Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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Selling a Bridge to Nowhere: NREL Lithium/Carbon Metric

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 01:58 PM PDT

Back in 2003, for those who know the history of the second coming of electric cars, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) was convinced to rewrite the definition of zero emission vehicles to include hybrids. About the same time, Chevron was suing everyone to keep the nickel-metal-hydride battery out of electric vehicles. However, they became the standard for hybrids. The movie "Who Killed the Electric Car" may have been inconclusive but attention did shift to hybrids, which continue to use gasoline, as the EV was crushed.

With this in mind, I have been rather surprised to find a number of recent articles promoting hybrids over battery electric vehicles due to lithium usage. A NREL study concludes lithium is used more sparingly in hybrid cars per pound of carbon saved than in an EV. Bill Moore of EV world gives us: "Hybrids: The Best Use for Lithium." At Alternative Energy Stocks they are of two minds when it comes to an EV, with Tom Konrad taking a slightly more pro EV perspective than his colleague John Peterson.


There are several ways to look at this information and it may be too easy to draw inaccurate conclusions. Is the NREL study inaccurate? We might ask if lithium is a scarce resource, and then, if using lithium is the only means to achieve the lower carbon goal? We might ask if saving carbon is the only reason for advocating electric cars. We could simply ask who would promote this point of view. Does the NREL study tell us we should pursue hybrid technology over a vehicle that only operates on batteries?

NREL Study Scope

As with any study, the NREL information is narrowly focused. It weighs two variables: the amount of lithium used and the amount of carbon offset. Is the data inaccurate? A casual review of the study can’t give us this information. To save time and effort, we can assume for now that the study is accurate and look at what it says and the conclusions..

Scarcity of Resources

Gasoline is a combination of elements. We are concerned about gasoline becoming scarce because energy is stored in the bonds between its elements. The elements themselves don’t disappear, they just form new relationships at a lower energy level. It is actually the energy we are concerned with losing and not the elements.

Lithium is an Element

It doesn’t possess chemical energy by itself, but we can store electrical energy by using it in a battery. So while we store gasoline in a relatively cheap fuel tank. Lithium is the fuel tank into which we “pour” the fuel, electricity. It is constantly reused, and when the battery is no longer as useful as a container, we can recover the elements.

Alternatives to Lithium

There are two facts not mentioned in the NREL study. Lithium is not the only possible battery chemistry. Because its maximum storage capacity is less, our ultimate goal is that we will, within 5 years, be looking at a different chemistry like Zinc-Air that offers even more potential. There are also studies that suggest the cheapest path to vehicle electrification would be to use wireless technology in electrified roadways. Such a system would give unlimited range with no need to recharge a vehicle and no concerns about recharging times.

How Much Lithium?

The NREL study projects lithium usage out for 50 years (as if technology will remain static) yet concludes that we have enough lithium to meet the needs of Lithium batteries worldwide. As an exercise, we could ask if we have enough lithium to bring us, within 5 years, to an even more advanced energy storage. Within 4 years, the present administration proposes to have 1 million electric vehicles on the roads, including hybrids. Some suggest that that this may be more practical within 5 years. The Nissan Leaf battery uses about 9# of lithium. We would theoretically need about 9 million pounds of lithium over 5 years, or about 4500 tonnes. We presently produce about 25,000 tonnes each year and about 25% of that is used for batteries. Plenty of lithium.

Is Carbon Our Only Concern?

We have explored the use of petrol vehicles for over 100 years. The use and options with this transportation are widely known. All electric vehicles are like a key that unlocks options we need. An EV is the most efficient vehicle. The vehicles will be charged primarily at night. This time shifts our power usage and makes our grid more efficient. Battery electric vehicles can be used for backup power and might be even more cheaply powered using solar panels. Such vehicles lead to a decentralization of power. This, in turn, provides security not only from foreign energy supplies but from growing debt, inflation, and interest rates.

A bridge to nowhere

What does this study actually do? What action does it advocate? If lithium were scarce to the point of rationing, I might remotely understand the purpose of such a study. If the adoption of battery electric vehicles were not so useful a public policy, we might question our course of action for that reason. Rather, the study only looks like something of substance. It might be useful if some unusual conditions were to arise, but its conclusions are empty as the initial condition is not met. As such, the study, or at least its use, begins to look like a bridge to nowhere.

Bridge photo via cyanocorax
Return on lithium graphic via NREL powerpoint


Glimpse Recessed LED Lighting

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 01:45 PM PDT

Glimpse LED light

Recently, Lighting Science Group unveiled a new recessed LED lighting fixture. Unlike competitors models, Glimpse can be surface mounted to a J-Box as a luminaire or be retrofit into 5" or 6" recessed downlight by replacing the existing Edison base lamp and trim.

The Glimpse owes it mounting versatility to it’s thin size, only 2.116″. LSG was able to obtain such a small frame by using a single heatsink whereas most recessed LED lights employ multiple heatsinks. The Glimpse will retail for $37 at the Home Depot.

