NewEnergyNews: 12/01/2012 - 01/01/2013


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

The new challenge: To make every day Earth Day.



  • Weekend Video: Much More Inhofe Now
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart Talks Keystone, Politics, And Jobs
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart On How Keystone Opponents May Be Caught In Their Own Trap
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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


    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 ( 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


    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



    Your intrepid reporter


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


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

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  • Monday, December 31, 2012

    Holiday Reading: Stat of the Day: The Enormous Potential of the Other Solar, Solar Hot Water; The sun can heat a lot of water, as well as providing space cooling and heating.

    Holiday Reading: Stat of the Day: The Enormous Potential of the Other Solar, Solar Hot Water; The sun can heat a lot of water, as well as providing space cooling and heating.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 18, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Global energy demand for heat alone represents almost half of the world’s final energy use. This is, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), more than the combined global demand for energy to provide electricity and transport.

    Solar’s enormous untapped potential to meet this demand is enumerated in the IEA'sRoadmap to 2050. Globally, the potential exists to obtain eighteen exajoules (EJs), the equivalent of five billion megawatt-hours, from solar thermal applications by mid-century.

    Solar could provide more than 16 percent of the total final energy use for low-temperature (up to 100°C) heating, 14 percent of total energy use for space and water heating and nearly 17 percent for cooling by 2050.

    Solar energy, IEA researchers found, could provide 8.9 EJ, almost 2.5 billion megawatt-hours, for hot water and space heating. It could also provide 7.2 EJs (2 billion megawatt-hours) for industrial processes, as well as 1.9 EJs (over 528 million megawatt-hours) for swimming pool heating and space cooling.

    Based on this report, the growth potential for solar thermal is huge. Achieving those levels of heating and cooling technology deployments would mean a 25-fold increase in capacity. But the undertaking would also reduce the world’s carbon emissions by 800 megatons (which is equivalent to all of Germany’s 2009 emissions).

    Beyond the numbers alone, solar thermal technologies, especially solar cooling, offer the capability of relieving stress on the transmission system by reducing peak period demand.

    The IEA’s interim goal is to meet 50 percent of the world’s low-temperature heat demand with solar energy by 2030.

    To achieve such ambitions, the IEA Roadmap argues, governments will have to create stable, long-term policy frameworks for solar thermal that include economic incentives and remove barriers. They will also need to set quality-control standards and fund and support research, development and demonstration (RD&D) efforts (especially in the area of small scale heat storage) that will bring commercial production to much higher levels within a decade. The Roadmap also recommended that NGOs in developing countries support the accelerated deployment of solar thermal technologies.

    Holiday Reading: What Abound Solar’s Bankruptcy Says About the DOE Loan Program; It has a 96 percent success rate and the endorsement of an independent Republican consultant.

    Holiday Reading: What Abound Solar’s Bankruptcy Says About the DOE Loan Program; It has a 96 percent success rate and the endorsement of an independent Republican consultant.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 19, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    As with the Solyndra bankruptcy before it, last month's financial failure of Abound Solar has presented an opportunity for politicians to rail against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program. But according to Abound executives speaking Wednesday before a U.S. House of Representatives financial oversight committee, the real culprit in the thin-film solar panel manufacturing startup's demise last month was China.

    At least, that's how former Abound CEO Craig Witsoe explained his company’s failure in his Wednesday testimony. Abound’s progress, Witsoe said, was “solid” until “panel prices dropped 50 percent in one year due to aggressive price-cutting from Chinese competitors using older crystalline silicon technology.” That Chinese competition was backed, Witsoe said, by “over $30 billion in reported government subsidies” and was therefore “able to sell below cost and put Abound out of business before we were big enough to pose a real competitive threat.”

    Abound was funded with more than $300 million in private investment and about $70 million drawn from a potential $400 million, Witsoe said. The two funded production lines “enabled a nearly doubling of panel efficiency from 45 watts per panel in 2009 to 85 watts per panel in 2012.” Whether that would have been improvement enough to allow Abound to compete with its key cadmium-telluride based thin-film solar panel competitor First Solar, let alone the polysilicon solar panels now flooding global markets from China, will never be known.

    The market’s “very fast and severe decline,” Witsoe said, “affected many U.S. companies.” General Electric, which announced plans to enter the thin-film solar panel business in 2011, cited Chinese competition when it recently announced it would delay cad-tel production by at least 18 months, he noted. The tariffs imposed on imported Chinese panels, Witsoe said, “were simply too late for our company.”

    One example of the partisan vitriol on display at the July 18 hearing of the House committee on government oversight and reform was a Representative’s poster with a picture of the President and a map of China, with the heading “President Obama’s jobs program” and the words “from shovel ready to Shanghai” written across the map.

    Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who chaired the proceedings, described the program as “a bad bet” and accused DOE officers of “failing to protect taxpayers.”

    “The real scandal,” replied Subcommittee ranking member Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), “is the systematized illegal dumping of subsidized Chinese solar panels. We’re attacking our own business people and meanwhile the Chinese are eating our lunch.”

    David G. Frantz, acting executive director of DOE's Loan Programs Office (LPO), testified that collectively, LPO projects are expected to support nearly 60,000 jobs. Of nineteen electricity generation projects funded by the LPO, Frantz said, nine are in operation and six are complete.

    Other LPO-backed projects include the first two U.S. all-electric vehicle manufacturing facilities; one of the world’s biggest wind farms; one of the first U.S. commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants; the first new U.S. commercial nuclear power plant licensed in three decades (conditionally); a groundbreaking 28-state distributed photovoltaic project that will put solar panels on commercial rooftops; the biggest utility-scale photovoltaic solar power plant, the biggest concentrated solar power plants and two of the biggest thermal energy storage systems in the world.

    Conservative Republican Herb Allison led an Independent Consultants Report on the LPO, Frantz testified. After thoroughly reviewing each loan, Allison’s report found DOE “is using the appropriate risk factors in assessing each loan.”

    Speaking on the other side of the issue. Veronique de Rugy, a Senior Research Fellow at the George Mason University Mercatus Center, noted that “We don’t know how big the failure rate will be in the end."

    De Rugy pointed out that DOE loans put at risk taxpayer money for “projects that would not have been funded in the open market without a government guarantee because they are too risky, and projects that could have gotten a loan but were happy to benefit from the lower interest rate available through a DOE loan guarantee.”

    De Rugy also said that loan guarantee programs transfer risk from lenders to taxpayers, may inhibit innovation, and increase the cost of borrowing. “Such guarantees,” she said, “distort crucial market signals.” The worst impact, she added, is that “guarantees introduce political incentives into business decisions, creating the conditions for businesses to seek financial rewards by pleasing political interests rather than customers. This is called cronyism, and it entails real economic costs.”

    But, as Gregory Kats, president of independent consulting firm Capital E, noted in his testimony, “The purpose of loan guarantee programs is to fund companies and projects that have desirable benefits and that probably otherwise could not get commercial funding." Kats said that his LPO review “suggests that total defaults are likely ultimately to be in the range of $400 million to $800 million, or about one-quarter the amount projected and budgeted.” That, he said, includes Solyndra and Abound. Overall, the program has had a 96 percent success rate, he said.

