- Despite rush of orders, Vesta reveals disappointing 2011 financial results
- The Fukushima Effect Continues: French Nuclear Builder AREVA Announces Losses and Redundancies Amid Slew of Cancelled Projects
- New Sea Wave Energy Generation Models Receive Go-Ahead
- £2.5 Billion Boost to UK Economy through Renewable Investment
- Solar PV & Remote, Distributed Microgrids Poised to Improve Living Conditions for Millions
- Samsung Using its Power to Advance Sustainable Development
- Federal Tax Credits May Handcuff Clean Energy Development
- Researchers Develop Ultra Strong Non-Rare Earth Magnet
- Big Solar and Big Wind to Meet in Abu Dhabi for World Future Energy Summit
- Showcasing the Big Apple’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:28 AM PST
Danish wind energy giant Vestas enjoyed a busy 2011, with over 6 GW of wind power capacity ordered by customers in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, the UK, Pakistan, and Brazil — the latter two orders thanks to the Durban agreement, which commited developing countries to enter talks over joining a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
But despite all this business, Vestas’ profitability seems to be on the wane. The company announced its preliminary financial results for 2011 yesterday and downgraded its revenue predictions, from €6.4 billion to €6.0 billion. This is the second time the company has been forced to adjust its revenue predictions downwards recently. In October, it downgraded its estimated 2011 revenue from €7 billion to €6.4 billion, leaving a total of €1 billion of revenue up in the air.
The company blames delays to a range of projects because of weather problems, issues with connecting to electricity supply grids, and problems with the construction of a new factory. Yes, their projects have been delayed because one of their projects has been delayed.
Vestas also said that their newest turbines — the V112, which can churn out up to 3 MW of energy, and the GridStreamer turbine, which can provide 2 MW — have proven surprisingly expensive to develop, meaning R&D costs have been €125 million more than expected.
"We are looking at very carefully how come we have experienced these kind of challenges when taking new technologies to the market," CEO Ditlev Engel said on a conference call [sic]. (Engel, incidentally, is rated one of the world’s ’100 Best-performing CEOs in the world’ by Harvard Business Review. Make of that what you will.)
It wasn’t meant to be this way. At the beginning of 2011, Vestas was determined to shake off what it described as a “tough” 2010, which had seen three thousand layoffs, with a strong 2011. The poor performance can be mostly blamed on the aforementioned delays and the overall economic situation, and increased competition from Asian rivals.
In an interview with the Australian website ClimateSpectator in November, Engel downplayed the threat of Chinese competition, saying: “We have to remember that Vestas has 3000 colleagues in China and we went into China in 2006 and we built a number of plants there. That means that if the rules of the game going forward, for instance, are that everything should be used in China and shipped around the world, Vestas can definitely do that as well.”
Now, the signs are that Vestas is set for another round of layoffs. It’s announced an event on 12 January to “adjust the company’s organisation… with a view to reducing overhead costs.” Plans for this “significant change of the whole organisation” have been afoot for a while, but Vestas says it’s been able to get them ready for implementation faster than expected.
It seems that with wind, as with solar, the growth of the industry doesn’t mean it’s easy to make sustained profits. Hopefully, the additional interest in renewables from developing countries, in the wake of Durban, will help Vestas have a better 2012.
For more on Vestas, see Vestas Receives Massive Wind Order from Brazil.
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:09 AM PST
When the tale is written of humanity’s struggle to switch to a low-carbon economy, the partial meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan last Spring will be remembered in one of two ways: either as a warning sign that steered the world away from a dangerous embrace of nuclear power and spurred the growth of renewables; or as a tragedy which led nations to mistakenly turn their back on a vital source of low-carbon energy.
Which you think it’ll be depends, of course, on your view of nuclear power. But what seems certain is that Fukushima has had a real chilling effect on the growth of nuclear power across the world. Germany, followed by Switzerland, decided to abort plans to replace aging nuclear power stations. Then, Israel signalled the cancellation of its early-stage plans for non-military nuclear power. Then, the UK delayed its plans for new nuclear stations by at least a year for additional safety checks. Belgium decided to blow off nuclear. And the Italian public overwhelmingly defeated efforts to push nuclear through in a groundbreaking public referendum. Even the French have reportedly “thumbed their nose” at nuclear now. And some experts predict the cost of nuclear power, already high, will increase by 50% as the result of raised post-Fukushima safety expectations.
