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EDF Lines UP €500M for Solar in Europe

Ucilia Wang: December 17, 2009, 2:03 PM

EDF Energies Nouvelles said Thursday it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to get €500 million ($716.2 million) to pay for building solar power plants in France and Italy.

The financing would be able to cover up to 50 percent of the cost for each of the projects EDF wants to build from 2010 to 2012. EDF didn't specify how many projects or their sizes will be covered by EIB's investments. EDF will have to raise money from other banks as well.

Paris-based EDF did say the money would help pay for the 2010 construction of a 36-megawatt solar farm in France and a 12.5-megawatt project in Italy.

Solar panel maker, First Solar, will benefit from EDF's agreement with EIB. EDF said it plans to use First Solar's products for all the projects to be partly financed by EIB's €500 million.

EDF and First Solar already have teamed up to build a solar panel factory in France. The two companies announced this plan in July this year, and said the initial, annual production capacity would be 100 megawatts.

EDF would provide a low-interest loan to cover half of the construction and startup costs. EDF, which said it plans to install 500 megawatts by 2012, would get to use all of the factory's output for the first 10 years.

Back in July, First Solar said the factory would be up and running by the second half of 2011. But company executives told financial analysts yesterday that the factory would likely be operational in 2012. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company plans to expand its manufacturing operation in Malaysia by adding 424 megawatts of annual capacity starting in 2010.

More on Nuclear: Back at EPRI

Eric Wesoff: December 17, 2009, 1:01 AM

I'm on a bit of a nuclear binge of late (and possibly at odds with the editors at Greentech Media regarding the topic). 

Questions that pop up around here are:

  • Does nuclear even belong on a "greentech" site?
  • Is nuclear power green power?
  • Is nuclear a low carbon emission energy generation source?

Clearly a nuclear plant doesn't emit carbon during operation. But studies looking at the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of nuclear plants – examining the carbon footprint of uranium extraction and enrichment, plant construction, and spent fuel disposal make the carbon footprint picture a little murky. Here are a few links to nuclear power LCA studies.

* * *

Jeffrey Hamel and Tom Mulford of EPRI's Nuclear Program presented at EPRI headquarters on Wednesday. EPRI is essentially a research arm of U.S. utilities, is a nuclear supporter and their viewpoints have to be viewed from that perspective.

Here's a guide to EPRI's 2010 nuclear research. The other research referenced at this event was EPRI's Integrated Generation Technology Options – good LCOE data on a variety of energy generation technologies  

EPRI's Mr. Hamel gave a succinct presentation covering the state of the nuclear industry to a room of engaged attendees. He had a bit of trouble sticking with the presentation amidst a constant barrage of probing audience questions.

* * *

Pressures to lower carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants have provided the opportunity to reboot the U.S. nuclear industry. Operating nuclear reactors have zero carbon emissions and the technology has grown more reliable and more efficient. In the U.S., reactors now run more than 91 percent of the hours in a year, the highest capacity factor of any energy source (vs. less than 60 percent in 1979).

Quick set of nuclear factoids:

  • Currently the U.S. gets more electricity from nuclear than any other country. 
  • The U.S. has 104 nuclear power plants in 31 states 
  • Fuel represents 25 percent of nuclear's production costs

Hamel said that electrical power from existing nuclear power plants is "very competitive" while new plants "are absolutely expensive and capital intensive."  He maintained that economic performance continues to improve.

Random energy factoids:

  • In California today the load will max at 32 GW at about 7:00 p.m. at and drop to its minimum of 20 GW at 3 a.m.
  • Peak peak in summer is about 60 GW
  • Production cost determines dispatch order and market price of electricity
  • The last plant to be dispatched sets the price

In determining levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for nuclear, EPRI uses a plant construction cost of $4860/kW which yields an LCOE of 8.3 cents per kW/hr. (That $4,860 is termed an "all-in-number"). Note that the LCOE of parabolic trough-based solar is $.225 to $.29 per kWh (!).


(Charts from EPRI's Integrated Generation Technology Options Report)


The U.S. has 32 new nuclear units proposed at 21 sites. Four sites have been downselected for the Federal loan guarantee program. With $18.5 billion available "The DOE loan guarantee program is very important for providing access to competitive capital to make these projects a reality," according to Hamel.

