Solar is the future for India

My article on Business Insider

Posted in Articles, Commercial, Grid Connected, Micro Grid, Mini Grid, MNRE, Renewables, Residential, Ritesh Pothan, Rooftop, Rural Lighting, Solar, Solar Policy | Tagged , , , , ,

India’s solar growing pains – Solar Industry WishList for 2014

Significant action is needed to ensure 2014 does not herald another disappointing year for India’s solar sector.

Read my complete article at

Posted in Batch I, Commercial, Grid Connected, JNNSM, MNRE, Phase II, Power Generation, PV, Renewables, Ritesh Pothan, SECI, Solar, Solar Policy, Subsidy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Biomass Emissions Question Arises Again















It’s called “urban biomass,” and it’s ours (

Hard to imagine a subject that would find The Wall Street Journal and Grist in line with each other’s thinking, but burning wood for energy has achieved it. Neither outlet seems to view the topic positively. Both have cited the scientific work of Dr. Mary S. Booth, a former Environmental Working Group scientist who now works for the Partnership for Policy Integrity.

The basic arguments about using biomass as a source of energy have been around for some years, since bioenergy began to gain a following as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels and nuclear plants. Flags went up in 2010, for example, when a six-month study by Massachusetts environmental officials found that biomass-fired electricity might cause a 3% greater increase in carbon emissions than equivalent power from coal by 2050. (The issue does not apply to methane or algae energy generation, also biomass-based.)

The controversy surprised the MA Commonwealth officials, who had thought biomass a partial answer to emissions goals. AP picked up the story, which spawned active discussion on the concepts of “carbon debt,” “carbon dividends,” and “carbon-neutral.”

The-carbon-neutral-argument1“Biomass: Good for the Environment,” from the Biomass Power Association (

Almost two years ago, Justin Scheck and Ianthe Jeanne Dugan, who report on energy for The Wall Street Journal, argued against biomass because of providers’ lax compliance with emissions standards, the subsidies biomass plants receive, and the premiums they charge customers for electricity. Scheck and Dugan cited the case of Blue Lake Power in California, “among biomass plants nationwide that together have received at least $700 million in federal and state green-energy subsidies since 2009” (a drop in the bucket compared to annual fossil subsidies of $14 to $52 billion).

The authors quoted Dr. Booth as advising that government agencies should withhold grants from plants that violate the standards: “Why are we subsidizing and incentivizing something that’s dirtier than coal power in certain ways?”

Dirtier than coal?Debate continued, especially overseas, where the UK government had begun heavily supporting biomass power and major coal power stations had announced plans to switch to biomass fuels. These actions prompted Britain’s largest nature conservation organization (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to issue a report in 2012 (“Dirtier than Coal?“) stating that that burning whole trees (especially conifers) to generate electricity is worse for the climate than coal burning and results in 49% more emissions.

The subject came up again this month, when environment writers/groups including John Upton of Grist,, the Global Justice Ecology Project, and so on related the publication of Dr. Booth’s recent PPI study, “Trees, Trash, and Toxics: How Biomass Energy Has Become the New Coal.” Bloomberg News also picked up the story.

In her new report, Booth again casts burning wood in power plants as more damaging to air quality and the atmosphere than burning coal.


“What emerges from our analysis is a picture of an industry that despite loudly and continually proclaiming itself clean and green, is in many respects still one of the dirtiest corners of the energy industry, an industry where avoidance of pollution restrictions is tolerated, and even encouraged, by state and federal regulators.”

She makes a case we’ve heard before. This time, however, the research details a close scrutiny of 88 air emissions permits from woodburning power plants. (Reportedly, more than 9,600 facilities are currently operating in the US.) Her report has caused some concern. Booth’s calculations back up the earlier indications that for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, even the cleanest American biomass plants pump out about 50% more carbon dioxide than plants that burn coal. She also found that the biomass plants she studied produce more than twice as much nitrogen oxide, soot, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic matter as coal plants.

The Biomass Power Association of the US naturally disputes Booth’s report, saying “Biomass is a clean, renewable energy source that our nation relies upon to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.” The industry regards “Trees, Trash, and Toxics” as “an 81-page editorial.”

It showcases a fundamental misunderstanding of the science surrounding forestry and biomass, and a lack of familiarity with the state and federal laws governing energy and the environment. Governing bodies from the State of California to the nation of Denmark rightly look to biomass as a sound, proven solution for generating clean energy while keeping forests healthy, and an essential part of any renewable energy policy. This report [by Dr. Booth] was not peer-reviewed, nor was it joined or supported by any credible national environmental organization.

Carrie Annand, Biomass Power Association external affairs vice president, cites the Plainfield, Connecticut, Renewable Energy Project and the Cabin Creek Biomass Facility in Placer County, California, as examples of biomass facilities gone right.

