Monday, October 31, 2011

Solar Energy: The Quest for Cheap

As the price per watt falls, the tipping point for solar energy to become truly competitive is only a few years away.

The big number is 50. When companies can produce solar photovoltaic modules for less than 50¢ per watt, solar energy will be able to compete directly with coal. Right now, the cheapest solar cells are being produced for as little as 70¢ per watt. They are selling for about $1.26 per watt, with prices expected to drop to $1.17 next year. Most anticipate they they will hit 50¢ per watt within four or five years.

To get a sense of just how much prices have declined, one of the biggest manufacturers, Tempe (Ariz.)-based First Solar (FSLR), was selling solar power panels for $3 a watt in 2005.

As prices fall, demand is growing. Total solar installations in the second quarter grew by 69 percent over the same period in 2010. The number of Americans working in the solar industry more than doubled, to 100,000, from 2009 to 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industries Assn. That’s considerably more than the 80,600 coal miners working in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“At the point where you say, ‘It’s cheaper to use solar t natural gas or coal,’ that’s when you’ll really see a rush,” says Jeff Siegel, managing editor of Green Chip Stocks, a research firm that focuses on alternative energy.

Carnage Amid Lower Costs

Behind the price drops are cheaper manufacturing costs, lower costs for such crucial raw materials as silicon, and rapidly improving technology. Cheaper photovoltaic cells manufactured in China and misplaced bets on more-expensive technologies and materials have battered stocks and created corporate wrecks like now-bankrupt Solyndra and the less-well-known but no-less-bankrupt Evergreen Solar (ESLRQ) and SpectraWatt. Others are anticipated to follow.

“Solar is still a very young industry, it’s in enormous turmoil,” says Frank van Mierlo, chief executive officer of 1366 Technologies, a Lexington (Mass.)-based manufacturer of silicon photovoltaics. “The largest solar company has been different every year for the last six years. This is a young market where things are getting flushed out. Fundamentally—for us as a country—this is really good news. You want solar to be cheap.”

Dozens of startups in the U.S. have potentially transformative ideas. The question is which can come out on top. The wide variety of companies developing competing technologies to capture and distribute solar power underscores the market’s immaturity. Currently, researchers are experimenting with materials ranging from silicon to gallium arsenide to cadmium telluride, basing cost projections on disparate technologies that create solar cells.

The goal is to build one that competes without government subsidies. SunShot, an initiative from the U.S. Energy Dept., has since 2007 spent $59 million to help attract an additional $1.2 billion in private solar investment, with the stated goal of a 50¢ module.

Can the U.S.Fend Off China?

Notwithstanding competition from China, costs are most likely to fall because of technological advances. “This is an industry where we can win,” says 1366 Technologies’s van Mierlo. “We can win and we can compete. We have to do it based on technology. The good news is we have a technology lead.”

A promising startup is Alta Devices in Santa Clara, Calif. With 80 percent of the market dominated by silicon solar cells, Alta Devices is attempting to break in from the outside, using gallium arsenide, a material usually considered too expensive for anything other than use by the likes of NASA.

The advantage of gallium arsenide is that it is highly efficient and works better than standard silicon in low light and at high temperatures. The foundations of Alta’s manufacturing process were patented back in 1979 but shelved until it became cost-effective due to advances in chemical availability. Because the material is so thin, Alta’s solar panels can be embedded into roof shingles or rolled out like carpets.

“Alta is going down a different kind of path of trying to create a standalone company,” says Steve Eglash, executive director of Stanford University’s Energy & Environment Affiliates program. “They are working on a complete module and they are doing it in a novel and disruptive way.”

Alta Looks to Break Ground

Until June, Alta Devices was a stealth startup. CEO Christopher Norris says the company is currently building a pilot line and will break ground on a factory in 2012, based on estimates that the cost of production will be roughly 50¢ per watt by 2014.

“On thing that is clear is that you have to be competitive on cost in order to compete in this market,” says Norris. “We are. We don’t worry about that. You have to accept that it’s going to be a really competitive market.”

Alta Devices recently raised $72 million from investors, including Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates, and Dow Chemicals. It is one of the first three companies funded by a joint venture from General Electric, ConocoPhillips, and NRG Energy.

First Solar’s Shining Edge

The companies that currently dominate the solar market look forward to cheaper unit prices, too. First Solar, the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar panels, already has a technological advantage. The company broke out using cheaper methods to create photovoltaic cells made from cadmium telluride. First Solar has told investors that production costs will range between 52¢ to 63¢ per watt by 2014.

The company is already creating more than two gigawatts of panels annually, enough to power roughly 1.5 million to 2 million homes a year in such markets as India, Germany, and the U.S. That kind of volume sets a high bar for other companies to reach. Not that upstarts aren’t trying. Solyndra was operating on that model.

“There are probably a couple hundred solar-cell startup companies,” says Stanford’s Eglash. “Most of them will not succeed in creating a standalone company.”

1366 Technologies, for example, is trying to create higher efficiency in the production of silicon solar cells. The company claims its manufacturing advances will give producers the ability to create a cell for 50¢ in two to five years.

“For society, it’s a good thing that the cost of solar is coming down,” says Alan Bernheimer, spokesman for First Solar. “The industry is consolidating. Solar is in a solid position, growing, with a pipeline of development projects in the U.S. Costs fall, prices fall, the market consolidates, but that’s good because it brings the cost of solar down at the same time.”

50¢ seems closer than ever.

GE To Build Thin-Film Solar Factory In Colorado

General Electric announced yesterday it will spend $600 million to build a solar factory in Colorado, giving it the means to re-enter the solar business in force.

The company said the factory in Aurora will have the capacity to produce at an annual rate of 400 megawatts, or enough to power 80,000 U.S. homes. It will create 355 jobs in Colorado after completion and another 100 solar-related jobs at GE's research facility in upstate New York.

Production will start early next year of solar panels with cadmium telluride thin-film solar cells, the same thin-film material used by industry cost leader First Solar. Availability of panels will be in 2013.

GE intends to sell its panels to utility and commercial customers, where the company sees significant demand in the years ahead. Once completed, it will be the largest solar factory in the U.S.

The solar industry is in the midst of a brutal global price war which has led to the bankruptcy of four U.S.-based solar producers, including the high-profile collapse of government-backed Solyndra.

GE's product is designed to compete well on price by using low-cost thin-film materials which are relatively efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. The panels themselves are light and large which lowers the cost of related components, such as racking systems.

GE used to produce traditional panels with polycrystalline silicon solar cells which, with the onrush of Asian suppliers over the past few years, have become a commodity product. But in 2009, the company said it intends to re-enter the solar business, calling it GE's "next wind," with a new thin-film product aimed at utilities and commercial rooftops.

Earlier this year, it completed the acquisition of Colorado-based start-up PrimeStar Solar, which created the manufacturing process behind GE's current panels.

In a statement, GE said that locating its manufacturing plant near its existing pilot line and research facility in Colorado will allow it to enter the market faster than anticipated.

Vic Abate, the vice president of GE's renewable energy business, said the company was also aided by state and federal government officials involved in selecting a location for the factory and adding research jobs in New York.


A Trade War With China Over Solar Panels Will Burn US

A group of US solar-panel manufacturers has recently filed a controversial petition against the Chinese solar industry.

They are accusing China of helping its solar industry by unfairly providing billions of dollars in subsidies as well as cash grants and tax breaks.

The proposed punishment is duties of more than 100 per cent on the price of imported solar panels from China. This would be a big blow to the Chinese manufacturers given 95 per cent of their production is exported, in large part to the US. This year alone Chinese companies are on track to sell US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) worth of solar panels in the US.

The entire case, led by SolarWorld, smells of hypocrisy. US solar companies have received large subsidies from federal, state and local authorities.

Solyndra, a US solar manufacturer that has recently gone bankrupt, benefited from federal loan guarantees of more than a $500 million. SolarWorld is earmarked to receive $4m in research assistance from the federal government. In total, US federal subsidies for solar power totalled more than $1bn last year.

In truth, both the US and Chinese solar industries have benefited from government assistance. It just so happens the Chinese approach has been more intensive and clearly more successful.

There is also a heavy political dimension to this case. The US is in the midst of a deep economic crisis. Devoid of any real solutions to put forward, US politicians are instead looking for an scapegoat. And the flavour of the day is China.

