Thursday 14 January 2010

Renewable energy 'critical for boosting power supply'

Investing in renewable energy on a large scale will help to boost the jobs market, as well as ensuring increasing demand for power is met, one sector commentator has claimed. A recent announcement from the Crown Estate revealed several UK firms have been awarded contracts for developing offshore wind farms. Commenting on the news, Angela Gallacher, spokesperson from The Renewable Energy Centre, said wind and wave power will be vital in meeting ongoing increases in demand for energy.

She added: "It is critical that new and renewable technologies are implemented and up and running simultaneously in order to reduce dependency on fossil fuels." Britons can reduce their own use of finite resources by boosting their central heating systems through the use of solar panels to meet their hot water needs. A further benefit of this investment in household renewable energy was announced in the pre-Budget report, when the chancellor of the exchequer asserted Britons who direct any excess power they generate will receive an annual tax-free sum of £900.

Solar energy, LEDs brighten up Sejong
January 13, 2010

Massive investments by large conglomerates are expected to help Sejong City, to be built from scratch, turn into a high-tech production and research base, government and industry officials said yesterday. Samsung Group, Hanwha Group, Woongjin Group and Lotte Group plan to pour a combined 4.4 trillion won into the city to build manufacturing and research facilities.

The government yesterday announced plans to make Sejong City, located about 150 kilometers south of Seoul, an "international science and business belt" with 17 trillion won of new investments in the next 20 years. Samsung, the country's biggest business group, said it will spend close to $2 billion by 2015 on "green energy and health care," which include solar cells, light-emitting diodes and medical equipment. Five Samsung affiliates will take part, including Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, Samsung SDI and Samsung LED.

"Samsung Group has explored new business areas since we set up a business team in December 2007. And we picked green energy and health care as next-generation businesses," Kim Soon-taek, Samsung's vice chairman in charge of the company's new business team, said at a press conference yesterday.

Samsung Electronics, the flagship unit of Samsung Group is the world's top maker of memory chips, liquid crystal display panels and LCD TVs. It is the world's No. 2 handset maker. Samsung Electronics CEO Choi Gee-sung last year vowed to develop "health, environment, and life care" as Samsung Electronics' two major businesses along with "infotainment" in 10 years. Kim denied speculation that Samsung declined to participate in the government-led Sejong City project in exchange for Seoul's recent pardon of Samsung Group's biggest shareholder and ex-chief, Lee Kun-hee.

Kim said Samsung's latest investment decision was made because "investment conditions were favorable." Of the total investment, 1.1 trillion won will go to solar cells, rechargeable batteries and LEDs, while 330 billion won will be spent on cutting-edge medical equipment, he said. Samsung's investment is expected to create 15,800 jobs, Samsung said. Hanwha Group plans to invest a combined 1.3 trillion won on solar cell and military businesses over the next decade.

Hanwha Chemical is eyeing investments of 1 trillion won for a solar energy R&D center, and solar cell and module manufacturing plants by 2020. Including Hanwha Chemical, four Hanwha affiliates will invest in Sejong City. Hanwha Corp, plans to build a research center on future defense technology. With the investment, Hanwha is expected to create 3,000 new jobs.

Woongjin Group, whose business portfolio ranges from publishing to water purifiers, plans to invest 900 billion won in, aiming to create 2,700 jobs. Woojin Engergy plans to build a manufacturing plant for solar ingots and wafers. Woongjing Group has been long rumored to be planning Sejong City investments because of the group's close ties to the Chungcheong region.

Lotte Group, a retail and beverage conglomerate, plans to spend 100 billion won to set up a food biotechnology research center by 2020. The project is expected to create 1,000 jobs. SSF of Austria, a manufacturer of solar energy cell modules, plans to spend 138 billion won on a Sejong City venture, making it the sole foreign investor so far.

Poor climate for real action

Canberra Times
Monday 11/1/2010 Page: 9
Opinion - Jim Douglas

Voters know that switching to the Opposition would replace a policy of futility with one of stupidity.

The Copenhagen circus has folded its tent, leaving disappointed those who - naively, perhaps - had begun to think that enough national leaders might have become sufficiently worried about global warming to venture a global rather than parochial vote on this issue. Among the realists, argument will continue as to whether the glass is now half-full (any multilateral start on the road to emissions reduction is good) or half-empty (lowered expectations have now been locked in).

In Australia, it is likely that significant numbers of those people who are seriously concerned about climate change will have been appalled by the performance of both the Government and the Opposition on this issue. The Rudd Government was content to sit by for months prior to the Copenhagen conference, allowing the opposition to wedge itself on the issue of the carbon pollution reduction scheme (a tactic which, ironically, revealed an Opposition politician, Malcolm Turnbull, as possessing genuine political courage).

The effect of the Government's strange lassitude has been that debate on the nature of the CPRS in the Opposition ranks has reverted to questioning of the fundamental reality of climate change itself. This has allowed the unscientific nonsense being peddled by climate change denialists to gain access to a political and public audience that they probably could not have dreamed of reaching a year ago.

