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Weekly REsource December 1, 2017

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The nomination of Kathleen Hartnett-White as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) comes to a critical stage in the Senate this week, and lawmakers would do well to get her commitment – before she is confirmed – to do nothing to disrupt renewable energy enabling policies that are clearly working. The CEQ coordinates federal environmental efforts in the United States and works closely with agencies and other White House offices on the development of environmental and energy policies and initiatives. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is reportedly set to vote Wednesday on Hartnett-White's nomination, and if she is confirmed by the full Senate for the job, she would be advising President Trump and supervising the implementation of his executive orders on energy and the environment. However, a close look into the positions she has taken in recent years on the RFS and renewable energy raise some serious concerns from clean energy stakeholders, agricultural producers and rural America advocates. Many see Hartnett-White's views as a failure to recognize the many economic and environmental contributions renewable energy alternatives are making to farming operations and rural communities. Read more…  


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News of Note 

EPA Issues Final RFS RVOs; Biodiesel, Cellulosic Sectors Not Happy


Reaction from biofuel trade and advocacy groups to the final Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel-blending requirements for 2018 (and bio-based diesel for 2019) issued Thursday drew disappointment from some in the industry who wanted higher cellulosic ethanol numbers and from others over biobased diesel numbers that remain static.


The final Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) track slightly higher than an agency proposal made in July, coming in at 500 million gallons more, for a total of 19.29 billion gallons, to be blended into the nation's transportation fuel supply.





"Maintaining the renewable fuel standard at current levels ensures stability in the marketplace and follows through with my commitment to meet the statutory deadlines and lead the agency by upholding the rule of law," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.


The 500-million-gallon increase goes to the requirement for advanced biofuels (those that generate at least 50 percent fewer carbon emissions than their petroleum-based equivalents), which is now at 4.29 billion gallons, only marginally higher than the amount set for advanced biofuels for this year.


In fact, the target for cellulosic ethanol is now set at 288 million gallons, down from the 311 million set for this year – a decrease that cellulosic advocates say undermines investment and forward progress on an advanced biofuel that has met research and development problems since the RFS was reauthorized and strengthened by a wide, bipartisan vote of Congress a decade ago.


"The Trump administration deserves credit for rejecting political pressure to destabilize the RFS, but EPA's failure to appreciably increase advanced biofuel levels brushes aside a huge opportunity to promote rural jobs and energy innovation," said Advanced Biofuels Business Council Director Brooke Coleman. "Unwarranted cuts to cellulosic biofuel targets send the wrong signal to global investors in this emerging industry."


He said his industry "is growing and stands ready to drive the next great wave of manufacturing jobs across the heartland. There are things EPA can do quickly to unleash the full potential of cellulosic biofuels. We are not there yet with this rule, but we look forward to working with the Administration to get there."


The RVOs issued Thursday include 2.1 billion gallons for biobased diesel in 2019 (the biodiesel mandate is set a year ahead of other biofuels), a bitter outcome for a biodiesel industry that says it is running at only 65 percent of capacity and had called for at least 2.5 billion gallons.


"EPA Administrator (Scott) Pruitt has disappointed the biodiesel industry for failing to respond to our repeated calls for growth, said Doug Whitehead, chief operating officer of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). "These flat volumes will harm Americans across several job-creating sectors – be they farmers, grease collectors, crushers, biodiesel producers or truckers – as well as consumers."


He said the RFS RVOs are "important for setting a baseline – and our industry will again surpass these low expectations. But the failure to increase volumes will inhibit continued growth and investments."


Whitehead vowed the NBB would "continue to work with the administration to right this wrong for future volumes."


Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who backed Pruitt and EPA down in October after the administrator suggested even more cuts were under consideration in this year's RVOs, said the ones announced still "fall short of the full potential of the U.S. biofuels industry.


"That is disappointing, particularly the lack of increase for biodiesel levels and the cut in cellulosic level requirements, Grassley said. "Increases in the volume requirements are justified and would be good public policy." Yet, "this final rule does little to encourage investment and growth in advanced biofuels."


