Monday, April 30, 2012

First Solar to Expand Board of Directors

First Solar, Inc. FSLR -3.50% today announced that it nominated two new candidates for election to the Company’s Board of Directors and that it has expanded the size of the Board to eleven from nine, creating two vacancies as it continues to seek additional independent directors. As detailed in its Proxy Statement, which was filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, First Solar nominated George “Chip” Hambro and Richard “Rick” Chapman to stand for election to the Board at the Company’s Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which will be held on May 23, 2012. Chapman will serve as an independent director.

To fill the two new vacancies, First Solar has retained an executive search firm to help identify candidates with experience that will support the Company’s strategy to compete as a vertically integrated provider of photovoltaic power plants in energy markets that are sustainable without subsidies.

The Company also announced that José Villarreal, a director since 2007, will retire from the Board due to personal commitments and will not seek reelection at the Annual Meeting.

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U.S. Clean Energy Policies Risk Losing Lead Over China

The U.S. government is creating a “boom and bust” in renewable energy investment that threatens to undermine its lead over China, the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a report.

U.S. investment reached $48.1 billion in 2011, largely in wind and solar power, the Washington-based research group said last night in a report based on Bloomberg New Energy Finance data. Those funds trumped the $45.5 billion China allocated to renewables, for lead for the U.S. since 2008.

The jump to the top of the G-20 ranking followed developers’ efforts to finish projects before incentives expire. With China taking on long-term renewable energy targets and an American tax-break for wind lapsing in 2012, the U.S. again risks losing its edge, said Phyllis Cuttino, Pew’s clean energy director.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Solar firm BrightSource Energy to trade on Nasdaq

Solar power plant developer BrightSource Energy is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq exchange Thursday morning, in a closely watched initial public stock offering that could raise as much as $182.5 million.

The Oakland company had not set a share price Wednesday evening. But in a government filing last month, BrightSource projected offering 6.9 million shares at a range of $21 to $23 apiece.

The company will trade under the symbol BRSE.

BrightSource is building a series of solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, using fields of mirrors to concentrate sunlight on centralized towers and generate heat. The company's first $2.2 billion project - a collection of solar fields called the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System - boasts high-profile investors such as Google Inc. The federal government gave Ivanpah a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the same program that funded ill-fated Solyndra of Fremont.

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Sullivan Solar Power Announces its Position as Top Southern California Solar Developer

Sullivan Solar Power, the leading residential developer of solar power systems in the nation's solar capitol, San Diego, has been ranked as the number one SunPower dealer in the region. According to public records furnished by the California Solar Initiative (CSI), Sullivan has developed 44 percent more residential solar power systems than their nearest competitor. SunPower, headquartered in California, is a global leader in the solar industry with the world's most efficient silicon solar cells.

"In 1954, the United States invented solar power. In the year 2000, SunPower perfected it," said Daniel Sullivan, founder and president of Sullivan Solar Power, "We are proud to be part of this heritage in moving our nation toward a sustainable future."

According to CSI data, SunPower is the leading panel manufacturer for residential projects in California, trumping imported cheaper Chinese solar modules. Despite the lower commodity costs of Chinese panels, SunPower reigns supreme in California due to an aggressive new leasing program. The program offers California homeowners solar at a cost that is up to 40 percent less than their electric utility bills.

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Solar Firm BrightSource Cancels IPO

BrightSource, the builder of solar thermal projects, has canceled its initial public offering on the eve of its planned debut, citing "adverse market conditions."

BrightSource solar thermal power plants can be equipped
with a two-tank molten salt storage system, as shown on
the right side of this image.

"While we received significant interest from potential investors, the continued market and economic volatility are not optimal conditions for an IPO," BrightSource CEO John Woolard said in a statement this evening (PDF). "As a company, we've consistently made decisions in the best interest of our shareholders, employees and customers, and we will continue to do so. Fortunately, we're in a strong financial position and have the support of world-class investors and partners."

The Oakland, Calif.-based company, one of the few green-tech companies started in the last decade to seek to go public, filed its IPO plans last Earth Day and was expected to begin trading this week. The company, which is backed by VantagePoint Venture Partners, sought to raise $182.5 million from the stock market to build a pipeline of utility-scale solar power projects.

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Renewable-Energy Investment Plunges in Quarter to Three-Year Low

Global investment in clean energy dropped to its lowest since the depths of the financial crisis three years ago as the U.S. and European nations cut support for wind and solar projects, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

Spending on new wind farms, solar parks and other renewable projects fell to $27 billion in the first quarter, a 28 percent slump from the last three months of 2011 and a 22 percent drop from the same quarter a year earlier, New Energy Finance said today in a statement. That’s the lowest quarterly total since the $20 billion recorded in the first three months of 2009.

The quarterly decline follows a record year in which an estimated $263 billion was poured into renewable energy, according to the London-based research company. The clean-energy industry has been hurt by subsidy cuts in European nations including Spain, Germany and the U.K., and expiring tax credits in the U.S., the biggest market in 2011 for renewables.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

SatCon, First Solar Lead Photovoltaic Stocks Up After Rout

SatCon Technology Corp. (SATC) led photovoltaic manufacturers including First Solar (FSLR) Inc. higher today on speculation that first-quarter equipment orders may have been stronger than expected.

SatCon rose 60 percent to 48 cents a share in New York, the highest since March 1, and First Solar climbed 5.2 percent to $22.50 a share after earlier gaining as much as 12 percent.

SatCon, a Boston-based maker of energy converters for renewable projects, said orders during the first quarter rose 27 percent to about $45 million. Revenue for the quarter was between $22 million to $25 million, matching the low-end of their guidance, SatCon said today in a statement. That provided a book-to-bill ratio, or orders received over units shipped, of about two during the quarter.

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Solar Power Plant Builder BrightSource Energy Pulls IPO

BrightSource Energy, the California solar thermal power plant builder backed by Google, NRG Energy, Morgan Stanley and other heavy-hitters, abruptly pulled its initial public offering on the eve of its planned debut Thursday, citing “adverse market conditions.”

“While we received significant interest from potential investors, the continued market and economic volatility are not optimal conditions for an IPO,” John Woolard, BrightSource’s chief executive, said in a statement.

The company had sought to raise $182.5 million in an offering that had a target range of $21 to $23 a share. BrightSource initially filed its S-1 on Earth Day last year and withdrew the filing 11 days before Earth Day 2012.

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Trina Solar Announces Sustainability Partnership with Plant-for-the-Planet Children's Initiative for Carbon

Trina Solar Limited TSL -3.29% ("Trina Solar" or "the Company") announced that it will partner with the Plant-for-the-Planet Children's Initiative to offset the carbon emissions of the Lotus F1 Team single seaters, the Formula 1 racing team it sponsors. Trina Solar intends to plant 9,000 trees a year for the next three years, or a total of 27,000 trees. The carbon offset benefit from the trees is estimated as equivalent to the emissions from the team's Grand Prix track activity over the course of five full seasons of Formula 1.

Trina Solar's initiative partner, the Plant-for-the-Planet Children's Initiative, is responsible for the "Billion Tree Campaign" launched by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The trees will be planted in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Congo, Namibia, Malaysia, Brazil and China. Trina Solar will also host a full-day educational event, a Plant-for-the-Planet Academy, at its headquarters in Changzhou, where children will learn how to become active against the climate crisis and plant trees on Trina Solar's campus while also being given a unique chance to learn how solar panels are made and discover the benefits of solar energy.

"We are proud to support the Plant-for-the-Planet Children's Initiative and we look forward to hosting the children at our headquarters so that we can share with them the importance of solar energy," said Mark Kingsley, Chief Commercial Officer of Trina Solar. "Through this partnership, we are taking a step to transform Formula 1 into a greener enterprise. More than 500 million people watch Formula 1 every year and we can educate that large audience on the importance of solar energy and sustainability."

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Solar Exchange East 2012 Heading to Rutgers University

After three years, thousands of participants and events at Arizona State University, North Carolina State University and the University of California Los Angeles, the Siemens-hosted Solar Exchange takes its unique industry forum and networking event to Rutgers University on May 16, for a day of discovery and dialogue on the latest emerging topics, innovations and trends within the solar industry.

