... "The cost of buying solar is now cheaper than buying from the grid, even with zero subsidies," says UBS utilities analyst David Leitch...
Some Australian businesses installing commercial scale solar power systems can now source electricity cheaper than from the mains grid.
According to an article on The Australian, the economics of solar have improved so much in recent years, commercial solar is being installed without major subsidies.
Quoting figures from AGL, The Australian states the number of commercial scale solar installations has jumped from 550 in the first four months in 2012 to 1,460 in the same period this year.
The reason for the jump isn't so much to do with the environmental aspect, which can have benefits in terms of customer perception; but more to do with bottom line results.
"The cost of buying solar is now cheaper than buying from the grid, even with zero subsidies," says UBS utilities analyst David Leitch.
Australian commercial solar installer Energy Matters says if businesses are paying more than 20c/kWh for daytime electricity consumption, a system sized to generate equivalent to that consumption will provide a payback time of between 5 and 7 years; "after which time, the electricity you generate is essentially free".
Also a significant player in the residential solar sector, Energy Matters' commercial arm installs systems for businesses, schools and community organisations across Australia from 20 kilowatts to 1 megawatt capacity.
Energy Matters recently announced it was commencing work on a 290kW solar power system for foodservice giant Bidvest; which will be one of the largest purely privately funded solar installations in Australia.
Commercial scale solar arrays still represent a significant capital investment, "so it is important to know what you are buying and from whom," says Energy Matters; which offers a free commercial solar guide to assist businesses discern value-for-money proposals from sales spin.
Planting surge sinks corn futures
Dow Jones Newswires05/21/2013 3:32pm
U.S. corn futures settled at a four-week low Tuesday, after a surge in corn plantings last week eased concerns that planting delays this spring could reduce the new crop's output.
Corn futures for July delivery at the Chicago Board of Trade settled down 9 1/2 cents or 1.5% at $6.40 a bushel, the lowest close for the front-month contract since April 24.
U.S. farmers sowed corn at a feverish pace last week as warm, dry weather allowed producers throughout the Midwest to return to their fields, a government report showed Monday. Cold, wet weather from Nebraska to Ohio earlier this spring had caused a slow start to plantings, raising worries of tighter corn supplies after the fall harvest.
VIDEO: Critical Weather for Corn Planting
On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the corn crop was 71% planted as of Sunday, up sharply from 28% a week earlier. The one-week percentage gain in seedings matched the record of 43 percentage points set in 1992.
Wheat futures were pulled lower by the decline in corn prices and expectations for ample world wheat supplies this year. Analysts expect production to rebound from last year's drought-reduced levels in areas like the former Soviet Union.
Soybean futures ended mixed, with nearby futures jumping on tight current supplies and strong demand from domestic processors.
CBOT July wheat settled down 4 3/4 cents or 0.7% at $6.80 1/2 a bushel, the lowest close for the front-month contract since April 2. July soybeans rose 13 3/4 cents or 0.9% to $14.78 1/4 a bushel.
USDA Crop Progress
Released May 20, 2013, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Corn futures near two-week low as USDA data show jump in plantings
May 21, 2013, 2:14 PM
Corn futures were poised to log their lowest close in almost two weeks on Tuesday after a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that plantings of corn jumped for the week ended Sunday, from a week earlier.
July corn CN3-0.16% traded at $6.35 per bushel, down nearly 15 cents, or 2.3% on the Chicago Board of Trade. If prices close around this level, that’ll mark the lowest settlement for a most-active contract since May 8, according to FactSet data.
The USDA’s Crop Progress report released late Monday showed that 71% of the corn crop was planted as of the week ended May 19. A week earlier, plantings were at just 28%. The percentage was still well below the five-year average of 79% and 95% for the same period a year ago, data show.
The report showed “substantial catch up” due to better weather conditions, said analysts at Cowen Securities, in a note Tuesday. “With the pace of planting demonstrated this past week, we continue to believe that farmers should be able to make up a substantial portion of lost time in the next few weeks.”
The analysts reiterated their “cautious outlook” on agricultural shares, noting that they still expect a large corn crop.
Even so, “until the next harvest for corn and soybeans, domestic supplies will be very, very tight,” American Restaurant Association President David Maloni wrote in The Maloni Report, a daily newsletter covering food service-related commodity markets. “This should be supportive of nearby grain futures deep into the summer.”