For regulated pollutants—the same pollutants discussed in the PFPI report—the construction of the Cabin Creek biomass plant, which used the wood waste that traditionally had been open burned, resulted in staggering reductions in emissions—95% to 99%. Similar reductions were confirmed by Placer County in a 2011 published, peer-reviewed report in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association—particulate emissions by 98%, NOX emissions by 54%, CO emissions by 97%, and CO2 emission by 17%.

BPA goes on to state: “the report asserts that biomass plants can emit more ‘pollution’ than fossil-fuel fired plants. That is simply incorrect. Facilities that emit less than 250 tons [emphasized in the Booth report] are very minor contributors to overall air quality. The PSD permitting program is designed appropriately to focus on larger emitters given they are the source of the vast majority of emissions in this country.” The organization also rebuts Booth’s statements about biomass and hazardous air pollutants and the equivalence of biomass boilers and waste-burning incinerators.

Several of the assumptions questioned in 2012 bear repeating and applying to the American situation as described in the 2014 report:

Logs-SHS-231x300• All of a tree is burned for biomass energy.
• Wood is the only source of biomass.
• There is a defined capacity of forestland and we can’t increase or improve it.

“Biomass frequently only uses parts of the trees that have no other commercial use, such as thinnings, smaller branches and off-cuts, which would otherwise be wasted. Higher demand for well-managed forests means helping forests to become more productive and even bringing currently neglected forests back into use. 60% of the UK’s forest land, for example, is currently unmanaged….

“Non-forest sources of biomass [include] energy crops and agricultural by-products…. [Also,] biomass burned for energy is sourced from by-products and residues or is a material, such as non-recyclable waste wood, that has no other economic value and therefore goes to landfill…. Alternative demand for bioenergy, often met by wood that previously had little value, can underpin the investment case for better forest management and new forest plantation.”


A US-focused perspective on biomass sources, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated in its “Geographic Perspective” on the American biomass resource (2005) that less than 40% of American biomass feedstock came from wood. Lumber mills provided 19% of it; forest residues, 13%; and “urban wood,” 7%. Crop residues were the largest single contributor, and Conservation Reserve Program switchgrass came in next, just surpassing wood from lumber mills. The map above shows available resources by county. In 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that renewables constituted about 8% of US energy, with 49% of the total coming from biomass.

Some green theorists and organizations that usually reject carbon capture and storage schemes outright believe that their only possible use could be with biomass plants. In fact, biomass power can probably be useful as a transitional fuel without introducing untried and expensive collateral technology. Cogeneration (CHP), district heating with biomass, and new synfuel technologies appear to offer greater promise.

In rebutting some of the 2012 claims, Paul Thompson, head of policy at the UK’s Renewable Energy Association, got to the real heart of the matter:


“Even when we factor in the biomass supply chain, which includes shipping and processing, its carbon footprint is dwarfed by coal.”

Coal-fired-pps-liteCoal-fired power plants in the US (

Thompson says that the carbon debt argument ignores the importance of good forest management and the types of wood (e.g., species, age, tree parts), the many other crops, the wood waste and forest litter, the manufactured wood pellets and charcoal, even the byproducts of natural disasters like storm and wildfire that can produce viable biomass feedstock. “All biomass used for heat and power [in the UK] saves at least 60% carbon across the entire supply chain when compared to fossil fuels.”

It may be prudent to rank biomass along with huge dam projects as a steppingstone to cleaner technologies, as the Chinese have recently proposed:

According to the China Academy of Engineering’s Renewable Resources Development Strategy Council Report, China is very rich in biomass energy resources, and biomass energy is an ideal way of effectively using all kinds of organic wastes…. Currently speaking, developing biomass energy is an important strategic measure to substitute fossil energies and guarantee energy safety.

It also dovetails with forest issues such as sensible, sustainable woodland management, prevention of loss from wildfires and watershed disruption, safety in the rural-urban interface, forest employment potential, wildlife diversity, and other issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency is revisiting restrictions on wood-burning plants this summer. Bo Peterson commented in last Sunday’s Charleston, South Carolina, Post and Courier that the EPA is in a tight spot: “The biomass industry is taking off and has wide political support. The Partnership for Policy Integrity, which issued the report, is the latest of a number environmental groups that at one point or another have questioned the looser controls on biomass, although many of the groups support biomass power to a degree.”

