Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Report: 180 Solar Panel Makers Will Disappear By 2015

A huge bumper crop of solar panels already has caused a sharp decline in their prices and bankrupted many manufacturers worldwide over the past two years. Now a research report released Tuesday says another 180 solar panel makers will likely go out of business or be bought by 2015.

Nearly half of them – or 88 companies – will shut down factories in countries that have become too expensive for producing solar panels, namely the United States, Europe and Canada, said GTM Research. The report looks at over 300 solar panel makers to determine their chances of survival.

The prognosis is not only shocking, but it also answers a perennial question, at least for now, about whether solar manufacturing can thrive in the United States. China, which has used state owned banks and utilities to finance solar factory expansion and create domestic demand for solar panels, will continue to dominate solar manufacturing, though the government is reportedly working on rescuing only 12 large companies and forcing mergers in others. GTM is estimating that 54 solar panel makers in China will not survive over the next three years.

“Given where the industry is right now and how committed China is for its solar manufacturing industry, it’s very difficult for the U.S. to compete,” said Shyam Mehta, the senior analyst who authored the GTM report. In fact, by the end of 2013, cell and panel manufacturing could disappear all together in the United States.

China’s rise as the world’s epicenter for solar manufacturing has elicited resentment from rivals who believe Chinese companies haven’t competed fairly. The U.S. Department of Commerce recently sided with petitioners of such a trade complaint and imposed tariffs after finding that Chinese solar companies have indeed received illegal government subsidies and sold solar panels at below cost.

Signs of trouble began to show in early 2011, when changes in solar incentive policies in key European markets prompted solar panel makers’ customers – distributors and project developers – to delay purchasing decisions. Prices for solar panels began to fall faster than what manufacturers had expected. The prices dropped by about 50 percent last year and have continued to decline this year. At the same time, many manufacturers had built up massive factories and were counting on a huge surge in demand in the global market. In fact, they continued to churn out solar panels to keep their factories running and workers employed even though demand wasn’t keep pace.

First Solar, an industry bellwether, saw flat revenues and lower earnings during the first quarter of 2011. Life pretty much went downhill from there for many solar panel makers and their suppliers. Young companies that were entering mass production of their technologies in order to compete effectively with larger rivals went bust, including Solyndra and Abound Solar. GE, which once embarked on an ambitious plan to build a 400-megawatt factory in Colorado, decided to shelve that project earlier this year. First Solar, long the king of low-cost manufacturing, decided to gradually shut down its big factory in Germany and put on hold its plans to build new factories in Vietnam and Arizona. Other solar panel makers in the U.S., Europe and Asia have made similar decisions to shutter factories or file bankruptcy.

SunPower is one of them. The San Jose company announced Tuesday it will suspend production at six of the 12 solar cell production lines and cut solar panel production by 20% in the Philippines. It plans to lay off about 900 employees, most of them located in the Philippines.

Still, some solar manufacturers have proceeded with their plans to build new factories for a variety of reasons. Some thought the oversupply problem would be over soon; others needed to scale up their production to cut costs. As a result, the world will likely see 35 gigawatts of excess solar panels for sale per year over the three years, GTM said.

The plummeting prices for solar panels are good news for installers and solar power plant developers – and ultimately consumers. Some developers have switched to solar panels instead using other types of solar technologies. An increasing number of manufacturers have entered the business of developing solar energy generation projects since they are not making money selling solar panels.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/uciliawang/2012/10/16/report-180-solar-panel-makers-will-disappear-by-2015/

Monday, April 29, 2013

Solar Power, and Tortoises Too

Should we save the desert tortoise, or plow over its habitat to build solar power plants that can help us save ourselves? It's a question that has arisen frequently in recent years as solar developers have flocked to California's Mojave Desert in search of generous federal incentives to turn the sun's heat into electricity, raising conflicts with conservationists and Native American tribes who think all this "progress" will ravage natural and cultural resources.

Posts are ready for the mirrors at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah 1
solar power plant site in the Mojave Desert near the Nevada state line.
The federal government aimed at finding a middle ground in that conflict last week when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced formal approval of a long-awaited plan that maps out where industrial-sized solar plants can be built and where they can't. Generally, it's a well-balanced blueprint that benefits the solar industry by providing certainty for project owners while ensuring that the most environmentally sensitive lands are protected. But that doesn't mean everybody is happy.

Solar development "should all be happening on rooftops and in cities," Janine Blaeloch, whose conservation group Solar Done Right has opposed big solar projects in the Mojave, told Times staff writer Julie Cart. "But that wouldn't profit the big utilities, and industry wouldn't be able to get tax breaks, so we wreck the desert instead."

She has a point. Utilities have been supportive of big solar plants because they stand to profit by building transmission lines from the desert to cities and raising their rates accordingly. Meanwhile, California has barely scratched the surface of the potential for rooftop solar power. But this isn't an either-or equation; replacing carbon-intensive power with clean, renewable power will require every possible tool. Rooftop generation and desert solar plants are both needed, along with wind farms, geothermal plants, ocean-wave power and anything else our brightest inventors and scientists can dream up. Despite what its critics are saying, the Obama administration's solar plan does not pave paradise. Covering six Western states, it encourages developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land where the energy potential is high and the environmental costs are low by expediting permitting and environmental review and offering financial incentives. Meanwhile, it takes 79 million acres of more sensitive land off the table while designating 19 million acres as "variance" zones, where projects can be built but with fewer government incentives. This should end the project-by-project approval process that has characterized solar development so far and is a recipe for industrial sprawl.

Protecting threatened species is important. So is developing clean power. It is possible to do both, and the federal plan strikes a pretty good compromise among competing interests. In the end, the desert tortoise's future depends at least as much on our ability to slow the progress of climate change as to shield its habitat.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-solar-20121016,0,4231220.story

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ikea Vows All Solar And Wind Power By 2020

Putting more in than it takes out – across the board, that’s a key aspect of the bold sustainability plan the furniture giant Ikea says it will pursue over the next several years.

Ikea says its “People & Planet Positive” plan covers all
aspects of its business and value chain.
Ikea on Tuesday vowed that by 2020 it will produce more renewable energy than it consumes in its stores and buildings. But what about all the trees felled for desks, book shelves, dining tables and chairs? It will plant more than it uses. Likewise with water: The company says that its overall water credit from all activities along the entire value chain will be greater than its water debit.

Ikea is already roaring forward on many of these goals: It has wind farms in six countries and has been blanketing store roof after store roof with solar panels at a furious pace. The solar and wind systems in operation or under construction already meet 27 percent of Ikea’s electricity demand.

On the consumer side, Ikea announced earlier this month that by 2016, it will sell only LED bulbs and lamps, completely phasing all other lighting options out of its inventory.

Despite the progress it has already made, it will be quite a feat if Ikea can pull this off, because one thing it’s not planning on doing is becoming smaller. “People & Planet Positive,” its strategy paper for sustainability, forecasts that the company will grow to “around 500″ stores by 2020 (it’s at around 300 now). But Ikea is bringing something of a messianic zeal — or so it sounds — to the task, as it also aims to turn the very products it sells into tools for sustainability, with super-efficient but inexpensive appliances, energy-miser light bulbs and more.
Ikea’s 31st solar installation, in Bloomington, Minn

“We believe that sustainability should not be a luxury good – it should be affordable for everyone,” Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard said in a statement. “With over 770 million visitors to our stores, we are excited by the opportunity to help our customers fulfill their dreams at home with beautiful products that help them save money on their household bills by reducing energy and water use, as well as reducing waste.”

While there’s an obvious marketing payoff to the Ikea strategy — don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy about the company right now? — costs and risks do accompany the full-on commitment to sustainability.

Ikea says it is halfway toward investing 1.5 billion euros into solar and wind by 2015, so that’s around a billion dollars more in the next two or three years. On the compliance front, the company said it will meet a range of standards on environmental and social impact and working conditions. That could translate to less flexibility in purchasing as it seeks out certified wood and cotton, and reduces use of palm oil and leather. As the Wall Street Journal, ever mindful of the bottom line, reported: “Marketing and using more sustainable products promises to be a challenge for IKEA’s purchasing managers, who are under pressure to keep costs in check. The company has long aimed to keep prices low.”

But environmentalists said it was the kind of bold action required. John Sauven, head of Greenpeace UK, told Reuters the plan “puts IKEA at the forefront of leading companies” taking on the climate-change challenge.

source: http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/10/ikea-vows-all-solar-and-wind-power-by-2020/

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Residential Solar Prices Falling, But Can The Trend Last?

