Friday, March 8, 2013

The economics of energy costs

Two recent items again confirm that nothing predicts the performance of the real economy like the price of fuels.  Technology usually has operating costs that are added to the purchase costs and very often, those costs are MUCH higher.  And often the biggest operating cost is energy.

PV cells completely upend this state of affairs.  You buy the technology, put it out in the sun, and energy comes to you.  With the obvious exception of wind turbines, it's hard to imagine another technology that has those economics.  Because of those economic realities, the main problem to be solved was creating a solar harvesting technology that worked affordably.  Even those of us who think a lot about the economic implications of solar power have underestimated this reversal of cost flows.  We talk about converting a society from running on accumulated energy capital to running on energy income.  But often we fail to appreciate just how pleasant such a society COULD be.  We just didn't believe.

So now Deutsche Bank has made it official—PV cells are affordable without subsidies.  We knew this day was coming—we just didn't think very hard about what it will mean.

Deutsche Bank: Sustainable solar market expected in 2014


Buoyed by bullish demand forecasts, and increasing utilization rates and pricing, Deutsche Bank forecasts a solar market transition from subsidized to sustainable in 2014.

The German bank has raised its 2013 global solar demand forecast to 30 GW – representing a 20% year-on-year increase – on the back of suggestions of strong demand in markets including India, the U.S., China (around 7 to 10 GW), the U.K. (around 1 to 2 GW), Germany and Italy (around 2 GW).

Rooftop installations are, in particular, expected to be a main focus, says Deutsche Bank. A trend for projects being planned with either "minimal/no incentives" has also been observed, despite the belief that solar policy outlooks are improving, particularly in the U.S., China and India, and "other emerging markets".

Looking at India, Deutsche Bank predicts that due to state and RPO programs, demand is likely to be strong, at between 1 to 2 GW. Meanwhile, it says, "grid parity has been reached in India even despite the high cost of capital of ~10-12%."

With system prices between €1,500 to €2,000/kW, net metering for systems below 200 kW and "advanced" plans for unsubsidized projects in the south of the country, Italy also "appears to be at grid parity". "Assuming small commercial enterprises are able to achieve 50% or more self consumption, solar is competitive with grid electricity in most parts of Italy," says Deutsche Bank.

With robust demand in the U.S., Deutsche Bank forecasts a residential solar market of around 1 GW and a commercial market of between 1.5 to 2 GW.

Meanwhile, although solar demand in Germany is said to be seasonally weak, Q2 is expected to see an increase, specifically in the small commercial segment. Overall, however, the bank believes 2013 growth could be inhibited – around 3 to 4 GW – due to less ground-mounted systems and no summer rush.


Deutsche Bank states that utilization rates in China are on the increase, as are polysilicon, wafer and module prices. In particular, with an "improving" supply outlook, it predicts that polysilicon pricing will be kept under control, although prices are expected to remain below US$25/kg. This trend should see companies like Wacker Chemie and Hemlock ramp utilization rates back up.

In terms of crystalline silicon modules, says Deutsche Bank, Chinese tier-1 prices have been increasing by between $0.03 and $0.05/W. Consequently, it says, Chinese module prices are over $0.60/W, while European module prices are over $0.70/W. more
And then there are the problems selling technology where costs are already unaffordable for most—and rising.  The story of cars is another amazing sociological / economic phenomenon because for over a century, economic development here in USA has been dominated by designing cars, building cars, selling cars, fixing cars, disposing cars, and the roadbuilding and real estate speculation it inspired.  But as rising costs turn cars back into the luxury items they were before Ford, a major economic upheaval is inevitable.

Car Makers Predict That The European Auto Market Will Remain Dismal For Years

Deepa Seetharaman, Andreas Cremer, Reuters | Mar. 5, 2013

GENEVA (Reuters) - Car sales in Europe are at the low end of expectations and the market is likely to remain shaky for at least five years as the region implements austerity measures to cut its debts, industry executives warned on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Geneva car show, the head of Ford's European business, Stephen Odell, said he expected sales on the continent to continue "running along the bottom" of the U.S. car maker's forecasts during the first half of this year, following a dismal January and February.

German premium car maker BMW, meanwhile, predicted the market was likely to stay tough for years to come.

"We believe that the underlying problem in Europe, which is mainly about debt, will persist for at least five more years," Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said.

Demand for cars in Europe has been hit hard as disposable incomes have been squeezed by rising prices, subdued wages and government austerity measures.

New car sales in the 27-member European Union dropped 8.2 percent to a 17-year low in 2012, and figures so far this year suggest the market is getting weaker.

New car registrations in Germany, previously a bastion of stability, slumped over 10 percent in February, while they were down around 12 percent and 17 percent in France and Italy respectively.


Morgan Stanley analysts on Tuesday cut their forecast for EU car demand this year to a decline of 6 percent from a drop of 4 percent previously, warning that weakness in southern European markets like Spain and Italy was spreading northwards.

Duncan Aldred, the sales chief of General Motors'Opel brand, predicted on Monday that European car sales could slide as much as 10 percent this year.

However, other executives remained reluctant to cut their forecasts so early in the year.

French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen, for example, said on Tuesday it was sticking to its view the European market would contract between 3 percent and 5 percent this year.

"The pressure is not letting up," Peugeot brands chief Frederic Saint-Geours said.

Ford's Odell also reiterated the No. 2 U.S. car maker's prediction of between 13 and 14 million vehicle sales in Europe this year, although he signaled a high degree of uncertainty.

"Frankly, who knows what happens in the second half," he said.

Odell also warned it was likely to be four to five years before European demand recovers to the 17 million to 18 million vehicle range seen in 2007, before the global financial crisis.

Europe would see "a very slow recovery curve and probably some blips," he forecast.

Ford, like many rivals, is pinning its hopes on sales of higher margin sports-utility vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers, which have features of SUVs, such as the EcoSport, which it is showcasing in Geneva and will bring to Europe later this year.

BMW, meanwhile, was optimistic demand from the United States and particularly China would continue to outweigh weakness in Europe after it reported record group sales for the first two months of the year.

"We're cautiously optimistic for this year," CEO Reithofer said, forecasting a 2 percent rise in the U.S. market and 8.5 percent growth in China, as well as a 2 percent drop in Europe. more

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