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Member since: Fri Dec 19, 2003, 02:20 AM
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Rio+20: ‘We Cannot Conflate The Negotiations With What Is Actually Happening On The Ground’

Perspectives From Rio+20: ‘We Cannot Conflate The Negotiations With What Is Actually Happening On The Ground’
By Stephen Lacey on Jun 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

As the crowds at the Rio+20 Earth Summit dwindled and attendees left the conference hall late in the day Friday, a small group of people sat around a lunch table in the cafeteria engaged in spirited conversation.

They weren’t talking about the failed negotiations. They weren’t complaining about diplomats, the UN process, or the lack of a strong agreement at the summit. Rather, they were debating the barriers faced by entrepreneurs delivering solar to under-served populations in India.

The group consisted of Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club; Jigar Shah, former CEO of the Carbon War Room; Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Eight19, a company developing an off-grid solar lighting and battery system; and Mayank Sekhsaria, co-founder of Greenlight Planet, a firm helping entrepreneurs deploy off-grid solar technologies in India.

“What people don’t understand is that this isn’t about demand for solar, it’s about supply. If you could theoretically service these markets all at once, you’d solve the problem immediately,” said Sekhsaria, describing the different deployment bottlenecks within the off-grid Indian market.

Over the next hour... these experts debated the real, on-the-ground problems ...


Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Nearing Critical ‘Tipping Point’

Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Nearing Critical ‘Tipping Point’
by Andrew Freedman, via Climate Central

The Greenland ice sheet is poised for another record melt this year, and is approaching a “tipping point” into a new and more dangerous melt regime in which the summer melt area covers the entire land mass, according to new findings from polar researchers.

The ice sheet is the focus of scientific research because its fate has huge implications for global sea levels, which are already rising as ice sheets melt and the ocean warms, exposing coastal locations to greater damage from storm surge-related flooding.

Greenland’s ice has been melting faster than many scientists expected just a decade ago, spurred by warming sea and land temperatures, changing weather patterns, and other factors. Until now, though, most of the focus has been on ice sheet dynamics — how quickly Greenland’s glaciers are flowing into the sea. But the new research raises a different basis for concern.

The new findings show that the reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet, particularly the high-elevation areas where snow typically accumulates year-round, have reached a record low since records began in 2000. This indicates that the ice sheet is absorbing more energy than normal, potentially leading to another record melt year — just two years after the 2010 record melt season.

“In this condition, the ice sheet will continue to absorb more solar energy in a self-reinforcing feedback loop that ...


Big News for Renewable Energy: FERC Rules for Wind, Solar, Storage

Big News for Renewable Energy: FERC Rules for Wind, Solar, Storage

Like a Jedi responding to changing events by striving to bring balance to the Force, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Chairman Jon Wellinghoff has been rapidly reshaping the formerly sclerotic electricity sector to make it responsive to new technologies.

Some of the sector’s fossil fuel-centric rules left a high barrier to entry for so-called variable resources: energy like wind and solar that are only created when the wind blows or the sun shines, unlike, say, a gas or nuclear power plant that generates electricity around the clock.

A year ago, Wellinghoff told me: “[North American Electric Reliability Corporation] projects in its 2010 Long-Term Reliability Assessment that approximately 60 percent of all new resources expected to be added to the bulk power system by 2019 will be new wind and solar resources."

The FERC aims to remove regulatory barriers to ensure that all of these resources can get access the grid and play a competitive role in the energy markets.

To that end, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission passed ...


Renewables Make German Power Market Design Defunct, Utility Says

That "market design" being referenced means "centralized thermal", the design built around coal and nuclear. So this is a description of renewable energy in the first and most critical stage of putting fossil fuel generation out of business as a new "market design" centered around distributed renewables takes form.

If you are serious about climate change, this is what you've been waiting to see happen.

Renewables Make German Power Market Design Defunct, Utility Says
By Rachel Morison, Bloomberg
June 26, 2012

LONDON -- Electricity generation from renewable energy in Germany is reducing power prices and has left the country with a market whose design no longer works, according to Stadtwerke Leipzig GmbH.