National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson struck a similar tone, noting that while "it's clear EPA made an attempt to reverse some of their flawed proposals from earlier this year, the improvements to the finalized volume obligations are meager and deeply disappointing. The agency missed a significant opportunity to follow through on the administration's promises to advance the interests of American family farmers, their communities, and the biofuel industry."


He said the industry has the capacity to increase the RFS and "we certainly have a need to increase them, as family farmers battle a steep and prolonged decline in the farm economy."


The ethanol industry was generally favorable in their response to this week's RVOs, which met the full amount authorized by law. But sector leaders also shared some of the frustration expressed by the cellulosic and biodiesel groups.


"We are pleased that the final rule maintains the statutory 15-billion-gallon requirement for conventional renewable fuels like corn ethanol," said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. "Maintaining the 15-billion-gallon conventional biofuel requirement will accelerate investments in the infrastructure necessary to distribute mid-level ethanol blends like E15 and E30, and flex fuels like E85.


"Still, we would encourage EPA to closely monitor the commercialization of new cellulosic technologies…because we believe greater cellulosic production is likely," he said.


Dinneen also said the "biofuels industry will rise or fall together, and thus we are disappointed the final rule is not more aggressive with regard to other advanced biofuels such as biodiesel," which he said has become a major market for the corn distillers oil co-product made by dry mill ethanol plants.


"The RFS should be implemented in a manner that drives investment and innovation to maximize the energy security, environmental, and consumer benefits that are derived from U.S.-produced biofuels," he said.


Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said EPA's "on-time announcement upholds the statutory targets for conventional biofuels, which will provide much-needed certainty for hard-pressed rural communities. We would like to have seen a boost to the target blending levels for cellulosic biofuels."


With its announcement Thursday of the RVOs, the agency also finalized its rejection of petitions seeking a change in the point of obligation under the RFS sought by some refiners.


Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), said "moving the RFS point of obligation to downstream marketers would place enormous burdens on station owners and consumers, and adding that his group is "grateful EPA is rejecting pleas to change the rules for a handful of greedy refiners who want to escape their responsibilities under the law."


Jennings said the RFS credit trading framework, which involved Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), "has proven to be a powerful incentive that has allowed some of the most respected independent retailers in the country to offer cleaner, higher octane fuels such as E15 to their customers at lower prices. RINs do exactly the opposite of what critics claim, and the proof is higher ethanol-blended fuels at lower prices at the pump in real-world stations across the U.S."


25x'25 Issues Statement on EPA RVOs


The 25x'25 Alliance issued the following statement Thursday on the final Renewable Volume Obligations for 2018 (and 2019 for biobased diesel) under the Renewable Fuel Standard:


"The 25x'25 Alliance is appreciative of EPA's issuance of the Required Volume Obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard within the statutory deadline of Nov. 30. And we are pleased to see the agency's RFS target for conventional ethanol (mostly corn-based) is at the full 15 billion gallons authorized by law. EPA's slight increase of its advanced biofuel numbers – now set at 4.29 billion gallons – over the 4.28 proposed in July is also welcome news.


"However, the alliance is disappointed the agency is keeping the 2019 biobased diesel requirements static at 2.1 billion gallons, the same as those already set for next year. And EPA's reduction in cellulosic ethanol requirements – from this year's 311 million gallons down to 288 million gallons next year – is equally frustrating. With requirements that fall far short of the capacity that these industries have to produce them, EPA is discouraging investment and innovation in two low-carbon transportation fuels that can – and should – be the standard for our nation in the years ahead."


CEQ Nomination Now Headed to Senate Floor


On a narrow, party-line vote, 11-10, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this week moved on to the Senate floor the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to be chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


Kathleen Hartnett White

The approval came despite criticism from clean energy advocates over Hartnett-White's past positions on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and clean energy technologies like wind and solar.


