Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Australia turns on large-scale solar plant

Australia's biggest solar farm was officially connected this week. The 10-megawatt Greenough River Solar Farm in Western Australia -- a joint project of First Solar, Inc., GE Energy Financial Services and Western Australian state-owned power utility Verve Energy -- is expected to generate enough solar energy to power 3,000 homes, eliminating 20,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year. The plant, near the port town of Geraldton, consists of 150,000 of First Solar's advanced thin film PV modules solar photovoltaic panels spread over 198 acres. "The Western Australia community has developed a genuine appetite for renewable energy, and today we are 10 megawatts closer to a cleaner energy future," Western Australia's Minister of Energy Peter Collier said in a release. Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services each own 50 percent of the project. The Western Australia Government provided $20 million in funding. "As the largest photovoltaic solar plant in operation in Australia, the Greenough River Solar Farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia's future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis," Verve Energy Chief Executive Officer Jason Waters said in a release. "This is a positive first step in validating the bright future that large-scale solar represents in Australia," he said. Verve Energy and GE are evaluating the possibility of a plant expansion up to 40 megawatts to satisfy growing demand for renewable energy, Waters said. Australia aims to generate at least 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The project represents GE Energy Financial Services' first renewable energy investment in Australia. GE says it's portfolio of committed renewable energy projects worldwide totals more than $8 billion. Matt O'Connor, managing director at GE Energy Financial Services said the company sees "incredible investment opportunities in Australia," and it looks forward "to applying our expertise to help the country's renewable energy market grow." Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent in the world, the government says. About 858,000 homes in Australia have solar PV panels, accounting for a total installed capacity of nearly 2 gigawatts, data from the Australian Clean Energy Regulator indicate. That translates into a rooftop solar installation on one out of every 10 households. Ray Wills, chief adviser to the Sustainable Energy Association, an industry lobby group, said at the current rate of installations, he expects the 1 millionth home to be achieved by the end of next June, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Germany raises electricity charge to finance renewables

Germany's electrical grid operators said Monday they were raising by nearly 50 percent the charge to consumers that finances subsidies for renewable energy as the country phases out nuclear power. Consumers will be asked to pay a charge of 0.05277 euros per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed in 2013, the firms said, compared with a 0.03592-euro surcharge this year. For an average three-person house, this 47-percent increase amounts to an additional 60 euros ($77.8) per year, taking the overall charge up to about 185 euros annually. In total, the network operators hope to collect more than 20 billion euros to subsidise renewable energies. On Thursday, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said that Germany, Europe's top economy, wanted to meet 40 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020, up from a previous target of 35 percent. By 2050, the government aims to supply four-fifths of Germany's power needs from alternative energy sources such as solar or wind energy. "It's clear that the energy switch-over that we all want and that I want to succeed, won't come free," Altmaier told Monday's edition of the mass-circulation daily Bild. Claudia Kemfert, from the DIW economic institute, warned that the poorer-off in society needed to be shielded from the hike but stressed that the renewable energy sector in Germany would continue to create jobs. "The increase in this charge is manageable for many households, but there are also very poor, low-income households which could be negatively affected by this type of price rise," Kemfert said. "We need to think about ways to help these households financially, so they can save energy and electricity," she added. Nevertheless, the renewables sector already employed 400,000 people in Germany and "this number will rise," she noted. "Therefore, this is a positive development for Germany." However, an association representing the chemical industry slammed the charge as a "bottomless pit." Firms that use a lot of electricity, such as the chemical sector, can apply for an exemption in paying the charge or benefit from a lower amount. More than 2,000 companies have applied for special treatment for next year. Karl-Ludwig Kley, head of the German chemical industry association, said: "The costs for consumers and industry of the electricity price charge for renewable energy has risen to an unbearable degree." The costs for the chemical sector would rise from 550 million euros this year to 800 million euros in 2013, Kley said. Germany decided in the immediate wake of Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster to shut down its nuclear reactors by 2022 and ramp up the use of renewable energy. Chancellor Angela Merkel has made the so-called "Energiewende", the term used to describe both the end of nuclear power and the promotion of renewable energy sources, one of her government's priorities. However, the policy has run into difficulties, notably due to technical and financing problems as well as because of local resistance to building new power lines. In February, Germany was forced to tap into its electricity reserves amid a cold snap, sparking fears that the switch out of nuclear power could result in power shortages. Germany, one of Europe's biggest countries, also faces transmission problems, with much of the production capacity offshore in the north but much of the demand hundreds of kilometres (miles) away in the south. According to the EU statistical office Eurostat, the average household electricity price is 0.253 euros per kilowatt hour, the second highest in the 27-member bloc behind Denmark. The World Wildlife Fund in Germany warned that a "hysterical debate" was now taking place. "Only one-third of electricity price rises since 2000 is due to support for renewable energy," said Regine Guenther, the group's head of climate and energy policy in Germany.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Australia's largest solar farm opens amid renewable target debate

