As more solar manufacturers stumble into bankruptcy, solar installers have been booming thanks to plunging prices for photovoltaic panels and the availability of cash to finance leases that allow homeowners to go green with little or no money down. Yet as SolarCity’s $201 million initial public offering filing shows, installers like the Silicon Valley startup face some of the same risks roiling the solar industry. SolarCity may be in the business of putting solar panels on rooftops but its success – revenues have more than doubled to $71 million since 2009 – relies on putting together investment funds that finance those installations for homeowners in return for monthly lease payments. Over the past three years, SolarCity, founded by Elon Musk’s cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive in 2006, has persuaded companies like Credit Suisse, U.S. Bancorp, Google and utility PG&E to put $1.57 billion into 23 funds to finance leases. More than 90% of SolarCity’s customers now opt to lease rooftop panels rather than purchase them, according to the IPO filing made public Friday. Investors have flocked to those funds to cash in on a 30% federal investment tax credit for solar systems. That incentive was particularly attractive between 2009 and 2012 when the government allowed investors to take the credit in the form of a cash payment. After 2016, the tax credit will fall to 10%.
Solar cell with world's highest conversion efficiency of 37.7% sets new record with triple-junction compound solar cell
Sharp achieved this latest breakthrough as a result of a research and development initiative promoted by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) on the theme of "R&D on Innovative Solar Cells." Measurement of the value of 37.7%, which sets a new record for the world's highest conversion efficiency, was confirmed at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). Compound solar cells utilize photo-absorption layers made from compounds consisting of two or more elements, such as indium and gallium. The basic structure of this latest triple-junction compound solar cell uses proprietary Sharp technology that enables efficient stacking of the three photo-absorption layers, with InGaAs (indium gallium arsenide) as the bottom layer. To achieve this latest increase in conversion efficiency, Sharp capitalized on the ability of the new cell to efficiently absorb light from different wavelengths in sunlight and convert it into electricity. Sharp also increased the active area for converting light into electricity through optimal processing of the cell edges. These improvements led to higher maximum output levels for the solar cell and enabled Sharp to achieve a solar cell conversion efficiency of 37.7%—the highest in the world.
The federal government plans to sell leases for wind farms off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia, marking the first time it has sold competitive leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf, officials said Friday. The leases for the two areas, which total more than 430 square miles, will be sold next year, the Department of Interior and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said. ‘‘Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,’’ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a written statement. The announcement was hailed by conservation group Oceana, which called it a major step in developing domestic clean energy. ‘‘We’re getting a step closer to seeing real turbines out there in the water,’’ Nancy Sopko, the group’s ocean advocate, said. ‘‘The more progress is made, it sends that signal out to the rest of the world that the US is serious about developing wind energy here.’’
The renewable energy industry is at a tipping point as developed markets start to close the door on generous subsidy programs and emerging markets develop cost strategies to compete with fossil fuels, according to research from Ernst & Young. The research provides scores for 40 countries for national renewable energy markets, renewable energy infrastructures and their suitability for individual technologies. During Q3 2012, China remained at the top, but dropped a point as its solar sector continued the consolidation process in an effort to boost domestic installation and rationalize government support, which could slow growth in the more immediate term. The quarter also saw the U.S. drop 1.5 points, resulting in Germany moving up into second place ahead of the U.S. While the German government has recently increased the country's renewable energy target for electricity to 40 percent by 2020 and is proactively implementing policy measures to create sustainable growth, the downgraded score reflects the more immediate changes around possible subsidy caps for solar, wind and biomass.
The average cost of going solar in the U.S. continued to decrease significantly in 2011 and through the first half of 2012, according to a report released today by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Solar advocates noted that these findings are the latest indicator that solar is an important and growing part of America's new energy economy. "This report shows just how far solar power has come in the U.S., and how much more we can do. Faced with a recession economy, messy election politics and an entrenched electricity marketplace, solar is quietly defying the odds and reinventing our national energy landscape. It's really remarkable," said Adam Browning, Executive Director of the Vote Solar Initiative. "With solar energy more affordable than ever, more American families and businesses are going solar to meet their electricity and hot water needs," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Declining costs have driven record growth over the last four years and we expect the solar market to double in 2012 and double again in 2013. This growth proves that smart federal and state energy policies diversify our energy portfolio and grow our economy. With 5,600 companies employing 119,000 Americans, the U.S. solar industry has become an economic engine for America."
