During the early morning hours of April 15, with a steady breeze blowing down Colorado's Front Range, the state's biggest utility set a U.S. record -- nearly 57% of the electricity being generated was coming from wind power.
As dawn came and the 1.4 million customers in Xcel Energy's service district began turning on the lights, toasters and other appliances, the utility's coal and natural gas-fired power plants ramped up production and brought wind's contribution back closer to its 2012 average of 17%.
lities have long been wary of placing too much finicky renewable power on the grid.
"A lot of utilities don't want to contract large amounts of wind because it's volatile," said Amy Grace, a wind analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "Anything over 25%, and utilities get nervous."
Colorado's overnight high-water mark demonstrated that utilities can indeed incorporate cleaner power sources into the mix.
Leaders of four renewable energy trade associations today commended a last-minute vote by the Senate Finance Committee yesterday afternoon to extend and enhance production tax credits (PTCs) for all renewable energy sources. The tax credits are essential for the development of clean energy-generating facilities by offsetting the high cost of construction. Yesterday's action by the Committee will give renewable baseload technologies equitable access to this important program by allowing eligible facilities to qualify for the tax credits when construction is commenced.
"We are highly encouraged that the Senate Finance Committee passed this tax credit extension, and we urge the full Senate and the House to approve the credit before the end of the 112th Congress," said Bob Cleaves, President and CEO of Biomass Power Association. "The construction of new biomass facilities can be prohibitively expensive, and our industry relies on one-time tax credits to attract private investors to support the building of new plants. An extension of PTCs will help ensure that renewable energy sources continue to produce a growing share of electricity for our nation."
U.S. solar company First Solar Inc. (FSLR) said Wednesday that it will make more solar panels this year than earlier planned due to rising demand.
The Arizona company said it plans to make 1,800 to 1,900 megawatts of panels this year, up from its plan in May to cut production to 1,400 to 1,700 megawatts. That compares to 2,400 megawatts of production in 2011.
First Solar Chief Executive Jim Hughes said the company will make more products to meet higher-than-expected demand from customers primarily in Europe and India.
First Solar reported a second-quarter profit of $111 million, or $1.27 a share, up 82% from $61.1 million, or 70 cents a share, a year earlier. Net sales jumped 80% to $957.3 million, primarily due to an increase in the number and size of projects under construction for which revenue could be booked in the second quarter.
Share of First Solar were up 13% at $16.70 in after-hours trade.
Proposed U.S. tariffs on wind-energytowers from China and Vietnam were welcomed by a trade group that had complained competitors were dumping products in the American market.
The Commerce Department concluded in preliminary findings yesterday that producers in the nations, which exported $301 million in towers to the U.S. in 2011, sold the utility-scale goods below production costs. The department, which set duties as high as 73 percent for Chinese products and 60 percent for goods from Vietnam, acted on a complaint by U.S. companies such as Broadwind Energy Inc. (BWEN) of Naperville, Illinois. Broadwind rose 13 percent in trading yesterday.
“Commerce has taken an important step to address the significant dumping that is taking place,” Alan Price, an attorney with Wiley Rein LLP in Washington who represents the U.S. group, said in a statement. Duties will help to “force the Chinese and Vietnamese producers to compete fairly.”
Beijing on Friday denied accusations of solar panel dumping, saying it hoped Chinese and EU manufacturers could negotiate an end to a dispute that threatens a trade war.
EU ProSun, a group of more than 20 European solar panel makers, suspects Beijing of providing their Chinese rivals with loans and other subsidies enabling them to sell their goods below cost.
They have filed a complaint with the European Commission calling for it to impose tariffs, following a U.S. move in May to slap hefty anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar products which Beijing blasted as "protectionist."
Beijing's commerce ministry backed the Chinese firms, saying falling export prices were due to the cost of polysilicon, a key panel ingredient, dropping from $300 a kilogram in 2008 to $30 now, new technology and economies of scale.
"There is therefore no basis to consider that Chinese photovoltaic cells are being dumped," it said in a statement on its website.
It said that Chinese firms themselves imported key components and technology needed for solar panel manufacturing from Europe and the U.S., adding that Chinese products helped create jobs among installers.
The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday to ramp up solar energy production, offering incentives for solar developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land in the western U.S and opening an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert for new power plants.
The long-awaited plan also appears to rewind previous land-use decisions by the federal government. The pending policy rules out a long list of environmentally sensitive lands where the government — seeking to fast-track construction — had allowed solar development over the objections of environmentalists.
The plan places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar facilities.
The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones in six Western states, including 154,000 acres in California. The zones were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural or other conflicts. The policy encourages developers to select sites within zones by promising minimal environmental reviews and expedited permitting.
NRG Energy, Inc. NRG and GenOn Energy, Inc. GEN announced they have signed a definitive agreement to combine the two companies in a stock-for-stock tax-free transaction, creating the largest competitive generator in the United States with a diverse fleet of approximately 47,000 megawatts (MW) with asset concentrations in the East, Gulf Coast and West and a combined enterprise value of $18 billion.
