cleantech insights

India, Cleantech and Cricket: 1.1 Billion People Can’t Be Ignored

David Cheng

A few weeks ago, my Facebook exploded at 4AM.  My South Asian friends from around the world descended upon my activity feed to cyber cheer on India during the 2011 Cricket World Cup Final (I unfortunately do not have any Sri Lankan friends to balance out the pro-India crowd).  While I was ignorant about cricket, I knew from my friends’ enthusiasm that this wasn’t just a game but also a declaration of India’s pride on an international scale.  This is something I know a bit about having cheered on Team USA in South Africa at the FIFA World Cup last summer.  So I did a little digging while the match was going on (even the One Day matches are long) and I soon got caught up in the spectacle of India’s historic run to become the World Cup champions.  That experience got me thinking about India’s run in energy and cleantech.  So I did a little digging and here is what I found.


Cleantech Forum SF 2011: From Impact to Data to Impact

David Cheng

A week has passed since our flagship event, Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2011 (the theme: From Data to Impact).  This has been my fourth Cleantech Forum San Francisco.  I attended the prior three when I was an associate at a cleantech venture capital fund.  This one was special.  Not only because I was one of the organizers, but 2011 may be the year we (as investors, entrepreneurs, analysts and policy-makers) will begin to see the impact prior cleantech investments are making on our overall economy.  This foundational investment creates a virtuous cycle, enabling new applications to measure, monitor and control data in energy, water and resource end markets, which in turn will lead to new impacts.  I helped organize three panels (moderating two of them).  Here are my thoughts and takeaways on them:

Lessons from Cleantech China

The Panelists: Andrew Beebe, Mohsen Khalil, Andrew Tang, Jerry Bloom

The Takeaways: Andrew Beebe cautioned that China’s success in cleantech wasn’t a zero-sum game for the US or the rest of the world.  The other panelists agreed that Chinese competiveness lowered the cost of renewable generation for global consumers, and in the case of the IFC, yielded outsized returns …

Thermata: Solar Thermal for Industrial-Strength Steam

David Cheng

Idealab-incubated company Thermata is tackling an overlooked, but large, end market: the solar thermal implications on the industrial-scale gas-fired boiler market.  Thermata develops a modular (likely 1-2 thermal MW) rooftop CSP (concentrating solar power) system to augment an industrial facility’s existing gas-fired boiler by generating steam, not electricity.  The company leverages the collective experience of three former solar CEOs along with decades of collective engineering and product design experience (including Idealab) to develop the Thermata system; this isn’t their first rodeo.

The market for Industrial gas-fired boilers and their underlying natural gas use is large.  According to the company, there are 160,000 industrial boilers in the US and approximately $26 billion in fuel is used annually to fire these boilers to enable industrial tasks such as paper drying.  Overall, the company believes 17% of all industrial energy use comes from these boilers.  As with most solar thermal systems, Thermata works best in the sunny hot regions, such as the American southwest.  Incidentally, this region also tends to have high natgas prices, fluctuating between $5-$14, with a median in the $8 range.   The company believes its Thermata system can offset fuel costs (20-40% of total natgas use) with …

Overcoming the barriers to renewable energy

Kate McArdle

Coming off the heels of Cleantech Forum New York, where I got the chance to interact with a lot of exciting cleantech startups, I’m always looking for more ways to help entrepreneurs get the resources they need to enter the cleantech market. Building a successful company takes more than just developing a novel technology or service, and getting all the pieces in place can present a lot of challenges. From getting startups into our Innovation Pipeline to partnering with organizations like the Cleantech Open, Cleantech Group is committed to accelerating cleantech innovation from startup to sustainable business. That’s why I’m excited to announce an upcoming webinar, hosted by our partner Autodesk, that will focus on overcoming the barriers to renewable energy.

Renewable energy technology providers face a high barrier to entry into established energy industries. As a result, many start-ups and corporate R&D efforts get caught between the desire to innovate and the need to generate a healthy ROI. Autodesk’s Seth Hindman will discuss these issues and explain how Autodesk can help you address them, during Autodesk’s first free Clean Tech Webinar, focusing on Renwable Energy.

Renewable Energy: Overcoming the Barriers
Presented by Seth A. Hindman, Autodesk Manufacturing Industry …

How green was my trip to the Dry Creek Valley

Whitney Michael

Up in wine country last week, I got a chance to taste some delicious wine and see first hand how some innovative wineries are implementing clean technologies.

