SolarCity—a company that’s grown quickly by installing solar panels for free and charging customers for the solar power—announced a new business that will extend that model to providing batteries for free, too. SolarCity is a rare success story for investors in clean technology, and its business model has sped the adoption of solar panels. The batteries could help businesses lower their utility bills by reducing the amount of power they draw from the grid. They could also help address solar power’s intermittency, which could prevent it from becoming a significant source of electricity. The batteries are being supplied by Tesla Motors, whose CEO, Elon Musk, is SolarCity’s chairman. Other solar companies have failed in recent years. But SolarCity’s business model has helped it grow quickly. It had a successful IPO a year ago, and its stock price has risen from its IPO price of $8 to over $50 today. CEO Lyndon Rive says that eight years from now, the company might not be able to continue selling solar panel systems unless it packages them with batteries, because of the strain on the grid that solar power can cause. “It could be that, without storage, you won’t be able to connect solar systems to the grid,” he says.
Hitachi, Ltd. announced that it has developed an all-in one, container-type energy storage system as a core energy product for ensuring the stable use of distributed renewable energy such as wind and solar power, while maintaining the power supply-demand balance. This energy storage system fuses Hitachi's electricity grid control technologies built up in the Hitachi Group and Hitachi Chemical Co., Ltd.'s battery-related expertise and will be offered as a packaged system. In the beginning of 2014, Hitachi plans to begin a demonstration test of this energy storage system in North America. Plans call for Hitachi to reflect the results of this testing in a commercial product after verifying the commercial viability and performance of the system in the electricity trading market, or the so-called ancillary market*2 connected with maintaining the electricity supply-demand balance. Furthermore, Hitachi will examine whether to promote the system, to be named "CrystEna" (Crystal+Energy), as one of its solution businesses for expanding the transmission & distribution business in the global market.
European Union countries approved an agreement with China to curb imports of Chinese solar panels, ending the EU’s biggest commercial dispute of its kind. EU governments endorsed an accord struck by their trade chief and China in July that sets a minimum price and a volume limit on European imports of Chinese solar panels until the end of 2015. Chinese manufacturers that take part will be spared EU tariffs meant to counter alleged below-cost sales, a practice known as dumping, and subsidies. The verdict seeks to balance demands by European producers such as Solarworld AG (SWV)for trade protection and opposition by China, some EU governments and Europe’s importers to levies on the renewable-energy technology. The two-year duration of the measures is less than half as long as the normal five-year period for EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy protection. European solar-panel manufacturers suffered “material injury” as a result of dumping by Chinese exporters and trade-distorting government aid to them, while trade protection must also take account of “the cost for other economic operators,” the 28-nation bloc said today in Brussels. The decision wraps up two inquiries begun more than a year ago and will take effect after being published in the EU’s Official Journal by Dec. 6.
The boom in solar energy in the US in recent years? You haven’t seen anything yet. The pipeline of photovoltaic projects has grown 7% over the past 12 months andnow stands at 2,400 solar installations that would generate 43,000 megawatts(MW), according to a report released today by market research firm NPD Solarbuzz. If all these projects are built, their peak electricity output would be equivalent to that of 43 big nuclear power plants, and enough to keep the lights on in six million American homes. Only 8.5% of the pipeline is currently being installed, with most of it still in the planning stages. Some projects will inevitably get canceled or fail to raise financing. But there’s reason to believe that a good chunk of these solar power plants and rooftop installations will get built over the next two years. That’s because a crucial US tax break for renewable energy projects is set to fall from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016. So there will be a rush to get projects online. In 2012, for instance, wind developers installed a record 13,131 MW as a key tax credit was set to expire, accounting for 42% of all new US electricity capacity that year. (The US Congress subsequently renewed the tax break for another year.)
SolarCity Corp. today announced that it has completed what is reported to be the first securitization of distributed solar energy assets. SolarCity completed a private placement in the amount of $54,425,000 with an interest rate of 4.80% and a scheduled maturity date of December 2026. "This transaction is a breakthrough and will pave the way for others, but its greater significance is the validation of the quality of SolarCity's assets," said Bob Kelly, SolarCity's chief financial officer. "SolarCity lowers what is typically the highest operating cost for households and gives them long-term control over that cost. Customers highly value those attributes, and that's why these assets perform so well." SolarCity's pool of solar contracts received an investment grade rating of BBB+ from Standard & Poor's. The rating reflects the predictability and quality of the cash flows and the minimal operation and production risk of solar assets. Distributed solar is one of the first new asset classes to achieve an investment grade rating in the asset back securities markets in the past several years.