Also, more than 300 scientists and experts wrote a letter to the committee calling on members to reject her nomination, citing her positions on climate change.


The narrow committee vote and sentiments expressed by some GOP members on the panel who voted for her suggest the nomination will draw debate on the Senate floor as well.


While most Republicans on the committee openly endorsed her nomination, some, like Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), have questioned her commitment to the RFS, citing past comments made by the nominee during her stint as the energy and environmental director at a conservative Texas think tank. Hartnett-White, strong oil industry advocate, had called for the repeal of the RFS, describing it as "counterintuitive and ethically dubious."


She reversed her position in testimony during her confirmation hearing before the committee in early November, but members and biofuel advocates remain skeptical.


In an op-ed published by the Washington political publication, The Hill, Bart Ruth, a Nebraska soybean farmer and chairman of 25x'25, citing Hartnett-White's earlier comments dismissing the technological advances and dropping prices that have spurred wind and solar energy development across the country. She has called what has become an inevitable shift to cleaner energy "green folly" and "a false hope."


In their letter, the scientists and scholars said they were alarmed by the nominee's position on climate change, and in particular, "her recent assertion that carbon dioxide is not a harmful pollutant."


Citing the "unanimous agreement across peer-reviewed climate science," the letter asserts that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by human activities are contributing to the harmful effects of climate change.


"To state otherwise in the face of overwhelming evidence is simply unsupportable," the scientists say. "This is not a partisan issue; it is a matter of defending scientific integrity. Climate change threatens us all, regardless of political affiliation.


"Confirming Kathleen Hartnett White at the helm of the Council on Environmental Quality would have serious consequences for people and the ecosystems of the only planet that can support us," the letter states.


Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) said the nominee's "experience with environmental matters is broad" and that she will bring that experience to the CEQ.


The panel also narrowly approved, by another 11-10 party-line vote, the nomination of former committee staffer Andrew Wheeler to be the second-ranking official at EPA. Democrats had questioned his ability to serve as EPA's deputy administrator impartially, given his former role as a lobbyist for the coal industry.


But Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the former chairman of the committee, said he "totally relied on Andrew Wheeler for the background, the knowledge, the expertise that he has demonstrated year after year after year on a very bipartisan basis," adding that "we've had some successes in this committee, and a lot of the successes we've had are due to one employee in particular, and that was Andrew Wheeler."


Renewable Energy Groups: Tax Reform Provision Could 'Devastate' Development


The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) submitted a joint letter to the Senate this week outlining urgent concerns with the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) provisions in the Senate Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.


As drafted, the BEAT program would have a devastating, if unintended, impact on wind and solar energy investment and deployment, the groups say.


The major tax reform legislation that contains the BEAT provisions passed a procedural hurdle Wednesday when the Senate voted on party lines to bring the measure to the floor and open debate. Senate GOP leaders were attempting to bring the measure to a vote Friday as the Weekly REsource approached its deadline.


The House has narrowly passed its own version of a tax reform bill that would significantly diminish tax credits currently available to the wind industry.


Writing on behalf of investors, developers, manufacturers and corporate energy consumers in the U.S. renewable energy sector, the groups say the bill's BEAT provisions "undermine our capacity to use renewable energy tax credits, which have value only if they can be monetized."


For multi-national companies covered under the BEAT provisions, the renewable tax credits would, as the bill is currently drafted, be subject to a new 100 percent tax.


"Not surprisingly, major financial institutions have indicated that, under such a regime, they would no longer participate in tax equity financing, the principle mechanism for monetizing credits," the letter states. "The tax equity marketplace would collapse under these provisions, leading to a dramatic reduction in wind and solar energy investment and development."


While we are grateful that the Senate tax proposal leaves the current phase-down schedules for wind and solar energy tax credits unchanged


The BEAT provisions are intended to promote U.S. investment and job growth, but the program's treatment of renewable energy tax credits – which are generated exclusively through investment in U.S. projects – would have the opposite impact, dramatically reducing American wind and solar energy investment and job creation, the groups say.


"These sectors are important national economic drivers, generating nearly $50 billion in annual U.S. investment," the letter states.


The groups also cite as "problematic" BEAT provisions that apply retroactively to tax credits generated by operating projects, as well as new ones, and would penalize companies that have relied on the tax code.


"Companies holding tax credits would do their best to sell them immediately, even at great discounts, a phenomenon that would flood the marketplace and further damage tax equity markets," the letter says. "We do not believe it fair or appropriate for Congress to reduce the value of tax incentives that have been relied upon in good faith by investors and developers."


While the groups say they are grateful the Senate tax reform measure retains long-term extensions of production and investment tax credits agreed to in 2015 (unlike the House tax measure and its assault on credits for wind projects), they contend the BEAT provisions represent a reversal of the bipartisan compromise reached two years ago to extend the tax credits.


They call on the Senate to amend the BEAT program to exempt the production and investment tax credits from the calculation of the base erosion tax, just as it has research and development tax credit.


Ag, Energy Groups Call on Congress to Maintain Farm Bill Energy Title Programs


Forty farm and energy organizations, including 25x'25, have written the leaders of both the Senate and House agriculture appropriations subcommittees, urging their "continued support for valuable agriculture energy, manufacturing and sustainability programs in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations process, and specifically to reject proposed funding cuts to valuable energy title programs."


Citing their advocacy for renewable energy, energy efficiency and "bioeconomy" investments in agriculture and rural America, the groups said that as rural America is in "economic pain" and suffering low prices for agriculture commodities, "the innovative programs contained in the energy title of the 2014 Farm Bill" are necessary.


"These farm energy programs grow jobs, promote manufacturing and markets, and enhance opportunities for struggling rural communities, all while improving sustainability for the nation," the letter says.


The groups say the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) program "has been very successful in helping deploy the full range of ag-based farm and ranch energy including wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, energy efficiency, bioenergy and anaerobic digestion. REAP serves all agricultural sectors and all 50 states benefit; the program remains substantially over-subscribed year after year. Farm families benefit from improved bottom lines and brighter prospects for younger generations."


The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Manufacturing Assistance Program is critical to the development of cutting edge biorefineries in rural America, the letter says. The groups say the program has aided multiple clean technology companies commercialize successfully to develop new uses for agricultural products.


"It stands poised to do much more if funding stabilizes, sending proper signals to the market," the groups say. "Improvements to the program can also be made in the upcoming farm bill re-authorization."


The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) supports "cutting-edge" uses for sustainable biomass energy development, while the Biobased Markets Program, "BioPreferred," is a "successful program that uses the federal government's purchasing power to drive the private market for U.S.-based industrial materials derived from renewable raw materials, most often in rural areas.


Other "valuable" programs cited in the letter include the Advanced Biofuels Payment program, and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, the latter a joint research endeavor led by USDA and DOE.


"Each has contributed to the successful development of the 'bioeconomy' and new opportunities for rural businesses," the groups say.


"Stable federal investment is essential to job growth and economic development in rural America from renewable energy, energy efficiency, renewable chemicals and biomaterials development," the letter to the appropriators says. "You can see the value proposition in the state of the art advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals plants dotting the landscape, to countless wind turbines on farms and ranches, solar arrays, biogas and biomass power, and more.


"However, this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg," the groups say. "The potential for many thousands of new jobs and economic growth, as well as a cleaner environment, is truly massive, derived from very modest public expenditures."


Other groups signing on to the letter include the Agriculture Energy Coalition, Advanced Biofuels USA, Algae Biomass Organization, American Biogas Council, Biomass Power Association, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Center for Rural Affairs, Environmental and Energy Study, Geothermal Exchange Organization, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and National Farmers Union.


State Roundup: WI's Largest Utility to Close Coal Plant, Go Big on Solar


In Wisconsin, WEC Energy, the parent company of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, announced that it will be retiring Pleasant Prairie coal fired power plant next year, citing cheaper costs of natural gas costs and the diminished carbon footprint of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.


The Sierra Club says the retirement would mark the nation's 266th coal plant closure, and continues a shift by utilities away from coal toward cheaper natural gas and renewables.


We Energies, the state's largest utility, says it plans to shut the 35-year-old, 1,200-megawatt-capacity plant in the second quarter of 2018 and have 350 megawatts of solar power online by 2020.


Elizabeth Katt Reinders, campaign representative for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, cited the irony of the announcement coming on the same day EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was promising coal's comeback. She was citing the first day of a two-day hearing EPA is holding in West Virginia, a major coal-producing state, on the planned elimination of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.


"Wisconsin's largest utility is forging ahead with a plan that reduces coal use while betting big on solar," Reinders said. The shift by the utility "is a good step towards moving beyond coal in Wisconsin. This welcome announcement is yet another example of the inevitable shift to safer and more cost effective clean energy, and highlights why Wisconsin needs a proactive plan to shift to clean energy and invest in the people impacted"


She said it was "important that We Energies takes steps to support the communities surrounding the plant, invests in a fair transition for impacted workers and cleans up pollution at the site as they transition this plant to retirement."


In Missouri, one of the state's largest utilities is proposing what it calls "an innovative way to help large businesses and cities across Missouri reach their renewable energy goals."


Ameren Missouri's Renewable Choice Program, the first of its kind in the state and one of only a handful in the nation, will offer customers an opportunity to subscribe to purchase up to 100 percent of their average energy usage from renewable wind generation.


The proposal, which was laid out in a filing this week with the Missouri Public Service Commission, follows the company's announcement in September of an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that includes investing $1 billion in new wind development, the utility's largest commitment to renewable energy yet.


"The Renewable Choice Program would give our environmentally minded business and municipal customers a convenient way to receive more of their energy from renewable resources," said Ajay Arora, vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning at Ameren.


Talks are in progress with several large customers who the utility says share the desire for cleaner energy.


"We know our customers are looking for personalized solutions that allow them more control over their energy use, and this is one of the ways Ameren Missouri is delivering," said Mike Mueller, vice president of economic and technology development at Ameren.


Ameren Missouri says the Renewable Choice Program is the latest effort to build off of its IRP, which was developed with the input of a wide variety of stakeholders and aims to support the company's goal of transitioning its energy generation to cleaner sources, while ensuring reliability and keeping customer rates affordable.


The IRP calls for the addition of at least 700 megawatts of wind generation by 2020 and 100 megawatts of solar generation in the next 10 years. Ameren Missouri has also established a goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 based on 2005 levels.


Ameren Missouri serves 1.2 million electric and 130,000 natural gas customers across 64 counties in central and eastern Missouri. The company's service area includes more than 500 communities, including the greater St. Louis area.


In Texas, wind power capacity has now surpassed coal in the state, says the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees 90 percent of the state's grid.


With the start of commercial operation at a 155-megawatt (MW) wind farm in West Texas this month, the state's wind power capacity to grew to more than 20,000 MW, surpassing the 19,800 MW of capacity attributed to the state's coal-fired power plants, ERCOT reports. One megawatt is enough to power at least 200 homes in Texas.


Market analysts say wind capacity's move past coal marks another milestone in the state's efforts to increase reliance on renewable energy.


ERCOT now gets 15 percent of its power from wind, compared to only 2 percent 10 years ago.


The imminent shutdown of three coal-fired power plants owned by Dallas-based Vistra Energy and the loss of their 4,000 megawatts of capacity will further tip the scales in wind's favor, Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas' Energy Institute in Austin, told the Houston Chronicle. The shutdown of the Vistra plants are the first retirements of coal-fired power plants since Texas deregulated power markets in 2002.


"We are used to seeing wind numbers add, add, add," Rhodes said. "We are not used to seeing coal plants' numbers decreasing."


