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EU probes Chinese-owned solar panel firms over subsidies

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EU probes Chinese-owned solar panel firms over subsidies


EU probes Chinese-owned solar panel firms over subsidies

by AFP Staff Writers

Brussels, Belgium (AFP) April 3, 2024






The European Union on Wednesday announced investigations targeting two Chinese-owned solar panel manufacturers suspected of receiving subsidies as trade tensions heat up between Brussels and Beijing.

Brussels has in the past year taken stronger action to defend European industry against growing threats from China and the United States — but the EU also faces a dilemma.

The 27-nation bloc wants to build up its renewable energy as it races to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but at the same time move away from excessively relying on cheaper Chinese wind and solar technology.

Chinese state subsidies are already in the EU’s crosshairs. In September last year, Brussels started a probe into Chinese electric car subsidies that could lead to punitive tariffs on vehicles it believes are unfairly sold at a lower price.

Beijing at the time warned it would harm trade relations, and raised fears the EU was risking a trade war.

Wednesday’s probes were launched under new rules that came into force in July last year and seek to prevent foreign subsidies from undermining fair competition in the EU.

Under investigation are two consortiums, one of which includes the Enevo group in Romania and a German subsidiary of Chinese parent company Longi Green Energy Technology.

Longi is the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturer.

The second consortium is made up of two subsidiaries both fully owned and controlled by Chinese state-owned firm, Shanghai Electric group.

“The (European) Commission will assess whether the economic operators concerned did benefit from an unfair advantage to win public contracts in the EU,” the bloc’s powerful antitrust regulator said.

The China Chamber of Commerce to the EU accused the bloc of abusing its new powers.

“We express our serious dissatisfaction with the abuse of the new tool by the relevant EU authorities and the use of the Foreign Subsidies Regulation as a new tool of economic coercion,” it said in a statement.

– ‘Preserve Europe’s economic security’ –

Under the EU’s new rules, firms must tell the commission when their public procurement tenders in the EU are worth more than 250 million euros ($270 million) and when the company has been granted at least four million euros in foreign financial contributions in the three previous years.

“The commission considered it justified to open an in-depth investigation for two bidders, since there are sufficient indications that both have been granted foreign subsidies that distort the internal market,” said a statement.

The two consortiums had applied to design, construct and operate a photovoltaic park in Romania with an installed capacity of 110 megawatts, partly financed by European funds.

“The two new in-depth investigations… aim to preserve Europe’s economic security and competitiveness by ensuring that companies in our single market are truly competitive and play fair,” the EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said.

Europe heavily relies on foreign solar panels. More than 97 percent of the panels in Europe are imported, mainly from China, the EU’s financial services commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, said in February.

She pointed to a global oversupply and a surge of imports in the EU since 2023.

“Solar panel prices have plummeted by over 40 percent. These falling prices are an opportunity for citizens and solar panel installers as it supports internal demand, and it is clearly a challenge to EU solar panel producers,” she said.

– Past battles –

It is not the first time the EU has targeted China under its Foreign Subsidies Regulation.

In February, the commission began a probe into a subsidiary of Chinese rail giant CRRC. That investigation was closed after the CRRC subsidiary withdrew this month from a tender in Bulgaria to supply electric trains.

Battles with China over solar panels are not new for Brussels either.

In 2013, the EU imposed anti-dumping duties after European manufacturers said they were being forced out of business by underpriced Chinese panel imports.

Those restrictions were scrapped five years later.

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Buck the Duck Curve: California’s Bold Leap Towards Solar Empowerment

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Buck the Duck Curve: California’s Bold Leap Towards Solar Empowerment


Buck the Duck Curve: California’s Bold Leap Towards Solar Empowerment

by Bradley Bartz, President/Founder, ABC Solar

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 23, 2024






In the sun-drenched state of California, solar power has been both a beacon of hope and a point of contention. At the heart of this debate lies the infamous “Solar Duck Curve”-a phenomenon critics have used to demonize the impact of solar power on the energy grid. This curve, which charts the mismatch between peak solar production and peak demand, has been portrayed as a nightmare for grid management. However, much like the visionary approach of Hong Kong’s free phone service in the past, California has the potential to transform this perceived problem into a profitable solution.

