Friday 7 August 2009

Dell and Pirelli aim to sustain

Thursday 6/8/2009 Page: 6

SOME companies we cannot do without, regardless of how environmentally unfriendly they may be. Companies without computers or cars without wheels are simply unimaginable. While these types of manufacturer may rank among the world's eco-unfriendly, closer investigation reveals they are trying to ensure they become the most sustainable. We are committed to becoming the greenest technology company on the planet," Dell global director of sustainable business Tod Arbogast explains.

Dell's environmental efforts span its entire product range, manufacture, distribution and disposal, as well as its operations and supply chain. And the company is being rewarded for its efforts; it ranks fourth in the US Environmental Protection Agency's Fortune 500 green power challenge for renewable energy purchasing and its products receive the EPA five-star energy rating.

In a similar vein, Pirelli, perhaps better appreciated for its calendars than its tyres, has set itself a target of achieving 40% of its total revenue from green endeavours by the end of 2011, up from 20% today. Pirelli is not just a tyre company. Pirelli Ambiente uses municipal waste, used lyres and chloride-free plastic to produce a fuel called CDR-Q that is used to co-fire power plants. It is also a supplier of green energy through its Italian-based solar PV utility. Its Eco Technology business aims to reduce diesel emissions by 90% with the Feelpure filter system, which can be retrofitted to existing vehicles, while its Gecam diesel fuel reduces emissions by more than 50%.

Research from Pirelli laboratories has produced the Cinturato P7 high performance tyre that reduces carbon emissions by up to 200kg through lower fuel consumption during the tyre's lifetime. Research into the use of ecological materials has enabled Pirelli to reduce reliance on synthetic substances. This year the company was the first to be awarded the leader of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, auto parts and tyres, for two years in a row. This year's Pirelli calendar, by the way, is carbon neutral.

'We are a multinational company and have a responsibility to ensure we operate in a sustainable manner. We are continually researching new products, new solutions, new materials to reduce our impact on our planet. Our responsibility is more far reaching than purely financial gain. Our strategy is to ensure we are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable," Pirelli Australia marketing manager Richard Butler says.

The Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility advises clients on CSR and sustainability issues. Managing director Leeora Black points out that old world industries need to consider what initiatives they can take to make the transition to the new world economy. "Companies need to stay close to their stakeholders, to make a large effort to understand what stakeholders have to contribute to the discussion because they have the influence to generate innovation and ideas," she says. "Tyres are a good example because we are not going to stop driving cars but want to drive cars that are more environmentally sustainable. We need a global technological solution and stakeholders can participate in that process," Black says.

Methane: landfill must get big, or get out

Thursday 6/8/2009 Page: 6

THE management of landfill waste is emerging as one of the most significant environmental challenges in the world today. In Europe, Asia and the US it has reached critical proportions because of the amount of waste produced, the lack of land or the combination of both. In Australia, 20 million people produce an estimated 40 million tonnes of waste, according to Max Spedding, the secretary of the Australian Landfill Owners Association. Half of this is recovered and recycled: some of it through kerbside recycling, some of it from industrial waste, and a lot from construction waste. But 20 million tonnes of waste is still landfill.

The problem is that while about one-third of this waste is inert, much of the rest food and paper generates methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It can continue to produce methane for 50 years. The landfill industry has responded by using the methane as a source of renewable energy which generates income from the price of energy, and from incentive schemes such as the Renewable Energy target and the NSW Greenhouse gas Abatement Scheme. It is estimated that about 14% of the renewable energy certificates produced under Australia's current target come from landfill waste methane.

The issue for landfills is that they need to be of a significant size to make such energy generation profitable. Spedding says the minimum size would be 100,000 tonnes a year, about 100 truckloads a day, or a capacity to generate three MWs of energy. Spedding says about 90% of Australia's 614 landfills don't have the scale to make such energy production economical. "I think there will be a move to close small landfills and make regional-based centres. We are in the transition stage, but that is the future of landfill in Australia." Some, however, say Australia is not doing enough to reduce its landfill waste.

Mike Bartlett, president of international energy company Global NRG, says Australia could be eradicating the need to bury nearly all its municipal waste, but government policy and the vested interests of landfill owners favour the status quo. Global NRG has signed a contract with New York to build a 1 million-tonne plant to handle municipal solid waste. Bartlett expects this plant to be generating enough energy to satisfy 28% of the city's electricity need by 2011.

In Toronto, it has built a plant that removes recyclable waste and transforms the rest into a pellet. The Toronto product is being sold to cement giant Lafarge under a long-term contract, but can also be used as a fuel stock for brick or mining kilns, in boilers to produce steam for industrial use, as a synthetic gas, for further processing into ethanol or biodiesel or in coal-fired generator plants to reduce the level of CO2, emissions.

Bartlett says that under Kyoto Protocol NRG pellets made from municipal solid waste are carbon neutral. He claims the process has reduced Toronto's landfill needs by 96%. A similar plant is also planned in Sri Lanka, where it will receive $US140 per MW for the electricity under a government-mandated scheme. Bartlett says China also mandates high tariffs for such plants, reasoning the reduction in landfill needs amortises the cost.

"If Australia was to harness half of the renewable energy available from municipal solid waste, half of the wheat, straw and half of the cotton and maize stalks, it could generate 3000 MWs, all from renewable sources," he says. "That's equal to the equivalent of five new medium-sized power stations and they could be built at 60% of the cost of a coalfired power station, and produce electricity at half the price of that produced from coal."

Des Wyatt, of Adelaide-based environmental consultancy group Wyatt & Associates, says Australia is about 15 years behind the rest of the world in the development of biogas, which can be produced not just from landfill, but also sewage treatment plants, or waste from intensive farming installations such as piggeries or chicken farms.

He says in Australia energy is mostly produced through a centralised system and exported through expensive transmission lines, which means much of the heat generated by the production of energy is lost, and water is needed to cool the generators. "What I'm arguing for is distributed generation," he says. "That way energy can be produced where needed in buildings, for instance and the heat used for industrial purposes or as a source of indoor heating." He says biogas can also be used as a nontraditional transport fuel, and the residue from the co-fermentation plant used as a soil secondment or fertiliser.

India wants West to pay for solar energy plan

Canberra Times
Thursday 6/8/2009 Page: 10

India has decided to push ahead with an ambitious plan to generate clean electricity through the power of the sun - and, after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it wants rich nations to pay the bill. Although the country has virtually no solar energy today, the plan is to generate 20 GWs from sunlight by 2020. According to the International Energy Agency, global solar capacity is predicted to be 27GW by then - meaning that India expects to be producing 75% of this within 10 years.

About 400 million Indians have no electricity at all, and harnessing the country's abundant solar energy could help spark growth and end the power cuts that plague the nation. It would also, say some analysts, assuage international criticism that India is not doing enough to control its carbon emissions. It is heavily reliant on coal for power. The idea provoked intense and prolonged discussions at a meeting of the national climate change council in New Delhi on Monday.

Initial plans had anticipated that a government subsidy of about $US20 billion ($A23.7 billion), and falling production costs, would enable a long-term 2040 target of 200GW of solar energy. However, experts pointed out that a large government subsidy would contradict the Indian Government's stated position in the global warming treaty negotiations. India, with China and others, has demanded that the costs of clean technologies should be borne by developed nations, who have grown rich through their heavy use of fossil fuels.

