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Published on October 17th, 2013 | by Cynthia Shahan

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Cleantech Transition Is Happening, Costs Dropping Off An Icy Cliff

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October 17th, 2013 by  

Legislature developments (or rather paralysis) this month are retching. So let’s talk positive in this post. The way American citizens think about energy is in historical transition. We are finally “getting it.” Sane, renewable, commonsense measures to energy are not beyond our grasp anymore. The “maybe in 5 years” complacency stifling progress is over. The status quo subsidies of dirty oil and coal as well as the record of destructive energy extraction are all still with us. Nevertheless, US clean energy is unquestionably growing.

Simple and to the point, the Department of Energy’s Secretary, Dr. Moniz, tells it like it is: “In recent years, costs for numerous critical clean energy technologies — wind power, solar panels, super energy-efficient LED lights and electric vehicles — have fallen significantly. The accompanying surge in deployment has been truly spectacular. Such a surge is tantamount to topping the barricades — a level of cost reduction and market penetration that will enable a full scale revolution in the relatively near term.” That should all sound familiar to regular CleanTechnica readers, as should the following, but it bears repeating.

Here’s more from Dr. Moniz:

A new Department of Energy report, “Revolution Now: the Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies” documents this transformation and what it means for America’s energy economy. The clean technology revolution is upon us. While these technologies still represent a small percentage of their respective markets, that share is expanding at a rapid pace and influencing markets. For instance:

  • In 2012, wind was America’s largest source of new electrical capacity, accounting for 43 percent of all new installations. Altogether the United States has deployed about 60 gigawatts of wind power — enough to power 15 million homes.

  • Since 2008, the price of solar panels has fallen by 75 percent, and solar installations have multiplied tenfold. Many major homebuilders are incorporating rooftop panels as a standard feature on new homes.

  • In that same five years, the cost of super-efficient LED lights has fallen more than 85 percent and sales have skyrocketed. In 2009, there were fewer than 400,000 LED lights installed in the U.S.; today, the number has grown 50-fold to almost 20 million.

  • During the first six months of 2013, America bought twice as many plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) as in the first half of 2012, and six times as many as in the first half of 2011. In fact, the market for plug-in electric vehicles has grown much faster than the early market for hybrids. Today, EVs ranging from the Chevy Volt to the Tesla Model S also boast some of the highest consumer satisfaction ratings in America. And prices are falling and export markets are opening up. Since 2008, the cost of electric vehicle batteries — which really drive the economics of EVs — has dropped by 50 percent.

This report is comprehensive, confirming America’s clear cleantech transformation. Pages of graphs and documents prove our fast-growing green status:

EnergyGov


Here are a bunch of additional resources and facts on these matters (links to articles with more information are included on all bullet-point items):

Wind Energy

Wind energy is the fastest growing source of power in the United States, creating jobs opportunities for thousands of Americans and boosting economic growth. In 2012, U.S. wind capacity topped 60 GW, enough energy to power more than 15 million homes.

Residential Solar

The U.S. is on the verge of a major shift to solar energy, putting a clean, renewable energy source within reach of the average American family. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost about 1 percent of what they did 30 years ago, and deployment is skyrocketing.

Electric Vehicles

Before 2010, there was effectively no demand for electric vehicles. In 2012, Americans bought more than 50,000 plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). And with battery costs falling more than 50 percent in the last four years, 2013 is set to be another banner year for PEVs. In the first half of 2013, Americans doubled the number of PEVs they purchased compared to the same period in 2012, and last month, PEV sales reached a new record high. More than 11,000 PEVs were sold in August 2013 — that’s a 29 percent improvement in sales over the previous monthly record.

LED Lighting

Unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, LED lighting generates more light than heat and lasts as much as 25 times longer. Once an expensive niche product, LED bulbs are becoming an affordable choice for Americans looking to reduce their electric bills. In 2012, about 49 million LEDs were installed in the U.S. — saving about $675 million in annual energy costs. Switching entirely to LED lights over the next two decades could save the U.S. $250 billion in energy costs and avoid 1,800 million metric tons of carbon pollution.

It is helpful to wander around energy.gov. With so many pages and links, one finds that the government is operating quite positively in the energy arena. Jump into the President’s Climate Action Plan for an even broader overview. Explore and thoroughly enjoy the maps section. Among other maps is an interactive map that highlights the path of Solar Decathlon teams. Explore the map of your town on this site.