US politicians are largely getting behind this petition and declaring "China is cheating" and engaging in "rogue practices." With no end in sight for the US' economic malaise, the anti-China protectionist sentiment is likely to continue and spread into other sectors, especially as next year's presidential elections come closer.

History tells us this kind of protectionist stance is flawed. In the end, the biggest loser will be the US solar industry.

China's huge export flows have helped push the price of solar panels down from $3.30 per watt in 2008 to about $1.15 today, a 65 per cent drop. This has helped raise the attractiveness of solar energy among investors and the utilities, thus transforming the US solar market into a $6bn business. It's important to remember the solar panel itself represents less than 40 per cent of the equation. The other 60 per cent consists of supporting equipment such as steel structures and cables, as well as services such as installation and maintenance - all of which are sourced locally.

So when the cost of the solar panel goes up, the ones who suffer are not just the foreign module manufactures but also the local businesses that provide equipment and services to the solar industry.

This protectionist measure would also suppress the US' efforts of becoming less dependent on fossil fuels. Today, solar power generates less than 1 per cent of the US' electricity because it is still more expensive than oil or gas. Any price increase in the technology is likely to shrink solar's slice in the US energy pie, thus making the country all the more dependent on oil and gas.

Even if it were to go through, the anti-dumping tariff would not leave a big dent on the Chinese solar industry over the long term. As the global market for solar panel continues to grow, China would find new markets for its solar panels. This includes China's own domestic market which is set to grow by 150 per cent to 50,000 megawatts over the next 10 years, thus becoming by far the largest solar market in the world.

A more pragmatic approach would have been for the US plaintiffs to ask for more job training aimed at pushing the US solar industry higher up in the value chain. By investing in the services sector, its solar industry as a whole would expand handsomely by drawing on inexpensive solar panels sourced from abroad and services such as design, engineering, installation and maintenance sourced domestically. This way, everyone wins.

Rather than going on the defensive and relying on trade barriers this is the time for the US to show real leadership and make serious investments towards a more sustainable energy future.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Solar Projects Key to State Energy Goals

Large- scale solar projects east of the the Coachella Valley will play a key role in California's drive to produce 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but the region may need to prop up its high-intensity sun, wind and geothermal assets with better planning.

That was the message emerging from Thursday's meeting of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership's Renewable Energy Roundtable in Palm Desert, where state and county officials presented updates on solar development and the ongoing negotiations on Riverside County's proposed solar fee.

Michael Picker, senior adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown on renewable energy projects, said large- scale solar plants now in the works — such as First Solar's Desert Sunlight and NextEra's Genesis projects in the Riverside East solar zone — could put the state over its 33 percent goal as early as 2017.

“There's a fairly robust pipeline of projects going on. We're seeing projects and contracts that compete with natural gas in terms of prices,” he said.

Brown signed legislation earlier this year committing the state to reach the 33 percent level by 2020.

The Riverside East zone covers 202,000 acres of public land between Joshua Tree National Park and Blythe.

The state's ability to get projects there and in other regions permitted and under construction shows that its environmental regulations are not deal- killers, Picker said.

Still, smart planning is needed to balance renewable energy development with local environmental and social impacts, he said.

A case in point is the current deadlock between solar industry leaders and Riverside County officials over proposals for a fee to compensate the region for the impacts of solar projects.

Supervisor John J. Benoit originally proposed that solar companies pay a 2 per cent fee on gross revenues from large-scale projects.

Negotiations are focusing instead on a fee based on a per-acre formula, said Michelle DeArmond, Benoit's chief of staff.

Solar industry officials counter that if the county is linking the fee to long-term impacts, it must quantify those effects with a study that also looks at similar fees in other counties.

“Until it does that, it can't get the fee right,” said Jim Woodruff, First Solar's vice president for government affairs.


State May Speed Solar Production to Slow Falling Prices

If the state jumps in and intervenes in the falling market for solar power—and that's a big if -- then it should accelerate for one year how much electricity comes from solar arrays, according to a special panel appointed to help draft changes in New Jersey's energy policy.

This action would be expected to stabilize the market in the near term, the report argued, while the board deals with whether long-term solutions are necessary.

Such an action could provide a short-term solution to a problem that has worried clean energy advocates in recent months, a steep drop in the price of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). The decline could bring to a halt the rapid growth of a sector that has created thousands of jobs in the past decade, according to some solar executives.

The recommendation comes from the Clean Energy Fund Working Group, a panel put together by the Christie administration. The group could not reach a consensus whether the drop in value of the certificates is a short-term problem the market will eventually correct or will require regulatory intervention.

That division reflects the fractures within the solar sector, too, over what should be done to halt the slide in prices. The drop, which has seen prices on the spot market decline from more than $600 earlier this summer to less than $200, has been blamed on an oversupply of solar systems as developers rushed to cash in on lucrative incentives offered by the federal and state government to promote the technology.

Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand, a member of the working group, said the panel did not have enough information to recommend the state definitely intervene to slow the slide in prices of the certificates. The issue is important to consumers because ultimately electric and gas customers bear the cost of buying the certificates.

"I don't just know yet whether this decline in SREC prices is going to last," Brand said. "The thinking was the market is going to correct itself."

Indeed, the Christie administration and others have been hoping to drive down the price of solar certificates by encouraging owners of solar systems to enter into more long-term contracts in which prices are much more modest than what SRECs sold for on the spot market. Three of the state's four electric utilities have loan programs or long-term contracts with owner of solar systems, all of which have strong support from many solar firms.

What the panel recommended, a one-time acceleration of a state mandate for electricity suppliers to ramp up how much of the power they sell customers comes from solar systems, is somewhat similar to a legislative initiative aimed at solving the slide in prices. The legislation, however, would accelerate solar requirements over a longer than one year, stretching out until 2026.

Under current law, the state has established a solar renewable energy portfolio, laying out how much electricity power suppliers must purchase from solar systems each year from now until 2026.

The panel also rejected another option offered by some solar lobbyists: establishing a floor for the price of the certificates. That option was rejected because it would guarantee a return for all solar developers, a strategy the state has previously rejected, according to Brand.

The recommendations fall short of what solar developers have been seeking from the state.

"Under the current process, you cannot finance a project," said Fred DeSanti, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition. "A lot of deals, if not all deals, will be at a standstill."

The panel's report noted there was disagreement among members of the working group over that issue, but it did agree there was an oversupply of the certificates.

"The combination of the 30 percent federal tax grant, high SREC prices fostered by an undersupply in 2010 and rapidly falling photovoltaic panel prices encouraged a surge of solar installations, principally commercial rooftop projects."

Solar advocates agree with that assessment, but argue some controls need to be put in place to slow down the pace of solar installations.

"Too many incentives overlapping one another and the market got too big, too quickly," DeSanti said, who argued unless the price of certificates creep upward to the $350 level, only a handful of solar projects will move forward.

Others argued that the one year acceleration of how much solar power needs to be supplied will not solve the sliding prices.

Lyle Rawlings, vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, contended that a simple one-year acceleration of how much electricity will be supplied by solar will only delay a reckoning with the problems in the industry. "With that, we will be right back where we are now, early next year dealing with an oversupply issue," he said.

If the state is going to build a sustainable solar industry, Rawlings said some controls are needed to slow down the pace of development of new installations.

DeSanti predicted the panel's recommendations will likely lead the legislature to act on a bill to deal with the crisis. Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the issue later this month.


Silevo Solar Cell Makers Reveal Product With Best-Ever Claims

Silevo, the Fremont, California, photovoltaic solar module manufacturers, yesterday stepped forward to talk all about their technology for the first time and to say that it offers the best performance-to-cost ratio for solar modules in the industry, thanks to their groundbreaking new design.

That technology represents a rethink in conventional solar cell design, and transforms it into a powerhouse that can yield more energy. Using the company’s proprietary Triex technology, the result is what is being called a hybrid module because it is an artful combination of three materials: crystalline silicon N-type substrates, thin-film passivation layers, and a tunneling oxide layer

These materials enable the Triex module to deliver high efficiency, competitive module costs and an optimal energy harvest, the company said.