The Albuquerque Journal on Monday reported on the costs of residential solar systems in New Mexico, and how the market may change following a scheduled Dec. 31, 2016 expiration of state and federal tax credits.

The Albuquerque Journal on Monday reported on the costs
of residential solar systems in New Mexico, and how the
market may change following a scheduled Dec. 31, 2016
expiration of state and federal tax credits.
Currently, the residential solar market is enjoying low costs due to Asian imports and decreased demand from the European market, which can amount to the average customer saving about $10,000 on the cost of a system installation compared to a few years ago, according to the report.

While installers are expecting the costs to continue to fall, it remains to be seen whether prices will drop enough to compensate for the slated elimination of subsidies and tax breaks, the report said.

PRC Commissioner Jason Marks told the Journal that the incentives should continue for a few additional years, which he believes would allow residential solar systems to achieve grid parity, or the point at which they reach a price comparable to other methods of energy generation. Marks said he thinks solar systems could reach grid parity in about five years if the incentives continue throughout that period.

Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/blog/morning-edition/2012/10/residential-solar-prices-falling-but.html

Friday, April 26, 2013

NREL Nanotechnology Solar Cell Achieves 18.2% Efficiency

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have produced solar cells using nanotechnology techniques at an efficiency—18.2%—that is competitive. The breakthrough should be a major step toward helping lower the cost of solar energy.

NREL tailored a nanostructured surface while ensuring that the light-generated electricity can still be collected efficiently from the solar cell. The researchers made nanoislands of silver on a silicon wafer and immersed it briefly in liquids to make billions of nano-sized holes in each square-inch of the silicon wafer surface. The holes and silicon walls are smaller than the light wavelengths hitting them, so the light doesn't recognize any sudden change in density at the surface and, thus, don’t reflect back into the atmosphere as wasted energy. The researchers controlled the nanoshapes and the chemical composition of the surface to reach record solar cell efficiencies for this ‘black silicon’ material.

The paper, "An 18.2%-efficient black-silicon solar cell achieved through control of carrier recombination in nanostructures" by NREL's Jihun Oh, Hao-Chih Yuan, and Howard Branz, appears online in Nature Nanotechnology.

Typically, solar cell manufacturers must add an extra anti-reflection layer, or two, to their cells, which boosts costs significantly.

NREL previously had demonstrated that their nanostructures reflected less light than the best anti-reflection layers of a solar cell. But until now, they hadn't been able to achieve overall efficiency with their black silicon cells that could approach the best marks for other silicon cells.

Oh, Yuan, and Branz, first had to determine why the increased surface area of the nanostructures dramatically reduced the collection of electricity and hurt the voltage and current of the cells.

Their experiments demonstrated that the high-surface area, and especially a process called Auger recombination, limit the collection of photons on most nanostructured solar cells. They concluded that this Auger recombination is caused when too many of the dopant impurities put in to make the cell work come through the nanostructured surface.

This scientific understanding enabled them to suppress Auger recombination with lighter and shallower doping. Combining this lighter doping with slightly smoother nanoshapes, they can build an 18.2%-efficient solar cell that is black but responds nearly ideally to almost the entire solar spectrum.

The Energy Department funded the research grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Branz, the grant's principal investigator, says, "This work can have a big impact on both conventional and emerging solar cell based on nanowires and nanospheres. For the first time it shows that really great solar cells can be made from nanostructured semiconductors."

Branz adds, "The next challenges are to translate these results to common industrial practice and then get the efficiency over 20%. After that, I hope to see these kinds of nanostructuring techniques used on far thinner cells to use less semiconductor material."

"Now we have a clear study that shows how optimizing the surface area and the doping together can give better efficiency,” Yuan says. “The surface area and the doping concentration near the surface affect nano-structured solar-cell performance."

First author, Oh, an NREL Postdoctoral Fellow said the NREL study "clearly shows that the right combination of a carefully nano-structured surface and good processing can reduce the cost while cutting unwanted reflection of sunlight."

Source: http://www.rdmag.com/news/2012/10/nrel-nanotechnology-solar-cell-achieves-182-efficiency

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Solar Junction Breaks Its Own CPV Conversion Efficiency Record

Solar Junction has upped the stakes in, and promise of, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology yet again, besting the world power conversion efficiency record for commercial-ready, triple-junction concentrating PV (CPV) cells. The previous record of 43.5% had actually been set by Solar Junction in April 2011.

The power conversion efficiency of its latest commercial-ready multi-junction CPV cells was measured at 44% at 947 suns, the San Jose–based solar PV manufacturer announced in an Oct. 15 press release. That’s double or more that of the highest-performance crystalline PV cells. Both world records were verified by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“Breaking our own world record cements Solar Junction as an innovator and leader in the multi-junction cell space,” Solar Junction VP for Technolgoy Vijit Sabnis stated. “We continue to push technological boundaries to further drive CPV costs down.”

Blazing the CPV Trail

Solar Junction is supplying the triple-junction CPV cells being used by Semprius, which is readying the commissioning of its first commercial manufacturing facility in Henderson, North Carolina. With an initial capacity to produce five to six MW of CPV cells with power conversion efficiencies as high as 33.9%, the new manufacturing facility could be scaled up to 35 MW and employ as many as 250 people.

The San Jose–based CPV manufacturer is also supplying CPV modules to SolFocus, which this past March announced plans to build Mexico’s largest solar power plant in partnership with Grupo Musa and Georgia’s Synergy Technologies. The proposed 450-MW facility near Tecate is to be built and come on-line in 50-MW phases, with the first slated for completion later this year.

Solar Junction was one of two emerging CPV manufacturers to be awarded two-year grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) in early August to help expand manufacturing capacity. DOE selected Solar Junction as the recipient of a $5 million SUNPATH (Scaling Up Nascent Photovoltaics at Home) award, part of the Obama Administration’s SunShot Initiative.

Added to $15 million from private sector investors, the $20 million of capital “will enable Solar Junction to grow from 5 MW to 40 MW per year in manufacturing capacity,” according to the DOE’s news release. Solar Junction’s CPV cells are manufactured at facilities in San Jose, California and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Partially funded by the SUNPATH award, Solar Junction management also announced it is commissioning a sixth production facility in Silicon Valley. The first shipments are expected in the first quarter of 2013.

DOE also granted San Diego–based CPV developer Soitec Solar a $25 million SUNPATH award to accelerate construction of the the company’s first large-scale CPV module plant. Added to $115 million of privately invested capital, the new CPV module plant will enable Soitec to supply more than 300 MW of clean, green renewable electricity to California customers through agreements with San Diego Gas & Electric as well as other markets, the DOE noted.

Source: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/10/15/solar-junction-powers-up-cpv-with-new-conversion-efficiency-record/

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Solar Trade War is Getting Messier

The solar panel manufacturing industry in the United States and Europe has begun a volley of trade cases against imports, following the same track as the steel industry before it — and for many of the same reasons.

“Back in the ’60s and ’70s, all over the world, governments were investing in steel mills," said Nicholas Tolerico, a retired U.S. trade official and steel executive. “These days, they invest in solar panels, and you end up with the same overcapacity and cutthroat pricing."

The Commerce Department issued a final ruling last week that would impose tariffs of 24 to 36 percent on solar panels imported from China. The department concluded, despite China’s denials, that manufacturers had received government subsidies and had “dumped" solar panels on the U.S. market for less than it cost to manufacture and ship them.

Solar panel manufacturers in the U.S. are now lobbying the Obama administration to broaden the tariffs to include solar panels made partly in China and partly in other places, notably Taiwan. And the U.S. industry is not ruling out more trade cases against other Asian solar panel exporters.

In Brussels, the European Union has started a trade investigation into solar panel imports from China, a case covering imports worth $26.5 billion last year. And the European industry is seeking a second case against Chinese solar panel exports, accusing them of benefiting from government subsidies.

Shen Danyang, a spokesman for China’s commerce ministry, said in a statement Thursday that the U.S. had disregarded “the reasonable defense of the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises," and he expressed “strong dissatisfaction" with the Commerce Department’s decision.

He also said that the U.S. decision to put import tariffs on a category of renewable energy imports was harmful to global efforts to address climate change. And he warned that the U.S. action was likely to result in reduced Chinese imports of raw materials and factory equipment for the solar panel industry.

