Siemens Announces Wind Layoffs

The wind industry has warned that Congress’ failure to renew a wind production tax credit would result in massive layoffs across the industry, and this looks to be the case already for one major wind manufacturer.

Siemens Energy Inc. announced this week that it will be laying off over 600 employees in the midwest as well as Florida. The company said in a statement that the layoffs were necessary in part because of the tax credit’s impending expiration, but also pointed to increase in natural gas-fired power plants as part of the crunch.

Hardest hit will be the large wind-turbine blade factory in Fort Madison, Iowa where 407 jobs will be eliminated. Siemens spokeswoman Melanie Forbrick said in a statement that about 220 employees will keep their positions in order to keep the plant operating. Another midwestern state–Kansas–will be hard hit by Siemens’ cuts as well: about half the Hutchinson, Kan., plant’s employees (150) will be affected by the layoff. Sixty-two employees in Orlando, Fla., will lose their jobs as well.

Siemens has invested heavily in U.S. wind manufacturing operations, spending about $100 million ramping up production and at its height, employing over 1,650 employees. With this round of layoffs, the company will retain about 1,000 workers in the United States.

The plant in Fort Madison, Iowa received millions of dollars from the Department of Energy in manufacturing tax credits and doubled in size from 300,000 square feet to almost 600,000 square feet in 2007. President Obama visited the plant in Iowa two years ago and drew attention to the fact the government’s stimulus money helped Siemens double the size of the plant.

“This is what’s possible in a clean-energy economy,” Obama said at the time. “And while it may not feel like it every day when you punch in, to all the folks who work here at Siemens, I want you to understand, you’re making it possible. You are blazing a trail. You’re showing America our future.”

Two years later, it’s a different political climate and a much different story.

“As a result, following the rapid ramp-up of the wind power industry over the past five years, the industry is facing a significant drop in new orders, and this has an unfortunate consequence on employment in this segment of the power industry,” Siemens said in a statement. “Now, we have had to make the difficult decision to adjust the manufacturing, projects and administrative support functions of our wind power operations to reflect the current and projected business volume.”

Original Article on AtisSun Solar Insider News

Walmart Installs 14K Solar Panels at AZ Distribution Facility

Companies like Google, Apple and Facebook often capture headlines with their clean energy initiatives, but over the last year, Walmart has become an installed solar capacity leader. The company completed its 100th solar installation in the U.S. with dozens more planned in the near future.

Now Walmart is taking it one step further at its Buckeye distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona. This project is now the company’s largest solar install to date: 14,000 solar panels will cover a million square feet of building and parking canopies.

The array will generate enough energy to power 30 percent of the facility’s needs. That’s 5.3 million KW hours of clean energy every year, enough to power 400 American households. In terms of saving CO2 emissions, the system is the equivalent of taking 600 cars off the road.

This is the second solar project Walmart has completed on an Arizona distribution center in a little more than a year. This 2MW+ project combined ground mounted and parking canopy structures at a location in Casa Grande, Arizona.

David Ozment, Senior Director of Walmart Energy, explained the company’s solar initiatives. ”Environmental sustainability is an essential ingredient to us for doing business responsibly and successfully. As the world’s largest retailer, our actions have the potential to save our customers money and help substantially reduce our carbon footprint for generations to come.”

Arizona governor Jan Brewer agrees. ”The fact that Walmart has the vision to recognize the benefits of renewable energy shows great promise for the future of solar in our State.”

The U.S. Solar Market Insight Report ranked Arizona third in solar installations in the United States behind California and New Jersey.

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California Breaks Solar Record in August

Earlier this week, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that more solar was installed in the second quarter of 2012 than during all of 2009, thanks in part to California’s solar activity.

California installed 217 MW in the second quarter, according to SEIA’s report and the state’s power grid operator just announced solar generation topped 1,003 MW in August, a new peak record.

The state has an aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS)–utilities are required to get 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet that goal, transmission companies are upgrading power lines around the state over the next several years.

These upgrades will allow more than 22,000MW of additional clean power to be transmitted throughout California.

There is a lot of renewable potential waiting to come online in California. The state’s Independent System Operator (ISO) said that more than 35,000 MW of renewable energy potential will be seeking to interconnect to the main power grid in the future. Over 27,000 MW of that potential is solar.

Among the large clean energy projects that will soon contribute to California’s grid is the 370 MW Ivanpah LPT solar thermal project, currently the largest solar plant under construction in the world. It boasts mega companies NRG Energy, BrightSource, Bechtel and Google as backers.

Two other large projects–the 250-MW Abengoa SA and the 250-MW NextEra Energy Genesis facilities–will also come online in the near future.

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Japan: $2B In Cleantech Investments in Past 2 Months

We’ve been keeping a close eye on Japan since the government announced earlier in the summer that it would be providing generous subsidies for renewable energy technologies in the aftermath of the nation’s decision to suspend the use of nuclear power. (Read more about that here and here.)

