Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
The conference featured numerous presentations that illustrated various approaches to behavior change. Some trends include:
Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jon Tester (D-MT) requested that stimulus spending on a renewable energy program is discontinued until restrictions are implemented ensuring that the grantees of federal funding for these projects utilize domestic construction materials and products. The senators have cited the fact that nearly 80 percent of $2.1 billion in wind energy U.S. Recovery Act grants were approved for foreign-owned companies. Much of the recent consternation is over a $1.5 billion
This group of senators requested a moratorium on the distribution of section 1603 grant funding and awarding of any further grants until an amendment to the stimulus package is approved by the legislative process. Section 1603 of the Recovery Act allocates 30 percent cash grants for energy property in lieu of federal tax credits. Furthermore, they have authored new legislation entitled the American Renewable Energy Jobs Act, which would amend the Recovery Act and require that stimulus funds be only authorized for clean energy projects that incorporate materials manufactured in the
The American Renewable Energy Jobs Act proposes to expand the “Buy American” provision to include restrictions on all
The development of a clean energy economy is a vague term since it has not been clearly defined whether it means simply the generation and consumption of clean energy power, clean energy manufacturing or both. The Recovery Act was quite good-natured in its intention of funding a fledging alternative energy industry, where many companies struggled to obtain R&D support and competed on an unlevel playing field on the demand side, based on minimal government support from past administrations. However, due to the lack of a sufficient clean technology corporate infrastructure, it was inevitable that much of the funding would aid overseas companies, some of which whom do not even have facilities in the
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The story goes that a recent arrival in New England (in the Northeast United States) met a neighbor who warned her that heating her home that winter was going to cost "a nominal egg." Tickled that she had learned a local expression, she told her Boston-born husband at dinner that evening. He told her that it was not a local expression, that people everywhere used it. She said that she had never herself heard it before. He replied that surely someone somewhere had told her that something had cost "an arm and a leg!"
Meanwhile over on Sightline.org's Daily Score, Eric de Place posted an interesting piece on electricity prices. He plotted electricity consumption vs. electricity price for the 50 states (less Hawaii, but plus Washington, D.C.). Lo and behold, even given all the generalizations inherent in such a plot, the higher cost correlated with lower consumption. De Place's conclusion was that to encourage energy conservation, we should raise electricity prices. This sparked a lot of discussion ranging from the efficacy of tiered rates to the need to avoid a regressive rate structure that weighs more heavily on lower income citizens than higher income ones.
The upshot for me was a little different.
Here's the conundrum I see: Higher energy prices encourage conservation. But energy conservation serves only to keep electricity prices where they are. For example, here in the US Pacific Northwest, excess power generated by our dams is sold to California consumers. Basically, the energy we save is just placed on the open market. Those not doing the conserving get cheaper energy (because there is more supply), and to the extent we can get California consumers to purchase our excess electricity, our electric rates get subsidized and are arguably unjustifiably low.
My thinking is that we need to take the electricity conserved and translate that into other resources. For example, we save XXX mwh region wide over a month. We convert that to how much "water-through-the-dams" was saved, and spill that water in a way that benefits salmon instead. That way it's a sort of cap-and-trade for electricity. We are actually generating less electricity and investing more in our other resources over time. The cost of electricity rises, especially outside the region, because the excess created by conservation is actually removed from the market. The 'savings' get invested in others of our resources in our region.
I know there are probably a thousand things to work through to put such a system in place. But it is this fundamental dynamic that will start the positive feedback cycle on energy conservation. So long as our 'conserved' electricity is simply made available for others to use, the price will not go up, and serious energy efficiency, not the energy itself, will appear to cost the 'nominal egg.'
Monday, March 15, 2010
Global supply of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is facing a shortage in 2010, according to several leading market analyst firms. As more and more companies support the solar supply chain, which has an overabundance of panel inventory currently, it is surprising that more companies have not turned their attention to overlapping synergistic products and services that support the LED supply chain. What’s more, high-brightness LEDs (HB-LEDs) feed into energy-efficient solid state lighting, which has an analogous carbon emissions reductions benefit of solar and is eligible for green energy incentive programs. In addition, companies who receive green stimulus or other government funding for SSL are able to offset their net R&D cost, which also supports consumer electronics, where there is an emerging shortage of LED backlighting devices.
Total consumption of LEDs reached 63 billion units in 2009, up from 57 billion in 2008. According to iSuppli market analysts, overall LED consumption was just above the industry’s total capacity of 75 billion units, indicating that many LED manufacturers were operating at nearly 100 percent capacity levels. The shortage predicted in 2010 applies to LEDs used for the backlighting of large-screen LCD-TVs due to their appealing thin design attributes and stellar picture quality. In comparison to notebook computers, which typically use 50 LEDs, or monitors, which require approximately 100 LEDs, LCD-TVs consume 300 to 500 LEDs per panel; thus a shortage would impact these products the most, especially in terms of cost. Furthermore, LEDs have deeply penetrated markets including: cell phones, portable navigation devices, digital photo frames, digital cameras and keypads.
On the green energy front, LED solutions are being increasingly adopted in the general illumination market but primarily for commercial and industrial lighting applications, which ultimately lower a building’s energy cost and carbon footprint. However, there are only two primary equipment-makers that support this overall supply chain, Aixtron of Germany and Veeco Instruments of the U.S., which are planning to double their production capacity by the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to the end of 2009. Interestingly enough, their tools are capable of supporting the growth of thin-films used both in the solar and LED industries allowing them to shift emphasis, depending on demand. In addition, there are significantly less HB-LED producers globally compared to solar panel manufacturers, whom have been dealing with a glut of oversupply and declining module prices. However, a domestic LED chip producer, Cree, based in
According to Navigant Consulting, 2009 started with approximately 1.6-gigawatts (GW) of solar inventory and 7.2GW of technology was shipped to the first point of sale. Approximately 6.6GW were installed globally in 2009, which leaves 2.2GW of photovoltaic cells and modules likely sitting in inventory in 2010. This inventory will likely continue to grow based on the fact there are about 400 solar panel manufacturers across the world. Even though the solar industry benefited from record low module prices in recent years, leading to increasing installation figures globally, an increasing oversupply would be alarming, especially once prices stabilize, which may lessen demand.
Photo credit: Symbolism of Solar Oversupply
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry will likely be affected by steep price declines again in 2010, although prices are expected to fall at a more moderate rate than in 2009, according to a leading industry analyst firm, iSuppli. This firm forecasts overall demand to increase sharply, but this depends on the German feed-in tariff subsidy that is guaranteed for only half of this year, which impacts nearly 50 percent of the current global market. Price declines for PV solar panels will likely be fueled by the emergence of more hefty competitors in the field of nearly 400 already such as: Samsung, LG Electronics, Bechtel and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., among others, whom are developing or expanding solar operations.
Many solar companies were gearing up in early 2009 for potential global greenhouse gas emissions reductions treaties and American renewable energy mandates for utilities, which never materialized. iSuppli analysts have announced recently that global installed watts for PV systems will grow by 64 percent in 2010, reaching 8.3GW; thus matching 2008 growth levels before the recession and bank credit crisis took its toll. Nonetheless, they have made a reasonable assertion that the industry will see a continuation of the significant price declines that carried through 2009.
However, even though the market for PV chemicals and materials declined slightly to about $2.44B in 2009, it is expected to grow 27 percent to $3.1B in 2010, according to Linx Consulting. This firm has published a recent report entitled “Chemicals & Materials for Photovoltaic Cells and Modules 2010,” which forecasts this market to reach $14B by 2015, lowering their April 2009 estimate by $1B, likely due to the lack of binding national clean energy and carbon capping regulations in the U.S and abroad. Linx has based their upstream supply chain growth figures on end-user demand for solar power, which they predict will increase from 5.8GW currently to 38GW by 2015. The PV supplier branch of the supply chain is less affected by module price declines than PV manufacturers and enjoys less overall competition.
PV solar cells are comprised of several main categories including: crystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, tandem-junction, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide cells and modules. Key technology areas for improving cell performance are centered around texturization, chemical cleaning, metallization, selective emitters, backsheets, frontsheets, and encapsulants. The Linx market research report focuses on all of the above issues, as well as perspectives on the levelized cost of energy as a function of module performance, including geographic adjustments such as local incentives and solar irradiance factors.
