On Death Ground: Bangladesh is Fighting for its Life by Installing Solar Panels — Why Every Coastal City, State and Country Should Follow Suit

Apparently tired of waiting for the rest of the world while its fragile coastlines and mangrove wetlands are devoured by rising seas, Bangladesh has recently kicked its pace of solar panel installation into high gear.

Reports from the International Renewable Energy Agency found that Bangladeshis were installing small, rooftop solar photovoltaic generators at the stunningly rapid rate of 80,000 units each month in early 2014. In a country as financially strapped as Bangladesh, where only 47% of households have access to electricity, this is an extraordinary achievement, especially when one considers that the 2.8 million solar rooftops already gathering clean sunlight in Bangladesh will expand to challenge the 6 million threshold in just a few years.

Low Lying Coastal Bangladesh

(On the front lines of climate change low-lying coastal Bangladesh is one of an increasing number of regions vulnerable to sea level rise from rapidly destabilizing glaciers. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

While fossil fuel special interests twist the arms of politicians in an attempt to stymie solar development in Western countries like Britain, Australia, and the US, employing underhanded political tactics and pumping Orwellian terms like ‘solar blight‘ and ‘sea ice contamination‘ into the mainstream presses, Bangladeshis are charging ahead. And the reason couldn’t be more clear — the seas are rising.

The Gift of Fear

In the media analysis of human response to climate change, we often encounter the analogy of the frog in a pot of slowly heating water. As the analogy goes, the frog stays in the pot as it grows ever-warmer. The slow rise of temperature disables the frog’s pain and fear responses. Eventually, the frog’s muscles shut down and the frog boils.

Admittedly, this is a flawed analogy. Put a frog in a heating pot and it is wise enough to jump out once the water gets too warm — about 25-30 C. Why does the frog escape? Simple: the gift of fear. Eventually, the frog becomes uncomfortable about its situation in a slowly heating pot. The water is just a little too warm and it continues to head in the wrong direction. Rational survival instinct, at this point, intervenes to remove the hazard. The frog jumps out.

Now, keeping the frog in mind, let’s consider Bangladesh’s situation for a moment. They can see the storms that take more and more of their vulnerable lowlands with each passing year. They can see the ever-increasing advance of the tides. They know their land is in danger. To their west, their nearest neighbor, India, is building a wall to keep them out, should they have need of a refuge. And when the tides rise, as they will due to the vicious force that is human-caused climate change, they will most certainly need a refuge.

Last week’s announcement by NASA that six key glaciers in West Antarctica are now in irreversible collapse hammers the fact further home — the entire nation of Bangladesh is standing on what Sun Tzu used to refer to as death ground. In short, if the nation of Bangladesh does not decisively act, it will perish. And the only difference between Bangladesh and every coastal city, state, and country is this — Bangladesh is aware of its plight and is fighting to do something about it.

In essence, this is the gift of fear: the rational ability to fight for one’s survival — be it frog, person, city or nation.

Every Coastal Region is Now on Death Ground

greenland_velocity-base

(Greenland ice sheet velocity map as of 2010 shows numerous high-speed glacial flows toward the ocean. In the above map, blue is slow motion, red is fast motion. In the upper right hand corner of the map, the Zacharie Glacier, indicated by the letter Z, features a high speed flow that reaches all the way to the center of the Greenland ice mass. As of early 2014, scientific reports found that the recently confirmed destabilization of the Zacharie Glacier meant the entire circumference of Greenland was destabilized and moving at an ever more rapid pace toward the ocean. Image credit: Joughin, I., B. Smith, I. Howat, and T. Scambos.)

With at least 15 feet of sea level rise now locked in by the world’s destabilized glaciers and with potentially far worse sea level rise on the way if fossil fuel burning continues, one cannot hammer home the point enough — every coastal region in the world and every person living in these regions is now living on death ground. They are all in Bangladesh, even though most aren’t yet aware.

Survival action is as required of them as it is of the frog, as it is of the Bangladeshi. Swift and sure action. And even then survival is not guaranteed.

Miami, a city living in the state of climate change denial that is Florida is certainly on death ground. It is a place that will be severely challenged by another foot or two of sea level rise, much less 15 or more. The Outer Banks of North Carolina — a thin and beautiful strip of land, a redoubt between ocean and sound — bound to be swept away. Virginia Beach — a city surrounded on three and a half sides by water. Washington DC — built on a low-lying swamp at the mouth of the tidal Potomac. New York City — a place whose vulnerability to the rising seas and storms of human warming became all too real two years ago.