Australia switched on its first utility-scale solar farm on Wednesday, bringing the country a step closer to achieving ambitious renewable energy targets that traditional coal and gas power producers are now fighting to soften. The Greenough River Solar project, just outside the small town of Walkaway in the state of Western Australia, is a joint-venture between Western Australian state-owned Verve Energy and US conglomerate General Electric. It is expected to have a capacity of 10 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 homes. "The Greenough River solar farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia's future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis," Jason Waters, chief executive of Verve Energy said on Wednesday. Australia has committed to getting 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 but big coal and gas-based utilities are arguing for those targets to be cut. The plant is General Electric's first investment in Australian renewable energy, and plans are already underway to eventually expand it to 40MW. The electricity generated by the plant will be purchased by Western Australia Water Corporation to power a nearby desalination plant. Australia is one of the world's most ideal places for solar projects. It has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world, according to government, and a population the size of New Delhi spread over an area the size of the contiguous United States. Australia currently gets about 10% of its electricity supply from renewable energy, about two-thirds of which comes from hydropower. But the plant opens as the future of renewables is clouded by a campaign by some utilities and energy companies to cut Australia's mandatory renewable energy targets. The renewable energy targets (RET) are currently undergoing a routine review by Australia's Climate Change Authority which will be wrapped up by the end of the year. Champions of renewable energy say a cut in the targets, which would require Australia to produce 41,000 gigawatt-hours of its electricity requirements by 2020, would devastate the fledgling industry. "If the RET was to be reduced or, in fact, to be removed then essentially the business case for renewable energy just would not stack up and the industry would fall off a cliff. It would stop dead in its tracks," said Kane Thornton, director of strategy, Clean Energy Council. AGL Energy, one of the few utilities that has called for the RET to remain the same, arguing the investment certainty is key for the more than the several billion dollars worth of solar and wind projects it has underway. "Amendments of the renewable energy target would certainly not be well received by investors who've got potential new projects that they'd be looking to develop," Tim Nelson, head of economics and policy for AGL in Sydney, said. But critics of the targets say that the 41,000 GWh goal by 2020 will amount to around a quarter of Australia's total electricity supply by then, due to slower than expected growth in electrify demand, more than the intended 20%. Origin Energy, Australia's largest energy retailer and an investor in renewables, said the RET target should be re-evaluated. Another leading utility, TRUenergy, which recently rebranded itself as EnergyAustralia, said adjusting the targets to take account of lower energy use projections could save AU$25bn (£16bn) or $840 for each electricity customer. The Australian Coal Association has argued that the RET should be abolished completely because it unfairly picks winners in the electricity market. Proponents of leaving the RET unchanged, however, hold that those who advocate changes in the RET, including getting rid of it, are those who stand to profit from an energy mix with fewer renewables. Source - Reuters

KYOCERA to Supply 405KW of Renewable Solar Energy to Remote Villages of Fiji

Kyocera Solar has announced that its solar energy systems will power over 2000 homes in the Fiji Islands. The solar projects are in partnership with Fiji's Department of Energy and the Fifth Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting project (Palm 5) with the goal to bring renewable energy to remote villages of the island nation. To date, 135 kilowatts have been installed and the remaining 270 kilowatts will be completed by the end of the year. With these solar systems, rural villages are able to thrive without access to a traditional electric grid. Each system will utilize Kyocera's modules and the sun's energy to provide basic lighting and other low-power needs on the islands. "Solar energy makes so much sense for island nations that often lack an electricity grid infrastructure but have an abundance of sunshine year-round," said George Phani, sales manager for Kyocera Solar Australia. "With our Kyocera modules, many Fijians have been given light and other electricity into the night - maybe for the first time. We hope this program can serve as a template for other islands to follow." Kyocera has partnered with Powerlite Generators (Fiji) Limited to install 3,000 solar modules throughout Fiji. Each system includes at least one 135-watt Kyocera module, a regulator, maintenance-free batteries, and both indoor and outdoor lighting.

