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RenewableEnergyWorld.com’s Most-read Stories of 2009

As 2009 comes to a close, RenewableEnergyWorld.com is reflecting on the year gone by. We’re revisiting our most-read stories and highlighting some of our most important accomplishments over the last 12 months.

This year we expanded our content exponentially, playing a part in launching a new print magazine, Renewable Energy World North America and incorporating more stories from our sister publications, Renewable Energy World magazine, PV World, Hydro Review and Hydro Review World.

One of our major pushes in 2009 was in video. We grew our video library to more than 272 videos (adding over 150 videos this year alone), adding a new element to our coverage of industry events. We also added a blog section in which we signed up more than 40 bloggers, giving a more personal touch to the site. In addition, we created the From the Lab section where we report on all of the R&D announcements and stories that come across our desks. There seem to be new, unique technologies coming out all the time and that section was needed to accomodate all the exciting progress we’re seeing in labs across the country.

Perhaps our most exciting roll-out was the creation of a new networking platform for users and companies. By allowing people to customize their profiles, connect to each other’s networks and track their activity on the site, we’ve set up the foundation for a more robust social and business network around renewable energy.

We have great plans to expand these tools and our multi-media offerings even more in 2010 — so stay tuned!

One of the best ways for us to discover what our readers want is to look at the most-read stories of the year.  Below we have compiled our most popular stories of the year broken down by technology, finance and policy. 

Top Technology Stories of 2009

With sales slumping, many companies used 2009 as a year to focus on improving technology and cutting manufacturing costs. Our most read-stories of the year indicate that this was a hot topic for companies and readers alike.

In Burning Issues: An Update on the Wood Pellet Market, which was first published in our UK print edition, Renewable Energy World magazine, Christiane Egger and Christine Oehlinger explained how burning wood pellets for heat and power is becoming common across central and northern Europe. While not a solely technology-focused piece, the authors describe the entire wood pellet market in Europe and detail how pellets are manufactured and describe the various technologies that use pellets as a source of renewable heat and power.

Readers are always hungry to learn about cutting-edge technologies and this feature, The Next Solar Frontier: Distributed Inverter Architecture, gave them exactly what the needed to know in the distributed inverter space.  Written by RenewableEnergyWorld.com contributing writer, Justin Moresco, this story looked at one of the most talked-about technology topics of the year: how to harvest the most electricity from a solar panel in the simplest, most elegant way.

On that same topic of technology that harvests more energy from a solar panel, we brought you Solar Trackers: Facing the Sun, by UK Associate Editor, David Appleyard.  In his piece, Appleyard explained how tracking systems that adjust the position of PV modules to follow the sun can boost yields from solar installations by 40% or more. This article showed what trackers are available and who is building them.

Our Dutch Wind Technology expert Eize de Vries was on the scene checking out new wind turbine technologies this year.  In Wind Turbine Technology Gets Bigger and Better, he traveled to the Hannover Messe, an industry technology fair that boasted more than 6,000 exhibitors and 210,000 visitors.  From the fair, he brought us insights into many of the newest wind turbine technology trends to watch out for as companies in this space continue to create more massive and more efficient turbines.

Readers were also interested in BIPV, another hot topic in 2009 and something we expect to see much more of in the coming years.  In February, we brought you Jennifer Kho’s story, Energy Conversion Devices’ Turnaround: Is BIPV Finally Ready To Take Off? In this article, Kho detailed how ECD Ovonics emerged as a leader in the building-integrated photovoltaic market.

Biofuels also proved to be something readers were interested in hearing about, with algae-based biofuels stealing the show.  In Blooming Biofuel: How Algae Could Provide the Solution, Jeffrey Decker showed us how interest is growing exponentially in this field.  He wrote about the handful of companies that are planning to make the leap from research to commercial production of algae-based fuels in the near future.

Top Financial Stories of 2009

If 2008 was the year of crisis, 2009 has been the year of recovery. Much of our financial reporting this year has been focused on how businesses have thrived, scraped by, restructured, consolidated or gone bust in a slowly improving economic and financial environment.

There have been a mixture of successes and failures in 2009, proving that the very hot renewable energy industry was not immune from the recession. Many analysts predicted that 2009 would accelerate a much-needed shakeout in renewables as the technologies and markets become more mature. In many cases, they were right. This is certainly a much different industry today than it was 12 months ago.

And yet despite the drop in energy demand and falling fossil energy prices, the renewable energy industry did remarkably well in 2009, largely due to expanding government support. Rather than let clean energies fall by the wayside during a time of crisis, governments around the world used renewables as a tool to rebuild their economies. It is still unclear if these initiatives have working as planned. But this robust support has allowed the industry to thrive even in the most difficult of economic conditions.

Below is a round-up of some our most-read financial stories of the year, which highlight some of the major changes we saw in the industry in 2009.

Ad you may have guessed, readers were interested in our coverage of the U.S. stimulus package, which set aside $67 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency. This was a defining move for the industry in 2009 and our readers were hungry for updates on how the funds would be deployed. In Stimulus Dollars Begin to Flow: Here’s How, Where and When, Power Engineering Online Editor Jeff Postelwait looked at the beginnings of this massive program.

