Archive for November, 2011

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (11/30/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on November 30th, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (11/30/11)

  1. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is out with its “Analysis of Impacts of a Clean Energy Standard as requested by Chairman Bingaman.” EIA finds that Under the [Bingaman CES} policy, non-hydro renewable technologies grow at the fastest rate, increasing from 146 billion kilowatthours in 2009 to 601 billion kilowatthours in 2025 and 737 billion kilowatthours in 2035.”  In contrast, “Coal-fired generation, which in the Reference case increases by 23 percent from 2009 to 2035, decreases by 41 percent in the BCES case over the same period.”
  2. USA Today reports, “A California-based solar company [SolarCity] announced Tuesday that it has lined up enough private financing to begin what it says will be the largest residential solar photovoltaic project in U.S. history — powering as many as 120,000 military housing units.”
  3. Dave Roberts of Grist responds to the question, “Could Americans soon be forced to suffer through rolling blackouts and power shortages because of a heartless, hapless, tyrannical EPA, as conservatives and dirty utilities are suggesting?” According to Roberts, “According to Roberts, the short answer is, no. The long answer is, no.”
  4. Climate Progress has a guest column by Dan Krotz of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explainingWhat will a day in the life of a Californian be like in 40 years…[I]f the state cuts its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — a target mandated by a state executive order.”  Among other things, Krotz predicts that a “person could wake up in a net-zero energy home, commute to work in a battery-powered car, work in an office with smart windows and solar panels, then return home and plug in her car to a carbon-free grid.”
  5. According to Renewable Energy World, “As the costs associated with renewable forms of energy continue to drop and the prices of fossil fuels remain volatile, more Latin American nations are turning to wind and solar, as well as geothermal and biofuels, as solutions to achieve energy security.” With potentially “explosive growth” in mind, Renewable Energy World is “launching our weekly Latin America Report.”
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Solar Industry Executives Talk About the Solyndra Non-“Scandal”

Posted By mikec on November 29th, 2011

A few weeks ago, my Tigercomm colleague Mark Sokolove and I were able to take Scaling Green’s Communicating Energy lecture series on the road to the Solar Power International 2011 (SPI) conference and trade show in Dallas, Texas. While there, we spoke with several leaders in the solar and cleantech industries. You can read about and view the interviews on The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) National Solar Jobs Census 2011 – a census showing record jobs growth in the industry – on Scaling Green. Today, we turn our focus to the wildly inflated Solyndra story.

Fossil-allied pundits are shrieking that this failure came and went with over $500M in public money. But those same critics can never manage to bring themselves to talk about the 100 times greater amounts of taxpayer money that are going to highly profitable, mature industries. Americans don’t want their money being spent that way, and they do want continued support for clean energy technology policy support.

But fossil critics are going a step further. They are trying to turn the failure of one company into a statement about the market viability of an entire industry.

As you can see from the comments in this video, solar industry executives and analysts are in full agreement that the Solyndra story has been wildly overhyped, and also distorted, by the media. That’s the product of skillful maneuvering by clean energy industries’ fossil fuel competitors, and their allies in Congress.

As Tor Valenza (a.k.a. “Solar Fred”) points out, “There have been solar companies that have failed in the past, and there will be solar companies that fail in the future…and that’s going to happen in every industry.”

Why? Because this is a totally normal feature of capitalism. The reality is that “creative destruction” happens all the time, is totally natural, and is certainly not an indication of a “failure” of any kind. In addition, as Valenza points out, it’s absurd to paint an entire industry with “we’re all Solyndra and that we’re a failure,” as this “does not speak to #1 the jobs that we’ve grown and #2 to the new growth figures that we’ve had over the past year.”

Rex Gillespie of solar water heating systems manufacturer Caleffi North America reinforces this point. He explains that Solyndra was one specific company with one specific technology that didn’t happen to work out. But that, of course, doesn’t mean the rest of the industry, with different technologies and different business models, isn’t doing just fine. In fact, the rest of the industry is doing very well!

For his part,  Schneider Electric Renewable Energies Commercial VP-Americas Rudy Wodrich echoed the point that “these things will happen…in any industry in its infancy, when it’s growing through growth and cyclical changes…that’s natural.”

