As the price of oil has tumbled to five-year lows, solar stocks have fallen with it: First Solar was trading near $72 in mid-September; now it's around $44. Solar City has around $65; now it's close to $50. Solar energy investors seem to be running for the doors, fearing that cheap oil will erase demand for alternative energy. But it won't, say industry analysts. Oil and solar serve two different customers. Oil dominates energy demand in transportation fuels, but solar power customers are primarily of two types: public electric utilities and large corporations. Neither of those use oil to generate electricity, and they are not about to start doing so, say analysts. Less than 5 percent of the world's electricity comes from oil; most of it comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear and, increasingly, solar power. Public utilities sign long-term agreements with solar providers, sometimes spanning 20 years. Those deals are unaffected by oil price changes, said Jeff Osborne, an analyst with Cowen Group.
Today, despite recent progress, solar power accounts for about one percent of the world’s energy mix. Yet the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that solar energy, most of it generated by decentralized “rooftop” photovoltaic systems, could well become the world’s single biggest source of electricity by mid-century. So how do we get from here to there? The answer, according to scientists and engineers, lies in a new generation of super-efficient, low-cost sunlight harvesters that take up where the recent flood of cheap silicon panels leaves off. New designs and novel solar materials have recently been setting new efficiency records seemingly every week. Although research and development of solar power still falls far short of where scientists and engineers say it needs to be, innovators are making steady progress in creating a new generation of materials that can harvest the sun’s energy far more efficiently than traditional silicon photovoltaic cells. Among the most promising technologies are multi-junction cells with layers of light-harvesters that each gather energy from a separate slice of the solar spectrum, super-efficient semiconductor materials like perovskite and gallium-arsenide, and cells made with tiny but powerful solar-absorbing “quantum dots.” Technical hurdles, such as making new materials able to withstand the elements, remain. Nonetheless, researchers say, efforts now underway could begin to dramatically increase solar power generation within a decade or two. Cont'd...
During the past 2 years, more flexible sourcing strategies across the wind power supply chain have resulted in cost reductions, enabling greater geographic market access while reducing risk and ensuring profitability for wind turbine vendors and their partners in the component value chain. Overcapacity, however, persists in most, though not all areas of the supply chain, providing purchasers with more choice, flexibility, and cost control. According to a new report from Navigant Research, while demand in 2014 is projected to be less than 47,000 megawatts (MW), annual turbine manufacturing capacity, according to vendor estimates, is likely to exceed 71,000 megawatts MW. "Oversupply is allowing wind turbine manufacturers to more easily adjust what components they produce in-house, what is outsourced, and when a blend of both is advantageous for cost, technological, or geographic reasons," says Jesse Broehl, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. "Although many manufacturing facilities are running at less than full capacity, product innovation, lean manufacturing, and outsourcing are resulting in a highly competitive wind industry ready for the challenges of today's and tomorrow's wind markets." Blades are a particularly strong area of strategic product evolution and sourcing shifts, according to the report. Turbine manufacturers are making major, capital-intensive investment changes in how blades are designed, what materials are used, the manufacturing processes behind them, and what companies they source from.
In the Lloydminster area, a Calgary company is ready to carve out large underground salt caverns to store excess wind energy — the first use of the technology in Canada. Rocky Mountain Power president Jan van Egteren says the storage sites could be ready in five years. Salt caverns have been used to store natural gas for years, but only two other projects in North America are using them for compressed air that is turned into electricity. The caverns are carved out by pumping water deep down to dissolve the underground salt layer peculiar to the Lloydminster area. Excess wind electricity would be used to pump compressed air into caverns about the size of a 60-storey building. The salt walls allow very little to escape. Then, when the wind dies, the compressed air is released and used to turn a generator to make electricity. The cavern could store enough compressed air to provide electricity for five days to a city the size of Red Deer, says van Egteren. “It could really help stabilize the grid by taking off power when the wind is really blowing.”
UNITED STATES: The US House of Representatives has approved a one-year extension to the production tax credit (PTC). The extension will allow US projects that began construction activities in 2014 to apply for the credit. It gives producers of wind power a $0.023/kWh incentive. The Senate will now need to approve the bill before it becomes law. The Senate vote is expected to take place in the coming days as both Houses are expected to adjourn for the Christmas break next week. Many in the industry had called for a two-year extension to the credit, which now would expire at the end of 2014. The Senate Finance Committee approved a two-year extension to the PTC in April, as part of a package of tax measures. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said the extension creates uncertainty in the US sector. AWEA also warned of a dramatic slowdown to the industry, similar to 2013 when the PTC previously expired, resulting in a 92% drop in installations.
