Thursday, January 5, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Hawaii Inches Toward 100% Renewable Energy; Geothermal Resources 2-1/2 to 7 Times Demand

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 05:04 AM PST

Located as it is about 2,400 miles (3,900 km) WSW of San Francisco about in the middle of the northern Pacific, residents and businesses on the ‘Big Island’ of Hawai’i pay a lot for energy. Imported oil has been the primary fuel, not only for transportation, but for generating electricity in the Hawaiian Islands.

The situation could be radically different, however. The Hawaiian islands are rich in wind, solar and, as you’d expect given the fact that they sit atop a volcanically active rift in the earth’s oceanic crust, geothermal energy.

“All that is needed is cooperation and initiative to make the move to 100% renewable energy, agreed all the speakers” at a government-sponsored conference in Hilo at which the Hawai’i County Geothermal Working Group released the results of its effort to map the island’s geothermal resources with the aim of identifying those suitable for exploiting to provide clean, reliable baseload electricity, according to a press release from Mayor Billy Kenoi’s office.

Enough Geothermal Energy to Power Hawai’i 3-7x Over

"Hawai'i County should aim and commit to being 100 percent renewable," Mayor Kenoi said. "Federal, state, county, community, we're all in this together. We all recognize our commitment to our children and future generations and the quality of life on Hawai'i Island."

Demand for power on Hawai’i Island ranges between 90 megawatts (MW) and 185-MW. In its report, the Geothermal Working Group estimates Hawai’i Island’s geothermal resources have the capacity to produce between 500-MW and 700-MW of electrical power.

"On this island we spend over a billion dollars every year to import oil for our energy needs here on the island," said Wallace Ishibashi, co-chair of the Geothermal Working Group. "That money can stay right here to build a better community."

Residential Utility Customers’ Bills Reduced Following Puna Geothermal Expansion

The one geothermal power plant up and running on Hawai’i – the 30-MW capacity Puna geothermal plant in the island’s East Rift Zone – has been producing between 25-30-MW of nearly zero emissions baseload electricity for Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) since 1993.

On December 30, 2011, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved a renegotiated power purchasing agreement (PPA) between Puna Geothermal Ventures and HELCO that reduces the rates paid by HELCO for an additional 8-MW of geothermal power being readied to come on-line this month, according to a Pacific Business News report.

Residential customers’ monthly electric utility bills will be reduced by about 70 cents as a result of the new PPA agreed to by Helco, Puna Geothermal Ventures – a subsidiary of Nevada’s Ormat Technologies – and now approved by the Hawaii PUC. HELCO and its customers will pay reduced rates for electricity production between 25-38-MW while continuing to pay the same “avoided cost” rate for the first 25-MW.

Related posts:

  1. Geothermal Plant Supplies ~20% of Hawaii’s Electricity
  2. Forget Tar Sands: Canada’s Geothermal Resources >1 Million Times Electricity Consumption
  3. Imperial Valley’s Unique Combination of Solar and Geothermal Resources Make it a Hotbed of Renewable Energy Activity, and Controversy

What’s the Feed-in Tariff, Kenneth? Confusion Reigns in UK as Government Appeals Ruling on Solar Subsidy Cut

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 04:28 AM PST

Well, this is turning into a great little saga for us journalists — although, it’s much less fun for those involved. Just before the holidays we told you how a court in the United Kingdom had ruled the government’s proposals to cut the feed-in tariff for solar power by less than half was “legally flawed.” The problem, the judge said, wasn’t the cut itself, but its timing — the government had said that the cut would apply to all solar installations registered after 12 December, even though they were still officially consulting on whether to make the reduction until 23 December.

Not surprisingly, the judge, Justice Mitting of the high court, ruled this out of line and ordered a full judicial enquiry. Now it’s emerged that the UK Government plans to appeal the ruling. Climate Minister Greg Barker made the announcement on Twitter, saying, “Will be talking on BBC Radio Sussex shortly re #solar #FITS, our decision to Appeal + danger of staying at 43p til April.” The government’s proposal is to cut the feed-in tariff from 43p to 21p.

“Budget means 4 every 1 new taker @ 43p, 2 homes won’t get it at 21p,” Barker continued. All well and good, perhaps, but the question is: what exactly is the rate now? Officially, it remains at 43p, but if the government were to win its appeal, homeowners and businesses registering their solar installations now would see their rates drop from under them.

