Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

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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In the world’s single-largest investment in solar technology, the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi announced Wednesday it will spend $2 billion to jumpstart a home-grown photovoltaics industry. The cash will fund what is undoubtedly the planet’s best-financed startup, Masdar PV, which will build manufacturing facilities in Germany and Abu Dhabi to produce thin-film solar modules that can be used in rooftop solar systems or solar power plants.

Masdar PV is the latest project of the Masdar Initiative, Abu Dhabi’s $15 billion renewable energy venture designed to transform the emirate into a green technology powerhouse. Masdar is best known for its plans to build Masdar City, a “zero-carbon, zero-waste” urban center.

Thin-film solar cells are essentially “printed” on glass or flexible metals, allowing them to be integrated into building materials like roofs and walls. Though thin-film solar is less efficient at converting light into electricity, it uses a fraction of the expensive silicon needed by conventional bulky solar modules and can be produced much more cheaply – provided economies of scale are achieved.

Thus Masdar PV’s big solar bet. “You have to be working at scale to drive costs out of the system,” Steve Geiger, Masdar’s director of special projects, told Fortune in a phone call from Abu Dhabi. “We have to do it at scale and we have to do it in volume in multiple markets.”

One of those markets is the United States, where Masdar PV could give established players like First Solar (FSLR) and startups such as Nanosolar, Heliovolts and Global Solar some formidable competition.

The gamble Masdar PV is taking is that it’s investing billions in an older but proven thin-film technology that may well be left in the dust by more exotic, cheaper and efficient technologies under development by a host of startups.

Masdar PV aims to have a gigawatt of annual production capacity in place by 2014. To get there, Geiger says the company has hired a management team that includes former top executives from First Solar and other thin-film industry veterans.

A leading solar technology company that Geiger declined to identify will provide the manufacturing equipment for Masdar PV’s factories. Judging from his description, the likely supplier is Applied Materials (AMAT), the world’s biggest computer-chip equipment maker that has a burgeoning business building the machines that make thin-film solar cells of the type that Masdar PV will produce.

“We usually partner with large companies that have managerial skills, technology and market access, but we were very fortune that we picked up a top management team and thought it was strong enough to do as a 100% Abu Dhabi Masdar company,” says Geiger, who will oversee Masdar’s thin-film solar venture.

Masdar PV’s first plant is scheduled to go online in Germany toward the end of 2009 with the second to begin production in Abu Dhabi by mid-2010. “Very clearly we need to look at expansion beyond those two physical facilities,” Geiger says. “We really have to look at America and the Asian markets as well.

Thin-film is just one of three solar strategies that Masdar is pursuing by funneling petrodollars into green energy startups. In March, Masdar unveiled Torresol Energy, a joint venture with a Spanish company that will build large-scale solar thermal power plants to supply electricity to utilities. Masdar has also made investments in other solar thermal companies as well as thin-film startups pursuing different technologies. Finally, Masdar wants to produce polysilicon, the basic material of conventional solar cells.

As Masdar chief Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber recently told Green Wombat, “We want to cover the whole value chain – from research to labs to manufacturing to the deployment of technologies.”

Geiger uses an analogy for Masdar’s green energy ambitions that may be more familiar to petroleum-dependent Americans – and should serve as a wake-up call to get serious about carbon-free energy. “The model might be the vertically integrated oil industry,” he says. “It clearly makes sense to have a consolidated power provider.”

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