Under the revised plan, India's solar mission will seek to achieve its targets by demanding technological and financial support from the developed nations. Leena Srivastava, of the TERI energy research institute, said, "In order to achieve its renewable energy targets, the Indian Government expects international financing as well as technology at an affordable cost." The move suggests that India could use its solar energy plan as a bargaining chip at the forthcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen.

The Government reaffirmed its hardline position last month when the Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, told the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have been among the lowest emitters per capita, [have] to actually reduce emissions." If rich nations do fund the solar plan, the aim of both sides - economic growth for developing countries but with low-carbon emissions - will have been met.

Nonetheless, the plan's optimistic cost projections were debunked at Monday's meeting, leaving it unclear how much money the 2020 target would need. Kushal Singh Yadav, of the Centre for Science and Environment, said, "In terms of vision, it's a very good plan. But the nuts and bolts will remain uncertain until we get a fix on how much money is needed, and where it will come from." He said India had taken significant strides in wind energy production thanks to a shift in government policy. The solar mission plan could eventually do the same for generating energy from the sun.

Alternatives await a little ray of sunshine

Thursday 6/8/2009 Page: 4

FOR a nation with so much sunshine, so many days of the year and covering such a vast land area, it's an anomaly that Australia is not a world leader in solar applications. We are not so much known for our wind potential but, at this time, you would have to say that wind energy has more runs on the board and possibly greater public recognition. If there's one thing about wind farms, you certainly notice them.

We have aspired to be a pacesetter in solar many times in recent decades, and the federal government is making another push. It has committed in the latest budget to $1.6 billion for solar technologies, including $1.36bn for what it calls the Solar Flagships program. This is aimed at creating an additional 1000MW of new solar generating capacity, with four individual generation plants on the national grid using solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. There are some success stories already.

One would have to be Alice Springs, where almost 10% of homes have solar energy, mainly through the use of solar hot-water systems, while about 60 houses have photovoltaic systems installed on their rooftops. Whyalla in South Australia is a case of runs about to be on the board. The city has, on average, 301 days a year of sunshine. This means it has a good level of solar irradiation.

It is now intending to build a thermal solar plant between the OneSteel steelworks and the Pacific Salt installation, the latter able to dispose of the power station's brine. The Whyalla project will proceed in stages. Initially, there will be four 500sq in dishes. Eventually, when it is shown that the technology works, enough dishes will be added to produce electricity for about 19,000 homes. But on the national scene the road to a solar future is strewn with obstacles.

Last month the solar industry warned that a successful move by Coalition and other senators to force a delay to the government's renewable energy program could cost hundreds of jobs in the sector. There have also been complaints from those advancing solar and geothermal projects that the proposed federal renewable energy target plan is too heavily skewed in favour of wind energy.

The morale of the solar industry was dealt a severe blow last year when BP decided to close its plant at Homebush in Sydney's west that made photovoltaic panels. The company argued that the factory's small scale made it impossible to compete with panels made overseas. BP emphasised the positive side: that it was all part of an international drive to reduce the cost of solar equipment to make it more competitive with other power sources, but the closure sent a discouraging signal to the local industry.

There were no doubt economic arguments in favour of cuts and early terminations of federal programs, but the initial impact of those decisions was to cast some cloud over commitment to solar. First there was the earlier than expected termination of the $8000 grants for rooftop solar panels. That was followed by the cancellation of incentives for installing stand-alone solar and wind systems in remote communities.

All this comes against the backdrop of increasing interest in solar energy. Barclays Capital, for example, has just issued a report out of New York that predicts the US solar industry will grow more quickly than expected due to the fact that utilities are gearing up for some large-scale solar farms. Solar now accounts for a total of 444MW of capacity in the US, but Barclays said this could increase 12-fold in the next few years.

In Spain, it is expected that some 14,000MW worth of solar thermal power generating capacity is either on the drawing board or in construction. The European plans are probably on the more solid footing. natural gas in Europe is still expensive by Australian and US standards. In the US, for example, falling natural gas prices have meant solar and wind postponements, most famously the recent decision by oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens to pull the plug on his plan to construct a huge windfarm in the Texas Panhandle.

Meanwhile, wind energy is well and truly with us in Australia. Start of work is getting close on what will be Australia's largest windfarm, a $2.2bn project at Silverton near Broken Hill. It will see 598 turbines producing enough electricity to power almost half a million homes. On a smaller scale, a Hobart property developer last month applied to build llm wind turbine towers on two buildings in the city one on the Marine Board building, the other on the ANZ Bank in Collins Street.

Olympic Dam economics must be for the greater good

Thursday 6/8/2009 Page: 8

Renewable energy may yield benefits for Australia, writes Simon O'Connor.

WHEN a company seeks approval to exploit our most significant natural resource the world's fourth-largest copper resource and largest uranium reserves we ought to be sure there are benefits for Australia far beyond the life of the mine. BHP Billiton has outlined plans in an environmental impact statement to expand the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. Submissions close tomorrow. It wants to make Olympic Dam the largest open-pit copper and uranium mine in the world with gold and silver as valuable byproducts.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is opposed to the mining and export of uranium, but let us look purely at the economics of this project. Australians need to be sure this project - which exploits a major non-renewable resource - will bring benefits that overwhelm the risks and costs. In 40 years, when this project is complete, will Australia's balance sheet be stronger? An examination of the EIS goes part of the way to showing the value of such a project to Australia. But it leaves out critical factors that prevent its from ascertaining whether this project is a good investment.

The three major components that are poorly tackled in the EIS are government-funded infrastructure costs, subsidies and, most significantly, the impact of a carbon price. South Australia and the Northern Territory are expecting greater tax revenues from the project. But the measure of benefit is impossible to know. Estimates for required government spending - on items such as roads and ports - are either not there or are roughly estimated.

An unsubstantiated figure of $100 million is used in the modelling for SA alone. In effect, BHP Billiton is set to privatise profits for at least 40 years while directing state government spending priorities, but without providing estimates of what these might cost, despite the explicit requirement in EIS guidelines. At $100 million, this surpasses the current streams of royalties from the mine.

Another unreported cost conies in Australia's fuel-tax credits for industry. The company is set to get a subsidy of $350 million in the mine's five-year expansion phase through a diesel fuel rebate. It will continue to get an effective subsidy of $85 million a year to 2050.

But most significant is the huge greenhouse gas emissions liability. By 2020, the mine will be responsible for up to 1.4% of Australia's total emissions. This has significant repercussions. Expanding Olympic Dam will make it harder and more costly to achieve state and federal targets. International offsets for a 1% increase in Australia's emissions could be worth more than $300 million in 2020. Costs can rapidly erode benefits. It's time to reverse this scenario.

Olympic Dam can create long-term benefits to Australia. BHP Billiton should be required to power its new mine with only renewable energy. It was involved in a consortium with WorleyParsons that proposed building 34 solar thermal plants in Australia by 2020. These plants use existing technology, including heat storage, producing power long after the sun has gone down.

Olympic Dam is ideally located in a renewable energy hub of sun, wind and geothermal resources but this option has not been sufficiently assessed in the EIS. Such a sizeable investment in this emerging renewable energy industry has the potential to secure much greater benefits for Australia by seeding a 21st-century economy. Australia needs corporate and government leadership now before we are left behind with an excessive reliance on unrefined, low-value commodities.