Energy consultant Charles Perry told The Guardian that the situation meant damaging uncertainty for the UK solar industry. “In opposition the Conservatives promised the three Cs: confidence, clarity and continuity,” he said. “DECC must learn from the outcome of the judicial review and improve on all three.” (The Conservative party is the largest party in the UK Parliament, and the dominant one in the coalition. Greg Barker is a Conservative, though his boss Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, is from the smaller Liberal Democrat party.)

The campaign Cut, Don’t Kill, which calls for a smaller cut in the feed-in tariff, estimates the government’s proposals will threaten 25,000 jobs. The government argues that the current high rate will rapidly use up funding for supporting solar while enriching a small number, while a lower rate will be more sustainable. In the long run, the rate is going down no matter what. The government’s initial consultation called for a rate cut from April 2012, and the bringing-forward of the date seems to have been in response to budget concerns. But until the precise date of the rate cut is fixed by the courts — which could come as soon as next week — it seems this strange saga is set to rumble on.

Source: The Guardian | Solar panels on home via shutterstock

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Record State Energy-Efficiency Investments in 2011

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 04:14 AM PST


state energy efficiency investments 2011

This post was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

Driven by the growing number of energy-efficiency standards in states around the U.S., ratepayer budgets for efficiency programs climbed to record levels in 2011, to $6.8 billion. That's a 25% increase over 2010 investments, putting the country on track to invest roughly $12 billion by 2020, according to a new report from the Institute for Electric Efficiency.

The figures for energy savings aren't out for 2011. But the IEE report explains that efficiency efforts saved 112 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010, which is about the same amount of energy used to power more than 9.7 million homes in the U.S. By comparison, the entire German solar-PV fleet generated 18.6 terawatt-hours in 2011 — roughly six fold less than American energy savings programs.

Those savings were achieved at an average cost of 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, making it one of the most competitive resources on the market.

Investments in the U.S. are overwhelmingly being driven by utilities that have requirements for increasing efficiency in their territories through state targets. There are now 26 states with targets in place, and most of them are hitting their goals. A recent report from the American Council on Energy Efficiency Economy found that of the 19 states with targets in place for more than 2 years, 13 have hit 100% of those targets.

And those efficiency investments are helping save ratepayers money. According to a recent analysis of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, funds raised through carbon auctions in the utility sector and deployed for efficiency and clean energy in the Northeastern U.S. will save ratepayers in the region $1.1 billion over the life of the program, and have already created 16,000 jobs.

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Oily Politician Attacks EV Tax Credit, Protects Oil Subsidies

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 04:08 AM PST


Ah, the ever-noble efforts of oil-rich Congressmen…. They never cease to stop appalling us,.. and even their own constituents, it seems:

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Biofuels 14-31 Times More Costly than Raising Gas Tax, Study Finds

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 04:02 AM PST


On a large scale, I can say that I’ve never been into biofuels. I’m not really glad my hunch has been vindicated so many times, since we’ve put a lot of money into biofuels, especially of the worst sort.

Making the gas tax comparable to what it was 30 years ago (adjusted for inflation) would be great, though. Gas, quite frankly, is too cheap for our own good, and the gas tax is exceedingly low (even hurting those who drive in some ways — for example, fluctuations in crude oil prices affect us much more than Europeans, and we are all getting screwed by climate change, of course, with rising food prices and ‘natural’ disaster costs). As reported recently, out-of-date gas taxes cost the U.S. $130 billion a year, according to one recent study.

Many in the transportation sector (most in the transportation planning sector, I think) support raising the gas tax. Check out Streetsblog and Infrastructurist articles on the gas tax for more.

But, getting back to what got me started on this topic, below is a post on a new study finding that biofuels, as the title indicates, are 14-31 times more expensive than raising the gas tax. Another notable finding (which has been found before) is that biofuels have a harmful net effect on global warming. Check out the piece from Gas2:

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Interesting Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 03:48 AM PST

We’ve covered solar-powered EV charging stations in the past several times, but I don’t think we’ve ever shared these interestingly designed solar-powered EV charging stations:

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On the Solar-China Trade Dispute

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 03:30 AM PST


solar energy trade dispute

If you’re in the solar industry, or care much about it, I’m sure you’ve heard of the “solar trade war”/solar industry trade dispute going on right now. Basically, a handful of solar manufacturing companies from the U.S. and Germany (led by SolarWorld) contend that china is dumping its solar goods in the U.S. and has submitted a petition to the U.S. International Trade Commission/Department of Commerce (ITC/DOC) (see Obama’s video statement on it here). Many U.S. solar industry players are not into the move by SolarWorld and friends, however. In the past, I shared the opposition argument to the petition from this group, as presented by Arno Harris of Recurrent Energy. Below, I’m going to share the perspective of both sides.

First is a letter from the President of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), Jigar Shah, from just before Christmas. (CASE is the coalition opposing the trade petition.) Following that is a reply to that letter from President of SolarWorld Industries America, Gordon Brinser, reposted from Greentech Media.

by Jigar Shah

December 20, 2011

Mr. Gordon Brinser
SolarWorld Industries America Inc.
25300 NW Evergreen Rd.
Hillsboro, OR, 97124

On behalf of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), I am writing you to urge that SolarWorld withdraw its harmful petition to the International Trade Commission/Department of Commerce (ITC/DOC). The severe tariffs SolarWorld seeks would have a very damaging effect on the solar industry in the United States and would fundamentally undermine many years of effort by all of us who care about the future of solar power. In simple dollar terms, your petition threatens the planned installation of solar electric power systems in the amount of $11 billion in 2012 and the potential installation of $60 billion currently in the total pipeline.

I know you are well aware of the extraordinary growth we have seen in U.S. solar industry jobs and installations. This growth would not have been possible without the significant drop in the cost of solar cells and panels that we have witnessed over the last few years. In fact, between 2006 and 2011, solar module prices fell 40 percent while total demand increased eight-fold, from under 200 megawatts to 1,600 megawatts installed capacity.

Lowering the cost of solar cells and panels and increasing deployment has significant economic, security and financial benefits to the U.S. By asking government to interfere and artificially increase the price (equivalent to putting on a high tax) will only hinder the deployment, cost thousands of jobs, reduce our energy security and further negatively impact an already shaky economy. If your petition is successful and the U.S. Department of Commerce imposes massive duties on solar cells and panels imported from China, it will harm and reverse the progress solar power has made.

SolarWorld's petition will do far more damage than good to the U.S. solar industry as a whole. CASE's membership is representative of 97 percent or 98 percent of America's solar industry, as the large majority of all U.S. solar industry jobs are downstream of solar panel manufacturing in project development, logistics, construction and installation. Every morning, thousands of hard-working Americans put on their tool belts and go build solar power plants. Our country needs more of those jobs, not fewer.

At a time when electricity generated by solar cells is becoming competitive with fossil fuel-generated electricity, it is completely counterproductive to engage in any effort to significantly raise solar cell prices. As you well know, every country seeking to expand its solar industry provides support to solar companies.

Global competition is healthy. Bringing down the price of solar cells and panels has been critical to expanding solar installations worldwide so we can reduce the use of polluting fossil fuels. Here in the U.S., the solar industry now employs more than 100,000 professionals, up from 93,000 last year. This represents an overall growth rate of 6.8 percent over the past year, nearly 10 times higher than the national average employment growth rate of 0.7 percent. We need to see this growth continue. Placing the equivalent of a tax on imported solar cells could significantly drive up all solar panel prices and therefore have a devastating impact on U.S. solar job growth.

And I am sure you are very well aware that the imposition of severe tariffs could ignite a solar trade war that would result in retaliatory tariffs against U.S. solar exports to China. In fact, the Chinese have begun just such an investigation. Last year alone, the U.S. had well over $1.5 billion in solar exports to China, with net exports to China of some $400 million. This could devastate the many American-owned companies exporting solar products to China and cause thousands more American jobs to be lost.

Further, China is now considering asking the WTO to investigate violations in U.S. clean energy policies, particularly in the states of Washington, California, New Jersey, Ohio, and Massachusetts. The investigation would presumably look into Oregon's clean energy support policies, too. Moreover, China could ask the WTO to begin investigations of European clean energy support policies, including the domestic content preferences of the Italian feed-in tariff (FIT) or German support measures. It is critically important to maintain our solar policies around the world and not destabilize our global solar markets through inadvertently spiraling trade wars.

Please reconsider your petition, which can only result in unnecessary damage to our American solar industry and which is likely to precipitate a trade war that will further damage the solar industry and redound to the benefit of our fossil fuel competitors.

Jigar Shah
Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy

by Gordon Brinser

We contend that Jigar Shah’s arguments center only on the solar industry’s downstream installation growth and the catalytic role of lower solar cell and module prices in making that a reality. Beyond that, he concentrates his arguments only on the negative effects of imposition of tariffs on Chinese solar PV product imports.

By focusing only on the positive effect of lower prices and the negative effect of tariffs, we believe Jigar Shah is being willfully blind and completely ignorant of the devastation and bankruptcies that have transpired in the global solar PV industry (U.S., Germany, India, and other places) because of the asymmetric competition and unfair trade practices that China has engendered.

China’s emergence as the pivotal hub of global solar PV manufacturing industry, while lowering the prices of solar cells and modules to the exclusion of everything else, has led to imbalances that nobody is happy about. It all centers on mispricing capital, tolerating capital inefficiency of excess capacity, and operating by ambiguous rules of engagement that are hammered home with plentiful capital, cheap labor and lower taxes. The lower prices of solar cells and modules from China have so far served as a battering ram in destroying overseas solar PV manufacturing competition. If the unfair and irrational practices that led to lower prices continue unhindered, how long will it be before the downstream solar PV value chain is also fully debilitated?

China’s state banks have set aside more than $43 billion in long-term solar funding via framework agreements that can be tapped by Chinese solar companies for downstream installation as well. Where will Jigar Shah go, and who will he complain to then?

Jigar Shah needs a compass on economics and trade. Here are five basic principles that can serve as a common-sense guide:

• Competition does not mean asymmetric warfare.
• Free trade does not mean trade that is free of rules.
• Globalization does not mean industry/sovereign nation enervation.
• Structural imbalances always collapse because they destroy capital efficiency.
• Predatory/subverted capitalism does not lead to capital formation, risk mitigation or price discovery.

Asking the U.S. government to investigate unfair competitive/trade practices is not calling for interference; rather, it is seeking a remedy against an unsustainable industry paradigm. Imposition of duties/tariffs may well come across as a tax in the near term, but trade-related acrimony between countries is largely a result of structural imbalances accumulated over time that need to be redressed. “Trade wars” rhetoric is primarily a negotiating tactic, more akin to putting talking points on record to effect positive change. We believe a better solution would be to drive domestic demand both in China and the U.S.

Instead of a full-scale trade war, we have previously suggested the enabling role of a sensible U.S. energy policy, and the positive steps that China can take in creating large-scale domestic demand.

It’s true that lower prices benefit all rate payers — but if that is all there is to an economic argument, then the U.S. and the rest of the world should give up all manufacturing to China and services to India. The underlying point is that these issues are complex and need a more refined and nuanced response from all parties concerned.

Solar installer image via shutterstock

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China’s Solar PV Players Ramp Up Overseas Investments

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 12:04 AM PST

Image courtesy Ascent Solar

Chinese solar photovoltaic (PV) companies aren’t waiting around for the US International Trade Commission (ITC) and Commerce Dept. to decide whether or not China has been improperly subsidizing the industry and engaging in predatory pricing in the US market – they’ve begun shifting investment overseas.

Flexible thin-film solar PV manufacturer Ascent Solar Technologies announced yesterday that China’s TFG Radiant Group is acquiring an additional 21% equity stake in the company by purchasing shares owned by Norsk Hydro Produksjon AS for $4 million. The purchase price, at about $0.50 per share, is a 19% premium to Nasdaq-listed Ascent’s $0.42 closing share price on Tuesday, and will bring TFG’s overall equity in Ascent to 41%.

Along with taking its initial equity stake in Ascent, TFG Radiant in August obtained exclusive East Asia manufacturing rights for Ascent’s thin-film PV technology. At the time, TFG said that it would invest $165 million to build a manufacturing plant in China.

Thornton, Colorado-based Ascent Solar manufactures flexible thin-film CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) solar PV products on plastic substrates for a variety of applications, including building-integrated and electronics-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV and EIPV, respectively).

LDK to Acquire Germany’s Sunways

On Tuesday, LDK Solar, one of China’s largest integrated solar PV companies, announced that it’s acquiring a 33% ownership stake in Germany’s Sunways AG, a manufacturer of silicon solar PV cells, modules, inverters and solar PV systems.

