Thursday 27 August 2009

Planet Gas keen to tap core energy in Gloucester Basin

Sydney-based coal-seam methane company Planet Gas has launched a bid to develop renewable energy in the Hunter by tapping into heat from the earth's core. The company said this week it was keen to investigate reserves of geothermal energy within the Gloucester Basin. The company recently acquired the exploration rights to the resource rich basin, which extends from Booral to Gloucester, as a result of its acquisition of Gradient Energy.

Managing director Sharif Oussa said the basin was a key geothermal base in NSW. "We think the Gloucester basin potentially has some significant reserves and resources of contained heat that can be turned into electricity or heating or cooling," he said. Geothermal electricity is typically generated by tapping into hot rocks several kilometres below the earth's surface and transferring the heat to the surface using high-pressure water. The heated water is then used to drive a power turbine.

Mr Oussa said no intrusive work would take place until the viability of the resource was fully investigated. "The next couple of years are going to be fairly light on; there won't be any drilling," he said. "We need to do some additional work to identify and focus in on prospects. Once those prospects have been identified we can move to the next stage where we may need to do drilling."

Planet Gas's entry into the region follows that of Queensland-based company GeoDynamics, which said last year that it was exploring geothermal sites between Bulga and Muswellbrook. Earlier this month an expert State Government panel recommended the Sydney Basin, including the Hunter, be open to tender for geothermal exploration. The Government is encouraging explorers to form joint ventures to operate in cost-effective and efficient ways. Tenders close September 25.

Project to Power Europe With Sahara Sun Gains Momentum
August 24, 2009

RABAT, MOROCCO — A €400 billion plan to power Europe with sunlight from the Sahara is gaining momentum, despite warnings about starting a large corporate project using new technologies in countries of northern Africa where the rule of law is weak. Desertec Foundation, as the $573 billion initiative is called, would be the world's most ambitious solar energy project. Fields of mirrors in the desert would gather solar rays to boil water, turning turbines to electrify a new carbon-free network linking Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Its supporters — a dozen finance and industrial firms mostly from Germany — say that it would keep Europe at the forefront of the fight against climate change and help North African and European economies to grow within greenhouse gas emission limits. But critics warn of numerous pitfalls, including the politics of the Maghreb region, Saharan sandstorms and the risk to desert populations if their water is diverted to clean dust off solar mirrors. The detractors say that the concentrated solar energy technology behind Desertec Foundation involves greater costs and risks than the fast-growing patchwork of smaller-scale photovoltaic cell installations that generate most of Europe's solar energy today.

Desertec Foundation's founders are lured by the fact that more energy falls on the world's deserts in six hours than the world consumes in a year. "The Sahara offers every advantage you want: proximity to Europe, virtually no population and more intense sunlight," said George Joffe, a research fellow and Maghreb expert at Cambridge University in England, who is not affiliated with the plan. "It would be mad to pass up this opportunity."

Proposed by the Club of Rome, an international group of experts that suggests solutions to global problems, Desertec Foundation became an industrial project last month when the reinsurer Munich Re sponsored a kick-off at its headquarters in the Bavarian capital. The experts have yet to draw up a business plan or specify how the project would be financed. But they hope to recruit shareholders and partner companies from a variety of countries. "We have a special relationship with climate change," said Peter Hoeppe, the head of Munich Re's Geo Risk Research department. "It affects our core business, the insurance of weather-related natural catastrophes, which count among the most expensive losses we have to bear."

Many European governments aim to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Desertec Foundation's backers say it would also be a positive gesture from the developed world to countries of the Middle East and North Africa, which stand to suffer most from the more frequent droughts and the expansion of deserts blamed on global warming. Desertec Foundation says the Sahara could one day deliver 15% of the electricity used by Europe, but company officials expect the plan to advance in small stages with completion around 2050.

Still, supporters of more established solar energy technology, like photovoltaic cells, argue that decentralized generation will prove more popular. Falling prices for those cells would make the heavy infrastructure needed for Desertec Foundation's concentrated solar energy unviable. European governments already importing fossil fuels from northern African countries like Algeria. But critics of Desertec Foundation argue that, given the choice, most would opt for the security of producing renewable energy within their own borders. "Sahara power for northern Europe is a mirage," said Hermann Scheer, a member of the German Parliament and the head of the European Association for Renewable Energy. "Those behind the project know themselves that nothing will ever come out of this."

Mr. Scheer is an architect of renewable energy policy in Germany, which included a strong emphasis on photovoltaic technology. He said the costs of Desertec Foundation were being played down and its technical capabilities overestimated. Desertec Foundation would need 20 or more efficient, direct-current cables each costing up to $1 billion to transmit electricity north beneath the Mediterranean. Proponents say that North African countries that import most of their energy like Morocco and Tunisia could also benefit from Desertec Foundation. But Desertec Foundation would need tight coordination between regional governments to succeed, and Maghreb states have tried and failed for two decades to integrate their economies and deepen political ties.

The border between Morocco and Algeria is shut and relations are poisoned by a dispute about the western Sahara. Morocco says it has already identified sites to place the curved solar mirrors, not deep in the Sahara but in populated areas just north of the desert to ensure a supply of water to clean mirrors and cool turbines. Morocco imports 96% of its energy and subsidizes fuel to make it more affordable for the poor, a massive drain on state resources. "We would be generating enough power for us, and for export, for the next 100 years," said Said Mouline, the head of Morocco's renewable energy agency.

Algeria has the biggest chunk of desert and a private Algerian company, Cevital, has signed up for Desertec Foundation. But Algeria, the second-largest county in Africa after Sudan, is isolated and struggling to reform a Soviet-style economy after a brutal civil conflict in the 1990s. The government has tightened terms on inward investment and says it will only work with Desertec Foundation if it allows partnerships between Algerian and foreign firms and a transfer of technology. "If these conditions are not met, we are not interested," said the energy and mines minister of Algeria, Chakib Khelil. "We don't want foreign companies exploiting solar energy from our land."

