Friday 11 September 2009

World's Biggest Solar Plant will Power 3 Million Homes

09. 8.09

It seems every few months another 'world's biggest' renewable energy project gets unveiled--but this one's seriously huge. The US company FirstSolar has just signed a deal with the Chinese government to develop what will be the largest photovoltaic power plant in the world. This behemoth will generate 2,000 MWs of power when it's built in the Mongolian desert, and it will power 3 million Chinese homes. And this isn't some pie-in-the-sky project that will never come to fruition--this one's coming soon, despite its jaw-dropping price tag.

And the sum of that price tag? Around $5-6 billion dollars, according to projections. But the cost isn't stopping the Chinese government from giving the audacious project the go ahead to break ground next year.

According to Green Inc, "The agreement calls for ground to be broken on the first 30-MW phase of the project by June 1, 2010, followed by 100-MW and 870-MW additions to be completed by the end of 2014. A final 1,000-MW phase is scheduled to go online by Dec. 31, 2019."

It's also notable that a US company was able to land such a big deal in China--a country notoriously protective of its fast-emerging renewable energy market. But the move, of course, benefits both parties: it has the potential to open up a huge market for solar energy in China, and a plant to produce the solar cells will be opened on Chinese soil.

China is surging ahead with renewable energy projects like this, and it's seeking to become the world leader in the field. It has already staked a claim to the mantle of wind energy leader with its gigantic windfarm projects, and now it looks as though it'll soon be home to the most impressive solar array in the world as well. The US is going to have to get moving if it hopes to catch up.

Cloud over Rudd's $1.5bn solar scheme

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Thursday 10/9/2009 Page: 1

The Victorian government, in a submission to the Boston Consulting Group, has questioned the funding arrangements for the Rudd government's flagship A$1.5 billion solar energy scheme. BCG is advising the Federal Government on the plan, after advising on developing the Global carbon capture and storage Institute last year. The Government plans to spend A$1.5 billion over six years to support the construction of four 250 MW solar energy plants in Australia by 2015. However, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries claims that the scheme would be more commercially viable if funding were shared among a larger number of smaller projects.

Investec said the Government needed to raise the level of public funding per MW of energy produced. The project has previously been criticised by the Clean Energy Council. Meanwhile, the Australian Geothermal Energy Association this week revealed modelling showing that geothermal plants in South Australia could deliver major benefits if transmission lines are built early, and Petratherm said geothermal could help push down electricity prices.

We pay as the world weans itself off our coal

Herald Sun
Thursday 10/9/2009 Page: 57

COAL and gas burning electricity generators are ripping customers off, the energy regulator says. And that's not all:
  • Electricity and gas generators, transmitters and distributors definitely don't have to use energy more efficiently until 2013.
  • Wealthy Chinese electricity corporation CLP Group tells its head of Australian coal-fired power plants, Richard Mclndoe of TRUEnergy, to withdraw investment in Victoria's Solar Systems, a developer of cutting edge solar energy
  • Solar Systems is reported to be in administration and 150 jobs on the line.
  • THE Clean Energy Council, whose inaugural chairman was Mr Mclndoe, has no idea how many renewable energy sector jobs have been lost in Australia over the past year.
  • US Company FirstSolar will build the world's largest solar energy station in China - 2 GWs, thanks to strong fee d-in-tariff incentives.
  • Nuclear reactor builder Hitachi and Japan Wind Development will develop batteries to store wind generated power.
  • Smart grid technology to be rolled out next year in Japan so transmission and distribution networks can incorporate solar energy generation capacity of about 28 GWs.
There is a theme running through these announcements made this week and it is this: Nations that rely on Australian coal exports are moving away from burning fossil fuels and turbo charging their development of renewable energy. Their plan is that one day they will not need Australian coal. When that day happens, the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on extra infrastructure for doubling our coal exports will have been wasted.

Here in Australia, we are told that we have an obligation to sell our coal to countries such as China because it will improve the living standards of the Chinese. We are told that our economy cannot afford to stop selling coal to Japan. Well, here is the rub. Those economies are not counting on our coal as a long-term provider of energy. They are moving fast towards a renewable energy future.

Back here, our politicians tell us they support renewable energy, but they don't mean it. What they are really doing is pandering to those that dig up, export or burn fossil fuels. Providing them with billions of dollars of exemptions from the carbon pollution reduction scheme, the Renewable Energy Target and yesterday from the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act, despite the efforts of Greens Senator Christine Milne.

And now, to add insult to injury, the Australian Energy Regulator's Ed Willett revealed yesterday that: "With customers already facing increased prices it is particularly concerning, that generators are pushing up wholesale prices by using their market power and further increasing the cost to consumers."

Go figure.

Indian firms may announce foreign partner in nuclear-energy project

India's Bharat Heavy Electricals and Nuclear Power are expected to name a foreign partner for their project to construct nuclear plants in the country. The partner will likely be offered about 30% equity, but the terms are under discussion, Bharat Chairman K. Ravi Kumar said. This comes as Bharat agreed last year to strike a deal with the country's sole nuclear-energy producer for engineering, building and procurement services.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Solar power boost for hardware warehouse

Canberra Times
Wednesday 9/9/2009 Page: 6

A cluster of 132 solar panels will be installed on Bunnings Warehouse in Belconnen in the trial of a new electricity micro generation program. Microgeneration is the process of producing renewable energy on site. Bunning's national support office spokesman John McGregor said it was a great opportunity to try the technology because of the size of Bunnings' roofs.

The solar panels on the Belconnen store's 7860sgm roof are part of Bunnings' plan to become carbon neutral by 2015. The $260,000 project will provide 4% of the store's total electricity consumption. The Belconnen store was chosen because "the ACT has initiated support mechanisms to encourage large companies like ours to support microgeneration," Mr McGregor said.

The ACT Government has a solar feed-in tariff that allows homes using solar panels to be paid for the energy they generate. The Government is considering extending the tariff to allow businesses to be paid for the solar energy they generate. While there is no official data on which companies are using renewable energy, the chief executive of the ACT Chamber of Commerce, Chris Peters, said there was a trend for companies to move toward those technologies.

Large-scale solar station goes into receivership - Sun power needs tax breaks

Wednesday 9/9/2009 Page: 7

SOLAR power stations will need special tax breaks as well as massive government subsidies, the renewable energy industry has warned, after Australia's first planned large-scale solar energy station went into receivership this week. The Rudd government's budget promise to produce 1000 MWs of solar energy by building the single largest solar energy station in the world" with a $1.6 billion grant was already in doubt before Victorian company Solar Systems went into voluntary administration.

