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Archive for November, 2016

Energy Jobs: Peter Thiel, Stem, Eos, Vivint Solar, Shell, Raj Atluru, Sunrun

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Peter Thiel, a recent addition to Donald Trump’s transition team, is bringing Trae Stephens, a principal at Thiel’s Founders Fund, onto the team, according to Bloomberg. Stephens is on board “to help shape defense and vet Defense Department staff.” Thiel has made investments in cleantech and energy including LightSail Energy, Stem, Vivint Smart Home and Transatomic Power, a startup working to commercialize a molten salt reactor. Thiel, known as the “Don of the PayPal Mafia,” co-founded PayPal. He was also an early investor in LinkedIn and the first outside investor in Facebook, as well as one of the largest shareholders of Airbnb.

Here’s a quote from an essay by Thiel: “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women [i.e., voting–Ed.] — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

Stem, a player in the commercial-scale energy storage market, named Bill Bush as its new CFO. Prior to joining Stem, Bush served as the CFO of Borrego Solar. Previously, Bush was CFO of Solar Semiconductor, an India-based PV module builder and distributor. Stem claims to have more than 470 systems totaling more than 75 megawatt-hours installed or under contract with customers including Cargill, Wells Fargo, Marriott, Macy’s, Safeway and Whole Foods. Earlier this year, Stem announced a $15 million add-on from Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management, bringing its total venture funding to more than $110 million since its founding in 2010. Other investors in the firm include Angeleno Group, Iberdrola and GE Ventures. Stem has also closed on more than $350 million in project financing from Generate Capital, Starwood Energy Group and Clean Feet Investors.

Jim Hughes, former CEO of First Solar, has joined Eos Energy Storage as chairman of the board. Eos builds zinc-based batteries and has raised $50 million from investors including OCI, NRG Energy, AltEnergy and Fisher Brothers. The company has long been targeting a price of $160 per kilowatt-hour for its batteries.   

Sunrun hired Patrick Jobin, former Credit Suisse director, as VP of finance and investor relations. Jobin will operate out of Sunrun’s Denver office and report to CFO Bob Komin. Sunrun continues to post positive news in an edgy residential solar market. Last quarter, Sunrun installed 65 megawatts of residential solar systems, a 69 percent jump. Lynn Jurich, the CEO of Sunrun, noted, “Year-to-date, we have taken market share..,[and] realized a 43 percent year-over-year increase in megawatts deployed, a 53 percent increase in net present value creation, [and] a 10 percent year-over-year improvement in our cost.”

Raj Atluru, formerly an investor at Silver Lake Kraftwerk and DFJ, is now managing director at Element Partners LLC, according to his LinkedIn profile. Atluru was an early investor in SolarCity.


Enertech Search Partners, an executive search firm with a dedicated cleantech practice, is the sponsor of the GTM jobs column.

Among its many active searches, Enertech is looking for an Account Manager — Auto.

The client provides electric vehicle (EV) charging to more people and places than ever before. They operate the world’s largest and most open EV charging network and also design, build and support the technology that powers it.

The client is seeking an Auto Sales Director with a successful track record and relevant experience in selling or managing automotive OEM & dealership relationships. In this role you will be also working with VARs/channel partners and developing relationships with automotive OEM stakeholders. Must be creative, independent, focused and an excellent problem solver. Based in Los Angeles.


Marc van Gerven, formerly with First Solar, is now VP of solar at Shell. Van Gerven wrote about First Solar’s $848 million deal with Apple for a 130-megawatt solar plant here.

Paul Dickson was promoted to chief revenue officer at Vivint Solar.

Don Peifer is now VP of innovation at Acuity Brands. Previously, Peifer was at Architectural Lighting Works, and before that, at Soraa. He founded Lunera Lighting. Way back in 2009, Acuity bought Sensor Switch, a maker of motion-controlled and programmable sensors, for about $205 million. Acuity Brands also bought Lighting Control and Design, a maker of light-dimming devices, digital thermostats and related software. Adura Technologies, a startup in the networked lighting space, was acquired by Acuity Brands in 2013. Acuity also purchased eldoLED, a maker of LED driver electronics, in 2013, and acquired Distech Controls, a maker of energy management and building controls, for approximately $252 million, in 2015. Acuity now has about 15 brands under its roof, all involved in some aspect of the lighting ecosystem.

From the previous jobs column:

Who will replace nuclear scientist Ernest Moniz as the U.S. energy secretary? We’ve already reported on the possibility of Oklahoma fracking tycoon Harold Hamm assuming the role. The Associated Press, referencing “transition-planning documents,” reported that Trump is also considering North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), investor Robert Grady, and The Nuge to lead either the energy or interior department. 

Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas has added Boris von Bormann, former CEO of Sonnen, as its new CEO. As GTM’s Julian Spector just reported, parent company Daimler AG has created Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas to sell stationary storage to the U.S. market. Like Tesla, this is a car company that developed EVs and then put its battery expertise to work in a stationary storage product.

Howard Wenger, SunPower’s president of business units and an executive officer at the firm for almost a decade, will be leaving the company. He was on the executive team of PowerLight, which was acquired by SunPower in 2007.    


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Trump Can’t Kill the DOE Loan Program, But It May Still Be at Risk

For years, Republican politicians have railed against the federal loan program that backed the now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra, painting the program as wasteful and corrupt.

Solyndra’s failure is proof that President Obama is “intent on wasting our taxpayer dollars,” President-elect Donald Trump tweeted in 2012. Trump referenced Solyndra again during a presidential debate this fall, calling the investment “a disaster.”

But the U.S. Department of Energy loans program cannot be undone by the new president alone, Bloomberg reports. Only Congress can end the program by passing new legislation. The question is: Why would Congress want to?

Program leaders say the loans have performed well overall, and note the program is designed to support infrastructure and energy projects that should appeal to the new administration.

According to Bloomberg:

Not only has the program’s loan portfolio generated about $1.65 billion in interest payments to date, its mission to support major energy projects fits into Trump’s goal of stimulating investment in the U.S., said Jonathan Silver, a former head of the loan programs office.

“The President-elect was talking directly about significant investments in infrastructure,” Silver said in an interview Monday at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. The program is intended to support not just clean-energy projects, but also industries Trump championed during the campaign, including coal, among other advanced fossil fuels. “This is infrastructure. It doesn’t get any more infrastructure-ish than this.”

The DOE Loan Programs Office was created during the George W. Bush administration in 2005 as a way to support innovative energy companies that have been unable to get financing from commercial and investment banks. In 2009, President Obama boosted funding for the loan program through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

By the fall of 2011, the loan program had supported five solar projects larger than 100 megawatts. Since then, the U.S. utility-scale solar market has boomed. Through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, the same loan office has supported Ford, Nissan and Tesla, the last of which repaid its loan nine years early.

FIGURE: Cumulative Utility-Scale Solar Installations

Source: GTM Research

While Solyndra continues to garner attention, the loan program has a loss ratio of just 2.33 percent on $32 billion in commitments. That fail rate is better than most banks, according to former program head Peter Davidson.

Shayle Kann, vice president of GTM Research, pointed out that it’s too early to judge overall portfolio performance, since many of the loans are still in repayment, but 2.33 percent in loan losses “is well within the expected band,” he said. If losses remain low, the DOE could still end up making money on the overall portfolio.

In a 2014 report, DOE calculated that the program will make more than $5 billion in interest payments to the U.S. Treasury over the full term of the loans — despite the Solyndra losses.

Looking at it a different way, the net cost of the loan program is on track to be half of the originally anticipated cost. According to the Government Accountability Office, “The total expected net cost to the government over the life of the loans [was found to be] about $2.2 billion as of November 2014, including about $807 million for five loans on which borrowers had defaulted. The estimated $2.2 billion in credit subsidy costs was a decrease from DOE’s initial estimates totaling about $4.5 billion.”

The DOE is expected to issue one or more new loans before President Obama leaves office. It’s one of the few steps the White House can take to advance clean energy in the U.S. with an uncertain policy future ahead.

While Congress would have to pass legislation to throw out the loan office, Bloomberg notes that the new Energy Secretary could effectively kill the program by refusing to sign off on any new loans. It’s currently unclear what Trump’s rumored DOE picks would decide to do.

Mark McCall, the current program director, said the Energy Department still has about $40 billion allocated for loans, with pending applications seeking even more.