Renewable generation, such as wind and solar, receives support from the German government in the form of a feed-in tariff, or FIT. Because there are no costs associated with the wind and sunshine, renewables have a generating margin of zero, as well as legally mandated priority access to the grid. As a result, fossil fuel-fired plants are generating for fewer hours and selling their power at cheaper prices, making them less profitable.

“As long as renewables have zero margin costs, the market design we have doesn’t work,” Jens Teresniak, team manager for business development and market analysis at Stadtwerke Leipzig, said in an interview in Leipzig on June 21. “Capacity markets could be a solution.”

So-called capacity markets allow utilities to fix prices for guaranteed backup power supply in advance, boosting margins for gas and coal electricity plants as renewables output rises. German policy makers are considering how to ensure there are enough round-the-clock plants to keep the lights on when nuclear reactors are phased out and renewables output falls short.

Merit Order

Increasing supply of renewable energy is one of the main reasons electricity prices in Germany have declined, Teresniak said....


“China must alter nuclear policy” (2)

“China must alter nuclear policy” (2)
He Zuoxiu
October 12, 2011

China not only needs to guarantee the absolute, long-term safety of existing and new nuclear power plants to avoid a Fukushima-style disaster, it also needs to find ways of dealing with the large quantities of highly radioactive waste its reactors produce. This waste must not be allowed to pollute the environment or groundwater over its lifespan (which could be thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years).

It needs stating from the outset that, when talking about the paramount importance of nuclear safety, I am not focusing on the number of fatalities in the immediate aftermath of an accident. People who compare these figures to the numbers of people killed in airplane or car crashes are missing the point: a nuclear accident could affect the environment of future generations for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years.

Experts who base pro-nuclear arguments on the fact the number of deaths per terawatt-year (a unit for measuring produced energy, electricity and heat) are among the lowest for nuclear power – only eight compared to 342 for coal, 85 for natural gas and 883 for hydropower according to statistics from the International Atomic Energy Agency – should be criticised. They are making the wrong comparison.

In the United States, government policy has so far failed to deal with the waste issue. For many years, the US has converted nuclear waste into solid form, placed it in stainless-steel containers, and buried it. But available storage space is dwindling, while the country still has almost 80,000 tonnes of waste material waiting to be dealt with.

In France and the United Kingdom...


Member of Chinese Academy of Sciences: “China must alter nuclear policy" (Too risky to justify)

Editor’s note: On June 23 this year, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the China Science Media Centre held a seminar on nuclear solutions and challenges in Beijing. Speaking at the event, He Zuoxiu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and a researcher at the CAS Institute of Theoretical Physics, fiercely criticised China’s “Great Leap Forward” in nuclear development. An edited extract of his presentation is, with He’s permission, made public for the first time here in two parts. In part one, He outlines three lessons he believes China must take from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

“China must alter nuclear policy” (1)
He Zuoxiu
October 12, 2011

Important lesson from Fukushima 1: China must immediately halt its plans for a nuclear “Great Leap Forward”, formulated by a small number of people behind closed doors.

Let’s take a look at China’s planned nuclear “Great Leap Forward”. Today, China has 11 reactors in operation, generating 9 gigawatts of electricity. Twenty-six more are under construction and will generate 28 gigawatts of electricity. The National Energy Administration and Chinese Academy of Engineering are working on targets which will see 70 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity by 2020, 200 gigawatts by 2030, and 400 to 500 gigawatts by 2050. Nuclear power will gradually become one of China’s main energy sources.

Globally, there are over 400 reactors up and running, generating 400 gigawatts of electricity. Over the next 10 to 40 years, China aims to match, or even exceed that total.

The United States is an example of a nation that rapidly developed nuclear power (although, after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, it drastically reduced the pace of nuclear development.) Today, the United States has 100 gigawatts of nuclear-generating capacity, and remains the world leader. Within 40 years, China plans to have four to five times the generating capacity of the United States. My question is: has China made the necessary preparations to undertake this “Great Leap Forward”?



German Solar Installations Coming In at $2.24 per Watt Installed, US at $4.44

The fruits of yet another effort by Republican Obstructionists working on behalf of corporate interests.

German Solar Installations Coming In at $2.24 per Watt Installed, US at $4.44
What steps can the U.S. take to keep up with the Johanneses?


...According to the BSW, average German system prices in the second quarter of 2012 were estimated at EUR1.776 per watt peak, or $2.24 per watt peak at current exchange rates. Since Germany is dominated by rooftop systems (72 percent of installations in 2011), this is an impressively low number. Assuming a module price of around $0.90 per watt peak, this implies an average balance of system cost of $1.34 per watt peak.

This is one of the reasons why, as Mehta puts it, the German downstream market is still alive and well. While only 650 megawatts were installed in January and February (typical for Germany), preliminary results from the BSW indicated deployment of 1.15 gigawatts in March, largely due to pull-in effects of an expected April feed-in tariff cut, which was subsequently delayed. Second-quarter installation run-rates are proceeding at a healthy clip, in large part due to the deployment of “grandfathered” ground-mounted projects under the pre-April 1 feed-in tariff regime.

GTM Research is currently estimating 2012 installations in Germany to come in at around 6.5 gigawatts, compared to 7.5 gigawatts in 2011.

On the other hand -- as just detailed in GTM Research's U.S. Solar Market Insight -- the U.S. average system price was $4.44 per watt in the first quarter of 2011...


See also:
NREL says 80% of US electricity can be renewable by 2050 with current technology
US National Renewable Energy Lab says 80% of US electricity can be renewable by 2050, even with current technology.

Original study with great interactive features here:

NREL report on cutting solar costs by recognizing that PV is a permanent fixture on a property

This report from NREL is part of the Sunshot Initiative that Obama launched. It looks at one element of the "soft" (non-hardware) costs of solar - a financing mechanism known as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). To get an idea of how significant this can be consider that, exclusive of any incentives, the averaged US cost for one watt of installed solar capacity is $4.44 while the cost in Germany for the same watt of solar is $2.24.
The difference is "soft" costs.

Photovoltaic Systems Share Characteristics of "Real Property"
By Bill Scanlon, NREL
June 25, 2012 | 3 Comments

Photovoltaic (PV) systems may meet many of the important criteria to be considered real property — a status that could make them eligible for easier financing — a new report by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, contends.

The NREL report, "The Technical Qualifications for Treating Photovoltaic Assets as Real Property by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)," points out that PV systems aren't meant to be moved — thus arguably achieving the threshold of "permanence;" and don't involve mechanical energy — thus possibly meeting the criteria for "passiveness." Those are two of the criteria that could gain PV status as "real property," similar to houses or railroad tracks, as opposed to personal property, such as bulldozers or trains.

Currently, PV systems are not eligible for a major source of public funding: Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) which are popular among those seeking investments in real assets. Such investors hope to see stable, long-term returns typical of real assets.

The stakes are potentially huge....

That ineligibility leaves PV contending for loans in the private market where lack of supply and access allow investors to demand rates of return that can be three times higher than seen in public markets, said David Feldman, an NREL analyst and co-author of the report....


From the NREL report:
One of the requirements for solar electricity1 to achieve broad adoption and cost competitiveness with traditional forms of energy generation in the United States is widely accessible and low cost financial capital. The Department of Energy’s SunShot goals, which would result in solar energy contributing to 14% of the nation’s total electricity production by 2030, would require approximately $250 billion of solar electric generation deployment (DOE 2012). Currently, solar electric generation projects are primarily financed by institutions deploying private capital, which often require a high return on their investment. As a result, there has been a growing interest in financial policies and structures that would help migrate financing of renewable energy projects from private sources of capital to public capital markets (Mendelsohn 2012).

