Friday 26 February 2010

Popular will finds another way out

Thursday 25/2/2010 Page: 3

EARLIER this month, the first Australian order for wind turbines for 2010 was made. It was also the first in three months and just the second since the bottom fell out of the market for renewable energy market in October.

The order was for just two wind turbines, with a capacity of 4 MWs and a likely cost of $10 million. It was made not by a commercial windfarm developer, but by a 1100-strong community group in Victoria's Hepburn Springs, who have decided to chip in anything from a few hundred dollars each to make their shire carbon neutral, at least on the energy front.

The previous order came in November, when Infigen Energy put in a request for 20 turbines. Before that was a 37-turbine order from another windfarm developer Roaring 40s the last order before the crash in renewable energy certificates (RECs). To put this into a broader global context, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, the world wind turbine market was valued at $US63 billion in 2009.

While Australia completed the installation of 406MW during the year much of it to meet mandated offsets from desalination plants, some 10,000MW was installed in the US (with 4011MW coming in the last quarter alone), and 37,000MW of capacity was installed worldwide. All that is history. What is particularly troubling supporters of a clean energy industry in Australia is that, for the moment, the outlook looks even worse.

The development of wind and any other renewable resource has been stalled by problems surrounding the government's Renewable Energy Target (RET). Wind developers simply can't get the financing or the power purchase agreements they need to fund projects. Some biomass projects are under threat because of the fall in the price of RECS. The outlook is certain in other technologies.

Geothermal industry is going through the painstakingly slow and expensive process of deep drilling, while other technologies such as large-scale solar and marine energy do not benefit from same incentives enjoyed in Europe and elsewhere, and only a handful of projects have been chosen to receive direct assistance. Many of these will not see the light of day until 2014, and, like the wind industry, have little opportunity to establish a local supply chain that could support manufacturing and jobs any time soon.

Some renewable energy developers, such as Pacific Hydro, predict it will be another three to four years before any major development gets financing approval, unless the problems with the RET can be resolved. The only projects that are going ahead are those mandated to support and offset the energy use of state government-built desalination plants. The problem is what to do about it. Here, the renewable energy industry does not speak with one voice.

There is disagreement among the different technologies and energy associations about whether "banding" of the RET essentially reserving a given percentage of the RET to a particular energy source or having multipliers is a good idea or not. The government is focusing its review on the inclusion of heat pumps and solar hot water systems, as well as coal mine waste methane. There is no doubt that RECs credited to heat pumps and solar hot water have flooded the market. Some say this is absurd, as they don't generate energy. Others respond that their use means less energy from elsewhere is used.

The geothermal industry, which wants a strong REC price to support development of direct energy sources, but also sees strong opportunities in the use of geothermal heat for air conditioning and manufacturing processes, finds itself delicately poised on the issue. Many still argue that the best incentives are those that provide some certainty such as tax incentives or loan guarantees. Instead of a sometimes hidden selection process, the market can decide which technology it likes best. So if large-scale commercial developments struggle for approval, perhaps community ownership is part of the answer as it has been in other countries.

Simon Holmes a Court, who chaired the Hepburn project, has established a group called Embark that would like to facilitate up to 100 similar projects. "While many communities are still considering their response to climate change, the residents of Hepburn Shire Council can be extremely proud of the local efforts to generate clean power for Daylesford and many of the surrounding towns," Holmes a Court says.

He says community models could be used with other energy systems as befits the local conditions, be it wind, biomass or solar. There is clearly evidence that rural communities are becoming more engaged in the issue. Groups in NSW and South Australia are looking to become wind developers in their own right, while others are pushing their case to host the installation of large-scale solar energy facilities.

Chevron subsidiary to build solar plant at New Mexico tailings site
February 23, 2010

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A subsidiary of oil giant Chevron Corp, plans to build what New Mexico officials say will be the largest solar energy plant in the nation that uses lenses to focus sunlight onto solar cells. Chevron Mining Inc, and Gov. Bill Richardson announced the concentrating photovoltaic demonstration project Tuesday in Santa Fe. The 1-MW plant will be built on 20 acres of the company's molybdenum mine near Questa (kWES'-tah) in northern New Mexico and produce enough electricity to power the roughly 350 homes in the village. Unlike a concentrating solar thermal plant, it will use lenses to focus sunlight onto solar cells. Chevron officials say the technology is up to two times more efficient than traditional solar panels and uses less photovoltaic material.

Germany to trim solar power subsidies on July 1
February 23, 2010

Germany is planning a deep cut into solar energy subsidies this summer in a move aimed at lowering consumer costs, the governing coalition parties said Tuesday. The price paid for electricity from solar panels on roofs will be cut by 16% and that from larger solar energy stations by 15% starting July 1, Hans-Peter Friedrich of the governing CSU said. Currently, the power grid owners are forced by law to buy solar energy at 39 euro cents (53 U.S, cents) per kW hour, while the market price is only about 5 euro cents per kW hour. They are allowed to pass the difference on to consumers.

