Environment Forum

Federal purse reopens for solar science

 

The U.S. Department of Energy announced this week $60 million in funding for scientists to develop “revolutionary research” to lower the cost of solar power systems.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is baiting researchers to increase efficiency of commercial solar power (CSP) systems and lower costs to six cents per kilowatt hour by the end of the decade. 

The initiative is being called a “sign of the times for the sector“, and comes amidst accusations the government is squandering taxpayer money on businesses doomed to fail, best exemplified by recently bankrupt solar heavyweight Solyndra.

The DOE says the SunShot CSP grant is meant to look beyond short-term innovation and explore transformative concepts with the “potential to break through performance barriers like efficiency and temperature limitations,” the DOE announced. It wants scientists to think big.

With billions invested in multiple CSP plants throughout the southwestern states, improving CSP generation to the point where it can once again compete with cheaper solar photovoltaic panels appears to be an important priority for the DOE, writes Energy Matters.

Is this the greenest office on Earth?

Every workstation has a view. Much of the lighting comes from reflected sunshine. It’s so naturally quiet that unobtrusive speakers pipe in “white noise” to preserve a level of privacy. The windows open, and they’re shaded in such a way that there’s no glare. Even with the windows closed, fresh air circulates through vents in the floor. Extreme recycling prevails, not just of bottles, cans and kitchen refuse but beetle-blighted wood.

Welcome to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which contains some of the greenest office space on the planet.

NREL’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado, is also the home to cutting-edge research on biofuels, photo-voltaics for solar power and other renewable energy technology, but the physical plant is a living lab for green building. At $63 million, or $259 per square foot for its construction cost, including interiors and furniture, the Research Support Facility as it is called, was hardly cheap to build. But with 220,000 square feet of space, it is the biggest energy efficient building in the United States.

from Reuters Investigates:

Solar energy vs wildlife

Sarah McBride reports on brewing battles between environmentalists in her special report: "With solar power, it's Green vs. Green."

It turns out the perfect place to build a big solar plant is often also the perfect place for a tortoise or a fox to live. This means developers of large-scale solar plants are running into legal challenges from people who one would expect to be natural allies of alternative energy providers.

Here's a map of some of the more contentious projects.

One local resident of the Panoche Valley, Sallie Calhoun, had this to say:

"I am passionate about preserving open space," she says, adding she believes the solar plant achieves that goal. "The idea that we're going to protect every lizard, every drainage, seems counterproductive."

Robert Kennedy Jr: solar and natural gas belong together

The solar power sector and the natural gas industry need to build an alliance to get more government support and take over the energy sector from incumbents like Big Oil and King Coal, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said on Wednesday.

The environmentalist spoke at the Solar Power International Conference being held in Anaheim, California, this week.

“The alliance is just forming,” Kennedy told reporters after his remarks. He added that the natural gas industry has been “hiding under oil and they think Big Oil is going to take care of them. But they’re realizing Big Oil is never going to let them make a profit” and that companies like Chesapeake are realizing “that their future is with the environmental community and the renewable community.”

New Jersey has best payback on residential solar in U.S.

California may be the Golden State, but it’s New Jersey where U.S. residents get the best deal on their solar power systems, new research shows.

A survey by Global Solar Centertried to give an “apples to apples” comparison for the cost of solar power in all 50 states, the center’s chairman Jack Hidary told Reuters.

The common denominator turned out to be the cash payback, or how many years it would take a residential or commercial customer to recoup their investment and start seeing real savings, Hidary said.
“That takes into account the cost of the system, the sun at that spot, the incentives of that region, utility rates. It blends in everything all together,” Hidary said.

Cloudy days for green stocks

The federal stimulus bill hasn’t been a ticket to prosperity for clean energy investors.According to Environment America, a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations, over 4 percent of the $787 billion dollar stimulus package passed in February was ear-marked for clean energy projects.Yet the Reuters Business of Green Index, a basket of 14 green stocks, has fared poorly over the last three months, down over 20 percent against the S&P 500 Index.Why isn’t the stimulus bill, which appears to be helping many stocks, not having the desired effect in the greentech and clean energy sectors?”What happens in Washington for the time being is nowhere near as relevant as you might think,” said Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov.He notes that green stocks are heavily dependent on the solar industry, 90 percent of which is outside the United States:”Even though there is a large array of clean tech stocks to invest in, the most attractive green stocks and the certainly the largest ones are in the solar stage. And solar has been doing quite poorly because there is quite simply an overcapacity in the global solar industry.”That has put pressure on prices, margins and earnings. Not surprisingly, solar stocks have fared poorly.Suntech Power Holdings, one of the 14 green companies selected by Reuters, had lost 13 percent of it’s value in August when it reported second quarter earnings. Shares of China’s Yingli Green Energy and U.S. panel maker SunPower Corp were down about 17 percent, and First Solar‘s stock was down nearly 15 percent in the same period.Not all of the news is cloudy, but Molchanov says it’s not time to put away the umbrella just yet.”The good news is that sentiment has gotten so negative that it probably doesn’t take much for it to start improving and expectations for earnings are generally pretty low. So that’s helping, but the overcapacity in the market is not going away in the foreseeable future.”

from Global Investing:

Turning to the sun

With oil prices more than doubling from Dec-Feb lows, those who are lucky enough to enjoy the sunshine are turning to the sun as alternative energy, but lingering effects of the credit crisis might be discouraging consumers from turning to this still-costly alternative energy.

Latest statistics suggest that solar applications are up 15% in megawatts compared with last year, according to Bank of America Securities-Merrill Lynch report. However, installations are down by 68 percent.

The bank's analyst Steven Milunovich makes the following observation:

Although these figures imply a soft (and softening) solar market in California, it is likely that customers are deferring installation, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Commercial customers are waiting for financing to improve and for grants to become available, which began in August. Installers tell us that the demand is there, but that financing is holding up installations. We expect some improvement in the second half.

Sailing around the world on sunlight

    Nearly 500 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to sail around the world. With wind and sails, the journey was certainly a green one.

    Now a Swiss engineer wants to match the feat — with a catamaran called “Planet Solar,” powered entirely on the sun’s energy.

   

    It’s a clean-tech adventure designed by Raphael Domjan to promote solar power, energy efficiency and sustainable mobility. Domjan calls it “the path towards a lasting world.”

Solar power that pays back fast

OK, solar panels are getting cheaper, but can it be possible to get back the $1,000 you invested in home solar in 45 days?

It couldn’t happen where I live, and maybe not where you do, but the owners of a solar electric company say the arithmetic worked for one of their customers. He is a chief executive with a six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath Spanish-style hillside home in Fremont, California. Fremont is a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley, and home to many high tech firms.

This executive was paying a monthly electric bill of $3,492 on average, according to solar electric firm SunRun. The company was started by two finance experts who came up with their business model while still students at the Stanford Business School.

Green Portfolio: Suzlon sizzles and Q-Cells misses

Indian wind turbine maker Suzlon Energy’s shares gained 8 percent on Tuesday, after sources told Reuters that Suzlon’s founders are looking to raise up to $48 million through the sale of a 2 percent stake in the world’s fifth-largest wind turbine maker.

Shares in leading solar cell maker Q-Cells closed the day up 2.39 percent after it reported profits that missed market forecasts and CEO Anton Milner and CFO Hartmut Schüning tried to assuage investor fear over solar project funding.

German solar peer Solon posted a bigger-than-expected first-quarter net loss and echoed Q-Cells’ financing concern.

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