Thursday, February 26, 2009

First Solar Passes $1 Per Watt Industry Milestone

Business Wire/February 24, 2009

First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) today announced it reduced its manufacturing cost for solar modules in the fourth quarter to 98 cents per watt, breaking the $1 per watt price barrier.

“This achievement marks a milestone in the solar industry’s evolution toward providing truly sustainable energy solutions,” said Mike Ahearn, First Solar chief executive officer. “First Solar is proud to be leading the way toward clean, affordable solar electricity as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.”

First Solar began full commercial operation of its initial manufacturing line in late 2004. From 2004 through today, manufacturing capacity has grown 2,500 percent to more than 500 megawatts in 2008. First Solar’s annual production capacity will double in 2009 to more than 1 gigawatt, the equivalent of an average-sized nuclear power plant. These escalating volumes have been accompanied by a rapid reduction in manufacturing costs. From 2004 through today, First Solar’s manufacturing costs have declined two-thirds from over $3 per watt to less than $1 per watt. First Solar is confident that further significant cost reductions are possible based on the yet untapped potential of its technology and manufacturing process.

First Solar is not only committed to making solar power affordable but also to making it environmentally sustainable. The Company takes responsibility for its products throughout their life cycle, ensuring that First Solar modules have the smallest carbon footprint of any current photovoltaic (PV) technology. First Solar is proud to have the industry’s first and only comprehensive pre-funded, end-of-life module collection and recycling program, recycling more than 90 percent of each collected module into new products.

Ahearn expressed thanks to governments in Germany and other countries for making today’s milestone possible. “Without forward-looking government programs supporting solar electricity, we would not have been able to invest in the capacity expansion which gives us the scale to bring costs down,” he said. “First Solar’s ongoing focus on cost reduction enables continued growth even as subsidies decline. In the meantime, those initial investments are paying off in a cleaner environment and in the creation of thousands of jobs with a clear future.”

“This represents a major milestone for the solar industry,” said Ken Zweibel, an industry veteran currently serving as Director of the Institute for the Analysis of Solar Energy at The George Washington University and former Program Leader for the Thin Film Partnership Program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. “In order to address climate change in a meaningful way, we need energy technologies that are affordable, scalable and have a low environmental impact on a life-cycle basis. With this announcement, First Solar continues to demonstrate the ability of thin film PV technology to provide an alternative to traditional fossil fuels and for solar power to provide a meaningful contribution in addressing climate change."

Visit First Solar's Website

More on China's Solar Boom

See the slideshow

The Oregonian/Amy Hsuan/February 21, 2009

NANTONG, China — In a hollow factory so new it smells of plaster, Lynn Sha's lone assembly line is laying the groundwork for a global solar eclipse.

Every five hours, a silicon-coated panel rolls out of QS Solar, a company just eight months in the business. Sha, a stylish twentysomething vice president, expects within months to pump out enough panels for a quarter-million households.

Never mind that until last year, QS Solar was QS Latex, a glove manufacturer with no experience making silicon anything.

"Soon, we'll be able to sell to our customers for just $1 per watt," says Sha, crossing the floor in towering heels. Little does Sha know her sky-high ambitions threaten to cast a shadow as far as Oregon.

At a buck-a-watt, solar — the world's most expensive energy — would beat today's cheapest power, coal-fired electricity. That would pave the industry's way to the rooftops of the masses, giving it a surefire edge in the world's race for affordable clean energy.

And, with next-to-nothing overhead and abundant cheap labor, Chinese companies are almost sure to get there first. More than any others, China's factories hold the promise of delivering solar energy at Wal-Mart prices, spawning a glut of panels worldwide.

But their zeal could dim Oregon's own solar boom, the pillar of the state's hope for economic recovery. Oregon officials are betting big with taxpayer dollars to snag solar manufacturers and their pledge of high employment — just as global prices are expected to plunge.

"I see more overcapacity coming out of Asia than anywhere else," says Christopher Dymond, a senior energy analyst with the Oregon Department of Energy. "We will see quite a few companies go out of business."

Over the past decade, China's unprecedented rise has elicited awe from across the world while stoking fears among competitors. There's little question that the world's fastest-developing nation means new possibilities for Oregon: New wealth in the most populous nation germinates demand for Oregon fruit, trees and nursery products. The government's enormous cleanup efforts open doors for Oregon's green experts. High-tech companies reap higher profits with a Chinese work force, reinvesting in American technology.

China's global shadow at times becomes a spotlight. A nation that not long ago seemed exotic and distant now looms close enough to shape Oregon's economy during a time of crisis and opportunity.

Booms and busts

Even with its damp climate, Oregon has appeal for the solar industry. California, the nation's biggest solar customer, is right next door. Oregon also boasts a high-tech work force with expertise in silicon, the essential ingredient to turn sunlight into electricity.

Its biggest sell: millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize solar companies, expected to create thousands of jobs in the coming years. So far, the state has snagged photovoltaic giant SolarWorld, which unveiled the nation's largest solar plant, in Hillsboro, and other brands, including Sanyo and Solaicx.

But Oregon's much-hyped foray comes just after a historic boom for solar. With concerns over global warming and oil prices driving big investments in clean energy, worldwide production of solar products exploded by an average of 48 percent a year starting in 2002.

Venture capital poured in. Germany and Spain doled out incentives to consumers. Solar companies basked in a record $15.9 billion in profit in 2008.

Suddenly, dark clouds gathered. Germany and Spain cut consumers off. Tightened credit markets blocked financing for costly systems. Analysts predict that a stockpile of modules worldwide will drive prices down by 20 to 30 percent.

Already, Oregon officials say the promised employment boom won't be as big or easy as they'd once trumpeted as companies brace for a crash.

"We are entering a very dynamic and turbulent period in the solar industry," says Edwin Koot, CEO of SolarPlaza, a Dutch consultancy firm. "Everyone will be affected. But never underestimate the Chinese."

The Chinese boom

Three hours by car from Shanghai, Jiangsu province is China's new golden powerhouse. Here, in the marine-layer fog of the Yellow Sea, an estimated 500 companies have ignited in just a few years — a cluster of businesses similar to what Oregon officials hope for, only on a scale to match China's ambitions.

Already, companies here dominate the global landscape: Six of the top 15 solar manufacturers are Chinese, exceeding the numbers from solar stalwarts in Germany and Japan.

Analysts predict world demand for solar this year to be roughly 4.2 gigawatts, according to iSuppli, a research firm that tracks solar trends. Manufacturers across the globe plan to pump out nearly three times that, or 11.1 gigawatts.

Last year, China made up more than a quarter of the world's production, nearly matching all of Europe. Already, smaller factories in China are sputtering out. But the big Chinese companies show few signs of slowing.

"We aren't going to stop," says Thomas Young, investment relations director with Jiangsu-based Trina Solar, the world's 14th-largest producer. "We're going to put our foot on the gas and sometimes coast and sometimes brake. But we can handle lower prices because we have such low overhead."

China has no domestic solar market despite its surging energy needs, so it ships almost everything overseas. That's likely to be the case until prices crash.

"The Chinese tactic has been to scale up production and sell it to the Europeans at European prices," says Koot, the Dutch analyst. "Once the prices begin to plummet, they'll use it themselves for their domestic market. It's a smart strategy."

Most companies in China start like QS Solar, without much expertise or technology. But they know the formula for running a tight-ship factory — and can build one practically overnight. Not to mention, workers are a dime a dozen — and cost about that much.

"Chinese companies have been able to grow their capacity very quickly, faster than European companies," says Rory MacPherson, investor relations director with Suntech Power, a Jiangsu-based company that is the world's second-largest solar manufacturer. "And it's because they have such low manufacturing costs."

At Solarfun, nearly 15,000 modules are practically handcrafted each month. Founded in 2004 in Jiangsu and now the world's seventh-largest solar module producer, the company's campus houses more than 2,000 workers. In teams of 100, they solder cells, lay thin films of plastic and apply bar codes, one by one.

"Asian factories are much more disciplined than Western factories," says Harold Hoskens, Solarfun chief executive officer. "Where mechanization would outweigh the benefits of manual labor, it's a long way off, and we still have very good quality."

