Tilting towards windmills

THE 1996 Olympics in Atlanta did not all go IBM’s way. For all its technical prowess, the computer giant managed to bungle the reporting of some competition results. On the plus side, it was at the Games that IBM first deployed Deep Thunder, a novel computer model which warned the organisers when and where to expect inclement weather—and correctly predicted that a thunderstorm forecast by other meteorologists would not affect the closing ceremony. Deep Thunder has since gone through countless iterations, or which the latest, called the Hybrid Renewable Energy Forecaster (HyREF) IBM unveiled on August 12th.

As its name suggests, HyREF is meant to make it easier to incorporate wind energy into the grid. Owing to Aeolian vagaries, it is hard for operators of wind farms to forecast output accurately—or indeed to work out where best to erect turbines in the first place. The ability to predict where wind will blow and how hard is therefore crucial if wind power is to live up to its boosters’ hopes.

IBM’s system increases this all-important predictability using a handful of sophisticated technologies. Clever sensors mounted on individual turbines gauge wind speed, temperature and direction. Their readings are combined with data from traditional measurement towers equipped with meteorological instruments, as well as past-weather data. Indeed, Brad Gammons, who runs IBM’s energy and utilities arm, says that most of the progress since Deep Thunder has taken place over the last two years, mainly thanks to the rapidly growing availability of information, both real-time and historical. In particular, Mr Gammons says, this is true for China, the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, but also its biggest investor in renewable energy.

Written by H.G. To read the full article, click here.

Japan Solar Energy Soars, But Grid Needs to Catch Up

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost island, is known for its beautiful wild nature, delicious seafood, and fresh produce. Now another specialty is taking root: Large-scale megasolar power plants that take advantage of the island’s unique geography.

A new renewable energy incentive program has Japan on track to become the world’s leading market for solar energy, leaping past China and Germany, with Hokkaido at the forefront of the sun power rush. In a densely populated nation hungry for alternative energy, Hokkaido is an obvious choice to host projects, because of the availability of relatively large patches of inexpensive land. Unused industrial park areas, idle land inside a motor race circuit, a former horse ranch—all are being converted to solar farms. (See related, “Pictures: A New Hub for Solar Tech Blooms in Japan.”)

But there’s a problem with this boom in Japan’s north. Although one-quarter of the largest solar projects approved under Japan’s new renewables policy are located in Hokkaido, the island accounts for less than 3 percent of the nation’s electricity demand. Experts say Japan will need to act quickly to make sure the power generated in Hokkaido flows to where it is needed. And that means modernizing a grid that currently doesn’t have capacity for all the projects proposed, installing a giant battery—planned to be the world’s largest—to store power when the sun isn’t shining, and ensuring connections so power can flow across the island nation.

Written by Yvonne Chang. To read the full article, click here.

The Sun Breaks Through Stormy Skies of China/EU Trade

China and the West broke a decades-old pattern of troubled trade relations over the weekend with a landmark deal to settle a trade dispute between China and the EU involving Chinese manufactured solar panels. Leaders in China and the West should use this breakthrough agreement as a template for resolving future trade disputes, turning to compromise rather than destructive accusations and punitive tariffs to end their disagreements.

Trade between China and the West has grown rapidly over the last two decades following China’s economic reforms to create a more market-oriented economy. The EU and the US are now China’s two biggest trading partners, with combined exports to both markets totaling more than $700 billion last year – greater than China’s entire exports a decade ago. Disputes are almost inevitable with such rapid growth, and many of those are related to China’s policies of State support for many big companies and key industries.

The solar panel dispute began two years ago when the sector suddenly plunged into a downward spiral after nearly a decade of explosive growth. A major cause of that downturn was a rapid buildup of capacity in China, as China rolled out favorable policies like tax incentives and cheap loans to promote development of a cutting-edge sector with big growth potential. As prices tumbled, a growing number of companies in the US and Europe went bankrupt, with many blaming cheap imports from China for their woes. Washington opened an investigation into the matter, which ended with the imposition of antidumping tariffs against Chinese manufacturers last year. The EU followed with its own investigation, and announced its own tariffs this spring.

Written by Doug Young. To read the full article, click here.

What You Need to Know About Shopping for Solar Panels

Following a record-breaking year for rooftop solar panels in the U.S. in 2012, you can expect a flood of information overload on how to go about getting solar panels installed on your rooftop. Choosing the right solar panel service company has long required a considerable amount of detective work to figure out what you want and what you need.

As with any retail service, consumers should expect to deal in a straightforward manner with installers and get what they’re promised. Most consumers, though, have no previous experience shopping for solar, so it’s more difficult to spot shady language in a contract or missing steps in the purchase process. An online search of solar installers in your town could turn up a long list of companies.

To help you combat the mass of information, as well as any misinformation, we created this cheat sheet of things you should consider:

Written by Ucilia Wang. To read the full article, click here.

EU, China settle solar-panel dispute

Chinese producers agree to minimum price for exports.
The European Union and China yesterday settled their dispute over the export of underpriced Chinese solar panels.

The agreement came nearly eight weeks after the EU imposed punitive tariffs on solar panels and their components, solar cells and wafers. The levy was set at 11.8%, but it was due to quadruple on 6 August, to an average of 47.6%. Some Chinese companies faced tariffs of 67.9%.

The European Commission decided on a graduated approach in order to encourage Chinese producers to come to a settlement, and also in response to anxiety from EU member states about the effects of a substantial tariff.

The agreement sets a minimum price for Chinese exports of solar panels to the EU, and also a limit on the volume of exports.

Full details of the deal will be available only after it is approved by the 28 European commissioners. However, an official and industry insider said that the minimum price would be €0.56 per watt, and that total exports amounting to greater than 7 gigawatts a year would still be subject to tariffs. In 2012, EU demand for solar panels amounted to about 15 gigawatts. The EU accounts for about three-quarters of the global market.

Written by European Voice. To read the full article, click here.

Solar Energy: The Wave of the Future?

Solar energy has been touted as a viable energy source for the future. The need and demand for clean renewable energy has been increasing in recent years. But a New York Times story reports how increasing demand does not mean rising stock prices for solar energy companies.

This is partly the result of industrial policies of foreign nations like China that subsidize solar energy. In short, these subsidies have pushed the price of solar energy panels down worldwide. So the tumble in these prices can squeeze profit margins and push down share prices of solar companies like Solar City (NASDAQ: SCTY), SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) and SunEdison (NYSE: SUNE)

Written by Kyle Colona. To read the full article, click here.

Solar Power Offers Saudi Arabia a Win-Win Energy Solution

Gulf countries, whilst rich in oil and natural gas, also have an abundant supply of sun, which makes them an ideal location for solar power technologies, yet despite this fact they lag far behind the rest of the world in terms of capacity installed.

Saudi officials have talked about solar power for years, and even made plans to install 41,000MW over the next 20 years, but whilst China installed 5,000MW in 2012 alone, Saudi Arabia still has virtually no solar generation capacity.

As solar prices have fallen, and oil prices have risen, Saudi Arabia now has a strong economic incentive to push ahead with its long awaited solar plans. Arabian Business has said that solar power would allow the Saudi’s to save more oil to be exported at over $100 a barrel, whilst at the same time producing electricity for less than half the cost of its current oil-fired power plants.

Written by Joao Peixe. To read the full article, click here