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April 06, 2013

TMCnet Green Tech Week in Review



In green technology developments this week, every action seemed to be matched by equal and opposite reactions in the areas of funding, regulation, and technology.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates (News - Alert)—who already has funded five battery startups to date—also participated in the recently completed $35 million Series D round of financing by Pittsburgh-based Aquion Energy, a developer of aqueous hybrid ion (AHI) batteries and energy storage systems for the grid. In this investment solicitation, which was led by Bright Capital, Gates was joined by another new backer—Chicago-based Gentry Venture Partners. Returning financiers included Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of Menlo Park, Calif.; Foundation Capital of Atlanta, and Advanced Technology Ventures of Waltham, Mass..  

Why has Gates got the battery bug? At a TED Conference in Long Beach, Calif. in 2010, he explained, “"All the batteries we make now could store less than 10 minutes of all the energy [in the world]. So, in fact, we need a big breakthrough here—something that's going to be of a factor of 100 better than what we have now."

On the other hand, British Petroleum (BP), which under former chief executive John Browne set its course "Beyond Petroleum,” is now “back pedaling” away from that strategy. According to multiple industry sources, the company has abandoned its alternative energy initiatives and will sell its U.S. wind operations, valued at about $1.5 billion. The London-based oil and gas company has been crushed under the weight of a commitment to restore the economy and environment of America’s Gulf Coast, following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in April 2010. BP already has spent about $24 billion on cleanup efforts and compensation—and may well owe another $17 billion if a U.S. district court finds that its actions were grossly negligent under the terms of the Clean Water Act on the day of the explosion.

BP plans to dispose of interests in 16 operating wind farms in nine stateswith a total capacity of about 2,600 megawatts, Mark Salt, a London-based spokesman for BP, confirmed in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg (News - Alert) .The company also will sell projects in various stages of development, including 2,000 megawatts of wind poised to start construction, he said.

As Oscar Wilde said, “It is always with the best of intentions that the worst work is done.” And that has been the case with the resolution passed unanimously last July 30 at the New England Governor’s Conference in Burlington, Vt.—where the leaders of six Northeast states agreed to advance the process toward a coordinated regional procurement of renewable energy, with an emphasis on solar and wind power. The initiative was introduced by Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and received with great enthusiasm by the other members of the group—including Daniel P. Malloy (Connecticut), Paul R. LePage (Maine), John Lynch (New Hampshire), Lincoln D. Chafee (Rhode Island) and Peter Shumlin (Vermont).

According to Patrick, “Taking advantage of economies of scale and market power, a competitive, coordinated regional procurement of renewable energy [would] help New England develop its vast, homegrown, renewable energy resource more cost-effectively, enhance energy supply diversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate economic development.” However, speaking to the Associated Press (News - Alert) this week, Christopher Recchia, commissioner of Vermont's Public Service Department, bluntly assessed, "I don't think we know how to do it."  In fact, according to recent reports, some of the states are at such loggerheads that they are pulling out of the project.  New Hampshire is not participating, and Maine and Vermont disagree with Connecticut over whether hydropower and biomass count as renewable energy

In New York, however, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is championing a plan that will advance the state’s solar sector by “light years” within a very short timeframe. On March 28, Cuomo awarded $46 million more in funding for 76 large-scale solar energy projects—which are expected to add 52 megawatts to the Empire State’s rapidly expanding solar portfolio. The announcement follows a year of unprecedented statewide solar growth as a result of the NY-Sun initiative. The initiative was designed to install in 2012 twice the customer-sited PV capacity that was added during 2011—and to quadruple that amount in 2013 through expanded competitive and open enrollment opportunities. As a result of NY-Sun, more photovoltaic (PV) systems are now being deployed in the state than in the entire prior decade, The $46 million from New York State, awarded through a competitive program, leverages $100 million in private investment, resulting in a cumulative $146 million in infrastructure projects. The initiative brings together and expands existing programs administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), and the New York Power Authority (NYPA), to ensure a coordinated, well-funded solar energy expansion plan. The current solar program is investing $800 million through 2015. Then again, Governor Cuomo proposed in his 2013 State of the State address to extend the annual funding for the successful NY-Sun program through 2023.

Finally, at the federal level this week, environmentalists cheered—while Republicans and the oil lobby sneered—and it was all part of business as usual on the Beltway, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations requiring cleaner gasoline and lower-pollution cars and trucks nationwide in the United States. The regulations announced by EPA would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by 60 percent and impose fleetwide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017. The agency promised that its plan would add less than a penny to the price of a gallon of gas and make the air cleaner for everyone, but foes of the measure said it would raise prices at the pump and unduly burden refineries.




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