Solar failures were in the news again as Abound, a Colorado solar panel manufacturer, filed for Chapter 9 protection. The company had received a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy but had struggled over the past year. Cheap Chinese imports were again to blame. The company had planned to employ 1000 people at a manufacturing plant in Tipton, Indiana. The failure revives the debate over whether the federal government should be investing in energy companies, but DOE had no apologies but argued that the country will be stronger and more competitive if it continues to support a domestic solar industry.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is making waves with bluff remarks at a London conference in which he called public fears about both climate change and energy security “overblown.” Tillerson said that domestic production means that Americans will be able to relax about energy supplies “within the visible future.” As for climate change, he admitted it’s happening – a big change, as several environmental critics pointed out. But Tillerson dismissed it as an “engineering problem” and said the world will “learn to adapt.” Bringing energy to the world’s poor, he said, is much more important. Tillerson’s remarks put him on the same page with Danish environmental critic Bjorn Lomborg, who regularly argues that reducing carbon emissions means little to people living without electricity. Whether Tillerson’s concerns for the world’s poor will be seen as genuine or just a smokescreen for drilling more oil remains to be seen.
Offshore oil drilling is advancing, however, as the Department of Interior revealed a five-year plan for opening up new areas in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. Shell is the likely recipient of the first permits to explore in the Beaufort Sea off the North Slope of Alaska. The oil industry said the permits were too limiting and Virginia politicians objected that no offshore drilling will take place of their coast. The Natural Resources Defense Council, on the other hand, complained that an Artic blowout would be impossible to cap and called the region a “crucial nursery for whales.”
Offshore drilling was also proceeding in the rest of the world as Italy and Guiana both indicated they will resume drilling efforts shortly. But the big news was from Cuba, where Repsol, the Spanish oil giant, said it has hit another dry hole in the Straits of Florida and will probably go home. Even as they spoke, however, a Russian oil rig was reported to be headed for Cuba to pick up the effort and extend Russia’s growing participation in world energy development.
Finally, energy inventors continue to advance the march of progress in steps both large and small. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has won two national awards for its work in “invisible” solar cells and energy efficiency. Researchers at Rice University have turned lithium-ion technology into a paint that can turn just about any object into an energy-producing battery. Emily Cummins (above), a 21-year-old British college student, has invented a solar-powered refrigerator and has taken it to Africa. A Texas company is using straw to make a high-insulating fiberboard material. And Gabe Keith of CleanTech Authority speculates about “Green Tech of the Future,” which includes solar farms in space, artificial trees and man-made, energy-generating islands in the middle of the ocean. Stay tuned for the future.