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Energy and Global Warming News for October 18th: Solar manufacturing now under 70 cents/watt; China labels US clean energy investigation “unfair”

Silicon solar thin film manufactured for under $0.70 a watt by Swiss Company Oerlikon

First Solar, which broke the $1.00 a Watt price barrier last year, is currently the low cost leader in being able to produce (non-silicon based) thin film at $0.76 a Watt, and they have been rewarded with contracts from major utilities such as PG&E for solar thin film installations on a utility scale.

But now Swiss solar equipment manufacturing giant Oerlikon Solar has announced that their company can enable solar manufacturers to produce their amorphous silicon thin film modules at a cost under $0.70 per watt (‚¬ 0.50). Silicon is both more widely available and more sustainable than typical thin film solar; that contains rare earth minerals.

Their new equipment to mass-produce thin film silicon solar modules lowers costs by making it possible to use thinner layers of silicon, reducing material costs, and it uses more reflective back sheets that can capture stray electrons escaping around the edges otherwise; increasing efficiency.

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Those changes reduced the capital expenditure for its customers by 25%, enabling solar panel production with (NREL rated) 12% efficiency, almost half that of the most efficient traditional solar.

(The lower efficiency of thin film just means that it just takes more square feet of panel to make the same electricity. But since it can be painted or printed directly on glass windows, plastic and other cheap construction materials, it is not the great flaw you might think.)

China rejects US clean energy probe, says Washington may unfairly help own industry

BEIJING (AP) “” A senior Chinese official rejected a U.S. trade complaint about Beijing’s clean energy policy and said Sunday that Washington might be improperly supporting its own industry.

The U.S. government said Friday it would investigate complaints by a labor union that Beijing unfairly subsidizes its producers of wind and solar equipment.

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“Chinese subsidies to new energy companies are much smaller than those of the U.S. government,” said Zhang Guobao, director of the Cabinet’s National Energy Administration, at a news conference. “If the U.S. government can subsidize companies, then why can’t we?”

The complaint by the United Steelworkers adds to strains between Washington and Beijing over trade in tires, steel, chicken, movies and other goods. It says Chinese producers can sell wind and solar equipment at lower prices abroad because they get subsidies that are prohibited by global trade rules.

Zhang countered that Washington might be improperly supporting its own industry. He cited what he said were rules on spending of U.S. government money for solar energy that require equipment to be domestically made.

Eight new nuclear power stations despite safety and clean-up concerns

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, has given the go-ahead for eight new nuclear power stations in Britain despite concerns about safety and the clean-up costs.

The Lib Dem minister was previously against the nuclear power because of the difficulties in disposing of radioactive waste.

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But as part of the Coalition, he has been forced to back nuclear as part of a wide-ranging plan to keep the lights on in Britain while cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

The minister also announced plans to build up to 44,000 wind turbines around the coast and to encourage households to put up solar panels in order to generate more green energy. There will also be significant investment in developing new ‘carbon capture and storage’ or CCS technology so that coal can be used to generate electricity without too much pollution.

However, a 10 mile barrages across the River Severn, that would have provided five per cent of the country’s electricity needs, was scrapped.

It was decided the £15 billion project was too expensive and risked wiping out important bird life and disturbing rare species including water voled and salmon.

World’s biggest solar park set for sunny South Africa

South Africa has the space and the sunlight, so what better region to plan a 5-gigawatt solar park that could not only generate massive amounts of solar energy, but also serve as a field test for emerging technologies in PV energy, concentrating photovoltaic PV and concentrating solar power, or CSP.

The goal is ambitious, but the path is uncertain, so the South African government recently selected Irving, Texas-based Fluor Corporation to study the logistics for an undisclosed amount under contract.

Fluor, a global engineering design/build firm that built its reputation on the back of the emerging petroleum industry in the 1920s, today works in industries as diverse as life science and telecommunications, with renewable energy a growing area of expertise.

