April 8 News: Wind now on even playing field with gas; GE to build nation’s largest solar panel factory

Wind on even playing field with gas, industry declares

Though the U.S. wind industry installed half as much capacity last year as it did in 2009, production streamlining and efficiency improvements mean wind can compete evenly with cheap natural gas, wind industry executives said today.

There was 5,116 megawatts of new capacity installed across the nation in 2010, down sharply from nearly 10,000 MW the year before. But the industry grew by about 15 percent as new equipment manufacturing facilities sprouted in almost every state.

And heated competition has driven prices down much more quickly than anticipated, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) told investors at a wind finance workshop now under way.

As a result, wind power generators say they can now offer utilities long-term purchase power agreements (PPAs) at the same price as natural gas-fired power plants….

Projections of future growth in the industry and claims that grid parity with natural gas has largely been achieved have upended earlier fears that record low gas prices would punish the wind sector for years to come.

AWEA figures show that the average wind PPAs are now being priced at about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, the same price for energy procurements from a combined cycle natural gas plant. The group says wind is actually about 2 cents cheaper than coal-fired electricity, and more projects were financed through debt arrangements than tax equity structures last year, a possible sign that wind deals are winning more mainstream acceptance from Wall Street’s banks….

[AWEA chief economist Elizabeth] Salerno credits the breakthrough in cost to improved turbine design and performance, higher towers and longer blades, which have boosted the reliability and performance of wind power generation. Equipment makers can also deliver products in the same year that they are ordered instead of waiting up to three years as was the case in previous cycles, she said, calling it a sign of a mature supply chain.

Figures suggest the industry could be set to explode in size this year in terms of new installations.

The group estimates that 5,600 MW of new installed capacity is under construction in the United States, more than double the number at this point in 2010. Thirty-five percent of all new power generation built in the United States since 2005 has come from wind, more than new gas and coal plants combined, as power providers are increasingly enticed to wind as a convenient hedge against unpredictable commodity price moves, AWEA said.

Although the industry is still a net importer, the proportion of domestic parts in wind turbines is now at an average 50 percent, up from 25 percent in 2005, the group said. And some manufacturers say they intend to boost that figure to 80 percent or higher in the coming years as shuttered machine shops reopen to supply the growing industry….

Wind makes up large percentages of power generation in some states but still represents a tiny slice of the nation’s entire supply — 2.3 percent, up from 1.8 percent a year ago.

GE to Build Nation’s Largest Solar Power Plant

GE is taking aim at the world’s biggest solar company in a bid to expand into a fast-growing renewable energy market.

General Electric Co. announced Thursday that it would spend $600 million to build the nation’s biggest solar panel factory. It would build the same type of so-called thin film solar panels manufactured by First Solar Inc., the biggest producer of solar panels in the world.

GE also announced Thursday that testing by a government laboratory showed that its panels set an efficiency record for this type of thin film panel, made from the elements cadmium and tellurium.

“It’s demonstrated to be the cost leader in the marketplace and we think we can push costs lower, and faster,” said Vic Abate, vice president for GE’s renewable energy business.

The company did not say where the factory would be built. Abate said it would eventually employ 400 people and be producing panels by 2013. The plant would have the capacity to build 400 megawatts worth of panels per year, enough to power about 80,000 homes.

By comparison, First Solar will have 2,300 MW of capacity by the end of this year.

GE bets $600 mln on solar, sees plant up by 2013

General Electric Co (GE.N) made a big push in solar power, saying it will invest $600 million to build a new factory as it pursues what it thinks could be an up to $3 billion business by 2015.

The largest U.S. conglomerate, which over the last decade has made itself a leader in renewable energy, said it has designed a thin-film solar panel that converts sunlight to electricity more efficiently than rival products today.

The move is likely to ramp up already intense price competition, particularly for First Solar Inc (FSLR.O), which uses the same thin-film technology as GE has focused on.

“Over time, there is going to be a lot of pricing pressure and the margins probably will not be what they are today,” said John Segrich, portfolio manager of the Gabelli SRI Green Fund. “Solar will be a very big market on a megawatt basis, but it’s a question of at what price?”

GE said it is focused on driving prices down.

“The biggest challenge today for the mainstream adoption of solar is cost, and the way you move cost is efficiency,” said Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy unit. “We see ourselves continuing to push that.”

Google drops $5M in German solar plant

Google has invested ‚¬3.5 million (roughly $5 million) in a German 18.7-megawatt solar power plant in a small town near Berlin.

