Renewables exceed 20% of Germany’s energy production

In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, tens of thousands of German citizens took to the streets calling for the phase out of atomic energy. In May, the German government bowed to public pressure and unveiled its plan to shut down the country’s 17 nuclear power plants by 2021 – with the possibility that three will continue operating until 2022 if the transition to renewable energy doesn’t go as quickly as hoped.

Providing some hope that Germany will achieve its ambitious goals, Spiegel Online International has quoted a newly released…report that says, for the first time, renewable sources accounted for more than 20 percent of the country’s electricity generation…

According to the report, renewable energy sources provided 18.3 percent of total demand in 2010, but the first six months of 2011 saw that figure rise to 20.8 percent, while Germany’s total usage remained steady from 2010 at 275.5 billion kilowatt hours…

Of the 57.3 billion kWh provided by renewable sources in the first six months of 2011, wind power was the dominant source supplying 20.7 billion kWh (7.5 percent of total production), followed by biomass with 15.4 billion kWh (5.6 percent), photovoltaic solar with 9.6 billion kWh (3.5 percent), hydroelectric with 9.1 billion kWh (3.3 percent, and waste and other sources providing 2.2 billion kWh (0.8 percent).

Solar power saw the biggest jump, increasing by 76 percent over 2010 with the BDEW citing the reduction in the price of photovoltaic installations as a result of increased competition and the decision of the federal government not to cut subsidies for private solar-power generation as initially planned as the main reasons for the increase.

“Because of the volume of new photovoltaic installations and the amount of sun during the spring, solar energy knocked hydroelectric from third place for the first time,” said the BDEW.

Two points worth making. First – the economies of scale really play well with photo-voltaics. It’s a technology where small but noticeable advances are being made in both cost of production and efficiencies of energy production. Second – German voters are already sophisticated enough to ignore the hypocrisy of fossil fuel facility builders who whine about continued subsidies. Fact is – all fossil fuel plants rely on taxpayer subsidy for construction. There’s little difference in passing along subsidies to consumers with home installations.

I spent most of the past half-century as an advocate for nuclear power generation. From early days working in the field, it was clear that properly-run there was no need for safety concerns. Over that time the only disasters which have occurred were the result of bureaucratic malingering. Which can happen in any industry. The difference being that falling-down stupid about safety with nuclear power can be fatal on a large scale.

More important, we’ve just about reached the point where the cost of production of electricity via photo-voltaics matches the cost of construction and production of nuclear facilities. That will continue to diminish while the opposite happens with nuclear projects. And there will never be shutdown dangers associated with natural disasters using photo-voltaics.

G.E. ready to build the largest solar panel factory in the country

General Electric plans to select a location in about three months for a U.S. solar-panel plant that may be the country’s largest.

With the new facility, the total investment in the solar business will exceed $600 million, Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE said today in a statement. The plant will employ about 400 people and power 80,000 homes annually.

The tipping point in expansion was boosting the efficiency of cadmium telluride-based thin film panels to a record 12.8 percent, said Victor Abate, who runs solar, wind and renewable energy units at GE, the world’s biggest provider of power- generation equipment. The increase is also a key factor in bringing down costs, he said.

“Before you scale, you have to be a technology leader,” Abate said in a telephone interview. “By reaching this milestone with the most efficient technology, we believe we’re ready to scale…”

GE became the world’s second biggest maker of wind turbines within a decade of its purchase of Enron Corp.’s operations following its 2002 bankruptcy. Abate said he thinks the company can build the solar business in a similar way…

GE expects to increase the efficiency of the panels, Abate said. “We’ve moved the efficiency from where we started investing with the team at PrimeStar at about four times the rate of the industry, and we expect to continue to do that…”

Solar photovoltaic system installations will almost double to 32.6 gigawatts by 2013 from 18.6 gigawatts last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. Manufacturing capacity worldwide has almost quadrupled since 2008 to 27.5 gigawatts, and 12 gigawatts of production will be added this year…

The decision on where to locate plant will be based on criteria including proximity to GE’s research centers, available factory space, and incentives from state and local governments. GE expects to make a decision before the end of the year, at the latest, Abate said.

I’m not surprised – and anyone who follows the scale of the industry shouldn’t be surprised either.

If Governor Bill was still in charge of New Mexico, we’d probably stand a chance at getting that factory. With our new Republican Susana running the state, we stand a better chance at manufacturing buggy whips and boot laces.

Spanish firm to build $1 billion solar plant in New Mexico

I haven’t any special axe to grind for Democrats, New Mexico flavor or any other. But, just as I’ve tried to point out the benefits of Obama’s stimulus program in my neck of the prairie, I have to point out one more project brought to New Mexico by Governor Bill – that provides jobs, clean energy, another chunk of change to the landscape.

Something the conservative Dems and Republicans that clutter the halls of state government barely think about.

The NM plant will be 14 times larger than the largest existing plant in the USA

Spanish renewable energy company GA-Solar plans to build a 300-megawatt solar photovoltaic generating plant in eastern New Mexico.

The plant, to be located on 2,500 acres in Guadalupe County, will have enough installed capacity to power 50,000 homes, making it one of the largest PV solar projects in the world.

GA-Solar’s parent firm, Corporación Gestamp, will invest $1 billion to develop the project, which will take up to four years to construct. The company will employ 300 during construction, and will have 75 full-time employees once the plant is completed, said GA-Solar and Corporación Gestamp CEO Jon Riberas in a news release…

The project could attract a lot of investment from suppliers in the construction, solar and manufacturing industries. Among other things, Corporación Gestamp plans to source the racking equipment for the plant from local manufacturers, said New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Fred Mondragón…

Gov. Bill Richardson said the project reflects New Mexico’s leadership role in solar energy development.