Now, one of the world’s leading nuclear developers, France’s AREVA, has announced losses of €1.6bn as a result of collapsing demand for its products. It’s sacking more than 1200 workers in Germany as the result of the cancellation of that country’s nuclear program. It’s also suspended projects to expand existing power stations in France and the US, BusinessGreen reports.
According to Greenpeace, AREVA — which is owned by the French government — expected 50 new reactors to be ordered this decade, but hasn’t received a single order since 2007.
The biggest problem for AREVA, however, seems to be the collapse in the price of uranium since Fukushima. The Financial Times points out that the price of uranium has slumped from $138 a pound to $50 a pound since the disaster. AREVA paid €1.8bn for UraMin, a Canadian company which operates uranium mines in the Central African Republic, Namibia, and South Africa, when prices were at their height. It’s now ‘writing down’ the value of UraMin by €1.4bn.
Anti-nuclear campaigners such as Greenpeace are quick to argue that AREVA’s woes demonstrate the folly of new investment in nuclear power. Greenpeace UK Energy campaigner Louise Hutchins argues that the company’s work on the Olikiluto power plant in Finland, which is overdue and over budget, is indicative of the future if nuclear power is expanded across the world.
“Areva is the only company still in the running to design the next generation of reactors in Britain, but it has proven itself spectacularly incompetent and incapable of building its own reactor on time or to budget in Finland,” she says. ”Now is not the time for the UK government to expose British households to the billions in overspend and years of delays that come with nuclear power. Instead, Britain should be moving to a vibrant and profitable clean energy sector that would provide far more jobs and economic growth as well as safe, reliable energy.”
But AREVA’s CEO, Luc Oursel, told the FT: "Considering the expected growth in electric consumption, we are convinced that the outlook for nuclear and renewable energy development remains strong . . . even if expansion of the global installed base of nuclear reactors is postponed."
For more on the future of nuclear power, see Tough Road Ahead for Nuclear Power.
Picture: WikiMedia Commons
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:59 AM PST
Eco Wave Power has recently completed construction and subsequent testing of its first sea wave energy generation models, known as the “Wave Clapper” and the “Power Wing”.
The testing took place in the wave pool of the Hydro-Mechanical National Institute of Kiev and provided Eco Wave Power the perfect environment to test their new wave energy generation technologies under controlled wave heights and wave periods.
The Protocol, submitted to Eco Wave Power by the Hydro-Mechanic Institute, has concluded the experiments as following: “All floaters of Eco Wave Power Company have proved their workability… According to the results of the tests, we have reached a decision to recommend continuing the development of the green energy generation system that is based on such principles, and enlarge the model to greater sizes.”
The next step for Eco Wave Power is to move on to creating medium-scale models which will be capable of producing 5KW from each device. The model will include one “Wave Claper” and one “Power Wing” and testing is expected to begin early in 2012.
“We are a young and innovative company in the field of ocean energy. As a result, we believe in a fast, yet reliable, progress,” said Mr. David Leb , the founder of the company. “Our competitors in the ocean energy sphere had spent 5 to 15 years researching the ocean energy field, resulting with no commercial scale devices available for sale and implementation. We want to be different. We want to be able to offer our commercial scale devices within the shortest time frame, and for the most attractive prices.”
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:55 AM PST
The British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) released new numbers late last week showing that companies have invested £2.5 billion ($3.9 billion) into renewable energy projects across the United Kingdom so far this financial year, an investment which has the potential to create almost 12,000 jobs across the country.
"Renewable energy is not just helping us increase our energy security and reduce our emissions,” Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary, said. “It is supporting jobs and growth across the country, and giving traditional industrial heartlands the opportunity to thrive again.”
The statistics were released at the same time as a separate report to the European Commission on renewable energy progress in the UK. This report showed that the UK:
"Our renewable target is less demanding than other EU member states, but the effect is bringing real jobs and investment,” said Huhne."I do not want the UK to be left behind by turning our back on the green economy. The agreement to negotiate a global deal secured at Durban has reinforced major nations' commitment to cutting carbon. We cannot afford to stand alone while the world wises up."
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:52 AM PST
Integrating solar photovoltaic (PV) panels with remote, off-grid microgrids will drive rapid growth of distributed renewable energy systems in rural and remote areas worldwide, affording greater numbers of communities, agricultural areas, and small businesses access to cleaner, more reliable, and more efficient energy generation. Such growth has the potential to literally and figuratively empower millions to improve their lives and living conditions.
Diesel engine generators are still the norm when it comes to remote microgrids, but growing adoption and spread of distributed renewable energy technology and smart microgrids is changing that. As recently noted, solar is now cheaper than diesel in India. ”The primary driver for remote microgrids over the next years will be the integration of solar photovoltaics (PV), a technology that will help reduce fossil fuel consumption,” according to a forecast from Pike Research.
Solar PV and Remote Microgrid: A Winning Combination
In a new report entitled “Remote Microgrids,” Pike forecasts that growth in the global remote microgrid market will surge to more than 1.1 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, from 349 megawatts in 2011, possibly exceeding that of all other microgrid market segments combined. Projected revenue for the market segment ranges between a high exceeding $10.2 billion and a baseline scenario of $4.5 billion that assumes the global economy continues to falter. Even the more conservative baseline estimate indicates a healthy, growing market over the next five to six years.
Solar PV and Microgrids in Developing Countries
Developing countries will be the main beneficiaries, and markets, for remote microgrids powered by solar PV and other clean, renewable energy resources. More than 80% of the world population resides in developing countries, yet these individuals consume only 30% of global energy production, Pike’s researchers note.
Populations and living standards are rising in many of these countries, though access to affordable grid power continues to lag behind. With the costs of solar PV having fallen precipitously, remote solar PV-powered microgrids are seen as a way of meeting growing energy demand in a stable, affordable, and environmentally friendly manner.
Investments from a number of international agencies and private foundations will help spur growth and demand. The United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Clinton Climate Initiative, and the Bill Gates Foundation, among others, have all gotten behind the push.
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:50 AM PST
As 2012 begins and the Consumer Electronics Show approaches, the merging of information technology and clean energy technology continues to advance in ways that could not have been seen twenty or thirty years ago. One company, Samsung, is working hard in promoting sustainable development with some of the products it offers, including it’s energy-efficient microwaves and solar-powered netbooks.
As the #1 television maker and the second-biggest mobile phone maker in the world, the company realizes the potential of melding both information technology and renewable energy.
Just before the holiday season, I had the opportunity to interview David Steel, Vice President of Corporate Strategy from Samsung on issues ranging from some of its sustainability initiatives to the important role corporations can play in improving our environment.
Energy Efficiency: Samsung has products geared towards two different markets: 1) developed nations and 2) developing nations. Samsung, with its energy-efficient microwave (Samsung SMH2117S), targets towards North American consumers, Steel said. The microwave uses an LED light that promotes energy efficiency, for example. Energy efficiency is one way Samsung is doing its best to promote sustainable development in North America, since there is a concern that far too much energy is used in North America, and energy efficiency is one big piece in achieving significant energy reduction.
Emerging Markets and Clean Technology: While energy efficiency gets more attention in developed countries, including those in North America, the rise of emerging markets has given some hope to poorer countries that want to climb up the economic ladder. However, as more emerging economies advance, more clean energy will be demanded. That will increase the need for products that can capitalize on this market.
Examples like the Samsung solar netbook showcase the potential of sustainability. It can help to bridge the digital divide that can help lift poor people out of poverty, while also addressing environmental concerns and raising awareness.
While there has been positive advancement on renewable energy issues, there is often criticism that corporations use investment in renewable energy to greenwash and cover up other environmentally damaging practices. However, Steel said that companies do have an advantage others don’t in promoting renewable energy — they can innovate and use the immense knowledge they have to advance and develop clean energy further than it would be otherwise.
Samsung, with these examples, shows one of the important roles companies can play with sustainable development and advancing it further than ever before.
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:22 AM PST
Clean energy advocates should cast aside their worries about increasing Republican scrutiny of energy subsidies. The clean energy industry’s foolish reliance on tax incentives has already handcuffed its expansion.
Unlike the leading nations in the clean energy race, the United States has no coherent energy policy. Rather, its energy market is balkanized by 50 distinct state policies and overlaid with poorly conceived federal tax incentives. Federal tax incentives have one redeeming feature. To get a tax incentive only takes one vote of Congress while getting any other kind of monetary subsidy requires two votes, an authorization, and then an appropriations bill.
The drawbacks are much more substantial. Building a clean energy future on a foundation of tax credits and deductions means significant inefficiency, reduced opportunity for the public sector, and handcuffing clean energy deployments.
Tax incentives may be politically expedient, but they are financially wasteful. In fact, tax credits cost Uncle Sam (and the taxpayer) twice as much as handing out cash. Why? For many clean energy projects, the developer doesn’t have enough tax liability to effectively use the 30% investment tax credit or production tax credit. Instead, they need a “tax equity partner” (like a Wall Street banker) who can use a big tax credit. With some legal finagling, the two partners ink a deal that “monetizes” the entire federal incentive, but the Wall Street equity partner takes a hefty cut. In 2010, renewable energy developers were selling their tax credits to financiers for 30-50 cents on the dollar, with the remainder padding the pockets of financiers rather than buying down the cost of clean energy.
These tax equity partnerships aren’t just an inefficient use of public dollars for clean energy, they make locally owned projects more difficult to develop, undercutting the political clout of clean energy by reducing the local economic value of (and commensurate support for) wind and solar projects.
Tax credits also curb pubic sector participation in clean energy. “Solar for schools” may be a great rallying cry for the solar industry and for education, but tax code incentives don’t apply to schools, municipal buildings or non-profits. Instead, schools and others must seek private partners to offer them a lease, power purchase agreement, or other ownership structure that allows the project to capture at least some of the federal tax incentives. As the following chart illustrates, however, these arrangements for schools are never quite as cost-effective as privately-owned solar projects. Furthermore, the partnerships mean the public sector can’t use its best weapon, low-cost financing (e.g. bonding), to spread clean energy development.
The use of tax credits may also artificially cap the clean energy market. Since clean energy projects must rely on a limited set of tax equity partners and a limited-size tax equity market, when tax equity dries up, so do wind and solar projects. The economic crisis of 2008 made the problem particularly evident, as the tax equity market shrank by 80 percent from 2007 to 2009. Only the cash grant program saved the wind and solar industries from total collapse in the intervening years (2009-11), and the cash grant will likely expire at the end of 2011. The following chart from a SEIA presentation illustrates [pdf] the problem, even though it was devised before the 1-year extension of the cash grant in 2010.
The problem of limited tax equity isn’t just short term. Marshal Salant, managing director of Citigroup Global Markets Inc., said in a recent interview: “There's more demand for tax equity to finance renewable energy projects than we will ever have in the way of supply.”
In other words, using the tax code for energy policy handcuffs U.S. clean energy development. The limited market for clean energy will also continue to suffer from major inefficiency and severely constrained options for the public sector, undermining public support for clean energy policies.
There are alternatives to the reliance on tax incentives (outlined last week in our discussion of Germany’s run-away success with its comprehensive feed-in tariff energy policy). But until the clean energy industry is ready to admit the folly of its marriage to tax equity, the American market for wind and solar will suffer.
Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:10 AM PST
Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts have developed a magnetic material which they say is very strong and does not require rare earth materials.
Rare-earth magnets have relatively exceptional strength. However, they are expensive, and there could be impending supply issues associated with them.
"State-of-the-art electric motors and generators contain highly coercive magnets that are based on rare-earth elements, but we have developed a new material with similar properties without those exotic elements," said coauthor Don Heiman, a physics professor in the College of Science.
The team of researchers, which included the undergraduates Tom Cardinal and Thomas Nummy, determined that the compound manganese gallium can be synthesized on a nano-scale to produce a strong magnetic field that rivals that of rare-earth magnets, which are considerably more expensive to process and mine.
The need to develop low-cost magnet materials has been growing with the demand for generators and motors (which includes many appliances). China decreased rare-earth material production by 40% in 2010. Some contend this was done to drive up their cost. China currently dominates the rare-earth industry.
"The government would be in a bind if it had to rely on China to produce hybrid cars and wind generators," said Heinman.
Electric vehicles and wind turbines do not have to be made with rare-earth magnets (which are often called permanent magnets, by the way, due to the fact that they don’t have to be supplied with electricity), but they do have certain winning qualities. (It should be pointed out that all generators utilize the same basic concept of magnetism. The alternative to permanent magnet generators and motors is the induction type, which are also common.)