So here we are, two-thirds of the way through the Government's first term and after all the money spent on policy reviews from Garnaut onwards, and yet genuine understanding of the nature of the CPRS remains at a low ebb amongst the general public in Australia. This is not helped by the fact that the Government has heavily compromised the potential efficacy of the cap-and-trade system through massive subsidies to offset financial hardship amongst the heaviest polluters, increasing public suspicion that the whole CPRS proposal is a hoax. Just try opening a conversation on the climate issue at any normal social gathering, and see what happens.

Initially, there will be genuine statements of concern about climate change. However, these will soon be displaced by expressions of frustration at the impenetrably ambiguous stance of the Government, and concern - building in many cases to anger - about what is taken to be the likely ineffectiveness of the CPRS itself. When the Government does bother to talk to the public about how emissions reduction will work in Australia, it inevitably mentions clean coal technology, but anyone following this matter will know that this is many years away from implementation, and likely even then to be fiendishly expensive to operate.

Has the Government even asked itself the question of how to reduce - now-the amount of coal-fired power that is used to serve peak period demand in Australia? This is demand that could be met (and is, to a minor extent) by lower emission gas-fired plants and by the range of renewable options, including wind and sun.

Think where we might be if the enormous amount of money the Government intends to lavish on the high emitters (compared to the tokenistic levels of funding being provided for renewable energy development) was directed instead to competitive grants aimed at replacing coal-fired energy during peak demand periods. At least this would look like a start, rather than the present unseemly reverse. The reality that dares not speak its name in the corridors of Parliament House is that significant progress towards emissions reduction in Australia must include de-commissioning some coal fired power plants - permanently, and soon - rather than waiting around for some sort of technological miracle to solve the problem.

The retreaded Opposition under its new leader is even less likely than the Government to address any of this. Tony Abbott's only strategy is to milk the negative sentiment which has built around the climate issue during the long absence of the Government from the scene. His stated approach, of directly funding low emission technologies without any other market mechanisms to change incentives, is economic nonsense - as he must know (and as his climate spokesman, Greg Hunt, certainly knows very well). Combine this with the steady drumbeat on doubts about the realities of climate change emanating from the denialist heartland of its ranks, and the Opposition's approach to the climate issue is revealed as shameful and cynical populism, nothing more.

Both sides refuse to discuss the counterfactual to an adequate response to climate change - that is, what it will cost us not to act on this now. It seems we are being asked to forget whatever Lord Stern, Professor Garnaut and others have had to say about paying an affordable price for climate change mitigation now, or facing ruinous costs in the not-too-distant future: costs which will make the "great big tax" Abbott imagines will be the price we pay for climate change mitigation look like the tiniest of imposts.

There is another more immediate political counterfactual possibility which is also being ignored by the Government at present: many moderate Australian voters who supported Labor last time around remain genuinely concerned about global warming, and see themselves now as having nowhere to go: being offered a choice between a Government that will do almost nothing about climate change and an Opposition that will do even less. Obviously, these people would see transferring their vote to the Opposition as simply replacing an act of futility with one of stupidity, and no doubt the Government knows this.

However, what would happen if a sizeable proportion of these people voted informal, thus withholding their vote from the Government and from minor parties whose preferences would flow largely to the Government? This could be an effective threat if the Government knew in advance of their intentions (through polling or direct advice) and perceived that there seemed to be enough people considering this to pose a real electoral problem. The loss of some marginal seats might not cost Labor government but would certainly make its life - and that of Rudd in particular - much more difficult in the next term.

The Government might at least be forced to consider whether to take this risk or to modify its CPRS stance. People who are really concerned about Australia's response to climate change will probably not consider a strategic informal vote a terribly attractive option, but some of them may conclude it could be the best on offer right now.

Jim Douglas has worked with the World Bank, UN agencies and international environmental organisations on forests and natural resources, and is now a consultant on rainforest and forest carbon issues.

Panax Geothermal recommences mobilisation of drilling rig
January 11, 2010

Geothermal company Panax Geothermal (ASX: PAX) has recommenced mobilisation of the Weatherford International rig from the Cooper Basin to the Salamander-1 drilling site at Penola in South Australia. As previously advised, the mobilization process was delayed on 21 December 2009 as a result of adverse weather conditions in the proximity of the Paralana drilling site, where the WDI Lightning Rig # 828 is currently being de-mobilised.

Managing Director Bertus de Graaf said the adverse weather conditions rendered the roads impassable to transport trucks for a period of approximately 20 days, resulting in the inability of both Panax Geothermal and WDI to transport critical components of the rig away from the Paralana site. "These adverse weather conditions have now passed and road conditions have been restored to allow transportation to re-commence," Mr de Graaf said.

He said Panax Geothermal formally advised WDI of the cessation of the Force Majeure event, which was invoked to minimize the company's exposure to any unforeseen costs, with effect from 6.00 am this morning. "Panax Geothermal and WDI have continued to work together in a mutually co-operative way during the period of the Force Majeure event to ensure that as many activities as possible were able to be completed during this period," he said. "Panax Geothermal looks forward to the spudding of our Salamander-1 well later this month."

