Week in Renewables: New Grants and Subsidies, Cape Wind Decision Near, and More

Last Updated Jan 18, 2010 7:53 AM EST

The White House chose this week to give a substantial boost to the cleantech industry, by announcing $2.3 billion in grant money for a manufacturing. Some of the larger ones include Cree, an LED manufacturer that got $39 million; Miasole, a thin-film solar manufactuer that picked up a little over $100 million; its competitor Nanosolar, with $43 million; and Novozymes, a biofuel researcher that got $28 million. The full list is here.

Still, as always, the news was not all good. While the manufacturing grant was significant, the Department of Energy also chose this week to give nuclear power a setback with a proposed R&D cut. Energy secretary Steven Chu, who supports nuclear, has already sent a protest letter to president Obama.

Hitting closer to home (for me), the Wall Street Journal's rather useful cleantech blog Environmental Capital unexpectedly closed its doors, obliquely citing a lack of readers. Energy, despite its importance, remains a field that most regular people would prefer not to hear (or read) about.

Read on below, where I break out some of the week's top news by industry.

Solar The world's largest solar power market, Germany, is finally paring down its generous subsidies, although it won't decide until next week exactly how much. The market will likely shrink somewhat as a result; the industry will just have to hope that newer markets, like China, will grow quickly enough to pick up the slack. Still, biofuels and solar panels will cover 11% of the country by 2020, according to the country's renewable energy agency.

At home, the news is that solar subsidies are potentially going away in New York, while the crumbling homes of Detroit, which go for an average of $15,000, will be able to add on solar for another $6,000 with a new subsidy.

In Ohio, a First Solar competitor (which employs ex-execs from that company) has already gotten itself sued. Willard & Kelsey, a little-known thin-film solar startup, has been accused of deceiving a client over its ability to manufacture $230 million worth of solar panels, among other misdeeds.
Willard & Kelsey uncloaked by lawsuit

Wind Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens has given up on wind power in preference of concentrating on his sometimes odd campaign for natural gas. But even though Pickens' proposed wind farm was surely the largest project in the state, the Texas wind industry is still well on its way to becoming the largest in the nation, producing almost six percent of its total power.

Far off to the northeast, the long-delayed Cape Wind farm is approaching a decision. Following a decade of wrangling over the environmental and scenic challenges posed by the farm, the Interior Department has said it will make a decision by April.

Geothermal The geothermal industry is fighting for more recognition, having just wrapped up a conference that brought in politicians and financiers. Government grants are a prominent part of the plan. The industry has attracted the support of Nevada senator Harry Reid, who says that his state could have 2,500 megawatts of geothermal powerwithin a few years.

But the industry hasn't escaped new regulation, a response to the projects of Altarock Energy, which scared northern California residents when a report came out earlier this year about earthquakes from a similar project in Europe.

All the rest The great debate over whether a carbon tax or cap and trade would be better. The European Union's incoming trade chief, Karel De Gucht, has come out with a statement saying that a carbon tax is the wrong way to go, while U.S. climate activist James Hansen has penned a new letter railing against the evils of cap and trade.

CMEA, a venture capital firm that backed A123 Systems, the electric car battery company that recently went public, is talking publicly about its plans to take two more portfolio companies, Codexis and Solyndra, to the public markets, saying there's promise for quality green companies.

The final two: it emerged that Segway, the scooter company that once boasted it would replace cars and be as big as the PC, was quietly sold over Christmas, probably for less than the $176 million the company raised. And the next great frontier in energy efficiency, after all the incandenscent lightbulbs are replaced by CFLs, appeared: dishwashing.