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Does Steve Bannon’s China Tirade Tell Us Anything About the Solar Trade Case Outcome?

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White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (seemingly unwittingly) gave an interview this week in which he said America is locked in “an economic war with China.”

Bannon mentioned arcane sections of the 1974 Trade Act to penalize China for alleged steel and aluminum dumping. Could solar be on the list, too?

Bannon’s comments suggest he’s also paying attention to Section 201 of the trade act — which is the foundation of Suniva and SolarWorld’s case for slapping severe penalties on imported solar cells and modules from Asia and the rest of the world.

Those companies, plus dozens of other heavy hitters in solar, were in Washington this week to argue their case in front of the International Trade Commission.

In this week’s show, we’ll have the latest on solar trade politics.

Then, we’ll dig into a fascinating new study on second-order climate beliefs. It’s not just about what you believe — it’s about what you believe others believe.

Finally, we’ll revisit the rise of non-wires alternatives. More utilities are opting for distributed resources in place of traditional wires upgrades on the grid. We’ll discuss a new project in Arizona and then look across the landscape of other projects.

This podcast is sponsored by Mission Solar Energy, a solar module manufacturer based in San Antonio, Texas. Visit Mission Solar at the upcoming Solar Power International conference at Booth 3975. You can find out more about Mission’s American-made, high-power modules at

Recommended reading:

  • GTM: The Messy Politics Surrounding the Solar Trade Case
  • GTM: War of Words: Top Quotes From the Solar Industry’s Latest Salvo Over Trade
  • Harvard study: The Importance of Second-Order Opinions for Climate Politics
  • GTM: APS Buys Energy Storage From AES for Less Than Half the Cost of a Transmission Upgrade


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - August 18, 2017 at 6:20 am

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Interim FERC Chairman: Coal and Nuclear ‘Need to Be Properly Compensated’

One of Neil Chatterjee’s top priorities in his new role as interim chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is to ensure coal and nuclear power receive some form of compensation for the “resilience and reliability” benefits they provide to the U.S. electric system.

Resilience and reliability “are essential to national security,” said Chatterjee, in an interview on FERC’s Open Access podcast.

“To that end, I believe baseload power should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix,” he continued. “I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, need to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system.” 

Chatterjee did not expand on what he considers proper compensation to be, but his comments suggest that he supports granting baseload energy resources enhanced payments in the nation’s wholesale power markets. New compensation structures are front of mind for coal and nuclear generators, which have been struggling to compete with low-cost natural gas and cost-effective renewable energy in an environment of stagnant load growth. 

Earlier this year, Exelon CEO Chris Crane said there’s never been a more uncertain time in his career than right now, due to the risks facing the nation’s nuclear power fleet. “There are significant challenges with current market design,” said Crane, speaking at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ winter meeting.

“States and locations we serve want affordable and reliable, but also clean, power,” he said. “How you create a market signal around that to adequately compensate all generators within the stack is very important.”

He said he hoped for a solution “with some clarity coming from this administration and some clarity coming from FERC.”

Indeed, the commission has started to grapple with the compensation issue, despite the fact that it hasn’t been fully staffed for six months. In May, Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur spearheaded a technical conference on the interaction between wholesale markets and state-level energy policies, while waiting for FERC to regain a quorum. But the most difficult work still lies ahead. 

FERC will need to address the market impacts of nuclear credit programs passed in New York and Illinois that opponents say are artificially suppressing power prices and putting financial pressure on independent power producers. PJM and ISO New England have put forward proposals to bifurcate capacity and pricing to protect unsubsidized coal and gas plants from subsidized nuclear and renewable energy prices, which would benefit independent generators like Dynegy, NRG and Calpine.

At the same time, PJM Interconnection and Midcontinent Independent System Operator are considering enhanced payments for reliable baseload resources, like nuclear. Furthermore, PJM, ISO-New England and New York ISO are considering carbon-adder proposals that increase market prices based on a generator’s emissions intensity. 

The set of issues and tasks FERC is now facing is complex, to say the least.

Former FERC Commissioner Tony Clark recently wrote a white paper in which he argued that a mix of state-led and market-based actions has the potential to create chaos. “From Illinois and New York, where nuclear generators stand to receive millions of dollars in state-sponsored subsidies, to states in New England and the mid-Atlantic, where massive out-of-market contracts and payments threaten the underpinnings of price formation in both the energy and capacity markets, there is a very real concern and possibility that certain wholesale electricity markets will become so dysfunctional as to undermine the just and reasonable standard that FERC is duty-bound to uphold,” he wrote.

These complex dynamics are now playing out in Ohio, where American Electric Power said it’s seeking partial re-regulation, while FirstEnergy is looking to obtain the same kind of nuclear energy credits approved in New York and Illinois. Yesterday, Ohio regulators upheld a separate plan that permits FirstEnergy to collect $600 million from ratepayers over three years for grid modernization, although critics argue it’s actually a backdoor way to bail out the utility’s uncompetitive coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The Environmental Defense Fund and other opponents have already said they will challenge the decision at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Today’s energy market shakeups don’t even end there. Baseload generators are also looking to the Department of Energy for support through a study on how tax policies and subsidies may be triggering the premature retirement of coal and nuclear power plants around the country. The report was due in early July, but has yet to be released.

Like Chatterjee, Energy Secretary Rick Perry views the preservation of baseload resources as a national security concern and a federal government priority. “Are there issues that are so important to the national security of this country that the federal government can intervene on the regulatory side? I’ll suggest there are,” Perry said at a conference this spring. “Being able to have and make sure we’re able to maintain a baseload on our grid is [a matter] of national security.”

Others view the DOE report as an unfounded attack on intermittent renewables and advanced energy technologies, which a growing body of research has found are not a threat to grid reliability.

As a Kentucky native, Chatterjee said he’s seen firsthand how important coal’s contribution is to an affordable and reliable electric system.