GE this fall began pushing a new bit of software wizardry that it says will boost wind farm performance. Looks like E.On is biting. GE said that the Germany-based energy giant would install PowerUp, described as a “customized software-enabled platform that increases a wind farm’s output by up to 5 percent,” at five wind farms. This adds up to 469 GE 1.5-77 wind turbines that E.On uses (through its Climate & Renewables division). GE is suggesting that this is the equivalent of building as many as 19 new turbines of that size, but it’s going to have to prove that’s the case in order to make money off implementing PowerUp for E.On. That’s because this is an “outcomes-based” deal: The companies will measure the impact of PowerUp, and GE will get only a percentage of the gains the technology brings. “The outcomes-based approach aligns well with our goals of providing cleaner, better energy at a more affordable price,” Steve Trenholm, chairman, E.ON North America, said in a statement. “Investment in wind energy has led to technological advancements like PowerUp that continue to make renewables more and more competitive with traditional forms of energy.”
The Obama administration is giving wind power producers a pass by not going after them for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of federally protected birds and bats. But the feds have gone after fossil fuel and other companies that have killed these animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently has 18 open investigations into bird and bat deaths due to wind power operations, according to a service spokeswoman, with 14 of these cases involving the death of at least one golden eagle — which are federally protected under three different laws. Seven of these cases have been referred to the U.S. Justice Department for “potential prosecution.” A spokesman with the Justice Department, however, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that there “have been no prosecutions to date under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and/or the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act related to the deaths of migratory birds, including eagles, at wind facilities.” The Obama administration’s support for wind energy development and inaction against wind producers that allegedly break these laws has sparked the ire of House Republicans. Earlier this month, Republicans on the Committee on Natural Resources sent letters to the administration slamming them for not providing documentation related to bird deaths from wind farms.
Utility commissioners in Arizona will decide the fate of rooftop solar incentives this week, in what has become the biggest fight over renewable energy policy in the country. A two-day hearing on the issue at the Arizona Corporation Commission began Wednesday. The Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility, is asking the commission to change the current policy, which allows homes and businesses with their own solar power systems to sell any excess energy they generate back to the grid. That policy, known as net metering, was first put in place in 2009. The utility argues that customers with rooftop solar aren't paying their fair share to maintain the grid, and has proposed policy changes that would increase prices for those with solar systems. But local solar advocates have accused the utility of trying to kill the state's burgeoning solar industry, and have launched a counter-campaign. As The Huffington Post has previously reported, the fight got interesting when the utility revealed that it had been secretly funding anti-solar ads produced by a national conservative group. After a commissioner asked the company and other groups involved in the net metering debate to disclose how much money they were spending on the issue, APS disclosed that it had spent $3.7 million on PR work. The solar lobby disclosed that it was spending nearly half a million dollars on fighting the proposed changes.
It looks like some idealistic architecture student’s vision for the future of sustainable energy production. In fact, it's a photo of a real-life solar plant that went into operation on Nov. 1 in Japan. The Kagoshima Nanatsujima Meg a Solar Power Plant , built by the electronics manufacturer Kyocera, boasts postcard views of Kagoshima Bay and Sakurajima volcano. It’s also Japan’s largest, with a capacity of 70 megawatts. That’s enough to power some 22,000 Japanese homes. The $280 million project is part of a national effort to invest in clean, renewable energy as the country continues to grapple with the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The country’s new feed-i n tariffs have made it one of the world’s fa stest-growing solar markets . This sort of sprawling solar-panel farm is hardly the most efficient form of power generation in terms of either cost or the amount of land required. Still, it makes more sense when you consider that Japan has been dealing with soaring energy prices in the wake of a disaster that threw into question its entire nuclear-power program into question. While solar is clearly more expensive than nuclear power, the Washington Post noted in June: Most consumers think that sacrifice is worthwhile, and they say nuclear power has hidden cleanup and compensation costs that emerge only after an accident. Fossil fuels, meanwhile, release harmful greenhouse gases and must be imported from Australia, Russia, Indonesia and the Middle East. In other words, this gorgeous solar plant is what happens when a country comes face-to-face with the full societal costs of more traditional power sources.
A development to harness the power of the wind about 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of Fukushima, site of the March 2011 nuclear disaster, began generating power on an operational basis today. The project, funded by the government and led by Marubeni Corp. ), is a symbol of Japan’s ambition to commercialize the unproven technology of floating offshore wind power and its plan to turn quake-ravaged Fukushima into a clean energy hub. “Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,” Yuhei Sato, governor of Fukushima, said today at a ceremony in Fukushima marking the project’s initiation. “Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.” The 11-member group’s project so far consists of a 2-megawatt turbine from Hitachi Ltd. )nicknamed “Fukushima Mirai.” A floating substation, the first of its kind, has also been set up and bears the name “Fukushima Kizuna.” Mirai means future, while kizuna translates as ties. The group is planning to install two more turbines by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. with 7 megawatts of capacity each. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has said the floating offshore capacity may be expanded to 1,000 megawatts.