Worker productivity is meticulously recorded on whiteboards. A notation next to every worker's name indicates how many cells he or she has made — and broken. A perfect production record means a green smiley-face sticker next to a worker's name — and a $10 bonus, a hefty sum for workers who average about $150 a month. Workers who break five in a month get a red face and risk losing their job.

At the end of every month, each team produces 1.6 megawatts of energy, enough to provide 533 Oregon households a third of their energy needs. Their record of success: 96 percent.

"That is the human potential," says sales manager Yizhong Li.

Oregon competitors

SolarWorld's new Hillsboro factory is strikingly devoid of people. In an enormous production area, floor-to-ceiling machines hum, while robotic arms sort and move wafers. Computers control almost every step.

Mechanization, says Vice President Bob Beisner, is better because computers are more precise than people.

"You can set up a robot to handle the wafers gently and repeat it at high volumes," Beisner says. "To teach that to a human and have them repeat it is very, very difficult."

Still, the German company expects to eventually employ more than 1,000 people, in maintenance, administration or engineering. By early 2011, SolarWorld will pump out 500 megawatts of electricity-generating cells. And, despite the economic gloom, Chief Operating Officer Boris Klebensberger doesn't see downshifting expansion.

Still, he can't ignore China's meteoric ascent.

"We would be foolish if we didn't admit Chinese companies are our competitors," Klebensberger says. "So you have to be better, or you aren't going to survive."

For SolarWorld, survival rests on a tactic almost identical to that of the Chinese factories: scaling up production to bring down costs. The difference at SolarWorld is that the average salary is $3,200 a month for production workers, not the $150 paid in China.

Lower profit margins will be the wave of the future for solar companies. And those with lower costs will live to compete another day.

"The solar industry in the past four years has never had to face a competitive market," says Travis Bradford of the Chicago-based Prometheus Institute, which tracks renewable-energy industries. "The era of easy profit in this business has passed. SolarWorld has been a beneficiary of that."

SolarWorld, one of Germany's fastest-growing companies last year, counts on a loyal customer base and a 25-year warranty. It also banks on a brand that's far from China's image as a maker of cheap goods.

American-made is also a selling tool for John Sedgwick, co-founder of California-based Solaicx, which opened a Portland plant in late 2007.

"The whole theory is that we're providing a superior product," Sedgwick says. "The Chinese are competitors in that they make a similar product. But our technology is highly differentiated from the technology they use there."

But Chinese companies' quality is as high as their American and European competitors, Bradford says.

"So far," he says, "I have not heard of any substantiated quality issues from the top five companies in China."

Tough decisions

The world's largest trade show, in Munich last April, featured just one U.S. state with its own booth: Oregon.

That's where Nikolaus Meyer, CEO of Sulfurcell, a German solar manufacturer, first heard about Oregon's generous tax credits.

"I heard that if you build a factory in Oregon," Meyer says, "the government will pay for it."

He isn't entirely off. Oregon offers companies tax credits, job training and cheap loans. That's not including the tax rebates individual communities can throw in.

Sulfurcell plans to build a new factory within the next two years. The question for Meyer is where: Oregon or Asia?

Oregon could be a winner if the U.S. solar market takes off, says Meyer, who plans to visit the state this year. But China is cheaper.

"The Chinese are going to be my competition for a long time," says Meyer, on a tour of Chinese factories in November. "I need to know who my competition is."

It may all end the same: If Meyer can't beat the Chinese, he may have to join them.

See the original article here

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

PG&E Plans Additional 500MW of Solar Capacity

Reuters/Reporting by Nichola Groom/February 24, 2009

California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co on Tuesday said it would develop up to 500 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic solar power projects over the next five years, up to half of which it will own directly.

The unit of PG&E Corp said it will pay $1.4 billion to own up to 250 MW of solar generation, its first direct investment in renewable generation in more than a decade. The program will add about 32 cents a month to the average residential utility bill, the company added.

Photovoltaic solar panels transform the sun's light into electricity.

The program is part of PG&E's effort to comply with a state mandate that requires utilities to produce 20 percent of their power from renewables such as wind and solar by 2010.

"This program represents an unprecedented commitment of our capital and expertise to speed the delivery of clean, renewable energy to our customers," PG&E Chief Executive Peter Darbee said in a statement.

The announcement from PG&E comes as the credit crisis has dried up funding for renewable energy projects. Utilities, however, have been one bright spot for solar projects because, effective late last year, they can now claim a 30-percent tax credit for building solar installations.

PG&E's move comes just a day after power plant owner NRG Energy stepped into the solar arena for the first time with a deal to invest $10 million in solar thermal start-up eSolar Inc and create up to 500 MW of solar power in the U.S. Southwest.

The 250 MW of the PG&E's program that the utility will not own will be built and owned by independent developers. Most of the projects will be between one and 20 MW, PG&E said, mounted on the ground or rooftops in northern and central California.

Overall, the project will generate enough emissions-free electricity to power about 150,000 homes, PG&E said.

See the original article here

Solar Energy Prices Slide Toward Grid Parity

CNet/Martin LaMonica/February 24, 2009

A look at the numbers driving the solar-panel industry leads to one conclusion: prices are falling fast.

Photon Consulting, which advises solar companies, this week released a summary of a study that predicts that a number of solar companies will hit a long-pursued industry target of $1 per watt by 2012.

That race toward a $1 per watt manufacturing cost is leading to brutal price competition and a potential shakeout among solar suppliers, according to analysts.

For consumers and businesses, though, the race means that within a few years solar photovoltaic modules, or panels, will be able to generate electricity cheaper than the grid in many regions of the world.

"With $1/W for modules and $1/W for BOS (balance of system), solar electricity in sunnier areas will be (less than) $0.10/kWh by 2012, creating a large addressable market that is the grand prize in solar's race to $1/W," according to the report summary.

The average retail price for electricity in the United States over the 12 months ending in November was 11.26 cents per kilowatt-hour for consumers and 10.24 cents per kilowatt-hour for businesses, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Prices vary significantly within the country, ranging from below 5 cents per kilowatt-hour in Idaho to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour in New York, for example.

Costs of solar electricity are falling through a combination of factors including better cell efficiency and improvements in solar manufacturing. Also, financing contracts where customers, usually a business, purchase electricity generated by rooftop panels over 20 or 25 years can result in a predictable and lower cost, according to analysts.

Photon Consulting in another study calculates that solar power is poised for far greater adoption because of falling costs. "Grid parity," or meeting the cost of electricity from traditional sources of power generation, is close for many places but Photon Consulting did note that there are economy-related risks to hitting that mark.

"Even at $0.15/kWh, the cost of solar power will be below grid parity for more than half of residential customers and 10% of commercial customers in the OECD (Organization for Economic Development countries), as long as grid electricity prices do not decrease through 2010. The other key risk to this view is significantly higher interest rates," Photon Consulting said in its report.

In the financial industry bailout package last year, the 30 percent tax credit for solar-electric investments was extended for eight years and the $2,000 federal tax credit cap was lifted. There are also a handful of companies offering financing options, such as leases, which lower the upfront cost of installing panels significantly.

Although the falling equipment prices make solar power more attractive for buyers, it spells real challenges for solar manufacturers.

Lux Research, a firm that does emerging technology research including green technologies, last week released a report that predicted a bruising economic environment for solar companies in 2009.

The prices of silicon--the most commonly used solar cell material--were relatively high in the past few years because the supply did not keep pace with demand. But that dynamic has been reversed, with a silicon glut pushing the prices of panels down, according to Lux Research.

"Starting in the fourth quarter of 2008, the global solar boom has sharply, and with little warning, peaked and turned into a global solar shakeout, as an oversupply of solar modules and a drying up of project financing has led to a drop in prices and a build-up of inventories, placing many firms in peril," according to the Lux Research report summary.

In addition, the difficulty in getting venture capital could derail large-scale production of low-cost thin-film solar cells.

Photon Consulting identified First Solar, REC Q-Cells, SolarWorld, SunPower, and Suntech as companies who are leaders in electricity costs.

See the original article here

DC Launches Solar Incentive Program

The District Department of the Environment today launched the first phase of the new Renewable Energy Incentive Program that was created under the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 – right now focused on photovoltaic technologies and wind power.

The full host of incentives for geothermal, solar thermal air and water heating, biomass and methane-capture will be launched over the coming weeks.