The list is almost endless. For wherever there are coastlines, seas, harbors, tidal rivers, mudflats, estuaries, oceans, there are human beings. We are nothing if not a water and ocean loving species — ever drawn to the life-giving edge of the sea.

According to the UN Atlas of the Oceans, about 3.1 billion people live within 150 miles of a coastline. My parents, my sister, my grandmother, my grandfather and a majority of my other friends and relatives are among them.

How many of your friends and family live on or near the coast? Or is it you who is also standing with the Bangladeshis on death ground?

Links:

International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2014 Annual Report

NASA: West Antarctica’s Entire Flank is Collapsing, Fifteen Feet of Sea Level Rise Locked-in

Marco Rubio: I don’t believe in Climate Change

The UN Atlas of the Oceans

Nature: Human Warming Now Pushing Entire Greenland Ice Sheet Into Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do India, Spain, Italy, Hawaii and Arizona Have in Common? Solar Grid Parity.

Solar2

 

Solar energy is quietly starting to eat the lunch of fossil fuels. Across the world, solar energy prices are now becoming competitive with often cheaper coal and natural gas.

The first locations to reach grid parity are mostly sunny locations closer to the equator. India’s national solar program, according to a Deutsche Bank report, is now able to sell solar produced power for 12 cents per kilowatt — roughly equal to power provided by national coal plants. Deutsche bank also noted that solar developers were producing competitive, unsubsidized projects in southern Italy.

In Spain, CoEnergy, a solar power developer, has produced a project that profitably sells solar energy for 10 Eurocents per kilowatt hour. Conventional energy systems in the same region produce energy for 15-17 cents per kilowatt hour. In this case, CoEnergy outcompetes fossil fuels by 5-7 cents per kilowatt hour without any support via feed in tariffs (FITS).

Solar Power Cheaper Than Coal, Oil

In the US, Hawaii, which relies on costly oil for 80% of its electricity generation reached solar grid parity last year. Residents seeking to save money by installing solar panels, unfortunately, have run into a regulatory backlash imposed by utilities seeking to limit the number of solar installation. Nonetheless, legislators lifted the solar energy cap from 15% of all power generated to 25% and are under pressure to lift the cap still further. Arizona also saw a leap toward grid parity earlier this year. There, First Solar is currently installing a massive 50 MW solar power plant that will sell its energy for 5.8 cents per kilowatt hour undercutting local coal power by 5-8 cents. In total, more than 100 million US power customers are expected to see solar energy reach grid parity over the coming decade.

Even northern, cloudy Germany is pushing the grid parity envelope as it is estimated that solar power will be cheaper than standard power for a majority of German customers by 2014.

These developments, including a surge in solar energy development in China and the UK spurred Deutsche Bank to predict that 30 gigawatts of solar energy will be installed worldwide in 2013 and that installations will continue to grow by 20% year-on-year for at least the next three years. Futhermore, falling solar panel prices, increases in panel efficiency and lower installation costs are predicted to make solar energy less expensive than gas and coal by 2020. In fact, most major manufacturers see individual panel costs falling to 42-52 cents per watt by 2015 with efficiencies ramping higher and installation costs rapidly falling through 2020.

Such reductions will result in far less reliance on subsidy support by solar industry in the coming years and will, likely, make the 500+ billion dollar per year subsidy support received by fossil fuels more and more difficult to justify.

Links:

http://cleantechnica.com/2012/07/30/hawaii-sails-past-solar-grid-parity-surprised-by-additional-roadblocks/

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/03/thin-film-solar-power-to-be-sold-for-less-than-coal/

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/28/conergy-completes-14-rooftop-solar-power-plants-without-subsidies-at-sub-grid-prices/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/03/1664481/solar-report-stunner-unsubsidized-grid-parity-has-been-reached-in-india-italy-with-more-countries-coming-in-2014/

What Solar Panel Dumping Case Reveals About How Chinese Manufacturers Dominate Markets

Today the Federal Trade Commission ruled against Chinese solar manufacturers, finding that government subsidies harmed US companies. In the ruling, Chinese companies were assigned duties between 2.9 to 4.7 percent. The duties depended on the degree of subsidy assistance Chinese companies received. Another ruling will be made in June to determine the degree to which Chinese companies have been dumping solar panels on the US market. This additional ruling is expected to result in further duties and penalties.