Maine passes bill limiting ethanol blending, conditions apply
By Holly Jessen | May 21, 2013
Gov. Paul LePage of Maine recently signed a bill effectively limiting corn-ethanol blends to 10 percent. However, it will take action in two other area states before it becomes a reality.
LD 453 prohibits retailers from selling gasoline “that contains corn-based ethanol as an additive at level greater than 10 percent by volume.” The bill only goes into effect if two other New England states also pass similar laws. The list of New England states includes Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ricky Long.
Two other anti-ethanol bills have floundered in the Maine Senate, with one effectively dead and the other up for possible reconsideration after a “do not pass” vote. LD 105, a bill to allow retailers to sell E5, a decrease from the current E10 requirement, was killed in the Senate, according to Darek Grant, secretary of the Maine Senate.
LD 115, which seeks to ban the sale of corn-based ethanol completely (provided two other New England states pass similar laws), failed a previous Senate vote. However, a motion to reconsider was made and accepted. The decision to reconsider the vote or not has been tabled, Grant said, so it’s unknown if that bill will prevail or not.
May 22 2013
Florida legislators passed a bill this year to repeal the state law that requires most gasoline sold in the state to include 10 percent ethanol. The bill, awaiting action from Gov. Rick Scott, would be largely symbolic, because federal law still requires that gasoline be mixed with ethanol or other biofuels.
Opposition to the mandate has united some unlikely allies in the oil industry and environmental community.
Senior editorial writer Paul Owens recently conducted an email interview with Charles Drevna, an ethanol critic and president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers.
Q: What is the Renewable Fuel Standard? Is it meeting its objectives?
A: The federal Renewable Fuel Standard, established in 2005 and expanded in 2007, requires that increasing volumes of biofuels be blended into U.S. gasoline, with the goals of protecting the environment and reducing dependence on foreign oil.
But growing ethanol feedstock to meet the RFS destroys natural habitats and converts wild lands to farmland at an alarming rate. The process of producing ethanol depletes water resources and causes higher greenhouse gas emissions than producing fossil fuels, and is expected to for years to come.
And these are not sacrifices that must be made in the name of energy security. Gasoline demand has been declining since 2007, and increased production of North American oil and natural gas is mitigating concerns about imported energy.
Q: How does the mandate impact consumers?
A: Ethanol contains 33 percent less energy than gasoline, meaning that as more ethanol is forced into fuel, vehicles will cover fewer miles per gallon, and consumers will need to fill up more often.… In boats and other smaller engines — such as those in motorcycles, lawnmowers or generators — ethanol can quickly cause the corrosion of metal parts (including carburetors), degradation of plastic and
May 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm by Emily Pickrell
Renewable fuel standards are distorting the refining industry in ways lawmakers didn’t foresee when they set the mandates, industry representatives said Tuesday at a Houston conference.
Import of renewable fuel from Brazil, production fraud and and a misinterpretation of rules governing the use of a 15 percent ethanol blend called E15 are among the problems that have arisen from existing renewable fuel standards, said Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.
He spoke at the North American Refined Products conference sponsored at the Saint Regis Houston by Platts, an energy information service.
Most domestic ethanol is made from corn, but imports of cheaper, sugar-based ethanol from Brazil have cut into demand for ethanol from domestic producers.
The resulting glut in domestic capacity has prompted producers to advocate a 15 percent ethanol content in gasoline.
“E15 is the best answer for the corn ethanol industry,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “It is plagued with overcapacity and E15 is seen as the answer.”
But refiners and some consumer advocates contend older vehicle engines can’t handle the higher blend.
The first renewable standard, which Congress passed in 2005, required all fuel sold in the United States for transportation to contain a specified minimum volume of fuel produced from renewable sources.
Then the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set minimums that must increase over time for four different categories of biofuels .
The requirements have distorted the market, Drevna said.
“The dialogue should be to repeal the renewable targets and let the market decide,” Drevna said. “The renewable fuel is difficult to comprehend when you are in the business and see the impacts it has.”
Refiners oppose requirements to blend more renewables into
Cindy Zimmerman – May 21st, 2013
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) amendments and clarifications, which include new pathway determinations for advanced biofuels such as isobutanol and ethanol from crop residues.
The EPA proposal also includes “various changes to the E15 misfueling mitigation regulations (E15 MMR) which are minor technical corrections and amendments to sections dealing with labeling, E15 surveys, product transfer documents, and prohibited acts” as well as changes to the survey requirements associated with the ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) program.