Did you hear about the largest solar power plant in the world and how it is now producing electricity? Did it make the nightly broadcast news? Probably not, but Solyndra was all over the news media for a while. There’s a blatant lack of coverage for solar success stories, so it wouldn’t be surprising if most people aren’t hearing about them. California’s Topaz project is the largest solar power plant in the world with a 550 MW capacity, and it is now in full operation. It is located in San Luis Obispo County and has 9 million solar panels. Construction began just two years ago. The electricity produced by the plant will be purchased by Pacific Gas and Electric. The solar panels were manufactured by First Solar and the project was developed by First Solar. SEIA says about 200 homes in California are powered for each MW of solar power capacity. So, for a 550 MW solar plant, about 110,000 homes could be powered when the sun is shining. First Solar has said this figure could be 160,000 homes in the case of Topaz. The San Luis Obispo county population is about 276,000. It might turn out that the majority of this population could be powered by a single solar power plant.
Germany’s biggest utility firm, E.ON, has announced plans to split in two and spin off most of its power generation, energy trading and upstream businesses, responding to a crisis that has crippled the European energy sector. E.ON said it wanted to focus on its renewable activities, regulated distribution networks and tailor-made energy efficiency services, citing “dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations”. “E.ON’s existing broad business model can no longer properly address these new challenges,” the chief executive, Johannes Teyssen, said in a statement. Germany’s power sector has been in turmoil, hit by a prolonged period of weak demand, low wholesale prices and a surge in renewable energy sources which continue to replace gas-fired and coal-fired power plants. E.ON said it would prepare next year for the listing of the new company created by its breakup, with the spin-off taking place after its 2016 annual general meeting.
A British start-up has developed a way for parking lots and structures with roofs that can’t take much weight to harness the power of the sun. The Cambridge, England-based Solar Cloth Company is beginning to run trials of its solar cloth, which uses lightweight photovoltaic fabric that can be stretched across parking lots or on buildings that can’t hold heavy loads, such as sports stadiums with lightweight, retractable roofs. Perry Carroll, Solar Cloth Company’s founder, told BusinessGreen that the company is working to close deals to install solar cloth on 27,000 parking lots. “We have built a growing sales pipeline worth £4.2m [about $US6.57 million] for 2015, including park and ride projects, airport parking operators and retail park owners,” he said. According to Solar Cloth Company, there are about 320 square miles of roof space and 135 square miles of parking space in the UK that could be covered by solar cloth, and if all of these spaces were covered, the solar power produced would be enough to power the UK’s grid three times.
According to the latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, wind power provided over two-thirds (68.41%) of new U.S. electrical generating capacity in October 2014. Specifically, five wind farms in Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Texas came on line last month, accounting for 574MW of new capacity. In addition, seven "units" of biomass (102MW) and five units of solar (31MW) came into service accounting for 12.16% and 3.69% of new capacity respectively. The balance came from three units of natural gas (132MW - 15.73%). Moreover, for the eighth time in the past ten months, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for the majority of new U.S. electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas took the lead in the other two months (April and August). Of the 9,903MW of new generating capacity from all sources installed since January 1, 2014, 34 units of wind accounted for 2,189MW (22.10%), followed by 208 units of solar - 1,801MW (18.19%), 45 units of biomass - 241MW (2.43%), 7 units of hydropower - 141MW (1.42%), and 5 units of geothermal - 32MW (0.32%). In total, renewables have provided 44.47% of new U.S. electrical generating capacity thus far in 2014.
Back in 2007, Google had a very simple idea for addressing global warming — we just need to take existing renewable-energy technologies and keep improving them until they were as cheap as fossil fuels. And, voila! Problem solved. That was the logic behind the company's RE-C project, which aimed to produce one gigawatt of renewable electricity for less than the price of coal. The hope was to do this within years, not decades. Among other things, the company invested in new geothermal drilling R&D and put $168 million toward Brightsource's Ivanpah solar tower in the Mojave Desert. By 2011, however, Google decided that this "moon shot" energy initiative wasn't going to work out as planned and shut things down. So what happened? In a long essay at IEEE Spectrum, two Google engineers on the project — Ross Koningstein and David Fork — explain the thinking behind the closure. It's not that Google has given up on renewable energy. (The company still spends many millions of dollars buying wind energy for its servers.) Partly it's that they simply weren't on track to achieve their specific goals. But, more interestingly, the project also made the engineers realize that their original clean-energy goal wasn't nearly ambitious enough. Cont'd...