Simon O'Connor is the Australian Conservation Foundation's economic adviser.

Solar schools still in the shade

Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 5/8/2009 Page: 6

NO PUBLIC school in NSW has yet been able to install solar panels funded by a $300 million national program because the State Government has insisted on a centralised tendering process. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced the funding more than a year ago, and dozens of schools in other states have the panels operating. The State Government believed getting schools to operate together as a block would deliver better value for money, but critics say the process has been slowed down by red tape.

"We're missing an opportunity for schools to cut their emissions, for students to see first hand what this technology is all about, and to engage in the solution," said Chris Andrew, a sustainability expert and parent with two children in a public school. This is not about being an environmental zealot, it just makes practical sense to get solar panels installed as soon as possible when the money has already been sitting there for some tine." School principals in some other states and territories can make funding submissions directly to the Federal Government, but in NSW they apply to the Department of Commerce, which acts as the middleman in negotiations with solar companies.

A lengthy tendering process concluded on June 11, and three companies, BP Solar, Solgen Energy and Bovis Lend Lease, were engaged to fit panels. NSW schools are entitled to $92 million of federal money, and up to $50,000 is available to a school for solar panels and other energy efficiency measures. The program is part of the state's plan to make all government agencies carbon neutral by 2020, a goal likely to be achieved by a combination of emission cuts and purchasing carbon offsets.

Wong faces revolt over GreenPower plan

Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 5/8/2009 Page: 3

IN A move that could cost the Federal Government's GreenPower scheme public support, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has asked a state government agency and energy suppliers to stop telling customers that using GreenPower will "make a real difference" to the environment. Almost a million households now buy GreenPower, paying extra on their power bills to support renewable energy and shrink their carbon footprint. But they will no longer be told it leads to "significant results for our environment".

The Federal Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong is facing a growing revolt over changes to the GreenPower scheme, amid claims from the consumer organisation Choice and environmental groups that voluntary efforts to cut emissions will simply allow large polluters to pollute more.

That is one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the emissions trading scheme, and will be subject to Senate debate next week. Despite the commission's advice, a spokeswoman for Senator Wong said all new GreenPower purchasers from the beginning of next year would contribute to Australia's greenhouse gas cuts targets.

"Further, existing GreenPower purchases were taken into account when the Government first announced the 2020 target range," the spokeswoman said. "GreenPower customers have made a great contribution over the years, but the fact remains that even with the best efforts of Australian households and businesses in buying Green Power, Australia's emissions have still grown by more than 1% each year since 1998."

After consulting the commission, the NSW Department of Water and Energy has changed the description of GreenPower on its website and written to energy suppliers telling them to change their marketing. It asked power companies to stop using the phrase "You can make a real difference", and replace it with "You have the power to choose". The phrase "significant results for our environment" should be replaced with "renewable energy for our future", the department said in an email to power companies.

Associate Professor Alan Pears, an energy expert with RMIT in Melbourne, said GreenPower had to advise energy retailers to change their advertising to avoid being prosecuted by the commission for making false marketing claims. "They don't want the retailers to be accused of greenwash", Mr Pears said.

Retailers and supporters of voluntary action to cut greenhouse emissions say the key measures of the Federal Government's plans for GreenPower will rob consumers of a reason to buy the product. A result of the measures is that in effect GreenPower purchases will not be counted in Australia's effort to reduce its greenhouse emissions until 2015. The director of Ark Climate, Peter Shuey, who markets GreenPower, said many energy providers were unhappy about the Government's actions. "For the Government to be destroying it is a backward step. It this is not fixed there is no point in purchasing GreenPower".

Thursday 6 August 2009

U.K. Told to Triple Nuclear Share of Power Generation
Aug. 5

The U.K, should aim to triple the share of electric power it gets from nuclear plants by 2030 as a way to limit the nation's dependence in imported oil and gas, a report commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown concluded. Former Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, who is Brown's special adviser on the issue, said the government should aim to get 40% of its electric power from nuclear sources. Last year atomic plants supplied 12.5% of the U.K.'s electricity, half the level prevailing in the 1990s.

Wicks also suggested the government prioritize energy efficiency and step up efforts to wean the nation away from fossil fuels blamed for a damaging the Earth's climate. He said the nation won't meet its goals to cut pollution without reducing reliance on overseas energy supply and bolstering renewable sources such as wind and tidal power.

"When you add the national security dimension to it, we should start arguing that wind turbines and the rest are an important part of the U.K.'s energy defenses that we need to put in place in the coming years," Wicks said at a press conference in London today. "It needs to be clean, and it needs to be green, so it needs to be renewable or nuclear."

Nuclear Shortfall The majority of the U.K.'s 10 nuclear energy plants are due to close in the next two decades, and the proposed replacements are only likely to match the current proportion of generation, Wicks said. He called on the government to make a "strong and clear statement" on the need for additional plants. Brown's administration welcomed the report and said it's on track to meet its goals on protecting the environment. The report is part of the government's longer-term planning on how to meet promises for curbing emissions.

"We are already taking a number of responsible far-sighted steps to put the U.K, on a secure, low carbon, affordable energy footing," Ed Miliband, the Cabinet minister in charge of climate change, said in a statement. Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, criticized the report, saying nuclear energy is not the answer and that there should be more emphasis on cutting waste and developing wind and wave power.

Greenpeace Criticism
"Nuclear is a dangerous distraction from the real solutions to climate change and energy security," Greenpeace's climate and energy spokesman, Robin Oakley, said in an e-mailed statement. "With the costs of nuclear reactors soaring and the only plants being built in the western world plagued with safety, financial and construction problems, it's clear where Miliband's priorities should lie."

Wicks said national security could be threatened by unstable energy supplies and the government should work with industry to slow the "dash for gas" and develop renewable and nuclear energy. The nation is more reliant on natural gas than any other country in Western Europe.

U.K, dependence on energy imports is likely to make up between 39% and 43% of consumption by 2020 and up to 50% in 2025, the report said. The proportion will depend in part on how much of the fuel for biomass and biofuel power plants is imported, Wicks said. He recommended the Foreign Office prioritize relationships with Norway, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to bolster energy security. He also suggested strategic storage facilities to ensure there is enough gas in the U.K, in hard winters and the country is not reliant on commercial storage.

Contracts for the supply of gas are not as good as those signed by other European countries, including Germany, Wicks said, and the government should become more closely involved. "I've looked at the supply obligations on companies and don't find it satisfactory," he said. "Government should look with industry at how we can have more secure contracts in the future."

Colorado State University using solar energy
August 04, 2009

Colorado State University will become one of the most recent educational institutions to meet at least some of its power needs with solar energy. According to the university, it will install a two MW solar energy plant at its Fort Collins campus, sufficient to meet 10% of its electric needs. The array will be located on 15 acres of land and is expected to be finished late this year. "The university is proud to be a state leader in the utilization of renewable and clean energy solutions, and it is especially satisfying to put projects online that will also be financially beneficial for many years to come," said interim university provost Rick Miranda.

