Thursday, December 23, 2010

Going Green in Hawaii

Hawaii, United States -- If you know Hawaii mostly for beaches and golf courses, you need to understand how unique the islands are when it comes to energy. Each island is a stand-alone grid without interconnections.

When sugar was king, plantations renewably supplied up to half the electricity on some islands. As plantations vanished, imported oil grew so today oil powers 75 percent of Hawaii's electric generation and 90 percent of all non-aviation energy use.

This is not a recipe for sustainability. The 2008 Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative aims to protect Hawaii's energy, economic and environmental future.

October 2010 marked the second anniversary of this landmark clean energy agreement between the State of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Electric companies. The agreement set Hawaii on the path to a 70 percent reduction in fossil fuel consumption by 2030. The targets are a 30 percent reduction statewide in fossil fuel use through energy efficiency and 40 percent through renewable energy substitution in just over 20 years.

At Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light companies, we are committed to a three-pronged goal: 1) reduce fossil fuel consumption, 2) protect our customers from the volatility of highly variable fossil fuel costs and 3) reduce customer cost to below what it would have been had we continued today's near-total dependence on fossil fuels.

Part of the clean energy agreement calls for changing Hawaii's regulatory model. A newly approved ratemaking model called decoupling disconnects utility revenues from sales to encourage energy conservation and renewable energy. A feed-in-tariff will make it easier for renewable energy developers to enter the market. More dynamic clean energy scenario planning will replace an older, less flexible process. And newly approved electric vehicle charging rates are making Hawaii EV-ready.

With 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources, Hawaii is already among the top half dozen states. The "Big Island" of Hawaii has reached nearly 40 percent renewable generation from geothermal, wind and other sources. Maui is not far behind.

On Oahu, the population center with over 75 percent of our people, renewable generation is only about 4 percent, but the pace is picking up. A new 30 MW wind farm will go into full operation early next year. A second planned Oahu wind farm is in the early environmental review stage.

The sparsely populated islands of Molokai and Lanai have some of the world's most favorable wind regimes. We are working with developers proposing to build 400 MW of high-capacity wind farms on these islands and with the State of Hawaii in planning an undersea cable to connect the islands. It will bring cost effective wind power to Oahu by linking multiple islands into a single grid for the first time.

Integrating up to 500 MW of wind into the Oahu grid, where demand typically peaks at 1,200 MW, offers some engineering challenges. For example, to take as much wind energy as possible requires that we turn conventional units down below what has been their "minimum output" to make room for wind. At the same time we have to maintain our ability to quickly ramp units up or down to respond to rapid fluctuations of wind power. Exposing existing generators to more frequent cycling and ramping has implications for long-term life cycle and further operations and maintenance monitoring.

Another challenge is that our island wind farms are relatively small and close to one another, often in the same "wind regime." Our geography makes it difficult to balance low output from one wind regime with high output from another regime.

Wind is not our only resource. We have the potential to switch from "black" liquid fuel to sustainably produced "green" biofuels. Late last year, we completed a 110 MW power plant that ranks among the largest totally biofueled combustion turbines in commercial operation. Early next year we will test-fire biofuel/oil mixtures in our other fossil-fuel units to allow eventual conversion to renewable biofuels.

To reach our renewable goals, we are investigating every available technology. We support distributed renewable generation, waste-to-energy plants, run-of-river hydro generation and the electricity potential of the ocean all around us. On the volcanically active Big Island, existing geothermal production has the potential to be a larger source of dispatchable renewable generation.

Can we meet our three-pronged goal? We think so. In just the last two years our focus has changed from striving to meet the 40 percent renewable energy goal to seeking to exceed it. The obstacles are real, but we're committed to doing everything possible to shift Hawaii to a clean energy future for the benefit of all our customers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nominate Solar Universe for Clean Tech Startup of the Year

Tax Grant Extension


WASHINGTON, DC – Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA®) President and CEO Rhone Resch released the following statement today on President Barack Obama signing tax legislation into law that extends the Department of Treasury Section 1603 program for one year:
“It took a year of tireless effort from the entire solar industry and our champions in Congress to get an extension of the 1603 program.  President Obama and our bipartisan champions in the Senate and House recognize that the solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries in our country, and this extension will create tens of thousands of new jobs for Americans.
“This is a great day for America’s solar industry. With an extension of the 1603 program now in place, the solar industry can continue its record growth, creating new career opportunities for Americans in all 50 states in 2011."
The program was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Section 1603) to provide commercial solar installations with a cash grant in lieu of the 30 percent solar investment tax credit (ITC). President George W. Bush signed the 8-year ITC into law in 2008, but the economic conditions created by the global recession made it clear that few would be able to utilize the tax credit.
So far, the TGP has helped move forward more than 1,100 solar projects in 42 states and supported $18 billion in investment. The program has been critical in allowing the solar industry to grow by over 100 percent in 2010, create enough new solar capacity to power 200,000 homes and provide work to more than 93,000 Americans.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

$723M in Solar Net Exports from the U.S.


