Archive for October, 2008

Mobile Solar with Innergy Power

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

When we think of solar power the first thing that comes to mind is usually rooftop photovoltaic panels and utility-scale solar farms growing in the desert, but there is much more to solar power than this. Solar can also provide the perfect power source when the grid is unavailable or unreliable, and can be adapted readily for mobile power applications. To take advantage of this opportunity, companies are designing, producing and selling mobile solar systems for use in outdoor products, charging mobile electronics, emergency lighting, and for uses in regions with poor power quality or consistency.

Innergy Power Corporation designs, manufactures, and distributes a wide variety of products providing mobile solar power, including products like “Solar Binders” with integrated solar panels producing 15 or 22 watts of power, and the “Solarmonkey”, for charging power-hungry mobile electronics like smart phones and iPods. For emergency power solar also offers some strong advantages. Diesel generators providing backup power are noisy, polluting, and require a constant fuel supply, something that might not always be available in an emergency.

Mobile solar power systems such as Innergy’s Portable Solar Charging Station have many advantages as the primary power source, for many applications, where the grid is not reliable. Darrell Musick, President and CEO of Innergy Power, reports that their products attract the rapidly growing group of mobile phone users, many of whom live in parts of the world without reliable power from the grid. “Other needs are focused on our Portable Solar Charging Stations,” Musick said,” which will allow businesses and residents in markets with poor grid quality of power (Iraq, Nigeria, Turkey) to have a reliable sun powered way to run a wide range of devices. They are currently negotiating agreements with 17 potential distributors around the world.

The market for portable solar applications like these has grown steadily, in parallel with the growth of the rooftop solar market. Musick reports that Innergy “has seen significant increases in the demand for portable solar products over the past two years.” The potential range for portable solar applications remains huge, integrating not just solar power but also batteries for power storage into an expanding array of products. With expertise on the integration of solar and batteries into products, Innergy is also helping companies bring products to market through contract manufacturing.

Since Innergy Power has almost 20 years of battery manufacturing experience it was a natural evolution to move into the design and manufacturing of EV batteries with targets ranging from eBikes to PHEVs.  Innergy is one of the companies owned by ECOtality, and works closely with another ECOtality company, eTec, in developing EV batteries and EV charging solutions.

Using the sun as a free, reliable and inexhaustible source of energy remains a great solution for a broad range of products, and a powerful opportunity for many different businesses. The more the market grows, the more opportunities it opens up for new renewable energy products and sustainable growth.

The Wide Range of Solar Opportunities

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

With over 20,000 attendees, the Solar Power International 2008 Conference held in San Diego October 13-16 was one of the largest solar events around and with the recent US Government extension and expansion of tax credits for renewable energy there was good reason for optimism. The 30% tax credit for renewable energy has been extended for eight years, and the previous cap on residential tax credits has been lifted, all of which should have a great impact on the market for solar, particularly for the residential market. Solar has already been growing at a blistering 40% a year, and even in the midst of the current anxiety about the economy and the stock market, almost everyone I talked with at the meeting expected the industry to continue growing rapidly in 2009.

There is a lot more to solar than producing and installing photovoltaic panels. Many representatives of these businesses were present, of course, but the opportunities don’t stop there. The opportunities being developed by businesses include:

• Producers of photovoltaic panels (like Kyocera, Sharp, Schott, Suntech)

• Producers of inverters that convert DC power from panels to AC (like Fronius)

• Solar integrators working out in the field designing and installing systems (like Borrego Solar)

• Those developing new solar technologies (like Morgan Solar, developing their own low cost concentrating solar technology)

• Solar hot water and heating (Rheem)

• Solar gadgets, like bags with integrated panels (Innergy)

• Robotics for panel production (Adept)

• Panel mounting systems (Power-Fab)

• Utility scale solar power systems (Abengoa, Greenvolts, Optisolar)

• Monitoring solar performance with IT systems (Fat Spaniel, Solar Sentry)

• Storage of power with batteries (Trojan Battery Company)

• Training for solar workers (Solar Living Institute, DC Power Systems)

• Financial Solutions (SunRun Inc.)