"Until now, the solar industry has not had a module that optimizes both performance and cost at a ratio that creates optimal levelized cost of electricity (LCOE),” said Dr. Zheng Xu, founder and CEO.

The company is being praised for rethinking conventional solar cells, at a time when costs and performance need to be more closely aligned. While the technological details are complex, the aggressive wish list at Silevo is easy enough to understand and accept—implement low-cost operations to produce a unique technology in order to advance a PV market into a self-sustaining future.

One of the Silevo cost-preserving feats is its design of cells that make use of copper rather than silver, as silver pastes have been reported to be the second-highest-priced material in a module after silicon itself.

Silevo is taking an aggressive growth path in bringing its technology forward, with plans to maintain its research facility in Fremont and to build a manufacturing plant in Hangzhou, China.

Silevo recently closed $33 million in financing from investors, and the money is being used to build the facility in China, as well as to drive further research at its California site.

Silevo says it is currently producing modules in pilot production, manufacturing Triex cells that demonstrate between 20% and 21% conversion efficiency on full-size substrates. Customer qualification samples have begun shipping. In the first half of 2012, high-volume commercial production will begin.

Silevo’s announcement is conveniently timed, since, in just days, the Solar Power International 2011 is to open its doors, from October 17 through October 20, in Dallas. That event is where professionals get to network and, as the event site suggests, to generate "powerful new ideas" and business for the solar industry.


China Paper Says U.S. Solar Complaint Driven By Envy

An anti-dumping complaint filed by U.S. solar firms against their Chinese counterparts is driven by envy at China's rapid growth in the field and goes against global efforts to fight climate change, a major state-run newspaper said on Sunday.

Seven U.S. solar manufacturers this month asked the Obama administration to impose duties of more than 100 percent on China solar imports, which they said were unfairly undercutting U.S. prices and destroying American jobs.

In a front-page commentary, The China Energy News, published by Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said this was a foolish, misguided attempt at trade protectionism driven by jealousy.

"In the space of just five years, the rapid development of the Chinese companies has attracted envious eyes overseas," wrote Wang Yuehai, secretary general of the All China Federation of Industry and Commerce's new energy commission.

President Barack Obama had failed to live up to his promises to boost growth by supporting the renewable energy sector, leaving China to lead the way, he said.

"The U.S. solar industry is using the awkwardness of the Obama government to try and force it into trade protectionism and attack the rapid development of China's solar industry," Wang wrote.

The complaint also runs counter to the consensus reached by the two countries to develop clean energy, an important sector to support as the world tries to stimulate growth at a time of global financial crisis, he added.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-China trade relations, which are plagued by U.S. concerns over market access in China, Beijing's treatment of intellectual property rights, and stern debate over the value of China's currency.

China's Commerce Ministry has already warned the United States not to take protectionist measures over the solar energy issue that could harm the global economy.

The U.S. companies' complaint -- filed with the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce against the world's no. 2 economy -- has drawn scepticism from within the industry, as many fear a trade war could disrupt growth.

Many executives from the United States and Europe have complained privately for years about China's impact on solar markets, but most have also said the business had become so globalised that penalising one country would not help companies that are struggling to survive.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Solar Conference Attendees Push Renewables, Seek Incentives

Facing stiff challenges from government-subsidized foreign competition and stifled by restrictive domestic regulations, solar energy advocates nationwide are seeking aggressive remedies.

In North Carolina, solar entities are pushing for policies and incentives to catapult the industry to a higher level of growth, including market-based approaches to deregulate century-old power monopolies in favor of more-flexible alternatives.

More than 200 solar entrepreneurs, academics, engineers, investors, supporters, and government officials gathered at Solar Exchange East 2011 Sept. 21. The daylong conference was held at the McKimmon Center at N.C. State University. “Policies and incentives are the building blocks” for the solar industry, Larry Shirley, director of the Green Economy program in the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Energy Division, told the conference.While participants called for an end to what they see as the favorable government treatment of fossil fuels, critics believe the more traditional route of letting private investment and the market dictate the industry’s direction is a better policy. They contend that letting government pick winners with financial incentives distorts market signals for cautious research and development. Better for investors to put their own money on the table, critics say, than lobby for tax dollars.

Daren Bakst, director of legal and regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, said Energy Information Association data show solar projects already collect 1,212 times more federal subsidies per kilowatt hour of electricity produced than coal and gas plants receive.

And in the wake of the Solyndra failure, at which a solar company received $535 million in federal stimulus loans and then declared bankruptcy, some question whether government should be in the business of gambling with taxpayer money in a high-risk renewable energy sector.

“Subsidies are basically a waste of taxpayers’ money, a form of corporate welfare. It’s an unjustified tax loophole [that] should be closed,” said Roy Cordato, JLF’s vice president for research and resident scholar. “These [renewable energy ventures] are grossly inefficient. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t need government subsidies.”

Dan Rosen, an account executive with Siemens Financial Services, focuses on commercial-scale solar photovoltaic projects in the Southeast. He conceded the Solyndra scandal could turn public opinion against taxpayer-backed incentives and make state governments wary of implementing or expanding subsidy programs.

“People will demagogue on that,” he said of the Solyndra meltdown. But he believes government should invest in research and development when private capital is unavailable. Nor should it be expected that all government-backed companies will succeed.

Solyndra’s problem was that it “focused on technology and not cost structuring. It will be part of an ongoing shakeout in the industry,” said Steve Kalland, executive director of the North Carolina Solar Center, a renewable energy think tank at N.C. State that co-hosted the conference. “This is an industry where there is going to be a lot of that going on in the next couple of years.”

Despite Solyndra’s high-profile demise, “This a robust environment,” said Rick Myers, director of the Solar Vertical Market Management program for Siemens, an international conglomerate with industry, energy, and healthcare divisions. Siemens co-sponsored the conference.

“The U.S. solar market grew 67 percent, from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010. Solar electric installation in 2010 totaled 956 megawatts. There’s no doubt the U.S. government needs to get more involved in this effort from a policy standpoint,” Myers said.

“The solar panels are 50 percent of the cost for installation, and those prices are going way down,” Myers said. “The fact of the matter is the competition is extremely difficult in that area. It’s coming from the Pacific Rim and China.”

“We’re at risk of losing the industry,” Kalland warned. “When you look at what the global competition is doing, they’re investing heavily” in government projects.

But those investments have a dark side, Cordato said.

“In countries where they’ve invested massive amounts of money, it’s costing their economy” by redistributing wealth. Research from Spain concluded that every job in the renewable sector created with incentives cost 2.7 jobs in the rest of economy, Cordato said.

But Rosen argues incentives “don’t have to be in place forever.” California, the nation’s leader in solar energy, has weaned solar companies from state incentives because it now costs less to produce a kilowatt of solar energy there than it costs a utility company to produce electricity using traditional fuels.

In North Carolina, tax credits at the state and federal levels have helped the renewable energy industry blossom, Rosen said. North Carolina has “a brilliant state tax credit” of 35 percent. He said banks and financial institutions, the largest investors in the state’s solar energy sector, are the biggest users of the tax credits.

“The state doesn’t require one penny from the taxpayers” for the tax credits, he said.

Cordato disagrees.

“If you say we’re going to give a tax credit here, we’re going to cut education over there, then yes, that’s true” there is no cost, Cordato said. Otherwise, “the question is what is the state not getting done because of the tax credit … there’s revenue the state is not getting” to fund its operations.

Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, supports tax credits. He believes they had a role in reducing solar energy costs in North Carolina from $12,000 per kilowatt hour in 2004 to about $3,500 per kilowatt hour this year.

But, he warned, “It’s very important especially in a tax credit environment that you have tax investors. And tax investors in a down economy are much harder to find.”

Rosen praised the state’s renewable portfolio standards passed by the General Assembly. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast with such standards. They include a “carve-out” requirement for green power in utility companies’ energy mix.

The state’s mandate for solar rises from .02 percent in 2010 to .2 percent by 2018. The requirements for power generated by solar, swine waste, and poultry waste combined rise from 3 percent of the energy mix in 2012 to 12.5 percent in 2021.

Rosen and other speakers said mandates are critical because utility companies enjoy state-sanctioned monopoly status. Those monopolies may be the largest barrier to renewable energy growth in North Carolina. By law, solar companies must negotiate power purchase agreements with utilities.