Additional Specs:

  • 750 lumen WW package
  • Available in 2700, 3000, 4000K
  • Dimmable down to 5%
  • Designed for a 50,000 hour life
  • Consumes 15 watts
  • Uses 70% less material in design than a standard downlighting system

Image ©: Lighting Science Group


Japanese Public Protests Plan to Reopen Nuclear Reactors

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 01:42 PM PDT

Japan has long had strong feelings on the subject of nuclear energy, only heightened by the tsunami and subsequent meltdown in Fukushima last spring. Before the disaster, approximately a third of its power supply had been supplied by nuclear reactors, with plans in place to increase that percentage to half.

Now, the majority of Japan's nuclear reactors are offline (both due to regularly scheduled maintenance and emergency safety checks, presumably to determine whether or not other reactors would be able to withstand foundation-splitting earthquakes and massive walls of water). However, they may not remain inactive – current prime minister Yoshihiko Noda favors re-opening the idle reactors once they have passed the appropriate stress tests.

The prospect of returning to nuclear power sparked a show of public opposition on Monday in Tokyo, with at least 20,000 participants (according to the police) and perhaps as many as 60,000 (according to various media reports). Protestors carried signs stating "No Nukes – Let's Stop All Radiation Now" and "This Child Doesn't Need Radiation"(complete with a happy cartoon boy). A few of the more well-known faces among the protestors were quite vocal in their opposition – popular actor Taro Yamamoto stated that Japan's other energy sources were already sufficient and that further use of nuclear power would result in a stockpile of nuclear waste, while Nobel literature laureate Kenzaburo Oe simply exhorted fellow protestors to "let leaders of major parties and the Japan Business Federation know that we intend to resist [nuclear power]."

Former prime minister Naoto Kan was also among those opposing re-instatement of nuclear power, although not present at the protests. He has gone so far as to state during recent interviews that he had feared for Japan's future as a nation during the nuclear crisis and considered evacuating 30 million people from Tokyo itself.

Amidst continuing radioactive leaks from Fukushima Daiichi and an evacuation zone measuring 24 miles in diameter around the plant, the overwhelming majority of the population polled by Associated Press does not favor nuclear expansion, but a perplexing 35% favor keeping existing plants open. Those evacuated – approximately 100,000 in total – may not be able to return for years, perhaps decades, due to persistent high levels of dangerous radiation.

Source | Picture: The Guardian


Penn State Researchers Discover Method of Off-Grid Hydrogen Production

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 12:45 PM PDT

New discoveries made in producing hydrogen

A Penn State research team reports an unlimited supply of pure hydrogen gas can be produced using seawater, river water and organic waste. The news may mean our renewable energy infrastructure will soon undergo a dramatic shift.

According to the Penn State team of Bruce E. Logan, professor of environmental engineering, and postdoctoral fellow Younggy Kim, a grain of salt or two may be all microbial electrolysis cells need to produce hydrogen from wastewater or organic byproducts. They contend this could occur without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere or using grid electricity.

“This system could produce hydrogen anyplace that there is wastewater near sea water,” said Logan. “It uses no grid electricity and is completely carbon neutral. It is an inexhaustible source of energy.”

Get prepared for a radical shift in how renewable energy is produced and distributed. Microbial electrolysis cells that produce hydrogen are the basis of this recent work, but previously, to produce hydrogen, the fuel cells required some electrical input. Now, Logan, working with postdoctoral fellow Younggy Kim, is using the difference between river water and seawater to add the extra energy needed to produce hydrogen.

Their results of this research, published in the Sept. 19 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “show that pure hydrogen gas can efficiently be produced from virtually limitless supplies of seawater and river water and biodegradable organic matter.”

Logan’s cells were between 58 and 64 percent efficient in producing between 0.8 to 1.6 cubic meters of hydrogen for every cubic meter of liquid through the cell each day. According to a press announcement from Penn State, the researchers estimated that only about 1 percent of the energy produced in the cell was needed to pump water through the system. The research team says the key to these microbial electrolysis cells is reverse-electrodialysis (RED) that extracts energy from the ionic differences between salt water and fresh water. An RED stack consists of alternating ion exchange membranes — positive and negative — with each RED contributing additively to the electrical output.

RED technology to hydrolyze water — split it into hydrogen and oxygen — requires 1.8 volts, which would in practice require about 25 pairs of membrane sand increase pumping resistance. However, combining RED technology with exoelectrogenic bacteria — bacteria that consume organic material and produce an electric current — reduced the number of RED stacks to five membrane pairs.

Previous work with microbial electrolysis cells showed that they could, by themselves, produce about 0.3 volts of electricity, but not the 0.414 volts needed to generate hydrogen in these fuel cells. Adding less than 0.2 volts of outside electricity released the hydrogen. Now, by incorporating 11 membranes — five membrane pairs that produce about 0.5 volts — the cells produce hydrogen. “The added voltage that we need is a lot less than the 1.8 volts necessary to hydrolyze water,” said Logan. “Biodegradable liquids and cellulose waste are abundant and with no energy in and hydrogen out we can get rid of wastewater and by-products. This could be an inexhaustible source of energy.”

