23/05/2013 at 3:00 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
A new analysis shows that the nation’s land and water resources could likely support the growth of enough algae to produce up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel a year in the United States, one-twelfth of the country’s yearly needs.
The findings come from an in-depth look at the water resources that would be needed to grow significant amounts of algae in large, specially built shallow ponds. The results were published in the May 7 issue of Environmental Science and Technology, published by the American Chemical Society.
“While there are many details still to be worked out, we don’t see water issues as a deal breaker for the development of an algae biofuels industry in many areas of the country,” said first author Erik Venteris of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
For the best places to produce algae for fuel, think hot, humid and wet. Especially promising are the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern seaboard.
An algae bloom in North Carolina, a region of the country equipped for broad-scale algae growth. Photo courtesy of Ildar Sagdejev.
“The Gulf Coast offers a good combination of warm temperatures, low evaporation, access to an abundance of water, and plenty of fuel-processing facilities,” said hydrologist Mark Wigmosta, the leader of the team that did the analysis.
Wooing Algae as Fuel
Algae, it turns out, are plump with oil, and several research teams and companies are pursuing ways to improve the creation of biofuels based on algae — growing algae composed of more oil, creating algae that live longer and thrive in cooler temperatures, or devising new ways to separate out the useful oil from the rest of the algae.
But first, simply, the algae must grow. The chief requirements are sunlight and water. Antagonists include clouds, a shortage of water, and evaporation.
A previous report by the same team looked mainly at how much demand algae farms would create for freshwater. That report demonstrated that oil based on algae have the potential to replace a significant portion of the nation’s oil imports and drew the attention of President Obama.
The new report focuses on actual water supplies and looks at a range of possible sources of water, including fresh groundwater, salty or saline groundwater, and seawater. The team estimates that up to 25 billion gallons of algal oil could be produced annually, an increase of 4 billion gallons over the previous study’s estimate. The new amount is enough to fill the nation’s current oil needs for one month — about 600 million barrels — each year. The study’s authors note that the new estimate is exactly that — an estimate — based to some degree on assumptions about land and water availability and use.
“I’m confident that algal biofuels can be part of the solution to our energy needs, but algal biofuels certainly aren’t the whole solution,” said Wigmosta. Most important, he notes that the cost of making the fuel far exceeds the cost of traditional gasoline-based products right now.
Big Ponds, Big Potential
An algae farm would likely consist of many ponds, with water maybe six to 15 inches deep. A few companies have built smaller algae farms and are just beginning to churn out huge amounts of algae to convert to fuel; earlier this year, one company sold algae-based oil to customers in California. Players in the algae biofuels arena range from Exxon-Mobil, which launched a $600 million research effort four years ago, to this year’s teenage winner of the Intel Science Talent Search, who was recognized for her work developing algae that produce more oil than they normally do.
The availability of water has been one of the biggest concerns regarding the adoption of broad-scale production of algal biofuel. Scientists estimate that fuel created with algae would use much more water than industrial processes used to harness energy from oil, wind, sunlight, or most other forms of raw energy. To produce 25 billion gallons of algae oil, the team estimates that the process annually would require the equivalent of about one-quarter of the amount of water that is now used each year in the entire United States for agriculture. While that is a huge amount, the team notes that the water would come from a multitude of sources: fresh groundwater, salty groundwater, and seawater.
For its analysis, the team limited the amount of freshwater that could be drawn in any one area, assuming that no more than 5 percent of a given watershed’s mean annual water flow could be used in algae production. That number is a starting point, says Venteris, who notes that it’s the same percentage that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows power plants to use for cooling.
“In arid areas such as the Desert Southwest, 5 percent is probably an overstatement of the amount of water available, but in many other areas that are a lot wetter, such as much of the East, it’s likely that much more water would be available,” says Venteris.
“While the nation’s Desert Southwest has been considered a possible site for vast algae growth using saline water, rapid evaporation in this region make success there more challenging for low- cost production,” Venteris added.
Venteris and colleagues weighed the pluses and minuses of the various water sources. They note that freshwater is cheap but in very limited supply in many areas. Saline groundwater is attractive because it’s widely available but usually at a much deeper depth, requiring more equipment and technology to pump it to the surface and make it suitable for algae production. Seawater is plentiful, but would require much more infrastructure, most notably the creation of pipelines to move the water from the coast to processing plants.
The team notes that special circumstances, such as particularly tight water restrictions in some areas or severe drought or above-average rainfall in others, could affect its estimates of water availability.
The work was funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. In addition to Venteris and Wigmosta, PNNL scientists Richard Skaggs and Andre Coleman contributed to the project and authored the study.
