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Beverage Industry in Troubled Waters, Attempting Conservation Efforts

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Water is a finite resource, which is becoming constrained with the growing population and climate change. It is a vital component in production of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. From growing raw materials (such as wheat or barley) for beverages, through product development, till the production process, water is indispensable at each step. The beverage industry has come to realize that water scarcity could tremendously impact businesses, forcing them to reassess water management strategies and tap into efficient conservation measures.

Water covers around 70% of the earth’s surface and only 3% is available as freshwater, which can be used for various commercial and non-commercial activities. Unfortunately, this quantity of water is inadequate for growing population and thriving businesses using this resource without considering its limited availability. According to WWF, an international NGO for preservation of wilderness and nature, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortage by 2025, with demand for water exceeding supply by 40% by 2030.

Beverage production is highly water-intensive, with water being used at each step across the value chain. According to Water Footprint Network, it takes at least 70 liters of water to produce 0.5 liter of soda, 74 liters of water for a glass of 0.25 liter of beer, and 132 liters of water for a cup of 0.125 liter of coffee. Water footprint for beverage companies is evidently high, and this can be mitigated by implementing water management technologies across the value chain, from farming to beverage production.

Water scarcity posing challenges for beverage producers

Water stress is a pressing problem for all beverage industry players, causing various operational challenges that are impacting business operations.

Opposition to water extraction from natural resources

California suffered a searing seven year drought that ended in 2017. Distress from water scarcity impacted communities, as well as companies operating in the region. For instance, Nestlé, a Swiss multinational food and beverage company, faced opposition from local communities and criticism from conservationists for extracting large quantities of water from Californian springs even during the drought-stricken years.

These events impacted Nestlé’s operations and eventually, succumbing to the pressure, Nestlé invested US$7 million in conservation projects across five of its bottling plants in California in 2017. The projects focused primarily on reducing the amount of water used in filtration process while simultaneously maintaining hygiene of the processing plant. Only after consistent water conservation efforts, Nestlé was granted a three-year permit by US Forest Service in 2018 to extract water within the limit of 8.5 million gallons annually from Californian springs.

Similarly to Nestlé, Coca-Cola faced opposition from local communities in India resulting in closures of two of its bottling plants located in the states of Kerala (in 2004) and Uttar Pradesh (in 2014), due to extensive water extraction from local resources. In order to sustain operations, Coca-Cola announced plans to invest about US$5 billion between 2012 and 2020 to help replenish groundwater in India, allowing the company to also use water for beverage production.

Water shortage impacting business operations

According to global survey of 600 companies by Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), water scarcity and stricter environmental regulations cost businesses around US$14 billion in 2016. Many companies agreed that water-related issues have affected their businesses directly or indirectly.

For instance, severe droughts in Southeast Brazil in 2014 and 2015 disrupted water supply in the area, limiting production capacity and disturbing operations of Danone, a French multinational food and beverage corporation. As a result the company suffered sales loss of ~US$6 million in 2015.

Not only Danone was affected. As Brazil is one of the world’s leading coffee producers, limited availability of water for irrigation due to the drought, crop production in the region took a hit. Eventually, the situation threatened supply, which led to higher raw material prices for coffee manufacturers. One of the producers that felt the repercussions was J.M. Smucker, an American producer of food and beverages, reported a net loss of US$90.3 million in 2015 due to higher coffee bean prices in Brazil.

Tapping into innovations to reduce water consumption

Water risk for beverage companies highly depends on external factors, such as water quality and availability either through natural resources or municipal bodies. Industry players have very little control over the external factors but can regulate water usage in their internal manufacturing operations to reduce consumption.

Recycling water using zero water technology

Beverage companies are collaborating with technology providers to incorporate innovative water recycling methods.

For instance, in 2014, Nestlé collaborated with Veolia Group (a French company providing water, waste, and energy management solutions) and GEA Group (a German food processing technology firm), to introduce Cero Agua (zero water) technology across dairy production plant in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. Using the technology, the factory does not have to rely on external water sources. Instead, it recycles and reuses the waste fluid extracted from milk – Nestlé extracts 1ml of water from every 1.6ml of milk. The treated water is used in non-food production applications such as cooling, irrigating the gardens, and cleaning, thus, eliminating the need to depend on external water sources. The company has invested around US$15 million to introduce zero water technology in the plant.

With the help of this technology Nestlé claims to have saved 168 million liters of water in the first year of implementation, reducing water consumption by more than 50%. Zero water technology has been rolled out across its other diary factories located in water-stressed areas of South Africa, India, China, to list a few.

Moreover, between 2004 and 2014, Nestlé claims it was able to reduce water consumption globally by one third and by 50% across its Mexican plants.

Onsite wastewater treatment

Brewing companies are not far from adopting technologies to reduce water footprint. Waste water treatment is one of the effective ways to reuse water and several brewing companies have jumped on the bandwagon to conserve water using this approach.

Since 2014, Lagunitas Brewing Company, a subsidiary of Heineken, has been using EcoVolt membrane bioreactor, a wastewater treatment technology that removes up to 90% pollutants from water so that it can be reused onsite for cleaning purposes. Using this solution, the company has reduced its water footprint by approximately 40%.

In 2016, Bear Republic Brewing Company, a brewery based in California, invested US$4 million in a waste water treatment system that uses electrically active microbes to purify wastewater, which helps the brewery to recycle about 25% of water that it uses to clean factory equipment.

Furthermore, in 2015, a Boston-based craft brewer, Harpoon Brewery, collaborated with Desalitech, a US-based water treatment company, to produce beer made from treated Charles River water. Desalitech uses its ReFlex Reverse Osmosis systems to purify the river water and has been able to recover 93% of the treated river water to brew beer.

Innovative farming techniques

Farming is highly water-intensive and sustainable beverage production can only be achieved if water consumption is cut down during farming. Hence, companies are employing various water management solutions to check water utilization during farming.

In 2014, Anheuser-Busch, an American brewing company installed six AgriMets, a network of agricultural weather stations, in Idaho to provide farmers with real-time weather and crop water use data. Using AgriMet data, growers can monitor rainfall and soil conditions, which helps them to cut down on the amount of water required in irrigation and decide when to irrigate. This ensures efficient use of water across the fields.

Further, for improving water management, the company is employing various seeding and harvesting techniques – for instance, it plants and harvests winter barley earlier in the year, resulting in 30% higher crop yield and 40% lower water usage.

PepsiCo and Coco-Cola have been promoting drip irrigation (a type of irrigation system where water is allowed to drip slowly to the roots minimizing evaporation) in water-scarce Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, among others. Coca-Cola started with drip irrigation project in 2008 with 27 farmers covering 13.5 hectares of agricultural land in India, which expanded to over 513 drip irrigation systems installed, stretching across 256.5 hectares of agricultural land by 2011. Drip irrigation leads to significant water conservation, with an average saving of 1200 kiloliter/ hectare of water for a cropping cycle of 110 days/hectare (an agricultural cycle comprising activities related to the growth and harvest of crops). Additionally, savings on account of electricity, fertilizers, and pesticides are estimated at about US$ 29/hectare/year.

Beverage Industry in Troubled Waters - EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

For decades, water has been regarded as free commodity in processing and manufacturing environments, but this notion is beginning to change with growing awareness about water scarcity. Limited availability of water puts pressure on industrial activities and often pushes operational costs of beverage companies up. Availability of water is likely to get worse in the future, which could jeopardize operations of food and beverage companies unless the crisis is treated as a priority.