“Last year, coal provided over 80 percent — 80 percent — of the electricity in Kentucky,” he said. “As a nation, we need to ensure that coal, along with gas and renewables, continues to be part of our diverse fuel mix.”

Besides defending coal, Chatterjee said he’s keen to work through a backlog of infrastructure projects now before the commission that could “help spur economic development.” He said he’s also fascinated by technology innovation in the energy sector and looks forward to “exploring what opportunities exist for these new technologies,” possibly referring to FERC’s proposed rules on the integration of energy storage and distributed energy resources into organized markets.

The Senate approved Chatterjee’s nomination on August 4. He will serve as interim FERC chairman while Trump nominee Kevin McIntyre awaits confirmation.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:16 am

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War of Words: Top Quotes From the Solar Industry’s Latest Salvo Over Trade

On Tuesday, more than 40 witnesses spoke in front of trade commissioners in Washington, offering up their thoughts about a controversial petition submitted by Suniva and SolarWorld.

The two financially troubled solar manufacturers are lobbying for harsh penalties on imported solar panels. Most others in the U.S. solar industry want commissioners to quash the case, fearing the downstream consequences.

The commission is expected to complete its investigation of the Section 201 petition by September 22. In the meantime, we’ve compiled some noteworthy quotes to give readers a sense of how the day played out.

To set scene, let’s begin with Suniva and SolarWorld’s rationale for why the U.S. needs solar import tariffs and price minimums.

Suniva’s attorney, Matthew McConkey:

“If there’s ever been a 201 case where a finding of serious injury is warranted, it’s this one,” said McConkey in his opening remarks. “The United States is literally strewn with the carcasses of shuttered solar manufacturing facilities.”

“The data set forth in the commission’s staff report reveals a domestic industry that is literally on the precipice of being extinguished. U.S. module manufacturers suffered net losses exceeding a billion dollars over a five-year period,” said McConkey. “If this isn’t serious injury, then that concept has no meaning.”

“Even as U.S. demand for solar products increased from 2012 to 2016, foreign suppliers — including those in China, Korea, Canada and Malaysia — began capturing an even larger share of the U.S. market. But then we saw module prices drop by a third in the second half of 2016, during a year when all imports increased by 50 percent from the previous year.”

SolarWorld’s attorney, Tim Brightbill:

“As the commission is well aware, the domestic industry in this case has been largely wiped out by the global import surge,” said Brightbill.

“There is massive global overcapacity among many producers. In addition…foreign producers have production operations in multiple countries and are able to shift that production and those exports, rapidly, from country to country.”

Juergen Stein, CEO of SolarWorld:

“The domestic solar manufacturing industry has been driven to the brink. Relief under Section 201 is our last hope,” said Stein. “Unless we act promptly and decisively, the United States may find itself with no solar manufacturing sector left at all.”

“Solar cell and module prices fell in 2016, even as the price of polysilicon — the most valuable raw material within a cell — was rising. This is an unsustainable situation, and what I would call ‘the circle of death.’”

“We had to let go many workers who had been with the company for many years. These job losses should not be happening in an industry where demand is so strong and good profit margins are a given in the overall value chain.”

Dozens of solar industry experts and executives attempted to debunk the petitioners’ claims. Multiple witnesses portrayed Suniva and SolarWorld as subpar companies that had failed to adapt to the fast-paced solar industry.

Matthew Nicely, attorney for the Solar Energy Industries Association and SunPower:

“Have some companies failed? Yes. But that’s the core nature of a high-tech industry. You must innovate to keep up and deliver quality, reliable products at scale. The petitioners have failed badly, and their failure has nothing to do with imports.”

“That the two petitioners would even bring this case demonstrates their poor business judgment and their hubris. They seek a public remedy for their own private failing. If successful, they will undermine the hard work and innovation that is making solar a viable alternative to conventional energy sources.”

Craig Cornelius, senior VP of renewables for NRG Energy:

“Neither of the petitioners in this case had a product that they offered at [our] specifications, and certainly not at the scale or quality we required. In addition to this inability to meet our essential technical requirements, there were other reasons why we, and other purchasers like us, were unable to purchase products from the petitioners during the period of investigation.”

James Lamon, CEO of Depcom:

“Depcom’s experience with SolarWorld was unsatisfactory,” said Lamon. “Depcom had to exert oversight and pressure to get SolarWorld to deliver its product, which was never delivered on time — a product we believed…was made in America…when in fact, per the label on the modules, was manufactured in Germany and Thailand.”

Thomas Prusa, chair of the economics department at Rutgers University:

“Imports are always dominated by one or more factors. As shown in the residential market, imports are near the bottom of the list of factors, dominated by grid-parity issues and technology-driven cost changes. The utility market is also similar,” said Prusa, referring to the results of an economic study. “In summation, empirical analysis formally rejects the claim that imports are the most important cause for declining prices over the period.”

Other opponents spoke of the damages that tariffs would have on the larger solar industry.

Amy Grace, head of North America research for Bloomberg New Energy Finance:

“Utility-scale solar must be competitive with the operating cost of an efficient natural-gas plant — roughly $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour — or it will not be built,” said Grace. “It is now price-competitive with wind and wholesale power in several parts of the country, but just barely.”

“Any increase in the price of solar offered to electricity purchasers…would result in fewer contracts being signed and lower solar deployment.”

Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower:

“We have more than 14,000 direct and indirect workers,” said Werner, who described his company as the country’s second-largest solar provider. “These workers would be vulnerable to solar market decline.”

“Tariffs would adversely impact the U.S. economy, burden domestic manufacturers and suppliers, raise prices for customers and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs.”

Matthew Nicely, attorney for the Solar Energy Industries Association and SunPower:

“Solar is an American success story whose future remains bright. Its continued success could be destroyed by the misguided actions of the two petitioners and their small group of supporters.”