Janet Hughes, Executive VP of Ontility, notes that the solar industry is offering tremendous opportunities to help America “get back on its feet economically, and “we should be supported at every step of the way to do that.”

Finally, Kevin Smith, CEO of large-scale solar power developer SolarReserve, confidently predicts that “it’s going to be a solar world.” Smith knows what he’s talking about, with over 20 years in the power industry developing plants of every type. Given this future, Smith strongly asserts that we “need to stay in the game” if we want to compete with “the Chinese…the French…the Germans…the Spanish.” The other alternative, in Smith’s view, would be to throw up our hands and say, “this is all too complicated and let’s just drill.” That’s clearly not acceptable, as we will simply end up ceding a crucial, rapidly growing market to those other countries.

Getting back to Solyndra specifically, it’s important to emphasize that – as Wikipedia explains – this company’s technology was unusual, “unlike any other product ever tried in the industry…made of racks of cylindrical tubes (also called tubular solar panels), as opposed to traditional flat panels.”

The problem with Solyndra’s business model, in large part, was that it was designed to be competitive with relatively high-cost silicon-based solar modules. When silicon prices sharply plummeted (from as high as $450 per kilogram in 2008 to just $53 per kilogram in June 2011), in part due to government policy decisions in Asian countries like China, Solyndra’s business model no longer worked. Again, though, this is not at all negatively reflective of the entire solar industry. To the contrary, it’s a result of the plummeting cost of conventional, silicon-based solar modules, which in turn is indicative of an increasingly cost-competitive solar industry as a whole. Given that the mainstream approach has worked so well, the alternative approach Solyndra was pursuing is simply no longer needed. It’s really not much more complicated than that.

Sadly, what we have here is a case of a skewed media narrative, one that frequently values Despite some pundits’ efforts to talk clean energy companies into the tank, so far, solar power is actually doing far better than expected. It’s growing faster, adding more installations and creating more jobs than anyone had expected in their most optimistic forecasts a few years ago.

Now, if the media would only report a lot more on the day-in-day-out success of the solar industry, and a lot less on one specific company’s unusual, albeit dramatic, collapse, we’d all be a lot better informed. Because, as the solar jobs study found, solar has now surpassed steel manufacturing in America, and is rapidly gaining on fossil fuels. And that is a far bigger story than Solyndra, no matter how you look at it.

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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (11/29/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on November 29th, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (11/29/11)

  1. The NRDC Switchboard blog reports on “How California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard Can Help Move America Beyond Oil.”
  2. The European Wind Energy Associatin (EWEA) is out with a new report, “Wind in Our Sails: The coming of Europe’s offshore wind energy industry.” According to the report, “The European Union leads the world in offshore wind power with 4,000 MW already installed, and this is only the beginning of a major industrial development.”
  3. Huffington Post Green reports, “Ahead of a meeting Friday between President Barack Obama and hundreds of Native American leaders, the administration unveiled new rules for tribal lands that officials…would open the door to badly-needed housing development on reservations, and for wind and solar energy projects that tribes have been eager to launch.”
  4. According to Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress, “Americans for Prosperity, backed by the Koch brothers, has already been spent millions of dollars on a Solyndra ad that PolitiFact labels ‘mostly false’”.
  5. The Washington Post reports, “The chief economist for the International Energy Agency said Monday that current global energy consumption levels put the Earth on a trajectory to warm by 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, an outcome he called ‘a catastrophe for all of us.’”
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Can Obama Go Back to Political Base(ics)?

Posted By mikec on November 28th, 2011

Cross posted from the Great Energy Challenge blog.

President Obama made a smart move this month by putting the Keystone XL pipeline project into the deep freeze. It had been poor politics for him — and it would have been even worse policy for the country, especially when you consider the aggressive retooling of our world energy sources demanded by the International Energy Agency findings in its latest World Energy Outlook.

But for the president’s staff, the question that lingers is whether it will relearn what it had mastered so well in 2008 — that while you have to campaign in the center, your base voters’ enthusiasm matters a lot. Based on articles like this one in Bloomberg Businessweek, about how environmentalists “matter less to Obama 2012,” it certainly doesn’t seem that way. For instance, theBusinessweek article quotes Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt commenting that “[w]hen voters compare Obama’s record with [the Republican candidates for president], ‘there will be no question about who will continue our progress.’”

