Friday, August 31, 2012

Solar Solution: Greening Telecom in India

Telecommunication installations contribute greatly to atmospheric pollution. Globally telecommunications comprises 35% of the total Information and Communications Technology (ICT) contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. And in India it’s even higher because of the aggressive growth in the telecom sector.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), India currently has 3,100,000 tower sites out of which over 30,000 are in off-grid areas. However, the majority are run by diesel generators, whether on-grid or off, due to the intermittent power supply. The total annual consumption of diesel fuel by these towers is 2 billion litres, as a result of which 5 megatons of CO2 is produced annually. A total of 8 megatons CO2 is emitted by towers due to annual grid electricity consumption.

TRAI’s renewable energy goal

TRAI has recently made it mandatory for telecom companies to use renewable sources of energy for powering their towers. At least 50% of towers and 20% of the urban towers are to be powered by hybrid energy sources (renewable and grid) by 2015. In the second phase, the telecom companies will be required to convert 75% of the rural towers and 33% of the urban towers to run on hybrid power. Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is supporting off-grid solar telecom applications by providing capital subsidy of 30% to a maximum subsidy of Rs 90 per watt peak. Alternatively, soft loans at 5% interest rate subsidized by India Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) for such projects along with other benefits such as accelerated depreciation. However, the support is restricted to only 100 towers per company and will be insignificant to fuel renewable energy growth in telecom.

Business threat and opportunities for Telecom players

Installation of steel structure and solar panels with local villagersEnergy costs for telecom operations have been rising and are currently about 30% of the total cost. Due to frequent power cuts, telecom operators depend heavily on diesel which costs around Rs 20 per unit of electricity as compared to commercial grid electricity price of around Rs. 5 per unit. Upon switching to solar there would be savings of $1.4 billion in operating expenses for telecom tower companies spent on diesel annually as per TRAI.

Uncertainty on diesel subsidy

If diesel subsidies are cut, the annual expenditure to power the towers would increase to INR 150 billion, which would be equivalent to the capital expense required over the next 10 years at current electricity demand to solarise around 500,000 network towers. Coincidentally that is the number of towers expected in the near future. However, now the main obstacle before the telecom operators is the finance required for this. Each tower costs Rs 40 Lakh and there will be an additional cost of Rs16 Lakh for installing the solar panels, which will almost double the cost of installing solar-powered towers. Another challenge for operators is diesel theft, which is as high as 20%. Moving to solar would lessen this issue.

Solar telecom project

India's first solar/grid telecommunications project executed by Alta for Viom Networks in a grid-deficit location, Kolar, which is about a 70 minute drive from Bangalore. The project was initially powered by 1 KW diesel-generated (DG) grid power system with per day grid supply of 9 hours at Rs. 7/ KWh and DG run time 12 hours and battery run time 3 hours. Upon implementation of Solar/Grid power system costing around 15.1 Lakhs for 1 KW load, per day average supply from solar panels is 6 hours, Grid 9 hours and battery 9 hours. Monthly operating expense comes out to be around Rs. 6166 (average cost of Rs. 9/ KWh) which includes panel cleansing cost of Rs. 1000, Grid cost (to power BTS and charge battery) Rs. 2785 and battery (48V 600Ah- 2 units) cost of Rs. 2381. This led to overall reduction in operating expenses by as high as 86% and cutting down CO2 emissions by 21 Tons per year with payback period of 3 years and will lead to cumulative savings of 68.1 lakhs above capital cost over 10 years.

Road ahead

Mr. Teckkee Shih, CTO, Alta Energy, talks about a new business model for tower companies, which charge a fixed rate on operating expenses for a solar powered telecom system along with a monthly lease rental, which leads to higher return on investment and lower risk. He added, “A more sensible approach will be to start solarising all new sites coming on stream. The new solar power sites will have 90% savings on opex, this savings can be used to pay for the solar system. The next step will be to identify single tendency sites in off-grid locations that are suitable for retrofit (10% of 70,000 off-grid sites). Those are the sites which are most costly to operate; calculated total cost can be as high as Rs92/kWh.” Last but not the least, regulatory authorities need to support the telecom industry in implementing innovate and effective business models since for achieving “sustainability” in telecom operations, the stakeholders should first be able to achieve sustainability in their business operations.


5 Steps to Make the Business Case for Solar

While experts predict dramatic increases in U.S. solar generation in the next few years as panel prices fall and the market continues to mature, an invisible hurdle must first be overcome. Businesses that own or lease commercial property have great difficulty identifying and authorizing cost-effective solar projects in time to leverage available incentives and favorable market conditions. They have to evaluate the business case for solar on each property in their portfolio and monitor the projected returns over time. The analysis is highly complex; each project is idiosyncratic, and the results are time-sensitive.

Alta Energy, an independent solar analytics and procurement company, has just released a new report, “Making the Business Case for Solar,” which provides a clear five-step process for owners of shopping centers, corporate campuses, industrial facilities and other commercial properties to make sound solar decisions. The report includes a detailed presentation that internal staff can utilize to educate company decision-makers and get timely authorizations for cost-effective projects.

Five steps for making the business case for commercial solar

Alta Energy’s five-step process for making sound solar decisions is summarized below. Download the free report for more details.

Step 1: Understand your corporate goals. The first step in making the business case for specific solar projects is to understand why your company is considering solar power. This will help you determine what information you need to include in your solar analysis, as well as how to present the information to your colleagues. The report identifies the critical questions to consider at this stage and includes a checklist of factors to consider.

Step 2: Determine your company’s criteria for a viable solar project. While there may be a minimum ROI hurdle corporate-wide (and/or other financial metrics), there may be significant solar-specific criteria and/or non-financial criteria as well. There also may be factors that are difficult to quantify, such as the impact of solar projects on the company’s brand image and corporate reputation.

Step 3: Understand the choices involved in commercial solar projects. In order make sense of your company’s solar options – and present them coherently to company decision-makers – you’ll need to develop an understanding of all aspects of the solar development process, as well as the players involved. The report provides detailed information about the four major elements in a commercial solar project: ownership structure, government/utility incentives, technology and vendor type. These elements are interrelated in complex ways, and your choices for each potential solar project will significantly affect its economic value.

Step 4: Analyze your portfolio to identify the best projects. Your own thorough, objective analysis is the cornerstone of your business case. You will need a consistent analytical framework to evaluate all of the properties in your company’s portfolio, providing an objective, systematic way to make a “go/no-go” decision on each potential property – and track each property’s solar potential as market and policy conditions change. Alta Energy’s report defines the elements of a comprehensive, robust model and identifies some serious dangers related to potential biases in the data.

Step 5: Present your recommendations to company decision-makers. The report includes a sample presentation for educating company decision-makers about potential solar projects and providing the information needed to make smart solar investment decisions. The presentation contains examples of the reports from Alta Energy’s solar analytics model,
which commercial property owners can utilize to evaluate and track their portfolio.

These five steps give commercial property owners a rational, objective way to identify cost-effective solar projects and move quickly when the time is right, deploying solar power in ways that make economic sense.


REC Receives Global Customer Value Enhancement Award from Frost & Sullivan for Solar Industry

Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), the largest European supplier of solar modules, has been honored with Frost & Sullivan's 2011 Global Customer Value Enhancement Award in the solar power market. REC was the only solar company chosen because of its demonstrated commitment to being a highly competitive solar energy solutions provider that creates superior value for its customers.

"We are very pleased to be recognized by Frost & Sullivan for our efforts to reduce production costs and energy consumption to provide customers with greater accessibility to high-quality solar modules, improving their return on investment," commented Luc Grare, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Cells and Modules, REC. "We continue to build long-term partnerships with distributors and installers through the REC Partner and REC Solar Professional Programs, and ensure solar energy customers gain added value with our focus on solar from silicon production through to systems."

Frost & Sullivan specifically highlighted REC's innovative strength, technical expertise, big investments in R&D as well as its customer-centric approach. REC's key achievements are the introduction of its proprietary Fluidized Bed Reactor (FBR) technology, which makes solar power solutions more accessible to customers across the globe, and its commitment to partnership through its industry leading partner and certified installer program.