The Texas power mix now stands at 45,800 MW in natural gas capacity, 20,102 MW for wind, and 19,800 MW in coal capacity.


China's Wide E10 Mandate Could Boost U.S. Corn, Ethanol Imports: CARD


Chinese government's recent expansion nationwide of an E10 mandate could boost U.S. corn and ethanol imports to the Asian giant, say researchers at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University.


Originally applied last year on a trial basis in 11 provinces, the mandate's expansion in September will now require ethanol consumption in all of China – the largest motor vehicle market in the world – to at least quadruple within the next three years, CARD researchers say in a recent update.


"For U.S. producers, this recent development fuels interest in whether China is going to import ethanol and/or corn (the main feedstock for ethanol production in China) to meet the mandate," the analysis states.


In addition to providing environmental benefits, a key motivation for the government's expansion of the mandate is to reduce China's large corn stockpiles, which currently amount to about half of all world ending stocks and is the result of corn price support policy that was paying producers more than twice the international price level until 2016.


"Burdened by high storage cost, food safety risks, and potential waste, China recently adopted multiple measures to cut supply and increase demand," researchers report, including replacing the support price with a producer support based on planted area and financial assistance for corn processors.


The measures have been effective – researchers note that since 2015, China's corn consumption has caught up with production, the price for corn dropped to the lowest point in six years and ending stock has been decreasing.


"The E10 mandate" they say, "will further increase the demand for corn and speed up reduction of the stockpile."


Last year, China produced more than one billion gallons of ethanol, making it the fourth-largest ethanol producing country/region in the world, after the United States, Brazil, and the European Union. From 2004 to 2016, the average annual production growth rate was 16.8 percent.


With a decline in corn stockpiles a decade ago, the four ethanol production facilities in China, all state-owned, began using newly harvested corn. In 2006, the Chinese government stopped approving additional generation. With the current surge in stockpiles, Beijing in September called for the "appropriate development of grain-based ethanol," and widened the E10 mandate, relaxing the government's previous stance against corn-based ethanol.


The researchers say China does have a relatively significant cassava-based ethanol market, but the feedstock is "challenging" to grow domestically, so that market relies heavily on imports.


The country has also been promoting the development of cellulosic ethanol, but that is not expected to reach large-scale production until 2025.


Low oil prices and other factors have kept ethanol prices low in China, so the mandate is expected to be good news to Chinese ethanol producers.


The researchers say China has been importing substantial quantities of ethanol in the past two years, reaching almost a quarter of the total supply in 2016 (225 million gallons), with 95 percent from the United States. Last year, China was the third-largest export destination of U.S. ethanol, encompassing 17 percent of total US ethanol exports.


However, at the end of 2016, China increased the import tariff from 5 percent to the WTO bound rate of 30 percent, causing the 2017 import forecast to drop to only 35 percent of 2016 levels.


CARD experts note that China currently consumes 40 billion gallons of gasoline and one billion gallons of ethanol. Projections show that by 2020 gasoline consumption will reach 46 billion gallons (USDA 2017). Meeting the national E10 mandate would require an extra 3.6 billion gallons of ethanol, putting China ahead of the European Union to become the world's third-largest ethanol consumer.


"Since details of the mandate have not been disclosed, it is not yet clear how China will generate a more than four-fold output growth within three years (assuming domestic production is to keep up with consumption)," the report states. While an increase in usage of available capacity in existing facilities can spark a short-term production spur, a dramatic increase in capacity is needed. And it is possible that China will be able to construct the physical facilities in time to meet the anticipated surge in demand.


"However, if the current trends in consumption and production continue, China's corn stock will fall quickly, opening up potential opportunities for more imports," the analysis states. "The ethanol mandate will further speed up the stockpile reduction" and China will need to import two billion bushels of corn by 2020/21 and much more after that.