The problem is, for eco-conscious millennials (the key, according to a new analysis by Center for American Progress political analysts Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, to the 2012 election) like former Microsoft executive Jabe Blumenthal, who care deeply about environmental issues and who want to feel that their concerns are being heard at the highest levels, simply asserting that “I’m not Rick Perry” or “I’m not Mitt Romney” won’t work. To the contrary, Blumenthal says in the Businessweek piece, it’s “simply not true” that the specter of Romney, Perry or Gingrich will be sufficient cause for him to open his checkbook to the Obama campaign, as he did in 2008.

Throughout the Keystone XL process, the message from Washington pundits and experts was that environmentalists “will not be happy, but they have nowhere else to go.”  It’s hard to imagine such an arrogant statement being directed at African-American, gay or Latino voters, but the “nowhere else to go” sentiment directed at environmentalists seemed to have taught them it was time to chuck the tradition of patty-cake politics and “principled loserism” they’ve operated with for so long.

The clincher in the Keystone fight was when committed Obama 2008volunteers, donors and staffers started correcting the “nowhere else to go” idea. These Obama supporters recognized that they did indeed have somewhere else they could go: home, And not just on election day, but on all the days between now and then.

In key states such as Colorado, where the green base is a lot of the base, these base voters realized that they could make themselves matter.

I’m still not sure why the White House let things get to the point where supporters had to threaten to withhold their time, money and effort — all over a boondoggle that wouldn’t have dropped gas prices at all.

To me, the politics around the Keystone XL pipeline were clear from the start. First there were the wildly inflated claims of jobs from an industry with a history of inflating them. And, of the jobs that would have been created, most would have been in states that were politically out of reach for Obama, and many of those would likely have been created after the election. Worse, the project had become a cafeteria line for TransCanada lobbyists, creating apaper trail of revolving door influence-peddling and inside dealing that the media would have acquired and used long into an Obama second term. On top of all that, the president’s approval of this project would have further depressed his base while benefiting an industry that is resolutely opposed to him — including his arch political enemies, the Koch brothers.

It all leaves me scratching my head. But, hey, as a clean energy advocate, I’ll take the result.

Going forward, there’s an opportunity for the Obama staff to stop confusing the critical task of courting the political center with the ill-advised practice of coddling lobbyists from a hostile oil industry. For the environmental community, there’s an opportunity to not resume the folded-hands, broken-hearted mode so much of its leadership has operated from over the last three decades. It will be interesting to see what the younger environmental leadership — people like’s Bill McKibben, the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, Friends of the Earth’s Erich Pica, and Greenpeace’s Phil Radford — have shown they aren’t interested in the “nowhere to go” approach. having shown they aren’t interested in the “nowhere to go” approach, does to affect its fate.

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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (11/28/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on November 28th, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (11/28/11)

  1. Business Green reports, “The Durban Climate Summit kicked off today with the chair of the conference invoking the leadership skills of Nelson Mandela in a bid to push countries towards an agreement on limiting global greenhousegas emissions.”
  2. NPR quotes President Obama: “Almost all the major economies have put forward legitimate targets, significant targets, ambitious targets…And I’m confident that America will fulfill the commitments that we have made, cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020 and in the range of 80 percent by 2050, in line with final legislation.”
  3. According to ThinkProgress Green, “The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration has increased efforts to regulate the coal industry, using tougher environmental standards under the Clean Water Act to rein in destructive coal practices like mountaintop removal.” Despite “outrage” that these regulations have cost the coal industry jobs, “coal employment this year rose to its highest level since 1996, according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.”
  4. At Huffington Post Green, Columbia University Earth Institute Director Steven Cohen asks whether Andrew Cuomo can “meet the leadership challenge of hydrofracking policy?”
  5. Grist reports, “Feed-in tariffs are a comprehensive renewable energy policy responsible for 64 percent of the world’s wind power and almost 90 percent of the world’s solar power (see charts below). With simplified grid connections, long-term contracts, and attractive prices for development, that’s policy that works.”
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