Solar company SunEdison and unit TerraForm Power said they would buy First Wind for $2.4 billion to enter the U.S. wind power market. SunEdison's shares rose 6.6 percent to $17.70, while TerraForm shares rose 1.2 percent to $26.15 in after-market trading. The deal comprises $1.9 billion in upfront payment and $510 million in earn-outs, the companies said. Boston-based First Wind is operating or building renewable energy projects in the Northeast, the West and Hawaii, with a combined capacity of nearly 1,300 megawatts (MW) - enough to power more than 425,000 homes each year. SunEdison raised its 2015 installation forecast to 2.1-2.3 gigawatts (GW) from 1.6-1.8 GW. TerraForm increased its 2015 dividend forecast to $1.30 per share from 90 cents. TerraForm was created by SunEdison to own and operate its solar power plants. TerraForm went public in July. The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of 2015, the companies said.
Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well. Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal? Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous. Their policy is similar to that of neighboring Germany, which has spent tens of billions pursuing wind and solar power, and is likely to hit 30 percent renewable power on the electric grid this year. But Denmark, at the bleeding edge of global climate policy, is in certain ways the more interesting case. The 5.6 million Danes have pushed harder than the Germans, they have gotten further — and they are reaching the point where the problems with the energy transition can no longer be papered over.
The controversial government program that funded failed solar company Solyndra, and became a lighting rod in the 2012 presidential election, is officially in the black. According to a report by the Department of Energy, interest payments to the government from projects funded by the Loan Programs Office were $810 million as of September - higher than the $780 million in losses from loans it sustained from startups including Fisker Automotive, Abound Solar and Solyndra, which went bankrupt after receiving large government loans intended to help them bring their advanced green technologies to market. The report's findings are more of a political victory than a financial one. It took the program three years to break even after Solyndra's failure, while during that same time the Standard & Poor's 500 index increased 67 percent. Still, the federal loans program is a success for taxpayers, judging by the numbers in the new report, the DOE said. After Solyndra's 2011 collapse, the program was sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers as a waste of public money and a fountain of cronyism. The outcries mounted as others in the program failed, and the DOE issued no new loans between late 2011 and this year. "Taxpayers are not only benefitting from some of the world's most innovative energy projects... but these projects are making good on their loan repayments," Peter Davidson, executive director of the Loan Programs Office, said in an interview on Wednesday. Davidson took over the loan program in May of 2013.
Climate-conscious Americans have long glanced enviously across the Pacific to China and its ever-growing number of often-gargantuan wind farms. It turns out that they have less to be jealous about than previously thought: The United States has more wind energy powering its grid than any other country in the world, says a report by EDF Renewable Energy, the largest third-party provider of operations and maintenance for wind renewable-energy projects in the country. Though China has more megawatts of wind turbines installed than the U.S—about 90,000 to America's 60,000—the U.S. actually produces more electricity that is delivered to the grid, which in turn reaches more businesses and homes. And while China's wind industry delivered less than 138 billion kilowatt-hours in 2013, the U.S.'s delivered more than 167 billion. That's 20 percent more than China. And the U.S.'s generation has been growing steadily since 2008, when it first overtook Germany to become the world's No. 1 producer.
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are part of a growing number of tech and other major companies that are entering into long-term “power purchase” agreements (PPAs) with wind farms to ensure a steady stream of power, at a fixed cost, over a period as long as several decades. Most recently, last month Yahoo signed such a deal for wind power in the Great Plains with OwnEnergy, a wind energy developer. Google -- which is already carbon neutral and now trying to power itself with “100 percent renewable energy” -- has the longest history here. It has three PPA deals in the U.S. wind sector (in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas), and two more in Sweden. Microsoft, meanwhile, currently has two PPA deals with wind installments located near its data centers in Texas and Illinois. The agreements provide 285 megawatts of power to help drive both Bing searches and also its other online platforms, according to Brian Janous, the company’s director of energy strategy. What these deals have in common is that they involve purchasing clean energy in close proximity to the power hungry data centers that these companies operate -- data centers that in turn drive searches, apps like Gmail and much more. “These are very energy intensive operations that these companies are planning on running for years, and they know they need electricity,” says Emily Williams of the American Wind Energy Association.
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