The United States has regained its place as the world's number one investor in clean energy, reclaiming the top spot from China, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In 2011, U.S. total investment in clean energy surged to $55.9 billion, up 33 percent from 2010; China saw investment rise just 1 percent to $47.4 billion over the same time period. This is the first time that the U.S. - and not China - has held the number one spot since 2008. Bloomberg attributes the increase in U.S.investment in large part to support initiatives such as the federal loan guarantee program and a Treasury grant program which have now expired. The country's principal remaining support measure for renewable energy, the Production Tax Credit, is currently also scheduled to fall away at the end of 2012 unless it is extended. As a result, Bloomberg suggests that there may be a rush to get projects completed in 2012, followed by a slump in investment in 2013, if the credit does, in fact, expire. Vestas, the world's largest maker of wind turbines in terms of revenue, warned that 1,600 U.S. jobs were at risk if clean energy tax credits were not extended past the end of this year.
China will construct an offshore wind farm with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts (MW) in Leting County, North China's Hebei province, making it the country's largest such project. The feasibility report for the wind farm located near Puti Island in Bohai Sea has recently passed expert reviews that were commissioned by the National Energy Bureau (NEB). Under the program, the wind farm, built with a total investment of 5.76 billion yuan ($914 million), will comprise 100 units of 3MW offshore turbines. The approval authority will complete relevant procedures to sanction the project at the end of this year, and the project will be connected to the grid before the end of 2015. When it goes into operation, the wind farm will generate 752 million kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electric power annually, as well as 730 million yuan in annual sales revenues. It was also pay 58 million yuan in taxes to the local government.
Vestas Wind Systems A/S's threat to fire 1,600 workers in the U.S. undermines President Barack Obama's goal of creating green jobs and adds to pressure on Congress to extend a tax credit that the industry relies on. The world's biggest maker of wind turbines said yesterday it will probably reduce its staff beyond the 2,335 posts it's eliminating worldwide if the U.S. doesn't renew the so-called Production Tax Credit, which expires at the end of this year. "We will evaluate it during 2012 depending entirely on how the political situation evolves," Chief Executive Officer Ditlev Engel said in an interview in Copenhagen. U.S. jobs will be scrapped "for sure" without the credit, and a decision is due "no later than the fourth quarter," he said.
Renewable energy sources -- wind, water, solar and others -- passed nuclear generation as a share of U.S. power in September, according to the Energy Information Administration. In the EIA’s latest report on energy sources and usage in the United States, which covers the nine months ended September, the nine-month total for both renewable production and consumption were higher than those for nuclear power.
Millions of dollars in renewable energy projects intended to provide power to facilities in California's national parks and forests are sitting idle because of a years-long squabble with Southern California Edison. A new $800,000 solar project at Death Valley National Park, photovoltaic panels at the state-of-the art visitors center at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and a solar power system at the U.S. Forest Service's new facility at Mono Lake are among dozens of taxpayer-funded projects in Southern California on hold as the federal agencies try to hash out an agreement with SCE to tie the projects to the state's electrical grid. The apparent stumbling block involves contract restrictions imposed by federal law, but utilities elsewhere in California have signed similar agreements with the agencies with few problems or delays.
Wind energy is notoriously mercurial, with patterns shifting drastically over the course of years, days, even minutes. These changes make scheduling power much more difficult for utilities that rely on wind turbines to serve an increasing percentage of their power demands. Because wind power in some places is now as cheap as or cheaper than coal-fired power, future profits and challenges for the industry will be written on the wind and how well they can use it. So scientists are stepping in with new measurements and models that may help them manage their power more effectively. "Wind energy often has ramp events where energy increases or decreases by a large amount or in a short time. If there is an overload, there is excess energy on the grid," explained Chandrika Kamath, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
China could be the largest market for grid energy storage technology, and now, according to battery maker BYD and China's State Grid utility, the country's potentially got the world's largest battery energy storage station in Zhangbei, Hebei Province. See photo above of the building with rows (bigger than a football field) of BYD's Iron-Phosphate batteries that make up the 36 MW-hours of energy storage along with what looks like rooftop solar panels. A lot of companies have been trying to break into China's grid energy storage market including lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems , flow battery marker ZBB Energy, and even U.S. power producer Duke Energy. China is expected to embrace grid energy storage, as a way to more reliably install the 100 GW of variable clean power that the country wants.
Solar Energy Industry: 2011 in Review Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industry in the United States.