Reuters reported that in just two months, these subsidies have generated over $2 billion in clean energy investments in Japan from both companies and homeowners who see the potential in this emerging marketplace.

And it’s not going to stop there.

The Japanese government now predicts a “$640 billion spending boom” over the next twenty years while the country slowly phases out nuclear energy all together. Japan is anticipated to release a new energy policy officially ending atomic energy in the country (Reuters prediction for this event is “soon”).

Public outcry after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March of last year lead to Japan’s decision to cease nuclear energy production and focus on renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, etc.

With Japan now offering twice the tariff that is currently available in the world’s leading solar market (Germany), companies and individuals are jumping at the chance to get in at the ground level: over 33,600 of them registered to become renewable energy sellers in July alone.

Data from the Japanese government shows that of those newly-registered sellers, 75 percent are in the solar industry.

Renewable energy has a big void to fill in the country since nuclear reactors were responsible for about 30 percent of all the energy produced in Japan prior to last spring. Currently renewable energy capacity, including hydro power, is at about 10 percent. Take hydro out of the equation though and clean energy production in Japan is at a mere one percent.

Critics argue that it’s unlikely the country will be able to raise that amount to the required 35 percent by 2030.

“I don’t think the share of renewable energy sources, including hydro, in electricity will exceed 20 percent because, for example, it requires some 3,000 times more area to put solar panels on than a combined cycle gas power plant,” Akira Ishii, senior visiting researcher in oil and gas from Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp, told Reuters.

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IKEA Builds Green Town in London

Swedish retail giant Ikea has frequently made headlines over the last few years with its environmentally friendly (if not downright aggressive) policies. As of July, 23 of the chain’s U.S. locations were equipped with solar panels with an additional 16 under construction. The company is taking advantage of its massive rooftop space to get 38 megawatts of solar capacity up and running by the end of the year.

But now Ikea is taking it a step further by developing a “carless, high-efficiency town” near the site of the recent summer Olympics in London, England. The location is described as a “1 hectare lot full of trash piles, old construction equipment, abandoned warehouses, and rusty machinery” but Ikea sees more potential then that for the 26 acres of disused land.

A company called LandProp Services will construct a 100% Ikea neighborhood that will include 1,200 residential rental units as well as retail and office space. Green building practices will be used to construct all the buildings, which will include extensive insulation and highly energy-efficient systems.

Cars will be required to park in an underground garage at the entrance of the community, making the neighborhood–called Strand East–pedestrian and public-transportation only. Only buses, emergency vehicles, and delivery trucks will be allowed to drive on the streets of Strand East.

A similar eco-friendly and “carless” community is planned for 12 acres of land in Hamburg, Germany, although critics say the development isn’t likely to get off the ground because of Germany’s stringent urban planning policies.

Even if the community development doesn’t come together, Germany will certainly be the site of the first of one hundred hotels Ikea plans to build across Europe.

Check out the Strand East website to take a virtual tour of the community.

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EU Considers Tariffs on Chinese Solar Products

The European Union began their investigation this morning into allegations that Chinese solar companies have violated world trade agreements by “dumping” solar products on the global market.

The New York Times reports that, in terms of value, this is the “world’s biggest anti-dumping investigation.”

In 2011, Chinese solar products imported to Europe equated to 6.5 percent of all Chinese goods for a total value of $26.5 million.

European and American solar manufacturers have struggled to compete with Chinese solar product prices, prompting the U.S. to slap a hefty tariff on Chinese solar products earlier this summer.

The Times described the EU’s investigation as “unusually broad” in the sense that they are including individual solar components, like solar cells and wafers, in the investigation and not just completed solar panels. But the EU’s case does differ from the recent ruling by the U.S. Trade Commission; the US investigation included an anti-subsidy charge while the EU is only focusing on the anti-dumping allegations.

It’s likely this aspect of the investigation that is most troubling to China because if EU approves solar tariffs, it would severely limit Chinese manufacturers from sending solar components to Europe to be assembled into completed solar panels for sale.

China’s Commerce Ministry spokesman, Shen Danyang, issued a statement warning that should the EU rule in favor of solar tariffs, it will have a negative impact on clean energy’s global development. Danyang said China expressed “deep regret” over the investigation, which the country tried to prevent from occurring by applying diplomatic pressure and implying retaliation would result if the EU proceeded.

While China’s domestic solar market is thriving, it’s unlikely that the country’s thriving solar industry would continue to grow if the import business were to slow or die all together.

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University of Colorado Scores 450K DOE Solar Grant

The University of Colorado is the recipient of a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish a research team to investigate solar technological innovations.

In total, the Department of Energy has selected five such projects across the country for a total investment of $3.5 million in solar research.

For its part, the team from the University of Colorado will be working on researching “high-temperature inexpensive materials for concentrating solar power technologies,” according to information released by the Department of Energy yesterday. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory will serve as the CU team’s research site.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the investments are part of President Obama’s initiative to increase clean, renewable energy sources. Described as an “all-of-the-above” strategy, the Obama administration has focused heavily on solar and wind technology as a means to diversify the United States’ mix and increase sustainability.

“This past decade has seen explosive growth in the global solar energy market. American companies are helping to lead this dramatic progress – driving lower costs and introducing new, better performing technologies into the marketplace,” said Chu in a statement.

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Will California Reach It’s Renewable Energy Goals?

California has the most ambitious renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in the nation, requiring that 33 percent of the state’s energy mix come from renewables by 2020.

There are 29 states (and the District of Columbia) with RPS goals in effect, but the average amount of renewable energy required in those states is much less than in California. For example, Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard is 20 percent by 2022.

California made history last year by committing to the higher standard and the state has so far responded positively to the mandate. According to Renewable Energy World, “As of July 2012, each of the three major investor-owned utilities were showing that about 20 percent of the energy they provide to their ratepayers comes from renewables and many other projects are underway.”

California has so far been up to the challenge, following the structure of the RPS up to now. Utilities in the state are required to meet 20 percent of retail sales from renewables by the end of next year and 25 percent by the end of 2016, building to the ultimate goal of 33 percent by 2020.

But industry experts and analysts question the practicality of the goal. Getting the amount of renewable energy projects required to meet the goal is a daunting, expensive tasks. Renewable Energy World stated that “many experts believe that the state just doesn’t have enough in place to seal the deal.”

Among the barriers California must overcome are budget constraints that have plagued the state for the last several years, preventing necessary infrastructure upgrades like transmission line upgrades. State incentives that are vital to getting solar and wind projects developed in California are also in jeopardy as the state struggles to overcome a $16 billion budget deficit.

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Update: Israel’s Solar Market

Fifty years ago, Israel was on the cusp of developing a promising solar industry. Solar hot water systems in particular made a splash in the country, but many decades later, those same systems are just about all that exists for solar development in the country.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that while the climate is appropriate for solar in Israel–and more so than European countries like Germany that have heavily developed solar power–the government has so far failed to support the industry’s growth.

Although the country has set a 2014 energy goal of 1,480 MWs of solar power, it currently only generates about 212 MW. This is about 2 percent of the electricity generated overall.

Solar industry professionals in Israel are mystified as to why solar is not taken more seriously as an energy source by the government. For example, a U.S.-Israeli consortium was given the go ahead by the Israeli government to develop three commercial-scale solar plants that would produce 250 MW total, but these projects would not be operational until 2015.

Jon Cohen, CEO of the Arava Power Co, told Businessweek, “The natural resource exists, the real national need exist — it’s really a mystery why (solar) is being blocked.”

There are some solar success stories in Israel today though. Among them is the Ketura Sun solar plant in the Negev desert. Launched in 2011, Ketura is a 5 MW facility that receives 330 days of sunshine annually. It’s located in a remote region of southern Israel and is the country’s first commercial-scale project. But to date, it remains the only commercial project of its kind with no new developments on the horizon.

Cohen’s company worked for 4 years to get the project constructed, working to obtain necessary approvals and permits. Cohen believed Ketura would be “the pioneer” flag, the first of many for Israel, but he says that a year later, the company hasn’t gained any ground with 10 projects tied up in the tedious government approval process.

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Paul Ryan’s Threat to Renewable Energy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his running mate this weekend, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Romney supporters are thrilled with the candidate’s choice for vice president, particularly his background as Chairman of the House Budget Committee with a long-standing record of solid “fiscal disciple and accountability to the federal government.”

The announcement was not good news to one group, however: renewable energy advocates. Earlier in 2012, Ryan proposed a fiscal plan that promoted expanded oil and gas drilling, reigned in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ended Obama’s controversial clean energy loan program through the Energy Department.

Ryan has consistently been an outspoken critic of the president’s support for renewable energy while garnering praise within his party for his steadfast fiscal conservatism, aligning with the GOP’s budgetary agenda. The Romney campaign hopes that these qualities will strengthen the Republican ticket moving into the crunch time of the race.

It’s these same qualities that Obama supporters–environmentalists and renewable energy advocates chief among them–hope will have a negative impact on the Romney/Ryan bid. Key states for the election in the Midwest like Colorado and Iowa have invested heavily in wind and solar manufacturing in particular; Ryan’s plan to expand fossil fuels and neutralize the wind and solar industries might not be well received in those communities.

Navin Najak, senior VP for campaigns with the League of Conservation Voters told Politico, “In picking Paul Ryan, Gov. Romney really doubled down on his approach to favoring oil companies over clean energy.”

With his experience as the chairman of the Budget Committee, experts believe Ryan will make his argument to eliminate tax credits for renewable energy. This is already a key talking point of the campaign. Romney and like-minded Republican legislators argue that an industry that cannot stand on its own without large government subsidies should not be further encouraged and poses a danger to the taxpayers.

Original Article on AtisSun Solar Insider News