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/us-equipped-to-grow-serious-amounts-of-pond-scum-for-fuel?cmpid=rss
23/05/2013 at 3:00 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
The EU proposal for tariffs would hurt manufacturers such as China’s Trina Solar Ltd. and raise costs to build power plants in Europe, the world’s largest market for solar products and one largely supplied by Chinese manufacturers.
Duties will trigger “an increase in prices that is a major concern for Chinese producers as well as developers in the region, who may find that many solar projects are no longer viable,” according to Jenny Chase, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s chief solar analyst. “The proposed anti-dumping tariffs are higher than the industry expected.”
The penalties would target at least 20 billion euros ($26 billion) of goods from China for alleged dumping, or selling below cost. That won’t be enough to revive a withering solar manufacturing industry in Europe, according to Ash Sharma, a senior director of solar at research firm IHS Inc.
In Europe, more than two dozen manufacturers have sought protection from creditors since 2010 and many have shifted production to lower-cost factories in Asia. Germany’s Q-Cells SE, which was acquired last year by South Korea’s Hanwha Group, has its largest factory in Malaysia. Norway’s Renewable Energy Corp. has moved most of its manufacturing to Singapore.
“This really is too late to have a positive impact on manufacturing in Europe,” according Sharma. “Many makers have either exited the market or shifted production already.”
The EU move targets Chinese-made, silicon-based photovoltaic panels, and the cells and wafers used to make them. The average price of Chinese panels such as those made by Trina or Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. in Europe may rise an average of 45 percent to $0.97 a watt in June from this month, slowing demand in the region, according to IHS.
The tariffs also would have beneficiaries. They may open doors for low-cost Taiwanese and Malaysian producers such as solar-cell maker Motech Industries Inc. Motech officials weren’t immediately available to answer phone calls seeking comment. The duties don’t apply to thin-film solar panels, such as those made by Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc.
The Obama administration has engaged in preliminary talks with the EU and China to settle disputes in their markets, according to people familiar with the discussions. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels, said in an e-mail yesterday its anti-dumping law doesn’t allow such negotiations before provisional duties are first imposed.
The China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products hopes the bloc will start “practical” negotiations with China as soon as possible, Zhang Yujing, its president, said today in Beijing. The industry group said the EU rejected its proposal on solar exports.
Orta Solar Ltd., a developer of solar installations in the U.K., said the EU levy would force it to consider postponing more than 180 million pounds ($273 million) of solar parks. Andover, England-based Orta has built about 20 solar farms for 250 million pounds.
“We no longer know whether it will be economically viable to construct U.K. commercial-scale solar farms later in 2013 and beyond,” Orta Managing Director Nick Pascoe said in an e-mail.
Imposing duties in the EU would be “a lose-lose situation,” Terry Wang, chief financial officer of Trina Solar, said yesterday in an interview. “No one wins. Demand in Europe will be squeezed. It will drive out investors; they won’t invest because the margins are so low.”
Tariffs may drive many small installers and developers, which rely on cheap panels in the face of declining feed-in tariffs, out of business, said Thierry Lepercq, chief executive officer of Solairedirect SA, a Paris-based developer.
“If the duties are actually enforced, there will be no winners in Europe,” he said in an interview. European manufacturers of inverters and other components used in solar farms might also lose out as developers favor cheaper Asian alternatives, Lepercq said.
Jochen Endle, a spokesman for Hanwha’s Q-Cells unit, said the company wouldn’t speculate on the potential impact of “possible political decisions.”
The U.S. began a probe against Chinese manufacturers in 2011 and imposed anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties last March and May, while the EU started its own case in September after a complaint from local makers led by Germany’s Solarworld AG, which has lost about 77 percent in the stock market since 2011.
China responded by evaluating whether foreign polysilicon producers were dumping the raw material for solar cells in a case that hasn’t concluded.
In Europe, the advent of punitive duties is already pushing up panel prices from all regions and their approval will boost them further, Chase said.
The duty will increase their price an average 47.6 percent, a commerce official said on May 9. The preliminary decision is due before June 6 and will directly affect more than 100 Chinese manufacturers, the official said. A final ruling is expected in December. In a separate action, the EU may also impose anti- subsidy duties in August.
Europe accounted for more than half of the global market last year for photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight into energy. Imports of Chinese solar panels alone were worth about 21 billion euros in 2011, EU data show.
The move highlights trade tensions with China over solar companies, which have grabbed market share from European rivals that once dominated the industry. Their fast expansion in recent years has led to a glut, gutting margins and tipping dozens of companies into bankruptcy.
