Week in Renewables: Copenhagen Postmortems, New Venture Funding and More

Last Updated Jan 11, 2010 7:50 AM EST

Several weeks ago, BNET Energy forwent its weekly roundups to cover the Copenhagen climate conference in Denmark, and continued the hiatus through the slow-news holidays. We're back on now; thanks for your patience.

As it happens, the first item to report relates right back to Copenhagen. As postmortems of what went wrong at the conference have continued to crop up, much of the attention has centered on China. Now an official at the country's National Development and Reform Commission has gone on record that China entered negotiations intending to reject external checks on its emissions: "Developing countries, especially China, would surely never accept this request," he said.

For some, stonewalling of this sort means that China intentionally wrecked the Copenhagen talks. The alternate explanation is that China has a very different view of the negotiations -- it holds that developed countries should be responsible for making cuts.

If that's the truth (and not just a negotiating angle), then progress is sure to remain slow: the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has said that it's unlikely the United States will pass a cap and trade bill, a problem which Copenhagen's lack of progress surely plays into, making the entire process a chicken-and-egg problem.

Even worse, environmental issues don't even make it into a lengthy list of the most-reported stories of 2009. That's a demand issue; editors have been telling me for some time that stories on cleantech are unpopular and draw little traffic.

Not all news in the world of renewable energy is grim, though. Last year's IPO of A123 Systems, for instance, ended up as the top-grossing debut of the year, and the first week of the new year has seen a surge of venture financing for cleantech for almost a dozen companies including the electric car maker Coda Automotive, thin-film solar startup Innovalight and solar concentrator developer Morgan Solar.
More importantly for the big picture, the Bureau of Land Management has begun its promised fast-tracking of renewable energy projects, with 31 proposals from companies like Brightsource and Duke Energy in the first batch. China similarly appears to be picking up the pace, making an agreement with eSolar for a huge solar thermal installation, its first; I'll be writing a bit more about that later. (Update: Coverage of the two gigawatt eSolar deal is here.)

In England, offshore wind power could be in for an even bigger boost. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has awarded Siemens, Vestas and other companies grants to begin building 32 gigawatts of offshore turbines starting in 2014.

Developing technology has also made some notable gains. Silicon microwire solar cells have made strong gains in efficiency; they may prove to be a promising technology in the decade ahead. Separately, a company called EnviroMission is hoping to build the world's first solar updraft plants in Arizona, where their 2,400 foot chimneys would pipe hot air up to power turbines.

Two dim points to end on: EEStor appears to have missed yet another milestone for its ultracapacitors, which will supposedly replace batteries in electric cars. And LED lightbulbs have shown a weak point when used in public transportation -- in stoplights, they can't melt off snow and ice, leading to crashes. If there's really a mini ice age on the way, be sure to drive carefully.