Aaron Kinney for Mercury News: In the latest sign that a Bay Area renewable energy trend is picking up steam, San Mateo County is taking a close look at buying its own power on the open market, instead of relying on PG&E, in a bid to lower its greenhouse gas emissions. The county is exploring whether to establish a community choice aggregation program, which allows local governments to create their own energy portfolios that rely more on alternative sources like wind and solar and less on fossil fuels. On Tuesday, the board of supervisors will vote on allocating $300,000 toward a technical study of the proposal. Marin County pioneered the community choice aggregation model in California. Since launching in 2010, Marin Clean Energy has grown to serve roughly 125,000 customers. The nonprofit claims it delivers more than twice as much renewable energy as PG&E at a slightly reduced cost to consumers. Sonoma County followed suit last year with Sonoma Clean Power, and numerous jurisdictions are now looking into the model, including Alameda County and the South Bay cities of Cupertino, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
Ken Silverstein for Forbes: The wind energy sector is perpetually facing headwinds. But despite the challenges, those producers say that they are well prepared to help the country meet carbon reduction goals under the White House’s Clean Power Plan. That plan, which was unveiled last summer and which will be finalized this June, will require a reduction in heat-trapping emissions of 30 percent by 2030. Such a goal is attainable given the shift from the heavily pollutive coal to natural gas-fired electric generation, which releases about half the carbon dioxide as coal. Nevertheless, the wind sector says that it can up the ante even more — if the current transmission system could be expanded to accommodate more electrons. In an conference call, the American Wind Energy Association said that wind power has already exceeded the 2020 threshold that the Obama administration has outlined in its Clean Power Plan — and that it could blow past its 2030 goals, if the grid were expanded to the remote locations where many wind farms are getting built. Moreover, “Some people think we need a battery attached to the wind,” says Michael Goggin, the association’s senior director of research. “All resources are backed up by all other resources on the power system. Changes in wind output are nothing new to grid operators.
From Pilita Clark, Environment Correspondent for the Financial Times: The world’s biggest offshore wind scheme has been given the go-ahead off the coast of Yorkshire, in a move the government said was likely to create hundreds of jobs. The Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project is expected to be one of the UK’s biggest power stations, second only to the Drax coal-fired plant in North Yorkshire and capable of supplying about 2.5 per cent of the country’s electricity. The scheme’s developers have yet to take a final investment decision and the project will almost certainly have to secure backing under the government’s renewable energy subsidy system. But the government’s planning consent for such a large development was welcomed by the industry. “This is an awesome project,” said Nick Medic, director of offshore renewables at RenewableUK, the wind industry trade body. “It will surely be considered as one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the wind industry.” If built, the scheme will dwarf the London Array in the outer Thames Estuary, currently the largest operating offshore wind farm, with 175 turbines.
Developers installed 11.8 gigawatts of wind turbines in Europe last year, accounting for almost half the power-generation capacity added, as the region continues to shift away from fossil fuels, according to the European Wind Energy Association. Germany was the top wind market with about 45 percent of the total, the Brussels-based trade group said Tuesday in a statement. It was followed by the U.K., Sweden and France, with the four countries accounting for more than three-quarters of the industry. Wind power in southern Europe will “continue to struggle in the face of erratic and harsh changes in the policy arena,” Thomas Becker, EWEA’s chief executive officer, said by e-mail. “We expect this concentration to continue into 2015.” Wind power made up 43.7 percent of all new capacity in Europe last year. Turbine installations this year may reach a record 15.6 gigawatts as developers seek to qualify for government incentives, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A gigawatt of capacaity is about as much as one nuclear reactor.
From Todd Woody for TakePart: Apple will spend $848 million over 25 years to purchase carbon-free electricity from developer First Solar in the largest commercial solar deal to date. It was widely reported that the energy would power the company’s California operations, including its new spaceship-like Silicon Valley headquarters. Not quite. The electricity generated by the project is the equivalent of the energy consumed by Apple’s operations. But that electricity will flow into the power grid and out to millions of Californians’ homes, not directly to the company’s offices, stores, and data centers. But the solar electricity generated by the power plant will offset any fossil-fuel use by the company—and more important, Apple’s investment most likely guaranteed that the California Flats Solar Project is being built. Such deals by big, private companies have become crucial for the expansion of renewable energy to fight climate change at a time when utilities’ interest has lagged. Cheap natural gas has made solar and wind enegy less attractive to power providers in recent years. Google, for instance, has poured more than $1.5 billion into solar and wind projects, sometimes inking power-purchase agreements, like Apple has, and sometimes buying a piece of a project as an investment. Bottom line: That means more clean, green energy for everyone.