Logan and Kim’s research used platinum as a catalyst on the cathode, however, subsequent experimentation has shown that a non-precious metal catalyst, molybdenum sulfide, provided 51 percent energy efficiency.

Pure hydrogen doesn’t occur naturally. Traditional production methods have required significant energy, usually generated by fossil fuels.

This could be the discovery of the century for the renewable energy industry.

Photo: Bruce Logan

Solyndra Facts & Lies

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 11:24 AM PDT

A probe into Solyndra's bankruptcy filing may spread to the White House and other clean energy companies.

This is a full repost of a Media Matters article too good to pass up, especially since we continue to get inane comments here on CleanTechnica about it and I can only imagine how many people have been confused by the disinformers.

In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.


CLAIM: Bush Administration Rejected Solyndra’s Application

  • ABC News: Under Bush administration, credit committee “made a unanimous decision not to offer a loan commitment to Solyndra.” [ABC News, 9/13/11]
  • Fox Nation: “Bush Admin. Voted AGAINST Solyndra Loan.” [Fox Nation, 9/14/11]
  • FoxNews.com: Bush credit committee “decided ‘not to engage in further discussions with Solyndra.’” [FoxNews.com, 9/14/11]
  • America’s Newsroom: “In January of 2009 the Bush Administration considered it. They backed away from it. But then the checks started going out.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom9/16/11]
  • Bill O’Reilly: The Bush administration “shut it down. And then as soon as the president, the current president, Obama took office they started it up again.” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 9/16/11, via Nexis]
  • Fox’s David Asman: Bush administration “nixed the loans.” [Fox Business, America's Nightly Scoreboard, 9/17/11, via Nexis]
  • Fox’s Stephen Hayes: “Bush administration “cut off the discussions with Solyndra.” [Fox News,Special Report, 9/15/11, via Nexis]

FACT: Same Panel Of Career Officials Approved The Loan Guarantee

Bush Admin. Advanced 16 Projects, Including Solyndra, Out Of 143 Submissions. The Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program was created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. At a congressional hearing, Jonathan Silver, the Executive Director of Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, testified that the Bush administration’s DOE [Department of Energy] selected Solyndra from 143 submissions to move forward in the process:

SILVER: The 2006 solicitation resulted in 143 submissions. The loan program staff and others at the department reviewed those for eligibility, which is a thinner review than the full due diligence, and recommended 16 applications to file a full application. A dozen did so. Solyndra was one of those. And the department conducted due diligence on all of those 11. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/14/11, via Nexis]

Under Bush Admin., The Credit Committee Remanded The Project “For Further Development Of Information.” During the final days of the Bush administration, the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee credit committee, consisting of career officials, said that although the Solyndra project “appears to have merit,” the committee needed more information in several areas before it could recommend approval of a conditional commitment. The committee “remand[ed]” the loan “without prejudice” for “further development of information.” [Credit Committee, 9/9/09, via Huffington Post]

DOE Under Bush Admin. Set Out Timeline For Completing Solyndra Review. After the credit committee remanded the project for further information, officials at the Department of Energy under the Bush Administration developed a schedule for due diligence on the Solyndra project, envisioning completion in March 2009. [Department of Energy, 9/14/11]

In March, The Same Credit Committee Of Career Civil Servants Recommended Approval. As Climate Progress noted, in March 2009, “The same credit committee [consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise] approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board – political appointees within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.” [Climate Progress, 9/13/11]

  • DOE Official: “It’s The Same Group Of Career Professionals That Were On The First Committee.” In his testimony, DOE’s Silver stated that the credit committee that remanded the project during the Bush administration “is also exactly the same credit committee that then approved the transaction several months later.” He added that the loan guarantee “didn’t close until September and so additional due diligence takes place from the conditional commitment through the close of the loan.” [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/14/11, via Nexis]

CLAIM: Email Saying Deal Was “NOT Ready For Prime Time” Was Warning About Financial Risk

  • ABC reported that internal emails “show the Obama administration was keenly monitoring the progress of the loan, even as analysts were voicing serious concerns about the risk involved. ‘This deal is NOT ready for prime time,’ one White House budget analyst wrote in a March 10, 2009 email, nine days before the administration formally announced the loan.” [ABC News, 9/13/11]
  • CNN claimed “prime time” email showed “some White House budget analysts questioned early on how financially sound Solyndra was.” [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 9/15/11, via Nexis]
  • Fox’s Neil Cavuto: “Prime time” email was warning that “the loan could be very risky for taxpayers.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 9/14/11, via Nexis]
  • Wash. Examiner: “Prime time” email showed “some officials in the Obama Administration thought the loan was a lousy idea.” [Washington Examiner9/14/11]

