Solar Industry Gains Fuel Globally While US Invests in Nuclear Power After Fukushima

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    (MintPress) — Solar power is gaining popularity in many nations across the globe, with some countries aiming to become completely carbon neutral in the near future.

    However, the U.S., one of the world’s largest energy consumers, is pumping more money into nuclear power, despite protests that it’s unsafe and does not address environmental concerns.

    Novel approaches

    Last week, Germany announced it produced a world record of 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour thanks to its solar plants. The amount is equivalent to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity.

    The German government, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, closed eight of its own nuclear facilities and said it would shutter the remaining nine plants by 2022.

    The 22 gigawatts of solar power per hour fed into the national grid over the weekend met nearly 50 percent of the nation’s midday electricity needs, Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR) in Muenster, told Reuters.

    “Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” Allnoch said. “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over.” Germany was able to meet half of its electricity needs on Saturday across the country, and a third on Friday when businesses were open.

    And Germany is not alone in its increasing efforts to ramp up solar power usage.

    Other European countries, including France, Belgium,  Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic, have been leading the way toward solar power usage for years. Over the next 10 years, the European solar thermal industry will grow on average at a rate of 15 percent each year, according to the National Renewable Energy Action Plans.

    Meanwhile, countries including Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait are the three largest emitters of carbon dioxide per capita in the world, but even these countries, which tap into their own oil supplies to produce power, are increasingly turning to alternative energies.

    There is some evidence pointing to the fact that countries in the Middle East and North Africa are considering a transition. For example, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, currently at the planning stage. Once completed, it  is expected to provide 1 gigawatt of power, enough for almost two million homes after it’s completed. One report from Solar Novus Today said that countries in the Middle East and North African nations could catch up with leading solar markets by 2025.

    A recent study from the Emirates Solar Industry Association (ESIA) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers management consultants, “Sunrise In the Desert,” details that with oil prices in excess of $80, solar power is competitive with fossil-fuel power generation in most countries in the region. “The international price of crude oil has remained over the $100 mark for some time, which has already given photovoltaics a strong upper hand in many applications,” the report said. Adding that “photovoltaic power plants, in particular, can be planned and built in significantly less time than many other types of power plant, meaning that solar energy also accommodates rapid economic growth.”

    And the Maldives, a tiny low-lying 1,190-island archipelago which is one of the nations’ most threatened by the rising seas brought on by global warming, has made bold steps towards becoming the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2020. “For us, this is not just an environmental issue,” President Mohamed Nasheed was quoted by the Telegraph as saying . “We would need to become carbon neutral even if there was no such thing as climate change, simply because it is more viable economically.”

    Additionally, many Asian countries are following suit. Until the Fukushima disaster in March of 2011, which exposed thousands of people to cancer-causing radiation, the Japanese solar market had been developing at a rapid pace, but now experts say the disaster has jump-started Japan’s solar market. China could become the area’s first gigawatt sized market this year, due to the introduction of its “Golden Sun” program, which provides upfront subsidies for solar projects, and the country has set a goal of 20 to 30 gigawatts of solar power produced by 2020.


    US solar use

    The  U.S. is one of the top ten countries using solar energy, but critics are quick to point out that there’s much more the U.S. could be doing to support it. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, only 13 percent of the nation’s energy came from renewable sources in 2011, and of that, only 1 percent came from solar power.

    “The good news is that there has been a dramatic increase in the last few years in the usage of solar power in the U.S.,” Monique Hanif, spokesperson for the The Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit trade association, said in an interview with MintPress.

    “I work in solar energy, I have solar energy in my house, and so I might be biased, but it works,” she says.

    Hanif said that solar energy is also attractive because it’s driving job growth, both in supplies and services areas for Americans at home and abroad.

    The solar industry experienced job growth over the last few years, despite an economic recession yielding high unemployment rates across the U.S., she points out. There are currently over 5,600 companies in the solar industry in the U.S., she says, and over one hundred thousand people employed in the field.

    The Energy Policy Act of 2005 jump started the boom experienced in the American solar energy industry, Hanif says. It created tax incentives for solar energy, including a 30 percent investment tax credit for commercial and residential solar energy systems that applied from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2007. These credits were extended for one additional year in December 2006 by the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. In 2007, global investment in clean energy topped $100 billion, with solar energy as the leading clean energy technology for venture capital and private equity investment. The solar tax credits helped to create unprecedented growth in the U.S. solar industry from 2006-2007. The amount of solar electric capacity installed in 2007 was double that installed in 2006.


    More policies needed to support solar projects

    As tax credits for renewable energy projects continue to gain traction in policy at the state and federal levels, the demand for this technology has continued to increase. Previously, when it came to homeowners, businesses and farms investing in solar power, the initial financial outlay required weighed in relation to the long-term return was a barrier, but tax credits have sought to ease the burden of initial investments.

    Hanif says that public support for solar power is strong and has been consistently so for the past several years. “We have the opportunity to be a leader,” she said, adding that she hopes to see more policies put in place which fuel the growth of the industry.

    Earlier this year, President Obama asked Congress to eliminate $4 billion in annual federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry, which could cover the production tax credit, setting off a wave of bills being introduced by democratic legislators aimed at feeding the alternative fuel industry.

    One bill, sponsored by Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), calls to cut more than $20 billion in tax breaks for the largest oil companies over the next decade. It was shot down in the Senate in late March.

    In late April, House Democrats, including Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), introduced a bill proposing to cut $44.8 billion in oil industry tax breaks over the next decade, extend the production tax credit for eight years and provide $5 billion in tax credits under the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit.

    On May 10, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced a bill that eliminating over $110 billion in oil subsidies over the next 10 years.

    But Republican leaders are of a different mind. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) held a press conference lambasting Obama for favoring renewables over the oil industry the same day Sanders and Ellison introduced their bill. DeMint and Pompeo introduced their own bill that would eliminate 15 specific tax credits that benefit either oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, electric vehicles, alternative fuels, solar or wind.

    Meanwhile, despite concerns over safety lapses occurring at United States nuclear power plants in 2011, MintPress reported in March that for the first time since 1978, two new nuclear reactors would be built in the U.S. in the state of Georgia at a cost of around $14 billion.

    The move marked a reinvestment into an energy form that has sparked debate over safety and industry regulation.

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    • twitter_xa1960

      “22 gigawatts of electricity per hour” is meaningless and should not have appeared in such a prominent article.