In partnership with Rutgers University , the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (NJHEPS) and the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association (MSEIA), Solar Exchange East provides an opportunity for dialogue among innovators and thought-leaders in the solar industry, including engineering management, OEMs, end users, developers, solution providers, academia, researchers, associations and financial institutions.

The event, which is geared towards professionals currently working in the solar market, will be held on Rutgers’ campus in Piscataway, NJ.

“This event offers a strong and broad agenda that will include presentations on Rutgers’ current campus solar projects and our research and academic programs supporting solar initiatives,” said Michael J. Pazzani, vice president for research and economic development at Rutgers. “This university has a leadership role in technology development and policy issues connected to solar, so we’re pleased to host such an influential meeting.”

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Pennsylvania Considers Raising Renewable Energy Target after Solar Demand Surge

Residential and small business demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar hot water systems grew so fast in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2010 that the state’s $100 million PA Sunshine Solar Program ran out of rebate money.

With the program in “Waiting List” mode since August 2011, state legislators are now considering a bill that would speed up the rate at which utilities are required to add solar power capacity to their distribution systems in an effort to avoid a “boom, bust, boom cycle,” the York Daily Record’s Stephanie Reighart reported.

Pennsylvania’s 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act set a solar power goal of 41 MW for 2012. With 2012 now here, Pennsylvania finds itself with 150 MW of installed solar power capacity, according to solar installer I Need Solar president Mike Barnes, the majority of which comes from net-metered residential solar PV systems.

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German Official Pours Cold Water on Greek Solar Dream

A senior German official dampened Greek hopes of selling massive quantities of solar power to Germany, saying Berlin would bolster its own renewable energy production before considering any imports.

Sun-baked Greece last year unveiled a plan to become Europe's solar energy powerhouse, attracting up to 20 billion euros of investment in the decades to come to boost its recession-hit economy and help cut its huge debt.

"Project Helios", named after the Greek god of the sun, involves handing over public land to investors to multiply Greek solar power production by about 50 times, from 206 megawatts (MW) in 2010 to 2.2 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 and up to 10 GW by 2050.

Greece hopes to sell most of this to central European countries, particularly Germany which plans to replace its nuclear power capacity with renewable energy sources.

But Germany wants to first develop its own solar capacity before considering any imports, deputy energy minister Juergen Becker told a conference in Athens.

"We can't consider imports of electricity from renewables as anything more than a useful supplement to the expansion of our own renewable potential," Becker said.

Importing solar power may become an option for Germany in the longer run, but Berlin did not want Helios to replace Germany's expansion, he told a panel discussion involving Greek Energy Minister George Papaconstantinou and EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Before selling any electricity to Germany, Greece would also need to drastically cut the guaranteed prices it pays solar power producers down to the German level, which is currently half that of Greece, Becker said.

Selling to Germany at Greek prices "would set (energy) costs for (German) consumers soaring ... any financial support from Germany (for Greece) would have to come from other sources," said Becker.

Germany has recently cut its own guaranteed prices to solar power producers to stem a flow of solar power projects that were encouraged by a previous, more generous set of subsidies.

Greece regards clean energy as one of the few positives in its uncompetitive economy, which is going through its longest and deepest postwar recession as a result of a debt crisis.

The cash-strapped country needs foreign investors to finance Helios, which includes leasing state land, free of any administrative or legal burdens, to investors to install solar panels.

Solar power accounts for just a negligible part of Greece's electricity production. Renewables, mostly wind, currently cover about 8 percent of total power demand in Greece. (Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)


Solar Trust of America Files Bankruptcy

Solar Trust of America LLC, which holds the development rights for the world's largest solar power project, on Monday filed for bankruptcy protection after its majority owner began insolvency proceedings in Germany.

The Oakland-based company has held rights for the 1,000-megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project in the Southern California desert, which last April won $2.1 billion of conditional loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. It is unclear how the bankruptcy will affect that project.

Solar Trust said it ran short of liquidity after Solar Millennium AG (S2MG.DE), which holds a 70 percent stake, sought court protection in December.

Solar Millennium then tried to sell that stake to solarhybrid AG (SHLG.DE), but that transaction collapsed when solarhybrid also sought court protection in Germany.

Edward Kleinschmidt, Solar Trust of America's chief operating officer, in a court filing said the company has already missed two quarterly rent payments on the Blythe project, and cannot make several other payments due imminently.

He said NextEra Energy Resources LLC has committed to provide some financing and "expressed an interest" in serving as an initial bidder for some assets.

Ferrostaal AG owns the other 30 percent of Solar Trust of America but does not provide financial help, Kleinschmidt said.

Solar Trust of America and several affiliates filed for protection from creditors with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware. It estimated to have as much as $10 million of assets, and between $50 million and $100 million of liabilities.

Blythe is about 220 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

"We have been working with Solar Trust of America for a couple of years in getting this project going," David Lane, Blythe's city manager, said in an interview. "Although the project is not in the city limits, we are the only city within 100 miles. My sense is that with the large investment in what was to have been the world's largest solar power plant, someone somewhere will buy it and build it."

Separately, Solar Millennium said it has been sued by former Chief Executive Utz Claassen over public statements by company representatives that he claims have damaged his reputation and left him unable to find a job. Solar Millennium said the lawsuit would not directly affect its insolvency proceedings.

The case is In re: Solar Trust of America LLC et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 12-11136.


Solar Jobs Join Harry Reid to Chinese Billionaire in Price Drop

A Chinese billionaire is teaming up with the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate to build a solar plant in a dusty corner of Nevada, even as officials accuse China of driving energy companies out of business by dumping cheap components on the American market.

ENN Group (ENNGZ) plans a manufacturing and generating facility worth $5 billion, more than all Chinese investment in the U.S. combined last year, in Laughlin, Nevada, a town pockmarked with foreclosed properties and the skeleton of a 14-story resort abandoned when the project went bankrupt.

Company founder Wang Yusuo, one of China’s richest men, has joined with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to win incentives including land 113 miles (182 kilometers) southeast of Las Vegas that ENN is buying for $4.5 million, or less than one-eighth of the $38.6 million assessors say it is worth. The project has produced legal work for Reid’s son, Rory, a lawyer at a Las Vegas firm that gave the Nevada Democrat more than $40,000 in the past three election cycles.

“This is counter to most logic,” said Thomas Maslin, an analyst at IHS Emerging Energy Research in Washington, D.C. “It doesn’t make sense in terms of supply and demand. The likely rationale is that because they’re building on public land they need to justify somehow the price through job creation and high- tech manufacturing.”

Growing Clout

ENN’s project highlights the growing clout of Chinese capital in this country. Chinese investment in the U.S. jumped to 66 deals worth $4.5 billion in 2011, up from just 11 deals worth $146 million in 2003, according to the Rhodium Group, a New York-based firm that researches trade with China. While it is rising quickly, that total is still far lower than countries such as Switzerland, whose $42 billion infusion makes it the top foreign investor, according to a July report from the U.S. Commerce Department.

Solar panel prices have plunged almost 50 percent globally in the past 15 months, leading to the bankruptcy of equipment maker Solyndra LLC, with $535 million in U.S. government loan guarantees, and job cuts at other solar manufacturers. The Obama administration, under pressure to curb Chinese companies’ trade practices, imposed preliminary duties on March 20 of as much as 4.73 percent on solar equipment imported from China. Tariffs may prompt more Chinese companies to move their manufacturing facilities to the U.S., Maslin said.

ENN’s Nevada plan calls for solar panel manufacturing and generation facilities and an eco-community people can visit -- part of what Reid proposes as an alternative-energy hub in a March 12 report called “Playing to Win in Clean Energy.”

Energy for California

Reid, 72, a Nevada Democrat who has led the U.S. Senate since 2007, promotes the project planned by ENN, based in Langfang, Hebei Province, as a way to put thousands of people back to work as his state struggles to overcome one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates.

“It will generate the electricity California must have in just a few years -- 30 percent of all electricity must come from renewable resources,” Reid said during a March 12 conference call with reporters. “This project is close to California. It’s within walking distance.”

Plans for ENN’s Nevada facility say it may eventually generate about 700 megawatts of electricity, more than 100 times the output of the company’s biggest solar operation now, in Germany. If actually built at that size, it would be 12 times bigger than the largest solar power plant currently in operation in the U.S., Sempra Energy’s 58-megawatt Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, and also larger than the biggest facility under construction, the 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in Santa Margarita, California, with financing from Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.