There is already a 1.2 MW solar array providing power at the university system's Pueblo campus. The state is working with Xcel Energy to generate the clean energy. Xcel will continue to own and operate the solar panels, but the university will later have the opportunity to purchase the equipment. The university will purchase the solar energy from Xcel at a fixed rate as part of a 20-year agreement.

CLP Gets Approval to Develop Hong Kong Wind Farm
Aug. 3

CLP Group Ltd, was granted approval by Hong Kong's government to develop what may be the largest offshore windfarm in Asia by capacity. Permission in principle has been given by the city's Director of Environmental Protection, according to a statement posted on the department's Web site today.

CLP Group, the biggest power supplier in the territory, says the project may cost HK$7 billion ($903 million) and produce about 1% of the city's electricity. Groups, including the Association for Geoconservation, have said the project will destroy the sea view in the Clearwater Bay area, which they describe as the last piece of pristine wilderness in Hong Kong.

"The government is more interested in making symbolic gestures rather than really tackling greenhouse gas emissions," said the association's Chairman Young Ng. "The windfarm will only produce a very small amount of clean energy, but it will have a terrible impact on the environment." The project will provide clean energy for 80,000 households and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions of 300,000 metric tons a year, CLP Group said in an e-mail after the government announcement.

The final layout of the windfarm must show CLP Group has "minimized the footprint" of the project and limited its environmental impact, the government said. CLP Group is to liaise further with local groups on the final plans for the windfarm, according to the government statement. CLP Group shares rose 0.1% in Hong Kong this year, while the main Hang Seng Index gained 45%. The stock fell 0.1% to HK$52.65 today, before the government announcement.

Largest Offshore Farm
The original CLP Group project involves erecting 67 turbines, about 125 meters (410 feet) high, nine kilometers off Hong Kong's southeastern coast. The 200-MW project may be the largest offshore windfarm in Asia, said Marc Renault, a spokesman for the World Wind Energy Association based in Bonn.

"The next phase of the project is the installation of a wind mast at the proposed site, followed by the collection of on-site wind and wave data, which are expected to take about one to two years," CLP Group said in the e-mail. "We hope the full business case for assessment will be ready by 2011."

Electricity generation accounts for about 60% of Hong Kong's emissions and the government wants 2% of the city's power to be produced by renewable energy by 2012. Under the city's Scheme of Control system introduced last year, renewable-energy plants can earn an 11% return on investment, compared with a rate of less than 10% for coal-fired generators.

"There are financial benefits in renewable energy projects for CLP Group," said Alan Chan, a utilities analyst at Daiwa Securities in Hong Kong. "The company is serious about being a good corporate citizen, but obviously its first priority is to its shareholders."

Greenpeace's Backing
CLP Group spent three years liaising with local groups about the project, which has won the backing of Greenpeace in Hong Kong. "We want more clean and environmentally friendly energy projects and this is a good starting point," said Greenpeace spokesman Prentice Koo. "Every measure taken to reduceemissions, such as wind projects and energy conservation, is important."

A 30-day public consultation period on the project's environmental impact ended on July 2. "Out of about 100 responses CLP Group received from the public via dedicated project Web site during the one-month public consultation, 67% expressed support to the project," CLP Group said today. The need for further government approvals means the windfarm is unlikely to be in operation before 2014, the utility said on July 1.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Power For The People

Adelaide Advertiser
Tuesday 4/8/2009 Page: 18

IMAGINE someone handed you a lump of silverly metal the size of a golf ball. They said you might wish to put on some plastic gloves to hold it, although that would not be necessary if you washed your hands afterwards. You look down at the metal resting on your palm. It feels heavy, because it's very dense. You are then told that this metal "golf ball" can provide all the energy you will ever use in your life. That includes running your lights, computer, airconditioner, TV, electric car, synthetic jet fuel. Everything. Using 1kg of uranium or thorium - take your pick. That is what modern nuclear energy offers. An incredibly concentrated source of energy, producing a tiny amount of waste.

Taken over its life cycle, when used in next-generation fast spectrum nuclear reactors, this energy generation will produce less carbon dioxide emissions than wind turbines. It gets better. Your lifetime's worth of energy waste, also weighing just under a kilogram, will be less radioactive than the natural rocks around Roxby Downs within 300 years. Not 100,000 years. Only 300 years. South Australian rocks contain this metal in great abundance. We live in one of the most energy-rich areas on the planet.

We are endowed with far more energy than all the oil and gas in the Middle East. We already export a few thousand tonnes of it each year, and are planning to ship much more overseas in the future. Yet, we don't use it ourselves. We recognise the fact that our natural gas supplies are limited. Worse, burning this fuel produces vast amounts of carbon dioxide, which is destabilising the climate system.

Coal, found in great abundance in Australia's east coast states, is twice as bad as natural gas in terms of carbon emissions, and also dumps heavy metals, soot and chemicals causing acid rain into the air. Clearly, we must hitch ourselves off the fossil fuel energy bandwagon, and quickly. Right now, we are pushing for more and more wind and solar energy. This is well and good, but these variable and diffuse renewable energy sources have severe limits that often go unacknowledged.

They cannot power a large fraction of the needs of future all electric society without major breakthroughs in energy storage technology, and much cheaper backup options than now exist. Energy found in hot rocks deep beneath our deserts holds great promise, but is shadowed by many unknowns. We'd be taking a great risk if we gambled our entire energy future on this one possibility.

My research has convinced me that nuclear energy is by far the best prospect that we, as South Australians and as a global community, have of drastically cutting carbon emissions. The world is experiencing a nuclear renaissance, with almost 50 new reactors now being built and another 350 being planned, in places like China, India, Europe and North America.

Nuclear power station companies are now focusing on designing smaller-sized reactors that are built to a standardised, ultra-safe design, in a factory, and then shipped to site. This brings economies of scale to bear, which means cheaper electricity. Also, because each individual reactor can be quite small, you can simply add more units as your energy needs grow and as you retire old infrastructure. The age of huge plants, which can be difficult to finance and take many years to build, may soon be history.

It's time for Australia to embrace nuclear energy as a major enabler of a low-carbon economy. Companies like Rio Tinto recognise this need. We all should. After all, South Australia is perfectly positioned to be a leader in this new energy revolution.

Barry Brook is Sir Hubert Wilkins Professor Climate Change at the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Emission price caps could turn out the lights: CSIRO scientist

Monday 3/8/2009 Page: 4

AUSTRALIA'S chief scientific body, the CSIRO says the design of Australia's emissions trading scheme could stifle investment in renewable technologies and threaten power supplies. The Federal Government has proposed price caps of $10 a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions for the first year, followed by $40 a tonne for the following four years.

In a submission to the Government's energy review, CSIRO researchers warn that such price caps could cause Australia to increase its reliance on high-emissions energy, such as coal, as demand for electricity increases. "If legislative arrangements place a cap on the price signals sent by electricity and carbon markets then it is possible that investment will be impacted, reducing the supply of new electricity generation capacity below what is required to reliably deliver power to customers or delivering less risky but most likely higher emission technologies," the CSIRO submission says.

Dr Jim Smitham, leader of the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship, told The Age the organisation did not have an exact policy position on how much the Government's proposed price caps could affect investment in clean energy. But Dr Smitham said all the "purely economic" modelling done by the CSIRO showed that less interference in the carbon market would make it more likely investment would go to renewable energy and "clean coal" technologies.