From Science 2.0: Harvesting sunlight is old technology for plants but it's a level of efficiency in solar energy we would love to be within a billion years of - artificial photosynthesis is needed if we want to go beyond the energy density of things like combustion engines. Solar energy, using electricity from photovoltaic cells to yield hydrogen that can be later used in fuel cells, would be terrific but has technological obstacles. Now scientists have created a system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates an "artificial leaf," which uses a catalyst to make sunlight split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with a bacterium engineered to convert carbon dioxide plus hydrogen into the liquid fuel isopropanol. Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS and an author of the paper, calls the system a bionic leaf, a nod to the artificial leaf invented by the paper's senior author, Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University.
Israel's Brenmiller Energy said on Monday it will build a 300 million shekel ($77.27 million) solar power field using an energy storage technology that will generate electricity for about 20 hours a day. The 10-megawatt field, to be built on about 110 acres (45 hectares) in the desert town of Dimona in southern Israel, will combine existing solar thermal technology with an underground system that stores heat for use at night. Brenmiller Energy said it hopes to complete the field in early 2017, and will then sell electricity through the grid. During the four hours of the day that solar energy is insufficient, the company said it will use biomass to produce power. The company already has a working proof-of-concept for the storage system. A spokesman said Brenmiller Energy will fund the 10-megawatt project itself, in part to help promote the system to clients worldwide.
From Quartz: Apple’s sapphire plant project in Arizona didn’t work out, so Apple is investing another $2 billion to convert the facility into a massive data center, the Wall Street Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reports: The company plans to employ 150 full-time Apple staff at the Mesa, Arizona, facility, which will serve as a command center for its global network of data centers. In addition to the investment for the data center, Apple plans to build a solar farm capable of producing 70-megawatts of energy to power the facility. For context of what a 70-megawatt solar facility entails, one Arizona solar plant, Solana, says its output is 280 megawatts, supplying some 70,000 houses with clean energy. Apple boasts that it is “the only company in our industry whose data centers are powered by 100% renewable energy.” The announcement comes after Apple’s sapphire partner, GT Advanced Technologies, filed for bankruptcy last year. The facility was to “produce 30 times as much sapphire as any other plant in the world,” Wakabayashi wrote last year. At the time, Apple was already consuming “one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader.”
Canadian Solar Inc. (the “Company”, or “Canadian Solar”) (NASDAQ: CSIQ), one of the world’s largest solar power companies, today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement with Sharp Corporation (TSE: 6753) to acquire Recurrent Energy, LLC (“Recurrent”), a leading North American solar energy developer, for approximately $265 million. Once completed, the acquisition of Recurrent will increase Canadian Solar’s total solar project pipeline by approximately 4.0 GW to 8.5 GW, and its late-stage project pipeline by approximately 1.0 GW to 2.4 GW. Located in California and Texas, Recurrent’s 1.0 GW late-stage pipeline is one of the largest utility-scale project portfolios scheduled to be built prior to the ITC expiration in 2016, and represents an estimated revenue opportunity of at least $2.3 billion for Canadian Solar under a build and sell business model. The transaction further expands Canadian Solar’s position as a leading solar energy developer, with a globally diversified project pipeline in low risk geographies. In addition, this transaction broadens Canadian Solar’s project development and financing capabilities, and enhances the Company’s position for creating its own Yield-Co in the quarters ahead. "The acquisition of Recurrent is an important milestone for us as it significantly expands and strengthens our position in the North American market, and places Canadian Solar firmly among the leading global solar energy companies," said Dr. Shawn Qu, Canadian Solar Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "By combining Canadian Solar’s global reach and experience with Recurrent’s proven solar energy development track record in the US and Canada, we are significantly expanding the scale of our solar energy development platform. At the same time, this transaction broadens our strategic options to extend our business model from development and construction into potential ownership and operation of solar power plants as we work to create additional value for our shareholders."
Tom Randall for Bloomberg: Oil prices have fallen by more than half since July. Just five years ago, such a plunge in fossil fuels would have put the renewable-energy industry on bankruptcy watch. Today: Meh. Here are seven reasons why humanity’s transition to cleaner energy won’t be sidetracked by cheap oil. 1. The Sun Doesn't Compete With Oil Oil is for cars; renewables are for electricity. The two don’t really compete. Oil is just too expensive to power the grid, even with prices well below $50 a barrel. Instead, solar competes with coal, natural gas, hydro, and nuclear power. Solar, the newest to the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but will be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. Demand is so strong that the biggest limit to installations this year may be the availability of panels. Cont'd...