The solution to water scarcity lies in the hands of businesses as much as the governments of various countries. Water management requires stringent policies by the governments to better regulate the use of groundwater or natural resources for irrigation. The governments also need to implement efficient wastewater management and recycling technologies to conserve water. Countries such as Singapore have undertaken water recycling and management measures, but unfortunately such examples are relatively scarce in other parts of the world, with most conservation efforts being implemented only by large food and beverage companies. It is time that the governments as well as all industry players (including small-to-mid sized companies) wake up to the challenges that lie ahead owing to water stress.

Solutions to water scarcity do not always need to be expensive. Small-to-mid sized companies could start with small and inexpensive measures such as installing flow meters or leak detection systems, measuring water usage at each step and setting short and long term goals to reduce consumption across those processes.

Other measures could be to reduce water consumption across most water intensive processes, such as cleaning, which typically accounts for 60% of a beverage plant’s total water consumption. Water could be replaced with dry ice to manually wash equipment or it can be physically cleaned using vacuum systems or high-pressure hoses that can be used to move debris.

Nonetheless, sustainable water management efforts by large beverage companies have resulted in lowering of operational costs, improvement in quality of final products, and in building better brand perception among customers. These strategic advantages could motivate all industry players to reduce water footprint and play their part as responsible water users.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Australia Puts Its Power behind Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Plants

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Australia, as most countries across the globe, is increasing its focus towards renewable energy for future sustainability. These initiatives are faced with the inherent challenge in the renewable energy development – intermittency of supply, i.e. the fact that the supply is not continuously available (e.g. sunlight or wind) and it cannot be modulated according to demand. To tackle this, power companies and the Australian government are making significant investments in pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) plants. These plants facilitate the storing of energy when supply is high but demand is low, so that it can be used when demand supersedes supply levels. Currently, several PHES projects are under assessment and development in Australia.

In 2015, the Australian government set renewable energy targets of 33,000 GWh in large-scale generation, equaling to about 23.5% of Australia’s total electricity generation by 2020. The ongoing pace of new and upcoming solar and wind power projects during 2017, 2018, and 2019 has ensured that the targets set under the Renewable Energy Targets (RET) scheme are met. Moreover, if the current rate of renewable installations continues, Australia is on track to achieve 50% renewable electricity by 2025 and 100% by early 2030’s.

To make renewable energy more sustainable, the government is looking at storage options for solar and wind energy. Solar and wind energy are inherently intermittent in nature. This means that energy can be harnessed based on availability of these resources and not based on the demand at a certain time. This makes renewable energy supply less predictable and dependable in comparison with fossil fuel-based energy.

This is where pumped hydro energy storage can prove useful. PHES plants can store renewable energy on a large scale within the electrical power grid. Fundamentally, PHES plants work in a similar way as regular hydro energy plants, wherein water flows from a higher reservoir to a lower reservoir, generating electricity by spinning the turbines. However, the key difference in case of a PHES plant is that in case when more energy is being produced than the current demand level, the plant uses the spare energy to pump the water back from the lower reservoir to the higher reservoir, thereby making it available again to generate power when the demand rises.

PHES stations are all the more beneficial when integrated with renewable energy generating grids. Since it is difficult to ascertain how much energy will be produced through wind and solar at a given time, pumped hydro energy storage helps balance it in accordance to the demand levels. When wind and solar grids produce more energy than currently required, the excess energy can be used to push the water uphill in the integrated PHES plant, which can be used later when energy produced through renewables is lower than the demand levels. Thanks to this, these plants act as energy-storing batteries.

PHES stations are all the more beneficial when integrated with renewable energy generating grids. Since it is difficult to ascertain how much energy will be produced through wind and solar at a given time, pumped hydro energy storage helps balance it in accordance to the demand levels.

PHES projects across Australia

Owing to these benefits, Australia is extensively exploring this technology. It is estimated that the country is looking to add about 363 GWh of new pumped hydro energy storage capacity, through nine projects that are under consideration and development. In addition to this, there are several other projects that are at initial stages of assessment and do not have a specified capacity yet. As per experts, Australia needs about 450 GWh of storage to support a 100% renewable electricity grid. Some of the most prominent PHES projects in Australia include Snowy 2.0, Marinus Link Project (Battery of the Nation), and Kidston project.

Snowy 2.0

Snowy 2.0 (an expansion of the 70-year-old Snowy Hydro scheme) is the largest energy storage project in Australia, with capacity of 2,000 MW. The plant will offer 350 GWh of pumped storage. The project, which is to be developed and operated by Snowy Hydro (an Australia-based electricity generation and retailing company), is estimated to cost US$2.8-4.2 billion (AU$4-6 billion) and is expected to commence operations by 2024. It has received US$1 billion (AU$1.38 billion) in federal funding.

Moreover, it has partnered with large global technology companies, such as Germany-based Voith Group, which has been contracted to supply the electrical and mechanical components such as the reversible pump turbines and variable-speed pump turbines to be used in the storage hydro power plant.

Marinus Link Project (Battery of the Nation Project)

The Marinus Link Project is a part of Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation program, under which a second interconnector will be built across the Bass Strait. This high voltage interconnector will ensure smooth supply of hydro power to Australia’s mainland. Tasmania has huge potential for wind and hydro electricity generation and an initial assessment by state-owned Hydro Tasmania (Tasmania’s largest electricity generator) indicates that the state has 14 potential sites for PHES plants, with a cumulative capacity of 4,800 MW.

The project is expected to cost US$0.9-1.2 billion (AU$1.3-1.7 billion) for the 600 MW capacity interconnector link or US$1.3-2.2 billion (AU$1.9-3.2 billion) for the 1,200 MW capacity link. The Australian government has provided US$39 million (AU$56 million) in federal funding to help fast-track the interconnector, while the Tasmanian government has committed about US$21 million (AU$30 million) to support the feasibility assessment of three shortlisted pumped hydro energy storage sites in north-western Tasmania.

The interconnector, which is expected to deliver 2,500 MW of renewable hydro power along with 16 GWh of storage to Tasmania and Victoria is expected to be completed by 2025 and reach economic feasibility by early 2030s.

Kidston Pumped Hydro Project

Another project that is gaining significant traction is the Kidston pumped hydro energy project, which is a 250 MW project (2 GWh of pumped storage) in northern Queensland, and is proposed by Genex Power. It is estimated to be completed by 2022.

The Kidston project will also be integrated with an already built 50 MW solar farm. It will help store solar energy when it is in surplus and release it back to generate more electricity when solar energy cannot be harnessed.

Genex Power plans to build another 270 MW solar plant and 150 MW of wind energy capacity over a phased period. In June 2018, the company’s pumped hydro project secured about US$358 million (AU$516 million) in concessional loans from the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).

Moreover, in December 2018, Genex Power signed a deal with EnergyAustralia (Australia’s third-largest power company, owned by Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings), giving exclusive rights to the latter to negotiate an off-take agreement for Kidston’s (solar plus pumped hydro) output, encompassing an option to buy 50% stake in the PHES component. Under the term sheet of the agreement, EnergyAustralia will have exclusive rights to negotiate, finalize, and execute a long-term purchase agreement with Genex, however the contract currently is non-binding and is subject to a number of conditions.