It’s Google’s first investment in clean technology outside of the United States, and it’s made the investment with German-based private equity firm Capital Stage.

The solar power plant occupies around 116 acres and can generate enough power for around 5,000 homes. More than 70 percent of the panels installed at the plant are manufactured in Germany.

The search giant has already been pushing clean technology stateside and its investment arm, Google Ventures, has invested in several clean technology companies.

Solar power farms use flat photovoltaic panels that absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity. One photovoltaic cell typically generates around a watt of power. Solar panels that are seen throughout the world are large collections of photovoltaic cells, usually around 6 inches across each.

The US solar power industry seems to be doing well and is on track to have a good year, but it looks like there is more interest in solar panel technology internationally “” particularly in Germany and Japan. That’s because a massive surge in residential solar panels in Germany and Japan fueled consumer demand for small-scale solar power projects, according to a report by Pew.

Google Invests ‚¬3.5 million in German Solar Plant

For their first clean energy investment in Europe, Google has picked a very large solar plant in Germany.

The search marketing giant just dropped ‚¬3.5 million or about $5 million on a solar photovoltaic power plant in Brandenburg an der Havel, a small town near Berlin.

Today’s investment marks Google’s first outside the U.S., and follows over $100 million investments the company has made to support the clean energy sector in the U.S. The company in a blog post said it’s looking to encourage the development and deployment of renewable energy around the world.

“Germany has a strong framework for renewable energy and is home to many leading-edge technology companies in the sector,” Benjamin Kott, Google’s clean energy advocacy manager said in a blog post.

“We’re excited about making our first investment outside of the U.S. in Germany,” he added.

Up until the early 90s, the Soviets used the 116-acre site as a training ground. Today it houses one of the largest solar facilities of its kind in Germany that will be able to provide clean energy to over 5,000 households in the area.

The company joins German private equity firm Capital Stage in investing in the 18.7 megawatt solar plant. Hamburg-based Capital Stage, which bills itself as the largest independent renewable energy producer in Germany, said in a press release that it sold 49% of the power plant to Google, and that the investment still requires regulatory approval.

Google’s investment in Germany follows other local projects. Earlier this year, Google pledged to open an internet institute in Berlin, and it’s also launched an initiative to get the German Mittelstand, or small and medium businesses, online.

Can Green Energy Scale? Wind Power Is Getting There

It’s a question we ask all the time: when will green energy scale up? After all, renewable power won’t really make a difference until it can provide a bulk of the country’s energy supply. That hasn’t happened yet””while technically renewable sources provide around 20% of U.S. power, nearly all of that is biomass or hydro. Wind and solar provide less than 4% of U.S. energy””statistically, that’s barely a bump.

But as Scott Jacobs, a great McKinsey clean energy analyst, pointed out to me at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference this week, in one sense green energy is already achieving scale””in new power generation. Solar, as I noted in an earlier post today, is growing faster than any other form of energy, and new statistics from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) showed that wind added 5,116 MW of new capacity last year. That’s 26% of all new energy generation added in the U.S. in 2010, second only to natural gas, which supplied 40% of new power. (Shale gas””it is for real.) Since 2007 wind has added an average of 35% of all new capacity””twice the amount of new coal and nuclear combined. “There’s no silver bullet to the energy problem, but we’re part of the silver buckshot,” says Denise Bode, the CEO of AWEA.

Despite that, 2010 wasn’t the best year for the wind industry. Thanks in part to regulatory uncertainty last year and the post-recession collapse of the tax equity market that helps fund many renewable energy projects, just half as much wind was installed in 2010 as in 2009. And the U.S. has fallen behind China as the world’s wind leader””China now has some 45,000 MW of wind installed, compared to 40,000 MW in the U.S. China added 18,900 MW of wind in 2010, nearly four times more than the U.S.

Rich, poor nations feud at UN climate talk

he first UN climate talks for the year entered their final phase on Friday with negotiators still trying to hammer out a deal after familiar feuds between rich and poor nations flared.

The four days of talks had an apparently modest main goal of sorting out an agenda for the rest of the year’s negotiations that would lay the foundations for agreements at an annual UN climate summit in South Africa in November.

But delegates said the agenda had still not been decided by early Friday, with one key point of dispute an insistence by many poorer countries for a greater focus on actions developed countries must take to fight global warming.

“Everybody is a bit surprised, we did not expect the agenda to stall the talks for this long,” France’s ambassador for climate change negotiations, Serge Lepeltier, told AFP.

