Entries in Green Energy (5)


‘Absolute Black’ Solar Panels Absorb Almost All Sunlight

Natcore Technology, Inc.(NEW YORK) -- Solar panels are an environmentalist’s dream; they harness limitless electricity from the sun with no air pollution or carbon dioxide emissions.  But they’ve had a hard time competing with coal, natural gas, oil and other sources of energy.  So can that change?

A company called Natcore Technology says it may be on to something.  It reports it has developed “absolute black” silicon wafers for solar panels that will absorb 99.7 percent of the visible light falling on them.  The most efficient solar panels devised up to now have been able to absorb 96 percent.  In a business where every photon counts, Natcore said the difference could be important.

“One of the ways this matters,” said Chuck Provini, the company’s CEO, “is that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the electricity you get on a sunny day versus a cloudy day.  Diffused light won’t matter that much.”

The new panels, Provini said, will be safer to produce and help drive down the price of solar energy.

“Black silicon will improve power output and reduce cost -- the two things that matter most,” he said.

“Solar has changed a lot in the last few years,” said Monique Hanis of the Solar Energy Industries Association in an email.  “As of 2011, there are 100,000 Americans working in solar [according to The Solar Foundation's 2011 Jobs Census] at 5,600 companies across all 50 states, including many small business.  Solar installations doubled in 2011 and there are enough projects in the pipeline to power two million households.”

Solar power remains a small part of the nation’s energy mix, but high oil prices give it new visibility.  Natcore hopes to be making solar panels from its new wafers in four to six weeks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Blasts GOP Candidates' Stances On Green Energy

AUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(LARGO, Md.) -- President Obama launched a fiery attack on his Republican rivals for the presidency Thursday, accusing them of pursing energy policies that are so “stuck in the past” they amount to a “bad rerun” and comparing their beliefs to those of the “flat earth society.”

In a campaign-style speech, the president blasted the GOP candidates for resisting alternative energy sources. “They dismiss wind power. They dismiss solar power. They make jokes about biofuels… We're trying to move towards the future.  They want to be stuck in the past,” Obama said at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Md.

“We've heard this kind of thinking before.  Let me tell you something:  If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said to cheers from the crowd. “They they would not have believed that the world was round.”

“They probably would have agreed with one of the pioneers of the radio who said television won't last -- just a flash in the pan.  One of Henry Ford's advisers was quoted as saying the horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a fad,” Obama said chuckling. “There have always been folks like that. There have always been folks who are the naysayers and don't believe in the future and don't believe in trying to do things differently.”

The president’s remarks at the “official” event seemed to overshadow the vice president’s “campaign” speech Thursday, which he delivered in Ohio at the same time. The most notable difference was that Biden called out his GOP opponents by name, while Obama simply referred to them as “folks who are, you know, running for a certain office who shall go unnamed.”

With gas prices spiking, the president called for increased investments in alternative energy sources and argued decreasing the nation’s dependence on oil will ease the pain at the pump. The president drew stark contrasts between his “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production and the GOP candidates’ election-year strategies.

“Every time prices start to go up, especially in an election year, politicians dust off their three-point plans for $2 gas,” Obama said. “They head down to the gas station, they make sure a few cameras are following them and then they start acting like, we've got a magic wand, and we will give you cheap gas forever if you just elect us, every time.  Been the same script for 30 years. It's like a bad rerun.”

The president reiterated his call for Congress to end $4 billion in oil and gas subsidies, saying “it’s inexcusable” and “time for this oil industry giveaway to end.”

“Some of the same folks who are complaining about biofuels getting subsidies, or wind or solar energy getting subsidies, or electric cars and advanced batteries getting subsidies to help get them off the ground, these same folks -- when you say, why are we still giving subsidies to oil industry?  Well, no, we need those,” the president said.

“I expect Congress to vote on ending these subsidies.  And when they do, they'll put every single member of Congress on record,” he added.

In campaign cadence, that president urged the audience to get involved and tell lawmakers “where you stand.”

