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. Read full article:

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. Read full article:

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. Read Full Article here:

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." Read Full Press Release here:  

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. Read Full Article:

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. Click here for full Press Release  

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.

SolarReserve constructs 540-foot solar power tower

Despite that some solar thermal projects — which use the sun’s heat instead of solar panels — are getting replaced with cheaper solar panels, some developers are still moving forward on massive solar thermal plants in the deserts of the U.S. Developer SolarReserve announced on Thursday that it’s finished building the 540-foot solar power tower that will make up the centerpiece of its 110 MW project in Nevada. The plant is called the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant and SolarReserve says it’ll be “the largest power plant of its kind in the world.” It’ll also use molten salt for energy storage.

U.S. Grid Energy Storage Market is Strong and Poised for Exponential Growth

Industry Forecasts Strong Investments in Energy Storage Markets Within the U.S., industry analysts forecast that $240 billion will be invested in storage grid applications over the next 10 years. Overall, government support is strong with the Department of Energy (DOE) Smart Grid Demonstration Grants project investing $772 million. Strong investments from the government and venture capitalists, successful demonstration projects, and recent technological advancements have all contributed to strong growth in the storage market. Market drivers are energy independence and security; smart grid investments; time of use/peak demand rates; increase in renewables and distributed generation; and government policies, incentives and regulations. Though all sectors of the energy storage market show strong potential, from an application perspective distributed generation devices, renewable systems, and ancillary services show the greatest near term growth potential. Global opportunity over the next 10 to 20 years is estimated at upwards of 300 gigawatts (GW) in size, which translates into $200-$600 billion in value.  

ALTA DEVICES SOLAR PANEL RECEIVES NREL VERIFICATION OF 23.5% EFFICIENCY

Alta Devices' most recent solar panel has been verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at 23.5% efficiency. This is the highest solar panel efficiency yet achieved and demonstrates Alta's progress toward its objective of developing solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions that are competitive, without subsidies, with fossil fuels. Today's announcement is Alta's next step toward commercializing its technology. This new panel uses the same technology as the company announced last summer, which achieved record solar cell conversion efficiencies resulting from key technical breakthroughs in harnessing the high efficiency of gallium arsenide (GaAs) in cost-effective ways (see http://bit.ly/m51A5f ). Alta chose to focus on GaAs because of its intrinsic efficiency advantages as well as its ability to generate electricity at high temperatures and in low light. This means that Alta's panels have substantially higher energy density than other technologies, generating more kilowatt-hours of energy over the course of a year in real life conditions.  

U.S. gives green light to offshore wind farms

Lighting Maryland homes with power from giant turbines off Ocean City moved closer to reality Thursday as federal officials announced they are ready to go forward with leasing vast areas along the Mid-Atlantic coast for wind farms. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a news conference at Baltimore's Inner Harbor that his staff found that no significant impact to the environment, shipping or other activities would result from letting developers start studies and plans for harnessing ocean winds from New Jersey to Virginia. Salazar, who had pledged more than a year ago to streamline the regulatory process for putting turbines offshore, said his Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would start soliciting bids for leasing up to 80,000 acres off Maryland. Eight companies or partnerships had expressed interest in 2010. "This is not going to be something that's going to be waiting around for multiple years," Salazar said. "We'll have those leases issued by the end of 2012."

Micro-hybrids to Grow to 39 Million Vehicles in 2017, Creating a $6.9 Billion Battery Market

Micro-hybrids will grow nearly eight-fold to 39 million vehicles in 2017 and create a $6.9 billion market for energy storage devices as the fuel-saving alternative technology finds ready adoption, driven by stricter emission standards, according to a Lux Research report titled, "Every Last Drop: Micro- And Mild Hybrids Drive a Huge Market for Fuel-Efficient Vehicles." "Micro-hybrids and, to a lesser extent, mild hybrids, provide a cost-effective solution to fuel savings to bridge the gap to more disruptive technologies like alternative fuels, plug-in vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles." Micro-hybrids, which use a small battery to provide varying degrees of efficiency-boosting features, will dominate the automotive market, gaining 42% of the overall light-duty vehicle market. Simultaneously, the mild hybrids — superior to micro-hybrids but not as efficient as pure hybrids — will rise from near-zero to 1.5 million vehicles in 2017, accounting for 1.6% of the auto market.  

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