Friday, August 17, 2007

Non Solars Going Solar

Wells Fargo said it has made the largest equity investment in solar energy in the company's history -- in Nevada Solar One, a 64-megawatt Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant southeast of Las Vegas. The $266 million project developed by Acciona Energy is the largest solar energy facility built in the world in 16 years.

Last month, we caught wind of IBM's possible foray into PV. Now, murmurings are swirling that chip maker Intel and electronics manufacturer Samsung are seeking to expand into the solar business. Intel is reportedly looking at acquisitions in Germany, while Samsung plans to open a solar power plant in Greece by the end of the year.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Solar Boom, All Over the World

A Chinese company has entered into a Sh9 billion partnership with a Kenyan firm to build the first solar panel factory in East Africa. The move is expected to reposition solar as a key source of energy in Kenya by making it more affordable to millions of consumers who depend on the national electricity grid for their energy needs. It is estimated that the Beijing Tianpu Xianxing Enterprises and Electrogen Technologies venture could see the prices of solar panels drop by up to 65 per cent. The project will be implemented through Pan African Technologies, a jointly owned company in which Beijing Tianpu has a 70 per cent interest and will raise $100 million (Sh7 billion) from internal resources. Its local partner is expected take up the remaining fraction of the financing plan in cash and kind, including $40 million (Sh2.8 billion) in cash and three acres of land along Nairobi's Mombasa Road where the factory is to be erected by a local company of Chinese origin. Construction of the facility is set to start in October for completion in March 2008. Once built, the factory will source the materials required locally and employ a minimum of 100 Chinese trained staff.

In the Czech Republic, a 2005 renewable energy law modeled after Germany's has spurred on the Czech solar industry. Last year, the country as a whole generated only 540 MWh of solar energy. Korowatt’s solar plant, which began operating in January, is expected to outdo this total on its own, with 628 MWh expected this year. Another Czech-based company, HiTecSolar, announced completion of its own “largest solar power station in Central Europe,” located in east Moravia.

Japan, already amongst the world's leaders in solar cell production and where solar adoption exist without subsidies, may need to increase reliance on solar, particularly thin-film solar, to fight its pollution woes.

In the mean time, despite turbulence in the stock markets, publicly listed solar names do not seem to be experiencing a slowdown, but are instead ramping up with expansions plans. SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWR) inked up new ingot, wafer and polysilicon deals; LDK Solar secured a three year wafer supply agreement; and China-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) set up its new U.S. head office in Phoenix, Arizona.

Monday, August 6, 2007

U.S. House Passes RPS and Extends Solar Tax Credits

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a tax bill (HR 969) Saturday that would extend renewable energy tax credits and encourage energy efficiency, paying for itself by repealing $16 billion in tax breaks to oil and gas companies. The House passed the tax provisions by a vote of 221-189. Earlier it had approved, 241-172, a companion energy package (HR 969) aimed at boosting energy efficiency and expanding use of biofuels, wind power and other renewable energy sources through a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The two bills, passed at an unusual Saturday session as lawmakers prepared to leave town for their month-long summer recess, will be merged with legislation passed by the Senate in June.

HR 2776 extends renewable energy production tax credits to 2012, costing around $6.6 billion over 10 years, and extends a 30% tax credit for solar energy and fuel cell investment for eight years to 2016, costing around $563 million.

On one of the most contentious and heavily lobbied issues, the House voted for HR 969 to require investor-owned electric utilities nationwide to generate at least 11% of their electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind or biofuels and a maximum of 4% for energy efficiency for a combined 15% RPS, or perhaps more accurately a "REPS" (Renewable energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard). More than 20 states have similar standards in place (see the Database for State Incentives for Renewable Energy or DSIRE) or under development, but proponents say a federal standard is needed to rapidly drive increased use of renewable energy.

With the Senate version of the legislation already complete (but lacking an RPS or solar tax credit provisions), passage in the House leads to a conference committee stage in the fall and possible final passage of a reconciled bill in late October or early November.