EPA is proposing to allow renewable diesel, renewable naphtha, and renewable electricity (used in electric vehicles) produced from landll biogas to generate cellulosic or advanced biofuel RINs. Renewable compressed natural gas (CNG)/liquified natural gas (LNG) produced from landfill biogas are also proposed to generate cellulosic RINs. EPA is also proposing to allow butanol that meets the 50% GHG emission reduction threshold to qualify as advanced biofuel. The rulemaking also proposes a clarication regarding the definition of crop residue to include corn kernel ber and proposes an approach to determining the volume of cellulosic renewable identication numbers (RINs) produced from various cellulosic feedstocks. Further, this proposal discusses and seeks comment on the potential to allow for commingling of compliant products at the retail facility level as long as the environmental performance of the commingled fuels would not be detrimental. The action also addresses “nameplate capacity” issues for certain production facilities that do not claim exemption from the 20% GHG reduction threshold. Several other amendments to the RFS program are included.
“This proposed rulemaking package is essentially a collection of ‘housekeeping amendments’ that will address several odds and
Ben Goad - 05/21/13 05:31 PM ET
The oil and gas industry’s leading trade association accused the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday of skirting federal law by cutting short public consideration of new regulations meant to curb air pollution.
By limiting the comment period for the rule to just 23 days, the EPA is would be violating the Clean Air Act – in the name of clean air, the American Petroleum Institute (API) charged.
“EPA is cramming through unnecessary new regulations for gasoline that could drive up costs without providing significant environmental benefits,” said Bob Greco, director of API downstream group Director Bob Greco. “By limiting public comments, EPA is trying to skirt public participation and transparency in the rulemaking process.”
A proposed rule intended to cut pollution from automobiles by lowering sulfur content in fuel waspublished Tuesday in the Federal Register, nearly two months the EPA detailed the measure.
Interested parties and members of the public have until June 13 to weigh in on the 1572-page proposal. Firstannounced on March 29, the proposed rule endeavors to reduce smog, soot and toxic pollution. Refiners would be forced to lower sulfur content of gasoline by more than 60 percent to 10 parts per million by 2017.
More than 158 million Americans currently experience unhealthy levels of air pollution linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, according to the agency.
While automakers have backed the rule, the API strongly opposes them and contends the regulations would lead to higher gas prices for consumers.
“There is an onslaught of federal regulations coming out of the EPA that could put upward pressure on gasoline price,” Greco asserted.
The EPA maintains the rule would increase pump prices by less than a penny per gallon.
Zack Colman - 05/21/13 02:07 PM ET
An Energy Department official hinted Tuesday that approval of more natural gas exports could be coming in the next few months.
DOE signed off on a project last week allowing natural-gas exports to nations lacking a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. Such deals face more scrutiny than those to FTA countries, as federal law requires them to be in the public interest.
DOE Acting Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy Chris Smith noted that it took 60 days to green-light the project following the evaluation of public comments on a DOE-commissioned study on the economic impact of natural-gas exports.
“One would observe that the performance of the department in this case was … it took us a period of two months to go to close of comments to evaluation of all those comments and then Friday we approved it,” Smith said during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee forum on natural-gas exports.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s top Republican, pressed Smith further on his statement.
“So presumably a 60-day process is what we would consider to be reasonable — or doable, let’s put it that way,” she said.
Smith said DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, who was sworn in Tuesday, would best be able to answer that, but noted, “I would just make the observation that the department’s performance in this case has been from the close of the comment period to issuing the order has been about two months.”
Smith declined to speak with reporters following his comments — though Murkowski offered her thoughts on what Smith said.
“The takeaway from Mr. Smith’s comments was that the department has done the preliminary work that took all the time and that they can actually get on a schedule now. And when pressed, he seemed to think that 60 days — two months — was not an unmanageable target,” she told reporters...
Zack Colman - 05/21/13 03:00 PM ET
The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a House bill that would expedite construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
“Because H.R. 3 seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by removing the Presidential Permitting requirement for the Keystone XL pipeline project, if presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill,” the White House said in a statement of administrative policy.
The House is due to consider — and likely pass — H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, on Wednesday.
The bill would remove a requirement that Keystone builder TransCanada Corp. receive a cross-border permit from the White House to complete its northern leg, which enters Canada.
The proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline is under federal review. The White House said Tuesday that the GOP-backed House bill “conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority” of various federal agencies.
Additionally, the White House said the bill is “unnecessary” because the State Department is “working diligently” to complete its Keystone assessment. The administration said the legislation would handcuff State from thoroughly evaluating the project’s security and environmental implications.
The bill’s supporters, which include Republicans; centrist Democrats; business groups and some unions, say the bill is necessary to take the Keystone decision out of President Obama’s hands.
They say Obama has dragged his feet on the project, saying the president is blocking immediate construction jobs and inhibiting U.S. energy security.
Democrats and green groups, however, have questioned job claims by the pipeline’s proponents. They also say much of the crude Keystone would transport is destined for export...
Obama opposes GOP bill on Keystone XL oil pipeline
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 3:57 pm by Associated Press in Keystone XL
Crewmen work a site for TransCanada's Keystone XL project in Wood County, Texas. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)
WASHINGTON — The White House says President Barack Obama opposes a House bill that would speed approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.
The White House said Tuesday that the bill “seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes” by removing a requirement for a presidential permit. The legislation also says no new environmental studies are needed.
House Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure the long-delayed pipeline is built. The project, which first was proposed in 2008, would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Opponents say the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” that could trigger global warming, while supporters say it would create jobs and bolster North American energy resources.
A House vote is expected Wednesday.
Richard Caperton, Guest Blogger and Adam James, Guest Blogger on May 21, 2013 at 11:06 am
The Production Tax Credit — the key federal incentive for wind power — is a success story. Since the PTC was first enacted in 1992, the cost of wind power has fallen 90 percent, 75,000 people now work in the wind industry, and wind power is booming.
Yet, some people still think the PTC should be eliminated. Most interestingly, Exelon — the large Midwestern utility and power plant operator — has made ending the PTC its number one lobbying priority, claiming that the credit distorts markets. This would be scary. Fortunately, it’s not true.
The truth is that Exelon hopes to slow or halt expansion of wind power projects that can affect the bottom line of their nuclear power plants in the Midwest, and to achieve that objective they’re blaming wind and the PTC for market phenomena like negative pricing that are almost always caused by inflexible generation technology and transmission constraints.
This post will summarize Exelon’s position on the PTC, show where it falls short, and then point out that Exelon is more concerned about competition from wind power, in general, than the Production Tax Credit.
Why does Exelon say the PTC is distortionary?
Exelon’s argument hinges on two fundamental ideas. First, that the PTC causes negative prices; and second, that negative prices are bad for wholesale electricity markets.
Digging into this argument requires a little knowledge of how power markets work. In much of the country — including where Exelon’s nuclear plants are located — power is sold in competitive markets, at a “clearing price” set by an auction process. In general, the clearing price is set by the most expensive marginal resource needed to meet demand at a given time. This price is then given to all the generators providing electricity at that time.
May 21, 2013 Zachary Shahan
Eos Energy Storage has released its second big announcement of the month, a funding boost that includes funding from NRG Energy, a major US energy company.
I just featured a long post on Eos Energy Storage less than a month ago, followed soon after by a post on its first pilot project (with Con Edison). Click that first one above for all kinds of details on the company’s energy storage technology. The essentials, however, are simply that Eos Energy Storage has developed a grid storage solution that is much cheaper than what has been on the market up until now. Of course, it has just launched its first pilot project, so we have to wait until it actually gets to market, but according to the company, that should be in 2014.
The Eos Aurora battery is projected to cost $1,000/kW or $160/kWh. The cycle life is 10,000 full cycles (30 year life). And the storage system has a 75% round-trip eﬃciency. As such, the LCOE is very competitive. (Click to enlarge.)
In the press release sent out late yesterday, Eos announced that it had raised $15 million Series B financing “with participation from a syndicate of 21 strategic and financial investors.” One very notable investor this round is NRG Energy. As the release notes, NRG Energy has “the nation’s largest independent power generation portfolio of fossil fuel, nuclear, solar and wind facilities.” Despite having its hands in some not so clean sources, it has been heavily focused on diversifying into clean energy and potentially disruptive technology solutions. This is the first time NRG has invested in an energy storage company.
