NewEnergyNews: SOLAR SURVIVORS

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • Weekend Video: The Ocean Speaks Out
  • Weekend Video: Adapting To The Inevitable
  • Weekend Video: The Joy Of Driving EVs Powered By The Sun
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-HOTTEST SEPTEMBER EVER; WORLD’S HOTTEST MONTHS STREAK AT SIX
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU WIND BEATS FOSSIL, NUKE ENERGY PRICES
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-DESERTEC SUCCUMBS TO MIDEAST TURMOIL
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-JAPAN UPS PUSH FOR GEOTHERMAL
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    GET THE DAILY HEADLINES EMAIL: CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Oct. 16:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE MILITARY FALLS FOR THE HOAX
  • TTTA Thursday-FORTUNE 100 BUSINESSES BOOST SUN
  • TTTA Thursday-IOWA UTILITY BUYS WIND TO CUT COSTS
  • TTTA Thursday-GETTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY FROM THE CLOUD
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: NEW ENERGY BECOMES PRICE COMPETITIVE
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 15: NEW NUMBERS SHOW BIG OCEAN WIND POWER; SOLAR TURNS IN A NEW DIRECTION; FUEL CELL MARKETS TO VARY, GROW
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: WORLD WIND COMES ON
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 14: THE UTILITY-SOLAR DEBATE OVER WHO PAYS; TECHNICIANS WANTED – APPLY TO WIND; MAKING MULTIFAMILY BLDGS MORE EFFICIENT
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: A LOOK AT THE FUTURE OF CONCENTRATING SOLAR POWER PLANTS
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 13: NUCLEAR FADING, NEW ENERGY COMING ON; THE ONE BIG ADVANTAGE OF SOLAR; HALF OF GLOBAL HEAT MAY BE HIDING IN THE OCEANS
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • Thursday, July 30, 2009

    SOLAR SURVIVORS

    Who will survive the solar energy shakeout? The recession is squeezing solar energy firms. These four could thrive.
    Margaret Price, July 29, 2009 (Christian Science Monitor)

    SUMMARY
    Riding the crest of a wave of technological advances, a boom in silicon processing and ever more aggressive incentives, the solar energy industry grew at ~50% per year for most of the first decade of this century.

    Then came the over extension of a feed-in tariff in Spain. Then came the worldwide economic downturn and a contraction of capital to finance projects and government revenues to support incentives. Then came a re-supply of silicon.

    ~250 companies in the world make photovoltaic modules. Most solar energy industry analysts expect a sharp consolidation. One astute expert predicts there will be no more than “a couple of dozen” in 5 years.

    From USA Today. (click to enelarge)

    Because solar panels are expensive and are purchased on the assumption they will provide 20-to-25 years or more of service, one of the key factors in a solar energy company’s staying power is its customers’ faith that it will be around to honor its warranties. (See SOLAR CONSOLIDATION for more on this factor.)

    (click to enelarge)

    One reporter found a consensus of experts predicting First Solar Inc., SunPower Corp., Sharp Corp. and SunTech Power Holdings – because of the size of their operations, the strength of their financial backing, their market performance to date and/or their already-demonstrated staying power – will be among the winners in the consolidation.

    First Solar Inc has been in business 10 years, has been one of the 50 fastest growing businesses – not solar businesses, businesses of any kind – in the U.S. for the last 3 years and is the world’s biggest thin film solar panel manufacturer. Facilitated by First Solar’s production efficiency, its cadmium telluride (CdTe) formulation is emerging as the dominant thin film technology. Estimates suggest it is taking about half of the U.S. utility solar market right now.

    click thru to First Solar

    SunPower Corp is the biggest solar provider in North America and has been in business since 1985. It specializes in the more time-tested, silicon-based types of solar panels. A recent drop in the cost of refined silicon is putting SunPower’s more efficient panels back in competition with the cheaper thin film panels from First Solar.

    click thru to SunPower

    Suntech Power Holdings, founded in 2001, is the newest of the big players. It is the biggest manufacturer of silicon photovoltaic (PV) panels in the world. Its $1.9 billion in capital is just the beginning of its financial strength. It is essentially as strong as China’s banking system. In 2008, to move on the U.S. market, Suntech formed Gemini Solar Development Company LLC, a joint venture with solar developer Renewable Ventures. Gemini was bought by Spanish power producer Fotowatio. The group recently moved into Texas, signing onto a 30-megawatt project for Austin Energy, probably the most progressive and respected U.S. municipal utility. Anticipating the boom in utility demand for solar panels, Gemini is also planning a U.S. manufacturing facility.

    click thru to SunTech Power Holdings

    Sharp Corp is the éminence grise of the solar industry. Founded in 1912 as a metalworking business, it has a history of making electronic products matched by few companies in the world. It began researching solar cells in 1961 and mass-producing them in 1963. It was a world-leading solar company until Japan dialed back its subsidies in the wake of its economic struggles. With a new push by the Japanese government to expand its domestic solar capacity, Sharp is expected to soon once again be one of the world’s top solar producers. In the process, it is transitioning from the rooftop silicon-based solar panels it first designed into home rooftop systems in 1995 to the thin film concept it first began studying in 1974.

    click thru to Sharp

    COMMENTARY
    Unlike the wind industry, which long ago settled on the 3-blade turbine as its preferred technology and now focuses almost exclusively on making the 3-blade turbine bigger and better, the solar energy industry continues to nurture competing technologies for varying purposes.