Boston Globe: Are falling energy prices and the collapse of the Cape Wind project undermining other offshore wind projects? A federal government auction of four leases to build wind farms off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard drew little interest, selling for a fraction of what previous auctions raised recently. Just two of 12 qualified bidders participated in the auction Thursday by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to sell wind development rights for a 1,161-square-mile swath of ocean about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Two of the four leases did not receive any bids. One of the winning bidders, the renewable energy company RES Americas, paid $281,285 to lease 187,523 acres, while the second, New Jersey-based MW Offshore LLC, paid $166,886 for 166,886 acres. That works out to just $1.50 and $1 per acre, respectively, for each lease. In contrast, Deepwater Wind New England LLC paid about $23 an acre in 2013 with its winning bid of $3.8 million for a nearby stretch of ocean closer to Rhode Island. The federal ocean energy bureau has also sold offshore leases off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. Despite the poor showing, officials noted the new leases would nearly double the amount of acreage the bureau has leased for offshore wind power through competitive sales.
From The Economic Times: Big-ticket announcements involving American loans for renewable energy projects, green bonds, venture capital and pension funds are on the cards after US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to collaborate in the area of clean energy and combat climate change. Officials at the renewable energy ministry said deals would be negotiated at a high-profile event next month, when Modi will kick off a gathering of industry leaders, bankers, investors and central bank officials from the US, India, Europe and other regions. A team of senior US officials and executives from funding agencies, ministries and companies will interact with Indian officials from the finance ministry, Reserve Bank of India and other agencies to help India meet its ambitious target of adding 1 lakh megawatt of clean energy, which is 40% of the country's total generation capacity now, at a cost of Rs 6 lakh crore.
NY Times: For more than a year now, an enormous solar thermal power plant has been humming along in the Arizona desert, sending out power as needed, even well after sunset. The plant, called Solana, was developed by the Spanish energy and technology company Abengoa and has succeeded in meeting an elusive solar goal — producing electricity when the sun is not shining — and displacing fossil-fuel-based power in the grid. “With the sun going down at 6 or 7 o’clock at night, all the other forms of solar production are essentially going to zero,” said Brad Albert, general manager for resource management at Arizona Public Service, the state’s main utility, “while Solana is still producing at full power capability. It just adds a whole lot of value to us because our customer demand is so high even after the sun goes down.” Indeed, Abengoa opened another mammoth plant on Friday in the Mojave Desert in California that uses the same approach. But despite the technology’s success, Abengoa and other developers say they do not have plans at the moment to build more such plants in the United States. And that is largely because of uncertainty surrounding an important tax credit worth 30 percent of a project’s cost. Although the subsidy, known as the Investment Tax Credit, is to remain in place until the end of 2016, when it will drop to 10 percent, that does not give developers enough time to get through the long process of securing land, permits, financing and power-purchase agreements, executives and analysts say.
America's wind installations grew six-fold in 2014, making the United States the world's second-largest wind market behind China, according to new figures out today from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. US installations reached 4.7GW, thanks to the extension of the Production Tax Credit in January 2013. The extension allowed projects to qualify by starting construction before the deadline. While the US returned to growth, China continued its pattern of record-setting installations up 38% from 2013. In 2014, China installed 20.7GW – over four times more than the US – and more than 40% of all new capacity worldwide. For perspective, China has been the world's largest wind market for six years, since overtaking the US. China now has 96GW of grid-connected wind energy capacity, or more capacity than the entire power fleet of the United Kingdom. Wind energy is the country's third-largest power source behind coal and hydropower, and ahead of nuclear. China's banner year was the result of a policy-driven rush to build, as onshore tariffs are expected to lower this year. The top five Chinese turbine manufacturers Goldwind, Guodian United Power, Envision, Ming Yang, and Sewind led the market with a combined 12.4GW, or 60% of total installed capacity.
From TechCrunch: Amazon today announced that it is working with the Pattern Energy Group to construct and operate a 150 megawatt wind farm in Benton County, Indiana. The new wind farm will go online in about a year and the expectation is that it will supply at least 500,000 megawatt hours of wind power annually. That’s enough to power about 46,000 U.S. homes, but the “Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge)” — that’s the full name of what was previously called the “Fowler Ridge IV Wind Project” — will only be used to power Amazon’s AWS data centers. Amazon is not disclosing the financial details of this project, but Pattern Energy notes that this is a 13-year agreement. As Amazon announced last November, its long-term goal is “to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for the global AWS infrastructure footprint.” That’s a noble goal, but given that there is no date associated with these plans, it’s a bit hard to hold Amazon accountable for it. For now, Amazon offers its users three carbon-neutral regions: US West (Oregon), EU (Frankfurt) and its AWS GovCloud.
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