New Weapon Emerges in Fight Against Fossil Fuel Dominance and Escalating Climate Change: A Wind Turbine That Achieves Grid Parity While Eliminating Intermittency

Last year, Republicans fought tooth and nail to block and delay the only federal funding program for wind energy — the Production Tax Credit. Their energy brinksmanship and political hostage taking forced a delay of a critical renewable energy investment decision until the last minute even as US wind capacity surged to 60 gigawatts and is attributed to increasing US economic growth by .25% in the 4th quarter while adding over 80,000 new jobs. This cynical political action, on the part of republicans and other opponents to renewable energy, resulted in an unconscionable stalling of new installations in early 2013 even as extreme weather and climate change continued to batter countries around the globe.

By comparison, US fossil fuel companies still enjoyed billions of dollars in subsidy, tax incentive, land use donations, and direct investment support from the federal government, risk free. To this point, it is worth considering the following info-graphic provided by the Environmental Law Institute:

energy subsidies -- black, not green

They were the true beneficiaries of a government funded welfare system for energy sources, that year after year, continue to worsen our weather and climate — resulting in escalating physical and financial harm in the US and around the globe.

But even as new wind installations lag due to a toxic brew of investment uncertainty conjured up by republicans, new alternative energy technology continues to undercut prospects for long-term fossil fuel market dominance. In particular, a new wind turbine, this one produced by GE, breaks a number of key market barriers to wind energy adoption in both the US and around the world.

GE achieves grid parity and energy storage with new turbine.

GE achieves grid parity and energy storage with new turbine.

The systems, pictured above, include GE’s 1.6-100 and 1.7-100 wind turbines.

These turbines include two revolutionary advancements that put it toe-to-toe with traditional fossil fuel and nuclear generation sources in both capability and cost. First, the new turbines achieve a staggering 20-24% efficiency gain. This puts prices for these turbines at less than coal for new generation construction.

Other alternative energy systems have recently made similar gains, with solar and wind plants increasingly available that provide energy at, near, or lower than the cost of new coal. But the crowning blow of this new system to fossil fuel dominance lies not just in its staggering efficiency gains. The system also includes distributed storage.

Each turbine is equipped with a battery system that stores excess energy generated during times when the wind is blowing. This new capacity levelizes transmission to the grid during times of high energy production. It also enables the wind turbine to store the excess energy for later use. As a result, the capacity factor of an individual turbine jumps from around 30% to 54%. It also allows wind producers with the new turbine to directly compete with fossil fuel based energy sources in the highly lucrative frequency regulation business.

Fossil fuel cheerleaders have often derided the intermittency and lack of storage potential in renewable energy sources, claiming this was an impenetrable barrier to broader adoption. Now, these new turbines render that argument mostly moot. Higher net capacity factor for advanced wind and lower costs than traditional fuels results in an increasingly serious market challenge to dirty energy sources. Now, if we can just get a few friends in the US government to provide the funding these systems merit, then we might begin to make some serious gains in both net carbon emissions and a more permanent US energy independence.

As noted above, republicans are doing their best to block such critical advancements. And, it seems, they and their fossil fuel allies are seriously threatened by continuously advancing renewable energy technology. As of June, republicans and their oil company backers pushed to de-fund the US ARPA-E renewable energy research program providing critical funding for advancements such as the one produced by GE. Apparently, republicans are bound and determined to prove their theory of dysfunctional government by creating the level of dysfunction they so often criticize while at the same time support fuels that ruin humanity’s future prospects.

Links:

Next Generation Wind Turbines are Cheap, Reliable and Brilliant

Virtually all Federal Incentive for Wind Energy Comes From a Single Program

Republicans in the House of Representatives have pushed to increase US coal burning, approve the Tar Sands Keyston XL Pipeline, remove energy efficiency standards, and to slash US government (ARPA -E) R&D funding for new renewable energy technology by 80 percent. Fully 55% of all Republicans in the US Congress deny that human caused warming even exists.

The Price of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

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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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