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Google made a big news splash this week, announcing it was partnering with KKR to invest in four California solar power projects, but that was only one of many newsworthy stories that broke. Among them are plans to develop an East Coast grid to carry power from offshore wind farms, BP Solar quitting the business after 40 years, a second German solar power industry player filing for insolvency and a second solar investment by Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway's Mid-American Energy.

Clean Power

Clean Tech Week in Review: 10 Headline News Stories

Google made a big news splash this week, announcing it was partnering with KKR to invest in four California solar power projects, but that was only one of many newsworthy stories that broke. Among them are plans to develop an East Coast grid to carry power from offshore wind farms, BP Solar quitting the business after 40 years, a second German solar power industry player filing for insolvency and a second solar investment by Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway’s Mid-American Energy.

Google made a big news splash this past week announcing that it’s partnering with private equity firm KKR and investing $94 million in four solar power projects owned by Sharp near Sacramento with a total capacity of 88 megawatts (MW), but there was plenty more happening in the clean tech/renewable energy space this week. Following are highlights and links to ten other headline news stories…

1. In addition to announcing approvals for NextEra Energy’s 300-MW Sonaran Solar Energy Project and Iberdrola Renewables’ 186-MW Tule Wind Project, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar also laid out the next steps toward developing the Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Transmission Line, vital infrastructure for development of offshore wind power along the US East Coast. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened a public comment period regarding Atlantic Grid Holdings’ request for a right-of-way grant to build a high-voltage direct current (DC) transmission line that would carry electricity produced by wind turbines off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

2. A global solar industry shake-out continues, as Solar Millennium became the second German solar power company to open insolvency proceedings in German court, Forbes reported. Solar Millennium has a US solar power project pipeline with capacity totaling some 2,250-MW.

In August, it announced its US joint venture, Solar Trust of America, was switching from developing these projects with concentrated solar power (CSP) troughs to solar PV modules. In an effort to stave off looming insolvency, it announced it was trying to sell all of these assets, but couldn’t do so quickly enough. Negotiations and due diligence related to a proposed sale to Solarhybrid are progressing nonetheless, according to a Forbes follow-up.

3. After 40 years, BP is shutting down its BP Solar business, “saying it ‘can’t make any money’ from selling panels at a time when it continues to spend $20bn annually on oil and gas developments,” The Guardian reported. The oil and gas giant’s oft-touted slogan, “Moving Beyond Petroleum,” seems little more than that. BP’s also shut down the London headquarters of BP Alternative Energy, and has all but done so when it comes to carbon capture and storage, another clean tech alternative that’s been highly touted by the oil and gas industry but come to little as yet.

4. BP Solar may be getting out, but other prominent businesspeople and investors are getting in. Warren Buffet-led Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings bought a 49% per cent equity stake in NRG Energy’s $1.8 billion, 290 MW Agua Caliente solar PV project in Yuma County, Arizona. First Solar, which originally owned the project, is using its thin-film Cd-Te solar panels in building the project. Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to purchase all the electricity produced as per a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). Agua Caliente is expected to produce enough clean, renewable electricity for 225,000 homes and is due to come online in 2014.

5. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced that Natcore Technology has been granted an exclusive patent license agreement to develop a line of black silicon products. Natcore and NREL have also entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to develop commercial prototypes based on NREL’s black silicon inventions and patents.

NREL researchers demonstrated the black silicon solar cells, which have been “chemically etched to appear black,” better absorb solar energy. Inexpensive and requiring only one step to produce, the black silicon solar wafers reduce the amount of sunlight lost to reflection to less than 2%, according to NREL.

6. New Jersey solar power project developer KDC Solar closed on its most recent financing for a portfolio of projects in New Jersey. A US Bancorp subsidiary is providing long-term renewable energy tax credit equity financing “for multiple distributed generation, net-metered solar projects, the first two of which total approximately 7 MW,” according to a KDC news release.

On Dec. 13, KDC announced it had closed a $70 million revolving credit facility with Chicago’s Prudential Capital Group, which will be used for construction of non-utility solar PV projects in NJ. KDC has more than 50 MW of “behind the meter” solar projects at businesses and institutions in various stages of construction throughout NJ and expects to have another 12 MW in operation before January 2012.

7. Milwaukee’s ZBB Energy Corp. has been selected by LEMA Construction and Developers to supply a smart, interactive micro-grid that will store and intelligently manage supply and demand of renewable energy from solar PV systems for the City of St. Petersburg Florida Parks Dept. The Smart Grid Integrated Renewable Energy and Hybrid Energy Storage System will be based on ZBB’s EnerSystem, made up of its EnerSection power and energy control center, EnerStore 50 kWh zinc-bromide flow battery module and customer-provided lead-acid batteries.

8. Six of Japan’s electric utilities in central and western Japan have agreed to work together and coordinate use of their grids to boost wind power capacity a total of 400 MW, from a current level of about 1,230 MW, Reuters reported. Japan is making a definitive shift toward making greater use of renewable energy in the wake of the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster. A proposed feed-in tariff (FiT) would require utilities to buy clean, renewable energy from producers and allow them to pass the cost on to end users.

The service territories of Shikoku Electric Power and Hokuriku Electric Power have high potential for wind power development, according to the Reuters report, but lack the demand, or power grid capacity, to make use of it all. With this new cooperation agreement, they’ll be able to provide clean, renewable electricity to large cities in southern and western Japan, such as Osaka and Nagoya.

9. German development bank KfW “kicked off” its East Africa geothermal exploration financing facility with a 50 million euro (~$65 million) capital infusion from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the EU, and the signing of an agreement with government representatives from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

“Geothermal energy is very reliable and thereby stabilizes electricity supply, which in East Africa currently comes 60% from hydropower. During droughts there is often inadequate water to generate power. As a quick fix, governments and the energy supplier bridge these gaps by connecting leased diesel power plants to the power grid. This pollutes the environment and is extremely costly,” a KfW news release stated.

10. Philippines-based Energy Development Corp. (EDC) lays claim to being the world’s largest operator of integrated geothermal power plants. This week, EDC announced it had completed due diligence and is proceeding on closing a joint venture deal in which it will acquire 70% of Australia’s Hot Rock’s geothermal power projects in Chile and Peru. The JV agreement covers four projects, the Calerias and Longavi projects in Chile and the Quellaapacheta and Chocopata projects in Peru.

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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