The solar energy business is growing quickly, but future growth will not include oil giant BP.
At the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, BP's CEO made it clear the company is done with solar.
"We have thrown in the towel on solar," Bob Dudley said after delivering a wide-ranging speech Wednesday.
"Not that solar energy isn't a viable energy source, but we worked at it for 35 years, and we really never made money," he added.
BP, which announced it was winding down its solar business last year, says it is still committed to other renewable resources, such as wind power and biofuels production.
But the move away from solar is especially striking considering BP's recent history. In 2000, the company changed its logo to resemble the sun and made a big deal of its "beyond petroleum" campaign.
BP's exit from solar has more to do with a changing business than lack of will.
"The solar industry BP was involved in 10 years ago has very few similarities to the solar industry today," says Finlay Colville, vice president of the research firm NPD Solarbuzz.
Colville says BP was one of the early companies in the solar business. Back then, the market was based on a different model — one more focused on research and development. He says now the business is all about efficient production and low prices, something more suited to the Asian companies taking a lead role in the solar panel-manufacturing business; so BP's exit from solar doesn't mean the industry overall is in trouble.
In recent years, the balance usually tips in China's favor when it comes to trade with the United States. But according to a new study there's at least one sector in which America is starting to have the upper hand: clean energy.
The United States exported more clean energy products to China in 2011 than it imported, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts, ultimately amounting to a $1.63 billion trade surplus in solar and wind power equipment among other products.
About $8.5 billion worth of clean energy goods and services shuttled between the world's two largest economies in 2011, according to Pew. While that's just a sliver of the half a trillion dollars' worth of goods and services traded between China and the United States, the U.S. surplus in the clean energy sector challenges widely held views that China is becoming the world's foremost supplier.
A first-of-its-kind requirement for solar power systems is going to be implemented in Lancaster, California. The requirement is that solar power systems be installed on all new single-family homes within the city. Furthermore, this announcement comes from a Republican mayor.
All newly-built single-family homes within Lancaster will be required to feature solar power systems starting on January 1, 2014. This is a rather stunning announcement in itself, but the fact that it comes from a Republican is even more surprising. Mayor Rex Parris is a big solar power advocate, though. You may have heard of him already, as he has previously stated his intention to make Lancaster “the solar energy capital of the world.”
The new requirements “will be written into Lancaster’s ‘Residential Zones Update’ on residential solar,” Greentech Media reports. In addition to a variety of new requirements having to do with energy efficiency and green building practices, new single family homes will have to meet minimum solar energy system requirements.
Alta Devices today disclosed that it has reached 30.8% solar cell efficiency. This new NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) verified record has resulted from the company's first implementation of a new generation "dual junction" solar cell technology which augments the company's "single junction" technology.
Higher efficiency directly translates into more electricity generated from smaller surface areas. Therefore, applying Alta's highly efficient, very thin and flexible mobile power technology to consumer devices can extend the battery life of everyday products such as smartphones, tablets, keyboards, mice, remote controls, and more.
"We are changing the way solar technology is used," said Chris Norris, president and CEO of Alta Devices. "With our technology, enough energy can be generated from sunlight to effectively power devices in ways not previously possible. We are working with a number of customers who are designing their mobile products to increase battery life; and in some cases, we can provide enough energy to eliminate the need to plug into the electric grid."
Wind-farm construction in the U.S. nearly ground to a halt after ending in a frenzy late last year. But the pace of turbine installation is set to pick up substantially later this year, largely thanks to the recently enacted extension of the federal production tax credit, say utility and wind-sector experts.
Frank Maisano, an energy specialist at Bracewell & Giuliani, a law firm in Washington, D.C., with renewable-energy clients, says that, with so much uncertainty about extending the credit beyond 2012, many developers rushed to finish projects by year-end. The American Wind Energy Association says wind-turbine contractors brought on line a record 13,124 MW of wind capacity in 2012, including 8,380 MW in the last three months.
Tim Maag, vice president and general manager at Mortenson Construction, saw a big drop-off in wind-farm work for the first half of 2013. "Due to the fact that the extension took so long to get passed, most of our customers had put their construction plans on hold, which was expected," he says, adding that work in the third and fourth quarters will be "very robust." Says Maag, "We have responded to numerous RFPs and pricing requests since the beginning of the year."
The tax-credit extension approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in January as part of the "fiscal cliff" compromise provides a $22/MWH tax credit for the first 10 years of a wind farm's operation. For the first time, the latest extension applies to all projects under construction by Dec. 31, 2013, even if they are not completed until next year. Under the previous tax credit, a wind farm had to be completed and operational by the end of 2012 to qualify.
