Posts Tagged ‘renewable energy’

Renewable Energy Industry Meets Challenges Head On

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The renewable energy industry is facing serious challenges from competition subsidized by foreign governments and restrictive regulations on the home front.  This was the consensus at the recent Solar Exchange East 2011, attended by academics, solar entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, supporters and government officials at the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Larry Shirley, director of the Green Economy program at the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Energy Division, said that “Policies and incentives are the building blocks” for the solar industry.  Participants generally called for an end to government preference for fossil fuels, while critics believe the traditional means of letting private investors and the market dictate the industry’s direction is the optimal policy.

“Subsidies are basically a waste of taxpayers’ money, a form of corporate welfare,” said Roy Cordato, the John Locke Foundation’s vice president for research and resident scholar and one of the critics.  “These (renewable energy ventures) are grossly inefficient.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t need government subsidies.”

“This is a robust environment,” said Rick Myers, director of the Solar Vertical Market Management program for Siemens.  “The U.S. solar market grew 67 percent, from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010.  Solar electric installation In 2010 totaled 956 megawatts.  There’s no doubt the U.S. government needs to get more involved in this effort from a policy standpoint.  The solar panels are 50 percent of the cost for installation and these prices are going way down.  The fact of the matter is the competition is extremely difficult in that area.  It’s coming from the Pacific Rim and China.”

In a related move that boosts renewable energy, a U.S. Treasury Department grant program that pays for up to 30 percent of a solar project’s costs would add 37,394 jobs to the economy in 2012 has been extended for one year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).  The program, part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, was due to expire at the end of 2011 after an initial one-year extension was passed by Congress last December.  A second extension will boost solar jobs by 12 percent as developers increase installations by 2,000 megawatts, or enough for about 400,000 homes.  More than 100,000 Americans currently work in the solar industry, double the number in 2009, said Rhone Resch, SEIA’s chief executive officer.  “Much of the jobs and industry growth has come out of that program,” Resch said.  “The last thing the government should do in a fragile economy is eliminate a tax break that creates jobs.”

With the grant program, developers can obtain the equivalent amount in cash and write off assets more quickly.  The solar industry has received more money from the grant program than any other renewable energy sectors with the sole exception of wind.  “The (program) has been the most effective policy in driving economic and job growth in the past two years,” Resch said.  “As we continue to slog through a sluggish economy, the tax equity market remains in a much smaller capacity than where it was in 2007.”

Writing for Renewable Energy World.com, Elisa Wood says that “We hear a lot about the job-building benefits of renewable energy when it draws manufacturers and developers to local communities.  Less talked about are those who arrive well before the shovels, steel, factories and jobs.  These are the green-energy entrepreneurs – the creative thinkers and risk takers responsible for the rise of clean energy ventures over the last decade.  Others entering the industry are veterans of energy, finance, agriculture, telecommunications, high tech, science, transportation, construction, nanotechnology and commerce, all drawn by enormous opportunity, as the largest economies in the world spend an expected $2.3 trillion over the next decade to revamp industrial-age energy apparatus into cutting-edge technology.  Green energy entrepreneurs emerge from throughout North America, Europe and Asia, but they tend to congregate in high-tech regions such as Silicon Valley, an area of California becoming as much about energy as it is the internet.  ‘You can’t throw a softball around here without hitting another solar company,’ says Dan Shugar, one of the solar industry’s early pioneers and now chief operating officer of Solaria, a Fremont, CA-based company that makes silicon photovoltaic products.”

GE Enters the Solar Power Business

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The nation’s largest conglomerate – General Electric – is getting into the solar business in a big way with the firm’s announcement that it is investing $600 million to build a new solar-panel manufacturing plant as it pursues what it thinks could be a $3 billion business by 2015.  The firm, already a leader in renewable energy, has designed a thin-film solar panel that converts sunlight to electricity more efficiently than any other product currently on the market.  The firm, a leading manufacturer of wind- and natural gas-powered electric turbines, plans to open a factory in an as-yet unknown location by 2013.  The facility will employ 400 workers and produce enough solar panels annually to power 80,000 homes.

“The biggest challenge today for the mainstream adoption of solar is cost, and the way you move cost is efficiency,” said Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy unit.  “We see ourselves continuing to push that and continuing to move efficiency and as a result the costs of solar continue to come down.”  According to Abate, a decision on where to locate the factory will be made within the next three months.  The decision will be based on criteria including proximity to GE’s research centers, available space, and state and local government incentives, Abate said.  GE expects to make a decision before the end of the year at the latest.

GE’s entry into the solar business comes at an excellent time.  Solar panel installations are expected to surge in the next two years as the cost of generating electricity from the sun approaches that of coal-fueled plants. Large photovoltaic projects would cost $1.45 a watt to build by 2020, half the current price, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.  Solar is feasible against fossil fuels on the electric grid in sunny regions such as the Middle East.  “We are already in this phase change and are close to grid parity,” said Canadian Solar chief executive Shawn Qu.  “In many markets, solar is already competitive with peak electricity prices, such as in California and Japan.”