Delegates said a compromise could still be reached by the end of the talks on Friday evening that would set a path towards the end-of-year summit in Durban.

But they said the spirit of cooperation between developed and developing countries that led to breakthroughs at the last annual summit in the Mexican resort city of Cancun in December was not nearly as strong in Bangkok.

“This year will be more difficult and Durban will be more difficult than Cancun,” Lepeltier said.

“The power struggle is back.”

Clean-Energy Investment Is Placed at Risk as UN Climate Negotiations Stall

Clean energy investment that totaled $243 billion last year is at risk of slowing as talks on curbing greenhouse gas emissions bog down, said the United Nations official in charge of promoting industrial development.

Kandeh Yumkella, director general of the UN Industrial Development Organization, said $40 billion a year is needed through 2030 to bring basic energy to 3 billion people, and part of those funds are linked to the outcome of 192-nation negotiations on global warming that hit a roadblock in Bangkok this week.

The talks are aiming to unlock $100 billion a year in aid for developing nations to cope with rising sea levels and more volatile weather, which scientists say are caused by damage to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

“We want to keep that pressure up because we have a feeling that pledges can be made but the cash doesn’t move,” Yumkella said in an interview at a UN conference in New York today. “If there’s a continued slowdown in investment in clean energy it takes longer to build them up again.”

In the strongest criticism yet of the UN talks, Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator, said yesterday that a binding treaty is “unnecessary” and may not be “doable.” His remarks limit the chances of a breakthrough this year and underscore the rift between rich nations and developing ones including China, India and Brazil.

Scientists link oil on dolphins to BP spill

Scientists confirmed on Thursday that they have discovered oil on dead dolphins found along the U.S. Gulf Coast, raising fresh concerns about the effects of last year’s BP oil spill on sea life.

Fifteen of the 406 dolphins that have washed ashore in the last 14 months had oil on their bodies, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists said during a conference call with reporters.

The oil found on eight of those dolphins has been linked to the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists said.

“It is significant that even a year after the oil spill we are finding oil on the dolphins, the latest just two weeks ago,” said Blair Mase, southeast marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

Since mid-March, 87 dead sea turtles have also been found, although no visible traces of oil have been discovered on the carcasses, said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA Fisheries national sea turtle coordinator.

“But we do not have very much information about how oil products find their way into turtles,” she added.

The Gulf is home to five species of sea turtles, all of which are considered at risk of extinction.

Pennsylvania Calls for More Water Tests

Pennsylvania environmental regulators said Wednesday that they were calling for waste treatment plants and drinking water facilities to increase testing for radioactive pollutants and other contaminants, to see whether they are ending up in rivers because of the growth of natural gas drilling in the state.

The move follows a March 7 letter that the federal Environmental Protection Agency sent to the state, instructing it to perform testing for radioactivity within 30 days and to review the permits of state treatment plants handling the wastewater.

“Over the past three years, we have taken the actions necessary to protect the environment and public health without stifling the growth of the natural gas industry,” said Michael Krancer, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

He added that his office had sent letters requiring new testing to 14 public water authorities. It also contacted 25 wastewater plants, requesting that those with older permits “voluntarily” begin testing for radium, uranium and other pollutants.

The letters from federal and state regulators follow reports in The New York Times about gas industry wastewater with high levels of radioactivity being discharged into rivers and streams by sewage treatment plants that were not designed to remove radioactive materials.

12 Responses to April 8 News: Wind now on even playing field with gas; GE to build nation’s largest solar panel factory

  1. Michael T. says:

    NOAA released their March 2011 U.S. climate report:

    NOAA: U.S. had above normal temperatures and precipitation in March

    U.S. climate highlights – March
    •Above-normal warmth dominated much of the southern U.S. and Rocky Mountains. The largest temperature departures were in Western Texas and New Mexico, which had its fifth-warmest March on record. Midland, Texas had four consecutive days—March 16 – 19—of temperatures that tied existing records.
    •Cooler-than-normal temperatures were present in the northern and western areas of the country. Conditions were especially cool from southwestern Minnesota across the Dakotas into eastern Montana. Within this belt, March temperatures were as much as 6 degrees below the 20th Century average.
    •Precipitation varied across the country, as the west and east coasts received above normal amounts, while the central and southern United States was largely dry. Texas had its driest March on record, with a statewide average of 0.27 inch. This was 1.47 inch below its 20th Century average, and broke the previous record of 0.28 inch set in 1971. It was the third driest March in New Mexico and 10th driest in Oklahoma.
    •Record warm maximum temperatures exceeded record cold minimum temperatures by a 5-to-1 ratio.