The commission also heard testimony from government officials from Minnesota, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia. All spoke against the petition, except for the mayor of Norcross, Georgia, which was home to Suniva’s headquarters and one of its cell plants.

Bucky Johnson, mayor of Norcross, Georgia:

“Suniva became part of the DNA of our city, until there was a turn in the story,” said Johnson, noting nearly 300 jobs were lost in Norcross due to Suniva’s bankruptcy. 

“I sadly learned there were other communities that experienced the same impact as Norcross,” he continued. “Do all that you can do to give Suniva a fighting chance.”

Jason Saine, North Carolina state representative:

“Imposing tariffs on imported modules is not the way to go. […] The remedy would do more harm than good here.”

Lauren McDonald, member of the Georgia Public Service Commission:

Import duties will “deprive consumers of the benefit of competitively priced solar projects,” said McDonald. “Any tariffs imposed would distort the market, threatening tens of thousands of American jobs.”

“[Suniva and SolarWorld] are here because their products are not economic and their business model is not competitive.”

Representatives for half a dozen countries and the European Union took turns explaining why their nations should be excluded from solar import duties.

Reynaldo Linhares Colares, second secretary for the Embassy of Brazil:

The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Safeguards “states safeguard measures shall not be applied against a project originating in a developing country member, as long as its share of imports…does not exceed 3 percent,” said Colares.

Brazilian solar exports from 2012 to 2016 “accounted for only 0.01 percent of the total value imported by the USA in the same period,” he continued. “Therefore…imports from Brazil should be excluded.”

Carrie Goodge O’Brien, trade policy counselor for the embassy of Canada:

“The Canadian and U.S. supply chains are integrated and complement one another,” said O’Brien. “The imposition of duties on solar products would risk undermining this important relationship, negatively impacting both Canadian and U.S. industry and consumers.”

“The imports from Canada must be excluded from any safeguard measure if they do not account for a substantial share of total subject import, and they do not, in this case,” she said, referencing a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

While the vast majority of witnesses opposed the tariffs, a handful of solar executives testified in support of Suniva and SolarWorld.

Edward Harner, chief operating officer of Green Solar Technologies:

“Absent much-needed trade relief, these import trends will only worsen,” said Harner. “Without relief, I am concerned that foreign producers will complete their goal of eliminating U.S. competition.”

Steven Shea, former vice president of Beamreach Solar:

Beamreach “could not keep pace with the rapid reduction in market prices driven by imports — first in China, and then from countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea and others,” said Shea, whose solar manufacturing company employed 100 workers in California before going bankrupt in January.

“Beamreach was a well-established company,” said Shea. “However, this flood of imports, and the resulting price collapse starting in 2016, eroded Beamreach’s competitiveness in a matter of merely months.”

Representatives for Suniva and SolarWorld rejected allegations that they had been responsible for their own financial woes. Suniva filed for bankruptcy in April, while SolarWorld Americas recently secured a $6 million lifeline after its German parent company filed for insolvency.

Suniva’s attorney, Matthew McConkey:

“Arguments have been raised…that Suniva and SolarWorld somehow brought their gargantuan problems on themselves. Not only are these arguments factually false, they’re offensive,” said McConkey.

“The almost 30 members of the domestic industry that have gone out of business in the last five years — as well as Suniva and SolarWorld — all of them made bad business decisions or substandard products?” he asked, incredulous. “Please.”

Seth Kaplan, president of International Economic Research:

“The issue is that prices were falling faster than costs, causing serious injury,” said Kaplan. “The idea that the semiconductor industry, at large, is barred from Section 201 relief because technology improves over time is, frankly, nuts.”

SolarWorld’s attorney, Tim Brightbill:

“For part of today, we heard an inaccurate smear campaign [from] SEIA,” said Brightbill. “How do you scale up when you’re under an avalanche of imports?”

The panel of four commissioners, comprising two Republicans and two Democrats, spent hours questioning both sides.

Questions to petitioners:

“What would you recommend might help the broader solar industry?” asked Commissioner Meredith Broadbent.

“Our goal is to put a remedy in place that assists U.S. manufacturing…and continues to encourage solar growth in the United States,” said Brightbill. “We value manufacturing jobs. We value all jobs in the solar industry.”

“We’re not out to kill the industry,” answered Matt Card, Suniva’s VP of commercial operations. “We are very open to a solution that works for all parties.”

“In your fact sheet…you estimate that U.S. solar cells and module manufacturing employment would increase between 37,500 and 45,500 workers. These job increases are substantial,” said Broadbent. “What would occur on the ground that would result in this job growth?”

“The assumptions that go into those job estimates are that there is new investment in cell and module production capacity that would raise U.S. cell capacity to 3 gigawatts per year and module capacity to 3.6 gigawatts per year,” said Warren Payne, an international trade adviser for the law firm Mayer Brown, which conducted the jobs analysis.

“And that could happen in four years?” asked Broadbent.

“Yes,” said Payne. “The industry has the ability to scale up rapidly.”

“What inspired Suniva and then SolarWorld to revive the use of the dormant Section 201 global safeguard law?” asked Vice Chairman David S. Johanson, noting it had not been used in a case since 2001.

“Whack-a-mole,” said McConkey, explaining that companies would keep popping up in new countries to circumvent anti-dumping laws. “We would be chasing this product all around the world.”

Questions to petition opponents:

“What accounts for the substantial number of module assemblers leaving the U.S. industry over the period of investigation?” asked Broadbent.

“There are a variety of reasons,” said Nicely. “There are many instances in a high-tech industry in which companies bet on the wrong technology, and they invest a lot of money in technology that doesn’t work out. To then turn around and blame that on imports is a bit of a stretch.”

“What are we to make of all the domestic plant closings since 2012?” asked Johanson. “What does this tell us about the state of the domestic industry?”

“The predominant reason we saw the failures is, you didn’t have scale with a lot of these companies when they came in. A lot were startups and new ideas,” said Dan Shugar, founder and CEO of California-based NEXTracker. “You didn’t have large companies making big, sustained investments to getting their products fully qualified…so that they would develop a long-term sales model.”

“I heard people were talking about shortages right now. Is that in the U.S. market?” asked Commissioner Irving Williamson.

“Yes. Particularly buyers trying to buy in the spot market right now are seeing significant price escalation and difficulty in supply, from what we’ve heard in the market,” said Ed Fenster, co-founder and executive chairman of Sunrun.

“SolarWorld suggested a variety of countries invested in [crystalline silicon photovoltaic] capacity in response to the anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders on China and Taiwan. Do you agree that this was the reason? Why did they invest in such capacity in countries that do not have a sizable home market demand for solar products?” asked Broadbent.

“We have multiple places where we make modules,” said Tom Werner, president of SunPower. “We have those sites compete and then share best practices, and I think that’s part of what you’re seeing here.”

“We made our decision to invest in Singapore in 2008,” said Steven O’Neil, chief executive officer of REC Solar. “The market there is small, but we set up there because of the access to all global markets…and proximity to raw materials, so we could export around the world.”

For more on the politics surrounding the case, read our earlier coverage.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:11 am

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Study: We’re Still Underestimating Battery Cost Improvements

Batteries have been beating expectations in recent years as costs continue to fall. That’s good news for the storage industry, but reveals a shortcoming in the scientific understanding of the trend.

That discrepancy prompted UC Berkeley professor Daniel Kammen to devise a new model, recently published in Nature Energy — and it ended up predicting that future cost declines will occur at a pace faster than identified in previous analyses.

Scholars have modeled clean-energy cost declines based on single factors, like annual production or cumulative production. These one-factor models approximate reductions from learning by doing: The more an industry deploys its product, the better it gets at it.

These models have a high explanatory value, but they didn’t see the recent battery-cost drops coming. They overestimate lithium-ion costs in the 2010-2015 period, the most recent years in the data set Kammen and his colleagues examined.

Their new model explains cost as the function of two variables: production volume and cumulative patents issued under the international Patent Cooperation Treaty.

When the researchers plugged in the latest battery production forecasts, with the assumption that patent activity continues at the average rate from the last five years in the dataset, they found a striking prediction.

“We find lower cost reductions than existing forecasts in the literature, which in the past has found a systematic underestimation of falling electric-vehicle battery costs,” the study says.
At the battery pack level, lithium-ion needs to hit the $125 to $165 per kilowatt-hour range to compete with internal combustion engines (based on 2015 gas prices). The two-factor model predicts EV cost-competitiveness will arrive between 2017 and 2020. This is earlier than the previous literature predicts.

The model also covers solar with batteries. If the solar industry in the U.S. hits the Department of Energy SunShot goal of deploying PV for $1 per watt (which it has for large projects), residential solar-plus-storage will be widely competitive by 2020. The combination would offer a levelized cost of energy of $0.11 per kilowatt-hour.

That would transform residential storage from a niche item for powering affluent families’ homes during blackouts into a cost-effective investment for anyone who pays a lot for electricity.

Since the model includes both deployment and research, the scientists could toggle the dials of those two variables to see how one fares without the other.

Scientific innovation comes out on top.

In one test, the authors scaled down the rate of patent development by one-third. To still beat the energy storage cell cost of $100 per kilowatt-hour by 2020 in this scenario, the industry would need to deploy an additional 307 gigawatt-hours globally.

Keep in mind that Tesla’s Gigafactory aims to produce 35 gigawatt-hours, and it’s not yet completed. Deployment alone is not a practical way to achieve cost declines if scientific innovation drops off.

“At the most extreme case of no new innovation, the opportunity cost of meeting cost reduction targets through deployment alone would be extremely high, in exceedance of $140 billion through 2020,” the authors write. 
That point is more than academic. The Trump administration has proposed sweeping budget cuts across the Department of Energy, which has traditionally spurred energy innovation through research funding.

Reports surfaced this week of impending layoffs on the order of 525 jobs at the national labs run by the DOE. Labs in that network performed groundbreaking early-stage research that led to the commercialization of lithium-ion technology, and they continue to break ground on the sort of next-generation chemistries that could spur the “learning by innovation” curve described in Kammen’s model.

“Right when batteries are doing this great stuff, we’re seeing a trail-off in investment,” Kammen said. “We need the Department of Energy to step up; we need the private sector.”

The White House has signaled the opposite intention, although the DOE retains stronger support in Congress, which ultimately controls the budget.

If there’s a bright spot here, it’s that lithium-ion costs are following the path of solar, only faster.

“For the same amount of money invested and patents generated, batteries are equal to or ahead of where solar was,” Kammen said.

To keep up that pace, he added, it will be important to maintain a robust research ecosystem with many different labs, companies and universities competing for funds and patents. When money gets concentrated in a few monopolies, they tend to under-innovate.

It also helps that storage has an array of viable technologies, although lithium-ion has dominated the market thus far. This diversity bodes well for continued innovation.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:00 am

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Growth Prospects for the Global Grid-Connected Battery Market

The global grid-connected energy storage market could reach a total installed capacity of 28 gigawatts by 2022, from just 3 gigawatts in 2016, if an IHS Markit projection cited recently by AES and Siemens proves correct. By 2025, cumulative installations could grow to 52 gigawatts worldwide. 

IHS Markit also projects that lithium-ion storage prices will continue to fall, driving industry expansion. The London-based research firm projects battery module prices below $200 per kilowatt-hour by 2019. Just a year ago, GTM Research projected costs of $217 per kilowatt-hour by 2020.   

In monetary terms, IHS forecasts that a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent will push grid-connected storage revenue from $1.5 billion last year to more than $7 billion by 2025.