In addition to these, there are several other projects that are currently in the feasibility or development stage. In May 2018, Delta Electricity, an Australian electricity generation company, received development approval from the South Australian government for a 230 MW Goat Hill pumped hydro project. Altura Group (Australia-based renewable energy project developer and advisor) has been hired as the project developer. The project is expected to cost about US$284 million (AU$410 million) and the South Australian government has committed about US$3.3 million (AU$4.7 million) to facilitate final project development. The project is expected to be completed by late 2020.

Another such project is EnergyAustralia’s Cultana Pumped Hydro Energy Project, which is the first sea water pumped hydro energy storage project in Australia. The project will have a capacity of 225 MW. In 2018, it received US$0.35 million (AU$0.5 million) funding from ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) to support the US$5.6 million (AU$8 million) feasibility study. The project is currently undergoing feasibility studies and concept development and, if approved, it is expected to be completed by 2023.

Similarly, in April 2019, Australian utility company, AGL Energy, unveiled plans to build a 250 MW pumped hydro energy storage facility in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills region. While the company has received the right to develop, own, and operate the plant, the project is currently under assessment. If approved, the project is expected to be completed by 2024.

PHES projects and their viability

Large sums of investment into PHES projects by private companies as well as the federal government indicate its criticality in the overall transition of Australia’s energy grid to include a larger share of renewable sources. Moreover, several coal-based energy plants are retiring in Australia in the near future, which will further create an opportunity for renewables with storage options to replace the current form of generation. As per experts, the cost of energy from wind and solar combined with storage (from either pumped hydro or other form of batteries) will be lower than generation from new coal or natural gas plants post the retirement of existing coal and gas plants. This further makes the case for huge investments in pumped hydro energy storage.

As per experts, the cost of energy from wind and solar combined with storage (from either pumped hydro or other form of batteries) will be lower than generation from new coal or natural gas plants post the retirement of existing coal and gas plants. This further makes the case for huge investments in pumped hydro energy storage.

However, apart from PHES plants, there are other forms of storage as well. These primarily comprise of lithium-ion batteries. One example of such a battery is Tesla’s Hornsdale Power Reserve Battery. It is located in Narien Range (South Australia), was constructed in December 2017, and has a storage capacity of 129 MWh. However, these batteries are not a direct competitor/substitute for PHES plants, as they are usually smaller projects than pumped hydro energy storage plants and have a relatively shorter life as well. Moreover, pumped hydro energy storage is a more cost-effective way of storing energy, when compared with lithium-ion batteries.

Investments in PHES projects are significantly higher, when compared with lithium-ion batteries. This makes these projects long-term in nature, especially with regards to return on investments. These projects have a lifespan of about 90-100 years (and are highly capital intensive), whereas lithium-ion batteries have a lifespan of 10-15 years.

Therefore, the government is being fairly cautious about commissioning PHES projects at the moment. In fact, all of the current projects under review may not be commissioned considering their economic viability. PHES plants need a revenue of about US$139,000 (AU$200,000) per MW per year to be economically viable. While this can be achieved in the long run when there is higher electricity volatility owing to greater dependency on renewables (after the coal generators have retired), currently this cost cannot be justified as electricity volatility is lower with coal and natural gas generation. Moreover, different political parties have a different take on Australia’s energy mix. Thereby, the boost provided to the PHES sector with respect to cheap financing and subsidies will depend on the political party in power, which in turn will affect the economic viability and profitability of pumped hydro energy storage plants.

Moreover, new technologies are being developed at lightning speed, which may further affect the uptake for PHES plants. One such emerging technology is concentrating solar power, in which solar energy is stored in molten salt. This technology can provide several hours of storage and can also act as a baseload power plant. However, currently, this technology is much more expensive when compared with pumped hydro energy storage technology. At the same time, with growing focus on renewables globally, there are always possibilities of new technologies that solve the energy volatility problem in a most cost-effective and efficient manner.

EOS Perspective

Pumped hydro energy storage plants seem to surely have a secure place for themselves in Australia’s energy grid in the long run. With coal and natural gas generators retiring, there will be an increasing push for renewables to fill in their shoes. Renewable energy needs storage options that are stable and effective. PHES plants developed today will be operating for the next century providing a good base for Australia to move to a 100% renewable energy when it is ready. While investments in these projects run high, several large energy players in the Australian market are looking for investment opportunities in this form of storage as they believe it will play a critical role in Australia’s energy grid in the coming years.

However, most of the works regarding PHES plants is currently on paper, with majority of the projects still at the stage of seeking financing. The project closest to completion currently is the Kidston Project, which also failed to secure a confirmed off-take agreement (i.e., pre-contracted purchase agreement) with EnergyAustralia and had to settle for an agreement to negotiate an off-take based on the fulfillment of a few conditions. This hints towards a cautious approach adopted by large utility players when it comes to investing in pumped hydro energy storage projects. With utility players, such as EnergyAustralia, claiming that before committing to huge investments in this space, they would like clarity and stability in the national energy policy (that includes an emission trajectory), a lot falls into the government’s keenness to support renewable energy in the future. While it may seem like things are moving in that direction, a stronger emission policy or a higher renewable target is likely needed for matters to gain momentum.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: How USA Can Deal with Its Waste Crisis

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It is not often that one can hear that a US$100 billion industry is in tatters, however, this is currently the reality in case of the US recycling industry. For years, the USA has been dependent on waste exports, to countries such as China, India, and Korea. However, that dependence has now placed the USA in a very difficult position, as the implementation of National Sword policy by China, the largest export destination for US waste, amidst the China-USA trade disputes, resulted in waste exports coming to a virtual halt since the start of 2018.

With waste generation growing, the USA has been left scrambling to look for alternative destinations for its waste, the largest being India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, albeit none of them capable of completely compensating for waste exports to China. Recently, in March 2019, India also banned imports of plastic waste, eliminating another major avenue through which the USA could get rid of its trash.

US dependence on exports for waste recycling meant that the development of domestic recycling facilities has been neglected. The country’s domestic waste recycling sector is now incapable of handling the ever-increasing waste, a major chunk of which ends up in landfills, creating other environment and health-related problems.

However, where there are challenges, there are opportunities as well. We look at what challenges the USA currently faces, and how the recycling industry is trying to adapt and come up with potential solutions to the country’s waste problem.

USA’s linear model left recycling industry unprepared

Traditionally, US municipals have depended on external companies to dispose their waste. Most disposal companies follow a linear model, under which they collect the municipal waste and then segregate it for further processing (with majority of it previously being exported to China). This dependence on waste exports led to limited investments in developing or expanding the domestic recycling infrastructure, which the country has been left to rue in the wake of the waste import ban imposed by China and India.

Limited capacities have put extra burden on the system. Moreover, elimination of revenue from scrap sales to China puts additional economic pressure on waste processors. As a result, many waste collection agencies have either suspended waste pickup or raised prices to dispose of waste. Municipals too have to bear greater economic burden. Cities, which were earlier paid for their waste, are now being charged significant amounts for hauling waste.

Current waste disposal process is not up to the mark

Another key challenge is the lack of sorting at source, i.e. at the household level. Due to consumer’s preference, the USA follows a single-stream recycling system, where all recyclables are collected in the same receptacle. With no segregation happening at this stage of waste collection, the processor is responsible for sorting different type of materials for recycling.

However, the lack of capacity and established infrastructure makes it difficult and expensive to sort these waste materials, resulting in most of the waste being discarded, either ending up at an incineration facility or a landfill, which are much more cost-effective compared with recycling. Currently, only 10% of plastic waste generated in the USA is recycled, while 75% of it is discarded in landfills (remaining 15% being incinerated to form electricity – but that too has its critics due to the pollution caused).

How USA Can Deal with its Waste Crisis

Recycling companies invest to boost processing capabilities

Impacted by the loss of the key buyer and facing own limited capacities, several smaller recycling companies reliant on exports to China have shut down their operations, while several other recyclers have been forced to reassess market strategy from exports to processing.

Several recycling companies have already started investing to develop their domestic waste processing and collection infrastructure. As an example, Waste Management, a US-based waste disposal and recycling services provider, invested more than US$110 million in 2018 alone in developing additional processing capacity, acquiring new technologies, and boosting waste collection infrastructure.

Robotic technology is likely to witness more investment

With limited capacities and waste production growing, there is a need to improve the overall efficiency of waste sorting and recycling process. Companies across Europe and Asia Pacific have been researching and developing trash robots (also called “trashbots”) capable of collecting, sorting, and recycling waste and other scrap materials.

The trend is now catching up in the USA as well. Waste Management has already installed a waste sorting robot at one of its material recycling facilities, and plans to install three more robots in 2019. The company is also planning to install additional screeners and optical sorters at its facilities.

New opportunities are emerging in plastic waste recycling

With a significant focus on promoting sustainability, several other companies also see recycling as a promising business opportunity, thereby driving investment in recycling infrastructure. GDB International, a US-based company selling plastic scrap to international markets, was impacted by the Chinese import ban, and decided to invest in developing its own recycling capabilities. The company plans to recycle plastic scrap domestically, and sell recycled plastic pellets to plastic product manufacturers within the USA and abroad.

EOS Perspective

Chinese and Indian waste import bans have jolted the US recycling industry as a whole, pressing it to search for a solution to its swelling problem. The industry is witnessing problems which question the entire structure of the industry and challenge companies to reconsider their commonly utilized business model – shifting from a linear model to a circular economy.

The most obvious solution for the US recycling industry, in the short term, is to consider alternative waste destinations, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand, to share the waste burden. However, since none of these markets are developed enough to sustain over a long term, this solution, at best, can be considered a temporary fix.

The government needs to take several initiatives to lay a strong foundation for a revamped recycling industry, such as banning or restricting the use of hard-to-recycle plastics (including single-use plastics such as straws and disposable spoons), and laying down strict guidelines for sorting of waste already at the household level, which will improve the efficiency and costs associated with the recycling process.

A coalition of plastics players and other industry groups is lobbying for provision of funds by the US government, an investment of US$500 million, to help develop local waste management systems. If disbursed, these investments will enable development of the recycling industry until it becomes self-sufficient in handling domestic waste. Once this happens, the costs of disposing and processing waste are also likely to reduce.

In the long run, significant private investments in building domestic recycling capacities will be required to effectively address the ever-increasing waste. Excess waste, which was earlier exported to China and India, offers a sustainable source of raw materials to justify these investments in developing the recycling infrastructure. Furthermore, increasing focus on sustainability is driving a demand for recycled raw materials. Development of downstream recycling and processing capabilities can also enable recycling companies to tap this lucrative business opportunity. Partnerships with end users are likely to open further revenue stream.

While private investments in recycling infrastructure have started flowing in and the rate is expected to pick up, these investments will take time before the added capacities actually become operational. The success of these investments, however, will depend on how effectively the US government is able to execute initiatives to aid growth of domestic recycling industry.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Dwindling Honey Bee Colonies: Impact and Remedial Measures

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Pollination is critical for crop production and honey bees are an integral part of it, performing 80% of pollination globally. Unfortunately, for the past ten years or so, the world has been witnessing massive disappearance of bees, primarily in the USA and Europe, where the annual hive losses are now 30% or higher. Disruption in bee population is largely driven by the use of harmful agricultural chemicals, climate change, and habitat loss.

Depletion of bee population will not only disrupt ecosystems, but will also cause major global food production problems. In countries such as the USA, pollination is responsible for production of at least 90 types of commercial crops, which contribute 15-30% of an average American’s diet.

Disruption in bee populations has already driven up the prices of some food items that are heavily dependent on bees for pollination on a large scale. Besides the agricultural sector, the economic brunt of vanishing bees will also be witnessed by industries using beeswax and honey as raw materials, for instance by the consumer products sector.

Nevertheless, efforts are being made by governments, particularly in the USA and Europe, to develop strategies to preserve the pollinators. Other countries are acknowledging the problem too, for instance scientists in Japan have developed robot bees to pick up some of the pollination slack but the effectiveness of such replacement technologies is yet to seen.

 

Dwindling Honey Bee Colonies - EOS Intelligence

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Argentina Powers its Way through Renewables

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Despite having abundance of renewable resources, Argentina has always had an inclination towards the non-renewable energy in its energy mix. However, in 2016, the incumbent government announced its intentions to explore the renewable resources, especially wind, to ensure that about 20% of the energy mix is contributed to by green energy by 2025 (a shorter-term goal entailed 8% of the energy to be contributed to by renewable resources by the end of 2017). Both local and foreign players have welcomed this announcement and have started pouring in investments into related projects. However, the path to achieving the targets does have obstacles other than investment, such as lack of speedy financing and poor energy transmission.

At the time of the 2015 elections, Argentina was going through an energy crisis. Owing to a shortage of local energy generation, Argentina had been dependent on imports to meet its energy requirements post 2010. This was underpinned by lack of incentives for local and foreign investors to invest in the energy sector and the de-dollarization of energy tariffs (which prevented private, especially foreign investment into the sector, since most companies were not confident about the stability and value of the Argentina peso).

Also, despite Argentina’s abundance of renewable sources, the country’s energy mix was heavily dependent on non-renewable sources, which were imported from neighboring countries – gasoil from Venezuela and LNG from Bolivia. Thus, when pro-business candidate, Mauricio Macri, took office in 2015, his government adopted several reforms to uplift the country’s energy sector, with a prime focus of promoting the use of renewable energy. In October 2015, the Macri government introduced a new program called, RenovAr, to attract local and foreign investments in Argentina’s renewable energy sector.

argentina renewable energy

The RenovAr program aims to achieve 20% share of renewable energy in the energy mix by the end of 2025. It has also set a target of achieving 8% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of 2017 (which in absence of the government’s statements of the latter being achieved at the time of preparing this publication, it is fair to assume that the 2017 target was unlikely to have been met). These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.

These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.

The RenvoAr program has been designed to provide a host of fiscal benefits and financial support to companies interested in investing in the development of renewable energy projects. These include (but are not limited to) exemption of import duties for all projects commencing construction before the end of 2017; accelerated fiscal depreciation of applicable assets; early VAT refund for assets and infrastructure; exclusion from minimum presumed income tax for eight years from project commencement; exemption from dividend tax (subject to reinvestment in infrastructure); extension of income tax loss credits to 10 years; tax deduction of all financial expenses; tax credit on locally sourced capital expenditure.