He Weiwen, a co-director of the China-U.S.-EU Study Center at the China Association of International Trade, which is part of the Commerce Ministry, said his opinion was that China was likely to call for consultations with the U.S. to reach a settlement on the tariffs.

Such settlements have been reached in trade disputes in the past, leading to outcomes like price floors for tomatoes imported from Mexico and the so-called voluntary restraints that Japan imposed on its car exports in the 1980s, which were anything but voluntary.

But He said it was unlikely that negotiations could start quickly, given the coming presidential election in the United States, and he worried that settling a trade dispute with China might not be at the top of the agenda of whoever is sworn in as president.

“The new administration will be faced with more pressing domestic issues," he said.

The tariffs imposed Wednesday cover about $3 billion a year in imported solar panels and were imposed after a quasi-judicial process at the Commerce Department. U.S. law does not allow the White House to intervene in the process of calculating duties. But the duties can be replaced with a negotiated settlement that also satisfies the domestic industry.

Chinese industry

To the dismay of Chinese regulators, hundreds of solar panel manufacturers in their country have followed a pattern of using lavish loans from state-owned banks to buy and install as much foreign-made factory equipment as possible while setting aside little for research and development.

“They made quite a lot of money but did not invest," Li Junfeng, a director general for energy and climate policy at the National Development and Reform Commission, said in an interview last month in Beijing. The commission is China’s top economic planning agency.

Li, who is also the president of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, also said that the solar industry’s problems were the direct result of overcapacity in China and not the fault of overseas trade restrictions.

Yet he insisted that if the Chinese government could revisit past renewable energy decisions, it would not do anything differently because the business community in China is prone to overinvestment in many industries.

Asked what he was telling Chinese banks to do about their continued loans to solar panel manufacturers, he replied, “I say, ‘Just stop.’"

But Frank Haugwitz, a solar industry consultant in Beijing, said last week that there were signs that Chinese banks would sharply increase lending, at least to the country’s largest solar panel manufacturers, a step that could allow them to delay taking losses on previous loans to those companies.

When China began the rapid expansion of its solar industry several years ago, many in the global industry expected that technological breakthroughs would result in more cost reductions. But Chinese companies have driven costs down sharply, mainly through greater economies of scale from the construction of larger factories to produce conventional solar panels, and few industry executives foresee further cost reductions by building even larger factories.

At the same time, few new technologies have been developed. Some experts attribute that to China’s rapid expansion of capacity for conventional polycrystalline solar panels, which has driven prices down so quickly that investment in newer thin-film solar technologies has faltered, particularly in Europe.

“The artificially low prices resulting from Chinese overproduction have nearly destroyed a second generation of photovoltaic technologies based on thin film," said Ken Zweibel, the director of the George Washington University Solar Institute in Washington. “This has been a huge setback for the U.S. competitive position."

But Sebastian Meyer, a partner at Azure International, a renewable energy consulting firm in Beijing, said he thought the U.S. decision on tariffs was a mistake.

The U.S. is still strong in making factory equipment for manufacturing solar panels, Meyer said, and should let China actually make the panels as long as Chinese banks and local and provincial governments refuse to admit defeat and continue covering most of the costs.

“If you buy a solar panel from China, China is paying for part of it," he said. “If I were the U.S., I would let Americans milk it."

Source: http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20121015/NEWS0107/210150306/

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Solar Sector: Avoid This Value Trap

Will any solar power stock ever be a money maker? That's what investors in First Solar (FSLR) have been wondering for some time. The only thing that was able to boost First Solar's share value was the Obama administration's threat to slap a tariff on Chinese solar panels. That action, which also helped Canadian Solar (CSIQ), was prompted by allegations that the Chinese government is subsidizing solar panel makers.

Yet as you can see, the official help may not be enough to sustain First Solar's share price, which has been seesawing up and down. Part of the reason for the slide is concerns about the quality of the company's solar panels and rumors that some of them might be a fire hazard. Such rumors caused First Solar, Trina Solar (TSL), Suntech Power Holdings (STP), and JA Solar Holdings (JASO) share prices to fall last week.

Okay, so much for the news, good and bad; value investors have to focus on a company's numbers, not on the headline. So do First Solar's numbers make it a value investment? At first glance, the answer is no. First Solar reported some terrible numbers on June 30, including a net income of -$555.03 million. That's pretty awful, especially when you consider that First Solar's Market cap is $1.886 billion and its enterprise value is $1.714 billion. The money the company lost in the last year was nearly one third of its value.

If that wasn't bad enough, First Solar's earnings yield was -29.54%, which made for a diluted earnings per share figure of -$6.42. These numbers also gave First Solar a net profit margin of -17.79% and a P/E of -$3.40. Basically, anybody that put money in First Solar lost it. The company hasn't figured out how to turn solar electric into profits yet. Its year to date performance has been -35.63%.

This situation is made worse by the fact that First Solar has liabilities of $2.126 billion and cash from operations of $625.71 million. Those figures are not good because First Solar actually lost more cash from investing than it brought in through operations. First Solar lost $668.78 million in cash from investments in the past year.

The numbers at First Solar are not entirely bad; the company registered a sales growth of 7.9% this year. That isn't enough to make up for the lousy income figures or the investment losses, but it is a step in the right direction.

Like other solar companies, First Solar has excellent prospects overseas, particularly in developing countries like India. The Indian government has plans to install 20 gigawatts of solar electric generation by 2022. First Solar has already won contracts for building panels for two of those operations.

The problem is that growth is in the future, not now. It is possible that First Solar will be profitable someday, but it isn't now. The best course of action for a value investor is to stay away from First Solar and other solar companies until they actually start making some money. None of these companies has figured out to make money on solar panels, although First Solar has demonstrated an impressive capability for supplying large scale solar electric projects.

The reason why this sector is so bad is obvious. The charts for competitors such as Canadian Solar Inc. show much the same story as those for First Solar do. As you can see, Canadian Solar has been declining even faster and farther than First Solar has.

Canadian Solar's stats seem to be just as those at First Solar. When it last issued a financial statement on March 31st, Canadian Solar reported that its year-to-year revenue growth fell by 26.52% between March 2011 and March 2012. Canadian Solar's net income was -$118.02 million for its last fiscal year. The scary thing is that First Solar and Canadian Solar seem to be the leaders in this business.

The bottom line is that solar panel makers are not yet a value investment. At least one of these companies needs to demonstrate that it can actually make some money. So far, none of them seem to have done that. The best strategy on First Solar is to watch and wait; it might be a value investment someday, but not now.

Source: http://seekingalpha.com/article/923901-solar-sector-avoid-this-value-trap

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lakeland Electric: 45-acre Solar Farm Goes Online Monday

LAKELAND | A year ago, politicians and city officials recognized the groundbreaking of a new solar farm at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

On Monday, they'll return to mark the final installation of 22,000 solar panels on the 45-acre solar farm.

A "flip the switch" ceremony at 1 p.m. at 4250 Hamilton Road will mark the opening of the plant, which will generate three megawatts of power through 12,528 recently installed solar panels. The solar farm already generates 2.3 megawatts of power. A megawatt equals 1 million watts of power.

In all, it's enough to power 2,000 homes, said Jeff Curry, alternative energy coordinator for Lakeland Electric. Even with the new farm, solar power only produces about 1 percent of Lakeland Electric's total power output.

The deal for the solar farm was made with Maryland-based SunEdison. The city pays the company a locked-in rate of 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next 25 years. The current rate is 11 cents.

Curry said the rate could be a good deal in the coming years if prices start to increase.

It's the biggest solar project for Lakeland Electric. The utility already has solar panels on top of The Lakeland Center. Those panels cover roughly an acre and produce one-quarter of a megawatt. He said there is an anti-reflecting coating that absorbs the sunlight. Each morning, the panels move in an eastern direction toward the sun. The panels move through the day to absorb as much sunlight as possible.

He said the utility is considering construction of a five megawatt solar farm next year behind the Glendale wastewater treatment plant in South Lakeland.

Also, Curry said, utility officials are in early talks with Polk State College officials about the possibility of a one megawatt solar farm at the college in Lakeland in a nearby grove.

In a press release, Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields said the city has been going green for years.

"While our partnership with SunEdison is probably the largest and most visible green effort from Lakeland Electric, as a municipal government we have been installing more energy-efficient lights in our buildings, we have moved to LED traffic signals and we have converted to more energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in our larger facilities," Fields said.

