Thursday, 6 August 2009

Charging Infrastructure in Short Supply

The Department of Energy is awarding billions of dollars to companies developing next-generation batteries that can power cars. But one crucial element is in short supply: stations where electric vehicles can recharge.
Though the Energy Department is spending $2.4 billion on developing technology for electric vehicles, very little is for the infrastructure needed to recharge vehicles once they are on the road.
President Obama has announced a $2.4 billion plan to revitalize the U.S. electric car industry. The plan aims to make America a key player in an industry dominated by Asian and European manufacturers, Joseph White reports.
Despite the government money, the industry's chicken-and-the-egg dilemma remains: Demand for electric cars isn't likely to take off unless there are convenient ways to recharge batteries. But utilities and service-station operators aren't likely to spend money on such infrastructure until there are enough cars on the road to make the investment profitable.
"We need domestic supply of cars and batteries. That's important," said Ed Kjaer, director of electric transportation for Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International in Rosemead, Calif. "But we also need to get the markets ready for these cars by creating the infrastructure. It's not ready now and it's a big concern."
It isn't clear what form recharging stations will take. People with garages will likely have it easiest, able to simply plug into a wall outlet. But apartment dwellers and people who park on the street will need extension cords or public recharging kiosks to obtain electricity. Utilities in California are offering discount rates for overnight recharging, but most customers lack the meters or other hardware needed to tell if electricity is going into a car or an appliance.
The biggest infrastructure grant, of $99.8 million, was awarded to Electric Transportation Engineering Corp., which will work with Nissan Corp. to develop 12,500 240-volt charging stations and 250 480-volt charging stations, the latter offering a fast-charge capability. As part of that demonstration project, 5,000 Nissan electric vehicles will be tested.

But Southern California Edison, a utility focused on electric transportation for decades, was disappointed that some programs proposed by Ford Motor Co. weren't funded. That included a plan to establish charging stations in 15 urban markets, including about $10 million that would have enabled Edison to modernize about 3,000 charging stations it built in the 1990s but that became moribund when the first wave of electric cars faltered.
General Motors Co. and Ford received $30.5 million and $30 million, respectively, to develop, demonstrate and analyze hundreds of electric cars with help from utilities. Utilities and auto makers have been working for years on hardware and control systems to deftly handle recharging and billing. Both want sufficient charging stations to meet the initial demand and, later, they want systems in place to control battery charging so it makes the electric grid stronger, not weaker.
DTE Energy Inc., which owns Detroit Edison, is working with auto makers on systems to recharge batteries at night, after other big energy users shut down, freeing up electric capacity. What they don't want is batteries that begin sucking up power when demand still is high.

Ideally, charging would ramp up as energy from wind turbines increases, a nighttime phenomenon in many regions. Detroit Edison, for example, plans to add 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy to its portfolio by 2015, and it is expected to consist mostly of wind turbines that would reach peak productivity overnight.
"It would be great if we could use wind power to recharge batteries," said Haukur "Hawk" Asgeirsson, manager of power-systems technologies for DTE Energy.
Some DOE grant money also will help trucks run on electricity. Cascade Sierra Solutions is getting $22.2 million so it can develop 50 electricity-fueling stations for heavy-duty trucks, allowing them to turn off their engines and run on electricity while at rest stops. Thousands of trucks will get rebates of up to $6,250 to install the necessary conversion equipment.
Sandor Lau, development director for the clean-transportation-focused nonprofit group in Coburg, Ore., said his organization estimates the stations will save 35 million gallons of diesel fuel in 10 years. California has enacted rules prohibiting idling by trucks for periods longer than five minutes and other states are following.
Mr. Lau said the stations would charge about $1 an hour for electricity, saving truck drivers $2 to $3 an hour through fuel savings because idling trucks burn a gallon of fuel or more per hour.
Write to Rebecca Smith at

