e-Textbooks Hit the iPhone — How Practical is That?

textbook1I have been following the digital textbook world for some time. As an avid e-book fan, I can see the tremendous benefits that digital versions of textbooks can provide students. These benefits include ease-of-use, advanced capabilities like search, and possibly financial benefits, too. The word this week that digital textbook renter CourseSmart released a free iPhone (s aapl) app to access textbooks has me thinking about e-textbooks in earnest. I am wondering how practical a little screen would be for accessing big textbooks.
Most textbooks have big pages chock-full of text and graphics, and this doesn’t often transition well to the small screen. I can see laptops with larger screens providing a decent reading experience, but the tiny iPhone screen not so much. Maybe our friends at TheAppleBlog have the right idea — the iPhone app is a good forum for searching e-textbooks for those bits of information. That could easily make the iPhone app worth the price of admission — free.
I do like that the CourseSmart folks allow the iPhone app to access textbooks online, even if astudent elects to get the downloaded version of the book. That gives the best of both worlds for iPhone owners.
I see that CourseSmart textbook subscriptions usually come in two flavors, 180- or 360-day lengths. I guess students better not flunk the first time through the courses.

Suniva Raises $75M to Ramp Up Production

sunivaPVThe cost and efficiency of solar are tightly linked — more efficient systems tend to have higher production costs than less efficient ones. But Suniva, a startup based in Norcross, Ga., has developed a technology that is focusing on knocking down the cost while also ratcheting up efficiency of its polysilicon cells. Its investors think it can work, and this morning the company announced that it’s raised a sizable Series C round of $75 million, led by Warburg Pincus, and including APEX Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, HIG Ventures and Advanced Equities.

The funds will go toward new equipment for manufacturing, which Suniva started in October of last year — just over a year after the startup was founded. The solar cell maker says it plans to triple the capacity of its first plant in Norcross to 96 megawatts by mid-2009 using 64 megawatts’ worth of new production equipment, and with a total capacity goal of 175 megawatts by early 2010.
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GoodGuide Scaling Up With $3.73M

When GoodGuide — a web site that rates products based on how “good” they are, in terms of social and environmental practices — launched in September founder Dara O’Rourke told us that the company had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from New Enterprise Associates and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. On Monday, Pehub.com brought us a little more of the details on that round: according to a regulatory filing, GoodGuide raised $3.73 million in a Series A round.

The size of the round is tiny compared to many recent fundings in the large and diverse cleantech sector, from solar projects to biofuel plants to smart meter firms. Green web investments are a way that investors can fund a cleantech startup that requires a lot less capital than, say, power generation, and they can also be more familiar to investors — like DFJ and NEA — that built their business funding Internet and IT firms.

GoodGuide will likely be using the funds for its 12 full-time and 12 part-time employees, who collect the data on the products, and for also building out the web site. The data used to rate products on the site come from hundreds of private and public sources, among them government; nonprofits; and private, third-party research firms. The data collection process and the rating system are meant to create a sense of trust and authority for the site. However, getting visitors to see such ratings as trust-worthy and authoritative is difficult; Good Guide’s success at earning consumers’ trust depends as much on marketing and outreach as on actual practices.

SolFocus Raises $47.5M for Concentrating PV Solar

Solar firms dominated cleantech investments in 2008 — will the sector continue its stranglehold on VC dollars in 2009? Well, solar funding is off to a promising start. On Friday SolFocus, which builds solar power plants that concentrate the sun’s rays onto photovoltaics, will announce it has raised $47.5 million in the first tranche of a series C round. The company had reportedly been looking to raise closer to $60 million to $80 million for this round, and SolFocus confirmed with us that the entire round will likely be closer to $60 million to $70 million, with the second tranche of funding likely closed later this month.

The large round was led by Apex Venture Partners and also included New Enterprise Associates and NGEN Partners, and SolFocus says the funds will be spent on boosting manufacturing from a half a megawatt in 2008 to 100MW by the end of 2010. Yes, they will need a lot of money for that. The company has already raised $95 million, so this will bring the company to a very sizable $143 million.

In addition to the funding, SolFocus said Mark Crowley, who has acted as SolFocus’ president since August of 2008, will take over as the company’s CEO. SolFocus former CEO Gary D. Conley will remain as the company’s chairman and founder, positions he presently holds. It’s not uncommon for a company to bring on a new CEO as the company moves into larger scale production and commercialization.
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10 Cleantech Predictions for 2009

We know there’s been an end-of-the-year rush of top 10 green stories across the blogosphere, including ours — victories, disappointments, and most popular stories. But what better time than the last day of the year to look back at 2008 and make some predictions for 2009, when it will be the more cost-effective cleantech sectors — energy efficiency, green buildings, green IT — that move ahead, while the more capital intensive sectors — biofuels, solar — face tighter times.

1) U.S. Federal Policy On Climate Change Will Move Slowly: With the election of Barack Obama, the U.S. is making a clear shift in its climate change fighting stance. Obama has already chosen a variety of cabinet members that strongly support clean power, biofuels and energy efficiency, including Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, and Carol Browner as Climate Czar. Obama has also made significant efforts to talk about green jobs as part of the stimulus plan, but the global recession will lead to a pullback in federal funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2009. Don’t get impatient, federal moves take time.

2) Oil Prices Will Stay Low For Much of the Year, Potentially Climbing in Q4 of 2009: With oil prices offering a contrarian indicator for alternative energy, where they go next year is important. While the consensus is mixed, many see oil prices fluctuating around $50 for much of 2009 and potentially creeping up closer to the end. (Though it’s hard to predict oil prices when they do things like crash from $145 a barrel this summer) But $50 is too cheap to be drive the uptake of hybrid and electric vehicles, so the price of oil could effectively slow the progress of the electrification of our cars.
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Positive Energy Raises $14M from NEA

positiveenergylogoPositive Energy, a startup that makes software and analytics systems used by utilities to provide better smart meter services, has raised a $14 million round from New Enterprise Associates. The funding was reported by the Washington Business Journal and by VentureWire. (Update: The company confirmed the funding with us as well)

The Arlington, Va.-based company, which was one of our 25 up-and-coming startups to watch in the smart home energy space, was founded in March 2007 and had previously raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding. Essentially, Positive Energy helps utilities’ customers cut energy consumption with tools like home energy reports, energy-focused utility web sites and carbon calculators.

Those kind of tools are becoming increasingly attractive to utilities as a way to help them curb the growing demand for energy in the most cost-effective way possible. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, adding energy efficiency programs costs about half of what it takers to add more base-load generation.
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