Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Awesome Graphs — Today’s Relevance of Solar and Wind Power in Germany

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 09:46 AM PDT

 
I found these awesome graphs and charts that illustrate the electricity production patterns of solar and wind power in Germany in 2012. They are being published by the Fraunhofer ISE and are updated regularly it seems, as they are currently up-to-date.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) is the largest institute of applied science specialized on solar energy utilization in Europe. It was founded in 1981 and has been the source of innovation and scientific breakthroughs ever since.

Some Outstanding Graphs

The first image showcases the awesome complementary nature of wind and solar power generation over a monthly period. This is something very important one has to keep in mind, especially when people suggest a “technology neutral” policy of incentives/subsidies aimed at introducing renewable energy generation into the power mix. Knowing about this complementary nature makes arguments like “we should only support cost-efficient (wind) methods of power generation” sound rather silly, at least when the goal is a 100% renewable energy system.

The second image shows the first week of 2012 when windpower basicly created a 7-day weekend for fossil/nuclear power plants.

The third image shows the record breaking week in May when solar power produced as much electricity as 20 nuclear power plants during peak hours.

Not enough data visualization for you? Then you can access the complete set of charts here.


Top Solar Power Countries (Per Capita, Per GDP, Per TWh of Electricity Produced, & in Total)

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 06:01 AM PDT

 
Following up on my three posts last week on Top Wind Power Countries Relative to Electricity ProductionTop Wind Power Countries Per Capita, and Top Wind Power Countries Per GDP, this post includes rankings of the top countries in the world for new solar PV power (in 2011) and total installed solar PV power (at the end of 2011) relative to country populations, electricity production, and GDP.

The solar power figures are based off of data from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association’s Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics until 2016 report just published in May. Country population, electricity production, and GDP statistics were retrieved from the same Wikipedia pages used for the wind power posts and rankings (i.e. they are the same numbers).

For 10 more charts (a bit prettier) from the Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics until 2016 report, check out: 10 Interesting Solar Power Graphics. Or, for much more information and depth on solar power in any of these countries, check out the EPIA report.

After the graphics and lists of the rankings, I add a little commentary on some of the leading countries (and one not-leading country).

Before getting to the rankings, I’ll just note that there may be some countries not included here that should be — I’m not aware of any in particular, but if you have 2011 solar installation data for a country that you think should be included and is not, send the data to me and I can update these charts and lists. (Note: I’m only including countries with over 1 MW of total installed solar power.)

Of course, solar is a fast-growing energy sector and there might be some big changes once 2012 numbers are in (e.g. India is sure to jump up a bit in the rankings). I’m already looking forward to doing this for 2012, but, unfortunately, that will have to wait another year or so.

On to the rankings, you say? OK, let’s go!

(Note: to enlarge any of the images, click on the image below, and then click on the image again on the next page and you can then zoom in and out from there.)

Top Solar Power Countries Per Capita

Total/Cumulative Solar Power per Capita (end of 2011):

Country — Total Installed Solar Power per Million People (MW):

  1. Germany — 301.470
  2. Italy — 214.480
  3. Czech Rep. — 186.497
  4. Belgium — 184.271
  5. Spain — 95.268
  6. Slovakia — 85.945
  7. Luxembourg — 58.617
  8. Greece — 58.493
  9. Australia — 56.622
  10. France — 40.689
  11. Slovenia — 39.372
  12. Japan — 38.508
  13. Malta — 28.734
  14. Switzerland — 27.161
  15. Israel — 24.875
  16. Austria — 20.821
  17. Bulgaria — 18.331
  18. Portugal — 17.422
  19. Canada — 16.170
  20. South Korea — 15.521
  21. UK — 14.054
  22. USA — 13.973
  23. Cyprus — 10.728
  24. Netherlands — 6.154
  25. Taiwan — 4.388
  26. Ukraine — 4.163
  27. Denmark — 2.865
  28. China — 2.296
  29. Sweden — 1.580
  30. Ireland — 0.654
  31. Hungary — 0.402
  32. India — 0.381
  33. Mexico — 0.356
  34. Brazil — 0.166
  35. Romania — 0.158
  36. Turkey — 0.080
  37. Poland — 0.078

New Solar Power per Capita (2011):

