Green

Steel mill utilization rates dropped to below 70% in March and have stayed there. U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and Evraz have all idled mills, while many others have cut utilization amid weak steel demand (particularly anything exposed to oil and gas tubular markets) and high inventories of flat steel products.

Steel imports are still arriving, but will slow sharply in the second quarter and through the remainder of the year as US steel prices are no longer priced significantly above markets in the rest of the world. Weaker-than-expected US manufacturing data will also mean that it will take some time to work those inventories off. As such, we don’t expect US steel mills to reboot until September or so.

Weak Demand

Weak demand and plentiful supply means a continuation of low prices.

However, the fundamental position is driven by the competition with pig iron – scrap’s core substitute. Here iron ore continues to slide as China acts to protect its own producers while international suppliers’ output piles up. The bankruptcies/closures seen so far (Atlas in Australia, Cliffs in Canada) are nowhere near enough to balance the market.

Until a bigger supply response is seen (and there will have to be one at some point), the price will move inexorably downwards. Despite the downward adjustment of scrap prices seen so far this year, it is still more cost-effective on a global basis to make steel using iron ore than scrap. That will mean further weakness for scrap-based electric arc furnaces around the world as they switch to either pig iron or billet as their primary raw material. If global scrap prices fall again, US exporters will sell more to the domestic market and hence our concern that $250 per ton is not the floor for US scrap prices.

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Ontario, Canada just decided to undertake a cap-and-trade approach in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, joining its Frenchier neighbor Quebec and the US state of California under the so-called Western Climate Initiative and its cap-and-trade program, to invest further in a green future.

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It remains to be seen how Canada’s oil sector – and a host of other industrial sectors, especially those with operations in Ontario – will fare under the cap-and-trade scheme.

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Last month we lamented the slow growth of both the US and international solar and wind power supply industries. While we can't report a great one-month turnaround, renewables were flat as a board again this month, incremental progress seems to picking up steam in local markets both here and abroad.

Flat? Steady? You Make the Call

The monthly Renewables MMI® registered a value of 61 in April, proving that one man's steady with March's value is another man's flat with March's value.

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While it might not be realistic to expect neodymium and solar silicon to trade into the higher ranges of our MMI reports, one would certainly think that increased adoption would lead to somewhat higher prices for mature technologies such as solar. While prices are not increasing for the base materials there were several positive stories about market-based solar technology adoption this month.

Texas Solar/Wind Power

In Texas, the city of Georgetown became the first city in the state to commit to receive its energy from 100% renewable sources by 2017.

In Georgetown, the city utility company has a monopoly and can choose the city’s provider like individuals elsewhere in Texas. When its staff examined their options last year, they discovered something that seemed remarkable, especially in Texas: renewable energy was cheaper than non-renewable. In February, city officials finalized a deal with SunEdison, a multinational solar energy company. It means that by January 2017, all electricity within the city’s service area will come from wind and solar power.

Last year Georgetown signed a 20-year agreement with EDF for wind power from a planned project near Amarillo, the deal with SunEdison takes the renewable elements of the city’s power supply up to 100%. SunEdison will build plants in west Texas that will provide Georgetown with 150 megawatts of solar power in a deal running from 2016 or 2017 to 2041.

India Solar

If a small city in Texas embracing renewables doesn't convince you the needle is moving, then perhaps bigger government-supported projects in India are what's needed to convince the skeptics.

In the build-up to India's government-sponsored RE-Invest 2015 conference, participating companies provided non-binding investment indications of 166-gigawatts of solar power generation capacity and five-GW-per-year solar manufacturing capacity.

SunEdison and First Solar committed to build more than 20,000-megawatts of clean energy capacity in India by 2022. SunEdison said it would build 15,200 MW of solar and wind power capacity by 2022, while First Solar made a commitment to develop 5,000 MW of solar by 2019.

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Georgetown, Texas, a community of 50,000 people 25 miles north of Austin is poised to become the first city in the Lone Star state to receive 100% of its power from renewable sources.

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Thanks to investments in its grid by the state government, most Texas cities enjoy an electricity market that is deregulated, meaning customers have the right to choose from a variety of providers and plans. In Houston there are more than 70 plans that offer energy from entirely renewable sources.

