Solar continues to gain in the U.S.

According to SolarBuzz, http://www.solarbuzz.com, The U.S. installed 4.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar power during 2013, a fifteen percent growth over 2012.

2013 solar_panel2The U.S. has passed Europe to become the second largest geographic market for solar, after Asia. These market gains continue, in spite of uneven policies by state and federal governments.

Utility and industrial scale projects accounted for more than 80 percent of new solar capacity. Good project finance rates and demand for projects from utilities to meet state renewable requirements has driven growth, accounting for over three-fourths of these large scale projects. The remaining 20 percent was installed mainly on residential rooftops.

2013 State rankings

2013 State rankings

California was again the leading state in the U.S. for installed solar PV in 2013; North Carolina and Texas expanded the fastest. Maryland and Colorado dropped from the list of top states. These changes mainly result from changing state policies and incentives for solar, with some states improving incentives and some states eliminating past programs.

Tesla’s digital car risks

Telsa Motors is on a roll. The company will produce about 21,000 vehicles this year, with over 12,000 Model S luxury sedans delivered already in 2013. Tesla’s Model S receives excellent car performance reviews and seems to have solved the range and time-to-charge issues of electric vehicles with their advanced lithium ion batteries and growing network of supercharging stations.

TeslaModelSIn National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, Model S received a five-star rating in each of three categories and overall. Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model is working, even in states like Massachusetts, where it’s been attacked by car dealers. And Tesla has focused on technology, with over 500 applied for patents, many for battery-related engineering. Tesla already licenses technology and sells components to other car companies, such as Toyota.

With new models on the way and with the recent good news,Tesla Motors stock (TSLA)—reached $20 Billion in market value this week, on par with many established car companies.

Tesla’s Model S may be the most digitally advanced car ever produced. Model S can be controlled by a smart phone for example, to turn on air conditioning or unlock the car or schedule charging of batteries. These features sound wonderful….if the software is bug free, if there is no interference from other phones (the reason cell phones are turned off for airplane takeoff and landing), and if the system is secure. George Reese, the director of cloud management for Dell (NASDAQ: DELL  ) recently wrote in an article that the Model S has a security flaw that leaves it exposed to hackers.

Privacy could also be an issue. Tesla employs comprehensive data gathering on its cars to aid diagnosis of problems, to deliver car system software improvements, and to proactively recommend service, all potentially great features. But if insurance companies and governments have access to the same data, you might be in for an insurance premium surprise, or worse.

Tesla’s business model also puts them at risk for breakdowns and security breaches of today’s electrical grid. Any power outage of more than a few hours would strand travelers and commuters who depend on their Tesla.

Tesla has opened an exciting chapter in the automotive industry. We’ll see how the digital technology challenges unique to Tesla play out.

Energy letter to Santa

Dear Santa, It’s that time of year when kids young and old dream big dreams. Here is our big dream list for energy.

image courtesy Any Tots

1. “The Lady in Red, is dancing with me…” Take all the red tape in Washington for liquefied natural gas and use it to wrap more presents instead. You’ll need thousands of yards of the stuff to wrap a several state-of-the-art LNG facilities, for U.S. exports. Save a few yards to wrap Chris de Burgh’s beautiful song in.

2. “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind….” Please send a copy of Dylan’s song and a multiyear, stable production tax credit program to our wind energy friends.

3. “Baby you can drive my car.” Our electric car industry needs a 300 mile, one hour rechargeable battery system. Can that be so hard to fit under the tree, along with the Beatles tune?

4. “Let the Sunshine In…”, how about 25% efficiency and a copy of the 5th Dimension song for every silicon photovoltaic module maker?

5. “Jive Talking”, the Clean Coal marketing hype has far outweighed the actual results. Since we need coal for decades, how about some real sequestering breakthroughs scaled up to meaningful projects, while we dance to the Bee Gees?

6. Oh, can you throw in an iPad mini for Tiny Tim, with a few tunes? Thanks Santa. When you finish this list, we’ll have a new one waiting.

Happy Holidays and best wishes everyone.

5 reasons natural gas will rebound to $4.50 in 2013

The most optimistic prediction for gas prices by 2014 is $4.75/mbtu, with the median analyst forecast about $4.30, according to Bloomberg.  I believe the glut of gas will end much earlier, by late 2013. Here is why.

1. The large U.S. gas producers, like Chesapeake and ExxonMobil have already drastically cut drilling and new well development.

2. Many convertible factories, businesses, and commercial facilities that can switch fuels have switched to natural gas in the past two years. This will increase demand in 2013.

3. U.S. Electric utilities are consuming record volumes of gas. Consumption will climb again in 2013.

4. Its statistically unlikely the northeast U.S. will have another winter as mild as 2011/2012.

5. Global economy improvements, while modest, will still make 2013 the best year for growth since 2008.

Santa wish list for Energy lovers

President Obama released his FY2013 Energy budget, which, according to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, makes investments in innovation, clean energy and national security. It’s a something-for-everyone strategy, including clean energy R&D, solar cost reduction efforts, nuclear site cleanup, and extending the 1603 Federal loan guarantee program. There are additional programs for bioenergy, geothermal, ocean wave energy and solar, among others.

Given the $ trillion deficit of this proposed budget, Congressional Republican’s reticence to support the administration in an election year, and the lack of agreement on a national energy policy, this Energy budget, like many Santa’s wish lists, probably won’t get completely fulfilled. Maybe the stockings won’t be completely empty, either.