Environment Forum

Could patents bring solar power companies more revenue?

The high tech industry regularly sees lawsuits fly over intellectual property rights.

Time will tell if clean technology will see a similar play, but a settlement this week between California-based solar power company SunPower Corp and SunLink Corp may shed light on things to come.

In February 2008, SunPower sued SunLink, saying SunLink had violated patents protecting several of SunPower’s rooftop systems. Under the settlement, SunPower licensed its patents to SunLink but did not disclose the financial details.

Some believe that solar power companies who successfully defend their intellectual property could win additional revenue streams. That could benefit SunPower and innovative companies both with upstream and downstream technologies, Deutsche Bank analyst Steve O’Rourke wrote in a note.

We were wondering what role readers think IP and patent lawsuits will play as the solar industry continues to develop. Do you think they will help bigger companies defend their market share? Or could a litigious environment stifle newcomers to the industry?

SolarCity envisions California “solar corridor” for green drivers

Electric cars can be smooth, quiet and environmentally friendly. But they still need fuel.

Many have asked — and invested according to their answer — whether that fuel will come from batteries, utility grids, curb-side charging stations or some other technology.

Drivers in California have a new option, if they drive a Tesla electric vehicle. And it’s extra environmentally friendly.

The race for U.S. smart-grid cash

Utilities across the United States are rushing to a federal stimulus program that is doling out money to create a “smart grid” — systems that will upgrade the electricity grid.******In this story, Reuters correspondent Eileen O’Grady looks at the tough job facing the U.S. Department of Energy: They have to divvy up $4.5 billion in smart-grid money among some 565 applications.******Smart grid technology measures and modifies power usage in homes and businesses and improves grid reliability. Experts envision that it will open the door to a new era with “smart” appliances that turn themselves on and off, electric cars, more renewable energy and more efficiency on power lines.******San Diego Gas & Electric is one of the utilities hoping to launch a smart grid through the federal program and has applied for $100 million in stimulus funds.******Their plan would build micro smart grids at the University of California, San Diego and a residential community in San Diego County. They would work with companies like IBM, Cisco and Itron on the system technologies, software and hardware.******”They not only have to talk with each other but we have to make sure the entire network is secure. So from an intellectual security standpoint, we’ll ensure that we have that set-up, that we have the ability to communicate from one device and we make it seamless for the customer,” said Michael Niggli, chief operations officer at San Diego Gas & Electric.******Another major issue the utility hopes to solve is what happens when energy from renewable resources is intermittent, with its power generated fading or spiking.******”If the wind stops blowing or if the sun has clouds that intervene, so you can be in a situation where the power supply is affected,” Niggli said in a phone interview with Reuters.******”That’s a lot different than what we have today … where it’s like driving a car. If you want to go faster, you push the accelerator.”******Niggli envisions a system where customers can control their home energy use remotely, turning on the air-conditioning from a computer through the Internet or even on  their handset.******Some companies that are partnering with utilities are not putting all their eggs in one basket in the race for the smart-grid stimulus funds.******IBM is working as a vendor with a dozen utilities that have applied for money.******If the smart grid is done right, then customers won’t even notice a difference, said IBM’s Stephen Callahan, who leads the company’s Intelligent Utility Network unit for the Americas.******”Those customers shouldn’t see anything but improvement in cost, reliability, all those things,” Callahan said.******We wanted to know what readers think about the federal program to jump-start smart grid projects. What should the DOE prioritize? What kind of projects would you like to see?******(Photo: The sun is shown as it rises between power transmission lines in Burbank, California. Photo credit: Fred Prouser/Reuters)*********************

Futurist says dollars mean bright future for solar energy

   Solar power may bring us cleaner air and clearer skies. Nice, yes. But it’s money — not saving Mother Earth — that will catapult solar energy past dirty coal-fueled power plants.