LDK, through its German subsidiary, will acquire 1/3 of Frankfurt Stock Exchange-listed Sunways’ increased share capital of more than $2.2 million, subscribing for a total of 5.79 million new shares of the German company to be issued against a cash contribution and contributions in kind, i.e. shares.

LDK also announced that it will offer to acquire all of Sunways’ shares for 1.90 euros per share in cash. It intends to submit public takeover offer to Sunways’ shareholders that will be published in late January, subject to the approval of Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority. Both the share capital increase and acquisition need to be approved by the Federal Cartel Office. Both transactions are expected to be completed in 1Q 2012.

The deal will also shore up LDK’s China operations. With LDK’s cash and shares in hand, Sunways will turn around and acquire indirect ownership of a company based in China, according to the press release.

“Through this China-based subsidiary, Sunways will have access to LDK Solar’s module production plants in China for the further joint development of high-performance solar modules cost-effectively,” it states.

LDK has a long-term agreement to supply Sunways with silicon wafer used to manufacture PV cells and modules. That contract will be terminated unless German government authorities don’t approve Sunways’ share capital increase, in which case it will be reinstated.

Solar PV Trade Tensions

US-China trade tensions centered on solar PV industry subsidies have been rising. US ITC and Commerce Dept. decisions on a solar PV cell and module dumping case filed by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturers (CASM) are due out early this year. This past week, a group of four US wind turbine tower manufacturers formed a coalition called the Wind Tower Trade Coalition filed a similar complaint against Chinese competitors. China solar power market participants have retaliated by filing a complaint with China’s trade authorities claiming that US polysilicon producers are dumping their product in China. China’s also decided to levy import duties on vehicles produced in the US, high-end SUVs in particular.

The outcome of these trade disputes is still up in the air, but it’s clear that Chinese solar PV players have previously formulated contingency plans to mitigate their negative effects. While establishing solar PV manufacturing operations in the US and Europe is one option being pursued, taking equity stakes in existing solar PV producers is a quicker alternative that also creates joint ownership stakes between Chinese, US and European producers in solar PV manufacturing capacity across borders.

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“Job-Killing Regulations” at EPA Made US a Net Fuel Exporter

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 01:10 PM PST

Jordan Weissmann at the Atlantic has a fascinating piece on just how it is that the gas-guzzling US has just become a net fuel exporter, even though our oil production peaked in the 1960s.

As you have probably read, the US has just become a net fuel exporter - with refined products, such as diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel made from crude oil now our #1 export.

Of course we still import 9 million barrels of crude a day from the oil producing countries, but our domestic gas use is down at a seven year low. More efficient vehicles, lack of jobs to commute to, baby boomers retiring, and new drivers being more carbon-conscious accounts for the reduction.

But Weissmann digs a little deeper.

Within that bigger picture, though, there’s a smaller and instructive story. It’s about how those meddling government regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency may have helped make U.S. refiners more competitive in the global marketplace. How? By forcing them to create cleaner burning diesel fuel.


If you look at the Energy Information Administration’s breakdown of the country’s petroleum of product exports, one category should jump out at you: distillate fuel oil. That’s the technical term for what we all know as diesel. In October of 2011, U.S. refiners shipped out about 2.7 million barrels a day of finished petroleum products. Forty percent of those barrels contained diesel fuel. Gasoline only accounted for 19 percent.

After signing the Kyoto Protocol and instituting climate regulations requiring low-carbon fuels, ultra low sulfur diesel has become the fuel of choice in the EU. This is a cleaner form of diesel than the US has long used; with lower greenhouse gases.

And oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico have invested heavily in the sophisticated technology necessary to create that kind of clean diesel fuel.

So the Invisible Hand of the Market led the Gulf refiners to retool in order to export this ultra low-sulfur diesel to meet the demand, right?

Um, no. It was those “jackbooted thugs at the EPA” with that “job-killing agenda” of government regulations.

Not until the EPA rule reducing sulfur in diesel oil by 97% went into effect in 2006, were refineries actually forced to begin producing more of the cleaner diesel. Refiners spent billions updating their plants with the necessary equipment, adding roughly 37% more desulfurization capacity. The result?

Now we make what the climate legislation in the EU requires. So our exports are up. Two-thirds of the diesel exports accounting for the increases were the variety known as “ultra low sulfur.”

So it was the EPA that forced US refiners to produce a commodity that the rest of the more carbon-constrained world market actually wants and needs.

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