Sunday, 13 September 2009

West vs. China in solar war

Europe's solar energy industry is facing a wave of bankruptcies because Asian companies offer their products much cheaper.

Several German producers of solar cells, panels and modules, including large market-leading companies, have reported massive first-half losses.

Q-Cells, one of the world's largest makers of solar cells, said it would cut 500 jobs, nearly a fifth of its workforce, to ensure its survival after it reported a first-half loss of $69 million before interest and tax. The sales of Conergy, Germany's second-biggest solar firm by revenue, were slashed in half in the first half of 2009 compared with a year earlier. Solarworld sales dropped 6 percent to $585 million in the first half, the company said in July.

Shares of those three companies dropped between 40 percent and 80 percent. "A large part of the German solar cell and solar module manufacturers will not survive," UBS analyst Patrick Hummel told the Financial Times Germany newspaper.

Thanks to a lucrative government-imposed feed-in-tariff, Germany has developed into the world's biggest solar energy market. But Asian giants, including China's Suntech Power, Yingli Solar and Trina Solar, are flooding the market with high-quality solar panels that they sell for 20 percent to 30 percent cheaper.

Conergy and Solarworld officials have accused the Chinese producers of price dumping and have called on Western governments to protect the European solar industry. According to newspaper reports, U.S. companies share that concern.

The Germans say Beijing is helping its companies with interest-free loans from state banks and by blocking foreign companies' access to China's quickly growing domestic renewable energy market. This should be answered with an EU import tariff for solar energy products from China, Conergy and Solarworld officials have demanded.

But economic experts have said protectionist measures could hurt the entire industry in the long run.

Meanwhile, German solar energy companies
are pursuing two strategies to escape the economic downward spiral: Several firms have already set up or are planning production facilities in Asia to slash costs. At home, they are investing in huge solar power plants to make money with the feed-in-tariff stipulated by Germany's renewable energy law EEG.

And finally, all major industry players hope for the U.S. and Chinese markets to drive global demand for solar power systems to an extent that all companies can benefit from.

Source - Solar Daily

China plans world's largest solar plant

The world's largest solar plant is planned for the Mongolian desert of China.

Arizona-based First Solar Inc. and Ordos City in China signed an agreement Tuesday to build what will be a 2-gigawatt solar installation.

The Ordos City project will generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 3 million Chinese homes, with a field of panels stretching for 25 square miles.

It will start as a 30-megawatt demonstration unit with construction beginning in June 2010 and additional phases to come online in 2014 and 2019.

"This major commitment to solar power is a direct result of the progressive energy policies being adopted in China to create a sustainable, long-term market for solar and a low carbon future for China," First Solar chief executive officer Mike Ahearn said in a news release. "It represents an encouraging step forward toward the mass-scale deployment of solar power worldwide to help mitigate climate change concerns."

China announced in July that its renewable energy is expected to represent 10 percent of the country's energy resources by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020.

While financial terms of the deal have not yet been reached, First Solar will operate the plant under China's feed-in tariff, which guarantees prices paid for renewable power.

"This type of forward-looking government policy is necessary to create a strong solar market and facilitate the construction of a project of this size, which in turn continues to drive the cost of solar electricity closer to 'grid parity' -- where it is competitive with traditional energy sources," First Solar said in the release.

Ahearn said that in the United States, a solar plant of this size would cost $5 billion to $6 billion, but it is cheaper to build in China. He did not specify the cost of the Ordos City project.

The project is part of an 11,950-megawatt renewable-energy park planned for Ordos City in Inner Mongolia.

Plans for the park include wind farms to generate 6,950 megawatts, photovoltaic power plants to provide 3,900 megawatts and solar thermal farms to supply 720 megawatts, The New York Times reports.

Noting that China is home to Suntech, the world's third-largest solar module maker, it is "quite significant" that China is "importing a U.S. world leader to the marketplace," said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst at London-based New Energy Finance, the Times reports. "This is going to help ensure technological leadership and not just manufacturing leadership."

China is the world's largest consumer of coal, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of the country's electricity generation.

Statistics from the China Renewable Energy Society suggest that at least two-thirds of China gets more than 2,200 hours of sunshine per year, making China's potential solar energy resources equivalent to 1.7 trillion tons of coal.

Source - Solar Daily

Solar panels are the new designer kitchen

Investing in solar panels or a wind turbine could add to the resale value of a property and could be as attractive to house hunters as a new kitchen or solid wood floors.

When arriving at a market value for a property, there are a variety of factors that can add value to a home. Improvements such as a conservatory or designer kitchen, can convince a purchaser to pay more for a home.

However, with an ever increasing emphasis on the environment, it would appear that buyers are willing to pay a premium for a house that has a renewable energy source.

The Energy Saving Trust has just released the results of a poll that they commissioned recently. Over a third (35 per cent) of those polled said they would be prepared to pay more for a home where some of their energy supply came from renewable resources such as wind, solar or hydro-power.

Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: “It seems Britons are willing to pay more for a home with a renewable energy source so investing in a solar panel or a wind turbine could add to the resale value of a property and could be as attractive to house hunters as a new kitchen or solid wood floors.”

The term ‘feed in tariff’ is a direct translation from German. In Germany, the state has for several years encouraged the development of renewable energy sources such as anaerobic digestion plants, by paying the producer a premium per KwH for power generated from renewable sources. This has been a very successful model and is now being copied in the UK.

The poll also indicated that over half (53 per cent) of those polled were put off from installing a domestic renewable energy source by the high initial cost. The Energy Saving Trust can suggest grants that are available for certain green technologies. They feature case studies of people who are acting as “Green Ambassadors” by installing renewable energy sources in their homes.

