WorldWide Solar Cell Production Growth Flattens but still Gigantic in 2011

Global PV cell production grew to an impressive 37.2 GW in 2011, according to a market survey by PHOTON International - The Solar Power Magazine, for a 36-percent increase over the 27.4 GW produced in 2010.

But the annual survey also reveals a dramatic reduction in year-on-year growth. Compared to a record 120-percent jump in 2010, the 2011 cell output was the PV industry's lowest growth rate since a 34-percent increase in 2003. The survey also shows a continuation of Asian dominance, with six Chinese manufacturers in the top 10 - with Suntech Power in first place for the second year in a row - and two from Taiwan. For the first time since PHOTON International began surveying solar cell producers, the top 10 did not include any solar cell producers from Europe or Japan.

"The days of solar cell production in western countries are numbered," says Michael Schmela, editor-in-chief of PHOTON International. "Like other commodities, solar cell production will continue its rapid shift to low-labor-cost countries in Asia, especially China." In 2008, only 33 percent of solar cells were made in China, a share that grew to an impressive over 57 percent in 2011.
 

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President's trip designed to tout 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy

In an effort to find a visual counterpart to his rhetoric on energy, President Barack Obama is speaking at four types of energy production facilities in two days, each site representing a facet of his energy plan.

"I'll be talking about what we're calling an all-of-the-above energy strategy -- all of the above," Obama said, previewing his trip before a crowd gathered at a solar facility in Boulder City, Nevada. "A strategy that relies on producing more oil and gas here in America, but also more biofuels, more fuel-efficient cars, more wind power and, as you can see, a whole lot more solar power."

The visit to Boulder City on Wednesday was designed to tout the success of solar technology at the largest photovoltaic solar facility in the nation. Photovoltaic solar panels create energy directly from sunlight without the need for any water or moving parts.

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U.S. solar to get Obama aid in battle with China

President Barack Obama's administration is expected to throw its weight behind U.S. solar panel producers on Tuesday in their battle against lower-priced imports from China that they say threaten the future of the industry in the United States.

A coalition of seven U.S. manufacturers has asked for duties topping 100 percent on Chinese-made solar cells and panels, which they say are subsidized by the Chinese government and "dumped" in the United States at unfairly low prices.

The case, which was filed last year, has created more friction in the U.S.-China trade relationship, already strained by clashes over Beijing's currency policies and U.S. duties on a number of other Chinese goods.

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Lux Research Reveals 2011 Top 10 Module Manufacturers

First Solar and Suntech led in module manufacturing in 2011 with both having around 2 GW of module production, according to Lux Research’s latest Solar Supply Tracker. Crystalline silicon module prices continue to be at a record low with Tier 1 manufacturers selling around $0.9/W while Tier 2 and Tier 3 manufacturers sold at even lower rates to burn through their inventories and survive the current market conditions.

The top 10 companies added up to 12.5 GW of module production, a significant share at 44% of the 2011 total global module production.

Top 10 2011 Module Manufacturers (In Order)

First Solar - 7% - 2,001 MW

Suntech Power - 6.5% -1866 MW

Yingli Green Energy - 5.5% - 1,554 MW

Trina Solar - 4.9% - 1,395 MW

Canadian Solar - 4.8% - 1,363 MW

Sharp - 4.1% - 1,155 MW

Hanwha Solar One - 2.9% - 825 MW

Jinko - 2.8% - 782 MW

LDK Solar - 2.7% - 774 MW

SolarWorld - 2.7% - 767 MW

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Senate Rejects Measure To Extend Wind Energy Production Tax Credit

The U.S. Senate has voted to reject an amendment to S.1813, the Surface Transportation Bill, that would have extended several important renewable energy incentives - including the production tax credit (PTC) for wind power - for one year.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also called for an extension of the Section 48C advanced energy manufacturing tax credit, which expired in 2010, as well as an extension of the Section 1603 cash-grant program.

Although the vote on the measure was even at 49-49, the amendment required 60 votes to pass, and was, therefore, not agreed to. The news comes as a disappointment to the wind industry, which was hoping for a boon in an uncertain economic climate.

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Renewables Tax Extensions up for Vote, Senate considers amendment

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal that would extend renewable energy tax incentives and restore the cash grant program that saved the industry during the depths of the recession.

The proposals are included in an amendment offered by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who introduced Senate Amendment 1812, which would extend the production tax credit (PTC) for one year, until the end of 2013, as well as extend the 1603 investment tax credit, the 48(C) manufacturing tax credit, in addition to including biodiesel and other provisions.

Amendment 1812 includes several provisions, including credits for biofuels and advanced manufacturing tax breaks. But the parts of most interest to renewables are a one-year extension of the PTC for wind energy and a restoration of the “cash grants in lieu of the credit” which expired at the end of last year.

Solar Panel Sales Seen Dropping First Time in Decade

Fewer solar panels will be installed this year as the first drop in more than a decade worsens a glut of the unsold devices that’s already slashed margins at the top five manufacturers, an analyst survey showed.

Homes and businesses will put up 24.8 gigawatts of solar panels worldwide, according to the average of six forecasts compiled by Bloomberg News. That’s equal to the power of about 20 nuclear reactors and down 10 percent from the 27.7 gigawatts added last year. Installations have grown 61 percent a year on average since 1999, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.

The decline would be the first since Germany began offering premium rates for solar power in 2004, opening the way for mass, utility-scale installations. It will exacerbate price-cutting and a surge in inventories that last year forced Solyndra LLC into bankruptcy, prompted SunPower Corp. to seek a buyout and gutted margins at top manufacturers led by Suntech Power Holdings Co. and First Solar Inc.

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Spain Blows Away Monthly Wind Energy Record

This February, a record 21.7 percent of Spain’s electricity came from wind power. The 4,890 gigawatt-hours of electricity generated from wind made it the country’s third-largest source of energy in the month, after coal and nuclear power plants, according to Red Eléctrica de España (REE).

Although Spain has poured signficant money, in the form of feed-in tariffs, into solar power development, Europe has been experiencing a severely cold winter, where wind power can thrive. By using its wind turbines instead of fossil fuels to supply electricity, Spanish electricity prices fell to €51/MWh during the first two weeks of February while in neighboring France electricity cost €105/MWh. During that time, wind provided a whopping 28.9 percent of Spain’s electricity.

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Volt production halted; 1,300 workers out of work

Facing a significant backlog of unsold inventory, General Motors will shut down production of the Chevrolet Volt for five weeks.

The maker has notified 1,300 workers at the GM plant in Detroit that they will be idled from March 19 through April 23 while assembly operations are idled. But the maker insists the latest setback is not a sign of long-term problems for the plug-in hybrid, noting that Volt sales in February jumped 70 percent over the prior month.

“We’re going to do what we need to the keep production in line with what the market demands,” said GM spokesperson Michelle Malcho.

She noted that demand has been recovering in the wake of reports, late last year, that several Volt battery packs had caught fire following federal crash tests.

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U.S. Goes from Net Exporter to Net Importer of Solar Products in One Year;

The United States' once-vaunted solar-industry trade surplus with China disappeared between 2010 and 2011, according to findings released today by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM). The U.S. solar industry had an estimated $1.6 billion trade deficit with China in 2011, after enjoying an estimated $250 million to $540 million surplus in 2010. CASM's findings are based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), as well as a prior study by GTM Research.

"This new data, drawn from official government sources, finally buries the Chinese importers' tired, shop-worn and factually incorrect talking point that the U.S. solar industry has a trade surplus with China," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., the largest U.S. manufacturer of solar cells and panels. "Chinese importers often claim that the modest U.S. trade surplus in 2010 proved that China is not threatening the U.S. solar industry and economy. But it is no longer 2010, and any trade surplus is history. Illegal dumping by massively subsidized Chinese solar producers, combined with curbed exports of polysilicon and manufacturing equipment, are decimating U.S. solar manufacturers, the supply chain and their export business."

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Army Kicks Off $7 Billion Alternative Energy Project

The Army issued a draft request for proposals today to purchase over a 30-year period $7 billion worth of power generated from alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.

Katherine Hammock, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, announced plans for the project last year to support the service's goal of having installations produce more energy than they consume.

The Army Corps of Engineers' Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville, Ala., which is managing the procurement, said the alternative energy power generation plants will be located on or near federal property.

Hammond said last year that the Army would support their development by leasing land on installations, and the draft RFP backs this up with language that says the service endorses "the procurement of large scale renewable energy generated on or near Army land."

Siemens Blindsided by China Wind Boom Plans Massive' Investment

Siemens AG (SIE), the world’s largest maker of offshore wind turbines, said it underestimated the pace of growth in the Chinese wind market and will ramp up spending to catch up as local competitors increase their lead.

“We’re investing massively in research and development and to make use of economies of scale in production,” Felix Ferlemann, head of Siemens’s wind-power business, said in response to e-mailed questions. “We were somewhat taken by surprise by the strong growth of the Chinese market.”

China led the world in installing wind-power capacity last year. Munich-based Siemens is working to keep pace in the country, where it’s lagging behind suppliers such as Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS), while competition puts pressure on prices. Profitability at Siemens’s renewable-energy unit was wiped out last year, calling into question Chief Executive Officer Peter Loescher’s strategy of focusing more on green technologies.

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Aquion Energy Selects Pennsylvania for First Large-Scale Manufacturing Facility

Aquion Energy Inc., a developer and manufacturer of revolutionary sodium ion batteries and energy storage systems, today announced it has chosen Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania as the site for its first full-scale manufacturing facility.

"After considering all of our options, including aggressive offers from a number of other U.S. states, we concluded that southwestern Pennsylvania is the best location for Aquion to establish its first high-volume manufacturing operation"

Starting in 2012, Aquion will be leasing space within a large existing facility in East Huntingdon Township from the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania (RIDC). The build-out of the base facility and factory infrastructure will begin immediately and continue throughout 2012. Initial product manufacturing is scheduled to commence in 2013. As part of a first phase manufacturing commitment at this site, Aquion expects to create over 400 high-tech manufacturing jobs by the end of 2015.

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Congress Deals Major Blow to Wind Power Industry

The wind power industry is predicting massive layoffs and stalled or abandoned projects after a deal to renew a tax credit failed Thursday in Washington.

The move is expected to have major ramifications in states such as Illinois, where 13,892 megawatts of wind projects -- enough to power 3.3 million homes per year -- wait to be connected to the electric grid. Many of those projects will be abandoned or significantly delayed without federal subsidies.

The state is home to more than 150 companies that support the wind industry. At least 67 of those companies make turbines or components for wind farms. Chicago is the U.S. headquarters to more than a dozen major wind companies who wanted to take advantage of powerful Midwestern winds.
 

US DOE Launches Solar Training

The US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative is developing two new training programs that will be available through the Solar Instructor Training Network in spring 2012. This nationwide collaboration between community colleges, labor training centers, and nine Regional Training Providers is intended to provide high-quality photovoltaic (PV) occupational skills courses and training for every state in the country.

The PV On-Line Training tool will provide free, web-based training on solar PV inspection and building code practices for code officials across the country. Inspectors will be able to take eight in-depth modules on photovoltaic inspections at their convenience and then attend a free follow-up training the next summer at a nearby partner school. PV On-Line Trainings incorporate a simulated video environment for a “gaming” atmosphere that changes the scenario each time it is opened.

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