2013: A Cloudy Forecast for Renewable Energy, With a Silver Lining

So what’s the real forecast for wind and solar power?

That’s dependent—as it always is with the power sector, whether it’s renewable or fossil fuels—on policy. For the wind industry in the U.S., continuation of the tax credit would be vital. It pays wind-farm owners 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity they produce over 10 years. If Congress fails to renew the tax credit, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts installations could fall by 88% next year to just 1.5 GW, at the cost of nearly 40,000 jobs according a study sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

A quick check at the headlines will show how unlikely renewal is in the current political atmosphere. It’s so bad that the AWEA, in an effort to get fiscal conservatives on their side, this month proposed a six-year phaseout of the credit. But while a bill to renew the credit was passed by the Senate Finance Committee in August and is sponsored by a Republican—Senator Chuck Grassley of wind-rich Iowa—little has happened since, and producers are getting ready for the fallout. Already turbines makers have announced hundreds of layoffs.

As for the solar industry, the low costs for modules that have driven installation are a double-edged sword for manufacturers, who increasingly can’t make money off their products at current prices. That’s also led to something of a trade war—the U.S and Europe have charged Chinese solar manufacturers, with ample help from Beijing, of selling solar modules at below cost. The European Union opened up an anti-dumping investigation in September, and the U.S. slapped tariffs on Chinese solar panels. That might be good for domestic manufacturers, but a trade war would likely hold back global growth of solar power.

China Tries to Fix Solar Panel Problems with Mergers, Reduced Gov. Support

In response to troubles with its solar panel manufacturing, China is trying to get producers to merge.

Beijing, in particular, is facing problems with its solar panel industry and plans to fix it by reducing government support for the industry, encouraging mergers and blocking local leaders from supporting domestic producers.

Beijing's solar problems stem from rapid expansion over the past decade. It offered grants and low-cost loans, which led to many producers crowding the market. The end result was too many producers that flooded the market with supplies and were forced to lower prices in order to compete. The industry is now about $17.5 billion in debt.

Further complicating Beijing's solar issues is conflict with both the U.S. and Europe. Last month, a U.S. trade panel supported tariffs as high as 250 percent on imports of sola panels from China. This occurred after it was discovered that Beijing was subsidizing imports in an inappropriate way and affecting jobs abroad.

More Than a Third of U.S. Solar Installers Say Permitting Requirements Limit Growth

Clean Power Finance today unveiled a nationwide study of solar permitting and the obstacle it poses to the widespread adoption of residential solar. The study, the largest of its kind to date, provides quantifiable evidence of the negative effects complex permitting regulations have on U.S. solar installers and also on the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), including municipalities and utilities, who oversee permitting processes.

Clean Power Finance undertook the study as part of preparations for the National Solar Permitting Database (NSPD), a free, online database of permitting requirements from across the U.S. that is funded in part by Clean Power Finance and in part by a Department of Energy SunShot Initiative grant. The study's objective is to establish baseline metrics prior to the deployment of the NSPD that can be compared to metrics taken after the NSPD is fully implemented, and to provide direction to the industry about areas for improvement.

"Strong initial interest in the National Solar Permitting Database makes it clear that people want to address permitting obstacles but aren't quite sure where to start," said James Tong, senior director at Clean Power Finance and project lead. "This study provides valuable data that will help identify areas for improvement and cooperation that will bring down costs for everyone and advance the adoption of solar."

GE Reaches Milestone for Wind Installations as US Industry Heads for Cliff

GE last month celebrated its 20,000th wind turbine installation, a gargantuan achievement given the US power generation giant only stepped into the sector in 2002 when it purchased the wind power assets from recently bankrupted Enron.

In many ways, GE's meteoric rise tracks the growth of the global industry. From a cumulative global capacity of 31.1GW globally, the US and China each hit the 50GW milestone this year, and Europe's installed capacity reached 100GW.

"Ten years ago we had 2,000 units across the globe, today we have over 20,000 units. It's gone from being a very small part of power generation installs over the last four years," said Matt Guyette, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for GE Wind.

The US wind industry has added more than 35% of all new generating capacity over the past five years, second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

U.S. Wind Energy Trade Group Chief Bode Quits After Four Years

Denise Bode, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, will quit Jan. 1, the day that tax credits for the industry are set to expire.

Rob Gramlich, currently senior vice president for public policy, will take over her duties as interim CEO after she steps down, according to a statement today from the Washington-based trade group.

Bode was hired in January 2009 to help lock in federal and state incentives for the wind industry. Congress has yet to act on a one-year extension of the 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit. The expiration of the tax credit will cause the loss of about 37,000 jobs, the industry group has said.