    State of the Climate National Overview (Full Report):

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    This is really good news, thanks.

    Why would any utility order gas, since wind is at parity? Maybe NRDC could use its crack legal team to make utilities liable for gas fracking, and file some lawsuits to show they mean it. They could do the same for coal’s mercury and SOx damage to public health. Alternatively, Sierra Club Legal Defense could to it.

    I hope someone from CAP follows through on this suggestion. What do you think, Joe? Utilities don’t seem to be afraid of a carbon tax, but fear of pollution liability could really swing the market.

  3. Lewis C says:

    “In the strongest criticism yet of the UN talks, Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator, said yesterday that a binding treaty is “unnecessary” and may not be “doable.” His remarks limit the chances of a breakthrough this year and underscore the rift between rich nations and developing ones including China, India and Brazil.”

    There, in a nutshell, you have Obama’s inherited policy of brinkmanship with China et al – “Accept our terms, or ‘uck off and die.”

    The bluff that a binding treaty is “unnecessary” is not only patent nonsense, it is also particularly rash – as it will (not may) empower profiteering fossil corporations worldwide in getting new coal plants approved – both by reducing official expectations of a global carbon price and by raising official rejection of emissions’ constraints.

    The market fundamentalism of assuming that without a global treaty commercial interests could cut global GHG outputs at a rate to avoid self-fuelling climate destabilizion was entirely in keeping with the neo-con Cheyney’s outlook – for the ‘democrat’ Obama to adopt such propaganda is pathetic, and displays US desperation.

    Denial of the need of a treaty is in direct contradiction of solemn US treaty commitments (yet again) and forces former diplomatic allies, such as Japan, Australia and EU to review their positions. The UK foreign secretary recently warned the US CFR (publicly) of the predictable results of continued US obduracy – substantially raised co-operation between EU and Asian interests.

    In failing to mount a challenge to Obama, the American left is digging its own grave.



  4. BBC today on

    1. Rising seal levels to hit NYC harder

    2. Also today: same researcher(s) from Naval Postgradaute School who predicted 2013 ice free arctic have better model, say 2016 plus or minius 3 years,

    But I worry we are missing the point: there could be lots of debate arguments, and “told you so” if the date is a bit later. Irrelevant? No, it’s of course not irrelevant if the date is somewhat later, but the message of “then things aren’t so bad” comes across, a false message, even if we restrict to the arctic.

    It’s nice to have best prediction for date of first ice free arctic summer..what would be NICER would be the percent probability that we WILL have ice-free summer and have them become the norm, this century, a percent going from high to higher numbers, we need to see those high and higher numbers..are we near 100% yet? My recollection is yes, it’s a near certainty that summer ice is a gonner, in a matter of decades, not “maybe” but a done deal.

    The right FRAMING would be to tell the public: “you see? You might get the false impression that it’s all about what ‘might’ happen..some things are already a done deal..this the scientists already agree is inevitable, or already happened: a. Additional warming in the pipeline b. Existing 30% higher ocean acidity (already happened) c. losing summer ice in a matter of (at most) decades