Country — Total New Solar Power per Million People (MW):

  1. Italy — 156.126
  2. Germany — 91.438
  3. Belgium — 88.939
  4. Slovakia — 58.950
  5. Greece — 39.489
  6. Australia — 33.764
  7. France — 25.570
  8. Malta — 23.945
  9. Slovenia — 22.360
  10. Israel — 16.499
  11. Turkey — 14.945
  12. Bulgaria — 13.579
  13. Switzerland — 13.203
  14. UK — 12.592
  15. Canada — 10.454
  16. Japan — 10.156
  17. Luxembourg — 9.769
  18. Ukraine — 4.119
  19. Cyprus — 3.576
  20. South Korea — 1.894
  21. Denmark — 1.791
  22. China — 1.633
  23. Netherlands — 1.195
  24. Ireland — 0.654
  25. Czech Rep. — 0.571
  26. Taiwan — 0.332
  27. Portugal — 0.320
  28. Sweden — 0.316
  29. Hungary — 0.301
  30. India — 0.248
  31. USA — 0.169
  32. Spain — 0.124
  33. Austria — 0.106
  34. Romania — 0.105
  35. Mexico — 0.089
  36. Brazil — 0.026
  37. Poland — 0.026


REN21, UNEP Reports Highlight Challenges Amid Record Renewable Energy Growth

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 05:51 AM PDT

 

The drive to develop and deploy renewable energy worldwide is no ‘blip on the radar screen,’ but rather a sustained, increasingly broad and diverse effort that’s central to international initiatives aimed at making the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy–driven “green” economies. The cumulative magnitude and effects of growth in renewable energy are laid out in two industry standard reference reports released yesterday: the United Nations Environment Programme’s “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012” and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century’s (REN21) 2012 “Renewables Global Status Report.”

Renewable energy continued to grow strongly across all end-use sectors — power, heating and cooling, and transport — increasing 37% in 2010 and 17% in 2011 to a reach a record $257 billion. That’s a six-fold increase over 2004′s total and 94% higher than that of 2007, a year that saw the onset of the “Great Recession.” Even more impressively, the gains have come despite strong economic, and in some cases, political headwinds, according to UNEP’s report, which is based on data provided by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Developing economies accounted for 35% of 2011′s $257 billion renewable energy investment total, with developed countries accounting for 65%. The US closed the gap on word-leader China as renewable energy increased 57%, to $51 billion. India exhibited the fastest growth among the largest national renewable energy markets, with investment surging 62% to $12 billion.

“There may be multiple reasons driving investments in renewables, from climate, energy security and the urgency to electrify rural and urban areas in the developing world as one pathway towards eradicating poverty-whatever the drivers the strong and sustained growth of the renewable energy sector is a major factor that is assisting many economies towards a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy” stated UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

 

 

Falling Solar, Wind Energy Costs and a Mixed Energy Policy Landscape

In addition to strong gains in both renewable energy investment and installed capacity, falling technology costs were “one of the dominant features of the renewable energy landscape in 2011,” UNEP noted. Solar PV module costs dropped nearly 50%, while the cost of onshore wind turbines fell by around 10%.

Another prominent aspect of the diverse renewable energy sector was the enactment of government policy support for renewable energy in developing countries, evidence of which is clear in the 35% of total global renewable energy investment that was made in developing countries in 2011. More than 118 governments enacted renewable energy policies in 2011, with more than half of them developing countries. The same cannot be said for policy trends in developed nations, however.

Government support for renewable energy in the key US and European Union (EU) markets is fading as banks continue to sag under the weight of bad debts accumulated during the property and real estate boom of the early 2000s and governments under the weight of still-growing emergency bailouts.

Government policy support is a critical element in helping develop sustainable, cost-competitive new renewable energy industries. It seems we’re at the cusp of real change.

Sustainable Energy for All: On the Cusp of Change

Extraordinary progress has been made in the past decade, but a lot remains to be done in order to make a transition from economies driven by fossil fuels to renewable energy alternatives and business practices that account for social and environmental as well as financial costs and returns.

Governments continuing to maintain subsidies and other financial support for fossil fuel consumption and production is one of, if not the, major obstacle to bringing the cost of renewable energy alternatives down further.

