Sunday, 29 June 2008

Stop complaining and start saving the planet

If, as you report, the majority of the British public doubt that climate change is caused by humans then environmentalists should pause for thought ('Poll: most Britons doubt cause of climate change', News, last week). Might one problem be that environmentalism talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk?

Having frightened us half to death, environmentalists then consistently oppose all large-scale solutions: wind farms, nuclear power, the Severn barrage, carbon capture. People aren't stupid. They see the idea of a return to some pre-industrial Elysium as bonkers. And they know that it won't be enough just to turn down our thermostats, lag the loft, drive a bit less, turn off the telly and perhaps stick a solar panel on the roof.

Having noticed the gap between the scale of the problem and that of the environmentally 'acceptable' solutions, they assume that the problem is exaggerated.
Hugh Pemberton

The Observer's climate change poll results reflect the reality that many of our fellow citizens are not so much dumb as ostrich-like in refusing to acknowledge that our currently high-carbon consumption lifestyles are a direct contributor to the extreme weather that swept away much of Boscastle in 2004.

The rebuilding of the village (News, 22 June) is a beacon of hope to a less fossil fuel dependent future. A future that makes building a successful sustainable lifestyle possible because of the renewal of a sense of community: a restoration of collective purpose and goodwill.
Richard Denton-White
Citizen party spokesman
Portland, Dorset

It is no surprise that many people are sceptical about the human contribution to climate change. Recent severe weather has been put forward as evidence of climate change, ignoring the disastrous floods in Lynmouth and East Anglia in the early 1950s. Hurricane Katrina caused tragic devastation in 2005 but so did hurricanes in North Carolina in 1776 and Galveston in 1900, which killed thousands of people.
Anthony John Augarde

While Andrew Rawnsley's Comment article last week ('Don't rely on the boys with the black stuff, Mr Brown') is bang on target as a lecture to the politicians, we do suggest that it can 'be woolly to be green', but only in a limited sense. We are delighted to note that Rawnsley is not only aware of the hydrogen-powered car, but also of solar power. Put solar-generated electricity together with electrolytically generated hydrogen, and we can start talking of hydrogen-fired power stations and a world living at last on its energy income, not on its nearly exhausted carbon capital.
Sir Leslie Fielding FRSA
Elton, near Ludlow, Shropshire
Dr Cyril Laming FIMechE FRSA
Woodmancote, near Chichester West Sussex

The majority of Britons, you suggest, don't believe climate change is man-made. You refer to possible influence from Nigel Lawson and the Danish economist Bjorn Lomberg. I'm surprised Sooty and Sweep didn't get a mention. What is it that the majority of the British public don't believe in? The huge tonnage of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere? The quantum mechanics of radioactive transfer with regard to carbon dioxide? Inconvenience, wilful stupidity and selfishness have more to do with the MORI poll results than belief.
Dr Sam Langridge
Buxted, Sussex

The main problem that scientists face in getting this message across is the result of previous scares that have become unfashionable, been fixed, or maybe have been just plain wrong: the millennium bug, acid rain, the ozone hole, to mention a few.
Peter Buckland
Uxbridge, Middlesex

Source - The Guardian

Green energy blooms in the desert

The tradition of nicknaming US states has made Florida the Sunshine State and Alaska the Last Frontier. But only one has given itself a second moniker, a move that matches its bold environmental vision.

Welcome to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment – now also known as the Clean Energy State.

Since giving his state its new nickname four years ago, governor Bill Richardson has helped create at least 37 incentive programmes promoting green power.

From utility-bill discounts to a statewide renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for electricity, New Mexico's 2m residents are given every opportunity to weave clean energy into their daily lives.

"The RPS drives consumption of renewables within the state," Sarah Cottrell, Richardson's energy policy adviser, said. "We have so much potential here for wind and solar that it far exceeds the demand."

The state's journey to environmental leadership is even more notable because of the inaction that has persisted at the national level.

Although 25 states have approved their own RPS, a national standard has stalled in the face of resistance from traditional coal-powered utilities and their allies in Congress.

Wind and biomass are popular in New Mexico, but the desert sun that draws millions of tourists here also makes its solar power potential the second largest in America.

So it is that the Clean Energy State's future just may lie in the south corner of Albuquerque, at the end of a dry road marked by a mile-long sculpture of a snake with jewelled eyes.

The road ends at Mesa del Sol, a 13,000-acre development area that is poised to become a hotbed of the US solar industry.