    “A fair assessment of outstanding portfolio financial profile and risks proves that the DOE loan program has been prudently managed,” Kats said. “There is a global hyper-competitive race to see which counties will dominate clean energy. Abdication of U.S. federal support,” he said, by “failing to make substantial additional loan guarantees to expand U.S. strength in renewable and clean energy, strengthen U.S. jobs, competitiveness and security would be self-defeating.”

    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    Reason For Optimism

    This is the kind of year it has been: From Superstorm Sandy to changes in the ice caps, the bad news about climate change progress has been the good news. From Sam Seder via YouTube.

    Chasing Ice

    The trailer for the movie that is turning thinking about climate change around. From WAreExposure via YouTube

    Wind’s PTC Explained

    Speaking of bad news being the good news, here’s the lowdown on wind’s production tax credit (PTC). The refusal of Congress to extend it has driven developers to build a record amount of wind this year because, without it, next year will be a disaster for the wind industry. From AmericanWindEnergy via YouTube

    Friday, December 28, 2012

    Holiday Reading: How Broken Is the San Onofre Nuclear Plant? The NRC provided numbers, and a nuke watchdog group provided context.

    Holiday Reading: How Broken Is the San Onofre Nuclear Plant? The NRC provided numbers, and a nuke watchdog group provided context.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 16, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    California’s transmission system operator is scrambling to meet a load deficit caused by the 2,300-megawatt outage of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The system operator is bringing shuttered natural gas plants on-line, calling for Southern Californians to conserve electricity and warning of the possibility of blackouts.

    The two steam generators (2E088 and 2E089) of the 1,172-megawatt Unit Two at the SONGS were replaced in January 2010.

    The two steam generators (3E088 and 3E089) of the 1,178-megawatt Unit Three at the SONGS were replaced in January 2011.

    Unit Two began a scheduled outage for refueling on January 10, 2012, and was out of service when control room operators shut Unit Three down on January 31, 2012. Both units have been offline ever since. Neither is expected to be ready for service before the end of this summer.

    Without recently activated transmission and the other efforts, California Independent System Operator Director of Communications Stephanie McCorkle recently told GTM, the LA Basin would be short 240 megawatts on a high-demand hot day, and the San Diego area would be short 337 megawatts. With them, she said, there are reserve margins of only thirteen megawatts in San Diego and 212 megawatts in the LA Basin.

    The SONGS Unit One was first-generation Westinghouse technology. It went on-line in January 1968, and was built to last until 2004 but was decommissioned in 1992 due to wear.

    Unit Two went on-line in August 1983, while Unit Three went on-line in April 1984. Both units rely on an old and less efficient technology built by Combustion Engineering (subsequently bought by Westinghouse). The replacement of the steam generators at the SONGS was done by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

    The steam generators are where the heat generated by the light water reactors turns water into the steam, which drives the facilities’ electricity-generating turbines. This type of turbine can also generate electricity with steam created by water boiled with coal, natural gas, geothermal stations or concentrating solar power stations.

    “Think of a steam generator as a large egg filled with water and thousands of long, thin metal tubes in a U-shape formation attached at the bottom of the egg,” wrote Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Public Affairs spokesperson Lara Uselding in March. “As the hot water travels through the tubes, the rest of the water in the egg becomes steam. The steam is transferred to the turbine.”

    Each SONGS steam generator is 65 feet tall and weighs 1.3 million pounds. Each has two large U-shaped tubes which have 9,727 U-shaped, three-quarter-inch-diameter tubes running through them.

    The failure of a steam generator tube, Uselding went on, “is a problem, because radioactive water that passed over the nuclear reactor and into the steam generator may escape into the created steam through a hole in the tube. Then, the radioactive steam could end up at the turbine and eventually may escape to the environment.”

    To prevent faulty tubes from leaking radioactive steam, plant operators do regular inspections and catalog indications of wear. If a tube is found to be severely worn, it is plugged.

    According to the NRC, the “total plugging for Unit 2 was 205 tubes in 2E088, and 305 in 2E089.” There was “extensive plugging and selective staking of 807 tubes in Unit 3 (420 in 3E088 and 387 in 3E089).”

    Southern California Edison (SCE), the SONGS operating utility, reported “1,595 tubes showed wear of some type” in Unit Two and, of the 510 tubes plugged, six were plugged because of “wear of more than 35 percent and the rest for preventative measures.” In Unit Three, SCE reported, “1,806 tubes showed wear of some type,” and of the 807 tubes plugged, 381 were plugged “for wear of more than 35 percent and the rest for preventative measures.”

    Vermont nuclear watchdog group Fairewinds Associates, at the request of Friends of the Earth, used NRC data to compare “the replacement steam generator plugging at both San Onofre Units Two and Three to the replacement steam generator plugging history for all other replacement steam generators at U.S. nuclear power plants.”

    It concluded that the San Onofre reactors “plugged 3.7 times as many steam generator tubes than the combined total of the entire number of plugged replacement steam generator tubes at all the other nuclear power plants in the U.S.”

    Fairewinds also evaluated a report by SCE that found that Unit Two is ready to be restarted and concluded, “There is no difference in the failure modes between the two units and both should remain shut down until extensive modifications or fabrication of replacement generators are completed.”

    Holiday Reading: Will AMSC Make History in China? AMSC’s wind and grid businesses have “stabilized” as it fights for its rights in China.

    Holiday Reading: Will AMSC Make History in China? AMSC’s wind and grid businesses have “stabilized” as it fights for its rights in China.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 17, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    When China's wind power industry exploded between 2008 and 2010, Sinovel led the way. One of Sinovel’s secret weapons was AMSC, which provided designs, power electronics and controls for Sinovel’s turbines. Though that partnership went bad, it could write AMSC into international business history.

    AMSC had pursued opportunities in China as early as 2006. Having secured Sinovel’s business, AMSC was trying to diversify when, trapped by China’s unprecedented growth, it found itself tethered to Sinovel.

    AMSC’s hard choice was between giving itself over to a customer demanding 70 percent of its business or letting new Sinovel orders go.

    In March 2012, AMSC was still scrambling when Sinovel unexpectedly refused delivery from AMSC on contracted shipments of wind turbine core electrical components. Sinovel told the Chinese media it refused the AMSC shipment because of a “failure to perform,” alleging that AMSC had provided “backward technology.”

    Subsequently, an Austrian court found a former AMSC employee guilty of taking money from Sinovel for surreptitiously transferring codes for the supposedly backward and failing technology. Evidence for conviction included emails containing the bribe offer, the technology transfer, and the money transfer, as well as proof the stolen technology is being used in a Sinovel customer’s turbines.

    AMSC is pursuing recompense in Chinese courts. Four cases, requesting a total of $1.2 billion in losses and damages, are working their way through the Chinese legal system. The outcome is likely to set an historical precedent for what protections are available to foreign companies in China.

    Sinovel has since struggled. In 2010, it was the leading Chinese turbine manufacturer with a 10.7 percent global market share. It has fallen to second with a 7.3 percent market share. The Chinese press recently reported management salary cuts and layoffs of twenty percent of Sinovel’s workforce. And reports are emerging of the failure of Sinovel’s replacement technology. (Sinovel has not answered GTM requests for comment.)

    The impact on AMSC was profound. Its revenues, over $180 million in 2008 and over $350 million in 2010, fell to just below $80 million for fiscal 2011.

