The Middle East Solar Market Is Set for a Big 2016, But Experts Worry About Risks

The Middle East Solar Market Is Set for a Big 2016, But Experts Worry About Risks

A report predicting that more than 4 gigawatts of solar power projects are planned across the Middle East for this year has drawn mixed reactions from observers.

The tender prediction in the Middle East Solar Outlook for 2016, published by the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA), matches the regional forecast in GTM Research’s Global PV Demand Outlook 2015-2020, published in June 2015.

But Browning Rockwell, executive director of the Solar GCC Alliance, said he thinks the numbers are more hype than reality. “Each country has obstacles beyond government-announced solar targets, policies and regulations.”

For example, in Egypt, where MESIA predicts 1.5 gigawatts being installed this year, currency challenges have stalled a feed-in tariff program, according to renewables investor Fintan Whelan.

Even strategically important oil and gas exploration activities have been hampered by payment delays caused by a lack of hard currency, Whelan noted: “If Egypt is not able to solve the dollar problem for oil and gas, how can they do it for renewables?”

The MESIA study claims 693 megawatts of centralized and distributed solar power are now operational in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and almost 2.9 gigawatts more are “under execution” (awarded or being built).

The figures include PV and solar thermal technologies and show Algeria leading in terms of operational projects, with 270 megawatts installed. The country also leads in terms of capacity to be tendered in 2016, with 2 gigawatts up for grabs.

Along with 80 megawatts currently under execution, the capacity is expected to give solar a 15 percent share of overall power generation in Algeria by 2020. “In total, Algeria aims for 13 GW of solar power by 2030,” wrote the report authors.

“Works on more than 20 different sites across the country are at different stages, and overall, more than 300 MW are expected to be operational by 2016,” noted the authors. “Increasing momentum is expected for the Algerian solar market in 2016.”

Other markets with potentially significant growth include Egypt, where MESIA says 1.8 gigawatts are under execution, and the UAE, which is due to tender 1.15 gigawatts this year.

Egypt plans to raise its share of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2022, while “the UAE has established itself as a key solar market over the past couple of years and will continue to show leadership in 2016, in particular in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” says MESIA.

Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and the UAE are all due to get 10 percent or more of total power generation from solar by 2020, based on capacity installed, under execution and being tendered this year.

One country far behind in solar is Saudi Arabia. In 2012, the nation attracted strong interest from developers after unveiling plans for 41 gigawatts of solar power generation by 2032, with an initial 600 megawatts due for procurement in 2013.

The scheme was halted shortly afterward, though. “The delay in the launch of the Saudi solar program has had a negative impact on the overall energy economics in the kingdom,” observes the MESIA study. “But despite the industry’s disappointment regarding market delays, the Saudi solar market promises to be the jewel in the Middle East solar crown once it takes off.”

Browning believes that Saudi Arabia could announce up to 2 gigawatts of solar before the end of the year.

If so, that could help put the Middle East and North Africa back on track for to reach a previous MESIA forecast of 15 gigawatts and $50 billion in solar investments by 2020.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council and Middle East and North Africa region will experience growth pains that may slow projected growth, but we are seeing very positive indications that the market is finally moving forward in real terms, not just on paper,” said Browning.

Lou Trippel, First Solar’s senior director for product management, said his company was optimistic about prospects in the region. “Clearly, the Middle East is a really exciting market for us,” he told GTM. “There are a lot of opportunities right now that we are focused on.”

The Middle East Solar Market Is Set for a Big 2016, But Experts Worry About Risks

Massachusetts’ PV Market Is ‘On Hold’ After Failure to Update Solar Programs

Massachusetts’ PV Market Is ‘On Hold’ After Failure to Update Solar Programs

Boston Globe: Major Solar Incentive Runs Out in Mass.

Solar energy in Massachusetts faces an uncertain future as two state programs that helped fuel a boom in solar installations are on hold, awaiting action by state officials.

On Friday, a generous incentive for the industry quietly evaporated, as subsidies that have helped finance solar power projects reached the limit set by the state. Another program, which allows homeowners and businesses to sell excess solar power to utilities, hit its limit in a large part of the state last year, and the legislature has yet to lift the cap on the amount of power that utilities must buy from these sources at retail rates.

Now the question is: What’s next?

CNN: The 370-mph ‘Bullet’ Fueled by Batteries

Speed freaks have been flocking to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats for more than a century.

From Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird — the first car to break the 300 mph barrier in 1935 — to the jet- and rocket-propelled speedsters of 1960s and 1970s, the famous bleached white speedway has hosted some of the most iconic cars ever built.

Now a new breed of racers are taking on the famous speedway.

The latest arrival on the salt flats is an electric car — the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 (VBB-3).

Vox: The Supreme Court Just Put a Crucial Part of Obama’s Climate Plan on Hold

The Supreme Court just put a kink in President Obama’s climate change plans. How big a kink? Well, that remains to be seen.

In a surprise 5-4 decision on Tuesday evening, the conservative justices halted implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan — a major regulation aimed at cutting carbon-dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants. The hold will last until legal challenges to the rule are resolved.

Climate Central: Obama Confident in Climate Plan Despite Court Setback

The Obama administration is expressing confidence in its most sweeping climate change policy, despite the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to block its enforcement while a major legal challenge works its way through the courts.

The Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut power plant emissions by 32 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, was a critical part of U.S. negotiations at the Paris climate talks in December. The agreement struck there was bolstered by America’s promise to carry out its pledge to cut overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025.

Consumer Affairs: Feds Decree Self-Driving Cars Are, Well, Driving Themselves

So let’s say you’re tooling down the road in one of Google’s self-driving cars. A motorcycle policeman pulls you over and says you blew through a stop sign. Who gets the ticket?

Google thinks it should, since it is Google’s software that is in control of the car. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agrees, in a letter to Google.

But if that makes it sound like self-driving cars are just about ready to come streaming onto the 405, think again. Tests in northern climes are finding that the autonomous vehicles are not much better than humans when it comes to dealing with snow and ice.

Massachusetts’ PV Market Is ‘On Hold’ After Failure to Update Solar Programs

Optimism for Mexico’s Solar Roadmap Despite Market Headwinds

Optimism for Mexico’s Solar Roadmap Despite Market Headwinds

As Mexico’s wholesale power market launches, a clearer roadmap of the country’s solar development is emerging. However, there are market headwinds, speakers and panelists at GTM Research’s Solar Summit in Mexico City agreed.

Mexico’s solar growth is likely to mirror that of its northern neighbor and other developed countries, but with key differences. The country still faces obstacles that the U.S. and other markets have successfully overcome.

And while important lessons can be learned from solar development elsewhere, Mexico faces some unique hurdles, summit attendees learned.

Obstacles include a lack of awareness among potential customers of the benefits of switching to solar, a lack of capital among residents and access to financing for larger-scale projects, in addition to uncertainty as to how the nascent wholesale power market will play out.

Mexico’s solar growth is likely to be slower than in the U.S., which increased from a cumulative 2 gigawatts in 2010 to around 26 gigawatts by the end of 2015, with Mexico’s installed capacity currently at less than 1 gigawatt and likely to only add around 2 to 3 gigawatts by 2020.

On a comparative development timeline, Mexico is currently in 2004 in terms of U.S. installed capacity by that year, and is at the stage Germany was at 20 years ago, GTM Research’s Shayle Kann said during the summit.

At that time in the U.S., the fastest growth in the country was the commercial PV market, which hit 203 megawatts by 2009. But in Mexico, utility-scale solar is expected to lead growth, at least during the next decade.

Summit panelists identified policy and regulatory uncertainty as the biggest obstacles to the growth of utility-scale solar, followed by a lack of competitiveness and availability of capital.

“Solar will have a hard time competing in Mexico over the next two or three years due to a lack of available capital,” according to panelist Pablo Otin, VP for emerging markets at 8minutenergy.

Mexico’s wholesale power market, which launched in Baja California on January 27 and on January 29 nationwide, establishes the framework for greater private participation in generation, transmission and distribution.

But in addition to the lingering regulatory uncertainty, the new market model is not seen as a level playing field, as it is dominated by state utility CFE.

Ilioss CEO David Arelle likened participating in the Mexico market to playing soccer against the CFE, but in a match in which the utility fields 22 players, chooses the referee and ties the opposing players to the goalposts.

“The CFE remains a monopoly, but many people don’t mention this because they are afraid the CFE will block their entry into the market,” he told GTM. “The CFE has the faculty to enforce payment by cutting electricity supply to consumers, which private firms do not have. Plus, it has a database of all the country’s consumers, which is an unfair advantage.”

As part of Mexico’s energy reform, the CFE is restructuring to form separate transmission, distribution, supply and generation subsidiaries, with the utility participating in the market as both a supplier and an offtaker.

Arelle expressed his hope that Mexico’s solar energy association (Anes) and solar power association (Asolmex) would lobby for private firms and ensure that the energy regulatory commission (CRE), national energy control center (Cenace) and even the energy ministry (Sener) act as watchdogs to curb the CFE’s monopoly.

Compared to the U.S., where residential solar has now topped 2 GW and seen four straight years of 50 percent growth, residential solar in Mexico is likely to see the slowest growth, panelists agreed.

A month-on-month drop in electricity prices by the CFE throughout 2015 has removed residents’ incentive for switching to solar. In addition, the installation outlay surpasses the average annual electricity bill, making developers’ customer acquisition work that much harder.

Residents are not yet convinced of the savings solar could offer, Rogelio Nochebuena, chief operating officer at renewables firm Servicios Ambientales de Baja California (SERAMBC), said during the summit.

But as the market is deregulated and private firms bid for generation contracts in auctions, the first of which is slated for March 31, electricity prices are expected to rise, which will revive the incentive to convert to solar.

Panelists cited increasing retail electricity prices as the biggest driver of solar growth in Mexico, followed by increased access to capital and a revised tender process, with resource-specific auctions.

“Let solar compete against itself and not against other energy sources,” said Marco Garcia, chief commercial officer of California-based NEXTracker, which already builds components at its Mexico facility.

The solar content of the first auction has yet to be revealed, but panelists predicted solar would make up around 10 percent of the total projects up for grabs.

A lack of economic competitiveness was also cited as one of the biggest barriers to residential solar development in Mexico.

But Mexico is also an attractive solar manufacturing market, according to GTM Research SVP Shayle Kann. Solar component manufacturing is moving to domestic markets in other countries, and there is the potential for that to happen in Mexico, he said, citing the current 15 percent import tariff on panels as an incentive, in addition to Mexico’s proximity to the U.S., one of the world’s largest solar markets, which could become an export destination.

“The country has enormous potential but lacks manufacturing clusters,” Nochebuena of SERAMBC said.

Panelists dialed down their optimism regarding how big a market share domestic manufacturers could secure in the short term. “You can only build a certain number of factories in five years,” Otin of 8minutenergy said, predicting that the percentage of domestic manufacturing would remain well below 25 percent by 2020.

Panelists were also conservative in their estimates of Mexico’s installed solar capacity by 2020, predicting that it is likely to total between 2 and 3 gigawatts.

But the ambition exists to surpass that amount, and the government is committed to ironing out the issues concerning regulation that are currently causing a project bottleneck, according to GTM Research senior solar market analyst Mohit Anand.

“Despite all the challenges, solar is poised to be a key player in Mexico,” he said.

Optimism for Mexico’s Solar Roadmap Despite Market Headwinds

An Illustrated Guide to Mexico’s Solar Market: Short-Term Pain May Bring Long-Term Gains

An Illustrated Guide to Mexico’s Solar Market: Short-Term Pain May Bring Long-Term Gains

Until recently, Mexico represented the most promising market for solar in Latin America. But the strong growth expected for the country is now much less certain.

In fact, solar installation figures in 2016 could be 36 percent smaller than projected last year. What happened?

As we’ve documented, solar developers and financiers are dealing with a completely new set of rules for selling solar electricity into Mexico’s energy market. Those new rules are causing some confusion and, thus, slowing activity.

For the first time ever, the country actually has a competitive market to sell into. Over the last couple of years, the Mexican government has been working on a plan to overhaul the state-owned electricity provider and build a wholesale market to encourage competition. The new market launched this month, and auctions will take place over the coming months.

Almost everyone sees Mexico’s transition to a competitive market as necessary to meet growing demand for power in the country. But as energy suppliers grapple with the brand new rules (some of which haven’t been finalized, or are confusing), there are a lot of eager solar companies and investors sitting on the sidelines, trying to figure out how and when to bid into the market. 

“It will take a long time to digest. We have to write all new history and not rely on what was written before,” said Hector Olea, president and CEO of the project developer Gauss Energia, speaking about the market reforms at GTM’s Solar Summit in Mexico this week.

That conference (which GTM Squared members can stream live) is happening just weeks after the reforms went into place. Everyone at the event has been trying to figure out where solar will fit into a largely unsubsidized competitive market that is still in its infancy.

Mohit Anand, a senior solar analyst at GTM Research, called the reforms “rapid and drastic change” for developers. “It will still be the same game, but under completely different rules.”

No one knows exactly what’s going to happen in Mexico. Installations will most certainly drop this year, but the competitive landscape could evolve to benefit PV in 2017 and beyond. Below is a compilation of GTM Research’s best projections for what will happen in the country.