“Rob Gramlich will provide the steady hand needed to represent the industry during this critical period,” Bode said in the statement.

The tax credits for wind-energy producers have faced repeated expirations during the past two decades, creating uncertainty for turbine manufacturers including General Electric Co. and Vestas Wind Energy Systems A/S.

After Cutting I.P.O. Price, SolarCity Leaps in First Day of Trading

SolarCity may not have raised as much in its initial public offering than it had once hoped. But at its lowered offering price, the solar power company found more than a few takers.

During the first day of trading, the company’s stock jumped as much as 59 percent. The stock closed on Thursday at $11.79, or 47.4 percent above its offering price of $8. That valued SolarCity at $861 million.

The strong market debut followed a few days of difficulty for SolarCity and its underwriters, none of whom fully prepared for issues in bringing a clean technology company to market.

SolarCity, whose backers include Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, prides itself on being different from other companies in the solar sector. It finances and installs rooftop solar systems in exchange for long-term monthly payments from its customers and prefers to think of itself as an energy company, rather than just a solar company. The solar leases typically run 20 years.

China Selects More Than 100 Solar Projects to Receive Subsidies

China, the world’s biggest maker of solar modules, chose Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (YGE), Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL) and about 100 other developers with a combined 2.8 gigawatts of capacity to receive subsidies.

The payouts, under the Golden Sun program, are the second round announced this year, the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement on its website. Generators in Jiangsu, a coastal province in eastern China, will gain the most from the aid as 374 megawatts of capacity, including developments by China’s biggest module maker by market valueHareon Solar Technology Co. (600401), will be located there.

The government may pay at least 15.4 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) for the projects if they are completed by the end of June 2013, according to Wang Xiaoting, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Beijing.

China began offering financial assistance for projects under the Golden Sun program in 2009. The nation is increasing assistance as solar-energy manufactures suffer from slowing demand and declining profit.

Wind, solar power paired with storage could be cost-effective way to power grid

Renewable energy could fully power a large electric grid 99.9 percent of the time by 2030 at costs comparable to today’s electricity expenses, according to new research ("Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time") by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College. A well-designed combination of wind power, solar power and storage in batteries and fuel cells would nearly always exceed electricity demands while keeping costs low, the scientists found.

“These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said co-author Willett Kempton, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage — which we did by an exhaustive search — and to calculate costs correctly.” The authors developed a computer model to consider 28 billion combinations of renewable energy sources and storage mechanisms, each tested over four years of historical hourly weather data and electricity demands. The model incorporated data from within a large regional grid called PJM Interconnection, which includes 13 states from New Jersey to Illinois and represents one-fifth of the United States’ total electric grid.

SolarCity's IPO: The Risks

As more solar manufacturers stumble into bankruptcy, solar installers have been booming thanks to plunging prices for photovoltaic panels and the availability of cash to finance leases that allow homeowners to go green with little or no money down. Yet as SolarCity’s $201 million initial public offering filing shows, installers like the Silicon Valley startup face some of the same risks roiling the solar industry.

SolarCity may be in the business of putting solar panels on rooftops but its success ­– revenues have more than doubled to $71 million since 2009 – relies on putting together investment funds that finance those installations for homeowners in return for monthly lease payments.

Over the past three years, SolarCity, founded by Elon Musk’s cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive in 2006, has persuaded companies like Credit Suisse, U.S. Bancorp, Google and utility PG&E to put $1.57 billion into 23 funds to finance leases. More than 90% of SolarCity’s customers now opt to lease rooftop panels rather than purchase them, according to the IPO filing made public Friday.

Investors have flocked to those funds to cash in on a 30% federal investment tax credit for solar systems. That incentive was particularly attractive between 2009 and 2012 when the government allowed investors to take the credit in the form of a cash payment. After 2016, the tax credit will fall to 10%.

Solar cell with world's highest conversion efficiency of 37.7% sets new record with triple-junction compound solar cell

Sharp achieved this latest breakthrough as a result of a research and development initiative promoted by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) on the theme of "R&D on Innovative Solar Cells." Measurement of the value of 37.7%, which sets a new record for the world's highest conversion efficiency, was confirmed at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).

Compound solar cells utilize photo-absorption layers made from compounds consisting of two or more elements, such as indium and gallium. The basic structure of this latest triple-junction compound solar cell uses proprietary Sharp technology that enables efficient stacking of the three photo-absorption layers, with InGaAs (indium gallium arsenide) as the bottom layer.