    There are solar hot water systems that directly heat water pipes and solar power plants that use mirrors to concentrate the heat of the sun. But the largest segment of the solar energy industry, and reportedly the fastest growing segment, is the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry. Unlike hot water and power plant systems that capture and use the sun’s heat to make energy, PV technology turns the sun’s light into electricity.

    From Emerging Energy Research. (click to enelarge)

    Even within the PV sector there are competing technologies. First Solar’s cadmium telluride thin film is only one of several thin film formulations. SunPower makes traditional silicon-based panels but silicon of varying grades and purities can also be used to make thin film modules.

    Thin film panels are less efficient than traditional silicon-based panels, meaning they turn less of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. But they are cheaper to make. It was the lower cost that allowed First Solar's $348.3 million in 2008 profits to be double its 2007 earnings.

    Energy analysts consider First Solar the model of a company managing breakthrough technology. It lowered its production cost to a world-record 93 cents per watt this year while maintaining its profit margins and sustaining full production capacity, demonstrating why it is expected to sustain its market share despite increasing competition from other thin film manufacturers and other thin film formulas.

    click to enlarge

    SunPower is all about efficiency. It claims 50% more efficiency than other traditional, crystalline silicon-based panels and 100-to-300% more efficiency than thin films. It promises an even higher-efficiency (23.4%) “Generation 3” panel in 2010. This makes SunPower panels the way to take advantage of that sweet spot on a rooftop where the sun is strongest longest.

    Partly as a result of heavy bets on the European solar markets where subsidies have been rolled back and installations have slowed, SunPower lost money in the first quarter of 2008. It did, though, maintain high revenues. Thanks to the falling cost of silicon, the company is expected to bounce back later in the year by bringing its production costs down.

    Sharp has, in its time, produced 2 GIGAwatts of crystalline silicon solar panels, a quarter of the world’s total capacity. Yet it is basing its return to the thick of world solar energy industry competition on the ability of its megacorporate-sized R&D team to develop a competitive amorphous silicon-based thin film formula. It has already built 160-megawatts of manufacturing capacity, has a 480-megawatt plant planned to come online early in 2010 and intends to take half the world thin film market by 2012.

    click to enlarge

    SunTech Power Holdings is the newest of this group of survivor companies, but it is very well financed. More importantly, it has access to China’s enormous, low-wage work force and is driven by a newly announced government goal to build 20 GIGAwatts of solar energy generating capacity by 2020. Because of the always mind-boggling numbers China is capable of delivering, SunTech Holding’s big challenge is to be able to handle its growth. So far, it has demonstrated it can.

    It has incurred a high level of debt while building a gigawatt of production capacity since just 2001, yet it continues to steadily develop its high efficiency monocrystalline and polycrystalline Pluto technologies, which it has moved to 19% (mono) and 17% (poly) efficiencies. And with the enormous government mandate for capacity driving it, debt is not expected to significantly hamper the company’s ability to find financing either from China’s cash-rich banks or from other investors.

    click to enlarge

    QUOTES
    - Travis Bradford, president, Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development: “In five years, there probably can be only a couple of dozen of them…At most.”
    - Matthew Patsky, portfolio manager, Winslow Green Mutual Funds: “There’s no doubt in my mind that First Solar offers the industry’s best quality management and the best quality product at the best relative value…”
    - Ken Zweibel, director, George Washington University Solar Institute: “Thin films came into production during the boom period in the industry’s growth, which allowed for higher-risk new technology. But First Solar was the only one to establish itself successfully during that boom…”
    - Shyam Mehta, senior solar analyst, GTM Research: “[First Solar]is the only company in the world that’s been able to produce solar modules at less than $1 per watt…And [it] is on its way to producing solar electricity at rates competitive with electricity from fossil fuels.”

    From Lux Research. (click to enlarge)

    - Julie Blunden, vice president of public policy and corporate communications, SunPower: “We have made commitments to our investors and customers that we would lower our cost of solar-system installation 50 percent between 2006 and 2012…By 2010, we’ll be two-thirds of the way [there]…”
    - Bradford: “From its parent, [Sharp Solar] has an extraordinary amount of resources…[It] can deploy engineers and process capital on a scale that none of the rest of these companies can.”
    - Steve Chadima, vice president for external affairs, SunTech Holding: “Our real strength is our ability to deliver products at very low cost that are also very high quality…”

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