The 11th-hour lobbying effort continues from a solar trade group that wants Congress to extend a program created by the stimulus package that pay for 30 percent of the cost of installing solar power projects. The latest salvo came in the form of a report that touted the United States as a net exporter of solar energy equipment worth $723 million in 2009.
The largest exported product was polysilicon. Polysilicon makers shipped $1.14 billion worth of the material out of the United States while the country imported $84 million’s worth last year, according to a GTM Research report commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association and released Tuesday. The figures referred to polysilicon made for use for the solar market only. 
The report looked at the manufacturing of solar panels, concentrating solar thermal equipment and solar water and pool heating systems. The largest sector belong to producers of components and final products for solar panels. Its release seemed late considering that 2010 is almost over. SEIA and GTM representatives said the report required a lot of time for gathering and analyzing data because they hadn't produced this kind of report before. 
Exports of silicon wafers for making solar cells accounted for $37 million in 2009, compared with $13 million in imports. 
Solar cell and panel assembly presented a trade deficit, which isn’t surprising considering that the largest U.S. solar panel makers, First Solar and SunPower, have long set up a big part of their manufacturing operations in places such as Malaysia and the Philippines to take advantage of generous tax packages or proximity to their customers, or both. On the other hand, a growing number of manufacturers based in Europe and Asia have set up factories in the United States. These manufacturers include Sharp, SolarWorld, Sanyo and Schott Solar.
Many manufacturers set up operations in the United States because they expect the country to be the next big market. But manufacturing costs can be higher in the U.S. than in their home countries. China-based Suntech Power, for example, opened a 30-megawatt solar panel assembly plant in Arizona earlier this year. The manufacturing cost in the Arizona factory is about $0.10-$0.15 per watt more than what Suntech could do in China, said Steve Chan, head of Suntech’s American operations, during a conference call with analysts earlier this month.
The U.S. exported $115 million worth of solar cells and imported $119 million of them last year. The country exported about $1.01 billion worth of solar panels and brought in $1.24 billion of them.
If the global solar market is divided by countries, then Germany, the largest solar market, received most of the U.S.-made solar energy equipment. In fact, Germany imported $686 million of the U.S.-made goods that go into making solar panels. Japan got $409 million while China took in $280 million, the report said. The rest, or $939 million, were scattered among other countries around the world.
The United States imported most of its solar panel-related equipment from China ($430 million) and Mexico ($349 million). The list is followed by Germany ($182 million) Philippines ($172 million), Japan ($164 million) and others ($295 million).
The report and a SEIA press conference are part of an intensifying effort to persuade federal lawmakers to extend a program that can cover 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy generation project. The program came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and it’s set to sunset by the end of this month. Project developers can still qualify for the grant as long as they either start construction or spend 5 percent of their projects’ budget (on equipment such as racking systems, for example) before the year ends.
Last week, SEIA held a press conference after a Senate bill to extend the provision didn’t make it to a compromised tax bill. SEIA’s CEO, Rhone Resch, warned then that job losses would be likely if lawmakers didn’t continue the program.
Since then, the Senate managed to squeeze in a one-year extension of the program in the tax bill. The Senate hasn’t voted on the bill, which will still need the approval of the House. SEIA was hoping to get a 2-year extension.
GTM’s report also showed how much value the solar industry has created domestically. The number takes into account the dollars generated from manufacturing, designing and installing solar energy projects (including factors such as labor and site preparation), legal expenses and sales of equipment by distributors and retailers. In all, solar projects created $3.6 billion in value last year, and $2.6 billion of that stayed in the United States.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Plan B for Green VCs

