Solar energy is at a critical point in its growth, according to more than one evaluation. The production tax credit has been discontinued and companies are left on their own. The forecast for proliferation at military bases is only partly sunny. Yet a report from the Howard K. Baker Center at the University of Tennessee says the industry could create 430,000 jobs by 2020 and argues that the subsidies for solar are not greater than those for coal and oil. Still, since Britain cut out solar subsidies earlier this year demand for collectors has fallen 90 percent.
Chesapeake Energy continued to walk the tightrope as the SEC announced it has begun an inquiry into the actions of founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon. Wall Street analysts are highly negative on the nation’s second largest gas company, saying its future hangs on the unlikely possibility of $5 gas in the near future. Yet a Bloomberg analysis says that Chesapeake investors are now buying the oil equivalent of $3.48 a barrel compared to $30.47 in the Bakken Shale and $100 in the world market. The Wall Street Journal sees promise but says it’s not for the faint of heart.
The Hill has sponsored another gas summit in Ohio as Governor John Kasich again plays host to all sides in the debate over developing the Utica Shale. The American Petroleum Institute sees vast promise in Ohio’s resources and cheap gas is giving the state’s manufacturing a rebirth. Kasich also jabbed at the renewable lobby for not embracing the co-generation of electricity and steam – a technique long embraced for cutting the 60 percent energy loss in power generation.
First quarter reports showed most gas and utility companies facing a slight decline in revenue over falling natural gas prices. Swift, Sempra and Spectra all reported slight declines. But NRG said its losses have narrowed and Duke declared a dividend.
Finally, the efficiency innovation efforts of Berkeley Professor Ashok Gadgil (above) won recognition as he received the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT award for work done in water conservation. DTE, the Detroit utility, is also offering a $250,000 prize for innovations in energy efficiency. A team of chemical engineers at the Universities of Massachusetts and Delaware have discovered a way to make biomass replace oil and gas as a feedstock for the plastics industry. And DuPont is showing that giant companies can also play the game of innovation with a string of new developments in solar energy.