The tariffs will affect Chinese companies including Trina and Yingli, the world’s largest solar manufacturer. Given tariffs are already in place in the U.S. and prices are low in China, the EU move probably will accelerate the consolidation of Chinese makers and result in more bankruptcies, Sharma said.
“When the duties go into effect, prices for Chinese modules will rise dramatically as the companies can’t absorb these additional costs due to the poor state of their balance sheets,” Sharma said. “This likely will force many module suppliers out of the market and could spur rising costs for installations.”
Chinese makers produce most of the modules, wafers and cells sold around the world, while polysilicon and the machinery to make them come mainly from abroad. With the exception of Suntech Power Holdings Co.’s main unit last month, solar bankruptcies have been so far outside China, mainly in Europe.
Prices for crystalline silicon-based panels, the most commonly used, slumped about 20 percent last year after dropping by half in 2011.
This took China’s market share for panels to about 71 percent compared with 10 percent for EU ones, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In 2010 their share was 55 percent and 16 percent, respectively. China supplied about 78 percent of the world’s silicon wafers last year and about 67 percent of cells.
No European manufacturer is among the ten largest producers, according to the research firm.
Winners in Taiwan
The tariffs for Chinese imports would benefit makers from other low-cost countries such as Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore, Chase said. In addition, companies in these countries may benefit from Chinese orders as makers shift production in a bid to avoid the tariffs. Taiwan is already the second-largest solar cell producer, with makers such as Motech and Neo Solar Power Corp.
The developers of large EU solar farms will be the most affected because they tend to favor low-priced modules and the panels represent a large share of their costs, according to IHS. Any major price rises would seriously deteriorate project returns and make them unviable in many areas.
The impact will be lower for smaller residential and commercial installations, which usually prefer German, Korean or Japanese panels, it said in a statement.
“The only winners here are a few European manufacturers,” Nick Boyle, chief executive of Lightsource Renewable Energy Ltd., the U.K.’s largest solar developer, said in an e-mail. “For everyone else this casts a shadow over the success of solar in Europe.”
Copyright 2013 Bloomberg
Lead image: Wooden crates via Shutterstock
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/eu-solar-import-duties-seen-hurting-china-u-k-companies?cmpid=rss
23/05/2013 at 3:00 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
There’s finally been some good news for a change: According to a recent analysis performed by market research company IHS, the market for photovoltaic storage systems is about to boom. In Germany alone, the total capacity is set to increase from eight to 4,900 megawatts (MW) between now and 2017. The success of storage systems is dependent on one condition, however: They must be able to pay for themselves within the estimated 20-year lifetime of a solar plant, as well as operate reliably in basements throughout the year.
What could make more sense than drawing on proven lead-acid batteries or the more modern lead-acid gel batteries? They are less expensive than the new lithium-ion batteries and boast a decisive advantage in terms of conforming to safety standards, having been used for many years to supply power without interruption in buildings such as hospitals. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, they are backed by well-founded empirical data. Figures on the lifespan of lithium-based technologies, their potential cycle lives and residual capacities after a particular amount of time are based on relatively short aging tests under extreme conditions, the results of which are then extrapolated to 20 years. “There is currently no alternative to lead-acid batteries,” states André Haubrock, the manager responsible for business development at the battery manufacturing company Hoppecke, which is headquartered in Brilon, Germany.
However, more and more suppliers of photovoltaic storage systems are using lithium-ion batteries thanks to their technical potential being significantly greater than that of lead-acid batteries. They are capable of storing more solar power in a more compact space, as well as promising a longer lifespan and higher efficiency. According to data from the battery expert Eric Maiser at the German Engineering Federation VDMA, lead-acid batteries start to lose some of their capacity after around 3,000 complete charge and discharge cycles, while lithium-ion batteries optimized for stationary applications are capable of completing 7,000 full cycles before experiencing such losses. “Lithium-ion batteries grapple less with capacity losses caused by wear and tear,” explains Maiser. Both anode and cathode are each wrapped in metal foil, with the cathode foil containing porous graphite. During charging, lithium migrates through an electrolyte into the graphite pores, where it absorbs electrons that it then releases during discharge. The advantage of this is that the electrolyte only serves as a means of transport and does not take part in the chemical reaction.
In lead-acid batteries, on the other hand, the electrolyte is slowly depleted of its dilute sulfuric acid. During discharge, this acid reacts with the two lead electrodes to form lead sulfate. When the chemical process is reversed during recharging, small quantities of the lead sulfate do not redissolve, progressively weakening the battery. The greater the depth of discharge, the more the battery is weakened. In light of this, manufacturers advise against discharging batteries completely. The problem caused by sulfation is less pronounced in the more modern lead-acid gel batteries, in which the sulfuric acid is fixed in the form of a gel. However, these batteries also show signs of the type of electrode corrosion typically seen in lead-based batteries and must generally be exchanged after 10 to 15 years.