    “We had a dramatic shift last year,” Jason Fredette, AMSC's vice president of marketing and communications, said. “But we have stabilized and we are regaining traction -- in a tough market.”

    At the end of fiscal year 2010, “e had a little over 800 employees,” Fredette said. At the end of fiscal year 2011, “we had a little over 400.” But, he added, “we have kept a stable headcount over the past eight months.”

    And AMSC has continued to diversify. “But that takes time,” Fredette said.

    In Korea, Fredette said, AMSC is working with Hyundai and Doosan Heavy Industries. “Both are multi-billion-dollar corporations who in the past few years have gotten into wind power through our Windtec Solutions.” AMSC's Windtec Solutions range from full wind turbine designs to turbine power electronics and controls.

    Both Korean customers are quickly moving toward that nation’s rapidly developing offshore market, Fredette said. The government has targeted a 2.5-gigawatt capacity.

    On the grid side, Fredette said that LS Cable & Systems and Korean Electric Power Company (KEPCO), Korea’s electric utility, are using AMSC’s second-generation superconductor wire to get their first superconductor cable up and running outside of Seoul.

    "It is only a half mile,” Fredette acknowledged, but “any superconductor cable in the grid is a big step forward.” Global activity in superconductor wire “is not amounting to much in revenues,” but in the past twelve months AMSC has shipped wires to Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the Netherlands and the U.S., a pretty long list of countries that Fredette described as "anywhere from dabbling to really starting to get serious.”

    AMSC’s two biggest superconductor wire competitors, Sumitomo Electric and Furukawa, are cable companies, but AMSC is “cable-agnostic,” Fredette said. France’s Nexans and Korea’s LS Cable, two of the world’s top three cable manufacturers, are AMSC partners.

    In India, AMSC has partnered with Inox Wind. “Suzlon is number one in that market,” Fredette said, but is now losing market share to companies like Inox in the rapidly expanding India wind sector.

    “Wind is about two-thirds of our revenue,” Fredette said. The remaining third comes from grid-related business, and of that, some three-quarters is made up of AMSC's DVAR technology, which provides voltage regulation for utility-scale renewables projects. Globally, over 300 megawatts of solar and over five gigawatts of wind projects use AMSC’s DVAR, Fredette said.

    Where there are strict mandates for how renewables interconnect, there is “a big DVAR opportunity for us,” Fredette said. Australia, the U.K., Canada and the U.S. are “good markets.” AMSC does not have wind partners in the U.S., he added, so the failure of Congress to extend the PTC will not have a direct impact, “Though, of course, we would like to see the PTC renewed.”

    AMSC continues to sell into the burgeoning though troubled Chinese wind market. “That will remain a part of the story, but it will be much more balanced,” Fredette said. Two key partners, he said, are “Shen Yang Blowerworks, a large company that has served the power generation industry for decades [and] JCNE, Jin Chang New Energy, part of Beijing Heavy Industries, a company that has been around 55 years.”

    “We haven’t abandoned China in any way,” Fredette said. But AMSC seems to have learned that doing business in China requires being aware of, and taking precautions against, both internal and external threats.

    Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Holiday Reading: Will the Pentagon Bring Solar Hot Water to a Boil? With third-party finance, solar can give the military hot water, private sector buy-in, and budget cuts.

    Holiday Reading: Will the Pentagon Bring Solar Hot Water to a Boil? With third-party finance, solar can give the military hot water, private sector buy-in, and budget cuts.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 10, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Eneref Institute, founded in the wake of the September 11 attacks to help shift the nation’s energy use, has recently taken up the cause of solar thermal and brought it to the Pentagon where, due to budget constraints, it has been well received. Yes, that is correct. Solar was well received by a military whose budget is being cut back.

    The phrase 'solar thermal' is generally used to mean solar water heating (SWH). The technology is much older than the more familiar photovoltaic (PV) solar, which generates electricity from the sun’s light. U.S. patents on SWH go back to the 1890s.

    But while PV is booming, the U.S. SWH industry is growing slowly. The U.S. is among the world’s leaders in most renewable technologies, but its SWH industry, though growing at 6 percent annually, according to recent SEPA statistics, had only 2.3 gigawatts-thermal installed capacity in 2010, while China had built 118 gigawatts-thermal and the world as a whole had built about 185 gigawatts-thermal.

    The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), urged on by Eneref Institute founder Seth Warren Rose’s advocacy and the drive to get excess costs out of its budget, is about to take a hand in moving U.S SWH forward, according to Holocene Energy CEO Ralph Thompson, an Eneref advisor.

    “There has been a problem with the solar thermal industry that the DOD is really anxious to help get sorted out,” Thompson explained. Eneref is coordinating between the Pentagon and the solar thermal industry “to get the right contractors and the right designers on the program.” An Eneref-organized, industry-funded group of SWH and solar heating and cooling (SHC) specialists is now working to have “a package of consensus standards and best practices” by the end of 2012.

    According to the group’s estimates, DOD hot water use (showers, food service, hospital, equipment maintenance, etc.) is at least 50 million to 100 million gallons per day (MGD) and SWH could meet 30 percent to 50 percent of that. It would require some 25,000 standard collectors of 1,000 square feet (KSF). A total of 20 percent of that (5,000 KSF per year) will be needed in the coming five years, according to the group, to meet the requirementsimposed on the Pentagon by executive orders.

    Building to meet such numbers would give the U.S. SWH industry the boost it needs to develop economies of scale and put it on cost-competitive ground with other water heating technologies, Thompson said. And “those numbers are very understated. The demand is far above the ten gallons per day. When we showed this to the military, they said they didn’t need to look any further because they agreed the actual number is a lot bigger.”

    Eneref’s claim that SWH could meet 30 percent to 50 percent of the military’s demand was guided, Thompson said, by the industry’s general rule that if a system is precisely designed and properly installed it will supply most of the hot water in the summer and perhaps 20 percent to 40 percent in the winter.

    Proper sizing, Skyline Innovations CEO Zach Axelrod recently told GTM, “is a factor of the customer’s load profile matched against the size of the system in terms of both collectors and storage. Those three things all work together.”

    “We’re designing these systems for the most effective combination of collection and use,” Thompson agreed. “For solar thermal, there are two defining characteristics. One is the amount of space you have on the roof. The other is the amount of space you have for storage in the basement.”

    What Holocene Energy, Skyline Innovations and other leaders in the solar thermal industryare working to make possible, Thompson said, is the pre-design of the most efficient system, the building of it in a manufacturing setting rather than at the project site, and a quick and therefore cost-effective delivery and installation.

    Achieving those things will be “a major factor moving the industry forward,” Thompson said, “that will cut costs of installation, improve the efficiency of the system, make its output more predictable, reduce the costs of maintenance and, ultimately, make SWH systems easier to finance.”

    By making SWH more finance-friendly, the industry can attract more of the third-party financing that companies like Holocene and Skyline have recently been winning. And by using private-sector money and contractors, the Pentagon can resolve pressures it has been getting from the White House and Congress to make budget cuts.

    “The U.S. military wants to do this at Veterans Administration [facilities] and military posts,” Thompson explained, “because these assets are not going to be in their budgets. We can own and operate them and sell them the energy at competitive rates.”

