Thursday 3 November 2011

Glut forces Panasonic to axe solar panel plan

25 Oct 2011, Page: 26

Panasonic Corporation is dropping a plan to convert a plasma TV factory in westernJapan into one making solar panels, as fierce cost competition, a global solar cell supply glut and the strong yen combine to make the venture unprofitable. Earlier this year, Panasonic said it was planning to move the equipment for manufacturing plasma screens at its Amagasaki No 1 plant in Hyogo Prefecture to China. At the time, the company said it wanted instead to produce solar panels at the plant sometime in the next financial year. Panasonic's change of plan exemplifies the struggle Japan's solar panel makers are facing, as booming Chinese solar panel makers create a global inventory glut, while the strong yen makes Japanese exports too expensive.

Sharp Corporation, another major Japanese solar panel maker, has been trying to localise its overseas solar power business. The company has recently built a solar panel manufacturing plant in Sicily in a joint venture with Italian utility End l and STMicroelectronics. Scrapping the plan to produce solar panels at the Amagasaki No 1 plant would be positive for Panasonic, said Mizuho Investors Securities analyst Nobuo Kurahashi. "But this is positive as a defensive move, and the big question remains as to how Panasonic will make its solar business a real growth driver", he said.

When Panasonic acquired a majority stake in Sanyo Electric in 2009, the latter's strength in energy efficient technology particularly solar panels and rechargeable batteries was cited as one of the reasons for the deal. Since then, the global market for solar panels has changed dramatically. Chinese solar cell makers, such as JA Solar Holdings and Suntech Power, are now among the world's biggest producers, thanks in part to Beijing's support for renewable-energy businesses.

"Continued solar module overproduction will lead to sustained price pressure across global photovoltaic markets", said solar market research firm Solarbuzz in a report in late September. "While some manufacturers have started to cut back production and shipment plans, tier one Chinese companies have maintained their full-year shipment guidance", likely causing oversupply, Solarbuzz said in the report. For now, Panasonic is expected to continue producing plasma display panels at the Amagasaki No 1 plant.

To turn around its loss-making TV business, Panasonic is considering selling a factory in Japan that makes liquid crystal display panels for televisions, and scaling down plasma TV panel output at another Japanese plant. Panasonic is the world's biggest maker of plasma TVs, but the vast majority sold today are liquid crystal display models, which Panasonic also makes. In the three months from April to June, LCD televisions took up 80.1% of all units shipped world-wide, while plasma TVs accounted for only 7.6%, according to DisplaySearch.

Reform to unlock power
25 Oct 2011

Councils will be given greater responsibility and there will be a dramatic reduction in public consultation over newly proposed wind farms within the state. These are just two of the changes to be made under the state government's new wind power reforms. According to the state government, the reforms are designed to facilitate further growth in the wind industry in SA.

Minister for Urban Development John Rau said, "The industry has been plagued by uncertainty following a court decision to uphold an objection on 'visual amenity' grounds, and the Victorian Government's crack down on wind power investment". He said an estimated $1.8billion in wind farm investment is currently on hold, pending the reform of the state's planning framework for wind power generation.

The reforms would reinstate local councils as the key authority for assessing planning applications of wind farms. Also, the reforms would set new restrictions for distances between wind farm developments and dwellings, while providing new levels of assurance for investors. This news is expected to come under attack by those currently working towards stopping the proposed wind farm development earmarked for Sedan ranges. The group, known as Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges Landscape Guardians (EMLRG), has been working for the past four months to stop the development instigated by Hydro Pacific.

The new state government wind power reforms involve:

  • Amendment of Council Development Plans to provide greater consistency for assessment of wind farm development applications;
  • Requiring developers to manage the visual impact of their developments, including requiring that turbines be located at least one km from dwelling (unless both parties agree to a lesser distance).
  • Removing the capacity for appeal by third parties against proposals that use this approach and which are located in sparsely zones;
  • Similarly, proposals in sparsely populated zones and where turbines are located more than two km from the periphery of country towns will not be able to be appealed by third parties;

The state government said, to support councils in their expanded role $300,000 will be provided through RenewablesSA to councils that need additional help. The state government is undertaking mandatory consultation regarding the changes. The public can make a written submission regarding the Ministerial Development Plan Amendment to the Department of Planning and Local Government via email at

California adopts emissions cap plan

Adelaide Advertiser
22 Oct 2011, Page: 85

CALIFORNIA formally adopted America's most comprehensive "cap-and-trade" system yesterday, an experiment by the world's eighth-largest economy that is designed to provide financial incentives for polluters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. State officials hoped other states and Washington DC, would follow, calling the plan a "capstone" among the tools California can use to reduce pollution linked to climate change and cut dependence on foreign oil.

"For half a century, every American president has been calling for America to move away from our dependence on foreign oil and become energy independent", chairman of the California Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols said. "The reason we have not succeeded in addressing our addiction to petroleum is because we did not have the right set of policy tools. Now we do. Cap-and-trade provides a reward for doing the right thing".

The board voted unanimously to approve the final draft of its plan, a key part of the state's landmark 2006 global warming law, AB 32, which seeks to reduce the emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Some businesses regulated under the program argue it will raise the price of electricity for consumers and hurt job creation by raising the cost of doing business in the state. Program supporters expect cap-and-trade to spur economic recovery and innovation, by pushing business to invest in clean technologies.

While implementation of some parts of the program will begin next year, compliance for power plants and other of the worst polluting facilities starts in 2013, with others joining in 2015. The plan will cover 85% of California's emissions. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who frequently promoted the law, called the vote a "major milestone" in the fight against climate change.

