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October 26, 2005

DayStar Technologies Receives Technology Innovation of the Year Award in the CIGS Photovoltaic Cells Market

DayStar Technologies Inc (DSTI) was awared the 2005 Technology Innovation of the Year Award in the field of copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaic cells.

Each year this Award is given to a company that has carried out new research, which has resulted in innovations that have brought, or are expected to bring, significant contributions to the industry in terms of adoption, change and competitive posture. This Award recognizes the quality and depth of a company's research and development program along with vision and risk-taking efforts that enabled it to undertake such an endeavor. [ more ]

It's nice to see that the stock has been holding up here and is now back above $10 again and above the 200 day moving average. I'm seriously considering adding more of DSTI to the mutual fund at this level. I don't think the stock is going to be running away to the upside at this point due to general market weakness, so I'm not going to be jumping in right now. I will watch it carefully over the next couple of days.

For those that are interested in the general market trends, you may want to take a look at one person I trust and often agree with.

BillCara.com: Lock and Load

Alaskan Electric Cooperative Expands Wind Turbine Fleet

prtn_logo.gifDistributed Energy Systems Corp (DESC) has been awarded a contract to install and commission three additional NorthWind 100® wind turbines for Anchorage-based Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC). The contract brings the total number of turbines AVEC has purchased from Northern Power to 10, representing what is believed to be the largest investment in wind turbines made in Alaska in a single year.

The Northern Power Products division will also supply and install wind turbine Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems for the villages of Toksook Bay and Kasigluk. These systems will leverage Northern Power's SmartView® software, which will allow AVEC to monitor and control the wind turbines in both villages, as well as monitor the overall power generation system assets. The combined value for the turbine sale, the SCADA systems and other value-add services is $1.8 million. [ more ]

DESC is up over 1.5% in pre-market trading this morning. The stock has been moving nicely and it seems to have bounced off the 50 day moving average which confirms that it is still in a nice uptrend.


I'm still wary to commit new money to the stock market right now. If the general market was acting better, I would probably be a buyer of the stock at this point.

October 25, 2005

Electro Energy Inc. Announces New Development Agreement With In-Q-Tel

eeei_logo.gifElectro Energy Inc (EEEI) and In-Q-Tel, a private, not-for-profit venture group funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, today announced a new technology development agreement for advanced rechargeable bipolar lithium ion (BPLI) batteries.

The resulting BPLI battery is intended to exhibit both high-specific energy and high-specific power, due to the efficiency of the EEEI bipolar cell and battery design. In previous work, EEEI has demonstrated BPLI cells with a specific energy greater than 200 Wh/kg and an energy density greater than 400 Wh/l. The development will be conducted at EEEI's battery manufacturing facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado. [ more ]

In other recent news, In-Q-Tel recently purchased shares in EEEI to help fund research and development to demonstrate the incorporation of Bipolar Li-ion Cell Technology into Bipolar Lithium Ion Batteries. [ more ]

XsunX Developing New Nano-Crystalline Opaque Solar Cell

xsnx_logo.gifXSUNX Inc. (XSNX) announced that it has expanded its business opportunities to include the product development of a new opaque solar cell device. This unique four-terminal solar cell design uses a combination of thin film transparent cell technology, derived from the company's Power Glass initiative, with that of a nano-crystalline solar cell. XsunX believes that the combination of these two technologies into a single device holds a promising opportunity to deliver low cost, high efficiency, flexible, and light weight solar cells providing performance characteristics commonly found only in various forms of expensive crystalline wafer technologies.

The decision to diversify the company's product base to include opaque solar cell designs was fueled by what the company sees as explosive international growth in the demand for opaque solar cell products and applications. In countries such as China, Japan, Germany, and in the U.S., there is a growing trend supporting the increased use of green building designs promoting the use of integrated solar technologies within building materials. XsunX anticipates that the development of a stable, high-efficiency, thin film solar cell could provide building material manufacturers with a preferred alternative to the use of lower efficiency multi-junction thin films and the more costly multi-crystalline solutions. [ more ]

NanoLogix and Welch Foods Inc. Sign Agreement for Hydrogen Bioreactor

NanoLogix Inc. (NNLX.PK) announced that it has signed an agreement to install a NanoLogix hydrogen generation system using Welch Food's waste organic matter. The NanoLogix methodology for hydrogen production is being developed for the limitless production of hydrogen from organic containing waste waters. The NanoLogix reactor will utilize multiple proprietary methodologies for synergistically creating a hydrogen bioreactor. The hydrogen production method will utilize organic waste from Welch Food's waste stream. [ more ]

NanoLogix is very much a penny stock and has been steadily declining over the last year. It now sits at a low of $0.15. They are primarily a genomics/biotechnology company and are in the process of transforming themselves into an hydrogen production company. The company first hit my radar when they started to use their biotechnology for bioremediation for toxic land cleanup. The press release above is the first news presented that details a commercialized effort to enter the hydrogen marketplace. Hopefully the press releases will keep flowing from the company to generate some interest in the stock.

