April 6 News: Solar costs may already rival coal; The surprisingly long history of green energy

Solar Costs May Already Rival Coal, Spurring Installation

Solar panel installations may surge in the next two years as the cost of generating electricity from the sun rivals coal-fueled plants, industry executives and analysts said.

Large photovoltaic projects will cost $1.45 a watt to build by 2020, half the current price, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated today. The London-based research company says solar is viable against fossil fuels on the electric grid in the most sunny regions such as the Middle East.

“We are already in this phase change and are very close to grid parity,” Shawn Qu, chief executive officer of Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ), said in an interview. “In many markets, solar is already competitive with peak electricity prices, such as in California and Japan.”

Chinese companies such as JA Solar Holdings Ltd., Canadian Solar and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. are making panels cheaper, fueled by better cell technology and more streamlined manufacturing processes. That’s making solar economical in more places and will put it in competition with coal, without subsidies, in the coming years, New Energy Finance said.

“The most powerful driver in our industry is the relentless reduction of cost,” Michael Liebreich, chief executive officer of New Energy Finance, said at the company’s annual conference in New York yesterday. “In a decade the cost of solar projects is going to halve again.”

White House Promises Veto of Anti-E.P.A. Bill

In case there was any doubt, the White House on Tuesday issued a formal statement opposing a bill now before the House that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases for the purpose of combating climate change.

The bill, known as the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday and is almost certain to pass when it does. It has virtually unanimous support among the Republican majority and will probably draw votes from a few Democrats from coal and oil producing states.

The measure, sponsored by Representatives Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, and Ed Whitfield, Republican of Kentucky, would overturn the E.P.A.’s finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a danger to human health and the environment. That finding, based on a broad scientific consensus, is the basis for pending regulation of carbon emissions from vehicles and large stationary sources like power plants, factories and refineries.

Republicans assert the new rules are a hidden energy tax that will significantly raise production costs and drive jobs offshore.

Administration officials have spoken out against the bill in speeches and congressional testimony, but President Obama had not formally threatened to veto it. On Tuesday, the White House issued a strongly worded statement that erases any doubt.

The Surprisingly Long History of Green Energy

Green technology has no history “” which isn’t to say that it has no past. For many Americans the subject sprang into being a few years ago, maybe around the time the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth hit theaters, or when they first saw (but didn’t hear) a modest Toyota Prius curling around the corner. Sure, a small group of people cared about solar water heaters or wind turbines back in the 1970s, when we can remember then President Jimmy Carter telling America to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater. But green tech is widely considered to be the stuff of the future, there to clean up an economy that has been inexorably built on fossil fuels “” on coal, oil and gasoline-powered automobiles.

Except, that’s not true. Before New York City ever had its yellow fleet of gas-guzzling taxis “” and way before Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to force those drivers to go hybrid “” there was a thriving electric-taxi company at the turn of the 20th century that served the entire metropolis. Windmills helped transform the American West in the 1800s, providing power for irrigation “” and setting the stage for wind power’s resurgence a century later. There was no guarantee that electricity would win out over less-polluting compressed air as a way to transmit energy over long distances. Californians were entranced by the potential of wave power in the early 1900s, and solar water heaters used to be common in the early 1900s.

Far from being a recent phenomenon, Americans have been trying to go green for decades. Yet our modern society ended up being based on the idea of cheap, inexhaustible energy from fossil fuels, a decision we’re living to rue. “The fossil-fueled economy of the twentieth century had a tendency to pave over alternatives to itself, leaving only curious hints of worlds that might have been,” writes Alexis Madrigal in his excellent new book, Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. “Green technology has been a viable set of technologies for more than one hundred years but, regardless, supplies little of America’s energy.”

The question Madrigal “” a senior editor at the Atlantic “” sets out to answer in Powering the Dream is, simply, Why? Why did the U.S. develop an energy system “” and an economy “” built around fossil fuels like oil and coal as opposed to renewable power, centralized electrical utilities over distributed generation? We assume that it had to be this way “” that fossil fuels and suburbia were simply so superior to a greener system that their triumph was inevitable. But that’s not the case. Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is influenced by society “” and society, as Madrigal points out, can and does change, which gives us hope for the future.

Lockheed Official Says U.S. Must Fund the Riskiest Clean Energy Projects

Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s chief technology officer said government funding is needed to spur private-sector investment in “heavy risk” energy projects such as energy storage and smart-grid reliability.

Companies developing technology innovations such as advanced batteries for electric vehicles can sometimes win funding from private investors in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, while Wall Street banks focus on proven technology such as General Electric Co. (GE)’s wind turbines, Lockheed Chief Technology Officer Ray O. Johnson said.

Between those stages is the “valley of death,” where private funding disappears, Johnson said late yesterday at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York.

