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Wednesday, December 26, 2012


The December 20 and 25 issues of Renewable Energy News provided a quick review of the renewables.  I'll survey solar and geothermal today, and summarize windpower, biomass, ocean and hydro tomorrow.

A.  A Look Back at Solar in 2012:  to quote--

     2012 was a big year for solar, both domestically and globally...

According to Tom Kimbis (left) of the Solar Energy Industries Association, this landmark year for growth was not due to technical advancements, but financial innovations, particularly in leasing and third party ownership.  Although the year is not yet over, the new installed solar capacity in the U.S. passed 1992 MW (compared to 1,885 last year, equal to two typical nuclear powerplants--well, not really, because fission electricity is generated pretty much 24 hours/day, while solar averages something below 8 hours/day).  Residential PV installations led the way with someone else owning the system.  However:

    1.  Oversupply of PV panels by China remains a concern.  This practice of dumping led to a decision by the International Trade Administration to levy tariffs ranging from 24% to 36% on these products from China.  There were, thus, a lot of bankruptcies.  Keep in mind, though, that oversupply means lower prices, so buyers are buying now, probably influencing a banner final quarter of this year.  Further, those countries not manufacturing these systems, like developing nations, can take advantage of this "temporary" situation.  

    2.  Solar employment grew by 13%, meaning one out of every 230 new jobs.  

    3.  Saudi Arabia announced $109 billion, 54,000 MW of PV/solar thermal development by 2030.

    4.  These lower PV prices led to predictions that solar thermal would die.  While death itself might be premature, for concentrated solar systems have a storage advantage, there was a definite decline this year.

   5.  Germany will have 7,000 MW of solar by the end of this year, with their 145 MW Neuhardenberg facility being built in five weeks to qualify for government subsidies, which are being cut.

    6.  World PV rankings in 2011 (MW):

         Germany      24,875
         Italy             12,764
         Japan            4,914
         U.S.              4,383
         Spain            4,214
         China            3,093

Seth Masia, editor of SOLAR TODAY provided some useful statistics:

  • Solar power is NOW cost-competitive with fossil fuels.
  • Spot pricing for silicon modules fell below $1/watt a year ago and will stabilize at 70 cents/watt.
  • The Department of Energy's SunShot Program should by 2020 meet the goal of $1/watt INSTALLED!  This is for large utility scale systems.
  • Residential systems should then fall to around $2/watt.
  • Don't count on any further miracle price drops, for the PV cells themselves are now only around 12.5% the total installed cost.  The bulk of the expenses are due to labor, construction materials, financing, insurance, etc.  These "non-solar" costs will not decrease.
  • The U.S. is like a million countries:  each state has different regulations and each community adds to the complexity.  Buyouts will more and more dominate and standardization can only improve over time.

Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, indicated that the year will be one of the best in the past decade.  100 MW of new geo were brought online.  In the U.S., the Southwest will be the next "greenfields," a term applied to geothermal.

    1.  The U.S. produces more geothermal electricity than any other country with 3,187 MW, and there is planning and/or production in 15 states:

California is #1 with 2,614 MW and Nevada is #2 with 469 MW.  Oregon could well end up #3 shortly, with 109 MW under development, last month bringing online 17 MW.

2.  EnergySource unveiled its $400 million 50 MW geothermal plant in the Imperial Valley (left), the first new plant there in 20 years.  The three wells are deep (7500 feet), but hot (600 F).  The potential for this region is 2000 MW.

    3.  Geothermal energy is baseload (unlike the intermittent sun and winds), so there is a pathfinding experiment going on at the ORMAT geo-plant in Hawaii.  The Big Island sometimes has too much power, so geo is being used to ramp up and down 4 MW as a peaking plant, to provide frequency and voltage control, while minimizing oscillations.

    4.  The hot new areas for geothermal development are East Africa and Indonesia.  The Ring of Fire is dangerous for earthquakes and tsunamis, but this is where temperatures are high and resource accessible:

TOMORROW:  windpower, biomass, ocean and hydroelectricity.


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