NewEnergyNews: 05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012/


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

The challenge now: To make every day Earth Day.



  • TTTA Wednesday-ORIGINAL REPORTING: The IRA And The New Energy Boom
  • TTTA Wednesday-ORIGINAL REPORTING: The IRA And the EV Revolution

  • Weekend Video: Coming Ocean Current Collapse Could Up Climate Crisis
  • Weekend Video: Impacts Of The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current Collapse
  • Weekend Video: More Facts On The AMOC

    WEEKEND VIDEOS, July 15-16:

  • Weekend Video: The Truth About China And The Climate Crisis
  • Weekend Video: Florida Insurance At The Climate Crisis Storm’s Eye
  • Weekend Video: The 9-1-1 On Rooftop Solar

    WEEKEND VIDEOS, July 8-9:

  • Weekend Video: Bill Nye Science Guy On The Climate Crisis
  • Weekend Video: The Changes Causing The Crisis
  • Weekend Video: A “Massive Global Solar Boom” Now

    WEEKEND VIDEOS, July 1-2:

  • The Global New Energy Boom Accelerates
  • Ukraine Faces The Climate Crisis While Fighting To Survive
  • Texas Heat And Politics Of Denial
  • --------------------------


    Founding Editor Herman K. Trabish



    WEEKEND VIDEOS, June 17-18

  • Fixing The Power System
  • The Energy Storage Solution
  • New Energy Equity With Community Solar
  • Weekend Video: The Way Wind Can Help Win Wars
  • Weekend Video: New Support For Hydropower
  • 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




      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.

  • ---------------
  • WEEKEND VIDEOS, August 24-26:
  • Happy One-Year Birthday, Inflation Reduction Act
  • The Virtual Power Plant Boom, Part 1
  • The Virtual Power Plant Boom, Part 2

    Thursday, May 31, 2012


    Smart Buildings: Ten Trends to Watch in 2012 and Beyond

    Eric Bloom and Bob Gohn, 2Q 2012 (Pike Research)

    Executive Summary – A Snapshot of the Smart Building Industry Today

    The smart building industry has been busy over the last few years. Advances in technology that make it easier to manage energy have considerably broadened the energy conversation, engaging not just facility managers, but also CEOs and CFOs. Although the effects of the global economic recession are still felt throughout the building and construction industries, technology vendors and integrators have continued to uncover new opportunities to improve energy efficiency in the existing building stock. The potential for energy efficiency has hardly been tapped even today.

    Smart buildings employ a wide range of technologies that improve efficiency and connect buildings to each other as well as to the grid using intelligent, information and communication technology (ICT)-based devices and networks. Many of the technologies required for qualifying as a smart building, such as energy efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and submeters, are mature. Others, such as building energy management systems (BEMSs) and building information modeling (BIM), are evolving rapidly and offer some of the most impactful innovations that the building industry has witnessed in years. The challenge that integrators face today, however, is tying these systems together in a way that maximizes profitability and leverages the strengths that each service provider in the smart building ecosystem brings to the table.

    The one certainty is that demand for smart building technologies will continue to grow. The value proposition for many of these technologies has been demonstrated and a growing number of building owners are starting to adopt them with positive results. As the technology continues to evolve, improve, and decrease in cost, efficient and intelligent technologies will start to become an even more pervasive fixture in buildings worldwide.

    Ten Trends in Smart Buildings

    This white paper explores ten of the key trends that are transforming the smart building industry worldwide today, including:

    • Building energy management hits the cloud

    • Co-opetition is on the rise in the building industry

    • Targeted acquisitions help key players deliver end-to-end monetized energy services

    • Demand for smart building products in Asia Pacific will soar, driven largely by China

    • U.S. energy service companies turn to the federal sector

    • Building communication protocols are converging in more ways than one

    • Demand response (DR) is shifting into automatic

    • Submeters find new opportunities in smarter buildings

    • Building information modeling is transforming the design process

    • The interface between smart buildings and the smart grid is blurring

    Ten Trends in Smart Buildings

    Building Energy Management Hits the Cloud

    The last year has catapulted building energy management into the 21st century. Since the dawn of building automation, buildings have been producing volumes of information, but few in the building industry started tuning in until the last few years. Today, a number of players are tapping into the big data that buildings are constantly producing and uploading it into the cloud as the basis for rich software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings.

    Virtually every leading name in the building services industry has made some kind of move on BEMSs that host and manage building data in the cloud recently. For example, in November 2011, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), the real estate industry giant, launched IntelliCommand, a service that builds on JLL’s usual business model – facility management and operations – by folding building energy data into other operational data and benchmarking it to identify areas of inefficiency and poor performance. This type of move can be seen in other commercial real estate firms, as well as with HVAC equipment vendors, including Schneider Electric and Siemens, as well as IT systems integrators, such as IBM and HP, and many others…

    Co-opetition is on the Rise in the Building Industry

    The building industry is highly fragmented. On the HVAC and equipment side, a handful of leaders, such as Schneider Electric and Johnson Controls, have large, multinational presences, but most of the market is divvied up among thousands of smaller companies, with a relatively narrow regional or technological focus. On the commercial real estate side, even CB Richard Ellis, the real estate firm with the largest footprint of space under management – 2.9 billion square feet (SF) – has captured less than 1% of the world’s 400 billion SF of commercial space.

    These vendor-specific fiefdoms are starting to break down, as the demands of deep energy efficiency and energy management require considerable integration between disparate building systems. As demand for BEMSs, as well as comprehensive, end-to-end solutions for energy efficiency, including new capabilities like demand response and energy procurement, increases, the need for end-to-end services will push players to create alliances that plug gaps in service offerings and also to find ways to mutually reinforce one another, rather than compete against each other…

    Targeted Acquisitions Help Key Players Deliver End-to-end Monetized Energy Services

    When a nascent technology market reaches a certain point of maturity, smaller pure-plays start getting snapped up by larger established firms at breakneck pace. The smart building industry is starting to reach this point, as evidenced by a number of important acquisitions over the last year. Table 2.1 highlights several key acquisitions…

    These are not examples of companies swallowing their peers to squelch competition. Rather, they are moves that indicate that the smart building industry is accelerating at such a pace that, when faced with the decision of whether to buy or to build, many of the major players are opting to buy, placing them on the map either geographically or technologically, rather than taking the time and investing in the resources to build new capabilities…

    Demand for Smart Building Products in Asia Pacific Will Soar, Driven Largely by China

    The figures surrounding the growth of the building industry in Asia Pacific are staggering. The region’s building stock represents over 40% of the world’s building space and is growing by over 2.4 billion square meters (m2) per year, most of which is in China. By 2025, China will build over 200 cities with a population of over 1 million, according to McKinsey & Company…