Self-education is available in various blogs, articles, reports, and videos regarding: Science, Education, InnovationBuilding and Design, Public Services, Science and Technology, and Current Projects — such as the Mars Rover.

One final recommendation I’ll provide from the pages of the DOE is this article: Fish-Friendly Turbine Making a Splash in Water Power. Cool stuff.

Energy.Gov

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

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About the Author

is an Organic Farmer, Classical Homeopath, Art Teacher, Creative Writer, Anthropologist, Natural Medicine Activist, Journalist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.



  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/116871216264349123945/posts Felix Hoenikker
    • Bob_Wallace

      In the link GTM states that both the US and China gave their solar companies low cost loans.

      “… the U.S. DOE loan program has spent more than $40 billion on a
      portfolio of greentech firms and approximately $10 billion on solar.

      The difference is that, to some extent, the U.S. is betting on new,
      unproven technologies, while China is banking on the expansion of proven
      crystalline solar technologies.”

      Looks from the graph that China invested ~$30 billion to the US’s $50 billion.

      • https://plus.google.com/u/0/116871216264349123945/posts Felix Hoenikker

        thats just the bank loans, there are many other loans and subsidies these companies received from various government entities. But it sounds like you’re keen on the idea that China was aimed at market share.

        • https://plus.google.com/u/0/116871216264349123945/posts Felix Hoenikker

          No mistake this chart is dominated by chinese companies
          http://blogs-images.forbes.com/tomkonrad/files/2012/06/GTM-Efficiency-Performance.png

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please, no links without an explanation of what you are linking.

            If it’s worth linking then it’s worth describing.

            (I’m not opening this one. One was enough.)

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m keen on the idea that we should operate from a basis of facts, and not team loyalty.

          I fully accept that China has been aggressive about capturing market share and that they may have done some things which are more than “acceptable aggressiveness”. But at the same time we need to realize that many/most countries also push the limits from time to time.

          If China has done things like slip money to their solar manufacturers so that they can sell product at a loss into other markets and destroy other countries’ manufacturing then that should not be tolerated. But if China is doing nothing more than what other countries are doing then we have no right to attack China for doing what we are also doing.

  • Will E

    solar panels from China. 50 dollar cents a Kwh. I m not a company, but can buy solar panels from China myself. they send it to me to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
    must be possible in the USA also,
    next year 12,000 kwh solar rooftop. for 6000 dollars.
    hurray

    • A Real Libertarian

      That’s $0.50 a Watt. And you’re forgetting soft costs in there.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        He is probably going to do it himself to avoid soft costs. No sense throwing your money away.

    • Bob_Wallace

      US current lowest price 55c/W, average 70c/W.
      http://pvinsights.com/

      “50 dollar cents a Kwh” – that doesn’t make sense. $50/1,000 watts = 5c/W.
      And the “h” shouldn’t be there.

      Do you mean 50 (US/Euro?) cents per watt?
      And, if so, what sort of shipping costs?

      I think you’d have trouble installing a 12,000,000 watt system for $6,000. Looks like that pesky “k” krept in again.

      A 12 kW system could be installed in Europe for under $24,000 based on what I’ve heard are best prices. The price in China is around $12,000, reports are that they are installing for a little more than $1/W.

  • Matt

    Bob, while I think you can debate if China subsidizing manufactures was good or bad for the PV deployment. I do think that there is documentation that they did subsidize the manufactures. I’m not saying it was all central control, there appear to have been so extra support at the providence level, and likely city level. So at that level you both are right, not all the over supply in China was planned by the central government. Other levels jump in to try to capture it for their area. Also based on World trade agreements, demand side support (PTC/ITC/FIT) is considered different from supply side support. Demand side attempts to makes the market bigger, supply side attempts to capture the market for your country.

    • mds

      Yes, they are both right. We subsidize solar and wind unfairly. China to a much higher degree as Felix says. They pretty much engaged in flat out predatory capitalism. The Chinese are not dummies, smart move on industries that are going to be huge …while most of our congress still doesn’t understand this and was arguing then about whether incandescent bulbs should really be made illegal. Who cares if we make whale oil lamps illegal? Idiots.
      Sorry Bob, China plays a dirty game. So do we, just not nearly to the same degree. There is no way I’d take a companies manufacturing to China. It’s a short term profit play. They’re setup to take your tech and give it to Chinese companies. Watch what happens to companies doing that over the next few years. Smart for China. Not so much for us.
      Up side is more solar and wind is still good for all of us and they are pushing it hard.

      • A Real Libertarian

        At least they’re not playing as dirty as the Imperial Powers did in the 19th century.