The prices were already cut by 9% at the beginning of the year. The new cut is meant to bring down the subsidy's cost for consumers by euro1 billion a year, according to Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen. The solar industry protested against the plans, saying yet another decrease would drive companies into bankruptcy and cost thousands of jobs. The decision puts the survival of the whole industry at risk, the German solar energy federation BSW said on Tuesday.

Plans to further trim solar subsidies were first presented by Roettgen in January. Initially, he had planned to make the cuts effective three months earlier, by April 1. Germany has been heavily subsidizing solar energy and other renewable energies since 2000, prompting an industry boom. The production of photovoltaic energy rose from 32 million kW hours in 2000 to 4.4 billion kW hours in 2008, according to industry reports. Solar subsidies rose from almost nothing to euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) in 2007.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Can wind farms make people sick?
Tuesday 23/2/2010 Page: 1

Last week Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett were confronted at a Ballarat meeting by angry residents living nearby the Waubra windfarm, 35 kilometres north-west of Ballarat, run by Acciona Energy. ABC AM's report included the following.

Belinda Wheel: Mr Rudd, residents are suffering from sleep deprivation, ah, health problems due to wind turbines sited too close to home.
Berni Jannsen: Within weeks of the last ones being turned on I started getting headaches, started getting heart palpitations.
Donald Thomas: Mostly ear pressure, headaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure.
Samantha Hawley (reporter): Donald Thomas lives about three kilometres from the wind farm.
Donald Thomas: Before the wind mill started operating there was none of this.
Samantha Hawley: Last week the company bought a property from one of its most vocal critics who is now subject to a confidentiality agreement.

With often clanking windmills having been around for 5000 years, what are we to make of such claims, particularly since the affected residents were reported as living three kilometres away from the windfarm? Are they calculated displays from a few people seeking to cash in on hopes of land sales or compensation? Do they reflect genuine health effects actually caused by the noise from the windfarm? Or are they equally genuine health effects caused by residents' anxiety about the towers?

The noise generated by modern wind turbines at distances between 300-600 metres is generally within 40 to 50 decibels, the equivalent to the sound of light traffic at 16 metres or the sound in a normal living room with ordinary conversation. So at three kilometres, the turbines would be virtually inaudible. Suggestions that the reported health problems are due to "low frequency" noise or "changes in air pressure" have been made.

A large review of the scientific evidence, commissioned by the American and Canadian wind energy associations, AWEA and CanWEA, It concludes - Following review, analysis, and discussion of current knowledge, the panel reached consensus on the following conclusions:
  • There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
  • The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.
  • The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique.

There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds and the panel's experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences. The authors discuss the likelihood that the "nocebo" effect comes into play with community concerns about adverse effects producing a worsening of mental or physical health, based on fear or belief in the likelihood of adverse effects.

We're not alone on climate

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 24/2/2010 Page: 63

A PERCEPTION that Australia is trying to "go it alone" on greenhouse gas abatement is untrue and counterproductive, the country's climate change ambassador believes. Louise Hand, speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Adelaide yesterday, said more than 30 countries already had an emissions trading scheme in place, and 69 countries, as part of the Copenhagen Accord, had submitted targets for greenhouse gas reductions by 2020. Ms Hand said she disagreed with the notion that last year's Copenhagen climate change summit was a failure because it did not end with a binding agreement on greenhouse gas reductions.

She said the ability to reach consensus was always going to be difficult, and was stymied in part by the emergence of a group dubbed "the basics" - India. China. Brazil and South Africa - which included some of the world's largest emitters, as well as the inherent difficulty in reaching consensus with so many countries involved "Their primary objective was to absolutely resist every effort on the part of the rest of the world, to have them sign up to.., legitimate emissions reductions, that the rest of the world could have some scrutiny over," she said. Under the circumstances, the accord, which was hammered out by 28 world leaders, was a significant achievement.

Its agreements include:
  • Consensus that global temperatures cannot be allowed to increase by more than 2C.
  • The setting up of a fund which initially will contribute up to $US30 billion over three years to developing countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
  • A mechanism to combat deforestation be set up.

Ms Hand said that so far 103 countries had expressed support for the accord and this accounted for 80% of global emissions, with 69 countries so far submitting their 2020 targets. "It's not perfect, it's not entirely legally binding.., but it's well and truly the first step," she said. She took a shot at climate change sceptics, saying: "We can't delude ourselves that the sceptics are on the right side of history, because they're not, and the weight of science.., is against that."

SA Renewable Energy Commissioner Tim O'Loughlin said while the UN seemed to be competent at on-the-ground action, it was not so good at addressing policy issues such as climate change and world trade.

Foreign developers shut out of China’s offshore wind boom
19 February 2010

China has opened the door to domestic wind energy companies to begin developing the country's offshore resources – but has effectively shut it on international operators – with the release of regulations governing approval and ownership of offshore wind projects. China has repeatedly dashed past its targets in installing onshore wind energy capacity, and is expected to have the second-most installed capacity in the world by 2011. But its offshore resources, with estimated potential of between 100 and 200 GW (assuming 10-20% coastline utilisation), have yet to be exploited.