Aided by a $10m (£5m) investment from the state government, Advent Solar is already producing cutting-edge "back contact" cells at Mesa del Sol. Advent's design places electric contacts at the rear of the solar cell panel rather than the front-loaded style common in most panels, maximising the light energy that is trapped for household use.

For now Advent focuses on exporting cells to the booming European solar market. "It's good for the trade deficit and good for the environment," company spokeswoman Misty Benham said.

That could change when Advent gets a new neighbour in Germany's Schott Solar. The world No 8 in cell production, Schott plans to invest $100m in its new Albuquerque plant.

"According to both industry analysts and our projections, the market for solar energy will double over the next five years," Schott chairman Udo Ungeheuer said as he announced the plant opening.

The prospect of two New Mexico-based solar companies vying for a foothold in the growing US market is a compelling one. "We're beating them to the punch," Benham, of Advent, said.

Yet again it all comes down to Washington – and the dream may slip away if Congress does not extend the solar energy tax credit this year.

Both the solar and wind credits are mired in political squabbling. Analysts warn that Schott and other companies could scale back their US investments without the certainty of a long-term tax benefit.

Still, New Mexico is working hard to earn its new nickname. Richardson formed the Western Climate Initiative last year with four other governors to focus on sustainability goals because, as Cottrell put it, "the feds aren't acting fast enough".

And just as Advent looks for a foothold over Schott in the New Mexico solar market, the state has found itself competing with nearby California over the pace of clean energy reforms.

Richardson's aides have developed a "pretty entertaining rivalry with Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger's people", Cottrell said. "We believe no one's done as much as fast as we have."

Despite the array of energy incentives available to New Mexicans, the state's achievement may ultimately be measured in what leaves its borders. The American southwest contains more than 250,000 square miles of land ripe for solar power generation, but the bigger challenge lies in transmitting that energy to the grid.

Barack Obama and John McCain are also working hard to win the southwest in November by emphasising renewable energy. The presidential rivals visited New Mexico within a week of each other last month, and Obama is heading to Las Vegas today for a town hall meeting to promote his clean-power plans.

With that in mind, New Mexico is taking steps toward the export of clean power, becoming the first US state to form a renewable energy transmission authority (Reta) that provides financing for new high-voltage lines and towers. (Texas, Nevada, and California have similar transmission initiatives.)

Transmission is not cheap - the average 345-kV power line costs $1.5m per mile to lay, according to the chief of New Mexico's Reta, former BP executive Lisa Szot. But it is one area where states can make progress.

"States need to be involved in transmission," Szot said. "The federal government isn't involved in permitting and siting [of new power lines]. That even goes down to the county level."

The process of building transmission infrastructure in New Mexico is a free-market conservative's dream: Szot fields ambitious proposals from clean energy firms and offers financing mechanisms, chiefly tax-exempt bonds, to those with the best project ideas.

Making the leap from New Mexico's homegrown green movement to a thriving solar power export market may be as simple as electing a Democratic president in November. Obama has put renewables at the top of his agenda, and the companies such as Advent are comfortable putting down roots in the Clean Energy State.

"The fact that [New Mexico officials] stood up and fought for us" convinced Advent to choose Mesa del Sol, Benham said. "They're very aware of renewables here."

Source - The Guardian

New Homes With SunPower Solar Systems Are Bright Spot In Market

While much of the residential real estate and building markets have faced severe challenges in recent months, there is one area that is shining brightly. SunPower has announced that new homes powered with SunPower solar electric power systems are selling more than twice as fast, on average, as new homes without solar.

Additionally, a survey of owners of new homes with SunPower systems indicates that 92 percent would recommend a new solar home to a friend.

Solar Sells Faster
SunPower has installed, or is currently installing, its high-efficiency solar power technology in more than 75 new home communities throughout California.

A recent study conducted by The Ryness Company found that new homes in 13 communities with SunPower solar systems were selling at an average of 3.46 homes per month, while sales of comparable homes without solar in adjacent or nearby communities were selling at a rate of 1.71 per month.

Comparable communities were selected based upon geographic location, square footage and lot sizes, publicized sales prices and development concept. The data was gathered from sales in 2006 through March 2008 from three regions in the state.

- In the Sacramento region, new solar homes are selling at a rate of 3.20 per month, while comparable non-solar homes are selling at a rate of 1.90 per month.

- New solar homes in the San Francisco Bay Area are selling at a rate of 3.24 per month, while comparable non-solar homes are selling at a rate of 1.33 per month.