“Tell them:  Yes, we can,” he said, reviving his 2008 campaign slogan to cheers from the crowd. “Tell them we are going to build an economy that lasts. Tell them we're going to make this the American century, just like the last century.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Another Green Energy Company Stumbles: Fisker Announces Layoffs

The Fisker Karma, seen in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 19, 2011. (ABC News)(NEW YORK) -- Fisker Automotive, the maker of an exotic electric sports car that is being built with help from a $529 million federal government loan guarantee, thanks to the Obama administration, has announced layoffs at its Delaware plant as it tries to persuade the Department of Energy to send it more public funds.

The company says 26 Fisker employees have been let go from the Delaware factory where renowned automotive engineer Henrik Fisker promised to one day begin producing affordable electric sedans. A Delaware newspaper also reported that subcontractors working on the car venture have been let go.

"It's temporary," said Roger Ormisher, a company spokesman. "We're being prudent and sensible as a company."

Fisker was one of a handful of auto companies to receive sizeable federal loans to help support the birth of an electric car industry in the United States. As ABC News reported in October, Fisker's efforts have been beset by delays.

Despite benefiting from U.S. taxpayer funds funnelled into the company by the Obama administration, the deal earned the ire of critics when the company signed a contract with a firm in Finland -- not the U.S. -- to assemble its first-generation electric vehicle, a flashy $97,000 sports coupe called the Karma which most taxpayers who helped keep the company afloat couldn't afford to buy anyway.

Accompanying the layoffs was an announcement that Fisker has approached the Department of Energy about revising the targets it had to meet in order to continue drawing money from the federal loan. Whether the Energy Department agrees to alter the terms and invest more taxpayer funds in the Fisker venture remains unclear. Critics of the Obama administration told ABC News they worried that Fisker was at risk of becoming the next Solyndra -- a reference to the now-bankrupt solar panel firm that received support from a government loan program.

Department of Energy officials said they understand that Fisker has experienced production delays, but said they are not uncommon for a new company. And the department remains hopeful about the company's future, in part because it has successfully raised more than $650 million in private sector investment to support its ongoing operations.

"Our loan guarantees have strict conditions in place to protect taxpayers," said DOE spokesman Damien LaVera. "The Department only allows the loan to be disbursed as the company meets certain milestones and demonstrates results. As has been widely reported, Fisker has experienced some delays in its sales and production schedule -- which is common for start-ups. As Fisker works through those issues and incorporates lessons learned from the production of the Karma, the Department is working with Fisker to review a revised business plan and determine the best path forward so the company can meet its benchmarks, produce cars and employ workers here in America."

When asked directly by ABC News in October if taxpayers should worry about the more than $500 million in federal funds on the line, Henrik Fisker was emphatic: "No, I don't think they need to worry about it." When asked if Fisker might be the next Solyndra, he said, "Absolutely not."

To date, Fisker has received $193 million in government funds, according to a company statement. Back in October, the company acknowledged outsourcing Karma assembly to Finland, but said that the bulk of its government funds would be used to launch a second-generation electric vehicle, still under wraps, that would be assembled in a shuttered General Motors plant in Delaware. Some of those hired to prepare the Delaware plant for that effort were among those let go.

That project, code-named Project Nina, has been put off until sometime in 2013.

"We have temporarily delayed work at the plant based on ongoing discussions with the DOE regarding funding for the Project Nina program," the company's statement said. "As a result, we have laid off 26 people."

Ormisher said Fisker has delivered between 250 and 300 Fisker Karmas in the United States, and the company is nearing approval to sell the cars in Europe.

The Obama administration has for months now been grappling with political attacks targeting its efforts to finance green energy start-ups. The financial meltdown of Solyndra has been the focus of a Republican-led congressional investigation and millions of dollars in attack ads by conservative groups.

The administration has defended its efforts, asserting that there has never been any evidence that political influence factored into decisions about which companies would receive Energy Department loans -- despite the fact that many of those loan recipients had close fundraising ties to Obama.

For instance, a top Obama fundraiser was also a chief private backer of Solyndra, the solar panel company. Similarly, a major investor in Fisker is a venture capital firm that lists former Vice President Al Gore as a partner.