One investment vehicle that has been discussed by legal and financial experts in the project finance community to accomplish this is a real estate investment trust (REIT). While REITs have historically provided capital for buildings, they have recently been used to help finance other types of property, such as cellular towers and transmission lines.2 The purpose of this study is to examine the fundamental physical, functional, and operational characteristics of a photovoltaic (PV) system in the context of the characteristics of “real” property as defined by the tax code, to help determine whether REITs can own PV systems. The solar market has treated PV as “personal” property for federal and state tax purposes. If the IRS were to classify PV as “real” property, it would likely have implications on existing market structures. This work has been reviewed and informed by real estate, tax and project finance attorneys as well as experts in PV technology and deployment, however should not be viewed as an exhaustive study of the legal and tax issues surrounding the topic.

Inherent to answering this question is whether PV systems possess three fundamental properties: permanence, passivity, and being integrated as a system. These three properties are associated with real property as follows: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stipulates that if a system is inherently permanent, then it is realty,3 and if it is an accessory to the operation of a business, it is not. Inherently permanent and an accessory to the operation of a business are mutually exclusive terms. Therefore, to establish whether a piece of property should be considered realty, it must be determined which term best applies based on the facts and circumstances of the particular situation. Passivity is one characteristic that helps determine whether an asset is an accessory to the operation of a business, and thus non-real property. It is also important to determine what pieces of a PV system should be characterized as real property. If a PV system is integrated, one could make an argument that all of it should be classified in the same way. Therefore, establishing whether a PV system is inherently permanent and passive will help inform whether it is real, and establishing whether it is integrated as a system will establish whether all of it should be treated in the same way. Further research should be performed to explore possible outcomes of treating PV systems as real property, and whether or not it would be practical for REITS to own them.
Introduction to REITs
The REIT structure was designed to bundle and securitize real estate assets in order to attract capital from a wide range of sources. A REIT is a tax designation status that eliminates most corporate taxes so long as the REIT distributes 90% of its taxable income to investors.4 The REIT structure has several attractive features compared to traditional sources of financing for PV. Many of these have the potential to lower the cost of capital for projects, increase the pool of potential financiers, and allow a large number of locations well cited for solar to be more easily developed.

Key Benefits
Some key benefits of REITs include:


Who Owns Solar?

Who Owns Solar?
Expanding ownership models are growing the solar industry.

Along with the emergence of three distinct ownership models (customer-owned, third-party-owned, and utility-owned), the U.S. photovoltaic (PV) market has grown, over the last ten years, at an average annual rate of approximately 70 percent, according to GTM Research.

...The bulk of national solar growth has been in rooftop installations. More than 62,000 systems were installed in the U.S. in 2011, bringing the national cumulative total at the end of the year to over 203,000 distributed PV systems making up an installed capacity of almost 2,700 megawatts (AC).


In 2009, residential systems were 87 percent customer-owned and commercial systems were 49 percent customer-owned. Customer ownership of commercial systems increased in 2011 to 58 percent.

But as third-party ownership became the fastest-growing segment of the residential rooftop sector of the industry, customer ownership of residential systems fell to 59 percent and third-party ownership of residential systems went from 2009’s 13 percent to 41 percent in 2011.


The economics of solar...

More at: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/who-owns-solar/

Seismologists warn Japan against nuclear restart

Seismologists warn Japan against nuclear restart

TOKYO | Tue Jun 26, 2012 4:30pm IST
(Reuters) - Two prominent seismologists said on Tuesday that Japan is ignoring the safety lessons of last year's Fukushima crisis and warned against restarting two reactors next month.

...Seismic modeling by Japan's nuclear regulator did not properly take into account active fault lines near the Ohi plant, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, told reporters.

"The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants both allow for accidents at plants to occur," Ishibashi told reporters. "Instead of making standards more strict, they both represent a severe setback in safety standards."

Experts advising Japan's nuclear industry had underestimated the seismic threat, Mitsuhisa Watanabe, a tectonic geomorphology professor at Tokyo University, said at the same news conference.

"The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency are highly questionable," Watanabe said...

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