"If you have set the strategic direction and you want lower emissions but the financial incentive is fairly small because of price caps, people will hold off investing in new (lowemissions technology) plants because the incentive is not big enough at the moment," Dr Smitham said. "Or you could reach the point where you can't build the plants fast enough and the lights will start to go out."

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong did not comment on the CSIRO submission. The Government's emissions trading scheme looks set to be defeated in a Senate vote on August 13, with the Opposition still demanding major changes. Meanwhile, a Greens commissioned Galaxy survey of 1100 Australians found that 75% agreed that high emissions industries should face tougher conditions.

Asian giants put the West’s targets for solar energy in the shade
August 3, 2009

For years India and China have been cast in the West as the biggest obstacles to international agreement on how to tackle climate change. Now the two emerging economic giants of Asia have challenged the West to match their bold plans to develop solar energy. India's unveiling of a National Solar Mission comes soon after China revised its solar energy targets upwards to 2 GWs (2 billion watts) installed capacity by 201 and 20GW by 2020.

India now aims to produce 10 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, while China is targeting 20 per cent. China is already the world's fourth largest producer of wind energy and makes half of the world's solar panels. By contrast President Obama has set a goal of 10 per cent renewable energy use by 2012 and 25 per cent by 2025, but has yet to lay out a plan to achieve those targets — which are being watered down by Congress.

The European Union has committed to producing 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but member states have also been slow to provide details of how to meet the target. India and China are now certain to showcase their relatively bold plans during international negotiations in Copenhagen in December to try to agree a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Western countries have long argued that China and India must agree to specific limits on their carbon emissions as they are now the world's biggest and fourth biggest producers respectively of greenhouse gases. Beijing and Delhi oppose that demand, insisting that the West must be the first to act because it has caused most of the world's industrial pollution. The solar plans unveiled by India and China will not end that debate, but the onus is now on the West to put its money where its mouth is.

Electric power industry buzzing over 'smart grid' technology
August 2, 2009

WASHINGTON — Thomas Alva Edison, meet the Internet. More than a century after Edison invented a reliable light bulb, the U.S, electricity distribution system, an aging spiderweb of power lines, is poised to move into the digital age. The "smart grid" has become the buzz of the electric power industry, at the White House and among members of Congress. President Barack Obama says it's essential to boost development of wind and solar energy, get people to use less energy and to tackle climate change.

What smart grid visionaries see coming are home thermostats and appliances that adjust automatically depending on the cost of power; a world where a water heater may get juice from a neighbor's rooftop solar panel, where on a scorching hot day a plug-in hybrid electric car charges one minute and the next sends electricity back to the grid to help head off a brownout.

It is a world where utilities get instant feedback on a transformer outage, shift easily among energy sources, integrating wind and solar energy with electricity from coal-burning power plants, and go into homes and businesses to automatically adjust power use based on prearranged agreements.

"It's the marriage of information technology and automation technology with the existing electricity network. This is the energy Internet," said Bob Gilligan, vice president for transmission at GE Energy, which is aggressively pursuing smart grid development. "There are going to be applications 10 years from now that you and I have no idea that we're going to want or need or think are essential to our lives."

Hundreds of technology companies and almost every major electric utility company see smart grid as the future. That interest got a boost with the availability of $4.5 billion in federal economic recovery money for smart grid technology. But smart grid won't be cheap; cost estimates run as high as $75 billion. Who's going to pay the bill? Will consumers get the payback they are promised? Might "smart meters" be too intrusive? Could an end-to-end computerization of the grid increase the risk of cyber-attacks?

Today's grid is seen by many as little different from one envisioned by Edison 127 years ago. The hundreds of thousands of miles (kilometers) of power lines that crisscross the country have been compared to a river flowing down a hill: an inefficient one-way movement of electrons from power plant to consumer. There is little way to provide any feedback of information to the power company running the system or those buying the electricity.

"The heart of a smart grid is to make the grid more flexible, to more easily control the flow of electrons, and make it more efficient and reliable," said Greg Scheu, head of the power production division at ABB North America, a leading grid technology provider.

"The meter is only the beginning," said Alex Huang, director of a grid technology center at North Carolina State University. He said that instead of power flowing from a small number of power plants, the smart grid can usher in a system of distributed energy so electricity "will flow from homes and businesses into the grid, neighborhoods will use local power and not just power flowing from a single source."

There are glimpses of what the future grid might look like. On the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, the chancellor's home has been turned into a smart grid showhouse as part of a citywide $100 million demonstration project spearheaded by Xcel Energy. The home has a laptop-controlled electricity management system that integrates a rooftop solar panel with grid-supplied power and tracks energy use as well as equipment to charge a plug-in hybrid electric car.

Florida Power & Light is planning to provide smart meters covering 1 million homes and businesses in the Miami area over the next two years in a $200 million project. smart meters are being distributed by utilities from California to Delaware's Delmarva Peninsula. "We've got about 70 (smart grid) pilots all over the country right now," said Mike Oldak, an expert on smart grid at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned power companies.

Center Point Energy, which serves 2.2 million customers in the metropolitan Houston area, expects to spend $1 billion over the next five years on smart grid. Residential customers are seeing an additional $3.24 a month on their electric bills, but Center Point says that should be more than offset by energy savings.

An Energy Department study projects energy savings of 5% to 15% from smart grid. "This pays for itself through efficiency and demand reduction, and if you don't look at it from that perspective, you won't get your money back," said Thomas Standish, group president for regulated operations at Center Power Energy. The cost and payback have some state regulators worried.

"We need to demonstrate to folks that there's a benefit here before we ask them to pay for this stuff," says Frederick Butler, chairman of New Jersey's utility commission and president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the national group that represents these state agencies.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the current grid stands in the way of increasing the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar that "will need a system that can dispatch power here, there and everywhere on a very quick basis." But Chu and others also worry about security. "If you want to create mischief one very good way to create a great deal of mischief is to actually bring down a smart grid system. This system has to be incredibly secure," Chu said.

And there is the issue of intrusion. "Is the average consumer willing to pay the upfront costs of a new system and then respond appropriately to price signals? Or will people view a utility's ability to reach inside a home to turn down a thermostat as Orwellian?" Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said at a recent hearing on smart grid.

Monday 3 August 2009

Stop stealing our power

Adelaide Advertiser
Friday 31/7/2009 Page: 21

HOUSEHOLDS with solar panels are being ripped off by electricity companies and the State Government is letting them get away with it, says the man behind Adelaide's solar neighbourhood. Brad Page, of Semaphore, encouraged his neighbours to band together for a good deal on solar panels. Now there are 175 homes in the LeFevre Solar Neighbourhood generating 200kW an hour. Surplus electricity is fed into the grid.

The State Government pays 44c/kWh under the Electricity (Feed-in Scheme - Residential Solar Systems) Amendment Act 2008 to reward solar households, but electricity retailers pay next to nothing. Retailers used to pay 16-24c/kWh but now most just pass on the State Government money, plus maybe 5c/kWh. "The Government actually assumed that electricity retailers would do the right thing by their customers and not simply rip them off at the first opportunity," Mr Page said. "The Government was wrong.

