California's Record-Breaking New Solar Plant Is Already Irrelevant

Last week, dozens of people, including Google energy chief Rick Needham and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, trekked out to the California-Nevada border in the middle of the Death Valley to dedicate what is believed to be the world's largest solar thermal facility in the world.
At 392 megawatts, the Ivanpah solar thermal plant will be able to power 140,000 homes — the equivalent of all of Newark (averaging two people per household).
We covered the project when BrightSource, the main developer behind the project, first put up a stunning 3-D tour of the site.
But for all its scale and beauty, in terms of the future of renewables, Ivanpah is already irrelevant.  
Solar thermal creates electricity by using mirrors to direct intense amounts of heat at a centralized collector, which is used to heat a substance like water to create steam power. Solar photovoltaic, meanwhile, directly converts solar energy into electricity through semiconductors.
If solar thermal sounds unnecessarily complicated, you're right. Solar photovoltaic has seen explosive growth in the past few years thanks to plummeting material costs, state incentives, and eco-conscious homebuyers putting up panels on their roofs.  But solar thermal growth has stalled, and is expected to continue to do so.  Ivanpah cost $2.2 billion. Warren Buffett paid the same amount for the world's largest photovoltaic plant just up the road outside Bakersfield. That plant will generate 1.5-times as much power as Ivanpah. 
As the New York Times' Diane Cardwell and Matt Wald wrote Friday, Ivanpah probably represents an end, not a beginning. 

Nevada desert land turned into solar power plant

A windy stretch of the Mojave Desert once roamed by tortoises and coyotes has been transformed by hundreds of thousands of mirrors into the largest solar power plant of its type in the world, a milestone for a growing industry that is testing the balance between wilderness conservation and the pursuit of green energy across the American West.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, sprawling across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened Thursday after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants.

"The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement after attending a dedication ceremony at the site. "This project shows that building a clean-energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions and fosters American innovation."

The $2.2 billion complex of three generating units, owned by NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy, can produce nearly 400 megawatts — enough power for 140,000 homes. It began making electricity last year.


China Will Take Gold In The 2014 'Solar Power Olympics'

China is projected to install 12,000 megawatts of solar power in 2014, giving it the "gold medal" in the figurative 2014 Solar Olympics, according to GTM Research.

That amount will be greater than what the United States has installed in all of its solar history.

Japan will take "silver" in 2014 with 7,500 megawatts forecast. The U.S. will take bronze at 5,300.

"China's rise to the top in global PV installations has been impressive, to say the least," GTM Research solar analyst Adam James said in the release. "Although transparency continues to be a problem in accurately sizing the market, GTM sees the shift to production-based incentives and increased downstream financing support driving deployment to new heights over the next few years."

For the first time in the past four year period, no European country will feature on the podium.

"While European feed-in tariff markets have been great at the short-distance events, the global solar market is clearly aiming toward the long-distance contenders in Asia and North America," said Shayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM Research. "But don't count out emerging markets. By the time the Summer Olympics roll around in Rio, Latin America will be a PV force to contend with."

California has a third of the nation's solar power jobs

One-third of all Americans who work in solar power live in California, according to an annual survey released Tuesday.

And their numbers are growing fast.

The solar industry employed 47,223 Californians last year, up 8 percent from 2012, according to the survey from the Solar Foundation, a research and advocacy group.

Nationwide, the solar industry employed 142,698 people. And while the rate of solar job growth nationwide was faster than in California, nearly hitting 20 percent last year, the Golden State still dominates the business.

"California is, by far, the leader," said Andrea Luecke, the foundation's executive director. "It's not by accident that the solar industry is based there."

Most of California's solar jobs, however, focus on panel installation and financing versus research and development efforts to create new technologies.

Starting more than 10 years ago, California officials made a concerted push to foster the solar industry. They forced the state's utilities to buy more renewable power and offered rebates to homeowners who bolted solar panels to their roofs.

The effort appears to have worked. Most of the country's largest solar companies are based in California, particularly in the Bay Area. The foundation's survey counted 21,653 solar jobs around the bay.

U.S. Presses Trade Action Against India on Solar Energy

The U.S. filed a second complaint against India’s solar-energy policies at the World Trade Organization, reviving a year-old dispute between the two nations.
Today’s action follows a case the U.S. filed in February 2013 at the Geneva-based WTO, saying India’s requirements for locally made components on solar-energy products violate global trade rules.
“These domestic content requirements discriminate against U.S. exports” of solar cells and modules, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said today at a news conference in Washington.
Officials from the Indian Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S., which has supported its own solar-manufacturing industry through loan guarantees, exported $119 million worth of solar-industry gear to India in 2011, and sales have declined since then, according to the U.S. trade office. In 2012, India, the second-largest export market for U.S. solar producers after Japan, plans to expands its solar-manufacturing industry by 20 times by 2020, according to the agency.
The U.S. trade office notified India today that it’s requesting consultations at the WTO to resolve the dispute. If the matter isn’t resolved in 60 days, the U.S. can request creation of a special panel at the WTO to hear the case.

