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China’s Trony Solar Files for IPO

Ucilia Wang: October 30, 2009, 7:10 PM

Trony Solar is seeking to raise up to $200 million through an initial public offering in the United States.

The company wants to be listed under the symbol "TRO" on the New York Stock Exchange, according to the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday.

The company hasn't disclosed how many American depositary shares it plans to offer, or the pricing.

Trony's filing came about a week after another solar company, Specialized Technology Resources (STR) in Connecticut, said it intends to raise up to $212.2 million.

The U.S. market hasn't seen a solar IPO for more than a year.

Trony makes amorphous-silicon solar panels, and had the manufacturing capacity of 115 megawatts per year by the end of August this year, said its SEC filing. Its manufacturing cost was $1.15 per watt for the fiscal year ending June 30 this year. From June to September, the company lowered the cost to $1.09 per watt.

The company began production in 2006 and focused on the off-grid market. It's expanding to on-grid market as well. A recent on-grid project that used Trony's panels was a 1-megawatt array in South Korea.

The company generated RMB 451.5 million for the fiscal year ending June 30 this year, up from RMB 272.8 million in the 2008 fiscal year, and $26.2 million in the 2007 fiscal year.

Trony posted RMB 164.9 million in net income for the fiscal year ending June 30 this year. Net income was RMB 85.5 million for fiscal 2008, and RMB 5.2 million for fiscal 2007.

For the three month between June and September this year, Trony posted a net income of RMB 72.5 million on a revenue of RMB 254.6 million. Those represented an 81.1 percent jump in revenue and 61.5 percent growth in net income from the same period a year ago, the company said.

Ford’s EV Partners: Smith Is Out, Azure Is In

Jeff St. John: October 30, 2009, 6:55 PM

Ford Motor Co. has changed up its partners on developing its Transit Connect electric van, ending its work with Smith Electric Vehicles to switch to Azure Dynamics Corp., it announced Friday.

But that hasn't changed Ford's timeline for getting the electric van to market by 2010, to be followed by an electric Focus in 2011 and a plug-in hybrid of yet-undetermined model in 2012, the automaker said (see Ford Deploys Electric-Car-to-Grid Communication System).

Smith and Ford say they mutually agreed to end their partnership. Smith said the move would allow it to concentrate on making its electric Newton trucks, according to a statement from its U.K.-based parent company, The Tanfield Group.

Smith got a $10 million Department of Energy grant for its Newton trucks, as well as $4.5 million in orders through the US Clean Cities Program, and started producing vehicles at its Kansas City, Mo. plant this month.

Tanfield also announced that Smith would work with military and commercial vehicle maker AM General to develop all-electric post office delivery trucks.

Mich.-based Azure Dynamics, for its part, has turned to Johnson Controls-Saft for the lithium-ion battery cells and packs for the Transit Connect. Both Azure and Ford

Ford will continue to work with The Tanfield Group in Europe.


New Solar Hotspot: The Midwest

Michael Kanellos: October 30, 2009, 6:00 PM

Solar companies may start looking inward, and around the Mississippi, for new business.

That's the word from Rosalind Jackson, one of the people at the advocacy and policy group Vote Solar. At Solar Power International this week, Vote Solar spent a lot of time talking to various state officials and the interest in solar in the middle of the country.

Missouri voters passed a referendum for renewable power and the legislature is now assigned the task of coming up with companion legislation and regulations to make it happen. Illinois is expected to build out 750 megawatts of solar capacity. Kansas is studying net metering. Earlier this week, Ohio and Michigan issued reports predicting green tech job growth.

"Pennsylvania," she said with emphasis.

Ontario, just North of this region, is already a booming solar spot. Over time, one can likely expect to see these states adopt the tax credits and other incentives adopted elsewhere.

So if you want to expand the market share for your microinverters or thin film BIPV tiles, you might want to start introducing yourself to the electrical contractors and others in the Jefferson City area.

Who Really ‘Invented’ the Hybrid?

Eric Lane: October 30, 2009, 10:00 AM

The Griffith Hack law firm in Australia recently published a report that analyzes hybrid car patent filings and how those filings affect innovation and success in the hybrid car market.

The report, entitled “Who holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies”, was written by Justin Blows and Mike Lloyd, both members of the firm’s Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group.

Dr. Blows and his colleague used patent analytics tools to compile a list of all hybrid car patents filed internationally since 1980, group those patents into families, and rate the quality or “dominance” of those patents.

Their analysis found that Toyota is the world leader in hybrid car patent families with 43% of the total, or more than 4,000 families.

Interestingly, the study also found that a small U.S. hybrid drivetrain developer called Paice, which has been aggressively litigating its patents against Toyota with some success, holds four of the ten most dominant patents.

The implications of Toyota’s patent dominance is discussed at length in the report. Dr. Blows’s blog post summarizes as follows:

the market leader in hybrid technology has filed so many patents ahead of its rivals, that other major manufacturers are now being forced to use the technology ‘under license’ or develop very different types of vehicles

According to the report, there is an apparent correlation between the number of hybrid cars sold by Toyota and the number of patents filed.

Moreover, and perhaps most important, the report posits that Toyota’s agressive patent filings have helped the automaker build its hybrid brand and set “the standard for the hybrid power train” by creating early and lasting exclusivity in its vehicles’ dual-mode capability, i.e., the ability to drive using one or both of an electric motor and a conventional motor.

