The U.S. wind industry is growing again after taking a big step backward last year. Yet turbine makers and wind farm developers are finding few reasons to celebrate as the clean energy source struggles to secure long-term government support while facing stiff competition from cheap natural gas. Once the world's top wind market, the United States ceded that mantle to China last year as a weak economy halted its growth and cut new installations to half of the 10,000 megawatts of capacity built in 2009. Since then, business has picked up, but not for the reasons the industry would like. Energy demand is still tepid due to a gurgling economic recovery, and the low cost of natural gas is keeping power prices low. Pricing in long-term power sales contracts signed by wind developers has fallen 30 percent in the last two years and will fall further this year, according to IHS Emerging Energy Research. Currently, the market is being shepherded by developers who are scrambling to put turbines in the ground ahead of a 2013 expiration of lucrative federal tax credits for wind. Beyond that date, the industry's fortunes are hazy.
Boston, Massachusetts (USA) saw the opening of the world's largest large-scale wind turbine blade testing facility this week. The Wind Technology Testing Center—in partnership with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory—can test blades up to 90 meters long, which is expected to be the industry's largest blade size in coming years. Prior to the facility's opening, domestically produced large-scale wind turbine blades had to be shipped outside of the U.S., usually to Europe, to be tested. The largest predecessors in the U.S. to the Wind Technology Testing Center could only support turbine blades no longer than 50 meters. The facility has the capacity to test up to three blades simultaneously. Standard tests measure fatigue through a four-month endurance process. Two-week-long static strength and resonance testing are also commonplace. The Wind Technology Testing Center itself took roughly two years to build at a cost of just under $40 million. $25 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. $13.2 million in additional funds was provided through loans and grants furnished by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.
AWEAWINDPOWER 2011 Conference & Exhibition will be held May 22 — 25, 2011 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition is produced by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) to provide a venue for the wind industry to network, do business, and solve problems. Recognized as one of the fastest-growing trade shows in the U.S, WINDPOWER includes Nearly 1,400 exhibiting companies, thousands of qualified wind energy professionals, engaging educational information and unmatched networking opportunities and special events. As a media partner AltEnergyMag.com is hosting a Special AWEA newspage sponsored by KRWind. We invite all exhibitors and attendees to check out and submit all your Conference news here. Also, stay tuned for our WindPower Conference report which will go online following the show.
Landis+Gyr is said to be on the auction block — and big smart grid suitors have come to bid. Reuters has reported that General Electric was offering $2 billion for the Swiss-based smart metering giant, an offer that was followed by Toshiba's 200 billion yen ($2.48 billion) counter-offer, and entry by strategic bidders including Honeywell and ABB. And while some reports say GE had withdrawn its bid, I've heard that GE is very much still in the running. Landis+Gyr earned about $200 million on about $1.5 billion in annual revenues in the last year, Reuters' anonymous sources report. That puts a $2 billion-plus price firmly in the realm of long-term investment. But strategic buyers could squeeze a lot more value out of L+G by integrating its existing technologies and utility projects into their own lines of business. For example, GE's smart meter business relies on a host of partners for communications and networking, while L+G has its own 900-megahertz communications system, as well as back-end software to manage it all. With L+G, GE could stop just churning out smart meters like widgets, and start supplying a more holistic offering to utilities.
In its first year the Chevrolet Volt has garnered several awards, including 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, Green Car Journal's 2011 Green Car of the Year, and Automobile's 2011 Automobile of the Year. And now the electric car with extended range is going to be built in a solar-powered facility. General Motors announced it is building the photovoltaic solar array, the largest in Southeast Michigan, at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. Sunlight will help to create the $41,000 Volt. Once it's completed, the 516-kilowatt project built by GM and DTE Energy will generate 54,750 volts. Plus, the 6-acre land tract will generate 15 megawatts of electricity throughout Southeast Michigan. According to GM, the U.S. automaker will save about $15,000 a year over 20 years with the 264,000-square-foot array. DTE is investing $3 million into the project.
The U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday that it has stopped accepting applications for loan guarantees to help finance new solar, wind or other renewable energy facilities and suggested there would be winners and losers among companies that have applications pending. The loan guarantee program for renewable energy generation projects, called "Section 1705," after the portion of the 2009 Recovery Act that supports it, expires Sept. 30 and only projects that can start construction and close their loan guarantees by that date will be considered for a guarantee, Jonathan Silver, the head of the agency's loan programs office, wrote in a blog post on the DOE web site. The agency has issued roughly $1.6 billion in loan guarantees for 19 renewable energy projects to date. Loan guarantees for roughly $800 million in remaining funds will be issued to companies that have already applied, whose applications are "farthest along in the process," and whose projects are most likely to meet the Sept. 30 construction deadline, Silver wrote. "Not all these projects will succeed by September 30th," he wrote. The DOE placed another group of applications "on hold" after determining that the projects were unlikely to meet the Sept. 30 deadline, Silver wrote. He added that if the program received more funding in the future, those applications could be revived. The DOE notified companies on Tuesday whether their applications would proceed or not, Silver wrote.
Renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower could fulfill almost 80 percent of the world's energy demand by 2050 with the right policies, according to a U.N. report which won backing from governments on Monday. The 26-page study, by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), broadly matched a draft written by scientists. It was approved by government delegates at talks in Abu Dhabi. Environmental groups hailed the report as a guide to the shift from fossil fuels to combat climate change, a process set to cost trillions of dollars. But they said some draft findings were watered down, partly due to opposition by oil exporters. "Close to 80 percent of the world energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies," the IPCC said. The report said moves to cleaner energies including geothermal or ocean energy would help cut greenhouse gas emissions, which it blamed for global warming including floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.
U.S. venture capital investment in cleantech companies increased by 54% to $1.14 billion in the first quarter of this year (Q1'11), from $743.3 million in the first quarter of 2010 (Q1'10). This increase occurred despite a 13% decrease in deals year-on-year from 79 to 69, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource. The top 10 deals in Q1'11 totaled $683.1 million, 60% of the total raised for the quarter, and two deals accounted for 18% of the total dollars raised. "The U.S. cleantech market experienced continuing momentum - both from a venture capital perspective and among the larger investment community," says Jay Spencer, Ernst & Young LLP's Americas cleantech director. "The second generation of solar companies and larger, later-stage rounds dominated VC investor interest in Q1." The energy/electricity generation segment, led by strong solar investments, raised $450.3 million through 16 deals in Q1'11. The solar sub-segment accounted for 32% of the total dollars raised for the quarter with $362.7 million, a 162% gain from Q1'10.
Changes in solar incentives in key markets such as Germany and Italy are making life difficult for major players such as First Solar, which reported a flat first-quarter revenue and lower earnings on Tuesday afternoon. "With a lot of pending changes, the market started out really slow in 2011," said Rob Gillette, First Solar's CEO, during a conference call with analysts. "We expect the European industry demand to go through a period of adjustment in the second and third quarter." Manufactures saw solar panel prices falling faster than expected, Gillette said, and the lower selling prices were partly responsible for the company's financial results. Europe is the largest solar market, a result of a type of incentive policy that requires utilities to buy solar electricity at government-set, premium prices. The prices are supposed to fall over time as the market grows and production costs drop, but political leaders in Europe in recent years have taken to making extra cuts to curb explosive growth and minimize the impact on consumers, who help to pay for these incentives through their electric bills.
The 2012 Mitsubishi i in the ES trim level will have a base price after federal tax credit of only $20,490 - a substantial savings compared to some of its EV competitors. Further, the optional SE trim level includes a dynamic 360-watt, 8 speaker deluxe sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, higher quality upholstery with silver accents, two-tone interior dash and door panels, 15-in. alloy wheels, and fog lamps at only $22,490 after credit. An optional SE premium package is available for $2,790 and including a quick charging port for ultra-fast Level 3 recharging (80% full in only 30 minutes), HDD navigation system, rearview camera, FUSE hands-free communication with USB port and an articulated steering wheel. Despite the price, the base model Mitsubishi i ES packs a fair compliment of standard equipment and amenities, including electric power steering (EPS), LED rear lights, heated driver's seat, air conditioning with micron filter, keyless entry, an on-board recharging system with 8 amp charging cable plus a 4 speaker, 100-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA playback. A Cold Zone package is available on both the ES and SE for only $150 including a Li-Ion Battery Warming System and heated sideview mirrors. Mitsubishi is making pre-ordering the all-electric car a simple 4-step process taking only a matter of minutes. The first 2,000 placing an order and taking possession of the Mitsubishi i, will benefit from Mitsubishi's waiving the $99.99 home electrical inspection fee - a charge no one sees coming.
Total SA, Europe's third-biggest oil producer, agreed to buy as much as 60 percent of SunPower Corp. for $1.38 billion, taking advantage of increased global interest in renewable energy. SunPower, the second-largest U.S. solar panel maker, described the acquisition price of $23.25 a share as a "friendly tender offer" in a statement. SunPower surged 40 percent to $22.53 yesterday after the close of regular trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The deal for San Jose, California-based SunPower may lead to more solar industry acquisitions as U.S. and European suppliers seek help competing against rival suppliers in Asia, said Kevin Landis, portfolio manager at Sivest Group Inc. "This is exactly what SunPower needed to compete with the Chinese manufacturers that are getting so much support from their government," Landis said in an interview. "It also allows SunPower to double down on the technology improvements they'll need to compete in the long run." Sivest, also based in San Jose, held about 17,000 shares of SunPower at the start of the year. The takeover may trigger similar acquisitions by oil companies that consider renewable-energy manufacturers a way to improve their clean-energy credentials and may profit when surging crude prices reduce demand for fossil fuels, said John Hardy, an analyst at Gleacher & Co. in New York.