To achieve this latest increase in conversion efficiency, Sharp capitalized on the ability of the new cell to efficiently absorb light from different wavelengths in sunlight and convert it into electricity. Sharp also increased the active area for converting light into electricity through optimal processing of the cell edges. These improvements led to higher maximum output levels for the solar cell and enabled Sharp to achieve a solar cell conversion efficiency of 37.7%—the highest in the world.

US to sell wind energy leases off 3 states

The federal government plans to sell leases for wind farms off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia, marking the first time it has sold competitive leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf, officials said Friday.

The leases for the two areas, which total more than 430 square miles, will be sold next year, the Department of Interior and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.

‘‘Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,’’ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a written statement.

The announcement was hailed by conservation group Oceana, which called it a major step in developing domestic clean energy.

‘‘We’re getting a step closer to seeing real turbines out there in the water,’’ Nancy Sopko, the group’s ocean advocate, said. ‘‘The more progress is made, it sends that signal out to the rest of the world that the US is serious about developing wind energy here.’’

Uncertainty looms for renewable energy

The renewable energy industry is at a tipping point as developed markets start to close the door on generous subsidy programs and emerging markets develop cost strategies to compete with fossil fuels, according to research from Ernst & Young.

The research provides scores for 40 countries for national renewable energy markets, renewable energy infrastructures and their suitability for individual technologies. During Q3 2012, China remained at the top, but dropped a point as its solar sector continued the consolidation process in an effort to boost domestic installation and rationalize government support, which could slow growth in the more immediate term.

The quarter also saw the U.S. drop 1.5 points, resulting in Germany moving up into second place ahead of the U.S. While the German government has recently increased the country's renewable energy target for electricity to 40 percent by 2020 and is proactively implementing policy measures to create sustainable growth, the downgraded score reflects the more immediate changes around possible subsidy caps for solar, wind and biomass.

Cost of Solar Energy Continues Significant Decline

The average cost of going solar in the U.S. continued to decrease significantly in 2011 and through the first half of 2012, according to a report released today by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Solar advocates noted that these findings are the latest indicator that solar is an important and growing part of America's new energy economy.

"This report shows just how far solar power has come in the U.S., and how much more we can do. Faced with a recession economy, messy election politics and an entrenched electricity marketplace, solar is quietly defying the odds and reinventing our national energy landscape. It's really remarkable," said Adam Browning, Executive Director of the Vote Solar Initiative.

"With solar energy more affordable than ever, more American families and businesses are going solar to meet their electricity and hot water needs," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Declining costs have driven record growth over the last four years and we expect the solar market to double in 2012 and double again in 2013. This growth proves that smart federal and state energy policies diversify our energy portfolio and grow our economy. With 5,600 companies employing 119,000 Americans, the U.S. solar industry has become an economic engine for America."

Largest Solar Power Plant In World Nears Completion In Abu Dhabi

The largest single-unit solar power plant in the world is expected to be completed by the end of 2012 and officially open in the first quarter of 2013, solar power giant Masdar has announced. Shams 1 will have a generation capacity of over 100 MW of power, and was built with the stated purpose of providing 20,000 homes in the region with electricity. The project will be followed shortly thereafter by Shams 2 & 3, which are planned to generate similar levels of electricity.

Yousuf Al Ali, general manager of Shams Power Company, said: “Shams 1 is the largest concentrated solar power project in the world. Developing a project of this scale is a significant achievement for Abu Dhabi, Masdar and its partners, Total and Abengoa.”

There are larger “solar power plants” or “solar power projects,” but they include multiple solar plants of less than 100 MW. (For example, the Solnova Solar Power Station in Spain has five CSP plants of 50 MW each that make the overall project 250 MW in size, and the Gujarat Solar Park in India includes multiple solar PV projects that total 600 MW.)

Construction of the Shams 1 project began back in the third quarter of 2010, at a total cost of approximately $600 million dollars.

New Solar Energy Technology Can Create Steam Without Even Having To Boil Water

A revolutionary new way to create steam simply by using sunlight, has been discovered by researchers. The method is able to bring an entire container of fluid to boiling point, even a container of icy cold water.

The new method has many potentially very useful applications. These include the creation of very inexpensive and compact devices that can purify water, the sterilization of medical equipment, sewage treatment, and more energy-efficient alcohol distillation.

“This research opens up a revolutionary new application of nanoparticles in solar energy,” said Paul Weiss, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of ACS Nano, the journal in which the new study was published. “The authors show that sunlight can be used to create steam with virtually no wasteful heating of the surrounding liquid. The potential societal benefits are staggering. They include more energy-efficient distillation of alcohol, a new and highly practical strategy for desalination and water purification and compact solar-driven sources of steam for sterilization and sanitation in resource-poor locations,” said Weiss.


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