  • Felix Hoenikker

    Most of it thanks to china…. the lower prices

    • sault

      While stiff competition in solar PV markets is in some respects due to panel dumping from Chinese manufacturers, companies like First Solar and Sunpower are still competitive in these market conditions. Chinese dumping really just made a lot of other companies “up their game”, and now that anti-dumping tariffs have been slapped on Chinese panels for a while now, prices are STILL going down, disproving your hypothesis that China holds all the credit for falling prices.
      Another glaring hole in your argument comes from the FACT that 72% of wind power components are made in the USA, so how can anti-competitive practices by Chinese companies be causing price reductions in wind power as well? Your reasoning falls flat on its face in light of these facts.

      • Felix Hoenikker

        Not a glaring hole because you admit China influenced prices. Look at the rate of price decline from when China initiated pv subsidies to today. Import tariffs were implemented after China dominated the market. I’m just pointing out that the proliferation of cleantech has more to do with Chinese policy. We’re kinda sitting on our hands here in the US.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The abrupt drop in panel prices occurred because too many manufacturers entered the market and created on oversupply. A price war broke out as the most efficient manufacturers cut prices in order to capture the market and force less efficient manufacturers out of business.

          This is something that happens in most industries as they mature.

          Now the most efficient have survived. They’ve increased sales which allows them to invest more in R&D so that they can continue to produce for lower and lower prices.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            Agreed, the oversupply was created almost entirely in China and driven by federal and local subsidies, pushed down prices. I recommend taking a look at the pv panel supply stacks year over year beginning in 2007.

          • Bob_Wallace

            China has a lot of people who are very aggressive about succeeding. Many Chinese people are willing to work much harder than most of us here in the West. For a number of reasons they are willing to work harder and for less return. That means that they are going to win when markets are tight.
            It’s not that the government gave huge subsidies. There were probably well priced loans for manufacturers, but that’s not the reason that hundreds of panel manufacturers sprung up. People saw an opportunity to get into a business that offered high margins. Being a free market, the number of startups not being controlled by the government, they overbuilt.

            Since China could produce for less than most Western panel manufacturers they captured much of the market.

            As supply exceeded demand a price war broke out in China which we claimed unfair to our manufacturers so we set tariffs. I think it highly likely that we engaged in protectionism.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            Sorry Bob, not even close.

            -Labor is a small portion of panel cost so it doesn’t matter how hard they’re willing to work.
            -China is not profit driven, their mandate is market share and jobs.
            -The government gave subsidies to outpace cost competition and take market share. Yes some of them were in the form of loans at 0% interest. Just because its called a loan doesn’t mean its not a subsidy. Its just word smithing.
            -High margins don’t matter if a market is nearly non-existent because of noncompetitive pricing.
            -Not a free market by a long shot, even you admit the government utilized subsidies.
            -The overbuilding of capacity was in CHINA not the US or by any of the US startups, that capacity was marginal.
            -China could produce for less and expand capacity faster because of subsidies and lower cost of capital.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m talking about individuals working hard to create a new business, not labor costs.

            “China is not profit driven” Quite incorrect. China is now a capitalistic country and very much driven by profits.

            “The government gave subsidies to outpace cost competition” Do you have a source for that an zero interest loans to solar panel manufacturers?

            “High margins don’t matter if a market is nearly non-existent because of noncompetitive pricing.” That makes no sense. There was a solar panel market, margins were high, high margins attract more players.

            Overbuilding was worldwide. Unless you believe that those who get there first have a right to a fixed share of the market going forward even if cheaper suppliers enter the market.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            You think China is profit driven? Then why would they subsidize in an over capacitized market? For market share not profit. Ill let you google for the zero interest loans, pay close attention to the local government “loans.” My statement about margins makes sense, because if your margins are too high then you don’t sell anything, so china compressed them with subsidies to grow the solar pv market. So all your startups that were in it for the high margins didn’t understand what they were getting into. Or basically high margin was a myopic strategy. Overbuilding was in China, look at the supply stacks.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Just because China might have overbuilt capacity does not mean that they are not capitalistic. It probably speaks to lack of strong central decision making than anything else.

            If you aren’t selling product then you have no profit margin.

