Southern California environment news and trends

Apple to work with critics on pollution audits

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Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

It was announced this week that the same environmental organization that charged Apple’s Chinese production partners with poor pollution practices is going to be working with the digital hardware maker to audit operations at one of the company’s suppliers.

Historically, Apple was not been forthcoming with their manufacturing partners. This new agreement will mark the first time the company has ever revealed the names of those partners, making it easier for environmental organizations to track the sustainability (or lack thereof) in the process. In this case, an unnamed maker of printed circuit boards will be the focus of an environmental review slated to start in “the next few weeks,” according to CNET.

“We are happy Apple is now opening its door,” said Shen Xunan, a project officer at the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs in Beijing to Business Week. After the organization criticized Apple last fall for working with suppliers who endangered public health through pollution, the company has made a very public effort to remedy the situation. Apple has yet to comment on the any of their environmental efforts outside of information provided on the company’s website.

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America set to tax Chinese solar panels

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

With U.S. solar usage at an all-time high, heavily discounted solar hardware from China has become a contentious issue. As we recently reported, a trade complaint made by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing hoped to offset any financial advantages those Chinese companies might enjoy.

It was announced this week that after a review, the U.S. Commerce Department will indeed tax Chinese solar panels coming into America, at a rate ranging from 2.9 to 4.73 percent.

"Today's announcement affirms what U.S. manufacturers have long known: Chinese manufacturers have received unfair ... subsidies," said Steve Ostrenga, the CEO of Helios Solar Works (which is a part of the aforementioned coalition) on MSNBC.com.

As reported by the L.A. Times, the rate is not nearly as high as many had hoped, but there is a chance for much stiffer penalties in May if it’s found that Chinese suppliers had been glutting the American market with solar panels at below-cost prices.

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U.S. solar panel usage through the roof

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Lauren Sommer for NPR

Despite signs pointing to what could have been a grim year, 2011 was booming for American solar industries. According to a new GTM Research, solar panel installations more than doubled last year, with 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity going up as opposed to a mere 887 megawatts in 2010. That’s 109 percent growth, for those keeping score at home.

"In 2011, the market demonstrated why the U.S. is becoming a center of attention for global solar," said Shayle Kann, the managing director of the GTM Research’s solar practice in a press release. “It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations.”

“We went from an industry that was installing megawatts a year to an industry that’s installing gigawatts,” adds Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association to the New York Times. “If we can attract the investment, the opportunity to grow is really limitless simply because demand for energy, and clean energy, is just so great.”

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Apple turns up the sun with new solar-powered plant

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Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Apple, the company that makes a large number of your (um, our) cell phones and computers, is in need of a little good news. The digital giant has taken a big PR hit of late, with reports of questionable employee conditions in their Chinese factories resulting in this week’s ABC “Nightline” expose.

Yesterday, Apple took to the company website to announce something decidedly more upbeat: details of their massive new data center in Maiden, North Carolina that will be primarily powered with renewable energy. CNET reports that the 500,000-square-foot facility will cost a cool $1 billion, and has already earned LEED's highest award – a Platinum certification – for what Apple has planned.

“We know of no other data center of comparable size that has achieved this level of LEED certification,” says Apple’s website. “Apple’s goal is to run the Maiden facility with high percentage renewable energy mix, and we have major projects under way to achieve this — including building the nation’s largest end user-owned solar array and building the largest nonutility fuel cell installation in the United States.” 

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