Apple Headquarters With Huge Solar Array Gets Final Approval

by Guest Contributor Adam Peck

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Originally published on Climate Progress.

The Cupertino, California city council granted final approval to Apple Inc. on Tuesday for the consumer electronics company to begin construction of a new, 176-acre corporate headquarters.

The building, dubbed Apple Campus 2, will feature the largest solar panel array in the U.S. dedicated to a single corporate campus, and among the largest in the world.

The campus is anchored by a massive, circular building 1200 feet in diameter and providing approximately 2.8 million square feet of office space. That translates to more than 750,000 square feet of space on the building’s roof, nearly all of which will be comprised of solar panels.

Combined with on-site fuel cells and use of grid-purchased renewable energy during peak hours, Apple says that its new campus will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy and will not result in any net additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Apple has emerged as a leader in the tech industry — and among the most notable in the entire corporate world — for its commitment to sustainable energy to power its facilities. Earlier this month, the company announced that its new manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona would also be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, mostly in the form of another large solar panel array to be constructed in the city limits and a separate geothermal power source on site. Its current corporate campus currently utilizes 100 percent renewable energy as well.

The new construction project, including the introduction of the photovoltaic panels, will also add an estimated 7,400 quality jobs to the city of Cupertino and generate an additional $11 million in revenues annually.

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About the Author

Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

Solar Deployment Is Faster Than Nuclear

by Guest Contributor Karl-Friedrich Lenz PhD.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station.
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. Image License: Public Domain

Originally published on the Lenz Blog.

Climate scientist Jim Hansen has written another open letter in support of nuclear energy as a solution to global warming. Thanks to this tweet by Barry Brook for the link.

If you want nuclear as part of the solution, you necessarily need to explain why renewable energy won’t be able to do the job alone. This particular open letter says:

“Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.”

We’ll have to wait a couple of decades to see if solar and wind are able to provide for 100 percent of energy. Contrary to what Jim Hansen (not an expert on energy systems) thinks, I expect that this will happen. But we already know one thing for sure.

Solar and wind have scaled up enough already to make nuclear lose in the market place. Even with nuclear enjoying the benefit of insufficient levels of insurance (leaving the remaining risk for the taxpayer), it just doesn’t make economic sense any more to build new nuclear plants.

And if you decide to build a new nuclear plant today, it won’t be able to deliver energy until ten years later, and will then have to compete for a couple of decades against wind and solar at the much more reduced prices these technologies will have then.

In contrast, you can build a large solar project in a couple of weeks or months. I am not sure why that is “not fast enough”, but it is sure faster than nuclear by a factor of over ten.

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About the Author

Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

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IEA: Renewables Will Exceed Natural Gas And Nuclear By 2016

by Silvio Marcacci

Global renewable electricity production by region image -  IEA
Global renewable electricity production by region image — IEA

Natural gas is widely considered the bridge to take us from fossil fuel dependence to a clean energy future – but that bridge may be a lot shorter than anyone could have predicted.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts power generation from renewable sources will exceed natural gas and be twice the contribution from nuclear energy globally by 2016 – just three short years from now.

IEA’s second-annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report (MTRMR) forecasts renewable generation will grow 40% in the next five years despite difficult economic conditions.

Wind And Solar Power The Renewables Charge

Renewable energy is now the fastest-growing sector of the global power market, and will represent 25% of all energy generation worldwide by 2018, up from 20% in 2011. In addition, renewable electricity generation is expected to reach 6,850 terawatt-hours (TWh) and total installed renewable capacity should hit 2,350 gigawatts (GW), both by 2018.

Wind and solar photovoltaic generation is powering this jump, and non-hydro renewable power will double from 4% of gross generation in 2011 to 8% in 2018. IEA cites two main drivers for their incredible outlook: accelerating investment and deployment, and growing cost competitiveness versus fossil fuels.

