Posted: 06 Jun 2012 10:42 AM PDT
Some welcome news on the US wind energy front: E.ON Climate & Renewables North America on June 4 announced it has secured $150 million of institutional equity financing for its 150MW Pioneer Trail Wind Farm from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Located in central Illinois’ Ford and Iroquois counties, E.ON Climate & Renewables intends to install 94 GE 1.6MW turbines on the site, enough to power more than 45,000 homes. The GE wind turbines, blades and towers are all manufactured in the US.
In addition to providing clean, renewable electricity and avoiding CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, the Pioneer Trail Wind Farm project is expected to yield more than $29 million in local taxes, $8 million in local salaries and reward landowners with more than $50 million, according to E.ON.
Illinois on the Wind Energy Fast Track
Wind energy’s been growing rapidly in Illinois. With its first wind farm having been built in 2003, Illinois can now boast of having an installed wind power base totaling more than 2,500MW, enough to power nearly 1 million homes with emissions-free electricty, according to the Illinois Wind Energy Coalition.
Moreover, Illinois ranked seventh in Clean Edge’s recently released Clean Energy State Index, which ranks US states across a spectrum of more than 70 indicators, including technology, policy and capital.
BofA Merrill Lynch gains an undisclosed partial equity stake in the project in return for providing equity capital. The investment is the latest in the bank’s long-term commitment to invest in renewable energy and the green economy.
“Our investment in the Pioneer Trail Wind Farm is another step in Bank of America’s 10-year, $20 billion environmental business commitment,” Todd Karas, president of Banc of America Public Capital Corp, stated in a press release.
“E.ON is a significant BofA Merrill institutional client, and we are pleased to have expanded our relationship through this renewable energy project that also supports the local Illinois economy.” Public Capital Corp. includes BofA Merrill’s Renewable Energy Finance group.
Posted: 06 Jun 2012 04:30 AM PDT
On Monday, Panasonic announced that it will launch mass production of long-life lithium-ion battery systems that the company has developed especially for European homes. According to Panasonic, every lithium-ion battery module has an estimated lifetime of 5000 load cycles at 80% DOD (depth of discharge) and a capacity of 1.35 kWh. Cranking up its production like this is a big decision that will certainly affect the prices of these systems.
In the press release, Panasonic pointed at Germany as the main market for its energy storage solutions designed for European homes. Germany is “of course” the world’s largest market for photovoltaic power generation and has reached consumer price parity and even grid parity in some cases this year. In accordance with this development, the country’s groundbreaking FiT for solar energy will soon be lowered below electricity prices, a change that puts the struggling solar industry in a difficult situation at the moment as small investors question the profitability of going solar.
But this change also creates huge new opportunities for storage solutions, as solar power becomes a cost saver the more people can use their own power throughout the year. It seems Panasonic has anticipated this development….
Earlier this year, Panasonic introduced a “Smart Energy Storage” system to the Japanese market. This was a development by Sanyo — a (the?) leading Japanese battery maker — which Panasonic bought in 2009 and fully integrated into its corporation as of March 2011. This is clearly a big strategic takeover by the giant Japanese electronics corporation as it focuses its future business strategy on clean tech solutions and restructure its company accordingly.
The entire system consists of a management unit that includes controls that manage energy flows and an inverter that converts direct current (DC) from solar or battery into the AC we all love for powering our gadgets at home. A battery of various sizes is then hooked into the management system to make it work. The size of the battery depends on the number of 1.35-kWh modules, but it’s mainly promoted with a 5.4 kWh capacity (4 x 1.35-kWh modules)
Panasonic at large in Germany
But this announcement is not Panasonic’s entrance into the German market. In fact, it had already partnered with a small German energy storage company that is owned by EWE, a relatively large regional utility and IT company based in northern Germany. Together, they developed the E3/DC power management and storage system, which was announced last year and went on sale earlier this year. Considering EWEs investments in e-mobility and offshore & onshore wind, and its IT background, it seems to be building its own little “smart grid empire” and Panasonic provides the enterprise with cutting-edge lithium-ion battery technology.