Sumitomo Sets Up Solar Power Storage System With Used Batteries

Sumitomo Corp. said it installed a power storage system using recycled electric-vehicle batteries near a solar power station in the western prefecture of Osaka.
The 600-kilowatt system is the world’s first large-scale power storage system from used EV batteries, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement today. The device uses 16 used batteries.
“Over the next three years, the system will measure the smoothing effect of energy-output fluctuation from the nearby,” solar farm, Sumitomo said in the statement.
Sumitomo set up a venture with Nissan Motor Co. in 2010 to address the secondary use of EV batteries.

Sunrun Acquires REC Solar's Residential Division, AEE Solar and SnapNrack

Sunrun and Mainstream Energy Corp. today announced that Sunrun has acquired the residential division of REC Solar, AEE Solar and SnapNrack. The companies represent Mainstream Energy's residential solar sales, design and installation; wholesale distribution; and mounting systems and hardware businesses, respectively. In the commercial market, REC Solar will continue as an independent organization under the legal name REC Solar Commercial Corp. The value of the transaction was not disclosed.

"Sunrun pioneered solar service to remove the most significant barriers to going solar. We continue to innovate our business to further drive down costs, increase quality and broaden our reach to consumers so more homeowners have access to affordable home solar," said Lynn Jurich, Chief Executive Officer of Sunrun. "The residential solar market is growing rapidly and this acquisition marks the next step in our multi-channel growth strategy. REC Solar's residential division, AEE Solar and SnapNrack complement our thriving channel business and further enable us to fulfill the enormous market potential for home solar nationwide."

REC Solar is a national leader in solar electric system design and installation, with more than 11,000 customers across seven states. Since becoming Sunrun's first installation partner in 2007, REC Solar has helped thousands of homeowners elect solar energy with Sunrun's solar service, which allows homeowners to pay a low rate for clean energy and fix their electric costs for 20 years.

"REC Solar is the industry leader in customer satisfaction and high quality construction, while AEE Solar and SnapNrack bring capabilities that allow us to make solar energy affordable for more consumers, provide superior systems and service, and lay the foundation to become a major energy company," Jurich said.

What Does $2M Buy? How About 1800 GW Of Wind Power

A new $2 million funding program from the Department of Energy is expected to add – yes, add – yet another 1,800 gigawatts of wind power to the already formidable wind resources of the US. That’s something to keep in mind as the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline review process heats up.
The idea behind the new taller wind turbine program is to give the US wind industry an assist in developing taller wind turbines, with hub heights ranging from 120 meters up to 140 meters.
That’s a big step up from existing technology, which currently goes to the 80-100 meter range, with the average at about 90 meters.  As for why a taller wind tower, upper level winds tend to be stronger and steadier.

With taller wind turbines, the new program is also expected to open up an additional 237,000 square miles of wind-friendly areas for wind power potential, which is about the size of Texas (the image above compares the area change in square kilometers between the hub height of 96 and that of 140).

The areas of the US most likely to benefit from the improved wind technology are mainly located in the Southeast, where alternative energy is starting to find a friendly reception despite pushback by certain legislators from those states.


SEIA Announces New Workforce Training Commitment for Solar Industry

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today announced a new industry commitment to quality solar workforce training, working with the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).
Development of this commitment demonstrates the groups’ efforts to build the foundation of a skilled, knowledgeable workforce trained to safely and effectively perform the tasks solar energy jobs require.
The commitment comes on the heels of a new report showing nearly 143,000 Americans are at work throughout the solar value chain at more than 6,100 businesses in the U.S. There has been a 20 percent increase in the workforce since 2012 – or 10 new solar jobs every hour of every workday.
“We are proud to join with IREC during this exciting time for the solar industry. We have just come off a record-shattering year, we are looking forward to continued growth in 2014 and solar jobs are growing at 20 percent – 10 times faster than the national average. With all this activity, it is a perfect time to formalize an industry commitment to workforce training. SEIA encourages all its members to sign this important pledge,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA’s president and CEO.
"The explosive growth in solar jobs makes quality training more relevant than ever," said Jane Weissman, president and CEO of IREC. "SEIA is driving forward the solar industry's commitment to quality workforce training with this demonstration of individual and collective support. With consumer interest in solar so high, there is no better time to instill confidence that the industry is committed to a highly trained workforce to ensure the safety and effectiveness of their investment.“
The market for solar energy in America is booming as the cost of solar technology plummets. Energy efficiency in new construction and retrofits in existing buildings are impacting energy demand while sustainability is becoming part of the fabric of the operations of corporations, municipalities and college campuses. These factors create a fundamental shift in the production and use of solar energy – and the need for a new generation of well-trained workers to build a solar infrastructure.