“The perfect role for government is, in fact, to take on heavy risk activities,” Johnson said. “Part of that transition through the valley of death is to actually get private capital to come in.”

Dan Arvizu, director of the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, said during a panel discussion that basic research funding isn’t enough. “There has to be a lot more than that to get technologies to the marketplace.”

Bringing breakthrough ideas such as small-scale nuclear reactors to market is expensive and takes years before it’s clear which experimental projects will be the ones to last, Jonathan Silver, executive director of the Energy Department’s loan programs office, said during the panel discussion.

World Bank fund sells 500,000 U.N. carbon credits

The World Bank said on Tuesday it had sold 500,000 U.N.-backed certified emissions reductions (CERs) for its adaptation fund which finances clean energy projects in developing countries.

The value of the deal was not disclosed. The sale was of pre-2012 issued CER futures, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

CERs for December 2011 delivery were trading at around 13 euros ($18.44) a tonne on Tuesday.

The end buyers were not revealed but were spread across a range of sectors and regions, the bank said.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch acted as a dealer for the sale and has now sold a total of 1.6 billion CERs on behalf of the fund.

Pawlenty: It’s unclear how much humans contribute to climate change

Science is still unclear how much humans contribute to global climate change, but the consensus seems to be “it’s a modest amount,” former Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Friday in an interview with Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson.

“I think climate change occurs, but the bulk of it is natural, historic trends in the climate,” Pawlenty said. “There is some suggestion that humans have caused some of it, but the answer is not a government, top-down scheme.”

Pawlenty was responding to a question about his previous support of cap-and-trade legislation, including participating in a radio advertisement in 2007 with then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano urging Congress to tackle climate change.

Also in 2007, Pawlenty signed legislation that required Minnesota to reduce its emissions 15 percent by 2015 and 80 percent in 2050. The bill also endorsed the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group, a panel charged with drafting a comprehensive greenhouse gas emission reduction plan to meet those goals.

The Pulitzer Prize winning website Politifact found Pawlenty to have completely flipped his long-held position on cap and trade in recent years, going from an adamant supporter to full-throated critic.

All the big-name potential presidential candidates have embraced climate change at one point or another, Pawlenty said Friday, but supporting cap-and-trade was a mistake.

Instead of a “a ham-fisted, unhelpful” approach to breaking the country’s addiction to foreign oil, Pawlenty said it is time to “Americanize our energy sources.”

“I’m tired of having our energy future tied to places and people and leaders who don’t share our values and don’t like the United States,” he said.

As president, Pawlenty said he would push for development of all forms of energy, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables.  Several times during the interview he singled out natural gas as one of America’s best options, saying it “burns cleaner than coal and is less controversial than nuclear.”

Obama touts ‘clean energy’ in Pennsylvania

A wind-turbine and wind-farm builder President Barack Obama will visit helped reduce wildlife death and injury, Pennsylvania’s wildlife chief said.

Gamesa Technology Corp. — part of a Spanish company of the same name that is reorganizing its manufacturing arm to increase its U.S. presence — is one of 30 companies voluntarily helping “avoid, minimize and potentially mitigate any adverse impacts the development of wind energy may have on the state’s wildlife resources,” the Pennsylvania Game Commission said.

The Gamesa plant, 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia — where Obama is to hold a “town hall” meeting with workers Wednesday about “building a 21st century clean-energy economy” — provided “real-world examples of how this voluntary agreement has helped protect wildlife and their habitats, as well as reinforced the conservation goal of wind-energy companies,” state Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management Director William Capouillez said Tuesday in a wind-energy report.

A 2004 Pennsylvania law requires 18 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable and advanced energy sources by 2019. The Game Commission has cooperative, voluntary agreements with companies developing wind energy, one of the technologies competing for a share of Pennsylvania’s alternative-energy market

Chaos in energy sector drives gains in clean energy

Funds that invest all their cash in companies tied to alternative energy, clean technology, the oil industry and other natural resources soared 13.7% in the first three months of the year, benefiting from turmoil in the oil-rich Middle East and the anti-nuclear sentiment after the accident in Japan.

The nearly 14% first-quarter gain for natural resources funds was the No. 1 performance among the 79 stock fund classifications tracked by Lipper. It was the second straight quarter the sector topped the performance charts.

A diversified group of companies in the energy patch “” ranging from solar and wind power companies to more traditional oil producers and exploration firms “” saw their stock prices rise amid a confluence of events that, Lipper says, caused a barrel of crude oil to jump almost 17% in the quarter and reignited interest in energy alternatives.

“The political unrest in the Middle East combined with public concern about the future of nuclear energy and attractive valuations of alternative energy companies made for a good first quarter,” says Matthew Page, a portfolio manager at London-based Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy fund.