Microinverters and DC Power Optimizers Will Reach Nearly $2 Billion in Annual Revenue by 2020, Forecasts Navigant Research
Microinverters and DC optimizers, commonly referred to as module-level power electronics (MLPEs), increase the energy harvested by solar PV modules and reduce the levelized cost of electricity by converting or conditioning power at the module level. As a result, microinverters and DC optimizers are two of the most disruptive technologies in the solar PV sector today. Click to tweet: According to a new report from Navigant Research, revenue from microinverters and DC optimizers will grow from $308 million in 2013 to more than $1.9 billion in 2020. "The module-level power electronics sector has grown from a niche market to mainstream, especially in the United States, where there is fierce competition in major solar PV markets like California," says Dexter Gauntlett, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. "What's more, a growing number of solar PV module manufacturers are now integrating microinverters and DC optimizers at their own production plants. At the same time, large power electronics companies and incumbent manufacturers are making strategic partnerships and acquisitions to take advantage of rapid growth in this market segment."
Microsoft has announced it has signed a 110MW PPA with RES for a project in Texas, following Facebook and Google into wind power. The 110MW Keechi wind farm, located 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, will power a Microsoft data centre in San Antonio, Texas. It follows the company's announcement last year that it planned to become carbon neutral. Construction of Keechi will begin early next year and will use Vestas 2MW turbines. The PPA is for 20 years. This is Microsoft's first move into wind energy. In doing so it is following a path set by Google, which has bought around 570MW of wind power in Texas alone. It had also invested and bought wind farms elsewhere in the US.
SunPower Corp. (SPWR), the second-largest U.S. solar manufacturer, bought Greenbotics Inc., maker of robots that clean panels to increase the amount of power they can generate. The robots clean dirt and dust off of photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays and cut water use by 90 percent, San Jose, California-based SunPower said today in a statement. Terms of the deal, the seventh acquisition SunPower has done since it was formed, weren’t disclosed. SunPower plans to use the systems at projects it develops, especially in the western U.S., the Middle East and Chile, as an alternative to pressure washers and sprayer trucks. The robots will cut water use, save money and boost annual energy yield in dry, dusty regions by as much as 15 percent, according to the release. “It’s half the cost of normal cleaning,” SunPower Chief Executive Officer Tom Werner said in an Nov. 1 interview. The technology, which he likened to a Roomba vacuum cleaner, “is one we can scale.”
Dec. 31 is a curious date for Texas wind energy producers. That's when transmission services providers expect to energize the last power lines built under the state's $7 billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zone initiative, the long-running effort to connect windy West Texas to the state's energy-thirsty big cities. The 3,600-mile project has been credited with spurring even more investment in Texas, the country's wind power leader. But 2013's last day is also an ominous one for wind folks. It's the expiration date of the federal Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit, the fate of which has driven booms and busts in the industry. The multibillion-dollar credit, which Congress passed in 1992, helps wind stay economically competitive with other energy sources, including low-priced natural gas. Without it, the industry can't keep pace, even as production costs fall. Last year, as the credit neared its demise, Congress extended it as a part of a last-minute budget package, but only for a year. This year, with Congress focused on finding a way to turn the government back on and pay its bills, lawmakers have yet to draw up a proposal for the credit, making a swift renewal increasingly unlikely. So how would Texas wind power fare if the 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour incentive lapsed? That would depend on how long the credit is unavailable, observers say. But for a couple of reasons, the effect probably won't be as harsh as in past uncertain times. Jeff Clark, executive director of the Austin-based Wind Coalition, said he's not too worried about the ticking clock. “There's a lot of projects in the pipeline right now,” he said. The 202-megawatt Baffin Wind Farm, in Kenedy County, is one project that's depending on the tax credit. However, owner and developer Iberdrola Renewables LLC isn't concerned.
A California energy storage startup has raised $5 million to fund projects that it will sell to businesses under long-term contracts, a model that resembles the leases that have made rooftop solar installations popular. Stem plans to use the money from Clean Feet Investors to finance up to 15 megawatts of lithium-ion battery systems. Stem is targeting hotels, chain stores, fast restaurant and light industrial companies, said Prakesh Patel, vice president of capital markets and strategy at the startup. Stem is one of a growing number of energy storage system and service providers that are gunning for California as their primary market. The state last week passed the country’s first mandate that will require its utilities to buy energy storage to help them manage the growing amount of solar and wind electricity that flows into the grid. Investors such as Clean Feet Investors will be the first wave of money managers who are willing to take big risks. Given that the energy storage market is so new, major banks are watching to see whether various types of storage equipment will deliver the promised performance over time and how money can best be made. Right now, many of them aren’t so willing to invest in what they consider to be unproven technologies. The new fund enables Stem to market to a broader set of customers. Businesses would sign contracts in which they pay a monthly fee for using the energy storage and Stem’s software, which collects and analyzes onsite energy use and other data in order to control how frequent and how much the electricity should flow in and out of the batteries throughout the day. FULL ARTICLE:
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