"Reducing the manufacturing costs of solar panels can reduce solar electricity costs and put it on par with conventional sources of electricity generation, thereby increasing its uptake", said Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Georgina Benedetti. "Since no other market participant uses the FBR technology, REC has developed a distinct competitive edge by delivering high value for money to its customers."

The Frost & Sullivan Award is presented each year to the company within a particular industry that has demonstrated excellence in implementing strategies that proactively create value for its customers with a focus on improving the return on the investment that customers make in its services or products. The Award recognizes the company's inordinate focus on enhancing the value that its customers receive, beyond simply good customer service, leading to improved customer retention and ultimately customer base expansion.

About REC:

REC is a leading vertically integrated solar energy company. REC produces polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules for the solar industry, and silicon materials for the electronic industry. REC also engages in project development in selected PV segments. Founded in Norway in 1996, REC employs around 3,200 people globally with revenues of more than NOK 13 billion in 2011, approximately EUR 1.7 billion or USD 2.4 billion. Please visit to learn more about REC.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Big Military Solar Project Expands To New Bases

SolarCity has embarked on the second phase of Project SolarStrong, a billion dollar initiative to install solar panels on 120,000 units of privately managed U.S. military housing.

The Silicon Valley startup will put 18,000 photovoltaic panels on 850 residences at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in California and the Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases in Colorado Springs, Colo. The housing is managed by Lend Lease, the Australian property and infrastructure giant, and the solar project is being financed by Bank of America and U.S. Bancorp.

“The United States military is aggressively pursuing reductions in its fossil fuel energy use – SolarStrong gives privatized military housing communities an affordable way to use solar electricity,” Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s chief executive said in a statement.

A $344 million federal loan guarantee that originally was to underwrite SolarStrong fell through shortly after SolarCity announced the project in September 2011.

But two months later, the company and Bank of America said SolarStrong would move forward without a loan guarantee, thanks to the bank’s positive experience in financing another large solar project with a mix of debt and equity. Such projects still qualify for a 30% incentive tax credit through the end of 2016 and a 75% plunge in prices for photovoltaic modules over the past three years has made them increasingly attractive.

SolarStrong has been downsized from the original plans to generate 371 megawatts from 160,000 photovoltaic installations on military bases in 33 states. But it still stands as the largest single rooftop solar project in the U.S.

When the California and Colorado projects are completed by early next year they will produce about 4.2 megawatts, generating between 30% and 60% of the electricity consumed by the residences, according to SolarCity.

SolarCity, which has filed for an initial public offering, previously installed solar arrays on Lend Lease-managed housing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu and the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.


Solar Acquisitions Doubled to Record $10.8 Billion

The value of acquisitions of solar photovoltaic plants more than doubled to $10.8 billion in 2011 as developers sold projects to longer-term investors, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

A record 3.9 gigawatts of projects changed hands last year, up 122 percent from 2010, the London-based consultant said in a report published today. Subsidy cuts across Europe affecting new projects drove up demand for solar projects already under way.

The gains reflect efforts by developers to cash in on investments in projects that reaped the highest level of government-backed subsidies, which have been cut in the past year across Europe. Buyers were eager to tap guaranteed returns in many cases more than double the yields of the safest government bonds.

“The boom in solar PV in Spain and Italy, driven by unsustainable feed-in tariffs, left a pool of assets generating very attractive cash flows,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance. Developers “are selling to longer-term investors with a lower cost of capital, who are happy with returns of between 5 percent and 15 percent.”

The most active market for acquisition was Italy, with 540 megawatts purchased, including 242 megawatts sold by Athens- based construction company Terna SA. The U.S. had the five biggest deals by capacity, all for solar parks under construction.

Worldwide, 2.8 gigawatts of the sales last year consisted of finished or partly-completed projects, while 1.1 gigawatts were sites with permits where work hadn’t begun.

Buyers’ valuations of photovoltaic projects have fallen by about 44 percent from their peak in 2008. That year, global average sales values were 6.4 million euros per megawatt ($8 million), compared with 3.6 million euros a megawatt in 2011.


ESA Renewables Expands to Central and South America

ESA Renewables, LLC expands their turnkey solar solutions portfolio into the regions of Central and South America. 

ESA Renewables (ESA), recognized as a global leader in providing turnkey solar solutions, announces their expansion into Central America, South America and additional surrounding markets.

ESA is seeking strategic partnerships in their effort to bring innovative solar development projects to Central and South America. The company is in the process of developing projects consisting of more than 150 megawatts (MWs), including a 20 MW installation in the Caribbean which is anticipated to be installed in the third quart of this year.  Other areas of potential expansion include Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador, Chile, Brazil, Columbia, Panama, and the neighboring regions.

“We are excited to take on this new endeavor and to offer our solar solutions into fresh markets,” said Jeffrey Burkett, President of ESA Renewables. “ESA is committed to growing the Central and South American markets to increase the company’s overall solar portfolio.”

ESA’s goal is to secure instrumental partnerships with industry leaders, enabling important steps to be taken to break into Central and South America. ESA understands the importance of quality and, therefore, focuses on forming relationships with companies who provide value and support ESA’s overall mission of providing sustainable and reliable installations. The company recognizes that creating valued relationships is crucial in procuring technologically superior products and services for further solar expansion.

"The solar industry is anticipated to undergo rapid growth in the coming years, thus making it essential to initiate expansion into currently untapped territory,” Lindsay Herold, Contract Administrator for ESA Renewables.

ESA Renewables has successfully expanded multiple new markets over the past year, proving the company is highly scalable and an ideal candidate to venture into this new territory. ESA has a large variety of development opportunities currently under progress in their pipelines for 2012 and 2013 and have set aside funds to develop in new markets.

Solar Power Shines In Electric Car Industry

The electric vehicle (EV) market is set for take-off, but unless renewable energy is used in the charging systems or within the vehicle design, owners are still using fossil fuels for transportation.
Electric car being charged from solar panels designed to resemble a tree.

Photovoltaics (PV) are poised to play a vital role in the transport sector. Not only is PV being used to power EVs but some companies now produce PV modules that can be retrofitted to hybrid EVs such as the Toyota Prius to extend their range and economy. An example is Solar Electric Vehicles, which was founded in 2005 with the aim of enhancing the performance of HEVs through the use of solar energy. The roof-mounted modules on a Toyota Highlander hybrid are based on mono-crystalline PV cells that are used in conjunction with an additional battery pack. The unit designed for the Prius generates 215 Watts and provides this vehicle with up to 30 miles per day in the battery solar mode. It also yields improved fuel economy of between 34 and 60%, depending on driving habits, speed, and road conditions. An interesting factory-fitted option on the Prius is solar-powered air conditioning. A solar panel is fitted in the optional glass sunroof and is used to power a fan to keep the vehicle ventilated. The air conditioning can be switched on remotely using the key fob, cooling the car for up to three minutes before you enter.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Italy’s Solar Rules May Lead to Investment Cuts, Repubblica Says

Italy’s new solar-power policy may prompt renewable-energy companies to reduce investments in the country, la Repubblica reported, citing an interview with Piero Manzoni, chief executive officer of Falck Renewables SpA. (FKR)

The new rules, which include subsidy cuts for future projects, introduce a number of bureaucratic obstacles penalizing the industry, Repubblica cited Manzoni as saying. The legislation, which will take effect Aug. 27, may push Falck and other companies to invest elsewhere, he said, according to the Rome-based newspaper.

Annual subsidies for photovoltaic energy in Italy surpassed 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion), the industry’s regulator GSE SpA said in a July 12 statement. The new measures are designed to rein in a boom in installations that’s made Italy the world’s second-biggest solar market after Germany in less than two years, the government said earlier this month.


Comtec Distributing Selects Westinghouse Solar Panels to Expand Energy Efficiency Product Distribution Business

Westinghouse Solar, Inc. WEST -6.67% , a designer and manufacturer of solar power systems, today announced that Comtec Distributing has selected Westinghouse Solar as their exclusive supplier of solar power systems to support expansion of their line of energy efficiency products.