    The Pentagon is “looking now at how to structure these finance deals for solar thermal,” Thompson said. “But the DOD wants an industry that can say, ‘We can install this for these types of costs, with this kind of economic benefit, and we know the system is going to work.’ It is about how we get our costs down, how we get our reliability up, how we make sure we have qualified people doing the work and how we finance these projects. One of them is not the answer. All of them are the answer.”

    Holiday Reading: Commercial Solar’s Risk Targeted by Insurers’ Partnership; Assurant and GCube know risk—and they are betting on distributed solar generation.

    Holiday Reading: Commercial Solar’s Risk Targeted by Insurers’ Partnership; Assurant and GCube know risk—and they are betting on distributed solar generation.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 13, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Because solar is a still maturing industry, one of the big fears its financial backers have is that the panels on which their investment depends will not perform according to manufacturer claims.

    Solar can point to few large-scale installations that have performed to warranty provisions over the promised 25-year warranty period.

    Assurant, Inc. (NYSE: AIZ), a powerhouse in the insurance space for 120 years, and GCube Insurance Services, Inc., a three-decade veteran of the renewables space, have partnered to provide a new insurance product for commercial-scale solar projects between 100 kilowatts and three megawatts that addresses investors’ concerns.

    “In addition to the standard property and liability insurance,” explained Assurant Operations and Industry Relations VP David A. Schroeder, “we also have a warranty component at a project-specific level. That is what is unique about our offering.”

    Assurant had $8 billion in revenues in 2011, but, more importantly, $1.7 billion of that was in warranties.

    Financing parties typically specify an amount of property and liability coverage they want, but haven’t had the option of doing so “on the warranty side,” explained Assurant New Venture Commercialization VP Jeanne Schwartz. But, she added, there has been concern because “the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] warranty that typically comes with solar panels is often for 25 years, but it is being offered by a company that has been in business for five years. We are able to bring some reassurance to the financiers that we can stand behind that warranty.”

    And, Schwartz said, the project developer will have the option of warranty management coverage as long as the project’s property and liability coverage remains with Assurant.

    “Assurant sought us out,” GCube Underwriter Erin Cullen said, “because of our presence in the renewable energy industry.” GCube began in wind in the 1980s and now covers utility-scale solar, wind, hydro, wave, biofuels and geothermal projects. But, she added, “we don’t provide warranty coverage. This Assurant product is a huge value-add because it is really the only one with warranty management available in the market.”

    Assurant’s warranty management will be done through OEMs and operations and maintenance (O&M) providers in the same way that auto insurance providers use body shops.

    “We started out developing a product for the solar industry because it is a rapidly growing space,” Schroeder said.

    “We are really excited about this industry because of its growth prospects,” Schwartz said. A subsequent market survey of 80 developers, lenders, brokers, solar service providers and equipment manufacturers showed “the commercial space was underserved.”

    Assurant is focusing on photovoltaic (PV) installations in the United States initially, Schroeder said. “We now insure eleven projects constituting over seven megawatts in three states. The largest project is in Arizona. The smallest projects are in Tennessee.”

    The amount of coverage, he explained, tends “to follow construction costs. But there is also a component that is net present value of future income expected from the project.”

    The cost of the premium, he added, depends on the project and the technology. “If you are in an area that has negligible catastrophic perils and the project is using excellent equipment and has been developed wisely, you will pay a lot less because your risks are lower than one that is in an area that has high [risk of] wind storms or earthquakes and is not using quality materials or workers.” For a typical project, he said, the premium would likely be “less than half a percent” of the project’s capital cost.

    GCube will use its experience in the renewables sector to manage the product in the marketplace and administer it, Schwartz said. It will handle underwriting and policy issuance.

    Unlike its clients in utility-scale renewables, Cullen said, this new product is likely to attractnewer players who “need a little more hand-holding.” For such smaller companies, she explained, “this product takes away the stress of having to go find liability somewhere, find property somewhere and then worry about calling each manufacturer when you have problems with your warranties. This is one-point contact. You contact Assurant and you get all three coverages in one place.”

    Assurant, Schwartz explained, will “be maintaining relationships with clients [and] exploring other distribution channels for the product.” Assurant is also, she said, “exploring partnerships with other financing entities, OEMs and O&M providers -- people who have a vested interest in making sure the risk is mitigated for commercial-sized solar projects.” And, she added, “we are going to be the ones paying the claims.”

    But Assurant did not become a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company and accrue $8 billion in 2011 revenues by creating insurance products on which they have to pay claims. That means the solar projects they insure are likely to be solar projects investors can win their bets on.

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    Holiday Reading: Stat of the Day: 40 Percent More Wind, Solar, Hydro and Biopower in 2017; The IEA says renewables have come of age and will just keep growing.

    Holiday Reading: Stat of the Day: 40 Percent More Wind, Solar, Hydro and Biopower in 2017; The IEA says renewables have come of age and will just keep growing.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 9, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    The International Energy Agency (IEA), often skeptical about renewables in favor of fossil fuels, has just predicted a 40-plus percent increase in the world’s renewables-generated electricity over the next five years. The figure will go from 2011’s 4,540 terawatt-hours -- a rate that is itself 5.8 percent more than in 2010 -- to almost 6,400 terawatt-hours, a 5.8 percent annual growth rate over the five-year period.

    “From 2011 to 2017 renewable electricity generation should expand,” the IEA’s just-releasedMedium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012 reported, “by 1,840 terawatt-hours, almost 60 percent higher than the 1,160 terawatt-hours growth registered over the 2005-11 period.”

    The increase will come as the result of a predicted addition by 2017 of 710 gigawatts of new renewables capacity.

    Two-thirds of the growth will come from countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is made up of the established industrial nations. China will build almost 40 percent (270 gigawatts) of the new capacity.

    The report considered eight electricity-generating renewable technologies: hydropower, bioenergy, onshore wind, offshore wind, solar photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power (CSP), geothermal and ocean power. It also included solar water heating. The conclusions came from the evaluation of fifteen key renewable energy markets which make up about 80 percent of renewable electricity generation.

    The first-ever medium-term report on renewable energy from the IEA noted the technologies are “maturing” as the result of “supportive policy” in OECD countries that has brought renewables to cost-competitiveness. “Renewable deployment is starting to transition,” the report observed, “from a phase in which it is more reliant on subsidy support to one in which projects are competing on their own merits.”

    The increasing demand for electricity and increasing need for supply security have combined with the new economic competitiveness to drive growth that is expected to continue through 2017, especially in the United States (56 gigawatts), India (39 gigawatts), Germany (32 gigawatts), and Brazil (32 gigawatts).

    Onshore wind will be deployed in at least 70 countries by 2017, the report predicted. There will be more than 100 gigawatts of solar PV and bioenergy in 45 countries by then. Geothermal and CSP will be deployed in fifteen countries and offshore wind in eleven countries. Global investment in renewable electricity increased 19 percent in 2011 to $250 billion from 2010’s $210 billion. There was, the report noted, a drop in Q1 2012.

    Renewable investment is expected to continue to grow because, according to the report, established technologies (hydropower, geothermal, onshore wind, solar PV) are presently at grid parity with new fossil generation in many places and costs are expected to continue to come down. Investors still see some renewables (offshore wind, CSP, the ocean energies) as risky, the report added.

    Hydropower will lead growth with 730 terawatt-hours, the IEA report said. That will come largely in emerging economies.