Two last points from Hamel:

  • "Standardization is at the core – if something is going to happen in the U.S. nuclear power market – it will center on standardization."
  • "Permitting construction time is the elephant in the room."


A few links...

Stewart Brand In favor of nuclear power (video

7 Reasons Why Nuclear Is Bad for the Enviromenment

Details on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in this report. Plus here's a panel discussion at EPRI on SMRs on Jan 21.

VP Biden Promotes $5B for Greentech Manufacturing

Ucilia Wang: December 16, 2009, 4:56 PM

The White House is seeking congressional and public support for offering $5 billion in tax credits for manufacturers to build new or expand existing factories to produce solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and other renewable energy-related goods.

Vice President Joe Biden was the chief marketer for such an idea on Wednesday, about a week after President Obama outlined a new plan to create more jobs. Biden spoke about the new tax incentive proposal while hosting business leaders in Washington, D.C. The National unemployment rate stands at 10 percent.

The incentives would mirror a program that was put in place this year as part of the stimulus package. The $2.3 billion program gives manufacturers a 30 percent tax credit.

The manufacturing tax credit program has proven popular, according to Biden, though the administration has yet to award any of the money. The Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Energy are reviewing the first batch of applications and plan to announce the recipients by Jan. 15. Recipients will have four years to complete their factory plans.

Some folks in the solar industry already are concerned that the $2.3 billion might spread quite thin given the types of manufacturers that would qualify for the tax credit.

The Solar Energy Industries Association recently launched a campaign to expand the tax credit for solar manufacturers only. Lawmakers introduced bills for such solar tax break in the Senate and the House last month.

2030 Carbon Capture Market: $128B Business-as-Usual, $221B With Real Change

Jeff St. John: December 16, 2009, 2:02 PM

What's the upside to humanity's greatest energy challenge - capturing and sequestering the carbon put out by coal-fired power plants and other industrial emitters before it causes runaway global warming?

According to Pike Research, carbon capture and sequestration could represent a $128 billion market over the next 20 years - and that's assuming a base-case, business as usual approach to the problem.

More aggressive carbon limits by government - and buy-in from industry - could boost that market to about $221 billion by 2030, according to Pike's report released Wednesday.

That wide range represents the state of uncertainty over carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. The Intergovernmental Panel on Global Change (IPCC) has said that CCS has the potential to keep 220 to 2,200 gigatons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere over the next century, a range representative of the many regulatory, technological and economic uncertainties involved.

Real-world examples of working CCS systems are hard to come by. While many pilot projects are underway to capture carbon from oil and gas wells, coal plants and other industrial sources, to date no commercial-scale power plants capture and store their carbon, Pike Research managing director Clint Wheelock noted in a prepared statement.

Of course, plans to do just that are underway. American Electric Power turned on the first system to capture carbon emissions from its Mountaineer coal-fired power plant in West Virginia and store the carbon in underground caverns.

But that project is now capturing only about 2 percent of the plants' emissions, though AEP hopes to raise that to 18 percent in the coming years, aided by $335 million in federal funding, the Wall Street Journal reports.

That funding is part of the nearly $1 billion the Department of Energy gave out for CCS projects earlier this month (see Permanent Storage, Oil Recovery Part of $3B in Carbon Capture Projects). Many other CCS projects are being planned in the United States and abroad - China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter, is a particular focus of attention (see GE Gets Into 'Cleaner Coal' in China and Duke Energy, China's Huaneng Group Collaborate on Coal Carbon Capture).

CCS comes at a cost, of course. Pike's report estimated that adding CCS to new and existing power plants will raise the price of electricity by 50 percent to 75 percent.

Putting a price on carbon will be critical to making CCS make economic sense, Pike's Wheelock noted. Experimental CCS plants will be able to sequester and store CO2 at a cost of $80 to $120 per ton (€60 to €90), according to a McKinsey report on the subject.

But observers of the United Nations meeting now underway in Copenhagen to craft a global carbon reduction treaty are well aware of how difficult this may be. Poorer nations walked out of the meeting on Monday, protesting what they called a lack of pledges of financial support from richer nations, and hopes for a legally binding accord are dimming (see U.S. Commits $85M for Clean Energy in Developing Nations).