Burning-pellets-270x268The EPA needs to work hard on the bioenergy conundrum. Having recently implemented the Burn Wise program to emphasize the importance of consumers burning the right wood, the right way, in the right wood-burning appliance—and having proposed tough rules for the nation’s nine million inefficient wood stoves and boilers—the time has come for the EPA to apply similarly sensible standards to commercial and industrial biomass burning. Ultimately, the EPA’s regulatory decisionmaking may determine the future of a significant transitional power/heating source and a nascent, fast-growing export commodity

Source: CleanTechnica

Posted in Articles, Biomass, Climate Change, Coal, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, Low Carbon Emission, Power Generation, Renewables | Tagged , , , , , , ,

World Solar Power Capacity Increased 35% In 2013 (Charts)

With about 37,007 megawatts (MW) of solar PV power installed in 2013, world solar PV power capacity increased about 35% to 136,697 MW.

Whereas Europe had dominated annual growth for years up until 2013 (10 years, to be precise), solar PV growth was much more evenly split last year, and China actually topped the tables.

Here are two charts from EPIA with more details (h/t CleanTechnica reader Bob Wallace):




“While Europe concentrated more than 70% of the world’s new PV installations in 2011 and still around 59% a year later, with more than 10 GW of new capacity installed in 2013, Europe only accounted for 28% of the world’s market.” Nonetheless, Europe still saw fairly large growth in solar PV capacity, especially when you compare that to most other energy sources. Here’s a chart showing net generation capacity change in the EU 28 for various energy sources:



Aside from being the #2 source of new electricity generation capacity in 2013, solar PV now accounts for about 3% of electricity demand in Europe and about 6% of peak electricity demand (remember that solar panels provide electricity in the daytime, when electricity demand is higher).

Nonetheless, there’s no denying the EU market was not nearly as strong in 2013 as in previous years. Austerity measures have been especially harmful. EPIA notes: “European PV markets have experienced a slowdown. In a number of European countries, this can be explained by harmful and retrospective measures that have badly affected investors’ confidence and PV investments viability. Italy in particular experienced a 70% market decrease compared to the year before. Germany also experienced in 2013 a steep PV market decrease (57% decrease compared to 2012).”

Note that these aren’t final numbers. “EPIA will publish in June 2014 consolidated and detailed historical figures and forecasts in its ‘Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018′ report,” the preliminary report states.

Nonetheless, it was definitely a record year. 37,007 MW is a big step above 29,865 MW and 30,282 MW (the totals for 2012 and 2011, respectively).

Here are some other notes from the EPIA preliminary report:

Top 3 global countries

  • China was the n°1 global market with around 11.3 GW connected to the grid.
  • With around 6.9 GW, Japan was the second global biggest market in 2013.
  • The US ranked n°3 with 4.8 GW.

Evolution of European markets

  • Germany was the top European market with 3.3 GW (down from 7.6 GW in 2012).
  • Several European markets were close to the gigawatt mark: Italy (between 1.1 GW and 1.4 GW), UK (in between 1 GW and 1.2 GW), Romania (1.1 GW) and Greece (1.04 GW).
  • Other European markets that performed well in the past went significantly down in 2013, resulting from political decisions aimed at reducing the level of support to PV: Belgium (from 600 MW in 2012 to 215 MW in 2013), France (from 1.1 GW to 613 MW), Denmark (from 300 MW to around 200 MW).
  • Over the last three years however, outside Germany and Italy, the size of the European PV market has been relatively stable, at around 6 GW per year, thanks to the growth in some countries that has balanced the decline in others.
  • Some markets in Europe have an almost untapped PV potential, Hungary, Poland and Turkey for instance. The PV potential in countries like France and Spain is still largely unexploited.

Evolution of Asian markets

  • China and Japan have led the dynamism of the Asian PV market (with respectively around 11.3 GW and 6.9 GW).
  • Several Asian markets continued to grow at a moderate pace: India (1.1 GW), Korea (442 MW), Thailand (317 MW).

Check out the full EPIA report for more.

And for a related but different look at solar PV growth in 2013, as well as projections for 2014, also see: “Solar Power Breaks World Record In Q1, IHS Raises 2014 Forecast To 46,000 MW.” From that article, here’s a chart on quarterly growth over the past few years and projected growth up through Q1 2015:

Source: CleanTechnica

Posted in Articles, Grid Interactive Distributed Solar Energy Systems, PV, Rooftop, Solar, Transmission and Distribution | Tagged , , , , , ,

The 3 Most Sobering Graphics From The U.N.’s New Climate Report

The overall message of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s newest report is simple: a rapid shift to renewable energy is needed to avert catastrophic global warming. The science behind that message, however, is less simple.

In an attempt to make the message more clear, the IPCC’s report — produced by 1250 international experts and approved by every major government in the world — uses a number of charts to get its point across. Though the charts themselves are very complex, they provide a way to visualize increases in human-caused greenhouse gases, where those gases come from, and what they could do to our climate.

Here are three of the most sobering charts from that report, and what they tell us about the state of our warming world.


