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.

After a building boom, solar energy's prospects now aren't as sunny

Five years after the Obama administration's renewable energy initiative touched off a building boom of large-scale solar power plants across the desert Southwest, the pace of development has slowed to a crawl, with a number of companies going out of business and major projects canceled for lack of financing.

Of the 365 federal solar applications since 2009, just 20 plants are on track to be built. Only three large-scale solar facilities have gone online, two in California and one in Nevada. The first auction of public land for solar developers, an event once highly anticipated by federal planners, failed to draw a single bid last fall.

Several factors are responsible, industry analysts say. The tight economy has made financing difficult to obtain, and the federal government has not said whether it will continue to offer tax credits of the size that brought a rush of interest in large-scale solar five years ago.

"I would say we are in an assessment period," said Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute. "Nobody's going to break ground on any big new solar projects right now — utilities want to see how farms coming online this year fit into the grid, and developers are waiting for more certainty about state policies and federal tax credits."

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New Battery Innovation Promising For Cheap Renewable Energy Storage

Harvard University researchers have invented an new kind of “flow battery” that could be used on large-scales, such as within electricity grids, to store intermittent renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar. The research describing the new “metal free organic-inorganic aqueous flow battery”, was published in the journal Nature on 9 January.

To create the battery, the Harvard researchers say they have been working with a previously overlooked group of organic compounds called quinones. These can be used to make inexpensive batteries that can charge and discharge renewable energy more quickly than current batteries are able to.

The researchers maintain that their new battery can work as well as existing batteries with chemistries based on metals, which are far more expensive to make. The new battery does not use a precious metal catalyst, it’s underlying chemistry is metal-free; instead, it uses the naturally abundant quinones.

Quinones are water-soluble compounds that store energy in plants and animals. They are found in all green vegetables, and the molecule the researchers used is almost identical to the one in rhubarb. Because quinones are naturally abundant and water-soluble, large, inexpensive tanks could be set up to store electricity, rather than using the traditional, and more expensive solid-state batteries.

New York Governor Announces $1 Billion For Solar Energy

New York governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday and announced an even greater commitment to clean energy, including $1 billion in new funding for solar energy projects.

Launched in 2012, Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative has already been a tremendous success, with almost 300 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic capacity installed or under development, more than was installed in the entire decade prior to the program.

Now with another major financial boost, Cuomo aims to install 3,000 (MW) of solar across New York. “That’s enough solar to power 465,000 New York homes, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons annually — the equivalent of taking almost 435,000 cars off the road — and create more than 13,000 new solar jobs,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In addition to the ten-year financial boost for NY-Sun, Cuomo announced a new program entitled K-Solar, which will incentivize the deployment of solar energy by using the state’s 5,000 schools as “demonstration hubs” to increase the number of solar energy projects in their surrounding communities.

Yingli Sees Return to Profit as Solar-Panel Demand Gains

Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (YGE), the world’s biggest solar-panel maker, expects to post its first quarterly profit in three years as early as next quarter as demand climbs and cost controls show results.

The Chinese company “will see a gradual rise each quarter” after reporting a “small loss” or breaking even in the first three months of the year, Chief Financial Officer Wang Yiyu said today by telephone.

The forecast indicates increasing optimism that solar-panel makers are recovering from a plunge in prices caused by surplus manufacturing capacity. Trina Solar Ltd. and JinkoSolar Holding Co. (JKS) already have returned to profit. Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ), the best-performing stock among peers in the past year, posted its first quarterly net income in more than two years in November.

Yingli’s American depositary receipts increased 8.4 percent to $7.08 at the close in New York, the highest since Oct. 24.

Yingli has surged more than 40 percent this year after agreeing to form a venture with China’s Datong Coal Mine Group to develop solar plants in Shanxi province.

Wind power was Spain's top source of electricity in 2013

Remarkable new figures from Spain's grid operator have revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from the country's power sector are likely to have fallen 23.1% last year, as power generation from wind farms and hydroelectric plants soared.

Red Eléctrica de España (REE) released a preliminary report on the country's power system late last month, revealing that for "the first time ever, [wind power] contributed most to the annual electricity demand coverage". According to the figures, wind turbines met 21.1% of electricity demand on the Spanish peninsular, narrowly beating the region's fleet of nuclear reactors, which provided 21% of power.

In total, wind farms are estimated to have generated 53,926 gigawatt hours of electricity, up 12% on 2012, while high levels of rainfall meant hydroelectric power output was 16% higher than the historical average, climbing to 32,205GWh.