An analogous situation would be vehicles converted to run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG). This is not only more environmentally friendly but actually costs less than half the price of petrol. Logically, any such vehicle should command a premium price over an identical petrol car. The reality is that neither an insurance company nor a retail purchaser will pay a penny more for an LPG vehicle over and above its petrol driven equivalent.

The research was done across 2696 adults in the UK in March this year. Unfortunately, like most polling exercises, it is deeply flawed. Asking respondents if they would be willing to pay more for a green home is one thing and many people will answer “yes” and bask in the warm, fuzzy glow of “helping the environment”.

Source - Property Confidential

People pay more for a house with solar panels

A survey of 2,700 UK adults, which “found that half of respondents are interested in finding out whether their home is suitable for renewable energy systems, such as solar panels”.

Meanwhile, over a third said they would be willing to pay more for a house where some of the energy was supplied by renewable sources, suggesting that those investing in microgeneration systems will be able to recoup some of the cost through increased house prices.

The same should apply in this country, especially since a lot Americans understand energy prices are going up whether or not there is a climate bill. The point is that as peak oil kicks in and the reality of human-caused climate change becomes painfully clear, energy efficiency, geothermal heat pumps, solar panels and the like will increasingly be seen as a desirable if not essential elements of a home, like an up-to-date kitchen, rather than just a “cost.”

The story on the from the Energy Saving Trust survey continues:

Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said that the findings were good news for the UK’s emerging onsite renewables sector. “It seems Britons are willing to pay more for a home with a renewable energy source so investing in a solar panel or a wind turbine could add to the resale value of a property and be as attractive to house hunters as a new kitchen or solid wood floors,” he said.
The survey also confirmed that the high upfront cost of renewable energy systems — the cheapest solar energy systems cost over £3,000 and most technologies take anything between five and 25 years to deliver a return on investment — remains the main barrier to adoption.

Hence the need for maintaining tax credits, until we have a price for CO2 that represents its full damage cost.

Source - WorldChanging

Call to remove VAT for solar panels

In the UK, VAT should be removed entirely from energy-efficient household appliances and a car industry-style scrappage scheme introduced to encourage upgrades to greener products, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said today.

The retail lobby group called on the chancellor to revisit prime minister Gordon Brown’s high-profile proposals for a cut in VAT on green goods, which were set out in 2007 only to be subsequently sidelined by the government.

In a letter to Alistair Darling, the BRC said “a clear signal should be given to households of the benefits of a switch to the most energy-efficient products”.

It added that incentives should include zero VAT ratings for the most energy-efficient products and the introduction of “time-limited scrappage schemes for those buying ‘Energy Saving Recommended’ products”.

Household appliances are responsible for a quarter of all energy use in the home and households are responsible for more than 15 per cent of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, according to figures from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Economic modelling for the BRC by the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows that CO2 emissions could be reduced by 1.3 million tonnes each year – almost one per cent of domestic emissions – by 2020 if VAT were removed from today’s most energy-efficient equipment.

The BRC added that even deeper cuts could be achieved as any move to scrap VAT for green products would encourage manufacturers to further improve the energy efficiency of products as they compete to attain the “Energy Saving Recommended” performance standard that would qualify them for zero VAT.

The lobby group said the changes would cost the government £507m per year in lost VAT receipts, but it added that this was equal to the cost of a little more than two weeks of the across-the-board VAT reduction that was introduced last December.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium director general, said the government was guilty of “working against its own objectives when it sets targets for reducing carbon emissions while charging full VAT on the efficient products that will move us towards those targets”.

In his last budget as chancellor in 2007, Gordon Brown said he would write to the European Commission and EU member states urging them to cut VAT rates on the most energy-efficient electrical goods to just five per cent.

Last year, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee warned that the plans had stalled and urged further action, arguing that the introduction of lower VAT rates for greener goods would encourage consumers to make more responsible purchasing decisions.

However, the government said that under EU trade rules it was unable to axe VAT on specific products without the agreement of all member states. Despite support from a number of states, the EU Commission has so far failed to secure the required backing for the proposals and as a result, energy-efficient products are still subject to the full standard VAT rate, which is due to return to 17.5 per cent from 1 January 2010.

The Treasury declined to comment on how efforts were progressing to gain agreement on an EU-wide VAT cut for efficient appliances.

Source - Green Business

Double incentives for PV solar panels

For 6 months only the incentives of installing PV solar panels have been doubled, but this will only last until April 2010.

Previously domestic PV (Photovoltaic) installations were rewarded by a £2,500 government grant, but with a new reward scheme on the horizon, UK householders only have 6 months to claim this grant. After April next year the grant will be replaced by a feed-in tariff incentive which will increase from the current 10p kWh produced to an anticipated 36p per Kwh.

The current £2,500 grants are still available and once installed you will still be able to receive the new incentive scheme next year. Stuart Lovatt of Heat my Home says “This gives householders an unpresidented opportunity to receive both incentives which will never be repeated again.”

Germany with a similar climate to Britain and Australia have been running this type of reward scheme for the last 10 years with great success in the uptake of PV solar panels with the USA following this lead too. The UK’s history of solar grants have been dubious in the past, but with the urgency and need for the UK to relieve it’s dependence on imported energy and reduce global warming impact has brought this welcomed change of policy.

Solar panels including water heating solar have become more and more popular over the last 2 years because UK householders are increasingly becoming aware of the big issue’s our country has with energy price rises which is only going to get worse over time.