Planning for the first round of concession bidding began in early February, with national targets likely sometime this year. But Liming Qiao, policy director at the Global Wind Energy Council, said the offshore regulation, announced last week, will prevent overseas firms from being involved: "The regulation rules out foreign developers in the offshore business. This is a bit shocking, as we all know that for the onshore development the government didn't explicitly exclude international developers."

In effect, however, there has been relatively little international participation in the onshore wind sector due to policy barriers such as low tariff levels and a regulation requiring majority Chinese ownership to qualify for revenue from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the UN-administered system for rewarding projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions with carbon credits. Consequently, the majority of China's 25 GW of installed onshore capacity has been developed by the 'big five' state-owned utilities.

The new offshore regulation does not overtly prohibit foreign involvement in project development. But it does require foreign companies to enter into a Chinese-controlled joint venture and it limits equity ownership to less than 50%. "In reality, most of the international developers cannot, or are not willing to, do a joint venture with [a] Chinese partner," Qiao said.

The Chinese press, quoting a National Energy Administration official, reported that the requirement was put in place to prevent sensitive oceanic and ocean current data leaking to the outside world. International equipment providers, however, will see new opportunities along China's coastline. With proven products already installed in Europe, wind turbine manufacturers such as Vestas and Siemens will have a technical head start in the new market.

Meanwhile, Chinese turbine companies, who have taken over the top three spots in domestic market share from internationals over the past two years, may not be far behind. Sinovel has a small number of 3 MW turbines off the coast near Shanghai, and market-leading Goldwind plans to start volume production of a 5MW offshore machine in the second half of this year.

Development of the offshore sector will likely take off quickly, as power grid deficiencies, which have resulted in more than 20% of installed onshore capacity remaining thus far unconnected, will not be a factor along China's industrial east coast. The big five utilities are already in talks with provincial authorities to secure prime locations, and Qiao said that since the offshore sector is effectively new, CDM registration at the UN, where a number of onshore projects have been controversially rejected in recent months, should not be an issue.

International investors have been keen on the booming but inaccessible Chinese wind sector for some time, and jumped on the chance to take a position in the industry via China Longyuan's Hong Kong initial public offering last December.

California solar project gets $1.4 bln US guarantee - BrightSource loan guarantee to help build 3 solar plants
Feb 22, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The United States on Monday gave its biggest backing yet to a renewable energy project, guaranteeing $1.37 billion in loans for a California development by BrightSource Energy Inc that uses the sun's heat to power a steam turbine. BrightSource Energy's proposed solar thermal plants are expected to generate about 400 MWs of electricity and power about 140,000 California homes, giving it the heft to compete with plants fueled by coal and natural gas.

President Barack Obama's administration has touted green energy investments as a way to create jobs and increase international economic competitiveness. "We're not going to sit on the sidelines while other countries capture the jobs of the future - - we're committed to becoming the global leader in the clean energy economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. The sector has seen projects being launched and agreements being signed with utilities, who count on solar thermal to meet California clean energy goals, but construction has yet to start on a large scale for the solar thermal industry.

Financing of projects has been a big challenge with the tightening of the credit markets as capital requirements of these green energy companies are very large. solar thermal technology is different from its better-known rival, rooftop photovoltaic. solar thermal companies like BrightSource Energy and rivals Abengoa Solar, eSolar Inc have technology that uses the sun's rays, reflected by thousands of small mirrors, to heat liquids to create steam in turbines and generate electricity.

The conditional loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy, the largest federal loan commitment offered to a renewable energy firm, would help BrightSource Energy build three utility-scale solar thermal plants for its Ivanpah project, which will be located on federally-owned land in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. "It's a good beginning for the industry," BrightSource Energy CEO John Woolard said in an interview. "It really allows Ivanpah to be the first (solar thermal) project to be constructed in almost 20 years now" in California.

California, and other parts of the world, are betting heavily on solar thermal. About a quarter of the clean energy contracts approved in 2009 in California by capacity was solar thermal, according to the Public Utilities Commission. Construction on the first Ivanpah plant is expected to begin during the second half of this year, with commercial operations beginning in 2012. All three plants are expected be on line by 2014.

The loan guarantee is conditioned on BrightSource Energy meeting financial and environmental requirements, including local, state and federal regulatory approvals. BrightSource Energy has run into trouble from environmental groups who are concerned that the construction would harm desert plants and wildlife, including the desert tortoise. The company earlier this month agreed to reduce the footprint for the Ivanpah project to minimize the environmental impact.

To Raise Equity Financing
The company, which counts search giant Google and Silicon Valley fund VantagePoint Venture Partners among its investors, already has contracts to deliver more than 2,600 MWs of power to California utilities PGE Corp and Edison International's Southern California Edison. PGE will purchase approximately two-thirds of the power generated at Ivanpah and SCE will purchase approximately one-third.

Woolard said that the key value of federal loan guarantees is that it helps strong renewable energy projects get financed, especially since the credit markets have yet to reach normal levels of activity. It "replaces or helps shore up that component," he said. Woolard did not reveal the total funding needed for the project but said the company would be raising equity financing from sources such as private investors, energy companies and investment funds.

"There is an equity commitment," Woolard said. "We will be going out to raise equity (financing) in the next four to six months. So that will be the next step in the process." The loan guarantee is the sixth such offer to renewable energy companies by the Obama administration, which has touted green energy investments as a way to create jobs and increase international economic competitiveness. Under the program, the Department of Energy issues a conditional commitment to guarantee loans to be provided by the U.S. Treasury's Federal Financing Bank.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Wavepower generator relies on low-friction bearing material
February 2010

Novel bearing and seal technologies are playing a vital role in a new UK-developed wave energy generator due to start testing off the Orkney Islands later this year. Engineers at Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power have been developing wave power devices for more than a decade and have overcome the challenge of continuous operation in the punishing marine environment. Building on their experience of producing the world's first offshore wave energy converter, the team has developed a second-generation design which is more efficient and cost-effective.

Crucial to the new design are the bearings and seals. The P2 generator consists of a series of floating, linked tubes with four hydraulic rams at each main joint pivoting on precision bearings to drive hydraulic motors coupled to electric generators. "Our biggest challenge has always been how we manage the loads and motions from such an active and constantly variable environment, whilst at the same time extracting as much power as possible," explains Mike Woods, Pelamis Wave Power' senior engineer and bearings group leader. "The working forces generated across each joint can be several hundred tonnes, which can present huge problems for the bearings as they have to take up the reactive forces coming back through the joints."

Pelamis Wave Power' first wave energy converter (P1) was a simpler design with separated hinged joints. Although this arrangement allowed useful working space between the axes, it had to carry high transferred loads and was unable to manage the combined motions needed for the P2 configuration. Also, the bearings themselves were relatively high friction, affecting efficiency. "Our engineering team had been trying to work out a way of overcoming this problem and eventually came up with the idea of bringing the axes, or joints, together," Woods continues. "However, this meant a completely new bearing solution which was able to manage combined angles in a single package."

Pelamis Wave Power turned to Schaeffler for help and support. Key to the new joint is a low-friction material developed by Schaeffler. The modified PTFE fabric liner effectively eliminates the "stick-slip" effect, allowing the machine to perform better than standard bearing materials would have done. "Now that we have been able to put all the bearings in one place, we have taken a major technological step forward," says Woods. "As well as being a much more efficient bearing mechanism, the new design is a self-contained, modular unit. It's a bit like being able to take an engine out of a car in one go; it allows us to improve our inspection procedures and reduce our exposure to technological risk."

The first P2 wave generator, ordered by E.ON, is now nearing completion. Its first 190-tonne tubes were launched in Leith Docks, near Edinburgh, last month. These will be linked to form a 180m-long wave power station capable of generating 750kW which is due to be deployed at the European Marine Energy Centre, Orkney, later this year. Pelamis Wave Power and E.ON were last month awarded £4.8m of funding from the UK government's Marine Renewable Proving Fund, which will allow them to increase the scope and pace of their trials. Pelamis Wave Power has also formed a joint venture with the Swedish utility Vattenfall with the aim of installing an array of up to 26 P2 generators off the coast of Shetland, to generate up to 20MW.

Future for oil paints an alarming picture

Hobart Mercury
Tuesday 23/2/2010 Page: 19
Opinion: Peter Boyer

IF you think I might be a teeny bit alarmist in discussing the impact on Tasmania of coming changes in the supply of mineral oil, be assured that today's column is at the conservative end of the global oil supply debate. I could cite without question the widely quoted Canadian economist Jeff Rubin, who says a serious crunch is imminent. The era of cheap oil is past, he says, and within five years the only way we will meet expected demand will be to spend a lot more money to extract oil from the ground.

Rubin is not alone among economists in believing that the real reason for the 2008 credit crisis was not a housing bubble in the US, but a doubling of the price of oil: a global energy crunch. That, he says, is just a foretaste of things to come. By the end of 2012. Rubin expects US motorists to be forking out $US7 a gallon to fuel their cars. Our globalised oil economy suggests if this happens in the US it will also happen here, which would see Tasmanians paying about $4 a litre, or $280 to fill a 70-litre fuel tank.

Rubin may be too pessimistic. He is not a petroleum specialist with detailed knowledge of oil geology, or the practicalities of how shale gas, methane or other fossil sources might fill the void left by depleted liquid oil. But as an economist, he understands the massive investment required by alternative processes and the high prices we can expect when they are on the market.

Like everyone who studies the world petroleum scene, Rubin is also hampered by the notorious secrecy of oil companies and exporting countries. We can use estimates of capacity and past performance to make educated guesses about when the world's oil reservoirs will pass their collective peak (or whether they've already passed it), but it's impossible to know for certain. Two major studies out of the UK over the past six months give a more measured assessment, while also indicating a rising concern in that country about the future of oil.

Reports by the UK Energy Research Centre and the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security each examined widely divergent scenarios, and separately concluded that we have a big problem. The Energy Research Centre report examined in detail the labyrinth that is the science, business and politics of world oil. Noting strong scepticism about "peak oil" among governments, oil companies and energy analysts, the report was careful to avoid any suggestion of alarmist thinking, supporting its cautious views with a mountain of evidence.

The ERC report found that world oil production would almost certainly peak well before 2040. A pre-2020 peak was a significant risk, which, "given the potentially serious consequences of supply constraints and the lead times to develop alternatives, should be given urgent consideration". The Industry Taskforce report released two weeks ago was more forthright. With the era of cheap oil behind us, it said, we must plan for higher, more volatile oil prices "where oil price shocks have the potential to destabilise economic, political and social activity".

The report sees the "oil crunch" coming within five years. Five years - if we have that long - is very little time to get ready for a whole new world. Think of it all our travel, from daily commuting to overseas holidays, depends on cheap oil, as does all our freight transport supplying much of the food we eat and most of the other goods in our stores. Without fuel and lubricating oil, building our roads, digging for minerals and harvesting our fields and forests will be impossible, at least in the manner to which we have become accustomed.

We should not allow ourselves to be placated by promises that alternative strategies are in place. Consider the following:
  • Electric-powered vehicles will be a massive drain on the power grid, at a scale that hydro and wind resources could never meet Currently, that leaves only Victorian coal-fired power.
  • It will be many years before power is available from other sources (largescale solar, wave, tidal power, geothermal, nuclear, biomass). Nuclear and biomass rely on transport to carry fuel, which in the case of biomass power amounts to 10,000 tonnes of forest waste per MW-hour of electricity.
  • biofuel made from plant or animal material is touted in many countries as a replacement for petrol. But such material and the land for growing it will be in increasing demand to produce food, which will always cone before fuel.
  • Public transport could be a more efficient use of fuel for carrying people, but our sprawling population centres and entrenched car use patterns lessen its effectiveness.
  • Our rail system remains in a state of suspended animation, barely able to cope with reduced freight demand, let alone an inter-city or suburban passenger service. Light rail using existing streets may serve part of this need, but not in the near-term, and not without a lot of money.

If all this is alarmist, so be it. We need a loud clamour for transport and fuel strategies. If political and business leaders can't lift their gaze to see this, the government and corporate infrastructures that support them will be at risk of joining our transport system in one great big train wreck.

New method may lead to more energy efficient solar panels
February 21, 2010

WASHINGTON: A scientist has come up with a new method to reconfigure the way solar panels are connected, which could lead to solar arrays in the future that are more energy efficient and reliable. According to Dr Jonathan Kimball, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, the conventional method of connecting solar panels is in a series, one after the other.

"But just as one bad bulb in a string of Christmas lights can black out the entire set, so can a single solar panel disrupt the flow of electrical current through the other panels in a series," Kimball said. "If one of the panels is shaded, dirty or damaged, it affects them all," Kimball said. "The conventional approach to solar arrays inherently limits the amount of power they produce if there's any variation in the panels," he said.

Rather than connecting solar panels in a series - where the electrical current must flow from one panel to get to the next - Kimball suggests parallel wiring for the panels. The parallel approach would connect each panel to its own power converter instead of sending the electrical current through a series of panels to a single converter. While Kimball's research is focused on creating a more efficient system to get the most power from solar panels, he points out that cost is still a major factor preventing many people from investing in solar technology. "Eventually, solar energy has got to become cheap enough to compete with electricity generated from other sources," he said. (ANI)

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Honda makes a big drive into solar power
February 21, 2010

Honda, the automotive giant, set the land speed record for solar energyed vehicles when it won the World Solar Challenge in 1996. Its Dream racer, an odd-looking vehicle shaped like a cuttlefish, covered 1,870 miles across the Australian outback at an average speed of 56mph. It took just under 34 hours. For dedicated petrol heads it was not the most inspiring event. The Dream was covered with 4,500 photovoltaic tiles but was, as its named implied, not a commercial vehicle. Yet the experience marked the beginning of a big industrial undertaking for the Japanese giant - how to design a better solar panel. Today, the carmaker is churning out 230,000 panels a year from its first solar plant, called Honda Soltec.

They are not for a spruced-up version of the Dream; rather, these are designed for the roofs of houses and industrial buildings. This is more logical than it may seem. solar panels comprise one part of the system that Honda hopes will be created to make a new generation of zero-emission, hydrogen-powered cars. The company is unique among carmakers in that it already has an energy business. It makes generators for the home that use a tiny engine burning natural gas to provide domestic electricity and heating. Honda's Home Energy Station, a newer prototype, would also be able to produce hydrogen, which could be used to run a fuel-cell car, such as its FCX Clarity.

Fuel-cell cars run on hydrogen, which combines with oxygen from the air to generate power. Water is the only by-product. However, large-scale production of fuel-cell cars is still many years away. Indeed, Honda doesn't expect the FCX Clarity to hit the market until 2018. Hydrogen-powered travel is likely to struggle to gain momentum because of the huge infrastructure it would require, such as hydrogen pipelines and filling stations. Yet Honda is doing its best to help the revolution along. Hence the solar business.

Soltec's solar panels are made from a compound semiconductor that has been constructed from copper, indium, gallium and selenium, as opposed to the crystalline silicon typically used. The power-generation layer is one-fortieth the thickness of a human hair. They are not as efficient in electricity generation as the best crystalline silicon panels but they have certain advantages. They are more tolerant of partial shading and have a glassy black rather than blueish appearance, which makes them less obtrusive in architecturally sensitive locations. The manufacturing process needs 50% less energy than a conventional solar panel factory.

At present, Soltec sells only to domestic and industrial users in Japan. The 24 panels that are needed to provide the 3kW of electricity for the average Japanese home cost the equivalent of $20,000 (a tenth of which can be a government subsidy). For most homes in Japan, it will take 10 years to break even in terms of reduced electricity bills - but the environmental benefit is immediate.

Solar energy is a difficult market that is entirely reliant on taxpayer support. Q-Cells, the world's biggest solar cell maker, is expected to report more than £1 billion in losses when he announces year-end earnings this week after Spain, the No 2 solar market, ended its generous subsidy scheme, leading to a supply glut. Germany, the biggest player, has threatened to do the same.

For now, Soltec remains a small part of the car giant's business. Honda insists, however, that it is an important part of its plan to cut the amount of carbon dioxide that is generated from its cars. Its hydrogen aspirations may have to wait. Hybrid vehicles, which run on a combination of petrol and electric power, are already on the road and governments have started to put public money into building the much less obtrusive, and expensive, infrastructure that will be needed for electric cars.

State's eleventh wind farm

Adelaide Advertiser
Friday 19/2/2010 Page: 14

PREMIER Mike Rann travelled to Clements Gap in the state's Mid-North yesterday, to open a 56.7MW windfarm. South Australia now has 11 wind farms, producing a total of 868MW. The Clements Gap Windfarm is near Crystal Brook. It is Pacific Hydro's first in SA. "This windfarm has 27 turbines and will produce enough power for the equivalent of about 30,000 homes," Mr Rann said. "That equates to around 200,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere each year." SA now has more wind energy capacity than all of the other States combined, Mr Rann said.

No house fires caused by solar panels

Clean Energy Council
18 Feb 2010

NATIONAL: The Clean Energy Council (CEC) has moved to reassure consumers about the safety of Australian household solar panel systems following a story on ABC's Lateline program last night. Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said while there had been around 100,000 solar panels installed in Australian households over the last 30 years, the industry has received no reports of any causing house fires.

"We take safety seriously. The safety record of the solar industry is good. To put this in perspective there are more than 10,000 house fires every year, most of which are caused by faulty wiring or appliances – not solar panels," Mr Warren said. "All solar panels receiving government support must be installed by an accredited installer. The panels must comply with the Australian standard. All houses connecting solar panels back to the grid must also be installed by a licensed electrician.

The accreditation program includes audits of installed systems to ensure compliance with these rigorous standards and consumer confidence is maintained. "All households looking to install solar panels should be using a CEC-accredited installer who is required to ensure that their solar panel system is safe and complies with the Australian standard," Mr Warren said. "The Clean Energy Council will continue to work with Federal and State Governments to ensure the highest standards are maintained and consumers can continue to generate their own clean electricity with confidence," he said.

"We welcome any additional measures to improve the safety, performance and reliability of these technologies as they evolve to becoming part of the mainstream energy supply in Australia." "Both major parties should be proud of the transformative effect their policies have had in developing the Australian solar industry. They have made solar energy more affordable for consumers, created jobs and reduced thousands of Australian household's reliance on fossil fuel-based electricity," he said.

For media enquiries please call Mark Bretherton 0413 556 981 or 03 9929 4111

For any concerns regarding your solar panels installed as part of the Solar Homes and Communities Plan please contact The Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts on 1800 808 571

Sunday 21 February 2010

Grant cut steals wind from AGL venture

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 17/2/2010 Page: 63

UP TO $340 million of investment in wind-driven energy for regional South Australia is at risk following changes to the Federal Government's Renewable Energy Target scheme, AGL Energy said yesterday. Hallett 3 and 5, which are planned for sites near Burra in the state's north, will involve the construction of 25 and 38 wind turbines respectively. The two projects, which are part of AGL Energy's five-part program, are estimated to be worth about $340 million and are both in the pre-development phase.

However, yesterday AGL Energy Project manager Tim Knill said a collapse in the price of renewable energy certificates had made the two projects unviable. "They are really driving down the price of RECS which is reducing the investment in large scale renewable energy projects," Mr Knill said. The RET program, which was devised to ensure 20% of Australia's energy consumption came from renewable sources by 2020, has suffered a setback due to changes made by the Federal Government to include its $8000 solar rebate program.