A123 Looks Set to Land U.S. Funds for Battery

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration plans to announce Wednesday the winners of $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds for makers of advanced automotive batteries, part of an effort to make sure that electric cars sold in the U.S. run on American-made power sources.
One of the winners in a competition that drew applications from more than 100 companies is A123 Systems Inc. of Massachusetts, according to people familiar with the matter. Among other companies in the running for grants are Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions LLC -- a joint venture of Johnson Controls Inc. and French battery maker Saft Groupe SA -- and EnerDel, a unit of Ener1 Inc.
Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to name the winners at an event in Detroit on Wednesday. People familiar with the matter said A123's chief executive, David Vieau, is expected to attend Wednesday's announcement. Representatives of Detroit's three big auto makers -- General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler Group LLC -- have been asked by the Obama administration to provide photogenic electric vehicles for the occasion.
A spokesman for A123 declined to comment Tuesday. The event in Detroit is one of several the Obama administration is planning to highlight its efforts to accelerate the transformation of the U.S. automobile industry into one that will be more competitive and less polluting. Also on Wednesday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu is scheduled to visit Celgard LLC, a Charlotte, N.C., company that supplies material for lithium-ion batteries.
An Energy Department spokeswoman declined to say which companies have been selected to receive grants, either for battery-manufacturing plants or facilities capable of supplying the industry with the advanced materials it will need. A spokeswoman for Celgard, which announced in May that it was seeking funding from the agency, didn't respond to a call seeking comment. Spokesmen for Johnson Controls and EnerDel declined to comment or couldn't be reached.
The Obama administration has $2 billion in stimulus funds earmarked for advanced-battery efforts, part of the economic-stimulus legislation approved by Congress in February. The Energy Department has said it will distribute $1.2 billion to battery-manufacturing companies and $800 million for battery-materials companies, part of a larger effort to quickly develop a domestic capability to produce millions of batteries for electric cars being developed by General Motors, Ford, Toyota Motor Corp. and others.
Lithium-ion batteries are the preferred technology for electric cars, because they deliver more punch for their size and weight. Most of the capacity to manufacture them exists in Asia, where it was developed to supply consumer electronics such as laptop computers. But the U.S. government doesn't want to trade dependence on foreign oil for dependence on foreign batteries.
Another factor is that lithium-ion batteries aren't expected to be a commodity product, unlike most automotive batteries today. They will have different chemistries and cell types. The batteries with the best technologies are expected to confer significant competitive advantages to select auto makers. Batteries are likely to be expensive, perhaps thousands of dollars apiece, and the Department of Energy wants each to be capable of moving a vehicle 40 miles before becoming depleted or needing a boost from a gasoline engine. That would be enough range to meet the average daily needs of 70% of U.S. vehicles.
Questions remain, however, about how much demand there will be for all-electric or plug-in electric cars, which are likely to be expensive initially.
Awards for A123 and Johnson Controls-Saft would be a boost for Michigan, whose economy has been racked by the collapse of the U.S. auto sector. Both firms want to expand manufacturing in Michigan. In April Chrysler selected A123 to supply lithium-ion battery cells, packs and modules for electric cars that it expects to have in showrooms in late 2010.
Write to Stephen Power at and Rebecca Smith at

Funds Flow to Electric Cars

White House Unveils $2.4 Billion in Grants to Jump-Start Industry in Midwest
WAKARUSA, Ind. -- President Barack Obama used a factory in one of the most economically battered U.S. manufacturing regions Wednesday as the backdrop to unveil $2.4 billion in stimulus grants to jump-start an electric-vehicle industry centered in the Midwest.
President Obama has announced a $2.4 billion plan to revitalize the U.S. electric car industry. The plan aims to make America a key player in an industry dominated by Asian and European manufacturers, Joseph White reports.
The program, outlined by Mr. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other members of his administration in separate appearances in six states, would make the U.S. government the major financial backer for 48 different projects to develop and produce electric-vehicle batteries, electric-drive components and various kinds of electric vehicles.
The government also would be a major customer for those ventures, committing to buy thousands of electric and hybrid vehicles from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC and some smaller manufacturers. The role is vital to creating demand. Auto-industry executives are unsure whether consumers will pay premiums that run to thousands of dollars for electric vehicles if gasoline prices remain at current levels.
Mr. Obama's own automotive task force cast doubt in a report on the viability of GM's coming Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. Mr. Obama's plan calls for the government to buy as many as 625 Volts for electric utilities and consumers to test.
Grant Recipients