Sun Sets On Solar Power In Germany; Industry Slashes 50% Of Jobs In Two Years

Germany’s solar power industry shed a staggering 5,000 jobs over the past two years, reducing the size of the industry by more than half, according to new data released on Tuesday by the Federal Office for Statistics.
A prolonged supply glut induced by cheap Chinese solar imports has resulted in a scourge of bankruptcies at several of Germany’s erstwhile elite solar manufacturers, including Q-Cells, Conergy and Solon.
In 2012, the solar industry employed more than 10,000 workers in Germany. More than half of those jobs have vanished over the past 24 months, according to figures from the Federal Office for Statistics.
The solar jobs data was shared with reporters from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which stated that less than 5,000 Germans are currently employed by the solar power industry – the lowest employed level in nearly half a decade.
Similar data was not available for other sectors of the renewable energy industry, but some signs of distress have surfaced in sectors outside of solar.
In 2013, Germany’s offshore wind power manufacturers cut more than 2,000 jobs, according to the Industrial Union of Metalworkers, the Germany’s largest metalworkers’ union.

China says U.S. should stop new dumping probe on solar products

China's commerce ministry called on the United States on Sunday to stop anti-dumping investigations into imports of solar power products from China, expressing "serious concern" and vowing to defend its producers.
U.S. trade officials on Thursday opened investigations into imports of certain solar power products from China and Taiwan, a move that could have a major impact on the nation's fast-growing solar market.
The U.S. Department of Commerce said it initiated antidumping duty and countervailing duty investigations, which will assess whether the products are being sold in the United States below their fair value, or if their manufacturers receive inappropriate levels of foreign government subsidies.
"The Chinese side expresses serious concern," the commerce ministry said in a statement on its website. "China urges the United States again to carefully handle the current ... investigations, be prudent in taking measures and terminate the investigation proceedings."
China will assess the impact on its solar industry and "resolutely defend" itself through various mechanisms, the ministry said.

How Do You Recycle a Solar Panel?

There's a paradox in the growing global appetite for greener energy. As sales of solar panels and wind turbines increase, so too does the scale of an often-overlooked problem now being stored for future generations. What happens to all the "green" infrastructure when it reaches the end of its life?

When early-generation green technology is replaced, much of it now finds its way into landfill or incinerators. This is not only a blow to waste-reduction efforts, adding hundreds of thousands of tons of rubbish to the global tally every year, but also is also a colossal missed opportunity. Solar panels comprise metals and glass, which, if they were separated and captured, could be reused in the manufacture of other products.

It is possible, through innovative technologies still being developed, to recycle more than 90 percent of a solar panel. But, given the volatility in the value of the resulting raw materials, this is a high-risk sector to develop, and research and development is lacking. Basic recycling schemes do exist, but often focus on two valuable components -- the glass and aluminum frame, for instance -- and discard the rest, including silver, silicon and tin, because it is not yet cost-effective to recycle them.

Bosch to pay SolarWorld up to 130m for Arnstadt operations

Bosch is set to pay SolarWorld some €130m in order to acquire the majority of its German solar operations.

The firm will continue to employ the majority of the personnel in Arnstadt, in the german state of Thuringia, the Wall Street Journal reported citing people familiar with the agreement.

Expected to close next month, the deal was agreed in late November but the balance due to SolarWorld will be due later, and could be under €130m if operations in Arnstadt take a turn for the better.

In exchange, SolarWorld will be unable to use the Arnstadt assets as debt collateral for several years – a move by Bosch that will prevent the operations in Arnstadt from falling into the hands of SolarWorld’s creditors.

SolarWorld is currently highly indebted and is planning a financial restructuring in February, with plans to offer investors new shares in place of 55 per cent of the company’s liabilities.

Areva, Gamesa Form Offshore Wind Power Business

French energy engineering firm Areva and Spain's Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica Monday said they were joining forces to create an offshore wind power business, embracing the consolidation wave of an industry plagued by massive costs.
The two groups will have an equal share of the joint venture which still has no name, Areva renewables division's head Louis-Francois Durret said during a conference call.
The move highlights the hurdles faced by the burgeoning offshore wind power industry, as massive research and development costs have hampered growth even though governments around Europe and elsewhere are eager to boost the green part of their energy mix. The costs have triggered consolidations; this latest tie-up follows the creation of a joint venture between Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems last autumn.

Renewable Energy at $254 Billion? Let's Make It a Clean Trillion

Billionaire bankers gathered at the United Nations yesterday to call for more investment in renewable energy -- $1 trillion a year, to be exact.
It won’t be easy. Global investment in renewable energy fell 12 percent in 2013 to $254 billion, according to data released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), casting a shadow over the notion of a “clean trillion.”
Last year was the second decline in renewable investments since 2011’s record-high $318 billion. Investors and climate-policy advocates including hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin called for changes to financial markets that would boost investment. Financing must double by 2020 and double again to $1 trillion by 2030 in order to avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius, reports Ceres, the host of yesterday's conference.
These top-line numbers are fuzzy and paint a picture that’s perhaps more bleak than reality. First, the price of solar energy continues to tumble, so more renewable energy is being generated with fewer dollars invested. Second, while BNEF’s clean-energy tally is the most comprehensive for renewable energy, it’s not all-encompassing; it doesn’t include most energy-efficiency measures, fuel-efficiency gains or expanded public transportation.

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