Sunday, September 2, 2012

Solar's growing pains

One of Veblen's great insights was that science and applied science (technology) must advance simultaneously.  If one side or the other gets too far ahead, it will stagnate until the other catches up.  Apparently, this requirement for balance is also present in giant technology projects.  The German ability to capture solar power, it seems, has now gotten ahead of its ability to spread it around on a grid.

How Germany Overhauled Its Energy Mix In One Decade

Rob Wile | Aug. 30, 2012

Among the many complaints registered by T. Boone Pickens, his most consistent has been the inability of the U.S. government to arrive at a cohesive energy policy.

Given the general level of dysfunction now found in developed governments everywhere, one might be willing to cut Washington a break.

But over the past decade, Germany has shown that, at least when it comes to energy, stagnation need not be destiny.

In 2000, having never shaken the trauma of Chernobyl's radioactive cloud toward it, the country decided it would permanently phase out nuclear power.

The same year, the country passed a Renewable Energy Sources Act that gave lucrative new subsidies for renewable energy providers in the form of a citizen consumption tax (officially, a feed-in tariff).

Since then, according to The Economist, the country managed to increase its share of renewable energy by at least 10 percent in just 10 years.

On a recent Saturday in May, Germany achieved something remarkable: It met half of its energy needs through solar power, generating 22 gigawatts. The government’s target current is a consistent 35% by 2020. Germany gets more electricity from renewable sources than any other big country.

By many accounts, the plan has worked too (well). Der Spiegel recently reported that the country's existing electricity grid is struggling to handle all the new inputs coming from renewable sources:

"The head logistician at BLG Windenergy Logistics is already predicting a 'disruption next summer.' Owing to delays in laying the power cables connecting wind farms to the mainland, his company has had no new orders for offshore transports since November 17. Without this connection to the national grid, no one wants to risk investing in new wind farms. 'We worked flat out for a year," Wellbrock says, "and now we risk grinding to a complete stop.' " more
There are very few things more difficult to build than a ship.  Even so, the number of shipyards that have figured out how to build them has outstripped the available customers.  So in places like the former DDR, shipyards are looking to build something just as difficult—large, offshore, wind turbines.  Changing the output of an industrial set-up is difficult and risky.  The Germans have extensive experience in such conversions because many of her arms industries were forced to covert to civilian production after WW II.  Even so, many such efforts fail and so we can only wish this shipyard to wind turbine conversion "Good Luck!"
Sea Change

German Shipyards See Future in Wind Power

By Isabell Hülsen
After years of decline, Germany's shipyards are now pinning their hopes on offshore wind farms, a key component of the country's energy revolution. Some have converted entirely to building equipment for wind farms. But the initial euphoria has worn off as the true challenges of the transition become clear.

Two years ago, Tomas Marutz became the head of the Nordseewerke in Emden, Germany. The shipyard is one of the biggest and oldest in the country. But Marutz's most important task now is, he says, "to get shipbuilding out of people's heads."

That's no easy task for a man who speaks about ships like a father talking about his children. He is fascinating by the process of shipbuilding, from the lucky penny that is tossed under the first sheet of steel used in construction to the moment when a finished ship is launched from the docks. Building ships isn't just a question of "welding individual pieces together," he says. "It is a holistic creation."

But these days, Marutz doesn't have the chance to enjoy such moments. Submarines and container ships are no longer being built at the shipyard, which once belonged to German steel and shipbuilding giant Thyssen. Nowadays, the company is building towers and steel bases for wind turbines used in offshore wind farms off the German coast.

On Dec. 11, 2009, the Frisia Cottbus became the final container ship to leave the Nordseewerke docks. It was the end of shipbuilding at the docks; the order book was empty. In 2010, steel company Siag, which is currently undergoing insolvency proceedings, acquired the business in order to gain access to the sea and to secure a chunk of the multibillion-euro offshore wind farm business.

Indeed, it's not only the 780 remaining workers at the Nordseewerke for whom Germany's "energy revolution" is the last hope. After years of decline, the German shipyard industry is facing a decisive transformation: It will only have a future if it succeeds in abandoning its past. The industry's former customers, shipping companies, have been replaced by large electricity utilities and technology companies.

As part of its energy revolution, the German government is planning a complete phase-out of nuclear power by 2022. Between now and that deadline, offshore wind farms are expected to deliver a large share of the clean energy that is slated to replace atomic power. Special ships and towers will be needed as well as transformer platforms and foundations that can anchor the steel colossuses in depths of up to 40 meters (130 feet).

