"Energy and Global Warming News for July 30th: Solar-power industry hits magic number; Fight gears up on biomass; Fossil fuel subsidies are 12 times support for renewables — study"
While some investors feel they’re still waiting for the sun to rise on the solar energy industry, it’s already high noon for some parts of the sector.
In some places in the U.S. today, solar photovoltaic, PV, technology””the iconic glass panels being deployed on home and business rooftops””already allows users to beat what their local utility charges for electricity generated from coal-fired power plants.
“It makes sense if you look at it as a [retail] ratepayer,” says Ted Sullivan, senior analyst at Lux Research. “We’re there today.” For example, Californian utilities charge up to 40 cents/kwh for retail power users, while an installed solar PV system costs up to 18 cents/kwh.
The cost-benefit analysis, of course, depends mainly on local issues, like the rates utilities charge, the premium cost of using energy at peak demand times and the intensity of the sun in any given area. Generally speaking though, solar energy users can expect a quick return on investment for installing PV panels and enjoy cheap energy for the system’s lifetime, often guaranteed for 20 years or more.
This morning on “Good Morning America” you saw Lynn Jurich of SunRun, a San Francisco-based home solar company.
Jurich, SunRun’s co-founder and president, said the benefits of solar powering homes include controlling electricity costs and making a difference in the environment.
Solar power can help reduce greenhouse gases, lower the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and increase a home’s resale value, she added. Jurich said there were two ways to obtain solar power for a home.
Homeowners can purchase a home solar system outright, or they can purchase solar electricity from a home solar company. Options for solar electricity include a solar lease, also known as a solar power purchase agreement.
Global subsidies for fossil fuels dwarf support given to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and biofuels, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.
Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement. That compares with the $557 billion that the International Energy Agency last month said was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.
“One of the reasons the clean energy sector is starved of funding is because mainstream investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance.
There is evidently no form of energy, including renewable energy, that lacks opposition. A big spat right now centers on biomass power plants.
Biomass is a broad category that encompasses everything from burning whole trees to burning leftover wood chips, agricultural residues or household garbage. The focus of the argument is currently in Massachusetts, where state regulators are considering raising the bar for biomass plants.
Supporters say that cutting down trees to make electricity is carbon-neutral, because the trees will regrow and absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But a recent study suggests that the trees will take years to do that, offering little short-term help. (The same argument can be made about solar cells; manufacturing them involves releasing carbon dioxide, then takes some time to break even before yielding a net benefit in decreased carbon dioxide emissions.)
Biomass is a favored form of renewable energy because its generation can be reliably scheduled; the wind and sun can merely be predicted, and not always very well, leading to a need for extensive storage.
A solar energy project in southern California will remove more than 86,000 tons of emissions from the atmosphere, energy company Chevron said.
Chevron’s subsidiary Chevron Energy Solutions teamed with officials in Brea, Calif., to launch a 1.8 megawatt solar energy project.
The solar farm will position Brea as the largest contributor of solar energy to the electrical grid in Orange County, the company said in a statement.
Brea Mayor Ron Garcia was quoted as saying the installation of the solar facility will bring his city one step closer to environmental benchmarks.
California pulled funding for its home solar and energy-retrofit loans yesterday in response to federal mortgage overseers’ negative ruling on the program.
The California Energy Commission’s (CEC) decision removes $30 million in federal stimulus funds awarded by the state last February to five counties for county and municipal home energy loans. The state said the five were expected to create 4,400 jobs and avoid 187,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions through 2012.
Loans from the property-assessed clean energy (PACE) program are tied to property tax bills, allowing homeowners to extend payments and carry loans over when the house is sold.
A 2009 bill expanded California’s program to cover water-efficiency improvements in addition to energy projects, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed a bill last April establishing a $50 million reserve fund to back local government bonds.
The Obama administration rejected challenges to its finding last year that climate change caused by emissions of greenhouse gases is a danger to public health.
The Environmental Protection Agency found that 10 petitions contesting the decision as flawed “provide no evidence to undermine our determination,” Administrator Lisa Jackson said today in a statement. Industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have said the EPA’s carbon rules will be a drag on the economy.
The agency’s action removes a potential obstacle barring the U.S. from regulating carbon-dioxide emissions from cars, trucks, power plants, oil refineries and factories under the Clean Air Act. Congress has failed to pass legislation to limit carbon emissions that would mandate pollution cuts by statute.
What a difference an oil spill makes. Californians, whose dislike of offshore drilling dates back to the Santa Barbara spill of 1969, had begun to see virtue in new sources of oil as gasoline prices soared in 2008, polls showed.
That year, for the first time since 2000, when the first poll of the state’s environmental attitudes was taken by the Public Policy Institute of California, a majority “” albeit a bare one, 51 percent “” was willing to allow more drilling off the California coast. The majority was about the same in 2009, and opposition dwindled to 43 percent.