- In the Central Valley region, new solar homes are selling at a rate of 4.72 per month, while comparable non-solar homes are selling at a rate of 2.37 per month.

"Homebuyers value solar systems today because they can significantly reduce their electric bills and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Jon Nicholson, division president of Standard Pacific Homes in Sacramento. "Families in our energy-efficient solar communities are reducing their utility costs by up to 60 percent, and enjoy the satisfaction of generating their own clean, renewable energy."

Satisfied Solar Home Owners
In a SunPower survey of 133 people who own new homes with SunPower solar systems, 92 percent of respondents said they would recommend a home with solar to a friend. Ninety percent indicated that inclusion of a solar power system was very important or somewhat important in their decision to buy their home. Eighty-five percent responded that they would definitely or likely buy another solar home in the future.

Comments gathered as part of the anonymous survey included the following:

- "We would not have purchased the larger home had it not been for the solar savings."

- "We have already recommended [solar] to many of our friends."

- "We have looked at other homes, even really liked the floor plans, but without solar it was out of the question."

"Most of the builders we work with include the installation of high-performing SunPower solar power systems with high-quality energy efficiency features," said Bill Kelly, general manager, New Homes Division, for SunPower.

"This combination of solar technology and energy efficiency results in very low utility costs for the homeowner while improving home comfort. This is a great value for homeowners, and an investment by our homebuilder partners towards cleaner air and a better environment."

Most homebuilders working with SunPower install the SunPower SunTile system on their homes. SunTile is a roof-integrated system that blends seamlessly into the roof and features the most efficient solar technology available on the market.

SunPower works with homebuilders such as Centex, Standard Pacific, The Olson Company, and Woodside Homes.

Source - Solardaily

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A new eira for solar panels

Homeowners are to be offered extra financial incentives to fit their properties with solar panels and wind turbines in an ambitious green energy programme to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.

At the heart of the £100 billion renewable energy strategy, due to be unveiled this week, is a proposal to encourage householders to generate their own power.

They will be able to sell back surplus electricity at premium prices to the national grid. At present it can be sold only at market rates.

Other proposals to ensure Britain hits its EU target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 are the building of 3,500 onshore wind turbines. About 2,000 are currently operational. John Hutton, the energy secretary, announced plans to build 7,000 offshore wind turbines last year.

Large areas of the countryside could also be planted with woodland and crops to be burnt in a network of smaller power stations. It is estimated the renewable revolution detailed in the consultation document could create 160,000 jobs and cost £100 billion over 12 years.

Gordon Brown hopes oil-producing countries may invest in greener energy schemes in Britain. As he headed to Jeddah for a summit on oil prices, the prime minister said it was in the interests of the oil-producing nations to fund more environmentally friendly energy sources.

Leonie Greene, spokeswoman for the Renewable Energy Association, said: “We can hit the target, but there needs to be action and urgency. The political impetus on renewable energy is coming from Europe and we’re playing catchup.”

The government’s new strategy will fail unless homeowners install alternative energy sources and fit proper insulation. Ministers envisage up to 7m solar heating systems by 2020, compared with 90,000 now.

While installing domestic solar panels can cost between £5,000 and £10,000, the government has been accused of failing to provide big enough grants. Environmental groups also complain about the lack of campaigns to persuade households to go green.

According to the strategy document, there could be a 90% increase in the use of ground source heat pumps, which heat homes by harnessing the warmth in the earth. Homeowners will also be encouraged to install wind turbines.

A generous package of grants and financial incentives will be needed to persuade householders to insulate their homes and use sustainable energy sources. Ministers will also look at the German system in which homeowners can sell surplus electricity to the grid at premium rates.

To date, most Britons who have converted their homes to green power have been motivated by concern for the environment. Some schemes can take more than 20 years to recoup the investment.

Donnachadh McCarthy, who lives in London and is author of Saving the Planet without Costing the Earth, said: “I’ve installed solar electric, solar-heated water, a wind turbine, a water harvester and a woodburner. It’s cost around £22,000.

“I got £400 in grants, so Gordon Brown has made a huge profit out of me. Having spent so much, I’ve a lot of catching-up to do. The woodburner is by far the best thing. I use waste wood from my local area, so it is completely carbon neutral.”

The government may also have to ease planning restrictions. When David Cameron, the Tory leader, first installed a wind turbine at his London home it had to be removed because it breached planning rules.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the government’s plans is the building of 10,500 wind turbines. Of those, 3,500 are onshore and are likely to face strong opposition.

Among proposals that have already been scrapped is a plan for a 27-turbine wind farm in the Lake District. Kyle Blue, who campaigned against the scheme, said: “The countryside round here was far too special to be ruined by wind turbines.”

The difficulty of hitting the 15% renewable target is illustrated by the fact the government wants to include the Severn Barrage – a tidal power station across the Severn estuary – in the official renewable figures for 2015. The scheme will not be completed until well after 2020.

The strategy says nearly 6% of electricity could be generated by bio-energy – the burning of wood and plants to generate electricity. It suggests nearly 880,000 acres could be turned over to bio-energy crops.

There are, however, concerns about the impact of a large increase in the use of bio-fuels on the environment and on food prices.

One of the dividends of a green energy revolution would be a reduction of more than 5% in oil use by 2020. It would also significantly reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.

The government’s renewable energy strategy was welcomed yesterday by environmental campaigners. John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: “If this plan becomes a reality, Britain will be a better, safer and more prosperous country.

“We’ll create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and use less gas, and in the long run our power bills will come down.”

Source - The Times

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Does mankind have the foresight to save itself?

Sometimes we need to think the unthinkable, particularly when dealing with a problem as dangerous as climate change - there is no room for dogma when considering the future habitability of our planet.

It was in this spirit that I and a panel of other specialists in climate, economics and policy-making met under the aegis of the Stockholm Network thinktank to map out future scenarios for how international policy might evolve - and what the eventual impact might be on the earth’s climate. We came up with three alternative visions of the future, and asked experts at the Met Office Hadley Centre to run them through its climate models to give each a projected temperature rise. The results were both surprising, and profoundly disturbing.

We gave each scenario a name. The most pessimistic was labelled “agree and ignore” - a world where governments meet to make commitments on climate change, but then backtrack or fail to comply with them. Sound familiar? It should: this scenario most closely resembles the past 10 years, and it projects emissions on an upward trend until 2045. A more optimistic scenario was termed “Kyoto plus”: here governments make a strong agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, binding industrialised countries into a new round of Kyoto-style targets, with developing countries joining successively as they achieve “first world” status. This scenario represents the best outcome that can plausibly result from the current process - but ominously, it still sees emissions rising until 2030.

The third scenario - called “step change” - is worth a closer look. Here we envisaged massive climate disasters around the world in 2010 and 2011 causing a sudden increase in the sense of urgency surrounding global warming. Energised, world leaders ditch Kyoto, abandoning efforts to regulate emissions at a national level. Instead, they focus on the companies that produce fossil fuels in the first place - from oil and gas wells and coal mines - with the UN setting a global “upstream” production cap and auctioning tradable permits to carbon producers. Instead of all the complexity of regulating squabbling nations and billions of people, the price mechanism does the work: companies simply pass on their increased costs to consumers, and demand for carbon-intensive products begins to fall. The auctioning of permits raises trillions of dollars to be spent smoothing the transition to a low-carbon economy and offsetting the impact of price rises on the poor. A clear long-term framework puts a price on carbon, giving business a strong incentive to shift investment into renewable energy and low-carbon manufacturing. Most importantly, a strong carbon cap means that global emissions peak as early as 2017.

This “upstream cap” approach is not a new idea, and our approach draws in particular on a forthcoming book by the environmental writer Oliver Tickell. However, conventional wisdom from governments and environmental groups alike insists that “Kyoto is the only game in town”, and that proposing any alternative is dangerous heresy.

But let’s look at the modelled temperature increases associated with each scenario. “Agree and ignore” sees temperatures rise by 4.85C by 2100 (with a 90% probability); for “Kyoto plus”, it’s 3.31C; and “step change” 2.89C. This is the depressing bit: no politically plausible scenario we could envisage will now keep the world below the danger threshold of two degrees, the official target of both the EU and UK. This means that all scenarios see the total disappearance of Arctic sea ice; spreading deserts and water stress in the sub-tropics; extreme weather and floods; and melting glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas. Hence the need to focus far more on adaptation: these are impacts that humanity is going to have to deal with whatever now happens at the policy level.

But the other great lesson is that sticking with current policy is actually a very risky option, rather than a safe bet. Betting on Kyoto could mean triggering the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and crossing thresholds that involve massive methane release from melting Siberian permafrost. If current policy continues to fail - along the lines of the “agree and ignore” scenario - then 50% to 80% of all species on earth could be driven to extinction by the magnitude and rapidity of warming, and much of the planet’s surface left uninhabitable to humans. Billions, not millions, of people would be displaced.