However, the tax benefits were the highest for projects commencing before the beginning of 2018 and will diminish gradually up till 2025. In addition to these benefits, the government has set up a sector-specific trust fund called Trust Fund for Renewable Energy (FODER), to provide payment guarantees for all tendered power purchase agreements (PPAs) and to also support project financing. This further helps secure investors who have historically been hesitant to invest in Argentina. The government has allocated ARS 12 billion (US$860 million) to the trust fund. Also, the World Bank has approved US$480 million in guarantees to support the PPAs under the RenvoAr program.

Owing to a great deal of benefits and securities offered, the RenvoAr program has been modestly successful. In Round 1 of the RenvoAr program held in October 2016, the government awarded contracts for 1,142 MW capacity (through 29 contracts) instead of the initial plan of 1,000 MW. This was due to a great deal of interest in the auction, which received 123 bids for more than 6,300 MW. The awarded projects included 707 MW of wind energy projects and 400 MW of solar energy projects. The average prices for the projects were US$59.70/MWh for solar and US$59.40/MWh for wind.

The second round of auctions held in November 2016 (Round 1.5) witnessed equal success with a total capacity of 1,281 MW being auctioned off through 30 contracts. The 765 MW of wind energy was auctioned at an average price of US53.3/MWh, while the 516 MW of solar projects were auctioned at an average price of US$54.9/MWh, signifying a visible drop in prices over the two rounds. The auctions were expected to increase renewable energy contribution to Argentina’s energy mix to close to 6% and to bring in about US$3.5 billion in financing over the next two years.

Argentina’s Renewable Energy Potential

Wind Energy — Argentina has immense potential for wind energy generation. As per various estimates, a region that has an average wind speed of and above 5m/s has a good potential for wind energy generation. In Argentina, about 70% of its territories have an average wind speed of 6m/s, while one of the country’s regions, Patagonia, has an average wind speed of 9m/s. In fact, Patagonia is among the top three wind corridors globally.

Solar Energy — The northwest region of Argentina boasts of being among top four locations globally for having the greatest thermal solar power potential. About 11 provinces across Argentina have high potential for installation of photovoltaic panels, which is the most widely used solar generating technology in Argentina.

 

In addition, Argentina also has an immense potential to source energy from small-hydro, bioenergy, and biomass projects.

After two hugely successful auctions, the government had planned the third auction (Round 2) in summer 2017, however, the round was later pushed to November 2017 due infrastructure bottleneck. The country has limited transmission nodes in areas with good wind and solar potential and also require to boost the transmission infrastructure to go hand in hand with the RenvoAr program. About 5,000 kilometers of transmission lines would be required over the next three years to match the expanding capacity.

In addition to avoiding infrastructure bottlenecks, the government pushed back the next round of auctions to ensure there were no financial bottlenecks as well. With the winners of the 2016 auctions still seeking financing by mid-2017, the government did not wish to start another auction before the earlier projects were structured.

The Round 2 of the auction (which was held in November 2017) also saw significant success and auctioned off about 2,043 MW capacity instead of the initially planned 1,200 MW. The tender was largely oversubscribed and received 228 bids representing 9,403 MW of capacity. The auctioned bids included about 816 MW of solar power capacity at an average price of US$43.46/MWh and about 993 MW of wind energy at an average price of US$41.23/MWh. This round is expected to bring in a further US$2.5-3 billion in investment.

While the three rounds of auctions can easily be termed as success, it is important to note that most contracts were bagged by local players instead of large international players (such as Spain’s Acciona and US-based AES Corp). This was primarily because large international companies still consider Argentina to be a slightly risky market and the price quoted by them reflected this risk (whereas most local players quoted much lower prices).

Moreover, with every proceeding auction, the average price declined significantly (from US$59.70/MWh and US$59.40/MWh for solar and wind, respectively in October 2016 to US$43.46/MWh and US$41.23/MWh in November 2017). Following this trend, the ceiling for the next auction have been announced as US$41.76/MWh for solar and US$40.27/MWh for wind (however, the date of the next auction has not been announced). This raises major concern, especially for international players, that the prices have declined to a point where projects may not be economically viable. This is valid considering that the Argentinian market holds some risk as well (the country has a credit rating of B+ as per S&P and B3 as per Moody’s). Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.

Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.

However, international players can come into play with regards to president Macri’s another policy that promotes generation and use of clean energy. As per a new rule passed in September 2017, large power consumers are allowed to directly meet their renewable power obligations (8% by 2017 and 20% by 2025) through private supply contracts. This is expected to further pour in investments worth about US$6 billion over the next three years and also lead to the installation of close to 4GW generation capacity. Several players, such as Argentina-based Luft Energia (which has partnered with US-based PE firm, Castlelake) are focusing on this route to enter Argentina’s lucrative renewables energy market, rather than competing in a price-war in the auctions.

EOS Perspective

Generation and use of renewable energy definitely holds an important place for president Macri and his government is definitely pulling many strings to advance the cause. The three rounds of auction up till now can be termed as success by almost any measure, however, it is too early to comment if the government will be able to reach its ambitious targets. While the RenvoAr program and the FODER trust fund provide real benefits and security to investors, the smooth and timely financing of these projects, especially with declining bidding prices, still remains to be a challenging task. Moreover, the lack of transmission infrastructure leads to further uncertainties regarding the program’s success.

The government has probably remained slightly short of its 2017 target of meeting 8% of its energy needs from renewable sources, however, it is on track to achieve its goal of 20% energy-mix being contributed by renewable energy. Thus, it is safe to say, that while Argentina’s renewable energy goal may be a little too ambitious, the government does seem optimistic about achieving it on the back of a solid incentive program, the World Bank’s support, and keen interest from foreign and local energy players.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

US Smart Water Meters Roll-out – Do Utility Companies Stand a Chance amid User Resistance and Funding Shortage?

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The global smart water management market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.9% during 2016-2021, reaching US$20.1 billion by 2021, with USA expected to be one of the leading markets. Water utility companies across the country are focusing on installing smart water meters and replacing the old ones. Swapping the meters is a step towards deploying the infrastructure that manages water usage smartly, however, monetary, administrative, technological, and user acceptance challenges associated with adoption of this technology tend to overwhelm the public utility companies.

In the USA, just as in several other markets globally, the growth of the smart water metering industry can be attributed to the increased concern about water scarcity, reduction of water leakage, and upgrading the aging water infrastructure. Also with drought conditions becoming a common scenario in major parts of the country, the need for smart water meters to monitor both the usage and wastage of water has escalated.

Several water utilities across the USA have pursued automated metering infrastructure to monitor water usage. However, the cost of implementing smart technology is a concern for these utility companies, and acts as a major barrier to country-wide adoption. Some areas in the USA have succeeded in adopting and implementing advanced water metering solutions with the help of government funds. One such initiative was taken in 2016, when the New York Department of Environmental Protection awarded a US$68.3 million contract to ESCO’s Aclara RF Systems, a supplier of utility solutions, to provide advanced metering infrastructure solution for the city’s water service territory with 875,000 meters serving nearly eight million customers.