The latest poll, however, shows the opposition snapping back after the offshore oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the institute’s survey this month of 2,502 Californians, 59 percent opposed new offshore drilling; the proportion supporting more drilling dropped to 36 percent, down 15 percentage points.
The Spanish government and solar- power producers are moving toward an agreement aimed at reducing subsidies to the industry and reining in electricity prices without damaging the country’s renewable energy industry.
A draft document forming the basis of talks between executives and government officials said subsidies for plants already operating would be cut 10 percent to 15 percent over the next three years, compensated by three extra years of payments. An Industry Ministry spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the document and said the government will seek deeper cuts.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government wants to keep a lid on electric costs by paring back a 2007 law granting above-market prices for clean-energy producers. The measures would hurt solar-plant developers including Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA and Solaria Energia y Medio Ambiente SA.
What appears to be a bonfire of low-carbon energy subsidies has been lit in Europe as cash-strapped countries grapple with their empty coffers and start to cut back on what many see as over-generous support for industries from wind to solar that has created a green energy bubble.
Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the Czech Republic have all announced subsidy cuts, and there are fears that the United Kingdom, making budget cuts across the board as it desperately seeks to reduce a deficit of over 160 billion pounds, will be tempted to go even further.
The United Kingdom’s independent Committee on Climate Change called earlier this week for the government to safeguard the £550 million a year it spends supporting clean energy, which it said was a paltry amount that needed, if anything, to be increased when economic circumstances allow. Yet cuts have already been announced.
Exxon Mobil Corp.’s profit rose 91 percent in the second quarter as the economy sputtered toward recovery.
The Irving oil giant enjoyed higher crude oil and natural gas prices. But Exxon sold less diesel, jet fuel and gasoline, indicating consumers are doing less shopping, traveling and driving to work.
“We’re certainly seeing some recovery in demand in the U.S., not as strong as Asia,” said David Rosenthal, Exxon’s vice president of investor relations.
“But it’s really hard to tell, given the level of activity and the level of economic progress,” he said. “I think we need a couple more quarters to go before we can answer that question affirmatively.”
Exxon’s net profit rose to $7.56 billion for the second quarter, or $1.61 a share, from $3.95 billion, or 81 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue rose 24 percent to $92.49 billion.
The rise is largely due to higher crude oil and natural gas prices. Sales of petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, dropped 3.8 percent.
There are enormous opportunities to use energy more efficiently. Investing in energy efficiency is often far cheaper than expanding the energy supply to meet growing demand. Efficiency investments typically yield a high rate of return, saving consumers money, and can help fight climate change by avoiding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning additional fossil fuels. Just as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) offer great electricity savings over incandescent light bulbs, a similar range of efficiencies is available for many household appliances, such as refrigerators and home electronics.
The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 was designed to exploit some of these potential savings. It raises appliance efficiency standards high enough to close 29 power plants that burn coal, the most carbon intensive of the fossil fuels. Other provisions in the act — such as tax incentives that encourage the adoption of energy-efficient technologies, a shift to more combined heat and power generation, and the adoption of real-time pricing of electricity (a measure to discourage optional electricity use during peak demand periods) — would cut electricity demand enough to close an additional 37 coal-fired power plants. Appliance efficiency standards and other measures in the bill would also reduce natural gas consumption substantially. All together, these measures are projected to reduce consumer electricity and gas bills in 2020 by more than $20 billion.
More than one-third of all counties in the continental United States face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century, according to a new report.
The reason? Global warming, according to the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. According to the report (.pdf), 14 states face an “extreme or high risk to water sustainability,” with limitations on use expected as demand exceeds supply by 2050.
“The more than 400 counties identified as being at greatest risk in the report reflects a 14-times increase from previous estimates,” the NRDC said in a statement.
NO ONE expected a bang; but the idea of a cap on America’s carbon emissions died with barely the bathos of a whimper. Despite months of legislative fiddle piled on procedural faddle, no one ever drafted a bill with a carbon cap, and the sort of trading system necessary for industry to meet its demands, that stood a chance on the Senate floor. So the majority leader, Harry Reid, finally decided the whole issue should be quietly flushed away (see article). With the mid-term elections sure to swing heavily away from Mr Reid’s Democrats, there is now no possibility of comprehensive climate-change legislation in America for years.
Given the murkiness of some of the bathwater involved (maybe we’ll let you have a little cap and trade if you’ll let us go on emitting neurotoxic mercury, said the electric utilities), it is easy to lose track of the attractions of the baby. America is the largest per-person emitter of carbon dioxide among the world’s big economies, and the second-largest emitter overall. If the risks of global damage through climate change are to be reduced, America’s emissions need to come under some sort of control, both because of what they do to the climate and because of the message such control would send to the world’s other large emitters””and in particular to China, the largest.