BrightSource, Alstom Eye Mediterranean “Ring” for Solar Thermal

BrightSource Energy and French power giant Alstom have formed a partnership aimed at building solar-thermal power plants in a ring around the Mediterranean. In terms of geography, if not scale, the plan echoes the scheme of the Desertec Initiative, the mega-giant of solar-thermal projects.

Solar Thermal Startup Ausra Looking to Sell?

AusraimageWhen news breaks that a company is in talks to be acquired, pundits are often quick to point to it as a positive sign. But in reality, it all depends on the valuation and the price of the deal. Over the past couple of days the Financial Times and Reuters have reported that Ausra, the solar thermal startup with a Silicon Valley pedigree, is in talks to be acquired by three potential companies. Both reports cite sources that say the potential buyers are global conglomerates in the power generation business and that the discussions could result in a buyout or a majority investment. No word on a valuation or potential price.
At this point I agree with the Financial Times when it says the news is part of “the consolidation that’s sweeping through the solar industry.” Siemens announced last month that it’s buying solar thermal firm Solel and firms in other solar sectors are being snapped up as well (MEMC Electronic Materials, a company that makes silicon wafers for the solar industry, announced that it plans to buy up SunEdison, a pioneer of the solar as a service business model).
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Siemens Snaps Up Solel for $418M, Eyes Solar Thermal Expansion

Parbolrinnenkraftwerk Mojave / Parabolic trough power plant MojaSolar thermal power company Solel Solar Systems has found an exit. Less than a year after Solel raised a gigantic $105 million investment from London-based firm Ecofin to help finance a plant in California’s Mojave Desert, Siemens (s SI) has announced today that it is buying the Israeli company from Ecofin (and another unnamed major shareholder) for $418 million.

In a time when the merger and acquisition market for cleantech startups is about as dry as the Mojave, today’s deal is a head turner. And with Siemens angling to expand its role in solar thermal, the raft of startups now leading this space — companies like BrightSource, eSolar, Ausra and SkyFuel — could find themselves with a tough, deep-pocketed new competitor.
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Do You Bluetooth?

I am constantly analyzing the way I use mobile technology, and as a result, I often change the way I do things. I am in the fortunate position where I get exposed to lots of technology and that exposure keeps me looking at how I use it. A recent survey of mobile phone users disclosed that many in the U.S. who own Bluetooth headsets don’t use them. It pointed out that while 43% of them used the headsets previously, only 26% of them use them currently. That’s a significant drop in usage, and in a group of people who already own a headset.
This got me thinking about my own headset usage. I get to try lots of cool Bluetooth headsets and I probably own three or four of them. There was a time when I used a Bluetooth headset every day — in fact it was a common sight to see me with one in my ear even around the house. I never left the home without one.
That changed at some point recently, and I didn’t even realize it happened. I rarely use a headset these days; In fact I can’t remember the last time I put one in my ear. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just stopped using them. This realization surprised me quite a bit. I was a big believer in the technology and the benefits of using a headset, yet I stopped using them. To tell you the truth I haven’t missed it at all. If I had not run across this survey that made me think about it I wouldn’t even be writing about this.
So how about you? Do you use a headset? This poll is strictly driven by my own curiosity about Bluetooth headsets and how others view them. If you want to respond to the poll, great. Otherwise it’s no big deal. I’m just trying to figure out if I’m alone in my lack of headset usage.
[polldaddy poll=1950828]

Solar Map: More Than 30 Utility-Scale Solar Plants in the U.S.

There are more than 30 utility-scale solar power plants, one megawatt or larger, under various stages of development in the U.S., and we decided to start mapping them out. These are solar plants that have either signed a power purchase agreement with a utility, are included in the DOE’s official list of power generation sources or have applied for state permits like from the California Energy Commission.[digg=]

So check out our annotated Google map, embedded below. Like our other maps, we’ll add more info and update the map as news warrants.

View Larger Map

There may need to be a lot of updates — potentially taking points away — as many of these projects are in peril should Congress fail to renew the investment tax credit in a timely manner. We’ve heard from utility giants and solar executives that without the ITC the future of large-scale solar is stuck in limbo.

Google’s eye-in-the-sky even lets you see some of the solar power plants if you’re looking at the satellite photos. To see more cleantech wonders via satellite images, check out our Eco-Tour of Google Earth.

Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, California Energy Commission, DOE Energy Information Administration.

About That U.S. Solar Freeze, Uh Nevermind

Looks like the Bureau of Land Management didn’t like all the public outcry over their moratorium on new solar projects built on public land. (A prominent New York Times article can have that effect). The Bureau said today that it has reversed that previous decision, and it actually will now continue to accept new applications for solar projects.