So which way will it go? Ultimately the difference between the scenarios is one of political will: the question now is whether humanity can summon up the courage and foresight to save itself, or whether business as usual - on climate policy as much as economics - will condemn us all to climatic oblivion.

Source - The Guardian

Saturday, 14 June 2008

New German Renewable Energies Law Strengthens Sector Investment

The German parliament (Bundestag) has agreed to new laws that strengthen conditions for renewable energies investments. The laws are part of the government's "Climate Package," the goals of which are saving 250 million metric tons of CO2 by 2020, with renewable energies contributing to 30% of electricity production by the same year.

These legal changes strengthen Germany as an investment location for renewable energies and energy efficiency technologies.

One element of the reform is an amendment to the Renewable Energies Sources Act (EEG). This change calls for a higher "feed-in tariff" for wind energy.

The feed-in tariff is the compensation paid to owners of renewable energies systems when energy from their systems is sold to the public grid. The new law raises the feed in tariff for wind energy to a range of 9.2-15 EURcent/KWh.

The parliament also reformed the EEG for electricity from solar energy. Photovoltaic (PV) systems will receive a feed-in tariff of 33-43 EURcent/KWh, depending on the amount of electricity sold to the public grid. According to the new law the tariff will decrease between 8 and 10% in 2010 and then 9% annually after 2011.

These two reforms are important for investors. For wind energy, the increased tariffs provide further incentive for wind energy companies to enter the world's largest market in wind energy (measured in accumulated capacity).

The falling tariffs in PV energy are evidence to investors that Germany is making significant progress in reducing the cost of electricity generation from PV sources, therefore making subsidized prices less necessary to attract investment.

This progress has been made thanks to highly qualified workers in the PV sector in Germany, the location of top research institutes, and leading suppliers. These conditions make Germany an attractive location for production or R and D in the PV sector.

Germany's legal reforms also promote biomass. Investors in this sector can receive feed-in tariffs of 7.79-11.67 EURCent/KWh for electricity from biomass. There are also bonus incentives to encourage the use of sustainable raw materials, or the simultaneous use of biomass in a combined heat and power (CHP, or co-generation) plant.

The legal reforms further add to Germany's attraction to investors in the biomass sector. An increased domestic demand for biomass technology and products is bringing major investors to Germany.

The climate package also calls for the promotion of heat from renewable sources. These laws require that new buildings have heating systems deriving heat from renewable sources.

Financial incentives will be made available to equip older buildings with such technologies. These laws provide a ready made market, plus EUR500 million of available funding, for investors in energy efficient heating technologies such as solar thermal heating.

Germany is already Europe's largest market for solar thermal technologies and offers foreign investors many possibilities.

Investors in heat-producing technologies also have growth possibilities in CHP systems. Here the federal government has made EUR750 million available annually to support CHP projects. The government has set the specific goal of having 25% of energy and heat coming from efficient parallel-production technologies by 2020.

All of these legal reforms, plus others that encourage energy efficient technologies, e.g. "intelligent electricity meters," make it clear that Germany is consolidating its position as world leader in renewable energies and offering many possibilities for foreign investors to enter its growing market.

Invest in Germany is the inward investment promotion agency of the Federal Republic of Germany. It provides investors with comprehensive support from site selection to the implementation of investment decisions.

Source - Solardaily

eSolar To 245 Megawatt Solar Power Tower

Southern California Edison (SCE) has signed a contract to procure an additional 245 megawatts of solar power for its customers with Pasadena, Calif.-based eSolar in the nation's first commercial effort using power tower solar thermal technology.

The project, which will be built in the Lancaster area of California, is expected to begin delivering energy in 2011, with a total of 105 megawatts of renewable solar power by 2012, ramping up to 245 megawatts by 2013. SCE is currently the nation's leading purchaser of solar energy, buying more than 90 percent of U.S. production.

"Solar is the great untapped energy resource for California - it's renewable and plentiful," said Stuart Hemphill, SCE vice president, Renewable and Alternative Power.

"We rely on innovative companies such as eSolar to help expand our industry-leading portfolio and to secure access to the most promising technology solutions."

Each pre-fabricated module consists of several solar towers each associated with thousands of heliostats, or mirrors. The mirrors precisely track the sun over the course of the day and reflect light to a receiver at the top of each tower.

