Saturday 29 December 2012

China to Promote Solar-Power Consolidation
19 Dec 2012

China opened the door to consolidation and bankruptcies among its troubled solar-products companies, steps that could help trim overcapacity in a global industry that has suffered losses and liquidations and has sparked a global trade spat.

In a statement late Wednesday, the State Council, China's cabinet, said it would reform the industry, such as by encouraging mergers and acquisitions. The cabinet will reduce government support and ban local governments from supporting failing domestic solar companies, it said.

The State Council also said it would make good use of a "bankruptcy mechanism", suggesting that China would make it easier for companies to declare bankruptcy--a rarity in the solar industry, as well as in China as a whole.

The statement didn't offer details, and it wasn't clear whether Chinese officials would follow it up with specific policies that could lead to shutdowns of Chinese companies and factories. Any such efforts would face considerable opposition from city, county and provincial governments that rely on the companies for tax revenue, employment and economic growth.

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Emissions sink as consumers turn off coal
20 Dec 2012

Weak demand for electricity across eastern mainland states has sparked a "dramatic fall" in greenhouse gas emissions from Australia's power stations, the latest review of data by consultants Pitt and Sherry has found. While demand for base-load electricity from black coal-fired power stations has been in retreat for about three years, the decline has extended in recent months to two of Victoria's emissions-intensive brown coal-fired plants, Hazelwood and Yallourn.

Changes in demand of electricity on this scale are unprecedented in the entire 120 year history of the electricity supply industry in Australia Hazelwood, one of the country's oldest and dirtiest power plants, was operating at only 67% capacity in November, down from the mid-80% range in May and June, Hugh Saddler, principal consultant in the climate change business unit of Pitt and Sherry, said.

The data, analysed from half-hourly reports to the Australian Energy Market Operator, also show Yallourn was operating at just 56% last month even after it announced it was mothballing one of its four units. That ratio is down from 90% capacity use in December last year, Dr Saddler said.

In NSW, power stations were operating in the 60-70% capacity range, with Eraring down to 44% and Bayswater 64% last month. The slide in coal-fired power generation means "it should really be quite easy" for the government to meet its goal of cutting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2020 from 2000 levels, he said.

Total emissions from energy use for the year ended September 30 were 2 million tonnes of CO₂ lower than in the year ended July 2012. In November alone, CO₂ emissions from energy dropped another 600,000 tonnes based on a rolling 12 month data series.

Pitt and Sherry analysis shows demand for electricity fell 2.5% in year to November, compared with a year earlier, led by a decline of more than 5% for NSW. South Australia and Tasmania posted falls of about 3%, with Queensland and Victoria registering small retreats in demand. Higher electricity prices appear to be an important prompt to the demand drop.

"The price is a signal to consumers to use less electricity", Dr Saddler said. "There's also been a dramatic increase in residential use of small-scale reverse cycle air-conditioners, which have become very much more efficient in recent years".

Using electricity demand in 2008-09 as the base, annual demand to the end of November 2012 has seen an 11% fall in Victoria, 8% in NSW, with smaller drops in other states. "Changes in demand of electricity on this scale are unprecedented in the entire 120 year history of the electricity supply industry in Australia", the Pitt and Sherry report said.

The rapid spread of solar photovoltaic panels is also beginning to erode demand, although the full impact may not be felt until more companies rather than homes install the technology, he said. Commercial power demand typically matches solar PV output more closely than residential use.

Solar boost Meanwhile, one of Australia's biggest PV installers, Mark Group, has begun offering additional solar payments to foster demand even as state governments roll back feed-in tariffs.

Earlier this year, Victoria cut its feed-in tariff from 25¢ per kW-hour to 8¢. Mark Group, along with retailer Diamond Energy, has lifted that rate to 33¢, with plans to roll out similar programs in NSW, Queensland and South Australia next year.

A surge in Chinese PV production has seen the cost of panels drop from $1.80 to 65¢ per kW capacity in the past two years. "We're not that far from operating without subsidies", Rob Grant, chief executive of Mark Group's Australian operations, said. "The biggest uptake is going to commercial".