Solar panels more popular than satellite TV with homebuyers

With the results of a new survey conducted by mortgage lender ING Direct recently revealing that British property buyers regard a solar PV installation as their most desirable "non-essential deal-sealer", Trina Solar's Ben Hill has spoken out to emphasise the need for panel manufacturers to step up their efforts to support installers as they look to meet increasing demand for solar technology. Solar panels were by some distance the most popular extra property feature, being named by 38 per cent of respondents to the survey and beating off competition as diverse as weekly refuse collection and satellite television connection (32 per cent each), good 3G mobile Internet coverage (20 per cent), and a garden pond (15 per cent). For Hill, Trina Solar's Head of Europe, these statistics are confirmation of the trends he is seeing in the UK market, where the number of homes generating their own energy using solar panels has risen by 349 per cent since August 2011: "The strong demand we are witnessing is a sure sign that the British public is embracing solar PV. More and more people are recognising the environmental and economic benefits that they can reap from installing solar panels," he said. But Hill cautions that manufacturers hoping to take advantage of the growing popularity of solar panels among British homebuyers need to make more of an effort to understand the business needs of their installer partners, providing services that match these requirements. "Mass-producing panels and leaving the matter of getting them onto roofs to someone else just does not cut it," he said. "There are still very few high-end manufacturers providing the training opportunities, support, and incentives that installers need. Trina Solar has just launched its UK truck roadshow to take its comprehensive installer programme out to the UK market, including visiting Solar Power UK on 2nd-4th October, and London on 8th and 10th October. "Giving installers and distributors this kind of assistance when it comes to increasing their competence and building their business can only be a good thing, especially as demand for solar PV continues to grow."

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

What We Can Learn from Germany’s Solar Dominance

Solar has never been more affordable for more Americans – with residential prices dropping an impressive 14% over the last year alone. But global solar leader Germany is still beating the U.S. in the race to low-cost PV. The Lawrence Berkeley Lab released a fascinating study that shows that the total the price of a residential installation in Germany is $2.8/W – or a whopping 45% – lower than here in the U.S. Um, that’s huge. (Note that cost varies dramatically in the U.S. from state to state, and even within a state. So in some places U.S. solar installers are actually on par with German pricing, but on average we are lagging far behind.) So what’s going on? We’re all buying the same panels at prices generally set by the global market? Turns out there are a multitude of reasons for the price differential – many of which carry clear lessons for effective policy design. 1. Size matters. Turns out that the sheer number of megawatts a country has installed dramatically affects the price of solar – and Germany has installed massively more solar than we have. In 2011, Germany installed about five times more solar than the U.S (7,485 MW compared to 1,900 MW). At the residential scale, Germany installed more than 2.5 times more solar in 2011 than the U.S. So why is more solar lower cost solar? LBNL attributes this to business process “learning” – with experience, businesses become more efficient at every step from customer acquisition to installation. Our learning rate is slower because simply haven’t had as much practice developing solar projects. LBNL estimates that about half of the price difference could be attributed to this factor alone. The policy lesson is simple; more solar. Market-building policies that drive economies of scale and sustained industry experience deliver real returns in the form of cost-effective solar. 2. Little soft costs add up to big price tags. To put it simply, while German installers pay the same price for solar panels -where price is determined on a global scale- they are paying much less for all the ‘soft costs’ associated with a solar installation. In Germany their customer acquisition costs are lower; their permitting costs are lower; they pay lower sales tax on solar systems, and their solar companies may be making smaller margins on each installation. The lesson here is that both the U.S. solar industry and solar advocates have a role to play in reducing these soft costs. While the industry must reduce customer acquisition and overhead costs, groups like Vote Solar can help work to reduce permitting costs and sales tax costs. Check out our Project Permit campaign website to see what we are doing to streamline solar permitting requirements in the U.S. 3. A national approach to energy policy helps. While all U.S. solar installers have access to the 30% federal investment tax credit, additional state or even local incentives vary widely and create a very uneven landscape for solar installers to navigate. Germany on the other hand has offered one federal incentive – the feed in tariff (FIT). In addition to offering the cost advantages of a straightforward incentive process, the FIT has been reduced iteratively since 2004 – putting pressure on German installers to lower system prices to maintain attractive investments for their customers. (Note that California’s CSI rebate program has had a similarly effective step-down design that has reduced the incentive from $2.50/watt in 2007 to near zero today) We aren’t expecting federal solar energy policy to overtake the work of the states anytime soon, but this is a good reminder that a patchwork 50 state approach is an inefficient process.