Heinman presented his team’s research in Scottsdale, Arizona at the 56th Annual Conference on Magnetism and Magnetic Materials. Representatives of Toyota, LG Electronics, and hard-drive manufacturers Seagate and Hitachi Global were said to be particularly interested in the findings. "It garnered a lot of interest," Heiman said.
Computer hard drive motors, hybrid electric vehicles, and electric vehicle motors can all benefit from improved magnets, of course.
Heinman commended the contribution of the three students that conducted the research and noted that their work taught them how to approach scientific problems using new methods.
"The goal is to get students in the lab as soon as possible," Heiman explained. "In class, students work on problems with specific answers, but when you enter the real world, it's not like that.”
Research for this Northeastern University project was funded by a 3-year, $360,000-grant provided by the National Science Foundation.
Posted: 03 Jan 2012 10:30 PM PST
From the 16th to the 19th of January, twenty renewable energy and cleantech developers from across Egypt, Ghana, India, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE and USA will showcase cutting-edge projects and conduct full business presentations at the Project Village at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) 2012 in Abu Dhabi.
With 1 GW worth of of renewable projects being showased at the Project Village, the presentations represent a gigantic amount of local Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region renewable energy.
Developing countries have overtaken developed ones in the growth of renewable projects, and the MENA region is key for the development of renewables.
Not only is the long time visionary Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) about to break ground on its first project in 2012 in Morocco in the ambitious plan to power 15% of the EU from the deserts of the MENA region, but Morocco plans to supply 42% of its own domestic energy from solar by 2020 and Egypt is now among global leaders in renewable energy investment opportunities (pictured: Kuramayat solar hybrid project in Egypt).
Desertec’s physicist founder Gerhard Knies calculated, ”Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year” and the EU now plans to get 15% of its electricity from MENA region deserts in a gigantic project that will take the next 40 years to complete. Imagine if the US could plan forty years ahead. We can barely vote to keep the lights on in congress for longer than two weeks at a time.
Two wind projects in Egypt totaling 420 MW will be showcased (as the start of a 3 GW wind project) and a solar project with the capacity of 100 MW from Kawar Energy from newcomer Jordan.
Abu Dhabi has taken stakes in many wind and solar power energy projects, started its own solar panel manufacturing business and put money into other solar panel manufacturers in Europe, United States and Asia. It also has formed partnerships with multinational renewable energy giants and begun building a city (Masdar) from scratch that showcases many low-carbon technologies.
Masdar for example, partnered in financing Gemasolar the $1.4 billion “day and night solar” project in Spain that is first of its kind technology at commercial scale, the first in the world to use molten salt both as the transfer fluid and the thermal storage in a central tower configuration so it can supply energy for at least fifteen hours a day (molten salt can retain 99% of the heat stored in it for up to 24 hours).
As an indication of how important to global renewable development the MENA region is, Ernst & Young and Bloomberg New Energy Finance are the sponsors of the renewable Project Village.
Posted: 03 Jan 2012 04:39 PM PST
New York City has received the inaugural World Green Building Council's Government Leadership Award in "Industry Transformation" for its "Greener, Greater Buildings Plan" on building energy efficiency. The program targets the largest buildings that generate 45 percent of all citywide carbon emissions. When all is said and done, the program is expected to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent and provide substantial savings on energy expenditures.
The City also released its first report on the baseline energy efficiency of its own buildings. Since 2009, the City has energy benchmarked 2,730 buildings, including libraries, police stations, firehouses, schools, courthouses, health, community centers, family centers, and government offices. As it turns out, NYC government's municipal buildings fall on both ends of the energy-efficiency spectrum and everywhere in between. With the benchmarking information, the City will be able to identify which buildings to target for greater energy savings.
Enacted in 2009, the "Greener Greater Buildings Plan" is regarded as one of the most comprehensive building energy efficiency policy nationwide, say energy efficiency experts. The policy features energy benchmarking as a standardized way to measure and rate the energy performance of a building and compare it to other buildings.
Supporters say that benchmarking gives building owners and operators a method for improving and tracking energy efficiency. This method is being used for 26,000 of the city's largest privately owned buildings, and was recently completed for nearly 3,000 public buildings. Seattle, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Austin are also on the list of benchmarking cities, plus the states of California and Washington.
Results of the City's benchmarking efforts for municipal buildings are detailed in the recently released "NYC Benchmarking Report." Here are some of the report highlights:
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