FACT: The Email Did Not Voice Any Concerns About Risk Of Loan

Email Concerned Timing Of Announcement, Not The Merit Of The Loan Guarantee. Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released some of the context around this email, which was written by an analyst with the Office of Management and Budget, according to House Republicans. In response to an email about a potential announcement of the Solyndra loan during the President’s visit to California on March 19, 2009, the analyst argued that the presidential announcement should not be made before the loan deal was completed. The email argued that “This deal is NOT ready for prime time” because there were more steps to be completed before the loan guarantee could be finalized — namely, OMB had to review the credit rating and Solyndra needed to raise an additional $200 million in private captial. [House Energy and Commerce Republicans, 9/14/11]

Obama Did Not Announce A Deal During His March California Trip. On March 19, 2009, Obama visited California and held a town hall meeting in Los Angeles. He did not announce the Solyndra deal. The conditional commitment to Solyndra was issued on March 20 and announced by Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a press release. [Department of Energy, 3/20/09]

VP Announcement Came After Loan Guarantee Was Finalized In September. The Solyndra loan guarantee was formally issued by DOE on September 3, 2009. On September 4, Vice President Joe Biden announced the deal via satellite at the groundbreaking of the plant along with DOE’s Chu and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was the Governor of California at the time. [Department of Energy, 9/4/09;Contra Costa Times9/5/09]

OMB Reviews Credit Subsidy Cost; It Does Not Select Loan Guarantee Recipients. From the Congressional testimony of Jeffrey Zients of the Office of Management and Budget:

ZIENTS: Pursuant to Section 503 of FCRA, OMB reviews and must approve credit subsidy cost estimates for all loan and loan guarantee programs, including the credit subsidy cost estimates generated by DOE for the Title XVII program, to ensure that costs are accounted for appropriately. The Title XVII program provides relatively large-dollar guarantees and because their characteristics, terms, and risks vary greatly from project to project, OMB assesses cost estimates on a loan-by-loan basis. This is the same approach OMB uses for loans or loan guarantees of other similar programs that involve large deals or varied structures, such as those administered by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank.

In performing its statutory role under FCRA, OMB delegates the modeling of credit subsidy costs to agencies, and issues implementing guidance to ensure consistent and accurate estimates of cost. For new programs or programs issuing their first loans or loan guarantees, such as the Title XVII program in 2009, OMB works closely with agencies to create or revise credit subsidy models. Based on these models, OMB reviews and exercises final approval authority over credit subsidy costs to ensure that the costs of direct loans and loan guarantees are presented, and reflect estimated risks, consistently across Federal agencies so that taxpayer funds are invested in a prudent and effective fashion. By contrast, the final decision on whether to issue the loan or guarantee rests with the agency implementing the applicable program – DOE in the case of Title XVII. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/14/11, emphasis added]

CLAIM: Obama Fundraiser George Kaiser Is Personally Invested In Solyndra

  • ABC’s Brian Ross: “One of Solyndra’s principal investors, George Kaiser, who was a big Obama fund-raiser, visited the White House at least four times before the loan’s final approval.” [ABC, World News with Diane Sawyer, 9/1/11, via Nexis]
  • AP: “One of the company’s investors, George Kaiser of Oklahoma, helped raised money for Obama’s presidential campaign.” [Associated Press, 9/8/11, via CBS News]
  • CNN’s Lisa Sylvester: “Records show the main private investor in Solyndra is a man named George Kaiser, a key fund-raiser for Mr. Obama.” [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 9/15/11, via Nexis]
  • CBS’s John Blackstone: “The biggest investor in Solyndra is Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, a major fundraiser for the Obama presidential campaign.” [CBS Evening News, 9/14/11, via Nexis]
  • Politico: “One of Solyndra’s primary investors is George Kaiser, a bundler who raised $50,000 for Obama’s campaign in 2008.” [Politico9/15/11]
  • LA Times: “Solyndra is backed by one of Obama’s key fundraisers, George Kaiser of Tulsa.” [Los Angeles Times9/2/11]
  • Michelle Malkin: “One of the hugest investors in the massively failed enterprise just happens to be one of Obama’s largest funders, a man named George Kaiser … You got crony capitalism.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/14/11, via Nexis]
  • Weekly Standard: “It’s probably not surprising to learn that one of Solyndra’s key investors, Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, was an Obama campaign bundler.” [Weekly Standard9/12/11]

FACT: Kaiser’s Nonprofit Foundation Made The Investments, Along With Conservative Walton Family

George Kaiser Family Foundation Made Investment Through Argonaut Ventures. Tulsa Worldreported:

The filing indicates that Argonaut Ventures, an investment arm of the Tulsa-based foundation [George Kaiser Family Foundation], holds almost 39 percent of Solyndra’s parent, 360 Solar Degree Holdings Inc.

In an emailed statement to the Tulsa World, a representative of the George Kaiser Family Foundation said the organization made the investment through Argonaut.