China build at least 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar thermal power plants
January 11, 2010

eSolar and Penglai Electric announced a master licensing agreement to build at least 2 GWs of solar thermal power plants in China over the next 10 years.

eSolar, a global provider of reliable and cost-effective concentrating solar energy (CSP) plants, and Penglai Electric, a privately owned Chinese electrical power equipment manufacturer, announced a master licensing agreement to build at least 2 GWs of solar thermal power plants in China over the next 10 years. As China moves rapidly to become the world's leader in wind energy and photovoltaic solar panels, China is taking tentative steps to master another alternative energy industry: using mirrors to capture sunlight, produce steam and generate electricity.

So-called concentrating solar energy uses hundreds of thousands of mirrors to turn water into steam. The steam turns a conventional turbine similar to those in coal-fired power plants. The technology, which is potentially cheaper than most types of renewable power, has captivated many engineers and financiers in the last two years, with an abrupt surge in new patents and plans for large power operations in Europe and the United States.

This year may be China's turn. China is starting to build its own concentrating solar energy plants, a technology more associated with California deserts than China's countryside. And Chinese manufacturers are starting to think about exports, part of China's effort to become the world's main provider of alternative energy power equipment. The deal was signed in the Chinese State Council building with government officials in attendance and represents the country's largest CSP project. Groundbreaking of the first 92 MWs will take place in 2010.

Penglai Electric plans to develop 2 GW of power plants by 2021 using eSolar's proven solar thermal technology. The solar thermal power plants will be co-located with biomass electricity generation facilities. Penglai Electric will leverage local manufacturing to source some of the equipment. In total, the plants will eliminate 15 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

"Using the power of the sun, eSolar's technology minimizes the environmental impact on manufacturing and deployment while maximizing land and cost efficiency," said Liu Guangyu, chairman and CEO of Penglai Electric. "We are extremely grateful to the Chinese government for playing a major role in promoting zero-carbon renewable energy." "With Penglai as our partner and with the strong support of the Chinese government, eSolar is proud to be the first company to deliver the benefits of cost-effective solar thermal power to China," said Bill Gross, founder and chairman of eSolar.

China Huadian Engineering Co, will lead the construction process. At completion, China Shaanxi Yulin Huayang New Energy Co, will own and operate the first 92 MW plant. "To date, eSolar offers the only CSP tower technology that has demonstrated commercial maturity and economic feasibility," added Zhao Weikang, chairman and president of Shaanxi Yulin Huayang New Energy Co. "We're excited to build our initial hybrid plant as part of the 170-square kilometer Yulin Alternative Energy Park, the first large scale alternative energy park in China. Our work is aligned with the government's continuing policy to curb carbon emissions and combat climate change."

China is currently the market leader in the PV manufacturing industry. The deal represents the country's first major move into concentrating solar thermal power. The Chinese government recently announced its aggressive plans to increase the country's renewable power generation capacity to 15% by 2020.

eSolar is an Idealab company founded in 2007 to develop modular and scalable solar thermal power plant technology. In the summer of 2009, eSolar unveiled the 5 MW Sierra SunTower Plant, the only commercial CSP tower facility in North America. The eSolar solution marries a low-impact, pre-fabricated form factor with advanced computer software engineering to meet the demand for reliable and cost-competitive solar energy. eSolar's proprietary solution resolves issues of price, scalability, speed of deployment, and grid impact that have historically stymied solar thermal adoption, thus affording dramatic reductions in the cost of solar thermal energy. eSolar is based in Pasadena, California.

China Shandong Penglai Electric Power Equipment Manufacturing Co., Ltd was founded in 1987 as the preferred vendor for the state-owned Chinese Power Complete Equipment Co., Ltd (CPCEC) and the Chinese Academy of Electric Power Design ( Penglai Electric is one of the many independently owned and operated enterprises conceived as a result of the Chinese economic reform. With its own core team of about 1,000 employees, its main line of business includes manufacturing auxiliary and energy-saving components for 200MW, 300MW, and 600MW to 1,000MW fire-powered electrical power plants.

Since 2001, Penglai Electric Power has been granted ISO9001 quality assurance and self import and export privileges. By synergistically combining its technical expertise, manufacturing capability, and trading know-how, Penglai Electric offers comprehensive solutions in research and development, technical consultation, auxiliary component introduction and manufacturing, installation, and tuning for more than 60% of the major fire-powered electrical plants in China. Penglai Electric is based in Penglai, Shandong, China.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Google’s green energy project

"Google Energy" is the new endeavour by the search engine giant, which is a new step into the green industry. As per the Delaware state records, on 16th December 2009, the company formed Google Energy as a subsidiary for their parent company Google. In the view of this, the application towards this proposal was referred to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which is the regulatory agency which deals in power grid sector on Tuesday. According to Niki Fenwick, a Google representative, this step would prove to be an essential move towards the company in achieving its corporate goal of carbon neutrality. The company also wants to be able to buy affordable renewable energy of highest standards wherever they could use their resources.

Currently, Google's headquarters based in Mountain View, California houses a capacious 1.6 MW solar installation. To compensate the energy requirement by its operation, their ability to buy and sell energy the way utilities do will help them towards further adaptability. Fenwick was also quoted saying that the company did not have any accurate plans, however he did mention that if it meant buying and selling of electricity in their portfolio they could be capable of doing so. Google wants to meet its objective of being a carbon-neutral company by working on its operations performance and competency, including their data centers.