Current efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have not been enough.


This chart shows the total amount of human-caused greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere every year since 1970, both from burning fossil fuels and from other industrial processes.

The visualization makes clear that current efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by switching the cleaner technologies and renewable energy have not been enough, as global greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing by at least 1.3 percent every year since 1970. From 2000 to 2010, those emissions were even greater, increasing by 2.2 percent annually.

The report cites high confidence that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and other industrial processes contributed about 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emission increases from 1970 to 2010, and a similar percentage contribution for the more intense increases from 2000 to 2010.


Energy supply is not the only thing driving emission increases.


The circular graph above shows the percentages that different economic sectors contribute directly to total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, while the inner circle shows how much those sectors indirectly contribute emissions through electricity and heat production. The information is from 2010, the most recent year that data is available.

While the graph shows that energy supply contributed the most to man-made global warming (responsible for 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions), it also makes clear that other industries are also to blame. Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) is responsible for 24 percent of emissions. Industry, seemingly a description for general business production of goods, was responsible for 21 percent, and buildings responsible for 6 percent.

But even though industry and buildings are seemingly smaller emitters, they become larger through their indirect emissions — i.e., their use of the energy sector itself.


Big changes will be needed to avoid disaster scenarios.


On its face, this graphic looks like it does little to simplify the climate conversation. But on closer look, it shows just how much carbon we can emit in order to avoid a scenario where the world warms by more than 2°C, or 3.6°F, by the year 2100.

Each of the colored strips on this graph is a different emissions “scenario” that the IPCC has tested, where more emissions equal more warming. The little blue strip — representing a scenario where emissions concentrations stay between 430 and 480 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 — is the one we need to strive for, the IPCC says, if we are to absolutely avoid the 3.6°F warming scenario.

As the IPCC’s first report noted, continued inaction and more carbon emissions would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink.

More about what the IPCC’s latest report says can be found here.

Source: Thinkprogress

Posted in Articles, Climate Change, Coal, Greenhouse Gases, Low Carbon Emission, Power Generation, PV, Renewables, Waste, Wind | Tagged , ,

Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe Is Super Cheap — But Only If We Act Now


Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S. The latest IPCC report finds the annual cost of avoiding that catastrophe is a mere 0.06% of annual growth.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”

The first two reports laid out humanity’s choice as depicted in the figure above, which appeared in both reports. The first report warned that continued inaction would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink, which would further accelerate warming. The second report warned that this in turn would lead to a “breakdown of food systems,” more violent conflicts, and ultimately threaten to make some currently habited and arable land virtually unlivable for parts of the year.

Now you might think it would be a no-brainer that humanity would be willing to pay a veryhigh cost to avoid such catastrophes and achieve the low emission “2°C” (3.6°F) pathway in the left figure above (RCP2.6 — which is a total greenhouse gas level in 2100 equivalent to roughly 450 parts per million of CO2). But the third report finds that the “cost” of doing so is to reduce the median annual growth of consumption over this century by a mere 0.06%.

You read that right, the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries. As always, every word of the report was signed off on by every major government in the world.


Global mitigation costs for stabilization at a level “likely” to stay below 2°C (3.6°F). Cost estimates shown in this table do not consider the benefits of reduced climate change as well as co-benefits of mitigation. The green columns show the consumption loss in the years 2030, 2050, and 2100 relative to a baseline development without climate policy. The light green column shows that the annualized consumption growth reduction over the century is 0.06%. Source: IPCC 2014.

Moreover, this does not even count the economic benefit of avoiding climate catastrophe. Afew years ago, scientists calculated that benefit as having a net present value of $615 to $830 trillion. That means our current do-nothing plan is actually far, far costlier than aggressive climate mitigation.

And the IPCC warns “Delaying is estimated to … substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low, longer-term emissions levels and narrow the range of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2 degrees C.”

These are not new findings. In its previous Fourth Assessment (AR4) in 2007, the IPCC found the cost of stabilizing at 445 ppm CO2-eq corresponded to “slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.”

These conclusions should not be a surprise since they are based on a review of the literature — and every major independent study has found a remarkably low net cost for climate action — and a high cost for delay. Back in 2011, the International Energy Agency warned“Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

As German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, a co-chair of the IPCC committee that wrote the new report, put it, “We cannot afford to lose another decade. If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

The new IPCC report notes that renewable energy (RE) technologies have advanced substantially since 2007:

Since AR4, many RE technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions, and a growing number of RE technologies have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale (robust evidence, high agreement). Regarding electricity generation alone, RE accounted for just over half of the new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power.