The Buck Load Initiative: A Call to Action

Governor Gavin Newsom has a golden opportunity to rewrite the narrative. Just as Hong Kong revolutionized communication by offering free phone service, making long distance calls economically accessible and turning a high-cost luxury into a distributed wealth generator, California can harness the currently curtailed solar power to fuel new economic frontiers.



Today, the reality is that the production of solar energy often exceeds demand during daylight hours, leading to what is known as ‘curtailment’. This means valuable, clean energy-energy that could power homes, businesses, and innovative technologies-is wasted. It’s akin to collecting rainwater in a drought-stricken land but pouring it down the drain just when it’s needed most.



Why The Buck Load?

The Buck Load is more than just a concept; it’s a directive for progress. This initiative proposes using surplus solar energy to power high-demand facilities and projects, such as high-speed wind tunnels for wildfire research or new industrial complexes, creating jobs and fostering innovation. It’s a win-win scenario where excess energy meets peak ingenuity, fostering a robust, sustainable economy.



Imagine this: instead of shutting down solar panels, we channel excess energy into research facilities, manufacturing plants, and even cryptocurrency mining operations-anywhere that can use high amounts of electricity outside of peak hours. We could turn every ray of sunshine into a thread in the fabric of a new economic miracle.



A Vision for the Future

As the President and Founder of ABC Solar, I’ve seen firsthand the capabilities and the limitations of our current energy practices. It’s time for a bold step forward. The Buck Load isn’t just about energy; it’s about setting a precedent for how we value and utilize our natural resources. It’s about ensuring that every Californian has the power they need, not just to survive, but to thrive.



Governor Newsom, the California Public Utilities Commission, and all stakeholders in our energy future are at a crossroads. We can continue down a path of restrictions and limitations, or we can choose a path of innovation and abundance. The Buck Load is the key to unlocking a future where California continues to lead the world in environmental consciousness and economic innovation.



Let us not be the Mr. Burns of our own narrative, shading the world from the potential of solar power. Let’s be the pioneers who used the sun to light up not just our homes, but our economy. Let’s make The Buck Load initiative a reality and show the world what California can do.



The time is now. Let’s not wait for tomorrow to solve the problems we can solve today. Let’s harness the full potential of the sun, and in doing so, fund our future-a future as bright as the California sun.


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Efficient DC power converter enhances microgrid sustainability

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Efficient DC power converter enhances microgrid sustainability


Efficient DC power converter enhances microgrid sustainability

by Riko Seibo

Tokyo, Japan (SPX) Apr 22, 2024






A novel DC-DC power converter developed by Kobe University promises enhanced energy storage and conversion efficiency, marking a key step in advancing microgrid technologies. This new converter, designed to integrate seamlessly with various DC energy sources, improves system stability and simplicity with an unprecedented operational efficiency.

Electric power is classified into two types: AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). Despite AC being the chosen standard for national power grids, the reliance on DC power by solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, and computers necessitates a conversion, often with significant energy loss. The adoption of DC microgrids could mitigate this by directly linking renewable energy sources and storage units to consumers, eliminating the need for conversion and allowing for voltage flexibility essential for diverse applications.



Researchers from Kobe University and National Chung Hsing University, including MISHIMA Tomokazu and LAI Ching-Ming, have spearheaded the development of this technology. “Our interdisciplinary approach and advanced facilities have underpinned our success in developing a prototype that demonstrates significant advantages over existing systems,” explained LIU Shiqiang, a student team member at Kobe University.



The new design, featured in the journal IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, optimizes voltage ratio and inductor current balance, improving performance for electric vehicle-centric applications. “The asymmetrical duty limit control is particularly beneficial for electric vehicle-connected DC microgrids,” Liu added.



The prototype’s effectiveness, showing efficiencies up to 98.3%, underscores its potential for real-world application and sets the stage for further enhancements and commercialization efforts by UPE-Japan, a startup emerging from Kobe University. “Our aim is to foster the shift towards more reliable and sustainable energy solutions, especially for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems,” Liu stated.