The largest single-unit solar power plant in the world is expected to be completed by the end of 2012 and officially open in the first quarter of 2013, solar power giant Masdar has announced. Shams 1 will have a generation capacity of over 100 MW of power, and was built with the stated purpose of providing 20,000 homes in the region with electricity. The project will be followed shortly thereafter by Shams 2 & 3, which are planned to generate similar levels of electricity. Yousuf Al Ali, general manager of Shams Power Company, said: “Shams 1 is the largest concentrated solar power project in the world. Developing a project of this scale is a significant achievement for Abu Dhabi, Masdar and its partners, Total and Abengoa.” There are larger “solar power plants” or “solar power projects,” but they include multiple solar plants of less than 100 MW. (For example, the Solnova Solar Power Station in Spain has five CSP plants of 50 MW each that make the overall project 250 MW in size, and the Gujarat Solar Park in India includes multiple solar PV projects that total 600 MW.) Construction of the Shams 1 project began back in the third quarter of 2010, at a total cost of approximately $600 million dollars.
A revolutionary new way to create steam simply by using sunlight, has been discovered by researchers. The method is able to bring an entire container of fluid to boiling point, even a container of icy cold water. The new method has many potentially very useful applications. These include the creation of very inexpensive and compact devices that can purify water, the sterilization of medical equipment, sewage treatment, and more energy-efficient alcohol distillation. “This research opens up a revolutionary new application of nanoparticles in solar energy,” said Paul Weiss, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of ACS Nano , the journal in which the new study was published. “The authors show that sunlight can be used to create steam with virtually no wasteful heating of the surrounding liquid. The potential societal benefits are staggering. They include more energy-efficient distillation of alcohol, a new and highly practical strategy for desalination and water purification and compact solar-driven sources of steam for sterilization and sanitation in resource-poor locations,” said Weiss.
For years, the knock on fuel cell maker Bloom Energy Corp. has been that its boxes cost more to make than they cost to buy. Not exactly the sort of dynamic that would help Bloom make it up on volume. But perhaps things are finally about to change, after 10 years and nearly $1 billion in venture capital funding. Fortune recently obtained confidential documents sent by Bloom to its "significant investors," detailing third quarter earnings and the company's broader financial position. We also have managed to learn some broader context around the numbers, and have received what is believed to be the company's first on-the-record statement about its top-line projections for 2013 (all prior requests for information had gone unanswered). For the uninitiated, Bloom was founded by K.R. Sridhar in 2001 to translate a NASA science experiment into self-generating energy boxes for commercial customers like warehouses and data centers. The idea is basically to place solid oxide fuel cells on a company's premise, which convert air and natural gas into electricity via an electrochemical process. After several field trials, it shipped its first boxes to Google (GOOG) in July 2008 and since has secured paying customers like Wal-Mart (WMT), Federal Express (FDX) and AT&T (T). It also has expanded the business model to include box rentals (where customers pay on a consumption basis, kind of energy-as-a-service), and also is rolling out advanced boxes that can operate independent of the gas grid if needed (the new module also can be added onto existing boxes). Despite the customer wins and technological advancements, however, Bloom has a reputation for burning money.
Today, GE celebrates its 20,000th wind turbine installation in conjunction with its 10-year anniversary in the wind industry. Altogether, GE's 20,000-turbine fleet has the capacity to power the cities of Hong Kong and London for an entire year. "We couldn't have achieved this milestone without our development partners," said Vic Abate, vice president of renewable energy for GE. "Together, we have advanced wind to its current status as a relevant, reliable, competitive source of energy." In the U.S. and Europe, 40 percent of new power generation installations over the last four years have been wind. GE achieved its 10,000th turbine milestone in November 2008, its 15,000th in February 2011 and in 2012 celebrates its 20,000th installation. "We congratulate GE on this impressive achievement," said Jim Shield, Invenergy's executive vice president and chief development officer. "Our longstanding association has resulted in the installation of more than 2,000 GE wind turbines at Invenergy projects across the United States. As America's largest independent wind power generation company, we look forward to a continued, successful relationship with GE in the years to come."
