Weekly Review December 15-21: The Business of Energy

As alternative energy investors, we’re monitoring trends, innovations, business models, and costs for 2013. Read on to learn what GigaOM, The Guardian, Next Billion, and CleanTechnica have to say.

The 10 best and worst things to happen to clean in 2012” by Katie Fehrenbacher on GigaOM
Katie Fehrenbacher closes out the year at GigaOM with her list of the best and worst trends in clean tech in 2012. Some are company-specific, but are indicative of larger trends such as increasing commitment to supporting clean energy. Some of the “best” energy trends spill over into other topics: data storage, agricultural technology, affordability, and IT. One of the “worst” trends that Fehrenbacher cites is the “expensive and slow moving battery innovation.” We’re hopeful that this will change in 2013.

GravityLight: the low-cost lamp powered by sand and gravity” by Oliver Wainwright on The Guardian
Over the past couple of years, we have heard of many innovative lighting solutions in emerging markets, but finding the right one has been a tough nut to crack. Recently we came across GravityLight. Described as a “realistic alternative to kerosene lamps,” users fill the $5 GravityLight bag with sand, dirt, or whatever’s available. The bag hangs from a cord below the light. As the bag descends, the weight is converted to energy and provides 30 minutes of light.  It’s a novel solution that we hope to learn more about.

The Next Million: Grameen Shakti – an innovative model for rural energy business” by Nancy Wimmer on Next Billion
Grameen Shakti is an example of the scale that startups serving rural energy needs can achieve. Dedicated to providing decentralized solar home systems to rural Bangladesh, Grameen Shakti installed 20 systems by the end of its first year of operations. Today, 16 years later, the company has installed over 1 million systems wants to install another 1 million by 2016. The company achieved its scale by understanding its customers’ demands  (largely by employing 11,500 of its customers), providing microcredit, and using a “made in Bangladesh” business model. Read the whole story of the company’s growth in Nancy Winner’s book, Green Energy for a Billion Poor – How Shakti Created a Winning Model for Social Business.

Solar Production Module Costs to Decline To As Low As $0.48/W Within Five Years: Report” by Adam Johnston on Cleantechnica
Prices continue to fall for solar modules, good news for installers and end-users. Research indicates that modules could reach $0.48/W by 2017, down from ~$0.70/W today. Although the cost of goods sold (COGS) are also falling, they are doing so at a slower rate. This is bad news for the manufacturers.  According to Lux Research, “manufacturers need to drive costs down to survive and thrive during the coming years of growth.” There is significant potential to scale, but manufacturers must innovate to become leaner and more efficient.

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