Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Is Clean Energy Yet Another Culture War?

Posted: 16 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

 
David Roberts of Grist had a great post the other day portraying clean energy as a culture war. I think it’s highly worth a read, so I’m reposting it in full from Grist to make it easy as pie to not pass up (note: there’s also a Part II linked at the bottom of the post that is worth a read):

by David Roberts

Not that long ago, some folks were arguing that clean energy — unlike climate change, which had been irredeemably stained by partisanship (eww!) — would bring people together across ideological lines. Persuaded by the irrefutable wisdom of wonks, we would join hands across the aisle to promote common-sense solutions. It wouldn't be partisan, it would be … post-partisan.

Some day, I will stop mocking the people who said that. But not today. The error is an important one and it is still made regularly, especially by hyper-educated U.S. elites. They think clean energy is different from climate change, that it won't get sucked into the same culture war. They are wrong.

On clean energy, the material/financial aspects of the conflict are the easiest to understand. Wind, solar, and the rest threaten the financial dominance and political influence of dirty energy. Last week, the Guardian broke the story of a confidential memo laying out a plan to demonize and discredit clean energy, meant to coordinate the plans/messages of several big right-wing super PACs funded by dirty-energy money.

At the bottom of that same piece, though, is one of the best expressions I've ever seen of the cultural and psychological aspects of the conflict. Witness:

Opposing Obama's energy policies was a natural fit for conservatives, said Marita Noon, a conservative activist from New Mexico who was at the meeting. "The American way, what made CostCo and Walmart a success, is to use more and pay less. That's the American way." The president's green policies however were the reverse, she said.

"President Obama wants us to pay more and use less."

Not for the first time, it strikes me that conservatives understand the stakes of this struggle much better than liberals and centrists do, especially at a gut level. They're on the wrong side of it, but at least they get it.

Photo by Walmart.

Noon is more or less correct: The American Way has been to carelessly consume high quantities of cheap energy, much of it embedded in disposable plastic crap at Walmart. Conservative leaders are telling their flock that there are endless deposits of fossil fuels all around them, if only those pesky Democrats and their regulations would get out of the way. The message is that the American way of life can continue forever, indeed that it is our patriotic birthright, but that Democrats want to take it from them. That goes deeper than energy. It's about home and hearth.

And Noon is right that the alternative — barely hinted at by Obama's policies, but sure to come into sharper relief in coming years — is to use much less, and more expensive, energy. You and I know that even if the per-unit price of energy goes up, consumer bills can go down, through efficiency. You and I know that it's possible to use less energy while still enjoying the same high quality of life. You and I know that there's no other choice, that cheap, abundant fossil fuels are a thing of the past.

But Noon and her ideological cohort are hearing otherwise. They're hearing that American abundance, the bounty available to even the poorest Americans at Walmart, is under threat. They're hearing that Democrats want to make America, the land of plenty, into Europe, the (imagined) land of tiny cars, cramped apartments, and high prices. Again, that's about more than prices or watts. It's about cultural identity.

Clean energy supporters can try, if they want, to convince people like Noon that clean energy can offer the same abundance — "use more and pay less" — that fossil fuels offered, through the magic of technology or innovation or whatever. But it's dishonest. Reducing emissions enough to substantially slow climate change will inevitably involve being more judicious and intelligent in our energy use. Profligate, heedless consumption of disposable crap is going to have to be reined in. That will mean changing habits and land-use patterns. Insofar as those habits and land-use patterns are viewed as constitutive of a "way of life," many will view that as a threat.

Remember, unlike wonks, average folk don't think in terms of discrete political "issues." They think in terms of broad cultural associations and identities. For the conservative base — about which I've written many times, see especially here — the issue of energy is wrapped up in a way of life that they view as under threat from multiple directions.

As I've said before, it's unlikely that such people can be persuaded with evidence and reason. What they will eventually do is die off. In the meantime, the job is to define a new American way of life for young people, so when they take over they won't view Walmart as akin to church.

See also: More on clean energy and the culture war

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U.S. Net Metering Use on the Rise

Posted: 16 May 2012 06:30 AM PDT

 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual.
Note: The chart counts the number of net-metering customers and does not indicate the generator size or amount of generation. Non-residential includes the commercial and industrial sectors; net-metered generators in these sectors are typically larger than residential generators.

Electricity consumers are participating in net-metering programs in growing numbers. When individuals or businesses install small onsite generators (such as a rooftop solar system), they can usually enter into a net-metering agreement with their utility. Between 2003 and 2010, the average annual growth in customer participation was 56%, with a 61% increase between 2009 and 2010. While participation is increasing, electric customers with net metering represented only 0.1% of all customers in 2010.

State policies and technological developments led to an increase in residential and business consumers installing small-scale, on-site generators. Starting around the late 1990s, many states began incentive programs to encourage the installation of renewable generation (such as rebate programs, performance-based incentives, tax incentives, or low-interest loans), as well as Renewable Portfolio Standards. Tariffs standardizing aspects of net metering like compensation and interconnection rules—making it easier for consumers to participate—are also an important part of this state-based effort.

Since EIA began publishing data on the incidence of net metering in 2003, there has been growth in its application. In 2003, utilities in 38 states and the District of Columbia reported having a total of 6,813 net-metered customers. Over three quarters of those were in California with 5,242 customers; the next-largest state, Arizona, had only 330 customers.

In 2010, every state except for Tennessee reported net-metered customers. The total number of customers increased to 155,841, of which California accounted for 56% (86,495). The next largest states were Colorado (9,776), Arizona (8,559), New Jersey (7,526), and New York (5,638).

