Friday, October 18, 2013

Solar starts to win economically

I have long argued that the only effective way to change a person's mind or behavior is to give them a better alternative.  In fact, I am convinced that without an alternative, laws, social pressures, political movements, etc. will change absolutely nothing.

So now we see how quickly solar cells have changed the economic landscape once they became affordable to regular people.  Economically, they border on magic.  The usual scenario is when someone buys a piece of technology, the costs have only begin.  With PV cells, you buy the technology and it immediately starts giving you something of value.

For a guy my age, I find this fact hard to comprehend even if I have been a solar booster since I saw my first PV cell in the late 1950s.  Of course, part of my problem is that PV cells have been so expensive for so long (roughly $75 per watt when I first looked) that I have devoted a significant fraction of my thinking over the years to radical power consumption shrinkage combined with public subsidies to cover the costs of renewables.  I look forward to adjusting my thinking—mostly because such adjustments bring me real joy.

Perhaps the best part about the widespread adoption of PV cells is that FINALLY we can end the age of coal.  If we never burn another piece of that most dirty fuel it will be only step one in a meaningful solution to carbon loading of the atmosphere.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2013
Mining Industry is Facing a Raft of Problems Domestically and Abroad

King Coal is Losing Its Crown


You wouldn’t want to be King Coal these days. The coal mining industry, once a pillar of the US economy, is in the dumps as demand for the carbon-intensive black rock continues to plummet.

Here in the United States, coal demand fell by 21 percent from 2007 to 2012. With scores of existing coal plants scheduled to be retired in the coming years, the outlook has continued to dim for the industry. As a result, investors have fled the sector, and stock prices for major coal companies such as Peabody and Arch are down by 75 percent from only a few years ago.

Desperate to find a solution to their domestic problems, coal mining executives have sought markets abroad, hoping that growing demand in China and India would generate a new boom in coal exports. Yet here again, the news has been bleak for the mining companies. In the Pacific Northwest, a stiffening line of resistance in port and rail line communities continues to stymie proposals for new, large export terminals. And at the demand end of the pipeline, prospects seem no better, particularly in China, where the unprecedented “airpocalypse” smog of early 2013 sparked strong new government initiatives to finally rein in coal usage. In June, Bernstein Research, a top Wall Street analytical firm, privately circulated a report titled, “Asian Coal & Power: Less, Less, Less… The Beginning of the End of Coal.” According to sources who had read the 140-page report, Bernstein predicted an end to Chinese coal imports in 2015 and an absolute decline in Chinese coal demand by 2016.

As China shows signs of moving away from coal, more bad news for the coal industry quickly followed, this time in the form of dramatic shifts in policy by major international financiers. In June, President Obama declared that the US would no longer fund coal plants overseas except in rare instances. In July, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank both announced similar policies. Next came a joint announcement by the leaders of five Nordic countries that they also would end public financing of coal plants. A week later, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced that it was dropping its support for the controversial Kulubara B coal plant in Serbia. Meanwhile, more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging the EBRD to take the next logical step and end coal financing altogether.

With the shift in policy by financial institutions making it more difficult to initiate new coal plants, environmentalists have increased their pressure on the World Bank to take a second look at recent approvals, such as the massive 4,000 MW Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project in Gujarat, India. Although the project received a greenlight from the World Bank and construction was completed in March 2013, a new report by a fact-finding team led by former Chief Justice of Sikkim S. N. Bhargava pointed to a multiplicity of unresolved environmental issues. Led by a group called MASS (Machhimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, meaning Association for the Struggle for Fishworkers’ Rights), local communities, with additional support from the Sierra Club and other large groups, have demanded compensation for mangrove destruction, contaminated fisheries, and other impacts. MASS has filed complaints to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

Here in the United States, the bad prospects for coal internationally continue to depress future mining prospects. One dramatic example: in August the US Bureau of Land Management failed to receive a single bid for 148 million tons of federally owned coal being offered for sale in the Powder River Basin.

Of course, bad news for King Coal is good news for Mother Earth. Just five years ago, NASA climate chief Dr. James Hansen wrote to Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons that ending emissions from coal “is 80 percent of the solution to the global warming crisis.” Though much remains to be done to phase out coal, the developments of 2013 have certainly raised the level of hope that King Coal will soon lose its crown. more
A pretty good list of reason for why solar suddenly became the dominant player in the new energy mix.  Click on the more box at the end to see all the charts.

The 7 Reasons Why The Solar Revolution Took Off

ROB WILE OCT. 2, 2013

The shale revolution has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, and rightfully so.

But during pretty much the exact same time, a solar boom has occurred.

Solar is up 700% since 2001.

Fossil fuels and nuclear barely even register.

We've lately been documenting the rise of solar, including a new world record in solar efficiency and how solar generation has already begun wreaking havoc on utilities.

But we wanted to chronicle how solar has been able to explode in the past decade.

