Alternative Energy Watch: BrightSource Files for IPO; IEA Publishes Roadmap for Biofuels; Chinese Battery Maker De-listed (CRTP, GOOG, PCG, EIX, GS, C, DB)

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Today’s alternative energy watch begins with a look at the IPO filing by solar thermal maker BrightSource and then examines a new roadmap for biofuels offered up by the International Energy Agency. We’ll also note the de-listing of Chinese battery maker China Ritar Power Corp. (NASDAQ: CRTP).

BrightSource Energy, Inc. has file a preliminary Form S-1 with the US SEC announcing its intention to conduct an initial public offering. BrightSource was listed as one of our 25 most important alt energy companies last year, and it seems to have lived up to its advance billing. The company has scored a $1.6 billion loan guarantee for its 392-megawatt Ivanpah solar thermal power plant in southern California, and a $168 million investment from Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG). Earlier this month BrightSource received $201 million in venture capital.

The company was founded in 2004 and has completed 14 long-term power purchase agreements to deliver about 2,600 megawatts of electricity to PG&E Corp. (NYSE: PCG) and Southern California Edison, a division of Edison International Inc. (NYSE: EIX). In addition to electricity generation, BrightSource has also developed a solar thermal system to generate steam for use in enhanced oil recovery operations.

BrightSource has not yet specified how many shares would be offered, but did note that 79,135,944 shares of convertible preferred stock would be converted to common stock immediately prior to the IPO. The final number of shares included in the IPO will be determined on the price at the time of the IPO. The underwriters include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) and Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE: DG).

According to the prospectus, the company expects to use the proceeds of the IPO for general corporate purposes, including capital expenditures and working capital. It does not appear as though early investors will be cashing out.

BrightSource lost almost $18 million in 2010, equal to its losses in the two previous years combined, and the company expects to continue losing money for the foreseeable future. It takes three to seven years for a solar thermal project to begin commercial operation, so while BrightSource appears to be solid candidate for an IPO, its business could take some time to show profits.

The International Energy Agency has completed a roadmap for development of transportation biofuels through 2050. The IEA projects that by 2050, some 27% of total transportation fuels could be provided by biofuels. To achieve this level of consumption about 250 million acres of arable land would need to be devoted to growing biomass feedstock.

The IEA claims that its goals can be reached without displacing food crops or upsetting biodiversity goals if biofuels costs can be controlled and the conversion efficiency of biomass to fuel can be improved. The cost of meeting the 2050 target is put at $11-$13 trillion, but the IEA notes that “marginal savings or additional costs compared to use of gasoline/diesel are in the range of only +/-1% of total costs for all transport fuels.”

As with so many of the pronouncements from the IEA, government policies are a key factor. The roadmap requires a policy framework that would increase investor confidence and provide for the sustainable expansion of biofuel production. Policy frameworks, incentives, increased R&D, and a sustainable land-use management system to ensure balance with food and timber land also figure into the IEA’s roadmap. Somehow, it’s hard to envision global governments committing to this kind of investment in the current economic climate.

Finally today, the NASDAQ market has sent lead-acid battery maker China Ritar Power a notice of non-compliance and de-listed the company’s stock from trading for failing to file a Form 10-K. The company had announced a delay in its filing because it could not obtain the financial and other information it needed to get the report finished on time. Shares in the company have not traded since April 15th, when they closed at $1.60.

Paul Ausick

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