They didn't make the legislation as tight as they should have and now they need to act and fix it." A Greens Bill to force energy companies to pay a fair solar feed-in rate passed State Parliament's Upper House earlier this year, but was voted down by Labor in the Lower House. Greens MLC Mark Parnell said Labor consistently blocked action to fix its scheme. "We now call on Mike Rann to do the right thing by solar panel owners and urgently stop households being ripped off by big energy retailers," he said.

A spokesman for Premier Mike Rann said the solar feed-in scheme was due for review after 2 years or when 10MW of small grid-connected solar electricity systems was installed in SA. This trigger had now been reached and the review would commence "in the coming months".

Powerful future

Saturday 1/8/2009 Page: 1

SOME will tilt at them, but it would seem a pointless exercise: a surge in windmill construction is set to recast the Victorian landscape. Two needs - offsetting the state's electricity-hungry new desalination plant and meeting an incoming national renewable energy target - are to trigger a huge expansion of wind energy across the state. The desalination plant dreaimed up by Steve Bracks, John Brumby and John Thwaites in 2007 will transform not just the Wonthaggi coastline, but parts of the Western District, too.

Energy giant AGL estimates it will need to build roughly 180 turbines to offset the power needed to run the plant once it starts operating in 2011. This will be extra power on top of the national target. It announced that work on a 32-turbine farm at Oakland Hills, near the Grampians, would start in October. This is expected to be followed by a 183-turbine farm at Macarthur, north-east of Portland, with about 300 MWs capacity.

"For its, it is all about Macarthur," says AGL merchant energy manager Jeff Dimery. "It will be the biggest windfarm in the southern hemisphere when it is constructed, and will more than meet all the energy requirements of the desalination plant." If it does hold this title, it may not be for long. At least two larger wind farms are proposed elsewhere in the country.

The likelihood they will get off the ground will increase dramatically once a renewable energy bill before the Senate is passed. The Liberal Party supports the central point of the bill, which is to force electricity retailers to buy a fifth of their energy from clean sources by 2020. Energy analysts say unless it is changed the overwhelming majority - more than 90% - of this investment in the short term will be in wind, easily the cheapest form of renewable energy. Much of this will be in Victoria.

The state has eight wind farms with 266 turbines. To date this accounted for less than 2% of Victoria's energy generation. Compare this with what is proposed: 20 farms with 850 turbines have been approved and are waiting to finalise finance and manufacturing deals so they can be built. Another 27, with more than 1000 turbines, are at proposal or planning approval stage. "If you look at a wind map of Australia, alongside Tasmania and South Australia, Victoria is the most attractive windyielding state," Mr Dimery says.

According to Environment Victoria, the proposed wind farms could be enough to replace one of the state's brown coal-fired electricity generators. Pacific Hydro chief executive Andrew Richards says Victoria initially missed out on renewable projects in part because of a slow planning process, which took twice as long as South Australia and NSW. He says this is changing, but not fast enough. "Other states are more flexible," he says.

On a more positive note, he says Victoria was the first state to introduce its own renewable energy target. The impact of this was dulled by uncertainty over the delayed national target. Wind power has faced criticism it cannot be relied on for baseload power. The Energy Supply Association of Australia says the efficiency rating of Victoria's wind energy plants last year was about 30% because of fluctuations in wind strength.

Army Offers 14,000 Acres for Solar
July 31, 2009

Clark Energy Group and Acciona Solar Power plan to build 500 MWs of solar energy projects at Fort Irwin in California and sell electricity to utilities. Over the next 13 years, arrays of solar energy generating equipment is set to rise from the vast U.S. Army base of Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert of California.

It's an ambitious undertaking by the Army, which has selected Clark Energy Group and Acciona Solar Power to develop at least 500 MWs of solar energy projects. Five sites totaling 14,000 acres are available for the project, said David Ruderman, a spokesman for the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Friday.

The Army considers it a pilot project to meet its energy policy, which calls for conservation and the promotion of alternative energy generation. Like the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is setting aside land for solar energy development, the military also intends to make some of its vast land holdings available for all types of renewable energy generation. The Fort Irwin solar project would cost roughly $2 billion, and the Army hopes to see the 500 MWs completed by 2022, Ruderman said. "One of the aims of this project is to become energy independent," Ruderman said.

The project is still in the early stages of planning. The Army announced the two developers only Thursday. Clark Energy Group and Acciona will be charting out an attack plan for securing the necessary permits, equipment and crews to start construction, which is expected to start in 2011, Ruderman said.

Arlington, Va.-based Clark Energy Group is part of the Clark Enterprise, which also includes real estate and construction companies. Acciona, headquartered in Spain, is a development and construction firm that has built solar thermal power plants and other types of renewable energy projects. In the United States, Acciona is known for building a 64-MW solar thermal project called Nevada Solar One in Boulder City, Nevada in 2007.

The plan is to provide some of the power from the projects to Fort Irwin and sell the rest to private-sector buyers, said Bryon Krug, managing director of Clark Energy Group. Likely takers include the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as well as Southern California Edison, Ruderman said. "This project has the potential to demonstrate how underutilized desert land can be transformed into a growth engine for the clean energy economy of tomorrow," Krug said in an email.

The two developers plan to install both photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants at Fort Irwin, where the Army carries out combat training, and at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. The solar project would have to be done without interfering with the fort's operations.

The Army will lease land to Clark Energy Group and Acciona for the project and receive in-kind services in return, Ruderman said. The lease, which could last 50 years, will be based on the fair market value of the land, and the rent would be paid in services such as building roads and paving airstrips, he added. The project could expand by another 500 MWs, Krug said.

Scientists hit back at climate scepticism

Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 1/8/2009 Page: 5

FIFTEEN senior Australian climate scientists have hit back at the resurgence of climate scepticism among the nation's politicians and the media, warning that the threat from climate change is real, urgent and approaching a series of "tipping points" where it will feed on itself.

"New findings suggest that the situation is, if anything, more serious than the assessment of just a few years ago", say the scientists, who include the CSIRO's Dr Michael Raupach and Dr John Church, along with the Australian National University's Professor Will Steffen, who recently completed a report on climate change science for the Federal Government.

Writing in today's Herald, the scientists, many of whom worked with the top United Nations scientific body on climate change, argue "rapid, sustained and effective" cuts in the world's greenhouse gas emissions are needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Dr Raupach, who monitors greenhouse gas emissions globally, said the scientists joined together because of their growing concern about climate scepticism in the Australian debate. "It's a concern that I think is widely felt among many climate scientists in Australia," he said.

He referred to sceptics' claims that the earth was cooling and that solar flares and sunspots were responsible for increasing warming, not human-caused emissions from burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. "These arguments keep being recycled even though they have been rebutted in public many times," Dr Raupach said. "We felt the need to state the evidence based position as we see it."

Last week the senior shadow cabinet member Tony Abbott repeated many climate sceptics' claims in The Australian, even though he argued the Liberal Party should pass the Government's emissions trading scheme for political reasons. Leading National Party figures, including the party's Senate leader, Barnaby Joyce, are vocal climate sceptics, as is the Liberal Party Senate leader, Nick Minchin.

The Family First senator, Steve Fielding, returned from a conference in Washington in June, at which scepticism about climate science was discussed, to express his doubts about human induced climate change. The Senate is due to debate the Government's emissions trading scheme within the next fortnight.