AES and Siemens hope to capture a large portion of this growing market through their planned battery joint venture, named Fluence. To date, the two firms “have deployed or have been awarded 48 projects totaling 463 megawatts of battery-based energy storage across 13 countries.” AES brings to the joint venture a specialty in utility-scale batteries, while Siemens has expertise in behind-the-meter batteries for commercial and industrial users. The 50-50 joint venture is expected to close in the fourth quarter. 

Reflecting on the IHS Markit projection in an earnings presentation earlier this month, AES said that it is “well positioned to take advantage and see it as an upside to our outlook.”

AES is a larger battery player than Siemens at present, with 116 megawatts of energy storage projects deployed worldwide as of June 2016, and “with an additional 278 megawatts under construction or in late-stage development.” This compares to 463 megawatts of deployed or awarded projects for both firms.

AES has three selling points for its grid-scale batteries: “improving the reliability of the electric grid, mitigating the intermittency of renewable generation, and lowering costs to operate the system.”

One notable competitor is Tesla, which is catching up to AES and Siemens on big contracts, including one in South Australia for 100 megawatts of battery storage.

To boost its U.S. presence, AES recently purchased sPower — previously the largest independent solar developer in the country. Meanwhile, Siemens has merged its wind power business with the wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa. AES and Siemens may thus have an interest in selling solar and wind farms to electric utilities along with reasonably priced batteries, adding value through the combination of reliability, renewables integration and cost savings.

Electric utilities are traditionally cautious and slow to change, however, which could present sales challenges to the AES/Siemens joint venture and its competitors.

Just last year, a utility owned by AES Corp., Indianapolis Power & Light, projected no significant use of batteries until 2032 (see the dark purple wedge at the top right of the following graph). This is despite the utility’s deployment of  20 megawatts of AES batteries in 2016 — a relatively modest amount compared to the purple wedge that grows to about 500 megawatts in the graph.

Source: Indianapolis Power & Light company presentation on its 2016 integrated resource plan

If and when one or both of AES’ own utilities — Indianapolis Power & Light and Dayton Power & Light — becomes a major customer of Fluence, it could be a signal that the economics of renewables-plus-battery-storage are becoming too good to resist.

IHS Markit predicts the U.S. energy storage market will assert growing dominance on the global stage, with a CAGR of 21 percent between now and 2025, while surpassing 1.2 gigawatts of annual deployment as soon as 2020.

A total of 1.3 gigawatts of grid-connected storage was deployed worldwide in 2016, according to IHS. The global growth rate is expected to accelerate to 4.7 gigawatts annually by 2020 and to 8.8 gigawatts annually by 2025.


Will Driscoll is a writer and analyst. Previously, he served as a project manager at ICF Consulting, where he conducted analyses for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - August 17, 2017 at 6:45 am

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Who Wins When Bifacial, Thin-Film CdTe and Crystalline Silicon PV Face Off in the Field?

Solar module manufacturers one-up each other on a regular basis in the quest for the world’s most efficient panel. The results usually come out of laboratories, where the modules undergo precise testing in a controlled environment under standard test conditions (STC).  

In the real world, however, the picture is more nuanced. Field conditions are often a far cry from artificially stable lab environments.

New results from a recent series of field tests highlight the variation that occurs when technologies are tested side-by-side in different regions, where array design and siting, temperature, humidity, and a variety of other factors influence performance.

Three module test labs, DNV GL, TÜV Rheinland Photovoltaic Testing Lab and Celestica, tracked the performance of 2-kilowatt systems that use one of three technologies: thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe), n-type silicon bifacial, and crystalline-silicon (c-Si). Modules were selected at random by the labs.

Test sites in Davis, Calif., Tempe, Arizona and Toronto each assessed eight or nine systems with a mix of the different technologies. Data from the arrays were collected for at least a year.

Source: TUV Rheinland

The CdTe panels, supplied by First Solar, and the first-generation B245 bifacial panel (bifacial-1) produced by Prism Solar performed best in the two hotter environments. The results of the field study lend credibility to technologies that are gaining traction in the market beyond the c-Si, which makes up the majority of solar panels today.

In Tempe, more than 90 percent of the energy yield was produced at temperatures higher than 25 degrees Celsius, and the highest energy generation happened above 45 degrees Celsius.


Note: Array 1 Prism bifacial; Array 3 unnamed Bifacial; Array 2, 4, 5 c-Si; Array 6-9 CdTe

Source: TUV Rheinland

The two different bifacial panels show that performance varies by supplier and location, with Prism’s bifacial panel far outperforming the unnamed competitor in Tempe, while the other panel provided a slightly higher performance ratio in Toronto. Bifacial panels can produce power from both sides of the module, capturing direct and indirect sunlight.

There are various factors that drive bifacial performance, with albedo (the amount of solar energy reflected off of a surface) and row spacing being two important contributors. There is currently no industry consensus on rating methodology for bifacial modules, and manufacturers are using different methods.  

At SNEC 2017 in Shanghai in April, bifacial panels were seemingly everywhere, according to GTM Research solar analysts who attended. Editors at PV Tech commented that given the major players showing off their bifacial panels at SNEC, “a recent niche product could be set for the mainstream, very shortly.” 

However, the industry needs to solve several key issues that are limiting the product’s acceptance prior to bifacial modules being adopted for large-scale usage.

The field study also backs up First Solar’s competitive advantage claims over traditional crystalline silicon technology. CdTe modules performed well at higher temperatures compared to C-Si modules in Tempe due to the better temperature coefficient of CdTe, the TÜV Rheinland study found. The CdTe modules had STC efficiencies close to those of c-Si, ranging from 13.2 to 14.7 percent. The variability between the First Solar array performance represents the improvement in efficiency and energy yield from Series 3 Black Plus through its Series 4-2.

Even in Davis, where temperatures are not quite as hot as in Tempe, most of the arrays spent at least half their time at temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius or above. Because of those high temperatures, the Davis CdTe arrays also had a performance ratio higher than the average of c-Si panels.


Note: Array 1 Prism bifacial; Array 2, 7-9 c-Si; Array 3-6 CdTe

Source: TÜV Rheinland

The picture was more muddled in the relatively cold environment of Toronto. The unnamed bifacial panel had the highest average annual DC efficiency of 17.17 percent among all the arrays, while CdTe-1 had the lowest efficiency of 12.82 percent, and another CdTe system had the second-highest efficiency of 14.45 percent. 


Note: Array 1 Prism bifacial, Array 2 unnamed bifacial, Array 3 c-Si, Array 4-7 CdTe

Source: TÜV Rheinland

The findings from the reports do not upend conventional wisdom, but they do highlight the regional variation for each technology in real-world conditions. The results also suggest the potential threats that traditional c-Si products could face as technologies continue to fall in price due to higher volumes, lower balance-of-system costs, and more widespread market recognition.


This article was sponsored by TÜV Rheinlanda global leader in independent inspection services. TÜV Rheinland inspects technical equipment, products and services, oversees projects, and helps to shape processes and information security for companies. Since 2006, TÜV Rheinland has been a member of the United Nations Global Compact to promote sustainability and combat corruption. 


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:40 am

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Bloom Energy and PowerSecure Land Country’s Biggest Fuel Cell Deployment to Date

Last year, fuel cell maker Bloom Energy and Southern Company microgrid subsidiary PowerSecure announced a partnership to bring 50 megawatts of fuel cells to market through upfront financing and power-purchase agreements. 

On Wednesday, the partners announced they’ve landed the biggest client yet for that offering, in the form of a 37-megawatt fuel cell deal with data center company Equinix. 

Over the next two years, the partners will install Bloom’s solid-oxide, natural-gas-fueled “energy servers” at 12 Equinix data centers in California and New York, with the goal of reducing the company’s carbon footprint, offering it more control over its energy supply, and keeping its electricity bills at or lower their current rates via 15-year power purchase agreements. 

It’s one of the biggest fuel cell installations to date, both for Bloom and for the industry as a whole.

The U.S. had about 235 megawatts of large-scale stationary fuel cells operating in the U.S. as of mid-2016, most of them in California, according to a November report from the Department of Energy. But the largest single projects to date are in Connecticut, with nearly 15 megawatts from FuelCell Energy, and in Delaware, where Bloom set the previous record with a 30-megawatt deployment with Delmarva Power to deploy its fuel cells at utility substations. 

This week’s deal will put Bloom’s “energy servers” — self-contained fuel cells, inverters and control systems — behind the meter at Equinix data centers, where they will provide a portion of each site’s electricity around the clock. The units will be located at seven Equinix data centers in the Silicon Valley, three in the New York area, and two in the Los Angeles area, with the largest single site at 5.2 megawatts. 

Bloom, which says it has deployed more than 200 megawatts of its systems, has sold its fuel cells to data centers in the past, for customers including eBay and CenturyLink, as well as one 10-megawatt deal for Apple’s data center in North Carolina. 

But the Equinix deal represents the first big project under the PowerSecure partnership, which is aimed at giving its corporate parent, Southeastern utility Southern Company, an entree into the world of owning distributed energy assets. 

“The most exciting aspect of this structure is that it allows each party to focus on its core competency,” Asim Hussain, Bloom’s VP of marketing, said in an interview this week. Equinix “wants to operate the most efficient and reliable data centers in the world. We’re providing for that with clean, high-quality electricity…and the financing is coming from one of the largest utilities in the country. That’s what really allows distributed energy to scale.” 

Bloom’s fuel cells aren’t new to Equinix. Since 2015, the company has been testing a 1-megawatt installation at one of its San Jose data centers, and “it’s exceeded its business case from an efficiency standpoint and a financial standpoint,” according David Rinard, senior director of global sustainability and strategic sourcing. 

Based on that experience, “We took a look around the country to see where else it made sense to expand,” he said. Equinix looked for a combination of sites where the fuel cell’s cost of energy aligned with grid power prices, and where local or state air quality regulations barred natural-gas turbines or other combustion-based forms of distributed generation, he said. 

He wouldn’t disclose financial details on the power-purchase agreements Equinix signed for that fuel cell-generated electricity. “There are a lot of financial gymnastics that can go into that,” with prices differing from region to region, said Rinard.

But as with the company’s previous sustainability and renewable energy efforts, such as its large-scale purchases of wind power under PPAs, “We essentially want to buy green products that are in parity to grid costs.”

Bloom’s fuel cells still consume natural gas and emit carbon dioxide, making them far from a renewable or carbon-neutral energy source. But according to the partners, the 37 megawatts to be deployed will provide power that is 20 percent to 45 percent less carbon-intensive than the equivalent grid-supplied power. Those figures were calculated using the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) for the carbon footprint of the marginal grid power to be supplanted by the fuel cells, Hussain said. 

The fuel cell units also met Equinix’s strict requirements for power reliability, a critical issue for a company that hosts massive amounts of internet traffic from data centers around the world. About half of Bloom’s systems deployed as of mid-2016 were being used not just to augment the customer’s continuous energy needs, but also to provide uninterruptible backup power.

While Equinix isn’t planning to replace its existing emergency backup power systems with Bloom’s fuel cells, it has tested that capability at its initial site. “We could look at that at some point in the future,” Rinard said. 

Likewise, Bloom and PowerSecure have been testing a combination of fuel cells with battery storage systems to provide both emergency backup and baseload power. While the two haven’t deployed the combo at any sites yet, “We’re in constant evaluation of ways to use Bloom’s expertise alongside ours,” said Eric Dupont, PowerSecure’s chief commercial officer. 