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The Shift From Third-Party Ownership to Loans Signals a Structural Change in US Residential Solar [GTM Squared]


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Wind Surges to Nearly 15 Percent of Texas Power Supply

Texas grid operator ERCOT announced a new record for wind on Monday. For the first time, wind provided more than 15,000 megawatts of electricity to the state on a single day. 

The record wind on Sunday supplied an average of 41 percent of electricity throughout the day. But it was not an all-time record for wind in Texas. On one day in March, wind supplied more than 48 percent of load during one hour.

It is not the hour-by-hour records that are impressive, however.

Texas is already the clear leader in wind power in the U.S., and that lead is widening. Texas has more than 18,000 megawatts installed and another 5,000 megawatts under construction, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Wind power made up an average of 11.7 percent of electricity in 2015 in Texas, a figure that will be at least 14.7 in 2016, according to ERCOT.

The final tally of wind power’s contribution to the Texas electric grid will likely be slightly higher, as the wind blows harder in winter and therefore wind power contributions to the power mix usually go up.

Of course, the growing share of wind is still half the amount of coal in Texas and about one-third of natural gas generation.

FIGURE: Texas Energy Mix, 2016

Coal and natural gas may dominate in Texas, but the investment the state has made in transmission and improving renewable energy forecasts could allow for even more wind and solar in the future.

The wind power in Texas is coming from across the state, including the Texas Panhandle, the west and the south. Texas’ success with wind power is largely due to its Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, which were identified mostly in West Texas and the state’s Panhandle region. A key to the project was about $7 billion in transmission lines to carry the wind power where it is needed.

With wind power flowing across the state, solar power is now starting to catch on to take advantage of the transmission lines. In 2015, ERCOT did not even list solar as a fuel source on its annual demand and energy report.

In 2016, the figures are still very small — but they’re growing. ERCOT reports about 685 megawatts of solar will be on-line in Texas in 2016, up from less than 300 in 2015. For the first time, solar energy received its own designation as a fuel type in ERCOT’s annual demand and energy report.

Large-scale solar could grow quickly in Texas, but will not even come close to wind. By 2020, ERCOT expects 2.5 gigawatts of solar on its system, compared to more than 28 gigawatts of wind.


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‘A Wild Ride’: Term Winds Down for CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio

Utility regulation isn’t known for its thrills, but it certainly hasn’t been dull for Mike Florio.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said the California commissioner, in a recent interview. “It hasn’t always been fun…but overall I’ve enjoyed it.”

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Florio to the California Public Utilities Commission on January 25, 2011. Now, nearing the end of his six-year term, Florio will attend his final meeting as a commissioner on December 15.

Florio was appointed in the wake of the San Bruno pipeline explosion. Regulators had barely gotten that issue under control when the CPUC started having to cope with the San Onofre nuclear plant shutdown, followed shortly after by the Aliso Canyon gas leak. Florio learned quickly that reality likes to get in the way of best-laid plans.

“You can’t really come in and say, ‘I’m going to do “x,”’ because the world intervenes and has other ideas,” he said.

But while the work has not been easy or without controversy, the CPUC has had no shortage of accomplishments on clean energy during Florio’s term.

‘Vision and leadership’

When asked, one of the big successes Florio highlighted was replacing power from the shuttered San Onofre plant predominantly with “preferred resources” — such as renewable energy, efficiency improvements, demand response and energy storage. Florio said he was also proud to see the California hold the first solicitation where energy storage was explicitly included as a resource, and then see Southern California Edison (SCE) contract for five times the targeted amount.

Commissioner Florio, who previously served as a senior attorney at The Utility Reform Network, is widely heralded as a cleantech-friendly regulator. “Commissioner Florio’s vision and leadership has created critical momentum on opening up California’s electricity system to innovation and greater consumer choice,” Steve Chadima, director of California initiatives for Advanced Energy Economy, wrote in an email.

He was particularly instrumental in putting energy storage on a level playing field with other types of preferred resources and for requiring utilities to start buying it, according to Janice Lin, executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA). In 2013, Florio mandated that SCE procure 50 megawatts of energy storage as part of the long-term procurement planning process. In response, SCE ultimately procured more than 250 megawatts of energy storage as part of a larger resource package.