    However, these huge numbers are not always reflected in the Asia Pacific region’s share of smart building technology today. Despite the region’s dynamic construction activity, it represents just 25% of the global market for BASs and controls, 20% of the global market for BEMSs, 17% of the global market for intelligent lighting controls, and a mere 6% of the global market for DR services. Despite the billions of square meters of new space that are added every year in the region, smart building technologies still have a proportionally low rate of penetration in new buildings in Asia Pacific…

    U.S. Energy Service Companies Turn to the Federal Sector

    Energy service companies (ESCOs), the core of energy efficiency activity in many building markets around the world, tend to stick with known client categories and rarely change direction. In Western Europe, ESCOs focus their business on the public and commercial building sectors. In China, they tend to focus on the commercial and industrial sectors. In the United States, nearly three-quarters of ESCO business focuses on the municipalities, universities, schools, and hospitals (MUSH) markets. The MUSH market has provided a consistent source of revenue over the last few decades and the level of familiarity with ESCOs and energy performance contracting is high among these clients.

    Over the last few years, however, the federal sector has started to prove more inviting to ESCOs and energy performance contracting in the United States. Historically, the federal sector has represented a considerable portion of the U.S. ESCO industry – about 15% to 20% in a given year. Although the federal government has the foundations for strong ESCO support, including a number of federal mandates and targets for energy efficiency that have been put in place since 2005, adoption of the energy performance contracting model has not been uniform across all agencies. The inconsistent support for the ESCO model stems from a number of issues, such as a lack of familiarity with performance contracting among staff, the availability of direct Congressional appropriations for energy efficiency programs, and the availability of other avenues, such as purchases of renewable energy credits (RECs) to achieve federal agency emissions reduction targets…

    Building Communication Protocols are Converging in More Ways than One

    The word of the year in smart buildings is convergence. This concept broadly applies to the convergence of ICT with BMSs and other systems within buildings to create BEMSs that feed BMS-related data into centralized servers and software applications. Without a common IT network for building systems, coordinating all of a building’s systems in a way that optimizes energy efficiency and performance is difficult, if not impossible. ICT-enabled building devices – including the traditional networked devices, such as thermostats, sensors, and controls, as well as, increasingly, HVAC equipment and lighting fixtures themselves – are becoming ubiquitous, leading to a complete landscape of smart devices that can be integrated into a single system.

    Communication protocols are the thread that holds the entire system together and a different type of convergence is taking hold of the communication world. Today, dozens of open (e.g., BACnet, LonWorks) and proprietary (e.g., Johnson Controls/Metasys) protocols exist, through which systems communicate with each other within a building or campus. Some devices with a proprietary protocol can communicate with others with an aftermarket translation device, but some systems simply cannot be integrated harmoniously into single networks…

    Demand Response Is Shifting into Automatic

    The average peak load is increasing every year. Last July, peak load in several grid operators’ domains broke their historic records. Extremely hot summers and cold winter days are partly to blame, but the growing population and the increasingly energy-intensive lifestyles of building occupants have also contributed to the increase. In response, many utilities and grid operators have turned to DR programs as a way to incentivize customers to reduce their non-essential energy demand.

    DR, however, remains a largely manual process. Once an agreement has been reached between utilities, customers, and, in some cases, curtailment service providers (CSPs) like EnerNOC, DR resources are only dispatched after a facility manager at the customer site receives a signal from the utility or CSP. The manual process for dispatching DR often allows a grace period of 30 minutes or longer and many utilities could benefit significantly from faster response tmes…

    Submeters Find New Opportunities in Smarter Buildings

    Submeters – or metering devices – that building owners install to log utilities like electricity, gas, and water are by no means a new technology. Technologically similar to utility meters, which mediate the utility-customer relationship as opposed to the interface between building owners and tenants or individual building components, submeters have historically focused on two main applications. The first is basic tenant billing/cost allocation, in which submeters measure the energy consumption of individual building tenants, pieces of equipment, or individual buildings within a larger campus, filling in where utility meters leave off. The second is deep energy and power quality monitoring that tracks a wider range of concerns, such as current and voltage, particularly in commercial and industrial facilities. A handful of vendors have sold submeters over the years and installations have largely been ad hoc and based on a specific niche need at a given time. However, the recent push toward energy management in buildings is breathing new life into this mature technology. The mantra, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” is at the core of new thinking around energy in buildings, and few technologies are better positioned to measure and report energy consumption at a tenant or end-use level than submeters. An effective submeter system is like having an army of energy auditors with deep analytical capabilities taking building energy measurements every 15 minutes. That level of monitoring and control is of great appeal to business decision-makers. Although submeters by themselves do not reduce energy consumption, the information they provide can help building owners immediately detect poorly performing systems, and many submeter installations have been followed with energy cost savings of about 5% to 10% and short payback periods for the installation…

    Building Information Modeling Is Transforming the Design Process

    A smart building starts with a smart design. Many of the decisions that impact energy efficiency, such as the integration of HVAC, lighting, and other building systems, as well as basic considerations like orientation and materials, are made early in the design process and are difficult to change after the building’s initial design phases.

    It is remarkable, therefore, that the design and construction process today remains highly fractious and poorly coordinated. Architects, engineers, and contractors operate largely independently of one another and optimize individual systems without using a whole systems approach to design. This can have catastrophic implications for green and energy-efficient buildings, as the standards required by LEED and increasingly stringent building codes raise the bar for energy performance…

    The Interface between Smart Buildings and the Smart Grid Is Blurring

    A broader view of the smart building industry reveals that much of the activity is happening less at the individual scale and more at the network level. BEMS tend to favor portfolios of buildings that can be controlled from a central location. In a sense, the intelligence that is finding its way into commercial and industrial buildings is creating a bird’s eye view of aggregations of buildings – and utilities are starting to pay attention.

    For example, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is working with the energy management firm, C3, to deploy energy management software across PG&E’s commercial and industrial customer base to benchmark facilities and identify poorly performing ones. Utilities have long engaged customers on energy efficiency through demand-side management, but the pace and efficacy of such programs have received a considerable boost in recent years, as intelligent systems trickle into buildings. Around the world, moreover, grid operators are changing rules and providing market mechanisms that allow and incentivize DR, enabling demand-side resources (e.g., commercial buildings) to receive compensation for reducing their power demand during critical moments. Without sophisticated control systems, these types of programs would simply not be possible.

    The interest that smart buildings have piqued among utilities has led some energy management firms to turn their gaze to utilities as customers as well. Vancouver-based Pulse Energy has shifted its strategy to utilities, providing energy management software that specifically aims to assist utilities in achieving energy efficiency targets and improving customer satisfaction with service. Others, such as Retroficiency and FirstFuel, have considerably expanded their energy management offerings for utilities as well. These moves suggest that, while the needs and priorities of utilities are far different from those of building owners, deploying a single system across an entire utility customer base makes more marketing sense than netting individual building owners as customers one by one.