As a result, the operators of lead-based systems incur additional costs at a later date that are not expected with the more robust lithium-based technology which, according to manufacturers, has a lifespan of at least 20 years thanks to higher cycling stability. “This compensates for the initial higher purchase price of lithium-ion batteries,” says Maiser. What’s more, the technology may actually become significantly less expensive in the future. In contrast to lead-acid batteries, only very few standardized manufacturing processes have to date been introduced for lithium-ion batteries. According to a joint study entitled Energy Storage Revolution conducted by the consultancy Roland Berger and the VDMA, using standard modular batteries lowers manufacturing costs by 8%. Savings stem above all from the fact that using standard components reduces the amount of materials required and increases cycle times.
The industry is currently also developing more robust and higher-performance electrode materials. Today’s lithium-ion batteries use graphite for the anode and lithium metal for the cathode, which serves as a chemical reactant for the graphite. Manufacturers want to use new anodes made from lithium titanate in the future, which charge faster and can withstand more charge cycles than graphite. According to Maiser, technical progress and economies of scale arising from larger quantities being produced may result in the overall costs of lithium-ion batteries falling from the current amount of roughly €800 per kilowatt hour (kWh) to €250 per kWh over the years to come, leading to the technology reaching a price level equal to that of lead-acid batteries. In contrast, the latter’s development potential has almost been exhausted. Does the classic battery stand a chance against lithium-ion technology in the future?
This article was originally published on Solar Energy Storage and was republished with permission.
Lead image: Starting line via Shutterstock
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/lead-acid-batteries-merely-a-launch-pad-for-something-better?cmpid=rss
23/05/2013 at 3:00 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
A recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) looks at how the permitting process can impact the costs and time it takes to install solar. The report, “The Impact of City-level Permitting Processes on Residential Photovoltaic Installation Prices and Development Times: An Empirical Analysis of Solar Systems in California Cities,” determines that city-level permitting processes can have a big impact on the cost of solar and project completion time.
“A typical PV permitting process in the United States may involve many local government departmental reviews—such as building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire, structural, zoning, and aesthetic reviews — as well as a permitting fee,” the report states. Then there are the site inspections and final approval required by local agencies and local utilities — more than 18,000 different processes nationwide. Sometimes the permitting processes can be entirely different for neighbors who live just across the street from each other.
Since the “soft costs” of solar (which include permitting and other aspects that aren’t part of the solar array’s hardware) now account for more than 50 percent of a home’s PV system, it shows there’s a lot of room for improvement. That’s why programs like Solar Friendly Communities in Colorado, developed by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) are helping to make it easier, cheaper and quicker to go solar. Solar Friendly Communities and other projects are part of the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge to reduce the costs of solar as part of the SunShot Initiative.
LBL’s study examined how permitting processes affected one of the nation’s largest solar markets, California, and how permitting processes differed across the state. “The study uses a unique dataset from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge Program, which includes city-level permitting process ‘scores,’ plus data from the California Solar Initiative and the U.S. Census. Econometric methods are used to quantify the price and development-time effects of city-level permitting processes on more than 3,000 PV installations across 44 California cities in 2011,” according to the study.
“The results suggest that cities with the most favorable (i.e., highest-scoring) permitting practices can reduce average residential PV prices by 27 cents to 77 cents per watt (4 percent to 12 percent of median PV prices in California) compared to cities with the most onerous (i.e., lowest-scoring) permitting practices, depending on the regression model used,” the study said. At the high end that could mean a 5.5 kilowatt system installed in a city with the best permitting practices could cost about $4,325 less than a system in a city with worse permitting processes than California.
Similarly, streamlined permitting processes can reduce the time it takes to install a system by up to 24 days, according to the report. However, LBL says the data isn’t as clear on that front.
The study made a number of recommendations to improve permitting on a larger scale — hopefully making it easier, cheaper and quicker. Among the recommendations it called for developing regional or state-wide permitting processes; creating clear guidelines and checklists for permitting; using simple, standardized online application forms; minimizing the number of departmental reviews; limiting wait times; and lowering permit fees.
The original article was posted on the SolarReviews blog.
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2013/05/streamlined-permitting-processes-can-significantly-reduce-costs-time-for-installing-residential-solar?cmpid=rss
23/05/2013 at 1:25 am | Solar Blog | No comment
U.S. electric vehicle maker Telsa Motors has paid back its 2010 loan awarded by the Department of Energy. Following payments made in 2012 and earlier in 2013, the May 22 payment of $451.8 million repays the full loan amount with interest.
According to a DOE statement, this payment makes Telsa nine years early in paying off its loan.
In 2010, Tesla was awarded a milestone-based loan, requiring matching private capital obtained via public offering, by the DOE as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.
The loan payment was made May 22 using a portion of the nearly $1 billion in funds raised in recent concurrent offerings of common stock and convertible senior notes.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO and cofounder, purchased $100 million of common equity, the least secure portion of the offering. “I would like to thank the Department of Energy and the members of Congress and their staffs that worked hard to create the ATVM program, and particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate,” said Musk. “I hope we did you proud.”
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said in a statement that Tesla’s loan and others have cost less than anticipated and succeeded in their goal of advancing clean energy technology.
“When you’re talking about cutting-edge clean energy technologies, not every investment will succeed — but today’s repayment is the latest indication that the Energy Department’s portfolio of more than 30 loans is delivering big results for the American economy while costing far less than anticipated,” Moniz said in a statement. “The Department first offered loans to Tesla and other auto manufacturers in June 2009, when car companies couldn’t get other financing and many people questioned whether the industry would survive. Today, Tesla employs more than 3,000 American workers and is living proof of the power of American innovation.”
This blog was originally published on Electric Light Power and was republished with permission.
Lead image: Jelle vd Wolf via Shutterstock
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/tesla-motors-repays-doe-loan-9-years-early-with-451-8-million-cash?cmpid=rss
22/05/2013 at 10:37 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
First came the Wright Brothers. Then it was Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. In 1990, Eric Raymond made aviation history to much less fanfare with the first solar airplane crossing of the United States.
Now it is Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg making history by flying across America in SOLAR IMPULSE, a 100 percent solar-powered plane that collects enough energy during the day to fly through the night on battery power alone.
Their amazing airplane has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, yet weighs no more than a typical car. Powered solely by the sun, SOLAR IMPULSE flies at an average speed of 43 mph, using four propeller engines powered by nearly 12,000 solar cells attached to its outstretched wings.
The two daring pilots writing this next chapter in aviation history are aeronaut Bertrand Piccard, who made the first non-stop around-the-world balloon flight, and fighter pilot and entrepreneur André Borschberg, who directs construction of the aircraft and prepares flight missions. Their epic quest to fly around the world in 2015 with zero fuel or pollution is challenging current assumptions about our fossil fuel-dependent lifestyles and redefining the limits of what is truly possible.
If you missed the thrilling first leg of Bertrand piloting SOLAR IMPULSE from San Francisco to Phoenix, you’ll have another chance to watch the flight LIVE as André pilots the second leg from Phoenix to Dallas on Wednesday, May 22, beginning at 4:45 a.m. (MST).
How ironic that SOLAR IMPULSE will soon be flying over the active construction zone of Obama’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Texas. As this Swiss-built zero-fuel, zero-pollution wonder flies above, carving a path to the future, America’s political establishment wallows in the tar pits of the dinosaur economy below, stuck in the past. It’s hard to imagine a more stark contrast.
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are clearly having the time of their lives innovating a brighter future for all of us. One need look no further than the smiles on their faces and the sparkle in their eyes to see what being part of a generational mission looks like. There was a time, not so long ago, when dreaming big dreams was something America prided itself on. We did, after all, land an astronaut on the moon. We also used to be the world’s solar and wind energy pioneers. Will the inspiring sight of SOLAR IMPULSE flying across our spacious skies, free and independent from fossil fuels, be the spark that finally re-ignites America’s solar impulse?
This blog was originally published on The Huffington Post and was republished with permission.
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2013/05/re-igniting-americas-solar-impulse?cmpid=rss
22/05/2013 at 6:45 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
If short-term traders really have hijacked the sector, which seems probable, it would mark a relatively big setback for stocks that were once popular among aggressive longer-term investors who liked the strong prospects of solar energy. Of course that doesn’t mean that serious investors will never return to the sector if it ever manages to stabilize and return to a growth track. But until that happens, stock charts for solar shares will probably look like a roller coaster track for the next year or so, meaning anyone who buys into the sector should have a very strong stomach for volatility.
Let’s start with a look at the latest solar share prices, led by an absurd 53 percent surge for former superstar Suntech (NYSE: STP), which is now in the process of a bankruptcy reorganization. Shares of Yingli (NYSE: YGE) were also active, posting a 14.5 percent gain; while LDK (NYSE: LDK), which is also teetering on the brink of insolvency, was up 11.5 percent.
