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10/01/2010 12:00 PM     print story email story  

Weekly Investor Roundup News

There were a few big announcements this week.

Hitachi, Ltd. (NYSE: HIT) and Panasonic Corporation (NYSE: PC) announced their intention to cooperate on smart grid initiatives. The Japanese conglomerates said they will jointly develop interfaces and push for international standards surrounding their community energy management systems (CEMS) and home energy management systems (HEMS). Hitachi has experience on the community side, which primarily focuses on linking supply-side power generation facilities. And Panasonic, with its focus on consumer electronics has been delving into home energy management systems.

GE (NYSE: GE) announced a joint venture with Harbin Electric Machinery Co., Ltd. (HEC) to manufacture and supply wind turbines to customers in China. GE said the deal enhances its ability to compete in China’s $13 billion wind industry segment. China is already the world’s largest wind turbine market, and it is projected to grow an additional 500% as wind capacity increases from the 2009 level of 25 gigawatts (GW) to a projected level of 150 GW by 2020. The new company will manufacture GE-designed wind turbines for near-shore and offshore applications. Harbin Electric will own 51% of the company and GE will own 49%.

Swedish power company Vattenfall at the end of last week officially opened the world’s largest offshore wind farm off England’s south east coast. The Thanet Offshore Wind Farm has 100 turbines capable of producing up to 300 megawatts (MW) of elecrtricity. Construction of the wind farm took just over two years and covers an area of 35 square kilometers. Vattenfall aims to double its wind power production between 2009 and 2011. Earlier this year, the company along with partner Iberdrola Renewables (IBR.MC) won a bid to build the East Anglia Offshore Windfarm in UK waters. That project is planned for 7,200 MW and would ultimatlely dwarf the 300-MW Thanet Wind Farm.

Satcon Technology Corporation (NASDAQ CM: SATC) announced a manufacturing agreement with GCL Solar Systems Limited, one of China’s largest utility solar power plant developers. GCL Solar will manufacture between 300 MW and 500MW of Satcon's inverters for solar power systems. GCL Solar will sell the inverters in the Chinese solar market, and use them in their own projects. Production is expected to begin in March of 2011 and will bring the total manufacturing capacity for Satcon inverters to around 2 GW annually.

In other big Chinese solar news, LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK) secured a line of credit equivalent to about $8.9 billion dollars from the China Development Bank (CDB). LDK is the latest of several big domestic solar manufacturers to receive credit facilities from the state-owned bank. Earlier this year the bank offered roughly $7 billion to Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP); $4 billion to Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL); and $5 billion to Yingli Green Energy Holding Company Limited (NYSE:YGE). At a time when private financing is difficult to come by, these funding promises secure the futures of these companies and are reflected in their share prices. LDK's share have risen about 13% since the announcement.

Serious Materials, a company that has built a reputation for energy efficient windows and glass, announced that it is moving into the building management market. The company unveiled a software-as-a-service platform, called SeriousEnergy Manager, that provides property managers with continuous monitoring, analysis, optimization and control of energy usage in commercial buildings. According to the EPA, an average 30% of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted at energy costs of more than $100 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Serious said it already manages more than 60 buildings in the U.S. and India with the software, which it says can provide fast energy savings of 10% to 15%.

Biofuel company Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc. began trading on the Nasdaq Tuesday (NASDAQ: AMRS) at $16 dollars per share. That was lower than the target range of $18 to $20 previously announced by the biofuel company. However, the company raised $85 million on the sale of 5.3 million shares, and the share price has gradually risen to about $17 dollars since Wednesday. The California-based company modifies microogranisms--primarily yeast--to convert plant sugars into biofuels. They are particularly focused on the sugarcane ethanol industry in Brazil, where the company has a pilot plant and a demonstration facility.

PVT Solar, Inc. announced the closing of a $13.7 million series B financing round. The San Francisco-based company is developing hybrid solar panels that produce electricity from photovoltaic cells and hot water from waste heat. Well-known venture capital firm Khosla Ventures is among the company's investors. Honestly, I'm surprised this technology hasn't caught on sooner. I saw it for the first time in Switzerland last fall, when executives from the company Integral Drive Systems (IDS) just mentioned it in passing while describing their various technologies. There may be technological limits I'm not aware of, but this hybrid seems like a no-brainer to me. Since overheating is a concern for solar panels, it just makes sense to use a water-cooling system that captures the heat for other uses. I would think panels like these would be hugely successful for residential installations. Although state and federal incentives probably aren't structured to allow owners to double dip for both the solar hot water heating and solar electric. Needless to say, I'm keeping an eye on PVT Solar and IDS.


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