Saturday, July 14, 2012

Has the sun set on the US Green Energy Companies?




I attended the InterSolar trade show in San Francisco on Thursday.  It looks like the sun has set on US photovoltaic companies.  90% of the companies exhibiting PV cells in the show were from Asia (mostly China with a sprinkling from Japan and Korea), 8% from Europe and 2% from the US.  

The mood at the show was somber given the extremely low prices that PV systems are fetching these days.  Many companies are losing much money and there is an air of pessimism that many of the players in the PV supply chain will fold. 

The biggies in the US, First Solar, Sun Power, and Sun Edison did not exhibit.  Of course Solyndra, Hoku, and Abound could not exhibit as they are as dead as doornails.   BrightSource the US solar thermal company did not exhibit either.   GE did exhibit and so did SolarWorld.  The show should have been held in Shanghai as it simply was not a showcase of our North American PV technology.  Canadian Solar was an exhibitor but for all intents and purposes they are a Chinese company.  Attending the show made me feel sad about the current state of the US PV industry.

The most interesting item to me in the entire show was a booth that the owner had actually vacated but had left his exhibit remaining there.  It was a tiny booth perhaps 4 feet deep by 8 feet wide in a far off corner of the hall.  In the vacated booth there was a white direct current powered 14 cubic foot chest freezer that was made in China. 

This got me thinking that wow this is the right technology for a village in a poor country where a freezer is needed for a clinic or a small grocery shop.  Operating the freezer on PV power with direct connection (no inverter needed) to a brushless DC motor makes all the sense in the world.  The Freezer also acts as the energy storage (in this case cold storage) device and while the sun shines the motor will drive the refrigeration compressor  and for the rest of the time the chest that is well insulated keeps food cold without the need for power.   

No doubt that soon the Chinese will sell millions of freezers powered with brushless DC motors and the small set of PV cells that are needed to power the unit.   This like cell phones will bring enormous improvement to the quality of life of folks who live in rural villages in poor countries.

I have oft opined that A 123 will be a goner.  Well that day is getting closer and closer.  Today their stock closed at 84 cents a share and they simply cannot continue for much more than five or six months.  Of course Al Gore and his Fisker team will try to not let their battery supplier A 123 die before the Presidential election in November. 

Valence Technology another lithium ion battery company in the US went into chapter 11 bankruptcy this week, following Ener 1 that went bust a few months back.  A 123 is the sole remaining US lithium ion battery company and they are basically on life support.   


A US listed but primarily Chinese funded solar company Hoku also called it quits this week with a partially built factory in Idaho.  Hoku was pretty stealthy with Chinese backers who were building a $700 million polysilicon facility in Pocatello.   This link from the Hawaii Free Press is very revealing.

I wonder if Secretary of Energy Dr. Chu attended the Intersolar show or had some of his folks at the department of entropy attend the show.  If he or his reports attended, I wonder if they left the show as dejected as I did feeling that the state of the US clean energy companies is pretty much at full discharge.  The wealth has been spent and little to no success is evident.  

I hope there is soon a show for shale oil and gas companies that comes to San Francisco so I can get a boost of energy and feel like there is hope for us in America.  Interestingly it was reported today in the San Francisco Chronicle that the DOE is funding two Bay Area research projects for the improved storage of compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel.   The level of funding two the Bay Area companies totals about $1 million.  Given that Chu wasted about $50 billion on his other hair brain green tech schemes the natural gas research funding is a proverbial drop in the fuel bucket.  But sometimes a drop can make a difference when the underlying thermodynamics are favorable for energy to be yielded. 

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