    Non-hydro growth will slow from 2005 to 2011’s 16.2 percent to 14.3 percent over the next five years. But the non-hydro renewables will add 1,100 terawatt-hours, about half in OECD countries and half in emerging economies.

    Of that generation, wind power (onshore and offshore) should make the largest contribution to global renewables production through 2017, with a 16.7 percent total gain. “Onshore wind, bioenergy and solar PV see the largest increases,” the IEA reported, and “offshore wind and CSP grow quickly from low bases. Geothermal continues to develop in areas with good resources. Ocean technologies take important steps towards commercialization.”

    The increasing demand for electricity and increasing need for supply security have combined with the new economic competitiveness to drive growth that is expected to continue through 2017, especially in the United States (56 gigawatts), India (39 gigawatts), Germany (32 gigawatts), and Brazil (32 gigawatts).

    Onshore wind will be deployed in at least 70 countries by 2017, the report predicted. There will be more than 100 gigawatts of solar PV and bioenergy in 45 countries by then. Geothermal and CSP will be deployed in fifteen countries and offshore wind in eleven countries.

    Global investment in renewable electricity increased 19 percent in 2011 to $250 billion from 2010’s $210 billion. There was, the report noted, a drop in Q1 2012.

    Renewable investment is expected to continue to grow because, according to the report, established technologies (hydropower, geothermal, onshore wind, solar PV) are presently at grid parity with new fossil generation in many places and costs are expected to continue to come down. Investors still see some renewables (offshore wind, CSP, the ocean energies) as risky, the report added.

    Hydropower will lead growth with 730 terawatt-hours, the IEA report said. That will come largely in emerging economies.

    Non-hydro growth will slow from 2005 to 2011’s 16.2 percent to 14.3 percent over the next five years. But the non-hydro renewables will add 1,100 terawatt-hours, about half in OECD countries and half in emerging economies.

    Of that generation, wind power (onshore and offshore) should make the largest contribution to global renewables production through 2017, with a 16.7 percent total gain. “Onshore wind, bioenergy and solar PV see the largest increases,” the IEA reported, and “offshore wind and CSP grow quickly from low bases. Geothermal continues to develop in areas with good resources. Ocean technologies take important steps towards commercialization.”

    Wind, the report predicted, should grow 15.6 percent (100 terawatt-hours) per year, 90 percent of it onshore. The 230-gigawatt 2011 world wind capacity is predicted to go to over 460 gigawatts in 2017.

    Bioenergy (solid biomass, biogas, liquid biofuels, renewable municipal waste) is predicted to be 8.3 percent of the world’s renewable electricity generation capacity in 2017.

    Solar technologies are predicted to be 4.9 percent of global renewable electricity in 2017. PV will grow, the report said, 27.4 percent (35 terawatt-hours) per year, going from 70 gigawatts in 2011 to 230 gigawatts in 2017. That growth is predicted to be led by China (32 gigawatts), the U.S. (21 gigawatts), Germany (20 gigawatts), Japan (20 gigawatts), and Italy (11 gigawatts). CSP, by incorporating storage and being used in hybrid fossil plants, is expected to grow from 2011’s two-gigawatt capacity to 11 gigawatts in 2017, led by the U.S. (four gigawatts), Spain (one gigawatt) and China (one gigawatt).

    Geothermal generation, the report predicted, could grow 4.2 percent (three terawatt-hours) per year and go from 2011’s 11-gigawatt capacity to fourteen gigawatts in 2017.

    The cost of the technologies, the challenges of integrating them into the transmission system, and the availability of financing will be, the report concluded, the key factors affecting renewables’ continued growth. The European financial crisis, the shifting fortunes of politics and policy, and the price of natural gas are the key unknowns.

    The outlook for realizing all of its brightest 2017 predictions, the report noted, was therefore “cautious.”

    Holiday Reading: Will Third-Party Finance Bring Solar Hot Water to a Boil? Skyline Innovations is making money by providing hot water with no upfront costs.

    Holiday Reading: Will Third-Party Finance Bring Solar Hot Water to a Boil? Skyline Innovations is making money by providing hot water with no upfront costs.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 9, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Solar water heating (SWH) specialist Skyline Innovations just picked up a million dollars in venture capital, $30 million in backing from the investment arm of a natural gas utility, and added three multi-family buildings to its customer list. It's another sign that, in solar, third-party financing might in fact please all of the people all of the time.

    Small-business-oriented VC firm Advantage Capital Partners’ million dollars will go to extending Skyline’s operational capabilities through software development, project management, and sales force hiring.

    According to Skyline Innovations CEO Zach Axelrod, the $30 million investment from WGL Holdings, Inc., a natural gas utility and energy marketer/wholesaler, “should enable us to build 100 to 300 projects. Our average project is a mid-size commercial project worth from $100,000 to $300,000.”

    Skyline just completed three such SWH system installations in Southern California. Building owner Williams Holdings had no upfront cost and will get solar hot water at a 25 percent fixed discount to its utility rate for water heating.

    “We offer guaranteed savings on the hot water we provide,” Axelrod said. “We do that by measuring the BTUs we deliver and charging a fixed percentage discount to what a building owner or operator would have paid.”

    “We work with multi-family buildings that are 50 units and up that have centralized hot water systems,” explained Skyline Marketing spokesperson Sandra Lee. “Our business model was engineered with the specific focus of taking the question of payback off the table for customers because we recognize that constraints on capital and fear of financial risk and uncertainty about payback are the major barriers to solar.”

    Skyline exclusively uses third-party financing, today’s hottest concept in distributed solar. Using investors’ money, Lee said, “we fully finance and pay for, install, maintain and monitor the systems.” The only thing the customer pays for, she added, “is the hot water that gets delivered to their tap that they use that has originated from our system, not from the utility.”

    Skyline was founded in 2009 and now has, Axelrod said, “about 45 systems. Our savings rates vary from 15 percent to 35 percent or 40 percent off what somebody would have paid for water heated by gas, electricity, propane or fuel oil.”

    “A simple analogy we use,” added Lee, “is that if they pay a dollar per therm and they lock in a 30 percent savings rate, that means they pay 30 cents less per therm. They will always be better off with Skyline. They will always pay less for water heated by the sun than what they would pay their utility for water heated by any other conventional fuel.”

    Third-party financing use has nearly tripled over the last year in the booming rooftop solar PV sector.

    Though SWH technology is much older than PV, with patents as far back as the 1890s, the U.S. industry is growing much more slowly. And while the U.S. is among the world leaders in most renewable technologies, its SWH industry had only 2.3 gigawatts-thermal in 2010, while China had 118 gigawatts-thermal and the world had built about 185 gigawatts-thermal. The U.S. market is five times bigger than it was in 2005 and growing at 6 percent annually, according to recent SEPA statistics.

    Third-party financing may be the boost SWH needs to gain a footing in the U.S. market. But industry veterans have expressed that the sector is urgently in need of standards -- both for equipment and installers.

    Skyline’s success stems at least in part from the fact that it is widely recognized for using high-quality equipment and doing smart installations.

    “Photovoltaic panels, in terms of output, are about 15 percent efficient. Solar thermal panels are somewhere between 40 percent and 70 percent efficient, depending on the collector type,” Axelrod said. But “the big difference between thermal and PV, in terms of efficiency, is that PV has a grid to push unused electricity back to.”

    A SWH system has storage tanks, he explained. “If you size the solar hot water system appropriately, certainly you will collect more energy from solar hot water than from PV.”

    Proper sizing, he said, “is a factor of the customer’s load profile matched against the size of the system in terms of both collectors and storage. Those three things all work together to determine your efficiency.”

    The metric used in SWH for cost of capacity that compares to PV’s dollars per watt, Axelrod said, is dollars per square foot of collector. “For commercial, it is generally between $90 and $150 per square foot, which translates to, say, $3,600 to $6,000 per 40-square-foot collector. For residential, it’s a little higher.”

    Skyline’s three new projects in Southern California, and its new Los Angeles office, mark a move there to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the California Solar InitiativeThermal Program’s $350 million allocation for the deployment of multi-family and commercial solar water heating systems.

    Low natural gas prices, on the other hand, have hurt SWH. But, Axelrod noted, “they hurt everybody in the generation industry across the board. It hurts nuclear, wind, coal, natural gas power plants, and it hurts PV.” And, he added, “We are no different than anyone else. We often price against natural gas directly. But everyone in the generation business prices against natural gas either directly or indirectly. It hits us like it hits everyone.”

    Tuesday, December 25, 2012

    Where The Reindeer Take Their Rest Breaks

    Reindeer from Lapland spotted taking a break on a wind turbine in New Zealand. NewEnergyNews correspondents are on the story. From MeridianEnergy via YouTube

    From SolarTomCotter via YouTube

    Oil To The World

    Stick around for the punch line. From versusplus via YouTube

    A New Energy Christmas Carol

    A New Energy version of Angels We Have Heard on High:

    LYRICS: See the sun how bright it shines, on the nations of the earth/All who share this thing called life celebrate each day's rebirth

    (cho) So-o-o-o-lar power, inexpensive energy (2x)

    Brother river so your hear how the valley calls you down/end your rushing waters near, let the joyful hills resound

    (cho) Hy-dro-o-o-o power, inexpensive energy (2x)

    Sister wind we've heard on high sweetly singing o'er the plain/And the windmills in reply echoing their glad refrain

    (cho) Wi-in-in-ind power, inexpensive energy (2x)

    How we love complexity when the answer's rather plain/Join the sun in jubilee, sing with us this joyous strain

    From SolarTomCotter via YouTube

    Monday, December 24, 2012

    Holiday Reading: ESolar’s Bet on Modular Solar Power Towers With Storage; CEO: “Our objective is to compete straight up with the best-in-class PVs.”

    Holiday Reading: ESolar’s Bet on Modular Solar Power Towers With Storage; CEO: “Our objective is to compete straight up with the best-in-class PVs.”

    Herman K. Trabish, July 3, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    NREL’s just-released Renewable Electricity Futures study concluded the most abundant U.S. renewable resource is solar. The U.S. technical potential of utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) was estimated at 80,000 gigawatts. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) was 37,000 gigawatts.Distributed PV was estimated at 700 gigawatts.

    The U.S. needs about 1100 gigawatts of electricity production capacity, so the race is on between PV and CSP to capture the market that other utility-scale renewables don’t.

    BrightSource, SolarReserve and Abengoa, emerging forces in CSP solar power tower technology, are working on large-scale technologies. ESolar is going the other way.

    “What is so unique about our technology is the modular nature of it and the scalability,” explained eSolar President/CEO John Van Scoter. “Instead of one-size-fits-all,” he said, “we can literally build these up just like building blocks and adapt to different customer requirements.”

    ESolar’s Sierra SunTower in California has been in operation since 2009, and its Bikaner power tower in India has been in operation since last April. Its business partners include General Electric (GE) and Babcock & Wilcox, two major energy sector multinationals. And it has a roadmap for scaling its cost down and its reach outward.

    The company has just completed phase two of a $50 million move, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Babcock & Wilcox, to molten salt storage. “That will dramatically reduce the LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] delivered to the grid compared to steam-only non-storage systems,” Van Scoter said. “We chose to move the roadmap in that direction back in 2010 in order to be competitive,” he added.

    The LCOE reduction is, Van Scoter acknowledged, to compete with PV. ESolar’s roadmap, he said, shows industry LCOE predictions for both crystalline silicon and thin-film PV. “Our objective is to compete straight-up with the best-in-class PVs on an ongoing basis but have the advantage of being dispatchable with storage.”

    Van Scoter expects to beat PV with the company's first commercial deployment of a solar power tower with molten salt storage in 2014-2015. “We know where PV is going to be, so we can back into where the capex for the system has to be. We break down that capex for the individual sub-systems. And we are designing the cost for each of those individual sub-systems.”

    Sierra SunTower is a two-tower, five-megawatt, first-generation project. It has been producing as would be expected, explained plant manager Joe Long. But, he added during a walk through the facility, “I can show you as many things that we would not do again as things we would.”

    “Right now, our base module is roughly 4 megawatts electric, not 2.5 megawatts like you see at Sierra SunTower,” Van Scoter said, but “the basic concept and materials are all proven.” With 4-megawatt blocks, eSolar can, he explained, “build any size plant up to 200 megawatts.”

    Phase three of the molten salt storage project will be a proof of concept plant they hope to have operative by the end of next year. “We have a number of sites right now that we are considering,” Van Scoter said. “Some are here in the states, some are overseas. We’ve seen tremendous interest in the Middle East and North Africa.”

    It is possible the storage technology will be tried at Sierra SunTower, he explained, but added, “We would like to do something larger.”

    ESolar has learned from its first-generation facilities. SCS5, a “next-generation heliostat,” Van Scoter said, has slightly larger mirrors and a smaller and more easily implanted base, but “will continue to be mass-produced and pre-fabricated in very low cost factories around the world.”

    The company has also streamlined the system’s power electronics, cabling installation and robotic heliostat cleaning. The first two will reduce costs and the third, Van Scoter said, “will reduce water consumption by an order of magnitude.”

    ESolar is talking to a variety of potential customers around the world “about projects ranging from twenty to more than 100 megawatts,” Van Scoter said. “With the exception of India andChina, we are seeing pretty much across-the-board movement to dry cooling,” he added. “The molten salt system is designed for either, but we expect the vast majority of those to be deployed as dry-cooled systems.”

    Adapting to dry-cooling technology “isn’t a concern,” Van Scoter said. “There are many people who can do it. And with General Electric as our partner -- they bring an incredible reach and capability.”

    GE invested $40 million in eSolar after “nine months of due diligence,” according to Van Scoter. GE’s investment, he said, gave it a worldwide license, with the exception of India and China, to develop a breakthrough integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) concept. The first, a 500-megawatt GE natural gas plant in combination with a 50-megawatt eSolar power tower facility, is expected to “get full notice to proceed in 2012.”

    Van Scoter said ISCC could do for solar what the Prius did for cars. “I think it will drive volume. It will drive learning. It will drive cost. It then will ultimately drive stand-alone systems down to more competitive positions in time.”

    That might happen sooner if eSolar brings its LCOE down while the China import tariff, the loss of the 1603 manufacturing tax credit, and expected stalls in major markets provide PV’s LCOE back-up.

    Holiday Reading: Third-Party Finance for the Other 90 Percent (of Commercial Buildings); EPR Squared says its “real estate structure” can put solar on multi-tenant buildings.

    Holiday Reading: Third-Party Finance for the Other 90 Percent (of Commercial Buildings); EPR Squared says its “real estate structure” can put solar on multi-tenant buildings.

    Herman K. Trabish, July 5, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Third-party financing of solar projects is growing. Fast.

    California, which represents 40 percent of U.S. solar, went from 42,933 total kilowatts installed in the first five months of 2011 to 77,473 in the same period of 2012. But kilowatts installed with cash went down from 23,360 to 21,223, while kilowatts installed using third-party financing nearly tripled from 19,572 to 56,250.

    Yet 90 percent to 95 percent of commercial building rooftops remain essentially beyond the reach of third-party financing, according to real estate research firm data cited by Energy Producing Retail Realty, Inc. (EPR Squared, EPR^2) Founder/CEO Chris Pawlik.

    “When you have a commercial building with multiple tenants,” Pawlik said, third parties “can’t technically finance those unless the owner takes it on, [and] commercial owners won’t do that.” Third-party financiers, he explained, “can get an agreement signed or financing in place because they have the credit of the off-taker that takes care of the risk.” With a twenty-year commitment, third-party financiers have certainty that their loan will repaid.

    But, Pawlik said, “owners typically own properties five to seven years and tenants are typically in properties five to ten years. You can’t have a ten- to twenty-year agreement in situations like that.”

    Pawlik’s “real estate structure” resolves the impasse. “We develop a real estate interest on site and have that be separated from the land and the improvements, through a legal method that has precedent in real estate.” It is similar to agreements with property owners for cell tower and billboards, though, Pawlik stressed, the solar legal structure is not identical.

    DLA Piper, which Pawlik called “the gold-standard, top-tier law firm” for commercial real estate, “has finalized the form documents we need to take to the owners to show them how this structure would work.”

    EPR^2 has “a dozen or so deals in the pipeline with groups that have either portfolios of properties or single properties,” Pawlik said. The first deal, he explained, must be one that demonstrates to the 60,000 California real estate brokers, agents and mortgaging agents that “this is almost identical to a real estate transaction.” When they see commissions in it for themselves, he said, “we can really scale the idea and bring it to a size at which pension funds and insurance companies will start looking at it.”

    Institutional investors, Pawlik said “love the fact that EPR is a hard asset and an inflation hedge linked to electricity prices.” But the opportunity, he explained, must be very large before it attracts investment from them.

    EPR^2 can take it there, Pawlik said, because the legal structure “gives the owner an operating expense reduction or a cash flow increase” and because investors’ returns “are on par with what real estate, infrastructure and renewable project investors are currently receiving but we’re providing them with a better risk profile.”

    Pawlik is not a solar developer. EPR^2 will “work with the best-in-class EPCs [engineering, procurement and construction providers] and contractors that have much more experience” and will be only “the real estate and finance specialist in putting these transactions together.” From preliminary discussions, there are “most likely” EPCs he could not yet name, Pawlik said, but “we can do more deals with others.”

    The revenue stream that comes from tenants’ service payments, Pawlik said, “covers the returns demanded by our investors; it covers a spread for the owner of the property, and it covers the development costs and fees.

    According to Pawlik, solar’s obstacle has been, “How do we drive liquidity? How do we make people buy in?” The problem, he explained, is not returns or technology. “The real estate structure is not working.”

    EPR^2 is “addressing the obstacles for owners and tenants and making sure the investors are getting a similar type of asset as they would if they were investing in a commercial building.”

    Using “real estate structures that already exist, the revenue comes from either the owner or tenants paying for something they are already paying for, but at a discount. Those revenues are distributed to investors and the owner of the property.”

    EPR^2 earns “the development fee for putting the deal together,” Pawlik said, but “we are working with our investors to provide them with a preferred return. We potentially participate on the up side, [and] if it works out as good or better than we expected, everybody makes more money.”

    By properly sizing the system to its real estate setting, Pawlik said, the building needn’t stay atypically occupied or be in any way different from any commercial property. “We might be producing 10 percent to 50 percent of the load on the building. The building would have to go 50 percent to 90 percent vacant for us to have an issue.”

    Pawlik mentioned he had pitched his concept to SunEdison founder and solar industry graybeard Jigar Shah. It is, Shah observed to GTM, an “interesting concept,” but, he said, he has “no idea if it will work. The concept is modeled on another effort he had previously undertaken that worked and is still working now.

    “Our next step is to finish the development process with an owner to show how we intend to benefit the property and benefit them,” Pawlik said, “and then take it to other owners and take it across entire portfolios. We are at the edge making the leap.”


    FIVE CORPORATE TRENDS TOWARD NEW ENERGY 5 Energy Trends That Will Impact Your Business In 2013

    Brian O’Connell, December 21, 2012 (Forbes)

    “…[M]ore and more executives are locked in on the energy market and are promising to leverage that market to improve sustainability at their firms…[According to A New Era of Sustainability from Accenture and the UN Global Compact] 93% of the 766 CEOs surveyed say that energy sustainability is either ‘important’ or ‘very important.’ …100% of CEOs in the automotive and consumer sectors view sustainability as ‘critical’ to their success…

    “…[1…High prices] are triggering a broader re-evaluation process among CEOs going into 2013…[2…A clear majority of CEOs say their renewable energy purchases will rise] over the next five years. To fight back against higher energy prices, those CEOs intend to explore cheaper renewable energy…[3…Company-Generated Energy Will Rise]…51% of CEOs in [an] Ernst & Young study said company-owned renewable energy resources would increase, and 16% claimed that it would ‘significantly increase.’…”

    “…[4…Commercial Buildings Going Green]…More buildings, manufacturing plants and office complexes in the U.S. are going ‘green,’ or at least heading that way…20% of the annual energy consumption in the U.S. is linked to commercial buildings…[and] the federal government is offering big financial incentives to companies to ‘retrofit’ their buildings and make them more energy efficient. The goal is to cut U.S commercial building energy output by 20% by 2020…[5…Natural Gas Over Oil]… With demand for oil slowing across the globe, especially in emerging market countries like China and India, oil prices should rise significantly in 2013. But huge stores of natural gas, especially a burgeoning shale gas supply in the U.S., make natural gas a cheaper…

    “…Expect CEOs to steer energy budget resources away from pricey oil and toward inexpensive natural gas. That’s especially true given the U.S…Typically, natural gas is about 10 times less expensive than crude oil. But these days, it’s trading 35 times cheaper…While that ratio may not be sustainable, high natural gas inventories should keep prices down for 2013…”

    LEARN WHAT ENERGIEWENDE MEANS Book of the Year: Clean Break, the Story of Germany's Energy Transformation -- and What Americans Can Learn From It

    Jeff Biggers, December 20, 2012 (Huffington Post)

    “Energiewende might be the most important German word to ever enter our American vocabulary…[J]ournalist Osha Davidson's riveting [inspiring and downright revelatory] new ebook, Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation -- and What Americans Can Learn From It, the story of Germany's Energiewende or power shift [away from nuclear power and coal to New Energy’will hopefully [make it] a driving part of our own energy lexicon…

    “...Written with the skill and intrigue of an investigative journalist tracking down a mystery, [Germany’s journey to a clean energy future unfolds with the verve of a page-turning bildungsroman, with all the facts and figures to lay out a roadmap…Davidson takes us on a fact-finding journey to Germany's corridors of power -- from politics to the prairies to the Black Forest -- to understand how Europe's most important industrial power has managed to meet such an ambitious plan for renewable energy production…”

    “…Davidson presents some basic tenets of any plans for a power shift in our own dirty energy ways…Germany's plan is not infallible, of course, nor is it alone in its goal to operate on 80 percent renewable power by 2050 -- Scotland recently announced its intention to become 100 percent renewable by 2020.

    “But as Davidson expertly shows, Germany's Energiewende demonstrates that the issue of climate change and transitioning off dirty fossil fuels should no longer be seen as ‘a problem,’ as one analysts explains, but a ‘task’ to be accomplished…Clean Break is a huge leap in making that task a vital part of our American energy policy.”

    THE FALL OF COAL 2012: After Repeated Losses, Coal Industry Continues Downward Spiral; One Coal Plant Retired Each Week in 2012

    December 20, 2012 (Sierra Club)

    Over the past twelve months, the nationwide campaign to phase out coal burning in the United States continued to win victories from coast to coast, including securing dozens of coal plant retirements and record investments in wind and solar…[An unprecedented coalition including Sierra Club and more than a hundred local, regional and national organizations has helped to secure the largest drop in U.S. coal burning ever] in 2012 as its market share fell and stock prices tanked…

    0 new coal plants broke ground – the third year in a row that the campaign prevented any new coal plants from starting construction…0 new coal export facilities broke ground in the Pacific Northwest…13 proposed coal plants abandoned or defeated…54 coal plants retired or announced to retire, with a grand total of 126 coal plants announced for retirement since January 2010…18,789 megawatts of coal retired or announced to retire, with a grand total of 46,904 megawatts retired or announced to retire since January 2010…”

    “…1,992 megwatts of solar power installed as of September 2012 – bringing the total amount of solar operating in the U.S. to 5,900 megawatts…4,728 megawatts of wind power installed through Sept 2012 – an increase of 40 percent from Sept 2011. In total there is now 51,630 megawatts of wind power operating in the US…12 million homes – about 10 percent of the country – could be powered by the amount of solar and wind generated in the first nine months of 2012 alone…13,872 workers added to the solar industry in 2012 – a growth of 13.2 percent over 2011…

    “8 percent decrease in overall electric sector carbon dioxide emissions – a twenty year low in US carbon emissions – mainly due to a decline in coal-fired generation…38 percent of overall electricity generation provided by coal through September 2012, a historic decline from 50 percent less than five years ago…10,000+ citizens turned out to oppose new coal export facilities in the Northwest…1,773,027 emails and comments sent calling on EPA and national leaders to curb coal plant pollution and invest in clean energy…”

    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    Why The World Didn’t End Yesterday

    Some stuff actually worth knowing about the Mayans. From TheUFOlogyTV via YouTube

    A Little Time Talking About Something Real

    What this guy is essentially saying is that it’s clear the world can handle what’s coming, it’s just not clear that humans can. From ClimateProgressWorld via YouTube

    A Family Fighting For Wind

    The wind industry’s fiscal cliff still looms ahead. Congress will extend the vital production tax credit (PTC). But when? And how much will be lost by then?

    Today’s first video was about a crisis that wasn't real. The second was about a crisis that really might be. This last video is about something anybody can do to help avoid the very real possibility of that second crisis. Become an advocate for wind. From AmericanWindEnergy via YouTube

    Friday, December 21, 2012


    Report finds climate change already having major effects on ecosystems, species

    December 19, 2012 (PhysOrg)

    “Plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events – such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating – at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.

    “…Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services [by 60-plus federal, academic and other scientists] synthesizes the scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks…”

    [Nancy Grimm, professor, Arizona State University' School of Life Sciences/report lead author:] "These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven't previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources…"

    “Grimm, who is also a senior sustainability scientist at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species' survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food…”


    Top-10 Solar Market Predictions For 2013

    December 19, 2012 (EQ International)

    “The photovoltaic industry is in the midst of wrenching change…10 predictions for 2013 from the IHS solar research team…[include, 1] The global PV market will achieve double-digit installation growth in 2013, but market revenue will fall to $75 billion… [Industry revenues] peaked at $94 billion in 2011, but fell sharply to $77 billion in 2012…on the back of lower volume growth and continued system price declines…

    “…[2] The solar module industry will consolidate further in 2013…[F]ewer than 150 companies will remain in the photovoltaic upstream value chain, down from more than 750 companies in 2010…The large expense of building and then operating integrated facilities that are underutilized will be more than many can handle financially…[3] PV module prices will stabilize in 2H 2013 as oversupply eases…”

    “…[4] Solar trade wars will rage on in 2013, yielding few winners…[S]ix different solar trade cases [proceed,] involving China, Europe, the United States and India…[5] South Africa and Romania will emerge as PV markets to watch in 2013…[6] Double-digit returns remain possible for European PV projects in 2013…[Subsidy schemes make all EU countries attractive] for both private and institutional investors…[7] Solar will surpass wind in the United States…[partly because] of the near-term uncertainty over the federal production tax credit for wind…[and partly because] of solar PV’s increasing competitiveness…

    “…[8] China will become the world’s largest PV market…[Its predicted 6 gigawatts will allow it] to surpass Germany…[9] Energy storage will transform the solar industry…IHS forecasts a big jump in the number of residential PV systems installed with batteries attached…[10] New technology will revive equipment vendors’ prospects…help PV manufacturers [and suppliers] cut costs, increase margins and ultimately distinguish themselves…’


    Turbine installation complete at 630MW London Array

    Andrew Lee, December 13, 2012 (ReCharge News)

    “The last turbine has been installed at the UK’s 630MW London Array offshore wind farm…The addition of the 175th machine leaves the project’s first phase on course to be fully operational by spring next year…

    “Fifty five of the Siemens 3.6MW turbines are already grid-connected in the Thames Estuary near London…”

    “…After beginning in January, the final stage of turbine installation was completed by MPI Discovery and A2SEA’s Sea Worker and Sea Jack…London Array is owned by consortium partners Dong Energy (50%), E.ON (30%) and Masdar (20%).

    “…The London Array will be the largest operational offshore wind farm in the world…A London Array second phase, which is currently seeking approval, would take the total project to 870MW.”


    Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts; Global Forecasts for Light Duty Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, and Battery Electric Vehicles: 2012-2020

    4Q 2012 (Pike Research/Navigant)

    “While hybrid vehicles have been widely available for more than a dozen years, the market for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) has grown rapidly in the last 2 years, reaching more than 120,000 unit sales worldwide in 2012. While the market has positive momentum, it still faces hurdles…

    “Despite political targets that are likely to be missed, [key assumptions, including vehicle availability, economic growth, petroleum fuel prices, government influence on the market, and the overall vehicle market] point to robust growth worldwide for electric vehicles, with hybrids growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6%, and PEVs (combined plug-in hybrid and battery electric) growing at a CAGR of 39% between 2012 and 2020.”

    “While Japan is anticipated to be the largest market for hybrids in 2020, the United States is anticipated to be the largest market for PEVs that year.

    “…European countries, with the combination of high gas prices and supportive government policies, are anticipated to have the highest concentrations of plug-in electric vehicles…”