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January 12, 2013

TMCnet GreenTech Week in Review



In green technology developments worldwide this week, President François Hollande of France has pledged to double the nation’s solar production capacity target for 2013; in China, JinkoSolar has been honored as the “most promising” enterprise in green energy; and in the United States, Ames Laboratory and its research partners have received over $100 million from the Department of Energy to address the shortage of rare metals for renewable energy production.

President François Hollande of France, who has been in office a little over six months since defeating his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, seems to be making good on his campaign promises. During pre-election debates last spring, Sarkozy said France needed to do more to cut spending and high-state debt, while Hollande backed government-funded stimulus programs. Now, in his latest move to support France’s shaky economy – and, specifically, to buttress up the nation’s slumping solar sector –Hollande has approved several measures, which are slated to take effect later this year. He has pledged to double the nation’s solar production capacity target for 2013 to 1 gigawatt; issued ground rules for the next tender, applicable to mid-size installations; and added a bonus of up to 10 percent to the feed-in tariffs paid to small solar plants that use panels made in the European Economic Area (EEA). While the intent is commendable, there already may be one flaw in the plan: The domestic content (EEA) mandate on the feed-in tariff may not pass muster with the World Trade Organization (WTO) which just two weeks ago ruled that Ontario’s domestic-content requirements – a key condition of the Canadian province's feed-in-tariff (FIT) program – violate sections of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994.

JinkoSolar Holding Co.—which just a month ago was awarded $1 billion in financing by the Guangdong Branch of the China Development Bank., representing a sure sign that the People’s Republic is optimistic about the outlook for the photovoltaic module producer—has been honored jointly by China Energy News (CEN) and the China Institute of Energy Economics Research (CIER). Following a collaborative-assessment of nearly 1,000 renewable energy companies worldwide, CEN and CIER bestowed the title of “Most Promising Enterprise” on Shangai-based JinkoSolar. With a long-term development strategy, superior product quality and industry-leading efficiency, JinkoSolar was identified as one of the companies with the highest potential in photovoltaic industry. At the end of Q3 2012, the company announced total shipments for the preceding three months of 335.2 megawatts (MW) of solar product, representing a sequential increase over the 302.1 MW shipped during the second quarter. Compared to some other China-based solar manufacturers—notably, LDK Solar, Suntech, Yingli Solar, and Trina Solar—JinkoSolar saw enviable results during 2012. But with the industry still suffering from an oversupply of modules and price wars, among other problems, there are no guarantees for 2013. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week that a team led by Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, has been selected for an award of up to $120 million, distributed over five years, to establish an Energy Innovation Hub that will develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials that are critical to U.S. energy security.“Rare earth metals and other critical materials are essential to manufacturing wind turbines, electric vehicles, advanced batteries and a host of other products that are essential to America’s energy and national security,” said David Danielson, assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, adding, “The Critical Materials Institute (CMI) will bring together the best and brightest research minds from universities, national laboratories and the private sector to find innovative technology solutions that will help us avoid a supply shortage that would threaten our clean energy industry as well as our security interests.”

In other news, back in July 2011, Ford Motor Company posted a note on Facebook (News - Alert) about its efforts to make the 2012 electric Focus, ahem, “resonate” with consumers. The automaker was responding to newly proposed federal regulations, which would require “all unobtrusively quiet vehicles”—including EVs and hybrids (HEVs)—to hum, whir, or thrum so that they could not be missed on approach at speeds of 18 miles per hour or less. The goal: To give a gentle heads-up to unwary pedestrians and the visually impaired, but not to cause a ruckus. Electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds—making them much quieter than cars that use internal combustion engines. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 would fulfill Congress' mandate in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of January 2011 that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound requirements. Under the PSEA, the added sound also must be “recognizable” as that of a “motor vehicle” in operation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that, if this proposal were implemented, there would be 2,800 fewer pedestrian and pedal cyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans and low speed vehicles, as compared to vehicles without sound. NHTSA sent the proposal to the Federal Register on January 7. Upon publication, the public will have 60 days to submit comments on this NHTSA action.

Finally, this week marked the official launch of an alternative, egalitarian way of financing rooftop solar energy. Through crowdfunding, Oakland, California-based Mosaic is offering small investors the opportunity to put their money into rooftop solar power plants and  to receive a return based on the energy produced. Mosaic, which describes itself as “an online marketplace that connects investors to high-quality solar projects,” has begun offering investments to residents of California and New York as well as to accredited investors nationwide in the United States. The first investment offerings are in solar projects on affordable housing apartments for low-income residents in California—offering a 4.5 percent annual return, net of servicing fees with terms of approximately nine years. Both the U.S. government and private sector venture capitalists have seen the value in the new Mosaic model. In June, the U.S. Department of Energy granted $2 million to the company, as a promising “kickstarter” for solar projects.  “Energy investing has traditionally been a bank-only game, but already, hundreds of people from across the United States have invested to finance solar projects through Mosaic. We expect millions more to follow,” explained Dan Rosen, Mosaic’s CEO.




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