Category Archives: Energy and environment

Wind-energy stock tips

Colorado features prominently in an article this week on wind-power transmission stocks in the AltEnergyStocks.com blog.

Written by investment advisor Tom Konrad, who also serves as treasurer for both the Colorado Renewable Energy Society and Ratepayers United Colorado, the article identifies several companies (though none in this state) that could benefit from increased demand for transmission facilities. That’s assuming, of course, that the current boom in wind power and other alternative energy sources continues.

The article mentions Colorado’s recently passed Senate Bill 100, which requires regulated electric utilities to identify — and develop plans to remedy — areas of high wind-energy potential where a lack of transmission capacity could hinder development. Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill into law two weeks ago, along with House Bill 1281, which requires state utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The AltEnergyStocks blog also ran an article last week on stocks that could benefit from wind turbine supply constraints. Investor’s Business Daily mentions some of the same stocks in a similar article today.

Turbine makers such as GE Energy are reportedly booked solid with orders well into next year, despite the industry’s aggressive plans to expand production. Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems, for instance, announced plans last month to build its first U.S. wind turbine blade factory in Windsor, Colo., near Fort Collins.

Surging demand for wind energy may pose a challenge for utilities and potential wind farm investors, but for transmission equipment suppliers, as well as Vestas, GE and other turbine suppliers, the good times appear to be just beginning to roll.

Denver hosts Green Grid meeting

Denver will play host next week to the first technical summit of The Green Grid, a non-profit consortium dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in computer data centers.

Energy use is a growing concern for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other big computer users, which are building huge data centers around the globe to handle soaring demand for broadband Internet services. Google engineer Luiz André Barroso has predicted, in fact, that energy costs may soon surpass the cost of computing equipment for large users.

The April 18-19 Green Grid event is expected to bring together leading technical experts from founding companies AMD, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. Longmont-based Copan Systems, Inc., a privately held maker of energy-efficient disk storage sysytems, was one of nearly 30 additional new members announced this week, including Brocade Communications, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Novell, QLogic, Texas Instruments and others.

This will be the first event for the organization since its launch this February. The two-day summit’s three main goals are: how to define and measure data-center efficiency, how to build more efficient data centers and how to improve the efficiency of daily operations.

EE Times reports that one possible solution the group may debate is shifting data centers from AC to DC power. While Intel has been touting that idea recently, Google has been pushing another approach calling for the computer industry to replace a wide variety of multi-voltage power supplies with standard, more efficient 12-volt power supplies.

For more information, see the Green Grid website: http://www.thegreengrid.org/.

NREL prizewinner: solar at ‘critical’ stage

Lawrence Kazmerski, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Center for Photovoltaics at the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sees the U.S. solar energy industry at a “critical stage,” with future progress dependent on continued government and university research.

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Kazmerski — who spoke Thursday at the University of Delaware after receiving the Karl Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit and a $40,000 prize — says the energy department’s recently unveiled Solar America Initiative was a major turning point for solar energy in this country. Last month the DOE announced it would provide up to $168 million for 13 industry-led solar energy research projects.

“It’s kind of like Nixon going to China,” he said in an article reported by the university’s daily newspaper. “A lot of people would not associate President Bush with renewable energy and anything like this, but he did make this initiative, part of which is in solar.”

Kazmerski said the new initiative positions the United States to be “a major player” in developing affordable solar energy technology, but notes that federal funding for solar technology development is just starting to recover from years of cutbacks. Last year’s $139 million merely brought the level of federal solar research funding even with what it was in 1982.

“Photovoltaics is at a tipping point, and right now it’s at a very critical stage [in] what happens and how fast this technology disseminates,” he said.

Kazmerski joined NREL’s predecessor, the Solar Energy Research Institute, in 1977 and has been director of its photovoltaics center since 1999. He also has been an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver.

He said he plans to donate the money from the award to start a program for university students to conduct research at NREL.

Fuel cell company acquired

Broomfield-based fuel cell maker Mesoscopic Devices LLC has agreed to be acquired for $12.4 million in cash and stock by Protonex Technology Corp.

Southborough, Mass.-based Protonex, which sells portable, low cost fuel cell systems to the U.S. military and commercial customers, expects the deal to enhance its technology portfolio, accelerate product development and open new markets.

Mesoscopic’s technical team will now focus mainly on its industry-leading solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology, which uses solid-state materials to generate electricity directly from chemical reactions. SOFC fuel cells operate at higher temperatures than conventional membrane-based fuel cells and can use widely available propane, gasoline and diesel as fuel.

The acquisition, scheduled to close this weekend, is contingent upon Protonex raising additional funds from institutional and strategic investors in a secondary stock offering. The company is seeking to raise $15 million to $25 million by selling new shares. Following that, Mesoscopic’s owners are to receive $3.2 million in cash and the balance in new Protonex shares.

Protonex (PXT.L) raised $16.2 million last July with an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market. The Mesoscopic purchase is its first strategic investment since going public.

Protonex lost $5.7 million on revenue of $2.3 million during 2006. Privately held Mesoscopic Devices reported a profit of $100,000 and revenue of $3.2 million during 2006.

Earlier this month Protonex was awarded awarded a $3.5 million contract to develop a 250-watt portable fuel cell power source for the U.S. Army. The contract was the company’s largest to date, and brought the value of its total government contracts to more than $11 million.

