The big story of the week is the emergence of Bloom Energy Corporation. The Silicon Valley-based company has been developing solid oxide fuel cells in almost complete secrecy since 2001, and on Wednesday it unveiled its first product, called the Bloom Energy Server. Also known as the "Bloom Box," the device already is being used by Fortune 500 customers such as Bank of America (BAC), Coca-Cola (KO), Google (GOOG) and eBay (EBAY).
At a cost of about $700,000, a Bloom Box can provide 100 kilowatts of power using natural gas or biogas. After federal and state subsidies, the company says the units produce power at $0.09-$0.10 per kilowatt hour and have a payback period of three to five years. Fuel cell technology has been around for years, but companies have yet to prove that the devices can hold up under rigorous use. In a video interview, CEO K.R. Sridhar said his company has made technological advances that allow for a more robust device. Bloom Energy says it has long-range plans to develop much smaller units for residential use.
In another big story, Intel (INTC) President and CEO Paul Otellini said this week his company is heading up a $3.5 billion initiative to stimulate U.S. growth industries such as cleantech, while also increasing hiring rates. Other corporations and venture capital firms joining the so-called Invest in America Alliance include Cisco Systems (CSCO), Dell (DELL), Microsoft (MSFT), Yahoo! (YHOO), Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. Intel's venture capital arm will get the ball rolling with a new $200 million fund targeting clean technology, information technology and biotechnology. The goal of the Alliance is to leverage the funds completely over the next two years.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced that it is offering a $1.37 billion loan guarantee to solar thermal company BrightSource Energy, Inc. to support construction of the company's Ivanpah power plant on federal lands in the Mojave Desert of California. Interestingly, the plant hasn't been approved yet by the Bureau of Land Management, and there are ongoing siting issues. Earlier this month, Brightsource offered to scale back the size of the plant in an effort to reduce the impact of endangered desert tortoises living in the area. BrightSource withdrew plans for a separate California power plant last year, after conservationists led by Sen. Barbara Boxer said they wanted the land set aside as a national monument. The Bureau of Land Management has promised to complete environmental review of the BrightSource project and others by the end of the year, and it's probably safe to say that BrightSource is in the clear on this one.
IBM (IBM) and Johnson Controls (JCI) announced a new relationship to provide comprehensive "smart" technologies to improve operations and reduce energy and water consumption in buildings. The idea is to combine Johnson Controls' experience in energy efficiency and building services with IBM's software and hardware know-how. The market for building automation systems is expected to top $36 billion by 2015, and competitors in the field include EnerNOC (ENOC) and Cisco.
Clipper Windpower, Inc. (OTC:CRPWF) held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new manufacturing facility to produce blades for offshore wind turbines in the U.K. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on hand for the event since the factory is part of the so-called Britannia Project, which aims to build enormous, 10-MW offshore wind turbines in the U.K., solidifying its leadership in the industry. Offshore wind turbines are generally larger than those used on land, and current models are typically around 3.5 MW in size. The new factory will produce blades that are 72 meters long and weigh over 30 tons.
And lastly, quarterly and year-end financial reports began coming in for leading solar companies.
Germany's Q-Cells (QCSLF.PK) is undoubtedly glad to see the year ending. The company lost boatloads of money in 2009 as solar prices fell, but said it expects to begin seeing the effects of reorganization in 1Q10. Fortunately, Q-Cells has been raking in money for the last few years, and the company says it is fully financed for the year ahead as it looks to change its business model. The company gave no specific details, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it get into solar plant development, a strategy that has worked well for First Solar (FSLR).
Speaking of First Solar, the company boosted its 4Q revenues by nearly $200 million and nearly doubled its net income for the full year to $640 million, but the company's shares fell 7%. Investors apparently were disappointed in the company's forecast of earnings per share in the range of $6.05-$6.85. The company has big capital spending lined up for the year, with plans to invest $500 million in manufacturing expansion in Malaysia.
China's Trina Solar (TSL) turned heads by beating Wall Street expectations for the quarter. The vertically integrated company posted $49.2 million in profit, stating that record shipments were driven by increased demand in Europe. The company said it expects to increase shipments in 2010 by nearly 100%.
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