While such initiatives are helpful, the extent and availability of the government funds is limited, and it seems that support in the form of public funds to deploy smart water meters is crucial in driving the change on a nationwide scale. Indeed, the last period, in which US utilities saw an upsurge in spending on smart metering infrastructure, was around 2010, when US smart water meter investment reached US$395 million, coinciding with stimulus funding programs from public agencies, such as Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

As such funding flow from public programs slows down, so does the infrastructure investment, clearly indicating the inability by the utility companies to carry out such major upgradations by themselves. And they are not to be blamed, as there is a major resistance from their customers (especially residential users) to accept higher prices for such basic necessities as water, in the event the utility companies would want to generate funds through such a route. Many customers, in general, throw roadblocks at utilities’ smart metering roll out plans. Frequently, they simply do not want such meters, following reports of water bills doubling after smart meters installation for some residential users. Moreover, many residents raise questions with regards to health, privacy, overbilling issues, with resistance resulting in the rise of organizations such as StopSmartMeters.org, an advocacy group originating from California. With such a sentiment in some communities, it is virtually impossible to convince the users to accept higher prices to generate funds needed by utility companies for smart infrastructure investments.

The needs for funding are vast and frequently the availability of funds at public utilities does not match the requirement to roll out and integrate an extensive network of smart meters with the existing infrastructure. Such roll outs can only be done in phases, to accommodate for both availability of funds and network integration. For instance, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), a three service municipal public utility company, first started rolling out the smart meter program in 2013, when about 60,000 customers in Memphis area had the new meters installed. The initiative moved to the next phase only in 2016, when Honeywell, a technology conglomerate, was selected to deploy smart meters over next five years for MLGW. The US$200 million contract included deploying one million meters (across three utilities) in MLGW’s service territory and providing the customers with access to their consumption data in order for them to manage the utilities usage in real time rather than seeing it after receiving the bill.

The MLGW service area is not fully covered with smart meters yet, as many layers of infrastructure must be developed simultaneously or ahead of time of the roll out. The smart grid project is still under way at MLGW, and includes development of fiber optic communications system required before even a single smart meter is operational in a particular area. MLGW received public funding for this section of the project, however it is only partially covered by a federal grant. The rest of the funds to develop these complex systems that require broader IT environment, including fiber optic or wireless connections, repeaters and gateways, analytical software, hydraulic modelling and network monitoring, must be typically generated by the utility companies.

Smart Water Meters

EOS Perspective

Many US water utility companies are switching from traditional mechanical meters for water reading to smart meters that capture real-time or near-real-time data about water usage and leakage. However, the transition has unquestionably been slower than desired, mainly because of the high cost of installing smart meters and related infrastructure, a major issue that continues to delay the deployment of smart meters across the country. The cost difference is indeed considerable – according to DC Water, a water services company based in Washington, DC, it costs an average of US$180 to install a smart meter in the capital as against a regular analog meter that costs around US$25. Replacing the old water lines with the new automated metering infrastructure also calls for a huge investment. As per a survey conducted in 2016 by West Monroe Partners, a US-based consulting firm, only 20% of the water utilities in the country adopted the automated water meters citing cost as a barrier to implementing smart meter technology.

Implementation of automated water meters is a complex task not only from the point of view of finances required but also with regards to the technological advancement, which is an ongoing process. Current generation of smart water devices have in-built capabilities that easily track water usage and detect leaks, but the technology continues to develop. As technological advancements intensify, it will not take long till the existing so-called smart meters will not support the features required in the future, making the present-day water meters obsolete. This is a considerable challenge for water companies when engaging in costly infrastructure projects. No utility provider will spend huge amount of money on smart meter today, only to replace them in a couple of years.

The limited government funding further complicates the situation for public utilities, putting a break on the smart meters systems truly taking off. With no clear funding policies, the road ahead is bumpy to achieve the goal of installing automated water metering systems throughout the country. US administration’s limited commitment to support installations, makes it difficult to anticipate by when the US water systems will be benefiting from smart technology. This uncertainty about the political will, clear resistance by some users, paired with high costs and the installations being outpaced by changing technology, make it hard to arrive with reasonable expectations of the timeframe in which consistent and widespread installations will be completed across the country. Till then, despite the fact that smart water metering can help reduce water loss and generate significant savings, a system that is only partially run with smart meters will not offer savings and smart management to its full potential.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

USA-China Solar Dispute – Will Sanctions Really Aid the US Solar Market?

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Trade disputes are not a rare sight in the current competitive era. Especially the USA and China have a history of such disputes in last couple of decades and both have locked horns again, this time over solar equipment trade. Chinese manufacturers are being accused of unfair trade practices as they sell solar modules at a considerably lower prices than producers from other countries, using government subsidies to finance their operations and to create a glut of imports. In response to such a practice, American manufactures filed a petition with US International Trade Commission (USITC) seeking steep tariffs and a floor price for the Chinese solar imports. The commission voted on the merits of the petition in late September 2017, and decided that there has indeed been a considerable damage to the US manufacturers. The USITC’s recommendations for sanctions will be sent to the White House to decide the course of action in the following month. If sanctions are introduced, will the US producers be the ultimate winner after the final verdict in November?

The solar power generation technology was invented in the USA which have dominated the solar industry for last three decades of 20th century. The global solar industry is now a US$100 billion market, a fact that leads to a large number of players being interested in grabbing their share of this mammoth opportunity. As solar energy is considered clean and renewable, countries suffering from high pollution levels increasingly demand efficient and cheap solar energy generation equipment.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market. With China rising as a manufacturer of cheaper solar equipment since 2011, it has become increasingly difficult for other players to compete with China, and many producers, especially in the USA, are not very pleased with that.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market.

This is not the first solar battle between the USA and China. The countries were in a solar dispute back in 2011 when the USA hit China with 25-70% tariffs on solar module exports. It was due to a trade complaint filed by SolarWorld Americas along with six other US manufacturers about unethical trade practices undertaken by their Chinese counterparts. And now, Suniva, a Georgia-based solar cell and module manufacturer, filed a Safeguard Petition with the USITC in April 2017, just one week after it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The USITC, in its unanimous vote, agreed that the US companies suffered injury from cheap imports. Following these developments, the markets are waiting for the president Trump’s decision over the case in November, and if the White House follows with sanctions and remedies, this might be the beginning of a significant wave of changes in the solar equipment market.

China has not always been the market leader for solar products. Way back in 1990s, when Germany could not meet its rising domestic demand for solar equipment, it started working with Chinese players to manufacture the equipment for German market. Germany did not only provide the capital and technology but also some of their solar energy experts to those Chinese manufacturers.

The high demand was a result of German government’s incentive program to use the rooftop solar panels. Needless to say, those Chinese players happily accepted the opportunity. Further they got lured with the rising demand for solar equipment in other European countries such as Spain and Italy, where similar incentive programs started to be rolled out. The Chinese producers started hiring experts and expanding their capacities to tap the surge in demand.

With rising pollution levels and global demand for cleaner energy, solar industry became an attractive opportunity for China, and this resulted in the government’s willingness to invest as much as US$47 billion to develop China’s solar industry. With the beginning of 21st century, China started inviting foreign companies to set up plants in the country and take benefit of its cheap labor.

The Chinese government also introduced loans and tax incentives for renewable energy equipment manufacturers. By 2010, the solar equipment production in China increased at such levels that there were almost two panels made for every one demanded by an importer. In 2011, China took the German route and started incentivizing domestic rooftop solar installations, which rocketed the domestic demand so much that it surpassed Germany’s in 2015 to become the largest globally. China deployed 20 GW capacity in the first half of 2016, whereas the entire US capacity at that time was 31 GW.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment, be it through subsidies for the purchase of the land for factories or through lower interest loans from banks. These moves and gigantic Chinese production capacities drove the global solar panel prices down by 80% from 2008 to 2013, which further increased China’s exports as its prices were the lowest.

