The Commerce Department issued its final ruling Wednesday in a long-simmering trade dispute with China, imposing tariffs ranging from about 34 percent to nearly 47 percent on solar panels imported from the country.
For most of the Chinese manufacturers, the penalties are somewhat higher than those announced by the Obama administration earlier this year, when the government determined that Chinese companies were benefiting from unfair government subsidies and were selling their products below the cost of production, a practice known as dumping, on the American market. For the biggest panel maker, Suntech, the duties are significantly higher, moving to almost 47 percent from about 33 percent.
The trade case stemmed from a legal filing nearly a year ago by a coalition of manufacturers, led by SolarWorld, a German company with considerable manufacturing in the United States. The coalition contended that Chinese companies, which dominate global sales with a two-thirds market share, were competing unfairly in the American market.
Solar panel installer SolarCity Corp filed with U.S. regulators to raise up to $201 million in an initial public offering that could help rekindle investor appetite for cleantech stocks.
Shares of solar panel manufacturers have logged terrible performances in the last two years as plunging panel prices erased profits. But those lower prices have spurred demand for solar systems in the United States, helping companies like San Mateo, California-based SolarCity.
SolarCity has expanded rapidly thanks to a business model that allows residential customers to lease solar panels for their roofs. Rather than paying the large upfront costs required for a solar installation, customers pay a monthly fee.
Companies including Google Inc (GOOG.O) and U.S. Bancorp (USB.N) have provided funds to finance SolarCity’s projects. Those investors are able to collect a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy systems.
Two of those funds are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, SolarCity disclosed in its filing on Friday.
Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) and Siemens AG (SIE), the biggest manufacturers of offshore wind turbines, and 42 other companies are participating in an initiative to lower power-generating costs for the technology and promote investments that may reach as much as $630 billion by 2035.
The alliance, called Norstec, will meet today for the first time in London, the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change said in an e-mailed statement. The number of members has more than doubled since U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the group’s formation in April.
The group is seeking to drive development of offshore wind farms, an industry with the potential to employ as many as 185,000 people in the U.K. by 2020 and spur the laying of 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) of high voltage transmission cables in Europe’s northern waters by 2022, Norstec said today in a statement e-mailed by DECC.
Earlier this month, Denmark announced that it had already achieved its 2020 goal for solar energy production. The country previously publicized its national goal to produce 200 megawatts of energy from solar power by the end of this decade. Now, it seems that rapidly growing demand for clean energy and a solar-friendly government has allowed this European country to exceed that goal eight years before the target. Danish experts now predict that if this growth continues, 2020 levels of solar energy production will be 100 times what was first expected.
Have you ever been to Denmark? Few would call it a sunshine-rich country. In fact, it’s probably better known for its gray, cold winters. So what has allowed Denmark’s solar industry to expand so rapidly?
A stalemate in Washington next year over tax reform could help solar developers by preserving the 30 percent investment tax credit for solar projects until it expires at the end of 2016.
Regardless of who wins the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election, Congress is expected to target tax loopholes and government subsidies as part of an effort to rein in federal spending and cut the deficit.
But an agreement between Democrats and Republicans is not expected to come easily, and an impasse could keep the ax away form the tax credit.
"It's one of those unusual situations where the gridlock that prevails around Congress could actually work to our benefit," Paul Detering, chief executive of San Francisco-based solar project developer Tioga Energy, told the Renewable Energy Finance Forum conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
Sharp Corp. plans to end production and sales of solar cells and modules in the U.S. and Europe by March as part of a restructuring, Kyodo News said.
Sharp also plans to sell three manufacturing plants for solar products in Japan’s Nara, Osaka and Toyama prefectures and consolidate production at its Sakai plant, Kyodo reported today, without saying where it got the information.
Sharp wasn’t the source of the report and nothing has been decided, Miyuki Nakayama, a company spokeswoman, said by phone.
Osaka-based Sharp plans to cut more than 10,000 jobs, or about 18 percent of its workforce, and is in talks to sell plants as it tries to return to profit, two people with knowledge of the proposal said yesterday.
The job cuts and sales of television factories in Mexico, China and Malaysia, as well as U.S. solar developer Recurrent Energy LLC, were in the plan Sharp presented to lenders Sept. 24, the people said, declining to be identified because the matter isn’t public.
Brazil will see $235 billion of investments in renewable-energy and biofuel projects during the next ten years, Edison Lobao, the country’s mines and energy minister, said today at a United Nations event on sustainable energy in New York.
The nation will install 36 gigawatts of hydroeletric plants, 12 gigawatts of biomass plants and 11 gigawatts of wind farms during that time, according to a transcript of the minister’s speech acquired by Bloomberg News.
A tiny solar company named SoloPower will flip the switch on production at a U.S. factory Thursday, a major step toward allowing it to tap a $197 million government loan guarantee awarded under the same controversial program that supported failed panel maker Solyndra.
SoloPower has initiated a strategy to differentiate it from struggling commodity players in the solar panel industry. Still, there are several similarities between SoloPower and Solyndra - which became a lightning rod in the U.S. Presidential campaign this year after taking in more than $500 million in government loans and then filing for bankruptcy.