Creating Jobs

The solar complex could create as many as 2,505 jobs during construction through 2023, according to an economic impact study by Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis, a market research consulting firm.

“Other solar companies said they could produce electricity, but they didn’t have anything that would offer a permanent number of good jobs -- ENN’s manufacturing component will,” said Jacquelyne A. Brady, Laughlin’s town manager, in an interview.

Both Rory Reid, 49, and former Nevada Governor Richard Bryan, attorneys at the Lionel Sawyer & Collins law firm, have worked on the project, according to documents and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak.

Payments to Reid

The firm gave $40,650 individually and through its political action committee to Senator Reid over the past three election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan firm that researches the role of campaign contributions in public policy. Lionel Sawyer’s political action committee also contributed $2,000 in 2010 and $5,000 in 2008 to the Searchlight Leadership Fund, a political action committee that lists Reid as an affiliate, according to the CRP’s

The senator’s son hasn’t lobbied him on the ENN project, said Kristen Orthman, a Reid spokeswoman.

“We have a longstanding office policy that strictly bars any member of the staff’s family or the Senator’s family from lobbying our office on behalf of their clients,” Orthman said in an e-mail. Reid did not recommend the law firm to ENN, she said. Bryan and Rory Reid didn’t return repeated calls.

While the project may create jobs, it doesn’t make sense in terms of market dynamics, said Lawrence Gasman, principal analyst at Glen Allen, Va.-based NanoMarkets, an alternative- energy research firm.

‘Reasons to be Skeptical’

“There are many reasons to be skeptical of this project,” Gasman said. “Running a power plant and running a manufacturing plant making solar panels are two very different skill sets.”

Cash-strapped states nationwide want to draw foreign investment to create jobs and boost tax revenue. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Feb. 24 that PepsiCo Inc. and Theo Muller Gmbh, a German dairy company, would invest $206 million in a yogurt factory that would create 186 jobs.

In Florida, a Malaysian developer announced plans to build a five-star resort on Biscayne Bay that state officials said would boost employment and raise millions in tax revenue.

In January, Xinyu, China-based LDK Solar Co. announced plans to build two solar plants with a capacity of 8 megawatts in California.

Like struggling U.S. solar manufacturers, Nanosolar Inc. and SoloPower Inc., both based in San Jose, and Loveland, Colo.- based Abound Solar Inc., ENN manufactures thin film solar panels. ENN’s panels aren’t made with the same material as its U.S. competitors’ and rely on a non-crystalline substance known as amorphous silicon.

Firing Workers

SoloPower announced in August that it received a $197 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Abound Solar, with $400 million in approved federal loan guarantees, said in February it was firing 180 workers and halting solar panel production.

Solar price weakness may be good news for consumers and for utilities such as San Francisco-based PG&E Corp. (PCG), which is required to buy much of its power from renewable sources, said Anthony Earley Jr., PG&E’s chief executive officer. The trend isn’t as healthy for government-backed solar companies struggling to make ends meet in the aftermath of the collapse of Solyndra.

“Every time we go out for bids we are seeing the price come down,” Earley said in an interview. “A lot of it is that the Chinese and others are dumping cheap solar cells on the market. The risk is the industry just collapses.”

Suits of Armor

The man behind the proposed Nevada plant is Wang, 48, chairman of ENN Group, which includes ENN Energy Holdings Ltd. (2688), the fourth-largest Hong Kong-listed natural gas supplier by sales. He founded the company that became ENN Group in 1989 and it now operates in more than 100 cities across China, according to its website.

Wang rose from a background selling natural gas canisters for home cooking and renting cars to build the 100-acre ENN headquarters 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Beijing, with manufacturing facilities and a company museum. Nearby, Wang built a luxury golf course with his personal villa and a five- star hotel, featuring a wine cellar guarded by suits of armor.

With his wife, Zhao Baoju, Wang is estimated to be worth $2.7 billion, ranking the couple among the top 100 richest people in China, according to the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based publisher of luxury magazines, which tracks the nation’s wealthy using publicly available information.

Land Deal

The land deal ENN negotiated with Clark County commissioners requires the firm to obtain an agreement from a utility to buy power before it can break ground, Sisolak said.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved only a fraction of renewable power deals brought before it for review last year, said Timothy Alan Simon, a member of the commission.

“We have a situation where we’re oversubscribed,” Simon said in a telephone interview.

Speaking through an interpreter, Wang touted the proposal in August in Las Vegas at Reid’s fourth annual Clean Energy Summit. Vice President Joe Biden and California Governor Jerry Brown -- who asked Wang to consider bringing the project to his state -- were photographed alongside the ENN chairman, Reid and Sisolak.

‘Resort Destination’

“We plan to build an eco-community by using our ‘Ubiquitous Energy Network’ technology, with the aim of making it a good resort destination just like Las Vegas,” Wang said in a speech at the summit.

In a statement provided by a company spokesman, ENN Solar Energy Co. Chief Operating Officer De-Ling Zhou said: “After reviewing your questions, it became clear that at this early stage in the proposed project, we simply do not have enough details or are not in a position to adequately answer them.

“We can say ENN’s proposed project will bolster the long- term economic health of Clark County and the State of Nevada,” Zhou wrote.

Job creation persuaded Clark County commissioners to approve the subsidized land deal, which requires ENN to meet a series of milestones including investing $100 million by 2014 and $1 billion by 2018. Officials also offered to use ENN’s land payments to build infrastructure on the property.

“Next to the hospitality industry, construction has been our life blood,” said Sisolak. “It’s not like it got a little rough for construction over the last couple of years. It basically went away.”

Food Banks

For Clark County, where 70 percent of homeowners owe more on their homes than they are worth, furloughed construction workers rely on food banks at local union halls, and unemployment is 13.1 percent, the project could singlehandedly diversify a stagnant economy.

“I can’t tell you how many tours I’ve given people over the years trying to get them to see Laughlin as an attractive place,” said Brady, who has managed the town since 1995 on behalf of Clark County.

About 30 percent fewer people visited Laughlin in 2011 than in 2007, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Gaming revenues at its riverside resorts -- battling competition from Indian casinos in Nevada and California -- were off by 25 percent, statistics show.

ENN isn’t the only company interested in the desolate desert where road runners race across potholed two-lane roads in front of Baby Boomers on Harleys. Here, the sun shines 320 days a year and mobile phones can’t decide whether to use Pacific (Laughlin) or Mountain (Arizona) time.

Others are also looking to buy land for solar projects in the area, wrote New York-based Integra Realty Resources in an appraisal commissioned by Clark County for the 9,000-acre ENN parcel and obtained by Bloomberg through the Nevada Public Records Act.

“From what we can surmise, this is just the beginning,” Integra wrote. The firm added: “We also found that this is a highly secretive business.”


Friday, April 27, 2012

Solar-Powered Tent Concept Makes Roughing It a Little Less Rough

Camping is awesome. Except for the bugs, the lack of outlets for your gadgets, and the ongoing fear that you’ll be attacked by a wild animal while you’re doing your business in the woods. All of these issues might be resolved, however, with a solar-powered concept tent that minimizes one’s impact on the environment.
The rugged outdoors just got a little less rugged

Industrial Designer Benjamin Charles’ Leav tent concept solves the problems associated with bringing powered gadgets into the wilderness, and also appears to deliver a level of comfort that we rarely find outdoors.

Roof-top solar cells power the tent’s lighting system and supply electricity for consumer electronics. The roof also contains solar thermal panels that produce hot water, so campers won’t have to bathe in a nearby river. In addition to a bathroom with a dry toilet, the Leav also contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, a living room, and a dining room. So, it’s not exactly roughing it.

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Solar Trade War with China Threatens U.S. Jobs, Exports

THE United States and China can still step back from the brink of a trade war that would devastate the solar industry worldwide, destroying thousands of high-paying American jobs and stalling the growth of environmentally friendly renewable energy.

That's the message of the U.S. Commerce Department's recent preliminary decision setting modest tariffs on some solar panels imported from China.

While the decision could have been much more damaging, it's only a shot across the bow. On May 17, the Commerce Department will release a second decision that could place a steeper tariff on some Chinese-made solar products.