Source: http://www.theledger.com/article/20121014/NEWS/121019676

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mexican President Inaugurates Large-Scale Solar Power Plant

Mexican President Felipe Calderon inaugurated a large-scale solar power plant that he touted as the region's first, a pilot facility in the northwestern state of Baja California that features 4,000 photovoltaic panels and 1 MW in generating capacity.

The plant is "the first in Mexico, the first in all of Latin America," the president said, adding that it will serve as an experimental model for state-owned electric utility Comision Federal de Electricidad in its drive to develop renewable energy.

He noted that at present 26 percent of the electricity produced in Mexico comes from renewable sources, "from water, wind or sun," in which no oil, natural gas or diesel is consumed.

The 2010-2024 National Development Plan set a goal of increasing clean energy's share of total electricity production in Mexico to 35 percent.

Calderon also stressed the need to further develop a model that is currently in place in other parts of the country and which involves mounting solar panels on houses to supply needed electricity and connecting them to the national energy grid.

The plant inaugurated Friday was built in the town of Santa Rosalia, in the center of the Baja California peninsula, by the Microm firm, a Grupo Condumex unit that specializes in renewable energy.

Condumex is owned by Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, the world's wealthiest person with a net worth of $68 billion.

The plant generates electricity using photovoltaic panels, while a solar-tracking technology orients the panels so they are perpendicular to the sun's rays from dawn to dusk.

A U.S. firm, SolFocus Inc., announced in March the launch of a "landmark solar power plant" near the border town of Tecate in Baja California state, located north of Baja California Sur.

It said in a press release that construction of the planned 450 MW plant, to be built in partnership with Mexican land and real estate developer Grupo Musa and U.S.-based energy developer Synergy Technologies, would start in late 2012 and that the plant would be operational before the end of 2013.

Northern Mexico possesses the "third greatest solar resource in the world, making it an ideal location for this project," the press release, dated March 29, said. EFE

Source: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/10/13/mexican-president-inaugurates-large-scale-solar-power-plant/

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Solar Power Project Funded for Chefs Center Small-Business Incubator

Using its last $170,000 in federal economic stimulus money, the city has funded a solar power project at the Chefs Center of California, a nonprofit small-business incubator that has launched dozens of entrepreneurs since its professional kitchen opened in 2009.

"We had around $600,000 left in Community Development Block Grants Recovery dollars, and the biggest chunk went over to rehab La Pintoresca Teen Center and turn it into an education center," said William Huang, Pasadena's housing director.

The remaining funds had "very specific goals" including job creation and sustainability, Huang said.

The solar power dollars were first offered to the Pasadena Enterprise Center's small-business incubator, Huang said. "But they eventually decided to decline the money because of some physical issues with the building."

Enter the Chefs Center.

"We were a perfect match," said founder Joe Colletti, CEO of the Institute for Urban Initiatives. "So we're very satisfied not only with getting the funding to do this, but equally satisfied with the solar power system."

The solar project, which is close to completion, actually cost $187,000, Colletti said; but they expect to make up the difference through a solar power rebate from Pasadena Water and Power.

PWP project manager Mauricio Mejia said there are different levels of rebates in the program. Non-profits and low-income housing projects are eligible for 30 percent, he said, since they can't claim the 30 percent tax credit commercial businesses get.

"The (Chefs Center) rebate will be close to $30,000 for the solar installation, when they package it," Mejia said.

Colletti expects a substantial drop in the center's monthly $2,600 electricity bill, which comes out of the annual $550,000 operating budget.

"We're not sure what kind of reduction we're going to see - we'll know when we get the bills," he joked. "But we're expecting at least a 25 percent reduction in monthly costs. And multiplied by 12, that's a nice saving. ... I work hard to write a grant for $10,000, and that's the equivalent of a $10,000 grant."

The funding also paid to replace the kitchen's five heating and air-conditioning units and added a sixth, Colletti said, plus insulating and repairing the "leaky roof."

The city has backed the $2.6 million small-business incubator before, including City Council approval of a $425,000 loan toward the building's $1.8 million purchase price in 2007. Private and corporate foundation funds - including $50,000 from the Pasadena Community Foundation - were used to rehab and equip the former Peruvian restaurant as a professional grade kitchen.

As of July 1, the center had 97 carry-over clients and added another 22, Colletti said.

"The program has exceeded our expectations, which were high to begin with," Colletti said. "About half the clients come to start catering businesses, the other half is a mixture of bakeries, food trucks and farmers markets, and wholesaling - selling to retailers like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods."

The center provides business advice and workshops, and Whole Foods will make a presentation Nov. 3 on "what it takes to sell food" to them, Colletti said.

Source: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_21768034/solar-power-project-funded-chefs-center-small-business

Friday, April 19, 2013

Eye on the Environment: Leases, Rebates, Group Purchasing Help Homeowners Go Solar

Sometimes being "environmental" has the connotation of giving up something or doing without. With solar, however, the only thing to give up is high electricity bills.

In the past 18 months, the reality of solar electricity has changed, costs have come down and homeowners can save money immediately on their electricity bills.

More than 125,000 Californians have found solar energy to be an affordable and reliable alternative, and they are regularly generating 1.3 megawatts of power. That's the same capacity as a Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor operating at full capacity.

Other than dramatic declines in the price of solar panels, the biggest shift in the residential solar sector over the past couple years is the availability of solar leases and power purchase agreements. While there are some technical differences, both types of agreements allow a third party to own the solar electrical system, charging the homeowner less for solar electricity than the utility was charging.

There are two things to keep in mind with a third party-owned system. First, these types of agreements make the most economic sense for people spending more than $100 per month on electricity. This is because the more power a homeowner uses, the more they pay per unit of electricity. Solar power makes the most economic sense when used to offset usage in the top three tiers of electricity rates.

Second, some of these agreements will include a set price increase per year. While not necessarily a bad thing, it can mean substantial cost increases over the 20-year contract and make savings more difficult to determine. Often, a down payment of $1,000 to $2,000 can significantly reduce both the per-unit cost for electricity and the rate increases.

Without solar, homeowners can expect the price of electricity to rise about 5 percent per year, if future trends match historical increases from Southern California Edison.

The state also is helping to bring down the cost of solar through the California Solar Initiative, a rebate program in its fifth year. Southern California Edison customers are currently eligible for a rebate of 35 cents per installed watt. For an average 4-kilowatt system, that equals $1,400.

Unfortunately, the rebate is expected to drop in the next month to 25 cents — a decrease of $400 on the same system but still enough to make a difference.

Another exciting trend in solar is a move toward community-based group purchasing. By combining purchase power, homeowners can decrease costs and increase accountability. The Ojai Valley Green Coalition is teaming with the fellow nonprofit group Community Environmental Council to coordinate a program called Solarize Ojai.

Solarize Ojai is a limited time, group purchasing program that runs through Dec. 7. Participants must live in the Ojai Valley, including Ojai, Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks, Oak View and surrounding unincorporated areas, and own a home suitable for solar electricity. The contractors working in partnership with this initiative are REC Solar and California Solar Electric.

The coalition and council will host an introductory workshop where homeowners can learn about energy efficiency, conservation and solar at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Chaparral Auditorium, 414 E. Ojai Ave. Homeowners can also learn more about the program at http://www.SolarizeOjai.org, and groups in other parts of the county interested in forming a consortium can contact the Community Environmental Council at http://www.cecsb.org.

With decreasing prices and increasing options, solar electricity is allowing everyone to keep an eye on the environment.

Source: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/oct/13/leases-rebates-group-purchasing-help-homeowners/

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Federal Officials OK Plan to Streamline Solar Development in West

Federal officials on Friday approved a plan that sets aside 285,000 acres of public land for the development of large-scale solar power plants, cementing a new government approach to renewable energy development in the West after years of delays and false starts.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaks during a news conference
in Las Vegas on Friday, in which he and Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid announced a plan for 17 new "solar energy zones"
on 285,000 acres in six states.

At a news conference in Las Vegas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the new plan a "roadmap ... that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands."

The plan replaces the department's previous first-come, first-served system of approving solar projects, which let developers choose where they wanted to build utility-scale solar sites and allowed for land speculation.

The department no longer will decide projects on case-by-case basis as it had since 2005, when solar developers began filing applications.

Instead, the department will direct development to land it has identified as having fewer wildlife and natural-resource obstacles.