It’s estimated that fossil fuel subsidies exceed those for renewable energy five or six to one, if not more. It’s clear, and increasingly imperative, that pressure be brought to bear to counter the extravagantly well-funded political lobbying and campaign funding, as well as the pernicious misinformation and disinformation campaigns, of fossil fuel industry media and public relations machine.

Nonetheless, “the findings in the 2012 GSR (Global Status Report) speak to the accumulating effect of steady growth in renewable energy markets, support policies and investment over the past years,” REN21 states.

Included among the REN21 and UNEP reports’ highlights:

  • The top seven countries for renewable electricity capacity excluding large hydro – China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India and Japan – accounted for about 70% of total non-hydro renewable capacity worldwide. The ranking among these countries was quite different for non-hydro capacity on a per person basis: Germany, Spain, Italy, the US, Japan, China and India. By region, the EU was home to nearly 37% of global non-hydro renewable capacity at the end of 2011, China, India and Brazil accounted for roughly one quarter.
  • Total investment in solar power jumped 52% to $147 billion and featured booming rooftop photovoltaic (PV) installations in Italy and Germany, the rapid spread of small-scale PV to other countries from China to the UK and big investments in large-scale concentrating solar thermal (CSP) power projects in Spain and the US.
  • Competitive challenges intensified sharply, leading to sharp drops in prices, especially in the solar market — a boon to buyers but not to manufacturers, a number of whom went out of business or were forced to restructure.
  • Renewable power, excluding large hydro-electric, accounted for 44% of all new generating capacity added worldwide in 2011 (up from 34% in 2010). This accounted for 31% of actual new power generated, due to lower capacity factors for solar and wind capacity.
  • Gross investment in fossil-fuel capacity in 2011 was $302 billion, compared to $237 billion for that in renewable energy capacity excluding large hydro.
  • Renewable technologies are expanding into new markets. In 2011, around 50 countries installed wind capacity; solar PV capacity is rapidly moving into new regions and countries; interest in geothermal power has taken hold in East Africa’s Rift Valley and elsewhere; interest in solar heating and cooling is on the rise in countries around the world; and the use of modern biomass for energy purposes is expanding in all regions of the globe.
  • In the power sector, renewables accounted for almost half of the estimated 208 gigawatts (GW) of electric capacity added globally during the year. Wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) accounted for almost 40% and 30% of new renewable capacity, respectively, followed by hydropower (nearly 25%).
  • By the end of 2011, total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,360 GW, up 8% over 2010; renewables comprised more than 25% of total global power-generating capacity (estimated at 5,360 GW in 2011) and supplied an estimated 20.3% of global electricity.
  • At least 118 countries, more than half of which are developing countries, had renewable energy targets in place by early 2012, up from 96 one year before, although some slackening of policy support was seen in developed countries. This weakening reflected austerity pressures, particularly in Europe, and legislative deadlock in the US Congress.
  • Despite all the additional investments, share prices in the renewable energy sector had a dismal 2011 in the face of overcapacity in the solar and wind manufacturing chains and investor unease about the direction of support policies in both Europe and North America.


New Robot Mimics a Fish Behaving Like a Boy Scout

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 05:05 AM PDT

 
NYU Poly develops robot zebra fish

Boy Scouts, well known for helping that apocryphal little old lady cross the street, have become the inspiration for a new kind of rescue robot that will help guide fish away from oil spills and other aquatic hazards. The new robot-fish is under development by an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the applied technology institute NYU-Poly in New York City.

Plenty of other robotic fish in the sea

The new mechanical fish adds an interactive twist to a growing list of small aquatic robots under development.

Until now, these devices, such as a jellyfish-like robot (aptly named Robojelly), robotic bubbles, and a new fish-shaped device recently deployed in Spain, are generally not designed to call forth particular behaviors in live sea creatures.

Their primary functions are underwater exploration, surveillance, and environmental monitoring. Their resemblance to fish and other aquatic life, if any, derives from design requirements related to durability, agility, and propulsion.

 

 

Biomimicry and interactive robotic fish

The NYU-Poly robot takes the biomimicry angle up a level by attracting live fish to itself and stimulating them to follow its lead.

