Monthly Archives: May 2011

PV Micro Inverters and Optimizers: Not Just for Lazy Designers

by Joseph McCabe, PE More and more solar electric installations are using AC micro inverters and DC to DC optimizer electrical balance of systems (BOS) components. This BOS gear goes directly on the back sides of PV modules providing higher valued electricity than output from the PV cells alone. Two years ago I considered micro inverters as only necessary for lazy designs or bad installation practices.  I’ve changed my attitude towards these approaches after organizing two years of forums as the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Solar Electric Division Chairperson. These forums brought together experts who compared...

Principal Solar’s “Unique Roll-Up Strategy”

Tom Konrad CFA Last week, the announcement that Principal Solar, Inc. was now available for public trading landed in my inbox.  It's currently trading under the symbol PSWWD.PK but will transition to PSWW.PK on June 23rd.  I went ahead and used the latter in our Solar Stocks list. The press release was remarkable only for the lack of hard facts about the company, focusing instead on the bright future of the solar industry. But experienced investors know that an industry can have a bright future while the individual stocks tank.  A rising tide need not lift all...

The Solar Bears are Wrong

Dana Blankenhorn There are a growing number of “solar bears” out there like Jim Chanos, a professional short-seller who is convinced China is poised for a 2008-style crash and who is also selling short stocks like First Solar (FSLR) and Vestas Wind (VWDRY.PK). (What does Chanos like? Would you believe Citibank?) (Picture from Wikipedia.) Personally, I don't know whether Chanos is right about those stocks or not. First Solar is a popular short because it's the best-performing U.S. solar play. Fly high and the assumption is you'll fall fast. But two big mistakes are being made here: ...

GE’s big bet on natural gas

Marc Gunther General Electric Co. (GE) is betting big on natural gas. The $150-billion a year company, whose power plants generate about one-fourth of the world’s electricity, today announced a new natural-gas power plant that it says is more efficient and flexible than any other in the market. By phone from Paris, where the announcement was made, Steve Bolze, president of GE Power & Water, told me:  “This is about transforming the industry over the next five or 10 years.” GE says it invested more than $500 million in the new plant development. It will be manufactured in...

Solar Eclipse

Debra Fiakas The chip makers dominate discussion of the solar energy sector.  Nonetheless, a passing comment in a recent blog post introduced me to an interesting company that seems to have been over looked in the solar story  -  Apollo Solar Energy, Inc. (ASOE:  OTC/BB). Apollo produces tellurium, a little known chemical element that looks deceptively like tin.  It is typically a by-product of copper and lead mining operations, but can be found hiding beside gold as well.  While these are very common metals, tellurium is quite rare on earth.  Outer space is another story. Although...

The New Golden Age of Railroads

John Petersen Did you know that both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have billion dollar investments in railroads? If so, did you ever wonder why? For Mr. Buffett, it's an indirect investment through Berkshire Hathaway, which bought the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad outright in February of last year. For Mr. Gates, it's a direct 10.04% stake in Canadian National Railway. The reason is simple. Railroads are the cheapest, cleanest and most energy efficient ground transportation networks in the world, which effectively guarantees them an increasingly important role as the world comes to grips with...

The Clean Fossil Fuel? Natural Gas Under Fire

By Christopher Mims According to some of the most complete calculations available, when we use natural gas to generate electricity in an average power plant, it results in 40 percent less warming than if we generate the same electricity with coal. If we fully utilized the natural gas-fired power plants that already exist in this country, we could significantly reduce the amount of coal we’re burning practically overnight. What’s more, primarily because of access to new natural gas reserves, proved reserves of natural gas recently shot up to 284 trillion cubic feet – more than we’ve...

The Best Peak Oil Investments: Maersk

Tom Konrad CFA Containerized shipping is the most efficient way to move goods, but few ships are nearly as efficient as they could be.  One company is steaming ahead of the pack. It seems obvious that more international trade increases greenhouse gas emissions.  After all, if we buy local products rather than products made halfway around the world, we will save all the carbon emissions required to ship them to us.  It also seems to make sense that rising fuel prices will lead to a decrease in international trade, as companies reduce fuel use by assembling things...

