- Fighting Poverty with Clean, Renewable Solar Energy: Mauritius Company to Provide 33 Million Africans Access to Cheap, Affordable Solar PV
- WTF? Sen. Lamar Alexander “Can’t Think of” Extending Wind Power Tax Credits (& Saving 37,000 Jobs), but Trying to Force Tar Sands Pipeline
- Solar Energy Companies Look to Capital Markets for Long-term Financing
- Woops — Upton Pushed for a Loan for a Now Bankrupt Solar Company (Hypocrite, Much?)
- New Field Approach to Solar Array Troubleshooting, Fault Isolation, & Maintenance
- EERE Support Yields Breakthrough in Manufacturing of Triple Pane, R-5 Energy Efficient Windows
- Obama Hikes Royalties on Oil Industry by 50%
- The State of Solar Power in Europe
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 06:59 AM PST
Backed by the UN “Business Call to Action” (BCtA) initiative, Mauritius-based ToughStuff yesterday announced it will provide some 33 million Africans access to rugged, cheap and affordable solar power systems. The company is expanding across ten African countries, where it will be offering residents a solar power pack that includes durable, low-cost solar PV panels and solar battery packs, according to an AllAfrica news report.
Business Call to Action is a global United Nations Development Program (UNDP) initiative that is fighting poverty by facilitating “private sector efforts to develop inclusive business models that can have both commercial success and a positive impact on development.” BCtA is part of the UN’s broader “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, which seeks to boost access to energy while protecting ecosystems.
Addressing Multiple Critical Problems
The benefits and links between poverty and access to clean energy technology are real and very clear. Solar PV panels and battery packs offer those who lack access to electricity a clean, renewable and affordable means of producing their own electricity. Substantial health and environmental threats are averted. Moreover, the social impact on people’s lives is minimized: it requires minimal changes to traditional lifestyles while providing access to modern communications and information networks.
Nearly half the world's population lacks reliable access to modern energy services, according to a UNDP report. More than 20% of the global population — some 1.4 billion people — make do without access to electricity, the majority of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Threatening health, as well as the environment, they depend on wood, charcoal, animal waste, or biofuels such as kerosene for energy. Household air pollution from biomass fuel alone is expected to cause more than 1.5
Consumers who previously relied on kerosene or biomass fuel are expected to save a combined total of US$520 million on lower energy costs while reducing carbon emissions by up to 1.2 million metric tons by 2016 over the project’s life, according to BCtA.
Clean Energy Business with a Conscience
ToughStuff’s business model empowers local residents and communities in other ways. With offices in Mauritius, Kenya and Madagascar, ToughStuff has helped create thousands of business of new small business opportunities for rural entrepreneurs, according to the company. Its products are being used by over one million people in Madagascar, saving them some $5.85 million in energy costs.
"Today's ambitious goal underlines ToughStuff's commitment to produce quality and affordable products that will change the lives of millions of people living off-grid globally," commented ToughStuff CEO Andrew Tanswell.
"To make this happen, and at the scale we intend, we are actively building commercial partnerships with large distributors, telecommunications companies, retailers and others with an interest in bringing energy, along with all of its benefits, to those who don't yet have it."
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Posted: 17 Feb 2012 02:00 AM PST
With every passing day, Congress outdoes its own abysmal environmental record.
Even as federal policymakers consider a transportation bill that would open up sensitive areas for offshore drilling, encourage use of dirty oil shale, force a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and derail public investments in public transportation, they couldn't even compromise on a simple short-term tax credit for wind energy.
Wind businesses were calling an extension of the credit an "emergency" due to looming mass layoffs in the industry. But history has proven time and time again, if it's clean and renewable, it doesn't force any urgency in Congress.
In recent weeks, there was a strong bi-partisan push to include the production tax credit (PTC) in an upcoming payroll tax cut bill. Unlike drilling tax credits for fossil fuels permanently embedded in the tax code, wind and other renewables only get short-term extensions of the PTC. With an expiration looming at the end of this year, wind companies are already reducing orders and laying off hundreds of people.