Before 2009, the USA used to import very little from China in the solar domain and by the end of 2013, the Chinese imports rose to over 49% of total solar panels deployed in the USA. This increase in the imports resulted in 26 US solar manufacturers filing for bankruptcy in 2011, one of which was SolarWorld which also filed a trade complaint. The situation was not very different in several European countries.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment.

China was accused of unfair trading and dumping exports below market prices which led the Obama government and EU to imposing import duties of 25-70% on Chinese solar products in 2011 for the following four years. In return, in 2012 China threatened to impose tariffs on US imports of polysilicon used in solar cells, and actually announced tariffs of 53.5% to 57% in 2013. Also, finding loopholes in the tariff system imposed by the Americans, Chinese manufacturers set up facilities in countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, as the tariffs were not applicable for imports from those countries. The US imports of Chinese solar products continued.

The current Suniva’s case has received a mixed support within the US solar industry. While the US solar installers, for obvious reasons, will not support the case, some of the well-known manufacturers in the country have also stood up against it. They think the tariffs will almost double the prices of solar equipment in the USA which will eventually lower the demand of their products as well.

Following the USITC vote agreeing with Suniva’s petition, the industry is awaiting the final decision on the extent of the recommended tariffs and remedies, which are expected to affect jobs, innovation, and growth of the solar industry in various ways.

Impact of tariff decision on jobs in solar industry

Out of the total 260,000 US solar jobs, installers accounted for more than 80%, and around 38,000 people were working in manufacturing in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015. As the prices of solar panels dropped to around US$0.4/watt in 2016 from US$0.57/watt in 2015 thanks to the availability of cheap Chinese imports, solar installations boomed in the USA.

Manufacturers and experts supporting the Suniva case (supporters) argue that if the suggested tariffs of US$0.4/watt on imported cells and a minimum price of US$0.78/watt on panels are implemented, it will help the domestic manufacturing and around 114,800 new jobs will be created. The installers and some manufacturers opposing the case (adversaries) say that the tariffs on import will hurt everyone including the manufacturing sector. If the prices increase, this will cause the demand to go down which is likely to affect around 88,000 jobs in the US solar industry.

A group of 27 US solar equipment manufacturers including companies such as PanelClaw, Aerocompact, IronRidge, SMASHsolar, Pegasus Solar, on behalf of their combined 5,700 employees, wrote a letter to trade commissioners not to impose new import tariffs. With Chinese solar imports as high as 49% of the total US requirement, increased prices are expected to affect thousands of jobs in the solar installation sector which is the primary sub-sector of solar industry.

However, if the Chinese imports continue at the current rate, the demand for solar equipment will eventually decrease. Over long term, the manufacturers will have to lower their production and installers will have no new clients. So, the economy of scale effect will not work after that and that might affect the US solar jobs.

Impact of tariff decision on innovation in solar industry

The one factor that genuinely seems affected with the rise of China in the solar industry is innovation. Being the pioneers of the solar power generation technology, Americans are undoubtedly good at innovation. However, with dozens of US companies being on the verge of bankruptcy and lowering sales for remaining manufacturers because of glut of cheaper Chinese imports, the innovation budgets have seen a large blow in the country.

China is still producing the first generation, traditional solar modules and doing little, if anything at all, to improve the efficiency of the existing products. Chinese are not known for investing much in R&D departments and top seven Chinese solar manufacturers invested a mere 1.25% of total sales in R&D in 2015. Compared with what electronics firms invested in 2015 towards R&D, this number is six times lower. Compared with US clean energy firms, Chinese firms patent 72% less.

However, the US innovation receives targeted help and support from the government, which is not the case for Chinese innovation. US Department of Energy has come up with a loan program of US$32 billion to help clean energy companies innovate efficient solar products while still being price competitive with Chinese products. Nonetheless, US innovations are expected to dry up if the Chinese solar equipment dumping continues.

US-China Solar Dispute

Impact of tariff decision on solar industry growth

Growth of the solar industry should probably be the prime factor to consider for the Trade Commission and the White House while deciding about the potential introduction of solar tariffs.

As of 2016, US solar industry is worth roughly around US$23 billion. Moreover, solar energy accounted for 40% of new generation in the US power grid and 10% of total renewable energy generated in the USA in 2016, while the recent cost declines have led American utilities to procure more solar energy. This energy has witnessed 68% of average annual growth rate in terms of new generation capacity in the USA in last decade and as of first half of 2017, over 47 GW of solar capacity is installed to power 9.1 million American houses. There are currently about 9,000 solar companies in the USA employing around 260,000 people. In 2016, solar power generation was at 0.9% of total US power generation, a share that is expected to grow to more than 3% in 2020 and hit 5% in 2022.

The Suniva case supporters believe that this growth can slow down once the solar equipment demand is satisfied through Chinese imports, which is likely to eventually lead to job cuts and no innovation that in turn will put a break on any further growth in the US sector. They also argue that the solar equipment manufacturing sector in the USA will be destroyed if the right steps are not taken to safeguard the manufacturers from cheaper imports.

After the tariffs are introduced, for some time, the prices will be parallel for locally manufactured as well as imported solar products. Later on, with innovation and competitiveness between the domestic manufacturers coming back (currently absent from US solar market), the prices are expected to go down as per the allies.

At the same time, the Suniva case adversaries believe that the dream run for solar industry’s growth in the USA should not be hindered by imposing tariffs on imports as it will jeopardize even up to half of all solar installations expected to be demanded by 2022. In case of US$0.78/watt minimum module price scenario, US solar equipment installation is expected to fall from 72.5 GW to 36.4 GW between 2018 and 2022 or to 25 GW in case of US$1.18/watt minimum price scenario.

Solar energy is believed to be price sensitive and if the government aims to motivate the clean energy development, the origin of equipment used for this development should not matter. Some of the US solar equipment manufacturers are even opposing the tariffs which means they think there is still potential in the domestic manufacturing industry and with innovation they can gradually increase their share in the market.

EOS Perspective

The US government will have to take a responsible decision on the trade tariffs. The issue looks very sensitive and can directly affect the growth of the US energy sector. A win-win situation seems impossible if the tariffs are levied, and in its deliberations the government should consider the effects of the past US tariffs imposed on Chinese products. When the USA took anti-dumping steps against Chinese steel, China fired back with tariffs on caprolactam, a textile material. China re-imposed duties on US broiler chickens, after the USA announced duties on Chinese tires in June 2015.

So, none of the trade wars have proved to be beneficial for either of the sides. In the current dispute, the stakes are also high, and the wrong decision might have repercussions in a range of sectors. For instance, China placed a US$38 billion order to Boeing for commercial aircraft in 2015, an order that has not been delivered yet. This aspect should be kept in mind by the USA.

China currently dominates solar products supply with 80% of global solar equipment manufacturing capacity. The USA need to understand that their role in the global solar market is decreasing, and is no longer what it used to be. It would be beneficial for the USA to focus on strengthening the role in innovation of solar technology rather than looking to be the leading solar equipment manufacturer by volume.