            I don’t understand your insistence that China overbuilt the market. Every panel coming out of every plant in the world contributed to the overbuilding. Had there been no panel manufacturing in the US, Germany, wherever then more Chinese plants would have survived.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            They intentionally overbuilt capacity driven by subsidization which is a manipulation of the “free market” cost of capital. Its very strong central decision making, they’re picking winners. I insist it was China because of the timing, rate, and subsidies with which they took over panel manufacturing.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “They intentionally overbuilt capacity”

            Is that “I assume they intentionally overbuilt capacity” or is it “They intentionally overbuilt capacity and here’s the proof”?

          • Felix Hoenikker

            yes they over built capacity intentionally, they do it all the time…. look at their real estate and LED market, very well documented. They certainly did it in solar. But if you have a better model that explains why manufacturers would expand capacity in an over capactized market, please let me know. Its the same thing as a loss leader.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I gave your linked report a quick read, not carefully for all 40 pages. What I saw reported was that solar projects were being directly supported, not panel manufacturing. No different than the PTC/ITC type subsidies we do here. Low cost loans and special real estate deals, both are things we do here. Whether we’ve done that for solar panel manufacturers I don’t know. But what I see is business as it is practiced in the US and I suspect most of the rest of the world.

            And I saw that China had build capacity equal to 50% world demand. That’s hardly overbuilding demand. Yes, it would force some higher cost manufacturers out but that’s how we run businesses here.

            Why would people build manufacturing greater than demand? Perhaps because they made a bad assumption as to how fast demand would rise or because they believed they could produce at a better price and force other companies aside.

            Did China use its cheaper labor and ability to offer low cost loans as a way to leverage market share? That’s quite possible. But that’s taking advantage of assets. Unfair pricing comes into play when a country intentionally sells product at a loss in order to force other countries out of production.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            Please read more carefully then…

          • Bob_Wallace

            Point me to the page since you seem to have found it.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            just read it, you’re a big kid

          • Bob_Wallace

            Thanks Felix. You certainly know how to engage in helpful discussion.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            what would you like me to point out for you? I’m not sure where the disconnect is. i can find it for you but I need to know what I’m looking for.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Direct subsidies to panel manufacturers. Other than advantageous loan rates.

          • Felix Hoenikker

            page 6 paragraph 4&5
            “…petition alleges that China is unfairly subsidizing its solar manufacturing industry with cash grants, multi-billion dollar preferential loans, raw material discounts, tax incentives, and currency manipulation…” with which the ITC agreed.
            -cash grant is a direct subsidy
            -subsidized loan is a direct subsidy

            are we finished?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “On October 19, 2011, a group of solar manufacturers led by SolarWorld submitted a trade petition to the US Departmentof Commerce (DOC). The petition alleges that China is unfairly subsidizing its solar manufacturing industry with cash grants, multi-billion dollar preferential ….”

            OK, there’s a charge of direct cash payments. If that’s proof to you then it is what it is. Others might want something more than a charge from competitors.

          • https://plus.google.com/u/0/116871216264349123945/posts Felix Hoenikker

            bob stop it

          • Bob_Wallace

            Fine. My level of proof is different than yours.

          • mds

            Here Bob:

            “We found that real interest rates on loans for the Chinese companies in our analysis were significantly lower than those for non-Chinese companies. When adjusted, all eight Chinese firms appeared to be paying negative real rates. Furthermore, Chinese manufacturers have relatively easy access to large amounts of loans. Borrowing has supported massive capacity growth, including the ability to purchase turnkey manufacturing lines in established technologies. The availability of large amounts of revolving credit also makes it possible for Chinese companies to avoid market limitations on expansion during a time of inadequate demand growth.”

            Again: “all eight Chinese firms appeared to be paying negative real rates”
            Know of any negative loan rates in the USA?
            Predator capitalism. Take over the market by selling at a loss and driving other competitors out, then you can set your price nearly anywhere you like. Not ok.

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK, a “negative interest rate” would qualify as an unfair practice. I’m not sure how that would work unless they mean that interest rate was set at a number lower than inflation.

            (Of course we’re doing that right now for banks.)

            Making credit available, not.

          • https://plus.google.com/u/0/116871216264349123945/posts Felix Hoenikker

            thank you

          • Felix Hoenikker
          • Ivor O’Connor

            Bob clearly won this argument.

    • mds

      The USA carried the solar and wind balls almost exclusively for how many decades? That technology comes originally from here. Japan and then Germany subsidized and carried solar PV after Regan gutted those businesses in the USA. China is a very recent contributor. Yes, I’m going to give all four countries and some other (e.g. Australia) a hand. You should too.

  • J_JamesM

    Lovely article. I can’t wait to see where we will be at in 5 years.

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