Analysts play down the risk to infrastructure posed by rebels aligned with Al Qaeda in Algeria, saying that the investment risks pose a far bigger problem. "There is the risk of expropriation of assets, reneging on license agreements, corruption and bureaucratic red tape which could stop things getting off the ground," said Henry Wilkinson of Janusian Security Risk Management. Wolfram Lacher of the consultancy Control Risks agreed: Security risks can be managed, but the project could become entangled in broader talks between the European Union and north Africa on energy, investment and trade.

Ocean says it has finished trials on power-generating prototype
August 24, 2009

Ocean Energy said yesterday it had successfully concluded 2½ years of testing on a system for generating electricity from wave power. The Cork-based firm has been testing a prototype of the system that it has developed in an area off the Galway coast. The company said the successful completion of the trials meant that it could proceed with the next stage of developing its system commercially. Each individual unit can produce up to two MWs (MW) of electricity.

Ocean Energy estimates that this is enough to provide power to 1,400 homes for a year. The 28-tonne, quarter-scale test device was initially launched for sea trials in November 2006, and has been tested on the Government test site, close to Spiddal, in Galway Bay, since December 2006. The system has been generating electricity, which has been fed into the national grid from a connection point close to the test bed. Chief executive John McCarthy said yesterday that the company believes it is the first in the world to have successfully concluded tests over such a period of time.

Mr McCarthy added that the device endured the worst that the Atlantic could throw at it. While on station it was hit by a scale wave of 32.8m, which is calculated to come along only once in 40 years. Mr McCarthy believes that if it is developed successfully the technology could create up to 20,000 jobs in this country and has the potential to boost export earnings.

The company also says that it could save the Government up to €1 billion a year through a reduction in carbon emissions. "As a country we are not alone in spotting the economic opportunity. "In July the US government announced $30 million of funding for the ocean energy sector, and also in July the UK government has announced further funding of £60 million to expedite the development of its ocean energy potential," said Mr McCarthy.

Ocean Energy is one of a number of Irish and Irish-linked firms working on the development of this technology. The others include Wavebob, which has also been testing equipment off the west coast, and Aquamarine Power, which has been working on developing a system in Scotland.

Solar thermal energy 'on the up'
24 August 2009

Solar thermal heating experienced record growth rates worldwide in 2007, driven strongly by China. But the EU's new Renewable Energy Directive is expected to boost demand even further in Europe, a new report from the Worldwatch Institute argues. solar thermal heating capacity increased by 19 GWs of thermal equivalent (GWth), reaching 147 GWth, according to the report from the research institute. The growth rate is the highest for over a decade and preliminary estimates for 2008 indicate a similar expansion, it notes.

Solar thermal is the most mature solar technology and has provided households with an affordable means for domestic water and space heating as well as cooling. It accounts for the lion's share of the total solar market, but receives less attention and R&D funding than the more technical photovoltaic (PV) solar sector, which converts sunlight directly into electricity using solar cells.

China in particular has invested in the technology. It now accounts for two thirds of global capacity and installed 80% of all new systems in 2007, the report shows. The Worldwatch Institute attributes Chinese dominance to a lack of access to natural gas in many homes, as well as to affordable prices. It also acknowledges a boost in governmental support for research and development in the field. A much vaunted example of solar energy's success in China is the city of Rizhao, where 99% of all households use solar water heaters and benefit from savings in their energy bills.

Against the general trend, Europe experienced the first slowdown in the market in 2007, the report shows. But preliminary figures for 2008 show a recovery, with "a strong rebound" in the largest market, Germany, and growing demand in the Mediterranean region, it adds. Europe's advantage is that it has the most comprehensive portfolio of applications, comprising hot water and space heating for residential buildings and hotels, district heating, space cooling and industrial processes, the Worldwatch Institute argues.

While just under half of new installations in 2007 were intended for water heating in single-family homes, the figure was 97% in China, it added. Intended to contribute towards the EU's climate protection goals, the bloc's new Renewable Energy Directive - agreed in December 2008 - includes heating and cooling for the first time, which should provide a further boost for the industry, the report argues.

The potential for emissions cuts from the buildings sector is substantial as it accounts for around 40% of the EU's final energy demand (see EurActiv LinksDossier on 'Green Buildings'). As heating accounts for over two thirds of the energy used in buildings, the EU hopes to slash emissions considerably by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in heating.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Germany Turns On World's Biggest Solar Power Project

This week, two of Germany's most important solar energy projects came online - - the second biggest solar energy project in the world and one of the first solar thermal "power towers." The projects are part of the country's plan to provide 20% of its energy through renewable sources.

Officials flicked on the switch at two of Germany's most important new solar energy sites on Thursday. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, the world's second-largest solar energy project went online. And halfway across the country, in North Rhine-Westphalia, a smaller scale but perhaps equally important facility launched - - Germany's first solar thermal power plant.

In Brandenburg, Wolfgang Tiefensee, Germany's infrastructure and transport minister, and the state governer, Matthias Platzeck, assisted with laying the very last of 560,000 solar modules at Lieberose, formerly a military training ground for East German forces.

"This solar park is an important factor as solar energy becomes an ever more important part of Brandenburg's economy," Platzeck says. "I see Lieberose as a shining example of this. An under-used and polluted military area has been cleaned up without draining local financial resources. The solar park also meets economic and environmental needs on a long-term basis. After the solar park has used the land, the area will be given back to nature."

By the time it goes completely online at the end of 2009, there will be 700,000 solar modules and the project, which will be Germany's biggest, will have an estimated output of 53 MWs. That, says the Juwi Group, which is operating the facility and also runs Germany's second-largest solar energy plant near Leipzig, will be enough to power 15,000 households. It's still a modest amount of energy, though, considering that the average coal-fired power plant has an output of 700 MWs.

Building started at the end of 2008 after left-over munitions were cleared from the area. The last military exercises were carried out there in 1992 and the land was given over to the state in 1994. The new solar park now covers an area approximately the size of 210 football fields. The plant cost investors €160 million and the photovoltaic generators used to create the park's power are the latest of their kind: thin layer modules manufactured by FirstSolar in Frankfurt an der Oder, a German city located near the Polish border.