Furthermore, China has imported large quantities of ethanol when domestic production has fallen short of demand," researchers say. "If imports surge as a result of the E10 mandate, the United States, the top ethanol exporter to China, will benefit. In fact, as this report is being prepared, it is profitable for U.S. producers to export to China, even with the 30 percent tariff.


Top Trends Shaping the Future of Solar Energy: Infiniti


Governments and people across the world are increasing their effort to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources and rely on clean energy sources, and solar energy has presented itself as one of the most efficient alternatives, says a study from Infiniti, a global consulting firm.


Solar power has a wide variety of applications apart from generating electricity with solar cells ranging from solar heaters, cooking, taking salt away from seawater, and in solar battery chargers, the firm says.


Infiniti cites numerous reports that project the solar energy market to be in excess of 100-gigawatts by 2021. Such predictions are driven by various growth factors and upcoming trends in the solar energy market, including:



Falling Solar Panels Prices


  • For years, households and companies have been avoiding the installation of large solar panels due to the exorbitant cost of photovoltaic cells and other equipment. However, as manufacturers gain economies of scale in production alongside technological advancements, the prices for solar panels have been falling rapidly. For instance, the average cost of solar panel installation used to be around $8.82 per watt, that figure stands at around $3.36 per watt today. This has urged numerous homeowners to consider the installation of solar panels.


Increase in Solar Panel Efficiency


  • A substantial amount of energy is lost in the solar panels from the time it absorbs the sun's rays to the time it converts the current generated by the movement of electrons, from DC to AC. Historically, solar panels have been highly inefficient, converting only about 15 percent of energy into electricity. With the advancements in technology, manufacturers have been able to create solar panels that are nearly 30 percent efficient. Suppliers of solar panels are looking at technologies that can drive the efficiency up to 46 percent using advanced cell structure.


Rising Popularity of Off-Grid Solar Energy Applications


  • Suppliers in the solar energy market are shifting their focus on the more lucrative off-grid segments due to aggressive forecasts of multi-gigawatt demand in the remote parts of the world. The governments in India and China have incorporated various off-grid installations through stand-alone solar energy systems in remote areas.


Innovative Solar Financing Options


  • To reduce the burden of high solar panels installation costs, solar companies are coming up with innovative options to finance such installations in the solar energy market. Financing options for commercial, community and household solar power installations include:
  • Shared savings for solar: A private company installs a solar or efficiency program in exchange for a portion of the energy cost savings
  • Leasing: A contract by providing equipment or capital needed for installation in exchange for periodic payments over time
  • On-bill financing: Companies can avoid up-front costs of the project by repaying the costs in their monthly utility bill
  • Other financing modes: Tax-equity loans, loan loss reserve funds, and pay-it-forward models


SEIA: How Going Solar Impacts Your Home's Value


The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) this week released a new guide aimed at helping consumers receive an accurate value estimate when buying or selling a home with solar.


"Roughly every 90 seconds, somewhere in the United States, a new customer is going solar," the trade group says in a press release. "As the solar market rapidly expands, one of the top questions among both homeowners and homebuyers centers around how to best determine the value of a solar system on a residential property."


The association says the guide, "Guide to Valuing Residential Solar Energy Systems," is part of its nationwide consumer education campaign to inform and protect solar consumers.


The guide walks consumers through the various methodologies that professionals use to value a solar system and provides homeowners with tips along with a recommended valuation method.


"It's critical both buyers and sellers go into a home sale well-educated, armed with the facts and figures needed to feel confident in their solar investment," said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA's president and CEO. "However, this guide shouldn't just be a homeowner resource. With over 1.4 million residential solar systems in the U.S., this is a must-read for every stakeholder in the residential housing market, from mortgage brokers to realtors, across the country."


In the guide, SEIA advises readers to focus on the projected income a solar system will generate for the owner over its expected lifetime. According to a recent study by Sandia National Labs and Energy Sense Finance, that approach is typically used to determine value in home appraisals in major solar markets.


The guide will be periodically updated and complemented with additional tools as the U.S. market continues to grow and mature, the SEIA says.




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