District residents, businesses, nonprofits and private schools may now apply for up to $33,000 in assistance to install renewable energy systems on their buildings. The Green Energy DC Renewable Energy Incentive Program is the first of a series of upcoming initiatives to support clean energy technology. Up to $2 million for each of the next four years will be available, beginning immediately with solar photovoltaic and wind turbine systems.

“The District’s rooftops are an amazing, untapped resource for clean, renewable energy,” said George S. Hawkins, director of the District Department of the Environment (DDOE). “It’s exciting to be able to offer more incentives than we ever have before.”

DC has never been known to be a hotbed for wind energy or methane capture and some of the other technologies listed above, but the latter inclusion of geothermal and solar thermal technologies is definitely going to spur on even greater opportunities for homeowners and businesses down the road.

This all comes out amidst coming increases in incentives from the Federal government on the heels of passing the Stimulus Bill last week. So the combination of these two should produce some favorable business growth for installers in the region. I have heard from a number of solar installers that they were advising some homeowners to wait on their decision to see the full breadth of the DC program.

At present, the District is accepting applications for funding for potential recipients to be placed in the reservation queue, which presumably will fill up quick knowing how swiftly the funding from the last program was allocated. The 2009 DC Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) intends to build upon the immense success of the Renewable Energy Demonstration Project (REDP) that was implemented last year.

The funding for this program comes from a ‘public benefits charge’ supported by ratepayers of Pepco and Washington Gas – and the program has allocations of $2 million per year secured through 2012. This funding is collected to help support an increase in the adoption of renewable energy, which is deemed a collective benefit to the region.

Under the REIP, photovoltaic incentives are based on the combined system rating in kilowatts (DC) output:

  • $3 for each of the first 3,000 installed watts of capacity;
  • $2 for each of the next 7,000 installed watts of capacity;
  • $1 for each of the next 10,000 installed watts of capacity

So under current incentives available to a homeowner in the District, a 4kw photovoltaic system would be eligible for $11,000 in system rebates from the REIP and 30% off of any remaining balance from the federal government from the Investment Tax Credit – meaning that a new system installed could be up to 60% off the average price.

So if you have been considering a system in the District, now is a good time to revisit the idea and contact your preferred installer, as these grants will definitely make the purchase an even more affordable solution.

If you are indeed interested in technologies other than solar, due note that the District is setting aside funding to be distributed for those technologies as well.

See the original article here

Solar Energy Initiatives Announces "Renew the Nation" Campaign

Renewable Energy Magazine/February 24, 2009

Initiatives helping generate jobs via Grass Roots Campaign to re-deploy US workforce into solar industry.

Solar Energy Initiatives, Inc. has unveiled its "Renew the Nation" campaign, intended to promote job growth nationwide via an aggressive grass roots effort. The main focus of Renew the Nation will be working with companies in the construction industry and related trades affected by the economic downturn to re-train and re-deploy their workforce, allowing this important national asset to meet the needs of the Solar Energy industry, the fastest growing industry in the world.

"The Solar Industry will be an integral component to redeploying companies and their work force into the U.S. marketplace. The rapidly growing solar market requires a knowledgeable workforce with expertise in both construction and installation practices," said David Fann, Chief Executive Officer of Solar Energy Initiatives. "Our Solar University can serve as a springboard for companies with a vision for the future. Renew The Nation is our 'call to arms' to rally behind President Obama's stimulus bill and be proactive in creating jobs in our industry. Our goal is to enable 1,000 companies throughout the USA, to install solar on as many residential and commercial rooftops as possible which reduces our dependency on foreign oil and lessens the strain on our electrical grid."

The federal stimulus bill, passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on Friday and signed by President Obama on Tuesday, includes more than $30 billion in energy tax breaks, financial incentives, and energy infrastructure projects. This new stimulus bill has a provision that puts solar finance on the fast track for financiers by offering DOE grants as an alternative to the tax credit. To be eligible for the program, the project must commence construction in 2009 or 2010 and be placed in service by 2017. The stimulus plan as it relates to energy greatly enhances Solar Energy Initiatives previously announced strategic growth plan. Management is confident that they can reach the previously announced guidance of $21 million by fiscal year end 2010.

Based on the strategic alliance, the Company's dealer network has access to equipment distribution agreements in place with BP Solar and GE Solar. This allows Solar Energy Initiatives to be competitive from a pricing standpoint with larger solar companies. While Solar Energy does not compete directly with industry giants such as First Solar, Kyocera, Sanyo or Suntech, it provides exciting and practical solutions to businesses and individuals worldwide that understand the value of solar power.

For additional information:

See the original article here

National Clean Energy Conference Discusses Smart Grid Plans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Across the Great Plains the wind blows incessantly, while in the remote Nevada desert the sun bears down without relief. Each holds the potential of a vast new energy resource.

While wind turbine and solar projects are ready to capture this new, eco-friendly energy source, where are the transmission lines to get the power to where it is needed?

Democratic congressional leaders, a former president and his one-time vice president, several Obama Cabinet members, energy executives and business leaders thrashed out that very predicament at a high-profile clean energy conference on Monday.

After two hours, a consensus seemed to emerge: The outdated electricity grid must be modernized and expanded if President Barack Obama's vision of dramatically increasing the country's renewable energy resources is to be accomplished. And the federal government will have to play a bigger role in locating high-voltage power lines to overcome local and regional resistance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a leading participant in the gathering, said he will soon introduce legislation to give federal regulators authority to override states when it comes to locating long-distance power lines.

"We cannot let 231 state regulators hold up progress," Reid said, referring to the members of state public utility commissions that decide on transmission locations.

While states should be given every opportunity to participate, "there may come a time when the federal government will have to step in," said Reid, whose state is a prime target for entrepreneurs building solar energy projects.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also called for expansion and modernization of the nation's power transmission system, saying these improvements are "essential to all that we do" to promote renewable energy.

The clean energy conference — which included former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming, and former President Bill Clinton — focused at length on the need for a national "smart" grid to transport electricity, and the need for grid expansion.

Gore said modernizing the transmission grid will allow for new ways to generate and distribute electricity.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he's ready to open federal land to renewable energy projects, including wind farms in the waters off the U.S. coast, and map out energy corridors. But, he warned, the power grid of today won't get the new energy to the markets that need it.

"In the end, unless we are able to solve this juggernaut and deal with the transmission issue we're simply going to be standing in place," Salazar told the conference, which was organized by the Center for American Progress.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that will craft energy legislation, said that while he has not seen Reid's proposal, he agreed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have more authority for planning and locating high-voltage power lines.

Bingaman said he hopes to have a bill in four to six weeks that will address the grid issue and establish a requirement for utilities nationwide to generate a certain percentage of electricity — as much as 20 percent by 2020 — from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

States have fought to maintain jurisdiction over locating the power grid.

Fred Butler, a New Jersey regulator who is chairman of National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said state officials are willing to work with the federal government on placement issues but oppose a federal takeover of the authority.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, one of the few Republicans at the conference, said the federal government must get more involved in establishing power transmission lines.

"If you try to run a wire through someone's community, that becomes about as contentious as you get," said Pataki. If that power is going through a state, he said, "you don't have to take a poll — no one is going to be for it."

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Japan Plans System to Boost Solar Power Capacity

Reuters/February 24, 2009

Japan aims to make utilities pay for surplus solar-power electricity that households produce by amending a law in the current session of parliament, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Tuesday.

It was the first clear sign of government action on the issue, but the details of the amendments have yet to be thrashed out. The issue may be contentious as it will increase the financial burden on consumers as well as utility companies.

Japan aims to boost its solar power capacity to 10 times the 2005 amount by 2020 and 40 times the 2005 amount by 2030 to help it cut greenhouse gas emissions. To meet these high targets, utility firms will have to strengthen their grid networks and install efficient batteries to absorb fluctuating amounts of electricity from solar power.

Japan aims to guarantee prices for surplus electricity from solar power generation for about 10 years to encourage homeowners to feed excess power back in to the electricity grid systems using a so-called "feed-in" tariff, ministry officials said.

Germany is the world's biggest solar power market, helped by a feed-in tariff system covering all electricity from renewable energy sources that it has been operating for several years now.

Japan's system will focus only on solar power and on the surplus electricity after home or factory usage.

"We are setting up a new system for solar power that is unique to Japan," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai told a regular news conference.