It has been the dream and pursuit of many a business and research endeavor, but only varied success has been achieved to create a truly transparent solar photovoltaic cell. Leave it to the brainiacs at MIT to find the solution. Yes, the research and technology hub has done it again, marking a landslide achievement in the world of energy technology with the creation of a clear solar pv cell. Researchers Vladimir Bulovic and Richard Lunt have published their findings in Applied Physics Letters. The duo has apparently created a transparent solar cell with a maximum efficiency (sunlight to electricity) of 1.7 percent. The cell operates within the near-infrared spectrum. However, the cell is still only about 55 percent transparent, similar to tinted sunglasses.T he transparent cell is actually quite unique in its design when compared to tradition cells. Bulovic and Lunt's transparent cell is comprised of organic molecules that harness infrared light while allowing visible light to pass through. The photovoltaic compound is actually coated onto a pane of standard window glass. The researchers are in the prototype phase of this technology, but believe it could potentially be painted onto existing windows to create a low-cost easy-to-install photovoltaic option for both commercial and home solar installations.
BrightSource Energy, the California solar power plant builder backed by Google, Morgan Stanley and Silicon Valley venture capitalists, filed for a $250 million initial public offering on Friday. The Earth Day S-1 filing marks first big market test of investors' appetite for a capital-intensive solar technology that has yet to be deployed commercially. It comes as utilities have been turning to increasingly cost-competitive photovoltaic farms to meet their renewable energy mandates. BrightSource was founded in 2004 by American-Israeli pioneer Arnold Goldman, whose Luz International built nine solar thermal power plants in the Mojave Desert in the 1980s and 1990s. The company has attracted blue-chip investors, including French energy giant Alstom, as well as a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee that is financing the bulk of Ivanpah's construction costs. NRG Solar, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, is investing up to $300 million in Ivanpah and Google last week invested $168 million in the project. In its filing, BrightSource, which has signed deals to supply utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison with 2,600 megawatts of electricity, disclosed that it controls 110,000 acres in California and the Southwest. That land has a capacity to generate 11,000 megawatts - enough solar electricity to supply nearly 15 million homes at peak output. The cost of maintaining leases on those lands stands at $12.9 million, according to the filing, and BrightSource, which has lost a cumulative $177.3 million since its founding, has total debt and contractual obligations totaling $1.8 billion. Despite its impressive pipeline of projects and prominent investors, BrightSource acknowledged in the filing that its viability turns on the completion and operation of Ivanpah, which will deploy 170,000 heliostats around three towers.
The U.S. Department of Energy is offering $2.1 billion in conditional loan guarantees to support what will be the world's biggest solar power plant, the government's largest commitment to date for to solar energy. The aid will support construction of the first two units of Solar Trust of America LLC's 1,000 megawatt solar thermal Blythe Solar Power Project, the DOE said on Monday. Solar Trust of America is a joint venture between German companies Solar Millennium AG and Ferrostaal AG. "For the first time in mankind's history, a solar power facility will be built at a scale and output capacity equal to the very largest coal-fired and nuclear power plants operating in the world today," Solar Trust of America Chief Executive Uwe Schmidt said on a conference call with reporters. The first two units of the project near Blythe, California are capable of producing 484 MW of electricity using solar thermal trough technology. The project will create over 1,000 construction jobs, 80 operations jobs, and will avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those generated by about 123,000 vehicles. Solar Millennium's technology makes electricity by using trough-shaped mirrors to heat a fluid that generates steam that turns a turbine. The Blythe project's total pricetag is estimated at north of $6 billion, with the first phase costing about $2.8 billion. The announcement came a week after the federal program to support clean energy technologies escaped the axe in the final U.S. budget agreement for the current fiscal year.
From New York City to Seattle, Wash., Ford this week named 25 U.S. cities that are paving the way for an influx of electric vehicles. By the end of 2012 there will be more than 20 plug-in vehicles on the market, said Mike Tinskey, manager of vehicle electrification and infrastructure for Ford. And major metropolitan areas and utility companies are working together to provide an infrastructure for public charging stations. "Over the next 12 months we will see at least 18,000 new charge stations in U.S. cities," Tinskey said. "People will start seeing charge stations in some pretty familiar places," he said. The Ford Focus EV will be available by the end of 2011, and many more electric vehicles makes from other automakers will be available over the next two years. Ford has complied the list to not only recognize which cities are getting EV-ready, but also to encourage other cities to start preparing, Tinskey said. While the list of cities is diverse, it's not surprising that most of the cities flank the coasts while others dot the middle of the map. Honolulu is included, but Tinskey said pretty much the whole island of Oahu is getting EV-ready. The greater San Francisco Bay Area, not surprisingly, is also a larger geographical area that made it to the map. According to Tinskey, it's up to city governments to streamline the permit process for the installation of EV charging stations. And it's up to local utility companies to offer incentives for off-peak charging. "A lot of decisions need to be made, like what the signage should look like, and whether or not local businesses can charge for the electricity, or just for the parking spot," Tinskey said. "It ends up being an equal pull from the city and the local electric company. Then add a company like Ford, and it becomes the three-legged stool."
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