Pyron Pioneers Solar Concentrators That Swim With the Fishes

Eric Lane: December 16, 2009, 12:51 PM

Pyron Solar Inc. (Pyron) is a San Diego company that develops and makes solar concentrators.

Pyron and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) recently announced that SDG&E is building a demonstration project to test Pyron’s patented concentrated solar power system. The system uses shallow pools of water as a passive cooling system for high efficiency solar cells.

Pyron’s U.S. Patent No. 7,299,632 ('632 Patent) is entitled "Solar electricity generator" and is directed to a solar electrical generator comprising a concentrator, a homogenizer and a photovoltaic (PV) cell. The concentrator concentrates solar rays onto an entrance surface of the homogenizer, which is in turn attached to a PV cell.

The concentrators are positioned in troughs (1) that sit in bodies of water (5). The water (5) acts as a passive coolant to disperse the heat generated by the PV cells.

In addition, buoyancy torque created by pumping the water (5) between ballast compartment (8) and ballast compartment (9) and pressure differentials between the compartments pivots the troughs (1) to keep the lenses (2) aimed directly at the sun.


The lenses (2) concentrate solar rays (3) at focal spot (4). According to the '632 Patent, the highly concentrated "pencil" of solar rays (3) then enter homogenizer (43) and are evenly distributed onto PV cell (4') by loss-free total internal reflection.


According to the '632 Patent, this system makes better use of solar farm real estate by covering 87 percent of the set-aside land. Pyron’s also touts the greater power production and reliability of its passive coolant design, noting that it protects the equipment from exposure to extreme wind.

Pyron plans to stock the pools of water with fish to prevent mosquito infestation, leading Matter Network to speculate that "perhaps the fish farms of the future will double as solar energy collectors."

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.

Former KP EIR, Joel Serface, Joins CyberCity 3D

Eric Wesoff: December 15, 2009, 1:59 PM

In the early days of the greentech wave, about six years ago, I met with Joel Serface when he was a partner at Eastman Ventures. We discussed the state of the then early renewable energy field.

Since then Joel Serface has started, invested in, or advised a score of greentech firms in his role as director of the Austin Clean Energy Incubator and his stint at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where he served as the first Entrepreneur in Residence at NREL. He always seems to be on a plane or a mountain or at a cleantech event judging by his tweet history.      

Joel has just now surfaced (sorry) in the role of Chief Strategy Officer at CyberCity 3D, A 3D geospatial service platform. 

In Joel's words, "This is a culmination of ideas that we started developing in Austin with Austin Energy – using the city as a laboratory and delivering advanced engagement tools to involve the community in energy decisions – that became obvious when I was at NREL and is best delivered through an open 3D/geospatial application service platform."

CyberCity 3D aims to help massively scale energy efficiency, to help reduce energy use and carbon footprint in buildings, the main energy user in our society. 

According to Joel, CC3D is a "combination of the world’s best energy analysis tools coupled with the first 3D/geospatial application services platform... to massively scale energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment while providing an engaging platform for collaboration between cities, citizens, and utilities."

Here's a video that hints at what the company is doing.   

We'll hear more from Joel and this firm soon.

Is There a Role for Venture Capital in Nuclear Power?

Eric Wesoff: December 14, 2009, 11:18 PM

A Survey of VC Attitudes Towards Investing in Nuclear Power

Is there a role for Venture Capital in the nuclear industry? Despite the term “Venture” in their asset class, VCs tend to want to minimize risk as much as possible. And nuclear is full of risk.

Market risk. Technical risk. Regulatory risk. Finance risk.

Most of the investors we spoke with were supporters of nuclear as citizens. But they had difficulty rationalizing the timeframes and scale inherent in nuclear with the goals of their limited partners and the dictates of their funds.

We spoke with a number of cleantech investors about their investing attitudes towards nuclear:

Maurice Gunderson, CMEA

The reason that most VCs are scared of nuclear is “because they have no experience” and “are listening to anecdotes in the popular press,” said CMEA partner Maurice

“You have to dig into the details,” said Gunderson, one of the few brave VC investors to make the nuclear bet (He is a lead investor in NuScale.) He has said that NuScale’s model of focusing on modular nuclear power would shift development away from the “cathedral model” of large-scale, over-budget, ten-year power projects.