The Solar Surge

These rulings and investigations come after a massive surge in amazingly cheap Chinese solar panel exports to the US since 2008. This influx, which almost everyone with any honesty is calling dumping, has resulted in average solar panel prices falling from $3 to less than $1 per watt over the same period. In fact, the lowest cost solar panels on the US market are now selling for less than 84 cents per watt. This extensive dumping has resulted in three US solar companies, including Solyndra, being forced to file for bankruptcy and has negatively affected every other US solar manufacturer.

The silver lining is that US solar energy consumers now have access to solar panels at much lower costs. And these panels are now rapidly closing the gap between fossil fuels, likely to beat coal on cost by 2015. But the rapidly falling prices may well drive all manufacturers except the Chinese out of this critical market. And this state-sponsored international monopoly may well be benevolent if not for the stark history of Chinese monopolization in other key areas. For example, Chinese state-sponsored industry moved to rapidly dominate rare earth metals and are now setting higher prices or denying access to rare earth metals altogether. Similar behavior with regards to solar panels may well prove disastrous in a world needing a rapid transition to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Government Spending/Perks Key to Chinese Dominance

So how do Chinese companies come so rapidly to dominate markets like solar? The answer is a combination of cheap loans, government payments on interest for the these loans, and predatory business practices. Cheap loans provided by the Chinese government resulted in the emergence of 700 new solar companies in China over the last ten years. In total, because of these loans, the Chinese now possess a capacity to manufacture 40 gigawatts of solar panels within one year. That’s enough solar panels to power all of New York State in just one year.

These state-sponsored loans may have provided the impetus for developing a world-dominating industry, but a number of other ‘perks’ aided the Chinese industry as well. For example, many Chinese manufacturers were able to purchase land directly from the state at 1/3 standard price levels. In addition, Chinese monopolization of rare earth metals has led to preferential pricing for raw materials feeding in to this state-sponsored industry.

But these aren’t the only advantages state sponsored Chinese companies enjoy. In addition to low interest loans provided to Chinese solar manufacturers, often the interest on these loans are paid, pro-bono, by the Chinese government.

So imagine you are a Chinese solar manufacturer. You receive nearly unlimited low interest loans from the government. You have much or all of that interest paid by provincial governments. The land for your plants is sold to you at major discounts and your raw materials are supplied to you at the lowest prices possible. This is all facilitated by the state-sponsored system. And, finally, you benefit from relatively low labor costs which give you a 3-4 percent price advantage. In fact, the other state-sponsored benefits are so great that the labor cost difference may as well be nil. In such a beneficial environment, it would require a stunning failure for you not to achieve market dominance.

Chinese Capitalize on State-sponsored Consumer Incentives

But what other benefits could a solar manufacturer in China look to gain from? Not just from the Chinese state, but from other states’ programs as well. Up until last year, the Chinese solar industry was almost entirely positioned for export. This strategy allowed them to benefit from state-funded programs that provided incentives for solar panel purchases. Already receiving so many benefits from the Chinese state, these solar exporters were rapidly able to dominate markets in Europe and the US, driving many other solar manufacturers to lay-offs and bankruptcies.

Meanwhile, the West suffers from an ideology that dramatically opposes the level of state assistance currently provided by the Chinese government. So most Western programs have been aimed at providing support for consumer purchases, not to providing seed funds for a fledgling industry, and, thus, those funds have been indirectly grabbed up by the surging Chinese solar industry.

Tariffs, Trade Barriers not Enough. Best Solution is Comparative Levels of Investment

In total, China is investing the equivalent to 90 billion dollars each year in alternative energy and efficiency. And thisĀ  investment will be enough to dramatically reduce prices for both wind and solar power by sheer scale alone. If the United States and other western governments wish to host industries that become anywhere near as competitive, they will need to provide comparative levels of direct funding, year after year. Otherwise, the Western manufacturers will fail and the key emerging solar and wind industries will be entirely ceded to the Chinese. Enacting trade barriers, penalties and tariffs would, at best, only slow the transition to Chinese state-sponsored monopolization.

 

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