“George Kaiser is not an investor in Solyndra and did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan,” the statement said. “GKFF invests in a globally diversified portfolio across many different asset classes.” [Tulsa World9/7/11]

  • Argonaut Is A “Wholly Owned Subsidiary” Of The Foundation. A spokesperson for the George Kaiser Family Foundation clarified that Argonaut is a “wholly owned subsidiary of the foundation” and that money made or lost by Argonaut was made or lost for the foundation. [Phone conversation, 9/19/11]

Second Largest Investor In Solyndra Was A Major Donor To Republicans. The Los Angeles Times reported:

Although Solyndra’s biggest private investor was a venture capital fund affiliated with Kaiser, its second largest investor was a fund linked to the Walton family, of Wal-Mart renown, a major donor to Republicans. Kaiser has denied he ever spoke to the Obama administration about the Solyndra loan.

The chief executive of Solyndra, Brian Harrison, is a registered Republican, according to the San Jose Mercury News. [Los Angeles Times9/13/11]

Politico: Solyndra Had “Close Ties To Both Political Parties.” Politico reported:

In fact, Solyndra’s top brass, its board and its paid lobbyists bring close ties to both political parties.

President and CEO Brian Harrison is a registered Republican. Billionaire George Kaiser, an Obama campaign bundler, was one of the venture capitalists who poured private funding into the clean technology startup.

And another venture capital firm, Madrone Capital Partners, which is tied to the GOP-leaning Walton family, was one of 10 firms that helped Solyndra raise about $144 million in November 2008.

In Washington, Victoria Sanville, one of the company’s two in-house lobbyists, had previously worked for four House Republicans: Sam Graves of Missouri, Peter Roskam of Illinois, John Sweeney of New York and George Gekas of Pennsylvania.

When it comes to campaign contributions, Solyndra officials gave much more to Democrats while still giving money to some Republicans, according to a POLITICO analysis of donation data compiled by OpenSecrets.org. [Politico9/14/11]

CLAIM: Administration Restructured Loan To Favor Kaiser Rather Than Taxpayers

  • AP Headline: “Obama admin reworked Solyndra loan to favor donor.” [Associated Press, 9/16/11]
  • ABC’s Brian Ross: “Even though administration officials knew the company was facing bankruptcy, they agreed to restructure the loan so that in case the company did fail, the first $75 million recovered would go not to taxpayers but to the private investors.” [ABC, World News with Diane Sawyer, 9/14/11, via Nexis]
  • New York Times reported that Argonaut alone provided $69 million in new loans, before adding a correction. [New York Times9/16/11]
  • Fox’s Andrea Tantaros: “The real scandal” is “that George Kaiser, a bundler for Obama, put $75 million of his own money into the company … and he got preferential treatment over the taxpayers in bankruptcy court.” [Fox News, The Five, 9/16/11, via Nexis]

FACT: Walton’s Firm Also Part Of The Deal, Which DOE Expects Will Result In Higher Recovery For Taxpayers

Memo: Walton Family’s Firm Was Part Of The Restructuring Deal. A memo released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee states that both Argonaut Venture Capital, the fund tied to Kaiser’s foundation, and Madrone Capital Partners, which is tied to the Walton family, “negotiated the terms and conditions of an agreement to restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee”:

In the fall of 2010, DOE told Solyndra that, due to the company’s financial problems, the department would refuse its request for a loan disbursement unless Solyndra obtained additional capital. Solyndra, DOE, and two of Solyndra’s lead investors — Argonaut Venture Capital and Madrone Capitol Partners –began negotiations to restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee agreement. On November 3, 2010, Solyndra announced that it was closing its older manufacturing facility, resulting in the layoff of 135 temporary employees and approximately 40 full-time employees.

From December 2010 through February 2011, DOE, Solyndra, and two of its investors, Argonaut Venture Capital and Madrone Capitol Partners, negotiated the terms and conditions of an agreement to restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee. Throughout this process, DOE consulted with OMB about the proposed terms and conditions of this arrangement.

On February 23, 2011, the parties signed an agreement to restructure the Solyndra deal. Under that agreement, Solyndra’s investors agreed to a $75 million credit facility, with the option of a second $75 million. DOE agreed to extend the term of Solyndra’s loan guarantee from seven to 10 years, and to postpone the first repayment installment by one year, from 2012 to 2013. In addition, the agreement provided that, in the event of the company’s liquidation before 2013, the investors have the senior secured position with respect to the first $75 million recovered. DOE has the second senior secured position with respect to the next $150 million recovered in liquidation. If Solyndra had not liquidated or declared bankruptcy by 2013, the investors would have lost their senior secured position to DOE. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/12/11]

AP: “Two Private Investors” Provided The Emergency Loans. Despite its headline, “Obama admin reworked Solyndra loan to favor donor,” the AP article stated that Madrone Partners LP was also part of the deal:

Under terms of the February loan restructuring, two private investors — Argonaut Ventures I LLC and Madrone Partners LP – stand to be repaid before the U.S. government if the solar company is liquidated. The two firms gave the company a total of $69 million in emergency loans. The loans are the only portion of their investments that have repayment priority above the U.S. government. [Associated Press, 9/16/11]