In Georgetown, the city utility company has a monopoly but can still choose the city’s provider like individuals elsewhere in Texas. When its staff examined their options last year, they discovered something that seemed remarkable, especially in Texas: renewable energy was cheaper than non-renewable. In February, city officials finalized a deal with SunEdison, a multinational solar energy company. It means that by January 2017, all electricity within the city’s service area will come from wind and solar power.

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Today in MetalCrawler we’re hoping that if we don’t acknowledge the Monday, the Monday won’t acknowledge us. President Obama signed an executive order limiting carbon dioxide emissions for the federal government, Chilean copper production went down and Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen warned of economic stagnation.

Federal Government Emissions Limit Cut

President Obama signed an executive order calling for the federal government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 2008 levels over the next decade.

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The action also calls for an increase in the share of renewable energy in the federal government’s electricity supply to 30% during that same period. In step with the President’s action, federal suppliers including Honeywell, IBM, General Electric, and other major US firms are pledging to reduce their own carbon footprint by 5 million metric tons over the next 10 years compared with 2008 levels.

Chilean Copper Production Falls

World No. 1 copper producer Chile produced 447,810 tons of copper in February , a 1.1% decrease from a year earlier, due to plant maintenance at a key project, the government said on Monday.

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A surprise announcement by the International Energy Agency (IEA) last week could be good news for energy intensive industries worldwide.

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Firms have been investing billions in energy efficiency and emissions reduction technology yet the targets seem to be ever ratcheted lower in spite of gains made, but a report to be published on June 15 will show that for the first time in 40 years emissions of carbon dioxide did not rise last year.

According to a Financial Times article after growing at an average of 2.4% over the last decade in 2014 the global economy grew 3%, while the amount of CO2 pumped out remained at the 2013 level of 32.3 billion tons. There have only been three times in four decades when emissions fell or stopped rising, the FT quotes the EIA as saying. After the oil price shock and US recession in the early 1980s; in 1992 after the collapse of the former Soviet Union; and in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

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California and the federal government will move forward on less than half the California desert land initially designated for renewable energy plants, officials said Tuesday, leaving millions of acres in limbo as local governments decide how they want to handle large-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects.

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Regulators will initially focus on about 10 million acres of federal land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management in the Mojave and other Southern California deserts. Their initial plan, unveiled in September, designated 22.5 million acres across seven counties.

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While the US steel plate price on the MetalMiner IndX dropped and crude oil prices continue their historic dwindle, the monthly Renewables MMI® fell to 61 in March as more national solar and wind projects ran into major problems. That's a 1.6% drop from February's reading – and a new 12-month low.

The two most widely used and applied renewable energy technologies in the US, wind turbines and photovoltaic solar panels, saw no changes in the prices of their input materials, nor in their supply-and-demand equations this month. Silicon for solar and cobalt, molybdenum and copper for wind have been hovering in their relatively stagnant market niches for the entire year just as they did for all of last year.

The decline in oil prices certainly has not helped renewables, sure, but the markets for solar power generation are not developing as green energy advocates predicted and wind is even further away from mass adoption. Giving homeowners the ability to generate their own solar power has not been the boon to utilities and energy buyers as some thought it would be.

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Solar use in Japan has exploded over the last two years due to an ambitious national effort to promote renewable energy. But the technology’s future role is now in doubt.

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Utilities say their infrastructure cannot handle the swelling army of solar entrepreneurs intent on selling their power. And their willingness to invest more money depends heavily on whether the government remains committed to clean energy.

“It’s upsetting,” Junji Akagi, a real estate developer on Ukushima, a tiny island near Nagasaki, told the New York Times. Mr. Akagi said he hoped to turn a quarter of the island’s 10-square-mile area into a “mega-solar” generating station, and has already lined up investors and secured the necessary land.

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Renewable energy consulting firm “Bridge to India” recently listed investments likely to be completed by active private Indian solar developers. The major ones which indicated plans including domestic players such as Essel Infra Projects, Azure Power and global ones including SunEdison (10 gigawatts), and Canada-based Sky Power Global which has committed to 9.9 GW.

Raj Prabhu, CEO and Co-Founder of Mercom Capital Group, said in a written statement to the government-sponsored RE-Invest 2015 solar conference that most of the industry was confused as it was constantly bombarded with new policies, goals, drafts and revisions.

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The Modi government’s extreme focus on renewable energy, however, may start bearing fruit this year.

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