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Venture capitalists, who once thronged into clean technology, are finding that they need to rethink their strategies in order to succeed, with some of them apparently moving out of the field altogether.
There's often a mismatch between the large amount of money required to commercialize new energy technology and the capital to which a venture fund has access. As a result, venture investors are increasingly seeking to invest in green-tech start-ups that are less capital-hungry, a trend which will accelerate next year, according to experts.
Instead of getting all their money from venture capitalists, budding green-technology companies when starting out will be looking for money from large corporate partners to test out new technology or from alternative sources such as angel investors, families, or government grants.
Overall, investors say that because green-tech investing is very different from other fields, people need a different game plan than what worked in the venture capital-friendly industry of IT.
"The model is not going to work the way it sits right now," David Danielson, a former venture capitalist and program director for energy storage at the ARPA-E clean-energy research agency, said during a panel on venture capital and energy last week at MIT's Sloan school.
Danielson said that venture capitalists have told him they are getting out of green tech because it's taking longer to innovate around energy and materials than they originally expected. Venture capital investor Rob Day also sees more departures from green tech, saying that "generalist" venture capital companies which work in a number of industries are quietlymoving on.
Recent data on venture capital investing points to a shift toward energy efficiency, an area which typically requires less money. In terms of number of deals, efficiency beat out solar and transportation in the third quarter. There was also a big drop in the average deal size from $35 million to $8 million. Overall, the third quarter saw a sharp drop in total dollars invested, although the year total for 2010 is expected to higher than in 2009.
Investing in energy efficiency, such as LED lighting, is a big shift from how green-tech companies got started earlier in the last decade. Many investors and entrepreneurs crowded into the solar and biofuels. But often tens or hundreds of millions of dollars is required to build a pilot facility to find out whether a technology works.
That puts clean-energy technologies in a "weird gap" where they are too expensive for venture capitalists to fund all the way through to commercialization and too risky for project financiers who work with tried and tested technologies, Ramana Nanda, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, said during the panel.
Deep pockets needed 
Start-ups themselves are altering their funding plans as well, with more of them seeking out deep pockets of large industrial companies, similar to how biotech start-ups have worked.
Six-year-old Ze-Gen, for example, is seeking to raise more money to build a pilot facility for its waste-to-energy gasification technology. But because building this sort of industrial plant requires a lot of capital, the company is looking for a "strategic partner," which would act as an investor able to bankroll many plants if the technology proves out at scale, said Neal Isaacson, the chief financial officer of Ze-Gen.
"We can't be chasing money from the VCs because the model isn't going to work," Isaacson said. "We need too much money and the payback is too long, it just doesn't fit the model."
An Ernst & Young analysis of DowJones Venture Source data found that 23 percent of the venture green-tech deals in the third quarter involved large corporations, including BASF, General Motors Venture Group, and Intel Capital. General Electric, meanwhile, teamed with four VC companies to launch a contest to attract the best ideas around the smart grid.
To get good returns, a number of venture capital companies have tried to invest in green-tech start-ups at a later stage in their development, Danielson said. Filling the gap for early-stage companies are wealthy individuals called angel investors or family funds, which tend to have a longer time frame for investing than the five or seven years of a venture capitalist.
Green-tech companies also need to be aware of government incentives to build factories or other facilities. Often, companies are using a combination of these sources which works very well, said John Harrington, the founder of Sheffield, which advises venture-capital companies, during the panel. First Solar, the very successful U.S. thin-film solar company, was funded in its early days by the investment arm of the Walton family behind Wal-Mart, he noted.
Venture investing overall has had relatively poor returns in the past 10 years, so the green-technology category is part of an overall trend, investors note. In its analysis of third-quarter data, the Cleantech group said investors are readjusting their expectations to get two to five times their money from successful ventures, rather than 10 times their money.
Bill Aulet, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, during the panel said that the venture investors who came into energy early in the decade will most likely not have great "exits," in the form of a public offering or an acquisition. Often, that's because even with a great product, new technology historically does not get adopted quickly in energy.
"Energy is ultimately a commodity, not a value-added service. It's a regulated service because it touches all parts of society. It depends on capital-intensive infrastructure. It has exquisite supply chains," he said. "Those early funds that went in, now that we look back, [we can see] structurally, there's a reason they won't see great exits...and now they're adjusting their strategy."


Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20024982-54.html#ixzz17dSg1mV9