See which companies were awarded grants and where their projects will be located.
Government grants also would subsidize installation of electric-vehicle charging stations; lack of stations has been one of the obstacles to wider use of battery-powered vehicles.
"I want the cars of the future and the technology to power them to be built right here," Mr. Obama said to cheers from workers at Monaco RV, a struggling recreational-vehicle factory in Wakarusa, a northern Indiana town of 1,800 that has an unemployment rate of 18%. "For too long, we failed to invest in this kind of innovation, even as countries like China and Japan raced ahead."
Obama administration officials say the government needs to help U.S. manufacturers catch up with Asian rivals who have moved more aggressively to develop such critical technologies as automotive lithium-ion batteries and related technologies.
The move also reflects the belief by Mr. Obama's economic team that current lower oil prices won't last: In its models for the future, as part of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies, the president's auto task force assumed that gas prices would rise above $4 a gallon by the middle of the next decade.

The Obama administration says the government money will leverage another $2.4 billion in private investment by recipients. The bulk of the Department of Energy money goes to seven companies in Indiana and 11 in Michigan, two states with the nation's highest unemployment that will play a strong role in Democrats' fates in 2010 congressional races and Mr. Obama's 2012 re-election run.
Some companies that failed to get grants questioned why most of the winners were large, well-established companies, such as GM, Johnson Controls Inc. and Saft Groupe SA of France.
"Innovation in this arena frequently comes from the smaller guys," said Mark Mills, chairman of International Battery Inc., a venture-capital-backed battery maker in Allentown, Pa., that had unsuccessfully sought DOE funding for an expansion. "If we wound the clock back to 1980 and had the government funding computer operating systems, the probability that Microsoft would have been funded then would have been small."
Losers in the competition for funding also said the program would benefit a significant number of foreign-owned companies, either directly or because they are joint-venture partners with the U.S.-based firms. Compact Power Inc., which received $151.4 million for production of lithium-ion battery components for the Chevrolet Volt, is a unit of South Korean battery maker LG Chem Ltd.
"There's more money in this for South Korea than for California," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.). The Energy Department did award $45.4 million to the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Diamond Bar, Calif., to support the development of plug-in hybrid trucks and shuttle buses. But Mr. Sherman noted that the construction of those vehicles is slated for Michigan and Kentucky.—Stephen Power contributed to this article.
Write to Elizabeth Williamson at

Segway scooter sales rise 11.5 per cent

Sales of the Segway, the stand-on scooter that threatened to be a flop, have risen 11.5 per cent in the first six months of this year, according to the sole British distributor of the device.

By Alastair Jamieson Published: 4:24PM BST 05 Aug 2009

A Segway scooter costs from £4,800 and is recharged by mains electricity Photo: AP
The two-wheeled vehicle was billed as a revolution in short-distance transport when it was launched in 2002 but fell far short of sales targets despite celebrity customers including Dame Helen Mirren, Jackie Chan and the MP Lembit Öpik.
The battery-powered device, which costs from £4,800 and is recharged by mains electricity, looked certain to follow the Sinclair C5 and Betamax video players into technological history – a position cemented when President George Bush was seen falling from one in 2003.