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Cost Reductions, Residential Financing, and New Ownership Models Will Drive Growth in Distributed Solar Energy Generation, According to Pike Research

Between 2006 and 2010, total global capacity of many renewable energy technologies -- including solar photovoltaics (PV), wind power, concentrated solar power (CSP), solar water heating systems, and biofuels -- grew at rates ranging from around 15% to nearly 50% annually. Solar PV, the dominant form of renewable distributed energy generation, increased the fastest of all renewable technologies during this period. In 2010, the solar PV market grew at a rate of 72%, illustrating the acceleration of solar PV deployment worldwide. One of the primary drivers for this growth has been financial incentives, typically government-funded ones. According to a recent report from Pike Research, as such incentives are reduced in some major markets, other factors -- in particular price reductions, new residential financing mechanisms, and third party ownership models -- will become the key drivers for the solar PV market for the foreseeable future.

The distributed solar energy generation market will increase from approximately $66 billion in 2010 to more than $154 billion annually by 2015, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18%, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts. During that period, the firm anticipates that total installed capacity of distributed PV will rise from 9.5 gigawatts (GW) to more than 15 GW.

“Solar PV capacity was added in more than 100 countries during 2010, and a similar number in 2011,” says research analyst Dexter Gauntlett. “The market is led by residential and commercial grid-connected PV systems and is concentrated in regions with favorable financial incentives, such as premium feed-in tariffs for PV, including Germany, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Japan, Canada, and the United States, led by California.”

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Federal Funds Start Flowing For First Solar's Antelope Project

Funds from the Department of Energy (DoE) for First Solar‘s 230 Megawatt Antelope project have started to flow in, easing concerns that the deal between First Solar and the purchaser Exelon Corp may fall apart.

The project had earlier run into trouble as the DoE refused to lend to the project because of issues in obtaining local permits. First Solar issued a warning that it could be forced to repurchase the project from Exelon if it failed to receive federal loan guarantees for the undertaking. (See: First Solar’s Solar Farm Deal Hits Regulatory Hurdle) The deal, valued around $1.36 billion, is expected to boost First Solar’s revenues from the 2nd quarter of this year. First Solar is concentrating on its systems business to drive revenues as its panels manufacturing business is facing severe competition from Chinese players such as Trina Solar.

We are looking to revise our $52.55 price estimate for First Solar, which is more than double its current market price.

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Solar Industry Fears Massive Tax Increase

When Franke Foodservice Systems built a new plant in Smyrna three years ago, the company decided to go green.
Claudia Synnatzschke, facilities Manager of Franke Foods,
stands next to solar panels that have produced electricity for
the past three years at Franke Foods USA in Smyrna.

Parking spots for employees driving low-emission vehicles sit close to the entrance. There’s a water capture system. And 167 solar panels cover 2,000 square feet of the roof, generating about 50,000 kilowatt-hours’ worth of electricity each year.

But legislation the General Assembly is considering would make it harder to make that kind of investment in solar energy, a Franke executive said.

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Q-Cells Falls to Record as Company to File for Insolvency

Q-Cells SE (QCE), once the world’s largest solar-cell maker, fell to a record low in Frankfurt trading before the German company said it will file for insolvency as soon as tomorrow.
Q-Cells Tumbles to Lowest on Insolvency Risk

Q-Cells tumbled 41 percent to 13 euro cents as of the close of trading in Frankfurt. The manufacturer held its initial public offering in October 2005, when the shares sold at 38 euros apiece.

The stock has plunged 77 percent this year as Q-Cells worked to reorganize debt while Germany’s government reduces solar subsidies and the industry fights overcapacity. Solarworld AG and Conergy AG are also struggling with competition from Chinese companies led by Suntech Power Holdings Co. that have expanded capacity, creating a glut in solar panels.

A court ruling on a separate company’s restructuring set a precedent that makes the overhaul of Q-Cells unfeasible, the Bitterfeld-Wolfen solar-panel maker said in a statement today.

“After considering several alternative concepts to implement the debt restructuring, management is convinced that the company faces too many legal risks,” Q-Cells said. “We are legally bound to file for insolvency.”

Q-Cells based its decision on a ruling in late March by the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court that required Pfleiderer AG (PFD4), a wood processing company, to seek unanimous agreement from creditors to a debt restructuring. Until that court decision, Q- Cells had planned to restructure its debt based on approval by a majority of creditors.

Q-Cells, which said on March 30 that it was exploring alternatives to the plan after reaching agreements with its main bondholders and authorities in Malaysia and Germany, also said today its board no longer sees the company as a going concern.
‘Strong Brand in Europe’

“At continuously low prices of photovoltaic cells, currently at $0.51 a watt, most manufacturers are bleeding out of cash and Q-Cells has largely depleted its options as the market is not showing signs of recovery anytime soon,” Martin Simonek, an analyst at London-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said.

“However, Q-Cells still has something that many Asian companies don’t; a strong brand in Europe,” he said today. “This could play a role, once the price is right.”

It doesn’t make sense for an industry insider to buy Q- Cells, Alla Gorelova, an analyst at Steubing AG in Frankfurt, said by phone. The larger manufacturers already have enough capacity and the smaller ones don’t have the cash, she said.

“If anything then it’s probably going to be a complete outsider, or an outsider with some existing activities in the solar market,” Gorelova said today. The company’s operations in Malaysia and to an extent, their project business, could be of value, she said.

“Q-Cells European module capacity might become of value in the future due to its location.”


Steffy : Don't blame China for Obama's solar folly

The U.S. Commerce Department recently announced import tariffs on Chinese solar panels after declaring that Beijing illegally subsidized manufacturing.

It's no coincidence that the tariffs come after the Chinese stole dominance of the solar industry from the U.S.

China, it seems, did that in part by grabbing market share with the help of government-subsidized manufacturing. If that sounds familiar, it should. The U.S. has done much the same thing, only with far less profitable results.

Back in 2005, President George W. Bush enacted a solar investment tax credit to encourage consumers and businesses to embrace solar power. The credit has been renewed twice since then, including last year by the Obama administration.

Ironically, Chinese manufacturers were a big, if unintended, benefactor. Solar panel imports from China rose to almost $2.7 billion last year from $21 million in 2005.

As the market grew, prices for solar technology fell, benefiting not just consumers and businesses, but also U.S. companies that import Chinese panels and customize them. As many as 50 percent of the imported panels are used or installed by U.S. businesses. The tariffs may drive up the cost for Americans to switch to solar power, undermining the entire purpose of our solar subsidies.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, as part of the economic stimulus, announced a loan guarantee program for U.S. companies that were developing new, and more expensive, technology.

So the tax credits drove demand for solar technology, even as the loan guarantees were encouraging companies to develop pricier products.

The result? Demand for the cheap panels from China soared, while buyers spurned the more expensive U.S.-made equipment.

In other words, China placed its bet on a product for which there was actual demand, while U.S. companies tried to up-sell customers on technology they didn't want.

Number of jobs created

As I wrote last year, the loan program was ill-conceived from the beginning. Born of the stimulus, its success was measured not in funding basic research, but by how many jobs it created.

It has paid out more than $8 billion to companies so far, but a recent report by the Department of Energy found that about a third of the recipients were on a "watch list" for violating the terms of the loans or other concerns, including financial viability, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The most famous of the program's recipients, of course, was Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy last year after receiving more than $500 million in loan guarantees.

The Solyndra debacle is a reminder of the folly that fuels the administration's solar strategy. The government ignored the market conditions it helped create - conditions that kept Solyndra from competing and that private investors had already backed away from - blinded by the allure of jobs it might create.

Looking to renewable energy as a major job creator was wishful thinking. The industry is simply too small. Even gains that sound statistically large - 200 percent, 300 percent - don't represent that many jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.1 million people worked in what could broadly be called green jobs in 2010. That's 2.4 percent of total employment nationwide for the same year, the bureau said. Its definition of green jobs, by the way, includes conservation, making weather stripping and collecting trash. The garbage man has gone green.

Getting smarter

Solar remains a promising and important technology. If the U.S. is going to diversify its energy dependence, it needs to develop sustainable solar power. But it won't happen if we don't get smarter about how we fund the transition.

We need policies that encourage solar use while encouraging a viable market in which U.S. companies can compete.