Net-metered installations were reported by 655 different investor-owned utilities, municipals, and cooperatives across the country, up from 127 in 2003. Residential applications made up 86% of total net-metered customers in 2003 and 91% in 2010.

 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual.

The combination of onsite generation with net metering has benefits for both consumers and utilities:

  • Consumer. Consumers benefit from lower utility bills and increased stability in expenses (by replacing some portion of changing monthly utility bill with payments on their generator system). Also, connecting an onsite generator to the grid means no backup storage is required, decreasing the capital investment.
  • Utilities. Utilities can benefit by having units located closer to the end users, known as distributed generation, potentially requiring less investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure. Further, onsite generation can remove or defer the need for infrastructure expansion.

A previous Today in Energy article described the differences among state net-metering policies. Upcoming articles will examine some of the technologies used for, and the size of, net-metered installations in 2010, and take a closer look at States with particularly successful net-metering programs.

This article was originally published on the U.S. EIA website.

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Carbon Pricing & Trading News from Australia, California, China, South Korea, & More

Posted: 16 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT

 
Consideration of carbon pricing and trading, a market-based (not regulation-based) approach to addressing global warming, may still be outlawed by GOP leadership in Congress, but countries around the world (and even several US states) keep moving forward with planned or existing carbon pricing and trading programs. Below is some of the latest news from this arena.

Australia

Australia’s Federal Treasury recently announced that it expects the Australian government will raise A$24.7 billion under the carbon pricing mechanism, which is set to launch on July 1, 2012.

About 300 companies will face a carbon tax of A$23 per tonne of carbon emissions starting on that date, and the tax will increase by 5% a year until 2015. “From 2015, the carbon tax regime will be replaced by a cap-and-trade mechanism which will have a floor and ceiling price for the first three years,” Climate Connect notes.

The Australian government also recently announced that landfill projects which reduce carbon emissions will be eligible to claim carbon credits.

And, Greg Combett, Climate Change Minister for Australia, has expressed hope that Australia’s carbon emissions trading schemes will eventually be linked with China’s And South Korea’s.

“In the Asia-Pacific region there is scope in the years to come for us to develop quite an integrated approach,” Combett said. “A common carbon price could evolve from that, between our economies, which removes any issue of competitive disadvantage. And this is why I’m putting effort into this particular issue in China and Korea at the moment.”

California

An updated draft of California’s cap-and-trade regulations out last week includes language, for the the first, that opens the door to connecting the California carbon market with a carbon market in Quebec, Canada.

“The draft language called for the mutual acceptance of compliance instruments like allowances and offset credits between the two jurisdictions,” Rory Carroll of Reuters reports.

“It also called for a common allowance registry and auction, and included provisions for tracking allowances which are designed to enhance market security.”

California Air Resources Board (ARB) Chair Mary Nichols notes that there has always been the intention to link the California program to other programs, and that doing so offers the most benefit to California.

South Korea

South Korea recently approved a national emissions trading scheme. 148 out of 151 voting lawmakers voted for the scheme despite strong industry opposition (my, what a different political system they must have!).

More from Reuters:

Analysts and officials said the program won approval, despite fears it would hurt the economy, because of the long-term benefits to the country’s huge conglomerates from being more energy-efficient and exporting greener goods.

The scheme has not generated the same bitter public debate as in Australia and the United States, with the public more concerned with neighbouring North Korea.

“This is to develop green industry technologies and technology to reduce energy consumption, and develop those as one industry … ultimately we want to organize markets for green business ahead of other countries,” said Yang Soogil, chairman of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth, told Reuters.

The scheme caps carbon pollution across the economy, from steelmakers, ship-builders and power generators to even large universities, encouraging them to become more energy efficient.

South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest oil importer and the number two buyer of liquefied natural gas after Japan, so curbing energy imports would bring big savings.

China

A national-level carbon trading program in China is projected to start in 2016, according to a recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Regional-level trading is projected to start in 2014.

The report, "China's Carbon Emission Trading: an Experiment to Watch Closely," concluded that China’s efforts in this arena are both bold and sincere.

“The reports states that China needs to decide on whether carbon tax will be implemented or not and if yes than how will it be managed along with carbon trading,” Climate Connect notes. More from Climate Connect:

The NDRC announced the pilot sites in November 2011: the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjing, Chongqin, Shenzhen, and Guangdong and Hubei provinces.

The establishment of regional cap-and-trade schemes is part of China’s long-term strategy to reduce its carbon emissions and energy usage. China has announced a target to reduce its carbon intensity by 18% and energy intensity by 16% between 2011 and 2015. The Chinese government is also considering carbon emission caps for some energy-intensive industries and has already announced coal consumption caps for some sectors.

China–EU

Meanwhile, however, China is playing hardball when it comes to the EU law stating that China’s airlines must participate in the EU’s carbon trading scheme when flying in and out of Europe. China has apparently drafted a ‘retaliatory’ law challenging the EU emissions trading scheme.

The draft law states: “China objects to other countries and areas using climate change as an excuse to conduct protectionism in trade, or unilaterally levying carbon taxes or similar taxes on Chinese airlines, ships, etc.”

“However, the EU has rejected all calls to water down its scheme,” the UK’s Business Green notes, “insisting that it was forced to introduce the measures due to the on-going failure to develop an international mechanism for tackling rising aviation emissions.”