October 17, 2005

Manhattan Scientifics Receives Micro Fuel Cell Patent in Japan

Manhattan Scientifics Inc (MHTX) announced that it has received its first micro fuel cell patent in Japan.

Marvin Maslow, CEO of Manhattan Scientifics, said, "Though our micro fuel cell is not yet commercially feasible, we continue our effort to complete the development. Our goal is to create future revenue as a result of ownership of key protective patents. [ more ]

Earlier this year micro fuel cells were everywhere. You saw articles in tech magazines, gadget websites, and slashdot. There has been very little news about it recently. It seems that all the big ticket energy producers have taken a front seat due to the recent hikes in oil and natural gas. The lack of attention has caused a sharp decrease in the stocks of both MHTX and also MKTY over the last couple of months. The hype an promotion about the future of this technology has left the stock market and these companies are now valued where they should be. I don't expect any movement from both of these companies until the product starts to hit the consumers. That is when we will see a double (or triple) in the stock price. Both of these companies are on my watchlist and I want to enter them at these lows. Estimates are they will not produce the first shippable products till next year. So I will continue to watch for now.

Growth of Solar

Here are some additional notes I took from the Solar Energy conference. I was meaning to post this one earlier, but life and time got away from me. This session dealt with the Growth of Solar. It was not one of the more interesting sessions, but some of the people on the roundtable were very interesting.

The first person to speak was Edwin Hill, President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

His major focus for the reason why he and the IBEW was attending the conference is to state that they want to be a partner in the Solar industry. There were a few rolled eyes in the audience and I don't have a full understanding of the complete back story. I understand that most Union and Business relations tend to be strained. There was also a mention that the IBEW may have been one of the major factors in killing the "Million Solar Roofs" initiative in California. So with all that background he had to make a compelling case as to why he was there and why the IBEW should be part of the solar industry.

Here were some highlighted notes from his presentation:

The union shares the commitment for renewable energy and they wants to be part of the solution. They have already formed an excellent partnership with the Sharp Solar manufacturing facility in Tennessee and are proud to be part of their success story. They are prepared to forge this type of relationship with the other manufactures.

The IBEW can also provide their expertise with all the various coding standards for the various jurisdictions. They have already made a substatial commitment to alternative energy technologies and have taken the steps to encourage the IBEW members to gain additional training and certification in solar technologies. The new International headquarters has also installed solar panels on the roof of the building. Many of their local union offices have also taken the step to install solar and wind turbines to supply energy to those buildings as well. A key asset they can also bring to the solar industry is a long history of political action. They have a significant voice in the energy issues discussed in the public policy debate. They have already started to encourage the politicians to look at net metering and also increased rebates for alternative energy installations.

He understands that the IBEW was painted as the villain with regard to the fate of SB1 in California. The prevailing wage issues are often brought up as the cause to the demise of this bill. However, our stance on the prevailing wage rate was dropped. The major sticking point is the requirement for licensed electricians only are able to get the solar work. Now is the time to resolve the differences so they can work together in the future. They want growth and feel that they can be an ally to the industry. Work with us. Talk with us. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

There were a few laughs at that last statement by Mr. Hill. Since I'm not in the industry, I don't know the entire history of that relationship. But I get the distinct impression there is History.

The next speaker was Edward Mazaria, a founding partner with Mazria Odems Dzurec. He was there representing the architecture and building community.

His presentation dealt mainly with green house gases, global warming argument, and the reason why we need to seek carbon neutral solutions to provide our energy needs. He had a very extensive slide presentation and the notes and data are too numerous to mention here. I will be receiving the powerpoint slides sometime in November and I will see if I can reproduce that data here for those that are interested.

The most interesting aspect of his presentation is one that is not commonly presented when you discuss green house gas emissions. Many people look at the transportation industry as a way to combat green house emissions. However, his focus as being an architect is that the largest portion of green house gases generated is used to produce energy for all the millions of homes and buildings in the world. If energy efficiency was a mandated part of all new and reconstruction, we can make a serious dent in the power required for these buildings. In the next 30 years, over 50% of all the buildings in the United States will be turned over either to new construction or renovation. If there was a government standard that all of these buildings be made to fit a zero emissions standard of being carbon neutral by 2030, global warming will be history. He also feels that we should start to train the future students of construction and architecture now to meet this goal.

The next presenter was Kathleen McGinty, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Hands down, I felt she was the most engaged and motivating speaker of the entire conference. She was highly energetic and actually got me excited about the plans that PA has with regards to alternative energy. I only live about an hour south of the PA border and have visited that state frequently. I may just have to visit some more. Here are the notes from this session.

The reality has changed for Pennsylvania. It is not the first place you think of when you think of clean energy. It is always thought of as the dirty steel industry and coal state. PA was also the home of the first commercial oil well. I'm here to tell you that we are thinking differently and to tell everyone in the green energy business that Pennsylvania is open for business. In the last 2.5 years in office here is what has happened. PA is now second to California in the number of LEED certified green buildings. 2 of the 6 mining offices are now LEED gold certified and are powered by solar and wind. The recycling industry has also become a $23 billion business in PA.