Google has also planned on purchase of "high quality" carbon offsets keeping in mind about their funds being invested in many renewable energy productions firm via their parent company This company has also invested into many areas of technological advancements like start-up solar, enhanced geothermal and wind. A while ago, they launched a web-based home electricity application called, "PowerMeter." Google has been working their way up aggressively towards their ambitious plan of clean energy and productive use of resources. Google's Director of energy and climate initiatives, Dan Reicher was recently quoted saying that in the future Google might invest their funds towards large-scale renewable energy projects.

China Tries a New Tack to Go Solar
January 8, 2010

HONG KONG - As it moves rapidly to become the world's leader in nuclear energy, wind energy and photovoltaic solar panels, China is taking tentative steps to master another alternative energy industry: using mirrors to capture sunlight, produce steam and generate electricity.

So-called concentrating solar energy uses hundreds of thousands of mirrors to turn water into steam. The steam turns a conventional turbine similar to those in coal-fired power plants. The technology, which is potentially cheaper than most types of renewable power, has captivated many engineers and financiers in the last two years, with an abrupt surge in new patents and plans for large power operations in Europe and the United States.

This year may be China's turn. China is starting to build its own concentrating solar energy plants, a technology more associated with California deserts than China's countryside. And Chinese manufacturers are starting to think about exports, part of China's effort to become the world's main provider of alternative energy power equipment. Yet concentrating solar energy still faces formidable obstacles here, including government officials who are skeptical that the technology will be useful on a large scale in China.

Much of the country is cloudy or smoggy. Water is scarce. The sunniest places left for solar energy are deserts deep in the interior, far from the energy-hungry coastal provinces that consume most of China's electricity. Provinces deep in the interior have few skilled workers or engineers to maintain the automated gear that keeps mirrors focused on towers that transfer the heat from sunbeams into fluids. Concentrating solar energy "is not very suitable for China," wrote Li Junfeng, a senior government energy policy maker, in a detailed e-mail reply to questions this week. Yet the private sector in China is racing to embrace the technology anyway.

A California solar technology company and a Chinese power equipment manufacturer plan to sign a deal on Saturday for the construction of up to 2,000 MWs of power plants using concentrating solar energy over the next decade, executives from both companies said this week. That is equivalent to the output of a couple of nuclear energy plants. They will start with a 92-MW plant in Yulin, a town in a semi-desert area of Shaanxi Province in central China.

The Chinese equipment manufacturer, Penglai Electric, hopes to work with other Chinese manufacturers to drive production costs down precipitously, clearing the way for exports, although these would require further approval from the California licensor of the technology, eSolar. Eric Wang, the senior vice president for international business development at Penglai Electric, said that manufacturing mirrors, turbines, towers and other equipment in China instead of the United States could cut costs by at least half. That could make concentrating solar energy more competitive with other forms of power generation around the world.

China's Ministry of Science, the Beijing municipal government and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are already building Asia's first concentrating solar energy plant on the outskirts of Beijing, although it is only a pilot operation to generate 1.5 MWs. Preparations are also under way for the construction of a 50-MW concentrating solar energy plant in Gansu Province in northwestern China, said Min Deqing, a renewable energy consultant in Lanzhou, the provincial capital of Gansu.

But while nuclear energy, wind energy and photovoltaic solar panels have strong backing from China's political leaders and enormous financing by government-owned banks, concentrating solar energy still faces deep-rooted skepticism in senior ranks of the government. Unlike in the United States, the roots of that skepticism do not lie in concerns about disrupting the habitat of rare species in sunny, desert areas - a worry that may block some attempts to build concentrating solar energy plants in the Mojave Desert.

Mr. Li wrote that concentrating solar energy works best when cheap water, cheap land and lots of sun are available in the same place - a rare combination in China. Mr. Li also expressed concern that concentrating solar energy would prove more expensive per kW-hour generated than photovoltaic solar energy, a technology in which China is already the world's low-cost supplier.

Mr. Li has a lot of influence on these issues. He is a deputy director general for energy research at the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning agency in China. And he is the secretary general of the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, which helps oversee these industries' operations in China. But Mr. Li did say that he saw a limited role for concentrating solar energy, particularly in places where it could be combined with other power plants, or where it could be combined with a way to store power overnight. Penglai and eSolar hope to do both.

Water consumption, mainly to condense the steam after it has been used to generate electricity, is another potential weakness of the technology. Water tends to be scarce in deserts, of course. Penglai and eSolar are leaning toward air cooling instead of water cooling, at the price of cutting the efficiency of their plant. Mr. Gross said the eSolar technology could also be used to create extra heat during the day, with the heat being stored and used to generate power at night - a form of the electricity storage sought by Mr. Li.

Despite the government's skepticism, renewable energy investors remain enthusiastic about the potential for concentrating solar energy projects in China. K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a renewable energy investment fund in Beijing, said that he had been looking at such deals in recent months after concluding that the valuations for photovoltaic solar projects were unreasonably high, possibly because that technology had such strong government backing.

Mr. Min in Lanzhou said that while there was little data yet on the cost of concentrating solar energy, the price tag was likely to fall in China. "Eventually, when 100% domestically produced mirrors are used," he said, "the cost will be lower than solar panel power plants."

