EVs shift into second gear

Sales of electric vehicles are surging and global manufacturers are confident it is just the beginning.

There has been a marked uptake of electric vehicles in the US recently, as gasoline prices threatened to hit $US4 per gallon and perhaps even push their July 2008 record of $US4.11 per gallon.

Electric cars and hybrids were the fastest-growing segment in the US auto market in the first quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. Sales rose 49 per cent to more than 117,000 vehicles during the quarter, against fewer than 79,000 units in the same quarter a year earlier. Toyota’s Prius hybrid and General Motors' Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car each posted record sales in March.

Adding sparkle to these numbers were bullish comments from Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn at the New York auto show last week. Ghosn said he expects pure electric cars to capture 10 per cent of the market by 2020. Nissan will begin production of its Leaf electric car in the US in August.

There are sceptics who have doubts about this positive prognosis, and they cite the challenges of pricing and consumer apprehension. General Motors had halted Volt production in early March because of sluggish sales and built-up inventory. It has however, decided to restart production one week earlier than planned due to the recent sales bounce.

In the wider clean energy sector, another key development last week was the UK’s announcement of a new £1bn program for commercialisation of carbon capture technology, after the collapse of a similar funding project last year. Developers interested in participating must register by April 13 and need to submit bids by July 2.

The White Rose carbon capture and storage project in Yorkshire backed by Alstom and Drax will be one of the contenders for the funding. SSE, the former Scottish and Southern Energy, is also likely to submit a project it is developing in Scotland with Royal Dutch Shell. The UK government plans to spur a carbon-capture industry by the 2020s, by supporting projects to bury emissions under the seabed, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said in a statement.

Meanwhile, France moved ahead with its first set of offshore wind projects. EDF, Dong and Alstom won government tenders to build 1.4GW of wind power at three sites. The country plans to install 6GW of offshore wind power by 2020.

In Germany, which also has ambitious plans for power from offshore wind, RWE won permission to begin building the first phase of the 1GW Nordsee project.

The news from the solar sector in that country continued to be grim, with Q-Cells filing for insolvency – the fourth German company to do so after Solon, Solar Millennium and Solarhybrid.

In Asia, all eyes are on Japan, as it gets ready to roll out its feed-in tariffs for renewable energy in July. In the geothermal sector, the government has decided to allow development in hitherto-protected areas like national parks. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysts, operational geothermal capacity in Japan could grow to 2GW by 2020 as a result, against 0.5GW currently.

In India, the national government rolled out a ‘perform-achieve-trade’ scheme to promote energy efficiency in 478 energy-intensive industrial units, covering sectors like thermal power, cement, textiles and iron and steel. Reductions in energy consumption beyond the specified targets would make these units eligible to receive energy-saving certificates, which would be tradable on the power exchanges.

In the wind power sector, the government substantially pruned the accelerated-depreciation incentive policy which has been credited with helping India achieve the third-highest installed wind generation capacity globally.

Meanwhile, European carbon closed 4.4 per cent weaker in a shortened trading week, after hitting a record low. European Union allowances (EUAs) for December 2012 ended last Thursday’s session on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange at €6.81/tonne, ahead of a four-day Easter holiday weekend, compared with €7.12/tonne at the close of the previous week.

EUAs tumbled at the beginning of last week after the European Commission released data showing that the bloc’s emissions fell by 2.4 per cent from their 2010 levels to reach 1,890Mt in 2011. Benchmark EUAs continued their fall until they reached an all-time low of €5.99/tonne on Wednesday afternoon. EUAs erased some of their losses on Thursday as EU environment ministers prepared to discuss improvements to the bloc’s emissions trading system on April 19. United Nations Certified Emission Reduction (CERs) for December 2012 dropped 2.1 per cent to €3.74/tonne.

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