Governors from states with wind farms and manufacturing plants to serve the industry called on Congressional leaders for an immediate extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) that is set to expire at year’s end. The Governors’ Wind Coalition (GWC) is seeking at least a one-year extension of the PTC. Wind farms must be put into service by Dec. 31 to qualify for the 10-year subsidy. In a letter to Congressional leadership today, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber urged Congressional leadership “…to take swift action to extend the PTC before the end of this congressional session.” Gov. Branstad (R-Ia.) is the chairman of the coalition and Gov. Kitzhaber (D-Ore.) is the vice chairman. “Thousands of jobs in the wind industry have already been impacted by the credit’s looming expiration and thousands more are at risk,” the governors wrote. “We urge you to take swift action to extend the PTC before the end of this congressional session.”
China’s $20 billion solar industry is avoiding loan defaults and mergers by taking aid from local governments, preserving jobs at money-losing companies such as LDK Solar Co., the world’s second-biggest maker of solar cells. LDK agreed last month to sell a 19.9 percent stake to a renewable-energy investor part-owned by the city of Xinyu, home to its headquarters. Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP), the world’s largest solar-panel maker, got a $32 million loan in September organized partly by Wuxi, the city where it’s based. The aid helps as the companies prepare to report combined 2012 losses of $987 million, analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg show. The moves counter efforts by the central government to engineer mergers that create a handful of larger solar companies, said Jeremy Haft, founder of BChinaB Inc., a New York-based consulting company that specializes in Chinese business practices. The country has previously pushed consolidation to strengthen industries such as steel and coal. Provincial governments mostly want solar manufacturers “to keep the lights on and not lay people off,” Haft said. “There are a lot of people unemployed” in China and local government officials don’t want to see solar factories close up, he said.
European Union regulators ramped up their investigation of the Chinese solar panel industry on Thursday by accusing the Chinese government of unfairly subsidizing manufacturers of the panels. The latest step in an increasingly acrimonious battle engulfing the clean-energy sector came a day after the United States made a final decision to impose duties on billions of dollars of solar products from China over the next five years to shield producers against lower-priced imports. It also came after the government in Beijing said Monday that it had filed a case with the World Trade Organization accusing some E.U. countries of violating free trade rules with policies that favored the purchase of solar energy equipment produced in Europe.
"To date, the Obama Administration has created and supported pro-solar policies that have been vital to the success of the industry. Solar installations and jobs have risen dramatically throughout the U.S, while costs have fallen. Today, the solar industry employs more than 119,000 Americans at 5,600 companies, mostly small businesses, across all 50 states – this is more than double the number of Americans working in solar in 2009. "Since President Obama took office, the amount of solar powering homes, businesses, and military bases has grown by 400 percent – from 1,100 megawatts in 2008 to more than 5,700 megawatts today. The Administration enacted a policy allowing solar installations for the first time on public lands and set a goal to permit 10 gigawatts of additional renewable energy projects on public lands by the end of 2012, which has been a great driver of this growth. The U.S. now has enough installed solar capacity to power nearly a million households, and 2012 will be another year of record growth for our industry. "Policy certainty is crucial to continue the growing role of solar in America's energy mix. Stable policy frameworks at the federal and state level, including maintaining and expanding commitments to renewable energy initiatives, spur and leverage private sector investments in the solar industry to meet our nation's future energy needs."
China has given the go-ahead for the wind energy counterpart of its massive Three Gorges dam, the world's largest. The 1.4 gigawatt (GW) wind farm in Inner Mongolia will be the largest in the country so far. Each of seven wind farms that comprise the project will be built by different developers - Huadian, Guodian, Huaneng, Longyuan, CPI, Beijing Jingneng New Energy and Xiehe Wind Power - at a total cost of $2.18 billion. Construction should be finished by the end of next year. As of 2011, Inner Mongolia had 17.6 GW of wind, providing 13.8% of the city of Baotou's electricity. Another 10 GW of wind is planned for the area. Baotou is the largest city in Inner Mongolia with about 2.3 million residents. The Chinese wind industry has been languishing waiting for the transmission infrastructure to connect projects already built.
A solar cell made entirely from carbon, one of the most abundant elements on earth, has been developed for the first time by a research team from Stanford University. The discovery opens the door to much cheaper energy generation capabilities in the future. The results are published in the Oct. 31 online edition of the journal ACS Nano. Stanford Professor Zhenan Bao says: "Photovoltaics will definitely be a very important source of power that we will tap into in the future," said study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University . "We have a lot of available sunlight. We've got to figure out some way to use this natural resource that is given to us." Stanford University scientists have developed the first solar cell made entirely of carbon. This new solar cell promises a cheaper alternative to the expensive, silicon-based photovoltaic solar panels available today.
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