Environment Forum

Thank you, EPA: U.S. solar companies

tomwernerMany businesses chafed on Monday at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.

But executives at the two largest U.S. solar power companies took a shine to the statement, which clears the way for federal regulation and came as a global climate summit opened in Copenhagen.  Now they’ll keep their eyes on Congress to act on future legislation.

First Solar’s chairman and former chief executive Mike Ahearn called the EPA’s move “an affirmation of the administration’s commitment to addressing climate change.”

“We look forward to a comprehensive legislative proposal next year that will provide a policy structure that combines putting a price on carbon emissions with rapid deployment of sustainable, non-emitting energy sources,” Ahearn said in an email.

SunPower‘s chief executive Tom Werner also applauded the move — with a nudge towards Congress.

Gaze into clean technology’s crystal ball for 2010

Clean technology investors who have suffered through 2009 can find cheer in a new report by the Cleantech Group that gives its top ten predictions for 2010.

The number one prediction: Private capital growth will recover, the research group said.

The group believes that the amount of money from global venture capital and private equity in clean technology in 2010 will surpass that in 2009 “by a healthy margin” and could be a record year. The group also is watching for major investments like Khosla Ventures’ raising $1 billion for renewable energy and clean technology funds, more capital in Asia and innovative fund strategies.

Catching rays + cutting emissions

The phrase “catching a few rays” might conjure up images of lying on a sunny beach.

But Germany’s Renewable Energy Act has given that phrase a whole new meaning. I’ve discovered that you can get paid for capturing the sun’s energy on your roof, converting it into CO2-free electricity with the help of special equipment, and feeding it into the grid — and watch the investment yield handsome long-term returns.

The German feed-in tariff system is as simple as it is successful – which is probably why Germany produces as much solar power as the rest of the world combined. German utilities are obliged under the Renewable Energy Act to pay above-market feed-in tariffs to producers of photovoltaic or wind energy for a period of 20 years. Germany will add up to 3 gigawatt of PV electricity this year. 

Solar players see sun rising over India

India has ambitious plans for solar power as the country looks to boost its solar output to 20 gigawatts by 2022 from close to zero, as Reuters reported in this story.

Some companies are already looking to capture some of the demand they see growing in India.

U.S.-based solar cell maker Suniva finished this week a project with Titan Energy Systems Ltd for a large scale project in West Bengal.

Which U.S. states make the grade on net-metering?

Advocates for renewable energy hail net-metering as a key policy so that electricity from solar and wind is generated at the same place where it is consumed.

Supporters refer to it as the policy that lets the electric meter spin backwards. It allows people who own solar power systems, for example, export electricity to the grid and earn credits — at retail prices — on their utility bill.

In a new report called “Freeing the Grid,” advocates with several groups grade each state on their net-metering policies.

Are U.S. solar jobs here to stay? Senators fight for a yes.

A trio of U.S. senators this week introduced a bill to spur solar manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Through additional tax credits, the legislation aims to encourage more U.S. companies to make solar equipment, creating jobs and building up the country’s clean energy economy.

Many — from politicians and environmentalists to investors –  have pinned great hopes on green jobs. Clean energy could create 850,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States, according to recent research Reuters reported this week.

What solar shakeout? U.S. and China firms say there’s room for all

When California’s SunPower and China’s Suntech strode onstage at an industry conference last week, onlookers braced themselves for a bit of sabre-rattling, or at least an animated debate about two global superpowers’ role in solar energy.

Some bet on an entertaining battle of words just a day after Robert F. Kennedy, Jr took to the stage at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, California and said that the United States was in an “arms race” with the Chinese to make solar panels.

Instead, Tom Werner with California-based SunPower and Zhengrong Shi at Chinese panel maker Suntech were all smiles and even bordeline chummy — on the surface at least — preaching cooperation rather than competition.

U.S. lab says 2008 pivotal year for solar costs

The holy grail for solar power is to match the cost of power from coal-fired power plants or other traditional fuel.

That goal is still on the horizon. But researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab say the industry is getting closer as the cost of going solar in the United States saw a pivotal year in 2008.

In a new report, the researchers found that the cost of going solar fell by more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. The installation costs — before taking into account any incentives –  dropped from $10.80 per watt to $7.50 per watt during that period.

Solar heads to developing world

While solar power has investors on Wall Street seeing green, countries in the developing world also see a bright future in solar technology.

They believe solar power systems that convert sunlight into electricity can help power developing areas without going the route of dirty coal-fired power plants.

Solar companies like China’s solar panel maker Suntech and California-based eSolar, have recently announced forays into the developing world.

Air pollution permits back on track in Southern California

California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is working to burnish his green legacy in the Golden State. But one of his latest moves to lift a hold on air pollution permit applications is not likely to make environmentalists happy.

The governor signed a bill late Sunday that allows the agency regulating air pollution along California’s southern coast to start issuing more than 1,200 applications frozen by a state court decision in 2008.

Schwarzenegger signed the bill the same day he approved two measures benefiting the state’s solar power industry.