Japan Wants to be World Leader in Rare Earth Recycling

by Kidela Capital Group Necessity is the mother of invention and Japanese industry is discovering just how true that old saying is. Last year, a diplomatic spat between Japan and China led the world’s largest supplier of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) to suspend exports of Rare Earth oxides and other critical metals to its largest single client. Japan, like the rest of the world, is almost totally reliant on Chinese Rare Earth (RE) exports and the China’s action, which came as a shock to Japanese industry, is a sentient warning for the rest of the world....

A Profitable Smart Grid Penny Stock Aims for a NASDAQ Listing

Tom Konrad CFA A NASDAQ listing could bring a quick profit to investors who buy now, but beware the business risk. Ambient Corp. (ABTG.OB) offers an Internet Protocol (IP) smart grid communications platform to electric utilities.  So far, they have exactly one customer: Duke Energy (DUK).  Duke selected Ambient's X-series communication node solution, which flexibly gathers data from multiple smart meters and relays it to the utility.  For instance, in some cases Duke is using Ambient's nodes to gather data from both Echelon Corporation's (ELON) smart meters using data over powerline technology, and Badger Meter's (BMI) smart...

First Quarter Earnings Omens and Bright Spots in Energy Storage

John Petersen The first quarter earning season is usually boring because it follows 45 days after year-end earnings reports and significant changes are the exception, rather than the rule. This year, the energy storage sector has been a clear exception and every company I track, other than the amazing gravity defying Tesla Motors, is down from its March 31st close. The following table summarizes the performance of the stocks I track from June 30th of last year and March 31st of this year through yesterday's close. While some of the declines can be attributed to...

If Energy Were Free and Unlimited…

David Gold As soon as gas prices rise, our nation becomes focused on energy.  When they drop again, it falls off most consumers’ radar.  Yet the importance of energy goes way beyond the cost of filling up your gas tank or paying your electric bill.  In often-extraordinary ways, energy is interwoven into absolutely everything that we need to live or that we love to do.  One of the most useful tricks I learned in engineering school is that to put any problem in perspective, it helps to ask what if things were...

Why Advanced Lithium Ion Batteries Won’t Be Recycled

John Petersen One of the most pervasive and enduring myths in the energy storage sector is that a robust recycling infrastructure for used lithium-ion batteries will be built before the wonder-batteries that are being manufactured today for the first generation of plug-in vehicles reach the end of their useful lives. In the worst case scenario, advocates suggest used lithium-ion batteries will be stockpiled until there are enough used batteries to justify the build-out of recycling infrastructure. The numbers tell a very different story. For several years the single minded obsession of all lithium-ion battery developers...

Smale Scale Nukes

by Debra Fiakas CFA The on-going crisis at one of Japan’s key nuclear power plants following earthquake and tsunami damage has everyone, even proponents of nuclear energy on edge. Previous nuclear accidents, such as the disasters at Russia’s Chernobyl reactor and the U.S.’s Three Mile Island, were traced back to human error. Now it appears regulators and operators of Japan’s Fukushima plant may have had some awareness that the plant design could not withstand the onslaught of a major tsunami. Again better human performance may have averted the situation that now threatens a breach of a reactor core. Designers...

The Rare Earth Supply Chain: Ores, Concentrates, Compounds, Oxides and Metals

REE Refining 101 by Kidela Capital Group “There is a reason why the Rare Earths are called rare. They’re not called rare because they’re truly rare. They’re called rare because it’s very difficult to isolate these elements individually and it takes a lot of skill to do that.” Constantine Karayannopoulos, chief executive of Neo Material Technologies1 Rare Earth Elements have become an indispensable part of modern life, found in everyday items like computers, camera lenses and high efficiency light bulbs to complex, emerging technologies in the optics, medical and defence spheres....

Blue Mountain Disappoints; Nevada Geothermal Power Looks Like a Takeover Target

Tom Konrad CFA Which company might snatch battered Nevada Geothermal Power out of the scratch-and-dent bin for a song? When Raser Technologies (RZTIQ.OB) declared bankruptcy at the end of April, I shrugged it off.  I saw the writing on the wall for Raser in September 2009, when they failed to get a DOE loan guarantee.  But part of the letdown also had to do with resource risk: the company was producing consistently less power from their 10MW (rated) Thermo plant than expected. Early in 2011, Ram Power (RPG.TO, RAMPF.PK) stock was clobbered when they announced construction...