Wind plant picks Windsor

Northern Colorado economic development officials breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems (Copenhagen exchange: VWS) concluded months of negotiations with the announcement it will build its first U.S. wind turbine blade factory in Windsor’s Great Western Industrial Park, east of Fort Collins.vestas-turbine.jpg

Construction of the $60 million factory will begin this spring, with production expected to start in early 2008. The plant should eventually have the capacity to produce 1,200 blades per year, while employing about 400 people.

The Greeley Tribune reported last week that worker salaries will average about $32,000 annually, and that the town of Windsor has agreed to waive $560,000 in development fees, plus 50 percent of its usual personal property taxes for 10 years.

A few years ago Vestas reportedly considered building the plant near Portland, Oregon — the site of its U.S. headquarters. But it settled on Colorado for a variety of reasons.

The Northern Colorado Business Report says the company was attracted here, among other reasons, because:
• It wanted to be close to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Wind Technology Center (located between Golden and Boulder, near the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant).
• The Windsor site offers rail access and a central U.S. location that’s amenable to shipping huge blades — measuring half the length of a football field — throughout North America.
• Colorado’s recent passage of Amendment 37, which will require large investments in wind farms and other renewable energy sources.
• An abundance of skilled aerospace employees, including some displaced from Lockheed Martin Corp.

Vestas said in November that it planned to open two plants in 2007 — one in the U.S. and the other in Spain. The Jutland-based company already operates plants in Denmark, Germany, India, Italy, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Australia and China.

On Tuesday the company reported a 2006 operating profit of $267.4 million on sales of $5.1 billion, a sales increase of 7.5 percent. The company reported booming customer demand, but said that component shortages continued to hamper production.

Analysts estimate that Vestas had 25% of the global wind turbine market last year, ahead of GE, Enercon and Gamesa Eolica, each with about 15%. The company reportedly lost market share during 2006 following the entry of Germany’s Siemens into the U.S. market.

Colorado biofuels center debuts

There’s no better way to look good these days than to associate yourself with alternative energy (and with good reason).

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That’s why a cluster of Colorado government and business leaders flocked to the state Capitol steps in Denver this morning. They were there to announce a new collaborative biofuels venture intended to make the state a more significant player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products.

The press conference was expected to draw a cluster of state and national — albeit mostly Democratic — political figures, including U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. The governor’s press office promised the event would showcase “great visuals” of renewable energy technologies the joint venture could help bring to the public, such as flex-fuel and biodiesel vehicles and materials — including shirts, plastic cups, cellulose paper — produced from biomass.

The new private-public venture is called the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2).

Unfortunately, the C2B2 acronym already is being used by Columbia University’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, as well as a U.K.-based Internet consulting firm.

Nonetheless, the project, which Chemical and Engineering News reports took nine months to organize, should provide increased funds for numerous Colorado-based academic and U.S. government researchers who are working to accelerate the development of biofuels and biorefining technology.

University of Colorado chemical and biological engineering professor Alan W. Weimer will serve as the venture’s executive director. CU academics will be joined by researchers from Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines and the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Founding private-sector partners include Chevron Technology Ventures, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Shell Global Solutions, which reportedly will pay $50,000 annually for royalty-free, nonexclusive rights to jointly developed intellectual property.

The project marks the second time in recent months that NREL and the three state universities have agreed to work together in developing renewable energy technology. In February, CU, CSU, the School of Mines and NREL agreed to create a “collaboratory” for cooperative renewable energy research in the state. The Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory is intended to help state research institutions compete for private and public research projects to increase the production and use of energy from renewable resources.

The new biofuels center project is welcome and well-intended, and the companies deserve credit for their participation. But don’t expect cheap Colorado-grown biofuels to solve our energy needs overnight. The Rocky Mountain Institute suggests that biofuels, along with with more efficient cars, are at best likely to displace 3.7 million barrels per day of crude oil— one-fifth of forecasted U.S. consumption — by 2025.

Ascent Solar soars on Norsk buy

Shares of Littleton’s Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. (Nasdaq: ASTI) were one of the hottest items on the Nasdaq stock exchange on Wednesday, soaring 89% on news that Norway’s Norsk Hydro ASA (NYSE: NHY) bought 23% of the Colorado company for $9.2 million.

Ascent — which is developing thin-film copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaic cells that can be manufactured on flexible, low-cost plastic substrates — also gave Norsk Hydro an option to purchase another 12% of its shares later this year, subject to stockholder approval.

Ascent plans to build a 1.5 megawatt (MW) per year pilot manufacturing plant in the Denver area in 2008. By 2010 it aims to begin large-scale production from a 25 MW plant.

Smart Money writer Will Swarts, whose article on Ascent yesterday was headlined “One Day Wonder,” notes that the company’s market cap soared from $25 million on Monday to $34 million in just two days.

At this morning’s peak share price of $9.43, the company’s market cap briefly flirted with the $50 million mark before settling back to $43 million (@7.99 a share) by the end of the trading day.

Still, it’s not too bad for company that spun off last year from Littleton government contractor ITN Energy Systems Inc., went public in July at $5.50 a share (raising $16.5 million) and has languished at $2 to $3 a share until this month.

The solar energy industry — which got a boost last week from the US Energy Department’s plan to provide up to$168 million in development funds for 13 solar energy projects — suddenly has become one of Wall Street’s darlings.

But investors would do well to exercise caution, and avoid being swept up in what New York Times writer Matt Richtel on Wednesday referred to as the next “watt-com” boom.