Saturday 19 December 2009

Green power feasible

Wednesday 16/12/2009 Page: 29

THE federal government has the opportunity to switch the nation's power to renewable energy but favours attempts to make "dirty coal clean", according to the Australian Academy of Science. Next month the academy will call on the government to give priority support to geothermal and solar thermal energy to make them major national energy sources, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The recommendation is among 25 development options contained in the academy's highly anticipated renewable energy report, which also will call on the government to introduce a national seven-star energy rating standard for new houses by 2015 and a nine-star rating for houses built after 2020. The academy also wants to see smart meters installed in all households, the phasing in of time-of-use electricity pricing and legislation to limit stand-by power consumption by domestic electrical appliances.

Its renewable energy report, a copy of which has been seen by the HES, calls for a national system of feed-in tariffs, the price paid for green energy by householders and businesses into the grid. It recommends a coast-to-coast liquefied natural gas distribution network to replace petrol and diesel with this cleaner energy source, and incentives for motorists to buy green cars. The academy also calls for an upgrade to the interstate rail network, and more federal and state government funding to push clean energy research through the development and commercialisation phases.

In an exclusive interview ahead of the report's release, academy spokesman Michael Dopita told the HES geothermal and solar thermal energy could soon replace coal as Australia's main source of electricity generation, if the government chose to stimulate the development of green technology and invested in efficient long-distance electricity transmission. "At the moment, the government is concentrating seed funding in things like geosequestration, which is trying to make dirty coal clean," said Professor Dopita, co-editor of the renewable energy report.

Geothermal energy, which taps the heat of rocks deep within Earth's crust to generate electricity, could fast-track Australia's route to a low-carbon economy, he said. The technology was mature enough for the government to act now to promote its take-up. solar thermal concentrating technology, which focuses the sun's energy to heat fluids and generate steam to drive turbines, also had great potential as Australia pursued its emissions reduction and renewable energy targets. "Both technologies can provide the reliable and sustained energy flow needed for home and industry," said Professor Dopita, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University.

The report, titled Australia's Renewable Energy Future, puts the scientific might of the academy up against sceptics claiming that renewables cannot meet baseload energy needs. It challenges assumptions underlying an economic model of renewable energy take-up developed by the CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics on the grounds they are too conservative. In the virtual futures generated in the modelling, geothermal and solar thermal would remain as only minor components in Australia's energy mix until 2040. The model could not capture recent technological advances and the stimulatory impact of government intervention, Professor Dopita said.

In the real world, it risked becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping to reinforce a focus on fossil fuel in policy formulation. "We can change the way we do business entirely by stimulating those new industries, getting them past the economic thresholds that make them appear to be uncompetitive with coal," he said. "If you give the appropriate financial incentives early on, the whole thing snowballs. "As the technology accrues the advantages of scale, it becomes self-sustaining and provides new employment and export opportunities."

The academy estimates Australia has enough accessible geothermal energy to meet 26,000 years of its power needs. More than 30 companies aim to deliver geothermal energy to the grid, the renewable energy report says. However, the accessible geothermal resource is concentrated in granite formations in the outback. To cut energy losses in getting the hot rock power to the cities, the government would need to invest billions of dollars in a high-voltage direct current long-distance electricity transmission system.

Valley misses out

Wednesday 16/12/2009 Page: 18

ARTICLES on the Latrobe Valley (Insight, 12/12, The Age, 14/12) show the fallacy of assuming the valley's communities are almost totally dependent on coal-based industries. I hope Peter Batchelor takes note, as he so often sounds like a captive of the coal industry.

Supporters of Bald Hills and other wind farms in South Gippsland advocated manufacture of turbine components in the Latrobe Valley. How sad that the vociferous and destructive anti-turbines campaign got so much help and encouragement from the Nationals, assisted by Latrobe Valley elements as well as the member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent.

The result? Full speed ahead for windfarm permits in the Western District, and turbine manufacturing in Portland.

Wilma Western, Leongatha

Tax rebate for green energy

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 16/12/2009 Page: 7

COMPANIES constructing new, large scale solar and wind energy plants will receive payroll tax rebates from the State Government in an Australian first. Announcing the initiative from Copenhagen, Premier Mike Rann said rebates of up to $5 million would be on offer for solar projects and $1 million for wind. The rebate of payroll tax paid for labour directly associated with on-site construction of new renewable energy projects will apply until June 30, 2013, and will be reviewed after the first two years. To be eligible, the project must produce 30 MWs or more at maximum capacity and feed into the power grid at one connection point. Construction must start after July 1 next year.

Solar powered electric vehicle charging station built in New York
December 15, 2009

New York City — Beautiful Earth Group, a New York-based sustainable energy company, built a solar energyed electric vehicle charging station in New York City. The charging station sits on an industrial lot near the company's headquarters in Red Hook, Brooklyn, overlooking New York Harbor and downtown Manhattan. Designed and built by BE, the station is off-grid, modular, constructed with recycled, decommissioned steel shipping containers and entirely powered by Sharp 235-watt photovoltaic panels.

The project is part of BE's effort to showcase urban renewable energy solutions in New York City. The charging station is currently used to charge BE's 100% electric MINI E, making it one of the few cars in the world to run exclusively on solar energy. BMW Group's MINI E has a range of more than 100 miles and takes around three hours to charge. "It never ceases to amaze me, when I get behind the wheel of this 95 mph sports car, that it doesn't use a single drop of gasoline, and that all of its power comes from the solar energy we collect right here on the Brooklyn waterfront," said BE president and CEO Lex Heslin.

With a capacity of about six kWs, BE's charging station also produces enough energy to power a small home, and its battery bank stores electricity 24/7 for on-demand usage. Many of the major car manufacturers are planning to launch electric or plug-in hybrid cars starting next year. The BE charging station is a tangible example of how to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Many large U.S, cities fall short of meeting federal air quality standards and transportation contributes to more than half of their local air pollution. BE supports the use of EVs as a crucial step towards long-term sustainability in transportation, and as an innovative solution that will contribute to New York's GreeNYC initiative, which targets reducing carbon emissions 30% by 2030.

India Makes Push for Solar Power
DECEMBER 16, 2009

AWAN, India - - Getting money to build India's largest private solar energy plant was easy compared with getting the required 152 signatures from local bureaucrats in the state of Punjab, says eco-entrepreneur Inderpreet Wadhwa. Making a profit on the project could prove to be even tougher.

Mr. Wadhwa is the founder of Azure Power Inc., which built the plant on 13 acres of farmland in this village in northern India. The plant started generating power this month and was inaugurated by top Indian officials Tuesday. It is a milestone in India's push to make solar energy an important contributor to its energy mix.

But the challenges Azure faced in setting up the facility and the tough economics it will have to overcome to make a profit show how difficult it will be for India to meet its target of generating 20,000 MWs of solar energy, or roughly 13% of its current national power output, by 2022. Mr. Wahdwa thinks the government's target is overly ambitious. "Let's walk before we can run," he says.

India produces about 8% of its energy from renewable sources such as wind and hydropower. solar energy has great potential, experts say, because it can work almost anywhere in India. But it has been stifled here by the high costs of the technology and the inability of power companies to get tracts of land big enough for the large arrays of solar panels that capture sunlight and generate electricity.

The Indian government is trying to encourage more investment in solar energy by increasing subsidies for the projects and mandating that state utilities purchase solar energy. Big power companies such as India's Tata Power Co, and Reliance Power Ltd, say they are planning some small solar projects, while renewable energy start-ups such as New York-based Astonfield Renewable Resources Ltd, are also targeting India's solar industry.

India is among the countries at the Copenhagen climate summit asking developed countries to help finance green energy projects. Some experts say no amount of government support will help if solar technology doesn't get cheaper. "To achieve scale, you'll need private participation, and that will only happen if the projects are viable without significant state support," said Jai Mavani, head of infrastructure and government consulting at KPMG India.

Mr. Wadhwa, a 37-year-old native of Amritsar city in Punjab, founded Azure in 2007 after leaving a career in the U.S, at software giant Oracle Corp. He says he wanted to return home and do something for rural areas in India, where millions of people don't have steady electricity. After raising venture financing and cutting an initial agreement to build the plant with the Punjab government early last year, Mr. Wadhwa set out to acquire land amid the region's wheat and rice fields. He quickly ran into a thicket of bureaucratic problems. He had to negotiate terms of a 32-year lease with various village and district officials, then with several more officials in the state's rural land ministry. It took months and, "the price kept going up at every level," Mr. Wadhwa said.

He also needed sign-offs from the state pollution board and even the railways ministry, which had to approve his request to run a power cable under the local tracks. When the project stalled in various government offices, shadowy brokers offered to help speed up the process for a fee, but Mr. Wadhwa says he refused to pay. He ended up paying more than double the market rate for the land, roughly $420 per acre per year. "I didn't want them to say, 'This American company is coming in taking away our land for cheap,'" he said. "The truth is, we're helping these people. The power we're generating is going to go to their villages."

Vishwajeet Khanna, Punjab's secretary of science and technology, says the Azure project has always had strong support at the highest level of the state government. He said both the government and solar companies have naturally had a steep learning curve. "This is the first project of this scale. We're very excited," Mr. Khanna said.

Mr. Wadhwa, who was an executive in Oracle's business software division, says he came back to India with the desire "to solve a hard problem" and isn't fazed by the bureaucratic hurdles. He spends most of his time on the cellphone discussing the finer points of inverters and junction boxes. On a recent afternoon he was calling state and central government ministers, arranging their trips to the plant's inauguration. "Now I have to figure out how to build a helipad in this village," he said. Azure started building in May and took less than six months to start generating one MW of power for roughly 50 villages in the area. The company plans to ramp up to five MWs by next year, and is raising funds to build plants in the states of Gujarat and Karnataka.

After all the installation costs - - including importing Chinese-made solar panels and American-made cables - - Azure needs much more than the 19 cents per unit of power that the Punjab state utility has pledged to pay. The central government may pick up the slack. The New and Renewable Energy Ministry's latest solar policy, which will be laid out in detail in January, could guarantee companies like Azure as much as 38 cents per unit of power. Mr. Wadhwa said subsidies and falling prices of solar equipment over time will make his project viable. He is hoping to break even in about six years.

Some others in the industry aren't as optimistic. Jake Saper, senior manager of global strategy at Astonfield, which has several solar projects planned in India, said the new subsidized tariff will still be 20 or 30 cents lower than the rates solar producers get paid in European countries like Greece and Italy. "Even this new tariff might not be viable," he said.

B. Bhargava, director of the renewable energy ministry, said no new money is necessary in the first phase of the government's solar energy plans, which envisions producing only 1,000 MWs of solar energy in three years. Solar-generated power will be blended with cheaper forms, like coal, so that state utilities can afford it, he said. "We'll evaluate the success of this model and decide requirements for funds for the next phase," Mr. Bhargava said.

World's Top Polluter Emerges as Green-Technology Leader
December 16, 2009

BEIJING - - Xu Shisen put down the phone and smiled. That was Canada calling, explained the chief engineer at a coal-fired power plant set among knockoff antique and art shops in a Beijing suburb. A Canadian company is interested in Mr. Xu's advances in bringing down the cost of stripping out greenhouse-gas emissions from burning coal. Engineers led by Mr. Xu are working to unlock one of climate change's thorniest problems: how to burn coal without releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

Mr. Xu is part of a broader effort by China to introduce green technology to the world's fastest-growing industrial economy - - a mission so ambitious it could eventually reshape the business, just as China has done for everything from construction cranes to computers.

China looms large over the global climate summit in Copenhagen, where Chinese officials are pressing the U.S, and other rich nations to accept new curbs on their emissions and to continue to subsidise poor nations' efforts to adopt clean-energy technology. China is the world's biggest source of carbon emissions. Less understood is the way China is now becoming a source of some of the solutions.

China's vast market and economies of scale are bringing down the cost of solar and wind energy, as well as other environmentally friendly technologies such as electric car batteries. That could help address a major impediment to wide adoption of such technologies: They need heavy subsidies to be economical.

The so-called China price - - the combination of cheap labor and capital that rewrote the rulebook on manufacturing - - is spreading to green technology. "The China price will move into the renewable-energy space, specifically for energy that relies on capital-intensive projects," says Jonathan Woetzel, a director in McKinsey & Co.'s China office.

China's government is backing the trend. It wants to replicate the success of the special economic zones that transformed cities such as Shenzhen from a fishing village near Hong Kong into one of the biggest manufacturing export centers in the world. Set up when China began its economic reforms in the 1980s, the zones were designed to attract foreign investment into light manufacturing to kick-start exports. They became engines of China's economic boom.

Regulators will announce several low carbon centers next year that will have preferential policies to promote low carbon manufacturing and exports. China's goals face big challenges. China could end up becoming simply a low-cost manufacturing base, not a source of innovation. Worse, its drive to cut costs could stifle innovation overseas.

And Beijing has a long way to go to reducing China's carbon footprint. For each out-of-date power plant it shut down in a two-year cleanup campaign, it added the capacity of roughly two more. Even some of the better power plants are run poorly because company bosses don't want to pay to clean up their emissions.

In the fight against global warming, some of the biggest gains are to be made in scrubbing carbon from coal-burning power plants. China and the U.S, together have 44% of the world's coal reserves, and aren't about to give up on the cheap and reliable source of power. According to U.S, government projections, world coal use could increase nearly 50% by 2030. "If emissions aren't reduced from power plants, global warming cannot be avoided," says Jonathan Lewis, a climate specialist at the U.S.-based Clean Air Task Force, which has sought to pair U.S, utilities with Chinese companies. "The solution can be led by the U.S, and China."

Capture technology traps carbon dioxide gasses released by coal plants. The gas can be pumped deep underground, typically into salt caverns or ageing oil fields. The carbon can be stripped either before or after the coal is burned. Post-combustion capture is simpler and can be retrofitted on existing power plants. Current versions cut energy output by a fifth or more.

Far more complicated is pre combustion carbon capture, which involves completely redesigning plants. Coal is turned into a gas, the carbon is stripped out and the rest is burned. Called "integrated gasification combined cycle" plants, these cost billions of dollars and haven't been developed on a commercial scale yet.

China has a technological lead in turning coal into gas. It has been using the technology widely to make petrochemicals and fertilisers as a substitute for pricier natural gas. Houston-based Future Fuels LLC has licensed gasification technology from China to use in a plant in Pennsylvania.

Critics say current carbon capture technologies are merely a Band-Aid for global warming. That's because they're so inefficient that even more coal has to be burned to produce the same amount of electricity. Also, the technology uses a lot of water and sequestering carbon underground isn't proven. Still, some analysts estimate carbon capture could account for between 15% to 55% of the world's cumulative carbon emissions reduction by 2100.

Among those leading the ramp-up is Mr. Xu. These days, he is busy with three clean coal projects. One is on the outskirts of Beijing, underneath looming cooling towers of the Gaobeidian Huaneng power plant. Mr. Xu and colleagues work at a state-run research institute partly owned by China Huaneng Group, China's biggest utility. The state-owned giant produces about 10% of China's electricity, nearly all from coal.

The Beijing project, started before the 2008 Summer Olympics, traps a fraction of the carbon dioxide emitted by the plant, purifying and selling it for use in food packaging and for the fizz in sodas. Using what he's learned in Beijing, Mr. Xu is building another capture facility in Shanghai that will be 30 times bigger. If Mr. Xu's team can figure out how to bring the costs down - - mostly by recycling energy lost in the process of scrubbing out the carbon - - these units could be retrofitted to coal-fired power plants around the world.

Mr. Xu is also involved in the GreenGen project, a $1 billion power plant led by Huaneng that will turn coal into a gas before burning it. The project is scheduled to go online by 2011. Burning gas is more efficient than burning coal - - meaning less coal is required to make the same amount of electricity. The less coal burned, the less carbon released. Though carbon capture has moved into the mainstream, it is still at least five to 10 years away from becoming a widespread technology, analysts say.

In the meantime, China is reshaping two of the biggest green technologies in use already - - wind and solar energy. In 2004, foreign firms owned 80% of China's wind-turbine market, according to energy consulting firm IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Now, Chinese companies own three-quarters of the country's market, thanks to companies which make turbines a third cheaper than European competitors.

Chinese wind-turbine makers are starting to export. In October, Shenyang Power Group struck a deal to supply 240 turbines to one of the largest windfarm projects in the U.S., a 36,000-acre development in Texas. China already has a 30% share of the global market for photovoltaic solar panels used to generate electricity. solar energy panel makers, including SunTech Power Holdings Co., Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar Ltd., export most of their product to Europe and the U.S., contributing to a 30% drop in world solar energy prices.

Chinese competition is forcing rivals to shift production. U.S. Evergreen Solar Inc, said it will move its assembly line from Massachusetts to China. General Electric Co, said it will shut a facility in Delaware. BP PLC's solar unit said this spring it would stop output in Maryland and rely on Chinese suppliers instead.

Yet, despite China's armies of fresh engineering graduates, foreign companies still create and own most of the key technologies. "China lags about 10 years behind in technology," says Bernice Lee, a research director at Chatham House, a London-based think tank that analysed patent holders on renewable and low-carbon technology.

As in other industries, China's cheap manufacturing may spark protectionism. In one hint of battles to come, Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) wrote a letter to the U.S, energy secretary protesting the use of federal stimulus money to support the $1.5 billion wind project in Texas unless it relies on U.S.-built turbines. Critics in rich countries accuse China of unfairly subsidising companies via cheap loans from state-controlled banks and dumping excess supply overseas.

Others say China's missteps could hurt the market for all. "China is making prices cheaper in renewables today, by lunging into oversupply, as it does in most industries," says Daniel Rosen, principal of consulting firm Rhodium Group. "The question - - and danger - - is whether by oversupplying the market today China is damaging longer-term innovation and competition in the sector for the future."

In green technology, China has figured out ways to turn excess capacity to its advantage. Until this year, China's solar panel makers exported nearly all their output to countries such as Germany and Spain, where government supported growth in the sector. That changed this year when solar panel prices fell as dozens of new Chinese polysilicon-makers started operating. The sudden glut in the raw material to make solar panels coincided with a drop in orders from European companies hit by the recession. The result: Polysilicon prices fell by half from January peaks. HSBC estimates they could drop 20% more by the end of 2010.

Softening prices created an opportunity for Chinese regulators. Officials are now talking about raising solar energy capacity targets five or tenfold, so that by 2020 China could have more than double current global solar energy capacity.

Executives at Trina and Yingli say increased economies of scale from making more panels for China will push costs even lower. "We could go to $1 a watt by the end of 2010," which would be a landmark in bringing solar energy in parity with conventionally produced electricity, says Yingli's Chief Executive, Miao Liansheng, a veteran of the People's Liberation Army who sold cosmetics before turning to solar panels.

"The Chinese manufacturers can now make [solar panels] a lot cheaper than Europe, the United States and Japan because the whole supply chain is now available in China," says Martin Green, who runs the photovoltaic center at the University of South Wales in Australia, a training ground for many scientists working in China's solar industry. "The Chinese are making it more affordable, and they're more adventurous in introducing new technology as well."

The ability to manufacture cheaply is attracting the notice of U.S, utilities. Huaneng says it can make gasification equipment cheaper than foreign rivals. Duke Energy Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., signed a pact with Huaneng in August to share information on clean coal technology. Duke says it would take eight years to build an IGCC plant in the U.S. - - versus three in China.

PV maker First Solar to expand Enbridge’s Sarnia project by 60MW
15 December 2009

After the initial 20MW solar energy project achieved full commercial operation on 7 December, energy distributor Enbridge Inc of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and FirstSolar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA have agreed to expand the capacity of the Sarnia Solar Project (near Sarnia, Ontario) to 80MW, involving a total extra system cost of about CDN$300m. "It demonstrates confidence in FirstSolar's engineering, procurement and construction team," comments the PV maker's president Bruce Sohn. FirstSolar's CdTe PV technology has already been deployed in 1.5GW of installations in the USA and Europe in total.

With about 6000 staff, Enbridge owns and operates Canada's largest natural gas distribution company, providing distribution services in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and New York State, and operates the world's longest crude oil and liquids transportation system, but is expanding its interests into renewable energy technologies.

In October, Enbridge agreed to acquire the initial 20MW solar energy project that FirstSolar developed at the site. "We're delighted to further strengthen our relationship with FirstSolar," says The firm's president & CEO Patrick D. Daniel. "FirstSolar has delivered the initial 20MW as committed – demonstrating their strong technical competence combined with attention to meaningful community engagement and corporate social responsibility practices that align with our own values."

FirstSolar is constructing the solar project under a fixed-price engineering, procurement and construction contract, and will also provide operations and maintenance services to Enbridge under a long-term contract. The 60MW phase is expected to begin construction this month and be completed by December 2010. Sarnia is now expected to be the largest solar energy facility in North America, with 1.3 million modules covering a total surface area of 973,000m2. At 80MW, Enbridge expects the Sarnia Solar Project to generate 120 million kWh of power annually (enough to meet the needs of over 12,800 homes) and to help to save the equivalent of about 39,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

"Enbridge has made significant strides in growing its green energy business in 2009," Daniel continues. "With this investment, we will have interests in more than 470MW of green power capacity from our five wind energy projects, expanded solar facilities, four waste heat recovery facilities and the world's first commercial application of hybrid-fuel-cell technology." Daniel noted that solar energy is a key component of Enbridge's environmental performance strategy to invest in renewable and alternative energy sources, complementing its core operations.

"Our increased investment in the Sarnia Solar Project maintains risk-and-return characteristics which are fully consistent with Enbridge's low-risk business model, and similar to our crude oil pipeline business," says Daniel. The expansion takes advantage of the Sarnia site's ability to accommodate additional capacity, he adds. "Following on our recently announced wind energy project, the Sarnia solar expansion provides a good balance in our renewable energy portfolio between solar and wind."

The output of the 80MW facility will be sold to the Ontario Power Authority pursuant to 20-year power purchase agreements under the terms of the Ontario Government's Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program. "Our recent investments in green energy projects in Ontario – including the 99MW Talbot Wind Energy Project, our 190MW Enbridge Ontario Wind Project, and the Sarnia Solar Project – are evidence of Enbridge's commitment to advancing environmentally preferred energy solutions, and of the value of the Ontario government's proactive support and encouragement of investment within the province," concludes Daniel.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Renewables trounce nuclear in Newspoll

Clean Energy Council
15 December 2009

NATIONAL: A Newspoll survey commissioned by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) has shown overwhelming public support for the government to focus its support on renewable energy - such as solar and wind - over nuclear energy. Given a choice between supporting the development of renewable energy sources and nuclear energy, four out of every five people polled favoured the government giving greater priority to the development of renewables.

CEC chief executive Matthew Warren said the results show Australians want to see the development of renewable energy ahead of contentious options like nuclear. "This confirms what we have thought for some time – you need to exhaust every other alternative before talking about nuclear energy as a climate change solution for Australia.

"The answers in this poll show that some people may express support for nuclear energy in principle, but four out of every five people would prefer to see an effective renewable energy strategy as a priority. "We need to see what renewable technologies can achieve over the next decade. Renewables have enormous potential, but we still have a lot of work to do to find out how much energy they can deliver and at what cost," he said.

Respondents were asked two questions. The first was to baseline their support for each energy source individually and the second to gauge whether they thought the government should give a greater priority to the support of renewable energy or nuclear energy.

Baseline support
There appears to be broad acceptance for developing alternative energy sources:
  • The baseline results for nuclear energy mirrored a Nielson poll from the last couple of months. 93 per cent of those polled favoured the Federal Government supporting the development of renewable energy.
  • Just under half (49 per cent) also showed support for the development of nuclear sources

Greater priority for government
There is a clear preference for giving priority to developing alternatives to nuclear energy:
  • On the matter of which approach should receive the greater priority, the vast majority (80 per cent) said that the government should give priority to renewables while only 15 per cent favoured priority being given to developing nuclear energy sources.
  • Males, 22 per cent, were significantly more likely than women, 8%, to believe greater priority should be given to nuclear energy.
  • Those aged under 50, 86 per cent, were significantly more likely to prefer renewables over nuclear, than those aged over 50, 71 per cent.

Solar pioneer eclipsed at crucial moment
December 14, 2009

AS the federal government sets a February deadline for the first round of its solar flagships program, it seems the demise of one of the pioneers of the Australian solar industry, Solar Systems, will be confirmed today. Receiver PricewaterhouseCoopers will tell a meeting of creditors in Sydney this morning it has been unable to secure a buyer despite two months of talks with interested parties. It will ask creditors if they want to attend the receivership for another 45 days in the hope that a deed of arrangement can be concluded, although that looks unlikely.

"It looks like a disappointing outcome, unfortunately," said one shareholder. This was confirmed by administrator Stephen Longley. "It is likely that the companies will be placed into liquidation." Solar Systems was caught in the funding gap between start-up and developer, a hurdle that Ausra, an Australian-founded solar thermal group now based in California, is trying to clear.

Ausra is believed to be seeking between $150 million and $200m to fund projects that will bring its technology to commercial scale. In a conference in Silicon Valley last week, Ray Lane, from key Ausra shareholder Kleiner Perkins, a leading venture capital investor, said Ausra had "a few strategics" chasing it. "A lot of liquidity in green tech will happen this way, as legacy players look for companies that have removed technical risk, but don't have the balance sheet to scale," he said.

Solar Systems failed to eliminate technical risk, which is why 20 per cent shareholder TRUEnergy declined to offer further funding without another major investor, despite government funding to support the development of a 154MW solar photovoltaic plant near Mildura. Solar Systems is believed to owe about $60m to secured creditors, mostly loans from TRUEnergy and other private investors such as Graeme Morgan and Martin Copley, and $10m to unsecured creditors.

Applications for the first round of the $1.5 billion solar flagships program will close on February 15, with the government planning to choose two projects, one involving solar thermal and the other solar photovoltaics, that could target generating capacity of 400MW. Ausra is expected to be among those applications, along with international rivals including Bright Source Energy, FirstSolar and Acciona, with engineering firms such as WorleyParsons and Leighton Holdings Contractors, and finance groups such as Macquarie, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Investec and others.

Wave raising
AUSTRALIA may soon have a second listed marine energy company, with start-up Elemental Energy conducting a $3m raising ahead of a planned initial public offering in early 2011. Elemental is hoping to bring into production a marine turbine dubbed the Sea Urchin developed by director Michael Urch, who has been testing the machine in UNSW facilities at Manly.

Unlike the already listed Carnegie Corporation, which is looking at utility-scale installations for its ocean-based CETO technology, Elemental is focusing on small-scale hydro, particularly in energy-poor ASEAN countries such as Cambodia, where it says it can easily undercut the price of diesel generation.

Elemental says the Sea Urchin is scalable from 1kW to 100kW for river installations, and up to 20MW units for tidal power and ocean current use. Urch says the capital costs are estimated at $2.3m per MW, which is low for marine energy and comparable with wind. The advantage of tidal power systems is that they can deliver predictable baseload power. Urch says the Sea Urchin is 70 per cent more efficient than similar designs and can operate efficiently in relatively low flows, increasing the number of potential locations.

If Elemental can complete the raising of 10 million shares at 30c each - - and it is proving hard, with many rich investors turning their focus away from early stage companies to established stocks - - the company will roll out its small-scale units, and then seek a larger raising, possibly about $15m, at an IPO in 14-18 months.

Farms sow the wind
FARM communities are awaking up to the possibilities of taking a greater stake in the development of wind and other renewable technology - - not just leasing their land. A group of 30 farmers in southeast South Australia are banding together to create a company called Robe Wind that has plans to build a 600MW facility at a cost of more than $1 billion. Similar ideas are being discussed in NSW on a smaller scale. Farmers are getting a rent of as little as $4000 to $5000 per turbine, and ownership, or part-ownership, would give them a greater share of the $700,000 to $1 million revenue that each turbine might generate each year.

US reveals fund for green tech in poor nations
Tue, 15 Dec 09

WASHINGTON - The White House on Monday announced a new program drawing funds from international partners to spend $350 million over five years to supply developing nations with clean energy technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming. The program will contribute to distribution of solar energy alternatives for homes, including sun-powered lanterns, supply of cleaner equipment and appliances and a push to fund and put in place renewable energy systems in the world's poorer nations.

The funding plan grew out of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) established among the world's top economies earlier this year, with a decision to produce detail plans and spending at the July summit meeting in L'Aquila, Italy. The U.S, share of the program will amount to $85 million with the remainder coming from Australia, Britain, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, the White House said in a statement by spokesman Robert Gibbs. He said President Barack Obama had assigned Energy Secretary Steven Chu to coordinate with partners in the MEF to insure immediate action on the program.

The White House said the U.S, and it's partners in the effort "have been working to develop a suite of technology action plans, which lay out options for ambitious government action on 10 key clean energy technologies: advanced vehicles; bioenergy; building energy efficiency; carbon capture, use and storage; high-efficiency, low-emissions coal; industrial energy efficiency; marine energy; smart grid; solar energy; and wind energy."

The plan was announced in conjunction with the ongoing UN-sponsored climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Obama will attend the gathering later this week. Chu and four other members of Obama's Cabinet already are at the summit, where delegates have focused so far on the question of how much developed nations will contribute to poor countries to help them develop clean energy technology to mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are blamed for rising global temperatures.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Climate inaction lifts cost of energy

Canberra Times
Monday 14/12/2009 Page: 1

This year's hefty electricity price rises across the country may be just the thin edge of the wedge, as uncertainty over climate change policies and rising operating costs push up household power bills, the peak regulator warns. The Australian Energy Regulator's annual State of the Energy Market report says ACT households face an increase in electricity prices this financial year of up to 6.4%, one of the more modest increases around the country. In NSW, typical retail electricity prices will rise 18-22% by mid-2010. Western Australia's Office of Energy's proposed 52% increase was rejected last year, but homes in that state have faced several double-digit price increases already this year.

Financial modelling prepared for the federal Treasury says a carbon emissions price of $35 a tonne will lead to a further 23% increase in household electricity bills, if adopted in future climate change legislation. The Australian Energy Market Commission raised concerns in October that uncertainty over climate change legislation may be holding back investment in much needed electricity generation. But the report notes that the debate over a low-carbon future is pushing demand for network improvements, such as smart meters that help householders monitor and cut their energy use.

Energy generators appear to have grown impatient with the drawn out debate over whether Australia will introduce an emissions trading scheme and what form it will take. Many appear to have decided that natural gas-fired electricity generation, which produces about 60% less carbon dioxide emissions than coal-fired power plants, represents their best investment bet in the immediate future. After almost a decade of minimal investment in new facilities, generators committed to 2400MW of new gas-fired capacity during 2008-09, a significant rise on previous years. But the renewed favour of natural gas as a cleaner alternative to burning coal may create its own problems as its popularity grows.

"There will be substantial opportunities for the natural gas industry, although rising demand for gas - both for electricity generation and for likely liquefied natural gas exports from eastern Australia - may increase gas prices in the longer term and partly neutralise its cost advantages," the report said. Australian Energy Regulator chairman Steve Edwell said the growing cost associated with ageing distribution networks would also put pressure on electricity bills. "We have seen renewed growth and diversification in the natural gas industry with new transmission pipeline investment allowing Queensland coal seam gas to compete for the first time with gas produced in the Cooper and Victorian gas basins.

"Network investment is also rising to meet the challenges of soaring peak demand, ageing assets and more rigorous licensing requirements to improve network security," Mr Edwell said. The recent debate and ultimate rejection of the Government's emissions trading scheme in the Senate does not appear to have dampened enthusiasm for investment in wind energy, largely seen as the cheapest renewable energy source.

The regulator would investment in wind energy remains strong, particularly in South Australia, where wind energy now accounts for about 20% of the state's generation capacity. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially opened one of the country's largest wind farms near Bungendore last month. The report said the Federal Government's expanded renewable energy target, passed in August this year, would likely farther stimulate investment in wind generation.

Geothermal Project in California Is Shut Down
December 11, 2009

The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration's first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers. But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock Energy had given notice this week that "it will not be continuing work at the Geysers" as part of the agency's geothermal development program.

The project's apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration's geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth's bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source.

The Energy Department referred other questions about the project's shutdown to AltaRock Energy, a startup company based in Seattle. Reached by telephone, the company's chief operations officer, James T. Turner, confirmed that the rig had been removed but said he had not been informed of the notice that the company had given the government. Two other senior company officials did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear whether AltaRock Energy might try to restart the project with private money.

In addition to a $6 million grant from the Energy Department, AltaRock Energy had attracted some $30 million in venture capital from high-profile investors like Google, Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "Some of these startup companies got out in front and convinced some venture capitalists that they were very close to commercial deployment," said Daniel P. Schrag, a professor of geology and director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University.

Geothermal enthusiasts asserted that drilling miles into hard rock, as required by the technique, could be done quickly and economically with small improvements in existing methods, Professor Schrag said. "What we've discovered is that it's harder to make those improvements than some people believed," he added.

In fact, AltaRock Energy immediately ran into snags with its drilling, repeatedly snapping off bits in shallow formations called caprock. The project's safety was also under review at the Energy Department after federal officials said the company had not been entirely forthcoming about the earthquakes produced in Basel in making the case for the Geysers project.

The results of that review have not yet been announced, but the type of geothermal energy explored in Basel and at the Geysers requires fracturing the bedrock then circulating water through the cracks to produce steam. By its nature, fracturing creates earthquakes, though most of them are small.

On Friday, the Energy Department, which has put some $440 million into its geothermal program this year alone, said that despite the latest developments, it remained confident of the technology's long-term prospects. Many geothermal methods do not require drilling so deep or fracturing bedrock. "The Department of Energy believes that geothermal energy holds enormous potential to heat our homes and power our economy while decreasing our carbon pollution," said Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman.

AltaRock Energy has also received some $25 million in federal money for a project in Oregon, and some scientists speculated on Friday that after the spate of problems at the Geysers, the company wanted to focus on a new site.

But the company, whose project at the Geysers was located on land leased from the federal government by the Northern California Power Agency, has held information about its project tightly. Not even the power agency has been informed of AltaRock Energy's ultimate intentions at the site, said Murray Grande, who is in charge of geothermal facilities for the agency. "They just probably gave up, but we don't know," Mr. Grande said. "We have nothing official from them at all."

But a resident of the nearby town of Anderson Springs, which is already shaken by quakes generated by less ambitious geothermal projects, reacted with jubilation when told it appeared the new project was ending. "How I feel is beyond anything that words can express," said the resident, Jacque Felber, who added that an unnerving quake had rattled her property the night before. "I'm just so relieved, because with this going on, I'm afraid one of these days it's going to knock my house off the hill."

Federal boost for geothermal exploration

Sunday Age
Sunday 13/12/2009 Page: 12

THE Federal Government is increasing efforts to solve Australia's greenhouse problems by funding exploration of the nation's reserves of geothermal energy. Resources Minister Martin Ferguson will today announce $35 million for five new geothermal drilling projects needed to prove that the concept of tapping heat energy from rocks and water deep beneath the earth's surface is viable. The heat is then used to create steam to drive turbines to generate electricity.

Mr Ferguson said he believed geothermal power represented a "huge resource" provided Australia could achieve the technological breakthrough needed to access the energy source cheaply and reliably. "Australia's geothermal resource is world-class and, if we can make technology breakthroughs and drive down costs, geothermal energy could playa significant role in providing clean, reliable and affordable base load energy for centuries," he said.

Mr Ferguson said Geoscience Australia, the national agency for geoscience research, estimates that 1% of Australia's geothermal energy could supply the nation's annual requirements for 26,000 years. The $35 million will support five projects with $7 million each, which will mainly be used to cover the cost of drilling holes of up to four kilometres deep to extract water heated to 150 degrees. Two of the projects will be in Victoria: the Greenearth Energy project near Geelong, which it is hoped could provide enough power for more than 120,000 Victorian homes; and the Hot Rock project at Koroit in the Otway Basin.

Other projects funded under the scheme include a project near Bulga in the Hunter Valley in NSW and projects in Western Australia and South Australia. Mr Ferguson said the Government's geothermal drilling program, worth $50 million in total, would support almost $180 million of investment. He said in total the Government had pledged $200 million for geothermal projects, with private investment of $735 million.

Hot plays in the power shake-up

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Saturday 12/12/2009 Page: 39

Australia's emissions trading scheme may be on hold, but companies including AGL and Origin Energy have been thinking about a carbon-constrained world for some time, according to Macquarie Private Portfolio Management. Deloitte corporate finance director Karen Masnata says what is decided at the Copenhagen climate change summit will increase pressure on Australia to resolve an ETS. Data from the Energy Supply Association suggests that Australia's high reliance on high emission fossil fuels may impose a significant cost to the economy as it makes its transition to lower-emission technologies including solar and wind energy.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics reports that of the advanced generation projects scheduled, renewables including wind and hydro represent 25%, while gas projects account for a further 60%. RBS Morgans says losers from a carbon pollution reduction scheme will be energy-intensive industries including coal-fired power generation (Babcock and Brown Power), mining, steel and other metals production (Alumina, BlueScope Steel and OneSteel) and petrochemicals (Incitec Pivot and Orica), while beneficiaries should include AGL, Origin Energy and Transfield Services Infrastructure Fund, as well as companies with large domestic gas reserves such as Santos and Origin Energy, and gas pipeline owners including the APA Group.

Think local for electricity, CSIRO urges

Canberra Times
Saturday 12/12/2009 Page: 3

Australia could cut $130 billion in energy costs and 18 trillion tonnes of greenhouse gases over 10 years by decentralising its electricity generation, a new CSIRO report says. The nation's top science agency has called for an "engineering revolution" to create a smarter, greener and more local system of electricity generation. The 592-page report, by the CSIRO Energy Transformed research flagship, is the first comprehensive study of how local electricity generation systems - known as distributed energy - could dramatically cut Australia's carbon footprint.

Distributed energy describes systems which provide local generation of electricity, improved energy efficiency and better demand management of how and when electricity is used. A typical system might include solar panels, small turbines, capture and use of waste heat, more efficient heating and cooling, a power storage system and a mini-grid to manage demand. CSIRO's intelligent grid project leader, Anthony Szatow, said, "The technologies already exist, and we know distributed energy systems are reliable. It's not scary, it's not messy, it actually works... "Where we need innovation for the future, is in thinking about new ways to design energy systems. That's the challenge, because each system is a one-off."

The report warned that by sticking with a centralised electricity supply system, Australia runs the risk of "inefficient technology lock-in". It said a new electricity supply model with decentralised power generation and local demand management would improve power quality and cut costs, particularly for rural areas. When combined with energy efficiency and reduced energy demand, distributed energy was Australia's "most cost-effective greenhouse gas mitigation option," the report said.

Studies conducted by the CSIRO energy flagship estimate the average wholesale electricity price could be cut by 12% by adding just 0.6% of distributed energy to a conventional power generation system. Large-scale distributed energy systems could boost energy efficiency by up to 45%. They also reduced transmission congestion and losses. "We also found water used for electricity generation could be reduced by up to 75%, with a combination of distributed energy and large-scale renewables. That's pretty significant when you consider the wholesale price of electricity doubled in 2007 due to the drought," Mr Szatow said.

As climate change increased the risk of power outages from bushfires, storms and high wind speeds, distributed energy systems would reduce the risk of loss of transmission lines and energy infrastructure, the report said. Australia's energy supply system was "developed at a time when a large scale, centralised generation plant close to fossil fuel resources was the optimal supply model". A new research and development program was urgently needed to modernise the grid and fast-track smarter, more efficient digital smartgrid technologies. "There is an increasing acceptance that Australia's energy supply system needs to evolve in order the meet the dual challenges of climate change and energy security," the report said.

A survey conducted by the CSIRO energy team found barriers to a wider uptake of distributed energy in Australia included poor understanding among government policy makers of how distributed energy systems worked. There was also a failure to grasp the economic and environmental importance of energy efficiency and a reluctance to change decisions and habits. Mr Szatow said energy consumers, industry and governments "all need to be educated in the value of distributed energy and how it works to overcome a cultural bias towards mains grid energy supply".

Government should change tack

Saturday 12/12/2009 Page: 6

I HAVE worked in sustainability for more than 30 years. I have been a university lecturer and software developer, and introduced the 5-star energy efficient building regulations to Victoria as a public servant. And I'm mad as hell. All this coverage of climate issues and there are three issues that no one is talking about.
  • The Opposition's conversion to the wonders of energy efficiency rings hollow. In government, this party opposed 5-star energy efficient building regulations. It sat on the National Framework for Energy Efficiency study that found a comprehensive energy efficiency program could save 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gas, create 9000 jobs and add $10.5 billion to economic growth over 23 years.
  • Even if the most remarkable scientific consensus since Newton is wrong about climate change, a low-carbon economy makes sense. We are soon to reach peak oil and our population will grow to 9-11 billion people who all need or want more on a planet with finite fossil fuel resources. The environment is already under strain from pollution. Climate change or not, high levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy are our only choice.
  • An emissions trading scheme provides money for government to give to businesses and people to improve energy efficiency: fix buildings, install efficient heating, cooling, hot water and lighting, buy more efficient cars, invest in more efficient industrial processes. If we use 50% less energy and the price only goes up 30%, we are actually better off. But I haven't heard one government spokesperson point this out. When will the penny drop?

Tony Isaacs, Brunswick

Geothermal energy funding
Dec 13, 2009

The Federal Government has awarded $7 million to a Western Australian company to conduct geothermal testing in Perth. Perth based company GRE Geothermal will aim to prove that geothermal energy is recoverable within the metropolitan area. Funding has also been given to companies in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to conduct research in the field. The Resources Minister Martin Ferguson says Geoscience Australia estimates that if just one per cent of Australia's geothermal energy was extracted, it could supply Australia's total energy requirements for 26,000 years.

Sniace Plans to Start Building Ethanol Plant in Spain
December 11, 2009

(Bloomberg) - - Sniace SA, the Spanish chemicals maker that's branching into renewable energy, expects to start building a 100 million-euro ($147 million) ethanol plant in the first quarter after a five-year approval process. Talks to complete the financing of the project are "very advanced" and will conclude before the end of the year or at the start of 2010, Chairman Blas Mezquita said yesterday in an interview in Madrid. Elecnor SA will build the plant at Sniace's main site in the northern Spanish city of Torrelavega, he said.

Mezquita is expanding in energy to reduce Sniace's dependence on production of viscose and Cellulose. Revenue from its chemicals business has dropped to half of total sales and will fall to about 25% in two years, according to company estimates. Sniace also plans to build an ethanol plant in Poland and has submitted a bid to develop wind parks in northern Spain. "Sales could grow six or seven times" with the new energy projects, Mezquita said. "We are practically talking about a completely new company."

Sniace climbed 11% to 1.38 euros in Madrid trading, the biggest gain in six weeks. The stock has added 68% since the start of the year. Chemicals makers are investing in energy projects that use renewable resources such as wind, sunlight and plant biomass to tap government incentives and curb polluting emissions. Global demand for fuel ethanol will rise 14% this year to 69 billion liters, Christoph Berg, a managing director at industry adviser F.O. Licht, said Nov. 3.

Await Approval
Sniace has waited five years for approval for the Spanish ethanol plant as it had to win clearances from both regional and local authorities. It will be 21 to 23 months before the facility is ready to deliver the fuel. Mezquita expects the plant to generate more than 20 million euros in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in 2012. That's about two times the company's Ebitda last year. Bioethanol, made by fermenting crops such as wheat, can be mixed with gasoline for use in cars and planes, helping to curb consumption of oil-based motor fuel.

Polish Project
Sniace expects to win approval for the Polish ethanol plant, to be built near to the German border, in the first half of 2010 after Germany reviewed the project. Construction may begin before the end of next year, Mezquita said. "Two weeks ago there was a meeting with the German authorities and in principle there will be no problem for the regulatory process to proceed in Poland," Mezquita said. "In a few months or three we could get the licenses."

Sniace and two partners have submitted a bid to develop a 200-MW wind-energy project in Cantabria. A decision by the regional government may be announced before the end of next month, Mezquita said. Sniace, which was founded in 1939 and has operated in Cantabria for 70 years, has "a fair chance of winning," he said. Other chemicals manufacturers branching into new energies include Novozymes A/S, the world's largest industrial enzyme maker, which has met with international venture capital funds to discuss clean-technology acquisitions, the company said Nov. 18.

Monday 14 December 2009

Taiwan chip giant TSMC to enter solar energy
Fri, 11 Dec 09

TAIPEI - Chip giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, is planning its first foray into solar energy with an investment in the island's largest producer of solar cells, a spokesman said Thursday. TSMC, the world's leading contract microchip maker by revenue, intends to pay 6.2 billion Taiwan dollars (192 million dollars) for 20% in Motech Industries Inc., making it the largest shareholder. "We believe the solar technology sector offers high growth opportunities," said TSMC spokesman J. H. Tzeng.

As growth in the semiconductor business slows, TSMC and other companies in the sector hope to find new ways of making money, and solar energy is one area expected to see rapid expansion in the coming years. "With this investment we intend to leverage Motech's established platform to accelerate our time to market, better evaluate opportunities along the solar value chain, and further formulate our overall solar strategy," he told AFP.

Motech was established in 1981 as a maker of test instruments, but started making solar cells in 1999. "We plan to work closely with TSMC to address new business opportunities," Motech CEO Simon Tsuo said in a statement. "We believe this partnership would further enhance Motech?s leadership position in the solar industry." Taiwan plans to boost its use of solar panels by a factor of 200 over the next decade and a half in an effort to increase clean energy, the island's Bureau of Energy said last week. solar panels across the island currently have a capacity of five MWs, enough to power 500 buildings, but by 2025 that figure is targeted to rise to 1,000 MWs, according to the bureau.

Australia Government Calls For Applications On A$1.5 Billion Solar Program
December 10, 2009

CANBERRA -(Dow Jones)- The Australian government is calling for applications for its A$1.5 billion Solar Flagships program designed to accelerate the use of solar energy technologies and green up the economy. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the first round of the program, which closes Feb. 15, will target 400 MWs of solar generation from commercially proven technologies.

Two projects will be selected--one solar thermal and one solar photovoltaic. "Australia has a world-class solar resource and if we can make technology breakthroughs and drive the costs down, it has the potential to play a significant role in Australia's electricity markets in the long-term," Ferguson said in a statement. Australian lawmakers earlier this year agreed a mandatory target to source 20% of national power needs from renewable sources by 2020.

Solar energy accounted for just 0.1% of the country's total energy consumption in 2007, mainly because it is much more expensive than electricity produced from coal, of which Australia has an abundance. But it does have advantages if costs can be overcome. solar energy can be generated anywhere that's sunny, it is deployable on any scale, it can generate power at the point of use, and it is cheap to maintain. It also generates consistent power at the times of day when it is needed most.

Among the firms considering solar projects in Australia are Spanish energy and infrastructure company Acciona SA (ANA.MC), which in September said it was planning to build photovoltaic and solar thermal facilities starting in 2012, each with a generation capacity of between 50 MW and 100 MW. Engineering company WorleyParsons Ltd. (WOR.AU) also has a feasibility study underway into large-scale solar thermal plants in Australia, funded by Australian blue chips including BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP Billiton) and Rio Tinto PLC (RTP).

U.S.-based Brightsource Energy--which counts Google Inc. (GOOG), Chevron Corp. (CVX) and BP PLC (BP) among its shareholders--has formed a consortium with WorleyParsons and Australian investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd. (MQG.AU) to bid for part of the government's Solar Flagships subsidy.

Solar Systems seeks extension

Friday 11/12/2009 Page: 5

EMBATTLED renewable energy company Solar Systems could be placed in liquidation as early as Monday unless creditors agree to extend the deadline for an agreement with potential buyers. BusinessDay believes the administrator, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has received a preliminary offer for the company. Solar Systems, which was to build a 154-MW solarfarm near Mildura, went into voluntary administration in September after failing to attract another investor for the $420 million project. Solar Systems administrator Stephen Longley said an extension would be sought at a meeting of creditors on Monday.

Soros proposes $100bn climate fund
11 December 2009

Billionaire financier George Soros has proposed that developed countries create a $100 billion climate fund, drawn down from existing currency reserves, to kick-start forestry and land-use projects in developing countries. "It is now generally agreed that the developed countries will have to make a substantial contribution to enable the developing world to deal with climate change," Soros told a press conference at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen today. "There is no similar agreement where the money will come from."

"Developed countries are labouring under the misapprehension that funding has to come from their national budgets, but that is not the case. They have it already – it is lying idle in their reserves accounts and in the vaults of the International Monetary Fund [IMF], available without adding to the national deficits of any one country. All they need to do is tap into it," he said.

Soros proposes that countries use their Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to fund projects that generate carbon credits, which can then be sold on international markets to repay interest. SDRs are an "arcane financial instrument", he explained, an international reserve asset created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement its members' official currency reserves.

In September, the IMF issued to its members $283 billion worth of SDRs, with more than $150 billion going to the 15 largest developed economies, which "will sit largely untouched in the reserve accounts of these countries, which don't really need any additional reserves". Soros is proposing a 25-year, $100 billion 'green fund' to invest in forestry, land-use and agricultural projects which reduce emissions. "These are the areas that offer the greatest scope for reducing carbon emissions, and could produce substantial returns from carbon markets," he said.

He also suggests that the IMF guarantees the interest payments and principal repayment, using its gold reserves. Moreover, the projects it backs will only earn a return if "developed countries set up the right kind of carbon markets" which buy carbon from such projects. "Setting up a green fund would be an implicit pledge to do so by putting the gold reserves of the IMF at risk," he added.

Soros added that there is a precedent for such a fund: the UK and France recently lent $2 billion of SDRs to a special fund at the IMF to support concessionary lending to least-developed countries. "It is possible to substantially increase the amount available to fight global warming in the developing world by using the existing allocations of SDRs – and the gold reserves of the IMF are more than sufficient to pay the interest on them. All that is lacking is the political will," he said.

Soros – who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager, notoriously betting against UK efforts to defend its currency on Black Wednesday in 1992 – recently pledged to invest $1 billion in clean technology in a bid to help tackle climate change.

Start-up aims to move green power by connecting grids
Dec 9, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A start-up, Tres Amigas, is aiming to transmit renewable energy from remote regions to populated areas on the U.S, coasts by connecting three networks that make up the North American electrical grid. Owned partly by American Superconductor (AMSC.O), Tres Amigas is proposing to create a 20-square-mile power superstation where there is access to abundant generation of wind and solar energy, and engage transmission companies to move that power across the United States. Tres Amigas said on Wednesday it has submitted filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seeking approval to move forward with this plan.

If successful, it would be the first common interconnection for America's three power grids. The project is expected to be completed and operational by the end of 2014, according to Tres Amigas, which estimates the cost of the project to be over $1 billion at the very minimum. "We are expanding markets," said David Raskin, regulatory counsel for Tres Amigas, in an interview. "The interconnections have electrical barriers between them, and we are bringing them down." "This would open up huge new opportunities for renewables," he added.

The U.S, bulk power network is divided into three grids: the eastern two-thirds of the country, the western states and Texas, with each grid operating on a different cycle. The system is designed to prevent blackouts from spreading nationwide. Currently, only a small amount of power can flow between the different grids, usually through direct-current interties or duplicate switchyards. The Texas grid, for example, has two DC interties capable of moving 800 MWs of power to or from the Eastern Interconnection and three power plants that can ship power into two grids.

Tres Amigas, run by former chief executive of power grid operator PJM Phillip Harris, said its facility will be capable of transferring thousands of MWs of power between the different grids. The plan is to create a hub in Clovis, New Mexico, that would enable the buying and selling of electricity between the three regions. One of Tres Amigas' filings with the FERC seeks approval to operate an electricity market. More than half the U.S, states already have laws or targets requiring electric utilities to increase the use of renewable power, such as wind and solar, while proposed federal climate legislation would require utilities to rely on renewable power for 15% of supply.

A major hurdle, however, is a lack of transmission lines needed to move electricity from remote areas where solar, wind and other renewable power is produced, to cities where it is consumed. Tres Amigas, which plans to begin negotiations with transmission companies once it receives the regulatory approvals, said it currently has letters of intent with four transmission companies and is in discussions with others.