The renewable energy certificates are currently trading at about $30 compared to the $50 or more in the first half of last year. "They (RECS) are part of the financial model and the income stream for the project, so if there is something like domestic solar hot water which is driving down the price we believe there is a distortion in that market," Mr Knill said. "Until there is a change I don't think these projects are going to be viable."

Mr Knill said incentives for renewable energy projects levelled the playing field for companies attempting to compete with traditional fossil fuels. "We'll continue to work on the development but we won't take it to the board until we have a project that is viable and meets requirements and meets the requirements of the board." AGL Energy has said the benefit to the region of the Hallett project would total $1 billion once all stages are complete - a figure likely to be dented if the two final farms are shelved.

Mayor of the regional council of Goyder, Peter Mattey, said if the projects did not go ahead, the local community would likely suffer. "They (the windfarms) have been a significant economic benefit during the construction phase because they are using local contractors and they use local businesses," he said. Meanwhile, SA transmission operator ElectraNet said it would conduct a feasibility study with the Australian Energy Market Operator into increasing transfer capability between the state and the national grid.

Coastal energy boom in the wind

Adelaide Advertiser
Tuesday 16/2/2010 Page: 37

MACQUARIE Capital states preliminary assessments are positive for wind and grid connection capabilities at its proposed $1 billion windfarm at Robe. The result offers more certainty to the project, tipped to transform one of South Australia's coastal tourism hot spots into a wind-energy hub. The renewables sector investor will set up wind monitoring masts at the site to prove resource and conduct other studies over the next 12 months, Macquarie Capital Advisers' division director Ian Kay says. "We have conducted preliminary assessment of wind and grid connection capabilities and they are positive. The next step is to get into detailed wind monitoring and grid connection studies," Mr Kay said.

"We'll typically take about 12 to 18 months to get the relevant approvals and prove the resource, and following that we'll go through the tender process." Macquarie Capital committed to the project in late December, signing land lease agreements with Robe Wind Pty Ltd, a company set up by the 35 landowners of the site. The proposed 600MW windfarm is estimated to have a capital cost of more than $1 billion. It would be the group's first windfarm in SA, although it advised on the AGL Energy Hallett Cove wind farms.

About 300 turbines are likely to be set up along the Woakwine range between Beachport and Mt Benson, generating sufficient energy to power about 260,000 homes. Macquarie also has its sights set on other opportunities locally and nationally, with interests in the Silverton windfarm in New South Wales. "We are generally interested in infrastructure and renewable energy is an important component of it," Mr Kay said. The Robe project is a significant opportunity for the local community and South Australia's renewable energy sector, Robe Wind chairman Michael McCourt said. "We've leased our farms to them and they are going to start straight away," he said.

Infigen Energy also has landowner agreements in place for its 400-500MW WoakWine windfarm project from Cape Jaffa to Beachport. Together, these two projects could rival Australia's largest windfarm development near Broken Hill, being built by Epuron for about $2 billion. SA has the nation's highest installed capacity of wind generation, with nine wind farms and 5000MW of proposed projects. The wind energy share of energy in SA is projected to rise from 14% in 2008-09 to 34.1% by 2018-19. KPMG Econtech forecasts SA will have 2132MW of wind energy in 10 years.

Mitsubishi Electric Develops New Photovoltaic Inverter Technology to Maximize Solar Power Output
Feb. 15, 2010

TOKYO, Feb 15, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) - - Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced today it has developed the world's first technology to maximize output power in photovoltaic (PV) systems by incorporating a new maximum power-point tracking (MPPT) system in PV inverters. The technology, which works with a single PV inverter, achieves the maximum power point even when part of a PV array is hidden by shadow or dust.

PV system characteristics such as output power are greatly influenced by the amount of sunlight and temperature. Conventional PV arrays, which are groups of PV modules connected either in series or parallel, use MPPT systems to help achieve their maximum output-power points. But if part of a PV array is hidden by shadow and the rest is still in sunlight, resulting in multiple peak points, a conventional MPPT system has difficulty tracking the maximum point. Especially in urban areas where PV systems are likely to be installed near buildings or other obstructions of sunlight, shadow can greatly decrease output power.

The technological breakthrough by Mitsubishi Electric allows the MPPT system to automatically measure the PV array's output power characteristics and then control the array to operate at its maximum output-power point, thereby ensuring that the PV system receives maximum output power from the array. In some cases, this technology will be able to more than double the output power compared to a PV inverter equipped with a conventional MPPT system. Mitsubishi Electric will continue its research and development with aims to incorporate this technology in its products in the near future.

PG&E spells out plans for wave project
15 February 2010

Pacific Gas and Electric has unveiled crucial details about its proposed wave energy project off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base - a major step toward alternative electric power generation for the region. PGE said the project could be operational by 2014, generating as much as 100 MWs of power and providing permanent non-fossil fuel power for the base, one of the largest employers in Santa Barbara County. PGE spokesperson Kory Raftery said a five-MW prototype effort in Humboldt County has paved the way for the project off the shores of Point Arguello.