DOE Determined “That The Facility Would Be More Valuable, Even In The Event Of A Future Liquidation, Once Complete.” In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Director of DOE’s Loan Programs Office Jonathan Silver stated that “DOE determined, as part of the restructuring, that the facility would be more valuable, even in the event of a future liquidation, once complete.” He went on to say that “DOE determined that restructuring the loan guarantee gave the U.S. taxpayer the best chance of being repaid”:

SILVER: Unsuccessful in its efforts to raise additional equity, Solyndra approached DOE, in late 2010, asking DOE to increase its loan commitment. DOE refused, indicating that any additional funds would need to come from other sources. Solyndra then sought to secure a new $75 million emergency loan from its current equity investors. The proposed new loan provided terms that were expected to be more favorable to taxpayers than any other financing options that were available to the company at that time. As is typical in cases where distressed companies seek new debt financing, the new financing would have priority, in the event of liquidation, over the company’s existing debt–including the DOE loan guarantee (the investors’ almost $1 billion of original equity investment was, and remains, subordinated to the debt owed to the government).

DOE faced a choice: whether to (1) refuse to allow the restructuring, thereby ensuring that Solyndra would close its doors immediately, and that the U.S. taxpayer would recover only a modest amount of the loan; or (2) allow the company to accept the emergency financing, thereby giving it and its almost 1,000 workers a fighting chance at success, and the government a higher expected recovery on its loan.

The decision was not an easy one, and it was made only after significant analysis and deliberation, using the same sort of tools and rigor that private sector lenders use in such scenarios. DOE had commissioned a new and comprehensive analysis of Solyndra’s prospects in the global solar market (conducted by Navigant, a leading market research firm), and undertook — with the aid of experienced financial consultants — a complete review of the company’s financial condition, business plan, and assets.9 Both the market study and the financial modeling suggested that the company’s value as a going concern was greater than what the government was likely to recover in liquidation at that time. Accordingly, DOE determined that restructuring the loan guarantee gave the U.S. taxpayer the best chance of being repaid on the loan. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/14/11]

DOE Expects Recovery of Taxpayer Money To Be Larger Due To Restructuring. During the hearing, John Dingell said: “I would note that the government’s chance of recovery from that reorganization are better both in amount and certainty than if we had seen Solyndra go into bankruptcy earlier. Is that right?” Silver replied:

SILVER: We expect so. We’ll have to see what happens, actually, in the bankruptcy process. But we have a completed an operating plant fully fitted out, inventory and all kinds of things that did not exist during the first restructuring. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/14/11]

NY Times: Experts Said DOE’s Decision To Restructure “Is Routine In The Commercial World.”From a September 16, New York Times article:

Bankruptcy experts said Friday that the normal pattern was for the management of a bankrupt company to be given first crack at developing a plan, one that would either distribute ownership of the company to its creditors, in some agreed-upon proportion, or end in liquidation. The Energy Department believes that Solyndra has valuable patents.

Experts said the decision made by the Energy Department in February is routine in the commercial world. “It happens all the time,” said Evan Flaschen, head of the financial restructuring group at Bracewell & Giuliani. But, he said, “A new lender coming in is going to want to be the first money out. The new money would want to be senior.”

Martin Bienenstock, of Dewey & LeBoef, said that letting in another lender was often “the smart thing to do even though it’s painful,” because at worst, it would increase the company’s scrap value. [New York Times9/16/11]

VentureWire: DOE “Squeezed The Terms Of Its Loan In Its Favor.” VentureWire reported in March:

Making matters worse for the venture backers, the federal government has squeezed the terms of its loan in its favor, in hopes of increasing the chance of repayment even as the loan is being scrutinized. The Department of Energy could change some terms of the loan with each increment that it puts forward.

Solyndra agreed to change the terms of the federal loan so that it is now secured by all the assets of the company, including Solyndra’s intellectual property. Previously, the loan was secured only by the solar panel factory it is helping fund. This is also true of the loan provided by private investors. [Dow Jones VentureWire, 3/3/11, via Factiva]

CLAIM: It Was Obvious Before Loan Guarantee Was Granted That Solyndra Would Fail

  • Diane Sawyer: “Did a half billion dollars of your taxpayer money go to a company certain to fail? And why?” [ABC, World News with Diane Sawyer, 9/14/11, via Nexis]
  • Investor’s Business Daily: “Solyndra was not a good investment and the White House knew it.” [Investor's Business Daily9/14/11]
  • Fox’s Trace Gallagher: “[M]any experts say there was nothing about this company that was at all promising.” [Fox News, America Live9/15/11]
  • David Webb on Fox: Solyndra “was never viable.” [Fox Business, America's Nightly Scoreboard, 9/15/11, via Nexis]
  • Forbes op-ed: “Few, if any, lenders thought that giving [Solyndra] money was a very good idea.” [Forbes.com, 9/13/11]

FACT: Solyndra Was Seen By Many As Promising

Solyndra Raised $1 Billion In Private Capital. Time noted that “in addition to government loan guarantees, Solyndra also scored over $1 billion in private capital–including from GOP-friendly investors like the Walton family of Wal-Mart.” [Time9/15/11]