“Eos’s technology is of strategic interest to NRG as we seek to enhance the value of our generation assets and evaluate novel energy storage business opportunities,” said Denise Wilson, NRG Executive Vice President and President, New Businesses. “We have confidence in
Zack Colman - 05/21/13 12:50 PM ET
The United States needs to move on natural-gas exports to take advantage of global demand as the number of international competitors grows by the day, experts told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Panelists warned during a forum convened by the Senate panel that the U.S. faces a "narrowing" window of opportunity to reap the economic benefit of exports.
“If we wait too long … we will lose the jobs,” said Octavio Simoes, senior vice president of Sempra International and president of Sempra LNG (liquefied natural gas), in a refrain heard often Tuesday.
The discussion on natural-gas exports comes after the Energy Department (DOE) last week green-lighted a second controversial project allowing exports to nations lacking a free-trade agreement with the U.S.
Those projects, of which 19 are pending, require more scrutiny from the DOE than deals to nations that have a free-trade pact with America.
Under federal law, the DOE must determine such proposals are in the public interest under federal law. That means exports must not significantly raise domestic energy prices or lower U.S. stockpiles too drastically.
The applications are the subject of Capitol Hill debate regarding the future of the sudden glut in domestic natural gas supplies.
Republicans, industry and some Democrats contend the benefits of shipping natural gas abroad — adding jobs, reducing the trade deficit and helping allies in need of energy — outweigh domestic price jumps, which analysts expect to be modest.
“We simply cannot afford to needlessly drag our feet on exports, or we’re going to let real economic development opportunities, and the chance to provide our allies access to an abundant, affordable and clean source of energy, slip through our fingers,” committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska
Shell CEO says it’s too early to speculate about oil-price probe
May 21, 2013 at 6:49 am by Bloomberg
Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) Chief Executive Officer Peter Voser said it’s too early to speculate about the European oil-price fixing probe and the company is committed to the “highest standard of corporate behavior.”
Shell, BP Plc (BP/) and Statoil ASA (STL) are targets of a European Commission inquiry into whether prices of crude, refined oil products and biofuels were manipulated, potentially harming consumers. Platts, a price assessor owned by McGraw Hill Financial Inc. (MHFI), was also questioned as the probe was announced last week.
“Since the investigation has just commenced it would be inappropriate to speculate about the outcome,” Voser told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in The Hague today. Shell is committed “to achieve the highest standard of corporate behavior.”
The commission is trying to determine whether oil companies colluded to distort prices in the $3.4 trillion global crude market and in markets for fuel products. The probe has highlighted that some energy markets lack the transparency of stocks and bonds.
“It’s important to bear in mind at this stage it’s just an investigation into facts and evidence and no adverse finding has been made,” Voser said today. “All Shell companies have fully cooperated with the EU investigation and will continue to do so going forward.”
Platts’s North Sea Dated Brent benchmark sets the price of half the world’s crude, from Canada to Australia. Its kerosene assessments are used by the airline industry, where fuel accounts for about a third of operating costs. In the biofuels markets, the company assesses the price of ethanol and biodiesel as well as ethyl tert-butyl ether, an additive that’s used in gasoline production.
Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter
ClimateWire: Friday, May 17, 2013
Wall Street is betting a half-billion dollars that consumer demand will continue rising for rooftop solar panels that allow home and business owners to generate their own on-site power and possibly even sell a few unused kilowatt-hours back to their neighbors.
In the largest financing agreement of its type to date, Goldman Sachs said yesterday it would provide more than $500 million in lease financing to help build thousands of distributed solar projects under a partnership with SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif.
SolarCity is the nation's largest full-service provider of residential rooftop solar systems, with tens of thousands of panels installed in 14 states, mostly on the East and West coasts as well as Colorado and Texas.
The firm, listed among the nation's most innovative companies in 2012 by Fast Company magazine, has been riding a wave of rising consumer interest in renewable energy and on-site power generation while also reaping the benefit of technology improvements and falling costs for solar equipment.
With the new influx of cash from Goldman Sachs, SolarCity should be able to widen its market by helping more home and business owners install solar panels with no upfront costs. The arrangement will also help make solar power available to a variety of other users, including schools, churches, municipalities and nonprofits, the company said in a statement.
One key to SolarCity's success is its use of third-party financing, which allows home or business owners to install solar panels on their property at no cost under a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) with the developer. SolarCity owns the equipment and sells power to the property owner at a competitive rate, offsetting his or her normal utility bill.
Financing a 'low-carbon energy future'
Excess power not directly consumed by the host home or business is routed back to