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, today published the following review of the U.S. solar energy market in 2011: "In contrast to some of the recent headlines, the solar energy industry is a strong, thriving industry in the United States that is creating jobs and lowering costs for the consumer. In 2011, a number of myths about the solar energy industry circulated nationally. Let's set the record straight. Here are seven truths about this thriving American industry:
Other than the tremendously needed toxic pollution standards announced yesterday, the Obama administration has made three more big announcements this week that should make anyone who values clean air, clean water, and a livable climate happy. A 300-MW solar PV project in Arizona and a 186-MW wind project in California were approved for construction on public lands. Additionally, the "first step" of a major offshore wind transmission line (or ‘superhighway') in the Atlantic Ocean — the one Google has invested in — went forward. Together, the Sonoran Solar Energy Project and the Tule Wind Project will create enough power for nearly 150,000 homes and will create 700 jobs at peak.
Google announced that it's investing $94 million in solar panel farms in the Sacramento area. The money will go toward four photovoltaic, or PV, panel farms built by San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy, owned by tech-giant Sharp, and will help fuel the project alongside funding from investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., said Axel Martinez, Google's assistant treasurer, in a company blog post Tuesday. The investment pushes Google's portfolio of clean energy investments to more than $915 million, $880 million of which has been invested since January, Martinez said. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Recurrent and Google did not disclose how much Kohlberg Kravis Roberts was investing in the project.
Scientists report first solar cell producing more electrons in photocurrent than solar photons entering cell
The external quantum efficiency for photocurrent, usually expressed as a percentage, is the number of electrons flowing per second in the external circuit of a solar cell divided by the number of photons per second of a specific energy (or wavelength) that enter the solar cell. None of the solar cells to date exhibit external photocurrent quantum efficiencies above 100 percent at any wavelength in the solar spectrum. The external quantum efficiency reached a peak value of 114 percent. The newly reported work marks a promising step toward developing Next Generation Solar Cells for both solar electricity and solar fuels that will be competitive with, or perhaps less costly than, energy from fossil or nuclear fuels. A paper on the breakthrough appears in the Dec. 16 issue of Science Magazine. Titled "Peak External Photocurrent Quantum Efficiency Exceeding 100 percent via MEG in a Quantum Dot Solar Cell," it is co-authored by NREL scientists Octavi E. Semonin, Joseph M. Luther, Sukgeun Choi, Hsiang-Yu Chen, Jianbo Gao, Arthur J. Nozikand Matthew C. Beard. The research was supported by the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the DOE Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Semonin and Nozik are also affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings made its second foray into solar energy in as many weeks, saying on Friday it will buy a 49 percent stake in an Arizona power plant from NRG Energy Inc (NRG.N). MidAmerican, the utility affiliate of Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N), said it will take a stake in the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente project in Yuma County, Arizona. The plant is being built by solar power company First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) and is supported by a $967 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. The announcement comes a little over a week after MidAmerican said it would buy First Solar's 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm power plant in California.
Shares in solar power company First Solar fell over 20% in early trading Wednesday after the firm lowered its sales forecast for 2011. The Arizona-based company, which is a leading maker of thin-film solar panels and also a developer of solar power projects, predicted net sales in 2011 of $2.8 to $2.9 billion. That's down from earlier projections of $3.0 to $3.3 billion. The company said the lower sales were due to delays in its projects caused by weather and "other factors," but predicted a healthy 2012. "Our diverse business model and robust project pipeline will help First Solar generate a significant amount of cash in 2012 while improving operational efficiencies," Mike Ahearn, Chairman and Interim CEO of First Solar, said in a statement Wednesday.
While energy from wind turbines currently accounts for less than one percent of total power generated in Japan, the new breakthrough in design provides ample reason to ramp up production. Called the 'Windlens,' Yuji Ohya, a professor of renewable energy dynamics and applied mechanics, and his team at Kyushu University have created a series of turbines that could make the cost of wind power less than coal and nuclear energy. The two major concerning issues with traditional turbines have been their general inefficiency and intolerable noise. However, Kyushu's researchers found that attaching an inward curving ring around the perimeter of a turbine's blades increases the focus of airflow faster through the blade zones at two to three times the speed as before. An improvement in safety from covering the outer edges of the blades and a reduction of the dreaded noise pollution of older models is just a bonus.
The agreement by investor Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings to buy a $2-billion photovoltaic farm in San Luis Obispo County could bring a ray of financial sunshine to the battered solar-energy industry. The scale of Buffett's foray into this sector of the renewable energy scene is considerably more modest than his $34-billion purchase of BNSF Railway, but it could provide the same kind of boost to the solar power business that the 2009 acquisition did to the railroad industry, experts said. "In a lot of ways, this is classic Warren Buffett," said Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "He comes into an industry that is starving for capital investment. At the same time, this is something that also tells people it's time to take solar power seriously."
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