Even if the US government supports the manufacturers by slapping tariffs on imports, the country is not ready with the required infrastructure for solar generation equipment manufacturing to satisfy the domestic demand in absence of the imports from other countries. Solar equipment producers cannot instantly set up infrastructure to manufacture a number of solar products, such as solar cells, junction boxes, extruded aluminum, glass, etc., that too in a cost-effective model. President Trump’s support for reviving local manufacturing, while at the same time favoring fossil fuels over the green energy (also manifested through his withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord), makes the outcome of the case uncertain, and interesting to follow.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Small Hydropower: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Answer to Energy Crisis?

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The Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region is believed to have bountiful energy resources, sufficient to meet the region’s energy requirements, however most of these resources are largely underdeveloped due to limited infrastructural and financial means. This has led to majority of the countries in the region to have restricted access to electricity, despite the presence of huge waterways, which could boost the hydropower sector’s growth, particularly the small hydropower (SHP) projects – plants with generation capacity between 1 and 20 MW. In recent years, SSA region’s focus has slowly shifted to SHP projects instead of depending on large-scale hydro plants, which are relatively expensive to construct and require longer time to build. However, question remains whether SHP has enough potential to improve electricity supply and reduce power outages across the SSA region.

African continent has approximately 12% of the global hydropower potential, most of which is centered in the Sub-Saharan region due to the presence of vast water bodies. Despite the underlying potential, the region faces massive electricity shortage partially due to under exploitation of hydropower.

Over the years, the SSA region has focused on the development of large-scale hydropower projects to increase its electricity generation capacity. However, recently, the emphasis has shifted to SHP because they are economically viable with almost negligible environmental effect and a short gestation period. Additionally, several small African economies utilize less than 500 MW of electricity annually, which negates the requirement to build a large dam, making SHP a viable option. Further, with comparatively lower overheads and maintenance costs, SHP could play a vital role in solving electrification problem in rural areas.

By 2024, the African SHP capacity is likely to reach 49,706.1 MW, growing at a CAGR of 19.2% since 2016, driven by the tremendous growth opportunities that the region offers. SHP projects are likely to proliferate in the region, owing to low capital investment requirement for installation, which makes SHP a more viable and affordable option than large-scale projects. SHP market still remains quite unexplored due to limited technological and infrastructural capabilities, and lack of sufficient promotion of SHP in national planning schemes.

Nevertheless, in the last couple of years, investments in the region’s SHP sector have increased, with various internationally-funded projects likely to commence installations. Geographically, countries such as Zambia, Uganda, and DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are most suitable for SHP generation, due to the abundant presence of river basins and water resources. These countries depend predominately on hydropower for their energy requirements.

Hydropower is the primary source of power supply in Zambia, with a 99.7% dependency on hydropower to meet electricity needs. However, the country faces massive power outages due to fluctuating water levels, owing to persistent issue of scanty rainfall or droughts in the country, causing turbines to stop functioning to generate electricity. In 2015, the country witnessed a massive drought, which led to a huge decline in electricity generation. Nonetheless, since then, the country’s water level has improved, due to better rainfall pattern, resulting in higher level of power generation (as compared with 2015) through hydropower. The government has been making efforts to develop SHP stations to improve electricity supply – some of the SHP stations in the country include Lunzua, Mulungushi, Chishimba, and Shiwangandu hydropower stations.

Uganda’s power requirement is quite high due to extensive use of electricity in the industrial sector. The supply is always lower than the demand and the country faces frequent load shedding issue. Hydropower, accounting for 80% share in electricity generation, is the main source of power production in Uganda with a number of SHP plants in operation. Uganda’s government supports the hydropower market and has been making consistent efforts to promote SHP projects. For instance, in order to attract investors, the government provides incentives such as VAT exemption on hydropower projects.

DRC has the highest hydroelectricity potential in SSA due to the presence of particularly abundant water resources. Hydropower accounts for a share of 99% in DRC’s power generation. As of 2014, DRC’s total installed electricity generation capacity stood at 2,500 MW against its potential of 100,000 MW. In long term, DRC aims to become a key hydropower exporter in the region.

The SHP market across Zambia, DRC, and Uganda is still developing, with several potential SHP sites that could be harnessed to improve electricity supply. Each country faces its individual set of challenges in terms of SHP development, however, the hindrances seem trivial against the mammoth benefits that the countries could reap through SHP development.

Hydropower in Sub-saharan Africa

EOS Perspective

Hydropower holds a key position in SSA’s energy generation mix and SHP projects have particularly witnessed steady growth in the recent years. However, whether SHP has the potential to alleviate the power crisis in SSA is still debatable.

Is high reliance on hydropower a reasonable approach to overcome energy crisis?

While hydropower plays a dominant role in energizing the SSA region, continued energy crisis across various countries reflects the dangers of over-dependence on one form of energy for power generation. The chronic power shortages, load shedding, and low levels of electricity penetration are a clear indication that the SSA countries are unable to keep pace with electricity demands by heavily relying on a single power source.

Pinning hopes solely on hydropower to alleviate the energy crisis has spelled catastrophe for certain key industries, heavily reliant on electricity for functioning, that are suffering due to the electricity shortage. For instance, in 2014, DRC’s mining sector was adversely hit by the electricity supply shortage and development of new mines had to be frozen. The limited electricity supply situation has not yet improved, as DRC announced plans (in 2017) to import electricity from South Africa to support the struggling mining sector.

A solution to the electricity crisis could be to avoid heavily investing in one source for energy generation as well as to focus on tackling the fundamental vulnerabilities of power sector. In the long term, addressing the energy crisis would demand better management of water resources, continuously growing capacity of existing power plants along with a well-planned diversification of energy generation.

Is SHP a holistic solution to SSA’s energy crisis?

While focusing only on hydropower as a solution to the entire energy crisis situation across SSA countries might not be the best approach, developing SHP for rural electrification could be ideal to eradicate energy poverty across rural communities. SHP alone cannot consistently satisfy the energy demands of SSA countries such as Zambia, Uganda or DRC, but it can surely become the best possible solution to electrify rural areas, as people residing in these communities typically live closer to a river than to a grid.

Rural communities are characterized by much lower electricity access rates as compared with urban areas because people residing in villages typically cannot afford grid connections and in most cases the electricity supply through national grid does not reach the remote areas. SHP could play a major role in off-grid electricity supply that can be used for domestic application in rural households.

Besides the requirement to develop SHP particularly for rural communities, it is also essential for various SSA countries to adopt a cost-reflective tariff, which would ease pressure on public finances and attract more private investments.

Further, focusing only on increasing electricity supply is not a comprehensive solution to the crisis, as certain SSA countries such as Uganda suffer due to high tariff rates, which also need to be monitored. Uganda has one of the world’s highest electricity tariff rates and consumption is partially affected by it due to low affordability. The high commercial and industrial tariffs adversely impact some major industries such as agro processing (agriculture is a core sector of Uganda’s economy). A lower tariff rate could help to boost production across industrial sectors (including agriculture) and improve affordability among households.

Nonetheless, development of SHP projects would certainly help to move closer to eradicating the energy crisis in SSA region but only to a certain extent. It is imperative to take other measures as well to completely tackle the issues of supply shortage and load shedding. Development of SHP projects across the SSA region is challenging, however, navigating through these obstacles would be well worth the efforts, particularly in countries such as Zambia, DRC, and Uganda, where SHP could play a major role in rural electrification.

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