Carnegie ready to deliver
January 09, 2010

Carnegie Wave Energy is on track to begin generating electricity next year, the listed ocean energy developer said yesterday after revealing it had received the first tranche of a grant from the Western Australian Government. In November, the company was overlooked, along with three other Australian ocean energy companies, for Federal Government grants in favour of an American developer, Ocean Power Technologies.

At the time energy analysts criticised the choice given that a foreign-owned company would be receiving Australian taxpayers' money and it had partnered with Leighton Holdings Contractors, which was not acknowledged as an experienced deep sea energy engineering company.

But Carnegie chief executive Michael Ottaviano told BusinessDaily yesterday that while he was disappointed at having missed out on the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program, he wished OPT well. "I sincerely hope this US company delivers because it is important for the sector as a whole to prove ocean technologies are viable for creating electricity," Mr Ottaviano said.

In 2002, OPT abandoned an installation at Portland when part of the structure snapped as it was being assembled. The $66.5 million that OPT will receive in federal funds will also go to a project in Portland. Carnegie's state government grant is worth $12.5 million and the company has a pilot plant operating off Fremantle. It has already begun drilling the moorings for its new 5MW plant near Perth, west of Garden Island, which will use the unique CETO technology.

CETO differs from other ocean energy systems by being anchored out of sight and using submerged buoys attached to pumps to drive water under high pressure through a pipe to shore where it powers a turbine. "By the time OPT get their plant up and running, we will have delivered Garden Island and moved on to other parts of the world," Mr Ottaviano said.

"We will continue to look at sites in Australia, but the reality is power prices here are too low to support a large project." He said that in Europe, it was easier to find backers for ocean projects because electricity tariffs were greater. "We have been working with one of the world's largest energy companies, EDF, in countries where power prices are so high we won't need a grant." Last month, Carnegie announced a licensing deal with French giant EDF Energies Nouvelles.

Clean Tech Investment Plummets 33% in 2009
January 7, 2010

Venture capital investments in green technology companies declined by 33% from $8.5 billion in 2008 to $5.6 billion in 2009, despite a flurry of government subsidies for renewable energy, according to a preliminary report by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte, reports the New York Times' Green Inc, blog. However, the overall amount of venture capital was much worse, retreating to 2003 levels, according to the report, compared to clean technology investments that were on track to match 2007 levels, reports the Green Inc, blog.

Wind energy, which was the sector most heavily invested in by U.S, utilities in 2008, continued to be a significant investment sector for utilities in 2009, followed by investments in solar thermal and PV, according to the report. In addition to utilities, the report finds that among Fortune Global 500 companies, energy and consumer and industrial products companies made significant investments in the cleantech sector

The biggest investment sector was solar, which accounted for 21% of total clean technology investments, followed by transportation at 20% and energy efficiency at 18%, according to the report. However, solar investment in 2009 was down 64% from 2008, while investment in transportation and energy efficiency reached record levels in 2009, according to Cleantech.

The report also indicates that deals in the clean tech sector declined slightly to 557 in 2009, compared to 567 deals in 2008. The survey also finds that there were an estimated 505 clean technology mergers and acquisition transactions last year, totaling $31.8 billion, reports Reuters, compared to 394 transactions in 2008, but at a higher transaction value of $32.7 billion. The survey also ranked the top six most active green venture investors in 2009, ranking Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, SAIL Venture Partners and RockPort Capital Partners, as the top three leaders, reports Reuters.

The report also finds that North America's share of worldwide venture capital funding fell to 62% in 2009 from 72% in 2008, reports the Green Inc, blog. China's share of venture investing in clean technologies remained stable at $331 million, while North American venture funding fell by 42% to $3.5 billion, reports the Green Inc, blog.

The three leading states for investments are California ($2.1 billion invested in 116 deals), followed by Massachusetts ($356 million invested in 27 deals), and Texas ($170 million invested in 19 deals), according to the report. A recent report from Guardian and Cleantech Group shows that the U.S, accounts for 55 companies in Global Cleantech 100 Ranking.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Australians deliver green stuff Stateside - Solar start-ups are heading to the US to find investors

The Age
Saturday 9/1/2010 Page: 16

THREE years ago Danny Kennedy was a campaigner for Greenpeace in Sydney. Now he's one of the founders of a California start-up, Sungevity, putting solar panels on the roofs of houses in northern California. Co-founded with former BP Solar executive Andrew Birch with "angel funding" from fancily and friends, including actress Cate Blanchett, the company has devised an innovative online program using satellite images to enable customers to get a quote on a solar system without the need for a site visit.

The online connection, says Kennedy, means a 10% saving on their competitors' costs. The software was developed by an Australian company based in Sydney, and even though Australia has plenty of sunshine, Kennedy says that California was the logical place to start the business. And he is not the only Australian entrepreneur to have taken ideas overseas to develop them - raising questions about whether Australia is about to see another brain drain as the US switches on sooner to the idea of a green economy.

On the same flight out of Australia with Kennedy was David Mills, who had until then spent most of his working life at the Sydney University developing solar technologies. Ausra, the US company now developing Dr Mills' large-scale thermal-solar technology, is one of the big hopes of the California clean-tech industry.