Environmentalists: "Nobody Knows What Will Happen"
The park stands mainly on moor and lake land which has been leased from the state for the next 20 years. And the Juwi Group has said that when the time comes, they will disassemble the solar plant at the company's own cost and have the materials recycled.

Still, this has not satisfied some German conservation groups who point out that the solar park takes up a lot of space and express their worries about loss of local wildlife. While they are happy about more alternative energies coming on tap, groups like Germany's Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) note that nobody really knows what will happen in an area where such a large solar energy plant is active. Wolfgang Mädlow of the group's state chapter in Brandenburg warned that the massive loss of land at Lieberose could be dangerous for birds. "We are particularly concerned about the displacement effect it could have on birds," he said, adding that waterfowl could also mistake the shiny surfaces of the photovoltaic modules for water. The group says it would prefer to see the modules erected separately on rooftops, closer to the end users, rather than bunched together on a mass site in what was once wilderness.

Germany's First Solar Thermal Project Switches On
Of course the politicians don't see it this way. In a statement released when the new solar park was announced, Platzeck said that, "projects like this help us to heal the wounds of the Cold War and, at the same time, to achieve our ambitious targets in terms of renewable energy for the long term." In February, the German government announced an "energy roadmap" in which one of the major goals is having renewable energy provide 20% of the country's total power by the end of the next decade.

Meanwhile in Jülich, near Cologne in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, a €33 million demonstration solar thermal "power tower" went online. Built by several partners, including the German Aerospace Center, the Jülich municipal authority and the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences, the power tower is capable of generating 1.5 MWs of power, enough to cover the electricity needs of about 2,000 people.

In April of this year, Spain switched on the first commercial solar thermal power plant in the world and it is hoped that the Jülich prototype will eventually be replicated and become part of Germany's ambitious Desertec Foundation power project, to be based in Africa and the Middle East. The German Environmental Aid Association (DUH) lobby group hailed the launch of the solar projects as well as Germany's first off-shore wind park, which joined the grid last week.

"A young industry, that employs 280,000 people today and that could employ half a million people within the next decade, can no longer be called a niche," enthused Cornelia Ziehm, who heads the organization's climate protection and alternative energy group. "It is well on the way to becoming a key industry for Germany."

Ziehm also addressed the recent downturn in the German solar energy industry, which has seen a number of companies post losses. Given economic circumstances, she said, it shouldn't be a "big surprise." Overall, the industry has enjoyed double-digit growth worldwide over the past few years, she noted.

AGL's $7bn for green projects

Monday 24/8/2009 Page: 21

AGL Energy says it will develop up to $7 billion worth of renewable energy projects over the next decade. Chief executive Michael Fraser said the recent passage of renewable energy target (RET) legislation through parliament was "very significant" for AGL. Under the new law, 20% of electricity must be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020.

We are the largest developer of renewable assets in the country, and this really means that we are going to be able to accelerate our development program," Mr Fraser told the ABC's Inside Business program yesterday. Mr Fraser said that about $25bn to $30bn of renewable projects would have to be built over the next decade to meet the RET target. "We intend to develop a pipeline of our projects, so when we look over the next decade that's probably $6bn-$7bn worth of projects on our own," he said. "We've already got over $2bn worth of projects on our books so, over the longer term, it's a very significant value creation opportunity for the company."

Mr Fraser said that under the RET, about 4500 wind turbines would have to be built to supply about 9000 MWs of power. He agreed that the RET legislation would "crowd out" gas-fired power generation. "Yes, that is definitely what will happen," Mr Fraser said. He said renewable power generation technologies were dominated by wind energy. Mr Fraser rejected a suggestion that AGL, which also has interests in the gas and brown coal sectors, would be happy about delays in the passage of emissions trading scheme legislation through federal parliament.

He said the ETS would result in additional costs to the energy industry and to the economy. "(But) what we really want is that legislation in place," he said. We want certainty about what the business environment is going forward." Mr Fraser said companies would find it hard to make investment decisions unless there was certainty. He said that, ultimately, sensible legislation would be put in place around a carbon pollution reduction scheme, but it would require transition arrangements to "make sure that the lights stay on".

Mr Fraser acknowledged that, under the legislation, coal-fired power stations using brown coal would eventually have to shut down unless they became cleaner. "When we took forward, ultimately, if there are no advances in carbon capture and storage, then ultimately, yes, the objective of the legislation is that those generators will be shut down and other generation will take its place," he said.

Melbourne Water to harness sewage power

Monday 24/8/2009 Page: 3

Melbourne Water will use the sewage at its Western Treatment Plant in Werribee to generate almost all of the facility's power needs. Two additional power generators, believed to cost about $4 million each, will be installed, meaning the plant will produce 95% of its annual electricity needs by mid next year. The project, a collaboration between AGL and Melbourne Water, will harness the power from biogas, which is captured in lagoons on site. Biogas, which includes methane, is a byproduct of sewage treatment.

Melbourne Water spokesman Paul Pretto said it would increase the renewable energy used at the plant from 52 GW hours a year to 72 GW hours a year. "This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a further 24,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is the equivalent of taking about 5600 cars off the road," he said.

It Puts the Western Treatment Plant well on track to achieve its goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2018. It comes as the Government- run organisation completed construction of its sixth mini-hydro plant. The final mini-hydro plant, at the Silvan Reservoir, in conjunction with those at Preston, Notting Hill, Olinda, Mount View and the Upper Yarra Dam, will generate enough energy to power 5000 houses.

Scientists trump US in solar cell battle

Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 22/8/2009 Page: 10

Sydney scientists have scored gold, helping create the world's most efficient technology for turning sunlight into electricity. Just as swimmers and runners struggle to shave 10ths of a second off their times, solar cell scientists battle for years to add fractions of a% to the efficiency of their creations. US researchers developed experimental technology that could turn 42.7% of the sunlight received into power - a world record. By comparison, commercial cells often used in solar modules on Australian roofs convert only about 15%.

