Posts Tagged ‘solar’

100% Certifiable California

September 10, 2018

Democrats now want to ban all fossil fuels from the electrical grid.

California Gov. Jerry Brown in May

California Democrats pose as green saints, though their climate and social-justice values often conflict. The latest example is the legislature’s plan to banish fossil fuels from the state electrical grid, which progressives aim to export nationwide.

Most states are enjoying flat or declining electricity rates thanks to shale fracking, which has sent natural gas prices plummeting. But not California, where rates have jumped 25% since 2013. Electricity prices in the Golden State are by far the highest in the continental western U.S. and twice as high as in Washington state.



The reason: California requires that 50% of power be generated from renewables such as solar and wind by 2030. Democrats recently passed legislation establishing a 100% requirement for 2045. Even Governor Jerry Brown ought to realize this energy experiment will punish Californians who can’t afford to live in Marin or Malibu.

Renewable prices have dropped thanks to technological improvements and cheap Chinese solar panel imports. The wholesale price of solar energy with the 30% federal tax credit is now nearly comparable to fossil fuels. But renewables impose other costs.

Start with backup power, which is needed when the sun isn’t shining. A 100% mandate would require natural gas plants that currently provide backup power—many recently constructed—to be retired and replaced with enormous batteries. Customers will pay for the stranded plants and the batteries, which will have to be replaced periodically.

Even batteries probably won’t capture all of the surplus solar energy pouring onto the grid on sunny days. So the state will have to find another outlet to avoid overloading the grid. In recent years California has paid Arizona to absorb its excess energy.

Then there are the state subsidies for renewable energy. Home and business owners that install solar panels can receive rebates and are paid the retail power rate for the excess energy they transmit to the grid, which increases the costs for everybody else. Most large-scale solar and wind farms are located in rural regions while natural gas plants are close to population centers along the coast. The cost to build and run power transmission lines from renewable plants is higher.

Managing the grid and balancing power sources will also become far more complicated and costly as renewable generation grows. Fellow sun-worshipper Australia provides a cautionary example.

In South Australia, wind and solar account for nearly 40% of power, which has caused rates to soar. South Australians pay more than three times as much for power than the average American. After storms felled transmission lines and caused power outages, the South Australian government tapped Tesla to build a battery the size of a football field capable of powering 30,000 homes for an hour to provide backup power in emergencies.

Tesla and the South Australian government have declined to disclose the battery cost. But the Electrek news site reported in January that Australia’s battery owners were paid 79 cents per kilowatt-hour—about 10 times the wholesale cost of power in the U.S.—to absorb surplus energy from the grid. That power can later be sold at a premium during shortages. Customers get charged twice—once for storing the excess power and then for discharging it.

California’s low-income residents will suffer the most since they spend more of their income on energy and live in hotter inland areas where more electricity is required for cooling. Workers in energy-intensive industries like manufacturing would be especially hard hit. Manufacturing employment has grown half as fast in California as nationwide since 2010.


All of this explains why a dozen Democrats in the state Assembly, most from low-income and minority areas, rebelled against the 100% renewable bill. “This is yet another in a laundry list of bills that are discriminatory to the people I represent,” said Adam Gray of Merced.

California’s power generation accounts for less than 0.2% of global CO2 emissions, so the mandate won’t matter to the climate. But green groups are hoping California’s fossil-fuel purge will coax politicians elsewhere to follow. Democrats running for Governor in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Maryland have endorsed a 100% renewable mandate. Presidential aspirants Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders have introduced legislation in the Senate setting a nationwide 100% renewable target.

Governor Brown would be wise to veto the bill. As an alternative, he’s promoting a plan to integrate California’s grid with other western states to minimize the costs of its renewable binge. But the liberals who dominate state politics would apparently rather make poor people pay more for energy so they can pretend they’re saving the planet.


Japan aims for 24% renewable energy but keeps nuclear central

July 3, 2018

Japan’s government on Tuesday pledged to modestly boost the amount of energy coming from renewable sources to around a quarter in a new plan that also keeps nuclear power central to the country’s policy.

The plan aims to have 22-24 percent of Japan’s energy needs met by renewable sources including wind and solar by 2030, a figure critics describe as unambitious based on current levels of around 15 percent.

© JIJI PRESS/AFP/File | Six nuclear reactors are currently operating, and utilities face public opposition to activating more despite political support for the nuclear industry

Japan’s own Foreign Minister Taro Kono earlier this year called the goal “significantly low” and described the country’s commitment to renewables as “lamentable”.

The European Union this month agreed to raise its renewable energy target to 32 percent by 2030.

Japan’s policy also envisions nuclear providing more than 20 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2030, reflecting the government’s ongoing commitment to the sector despite deep public concern after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The government has reduced Japan’s reliance on the sector, but defends nuclear as an emissions-free energy source that will help the country meet its climate change commitments.

Critics though say the government has done too little to push renewable energy as a viable option.

Japan currently generates around 90 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, and the plan calls for that figure to drop to just over half, with energy efficiency policies to cut demand.

Reliance on fossil fuels like coal increased in Japan after the Fukushima disaster, as public anger over the accident pushed all of the country’s nuclear reactors offline temporarily.

Six reactors are currently operating, and utilities face public opposition to activating more despite political support for the nuclear industry.

Japan’s TEPCO, which operated the Fukushima plant, signalled last week that it was ready to resume work on the construction of a new nuclear plant in the country’s north.

“While we have strong obligations resulting from the Fukushima accident, we believe that it is our duty to ensure sufficient electricity supplies to avoid cuts,” TEPCO chief Tomoaki Kobayakawa said Friday.

The government’s plan also includes a pledge to reduce the country’s 47-tonne stockpile of plutonium, which is large enough to produce 6,000 atomic bombs, though it is mostly stored overseas.

Japan has sought to generate energy from the material, but decades of research has not produced an effective and commercially viable method, leading to international criticism of Tokyo for continuing to produce and possess plutonium.


Made in China 2025 plan irking Beijing’s trading partners — Trade war or recession, only one thing is clear: China vows to do whatever it takes to implement Made in China 2025

April 12, 2018

By Joe McDonald
The Associated Press

No automatic alt text available.

BEIJING — U.S. officials have a name for their frustration with Beijing’s technology ambitions: “Made in China 2025.”

Issued in 2015, it calls for China to develop its own global competitors in fields from information technology to electric cars to pharmaceuticals. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office cited “Made in China 2025” in announcing last week a $50 billion list of Chinese goods targeted for President Donald Trump’s tariff hike.

Many countries have similar plans. But American officials contend China’s tactics include subsidizing local companies, shielding them from competition and pressuring foreign companies to hand over technology.

The plan reflects Beijing’s “intention of seizing economic leadership in advanced technology,” said the USTR statement.

“Made in China 2025” isn’t the first time Beijing’s technology and industry plans have rankled trading partners who say they violate promises to open markets and treat foreign and Chinese companies equally.

Below are some details on the issue:

Communist leaders want to transform China from a low-cost factory into a creator of profitable technologies in areas including electric cars, solar and wind power, robotics and information technology.

China assembles 90 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 80 percent of its computers. But it relies on technology and components from the United States, Europe and Japan, which get most of the profit. Its leaders want China to capture more of that, securing better-paid jobs and restoring China’s historic status as a leading culture.

“Made in China 2025” is the first stage in a plan to make China a global manufacturing power by 2049, the centenary of the communist revolution.

Targets include making 70 percent of components and materials domestically and establishing 40 “innovation centers” by 2025.

The Chinese government has promised the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars in support.

A decade ago, foreign companies complained Beijing was trying to squeeze them out of promising fields. They say “Made in China 2025” is especially alarming because it declares that new industries will be controlled by wholly Chinese-owned champions.

A deputy Chinese commerce minister tried to defuse such criticism by telling reporters last week “Made in China 2025” is open to foreign companies.



The full list of “Made in China 2025” industries: Information technology, numerical control machinery and robotics, aerospace and aviation equipment, maritime engineering equipment and high-tech vessel manufacturing, advanced rail equipment, energy-saving and electric vehicles, electrical equipment, agricultural machinery, new materials and biopharmaceuticals and medical devices.

And that is just the manufacturing strategy. Previous official science and technology plans over the past two decades have targeted areas including nuclear power, genetics, deep sea equipment, satellites and lasers.



Business groups and foreign governments say “Made in China 2025” relies heavily on subsidies and market barriers that hamper competition.

The plan draws heavily from Germany’s “Industry 4.0” strategy. But the German plan is based on market forces and allows a role for foreign companies, while Beijing’s goal is to create Chinese champions.

Economists and lawyers say China’s tools include pressing foreign companies to hand over technology in exchange for market access in violation of Beijing’s World Trade Organization commitments.

Other official tools include government procurement rules that favor Chinese-made technology in possible violation of Beijing’s WTO pledges, and subsidies and acquisition of technology from abroad.



Foreign governments and business groups say the plan improperly subsidizes Chinese industries and shuts out foreign competitors.

In a report last year, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China warned the plan also could backfire if companies that make lackluster products but are supported by subsidies drive genuinely innovative rivals out of the market.

The chamber said the vast sums of government money being plowed into development could result in a glut of surplus production similar to that in China’s steel and solar panel industries.


Why even a trade war won’t derail Made in China 2025

Beijing has drawn its own roadmap toward becoming a state-of-the-art ‘manufacturing superpower’

 APRIL 12, 2018 4:26 PM (UTC+8)
Illustration: iStock

Illustration: iStock

Tesla Has a Problem, and It’s Not the Model 3 — SolarCity ‘isn’t helping’ as Musk faces a litany of challenges

April 6, 2018


By Brian Eckhouse and Molly Smith


  • Energy unit accounts for 27 of 29 maturities coming due soon
  • SolarCity ‘isn’t helping’ as Musk faces a litany of challenges
The Tesla Motors Inc. and SolarCity Corp. solar roof in this handout illustration.

Source: Tesla Inc.

With all the car-making troubles that are hounding Tesla Inc. these days — from the Model 3 bottlenecks to the furious cash burn — it’s easy to overlook the company’s SolarCity headache.

But 16 months after Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk kicked up controversy by acquiring the solar-panel installer founded by two of his cousins, its obligations are a strain on Tesla’s finances. The $2 billion purchase came with a $2.9 billion debt load, and a chunk of that is soon coming due. That’s bad timing for a company churning through about $6,500 a minuteand trying to stave off the need for another capital raise.

“SolarCity debt may not be the immediate cause of Tesla’s problems, but it certainly isn’t helping right now,” said Alexander Diaz-Matos, an analyst at credit research firm Covenant Review LLC.

Tesla representatives declined to comment for this story. The solar business generated positive cash flow last year, according to the company.

Debt Coming Due

Tesla’s debt runs the gamut — convertible bonds, promissory notes, term loans, cash-equity debt, asset-backed securities. Most of the total is tied to Tesla the automaker. But the energy unit, which includes the solar business, accounts for 27 of the 29 maturities set to come due through 2019.

Read more: Tesla May Need to Recharge Coffers to Make Model 3 Go

For investors, the focus has largely been on the cash burn linked to struggles speeding up production of the Model 3, the sedan Musk is betting will be the first to bring electric cars to the masses. There’s also fresh concern over Tesla’s Autopilot after the fatal crash of a Model X last month that occurred while the driver-assistance system was engaged.

Tesla shares plunged 22 percent in March and closed at $252.48 on April 2, the lowest in more than a year. The stock has since climbed 21 percent through Thursday, after the company stood by its next Model 3 production target and said an equity or debt raise won’t be required this year.

