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.
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' 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.
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 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.
Developers installed wind turbines with capacity of 6,810 megawatts in the U.S. last year, 31 percent more than in 2010, as they rushed to qualify for a federal-tax grant that expired last month, according to an industry group. Fourth-quarter installations reached 3,444 megawatts, topping the first three quarters combined, led by California, Illinois and Ohio, the fastest-growing state, the American Wind Energy Association said today in a report. New wind farms with capacity of more than 8,300 megawatts are under construction now. Developers will try to complete them before another federal incentive expires Dec. 31. The Washington-based trade group is pressing Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit of 2.2 cents a kilowatt-hour for wind power to prevent manufacturers from firing workers by 2013.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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