Nokia launches portable solar charger in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya Oct 9 – Nokia has announced the availability of a new portable solar charger in Kenya aimed specifically at the eighty percent of Kenyans without regular access to electricity. Nokia Portable Solar Charger, DC-40, which will be retailing at Sh1,250, is being marketed by Nokia to test the viability of solar charging as an alternative mobile phone charging system in Africa. The charger will be available in limited quantities during the pilot period. The technical solution is a thin film panel, measuring 165mm x 237mm with a long cable and 2mm Nokia plug interface. Weighing only 93 grams, the solar charger is highly portable and with one minute of charging, consumers will be able to get approximately two minutes of talk time. The solar charger is most efficient when used in direct sunlight where the average charging time for full charge on a 1000mAh battery would be under four hours. However, the solar panel can also be used behind a glass window, but is less efficient in these conditions. According to Nokia, Kenya and Nigeria provide the perfect opportunity for testing this solution, with recent World Bank reports indicating that only 16 and 51 percent of Kenyans and Nigerians respectively had regular access to electricity between 2007 and 2011. However, mobile phone usage is pervasive in these markets, calling for alternative methods of power. “There are numerous advantages to this solution, including being able to service consumers outside of regular electricity supply, or those who need a quick charge on the go” says Bruce Howe, General Manager for Nokia East Africa. “However, perhaps the greatest benefit is the cost saving achieved by being able to harness the natural resource of the sun”. The DC-40 solar charger will be available in Kenya at selected Nokia Premium Partner outlets across the country. “Nokia prides itself on its ongoing sustainability programs to minimize power usage. This solar charger provides an extremely environmentally friendly solution that is free of CO2 emissions,” added Howe.

Iran inaugurates 17 solar power plant

India eyes Solar power for electric cars

India's government has approved a new $4bn (£2.5bn) plan to spur the production of electric and hybrid cars over the next eight years. It includes an ambitious target of producing 6 million units of green vehicles by 2020. But with choked roads and an already overloaded energy grid, will this next generation of vehicles catch on in India any time soon? Shilpa Kannan travelled to Bangalore, to find out more

SolarAid and SunFunder Launch New Crowdfunding Project to Finance Solar Lighting in Zambia

SolarAid and SunFunder will launch an innovative financing partnership to bring solar power to over 20,000 people in Eastern Zambia. SunFunder is providing up to $50,000 in loans to SolarAid through its social enterprise SunnyMoney, in 2012. The first loan, for $10,000, will finance the purchase of 781 solar-powered lights. These lights will be sold to Zambian families who currently live without power. The money for this loan will be raised through SunFunder's crowdfunding platform, which allows anyone to invest money into the project in amounts starting at $25. Richard Turner, Director of Fundraising for SolarAid is excited about the potential. "Families in Africa are prepared to buy solar lights to replace kerosene and candles. These brilliant little lights can transform the lives of a family by reducing the amount they spend on kerosene, and providing a safe clean light to use. "We just need the capital to buy these magical lights and get them to remote areas. Sunfunder can help make that happen and we are delighted to be partnering with this amazing initiative". SolarAid owns SunnyMoney the brand and company which works to build trust in solar products in Africa to help create a market for solar lights. This market approach is more sustainable than aid. SunFunder is a new platform for anyone to invest in high-impact solar projects, unlocking access to clean, affordable energy around the world. SunFunder solves the biggest problem facing solar businesses working to deploy affordable solar technology in off-grid markets: access to financing. SunFunder, which specializes in off-grid markets where power is most needed, unlocks a significant new source of capital for solar: individual investors who will be able to place money into high-quality, vetted projects. "This partnership has the potential to make clean affordable solar energy a reality where it is needed the most," said Ryan Levinson, CEO and founder of SunFunder. Investors who place money into a project are repaid over a period of six months to two years, earning back their principal plus interest-based "Impact Points" that can be used to reinvest in new projects. Investors are also able to track their project's performance and impact. The project that launches with SolarAid will provide solar-powered lights to families in the Chadiza district of Eastern Zambia using distribution through local schools. Working through schools allows SolarAid to overcome the trust barrier typically faced when introducing a new technology such as solar lights. All of the target schools in the Chadiza zone of the Eastern Province are remote and not connected to the electric grid, instead relying on kerosene lanterns and candles for light.