The concentrated light boils water in a central receiver, routing the steam to a traditional turbine to produce electricity.

eSolar's solar thermal technology is unique in that it uses shorter towers, small mass-manufactured mirrors and advanced tracking software, achieving economies of scale within a minimal footprint and easy connection to transmission lines.

Source - Solardaily

Oil price to hit $250 in 2009 - Gazprom

The Russians undermined Opec’s attempts to talk down the oil market yesterday by warning that crude prices could almost double to $250 a barrel within 18 months.

The prediction from Alexey Miller, chairman of Gazprom, came as the price of oil leaped $2.75 to $137.10 a barrel even though Opec insisted everyone was already “panicking” unnecessarily and stressed there were no shortages.

The soaring value of crude yesterday pushed British wholesale gas prices to new record highs of 100.75p per therm for next winter deliveries. This will put pressure on domestic heating bills, while the current price of motor diesel has already reached £1.30 a litre.

Gazprom said the higher crude prices it expected would drag gas values up too. “We think it [oil] will reach $250 a barrel in the foreseeable future,” said Miller, insisting that high demand rather than financial speculation was the primary factor, an argument that runs counter to that put forward by Opec.

The comments came 24 hours after Tony Hayward, the BP chief executive, said supply constraints were partly responsible for the very high crude prices so far.

A spokesman for Gazprom, which is also one of Russia’s largest crude producers, expected the price to hit $250 some time in 2009. The company exports gas to Europe at prices linked to oil products for historic reasons and Miller said the current gas price was $410 per 1,000 cubic metres.

Analysts said the latest Russian energy estimates were hard to support and noted they were not backed up with specified research data. “It’s crazy… maybe they know something we don’t,” said one. Abdullah al-Badri, the secretary general of Opec, had earlier appealed for calm. “Really we need some calm. We are panicking too much,” Badri told a global energy summit. “The situation is unbearable as far as we are concerned. I want to say, there is no shortage now and in the future.”

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would soon call for a meeting to discuss what it called unjustified rises in prices.

Badri supported holding such a meeting, which he said might happen before the next scheduled Opec gathering on September 9. He hoped that measures could be taken to curb speculation in the oil market, a factor Opec believes is inflating prices to levels not justified by supply and demand.

“We are not happy with the current level of price for one reason. It has nothing to do with the fundamentals,” he said.

“Speculators are playing a big role in high oil prices. Also there are other considerations, the value of the dollar and the geopolitical situation.”

Source - The Guardian

Monday, 9 June 2008

UK gas could soon rise 40% and electricity by 20%

Fresh warnings have emerged that oil prices could go even higher than Friday’s record close and domestic gas prices in Britain may surge by 40% on the back of the trend.

Oil saw its biggest-ever one-day price jump on Friday with a leap of more than $11 a barrel to yet another all-time high of $139.12, meaning that the cost of the fuel has risen sevenfold since 2002 and doubled in the past 12 months, raising fears of both inflation and recession in oil-consuming nations.

Website warned over the weekend that gas prices to retail customers could soon rise 40% and electricity by 20%. On Friday, forward wholesale gas prices rose 5.3%, meaning they are up 76% in the past year.

Joe Malinowski, founder of, said wholesale prices for gas have risen above retail prices.

“The last time wholesale gas prices broke above retail gas prices was two years ago, in June 2005. In the following 18 months energy bills rose by a record 47%. A very similar thing is going to happen this time around, except that the money value of the increase is going to be even higher,” he said.

Prices look set to open higher this morning after Mohammad Ali Khatibi, Iran’s representative at the oil producers’ cartel Opec, forecast yesterday that prices would hit the $150 a barrel mark by the end of summer.

Similarly bullish comments came from Shokri Ghanem, head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, who said there were no moves within Opec, which pumps a third of the world’s oil, to increase supplies further. “I think it [the oil price] will go higher. That is a trend that will continue for some time. The easy, cheap oil is over, peak oil is looming,” Ghanem said, referring to the theory that world oil supplies may be about to peak and start declining.

Ghanem added, however, that oil prices were rising at the moment for other reasons, such as speculation and concern over political tension in the Middle East.

Energy ministers of the Group of Eight rich nations failed over the weekend to back Gordon Brown’s demand to urge Opec to increase supplies of crude oil.

Instead the ministers, meeting in Japan with non-G8 countries China, India and South Korea, which jointly with the G8 consume two-thirds of the world’s oil, talked of the need to promote energy efficiency.