According to Reuters, the initiative is a natural extension of a pre-feasibility study conducted by the Clinton Climate Initiative (William J. Clinton Foundation), which allows Fluor to flesh out a master plan to be unveiled at the South African Solar Park Investors Conference, Oct. 28 and 29, in Northern Cape Province, where the solar park would be located.

China unveils ambitious plan to protect wildlife at UN talks

Foreign supporters say the move will put the country at the forefront of global efforts to reverse habitat and species decline

China has unveiled its most ambitious conservation plan in a generation, ahead of the opening today of a crucial UN biodiversity conference.

Foreign supporters say the move will put China at the forefront of global efforts to reverse habitat and species decline.

But critics have warned that the good intentions, as with many of the proposals that will arise at the UN meeting in Nagoya, Japan, are likely to be outweighed by economic interests. They also allege the plans are so domestically focused they will do little to halt the over-consumption and illegal trade of scarce species.

China’s biodiversity action plan designates 52 priority conservation areas, covering 23% of the country; it promises state funds for protection; and sets a target of controlling biodiversity loss by 2020.

Sichuan, has been the first province to put the plan into action. It has set aside about 930m yuan (£87m) and identified five ecological protection areas: one links to existing giant panda reserves, another restores an area damaged by industry, two conserve semi-tropical flora and fauna, and another offsets the impact of dams. The national plan, which builds on China’s existing 2,500 nature reserves, has been praised by foreign conservationists.

You asked, Chu answered

Last week Secretary Chu invited you to submit your questions on home energy efficiency and the response was tremendous. We sifted through your questions and recently discussed many of them with the Secretary.

Here are the resources that the Secretary referenced during the discussion:

Home Energy Saver Audit

Energy Star Appliances

Solar Water Heater Assessment

While the Secretary covered a lot of ground during the course of our discussion there were some thoughtful questions that we didn’t have a chance to ask, so we decided to ask the experts at Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to weigh in. You can check out their responses below.

Mayank A.QUESTION: Do solar panels function differently in winter or summer assuming the same amount of sunlight is available?ANSWER: Solar panels depend upon sunlight to generate power. In summer, solar radiation is more intense than in winter, so electrical output is generally greater. In winter, both solar intensity and the number of hours of sunlight are decreased, which can mean lower electrical output. If, however, the amount of solar radiation (meaning number of hours of sunlight AND intensity of that sunlight on the solar panels) were exactly the same, the solar panels would function about the same.

Controversial pipeline plan would bury carbon dioxide under the ocean off New Jersey

An energy company wants to pump carbon dioxide under the ocean floor 70 miles off the New Jersey coast using a promising but controversial technology.

SCS Energy LLC of Concord, Mass., wants to build a new coal-fired power plant on a former industrial site in Linden in Union County, near Staten Island. The company plans to separate carbon dioxide from the coal and pump the liquefied gas 138 miles away to a drilling platform off Atlantic City, where it conceivably could remain buried forever beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

Supporters said the scientific process “” called carbon capture and storage “” could be lucrative and help reverse climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Environmentalists and some local residents say the technology is unproven and dangerous and poses an unnecessary risk to New Jersey’s tourism and fishing industries.

SCS has two wells about 70 miles east of Atlantic City that would pump carbon dioxide 1.5 miles below the ocean floor, displacing seawater under multiple layers of shale and sandstone that would trap it indefinitely, said Marisa Mascaro, executive vice president for legal and regulatory affairs at SCS.

World needs urgent action to stop species loss : U.N.

NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) — The world cannot afford to allow nature’s riches to disappear, the United Nations said on Monday at the start of a major meeting to combat losses in animal and plant species that underpin livelihoods and economies.

The United Nations says the world is facing the worst extinction rate since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, a crisis that needs to be addressed by governments, businesses and communities.

The two-week meeting aims to prompt nations and businesses to take sweeping steps to protect and restore ecosystems such as forests, rivers, coral reefs and the oceans that are vital for an ever-growing human population.

These provide basic services such as clean air, water, food and medicines that many take for granted, the United Nations says, and need to be properly valued and managed by governments and corporations to reverse the damage caused by economic growth.

