News Roundup: China Opens Up Bond Market for Cleantech, Environmental Projects

Clean Energy Bonds Get Boost from Chinese Regulators

Regulators in China are making it easier for companies to issue bonds that will be used to finance clean energy projects, China Daily reports. The move should lead to more private capital entering the space.

The National Development and Reform Commission, which regulates bond issuances from state-owned enterprises, said earlier this month it will streamline the process by which it approves such bond sales. Unlisted SOEs had previously been subject to “stringent conditions” when seeking approval to issue bonds, the paper says.

The regulatory changes should attract a move of private capital into these government-supported sectors, Song Weijian, an analyst at China Credit Rating Co., tells China Daily.

Besides clean energy, the NDRC will also streamline the approval process for bonds targeting investments in natural gas and mining, environmental protection, food and water, Internet infrastructure, health and senior-care services, and transportation and ancillary services for oil, according to China Daily.

The agency is also urging Chinese banks to help companies in those sectors issue bonds and to increase traditional lending to such companies.

Apple to Build Two Solar Plants in China

Apple is developing two solar power plants in China, a move intended to help offset the firm’s carbon footprint in the country, where its manufacturing and retail operations are growing quickly. That’s according to a report in The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog.

Apple is partnering with SunPower, the large U.S.-based solar panel maker, to develop the two plants, which will be in the Sichuan region in China’s southwest. The plants will have a combined capacity of 40 megawatts, Digits says. They will be co-owned by Apple and a company called Sichuan Shengtian New Energy Development Co., a joint venture with SunPower, according to a report in Forbes.

Apple and SunPower are also partners in six solar plants in the U.S., all of which provide power to Apple facilities. The solar plants in China won’t power Apple plants: they’re in the remote autonomous prefectures of Aba Tibetan and Qiang, the Journal reports. The company has 21 retail stores across China and intends to double that figure by the end of 2016.

The new plants in Sichuan will use concentrating photovoltaic technology, in which parabolic mirrors concentrate sunlight onto solar panels, according to Forbes.

Western China is a hotspot for solar power development, with many other solar farms in the region under construction, Digits says. China has said it wants to add up to 18 gigawatts of solar capacity by the end of the year, double the solar deployment in the U.S., according to Bloomberg.

China is forecasted to overtake the United States as the main cause of manmade global warming since 1990, the benchmark year for U.N.-led action, in 2015 or 2016, according to the Oslo-based Center for International Climate and Environmental Research and U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI), reports Reuters. WRI estimates that China’s cumulative carbon dioxide emissions will total 151 billion tonnes for 1990-2016, overtaking the U.S. total of 147 billion next year.

However, it appears China is taking action to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, and it is set to have more “low carbon” power capacity than the entire capacity of the U.S. power grid by 2030, according to analysis done by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Bill Gates, Google Back Research into New Battery Technologies

Bill Gates and Google have joined Elon Musk and others who are using their money and expertise to find new and improved battery technologies for cars, mobile phones, electric grids and more.

Gates, the philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, has invested in battery research companies, including Ambri, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company co-founded by MIT professor Donald Sadoway that’s developing liquid metal batteries, according to a lengthy Bloomberg Markets feature article on the $50 billion battery industry.

Gates has also invested in Aquion Energy, Bloomberg Markets says. The Pittsburg company makes sodium-ion batteries and has raised more than $172 million from investors including Gates and Tao Capital, the fund run by billionaire Nick Pritzker and his son Joby Pritzker.

Meanwhile, a team at Google’s Google X research lab, led by former Apple battery expert Ramesh Bhardwaj, has been working on improvements to lithium ion batteries since late 2012, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Bhardwaj’s group of four researchers has also been working on ways to make solid state, thin film batteries work for smartphone and other mobile devices, the Journal reports. Other Google research teams are working with AllCell Technologies, a Chicago-based company, to develop “more potent batteries” for a range of Google projects, the Journal says.

Others in the hunt for better batteries include Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, which is building a $5 billion, 10 million square foot factory in Nevada to build lithium ion batteries for Tesla electric cars.

Phil Giudice, the CEO of Ambri, says the backing of such big-name investors will finally let renewables compete with fossil fuels. Those investors, Giudice says, are excited about changing the world, “and they’re swinging for the fences,” Bloomberg Markets quotes him as saying.

Meanwhile, GE announced that it will sell its first lithium ion batteries to Con Edison Development (CED), an 8 MWh battery energy storage system in Central Valley, Calif. Con Edison plans to sell power storage services to California in six to nine months.

And Stanford University researchers announced a breakthrough aluminum battery that is faster charging (it charges in less than a minute), cheaper, safer and tougher than lithium-ion batteries. The new aluminum-ion battery, made from aluminum and graphite, maintains more capacity during recharges than lithium ion batteries; however, its energy density, the amount it can store per volume, is lower, making it less ideal for cars and more suited to electrical grid storage applications. Stanford professor Hongjie Dai led the research team.

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