PA also has the largest farmland preservation program in the US. They also host the largest deployment of wind farms East of the Mississippi. They also have a very large interest in the fuel cell industry and Hydrogen generation. PA was the dirtiest and their goal is to become the cleanest.

The first question everyone here may want to know, what are we doing with solar in PA? We have a wonderful success with Abera Solar. They are reclaiming abandoned brown fields for mixed zone use to make walkable communities. Half of the homes will we zero energy emissions and make extensive use of solar. They are also making solar a cornerstone in homeland security preparedness. They are taking a intensive look at the energy component of government continuance. This aspect is often overlooked in many disaster plans.

The big new thing for PA is an extensive alternative energy portfolio standard. They have create a market set aside specific for solar guarantees. Currently they have 1 megawatt of solar installed. With the new law they need to have 680 megawatts of solar installed in PA. It is now a law and they have a mission to fulfill this requirement. PA is almost 2 months away from net metering rules at the state level. There is also a great deal of money set aside to meet their green goals. PA is committed to green technologies and is putting their money to good use with tax free bond investments, a $1 billion setaside for clean energy, numerous grants and loan guarantee all totaling an additional $80 million. There is also a $100 million set aside created by the Governor that will be used for farmers that want to make clean energy investments for solar, wind, etc.

They are also willing to think out of the box. They are willing to take risks and are willing to be a partner in a real way. They will even be a co-signer to your loan. That is how committed they are. Last week they had a waste coal cleanup company that could not get funding without a customer. The state of PA stepped up and guaranteed the company a 10 year contract and they were able to receive their funding.

They have establish many great policies. These policies are needed not to meet a goal. It is a requirement and they are willing to work with you. The DEALS are OPEN in the Commonwealth of PA. Come and see us.

The next presenter was US Senator Lamar Alexander. He was instrumental in crafting and eventually passing the largest federal tax incentive with the 2005 Energy Bill.

There was a standing ovation when he came to the podium. He was also given an award by the Solar Energy Industry.

Here are my notes from his presentation:

Today is all about carbon free energy and conservation. There has been significant changes on the Senate floor. There have also been changes in attitude. They are realizing that carbon free is the future. Right now nuclear is the only source that can significantly replace carbon based fuel sources. However, there are many alternative sources that also need to be in the mix, solar included. We are just in the beginning phases of finally getting federal support. The initial bill had a 6 year lifetime and $7,500 in residential credits. We ended up with 2 years and $2,000. He is still very happy with the provisions that were passed.

He feels that we need to do three things at the Federal level to increase alternative energy.

We need to leverage the tax break we did get this year. Don't complain, use it.
We need to embrace new transformational solar technologies.
We need to extend the tax credits to 6 years as originally proposed.

At the end of his presentation he left a bit of advice. I suggest that everyone in the solar energy should follow the following hiring practices. For every 2-3 engineers that you employ, please hire at least one designer. The biggest growth potential for the solar industry is to improve the asthetics rather than the engineering. That is how you are going to obtain market penetration. There is a very big market out there and to win you need more than an environmental benefit, you will win on attractiveness. The best looking design will be the winner.

This last point I agree with 100%.

Microturbine Article

My nine year old daughter still receives Highlights magazine in the mail on a monthly basis. If you have a child and have ever spent any amount of time in a pediatricians office, you have probably logged a fair amount of time flipping through this magazine while waiting to see the doctor.

This weekend I was at home flipping through the November issue of Highlights and was very surprised to find an article about Microturbines.

The introduction gives the basics of how a turbine works. Then the single page article give a very good description of how you can take jet engine technology and shrink it down to provide electricity.

Engineers had to solve several problems to squeeze a jet engine down to the size of a microturbine... Today, a microturbine can fit inside a cabinet the size of a big refrigerator. It makes enough electricity for 10 to 15 homes and helps heat them as well.


The amazing idea for me is that it wasn't an article about solar power, or even fuel cells. I understand they may have already covered those topics in past months, I was very surprised and happy to see an introduction to a small niche player in the alternative energy sector. It is also a good indication about this represents the wave of the future. This children's magazine is doing a good job about introducing new ideas and concepts to our children. We are starting to present the wonders of science and alternative energy to the next generation at a young age and I feel this is a great idea.

I'm sure Capstone Turbine Corp (CPTC) is pleased and maybe Keith can let me know if they had a hand in helping to write the article (hint?)

October 12, 2005

Starwood Hotels Expands Reliance on Fuel Cells

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has expanded it use of fcel_logo.gifFuelcell Energy Inc (FCEL) Direct FuelCell power plants with an installation at the Westin San Francisco Airport Hotel.

