December Top 10 Players In Green Energy

by Terrence Murray - January 24, 2011

1: BrightSource Energy

A BrightSource CSP plant

Yes. We at Green Energy Reporter are unabashed BrightSource Energy fans. The news that the concentrated solar power (CSP) firm is eyeing a 2011 initial public offering only makes us love the company more because we want to see an unambiguous green energy success.

There have been rumors for months that BrightSource has been talking to Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs about going public. But BrightSource, which spent last year racking up funding commitments and regulatory approvals for projects, is still noncommittal about when it might announce a share sale. The company has already established itself as a breakout star in the solar sector. And if, as predicted, the markets become friendlier to green energy IPO’s in 2011, executives might find the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.

2: China’s Solar Edge

The U.S. green power sector continues to be a hot spot of cutting edge innovation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that more and more Chinese solar companies (and their basement prices) are reaping up the benefits of all that U.S. R&D. Last month, Suntech, one of China’s largest PV makers, said it expected its panel shipments to jump by 50 percent this year. At a time when feed-in tariffs in key European markets are melting away, can Suntech — and its Chinese competitors — sustain their skyrocketing growth beyond 2011? Possibly, growth and healthy demand in North America and Asia, which over the past year has become the world’s biggest green market, should help offset falling European demand, ensuring bright days ahead for China’s cheap PVs.

3: General Electric

When Thomas Edison is a co-founder of your company, innovation should be in your corporate DNA. It was cheering, then, to learn in December that GE Energy Financial Services, the company’s energy-financing unit, has doubled its stake in energy infrastructure projects since 2008. GE has an impressive $6 billion portfolio, including 95 wind farms, 40 solar installations and 12 landfill gas facilities.

The Energy Financial Services unit also put $30 million into Milpitas, Calif.-based Soladigm in December. Many of these investments won’t pay off for years if they ever do but its good to see GE embracing its role as an enabler of innovation. Edison would be proud.

4: Shenyang Power Group’s Fading (?) Texas Wind Project

A little more than a year ago Chinese turbine maker Shenyang Power Group partnered with a U.S. private equity fund called U.S. Renewable Energy Group to build and operate an ambitious 600 megawatt, $1.5 billion wind farm that, at the time, was billed as the U.S.’s first Chinese-owned wind farm. Then Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) stepped in. Schumer and some of his colleagues criticized the project for taping U.S. tax payer dollars to finance part of the farm but not creating U.S. jobs. Despite repeated promises by Shenyang that its Texas wind farm will create hundreds of well-payed U.S. jobs, the project, pummeled by bad PR, seems dead on arrival, and unable to secure the funding that will get it off the ground.

5: Tessera Solar Undone by Calico

Tessera's SunCatcher system

There’s the press release… and there’s reality. Over the past year, G.E.R. has reported on a string of ambitious developers touting their projects and their cutting edge, but largely unproven, technology. That’s probably one teachable moment of Tessera Solar’s crushing . Calico was to become a massive showcase of Tessera’s unique Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) sterling-based SunCatcher” technology. It won’t. Calico’s new owner has said it will instead use old-school and cheaper photovoltaic panels to generate some 750 megawatts of electricity.

6: The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation: Boosting Third-World Green

When it comes to the deployment of renewable power projects, much of the attention has focused on rich, well-industrialized countries like the U.S., Germany or Canada. What about developing nations? Well, thanks in part to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, the developing world (and we’re not including China) also gets to clean up its power generation portfolio. Today, the Washington-based bank is one of the few funders willing to invest in high-risk/high-reward emerging markets. The IFC tells G.E.R. that in 2011 it expects to invest $550 million – up 20 percent compared to last year – in renewable energy projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa

7: VantagePoint Venture Partners’s $1.5 billion Quest

There’s been a lot of talk about the growing impatience of venture capital funds for all things green. For a number of them, the sector is just too risky and too expensive. Not for VantagePoint Venture Partners…the San Bruno, Calif. green fund is raising a $1.5 billion fund to support late-stage green technology companies, in short, companies that generate revenues. VantagePoint’s portfolio companies include Better Place, the electric vehicle services provider; 1366 Technologies, a solar cell maker; and AlertMe, the smart grid software developer.

8: Pattern Energy, Creative Financing

The San Francisco developer scored a unique financing last month – albeit, one that was prevalent pre-crisis – when it sold its 101 megawatt Hatchet Ridge wind farm in California to New York insurance company MetLife. That’s just part of the deal. MetLife then turned around to lease it back to Pattern for a monthly fee. The transaction, formally called a lease-back transaction, is one creative way developers and banks have concocted to finance green power projects. The fact that lease-backs are making a comeback is one indication that, two years after the global financial implosion, funders are cautiously opening their purses again.

9: LS9 — Renewable Crude!

This ambitious San Francisco start up has been on G.E.R.’s radar screen for a while. We like the company’s ambitious goal: Produce diesel fuel from sugar enzymes. That’s cool! If LS9 has its way, one could envision a world void of dangerous, deep offshore drilling or expensive Middle East imports, a world in which crude could theoretically be produced in the heart of Silicon Valley. To get there, LS9 – like it did last month – will have to continue to raise large amounts of capital. Will funders stick with LS9 and its game-changing technology? We hope so!

10: Abengoa

Last month, the North American unit of Spanish developer Abengoa Solar secured a $1.45 billion loan from the Department of Energy to build a 250 megawatt Concentrated Solar Power plant in Gila Bend, Ariz. Total project costs stand at about $2 billion – that’s a whopping $8 million per megawatt. The sky high price tag underscores why government subsidies are so crucial to the green sector, now and for the foreseeable future.


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