Trump applies 30 per cent tariff on solar cell and module imports

January 23rd, 2018 no comment

These products have already faced some import duties since 2012, although the decision will result in a significant increase in prices.

Such a tariff can only be applied if certain imports are found to be causing “serious injury” to a US industry. According to the White House, the decision followed an investigation by the International Trade Commission which found that imports of solar cells and modules are a “substantial cause of serious injury” to domestic manufacturers. The decision will also affect imported washing machines.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry criticised the tariffs in a statement, saying that: “The US side once again abused its trade remedy measures […] China expresses its strong dissatisfaction with this.”

A growing number of American households and businesses have been adopting solar panels in recent years, in part due to technological developments rendering solar energy more cost effective than was previously possible, but also thanks to the availability of cheap panels manufactured abroad.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the single largest source of job creation from 2016-26 was predicted to be solar panel installation.

In a statement responding to Trump’s decision, the Solar Energy Industries Association expressed “disappointment”. According to the group, the tariff could cause 23,000 US jobs to be lost, and result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments, with far-reaching impacts across the solar economy.

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the trade body, in a statement.

Tony Clifford, an executive at Standard Solar, said that the decision was “misguided”, and commented that it “boggles [his] mind that this president – any president – would voluntarily choose to damage one of the fastest segments of [the US] economy.”

The decision has the potential to not only damage a growing sector of the US economy, but also to have a negative impact on efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the US by switching from fossil fuels to an inexpensive and renewable source of energy.

The 2015 Paris Agreement – whose signatories include every recognised UN member state apart from the US – was established as an international effort to reduce carbon emissions in order to avert the most disastrous impacts of climate change. Trump withdrew the US from the agreement soon after taking office in January 2017.

Despite this decision, many state leaders have announced that they intend to continue to work towards reducing carbon emissions at a local level.

Category One cyber attack ‘a matter of when, not if’, warns UK security chief

January 23rd, 2018 no comment

Ciaran Martin warned today that a major cyber attack on the UK is now a matter of “when, not if”.

Martin said the country had been lucky so far in avoiding an all-out assault, or so-called ‘Category One’ incident – a potentially fatal strike that would cripple infrastructure like the power grid or an economic pillar like financial services, possibly as a prelude to a conventional use of force.

The most serious cyber attack on the UK to date was the WannaCry ransomware attack on hospitals last May, which was classed as a ‘Category Two’ incident because there was no direct risk to life.

In an interview with The Guardian, Martin said: “I think it is a matter of when, not if, and we will be fortunate to come to the end of the decade without having to trigger a Category One attack.”

He said there had already been a “series of intrusions” by Russia “for espionage and possible pre-positioning into key sectors”.

British Army chief General Sir Nick Carter yesterday warned of the danger of a “hybrid” attack using both conventional military and cyber warfare methods. He called for investment in the army, navy and airforce to keep pace with Russia and said that Britain must prepare to “fight the war we might have to fight”.

Although the army chief stressed he did “not in any way” wish to suggest that Russia would go to war with the UK in the traditional sense, he said Moscow “could initiate hostilities sooner than we expect”.

Itsik Mantin, director of security research at cyber company Imperva, said the NCSC was right to issue its warning.

Mantin said: “If the attackers won’t find their way in through the fortified perimeter, they will find their way in through social engineering or recruiting an insider.

Security officers need not only to invest in building walls to prevent penetration and tools to detect attacks, but also to assume that breaches will happen – if they haven’t happened already – and to focus on post-infection detection and incident response procedures.

Google is ‘promoting hate speech’, claims internet law expert

January 22nd, 2018 no comment

Google has been promoting hate speech and incitement to violence via its autocomplete search service, internet law expert Erdos claims.

Erdos, deputy director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law and a lecturer in law at Cambridge University, told E&T the Silicon Valley giant had recommended “Queers should be shot” when the first two words of this sentence were typed into its search box.

Up until a few days ago, whenever a user keyed in the word “Apostates”, followed by the first two letters of the word “should”, the search engine typically brought up the result “Apostates should be killed”.

Violence towards illegal immigrants was also “promoted” by Google, according to Erdos.

“Illegals should be shot on sight” and “Illegals should be shot” were both near the top of the list of searches automatically filled in by Google’s secret algorithms.

This continued to be the case until the company eventually took action after being notified about the disturbing phrases.

Lists of autocomplete sentences, understood to be based partly on the popularity of particular sequences of words searched for by internet users worldwide, has previously led to controversy.

Google was forced to alter the way the system worked in 2016 after it transpired that typing the phrase “are Jews” returned the suggestion “evil”.

