China is already the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturer, but now it is making a move to become a major solar energy consumer as well, with a nationwide feed-in tariff to pay people or businesses a subsidy for electricity they produce with solar panels. This follows on the heels of the country’s wind energy feed-in tariff in 2009, which led to explosive growth in their wind industry.
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China had a mishmash of solar incentives before, but the new policy will give a clearer signal to the market and “encourage more companies to participate in the industry,” said an analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
China’s latest five-year plan, released in March, set the goal of using 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, and a solar feed-in tariff has been expected for months—so in anticipation many solar installations have already gotten rolling, and a flurry of projects may soon qualify.
Fast and Steady Wins the Race?
China, Germany and the U.K. have the most stable and consistent clean energy policies, which helps boost investment, according to a new report by Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors.
However, on the same day as China’s announcement, the U.K. put into place a cut in its solar power subsidy for installations over 50 kilowatts, “effectively ending solar farm development” in the country, Business Green argued.
There was a stampede of projects trying to get completed before the deadline, but some are planning more large installations nonetheless. Also, it turns out a loophole in the solar feed-in tariff would have allowed large projects to still get high subsidies—but the government is now moving to close that.
The U.K. had planned to raise subsidies for other clean energy—but it is delaying the raise in the feed-in tariff for anaerobic digesters.
Besides the U.K., a number of other European countries—including Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic—hacked away at their solar subsidies before, and now the Australian state of Western Australia has also eliminated theirs.
The Canadian state of Ontario, on the other hand, is trying to protect clean energy projects by changing regulations to make it harder to cut clean energy subsidies.
Meanwhile, solar installations have been rising fast worldwide as the price of solar panels has fallen about 20 percent in the past year. But manufacturer’s margins are also falling, so it is not clear how much longer these price trends can continue.
Ethanol Subsidy Survives—For Now
It came down to the wire, but the U.S. Congress passed a deal to raise the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline, and Obama signed it into law.
But the deal did not include a near-term cut of ethanol tax breaks, as some had expected, which would have netted an estimated $2 billion in additional revenue.
However, it is likely the ethanol tax break will not be renewed, in which case it would cease at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, ethanol producers are pushing for a change in regulations to allow more ethanol to be blended into gasoline, allowing gasoline to be E15—15 percent ethanol—compared with E10 today. Last month, experts testified to Congress that the higher ethanol content may damage some cars’ engines, and more tests were needed to ensure E15 is safe.
Making the Smart Grid Smarter
There have been many proposals for making our electricity grids and appliances smarter to help them use less electricity at peak times and shift use to off-peak hours of the day.
However, if many people’s appliances all switch on suddenly when the electricity rate drops, an MIT study found, the spike in power use could bring down the grid. But smarter tuning of how electricity rates go up and down during the day could avoid the problem.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.