Report: Konarka’s failure wasn’t a solar market problem

Solar startup Konarka’s bankruptcy, announced last week, wasn’t just the latest case of the solar industry being hit by the dropping cost of silicon, and cheap modules and panels from China. The company’s technology just “could not compete on cost, efficiency, or lifetime,” says Lux Research.

Ice Energy Raises Cash for Energy Storage

Ice is nice, but so is cash. The startup that builds an ice-based energy storage and air conditioning system for buildings — Ice Energy — announced this morning that it has raised a $24 million Series C round of funding.

Tendril Rakes In Another $30M for Energy Management

tendrildashboardThere are more than a dozen companies building and launching energy management tools this year, but not all are as well-funded as Boulder, Colo.-based startup Tendril. This morning the company said it has raised a third round of funding, of $30 million. The 5-year-old company sells a suite of energy management hardware and software designed to help utilities and consumers communicate, including a wireless in-home energy display, a smart thermostat, a web-based energy portal, smart outlets and cell phone apps.

Unlike some of the other companies working on smart energy tools, Tendril is already selling to utilities. And with this latest round of venture capital funding — led by VantagePoint Venture Partners and joined by Good Energies — Tendril hopes to scale up its current services to meet the sudden interest in its products. It also plans to invest in new partnerships with device makers, appliance manufacturers, meter vendors and app developers.
Read More about Tendril Rakes In Another $30M for Energy Management

Vudu Goes Box-free for Entone

“Over the top” video services carry the implication of going behind the backs of existing television operators. But two of the (admittedly smaller) players in IPTV and web-delivered video on demand are teaming up to give us a glance of what a united future could look like.

entone-janus-vudu-uiEntone, an IPTV set-top box and service provider, is announcing today it has teamed with Vudu to offer the latter’s library of 14,000 movie and TV titles, including 1,500 HD films.

The offering marks Vudu’s first “embeddable” version of its software sans its own hardware. The company, which has been through multiple price reductions and layoffs, looks to be moving in that direction: “[W]e want consumers to get access to Vudu through the devices they already have in their home,” said Edward Lichty, the company’s EVP of strategy and content.

The joint Entone-Vudu offering, which is supposed to launch at the end of June, will behave just like Vudu — same delivery software, same selection, same prices — but without the proprietary Vudu remote control.

Entone is also looking to sign more deals for web-delivered content, said CEO Steve McKay. He thinks he can accelerate adoption of the services by making them more easy to access. “You’re asking the consumer to buy special-purpose devices,” he said of other solutions like Roku, Apple TV (s AAPL) and ZillionTV.

Entone has about 200,000 customers of 70 U.S. phone companies using its IPTV devices today, and they are all expected to have access to the Vudu service. Vudu has not released sales numbers.

Further reading/watching: We posted a video interview with McKay last October.

Netflix and Facebook Link Movie Ratings

Netflix (s NFLX) tonight is announcing integration with Facebook Connect, meaning users can link their accounts and relationships across the two services. Netflix members’ ratings for a movie will show up on their Facebook profiles, where friends can comment and click back to Netflix to add the movie to their own queue.
It doesn’t require any sort of advanced degree to theorize that entertainment and friends are a good pair. We love watching movies with friends, talking about movies with friends, gossiping about movie stars with friends. Many early Facebook Connect partners and many of the most popular Connect implementations have been video-related. The most recent notable video company convert to Facebook was the fast-growing Hulu (though apparently that’s using an old API rather than Connect). Prior to that, sites including Variety added Facebook chat for the Oscars.
As for Netflix, we think this integration could go much further, to include setting up movie dates between friends, distributing friends’ recommendations, enabling streaming movie chatrooms, and more. C’mon, these are two of the most popular and loved sites on the web, and they have so little in common (besides perhaps their userbases). There are a lot of places for collaboration. Netflix did say in a press release that it anticipates additional features with Facebook Connect and welcomes comments on its Facebook page and Twitter account.

Good Energies on the Hunt for Solar Investments

In the midst of a solar shakeout, lending for utility-scale solar projects could plunge by as much as 17 percent, to 10 billion euros (about $13.5 billion) this year, according to a recent note from Commerzbank AG cited in Bloomberg today. Sven Hansen, chief investment officer of the investment group Good Energies, sees nothing but opportunity, for Hansen is on the hunt to finance solar projects.
And as Hansen tells Bloomberg, Good Energies has a three-year budget of 1 billion euros through 2009. As we’ve noted before, the firm already holds a significant number of solar and wind investments (most recently leading a $163 million round for thin-film partner NorSun), in addition to stakes in the green building industry.
While this year and next look “difficult” for solar panel makers (that’s putting it mildly), Hansen reportedly thinks the photovoltaics industry is on track to grow about 30 percent annually. Solar projects are “excellent investments,” he was quoted as saying, adding that he expects them to provide much of the world’s power within a century.
Read More about Good Energies on the Hunt for Solar Investments

Smart Windows Open Up More Funding for SAGE

Updated: SAGE Electrochromics said today that it has raised $20 million in a third round of funding for its smart window tinting technology. The new cash comes from Good Energies, Applied Ventures — the venture capital arm of Applied Materials (s AMAT) — and Bekaert.

sage_skylight1That money will come in handy for the company, which has been waiting for approval of a reported $65 million loan from the Department of Energy for more than two years. The DOE loan is set to be used to build a high-speed manufacturing facility. in Faribault, Minn., where SAGE is headquartered. (update: the company hasn’t picked a location yet.)

This fresh infusion of venture capital for SAGE may not cover the cost of a new factory, but some of the cash will be used for production. SAGE said it will use the funding to expand its work in international markets, as well as in new product and business development, manufacturing, and sales and marketing.
Read More about Smart Windows Open Up More Funding for SAGE

Green Building is a Good Deal

Building green isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg, according to a new study led by investment group Good Energies. Although it might not be the best economic time to put up a new building, the study points out that green buildings cost on average less than 2 percent more than traditional buildings.
That’s a big difference from the public perception. A 2007 survey from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development found that business leaders believed that green building practices would cost them an average 17 percent premium over conventional builds.
If even that smaller 2 percent premium still seems too much, Good Energies said the savings on water and energy more than outweigh the initial extra cost. The study said green buildings boast an average 33 percent reduction in energy use alone. The report looked at data on 150 recent green buildings across 33 U.S. states and 10 countries, and found that the initial “green premium” was paid back by energy and water savings within five years for about 50 percent of the buildings in the study. Read More about Green Building is a Good Deal