No one thing has helped push solar over the top.

It's more like a bunch of events building to a head.

1. Climate change got real

Even before Columbia University astrophysicist James Hansen published his warning in 2005 that climate change was spiraling out of control — and then was told by the Bush Administration to keep quiet — there was concern about rising temperatures and more extreme weather.

The very first line of the New York Public Service Commission's 2003 introduction to their proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard is, "We are increasingly concerned with the effects on our climate of fossil-fired generation."

According to Hansen's model, ocean heat content — the amount of heat, as measures in Watts, in the ocean — had increased 600% in the previous decade:

2. Oil and gas prices started increasing

When they first introduced a renewable portfolio standard, the New York Public Service Commission noted that energy prices were becoming increasingly volatile after a decade of stability

Gas prices began to feel effects from shut-ins caused by hurricanes, while oil prices shot upward as a result of global demand.

Plus, peak fossil fuels apparently had come back on everyone's minds.

"Inasmuch as there is a finite supply of natural gas and other fossil fuels, over-dependence on such will leave the State vulnerable to price spikes and possible supply disruptions," the commission said.

3. Everyone got a renewable fuel standard

Twenty nine states plus Washington DC now have enforceable renewable portfolio standards (RPS), meaning a percentage of an electricity supplier's sales or new generating capacity must be green. The two previous steps help explain why more than half of states with RPS adopted their standards between 2004 and 2007, according to a University of Michigan study.

4. And everyone was ordered to get net metering

Net metering allows a homeowner with a renewable power supply to sell electricity back to their utility. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated that all public utilities offer net metering upon request.

5. Solar incentives get packed into The Bailout (yes that Bailout)

The Energy Policy Act also created federal incentives for solar — a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for commercial and residential solar energy systems. Between 2006 and 2007, the amount of solar electric capacity in the U.S. doubled.

The ITC, as originally conceived, was only supposed to last until that year, though it ended up getting an initial one-year extension.
But then the ITC received a major expansion — in Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, aka The Bailout, of all places:
  • It got extended for eight years
  • A monetary cap on eligible residential installations was eliminated
  • Companies and and utilities paying the alternative minimum tax could now qualify for the credit

6. European subsidies unleashed a global tidal wave of cheap solar panels

Of all the items on this list, this may be the most consequential.

For almost a decade, European countries poured billions of dollars into their renewable sector, with solar often leading the way. Germany was at one point spending €1.5 billion a year on its solar industry.

It paid off there: Between 2000 and 2008 photovoltaic generation increased from 32 million to 4.4 billion kilowatt hours.

As a result of Europe's head-first dive into solar, the Chinese began rolling out enormous quantities of solar modules, ultimately capturing a full 25% of the market:

Not surprisingly, solar module costs plummeted:

This ultimately led to a big fight, with Europe accusing China of dumping.

The U.S. also ended up imposing tariffs last fall, and President Obama actually got in trouble during the 2012 campaign for spending stimulus dollars on less expensive Chinese panels.

As the New York Times noted, tariffs often to backfire:

"The opponents argue that the duties would make it more expensive for American families and companies to install solar systems."

The Commerce Department ended up structuring the tariffs such that U.S. firms could buy Chinese-made solar panels from other countries, and GTM Research's Shayle Kann told the New York Times that there wouldn't be much of an impact.

But the supply glut created by the Europe-China dynamic is expected to last until next year — meaning costs are going to remain pretty low.

7. Solar got its own Moore's Law

Moore's Law dictates that computer processing speeds increase exponentially every year thanks to ever-improving technology.

The same phenomena is now true in solar: every year, solar cells get incrementally more efficient, meaning they're able to convert more electrons into energy.

While these represent efficiencies achieved in a lab, efficiencies on retail panels have gone up more than a third of a basis point each year since 2000, from 11.2% to 16.1%.

This helps explain why Colorado's public utility just declared solar to be cost competitive with gas. more
Even Big Oil can small the economics of solar.

SHELL: Solar Will Be The World's No. 1 Source Of Energy By The End Of The Century

ROB WILE OCT. 1, 2013

We recently gave you the five reasons why solar energy is going to explode.

Today, Shell says that it can go all the way to No. 1.

In their annual New Lens Perspectives report, the oil giant lays out a scenario where solar becomes the world's leading energy source by 2100.

Here's the summary:

First, things go kind of haywire for more "traditional" fuel forms:
  • Oil prices keep rising and remain unstable thanks to global growth and lingering geopolitical tensions
  • Fracking doesn't fully pan out
  • Governments stop paying for expensive nuclear plants
This paves the way for solar to get the inside track:
  • Public pressure increases for governments to boost incentives
  • Household appliances start adapting to solar inputs
  • Technology for storing solar energy in hydrogen cells improves
Because solar has an easier time breaking through into nascent electricity grids, developing nations lead the way, ultimately providing 60% of all solar generation more


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