The US technology was made of five separate cells, each tuned to draw energy from different parts of the light spectrum. One, for example, was designed to collect energy from the ultraviolet light band, while another, at the other end of the spectrum, was tuned to the far infrared. By replacing one of the US cells with a new design developed by the Photovoltaic Centre for Excellence at the University of New South Wales, the technology's efficiency has now been nudged to a record 43%.

The Sydney cell converts 46% of red and near infrared light received into electricity, "dragging up" the overall efficiency of the American technology just 0.3%age points. While progress may seem agonisingly slow, "years of effort went into developing the cell", the university's photovoltaic centre research director, Martin Green, said. Although highly experimental, and far too expensive for commercial solar panels, the cell will inevitably inspire other researchers to race to develop even better technology.

"You encourage people to try to beat what you have done," Professor Green said. "It pushes the state of the art even further. There is a lot of interest in being the best." Professor Green estimated that by combining hundreds of advanced experimental cells, each tuned to different parts of the spectrum, an efficiency rating of up to 86% was theoretically possible. But, he warned, "it's not as easy as it sounds".

The race to renewables

Summaries - Australian Financial
Saturday 22/8/2009 Page: 29

The passage this week of renewable energy target legislation through the Federal Parliament means a number of technologies and companies are now competing for investment. The immediate winning technology is wind energy, represented by companies such as Infigen Energy, formerly Babcock and Brown Wind Partners, and Transfield Services Infrastructure Fund, which has first refusal on investing in the wind farms being developed by Transfield Services. More ambitious technologies include wave power, being pushed by Perth's Carnegie Corporation; geothermal, which has two Australian Securities Exchange listed companies competing, GeoDynamics and Panax Geothermal, although John Wright of the CSIRO acknowledges the infancy of the approach; and solar thermal, which WorleyParsons claims is economically feasible to start building now, although a US company also in the field, Ausra, says this may be premature.

China powers ahead as it seizes the green energy crown from Europe
24 August 2009

China is running away with the green technology prize. It has conquered a third of the world market for solar cells and is on a breakneck course to build 100 GWs of wind turbines by 2020, doubling again the global capacity for wind energy across vast stretches of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

SunTech Power in Wuxi has just broken the world record for capturing photovoltaic solar energy, achieving a 15.6pc conversion rate with a commercial-grade module. Trina Solar is neck-and-neck with America's FirstSolar, the low-cost star that has already broken the cost barrier of $1 (61p) per watt with thin film based on cadmium telluride. The Chinese trio of SunTech, Trina and Yinglingall expect to be below 70 cents per watt by 2012, bringing the magical goal of "grid parity" with fossil fuels into grasp.

The concept of grid parity is subject to fierce debate, mostly revolving around which form of fuel – nuclear, oil, coal, or renewables – enjoys the biggest implicit subsidy, and what the future price of crude is likely to be. Parity has already been achieved in hot spots. FirstSolar's 10-MW plant in Nevada can produce electricity without subsidies for 7.5 cents per kW hour compared to 9 cents for fossil-based power.

Jeremy Leggett, founder of Britain's Solar Century, says that even this cloudy island can achieve grid parity for households by 2013, seven years sooner than expected. South-facing roofs and facades could one day provide a third of UK electricity needs.

The credit crunch has been brutal for solar start-ups in the West, but not for Chinese firms with access to almost free finance from the state banking system. They have taken advantage of the moment to flood the world with solar panels, driving down the retail price from $4.20 per watt last year to nearer $2 in what some say is a cut-throat drive for market share.

German pioneers Solarworld and Conergy allege foul play and have called for EU sanctions, accusing Chinese rivals of practices that "border on dumping". China's finance ministry says it intends to cover half the investment cost of solar projects. It is a life-and-death moment for the German solar industry, pioneers who provide 75,000 jobs and once led the world. "A large number of German solar cell and solar module producers will not survive," said UBS's Patrick Hummel.

Q-Cells is cutting four production lines and 500 jobs at its base in Thalheim, switching assembly to Asia. Goldman Sachs has added the company to its "conviction sell" list.

Roughly speaking, Chinese firms can undercut the Germans by 30pc. At root, it is a currency problem. China has stolen a march against Europe over the last five years by linking an already undervalued yuan to a weak dollar. While Beijing sheds crocodile tears about the falling greenback, it is deliberately riding dollar devaluation to protect its own export share. What is happening to German solar firms is a revealing case study of the slow-burn damage caused by currency misalignment.

The solar glut will not last. China is orchestrating a big switch into solar energy for its own households with a feed-in tariff that lets people sell electricity to the grid. But that may come too late to save German firms.

China has tripled its goal for wind energy to 100 GWs by 2020. While the West bails out banks, China is spending a big chunk of its $600bn stimulus on "clean tech" projects and a smarter grid. Yes, you still have to wear a face mask to breathe in the soot-blackened industrial hubs of the interior. By the same token, the solar-and-wind hub of Baoding has become the first carbon-positive city in the world.

Whether China is pushing the green agenda because it believes in global warming is almost irrelevant. The country fears being caught short as the global scramble for diminishing resources starts in earnest. China's coal reserves are not as deep as often assumed. Coal imports surged 130pc in the first half of this year. Australia's University of Newcastle expects the world to reach "Peak Coal" in 2026, much earlier than expected.

Unfortunately, feckless Britain will be caught short by the energy crunch. Labour dithered for a decade as North Sea oil began to decline – failing to bite the bullet on nuclear, clean coal, or renewables until far too late. This Government simply failed to understand the impact of Asia's industrial revolutions.

While it makes much noise about CO2 emissions, Labour has been deaf to warnings of a power crunch. We may soon be moving into a phase of history when ill-prepared countries cannot be sure of obtaining energy – whatever the price. Ah yes, the Danish wind company Vestas has just closed its turbine plant on the Isle of Wight and shed 425 jobs, citing Britain's Nimby culture and the red tape of the planning bureaucracy. Vestas is switching to the US and China. Makes you weep.

Coal aid rides high above wave power
23 August 2009

The government has spent 20 times more subsidising the coal industry over the past six years than it has put into marine energy, new figures show.