"Our use of fuel cells at Sheraton hotels has successfully reduced our energy costs while offering us quality power with strong environmental benefits, and we are eager to begin applying this formula to our Westin and other brand hotels," said John Lembo, Director of Energy for Starwood. "With DFC installations at hotels on both coasts of the U.S., we are fulfilling our pledge to be the best business neighbors with a commitment to helping our environment while providing the highest quality of service to our guests." [ more ]

There is a great deal of interest in large corporations looking for efficient and reliable onsite power generation. The use of clean technologies is also helpful in securing additional financial and regulatory support. FCEL has been doing a good job of going after this type of repeat business with existing customers. The various contracts with Starwood is a great example of this business practice.

ADM Enters the Biodiesel Market

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM) has announced plans to build a 50 million gallon Biodiesel production facility in North Dakota. This will be ADM's first wholly-owned venture into biodiesel in the US. Currently the US consumes about 30 million gallons of Biodiesel a year. This is a significant investment by ADM in the US marketplace.

"ADM is a world leader in renewable fuels," stated Mike Livergood, ADM Vice President-Global Oleo Chemicals. "Leveraging the success of ADM's experience in the biodiesel market in Europe and ADM's success in the ethanol market in the U.S., we are pleased to bring biodiesel, a cleaner burning and renewable fuel, to the U.S. market through this facility." [ more ]

This press release quickly follows an release announcing the plans to build a third Biodiesel production facility in Germany. ADM is the largest biodiesel producer in Germany and one of the leading producers in Europe.

October 11, 2005

Investing in Solar

The one session I was most interested in attending at the Solar Energy confernce dealt with Investing in Solar. This session was primarily focused on venture capital.

The panel was moderated by Ron Pernick from Clean Edge

The panelists were:

Bill Gross - Energy Innovations and IdeaLab. His company is making small CSP units that can be used for roof top installations.

Dave Pearce - Miasole. This company is reasearching and producing a CIGS based thin-film PV.

Howard Berke - Konara. This company is producing an organic based polymer solution for thin-film PV

Ravi Viswanathan - New Eneterprise Associates. A venture capital firm.

Erik Straser - Mohr Davidow Ventures. A venture capital firm.

The main question presented to the panelists was what makes the investing climate different now compared to previous years?

Bill Gross: The investing climate has never been better. There are many companies now having early successes. The next big thing for this industry is for these solar companies to show real solar profits. Many of the companies are not there yet, but we should see it soon. There have also been many successful IPO's in the market recently. Profitable solar companies promote the success for everyone in the industry. Once they are able to move away from subsidies and are able to form more partnerships, this industry will grow. It is very similar to the successful model of silicon valley. When the industry is able to form an eco-system where everyone can grow, everyone will prosper. He doesn't feel that they all need to be in the same geographic area, the companies just need to be able to work and grow together. Another reason for the growth in VC capital is that the government is just not investing enough. Private industry understands this and needs to step in to take the industry to the next level.

Howard Berke: They have investors and partners world wide. They have funded their development primarily from VC capital and they have plans to take their polymer based thin-film system up to the production of gigawatts. They have focused on the technology and have found partners to build the plants and manufacturing. They are looking at their next round of financing next year for $20 million. The biggest change in the last 5 years has been more stimuli and incentives by other countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, and Greece. Another factor is that the demand and cost of fossil fuels is increasing the interest in alternatives. They are also finding that the Dotcom Bomb has left the VC's with no where to invest their money. They are looking for new alternatives and many of them are moving into financing this sector. The generalist VC firms have started to enter the cleantech industries in big way. They helped build the entire semiconductor industry and are now helping to build this one. His company is targeting a goal of printed organic polymers down to the cost of 50 cents per watt in 10 years. They are also developing photo active dyes in every color of the rainbow that can be utilized in many installations.

The VC's also see a way to get paid on their investments. The recent successful IPO's in this industry show away to collect the profits in the investment. There are also some major CEO's of Fortune 100 and 500 companies looking at this sector and the companies that can be acquired so they can enter this space.

David Pearce: Miasole was founded on building a solar cell built using the same technology that is used to build computer hard drives. They use a sputtering process to coat their material on stainless steel foil. He feels that CIGS thin-film solar is the next focus for their company. The innovations like this provide the potential to be on par with cost to existing electrical generation. In 2003 it was very challenging to find funding. Much of the funding was out of his own pocket. In 2005 it is now a different story. The VC's now see a path to liquidity. He also sees that the path to future growth in this industry is making the solar equipment part of the building infrastructure. He showed a sample of his material as part of roofing membrane material. The closer you integrate the material to the structure, you lower the cost.

Ravi Viswanathan: New Enterprise Associates is a broadbased investment house. They have a history of being a generatlist in the technolody, information technology, and life sciences sector. One thing that attracts many VC's to this space is that the technology is very similar to the semiconductor industry. There are also similarities with the life sciences. The contacts and knowledge they had built in the 90's during the dot com area are very applicable now in the same space.