    The high-profile acquisitions and product announcements that smart building leaders have made in recent years also indicate that the building industry is looking increasingly upstream and is enhancing its interactions with the grid. Schneider Electric’s acquisition of leading smart grid firm Telvent, and Johnson Controls’ acquisition of DR firm EnergyConnect illustrate that building industry leaders are eager to tie buildings with the grid through an intelligent network. In January 2012, Echelon announced a new suite of products designed to make buildings grid-aware by integrating disparate BASs and enabling them to respond to real-time grid conditions. These are just a few of the many examples of how the building industry is taking a much more expansive view of the types of services they aim to offer building owners and managers to address the smart building market opportunity.

    In the future, the definition of a smart building will continue to expand, as the technology evolves and as the regulatory and standards environment for DR and building automation matures. Together, smart buildings and the smart grid will continue to reinforce each other, providing continuing opportunities to improve energy efficiency, as well as the economics of operating the electricity grid.


    BALD EAGLES SAFE IN WIND American Wind Wildlife Institute releases eagle white paper

    Carl Levesque, May 25, 2012 (Wind Energy Weekly)

    “…[The American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI)-released white paper on eagles and wind power…Eagles and Wind Energy: Identifying Research Priorities…[from] leading conservation organizations, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and members of the wind industry…[is intended] to help resolve challenges relating to wind energy development and eagle protection…

    “…AWWI developed the white paper with extensive input from eagle experts…and the group continues to work with experts, agency staff, conservation organizations, and wind energy industry partners to advance this goal and implement its eagle initiative…AWWI’s white paper synthesizes current knowledge of eagle population status and trends, as well as of human-related causes of fatalities including wind energy, and identifies priorities…”

    “Findings…[included]…[1] Bald eagles are thriving, while the status of golden eagle populations is uncertain…[2, Data] of known eagle fatalities recorded between 2006 and 2011 from all anthropogenic sources suggests that electrocution for golden eagles (50 percent), and poisoning for bald eagles (36 percent), are leading sources. Wind turbine collisions in the Altamont Pass account for 21.5 percent and wind turbines at other sites 0.5 percent of all golden eagle fatalities…

    “…[Research topics included]…gaps on demography and status relevant to calculating take thresholds…estimates of eagle mortality…siting and operational strategies that avoid or minimize eagle fatalities…compensatory mitigation…coordinating and enhancing existing collaborative research...The white paper concludes that AWWI should focus over the next 12 months on expanding options for compensatory mitigation while continuing to identify, support, and collaborate with other research initiatives…”

    NEW MONEY MODELS IN SUN Solar Finance Re-Invented: How Today's Projects Lure New Market Players

    29 May 2012 (Solar Industry)

    “Financing of U.S. solar projects is in the midst of a transformation, with new business models, new investors and new financing vehicles gaining sway, according to new research [in Re-Imagining U.S. Solar Financing] by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (commissioned by Reznick Group).

    “U.S. solar projects have historically been bankrolled by some combination of energy sector players, banks and the federal government, but the landscape is rapidly changing. New business models are emerging, with an emphasis on third-party financing, the report says. New investors, including institutional players, are entering. New financing vehicles - such as project bonds and other securities - are being assembled to tap the broader capital markets…”

    “The evolution toward a broader investor base is expected to help maintain growth for U.S. solar deployment. Asset financing for U.S. PV projects has grown by a compound annual growth rate of 58% since 2004 and surged to a record $21.1 billion in 2011, fueled by the one-year extension of the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Section 1603 cash-grant program…Funding the next nine years of growth (2012-2020) for U.S. PV deployment will require about $6.9 billion annually on average, the report says.

    “Two factors are predicted to drive the evolution. First, traditional players [like eurozone banks and the Department of Energy's loan-guarantee program] are scaling back their participation…Second, thanks to the continuing low-interest-rate environment, nontraditional investors are becoming more interested, lured by the risk-return profiles of solar projects that employ well-proven PV technology…”

    TEXAS WORRIES ABOUT ELECTRICITY ERCOT Report Reinforces Future Electricity Adequacy Concerns

    29 May 2012 (Renew Grid)

    “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) says it foresees potential electricity shortages within the coming decade as electricity use in Texas continues to hit new records…The newly revised Capacity, Demand and Reserves (CDR) report shows a reserve margin of 9.8% by 2014. That is well below ERCOT's 13.75% target for electric generation capacity that exceeds the forecast peak demand on the grid. The 2014 outlook includes slightly more than 75 GW of power to serve an anticipated peak demand of 68 GW.

    “By 2015, projected reserves are expected to drop to 6.9%, with 76.6 GW of resources available to serve a peak demand of 71.6 GW. The 13.75% target-planning reserve margin, approved by ERCOT's board in 2010, is set to ensure enough power is available for contingencies such as extreme weather and unplanned power plant outages…”

    “Peak electricity use in the ERCOT region is driven by high temperatures and economic conditions. The mid- and long-term peak-demand forecast is based on a 15-year average weather profile combined with economic factors such as per capita income, population, gross domestic product and various employment measures. The report does not include the outlook for this summer…

    “…[T]he outlook for summer 2013 actually has improved since the previous CDR was released in December 2011…[because] about 1.2 GW of previously "mothballed" capacity has returned to service…[including] nearly 600 MW of new renewable power [105 MW of biomass, 432 MW of wind power and 59 MW of solar power]…By 2016, the forecast includes 3.6 GW of new gas-fired capacity, more than 2 GW of new wind power, about 900 MW of new coal-fired generation and 60 MW of solar power…New wind power will include about 600 MW of coastal wind, which has historically provided significant power to the grid when it is needed most - late in the afternoon on hot summer days…The grid operator has also incorporated an increase in demand-response (DR) services...”

    Wednesday, May 30, 2012


    Geothermal; International Overview Report

    May 2012 (Geothermal Energy Association)

    Global Overview

    The global geothermal power market continued to grow substantially in 2011-12, outpacing the US geothermal market by a noticeable margin. As of May 2012, approximately 11,224 MW of installed geothermal power capacity was online globally. In 2010 geothermal energy generated twice the amount of electricity as solar energy did worldwide.

    Geothermal growth is currently fueled by a number of factors: economic growth, especially in developing markets; the electrification of low-income and rural communities; increasing concerns regarding energy security and its impact on economic security. Additionally, the majority of the growth in the development of global geothermal resources is occurring in countries with large, untapped, conventional resources. As more countries recognize and understand the economic value of their geothermal resources, their development and utilization becomes a higher priority.