Comtec Distributing has a network of dealers serving markets in Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin.

"The plug-and-play simplicity of the Westinghouse Solar Instant Connect(TM) AC panels makes them the perfect solution to enable distributors to establish or grow their product line," said Gary Mull, VP of Sales and Marketing for Westinghouse Solar. "With 80% less parts compared to ordinary solar power systems, the solution is easy to sell and install, requires less training and support, and carries a trusted American brand."

"For twenty years Comtec Distributing has been distributing products that deliver energy efficiency and comfort to thousands of homeowners. The decision to add a solar division is a natural extension of our existing business. In researching the market, we quickly recognized the tremendous advantage that Westinghouse Solar Power Systems deliver. The ability to sell a differentiated product that is easy to sell, install and support, and looks great on our customer's rooftop, drove the dynamics of the business decision. Comtec Distributing is excited about the opportunity to distribute Westinghouse Solar's innovative Instant Connect integrated modular solar power system," said Frank Paolinetti, President for Comtec Distributing.

About Comtec Distributing

Established in 1993, Comtec Distributing serves an extensive network of retail dealers with high quality and efficient heating and cooling products serving markets in Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin. Realizing the importance of renewable energy, Comtec Distributing has recently added wind and solar to their existing product lines. For more information about the Comtec dealer network call 800-795-5925.

About Westinghouse Solar: WEST -6.67%

Founded in 2001, Westinghouse Solar is a designer and manufacturer of solar power systems. In 2007, Westinghouse Solar pioneered the concept of integrating the racking, wiring and grounding directly into the solar panel. This revolutionary solar panel, originally branded "Andalay", quickly won industry acclaim. In 2009, the company again broke new ground with the first integrated AC solar panel, reducing the number of components for a rooftop solar installation by approximately 80 percent and lowering labor costs by approximately 50 percent. This AC panel, which won the 2009 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award, has become the industry's most widely installed AC solar panel. A new generation of products named "Instant Connect" has just been introduced and is expected to achieve even greater market acceptance. Award-winning Westinghouse Solar Power Systems provide the best combination of safety, performance and reliability, while backed by the proven quality of the Westinghouse name. For more information on Westinghouse Solar, visit .


IKEA Plugs-in New Solar Energy System at Pittsburgh-Area Store

IKEA, the world's leading home furnishings retailer, today officially plugged-in the new solar energy system installed at its Pittsburgh-area store in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. The 86,800-square-foot PV array consists of a 694-kW system, built with 2,884 panels. IKEA Pittsburgh's program will produce approximately 852,200 kWh of clean electricity annually, the equivalent of reducing 648 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), eliminating the emissions of 115 cars or powering 73 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. Since 2000, IKEA Pittsburgh hosted a 31kW PPA (power purchase agreement) array that was removed to facilitate installation of the new system, owned and operated by IKEA. Including this system now operational at IKEA Pittsburgh, there are 22 completed solar energy projects for IKEA in the United States, with 17 more locations underway, making the eventual U.S. solar presence of IKEA nearly 89% with a total generation of 38 MW.

For the development, design and installation of the Pittsburgh store's customized solar power system, IKEA contracted with REC Solar, Inc., a national leader in solar electric system design and installation with more than 8,000 systems built across the U.S.

"Our mission is to create a better everyday life for the many people, and at IKEA Pittsburgh, we just added to this effort," said Terri Noble, store manager. "This solar energy system will help reduce the store's carbon footprint and represents another investment toward our future in this community. We appreciate the support of the Robinson Township, PECO and REC Solar, Inc., our partners in this project."

IKEA, drawing from its Swedish heritage and respect of nature, believes it can be a good business while doing good business and aims for its operations to minimize impacts on the environment. Globally, IKEA evaluates all locations regularly for energy conservation opportunities, integrates innovative materials into product design, works with Global Forest Watch to maintain sustainable resources, and flat-packs goods for efficient distribution. Specific U.S. sustainable efforts include: recycling waste material (paper, wood, plastic, etc.); incorporating environmental measures into the construction of buildings in terms of energy-efficient HVAC and lighting systems, recycled construction materials, skylights in warehouse areas, and water conserving restrooms; and operationally, eliminating plastic bags from the check-out process, phasing out the sale of incandescent light bulbs and facilitating recycling of customers' compact fluorescent bulbs. IKEA also has installed electric vehicle charging stations at nine stores in the Western U.S.

Located on 14.2 acres along Park Manor Boulevard off the new I-376 corridor in Robinson Township, the 221,000-square-foot IKEA Pittsburgh opened in July 1989. In addition to 10,000 exclusively designed items, the store presents 35 different room-settings, a supervised children's play area, and a 180-seat indoor/outdoor restaurant serving Swedish specialties such as meatballs with lingonberries and salmon plates, as well as American dishes. Other family-friendly features include preferred parking, a 'Children's IKEA' area in the accessories Marketplace, and play areas throughout the store. IKEA also offers a product picking and delivery service, and free membership to the IKEA Family loyalty program.

IKEA strives to be 'The Life Improvement Store,' and since its 1943 founding in Sweden, has offered home furnishings of good design and function, at low prices so the majority of people can afford them. There are currently more than 330 IKEA stores in 40 countries, including 38 in the U.S. IKEA incorporates sustainable efforts into day-to-day business and supports initiatives that benefit children and the environment. For more information,


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Winner of Solar Guide's Latest Prize Draw Announced

Back in December 2011 Alan Beal from Leatherhead, Surrey approached Solar Guide with a view to sourcing quotes for a new solar PV installation. Fast forward seven months and a delighted Mr Beal has just been revealed as the lucky winner of a GBP 100 Amazon gift certificate courtesy of Solar Guide.

Solar Guide's customers are asked to rate and review companies who undertake solar panel installations and by leaving feedback for Solar Essence - the company who carried out the installation - Mr Beal's name was entered into a prize draw, which gives one lucky customer the chance to win an Amazon gift certificate every six months.

Solar Guide operates a transparent feedback system and these reviews are essential to the service Solar Guide provides its customers. As the company's founder David Holmes explains:

"Solar Guide is the go to place for homeowners who want to cut their energy bills and generate their own renewable energy by installing solar panels. We can put customers in touch with recommended and accredited solar installers and our feedback system is essential to ensuring the highest standards of customer satisfaction are met with every installation.

"Every customer who instructs one of our solar installers can leave feedback on our website and by doing so they get entered into our prize draw to win a GBP 100 Amazon gift certificate(i). It's our way of saying thank you to our customers who take the time to rate and review the services of our solar installers.

"Mr Beal has been selected as our latest prize winner and I would like to congratulate him on his recent solar PV installation."

An online directory of trustworthy solar installers, Solar Guide has established itself as a leading online resource of solar energy professionals. Homeowners looking for free non obligatory quotes can benefit from Solar Guide's services in several ways:

-- Solar Guide can source up to three quotes for you.

-- It won't cost you a penny - it's totally free and there's no obligation.

-- Solar Guide only uses MCS accredited and REAL registered solar
installers which means you'll be able to register for the Government's
Feed-in Tariff scheme.

-- A transparent feedback system gives customers the opportunity to see
what other people are saying about Solar Guide's installers.
If you're interested in solar energy why not let Solar Guide do the hard word for you. To get you started on the path towards carbon free electricity they can source up to three quotes for you, for free, today.


Solar Company Leaders Blame China, Not Loan Process, for Bankruptcy

Chinese government subsidies—as much as $35 billion—were responsible for the downfall of Abound Solar, not a flawed federal government loan-approval process, according to testimony delivered before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today.

Executives from the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer pointed to predatory pricing by Chinese solar companies underwritten by the Chinese government subsidies as the reason for the Colorado firm’s failure. But questions of sound decision-making in granting the sizable loans and allegations of political pressure applied to hasten their approval went unresolved during the hearing.