Higher Leverage

The SolarCity debt is mostly non-recourse, meaning Tesla doesn’t guarantee repayment; SolarCity does. That’s backed by cash flow and assets. It’s still included in Tesla’s overall debt, though, which is used to determine credit ratings and impacts borrowing costs. Of Tesla’s $10 billion of total debt outstanding, about $3 billion is non-recourse, most of which comes from SolarCity.

Without that, Tesla’s leverage would likely be more in line with that of single B ratings, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Joel Levington.

Single B issuers typically borrow at a rate of 5.9 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Tesla’s bonds due in 2025, which are rated Caa1 by Moody’s Investors Service and B- by S&P Global Ratings, currently yield 7.2 percent, according to Trace bond price data. Tesla’s issuer rating by Moody’s is equivalent to S&P’s B- rating.

Ratings Downgrade

Mounting financial pressures, in addition to the Model 3 shortfalls, spurred Moody’s Investors Service’s downgrade of Tesla’s credit rating last week to B3, six levels below investment grade.

In recent months, Tesla’s solar business lost the residential-solar throne to rival Sunrun Inc., a San Francisco-based installer with a market capitalization about half the SolarCity purchase price. Tesla ceded market share as it attempted to boost energy-unit profitability and scrapped SolarCity’s costly door-to-door retail sales strategy.

That was a smart move, according to Ross Gerber, co-founder of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth & Investment Management, which oversees more than $10 million in Tesla shares and options. He criticized the SolarCity deal but is still bullish on the company and Musk. “SolarCity was probably going to go bankrupt,” Gerber said.

While more than 85 percent of Tesla shareholders supported the 2016 acquisition, a loud minority contended Musk engineered it to rescue SolarCity from swelling debt. He was SolarCity’s chairman and largest financier.

Before the deal was completed, Musk tweeted that while Tesla would absorb SolarCity’s debt, he would “pay it personally if need be.”

Last week, a judge in Delaware ruled that shareholders who allege Musk duped them into backing the purchase could proceed with a lawsuit, saying they’d produced enough evidence showing the deal may have been flawed by conflicts of interest. Tesla said in a statement that the allegations are false and that it would take appropriate next steps in the case.

One-Stop Shop

For his part, Musk hasn’t wavered from his commitment to turn Tesla into a one-stop shop selling solar panels to capture power, devices to store the energy and cars that can be charged in the garage. The company started producing photovoltaic glass tiles in December at a factory in Buffalo, New York, and has begun selling solar at some of its own stores and through retailer Home Depot Inc.

In the meantime, the bills have to be paid. This year, $390 million is due across 26 different maturities, only $312,000 of which isn’t tied to its solar and energy operations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“SolarCity debt, in and of itself, is a burden,” said Hitin Anand, an analyst at CreditSights Inc. “It is incremental debt for a part of the franchise that isn’t core but that they want to grow.”

— With assistance by Claire Boston, Jef Feeley, Brandon Kochkodin, Dana Hull, David Welch, and Jason Feinstein

Building A New Saudi Arabia — ‘Saudi Arabia is the torch-bearer for the region,’ says Emaar chairman

April 4, 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, wedding, closeup and indoor

Mohamed Alabbar
After masterminding the emirate’s retail and tourism strategies, Mohamed Alabbar founded Emaar Properties.

He has recently joined enthusiastically in the digital revolution, launching e-commerce in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

DUBAI: Perhaps more than anybody else outside royal circles in the UAE, Mohamed Alabbar symbolizes the generation of businessmen who built Dubai into the leading commercial and financial hub of the Gulf.

The eldest of the 12 children of a dhow captain, Alabbar was fast-tracked by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, and inspired by the example of another booming city-state, Singapore.

After masterminding the emirate’s retail and tourism strategies, he founded Emaar Properties, one of the best-known brands in the region, which went on to build some of Dubai’s world-famous landmarks, such as Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall.

He has recently joined enthusiastically in the digital revolution, launching e-commerce in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News — a conversation that began at last October’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh — Alabbar spoke of his plans for the digital age, the future of Emaar, his opinion of the momentous changes underway in Saudi Arabia — and the crucial advisory role played by his 11-year-old daughter Noor.

We had a brief, but fascinating, conversation at the FII in Riyadh, where you talked enthusiastically about youth and the latent talent of the next generation. Can you tell me more about that?

Smart young people build better societies — and we see that in Saudi Arabia as in the US. I believe that we are at that point in history where our youth dividend will pay off, and the game-changer in this is the power of technology led by our new generation of tech-savvy under-30s, who form about 60 percent of the population in the region and almost 70 percent in the Kingdom.

Personally, my interest in the digital economy was sparked by my children and I learn from them every day. Salama first launched, an online extension to Symphony, a high-end boutique located in the Dubai Mall; less than six months later, Rashid founded, a website that sells clothing and accessories from more than 130 high-street brands.

Today, my 11-year-old daughter Noor is also a key part of my informal advisory council that helps me understand the new digital economy and what is trendy on social media and fashion.

The success of these homegrown online enterprises, and several others, prove the significant opportunity for digital entrepreneurship in the region. I see tremendous opportunity for a digital era in the region, by the youth, for the youth in the private sector, and that is why I am putting my money in digital technology.

With the launch of, your message now seems to be that e-commerce is the future. How far can you go with e-commerce?

The true capital of our city is not oil wealth: The future is to build a sustainable, fully diversified economy. Oil does play a part today and tomorrow, but we must use this resource to build a self-sustaining and bright future for our youth. As leaders in government and business, we owe it to our society to make the vision of our wise leadership come to fruition.

That is why I believe that we must focus on our biggest resource — our young talents — and, through them, the potential of the digital economy. The MENA region, specifically the GCC, has the perfect environment for the next era of growth in the digital economy. While online sales account for just 2 percent of the total retail in the Middle East, the market is fast evolving.

According to a recent report by AT Kearney, online shopping in our region will grow from $5.3 billion to $20 billion by 2020.

But it is important to underline who will decide and control our destiny. In the digital economy of the future, we need to have our own presence, with homegrown enterprises managing what we sell and at what price we sell to our people.

It is no exaggeration that those who own the data control the future. And today, with reports pouring in of harvesting of data by multinational tech and research companies that own and control data, we must invest in building a digital ecosystem in the region that ensures our details are safe and not for sale.

There aren’t many players today in the region and we should not leave the door open for multinationals to come and build monopolies. We need big local players to keep prices under control for the benefit of our customers rather than have a multinational player dictate and set price. That is why noon, the innovative platform led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and supported by the region’s leading investors and retailers, is relevant to our region — and to our people.

We have only scratched the surface of the potential that exists, and in the coming days we will see transformational growth in e-commerce and the wider, digital economy. This is highlighted by the strong response that noon has received in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Do you think malls are in terminal decline? Will there be a time when you, and the customers, give up on them and go exclusively online?
Malls are here to stay in our region. The brick and mortar business will co-exist with the fast-growing e-commerce sector.

The fact is that, even as e-commerce is growing at an annual rate of 30 percent, the region’s traditional retail sector is not slowing down. Across the GCC, organized retail gross leasable are is set to grow over 8.4 percent to reach over 18.6 million square meters with an average occupancy of 80 percent by 2021.

But malls must be digital-ready to address the shifting trends and preferences of modern customers. They must not only be built to world-class standards but also maintained well, with the right size and right mix of merchandise that evolves with the market trends. Malls must also take the next leap in innovation and technology, which must be integrated in their operations.

That is what we have always focused on at the Dubai Mall, which has welcomed 80 million visitors annually for the past four consecutive years.

The traditional rules of retail are irrelevant in today’s marketplace — evolve or perish is the reality as America’s high street stores and malls shrink in their presence. At its peak, there were about 5,000 malls in the US, with developers building an average 60 malls a year in the 1980s. Today, there are just over 1,100, and experts believe 400 of those are expected to close in the next few years. Malls are reinventing themselves — they are evolving as destination malls that attract family visitors — for shopping and leisure.

The key to a successful malls operation is to have a clear omni-channel strategy, and that is part of the digital transformation of Emaar’s shopping malls. We continue to invest in destination malls. For example, we are planning one of the largest retail precincts in Dubai Creek Harbor, and a high-end retail district in Dubai Hills Estate — Dubai Hills Mall. We also recently expanded the Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue to add more than 150 luxury brands. Highlighting our omni-channel retail strategy, Namshi, which Emaar Malls acquired last year recorded sales of 306 million dirhams ($83 million), an increase of 57 percent over 2016.

Have you outgrown Emaar and Dubai? What is the ‘next big thing’ for Dubai?

Dubai is my home; this is where I belong, and Emaar is a company I founded with my personal savings about 20 years ago — much like the young people of the region, daring to make their dreams come true. My biggest lesson from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, is that you never stop; you do not resort to inaction.

For Dubai and Emaar, we have a long way to go: As His Highness says often, we have achieved only 10 percent of our potential. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are young nations, our development is only 50 years old compared with the European cities that have over 500 years of development on their side. We have a long way to go, and we have only started. For Emaar in Dubai, we have several ambitious mega-developments –— the 6 square kilometer Dubai Creek Harbor with the $1 billion Dubai Creek Tower at its heart; the 11 million square meter Dubai Hills Estate, a green city within the city with a championship golf course and the Dubai Hills Mall; the 7 square kilometer Emaar South in Dubai South, home of Expo 2020 and next-to-the-future aviation and logistics hub of the city; and Emaar Beachfront, a private island development that offers 1.5 kilometers of private beach for residents.

How has Emaar performed in 2017 and how does 2018 look?

Last year, Emaar had record sales of 18.03 billion dirhams ($4.91 billion), an increase of 25 percent over 2016 sales of 14.4 billion dirhams. In fact, driven by the positive market sentiment, we had also listed 20 percent of our shares in Emaar Development, our crowning jewel, which raised over 4.8 billion dirhams; the listing was the largest on Dubai Financial Market since 2014 and the third largest in its history. Emaar Development had a sales backlog of around 41 billion dirhams at the end of last year, and we plan to deliver more than 24,000 residential units over the coming years. We are in a firm position for ambitious developments with a land bank of more than 190 million square meters, and we see such positive traction in other markets, particularly Saudi Arabia, where the Vision 2030 announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is transforming the economy through projects such as Neom. Another market that I feel very positive about is Egypt. The policies of the government have strengthened our region’s third-largest economy and I see even greater progress.

Are any more spinoffs or IPOs of Emaar units planned?
Our goal has always been to have stand-alone profit centers for our businesses. We have successfully listed Emaar Malls and Emaar Development and will continue to look for new opportunities.

Can you tell me more about the recently announced partnership with Aldar of Abu Dhabi?

This joint venture is a strong testament to the spirit of partnerships that have established the UAE as a global hub for business and leisure. The world-class destinations that we develop will add to the civic pride of the nation. We are drawing on our proven competencies in delivering high-quality master-planned communities. This partnership sends a powerful message that the UAE is at the forefront in shaping global real estate trends. The joint venture will develop two projects initially — one in Dubai, the Emaar Beachfront, and the other in Abu Dhabi in Saadiyat Island, named Saadiyat Grove.

Is Saudi Arabia the ultimate challenge? In Riyadh, you spoke enthusiastically about the Kingdom and Vision 2030. Have you taken any of those ideas further?

If you must shape the future, we must shape it for our youth, to meet their aspirations. That is what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is doing here in the Kingdom for Saudi Arabia and the region. The pillars of Saudi Vision 2030, the National Transformation Plan, are rooted in the power of digital and youth. I commend this brave plan. The Public Investment Fund is a key driver in this and is a catalyst for growth in the Kingdom. And I am honored to be working with the Public Investment Fund on noon, the e-commerce platform that we launched in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Americana, the region’s leader in the food industry, which has a presence in 22 countries, employs more than 66,000 people, owns more than 1,800 restaurants throughout the Middle East, and recorded over $3 billion revenue in 2016.

Will you get involved in Neom or the other big projects such as the Red Sea Resort?

We are open to new opportunities in the Kingdom, including mega-developments such as Neom as well as the Red Sea Resort. We have the competencies in developing and delivering mega-projects, as we have proved in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, India and Pakistan.

What is the prognosis for King Abdullah Economic City in which Emaar is heavily involved?

King Abdullah Economic City is already a thriving residential and leisure neighborhood. It complements the goals of Vision 2030, with its focus on creating domestic value, and catalizing the business and leisure sectors. As a leisure hub by the Red Sea, King Abdullah Economic City can energise the diversification goals of the Kingdom.

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has spoken about the need to follow ‘the Dubai model.’ Do you think this is feasible in KSA?

Vision 2030 is a powerful development strategy and you can already see its positive effects across all sectors of the economy. It is a great honor for the UAE’s leadership that the crown prince has commended the “Dubai model.” Saudi Arabia will chart its own unique course. The Kingdom has inherent strengths of having a sizeable domestic market, a youthful population, a smart and energetic government and an ambitious private sector, which will work in tandem to build a strong nation. Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the region and a G20 member, and the Kingdom is a torch-bearer for our region to be seen as a positive force and a global citizen of the 21st century.

As a regular attendee at the World Economic Forum in Davos, what are your thoughts on the global business outlook? Do you think we are living in populist times? Is this a danger to business?

We live in an age of political populism and protectionism — a “fractured world,” as the WEF so aptly described in their annual meeting this year in January. But I believe that it is important for all nations to function as an open economy as the UAE does. We are a model for global collaboration. We serve as the gateway for Europe and the US to Asia and Africa and be at the center of the South-South trade. The backbone for all of this will be digital technology — it will drive our logistics, our banks and our retail centers.

The Three Stumbling Blocks to a Solar-Powered Nation

January 14, 2018

Every hour, the sun bombards the Earth with enough light to satisfy our energy needs for a year, but there are barriers to our solar-energy future

Photo-voltaic solar cells at the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in February 2015 in Desert Center, Calif.
Photo-voltaic solar cells at the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in February 2015 in Desert Center, Calif. PHOTO: MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

As a fraction of our energy mix, renewables in general and solar power in particular are growing faster than ever. What seemed like an impossibility just a decade ago—the displacement of fossil fuels from the U.S. power system, if not the world’s—is increasingly a reality. Here are three possible visions of our renewable-energy-powered future:

1. There’s mass defection from power grids, as citizens and corporations alike end a dependence on regulated monopolies that date all the way back to the days of Thomas Edison.

2. The same utility companies that now handle energy continue to oversee and balance a grid increasingly powered by renewable sources, and we hardly know the difference.

3. The landscape gets politically messy and technologically diverse, varying by locale, as utilities, customers and politicians battle over new ways to produce and harvest energy.

Whichever scenario we end up with, solar power is an odds-on favorite source, because of its abundance. Every hour, our sun bombards the Earth with enough light to satisfy humanity’s energy needs for an entire year. But at least three barriers stand between us and that sunny future.

Problem One: Cell Cost

For solar power to meet 30% of the world’s electricity needs, it will need to fall from its current cost of a dollar per watt of electricity to 25 cents per watt, says Varun Sivaram, a science and technology expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit think tank.

A maintenance team in Oxford, Mass., changes out a faulty solar inverter on a 16.5-megawatt solar array owned and operated by BlueWave Solar on De. 4, 2017.
A maintenance team in Oxford, Mass., changes out a faulty solar inverter on a 16.5-megawatt solar array owned and operated by BlueWave Solar on De. 4, 2017. PHOTO: ROBERT NICKELSBERG/GETTY IMAGES

The only way to get there, Dr. Sivaram argues in his forthcoming book, is by bringing to market solar-cell technologies that are currently still far from mass production, such as perovskite-based solar cells.

Perovskite cells can be made from materials that could be radically cheaper than conventional silicon. They can also take on novel forms, such as a tint on windows or thin printable sheets. But they still face significant barriers to commercialization: They tend to rapidly degrade when wet, and scientists can’t create large cells with the same efficiency as the small ones they can make in a lab.

While perovskite is promising, there’s no guarantee we’ll get it or any other better, cheaper technologies when we need them, since the energy industry isn’t investing enough in R&D to bring them to market, says Dr. Sivaram.

Energy companies tend to spend 1% to 2% of their revenue on R&D, he says, whereas semiconductor companies can easily spend ten times as much. The U.S. federal budget for energy research, $5 billion a year, is likely to be eclipsed by China’s budget for such research by 2020, he adds.

Problem 2: Energy Management

One reason we’re going to need cheaper solar cells is that the more solar there is on the grid, the less valuable it is to add more. This happens because sunlight is intermittent. It isn’t hard to get to the point where solar is producing too much power at some times of day, and none at all when it’s needed most. The first solar panel added to the grid helps offset mid-day consumption, but the last one to be added may be completely unnecessary, because the grid may already be saturated when it’s capable of producing the most power.

A worker moves a Vivint Solar Inc. solar panel during a home installation in Bergenfield, N.J., in Dec. 2017.
A worker moves a Vivint Solar Inc. solar panel during a home installation in Bergenfield, N.J., in Dec. 2017. PHOTO:DAVID WILLIAMS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

California, which gets about 10% of its electricity from solar power, already has this problem. On some sunny days, it has to pay other states to take electricity off its hands.

One solution is utility-scale power storage. But putting enough batteries on the grid to make a meaningful dent is a truly gargantuan feat, and batteries are still far too costly to address it at scale. Batteries currently handle only 1.7% of energy storage on the grid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy; the rest is almost entirely pumped hydro storage.

A more immediate solution to this problem could be a bigger and more spread-out electrical grid, says Ramez Naam, a lecturer on energy and the environment at Singularity University and an angel investor.

Currently in the U.S., there are essentially three power grids: eastern, western and Texas, and much of this infrastructure is more than 25 years old. Optimally, all these grids would be connected, with new high-voltage power lines. This could be politically messy, says Mr. Naam.

Some studies suggest that with bigger power grids and a continued drop in the price of existing solar technology, it is possible to get 30% of global electricity from current solar technology. That’s assuming panels continue to get cheaper as manufacturers scale up.

Problem Three: ‘Soft’ Utility Costs

Some are skeptical that technology is the real roadblock to the spread of solar. It could be the high “soft costs” related to building utility-scale solar power plants, including project design, permitting, siting and interconnection to the grid.

Tesla's Solar Roof with Powerwall home battery
Tesla’s Solar Roof with Powerwall home battery PHOTO: NICHOLA GROOM/REUTERS

“People in the tech community either conveniently ignore or truly don’t understand that they could honestly just give away solar panels for free now and soft costs would remain the bigger problem,” says Rob Day, a general partner at Spring Lane Capital, which invests in clean water, energy, food and waste projects.

The Department of Energy estimates that soft costs contribute up to 64% of the cost of a solar installation. The rest of the cost is split between mounting hardware for solar panels and the cells themselves.

One tantalizing possibility is that through a combination of rooftop solar panels and home batteries, individual consumers could just start harvesting their own electricity. This is one of the goals of Tesla Energy, which in January began production of solar panels and slate-like solar roof tiles at its Buffalo, N.Y. solar “Gigafactory 2.”

The technology is too expensive now, however, and even when it becomes affordable, we’ll probably still want that grid as a backup. That’s why the future, as usual, may look something like California—where in 2017 rooftop solar and local power providers took 25% of the business that would otherwise have gone to big utility companies.

Write to Christopher Mims at

Solar’s Bright Future Is Further Away Than It Seems

January 3, 2018
Yes, panels are cheaper, but much more R&D is needed for a true green energy breakthrough.
By Tyler Cowen
January 2, 2018, 1:26 PM EST
To be fair, 93 million miles is a long way.

 Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

There is now a doctrine of what I call “solar triumphalism”: the price of panels has been falling exponentially, the technology makes good practical sense, and only a few further nudges are needed for solar to become a major energy source. Unfortunately, this view seems to be wrong. Solar energy could be a boon to mankind and the environment, but it’s going to need a lot more support and entrepreneurial and policy dynamism.

Varun Sivaram, in his forthcoming “Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet” lays out this case in what may be the first important policy book of 2018. To be clear, Sivaram, who holds a doctorate in physics, is a solar expert and an energy adviser — he’s no enemy of alternative energy sources. He thinks government should increase its support for energy research and development, aiming at diverse pathways, applied at various stages of technology development, and targeting game-changing breakthroughs. In other words, we need to recognize the limitations of today’s solar power if we are going to make it really work.

The first disquieting sign is that solar companies are spending only about 1 percent of their revenue on research and development, well below average for a potentially major industry. You might think that’s because things are going so great, but some major solar users may have already maxed out their technology. According to Sivaram’s estimates, four of the five most significant country users — Italy, Greece, Germany and Spain — have already seen solar energy flatten out in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent of total energy use. The fifth country, Japan, is only at 5 percent.

Germany and the state of California have experienced operational problems as solar has grown as an energy source. Because the sun isn’t continuously available, solar power at large scale doesn’t integrate well with the electric grid, which favor steady sources such as fossil fuels or nuclear. Solar power creates an expense for the whole system, even if the panels themselves are cheaper.

Silicon technologies dominate the panel market today, but Sivaram sees greater dynamic potential in perovskiteorganic and quantum dot solar cells, and possibly orbital solar power satellites. Breakthroughs in those areas might lower costs and increase solar potency, making the calculus more favorable to green energy.

A common view is that solar power will come into its own once batteries and other storage technologies make steady improvements. Yet Sivaram notes that lithium-ion batteries in particular are not well-designed for storage across days, weeks and months. Also note that about 95 percent of global energy storage capacity is from hydroelectric power, a discouraging sign for the notion that solar energy storage is on a satisfactory track.

Promoting solar energy also isn’t in the interest of regulated utilities. They fear a scenario where many users deploy solar power to detach from the energy grid, either wholly or in part. Other customers’ bills would have to rise to cover the costs of the grid, and that in turn would encourage even more secession into solar and alternate energy sources. Because that scenario is a financial loser for the utilities, regulatory institutions discourage utilities from integrating solar power into the grid, which limits competition.

Solar energy has great potential for emerging economies, but some very basic preconditions are not in place. India, for instance, would need to end its kerosene and electricity subsidies. Freer trade in solar technologies is found in Tanzania and Rwanda but not always in West Africa.

In sum, just improving silicon panel solar technologies may not be enough. Sivaram calls for “systemic innovation,” based on “refashioning entire energy systems — including physical infrastructure, economic markets, and public policies — to enable a high penetration of solar energy.” I would add that we should reconsider the abandonment of nuclear energy, a topic that Sivaram touches upon but does not emphasize.

One lesson is that marginal improvements aren’t always enough, and economic dynamism is more important than we have been realizing. A whole series of integrated breakthroughs may be required to move significantly closer to a green energy future. I do think the U.S. will eventually get there, but after reading “Taming the Sun,” I have to wonder if we are up to the challenge now.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tyler Cowen at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at

BP warms to renewables with $200m stake in solar developer

December 16, 2017

FT — Financial Times

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor
Oil major returns to field with investment to bolster Lightsource expansion beyond UK

BP is to invest $200m in Europe’s largest solar power developer, marking its return to a sector from which it withdrew six years ago.