For its latest study, the research team designed an oversized zebrafish of about six inches in length, compared to one inch for a typical adult zebrafish.

They painted the robot with the lengthwise stripes that give the zebrafish its name, and to guarantee attractiveness they gave it proportions that mimic the come-hither look of a fertile female, which among zebra fish is appealing to both genders.

As the experiments revealed, though, color cues and sexual availability are just two of several variables that can influence the behavior of live fish.

Earlier experiments had shown that live fish will follow a robot based simply on the motion of its tail, which creates an attractive wake. To eliminate that variable, in this new set of experiments, the team segregated the robotic fish in its own compartment.

Some of the results were fairly straightforward. When separated by a barrier, the live zebrafish preferred to swim near the robot rather than disperse around their part of the tank, clearly indicating that they would respond to visual cues without the creation of a wake.

Second-best proved to be no substitute for the real thing, though. When a new, live zebrafish was introduced to another compartment of the tank, the other zebrafish quickly deserted the robot for its flesh and blood rival.

Sound also proved to be a factor. In a darkened tank, the noise from the robot's motor disagreed with the live fish, much like a snoring partner can make things disagreeable in bed, and they decamped to an empty compartment (which, apparently, stood in for the living room couch).

Next steps for robotic zebra fish

According to Maurizio Porfiri, associate professor in the NYU-Poly Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the noise of the motor is a significant design obstacle, and developing a silent means of propulsion will be priority as the project moves forward in development.

This early version of the robot also lacks the autonomous behavior capabilities that are rapidly being developed in advanced robotics.

Autonomous behavior is particularly important for rescue robots, which are deployed in environments that humans cannot navigate or survive in.

For example, the Navy is developing a firefighting humanoid robot that will respond to hand signals and other cues from a live person who provides directions to the general area of a fire. The robot can then act autonomously to draw closer to the source and deploy fire-suppressing agents.

According to Porfiri, future versions of the robotic fish will include sensory interfaces and artificial intelligence, in order to provide for autonomous interaction between the robot and its live charges. Once endowed with artificial intelligence, the fish could also be adapted for use in a related field of advanced robotics, in which "swarms" of small devices are designed to coordinate their behavior autonomously.

The results of the study are available in the academic journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, under the title “Zebrafish Response to Robotic Fish: Preference Experiments on Isolated Individuals and Small Shoals.”

Image: Courtesy of NYU-Poly

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey


10 Interesting Solar Power Graphics

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 05:04 AM PDT

 
While working on today’s CleanTechnica post on top solar power countries per capita, per GDP, and per TWh of electricity production, I noticed a ton of interesting charts and graphics in the Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics until 2016 report. I thought these warranted a big share and their own post.

There’s a lot more information and a number of additional graphics worth a scan in that report as well. In particular, it has detailed info for dozens of countries. But, for now, here are 10 of my favorite graphics from the report:

1. Regional and country solar PV capacity relative to inhabitants

2 & 3. New and cumulative solar PV capacity segmentation (ground mounted vs. commercial/industrial vs residential) in leading European countries — a lot of variation

4 & 5. Projected solar PV annual growth and cumulative capacity under different policy scenarios (moderate vs policy-driven)

6. Cumulative installed solar PV capacity leaders at end of 2011 (globally)

7. Projected global solar PV annual growth under different policy scenarios

8. Solar PV dominated new power generation capacity in the EU in 2011; wind and natural gas also high; nuclear dumped

9. Another look at EU electricity production changes in 2011 — solar PV and wind accounted for 47% of new electricity

10. Change in net electricity generation capacity 2000-2011 — natural gas, wind, and solar PV dominate

Any thoughts?


Support Clean Energy & Jobs in New York (More Ways to Help)

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 03:31 AM PDT

 
I just published a post on how you can help push for solar power and jobs in New York. And, immediately after doing so, I noticed that one of our readers also recently passed along a note to us (via the contact page above) regarding the need for support for important clean energy legislation in New York.

Importantly, his message included a different way to support a “solar jobs bill” in New York — he linked to a Change.org petition on the matter:

Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »

Go ahead and sign that petition to support more solar, wind, geothermal, etc. in New York, and the US as a whole!