First, the downside. A lot of projects that were planned for 2016 — most of them utility-scale — have been delayed as developers figure out how the market will work. Falling residential and commercial electricity prices (which are still highly subsidized) are also impacting the economics of distributed solar. “There will be short-term pain,” said Anand.

Source: GTM Research

Eventually, the competitive market will provide more opportunities for utility-scale solar, and the industry will get back on track. There will be more offtakers in the market that can buy solar. And a wider range of auctions, spot markets and capacity markets will be created. As solar costs continue to fall, the technology is better positioned to compete head-to-head with any resource in these markets.

Between 2016 and 2020, GTM Research expects 84 percent compound annual growth for solar in Mexico. “That short-term pain will make for long-term gain,” said Anand. 

Source: GTM Research

Utility-scale solar will be the biggest sector, by far. The reason: system costs are falling faster in that sector, and there will be far more opportunities to bid into the market.

“The offtaker landscape has become far more diverse. Developers need to find their niche in which they can be successful. You can now sell energy, capacity and clean energy certificates,” said Anand. 

Source: GTM Research

Distributed solar will see incremental growth through 2018, and then accelerate through 2020 as system pricing falls and new financing options get introduced. Residential will dominate the distributed solar market through 2018. But commercial solar will start to play a bigger role in the following years as developers sign contracts directly with corporate offtakers — a market that could benefit from the new rules.

“Distributed generation continues to experiment with business models,” said Anand.

Source: GTM Research

Forced to compete at very low prices, most of the expected utility-scale capacity will be built in locations with the best solar resources. So project development will largely be clustered in north and central Mexico. 

Source: GTM Research and GeoModel Solar

There are significant downsides to the Mexican market, however. What if banks are not comfortable with the rate of return for projects trying to compete at low prices in an unsubsidized market? What if development costs don’t come down as expected? What if net metering isn’t extended for residential projects? These are all scenarios that everyone is grappling with.

The end result could very well be a market dominated by cheap natural gas. Assuming solar is disadvantaged by the new market, development could be 2.6 gigawatts lower than expected by 2020.

Source: GTM Research

But the upside is significant. If development costs continue their downward trend, net metering remains in place, and bankers get more comfortable with supporting solar projects, “the market could be very exciting,” said Anand.

The trouble is that it’s still too early to say which scenario is more likely. 

Howard Wenger, the president of SunPower’s business units, put it succinctly: “We’re learning in real time.”

So is everyone else. Keep your eyes on Mexico. It’ll be one of the most dynamic markets to watch in the next few years.

Source: GTM Research

An Illustrated Guide to Mexico’s Solar Market: Short-Term Pain May Bring Long-Term Gains

The Solar Tax Credit Extension Will Make Net Metering Battles Much More Intense

The Solar Tax Credit Extension Will Make Net Metering Battles Much More Intense

Solar is set to explode in the U.S., thanks to the recent five-year extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit. That battle has been won.

But now the battle over solar policy — particularly distributed energy policy at the local level — is likely to intensify.   

That was made clear in Nevada this week, where regulators upheld a decision to slash net-metering rates for all solar customers in the state. 

“The question becomes which states are poised to change the growth and location of solar,” said Matt Mooren, an energy and utilities advisor with PA Consulting. 

Many states were reviewing their net energy metering policies and programs while awaiting the ITC decision.

“The solar industry has gotten its holiday wish list,” Zach Pollock, also in PA Consulting’s energy and utilities practice, said of the ITC extension. “What that has done is put additional pressure on the state policies.”

For states with vertically integrated utilities that have been avoiding the policy considerations related to potentially robust third-party solar markets, “It’s going to be more about blocking and tackling,” said Mooren. But for many states, the proceedings to overhaul net metering in light of the ITC extension could look something like the process that resulted in Minnesota’s value-of-solar tariff.

On a regional scale, the impact of the ITC extension on markets will vary. For areas with high solar penetration, such as the Southwest, it could ultimately impact load growth and peak demand growth, which could in turn impact capacity prices for generators. Even so, the impact “is not as significant as some may think,” said Mooren. Solar energy doesn’t totally align with peak demand, but in ISO-based markets like the Northeast, it can lead to an assumed 20 percent to 40 percent reduction in peak demand per kilowatt of installed distributed solar capacity.

The five-year extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit will produce an additional 25 gigawatts of additional solar capacity over the next five years, compared to a scenario in which the extension had not passed in December, according to GTM Research.

Most of that will be in the utility-scale sector, but residential installations will see an additional 35 percent growth, while commercial solar will increase by 51 percent, compared to growth rates without an extension. “It really just keeps the growth rolling beyond 2016 [without a state-level policy response],” said Mooren.

Changes were already underway in many leading solar states, such as California, before the ITC extension was passed. California recently proposed keeping retail rates for residential solar customers, but with some modest changes. Hawaii has halted new net energy metering applications and introduced two new tariffs as replacements. Nevada has gone the furthest after its recent decision to end net metering for new and existing customers.  

“Nevada has attacked the fairness issue head on,” said Mooren, referring to the issue of non-solar customers potentially paying more for the grid than those with solar.

He expects the issues of fairness and reliability to be tackled more proactively in other states, even in those with low solar penetration. Florida could be one of those states. It is primed for solar growth, but progress has been stymied by a ban on third-party sales of solar electricity. With the passage of the ITC, it could encourage utilities to step up their campaign to block solar.

Texas is another state poised for a material increase in solar growth. However, the combination of restrictions on net metering in ERCOT, less progressive NEM policies in vertically integrated service territories, and relatively low electric rates have stunted market growth so far. Even with low electricity prices, “as capital costs of solar stream downward,” said Mooren, “at some point, it’s an attractive opportunity.”

Texas is examining market reforms for distributed energy resources at the grid operator level under its DER Light and DER Heavy proposals. Any change would potentially come slowly, as they often do in ERCOT, and may affect larger assets rather than smaller projects, such as residential solar.

But there are other fixes brewing in Texas that could impact the solar market and force changes to overall market design. Last year, SolarCity partnered with energy retailer MP2 to offer net metering for solar customers. If the concept takes off, other retailers and solar providers could copy it — potentially pushing the public utility commission and ERCOT to move more quickly on their solar policies.

“Until now, it’s mostly been reactive,” Pollock said of state-level solar policy. But with solar here to stay under the ITC extension, “It’s going to be less punitive and more of a compromise.”

The Solar Tax Credit Extension Will Make Net Metering Battles Much More Intense

Hillary Clinton Weighs In on Nevada’s Bitter Solar Fight

Hillary Clinton Weighs In on Nevada’s Bitter Solar Fight

When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sat down with the Las Vegas Sun last week to chat with the newspaper’s editors, the first question wasn’t about jobs, gun control or Benghazi.

The first question was about solar.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sun, Clinton was asked about Nevada regulators’ controversial decision to retroactively cut net-metering rates for rooftop solar in the state.

A few days before Christmas, Nevada utility commissioners unanimously voted to slash net-metering rates and increase monthly service charges for solar-system owners. The rules were retroactively applied to every solar system in the state — sparking outrage from customers who had invested in PV systems with the expectation that they’d get paid the retail rate.

Leading solar companies swiftly pulled out of Nevada and cut hundreds of jobs. 

“The retroactivity piece is extraordinarily problematic,” said Sunrun’s policy manager in an interview with GTM. “Nevada essentially baited solar companies into the state, and baited homeowners to go solar, and then switched the rules of the game. It’s the most egregious anti-business, anti-solar decision that we’ve seen promulgated in any state in the country.”

In her conversation with the Sun, Clinton did not offer specific thoughts on how to compensate solar. But she agreed with the solar industry that retroactive cuts are bad for investment and jobs — and unfair to homeowners.

Las Vegas Sun: You’ve been a supporter of clean energy and, more specifically, solar power. Our Public Utilities Commission dealt a significant blow to the state’s solar future just before Christmas. What are you going to do as president to ensure the future of the solar industry?

Clinton: I know there will be a hearing about this decision in the next few days. I think it’s important we give investors certainty and we give consumers choice. We’re never going to transition to clean renewable energy if we don’t do that.

Just look at the jobs that are being created. Nationwide, 174,000 jobs in the last few years. Here in Nevada, 5,900 jobs — 3,900 just last year. This is a win-win to move us away from fossil fuels, to diversify the grid, to give homeowners a chance to be empowered to do something about their own energy usage and put people to work.

I hope there is a way that this state can figure out a path forward. Every state is somewhat different. Every state has different rules and regulations and investment climates, but I’m absolutely convinced we’re going to have to do more solar, more wind and more renewables if we’re going to have the kind of future we should.

I don’t know all of the public utility rules in Nevada, but certainly people who acted in good faith should be given the benefit of that moving forward. I don’t think any change in rules should penalize people who were permitted and encouraged to do what folks have done. They shouldn’t see that investment absolutely destroyed. I’m hoping that there can be a sensible recognition of the benefits that this provides and the investments that people have already made.

Nevada’s rooftop solar industry exploded in 2015. According to GTM Research’s Cory Honeyman, the state was ranked 28th in residential solar installations in 2013. It rose to 14th place in 2014, and then to second place last year. Residential solar volumes grew tenfold from 2014 to 2015.

In recent quarters, 90 percent of those installations were financed through third-party power-purchase agreements. If lower rates apply to those existing contracts — which were crafted with the assumption that net metering would remain at the retail rate — some worry about a wave of defaults.

“It would be very unusual for a PUC to force a change in PPA pricing at any point during the term of a PPA. However, this is essentially what the PUCN has done when it voted to retroactively apply new, discriminatory pricing on existing NEM customers,” wrote a group of leading venture investors in a letter to state utilities commissioners.

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission is currently reviewing public comments on the rate change. Regulators could issue a final decision this week.

Sign up early for our Solar Summit 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Trevor Houser, the energy policy advisor for Hillary Clinton, will join us to talk about her plan for solar. 

Hillary Clinton Weighs In on Nevada’s Bitter Solar Fight

Warning Shot: SolarCity Slashes Its Nevada Workforce After Net Metering Changes

Warning Shot: SolarCity Slashes Its Nevada Workforce After Net Metering Changes

Las Vegas Review-Journal: SolarCity Cuts 550 Nevada Jobs

The rooftop solar company SolarCity said Wednesday it has been forced to eliminate more than 550 jobs in Nevada because of the new net metering rate approved by the state Public Utilities Commission on Dec. 22.

Where possible, the company said it will relocate affected employees to “business-friendly” states.

The PUC’s decision to change the net metering rules “to punish existing solar customers after the state encouraged them to go solar with rebates is particularly callous” and leaves Nevadans to question whether the state would ever place the financial security of regular citizens above the financial interests of NV Energy, the company said in a news release.

Climate Central: Earth Is Experiencing a Global Warming Spurt

Cyclical changes in the Pacific Ocean have thrown Earth’s surface into what may be an unprecedented warming spurt, following a global warming slowdown that lasted about 15 years.

While El Niño is being blamed for an outbreak of floods, storms and unseasonable temperatures across the planet, a much slower-moving cycle of the Pacific Ocean has also been playing a role in record-breaking warmth. The recent effects of both ocean cycles are being amplified by climate change.

A 2014 flip was detected in the sluggish and elusive ocean cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, which also goes by other names, including the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Despite uncertainty about the fundamental nature of the PDO, leading scientists link its 2014 phase change to a rapid rise in global surface temperatures.

InsideClimate News: Politics of Climate Unlikely to Change in 2016

In 2016, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new president, 34 senators, 435 representatives and 12 governors, not to mention countless state and local leaders. And despite this happening during what many scientists believe will be the hottest year on record and the stakes for the planet growing ever higher, climate change won’t crack the list of top political issues.

“Climate change, barring some enormous visible catastrophe on U.S. soil, is unlikely to be a major issue in the election,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. “But many people will be working to raise its profile, and there will be more discussion than there was before.”

Mail and Guardian: South Africa’s Developing Solar Landscape

Until a few years ago, solar panels were a rare sight in South Africa, largely limited to the roofs of a few affluent households. This is changing rapidly, driven by three factors: the worldwide drive toward renewable energy, a highly strained local electricity supply, and a steady drop in solar panel prices.

Taking the lead from other countries, South Africa committed to an energy generation infrastructure development plan for 2010 to 2030, known as the Integrated Resource Plan.

Under the plan, the country aims to achieve 9,600 MW of solar power capacity by 2030. When the plan was drawn up in 2010, solar was limited to a few isolated panels on domestic rooftops, and until recently contributed nothing to the national power grid operated by the state-owned utility Eskom.

The Hill: EPA Looks to Build on Big Wins This Year

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Monday that the Obama administration is preparing to roll out and implement new climate rules this year after pushing an aggressive agenda in 2015.

In a blog post on the EPA website, administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency will look in 2016 to help implement the goals of the landmark international climate agreement reached in Paris last month.

The agency will finalize rules this year to cut carbon pollution from heavy-duty vehicles, she wrote, as well as a rule to limit methane leaks from oil and gas operations. The methane rule — which targets a pollutant with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide — is seen as a major step President Obama can take to address climate change in his final year in office.

Warning Shot: SolarCity Slashes Its Nevada Workforce After Net Metering Changes

How the National Solar Lobby Passed the Investment Tax Credit

How the National Solar Lobby Passed the Investment Tax Credit

In late 2013, top strategists at the solar industry’s national lobbying group in Washington mapped out a plan to get a critical tax credit passed through Congress.

The 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC), passed as part of the 2008 bank bailout, wasn’t set to expire for another three years. But even with the price of solar systems down 50 percent since 2010 and installations hitting record numbers nationwide, companies worried about a looming collapse of demand and a wave of job losses in 2017.

Waiting to extend the credit at the last minute wasn’t an option. So the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), an organization with 1,000 member companies across the industry, quietly built a multimillion-dollar campaign to prepare for the moment when Congress finally considered it.

The organization raised member dues and even tapped a $750,000 line of credit to fund the effort.

“Solar had been out of the game for a while after the stimulus win. SEIA made some smart strategic decisions to build a base of support well ahead of time,” said a lobbyist familiar with the organization’s strategy.

The crux of the campaign: build Republican solar champions.

Only two years before, the collapse of the government-backed manufacturer Solyndra had fueled strong anti-solar backlash among Republican lawmakers. The 2012 presidential campaign intensified the backlash, as the Romney campaign and other conservative groups attacked the Obama administration for its investments in clean energy.

It was hard enough convincing lawmakers to care about a tax credit that wouldn’t lapse for another three years. Dodging the political mud-slinging would be an added challenge.

Making SEIA’s task harder, the utility industry’s main lobbying group, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), also began lobbying against an extension of the tax credit. In 2013, EEI spent 10 times more money on national lobbying than the solar industry did, according to data from Open Secrets.

SEIA’s planned campaign consisted of five components: hire more lobbyists, grow its political action committee and donate to more candidates, work with state chapters to build local support, sharpen communications, and use research to show lawmakers where installation growth and job creation is occurring. (Disclosure: SEIA uses data from GTM Research in the quarterly Solar Market Insight report.)

That last component — jobs and installation data — was critical for building support. It became particularly important after the fall of 2014, when Republicans took control of the Senate. 

“When the Senate flipped, we started focusing on leadership. Tapping into that kind of [employment] information was essential for developing strong champions,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA’s president and CEO. 

Armed with employment and project data, SEIA targeted Senate Republicans in key committee positions from Georgia, Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina — states where employment numbers had soared in recent years.

This included Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee; Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee; and Nevada Senator Dean Heller, also a member of the Finance Committee.

“It was important to get the GOP to take ownership. It was less about targeting supporters and the White House, and more about doing the hard work of building new supporters,” said Katherine Hamilton, a partner with 38 North Solutions who lobbied on behalf of SEIA member companies.

In late 2014, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, ushered the passage of a tax extenders bill. Senator Heller planned to offer an amendment extending the ITC; however, Chairman Hatch told him that it was too soon to consider, since the credit wouldn’t change until 2017.

According to Resch, that prompted “a Republican agreement to take care of solar” in 2015 or 2016 when the tax credit came up again. 

In May of 2015, activity started in the House. California Democrat Mike Thompson, a representative from California, introduced a bill extending the ITC for five years. It had dozens of co-sponsors. The bill wasn’t expected to go anywhere, but it was a helpful benchmark for future negotiations.

Meanwhile, SEIA started ramping up its lobbying power. The organization hired three well-connected Republicans through the law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate Majority Leader and House Whip, was one of them. SEIA also hired David Schnittger, who had served as a senior staffer in House Speaker John Boehner’s office for two decades, and David Hoppe, who most recently became chief of staff for Paul Ryan, the newly elected House Speaker. 

With disciplined messaging around jobs and a strong lobbying presence, negotiations started moving quickly in the fall.

In early October, House Republicans passed a bill eliminating the 40-year ban on oil exports. While the controversial proposal didn’t have enough support from Democrats in the Senate, North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp proposed linking long-term extensions of renewable energy tax credits to the ban. That provided an opening for groups lobbying for wind and solar tax credits.

The week after Thanksgiving, SEIA flew a group of 15 executives from leading solar companies to Washington to directly lobby members of Congress. The oil export ban would be their best shot to get an extension in 2015, and they made a year-end blitz to get credit extensions at the top of the agenda.

The pieces started falling into place after Paul Ryan replaced John Boehner as House Speaker in October. “Paul Ryan stepping into that leadership role created a scenario where a bigger deal could happen,” said Resch.

Under pressure to pass a spending bill — and determined to find compromise between warring parties — Speaker Ryan helped broker a $1.1 trillion omnibus that funded the government for one year. In exchange for leaving out amendments defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting Syrian refugee resettlement, Republicans kept an amendment lifting the ban on exports of domestic crude oil.