Solar photovoltaic system installation has the potential to nearly double to 32.6 gigawatts by 2013 from 18.6GW last year, according to New Energy Finance.  Manufacturing capacity worldwide has quadrupled since 2008 to 27.5GW annually; 12GW of production will be added in 2011.  Canadian Solar had about 1.3GW of capacity and is expected to reach 2GW in 2012, Qu said.


Writing in Time’s “Ecocentric” column, Bryan Walsh says that the new plant is “Good news for solar advocates and bad news for competitors — General Electric is ready to break into the solar cell business in a major way.  The $218 billion company announced today that it had built a solar module with the highest-ever efficiency rate for cadmium-telluride thin film — the most popular low-cost solar technology — at 12.8 percent, according to independent testers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  That announcement came as GE told reporters that it intends to manufacture those solar modules at a 400-MW factory — in what would be the biggest such facility in the U.S. — that is set to open in 2013.  GE also completed the acquisition of PrimeStar Solar, the Colorado-based thin-film manufacturer, which will complement its recent acquisition of the power conversion company Converteam.”

Offshore Cape Wind Farm Gets the Go-Ahead

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The controversial Cape Wind Energy Project – to be constructed in Nantucket Sound between Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts – has been given the green light by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.  “The Department has taken extraordinary steps to fully evaluate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on environmental and cultural resources of Nantucket Sound,” Salazar said.

The nation’s first offshore wind farm Cape Wind will see 130 wind turbine generators constructed; each will have a maximum blade height of 440 feet and will be arranged in a grid pattern several miles offshore.  When completed, Cape Wind will produce enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the wind farm’s construction and operation.

Cape Wind – which was first proposed 10 years ago — has faced opposition from everyone from local Indian tribes to fishermen to the Kennedy family, whose six-acre compound in Hyannis Port overlooks Nantucket Sound.  “Taking 10 years to permit an offshore wind project like Cape Wind is completely unacceptable,” Salazar said.  Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) said “Let’s get this wind project built, and keep this American clean energy momentum pushing us ahead like a down east breeze.”

The opposition did not resonate on the national level and so the Interior Department used Cape Wind as a test case for offshore energy projects and green-lighted one major regulatory step after another.  Those who forcefully opposed the wind farm include The Cape Cod Times, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, and the government of the Town of Barnstable.  Many older residents say resistance to Cape Wind was an exact copy of the opposition to the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park 50 years ago.

According to Salazar, the Cape Wind project could create as many as 600 to 1,000 jobs, and jump start a network of similar renewable wind farm projects up and down the Atlantic coast, which has the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs for Americans.  He criticized the process, which delayed the construction of America’s first offshore wind farm for 10 years, saying, that the Obama administration wants to streamline the permitting process in the future.  “After a thorough review of environmental impacts, we are confident that this offshore commercial wind project — the first in the nation — can move forward,” said Michael Bromwich, who directs Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.  “This will accelerate interest in the renewable energy sector generally and the offshore wind sector specifically, and spur innovation and investment in our nation’s energy infrastructure.”

While Cape Wind has found a buyer for 50 percent of its output, it has not for the other half.  Dennis Duffy, Vice President, said the company was “confident” it would find a customer for the other half.  The approval comes as the state proposed to redefine a different federal ocean area that also is under consideration for offshore wind.  The state wants the federal government to remove approximately half of a 3,000-square-mile area south of Massachusetts from potential wind development to protect vital fishing grounds.

“We submitted a proposal that would move the Commonwealth towards (making Massachusetts the nation’s offshore wind energy leader) while safeguarding waters important to our commercial fishing industry,” said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Economists Say U.S. Economy Is on the Road to Recovery

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The American recovery is on the road to recovery, unless the mounting federal deficit slows its momentum.

A recent survey by Smart Brief and the international market research firm Ipsos of 841 financial professionals found that 67 percent think that stock prices will rise this year and that the country’s economic output will increase by 65 percent; another 59 percent said they expect unemployment to decrease slightly in the next 12 months.  The survey found that even such modest optimism is tempered by expectations of rising health care costs (88 percent); higher fuel prices (85 percent); rising prices for durable goods such as appliances, automobiles and consumer electronics (72 percent); and slightly higher interest rates (59 percent).  Additionally, 43 percent expect home prices to continue declining, while only 21 percent expect them to rebound; 34 percent expect no change.  By a margin of 70 percent – 30percent, respondents oppose allowing states to declare bankruptcy; 77 percent expect the nuclear disaster in Japan to drive greater investment and funding into renewable energy.

