent of the loan program was invested in energy projects that had buyers for the power they will produce, the risk of big losses was minimal.

Democrats voted against "No More Solyndras" -- the bill, not the concept -- by a 157-22 count. “This is not serious legislation, it’s a political bill,” Henry Waxman of California said, according to Reuters. “They’ve been dancing on the grave of Solyndra for so long. Enough is enough.”

***

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