Erik Strauser: They typically make about 25 investments a year. Clean tech is his focus for the firm. They find many of their companies at the major research universities or from repeat entrepreneurs. There is typically over 20% turnover in the Fortune 500 every decade. He believes that we will see a renewable energy company in the Fortune 500 in the next 10 years. Large companies don't invest in R&D anymore. They use this early stage companies to fuel their R&D development. It is often more cost effective to buy into a technology, rather than try to develop it themselves. He also stated multiple times that they have companies in the portfolio that are doing some very interesting technology that has not hit the markets yet.

Overall they all agreed that demand for their products are not an issue. Capacity is the biggest issue. Everyone is scrambling to meet demand. They feel that thin-film will become cost competitive with existing technology within the next 5 years. This is why the VC's are investing now for big gains in the future.

What's Needed for US Solar Energy Market Growth?

Here is a continuation of my notes from the Solar Energy Conference.

The next session was a roundtable of various participants from the solar industry. The topic of this roundtable was what is needed to grow the US market for solar energy.

The following people were on the roundtable:
Christopher O'Brien, VP of Sharp Solar (Manufacturer)
Tom Dyer, VP of Kyocera Solar (Manufacturer)
Barry Cinnamon, President of Akeena Solar (Installer)
Jeffery Wolfe, CEO of Global Resource Options (Wholesale Distributer)
Joseph Henri, Director of Pacific Gas and Electric (Utility)
John Ralston, VP of Premier Homes (Homebuilder)
William Garnett, Sr. VP of National City Energy Capital (Banker)

The moderator of the roundtable was Dr. Jan Hamrin from the Center of Resource Solutions.

This session was primarily a ralling cry to get development going into the solar industry. The global market for solar has been doubling every 30 months and the US is currently third in utilization of solar. Beyond increased governmental incentives, what does the solar industry need to do to grow this market in the US?

First question: Where do you think your market segment and your company is going to be 10 years from now?

Chris from Sharp Solar: 10 years ago the world market for solar power was only 74 megawatts of output per year. Today the industry is producing 1,000 of megawatts per year. He envisions that 10 years from now we should see 20 gigawatts of power. However this would require enormous capital and growth. Sharp is committed to the PV business and they are currently leading the manufacturing of silicon based PV panels. The company is also committed to moving toward a 100% zero emissions policy for its manufacturing facilities. The solar business is a key to making this goal a reality.

Barry from Akeena: The customer perspective on installing solar equipment is the installed equipment cost. The tax incentives help to generate interest, but the cost of installation is still a barrier. The cost has been creeping down over the years, but the current backlog and solar panel shortages have caused the equipment to increase in price recently. There is a common misconception from customers that solar is not cost effective for residential applications. However, most manufactures are now offering 25-30 year guarantees on the equipment, and the large upfront costs can easily pay for themselves when you consider the useful lifetime of the equipment. The way they confront this argument is the rent vs. own argument. Would you rather buy 30 years worth of cheap energy up front, or do you want to rent your energy from the utility company for the next 30 years.

Joseph for PG&E: The public policy of the state of California has been very positive for solar energy. The California Public Utility Commission (PUC) has been working on its vision of how California will meet its future energy needs. Solar is a part of that vision.

Tom from Kyocera: In 10 years he feels that we will see ten times the current output when measured by megawatts. The key to future development for the PV industry is improvements in the aesthetics. But he warned that in 10 years, the solar power generated will still only be 1% of the countries total power generation. Without major reforms and incentives, we will not see huge growth in the industry.

William from National City Capital: The bankers and financial industry are typically the last guys to get onboard with new technology. Their company has been trying to turn that around and they value the clean power that solar (and other forms of alternative energy) can bring to their financial portfolio. The finaicial community is starting to understand that green products can both benefit the market and the bank. Another key aspect to writing these types of loans for large solar installation projects are the guarnatees. They have started to do large solar transactions to fund major projects for commerical property. In 10 years he sees renewables are going to be a much larger part of the loan portfolio. Solar currently sits at 2% and he see's growth into the teens in the next 10 years.

Next Question: There is currently a demand for solar now that we can't meet. There is a shortage of panels and a shortage of installers. What would happen to the industry if the demand for PV really increased and was competitive with retail rates for typical power generation? What do we need to do to the infrastrucure to meet this demand?

Kyocera: It is not practical to double production every year. There is a finite rate at which the industry can grow. They are already growing at maximum capacity. The only way to get more growth is to commit more capital. We will not see capital committed until there is a firm commitment and public policy to back up the demand. We need assurance from the policy makers and public to ensure that the current demand and growth for PV is not a short term phenomenon. If there is a long term commitment, then the money will come.

PG&E: The utilities are often viewed that they want alternative energy to stop or slow down. They don't. PG&E has been working for sometime to create plans for the future and how to handle renewables. They have built interconnection service teams to help streamline the customer interactions to enable grid tie-backs. They are also actively purchasing renewables as mandated by many states. They feel that they can be the customer advocates and help the entire industry.