Allowing third-party power providers to sell electricity directly to consumers instead of going through a utility middle man is “a policy difference they could make easily” in the General Assembly, Rosen said. In New Jersey, for example, third-party providers created 35,000 new jobs and $283 million in investment in 2½ years.

Bakst opposes solar mandates but “if it’s just me providing solar directly to someone without putting it on the grid, there should be no prohibition on that,” he said.

“Utility companies don’t want to use solar power because it’s too expensive and unreliable” because the sun isn’t always out and solar energy can’t be stored, Bakst said. Those shortcomings require backup generation availability from coal or natural gas plants.

“Solar is the worst option,” Bakst said. “In fact, it makes wind [energy] look good.”

Owen Smith, managing director of renewable strategy and compliance for Duke Energy, heads up a team responsible for compliance with renewable energy requirements while delivering the lowest cost possible to ratepayers.

“Price is really what defines the size of the solar market,” Smith said.

“Policies have a cost. In some form or another, citizens … will pay,” either through higher taxes or utility rates when the state requires the purchase of higher cost green energy, he said.


Analysis: Solar Inverter Makers Set For Soft Landing

Most solar power component makers are coping with lower margins these days because of an industry downturn -- but solar inverter makers are suffering less.

Unlike companies that make solar panels and cells, solar inverter makers enjoy some insulation from competition and the weak economy. Their products are complex and harder to make, and prices have stayed relatively stable.

Inverter profit margins will shrink in the $6 billion inverter market, but not as much as they have for other solar power parts makers, analysts say.

A typical solar power system consists of photovoltaic cells wired together to make panels. The panels are connected to inverters that convert the direct-current power into a usable form of electricity.

The prices of solar cells and modules have been falling, mainly because of overcapacity, competition and cuts in government subsidies on which the business depends.

"There is more internal design for an inverter company, so while it's easy to make an inverter, it is relatively hard to make a good inverter," said Jon Sigurdsen, renewable fund manager at DnB Nor Group unit Carlson. "This means higher entry barriers and somewhat better margin protection."

"Somewhat better" does not mean "complete." SMA Solar, the world's No. 1 maker of solar inverters, last month cut its forecast for the year. Competitor Power-One lowered its third-quarter forecast this week.

Unlike panels, where brand becomes less important as quality narrows, technology and a brand name can help sales.


Asian companies, which have participated in the module and cell price declines with gusto, are wary of inverters.

"Unlike modules production, of which Chinese suppliers control around 40 percent of the market, for inverters this was around 5 percent last year and is not increasing very quickly," said Ash Sharma, a senior research director at IMS Research.

The low number of competitors is slowing the decline of inverter prices. There are more than 150 suppliers, but the top 10 control about 75 percent of the market, Sharma said.

While prices for panels have fallen about 40 percent so far this year, retail prices for inverters are down about 10 percent to 15 percent. Panels make up 40 percent of the cost of a solar system and inverters contribute up to 15 percent.

"There's no question that the price of inverters has not come down like the price of photovoltaic has," said Bill Yearsley, CEO at solar installer Real Goods Solar.

Real Goods, which buys most of its inverters from SMA Solar and Enphase Energy, has been negotiating better prices with its vendors in recent months.

"Our sense is inverter makers are aware and they are driving down price and taking costs down," said Frank Alfano, CEO of New York-based installer Mercury Solar Systems Inc, which buys its inverters from SMA Solar, SatCon Technology Corp, Solectria Renewables and Fronius.


Inverters could be a safe bet for people who want cheap, high-value solar stocks, analysts said.

"We continue to believe that the supply/demand and pricing dynamics in the inverter market are very different from the solar panel market," Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Dale Pfau wrote in a research note dated Wednesday.

Power-One shares have lost almost half their value this year, while SMA Solar is down more than 40 percent. The WilderHill Clean Energy index has fallen 45 percent.

"SMA and Power One are seeing very volatile demand and pricing and are being punished by the stock market, but their outlook for the longer term is still very promising," IMS's Sharma said.

Margins confirm this view. Second-quarter gross margins at SMA Solar and Power-One were above 34 percent, while panel manufacturer LDK Solar's April-June gross margin was 2.2 percent and Suntech Power's was 15.1 percent.

Competition still may come, but not yet.

"There are 20-30 people working on microinverters. There are numerous vendors in China including SunGrow who is the leader there," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jeff Osborne. "The Taiwanese are coming, and GE and American Superconductor have also introduced inverters focused on the large-scale solar system market."


At The Solar Decathlon, The University of Maryland Cleans Up With “WaterShed”

There were many winners at the Department of Energy’s bi-annual Solar Decathlon last week, held in Washington D.C.

There were winners in categories like Affordability, Communications, Engineering, Market Appeal, and the People’s Choice Awards (which sounds like it should reward ”Grey’s Anatomy” or Ray Romano, but is actually an Internet-based award chosen by the public).

But there could only be one big winner, and the victor had been waiting for four long years to hear its name called. The University of Maryland, which in 2007 came in second place, emerged victorious thanks to their “Watershed” house, judged to be the best among the 20 finalists on display.

The Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Director, Richard King, said “ Maryland’s Watershed is a beautiful house, judged first place in Architecture, which also performed impeccably in measured contests. This team mastered their strategies to ensure they excelled in all 10 contests.”

“There are lots of tears of joy and relief,” Architecture Team Leader Leah Davies told reporters after the victory was announced. “We are all so proud of the thought and hard work put into WaterShed, and really excited that our message was viewed in such a positive way.”

The president of the University of Maryland was equally enthused and impressed.

“The innovation, creativity, skill, vision, cooperation, determination, and, yes, energy displayed by this team is both remarkable and a joy,” Wallace Loh said. “I couldn’t be more proud of their work and accomplishment. These students, faculty and mentors have dedicated themselves to addressing critical needs of Maryland, the nation, and other countries. They’re the perfect example of what a public research university is all about.”

So, what exactly is “Watershed” and why was it deemed so award-worthy? Let’s take a look at it.

First of all, the stated primary purpose of Watershed, according to the team’s website ( is for it to be “a solar-powered home inspired and guided by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, interconnecting the house with its landscape, and leading its dwellers toward a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Some of the impressive features of Watershed include…
– constructed wetlands, filtering storm water and grey water for reuse
–a green roof, retaining stormwater and minimizing the heat island effect

–an optimally sized photovoltaic array, harvesting enough energy from the sun to power WaterShed year-round
edible landscapes, supporting community-based agriculture

– a liquid desiccant waterfall, providing high-efficiency humidity control in the form of an indoor water feature

– a solar thermal array, supplying enough energy to provide all domestic hot water, desiccant regeneration, and supplemental space heating.

– engineering systems, working in harmony and each acting to increase the effectiveness of the others.

– a time-tested structural system that is efficient, cost-effective, and durable.

– So what made the Maryland project so successful?

– Let’s take a look at some specifics of how it came together. The Watershed project took two years to complete, as a team of more than 200 students and faculty at the College Park campus including architecture, engineering, environmental science and technology, plant sciences, landscape architecture, and numerous others joined forces. Some of the more unique features of the project stood out and helped Maryland win the contest by more than 20 points over second-place Purdue University.

– The project’s twin focus on efficient, renewable energy and water quality and conservation was impressive, the judges said. The Watershed house was designed as a micro-scale ecosystem, emulating the environment of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (which of course is located in Maryland). The plants at the Watershed are more than landscape, they are part of the house living systems, which produce food and store, purify, and manage water.

The modular green roof slows rainwater runoff while simultaneously improving the house’s energy efficiency. Rainwater from the roof is collected in a cistern – deep pools harboring wetland plants – on the east side of the water axis. Grey water from the shower, lavatory, clothes washer, and dishwasher is collected and filtered through constructed wetlands on the west end of the water axis. This stored and filtered water can be reused to irrigate and nourish the landscape without consuming precious potable water.

Another interesting part of Watershed is its vertical garden. This 12-foot-high feature, in addition to providing food for the house, provides shade and temperature moderation in the summer, while also letting in the low winter sun to provide light and warmth to the house (thereby, of course, reducing heating costs during the freezing winter months.)

It also protects the glass kitchen doors from overexposure to the western sun, while also filtering particulates and toxins from the air.