His solar-tube technology can create steam from the sun's rays that can be used to drive conventional turbines. Its advantage is that it can generate between 1.3 and three tines as much power per acre than any other thermal technology, and this has convinced two of the biggest names in clean-tech venture capital - Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer and Vinod Khosla, the man behind Sun Microsystems - to invest.

Also working in California is Saul Griffith, an Australian who did his PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His company, Makani, has seed funding from Google, and is working on high-altitude wind turbines that use balloons, helicopter-like vehicles or wings to hover at up to 1800 metres where the wind is more consistent, feeding electricity to a grid. 'That type of funding is hard to get in Australia," says Griffith. "While Australia is a nation of gamblers, they don't tend to place bets on new businesses and inventions." As a result, he says, Australian inventors then end up having to sell their ideas at a reduced price.

He also has harsh words for the Australian Government, which he says has devised an eviscerated emissions trading scheme that will work against Australia developing a cleantech industry. "Absolutely every natural advantage is ours; we just have to exploit them," he says. "Nerds don't need much money, they don't care about lifestyle, but they care about seeing their projects through." Kennedy's reasons for moving across the Pacific were many, he says. "California, though it sounds like a cliche, is a centre of technology and innovation," he says.

And venture capital is available - Sungevity has just raised $US6 million ($A6.5 million) to expand into southern California. Then there is the cost of electricity from the grid in California, which with peak tariffs is more than 40¢ a kW-hour. That makes solar competitive at about 20c a kW-hour, he says. "Australia has artificially depressed electricity rates because we don't take in the true costs of coal," he says. "Here in California they do."

So far Sungevity has installed 300 systems costing up to $US24,000 each. But it has big plans. Sungevity sees itself becoming the Netflix, or Amazon of the solar energy industry, using its online interface to keep costs down. Paul Fox is another Australian working in the venture-capital industry in a clean-tech angel fund, California Clean Energy Fund, or Ca1CER He says the Aussie brain drain is going to be hard to avoid. "You have to have a big market to sell to attract the sort of risk capital required," he says.

Germany Backs Land Use for Solar Power as Subsidy Talks Start
January 6, 2010

Germany's Environment Ministry sees no conflict between solar energy and land use for agriculture, spokesman Juergen Maass said, rejecting calls by a party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition to protect farmland. The proposal by the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union is stoking conflict within Merkel's three-party government over energy policy. CSU leaders are also calling for steeper cuts in subsidies for solar energy than foreseen under current law.

"We don't see any competition right now between farmland and land use" for solar panels, Maass told a regular government news briefing in Berlin today. Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen is from Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union. Talks on a "reform of subsidies" for solar energy in Germany "are starting now," Maass said, without giving details on the participants. "Give it a bit more time."

Experts split on significance of China’s new green energy law
08 January 2010

Renewable energy specialists in China have questioned the significance of a recent amendment to the country's 2006 Renewable Energy Law, saying it will have little, if any, effect on renewable energy companies on the ground. However, others contend that the amendment provides an important framework to help address several issues plaguing the fast-growing sector, and sets the stage for a long-awaited stimulus policy and funding package.

A senior official quoted by state news agency Xinhua on 28 December trumpeted the amendment, passed by China's highest legislative body 26 December, as a contribution to the "global fight against climate change". The Xinhua story emphasised that the amendment requires state-owned grid companies to purchase power from renewable energy producers, but failed to mention that the original 2006 law required the same thing. "I think it's an excellent publicity stunt," said Peter Corne, a Shanghai-based managing director at global law firm Eversheds. "It reminds me of some pop icons that get a second hit years later with the same song."

But Corne added that, beyond PR value, the amendment does contain some substantive changes meant to correct imbalances that have emerged in China's rapidly growing renewables sector. These include inadequacies of the power grid, whereas much as a third of China's 20GW of wind turbines spin unconnected to transmission lines, and the failure of some grid companies to purchase renewable power or provide grid connection as required by the original law. "The main message of this new amendment is that the government is more serious in addressing the problems facing the expansion of renewables," he said.

The amendment, first reviewed last August (see Environmental Finance, September 2009, page 12), is intended to bolster central government oversight, regulation and enforcement of the proportion of renewable energy produced and purchased. Ma Lingjuan, deputy general manager of Beijing-based China Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA), said the amendment links renewable energy purchasing targets for grid companies, which already exist in disparate regulations, with fines mentioned in the original law. Those fines have been doubled and subsidies offered to further incentivise compliance.

The amendment also requires grid companies to expand the range of power grids to better transmit electricity from solar and wind resource-rich regions in the northwest to the industrial east coast. Xinhua also touted the amendment's mention of the importance of 'smart grids' in facilitating a larger role for renewables in China's energy structure – quoting a researcher at China's foremost research institute as saying smart grids and renewables should be like "twin brothers".

However, Charles Yonts, Hong-Kong based head solar analyst with brokerage, analysis and advisory services firm CLSA, said that, behind the rhetoric, there is little substance: "They talk about the smart grid, but there's little concrete there. I think, if anything, the amendment is a shot across the bow of the grid companies, a little push to remind them that the law [requiring off-take] is there."

But Changhua Wu, Beijing-based head of Greater China for the Climate Group, an NGO, said that Chinese laws at this level are often vague, offering only a framework to be fleshed out with future regulations. Wu added that a long-awaited policy and funding package, known previously as Beijing's Green Stimulus Package, would be released soon.

"This amendment sets the foundation for the New Energy Development Plan – which is focused much more on the size of the market and investments." said Wu. "But if you don't address the barriers to growth – the infrastructure of the sector – as this amendment does, it doesn't matter how much power you make."

Originally expected as early as last May, the New Energy Development Plan, which Wu said would include plans for nuclear energy, is reported to include amended capacity targets for renewable sectors. "The major content of the plan is to review the targets for renewables – wind, solar, hydro. The exact numbers we don't know, but it's clear that the targets will be increased," added CREIA's Ma.

Backing for wind turbines

Hobart Mercury
Friday 8/1/2010 Page: 11

THE first wind turbine application for the City of Clarence which is for a doctors' medical centre being built at Lindisfarne, has been recommended for approval by planners - despite some opposition from businesses and residents. The development application for five vertical wind turbines on towers ranging in total height from 14.5 m to 15.5m will be considered by aldermen at Clarence City Council's meeting on Monday.

The proposal has generated strong debate in the community and received 20 public representations and also a petition bearing 194 signatures. Two other wind turbine applications in the City of Hobart were recently approved at appeal before the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal - for the Marine Board Building and the ANZ Centre. In Clarence, the wind turbines, combined with solar energy panels, are planned to meet the energy requirements of the medical centre. The proposed turbines would be cylindrical. 5.2m high, and be mounted on supporting poles.

Council officers reported the noise level would be barely discernible and well below background levels. However, to ensure this, they are proposing a condition that noise levels from the turbines must not exceed five decibels above background noise. They said the turbines differed significantly from standard horizontal blade turbines. They resembled a hollow, five-bladed cylinder - as opposed to an oversized propeller.

Objections included one saying the project would leave Lindisfarne with five large imposing "utterly useless" structures. Another said the wind turbines would be a blot on the landscape. However, staff responded by saying a 15m high building would be allowed in the commercial zone and would have significantly greater impact upon amenity. One other complainant said turbines were not proven in a suburban area. That objector said it was not for the council to determine whether wind turbines would work in such a setting.

Hydro blasted as `monopoly'

Hobart Mercury
Friday 8/1/2010 Page: 5

POWER prices will rise, industry will leave the state and renewable energy research will stall if Hydro Tasmania retains its monopoly an independent report has warned. The report by Tasmanian Energy Regulator Glen Appleyard comes amid revelations that Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigators have combed Hydro's Hobart offices.

The ACCC's probe into whether there have been breaches of the Trade Practices Act has also involved its officers monitoring every power price transaction conducted by Hydro. Mr Appleyard says:
  • Hydro is misusing its market power.
  • Is extracting monopoly rents and is anti-competitive.
  • Ultimately this would threaten hundreds of Tasmanian jobs and drive up power prices.

The investigation by Mr Appleyard centres on a decision by Hydro to raise its prices when its major Tasmanian generation competitor, the power retailer Aurora Energy, commissioned its Tamar Valley gas-fired power station last April. In response Hydro increased its charges to access the power grid from $32,000 to $10 million. Mr Appleyard slammed the decision, which cost Aurora Energy $8.5 million and resulted in the electricity retailer having to lift its power prices, costing Tasmanian households who have already endured a 30% spike in electricity costs in the past two years.

"If Hydro Tasmania's pricing deters new generators from entering the market, then the future security of supply in Tasmania may also be affected, which is not in the public interest," Mr Appleyard says in his report. "A renewable energy generator in Tasmania may be forced to abandon plans to expand its operations if Hydro continues to act anti-competitively." Mr Appleyard also warns that Rio Tinto's smelter operations in Tasmania may not be viable if a secure electricity supply at a competitive price and quality cannot be found.

Hydro communications manager Ian Colvin said the state owned company stood by its actions, did not accept Mr Appleyard's views and was shocked by the findings. "We also strongly reject the assertions that we have extracted monopoly rents and that our behaviour has, in any way, been anti-competitive," Mr Colvin said. "Hydro Tasmania is reviewing the regulator's statement of reasons to understand why the decision has been made and any basis for an appeal.

"We are concerned that the decision, if implemented, may have adverse implications for the effectiveness of the National Electricity Market Management Company in Tasmania." Liberal energy spokesman Peter Gutwein has slammed Hydro's action and has demanded a please-explain from Energy Minister David Llewellyn. Aurora Energy chief executive Peter Davis was reluctant to weigh into the feud but has said the decision had cost the company millions. Mr Llewellyn criticised Mr Gutwein's comments. "Both Hydro Tasmania and Aurora Energy are managed by independent boards and expert managers," he said.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Nippon signs up for Gorgon gas

The Australian
Friday 8/1/2010 Page: 16

Nippon Oil, Japan's biggest refiner, has signed an initial agreement to buy liquefied natural gas from Chevron and may spend about V50 billion ($585 million) to build an import terminal. The Tokyo-based refiner says it plans to purchase about 300,000 metric tons of LNG annually, starting in 2015, from the Chevron-led Gorgon project. Fuel from the $43bn project is to be delivered to the planned terminal in Aomori, northern Japan, which will have two 140,000-kilolitre tanks.

The supply accord highlights Nippon Oil's efforts to diversify from its conventional refining business. Demand for diesel and other fuels has fallen as customers, especially industrial users, have switched to cleaner burning gas. Japan, the world's fourth largest energy user, has pledged to slash emissions of greenhouse gases by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020. "If there's enough demand in northern Japan, we can import an additional300,000 tons, or thereabouts," gas business department general manager Masami Hayashi said in Tokyo. "Gas demand in northern Japan is strong and we'll make the terminal a hub to supply the area."

Nippon Oil has yet to consider a source for the additional LNG, Mr Hayashi said. Chevron Asia-Pacific exploration and production president Jim BlackWell said: "We look forward to supplying Nippon Oil with LNG from the Gorgon project for many years." Construction of the Gorgon project has begun, with the first gas slated for 2014. Chevron, the operator of the project with an interest of about 47%, last month signed an off take agreement with Japan's Chubu Electric for 1.44 million tonnes of LNG from the project annually for 25 years.

Other deals have been sealed with Osaka Gas, Tokyo Gas and GS Caltex, while an initial agreement has been signed to sell LNG from the project to Korea Gas Corporation. The initial project development will involve a three processing train, 15 million tonne per annum LNG facility and a domestic gas plant. Gorgon is believed to hold 40 trillion cubic feet of LNG, 25% of Australia's known gas reserves.

Nippon Oil was planning to construct a smaller LNG terminal in Kushiro, Hokkaido, the most northern island of Japan's four main Islands, Mr Hayashi said. Details including the building schedule and investment had not been determined, he said. The Kushiro terminal, which Nippon Oil planned to build with Hokkaido Gas, would receive smaller LNG shipments, Mr Hayashi said.

ACCC has win on green certificates

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Thursday 7/1/2010 Page: 7

A court has ruled that environmental group Green Global Plan, who counts Elisabeth Murdoch as patron, will have to purchase more than 4000 renewable energy certificates, which it failed to buy for customers between 2007 and 2008. The organisation retailed green power through its program GreenSwitch, letting customers to purchase power from green energy sources to offset carbon emissions.

GreenSwitch did use all the money it accepted to purchase renewable energy certificates, and two after the programs was deregistered it continued to accept money. Green Global Plans has admitted it breached the Trade Practices Act, acting chairman, Michael Schaper from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said the breach was 'simply unacceptable.' The court has also direct the company directors Donald and Henry Hewett to write to GreenSwitch customers explaining the breach.

The ACCC announced on Tuesday that its had taken legal action against carbon trader Prime Carbon in the Federal Court for making misleading representations about the National Environment Registry and the National Stock Exchange of Australia. The regulator last year took GM Holden to court over its ads for Saab cars which claimed that the company had planted enough trees to offset greenhouse emissions for the life of the car.

Power firm misused green funds - Retailer faces $80,000 demand

Thursday 7/1/2010 Page: 6

A FORMER GreenPower retailer has been caught by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for receiving money from people who thought they were investing in renewable energy and spending it on other things. Global Green Plan Ltd, using the name GreenSwitch, was deregistered from the national GreenPower program in September 2008 for failing to buy enough renewable energy certificates, but it continued to trade through its website until November.

The company will have to buy more than 4000 renewable energy certificates, at a cost likely to be more than $80,000, to make up the shortfall. "The ACCC investigated the GreenSwitch activities and found the numbers didn't match up," the acting chairman of the ACCC, Michael Schaper, said in a statement. "To take money from customers and not use it as it was intended is simply unacceptable."

GreenSwitch could not be contacted yesterday, but a statement on the company's website read: "GreenSwitch is no longer accredited to sell GreenPower renewable energy We apologise for any inconvenience. Green-Switch is examining other options in the field of carbon credits." The company's directors have agreed to write to customers and explain the situation, the ACCC said.

The GreenPower program, which has more than a million customers around Australia, encourages households and businesses to pay extra on their energy bills to support investment in solar, wind and other forms of renewable power. It creates renewable energy certificates equivalent to one MW hour of renewable energy.

But the program has been questioned by the ACCC, which wrote to the NSW Department of Water and Energy in August asking that it no longer say the scheme would "make a real difference" to the environment. As a result of discussions with the consumer watchdog, the department changed the wording on its website and wrote to energy companies asking that the phrase "significant results for our environment" be replaced with "renewable energy for our future".

The doubts arose because the Federal Government's proposed emissions trading scheme sets a ceiling and floor on greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that voluntary actions to reduce carbon emissions could be seen as simply creating more space under the emissions cap for companies to pollute.

The Government maintains that this interpretation of the system is wrong, and voluntary efforts, such as buying GreenPower, would be included in targets for emissions cuts from the start of this year. The Government's target range for carbon cuts by 2020 took voluntary cuts into account, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has said.

The ACCC's GreenSwitch announcement came a day after it said it would take court action against carbon trading company Prime Carbon, saying it allegedly made misleading representations about the National Environment Registry and the stock exchange. The ACCC said the company had misled farmers and landholders into believing they could generate carbon credits by capturing more greenhouse gases in soil and vegetation. A directions hearing is set down for February 23 at the Federal Court in Brisbane.