That’s the theory of Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and inventor. At a technology conference on Friday, Kurzweil said billions are being invested into solar power and new advances in the technology are driving down the cost of powering by the sun. 
    “As a result, the amount of solar energy is doubling every year two years,” Kurzweil said. “But ultimately it will be very inexpensive. So what’s motivating (its adoption) is economics.
    “It has the side effect that it’s environmentally much friendlier,” Kurzweil said at the Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference in Pasadena, California.
    The inventor is far from the first to predict the success of solar power. Some may give more weight to his words: Kurzweil has predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of wireless technology.
    He has his critics as well. Kurzweil, who wrote “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” envisions a future where we can download memory and reverse-engineer the brain.
    (Reporting and writing by Laura Isensee)

      (Picture: Inventor Raymond Kurzweil speaks at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference in Pasadena, California July 24, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

Missing the solar show?

By now, the message that solar power will become a major source of electricity should have reached most parts of the world.

Huge proposed spending packages by the Obama administration as well as the Chinese government also highlight the political and economic relevance of the sector as a job creator.

When I visited Intersolar in Munich last week — the world’s biggest trade fair in the solar industry — it surprised me, however, that Germany – expected to become the world’s biggest solar market in 2009 in new installation — seemed to have missed that fact as no government politican turned up to the event. Not even the mayor of Munich stopped by.

Concerns about fed probe of First Solar deal overblown, some analysts say

Shares of U.S. solar company First Solarhave dropped about 7 percent this week on concerns about a federal review of the company’s recent acquisition of rival OptiSolar, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

However, in a note to clients on Wednesday, Pacific Crest analyst Mark Bachman called the story “sensational, at best.” A day earlier, Cowen and Company analyst Robert Stone said “the issue looks overdone.” Both have “outperform” ratings on First Solar.

According to Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s inspector general is probing whether OptiSolar’s applications to develop 136,000 of public land were included in the value of the $400 million deal.In the event of an acquisition, applications can be transferred from one company to another, Bedrosian said, though no value can be attached to them.

Energy from — molten salt?

In these green times energy producers are leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for new sources of energy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that rocket-builder RocketDyne and a Santa Monica-based renewable energy company, SolarReserve, are planning to build a plant that they say could eventually power 100,000 homes by using solar power and molten salt.

The idea, which analysts say is promising, is to use solar power, collected in a huge array of tilting mirrors, to heat up molten salt to over 1,000 degrees Farenheit and use the resulting steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

Going closer to the sun for solar power

Somebody alert Capt. Kirk.

California utility PG&E and solar power company Solaren say they have inked a first-of-its-kind deal to produce renewable solar power from space satellites beginning in the year 2016.

PG&E, one of the largest electric utilities in the United Sates, says on its in-house blog, Next100, that it is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren, which it says can provide 200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power some 140,000 California homes — over a 15 year period.

Solaren says it will generate the power using solar panels on Earth-orbiting satellites, transmit it back to Earth through a radio frequency to a recieving station in Fresno County, then convert it into electricity which would be fed into PG&E’s grid.

Vatican gets solar power; should White House follow?

 The Vatican (left) is going green from today with a new solar energy system on some roofs to help boost renewable use.

If Pope Benedict can have solar panels, are they something for the White House (right), after Barack Obama takes over as President on Jan. 20?

Former President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House during the oil crisis of the 1970s — his successor Ronald Reagan took them down when the roof was being repaired in 1986 (…a year when oil prices tumbled to below $10 a barrel).

Refugees in Antarctica? Olympics in cyberspace?

A view of the leading edge of the remaining part of the Larsen B ice shelf that extends into the northwest part of the Weddell Sea is seen in this handout photo taken on March 4, 2008. To the left is the front of the ice shelf with a height of about 30 meters above the sea. An outcrop of Cape Disappointment is seen in the background. On the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches out from Antarctica toward the South Atlantic Ocean, some of the huge ice shelves that line its coasts have now disintegrated and are floating in chunks in the ocean. A large part of the Larsen Ice Shelf broke up in 1995. Picture taken March 4, 2008. REUTERS/Mariano Caravaca/Handout (ANTARCTICA). NO COMMERCIAL SALES.. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS..Antarctica’s population is rising because of climate refugees.

The European Union agrees to let Morocco join in return for exclusive rights to solar power from its part of the Sahara desert.

The Olympics are held only in cyberspace because it costs too much for athletes to travel around the world.

These are some of the scenarios in a report on Monday by British-based think-tank and charity ”Forum for the Future” with Hewlett Packard Labs, imaging how climate change might affect the planet by 2030.  climate.jpg