Solar Systems had been promised $129 million in funding from the state government and the Howard government towards its $420m Mildura project, but it was forced to go into receivership when a major investor pulled out and it was unable to find replacement funding. According to the renewable energy industry organisation, the Clean Energy Council, the failure of Australia's leading solar energy company highlights the need for tax breaks and other incentives to attract private investors, on top of big government subsidies.

"Developing emerging clean energy technologies is an inherently risky business... It's been a tough year for all businesses to find investors, and even harder for companies like these that are years away from providing a return on the investment," said Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren. "What this clearly reveals is that we need to change the rules to make it easier and more attractive for investors to back these sorts of companies."

The CEC has engaged Ernst & Young to develop proposals for tax concessions for clean technology companies and accelerated research and development write-off provisions. As revealed in The Australian, the CEC and would-be recipients of money from the budget's $1.6bn solar flagships program have written to Boston Consulting Group, which is developing the program's criteria, saying the government won't be able to build power stations generating 1000 MW with the money it has allocated and the estimated contributions from industry and the states.

Some calculated the funding could fall up to $1.7bn short of the government's stated aims. And the industry warned that with investors more risk adverse after the credit crisis, the government would need extra measures to attract private investors. Former industry minister Ian MacFarlane awarded Solar Systems a total of $79.5m in federal grants, of which the company had so far received just $2.6m, part of which was used to build solar energy stations at three indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. He said that "based on the analysis," it should have worked.

A spokesman for Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said Solar Systems' appointment of a voluntary administrator is a commercial matter for the company in question, not a reflection upon the Rudd government's support for renewable energy".

$1.9M UNI GRANT Plastic solar cell way of future

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 9/9/2009 Page: 31

University of Queensland researchers say a $1.9 million state government grant will help develop thin plastic solar cell technology that will one day power homes, mobile phones and even cars. The team, involving researchers from Australia and the U.S., are working on a three-year project to develop a special type of plastic that can capture the sun's energy. The researchers say the benefit of plastic means solar technology can be shaped into more products. Announcing the grant yesterday, Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the technology may be developed to the point where plastic solar cells could double as both a fuel source and a thin layer of window tinting on a car's windows.

We'll pay premium for desal power

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 9/9/2009 Page: 11

TAXPAYERS will pay 20% above regular power prices to run the $1.8 billion Port Stanvac desalination plant on renewable energy, electricity retailer AGL says. Yesterday, AGL announced it had secured a 20-year deal to power the plant. While AGL would not say how much the contract was worth, the Opposition estimates the plant will cost $75 million each year in power.

AGL did say the renewable power would cost the government 20% more than regular power based on the current market. AGL will have to divert renewable energy to the project from its existing GreenPower program. General manager, merchant, Jeff Dimery said the company went through "a very extensive competitive process with the Government to secure the contract". "I am sure they are quite happy with the deal from their side and we are happy with the deal from our side," he said.

It would meet the desalination plant's power requirements with existing South Australian generators along with new windfarm projects in the pipeline. AGL would also be able to meet the 20% renewable generation targets set by the Government with current supply. AGL stated the 132 MW Hallet 4 windfarm near Jamestown would produce enough energy to supply the 500GW required by the desalination plant.

ETSA chief executive Lew Owens said AGL would not need to build new infrastructure to meet the plant's energy requirements. "It doesn't mean they have to go out and build a couple of hundred MW of wind capacity - AGL has just taken that additional capacity out of the system," he said. "What it does mean is that it brings forward the time that other ones (wind farms) come on board even though a lot of them were going to happen anyway." University of Adelaide director of the Centre for Energy Technology, Professor Gus Nathan, said SA's grid network was reaching its limits for renewable energy supply.

Major project status blown away

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 9/9/2009 Page: 4

THE state's first proposed windfarm will shortly lose its major development status, the State Government yesterday losing patience with its developer. Planning Minister Paul Holloway, who said he would not agree to changes to TrustPower's planning approval for its Myponga Windfarm, also put developer Stansbury Marina Development Company on notice for its planned development.

TrustPower received "major project status" in 2002 for 20 turbines, each 100 m high, and Mr Holloway said he was rejecting a further proposal by TrustPower to build 16, 110m-high turbines. "It was one of the first wind farms in the state, when there were no (standards) against which a windfarm could be properly assessed," he said. "However, the Government has decided that after six years of delays it is no longer appropriate to further vary the development approval to such an extent.

"TrustPower can either proceed with the 20-turbine proposal as authorised.., or lodge a new development application with the Yankalilla District Council." Developers of the proposed Stansbury Marina have been given three weeks to persuade the Government not to reject the project under major project guidelines. The SMDC had already provided a draft environmental impact statement, but the lack of detail "didn't warrant public consultation," Mr Holloway said.

$420m solar project on skids

Tuesday 8/9/2009 Page: 1

Solar Systems, the company that planned to build the world's biggest solar energy station in north-west Victoria, has been placed in receivership, putting the future of the project in serious doubt. The announcement is a blow for the renewable energy industry and the Federal and State Governments, which had pledged $125 million towards the $420 million project. The 154-MW solar farm was to have produced enough energy to power 45,000 hones. About 150 workers face an uncertain future after talks between Solar Systems and a potential investor broke down.

Administrator Stephen Longley of PricewaterhouseCoopers said he hoped to tell employees by the end of the week whether they were still needed. "We are assessing Solar Systems' operational and financial position with a view to continuing operations on a reduced scale over the next three months in order to provide its with sufficient time to restructure and sell the business as a going concern," he said.

The Victorian Government has Banded over only $500,000 of its $50 million grant to Solar Systems. None of the Federal Government's $75 million funding has been delivered. Abbotsford-based Solar Systems proposed to use photovoltaic solar cells to concentrate the suns power by 500 tines and feed the energy into the national power and by 2013. A pilot plant to demonstrate the technology has been completed at Bridgewater, central Victoria, but construction has not begun on the main project.

Support for the project began to unravel in July when Richard Mclndoe, managing director of TRUEnergy, whose parent company China Light and Power has a 20% stake in Solar Systems, resigned as a director. Last month China Light and Power wrote down its $HK346 million ($A53 million) investment.

TRUEnergy said yesterday it would be still willing to invest if another co-investor could be found. "TRUEnergy continues to believe that Solar Systems' concentrated photovoltaic technology shows promise and we would welcome any outcome that would allow for the continued development of the.., power station proposed near Mildura," a spokesman said. State Opposition environment spokesman David Davis said "this is a tragedy for renewable energy in Victoria". "John Brumby promoted this project and now Victorian Labor's solar policy is in tatters," he said.

"Where are the 1000 regional jobs, who will power the 45,000 homes and why has John Brumby pulled the rug out?" A Victorian Government spokeswoman said the Government still believed in the technology and hoped a white knight would save the project. "We are disappointed that this promising solar technology start-up business has been unable to raise the additional capital needed for its ongoing development," she said. "As a result of the global financial crisis, the timing of the Solar Systems fund-raising coincided with a much tighter and more risk averse international investment climate." The first meeting of creditors is scheduled for September 17.

Solar Systems did not return calls from The Age.

Peak-hour change to go green

Adelaide Advertiser
Tuesday 8/9/2009 Page: 14

GREENHOUSE gas emissions could be reduced significantly if residents adjusted their electricity usage in peak times, an Adelaide behaviour specialist says. Sinclair Knight Merz behaviour change specialist Elizabeth Ampt said water use and car travel had reduced because people had been encouraged to change their habits voluntarily.

She said peak electricity demand was growing much faster than base energy demand and new power stations and substations had to be built to meet it. "Modification of consumer behaviour has the potential to defer some of this investment and achieve carbon emission benefits for the community," she said.

Join the rush to renewable power: greenhouse gas
September 09, 2009

TALKING of energy: you name it and we've got it. The roll call of plenty runs from being the world's fourth largest producer and the largest exporter of coal to possessing caverns of natural gas and much uranium.

Having so much energy means we have splashed it about; our greenhouse gas emissions a head are the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and four times the world average. Industrial and residential electricity prices are among the cheapest in the developed world, while gas prices are among the lowest.

Against such a background, the process of mitigating climate change with the recent passage of the renewable energy bill makes for a challenge for investors wondering where to position themselves. Much will depend on the process by which emissions are abated and the extent to which we go it alone in the world. Coal exports could become uncompetitive, for example, and uranium exports may be sidetracked as natural gas prevails, as flagged this week with PetroChina's $50 billion purchase of Gorgon gas.

Toss into the mix higher oil prices, which may slow world growth, and governments may be less willing to wear higher energy costs for consumers and businesses. At the very least, the state of the world's economy could lead to abatement policies being delayed or watered down. And all this before the start of the carbon pollution reduction scheme in 2011, if it passes. Carbon emitters will be the bogey, and as their presence is slimmed and squeezed by science and social pressures, so should the field expand for renewable energy generators. Big emitters and users of energy are the electricity generators, which in turn are likely to pass on higher charges to distributors, retailers, then households and businesses.

Managing this carbon risk is likely to drive increased investment in renewable energy technologies, Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren says. "We expect to see significant investment in renewable and energy efficiency over the next decade from many of the biggest greenhouse emitters," he says.

Big electricity retailers such as AGL, Origin Energy and TRUEnergy are already balancing their coal and gas-fired generation assets with increased investment in proven and emerging renewable technologies. Origin Energy and TRUEnergy have invested in the emerging geothermal sector, while AGL has Australia's biggest wind energy portfolio. The country's biggest wind player is Infigen Energy, the renamed Babcock and Brown Wind, which plans to triple its wind capacity to 1000 MWs in the next five years.

AGL Energy has $2.3bn invested in renewable projects including some under construction, to claim the title of the country's biggest across all forms of renewables. Managing director Michael Fraser likens the passage of the renewable energy target legislation to the dawning of a new era: "We have secured some of the best renewable projects in Australia and our portfolio will benefit."

Clean energy consultant Shaun Colley agrees that big power players are likely to benefit most in the short term. "That's due to their ability to bring major renewables projects online quickly, mainly wind, but later a move to solar thermal." Lesser lights include Solco, a small rooftop-solar producer and installer that should benefit from certainty in renewable energy targets, and Viridis Clean Energy, which plans to turn wind and waste-to-energy generation.

GeoDynamics and Petratherm are the two leading geothermal energy developers and Carnegie Corporation the leader in wave energy. Smaller players include KUth Energy, which has geothermal power projects in Tasmania and may benefit from new targets and access to the Bass Strait power distribution cable; MBD Energy, an unlisted company that recently raised capital for a first-stage algae to biofuels plant at Loy Yang in Victoria; and Hush Wind Power, also unlisted, which is developing small-scale wind generators for household and industrial use.

At Tullamarine, Willow Ware Australia, which makes the cooler boxes, has installed four Hush turbines at its facility towards a planned 30 that could provide about 10 per cent of its needs. Chief executive Ralph Wilson says Willow started 18 months ago to manage its carbon-neutral energy needs. "Wind power was the obvious choice thanks to our geographical location... We commissioned RMIT (University) to undertake a study early on to verify the amount of wind energy we could capture."

Carbon capture and other storage methods seem further down the track and subject to the timing and passage of the CPRS scheme and the price it sets on greenhouse gas abatement. Along with electricity prices, the other key emitting fuel, oil, is likely to see a price rise that will play on governments. Higher oil prices could mean fewer jobs, a tension with climate change policies, as shown by the federal government's commitment to offset any carbon tax on petrol by a reduction in the excise.

Yet higher fuel prices could lead to lower carbon emissions for each transport kilometre as cleaner fuels are adopted, vehicles use hybrid drive trains and fuel-cells, there is more public transport and trains, rather than trucks, carry commercial goods. "biodiesel may struggle until new oil crops such as Jatropha and Pongamia can be grown on a large scale on non-agricultural land and new harvesting technologies can be developed," Colley says. "A potential player is ENEnergy, a private Norwegian company with new, low cost cellulosic ethanol technology looking to launch vertically integrated biomass to energy and ethanol technology in Australia."

Solverdi Worldwide - - formerly Australian biodiesel industries - - is introducing new technology for low-cost renewable fuel to replace diesel in power generators. It plans to become a defacto clean power company. Further out, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics says there is likely to be a near 100 per cent rise in the use of non-hydro renewables, a 20 per cent to 30 per cent fall in coal, and a 5 per cent to 15 per cent drop in oil and gas. Overall energy use is expected to decline, too.

Munich Re may insure Desertec solar energy project

MUNICH, Germany - - German reinsurer Munich Re AG said its main role in the proposed Desertec Foundation solar energy project is currently as a catalyst and advisor, but could become a bigger investor and possible insurer for the project in future - if and when it gets built. Desertec Foundation, still on the drawing board, aims to produce solar-generated electricity for much of Europe, Africa and the Middle East in coming years through a vast network of generating facilities and transmission grids across North Africa and the Middle East.

Speaking in a recent interview with The Associated Press, Munich Re's chief financial officer Joerg Schneider said the reinsurer is for now a leader in the consortium of companies involved, but that Munich Re would "be happy to support it further" either as an investor or by eventually insuring it. "We very willingly take the role for the interim phase of being the driver of the cooperation in order to make it move," Schneider said. "That is our task at the moment, to set everything up so that it is then self-running. Then there will be an intensive project phase."

The three-year project phase will focus on creating the regulatory framework and developing a detailed rollout plan to allow stakeholders, including governments, to evaluate their possible involvement and investment. The next step in Desertec Foundation will be to legally incorporate, he said, which is planned for Oct. 31. "We'll try to do our best to speed it up," Schneider said, adding that "political realisation is the main question mark here. Is it possible to really find and create enough solid ground for such enormous investments?"

Over the summer, a consortium of 12 European companies announced plans to build the project in North Africa and the Middle East which they said could satisfy 15% of Europe's energy needs by 2050. The Desertec Foundation consortium also includes Deutsche Bank AG, German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG, and the German power companies RWE AG and E.ON AG.

The project would be based largely on solar energy plants, which use mirrors to focus the sun's energy to heat liquid and power turbines. Such plants are already running in the U.S., Spain and elsewhere. "Within six hours, deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year," according to the Desertec Foundation's Web site. The project is probably still far from being realised though, given the enormous cost and funding necessary to build the project alone - while generation and transmission will also come at no small cost.

Still, other risks remain, like potential political instability or even terrorism threats in the region, while some environmentalists say Europe would be better served sticking to smaller-scale solar facilities at home. The German Aerospace Center estimates the new electricity transport network alone will cost some euro45 billion ($63 billion), while the group forecast the entire project could approach some euro400 billion. "Desertec Foundation has the unique chance not only to do something for Europe's power provisions, but to also do a lot for these countries," Schneider said.

"That, I think, is very important; to bring wealth to these countries. It is therefore a unique chance to bridge the cultural gap between Europe and Africa somewhat," he said, calling it "a huge vision." The Desertec Foundation consortium said it had already started discussing the project with governments in Europe and Africa, though wasn't specific as to which ones. Morocco, for example, has already expressed interest. The company said it was still too early to say how equity investors might join the project, if it gets built. Shares of Munich Re were down about a third of a% at euro104.20 ($149.00) in Frankfurt afternoon trading.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

RenCon Energy combines LED and solar technology - Interior 'skylight' offers homeowners affordable renewable energy
September 7th, 2009

HEALDSBURG - Andy Smith and his team at RenCon Energy have developed a solution for those that want to bring sunlight into a windowless room but are reluctant to cut a hole in their roof: the Solectric Skylight system. The former design engineer for Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies has combined LED and solar technology to produce an interior "skylight" that homeowners can install themselves. It will debut at the Friedman's Home Improvement Home & Garden Show later this month.

"For a long time I've wanted to design a product that would utilise renewable energy while promoting conservation and one that would be affordable by the average resident," said Mr. Smith. Hence RenCon Energy: renewable solar plus energy-saving LEDs. Current LED lighting fixtures are generally designer pieces and run upwards of $200, he said. And solar installations are beyond the scope of many homeowners both in price and complexity.

"Lots of people would like to utilise solar energy. My idea was to give them a product they can buy and install without hiring an electrical contractor," said Mr. Smith. His systems, including one photovoltaic panel, two 10-and-a-half-inch wide LED lights, wires and brackets, will cost $299, slightly more than a tubular skylight but much cheaper and easier to install.

In the early morning when the sun is low, the PV panel produces a low current, which corresponds to a low light level from the LED fixtures. As the sun moves higher in the sky the current increases and so does the LED output. RenCon Energy will sell a battery storage kit to homeowners who want to store solar electricity to use the lights after dark, but since the LEDs burn only seven watts per light it makes more sense to run them off the house current, he said.

He'll offer a $30 kit to make the connection. "Initially we'll supply a list of recommended local handypeople if purchasers don't feel they can make the installations, but this was always intended to be a consumer product for people who want to make small improvements to their homes," he said. Once Mr. Smith had a prototype working and a patent pending, he set about to build a company.

Another former Agilent engineer, who graduated from and is now teaching for Dominican University's Green MBA program, put him on to a couple of talented recent graduates, Jonathan Mooney and Allison Shrier. Mr. Mooney is now RenCon Energy's vice president of marketing and Ms. Shrier its vice president of operations.

The company currently operates out of Mr. Smith's Healdsburg garage, capitalised by about $55,000 from friends and family. He'd like to raise $100,000 to set up manufacturing and distribution channels, perhaps with a small business loan. "Right now the local angel groups are concentrating on companies they've already funded, rather than putting money into a new startup," he said. Meanwhile, he's taking advantage of local resources, including the Santa Rosa Junior College's Sawyer Center for marketing expertise.

RenCon Energy will have a chance to judge customer response at the Home & Garden Show, which runs Sept. 18, 19 and 20. According to Friedman's Home Improvement Vice President of Merchandise and Marketing Tony Corsberg, the RenCon Energy Solectric Skylight system was chosen because it's energy-saving and locally produced. "We carry flush-mounted LED lights and tubular skylights, but we've never had a product like RenCon Energy's. At $299 I'm not sure how it will resonate with customers. The price is comparable to a skylight, but it might cause sticker shock," he said.

The team at RenCon Energy is in the process of developing lower-cost products, including recessed LED fixtures for $40 to $50, said Mr. Smith. "We don't want to be a one-product company," he said. Florescent tube replacement with LED and recessed LED lights show lots of potential, and Mr. Smith is eager to develop a solar thermal system that can be purchased and installed for less than $2,000. "Current systems run about $4,000 to $5,000. There's a huge opportunity there that hasn't been tapped into," he said.

For more information, visit

Kenya to benefit from Sh1.7 billion EU power project
September 8, 2009

Kenya is set to benefit from a Sh1.7 billion geothermal power project to be set up by the European Union in the Rift Valley. Executives in the energy sector say the funds will be used for feasibility studies and exploration work in an effort aimed at laying the ground work for the entry of private investors into geothermal generation. Private investors have preferred to invest in thermal power (diesel-driven) since they are cheaper to develop compared to geothermal but get expensive in the long run when its impact on power bills inflation and environmental damage are factored in.

Now, the EU seeks to reverse this trend by providing investor information such as maps of potential drilling points and helping the government to formulate policies that would help investors put their money in geothermal power generation. This comes at a time when the country is faced with a power shortfall that forced power managers to turn to rationing and to the more expensive thermal production to meet the ever rising consumers demand.

"Geothermal energy covers one of the four interdisciplinary core programmes of our centre and is part of its strategic priority in developing eco-friendly renewable energy," says Giorgio Rosso Cicogna, the managing director of International Centre for Science and High Technology — United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The project will be implemented by UNDO at the request of the Africa Union which has already submitted the project's proposal to the European Union — the financiers of the project. Kenya derives 130 MWs of power or about 10 per cent of its installed power capacity from geothermal sources despite the potential of about 7, 000 MWs. The country's peak demand stands at 1,070 MWs.

Kenya requires an additional 1,500 MWs in the coming 10 years to stabilise supply, and the government is keen to tap into the least cost generation. The government has already established a state-owned Geothermal Development Company (GDC) to rev up the contribution of geothermal production. This will allow the government to facilitate the huge funding required for geothermal projects, which has acted as a deterrent for private firms to explore that segment.

For instance, an 80-MW geothermal would cost about Sh28 billion compared to only Sh8 billion for same thermal plant. Figures from the Energy ministry indicate that geothermal power can be delivered to consumers at less than Sh4.20 per kW hour, which is far much lower than the Sh15 per kW hour that power consumers are now paying. The government has unveiled tax concessions and a tariff policy to encourage private investors to enter geothermal generation.

The country's reliance on the weather-dependent hydro-power and the more expensive thermal sources to meet its energy needs has come with a price. The country is faced with a power rationing, which the government has announced will end this month. Secondly, power consumers are faced with expensive electricity in the form of increased fuel costs due to heavy reliance of thermal power to bridge the gap. Power consumers are now paying over Sh6 from Sh4.10 in March.

Kenya relies on hydro sources to generate 700 MW of power but electricity generator KenGen says this has reduced by 12 per cent due to drought which has forced a countrywide power rationing following the recent closure of Masinga dam station. The country has an installed capacity of 1,200 MW and hydro sources produce about 56 per cent of the total electricity while thermal and geothermal contributes 36 and eight per cent respectively to the national grid. The government expects the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) could deliver at least 700 MW in the next 10 years.

Solar power surge in south-east Queensland
Tue, 8 Sep 09

Energex says Queenslanders should be realistic about energy savings when purchasing solar panels for the home. It follows complaints from consumers their electricity bills did not change or in some cases increased after installing the panels. Under the Queensland Government's feed-in tariff scheme, extra power generated by solar panels is taken off an electricity bill. Energex spokesman Mike Swanston says solar panels will save electricity but they will not cut a bill in half.

"Generally a small system will reduce a household electricity bill by about $100 a quarter," Mr Swanston said. "That's with everything else being held steady. "When we see the amount of power that gets used in households through plasma TV and things unfortunately some people aren't seeing the benefits of solar they had hoped to see but it really does make a difference if you use them in your home intelligently."

Mr Swanston says there has been a big surge in people buying solar panels. "We have seen an incredible increase in the solar electricity going into homes in the south-east Queensland," he said. "In fact only 12 months ago we received around 200 connection requests in a month but last month we topped 2,000 and we are expecting that will continue to increase."

A Brisbane businessman who specialises in energy saving devices is warning consumers to be very careful about companies over-stating the dollar savings of solar panels. Bryan Springer says anyone suggesting a solar panel can dramatically reduce a quarterly electricity bill should not be trusted.

Mr Springer says power bills will go down but not by half. He says new companies with little or no expertise in energy saving are trying to cash in on the government's push to go solar. "You recall what happened with water tanks companies are buying directly in from China and selling to the public: The public have a problem and go back to the company and the company is not there," Mr Springer said.

China, green? In the case of solar water heating, yes
September 6, 2009

In a nation known more for its belching smokestacks, solar water heaters are on nearly every roof in some cities. Manufacturers are eyeing foreign markets, including Southern California. Reporting from Rizhao, China - Before her family bought a solar water heater, Liu Yan would bathe the way many working-class Chinese have for generations: boil water, dampen a rag and wipe away the dirt.

Today, the 40-year-old mother and her family shower every day and wash their dishes with hot water. The stainless steel heater affixed to her red-tiled roof cost about $220. The device has become a symbol of China's rising standard of living and its leap into the era of clean energy. In the seaside city of 2.8 million where Liu lives in Shandong province, 99% of households use solar water heaters. The mattress-sized contraptions dominate Rizhao's skyline, resting haphazardly on almost every residential rooftop.

In the global race to develop green technology and stem climate change, China has quickly become a leading producer of solar panels and wind turbines. It also dominates the lesser-known technology of solar water heaters. Using principles of solar heating more than a century old, the humble, low-cost devices consist of an angled row of cola-colored glass tubes that absorb heat from the sun. The most common models fill the tubes with cold water. As it heats, the water rises into an insulated tank where it can remain hot for days.

The devices have improved so much over the years that some don't need direct sunlight - - all the more valuable in China's often hazy and smoggy cities. Newer models have electrical heaters inside the water tanks that switch on if the water gets too cold on frigid days.

Popular in some parts of the United States around the turn of the 20th century before being made obsolete by cheap natural gas, solar heaters are now hailed as one of China's greatest environmental success stories. More than 30 million homes have the devices, accounting for two-thirds of the world's solar water heating energy.

Manufacturers are eyeing foreign markets, including customers in Southern California. "China absolutely dominates the global market and they've done it relatively quietly and without a lot of fanfare," said Christopher Flavin, president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. "It's an interesting example of their ability to take technology that was developed elsewhere and adapt it to their market on a scale no one had conceived of."

The widespread development of solar heaters in China can appear paradoxical in a country that leads the world in carbon dioxide emissions and where two-thirds of the rivers and lakes are contaminated. Such is the nature of China's push to tackle climate change. In this rapidly developing economy, some of the nation's biggest polluters reside alongside the biggest renewable energy projects.

Scenes like Rizhao's crowded, energy-efficient rooftops are repeated all over China, often in the shadows of carbon spewing smokestacks and noxious chemical plants. Rizhao is one of a small but growing number of Chinese cities requiring solar heaters to be installed or subsidised. "There are two different stories in China," said Barbara Finamore, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's China Program. "There's dramatic progress. There's no denying that. At the same time, they're still building, on average, a new coal-fired [power] plant every week."

The heating of water accounts for a quarter of a typical building's energy usage. The Chinese solar heaters are estimated to have prevented more than 20 million tons of carbon dioxide that would have been emitted annually using electrical units.

The heaters will be much needed if Beijing is to meet its goal of reducing its reliance on coal, which supplies 80% of the country's energy. The central government aims to meet 15% of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2020. Beijing hopes to triple its solar heater capacity by the same year, according to Greenpeace China.

The technology's gains here lie in its affordability, the dearth of residential natural gas service and the modest expectations of consumers, many of whom had never enjoyed hot water at home before. The starting price for one of the clunky devices is around $220, about the same as an electric heater in China. In the United States, where labor costs are higher and systems tend to be larger and more elaborate, solar water heaters can easily cost $1,500 or more.

"The key to the success in China is that the low price enables people to have an instantaneous payback," said John Perlin, a solar energy historian and author of "From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity." A thriving, hyper-competitive industry of 5,000 manufacturers has grown up in the last decade or more, driving costs down and widening the range of quality. "The market is huge, but the competition is fearsome," said Bi Bangquan, president of Ri- zhao Gold Giant Solar Power, one of 150 manufacturers based in the city.

To find new customers, he's turned to rural areas. That can mean sending sales teams to villages, where stages are erected for singing and dancing performers to promote the virtues of his solar heaters. Each manufacturer touts its product's ability to heat water within hours and insulate that heat for days. "I guarantee my water's hot enough to take the feathers off a chicken," said one of Bi's rivals, Zhang Shouqin, founder of Rizhao Qin Naier Solar Power.

Some Chinese companies hoping to boost sales are looking to other countries, including the United States. Only about 1% of the world's solar water heating energy is produced in the U.S., but climate change is spurring interest in the technology. The California Public Utilities Commission has recommended the establishment of a $300-million incentive program to encourage homeowners to install units.

Bi dreams of exporting, but he's concerned that his heaters would be no match for Western habits. A typical American uses 100 gallons of water daily, both hot and cold, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In China, an urban resident uses half that, and a rural dweller about a fifth. Many of the older or cheaper Chinese models are far from perfect, lacking auxiliary heating elements to warm the water on cloudy days.

"I have to look outside and make sure it's been sunny before I decide to take a shower," said a 53-year-old retiree in Rizhao who gave only his surname, Xiao. "Otherwise you'll get a cold surprise." About 225 miles northwest of Rizhao is the headquarters of Himin Solar Energy Group, China's largest and most advanced solar water heater maker, which recently garnered a $50-million investment from Goldman Sachs. Himin's influence runs deep in its hometown, Dezhou. The streets of the city of 5.5 million are illuminated with solar energyed lights; 90% of its households have solar water heaters.

Company founder Huang Ming is building an expansive residential development in Dezhou called Utopia Garden to showcase the potential of solar technology. Scheduled for completion in 2013, the row of high-rise buildings will be crowned with a ribbon of solar thermal tubing and photovoltaic panels that will supply much of the complex's energy needs. "We're only at the bottom of a big mountain," Huang said. Solar "can push a change in lifestyle."

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Keeping it simple opens the path to success

Sydney Morning Herald
Monday 7/9/2009 Page: 20

Windmills area low-technology way to pump water and can be fixed on the spot. That is why the export business is ready to take off. Its straightforward design, the ease of installation and uncomplicated mechanics have made the Australian bush windmill a must-have water pumping solution in places such as Afghanistan, Malaysia and even Peru.

Water technology is expected to become the next big export industry for Australian companies but as Comet Windmills has proved, innovation in this area does not have to be space-age or high-tech. Darren Fitzgerald bought Comet Windmills about 12 years ago, although the business has been around for more than 120. It is the only windmill manufacturer in NSW.

"Windmills are still the main method of pumping water in Australia," says Fitzgerald. "They are a magnificent piece of structural engineering and there are very few things needed to set them up properly. They are designed so you don't need a highly skilled technician and they can be fixed on the spot.

That's why bushmen love them." It is also why the rest of the world loves them. Comet Windmills started exporting about three years ago after winning a tender with the Australian Defence Forces to manufacture windmills and train array personnel on installation and maintenance for their use in Afghanistan. "Islands and villages and remote places like the windmill because they want something that is low technology," says Fitzgerald.

Austrade has identified water technology as one of the strongest export opportunities for manufacturers and engineers and one which both the state and federal governments are supporting with assistance to anew specialist water technology and services exporters' group called waterAustralia.

Rob Sutton, the national manager of agribusiness at Austrade, says water security for agriculture, industry and the community will be one of the strongest emerging export sectors in the next 12 to 24 months. We see a tremendous opportunity in water technology like windmills, and management technology linked to agriculture, as well as the security of potable water for human consumption-all this specialised technology that manages recycled water and waste water," says Sutton.

'At the moment this industry is dominated by the public sector in Australia and most other countries around the world, and there is very little privatisation. But the opportunities are there in infrastructure and local councils. "International markets like the US and countries with climates like Australia's are facing similar problems to us and we estimate the sector could be worth $1 trillion in a few years. "There are many opportunities in areas like water flow management systems, membrane filters, gate control systems, and infrastructure.

Australia now leads the way in this area because we had an early indication of national water shortage. "One interesting aspect of water technology is that if you can improve the accuracy of where a cubic metre of water is and when it will arrive to a customer, there will be less waste in that process. So with accurate pricing, timing and delivery you don't have to turn on the tap too early or late. Austrade has identified these services are required in the international market."

Delivering the right quantity of water at the right time is what Comet Windmills prides itself on. "We snake the largest windmills in the world. We are looking at a project in Peru with a windmill wheel that has a diameter of 10 metres and is capable of pumping 500,000 litres of water a day for irrigation to a cotton farm. We are also negotiating with people in China and India," Fitzgerald says.

"I always had the vision that the windmill was a good product for the developing world. There are only a few ways to pump water-diesel, electricity, solar and the windmill, and only solar and the windmill use renewable energy. "The trouble with solar technology in more remote places is that they get stolen or they break. Now that global warming is really on the agenda in a big way, more companies and big corporations are looking at windmills."

Austrade is meeting Australian water technology companies in September to introduce waterAustralia and outline the international trade opportunities in this sector.

The planet-saver that's still just a pipe dream

Sydney Morning Herald
Monday 7/9/2009 Page: 17

Carbon capture and storage is expensive, risky and may not work, writes Paddy Manning.

THERE may be a few forced smiles when Martin Ferguson dishes out $2.4 billion in funding for a handful of "flagship" carbon capture and storage projects (CCS), intended to clean up carbon dioxide emissions from coalfired power stations. As the Energy and Resources Minister knows, these CCS projects have taken one helluva time to get tip and running- and it will be a long while yet before they make any significant contribution to Australia's CO2, emission reductions.

For at least a decade, the coal industry has promoted a range of clean coal technologies, including CCS, as an alternative to renewable energy. But as necessary emission reduction trajectories get deeper and steeper, the industry has been tardy - stubborn, even - about paying for it. Instead the public will foot most of the bill for CCS, and will wear the liability if it goes wrong.

CCS projects have a conspicuous history of failure - here and overseas. Put simply, nobody has yet integrated power generation with carbon capture and storage at scale to create clean electricity, anywhere in the world. And many experts, including from within the energy industry, believe CCS will remain prohibitively expensive and risky compared with known baseload power sources such as nuclear, or renewable sources such as geothermal or concentrating solar thermal which do not leave vast underground stores of carbon dioxide for future generations to worry about.

In April the CSIRO's energy chief, David Brockway, told a federal parliamentary inquiry on climate change that while he did not have a crystal ball, over the next 15 years wholesale electricity costs would roughly triple from the present $40/MWh, as CCS is incorporated into coalfired power generation. That would bring it, he said, roughly into line with solar thermal - about $160-$200/MWh but falling fast - and wind energy, likely to remain stable at $100-$110/Mwh (other estimates are lower) because it is a mature technology.

It's not a reasonable comparison, though, because solar thermal and wind energy actually exist, lain MacGill, the joint director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at the University of New South Wales, says, "all prices for CCS are projections right now, because they haven't actually done it yet. Until they can make CCS work, they're on a different planet."

The executive director of the Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, says he would love to see CCS work. But if it doesn't, he asks, "What's plan B?" Federal and state governments are keen to support the coal industry, which provides cheap power, claims to employ 30,000 Australians directly and was our biggest export earner in 2008-09, with about $50 billion in combined overseas sales of metallurgical and thermal coal.

Especially vulnerable are the coal-reliant communities of the Hunter Valley and Victoria's Latrobe Valley. In both regions, local councils, environment groups and sections of the union movement are working to develop "just transition" plans to create green collar jobs - and avoid job losses - as part of an orderly switch to gasfired or renewable power. Not even the Greens are proposing, in Kevin Rudd's parlance, to "shut down the coal industry by Thursday" and abandon these communities.

The Institute for Sustainable Futures estimated annual national financial assistance for coal was more than $1.2 billion in 2005-06, in terms of direct subsidies, cheap fuel and accelerated depreciation. The industry pays cheap royalties to the states under a regime which is the envy of the gas lobby. There is also infrastructure funding designed to ease years of capacity constraints - for example, last year's $1 billion plus in federal rail funding to help double export capacity from the Hunter Valley coal chain by 2014, and the NSW budget's $205 million to expand Eraring power station on the Central Coast.

The Federal Government is proposing to issue $3.9 billion worth of free permits to coalfired power generators under its carbon pollution reduction scheme, and is being urged to compensate power station owners for the anticipated loss in the value of their assets if or when such a scheme is introduced. On top of that, in May the Federal Government announced $2.8 billion would be set aside to fund clean coal initiatives, including $2.4 billion to fund between two and four "flagship" coal-or gas-fired power stations with CCS over the next nine years.

The CCS flagships funding was part of a broader clean energy initiative, including $1.5 billion to part-fund a number of flagship solar energy stations under a separate process, and a $500 million fund to support emerging renewable technologies such as wave and geothermal. Australia, as the world's biggest coal exporter, wants to lead on clean coal with its Global CCS Institute, which won plaudits from the US President, Barack Obama, earlier this year.

The International Energy Association predicts CCS could deliver almost 20% of emissions reductions needed to cut annual emissions in half by 2050, globally, but last year said, "current spending and activity levels are nowhere near enough to achieve these deployment goals".

Under modelling linked to the proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme, and depending which emissions reduction trajectory is chosen, Australia will broadly get a third of its reduction in emissions from energy efficiency, a third from introduction of renewables spurred by the recently legislated "20% by 2020" target, and a third from CCS.

The modelling, by the energy consultants McLennan Magasanik Associates, predicts CCS will become commercially viable in about 2030. Walter Gerardi, its director, says: "I think the reason why CCS might have some legs here is we have a very low coal price compared with other countries, and very good potential storage opportunities. So the cost of CCS could be lower here than in other countries."

That would mean storing about 1.6 to 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2, from the electricity generation sector by 2050. Is that realistic? The biggest existing carbon sequestration project in the world, Norway's Sleipner Field, has taken about 1 million tonnes a year since 1996.

The $50 billion Chevron operated Gorgon LNG processing facility at Barrow Island, off WA's Pilbara coast, will pass Sleipner to become the world's biggest carbon sequestration project, with about 3 million tonnes a year of CO2, to be injected underground there. But the Gorgon CCS project will not reduce emissions in Australia, although the export of LNG could he expected to reduce emissions overseas as it replaces the burning of dirtier fuels such as coal.

The biggest existing carbon storage facility in Australia is at Victoria's Otway Basin, where more than 50,000 tonnes and rising are stored, so far safely. But it's tiny. The depleted oil and gas fields of the Gippsland Basin, off Victoria's east coast, are believed to have the capacity to store all of Australia's CO2, emissions-but the cost of CCS is typically considered prohibitive if the distance to injection of captured CO2, exceeds a hundred kilometers.

Most pilot projects capture less than 10,000 tonnes of CO2, a year. The biggest CCS facility attached to an existing coal-fired station, a $10 million demonstration plant at Victoria's Hazelwood in the Latrobe Valley, captures just 25 tonnes of CO2 a day - 0.05% of its total emissions - at a reported cost of at least $1100 per tonne captured. That does not include storage. At Lake Munmorah, in the Hunter Valley, a $5 million pilot facility can capture 3000 tonnes of CO2, a year. As one Delta Energy executive quipped the day I visited: "We're not going to save the planet with this one.

The next step there is a larger scale $150 million plant, capturing up to 100,000 tonnes a year of CO2. That would equate to a cost of $130 per tonne of CO2, captured, says the NSW Greens' energy spokesman, John Kaye - or between $119-$124/MWh before they work out where to put the CO2, or how to get it there. But it's not as though the coal industry has suddenly seen a need to get cracking. The Australian Coal Association has been weighing the merits of CCS since the 1980s.

A November 1989 position paper on the greenhouse effect noted CO2, removal and storage was "not regarded as a feasible option for fossil fuel power stations". "Technologically, the processes have been shown to be feasible; however, they would add substantially to plant, capital and operating costs, would consume a considerable portion of the plant's output and would increase fuel usage. Also, there are uncertainties about the practicability of [storing] collected CO1."

Ian Dunlop, a retired Shell executive who was the chairman of the Australian Coal Association in the late 1980s and headed the Howard government's Emissions Trading Taskforce in 1998, says the coal industry was aware there was a serious prospect that more research would need to be done on CCS - in fact, that it had some disadvantages. "Now, we're hanging our futures on it."

Other supporters of CCS have lambasted the coal industry's failure to back the technology. Last year the Government's climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, criticised investment by the industry group Coal2l as inadequate and said industry should be spending more like $250 million a year.

In 2007 the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Tony Matter, now national president, told a meeting of Newcastle Council that - unlike renewables, where there was a clear need for government funding for pilot projects - the coal mining industry was "a very wealthy global private sector industry and it does not need one dollar of public support".

He said scepticism about CCS would "only be overcome once it's developed.., but there's no reason to oppose the use of the private sector's money to deploy those technologies. If it doesn't work, you've only wasted Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton's money, and I don't see that there's any need to cry about that." Nowadays he supports public funding for CCS and welcomed the Federal Government's flagships announcement.

In July WWF, the one conservation group consistently promoting CCS, ran out of patience. Its chief executive, Greg Bourne, a member of the key government and industry advisory bodies pushing for investment in CCS, noted the Government's almost $3 billion in finance for CCS shamed the meagre $1 billion commitment from the Coal2l fund in the wake of a tripling in coal prices.

"Should the public be prepared to spend $3 for every one dollar spent by big polluters?" he asked. "If these highly profitable organisations were serious about securing their future and reducing their emissions, they would be ploughing money into deploying CCS. What we're seeing instead is the Australian taxpayer doing all the heavy lifting, without any of the financial benefit."

Reforms stifle call for household solar

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Monday 7/9/2009

Rebates of up to $8000 for installing photovoltaic panels that were introduced by the Howard government have been replaced by a new regime, enacted through the RET legislation, which 'allows households to claim five REC's for every MW hour of electricity their panels generate.'

Although the new regime is not subject to the $100,000 household income test the Rudd government imposed on the previous rebate, it is less generous, and the fact it has not yet come into force is discouraging households from installing the panels.

Danin Kahn, chief executive of green energy company Todae advised that, "A lower REC price is obviously going to affect demand, but not as much as not actually having a mechanism to get the solar credits." Ken Edwards, principal of energy broker Nextgen reports that there may be market power issues emerging if the NSW government sells its retailers.

Nick Brass, managing director of operations at green energy company EnergyMatters advised that the market dynamic should change once the new regime came into force. The REC market has been volatile since Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull sent the emissions trading legislation to a Senate Committee in May.

Dark days for Solar ambitions

Monday 7/9/2009 Page: 26

THE decision by TRUEnergy to write off its entire investment in Solar Systems has placed the development of what would be Australia's first large-scale solar energy project in doubt, along with ambitious plans for overseas expansion. Solar Systems' $420 million, 154-MW project near Mildura was touted as the world's largest and most efficient solar photovoltaic power station when TRUEnergy came on board last year. It signed a $285m development agreement for the Mildura project, as well as paying $40m for a 20% stake in Solar Systems.

But TRUEnergy's Hong Kong-based parent, CLP Group, has decided to write off its entire $HK346m ($53m) investment in Solar Systems, which includes R&D spending since the original purchase, because of its failure to attract another strategic or financial equity partner. We do not believe that it is justifiable for CLP Group to continue funding a technology business without an additional strategic or financial partner to share the ongoing development risk," CLP Group said.

It is believed Solar Systems has blamed the tight credit and project development market for its failure to attract another significant investor as part of its latest fundraising program, which sought tens of million of dollars to help ease liquidity issues and help fund its overseas expansion, in both Asia and the US. CLP Group's agreement to provide $285m funding for the Mildura solar project destined to be a showcase of its solar dish technology remains in place, but it is subject to certain milestones being achieved.

This will include the success of a 2 MW pilot plant scheduled to be built within the next 15 months. The overall project has also attracted $129m in federal and state funding. However, CLP Group will not support any new projects undertaken by Solar Systems, even though it announced last year it had agreed to partner the company in developing up to 1 GW (1000 MW) of projects in the Asia-Pacific region. It said that while Solar Systems technology showed technical promise it was facing increased competition from established solar companies, who had reduced their margins in response to the recent demand slowdown.

We remain confident that good solar project opportunities will be realised when appropriate government policies are in place," CLP Group said. We will, however, take a very cautious approach towards future technology investment opportunities." Last year, TRUEnergy predicted $10 billion would be invested in 5GW of commercially viable solar energy plants in Australia by 2030. Solar Systems has effectively moved part of its head office to Dallas following the appointment of the Dallas-based Mike Childers as CEO. It is possibly destined, like the solar thermal developer Ausra, to move its headquarters to the US in pursuit of opportunities in a market that is growing rapidly because of strong federal and state subsidies.

Apart from TRUEnergy, the remaining shareholders in Solar Systems comprise a dozen private investors, including founder and director Dave Holland. A company spokesman said it was continuing to look for a strategic partner and for capital investment in the company. "We are working towards achieving a positive outcome," he said. CLP Group have made their own financial decision (but) that does not impact us right now."

Call for farmers to adapt dryland practices

Monday 7/9/2009 Page: 3

IF AUSTRALIA'S severe dry spell has an upside, it is the number of engineering companies that have emerged with better ways to help people manage water. Black & Veatch, a big US group with expertise in urban water systems, set up in Australia this year. Water engineering companies are also active outside the main cities. Regional communities, particularly those in the Murray-Darling Basin, are directly in the line of fire. "The farmer is getting hammered," said Peter Fagan, who has a solution: "Farmers will have to change to dryland practices and diversify their income."

Mr Fagan is leader of sustainability in the Asia Pacific for MWH, a company based in Denver, Colorado, that has 450-500 employees in Australia - a substantial chunk of its 7000 staff in 35 countries. MWH brings together program managers, business consultants, engineers, geologists, operators, scientists, technologists and regulatory experts. In the Murray-Darling, MWH sees the future in various aspects of forestry, using native species, mainly different forms of Mallee eucalypt, for carbon negative biomass, and even carbon sinks.

Mr Fagan's vision is to plant native vegetation - the Mallee eucalypt - in wind rows that still allow traditional farming, and eventually create a chain of 50 smaller biomass power stations that could be easily integrated into the electricity grid. Farmers could also look at other product streams, such as Eucalyptus oil, from the trees. "You can take the oil out and still use the wood for biomass," he said.

Mr Fagan, who worked on the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area with the late Dick Pratt, said Australia was a net importer of eucalypt oil, with cheap, poor quality oil being imported from China. Niche markets with a better grade oil were possible, such as pharmaceutical grade Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil was also used as an industrial solvent for ethanol-based fuels. Mr Fagan said to produce Eucalyptus oil on its own in the face of cheap, price competition was not feasible. "You'll get done," he said. But combined with energy production, and even agrichar when it was burnt, it could create five or six income streams. "This changes the economics of the industry.

You can select the Mallee species for oil or biomass or a combination of both." Mr Fagan said the idea was not to plant large blocks of trees, which could have an impact on water run-off. Trees created windbreaks and shade, and helped the soil retain moisture. But establishment costs were high, so there was a need for scale, he said.

John Williams, adjunct professor of agriculture and natural resources at Charles Sturt University, Albury, said there already was a lot of knowledge about the Malice concept based on projects in Western Australia. The malice trees coppiced very well, said Professor Williams, who is also a former chief of CSIRO Land and Water, and a founding member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. They could produce a variety of products ranging from oil to charcoal and solvents that could be used in paints. "They are also more sustainable front a water use perspective," he said.