The scientists are particularly concerned about claims that the earth is cooling because temperature increases since 2002 have not happened as fast those in the previous few years. "Some people have seen that as evidence that the whole game is off, that climate change is not an issue," Dr Raupach said. "In fact it's normal climate variability." The overall warming trend has been inexorably upwards, the scientists say.

Single-desk carbon trade could earn billions: Flannery

Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 31/7/2009 Page: 5

THE former Australian of the year Tim Flannery has proposed a single Australian Government trading desk - similar to the former wheat desk - to sell carbon credits to the United States. The government-operated desk could ensure Australia up to 10% of the 1 billion tonnes of carbon offsets the US would buy offshore a year if legislation to establish a US emissions trading scheme passes the US Senate later this year, he said.

Mr Flannery backed the Coalition's proposed amendment to the Government's emissions trading scheme which would allow carbon credits to be created by farmers who store carbon in their soil. He said these would be the primary carbon credits sold to the US through his proposed trading desk.

Green carbon, such as biochar - a type of processed charcoal used to store carbon in soil - is not included in the Australian emissions trading scheme or any international agreements. Under the Government's proposed emissions trading scheme, Australian carbon credits can only be generated through revegetation of trees to avoid deforestation.

"The Government could then buy a certain amount of permits from farmers for carbon soil storage.., at, say, $15 a tonne and sell them on to the US at $20 through the desk," Mr Flannery said. "If we could get 10% of the US market at, say, $20 that would be about $2 billion a year coming into Australia and [would] help Australian farmers expand carbon storage projects."

Under the single-desk plan, government assessors would be sent to evaluate carbon storage to ensure they were legitimate projects before the Government could sell them. Mr Flannery's proposal would require Australia to lift a temporary ban on selling carbon credits internationally - except to New Zealand - currently included in the emissions trading legislation before Parliament, and require green carbon's inclusion in an international climate change agreement.

Mr Flannery recently returned from New Zealand where he proposed a similar idea to the country's climate minister. On Wednesday the Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke, cast doubt on the likelihood of biochar and other soil-based carbon storage being used to create permits in an Australian scheme.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Opposition Leader, said yesterday the Opposition would vote down the Government's emissions trading scheme when it came to the vote in the Senate next month unless the Government accepted nine broad changes to the policy outlined last week, including the inclusion of biochar.

But speaking to the Herald yesterday Mr Flannery hit out at the Liberal Party, saying the "rump" of climate sceptics in the party were marching it to electoral defeat based on a flawed climatechange policy. "That is just stupid and they need to move on... Malcolm is trying to move them on, though not as effectively as we would like to see," Mr Flannery said. "How stupid could you be? They will lose at least 20 seats if there is a double-dissolution election."

Solar panel companies are feeling the heat - Jobs threat after market crash

Friday 31/7/2009 Page: 5

ONE of the country's largest solar panel retailers has warned it will shed two-thirds of its staff next month unless the Federal Government changes its renewable energy bill. Solar Shop Australia said yesterday about 100 sales and marketing jobs were at immediate risk due to a crash in the rooftop solar panel market since the Government abruptly ended an $8000 rebate on June 9, three weeks earlier than scheduled.

The rebate was to be replaced with a market-based solar credits scheme expected to net a typical Victorian household about $4000 for a one kW system. But the renewable energy bill including the credits scheme was delayed in June after the Government attempted to link an industry compensation package to its divisive emissions trading proposal. It prompted the Liberals to withdraw support for the clean energy bill, which was referred to a Senate committee due to report on August 12.

Solar Shop managing director Adrian Ferraretto said ending the solar rebate without a replacement had triggered a collapse in sales from a high of 450 solar systems a week to fewer than 10. He said the Government was "playing political football" with his 160 employees and the nation's 4000-job solar industry. "If the legislation doesn't get through in August, we will have to start making cuts overnight - [by October or November] we would have enough work for 5-10 people," he said.

Many in the clean energy sector accept the rebate was unsustainable, but are highly critical of the Government for a string of policy changes. Its axing of the solar rebate was followed by its canceling of a program that covered up to half the cost of setting up clean power sources in remote areas. Solar Shop's competitors were less bullish about the legislation, but said they also faced staffing pressures. Modern Solar chief executive Laurie Mallia said sales had fallen by about 30% and the company faced losing staff if the bill was not passed this year.

He said the Government had failed to deliver a seamless transition to the new system as promised. "We want them to stop playing politics," he said. Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the Opposition would attempt to decouple the renewable energy and emissions trading bills. He expected the clean energy bill to be passed next month. He proposed a change so that the renewable energy bill would require 5% of electricity to come from clean sources that could also provide baseload power.

The bill currently has a broad target of 20% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Mr Hunt said the change would counter concerns that comparatively cheap wind fauns would take up the entire target at the expense of solar and geothermal power, both of which could potentially provide baseload. But he said the Opposition would not hold the bill hostage to win support for the proposed amendment.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong blamed the Opposition for delaying the renewable energy bill. "We have a very clear policy position - we believe the best thing for the Australian economy and for tackling climate change is to have both the [emissions trading scheme] and the renewable energy target," she said.

Oyster wave power device deployed off Orkney
Sun, 2 Aug 09

Aquamarine Power's innovative Oyster wave power device is being installed on the seabed in the Atlantic off the coast of the Orkney Islands, where it will start demonstration trials this autumn. The Oyster device is a large hydraulic oscillator fitted with pistons that, when activated by the action of waves, pump water under high pressure through a pipeline to the shore. Onshore, conventional hydroelectric generators convert the high-pressure water into electricity.

The concept is based on fundamental research carried out at Queen's University Belfast. "Oyster's technology is highly innovative because it relies on simplicity," says Ronan Doherty, chief technical officer at Aquamarine Power. "Its offshore component – a highly reliable flap with minimal submerged moving parts – is the key to its success when operating in seas vulnerable to bad weather where maintenance can be very difficult."

Doherty adds that as there is no underwater generator, electronics or gearbox and all the power generation equipment in onshore, where it is easily accessible. The system is designed to be deployed in near-shore regions at depths of 12-16 m, where wave action tends to be more consistent and less variable in direction. The smaller size of waves near the shore also maximises the lifetime of the device and the consistency of power generation.

Each Oyster device has a peak capacity of 300-600 kW but is designed to be deployed in multiple arrays. Although still in the early stages of development, Aquamarine Power believes that the device could have great potential. "Our computer modelling of coastlines suitable for this technology shows that Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the UK are ideal candidates in Europe," says Doherty. "But globally there is huge scope in areas like the North West coast of the USA and coastlines off South Africa, Australia and Chile." The company says it believes the potential size of the market for the Oyster technology could be in excess of £50 billion.

For further information:

Cheaper, Simpler Solar Thermal Using Stirling Engines

A recent study found that solar thermal power could provide 25% of the world's electricity needs if investments increased and the technology was put in place. That makes the new design by Stirling Energy Systems for harvesting that energy particularly compelling. The company claims it has come up with a new solar thermal system that is simpler than other versions of the technology and will make the energy cheaper. The company plans to start building large solar energy plants using this design within the next year.

