Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bloomberg Goes SEO Crazy in the Headline: "Obama $8 Billion Solar Betamax Unwinds as China Backs Rival" (FSLR; GE; SI)

I know the consultants say the media have to write headlines like that but at some point people, actual wetware-equipped people, will stop trying to figure out what the heck they're reading.
Which would be just fine by me as this is actually a pretty good story, once you get past the search-engine-optimization and can focus on the bigger, Betamax, picture.*
We have a couple examples in the Buttonwood link, below.
[do you ever worry that the readers have never heard of a Betamax? -ed]

From Bloomberg:
The U.S. government’s $8 billion bet on solar energy that would pave the deserts with mirrors risks following the Betamax into the technological wilderness because of Chinese backing for a cheaper system.
The Department of Energy guaranteed loans to six plants that will reflect sunlight to boil water for making electricity, aiming to kick-start commercial projects. Four of those, and a third of $26 billion pipeline encouraged by U.S. aid, may switch to standard photovoltaic panels that generate a charge directly from the sun, said Brett Prior, a solar analyst at GTM Research.

The cost of generating power with panels plunged about 37 percent in the past year as Chinese factories cut prices, pushing three U.S. makers including Solyndra LLC into bankruptcy protection in the past quarter. Germany’s Solar Millennium AG (S2M) walked away from a $2.1 billion U.S. loan guarantee last month and ditched thermal devices for a cheaper photovoltaic system.

“If Solar Millennium, a major developer that has the technology, can’t do it with a loan guarantee, then it’s not clear who could,” Prior said in a phone interview from Boston.

While the developers of some of the U.S. guaranteed projects said they are sticking with mirror-based devices, a switch by others will drain momentum for the technology and shift engineering jobs President Barack Obama aims to create in the southwestern U.S. to the panel plants of eastern China.

Congressional Probe
Congress is probing White House support for Solyndra, with some lawmakers saying loan guarantees were given without a thorough vetting of the Fremont, California-based company, one of many solar-equipment makers in the U.S., Germany and Japan that were weakened by the same Chinese competition. Solyndra wasn’t in the solar thermal business, focusing instead on photovoltaics.
Tiffany Edwards, an Energy Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the competing solar technologies.

Photovoltaic, or PV, panels have benefited from tumbling costs. That in turn fueled demand and allowed manufacturers such as China’s Suntech Power Holdings Co. to boost capacity and cut prices for use in fields and on rooftops.

In contrast, thermal developers are struggling to raise money for what are typically custom-designed plants erected in deserts on a utility scale, taking years to design and build. They employ more workers for construction and maintenance than plants using panels.

Betamax Moment
Solar thermal, at least in the U.S., is approaching a tipping point that recalls the defeat of Sony Corp.’s Betamax format to the rival VHS in the videotape war of the 1980s, said Lee Clements, a fund manager at Impax Asset Management Ltd.

“It’s like VHS versus Betamax,” Clements, who co-manages about 2.4 billion pounds ($3.8 billion) in clean-technology investments, said in a phone interview. “You’ve seen a big snowball effect” as cheaper prices fuel more demand for panels.

The biggest losers may be the industrial giants such as General Electric Co. (GE), Siemens AG and Toshiba Corp. (6502) that make turbines for both traditional and solar-thermal power plants. Several have acquired stakes in the last two years solar-thermal equipment makers.

Siemens bought Solel Solar Systems for $418 million in 2009. This year GE acquired a minority stake in ESolar Inc. for $20 million and got an exclusive license to sell the California company’s technology. ABB Ltd. (ABBN), the world’s biggest power-grid supplier, agreed to buy 35 percent of Novatec Solar with an option to acquire the rest of the German company in March....MORE 
*From February 2010's "Buffett’s ‘Dangerous Business’ Ensnares Municipal Bond Insurers (ABK; AGO; BRK-A; BRK-B; MBI)" :
A major piece, worth the read or a bookmark for the weekend.
Plus the headline actually says something rather than being a mess of keywords.*
I'll copy out Warren's disquisition on Muni insurance after the jump.
From Bloomberg...
*Here's The Economist's Buttonwood blog on the subject of Bloomberg's headlines:
IT is not easy writing headlines but Bloomberg seems to have adopted a strategy of cramming as many nouns as possible into a sentence. The result can be mind-boggling. A few weeks ago, I was baffled by the following:
"Sleep-At-night Money Lost in Lehman Lesson Missing $63 Billion".
But that was topped by two of today's efforts:
"Geithner Saying Be Like Bullish Buffett Can't Make J P Morgan Boost Lending" and "Japan Tops China Buying Treasuries as Lost Decade Survivors Debunking Pond".
I rather like the idea of a "debunking pond" into which we should tip the authors of all ridiculous theories, but what does it all mean?
Before critics of my errant typing jump in, I don't think these are errors; merely an attempt by the website to include "stopwords" that will get noticed by search engines and ensure the story gets more exposure. Any more ridiculous examples welcome.