"Throughout 2013, the all-time highs of wind power production were exceeded," the report stated. "On 6 February, wind power recorded a new maximum of instantaneous power with 17,056MW at 3:49 pm (2.5 per cent up on the previous record registered in April 2012), and that same day the all-time maximum for hourly energy was also exceeded reaching 16,918MWh. Similarly, in January, February, March and November wind power generation was the technology that made the largest contribution towards the total energy production of the system."

An increase in wind power capacity of 173MW coupled with an increase in solar PV capacity of 140MW and solar thermal capacity of 300MW meant that by the end of the year renewables represented 49.1% of total installed power capacity on the Spanish peninsula.

Major solar energy plan for Minnesota wins support over gas

In an unprecedented decision, a Minnesota judge this week held that utility supplier Xcel Energy should invest in the solar energy developer Geronimo Energy rather than in natural gas generators because that choice is the better economical and environmental deal for the state.

Judge Eric Lipman's ruling must be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which initially ordered the proceeding to force energy companies to compete on price. The commission is expected to issue its final ruling in March.

Lipman said in the 50-page ruling, issued Tuesday, that the Geronimo project "will have numerous socioeconomic benefits, minimal impacts on the environment and best supports Minnesota's efforts to reduce greenhouse gases." 

The decision, if approved, would help Xcel fulfill its requirement to attain 1.5 percent of its power from the sun by 2020 under a new state energy law.

Geronimo Vice President Betsy Engelking said the decision marks a turning point for the solar industry because it is the first time that unsubsidized solar energy has gone head-to-head with natural gas resources and been selected as the best option.

"The judge decided that it was the best option for economic and environment reasons," Engelking told Al Jazeera. "Economically, the judge found that it was the lowest cost option offered."

If the decision stands, Geronimo plans to build roughly 20 solar arrays at a cost of $250 million.

13 major clean energy breakthroughs of 2013

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are 13 of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. 
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger.
4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves.
6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water. 
7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records.
8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. 
9. New age offshore wind turbines that float.
10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.
11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here.
12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people.
13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels. 

Wind Power Developers Race Clock to Secure Subsidy

As the rest of the world prepares to toast the new year, the wind industry is hard at work on its own year-end tradition, rushing to make sure projects qualify for an important subsidy before it is set to vanish at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday.

Developers are signing deals, ordering equipment and lurching ahead with construction starts to qualify for a tax credit that is worth 2.3 cents a kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of production. This month, giant turbine-makers like Vestas and Siemens have announced major new orders, including a deal worth more than $1 billion with MidAmerican Energy, an Iowa-based utility majority-owned by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and another with the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound.

In previous years, the projects had to be in commercial operation by New Year’s Eve. This year, they need only have begun.

“What we see right now is a race to the finish line, where we’re trying to get projects signed,” said Mark Albenze, chief executive of the Wind Power Americas unit of Siemens Energy. “It’s a little bit of a different dynamic, whereas in ’12 our projects teams were the ones stressing out in December and now it’s our acquisition team.”


Google Glass Does Solar Panel Installs in the California Sun

You might think of Google Glass as one of those tech creations that’s more intriguing than practical. You might see computerized eyewear as a Silicon Valley nerd fantasy that’s unlikely to change the way the rest of the world works. You would not be alone.

But that’s not how Michael Chagala sees it. Chagala is the director of IT at Sullivan Solar Power, which is slipping Google Glass onto the heads of the field technicians who install its solar panels atop homes and businesses across Southern California.

Because every building is unique, these field techs need ready access to all sorts of specs and plans describing the job at hand. In the past, they’ve carried three-ring binders onto the roof, but those are so hard to handle — particularly when the wind is blowing pages. They’ve lugged laptops up there too, but that comes with its own problems, including, well, the sun. So Chagala and company are switching to Glass, allowing their techs to browse documents simply by looking through the eyewear. For the most part, they can do this without using their hands — though you do have to tap the side of the glasses to move from doc to doc.

“When you have someone on a roof, safety is your primary concern,” Chagala says. “Having both hands free is significant.”

Lead by Chagala, the company has built a custom Glass app that taps into a database housing its customer records, information about particular job sites, and its inventory of parts and equipment. But its technicians also will use other tools available with the eyewear. A field worker can, say, call headquarters with questions or transmit live video of a roof installation to get some feedback.

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