In fact, the EU has now stated that 8 Chinese (and 2 Indian) airlines have broken the EU law. All other airlines (about 1,200) have reportedly complied.

“We have given them (India and China) until mid-June to report back their data,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said, according to Reuters.

More from Reuters:

The Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has the option of fining airlines that break its law, or even banning repeat offenders from flying to Europe, although this would be a last resort.

To reduce tension, the Commission has looked to the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Administration (ICAO) to come up with a global approach to curbing emissions from airlines.

The body is expected to meet next month to review progress.

As you may or may not be aware, the EU implemented this cross-border airlines emissions law after over 10 years of international discussions led to nothing.

EU

Notably, Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters’ Global Energy and Environment Summit that she thought the funds from the EU airlines emissions fees should go into climate financing for poor countries.

“Some thought we were just taking this money and saying it was a tax,” Hedegaard said.

“Financial ministers have started this discussion by saying it could go into this (climate funding), but through national budgets.”

Logical. Hopefully, this will help to persuade Chinese and Indian airlines to finally comply with the new law.

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“Largest Solar Power Plant in World” Now Under Construction, & Largest Solar PV Plant in North America Now in Operation

Posted: 16 May 2012 05:30 AM PDT

 
I know, you’re probably getting tired of all this “largest solar this, largest solar that, largest solar boat” news, but I guess we can just expect “bigger and bigger” solar news as the industry grows in leaps and bounds.

Largest Solar Power Plant in World?

Now, however, I’m a little confused about a recent MidAmerican Solar and First Solar statement saying that “the largest solar electric power plant in the world,” a 550-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic project in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. known as Topaz Solar Farms, was under construction. Why? Well, Mathias noted last month that India just dedicated a 600-MW solar power plant. Maybe I’m missing something?

Nonetheless, the 550-MW project is huge by current solar power standards. The project, which will create about 400 jobs and “generate nearly $417 million in local economic impact” in the three years it will take to be built, will supply enough power for about 160,000 California homes when completed. For more information on this project, check the news release linked above.

Largest North American Solar Power Plant in Operation

In addition to Topaz Solar Farms, First Solar, MidAmerican Solar, and NRG Energy also announced that North America’s largest photovoltaic (PV) power plant is now in operation.

The first 100 MW of the 290-MW (AC) Agua Caliente solar project inYuma County, Ariz. are now delivering electricity to the grid.

Once completed, the companies state that the project will be able to deliver power to about 225,000 homes (I guess Arizona homes are quite a bit less energy-hungry than California homes). Construction of this solar farm is also creating about 400 jobs, about 80% of which are Arizona jobs.

“Getting to this milestone of our first 100 megawatts at Agua Caliente illustrates the success of public-private partnerships to stimulate the construction of these large-scale solar projects, creating hundreds of construction jobs and providing clean, renewable power to thousands of homes,” said Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar. “Large-scale projects like this also help drive down the price of solar, which will make it even more cost-competitive with conventional electricity generation in the near future.”

For more information on this story, check the First Solar news release. You may also enjoy this Agua Caliente video:

Images via First Solar

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Largest Non-Utility-Owned Solar Project on East Coast Officially Dedicated

Posted: 16 May 2012 04:30 AM PDT

 

Lincoln Renewable Energy (LRE) recently held the official dedication ceremony for its 12.5-megawatt (MW) NJ Oak Solar power project. The solar power project, located in Cumberland County, N.J., includes approximately 53,000 solar panels and sits on a 100-acre site. “It is the largest non-utility-owned solar project east of the Mississippi,” the company states.

LRE is a solar and wind energy developer that “has raised more than $100 million in external financing to fund its growth and is developing more than 30 solar and wind projects in 11 states managed from offices in Chicago, Austin, Denver and Hoboken, N.J.”

For more information about the project, check out the LRE news release or the video above.

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Google-backed Offshore Wind Power Superhighway Moves Forward

Posted: 16 May 2012 04:03 AM PDT

 
google offshore wind superhighway

The Google-backed Atlantic offshore superhighway (of transmission lines) for wind power that we’ve written about several times now has just moved another step forward.

The Department of the Interior stated on Monday that there was “no overlapping competitive interest” for the areas where the $5-billion project would be constructed. This decision leads us to the next step in the process — environmental review of the Atlantic Wind Connection line.

But the project is still a little ways from breaking any ground.

The environmental review could take up to 18-24 months, and there are other items awaiting approval as well. “The project faces regional and federal regulatory hurdles which backers hope to clear within two years so it can nail down financial agreements and start transmitting power by the end of 2017,” Reuters notes.

Other than Google, companies funding the project include Good Energies and Japan’s Marubeni Corp.

Of course, the Atlantic also needs to get its first offshore wind farm fully approved and built to make use of this transmission superhighway.

Source: Reuters
Image Credit: Google

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Organic Photovoltaics Market to Grow 1300% by 2022

Posted: 16 May 2012 04:00 AM PDT

 

A new market research report from IDTechEx has found that the organic photovoltaics (OPV) market is projected to hit $630 million by 2022, growing more than 1300% from the $4.6 million it’s at today.

The report summary notes: “OPVs bring the following attributes to the market: (a) excellent form factor, (b) good performance under indoor lighting conditions, (c) low capital expenditure, and (d) potentially very low energy production costs using printable plastics. Based on these value propositions, OPVs will not only target existing markets, but will also enable new ones, which existing solutions may not have been able to address.”

OPVs have downsides as well, of course. “The efficiency levels are low, despite the fact that the active semiconductor can be synthesised from many different molecular and polymeric materials. The lifetime is in the order of days if the device is exposed to ambient conditions and existing commercial encapsulants can extend it only to 2-3 years. The constituent materials are still in low-volume production and therefore command high prices.”

So, while OPVs aren’t likely to dominate the solar market, it’s expected they grow a decent niche for themselves.

Check out the report, Organic Photovoltaics Technologies, Players and Forecasts 2012-2022, or report summary for more.

Image Credit: University of Arizona (via this CleanTechnica article)

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Disappearing Meta-materials Now More Common

Posted: 16 May 2012 03:39 AM PDT

Disappearing

Meta-materials (MM: materials beyond the imagination) have been largely confined to tricks in the lab because the required components of silver and gold are not well adapted to semiconductor manufacturing processes and too much of the material is lost. These MM have the ability to bend narrow wavelengths of light, sound, and seismic waves. They have been used to make objects seem to "disappear."

Purdue Researchers, however, have found a way to substitute the precious minerals with AZO (aluminum-doped zinc oxide.) The research has been released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to making the MM cheaper and easier to manufacture, tuning and electrically switching the way the substance reacts from "like a metal" to "like a dielectric" is possible with the new doping technique.

Natural materials have limits. They have a refractive index that causes light to bend when passing from one material to another. Components must also be larger than wavelengths of light. These limitations are removed with artificial MM. Just a partial list of what is possible with these MM includes:

  • Microscopes that will allow us to see DNA;
  • cloaking devices;
  • sensors;
  • solar collectors that more efficiently capture light.

And now all of this can be more commercially available.

Not surprisingly, the research is funded by the military. Imagine a tank, jet, or ship that has a heat-seeking missile locked on a collision course. With a flip of a switch, there no longer appears to be any heat to track. Imagine, instead, of black hawk helicopters — MM helicopters completely invisible to heat, light or sound. But what I would really like to see first is a magician, working in short sleeves, pull a rabbit from thin air. No sleight of hand, just technology "beyond our imagination."

Source: Purdue University
Photocredit: David Naggy

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Tibet Gets Solar Project

Posted: 16 May 2012 03:32 AM PDT

 
naqu.jpg
A 2.1-megawatt (MW) off-grid solar project will be constructed in the northern region of Tibet called Naqu. This will be the largest off-grid solar installation built in the area in years. (Smaller solar power stations were built in the Chamdo region in 2002.) Building off-grid systems may be favorable for such areas, due to the ruggedness of the terrain and large distances between population centers.

Naqu prefecture is higher than 4,500 meters, and covers over 400,000 square kilometers. Each year, it receives about 2,900 hours of sunlight and has clear air, so photovoltaics are a good choice for renewable energy there. In addition to the mountain peaks and extreme elevation, the area has basins, lakes, rivers, and forests. It is also one of the few areas of Tibet were crops are cultivated effectively.

Naqu has a population of several hundred thousand and is an economic hub. The world’s highest airport is being built there, and should be finished by 2014. Even though the region has a relatively high economic output, conventional distributed power is lacking in some areas.

“We are very pleased to have been selected by Longyuan (Tibet) for the Naqu project. Quality irradiance in this highly elevated region underscores its suitability for such a project. We are committed to providing quality products and excellent service in implementing this project, which we believe can benefit the local population,” said Jifan Gao, Chairman and CEO of Trina Solar.

Trina Solar Limited will supply the solar panels and related technology for the project to Longyuan Power Group Co., Ltd. Longyuan will handle the construction, management and operation.

Source: MarketWatch
Image Credit: Carla Antonini, Wiki Commons

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Operational Improvements and Retrofitting: A Perfect Match

Posted: 16 May 2012 03:29 AM PDT

 

Did you know that…. operational improvements and retrofitting can potentially offer an overall energy savings of nearly 50 percent?

The commercial building sector is the largest electric energy consumption segment in the U.S. It currently represents almost 20 percent of all energy use and is growing faster than any other market segment. Given the sheer magnitude of energy use in commercial buildings, any measures designed to save energy in the segment represent a significant opportunity for impact.

With that, the market has seen a recent surge in the number of companies focused on driving energy efficiency in commercial buildings, primarily through retrofit projects. Research suggests that ESCOs will exceed $5.1 billion this year in energy efficiency project installations. This number is expected to grow to $16 billion in sales by 2020.

Despite the tremendous attention to commercial building retrofits, nearly half of total energy savings opportunity in commercial buildings remains untouched. Operational improvements — low- and no-cost improvements like changing temperature set points, implementing night setback schedules and reducing simultaneous heating and cooling — are the hidden and low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency.

For example, imagine an office building in which most people have left the building by 7 p.m., but the building does not begin its HVAC shutdown until 9 p.m. That's two hours, or 8 percent of the day, spent at a high level of energy consumption, with little to no benefit to the building or its occupants. Easy adjustments to the building’s HVAC scheduling could save such a building 2 percent to 3 percent over an entire year, at no cost.

Why are operational improvements so hard to find?

Let's start with the basics. In order to identify energy savings opportunities, utilities and building owners typically start with on-site audits. Typical assessments run between $5,000 and $50,000 and take several weeks or more to complete. They also require multiple days on site and a significant time investment from the building staff.

These audits often use observations over days or weeks to make their conclusions. But beyond providing a look at monthly consumption patterns, these audits lack the ability to analyze a full year of daily and hourly consumption. Because companies looking for retrofit business often conduct these audits, they tend to focus on the physical assets of the building that can be readily observed. In short, there can be high barriers to even getting an audit, and if one is done, it's unlikely to find operational issues.

Using highly sophisticated analytical techniques and an understanding of building science, a building's utility data can reveal operational savings opportunities of up to 30 percent in commercial buildings. Some of these operational savings can be acted on by building owners without help and some may require retrofitting engineers to re-program, upgrade, or tune controls systems.

Every time I go into a building to try and sell the T5 Retrofit Kit, I'm struck by the wasted electricity that nobody can see. The Green Savings Company does not make any money from operational improvements, but we notify management of improvements that can be made. There is no doubt that building owners could save themselves thousands of dollars a year if they could get a handle on them.

Scott Raybin @greensavingsco

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New EPA Initiative to Boost Green Jobs & Environmental Tech Exports

Posted: 16 May 2012 12:30 AM PDT

 
The EPA this week launched a new initiative to boost U.S. jobs and increase environmental tech exports. Here’s the full announcement from the EPA:

[This week] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Department of Commerce Secretary John E. Bryson announced efforts to launch an environmental technology initiative to help create American jobs in the growing environmental industry. Announced at EPA's first Technology Market Summit, this initiative, which will include a comprehensive web based portal, will promote American environmental technology, products and services in the global marketplace. 

The Environmental Technologies Export Initiative builds on President Obama's National Export Initiative, which aims to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014 and support millions of American jobs. 

The American environmental industry generates approximately $312 billion in revenues each year, with a global market of more than $800 billion. This growing industry employs nearly 1.7 million Americans and includes over 60,000 small businesses across the country.

"When it comes to technology that conserves resources and protects the environment, America leads the rest of the world by a mile. This is largely thanks to the value Americans place on environmental protection and to the innovation of our entrepreneurs," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "As other countries start to take environmental challenges more and more seriously, there is a growing global market for the technologies that have been and continue to be developed by innovators on our shores. Today we're taking steps make it easier for American companies to enter and succeed in that market." 

"Two years ago, the President launched the National Export Initiative, a government-wide effort led by the Commerce Department. We have made historic progress on the path to achieving the President’s goal, but we must continue to do everything we can to support U.S. companies in selling their goods and services all around the world," said Secretary Bryson. "One of the important strategies in the NEI is to build on our industrial strengths, and it is clear that environmental technology is one of those strengthens."

The web-based tool, which is scheduled to be launched in fall of this year and hosted on export.gov, will offer U.S. environmental companies detailed information on U.S. government support activities including market research, scientific analysis, regulatory information, and financial support programs. EPA and Commerce are also partnering with trade associations to highlight potential growth opportunities for U.S. companies by increasing access to EPA's scientific, technical and regulatory information and Commerce's foreign market analysis and export promotion infrastructure. When launched, this portal will provide a more systematic approach for U.S. companies looking to expand markets for their environmental products and services abroad. 

EPA co-sponsored [this week]'s summit with American University's Center for Environmental Policy, bringing together government, academia, investment and industry leaders to discuss the acceleration of technology development and adoption to achieve economic growth through environmental protection. Stimulating innovation and expanding the technology markets to protect people's health and the environment will help to create jobs, develop partnerships, and identify concrete actions that the public and private sectors can take to increase investment and broaden business opportunities. 

More information on President's National Export Initiative: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-national-export-initiative

More information on EPA's export initiatives: http://www.epa.gov/international/trade 

More information on Department of Commerce's work promoting environmental technology: http://www.export.gov/envirotech

More information on EPA's Technology Summit: http://www.epa.gov/envirofinance/2012summit.html

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SolarWorld US-China Solar Trade Case Timeline & Top Quotes

Posted: 15 May 2012 05:58 PM PDT

 
Going along with the CASE statement I just published, Eric Wesoff of Greentech Media has put together a great timeline and highlights post on this solar trade case that I’m going to repost in full here. The final response from the Department of Commerce is expected this week, so this may be the last spurt of stories on this topic… I, for one, hope so. Here’s the great post from Wesoff:

The U.S. and China remain locked in a difficult trade dispute on solar panel manufacturing.

Right now we’re in a lull between the Countervailing Duties (CVD) and the Anti-Dumping (AD) judgments. That might not sound like much of a cliffhanger — but the upcoming May 16 response of the Department of Commerce to SolarWorld’s China-U.S. solar trade claim could have a serious impact on the U.S. photovoltaic market.

Here’s a quick timeline of how we got here, what might happen this week, and what it will mean to solar professionals and the state of solar in the U.S.

The story so far:

October 19, 2011: SolarWorld and its consortium (CASM) make an official complaint to the Department of Commerce charging unfair trade practices by China in the crystalline silicon solar industry.

November 8, 2011: The Department of Commerce initiated anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) investigations of imports of solar cells from China.

November through March: Accusations between the two parties ensue. CASE, an industry group opposing the tariff, is formed of Installers, project financiers, and Chinese solar panel manufacturers.

March 20, 2012: The Department of Commerce’s preliminary verdict on unfair subsidies for Chinese solar panels was handed down, along with what amounted to low tariffs for the Countervailing Duties (CVD). The preliminary determination indicated the DOC's intention to impose a duty of 4.73 percent on U.S. imports from Trina Solar, 2.9 percent from Suntech, and 3.59 percent from all other remaining Chinese manufacturers.

April 30, 2012: Manufacturing workers who lost their jobs when SolarWorld’s Camarillo, Calif. plant shut down are ruled eligible for federal trade-adjustment assistance by the U.S. Department of Labor.

May 17, 2012:  The U.S. Commerce Department will announce its preliminary decision in response to SolarWorld’s anti-dumping (AD) petition. Any additional AD tariffs will be added to the CVD tariff.

Quotes from the players

“The processes involved in our cases are WTO-legal.” Gordon Brinser, CEO SolarWorld Americas

“Do our trade laws work quickly enough to respond when autocratic nations seek to unfairly dominate an industry?”  Gordon Brinser, CEO SolarWorld Americas

“It's clear that SolarWorld is one of the most heavily subsidized companies in the history of the solar industry. If its crusade is truly about fairness, we urge the company to release a detailed list of all the subsidies and tax breaks it has received globally.”  Jigar Shah, CASE

The SolarWorld/CASM claim is “a jobs program — for lawyers.”  Polly Shaw, Director of External Relations at Suntech America

Melanie Harta Policy Analyst on China Energy and Climate Policy at the Center for American Progress, said that fossil-fuel-backed U.S. political leaders are not supporting renewables, while China "has a forward-looking five-year strategy" and is "dedicating a lot of money to growing solar, particularly manufacturing."

"Installers, importers, distributors, and developers," will be affected by tariffs, and "nobody will benefit." Many U.S. manufacturers and the entire consumer-oriented part of the solar sector benefit from low costs, he said, adding, "We should be competing with the traditional fossil fuel generators, not fighting amongst ourselves."  Ocean Yuan, Founder of Grape Solar

“As we see it, the most pressing question we face is clear: How can the United States continue to benefit from an open global marketplace as the vastly different system of state-sponsored capitalism in China emerges as an economic power and increasingly targets our strategic industries?” Gordon Brinser, CEO SolarWorld Americas

What’s next?

The anti-dumping (AD) ruling gets decided on May 16 and announced on May 17.

A ruling in favor of American manufacturers could hit Chinese manufacturers hard if the AD tariff is larger than the CVD tariff and similarly retroactive.

The U.S. government is going to mete out some punishment, and perhaps the EU and India will, as well. China will have to pay some retroactive fines and face a tariff. This has the potential to raise the cost of solar and stifle demand in the U.S. solar market, along with slowing the strong growth of the downstream market — at least in the short term.

In the medium term, the tariff looks to force the regionalization of solar panel manufacturing. We'll see modules bound for the U.S. assembled in Mexico, Malaysia, Indian, Korea or Vietnam — all places where the total landed cost to the U.S. is today pretty close to China. Certainly Yingli, Suntech, Trina and others are in the process of adapting to this new normal.

One can already get price quotes from Chinese solar manufacturers for trade-compliant (as well as non-trade-compliant) product ready to be delivered through year-end, according to industry insiders.

An aggrieved China might take retaliatory measures on trade in the solar sector or in other markets. (See tariffs, chicken parts, below.)

The Department of Commerce defines CVD and AD

For the purpose of AD investigations, dumping occurs when a foreign company sells a product in the United States at less than fair value. For the purpose of CVD investigations, subsidies are financial assistance from foreign governments that benefit the production, manufacture, or exportation of goods.

For the AD segment, SolarWorld is going to have to reveal and prove its costs are higher than Chinese manufacturers and compare costs to a “reference country,” according toBarclays.

What similar duties have done to industry in the past

A 2009, Obama-era trade decision on Chinese tire imports is often cited as a similar case. But the tire case was filed under Section 421, which is less about AD and CVD than it is about determining “market disruption” of domestic producers and imposes an import tariff as part of China's Protocol of Accession to the WTO. In this case, the ITC suggested that President Obama impose a duty on the Chinese tires with an additional 55 percent duty in the first year, 45 percent in the second year, and 35 percent in the third year. The ITC also recommended consideration of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for impacted workers.

According to an April 27 article in the WSJ on import tariffs on those Chinese tires, analysts Gary Hufbauer and Sean Lowry of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, supporters of free trade, found, “the result of slapping heavy duties on Chinese imports was a stiff increase in tire prices. The vast majority of the tires sold in place of Chinese tires were made in other foreign countries. The additional spending on tires — essentially the same effect as a tax — meant that Americans had $1.12 billion less to spend on other things.”  The analysts say the tariff was a net job killer.

Plus, the Chinese struck back with a tariff on chicken parts.

Both sides claim victory on job creation and value creation

Gordon Brinser, the CEO of SolarWorld Americas, claims: "The U.S. trade case is supported by more than 180 solar companies representing more than 15,000 workers.”

According to CASE members, CASE has surpassed CASM in the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs of its members. CASE U.S. manufacturing sources include REC Group, GT Solar, Suntech Americas, MEMC, et al. CASM’s manufacturing jobs come from SolarWorld, MX, and Helios.

According to a survey conducted by the group, four of the founding manufacturers of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing purchased more than a combined $400 million in goods and services from other manufacturers and employers in 46 states in 2011. The four manufacturers purchased a total of more than $1 million in goods and services in 21 states and at least $50 million in four states: Oregon ($86 million), Pennsylvania ($74 million), Michigan ($60.8 million) and California ($50 million). The total helps employers cover payrolls in upstream sectors such as glass fabrication, polysilicon production and aluminum extrusion and downstream services such as auditing, laboratory analysis and transportation.

A report from The Brattle Group looked at 50-percent and 100-percent tariff scenarios and found that a 50-percent tariff will effectively shut the majority of Chinese imports out of the U.S. and result in a job loss of 15,000 to 50,000 — even accounting for production gains in the U.S. The report also considers the impact of Chinese retaliation in importing polysilicon, which could result in a loss of 11,000 jobs in 2012, for a total of up to 60,000 jobs lost by 2014. The author of the report did acknowledge that there would be some gains among U.S.-based module producers — albeit at higher module prices.

According to sources close to the CASE consortium, “70 percent of the jobs CASM claims to represent are associated with companies that sell and/or promote Chinese modules or are associated with China in some way. In addition, “The CASM member with the most jobs — 3,500 — is an industry association of general contractors with no indication as to how many are actually engaged in solar industry activities.” Also, a number of CASM members don’t appear to be involved in making, selling, or installing PV solar panels.

SolarWorld garners millions in subsidies 

Amidst accusations of Chinese subsidies, SolarWorld has helped itself to tens of millions in subsidies:

Conclusions

I’ve tried to offer a balanced set of views on this matter. Now I’d like to weigh in with a few opinions.

  • Of course China is subsidizing its solar industry. The inputs to making a solar panel (aside from materials) are energy, capital, and labor — and China provides advantages to some of its solar firms in these inputs. China also has a Five-Year Plan that supports exports and provides incentives. This is also called having an actual energy policy with a long-term view.
  • SolarWorld and CASM are fulfilling their duty to their shareholders by doing everything they can within the legal framework of the Department of Commerce to provide an advantage to their firm.
  • The U.S. remains no better a place to build solar panels than it is to build iPhones. Tariff or not, it is unlikely that SolarWorld can survive as a U.S.-based PV module manufacturer in the long-term.
  • If the U.S. downstream solar and Chinese manufacturing industries are lucky, the AD tariff will be modest. Obama, China hard-liners and SolarWorld can claim a victory, SolarWorld might get a reprieve, and downstream prices will not be markedly higher.
  • GTM Research’s Shyam Mehta said that only about 6 percent of the world’s solar panels are made in the U.S., all in highly automated factories. In other words, solar panel manufacturing is not a labor- or jobs-rich industry in this country. The jobs are created in downstream solar industries such as installation and project development.

Related posts:

  1. Dumping Solar: Downstream U.S. Solar PV Businesses Join CASM, Case Against China’s Unfair Trade Practices
  2. Milwaukee Solar PV Manufacturer Comes Out Publicly in Support of CASM Trade Case Against China
  3. China Swallows U.S. Solar Trade Surplus & Grows a Big One in 1 Year


U.S. Solar Manufacturers Opposed to Solar Tariffs

Posted: 15 May 2012 05:49 PM PDT

 

Andrew has been the one to most consistently cover the solar tariff wars, and he’s clearly on the side of CASM. To give the other side of the debate a little more air time, I’m republishing this week’s statement from Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) below. This is clearly a complicated topic — even if both sides are presenting clear, focused statements on why they think tariffs would or wouldn’t be good. I’ve got some things on my mind to share, as well, but I’m going to hold off on that a little longer. For now, here’s CASE’s latest statement (only the image added):

Manufacturers including Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor, GT Advanced Technologies, MEMC, REC Silicon, and Suntech America, believe that free trade and global competition are good for the American solar industry and American jobs. The companies represent over 3,000 American jobs in every major region of the country, including states such as Arizona, California, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

Robert D. Hansen, president and CEO, Dow Corning Corporation (not a CASE member, but against SolarWorld's petition): "Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor are among the world's leading suppliers of polysilicon and other key solar materials that power solar innovation. We believe that the trade case brought against Chinese solar manufacturers by SolarWorld could undermine the solar industry's significant progress at the very moment it is poised for success. It's important to remember that no nation or industry "wins" when trade disputes escalate – and in this case, we are concerned about serious unintended consequences such as local job loss and retaliatory tariffs against the U.S."

Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies: "Ultimately, the protectionism that SolarWorld is encouraging fosters dependence and high-cost business models, rather than the agile approaches that are most successful in global competition. Now is the time for the U.S. solar industry to move forward with creating American jobs and enhancing our energy security. We are proof that American solar manufacturing can compete without special protections."

Tore Torvund, CEO of REC Silicon: "Tariffs are not in the best interest of American solar manufacturing, the American solar industry, or American solar consumers. We are concerned about the increased likelihood that China will retaliate with their own unilateral tariffs on polysilicon exports from U.S. producers such as REC Silicon. No one benefits in a global solar trade war."

The voices of American solar manufacturers add to the chorus of downstream solar installers and project developers who oppose tariffs that would raise solar electricity prices and limit demand for new solar projects. Just the American solar manufacturers alone opposing SolarWorld's campaign represent nearly three times more jobs than the public petitioners in the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM).

"It's overwhelmingly clear now that the vast majority of the American solar industry opposes SolarWorld's crusade to tax its competitors at the expense of the American solar industry. SolarWorld certainly doesn't represent the bulk of American solar manufacturers, much less the American solar industry," said Jigar Shah, President of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy. "Hopefully, in two days, the American solar industry will once again be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief and we can then put SolarWorld and this distracting chapter in our industry's history behind us."

On May 17th, the U.S. Department of Commerce is expected to announce a preliminary ruling as to whether to raise additional tariffs on American companies that import solar cells from China.

About CASE: The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), a coalition of American solar companies representing 97% to 98% of the U.S. solar industry jobs, believes free trade and industry competition are critical to making solar electricity affordable for everyone. CASE is united in its commitment to creating jobs through the growth and development of the American solar industry. For more information about CASE, please visit: http://coalition4affordablesolar.org/

Images via CASE

Related posts:

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5 Things to Know about Clean Energy Investments before Yet Another Pointless Political Hearing

Posted: 15 May 2012 05:14 PM PDT

 

In an attempt to keep the political war against renewable energy in the headlines, Republicans are holding another hearing to question the value of government investments in the sector.

Looks like ten political sideshows on Solyndra weren't enough.

If tomorrow morning's hearing were being used as a chance to objectively assess where the industry stands, that would be one thing. But the title of the meeting gives away the real political intent: "The Obama Administration's Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?

Actually, those green energy investments have yielded substantial returns. And before the political grandstanding begins in the House of Representatives tomorrow, here are five important things you should know about how promotion of clean energy has supported American businesses and consumers:

1. The 1603 grant program supported up to 75,000 jobs and 23,000 renewable energy projects during the height of the recession. When the recession hit, it was very difficult for project developers to find banks that were willing to utilize tax credits. So a cash grant program was created to give companies an easier way to finance projects. While it's very difficult to know the exact influence of the grant on each project, the program played a major role in maintaining momentum — helping support $25 billion in gross economic activity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

2. The production tax credit helps leverage up to $20 billion in private investment annually. With this key tax credit in place, the wind industry has dropped costs by 90% over the last few decades. It's helped states like Iowa reach 20% wind penetration — bringing that state over 215 businesses that support 5,000 workers. Across the rest of the U.S., the entire industry supports 75,000 jobs, with 30,000 in manufacturing. However, up to 37,000 of those jobs could be at risk due Congressional lawmakers' inability to extend the tax credit.

3. The loan guarantee program is expected to cost $2 billion less than budgeted. This program has gotten a black eye due to the bankruptcies of a few companies — most famously Solyndra — that received guarantees. But according to John McCain's National Finance Chairman, Herb Allison, the cost to taxpayers will likely be far less than initially thought. In fact, over the last 20 years of experience, the U.S. government has shown a knack for managing risk— with loans and loan guarantee programs only costing tax payers 94 cents for every $100 dollars invested.

4. Home weatherization grew 1000% from April to June of 2011, creating 14,800 jobs. After a slow ramp-up, efficiency programs supported by the stimulus package have helped weatherize hundreds of thousands of homes. In addition to supporting the retrofits of individual homes, the Obama administration has supported the Better Buildings Initiative, a program that has leveraged billions of private dollars to upgrade more than 4 billion square feet of public and private buildings in the next two years. That's enough demand to support over 100,000 jobs.

5. ARPA-E has supported dozens of potentially groundbreaking technologies in advanced materials, renewable fuels, electricity generation, waste heat, and battery storage. Helping enhance America's lead in technological innovation, the Advanced Research Research Projects Agency for Energy — initially funded through the stimulus package — has helped inventors, companies, and university labs boost their work. This program has immense bi-partisan support for promoting the "innovative research that makes America great and has fueled our economic growth for generations."

Despite these successes, Republicans continue milking the Solyndra bankruptcy for an election-year story that doesn't hold up — dragging the rest of the clean energy industry into the mud.

The sector has gone through some high-profile shake-ups and bankruptcies, so it's the duty of lawmakers to understand how tax payer dollars are being deployed. That's a supportable endeavor. But holding yet another hearing to lambast the President for a so-called "gamble" in clean energy isn't productive for anyone.

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

Image Credit: Zachary Shahan

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Coal Generation Drops 19% in 1 Year in US

Posted: 15 May 2012 05:05 PM PDT

 
Power generation from coal is falling quickly. According to new figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal made up 36 percent of U.S. electricity in the first quarter of 2012 — down from 44.6 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

That stunning drop, which represented almost a 20 percent decline in coal generation over the last year, was primarily due to low natural gas prices. As EIA explains, natural gas generation will climb steadily this year, while coal will see a double-digit drop by the end of 2012:

Natural‐gas‐fired generation continues to expand its share of total generation at the expense of coal‐fired generation. During the first quarter of 2012, natural gas accounted for 28.7 percent of total generation compared with 20.7 percent during the same quarter last year. In contrast, coal's share of total generation declined from 44.6 percent to 36.0 percent over the same period.

Prices for natural gas delivered to the electric power industry fell by 7.5 percent in 2011, which contributed to a significant increase in the share of natural‐gas‐fired generation. EIA expects this trend to continue in 2012, withelectric power sector coal consumption falling by 14 percent. Natural gas in the electric power sector grows by almost 21 percent in 2012, primarily driven by the increasing relative cost advantages of natural gas over coal for power generation in some regions.

 

EIA also projects that coal production at mines will fall by more than 10 percent this year. However, with prices falling due to an increase in secondary inventories, the agency predicts that domestic consumption may rise by just over 1 percent next year.

The U.S. coal industry if facing major headwinds. The current drop in generation is mostly due to competition from natural gas. But there are other factors that will assist in pushing coal out of the electricity mix: An aging fleet of plants, cost-competitive renewables, new clean air regulations, and a strong anti-coal movement are working together to reduce the attractiveness of coal. Since 2010, plant operators have announced 106 retirements of coal facilities — representing 13 percent of the U.S. fleet, according to the Sierra Club.

The continued decline in domestic coal generation is good news for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from the fossil fuel sector are expected to decline by almost 3 percent this year — continuing the 1.9 percent decrease seen in 2011. Emissions from natural gas will rise by 5.5 percent, while emissions from coal will fall by almost 12 percent.

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

Related posts:

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