20 Responses to April 6 News: Solar costs may already rival coal; The surprisingly long history of green energy

  1. Solar Jim says:

    Solar has always been ecologically manageable, that is, eco-nomical. Uranium and hydrocarbon materials are nation-state subsidized drugs of choice for industrial militants.

    What we have now is an economy of explosives, not “energy.” It is one of centralized power, a corporate plutocracy based on the poisonous state-sanctioned economics of the fuels of war. An explicit, historic US policy of “cheap fuels” is but one component of gathering ecological and financial impoverishment.

    You can not tax carbon when the policy is pervasive federal subsidization.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree, Solar Jim. Where are you located?

    The 2020 price parity statement sends us to a link showing solar cost at over $.22 kwh, with a qualifier that rooftop is included. In other words, we again have no information on costs, since PPA’s are proprietary, and may be driven by renewable energy standard requirements anyway. This leads to several questions:

    1. Why are they talking about solar PV instead of solar thermal, which according to all studies I’ve seen is cheaper? I’m in favor of PV if it’s competitive, but haven’t seen evidence of it yet- the recent San Luis Obispo PG&E PV contract was rumored to be in the $.24 range. Solar thermal cost is way less, even in today’s market, and their prices are headed down, too. Solar thermal also has storage potential, and is an extremely simple technology, with off the shelf boilers and generators.

    2. This conversation will and should come up a lot. We need several sources of cost data, and full definitions of “busbar” and “levelized cost”, with some consistency. It’s OK if solar costs more than coal, due to externalities, but we really have little information, and it’s contradictory.

    3. Utilities are supposed to be public entities. Why are they so reluctant to keep PPA’s proprietary?

    4. Besides a carbon tax for coal and, yes, natural gas, there needs to be utility company liability for environmental costs from mercury, SOx, and groundwater contamination. The law should be operative here even if the utility does not own the plants. That would change things.

  3. Lewis C says:

    Joe – ABC reported a record number of severe weather warnings last night – over 1,300 – due to the major storm system across the S & E of the US. “Hundreds of tornadoes” and five dead.

    I wonder if you have any update and overview on the event ? Clearly not a game-changer but perhaps an effective means of waking people up by personal experience ?



  4. Russell says:

    $ 1.45 per W?

    Really ?

    Care to tender a bid to power 1,000 air conditioners 24/7 for one unsubsidized megabuck?

  5. Gord says:

    Re: long history of Green Energy

    It seems to me, if I remember correctly the ancient Greeks harvested heat for hot water using tubes on their roofs, just like solar hot water today (well not exactly, but using the same thermodynamic principles as today). Solar hot water, what a bargain!

    Today’s systems are so efficient that the problem is not too little hot water but too much, even in the depths of Winter! It’s another of the technologies like PV that co-locates the generator with the user resulting in no additional local infrastructure upgrades.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    Thank goodness President Obama is taking a stand on the House Bill regarding EPA regulation of CO2 emissions. I desperately hope he keeps his backbone on this issue (and its not just a budget negotiating tool) and applies this same standard to the other bills that have EPA gutting riders attached to them.

    Please don’t let us down again Mr. President, hold firm on the EPA.

  7. Leif says:

    It is important to recall that coal and oil get significant subsidies and free polluting of the commons in order to be competitive in todays market place. Subsidies mean your TAX dollars at work via GOBP policies.

  8. Solar Jim says:


    I am located in the City of Increasing Taxes, State of Corrupticut, United States of Globalized Corporate Plutocracy (operating under the primary principle of deception and fraud for the purpose of centralizing wealth and power).


  9. Barry says:

    Long history of Green Energy left out the 4 billion years during which evolution settled on solar and ramped it up to power our global biosphere.

  10. Barry says:

    Mike (#2) says “Why are they talking about solar PV instead of solar thermal, which according to all studies I’ve seen is cheaper?”

    One of the reasons might be that solar PV has the unique advantage of being able to compete directly with retail electricity prices…not just wholesale.

    For example a building owner in a sunny climate with high retail electricity prices can install solar PV and save money. In fact Italy just became the first nation where this seems to be true. You can also see this starting to play out in Spain where they are switching quickly from big scale to building scale solar PV for this reason.

    Solar PV will get a huge boost in the coming decade because it will be cost-competitive vs non-renewable precisely because it only needs to be cheaper than retail electricity prices. And that will drive a huge funding and install boom.

    Finally there is the chase for the big dollar pay-off by venture capital. Becoming the best at solar thermal makes you a utility supplier. But becoming the best at solar PV has the potential to make the endless billions.

    I think the smart venture dollars now realize that solar PV is going to be the BIG answer and will be everywhere. It is the PC vs mainframe battle all over again.