The IPCC notes, “In the majority of low stabilization scenarios, the share of low carbon electricity supply [RE, nuclear, and carbon capture] increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050.” That kind of rapid growth in near-zero-carbon energy over the next 3 1/2 decades leaves very little room for any new fossil fuel generation. The IPCC asserts that natural gas can act as a short-term bridge fuel if “the fugitive emissions associated with extraction and supply are low or mitigated” — which multiple recent studies make clear is not currently the case (see “By The Time Natural Gas Has A Net Climate Benefit You’ll Likely Be Dead And The Climate Ruined“).

In the scenario that gives us the best chance of avoiding catastrophe, stabilizing at 450 ppm CO2-eq by 2100, natural gas power generation must peak and fall “to below current levels by 2050″ — and decline further post-2050. So the world is already using more natural gas than it can safely afford to be using in just 36 years.

One final interesting factoid in the report that reveals just how stunning the increase in global emissions have been since 1970:

In 1970, cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring since 1750 were 420±35 Gt [billion metric tons] CO2; in 2010, that cumulative total had tripled to 1300 ±110 Gt CO2.

The world has emitted more than twice the industrial CO2 emissions since 1970 as we did from the start of the Industrial Revolution through 1970. That is especially sobering because lags in the climate system mean we’re only now experiencing the temperature and climate changes from CO2 levels of a couple decades ago. The time to act is now.

Source: ThinkProgress

Posted in Biofuels, Biomass, Climate Change, Events, Geothermal, Greenhouse Gases, Hydro, News, Power Generation, PV, Solar, Transmission and Distribution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Renewable energy market share climbs despite 2013 dip in investments

Installed solar jumped 26 percent — from 31 Gigawatts in 2012 to a record 39 GW in 2013 — even as investment in solar capacity decreased 23 percent from US$135.6 billion to US$104.1 billion.

Renewable energy’s share of world electricity generation continued its steady climb last year despite a 14 per cent drop in investments to US$214.4 billion, according to a new report released today.

According to Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014 – produced by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance—the investment drop of $US35.1 billion was partly down to the falling cost of solar photovoltaic systems. The other main cause was policy uncertainty in many countries, an issue that also depressed investment in fossil fuel generation in 2013.

Globally, renewables excluding large hydro accounted for 43.6 per cent of newly installed generating capacity in 2013. Were it not for renewables, world energy-related CO2 emissions would have been an estimated 1.2 gigatonnes higher in 2013. This would have increased by about 12 per cent the gap between where emissions are heading and where they need to be in 2020 if the world is to have a realistic prospect of staying under a two degree Centigrade temperature rise.

“A long-term shift in investment over the next few decades towards a cleaner energy portfolio is needed to avoid dangerous climate change, with the energy sector accounting for around two thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP. “The fact that renewable energy is gaining a bigger share of overall generation globally is encouraging. To support this further, we must re-evaluate investment priorities, shift incentives, build capacity and improve governance structures.”

“While some may point to the fact that overall investment in renewables fell in 2013, the drop masks the many positive signals of a dynamic market that is fast evolving and maturing,” he added. “This should give governments the confidence to forge a new robust climate agreement to cut emissions at the 2015 climate change conference in Paris.”

In recent years, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment has become the standard reference for global renewable energy investment figures. The 2014 edition will be showcased at the Bloomberg New Finance Initiative “Future of Energy Summit” in New York from 7-9 April 2014.

Ulf Moslener, Head of Research of the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, agreed that the overall decline in investment dollars had been disappointing. However, he said, “foundations for future growth in the renewable energy market fell into place in 2013.”

Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “Lower costs, a return to profitability on the part of some leading manufacturers, the phenomenon of unsubsidized market uptake in a number of countries, and a warmer attitude to renewables among public market investors, were hopeful signs after several years of painful shake-out in the renewable energy sector.”

The report points to the end of a four-and-a-half year 78 per cent decline in clean energy stocks, which bottomed out in July 2012 and then gained 54 per cent in 2013 – an improvement that took place as many companies in the solar and wind manufacturing chains moved back towards profitability after a painful period of over-capacity and corporate distress.

Large hydro-electric projects were another important area of investment with at least 20 GW of capacity estimated to have come on stream in 2013, equivalent to approximately US$35 billion of investment.

Although investment in renewable energy capacity, including all hydro, in 2013 was once again below gross investment in fossil-fuel power, at US$227 billion compared to US$270 billion, it was roughly double the net figure for investment in fossil-fuel power excluding replacement plant.

The year marked a deepening involvement of long-term investors such as pension funds, insurance companies, wealth managers and private individuals in the equity and debt of wind and solar projects. Part of their new engagement was through clean energy bond issuance, which set a new record of US$3.2 billion raised in 2013, as well as via new types of financing vehicles including North American ‘yield companies’ and real estate investment trusts.

But the star performer among investment types in 2013 was public market equity-raising by renewable energy companies, which jumped 201 per cent to US$11 billion. This was the highest since 2010, spurred on by the rally in clean energy share prices and institutional investors’ appetite for funds offering solid yields.


More information: A short summary of key findings:

Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014 in full is publicly available, from 13:30 GMT April 7, at

Provided by United Nations Environment Programme

Posted in Bagasse, Biomass, Cells & Modules, CPV, Crystalline, DISCOM, Geothermal, Global Warming, Hydro, Off-grid, Power Generation, PV, Renewables, Residential, Rooftop, Rural Lighting, Solar, Solar Thermal, Thin Film | Tagged , , , ,

10 Huge Lessons We’ve Learned From Solar Power Success In Germany

Ritesh: While this article is dated Early 2013, it provides us an insight into the scare mongers especially Discoms who claim that Solar will disrupt existing power infrastructure whereas in truth Solar is an excellent energy security and distributed method of empowering the country.

1. Feed-in tariffs (aka CLEAN Contracts in the US) can drive solar power growth like nothing else.

Well, maybe there are other things that could drive even stronger growth, but nothing else has done so to date. Germany leads the world in solar in many respects. As of the end of 2011, it had more solar power per capita than any other country, it has more solar power relative to electricity production than any country other than Italy (which has also used FiTs), and it has more solar power per GDP than any country other than the Czech Republic (which also followed Germany’s lead and implemented FiTs). Clearly, Germany and those who have followed with their own FiTs have seen more solar power growth than others. As John Farrell noted back in 2011 (still true today), FiTs have been used for the installation most solar (and wind) power in the world:




And, as noted in the first Fox News article listed at the top, Germany crushes the US (which has not implemented FiTs) in solar power capacity:

2. A more mature solar power market sells solar power for a much lower price.

Solar panels are a global commodity. Their price is essentially the same all around the world. However, the “soft costs” of a solar power system can vary tremendously. As noted back in June 2012, German solar installations cost a little more than half what US solar installations cost. At that time, German systems were being installed for an average of $2.24 per watt, while US systems were being installed for an average of $4.44 per watt. Now, US systems are probably down to about $4.00 per watt, but German systems are down to about $2.00 per watt.

The good news is, people have studied this, and we have a pretty clear indication of where the costs differ.



As you can see in the charts above, big differences exist in installation labor, customer acquisition, overhead, and supply chain costs. As a market matures and becomes more competitive, those costs come down. (Note: notable solar energy champions in the US have also speculated that US solar tax credits have kept solar power systems artificially high in the US – the argument seems quite logical and comes from someone I greatly trust in this arena.)

3. More streamlined permitting works.

Because solar panels produce electricity, many jurisdictions across the US have all sorts of absurd permitting requirements that treat rooftop solar systems as if they are large-scale power plants or alien monsters that could destroy society. Permitting in the US is expensive (see the ILSR chart above) and takes forever and a day (or, more accurately, an average of two months). As one of our Australian writers noted recently, he was shocked to see the level of bureaucracy applied to simple solar power systems in the US.

Germany has rules about solar panel installations. They work really well. You can get a system installed almost immediately, and without paying for a bunch of paperwork. More or less, US jurisdictions regulating this matter should just look at what Germany’s got on the books and copy it.

4. Feed-in tariffs democratize the electric grid.

This is perhaps one of the most exciting lessons from Germany. As John Farrell noted in the title of one of the articles listed at the top of this page, “Germany has more solar power because everyone wins.” While US solar subsidies (tax credits) favor the rich and Wall Street, German solar subsidies favor the common man. Well, actually, they just favor everyone equally.

Guess what the result is. Yep, a lot more common people install solar in Germany than in the US. US solar power is primarily from large-scale solar power plants, while German solar power is primarily from rooftop solar power on residents’ homes. The “power company” in Germany is increasingly the citizenry.

5. Democratizing the grid gets residents informed and motivated about energy.

Guess what happens when you democratize the electric grid. People become more interested in energy, more informed, more motivated to save energy and get involved in the politics of energy. As someone once noted (sorry that I can’t recall the source), Germany may be the only country in the world where the taxi drivers can talk to you at length about energy policy. The same goes for energy use, the cost of energy, etc.

Democracy is built on information — on people having access to information, and people actually consuming and spreading that information. Democracies that do that less are weaker. Democracies that do that more are stronger. With energy being a critical component of life, as well as the richest industry in the world, having a citizenry that is highly informed about the intricacies of energy is a very valuable commodity.

If only there were a way to get people motivated about energy…. Oh yeah — solar policies that benefit the masses will do that!

6. The grid will not fall apart at 5% solar penetration… or 10%… or 15%… or 20%.

Early in Germany’s solar power days, critics of a solar revolution, and even many supporters, were convinced that solar penetration of the grid would be unmanageable, that solar would have to be limited to a certain percentage of the electricity supply. Initially, the idea was that 5% penetration was the max. As that approached and everyone could see that there wasn’t anything to worry about, the bar was raised to 10%, and then 15%, and then 20%.

Solar PV capacity in Germany is now equal to 50% of peak summer electricity demand:


In May 2012, solar power provided electricity for a record 30% of electricity demand:


Furthermore, studies continue to up the degree to which renewables can penetrate the grid without adding storage or creating problems. A German engineering study last year found that, “There isn’t much of a need for power storage in Germany even if it increases the share of its electricity that is generated by renewable sources by around 50%,” we reported in October. A comprehensive study released in December 2012 found that solar, wind, and storage could power the electricity grid 99.9% by 2030 cheaper than any other option.

Furthermore, decentralized solar power actually provides many benefits for the grid and society!

Of course, it decreases deadly pollution and cuts water use. However, beyond that, it also guards against fuel price volatility, decreases the risk of power outages, adds grid stability, increases grid security, and cuts the price of electricity. Let’s get into that last one in a bit more detail.

7. Solar power brings down the price of wholesale electricity.

This is a topic we’ve covered extensively before. But it’s not quick to explain, so bear with me.

Electricity suppliers get their electricity on the grid through a bidding process. The suppliers that can sell their electricity to the grid for cheapest win. Because the costs of solar and wind power plants are essentially just in the process of building them (the fuel costs are $0 and the maintenance costs are negligible), they can outbid pretty much every other source of power. As a result, 1) they win the bids when they produce electricity; 2) they drive down the price of wholesale electricity.

Because solar power is often produced when electricity demand is the greatest (and electricity is, thus, the least available and most expensive), it brings down the price of electricity even more than wind.




Germany-Load-curve-2012-03-26 (1)

For more reading along these lines, see:

8. Even very grey places can generate a lot of solar power.

Despite what Fox solar experts might say, Germany has more grey days than you’d care to see. In fact, it has less in the way of solar resources than Alaska! And far less than most of the United States. But don’t take my word for it. Simply take a look at these solar resources maps from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:


9. Even once solar power capacity is equal to 50% of electricity demand, utility execs, fossil fuel execs, their buddies in government, and their buddies in the media won’t stop fighting it.

Fossil fuel companies lose revenue and profit when solar power increases. Utility companies are in a similar boat. These are some of the richest industries in the world. They aren’t going to relinquish their profit streams easily. They’re also among those spending the most money to buy friends in high government positions. And they certainly wouldn’t be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on that if it didn’t pay off. Us poor folk in the media are even easier to smooch, buy off, or simply confuse with easy-to-accept facts from those with the “facts.”

Germany may be in a better boat (democratically) than the US, but it still has rich people working to influence politicians and the media. It still has politicians working to change the laws to limit solar power’s growth. It still has reporters in major media getting the story horribly wrong, confusing millions of people along the way.

In other words, Big Coal, Fox, Senator Boehner and gang, and even reporters in outlets like the NYTimes and Washington Post won’t change their overall opinion about solar even as it grows and grows and grows, even as it becomes cheaper for homeowners in more and more places.

10. People love the sun — they love clean, solar energy — and they always will.

In poll after poll after poll, we can see that solar energy is the most popular type of energy amongst US citizens. Often, 90% or more of respondents are supportive of solar and policies to support solar. Naturally, at such a high percentage, this crosses political boundaries.

No matter how much fossil fuel fat cats, or their friends in politics and media, try to confuse the populace, most people will favor solar energy. Perhaps it’s linked to people’s natural love for the sun. Perhaps it’s linked to their understanding that solar power is better for our air, our water, and our climate. Perhaps it’s because they understand (maybe even just subconsciously) that solar power inclines itself toward more decentralized, democratic ownership. Perhaps it’s because they realize that energy from the sun is cheap, abundant, stable, and widespread. Perhaps it’s a combination of all those things.

And, no matter what anyone tells you, this support for solar doesn’t go away as solar power installations increase. Just take a tour through Germany and talk to people about it! Or check out this post I just published: Germans Love Their Solar Power & Wind Power — No Solar Subsidy Or Wind Subsidy ‘Backlash’!


Source: Cleantechnica
Posted in Articles, Commercial, DISCOM, Global Warming, Grid Connected, Grid Interactive Distributed Solar Energy Systems, Off-grid, Power Generation, PV, Renewables, Residential, Rooftop, Rural Lighting, Solar Policy, Transmission and Distribution | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Solar costs to halve as gas prices surge

Another of the world’s leading solar PV manufacturing giants has underlined the potential for yet more substantial falls in the manufacturing cost of solar modules, even as the cost of fossil fuels – and gas in particular – surges in the opposite direction.

Beyond the near-term revenue forecasts that obsess market analysts, one of the big take-outs of First Solar’s annual market day in New York this week was its predictions about the cost of solar modules over the next five years.

In short, First Solar expects its average manufacturing cost to nearly halve – from an average $US0.63/watt in 2013, to $US0.35/W in 2018.  That will bring the total installed cost of a module (including racking and inverters) from around $1.59/W to below $1/W  by 2017 – so meeting the US Department of Energy’s ambitious Sunshot Initiative goals at least three years ahead of time.

This is significant because as solar prices are coming down, fossil fuel prices are headed quickly in the opposite direction. The US has been hailed as the nation of cheap gas, but that is proving to be an illusion betrayed by rapid depletion rates of wells and the growing challenge of deeper and more complicated reserves. Not to mention the water and other environmental considerations.


gas-pricesAs this story from EnergyWire states, wholesale prices in the north-east grid in the US jumped 55 per cent in 2013, thanks mostly to a 76 per cent jump in the price of gas to $US6.97/MMBTU, which is now back above its pre GFC, pre-fracking boom levels. (Bookmark the graph, and point it out to the next person that tells you how the fracking boom has guaranteed low electricity prices into the future. It’s bunkum).

The future of large-scale solar was in balance just a year ago, mostly because many of the initial big projects had been funded by California’s ambitious renewable energy target, and a strong solar mandate.

But First Solar now sees this large-scale market rebounding, mostly because interest is turning to solar because of those rising gas prices.  Power purchase agreements, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, are in the range of $US50-$US70/MWh (helped by a tax credit because the LCOE of most utility scale solar is still probably abov $100/MWh.

Solar companies are meeting those PPA prices – not making a whole lot of profit, but with costs to come down as dramatically as SunPower, SunEdison and First Solar have suggested, they are making enough to secure their future. Gas developers can simply no longer compete because the forward gas prices are pushing gas generation costs well beyond this.

First Solar is finding particular interest in the 20-50MW project size, which many utilities think will address their issues about daytime peaks. These offer lower execution risk for the likes of First Solar and offer the company the ability to improve overall cost of capital through a potential “yieldco” transaction (floating off projects into a new high yield company).

Note: The gas problem is also true in Australia, but because there is effectively no policy for a carbon price and no emissions standards on coal-fired power generation under the new Abbott conservative government, coal generation will be allowed to grow, particularly as the renewable energy target is wound back, and incentives for large-scale solar are diminished. The costs of large-scale solar are much cheaper in the US than Australia – not because the modules are any cheaper – but because the balance of systems costs are so much cheaper because they have built so many. Australia, to date, has just one 10MW solar plant completed.

But back to First Solar. The keys to its cost reductions are several. The first is the lift in conversion efficiency. This recently hit a high of 17.2 per cent for its cadmium telluride thin-film panels, and will increase to 19.5 per cent by 2017.

The balance of system costs which had previously put it at a disadvantage to silicon-based solar PV may soon put it at an advantage. And First Solar is about to announce major savings as part of its partnership with General Electric, which is looking at an even cheaper and more efficient utility-scale solar power plant design, and it has also purchased its own silicon-based manufacturing facility in Thailand.

It was interesting to note that Deutsche Bank analysts thought that the market were generally discounting these broader trends and focused – as it its want – on the near term financial numbers. Deutsche, however, was sufficiently encouraged by the potential for aggressive efficiency/cost roadmap, it had lifted its target price for the stock from $US50 to $US70.

This graph below is interesting. It shows just how small a role that module prices play in the ultimate cost of the technology. Two thirds of the costs are related to items that can only be reduced by deployment. This is important to note because it explains why the incumbents try everything to stop further development, and hold on to the nonsense sprouted by the likes of fossil fuel pin-up boy Bjorn Lomborg that R&D is the only solution to cost reductions.


This last graph shows First Solar’s estimation of the solar market in 2016.  Interestingly, while it sees a resurgence in big utility-scale mandates, it recognises also that half the market comes in the household and commercial-scale market, which is mostly rooftop.

CEO Jim Hughes told the analysts that the company now believes it can compete for that rooftop market – something it had largely abandoned previously. It says it is competing for 15 commercial projects totaling MW, and is “shortlisted” for MW of those.

Hughes says the company is also targeting sales of panels to mine operators in remote areas and other industries that currently rely on diesel generators. Australia is one of those targets. At one location (not Australia), First Solar installed 10MW of solar panels to accompany 15.3MW generated by a diesel-fuelled generator.


Source: RenewEconomy


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