Ministers have given away £52.8m of a £60m coal investment aid scheme to extend operations at a range of mines around Britain, including Daw Mill in Warwickshire where energy minister Mike O'Brien is the local MP. This contrasts with the £2.3m handed out from a £50m pot created under the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund, which started in 2004 just 12 months after the launch of the latest coal scheme.

"At a time when we need to deliver a major expansion in renewable energy, it's astonishing to find that less than 5% of the investment promised to give Britain a lead in marine energy has actually been made," said Greg Clark, shadow energy and climate change secretary. "It is little wonder that Britain punches way below its weight on renewables - we have the third-lowest contribution from renewable energy in Europe, despite some of the best resources."

The Observer revealed last month that ministers had spent almost nothing out of the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund, with potential users complaining the conditions attached to grants were so onerous that they could not gain access. The amount of cash handed out under the coal aid scheme was recently revealed in parliament and the Conservatives say that all of it - bar one grant - has been spent in Labour constituencies.

The government has sought to make up lost ground, with money being promised in the recent energy white paper to various tidal power and other schemes. More than £20m has been earmarked for a new Marine Renewables Proving Fund with a further £9.5m going to develop a Wave Hub off Cornwall and £8m for a European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.

But the Tories argue that ministerial promises mean very little. "It is easy to talk about support for renewables but what we need is action," said a spokeswoman. The opposition says it would use the money from the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund to establish a network of large-scale marine energy parks to be run on a commercial basis.

When the coal subsidies were launched in 2003 by the then trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, the main emphasis was on job retention. Last night a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said it was not helpful to compare two completely different technologies - coal having been in development for generations, and marine very much cutting edge.

He added: "We want to be a global leader in wave and tidal power energy, that's why we announced £60m of low carbon investment funding in the budget. That included £22m to help pre-commercial testing of marine technology, which should enable access to the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund."

Moving Forward On Smart Grid
Aug 20, 2009

New information technologies make it possible to put in place a "smart grid" capable of two-way communication and many more functions to control supply and demand.

A smart grid can help prevent black-outs, give consumers up-to-the-minute information on electricity usage and prepare the way for increased use of clean, renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar energy. "Even as our economy has been transformed by new forms of technology, our electric grid looks largely the same as it did half a century ago," said President Barack Obama during a March 19, 2009 visit to an electric car factory in Orange County, California.

Today's power grid in America is a relic of the 20th Century. The idea behind smart grid is to inject a two-way information layer into the electricity distribution process. Smart grid components include advanced home meters, new grid management techniques and software. At the home or business, smart grid can aid conservation by showing customers their power usage and offering real-time choices about when they use electricity.

Scaling up, smart grids allow utility managers to constrain peak load requirements through a combination of consumer incentives and accurate diagnosis of demand. Ultimately, smart grid technologies can open the door for more plug-in electric cars and vehicles. Added together, the impact of smart grid may help craft an environmentally-sustainable way of the life for the 21st Century.

Smart grid technology is proven, but the systems process of applying it is still maturing. Local smart grids implemented in cities and regions can create a wider, national grid responsive to renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy. They can also maximize other sources of power from traditional fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Experts call for the smart grid to take the best features of the Internet, such as open standards and easy upgrades. The smart grid will not just transmit power. It will distribute it from many sources and allow expanded supply and demand from the grid.

Smart electric grid experiments are under way in several states and cities. Local groups are employing a range of options from state-level legislation to public-private partnerships to test smart grid systems and expand their application. The power of national policy and commercial ingenuity extended electricity to rural America. It can smooth the way for smart grid, too, according to this study from Rebecca L. Grant of the Lexington Institute.

Geothermal Project Stalls Due To Earthquake Concern
August 20, 2009

New York, NY (AHN) - The Obama administration's geothermal energy program has been stalled as a project to drill a hot bedrock in northern California for heating water was put on hold on fears it may cause an earthquake.

Federal scientists privy to the project but who declined to be identified have revealed that AltaRock Energy has stopped drilling beyond 4,000 feet deep at the Geysers north of San Francisco pending results of a review of the project's safety by the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management. The company reached that depth after almost two months of expensive drilling.

The drilling needs to reach 12,000 feet or 2.3 miles deep where rocks would be fractured. Water will then be circulated in the cracks to heat it and produce consistent and constant amounts of steam energy. Apparently, fracturing the bedrock may induce earthquake like what happened to a similar project in Basel, Switzerland. The minor temblor in Basel caused the geothermal drilling there to be stopped.

Geodynamics: Geothermal Pilot Plant Could Be Further Delayed
August 21, 2009

Sydney (Dow Jones)--GeoDynamics Ltd. (GDY.AU) Friday said the commissioning of its planned geothermal energy pilot plant in South Australia state could be further delayed following the results of an investigation into an explosion at one its wells. Its shares plunged 14%. What the company described as a high-pressure leak followed a loud noise April 24 at the Habanero 3 well, which spewed water and steam until it was plugged with mud about a month later.

Geothermal energy is generated by extracting water heated by hot rocks up to five kilometers below the Earth's surface and using the steam to run turbines. The incident was a big blow for Brisbane-based GeoDynamics, which had just proved that its generating concept worked, and finished building the demonstration plant near the well in line for expected commissioning on April 27.

GeoDynamics said Friday that its investigation found that cracking in the well's casing material was caused by chemicals in the well reacting with its steel casing strings to release free hydrogen. The hydrogen was then absorbed into the steel casing materials in the low temperature zone of the well, causing it to crack.

In light of the findings, the company has installed cement plugs into Habanero 3 and another well, Habanero 2. Steps to secure a third well, Habanero 1, are underway, it said. "The implications for future well design, material selection and any revision of operational procedures are complex, but are within the bounds of general operational experience in the geothermal industry," GeoDynamics said in a statement. "These activities will take at least eight weeks and may lead to a revision of the previously indicated delay of six to nine months in the commissioning of the 1 MW pilot plant."

The company has well control insurance and said Friday it has lodged a claim seeking to recover "most of the costs" of the well control operation. It also intends to lodge another claim to cover the expected costs of drilling a replacement well for Habanero 3. India's Tata Group (TTA.YY) has a 10.2% stake in GeoDynamics and Australian integrated energy company Origin Energy Ltd. (ORG.AU) owns 6.8% of the company. The Habanero wells are being drilled by the Innamincka Joint Venture, of which Origin Energy has 30%.

