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Week in Renewables: No Energy Laws, Big Deals, Geoengineering

The past week was an active one for the renewable energy industry, at least in terms of news. Unfortunately, much of it was bad news, at least for the industry's future prospects.

In the U.S. Senate, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski made a bid to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and it began to seem likely, with a Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election, that the country's cap and trade bill would also fail, despite the continued support of some businesspeople like Exelon CEO John Rowe.

Venture capital also appears to be drying up for the cleantech category, which includes everything from solar cells to energy efficiency software. And the carbon offset sector, regarded by many as an area with strong growth prospects, was the subject of a probing article in Harper's Magazine (recommended reading for those who think offsets won't be abused excessively).

Despite the dim picture, though, there were plenty of bright spots in specific areas. Going by category:

Solar Ontario has struck a massive $6.7 billion deal with Samsung for four power clusters that incorporate both solar and wind power. The total generating capacity when finished should be 2.5 gigawatts, which makes the deal one of the largest to date.

A well-known research firm called iSuppli said that the reduction of a German solar subsidy would result in a significant fall in the price of photovoltaic panels toward the mid-point of the year. That's in a addition to the already sharp price reduction the industry has suffered during the recession.

Oerlikon Solar said that it had gotten the cost of its "micromorph" thin film solar panels below 70 cents per watt -- significant because Oerlikon, like Applied Materials, primarily sells manufacturing equipment, leaving cheap thin-film production in reach of any company that can finance the equipment. Separately, a company called Confluence Solar announced a new $200 million solar plant in East Tennessee.

Finally, California regulators approved a $350 million program to subsidize hot water heaters. In a way, it's big news -- rooftop solar water heaters can be more efficient and cheaper than solar cells, but they're often overlooked because they lack the sexy image of photovoltaics.

Wind The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a study showing that wind could account for up to 30 percent of the electricity needs of the eastern United States. The trick is that a large investment in transmission infrastructure would be required. That would be a tough bet in a country that hasn't pulled off such a huge project in decades.

In Europe, expectations are running high for offshore wind power -- but tight credit could limit the industry's development. But in favor of offshore wind, a Stockholm University study showed that turbines and other energy structures in the sea could help increase the marine wildlife, a boon for fishing industries.

Electric vehicles Fisker Automotive raised another $115.3 million dollars for its high-powered hybrid electric car, meeting a pre-condition that the the DOE had set for a $528 million federal loan. As I reported, Fisker also recently secured A123 Systems as the supplier of its batteries.

Straying away from cars, it was reported that China is falling out of love with electric bicycles as deaths from the machines soar. And Greentech Media went to take a look at Masdar City's personal rapid transit cars, which will whisk their priveleged passengers around sans driver.

All the rest
A company called Advanced Reactors Concepts is working on a small sodium-cooled nuclear reactor design, which is adopted would be revolutionary for the nuclear industry -- though alternative designs have gotten little love over the years.

And the last item connects back to the top of this roundup -- the part where politicians are loath to pass, or even allow, any emissions controls with teeth. Assuming climate change is real and political action continues to fall short, a committee in England has begun seriously exploring geoengineering techniques that could keep the world cool.