WSJ Ranked Solyndra As The Top U.S. Clean Tech Company. In 2010, the Wall Street Journalranked Solyndra the top clean-tech company with the “capital, executive experience and investor know-how to succeed in an increasingly crowded field.” The “research firm VentureSource (owned by NewsCorp., which also owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Journal) calculated the rankings, applying a set of financial criteria to some 350 U.S.-based venture-backed businesses in clean technology.” [Wall Street Journal3/7/10]

WSJ Also Ranked Solyndra In Top Five “Next Big” Venture-Backed Companies. The Wall Street Journal ranked Solyndra number five in a list of the “top 50 venture-backed companies.” The rankings were calculated based on “the track record of success for the venture-capital investors who sit on the company’s board (Board Ranking); the amount of capital raised by the company over the last three years, in comparison to its peers (Total Equity Ranking); the track record of success for the company’s founders and chief executive (Executive Ranking);” “the recent growth in the value of the company (Valuation Ranking)” and the rankings of Dow Jones venture capital reporters and editors. [Wall Street Journal3/9/10]

MIT’s Technology Review Chose Solyndra As One Of The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. The Technology Review evaluated companies based on their “business model[s], strategies for deploying and scaling up its technologies, and the likelihood of success.” [Technology Review2/23/10]

Analyst Cited Solyndra As A Company That Could Have A “Breakthrough Around Cost And Efficiency.” From an April 2009 San Jose Mercury News report:

Craig Irwin, an energy analyst with Merriman Curhan Ford in San Francisco, agrees the current slowdown in the solar industry ”will filter out the most innovative companies and really help promote the next generation of leaders” to produce lower cost solar technologies.

“As the economic equation is really squeezed, people want to see better performing (solar) panels and lower costs,” he said.

Irwin cited Fremont-based Solyndra as a company he believes has some “very interesting technologies that could allow a real breakthrough around cost and efficiency.” [San Jose Mercury News, 4/17/09, via Nexis]

Reuters: Venture Capitalists Point To Solyndra As One Of The Top 10 Companies “Ripest” To Go Public. Reuters reported in August 2009:

An informal poll of venture capitalists and others pointed to six privately held companies as the ripest for acquisition or readiness to go public, out of 34 cited in industries ranging from alternative energy to social networking.

For now, the Silicon Valley Six say they intend to keep growing rather than agreeing to be acquired or go public during the recession.

The top four are business social network LinkedIn, solar panel maker Solyndra, smart grid company Silver Spring, and Zynga, a casual games company whose products run on social networks like Facebook. [Reuters, 8/19/09, via CNNMoney]

Market Conditions Shifted Significantly from 2009 to 2011. A Bloomberg News report noted that Solyndra had “advantages that were more important in 2009 when it received a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee to build a factory” than they are now, noting that the price of the silicon-based panels with which Solyndra was competing “has fallen 46 percent since then.” The article also quoted Julian Hawking of Abound Solar Inc., who stated: “When Solyndra started up it was a completely different time for the industry. Nobody expected the huge drop in polysilicon prices.” [Bloomberg, 9/14/11]

— J.K.F. & S.T.

Image Credit: energyNOW! Solyndra video


Siemens Ditches Nuclear

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 10:17 AM PDT


This came as a big, positive surprise to me — the German giant Siemens, which has built numerous nuclear power plants, has decided to completely ditch nuclear, meaning that it won’t be helping to build or finance any more nuclear power plants.

Of course, Siemens is following in the footsteps of its parent country, which decided this year to drop nuclear out of its energy mix within about 10 years.

On the stunning decision, Peter Löscher, the CEO of Siemens, told German media company Der Spiegel: ”The chapter for us is closed.” He also said that Siemens would focus a lot on renewable energy.

This just demonstrates to me the power of national policies like Germany’s to dump nuclear. I don’t think Siemens would have made this decision so soon if it weren’t for that. Löscher actually called Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear “the project of the century” and said that Siemens’ decision was a response to "the clear positioning of German society and politics for a pullout from nuclear energy." (Note that Siemens built all of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants.)

However, it also shows what I’ve mentioned many times on here: nuclear, despite the nuclear industry hype, is probably on its way out. We’ve seen that trend for awhile and with the costs of nuclear rising and the costs of renewable energy dropping, it is no surprise.

Siemens had a joint venture in the works with Russian nuclear firm Rosatom that involved building, installing, and servicing nuclear projects there and in other countries. This joint venture has been dropped now.

Image Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by surber


Solar Charger and Case Now Available for iPhone 4

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 09:35 AM PDT

Solar charging case for iPhone 4

By its very nature, an era of mobility is generating and abundance of mobile solar charging options. This is particularly true when it comes to smart phones.

Now for those on-the-goers who risk running out of the juice needed to be smart communicators, the Eton Mobius has been released, a solar charger and phone case designed for the popular iPhone 4.

The attractive-looking Eton Mobius provides users with a phone case, battery and solar panel on the back. When the phone is inside the case, a 30-pin connector can draw power from the charged battery.