Bloom has certainly faced its share of criticism over its cost claims. Its Delmarva power deal came under the most intense scrutiny, since it’s one of the few with publicly available details on surcharges being passed on to the utility’s ratepayers. Those surcharges added up to $130 million over the first four years of the program, according to The News Journal

It’s also been criticized for using the California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program to cover much of the costs of its fuel cells. The Equinix deployments in California won’t be using SGIP funding. Hussain noted that “there are no state incentives utilized.” 

Equinix will be tapping another value from Bloom’s systems at its California locations — the ability to hedge its electricity costs with natural-gas contracts. The company doesn’t have access to the state’s Direct Access program, which allows a limited number of large commercial power customers to buy electricity outside of utility rate structures. But, said Rinard, “We can enter into long-term forward contracts for gas, which is how we handle electricity purchases in most other jurisdictions.” 

Bloom also faced scrutiny over its green claims, with critics contending that it has cherry-picked figures to make its carbon emissions profile look better compared to grid power. It’s also worth noting that Bloom’s fuel cells generate solid waste which had for a time been classified as a hazardous material, although the company says it has resolved that issue through recycling the byproduct. 

The company has raised more than $1.2 billion since 2001 from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but has yet to find an exit for its investors. Late last year, news reports indicated that Bloom had filed for an initial public offering, using a confidential filing process for companies with less than $1 billion in annual revenues, but we’ve heard nothing since then about any IPO plans. 


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:30 am

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A World Bank Group Solar Program May Unlock 1.2GW of Utility-Scale Projects in Emerging Markets

A solar program from the World Bank Group (WBG) will lead to over 1.2 gigawatts of competitively priced utility-scale solar PV in Zambia, Senegal, Ethiopia and Madagascar in the coming years, according to new research.

Despite criticism from local developers, the program is a breakthrough risk mitigation and advisory mechanism that offers global solar developers a chance to secure a foothold in new markets with high growth potential and low rates of energy access.

GTM Research and Blue Horizon ECS are out with a new report on WBG’s Scaling Solar Program, finding it could be a catalyst for emerging markets.

The Scaling Solar Initiative is designed to address utility-scale solar project development challenges in emerging markets through a transparent auction overseen by the International Finance Corporation, with prescreened project sites and standardized contracts. Its aim is to support the procurement of utility-scale solar PV projects through a one-stop shop for turnkey advisory and due diligence, as well as standardized contracts that can be used by “any government and any bidder and any bank.”

The program also leverages risk reduction products from WBG to allow countries with high perceived risks and limited institutional capacity to benefit from solar PV project financing (typically LIBOR + single-digit market rates for 17- to 19-year terms).

Scaling Solar made headlines in June 2016 when a First Solar-Neoen consortium was awarded a bid of USD $0.0602 cents per kilowatt-hour (non-indexed) for the 54 megawatt-DC West Lunga project site, less than one year after signing the initial memorandum of understanding with the Zambian government.

FIGURE: Zambia’s Solar PV Bid Prices for 25-Year PPA in June 2016

Source: Evaluating the World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar Program

Addressing barriers to utility-scale solar in these markets

Development of new utility-scale projects in these markets faces a number of challenges, which have made it difficult to execute bankable and competitively priced projects in the past. These challenges include non-transparent procurement, questionable offtaker credibility, non-cost-reflective tariffs, exchange rate volatility, and overall lack of a stable institutional framework with strong regulatory support.

Organizations within WBG offer several support products to address some of these challenges and de-risk projects for developers, investors and governments.

Offtaker payment risk, for example, is a common challenge in markets where the state-owned utility sells electricity below the cost of supply and may have a conflict of interest to give preference to its generators rather than independent power producers if surplus supply exists. Similarly, the WBG insures against political risks such as government seizure of the project site or other contract breach.

FIGURE: Overview of Prepackaged Scaling Solar Support Products

Source: World Bank Group

Criticisms of the Scaling Solar Program

The program has come under criticism from some who say it hinders local developers in favor of vertically integrated global players that can offer more competitive pricing and may not have otherwise had interest in projects in Scaling Solar markets.

For example, the Zambia bid set a price benchmark expectation elsewhere in Africa that may limit developers in other markets. Developers are citing difficulties with regulators expecting similar prices or holding out on approving project licenses because of an expectation that there may be an MOU with Scaling Solar announced soon.

But while Scaling Solar may delay or threaten procurement for some share of nascent local developer pipelines, the solar industry is not a zero-sum game.

There are other market development drivers in the region, such as a the recently successful NamPower tender in Namibia, which resulted in a 45.5-megawatt contract awarded to Alten Developments Africa at NAM 0.807 per kilowatt-hour (USD $0.060) — slightly less than the leading Zambia bid without the risk-mitigated bidding environment Scaling Solar provides. The Scaling Solar program also does not address the distributed segments of these markets.

Further, if initial projects backed by IFC demonstrate that utility-scale projects can be procured competitively and built on time, they are likely to pave the way for more utility-scale development down the road. Future refinement of the Scaling Solar program may take some of these considerations into account along with further encouragement of a sustainable local industry in each of these markets.

Future outlook of Scaling Solar in Africa and Asia

As the program continues to progress in Zambia, Senegal, Madagascar and Ethiopia, IFC is also currently in negotiations with 12 more countries to set up Scaling Solar tenders under advisory mandates, including governments in Central and Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Africa.

The recent state of emergency declared by the government in Zambia highlights the value of the Scaling Solar program’s risk mitigation offerings in keeping these projects bankable. Neither of the projects in Zambia have reached financial close yet, despite an IFC deadline six months after projects were awarded in June 2016. While the program is off to a strong start, the jury is still out on its long-term success and replicability, as well as intended and unintended market impacts on the local industry.

