EVs on the ascent

Sales of battery-only and plug-in hybrid vehicles, led by the Chevrolet Volt, are on the rise, albeit off a low base, while there's some mixed news in the wind and solar sectors.

Clean energy was one of the topics over which President Barack Obama and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney sparred at their first debate last week. Obama made his case for energy from multiple sources but was questioned on his "$US90 billion" support for the likes of Solyndra, Fisker and Ener1.

The recipients of US government backing present a mixed bag. Though Solyndra is now bankrupt, electric car maker Tesla – one of the companies that took a loan from the Energy Department – initiated an advance repayment last week. The Californian company used the government funds to engineer and produce the Model S Sedan. “I am happy to announce that we will be initiating an advance payment to prefund the principal payment that is due in March 2013,” CEO Elon Musk said. The company qualified for a $US465 million loan in June 2009.

Musk is also the chairman of rooftop solar systems developer SolarCity, which filed last week to raise a little more than $US200 million in an initial public offer. It plans to list on the Nasdaq stock market. In 2011, SolarCity reported total revenue of $US59.6 million, an 84 per cent increase from a year earlier, but has posted at least five consecutive annual losses, according to the filing.

Sales of battery-only and plug-in hybrid vehicles in US have been on the ascent. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, 31,400 such cars were sold in September, almost three times more than the 11,094 sold in the same month a year earlier. The Chevrolet Volt is the top selling vehicle this year so far with over 16,000 handed over to customers, followed by Toyota's Prius at 7,700 and Nissan's 5,200 Leafs. Fisker Automotive’s $103,000 plug-in Karma Sedan is the next in line – with about 1,500 units sold this year. Tesla began producing the Model S in late June and is not yet disclosing monthly sales figures.

Combined sales of all electric-drive vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-only autos, expanded 135 per cent to 42,314 last month, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The other headline in the EV space came from Israel. Evan Thornley was promoted to CEO of Better Place – a company that develops charging networks and battery-switching stations. He replaced charismatic founder Shai Agassi,  who will continue as board member and shareholder.

Obama meanwhile found himself at the centre of a legal dispute as Chinese-owned company Ralls sued him over his decision to bar its acquisition and development of wind farms in Oregon on the grounds of national security risk. Spread over four locations, the assets are all near, or within, restricted Navy airspace.

Staying in the US, First Solar – the world's largest maker of thin-film modules – said that as many as 232,000 panels in the field may need to be replaced as they "may over time develop a loose cord-plate attachment." These panels were made between October 2008 and June 2009.

The upside for the solar sector came from France, which announced plans to invite bids to build large-scale solar plants before the end of the year. The new round, which follows a July auction where plants with a combined 520MW were selected, comes earlier than planned.

In the wind sector, Vestas said that higher sales in emerging markets would not be enough to make up for the decline in the US and Europe. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects global installations to drop from 45.8GW in 2012 to 40.4GW in 2013.

The policy impetus came from Finland, which indicated it may phase out use of coal in its power sector by 2025 – the first European country to do so. Denmark finalised a deal to slash by half the amount of coal used in energy production over the next eight years.

In Brazil, CPFL Energias Renovaveis – Brazil's biggest renewable energy producer – cancelled plans for an initial public offering, citing “current market conditions,” according to a regulatory filing.

EU carbon

European carbon allowances, or EUAs, fell last week after the bloc’s parliament scheduled its first vote on a proposal to curb an oversupply of permits later than traders had expected. EUAs for December 2012 dropped 1.8 per cent, closing at €7.81/tonne, compared with €7.96/t at the end of the previous week. Benchmark EUAs fell to an intraday low of €7.55/t on Thursday after the European Parliament’s Environment Committee announced plans to vote on a measure to delay sales of some allowances as of 2013, a process known as backloading, on February 19. Many market participants had expected the vote to take place before the end of the year. Prices rebounded on Friday morning on news that EU governments could take a parallel vote on the backloading measure in the Climate Change Committee before the European Parliament does.

United Nations Certified Emission Reductions, or CERs, tumbled 15.6 per cent last week to end at €1.83/t.

This article was originally published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Republished with permission.