In general, the program will require pollution producers, such as refineries and cement manufacturers, to buy permits, called allowances, from the state. Each permit allows for a specified amount of greenhouse gases each year, with the amount declining over time. Companies that cut emissions and have extra allowances can sell the permits. Greenhouse gas emitters could purchase the allowances if they failed to cut emissions.

Polluters reducing emissions might turn a profit if the market price for extra allowances rose above the initial cost of the permit.The cap-and-trade plan has seen a number of changes and overcome significant hurdles since it was first adopted with fanfare in Sacramento last year. Work was briefly halted by a judge after environmental justice groups sued, arguing the market based approach of cap-and-trade would allow polluters to buy the right to pollute more by purchasing more allowances possibly affecting mostly low-income neighbourhoods located near governed facilities.

The California Supreme Court in September allowed work to continue on the regulations, saying the air quality of neighbourhoods near power plants and other regulated facilities would be monitored to see if any more pollution results from cap-and-trade.

National market inflates prices, says city

Sydney Morning Herald
Monday 24/10/2011 Page: 4

THE structure of the national electricity market results in unnecessarily high power prices by effectively blocking the development of smaller generators and is resulting in over-investment in electricity assets.

"It costs more to participate in the market than to generate", the chief development officer, energy and climate change with the City of Sydney council, Allan Jones, said. "We need a trading system outside the national market. A trading system supplying Sydney and Wollongong, for example, should be exposed to the full cost of the transmission grid".

Decentralised energy such as trigeneration systems, which use the waste heat from generating electricity to heat water and in cooling systems, are sidelined from use by the centralised nature of the national electricity market, he said. The Sydney council is pursuing plans for a trigeneration system, which would involve a network of gas-fired power stations around the edge of the central business district. This would boost the security of power supply to the area and potentially provide electricity at a cheaper price, with lower carbon emissions.

The proposal involves installing up to 360 MWs of generation capacity, which would be split across four units, from 20 MWs in Green Square to 120 MWs in parts of the CBD Energy. Using natural gas, the system would reduce emissions associated with office buildings and shopping centres by as much as 60% while providing for a return on investment of as much as 20%.

"This would enable the thermal energy networks connecting buildings together to be implemented, distributing zero carbon waste heat from local low-carbon electricity generation", the council said in its submission to the Tamberlin electricity inquiry, which is to deliver its report to the NSW government by the end of the month.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Two degree climate target slipping away: paper

24 Oct 2011, Page: 3

GREENHOUSE gas emissions will need to peak before 2020 to give the world the best shot at meeting the internationally agreed target to limit average global temperature increases to 2°, according to scientists. In a paper, to be published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change today, an international team of researchers, including some from the University of Melbourne, find the two-degree goal is still achievable but is slipping out of reach.

Nations agreed at last year's global climate change negotiations at Cancun that "deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required", with a view to holding the increase in global average temperatures to below two degree above pre-industrial levels. Two° is regarded by climate scientists as the maximum average global temperature increase possible to give the world a good chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

The research team behind today's paper says that if measures are not put in place to ensure the early peak in emissions, followed by a large decline in the following decades, the two-degree target will not be achieved. "Without a finn commitment to put in place the mechanisms to enable an early global emissions peak followed by steep reductions thereafter, there are significant risks that the twodegree target, endorsed by so many nations, is already slipping out of reach", the paper says.

One of the report's researchers, Malte Meinshausen, from the School of Earth Sciences at University of Melbourne, told The Age the world couldn't put all its eggs in one basket and a suite of measures to reduce emissions would be needed. He nominated energy efficiency measures, renewable energy and, at a later date, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage producing negative emissions as elements in the mix. The research team ran models on almost 200 existing emission scenarios for the paper, finding the scenarios with the "likely" greater than 66% chance of staying below two° seeing global emissions peak between 2010 and 2020.

Opposition plan adds to uncertainty: Origin

Sydney Morning Herald
21 Oct 2011, Page: 5

AUSTRALIA must prepare for five more years of uncertainty over the foreshadowed carbon tax as a result of the federal opposition's claim that it will repeal it if elected. Grant King, the managing director of the largest privately owned power company, Origin Energy, called for more rigour in the debate about renewable energy, saying that no form of energy "is truly benign".

"There's been uncertainty for probably 10 years and right now you'd say there will probably be another five years of uncertainty", Mr King said, in light of the opposition's stated plans to repeal the tax. "There is quite a period of uncertainty ahead of us, no matter what", he said. "It will result in different [energy] choices than might otherwise have been made. "What will be built is the cheapest way that might meet that requirement, and that might not cause the right long-term mix of generation in the system to be built,.. We will generally expose the least amount of capital we can to that decision. "That might mean there's much more open cycle plant in the system-that's gas peaking plant-than base load plant, and that is less efficient, so you therefore get more carbon emissions".

Most people wanted steps taken to reduce carbon emissions, Mr King said, but there was concern about the rate of change. Furthermore, there was a "level of misinformation and misrepresentation on [coal seam gas] issues which I think are ideologically motivated around the notion of 'good' versus 'bad' fuels", he said, with no form of energy "truly benign".

Solar cells, for example, needed chemicals such as hydrofluoric and phosphoric acid and sodium hydroxide, all of which were highly toxic, he said. wind turbines were visually offensive to some, while others claimed they cause low frequency audible noise. Similarly, geothermal energy produced "up to 200 times more water" than coal seam gas wells and required hydraulic fracturing, similar to that seen with some coal seam gas wells, with the potential to affect the Great Artesian Basin.

"The point of these examples is not to say renewables are 'bad', rather that all forms of energy bring environmental issues", Mr King said. A $23 a tonne carbon price would likely result in "something near a 50% increase in current wholesale electricity prices, and natural gas wholesale costs may double over the next three to five years". Even so, given the rise in household incomes, "we think it unlikely that the cost of household energy will become significantly more burdensome on consumers", he said.