    New technology appears to be underpinning geothermal expansion in some regions which have already seen significant development of their conventional resources. In the US and Europe, for example, the geothermal industry is increasingly using binary technology that can utilize more moderate and low temperature resources to generate electricity. Also, energy and economic security are compelling drivers for the adoption of policies supporting geothermal development in countries like Chile and Japan. In nearly every case, national policies are propelling growth in the strongest markets, while the current world leader – the US – appears to be growing more slowly due to policy uncertainties.

    This report highlights geothermal resource development in certain countries, as well as the policy and economic drivers behind that development. The market trends observed will be the object of more thorough analysis in future studies.


    A number of factors are leading certain countries in Africa to explore the viability of developing the continents geothermal resources. First, Africa has the smallest amount of energy use of any populated continent in the world. Only approximately 25 percent of Africa’s population has access to electricity, more than half of which is traditional biomass which contributes to deforestation and health problems. Increasing demand for electricity also adds impetus to the need to increase access to electricity in Africa. At the same time, increasing demand for electricity exacerbates issues currently associated with Africa’s electricity sector. For example, reliance on imported petro-products for thermal power generation exposes African countries to the price volatility of fossil fuels. Additionally, due to climactic fluctuations, the reliability of hydropower as a primary source of electricity for many African countries has been called into question.

    Africa’s geothermal resources are concentrated in the East African Rift System (EARS comprises the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) and remain largely undeveloped. Currently, only approximately 217 MW of geothermal resources have been developed in Kenya and Ethiopia for electricity production. The estimated potential of geothermal resources in EARS is more than 15,000 MW…

    Asia and the Pacific

    Countries in Asia and the Pacific Islands are poised to make a significant contribution to the growth of the global geothermal industry. High-grade resources and friendly policy environments have resulted in an emergence of advanced-stage geothermal projects that are beginning to attract the expertise of geothermal developers as well as the interest of project financiers. The potential for the development of geothermal resources throughout the region is immense. Countries featuring in the growth of Asia’s geothermal sector are Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan where state efforts to provide policies and regulatory environments that incentivize the development of geothermal resources are increasingly attracting the interest of geothermal companies throughout the world…

    Central America and the Caribbean

    Geothermal energy stands to play a key role in the economic growth of Central America and Caribbean countries. In Central America rapid economic growth, increasing dependence on imported fossil fuels, and a push to overcome regional fragmentation through the SIEPAC (Sistema de Interconexion Electrica para America Central) transmission interconnection38 have created the need for the development of the region’s renewable resources. The majority of countries in Central America have developed a portion of their geothermal resources for utility scale power production. El Salvador and Costa Rica derive 24 percent (204 MW) and 12 percent (163 MW) of their electricity production from geothermal energy respectively. Nicaragua (87 MW) and Guatemala (49.5 MW) also generate a portion of their electricity from geothermal energy. The potential for further development of Central America’s geothermal resources remains significant, and the geothermal potential of the region has been estimated between 3,000 MW and 13,000 MW at 50 identified geothermal sites.39 Additionally, geothermal energy in Central America is competitive with the region’s primary forms of electricity generation; hydropower and thermal generation from fossil fuels…

    South America

    In the past few decades South America has at times enjoyed economic growth due to the development and exportation of its oil and gas resources. However, economic and diplomatic issues surrounding the flow of energy across borders have had adverse impacts on the economies of South American countries. For example, Argentina abruptly cut off supply of natural gas to Chile in mid-2004; and a transmission line built a few years ago to connect Peru and Ecuador has rarely been used due to disagreement on electricity price. Reports of blackouts and worker strikes have become increasingly regular. At the same time, energy consumption and demand is growing in South America and is projected to increase by 72 percent through 2035(includes Central America), according to the EIA.

    Awareness of climate change issues is another factor leading many of these countries to seek development of renewable resources. The melting of Andean glaciers and changing rain patterns have negatively impacted local agriculture and residential patterns thanks to the dwindling water supply.

    The United Nations predicts that Latin American countries will be severely affected by climate change, despite the fact that the region’s greenhouse gas emissions represent a small proportion of total global emissions.

    To address the of issues energy security, increasing demand, and sustainability, some countries in South America have taken steps to increase domestic energy security by supporting the development of their renewable energy resources.

    Geothermal resources represent an opportunity to meet energy needs with a clean, baseload, sustainable form of energy in South America, particularly along the Andean Mountain Range and the Southern Cone of the continent. Experienced companies from Australia, Italy, the US, and other countries are taking an interest in the development of South America’s geothermal resources.

    Many are partnering with a resident company, bringing local understanding to the project as well as making development more feasible. Some local and international mining companies have undertaken smaller scale operations, working to develop geothermal resources to help meet the electricity needs of their operations.

    A key player in development financing for renewable energy throughout Latin America and the Caribbean is the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Already contributing to some geothermal projects, such as the Copahue project in Argentina, the bank’s recent efforts seem to redouble its commitment to climate-friendly solutions: thus far it has approved US$ 30 million for renewable energy projects for the Emerging Energy Latin America Fund II,56 had an additional US$ 70 billion capital injection, and began a five-year target to use 25 percent of its loans toward climate-related projects…

    North America

    The principal countries of North America – Canada, Mexico and the US – have some of the highest standards of living in the world, as well as high electricity demand and degrees of electrification. However, the continent is also relatively well supplied with fossil and other conventional energy resources. Moreover, neither Canada nor the United States has adopted national climate policies and neither is currently a signatory to the Kyoto protocol.

    While North American countries may not be as exposed to the same factors incentivizing emerging economies to develop their renewable resources, there is still a strong case for the increased implementation of geothermal energy into their economies as well. In the US, coal and natural gas respectively generated approximately 42 and 25 percent of total electricity generated in 2011, indicating that North American economies are also vulnerable to the adverse impacts of the price volatility of fossil fuels. Additionally, electricity demand is projected to grow by 0.8 percent per year in the US through 2035, indicating that additional generating capacity will be needed, although not at the scale of most emerging markets.76 In order to increase their energy security by meeting rising demand and mitigating the use of fossil fuels, North American countries are taking steps to increase their production of renewable energy resources, including geothermal.

    In the US, federal and state policies have been the drivers for renewable generation. At the federal level, since 2005 geothermal and all other renewable technologies have been afforded important tax incentives to attract investors. At the state level, most have adopted renewable production requirements for their electric utilities. Recently, uncertainty has grown about whether Congress will continue to extend federal renewable power incentives and the economic recession has dampened state renewable effort. Yet, growth continued…


    CHINA SUN COUNTER ATTACKS China Accuses U.S. Of Solar Trade Violations, SEIA Responds

    25 May 2012 (Solar Industry)

    “Incentive programs for solar and other forms of renewable energy in five U.S. states violate international free-trade rules and treaties, according to China's Ministry of Commerce. Bloomberg reports that the ministry has ruled…[they] break World Trade Organization rules…In addition, 14 China-based PV manufacturers have formed a new coalition in response to the U.S. Department of Commerce's (DOC) announcement last week that tariffs would be applied to solar modules exported from China to the U.S.