The financial savings from a garden like the Watershed’s can be huge: According to the team’s official website, a 600 sq. ft (20×30) home garden costs just $70 to plant and maintain and generates $530 of profit in fresh food for the homeowner.In short, it looks like the judges made a strong and sensible choice in awarding the top honor to Maryland.


Friday, October 28, 2011

KYOCERA Returns To Solar Power International To Participate As An Exhibitor

Conference guests are invited to visit KYOCERA's newly expanded booth

Kyocera Solar, Inc. today announced that the company will showcase its solar modules as part of the official Technology Tour at the seventh annual Solar Power International (SPI) conference on October 17-20, 2011 at the Dallas Convention Center. With an expected 24,000 guests representing over 125 countries, SPI provides an important platform for Kyocera to showcase its pioneering solar energy technologies.

Kyocera, one of the first manufacturers of solar electric generating systems, has been at the forefront of the solar energy revolution for more than 37 years. With a 52-year commitment to integrity, quality, environmental preservation and continuous improvement, Kyocera is dedicated to advocacy of the earth's natural resources through its clean energy products. As a result, Kyocera's solar energy division has become the company's fastest-growing business globally.

At this year's conference, Kyocera is pleased to participate in the scheduled events:

-- SPI's official Technology Tour will showcase the recently completed 300 kilowatt parking lot canopy at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center -- an installation that is comprised of 1,250 Kyocera KD240 modules produced at Kyocera's San Diego manufacturing facility. The modules satisfied the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Buy America compliance that were critical to the success of this project. Cecilia Aguillon, director of market development and government affairs at Kyocera Solar, Inc., will speak on these provisions in one of three presentations as part of the tour on Monday, October 17.

-- Cecilia Aguillon will deliver a presentation on "Upcoming Opportunities for Solar in California," on Tuesday, October 18 at 2:30 p.m.

Additionally, Kyocera invites visitors to its redesigned exhibitor booth, #2727, to meet company representatives and view the following:

-- The KD315 80-cell module, the most recently developed module showcasing Kyocera's advanced technology, will be on display. The KD315 will be Kyocera's highest output module and is expected to be used in large-scale commercial installations.

-- MyGen, Kyocera's pre-engineered solar energy kits, are designed for residential or lite commercial buildings and can be used for both new construction and retrofit applications. Also available are the "Made in America" kits, which combine the benefits of U.S.-based manufacturing with Kyocera's 37-year experience in the solar industry. In addition to the current rooftop array, Kyocera will offer the MyGen Ground Mount Solution -- an installation option providing variety and adaptability for optimal energy production.

-- Take advantage of this unique opportunity to view a 25-year old module from the Sakura installation, one of Kyocera's early solar energy projects and a testament to the reliability and lifespan of the company's modules.

"Each year, Solar Power International provides the opportunity for Kyocera to demonstrate its innovative, high-efficiency products that have a history of over performance," said Tom Dyer, senior vice president of government affairs at Kyocera Solar, Inc. "Kyocera's industry-leading technology is driven by a commitment to contribute to environmental sustainability, and make solar energy a viable solution for everyone."


Kyocera Corporation KYO -0.09% (tokyo:6971) ( ), the parent and global headquarters of the Kyocera Group, was founded in 1959 as a producer of fine ceramics (also known as "advanced ceramics"). By combining these engineered materials with metals and plastics, and integrating them with other technologies, Kyocera has become a leading supplier of solar power generating systems, telecommunications equipment, printers, copiers, electronic components, semiconductor packages, cutting tools and industrial ceramics. During the year ended March 31, 2011, the company's net sales totaled 1.27 trillion yen (approx. USD15.3 billion). The company is ranked #604 on Forbes magazine's 2011 "Global 2000" listing of the world's largest publicly traded companies.


The Dependable Companies Goes Solar With Record-Breaking Project

The Dependable Companies Goes Solar With Record-Breaking Project

The Dependable Companies, a leading provider of trucking, warehousing, freight forwarding and airfreight solutions, today announced it is implementing a 1.2 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) system atop its headquarters in Los Angeles. Upon completion, the installation will be the largest solar electricity system on an industrial high-rise in the world.

Formed in 1950 in Los Angeles with one bobtail truck, the family-owned Dependable Companies has grown into six major logistics divisions providing full-service logistics from trucking to warehousing to international freight movement. As a pioneer in the one-stop logistics business model, The Dependable Companies continues its quest today by focusing on sustainability through green initiatives and energy efficiency measures. In addition to the new solar energy system, the Dependable headquarters is home to efficient lighting technologies, a low-emissions trucking fleet and more than 120 electric forklifts. For its efforts, the company was recently selected by the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) to participate in an energy efficiency analysis.

"As proud residents of Los Angeles for more than 60 years, we strive to make a positive impact in the community. Our new solar system enables us to offset approximately 30,000 tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of removing more than 55 million mid-sized automobiles from the road," said Ron Massman, CEO of The Dependable Companies. "We thank Premier Power and JinkoSolar for their help in continuing our environmental stewardship as we demonstrate the benefits of clean power from one of the city's landmark facilities. We eagerly await the beginning of our renewable energy future."

The company selected Premier Power to provide engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services for its project.

"The Dependable organization is composed of visionaries who consistently raise the bar for enhancing sustainability in their industry," said Dean R. Marks, CEO of Premier Power. "We commend the company for its exceptional track record of environmentally friendly practices and will assist Dependable in going above and beyond in this commitment through the adoption of solar energy."

The installation will incorporate solar modules from JinkoSolar.

"Given our strong commitment to the U.S. market, we jumped at the opportunity to supply our modules for this high-caliber project that will showcase the power of solar to thousands of passersby on a daily basis," said Arturo Herrero, Chief Marketing Officer for JinkoSolar. "With Premier Power, we will work to provide Dependable with a system that reflects the company's reputation for quality and dependability."

Construction on the rooftop system is currently underway. Executives from Dependable, Premier Power and JinkoSolar will unveil the project at a formal commissioning ceremony in November.

About The Dependable Companies

The Dependable Companies is an integrated logistics provider. The 'Dependable family of transportation services' is comprised of six main business groups serving nearly all areas of the logistics industry. The company has achieved consistent year over year growth for the last 20 years and at the same time has earned a reputation for leadership and innovation in the logistics industry. For more information, please visit .

About Premier Power

Premier Power Renewable Energy, Inc. currently maintains offices in the U.S., Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Premier Power uses its global experience to develop and maintain the industry best practices and cutting edge innovation. Premier Power is a leading global provider of large and small-scale solar power systems, delivering unmatched experience to commercial and governmental customers worldwide. Premier Power designs, engineers and integrates the solar industry's leading products. Premier Power's technologies and services have enabled its customers to maximize clean energy output along with project savings. Premier Power is headquartered in El Dorado Hills, CA and has common stock quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board under the symbol PPRW.OB. Additional information is available at the Company's website at .

About JinkoSolar

JinkoSolar Holding Co., Ltd. JKS +0.98% is a fast-growing, vertically-integrated solar power product manufacturer with low-cost operations based in Jiangxi and Zhejiang Provinces in China and sales and marketing offices in Shanghai (China), Munich (Germany), San Francisco (U.S.) and Bologna (Italy). JinkoSolar has built a vertically integrated solar product value chain with an annual capacity of 900 MW each for silicon wafers, solar cells and solar modules as of March 31, 2011 and plans to expand its annual capacity to 1.5GW each by the end of 2011. JinkoSolar distributes its photovoltaic products to a diversified customer base in the global PV market, including Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, the United States, France and other countries and regions.


Global Market For Solar Panels To Reach Us$71.8 Billion By 2017, According To A New Report By Global Industry Analysts, Inc.

GIA announces the release of a comprehensive global report on Solar Panels market. The global market for solar panels is forecast to reach US$71.8 billion by the year 2017, primarily driven by robust demand for solar energy in the United States and developing markets such as China and India. The market will also be driven by Government policies, especially feed-in-tariffs and investment subsidies, which are expected to play a major role in determining the future demand for solar panels.