Erdos said he flagged the latest examples to Google, but it took more than a week before the search engine stopped serving up these phrases at the very top of its list of suggestions.

The Cambridge academic was searching using incognito mode on Chrome, so the results he got appear to be the defaults delivered to the generic Google user anywhere in the world.

Though computers are morally neutral, they reflect the programming and information fed into to them by humans, so it could be argued that it is people who have led the machines astray.

However, this has not stopped humans from losing patience with internet firms; the latest revelation about Google coincided with the results of a study which found a clear majority of British people now want tougher regulation of tech giants.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the results of which were published today, found trust in social media had fallen to a record low and one in 10 youngsters has quit Facebook in the past year.

Towards the end of 2017, appalling phrases linked to child abuse started appearing in the autofill search bar of YouTube, the video-sharing platform owned by Google.

Variations on the sentence “How to have sex with your kids” began appearing when users typed in “How to have”.

At the time, YouTube said it was examining its auto-fill features in response to what it has called these “profoundly disturbing” results. The company was also criticised for failing to prevent predatory comments and accounts from targeting children, which led to several big brands including Mars, Adidas, BT, Deutsche Bank, Lidl and Cadbury pulling advertising from the YouTube site.

Erdos said it could be argued that Google had been promoting racist phrases, potentially in defiance of UK hate speech law.

“My personal opinion is that at minimum they should use geolocation blocking as well as badged domain sites to comply with local law,” he told E&T.

He had earlier tweeted: “’Apostates should be killed; ‘Illegals should be shot’ – +1 week since I flagged these to Google, its search engine is still promoting this hate speech and incitement to violence. What happened to ‘Do no evil’?”

Google has been approached for comment.

Google is ‘promoting hate speech’, claims internet law expert

January 22nd, 2018 no comment

Google has been promoting hate speech and incitement to violence via its autocomplete search service, internet law expert Erdos claims.

Erdos, deputy director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law and a lecturer in law at Cambridge University, told E&T the Silicon Valley giant had recommended “Queers should be shot” when the first two words of this sentence were typed into its search box.

Up until a few days ago, whenever a user keyed in the word “Apostates”, followed by the first two letters of the word “should”, the search engine typically brought up the result “Apostates should be killed”.

Violence towards illegal immigrants was also “promoted” by Google, according to Erdos.

“Illegals should be shot on sight” and “Illegals should be shot” were both near the top of the list of searches automatically filled in by Google’s secret algorithms.

This continued to be the case until the company eventually took action after being notified about the disturbing phrases.

Lists of autocomplete sentences, understood to be based partly on the popularity of particular sequences of words searched for by internet users worldwide, has previously led to controversy.

Google was forced to alter the way the system worked in 2016 after it transpired that typing the phrase “are Jews” returned the suggestion “evil”.

Erdos said he flagged the latest examples to Google, but it took more than a week before the search engine stopped serving up these phrases at the very top of its list of suggestions.

The Cambridge academic was searching using incognito mode on Chrome, so the results he got appear to be the defaults delivered to the generic Google user anywhere in the world.

Though computers are morally neutral, they reflect the programming and information fed into to them by humans, so it could be argued that it is people who have led the machines astray.

However, this has not stopped humans from losing patience with internet firms; the latest revelation about Google coincided with the results of a study which found a clear majority of British people now want tougher regulation of tech giants.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the results of which were published today, found trust in social media had fallen to a record low and one in 10 youngsters has quit Facebook in the past year.

Towards the end of 2017, appalling phrases linked to child abuse started appearing in the autofill search bar of YouTube, the video-sharing platform owned by Google.

Variations on the sentence “How to have sex with your kids” began appearing when users typed in “How to have”.

At the time, YouTube said it was examining its auto-fill features in response to what it has called these “profoundly disturbing” results. The company was also criticised for failing to prevent predatory comments and accounts from targeting children, which led to several big brands including Mars, Adidas, BT, Deutsche Bank, Lidl and Cadbury pulling advertising from the YouTube site.

Erdos said it could be argued that Google had been promoting racist phrases, potentially in defiance of UK hate speech law.

“My personal opinion is that at minimum they should use geolocation blocking as well as badged domain sites to comply with local law,” he told E&T.

He had earlier tweeted: “’Apostates should be killed; ‘Illegals should be shot’ – +1 week since I flagged these to Google, its search engine is still promoting this hate speech and incitement to violence. What happened to ‘Do no evil’?”

Google has been approached for comment.