However Wayne Mitchell, manager of Segway UK, said there were now more than 2,000 of the vehicles in use in Britain despite them being prohibited on public roads.
He said: "Sales were up 11.5 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year and I think more people are seeing them around. We sold 200 last year."
He added that he was "optimistic" the new transport secretary, Lord Adonis, would allow Segways to be used on the road.
"It is a frustrating situation," he said. "Lots of customers use them on the roads and no one has ever been prosecuted for doing so but it does mean Britain has fewer Segways than countries such as the Netherlands, where they are legal."
The Segway, which has a maximum speed of 12.5mph and can travel around 18 miles between charges, was unveiled by New Hampshire entrepreneur Dean Kamen 2001 and went on sale the following year.
He predicted the Segway would revolutionise transport, being "to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy", but against a target of 40,000 a year the device had sold only 23,000 by the end of 2006. There are now thought to be 80,000 in use worldwide, many of them by police forces patrolling pedestrian zones such as parks.
Dr Isidore Margaronis, 58, a shipping consultant, has clocked up 10,000 miles on his Segway getting from his home in west London to work in Piccadilly.
He said: "They are probably less dangerous than bikes because you are upright and therefore more visible to drivers. You are usually slower than cyclists, except when there is a headwind in which case you can overtake them which is very satisfying.
"The battery needs replacing after about three years, and that can cost up to £800, but it can run 18 miles on about 15p of electricity."
A Department for Transport spokesman said the Segway "does not currently meet minimum safety standards for vehicles on UK roads" but could be used on private land such as airports or shopping centres.
A basic Segway costs £4,795 including VAT but extras such as a £75 lock kit, £120 bag and £25 tail-light can add to the cost.

Vestas sit-in six call on country to show support

Rachel Williams, Wednesday 5 August 2009 18.22 BST
Six workers who have been staging a sit-in at Britain's only major wind turbine factory for more than two weeks called today for a national day of action to support their attempt to save it from closure with the loss of more than 600 jobs. The men, who say they are determined to remain inside the Vestas Wind Systems plant on the Isle of Wight until bailiffs come to remove them, want people around the country to show support on Wednesday 12 August by downing tools for an hour, holding a rally or hanging up a banner.
Meanwhile many of the workers who left the occupation yesterday of their own accord returned to the site, on an industrial estate outside Newport, to support their colleagues from the outside.
Asked what the experience inside had been like, Chris Ash replied: "The Big Brother house." He explained: "You've got to ration all the tobacco, all the food, you've got to wash stuff in the sinks. It's really tough. Being away from your loved ones, not being able to do normal stuff.
"When you came out on the balcony and could see your friends and family outside, that was hard. You'd think, 'Can I do this?'"
Since leaving, Ash said he had had a shower, a shave, seen his cats and treated himself to some fish and chips. After that it was straight back to the plant, where he spent yesterday evening and has been since early this morning.
"I plan to stay here for the forseeable future," he said. "The lads inside are doing a tremendous job. I couldn't physically do it any more."
Like Big Brother housemates, the occupiers have gone to some lengths to keep themselves amused. Michael Godley revealed that he and another worker who has come out had written a musical about the occupation using alternative words to well-known songs including Michael Jackson's Beat It and Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. The men have acted it out and filmed it, ready to screen when they have all left the building.
Godley called on people around the country and on the Isle of Wight to show their support to the men left inside. It is thought the company will not act quickly to remove them. "We need more islanders to get involved, especially the other workers," Godley said. "There's 600 of them who have already got two weeks' extra pay and more redundancy money because of what we've done. We need them to get on board."
On Tuesday Vestas won a repossession order allowing it to remove the men. Four then left of their own accord, while the others vowed to stay on. Another five activists are occupying the roof of another site owned by the Danish company, in East Cowes. They have set up a climate camp on the steep sloping surface complete with tents, a kitchen and a toilet.

Beijing Softens Stand on Emissions Cap

BEIJING -- China signaled a slightly softer position on accepting a cap on the emissions that cause global warming, despite expressing frustration at the lack of a breakthrough on climate-change talks.
Disagreement over whether China and other developing countries should accept such emissions caps is a key impediment to negotiating a successor pact to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change in time for a planned December meeting in Copenhagen. China and the U.S. in recent months have made reaching a deal in time for Copenhagen a central element of their bilateral relationship.

Yu Qingtai, China's special envoy for the climate-change negotiations, emphasized the importance of reaching a deal. "The talks on climate change have been going on quite slowly. We only have a few months left before Copenhagen," said Mr. Yu, who welcomed efforts by the U.S. to pass a domestic climate bill. "The nature of the problem is such that we can't afford a failure."
Replacing the old pact, which expires in 2012, will be high on the agenda when U.S. President Barack Obama meets Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in New York in September, and again when Mr. Obama visits China later in the year.
So far, China has refused any limits on emissions, arguing they would be a form of economic discrimination against poorer countries. China also says that 20% of its carbon emissions comes from products made for export and that it shouldn't bear the burden.
But China appears to have shifted subtly recently, with some influential Chinese economists arguing that China might soon be rich enough to afford some of the changes necessary to combat global warming.
Mr. Yu also offered a sign that China is taking the first steps toward figuring out how much it could cap while still growing enough to reach its economic goals. He said Chinese scientists were looking at what would be China's peak emissions, or the level at which economic growth could continue and emissions could be cut back.
China and the U.S. are still miles apart. China, driven by a historically unprecedented wave of urbanization and industrialization, has recently surpassed the U.S. as the top emitter of greenhouse gasses. But Beijing insists that rich industrialized countries have a responsibility to clean up first.
Rich countries like the U.S. should cut their emissions at least 40% from their 1990 levels by 2020, China says -- a schedule much more aggressive than ones being considered in the U.S. or Europe. In addition, China wants money and technology for itself and other developing nations to smooth the adjustment to a low-carbon economy. "This isn't charity, but their responsibility," Mr. Yu said.
On the other side, countries like the U.S. say big countries like China and India are growing so fast that, unless they accept absolute limits on their greenhouse gasses, the extra pollution from all of their new factories obliterate gains made elsewhere, gutting the value of any deal.—Wan Xu contributed to this article.
Write to Shai Oster at

India attacks British and Western 'hypocrites' over cutting emissions

Britain and other 'hypocritical' Western countries must sacrifice some luxuries before asking developing countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, India's climate change envoy has told The Daily Telegraph.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi Published: 2:42PM BST 05 Aug 2009

Shyam Saran said the country would not take any measures that could restrict its growth. Instead, it would fund developments to reduce carbon emissions, increase the generation of green power and improve energy efficiency.
Any further measures demanded by developed countries would be taken only if full funding and technological support was provided.

Mr Saran said his government was planning to cut carbon emissions through fuel efficiency and would bring electricity to remote villages through projects to transform agricultural waste into power.
Measures would be taken in India's national interest, he said, but the government would not yield to pressure from the "hypocritical" West.
"No one is prepared to touch their living standards," he said. "If you say, â You're producing Tata Nanos [India's new £1,200 car], what will that do to the world?' but not talk about your two or three cars per family, it's hypocritical.
"We can't be ambitious if we all protect our turf. We need a collaborative response." Mr Saran said he was pessimistic for the prospects of a far-reaching agreement on climate change at December's United Nations conference in Copenhagen because developed countries did not appear ready to make sacrifices in their lifestyles or pay for cuts in emissions they demand of developing countries.
The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been under pressure to curb his country's carbon emissions as its economy grows but he blamed the West for creating the climate crisis through 150 years of "dirty" industrial development and demanded a $250â billion per year fund to help developing countries.
Mr Saran said developed countries accepted that they must take responsibility for reducing carbon emissions, and to finance any reductions required of developing countries, at the Rio Earth summit in 1992 but most had forgotten their obligations because they were inconvenient.
"Should we be surprised if we end up with a least common denominator result [at Copenhagen]? That's the way things are going," he said.
Mr Saran said developed countries were approaching the issue as a commercial opportunity for their companies rather than an opportunity for scientific collaboration. Solar power held the key, he said, yet there had been no offers from developed countries to share technology.
"If Europe or the US increased fuel prices by $1 a litre, it would make a substantial change in private transport, a major source of emissions," said Mr Saran.
"If you say it's not politically possible but tell me not to give electricity to our villages because it will cause climate change, how do I sell that here?
"I can't tell people they can't aspire to higher standards of living." India was meanwhile reported to be preparing to transform its desert border with Pakistan into a £7 billion hub for solar energy. It plans to line its southern border in the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, with solar mirrors as part of a scheme to create what officials have called a "solar city'".
It will include a 5,000 Megawatt power plant backed by the Clinton Foundation, which officials believe would be the world's biggest solar energy station.

