Another solar IPO… but where’s ATS and Photowatt?

First Solar of Phoenix, Ariz., has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $250 million (U.S.), which will be used to construct manufacturing facilities in Germany and Asia for thin-film solar modules.

“We design and manufacture solar modules using a proprietary thin film semiconductor technology that has established us as one of the lowest cost solar module manufacturers in the world,” the company states in its SEC filing. “In 2005, our average manufacturing costs were $1.59 per Watt, which we believe is significantly less than those of traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers. By continuing to expand production and improve our technology and manufacturing process, we believe that we can further reduce our manufacturing costs per Watt and improve our cost advantage over traditional crystalline silicon solar modules manufacturers.”

The company says that its objective is to become, by 2010, “the first solar module manufacturer to offer a solar electricity solution that competes on a non-subsidized basis with the price of retail electricity in key markets in the United States, Europe and Asia.”

It’s an impressive story, which makes one wonder what’s happening with Canada’s ATS and its plans for an IPO of its Photowatt unit. In late May the company announced delays at its new Spheral Solar unit and its stock immediately plunged. ATS still says it’s going ahead with an IPO, but some analysts say the window of opportunity may now be lost. Sure, First Solar’s IPO plans indicate that investors are still enthusiastic sun worshippers, but it also raises the bar when it comes to technology. ATS’s Spheral Solar technology may have been impressive and attractive two years ago, but it’s less so now. When the company does finally get around to the Photowatt IPO, it will be interesting to see whether investors still have an appetite for it. A key determination will be if Elk Roofing begins selling Spheral Solar integrated roofing products before the IPO.

Another solar IPO… but where’s ATS and Photowatt?

First Solar of Phoenix, Ariz., has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $250 million (U.S.), which will be used to construct manufacturing facilities in Germany and Asia for thin-film solar modules.

“We design and manufacture solar modules using a proprietary thin film semiconductor technology that has established us as one of the lowest cost solar module manufacturers in the world,” the company states in its SEC filing. “In 2005, our average manufacturing costs were $1.59 per Watt, which we believe is significantly less than those of traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers. By continuing to expand production and improve our technology and manufacturing process, we believe that we can further reduce our manufacturing costs per Watt and improve our cost advantage over traditional crystalline silicon solar modules manufacturers.”

The company says that its objective is to become, by 2010, “the first solar module manufacturer to offer a solar electricity solution that competes on a non-subsidized basis with the price of retail electricity in key markets in the United States, Europe and Asia.”

It’s an impressive story, which makes one wonder what’s happening with Canada’s ATS and its plans for an IPO of its Photowatt unit. In late May the company announced delays at its new Spheral Solar unit and its stock immediately plunged. ATS still says it’s going ahead with an IPO, but some analysts say the window of opportunity may now be lost. Sure, First Solar’s IPO plans indicate that investors are still enthusiastic sun worshippers, but it also raises the bar when it comes to technology. ATS’s Spheral Solar technology may have been impressive and attractive two years ago, but it’s less so now. When the company does finally get around to the Photowatt IPO, it will be interesting to see whether investors still have an appetite for it. A key determination will be if Elk Roofing begins selling Spheral Solar integrated roofing products before the IPO.

China raises bar on wind-turbine tech

The Chinese are pushing ahead with their own wind technology innovations. Developers there have unveiled what’s being touted as the world’s first full-permanent magnetic levitation wind power generator. What does this mean? I’m assuming that using magnetic levitation, or maglev, there’s less friction and wear and tear on components. This allows the turbines to capture energy from lower wind speeds and apparently extends the life of wind power plants by 1,000 hours.

According to the chief scientist behind the technology, the generator can boost wind energy generating capacity by as much as 20 per cent over traditional turbines and dramatically lowers operational expenses of wind farms — by as much as 50 per cent. This, he claims, would drive the cost of wind power to below 5 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour.

The Worldwatch Institute, citing Xinhua News, said the new technology could potentially fill the power void in locations with no connection to the grid by harnessing low-speed wind resources that were previously untappable. “With an increasing number of Chinese and international investors joining the global booming wind power market, the technology is expected to create new opportunities in low-wind-speed areas worldwide such as mountain regions, islands, observatories, and television transfer stations. In addition, the Maglev generator will be able to provide roadside lighting along highways by utilizing the airflow generated from vehicles passing by.”

I’ve emphasized the final sentence in that quote because there has been much debate about the potential for harnessing wind from traffic on highways. Some say the resistance caused by the turbines merely makes vehicles work harder and use more fuel, counteracting any perceived energy benefits. But if these things levitate on magnets, perhaps the low resistance makes this scenario more realistic.

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see how the Chinese attempt to commercialize this technology beyond its own borders.

EPA and UPS introduce hydraulic hybrid delivery vehicle

As expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and United Parcel Service recently unveiled a hydraulic hybrid UPS delivery truck that will be tested throughout the rest of 2006 for fuel economy and emission reduction. “In laboratory testing, the EPA’s patented hydraulic hybrid diesel technology achieved a 60 to 70 percent improvement in fuel economy and more than a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to a conventional UPS vehicle,” according to a press release from the agency.

“The EPA cited laboratory tests showing that the technology has the potential to dramatically improve the fuel economy of urban vehicles used in applications such as package delivery, shuttle and transit buses and refuse pick-up. The EPA estimated that when manufactured in high volume, the added costs of the hybrid components could be recouped in less than three years through lower fuel and brake maintenance costs.”

I wrote earlier about rumours that Ford was planning to use the technology with its F-150 pickup truck, but it appears the focus these days is on larger fleet vehicles. It will be interesting to see whether this hydraulic technology proves competitive with hybrid-electric technology currently being deployed on delivery fleets through company’s such as Toronto-based Azure Dynamics.

For another take, check out this post at The Energy Blog.

Comparing Kyoto with the AP6

Came across this short paper from Toronto law firm McMillan Binch Mendelsohn that does a good job comparing the Kyoto Protocol and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, the latter being a partnership formed in January between the U.S., Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea. Canada is looking at becoming a member.

Two key differences between the two plans are highlighted:

1) Kyoto is against reliance on nuclear power for emission reductions, while the AP6 endorses nuclear and renewables as a way to combat climate change.

2) Kyoto attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the AP6 relies exclusively on voluntary use of green technologies by the public and private sector.

The paper says AP6 members emphasize that their plan is meant to complement, not replace, the Kyoto Protocol.  “If properly implemented, the AP6 could complement Kyoto-driven GHG emission mitigation measures,” the paper concludes. “Regardless of the means, members of both groups acknowledge the need for a transition to carbon-neutral economies. Both agreements provide the means for doing this: the Kyoto Protocol by placing a price on C02 and its defined equivalents, and the AP6 by promoting growth in clean technologies.”

The paper makes this final point: “Perhaps a hybrid of the agreements, involving the regulation of GHG emissions and the promotion of ‘green technologies,’ will provide the best results.”

I have no problem with Canada joining the AP6, so long as it sticks with Kyoto and agrees to work within that framework. I agree that more emphasis must be placed on the use of clean technologies, but not at the exclusion of aggressive emission-reduction targets set by Kyoto. If Canada, and Japan, can stay vocal members of both groups perhaps this can serve as a bridge that will bring the U.S., India and China more willing participants in international emission-reduction efforts.