The Bureau is still calling for that environmental impact report, but will continue to process and review new applications, in addition to the 125 solar applications that it has already received. The Bureau’s Director James Caswell said in the release:

“We heard the concerns expressed during the scoping period about waiting to consider new applications, and we are taking action. By continuing to accept and process new applications
for solar energy projects, we will aggressively help meet growing interest in renewable energy sources, while ensuring environmental protections.”

Maybe the Bureau is getting a boost to its billion dollar annual budget for some more application-processing hands. Solar heavyweights that expressed frustration over the freeze, like Ausra and Solel, will be pleased with the reversal. Update: Kevin Swartz, President of Solel USA, says the decision: “is great news for the solar industry,” and “allows the industry to move ahead while maintaining a rigorous focus on environmental issues.”

Other solar companies like BrightSource that were hoping the moratorium would help with a clog in the permit system, will likely be disappointed over the decision. Update: BrightSource emailed us this morning to add their official comments. The company says it is actually pleased with the decision to end the moratorium and did not officially support the freeze, and will also work with the industry to help develop a better planning process:

When the Bureau of Land Management announced its proposed moratorium, we worked closely with other solar companies and fully joined in all of the industry’s efforts to have it reversed. We did not support the previously proposed moratorium, and are now very pleased with BLM’s decision to continue to accept and process new applications for solar energy projects. We will continue our work with other solar companies to help develop balanced, appropriate land use planning approaches that will allow our industry to supply the environmentally responsible energy that is so greatly needed.

U.S. Suspends New Solar Projects on Public Land, Reactions Mixed

The hoard of companies rushing to build solar power plants in the U.S. deserts has one big hang-up — there’s just too many of them. This has led the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to put a freeze on new solar plants on public lands until a proper environmental assessment can be done, reports the New York Times this morning.

Such an environmental analysis could take a good two years, which means new applications for solar projects on public lands could be out of luck for that period of time. While this would not effect the more than 130 solar proposals that have been filed with the Bureau since 2005, it could put a damper on startups and entrepreneurs that have been late on getting their paperwork in. The Times report quotes execs from Ausra and Solel on how the freeze is a disturbing setback.

On the other hand, other solar companies say that the moratorium on new applications will actually be a good way to streamline an inundated application process. Charles Ricker, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Oakland-based solar thermal company BrightSource, says that the “process is getting clogged,” and “there are just too many applications” filed right now.
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Keep Your Files in Sync With GoodSync

Like most Web Workers I have moved quite a bit of my work data online into the cloud, but my laptop and USB memory keys still contain quite a lot that is critical to me and my business. With the proliferation of online file storage and backup services, the need for software like GoodSync might seem to be disappearing, but in reality the need for data portability, synchronization and backups is as important as ever.

So when the folks at Siber Systems offered us a copy of their GoodSync file synchronization and backup product to review, I jumped at the chance to put it through its paces. I’m already a happy user of their fine RoboForm password management product so my expectations were high.

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Abengoa to Build U.S. Solar Plant “If” Tax Credit Stays

The solar arm of Spanish engineering firm Abengoa is planning to break ground on one of the largest solar thermal plants in the world in Arizona next year…if the U.S. government extends its solar incentive program, Abengoa Solar CEO Santiago Seage tells MarketWatch in this video clip (embedded below). Seage says the company will start construction on the 284 MW, 1,900-acre solar plant called Solana in 2009 “if we have an ITC (investment tax credit) extension” — which would keep in place the tax credit that is set to expire by the end of the year and provides funds for 30 percent of the cost of a solar system.

We’re not sure what the company’s plans for Solana are if the ITC is not extended (the company already has a contract with Arizona utility APS to buy the clean power). What is becoming clear is that solar companies are starting to realize that they might need a Plan B. Solel CEO Avi Brenmiller has said that his company won’t be able to build a planned 553 MW solar thermal project without the credit. And the CEO of solar panel maker SunPower recently said it would start focusing on markets outside the U.S. if the credit doesn’t survive (check out that full story in SunPower CEO: No U.S. Solar Incentives? No Solar For You).

While many are expecting, and hoping, the ITC will get attention this year, the U.S. government doesn’t seem to be moving too quickly on it. Just this week a bill to extend it failed to get enough votes to move it into debate and an overall vote in the Senate. The end of the year is fast approaching and as Donna Flynn, Washington Council for Ernst & Young, said at a recent solar conference, the solar industry is in big trouble if the ITC isn’t extended very soon — “before July 1st” — she said. That’s about a week-and-a-half away.