Energy and Global Warming News for December 9th: US solar market sees 50% growth; California leads in clean energy job growth; Top ten emerging trends

Report: U.S. solar market sees 50% annual growth

The hodgepodge of federal and state policies are favoring the growth of large-scale solar farms, which will help propel the U.S. closer to the No. 1 spot, says GTM Research.

Solar energy installations in the United States are poised to grow about 50 percent annually in the next three years as the country closes in on Germany, the largest solar market in the world.

The U.S. is likely to install 400 megawatts of new solar projects in 2009, and see the growth reach 1.5 gigawatts to 2 gigawatts of new installations in 2012, according to GTM Research’s new report released Tuesday.

The strong demand represents over $6.1 billion in investments per year and the creation of 50,000 jobs, GTM Research said.

The report, The United States PV Market Through 2013: Project Economics, Policy, Demand and Strategy, analyzed the scope and financing of power projects by major developers such as Sempra Generation and Renewable Ventures. It also examined policies and demand of big solar states, and detailed the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)….

Like other hot solar markets in the world, government incentives are a big reason for fueling growth in the next few years. Last October, Congress extended a 30 percent investment tax credit for solar installations for eight years. The legislation gets rid of a $2,000 cap for residential installations and allows the utilities to take advantage of the tax credit.

Another booster shot is coming from the ARRA, which has created a host of grants, tax credits and loan guarantees for manufacturing solar energy equipment and installing it.

These federal subsidies, coupled with states’ own incentives and mandates for renewable energy installations and consumption, will propel growth for residential and utility-scale projects, the report said. Projects developed to service utility customers will likely grow the fastest, from installing nearly 91 megawatts in 2009 to adding 466 megawatts in 2012, under a conservative estimate.

California leads with 36% growth of clean energy jobs

Jobs in California’s so-called green economy increased by 36% from 1995 to 2008, beating the state’s 13% job growth, a study out Wednesday says.

The research, by Silicon Valley-based research firm Collaborative Economics, underscores California’s lead in the “green economy” and may indicate where other states can expect green-job growth.

California’s jobs in green businesses numbered 159,000 as of January 2008, accounting for less than 1% of jobs statewide, the research shows. But jobs in green businesses may be holding up better than others.

From January 2007 to January 2008, jobs in green businesses grew 5%, while total jobs in California fell 1%, the report says.

Collaborative Economics, which produced the report for Next 10, a non-profit focused on the economy and environment, counts businesses or business units that it defines as green and the jobs associated with those businesses. If data cannot be verified, jobs aren’t counted. Collaborative Economics considers its numbers conservative, it says.

The green-job growth puts California at the forefront of a wide range of green technologies, the report says. It also shows that regions are developing green-job clusters off existing strengths. The San Francisco Bay Area leads in green energy generation, mostly solar. San Diego is strong in co-generation technologies, such as turning waste heat into energy. The Los Angeles and Orange county regions excel in transportation, including electric vehicles.

Unlike California’s software and biotech industries, which are centered in a few clusters, “Green jobs are disbursed all around California,” says Noel Perry, the venture-capital founder of Next 10.

California’s green-job sector is three times the size of its biotech industry and almost two-thirds the size of its software sector, the report notes.

The green jobs are being fueled, in part, by government policies encouraging energy efficiency and solar adoption, says Doug Henton, CEO of Collaborative Economics.

The report says the energy efficiency category, which includes conservation products, lighting and consulting, added 7,532 jobs for a growth rate of 63% from 1995 to 2008. Energy-generation jobs grew 61% to almost 26,000 total. Jobs in green transportation soared 152% to almost 4,300.

California’s unemployment rate hit 12.5% in October. But Perry says the “trend lines are up” for green jobs. The green economy is even helping California with manufacturing jobs. They accounted for 21% of green jobs as of January 2008 while manufacturing accounted for 11% of the state’s jobs, Henton says.

Collaborative Economics defines businesses as green if they provide products and services that drive a cleaner, more efficient and more competitive economy. The Department of Labor has not defined green jobs. Nor does it track them.

Top ten emerging clean energy trends of 2009

Despite the economic calamity, the greentech industry didn’t do bad in 2009. The Department of Energy will have given away $36.7 billion by the time the calendar rolls over. Venture capitalists and corporate investors will invest more than $4 billion in startups this year, about half as much as in 2008 but more than any other year. Although some electric cars were pushed back to 2010, smart grid deployments started moving from the conceptual phase to reality, while solar got cheaper.