    “Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), released a statement calling for international dialogue and reiterating his previous warning that trade conflicts can hurt the global solar sector…”

    “…SEIA and the China Renewable Energy Industries Association have requested that the U.S. and Chinese governments engage the 21 member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in a formal clean energy dialogue on trade. According to SEIA, this conversation would provide an ‘excellent framework’ for a much larger, global agreement on acceptable solar energy policy…

    “SEIA's calls for international dialogue have not been universally accepted by solar manufacturers. SolarWorld, which led the initial trade complaint against China that resulted in the DOC's tariffs, has accused SEIA of breaking its stated pledge of neutrality…”

    ELEMENT POWER ADDS SUN TO WIND IN NM New Mexico Wind Farm To Add Huge Solar Energy Installation

    22 May 2012 (North American Windpower)

    “…Element Power Americas says it will add a 50 MW solar power installation to the Macho Springs Wind Energy Facility, which is already operating in Luna County, N.M. The solar addition will comprise thin-film photovoltaic panels.”

    “The 50.4 MW Macho Springs wind project…features 28 Vestas V100-1.8 MW wind turbines, was completed in 2011…[Its output is sold] to Tucson Electric Power under a long-term power purchase agreement.”

    WIRES FOR WIND PAY FOR THEMSELVES Story Of Wind-Related Transmission Is One That Needs To Be Told

    22 May 2012 (Renew Grid)

    “Installing a substantial amount of wind power, along with upgrading transmission in the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) territory, could have positive consumer benefits at a lower cost than is assumed, according to a report sponsored by the Americans For A Clean Energy Grid (ACEG)…[The study of wind-related transmission investments for MISO projects] concludes that consumer electricity prices would decline under low- or high-transmission scenarios.

    “Introducing greater levels of wind resources into MISO generally depresses the average annual market price relative to a baseline case of no additional wind generation beyond the existing 10 GW currently in place in MISO, according to the report. Because wind energy ‘fuel’ is free, once they are built, wind power plants displace fossil-fueled generation and lower the price of marginal supply - thus lowering the energy market-clearing price…”

    “With good system planning, it is likely that large quantities of wind could be integrated with low or moderate transmission investments - though still larger increases than have been seen in the recent past…If load growth can be kept to a minimum through demand response and energy efficiency, the incremental transmission needed to integrate wind can be lowered (relative to a baseline with greater load growth) because a key determinant of transmission need is peak-load level…

    Transmission projects would still be required to connect remote wind resources…and "backbone" investments would still be needed…[but] continuous investment cycles of extra-high-voltage lines should not be necessary, and the cumulative rate impacts should remain small…Transformation of the supply fleet to much more flexible operation…[and] extensive coordination, control and forecasting improvements in the electric power sector, could also mitigate the need for…[much more] transmission…"

    Tuesday, May 29, 2012


    Made with Renewable Energy: How and Why Companies are Labeling Consumer Products

    Deborah Baker Brannan, Jenny Heeter, and Lori Bird, March 2012 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

    Executive Summary

    Green marketing—a marketing strategy highlighting the environmental attributes of a product—dates back to the 1970s but began to flourish in the early 1990s. More recently, a number of companies using renewable energy in the manufacture of products have begun to communicate renewable energy use directly on product packaging, relying either on a logo or some combination of text and imagery. This report discusses the experience of companies that communicate to consumers that products are “made with renewable energy.” Corporate commitments to using renewable energy, and communicating that commitment on product packaging and through other means, could play an important role in educating consumers about the availability and feasibility of using renewable energy as an alternative energy source.

    Researchers identified nearly 50 companies that communicate renewable energy use on product packaging. Representatives from 20 companies were interviewed and asked to discuss their experiences marketing products produced with renewable energy. Companies take a variety of approaches to communicating to consumers that their products are made with renewable energy. Some companies are labeling on-product, while others are using their websites, social media, and other promotions. On-product labeling can include use of a logo or use of imagery and statements, such as a picture of a wind turbine and note that the product is made with renewable energy.

    Why are companies promoting the use of renewable energy on products? The primary motivation identified was to communicate to the consumer about the company’s commitment to renewable energy and, in doing so, enhance the image of the brand. Other motivations included differentiating a product, targeting environmentally conscious consumers, and to a lesser degree, following an existing industry trend and earning a price premium.

    What challenges do companies face when making on-product claims about renewable energy? One of the primary challenges identified was the limited and competing uses of physical space on a product (“product real estate”). Other challenges included determining the appropriate language and content to include and knowing whether consumers will recognize and understand renewable energy messages. Costs associated with modifying packaging, costs of certification and program requirements for use of a third-party logo, and international product marketing were identified as minor challenges.

    The future growth rate of this new market for labeling products with renewable energy claims remains to be seen. While some lessons can be learned from how eco-products have been marketed historically, products that are made with renewable energy are unique in that they are identical to the comparable conventional product in quality and performance; only the energy used to manufacture the product is different.


    Green marketing—a marketing strategy highlighting the environmental attributes of a product, often through the use of labels or logos—dates back to the 1970s. It did not proliferate until the 1990s (Rex and Baumann 2007), however, when extensive market research identified a rapidly growing group of consumers with a heightened concern for the environment. Consumers expressed not only a preference for green products but also a willingness to pay a premium for such products (Peattie and Crane 2005). The response was a surge in green marketing that lasted through the early 1990s. By the mid-1990s, however, the green marketing rush had waned. The market for green products had remained relatively weak due to the apparent gap between environmental concern and sales suggested by consumer surveys to actual sales achieved (Rex and Baumann 2007; Peattie and Crane 2005).

    Although green products remain a niche market, more than 80% of consumers continue to express interest in protecting the environment, even though those levels have declined slightly in recent years (Natural Marketing Institute 2011). As such, companies continue to pursue new ways of communicating their actions to protect the environment to consumers.

    Providing information on the type of energy used to produce a product—specifically whether it is made with renewable energy—is an emerging strategy. Survey data suggest that consumers view renewable energy favorably and prefer products made with renewable energy sources. Surveys conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute, for example, found that 80% of consumers in 2010 indicated that they care about the use of renewable energy (Natural Marketing Institute 2011). Additionally, a recent poll conducted by Vestas and TNS Gallup found that 65% of consumers worldwide prefer products that are made with wind energy (Vestas and TNS Gallup 2011).