We can't trade long-term technological advancements for short-term job gains, and slapping import tariffs on Chinese panels won't hide the flameout of the administration's solar strategy.


NY Power Authority to Fund Solar Energy Projects

The New York Power Authority is launching a $30 million solar energy initiative.

The five-year program will fund solar energy research, training and demonstration projects. The goal is to bring down the cost of solar power generation so it will gain wider use.

The program is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "NY-Sun Initiative," announced during his 2012 State of the State Address.

The Power Authority says it has developed photovoltaic power installations at its headquarters in White Plains and in schools and government buildings across the state. The 122 projects sponsored to date are contributing more than 2,500 kilowatts of energy.

The agency has also allocated lower-cost power to solar-related manufacturers such as Globe Specialty Metals and Precision Electro Minerals in Niagara Falls.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

LDK Solar Announces Change to its Fourth Quarter Earnings Release Date

LDK Solar Co., Ltd. ("LDK Solar" or the "Company") LDK +2.20% , a leading vertically integrated manufacturer of photovoltaic products, today announced that it has changed the release date of its fourth quarter 2011 results originally scheduled for April 12, 2012 to April 30, 2012, as management needs additional time to finalize certain items in its fourth quarter 2011 financial results, including an impairment analysis of long-lived assets and an assessment of inventory write-downs and provisions for certain receivables. These provisions and the previously provided outlook for the fourth quarter 2011 are preliminary estimates and the Company has yet to complete its preliminary review and compilation of its financial information for the quarter. Results are subject to change based on further review by management.

The Company currently expects to announce financial results for the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2011 before the market opens on Monday, April 30, 2012. The Company will host a corresponding conference call and live webcast at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) the same day.

Fourth Quarter Conference Call Details

To listen to the live conference call, please dial 877-941-1427 (within U.S.) or 480-629-9664 (outside U.S.) at 8:00 a.m. ET on April 30, 2012. An audio replay of the call will be available through May 12, 2012, by dialing 800-406-7325 (within U.S.) or 303-590-3030 (outside U.S.) and entering the pass code 4524489#.

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Solar Power to Light Up North Central New Mexico

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC) today announced that with the addition of a new 1.5 megawatt (MW) solar array, anticipated to be completed in May 2012, all businesses and residences in north central New Mexico will receive electricity provided by solar power on sunny days. It is the largest area of land with the largest number of power consumers in New Mexico to be supplied with electricity by renewable sources. The 14-acre array will add to power already being generated from the Concentrated Photovoltaic 1 MW array built near Questa, New Mexico.

“This project represents a unique collaboration between entities that, while very different, have common goals,” said Luis Reyes, CEO of KCEC. “In addition, this array is helping create local jobs as well as provide energy independence by generating enough electricity to power 376 average New Mexico homes for an entire year.”

The new array, dubbed RCCLA Amalia Solar Array 1, was dedicated during a morning ceremony at the site located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Federal, state and local elected officials, including Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, joined the board of the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and visiting dignitaries for the ceremony.

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First Solar, MEMC Electronic Materials Among Stocks Falling to Annual Lows Monday

Here are the nine most popular stocks that hit 52-week lows:

While trading on below-average volume, First Solar (FSLR: 20.65, -0.75, -3.50%) slid today, hitting and then dropping past its previous 52-week low to $20.05. The stock price fell 3.8% after trading at a volume of 4.7 million. The stock is trading at 68.8% of its 50-day moving average and 44.7% of its 200-day moving average.

The share price of MEMC Electronic Materials (WFR: 3.49, -0.04, -1.13%) declined today, reaching and then falling even farther past its previous 52-week low of $3.36 to $3.33. The stock was trading on below-average volume. The stock price dropped 3.2% today, trading at a volume of 4.4 million. The stock is trading at 84.1% of its 50-day moving average and 71.1% of its 200-day moving average.

While trading on below-average volume, Kaydon Corporation (KDN: 24.50, +0.52, +2.17%) dipped today, hitting and then dropping past its previous 52-week low to $23.51. Shares were traded at a volume of 460,840 and fell 3.2%. The stock is trading at 70.9% of its 50-day moving average and 72.4% of its 200-day moving average.

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Here's Why First Solar Just Hit a 52-Week Low

Shares of First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR ) hit a new 52-week low on Thursday. Let's look at how it got here and see whether a stormy forecast lies in its future.

How it got here
For First Solar shareholders, the past year has been nothing short of brutal, with the stock losing more than 85% of its value. At the heart of First Solar's problems has been a glut in solar-panel supply, combined with rapidly falling prices for its panels. Despite leading the charge in solar-panel efficiency, First Solar has been unable to ward off the effects of the German government's cutting of solar subsidies by 30% going forward as well as Chinese solar companies such as Suntech Power (NYSE: STP ) and LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK ) , which, thanks to subsidies, cheap labor, and low-lending rates in China, are able to undermine First Solar's pricing advantage.

Although First Solar was able to stick to its forecasted EPS guidance of $3.75 to $4.25 in fiscal 2012, it was again forced to reduce its revenue expectations for the year by $200 million since it will be idling production capacity.

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Firewood Tops Solar for Heating in Arizona

Gary Jordan has been selling firewood for three decades and his family has been heating with it for three generations. But a few years back he got curious and looked into solar energy.

"I would love to have solar panels there at my house," said Jordan, the owner of Paul Bunyan's Firewood in Tempe. "But that initial cost, you know, it's a shocker."

Jordan's decision to stick with firewood made his home one of the 48,836 in Arizona that use firewood for heating -- 30 times the number of Arizona homes that use solar energy to keep warm.

Only 1,620 Arizona homes rely on solar-energy installations to provide heating, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, ranking sun-soaked Arizona seventh in the nation for homes using solar for solar heating.

The solar vs. wood numbers come from the Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey, which surveyed about 3 million homes over the year. The survey has 21 questions pertaining to people's homes.

Arizonans have been adding solar at a rapid clip thanks to incentives from utilities, but the ratio of solar vs. wood-heated homes has not likely changed much since the survey.

That's surprising to Joseph DiMatteo, owner of Sunpower of Arizona in Tucson.

"I would challenge it, to be honest," said DiMatteo. "I don't know of anybody that heats their home with wood. Everybody has a fireplace, but it's not for heating -- it's for show."

Arizona's adoption of solar is better than the nation's as a whole, where the number of wood-heated homes is 57 times greater than the number of homes heated with solar. But the state still trails Colorado, New Mexico and Hawaii in the number of homes using solar for heating, even though those states have fewer total homes than Arizona. For much of Arizona, cooling is of greater concern than heating.

"Wood and solar are part of the same question, and the question is which fuel is used most to heat the home?" said Chris Mazur, survey statistician for the bureau's Housing Statistics Branch. "People would have to consider that 'most' however they interpret it ... because we only take one answer."

DiMatteo, whose company has been around since the 1980s, said the cost of home solar installations -- currently anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 -- could explain solar energy's low adoption rate in Arizona. Still, he said, he expected more Arizonans to be using solar for heating.

"Certainly Arizona has been one of the primary adopters of solar energy throughout the U.S., but probably not to the extent that our solar resources would suggest we should," he said. "Part of that is cost, part of that is political ... part of that is public perception, so there's various reasons why."

Experts believe sunny Arizona has the potential to generate enough solar energy to power the entire country. And last year, Arizona added the third-most solar-energy developments, behind only California and New Jersey, according to a report released last month by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

But if Arizona is ever to take the lead in solar installations in the U.S., Arizonans have to get behind it, said Harvey Bryan, a senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability.

"California is 35 million people, and a lot of them want to have solar in their homes," said Bryan. "Arizona was later to the table ... and has not been as aggressive as California."

But as solar-installation prices continue to fall, DiMatteo expects the numbers will begin to change.

"As the price of solar electricity comes down, the adoption rate will start to come up," he said. "It's certainly becoming much, much more prevalent."

Jordan agrees that it is going to take a price drop to convince people to start thinking about solar when they think about keeping warm. In the meantime, he's not worried about his sales, which he said have consistently gone up.

"People get the enjoyment out of sitting there," Jordan said. "You get the continuous warmth from a fireplace.

"Firewood has been around since the Stone Age," he said.