Research Report:Over 98% Efficiency SiC-MOSFET based Four-Phase Interleaved Bidirectional DC-DC Converter Featuring Wide-Range Voltage Ratio


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‘Ancient Roman’ solar roof tiles power Pompeii villa

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‘Ancient Roman’ solar roof tiles power Pompeii villa


‘Ancient Roman’ solar roof tiles power Pompeii villa

By Ella IDE

Pompeii, Italy (AFP) April 19, 2024






Pompeii is shining a light on mysterious rites of ancient Rome thanks to terracotta-style solar roof tiles installed on one of its most famous villas.

The traditional-looking tiles have solar photovoltaic cells inside, allowing the UNESCO World Heritage Site to preserve its aesthetics while generating clean energy to illuminate its frescoes.

And though the project is in its early stages, experts say the tiles could one day help historic city centres across Italy turn green.

The tiles look “exactly the same as the ancient (Roman) ones”, found in archaeological sites and cities across the Mediterranean, Pompeii director Gabriel Zuchtriegel told AFP.

But while “Pompeii is a unique site due to its vast size and complexity … I hope this will not be a unique project,” said Zuchtriegel, who wants the site near Naples to be a “real-life lab for sustainability”.

The scheme weds emerging technologies with an extraordinary mural unearthed in 1909 under deep layers of volcanic ash at the Villa of the Mysteries, which was buried along with the rest of the city when Vesuvius erupted nearly 2,000 years ago.

The mural depicts female devotees of Dionysus — the god of wine and revelry — engaged in mysterious rites.

They have intrigued scholars for decades, with some historians suggesting they are evidence that the lady of the villa was a priestess whose slaves took part in cult rituals.

– Terracotta varnishes –

The fresco, which covers three walls and is one of the best preserved in Pompeii, is illuminated by special LED lights designed to bring the deep red, purple and gold images to life, while not damaging the painted surfaces.

The lights are powered by electricity generated by the solar panels, which were installed in October.

Ahlux, the Italian company behind the lights, patented the system in 2022 and produces both curved and flat panels varnished in terracotta tones.

The solar panels on the villa’s roof are flat and lie between traditional ceramic curved tiles.

They cover 70 square metres (750 square feet) of roof, produce a maximum of 13 kilowatt-hours and are linked to an ecologically-friendly sodium battery, according to project manager Alberto Bruni.

Pompeii, which gets over 15 hours sunlight a day in peak summer, intends to extend their use to other villas in the archaeological site, he said.

Augusto Grillo, the founder of Ahlux, said the tiles are about five percent less efficient than a traditional solar panel.

“This nominal loss is compensated however by the fact that our panels heat up less in summer,” while traditional ones are covered by glass, and can lose efficiency on very hot days, he said.

“The performance ends up being very similar,” he said.

– Red-tiled cities –

Various institutions have expressed interest in the tiles, from Rome’s MAXXI modern art museum to the 17th century Pinoteca Ambrosiana museum in Milan, Grillo said.

“The problem is finding the funds,” he said, adding that many of Italy’s famous historic buildings are public or owned by Catholic institutions.

The cost is a bit more than the price of a new roof and traditional panels put together — though the solar tiles, which last between 20 to 25 years, serve double duty, because they function as a roof too, Grillo said.

Project manager Bruni said the cost of the panels “is coming down”, meaning they may be able to play a part in the wider ecological transition.

Italy is under pressure to make red-roofed cities such as Florence or Bologna greener as part of efforts to combat climate change.

The European Union aims to reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030, and will have to upgrade existing buildings to do so.

That is a mammoth challenge for Italy, where some 60 percent of buildings are in the worst two energy categories, compared to 17 percent in France and six percent in Germany, according to Italian Constructors’ Association ANCE.

“There needs to be some national and perhaps European co-investment to make sure that the very, very ambitious timelines have a chance of being respected,” Angelica Donati, president of the youth constructors’ association ANCE Giovani, told AFP.

“We have the most beautiful cities in the world, which means we need much more thoughtful interventions, and quickly. There’s a lot to be done”.

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