"The lessons we're learning on the pilot project in Humboldt County will help us make more informed decisions on the Central Coast project," Raftery said. "We've been following the Humboldt model closely." PGE will install four different technologies at the short-term Humboldt facility in order to decide which device would be most effective in Santa Barbara County. The devices capture the ocean's energy and transmit it through an undersea cable to land, where the energy is conditioned and fed to the electric grid.

"It's too early to tell what those technologies might be, but we're basically asking energy companies to submit ideas about what we could do there," Raftery said. "We're still just collecting applications." Raftery said the location of the project had many advantages, including nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base, which has an existing power grid that can handle a large interconnection. The base also has launch facilities that would allow large wave energy devices to be deployed easily into the ocean.

The wave energy potential off California's coastline is approximately 5,500 MWs, according to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, and PGE hopes the 100-MW Central Coast project will tap that potential. Although the license would allow PGE to generate up to 100 MWs, Raftery said the project will likely be phased. The multi-stage approach will start with a small initial phase and potentially build up into a larger facility. "We're not going to put 100 MWs in the water right off the bat," Raftery said. "It's going to come in pieces and segments so the progression is in harmony with local considerations."

The wave energy setup would supply Vandenberg and a portion of Santa Barbara County with renewable, carbon-free electricity. "Electrons find the nearest appliance," Raftery said. "So while customers in the city of Santa Barbara may not write their checks to PGE, they'll all benefit from the clean energy that we're putting into the mix." In December, PGE applied for a permit for the Central Coast project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the umbrella agency for wave energy project approval in the nation. "Until [approval], we're in a holding pattern," Raftery said. "Everything is still the same. The lines on the map haven't changed, and the Air Force is still on board. Once we obtain the permit from FERC, we'll set up more stakeholder groups and dig into doing the research."

PGE expects permit approval by spring of this year. "We don't really have a plan B," Raftery said. He added that the real work starts after the project is approved. That's when PGE will start ramping up its outreach projects, conducting more extensive studies at the site and begin offshore mapping. There will also be further studies on wave management, extensive research into historic wave capability and production and environmental impact reviews at the state, local and federal levels.

PGE has already brought on two large consulting firms to help with the project; Denver-based CH2Mhill is handling the environmental feasibility studies and Virginia-based SAIC will assist with the actual technology. The Business Times reported in December that PGE met with a number of local elected officials, including Santa Barbara County supervisors, and set up preliminary meetings with environmental groups including the Surfrider Foundation.

PGE launched its wave energy program in 2007 by studying two potential sites in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. The California Public Utilities Commission and U.S. Department of Energy provided $6 million for the two sites, but the Mendocino site was later deemed infeasible. The goal of the Central Coast project, Raftery said, is to produce reliable electric power with no impact on coastal activities. With the wave energy permit application, PGE has two large regulatory undertakings under way for the Central Coast. Last year it filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the license of its twin-reactor Diablo Canyon nuclear generating station near San Luis Obispo.

Zero emissions possible - at $40bn a year
February 15, 2010

AUSTRALIA could move to 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade if it spent heavily on cutting-edge solar thermal and wind technology, according to an analysis released as part of a community bid to redirect the flailing climate policy debate. The shift would require the annual investment of up to $40 billion - roughly 3.5 per cent of national GDP - with the largest chunk going towards solar thermal power plants that used molten-salt heat storage to allow power generation to continue without sunlight.

The plan by advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions was outlined at the launch of the Transition Decade, or T10, a grassroots campaign hoping to garner support for dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Pitched as a response to the failure to introduce national and state policies to substantially reduce emissions, T10 won support yesterday from the City of Melbourne, the Australian Greens and Victorian Governor David de Kretser.

Launching the campaign, Professor de Kretser said Australia had a responsibility to act. ''If every person in the world generated greenhouse gas emissions per person equivalent to those of each Australian today, the levels would quickly exceed those predicted to cause very dangerous global warming,'' he told more than 1000 people at the Melbourne Town Hall. ''The consequences for planet Earth … would be disastrous.''

Under the Beyond Zero Emissions model, concentrated solar thermal plants at 12 sites across the country would meet 60 per cent of national energy demands. They would be supplemented by wind and photovoltaic solar panels, with existing hydroelectricity and biomass from burning crop remains as back-up. Beyond Zero Emissions spokesman Mark Ogge said developments overseas had shown the claims that renewable energy could not provide baseload power had no basis. Spain plans to install enough concentrated solar thermal in the next three years to power half of Victoria, with capacity six times greater than this in development.

Mr Ogge conceded the estimated investment was huge, but said it should not seen as just a cost. ''All these power plants pay themselves off over their lifetime,'' he said. ''When you finish we've got a brand new renewable energy system that is going to last 50 years at least and have no fuel costs.'' Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said the government and opposition were too invested in ''business-as-usual'' politics to support the change needed to combat climate change.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government was continuing to negotiate with all parties in a bid to have the scheme passed. He again alluded to a possible double dissolution if the bill was defeated. ''Whenever the next election is held, and whatever form that election takes, both emissions trading and action on climate change will be front and centre,'' Mr Rudd told Network Ten's Meet the Press.