The government is establishing 17 new "solar energy zones" on 285,000 acres in six states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Most of the land — 153,627 acres — is in Southern California.

The Obama administration has authorized 10,000 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal projects that, when built, would provide enough energy to power more than 3.5 million homes, Salazar said.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the effort will help the U.S. stay competitive.

"There is a global race to develop renewable energy technologies — and this effort will help us win this race by expanding solar energy production while reducing permitting costs," Chu said in a statement.

The new solar energy zones were chosen because they are near existing power lines, allowing for quick delivery to energy-hungry cities. Also, the chosen sites have fewer of the environmental concerns — such as endangered desert tortoise habitat — that have plagued other projects.

Environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy who had been critical of the federal government's previous approach to solar development in the desert applauded the new plan.

"We can develop the clean, renewable energy that is essential to our future while protecting our iconic desert landscapes by directing development to areas that are more degraded," said Michael Powelson, the conservancy's North American director of energy programs.

Some solar developers who already are building projects were complimentary of the new approach, saying it will help diversify the country's energy portfolio more quickly.

Still, some cautioned that the new plan could still get mired in the same pattern of delay and inefficiency that hampered previous efforts, and urged the government to continue pushing solar projects forward.

"The Bureau of Land Management must ensure pending projects do not get bogged down in more bureaucratic processes," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Salazar said the country four years ago was importing 60 percent of its oil, and that today that number has dropped to 45 percent.

"We can see the energy independence of the United States within our grasp," he said.

Source: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765611432/Federal-officials-OK-plan-to-streamline-solar-development-in-West.html

ESA Renewables Executes Three Rooftop O&M Contracts in North Carolina

ESA will begin operating and maintaining three 500kW photovoltaic solar systems in North Carolina.
Lake Mary, Fl., April 18, 2013 - ESA Renewables (ESA), an industry leader in providing turnkey solar solutions, will carry out comprehensive operations and maintenance (O&M) plans on three 500kW rooftop arrays in North Carolina, specifically in Wake, Henderson, and Johnson Counties. Services that will be provided include preventative and corrective maintenance, task assignments, report generation, budgeting, stock inventory, thermal imaging and document management for an initial period of five years.

“Utilizing our highly experienced solar energy engineering staff, ESA has the ability to track all of the indicators and parameters to optimize performance and to carry out the required maintenance of each solar site,” said Javier Latre Gorbe, Vice-President of Technical Operations for ESA Renewables.

The O&M teams are strategically placed near each location to more effectively service and maintain the site according to best practice industry standards. The solar technicians will routinely perform preventative and corrective maintenance tasks. The preventative maintenance focus is on predicting failures, maintaining equipment, and ensuring tasks are performed according to a schedule to effectively manage time and capital. The corrective maintenance focus is on responding to incoming alerts to evaluate and, if needed, restore the site to optimal working condition, maximizing financial and energy returns.

“Due to ESA’s diligence and attention to detail in every facet of energy production, many installations are currently producing 20% more than projected by third party reports,” said Tammy Rhode, Manager of the Operations and Maintenance Department for ESA Renewables. “ESA manages the operation and maintenance platform effectively and efficiently manages the technician’s time which reduces the overall costs of O&M.”

ESA performs preventative maintenance services on the sites at least twice a year, to ensure that the sites are in optimal working order. In addition to the scheduled preventative maintenance (PM) service, ESA will also perform sample size tests to verify that nothing is overlooked-- such as bolts, wiring and places where a normal performance alert may not be raised.  

About ESA Renewables, LLC
ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems worldwide. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of more than 500 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy. ESA’s scope of services includes financing, engineering, construction, testing, monitoring, and operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon, Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit http://www.esarenewables.com or call 407-268-6455.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Don't Block the Sun

Picture the good news: a third industrial revolution, powered by decentralized energy and massive digital connectivity. Picture the bad news: the residual institutions of the second industrial revolution, powered by oil and 20th century transportation habits, threaten to hold this third revolution back, maybe kill it.

These were two future scenarios debated by industry leaders at an IHT conference in Barcelona recently. Solar, with its soaring global sales and plunging prices, featured as a talisman for the third industrial revolution. Fracked gas featured as a flag carrier for extending the life of the second industrial revolution. As the founder of a fast-growing solar company, set up because of my concerns about dependency on oil, gas and coal, I took part in the debate keen to maximize the good news and find ways around the bad news.

Last week, the good news had a major setback. The U.S. Department of Commerce confirmed punitive tariffs on Chinese manufacturers of cheap solar cells and panels. The premise of the case, brought by U.S. manufacturers, is that Chinese manufacturers have been exporting their panels — cheaper than U.S. equivalents because of Chinese government largesse — at unfair prices. The Europeans are contemplating the same anti-Chinese action. The Chinese seem set to retaliate with punitive tariffs on exports of U.S.-made polysilicon, the raw material for solar cells. A full-scale solar trade war is likely.

Meanwhile, oil- and gas-industry lobbying in multiple countries is succeeding in stalling many of the feed-in tariff subsidies that have been driving the growth of solar and other renewable industries. Many policymakers concerned about climate change talk of gas as a bridge to the low carbon future.

Those enamored of the U.S. shale-gas phenomenon — the widely-unanticipated production of large amounts of unconventional gas in recent years — have begun to see gas as a bridge to a gas future. Feed-in tariffs, which pay premium prices for renewable generation financed by tiny levies on electricity bills, stand in the way. It would be rather inconvenient if solar became cheaper than everything else in a few years.

Nowhere is this more clear than in Britain, where a leaked letter from the chancellor of the Exchequer to the energy secretary essentially exhorts the latter to put a lid on the stimulation of renewables markets so that investors will not be put off pouring capital into the Treasury’s effort to bring the frackers to rural England and turn Britain into a “gas hub.” I am assured by many confidantes in government and industry that this kind of political response is the result of concerted oil- and gas-industry lobbying.

The two problems for solar are of course related. The assault on feed-in tariffs and other subsidies causes the shrinking demand that triggers the dumping of exported solar panels at low prices. Without the lobby-induced mismanagement of the market-building process by governments we would probably not have the solar trade war.

Whether you agree with my analysis of causality or not, the current situation is transparently dysfunctional for all comers except the energy incumbency. If you worry about energy security, the longer we stay dependent on gas and oil the more we become dependent on those who control the pipelines and the tanker routes. If you worry about climate change, we need a low-carbon future that involves a retreat from carbon fuels, not efforts to find and develop more. If you worry about both, on a globe en route to six-degrees warming — a level that threatens the very future of civilization — then an assault on the solar industry becomes akin to sabotaging armaments factories during a mobilization for war.

It could be so different, so easily.

Despite their failure thus far to deliver a meaningful climate treaty, governments in the past have proved themselves capable of complex treaties fostering common security. They could now negotiate a multilateral regime of cooperation for solar market-enablement: a globally coordinated set of feed-in tariffs aiming to accelerate solar’s descent to universal price parity with conventional energy. They could bulk-procure solar panels themselves, to speed the emergence of a mass market.

Working cooperatively, focused on common security, they could greatly accelerate the day solar energy is cheaper than all other forms, and feed-in tariff subsidies are no longer needed. They could all greatly foster their own domestic energy security in so doing. Light shines on all countries, infinitely. Significant oil and gas reserves sit in only a few, and are finite.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/opinion/dont-block-the-sun-encourage-solar-industry.html

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Letters: Efficiency Key to Solar

After decades of promise, the rising price of electricity and the dropping cost of solar panels have made solar power financially sensible. But, like all technology, attention to detail can make a significant difference in the outcome.

A horizontal installation of solar panels such as that at Santa Catalina School, as pictured in The Herald on Oct. 5, is convenient to install but inefficient. At our latitude, a south-facing panel tilted at 32 degrees, or one raised approximately 2.5 feet above the other, can produce 40 percent more electricity than one mounted horizontally.

That, for example, would raise the electricity savings for the Santa Catalina project from $1 million to almost $1.5 million over 25 years.

In the northern hemisphere, unshaded solar panels should always be tilted to face true south. Monterey's latitude is 37 degrees north. The ideal tilt for a fixed panel in Monterey is 32 degrees. An improvement of several more percent can be achieved by adjusting the panel twice a year to account for the fact the sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter.

The most efficient solar panel is mounted to track the sun's daily motion across the sky. There are innovative ways to passively track the sun's motion, providing the ultimate in power production at a moderate increase in cost.

Source: http://www.montereyherald.com/letters/ci_21762962/letters-efficiency-key-solar

Monday, April 15, 2013

Will Solar Get A Chance in Sunny Arizona?

In statements made today, October 12, 2012, Arizona Corporations Commissioner Paul Newman reiterated his support for the solar industry in Arizona. Newman is one of five Commissioners, and one of two Democrats on the Commission.

Solar is big all over the world, and according to the European photovoltaic industry association (EPIA) solar has become the world’s third most important renewable energy source after hydropower and wind. Germany has half of the world’s installed solar photovoltaic capacity. The United States and China follow Germany and are growing fast. On October 10, 2012, the largest solar power project in Australia, the 10-megawatt Greenough River Solar Farm, was switched on near the small town of Geraldton in Western Australia.

So what’s happening in Arizona, a state with the potential to lead solar energy production in the United States?

As of June, 2012, total in-state solar production in Arizona was 450 megawatts. Sounds great, but this is less than 2% of Arizona’s total energy generation of 27,000 megawatts. Arizona’s total clean energy generation makes up 3.5% of the total. Fully 24 states generate more clean electricity than Arizona. California, Iowa and Minnesota are generating 18 to 20 percent of their total energy from clean sources.

And the potential to improve on this in Arizona may not be high. Electric power production is regulated in Arizona by the Arizona Corporation Commission. Arizona pioneered the establishment of a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) in 2007, requiring that by 2025, 15% of kilowatt-hours generated by regulated utilities come from clean energy (defined as solar, wind, biomass and other similar technologies). But this year the Arizona legislature has attempted, so far unsuccessfully, first to remove the RES and then to cap it at 15%.

And several other states have since pushed the renewable energy standards bar further:

  • New Mexico: 20% by 2020,
  • Nevada: 25% by 2025
  • Colorado 30% by 2020
  • California: 33% by 2020.

Newman’s office stated that he “wants to increase the RES, and has suggested 25% by 2025. It should be decided in an open manner with public and stakeholder input. We need to increase participation and transparency.”

Newman also supports Virtual Net Metering (VNM), a policy that is critical for the expansion of solar energy distributed in the community. VNM, or aggregated net metering, allows the net-metering credits from a single solar generating system to be distributed among multiple electric service accounts.

Source: http://www.examiner.com/article/will-solar-get-a-chance-sunny-arizona

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Eaton Installs BoS for Solar Parks - Analyst Blog

Eaton Corporation 's ( ETN ) Electrical Sector has supplied and installed complete balance of system ("BoS") solutions for three major new solar energy parks. These three parks are owned and developed by Lightsource Renewable Energy.

The three new parks include Chittering in Cambridgeshire, Eastacombe Farm in Devon and Great Knowle Farm in Devon wih capacity of 5MWp, 3.5MWp and 2.5MWp, respectively. Eaton in collaboration with Solarcentury has worked on engineering and project management program of these parks.

The company has designed, supplied and installed the specially made electricity substations for each of the three new solar energy farms. Three substations were installed for both Chittering and Eastacombe parks, whereas only two substations were required for the smallest system at Great Knowle.

Each of the substations is equipped with Eaton dc junction boxes and multiple SolarMax TS-SV 330kW inverters. Eaton dc junction boxes enable safe and secure connections for the incoming supplies from the PV panels, whereas multiple SolarMax TS-SV 330kW inverters help in achieving maximum power point ("MPP") efficiencies of 99%.

Moreover, these substations have 280V to 11kV transformers and Eaton Xiria 11kV ring main units with integral G59 protection. These multipurpose units use reliable vacuum switching technology that reduces maintenance requirements as well as the environmental impact of the equipment during the time of manufacture and at the end-of-life disposal.

The connection to the grid is 33kV for Eastacombe park, and therefore to cater to this need, Eaton supplied an additional 11kV to 33kV transformer along with the necessary third-party 33kV switchgear.

These electricity substations provide an important link between the photovoltaic panels and the national power distribution grid. The company has constructed and tested the substations on-site in order to curtail the time and cost of installation and commissioning.

With this installation, the company has extended its strong presence is the solar energy sector. In September this year, the company had introduced the Power XpertTM Solar 1500 kilowatt (kW) inverter for utility-scale, solar applications that converts direct current (DC) power into clean alternating current (AC). The Power Xpert Solar 1500 kW inverter is well-designed to reduce installation costs, boost reliability and improve plant uptime.

Prior to that, the company had announced collaboration with Tangent Energy Solutions to develop solar energy generation installations at Eaton's facilities in Coraopolis and Vanport Township, Pennsylvania. The project includes a 1.3-megawatt ("MW") ground mount solar array at Eaton's Beaver facility and a 200-kilowatt (kW) rooftop array in Coraopolis.

Cleveland, Ohio-based Eaton Corporation is a diversified power management company and a global technology leader in electrical components and systems for power quality, distribution and control; hydraulics components, systems and services for industrial and mobile equipment; aerospace fuel, hydraulics and pneumatic systems for commercial and military use; and truck and automotive drivetrain and powertrain systems for performance, fuel economy and safety.

Eaton Corporation operates in a number of markets and faces a wide array of competitors in varied niches. Going forward, we expect strong momentum across Eaton's business segments to continue amidst buoyant end-market demand and market share gains.

However, except Electrical Americas segment, other segments of the company are expected to improve at a much slower pace than previously expected due to uncertainty prevailing in the European markets and slower-than-expected growth in the Chinese markets. Moreover, we expect the decision to acquire Cooper Industries will substantially increase the debt burden of the company. The company presently retains a short-term Zacks #4 Rank (Sell). We have a long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock.

Source: http://www.nasdaq.com/article/eaton-installs-bos-for-solar-parks-analyst-blog-cm181230#.UQ_FxGfcj6U

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Solar Proposals would Shake Up Utility Scheme

Georgia Power’s monopoly is under attack.

Last session, legislation by Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, would have ended it in limited situations by allowing companies to lease rooftop space for their solar panels and then sell the electricity to the property owner through so-called power-purchase agreements. Current law only allows power to be sold to utilities, and only utilities can sell to retail customers.

The bill stalled, but not before becoming a cause celeb for environmentalists and the state’s fledgling solar industry. Look for it to be introduced again for next year’s legislative session.

After the General Assembly adjourned, a start-up, solar-electricity company filed its own monopoly-busting proposal with the Public Service Commission that could have a broader, statewide impact. Its aim to compete for retail customers with Georgia Power could have far-ranging repercussions for the state’s economy that go far beyond the solar industry.

Both ideas to clip Georgia Power’s monopoly have won support from all three of the candidates challenging the two commissioners up for re-election this year.

Environmentalists, and folks who see the logic in harnessing free sunshine, support the proposal by Georgia Solar Utilities because they see it as a boon to the solar industry. They have long argued that, on economic terms, increasing sales of solar power and the components that generate it -- specifically photovoltaic panels -- would lead to so-called economies of scale and innovations that would lower the price.

Indeed, the price of solar panels has dropped significantly in recent years, partly due to cheaper production of them in China and demand created by mandates on utilities in other states. Even Georgia Power executives cite the price reduction as a signal that adding solar generation to that company’s fuel mix is now appropriate because it wouldn’t add upward pressure on overall consumer’s electricity rates.

The Libertarian candidates this year also argue that competition would force Georgia Power to become more efficient, despite the fact that observers claim the state has among the lowest electricity rates in the nation. Both incumbents say existing law has mechanisms to keep rates low while also expanding the use of solar.

Indeed, Georgia Power recently sought permission to triple its solar generation to become the largest voluntary, solar-producing utility. It wants to take capacity that had been designated for biomass plants that fell through and buy solar instead from small and medium-sized producers at wholesale prices.

Many observers believe that the giant utility’s latest solar proposal was a defensive move to fend off purchase-power agreements since the Georgia Solar initiative wasn’t public when Georgia Power began its planning. After all, earlier in the month, the Athens Banner-Herald quoted Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers giving short shrift to all renewable sources.

"Renewable is going to have a sliver (of the company’s fuel mix)," he said. "Is it going to be 2 or 4 percent? That's yet to be determined. Economics will drive that. But you always remember (that renewable energy is) an intermittent resource. It's not one you can depend on 100 percent of the time."