Craig Witsoe, Abound’s former CEO, told committee members in his written statement that “aggressive price-cutting” employed by Chinese companies drove the price of solar panels down as much as 50 percent in 2011.

David Frantz, acting executive director of the Department of Energy loan program, said department marketing analyses appeared to indicate that solar panel prices were expected to decrease only 20 percent by 2020.

Company executives and DOE loan administrators blamed Abound’s demise on Chinese market pressures created by the subsidies and price-cutting, rather than incompetence or political pressures exerted on the part of government officials in the loan approval process.

“Chinese panel makers were able to sell below cost and put Abound out of business before we were big enough to pose a real competitive threat to China’s rapidly growing market share,” Witsoe said in his statement.

Abound’s chairman concurred. ”Such a severe market change made it difficult for Abound and others to survive,” said Thomas Tiller.

Abound drew financial backing from investors tied to both parties, as well as bipartisan support, said Tiller in response to questions from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

Democrats on the committee were at pains to point out bipartisan support for the loan guarantees to companies like Abound, which saw Democratic support in Colorado and Republican support in Indiana, according to letters issued by House members from each state during the loan’s approval process in 2009.

Republicans have focused on the connections between Abound Solar and Bohemian Companies, an investment firm owned by Democratic mega-donor Pat Stryker.

“It wasn’t unusual to have bipartisan support for them and it wasn’t unusual for individual Democrats and Republicans—members of Congress and state legislators—to call on individual projects,” said Jonathan Silver, former executive director for the DOE loan program office.

When asked about the frequency of receiving calls and letters or requests for face-to-face meetings with legislators, Silver responded succinctly: “Constantly.”

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) contended that questions about improper political pressure remained despite protestations from DOE officials, Abound executives and Democratic committee members.

“This is, in fact, a vast scandal,” Issa said.

“You cannot blame it all on China, and you certainly cannot stand here, sit here, and blame China as though you didn’t know that they would be a fierce competitor,” Issa continued, rejecting the explanations provided by the DOE officials and Abound’s executives alike.

Pushed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Silver acknowledged that DOE officials considered but ultimately rejected Abound’s low ratings from Fitch, prompting this exchange:

Jordan: “We always come back to this point in these hearings. Did you give the loan guarantee because political connections persuaded you to do it, or did you give it based on the merit? And that’s certainly not there. So it’s either you did it for your buddies, or you were incompetent and said, ‘We’re not going to pay attention to what Fitch says,’ even though it all came true, ‘and we’re just going to give the money anyway.’

“It’s got to be one or the other because there is no other conclusion you can reach.”

Silver: “Well, Congressman, I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but I’m also not incompetent, so I’ll answer the question by saying that we did market analyses, we did financial analyses, we did technical analyses, we did legal analyses, we did regulatory analyses . . .”

Jordan: “And Fitch didn’t do that?”

Silver: “Well actually we have more resources on this project, to be candid, than Fitch does.”

Jordan: “You’ve got more resources and they were right, and you were wrong?”

Silver: “There’s no right and wrong in an assessment of what out-year production prices for solar panels are going to look like.”

Silver ultimately defended the DOE’s procedural assessment, arguing that no one could have anticipated such drastic market fluctuations as a result of China’s aggressive moves in the solar sector.

Abound was the recipient of a $400 million loan guarantee from the DOE Section 1705 program, and had drawn down approximately $70 million before DOE officials suspended access to additional funds under the loan’s agreement.

The company had failed to meet important financial benchmarks in order to tap into the loan’s remaining balance, said Frantz.

Frantz defended the loan to Abound and the loan program’s financial integrity.

“Because of the strong protections DOE put in place, the department has already protected more than 80 percent of the original loan amount and expects to recover a portion of the outstanding loan through the course of bankruptcy proceedings,” wrote Frantz.

Silver argued that the department’s green energy portfolio remained healthy.

“The expected loss on the Abound transaction, which we are here to discuss today, represents less than four one thousandths of 1 percent of the total financings,” Silver wrote.

In total, less than 3 percent of the DOE funds “invested” have gone to failed companies, according to Silver.

Frantz defended the loan program office’s record on job creation and energy savings as well.

“Collectively, LPO projects are expected to support nearly 60,000 jobs and deploy alternative energy that will save nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline per year. Of LPO’s 19 generation projects, six are already complete and nine are sending power to the electricity grid,” Frantz said.

Failures like Abound are part of process, Frantz continued:

To win the clean energy jobs of the future, the United States must do more than invent technologies; we must also manufacture them, deploy them here at home, and sell them around the world. The production of energy technologies benefits from scale. Simply put, we cannot have a competitive clean energy industry without programs that help spur deployment and markets. Not every company, nor every investment, will be a success — but America will be stronger and more competitive if we continue to support and build a thriving clean energy industry here at home.

In testimony provided before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in June, Heritage’s Derek Scissors argued that following China’s example in continuing subsidies for questionable clean energy projects, a suggestion raised during Wednesday’s hearing, would not be wise.

“The combined results of this spending and these errors are abysmal—waste, below-average gains in energy efficiency, lack of innovation, greater dependence on foreign sources, and a terrible record on the environment,” wrote Scissors, a senior research fellow for Asia economics.


US Loans For Indian Firms Making Solar Facilities In Rajasthan

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) has authorised loans totalling $57.3 million to two Indian firms to finance the export of American solar panels and ancillary services to India.

The solar panels, which are manufactured by First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Arizona, will be used in the construction of solar photovoltaic plants in Rajasthan, the Bank announced Wednesday.

Solar Field Energy Two, a Mumbai-based company wholly owned by Kiran Energy Solar Private Power Ltd., has been approved for a $23 million loan from Ex-Im Bank for the construction of a 20-megawatt (MW) solar facility in Rajasthan. Mahindra Surya Prakash, also of Mumbai and owned by Kiran Energy and Mahindra Holding Ltd., has been approved for a $34.3 million Ex-Im loan to build two solar facilities (one 20 MW and one 10 MW) in Rajasthan as well.

"These important transactions will finance the purchase of American products and services and support jobs in our innovative renewable-energy sector," said Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg. "On top of that, Ex-Im's financing will contribute to India's drive to embrace clean-energy sources."

In 2010, the Indian government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in an effort to add 20,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity to the nationwide grid by 2020.

India is one of Ex-Im Bank's nine key markets and accounted for approximately $7 billion of the Bank's worldwide credit exposure as of the end of FY 2011.

In FY 2011 and FY 2012 to date, the Bank authorised more than $330 million in financing for Indian solar projects.

In FY 2012 to date, the Bank has authorised approximately $380 million for renewable-energy exports of all types worldwide.


Monday, August 27, 2012

UPDATE 1-Norway's REC Sees Continued Solar Price Falls

Struggling solar equipment maker Renewable Energy Corp. expects global overcapacity to keep prices under pressure even as firms close production, and said on Thursday a reduction in subsidies in key markets was keeping the outlook uncertain.

"Current market price levels are putting pressure on high cost capacity and capacities are being reduced across the solar value chain," said Norway-based REC, which has closed some production and continues to restructure to survive a global silicon glut.

"Despite these adjustments the prices have continued to decline across the value chain in the first half year and this is expected to continue throughout 2012," it added.

Germany recently cut its feed-in-tariff for solar power and Italy was also expected to cut it support scheme, putting downward pressure on demand, REC added.

However, the price falls have improved the competitiveness of solar power and global sales volumes are expected to rise to 30 gigawatts in 2012 from 27 GW in 2011, REC added.

To save the company, REC closed some operations this year, taking a 3.6 billion crown ($590 million) impairment charge, dragging its bottom line on continuing operations to a 3.71 billion crown loss in the sector quarter.

On the operating level, it beat expectations, reporting earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 230 million crowns ($37.7 million) excluding one-off items, above expectations for 150 million crowns.

The company recently raised $218 million in equity and restructured its debt.


Chinese Competition Sank Govt-backed Abound Solar-Executives

Abound Solar was doomed by Chinese subsidies that helped flood the market with solar panels, former company executives said on Wednesday as Republicans delved into the latest failure of a government-backed solar panel manufacturer.

The collapse of Abound and the high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra, another solar panel maker that also received a government loan guarantee, have provided rich fodder for Republicans on the campaign trail attacking the Obama administration's energy policies.

Abound Solar filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, succumbing to intense competition from China that has sharply driven down the cost of solar panels, said Thomas Tiller, who served as Abound's chairman.

Tiller said the Chinese government provided about $35 billion in subsidies to Chinese solar companies, resulting in sharp growth in production capacity that outpaced demand and pushed down the price for panels by more than 50 percent in just a year.

"Such a severe market change made it difficult for Abound and others to survive," he said in remarks prepared for a House of Representatives oversight committee hearing.

Prior to filing for bankruptcy, Abound received about $70 million of a $400 million loan guaranteed by the U.S. Energy Department.

The drop in the solar panel price was bigger than the Energy Department and other experts expected at the time the Abound loan was finalized, David Frantz, acting executive director of the department's loan program, said in prepared testimony.

The decline in polysilicon costs made Abound's cadmium telluride thin-film panels unprofitable, Frantz said. To protect taxpayers, the department stopped its funding in August 2011 when Abound began missing agreed financial milestones.


Jonathan Silver, the venture capitalist tapped to ramp up the Energy Department's loan guarantee program, staunchly defended the Obama administration's record.

"The funds represented by investments that have failed represent less than 3 percent of the total portfolio," Silver said in written testimony for the House committee hearing.

"This is a record the private sector would consider remarkable, but is particularly impressive for a portfolio of technologically innovative projects being built at commercial scale for the first time anywhere," said Silver, who is now a visiting fellow at the Third Way think tank.

Silver left the Energy Department last October after the loan guarantee program doled out the last of its funding from the stimulus act of 2009, and as Republicans stepped up their probe into the failure of Solyndra, which received $500 million in federal funding.

Silver joined the department after the Solyndra guarantee was awarded, but he was in charge when the government agreed to restructure the debt as the company ran out of cash.

Frantz also strongly defended the administration's management of the loan program.

"The troubles of some segments in the solar manufacturing market should not overshadow the great work that the department's loan programs have done to date, or the need to continue to find ways to support clean energy deployment in this country," Frantz said.


Here’s a Tiny Solar-Thermal System for Your Tiny House

Tiny houses don’t have much room on their tiny roofs, and that’s a problem when it comes to finding space for solar panels, let alone a combined solar power system that can generate both electricity and heat. However, help is on the way in the form of a new compact photovoltaic thermal energy system under development at Michigan Technological University, and it could help make off-grid solar power more cost-effective for larger buildings, too.

Rooftop Real Estate and Solar Power

The installed cost of solar power would be substantially lower with an integrated system that maximizes all of the available solar potential in a relatively small space.

The good news, according to MTU, is that commercially available solar systems are already highly cost-efficient at collecting solar energy for heat and hot water.

The bad news is, thermal systems are not as popular as they could be, because all you get is the heat and hot water. For electricity you need photovoltaic panels, and since conventional solar panels can easily take up all of the available roof space, that leaves the thermal system out in the cold.

A New Silicon Solution for PVT Systems

Lead researcher Joshua Pearce focused on thin-film silicon technology, which is far cheaper than conventional solar cells based on crystalline silicon. For rooftop applications, it also has a weight advantage.

However, thin-film technology faces a major obstacle. Its efficiency can degrade significantly after prolonged exposure to light, an effect called the Staebler-Wronski effect.

Pearce’s solution, developed in collaboration with the company ThinSilicon and Queen’s University in Canada, basically involved creating thicker thin-film cells that can be applied directly to a solar thermal energy collector.

The thicker cells essentially overcame the Staebler-Wronski effect, and the research team also found that they could even boost their electrical efficiency by about 10 percent, by “baking” them in near-boiling temperatures once a day (a process called spike annealing).

Distributed Solar Power and SunShot

Aside from helping to spread the solar love around to more building owners, a high-efficiency, low-cost PVT system could have important implications for the Obama Administration’s national energy policy.

One element of the policy is the transition to smart grid technologies that rely more on distributed energy, including rooftop installations. Along with supporting more clean energy and energy efficiency, the distributed energy model will help to reduce the threat of widespread power outages in an era of increasingly erratic weather.

Another key element is the SunShot Initiative, named after the iconic 1960′s era Moon Shot program that rapidly vaulted the U.S. from an also-ran to the winner of the race to the moon.

The aim of SunShot is to bring the cost of solar power down to parity with fossil fuels, while propelling the U.S. back into the leadership position it once held in the global solar energy market.

Part of the SunShot effort relies on increasing the efficiency of solar cells, but equally important is its focus on simply lowering the cost of installing solar systems, and that’s where Pearce’s integrated PVT system could offer the most significant savings.


Analysis: U.S. Solar Tariffs not Slowing Slide in Panel Prices

New U.S. import tariffs have prompted China's solar panel makers to buy more expensive supplies elsewhere and avoid the new duties, but prices for the renewable energy equipment continue to decline.
A parking structure at the University of California San Diego
uses innovative solar trees to collect renewable energy from
the Sun February 8, 2011

The United States put two new import duties totaling about 35 percent on solar equipment from China, citing the country's unfair support of its industry and illegal dumping of inventories in the U.S. market.

China's solar manufacturers such as Suntech Power Holdings (STP.N), Yingli Green Energy (YGE.N) and Canadian Solar (CSIQ.O) have criticized the tariffs set this year as a threat to their young industry that will slow its growth by raising costs.

With the U.S. market expected to top 3 gigawatts of installations this year, Chinese solar panel makers have no plans to exit the U.S. market, and most have sought to buy key solar components outside of China to evade the U.S. tariffs.

Newly released import data showed U.S. solar imports from China fell 45 percent in May from a year ago, according to the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), whose trade complaint triggered the investigation into solar imports.

Canadian Solar, which makes most of its panels in China, has been buying solar cells from Taiwan for years as part of its supply chain strategy, said Chief Financial Officer Michael Potter. Now all U.S.-bound modules would be made with these slightly more expensive Taiwanese cells to avoid the tariff.

"That essentially is going to get passed through to the U.S. consumer," Potter said in an interview. "It's not like it's costing a lot more today compared to what the prices used to be, but there's certain to be a price difference now."

GTM Research estimates the cost impact for a top-tier Chinese manufacturer buying solar cells in Taiwan at 7 cents per watt, compared with overall solar panel production costs that are in the range of 70 cents per watt and still falling.

So far, shifting production has not slowed the steep declines in solar prices, a trend that has helped make the power source more attractive to consumers even as it has nearly erased profits of the companies that make the panels.

Prices for solar panels fell a modest 0.78 percent to about 76 cents per watt in the past week, market analysts at PV Insights reported on Wednesday, although prices had posted steeper declines earlier this month of about 5 percent.

So far this year, panel prices have fallen by about 20 percent, on top of the drop of about 50 percent in 2011.


The tariffs are a "huge distraction," said Robert Petrina, the head of Yingli Green Energy Americas. But the company does not anticipate any major disruption to selling into the U.S. market.

Chinese companies supplied half the panels sold in the United States last year, and likely saw that share climb in the early months of 2012 before the tariffs were imposed, according to analysts at GTM Research.

David Kurzman, a renewable energy expert and portfolio manager at Leuthold Weeden Capital Management, believes that within two years, Chinese module makers will have entirely circumvented the import duties by shifting work to other countries.

"The tariffs are too little, too late in terms of their intended effect," he said.

Suntech, with the biggest solar manufacturing capacity in the world and a plant already built in Arizona, insists it has ample supply of U.S. tariff-free panels to sell for the foreseeable future.

Mark Kingsley, chief commercial officer at China-based Trina Solar Ltd (TSL.N), said the duties would only accelerate the trend to shift production closer to the end-market.

"It globalized the industry years faster than it would have (otherwise)," Kingsley said.

The May import data showed sharp increases in imports from Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines, CASM said.

Also, with global demand for renewable power surging, the manufacturers are increasingly looking at other markets.

Trina has just expanded into Canada in a deal with a module maker in the province, North America's second-largest solar photovoltaic (PV) market after California.

Shawn Qu, Canadian Solar's founder and chief executive, revealed that he is close to signing off on a new plant to build new high-efficiency solar cells that would have to be sold elsewhere under the current tariff regime.

"You are not going to see this solar cell in the United States in the near future," Qu said at the Intersolar North American conference in San Francisco last week. "Too bad. This solar cell is produced in China."


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Solar Firm Got Initial DOE Money under Bush

Conservatives pounced Wednesday on news that yet another Energy Department-backed solar company is facing financial problems.
Amonix received $8.2 million under President George W. Bush

“Another Obama-subsidized solar company fails,” blared a headline on soon after the Las Vegas Review-Journal broke the news that solar company Amonix has closed a manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas that benefited from millions in DOE grants and tax credits. And the Republican National Committee blasted the story to reporters’ inboxes.

But federal backing for the project has its roots in the George W. Bush administration, not the Obama administration.

Bush Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced in March 2007 that Amonix was one of 13 solar companies up for a total of $168 million in grant funding under a program called the Solar America Initiative.

Amonix was eligible for $3.2 million in the first year of the program and as much as $14.8 million over the full three years of the program, the Bush DOE said at the time.

The company eventually received a total of $15.6 million in grants under the program. Of that total, $8.2 million was disbursed under the Bush administration and $7.4 million was handed out under Obama, according to the Energy Department.

"Solar technology can play a crucial role in moving toward affordable net zero energy homes and businesses — which combine energy efficiency and renewable energy produced on-site," Bodman said in a statement in 2007. “Efficient buildings with solar power generation can help reduce peak demand and ease the need for expensive new generating capacity, transmission and distributions lines as our economy grows.”

Republicans have spent months bashing the Obama administration’s clean energy agenda, arguing the Energy Department has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars backing solar companies that face major financial problems.

But many of the renewable energy projects backed by the Energy Department have received GOP support in the past. In addition to enjoying the backing of major Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Amonix received a high-profile endorsement from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican.

“This is the essence of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Sandoval said at a 2011 ceremony marking the completion of the company’s North Las Vegas facility, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “Not only do I want Nevada to be the renewable energy capital of the United States, but I want it to be the renewable energy capital of the world.”

On the other hand, Amonix has enjoyed the support of the Obama administration as well. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited Amonix’s North Las Vegas facility last year to tout the company, which has received millions in tax breaks and grants from the department.

For example, the company was selected for more than $9.5 million in tax credits under a stimulus-funded clean energy manufacturing program. Nearly $6 million of that went to the Nevada project. And the department awarded the company nearly $4.5 million last year as part of its SunShot Initiative, which seeks to “help shape the next generation of solar energy technologies.”

In addition, Amonix provided panels for a Colorado solar generation project owned by Cogentrix. DOE finalized a $90.6 million loan guarantee for the project last year.

“While today’s news is disappointing, the United States simply can’t afford to cede America’s role in the growing, highly competitive solar energy industry,” Energy Department spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said in a statement Wednesday, noting that solar manufacturers are “facing significant challenges.”

U.S. solar manufacturers like Solyndra and Abound Solar, which have both filed for bankruptcy after receiving Energy Department loan guarantees, are facing intense competition from China, which has, in some case, flooded the market with low-price solar panels.


GE Suspends Solar Factory Buildout in Colorado

General Electric was set to become a major solar manufacturer when it announced a 400 MW factory in Colorado last year. Over a year later, though, it’s putting that plan on hold for 18 months or more while it works on coming up with a more competitive technology, Danielle Merfeld, general manger of solar technology at GE, told us on Tuesday.

It was only last month when a company spokeswoman told me by email that GE was still building its factory and hoping to start production in 2013. But the company reconsidered that plan in recent weeks after seeing solar prices tumbled significantly for over a year, and it stopped the factory building activities last week, Merfeld said.

The company also has down-sized the number of people working on its solar team, but Merfeld declined to disclose the number of layoffs. Since the goal now is to focus on technology improvement, those who were hired to work on, say, factory operations were let go.

“We are banking on the fact that with the technology improvement and our investment in technology today, we will put out more competitive products coming out of that factory,” Merfeld said.

The time line for re-starting the factory isn’t firm right now, but GE is looking at doing that in 2014. That doesn’t mean the factory will be mass producing solar panels then, though. The factory space, located in Aurora, still needs some infrastructure work before solar panel production equipment could be installed. After the equipment is in, it would usually take a year or longer to test the machines and bring them online for mass production.

GE was building the factory to make solar panels based on the technology from a startup called PrimeStar Solar, which GE bought last year. The technology would enable GE to produce solar panels with an ultra-thin layer of cadmium-telluride to convert sunlight into electricity. First Solar is the best known cadmium-telluride solar panel maker, and its growth to become one of the world’s largest solar panel makers has inspired many startups to develop the same type of technology and try to become an alternative source of supply.

But solar manufacturing has been a hellish business to be over the past year and a half, as a glut of solar panels caused the wholesale prices to drop near 50 percent alone during 2011. The oversupply problem isn’t going away any time soon, too, according to GTM Research, which is forecasting 59 GW of solar panel production for a global market that can only take 30 GW this year. That supply-and-demand imbalance is set to continue beyond 2012.

A long list of manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. and abroad. One of the most recent casualties is Colorado-based Abound Solar, which received a $400 million federal loan guarantee to expand manufacturing but by last fall it could no longer meet certain goals to continue to make use of the loan guarantee. It tried to line up more investors and customers but couldn’t do it, and last week it finally conceded that it couldn’t stay business any longer.

The new path GE has charted sounded similar to what Abound said it would do back in February this year, when it first revealed that it was laying off hundreds of people and refocusing its effort on improving its technology in order to come up with better performing and cost competitive products.

GE wants to improve how efficient its cadmium-telluride solar panels can convert sunlight into electricity because that is one way to reduce production costs. Last year, a GE executive said he expected the new factory would start shipping solar panels with 14 percent efficiency. Now the goal is to achieve more than 15 percent, Merfeld said.


Solar Acquisitions Doubled to Record $10.8 Billion

The value of acquisitions of solar photovoltaic plants more than doubled to $10.8 billion in 2011 as developers sold projects to longer-term investors, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

A record 3.9 gigawatts of projects changed hands last year, up 122 percent from 2010, the London-based consultant said in a report published today. Subsidy cuts across Europe affecting new projects drove up demand for solar projects already under way.

The gains reflect efforts by developers to cash in on investments in projects that reaped the highest level of government-backed subsidies, which have been cut in the past year across Europe. Buyers were eager to tap guaranteed returns in many cases more than double the yields of the safest government bonds.

“The boom in solar PV in Spain and Italy, driven by unsustainable feed-in tariffs, left a pool of assets generating very attractive cash flows,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance. Developers “are selling to longer-term investors with a lower cost of capital, who are happy with returns of between 5 percent and 15 percent.”

The most active market for acquisition was Italy, with 540 megawatts purchased, including 242 megawatts sold by Athens- based construction company Terna SA. The U.S. had the five biggest deals by capacity, all for solar parks under construction.

Worldwide, 2.8 gigawatts of the sales last year consisted of finished or partly-completed projects, while 1.1 gigawatts were sites with permits where work hadn’t begun.

Buyers’ valuations of photovoltaic projects have fallen by about 44 percent from their peak in 2008. That year, global average sales values were 6.4 million euros per megawatt ($8 million), compared with 3.6 million euros a megawatt in 2011.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Colorado Solar Plant May be Affected by Closure of Panel Factory

A solar plant in Alamosa built by Cogentrix LLC is up and providing electricity to Xcel Energy — but the closure of the factory producing the plant's solar panels has raised questions about its future.

The 30-megwatt plant, estimated to cost between $140 million and $150 million, received a $90.6 million federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

Cogentrix is owned by Goldman Sachs, the New York-based investment bank.

Amonix, the maker of the concentrating photovoltaic panels used at the Cogentrix plant, announced Thursday it closed its 150-megawatt Nevada factory as part of restructuringto "parallel changing market conditions." It also has a research laboratory in Torrance, Calif.

Lower demand for the high-tech solar panels, which use lenses to concentrate the sun's rays and boost panel output, led to the closure, Amonix said.

"Whether Amonix is around or not, the components are being manufactured by others, and we can go and secure them ourselves," said Jef Freeman, spokesman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix.

If Cogentrix has stocked up on equipment, as some plants do, the loss of Amonix "wouldn't be the end of the world," said MJ Shiao, an analyst with GTM Research, a Boston consulting firm.

"Some of the components came from a contract manufacturer, so Amonix isn't the only one with knowledge of the technology," Shiao said. This method may be more expensive, he said.

Cogentrix has a 20-year contract to sell electricity to Xcel at an undisclosed rate. Xcel did not return a call for comment.

If operating costs rise, it could pinch Cogentrix's profit margins and put the project at risk, said Eric Wesoff, editor of Greentech Media, a website that covers the industry.

Cogentrix's Freeman said: "We felt we've built into the contract what we need to anticipate these kinds of events."

Amonix said that "based on intense competition, the challenging solar-energy equipment pricing environment and lower-than-anticipated demand," it was closing its plant in Las Vegas.

Under pressure from Chinese imports, the price of traditional solar panels has fallen more than 50 percent in the last year and pushed several American solar panel makers, including Loveland-based Abound Solar, into bankruptcy.

Abound had received a $400 million federal loan guarantee, from the same Department of Energy program as Cogentrix, and had spent $68 million of it. Solyndra, a California solar-panel maker, received a $535 million loan guarantee and spent all of it.


House Committee Finds No Smoking Fun in Abound Solar Hearing

In a hearing more about bashing Obama than oversight, The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Wednesday found no smoking gun after testimony from former executives of Abound Solar.

Executives of the defunct Loveland-based company and U.S. Department of Energy officials appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Abound, received a $400 million DOE loan guarantee but filed for bankruptcy July 2.

The “hearing” was actually only a handful of committee members who drifted in and out of the hearing room, taking turns making remarks from prepared talking points. The “hearing” came just two weeks after Abound filed for bankruptcy. Normally, “investigations come months later when information has been filed and reviewed by the court and creditors.

In this case the committee wanted to insure it was held before the August recess. This is about bashing Obama and creating an excuse to eliminate renewable energy programs this year.

Abound had received a $400 million loan guarantee, but the government in September cut off the company’s drawdown on the money at $70 million, when the D.O.E. became concerned over the company’s finances. After liquidation, taxpayers may be left with a $40 million to $60 million bill, according to the DOE.

“With over $30 billion in reported government subsidies, Chinese panel makers were able to sell below cost and put Abound out of business before we were big enough to pose a real competitive threat to China’s rapidly growing market share,” Abound’s former chief executive, Craig Witsoe said.

“Abound’s technology and business made solid progress until the second half of 2011 when panel prices dropped by 50 percent in a year due to aggressive price-cutting from Chinese competitors using older crystalline-silicon technology,” Witsoe added.

The company’s chairman Tom Tiller testified “Abound raised $150 million in private investment before the loan guarantee was awarded, and another $150 million after. But even with $300 million and $70 million in federal funds Abound succumbed to a severe market change. Not only were hundreds of millions lost but 400 jobs were eliminated in Colorado.”

Republicans were out to makes another case. "The amount of dollars lost can't all be blamed on the Chinese," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) the committee chairman. Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH) asked Jonathan Silver, the former executive director of the DOE loan program, if he knew Pat Stryker, an Abound investor and Obama contributor. Silver said that he did not personally know Stryker.

Republicans also tried to tie their critique of the loan program to the Romney campaign’s claim that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus ended up boosting job growth in China. Rep, Mike Kelly (R-PA) cited the Mesquite Solar I utility-scale solar PV project in Arizona. Kelly said the Suntech panels are manufactured in China. “How many jobs did we create in China using taxpayer money?” the congressman asked rhetorically.

According to Suntech, the panels are made at the “Goodyear plant in Arizona running three shifts around the clock, five days a week, and it employs more than 100 Arizonans.” In addition, some 450 workers have been at work on the Mesquite job site, according to plant owner Sempra Generation, installing 4,500 panels a day.

What did this have to do with Abound?

It is somewhat odd to charge that Abound received the loan guarantee because an investor contributed to Obama. Two of the main investors including BP Alternative Energy and the Invus Group are big contributor to Republicans and the Invus Group is a large contributor to Chairman Issa. Looks like 3 to 1 in favor of the GOP.

Democrats had a different perspective. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), responded that the Loan Guarantee Program was rigorously run and was proving to be highly successful, with a failure rate thus far that is far smaller than Congress had expected in its budgeting. Rep Kucinich said the dumping of Chinese PV in the U.S. was the thing that Congress really ought to be spending its time and energy on.

“There’s a real scandal that has been underneath this and that we need to address,” Kucinich said. “That is the systematic, illegal dumping of subsidized, Chinese solar panels in the U.S. We’re attacking our own businesses here, and meanwhile the Chinese are eating our lunch in this market as we’re fighting with each other.”

At the end of the day, no evidence surfaced of any scandal. Meanwhile, the panel was not working on creating jobs.


How California Is Democratizing Solar For The 99%

California has become the first U.S. state to put more than 1,000 megawatts of solar panels on homes and businesses and the boom is on track to continue in 2012 despite upheaval in the solar market and declining incentives, according to a report released Monday by state regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission estimates that the state is generating 1,255 megawatts of electricity from 122,516 rooftops. (At peak output, that’s the equivalent energy production of a big nuclear power plant.) In 2011 alone, the state’s rooftop solar capacity jumped 38% from the previous year while the number of rooftops boasting photovoltaic arrays grew by 29%.

But that milestone is less notable than the trend toward democratizing solar in the Golden State as the California Solar Initiative, or CSI, hits the midpoint of the program’s decade-long run. Launched in 2007, the initiative seeks to install 1,940 megawatts of rooftop solar by 2017 by offering incentives for customers of the state’s three big investor owned utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. (The solar initiative is part of a larger $3.3 billion effort to bring 3,000 megawatts of distributed renewable energy online by 2017.

In the solar initiative’s early years, Californians going solar tended to be affluent homeowners who could fork over the five-figure cost of a typical photovoltaic system. Now the big growth in the market is coming from lower and middle incomes residents.

According to the report, solar program applications in areas with a medium income of less than $50,000 has grown 364% since 2007 while applications from neighborhoods with median incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 spiked 445%.

Falling prices for solar systems have surely helped – the cost of solar arrays installed under the California program has declined 28% since 2007, according to the public utilities commission.

But the game changer has been a financial innovation – leases offered by installers such as SolarCity, Sungevity and SunRun that let homeowners avoid the steep upfront costs of a photovoltaic array and instead pay a monthly fee that often will be less than the cost of the electricity generated by the solar system. Those leases are financed by banks and other institutions that create funds for the solar installers and which in turn receive state and federal tax breaks and incentives.

“The upward trend in CSI participation [in] lower and middle income areas is likely due to a sharp increase in third party owned systems that have received CSI incentives,” the report states. “Third party ownership models, such as solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs), allow households who cannot afford to own a PV system to go solar.”

The change has been dramatic. In 2007, 93% of residential solar systems in California were purchased by homeowners; by 2011 nearly two-thirds of new solar arrays were leased.

Also spreading solar to the masses are state policies designed to provide bigger incentives for low-income residents and to put solar on apartment buildings and other multi-family dwellings so tenants can participate in the program. Through “virtual net metering,” for instance, tenants living in an apartment complex the sports a solar array can receive a credit on their utility bill for the electricity generated.