Spiraling energy consumption worldwide is driving demand for increased energy production. Business opportunities presented by sustainable energies of the future, such as, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass energies are driven by their contribution in lowering CO2 and greenhouse emissions. Solar energy, in comparison with other renewable alternatives has a wide range of benefits and has gained tremendous prominence over the last few years with new solar power grids mushrooming in several countries the world over. Public utilities, and private corporations have begun to integrate solar energy as an indispensable part of their respective energy portfolios. An essential part of solar energy value chain, solar panels have always mirrored the trends in the overall solar energy sector, particularly status of solar PV installations.

Following several years of perpetual increase, growth in the PV cells and panels market slowed down for a brief period in 2009 on account of the global economic downturn characterized by tightened credit and the increasingly cautious approach by banks towards lending. The credit squeeze not only affected the purchases of solar cells and panels for energy generation but also deferred investments in solar cell manufacturing. Sluggish demand resulted in a significant inventory build-up starting from raw material silicon and PV cells to the complete PV systems, which ultimately led to considerable decline in prices of solar cells and panels, adding to the manufacturer's agony. The decline in demand for solar cells and panels was harsher in Europe, as the market suffered a twin blow with Spain registering drastic reductions in PV installations during the year. However dramatic improvements in Solar PV installations across the globe in the year 2010, particularly in Europe and Asia-Pacific, ensured that cells and panels market staged a remarkable comeback in the year 2010. Supportive government policies, especially feed-in-tariffs and investment subsidies have helped Western European nations such as Germany, Italy and the UK to achieve tremendous increase in solar PV installations in 2010, thus driving resurgence in demand for solar panels during the year.

After making a comeback in the year 2010, the solar panels market in the immediate future will be challenged by planned subsidy cuts by major European countries such as Germany and Italy and chances of excess supply. While Europe still accounts for a major share of demand for solar panels, other markets such as the US, Asia-Pacific and even Latin America are expected to gather momentum, and even spearhead growth in the global market over the next few years. Continued policy adjustments, tightening incentive terms and uncertainty over continuation of Feed-In Tariffs for solar installations in major European markets are fast shifting the market dynamics away from the region and towards other regional markets. Developing countries are emerging as torchbearers in the global solar power market. With a steady decline in the prices of PV power, mainly due to financial aids from developed countries and international organizations, solar energy is increasingly used in various developmental activities such as education, water supply, and healthcare.

As stated by the new market research report, Europe accounts for a lion's share of the global solar panel installations in megawatts. By product type, Crystalline Solar Panel is the largest market segment. With increasing efforts to promote solar PV power generation to combat global warming, growth prospects for photovoltaic sector remains buoyant in the long term. Given the fast increasing electricity prices, particularly in Europe, and substantial declines in prices of PV technology over the last few years, the solar PV market is expected to achieve its key competitive measure - the grid parity. Global revenues from sales of solar panels are expected to surge at an impressive CAGR of 20% over the analysis period.

Major players in the global marketplace include BP Solar International, Inc, Bosch Solar Energy AG, Dyesol Ltd, EniPower S.p.A., Evergreen Solar, Inc, E-Ton Solar Tech Co., Ltd., Flisom AG, GE Energy, Global Solar Energy, Inc., Hitachi Metals America, Ltd., Isofotón SA, JA Solar Holdings Co., Ltd., Kyocera Corporation, Matrix Solar Technologies, Inc., Miasolé, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Limited, Motech Industries, Inc., Nanosolar, Inc., Primestar Solar, Q-Cells Se, Sanyo Solar, Sharp Corporation, Signet Solar, Inc., Sunpower Corporation, Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. , Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., Ltd. , among others.

The research report titled "Solar Panels: A Global Strategic Business Report" announced by Global Industry Analysts, Inc., provides a comprehensive review of market trends, issues, drivers, company profiles, mergers, acquisitions and other strategic industry activities. The report provides market estimates and projections for Solar Panels in (US$ Million, Million units and Installations in Megawatts) for major geographic markets including United States, Canada, Japan, Europe (France, Germany, Italy, UK, Spain, Rest of Europe), Asia-Pacific (Australia, China, South Korea, Rest of Asia-Pacific), and Rest of World.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

ESA Renewables Plans 20MW Pennsylvania Solar Farm

Claysville, Pennsylvania solar photovoltaic generation facility should generate decades of clean electricity for thousands of residents

Lake Mary, FL., October 27, 2011 - ESA Renewables (ESA), a leading turnkey solar system provider, recently announced its plan to construct a 20MW solar photovoltaic generation facility in Claysville, Pennsylvania.

The planned site is a grid connected 20MW solar photovoltaic generation facility, divided in 20 units, each of them with a 1 MVA step up transformer.

"We are excited to announce the newly planned solar project," said Jeffrey Burkett, President of ESA Renewables. "We thank the community of Claysville for recognizing the benefits that solar farms can bring to rural communities."

The ground-mount photovoltaic generating facility would be in operation for a period of twenty years on property located on West Route 40 in Washington County.

ESA plans to construct, commission, monitor and provide maintenance on the solar array during the lifespan of the system. Utilizing ESA's proprietary control and monitoring system via a secured connection, ESA's system managers will have immediate access, from anywhere in the world, to pertinent real-time data being generated from the solar array. They will be automatically alerted of events to allow for quick response. Performance data will also be collected and stored for later analysis, simulations, testing, etc. -- all essential for effective preventive and corrective maintenance.

Anticipated grid-connection date is August of 2012.

About ESA Renewables, LLC:
Located in Lake Mary, FL, ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 475 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy. ESA’s scope of services includes financing, engineering, construction, testing and operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, France and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit or call 407-268-6455.

There Are Still Reasons For Solar To Rebound Eventually

You’ve probably heard something about three well-known solar firms that declared bankruptcy this year. Here in Massachusetts, where I live, Evergreen Solar declared bankruptcy in August after finding itself nearly half a billion dollars in debt, less than three years after its stock traded over 100 a share. In Oregon and New York, recent Intel (INTC) spin-off SpectraWatt also went under and its assets were auctioned off last week. Most infamously, California’s Solyndra shut down two years after receiving $528 million in Department of Energy loans for its California manufacturing facilities.

So what happened to solar? In short: China. In 2007 and 2008, when hopes for solar were running high along with the performance of solar stocks, the supply of polysilicon, the primary feedstock for solar panels, was in short supply. That made companies like Evergreen, which had a novel way of manufacturing cells to maximize use of polysilicon, attractive–as late as February 2008, Evergreen’s shares were over $100. The shortage of polysilicon also made investments in manufacturing facilities for SpectraWatt and Solyndra seem reasonable.

Make no mistake: no one in the energy industry was expecting the shortage of polysilicon to persist (it is made from readily available sand, after all). But no one expected the reversal from shortage to surplus to happen so swiftly. The number of polysilicon producers in China, for instance, increased from just seven in 2008 to 70 by 2010, according to research firm Trefis Group.

China, with its artificially weak currency, was able to hammer down polysilicon prices and, in turn, solar panel prices. For the typical Chinese-based manufacturer of panels, production costs fell by half in just three years, helped by low labor costs. Even with all of that, it is quite possible SpectraWatt and Solyndra (Evergreen having a larger issue with it’s unique technology) may have survived the much swifter-than-expected price drop, but for the persisting recession.

For the first time in memory, the steep drop in solar prices in 2011 has not generated the leap in solar demand that usually occurs. Last year for instance, demand shot up over 100% after the steep drop the industry saw in 2010, according to the cleantech group at Jeffries & Co. This year, demand is still weak even as prices soften.

This doesn’t mean solar is dead–its falling prices have made it a more viable option to grid-generated power. The demon isn’t necessarily government subsidies either–an International Energy Agency report out this week notes that most government subsidies go to petroleum.

There are still plenty of advantages that mean solar will rebound eventually: for one, its energy source is free. Plus China and Germany, two of the world’s main solar markets, will almost certainly boost their solar usage–China to meet its seemingly insatiable energy demand, and Germany to help fill the void left by retiring its nuclear plants by decade’s end.

And the simple fact is that as any industry becomes more competitive, companies are going to lose, while others will win. But will solar manufacturing have a U.S. base in the future? That’s more difficult to say. Perhaps one indication came from the SpectraWatt asset auction last week. The winner of its full solar panel production line for $5 million: Chinese manufacturer Canadian Solar (CSIQ), which reportedly plans to ship the production line lock, stock and barrel, to China.