    A number of companies using renewable energy in the manufacture of products communicate this directly on product packaging, relying either on a logo or on some combination of text and imagery (e.g., wind turbines). Other companies have refrained from using on-product messaging and rely on other types of marketing collateral to communicate their use of renewable energy, typically via their websites. In general, communicating the renewable energy content of products differs from some earlier green marketing efforts that often focused on modifications made to the products themselves. One reason the adoption of green products has been limited is because green products often do not compete with comparable conventional products on important dimensions, such as price, quality, or performance (Gallastegui 2002). Products that use less material or recycled material, for example, could be viewed as inferior or less effective. In contrast, the use of renewable energy in the manufacture of a product has no impact on the quality of the product itself. Therefore, previous experience with green marketing might not be entirely transferable to this new strategy of communicating the renewable energy used in manufacturing a product.

    This report discusses the experience of companies that communicate to consumers that products are “made with renewable energy.” Representatives from 20 companies were interviewed and asked to discuss their experiences marketing products produced using renewable energy. Interview participants were asked to discuss motivations for making on-product claims and to describe their primary challenges in labeling products with renewable energy use. The small number of interviews would not have provided robust quantitative data; therefore, interviews focused on gathering qualitative responses. The first half of this report provides an overview of the type of companies that have labeled products or advertised them as being made with renewable energy. It also highlights the avenues companies use to describe their use of renewable energy. What follows is a discussion of the motivations for making on-product claims about the use of renewable energy and the challenges in doing so, based on insights learned through the interview process.


    Marketers have highlighted a variety of environmental attributes of products for several decades, but specifying the type of energy used to manufacture a product is a trend that has only emerged in the past decade. In the United States, the number of companies marketing products as “made with renewable energy” has increased substantially in the past several years, although the market remains small. In 2011, researchers identified about 50 companies that use renewable energy labeling on products. Through interviews with 20 companies with experience labeling products as “made with renewable energy,” we have found the following: (1) the companies range in size, (2) some companies are in the business-to-business sector and many others are in the business-to-consumer sector, (3) companies span a wide array of industries, and (4) companies vary in terms of the scope of their labeling efforts, with some labeling a specific product and others labeling a product line or all company product lines.

    Motivations for labeling products differ. Some companies are motivated by the ability to differentiate a product through using a “made with renewable energy” message, appealing to the environmentally conscious consumer. Other companies reported that the primary motivations were to confirm an already existing commitment to sustainability or to enhance the image of a brand. None of the companies interviewed attempted to earn a price premium on the product because of the use of renewable energy in its manufacture.

    Methods of communicating the use of renewable energy vary. Some organizations have relied on logos or imagery to convey the use of renewable energy in the manufacture of a product and others have included text on the product packing. Others have complemented this by providing information on websites about their renewable energy purchases and the associated benefits, and some have used social media and other promotions to convey their use of renewable energy.

    There are numerous challenges associated with communicating the use of renewable energy directly on products, including the limited real estate available on product packaging and determining the appropriate content to include. Another challenge is the difficulty in assessing how effective “made with renewable energy” claims are in increasing product sales. Further, there often is uncertainty as to whether the customer recognizes the logo used and understands the information being conveyed. Lessons from earlier green-marketing experience indicate that a label or logo that is recognizable, easy to understand, and trusted is more effective at conveying information to the consumer—as a result, they contribute to market growth (Rex and Baumann 2007). The limited experience with renewable energy logos, however, makes it difficult to adequately gauge recognition and understanding.

    A multi-attribute label is something that could address multiple environmental attributes, not just use of renewable energy. Interviewed companies highlighted that a multi-attribute label could address concerns about limited packaging real estate and simplify the certification process on the company end.

    Some lessons can be learned from how eco-products have been marketed; however, products that are made with renewable energy are unique in that they are identical to the comparable conventional product in quality and performance; only the energy used to manufacture the product is different. Given this new market, it remains to be seen the extent to which products “made with renewable energy” will be utilized and support the use of renewable energy. Corporate commitments to using renewable energy and communicating that commitment on product packaging and through other means could play an important role in educating customers about the availability and feasibility of using renewable energy as an alternative energy source.


    CARBON RISING Global carbon-dioxide emissions increase by 1.0 Gt in 2011 to record high

    24 May 2012 (International Energy Agency)

    “Global carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel combustion reached a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011, according to preliminary estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA). This represents an increase of 1.0 Gt on 2010, or 3.2%. Coal accounted for 45% of total energy-related CO2 emissions in 2011, followed by oil (35%) and natural gas (20%).

    “The 450 Scenario of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, which sets out an energy pathway consistent with a 50% chance of limiting the increase in the average global temperature to 2°C, requires CO2 emissions to peak at 32.6 Gt no later than 2017…The 450 Scenario sees a decoupling of CO2 emissions from global GDP, but much still needs to be done to reach that goal…[T]he rate of growth in CO2 emissions in 2011 exceeded that of global GDP…”

    “In 2011, a 6.1% increase in CO2 emissions in countries outside the OECD was only partly offset by a 0.6% reduction in emissions inside the OECD. China made the largest contribution to the global increase, with its emissions rising by 720 million tonnes (Mt), or 9.3%, primarily due to higher coal consumption [though its rapid deployment of energy efficiency and New Energy is paying dividends]…Had these gains not been made, China’s CO2 emissions in 2011 would have been higher by 1.5 Gt…India’s emissions rose by 140 Mt, or 8.7%, moving it ahead of Russia to become the fourth largest emitter behind China, the United States, and the European Union…

    “…[P]er-capita CO2 emissions in China and India still remain just 63% and 15% of the OECD average respectively…CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 Mt, or 1.7%, primarily due to ongoing switching from coal to natural gas in power generation and an exceptionally mild winter…higher oil prices and the economic downturn…CO2 emissions in the EU in 2011 were lower by 69 Mt, or 1.9%...Japan’s emissions increased by 28 Mt, or 2.4%, as a result of a substantial increase in the use of fossil fuels in power generation post-Fukushima.”

    TOOLS OF THE FOSSIL FUELS Conservative think tanks step up attacks against Obama's clean energy strategy; Confidential memo seen by Guardian calls for climate change sceptics to turn American public against solar and wind power

    Suzanne Goldenberg, 8 May 2012 (UK Guardian)

    “A network of ultra-conservative groups is ramping up an offensive on multiple fronts to turn the American public against wind farms and Barack Obama's energy agenda…A number of rightwing organisations, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are attacking Obama for his support for solar and wind power. The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), which also has financial links to the Kochs, has drafted bills to overturn state laws promoting wind energy.