Within that group, Yingli was the only member to actually report any news. The company released a preliminary first quarter results announcement that was modestly upbeat, saying its shipments for fell by 6-7 percent, or about half the rate it had previously forecast. It said gross margins were between 4.0 to 4.2 percent, which was roughly in line with its previous guidance. While those numbers were certainly a positive sign, they didn’t seem to warrant the big jump in the company’s stock.
I suspect the rally was more fueled by rumors that formal talks had begun to settle a conflict that has seen both the U.S. and EU accuse China of unfair support for its solar panel sector. The U.S. has already imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese solar panels, and the EU is preparing to take similar action. Such negotiations would have been a very positive signal, showing that Beijing was finally willing to admit there was a problem and take action to find a solution.
But later in the day, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said there were no active talks taking place, though it didn’t rule out the possibility in the future. I suppose it’s positive that the U.S. didn’t rule out future talks; but Beijing will have to admit there’s a problem before we’ll see any progress towards a settlement — something that seems unlikely anytime soon.
In the meantime, it’s also worth noting that not all solar stocks surged in the latest trading day. Shares of Canadian Solar(Nasdaq: CSIQ) actually tumbled 8.5 percent, as the company has been the subject of recent speculation that it may be teetering on the brink of insolvency. JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO) also closed down slightly on the day, though the shares are up nearly 70 percent this week after the company reported relatively solid first quarter results and also repaid $120 million in debt that recently came due. All of this shows that there’s plenty of volatility ahead for solar shares, which will probably continue for the rest of this year before perhaps subsiding in 2014 if and when the industry finally stabilizes.
Bottom line: Short-term traders will feast on Chinese solar shares for the rest of this year, with volatility likely to ease as the sector stabilizes in 2014.
This article was originally published on Young’s China Business Blog and was republished with permission.
Lead image: Rumors via Shutterstock
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2013/05/rumors-of-us-china-trade-settlement-talks-fuel-solar-stocks?cmpid=rss
22/05/2013 at 5:00 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
This morning the Solar Impulse airplane embarked upon the next leg of its sun-powered journey across the United States. The solar-powered giant has already traveled from the San Francisco Bay Area to Arizona, and at 5am it took off from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport en route to Dallas. The record-breaking flight marks a pivotal point in the team’s attempt to be the first to fly across the the country without using a single drop of fuel.
The first part of the Across America journey was flown by Andre Borscberg-he will also get the plane to Texas. Solar Impulse pilot and co-founder of Bertrand Piccard will then take over the controls and take the plane safely from Dallas to St-Louis. Each segment of the cross-country journey will be streamed live on Solar Impulses’ website as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Viewers will be shown altitude and speed information in real time.
Names of those who join the global clean technology movement promoted by Solar Impulse will be carried on a USB key kept in the cockpit and transported across America as virtual passengers. As part of the initiative, the pilots are carrying five custom-designed flags displaying the Clean Generation slogan, which they hand over to civic leaders at each stop.
+ Solar Impulse
Article source: http://inhabitat.com/solar-impulse-completes-first-leg-of-its-journey-across-america-departs-for-dallas/
22/05/2013 at 4:31 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey has warned that Scotland will damage its standing as a prime mover in renewable energy if it votes to become independent.
Speaking at the All Energy conference in Aberdeen today, he said: “I believe Scottish renewables have flourished precisely because Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. Our collective energy system has underpinned the success seen to date.”
Scots will vote in a referendum on independence next September and Davey urged caution over a ‘yes’ vote.
“Scotland could go it alone, just as the United Kingdom could go it alone outside the EU,” he said. “But in both cases our respective citizens would be less secure, less prosperous and less influential.”
He said that under the UK’s current Renewables Obligation system, “some 37 percent of the support — around £530m annually — goes to Scottish renewables projects”.
“But only 9 percent of UK electricity sales are here in Scotland. So would an independent Scotland be able to deliver the same support to renewables on the back of a domestic electricity market that is only one 10th the size of the UK?
“At present, Scottish renewables benefit from the ability to spread investment costs across the whole of the UK consumer base. As part of the British energy market, Scotland and its energy industry, as net exporters of energy, have access to a market of more than 23 million households and the integrated energy networks that deliver them.
“We cannot assume that English, Welsh and Northern Irish consumers would still be willing to subsidise Scottish renewables.”
Davey said “it will be much harder for a nation potentially having to spread the costs of investment in renewables across just two and a half million households to keep prices competitive.”
The energy secretary also used his speech to reveal new figures from his department that show that since 2010, more than £29bn of investment has been announced in UK renewable energy.
Of that total figure, £14.5 billion went to England, £13.1 billion to Scotland, £1.4 billion to Wales and £304 million to Northern Ireland.