And there were some emerging trends and surprises along the way. Here are some of the best.

1. Solar Sees Its Plumber’s Crack: The solar industry has primarily focused its attention in the last few decades on driving down the price of panels and driving up efficiency. In the past year or so, many have begun to try to reduce the cost of installation – that manual construction project goes along with every solar project that can eat up 30 percent or more of the budget. Zep Solar showed off a modular racking system that it claims cuts costs by 50 to 80 cents a watt. Armageddon Energy debuted its racking system and novel panels that let homeowners assemble a solar system in minutes. Suntech Power Holdings and Soliant, meanwhile, said that solar manufacturers will begin to diversify their offerings and sell different solar systems tailored to different customer segments and roofs.

2. Greentech (and Michigan) Go Global: In the past, people discussed green being a global industry to underscore how nations like Denmark and Germany had already created thriving renewable industries. In 2009, it took on a new meaning. Many of the largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant winners turned out to be joint ventures funded or managed by foreign companies willing to open facilties in the U.S. Spain’s Iberdrola was one of the big winners for grants for wind farms while two battery ventures with South Korean partners got $312.4 million.

Even without grants, Chinese companies began to flock to the U.S. Suntech announced (finally) that it will open a module assembly plant in Arizona while China’s A-Power Generation and a consortium of Chinese and U.S. companies announced plans to build a wind farm in Texas along with a turbine factory.

3. The Utility Industrial Complex Emerges: In his final address as President, Eisenhower warned the country against the potential dangers of the military industrial complex. The Obama administration, however, is cutting back on large, futuristic weapons contracts in favor of conventional forces. Partly as a result, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, Ratheon, BAE Systems and Bechtel all moved more aggressively into smart grid and solar. In a lot of ways, it makes sense, these companies are equipped to handle large, complex construction and fulfillment projects. Bechtel, for example, will serve as the contractor for one of BrightSource Energy’s solar thermal power plants. Still, it will be interesting to see if the cost-overruns and lobbying chicanery these companies are often associated with begin to occur here.

4. Algae Isn’t Fuel: Although we’ve spoken to over 60 algae companies and have been told by people in the industry that there are over 100 out there that want to turn pond slime into car fuel, a few companies have begun to emphasize their non-fuel products. Why? Chemicals and food additives sell for one heck of a lot more. Solazyme, for instance, started selling – repeat, selling – oil to the food market. It even released an algae-based substitute for almond milk. Ternion Bio Industries says nutraceutical algae can fetch $10,000 a ton. Cellulosic ethanol makers are doing the same: Zeachem is working on a strain of bioplastic.

Interesting Side Note: Algae actually did well in a recent round of ARRA grants. Of the 19 recipients, three were algae specialists-Solazyme ($22 million), Sapphire Energy ($50 million) and Algenol ($25 million) – accounted for almost $97 million of the $564 million round and two others – UOP ($25 million) and the Gas Technology Institute ($2.5 million) will also conduct research on algae.

5. Do You Take Euros or Won? Conglomerates began to open their wallets in what could be a long string of acquisitions. Although General Electric and Cisco will likely snap up companies, many of the big buyers so far are foreign. Philips, already No. 1 in lighting due because of strategic acquisitions, bought two lighting companies. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. set up a $50 million fund to move into solar and lighting and has been discussing its plans with Silicon Valley VCs. Samsung said it wants to be number one in solar by 2015. Panasonic wants to participate in smart grid, green homes, solar, batteries, green IT and energy efficiency.

6. Black is the New Black: In the never-ending quest for cheaper feedstocks, some companies began to tout trash, waste streams and sewage as the foundation of their businesses. Although trash often isn’t free, it is cheaper than a lot of things. Just as important, it eliminates the costs of storing the stuff in landfills. Axion International showed off plastic bridges from discarded milk jugs. Waste Management and Linde, the chemical processing giant, built a system at the Livermore landfill to turn trash into liquefied natural gas to run garbage trucks. Sollega debuted a solar rack (see plumber’s crack at No. 1) made from recycled plastic. Bluefire LLC got $81 million in federal grants, the largest single grant in the most recent biofuel round, to build an ethanol plant at a landfill.