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Calling all Electricians


Sometimes I get to thinking about things; life on other planets; why all the foods that taste great are bad for you, and vice versa; when will American Idol go off the air?
But today I’m thinking about you electricians out there. Times are tough. Construction projects are down, and on top off all that it’s raining today. I heard once that electricity and water don’t mix well.
Be that as it may, here’s a ray of sunshine to pierce your storm cloud. Did you know that renewable energyoffers a wealth of opportunity for electricians? In fact, for many electricians, whether they realize it or not, renewable energy is just a natural career progression.
Take Howard Croft of Flint, Michigan. Howard was a 15-year veteran electrician with General Motors. When Howard’s plant went under he needed to figure out his next move. That move sent him to Florida where he earned his North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification, and joined the burgeoning industry of solar installation.
So what happens next? Wind of Howard’s new career blows back to Flint, and suddenly the Michigan Department of Labor is on the horn asking him to come back and help them develop Michigan’s solar industry. So back he goes to the Wolverine State where he founds Mid-Michigan Solar, Michigan’s only NABCEP as well as the only solar installer within 45 miles of Flint.
“Flint has always been about General Motors, and now we don’t have that,” said Croft. “It’s time we look at solar and the renewable portfolio standards and realize how many jobs we can create and the domino effect solar job creation could have on the economy. We’re fortunate to be in a position to help Flint rebound, and I’m proud to be a part of that. It feels great to know I can make a difference here at home.”
In addition to steady work, Howard is now part of a newly formed Flint energy council. Howard insists that it’s important to expose and educate kids about the solar future.
 “Kids used to have GM to aspire to and the auto trade to learn,” he said. “It’s crucial there’s something to replace that. There’s still a learning curve to deal with here in Michigan, but I don’t define success in terms of total kilowatts, but in terms of how many people in Michigan are behind us, the community involvement, and the fact that I went from opening a business last year to having 9-10 people on staff and several contractor and builder partners.”
So electricians out there – think solar. Your career will thank you.
Now if only someone could only develop a combination diet and exercise program involving fried chicken and television.

True Cost of Renewably Energy


What does renewable energy cost? Isn't it still more expensive than fossil fuel electricity? Way more? In a word: no.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nissan Leaf starts Selling

Japan's Nissan Motor formally launched today its zero emissions Leaf vehicle, an electric car boasting a range of 124 miles and billed as the first of its type to be sold on a large scale.
Nissan is counting on an aggressive push into the nascent electric car market to boost its brand image--much as the Prius hybrid did for Toyota.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are considered a promising alternative to internal combustion engine cars as governments seek to cut the world's dependency on fossil fuels, but their relatively short range and high price challenge the industry.
"When you take the scale of their (Nissan's) commitment, it's a big bet," said Kurt Sanger, auto analyst at Deutsche Securities.
Nissan Leaf
(Credit: Nissan)
"The challenge for Nissan is to capitalize on its early lead and solidify in consumers' minds the perception that EVs equal Nissan," Sanger said, adding: "It's hard to find a car maker that's not planning an electric car over the next five years."
Nissan said the five-seater hatchback is rated with a range of 124 miles on a full charge under Japanese test standards, although Californian authorities have rated it at 100 miles and the Environmental Protection Agency at just 73 miles.
It comes with a suggested retail price of 3.76 million yen ($44,900), discounted to 2.98 million yen in Japan with government subsidies. In the United States, the Leaf will cost about $25,000 after a federal tax credit.
"With today's launch...we mark the start of a new era for the global auto industry as well as for a sustainable, low-carbon society," Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga, standing next to a sky-blue Leaf at Nissan's headquarters in the port city of Yokohama, told hundreds of journalists.
Delivery of the car will start in Japan and select U.S. states this month, followed by the first European markets in January. Nissan has already filled a maximum initial order for 6,000 Leafs in Japan and 20,000 units in the United States, set to reach customers over the next year or so.


Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20024523-54.html#ixzz173wps8cm

Nissan Leaf starts Selling

Japan's Nissan Motor formally launched today its zero emissions Leaf vehicle, an electric car boasting a range of 124 miles and billed as the first of its type to be sold on a large scale.
Nissan is counting on an aggressive push into the nascent electric car market to boost its brand image--much as the Prius hybrid did for Toyota.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are considered a promising alternative to internal combustion engine cars as governments seek to cut the world's dependency on fossil fuels, but their relatively short range and high price challenge the industry.
"When you take the scale of their (Nissan's) commitment, it's a big bet," said Kurt Sanger, auto analyst at Deutsche Securities.
Nissan Leaf
(Credit: Nissan)
"The challenge for Nissan is to capitalize on its early lead and solidify in consumers' minds the perception that EVs equal Nissan," Sanger said, adding: "It's hard to find a car maker that's not planning an electric car over the next five years."
Nissan said the five-seater hatchback is rated with a range of 124 miles on a full charge under Japanese test standards, although Californian authorities have rated it at 100 miles and the Environmental Protection Agency at just 73 miles.
It comes with a suggested retail price of 3.76 million yen ($44,900), discounted to 2.98 million yen in Japan with government subsidies. In the United States, the Leaf will cost about $25,000 after a federal tax credit.
"With today's launch...we mark the start of a new era for the global auto industry as well as for a sustainable, low-carbon society," Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga, standing next to a sky-blue Leaf at Nissan's headquarters in the port city of Yokohama, told hundreds of journalists.
Delivery of the car will start in Japan and select U.S. states this month, followed by the first European markets in January. Nissan has already filled a maximum initial order for 6,000 Leafs in Japan and 20,000 units in the United States, set to reach customers over the next year or so.


Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20024523-54.html#ixzz173wps8cm