More resilient ecosystems could also reduce climate change impacts, such more extreme droughts and floods, as well as help fight poverty, the world body says.

“This meeting is part of the world’s efforts to address a very simple fact — we are destroying life on earth,” Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, said at the opening of the meeting in Nagoya, central Japan.

EPA: Blowing Big Coal’s top on mountaintop coal mining

If it were ever possible or even realistic to put the words Appalachia and victory in the same sentence, this might be one of those rare times: the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin has recommended the withdrawal of the mining permit for the nation’s largest proposed mountaintop removal coal mine site, the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia.

If Garvin’s decision, released in an 84-page report on Friday, becomes the final EPA say about Spruce No. 1, the mine’s owner, Arch Coal, will be barred from disposing mining waste in the state’s streams. This will effectively block operation of the mine.

A year ago the EPA determined that Spruce No. 1 “raised significant environmental and water quality concerns” and halted further action on the company’s Clean Water permit process. A subsequent legal maneuver appeared to set the stage for EPA and Arch to work out their differences regarding Spruce No. 1 and for EPA to determine if a revised mining plan could be developed that would comply with the Clean Water Act.

But Garvin’s report said the mine should be halted because “mitigation is not likely to offset anticipated impacts.”

If allowed to proceed, Spruce No.1 would clear more than 2,200 acres of forest, bury more than seven miles of headwater streams, and contaminate the downstream water supply. In mountaintop coal removal, the tops of mountains are literally blasted away to get at the coal seams.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council immediately hailed the decision.

Time for a more efficient Florida

Florida uses a ton of electricity, which explains the strong market for energy efficiency products. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Florida’s per capita residential electricity demand is one of the highest in the country”¦ due to high air conditioning use during the hot summer months and the widespread use of electricity for home heating during the winter months. No wonder they want to retrofit their A/C and heat pump systems so that they use less energy!

This intense use of electricity for both heating and cooling has blown electricity generation in Florida through the roof, and the state has one of the highest levels of electricity generation in the US. Since it is the fourth largest state in terms of population, it is not particularly surprising that all those people use up a lot of energy. The problem lies in how the energy is made. Florida has more petroleum-fired electricity generation than any other state. These oily power plants produced over a gigawatt-hour of electricity in 2008, which was nearly 40% of the national total for electricity generated by burning petroleum.

Burning all that oil pumps out a heck of a lot of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions”¦ I’d love to have a number to quantify that ‘heck of a lot’, but the EIA only has national GHG emissions stats which don’t really help us here. But even without a specific number to ogle at, it seems pretty obvious that Florida’s electricity consumption and generation from oil is a teensy bit of a problem, if you consider spewing GHG emissions and other pollutants into the atmosphere a ‘problem’.

Fortunately, Floridians are not oblivious to the issue or to the opportunities therein. Most of the utility companies in the state offer comfortable financial incentives for people and businesses to become more energy efficient. Combined with the fact that greater energy efficiency means lower energy costs, concerned consumers can find a fair amount of money either on the table or left in the wallet by becoming more energy efficient.

Super typhoon hits Philippines

(Reuters) — The Philippines declared a state of calamity in a northern province after super typhoon Megi hit on Monday, cutting off power and communications, forcing flight cancellations and putting the region’s rice crop at risk.

Megi, the 10th and strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, hit Isabela province at 11:25 a.m. (0325 GMT) and by early evening was heading west-southwest across the north of the main island of Luzon with winds of 110 mph near the center, forecasters said.

Tropical Storm Risk (www.tropicalstormrisk.com) said Megi, known locally as Juan, was a category 5 super typhoon, the highest rating, with winds of more than 250 kph (155 mph) when it hit mountains in northeast Luzon at 11:25 a.m. (0325 GMT)

“The governor of Isabela declared a state of calamity, so there could be massive damage and destruction there,” Benito Ramos, executive director of the national disaster agency, told reporters.

“Power has been cut and crops about to be harvested could have been destroyed. We have no actual report because we’re waiting for the weather to clear up to make an assessment.”