Monday 24 August 2009

Solar system combines technologies - Cells to heat, cool, generate power

Canberra Times
Friday 21/8/2009 Page: 5

Solar cells immersed in liquid are set to boost our ability to harvest energy from the sun in a joint research project between Australia and China. Researchers at the Australian National University and Tianjin University have started a 2.5 year project to pioneer a new technology, expected to deliver both solar heat and power to achieve up to 70% combined efficiency.

The director of the ARC Centre for Solar Energy Systems at the ANU, Professor Andrew Blakers, said the system could be on the market within two years. "You get the complete home energy solution: the solar electricity, the solar hot water, the solar space heating and the solar space cooling," Professor Blakers said.

"A typical solar panel just sheds its heat to air, it's completely wasted. A typical solar hot-water panel doesn't collect any electricity at all; it just makes hot water. So putting them together and using the waste heat from the solar cell to heat your water just makes a lot of sense I think." The technology involves submerging the solar cells in a channel of liquid. Sunlight reaches the cells through a glass window and the liquid, a transparent mineral oil, flows past them, carrying away their heat. As the cells cool down, the efficiency of sunlight conversion to electricity increases while the heat is harvested for other uses.

The work began last year when the two universities came together to develop a new generation of efficient and cheap solar concentrator receivers in a multimillion dollar project, involving Anna University in India and solar company Chromasun in the United States. The Australian Government will invest $380,000 in this new phase of the project, which will be matched by the Chinese Government.

Professor Blakers said he expected manufacturing to take place in the market countries, because "shipping steel and glass collectors around the world did not make a lot of sense". ANU college of engineering and computer science business development manager Igor Skryabin said they had received "many, many inquiries" from commercial partners about manufacturing the technology.

But he said it was unlikely Australia could build manufacturing capabilities at this stage. "I really think it will be industrialised in China and commercialised in Australia," he said. "Our contribution will be in the development and supply of the key component of this system, the photovoltaic cell." The project brings together the ANU's expertise in building cost effective solar cells and Tianjin University's capabilities in chemical engineering and heat transfer.

Diplomatic tensions arising out of the recent detention of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hit in China did not have any influence on the collaboration, the researchers said. Tianjin University Green Technology Centre director Professor Piping Wang, who attended the launch of the new project yesterday, said they tried to smooth relationships in such collaborations.

"The people between the two countries are trying to get closer and closer and that's what we are doing now," he said, speaking through a translator. The researchers have built a 300sgm combined system on the roof of Bruce Hall at the ANU and the next step is to create smaller systems, which are lightweight, low-profile and only rise 30cm from a roof.

`Tens of thousands' of new -jobs to follow energy vote

Friday 21/8/2009 Page: 5

THE renewable energy industry says projects worth up to $20 billion could be built over the next 10 years after the parliament finally passed laws yesterday requiring 20% of electricity to be sourced from renewables by 2020. The 20% renewable energy target was a key election commitment from the Rudd government which will now be delivered", said Pacific Hydro chief executive Rob Grant. "It will result in the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, mostly in regional Australia, and significant greenhouse gas abatement, beginning the enormous task of stabilising emissions from the electricity sector by creating new zero emission energy supplies."

The legislation was passed on voices, without a formal vote, after Climate Change Minister Penny Wong agreed on key Coalition amendments, including more generous thresholds for industry to qualify for shielding from higher power prices and the inclusion in the scheme of power generated from coal waste gases. She did not agree to Nationals demands for extra compensation for food processors, but did concede industries that felt unduly disadvantaged could seek a review from the Productivity Commission.

Senator Wong said the new laws meant that in 10 years' time the amount of electricity coming from sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, would be about the same as all of Australia's current household electricity use. And opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said the deal proved that the parliament can work at its best when the government agrees to negotiate and compromise". But Nationals senators were less effusive.

"The overwhelming acceptance by the Labor Party of the amendments proposed by the Coalition to the RET would lead to the Australian people's expectation that a negotiated settlement should in general be supported," said Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce. "Although we do not believe this is a perfect outcome, we did go into these negotiations in the spirit of being conciliatory." Conservation and climate change lobby groups were muted in their praise. The Climate Institute Australia think tank welcomed the deal, but said "the exemptions for big polluters are regrettable and irresponsible".

And Greenpeace attacked the inclusion of coalmine gas, saying it was not a renewable energy and had no place in the scheme. Mr Hunt said generating electricity from waste coalmine gas reduced its greenhouse impact twentyfold and created electricity. Coalmine gas was included on top of the existing scheme, meaning it will not displace renewable energy that would otherwise have been produced.

AGL positioned to catch the wind

Friday 21/8/2009 Page: 5

AGL Energy says $2 billion in green-power projects have a far better chance of going ahead after the Senate passed renewable energy target legislation on Wednesday. With greater certainty about the rules, the company said an imminent boom in green investment and jobs - mainly in wind energy - was set to accelerate. The laws require retailers to obtain 20% of their power from renewable generators by 2020, and AGL is claiming "first-mover advantage" over its rivals by piling into green power.

AGL managing director Michael Fraser said AGL had already invested $2.3 billion in renewable projects, including those under construction, and the industry would spend another $25 billion to $30 billion in the next decade. "We've got another $2 billion worth of projects on our books at the moment that we haven't yet committed to, and the passing of this legislation is really going to fast-track the development of those projects," Mr Fraser said.

He said the extra projects would create at least 2000 jobs over the next five years. The country's biggest windpower generator, Infigen Energy, also said it would accelerate investment now that the legislation had passed. The company plans to triple its generating capacity to 1000 MWs in the next five years, which its managing director, Miles George, said would create about 3000 jobs in construction and 1000 jobs in operation.

AGL also reported an 11% increase in underlying profit to $378.8 million yesterday, helped by a one-third jump in earnings in its generation business. AGL declared a fully franked final dividend of 280, a share, 10 higher than the previous year, payable on September 30. Its shares fell 330, or 2.3%, to $13.98.