After the low point in quarter one, the industry had started to pick back up in the summer. In June, some of the nation’s leading investors gathered in New York for the Renewable Energy Finance Forum. We sent a staff writer to the event to get a sense of how the financial community was looking at the renewable energy space and he wrote up a piece entitled Renewable Energy Investors Are Cautiously Optimistic. This marked the beginning of a turnaround for clean energy.

The ethanol and biodiesel industries were some of the hardest hit by the financial crisis. With the drop in the price of oil, fuel production facilities were not nearly as profitable. As much as a quarter of ethanol and biodiesel plants were laying idle at the beginning of the year. This opened up new opportunities for oil companies to buy up cheap production assets. As a result, we’ve seen significant restructuring in the biofuels area, which will certainly continue into 2010. Contributing Writer Jennifer Kho saw those trends and developed Big Oil Bets on Biofuels, which was another hit with readers.

In addition to our traditional print coverage, we brought you lots of video coverage on the financial crisis as well. One of the biggest stories of the year was about how the fast-growing wind industry would be hurt by the lack of tax-equity financing. We attended the AWEA Wind Power conference in Chicago and brought back this report on How Wind Energy Financing Models are Changing.

Given how nascent the renewable energy industry still is, there is plenty of room for entrepreneurs to develop new technologies and business models. In this wildly popular podcast, Renewable Energy: A Weapon of Mass Reconstruction, we highlighted the need to encourage more entrepreneurship as way to get capital flowing, help the industry and grow the economy. This was one of many podcasts that we produced on the impact of the recession on renewables.

If you don’t already listen to the podcast, this is a great opportunity to start — you can listen right on your computer. Just pick the story you want to hear and click, “Listen to Podcast.” It’s a great way to get in-depth information on renewables from the world’s leading thinkers and professionals in the industry.

Top Policy Stories of 2009

For better or for worse, the renewable energy industry rely on government incentives to continue growing and maturing. This year, as world economies sunk into recession, the old policy and incentive structures, especially those based on tax-equity financing, stopped working and governments began to look for new policy structures that would help businesses weather the storm.

Here’s a look at some of the most important policy developments of 2009 from around the world:

No policy development had a higher profile than the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a.k.a the stimulus package, which was passed by the U.S. House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama just a month after he officially took office. The bill allocated more than US $60 billion for various types of tax credits, grants, research and development.

One of the most important provisions of the bill was the grant offered in lieu of the investment or production tax credits. The rule change put much-needed cash in developer’s pockets so they could get projects in the pipeline on the ground. NREL’s Kevin Eber explained this provision and many more in his hugely popular article, Clean Energy Aspects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Ontario, Canada became one of hottest markets for renewables following the passage of the Green Energy Act, which, among other things, established a feed-in tariff in the province for all renewables. In our staff-written piece, Ontario Unveils Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009, we explained the contents of the act and examined what impact it could have on the industry.

This year, China caught up with Europe and the U.S. in the manufacturing and installation of renewable energy technologies. The country has indicated that it will have a solar feed-in tariff (FIT) in place sometime during 2010. Meanwhile its domestic wind manufacturers and developers are set to install close to 7 GW of wind capacity in 2010. Through China’s Golden Sun program, more than 600 megawatts of solar energy capacity will be installed over the next two years. Lou Schwartz of China Strategies LLC, looked at the country’s fast-growing market in China Takes Steps To Rebalance Its Solar Industry and in China’s New Generation: Driving Domestic Development. An expert on China, Schwartz outlined the Chinese renewable energy markets, explaining where they’re likely headed and what it will mean for the industry as a whole.

The stimulus package was a big step for the industry in the short term. But business leaders are still calling for a long term, stable regulatory and political framework. First on the list of industry needs is a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which would mandate that utilities procure a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. The RPS could be part of the climate bill that Congress is set to take up after the holiday recess.

In 2009, we featured a video piece, Scott Sklar Talks Solar Policy, with renewable energy policy expert Scott Sklar from The Stella Group. He told us about how the political climate in Washington, DC has evolved for renewables over the years. We also produced a podcast that looked into this topic, entitled The Next Four Years for Renewable Energy.

Germany’s feed-in tariff (FIT) has been successful in creating the largest solar market in the world. But with a new right-of-center government in place and an economy struggling to recover from the shock over the last year, the country is taking another look at its FIT. Contributor John Blau looked at this issue in his popular story, Is the Germany Renewable Energy Industry in Jeopardy?

Miscellaneous Articles

With unemployment the unfortunate hot topic of 2009, our most-read story of 2009 was More Universities Offering Master’s Degree Programs in Renewable Energy. This was no doubt driven by the immense interest from both students and established professionals in the renewable energy industry. In this staff-written article, which was actually published in late 2008, we outlined some of the university programs that offer renewable energy master’s degrees. Those programs were just starting to crop up in 2008 and many more were announced in 2009. We plan to update the list in 2010.

As always, we welcome your ideas and comments. If there is a way you’d like to see us improve, please let us know by leaving a comment below. How does our renewable energy coverage work for you? What can we do to make it better or more informative?

Have a Happy New Year Everyone!