Like Solyndra, SoloPower is a Silicon Valley start-up and uses the same non-traditional raw material in its solar panels. And, like its now-defunct peer, SoloPower is one of just four U.S. panel manufacturers to clinch loan guarantees under the Department of Energy's $35 billion program to support emerging clean energy technologies. The DOE payments to SoloPower will come on top of the $56.5 million SoloPower has collected in loans, tax credits and incentives from the state of Oregon and the city of Portland, where its first factory will be located.
The past few years have been brutal for solar power stocks. First, the 2008-2009 financial crisis scared away customers and depressed sales. Some solar firms benefited from government stimulus packages during the recession, but their prospects have since dimmed as debt-saddled governments rein in spending—including on subsidies for new solar projects.
Looming in the background is a glut of solar panels that has lasted for more than two years. That has depressed prices and put severe pressure on the profits of many solar power stocks.
This Solar Power Stock’s Downward Spiral Is Continuing
Case in point: LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK), which just reported a net loss of $254.3 million, or $2.00 a share, in the second quarter. That was much wider than the $87.7 million, or $0.62 a share, that the company lost a year earlier. It was also far worse than the $1.42 a share that the Street was expecting. Revenue dropped 53%, to $235.4 million, also missing the consensus estimate of $237.5 million.
Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd, the world's largest solar panel maker, said it temporarily shut a portion of its solar cell production capacity in China, as it grapples with weak selling prices and import duties in the United States.
Suntech's operational solar cell capacity will temporarily be reduced to 1.8 gigawatts (GW) from about 2.4 GW.
The cut at the Wuxi facility is expected to affect about 1,500 employees in China. Most of these employees would be offered positions at other production facilities but some would face severance, Suntech said.
Suntech said it is on track to reduce recurring operating costs by 20 percent in 2012.
The company last month estimated weak margins for the second quarter and cut its full-year shipment outlook.
Another solar equipment manufacturer, China's LDK Solar Co Ltd, reported on Monday a much bigger loss, downgraded its sales forecasts and said it was in talks with potential investors.
The solar-energy industry's huge assembly this week in Orlando buzzed with alternating currents of anxiety and optimism over this year's presidential election.
A common thought at Solar Power International, which bills itself as North America's largest conference and exposition for the solar-energy business, was that the future will stay reasonably bright if President Obama wins a second term, but that it might be lights out if Mitt Romney prevails in November.
"Both campaigns have been pretty vague on their energy plans, but certainly in the past four years we have seen strong leadership from the Obama administration to try to diversify our energy portfolio," said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a co-host of the four-day event.
Resch said the industry's labor force has grown in recent years from 20,000 workers to more than 100,000 and has been a major bright spot in the economies of certain states, such as New Jersey.
Not only was General Motors praised by the Solar Energy Industries Association as the #1 user of solar power among automakers in the United States, it also ranked #13 among all companies for solar use. A variety of solar array initiatives at its plants have helped give it the ability to generate enough electricity to power 800 U.S. homes each year.
SEIA and the Vote Solar Initiative determined the rankings via cumulative solar energy capacity. Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, deciphers that phrase this way:
“GM has set an example in renewable energy within its industry and beyond. Solar helps companies reliably manage their long-term energy costs, and our top 20 companies are going solar in a big way across the nation.”
In 2011, GM publicly stated its commitment to doubling its global sonar output to 60 megawatts by 2014 and to increase renewable energy use to 125MW by 2020.
Solar Power International (SPI) is North America’s premier business-to-business event for professionals in solar energy and related fields.
- Thousands of solar energy industry professionals from 100+ countries attend.
- One of five attendees comes from outside the United States.
- More than 900 exhibiting companies from all vertical markets in the solar power spectrum.
The significance of Solar Power International comes not from the number or diversity of its attendees. Rather, this year's conference matters because it comes at a time of rapid innovation and change in the industry. These changes affect so many aspects of the business that players need to constantly update their understanding; to be just a month behind puts you at a competitive disadvantage.
What's changed since Dallas?
SPI 2011 was held last October in Dallas, Texas. Since that time, the industry landscape has changed drastically, specifically with regard to how projects are getting financed. In any given month, DG Energy Partners sees dozens of MWs of projects seeking financial partners. Regardless of where these projects are located, the underlying trends remain the same; hardware prices have continued to fall, EPC margins have continued to shrink and projects have grown increasingly difficult to complete. And we haven't even mentioned what changes we can expect in 2013.
Chinese solar companies expect the European Commission to announce within days a formal investigation into their alleged dumping of solar panels in Europe, which could result in heavy tariffs being imposed on them next year.
The expected move against the companies, whose share prices have tumbled and whose financial outlook is cloudy due to oversupply and falling solar-equipment prices, would come as they are already fighting clean-energy trade battles on several fronts.
Also, China and the European Union are at loggerheads over several other trade rows, including a European plan to punish airlines if they don't comply with an emissions-control program—issues that could have the potential to sour China's readiness to help in financially underpinning Europe's debt-laden economies.
European solar-panel makers filed a confidential complaint July 25 with the commission, the EU's executive arm, accusing Chinese solar-panel manufacturers of selling products at below-cost prices in Europe.
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