Using solar heat to power air conditioning
August 20, 2009

Southern California Gas Co, is testing systems that use less gas and electricity and is inviting businesses to view the prototypes on the roof of its Downey research facility. Everyone knows solar energy can heat homes and generate electricity. But on a rooftop in Downey, Southern California Gas Co, engineers are using solar mirrors to cool down their offices.

Engineers are testing two technologies that use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto pipes with water running through them. The heated water powers a thermal process in a chiller that cools the cold water used in air conditioning units. "When we tell people we heat water up only to cool it down, they don't get it at first," said David Berokoff, a technology development manager at SoCal Gas. "But all this technology has been around for a while. We're just trying to bring it together so we can get it out to our customers as soon as possible."

The initiative is the latest in a move by SoCal Gas and its parent, Sempra Energy, to wean businesses off gas and push them to use more solar energy. For businesses, the technologies could mean substantial savings. Beyond the potential environmental benefits - - the sun is a nonpolluting, renewable source of energy - - the solar systems undergoing tests could help businesses slash air conditioning costs as much as 60%, Berokoff said.

The effort may seem counterproductive for one of the nation's largest natural gas distributors, but it's part of a broader move by the company to reposition itself as a renewable energy provider, SoCal Gas officials said. Sempra, which also owns San Diego Gas and Electric Co., expects to spend $10 million this year researching and developing "green technologies." The research project is only 4 months old and solar energyed cooling probably won't reach the gas company's customers for another year or two, but the gas company is already wooing businesses to the rooftop of its Downey research facility.

"When they make an investment in this sort of technology, they are in fact keeping their company viable and making sure they are changing as their customers' needs change," said Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coca-Cola Bottling Co, of Southern California, which is watching the tests to see whether such technologies would make sense for several of its bottling plants. "It's a very long-term view, but it's the right view to have."

The gas company has been checking out competing solar thermal cooling technologies from two companies to see which would work best on the roofs of warehouses, manufacturing plants and other commercial buildings. The research could cut the cost of the systems and bring them to market sooner, Berokoff said. The rooftop prototype systems, which include the mirrors, pipes and computer-automated solar trackers, cost about $200,000 each - - about the same cost as the entire traditional air conditioning system installed in the 45,000-square-foot Downey building, he said.

The developers hope to slash that price by at least half before it reaches commercial customers. SoCal Gas is comparing systems developed by Sopogy Inc., based in Honolulu, and HelioDynamics of Britain. The testing is expected to run until the middle or end of next year, he said, after which SoCal Gas plans to compare the results with similar mirror-based systems from other manufacturers.

Sopogy's and HelioDynamics' systems are similar: Both use mirrors to aim the sun's rays at water pipes, and when sun isn't available to heat the water - - at night, for example - - both rely on gas as a backup. The differences between the two systems lie in the shape and size of the mirrors used and in the placement of the water pipes. Sopogy uses several 12-foot mirrors that curve upward, reflecting sunshine onto a pipe running just above the center of each mirror. HelioDynamics uses slabs of small, flat mirrors that reflect the sun's rays onto a single pipe above them.

Both systems use computer-automated trackers to tilt the mirrors throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. The hot water in both systems is heated to temperatures just under 200 degrees and collected in a storage tank. Then it goes through an absorption chiller that cools the cold water used in the building's fan units. Non-solar systems use gas or electricity to heat the hot water before it goes through the chiller.

Sempra likes that the two solar systems can work alongside existing gas and electric systems, said Hal Snyder, vice president of customer solutions for SoCal Gas. "People want renewable sources of energy, but we don't think people want a switch that just happens overnight," Snyder said. "By using gas or electricity as a backup, we're not having to replace our infrastructure, and our customers know they won't have to get into something experimental."

The demonstrations are also helping developers of the technology, said Al Yuen, Sopogy's director of corporate development. "The gas company is giving us a stage to demonstrate what we can do for their customers," Yuen said. "They bought our mirrors, bought our system, and now they're using it and showing it off. It helps tremendously." Another benefit for the developers, Yuen said, is seeing the systems in daily use, up against competitors' - - with all the information shared.

This information from the project will be a deciding factor for most SoCal Gas and Sempra customers when the technology hits the market, Coca-Cola's Phillips said. "It's easier to take that plunge when you have an example of the technology in place and you can point to numbers and say, 'That's effective, that saves money, that's worth doing,' " he said.

Researchers: Renewable Energy Jobs Are Safer
Aug 20, 2009

The push for renewable energies has one more feather to put in its cap: improved health for its workforce and the potential of evading death, at least while on the job. As more workers shift from fossil fuel-related jobs to those in renewable energy, their health should improve, according to commentary by Medical College of Wisconsin researchers published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers studied occupational health risks to workers in renewable energy and fossil fuel industries, according to a report by ScienceBlog. They found less risk of injury and death in wind and solar energy than in fossil fuel jobs. Biomass jobs did not have any significant safety benefit compared to fossil fuels.

The study, which was partially supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notes the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has put more money towards renewable energy. This added investment will shift more workers away from fossil fuels and in turn, improve their overall health, the study says.

So what does this mean for the 700,000 folks working in the energy sector? Well, one of the researchers, Steven Sumner said this in the Scienceblog post: "The energy sector remains one of the most dangerous industries for U.S, workers. A transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1,300 worker deaths over the coming decade."

Researchers noted the lack of more precise data on renewable energy occupations. Still, they found that while fossil fuels are traditionally cheaper than renewable energy, "hidden costs" including the negative effects on health have not been figured in.

Other tidbits:
  • Mining coal, gas and oil from underground or underwater stores is the second most hazardous job in the U.S, with 27.5 death per 100,000 compared to the average annual fatality rate of 3.4 deaths in all U.S, industries;
  • Highway crashes account for the greatest proportion of death among oil and gas extraction workers;
  • Solar, wind and fossil fuels need to access transmission lines to get their source of power to households and businesses. Those industries share the risk of accident from electrical current traveling through power lines.