Just another announcement for Governor Bill – while Roundhouse conservative beancounters grumble and plan to cut education and raise taxes on food.

Utility wants penalty from Colorado residents who add solar panels

“A license to print money”

Xcel Energy is proposing a new penalty on Colorado residents who generate their own renewable electricity.

The “infrastructure upkeep fee” could range between $20 and $200 per year, the Denver Post reports. Customers who buy and install their own solar panels would essentially be asked to keep paying for some of the energy they’re no longer using from Xcel’s electricity grid.

“It’s only fair everyone pay for the system,” an Xcel spokesman said, noting that the grid provides a “backup” for solar users.

Huh? Is there any other industry that could get away with proposing something like this? Your customers don’t need your product anymore, so you propose making them pay for it anyway, just in case they need it again someday?

What’s really going on here is the beginning of a potentially massive powershift, one in which Xcel and other large utilities’ customers are increasingly becoming the competition by generating their own electricity. Xcel has a strong record of supporting renewable energy, so long as it’s the one generating the profits.

These are the sort of schmucks who’ve been in charge of so-called public utilities all my life. They get a guaranteed profit structure. State regulators band over backwards [and forwards] to keep them happy. And, of course, you and I pick up the tab.

I look forward to the day when getting off the grid is truly affordable for us all. And people like the heads of Xcel have to get an honest job.

Thanks, Mike Herron

Northwest China to be home for world’s biggest solar power plant

Two Chinese companies have announced plans to build a solar power plant in northwestern China that could one day be the largest photovoltaic solar project in the world…

China Technology Development Group Corp and privately held Qinghai New Energy Group will begin building a 30 megawatt solar power station in China’s Qaidam Basin this year with an initial investment of $150 million. The project, which will combine thin-film and traditional silicon-based technologies that turn the sun’s rays into electricity, ultimately will produce 1 gigawatt of power, the companies said, without giving a timeframe…

The initial phase of the project is … itself one of the largest solar farms ever announced in China,” Pavel Molchanov wrote in a client note, adding that the Chinese government is beginning to offer more incentives for solar power projects.

“While PV demand has been historically driven by a small number of key countries, the demand profile should become more geographically diverse over time,” Molchanov added.

Who – besides me – is not surprised.

Photo-Voltaic power generation reaches grid parity for the first time

First Solar appears to have reached an important and, for many solar companies, elusive target: grid parity, or the point where photovoltaic electricity is as cheap as conventional electric power.

Pacific Crest analyst Mark Bachman ran some calculations on First Solar’s 12.6 megawatt solar system for Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of California utility Sempra Energy. Instead of focusing on the cost per watt, which Bachman said investors have put too much emphasis on, he looked at the cost per kilowatt-hour.

Bachman priced the Sempra plant at 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is below the U.S. grid parity price of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. First Solar’s plant didn’t rely on subsidies, he notes.

The industry leaders will be those companies that can deliver electricity at or below grid parity pricing without the aid of subsidies while also delivering superior return to shareholders. Currently, only First Solar can claim these achievements, in our view.

Other companies are also pushing for the grid-parity goal. Greentech Media reported that Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers said: “that power from crystalline silicon solar panels will be cheaper than coal power by 2012 when transmissions lines, utility bureaucracy and other factors are added in. ‘We are zeroing in on parity,’ Rodgers said. ‘We’re going to match PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) by 2012. Within a couple of years, the price of solar will be just as cheap.’ “

Bravo. The best news I’ve heard since Election Day.

How to get charged-up over your cemetery?

Daylife/AP Photo by Manu Fernandez

A Spanish city has found an unusual place to generate renewable energy – the local cemetery. Santa Coloma de Gramanet, near Barcelona, has placed 462 solar panels over its multi-storey mausoleums.

Officials say the scheme was initially greeted with derision, but families who use the cemetery eventually supported the idea following a public campaign.

There are now plans to erect more panels at the cemetery and triple the amount of electricity generated.

The cemetery was chosen for the project because it is one of only a few open, sunny places in the crowded city, which has a population of 124,000 crammed into 4 sq km.

RTFA. Local response ranges from reason and science to irrational fears.

Fortunately, reason prevailed.

California will build the world’s biggest solar power plants

Companies will build two solar power plants in California that together will put out more than 12 times as much electricity as the largest such plant today, the latest indication that solar energy is starting to achieve significant scale.

The plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant. A megawatt is enough power to run a large Wal-Mart store.

The power will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, which is under a state mandate to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The utility said that it expected the new plants, which will use photovoltaic technology to turn sunlight directly into electricity, to be competitive with other renewable energy sources, including wind turbines and solar thermal plants, which use the sun’s heat to boil water.

OptiSolar, a company that has just begun making a type of solar panel with a thin film of active material, will install 550 megawatts in San Luis Obispo County. The SunPower Corporation, which uses silicon-crystal technology, will build about 250 megawatts at a different location in the same county.

The coal-powered public utility, here in New Mexico, just raised rates 20-30%. The greedy bastards are expensive enough, now, that it’s finally worth my while to consider switching over to photo-voltaics for our home.

Just try to find a vendor without a waiting list. It’s becoming as difficult as buying a Prius. 🙂