The effort to extend the PTC was supported by Republican governors, multi-national corporations, and a strong coalition in Congress. However, with some Congressional radicals threatening to "derail" the bill if the PTC were part of the tax cut package, the extension was not in the final bill, according to North American Windpower — effectively killing one of the only chances to revive this vital tax credit in 2012:
Even if the wind industry gets an extension at the last minute before it expires at the end of December, companies are still going to suffer. Projects take many years to build, and developers and financiers need clarity on whether or not the tax credit will be available when the project is placed in service. With so much uncertainty this year, they're likely to shelve earlier-stage projects — cutting back on orders, reducing manufacturing activity, and slowing construction into 2013.
The wind industry estimates that a failure to extend the PTC will result in the loss of 37,000 American jobs. One leading manufacturer, Vestas, said it may need to lay off 1,600 people in the coming months without more policy certainty.
Meanwhile, PTC opponents in Congress continue to push for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will create a maximum of 6,000 jobs, according to the company building the project.
Last December, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and other supporters of Keystone XL in Congress nearly derailed a last-minute extension of the payroll tax cut by attempting to force a Presidential decision on the controversial tar sands pipeline. The payroll extension passed, but the tactic ultimately failed when President Obama turned down TransCanada's permit, saying the forced decision didn't allow enough time to properly evaluate the environmental impact of the project.
Senator Alexander indicated that he was prepared to take more hostages during the current debate over the payroll tax cut — this time in order to prevent the wind industry from getting an extension of the PTC. In response to the tax credit proposal put forward by Democrats, Sen. Alexander railed against subsidies to wind companies:
Indeed, there's nothing that could derail progress in the energy sector more rapidly than hypocritical members of Congress taking a firm stance against the business of renewable energy.
Senator Alexander failed to mention that the top five oil companies — all of which enjoy tax credits permanently embedded in the tax code — made a combined $137 billion in profits last year. And he clearly didn't read the latest poll from Yale that found 70% of Americans opposed providing government support to these mature, highly-profitable companies.
Sen. Lamar Alexander photo via Medill DC
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 01:43 AM PST
US solar energy industry participants are having to rely increasingly on private sector capital to meet their project and longer term financing needs. The Treasury 1603 grant program for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy expired at year-end 2011, leaving equity issuance and a very limited market for tax equity transactions as the only real “staples” for raising capital.
This is as solar industry players, the DOE, and the Obama administration expected, but it comes sooner, somewhat abruptly, and at a particularly difficult period of time. Industry participants have been preparing for these developments, and there are signs that progress is being made, however.
Utilities and independent power producers with ready access to the US bond market, such as Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy and NRG, are increasingly getting involved in the project development and ownership side of the solar energy industry value chain, a development that may open up opportunities for other industry participants to follow suit. Recent developments indicate that institutional investors may have an appetite for solar energy bonds, as well.
Investment banks managing a bond sale for MidAmerican Energy’s 550-MW Topaz Solar Farm yesterday sold a total $850 million of Topaz bonds, $150 million more than was initially allotted. Priced to yield 5.75%, the bonds have a weighted average life of 15.6 years with a final maturity in September 2039, according to a WSJ article.
Will investors be interested in solar energy bonds?
Issued at nearly 380 basis points (1/100th of a percentage point) over the 10-year US Treasury bond, the Topaz bonds offer investors the opportunity to buy investment-grade bonds at a significantly higher yield. Lead investment bank book managers for the bond issue, Barclays Capital Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, received orders totaling $1.3 billion, nearly double the original amount on offer. Indicative of strong demand, the Topaz bonds’ price rose and yield fell by 12.5 basis points in secondary market trading.
Scheduled for completion in 2015, MidAmerican Energy recently acquired ownership of the 550 MW thin-film Topaz Solar Farm project from First Solar, which will carry on in building and then operating the project.
Set to be one of the largest solar PV farms in the world, the project is located in the northwestern corner of California’s Carrisa Plains. It’s expected to generate enough clean, renewable electricity to power some 160,000 average California homes. Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to buy Topaz’s output under the terms of a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA).
The Topaz solar PV project is also generating green jobs — a projected 400 construction jobs, according to First Solar — associated income from direct and indirect employment, induced spending, and supply chains revenues. It will also generate revenue for the county, which are estimated at $417 million, including property and sales tax revenue.
Venture Capital for Solar Junction
Venture capital has been one of the primary means by which solar energy industry start-ups and early, development stage-businesses have raised long-term capital in the US.
CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) solar PV cell manufacturer Solar Junction on Feb. 13 announced the closing of a $19.2-million Series D round of financing, which included a further strategic investment and partnership with Cardiff, Wales-based IQE, which manufactures a range of silicon products, from LEDs to silicon PV wafers and optoelectronics. Also participating in the Series D funding were New Enterprise Associates, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Draper Fidher Jurvetson (DFJ).
An emerging manufacturer of III-V multi-junction, concentrating PV (CPV) cells, San Jose-based Solar Junction holds the solar PV world record for conversion efficiency at 43.5%. It intends to use the Series D capital to scale up its manufacturing capacity.
“This is a potentially transformational opportunity. The CPV market has reached an inflection point in terms of cost comparisons with fossil fuels and is promising impressive growth potential,” commented Dr. Drew Nelson, IQE CEO in a press release. “A combination of Solar Junction’s core materials IP and technology, together with our own IP and manufacturing capabilities, provides a compelling route to significantly higher cell efficiency and cost effective, high volume production.”
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 12:57 AM PST
Fred Upton (R-MI), House Energy and Commerce Chairman, was one of the leading Republicans who ‘led’ us down the ‘this is pointless, a waste of time, and a waste of resources’ Solyndra and clean energy loan program witch hunt (which continues today). Yes, after doubling and tripling down on their investigations of Obama’s connection to Solyndra, they have found nothing. (But they probably confused many voters into thinking otherwise along the way.)
Now, it’s actually turned out that Upton also pushed for loans for solar company (a Michigan solar company, of course) that filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday. (I wonder if Upton, Issa, and others were so convinced of cronyism because of their own history “playing favorites” in politics.)
“Despite his hypocrisy, Upton plans to continue probing Solyndra, extending a battle that has not turned up any wrongdoing,” Think Progress reports. “Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), another lawmaker who continues to attack Obama for a ‘reckless disregard for the laws,’ easily forgets he too asked for a loan, on behalf of the electric car company Aptera Motors.” (Hence the note above.)
Not in a joking way at all, sometimes I wonder if such Republicans are so obsessed with government conspiracy because of how they operate in government.
And the real crime here is not pushing for a local company that you think has a bright future (something Upton did, not Obama), but it’s making one company’s failure (in the midst of a very quickly changing and transforming solar industry) into a big conspiracy that it is not. The issue is turning one failure (representing a small percentage of the loan program’s investments in clean energy) into a reason to ditch a nascent buy extremely promising industry. The issue is not looking at the fact that, overall, the government has been a superb investor, has managed its risks well, and should continue on the clean energy path it has just gotten rolling on.
The point of this piece is not that Upton shouldn’t have pushed for a home-state solar company he believed in, but that he shuoldn’t be such a hypocrite and should drop this endless witch hunt that is really about scoring political points and nothing else!
Fred Upton photo via republicanconference (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)
Posted: 17 Feb 2012 12:21 AM PST
This is a special guest post from Ray Burgess, CEO of Solar Power Technologies. It covers some more minute (but very important) aspects of solar power that I think are worth a quick read, or, if you are involved in solar at this level, more than just a quick read…. Enjoy the piece and let us know if you have more on this in the comments below!
by Ray Burgess
When it comes to managing the performance of large-scale solar plants, a variety of questions must be answered to address whether a solar system is performing well in terms of energy harvest, as well as whether or not it is cost-effective, safe, and achieving ROI expectations.
As solar systems grow in scale and complexity, engineers and field service technicians who are responsible for the operations and maintenance (O&M) of large commercial and utility-scale PV arrays must answer the following:
Delivering timely and accurate answers to these questions remains a systems and process challenge for site engineers and operators. Existing solar monitoring systems are based on single-dimensional, and largely passive data architectures. Such systems provide robust logging, visualization and reporting; however, their alarm management, diagnostics, and asset management capabilities are limited. Information islands exist because there is limited or even no integration between PV monitoring systems and in-house business systems. In short, there is an overwhelming amount of information coming from the monitoring systems, but the data are not directly linked to the business rules that the site owners have put in place — just a mountain of data that must be manually sifted through, deciphered and analyzed.
