Advanced Energy Perspectives

NEWS: Karma Goes Around and Comes Around; Solar-Powered Vehicles; More Merger Madness

Posted by Lexie Briggs

Jul 8, 2016 12:57:42 PM

    

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This week’s transportation news was a rollercoaster, which is ironic only because the only thing lacking was advanced trains. Instead, we’ve got a new (old) player vying for the title of top electric car magnate, plus solar panels on boats and planes and cars. Plus, the latest from the wild world of utility mergers. Please keep your hands and feet inside the moving vehicle – it’s this week’s news round up! 

Do you remember the Fisker Karma and the company’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2012? The year started out with Justin Bieber getting a Karma for his 18th birthday, which cost the company a little cache, but then more than 300 Fisker Karmas sitting in a parking lot – waiting for a maintenance recall (because they were in danger of catching fire) – got slammed by Hurricane Sandy and promptly, um, went up in flames. As Jalopnik noted at the time, “Their attempt to prevent the cars from catching on fire led to them catching on fire.” 

In 2013 Fisker declared bankruptcy, and the next year the company was purchased by Wanxiang Group, a Chinese vehicle component manufacturing company headed by a man Bloomberg called “China’s Elon Musk.” At the time, billionaire and Wanxiang Founder Lu Guanqiu told Bloomberg that he would “burn as much cash as it takes to succeed.” 

Well, it’s happening. The Fisker Karma is back, redesigned and under the new model name of Karma Revero. Pilot production is underway at the factory in Moreno Valley, Calif. The Reveros will look and drive much like the Karma, which was named the 2011 Luxury Car of the Year by Top Gear magazine. This time around, Jim Taylor, chief marketing officer for Fisker, said the company is taking its time. 

“We have no pressure that this car has to be in showrooms by Thanksgiving,” Taylor said in an interview with the LA Times. “We’ll reveal the car this summer, and the pricing.”

Heinrik Fisker, the man who originally founded Fisker Automotive, is not out of the game. Tech Insider reported this week that Fisker is interested in developing an autonomous electric car, and, in a separate article, that he’s building a $37 million luxury yacht lined with solar panels

In other solar powered vehicles news, the Solar Impulse 2, which uses AEE member SunPower solar panels, completed its journey across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Seville, Spain, last week. It took the plane 71 hours, but, as the Solar Impulse logbook is quick to point out, produced no emissions. 

So far we’ve got solar planes and solar yachts, but how about that old standby of a dream within a dream, a solar car? Solar powered cars in the past have basically been “cars” in name only, being mostly a cockpit surrounded by a flat plane of solar panels. Check out the Tokai Challenger, the winner of a solar car race in 2010.

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China’s Hanergy Holding Group is looking to change that. This week, Hanergy unveiled four solar-powered electric concept cars that look and feel like actual cars. Hanergy is already one of the largest thin-film solar cell manufacturers, and the company is using its own technology (and technology from U.S.-based Alta Devices, which it purchased in 2014) to power four concept cars, one of which, the Solar A, has a solar-only range of 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles).

Pivoting to utility mergers, Southern Co. and AGL Resources announced last Friday that their merger, which was approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission in April, was complete. The deal, worth $12 billion, brings the combined utility customer base to 9 million. 

The beefed-up Southern Co. joins a large class of merged utilities. This year we have seen a major uptick in mergers and acquisitions, from Pepco and Exelon on the eastern seaboard and beyond, to Oncor and Hunt Consolidated in Texas, to the purchase of Cleco Corp. in Louisiana by a group of Canadian investors. Bloomberg this week reported that the U.S. and Canada alone account for 63% of utility M&A worldwide in the first six months of 2016. North American utility deals totaled $35 billion in the first half of 2016, a seven-fold increase over last year.

One utility merger that seems to be on the rocks is NextEra’s purchase of Hawaii’s Hawaiian Electric Co (HECO). NextEra acquired HECO for $4.3 billion in late 2014, but the deal has been stalled, with the PUC missing the latest deadline for approval. No worries, though, as Pacific Business News reports that Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy Services is in line to purchase HECO if the NextEra deal falls through. Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the parent company of MidAmerican Energy Services, already owns the Wailuku hydroelectric project on the island of Hawaii. Is Warren Buffet the man to help bring Hawaii to the 100% renewables future to which the state is committed? We’ll be tracking it on Advanced Energy Perspectives.

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