The guaranteed price would start at about twice the 23-24 yen (24-25 cents) per kilowatt hour utility firms now pay for voluntarily supplied surplus electricity from renewable energy sources. The cost of introducing the system would be passed on to consumers evenly, resulting in a rise in electricity fees per family of up to 100 yen a month.

The guaranteed price may come down when mass usage of solar panels reduces related costs, the officials said.

In the year that ended last March, Japan produced 1.92 million kilowatts of solar energy, 80 percent of which came from private homes.

Japan has seen demand for solar power equipment dry up after it pulled the plug on subsidies for such gear in March 2006, hurting solar panel makers' ability to invest in research and expansion abroad.

But the government brought back the subsidies from January. It plans to subsidise 70,000 yen ($740) per kilowatt of solar panel in the fiscal year starting in April to foster use of solar panels in homes. [ID:nT297875] ($1=94.59 Yen)

(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Risa Maeda; Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

See the original article here

Stimulus Plan Seeks to Boost Wind and Solar energy

Reuters/February 23, 2009

The $787 billion (542 billion pounds) stimulus package to help revive the U.S. economy includes billions of dollars in tax breaks, financial incentives, loan guarantees and grants to boost wind and solar energy.

Specifically, the stimulus package:

* Extends the tax credit for producing electricity from wind for three years through 2012. The credit for power generated by biomass, geothermal, hydropower, landfill gas and ocean currents has been extended through 2013.

* Provides $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and electricity transmission projects.

* Provides grants of up to 30 percent of the cost of building a renewable energy facility.

* Provides $11 billion in spending and loan guarantees to build a "smart grid" to move renewable electricity supplies across new transmission lines.

* Provides $5.5. billion to construct, repair and make alterations on federal buildings to increase energy efficiency, including installing solar energy equipment.

* Gives consumers a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of qualified solar water heating equipment.

* Provides $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research.

* Provides an additional $1.6 billion for new clean renewable energy bonds to finance facilities that generate electricity from renewable energy sources including solar facilities.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio)

See the original article here

Friday, February 20, 2009

Secretary Chu Expedites Funding for New Energy Economy

WASHINGTON, DC, February 19, 2009 (ENS) - Two days after President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a sweeping reorganization of the Energy Department's dispersal of direct loans, loan guarantees and funding contained in the new recovery legislation.

The goal of the restructuring is to expedite disbursement of money to begin investments in a new energy economy that will put Americans back to work and create millions of new jobs.

"These changes will bring a new urgency to investments that will put Americans back to work, reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and improve the environment," Secretary Chu told an audience of energy professionals and journalists at a Platts Energy Podium event in Washington.

"We need to start this work in a matter of months, not years, while insisting on the highest standard of accountability," he said.

By cutting paperwork, processing applications on a rolling basis, and drawing on lessons from the private sector and other agencies, the Department of Energy will be in a position to begin offering loan guarantees under the department's previous loan guarantee program by late April or early May, the secretary said.

The department will begin offering loan guarantees under the new stimulus legislation by early summer, Chu said.

These offers may still require recipients to secure their own share of the financing or meet other conditions prior to closing, but the DOE will have completed its review.

Under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Energy Department will issue $32.7 billion in grants and another $6 billion in loan guarantees for alternative and advanced energy technologies, said Matt Rogers, an adviser named to lead the department's efforts to spend these funds.

Rogers, formerly a senior partner of McKinsey and Company, has more than 20 years of experience in working with the energy industry and has done extensive work on the economics of addressing the global climate crisis.

Rogers served the Obama Presidential Transition Team in a special effort to develop opportunities to reduce the cost and increase the use of renewable energy in federal energy procurement.

Secretary Chu said he plans to disperse 70 percent of the investment from the stimulus package by the end of next year.

He said the DOE will work with the industry to attract good projects into the loan guarantee program and help applicants navigate the process. A new website will provide increased transparency in both process and results.

Secretary Chu was confirmed by the Senate in January as the nation's 12th energy secretary, after having served as director of DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, Chu has devoted his recent career to the search for new solutions to energy challenges and limiting global climate change.

Since being sworn in, Chu has been personally reviewing the Energy Department's process for issuing direct loans, loan guarantees and other funding to make it faster, simpler and more accountable.

The secretary said the changes he announced today will affect the loan guarantee program established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program in addition to funds supplied by the new economic stimulus package.

Based on detailed analysis of the programs, Secretary Chu said he is confident the changes will not introduce additional risk to the loan process.

Most of these changes are within the authority of the secretary of energy to make in consultation with the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Chu said a few will require statutory changes, and the department will move quickly to work with the House and Senate to make the necessary adjustments.

See the original article here

California Winery Turns 3 Acres Over to Solar Power

PASO ROBLES, California, February 19, 2009 (ENS) - J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines unveiled the largest solar tracking array in the North American wine industry on Wednesday at its Paso Robles winery.

The ground-mounted installation is made up of 4,320 single-axis solar modules that track the Sun to optimize production of solar power. Covering three acres, the 756 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system is designed to offset 75 percent of the winery's energy usage

"With numerous sunny days, Paso Robles isn't just ideal for producing rich and flavorful Bordeaux and Rhone-style wines," said Steve Lohr, senior vice president of planning and development with J. Lohr. "It is also perfect for producing clean, renewable energy."

"Owning our own solar tracking array is another important step in our commitment to environmentally-conscious practices," said Lohr. "In our own way, we are working to protect the very climate that nurtures our grapes, while contributing to efforts that reduce the need for drilling off our spectacular coast," he said.

The energy generated from J. Lohr's system will reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 29,887 tons over 25 years, the company estimates.

The new solar array is part of the company's broader program of sustainable winegrowing and winemaking techniques. Lohr uses organic soil amendments, limits its use of chemicals, controls erosion, conserves water, and practices composting and materials recycling.

Allison Jordan, executive director for the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, said the company is helping the entire California wine industry to make operations easier on the environment.

"J. Lohr has an impressive track record of environmental responsibility, and by both adopting sustainable practices and being willing to share its experience with others, is helping to expand the California wine industry's widespread sustainability movement," she said.

The tracking solar system was designed and installed by Conergy, which is involved in one in 10 of the world's solar photovoltaic projects.

"With a strong, credible voice among industry professionals and a powerful commitment to environmental stewardship, J. Lohr recognized the importance of setting an example for the wine industry, for other energy-intensive businesses, and the public at large," said Conergy product developer Michael DeSousa.

"By investing in this bellwether system, J. Lohr becomes more energy independent and will enjoy more predictable energy costs for decades to come," he said.

Founded more than 30 years ago by Jerry Lohr, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines operates 3,000 acres of estate vineyards in Paso Robles, Monterey County, and the Napa Valley.

See the original article here

Cost of Residential Solar Plunges 27.6%

San Francisco Chronicle/David R. Baker/February 20, 2009

The cost of installing solar panels on homes and businesses plunged 27.6 percent from 1998 through 2007, according to a new study that questions some of the conventional wisdom about solar power's price.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined the costs of 37,000 photovoltaic systems across the country and found the average price fell from $10.50 per watt in 1998 to $7.60 per watt in 2007. Those averages include residential systems as well as larger arrays installed on businesses and do not take into account financial incentives from the federal or state governments.

Smaller, home-size systems averaged $8.30 per watt in 2007, which was more than the average at commercial installations. At that price, a typical 3-kilowatt residential solar system would cost $24,900.

The study's findings, released Thursday, contain one surprise.

For several years, solar prices were widely believed to be rising, the result of a worldwide shortage of the silicon used in most photovoltaic panels. Indeed, Lawrence Berkeley researchers did find a slight increase in prices from 2005 to 2007. But the price hike was small, only about 20 cents per watt, said Galen Barbose, one of the report's authors. And it has probably ended, as the silicon shortage eased.

"In point of fact, the cost of these systems remained relatively flat," said Barbose, a staff research associate at the lab. "So the industry was able to absorb some of those (silicon) price increases."

The study found substantial differences in how much people in different states pay to install solar. Systems smaller than 10 kilowatts cost an average of $8.10 per watt in California, the second lowest average in the country, after Arizona. Maryland has the highest average price, at $10.60 per watt.

Solar power's popularity has grown as homeowners, businesses and governments turn to energy sources that don't produce greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. But photovoltaic solar panels remain an expensive way to generate electricity. The solar industry has been trying hard to drive down the cost, using new materials, new production processes and streamlined installation techniques.

Severin Borenstein, director of the UC Energy Institute, last year published a study that concluded photovoltaic solar power still isn't economical. Borenstein, who did not participate in the Lawrence Berkeley lab report, said Thursday that he's pleased to see prices declining. But the average cost needs to fall below $5 per watt before photovoltaic solar power is truly competitive with other forms of electricity generation, he said.

"What we're seeing in small-scale solar are incremental declines, not breakthrough declines," Borenstein said. "And in order for solar to really make sense, we're going to need breakthrough declines."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Suntech: Solar Market Looking Up

Ucilia Wang/February 18, 2009

The Chinese solar panel maker expects the U.S. market demand to reach as much as 700 megawatts if the federal stimulus plan works out. Suntech plans to begin shipping thin-film panels this year.

Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP) said Wednesday the market is brightening up a bit as it prepares for growth in the United States, France, Italy and Japan in 2009.

The company estimates that solar panel demand in the United States could reach 400 megawatts to 700 megawatts in 2009, while the global market could take in more than 5 gigawatts, said Steven Chan, Suntech's chief strategy officer, during a conference call with analysts. Chan cautioned that the U.S. outlook depends largely on whether the stimulus package that President Obama signed only a day earlier could achieve its desired results.

The Chinese solar panel maker has increased its product shipment since the fourth quarter, when the financial market crisis forced it to lay off 800 people, or 10 percent of its workforce, while keeping the factories running at 50 percent to 60 percent capacity.

"The flow is beginning to pick up," said Zhengrong Shi, CEO of Suntech, during the conference call. "The solar chain is becoming more familiar with the environment and sourcing. People are breaking up large projects into smaller pieces to speed up financing."

Suntech makes mono- and multicrystalline silicon solar cells and assembles them into panels. It also is installing factory equipment for making thin films using a combination of amorphous silicon plus microcrystalline silicon. The company expects to ship 15 megawatts to 20 megawatts of thin films, mostly in the second half of 2009, Shi said.

Suntech's executives struck a positive tone during their discussions of the company's 2008 financial performances that included a sharp decline in the fourth quarter. The Chinese solar cell and panel maker posted a net loss of $65.9 million, or 42 cents per American depository share (ADS) for the fourth quarter, compared with a net income of $50.6 million, or 29 cents per ADS, in the year-ago period. Suntech reported a net income of $55.9 million, or 33 cents per ADS, for the third quarter of 2008.

The company generated $414.4 million in fourth-quarter revenue, up 4.2 percent from $397.5 million a year ago. Suntech posted $594.4 million for the third-quarter revenue.

For 2008, Suntech brought in about $1.92 billion in revenue, up 42 percent from $1.35 billion 2007. Net income reached $111 million, or 66 cents per ADS, down 35 percent from roughly $171 million, or $1.02 per ADS in 2007.

Suntech's shares on the New York Stock Exchange dropped about 2 percent to reach $8.9 per share in recent trading.

Government incentives have played a key role in boosting the worldwide solar demand even before the financial crisis started to batter the sector. Suntech is counting on countries with feed-in tariffs, which are lucrative solar electric rates set by the government, to drive up sales. Shi highlighted France and Italy as two promising markets.

The outlook for Spain, which by some estimates installed a couple of gigawatts in 2008, is less certain. The Spanish government dramatically reduced the national cap for solar energy installations to 500 megawatts for 2009. Not only that, disagreements over rules for applying the new cap are putting some projects on hold, Chan said, adding that the company has over 100 megawatts worth of projects under development.

"We have customers who have done everything, including building out the racks, and they are just waiting for a resolution before installing the modules," Chan said.

Japan is another growth market because the country plans to bring back incentives that should increase residential solar installations, Shi said. The company, which has contracts with Japanese customers, expects to see a demand of 400 megawatts to 500 megawatts for the Japanese market this year, he added.

The U.S. market could grow nicely if the stimulus plan signed by Obama does make it easier for solar power developers to line up project financing. The plan also includes tax breaks and other incentives for companies that make solar cells and panels (see Obama Signs Stimulus Package).

Suntech bought a solar installation company last year and formed a joint venture with the project developer MMA Renewable Ventures last year to position itself for the solar market. The joint venture, called Gemini Solar Development Co., is angling for a 30-megawatt project with Austin Energy, a municipal utility serving the city of Austin and the surrounding areas.

To cut costs, Suntech has renegotiated a 10-year silicon contract with MEMC Electronic Materials to get cheaper material. It also recently invested about $8.1 million in a new silicon maker, Asia Silicon. Suntech expects a 30 percent or more decline in silicon expenses for 2009, Shi said.

Suntech shipped 497.5 megawatts worth of solar cells and panels in 2008, a 36 percent growth from 2007. The company mostly sells solar panels.

For 2009, Suntech anticipates shipping more than 800 megawatts worth of solar products. The company expects to generate between $340 million and $380 million in first-quarter revenue, and achieve a gross margin of 12 percent to 15 percent.

See the original article here

IQE to Lead Thermo-Photovoltaic Wafer Research

LONDON — Wafer supplier IQE plc (Cardiff, Wales) has said that its subsidiary company Wafer Technology Ltd. (Milton Keynes, England) will lead a collaborative R&D project to develop thermo-photovoltaic cells for the generation of electricity from the waste heat of industrial processes.

The project has been awarded £2 million (about $2.8 million) by the U.K. government's Technology Strategy Board. Wafer Technology will lead a consortium of partners including Lancaster University and QinetiQ.

IQE did not say how long the project would last or how much of their own money the participants would be expected to spend.

The project is expected to create novel low-bandgap TPV devices based on alloys including InAsSb and InGaSbN lattices matched to GaSb substrates. Such cells will exhibit significantly higher efficiencies than existing devices and will more effectively generate electricity from waste heat sources at temperatures below 1000 degrees C, IQE said.

Wafer Technology's contribution will be to extend their GaSb substrate technology to 4-inch diameter. Lancaster University and QinetiQ will undertake epitaxial growth studies of these novel narrow gap alloys and QinetiQ will also fabricate the devices. Prototype TPV systems will be validated by two further industrial partners to assess their performance in real industrial processes and environments.

"Thermo-voltaic cells will play an important role in the drive towards providing an efficient and cost-effective way of recovering waste energy from a wide range of industrial processes and recycling that energy into electricity," said Mark Furlong, sales and marketing director at Wafer Technology Ltd., in a statement issued by IQE. "TPV's add to the growing portfolio of the group's energy efficient products that include ultra high brightness LEDs and high efficiency concentrator-photovoltaic solar cells."

See the original article here

GE, SunPower, California's Lake County Partner on 2.2 MW Solar Power System

PRNewswire-FirstCall/February 19, 2009

SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWRA, SPWRB), a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels, and solar systems, GE (NYSE: GE), California's Lake County and the Lake County Sanitation District (LACOSAN) announced today the completion of a 2.2-megawatt solar-electric power system on three sites, including the county jail and two wastewater treatment plants. Combining this new system with an existing 1-megawatt solar power installation, Lake County is now home to the largest solar power installation on county facilities in California. The combined 3.2-megawatt system produces the equivalent of 94 percent of the facilities' electricity requirements.

"We expect these solar power installations to save Lake County taxpayers and ratepayers between $1.6 million and $5 million over the next 20 years, depending on utility rate increases," said Mark Dellinger, special districts administrator for LACOSAN. "SunPower offered high-efficiency technology that maximizes the amount of solar power generated, and a turnkey solution that helped to accelerate design and construction."

Hosting the solar installation helps further Lake County's commitment to building a sustainable community infrastructure. The wastewater that LACOSAN treats, recycles and transports at the two treatment plants is used to recharge another alternative energy source -- geothermal -- that generates power for homes and businesses. The County's program includes its commitment to energy efficiency, The Geysers -- which is the world's largest complex of geothermal energy -- and other alternative sources of energy.

"These solar facilities represent a critical part of Lake County's overall energy program," said Denise Rushing, chair of the Lake County Board of Supervisors. "The County truly appreciates the innovation demonstrated by SunPower and GE, and for their partnership with us to make this happen."

GE Energy Financial Services, a unit of GE, in partnership with SunPower, financed and owns the system as well as the associated renewable energy credits and environmental benefits. Using conversion formulas provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 2.2-megawatt SunPower system will avoid more than 131 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years, equivalent to removing close to 11,000 cars from the road.

Under a SunPower Access(TM) power purchase agreement (PPA), the partnership is selling electricity to the County and LACOSAN at rates that are competitively priced against utility rates, providing the County and LACOSAN with a long-term hedge against rising peak power prices.

"Lake County and LACOSAN took advantage of the SunPower Access PPA to build and host emission-free solar power plants at their facilities with no upfront capital expenditure," said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower. "We applaud the County and District for taking the lead with this showcase installation that demonstrates how solar makes good financial sense for public agencies today."

At the County and LACOSAN facilities, SunPower designed and installed a system that utilizes SunPower solar panels, the most efficient solar panels on the market today, with the SunPower Tracker(R) system. The Tracker follows the sun's movement during the day, increasing sunlight capture by up to 30 percent over conventional fixed-tilt systems, while significantly reducing land use requirements.

    The SunPower arrays in the system include:

* A 602-kilowatt installation at the Lake County Jail;
* Two installations at the Northwest Wastewater Treatment Plant,including one
281-kilowatt array and one 764-kilowatt array; and
* A 522-kilowatt array at LACOSAN's Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant.

About Lake County Sanitation District

The County of Lake is committed to developing sustainable community infrastructure through the innovative use of renewable energy and increased energy efficiency. Lake County is located in beautiful Northern California and is home to the state's cleanest air basin, Clear Lake -- the largest natural freshwater lake in California -- as well as The Geysers, the world's largest complex of geothermal energy. For information on Lake County's innovation in wastewater recycling and solar-powered infrastructure, visit

About SunPower

SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWRA, SPWRB) designs, manufactures and delivers high-performance solar electric systems worldwide for residential, commercial and utility-scale power plant customers. SunPower high-efficiency solar cells and solar panels generate up to 50 percent more power than conventional solar technologies and have a uniquely attractive, all-black appearance. With headquarters in San Jose, Calif., SunPower has offices in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. For more information, visit

About GE Energy Financial Services

GE Energy Financial Services' experts invest globally with a long-term view, backed by the best of GE's technical know-how and financial strength, across the capital spectrum in one of the world's most capital-intensive industries, energy, to help their customers and GE grow. With more than $19 billion in assets, GE Energy Financial Services is based in Stamford, Connecticut. In renewable energy, GE Energy Financial Services is growing its portfolio of more than $4 billion in assets in wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal power. For more information, visit

See the original article here

Mitsubishi Breaks Its Own Efficiency Record

Mitsubishi Electric announced that it has improved the conversion efficiency rate of its multi-crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells to achieve a new world record of 18.9%.

Read the official report here

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Solar Market Shakeout Underway

Marketwire/February 18, 2009

Oversupply Will Lead to Company Failures, But Set the Stage for Long-Term Growth for Survivors

Few doubts remain that the solar market is at the leading edge of a massive correction. The latest report from Lux Research, entitled "Finding the Solar Market's Nadir," projects that the available capacity of solar cells and modules will measure twice the demand in 2009, while the overall market could shrink from last year's $36 billion over 5.5 GW to $29 billion over 5.3 GW this year. The report also addresses the question that suppliers, manufacturers and investors are asking now: Where and how soon can they expect the market to bottom out.

"While oversupply in the solar market has been looming for some time, the correction has been more aggressive due to the economic crisis," said Ted Sullivan, Senior Analyst at Lux Research, and the report's lead author. "In order to reduce inventories, suppliers will have slashed their cell and module prices by 25% or more. While this spells a shakeout in the near term, the price reductions will push solar closer to grid parity and prime the market for recovery and growth."

In preparing its report, Lux Research updated the market size and demand forecast made in the September 2008 report "Solar State of the Market Q3 2008," and matched this revised demand forecast with updated capacity projections from 184 polysilicon producers, 162 crystalline silicon cell and module makers, 29 high-concentrating PV (HCPV) developers, 91 thin-film silicon producers, 10 cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film module manufacturers, 33 copper indium (gallium) diselenide (CIGS/CIS) developers, and 12 solar thermal providers. The report finds that:

• Cell and module capacity will overshoot demand by twofold in 2009 to reach 10.4 GW, precipitating a shakeout that will eliminate all but the top players.

• Silicon availability will become increasingly irrelevant as module players seek to cut inventory. But the resulting price reductions will flatten out by 2011, bringing solar closer to grid parity and enabling the market to grow to $70 billion across 18.5 GW in 2013.

• As the most readily financeable technology, crystalline silicon will continue to dominate the market this year. But competing thin-film technologies, including amorphous silicon and CdTe, will continue to grow aggressively, and CIGS also stands to gain overall despite expectations of widespread company failure.

• As the Spanish market dwindles, Germany will again become Europe's buyer of last resort. The U.S. market growth, meanwhile, will depend heavily on the government stimulus package just signed.

"Last year, we successfully predicted that an oversupply of solar modules and dwindling project financing would lead to a shakeout," said Sullivan. "Now we're projecting that in coming years the decrease in solar module prices will begin to taper off and that demand will pick back up, setting the stage for even broader adoption."

See the original article here

India Plans its First Solar City in Nagpur

The Economic Times/New Delhi/February 18, 2009

Under an ambitious programme of the ministry of new and renewable energy, Nagpur in Maharashtra will be developed as the country's first solar city, it was announced Wednesday.

The orange city Nagpur will become a model solar city by 2012, deriving up to 10 percent of its energy consumption through renewable energy sources and implementing other energy efficiency measures, a government statement said.

The government plans to develop 60 such cities during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) to meet the increasing electricity demand of cities and promote increased use of renewable energy.

The ministry will bear half of the estimated project cost of Rs.190 million (Rs.19 crore), with the state government or municipal corporation pitching in the rest.

The city can also opt for additional funding from the ministry if the project cost goes beyond the estimates.

Solar energy systems, including street lights, garden lights, traffic lights, hoardings and solar water heaters will be installed in the city. Energy efficient 'green buildings' will also be promoted in large scale.

A target of 50 MW has been set for solar power generation during the 11th plan, which is likely to be achieved.

India receives solar energy equivalent to over 5,000 trillion kilowatt hour per year.

See the original article here

Chinese Group Offers Low-Cost Solar-Powered Phone

The Austrailian/Adam Plowright/February 18, 2009

Chinese group ZTE unveiled the world's first low-cost solar-powered mobile phone targeted at the world's poor today, which is to go on sale in June for under $US40.

ZTE has partnered with emerging market network operator Digicel, which is to launch the device in Haiti, Samoa and Papua New Guinea and believes sales in the first year will reach "several hundred thousand."

"We estimate in the world there are more than two billion people who have limited or no access to electricity," Wang Yong Zhong, general manager of ZTE mobile handsets, told reporters at industry show Mobile World Congress.

The handset, called Coral-200-Solar, uses Dutch technology to boost the current from a single mini solar panel, which is located on the back of the phone and measures 3.0 centimetres by 7.0.

A charge of one hour in full sunlight would offer 15 minutes of talk time, the companies said, adding that the phone could be charged normally with an electricity supply.

"In our lives (in the rich world), an interruption of power is a nuisance ... but it is infrequent," Digicel executive Tom Bryant said. "But where we conduct business, the absence of power is a daily activity."

He said Digicel, which is active in the Caribbean, Central American and Pacific regions, currently offered small separate solar-powered chargers with handsets in many countries where energy is scarce.

The price would be "less than 40 dollars," Mr Bryant said.

Gavin Byrne, an analyst at telecom research group Informa, pointed to the existence of "charging booths" in some African countries where people pay to plug their phones in for a few hours because they have no electricity at home.

"There is an opportunity for solar-powered phones in emerging markets," he said. "That there are businesses charging up mobiles shows there is a latent demand for a charging device where there isn't a regular supply of power."

Wang said ZTE was in talks with a number of network operators besides Digicell that are interested in distributing the new phone.

"More and more emerging markets need solar products, for example the African market," he said.

The mobile phone industry appears to have embraced the potential of solar power, which could extend phone services to the millions excluded because they have no, or a highly irregular, power supply.

The advance also raises the possibility of other consumer electronic devices being sold cheaply in emerging countries using highly efficient solar technology.

Mr Bryant said the solar panel was about a quarter of the total cost of the 40-dollar device.

South Korean manufacturer Samsung created a buzz at the opening of Mobile World Congress this week by putting its first solar device on display.

Samsung's handset, called Blue Earth, also has a mini solar panel on its back and is to go on sale later this year. It will be expensive, however, and is targeted at "green"-conscious consumers in developed countries.

The Dutch company supplying the technology linking the solar panel to the battery in the ZTE model, Intivation, claimed the Chinese-made device was "twice as effective" as anything else on the market.

The solar panel works in all light conditions, said chief executive Paul Naastepad, who added that the Amsterdam-based group was working with other manufacturers to licence its patented techology.

South Korean manufacturer LG has also put a prototype solar-powered phone on display here, but it has not been named and it not yet ready for market.

See the original article here

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama's Stimulus Bill Green Lights Green Spending

Monday, February 16, 2009

California Approves Feed-In Tariffs

February 14, 2008

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today announced the availability of new tariffs to support the development of up to 480 megawatts (MW) of renewable generating capacity from small facilities throughout California. These "feed-in tariffs" present a simple mechanism for small renewable generators to sell power to a utility at predefined terms and conditions, without contract negotiations. The CPUC expects that participating facilities will sell their power to utilities and help contribute to California's ambitious greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy goals.

"Up until now, only large renewable projects were able to effectively participate in the Renewables Portfolio Standard program," said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. "Now small facilities can easily contribute to this program and be compensated for their renewable generation by signing up for these tariffs."

The power that is sold to the utilities under the feed-in tariffs will count toward the utilities' Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals. California's RPS program is one of the most ambitious renewable energy standards in the country. The RPS program requires electric corporations to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources by at least 1 percent of their retail sales annually, until they reach 20 percent by 2010. As of August 1, 2007, California's three large Investor-Owned Utilities collectively served 13.2 percent of their 2006 retail electricity sales with renewable power.

The small renewable generator feed-in tariffs available as of today provide a 10, 15, or 20-year fixed-price, non-negotiable contract to participating small renewable generators, sized up to 1.5 MW. Customers can sell renewable power under the feed-in tariff terms to Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric Company, PacifiCorp, Sierra Pacific Power Company, Bear Valley Electric Service Division of Golden State Water Company, and Mountain Utilities. Any customer may sell to Edison or PG&E, but the feed-in tariffs are limited to water and waste water customers in the other four utilities.

The feed-in tariffs were developed pursuant to Public Utilities Code 399.20, established by Assembly Bill (AB) 1969 (2006, Yee) that directed the CPUC to develop feed-in tariffs to support the deployment of renewables specifically on publicly owned water and wastewater treatment facilities. In July of 2007, the CPUC adopted Decision (D.) 07-07-027 to implement AB 1969, and established the pricing terms for the tariffs. In the same decision, the CPUC expanded the feed-in tariff approach to non-water and non-wastewater facilities for only Edison and PG&E areas. By today's action, the CPUC adopted Resolution E-4137, which approves the feed-in tariffs submitted in compliance with D. 07-07-027.

"I am thrilled to see AB 1969 being expanded and offered to a broader audience of customers," said Senator Leland Yee. "AB 1969 will significantly help the state meet our renewable energy goals and improve the environment through a reduction in greenhouse gases."

The feed-in tariff option is distinct from net metering and direct financial incentives offered to customers to generate electricity onsite specifically to offset their own electrical load. Under the California Solar Initiative (CSI) and the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), customers are offered upfront incentives to install solar, wind, and biogas generating capacity that can offset their customer load.

"Although many customers that want to pursue onsite generation to offset onsite load may be better served through existing programs like the CSI, SGIP and net-metering, this program allows those entities with significant onsite renewable generating potential, in excess of what they can use onsite, to be compensated for that generation," said President Peevey. "I believe this will be a particularly attractive option for those facilities that have access to a substantial biogas resource, like livestock operations and water and waste-water treatment facilities."

For more information on the CPUC, please visit

See the press release here

United Nations Proposes New Green Deal

UNEP-Commissioned Report Underlines How Environmental investments Can get the Global and National Economies Back to Sustainable Work

25th Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment/Forum 16-20 February

Nairobi, 16 February 2009 - One third of the around $2.5 trillion-worth of planned stimulus packages should be invested on 'greening' the world economy.

This would assist in powering the global economy out of recession and onto a Green, 21st century path a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

The estimated $750 billion of green investment, equal to about one per cent of current global GDP, could trigger significant, multiple and potentially transformational returns.

Allied to innovative market mechanisms and fiscal policies, these include:

-Stimulating clean tech innovation, stabilizing and boosting employment in decent jobs and protecting vulnerable groups

- Cutting carbon dependency and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing degradation of multi-trillion dollar ecosystems and their goods and services and tackling water scarcity

- Furthering the opportunity to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of ending extreme poverty by 2015

The G20, comprising of the 20 largest developed and developing economies, who next meet in London in April, is the first opportunity to begin shaping a Global Green New Deal.

Such a Deal can also set the stage for a successful outcome to the crucial UN climate change meeting later in the year in Copenhagen, Denmark.

These are among the findings of the Global Green New Deal report, written in consultation with experts from over 25 UN bodies and external organizations including the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The report, A Global Green New Deal, commissioned on behalf of UNEP's Green Economy Initiative was written by Professor Edward B Barbier of the University of Wyoming.

Prof. Barbier is a leading expert on the economics of sustainability, and co-authored with the late Prof. David Pearce, the landmark Blueprint for a Green Economy.

Its findings, alongside those of the UNEP Year Book 2009, are being presented today to over 100 environment ministers attending UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said:" The $2.5 to $3 trillion to be mobilized over the next 24 months to tackle the economic crisis are sums almost unthinkable just 12 months ago".

"Spent wisely and creatively they offer the chance to deal with the today's immediate crises and begin focusing and framing a response to those on the horizon from future food shortages, natural resource scarcity, energy security and climate change," he added.

"The Global Green New Deal report, part of the UNEP Green Economy initiative, is being presented here to ministers from the North and the South as an anti-dote to the current economic woes. It represents an opportunity to accelerate towards innovation-led, low carbon, low waste Green Economy societies with decent employment prospects for many more millions of people," said Mr Steiner.

"Several economies, such as the United States; China; the Republic of Korea; Japan; Germany, Denmark, France and the United Kingdom are already earmarking parts of their multi-billion dollar stimulus packages for environmental investments. This report is designed to inform a public debate and perhaps assist those who may be unsure how to proceed so they too can turn crisis into opportunity," he added.

Mr Steiner emphasized: "This agenda - this locomotive for sustainable development - is as relevant to developing and emerging economies as it is to industrialized ones.

"Greening the economy is as much about greening overseas development aid development; bilateral and multilateral assistance; south-south cooperation and direct foreign investment as it is about national investment.

Pavan Sukhdev, Project Leader of UNEP's Green Economy Initiative who is on secondment from Deutsche Bank, said: "Prof Barbier's report is the third in our ongoing stream of work to rethink economic models and target job growth in a world where leveraging 'Natural Capital' is both an increasing constraint and an untapped opportunity, and where failing to pursue sustainable development is no longer an option".

He said the new report built on two earlier reports - the Interim Report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) published in May 2008 and an initiative of the G8+5 and the Green Jobs Report of September 2008.

"Now 'A Global Green New Deal' brings this thinking to bear on the current economic crisis, with a focus and on the reflationary packages being planned to solve it. It shows how "green" components of stimulus packages together with appropriate policy changes may be used to restore job growth and achieve a more sustainable "green economy," he said.

Mr Sukhdev added that the new report demonstrated that "simultaneously targeting the triple goals of job creation, lower climate and ecological risk, and reduced poverty is not only possible but also desirable and timely".

"This report addresses both developed and developing world challenges. It recognizes that, in a highly globalized world economy in serious recession, the poor and the vulnerable are hit hardest, and makes useful suggestions to prevent worsening poverty," he said.

Based on consultations with Governments over the next few days at UNEP's GC, the Green Economy Initiative will draft specific recommendations towards implementing a "A Global Green New Deal".

Today's 154 page Global Green New Deal report outlines a rich array of options and actions available to countries at different points in their economic and developmental paths some of which can be undertaken nationally and others cooperatively at the regional and global level.