Strongest Growth In Developing Countries

Even though government funding has been inconsistent, private investment has remained strong, especially in developing economies. Rural electrification, energy poverty, and rising demand have been major challenges for policymakers in these countries, and renewables have become an increasingly attractive option for diverse and non-polluting power.

Countries above 100MW non-hydro renewable capacity
Countries with non-hydro renewable capacity above 100MW image via IEA

Non-developed countries, led by China, are expected to contribute two-thirds of all renewable market growth between now and 2018, compensating for slower growth and market volatility across Europe and the US.

Indeed, non-hydro renewable power will make up 11% of gross generation in these countries by 2018, up from 7% in 2012. By itself, China will account for 310GW, or 40% of all global renewable power capacity increases over this time period.

Falling Costs, Rising Capacity

Solving energy poverty issues without harmful emissions is key to renewables growth, but the larger reason for IEA’s outlook is more likely falling costs. The report finds renewables now cost-competitive with fossil fuels across many countries and a wide set of circumstances.

Solar PV capacity additions
Solar PV annual capacity additions by region image via IEA

IEA notes wind is competitive with new fossil fuel in multiple markets, including Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and New Zealand, and solar is competitive both in markets with high peak prices and decentralized power needs.

“As their costs continue to fall, renewable power sources are increasingly standing on their own merits versus new fossil-fuel generation,” said Maria van der Hoeven of IEA.

IEA – Policy Uncertainty Is Public Enemy #1

However, the IEA warns renewables still face a challenging future. Global investment fell in 2012, and policy uncertainties loom over clean energy technology in several important markets. In addition, grid integration challenges have materialized in some regions as renewables penetration has hit new levels.

“Policy uncertainty is public enemy number one,” said Van der Hoeven. “Many renewables no longer require high economic incentives, but they do still need long-term policies that provide a predictable and reliable market and regulatory framework.”

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About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Fossil Fuels and Utilities At Risk In New Report — Energy Darwinism At Work

by Giles Parkinson

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Originally published on RenewEconomy

A major new report from investment banking giant Citi has highlighted the dramatic changes sweeping the world’s energy industry, and is being used as a clarion call to review the estimated $37 trillion that will be invested in energy infrastructure and projects over the coming two decades.

In a study titled “Energy Darwinism – the evolution of the energy industry“ – Citi says the global energy mix is shifting more rapidly than is widely appreciated, and this has major implications for generators, utilities, and consumers, and for exporters of fossil fuels such as Australia.

“Consumers face economically viable choices and alternatives in the coming years which were not foreseen 5 years ago,” the analysts write – pointing mostly to the “alarming” falls in the cost of solar.

It says the pace of change in the last five years has been dramatic and will likely accelerate, not slow. These changes will flow through to suppliers. Conventional fuels and technologies are likely to be substituted, or suffer reduced demand in the best case scenario.

(It should be noted here that the six analysts involved are the managing directors of research in Citi’s mining, oil and gas, utilities, commodities and alternative energy sectors, so they are not just a band of beatific beatniks).

Citi says fossil fuels further up the cost curve are most at risk, and new projects built now will face competition with new technologies within the first quarter of their anticipated 25-year life. “These project entail significantly more risk than is widely recognised,” the analysts write.

“There will always be more subjective choice factors involved such as fuel diversity and energy independence that may offset cold, hard economics, but investors, companies and governments must consider the sea change that we believe is only just beginning. “

It says utilities are most at risk because the “very nature” of their business is likely to change. Utilities in their current form could lose half their addressable market to energy efficiency, solar and storage, and other distributed generation.

“Renewables and decentralised energy are impacting not only how utilities can earn money, but also what they do to earn this money,” Citi says. “There are opportunities for new avenues for investment and growth in terms of smart grid, storage, and downstream services. “The question is whether utilities grasp that opportunity and evolve themselves.”

Perhaps the key graph in the report is this one below. It doesn’t mean much at first glance, but Citi says it is critical for understanding the factors at play.

.citi-darwin

In the first quartile it notes that gas (the light grey line) dominates the first quartile of the integrated cost curve, largely thanks to the advent of shale.  So that is probably true of the US, but not many other places (in Australia, gas is really expensive, or about to be). The key is what happens in the other quartiles.

In the final quartile, it notes that solar is already intersecting with gas, which is why utilities in the US are dumping plans for peaking gas stations in favour of solar (red line). And this also means that solar steal the most valuable part of the electricity generation curve because it produces during the day when prices are highest.

This is already impacting Germany, where gas is expensive and gas-fired generators are going out of business, and it might have cited Australia too, where returns for incumbent fossil fuel generators are falling dramatically and so it their running time. Wind farms such as Collgar in WA are running at higher capacity factors than black coal generators in NSW.

Citi notes that wind (orange line) is already overshadowing coal (black) in the second quartile. But here’s the conclusion that will stun those locked into a conventional view of generation: Citi says that while wind’s intermittency is an issue, with more widespread national adoption it begins to exhibit more baseload characteristics (i.e. it runs more continuously on an aggregated basis). “Hence it becomes a viable option, without the risk of low utilisation rates in developed markets, commodity price risk or associated cost of carbon risks.”

Citi notes that solar is exhibiting “alarming” (for whom!?!?!?)  learning rates of around 30 per cent (that is for every doubling of installed capacity). Wind is evolving at a slower ‘mechanical’ learning rate of 7.4 per cent, and gas is evolving due to the emergence of fracking and the gradual development and improvement of new extraction technologies.

But Citi says that coal is using largely unchanged practices and shows nothing like the same pace of evolution as the other electricity generation fuels or technologies. It notes nuclear has seen its costs rise in developed markets since the 1970’s, largely due to increased safety requirements and smaller build-out.

As Citi notes: “Thus is not a ‘tomorrow’ story. We are already seeing utilities altering investment plans, even in the shale-driven U.S., with examples of utilities switching plans for peak-shaving gas plants, and installing solar farms in their stead,” it says.

“The same is true for other fuels, for example the reluctance on the part of utilities to build new nuclear in the UK, or the avoidance of coal in some markets due to uncertainty over pricing, likely utilisation rates and or pollution.

“Even in China, we believe that coal demand is likely to peak this decade as its generation mix starts to shift,” it says. It notes India’s coal demand will grow much slow than expected, and nuclear – and the capital costs involved – make it unsuitable for markets with such uncertainty.

On solar, Citi says the price fall of solar panels has exceeded all expectations, resulting in cost parity being achieved in certain areas much more quickly. “The key point about the future is that these fast ‘learning rates’ are likely to continue, meaning that the technology just keeps getting cheaper. At the same time, the alternatives of conventional fossil fuels are likely to gradually become more expensive.”

On wind, it says technology is evolving more slowly than solar but it has the advantages of offering more ‘base-load’-like characteristics in running more of the time, and perhaps most importantly is lower cost than solar, allowing the technology to compete against conventional generation at lower wholesale prices.

It says storage is still a nascent industry, but so was solar just 5 to 6 years ago. “The increasing levels of investment and the emergence of subsidy schemes which drive volumes could lead to similarly dramatic reductions in cost as those seen in solar, which would then drive the virtuous circle of improving economics and volume adoption,” it says.

And how fast can evolution take place? Citi provides this graph below to illustrate the point.

.citi-waterfall

Citi says the history of the energy industry tells us that change is never gradual. New technologies are embraced at the expense of incumbents. Today, as conventional fuels become gradually more scarce and expensive and as new technologies improve, the long term transformation becomes ever more inevitable. It says it would be naive to think otherwise.

“If we look at the situation facing European utilities, the future looks particularly challenging, given a potential halving of their addressable market, an ageing fleet, and deeper questions about what a utility will look like in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time,” it writes.

“In transportation, the emergence of electric vehicles, and more importantly the rise of oil to gas switching show that evolution is not restricted to the power generation market.”

“Given the long term nature of upstream fossil fuel and power generation projects, this substitutional process and the relative pace of evolution is vitally important to understand.

“The sums of capital being invested are vast; the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that $37 trillion will be invested in primary energy between 2012 and 2035, with $10 trillion of that in power generation alone. Clearly the value at risk from plant or the fuels that supply them becoming uneconomic in certain regions, both in terms of upstream assets and power generation, is enormous.

“Quite simply the sums of money at stake in terms of investment in energy over the coming decades are staggering, and getting a choice of fuel or technology ‘wrong’ could have dramatic consequences for both countries and companies, be they upstream oil & gas companies, utilities, industrial consumers, renewable developers of power generation equipment providers.”

So, could someone please ensure that this report is stuck under the nose of Australia’s energy ministers, be they federal or state, and all the middle aged engineers and fossil-fuel careerists that advise them? And mark it Must Read.

(Author’s disclaimer: I am middle aged).

 

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This article, Fossil Fuels and Utilities At Risk In New Report — Energy Darwinism At Work, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

 

About the Author

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

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What Is New under the Sun?

Amonix.com
Amonix 34.5% peak efficiency solar module record
Verified by National Renewable Energy Laboratory – May, 2012

by John Brian Shannon

Most installed solar panels (also known as solar modules) in North America and Europe have an 11% efficiency-rating. That is, of the sunlight falling on them approximately 11% of that sunlight is converted into direct current electricity.

These are the panels with which we are most familiar and for the countries mentioned, they provide a tiny percentage of total electrical production there.

For example, Germany has over one-million solar panels installed with more installed every day. Even so, all of Germany’s solar panels combined supply less than 3% of German electricity needs.

Thanks to our computer-controlled electrical grids, utility companies can switch to the lowest cost minute-by-minute electricity during the day due to something called ‘Merit Order’ ranking.

When the Sun is shining, every kilowatt of solar energy is spoken-for as it is by far the lowest-priced electricity available to utility companies during the daylight hours. In Germany, electrical rates drop by 15 – 40% during the daytime — due to the lower Merit Order price of solar power.

Solar provides lower cost electricity than the electricity produced by feeding a coal-fired burner with expensive coal ($70 – $155 per ton, plus transportation) with the required small army of personnel to unload coal from rail cars, oversee safety in the power plant, load the coal and otherwise maintain a billion dollar coal-fired power plant for example.

What is new under the Sun, is that many of those old 11% efficiency solar panels are soon to be replaced with 22%-24% efficiency solar panels. That’s right, technology marches along and not just in regards to video games! The latest production solar panels are a ‘drop in’ replacement for the older panels.

Yes, a 100 megawatt solar power plant can become a 200 megawatt power plant — just by replacing the panels with more efficient ones.

And, unlike doubling the capacity of a coal-fired, natural gas or nuclear power plant, this won’t cost another billion dollars, nor entail yet another lengthy political fight to obtain approval. No, the old, low-efficiency panels will simply be unbolted from their brackets and the new higher-efficiency ones will be bolted into place. All of which should take a few weeks while the rest of the solar power plant continues to operate normally.

It turns out that due to mass production and a competitive marketplace, the per panel price of the new efficient panels is lower than the originally-installed panels.

To oversimplify this equation, Germany will jump from 3% solar electrical power production to 6% — just by replacing their panels with more efficient ones.

Where will it end you ask? Earlier this year, a new solar panel was announced which surpasses the 24% panel by a significant margin.

In only ten years, we have come from panels with an 11% efficiency-rating typically costing around $100. per panel, to 24% efficiency-rating panels costing $20. per panel at utility-scale volumes. Within 24-months, Amonix 33% efficiency (CPV) solar panels will go into full production. At this rate, I can’t wait for 2030!

To watch a YouTube video about the Amonix 33% CPV solar program, click here.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

To follow John Brian Shannon on social media – place a check-mark beside your choice of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn: FullyFollowMe/johnbrianshannon