Democrats wanted even more in return. Following the earlier suggestion of Senator Heitkamp, multi-year extensions of tax credits for wind and solar were added to both bills in the House and Senate. There was no room for compromise on the issue, said Democratic leaders.

“We have 2 paths: 1. Pair oil export ban with policies to reduce carbon emissions; 2. Pass gov’t funding without oil/renewables,” tweeted Senator Harry Reid, after the bill was unveiled.

Even with the deal, Speaker Ryan and House Minority Leader were unsure if they had enough votes. In the end, however, the bills had more than enough support to pass in the House and the Senate — giving advocates of wind and solar credits a big win as Congress adjourned for the rest of 2015.

Many factors aligned all at once to make the deal possible, but limited Republican opposition to the credits was one reason the bill moved forward. That was a notable change from the two years after the Solyndra bankruptcy, when the GOP shunned any government support for renewable energy.

One of the reasons was the campaign to build Republican support for the ITC.  

“The conversation we have today is materially different from 2012. There are a lot more Republican members of Congress who see that solar is an economic engine in their states, who are actual champions,” said Resch. “No one brings up Solyndra anymore.”

How the National Solar Lobby Passed the Investment Tax Credit

India’s Energy Minister Wants to Quadruple Solar Installs Over the Next Year

India’s Energy Minister Wants to Quadruple Solar Installs Over the Next Year

The Hindu: India’s Solar Power Capacity to Quadruple Next Fiscal Year

India may increase its solar energy capacity fourfold during the next fiscal year ending March 2017, Piyush Goyal, Union Minister of Coal, Power and Renewable Energy says.

“Today our solar capacity is about 4,500 MW and the capacity addition target for this year is about 2,000 MW. During 2016-17, we are hoping to add 12,000 MW in the solar sector alone. Thus, including other renewable sources, there will be a total capacity addition of about 15,000 MW during next fiscal” year, he said.

The government is focusing on speed, skill and scale rather than subsidies to drive reforms and progress in the energy sector. The minister said water heaters that ran on solar energy had subsidy components some years ago.

Bloomberg: Coal Glut, Renewables Make EU Power Cheapest in Decade

Record-low coal prices and increased wind and solar generation that pushed European power prices to their lowest in a decade may cause further declines in 2016.

Average day-ahead electricity prices in Germany, Europe’s biggest market, fell 3.3 percent to 31.68 euros ($34.62) per megawatt-hour in 2015, the least since 2004 on the Epex Spot SE exchange in Paris. Northwest Europe coal fell 33 percent while the share of Germany’s energy demand met by renewable output increased by four percentage points to 30 percent, according to preliminary figures by utility lobby BDEW.

Vox: Electric Car Subsidies Are Hated by Economists, Loved by Activists. Why?

Earlier this month, over at the Energy Institute at Haas, economist James Bushnell had an interesting post on the way economists and climate hawks clash on the subject of electric cars. It also offered a window into broader clashes between those groups.

As Bushnell points out, economic research is generally not supportive of current subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs). It finds that the environmental benefits of EVs are, for now at least, marginal, and worth less than the subsidies paid for them. Current subsidies are also regressive, going primarily to upper-income taxpayers.

From the point of view of many economists, this makes electric-car subsidies bad policy. If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, policy ought to seek out the cheapest reductions first. (And what’s the best way to find the cheapest reductions? You guessed it: a price-based instrument like a carbon tax.)

Guardian: Major Offshore Wind Operator Plans £6B U.K. Investment by 2020

Dong Energy, the biggest operator of offshore wind farms in Britain, has said it plans to spend a further £6B in the U.K. by 2020, convinced that the government is serious about supporting wind power.

Vattenfall, another significant U.K. wind farm operator, says it too is “optimistic” about 2016 and is hoping to proceed with a turbine testing site off Scotland this summer.

The statements of intent are a major boost to Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, who has been under fire for cutting subsidies to solar and other low-carbon sectors despite signing up to the Paris climate change accord.

REW: Xcel Energy Doubles Wind Generation Capacity in Power Portfolio

Xcel Energy recently doubled the amount of wind power generating capacity in its portfolio.

The utility in early December acquired the 150 MW Border Wind Farm in Rolette County, North Dakota. In addition, Xcel Energy’s 200 MW Pleasant Valley Wind Farm in Austin, Minn. came on-line in November.

“Adding these two wind farms to our system is a significant step forward in our work to cut carbon emissions and shows our commitment to deliver 35 percent renewable energy to our Upper Midwest customers by 2030,” Chris Clark, regional president of Xcel Energy, said in a statement.

India’s Energy Minister Wants to Quadruple Solar Installs Over the Next Year