Ridge Vineyards, aside from making amazing Zinfandel, have built an energy efficient, environmentally friendly tasting room at their Lytton Springs location.  The building itself is made from rice straw bales encased in a natural earthen plaster made from soil from the surrounding vineyards.  It was the largest straw structure in the US at the time it was built.  The straw is highly insulating and reuses rice straw that rice farmers used to burn until the practice was banned due to air quality concerns.  The tasting room was built with recycled lumber and features a smart heating and cooling system that monitors indoor and outdoor temperatures and opens and shuts louvers around the floors and ceiling to warm or cool the interior.  Additionally, they installed solar panels that currently supply 75% of the winery’s electricity needs.

Quivira Vineyard in Healdsburg has, since 2005, gotten 100% of it’s energy from a solar installation. Concerned too about the amount of water used in the wine making process, Quivira has “dramatically reduced [water usage] thanks to a …

Q3 solar earnings bring me joy!

David Hague

I anxiously awaited Q3 earnings reports in the wake of my last post.  After a long period of adolescence (1970s-2004) and explosive investment through the teen years (2005-2008), solar has reached maturity. With adulthood, comes a simple expectation: profitable deployment.

German based Q-Cells returned to profitability. JA Solar received a “buy” rating after reporting higher than expected revenues (but missed earning targets). China wafer manufacture, LDK Solar posted surging sales, moved into the black, and issued a strong outlook for 3Q2010.

Germany-check, China-check, turning our attention to a few US headlines:

Domestically we have one narrowing loss, one mixed bag, and one strong quarter. International readers, please forgive me: GO USA! In fact, all four US based companies in Photon International’s PPVX Index (First Solar, Sunpower, GT Solar, and STR Holdings) had positive earnings.…

Thin film’s second tough blow

David Hague

I grew up with a superstition: bad news comes in threes. Thin film solar took two hits in the past month. Solyndra’s withdrawal of its S-1 filing squashed hopes another “First-Solar-like-event” for Thin Film industry and investors. Yesterday Applied Materials had a “realization” their focus on cheaper, less efficient solar panels was misplaced.

Both companies built steam during “The Great Silicon Shortage of 2007.” In response, Applied launched the SunFab product line and many other notable Silicon Valley based thin film companies (Solyndra, Nanosolar, and MiaSolé) leveraged the promise of “cheaper than silicon solar” to rapture Sand Hill Road VC.  To give you perspective, the peak price of polysilicon in 2008 was over $400/kg; this week’s average price on spot market: $56.50/kg.

I always remind people, the thin film space is comprised of ONLY three primary technologies: cadmium telluride (CdTe or CadTel), copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS), and amorphous/micromorphous Silicon (aSi) and the best technology choice is the one that offers the most competitive Levelized Cost of Energy with considerations to location, local power markets, and balance of system costs.  First Solar’s technology uses CdTe, Solyndra uses CIGS (along with other Silicon Valley darling MiaSolé & Nanosolar), Applied Materials …

Dear SunPower: I am (almost) impressed

David Hague

Recently SunPower announced it broke the record for solar cell efficiency for a large area silicon wafers. NREL certified the SunPower cell at 24.2%.  I anxiously pulled up one of my favorite solargeek charts, NREL’s “Best Research-Cell Efficiencies” to plot SunPower’s accomplishment.

The key term in the title of this chart is “Research-Cell.” By definition a research cell is typically a “one off” and small (on the order of 1cm2). Researchers at University of South Wales still hold the record for single crystal silicon cells (aka monocrystalline) at 24.7%. SunPower’s announced “a full-scale solar cell” that is a certified record holder for “large area silicon wafers.”

SunPower, you overcame one challenge, making a large cell. This is impressive. I look forward to removing “almost” from my post when you announce a new product line manufactured at scale with a 24+% efficiency OR you announce a research 24.8+% research cell.

San Francisco firm targets SREC states in N. America

Lisa Sibley

San Francisco-based is laser focused on the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate market – hence its name.

The 2-year-old company has an online auction and educational platform that matches buyers and sellers of SRECs such as those in New Jersey, and says it offers differentiators from its competitors with its transparency and customer service. The company says it helps solar owners earn faster returns on their investments and makes investment in the technology more economical.

The company’s CEO Brad Bowery told the Cleantech Group that the parent company InClime was founded by a group of Stanford University graduates students in 2007. is currently seeking funding and would welcome the opportunity to talk to potential investors further. The company has already been bringing in revenue for the past 1.5 years.

Bowery said SRECs help to drive the growth of the solar industry, especially in N. America, and offer an incentive to help U.S. states meet their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) solar goals. is focused on the 3 MW to 10 MW range.

“Once the installations are put in, SRECs help to finance the system,” he said.

The company is working with states that have SREC markets, those eligible to …