Friday, April 13, 2012

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Cloud Computing: Possible Green Solution for Businesses?

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 07:44 AM PDT

cloud computing energy efficiency

This is a special guest post on a recent report regarding cloud computing and energy efficiency. Enjoy!

With many businesses venturing into the relatively young world of cloud computing, the question has arisen: “Could cloud computing be a viable way to save significant money on energy costs?” The answer to this question, as addressed by CDW's fourth annual Energy Efficient IT Report, seems to be a tentative yet hopeful, "Well, it certainly could be."

The report, which drew from the results of a 760-person survey, in various positions in non-profit, corporate, school, and government sectors, relayed that 62 percent of those asked thought that cloud computing was indeed an energy-efficient solution for data consolidation. Cloud computing "is entirely about IT efficiency, and as a strategy, it can deliver significant energy savings that will complement other solutions within the data center,” said CDW's vice president of systems solutions, Norm Lillis. Just as other helpful new services, like reverse phone lookup, allow businesses greater autonomy and more options within both client and business-to-business communications, so, too, cloud computing offers a similarly large amount of freedom for large corporations and small businesses alike.

In particular, cloud computing can directly curb emissions, as well as energy costs associated with maintaining office space, by giving employees the freedom to telecommunicate and remotely access data that is otherwise only available at central locales. As with any new technology, however, there are still barriers that need to be broken.

As it would appear now, the main setback that's associated with cloud computing as a viable option for energy reduction is a sheer lack of knowledge. Many company owners simply don't know about, or don't understand, the services that cloud computing can offer. In that same vein, it's currently hard for businesses to accurately and efficiently measure energy use to decipher where the big incurred energy costs are coming from. As is the case with most new technologies, we look to leading industry corporations for guidance. Will the big computing juggernauts jump on the cloud computing bandwagon singing praises about IT and energy savings? I guess we'll see.

Cloud computing image via shutterstock

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Renewable Instability — the UK and What Not to Do

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 07:19 AM PDT

This special guest post is from James Hawkins, a UK solar energy industry employee, and gives us some more inside information on the recent changes,.. and challenges,.. and changes in the UK solar feed-in tariff policy. Enjoy!

In April 2010, the UK government launched a flagship feed-in tariff policy for solar panels. It meant that solar panels were no longer just a great ecological decision (the approximate figures are for 1,000kg of carbon dioxide reductions per set of installed panels) — homeowners were offered just under $0.70 for each kWh of electricity generated with their solar panels, with a couple of cents extra for selling back the electricity to the main grid. The returns were guaranteed for 25 years, and were linked to inflation, which made it a very attractive investment. The following is a report for the number of searches in for the term "solar panels", which shows how the level of interest has soared, and then fallen, since the start of this scheme in April 2010 (to enlarge, hold “ctrl” or “command” and click the “+” button):

uk solar panel trends

As you can see, the scheme built in popularity over the course of 2010 — certainly a manageable level of growth was achieved. However, it was 2011 when the real growth was seen. But why was there such a large increase? In January 2012, the Department of the Environment and Climate Change stated that the cost of installed solar panels had fallen by 45% since the start of the scheme (as in this pdf – however, make sure to read Section 3.4 Data Sources). Since the feed-in tariff had remained constant at the $0.70/kWh rate, this represented a massive increase in the financial returns. The news and media picked up on this fact, and demand from households wanting to install solar panels sky-rocketed.

The feed-in tariff was initially given a budget of £867 million, and by the end of 2011, it became clear that it was going to overshoot this figure. The aim was for nominal (pre-inflation) returns of 7-10%, but most solar companies were quoting returns of 7-10% after inflation due to the falling prices.

On the 28th of October 2011, an official document was accidentally leaked online with the feed-in tariff at just $0.33/kWh. This change was quickly spotted and Chris Huhne, then the Energy and Climate Change secretary, released a statement that the feed-in tariff would be introduced from the 12th of December 2011 until the end of an official consultation over the rate — the date of which was at the end of December. Essentially, Huhne attempted to cut the rate without any public consultation. This change threw the solar industry into uproar, and several of the largest installers combined with Friends of the Earth and went to court over the issue. The solar panel companies won and the feed-in tariff was put back to its previous $0.70 rate.

An official consultation was then run and it was declared that the feed-in tariff would be reduced for new installations from the 3rd of March 2012, and this would include an energy efficiency requirement on the property from the 1st of April 2012 — just a few days ago. What has the impact on the industry been?

The metric ‘Clicks’ is how many people searched and then clicked on our adverts (we run a national solar power quotes service, dealing with approximately 800 customers a week), whereas ‘Conv.’ is the number of people who requested a quote through our website. The busy period in October was before the changes were announced and solar panels were very popular because of the attractive returns. The peak before the large dip was a sudden rush in households trying to install solar panels before the December 12th "deadline", which was later over-ruled as illegal in court. The court case took until the 25th of January to resolve. Hence, there was enormous uncertainty in the industry up until this date, and there was a resulting significant drop in numbers through this period.

As solar installers breathed a collective sigh of relief, the DECC then went further and announced they’d challenge this verdict made in the High Court, taking their legal battle to the Supreme Court level — the most powerful legal court in the UK. This created further instability — households would be told that they would either receive the $0.70/kWh rate or the $0.33/kWh rate depending on the outcome of this second challenge. Hearing that an investment’s returns could possibly be about 50% lower depending on a technically-uncertain outcome in court decreases the value of the investment enormously, depressing solar demand in the UK until the Supreme Court case was rejected.

Why did the government go to court a second time? The likely answer is that they knew it’d maximize the uncertainty even if it wouldn’t have a successful outcome, thereby decreasing the number of installations regardless and making the feed-in tariff scheme more likely to stay within it’s allocated budget.

However, this decision for the government to make short-term gains is likely to have caused long-term harm to all renewable energy industries currently subsidized by government schemes. Sudden policy changes, and particularly those showing the DECC’s willingness to stunt an industry’s growth to maintain political harmony with other government departments, will not be forgotten by investors — whether at the commercial or domestic scale. Now, in order to encourage a similar uptake of solar panels, for example, a greater rate must be paid per kWh generated to compensate for this new perceived risk factor which comes with the investment.

How could the policy have been implemented differently? If the original implementation of the feed-in tariff had included a rate modeled on the average cost of solar panels (a figure which could be made publicly available), then the rate could have been adjusted much sooner and much more predictably based on this model. The statistic the DECC used in its report for the average price of installed solar panels was based on general quotes and information from a few random installers, and is unlikely to be accurate. Already, whenever solar panels are installed, the solar power system must be registered to receive the feed-in tariff. If the price of the installed system were registered at this point simultaneously, then real-time information could be collected with near-total accuracy. If the number of installations and the price of these installations can be followed instantaneously, then the rate of the feed-in tariff can be continuously adjusted to keep the total installed capacity within the affordable range. Hopefully, governments implementing solar feed-in tariffs in the future will use this approach.

Written by James Hawkins, head of marketing for a range of energy efficiency websites, dealing with boilers, solar panels, double glazing, and much more!

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  1. UK Government’s Solar Subsidy Appeal Rejected, Now Appealing to Supreme Court
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EV-Only Chevy Volt? Maybe.

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 04:40 AM PDT

It’s mostly speculation at the moment, but word on the street is that the Chevy Volt may eventually be offering an EV-only option. Here’s more:

EV-Only Mode May Come To Chevy Volt (via Gas 2.0)

Though the Chevy Volt and Vauxhall Ampera are built on the same platform, the reception the two cars have received could not be more different. While the Volt has been polarized and bastardized as a product of Obama, the Ampera sold out before it ever went on sale. There is another key difference…

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East Coast May Get Hit with Gas Shortage, Higher Prices

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 04:26 AM PDT

Reportedly, there’s a possibility the U.S. East Coast may suffer some considerable gas shortages in coming months, which of course would lead to higher gas prices. Here’s more from sister site Gas2:

East Coast To Suffer Gas Shortage, Higher Prices? (via Gas 2.0)

Without a doubt, the cost of gasoline has been going up across the country, and indeed, much of the developed world. Some areas are suffering worse than others though, and a conflux of coincidences may mean that the East Coast will soon suffer a gasoline shortage that could lead to a severe gas price…

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Electricity Generation Share from Renewables Up in US

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 04:15 AM PDT

According to a new Power Plant Operations Report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the share of electricity generated from renewable power sources has increased year by year over the past decade in many states in the country.

Hydroelectric generation is often separated from overall renewable statistics because it makes up a larger percentage of electrical generation in the US and because it can be highly variable from year to year. As a result, there are two ways to look at the numbers provided by the EIA.

First of all, looking at renewable generation without hydroelectricity included shows significant growth over the past decade. In 2011, Maine had the highest percentage of non-hydroelectric renewable generation, at 27% of total in-state generation, up from 20% in 2001 (see maps). South Dakota and Iowa followed, with 21% and 17%, respectively, in 2011, up from 1% and less than one percent in 2001.

Across the decade, wind power was the largest driver of this increase.

Including hydroelectric power, however, changes things dramatically, increasing the amount of dark blue on the map above. In 2011, the states with the largest shares of generation coming from renewables, including hydro, were: Idaho (93%), Washington (82%), and Oregon (78%), and according to the EIA hydroelectric production was particularly high throughout 2011 in the Pacific Northwest.

Source: Energy Information Administration

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House Speaker Boehner Can Create Jobs Right Now — Will He?

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 04:06 AM PDT

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm issued a forceful plea to House Speaker John Boehner this week: If you're serious about creating and preserving jobs, support extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind.

In a wonderfully articulate editorial on her Current TV show, The War Room, Granholm urged Boehner to set aside ideology, extend the PTC, and provide consistency for businesses investing in this economically-valuable sector:

Mr. Speaker, of course you are right: We do need to create more jobs. So guess what — this is your lucky day. There's one sector of the American economy that is losing jobs as we speak — and you can put a stop to it.

One simple solution is to pass the legislation that helps large-scale wind-energy producers compete against heavily subsidized fossil fuel. The Production Tax Credit has bipartisan support in Congress. It has the full support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The PTC has supported hundreds of large-scale wind projects around the country, helping drop installed costs 90% in the last few decades, attract a broad array of manufacturers, and create 75,000 jobs. In fact, the wind industry supports 7,500 direct and indirect jobs in Boehner's home state of Ohio, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Unlike permanent tax credits for oil and gas, the PTC expires every couple of years — setting up a "boom-bust" cycle in the industry and threatening private investment.

Leading companies are already cancelling manufacturing plants and preparing to lay off workers. The wind industry says it could shed as many as 37,000 jobs if the credit expires at the end of this year.

Even with the support of more than 350 companies, a bi-partisan coalition of the nation's governors, and local conservative politicians around the country, Congress has failed to extend this vital tax credit. Meanwhile, they've voted to preserve $24 billion in tax credits for the highly-mature oil and gas industries.

The wind industry has been pushing on this issue intensely. However, in trying to stay as non-partisan as possible, it has failed to hold Congressional leaders accountable. If more influential people like Granholm actually stand up and fight for the PTC, the political equation could still shift. Who's going to step up next?

Watch Granholm's entire editorial here:

This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been republished with permission.

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Distributed Solar PV to Increase 18% p.a. to 2015, Growing Pains Notwithstanding

Posted: 13 Apr 2012 02:54 AM PDT

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems were the fastest growing renewable energy technology worldwide between 2006 and 2010. A forecast from Pike Research foresees the global market for distributed solar energy generation expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% out to 2015, with revenue increasing from $66 billion in 2010 to more than $154 billion. Total installed distributed PV generation capacity is projected to increase from 9.5 gigawatts (GW) to more than 15 GW.

Financial incentives from governments around the world have provided the impetus for a growing, wholesale shift away from fossil fuel energy to development of clean, renewable energy resources. That impetus is shrinking, however.

Ballooning government budget deficits and debt associated with bailing out the banking system and counteracting the recession of 2008-2009, along with a host of other factors now threaten the momentum that’s built up behind the transition to “green” and zero-carbon economies in key, leading markets. Among these are the costs and technical challenges of smart grid modernization and expansion, the growing pains associated with developing and proving new renewable energy technologies, and the search for new ways to finance and pay for renewable energy systems.

All’s not lost, however, according to Pike Research. “Other factors, in particular price reductions, new residential financing mechanisms, and third party ownership models – will become the key drivers for the solar PV market for the foreseeable future,” according to Pike Research analysts write in “Distributed Solar Energy Generation” report.

Where the solar PV market’s been, where it is…

Market-based government incentives and industry subsidies coupled with enthusiastic demand from consumers, businesses and utilities led to an outright boom in renewable investment during the past five years. Global renewable energy capacity grew at rates ranging from around 15% to nearly 50% annually between 2006 and 2010. At 72%, solar PV grew the fastest, Pike’s research shows.

"Solar PV capacity was added in more than 100 countries during 2010, and a similar number in 2011," research analyst Dexter Gauntlett stated in a press release. "The market is led by residential and commercial grid-connected PV systems and is concentrated in regions with favorable financial incentives, such as premium feed-in tariffs for PV, including Germany, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Japan, Canada, and the United States, led by California."

There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, however. Enthusiasm for renewable energy and the unleashing of economic “animal spirits” led supply to far outstrip demand along the solar and wind power value chains. Improvements in manufacturing processes and energy conversion efficiencies, along with massive Chinese manufacturing and export subsidies, led to a precipitous decline in the costs of generating electricity from solar and wind systems, to the point where once pioneering industry leaders have gone bankrupt while even the most successful solar PV manufacturers and suppliers are losing money.

At the same time, these developments, coupled with the hangover from the housing and property development-led debt boom of the early 2000s is leading euro zone countries, including global clean energy market leader Germany, to scale back their incentive and subsidy programs. In the US, another leading market in terms of solar PV and renewable energy demand, the US Congress continues to waffle and be capriciously inconsistent in terms of support for clean energy.

“Markets that are dependent on financial incentives, however, can shift suddenly,” Pike notes. “In 2008, a 500 megawatt (MW) cap in the tariff caused the Spanish PV market to collapse, creating a glut of solar PV modules on the market.

“Germany, by far the largest market for solar PV systems, recently cut its tariff as well. Using the lessons learned from these markets, other countries are proceeding more cautiously by incorporating caps, local content rules, and restrictions into their programs to help predict and manage the costs.”

And where it may be going…

Nonetheless, Pike Research analysts are on balance sanguine about global prospects for distributed solar PV, forecasting that the distributed solar PV value chain will generate nearly $600 billion in revenue between 2011 and 2015.

“Combined with innovative financing and leasing options, third-party and utility ownership models, and highly-effective feed-in tariff programs, solar PV is expanding faster than most expected,” according to Pike’s analysis. “Today's solar PV market is all about cost, which is good for consumers and installers, but brutal for manufacturers. Costs are expected to continue their rapid decline as Chinese crystalline silicon manufacturers gain market share and thin-film increases in efficiency.

Installed distributed solar PV generation is concentrated in locations that have three things in common, Pike points out: Adequate sun; financial incentives–preferably a premium FiT (Feed-in Tariff), and high electricity prices.

“Adequate” is the operative word when it comes to solar insolation levels. “Consider the fact that Germany – the leading country for solar PV installations – has a similar insolation as the rainy U.S. state of Oregon. Japan and other U.S. states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, do not have world-class solar insolation, but solar PV is still expected to grow rapidly in these markets.”

When it comes to financial incentives, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and other forms of renewable energy goals drive solar PV market and industry development and broad adoption. Supporting these program goals are “price supports, including FiTs, tax rebates and/or grants stimulate the nascent market.”

The Drive to Grid Parity

Grid parity being the objective, high electricity prices add impetus to distributed solar PV market development. They shorten payback periods and increase return on investment (ROI), making distributed solar PV more economic.

“Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Japan, and Hawaii are some of the markets where solar PV is expected to reach grid parity within 2 years. (Note: some countries/states are already at or close to grid parity.),” according to Pike’s report.

“Reaching grid parity represents a paradigm shift in the RDEG industry. Technologies that require price supports are not sustainable over the long term. Once the technologies reach a price that can compete with conventional (or low-cost) power sources, they become an economic option for generating electricity and developing a sustainable industry.”

Meanwhile the development, growing commercial use and consumer adoption of a variety of solar PV leasing options, power purchase agreements (PPAs) and utility-owned distributed assets– where utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) lease commercial and industrial rooftops across urban areas to create “virtual” power plants– is blurring the lines between distributed and centralized, utility-scale solar PV farms, Pike Research analysts write.

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