7. Water is the New Weather: Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. Energy Recovery had one of the few green IPOs last year. Still, investors did not flock to water. Only five water deals were funded in the third quarter to the tune of $20 million. That was barely more than the money that flowed into tidal and wave energy, a more distant technology. Expect this market, however, to be dominated by giants like IBM and General Electric, so maybe a lack of VC activity is a good thing.

8. Practicality Rules: At the Cleantech Open, the big awards went to EcoFactor and Adura Technologies, two companies that already have energy management systems for buildings out in the market. Although the federal government created ARPA-E to seek out next-generation technologies and gave out $151 million in grants to get it started, most of the ARRA money went to “shovel ready” projects. The “new” green industry is over five years old now in the U.S. so it is about time we moved from the lab to the execution phase.

9. Heat Got Hot: Not really, but I will keep plugging the idea that waste heat represents one of the biggest opportunities out there until I run out of breath.

10. Waiting for Godot’s Karma: Some things we thought we might see, but didn’t, graduate to general commercial availability in 2009: The Fisker Karma, the green EcoRock drywall from Serious Materials, capacitors from EEStor and the oft-hyped fuel cells from Bloom Energy (although CleanFuel Energy and Panasonic have come out with conceptually similar methane-powered fuel cells). You can’t find Nanosolar CIGS panels at Home Depot either. Maybe in 2010.

Lawmakers reject attempt to handcuff EPA greenhouse gas rules

House and Senate conferees last night rejected an attempt to block U.S. EPA’s work on regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The vote came as part of the conference on a $446.8 billion omnibus spending bill that also sets the largest-ever budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Appropriators rejected, 5-9, the amendment from Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) to block any funding in the omnibus bill for Clean Air Act regulations based on the endangerment finding.

Tiahrt’s proposal followed swiftly on the heels of EPA’s release earlier this week of its “endangerment finding,” a declaration that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare. The finding, which came in response to a Supreme Court order, does not entail any immediate regulations, but it sets the stage for broad nationwide rules to curb the heat-trapping emissions.

The Kansas Senate hopeful’s effort indicates that EPA may face a battle from Republicans if it pursues the regulations.

“The Supreme Court did not set a deadline,” Tiahrt said. “The administration has decided to circumvent the legislative process even as greenhouse gas legislation is being debated in this Congress. Administrative rulemaking is no longer a substitute for government.”

Tiahrt questioned global warming and said that Congress and the White House should proceed cautiously, given recent questions over e-mails from climate scientists. Fuel for his debate are thousands of e-mails hacked from computers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Britain that were posted to a Russian file-sharing site last month. Climate skeptics argue that those e-mails demonstrate ethical lapses on the part of prominent climate scientists and demonstrate that they manipulated data to substantiate their claims on climate change.

Environmentalists contend that the e-mails do nothing to undermine the extensive body of science — from many researchers — behind climate change and say the controversy has been largely ginned up by a handful of climate bill opponents.

Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) dismissed Tiahrt’s concerns last night, even while admitting the action from the scientists may have been “questionable and probably idiotic.”

“If we followed that logic to its conclusion, we would say that no member of Congress should legislate on any subject because a couple members of Congress make damn fools of themselves,” Obey said. “I don’t think that’s a very good way to proceed.”

The omnibus spending package is expected to go to a vote in the House as early as tomorrow. Lawmakers are on deadline to move the bills to final passage before Dec. 18, when the continuing resolution that currently funds those agencies of the federal government expires.

Europe plans to offer wind supergrid

As the United Nations climate meetings in Copenhagen get under way, nine European countries have pledged to create a “supergrid” in the North Sea to encourage the growth of offshore wind power.

The move, announced on Monday, did not allocate any funds, but stipulated that a plan for moving forward should be crafted next year.

“It is a huge step towards meeting our common renewable energy goals and in guaranteeing a low carbon future,” said Eamon Ryan, Ireland’s minister in the department of communications, energy and natural resources, in a statement. Europe aims to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The countries signing the “North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative” include Denmark, the host of the climate meetings, as well as Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Ireland.

According to Mr. Ryan’s statement, the supergrid would mean that “Irish wind farms will be able to connect directly to Europe, not only securing our energy supply but allowing us to sell the electricity produced on a wider market.”

Hans Erik Kristofferson, who heads the Danish national grid, Energinet, said in a telephone interview that the project would allow existing and future offshore wind parks to connect seamlessly across national boundaries.

Euro summit gets down to climate brass tacks

Europe’s leaders are set to attempt to agree a two-billion-euro annual endowment to the world’s poorer countries in order to jolt Copenhagen climate negotiations into a new gear.

But with many uneasy about dipping into sorely depleted national budgets in post-recessionary times scarred by high unemployment, their success or otherwise will say much about Europe’s role and its credibility on the international stage.

The 27 leaders of the European Union have a battle on their hands if they are to reach this target contribution, amounting to three billion dollars per year between 2010 and 2012, not least because the sums are to be raised voluntarily.

Raised targets for cutting emissions within a decade down the line are already problematic, but as one European source underlined, here “it is a question of instant money, within the context of an economic crisis and squeezed budgets.”

Opposition during negotiations on the issue in late October proved intense, gathering France, Germany, Italy and eastern EU powerhouse Poland behind an argument which said there should be no commitment to set figures.

Why reveal all before discovering the intentions of the world’s other great historical polluters, its advocates maintained.

“Nobody wants to pay for Copenhagen,” Poland’s European affairs minister, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, said then.

Sure enough, when the United Nations conference opened on Monday, there was no concrete money on the table and commitments made by developed countries to reducing harmful emissions blamed for rising temperatures were seen as a disappointment within the European Commission.

In a bid to regain some lost initiative, leading figures are pushing for the offer of upfront aid to the world’s developing economies, Europe having estimated the global finance requirement for the next three years at between five and seven billion euros per year.

“The Swedish presidency wants a precise figure, and it would be of the order of two billion euros per year” from Europe, another European source told AFP on Tuesday.

But, to date, only Britain has made public its contribution: an 800-million-pound pot, which breaks up into around 300 million euros per year.

“France will be generous,” comes the cry from Paris, although still without pinning down a number.

“We’re not going to hand over a blank cheque so that others can wriggle out of their responsibilities,” explained German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

“Italy will decide based on what the European Union decides” was how his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini summed up the issue.

Editorial: Clean Coal could be game-changer for Texas

Patience paid off in Penwell.

This burg near Odessa had declined from oil boomtown to ghost town. Now, decades after being left for dead, Penwell’s unlikely resurrection could help chart a path for Texas’ energy future.

Last week’s announcement that Summit Power has won a $350 million federal grant to build a coal gasification plant in West Texas positions our state as a leader in developing the next generation of power facilities. In Penwell, Summit plans to build a cleaner coal plant that captures carbon dioxide emissions. The CO2 then could be sold to oil companies to enhance petroleum recovery.

For years, gasification has been touted as the next big thing for fossil fuels. The prospect of turning coal into gas and curtailing pollutants spewed into the air has become increasingly appealing as efforts to limit carbon emissions have gained momentum.

But forward progress has come in fits and starts.

The Bush administration launched and eventually abandoned FutureGen, which was supposed to be a government-funded, near-zero-emissions coal plant. Penwell was a contender for FutureGen as well. But after a years-long winnowing process, the project was awarded to Mattoon, Ill. – and then abandoned altogether.

When FutureGen died amid rising costs, some speculated that clean coal technology remained years – perhaps even decades – from becoming reality. But to its credit, Summit Power has continued to aggressively pursue a gasification project, lining up incentives in the Legislature and seeking funds from Washington.

Helping to bolster Summit’s efforts has been former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who crusaded against dirty coal plants and later remade herself as a champion of a cleaner alternative.

While Summit received a significant boost from the $350 million Department of Energy grant, the company, which is based in Washington state, isn’t just playing with house money. The project is expected to cost about $1.75 billion.

Summit hopes to break ground in Penwell in a year, and to complete the project in 2014. If the company can pull this off, the Penwell plant could be a game-changer in a state that produces more greenhouse gases than any other.

What’s more, the EPA’s announcement Monday that it would pursue limits on carbon dioxide emissions only underscores the urgent need to pursue clean energy options.

6 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 9th: US solar market sees 50% growth; California leads in clean energy job growth; Top ten emerging trends

  1. C. Vink says:

    Sea levels may rise three times more than first thought
    The Independent, December 9 – Sea levels may rise three times faster than the official predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the global average sea level may increase by as much as 1.9 metres (6ft 3in) by 2100, scientists said yesterday.
    The new assessment comes just one week after another international scientific body concluded that the IPCC had been too conservative in estimating a maximum of 59 centimetres of sea level rise this century as a result of global warming.
    A sea level rise of 1.9m would result in large tracts of eastern England being inundated with seawater, and would wipe out many low-lying island nations as well as making large parts of Bangladesh uninhabitable. It would also increase the chances of storm surges flooding major coastal cities, such as New York and London, even with the protection offered by the Thames Barrier.

    Smaller Nations Weigh Power of the Walkout
    New York Times, December 8 – It is one of the grim paradoxes of climate change that nations on the front line of global warming are among those with the least political clout at the United Nations conference that opened this week in Copenhagen.

  2. melintexas says:

    The climate was much warmer in the middle ages. They were growing grapes in Ireland and sheep on greenland then. The end of the last ice age saw sea levels rise about 300 feet, and recide another 80 feet since then (roughly 16000 yrs ago. The sahara looked like Kansas 20000 yrs ago. Climate change is normal for this planet. Man is doing less damage than a mid size volcano going off.
    Non of the regulations proposed by any government will do anything for the planet. It will only hand over power to centralized governmental bodies.
    The science supporting global warming has been doctored. The source codes for the major data banks that the environmental scientist get their data has been corrupted.
    Don’t you get it, you’ve been had! Their calculator was programed to read 5+5=20 instead of 10 and your just accepting the 20 as fact.

  3. The total long article on photovoltaic above did not mention even once, unless I miss it, the energy generated by photovoltaic system or the price per kWh.. Why, because very little energy is generated and the price to our society is very high. Why these are important? Because the reality is that we are in the middle of a real global warming and the purpose of green energy should be dedicated to replace fossil-generated electricity with GHG-free electrical energy. And this is not happening now on any meaningful scale.

    We want to replace Germany’s prominent position with PV. What a futility. Germany spent some 70 billion dollars over more than a decade and is now getting a miniscule one third of one percent (1/3 %) of its electricity from PV. In the mean time they are not reducing their dependence on coal power plants. Oppositely, tens of coal power plants are now in the pipeline to go on line in the coming few years. Some new ones are already on line.

    So, what did the Germans achieve, more GHG from coal and the erroneous satisfaction that they are going green.
    And the USA is falling into the same ignorance and waste. First we do not have billions to waste on future dreams. We do not have the time to play with GHG. Put the money into wind energy which in many cases can compete now with fossil electricity. We will general several times the electricity per dollar that PV can. Put money into R&D for new technologies including solar. Put money into central tower solar that is so much more economical and generate more green energy that way too. But do not claim that we are going green when what we are doing is giving huge profit to solar companies.
    Dr. Steven Chu is not so sold on current solar PV. He said that the price has to drop by ten to one to be useful on a mass scale. And that is what we need- mass replacement of coal generated electricity by conservation, efficiency and green technologies. A utility manager told me recently that despite the drop in solar panels, the price of the PV systems remained the same to the users. The profit, however to the solar company increased. We did not get more electricity per dollar at all.

    The many jobs that are generated by subsidies for solar should be given to many more workers performing energy conservation. Most of our existing housing stock is poorly insulated and waste considerable amount of energy. But conservation is not “sexy” and very little is done in this area. Why, there is no national Conservation organization that pushes our legislators, both at the local level in California, and the national level in Congress. So every one “knows” that conservation is important but we do very little conservation.

    Do put money into PV but never talk, never mention how much energy is actually generated by PV and how much reduction is occurring in our GHG emission.

    Sadly we are so blind to reality, it is amazing how much energy and money we waste on technologies that satisfy our emotions but not reducing our GHG.

  4. C. Vink says:

    @melintexas December 9, 2009 at 5:52 pm:


    Does past climate change disprove man-made global warming? (Skeptical Science; with several lines of argument and links to relevant scientific research)


    Climatic Research Unit e-mail hacking incident (very informative Wikipedia article with more than 80 references)

    Climatologists under pressure (Nature editorial)

    Has ‘Climategate’ Been Overblown? (Time magazine)

  5. hasworkedforPentago says:

    WRT to the big defense contractors going into green energy work. Be aware that their cost overruns probably have much more to do with Pentagon procurement practices (including constantly changing specs, cost plus contracts, focus on quality over price, etc ) than with something intrinsic to those companies that causes cost overruns.

  6. David Scott says:

    I could be paddling a rowboat down Market Street in San Francisco after the poles have melted, and there will still be conservative fanatics who deny that humans are responsible for Global Warming or that it is even real. I invite you to my web-pages devoted to raising awareness on this urgent issue: