Saturday 9 January 2010

Nine countries plan vast energy project in North Sea
7th of January 2010

Europe's first electricity distribution network dedicated to renewable energy will become a reality this January, as nine European countries formally put together plans to connect their green energy projects in the North Sea.

The plan would link the wind turbines off the northern coast of Scotland with Germany's solar panel arrays, and would join the wave energy facilities on the Danish and Belgian coasts with Norway's hydroelectric dams. The electric network, connected by highly efficient underwater cables that could cost £26.5 billion, would resolve one of the main criticisms faced by renewable sources: that unpredictable weather conditions mean that renewable energy is unreliable.

With renewable sources linked to distribution grids, electricity can be produced across Europe from wherever the sun is shining, wind is blowing or the waves are rolling. Linked to Norway's hydroelectric power plants, it could serve as a huge 30GW battery to fuel Europe's clean energy.

By autumn, the nine countries involved – including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK – hope to come up with a feasible plan to start building a high voltage DC network within 2020. The project will be a vital step in achieving the EU's pledge to generate 20 per cent of Europe's 2020 energy need from renewable sources.

Currently, about 100GW of offshore wind farm projects are in progress in Europe, approximately one-tenth of the EU's power requirement and equivalent to around 100 coal-fired plants. A European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) study in 2009 had already outlined where the undersea cables might be installed, which could serve as starting point for the negotiations of the nine countries.

Power giants warned on price rises

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Monday 4/1/2010 Page: 1

As the electricity and gas sector gears up for a record level of spending to upgrade its ageing assets and ready itself for the Rudd government's greenhouse reduction policies, the Australian Energy Regulator will ask companies to justify price rises. With electricity and gas networks planning to spend over $30 billion in the next five years, this will increase pressure on energy prices as costs are passed on to consumers.

Chairman of the AER, Steve Edwell, says he has written and spoken to the energy companies and urged them to advise corporate customers in advance over price rises. The Energy Users Association of Australia recently passed a resolution at a members meeting and expressed concern over the increases in network charges, and plans to write to governments and regulators over the issue. Its members include Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers.

EUAA executive director Roman Domanski said getting hit with large network prices increases at short notice is a major concern for business and affects their competitive position. Mr Edwell says gas prices may rise as new domestic contract prices rise closer to global levels, which is already happening in Western Australia where producers chase lucrative liquefied natural gas (LNG) contracts.

LNG projects are being particularly pursued in Queensland's Gladstone area, where several projects that rely on coal seam gas are proposed. The AER has proposed around $33 billion in capital spending. The regulator issued draft decisions to allow Queensland's Energex and Ergon Energy to have $10.19 billion in capital spending, and a capex of $1.63 billion for South Australia's ETSA Utilities distribution business.

Peak industry group the Energy Networks Association predicted that climate change policies would lift network costs by around $2.5 billion over the next five years. Victoria's SPAusnet is also concerned over spending on new connections to the network due to renewable energy targets and the emissions trading scheme. The New South Wales' regulator's approval of capital investment worth $14 billion includes $2.4 billion of capital investment by TransGrid in its electricity transmission network.

Munich Re calls for quick action on climate change

Thursday 31/12/2009 Page: 18

FRANKFURT: Munich Re, one of the world's largest reinsurers, believes economic and insured losses caused by climate change will continue to grow, and has called for a near-term deal to ensure a substantial reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need as soon as possible an agreement that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions because the climate reacts slowly and what we fail to do now will have a bearing for decades to come," said management board member Torsten Jeworrek. "In the light of these facts, it is very disappointing that no breakthrough was achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009," MrJeworrek added, pointing to the marked increase more or less tripling in major global weather related natural disasters since 1950.

Reinsurers and primary insurers provide insurance protection against losses caused by large natural and man-made disasters. Munich Re said it would step up its own initiatives in the matter, including investments of up to 2 billion ($3.25bn) in renewable energy and a strong commitment to the Sahara solar energy project Desertec Foundation.

The project hopes to come up with a feasible plan for generating solar energy in the Sahara within the next three years. Munich Re said losses caused by natural disasters cost the global insurance industry around $US22bn ($24.9bn) in 2009, helped by substantially lower US hurricane activity than a year earlier, when the insurance industry had to pay around $US50bn for damage caused by natural disasters such as winter storms, hurricanes, cyclones, floods and earthquakes.

The figures are similar to estimates by Swiss Reinsurance Company, which estimated at the end of November that the bill the insurance industry had to pay for natural disaster losses in 2009 amounted to about $US21bn. Munich Re said "severe weather events accounted for 45%, or nearly half, of global insured losses" in 2009.

It also said this year's lower bill for natural disasters and the absence of "severe hurricanes and other mega-catastrophes" should not be taken lightly, as there was a large number of moderately severe natural disasters. "In particular, the trend toward an increase in weather related catastrophes continues, while there has fundamentally been no change in the risk of geophysical events such as earthquakes," said Peter Hoeppe, who heads Munich Re's Geo Risks Research unit.

Boost to clean energy

Herald Sun
Friday 1/1/2010 Page: 34

CLEAN energy developers will get a boost from a decision this month to instigate an energy market rule change aimed at helping climate friendly renewable electricity generation to link to the power grid. Australia's electricity sector is the country's biggest source of planet warming greenhouse gas emissions. Technologies that harness the sun, wind, underground heat (geothermal) and ocean currents for electricity generation hold the potential to slash emissions by replacing coal and gasfired power which provides more than 90% of power supply.

But emerging technologies are more costly than incumbents and project locations often far from the existing grid. Federal and state energy ministers this month voted to accept an Australian Energy Market Commission recommendation that will introduce a new framework for the more efficient connection of clusters of generation known as scale-efficient network extensions. Geothermal energy developer GeoDynamics says the AEMC's rule change will help to catalyse more private investment in clean energy projects generally.

Australia's energy sector will play a key role in tackling the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. But so far the lack of a carbon price, weak 2020 targets for national emission cuts, and flaws in a policy aimed to mandate more renewable energy capacity, have led to weak spending on low-emission power sources. The Total Environment Centre says further reforms are needed, such as introducing an environmental or energy-savings objective into national electricity sector laws, in order to more swiftly clean up the electricity sector. The Federal Government's biggest single direct investment in new energy technology is "clean coal" plants. These aim to catch a significant portion of emissions and pump them underground.

Brazil moves to cut emissions

Hobart Mercury
Thursday 31/12/2009 Page: 21

PRESIDENT Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has signed a law requiring that Brazil cut greenhouse gas emissions by 39% by 2020, meeting a commitment made at the Copenhagen climate change summit. Brazil announced at the summit a "voluntary commitment" to reduce CO2, emissions by between 36.1 and 38.9% in the next 10 years. The new law, however, is subject to several decrees setting out responsibilities.

Friday 8 January 2010

Around the world in zero emissions

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 31/12/2009 Page: 17

Adelaide's green car with the great Aussie name, Trev, is getting ready to race around the world in 80 days. The Two-seater Renewable Energy Vehicle, built by staff and students at UniSA, is the only Australian car in the first Zero Emissions Race around the world. Team Trev technical manager Peter Pudney is busy preparing the car for the 30,000km journey across 20 countries in 80 days.

"Trev was designed for the city - short trips on good roads, carrying one or sometimes two people," he said. "Driving around the world will be a challenge. Zero Race will compress three years of commuting into 80 days. "Each day, Trev will have to travel up 250km without stopping before lunch, and after lunch another 200 to 250km."

In the 2007 World Solar Challenge, Trev travelled 500km a day, but had to stop to recharge every 80 to 120km. To travel 250km without stopping, the electric car needs a bigger battery. Other essential upgrades include fitting a new motor controller, improving brakes and suspension, and registering Trev for on-road use. Every car in the race must run on alternative energy such as solar, wind, wave or geothermal power. The race starts in Shanghai on July 1.

Solar power buyback levy defended
Jan 4, 2010

The New South Wales Government has defended its decision to charge all electricity users a compulsory levy to cover the costs of its solar energy bonus scheme. Under the scheme solar panel owners can sell all the power they generate to their electricity retailer and then buy it back at a third of the price. Critics say the scheme effectively forces struggling households and businesses to pay more, while rewarding those who are wealthy enough to be able to afford solar energy.

But the Minister John Robertson says the levy is small and fair. "The scheme means families who could never afford to install solar will now be able to do so," he said. "Our independent economic modelling shows the cost to the average household could be as little as 48 cents a bill and certainly no more than a dollar ninety a quarter. "The government's being very cautious and we're going to review the scheme within two years."

Shell accused of abandoning solar power buyers in the developing world
3 January 2010

Row over responsibility for sold-off systems has left Sri Lankan communities unable to replace faulty equipment.

Shell has become embroiled in a major row with the World Bank and green energy companies after allegations that it is unfairly refusing to honour warranties on solar energy systems sold to the developing world.

A widespread breakdown of its equipment in Sri Lanka and elsewhere has left the oil firm accused of abandoning a responsibility to impoverished communities while damaging the prospects of the wider renewable power sector in a world desperate to reduce carbon emissions following the Copenhagen climate change summit.

The rural electrification business under which the Shell systems were sold has now itself been passed on – as have most other parts of the group's solar business – but critics say that Shell, which made profits of $31bn in 2008, has a continuing role in ensuring former customers are not left vulnerable.

"Shell exited solar on a global basis, seemingly without due consideration to how after-sales service and warranty replacements would be provided, thereby damaging the very local solar industries it had earlier helped to create," said Damian Miller, a former Shell manager who now heads his own solar business, Orb Energy.

"In Sri Lanka, poor customers with average earnings of $1,500-$2,000 a month have bought Shell's solar systems. The system is equivalent to 30% of their annual income," he added. "They could only afford a system because they could get a loan from microfinance institutions or other banks. But now there are reports of thousands of Shell's [branded] solar panels failing in the field and Shell seemingly is not replacing them."

The World Bank, which provides financing packages to the developing world, said it too was very worried about a situation in which about 700 solar systems appear to have failed and local suppliers risked going out of business. Anil Cabraal, an energy specialist at the bank's Washington headquarters, has written to Shell asking for action. "I would like Shell to honour these commitments. We are not talking about millions of dollars here but hundreds of thousands," he told the Observer.

The company argues that it is being unfairly targeted and is doing all it can to sort out the problem. It points out that its Shell Solar Sri Lanka business has been transferred to a third-party purchaser, Environ Energy, along with all liabilities. The Anglo-Dutch oil group says the bulk of its former solar module manufacturing operation has also been switched to a new owner, Solar World.

"In October 2007, Shell sold Shell Solar Lanka Ltd to Environ Energy Global PTE Ltd. Specifically in order to protect customer interests, the terms of the transaction explicitly covered the management of all past, present and future liabilities, including warranty issues," said a Shell spokesman in the Hague.

"Environ Energy Global understands that resolution of this issue rests with Environ, but [its] own management team in Sri Lanka continues to approach Shell. We have asked Environ Energy Global to clarify responsibilities with [its] own management team in Sri Lanka."

The situation has been complicated by the fact that Environ claims Solar World will not replace any modules unless it has the appropriate warranty documents. Environ claims those papers were destroyed by Shell prior to the handover to Solar World, although Shell told the Observer this was not true.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Are Engines the Future of Solar Power?
December 30, 2009

Stirling engines might be the best way to harvest the power provided by the sun.

Nearly 200 years after their invention, and decades after first being proposed as a method of harnessing solar energy, 60 sun-powered Stirling engines are about to begin generating electricity outside Phoenix, Ariz., for the first time. Such engines, which harness heat to expand a gas and drive pistons, are not used widely today other than in pacemakers and long-distance robotic spacecraft.

The 1.5 MW (MW) demonstration site, known as Maricopa Solar, is set to begin operations early January 2010, with units provided by the Arizona-based Stirling Energy Systems (SES). While 1.5 MW is only a fraction of the power that may be generated at sites SES has contracted to develop in California and Texas, spokesperson Janette Coates says this is a necessary first step in the technology's commercialization. "It's important for our industry to see-and our partners and investors-that we can take a small-scale plant and get it operational before we break ground on larger ones," she says.

That's because Stirling heat engines have a reputation for being a bit impractical. First invented by Robert Stirling in 1816, the engines use a heat source to warm gas, which expands and is pushed into another chamber. When the gas cools and contracts, it flows back. The expansion and contraction pushes a piston, which in turn produces electricity.

In 1996, SES bought solar Stirling design and engineering patents from companies such as McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing. SES then partnered with Sandia National Laboratories, and over the next decade tweaked and refined the technology. In the SES SunCatcher, a circle of curved mirrors, resembling an upturned satellite dish, tracks the sun on two axes and reflects the sun's heat onto a single focus point, the power conversion unit (PCU). The PCU contains four cylinders, in which hydrogen gas expands and contracts to move pistons.

Stirling engines are significantly more efficient at converting sunlight into energy than most photovoltaic panels or concentrating solar energy plants, whether parabolic trough or tower designs. The test units have reached 31% efficiency, compared to 16% for parabolic troughs and about 14-18% for PV panels in use today (though newer designs not yet on the market range from 24 to as high as 41%). The high efficiency numbers alone, however, have not made Stirling an easy sell. The systems have been criticized as being too expensive, unreliable and requiring extensive maintenance thanks to many moving parts. Also, ground has not yet been broken on either California site for which SES signed purchase power agreements in 2005, adding to skepticism that these systems will ever become commercially viable.

"At these high temperatures, with this many moving parts, people doubted whether SES could really pull it off," says Reese Tisdale, research director for solar energy at Cambridge, Mass.-based Emerging Energy Research. The relatively small Arizona plant is intended to allay those concerns.

Proponents of the technology point to the advantages it has over other forms of solar energy, particularly concentrating solar energy (CSP), which also captures the sun's heat. Most CSP systems require significant amounts of water, which has proven to be a challenge in desert regions of the U.S, where solar energy is most attractive, while Stirling engines require none other than small amounts for cleaning the mirrors. In addition, if one engine goes down, it has minimal impact on overall production.

SES faced a manufacturing challenge in preparing its SunCatchers for mass production though. "The systems at Sandia were basically hand-built," says Charles Andraka, a Sandia engineer and Stirling expert who worked with SES on the system's design. For the Phoenix site, he notes, Sandia and SES engineers built 60 units in three months. "We have to do that many in a day for the larger plants."

In order to do this, SES turned to the experts in rapid production of engines and related parts: the automotive industry. In partnership with automotive companies such as Tower Automotive and Linamar Corporation, SES managed to reduce the parts in the PCU by 60% (to about 650) and slash the weight of the entire system by roughly 2,250 kilograms. Andraka highlights one example of the upgrade: in the original engines, he points out, gas passed over the outside of the engine, with pieces of tubes and fittings at either end, requiring a total of approximately 20 parts. "On the new engine, the gas passage is a part of the block with no external parts. It's much more reliable, much cheaper to assemble, with fewer parts and fewer places to leak," Andraka says. The new systems have been running on test sites for more than 100,000 hours.

Maricopa Solar also represents just one scalable module; each multi-MW field will be grouped first in 60-engine units that come together to generate 1.5 MW, then those larger units are linked to each other to produce up to 9 MW. Explains Coates, "With the large 750 MW commissions, we won't have to wait until we have 750 MW of dishes before we start producing power. This means that the utility can get the power prior to the full build-out, which can take years to complete." This is in comparison to parabolic trough or tower CSP technology, which doesn't generate electricity until the entire system is complete.

Meanwhile, Tessera Solar, SES's sister company in charge of development, is renegotiating contracts with utilities in California but expects to supply power at or below the cost of other solar technologies, and they plan to break ground on bigger solar Stirling engine power plants in Texas and California in 2010. Tisdale says he remains somewhat skeptical, but also optimistic: "This 1.5 MW site is key to demonstrating that it works."

Doubts don't stop start to wind farm

Hobart Mercury
Monday 28/12/2009 Page: 2

TASMANIA'S $350 million Musselroe windfarm is finally under construction, after more than four years of delays and uncertainty about its future. An advertisement in the Mercury on Boxing Day by Tasmanian renewable energy company Roaring 40s advises that the Musselroe windfarm on Tasmania's far northeast tip has "substantially commenced". It warns summer visitors to the North-East that some access tracks have been closed near Lemons Beach and the Cape Portland Wildlife Sanctuary.

So far, new roads into the vast Cape Portland farm estate have been constructed, giant concrete foundation pads for the towering wind turbines built, the windfarm's control building completed and some electricity cabling work commenced. State Government spokeswoman Margaret Lindley confirmed yesterday the long awaited project was "definitely going ahead". She said more than $30 million had already been spent at the remote site, 140km northeast of Launceston, in preparatory work. But the financial viability of the Musselroe project remains in doubt.

It is understood Roaring 40s has not yet locked in sale prices or power uptake contracts with power companies for the 130 MWs of green electricity that will be produced from Musselroe. Nor have contracts for the parallel sale of the valuable renewable energy credits (RECs) attached to every unit of wind energy generated yet been signed. Six months ago, the State Government conceded Roaring 40s was having trouble financing the Musselroe project because of the global credit squeeze.

Rising prices for the wind turbines and their 90m-high supporting towers - Musselroe will have 56 wind turbines - have not helped. The sale price for RECs is considered critical to Musselroe's long-term viability. The value of these credits has recently fallen from more than $50 each to less than $30, largely due to the popularity of residential solar hot-water system rebate scheme. The commercial success of the Musselroe windfarm relies on each REC certificate generated being able to be sold to industrial manufacturers and coal-fired power stations for between $50-60 each to offset polluting carbon emissions.

Crashing values for renewable energy credits were recently blamed for the collapse of a proposed $800 million windfarm project in Victoria. Another $28 billion worth of windfarm projects across Australia remain under a cloud. Pressure is mounting on the Rudd Government to remove its $1600 subsidy for each home solar hot-water system installed. Until firm contracts for the sale of the windfarm's electricity production or RECs are in place, Roaring 40s is expected to continue having trouble raising capital. State Energy Minister David Llewellyn confirmed last night that the financial viability of the Musselroe windfarm was not yet certain.

Not cooking with Moomba gas

Adelaide Advertiser
Monday 28/12/2009 Page: 61

SOUTH Australia must look to Queensland for gas, amid predictions that reserves at Moomba will decline by 30% over the next two decades. A $2.5 billion upgrade to the SA/New South Wales electricity interconnector is also proposed to reduce blackouts, two reports from the Australian Energy Market Operator find. But most worrying to consumers will be the finding that the carbon pollution reduction scheme is expected to triple the price of electricity over the next 20 years.

The National Transmission Statement expects the wholesale price of electricity will move towards $100 MW/hour. "Our simulations indicate that substantial change is coming to the electricity supply industry, as higher carbon and market prices drive new investment," the report states. The report also identifies two "big concept" transmission projects for South Australia - a $2.5 billion upgrade to the Murraylink interconnector and a $3.6 billion line from Innamincka in the Far North of the state, to carry geothermal power.

Transmission company ElectraNet and AEMO will conduct a feasibility study to investigate upgrading the Murraylink and Heywood interconnectors. The Gas Statement of Opportunities also finds that Moomba's gas reserves will go down from 1400 to 1000 petajoules and Queensland coal seam deposits are the best option by which to meet SA's growing demands.

China approves a very important law amendment to promote green energy technologies
December 28, 2009

The world's most populated and one of the most polluted countries has just approved a significant amendment to its renewable energy law this last Saturday, December 26, 2009. According to Xinhua News, the top legislator of the People's Republic of China said that this modification would "greatly promote a healthy and rapid development of the renewable energy sector and adjust energy structure to strengthen the building of an environment-friendly and resource-saving society".

The new amendment requires electric utilities "to buy all the power produced by renewable energy generators". Additionally, the amendment sets a special fund for "renewable energy scientific research, finance rural clean energy projects, build independent power systems in remote areas and islands, and build information networks to exploit renewable energy". The clean energy sources included as renewable are wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal and ocean.

According to the same Xinhua report entitled "China amends law to boost renewable energy law," the statistics for 2008 indicate that 9% of the total power consumption in China came from renewable sources with wind and solar energy generation ranking top in the world. The report mentions that further development in transmission networks are needed to make all the over generated energy from renewable resources available to the areas that require it most. The amendment requires utilities to "improve transmitting technologies and enhance grid capability to absorb more power produced by renewable energy generators". This requirement calls for the development and use of Smart Grid technologies to optimize the resources available in the interconnected grids.

The original law is in effect since January 2006. It was "aimed at 'optimizing the country's energy structure and safeguarding energy security'. It covered subsidies, pricing management and supervision measures". China currently dominates 98% of all the Rare Earth minerals produced in the world. These minerals are essential to the development and manufacturing of green energy technologies.

Perth Basin Geothermal Energy Power Project by Green Rock Energy
December 29, 2009

Green Rock Energy has established a number of geothermal power projects in Southern and Western Australia. In Western Australia, the company has bagged exploration licenses along with the University of Western Australia (UWA) in the Perth Basin. This project is considered to be the first commercial geothermal powered air-conditioning and heating unit in Perth.

Apart from air-conditioning and heating, the Perth Basin project will also concentrate on the desalination of ocean water. The Perth Basin is a geological rift with permeable aquifers that contain hot geothermal water that can be tapped for the generation of clean electricity. In collaboration with the UWA, Green Rock Energy will develop a geothermal powered air-conditioning and heating unit that will replace conventional systems in the Perth Metropolitan area. The company will commence the drilling of the geothermal wells in the latter part of 2009.

Absorption chillers, powered by geothermal energy and developed by Green Rock Energy, can be set up in a number of areas including universities, schools, shopping centers, hotels, data centers, hospitals and airports. These absorption chillers will be environmentally friendly and safe for natural surroundings.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Chicken waste turned to watts
December 30, 2009

The new company is one of many that hope to benefit from a 2007 state law that requires electric utilities to increase their reliance on renewable fuels, such as solar energy, poultry waste and swine waste. But green remedies, like all answers to complex problems, cause side effects.

Poultry waste, despite its abundance, has so far proven a problematic fuel. When burned directly, it spews air emissions comparable to those from a coal-burning power plant. Green Energy Solutions proposes to solve that problem by extracting methane from the waste and leaving behind an odourless sludge that can be used as fertiliser. In recent public filings with the NC Utilities Commission, the developer has said it is building a power plant in South Carolina that is set to begin operating in June 2010.

According to filings, it is operating several similar facilities in Europe and has contracts or commitments with 13 poultry farms in North Carolina to supply organic fuel. Green Energy Solutions would generate electricity at the farm and sell the power to an electric utility. Company vice president Julian Cothran says Green Energy Solutions has submitted proposals to Progress Energy and Duke Energy, as well as to ElectriCiti Investment Researches, which represents municipal power agencies, and to GreenCo, an arm of the state's rural electric cooperatives.

Pelamis and Vattenfall to develop Aegir wave energy project
30th of December 2009

Pelamis Wave Power, a Scottish energy developer, has inked a joint contract to develop a huge green project off Shetland Islands with Vattenfall, a European energy giant. The cost of the wave power scheme is estimated at $100 million. After completion, the Aegir wave power project is expected to become the country's largest, with approximately 26 of Pelamis Wave Power' 180m long P2 machines installed. The green initiative will generate at least 200MW of energy capacity, enough to power about 13,000 homes per year and to reduce Scotland's 2020 carbon emissions up to 42 per cent.

The first phase of the project will be installed by 2014, if the planning application is approved by the local government, and the planned underwater cable linking Shetland and Scotland's mainland is installed. At the inauguration of Vattenfall's new office in Edinburgh, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was pleased with the wave project and said that the joint initiative shows both energy firms' confidence in Scotland's huge marine energy potential.

Earlier this year, WWF released the report 'The Power of Scotland Renewed', based on the study of energy analyst Garrad Hassan. The WWF research states that there is a huge possibility to boost power generation from renewable sources in the next two decades, resulting in green energy meeting 60 to 143 per cent of Scotland's projected yearly electricity requirement by 2030. Meanwhile according to a report published in August by the Marine Energy Group, over 12,000 jobs in marine renewables could contribute £2.5 billion to Scotland's economy by 2020.

China enacts law to promote renewable energy
December 27, 2009

China's utilities will be required to buy all the power produced by wind farms and other renewable sources under a new law meant to promote the industry and reduce heavy reliance on coal. Legislators approved the measure Saturday as an amendment to China's 2006 renewable energy law, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Beijing has set ambitious goals for wind, solar and other renewable energy in an effort to clean up its environment and curb surging demand for imported oil and gas, which communist leaders see as a strategic weakness.

The measure also could help Beijing fulfill promises to restrain growth in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for changing the climate. "The legislation on improving the consumption of clean energy contributes to the global fight on climate change," said Wang Zhongying, director of the renewable energy development center of the Cabinet's main planning agency, according to Xinhua. Other countries such as Germany and Spain also promote solar, wind and other renewable power sources by requiring utilities to buy it and to pay higher prices than for electricity from coal and other traditional sources.

Xinhua gave no details of pricing but said companies that operate China's power grid could be fined if they refuse to buy renewable power, which suggested the cost might be higher. It said grid operators would be required to improve their technology and capacity to absorb power from renewable sources. China is one of the biggest users of wind energy and the government is trying to promote use of solar by promising to pay up to 70% of the cost of new systems.

China faces the challenge that its windiest areas are far from populous cities, requiring costly transmission lines that in many areas have yet to be built. Wind farm construction has raced ahead so fast that 25% are not connected to the national power grid. Government goals issued in 2005 call for at least 15% of China's power to come from wind, solar and hydropower by 2020, up from 9% now. Officials say that target may be raised to 20% because the industry is developing so fast.

Coal provides two-thirds of China's power and is expected to remain the dominant energy source in coming years. China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse bases but is not bound by global agreements on curbing emissions because it is a developing economy. But the Cabinet promised last month to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide for each unit of economic output by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels by 2020.

`Green' energy alarm sounds

Sunday Age
Sunday 27/12/2009 Page: 16

SOME, of the greenest technologies of our time - - from electric cars to efficient light bulbs to large wind turbines - are made possible by a group of unusual elements called rare earths. The world's dependence on these substances is rising fast. Just one problem - these elements come almost entirely from some of China's most environmentally damaging mines, in an industry dominated by criminal gangs. Western capitals are suddenly worried about China's near monopoly, which gives it a potential stranglehold on technologies of the future. In Washington, Congress has just ordered a study of potential alternatives to the Chinese rare earth materials that are crucial to the US military.

In Guyun Village, a small community in south-eastern China fringed by lush bamboo groves and banana trees, the environmental damage can be seen in the red-brown scars of barren clay where emerald rice fields once grew. Miners scrape off the topsoil and shovel golden-flecked clay into dirt pits, using acids to extract the rare earths. The acids wash into streams and rivers, destroying rice paddies and tainting water supplies.

There are 17 rare-earth elements, some of which, despite the name, are not particularly rare. However, two heavy rare earth elements, dysprosium and terbium, are in especially short supply, mainly because they have emerged as crucial ingredients of green energy products. Tiny quantities of dysprosium can make magnets in electric motors lighter by 90%, while terbium can help cut the electricity usage of lights by 80%. Dysprosium prices have climbed nearly sevenfold since 2003, to $53 a pound. Terbium prices quadrupled from 2003 to 2008, peaking at $407.

China mines more than 99% of the world's dysprosium and terbium. Most production comes from about 200 mines in Guangdong and in neighbouring Jiangxi province. Half the heavy rare earth mines have licenses and half are illegal. Western importers don't know where the minerals they buy have come from. "I don't know if part of that feed, internal in China, came from an illegal mine and went in a legal separator," said David Kennedy, president of Great Western Technologies in Michigan, which imports rare earths.

Thermal energy
December 27th 2009

Thermal energy is being explored and used as a renewable power source in a number of different ways, most commonly in the form of geothermal power as found throughout geographic thermal hot-spots such as those found in the western United States and used extensively in some countries such as Iceland, however solar thermal energy is also being explored as a source of power generation by some developers as well.

Geothermal power plants can be found in a number of select areas around the world where the earth's crust is particularly thin near fault lines or developing volcanoes in order to allow for the easiest capture and conversion of power into energy with minimal development necessary. These plants typically utilize the power by drilling into the crust of the earth towards the thin location and then pumping water into the hole, producing super-heated steam that exits through a vent at high velocities in order to be captured and used to power turbines that generate electricity. While there are currently a number of different geothermal power plants being developed that use different energy conversion methods this is by far the most commonplace method that allows for the direct extraction of energy through a turbine generation process and is adapted for use around the world. The only drawback is that the viable locations for such a plant are limited, and as such they cannot be developed for widespread application in all areas.

Another form of thermal energy that is still being explored is a form of solar energy, however rather than using photoelectric cells to capture and generate power instead refractive dishes are used to channel the sun's natural energy into a key location that is then used to power energy producing steam engines or turbines similar to other geothermal power plants. This process has been particularly effective in providing a much higher conversion rate of the sun's energy than common solar cells which can only operate at a maximum of around 40% energy conversion rates with the latest models and decrease in effectiveness the hotter they become. Further, by utilizing the sun for thermal energy this can bypass many of the limitations placed upon geothermal power plants, however some restrictions on locations must still be made in order to ensure that enough energy can be harvested on a regular basis in order to make a solar thermal energy plant viable.

As technology continues to advance and additional research is done into various forms of thermal energy generation it is expected to see a large increase in these forms of power plants in the near future in order to provide a more stable, renewable energy source for the world that can be developed and maintained in various countries regardless of natural resources present. Given that thermal energy plants are high ecologically friendly as well and have virtually no carbon emissions or other negative impacts upon their surrounding environments these have gotten strong support from many people worldwide who are looking at investing in thermal energy for a reliable alternative to current fossil fuel dependence.

China's first massive wind power base hits 2 GW
December 26, 2009

The installed capacity of China's first massive wind energy base in northwestern Gansu Province reached two GWs. The Jiuquan wind energy base achieved the landmark capacity as China Datang Corporation, one of China's power giants, installed a 200 MW wind energy unit in Yumen City under the jurisdiction of Jiuquan City, said Wu Shengxue, deputy head of Jiuquan's Reform and Development Commission. The wind energy base, which consists of 8 groups of power plants, is planned to be the first of its kind to have a capacity of more than 10 GWs. According to a plan of China's National Energy Administration, its capacity is expected to reach 12.71 GWs in 2015.

The plan included five other wind energy bases of over 10 GW capacity. A wind energy base of 20 GWs and another of 30 GWs are to be built in east and west Inner Mongolia. Two other bases, each having a 10 GW capacity, are respectively planned in eastern Jiangsu Province and northern Hebei Province. One more wind energy base of 20 GWs is to be built in northwestern Xinjiang. China would have a wind energy capacity of more than 100 GWs or 3% of the country's overall consumption by 2020, said Shi Pengfei, deputy president of Chinese Wind Energy Association.

Shandong's provincial Development and Reform Commission has approved the first phase of a RMB 2 billion wind energy project by China Datang Corporation's Shandong subsidiary, Qilu Evening News reported December 22. Datang plans to install 120 wind turbines to give the project a total installed capacity of 200 MW. Shandong Datang also announced that Shandong's provincial Development and Reform Commission has also approved its 49.5 MW windfarm project in Laiyang, Shandong Province. The project covers land of 3.4 hectares and has a total investment of 494.6 million.

China Datang Corporation (CDT) is an extra large scaled power generation enterprise group established on the basis of the partial power generation assets of former State Power Corporation of China on Dec. 29, 2002. It is a solely state-owned corporation directly managed by the CPC Corp Central Committee and is the experimental state-authorized investment and state share-holding enterprise ratified by the State Council.

The registered capital is 15.39 billion yuan. CDT is mainly specialized in such business as management of the state-owned assets invested by the state and owned by CDT; development, investment, construction, operation and management of power energy; organization of power (thermal) production and sales; electric power equipment manufacture, maintenance and commissioning; power technology development and consultation; contracting and consulting of electric power engineering and environmental protection projects, renewable energy development, conducting and acting as agent for import and export of commodities and technologies of various types, contracting of overseas projects and domestic projects through international bidding; exporting equipment and materials required by above-mentioned overseas projects, and sending labor force abroad required to carry out above-mentioned overseas projects.