Sharp: They are in a capital intensive business and it requires good business planning. He also expressed an interest in greater transparcny in the long term public policy decisions with regard to solar. He feels that California does a good job of this and he wishes that other states and the Feds would provide longer term views of the future plans.

Akeena: The market needs to drive this growth. The supply chain is very complicated and its not realistic to expect greater than 30% growth in equipment. The incentives really do help drive market share and is a key to future growth. Both Germany and Japan have had incentives for over 10 years and that is one reason why they are number 1 and 2 in solar usage.

Next Question: Why has there been a great increase in non-residential PV installation?

National Capital: In California the vast majority of the installations have been in the education and agricultural industry. Due to the public policy, it has been very easy to get funding approved for education.The economics of the new Energy Bill also work better for commercial ventures since the incentive has increased to 30% from 10%. He does fear that this current boom may be short lived since the incentives expire at the end of 2007. Many of these large projects take a great deal of time to get approved, funded, and built. The nature of the incentives are that the install needs to be completed by the end of '07 so as we move along we may see a decrease in commercial installations.

The following questions were from the audience to specific panel members.

How do we move beyond the Southwest? How do we take this National?

Sharp: The passage of Federal tax credits will be a major reason to see growth nationally.

Next Question: Some have said there needs to be a uniform metering system that incorporates peak time of day and year allowances. These reforms would require a reform in the tarrif structures for residential systems. How would you make these types of changes?.

PG&E: "Net metering is a fascinating subject" (plenty of laughs from the crowd) The biggest problem he sees is in the public perception and public policy. Everyone wants stable prices. Changes to the tariffs and net metering would cause spikes and big changes to the customers. From a broad consumer standpoint, people don't understand net metering.

What is being done to deal with the silicon shortage?

Sharp: In reality this is a business planning question. Many of the silicon companies were burned by the internet boom and had excess capticty. The solar industry now seems to be growing faster than the semiconductor industry so the investment is happening now. However, it typically takes 2-3 years to build new plants. We are still a year or so away till we see the end of the current shortage.

October 10, 2005

Beacon Power Announces Award of Phase II SBIR Contract for Advanced Flywheel Energy Storage System

Beacon Power Corp (BCON) announced that it has been awarded a contract through the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and co-funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense. The contract, valued at $750,000, is for the preliminary design of a space-based flywheel energy storage system for satellite applications, and is a Phase II award under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Technology. Beacon announced completion of an associated Phase I project earlier this year. [ more ]

This was welcome news for this company and its stock. BCON closed the day with a greater than 15% gain today on the news. This gain was also against the general trend of the market today. In general most of the stocks in this sector have had a tough past couple of days in the stock market.

I have become extremely cautious about adding any new money to the portfolios. I have received short term sell signals for the general trend of the market on many technical indicators I follow. I have also received confirmation from several advisors that I trust with the regard to the trend of the general market.

I only say this as a note of caution about adding new money to the market now. I'm currently at 50% cash in the mutual fund and plan to stay that way in the interim. I'm not planning on selling any of my current holdings but will be ready with cash when I feel the time is right to jump back in. If you have large gains in any of these stocks, you may want to take some money off the table at this point.

An Introduction to Solar

Last week on Thursday and Friday I attended the Solar Power 2005 conference. My primary goals were to try and talk with some of the public companies that I follow in this sector and also to try and gain a better understanding about the industry. I understand the fundamentals of solar technology, but I was looking to get a better understanding of the industry itself and not just the technology.

This conference (like many other industry specific conferences) was geared towards people that are already in the industry. So being at an industry conference like this and talking and listening to people that live in this industry is a great way to gauge the health of that industry. Overall, everyone that I met with and overheard was upbeat about their business. Everyone seemed to have more work than they could handle. I overheard that there were several new faces and companies at the event. It was also reported that the attendance of over 1,300 was larger than normal. These are all healthy signs of a growing industry.

The first session of the conference was ideally suited for me since the focus was an "Introduction to Solar."

There were about 200 people in attendance for this first session. Here are my notes from this introduction session. You may find some interesting tidbits in here, I certainly did.

solarpanel.jpgThe use of solar power has be used for almost 200 years. In the 17th and 18th centuries people used to coat water storage tanks with solar absorbers so they can heat the water for showers.

The last time solar energy was in prominence was during the 70's during the last oil shock. At that time there were many tax incentives to install thermal solar panels used to heat water. The speaker at the conference stated that "These tax credits were one of the worst designed since people were actually able to make money on the credit by installing cheap and poor performing systems." This gave the entire solar industry a bad name during this time frame and it has taken over 20 years to overcome this tax dodge reputation.

Today we have solid companies and new technologies that are not just solar thermal based. With the 2005 Energy Bill that was just passed, we also see the return of solar tax credits and incentives. But these incentives are tempered with limits.

Today we have three predominant uses of solar power.