According to Earth Techling, when fully charged, the 1800mAh lithium ion battery provides five hours of talk time, or up to 32 hours of audio playback, Eton says. Depending on conditions, estimates have each hour of direct sunlight providing around 25 minutes of talk time, Eton writes.

The phone does not need to be in the case for the battery to charge. The case can be left in the sun while the phone is used elsewhere. Just slip the phone in when you need a little more juice. It will retain its charge if the power switch is left in the off position. An array of LEDs lets the user know that power is or is not being transferred to the phone.

If there isn't any sun for solar charging, the battery can also be charged with a micro USB cable. The micro USB cable is not included with the package, however. On Amazon, the Mobius is available for $78.


Florida Power & Light Steps Up Its Solar Efforts

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 07:48 AM PDT

Solyndra Loan an Ant Hill Compared to Mountain of ‘Military Boondoggles’

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 07:44 AM PDT

Nobody likes to see $500 million in taxpayer funds lost. But as Congress investigates the loan guarantee given to the now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra, it's important to put the failed loan into historical context.

America spends a staggering amount on the military (see hereand chart to the right, which is NOT the Chart of the Day).  Heck, the U.S. Military spends $20 billion a year just on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan!

America has always backed ambitious military ventures — many of which have ended up as spectacular failures after sucking up tens of billions in taxpayer dollars. Political leaders accept these failures because advances in military technologies are deemed strategically important.

Clean energy plays an equally-important strategic role for our energy security, economic security, environmental security, and, most especially, national security.  Unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases are now the greatest preventable threat to the security of Americans. Yet the Solyndra failure is being used to label clean energy as a "pet" project of the Obama Administration.  Some politicians are now threatening to derail an industry that every other country in the world sees as an important driver of economic growth.

Somehow, we can tolerate hundreds of billions of dollars in spending on military programs that may not produce results. But when a solar company goes bankrupt, the whole idea of making strategic investments in renewable energy is called into question. It doesn't make sense.

So where does the Solyndra loan guarantee match up with previous security programs? The chart of the day, created by Philip Bump, says it all:

This chart is by Philip Bump of Green for All, who responded to Grist's request to create an infographic.

The original source is what the NY Times called the Pentagon's "biggest boondoogles" [click on that link for details on each bar in the above chart].

h/t SmartPlanet.

This story was originally published at ClimateProgress.org and was cross-posted with permission.


Clearing Up How Loan Guarantees (like Solyndra’s) Work? (VIDEO)

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 03:31 AM PDT

The Solyndra investigation has brought loan guarantees out of the obscure world of political wonkery and into the living rooms of Americans around the country.

The problem is, many in the media are completely misrepresenting how the instrument works and who supports it.  So we've put together a video primer on how loan guarantees work, posted below.

Some Republicans may want you to believe they don't support this Obama-era display of government largesse. But in fact, one of the loan guarantee programs for clean energy was signed into law by the Bush Administration. And what did the Bush folks have to say about it in 2007?

"The administration is one step closer to issuing guarantees for loans for clean energy projects that will help reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources, boost economic competitiveness, and combat climate change," DOE spokeswoman Megan Barnett wrote in an e-mail.

If that statement were made by the Obama Administration today, conservative politicians would be all over the airwaves complaining about government manipulation of markets. The fact is, loan guarantees have historically enjoyed bipartisan support — until it wasn't politically convenient to do so.

That includes Michigan Republican Fred Upton, chairman of the committee leading the investigation into the failed loan guarantee, who was an early backer of the policy. In 2007, he proposed adding $4 billion more to the loan guarantee program in order to help build new nuclear facilities around the country.

But speaking during a subcommittee hearing on Solyndra this week, Upton explained that he thinks they are "speculative":

"In this time of record debt, I question whether the government is qualified to act as a venture capitalist, picking winners and losers in speculative ventures and shelling out billions of taxpayer dollars to keep them afloat."

That's quite a bold statement considering that no nuclear facility would get built in this country if it weren't for loan guarantees and government-backed insurance. Yet Upton is one of the biggest supporters of nuclear in Congress. By comparison, even though the loan guarantee program is extremely important for helping the largest and most innovative renewable energy facilities get built, there's still plenty of activity taking place in that sector without the program.

It's time to set the record straight on loan guarantees. The Solyndra debacle has wrongly turned this financing mechanism into a political lightning rod. But we can't let that happen.

Below, Richard Caperton of the Center for American Progress explains why both parties have historically supported the policy — because it is not a direct government investment. A loan guarantee simply provides a financial backstop in case of default, which is good for raising financing for nuclear and renewable energy projects. Rather than picking winners and losers, the policy leverages private capital across a range of competing industries and technologies that are of strategic national interest.

We can't let the punditocracy hijack this program. If they're able to completely redefine what loan guarantees are, what else will they misconstrue?

Watch this 3-minute video, link to it, and send it along to anyone who may need a primer on how loan guarantees work. Perhaps you might know a reporter at Fox News …?

 This story was originally published at ClimateProgress.org and was cross-posted with permission.


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