Gunderson has claimed that the NuScale process – manufacturing modular reactors on a factory assembly line – can cut the time to develop a nuclear plant in half. He argues that incremental modularity eliminates the “single shaft risk” of a conventional plant that must be shut down for repair and refueling.

“The NRC processes have become streamlined in the last few years and can accommodate this model,” he said.

“Jose Reyes Jr. NuScale’s CTO is from the NRC, and he and the team know what is doable and what is not,” said Gunderson, adding that one needed to know the difference between “incremental and revolutionary technology, and technology that was licensable or not.”

Gunderson verified that NuScale was raising more money.

“Nuclear is necessary, doable, and the markets are gargantuan,” he said.

The other VCs we spoke with, although they had taken a look at a number of nuclear startups, were less enthusiastic about investing in this sector.

Accel Partners, Peter Wagner

“We need more nuclear power in this country – the obstacles for the industry and investors are time and regulation. There’s been an unspoken recognition that there was going to be a nuclear comeback and it’s happened – the licensing process has been streamlined. Now there are approved technologies and a positive change in the regulatory climate. A first derivative investment thesis might be successful – fill in spaces adjacent to the platform. Examples: project development – run the licensing processes or in the waste area or in the fuel enrichment process.”

BCC, Rob Day

“There’s a role [for VC in nuclear], but it’s narrow. Most nuclear efforts I’ve seen are early stage and are looking at a likely gestation period longer than the typical VC holding period. I’ve seen discussion of funds with longer investment periods, specifically aimed at opportunities like this. And some VCs are hoping to be able to get early exits after proof of concept, instead of waiting all the way to revenue. For me, I see nuclear as being one of those long-path-to-market sectors where the investors will need to be very patient, and VCs are not known for being very patient.”

DFJ, Raj Atlaru

“The regulatory risk and timeline are discouraging for the standard VC model. Something needs to change for VC’s to engage. [The deals we’ve seen are] mostly small/modular: 25 MW to 75 MW. We are intrigued, but remain at the sidelines due to regulatory hurdles, capital intensity/timeline and public perception. We do continue to be intrigued with new generation sources.”

Globespan Capital, Ullas Naik

“The key question is still whether it will happen through startups or through federal agencies. Seems to me like there are still too many questions around regulations for private, non-regulated industries.”

Lightspeed Venture Partners, Peter Nieh

“Issues beyond regulatory and public perception are the long time frames and high capital requirements (even by cleantech standards).”

Nth Power, Brian Walsh

“Bigger funds will find it easier to rationalize the unique risk of new nuclear reactor bets. The investment time horizon and required dollars are sure to be long and high, but the pay back could also be very other words, the financing risk is pretty big. “The way I understand the regulatory process is that way nuclear reactors are scrutinized and approved or rejected as safe in concept and then approved or rejected per location (by the NRC). This limits the number of technology bets available to investors – it has to be a whole nuclear reactor system or nothing at all."
"NuScale, for example, has a novel cooling technology, but it can’t sell that sub system anywhere. It has to commercialize it as an entire system from soup to nuts rather than selling the subsystem into the existing industry. That’s baseload power plants for you... Very unlike automotive/cooling/heating/IT/smart grid/etc. where subsystems can be sold to enhance existing systems. This makes the risk big, but also the potential reward big."

“There is some innovation activity around fuel reprocessing and disposal, which may be an area for VCs to play that is not so “swing for the fences” and for funds that are disciplined to capital efficiency… It can be commercialized gradually as an enhancement to the nuclear fuel system of today. Other than system and fuel, I can’t think of another area for VCs to play. I have seen one fuel processing startup. Wish there were more on the fuel side, to be honest, because I think Nth Power, with its political and industry ties, could add great value partnering with a company there.”

VantagePoint Venture Partners, Bernie Bulkin

“We have not been investigating this area for VantagePoint, nor do we have any plans to. There are two reasons: First, I don’t believe that there are opportunities for us in the mainstream of nuclear power, though there could well be venture opportunities in things like waste handling … and in some aspects of the fuel cycle. But the times for development are very long by our time requirements. Second, the limited and strategic partners that invest with us would not consider nuclear power to be a clean tech investment. So while I agree that increased nuclear power is inevitable (though some of our partners do not) our focus is elsewhere and will remain so.”

The December issue of Greentech Innovations offers an analysis of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors and VC in Nuclear Power.