Editor’s note: We’re back — and a little late — with our monthly top ten ranking! Tune back November 8th for our October ranking.
1: California Energy Commission
September was a busy month at the California Energy Commission (CEC), which approved, according to G.E.R.’s own count, a record 2,351 megawatts of solar projects. With key stimulus programs folding in a few months, developers have been working overtime, pressing regulators to greenlight their projects. Aware of this looming deadline, the CEC (and shortly after that, federal regulators) approved a series of flagship projects including BrightSource Energy’s 392 megawatt Ivanpah solar thermal power plant and Tessera Solar�s 709 megawatt Imperial Valley solar facility. These solar power plants still have to get funded but the rapid regulatory turnaround boosts the probability that they actually get built.
2: Doctor Philip Gleckman, Google
When we learned that Google had hired Doctor Philip Gleckman, a veteran solar technologist, we paid attention! Gleckman joins Google from eSolar, one of the sector’s most admired companies. His hiring adds significant fire-power to Google’s stated goal of developing in-house solar power technology. However, the hiring also begs the question: Is Google becoming an energy company? No, not at all, their PR department keeps telling us. Maybe that’s the official line, but what’s also true is that Google’s RE <C (renewable energy less than coal) strategy, rolled out in 2007, is looking more and more like a business and looking less and less like “just another” Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) scheme.
3: Matt Rogers, senior adviser Department of Energy
In his nearly two years at the Department of Energy, Matt Rogers oversaw probably one of the agency’s most ambitious initiatives – the disbursement to-date of nearly $50 billion in stimulus money to support cleantech and renewable energy projects. This unprecedented program will have long-lasting impact on our country’s energy matrix. It’s also transformed the DOE from a slightly dusty administration, responsible for the oversight of the country’s nuclear arsenal into a key player in the Obama administration, spearheading one of its cornerstone policies. Rogers, however, leaves the DOE at a time of great uncertainty over the future of the funding he so effectively disbursed over the past two years.
4: Asif Ansari, Morgan Solar CEO
The clincher, Asif Ansari told G.E.R. last month in an exclusive interview, was Morgan Solar’s proven CPV technology. “I took a look at Morgan�s technology and I instantly understood that they had developed a game changer,� he told us. That technology and its possibilities convinced Ansari to leave sunny Southern California for Toronto to takeover as Morgan Solar’s first-ever formal CEO. Ansari, the founder and former CEO of eSolar, knows a thing or two about solar power technology. And if his legacy at eSolar is any indication, Ansari also knows how to raise money and lots of it, skills that he will need to use to transform Morgan Solar from a lab gem into a bankable business.
5: Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
The “energy legislator.” That could be one way to describe Senator Jeff Bingaman. Over the past two years, the New Mexico Democrat has drafted key legislation that could have lasting impact on the renewable energy industry. They include a bill supporting the creation of a government green bank as well as legislation that would provide billions of dollars for research and development of energy storage technology. But it’s his latest creation, a bill supporting a federal electricity standard or RES that caught our attention last month. The legislation was released just a few weeks before Congress recessed for the mid-term elections. One could easily conclude that that was poor timing, but that may not be the case. Whatever the outcome in November, RES, unlike Cap-and-trade, is enjoying some bi-partisan luster that could ensure it passes during the lame duck session after the elections.
6: Sharp Solar
Sharp Solar has the balance sheet. San Francisco independent developer Recurrent Energy the projects. That stark reality motivated Sharp’s $305 million acquisition of the ambitious, but cash-challenged Recurrent. At a time when securing project financing remains challenging, �Sharp�s support will help us to accelerate our growth,” recurrent CEO Arno Harris told us. What’s Sharp getting with the acquisition? A potentially lucrative 2 gigawatt project pipeline that, over the long term, will help it monetize its solar photovoltaic production.
Sidestepping growing skepticism over whether Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) even works, the Obama administration announced a $1 billion funding for the FutureGen CCS project in southern Illinois. The funding was announced just a few months before the mid-term elections and will likely poll well in the politically crucial and coal-dependent states. While attractive on paper, CCS remains largely unproven technology. The major issue is that thus far, no one knows exactly what happens over the long term when you bury large quantities of CO2 deep inside the earth�s crust, an issue that even a $1 billion is not sure to answer.
8: The World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization is emerging as the global arbitrator of the hot cleantech and renewable energy sector. Over the past month, a number of complaints have been filed with the Geneva organization. Japan filed a WTO complaint against Canada, arguing that Ontario�s very popular Green Energy Act, and in particular, its Domestic Content Requirement (DCR) unfairly favors local firms. A few days earlier, the U.S. United SteelWorkers (USW) union launched its own WTO challenge, this time against China�s green sector, claiming that the country�s wind and solar companies are being supported by unfair subsidies and cheap bank loans, which leaves U.S. companies unable to compete fairly. Let the green (trade) war begin!
Some ideas are so good, they seem like pranks. Take, for example, The Shweeb, a mode of public transportation which requires people in plastic tubes to pedal recumbent bicycles along tracks suspended 20 feet in the air. When Google.org, the tech company�s philanthropic arm, announced that it was giving just over $1 million to New Zealand-based Shweeb, the web collectively clasped its dainty hand over its tittering gob and posted pictures of the goofy wannabe monorail with the goofy name.
But it really works. Adventure tourists ride a demonstration model in Rotorua, New Zealand and Shweeb�s Peter Cossey told G.E.R. that the company expected to use the $1 million investment to build a pilot project on a site still to be determined. It�s not the solution to global warming, aging infrastructure or the obesity epidemic, but, in its novel approach to all three problems, The Shweeb is inspiring nonetheless.
10: Solar Millennium
Germany’s solar thermal developer Solar Millennium got a big boost last month, when California regulators approved its ambitious 1,000-megawatt Blythe, Calif project. The project is backed by a 20-year power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison. However, in these financially stressed times, even with its bankable PPA, Solar Millennium’s project might just be too big and too expensive. Indeed, a few weeks ago the German company said securing crucial government dollars it needs to develop its $3 billion solar power plant .