“The UK offers a uniquely attractive, stable, transparent and supportive environment for investment in low carbon generation,” Davey told delegates. “Between now and 2020, the support we give to low carbon electricity will increase year-on-year to £7.6 billion — a tripling of the support for renewable energy.
Today is not the first time Davey has issued a warning to Scotland over independence. In March he said the future of Scottish renewables “is more secure with Scotland as part of the United Kingdom”.
He said then that if Scotland became independent it would be “treated by the UK as just one of a number of countries it could buy renewables from”.
“We are pursuing a number of interconnection projects with our European neighbours, including Norway and Ireland. For an independent Scotland, this would potentially represent serious competition. If the UK were to look beyond its borders for renewable energy, we would need to consider which sources provide the cheapest and most reliable options for our people.”
He said that “could be from Scotland, but it could also be from Ireland, from Norway or elsewhere.”
Scotland is a hub for renewable energy — it offers some of the best on-and offshore wind sites and is home to the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.
What is of greater concern to ministers in London, however, is what would happen to Britain’s vast oil and gas reserves in the North Sea if Scotland became independent.
The assumption would be that most of these reserves would fall into Scottish territorial waters, making Scotland “an exceptionally wealthy country” in the words of its Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.
Ewing appeared before the Westminster parliament’s Energy Select Committee last year to discuss independence implications, and said that “the value of Scotland’s oil and gas reserves are absolutely extraordinary”.
He also maintained that the independence topic was not in any way deterring investment in Scotland.
“There has been very substantial investment in the Scottish energy sector and these decisions show that there is not a lack of confidence in Scotland.”
To stress his point he named a list of companies which have taken key strategic decisions to locate in Scotland, including Gamesa, Samsung and Global Energy.
“Would these decisions have been made if the world was afraid of coming to Scotland? I don’t think so,” he said.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond is also — unsurprisingly — upbeat about the energy business prospects of an independent Scotland.
He told 200 energy chief executives at a FT Global Energy Leaders summit in London that Scotland will continue to be a major centre for global investment and that independence will help growth.
He stressed his commitment to a “clear, consensual and consultative” approach to energy policy that will continue in an independent Scotland.
“Right now Scotland helps meet the energy needs across these islands. We have set clear, long-term targets, which provide the worldwide energy industry with confidence, and we are investing in skills and infrastructure for the long-term.
“We have the political will, the industry and academic capability and the engineering expertise that has helped Scotland become an energy powerhouse.
“That will continue in a shared marketplace, and we will work to ensure that an independent Scotland will continue to provide an attractive investment environment within the prospect of a common European energy market.”
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/uk-energy-secretary-warns-scotland-against-independence-renewables-will-suffer-says-ed-davey?cmpid=rss
22/05/2013 at 3:00 pm | Solar Blog | No comment
Until recently, the potential rate impact of all the new contracts for renewable energy being added to meet California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard since 2006 has been a matter of some concern. According to the Division of Ratepayer Advocates in early 2012, an estimated $20.8 billion will have been spent in California on contracts for new renewable generation by 2020, and the rate impact was a big unknown.
But last month PGE Chief Executive Officer Anthony Earley estimated that the first of these new contracts now delivering renewable power to the grid will likely add only 1 percent to 1.5 percent to PGE ratepayers’ household bills. This is a startlingly low impact. With the average California household paying $100 a month, another dollar or so is a fairly negligible addition; the sort of variation in bills that is really just noise.
The estimate is also surprising from a technical point of view. Renewables like solar and wind represent a relatively new technology at utility scale, and haven’t had the decades of persistent government support to back them the way that traditional energy had. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the Department of Energy led RD into fracking, which has led to the current glut in natural gas recoveries, and federal legislation has long allowed pass-through investment in fossil energy through favorable tax treatment via Master Limited Partnerships.
So for new technologies that have only recently operated at commercial scale, a rate impact of just 1 percent seems very low.
“What Tony said is correct,” said PGE’s Denny Boyles. “We’ve forecast all along that adding the renewables to our portfolio would increase rates by 1 percent to 2 percent a year through 2020. There’d likely be some years where as different projects come online there’d be some lower, some higher, but we are still confident we’ll still fall within that rate.”
Experience Bred Confidence
To some extent, PGE’s comfort level is due to California’s relative familiarity with early renewable energy. Altamont Pass began generating the first utility scale wind power in the U.S. in the eighties, as did the first solar thermal Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS), and PGE spearheaded the development of geothermal energy in the ’60s with the Geysers.
The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) has the highest renewable energy requirements in the nation, aiming for 33 percent by 2020 and California now has 20 percent (non-hydro) renewables on the grid.