Together with consultants at KPMG, the German shipyard association VSM has calculated that wind power could be worth up to €18 billion in possible revenues for German shipyards between now and 2020. The new sector has the potential to secure 6,000 jobs. Still, that's not a great amount of hope for the future, as becomes apparent when one takes a closer look at the German shipbuilding industry. Since 1990, the number of jobs at German shipyards has shrunk from 59,000 to about 16,000. Last year, German firms only delivered 31 seagoing vessels. German companies simply no longer stand a chance against shipbuilding plants in Asia where container ships can be mass produced.

"Orders for traditional ships will never come back. That industry is finished in Germany," says Fred Wegener, the technical director at the Nordic Yards docks in Wismar, a port city on Germany's Baltic coast.

The covered dock at the shipyard smells of welded steel. A huge team of builders is at work on an enormous steel structure that will become one of the key pieces of Germany's transition to renewable energy: the transformer platform "HelWin alpha." The platform will be a good 35 meters (115 feet) high, over 50 meters (165 feet) wide and weigh more than 12,000 metric tons, with two gigantic transformers inside. The plan is for this platform to transmit to the mainland all the power generated at RWE's Nordsee Ost wind farm off the coast of Heligoland, a small German archipelago in the North Sea.

In a couple of months' time, the Nordic Yards dock will be flooded with about 200 million liters (53 million US gallons) of water and the platform towed out to sea. "Then all of us here can take a deep breath," Wegener says.

This shipyard, once known as the Mathias Thesen Shipyard, after a fighter with the anti-Nazi resistance, has a history of change behind it. It began as a state-owned company in socialist East Germany but was privatized after German reunification in 1990. It was known as Aker MTW, then as Wadan, but despite the new names and new owners, business went downhill. The shipyard ended up going bankrupt in 2009. Russian entrepreneur Vitaly Yusufov bought the former East German shipyard and renamed it Nordic Yards.

The company still plans to manufacture specialized ferries and ice-going ships, but at the moment it has no contracts in those areas. Instead, Nordic Yards will focus on becoming a "global player in the offshore wind industry," Wegener says. The company's fate now hangs on the success of Germany's energy transition. more
Ah yes, nothing says industrial growing pains like a good old-fashioned trade war.

EU and China on verge of solar energy price war?

Published: 01 September, 2012, 16:31

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a frank assessment of a solar panel trade dispute with China. The EU is mulling an anti-dumping inquiry into China after the US took similar action in one of the world’s fastest-developing markets.

"I suggest the European Commission and China try to solve the issue through communications, rather than by resorting to anti-dumping proceedings," Merkel told reporters Thursday morning during her two-day trip to China."There is still time, so the best way is consultation," she said.

Merkel struck a different tone on Friday, however: "We are not out of the woods yet. … My plea is that everyone be transparent, that they lay their cards on the table about how they produce."

Tensions between China and Germany are on the rise over Chinese solar panel exports to Europe. German solar panel manufacturer SolarWorld is leading a charge of about 25 European companies to press anti-dumping charges against China. They have taken their complaint to the European Commission, which has until next Friday to decide whether to open an investigation into allegations that China is intentionally selling panels at below fair market value.

Solar panels have become an increasingly popular source of renewable alternative energy internationally, with Germany leading the market. After the Fukushima disaster, Germany introduced an initiative to end the use of nuclear energy by 2022. The nation set a world record in May, producing 22 gigawatts of solar energy – the equivalent of 20 nuclear plants, and over half the country’s energy quota.

Europe is currently the world's biggest solar market, accounting for 60 percent of China's solar exports, valued at $35.8 billion according to data issued by China’s major solar manufacturers.
Competition from China has forced European manufacturers to halve prices on solar panels, pushing several companies into bankruptcy.

The US has already taken similar measures to the proposed European Commission inquiry, imposing anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar panels ranging from 31 to 35 percent. The tax hike followed a May ruling by the US Department of Commerce that China was deliberately selling its panels below market cost.

The ruling came after the bankruptcy of two major US solar panel manufacturers, Solyndra and Abound Solar, who both cited competition from China for their closures.

Chinese manufacturers have been hit hard by the US tariffs, resulting in widespread layoffs and skyrocketing supplies, which has further driven down domestic prices. The companies have called on the Chinese government to respond if the European Commission acts on the complaint.

"We call on the Chinese government to take all necessary and resolute measures to protect the legitimate interests of the Chinese solar industry," Yingli Solar CEO Wang Yiyu said at a briefing from the four major Chinese solar firms – Yingli, SunTech, Trina and Canadian Solar. more

1 comment:

  1. hey. these post have well described the importance of renewable and green energy.Thanks for sharing such informative post.

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