Decc comes bottom of the class on energy efficiency

Government buildings score badly by own measures
Alok Jha, Wednesday 5 August 2009 00.00 BST

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which is responsible for promoting energy efficiency in the country, has the lowest possible energy efficiency rating for its headquarters in Whitehall Place in London. On the government's own seven-point scale from A-G, it comes in at G.
The energy efficiency ratings for 267 public buildings were published in May in response to a parliamentary question from the Conservatives. About 45% of the UK's carbon emissions come from energy use in buildings .
One in three government buildings have the lowest possible rating for energy efficiency. The Home Office, which moved into a newly built office only a few years ago, and the Department of Health were given the bottom rating, while, on average, government buildings scored an F.
In total, more than 70% were rated E or below, which means that they are less energy-efficient than the average buildings of their type. None scored the highest rating of A or even a B.
The highest for any public buildings were the Ministry of Justice and the Wales Office, both rated at C.
At the time, a spokesman for DECC pointed out the new department had only moved into its building in October, but was determined to make it more energy efficient: "This is not easy as our new home is a Grade II-listed heritage building and more than 100 years old - making it difficult to match the energy-efficiency standards of new buildings."

Ban sales of poorly insulated homes, says Energy Saving Trust

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Owners of poorly insulated homes should not be allowed to sell or rent them until they have invested in energy efficiency measures, the Government’s advisory body on domestic energy use says.
The Energy Saving Trust said that the 5.5 million homes in the lowest two bands for energy performance — more than a fifth of all homes — should also be subject to higher council tax bills and additional stamp duty. It believes that tough measures will be needed to achieve the Government’s target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from home heating by 29 per cent by 2020 and to “almost zero” by 2050.
The trust estimates that 85 per cent of the homes in bands F and G could be made fit to sell for less than £5,000. However, owners of the remaining 15 per cent face paying as much as £10,000 to upgrade their homes to a new minimum standard.
Since last October, all homes offered for sale or rent have had to have an energy performance certificate, which ranks them in one of seven bands, from A to G. The trust is advising the Government to make it illegal, from 2015, to offer for sale homes rated lower than Band E. There would be exceptions for listed buildings if the owners could prove that energy efficiency measures would damage their historic character.

The Government said in its low carbon White Paper last month that existing measures, which focus on giving advice and offering grants towards the cost of insulation, might not be sufficient to achieve reductions in energy use.
There are very few A-rated homes, which feature triple glazing, heavily insulated walls and ceilings and solar panels for heating water. F-rated homes include Victorian terraced properties with single-glazed sash windows and boilers at least ten years old. G-rated homes tend to be detached and have no loft insulation.
In an interview with The Times, Marian Spain, the trust’s director of strategy, said: “We need a powerful incentive to act as a backstop in case other measures do not work. To sell your home you would need to have done the basics to take it out of the F and G ratings. The final deadline should be 2015.”
Ms Spain said that homeowners were likely to recoup their investment, because buyers would be willing to pay more for a home with lower energy bills. The prospect of higher council tax would also help to push people into paying for insulation.
The trust is also recommending that planning permission for extensions should be made conditional on the whole home improving its energy performance.
Jonathan Stearn, of Consumer Focus, the government-funded watchdog for energy prices and fuel poverty, welcomed the trust’s proposals but said they needed to be balanced by improved grants to help poorer households to pay for insulation. “We need a mixture of carrot and stick,” he said. “We have particular concerns about those who can’t afford energy efficiency measures.”