At the very least, his comment added fuel of its own to the debate for advocates who say the company will only accept green energy sources if forced by regulations or competition. Since none of the current commissioners or the candidates running this year favor mandating specific sources, that leaves competition as the most politically viable route.

Breaking the monopoly requires changing the law.

While the utility has traditionally been very adept in dealing with the General Assembly, Georgia Solar has already launched a petition drive, and the Georgia Solar Energy Association already has a lobbying presence at the Capitol.

It would be a huge legislative battle, with the electric-membership cooperatives and four dozen cities that sell electricity joining in, too.

The proposal would be similar to the deregulation of the natural-gas market here, except that Atlanta Gas Light went down that road willingly. The Public Service Commission would regulate the transmission grid, and the retailers would pay to use it.

However, there would no longer be the justification for the commission to regulate Georgia Power and its retail rates if the company is not a monopoly. That could lead to one of two outcomes, high or lower rates.

If the EMCs begin marketing beyond their current territories, they could provide the muscle that the start-up Georgia Solar would not have to push downward pressure on Georgia Power’s rates. After all, a company offering solar power won’t have anything to sell at night or on cloudy days.

But, the loss of monopoly status could also have the opposite effect and send rates higher.

How? It has to do with the reason governments granted monopolies to utilities in the first place, the need for economies of scale and a guaranteed income in order to attract bond investors at affordable interest rates. Without a monopoly, investors will want a higher return in exchange to taking more risk, and Georgia Power could very well have to raise its rates in order to expand or upgrade, including retiring aging coal plants.

The irony is that making the company compete with solar providers could have the opposite effect of what proponents desire. Rates could go up, and the environment could get dirtier.

Georgia was one of the first states to deregulate its natural-gas market, with mixed results. Considering the deregulation of its electricity market will keep economists on both sides of the issue as busy as the lobbyists.

Source: http://romenews-tribune.com/view/full_story/20478792/article-Solar-proposals-would-shake-up-utility-scheme?instance=home_news_lead_story

Friday, April 12, 2013

Solar Cell Degradation Research Can Improve Thin Film Solar Panels

The Laboratory for Photovoltaics at the University of Luxembourg has recently devised a new method to observe the causes of and prevent solar cell degradation before solar cell production is even finished. This will have huge effects on the solar cell manufacturing industry because of how fast chemical damage to solar cells can happen, and the large costs such damage incurs.

Solar panels convert the sun’s light into electrical current through the use of solar cells, which are the generators responsible for the energy solar panels produce. A specific type of solar cells, thin film solar cells, possess a special coating that is what actually absorbs the sun’s energy — this film can be easily degraded during the solar panel production process though.

“A thin film solar cell is a stack of several layers. The main one is the layer that absorbs the light and transforms it into electricity. If these absorbers are not processed immediately they lose part of their ability to convert light energy,” says researcher David Regesch of the Laboratory for Photovoltaics, Physics Research Unit at the University of Luxembourg.

For the new research, a laser was shone onto a solar cell and the light that was released by this was measured, which led to the finding that the degradation usually occurs within the first few minutes. And, importantly, it was found that the degradation was reversible and could be prevented, by immediately putting another layer on top of the solar cell. This stabilizes the solar cell.

“In the photovoltaics industry, solar cells are processed as fast as possible for economic reasons, and now scientists have shown a physical reason why this process should be completed quickly.”

The new research was just published in Applied Physical Letters.

Source: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/10/13/solar-cell-degradation-research-can-improve-thin-film-solar-panels/

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Solyndra, Claiming Foul Play, Sues Its Chinese Rivals

Bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra has filed a $1.5bn lawsuit against Suntech Power Holdings Co. STP -4.09% and other players in the Chinese solar industry, Bloomberg reports today, with the U.S. company claiming it was driven out of business by an illegal cartel agreement among its rivals.

The defendants schemed with each other, raw material suppliers and certain lenders to flood the U.S. market with solar panels at below-cost prices, the Fremont, California-based company said in the complaint. Panel prices for Wuxi, China- based Suntech, the biggest solar-panel maker, and two other companies moved in tandem, falling 75 percent in four years in the U.S. market, Solyndra said.

Debra Grassgreen, an attorney with Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones, which represents Solyndra, confirmed to Corporate Intelligence that the company had filed the complaint, but said it had no further comment to make.

Since falling into bankruptcy in mid-2011, Solyndra has become a political hot potato, as opponents of the Obama administration highlight the company and its $535m government loan guarantee as an example of failed industrial policy and, they say, political cronyism.

But it has also struggled to recoup even a fraction of the $950m in equity it raised from investors. After Clearwire, Solyndra raised more venture capital than any other American company, ever. What’s left of all that cash? So far, the company has sold off some assets worth around $13m, and might be able to get about $90m more when it sells its headquarters and manufacturing facility.

Part of that vast gap is due to the nature of the company’s business: it invested big in a state-of-the-art factory that used a lot of custom-designed equipment to make solar panels according to its own secret recipe. As you can imagine, one-of-a-kind precision manufacturing equipment designed to work within a proprietary factory formula doesn’t hold its value well on the second-hand market. Even the more versatile stuff, like electron microscopes and robotic arms, got sold for a fraction of the sticker price.

As the WSJ’s Yulia Chernova tells us, Solyndra’s basic premise was to produce low-cost solar panels using better technology and design. All that expensive custom gear was meant to create a factory that could make solar panels at a price that would undercut the expensive product coming out of China. It is ironic, to say the least, that the company is now suing those same rivals for undercutting its price so badly that it was driven out of business.

What went wrong? Solyndra bet big on an expensive factory making a kind of solar panel that didn’t need silicon as an ingredient. Back in 2008, the kind of silicon needed in solar panels was in short supply, and its high price made Chinese panels expensive. But within four years, thanks to big investments in new polysilicon manufacturing facilities, the price dropped from around $400 a kilogram to just $20. Chinese-made panels using silicon plummeted in price. Solyndra, and a whole bunch of solar panel makers around the world, went out of business.

Next Wednesday, a Delaware bankruptcy court will decide on a plan from Solyndra to partially repay creditors and emerge from Chapter 11 protection — a plan that the federal government is not happy about, and which could provide a nice little tax upside for Solyndra’s private equity backers. The WSJ’s Jacqueline Palank reports:

Most of Solyndra’s $528 million in federally backed loan debt would go unpaid under the plan, and the department is objecting to the plan on the grounds that it allows its claim to go unprotected.

Also raising its hand to object is the Internal Revenue Service, which says the plan’s main purpose is “tax avoidance.” The IRS is referring to the nearly $1 billion in tax benefits Solyndra may be able to obtain after it exits bankruptcy as a shell company, which the tax agency said “dwarfs” the $7 million to $8 million that general unsecured creditors can expect to be paid under the plan.
According to the IRS court filing: “The undeniable conclusion is that tax benefits drive this plan.”

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2012/10/12/solyndra-claiming-foul-sues-its-chinese-rivals/

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

IRS to Rule on Status of Solar PV Owned by REITs

The biggest open question in my article Solar REITs: A Better Way to Invest in Solar was, when will we have a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?
A solar power facility in Chicago, Illinois.
In particular,
  • Will solar photovoltaics (PV) be considered real property for purposes of Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) ownership?
  • Will revenue from power purchase agreements (PPAs) with utilities be considered rents?
These are both important, because in order to qualify for their special tax status, REITs must receive 75% of its gross income from IRS-defined “rents” on “real property.” The IRS has substantial leeway to determine what qualifies as both “rent” ans as “real property,” hence the need for a ruling to clarify matters.

As I discussed, the IRS issues rulings in response to either a taxpayer request (this is a “private letter ruling”) or in response to a request from a government official (a “revenue ruling.”) My sources told me that a revenue ruling is generally considered preferable because the chances of an outcome that would allow REITs more freedom to own and derive revenue from PV are higher if there is a government official behind the request. A revenue ruling also has the advantage that it is immediately applicable to all taxpayers, while a private letter ruling is only binding on the requesting taxpayer and the IRS. In practice, however, private letter rulings set precedents which other taxpayers and tax attorneys can reasonably expect to have broader application.

When I wrote the article, I knew there were rumors that a revenue ruling might be requested soon, but not if any taxpayers had yet requested private letter rulings. Private letter rulings are, after all, private between the taxpayer and the IRS. The only way to learn about a taxpayer’s request is if the taxpayer makes it public.

