Energy plays key role in Obama's State of the Union

For the third year in a row energy played a central role in President Obama's State of the Union address, with the president leaning hard this year on the twin themes of increased domestic oil and gas production and the need to invest more in renewable sources. "Right now, American oil production is the highest that it's been in eight years," said Obama. "Not only that -- last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years." Obama has indeed presided over a boom in domestic energy production since taking office. From 2008 to 2011 U.S. crude oil production has jumped 14%, going from 5.1 million barrels per day at the start of 2008 to nearly 5.8 million barrels per day currently, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Natural gas production is up by about 10% over the same period.

PUC rejects SDG&E's proposed ‘network use fee' for solar customers

A plan by San Diego Gas & Electric to charge a “network use fee” to users of solar energy was stalled Wednesday at the California Public Utilities Commission. At a presentation to a committee in November, SDG&E presented the charge as a fairness issue, since solar customers are hooked to the grid but not paying for the upkeep of wires and other infrastructure. The plan, part of a wider proposal to restructure its rates, met fierce criticism from area politicians and green energy proponents. The California Center for Sustainable Energy estimated the average single-family home customer with solar would have to pay $350 under the plan, and school districts would have be charged $8,100 for each elementary school with rooftop panels. SDG&E argued that customers would still be saving money with the solar option.  

US to Probe Imports of China, Vietnam Wind Towers

The U.S. Commerce Department said on Thursday it was launching an investigation that could lead to steep import duties on more than $100 million worth of wind energy towers from China and Vietnam. The decision adds to the friction in clean energy trade between the world's two largest economies. The Commerce Department is already investigating charges that Chinese solar panel manufacturers engage in unfair trade practices and will issue a preliminary decision on duties next month. The Wind Tower Trade Coalition, a group of U.S. producers, had previously said it was asking for anti-dumping duties of 64 percent on imports from China and 59 percent from Vietnam. But in its announcement, the department said China was alleged to undercut U.S. wind tower prices by 213.54 percent and Vietnam by 140.54 to 143.29 percent.

US Replaces China as Top Clean Energy Investor

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 to build its biggest offshore wind farm

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 Jobs Threat Pressures Obama to Extend Tax Break

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 passes nuclear as U.S. power source

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.

Renewable energy projects in California go unused

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.

Scientists work to help electric utilities forecast and handle 'ramp events'

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.

Massive battery energy storage station kicks off in China

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:  

Obama Administration Approves 2 Huge Renewable Energy Projects

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 investing $94 million in Sacramento-area solar plants

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.

Buffett's MidAmerican makes second foray in solar

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.

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