“Financial professionals are cautiously optimistic about economic prospects in the near term; indeed, they think that the overall scenario will improve, and they’re making business decisions on that basis, such as increased investment and hiring,” said Ipsos Managing Director Cliff Young.  “That being said, there are still concerns in the short to medium term about the increased costs of inputs such as fuel and durable goods.”

Larry Summers, former president of Harvard and architect of the Obama administration’s stimulus plan agrees, noting that “An economy in economic freefall has now recovered for 18 months,” he said.  “Make no mistake, the American economy has a feeling of normalcy that was completely absent in 2009 and that is a substantial achievement.”  Summers warned that the nation faces new challenges, including reducing the 8.9 percent unemployment rate, which he said is “far, far too high.”  He said it will be important for the US — and Massachusetts, in particular — to keep the life sciences industry strong.

To keep the recovery on track, the International Monetary Fund urged the United States to speed up efforts to slash the budget deficit.  “It is important the United States undertakes fiscal adjustment sooner rather than later,” said Carlo Cottarelli, director of the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department, the U.S. is projected to have a fiscal debt balance as a percentage of GDP of 10.8 percent in 2011, the biggest percentage among advanced countries. “Market concerns about sustainability remain subdued in the United States, but a further delay in action could be fiscally costly,” the IMF said.

According to the IMF, although most advanced economies have taken steps to tighten budget gaps, two of world’s largest economies — Japan and the United States — had delayed action to maintain their recoveries.  “Countries delaying adjustment in 2011 will face more significant challenges to meet their medium-term objectives,” the IMF warned in its updated “Fiscal Monitor” report.

Google Partners to Create Mid-Atlantic Offshore Wind Farm Transmission Grid

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Google is expanding into offshore wind farm transmission grid. Google is expanding its horizons by partnering with Good Energies, a New York-based investment firm that specializes in renewable energy, to create a $5 billion, 350-mile-long transmission grid to support offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Each of the two firms has agreed to take 37.5 percent of the equity portion of the project – named the Atlantic Wind Connection — and are looking for additional investors.  Trans-Elect, a Maryland-based transmission-line company, hopes to begin grid construction as soon as 2013.

“Conceptually, it looks to me to be one of the most interesting transmission projects that I’ve ever seen walk through the door,” according to Jeff Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which administers interstate electricity transmission.  “It provides a gathering point for offshore wind for multiple projects up and down the coast.”  The proposed grid will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts, the equivalent of five large nuclear power plants.  The system will be located in shallow trenches on the seabed in federal waters just 15 to 20 miles offshore and stretch from northern New Jersey to Norfolk, VA.  It will harvest power from wind turbines situated where the winds are strong and the towers will be largely out of sight.  Richard L. Needham, director of Google’s green business operations group, described the plan as “innovative and audacious.  It’s an opportunity to kick-start this industry and, long term, provide a way for the mid-Atlantic states to meet their renewable energy goals.”

Trans-Elect says that the first phase – stretching from northern New Jersey, to Rehoboth Beach, DE – could be completed by 2016, with the rest of the system becoming operational in 2021.  Using offshore wind to generate electricity is more expensive than coal, natural gas or onshore wind, though experts predict offshore turbines will be used more frequently to meet state requirements for locally generated renewable energy.  James J. Hoecker, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, described the Atlantic transmission grid as “a necessary piece of what the Eastern governors have been talking about in terms of taking advantage of offshore wind.”

Solar Farm to Sprout on White House Roof

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A new green initiative is joining the White House's already famous organic vegetable garden.A new green initiative is joining the White House’s already famous organic vegetable garden.  President Barack Obama plans to install solar panels on top of the White House’s living quarters to heat water and provide power to some of the historic mansion. The panels are scheduled to be in place by the spring of 2011, according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Former President Jimmy Carter installed a $30,000 solar water-heating system for West Wing offices during 1976; they were removed 10 years later.  George W. Bush installed a solar system that provided power to a maintenance building, parts of the White House and to heat water for the swimming pool.  President Obama, who is a strong supporter of renewable energy, has been under pressure from the solar industry and environmental activists like 350.org to lead by example.  According to White House sources, solar panels have been under discussion since the Obama family first took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Global warming activists from 350.org brought one of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from Unity College in Maine to Washington, D.C., in an effort to persuade President Obama and other world leaders to install panels on their residences.  Bill McKibben, 350.org’s founder, believes the administration is doing the right thing.  “If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world,” McKibben said.

The price tag for the White House solar project is not yet known as it is still in the design phase.  Another question is how much electricity it will generate.  According to a survey of available roof space, the system has the potential to include 25 to 75 panels and could produce up to 19,700 kilowatt hours of annual electricity.  A typical household would save $3,200 a year on their electricity bill and $1,000 on heating water.

“Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu said.  “It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.”