Hot Streak for Solar Power in Spain

MADRID -- After positioning Spain as the third-largest wind power producer after the U.S. and Germany, renewable energy companies are now racing for a foothold in the country's fast-growing "solar thermal" market.

A worker makes adjustments at an Acciona solar thermal power plant ahead of its inauguration last month in Alvarado, Spain. Companies plan to spend about $24.5 billion on a number of similar plants, spurred by government subsidies and renewable-energy goals.

Concentrating solar thermal technology, as it is known, uses mirrors to focus the sun's rays onto a central receiver, generating steam that powers electric turbines. What makes the technology unique is that the solar heat can be stored, offering a key power backup for electric grids. Conventional photovoltaic solar power has to be used on the spot.
Large power utilities are attracted by solar thermal plants, because their operation is similar to that of conventionally fueled steam power plants. Their storage capacity, using tanks of molten salt that retain heat, makes it possible to develop big plants that can generate power around the clock.
Government figures show Spain has close to 30 solar thermal plants under construction. Companies are seeking clearance for projects that would add 4,300 megawatts of capacity -- enough to cover about two-thirds of New York City's power demand on a spring day -- representing an investment of about €17 billion (about $24.5 billion).
"After wind power, solar thermal technology will be the second great renewable column of the company in the short term," said Jose Manuel Entrecanales, president of Acciona SA, a Spanish construction company that has expanded into renewable energy.
The boom comes with a number of caveats. While fuel costs are minimal, developing solar thermal energy plants is expensive -- around €4 million per megawatt, compared with about €650,000 per megawatt for a modern natural-gas power station. The technology isn't universally acclaimed: one criticism is that is that it requires a backup in the winter to keep the central receiver warm. Meanwhile, government incentives related to solar thermal power are expected to be curtailed.
Still, given Spain's sunny climate, experts say solar thermal power could be key to reaching the European Union's goal of having a fifth of all energy come from renewable sources by 2020.
"The government is very interested in solar thermal energy because it's the most suitable technology for Spain's weather," said Deputy Energy Minister Pedro Marin. "Because of its storage capacity, it's also the only manageable renewable energy source for the power grid."
Iberdrola SA unit Iberdrola Renovables and Acciona, two of the world's biggest wind-power companies, along with Abengoa SA, are among the companies with projects in the pipeline.
The ramp-up will take time. Once approved by the government, thermal plants take between one and three years to build. The Spanish government expects solar thermal generation capacity to rise from the current 183 megawatts to around 800 megawatts by the end of 2010, roughly the capacity of a small nuclear plant.
By 2020, however, Spain could have up to 8,000 megawatts of installed solar thermal power capacity, said Jose Monzonis, head of solar thermal operations at Acciona.
Acciona switched on its first Spanish solar thermal plant in July. It has three more plants under construction and a pipeline of projects with a total planned capacity around 1,200 megawatts, according to Esteban Morras, head of the company's energy division. Although the global financial crisis has forced Acciona to cut its investment in wind power operations, spending on its solar thermal business will rise this year, Mr. Morras said.
This buoyant trend could be damped by imminent regulatory changes. Analysts say a stable and generous pricing system implemented two years ago, which sets a premium for power from solar thermal technology over market prices, has been a key factor boosting expansion. But the government is expected to reduce the premiums in September and limit the amount of solar thermal power that can be brought on line each year, in order to keep expensive solar thermal power from pushing up the price of wholesale electricity and thus consumers' power bills.
"We have already suffered delays in some of our projects because of the regulatory uncertainty," said Santiago Seage, head of Abengoa's solar division. But he notes that a reasonable reduction in premiums will soften, rather than block, the local solar thermal market.
"If this happens, what will change is the pace of new installations," Acciona's Mr. Entrecanales said. "Companies will have to plan better."