The 1 percent increase that PGE expects is at the very low end of what utilities expect nationwide in estimating what renewables will add to the cost of electricity, according to the Black Veatch 2013 US Electric Utility Report.
The other utilities surveyed in that report were much less sanguine about the cost of new renewables, with expected price rises due to renewable energy ranging from “below 5 percent” to 10 percent.” Some utilities even expected that renewables were unaffordable, and that they would be unable to meet a RPS if forced to. The most trepidation was registered by the utilities in the Southeast, which tend to have the most coal-fired power on the grid and little or no RPS legislation.
“Every utility faces different circumstances,” says PGE rates guru Jonathan Marshall. “California enjoys very good solar resources, compared to some states. Others may have huge wind resources and so on that are advantageous. But every state and geographic area is going to have a different mix and thus a different likely cost structure,” Marshall says. He believes that California is ahead of the game rate-wise because it got such and early start in renewable energy technology. “So we are benefitting from the increased learning that has gone on, which was one of the main purposes of California’s aggressive program to help jumpstart this industry,” he says.
Marshall sees a possible advantage for states getting onto the game later; that they can benefit from lower costs as technologies mature.
California’s Experience with Renewables
“California is unique in that there was strong legislative support for the RPS and a simultaneous awareness of that impact to rates,” adds Boyles. “So as projects went out to bid, that was always the consideration.”
Of the three big IOUs in California required to meet the RPS, the one with the longest experience with renewables is Southern California Edison, which has had renewable power in its portfolio for twenty years.
SCE has contracted for several solar projects at below the Market Price Referent (MPR), which is the estimated cost of electricity from a 500-MW combined-cycle natural gas plant.
Marc Ulrich, VP of Trading and Energy Operations at renewable pioneer SCE, agrees that their new renewables have been below MPR.
“Yes, in fact there’s a report that gets published, that Senator Padilla from the state legislature put in place, that shows that new deals for SCE, SDGE and PGE have been more cost effective than the MPR,” Ulrich tells Renewable Energy World. But he cautions that the MPR is “just a spreadsheet model of somebody guessing what a gas price from a natural gas power plant would cost” and that this is not necessarily “what the market actually does when buyers and sellers actually get together.”
Additional Fixed Costs in Fossil Contracts
Comparing contracts for gas with solar or wind is almost impossible, according to Ulrich. The typical power purchase contract (PPA) for gas is only for 10 years, not the 20 or 25 years typical for a wind or solar project. Gas prices don’t account for their long term greenhouse gas impacts, and solar PPA prices don’t account for their recent subsidies under the Obama administration.
And to make cost comparisons even more complicated, power purchase contracts for gas are seldom just for power produced, as they are for wind or solar.
Traditionally gas PPAs have also included a monthly fixed payment of some sort in addition to the energy price. This additional fixed cost was to keep the power plant in business by paying the avoided cost of building another one.
“The commission, when they set “avoided cost” in the past, set it at an estimate of what we would be paying for other power plants,” Ulrich explains. “There was a fixed payment to keep the power plant around, and then a variable payment for when the power plant operated, to cover its fuel cost, for example.”
He cites some recent natural gas contracts that SCE executed over three years starting in 2006. “They have both a fixed and a variable payment and that’s because a power plant has both fixed and variable costs to it,” he says.
But the fixed payments monthly are a hidden cost. “If somebody says gas is, say 8 cents, you should ask is that an all-in energy payment? Or are there also some fixed payments you pay above and beyond the 8 cents?”
New Renewable Contracts are Energy Only
By contrast, the new contracts for renewables do not include a payment for fixed costs, like gas plants. “The renewable PPAs we signed are 20 year contracts and they are almost all variable,” he calculates. Ratepayers pay only for the actual energy produced from renewable projects, not their fixed costs.
An exception to the “energy production only” variable payment for renewables is the SEGS solar thermal projects built by Luz in the 1980s, which SCE owned initially, and later sold, to buy back the power in PPAs. Like the traditional power plants of the time, the old SEGS plants’ contracts included both a fixed and a variable cost.
Ulrich could not locate the fixed cost that SCE now pays for SEGS, but he locates the current rate for energy production from SEGS in May. It is just 5.57 cents a kilowatt hour, which he rounds up to 6 cents.
Like traditional power plants, the new renewable power plants coming online will not always be brand new. Older plants have paid off their loans for construction, so simple seniority is another reason why it is hard to compare traditional and renewable power prices.
But SEGS offers one indication of the low rates an older renewable plant can profitably sell energy for once these capital costs have been captured. California’s future energy costs don’t look too alarming.
Article source: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/despite-fears-new-renewables-are-not-bankrupting-california?cmpid=rss