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Archive for the ‘green collar jobs’ Category

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photo: Todd Woody

Can a state that gets 95 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants go green? The Natural Resources Defense Council thinks so. In a report released this week, the environmental group lays out how Indiana can become the California of the Midwest when it comes to renewable energy. As I write in The New York Times on Friday:

Coal-dependent Indiana could become one of the nation’s greenest states by tapping rural resources to generate renewable energy, according to a new report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Hoosier State now obtains 95 percent of its electricity from plants running on coal — largely imported from Wyoming and elsewhere — but it could profit as an exporter of wind energy and machinery, the report said.

“Indiana has some of the best wind potential in the eastern U.S. and has a competitive advantage as a wind producer over most other states because of its location,” said the report’s author, Martin R. Cohen, said during a conference call on Wednesday.

Mr. Cohen noted that while the wind blows stronger in states like North Dakota and Nebraska, Indiana already has the transmission system in place to bring wind-generated electricity to eastern cities.

If Indiana increased wind energy production to 4,500 megawatts from its current 530 megawatts, it would create thousands of jobs and attract turbine manufacturers, according to the report. An owner of a 500-acre farm could earn $30,000 a year from leasing land for wind turbines, Mr. Cohen estimated.

Farmers also could profit, the report said, if Indiana starts harvesting corn stalks, wheat stalks and soybean residue and uses the biomass either for power production or to make ethanol.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Stirling Energy Systems Solar One project

image: URS

Green Wombat spent several months looking into allegations that California labor unions are using environmental laws to pressure  solar developers to hire union workers to build large-scale solar power plants. The story was published last Friday in The New York Times:

SACRAMENTO — When a company called Ausra filed plans for a big solar power plant in California, it was deluged with demands from a union group that it study the effect on creatures like the short-nosed kangaroo rat and the ferruginous hawk.

By contrast, when a competitor, BrightSource Energy, filed plans for an even bigger solar plant that would affect the imperiled desert tortoise, the same union group, California Unions for Reliable Energy, raised no complaint. Instead, it urged regulators to approve the project as quickly as possible.

One big difference between the projects? Ausra had rejected demands that it use only union workers to build its solar farm, while BrightSource pledged to hire labor-friendly contractors.

As California moves to license dozens of huge solar power plants to meet the state’s renewable energy goals, some developers contend they are being pressured to sign agreements pledging to use union labor. If they refuse, they say, they can count on the union group to demand costly environmental studies and deliver hostile testimony at public hearings.

If they commit at the outset to use union labor, they say, the environmental objections never materialize.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Pew clean energy report

graphic: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Clean energy jobs grew 9.1% over the past decade and now number 770,000 as the green tech economy makes inroads in every U.S. state and outstrips conventional job creation, according to a new study released Wednesday by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Non-green energy jobs, in contrast, grew by 3.7% between 1998 and 2007. The traditional fossil fuel industry employed 1.27 million workers in 2007.

Pew worked with California research firm Collaborative Economics to conduct an actual count of 68,200 businesses engaged in its definition of the clean energy economy — activity that “generates jobs, businesses and investments while expanding clean energy production, increasing energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and pollution, and conserving water and other natural resources.”

Clean energy economy jobs were divided into five sectors: clean energy, energy efficiency, environmentally friendly production, conservation and pollution mitigation, and training and support.

“Americans are struggling to get a sense of the nation’s economic future,” Lori Grange, interim deputy director of the Pew Center on the States, said on a conference call Wednesday morning.  “The nation’s clean energy economy is poised for explosive growth.”

“It just isn’t California,” she added. “Every state has a piece of the clean energy economy.”

Nevertheless, California remains a clean-energy unto itself and boasted 125,390 jobs generated by 10,209 green businesses in 2007. The Golden State, not surprisingly, attracted $6.6 billion in venture capital funding between 2006 and 2008, six times the amount captured by the runner-up, Massachusetts. Startups focused on clean energy and energy efficiency scored 80% of venture capital investments. California also led in clean energy patents, with 1,401 granted between 1998 and 2007 compared to New York’s 909.

California, however, is getting a run for its money from Oregon, Colorado and other states. Oregon had one of the fastest rates of clean energy job creation and those jobs accounted for the highest percentage of overall employment compared to other states — between .82% and 1.02%.

And Texas, for instance, is the world’s sixth-largest producer of wind energy, Pew researchers said.

The report’s patent numbers offer one indication of where the clean energy economy is headed. Between 1999 and 2008, batteries accounted for 46.6% of the patents while fuel cells took 25.6%. Solar had 8.7% of all clean energy patents and wind had 5%.  However, the growth rate in battery patents fell 33% between 1999 and 2008 while fuel cell patents jumped 96% and hybrid system patents grew 147%. Solar patents fell 15% as wind patents grew 155%.

The average annual salaries for clean energy jobs ranged from $21,000 to $111,000, according to the Pew report.

State policies requiring renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures have played a significant role in driving green energy job growth, the Pew authors said. A map showing regions with the biggest green job growth correlate with a map of states with the strongest renewable energy policies.

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schottsolar09

photos: Schott

German solar company Schott on Monday cut the ribbon on a $100 million factory in Albuquerque, N.M., that will produce solar panels as well as receivers for solar trough power plants. Meanwhile, Chinese solar giant Suntech said Monday that it will build a solar cell manufacturing plant in the United States.

The move to North America comes as the European market softens as government subsidies ebb and solar panel prices fall. Despite the severe U.S. recession, Schott and Suntech are betting that the solar market will boom when the economy recovers and they’ll gain a competitive edge by manufacturing near customers.

“We think North America in general is the next big market for solar power,” Gerald Fine, CEO of Schott Solar’s North American operations, told Green Wombat. “Especially in the case of concentrated solar receivers you want to be close to your customers and provide great customer service and low shipping costs.”

schottsolar05And it doesn’t hurt to be generating green jobs as well. The 200,000-square-foot New Mexico factory employs 350 people. The plant was built too late to take advantage of the Obama stimulus package’s 30% tax credit for renewable energy manufacturing. But Fine said the tax credit will encourage Schott’s plans to eventually expand the facility to 800,000 square feet with a workforce of 1,500.

The receivers the factory makes are long glass-covered steel tubes that sit above parabolic troughs in large solar farms. The troughs concentrate sunlight on the receivers to heat a synthetic oil inside that is used to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Fine declined to discuss specific customers for the receivers but there are numerous solar trough power plants being planned for the Southwest, including Abengoa Solar’s Solana project in Arizona and utility FPL’s (FPL) Beacon 250-megawatt solar in California.

“We feel pretty comfortable with our order books in both product lines for the foreseeable future,” said Fine. “If you look at the publicly announced plans and try to put a reasonable probability of them being completed, there’s in excess of two gigawatts of power plants out there.”

Schott will have the North American receiver market to itself but will face some stiff competition when it comes to making photovoltaic modules. Thin-film solar cell maker First Solar (FSLR) is headquartered in neighboring Arizona and claims the lowest cost of manufacturing. Last year, German solar cell maker SolarWorld opened a factory outside Portland, Ore., while Silicon Valley’s SunPower (SPWRA) makes some of the most efficient solar cells — albeit overseas.

And now China’s Suntech (STP) is moving into the U.S. manufacturing market. The company on Monday said it is looking at several states as potential sites for a factory and will make a decision on where to locate the facility within six months

“We believe in the outstanding long-term prospects of the solar energy market in the United States, and we will continue to invest in our ability to meet a substantial portion of that potential growth through in-market manufacturing,” Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi said in a statement.

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think-city-8_imagelarge

photo: Think

Not too many car factories are getting built in the United States these days, especially in the midst of a global economic meltdown. So the prospect of landing Norwegian electric carmaker Think’s North American plant will have Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and Senator Ron Wyden turning out Tuesday to take a test drive of the Think City in Portland with company CEO Richard Canny.

Oregon is one of eight states Think is considering for the assembly plant. The company has been coy about identifying those states and has only said that Michigan and Oregon are in the running. About Tuesday’s media event, Think said in a statement that “the future of electric car manufacturing in Oregon will be the topic of a news conference.”

When it comes to electric car factories, there’s a certain Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown risk for prospective hosts. Silicon Valley electric car company Tesla Motors, for instance, so far has signed and then canceled agreements to build a factory for its new Model S sports sedan in New Mexico and San Jose. Los Angeles, the latest factory site, hopes the third time’s a charm.

Nothing nefarious at work here, just the tenuous economics of startup electric car companies. Think, for example, is on the hunt for additional capital so it can restart its assembly plant in Norway. It idled the factory and laid off workers late last year when the credit crunch dried up funding. The company has some heavyweight backers, including General Electric (GE), and marquee venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Rockport Capital have invested in its North American operation.

Think says it will  apply for a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy under its Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program to help pay for its U.S. factory. Undoubtedly part of the bake-off with the eight states under consideration is to see which can offer the best tax breaks and incentives.

After the first-year startup phase, the U.S. factory will initially employ 300 workers and is projected to produce 16,000 cars annually, according to Think. Capacity would eventually be expanded to 60,000 cars and a workforce of 900. A research and development center will employ about 70 people.

Green Wombat is betting that Think will try to locate the assembly plant on the West Coast. So far Think has targeted densely populated, environmentally friendly cities — London, Amsterdam — to roll out the Think City, a two-seater urban runabout that goes about 112 miles on a charge.  Former CEO Jan-Olaf Willums told Green Wombat last year that the San Francisco Bay Area was a likely gateway market in the U.S. In November, the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland inked a deal with Better Place to build a $1 billion electric car charging network in the Bay Area.

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photo: Solyndra

It’s been a good news, bad news Friday for the solar industry. Silicon Valley startup Solyndra received a half billion-dollar loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a solar module factory while further up Interstate 880 OptiSolar moved to shut down its manufacturing operations.

OptiSolar too had asked for a federal loan guarantee to complete work on its Sacramento thin-film solar cell plant but a decision on the $300 million application couldn’t come soon enough to save the startup. “We continued to be unable to find a buyer for the technology and manufacuring business, and the board of directors decided that we needed to limit ongoing operational expense,” wrote OptiSolar spokesman Alan Bernheimer in an e-mail.

First reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Baker, OptiSolar will shut down factories in Sacramento and Hayward, Calif., and lay off 200 workers.  Earlier this month, OptiSolar sold its pipeline of solar power plants – including a 550-megawatt solar farm that will supply electricity to PG&E (PCG) – to rival First Solar  in a $400 million stock deal. At the time, OptiSolar said it intended to focus on manufacturing solar modules.

The news was definitely brighter Friday for Solyndra, which emerged from stealth mode last September with $600 million in funding and $1.2 billion in orders for its solar panels composed of cylindrical tubes imprinted with solar cells. Conventional rooftop solar panels must be tilted to absorb direct sunlight as they aren’t efficient at producing electricity from diffuse light. But the round Solyndra module collects sunlight from all angles, including rays reflected from rooftops. That allows the modules, 40 to a panel,  to sit flat and packed tightly together on commercial rooftops, maximizing the amount of space for power production.

The $535 million federal loan guarantee will allow the Fremont, Calif.-based company to build a second factory, which is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 other jobs once the plant is in operation. The factory will be able to produce 500 megawatts’ worth of solar panels a year.

“The DOE Loan Guarantee Program funding will enable Solyndra to achieve the economies of scale needed to deliver solar electricity at prices that are competitive with utility rates,” Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet said in a statement. “This expansion is really about creating new jobs while meaningfully impacting global warming.”

Friday’s grant makes good on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s pledge to speed up processing of renewable energy loan guarantee applications. The department had come under fire during the previous administration for taking years to dole out grants and loan guarantees for electric car and green energy projects.

Meanwhile, First Solar (FSLR) announced on Friday that it had manufactured 1 gigawatt of thin-film solar cells since beginning commercial production in 2002. It took the Tempe, Ariz., company six years to hit 500 megawatts and only eight months to produce the second 500 megawatts. First Solar’s annual production capacity will reach 1 gigawatt by year’s end, according to the company.

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img_1216_1photo: Todd Woody

The numbers are in, and as expected 2008 set a record year for the worldwide wind industry as new wind farms generating a total of 27,000 megawatts of greenhouse gas-free electricity came online, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

The quick-click headline was that the United States overtook the world’s green superpower, Germany, by installing 8,358 megawatts in 2008  – a 50% jump from the previous year and enough wind energy to power two million American homes. But the big story this year will be China’s rapid emergence as the next global wind power.

China last year doubled its wind energy capacity – for the fourth straight year – adding 6,300 megawatts of new electricity generation for a  total capacity of 12,210 megawatts.  A third of the world’s new wind capacity last year was installed in Asia, with China  accounting for 73% of that power. China reached its 2010 target of generating 5,000 megawatts of wind-powered electricity in 2007 and is expected to hit its 2030 goal of 30,000 megawatts years early.

“In 2009, new installed capacity is expected to nearly double again, which will be one third or more of the world’s total new installed capacity for the year,” Li Junfeng, Secretary General of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association, said in a statement.

Of course, 30,000 megawatts of wind is but a flicker in a country with more than 300,000 megawatts of coal-fired energy online but it’s huge by world standards and has spawned both a burgeoning domestic wind industry and growing investment by overseas companies. Denmark’s Vestas, the world’s largest turbine maker,  will open its fifth factory in China this year and it received orders for another 200 megawatts’ worth of turbines at the end of 2008. General Electric (GE), one of only two U.S. turbine makers, also operates a factory in China and in January the company announced a joint venture with China’s A-Power Energy Generation to make turbine gearboxes. In a separate deal with A-Power, GE will supply the company with 900 turbine gearboxes starting next year.

As the financial crisis slows growth in the U.S. and Europe, India is another potential wind power. It ended 2008 with 9,645 megawatts of wind energy and added more capacity that year – 1,800 megawatts – than former world leaders Germany and Spain. Indian turbine maker Suzlon also has been moving onto European turf, relocating its international headquarters to Denmark and acquiring German turbine manufacturer REPower.

Installed global wind capacity now stands at 120.8 gigawatts with the 2008 turbine market worth $47.5 billion, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

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