    Being a big player in cheap solar PV will be like printing money.

  11. Barry says:

    Note also that when evolution picked solar, it also handled the energy storage problem by assembling long-chain carbon molecules to store energy for later.

    I’m betting humans do the same thing by storing excess solar energy via air-CO2-H20 to liquid-hydrocarbons.

    That gives us an ecological re-cycle model very similar to what that nature has used successfully for billions of years. It also allows energy density where critically needed.

    Evolution didn’t pick that method because it is hippie or “green”…it picked it because other methods failed in comparison.

  12. Mike Roddy says:


    Interesting points, thanks, especially about capital being drawn to more advanced solar PV for the reasons you stated. There’s limited room for improvement with solar thermal, since efficiencies such as higher tensile strength and more efficient geometries and software are incremental. PV in theory could be cheap at utility scale.

    Not so with distributed rooftop power, unfortunately. 2/3 of the cost of a rooftop installation is labor and non solar collector hardware, so making an efficient thin film panel won’t suddenly make solar cheap.

  13. Michael Tucker says:

    Further down in the article linked to in “History of Green Energy” is says:

    “The problem is that we’ve never really supported the right technologies. Madrigal shows that American policy toward green energy has been a mess, long before this new batch of Republicans went into Congress fixed on dismantling environmental protections.”

    And it will remain a mess as long as progressives, the president, and many environmentalists continue to include biofuel, natural gas, nuclear, and coal in the green (or clean) energy category.

    Oh, why limit windmill history to the mechanical water pumps of the 1800’s. What of the original windmills? No mention of the Edison/Ford electric car? Well I’m sure it is mentioned in the book.

  14. climate undergrad says:

    “Bloomberg announces first commercial green lease” (captioned below)

    While I’m sure this has happened before (it has to have) a leasing structure that fixes the split incentives problem with energy efficiency (a predominant problem in NYC) has been implemented in 7 World Trade Center. Adoption of this leasing structure will increase energy efficiency projects in NY and elsewhere.

    “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today joined WilmerHale co-managing partner William J. Perlstein and World Trade Center developer Larry A. Silverstein at the signing of WilmerHale’s 7 World Trade Center lease, which is the first to incorporate groundbreaking language crafted by industry leaders working with the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to promote enhanced energy efficiency and sustainability. Under traditional leases, building owners are responsible for the upfront cost of energy efficiency improvements. Tenants, however, are the immediate beneficiaries of those upgrades, in the form of reduced energy costs. Because owners do not share in the benefit, they have little incentive to invest in energy upgrades. Building on the insights developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Green Lease Forum, the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning Sustainability brought together a group of real estate and energy efficiency experts and lawyer Mark Rauch to develop new commercial lease language that allows tenants, such as WilmerHale, and owners, such as Silverstein Properties, to share the costs, as well as the benefits, of energy efficiency improvements.”

  15. David B. Benson says:

    I don’t know how to determine LCOE for solar PV, in part becuause the panels are likely to last far beyond the 25 year design life. However, I assure you that in 2020 CE having a completed-construction LCOE of 14.5 cents/kWh for ‘rooftop’ solar will compete with buying from your utility company.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Google invests €3.5 million in German solar energy plant

    Google has invested €3.5 million in a German photovoltaic park, marking the internet giant’s first venture into the renewable energy market outside the United States.

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    Hot on the Trail of Chili Peppers

    Mr. Nabhan, a world traveler who has written some 20 books on the culture of food and plants, is rooting himself here with perennial crops that sequester carbon and help reduce greenhouse gases. He has terraced this land, in the manner of his Middle Eastern ancestors, molding low walls out of the heavy clay soil and digging catchment basins, to slow and catch rainwater as it rushes downhill during downpours. And he has put in drip lines, fed by rainwater collected from the roof, as well as an artesian spring, to reach every plant.

    He is also improving the soil with organic materials like goat manure and biochar, or charcoal, locally burned, from the deadwood of his mesquite trees, which shed branches in the recent eight-year drought. (His fruit trees, near-indestructible prickly pear and agaves, survived the drought but succumbed to the freeze in February.)

  18. paulm says:

    GE To Build Largest Solar Panel Factory In U.S.

    The new plant will employ 400 people and produce enough solar panels to power 80,000 homes per year, GE said Thursday. The company isn’t saying where the plant will be located, but it does say that there are multiple locations being scouted. .

    GE says its thin film solar panel has been certified as the most energy efficient of its kind by the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado. The technology for the panel, called CdTe thin film, lends itself to low-cost, large-scale manufacturing.

  19. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Yes. Solar Energy will be competitive with coal as improved and efficient solar cells and Concentrated Solar Power are entering the market.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP), India