Via the Change.org petition page, here’s the full letter to Governor Cuomo (another letter is also sent to 23 others when you sign):

 

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Like you, we want to revitalize the economy of New York State (NYS). We want to encourage businesses that will create JOBS. We also want to protect NYS from the ongoing challenges of rising fuel costs and changing climate.

Feed-in tariffs (FITs) have proven again and again to be the most efficient way to promote rapid development of renewable energy, job growth, and business investment in jurisdictions ranging from cities to countries. As explained in our brief, clearly written, illustrated brochure at http://bit.ly/nyfeedinFITS are neither taxes nor direct subsidies. They are long-term (usually 20-year) contracts in which a utility such as the New York Power Authority (NYPA) promises to pay a fixed rate for electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass or biogas. The rate differs for each type of renewable energy; it is based on the cost of production plus a reasonable (5-10%) profit. The stability of FITs permits electricity producers at all scales, from homeowners with a few solar panels to large wind farms, to easily obtain financing to initiate their projects–and thus to get the economy moving.

As an example of economic stimulation, Ontario Province, our neighbor, generated more than 20,000 new jobs and brought in more than $20 billion in new investments since starting its feed-in tariff program in 2009. In the process, it generated so much renewable energy that it’s on track to eliminate its last coal-fired generation plant in 2014.

FITs are supported entirely by small charges to electric ratepayers. Ontario’s successful program is costing ratepayers approximately the price of one Tim Horton’s donut per month (http://www.wind-works.org/FeedLaws/Canada/OntarioFITsCreatingSolarJobs.html).

The Niagara Group of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, the United Steel Workers, the United Auto Workers and many others feel that a pilot FIT project in Western New York (WNY) would rapidly demonstrate the desirability of instituting FITs throughout New York State.

We think you agree, because on April 19 you announced your NY-SUN Initiative, which includes a pilot FIT for solar development on Long Island.

We are proposing a similar, but broader (including wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass and biogas, as well as solar) FIT pilot project in WNY. We hope that, by January 2013, you will direct NYPA to issue FIT contracts for electricity from renewable sources within NYISO Zone A, which includes all or parts of 11 New York counties, all in WNY. We suspect that, within a year or two, the advantages of such a broad FIT program will have become obvious to all stakeholders, and you will then wish to extend the program to all of NYS.


Help Make New York a Solar Leader (The Hulk / Mark Ruffalo Is Supporting It)

Posted: 12 Jun 2012 03:16 AM PDT

 
Your initial though might be that New York is too far north to be a solar leader, but in case you don’t know, New Jersey is second in the US for installed solar power (and it’s also rather small), and Germany leads the world in installed solar power, with many times more MW installed than any country on earth.

There’s apparently a push to make New York a true solar leader, but it needs your help.

“After nearly three years of hard work – lawmakers in Albany are just steps away from passing legislation that would unleash thousands of megawatts of local solar and make New York a real solar powerhouse,” Vote Solar writes. “And now we're racing against time to get it done before they break for the summer.”

Notably, Mark Ruffalo (i.e. the Hulk) has gotten on board for this noble effort. Here’s a video of him speaking about the matter:

As Ruffalo points out, solar isn’t just for the environment. Policies to support solar help create jobs, boost the economy, and improve our health!

You can help push legislators in New York to pass the solar jobs bill by taking action here or here (if you live in New York).

More from Vote Solar:

With rising electricity needs, plenty of sunshine, and a local workforce primed for jobs, New York has what it takes to lead the nation's solar economy. But the state's existing policies have installed just over 100 megawatts of solar to date. By comparison, their neighbors in New Jersey have more than six times that amount.

We've made it easy to send an email of support here. Want to make an even bigger impact? Make a quick phone call to your state reps. Find your State Senator and phone number here and your Assemblymember here and tell them . . .

My name is (XXX) and I live in (Name of Town). I am a voter in your district and solar power is a key issue for me.

Albany's hard work on solar has brought us to the brink of establishing New York State as a national solar leader — and now I'm asking you to actively urge your conference to finish the job.

Recent polling shows that 81% of New York voters support passage of long-term solar policy. I'm one of them.

As your constituent, I urge you to work with leadership in your conference to pass strong new solar legislation before the session ends this month.

Support solar, jobs, health, and the environment in New York today!


Japan: Ignorance and/or Dishonesty of “Energy Experts”

Posted: 11 Jun 2012 12:37 PM PDT

 

Since the tragic and ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant began, Japan has been plunged into an intense energy policy debate. Currently, the main focus is on the struggle about whether or not to restart two nuclear reactors at the Ōi Nuclear Power Plant, which has a combined capacity of 2.2 GW of electric power.

Those forces in favor of a nuclear comeback proclaim that there would be no alternative to a restart. According to them, reactivating two nuclear reactors is the only way to ensure the stability of the power grid in the Kansai region, Japan's second-largest industrial area.

In order to convince the public, industry leaders and the government of this so-called existential necessity, the so-called "nuclear village" bombards the discussion with doomsday scenarios about how dangerous blackouts are – how they risk lives and the economy — as well as trying to reestablish the perception that nuclear power would be the cheapest form of electricity generation.

Considering that the so-called "nuclear village" of Japan finds itself in the unfamiliar situation of an uphill battle to regain trust and favorable public opinion, it is trying everything it can to change the odds in its favor once again.

Weapons of Disinformation

The most common item in this process of manipulating the public discussion in favor of a vested interest has been the publishing of studies and reports by private "scientific" institutes. These papers by so-called "energy experts" are disguised as objective scientific assessments of the current situation and future developments.

Studies and other papers published by these institutes might seem like quality work at first, but people with some background knowledge soon notice irritating errors and a strong bias in a certain direction. The so-called "energy experts" who write these papers are utilizing rather unsound methods of arranging selectively collected data and quotes from other studies (some of which were conducted in the same way) in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion.

I call these kinds of studies weapons of disinformation because their sole purpose is to convince the public and industrial and political leaders who might not have enough subject knowledge to notice the bias.

Example from Japan

While doing research on the energy debate in Japan, I stumbled upon a recent report by the "Institute of Energy and Economics, Japan." The report is titled "Summary and Evaluation of Cost Calculation for Nuclear Power Generation by the "Cost Estimation and Review Committee" and was authored by Matsuo Yuhji, an economist and nuclear energy “expert” at the IEEJ. In it, he comments on the reevaluation of the cost of nuclear power and other forms of power generation by the Japanese government in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. At the end, he comes to the “surprising” conclusion that nuclear power is still the cheapest form of power generation in Japan at 7.3 – 8.9 Yen/kWh. ($0.092–0.112 | €0.073–0.089 Cent)

As a Sidenote: Isn’t it interessting how nuclear power is always the cheapest form of energy but the cost per kWh is so different around the world? In Germany, it’s supposed to be 1-4 ct / kWh. Mhh… 

At the end of the report, Matsuo Yuhji critically comments on the estimated development of generation costs from solar energy given by the Japanese government. It should be noted that even the government estimates of current and future solar energy costs are very outdated and “conservative.” In this light, it’s remarkable how the “energy experts” of the IEEJ even go out on a limb to question those highly conservative projections.

“(6) The Cost of Renewable Energy

The salient feature of solar and wind power generation in this study is that they incorporate the “possibility” of a significant reduction in costs by 2030. For example, for residential solar power generation, the current construction unit costs of 480-550 thousend yen / kW will be reduced to 189 thousend yen/kW, at least, by 2030 based on the “Paradigm shift scenario.” This, in turn, is expected to reduce the cost of power generation down to 9.9 yen /kWh, which is on par with nuclear and thermal power generation.” – IEEJ: May 2012

The author goes on to point out that these “estimates” of future costs of solar energy are based on a study by Greenpeace and the European Photovoltaic Industry Assosciation. According to him, such a cost decrease due to increased production capacity seems unlikely because of contradicting IEA estimates.

Living Under a Rock?

Everybody who reads CleanTechnica from time to time knows that the numbers and estimates given by both the Japanese government and the criticism by the IEEJ “expert” are shockingly overstating the present cost of  solar energy.

It doesn’t even take any scientific or journalistic effort to show that the IEEJ report is ignorant of the reality at best and possibly purposely dishonest at worst.

What ever it might be, it certainly is a showcase of “scientific” incompetence, since the estimates of the future cost of photovoltaic systems are basically a look into the past. The installation cost for rooftop solar energy in Germany has already fallen to 1776€ per kW or 178 thousand Yen per kW during the first quarter of 2012.

Average Price of installing 1kW of Rooftop Solar in Germany - BSW.de

According to a recent report by the Fraunhofer Institut of Solar Energy Systems (ISE), the current power generation cost of small residential solar systems in Germany is at 14-20 Yen / €ct per kWh. Considering that Japan has solar conditions similar to Southern France or Spain, this puts the possible current generation costs of small solar systems in Japan at 10-14 Yen /€ct per kWh.

While it is of course a precondition to mobilize the domestic market for renewable energy technologies in order to achieve the same low prices as in Germany, there can be no doubt nor a mere “possibility” that similar low prices are possible in Japan. What’s possible in Germany is certainly possible in Japan, especially since Japanese solar modules are also being sold at price-point in Germany.

Last time I checked, it’s 2012 and not 2030 in Germany, so why is the IEEJ and apparently even the Japanese government living more than a decade in the past when it comes to recognizing today’s potential for renewable energy technologies?


Local Solar Could Solve ‘Massive Supply-Demand Imbalance’ in Renewable Energy Financing

Posted: 11 Jun 2012 12:09 PM PDT

 
In the next two years, the U.S. may get a lot less solar and wind power than it could.

It's not a shortage of solar panels or the cost of turbines. Rather, it's a problem of the perverse nature of federal incentives for renewable energy. Right now, the owner of a solar or wind energy project can get a federal tax credit based on the value of the project or the electricity it produces. But many owners don't have enough tax liability to make use of the entire credit, and their search for a "tax equity" partner has created a logjam in the renewable energy market.

As reported in Greentech Media:

CITI calculates there is a need in solar for $10 billion to $12 billion in tax equity for 2012 through 2014, but not more than $5 billion in tax equity is available. That, Salant said, is "a massive supply-demand imbalance" that is not "going away anytime soon." [emphasis mine]

The following graphic (from the article) illustrates this matter:

A big part of this big money problem is a focus on big projects (and technologies that can't economically be done at a small scale):

"PV can be done on a much smaller scale and be economic, and a large project can be done in phases. It's a lot easier to finance $250 million or $500 million than it is to get $3 billion all at once." [Concentrating solar power] requires vital economies of scale "so you've got to raise $2 billion all at once. That's a lot harder to do than to raise $500 million four times."

That's a small-scale solution to a big problem. There may be a handful more folks who can invest $500 million than $2 billion.

But there are millions more Americans who could invest a few thousand dollars in community-based solar and wind power. In 2009, American taxpayers cumulatively paid $865 billion in federal income taxes. If just 1 in 100 could invest in a renewable energy project, it would nearly quadruple the tax equity market (from $3.2 billion to ~$12 billion). And since 1 in 3 Americans will be able to get electricity from rooftop solar for less than their utility provides in the next decade, policy makers should find a way to open the small investor floodgates.

The answer is community-based solar and wind projects, for three reasons:

  1. Economies of scale (without excessive size)
  2. Smaller investment increments (financed with bank loans and paid back with energy savings)
  3. Much greater political support

But there are three policy solutions needed to enable community power:

  1. Community net metering – to allow project owners to share the project's electricity output. Right now, most state policies require utilities to allow net metering, but only for a solar or wind project on your own property.
  2. Simplified securities law – to make community-based projects easier. Right now, there's little difference between setting up a mutual fund and setting up a community solar project, and both take a lot of lawyers. (Learn more in this report.)
  3. Smarter federal tax incentives – to allow community-based institutions to host community-based projects.  Non-profits, cooperatives, cities, and counties are logical entities to build projects, but they can't (easily) use federal tax incentives for solar and wind power. This raises the stakes for problem #2.

Some of these policy solutions are already in play. As many as eight states already offer community net metering. The federal 1603 cash grant (now expired) was one of the best tools for community-based projects (like this one); President Obama has proposed another solution.

The U.S. could spend the next few years letting wind and solar power development lag because of artificial financing constraints. Or policymakers could use two or three carefully crafted tools to open the floodgates to a massively democratic investment in local, clean energy.

This post originally appeared on ILSR's Energy Self-Reliant States blog.


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