The Renewable Energy Trust Capital, Inc. (RET), a San Francisco, CA based mission-driven company founded in 2011 to “facilitate the transition to a clean and sustainable economy,” is requesting a private letter ruling, and announced the fact in late September. I spoke to RET’s CFO, Christian Fong, CFA about RET’s request. I was interested in both the timing of the request, and and RET’s motivations and plans.


Fong stated that RET filed its request over the summer, but emphasized that the request is a process, in which there is considerable back-and-forth between the IRS and RET.

Why not wait for a revenue ruling?

Fong stated that the “industry lacks clarity” on REIT ownership of PV. He says it’s necessary that someone ask the question so that the industry can “move forward one way or another.”

What RET plans to do with their ruling

Although Fong said nothing to imply it, it’s also possible that RET is interested in gaining a first mover advantage. RET has gathered venture capital, which they intend to use to form a REIT or REITs. Those REITs will buy PV assets which will be maintained by RET’s strategic partner, True South Renewables. The REIT will then be listed on a stock exchange and sold to individual investors. Since Solar REITs will be a new asset class which I expect to be attractive to income investors, the first listed solar REITs will probably sell for a premium, allowing the first movers to make larger profits for creating the first solar REITs than the organizers of subsequent REITs. That potential profit is not a bad thing, however, but rather compensation for the effort of going ahead and working through the process with the IRS.

Has the IRS received any other requests?

Because the only way the public is likely to find out about a private letter ruling request is if the taxpayer behind the request announces it, it is quite possible that there are other requests in process. However, as Joshua L. Sturtevant, and associate with Distributed Sun of Washington, DC told me in my interview with him for my previous article, the IRS will likely want to deal with this issue only once. Hence, we can expect that the service has consolidated the ruling requests it has received to date, and will most likely issue the rulings together.

What it will mean for the industry

Fong says RET’s intent is to show investors that solar is “not vaporware.” Solar PV is a solid asset that generates real cash flows for investors. RET is clearly ready to create and list one of the first (if not the first) solar REITs as soon as the IRS issues a ruling that allows solar REITs in any form. Such REITs will be a boon for green income investors, and probably bring even grater benefits to solar developers, who currently have relatively limited and expensive sources of capital to use developing PV projects.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomkonrad/2012/10/12/irs-to-rule-on-status-of-solar-pv-owned-by-reits/

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Solar Silicon to Bottom as China Halts Factory Expansion

Polysilicon, the raw material used by the $38 billion a year solar industry, is forecast to bottom near a record low next year after the leading manufacturers in China and South Korea halted factory expansions.

A crucible is loaded with polysilicon, which will be melted
down to make solar cells.
The spot price will fall 6 percent to about $18.20 a kilogram by mid-2013 and then is likely to stabilize, according to the median estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The commodity crashed from $475 in 2008 and is down 27 percent this year to $19.36 on Oct. 1, the lowest in at least a decade.

Producers led by GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. (3800) in China and OCI Ltd. (010060) of South Korea have stopped expanding factories after doubling capacity between 2009 and 2011. While the resulting glut gutted margins as it depressed prices to near or below output costs, most producers will avoid shutting plants, said Joe Osha, an analyst for Bank of America Corp. (BAC) in San Francisco.

“Instead, demand is going to grow, and eventually you are going to get to the point where supply and demand balance, probably in 2014 or 2015,” Osha said in an interview. “This is going to bottom the long, painful way.”

GCL-Poly reported its first half-year net loss since 2009 on Aug. 24 and is halting capacity expansion plans to focus on cutting costs. The company, whose stock has dropped 46 percent in 2012, said it produced polysilicon for $18.90 a kilogram in the first half, down 14.5 percent from a year earlier.

Line Retrofit

LDK Solar Co., (LDK) the sixth-biggest maker by capacity, said it almost didn’t produce polysilicon in the second quarter because of a retrofit plan aimed at cutting production costs in half to about $20. South Korea’s OCI Co., the third-largest, also halted an expansion this year.

Most manufacturers cut output or stopped boosting scale in the past few months, while many small Chinese makers halted lines altogether earlier in the year. The surplus, however, is too large for prices to start rebounding anytime soon, according to Sean McLoughlin, an industry analyst at HSBC Bank Plc.

A “realistic” bottom for spot prices, excluding the occasional effects of distressed sales, is $18, McLoughlin said. “At $18, you’re reaching into reported cash cost levels of some of the top producers, which becomes a strong resistance point,” he said in an interview.

Polysilicon, which is silicon refined for use in panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity, accounts for about a quarter of the costs to make the photovoltaic devices. Those panels produce the majority of the world’s solar energy.

The top five makers, which also include Germany’s Wacker Chemie AG (WCH), U.S.-based Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., and Norway’s Renewable Energy Corp. (REC), could produce enough silicon to satisfy all current demand for panels, according to analyst estimates.

The price survey comprised forecasts from Bank of America, HSBC, Macquarie Bank Ltd., Maxim Group LLC and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Polysilicon will keep falling for some time and will stay low for years to come,” Martin Simonek, a solar analyst for New Energy Finance, said by phone. “Demand for solar panels in the second half is expected to weaken so oversupply will not improve, even though there’s some reduction in supply.”

Hitting bottom will take years because silicon is a “high fixed cost, low variable cost” business where the tendency is to keep operating unless prices go below cash cost, Osha said. Those costs typically include production expenses and exclude depreciation.

Market Share

The top five companies are likely to increase market share, while those with more than 10,000 tons in annual production are likely to keep producing, and the rest will have to shut down because they can’t be competitive, he said.

Polysilicon capacity is currently enough for 40 gigawatts to 45 gigawatts in photovoltaic panels, which compares to a demand forecast of about 31 this year, Barclays Plc said in a research note on Sept. 5. Capacity has risen less than 10 percent since the end of last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

GCL-Poly, Wacker and most analysts expect 30 gigawatts to 35 gigawatts of demand this year. That’s 10 percent to 20 percent more than last year.

Barclays sees 33 gigawatts in solar panel demand during 2013, driven by cheaper polysilicon and stronger markets outside Europe. As the glut persists, the bank sees the largest companies increasing their market share of already about 85 percent by exploiting their cost and scale advantages.

“The PV industry has attracted too many players,” Wacker Chief Executive Officer Rudolf Staudigl said on July 25. “It will take time to shut down or absorb the capacity surplus even though the market keeps growing.”

Slimmer Margins

The German company’s operating margin dropped to 9 percent in the second quarter from 17 percent a year ago. OCI, the second-biggest manufacturer, reported its margin narrowed to 6 percent from 33 percent over the same period. Smaller players such as China’s Daqo New Energy Corp. (DQ) have been posting losses and negative margins for several quarters.

The spot price of polysilicon has been falling since February, dragging down the price of long-term contracts for the material derived from sand. Such contracts, which still account for a large part of sales, are now in the $23 to 25 a kilogram range, according to most analysts. Only last year they averaged about $51 a kilogram, depending on quality, BNEF data shows.

The price of polysilicon may be influenced by potential anti-dumping measures in China against suppliers in the U.S. and South Korean, according to the analysts.

Dumping Probe

On July 20, China’s Ministry of Commerce started a one-year anti-dumping probe on solar-grade polysilicon imports from those countries. The ministry will make preliminary findings as early as November, officials at Daqo and Jiangsu Zhongneng Polysilicon Technology Development Co., two of four makers that brought the case, said last month.

“Should there be significant import tariffs against U.S., Korean or even EU producers, then the whole picture would change,” Robert Schramm-Fuchs, analyst for Macquarie Bank Ltd., said by phone. “It would delay consolidation and concentration in the industry.”

China now holds about 25 percent of global polysilicon capacity, of which less than 15 percent comes from medium or small companies, according to Barclays. The much-needed shakeout at the bottom is “frustratingly slow” due to the country’s unwillingness to allow market forces to eliminate unprofitable and uncompetitive participants, it said.

The tariffs would support Chinese polysilicon makers while delaying the supply demand balance the industry needs, according to the analysts. Most solar panels that use the material are manufactured in the country.

“Introducing duties in China will not help anyone, except possibly a few obsolete Chinese polysilicon manufacturers,” said Simonek from BNEF. “International makers would have to drop their prices further to sell there, and the duties would increase the price of the raw material, making Chinese modules uncompetitive. It’s like sowing the bench you’re sitting on.”

Source: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-11/solar-silicon-to-bottom-as-china-halts-factory-expansion