Among the many roadblocks that have prevented offshore wind farms from proliferating off the Atlantic coast is how to get the electricity generated from the Outer Continental Shelf to the mainland.
A transmission “backbone” that would run under the ocean floor parallel to the coast is being proposed as a solution to that problem. The Atlantic Wind Connection, which counts Google Inc. among its corporate sponsors, seeks to connect up to 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind power to locations on land between northern New Jersey and southern Virginia.
The backbone transmission line would allow many individual wind turbines to connect to it and then deliver that electricity to land through a handful of connections.
The alternative would be aboveground individual lines from one or a handful of wind turbines, lines that typically operate at a lower capacity and present more environmental challenges.
Earlier this year, Atlantic Wind Connection announced that the first phase of the project would be constructed off the New Jersey coast because of the state’s commitment to developing the industry, not to mention the electricity potential off the state’s southern shores.
Transparent solar panels — think about it for a moment: Sheets of transparent glass or plastic film that also generate electricity. It’s almost the perfect solution for all our energy needs, generating free power from every available surface, window, and computer display.
The concept of transparent solar panels isn’t new, of course, but it now looks like they’re finally finding their way to market: Ubiquitous Energy, a startup that was spun off from MIT last year, is developing a technology and patent portfolio and hopes to bring affordable transparent solar panels to market soon.
At this point, you might be wondering how transparent solar cells actually work — after all, if it’s transparent, how can it absorb light energy? The simple answer is that light energy comes in many frequencies (colors), but as far as we humans are concerned, it is only the visible wavelengths — from blue, through green and yellow, to red — that really matter. The Sun, however, pumps out a huge amount of infrared light, and some ultraviolet light — both of which are invisible to the human eye, but which can also generate large amounts of electricity if captured by a solar cell.
Everyone in the sales side of renewable energy is confronted with a litany of financial measures and the same questions- “What is the IRR?” “How much is the CAPEX?” and “Where is the offtake (purchase) agreement?”; fairly universal questions between buyers and sellers in almost every industry! For the most part, the renewable energy industry suffers from a financial imbalance. Without incentives and/or compliance penalties, it’s somewhat difficult to justify the project on financial measures alone; this makes for a hard sale.
A discussion with Brian F. Keane, President of SmartPower (a renewable energy and energy efficiency company) touched on a model that was somewhat novel, at least in the renewable energy industry. Brian mentioned cars. Why do people buy a certain car knowing that once it’s off the lot it has depreciated at least in-half. A Lexus SUV LX 570 with a base sticker price of $81,530 does essentially the same thing as a Toyota Highlander with a msrp of $29,020.
Brian used another outlandish example for consumer behavior. In 1975, “the pet rock sold for $3.95 and estimates state Gary Dahl (advertising guru) sold over 5 million of his pet rocks in a six month period. With these totals Dahl earned over 15 million dollars during this period which would be estimated at $56 million today.” If interested, you can still purchase a pet rock at Amazon for $6.00 less shipping. Last Christmas a customer wrote “I bought this as a Gag for my brother. The package was in great shape, and the whole construct of the gift was great! Overall he said he loved this gift the best. Great holiday tradition carried on with such a simple and affordable gift.”
The UK could lose billions of pounds and thousands of jobs in the solar industry if the EU imposes tariffs on cheap imported panels from China, a report has claimed.
The European commission is investigating if solar panels coming into Europe from China are being sold below market value – known as "dumping" – and benefiting from unfair Chinese government subsidies.
The move by the commission, instigated last year, is the largest of its kind, with solar panels and key components worth more than £18bn exported from China to the EU in 2011.
It followed complaints from European solar manufacturers and could lead to anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties being imposed on Chinese-made panels to stop the cheap imports harming Europe's domestic industry.
But a report published on Tuesday suggests imposing any level of tariff would hit the EU economy and jobs would be lost, as the move would push up photovoltaic panel prices and reduce the installation of the green electricity technology.
Geothermal power has a promising future, but so far it has lagged behind most of its other renewable energy cousins, especially wind and solar. So while wind power in the US has grown by 13.2 gigawatts in 2012, with 5.5 gigawatts of that just in December, geothermal's growth is more modest. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, the U.S. added 147.05 MW of gross geothermal power capacity in 2012, which is 5% more than in 2011.