    “…[A] confidential strategy memo…[prepared by John Droz Jr, a senior fellow of the American Tradition Institute (ATI) advised] using ‘subversion’ to build a national movement of wind farm protesters…[It] was discussed at a meeting of self-styled 'wind warriors' from across the country in Washington DC last February…Among its main recommendations, the proposal calls for a national PR campaign aimed at causing ‘subversion in message of industry so that it effectively because so bad that no one wants to admit in public they are for it.’”

    “It suggests setting up "dummy businesses" to buy anti-wind billboards, and creating a "counter-intelligence branch" to track the wind energy industry. It also calls for spending $750,000 to create an organisation with paid staff and tax-exempt status dedicated to building public opposition to state and federal government policies encouraging the wind energy industry…Droz is a longtime opponent of wind farms, arguing that the technology has not yet been proven and that wind technology should not receive government support. He claims 10,000 subscribers to his anti-wind-power email newsletter…

    “The [ATI] strategy session is the latest evidence of a concerted attack on the clean energy industry by think tanks and lobby groups connected to oil and coal interests and free-market ideologues…united by their efforts to discredit climate science [including the Heartland Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity, the organising arm of the Tea Party movement]…Campaign groups and spokespersons for the wind industry say there has been a sharp rise in organised opposition since early 2009 when Obama put investment in renewable energy at the heart of his economic recovery plan…[Conservatives] appear to be readying] a confrontation over wind farms and other clean energy issues in the [coming] elections…”

    THE GREENEST SUN New Rankings Crown The 'Cleanest' Solar Firms, Defy Stereotypes

    Jessica Lillian, 25 May 2012 (Solar Industry)

    “…The trade-war discussion has also encompassed…the belief that Chinese factories - including solar fabs - create hazardous working conditions, flout pollution laws and generally act as poor corporate citizens…[but China-headquartered Trina Solar was recently crowned the cleanest PV manufacturer by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) in its third annual Solar Scorecard. Trina unseated last year's winner, SolarWorld, as the most environmentally friendly and worker-friendly PV manufacturer.

    “With a score of 94 (out of a possible 100), Trina barely beat out second-place SunPower (headquartered in the U.S., though it manufactures its products in Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines), which earned 93 points…Germany-headquartered SolarWorld - known as the leading public face behind the anti-dumping complaint and countervailing-duty petition that brought about the new tariffs on Chinese manufacturers - came in third place, with a score of 91 points…”

    “Yingli, which manufactures in China, placed fourth in this year's survey, with a score of 88. Other top 10 manufacturers included REC (87 points), Suntech (86 points), Avancis (79 points), Aleo Solar (77 points), Sovello (77 points), Solon Energy GmbH (75 points) and First Solar (74 points)…At the bottom of the pack, two China-based manufacturers - JinkoSolar and LDK Solar - received scores of zero. Neither company responded to the SVTC's survey…Jinko holds the dubious distinction of having experienced perhaps the most public environmental contamination incident within the PV manufacturing industry over the past year…Two non-China-based manufacturers, Hanwha SolarOne (with manufacturing locations in Korea) and Schott (with manufacturing locations in Germany, the U.S. and Czech Republic, as well as in China) fared scarcely better…

    “According to the SVTC, the PV cell and module manufacturing industry as a whole - regardless of factory locations - still needs to make major strides in improving its overall environmental and social-justice profile…Specifically, manufacturers should aim to reduce their usage of toxic chemicals, develop or strengthen their module recycling programs and take steps to protect their workers up and down the supply chain…”

    Monday, May 28, 2012

    Holiday Weekend Reading: NRG Settlement Funds California’s ‘Electric Expressway’ EV Charger Network; $120 million will buy thousands of chargers ordered by Governor Brown that startup Gridtest’s tool can certify.

    A selection from NewEnergyNews' recent original reporting for Greentech Media:

    NRG Settlement Funds California’s ‘Electric Expressway’ EV Charger Network; $120 million will buy thousands of chargers ordered by Governor Brown that startup Gridtest’s tool can certify.

    Herman K. Trabish, March 26, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    A $120 million settlement between the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and NRG Energy Inc. will fund the building of a network of charging stations for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) the length and width of the state, as ordered by California Governor Jerry Brown.

    Startup Gridtest Systems' vehicle charging equipment test and measurement tools, said to be the first for the charging industry, can validate the network’s performance capabilities.

    The CPUC-NRG money, a settlement stemming from the 2001 California energy crisis, will pay for a statewide infrastructure of at least 200 public fast-charging stations and another 10,000 plug-in units at 1,000 locations.

    The Gridtest Systems tools will enable both the design and in-field testing of the compatibility between the growing array of charging stations and the expanding selection of BEVs.

    The first $100 million of the payment from NRG Energy to the state settles claims against NRG’s predecessor Dynegy for March 2001 long-term power contracts it failed to fulfill. It will pay for fast-charging stations, plug-in units and electrical upgrades, at no cost to California's drivers or taxpayers. The infrastructure is expected to drive the state’s transition to BEVs.

    The other $20 million from NRG Energy will go to electric utility ratepayer relief.

    As the settlement was announced, Governor Brown’s office issued an executive order to drive the deployment of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in California by 2025.

    The executive order requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the California Energy Commission (CEC), the CPUC and “other relevant agencies” to work with the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative and the California Fuel Cell Partnership on four key points:

    • All major California cities are to have the charging infrastructure to be BEV-ready by 2015

    • The state is to have a charging infrastructure that can support one million zero-emission vehicles by 2020

    • California is to have deployed 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2025

    • California’s personal transportation is to be essentially all-ZEV by 2050 so that greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s transportation sector are 80 percent below 1990 levels.

    This effort in California joins efforts by imported oil-dependent states and nations from Hawaii to Ireland and Denmark to Taiwan to move electric transportation to mainstream markets. The demand for BEV charging systems is forecast by Pike Research to reach $4.3 billion per year by 2017.

    Yet “charging today is like dial-up internet,” Gridtest Systems founder and CEO Neal Roche said. “The charging station is at the edge of the smart grid [... and] people are building more intelligence into it.” Eventually, he said, chargers will know the intricacies of electricity pricing, home network energy management and vehicle-to-grid power. They will handle billing and authentication for public sites. And they will charge faster.

    Roche worked for 20 years in the networking industry, working out IT interfaces. There are “75 to 100 companies building charging stations and about 60 different manufacturers building electric cars,” Roche noted, “and I see similar challenges in this electric-vehicle charging market that we had in the early days of networking.”

    Roche was working at BEV and battery charging technology pioneer AeroVironment when he saw the interface challenge coming to vehicle charging.