“We will continue to vigorously promote policies and measures for improving energy efficiency,” they said.

Surging oil and food prices over the past couple of years have pushed up inflation in many countries at a time when economies are slowing, preventing central banks such as the Bank of England and European Central Bank from cutting interest rates to head off recession.

Governments around the world are struggling with street protests and even riots against rising food and petrol prices. In Britain, pump prices are already at record highs, leading to pressure on the chancellor, Alistair Darling, to scrap a planned 2p a litre fuel duty rise scheduled for October - even though that would make little difference to prices. Diesel is already more than £1.30 a litre in many parts of the country.

Airlines are warning that they cannot make money with fuel prices at these levels and many expect to plunge into losses. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has predicted that several European airlines will go out of business and US carriers have signalled they are to start charging for baggage.

The aerospace group Boeing warned yesterday that orders for its new planes were “on a knife edge”.

However, the US energy secretary, Sam Bodman, acknowledged at the weekend that the Bush government was powerless: “There are relatively few things we can do short term.”

The German economy minister, Michael Glos, said yesterday he was worried at the rapid rise in oil prices and wanted greater international cooperation on the issue.

Source - TheGuardian

German solar sector starting to attract investors

Germany's solar energy industry can breathe a sigh of relief: Subsidies are set for smaller cuts than expected, and the sector is set for consolidation many say is the crucial next step in its development.

The global electronics group Bosch was first off the mark, announcing the purchase last week of German solar energy equipment producer Ersol.

Bosch is set to spend more than 500 million euros (770 million dollars) for a majority holding in Ersol and could invest up to 1.1 billion if it decides to take full control.

Analysts at the private bank Sal Oppenheim called it "the boldest move so far in what we see as the start of a consolidation process in the solar industry."

Matthias Fawer, who works at the Swiss bank Sarasin and wrote a study on the sector, had a similar interpretation.

"It is a very positive sign for the the photovoltaic industry that a major company is entering the market," he told AFP.

"This is proof the market is reaching maturity. Others may follow."

WestLB analyst Peter Wirtz added: "Other large industrial groups are potentially interested in entering the sector as part of their long-term strategy."

The main reason is solar energy's growth potential in light of soaring oil prices and a possible depletion of the earth's fossile fuel resources.

"The market is going to grow by more than 20 percent per year over the next decade," forecast Carsten Koernig, head of the German sector federation BSW.

In Germany alone, which leads Europe in the solar energy field, sales are expected to double within three years to 10 billion euros in 2010, according to a study by the Ifo and EuPD Research institutes.

Turnover is then tipped to quadruple by 2020 and to multiply seven-fold by 2030.

"And it is not only in Germany, in every country in the world we realize we don't have enough energy sources," Koernig told AFP.

That said, not all solar energy pioneers will profit from the anticipated boom, analysts say.

The sector attracted hundreds of entrepreneurs but represents only around one percent of total German energy production

"Many companies are too small," Wirtz said.

Created for the most part in eastern Germany, companies must compete with Chinese rivals that are also in their early stages but will undoubtedly grow as well, putting pressure on prices.

Major investments, meanwhile, are required to develop technology that is still in its infancy.

BSW estimates that solar energy will only be able to compete with fossil fuels in five to seven years.

That is the time needed for large, specialised companies to emerge and to attract investment from traditional industrial groups in the automotive and machine tool sectors.

"It is important that during this phase of expansion, we do not lack capital. So that we make the competitive leap successfully," Koernig said.

He expressed satisfaction that a draft law adopted which after much debate would extend the period during which the sector benefits from subsidies.

"At term, there will be large companies and niche players," said Wirtz at WestLB.

Sector employment, meanwhile, should grow, according to Ifo and EuPD Research, from 41,000 jobs last year to around 110,000 by 2020.

Source - Solardaily

Canadian Solar Signs 500 Million Dollar Supply Agreement With Neo Solar Power

Canadian Solar has signed a five-year supply contract with Neo Solar Power. NSP has been a stable supplier to CSI since March, 2007.

Under the terms of the new agreement, NSP will supply several hundred megawatts (MW) of solar cells through 2013. The total contract value exceeds US$500 million.

Dr. Quincy Lin, Chairman and CEO of NSP, said, "We are pleased to extend our existing cooperation by entering into a long term partnership with CSI, an industry leading solar module maker, to support its rapid business expansion in coming years.

The confluence of NSP's strength in cell quality and manufacturing efficiency and CSI's solid channel relations with solar system providers, will allow us to deliver an integrated and effective solution in the photovoltaic value chain."