Next-generation, enterprise-ready PV management solutions enable array operators to readily answer the questions above and improve on current challenges.
These solutions, such as the Solar Power Technologies Clarity™ System, combine comprehensive and high-precision DC monitoring capabilities with innovative and multi-dimensional data architectures that cross-integrate logged array performance and environmental data with design-driven analytics, business and financial rules, O & M best practices, and inventory management. The value and benefits delivered to both field staff and management are significant and, most importantly, quantifiable.
Ray Burgess joined the Solar Power Technologies team as President and CEO in July 2009. He has over 30 years of leadership experience in the technology industry, spanning semiconductors, software and micro-mechanical systems. Ray can be reached at: email@example.com.
Posted: 16 Feb 2012 11:09 PM PST
an EERE news release.Support from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) has been instrumental in GED Integrated Solutions achieving a breakthrough in the manufacturing of energy-efficient residential windows. A worldwide supplier of insulating glass and vinyl window and door manufacturing systems, GED’s Automated Tri-Lite Assembly System (ATLAS) produces a triple pane insulating glass window unit in 20 seconds. Conventional systems can take two minutes or longer, according to
GED introduced ATLAS last September, having been awarded a $1.2+ million from the DOE for “development of a high volume, efficient manufacturing system to build high performance, energy-saving insulating glass units for residential windows.”
The award follows through on the DOE-EERE’s mandate to enhance the competitiveness of US manufacturers. In doing so, EERE is partnering with companies like GED to “commercialize and deploy cutting-edge building technologies that will help boost competitiveness in the U.S. manufacturing industry, create jobs for American workers, and save money for families.”
PPG Industries, a market-leading US glass manufacturer and developer of advanced window technologies, helped GED with unit design support and analytical testing. PPG’s also the first to commission an ATLAS unit in order to validate its performance in a commercial production environment.
Two additional key attributes of ATLAS are that it can be installed in “most existing window manufacturing facilities and produce a variety of different sized windows.”
Rated the most energy efficient of windows (typically R-5/U-factor 0.2), triple pane windows can reduce average heat loss by more than 30%, according to the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).
PNNL has been working with window industry participants for the past few years to connect manufacturers and distributors of high performance, energy efficient windows with home builders, weatherization agencies, educational institutions and others capable of making high-volume purchases.
A B2B “Highly Insulating and Low-E Storm Windows Volume Purchase Program” website was launched in May 2010 that enables prospective buyers to shop for and order such windows from more than 30 manufacturers who have met program requirements.
Posted: 16 Feb 2012 11:07 PM PST
For the first time since the 1920s, fees for oil drilling on public land are going up, in an Obama administration Interior Department rule that does not require congressional approval.
The election-year timing almost seems designed to wave a red flag in front of the most obdurate opposition party any president has ever had to contend with, with lavish funding from the fossil industry.
Making the bold move even riskier; this is the first election year after the Citizens United decision, which is sure to unleash yet more fossil industry money against any impediment to the richest industry on the planet.
Interior Secretary Salazar told E&E that no administration has raised royalty rates on oil production since the 1920s, and that the 50 percent raise is necessary to generate a fair return for American taxpayers. The proposed rates will go from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent.
Offshore oil drillers already pay the 18.75 percent rate.
“It is an appropriate fair market value rate,” Salazar told a panel of House appropriators this afternoon. “The underlying principle of that is we are mandated by statute, mandated by fairness, to make sure the American taxpayer is getting a fair return for the oil and gas that the American people own.”
But there is a new wrinkle to this story. The Obama administration mounted an organized push to develop the nation’s renewable energy resources resulting in a quadrupling of solar and wind projects on public land.
In contrast to the sweetheart deals given oil drillers, these renewable energy companies signed land leases that generate a fair return – as I covered in Utility-Scale Solar on BLM Lands to Generate Substantial Income for Taxpayers.
For example, it was estimated in 2010 that the 1,000 MW Solar Millennium project in California will be generating $9.5 million every year between its per-MW fees and land leases.
At the time I was surprised at the high rates expected from a nascent industry, compared with the much better positioned oil industry. Now I think that Obama was setting the stage for this rule change.