“The 50-megawatt requirement was kind of tiny in the big picture, but it really made history,” said Lin.

The 50-megawatt requirement came several months before the CPUC set the 1.3-gigawatt energy storage target for the state’s big three investor-owned utilities, although SCE’s more than 250 megawatts of contracted energy storage have now been counted toward the larger mandate.

Thanks to Florio’s early progress, when the Aliso Canyon emergency arose, all of the procurement know-how already existed, and so both SCE and San Diego Gas & Electric were able to buy almost 350 megawatt-hours of additional storage that could be installed in less than nine months, said Lin.

“That would not have been possible without Commissioner Florio’s leadership and vision, and the original requirement,” she said.

The Florio proposal

And as he prepares to depart, Florio could leave another lasting impression with a new proposal designed to align utility investments and planning with the deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs) — a first for California. Florio introduced the initiative in April as part of California’s Integrated Distributed Energy Resources rulemaking, and it advances in parallel with the docket on distribution resource planning. The CPUC is hoping to vote on the Florio proposal at the December 15 meeting.

If it passes, Florio’s plan would require California utilities to complete at least one and up to four pilot projects to replace traditional distribution system investments with competitive solicitations for DERs. By contracting with a third party, instead of building its own upgrade, a utility can earn a 4 percent return on the payments it’s making to the DER provider, said Florio. The utility incentive is paid out of the savings from choosing the DER option, which means the DER option must indeed provide savings. So, if the distribution investment would have cost $1,000 per year and the utilities can buy DERs for $800 per year, they would get 4 percent on top of the $800 annually, said Florio.

“We’ll see if a little free money gives [the utilities] any encouragement or not,” he said. “They’ve all said they have one project ready to go, and I can’t believe it’s going to be that hard to come up with a few more.”

If the proposal is approved next month, Florio said he hopes CPUC President Michael Picker will fold the integrated DER proposal into his distributed resources plan, or that one of the new commissioners will take up the initiative in his stead.

Electricity stakeholders are also hoping the CPUC continues Florio’s work, and continue to address the regulatory complexity around the planning and deployment of DERs in California.

“Commissioner Florio has been at the center of many important decisions facilitating our clean energy future,” said Sach Constantine, director of policy at the Center for Sustainable Energy. “Replacing him with a strong leader and visionary who can carry on this work and push ahead on the integration of distributed energy resources is essential to continuing California’s leadership in protecting and sustaining our environment while supporting consumer choice.”

“His integrated distributed energy resources proceeding…began to address the siloed approach to decision-making at the CPUC that undermines the development of a broad strategic vision for our state’s energy future,” said AEE’s Chadima. “We have high hopes that his successor will pick up and expand on this foundational effort, along with lessons learned from the DER pilots, for the benefit of businesses, consumers and utilities.”

In New York, regulators launched a single umbrella docket called Reforming the Energy Vision to house all proceedings related to the energy transition. In California, regulators have taken a more step-by-step approach. But despite the unwieldy structure of California’s proceedings, Florio said he doesn’t see the state moving to a New York REV-style model anytime soon.

“The sense at the commission is we’re not sure where this [energy transition] going, so we want to let it unfold for a while,” he said. “Whereas New York jumped out and said, ‘This is where we think it’s going, so we’re going to build toward that.’”

California utilities’ distribution resource plans are beginning to shed light on how DERs can complement the grid in a very technical, as opposed to policy-driven, way. Florio acknowledged that the work is “frustrating and slow.” But he also believes its necessary.

“If you don’t take the time to know what the real conditions are on the system, you can make pretty big mistakes. We’ve been through that once in 2000,” he said, referring to the California electricity crisis. “So taking a little more time to get it right, I think, is worth it.”

On the cutting edge

While the DER work is important from a reliability and planning perspective, Florio also sees it as part of the larger fight against climate change — a fight he doesn’t see California retreating from anytime soon.

“Certainly for the U.S., we’re on the cutting edge [of addressing climate change], and that’s something I felt very keenly,” said Florio. “We’re not the first one out of the box; different countries in Europe have tried, and by and large they’ve run into problems. So it’s on us to learn from that. And because plenty of people would love to see California screw up, it’s on us to not screw up and do it in a way that’s sensible.”