Dr. Shawn Qu, Chairman and CEO of CSI, commented, "This agreement will help us ensure continued growth over the next five years and is testament to our ability to establish and secure relationships with strategic suppliers across the solar value chain.

"NSP has been an invaluable and high-performing supplier to CSI and will be a key partner for us in the execution of our flexible vertical integration model and balanced supply strategy in the future."

Source - Solardaily

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The golden age of cheap energy is over

The head of one of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers today stoked concerns over higher utility bills saying that the age of cheap energy was over.

Speaking at the launch of his company’s energy manifesto, Paul Golby, chief executive of Powergen owner E.ON UK, said consumers’ bills would continue to rise as the power industry faced higher wholesale prices and costs of up to £100 billion to build new power stations.

“We’ve finished the period of cheap energy,” Dr Golby said, although he refused to comment on potential price rises later this year.

City analysts expect energy companies to increase consumer prices by around 15 to 25 per cent in September to maintain profit margins as input costs, such as coal, gas and oil, continue to rise. Many energy companies are now running their supply businesses at a loss because of higher costs.

“Wholesale prices have gone up considerably more than retail prices, so there will be upward pressure on bills,” Dr Golby said, adding that he could not see why coal, gas, or oil prices would go down in the near future.

Higher costs for the industry come as it faces pressure to rebuild almost a third of the UK’s ageing generating capacity while meeting the demands of the green lobby.

Dr Golby said the cost of replacing infrastructure would be in the region of £50 billion to £100 billion and that government targets for renewable energy were “extremely challenging.”

He said the industry was not looking for subsidies to help achieve green targets but that there needed to be a more open and honest debate to agree policy and action plans. “We’re running out of time, there has to come a time when consultations stop,” he said.

Dr Golby added that the country faced an “unprecedented” challenge in regards to power generation new builds and that capacity would need to increase to 120GW by 2020, up from today’s 76GW.

Part of the capacity increase, he said, would have to come in the form of back-up power stations to cover new green generation, such as wind farms, as output was currently unreliable.

He added that nuclear power plants would be the most important power source in future and that the company was keen to build new stations, although he refused to comment on any potential bid for British Energy.

Source - The Times

Bioenergy: Fuelling the food crisis?

The biofuel debate is electrifying the UN food price crisis summit in Rome, pitting nations against each other and risking transforming bioenergy - once hailed as the ultimate green fuel - into the villain of the piece, the root cause behind global food price spikes.

Biofuel uses the energy contained in organic matter - crops like sugarcane and corn - to produce ethanol, an alternative to fossil-based fuels like petrol.

But campaigners claim the heavily subsidised biofuel industry is fundamentally immoral, diverting land which should be producing food to fill human stomachs to produce fuel for car engines.

They say the growth of biofuels has had a distorting ripple effect on other food crop markets.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Secretary General Jacques Diouf agrees.

He says it is incomprehensible that “$11bn-$12bn (£5.6bn-£6.1bn) a year in subsidies and protective tariff policies have the effect of diverting 100 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy a thirst for vehicles”.

It is a viewpoint shared by Oxfam’s Barbara Stocking, who told the BBC News website: “It takes the same amount of grain to fill an SUV with ethanol as it does to feed a person. We don’t want any more subsidies for biofuels. This rush to biofuels is absolutely dreadful.”

Blame game

Yet the exact ranking of responsibility for the food price rises which have caused political unrest in 30 countries and plunged many into hunger is hotly disputed.

No-one denies that biofuels have a role, but the figures on the sector’s inflationary pressure vary wildly from just 3% to 30%.

The US, Brazil and the EU - the main players on the biofuel stage - maintain that soaring energy costs should shoulder a much larger portion of blame.

“Biofuels are not the villain menacing food security in poor countries,” Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told assembled heads of state in Rome.

Brazil’s tropical climate allows the country to efficiently grow sugarcane for ethanol production, which now provides 40% of the country’s transport fuel.

“I am sorry to see that many of those who blame ethanol - including ethanol from sugarcane - for the high price of food are the same ones who for decades have maintained protectionist policies to the detriment of farmers in poor countries and of consumers in the entire world.”

The US, which heavily subsidises corn cultivation for ethanol, insists that biofuels account for “only 2-3% of the food price increases”.

“We recognise that biofuels have an impact, but the real issue is about energy, increased consumption and weather-related issues in grain-producing countries,” US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said.

Source - BBC