    “Everyone’s building charging stations,” Roche said, mentioning multinationals like ABB, Bosch, GE, Siemens, Schneider Electric, as well as small startups like Coulomb Technologies, ECOtality and Clipper Green. GM has publicly specified “a list of compatibility problems that can prevent electric vehicles from charging” and called for “detailed testing of the compliance of charging stations” to the standard established by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

    Roche specializes in the “protocol in the middle” when “two networks are talking to each other,” he explained. The Gridtest Systems tool, for which he projects a $300 million to $500 million market worldwide by 2017, will allow laboratory researchers who are building chargers and field technicians who are installing and repairing chargers to know whether the chargers are in compliance with established standards and therefore are safe for the BEVs to plug into.

    “One set of companies builds the chargers and another set of companies builds the cars,” Roche said. “They all have to work together and we can test if the chargers are working correctly and if they are in compliance with the standard.”

    “‘Are you ready to charge?’ is our slogan,” Roche said. “The last thing you want is to pull up at a charging station and it doesn’t work.”

    Thanks to backing from two Los Angeles-based tech angel investors, Pasadena Angels and Tech Coast Angels, Gridtest Systems will roll out its first production-scale products this spring, a comprehensive $8,000 EVE-100L model designed for the extensive needs of laboratory testing and a $4,000 EVE-100J model aimed at the practical field needs of installer-maintenance workers. Roche said he is actively seeking additional investors. Many, he said, are waiting for electric cars to become mainstream. “We’re at the front end,” he explained, of what will be “a huge infrastructure build-out.”

    Roche is untroubled by the auto market’s so-far limited responses to GM’s Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF. “They are teething problems,” he said. “This is a long-term play.” In the coming year or two, he added, Ford and Toyota and other name brands will come into the market. “The world is going to change.”

    Holiday Weekend Reading: The Lowdown on the Safety of First Solar’s CdTe Thin Film; Locals are worried about cadmium, but a First Solar scientist says CdTe is not the same.

    A selection from NewEnergyNews' recent original reporting for Greentech Media:

    The Lowdown on the Safety of First Solar’s CdTe Thin Film; Locals are worried about cadmium, but a First Solar scientist says CdTe is not the same.

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

    Those who live near the 230-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One want to know whether the 3.7-million cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film solar panels First Solar will install in their desert terrain are a threat to them.

    “I feel somehow that we’re the experimental rat,” one resident said in an email to GTM. “Cadmium? Hmmmmmmm.”

    First Solar Director of Environmental and Sustainable Development Dr. Parikhit Sinha explained to a gathering of local leaders that cadmium telluride, “one of the best known semiconductors,” is not the same thing as cadmium.

    A very thin layer of CdTe “allows you to absorb all the light needed to create electricity,” he explained. “This is the key to First Solar’s cost-effective and efficient manufacturing.”

    A byproduct of mining, Sinha explained, cadmium is highly toxic and carcinogenic. Exposure can cause lung, kidney or liver pathology or failure. In the presence of tellurium, however, cadmium forms a crystalline lattice that is highly stable (high boiling point, low vapor pressure, low solubility). “It likes to be a solid,” Dr. Sinha said. “It is several orders of magnitude -- a factor of 100 -- less toxic than cadmium.”

    CdTe is still a potentially toxic material. But the way it is encapsulated in glass in First Solar panels, Sinha said, sharply limits the possibility of inhalation or ingestion exposure.

    “The semiconductor material is bonded to a sheet of glass under very high temperature,” Sinha explained. "An industrial laminate material, ethyl vinyl acetate, a type of plastic, encapsulates the semiconductor and seals it between a second piece of glass.”

    Freeing the CdTe from the laminate is the biggest challenge of recycling, Sinha said. It would take a very rare and daunting set of circumstances to both free the CdTe and release cadmium.

    But Antelope Valley residents, who know their desert to be a rare and daunting place, were not convinced even when Sinha talked about the accelerated life cycle testing the panels are subjected to and the international certifications they have earned.

    Speaking for those who will have to live with the panels, a local noted that First Solar has been in business less than half the 25-year term of the panels’ warranty. The accelerated life cycle testing, another pointed out, covered only ten years. And First Solar’s real-world experience with the panels, he added, is even less than that.

    Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) representative Dustin Mulvaney, an Assistant Professor at San Jose State University, works with SVTC to see that materials in computers and solar panels are safely handled and recycled. Mulvaney said First Solar is required to handle PV modules in a way that minimizes any accidental cadmium leakage at other sites. Most likely, he added, the biggest occupational hazard First Solar has encountered on the AVSR1 site is “workers being cut by broken glass.”

    Regular plant inspections and power monitoring would be required of First Solar’s on-the-ground maintenance people, Mulvaney explained, which would immediately make them aware of panel damage. Having well-sealed, leak-proof storage bins for broken panels, he said, “is not overly costly or burdensome to a developer.”

    Breakage at First Solar power plants, Sinha said, is expected to be one percent over 25 years. In keeping with SVTC-set aims, First Solar has, Sinha indicated, a pre-funded end-of-life take-back and recycling program.

    Residents raised questions about the panels’ vulnerability to a desert wildfire. “The amount of fuel that’s available,” Sinha said of the 2,000-acre site that will be replanted with native grasses when construction of the ground-mounted arrays is complete, “is pretty minimal,” so “the maximum temperature would be 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius for ten to twenty seconds.”

    At those temperatures, Sinha said, the CdTe would remain stable. In tests at up to 1,100 degrees Celsius, he added, the CdTe migrated into the heat-softened glass and was encapsulated. Only 0.4 percent of it would be released.

    “But 0.4 percent times 3.7 million could be a lot,” a local councilman pointed out, suggesting such a volume of cadmium fumes could make the air toxic or leach into the ground water.

    “Like the MBTE problem,” another councilman added.

    “But the likelihood of the entire site, or even a significantly large portion of it, being burned without response is low,” Sinha pointed out. For firefighters answering such a call, the biggest danger is the electricity, he said, which they are trained to deal with.

    AVSR1’s neighbors next raised questions about unexpected events, like a lightning strike or the crash of a flight from nearby Edwards Air Force Base. Such extreme, highly unlikely occurrences, Dr. Sinha said, are “highly visible” and would, therefore, get an immediate response.

    This was little comfort to those who remained dubious. “I majored in common sense,” one email correspondent noted, admitting to no scientific education. “Well, we’re going to learn,” one of the most skeptical concluded.

    Others seemed convinced. “Dr. Sinha went a long way toward allaying my fears,” a councilman said. He added that he now feels “much more confident” that the community “can live with this technology.”

    First Solar’s efforts to demonstrate the safety of its technology followed ongoing efforts to demonstrate the opportunity in solar power plant development. The company has gifted $350,000 in community benefits and, with the project still less than half complete, has spent over a quarter of a million dollars with local vendors. In addition, AVSR1 is already providing 200 full-time construction jobs, a number that will soon go to 350, in a region where unemployment has been 15 percent.