Pvilion Launches UNI-SOLAR(R) Powered "Solar Sail" Charging Station

United Solar, the global manufacturer of UNI-SOLAR(R) lightweight, flexible solar products and a wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (ECD) , is proud to announce the first Solar Sail electric car charging station constructed by Pvilion using UNI-SOLAR photovoltaic (PV) laminates.

A photo accompanying this release is available at

The Solar Sail electric car charging station is located in Pflugerville, Texas, near Austin, at the entrance to Pflugerville's Renewable Energy Park. The sail was designed and constructed by New York based company, Pvilion, who designs, builds and installs flexible, artistic solar structures.

UNI-SOLAR's lightweight, flexible laminates are attached to stainless steel sheets that are twisted and tensioned to create the unique Solar Sail. The 1600 Watt Solar Sail is south facing, with each individual UNI-SOLAR panel positioned at different angles to optimize the amount of electricity produced. That electricity produced from this Solar Sail is enough to charge two electric cars per day, and because the sail is connected to the utility grid, any unused electricity will feed back into the grid. The Solar Sail also features integrated LED RGB lighting, making it even more aesthetically pleasing.

Pvilion will be hosting a reception for the Solar Sail at Pflugerville's Renewable Energy Park on Thursday, April 5, 2012 from 5-8 pm CST. Attendees can enjoy tours of the Solar Sail as well as music, food and drinks. The Solar Sail is part of a plan set forth by the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation to attract green technology companies to the city.

"Pvilion's Solar Sail provides electric car manufacturers and charging station companies with a visual landmark attraction - the WOW factor - that has been missing," said Todd Dalland, Co-Founder and President of Pvilion. "It promotes clean energy with enhanced design, solar panel technology and owner experience; a true game changer in the marketing of electric cars and solar panels."

"By seamlessly integrating our UNI-SOLAR laminates into their unique design, Pvilion was able to create the first photovoltaic electric charging station of its kind," said Ed Sosnowski, United Solar's Project Manager for Open Solar. "Pvilion is changing the way people view solar panels with its ability to design and build attractive, flexible solar powered products."

United Solar has more than 25 years experience in the solar industry, is the largest manufacturer of lightweight flexible solar panels in the world and has been awarded nearly 70 United States patents for various technological advancements.

About United Solar/UNI-SOLAR(R)

United Solar has been a global leader in building-integrated and rooftop photovoltaics for over 25 years. The company manufactures, sells and installs thin-film solar laminates that convert sunlight into clean, renewable energy using proprietary technology for which the company has been awarded over 70 U.S. patents. UNI-SOLAR(R) brand products are unique because of their flexibility, light weight, ease of installation, durability, and real-world energy production. For more information on United Solar visit or follow UNI-SOLAR on and

United Solar and its parent company Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., on February 14, 2012 filed voluntary petitions for Chapter 11 reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court the Eastern District of Michigan. More information about the Chapter 11 filing is available on the Internet at .

About Pvilion

Co-founded by Todd Dalland, Robert Lerner and Colin Touhey in 2011, Pvilion is a vertically integrated designer and manufacturer of lightweight, flexible products and structures that are integrated with flexible photovoltaic (PV) modules and LED RGB lighting. The company's products include the Solar Sail, a modular solar charging station for battery-powered vehicles. Pvilion's products bring enhanced design and owner experience to the promotion of clean energy. Pvilion's offices are in New York City, and manufacturing is done at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Pvilion is a pioneer in the development of products that integrate fabrics and flexible PV modules.


40MW Solar Energy Plant Starts Power Production

The desert state on Saturday achieved the glory of having the country's biggest solar power generation plant. The 40MW plant has been set up at Dhoodsar village near Pokhran in Jaisalmer district and the plant started power generation from Saturday.

In a grand function organised at the village, Union new and renewable energy minster Farooq Abdullah, and state chief minister Ashok Gehlot inaugurated the photovoltaic plant capable of generating 40MW power. State energy minister Jitendra Singh, Reliance chairman and managing director Anil Ambani and public representatives were also present at the event.

The function began with the guests offering floral tribute to late Dhirubhai Ambani and lit the inaugural lamp. The plant owned by Reliance Energy was built at an estimated cost of Rs 400 crore on 140 hectares of land. The plant will generate 720 lakh units of power.

On the occasion, Abdullah said India would soon become a leader in solar energy in the world and the Union government is making all efforts towards achieving this goal.

He said a lot of work is going on in the country in the power generation sector especially in taking up multi-faceted efforts to provide solar energy which in turn would strengthen the Indian economy. "Rajasthan is ideal in regard to the solar energy and this state would provide electricity to the entire country by setting up a large number of solar plants," Abdullah said.

The Union minister said the country has set target to produce 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2022. He hoped that Rajasthan alone would cross this target. He praised the solar policy of the state government and congratulated the chief minister for taking up the efforts to set up solar plants. Abdullah said India ranks fifth in regard to wind energy production in the world and the way the work is going on, "we would further move ahead". He asked Anil Ambani to set up more projects in this direction.

Abdullah further said at present 90 per cent of power generation fund is spent on coal, petrol, diesel and other natural gas. In such situation, if solar and wind energy is used then every village a new dimension would be added to this sector. He requested Anil Ambani to name this solar energy plant after Dhirubhai Ambani.

Addressing the gathering chief minister Ashok Gehlot expressed gratitude to Anil Ambani for completing the project within two years and hoped that the Reliance group will invest more in Rajasthan. Stating that Rajasthan is number one in the entire country in regard to solar energy, Gehlot ssaid there is huge scope of expansion in this sector. He said efforts are being made to set up a solar energy park in western Rajasthan and to develop the state as a solar hub.

The chief minister said the state's solar energy policy has been made incorporate more investments and provisions have been made for many relaxations to the investors. He said Rs 10,000 crore is being invested in this field and there is expectation of Rs 6,000 crore more.

State energy minister Jitendra Singh said along with conventional energy, a lot of work is going on in the state in the solar and wind energy sector. He said, "Chief minister Gehlot had earlier inaugurated a wind energy plant and today 19,00 MW wind energy is being produced in the state."

He reiterated that Rajasthan is a leader in energy sector and the chief minister has made a provision of Rs 12,500 crore in this sector. A large number of grids is being set up for solar power in the state and by next month Suratgarh and Chabra plants will start functioning, Singh said, informing that the energy sector has been taken care of in the Five Year plan. He added that 16,500 investors have come forward to invest in solar energy in the state.

Relaince CMD Anil Ambani said it is historic moment for Rajasthan as the 40Mw solar plant in Dhoodsar village started generating power. "That we will be getting 40MW power every single day is a record in itself," he said.

Praising the role of Abdullah and Gehlot, he said the plant was the result of their encouragement. Investment this sector has increased due to their efforts, Anil Ambani said. The Reliance CMD also praised the solar energy policy of the Rajasthan government and said that in two years he would set up a solar energy plant of 300MW on which Rs 6,000 crore would be spent.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China Solar Equipment Supplier's Shares Drop 4.6% After LDK, Suntech Fall

Shares in Beijing Jingyuntong Technology, a Chinese manufacturer of solar energy-related materials and equipment, dropped by 4.6% today amid worries about the business outlook at some of its best-known customers.

Shares in LDK Solar and Suntech lost 2.4% and 5% in the U.S. overnight on reports that LDK plans to lay off staff as it faces a huge debt burden. (See related story here.)

China’s solar industry has shot up the ranks of the world’s largest in recent years but critics say it relies too much on preferential government policies at home and customer subsidies from overseas governments that can no longer afford to pay.

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IKEA Powers-up Solar Energy System’s Panels at Paramus, NJ Store

IKEA, the world’s leading home furnishings retailer, today officially plugged-in the solar energy system installed at its store in Paramus, New Jersey. The 132,000-square-foot PV array consists of a 1,063-kW system, built with 4,620 panels. IKEA Paramus’ program will produce approximately 1,359,100 kWh of clean electricity annually, the equivalent of reducing 1,033 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), eliminating the emissions of 184 cars or powering 117 homes yearly (calculating clean energy equivalents at ).

This investment by IKEA reinforces the company’s long-term commitment to sustainability and confidence in photovoltaic (PV) technology. IKEA owns and operates each of its solar PV energy systems atop its buildings -- as opposed to a solar lease or PPA (power purchase agreement) -- and this Paramus installation represents the 17th completed solar energy project for IKEA in the United States, with 20 more locations underway, making the eventual U.S. solar presence of IKEA nearly 85% and a total generation of 30.8 MW.

For the development, design and installation of the Paramus store’s customized solar power system, IKEA contracted with REC Solar, one of the largest U.S. solar electric installers with more than 8,000 systems built nationwide.

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ABC Business Consulting Helps Solar Company to Triple Revenue

Expanding a business in this post-recession economy can be really tough, but ABC Business Consulting ( found many ways for a solar energy client to significantly increase business in its solar system and energy monitor products and services.

Over the last several months, ABC Business Consulting has worked closely with client Simple Energy Works to develop a business plan, strategic plan and marketing plan; a new website and web strategy; a search engine optimization strategy; a pay per click (PPC) campaign; and a comprehensive internet marketing strategy.

Randy Velker, owner of Simple Energy Works, had this to say about Frank Goley, business consultant for ABC Business Consulting:

"I have been working with Frank Goley of ABC Business Consulting for several months now. The results and benefits have been exceptional. The opportunity to consult with Frank at anytime about any business issue or opportunity has been great- he has been a great asset to our business. As a result of Frank's advice, we have seen great results, including: our energy monitor product sales have doubled; our solar system business is on track for a banner year with a three-fold increase; our targeted website visitors have increased 1,500 percent; and our website Bounce Rate is an incredibly low 5 percent! Every step of the way, Frank is accountable to his advice, closely monitoring our operations and providing follow up advice and coaching when needed. He is really great at finding us new marketing avenues and opportunities, and I value his sage advice on growing our business. If you want someone to maximize your company's profitability and increase sales, Frank is the guy to call."

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Kyocera, IHI, Mizuho to Build Japan's Biggest Solar Plant

Electronics firm Kyocera Corp , heavy machinery maker IHI Corp and Mizuho Corporate Bank said on Tuesday they have agreed to launch Japan's biggest solar power project at a cost of $307 million.

Their 70-megawatt plant will generate about 79,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year, enough for about 22,000 households, they said.

Solar capacity in Japan has risen to more than 3,500 megawatts, helped by government subsidies for solar panels on homes, though it meets less than 1 percent of the nation's power demand and the capacity is less than a quarter that of Germany.

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City Increases Solar Power Capacity

New York City has tripled its production of solar power by completing the installation of panels on 10 city-owned buildings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.

The 10 projects increase the city's total solar production to 648 kilowatts, enough to power 143 households, the mayor said at a news conference in Manhattan's Flatiron district.

"You can see panels on the roof on a fire department truck-repair facility in Queens, and there are solar panels on schools, firehouses, police precincts and other buildings," Mr. Bloomberg said. "In clean tech, New York City government, I think, is leading by example."

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Ambassador Energy's Director of Solar Training Gives the Term "Girl Power" New Meaning

When hired to lead the training team at Ambassador Energy, Kelso was already highly-qualified with one North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners [NABCEP] certificates. Now, after earning her second, she became one of only a handful of women with two.

Catherine Kelso cut her teeth in the solar industry in 2005, working in both California and Oregon. She first became a NABCEP Certified PV Installer in 2010, and this month earned the other highly-prized credential, NABCEP PV Technical Sales professional.

Kelso’s job at ISPQ-accredited Ambassador Energy is to lead the training program, crafting new solar PV courses, teaching the five-day course for the NABCEP Entry Level exam, teaching preparation classes for NABCEP exams, guest-speaking at colleges, training electrical, roofing and building contractors, and finding new ways to raise the bar on solar PV education and installation. She directs all of the course activity at Ambassador Energy College.

“The solar industry is full of people jumping in and trying to quickly learn it,” Kelso said. “But, it takes quite a bit of education to become an expert, especially in a business that is constantly evolving. I’m really happy to be one of a few women in the industry with my credentials, but I am even happier to be a part of driving quality to an industry which can easily fall prey to mass entry of unqualified installers.”

“For me,” she continued, “NABCEP is a big part of quality control. It’s the certificate that the US recognizes and one you can hold in your hand. But the real work is continuing to grow through constant education and experience. You can’t just get certified and forget about it. We have a responsibility to our clients to continue to hone our skills in the field and through educational programs like NABCEP, whose Continuing Education [CE] credits are mandatory. While those CE credits are always a pain, I am happy that the benchmark is high. The only way the solar industry will stay quality-driven is with programs like NABCEP.”

Also dual NABCEP-credentialed, Ambassador Energy CEO Steve Fulgham said, “We are very proud of Catherine. She is an integral part of our culture of training and education. She lives and breathes it. We laugh because she can almost never be caught without a calculator in her pocket.”

About Ambassador Energy
Ambassador Energy [AE] has a three-pronged business model, including Ambassador Energy College Solar Training, the Ambassador Energy Agency Program and Ambassador Energy, an EPC contractor. On staff are NABCEP Certified PV Installers, NABCEP Certified PV Technical Sales professionals [Fulgham/Kelso] and multiple NABCEP EL graduates. AE Agencies are nationwide. Ambassador Energy EPC installs PV throughout California.


Natural Homes and Trend Magazine Debut Zero Energy Solar Home in Santa Fe

On Saturday March 17th, Alan Hoffman of Natural Homes and Cynthia Canyon of Trend Magazine hosted the premier of a new line of Zero Energy Solar Homes being built by Renaissance Builders. The goal of attaining cost effective homes with little or no annual utility bills has been the stuff of wishful thinking, but it is finally here.

The sustainable home premiered includes custom features like hand plastered walls, beamed ceilings, solid stone counter tops and expansive covered patios and was built for less then some conventional custom homes being built today in Santa Fe. What Renaissance includes at no additional cost is the state of the art in super insulated walls and ceilings, efficient boilers, lighting and appliances, whole house heat recovery ventilation and 3.4 Kilowatts of solar panels on the roof. This is enough energy savings and solar electric generation to attain close to a net zero utility bill and at least a couple residents of similar homes make a net annual profit, through careful use of their energy. They actually get a check from the utility company. And to top it off, every buyer of a Zero Energy Home gets State and Federal tax credits, as much as $20,000.

One host of the premier event was Alan Hoffman of Natural Homes, a Green Real Estate marketing group within Logic Real Estate of Santa Fe. Alan has been designing and marketing Solar Homes since 1977 and is championing the state of the art certified, energy efficient homes. "Solar homes took a big step forward with the support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, expanding the national LEED program with crucial research and tax credits". (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Co-host, Cynthia Canyon is the founder of Trend Magazine and is celebrating the upcoming premier of Eco Trend source magazine in April. "Sustainable living is the fastest growing mega-trend I have ever seen, Eco Trend Source Magazine will cover all aspects of Green building, Earth friendly design and diverse lifestyles".

The home premiered is known as the Summa House and was rebuilt when the original home burnt down. Alan Hoffman sold the original house to the Summa family 22 years ago when it was the state of the art at the time when energy was cheap. Mr. Hoffman said "We will be analyzing the efficiency of this home now that it's 3.45 Kilowatt solar array has been connected to the electric grid". The construction of the home, was followed by the Santa Fe Real Estate Guide magazine, in a series of articles.

The opening reception brought out green business leaders, interested home buyers and members of the environmental community.State Representative Brian Egolf, one of the most productive members of the New Mexico State Legislature was seen there. He played a roll in the creation of Green legislation and continues to bring forward significant legislation to expand energy self-reliance and environmental improvement.


Solar Officials Don't Want TVA to Put the Brake on Incentives

Sitting in a side yard off Middlebrook Pike, soaking in the sun on a bright March day, the solar system at the offices of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a testament to the economic potential of the solar industry to Tennessee, said Stephen Smith, executive director of the organization.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's new solar
panel system on Middlebrook Pike received its final
inspection from the Knox County Community Action
Committee last week

The panels in the 9.36-volt array were made by Sharp at a facility in Memphis. The system itself was designed and installed by Knoxville-based Green Earth Solar LLC. When the Hemlock Semiconductor plant in Clarksville, Tenn., comes online later this year, the polysilicon making up the panels in systems like this will also be produced in Tennessee, Smith said.

It will be possible to have a solar system with the production of raw materials, manufacture of individual components, and design and construction of the system all accomplished by workers in Tennessee companies.

"One reason we have been really pushing TVA to be supportive of this industry is that Tennessee is well-positioned to be a leader in the solar manufacturing world," Smith said.

The solar industry has been growing in Tennessee, but Smith and some industry leaders say it faces a difficult period in which state and federal incentives are shrinking and state legislation would raise taxes on solar installations.

These developments could add significantly to the cost of installing a solar system, and on top of that are changes to TVA programs that helped birth the solar and renewable industries in Tennessee, Smith said. In particular, Smith said TVA's Generation Partners program, which provides incentives on power TVA buys from renewable sources, has been refocused on smaller renewable projects, such as solar systems installed on homes and small businesses, to the detriment of larger solar projects.

It's the larger projects, Smith said, that drive economies of scale that will make solar power as economically viable as other power sources.

"I am afraid we are going to go from having a very good solar market employing a lot of people to where the industry will stagnate and falter," Smith said.

Overall, the solar industry made gains in the United States during 2011, with 1,855 megawatts of solar systems installed, 109 percent growth over 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

According to a report released in December by the Tennessee Solar Institute, the solar industry in Tennessee has grown despite a tough economy. In 2008, Tennessee had fewer than 1.3 kilowatts of installed solar capacity — enough to power 20 percent of the electricity needs of one home — but by the end of 2012, the capacity of solar systems installed in the state is expected to exceed 23 megawatts. The industry has produced about 6,400 jobs, and Tennessee now ranks 22nd in the nation in installed solar systems, according to the Tennessee Solar Institute.

The institute and TVA are partnering to host the 2012 Tennessee Valley Solar Solutions Conference, April 10-11, at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis. Industry leaders, policy makers, solar providers and others will gather to share information, tour area solar installations and hear keynote speaker Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association.

Though it has grown, the industry is very dependent on TVA as a market for its power and still dependent on the incentives that TVA provides, Smith said. That's why there is concern over changes TVA has made in Generation Partners, he said.

Generation Partners supplies the renewable energy for another TVA program, Green Power Switch, in which consumers agree to buy certain amounts of energy produced by renewable or green sources. TVA spokesman Mike Bradleysaid TVA tries to balance the supply and demand between the two programs and that has led to changes.

In June 2010, TVA announced it was suspending the Generation Partners program because of excess demand. At the time, Generation Partners was available for systems up to 1 megawatt and paid participants a premium of 12 cents per kilowatt hour above the retail rate for solar as well as 3 cents per kilowatt hour above the retail rate for other renewable sources, including wind and biomass.

The program was limited to 200 megawatts of power generation and $50 million in total power purchases, and TVA said it had received many more applications in a short period of time than anticipated. Bradley said the program had simply outgrown demand and the revenues available to support it.

Right away, members of the solar industry put pressure on TVA, which agreed to reinstate the program; however, when it did, it was limited to systems of no more than 200 kilowatts.

"When you went from 1 megawatt back to 200 kilowatts, it orphaned everything from 200 kilowatts up," Smith said.

To help the larger systems, in fall 2010, TVA made its Renewable Standard Offer available. This was for systems from 201 kilowatts to 20 megawatts. It pays based on the demand in different seasons and different times of day but averages 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour. However, Smith said this is not paid above retail, but is just a flat payment, like a power purchase agreement, and was still not enough incentive for larger systems.

"When they went to this Renewable Standard Offer, they pretty much choked off the market for larger systems," Smith said.

In fall 2011, TVA was again concerned that supply and demand between its two green power programs was out of balance and limited the availability of Generation Partners to systems of up to 50 kilowatts. TVA also changed the name of the program to Green Power Providers. Under the program, participants get an initial $1,000 incentive and are paid the retail rate for power plus a premium of 12 cents per kilowatt hour for solar along with 3 cents per kilowatt hour for wind, biomass and small hydro projects. Contracts are also extended from 10 to 20 years.

"And they did hear us and others in the industry say this RSO is choking off the industry. So they came up with a special provision they called SSI," Smith said.

That stands for Solar Solutions Initiative. Launched this year, this pilot program is available to those taking part in the Renewable Standard Offer. It pays a premium of 6 cents per kilowatt hour for systems between 50 and 200 kilowatts and 4 cents per kilowatt hour for systems between 200 and 1,000 kilowatts. Smith said this is still not sufficient to help those doing larger systems.

"For a commercial building, like a Walmart, you could put hundreds of kw on there. FedEx has some buildings over in Memphis where they are talking about putting a whole megawatt on them," he said.

Andrew Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, said many of those in the solar industry are not thrilled about the Solar Solutions Initiative program.

"Some of our installers here in Tennessee don't think they can build even at those prices, but that remains to be seen. They just started the program at the end of January. Hopefully it will work," he said.

Gil Melear-Hough, president of the board for the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association and manager of the renewable energy division of Oak Ridge-based RSI — Restoration Services Inc., said installation of solar systems has been brisk this year, but much of that is due to installers trying to finish projects that were in the pipeline under previous Generation Partners guidelines. His company does not have many orders for later in the year.

"There has been a big rush, but installers are seeing a dramatic lack of interest in larger systems," he said.

Solar industry representatives will continue trying to work with TVA on its programs, Johnson said.

"It is a delicate situation, with the solar industry and TVA trying to be as cooperative and collaborative as we can, and I would say they are really trying to reach out to the solar industry and make these incentives work," he said.

Bradley said the Green Power Providers program is, nevertheless, doing well. Since it was initiated in the fall, it has 103 megawatts of solar generation either operating or approved. It was necessary to refocus the program on smaller-scale projects that are more sustainable so as to balance that program with Green Power Switch and make it more sustainable, he said. Even with the recent changes, TVA expects to spend about $5 million more in incentives for Green Power Providers than annual revenues from Green Power Switch, he said.

The changes have also been made because TVA wanted its program to remain focused on the smaller projects for which it was originally intended, Bradley said. Although renewable systems of less than 50 kilowatts made up more than 80 percent of projects in Generation Partners through last summer, they only accounted for 11 percent of the program's megawatt capacity, he said.

TVA wants its renewable energy programs to be paid for by those who voluntarily participate and not by ratepayers, Bradley said. Also, as renewable industries grow, TVA wants to wean them off incentives.

TVA has announced goals of increasing its use of renewable energy. Its Integrated Resource Plan, which lays out a long-range plan for TVA to meet energy demand needs, calls for at least 50 percent of its power generation to be based on green or renewable sources by 2020. However, Smith noted that currently renewables make up only a small part of the TVA energy portfolio.

In 2010, out of a systemwide capacity of 26,697 megawatts, TVA produced 5,492 megawatts of that power through renewable sources, the utility said. Of that total, 5,490 megawatts were produced through hydroelectric means, leaving about 2 megawatts accounted for by solar, wind, biomass and other renewable sources.

Meanwhile, the solar industry faces other challenges. Incentives through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other programs are going away. Solar companies also face the challenge of legislation advocated by the state comptroller and pending in the Legislature that would require that the value of any public utility, commercial or industrial property "that generates electricity using machinery and equipment from a certified green energy production facility" to be taxed at up to one-third of the installed cost of the equipment, instead of salvage value, as currently. A Senate committee passed the bill March 20.

Johnson said his organization will be talking with the comptroller and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, one of the sponsors of the bill, to get the bill changed.

"If the bill passes as was originally written, it would seriously jeopardize the solar industry," he said.

One thing that would help the renewable energy industry in Tennessee is if the state adopted a renewable portfolio standard, Johnson and Melear-Hough said. This is a regulation requiring a power company to produce a certain amount of its electricity from renewable energy sources. About 30 states have such a requirement. Tennessee and most other Southern states do not; however, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia have them. North Carolina requires power providers to produce 12.5 percent of their electricity through renewable sources by 2021, West Virginia requires 25 percent power from renewables by 2025 and Virginia requires 15 percent by 2025.

Such a requirement would give a boost to green companies and add some certainty to the marketplace, Melear-Hough said.

"Basically, it lets private companies know there is going to be a market," he said. "Right now, TVA could say, 'We have enough renewable energy,' and offer nothing next year."

Melear-Hough said he understands the need to wean renewable industries off incentives, but he doesn't agree with TVA on the rate at which it should happen.

"We want orderly, sustained development," he said. "You can offer us less, but gradually, over time. Let's build the market."