That responsibility could soon fall on two new California commissioners. Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, who, like Florio, was appointed in January 2011, is also nearing the end of her six-year term. However, her departure has yet to be confirmed. Sandoval recently refused a request for comment at the NARUC Annual Meeting in Palm Springs.

Governor Jerry Brown has started to announce new appointments across his administration, but he has yet to release an announcement naming new appointments to the CPUC. “For every appointment we make, the top priority is selecting the best possible candidate — and that will ultimately dictate timing,” Deborah Hoffman, deputy press secretary, wrote in an email.

With respect to Florio’s next steps, he said he’s still “in the scoping stage” for now.

“I hope to stay in the mix and involved in these issues,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens.”


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Tennessee Wildfire is ‘Unlike Anything We’ve Ever Seen’

The Southeast’s spate of freakish fall fires continued on Monday night. Tinderbox conditions and powerful winds whipped up a firestorm in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, forcing the evacuation of at least 14,000 residents from the gateway communities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Fleeing residents documented a harrowing nighttime escape on social media as flames licked the side of the road and smoke clogged the air.

This is a fire for the history books,” Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

During a press conference on Tuesday, Werner and Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said that based on initial estimates, at least 140 homes have been destroyed by the blaze, dubbed the Chimney Top Fire. Werner said his home was likely one of those lost. In addition, he said up to 2,000 people evacuated to Red Cross shelters.


Gatlinburg is one of the gateways to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most trafficked park in the U.S. with 10.7 million visitors in 2015. The town itself sees 11 million tourists annually, with many coming to visit the park and the town’s resorts and attractions, including Dollywood in neighboring Pigeon Forge. While the downtown core appears to have made it through the fire unscathed, some resorts are reporting damage.

Smoke from wildfires across the Southeast, including the Chimney Top Fire, is visible from space. 
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Jamie Sanders, a public affairs employee at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said the fire was likely human-caused, though investigators are still trying to pin down more specific details. But weather conditions conspired to cause a massive blow up on Monday evening. Intense winds — which Sanders said gusted up to 87 mph — sent embers flying, sparking new fires faster than firefighters could keep pace.

A prolonged drought that has engulfed much of the Southeast created conditions that were ripe for this fire as well as others that have dogged the region this fall. Areas in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park are dealing with year-to-date rainfall deficits of up to 20 inches. Through October, Tennessee is also having its third-warmest year on record. That’s ensured the entire state is mired in drought with the epicenter in the southeast part of the state that’s currently ablaze.

About a half inch of rain fell late Monday night, helping tamp down flames. Showers are expected to persist through Wednesday, which could further help firefighters get a handle on the fire.

The images and videos that came out of Gatlinburg on Monday night are eerily similar to wildfire evacuations in Fort McMurray, Alberta earlier this year and Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties in California last year.

More Park Vista Hotel from FB. #Gatlinburg

— NewMarketMauler (@NewMarketMauler) November 29, 2016

Those areas are no strangers to fire, however. It’s a different story in Gatlinburg. The Great Smoky Mountains are named for the fog that typically hangs over the mountains, not smoke from wildfires. That fog and a generally wet climate typically helps insulate the area from ferocious fires.

“This is definitely an anomaly,” Sanders said. “We have such high relative humidity so typically our fires aren’t nearly this intense.”

Whether climate change will make fires more common in the region is an ongoing area of research. It’s unclear if the Southeast will become wetter or drier due to climate change and that will have a big influence on future wildfire activity.

The region is likely to keep warming, though, and that means that any future dry spells will be more likely to lead to drought, creating more fuel for fires to burn.



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Duke Energy Progress rates drop for North Carolina customers

Effective Dec. 1, 2016, the charge for a typical residential customer using 1,000 kWh of electricity will decrease from $110.04 to $103.23 per month, a savings of $6.81 


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PG&E makes $85 million deal on Diablo Canyon nuclear closure

Diablo Canyon is California’s last operating nuclear generating station


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New Mexico electric utility to seek another rate increase

New Mexico’s largest electric provider will be asking state regulators to consider another rate increase for customers in December


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Trump rollback of Obama energy plans may be difficult

Environmental groups are gearing up to defend Obama’s environmental legacy in court


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