More broadly, in his comments about the report, Dr. Blows echoes Green Patent Blog’s raison d’etre:

“Our report shows that clean technology innovators are massively investing in IP, to ensure they remain competitive as the world moves into a new age of clean technology.”

Eric Lane is a patent attorney and intellectual property lawyer at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego, where he is in the Intellectual Property and Climate Change & Clean Technology practices. Eric is the founder and author of Green Patent Blog, which provides discussion and analysis of intellectual property law issues in clean technology.

Power Your House With Stale Beer and Old Wine

Michael Kanellos: October 30, 2009, 7:49 AM

If you've collected 250 gallons of old Two Buck Chuck, E-Fuel can help you keep on the lights.

The Los Gatos, Calif.-based company last year began to tout its home system for turning organic waste into ethanol. Distilling ethanol at home effectively eliminated the problem of distributing ethanol or finding gas stations that sold E85.

But it didn't solve the other problem with ethanol-based transportation: only a small fraction of cars sold in the U.S. actually can run on ethanol or gasoline. General Motors and Ford are increasing the number, but it will take time. (The home distillation unit also cost $10,000 before tax credits.).

To help get around the so-called lack-of-demand problem, the company has devised a companion generator, the E-Fuel Grid Buster, that lets you turn the ethanol into electricity. Some energy gets lost in the conversion but you don't have to worry about filling up at home anymore. The scraps get distilled and fed into the generator. It is showing off a home fuel system in Livermore this week.

And in the pure ethanol market, it has reached out beyond homeowners to sell units to businesses. Gordon Biersch, Sunny Delight and a few others have installed units that convert about 29,000 tons of waste into ethanol. Tanker trucks then distribute it to customers.

DOE Dishes Out $338M for Geothermal: The Winners Are…

Michael Kanellos: October 29, 2009, 7:24 PM

Is everybody but me getting money?

The Department of Energy once again opened the money bag. This time, it awarded $338 million for 123 projects. The funds will be matched by $353 million in private funds.

The DOE divided the awards into six categories. The three categories to get the most money were innovations in exploration and drilling ($98.1 million), ground source heat pumps ($61.9 million) and enhanced geothermal systems demonstration ($51.4 million).

Among individual companies, AltaRock Energy will build a demonstration of its enhanced geothermal recovery technology in Oregon. In September, the company, which has received money from Google and Kleiner, Perkins, stopped drilling at its California site. AltaRock injects water into the ground, heats it up and then exploits the steam to crank a turbine. Some fear that the technique can induce earthquakes.

Meanwhile Magma received $10 million in two grants, including one to study how to use oil and gas equipment more effectively in geothermal. Naknek Electric got $12.4 million to build geothermal systems to power three communities in Alaska. A number of companies received grants to find geothermal wells in Montana, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Nevada. You can see the whole list here.

Geothermal constitutes only 5 percent of the renewable energy consumed in the U.S., and renewables only constitute 7 percent of the total energy diet, meaning that geothermal makes up only 0.35 of a percent of the total energy budget. Most of the potential exists in the western U.S. But look at the bright side. Geothermal is baseline power, which means the amount of power produced does not vary with the weather. The amount generated right now is five times the amount generated by solar.

The U.S. consumes about 100 quads of energy a year.

SPI Blog, Part 3: eIQ and the Distributed PV Electronics Field

Eric Wesoff: October 29, 2009, 2:04 PM

eIQ is one of many startups that have emerged in the last few years with an eye toward innovation in the photovoltaic inverter / balance of system market. The global inverter market is sizable and estimated at $2.4 billion in 2009.

The central inverter incumbents include SMA, SatCon, Fronius, Xantrex, PV Powered, and many more.

Here is a list of most of the startups chasing this market:

Rather than build the next central inverter, most of these firms are trying to distribute the electronics in the solar installation and they all have their own little twist on how they are performing that trick.

eIQ uses a DC-to-DC boost architecture that relies on parallel interconnection, ostensibly simplifying the design and reducing the amount of wire, combiner boxes and labor required to install a system. Like almost all of the firms on the list above – eIQ distributes the Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) function and corrects for panel mismatch caused by shading, soling or degradation. This can yield significant more energy energy harvest, from 5 percent to 30 percent, depending on the enthusiasm of the marketing person pontificating.

I spoke with Michael Lamb, VP of Business Development and Gene Krzywinski the CTO of the firm.

The early stage startup, funded with $10 million from NGEN and Robert Bosch Venture Capital, already has some market traction – evidenced by its work with Signet Solar, an amorphous silicon panel vendor. "Signet is making a choice to bundle their products with ours because of the systems issues we address," said Krzywinski. 

The CTO continued: "We allow more Signet panels to be connected per bus – 75 Signet panels per DC bus (9 to 10 kilowatts per string) versus 4 to 5 kilowatts with other architectures," adding, "The others in the market control the current and eIQ works more in the voltage domain."

Pricing at small quantities is 40 cents per watt for the company's system alone. The customer does have to include a central inverter but the company claims that the savings that eIQ provides are in the Balance of System budget which includes wiring, combiner boxes, junction boxes, conduit and labor saying "That budget is bigger than the inverter budget – up to $1 per watt," said Krzywinski.

In addition to working with Signet, the firm has partnered with PV Powered.  There were First Solar panels in the demo room as well.

The bottom line according to Signet is that "eIQ helps the partner inverter become more efficient."