Future rounds of the program will also benefit from lessons learned, including adjusting the timeline of the program to be more generous in lead times for engaged governments, more concrete requirements around land ownership and land-related environmental and social issues, and more customized prequalification criteria to prevent some private-equity-backed bidders from being structurally precluded from participating.

Scaling Solar’s transparent and standardized auction approach has demonstrated its ability to attract vertically integrated global developers to frontier markets by targeting the correct barriers to utility-scale solar project development in these high-risk markets.

Despite out-competing nascent local pipelines in the short term, these IFC-backed procurements could prove to be a major market driver for unlocking gigawatts of capacity in new markets for years to come.


This new report from GTM Research on the World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar Program explores the program offerings, engagement process, achievements to date, opportunities for developers, and future potential. For more insight, contact


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:26 am

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Suniva, SolarWorld Make Their Case for Import Relief: ‘We’re Not Out to Kill the Industry’

Federal trade officials asked representatives for Suniva and SolarWorld to justify their request for tariffs on imported solar equipment on Tuesday, marking the latest step in a case that threatens to upend the U.S. solar industry.

The 10-hour hearing at the International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. drew dozens of solar industry leaders, foreign diplomats and activists sporting t-shirts that read, “Save America’s Solar Jobs, No New Solar Tariffs.” 

Executives for the troubled solar manufacturers told the agency’s four commissioners that tariffs and price minimums are needed to revive their industry, which has been crushed by cheap imports from Asia.

“Quite simply, we need the commission’s help to save solar manufacturing in the United States,” said SolarWorld CEO Juergen Stein.

The companies are calling for duties of 40 cents per watt on imported cells and a floor price of 78 cents per watt on modules. If the commission approves the request, it could destroy 88,000 jobs in installation, sales and construction, according to estimates by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“What would you recommend might help the broader solar industry?” asked Commissioner Meredith Broadbent.

“We’re not out to kill the industry,” said Matt Card, Suniva’s VP of commercial operations. “We are very open to a solution that works for all parties.”

As the ITC hearing took place in Washington, President Trump held a press conference in New York City to discuss his $1 trillion infrastructure plan. “We want products made in the country,” he said at the presser. “I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.”

Solar trade case watchers will be paying close attention to Trump’s comments on jobs and the broader economy, as the final decision on whether to provide import relief, and the amount of relief, could end up being his.

Lawmakers say tariffs will cause their states to suffer

Suniva and SolarWorld have refuted the SEIA’s job predictions, pointing to an economic analysis by the law firm Mayer Brown that found new tariffs on solar products would result in a net increase of at least 114,800 jobs across all segments of the U.S. solar industry.

“There’s no way that math works,” said Tom Werner, the CEO of California-based SunPower, during a break in the hearing. “It’s ridiculous.”

Werner was among half a dozen solar company executives who testified that Suniva and SolarWorld brought their recent financial collapses upon themselves. Presidents and CEOs took turns describing their dealings with the two companies, recounting late deliveries, subpar panel efficiency and recalls on faulty panels.

“Not only are these arguments factually false, they are offensive,” said Suniva’s lawyer, Matthew McConkey, of the allegations. “The United States is literally strewn with the carcasses of shuttered solar manufacturing facilities.”

More than 25 witnesses testified against the proposed tariffs, including state lawmakers from Minnesota, North Carolina and Maryland. 

“Minnesotans benefit enormously from the solar trade with Canada,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, noting an Ontario-based solar producer, Heliene Inc., that employs workers in the state’s Iron Range.

“Operations like Heliene’s…will no longer have access to vital components, and Minnesotans will suffer the consequences,” he said.

North Carolina Rep. Jason Saine said solar growth played a key role in helping his state attract $9 billion in investment over the past 10 years, which has especially benefited poorer counties.

A bipartisan group of 16 senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives sent open letters to Commission Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein urging the commission to reject the petition. “We respectfully request that the commission carefully consider the potential negative impact that the high tariffs and minimum prices requested would have on the tens of thousands of solar workers in our states and on the hundreds of companies that employ them,” the letters state.

Several conservative free-market groups have also joined with SEIA to fight against protectionist trade measures.

Petitioners say previous trade cases didn’t do enough

Representatives from the Embassy of Canada and the Embassy of Mexico testified against the petition, saying the two countries should be excluded from duties because they don’t supply a significant percentage of solar imports. 

Georgia-based Suniva filed the original petition under Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act, which is an obscure part of U.S. trade law that could allow the president to implement tariffs, minimum prices or quotas on solar products from anywhere in the world if the ITC finds “serious injury.” SolarWorld, a German company with U.S. manufacturing operations in Oregon, joined the petition in May.

“What inspired Suniva and then SolarWorld to revive the use of the dormant Section 201 global safeguard law?” asked Vice Chairman David S. Johanson, noting it had not been used in a case since 2001.

SolarWorld lawyer Timothy Brightbill responded that anti-dumping laws implemented against China and Taiwan in 2015 had failed to address the industry’s downturn, and Chinese producers were “openly boasting” about how easy it was to set up solar manufacturing operations in other countries to circumvent the duty orders.

Todd Baylson, 41, who traveled from Philadelphia to attend the hearing, says the petition has “introduced uncertainty” at Solar States, an installation company where he works in business development.

“We have a really big project that we’re involved in, and it’s tied to a [power-purchase agreement] price,” said Baylson. “If panel prices double…it’s a problem.”

The ITC is expected to issue a decision in September. If trade officials decide that imports have caused “serious injury” to domestic solar manufacturers, they will recommend remedies to President Trump, who has spoken extensively about protecting U.S. manufacturing jobs. The final decision to accept, change or reject the ITC’s recommendation will be up to him.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:15 am

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SCE asks California to affirm San Onofre Nuclear Plant settlement

SCE urged the commission to affirm the existing settlement of issues related to the premature retirement of San Onofre in 2013  


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