NewEnergyNews: On The Road Reading - Surviving as a Solar Manufacturer in Today’s Market; It’s about finding the right combination of competencies to “weather the storm.”

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

  • THE STUDY: HOW BIOFUELS CAN BE IMPORTANT NEW ENERGY
  • QUICK NEWS, July 30: SOLAR AND UTILITIES SHAPE EACH OTHER; ‘HIDDEN’ WIND COSTS DWARFED BY ‘HIDDEN’ FOSSIL COSTS; GM’S RUN FOR THE 200 MILE CHARGE
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: A CHRONICLE OF EXTREME CLIMATE IMPACTS
  • QUICK NEWS, July 29: OFFICIAL FORECASTS OVERLOOK NEW ENERGY; NEW ENERGY NEEDS NEW TRANSMISSION; BRITISH COLUMBIA EMISSIONS TAX SUCCEEDING
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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

  • THE STUDY: MORE AND SMARTER MEDIA COVERAGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN 2014
  • QUICK NEWS, July 28: CLIMATE SKEPTICS REACHING ‘CATASTROPHIC’ NUMBERS; THE COST OF THE EPA EMISSIONS CUTS; GEOTHERMAL DRILL SKILL ADVANCES
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • Weekend Video: John Oliver On Visiting Antarctica
  • Weekend Video: Warmest May And June Ever And Non-Stop Record Heat
  • Weekend Video: Meet The Microgrid
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE- STAR WARS PLANET TATOOINE’S CLIMATE CHANGE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-BIG NEW THREAT TO CLIMATE FROM COAL-TO-GAS IN CHINA
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-INDIA VILLAGE OF 2,400 GOES 100% SOLAR WITH BATTERIES, MICROGRID
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-GERMANY IS WORLD’S MOST EFFICIENT MAJOR ECONOMY
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, July 24:

  • TTTA Thursday-CLIMATE FACTS VERSUS CLIMATE CULTURE
  • TTTA Thursday-MONEY IN WIND UP FOR QUARTER, DOWN FROM 2013
  • TTTA Thursday-MIDWEST BIOFUELS CAN BE NEW ENERGY – UCS STUDY
  • TTTA Thursday-TESLA CHAMPIONS THE PLUG AND THE CAR
  • -

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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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  • Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    On The Road Reading - Surviving as a Solar Manufacturer in Today’s Market; It’s about finding the right combination of competencies to “weather the storm.”

    On The Road Reading - Surviving as a Solar Manufacturer in Today’s Market; It’s about finding the right combination of competencies to “weather the storm.”

    Herman K. Trabish, May 8, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Plunging panel prices, economic havoc and new technologies have solar manufacturing in turmoil. A panel of experts offered insiders’ insights at the GTM Phoenix solar summit last week on the state of play and when and how it will change.

    Moderator Shyam Mehta, the GTM Research Senior Solar Analyst, opened by asking how long the current downturn will last and what will catalyze a reversal.

    “The oversupply conditions are likely to last for quite a while, and a number of players will disappear from the market before there is more demand,” REC Solar U.S. Managing Director Jan Jacob Boom-Wichers replied. “What could change is that the cost of energy could go up,” he said, “making PV solar a better value proposition.”

    “Capacity,” said JA Solar Americas President Jonathan Pickering, “is almost twice the actual demand," adding that it is a “Darwinian world” where “big companies will tend to get stronger.” The current “flight to quality” will accelerate over the next six to twelve months, he predicted. “Strong players will rapidly get stronger. That will accelerate the demise of the weaker companies, which will lead to consolidation.”

    Recent improving utilization rates, he added, could be a sign of recovery.

    “It’s hard to add anything to that,” said Canadian Solar General Manager Alan King. “Our forecast is that somewhere around Q4, we should be back in the black. Right now, pricing is about six months ahead of costs.” Some manufacturers are hurting so badly that they are “selling inventory off for cash at a loss. Those guys will go away. We’ve already seenconsolidation. We’ll see companies go out of business. We’ll see acquisitions. The rest of 2012 and part of 2013 will be difficult.”

    Turnkey manufacturing system maker Schiller LLC Managing Director Mark C. Willingham said his company’s perspective is unique. “We are sort of the tail of the dog, and the dog is asleep right now, so the tail is not wagging.” But, he added, “we are starting to see a return of opportunity. Right now, people are doing efficiency things, things that can have a very short payback.” And they are, he added, starting to think about “retirement of assets” and “a natural replacement cycle,” which could start “about the end of 2012 or the middle of 2013; it’s not very clear.”

    Mehta asked Boom-Wichers to talk about why REC is the last big European manufacturer.

    “REC is still alive today as a European player because of some insightful decisions made in 2008 to aggressively cut costs by 50 percent.” It invested in its FBR deposition technology, which “allows us to manufacture silicon using 80 percent to 90 percent less energy.” It also made “very tough decisions” to close some Norwegian facilities. “It is a tough battle.”

    Mehta asked Pickering about JA Solar’s move from “a pure play in sales of cells to a module manufacturer.”

    “It has been dramatic,” Pickering said. “In Q1 2010, we shipped two megawatts of modules, and in Q4 2011, we shipped 180 megawatts. You’ll see that trend continue, to provide the more balanced revenue from cells and modules.” The module business model followed that of the cell business. “Our route to market has been focused again on business-to-business partnerships,” he said. “Our core competency is world-class cell and module production, and we’ll keep that business-to-business approach.”

    Is Canadian Solar moving toward development and vertical integration? Mehta asked.

    “The market is not so large that we can focus on a single segment,” King replied. “I like the idea of virtual vertical integration. We’re not vertically integrated and we don’t want to be, but we’re partnering with best-in-class people … to provide them with diverse products, higher efficiency products, cost-effective products, quality products that will meet the needs of their projects at competitive prices.”

    Schiller is “surviving 2012 quite well, with significant wins in ‘11 that will carry us through ’12 and the opening of ’13,” Willingham said. “The question is now, how do you fill that order book six, eight, twelve months out?” Schiller’s answer, he said, is stepping up its strategic partnerships. “The partnership helps defer the costs and the effort results in a better product.” Noting “a lot of upward pressure on the labor cost of crystalline silicon,” Willingham predicted the industry will respond by moving “to even lower cost labor [with] an enormous increase in the level of automation.”

    The session ended with a question-and-answer session in which the panel predicted a move to standardization in all segments of manufacturing. It will drive better quality and bring costs down, they agreed, without compromising product differentiation.

    End markets, they also agreed, are shifting away from Europe. All are planning to move to new markets in China, India, Japan, the U.S., Latin America, Australia, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. No single business model or single market will dominate. It will require adjusting to local demands and looking at innovative financing. But their modules will work on roofs everywhere and there will be integrators, EPC providers, utility developers and residential installers who want their products.

    Customers, they said, will continue to drive efficiency improvements in service to reduced costs and increased yields. There will be no paradigm shifts, but rather, incrementally improving efficiencies at an increasingly rapid pace. “It is the key to survival,” Boom-Wichers said. “All our engineers are working on it at every single stage.”

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