Infigen to sell 1.1GW US wind farm portfolio
20 August

Australian windfarm developer Infigen Energy has put its US assets up for sale, in order to focus on its domestic market. The firm, which was known as Babcock and Brown Wind Partners until April this year, said on Monday it had appointed Marathon Capital and UBS to sell "all or part" of its US wind portfolio, which comprises 18 wind farms with a total installed capacity of 1,557MW.

The firm described the package of wind farms as "the largest independent portfolio of wind energy generating assets in the US … well diversified across energy market regions, wind regimes, off-take counterparties and turbine suppliers". The assets, in which Infigen Energy's equity ownership is 1,089MW, represent more than two-thirds of its total generating capacity. The firm did not place a value on the portfolio, but equity analysts have reportedly said it could be worth A$500-1,000 million (US$415-830 million).

Tim Stephure, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said portfolio acquisitions of this magnitude are rare and he was hesitant about putting a price on the deal. Completed wind projects have generally fetched $2,500-$2,700 per kW – a level at which the Infigen Energy portfolio would be worth close to $3 billion.

He noted that the financial crisis has crippled acquisition activity, but "optimism in regards to the state of the economy, combined with more details emerging in several new incentives and renewables policies, is fueling renewed interest". However, recent deals have been for technologies rather than assets, such as Daewoo's acquisition of US wind turbine maker DeWind and GE Energy's purchase of offshore wind turbine technology firm ScanWind.

An Infigen Energy spokeswoman said proceeds from the sale would be used to "accelerate development opportunities in Australia" where the firm has a pipeline of more than 1,000MW. Infigen Energy's shares, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, climbed 8% on the news, closing at A$1.33 on Monday, compared with A$1.23 last Friday. Today, its shares closed at A$1.38. Earlier this year, Infigen Energy announced plans to sell its 19 wind farms in France and Germany, which have a combined capacity of 190MW.

Libs do dinosaur stomp on renewables target
August 20, 2009

YABBA dabba doo! They're back, for one last rerun. The fossil fools and their Bedrock dogma have pumped up the volume to tell us we should stop demonising carbon dioxide. Like trying to wrestle a bone from The Flintstones canine Dino, the climate sceptics don't want to let go of burning their fuels for electricity, even though, we could all profit from renewable energy's lower short run marginal costs. But this columnist is not quite sure why these fans of the Lavoisier Group and the greenhouse mafia, as represented by the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network's big polluting companies, are complaining.

They are getting everything they desire: a carbon pollution reduction scheme that does not reduce carbon pollution and a Renewable Energy Target that doesn't target them. The RET the government proposed was too weak to begin with: just 20 per cent of electricity was to come from renewables by 2020. It could have been much, much higher, carving out a secure slice of the electricity pie for solar thermal, wind and ocean energy companies. But this week it was made dirtier. Now it will count methane" target="_blank">coal seam methane as a renewable energy when it is used to produce electricity.

This greenhouse gas that spews out during mining operations is not renewable and it is not clean. Capturing it is a good thing while mining coal continues, but burning it to produce electricity still causes pollution. And as for it being renewable, that's baloney. Only the sun, wind and the sea (and hydro when it rains or snows melt) can create energy that is replenished. Even hot dry rock geothermal, which is often touted as a renewable energy, is not truly renewable because the deep underground wells and caverns cool down as water is injected into them to create steam.

Estimates indicate their high-temperature energy is depleted within a decade or two. A strong mandatory RET could have created a vibrant renewable energy sector that eventually would have delivered electricity more cheaply than coal. Until then, renewable energy would smooth the peaks in the wholesale electricity market that are created when demand is high or coal power plants are shut down for repairs, leading to the firing up of standby gas power plants.

The gas peaking plants charge a fortune for their electricity - - up to $10,000 a MW hour compared with $40 to $50 a MW hour when demand is stable. More than 30 per cent of the revenue generated by the wholesale electricity market in a year is created by these gas peaking events. But if you have renewable energy feeding into the grid, such as wind or concentrating solar thermal with storage, like they have in Spain, the supply better matches demand without the need for expensive gas peaking plants.

These findings were explored and confirmed in three reports commissioned by the energy sector and big business. The reports are by ROAM Consulting (issue 11), CRA International (for the National Generators Forum) and Port Jackson Partners (for the Business Council of Australia). It is extraordinary that these findings have been consistently ignored by industry and politicians. Well, actually it is not surprising that industry has ignored the data. By pretending they have to pay more for RET electricity, these rent seekers have convinced politicians they need help to pay their power bills.

This greed has further undermined a RET that is already diluted. The RET should have incentivised large-scale renewable energy infrastructure of the sort being rolled out around the world. Instead, too much of the target will be soaked up by allowing the contribution of rooftop solar panels, solar hot water systems, methane" target="_blank">coal seam methane and possibly biomass (burning of logging waste) to count towards the target, leaving little room for large-scale renewables.

Malcolm Turnbull was right when he said in a press release: "Labor's renewable energy announcement.., confirms it is not serious about climate change." Problem is, he believed this in October 2007. But this week, the Liberals showed they were even less serious about global warming than the government by securing concessions from the RET for their big-polluting mates. These dinosaurs and their Bedrock mindset belong in museums, not wandering around Canberra.

TGI Solar, Prime Solar form strategic alliance

Red Bank, New Jersey: TGI Solar Power Group (PINKSHEETS: TSPG) has entered into strategic alliance agreement with Italian company Prime Solar. "We are very pleased to be working with TGI Solar Power Group," said Raoul Derito, VP of Operations for Prime Solar.

"We are looking forward to supporting TGI's existing projects, as well as working to identify new opportunities in sustainable energy. Green Energy is the future, with the rising cost of energy globally, and we are excited to jointly develop and commercialize promising renewable energy technologies around the world."

Prime Solar is a solar energy contractor and solar general building contractor. Prime Solar specializes in the creation and installation of custom-designed residential and commercial solar electric power, solar heating, and wind energy systems. TGI Solar provides manufacturing equipment and turnkey manufacturing solutions to the photovoltaic industry.