The report shows that some countries are at the national level already exceeding, meeting or factoring some proportion of the one per cent suggested target.

The Republic of Korea
It cites the more than $36 billion Green New Deal of the Republic of Korea which under full implementation involves an investment equal to around 3 per cent of GDP and a job creation potential of close to one million jobs.

"The energy conservation and green building investments that form part of the Republic of Korea's Green New Deal amount to 0.5 per cent of GDP and the full, low carbon strategy accounts for 1.2 per cent of GDP," says the report.

These strategies alone are expected to create over180, 000 and more than 330,000 jobs respectively.
For example:

- The $7 billion to be invested in mass transit and railways over the next three likely to generate 138,000

- The $5.8 billion in energy conservation in villages and schools?170,000 jobs

- Other parts of the stimulus will also create employment including the more than $10 billion river restoration stimulus; close to 200,000 jobs

- The more than $1.7 billion forest restoration stimulus - over 130,000 jobs

- The $690 million water resource management stimulus - over 16,000 jobs

China is expected to spend $586 billion or just over eight per cent of its GDP on a fiscal stimulus package of which an estimated $140 billion or just under two percent is earmarked for green investments.

China's green investment package is likely to boost further its $17 billion renewable energy sector which already employs around one million people.

The United States stimulus package, approved by Congress a few days ago, amounts to $787 billion or around 5.7 per cent of GDP of which $100 billion (based on estimates on the new package) or over 0.7 per cent are on directed towards greening the US economy

- $18 billion for clean water, flood control and environmental restoration and $8.4 billion for transit, and $8 billion for high-speed rail

- $4.5 billion to make federal office buildings more energy-efficient.

- $30 billion for a smart power grid, advanced battery technology and other energy efficiency measures.

- $20 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency over the next 10 years.

- $6.3 billion for energy efficiency in multifamily housing that gets federal assistance, such as HUD-sponsored low-income housing and $5 billion to weatherize more than 1 million homes owned by "modest-income" families

The report cites a study by the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the World Resources Institute that estimates that green energy investments in the United States could save the economy an average of $450 million a year for every $1 billion invested.

And that every $1 billion of government spending in this area will create around 30,000 job years and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by close to 600,000 tons from 2012-2020.

- The Green New Deal report urges all high-income OECD economies to factor the one per cent green investment goal into their stimulus packages.

- The report also recommends that the remaining high income economies, alongside middle-income ones of the G-20 to "as far as possible" to invest similar amounts in national action plans to reduce carbon dependency and boost environmental sustainability - the G-20 is next set to meet in London in April

- The remaining developing economy countries should also consider investments to reduce carbon dependency. Although the amounts need to be determined, the report claim such investments can assist in poverty reduction, employment generation and livelihood improvements.

Cutting Fuel Subsidies - and Cap and Trade Carbon Markets

The report says some of the needed investment income could be raised by developing country governments through reducing or phasing-out energy subsidies.

- Currently an estimated $300 or more billion is being spent on energy subsidies across developed and developing economies, the lion's share on fossil fuel subsidies.

- By far the largest amount is spent by developing economies with subsidies in 20 non-OECD countries totaling $220 billion.

"Cancelling these subsidies would on their own reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally by as much as six per cent and add 0.1 per cent to global GDP," says the report.

"The financial savings could also be redirected to investments in clean energy R&D, renewable energy development and energy conservation, further boosting economies and employment," it says.

The report cites energy sector reforms in several low-income economies including Botswana, Ghana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Senegal that have also benefited poor households.

- Here every dollar invested in boosting the energy efficiency of electricity generation has led to savings of up to $3.

The report counters the idea that renewable energy is the preserve of the well off economies. Small hydropower, biomass and solar photovoltaics are already providing electricity, heat, water pumping and other activities for tens of millions of people in rural, developing country areas.

- 25 million developing country households now use biogas for cooking and lighting and 2.5 million developing country homes now use solar lighting systems.

- Indeed contrary to popular belief, developing economies account for 40 per cent of existing global renewable energy resource capacity, 70 per cent of solar water heater capacity and 45 per cent of biofuels production.

- "Expansion of these existing sectors (in part by redirecting fossil fuel subsidies) will not only increase the availability and affordability of sustainable energy services for the world's poor but provide much needed (often local) employment opportunities," says the Global Green New Deal report.

The report also recommends that developing economies spend one per cent of the GDP on improving water clean water and sanitation provisions for the poor in line with recommendations by the UN Development Programme.

- A dollar invested in clean water and sanitation in developing countries gives returns of between $5 and $11 and in some cases up to $28 for some low-cost measures?benefits including reduced days spent away from work or from school, reduced costs to local health services and reduced costs in medicines as a result of falls in water borne diseases such as diarrhea

- Indeed the overall economic boost of halving by 2015 the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation would be around $38 billion annually.

- In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the stimulus would be $15 billion annually equivalent to around 60 per cent of the Continent's current aid flows.
The report makes the point that the current economic crisis, which is reducing international trade and may lead to declines in aid and private investment flows, demands an even more targeted and focused response in order to maximize returns.

"Addressing the gap in overseas aid for clean water and sanitation in developing economies needs to be a priority of the international community under a Global Green New Deal," it says.

The report makes a series of additional recommendations in order to achieve a Global Green New Deal and set the stage for Green Economy growth.

- All economies to consider removing water subsidies and adopting market-based instruments to boost water efficiency, with measures to ensure the protection of vulnerable groups, alongside better governance of shared or transboundary rivers and lakes

- The adoption of national action plans by developing economies for improving the sustainability of primary production activities.

The report cites the case of Malaysia where annual growth rates have exceeded four per cent by investing 25 per cent of the financial gains from sectors like forests and fisheries in diversifying the economy; education and training; social safety nets and other pro-poor measures.

It also calls on groups like the G-20 to underpin Green Economic growth by addressing some of the aid and trade shortfalls emerging as a result of the economic crisis alongside falls in private investment.

Other actions that the report suggests at the international level include:

1. The most likely global policy forum for promoting urgent international action on the GGND is the G20 forum of the world's 20 largest rich and emerging economies, although all international fora, and the UN system especially, have a role to play in promoting, developing and enhancing the GGND.

2. At its April 2009 London meeting, the G20 should consider proposals for a GGND, such as the actions recommended by this report, and help develop framework ideas towards securing a global climate change agreement at Copenhagen in December 2009.

3. The international community should reach agreement on extending the CDM beyond 2012 as part of a global climate change agreement, and reforming the mechanism to increase the coverage of developing economies, the sectors and technologies and the overall financing of global GHG emission reductions.

4. The international community should support efforts to improve payment for ecosystem services targeted to the poor and to include more ecosystems, and efforts to improve governance and shared use of transboundary water resources.

5. The international community should adopt as soon as possible reforms to the governance of the financial system that increase transparency and simplicity, and improve the alignment of incentive structures.

6. Bilateral and multilateral aid donors should increase their development assistance over the next few years, and target it to the sectors and actions that comprise the key components of the GGND.

7. The international community should develop and expand innovative financing mechanisms, such as the International Finance Facility, Climate Investment Funds and Global Clean Energy Cooperation, as possible means to fund key components of the GGND.

8. The international community should develop and expand new trade financing and trade facilitation financing packages, and use them to target support to the GGND.

9. The international community should review existing trade agreements and shape future agreements to identify and minimize barriers to enhance effective support of the proposed GGND actions.

10. The international community needs to reach successful conclusion of the Doha Round trade negotiations, especially on fishery subsidies, clean technology and services and reducing agricultural protectionism.

Notes to Editors

The Global Green New Deal report, written for UNEP by professor Ed Barbier, benefited from wide-ranging consultations held at UN headquarters in New York, 2-3 February with experts from amongst others the European Environmental Agency, ICTSD, ILO, IMF, OECD, UNCEB, UNCSD, UNCTAD, UNDESA, UNDP, UNECE, UNEP, UNECLAC, UNESCAP, UNFAO, UNFCCC, UNIDO, UNSD, the World Bank and the UN Secretary General's Office.

A consultation meeting was also held at the UN Foundation, Washington DC, 4 February 2009 with experts, amongst others, from the Center for American Progress, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Union of Concerned Scientists, UN Foundation, World Resources Institute and the Worldwatch Institute.

See the full report here

See the original article here