One particular company positioned to capitalize well on the solar PV materials boom is DuPont. This company has recently added to its investment in a $120M capacity expansion, announced in August 2009, for raw materials processing related to these cells, bringing the total commitment of these two phases to $295M. A primary driving force for this expansion is to deploy its industry-leading Tedlar films that serve as a critical component of solar PV backsheets, providing long-term durability and performance for solar PV modules in all-weather conditions. The manufacturing steps for Tedlar-oriented solar PV backsheet films include producing vinyl fluoride monomer, which is converted into polyvinyl fluoride polymer resins prior to extrusion into the Tedlar film. DuPont’s solar PV backsheet film line expansion will be located at their Circleville,
This expansion supports Tedlar-oriented film capacity for global demand of over 10GW of solar PV module production. DuPont expects that overall sales of its family of products into the solar PV industry will exceed $1B by 2012 based on their internal analysis of solar PV market growth over the next several years, which would accelerate demand, in particular, for Tedlar and other new materials that have increased the lifetime and efficiency of solar cells and modules previously.
Declining solar PV module prices over the last couple years and reports for continued behavior have not generated much consolidation in the solar module manufacturing arena; thus, PV solar materials providers have the opportunity to serve this market to meet increasing installation demands. Companies such as DuPont, as well as leading process equipment providers, with competitive advantages for certain critical products, will be in a good position to capitalize on this trend.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the
Although this may be a boom for corporations, marketers and media agencies, the decision will tilt the balance of power in formulating new legislation. The results of massive spending and its impact on the health care debate have been obvious. The Washington Post reported that corporations spent an average $1.4 million per day to stall the President's health care legislation, which is still being dragged out in Congressional events such as today’s Health Care Caucus. Constant stalemates supported by wealthy incumbent corporations in power over the status quo will lessen the possibility for change on many issues across the board including climate change and the development of a clean energy economy.
Public debates have already been confused by misinformation on health care and other major issues, and the political culture will be even more distorted by corporate spending in the future. Under the new ruling, facts will be lost to an even higher degree through a plethora of false television advertisements and lobbyist events to protect future profits and market share. Therefore, with unlimited spending on major policy issues, misinformation campaigns by Big Oil, Big Coal and other special interests will be even more aggressive, potentially brainwashing the public who may have initially favored clean energy and carbon emissions reduction policies.
In the case of renewable energy development, the Recovery Act has been an obvious boost; however, stimulus funding is essentially a temporary lift to an industry that requires substantial long-term legislative support to overcome the even more powerful entrenched fossil fuel industry. The Hill.com reports that the joint DOE/Treasury grants in lieu of tax credit program implemented last year under the Recovery Act may end too soon to benefit some planned solar plants. In many cases, construction must be started this year in order to benefit from the program, which is a stiff challenge for solar projects that have been delayed due to permitting issues for large-scale capital projects and transmission, especially for ones on federal land. The solar industry has asked Congress to extend the deadline to begin construction beyond 2010, but an extension may not be forthcoming.
Part of the current problem for renewable energy deployment in the
Furthermore, without a national RPS there will be imbalanced market and overall less growth in the renewable energy sector, since many states will not have a major incentive to match surrounding states or the ability to overcome wealthy fossil fuel lobbyist organizations. However, if a national RPS or cap-and-trade system is ever enacted, the states which fell behind the curve and never progressed in building a clean energy infrastructure and accompanying power grid system or smart grid, will lack the know-how and have a mountain to climb, as their utilities may be forced to purchase specific renewable energy at a premium from out-of-state power providers, driving up the cost for all energy users. What’s more, states without state RPS mandates will lose out on the synergistic spillover effect that clean energy deployment has, which is the attraction of the supply chain (jobs) to the customer base, as in the case of solar manufacturing operations opening up in
After Arizona finally was able to attract a major solar manufacturer to the Phoenix area for the first time in its history, after passing related incentive legislation, and its governor, Jan Brewer, touted the state as the next “solar capital of the world,” solar energy giant SunTech Power Holdings, based in China, is now reconsidering its plan to build its plant in Goodyear, AZ if the bill is passed, according to the Phoenix Business Journal. And that could be how the cookie crumbles, as the state and the country as a whole, drowns in debt and economic woes without being able to see the promise of future economic growth.