Offshore wind capacity could increase five-fold by 2030s

January 18th, 2018 no comment

Britain’s burgeoning offshore wind capacity could increase five-fold by the 2030s, slashing carbon emissions and household electricity bills, a new specialist sectoral analysis claimed today.

The expansion of existing wind farms and construction of new ones around the British coastline is seen as key to meeting the country’s carbon reduction targets, and the Crown Estate, which manages vast tracts of Britain’s seabed on behalf of the Queen, has announced it will work with stakeholders to consider leasing further sites for turbines.

The UK government’s recently published Industrial Strategy also gave a clear indication that the ruling Conservative Party backs expanding offshore wind. Onshore wind, by contrast, went entirely unmentioned in the strategy.

Berlin-based consultancy Aurora Energy Research, whose work was funded by the offshore wind industry, concluded that applying a range of government incentives would enable capacity to increase to 30GW in little over a decade.

Under current and announced funding arrangements, wind capacity would hit 20-24GW by the mid-2020s. Capacity currently stands at around 6GW.

Results from last year have led to 2017 being described as a ‘breakthrough year’ for British wind farms, which generated more electricity than coal on the vast majority of days in the last 12 months.

Windy weather and the fact that new wind farms like Rampion, off the coast of Brighton, started to come on stream helped the UK achieve its greenest year ever in terms of electricity generation.

Aurora Energy Research’s report, entitled ‘The New Economics of Offshore Wind, determined that a step change in the amount of wind turbines in the seabed around Britain could be achieved with contracts that by 2025 are effectively “zero-subsidy”.

The report urged ministers to continue their policy of ensuring a guaranteed price for electricity generated by offshore wind under the so-called Contracts for Difference regime, and predicted increasing financial penalties for the most polluting forms of power generation.

Britain is among the European trailblazers in the field of offshore wind. The island is, geographically speaking, regarded as being perfectly placed to harness the benefits of the technology. Northern Ireland is considered separate in terms of energy as there is a single energy market in the province and the Republic of Ireland.

The recent fall in offshore wind costs in the British market has been matched by equally impressive cost reductions in the rest of Europe.

In Germany, for example, electricity suppliers Orsted and EnBW submitted bids to build offshore wind farms in 2024/25 without subsidies. Recent bids were also made in the Netherlands, Aurora’s report noted.

Offshore wind is not free from controversy, however. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has warned that wild seabird colonies and threatened species such as puffins and razorbills could be decimated amid the rush for green power. Renewables industry-funded research is being carried out to try and track the movements of birds in a bid to collate data that could inform strategies for mitigating the impact of new turbines.

Aurora senior project leader Hugo Batten said: “Stabilising future market revenues via contracts for difference significantly reduces risks for investors and is critical in attracting financing and supporting further offshore wind build-out, albeit some future price or merchant risk is transferred to the government and, ultimately, consumers.”

Benj Sykes, co-chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council, welcomed the Aurora report. He said: “Their report again illustrates that the unprecedented reduction in costs that the industry has achieved offers a huge opportunity for reducing the country’s carbon emissions, whilst helping to reduce bills for consumers and create opportunities for UK businesses of all sizes.”  

Electric cars and green homes needed by 2030 to meet UK’s climate targets advisors say

January 17th, 2018 no comment

New homes should also be being built to more energy-efficient standards to save people money on their bills and reduce emissions, they said.

A report from the Committee on Climate Change warned the government’s “clean growth strategy”, published in October, did not go far enough to meet targets to cut greenhouse gases by the 2020s and 2030s under UK law.

Last year energy consulting firm DNV GL predicted that electric vehicles will fall in price over the coming years and will reach parity with combustion vehicles by 2022. 

They said this was a key trigger that will mean by 2035 half of all passenger vehicles sold globally will be electric.

The report called for more firm policies and action, from incentives for “able to pay” householders to install energy efficiency measures to speeding up tree-planting to create 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) of new woodlands by 2025.

Lord Deben, the committee’s chairman, said housebuilders, car companies and oil and gas firms should “step up” to play more of a role in the shift to a cleaner economy.

He said the strategy showed clean growth was now a “central part of the government’s economic policy”.

But he warned: “The government’s policies and proposals will need to be firmed up as a matter of urgency – and supplemented with additional measures if the UK is to deliver on its legal commitments and secure its position as an international climate change leader.”

He also said: “I think that the time has come for us to remind industry in many of these areas they have a real part to play.

“If you’re going to sell an electric car your dealers have to be very well aware, have got to understand these things, so training dealers is essential.