This is the first administration that has dared to demand fair recompense on our behalf, as the owners of those public lands, from the richest industry on the planet – since 1920. Other nations demand higher returns for exploiting publicly held assets, according to a Bush era GAO report.
And since a newborn renewable industry has already manned up to paying us – shouldn’t Big Oil?
Posted: 16 Feb 2012 02:55 PM PST
by James Hawkins
Europe contains nine of the largest 15 solar markets in the world. In 2011, new European PV installations amounted to 20.9 GW, over 75% of the global total (27.7 GW). Germany has long held the crown within Europe as the clear leader in installed solar power capacity and now has a total of 24.7 GW of capacity installed, generating approximately 3% of its electricity.
Why has Germany been such a long way in front? The Renewable Energy Act introduced in 2000 was one of the first of its kind in the world. It introduced guaranteed feed-in tariffs, lasting for 20 years at a fixed price. The rates decrease gradually for new installations, exerting downward pressure on manufacturers to drive innovation. The stability of the scheme, and it’s popularity, has lead to great confidence in solar as an investment option; solar panels are a common sight on a German roof. For this reason, Germany has seen exponential growth in solar installations:
However, Germany is not alone in this rapid year-on-year growth. Italy is the world’s second largest installer, and is closing the gap on Germany. A study by GSE showed Italian installations tripling in capacity from 2009 to 2010 (from about 1 GW to over 3 GW) and then almost tripling again in 2011 after an additional 9 GW of solar were installed (the world-leading amount in 2011).
This surge is due to changes made to the solar power subsidies in Italy in 2010 – there was a feed-in tariff introduced, in addition to a generous grants system. Italy has some of the most favorable weather conditions in Europe for solar, and so it seems logical that it has the most beneficial grants structure.
Solar in the UK — a Roller Coaster Ride
Unfortunately, not every country can keep up with these prime examples; the UK solar industry has recently been in outrage. After introducing a feed-in tariff in April 2010, the number of installations rocketed. However, as installed panel prices fell by 30% from 2010 to 2011, due to a dramatic increase in competition that accompanied the increasing demand for residential solar, the popularity of the scheme was underestimated. Whilst the rate of adoption was impressive, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) panicked due to the cost of the scheme. The DECC subsequently tried to cut the feed-in tariff rates without holding a complete official consultation, which resulted in an extended court case from several large solar companies. The government’s decision to cut the rate by more than 50% was ruled as illegal. This led to the following:
The scheme was remarkably popular throughout the year, with the boom caused by the announcement that installations from the 3rd of December would receive a much lower rate – $0.33/kWh rather than $0.68c/kWh. Although the figures are not yet released, following the court decision to reinstate the tariff at the higher level, our (nation-wide) company’s data show installations are likely at a near all-time high. The tariff will fall in March, and so there will be another slump at that point. This instability is very bad for the industry – it puts off investors in solar power, and it has led to thousands of job losses.
Solar in Other Parts of Europe
Solar also hasn’t yet had much of an impact in Eastern Europe. Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania each have under 0.1 MW of installed solar power capacity, and none of them have any government funding specifically for solar panels. Hopefully, the success of solar seen in other countries may be replicated. For example, Lithuania opened its first solar panel production site last year, primarily targeting surrounding countries.
Parts of Europe have struggled economically in 2011, of course, especially from the Greek financial crisis, but hopefully priorities will switch to longer term tasks soon, such as developing renewable energy from 2012.
Currently under construction in the Sahara, the Desertec project will be the world’s largest solar power farm (or collection of farms), and parts of it will be producing electricity for use in Europe by as soon as 2015. The aim is to meet between 15 and 20% of Europe’s energy demand by 2050, meaning German levels of solar power across every member state!
Whilst this will all provide a boost to Europe’s renewable energy use, it’s worth noting that other countries are working hard to close the gap – the USA is seeing record levels of solar installations, China is also engaged in a big solar power push, as are India and Japan. The consensus is that the German model is the most sustainable solution to replicate, and we’ll likely see feed-in tariff schemes adopted in most economically developed countries in the months and years to come, both within Europe and worldwide.
Written by James Hawkins, creator of a solar panels cost comparison service in the UK, where he also writes the solar blog.
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