Energy officials Monday touted a deal to recover money loaned to a less well-known firm, Beacon Power, which currently operates a 20-megawatt flywheel storage plant in Stephentown, N.Y. The company was the second recipient of Energy Department funds to file for bankruptcy. Under a deal announced Monday, taxpayers are expected to recover $28.7 million of the $39.5 million in federal funds that had been loaned to the struggling firm.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Solyndra Bankruptcy Unlikely to Hamper Gov’t Investment in Green Jobs

Ken James/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Two weeks ago, an American solar company declared bankruptcy.  It was one of three U.S. solar companies to go under in a month, but this one was special.

Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer, risked losing as much as $528 million in taxpayer money the day it shuttered its Freemont, Calif., factory and is now calling into question the integrity of the government’s loan guarantee program for renewable energies.

But while the evidence continues to prove that gambling millions in taxpayer money on a company that made just $3 for a product that took $7 to produce was rather unwise, it doesn’t look like the one bad apple has ruined the whole orchard of green energy investments.

“I think renewable energy remains one of the best long-term investments one can make as long as you’re careful to pick your companies,” said Garvin Jabusch, chief investment officer at Green Alpha Advisers, which focuses on environmentally sustainable investments.  “If some companies go bankrupt, this is just normal capitalism.”

The Solyndra bankruptcy has inspired an investigation from the House Energy Committee, whose chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said was a “classic case of fraud and abuse and waste.”

But the Energy Department argues the bankruptcy is not emblematic of the entire loan program.  The solar company loan represents about 1.3 percent of the entire loan guarantee program, which was a $2.4 billion initiative created under the 2009 Recovery Act to support the new green technology investments, which can be risky.  Under the program, the government does not actually pay out any money, but guarantees that if the company fails, the Treasury will repay the private loan.

“What this program is intended to do is leverage private sector capital towards innovative clean energy technology that can help American manufacturing remain competitive, but might not otherwise receive project financing on the open market,” said Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Energy Department.  “Congress recognized that investing in innovative tech carries intrinsic amount of risk.”

The Solyndra bankruptcy is not symptomatic of the entire solar industry either, Jabusch said.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar market nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010 and is anticipated to add about 24,000 jobs, a 26 percent increase, over the next year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Asks How Green Can Brown Be?

Frank Polich/Getty Images(LANDOVER, Md.) -- Goodbye to gas-guzzling fleet vehicles like the ubiquitous big brown UPS trucks? President Obama hopes so, saying it’s not only good for the environment, it’s good for business.

“From gas-guzzlers to hybrids, … there's a real market for these vehicles,” Obama said. “One of the best ways to reduce our dependence on oil is by making our cars and trucks more energy efficient, because transportation accounts for more than 70 percent of America’s oil consumption,” Obama said to workers and business folks at a UPS processing facility just outside of Washington DC.

“Energy-efficient cars and trucks won’t just cut our dependence on oil, they’ll save us money,” Obama said.

And it’s not just the UPS trucks Obama is after, add in FedEx, AT&T, PepsiCo, Verizon and others with huge fleets. Obama’s “National Clean Fleets Partnership” proposal would convert or replace hundreds of thousands of gas-guzzling fleet cars and trucks to hybrid and clean energy vehicles. Doing so would help cut America’s 11-billion-imported-barrel-of-oil-a-day habit by one-third by 2025, Obama said.

The partnership would allow the Department of Energy to help businesses research and plan to switch to electric, hybrid or alternative energy consuming vehicles. The partnership takes the form of advice, “specialized resources, technical expertise, and support.”  In addition, collaboration will allow smaller companies to partner with the big ones to buy new vehicles at bulk rates, according to  a White House release.

Before his speech, Obama, along with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, toured some of the new vehicles he was touting. 

"This is 100 percent electric?" Obama asked about one large Frito-Lay truck, parked at the UPS facility. A representative from Frito-Lay replied that the drivers love it because it’s quiet.

Obama also viewed an AT&T all battery powered that he said looks “pretty comfortable.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio