What Does Solar Energy Mean To Germany’s Big Utilities?

Germany’s renewable sector (RE) is flexing its muscles, with solar production up 28% and wind up 19% during the first half of 2014. As a result, the renewable sector accounted for 31% of the nation’s electricity. If this trend continues, this may be the third year in a row that Germany sets a record for energy exports. The increase in renewables has also been accompanied by a decrease in fossil fuel usage. Gas-fired power plant production is down 25%, compared to last year, and hard coal production fell 11%. Only lignite power usage rose. So what does solar energy mean to Germany’s utilities?

In the video Birthing a Solar Age, Jerry Rifkin points out that so much renewable energy was fed into the grid one day last month that the price of electricity fell below zero. He predicted there will be more days like this, and in the future Germany’s utilities will not want to sell electricity, as they lose too much money!
Max Hildebrandt, renewables expert at Germany Trade & Invest, points out that it is important to distinguish between the wholesale spot market price and the consumer market price, and to note that utilities in the EU have seen gradual unbundling into grid-side and generation and supply operations.
“Negative prices on the EPEX spot exchange are a relatively rare but not unusual phenomenon,” he said. “They occur only during short peak periods – usually around noon when solar radiation is highest – and not for entire days. They are merely a signal for the large-scale spot market participants and do not have an immediate effect on the more rigid prices in the consumer market.”
When spot prices are negative, power generators can choose whether to cut production or briefly accept negative prices for their electricity. Although there is a general tendency for greater fluctuations in demand and supply with an increased share of renewables, Hildebrandt notes that this can be countered “by expanding the grid so that it is more flexible geographically, by increasing energy storage capacity to increase flexibility in terms of time, and by employing demand response approaches. Germany does all of the above and there are large business opportunities in these areas.”
There are more than 1.4 million PV systems in Germany, according to figures from Germany Trade and Invest. The transformation of the German energy market, now known as the Energiewende, began with the first EEG legislation and has seen PV prices drop from over EUR 0.50/kWh in 2006 to around EUR 0.15/kWh in 2014. PV systems have nearly no operational costs meaning that once the initial capital investment has been paid back they produce power extremely cheaply. German legislators and regulators are currently revising their approaches toward the energy market as new business models evolve.
“Some utilities have entered the renewables business themselves, especially in capital-intensive offshore wind, which benefits from near constant and stronger wind than onshore systems thus providing a more stable supply,” Hildebrandt noted.
In his book Sun Above the Horizon, Meteoric Rise of the Solar Industry (pp. 452-57), Peter Varadi suggests that the corporate culture of Germany’s four big utilities is much more amenable to wind than solar energy.
They have only recently come to terms with solar energy’s existence, and Varadi suggests this is because the utilities are both centralized and largely reliant on fossil fuel plants. As of 2011, they had not contributed a penny of the $80 billion invested in Germany’s solar sector. Now they have all launched solar arms that encourage customers to install solar plus battery.
Hildebrandt said, “a lot of industry players expect a boom in solar storage system sales as modern and cheaper battery technology becomes available. Additionally, virtual power plant business models are already generating and storing electricity in Germany. Under this model, owners of small-scale storage systems allow a certain percentage of their storage capacity to be controlled remotely and bundled with capacity from other systems. This combined capacity can then be auctioned on the primary control market and is used to provide balancing energy as required.”
“Promising grid-scale solutions are being experimented with by leading German SMEs. Younicos, for example, is focusing on lithium-ion, sodium-sulfur and vanadium-redox-flow storage systems. Biogas and wind-to-gas applications, for example RH2-WKA in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, also show great potential. Compressed air is another area being investigated.”
Varadi suggests the utilities may have mixed motives for promoting battery storage for rooftop solar. One of RWE HomePower solar’s ads (Varadi, p 475) points out that most home owners are not getting the full benefit of this technology. It is produced during the day, when most of the family is at work or school, and most of this electricity is fed directly into the grid!
“What you should have is a solar electricity storage that makes it possible to utilize the solar electricity exactly when you need it. This Independence offer you as of now the RWE HomePower Solar.”
Is this an attempt to move Germany’s solar users off the grid, where they will be less disruptive?
Those coal and gas fired power plants would not have taken such a hit during the first half of 2014 if homeowners had stored their surplus energy rather than feeding it to the grid.
Varadi suggests there will soon be 3 million German solar owners, but notes (p 457) that none of the big four utilities have expressed plans to among them.

This article is reposted from Clean Technica Author credit goes to Roy Hales Images credit goes to Tim Fuller,  

3 Charts That Explain Why Obama Is Talking About Chilean Solar

During a visit from Chilean head of state Michelle Bachelet, President Obama pointed to an unlikely example of the strong ties binding the two countries together: solar power.
The president noted the shared interest the two countries have in transitioning to a clean energy economy, and Bachelet called the U.S. Chile’s “most important foreign investor.” The $230 million loan recently approved by Overseas Private Investment Corporation for First Solar’s 141-megawatt solar project in Chile certainly affirms both statements.
There is much more to this investment than the politics. Financing through OPIC is a savvy business move which has ensured that American companies will develop a leading presence in one of Latin America’s most exciting and lucrative markets.

The Chilean market opportunity

The Chilean solar market will grow to 287 megawatts this year, from a base of 11 megawatts in 2013. This is the most solar ever installed in any Latin American country, tripling the amount installed in Peru, the former regional leader. So why is Chile suddenly taking off?
Chile has a number of characteristics that are driving this rapid growth, including a need for new supply, high marginal power prices, strong insolation levels, a transparent power market, clear regulations, and a mandatory target for renewable generation. These factors are converging to create a highly attractive market. However, it has taken time for projects to materialize, as developers negotiate offtake agreements in a highly competitive atmosphere, educate market participants about solar technology, navigate the permitting process, structure projects to meet the lender’s risk profiles, and then complete construction (read more on what early developers have learnedhere). This is the new normal in sustainable markets, which will differ from the growth pattern seen in policy-driven markets.

The U.S. tops both of GTM's downstream Chile rankings

In GTM Research’s Latin America PV Playbook, we currently rank two different downstream metrics. First, we look at which developers and EPC companies have the largest market share. Second, we break down which countries are investing the most in the market. The U.S. is currently dominating both categories.
In terms of company’s developing projects, SunEdison is currently the unquestioned market leader, with 150 megawatts in operation. Second place is currently held by Solarpack, a Spanish developer with 25 megawatts installed; however, by the end of the year, Solarpack will cede the No. 2 spot to SunPower, another U.S. company, which will soon be completing its 70-megawatt Salvador project. The recent OPIC decision to provide $230 million in financing for First Solar’s 141-megawatt Luz del Norte project ensures that, by this time next year, three of the top six developers in the country will be U.S. companies. 

In the second category, the most active investor in Chile for debt financing is...you guessed it: the United States. OPIC has poured $629 million into five projects, totaling 431 megawatts. That is four times as much as the next largest investor, the International Finance Corporation with $130 million -- and larger than the next six investors combined, which boast $507 million in investment between them.**

These two factors are, of course, interrelated. U.S. companies are dominating the downstream market in no small part because of their access to capital. But one huge benefit of the U.S. strategy in Chile is that it isn’t just cashing in on a market opportunity -- instead, it is actually helping to create the market. Having companies and financiers which are willing to be first movers in sustainable markets is a big part of unlocking market growth and creating a bigger pie for everyone. Once a few developers gain experience in the market, players across the entire energy ecosystem -- offtakers, grid operators, policymakers, commercial lenders -- can become more comfortable with the solar value proposition. The risk of lending to the first solar project, signing the first PPA, or rubber-stamping the first environmental approval is much higher than in subsequent deals.
The influx of U.S. capital and experienced developers who can build trust have sparked what will be one of the largest regional markets over the next five years. Stay tuned for more detailed coverage from GTM Research on this topic.

This article is reposted from Greentech Solar Author credit goes to Latin America PV Playbook Images credit goes to Adam James 

Helsinki's Ambitious Plan To Make Car Ownership Pointless In 10 Years

The Finnish capital has announced plans to transform its existing public transport network into a comprehensive, point-to-point "mobility on demand" system by 2025 – one that, in theory, would be so good nobody would have any reason to own a car.
Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use. 
Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here.
That the city is serious about making good on these intentions is bolstered by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority's rollout last year of a strikingly innovative minibus service called Kutsuplus. Kutsuplus lets riders specify their own desired pick-up points and destinations via smartphone; these requests are aggregated, and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies all of them.
All of this seems cannily calculated to serve the mobility needs of a generation that is comprehensively networked, acutely aware of motoring's ecological footprint, and – if opinion surveys are to be trusted – not particularly interested in the joys of private car ownership to begin with. Kutsuplus comes very close to delivering the best of both worlds: the convenient point-to-point freedom that a car affords, yet without the onerous environmental and financial costs of ownership (or even a Zipcar membership).
But the fine details of service design for such schemes as Helsinki is proposing matter disproportionately, particularly regarding price. As things stand, Kutsuplus costs more than a conventional journey by bus, but less than a taxi fare over the same distance – and Goldilocks-style, that feels just about right. Providers of public transit, though, have an inherent obligation to serve the entire citizenry, not merely the segment who can afford a smartphone and are comfortable with its use. (In fairness, in Finland this really does mean just about everyone, but the point stands.) It matters, then, whether Helsinki – and the graduate engineering student the municipality has apparently commissioned to help it design its platform – is proposing a truly collective next-generation transit system for the entire public, or just a high-spec service for the highest-margin customers.
It remains to be seen, too, whether the scheme can work effectively not merely for relatively compact central Helsinki, but in the lower-density municipalities of Espoo and Vantaa as well. Nevertheless, with the capital region's arterials and ring roads as choked as they are, it feels imperative to explore anything that has a realistic prospect of reducing the number of cars, while providing something like the same level of service.
To be sure, Helsinki is not proposing to go entirely car-free. (Many people in Finland have a summer cottage in the countryside, and rely on a car to get to it.) But it's clear that urban mobility badly needs to be rethought for an age of commuters every bit as networked as the vehicles and infrastructures on which they rely, but who retain expectations of personal mobility entrained by a century of private car ownership. Helsinki's initiative suggests that at least one city understands how it might do so.

This article is reposted from the Guardian Author credit goes to Adam Greenfield Images credit goes to Hemis/Alamy 

Renewable Energy Jobs Top 6.5 Million Globally

Approximately 6.5 million people were employed by the renewable energy industry globally by the end of 2013, according to new figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The data shows a steady rise in the number of people employed directly and indirectly in renewable energy – seeing a 14% increase on 2012 levels of 5.7 million employees.
The growth was the result of regional shifts in the renewables market, growing competition and advances in technology and manufacturing processes, according to the report.
IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin said:
With 6.5 million people directly or indirectly employed in renewable energy, the sector is proving that it is no longer a niche, it has become a significant employer worldwide.

The report – Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2014 – confirmed China’s position as the world’s largest renewable energy market with much of the new job creation coming from the country’s booming solar and wind sectors.
PV installations in China grew five-fold between 2011 and 2013, according to IRENA, reinforcing the country’s position as the world’s largest renewable energy employer, with an estimated 2.6 million jobs.
Brazil and the US are the next biggest renewable employment nations – with 0.89 million jobs and 0.63 million jobs respectively.
The European Union was also a frontrunner, responsible for 1.2 million jobs – with Germany and Spain especially big employers.
Meanwhile the largest employers by sector include solar photovoltaic, biofuels, wind, modern biomass and biogas.
The solar PV industry enjoyed a particularly strong year, according to the report, employing over 2.2 million people globally at the end of 2013.
IRENA says increasing installations and the rapidly falling price of solar PV panels as the main drivers behind the jobs rise.
Liquid biofuels was the next largest sector employing 1.4 million people, while the wind industry had over 800,000 employees in 2013.
This article is reposted from Tck Tck Tck Author credit goes to Tierney Smith Images credit goes to Brian Coyle, Creative Commons

Germany’s Windiest State Set to Achieve 100-Percent Renewable Energy

While some countries around the world try to figure out how to deploy more clean energy, one German state is planning on having enough renewables for exportation.
Known as Germany’s windiest area, Schleswig-Holstein believes it could provide 100 percent renewable energy at some point this year, Renewables International reported. Producing as much renewable energy as it consumes in total electricity would go a long way toward Schleswig-Holstein meeting the 300-percent renewable goal the state’s Minister-President Torsten Albig announced at an energy conference two years ago.

If Schleswig-Holstein could meet 300-percent renewable energy, it would account for about 8 percent of Germany’s total electricity needs, said Dr. Matthias Lang, who keeps a German energy blog. What’s more, Schleswig-Holstein’s wind growth has taken place in the face of a national energy plan that the state’s energy minister, Robert Habeck, believes isn’t aggressive enough in displacing nuclear power.

“At these quantities, [not even] nuclear power will be completely replaced by renewables,” Habeck told German website Klimaretter when asked about the nation’s 45-percent renewables target for 2030. “Not only Schleswig-Holstein [is against a 2.5-gigawatt wind energy development cap], I suspect that almost all countries have criticized in their opinions this cap to be wrong. Actually, I think nothing of the system [but] a lot of control, certainl not in the best renewable energy, we know." 

Meanwhile, experts say Germany as a whole is ready for solar energy to provide half of its electricity mix. The country set broke three solar records in just three weeks.

“German solar demonstrated just what it is capable of in the first two weeks of June,” Tobias Rothacher, an expert for renewable energies at Germany Trade & Invest, told The Local.
According to the Fraunhofer ISE Research Institute, Germany’s solar energy generated a record 24.24 GW of electricity between 1 and 2 p.m. on June 6th. Three days later, solar production peaked at 23.1 GW—50.6 percent of total electricity demand.

This article is reposted from EcoWatch Author credit goes to Brandon Baker Images credit goes to Chez Eskay/Flickr