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    LewisC, #3, is correct, in my opinion. The Copenhagen debacle, which was reported in the Western MSM propaganda circus as all China’s fault, was, in contrast, reported throughout the poor world as China leading the poor countries in standing up to Western bullying. The contribution of Kevin Rudd, the ex-PM of Australia, and, despite his fluency in Mandarin, a real extreme Sinophobe, was memorably crude. Something about the Chinese molesting rats or some such verbal incontinence. Then a few months after Copenhagen collapsed, there was the revelation, almost entirely ignored by the Western MSM, that the whole thing had been a set-up, with Denmark (a very Rightwing polity and home to numerous strands of climate destabilisation denialism, after all) having a prepared policy that was much to the detriment of the poor world that they and the rich countries attempted to impose on the poor world. This is the familiar tactic of the rich countries (the ‘international community’ in MSM propaganda terms)utilised through the ‘Green Room’ process at GATT and WTO conferences, and in UN Security Council bullying.
    The US is determined, under Obama as much as Bush, to continue its global dominance. Indeed, without global suzerainty, most clearly manifest in the US dollar’s role as de facto global reserve currency, the US must go through a tremendous economic and social collapse, as record and growing inequality, employment insecurity and dwindling incomes, the growth of a huge underclass and the refusal of the ‘powers that be’ to even provide the most basic social welfare services like health care to vast numbers of society, all contribute to societal implosion. The US Budget impasse at present, with the deranged insistence on destroying Planned Parenthood shows, in my opinion, that the US is now ruled by insane and hate-filled bigots. Hardly a global exemplar.And with anthropogenic climate destabilisation the prime example of a problem that requires disinterested global co-operation to the benefit of all, the traditional US policy of issuing diktats that must be obeyed or countries will suffer vilification, sanctions, blockade, attack or invasion, can no longer be effective. The world no longer admires the US, save for kleptocratic elites and trained sycophants, and is coming to no longer fear it either, as they have been left with no alternatives. Surrender to US global strategy in these days of increasing food insecurity no longer means servile submission to the local US-imposed despot, but physical starvation, chronic malnutrition or a lifetime as an environmental refugee after disasters like the Pakistani floods. Such a situation leaves people with no alternative but to fight back. And resistance is even growing in the West, as US-imposed neo-liberal economic policies see entire countries like Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Latvia etc, having their working class, the poor, the old and great swathes of the middle-class, crucified to make good the bad debts of the parasites of the financier caste.
    The US ordained global economic and political order has maintained stability for sixty years, but only by the imposition of scores of ruthless despotisms, in thrall to the US. Every now and then, as Michael Ledeen observed the US had to ‘..throw some shitty little country up against the wall’ to cow the others. But all the time, the forces of physics and atmospheric chemistry were ineluctably bringing this cruelly destructive system, designed to enrich a tiny elite at the expense of the rest and of future generations, to its Nemesis. That reckoning is upon us, and, unless it reforms itself completely, the US as it currently exists can only be a hindrance to humanity’s efforts to save itself.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    While I doubt that either natgas (CCGTs) nor wind power actually has an LCOE of 6 cents/kWh (both being higher averaged over the design life of new untis), I do accept that both forms of generation have nearly identical LCOEs. Together with the current regulatory environment, I expect increasing reliance on wind backed by CCGTs; this appears to be happening in this region. One utility acquired a CCGT which is clearly intended for backing up a large wind project in eastern Oregon. A power production company is going to close its two large coal burners and replace with CCGTs. That company sells solely to BPA. When BPA has the replacement CCGTs it will be able to act as balancing agent (backup) for even more than the current ~3.3 GW nameplate wind.

  7. Doug MacIVER says:

    If parity has been reached Why is Cape Wind in Massachusetts being paid for by the national grid customers. also why has the project been scaled back by 1/2 as there are no other buyers of $.18/kh power?

    [JR: That is offshore wind, which is much pricier. But I’m sure you knew that.]

  8. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Yes. Wind is competitive with other energy sources like gas and coal.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

  9. Ziyu says:

    The problem is that AWEA is including the renewable energy tax credit in their grid parity calculation. Fossil fuels receive subsidies too but that makes it impossible to tell whether it’s truly competitive. I say end oil, coal subsidies now, ethanol, clean coal, nuclear and natural gas subsidies within 5 years, and phase out renewable subsidies in 10-20 years depending on how mature each specific industry is. (Ex: Hydro, biomass, and wind can definitely be phased out in 10 years. Solar needs 15 and just emerging industries like wave, current, landfill gas, geothermal, and kite wind need 20)

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    In Oklahoma, the 120-day span from late November to late March was the driest such period on record for central and southwestern Oklahoma, according to data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, a network of weather stations. “Some reports from western Oklahoma indicate the need for emergency assistance for livestock water will soon occur if the dry conditions persist for much longer,” notes Oklahoma’s assistant state climatologist Gary McManus in an online drought report.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Biochar benefit from research

    THE demand for energy production as well as agriculture’s need for soil improvement is often incompatible.

    But biofuel and biochar made in the same process could soon become a reality.

    Curtin University’s Fuels and Energy Technology Institute is halfway through a $4.7 million research project that uses mallee trees as the feedstock to produce liquid fuel.

    The two stage process converts the biomass into a liquid bio-oil which can be transported to a refinery to produce liquid biofuel.

    Director Professor Chun-Zhu Li said the high nutrient biochar produced from the process was a source for carbon sequestration that could be used to improve soil conditions.

    “The carbon in the biochar comes from the carbon dioxide in the air when the plant grows,” Professor Li said.

    “When the biochar is returned to the field, it is a form of carbon that will stay there for a long time.”

    The three-year project is funded by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Curtin University, CSIRO, Department of Environment and Conservation and the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre.