Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Fair competition or Save the Planet? That could ultimately be at play as China and the West, long at odds over trade in steel, textiles and auto parts, risk being sucked into a row over protectionism in renewable energy equipment such as solar panels.

German solar firms Conergy and Solarworld have voiced strong concern about the pricing practices of Chinese panel makers -- who undercut their German peers' products by around 20 percent. Chinese modules sell in Europe at about 1.70 euros per watt, according to a UBS report. Industry experts say U.S. firms share those German concerns.

Germany's BSW solar industry association is looking into allegations of dumping by Chinese rivals as Conergy rallies support to call on the European Union to examine Chinese pricing tactics. "It cannot be the aim of our environmental and economic policy to lose to the Far East our pioneering role with regard to the last great future technology, which was raised here with great efforts," said Dieter Ammer, CEO at Conergy, Germany's second-biggest solar firm by revenue.

The once red-hot solar sector faces a massive oversupply of cells and modules that has driven down average selling prices for solar systems by more than a fifth in Germany and the United States -- two major solar markets -- and Chinese companies are grabbing market share by slashing costs.



Massive inventory buildup and Chinese competition could put half of all solar manufacturers out of business next year, according to a market research firm. Further, it reports that production has dropped to 27.9 percent of potential capacity in 2009 from 48 percent in 2008. "As many as 50 percent of the more than 200 solar manufacturers, mired in red ink with current selling prices above $2 per watt, may not survive," the report said.



Sun sets on Australian Solar Systems company despite funding promises. A big British windmill factory has just shut up shop too. But I hear that Chinese factories are doing well

AUSTRALIA'S leading solar energy company was placed into the hands of voluntary administrators yesterday and almost all of its 150 staff stood down pending a review to see if the business can be salvaged. PricewaterhouseCoopers partners Stephen Longley and David McEvoy were appointed voluntary administrators of Solar Systems Pty Ltd and two of its subsidiaries just two weeks after 20 per cent stakeholder, the Victorian power utility TRUenergy, wrote down its entire $53 million investment.

Solar Systems had received promises of $129m in funding from federal and state governments to build Australia's first large scale solar power station, a $420m project near Mildura in Victoria. It also had ambitions for 1000MW of large-scale solar installations in Asia, using its unique solar dish technology, at an estimated cost of more than $3 billion, and to become one of the top five global solar energy companies over the next five years.

However, despite mandating Morgan Stanley to seek new funds and bring in new strategic or financial partners, it was unable to attract new finance and TRUenergy decided to cut its losses. It is understood the decision to appoint administrators came after the late withdrawal of two international parties -- one private equity -- from talks about an equity injection of around $50m to $100m.

Mr Longley said he would assess the company's financial and operations position with a view to continuing operations on a reduced scale over the next three months to provide sufficient time to restructure and sell the business as a going concern. He said staff would be advised of their future by the end of the week and a meeting of creditors would be held on September 17.

It is understood Solar Systems has around $56m of secured debt mostly held through some of its shareholders, including TRUenergy, the British financier and founder of Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Martin Copley, and Graeme Morgan, the founder and former owner of financial planning group Sealcorp. Solar Systems' annual report shows that Morgan was the largest shareholder with 30.3million shares, while Copley held 5.5 million. Options given to executives had an exercise price of more than $3 a share. Both are directors of the company. The annual accounts show the company had revenue of just $2.9m, but losses of $21.3m in 2007-08, taking its accumulated losses to $74m.

The recently completed manufacturing facility in Abbotsford, Victoria, which had the capacity to build 500MW of solar PV installations a year, is now on care and maintenance. Development of the Mildura power station, which was not due to begin construction for another 12 months, will also be put on hold.

It is not clear whether any new owner would qualify for the state and federal funding that had been previously committed.


Warmist criticizes impartiality

The BBC gave in to a “ludicrous” concern about impartiality when it dropped a day of programmes intended to raise awareness about energy efficiency and climate change, one of Britain’s most senior scientists says.

Lord May of Oxford, a former President of the Royal Society and government chief scientist, said that the BBC had failed in its public service remit by withdrawing from last year’s Energy Saving Day (E-Day).

The BBC had originally planned to support the initiative to encourage energy conservation by staging Planet Relief, a comedy event modelled on Red Nose Day. It dropped out of the project, however, after a report that raised concerns about taking sides on environmental issues and poor ratings for the Live Earth concert of 2007. E-Day was eventually staged independently last January, without BBC support, but made little public impact. The floodlights of St Paul’s Cathedral in London were turned off to open the event, but it had no effect at all on Britain’s energy consumption.

Lord May blamed the BBC’s withdrawal for the failure of a project that could have done much to encourage individuals to do more to save energy. “Why the BBC pulled the plug is beyond comprehension,” he said. “They said it would have interfered with impartiality, which I find incomprehensible. The idea was there was to be one day where the BBC did an event like Red Nose Day, asking everybody to turn the lights off and be conscious about electricity consumption. The National Grid would monitor it and you could see the impact on a website, and the BBC was going to be in your face about it all day. “The whole idea behind the concept was climate change is real, and there’s a lot the individual can do about it.”

Lord May blamed a “ludicrous report on impartiality”, which had suggested that the BBC ought not to be seen to take sides on climate change issues. The science of climate change, he said, was now so well established that the BBC ought not to see it as a political issue on which it had to be neutral. If it was willing to stage famine and poverty relief events, such as Red Nose Day, it ought to be prepared to do the same thing for environmental causes.

He said that the BBC “seems to take the view that everything is like a soccer game, with two sides. This wouldn’t have been in violation of impartiality at all. There are arguments about the timescale of climate change, but there’s no longer any serious debate that we need to be doing stuff to address it. “This would have been a social service, in much the same way that programmes showing you how to do up your house are a social service.”

The BBC denied that the decision had been based on impartiality. A spokeswoman said: “We explained at the time the reasons why we didn’t go ahead with Planet Relief and that this wasn’t about concern about impartiality but because we had found that audiences responded better to documentaries and factual programming about the issue of climate change. “We regularly cover this subject in our news and online output as well as in factual programmes, for example showing a definitive history of climate change, Earth — The Climate Wars, on BBC Two last year. We are always looking at other ways to cover the issue. For example we are planning a big special on energy consumption later in the year on BBC One.”

Lord May, who is president of the British Science Association, was speaking at the launch of its British Science Festival at the University of Surrey in Guildford yesterday. In his presidential address tonight, Lord May is to say that the world faces several interlocking problems that will require concerted action over the next decades.

As well as climate change, major challenges will include providing food and water for a growing population, and dealing with a huge loss of biodiversity. “In all this, probably the biggest difficulty is that globally co- operative actions are required,” he will say.



President of the British Science Association, Lord May, says faith groups could lead policing of social behaviour

Religious leaders should play a frontline role in mobilising people to take action against global warming, according to a leading scientist. Lord May, a former chief scientist to the government, said religious groups could use their influence to motivate believers into reducing the environmental impact of their lives. The international reach of faith-based organisations and their authoritarian structures give religious groups an almost unrivalled ability to encourage a large proportion of the world's population to go green, he said.

Lord May highlighted the value of religion in uniting communities to tackle environmental challenges ahead of his presidential address to the British Science Association festival at the University of Surrey in Guildford today. He will use the address to raise what Charles Darwin considered one of the great unsolved problems of his time: the evolution of co-operation. While scientists can explain the emergence of co-operative behaviour in small, related groups of animals, understanding co-operation among distant human societies has been more difficult, he said.

May will argue that the puzzle is as pressing today as it was to Darwin 150 years ago, because of the urgent need for global co-operation to tackle the environmental issues of water shortages, greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable energy consumption. The world's population has risen roughly sevenfold since Darwin's day, with a similar increase in the amount of energy each individual uses. That suggests the ecological footprint of humanity upon the planet has increased fiftyfold since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859.

"In all of this, probably the biggest difficulty is that globally co-operative actions are required. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that not only must nations co-operate, but - given past history - they must do so in equitable proportions," May will say, according to an advance copy of his address. Experiments using what scientists call "game theory" show that groups of people can achieve their goals if cheats and those who fail to pull their weight are punished.

Speaking before the address, May said religion had historically played a major role in policing social behaviour through the notion of a supernatural "enforcer", a system that could help unify communities to tackle environmental challenges. "How better it is if the punisher is an all-powerful, all-seeing deity," he said.

According to May, humans are causing enough damage to ecosystems that we may have to resort to dramatic engineering projects to replace the roles they play in sustaining the planet, such as stabilising the climate, purifying water and pollinating crops. "Maybe we could be clever enough artificially to engineer substitutes for these lost ecosystem services, although I fear this could see us living, at best, in the world of the cult movie, Blade Runner, and more likely Mad Max," his address states.



HOLLYWOOD loves a movie full of dire predictions about the end of the Earth. Of course global warming has been all the rage with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth winning an Oscar. Although I did prefer The Day After Tomorrow in which a climatologist, played by Dennis Quad, tried to save the world from abrupt global warming and his son in New York from an ice age.