“The intent of [virtual net metering] is to help low income multifamily residents receive direct benefits of the building’s solar system, and is available to all tenants and meters in a defined affordable housing property,” according to the report.

Despite a rocky year for solar manufacturers and California’s struggling economy, the number of solar installations continues to soar. Installations jumped nearly 60% in 2011 from the previous year to a record 311 megawatts and just in the first quarter of this year 97 megawatts of rooftop solar have been installed.


Solar Panel Company Amonix says Competition, High Costs Forced Closure

Solar panel manufacturer Amonix might have been in financial trouble before the company's chief executive officer was killed in a December plane crash and 70 percent of the work force at its North Las Vegas plant was laid off a month later.
Solar-panel manufacturer Amonix, which received more than
$20 million in federal tax credits and grants, shut its doors at its
North Las Vegas plan in May

The 214,000-square-foot plant, subsidized by more than $20 million in federal tax credits and grants, ceased operations in May, shipping most of the equipment back to its California headquarters and leaving about 300 people without a job.

An April balance sheet for the Seal Beach, Calif.-based manufacturer of concentrated photovoltaic solar panels, obtained this week by the Review-Journal from one of the company's unsecured creditors, shows liabilities of $93.5 million and assets of $72.2 million.

Liabilities include $50.2 million in accounts payable, $17.9 million in accrued expenses and a $10.2 million deferred commitment fee. The company also has a noncurrent loan of $15 million.

In its first public statement on the closure, the company said it had no choice but to close the plant after less than a year in operation.

"Based on intense competition, the challenging solar energy equipment pricing environment and lower-than-anticipated demand for CPV solar energy in Nevada and other states in the Southwest, Amonix has made the difficult decision to restructure the company and shut down its manufacturing center in North Las Vegas," spokeswoman Kelly Rice said Thursday in a statement.

The company did not use $5.9 million in federal tax credits arranged by the Obama administration because it didn't realize any taxable income, Rice said. It received a $15.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, approved in 2007 under the Bush administration.

Rice said the company will vacate the facility at 4975 N. Pecos Road, in the Golden Triangle Industrial Park, by early August.

The Amonix plant shutdown is an "unfortunate reminder" that not all companies succeed in any industry, said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

Amonix was supported by private investors as well as Republican and Democratic policymakers who all understood the need to invest in a growing industry, Resch said. The solar industry employs 100,000 people in the United States at 5,600 companies, and last year the industry more than doubled.

"Most of those companies are small, the true engines of economic growth and innovation," Resch said Thursday. "Not all of those companies will succeed. That's the nature of capitalism. We should be focusing on helping entrepreneurs develop the best technologies and bring the best products to the market and then letting the market decide which ones succeed and which ones fail."

After the Review-Journal reported the permanent closure of the plant on Wednesday, prominent Nevada politicians weighed in, blaming one another for supporting or failing to support investment in energy research and manufacturing.

But Resch said Amonix should not be a political story. Rather, it is a story of an evolving and competitive industry that benefits everyone, he said.

"America can't afford to cede yet another high-tech industry and its jobs to China, Europe or elsewhere while we waste time on political arm-wrestling," the industry expert said. "Today, solar powers our critical infrastructure - military bases, hospitals and schools - as well as homes and companies in every state. Solar is one of our nation's many great energy resources, working for Republicans and Democrats alike."

Joseph McCabe, manager of the renewable energy team at SRA International in Golden, Colo., said concentrated solar power has been difficult to commercialize.

CPV technology uses optics to focus large amounts of sunlight onto small photovoltaic surfaces to generate electricity more efficiently than other solar technologies. The Amonix system consists of seven proprietary modules and uses dual-axis tracking, generating more than 40 percent more energy than conventional fixed-tilt solar panels.

"It has to be on a two-axis tracker and be precise," McCabe said. "You lose 20 percent of the sunlight, called diffused light, which cannot be concentrated. Nevada has also been a very difficult place to do renewables. Many parties, not much installation."

It didn't help that Amonix lost CEO Brian Robertson, he added. After Robertson was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania, Jan van Dokkum, a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, lead investor in Amonix, was named interim chief executive officer.

The company continues to operate a manufacturing facility in Torrance, Calif.

"We appreciate the efforts that the city of North Las Vegas and the state of Nevada made in working with us to make the facility successful," said Rice, the Amonix spokeswoman. "We looked at several options and were really hoping that we could keep the North Las Vegas manufacturing facility, but it is not economically possible for Amonix at this time. As we work toward a successful long-term future, we are adjusting our business and operations plans to parallel changing market conditions."


Friday, August 24, 2012

UPDATE 5-China to Probe US, S.Korean Solar Materials Imports

China will open investigations into imported U.S. and South Korean solar-grade polysilicon, the country's trade ministry said on Friday, in the latest instance of growing tensions between major solar manufacturers.

The Ministry of Commerce said that it would open anti-dumping and anti-subsidy probes on U.S. imported polysilicon, as well as an anti-dumping probe on South Korean imports of the raw materials used to make solar products.

The Chinese ministry issued the decisions in two statements on its website, citing preliminary evidence from several companies - GCL Poly-Energy Holdings, LDK Solar , and Daqo New Energy.

Chinese officials have threatened to impose trade duties on U.S. shipments of polysilicon if the United States moved to penalize Chinese solar companies.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office said the United States was disappointed with the Chinese move and would "vigorously defend its interests" in the case.

"As we have stated with respect to similar actions by China, we are concerned that China appears to have established a practice of using trade remedy investigations to retaliate against legitimate actions taken by its trading partners," USTR spokeswoman Nkenge Harmon said.

Western solar companies have been at odds with their Chinese counterparts for years, alleging they receive lavish credit lines to offer modules at cheaper prices, while European players struggle to refinance.

China's move came a day after Germany's Environment Minister Peter Altmaier gave backing to German companies' efforts to launch anti-dumping proceedings in Europe. Germany is the world's largest solar market.

Earlier this year, the United States put two new import duties totaling about 35 percent on solar equipment from China, citing the country's unfair support of its industry and illegal dumping of inventories in the U.S. market.

The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, the U.S. industry group that sought duties on Chinese-made solar panels, blasted the new Chinese investigation as "an abuse of international trade rules."

"Today's announcement by the Chinese government proves once and for all that it is intent on unfairly and illegally allowing its manufacturers to dominate the global solar industry," Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America, said.


China's solar manufacturers such as Suntech Power Holdings , Yingli Green Energy and Canadian Solar have criticized the tariffs set this year as a threat to their young industry that will slow its growth by raising costs.

If punitive tariffs are adopted, it would likely impact importers such as U.S. polysilicon maker Hemlock, the world's largest, and South Korea's largest producer, OCI Corp. U.S.-based MEMC Electronic Materials would also be affected.

Though not in a trade war, China and the United States are vocal in their criticisms over the other's trade policies.

Washington says China's attacks are largely tit-for-tat retaliation for valid U.S. complaints, while China suggests the White House is simply "China-bashing" in an election year.

Beijing on Wednesday also appealed a recent World Trade Organization ruling against Chinese duties on U.S. "grain-oriented electrical steel," a case that the United States says is an example of China using its trade defense laws in a retaliatory fashion.

"The WTO panel in the grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) dispute upheld U.S. claims that China breached a number of substantive and procedural obligations under the WTO Agreement," Harmon said.

Research firm JI Asia analyst Felix Fok said downstream customers, such as wafer manufacturers, would struggle if China passed on the import tariffs against polysilicon imports.

"China is doing this because some of its companies are basically on their knees," Fok said, referring to more than a year of losses suffered by the sector.

China's solar companies hold more than 60 percent of the global market. The U.S. market alone accounts for about 20 percent of sales of China's largest solar panel manufacturers.

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, a U.S. group that represents solar installers, urged both the United States and China to avoid duties, saying tariffs from either end cost jobs and make solar energy less competitive against fossil fuels.

"Lowering, not artificially raising, the cost of solar should be a global goal," the group's president, Jigar Shah, said in an emailed statement.