These are only a few examples, with more businesses introducing new solar innovations all the time.  It’s hard to say that this, or any industry, will be completely unaffected by the credit crunch, but many in the solar industry who I’ve talked have found that the impact of these issues has not been great so far, or they are finding their way around these limitations.  If the solar business slows, producing only 20-30% growth, this is still a healthy, even a dizzying rate of growth by almost any standard.

The Conserver Economy

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Consumer spending is slowing, out of fear of economic uncertainty, and reduced credit options.   Spending is down, but its not just that they are spending less - their spending patterns are changing.  People are seeking value, working harder to squeeze more out of their money.  One of the biggest values around is re-using goods that are already out there.  This also happens to be one of the greenest options around.

New cars are nice, but they lose a large percentage of their value as soon as you drive them off the lot.  While people are leery of used cars, there are certain great values to be had in used cars.  While new car sales have stalled, people will still be buying cars at some point, and they might turn increasingly to used cars.  While used car sales are affected by the credit crunch, dealers in some areas have reported that used car sales have decreased less than new cars, or even increased.  Used cars are also a very green option, particularly with fuel efficient used cars.  Cars take a lot of energy and materials to manufacture, so buying a used car to get more out of it helps to save that “embodied energy“. 

Used clothing is another example.  Consumers may not be flocking to the malls in the same numbers as a few months ago, but they will still be buying clothes.  Their choices may tend more toward Wal-Mart though, or quality items in thrift shops.  The Plato’s Closet chain of used clothing stores has been doing strong business, with sales in stores up over 20% in August compared to a year ago.  Franchises of Plato’s Closet or other stores owned by Winmark are available for a $20,000 fee and a percentage of weekly sales. 

Used goods may not sound eco-chic, but saving money and going green with used goods may prove highly fashionable as long as the economy remains slow.  This trend may even have a longer term green impact on the consumer economy, changing it to the conserver economy.

Renewable Tax Credits Extended, Finally

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

As the financial bailout measure was passed by Congress today, several tax credits were added to the bill, including an extension of renewable energy tax credits.  These tax credits have been bouncing back and forth in Congress all year.  However one feels about the rest of the bailout bill, these tax credits are good news for renewable energy; there must be a great number of relieved renewable energy workers celebrating tonight.  The measure includes an 8 year extension of the investment tax credit for solar electric systems, extending the 30% tax credit and removing the $2000 cap on the credit for residential systems that has limited the impact in this market.  The measure also includes credits for small wind, fuel cells and geothermal systems. 

The on-again off-again nature of these credits in the past with short term extensions that were allowed to expire has limited their impact.  Now with an 8 year extension in place the industry can plan and invest for long term growth with this piece of their financial picture more secure, encouraging their growth around the country. 

At West Coast Green  (September 25-27) I talked about the tax credits with Gary Gerber, the CEO of Sun Light and Power, a San Francisco Bay Area solar installer.  With this type of longer term policy supporting solar power nationwide, Gerber felt we would see solar grow beyond states like California with strong support for solar such as the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, creating renewable energy businesses and jobs across the country.

Its hard to say that anybody is completely unaffected by the broader economic situation, but Gerber said that he has “not heard or seen anything that says we are negatively affected.” 

“We are in the business of saving people money,” he went on to say, a good business to be in when the economy is down. 

Several other measures in the bill also support renewable energy, including a one year extension of production tax credits for solar and wind, incentives for biofuels, and the creation of energy conservation bonds to fight climate change and encourage energy efficiency measures.  The Cleantech Practice Group of Morrison & Foerster compiled a nice summary of these measures.  In the days that follow after people get a chance to read the bill through more closely we’ll hear more about its impact.

One of the lessons of our current financial situation is that free markets cannot be left unregulated and expected to move in a direction that is beneficial to the long term interests of society and the economy.  The same is true of the environment.  Government plays an important role in regulating industry, driving changes that are beneficial to us all.  These measures to support renewable energy are an important example of this, creating a multitude of jobs and businesses, helping the economy, and helping the planet.