The UK energy group will buy a 43 per cent stake in Lightsource, a London-based company developing solar projects in Europe, the US and Asia, under the deal announced on Friday.

The acquisition adds to the growing number of investments by oil and gas producers in renewable energy as the world begins to move beyond fossil fuels.

BP first entered the solar market in the 1980s as a manufacturer and installer of the photovoltaic cells used to harness energy from the sun. It closed the business in 2011 after it was made unprofitable by low-cost competition from China.

Dev Sanyal, BP’s chief executive of alternative energy, said the company had learnt from past failures.

By working with Lightsource in the development and management of solar farms, BP was returning to a more attractive part of the solar market than low-margin panel manufacturing, he added.

“Some of the lessons were pretty tough but it gave us a fundamental understanding of the solar business,” Mr Sanyal said.

Nick Boyle, chief executive and founder of Lightsource, said BP’s global reach and capabilities would strengthen his company’s expansion beyond the UK, where all its 2 gigawatts of operational solar capacity is located.

“BP has relationships around the world built up over 100 years and we can piggy back on that by becoming their in-house solar developer of choice,” he said.

Solar power is the fastest-growing part of the global energy industry after a tripling of installed capacity over the past four years, according to BP data. This expansion has been accelerated by the falling cost of predominantly Chinese-made solar panels.

Rapid growth in renewable power and other “clean” technology such as electric vehicles is forcing oil and gas companies to confront a future in which fossil fuels face increasing competition — as well as regulatory pressure to cut carbon emissions and air pollution.

Royal Dutch Shell agreed in October to buy NewMotion, Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging company. A month earlier, Total acquired a 23 per cent stake in Eren, a French renewable power company, for €237.5m.

BP was the first oil “supermajor” to make significant commitments in renewable energy and adopted the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” in the 2000s.

Most of its $8bn of “green” investments during that era were written off but the group still has wind assets in the US and a biofuels business in Brazil.

Mr Sanyal said there was potential for BP to integrate renewables and natural gas assets with its power trading business to deepen the group’s role in the electricity supply chain. The aim was to make Lightsource the global market leader in solar power, he added.

Lightsource, founded in 2010 and owned by its management and staff, will receive an initial $50m from BP upon completion of the deal early in 2018, with the $150m balance paid in instalments over three years.

The company will be renamed Lightsource BP and BP will have two seats on the board. Mr Boyle said BP was chosen from a shortlist of three potential investors.

Lightsource develops, finances and operates solar arrays under long-term power purchase agreements, usually with corporate customers.

Notable projects include a 23,000-panel floating solar farm on Thames Water’s Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near London. It has 6GW of capacity in development around the world.

Electricity Prices Plummet as Gas, Wind Gain Traction and Demand Stalls — ‘It’s too late’ for coal

November 30, 2017

Texas is a microcosm of pressures facing power generators; ‘It’s too late’ for coal

The rapid rise of wind and natural gas as sources of electricity is roiling U.S. power markets, forcing more companies to close older generating plants.

Wholesale electricity prices are falling near historic lows in parts of the country with competitive power markets, as demand for electricity remains stagnant while newer, less-expensive generating facilities continue to come online.

he changing American electricity landscape is pressuring power companies to shed unprofitable plants and reshape their portfolios to favor the new winners. Texas provides a clear example.

Citing low gas prices and the proliferation of renewables such as wind and solar, Vistra Energy Corp. , a vestige of the former Energy Future Holdings Corp., said it would retire three coal-fired facilities in Texas by early next year and that it plans to merge with independent power producer Dynegy Inc.

Exelon Corp. , the country’s largest owner of nuclear power plants, placed its Texas subsidiary under bankruptcy protection earlier this month, saying that “historically low power prices within Texas have created challenging market conditions for all power generators.”

The average wholesale power price was less than $25 per megawatt hour last year on the grid that coordinates electricity distribution across most of Texas, according to the operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. A decade ago, it was $55.

Prices have fallen a similar amount on the PJM Interconnection LLC, the power grid that serves some or all of 13 states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio. A megawatt hour there traded for $29.23 last year, the lowest level since 1999, as far back as the grid’s independent market monitor tracks prices.

The price drop at PJM reflects the construction of dozens of new gas-burning power plants, spurred by the abundance of the fuel due to the shale drilling boom. In 2006, 8% of the electricity in PJM was generated by natural gas. In 2016, it was 27%.

Weak demand for electricity also has played a role, as Americans purchase more energy-efficient appliances and companies shave power consumption to cut costs. Last year, power demand in PJM grew 0.3% after falling the two previous years.

In competitive regions in places like California, wholesale electricity is sold through daily auctions that favor the least-expensive sources of power. Photo: Getty Images

The resulting competition—by more power plants to buyers of roughly the same number of megawatts—has most-acutely impacted older coal and nuclear plants, which are struggling to provide competitively priced power. It has even begun to affect older natural-gas-fired facilities that have higher costs.

“Generators are just fighting for existing market share,” said Ari Peskoe, a senior fellow in electricity law at Harvard Law School. “The aging fleet of coal and nuke generators, combined with low prices, makes this intense.”

FirstEnergy Corp. , an Akron, Ohio-based utility, announced late last year it was exiting competitive power markets. It is selling four natural-gas plants and hopes to sell coal and nuclear plants that provide power in the PJM wholesale marketplace.

This summer, power company NRG Energy Inc. announced a transformation plan that included selling up to $4 billion in power generation.

West of the Mississippi River, power markets also have been upended by the rapid growth of wind, as the cost of generating power from wind turbines is falling.

In 2016, all of the new generation built in the Southwest Power Pool, a grid that covers an area from Louisiana to Montana, was wind, gas and solar. The vast majority of the retirements were coal and nuclear plants.

Wind is the fastest-growing source of power on Texas’ grid. Last year, wind generated 15% of the electricity in ERCOT, more than nuclear power, which accounted for 12%. By 2019, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute expect wind to surpass coal as ERCOT’s second-largest source of electricity.

“Solar and wind are now competitive with natural gas-fired generation,” said Curt Morgan, Vistra’s chief executive. Mr. Morgan said that while he thinks natural gas will be the “workhorse” of U.S. electricity markets for at least the next decade, in Texas “I think it’s going to be a while before you see another gas plant built in ERCOT.”

Last week, Siemens AG said it was cutting 6,900 jobs, in large part because it has overestimated demand for its giant power turbines.

The changes have primarily been felt in competitive power markets, which exist in many parts of the U.S., including California in addition to Texas and the Midwest. In those areas, wholesale electricity is sold through daily auctions that favor the least-expensive sources of power, and it is subsequently purchased by utilities and others.

By contrast, some regions of the U.S. don’t have competitive power markets, and instead have power generated entirely by utilities, which is sold to customers at rates regulated by state officials. Even in regulated markets, changes are afoot. Earlier this week, WEC Energy Group Inc. said it was closing its Pleasant Prairie coal plant in Wisconsin, citing a desire to add more gas and solar generation.

As companies face price pressures, some have sought aid from the government. Exelon has been pushing states to create new subsidies for them.

“Unless we value the zero emission attributes of nuclear, that is going to force the premature retirement of nuclear plants,” said Joe Dominguez, an executive vice president at Exelon.

The Trump administration is aiming to provide a lifeline to the ailing coal and nuclear industries through several proposals, including a plan floated by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to assist power plants that provide constant, baseload power to ensure ample energy security.

But that proposal, which has to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has been assailed by critics as both anticompetitive and unlikely to reverse market trends.

An analysis by investment bank Lazard shows that on an unsubsidized basis and over the lifetime of a facility in North America, it costs about $60 to generate a megawatt hour of electricity using a combined-cycle natural-gas plant, compared with $102 burning coal and nearly $150 using nuclear. By that criteria, Lazard estimates electricity from utility-scale solar and wind facilities is now even cheaper than gas.

“It’s too late,” David Schlissel, a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said of the Trump administration’s proposals. “The lesson is if you don’t put your thumb on the scale then gas and renewables will out-compete coal.”

Chris Moser, senior vice president of operations at NRG, said the challenge in many parts of the U.S. now is to ensure a diverse mix of power resources so that if one encounters issues, others can fill in.

In PJM, Mr. Moser said cost pressures prompted NRG to retrofit some units to run on gas instead of coal. Meanwhile, it retired a 44-year-old natural-gas plant in Houston known as Greens Bayou Unit 5 earlier this year, as the low cost of gas continues to put pressure on older facilities, even those burning gas. The company also has units slated to retire in California.

“If the market isn’t paying us to keep the generation around we want to take it out,” he said, adding, “Yes, you could go all wind, but then you have no answers when it’s 109 in Dallas and there’s no wind.”

Australia Retreats on Renewable Power

October 17, 2017

Government junks plans to encourage use of low-emission sources for electricity

CANBERRA, Australia—The Australian government returned coal to the heart of its energy policy, after blaming blackouts and rising power bills on a too-aggressive rollout of renewable sources and a surge in gas exports.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday junked a plan promoted by the country’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, to require power producers to generate a minimum portion of their energy from low-emission sources by 2020.


Where’s the coal-fired power plant, Abbott asks

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott enters the chamber, late for Question Time today. Picture: Gary Ramage
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott enters the chamber, late for Question Time today. Picture: Gary Ramage
  • The Australian

By Simon Benson
The Australian

Tony Abbott has questioned why the government’s much anticipated energy plan has not included a new coal fired power plant, claiming that it was presented as an emissions policy which failed to sharpen the distinction between the Coalition and Labor.

Mr Abbott also accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of not honouring a promise to allow a discussion in the Coalition party room on the politics of the policy.

“It’s good that the government has finally accepted that the Clean Energy Target was always a bad idea,” Mr Abbott told The Australian.

“But Malcolm promised a political discussion in the party room and I’m disappointed that this didn’t go ahead.

“The point I was going to make was that the government had brought forward a good framework but there was a lot that had been left to officials.

“We should sharpen the distinction and make it clear that Labor was for emissions reductions and we were for lower prices by supplementing Snowy 2.0 with Hazelwood 2.0. We had to ensure that Australian coal had a future in Australia by actually getting built a new coal-fired power station”

Following a presentation on the National Energy Guarantee to the party room this morning, Mr Abbott challenged Mr Turnbull over whether the regulator would place a priority on reducing emissions or reducing prices.

An exchange followed in which Mr Abbott said that according to the projections in the policy, unreliable power was going up and reliable power was going down.

He then questioned why Mr Turnbull had placed so much focus on hydro and not coal. The Prime Minister responded by reminding the party room that the government did not own any coal fired power stations.

At around 11.20am, Mr Turnbull tried to wrap up the party room meeting when Mr Abbott rose to his feet again and reminded the Prime Minister he had promised a discussion on the politics of the policy.

Despite reports of a hostile exchange, the Australian has been told that Mr Turnbull simply ignored Mr Abbott’s request for further political discussion and shut down further debate by calling for a vote.

There was an overwhelming majority in support of the policy despite deep reservations among many MPs about its ability to lift the government’s political fortunes or even deliver the savings to households promised.

One MP told The Australian that the policy amounted to a saving of $2 a week on people’s power bills, and even then that could not be guaranteed.

“It is not the panacea that everyone was expecting,” the MP said.