“If you’re running a big fossil fuel company, you have to start thinking about the realities of when, not if, because it is not if any longer, we use a lot less fossil fuels.”

Oil and gas businesses should be investing more in technology to capture and store carbon emissions from power plants and industry, without which the cost of cutting greenhouse gases from the economy will be more expensive, the committee said.

Lord Deben also criticised construction firms for only doing the “absolute minimum” required on building energy efficient homes, saying the “people who suffer” from homes that are not properly insulated are the buyers who have to pay higher energy bills.

The government should also tighten standards for new-build and rented properties, the committee said.

Rhode Island threatens to shun ISPs in latest bid to preserve ‘net neutrality’

January 17th, 2018 no comment

Rhode Island has become the latest in an increasingly long line of US states to bring in legislation aimed at stopping firms from being able to pay to deliver content faster to some consumers.

The efforts come amid ongoing political rows over the issue of net neutrality and follow reports of death threats being aimed at Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Rhode Island joined the likes of New York, Nebraska, California, Massachusetts and Washington in introducing a law that aims to hit the profits of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) companies that decide to charge extra to fast-track certain content. 

Louis DiPalma, a Democratic Party member of the Rhode Island Senate, said the “open and equal internet” was under threat because of a decision by the FCC to repeal a set of rules that were introduced by President Barack Obama in 2015. These aim to prevent ISPs from blocking or deprioritising certain web content.

DiPalma said: “It was quite unfortunate that the FCC decided to repeal the net neutrality rules. These rules protected the consumer and web site owners from being discriminated against by the large internet service providers in favour of large corporations who could afford to pay for a different level of internet service, effectively choking small business owners and consumers with added costs.”

He added: “When net neutrality rules were enacted, it was ensured that everyone would have access to an open and equal internet. With the repeal of these rules, such open and fair access to the internet is in jeopardy.”   

Rhode Island and its municipalities will henceforth be prevented from entering into contracts with any ISP that engages in practices that would have been prohibited under the Obama-era rules.

Ajit Pai has become a hate figure for organisations opposed to the change. He reportedly pulled out of speaking at CES 2018 last week after some internet users threatened to kill him.

Pai was appointed FCC Commissioner by Barack Obama, but promoted to the chairmanship of the organisation by President Donald Trump.

The fact that Pai served a brief stint as a lawyer for communications giant Verizon 15 years ago has been seized on by opponents of plans to allow certain content to be prioritised by ISPs. They say his employment history casts doubt on his ability to behave impartially.

Pai has argued that the repeal of the net neutrality rules will free ISPs to innovate further and invest more in increasing network speeds and boosting the infrastructure on which the internet depends.

Following the FCC board’s vote in December, which marked the start of the repeal process, Pai said: “Let’s be clear. Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the web sites they want to visit.

“The main complaint consumers have about the internet is not and has never been that there are service providers blocking access to content. It’s that they don’t have access at all or not enough competition.”

The announcement from Rhode Island follows representatives of Nebraska, California and other US states declaring that they are in the process of drafting legislation to continue protecting net neutrality following the FCC three-to-two vote to roll back federal regulations.

The widespread public opposition to the ‘net neutrality’ repeal followed concerted efforts by the biggest companies in Silicon Valley during 2017, culminating in a group of supporters in Congress writing a formal letter to the FCC demanding that the final vote in December be delayed, due to strong evidence of fraud in the public consultation on the issue.

It has been clearly shown that the identities of thousands of US citizens had been stolen and unlawfully used to vote in favour of the repeal proposals. Thousands of identical comments – also supposedly endorsing the proposals – have also been identified as having been automatically posted by bots, originating from IP addresses outside the US. 400,000 comments alone supposedly in support of net neutrality came from a single address in Russia.

China’s solar boom drove 2017 rise in global clean-energy investment

January 16th, 2018 no comment

$333.5bn (£242.3bn) was spent on green energy in 2017 driven by a surge in solar photovoltaic (PV) installations.

However, the figure is below 2015’s record amount of $3­60.3bn, the report states.

In particular, the surging solar market in China proved a boon to the sector, over-shadowing changes elsewhere, including jumps in investment in Australia and Mexico, and declines in Japan, the UK and Germany.

The UK was one of the worst performers seeing a massive 56 per cent drop in wake of policy changes from the government.

Solar investment totalled $160.8bn in 2017, up 18 per cent from the previous year even though technology costs have fallen. Just over half of that was spent in China, the research showed.

Jon Moore, chief executive of BNEF, commented: “The 2017 total is all the more remarkable when you consider that capital costs for the leading technology – solar – continue to fall sharply. Typical utility-scale PV systems were about 25 per cent cheaper per megawatt last year than they were two years earlier.”

Chinese investment in clean energy as a whole totalled $132.6bn last year, up 24 per cent from a year earlier to a record high.

Europe invested $57.4bn, down 26 per cent from the previous year, and the United States invested $56.9bn, up 1 per cent on 2016 despite US president Donald Trump’s strong support for fossil fuels and scepticism on climate change. 

Meanwhile, $127.9bn changed hands last year – the highest amount ever – as organisations purchased and sold clean energy projects and companies and refinanced existing project debt.

Private equity buy-outs reached a record high of $15.8bn, six times higher than the previous year. The largest acquisition transaction of 2017 was Brookfield Asset Management’s purchase of a stake in US TerraForm Power for $4.7bn, the report said.

Graph showing investment in billions since 2004:

China’s solar boom drove 2017 rise in global clean-energy investment

January 16th, 2018 no comment

$333.5bn (£242.3bn) was spent on green energy in 2017 driven by a surge in solar photovoltaic (PV) installations.

However, the figure is below 2015’s record amount of $3­60.3bn, the report states.

In particular, the surging solar market in China proved a boon to the sector, over-shadowing changes elsewhere, including jumps in investment in Australia and Mexico, and declines in Japan, the UK and Germany.

The UK was one of the worst performers seeing a massive 56 per cent drop in wake of policy changes from the government.

Solar investment totalled $160.8bn in 2017, up 18 per cent from the previous year even though technology costs have fallen. Just over half of that was spent in China, the research showed.

Jon Moore, chief executive of BNEF, commented: “The 2017 total is all the more remarkable when you consider that capital costs for the leading technology – solar – continue to fall sharply. Typical utility-scale PV systems were about 25 per cent cheaper per megawatt last year than they were two years earlier.”

Chinese investment in clean energy as a whole totalled $132.6bn last year, up 24 per cent from a year earlier to a record high.

Europe invested $57.4bn, down 26 per cent from the previous year, and the United States invested $56.9bn, up 1 per cent on 2016 despite US president Donald Trump’s strong support for fossil fuels and scepticism on climate change. 

Meanwhile, $127.9bn changed hands last year – the highest amount ever – as organisations purchased and sold clean energy projects and companies and refinanced existing project debt.

Private equity buy-outs reached a record high of $15.8bn, six times higher than the previous year. The largest acquisition transaction of 2017 was Brookfield Asset Management’s purchase of a stake in US TerraForm Power for $4.7bn, the report said.

Graph showing investment in billions since 2004:

eCall road accident emergency system to be included in all new EU cars from March

January 11th, 2018 no comment

From the end of March 2018, all new cars and vans will be equipped with the eCall system, which automatically calls the Europe-wide 112 number in the event of a serious accident.

The system is designed to speed up emergency response times and it’s estimated that it could save up to 2,500 lives across Europe each year.

Mariya Gabriel, commissioner responsible for Digital Economy and Society, said: “eCall is a tangible example of how the EU can bring real benefits of digital technology to its citizens, no matter where they are in the EU.

“By combining the single EU emergency number – 112 – with the EU’s satellite navigation system and GSM technology, it saves lives by making emergency responses faster.”

An eCall device works by receiving signals from GPS satellites and the EU’s nearly complete Galileo system. 

When fitted to a vehicle, eCall will automatically contact emergency services in the event of a serious crash with vital information like the vehicle type, the location and time of the accident and the direction of travel (most important on motorways), even if the driver is unconscious or unable to make a phone call.

The new guidelines for manufacturers follow intensive testing of the eCall on-board units at the the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). Manufacturers have been sending in their devices for testing and preliminary feedback.

The JRC’s Tibor Navracsics said: “Any legislation is only as good as its implementation. The EU’s push to save lives by mandating eCall will work only if the on-board units are fit for purpose.

“That is why the European Commission’s science service has been reaching out to industry, assessing their devices and providing feedback to manufacturers on their models and to test centres on their procedures.”

Once the roll-out of eCall throughout the EU is complete, it will become the second largest market for the nascent Galileo system after the location-based services running on smartphones.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: “Knowing the precise location of an accident is crucial for saving lives. Using Europe’s own satellite navigation system Galileo, which is operational for a year now, will enable the emergency response teams to locate the accident with much greater accuracy.

“The mandatory eCall system is a puzzle piece of what our mobility will look like in the future: connected and automated driving with low- and zero-emission cars. With the roll-out of eCall in April 2018, we are taking a major step forward for adoption of Galileo in the automotive market.”