  1. Thermal solar: which is still in use today but new technology have vastly improved the performance.
  2. Photovoltaic Systems (PV): which is where people now equate what solar energy is all about. These PV systems can be either crystalline silicon based, photo sensitive polymer based, or organic based photo receptors.
  3. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): systems are based on a series of mirrors or reflectors that focus the sunlight into a central photo receptor. These systems tend to be very large and produce hundreds of megawatts of power. The Stirling systems are an example of this technology.

Now when someone typically mentions solar power, most people now think about PV systems and the silicon based technology. PV is easy to understand for most people since they have been exposed to this technology for many years. You may have a solar powered calculator sitting on your desk now and these have been around for over 30 years.

sharp_roof_close.jpgBack in the '70's the government was researching energy independence and a great deal of research capital went into PV technology at this time. There was also a great deal of research into PV as power requirements for in-orbit space flight required cheap electrical generation. Over the last 25 years the the costs have decreased and the technology has improved. The biggest advance in the reduction of cost were primarily based on advanced manufacturing techniques. Many of the solar cells used to be hand tied onto the platform. Now with automated manufacturing solar panels can be constructed in minutes compared to what used to take 6 hours. There has been a consistent 5-7% decrease in cost per year.

However, the raw materials are now becoming an issue. 95% of all PV solar panels utilize silicon to make the photo receptive cells. Silicon is now facing a sever shortage. The silicon usage has grown over 10 times from 1996 to 2004. The biggest contributer to this increase is caused by the semi-conductor industry. The internet dot com bubble of the 90's had many of the silicon manufactures ramping up to meet the supply. When the dot com bubble burst, the silicon suppliers were left holding their excess inventory and they stopped investing in new manufacturing plants. The solar manufactures were able to use this inventory at dramatic savings as they started to ramp up. That inventory is now dried up and the solar panel manufactures are now using over 1/3 of all the world supply of silicon. New silicon manufacturing facilities are under construction now but are at least 1-2 years out from coming online. So this demand imbalance may actually cause the cost of PV solar panels to increase over the next couple of years.

Many of the new and exciting PV technologies don't use silicon in their construction. They can use synthetic polymers or organic materials that can be printed onto the thin films. This process is very similar to the photo film technology. There is also research in nanotechnology to provide alternative methods to coat photo sensitive surfaces. These new non-silicon based technology is where most of the interest and R&D is currently being focused.

solar_stirling.jpgThe third type of solar power is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). The typical PV systems are considered distributed technologies. The energy generated will be at or very near the point of use. The CSP technology uses the typical utility company model where the power is generated at a centralized facility and is then transported to the location of usage. The typical CSP system will house acres of mirrors that focus the sun power to a photo receptor. There are also systems that utilize troughs that super heat fluids for the generation of power. These systems are typically used for multiple hundred megawatt applications. This technology was heavily developed in the '80's but went underground due to lack of funding. With the passage of the recent Energy Bill the interest in this type of technology has seen much greater action. Privately held Stirling Energy has recently signed contracts with SCE and SDG&E to provide electricity from its CSP based fields.

Many people feel that you have to live in the Southwest in order to utilize solar energy. The reality is that the entire US is ideally suited for solar. When you look at solar usage, the US is currently third behind Germany and Japan. Both of these countries currently have the solar footprint of Northern Michigan, but they are both able to make solar power work for them.

This is the first of many postings about the conference. I will try to have everything posted over the next day or so, so please stay tuned.

October 06, 2005

Solar Power 2005 Conference

For the next two days I will be at the Solar Power 2005 conference in Washington DC. I'm currently deep in the bowls of the Hyatt and I'm finding that wireless internet (and also cell phone) coverage is spotty at best. I just finished the first session and will be posting conference notes later when I have a strong internet connection.

It looks like there is about 300 people in attendance and the first session on Introduction to Solar was informative. If you happen to be reading this and you are attending the session, say Hello, It would be nice to meet some readers face-to-face.

October 04, 2005

Shares in Scottish Power and Endesa Purchased

Scottish Power plc (SPI) is an electrical generation and distribution company primarily focused in the UK. They have two subsidiaries that are based in the US, PacificCorp and PPM Energy. They are currently in the process of trying to sell PacificCorp to Berkshire Hathaway.

PPM Energy is a company with extensive wind energy development and generation. Scottish Power also has extensive wind farms in Scotland and Europe. They are also developing off-shore wind power of the Welsh coast.

This stock has been moving strong recently and it looks like it is building a base at the $40 level. I purchased a 1/3 stake of this stock for the mutual fund at a price of $27.00. I will purchase additional thirds on any pull backs to lower my cost basis. This stock also pays a 4% dividend.

ENDESA (ELE) generates and distributes energy in Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal, and Latin America. They have extensive wind farms in Spain. They are currently trying to fight a hostile bid by one of its competitors Gas Energy. The stock currently pays a 3.5% dividend. Endesa has forumulated a plan to increase the dividend payouts to 7 Billion Euros over the next 5 years to combat the hostile bid. They will accomplish this by disposing of non-strategic assets to generate the future dividend payouts. Full details about their plans can be found on the Endesa website [ pdf ].

The stock has been moving strong over the last month and I have been waiting for a pull back to enter the stock. That pull back has never materialized and I wanted to step into this position before it gets away from me. I'm purchasing a 1/3 stake in the mutual fund at $40.91. I will purchase remaining thirds on any pullbacks from here.

With these purchases I'm now at a 50% invested position in the mutual fund. My plans are to still try to maintain a conservative stock entry strategy as I get closer to 100% invested in the mutual fund. I'm already at an 80% invested amount in my personal portfolio. I will be selling some of my stake in PBW to gain cash as I find new names I want to own in my personal portfolio.

October 03, 2005

DynaMotive added to Watchlist

Clean Break has found another company to add to the watchlist.

DynaMotive Energy Systems Corp. (DYMTF), uses a patended "pyrolysis" process to convert forest and agricultural waste -- everything from sawdust to tree bark -- into a clean-burning renewable fuel it calls BioOil. This fuel can be used for power generation in gas turbines, diesel engines and boilers. Tyler has a nice writeup about the company at his CleanBreak website.

DynaMotive joins Intrepid Technology and Resources, Inc. (IESV) and Green Energy Resources (GRGR) in the biomass space on my watchlist.

They are also trying to compete in the synthetic fuel space as well.

Successful Conversion of DynaMotive's BioOil to Synthetic Gas Demonstrates Potential for Production of Synthetic Diesel and Other Advanced Fuels
announced today the successful conversion of BioOil to Syngas following full-day gasification testing at the research institute Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe (FZK), Germany on September 16th. The objective of testing DynaMotive's BioOil was to establish if it could be gasified and converted to Syngas with characteristics within the predicted range.

The test results showed that DynaMotive Energy Systems Corporation's BioOil is suitable for Syngas production through demonstrating that a consistently good quality, industrial grade Syngas composition with low methane was achievable. With these very encouraging results, further testing and optimization of Syngas composition will be planned. [ more ]

In other synthetic gas news, Syntroleum Corp (SYNM) is under pressure today due to the closing of a well off the coast of Nigeria. Syntroleum said in late August that it felt the Aje-3 well "could be an ideal location for Syntroleum's unique marine-based GTL technology." [ more ]

SYNM is currently trading down over 30% today.

Navy Extends Fuel Cell Project with Hoku and IDA Corp


The US Navy officially exercised its two options in the PEM fuel cell demonstration contract with Hoku Scientific, Inc. (HOKU). The total amount of the options is $2.5 million in addition to the $2.1 million already under contract.

"Since the initial contract was awarded in March 2005, Hoku Scientific has met the development milestones for its membrane electrode assemblies on-time and as-expected," said Charles Combs, director of renewable energy programs for the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Warfare Center -- Weapons Division at China Lake, California, who is the program manager for the U.S. Navy's contract with Hoku Scientific. "We are eager to move forward with the demonstration of Hoku Scientific's MEA products in fuel cell systems stationed throughout the Pearl Harbor Naval Station." [ more ]

idacorp_logo.gifHoku is currently using IdaTech (IDA) as a sub-contractor on this project.

Shares of Hoku are up sharply today with a greater than 16% gain on the news. IDA is up slightly.

XsunX Produces Large Area Transparent Solar Cell on Thin-Film Plastic

xsnx_logo.gifXSUNX Inc. (XSNX) announced that continued product development success has produced large area integrated solar cell modules on transparent polyester films. This represents a milestone for the Company in efforts under its Phase III development program to perfect a scalable manufacturing method for large area solar cells on inexpensive Polyethylenenapthalate, or PEN based thin film plastics. [ more ]

XsunX is an interesting company that was brought to my attention from one of my readers. They are developing transparent films that can be used on normal windows. These films can be used as solar cells to produce energy.

First generation Power Glassâ„¢
Second generation Power Glassâ„¢

From the XsunX website:

Power Glassâ„¢ represents a new breed of solar cell design that balances solar cell efficiencies and manufacturing costs with broad applications and uses. The Company believes that these design, manufacturing, and application efficiencies may provide as much as a 100% efficiency-to-cost gain over conventional opaque solar cells. This 100% gain in efficiency-to-cost is based on Company estimates of Power Glassâ„¢ solar cells operating at as much as 50%, or half, the efficiency of conventional opaque amorphous solar cells yet costing as little as 25%, or one fourth, to produce. Final cost to efficiency analysis will be determined upon completion of development.

This company currently trades on the OTCBB and would be considered a penny stock since they are still very much in R&D mode. They are currently not selling anything, but are looking for licensing partners for the technology. I was hoping that they were going to exhibit at the SolarPower 2005 conference, but they are currently not listed as an exhibitor. Maybe I can find a representative in one of the meetings this week so I can learn more about this company.

The stock is currently trading up over 15% on today's announcement.

« September 2005 | Main | November 2005 »

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