No doubt some of you are wondering if now is a time to buy into solar. I think that no matter what form the solar market rebound takes, it will require time, as the charts of even the best solar stocks are firmly bearish. Even once solar stocks start recovering, there will be a lot of pent-up selling from those who bought and held when solar was exceptionally strong in late 2007 and 2008.

I’ve been out of solar stocks for nearly a year. Our last solar stock in the energy portfolio was sold in November 2010 (Renesola (SOL), at a 54% profit). To get back into solars, I’m going to need to see both a turnaround in the alternative energy sector–which we may be seeing glimmers of as I write–and then a bull move in specific solar stocks. We’ve generally done well with energy investments thanks to our approach of finding fundamentally sound companies that have bullish trading charts. Rather than bottom feeding, we wait for a confirmation that a specific stock has bottomed and turned higher.

This isn’t a new or particularly clever approach. I first learned it from some savvy commodity futures traders who rightly recognized that waiting for bullish confirmation of a turnaround was a way to dramatically cut the risk of buying a security. Sure you give up the lottery ticket of buying a stock at its all-time low and enjoying an eye-popping profit. But then again, very often what you think must be the bottom isn’t.

So how do I bottom feed for stocks? I don’t. Let others take the high risk of bottom feeding; I prefer to wait until it’s clear that a rebound is underway. This system got us into that profitable Renesola position last year and kept us from ever getting into Evergreen Solar even as it seemed cheap at 50 just a few months after it fetched 100 a share. My rule of thumb is that you can still capture 75% of the profits, while surrendering 75% of the risk, simply by waiting for the stock to get going before you hop on.

While we wait for solar to rebound, we’ve been selectively investing in strong fossil fuel stocks and a couple of alternative energy stocks. But recognizing the dangers in the market, we’ve kept a good deal of our capital in cash (right now, we’re at 60% cash).

Even as we keep our powder dry, there are some macro developments I’m following. The most immediate trend we’re seeing is the push toward more efficient and cleaner cars, trucks and industrial equipment really starting to generate some exciting stock investments.

One related auto stock that still looks good–although its chart is showing some weakness now–is Polypore (PPO). Best known for making the high-tech battery membranes used in the iPad, its main business is membranes and separators for high tech automobile batteries–and it has been a market leader for the past year.

More broadly, the biggest trend I see is that despite all of the troubles we’ve had and are having–from the European debt crisis, which is roiling the continent’s economy, to the sluggish, perhaps stalling, recovery here in the U.S.–energy demand continues to grow. It may surprise you to know oil prices are well up, on an average price year-to-date, over 2010, and even this week are just about where they were one year ago, around $80 a barrel.

That price strength reflects the reality that world energy demand continues to grow. The U.S. Energy Information Agency released a report last week projecting that world energy demand will rise 54% by 2035, compared to the 2008 benchmark. Projections can be squirrely things, but such growth isn’t out of line with the past. From 1990 to 2008, world energy demand grew about 42%. Because you and I are likely conserving energy and driving more efficient cars, Western world energy demand isn’t going to rise very much in the next two decades.

It’s the developing world, China and India in particular, that will drive this next leg of growth in energy demand. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, those two countries alone will drive half the world’s growth in energy usage by 2035. And unlike the past decades of growth, the future will be heavily reliant on new forms of energy, like solar, as well as unconventionally tapped natural gas and oil from places like North Dakota, the Arctic, western Africa and probably some places none of us have heard of by companies that have yet to go public.


Solar Plants In Mass. and Mich. To Be Auctioned

An Illinois liquidation firm has been named to handle the auction of former Evergreen Solar plants in Massachusetts and Michigan.

Hilco Industrial said in a statement Monday that it had been appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to take bids on the Evergreen facilities in Devens, Mass., and Midland, Mich., including all related assets housed in the plants.

The solar energy company closed the Devens plant in January and moved manufacturing operations to China. It had previously received more than $20 million in grants and $11 million in tax and lease initiatives from Massachusetts.

Evergreen filed for Chapter 11 protection in August and suspended operations at the Midland plant.

Hilco said bids on the plants were due by Oct. 26, with the final auction scheduled for Nov. 1.


Abanaki Announces Solar Powered Oil Skimmer Groundwater Remediation System

Solar Powered Oil Skimmer Groundwater Remediation System Ideal Solution for Remote Locations

Abanaki Corporation ( ) has added a Solar Powered Groundwater Remediation System to their broad line of oil skimming solutions. This system is typically used in monitoring wells located in remote areas where standard power is unavailable. An added benefit is that solar power is a renewable energy source which is environmentally-friendly and readily available.

The solar power oil skimming system consists of Abanaki's unique PetroXtractor belt oil skimmer equipped with a 12-volt DC motor, solar panel, timer, battery, battery box, and control components. Belt types used on this system will depend upon the viscosity of oil being collected. The PetroXtractor removes up to 12 gph of oil from water and can be installed in well casings with as small as a 2 inch inside diameter.

The oil skimmer elevates skimmed oil 100 feet or more where the wiper blades scrape oil from the belt and discharge it into an Oil Concentrator, a small gravity separator that removes any trace water from the skimmed oil. The waste oil flows out of the Concentrator into a user-provided collection container outfitted with a float switch. The float switch will automatically turn off the oil skimmer when the container is full. This cost-effective Solar Powered Groundwater Remediation System can be configured with the basics all the way to vapor-tight units.

About Abanaki Corporation -- Abanaki, the world leader in oil skimmer products, manufactures a wide range of products to remove oils, greases, solvents, and related hydrocarbons from water, groundwater and industrial effluent. Belt and Tube oil skimmer models are available with removal rates ranging from 1 to 200 gallons per hour in both stationary and portable systems. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Abanaki has served a global customer base in industries as diverse as iron and steel, wastewater, paper, food processing, automotive, environmental remediation and recycling for more than 40 years. Today, under the corporate motto "Clean Our World(TM)," Abanaki continues to address pollution in industry through innovation, customer commitment, and environmental stewardship within its own operations.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Area Solar Industry Grows Despite Solyndra Failure

Despite the high-profile collapse of Solyndra, the Bay Area's solar industry continues to grow.

Case in point: SunEdison, a worldwide developer of large solar-power projects, is moving its headquarters from Maryland to Belmont. Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday joined the company at its new home, a formerly vacant office building that will hold more than 400 people when the move is complete.

"We're the innovative state," Brown said at a news conference packed with local dignitaries. "We're going to invest in solar and make California not only the national leader, which it already is, but we're going to make it the world leader."

For SunEdison, California represents both a vast market and a deep talent pool.

The company has installed solar panels at 290 locations throughout the state, including Nellis Air Force Base, many Kohl's stores and several California State University campuses. And the Bay Area boasts a workforce well versed in designing, financing and deploying solar systems.

"We believe that you have to be close to the market," said Carlos Domenech, SunEdison's president. "We believe that California will be the largest market, and we want to be part of that."

In addition, few states have made as much effort to increase the use of renewable power and nurture the companies that produce it.

Brown earlier this year signed legislation that will require California utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2020, up from the current legal requirement of 20 percent.

He also signed a bill by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, that clarified a point of California tax law, ensuring that new solar installations don't trigger property tax reassessments. That bill affects many of SunEdison's customers, and Hill wrote it, in part, to lure SunEdison to the Bay Area.

"That gave us the confidence that the governor's and California's attitude and policy toward renewable energy is here to stay," Domenech said.

The company is a subsidiary of MEMC Electronic Materials Inc., which makes silicon wafers both for semiconductors and solar cells. In September, MEMC and SunEdison acquired Fotowatio Renewable Ventures Inc., a solar power-plant developer in San Francisco previously owned by a Spanish company.

As a result, SunEdison already has about 100 employees in San Francisco. Of the 400 people expected to work at the new Belmont headquarters, the company expects that half will be transplants from Maryland.

The bankruptcy last month of Fremont's Solyndra, which received $528 million in federal loans to build a solar-cell factory, sent shock waves through the clean-tech industry and cost the Bay Area more than 1,100 jobs. And yet, other solar companies, including SolarCity and SunPower Corp., have added employees here. Brown on Monday described it as part of the industry's evolution.

"There's a certain Darwinian struggle, and some make it and some don't," he said. "So Solyndra fell by the wayside. But SunEdison ... they're in a similar area of renewable energy, and they're here. So that's what happens."