There is a new movie due for release on October 18, Not Evil Just Wrong, which explores society's interest in Armageddon-type scenarios with a particular focus on the cost, and potential costs, of the policies following concerns about DDT and AGW [anthropogenic global warming].

I was lucky enough to be given a sneak preview of the feature length documentary by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney last week. The movie is an exploration of the fears and aspirations of an ordinary small town American woman - Tiffany McElhany from Vevay - and her quest to get a message to Al Gore. Interwoven with this story are interviews with some of the most famous climate scientists of our time including James Hansen and Richard Lindzen.

Like McAleer and McElhinney's earlier documentary, Mine Your Own Business, Not Evil Just Wrong is politically incorrect, compelling and spans several continents including Africa while exploring its subject matter with harshness and humour.

Those unfamiliar with the controversies behind the banning of DDT and push to phase out coal as a source of electricity, may find parts of the documentary unbelievable. Hopefully it will move them to follow up with more of their own research.

Sub thematically, the movie investigates our lives as part of a technological and rational society with ordinary people in Africa, Ireland and America wanting to do the right thing by their families, communities and the Earth.

Not surprisingly there have been barriers to the production and distribution of the movie from the mainstream film industry. I say not surprisingly, because the film unashamedly challenges the populist views on AGW, and no one seems to want to hear the debating points. Undeterred McAleer and McElhinney are seeking your help in bypassing these obstacles and inviting you to be part of the premiere night through the hosting of a screening in your home, community centre or church.


Forget 'Peak Oil' — Drill, BP, Drill

Ignoring peak-oil Cassandras, BP has made another giant oil find in the Gulf of Mexico. We're not running out of oil. Our government just doesn't want us to look for it

The world is running out of oil and good riddance. That's the environmentalists' mantra. But since the first well was drilled near Titusville, Pa., 150 years ago, the prophecy has gone unfulfilled. Trouble is, those darn greedy oil companies keep finding the stuff. Oil has been produced in the Gulf of Mexico since the first well was drilled by Kerr-McGee Corp. in 1947. Some of the wells are pretty well played out by now, except that over the past two decades or so, oil explorers began to notice a curious thing. Shallower wells that were thought to be exhausted seemed to be filling up again.

This, and the discovery of vast natural-gas deposits at depths greater than 10,000 feet, mean that either (1) we haven't been drilling deep enough or (2) oil and gas are not finite resources deposited long ago, but rather the result of still-functioning processes deep within the earth. Either way, there's much more to be had. So British Petroleum went looking for it at depths that had never been plumbed. The spot where it hit black gold is in a place called the Tiber Prospect about 250 miles southeast of Houston. The Tiber well was drilled to a depth of 35,055 feet, which is greater than the height of Mount Everest.

BP, whose partners include Conoco Phillips and the Brazilian company Petroleo Brasilero SA, says the discovery may hold as much as 3 billion barrels of oil. That equates to about a year's worth of output from OPEC giant Saudi Arabia. As Bloomberg notes, Tiber is BP's second discovery in three years in a geological formation in the Gulf known as the lower Tertiary that consists of a layer of rocks created 24 million to 65 million years ago. Geologists and engineers didn't know if oil could be recovered at such depths until Chevron drilled a well into its Jack Prospect in 2006. Chevron drilled in 7,000 feet of water and more than 20,000 feet under the sea floor. Its Jack No. 2 well, in deep water 270 miles southwest of New Orleans, tapped a field with perhaps 15 billion barrels of oil.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service says that, all told, offshore areas off-limits to U.S. drilling contain upward of 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The oil is there and oil companies are willing to go after it if we let them. Think of it: American oil creating American jobs while lowering gas prices. Congress, however, continues to place most of the Outer Continental Shelf, the Arctic riches of the Chukchi Sea and ANWR, and the shale-rich Rocky Mountain West off-limits. In other words, it doesn't know Jack.

If Brazil had copied America's current energy policy, it wouldn't have discovered in December 2007 the Tupi field, estimated to contain 5 billion to 8 billon barrels of crude, or its Carioca offshore oil field that may hold up to 33 billion barrels.

Much was made of the U.S. Export-Import Bank sponsoring a $10 billion loan to Brazil's Petrobras to develop its offshore fields. That will help increase the world's oil supply and further disprove the peak oil nonsense. But we need to be doing more in our waters and on our land.

The BP project shows that our resources may be limited only by technology and will. It shows the kind of expensive technology required and what oil companies do with their profits — look for more oil. Drilling seven miles into the seabed is not what you do when, as the anti-oil crowd often charges, you are hoarding supplies to drive up prices.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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