"This combination ushers in a new era of scale, scope, and market and fuel diversification in the competitive power industry," said NRG President and CEO David Crane, who will continue his present positions with the combined company. "The greater depth and breadth gained through the combination with GenOn will put NRG in a uniquely strong position to fulfill the needs of American energy consumers in the 21st century."
Researchers at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara have created the first highly transparent, plastic solar cells. The new solar cell is almost 70% transparent to visible light.
There are two key breakthroughs here: First, as far as I can tell, this is one of highest efficiency (4%) polymer solar cells (PSC) yet created; and, perhaps more importantly, researchers have historically struggled to get get past 10 or 20% transparency, let alone 70%. You are probably wondering how something can be both transparent and absorb light — well, in this case, the PSC only absorbs infrared light, but lets visible light pass through it.
In both cases, the secret sauce is silver nanowires within the polymer. These nanowire electrodes are conductive and flexible, and after being coated with titanium dioxide nanoparticles they are also photovoltaic. Most importantly, though, these nanowires can be laid down using a solution process — basically, to turn a big roll of polymer into a solar cell, all you have to do is immerse it in a vat of titanium dioxide-coated silver nanowires, cure it, and voila.
Germany's environment ministry is considering launching anti-dumping proceedings against China over its financial support for solar power firms amid a bitter price war in the industry that has left many German panel producers fighting for survival.
Environment Minister Peter Altmaier told German broadcaster ZDF late on Thursday that there had to be fair competition in the global market and anti-dumping proceedings might be one way of ensuring this.
Altmaier recently suggested higher import duties as another way to prevent price dumping.
"It is also being looked into whether anti-dumping procedures can be launched against China," he said.
The ministry was not immediately available for comment on Friday.
Germany's once-booming solar panel makers are struggling to digest steep cuts in state support and increasing competition.
German firm Solarworld recently brought a suit with American firms in the United States against cheap Chinese imports, with a degree of success.
Amonix Inc., a closely held maker of solar panels that qualified for $21.5 million in federal subsidies, closed its 214,000-square-foot plant in Nevada.
The company, based in Seal Beach, California, plans to restructure its operations and will vacate the factory by early August, according to an e-mailed statement today. It also has a research lab in Torrance, California, and an office in Singapore, according to its website.
Amonix said the decision to close the plant was based on“challenging” pricing for solar panels and low demand for its concentrated photovoltaic systems, according to the statement.
“We looked at several options and were really hoping that we could keep the North Las Vegas manufacturing facility, but it is not economically possible,” the company said.
Unirac, Inc., has been awarded a contract by Bechtel Power Corporation to supply the ground mount system for the 110MW AC Catalina Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Project in Kern County in Southern California.
The project is one of the largest photovoltaic ground mount installation in North America, projected to cover 1,100 acres and produce enough energy to power approximately 35,000 homes. Completion is scheduled for 2013.
"We are excited to work with Bechtel, a global leader in engineering, procurement and construction, on this important landmark project," said Peter Lorenz, CEO, Unirac. "Unirac has long been a leader in the residential and commercial markets. This award demonstrates that we have become the partner of choice for large, complex utility projects."
The Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma County, Arizona — which is one of the world’s largest solar panel farms — is now two thirds completed, according to the owners and developer of the project, NRG Energy, MidAmerican Solar and First Solar. The solar farm, which is supposed to be completed in 2014, employs 400 to 450 workers per day, and California utility PG&E has a contract to buy the power.
Agua Caliente is now generating 200 MW of solar power, and will provide 290 MW when completed. The project is being funded by a $967 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, as well as equity from owners NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar, which is the energy-focused fund owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. MidAmerican bought 49 percent of the $1.8 billion farm in January of this year.
The United Kingdom comes in first in a new energy efficiency ranking of the world's major economies, followed
closely by Germany, Japan, and Italy, according to the first-ever International Energy Efficiency Scorecard published today by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The report finds that in the last decade the U.S. has made "limited or little progress toward greater efficiency at the national level," putting it in 9th place out of 12 economies around the globe.
The rankings are modeled on ACEEE's time-tested approach to energy efficiency ranking of U.S. states, and include 12 of the world's largest economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. These 12 economies represent over 78 percent of global gross domestic product; 63 percent of global energy consumption; and 62 percent of the global
carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions.
InterSolar North America 2012 is being held this week in San Francisco. Intersolar North America focuses on photovoltaics and solar thermal technologies. Exhibitors include PV cell, module and inverter manufacturers, components and mounting systems suppliers, manufacturing system suppliers, service companies as well as manufacturers of solar thermal applications including heating and cooling, among others. With 900 exhibitors and over 22,000 attendees expected this years show will be one of the biggest Solar Industry tradeshows in North America.
Add another solar factory to the list of closures and delays that have been plaguing the industry. Solar startups, including Solyndra and Abound Solar, a recipient of government funds that declared bankruptcy last week, have been failing left and right in the face of low solar panel prices. Now GE has reportedly stopped work on its planned 400-megawatt solar panel factory in Colorado. It says it needs to improve the power output of its technology if it’s to compete.
It was thought that a company like GE, with its deep pockets, might be able to scale up production to the point that its thin-film solar panels could compete with silicon. The reports throw this into doubt. It might be that both low cost and at least comparable efficiency levels are needed to compete.
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