The system called the SunCatcher consists of a large, mirrored dish that concentrates sunlight onto a Stirling engine. The temperature difference between the hot and cool sides of the engine drives the pistons, which generate electricity. Each unit can produce 25 kW of electricity and the company plans on using about 12,000 units in its first project in Southern California for a capacity of 300 MW.

The company expects the electricity to cost about 12 - 15 cents per kWh, which is competitive with electricity prices during peak hours in some markets. This technology has the benefit of using less water than solar thermal plants that collect heat over a large area to drive turbines in a central facility. The turbines use a lot of water to keep them cool, but Stirling's design doesn't require water, making it ideal for desert climates where solar thermal is well-suited.

Another advantage to their system is that it's easier to increase the amount of energy generated by just adding more units instead of having to make a central facility bigger. The downside to this is that there's no central storage for the energy that is produced, so right now the system can only make electricity during daylight hours where other solar thermal plants can continue supplying energy overnight.

The storage issue will definitely have to be solved for this new technology to really take hold, but if they can do that, the advantages make this new system really exciting.

Pioneer ventures to tap ocean power into usable electricity
August 01, 2009

Timothy Finnigan, 40, wants to turn Australia's ocean wave and tidal energy into usable electricity.

An ambitious venture for sure, but his company, BioPower Systems, backed by venture capital, already has two pilot programs under way to supply power to Flinders Island and King Island, as well as firm European interest. To the lay person it may sound like science fiction, but Finnigan predicts the ocean will be supplying energy to Australian homes within a few years. "There's huge opportunity; this is not just an environmental breakthrough technology but an economic one," he says.

Bold words from an innovator and entrepreneur who started with only $5000 seed capital five years ago and who has managed to garner over $12 million in investment capital from private equity and government grants to develop his technology. Bold words, too, out of Australia, a nation that must rank as the Saudi Arabia of coal. "We won't be competing against coal; we'll sit alongside wind and solar as a renewable energy source," he says.

As a pioneer in ocean and tidal power energy, Finnigan joins renewable energy innovators from around the globe, leading the march to bringing new base-load energy technologies into commercial production. Finnigan believes the content of the climate change debate is being driven by households. "There's been a change over the last year or two. It's become such an important issue to everyone. People are looking to renewable energy. Investors and government will follow to take a stake in renewable technology."

Formed in 2006, BioPower Systems is commercialising Finnigan's ocean power conversion systems. These are modular machines designed to harness ocean energy and deliver electricity ashore via a cable. Multiple machines are deployed in the coastal ocean as a farm, not unlike a windfarm on land, with the cable running ashore and connected into the distribution grid. Unlike other renewable energy technologies, these systems are fully submerged. "They will have zero visual impact," says Finnigan, a marine engineer with 17 years industry experience.

He adds: "A marine engineer understand the wave mechanics of the ocean and the way wave and ocean imparts forces on structures. They work on design and development of oil rigs and structures like jetties. "I moved into hi-tech to try to get wave and tidal power energy working. I saw how heavy structures need to resist heavy forces in the ocean. I took a simple approach, looking at what types of systems work well in the ocean.

"If you look at how plants and animals resist the forces; they flex and move with the forces. I took this as a design clue. We've adopted nature's mechanisms for survival and energy conversion and have applied these in the development of our systems. The resulting systems move and sway in tune with the forces of the ocean, and naturally streamline when extreme conditions prevail. This leads to lightweight designs and associated low costs. "I needed to consider all the elements of what would construe a viable, commercial technology and build them one by one in a design, coming out the other end with a prototype."

BioPower remains an early-stage, high-risk technology venture. Not surprisingly, Finnigan's transition from engineer to innovator to entrepreneur was a considered exercise. "I looked at the research and laid out the arrangements that I thought might work and did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, then on to the computer and crunched the numbers.

"What came out was a raw, basic estimate that showed, yes, this thing should produce power at roughly the amount that would make it viable. That simple piece of information was enough to raise money and launch patent applications and start tank testing. It was an incremental process. I needed to raise $200,000; that took a year or so."

The usual route of friends and family, together with a $50,000 investment by venture firm CVC REEF, gave Finnigan the funds needed for patent protection. He says his experience in raising capital is illustrative of a risk-adverse culture. "The culture in Australia lags other parts of the world in its appetite for risk, in funding new technology," he says. "We struggle to compete, particularly with the UK and the USA, where institutional investors are willing to back wave and tidal power companies. This is a capital-intensive industry and we have to work very hard to attract capital.

"We're at pilot stage now. The next stage is commercial demonstration. Our technical strategy is to grow our systems to utility-scaled farms of 30 MWs per farm; these become effectively wind farms under the ocean and will get connected to the grid in the same manner as wind farms. "We could supply up to 5 to 10 per cent of Australia's power in the long term."

Energy remains one large puzzle with the major pieces being the incumbent - - coal - - and a slew of renewal energy alternatives including ocean and wave power. "Wave and tidal power have to contribute to the mix. There are cases where wind and solar don't deliver. Wind is erratic; solar turns off at night; waves are much more regular. It fills that need for stable supply. Currently it's on the fringe because it's not yet commercial. But it is on the brink.

"We need a commercial-scale demonstration that (it) can compete against other energy sources. At the early stage it'll be on the expensive side; we'll be looking for government subsidy by way of rebates to make it viable while we move down the cost curve. "There's a clear path to getting to market in Australia. But there's a global industry too. We see opportunities in Europe. Being a small company, one of the ways to get into markets is with strategic partnerships, like utilities or engineering construction companies or government agencies."

Finnigan concedes that his role, currently as CEO, may change. "We're approaching the juncture whereby we'd be broadening and adding depth at executive level. I have full intention in driving the technology. As the company globalises, we'll be looking for a chief executive who can take the technology global." He says Australia's clean energy industry remains dynamic. "The UK is leading the world in ocean and wave. They have government incentive schemes. They're years down the track. (But) we argue that our technology is better."

Riding the new wave of sustainable energy
IT has long been recognised that ocean waves and tides convey vast amounts of energy. Ocean energy is a predictable and abundant source of energy with the ability to supply "approximately 10 per cent of the world's electricity needs", according to the Frost & Sullivan report, "Marine Energy Market", released last year. The energy in ocean waves originates where strong winds churn up the sea surface, for example in the Southern Ocean, leaving swell waves to propagate long distances to our coastlines.

Tides are driven by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. The rise and fall of the tides creates strong ocean currents in certain locations. Wave motions and tidal power currents are the two primary sources of ocean energy that are being considered for development as sources of clean renewable energy, in Australia and worldwide. William Highland, a principal of venture firm CVC Reef, which has invested in BioPower Systems, said the investment process was a lengthy one. "We did a lot of homework. The ocean and wave as a renewable source of energy is differentiated (from other energy forms). But for us it was also backing the man.

"Timothy Finnigan had good experience, he had a vision which we liked and he had a mature approach to working with investors. He understood the need to work to milestones in order to go to future funding rounds. Early stage technology ventures will hit hurdles; sometimes things fall over. You need people who will get up and surmount the hurdles." Biopower Systems has recently completed a $6million funding round. The private equity investment round was cornerstoned by Lend Lease Ventures with additional investment from CVC Reef and CVC Sustainable Investments. The new capital, together with a recently awarded $5m Renewable Energy Development Initiative grant, will fund the pilot programs for BioPower's systems at grid-connected sites in Tasmania.