Japan's nuclear turn; China's staggered RETs

The week in clean energy saw Japan reboot nuclear, China reveal renewable target plans and EU carbon peg back 7.7 per cent of recent losses.

This week will prove to be an important point for clean energy in Japan. The government’s final version of a draft energy report reinforces atomic power’s role in the country’s future, and falls short of advocating specific goals for renewable energy use. The policy describes nuclear as “an important baseload energy source,” according to a 78-page draft obtained by Bloomberg News. The plan is the first update to the nation’s energy policy since the 2011 Fukushima crisis, and is expected to be approved as early as Friday, according to deputy chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato.

Neighbour China, meanwhile, has taken a different route. In February this year, the National Energy Administration began consultations with local authorities on a plan to set minimum levels of renewable generation, according to Ren Dongming, deputy director of the Centre for Renewable Energy Development under the top economic agency. There would be four levels under the plan, from 2 per cent of total generation to 10 per cent in regions with the most abundant renewable sources, Ren said without giving a timetable.

The new regime seeks to spur renewable power development as China sets a binding target to curb energy consumption per unit of GDP by 2015. The country currently does not penalise failure to achieve clean-energy goals.

While the two countries try hard to draft a global energy policy, India is looking to end a solar-specific dispute over the requirement for domestic content. The country’s solar developers and their suppliers will meet with government officials to try to resolve a price dispute that risks handing ammunition to US exporters complaining they face unfair trade hurdles. 

The officials will meet with both sides soon, said Rajendra Nimje, head of state-run Solar Energy Corp of India, which ran the central government's $US900 million auction of solar permits for 750MW of capacity in February this year.

Tata Power Solar and Indosolar, among the country’s largest solar cell makers, denied raising prices after projects were awarded at the  February 21 auction that also required half of the capacity to be built using equipment from domestic producers. 

The dispute risks aiding US efforts to dismantle the auction rule that seeks to boost local manufacturing by restricting some imports. The US filed a complaint at the World Trade Organisation saying India unfairly protects local producers. 

Moving west, Greece passed a bill that keeps its new-build PV market alive at the expense of older, over-subsidised installations. The new bill lifts the ban on new large-scale solar projects while making permanent a previous measure that temporarily cut revenue to existing plants. Projects with a combined 250MW will be eligible for feed-in tariffs each year until 2020, ending a ban on new installations in place since August 2012, the decree published on March 31 showed. Under the new measure, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects Greece to install up to 250MW this year – only a quarter of what the country added in 2013. That said, we also expect an increasing number of small projects to come online, giving opportunity to local installers to carry out the job and drive local employment. 

Also in solar, the UK is seeking to spur a dramatic expansion of the technology by hastening construction of 1GW of such plants at government-owned sites. The Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed its ambition for solar capacity to reach 20GW nationwide by 2020 and said it would open its properties to PV development. The country already has about 4GW of panels, enough to power 1.2 million homes. 

Finally, in the US, California modified its zero-emission vehicle program to ensure the state awarded credits based only on how advanced vehicles are actually used, rather than theoretical capabilities. This directly impacts Tesla Motors which will henceforth only receive four credits per car sold in California and states that follow its rules. That’s down from seven per Model S through 2013, according to California’s Air Resources Board, which posted the changes on April 3. 

Tesla is the top seller of California ZEV credits, according to the state’s annual tally. That helped the carmaker post net income of $US11.2 million in 2013’s first quarter. Tesla’s sales of ZEV and US Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency credits generated $US194.4 million in 2013, or about 9.7 per cent of its annual revenue, the company said in a regulatory filing in February.

EU carbon

Carbon prices recovered some losses at the end of last week after the market collapsed nearly 30 per cent in the week starting March 24. European Union allowances for December 2014 ended the week 7.7 per cent up. EUAs for delivery in December, the benchmark contract, finished Friday’s session on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange at €4.74/t, compared with €4.40/t at the close of the previous week. 

Front-year EUA prices shifted wildly last Tuesday from a low of €4.60/t to a high of €5.25/t on confusion over verified emissions data released by the European Commission. Analysts said EU data showed emissions from factories and power stations in 2013 probably fell more than their predictions made at the start of the day.

Prices stabilised over the next few days as trading volumes declined below the 15-day moving average. 

UN Certified Emission Reduction credits for December 2014 ended the week unchanged at €0.16/t. German power for delivery in 2015 declined 1.2 per cent over the week to end Friday at €33.75/MWh.