Clinton Foundation to build solar power station near Pakistan border

The Clinton Foundation has agreed to build the world's largest solar power station close to India's border with Pakistan, a government minister has confirmed.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi Published: 3:57AM BST 06 Aug 2009
Foundation officials have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a solar park with the capacity to generate more than 5,000 Megawatts of electricity, Gujarat state's energy minister Saurabh Patel told The Daily Telegraph.
The project is one of up to 40 schemes aimed at transforming the desert border with Pakistan into the world's biggest solar energy hub.

The state government has signed deals with 40 energy companies, each planning to generate between five and 50 Megawatts of solar energy.
One plan will see the border area lined with large solar mirrors to transform the sun's rays into power.
Mr Patel said his government had allocated 1,500 hectares of land for the project and will also offer financial incentives for companies which begin generating electricity before December 2010.
The development emerged on Wednesday after India's central government in New Delhi unveiled plans to invest £11 billion in new solar plants and encourage 20,000 families to switch to solar by 2020. Government offices throughout the country must make the switch before 2012.
Gujarat's plans will be a major boost to the government's hopes to make solar financially competitive with electricity generated from coal-powered plants.
Local officials said Gurarat's border with Pakistan, Patan and Banaskantha districts are perfect for solar power generation. "Land availability is not an issue here. Sunlight is plenty and rainfall is sparse. It is an ideal location for solar power generation," said one official.
Energy minister Saurabh Patel said Clinton Foundation officials had visited earlier this year and are now considering a number of locations for their solar park. "They will bring in investors, create infrastructure and new technology and finance will be made available. It will be the world's biggest solar plant," he said.

Hand out £10,000 loans to make UK homes greener, say experts

But pay-as-you-save scheme gets lukewarm response from government
Ashley Seager
The Guardian, Thursday 6 August 2009

Homeowners will be able to borrow up to £10,000 to "green" their homes and pay the money back through their council tax bill, under radical proposals drawn up by a government advisory body.
The plans, published today in a report by the UK Green Building Council, flesh out a government proposal aired last month for a pay-as-you-save scheme to improve the efficiency of 7m British homes by 2020.
Britain's housing stock is old and notoriously inefficient in its use of energy. Housing accounts for a quarter of all carbon emissions but the upfront cost of improvements such as solid-wall insulation, low energy boilers and solar panels has been identified as a big barrier to reducing emissions – something the pay-as-you-save scheme aims to address.

The idea is that a homeowner would save more in energy bills than he or she would pay each month to service the loan taken out to green the home. Councils would be used as a conduit for the finance – which would come from banks or pensions funds, or even from a type of "green bond".
Paul King, chief executive of the building council, said: "This innovative proposal would provide the finance to trigger a revolution in household refurbishment, creating thousands of new jobs and significantly cutting emissions. Both government and opposition have voiced their support for the principles of a scheme like this – what's needed is to get on with it."
A significant part of the building council's report is that the local authority would create a "local land charge" on a house though which the money would be repaid. The charge would be levied on the property rather than the owner, so if someone sold their house, the new owner would take over the debt payments.
Local authorities are favoured by the report because council tax has a much lower default rate than energy bills. By reducing the risk that debts do not get paid, the interest rates on the debt could be reduced. The one problem is that a local land charge system would require primary legislation in parliament.
The government, which has been thought to favour using energy companies as a conduit for the pay-as-you-save scheme, gave the report a lukewarm reaction. A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesman said: "We were pleased to offer financial support for this work, which will inform the ongoing development of our comprehensive energy efficiency programmes.
"The government will soon be trialling pay-as-you-save schemes in several hundred homes across the country, and we will also use what we learn from these pilots in our final decision on what form the scheme will take."
But the building council's experts think that people have too little trust in energy companies, and would like big retailers such as B&Q, as well as building firms, to have the opportunity to compete for refurbishment contracts, which should help push down prices to consumers.
All companies would have to have government accreditation to be able to carry out the work.
David Adams of the building council's task group said: "A pay-as-you-save scheme would make it possible for individuals to refurbish their homes using accredited suppliers, with no upfront costs. Industry has the expertise to make our homes more energy efficient and this scheme would create the finance to allow this to happen."