China Solar Panel Maker Restarts After Cleanup

Solar panel maker Jinko Solar Holding Co. has resumed production following a cleanup prompted by violent protests over pollution from one of its factories in eastern China.

Jinko Solar stopped production at its factory in Haining city, west of Shanghai, on Sept. 17 after hundreds of villagers staged protests, some storming the facility and overturning vehicles.

Authorities said the factory had failed to address earlier environmental complaints and that the protests followed mass fish deaths in late August due to runoff of flouride from heavy rains.

The company, whose shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, said in a statement Tuesday that the pollution resulted from extreme and unforeseen weather conditions. It said it has upgraded its environmental protection and plans a full audit of all of its facilities.

Police said 20 people were detained after the protests, which reflect the dirty side of clean energy. While use of solar power can reduce the need for burning heavily polluting coal and other fossil fuels, the process of producing photovoltaic cells uses various chemicals and materials that can also be toxic.

"We understand from this accident that we always need to think about extreme and unforeseen circumstances and generally enhance our risk management practices," Jinko's chairman, Li Xiande, said in the statement.


Redskins Go Solar at FedEx Field with NFL's Largest Installation

Love him or hate him, you know Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder makes shrewd business decisions. That's among the reasons the new solar panels at FedEx Field are turning heads.

Snyder entered a contract this summer with New Jersey's NRG Energy to install enough solar panels over parking spaces and on the roof top of the football stadium to generate 20% of the facilities energy on game days and all of its power on non game days.

Snyder is quoted by USAToday saying, "It's something we're proud of doing for the environment for the future. We believe and understand what's taking place here in the shift and the transformation of the United States and being involved early is really special for us."

Journalist and blogger Marc Guther speculates that, since Snyder is not known for his environmental ethics, the move could be as much about team rivalry and securing energy costs for the long term as going green. The Seattle Seahawks were the first team to install solar technology on their stadium and the Philadelphia Eagles announced plans for a green energy trifecta - solar, wind, and biofuels - at the last Superbowl.

Whatever his motives, Green Sports Alliance co-founder, Alan Hershkowitz is cheering: “18 percent of Americans say they pay attention to science, while 56 percent of Americans say they pay attention to sports," he told EnergyNow. "So if you want to influence American culture, are you going to send scientists out there to spout out the latest facts about global climate disruption or are you going to send a message to the supply chain that solar panels are being put in football stadiums?”


ESA Renewables Negotiates Contracts for 80MW, Executes LOI for 20MW at Solar Power International

Dallas solar industry trade show provides powerful opportunities for Florida-based turnkey solar solutions corporation

Lake Mary, FL., October 26, 2011 – ESA Renewables, a leading turnkey solar system provider, is pleased to announce its unprecedented success at the Solar Power International (SPI) 2011 trade show last week. Meetings during the show resulted in financing, EPC and O&M contract negotiations of up to 80MW across the United States as well as the execution of a letter of intent (LOI) for a 20MW solar project developed by ESA. ESA also received a very positive response from attendees on the new dashboard look on its proprietary renewable energy monitoring system.

“SPI was undeniably a huge success for ESA,” said Jeffrey Burkett, President of ESA Renewables. “With over 24,000 attendees, it presented an exciting opportunity to network with other solar industry professionals, potential customers and meet with our partner suppliers to discuss upcoming ventures.”

The conference and exhibition was held at the Dallas Convention Center, October 17-20, 2011. Solar industry experts and interested parties attending the exhibition were able to view ESA’s proprietary photovoltaic monitoring system and discuss ESA’s other turnkey solutions such as EPC, solar financing and O&M (operations and maintenance) services.

During the show, ESA also unveiled the new dashboard look of its proprietary monitoring system. This at-a-glance display allows solar engineers immediate access to simplified, centralized, reliable and secure data for O&M servicing of solar power plants.

“ESA continues to thrive and make advancements in its technology,” continued Burkett. “Our excellent global reputation in the solar industry and solid, turnkey solutions enabled us to put almost 100 megawatt’s on the books during the show for upcoming solar projects.”

About ESA:
Located in Lake Mary, FL, ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 475 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy. ESA’s scope of services includes financing, engineering, construction, testing and operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, France and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit or call 407-268-6455.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Maryland Celebrates “Largest” Solar Power Project, at Perdue HQ

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and other dignitaries celebrated the completion of one of the largest commercially owned solar power systems in the eastern United States on Friday.

The six-acre facility at Perdue Incorporated’s corporate headquarters in Salisbury comprises an array of 5,040 solar panels.

It will supply electricity to adjacent Perdue Corporate headquarters, and is the final phase of nearly 12,000 panels installed at two Perdue facilities.

The panels are owned by Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES) and were installed by Standard Solar, Inc.

Perdue will purchase green electricity generated by the solar panels at guaranteed prices. The first phase of the installation is in Bridgeville, Del., and was completed in August 2011 (see this story).

Both systems will generate a combined average of 3,700-megawatt hours of electricity each year, or the amount of power used by 340 typical U.S. homes. At peak production, the panels will produce as much as 90 percent of the electrical demand for each Perdue facility.

“By demonstrating through smart, targeted investments that we’re committed to solar, we position Maryland as a leader in solar energy,” said Governor O’Malley.

“We also help attract green businesses to our state and make it easier for companies like Perdue to make the commitment to a long-term investment in renewable energy. The strategies we’re using as a state to advance the job-creating, planet-saving power of solar energy are helping us lead the way toward a greener future – right now, and in the future.”

Steve Schwalb, Perdue’s vice president of environmental sustainability, estimated that the clean electricity from the solar panels will reduce carbon emissions by 3,000 tons per year, the equivalent of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 300,000 gallons of gasoline per year, or nearly 4.5 million gallons through the life of the 15-year contract.

“We are pleased to begin powering our operations with clean, renewable energy while lowering our energy costs, demonstrating that environmental responsibility is also good business,” he said.

Perdue is engaged in other alternative energy initiatives, including a biogas-to-energy project at its Cromwell, Ky., poultry processing facility and a biomass burning installation at its Cofield, N.C., soybean processing plant.

Additionally, the company is currently renovating its corporate office to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standards.

“We thank Jim Perdue and his organization for their commitment to the environment and for their confidence in us and our partners at Standard Solar,” said Harry Warren, president of WGES.

“As a leading competitive energy supplier in the state, we are committed to expanding our solar investment portfolio here, and we thank the governor and the legislature for their continuing support for competitive energy markets that make these investments possible.”


Solar Firm SunPower Goes Micro

A leading solar manufacturer has decided to offer panels with microinverters for automatically converting electricity from direct current to alternating current.

SunPower, which is partly owned by gas and oil giant Total, announced this week it's adding the E18 and E19 AC Solar Panel series to its line of solar panels. The new solar-panel models will come integrated with SolarBridge Pantheon AC microinverters made by SolarBridge Technologies.

Normally, a solar panel generates electricity in DC (direct current), and needs to be routed to an inverter that converts it to AC (alternating current), the standard used in homes, before it can be used. The conversion box is typically located in the home's basement or on the side of the house and then integrated in the home's electrical grid.

A microinverter embedded in a solar panel does the conversion from DC to AC at the panel immediately, eliminating the need for that extra step of routing all the electricity generated by a rooftop solar system to a conversion box before the home can draw on the solar-generated electricity.

Solar panels with microinverters make installation and wiring a much simpler process, and in many cases enable small installations to become more of a do-it-yourself project for homeowners. The drawback has been developing solar panels with microinverters that offer good efficiency. According to SunPower's own statistics, it seems the company has been able to overcome that hurdle.

The E18 will be a 225-watt AC solar panel while the E19 will be a 240-watt AC solar panel. Both types of solar panels will have an efficiency of 22.4 percent, a very good efficiency for a silicon solar panel. They'll be available in the U.S. starting in early 2012, according to SunPower.

Several companies have been trying to perfect microinverter efficiency.

Most notable is that microinverter manufacturer Enphase Energy raised $15 million in 2008 to further develop its technology, and then raised another $63 million in 2010 to ramp up production. Solar manufacturer GreenRay Solar has also raised $2 million in funds to develop its microinverter technology.