Renewable Energy World reported a “collective sigh of relief,” from renewable energy industry representatives on Wednesday, with widespread anticipation that the Obama administration will continue industry support. Questions loom however, most immediately for America’s wind industry, which is facing the expiry of an important production tax credit (PTC) at the end of the year. Alternatively enacted and lapsed since the early 1990’s, the PTC has been instrumental to wind’s rise in the United States, and similarly in it’s temporary decline in the off years. The solar investment tax credit (ITC) is set to expire at the end of 2016.
After months of deliberation, the U.S. International Trade Commission this week confirmed tariffs of 24 to 36% on solar panels imported from China. While responsible for a boom in installation as prices collapsed over the past three years, cheap, imported panels have contributed to the quite public demise of an array of U.S. solar startups. SolarWorld USA filed a trade complaint early in 2011, resulting in the present tariffs, and concurrent actions by the E.U. and China, giving rise to talk of a potential trade war. The Chinese government heavily subsidizes panel production at the manufacturing level, allowing for panels to be sold at below their true cost in a bid to capture the global market.
Renewable energy projects in the U.S. face constraints on the rapid growth of the last three years, as natural gas prices remain historically low, and financing for projects remains in relative infancy. All eyes are on leading solar installer, SolarCity, whose upcoming IPO will be a first for the industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has added utility-scale renewable projects to it’s ‘Project – No Project’ database of stalled energy projects, decrying NIMBY, environmental, and other sources of opposition to projects of every stripe.
Finally, the German utilities industry association BDEW is reporting German renewable energy production up 50% over the first 9 months of last year. Solar accounted for 6.1%, wind for 8.6%, and Biomass 6.0% of the total power mixture over the same period. This unprecedented grid penetration of renewables is the result of Germany’s Energiewende, or ‘energy revolution,’ which is rewarding producers of renewable energy in Germany with a guaranteed high price for power, ensuring investment and project development. Germany’s aggressive targets, and the need to develop high-tech solutions to the grid reliability challenges they pose, will if successful propel Germany to global leadership in 21st-century grid modernization and emissions reduction.