That might not seem like much, but geothermal power has very desirable attributes that make it worth developing further; unlike wind and solar, it generates power 24/7 regardless of the weather. It's true that there are many ways to mitigate the intermittency of wind and solar, including possibly with grid-scale liquid-metal batteries, but having some nice clean baseload power in the mix will always be a good thing. Now the trick is to reduce costs, and to make sure we understand the geology properly to avoid problems.
When it comes to massive renewable energy adoption, China is an icon of promise.
Being the world’s largest energy producer and consumer, the Asian country is now realizing that coal will no longer serve its economic development. Hence, renewable energy is a necessity for the nation’s inclusive growth and energy security, suggested a report by Solidiance, an Asia-Pacific marketing strategy firm.
Renewable energy take up across the country is driven by three key factors – the increasing demand for electricity, the need to cut dependence on coal and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Pilar Dieter, Principal for Solidiance, these three are interrelated.
“While China seeks to cut greenhouse gas as part of its energy savings plan, this ideally should ease China's reliance on fossil fuels and... save more electricity,” she told EcoSeed.
Looking forward, the Central Government, under its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) for National Economic and Social Development, has imposed self-mandated greener energy targets. By 2015, it aims to increase its renewables capacity by 11.4 percent, reduce emissions by 17 percent per unit of gross domestic product, and reduce energy consumption per unit of G.D.P. by 16 percent.
Solidiance identified four key renewable energy sectors that will see the achievement of these goals: hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaic, and biofuels. However, these sectors are currently in different stages of development, facing challenges that have to be overcome in able to optimize their full potential.
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association today released the following statement in response to President Obama's State of the Union Address to Congress:
"In tonight's State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out a vision for the American energy economy that is in line with what SEIA is working to achieve – a robust clean energy industry that powers our homes and businesses while growing our economy and protecting our environment. Energy is a primary input to our nation's economic system, so it's appropriate that President Obama is placing emphasis on developing our nation's robust clean energy resources to help rebuild the nation's economy.
"We are especially encouraged by the president's commitment to securing America's place as a leader in clean energy innovation throughout the world. President Obama understands that the stakes are high and we must not fall behind other nations as the world shifts to emissions-free clean energy technologies like solar.
"We thank President Obama for his leadership and look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the White House to make solar an increasingly-important component of the nation's energy portfolio."
Panasonic Corp.'s (6752.TO, PC) prototype solar cell has achieved the world's highest conversion efficiency at 24.7%, according to tests performed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, the Nikkei reports in its Feb. 11 edition.
It beat the previous record of 24.2% held by U.S. company SunPower Corp., a mark that is still recognized as the world's highest by Progress in Photovoltaics, an internationally recognized publication in the field of solar-energy research.
The Panasonic prototype's surface membrane allows more sunlight to pass through, and its electrodes transfer electricity more efficiently. The company aims to commercialize the prototype and raise the conversion efficiency of its mass-market solar cells, which stands at 21.6%.
Siemens is making plans to build a new, state-of-the-art wind service training facility in Orlando, Florida, USA. The demand for skilled wind service technicians is increasing as more wind projects come online in the Americas, thereby requiring long-term service and maintenance. Siemens is designing this new 40,000-square-foot center, which will be located close to the global headquarters of Siemens' Energy Service division in Orlando, to be among the most advanced wind training facilities in the world. Siemens' initial investment will be approximately $7 million and the company plans to create 50 new full-time jobs and host approximately 2,400 trainees annually from the U.S. and the Americas. The training center, which is being built based on LEED Gold green-building standards, is scheduled to begin operations by this summer.
"As wind energy has become a mainstream source of power generation, the continued reliable and competitive performance of renewable energy is critically important to meeting the nation's future energy demand," said Randy Zwirn, CEO of Siemens Energy, Inc. and CEO of Siemens Energy's global Service Division. "As an industry leader in both onshore and offshore wind, Siemens is poised to meet that demand and this new, advanced training facility in the U.S. will help ensure that our wind service technicians receive the highest standard of technical and safety training."
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)® and the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) today announced the three winners of the 2013 Photovoltaic (PV) Projects of Distinction Awards at PV America East 2013 in Philadelphia, PA. Recognizing major achievements in U.S. PV solar energy, the awards were presented to the Generating Clean Horizons Solar Project, Keystone Solar and the Union County (NJ) Solar Initiative. For the first time, nine projects were awarded honorable mentions in recognition of their impressive accomplishments.
More than 100 submissions were evaluated by an independent panel of judges representing associations, consultants, distributors, government, integrators, manufacturers and utilities. To qualify for an award, each project had to be operational and demonstrate a collective benefit to the community and innovative use of policy and financing to enhance the project's impact.
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