The E3/DC system has a usable capacity of 4.05 to 8.10 kWh and is equiped with those Sanyo/Panasonic battery modules that are now about to be mass produced. It has a maximum power output of 4 kW, which is more than enough for an average German household. They are also developing a system that can be used in apartment buildings, a missing link for the “solarization” of cities here in Germany and elsewhere.
How fast will Panasonic’s move to start mass production reduce prices? Only time will tell.
But one thing seems certain, with prices for solar systems at their current lows and big players like Panasonic basing their corporate futures on these kind of clean tech solutions, the power grid and the world are in for a technological revolution that will shake things up even more than the rise of the internet. The only question seems to be when, or should I say how soon, this revolution will start?
Posted: 06 Jun 2012 03:46 AM PDT
Photo courtesy: JHA
Unmatched scalability, time-to-install, and physical footprint are three of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology’s significant advantages and benefits over other energy options. Whether designed to supply clean, renewable electricity to one household or tens of thousands, solar PV systems are unrivaled in terms of matching a project’s scale to clean energy output, and the ability to get a system up and running in comparatively short order.
Solar PV’s small physical footprint is another big advantage, particularly when it comes to bringing electrical power to isolated communities that lack, or have a particularly hard time gaining access to, an electrical grid. Israeli non-profit Jewish Heart for Africa has been capitalizing on all three of these attributes.
Founded in 2008 by Sivan Borowich Ya’ari, Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA) “uses Israeli solar and agricultural technology to bring light, clean water, improved education, nutrition and proper medical care to rural villages in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.” This month, the non-profit will complete its 57th solar energy installation in four years, affordingsome 250,000 Africans access to electricity for the first time.
Solar PV as Keystone for Sustainable Development
“Of all the needs facing the developing world today, energy may not seem like a top priority,” explains Ya’ari, “but imagine a clinic trying to offer medical care at night without light. Patients can hardly find the clinic, doctors are forced to perform urgent procedures by the light of unsafe and unsanitary kerosene lamps, and they don’t have refrigerators to store lifesaving medicines and vaccines.
In these villages, solar technology isn’t an alternative energy source, it’s the only energy source. Powering a refrigerator, or even a light bulb, can save lives.”
JHA’s solar panels are also installed at schools, enabling students to gather and study after sundown. They also power water pumps, significantly enhancing the safety and reducing the amount of time and effort village women and children have to put into collecting and carrying clean water.
2011 was a year of significant achievement for JHA. Intended to serve as a launching pad for outreach, education and expansion to surrounding communities, JHA established its first eco-village in Ndaula, Malawi. Each eco-village is to be equipped with a solar-powered school, medical clinic, water pump and drip irrigation system “in order to improve their healthcare, education and economy, all using sustainable technologies.”
JHA’s Solar-Powered Eco-Villages
The Ndaula eco-village and other projects were the culmination, as well as a new beginning, for JHA in Malawi. JHA’s project team arrived in the country in February 2011, having worked for months with the Malawi Mission to the UN and its in-country partner Goods4Good to pave the way for its expansion. In just a few months, JHA had hired a local project manager and gotten its operations off the ground.
In addition to the Ndaula eco-village, JHA has installed a solar PV system at the Ukwe medical clinic. Serving some 30,000 people, medical staff at the Ukwe clinic had been treating patients — including delivering babies — by the light of kerosene lamps. The solar PV system now provides lighting 24×7, as well as solar-powered refrigeration, an essential function that the clinic has lacked for years. A solar PV micro-business that JHA sets up at all its project sites is providing local residents with jobs and income.
Looking ahead, JHA intends to bring solar PV power to another 250,000 Africans in coming years. “We couldn’t be more proud to reach this exciting milestone,” Ya’ari continued, “but for us, it’s not about reaching a big number. It’s about the people and the stories behind the quarter million: the mother who can bring home clean water to her family for the first time, the child who won’t get polio or tuberculosis because she received a vaccine stored in our solar powered refrigerators. These individuals are the reason that we’re already preparing to work towards the next quarter million.”
Posted: 06 Jun 2012 02:24 AM PDT
Photo courtesy: Rene Seindal
Yesterday, June 5, marked the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Environment Day. With this year’s theme being “The Green Economy,” one has to take a look at Europe, which has been blazing a green economy trail for others to follow.
Italy, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic — substantial gains in forging a green economy have been made across Europe. Denmark and Scotland stand out when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of their economic activities, whether they originate on the production or consumption side of the ledger.
Denmark’s Parliament at the end of March passed legislation that established two of the most ambitious renewable energy targets of any nation: 35% by 2020 and 100% by 2050. Wind energy currently supplies 25% of Denmark’s electricity, and it’s expected to supply 50% by 2020 The remainder is to come from a mix of renewable heat, smart grid, biogas and other green technologies.
West across the North Sea, Scotland’s made even greater gains, and plans to go Denmark one better in the coming decade. Renewable electricity accounted for more than 1/3 of Scotland’s gross domestic consumption last year, exceeding an ambitious 31% target. Moreover, Scotland’s on pace to meet 100% of electricity demand from renewable resources by 2020 and still produce a surplus for export.
Blazing a Trail to the Green Economy
Announcing passage of the bill, Denmark’s Minister for Climate, Energy and Building (Geez, do you think they’re taking this green economy thing seriously?), Martin Lidegaard, stated, “Denmark will once again be the global leader in the transition to green energy. This will prepare us for a future with increasing prices for oil and coal. Moreover, it will create some of the jobs that we need so desperately, now and in the coming years.”
Scotland’s Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson struck a similar chord while adding an environmental justice aspect to green economy initiatives as he was joined in World Environment Day celebrations by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond,ClickGreen reported.
“The topic of this year’s World Environment Day could not be more apt for Scotland. The low carbon economy offers a huge opportunity for us, creating tens of thousands of jobs and reindustrializing our economy,” he stated. “As we create green jobs at home we are helping other countries develop renewable energy, and also tackling the devastating impact of climate change on the world’s poorest. It is a joined up vision we can be proud of and one which other countries should take note.”
“The renewables industry already supports more than 11,000 jobs across Scotland and plans to install up to 10 Gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity in Scottish waters are predicted to generate around £30 billion ($46.44 billion) of investment by 2020 and to directly employ up to 28,000 people…. The emerging wave and tidal energy industry, where up to 1.6 GW of capacity is planned for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, is predicted to create several thousand more renewables jobs.”
Scotland has already granted licenses to develop offshore wind, wave and tidal energy farms with a total planned capacity of 11GW by 2020. Aggressively ramping up domestic renewable energy capacity is seen as the means to avoiding ongoing escalation of electricity costs. Reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels could lead to average 2020 household energy bills being lowered to a projected £1,285 as opposed to £1,379, according to a study by the UK Dept. of Energy and Climate Change.
Scottish leaders are also committed to assuring that the gains to be realized from building green economies are realized equitably between and across societies. Last week, Ministers Salmond and Stevenson were joined by former UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson in launching the multimillion British pound Climate Justice Fund. The fund will help finance climate change adaptation and renewable energy projects in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. Its initial focus will be on water-related projects in Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia.
Posted: 05 Jun 2012 03:47 PM PDT
Posted: 05 Jun 2012 03:44 PM PDT
Utilities in the United States are shifting away from coal toward sustainability initiatives, electric vehicles, and clean technology – but uncertainty about pending regulation continues to loom large and environmental efforts may significantly hike consumer rates.
These findings come from “Strategic Directions in the U.S. Electric Utility Industry,” a survey of more than 500 utility executives conducted by industry consulting firm Black & Veatch (B&V). The annual survey is intended to predict how the utility industry will evolve over time.
Coal on its way out
Coal’s fall from favor among utilities, compared to 2011, is the survey’s most significant finding. The percentage of respondents who said they saw a future for coal in the U.S. “when all fiscal realities are fully considered” plummeted from 81.5 percent in 2011 to 58 percent in 2012. An additional 17 percent said coal only had a future overseas, and 15 percent replied coal “is rapidly fading into the past.”
Environmental regulation is a key driver in this massive shift. While carbon emissions legislation has consistently ranked as the top environmental concern of utilities in B&V surveys since 2009, EPA rulemaking activity in 2011 likely added to the negative outlook toward coal. 54 percent said EPA regulations would cause early retirements among coal-fired plants, while 67 percent said the potential classification of coal ash as hazardous waste would have a moderate to significant impact on utility operations.
Natural gas dominates, but for how long?
Of course, the impact of America’s shale gas boom on coal’s outlook can’t be ignored. Nearly 80 percent of respondents saidnatural gas is now economically viable without any subsidies or incentives and “is clearly the preferred technology to replace coal.” However, this situation is expected to change.
More than 81 percent of survey respondents predicted natural gas prices will rise significantly from the current price of about $2/MMBtu, with 60 percent predicting natural gas will cost between $4-8/MMBtu by 2020. The main drivers for this price increase are environmental concerns from fracking and wastewater, decreasing domestic supplies, and EPA regulations.
But as the price of natural gas rises, coal may rise from the dead, just like in any zombie movie. A recent analysis pegged $2.75 as the price point where utilities convert coal-fired generation to natural gas, which unfortunately means natural gas may not rule for long.
Sustainability grows within business models
Fortunately, the survey reveals sustainability initiatives continue to grow as an important aspect of the utility business model. 28 percent of all respondents said sustainability considerations have a very strong or strong level of influence on their planning, with another 35 percent saying they have a moderate level of influence.
The importance of sustainability is largely tied to perception among customers, regulators, and analysts. When given a choice, survey respondents ranked local public image, social responsibility image, regulatory relations, and investor perceptions well above actual financial performance or debt issues.
Electric vehicles surging, renewables not so much
Utility executives are looking beyond theoretical sustainability to actual economic opportunities in clean technology – 67 percent said significant financial opportunity existed for utilities in the green economy. While positive in a broad sense, specific implications of this support vary.
Respondents predicted electric vehicles would surge to seven percent of their total load by 2025, and 52 percent indicated they would fund actions to accelerate EV market penetration. If realized, this expected increase would mean 65 million EVs on the road – quite a jump from today.
Renewables didn’t fare quite as well. While 62 percent of respondents said renewable portfolio targets in their territories were achievable, 90 percent said such rules would lead to higher rates for customers. In addition, 90 percent said they would be integrating renewables into their systems by 2015, but only 38 percent said they would represent more than 10 percent of total generation.
However, solar energy remained a bright spot, ranking as the top renewable technology across all geographic regions, and 42 percent of utilities said they are starting to integrate systems to allow greater distributed generation from renewables.
At least they’re planning for climate change
B&V’s 2012 survey may reveal a mixed bag for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but at least it shows utilities are considering the effects of not cutting them. Roughly 70 percent of utilities are considering the potential physical impacts of global warming in their long-term planning.
All charts courtesy of Black & Veatch
Power generation image courtesy of Shutterstock
Posted: 05 Jun 2012 03:22 PM PDT
2. Wind power is receiving huge bipartisan support across the US. Republican governors are some of the leaders in the industry. Republican voters support it. Even many Republican Congresspeople do. Of course, Democrats support it as well. It’s really just a small number of Congresspeople (too connected to fossil fuel industries and too intent on trying to make Obama a failure, in my humble opinion) who are threatening the industry.
3. Wind power is proving the US with about 75,000 jobs. About 37,000 are at stake if the PTC is not renewed/extended. This would be horrible for the US. But I think the overwhelming bipartisan support for wind will keep that from happening (however, even the delay is costing the country and resulting in job