NewEnergyNews: How Did Trina Win Solar’s Triple Crown? Top rankings in sustainability, financial viability and field performance don’t “just happen.”

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: THE DIFFERENT WAYS TO MAKE THE TRANSITION TO NEW ENERGY
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 29: WIND MAY TIP KANSAS ELECTION; YOUNG VOTERS BRING NEW ENERGY; GREEN BUILDINGS BOOMING
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: THE AFFORDABILITY OF THE NEW ENERGY TRANSITION
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 28: WIND BOOMS AS ‘MOST AFFORDABLE ENERGY OPTION’; OBSTACLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR BIG SOLAR; GEOTHERMAL COMING BACK
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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: THE HEALTH IN EMISSIONS CUTS
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 27: NEW ENERGY OVER 40% OF U.S. NEW BUILD IN 2014; EMPLOYEE BENEFITS NOW INCLUDE SOLAR; WIND BRINGS JOBS TO MICHIGAN
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • Weekend Video: Talking With The Redwoods
  • Weekend Video: Evangelicals Confront Climate Change
  • Weekend Video: Living The Platinum Rule: Making The Best Invention Of All Time Better
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE- EU UPS THE WORLD’S BAR ON EMISSIONS CUT TARGETS
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-FIRST BIG MOROCCO SOLAR NEAR POWERING UP
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-NORTH SEA WIND-HYDRO INTERLINK TO GROW
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-TURKISH GEOTHERMAL GETS INTELLIGENT
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Oct. 23:

  • TTTA Thursday-EVANGELICALS IN ‘CREATION CARE’ CLIMATE FIGHT
  • TTTA Thursday-ADVANCED WIND-MAKERS MAKANI, SHEERWIND READY DEMOS
  • TTTA Thursday-TEA PARTY BACKS SOLAR, ATTACKS UTILITY MONOPOLIES
  • TTTA Thursday-WHAT DRIVERS DON’T KNOW HOLDS BACK THE FUTURE
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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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  • Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    How Did Trina Win Solar’s Triple Crown? Top rankings in sustainability, financial viability and field performance don’t “just happen.”

    How Did Trina Win Solar’s Triple Crown? Top rankings in sustainability, financial viability and field performance don’t “just happen.”

    Herman K. Trabish, June 21, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    According to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), Trina Solar has been guilty of using Chinese government subsidies to win a big portion of the U.S. solar panel market. The DOC imposed a 31.14 percent tariff on the company.

    But Trina awarded itself a Triple Crown for 2011 because of numbers it achieved that belied the popular image a Chinese solar manufacturer, and, even compared to other Chinese solar makers that had similar advantages and saw similar tariffs imposed on them, made it a leader in financial viability, field performance and sustainability practices.

    Financial viability makes many things possible. Price Waterhouse Cooper subsidiary PRTM Management Consulting ranked Trina first in its Sustainable Growth Index.

    “The metrics we were ranked on,” explained Trina Solar Americas Director of Marketing Mike Grunow, “were balance sheet strength and cost structure.” There is a fundamental reason, he said, for those good numbers.

    “Over the past three or four years,” he explained, “solar manufacturers have taken on enormous amounts of debt and used that debt to experiment with business models and investigate a ton of new technologies. Very early on, we had the foresight to choose a technology path that was capital efficient and thus had the ability to not be distracted significantly by experimental business models downstream and potential new technologiesthat didn’t pan out.”

    Trina has, instead, been “very conservative and saved,” Grunow said. “During that time, we raised significantly less debt than some of our competitors [and] built up our balance sheet to support our product.” That conservative strategy, he said, “is coming home to roost” in the PRTM rankings.

    Grunow said Trina’s multi-crystalline silicon panel and its Honey technology manufacturing platform were what led to its success. “Right now, we hold the world record for the most efficient multi-crystalline silicon panel produced.”

    Confirmed by TUV Rheinland, Trina’s Honey platform-manufactured, standard size Honey Ultra module (1650 mm x 992 mm) reached 284.7 watts peak power output in May 2012.

    The Honey platform, Grunow said, is “four or five different incremental manufacturing improvements bundled together to provide the best tradeoff between performance and cost. You get the lion’s share of high-efficiency performance at a much smaller incremental cost to the consumer.”

    Trina’s number one ranking by watchdog Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) for its industry-standard sustainability practices did not “just happen,” Grunow said. Sustainability is a priority set by CEO Jifan Gao as his way of answering the doubters Gao faced daily when he began in the business as a rooftop solar system seller/installer.

    “Long before he created our company, he was selling and installing solar systems. Again and again he would hear questions, especially in the early '90s." It was a time when the economics of solar were far more dubious, Grunow said, “so buyers wanted to know about efficiency and environmental impacts.”

    The company now produces an annual report “solely focused on our company’s environmental practices, use of energy, and use of water. These are core metrics and there are teams of people working every day in our company to find ways to improve them.”

    It pays off, Grunow said. Trina’s products are being used by “channel partners like SolarCity and SunEdison [because] more and more, we see end-users looking to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition report as a way to understand the environmental attributes of the products [and] Trina panels are being specifically requested by clients who want to protect their image and don’t want to install dirty panels.”

    Hundreds of practices at Trina’s factories contribute to the SVTC ranking, but a key, Grunow said, “is what we call our solar manufacturing campus approach.” The Trina campus in Changzhou, China, an hour-and-a-half outside of Shanghai, has “all our suppliers” on or near “the primary assembly facility.” This eliminates “a large portion of the inbound logistics costs of the raw materials and the inbound energy required,” according to Grunow.

    The efficiency of Trina’s multicrystalline panels was verified by a field performance test published by the California Energy Commission in which panels’ claimed capacity factors were compared to obtained capacity factors.

    Trina’s number-one ranking, Grunow said, was due to the way it rates its panels. To achieve a high rating, he said, “some manufacturers cut corners. One common way is to label a panel, say, 200 watts, plus or minus three percent.” The result is a panel that may be rated at 200 watts but only deliver 195 watts in the field. “Trina,” Grunow said, uses “plus three percent, minus zero” so its panels will not under-deliver.

    In field performance testing done by third parties, Grunow said, panels of plus three percent or minus three percent from other manufacturers may turn up. “There are two or three studies that show Trina’s panels consistently perform in the field better than almost everybody else’s,” he said. “The proof is in the output number.”

    There are other lists on which Trina’s numbers put it high at this crucial juncture in solar industry evolution. “Right now, everybody is wondering who are the few solar companies that are going to be around in five years,” Grunow said, “and Trina is consistently at the top of the lists.”

    But with the module tariff, not to mention the anticipated slowing of the industry’s big California and New Jersey markets and the gap left by the expiration of the 1603 tax grant, Trina could find it challenging to stay high up on those lists.

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