A deafening clean energy buzz

The US-China solar trade stoush may have dominated the discussion last week but it didn't curb the appetite for clean energy projects, with several major new projects in the works.

With the US poised to put tariffs on solar equipment from China, several US companies were seeking new suppliers last week. Others predicted that Chinese manufacturers would circumvent tariffs by shifting some production beyond the mainland, for example to Taiwan.

Isabelle Christensen, director of North American operations for JinkoSolar Holding, told Bloomberg News that the Chinese manufacturer “would still be competitive” even if the US put an import tariff of 10 cents per Watt on solar panels made in China.

The Commerce Department’s ‘preliminary determination’ in the case brought by the US division of German-owned firm SolarWorld and a number of American companies satisfies their claim that Chinese trade practices have harmed the US solar industry. Bankruptcy hit Solyndra and Evergreen Solar last year as they blamed competition from Chinese-subsidised companies.

Washington DC enjoyed plenty more clean energy action last week. The White House hosted a meeting with 78 companies including Apple, Chevron and Whole Foods to promote tax credits available to them through renewable energy investments. This came as Bloomberg BNA and Bloomberg New Energy Finance revealed that almost two-thirds of tax professionals surveyed said they were unfamiliar with the Production Tax Credit available to backers of US wind projects.

With the credit due to expire at the end of the year, this may be overdue. But efforts continued in Congress last week to extend it – no sooner had one attempt to do so in a Senate transportation bill foundered, than seven Senators introduced a new bipartisan bill, the American Energy and Job Promotion Act.

But the drama was not restricted to the US – there were more signs last week of emerging markets opening the throttle on renewable energy investment. For a start, as if to presage the solar trade case, Hong Kong-based project developer China Merchants New Energy Group secured as much as $US1.6 billion of financing from the state-owned China Development Bank to build and operate solar plants at home and abroad. Domestic installations may not soak up much of China’s oversupply, however, with modest installation goals in its 12th Five-Year Plan of 3GW per year up to 2015, compared with China’s estimated 18-19GW module production in 2011.

Brazil may conjure up images of sunshine, but it has yet to conjure up much in the way of solar power – it only has one PV farm, a 1MW plant in the northeast of the country. That may be about to change, with new tax breaks and a net-metering law – which allows homeowners and businesses to export electricity they produce from solar panels to the grid – to be issued within the next two weeks, according to Ivan Marques de Toledo Camargo, a director of the country’s electricity regulator. “We’re clarifying the rules,” he said. “The market will determine how much solar energy will be developed.”

There were further bright spots for solar in the Middle East. Egypt approved a $US750 million solar thermal project at Aswan – at 100MW, the Kom Ombo plant will be the country’s largest using that technology. And hot on the heels of news the week before that SunEdison would lead the development of a new 30MW PV plant in Israel, Arava Power announced it had received a licence to build a 40MW plant near Eilat. That will take an investment of $US150 million and should be completed in 2014. Arava has led the fairly stunted growth of PV in Israel with the 5MW Ketura Sun project next door.

Despite these developments in the emerging economies, it was the mature European market that had the last word, with a couple of tantalising announcements last week. Dong Energy said it planned to invest around $US1.8 billion a year, at least for the next 2-3 years, to build 3GW of offshore wind by 2020; while Burcote Wind said it plans to build 10 wind parks with a combined capacity of 800MW in Scotland, requiring investment of £1.08 billion ($A1.6 billion).

The Old World’s policy-fed appetite for renewables was also in evidence in the Netherlands, where the launch of its new competitive subsidy scheme’s lowest level of support was greeted by applications considerably exceeding its €1.7 billion annual budget.

Reproduced with the permission of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. For further information, see www.newenergyfinance.com

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