Thursday 4 March 2010

Energy output to soar, gas to burn brighter than coal

Wednesday 3/3/2010 Page: 3

STRONG export demand will result in the nation's energy production nearly doubling by 2030 but Australia is set to consume far less coal and much more gas, according to a federal government report. The Australian Energy Resource Assessment, compiled by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Geoscience Australia, is a comprehensive audit of Australia's energy resources.

The report shows primary energy consumption will increase by 1.4% each year to reach about 7715 petajoules by 2029-30 from 2007-08 levels of 5772 petajoules. Coal now accounts for almost 40% of the total, followed by oil (34% ), gas (22% ) and renewables (5%, mostly from bioenergy). The report says that by 2030, coal will provide only about 23% of the energy Australia consumes. Gas will move in as a replacement, with the government predicting its share will grow from 22% to 34%. Wind energy is expected to be the fastest growing energy source, helped by policy measures. "Australia's energy demand will continue to rise over the period to 2030, but the rate of growth is expected to continue to slow," the report says.

"This reflects the long-terns trend in the Australian economy towards less energy-intensive sectors and energy-efficiency improvements, both of which can be expected to be reinforced by policy responses to climate change." Australia is the world's ninth largest energy producer, exporting more than three-quarters of its production. While Australia's energy production in 2029-30 is projected to reach 35,057 petajoules, from 17,360 petajoules in 2007-08, coal's share of that total will decrease to about 40%.

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the future looked bright for Australia's gas projects but declining oil production would test the transport sector. "The two big findings are the extraordinary potential of coal seam methane and unconventional gas resources," Mr Ferguson said. "But, with almost every sector.., dependent on oil as the major transport fuel, dependence [on oil imports] is likely to increase if we don't find more oil resources or alternatives."

Sweden to build 2,000 wind power stations
02 March 2010

Sweden's government takes new steps to meet its 50% renewable energy target. Some 2,000 new wind energy stations will be constructed across the country in the next ten years, Sweden's enterprise minister Maud Olofsson announced in an opinion article in daily Dagens Nyheter Tuesday. "Sweden has extremely good prospects for rapidly increasing the production of renewable energy, especially from the burning of biofuels, cogeneration plants and windpower," Olofsson wrote in the newspaper column.

This is yet another move to dramatically boost green energy produced in the country as the government aims to have an output of renewable energy amounting to 50% of energy needs by 2020. Today around 20% of Sweden's current energy production comes from renewable sources. Last month the Swedish Energy Agency approved an 14-million-euro investment grant to build the world's biggest wave power plant on the Swedish west coast.

The new turbines would provide Sweden with an additional 10 terawatt hours (TWh) per year. Within the same timeframe, Sweden would also expand its use of other forms of renewable energy like biofuel and solar energy to increase its total output from such sources by 25 TWh. That can be compared with a total electricity production from Swedish nuclear energy last year of almost twice as much. The minister also pointed out that Sweden today has the EU's highest proportion of renewable energy production.

Last year some 8 billion kronor (€770 million, $1.1 billion) were invested in 200 wind energy stations with a combined capacity of circa 500 MWs. The investments are more than twice as large as during the previous year and the expansion considerably faster than in many other countries. Last month Norway announced plans to build the world's most powerful wind turbine, hoping the new technology will increase the profitability of costly offshore wind farms.

Garrett’s demotion could give clean energy some clear air
Tuesday 2/3/2010 Page: 1
Opinion: Climate Institute CEO John Connor

Friday's shift of responsibility for energy efficiency from the Environment into the Climate Change portfolio, where it will nestle alongside responsibility for the new and improved renewable energy scheme, allows for fresh thinking about the management of Australian climate solutions and low carbon development. There is an opportunity for a silver lining on the political clouds surrounding the home insulation scheme.

The government, opposition and Greens should seize this as an opportunity to shift gears and focus on the competitiveness and productivity risks posed by piecemeal and poorly coordinated efforts to cleaning up our carbon polluting and inefficient economy. It should also be the time to put an end to the increasingly ludicrous myth that Australia is any risk of leading global action on curbing carbon pollution.

The global reality is that, despite the disappointments of Copenhagen, there is significant global public and private investment in clean, low carbon technologies happening, in particular in places like China and Korea. A recent Worldwatch Institute report highlighted that in 2008. A report to the World Economic Forum by New Energy Finance tells a similar story. These investments are being driven not only by concerns about climate change or just by other issues including energy security, transport and public health risks such as urban air quality. They are also being driven by a strong eye on the commercial opportunities of this emerging multi-billion dollar global market.

Australian commentators, caught up in the murky backwaters of recent political bloodletting, have failed to recognise the extent to which Australia is being left behind in the emerging global clean energy economy. Perhaps they are relaxed about the prospect of Australia being reduced to Asia's quarry. A surprising insight into this new race for low carbon competitiveness came at the recent Davos meeting from Republican-repeat, Republican-Senator Lindsay Graham. He said: "Six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China.

Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy." Late last year The Climate Institute Australia commissioned London-based economists to review the carbon competitiveness and recent carbon productivity performance of the G20 nations. Carbon competitiveness is measured on an analysis of a range of factors from industrial efficiency, urban transport networks, education and other indices that test how prepared an economy is to provide future prosperity in a carbon-constrained world. Carbon productivity relates to a measure of the economic output divided by carbon pollution levels-that is, how much value is created per amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

In terms of our carbon competitiveness Australia came 15th, the weakest industrialised nation, and also behind Korea, China and Mexico. This was largely because of pollution from our mines (not including the pollution from exported coal), our coal-based power sector and high car ownership. Our recent performance on carbon productivity is better but other analyses show that is more from restricting land clearing and the demise of our manufacturing sector than improvements in clean energy production or efficiency where we rank poorly.

These findings highlight the huge economic risk for Australia of piecemeal or poorly coordinated carbon competitiveness and productivity policies. Australia will benefit from being Asia's quarry but we will be left behind Asian and other economies increasingly focused on other emerging markets. Taking advantage of these opportunities, and ensuring we address our own energy security, transport and public health challenges, needs greater coordination and leadership.

Friday's portfolio changes and improvements to the becalmed renewable energy scheme are an opportunity to improve the coordination of the whole host of energy, transport and other policies vital to improving our carbon competitiveness and productivity. They can also be vital to our ability to help the rest of the world accelerate the global investment and trade in climate solutions. Perhaps it is time to not just have a minister for climate change but a minister for low carbon development.

JOBS WAVE: Innovative sea-powered electricity project
02 Mar, 2010

A power station using wave energy has been announced for Port Fairy, adding another renewable energy source to Moyne Shire's reputation as the state's green district. Up to 200 new jobs would be created in developing what could be the nation's first commercial wave-powered electricity generation plant. It will use Australian-designed technology, in which balloon-shaped devices attached to a hinged base on the ocean floor sway with the waves like seaweed to spin generators.

They would be anchored in about 30 metres of water less than a kilometre from the shore and linked to an undersea cable leading to a substation and fed into the state's power grid. A site off the Port Fairy west abalone farm has been selected for the innovative project, which is scheduled to start with a small pilot generator. It has the capacity to be expanded into a multi-million-dollar power station producing enough electricity for 55,000 households. Preliminary evaluation started 18 months ago. Detailed appraisals and approval applications will gather pace in the next few months. It could be built by next year.

The Port Fairy project could be in production ahead of another planned wave energy generator announced for Portland at least a year ago. Yesterday's announcement by Sydney-based BioPower Systems, in conjunction with Melbourne-based Diamond Energy and Port Fairy-based Southern Ocean Mariculture, came as Australia's largest energy retailer, AGL Energy Ltd, revived plans to build the $800 million Macarthur windfarm.

Moyne Mayor James Purcell said there were already $6 billion worth of renewable energy projects on the books for the municipality. "We will have a quarter of the state's major projects going on here," he said. "There are already three power stations, 15 to 20 wind farms and geothermal possibilities. "When they are all up and operating it will bring in millions in extra rates and make us a very wealthy municipality. "However, it will create huge short-term social disturbances in our communities and put a massive workload on our small strategic planning staff."

BioPower said it had secured land access, onshore development rights and intellectual property for the project. "This stretch of coastline is well known around the world as a premier location for wave energy development," said the company's chief executive Timothy Finnigan. "The strength and consistency of the swell is phenomenal.'' He said the initial stage would have one 250-kW generator producing enough electricity for 200 households.

It will power the abalone farm and surplus electricity will be fed into the grid. If it proves successful an array of larger one MW units will be added expanding up to 100 kWs. He would not enlarge on financial commitments, but said the large power generators would cost tens of millions of dollars. Dr Finnigan said the company could build more wave generator plants in Australia and overseas with the technology. "We are hoping for some Victorian Government funding," he said. Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings' office said the Government was committed to changing the energy mix through projects such as wave, wind and solar energy.

BioPower Systems has been told to seek advice on whether an environmental effects statement referral may be required. Southern Ocean Mariculture general manager Mark Gervis said his company had approached the wave energy proponents because it wanted its high-energy use plant to be carbon positive. "We felt wave energy was the most appropriate way," he said. "It's still at the very early stages but we are excited by the project."

Wednesday 3 March 2010

More would install solar if power paid for: report

Tuesday 2/3/2010 Page: 6

THE cost of installing rooftop solar panels could be dramatically lowered by abolishing rebates and paying households a premium for all electricity generated at home, an economic analysis has found. The analysis by consultants Access Economics, on behalf of the Electrical Trades Union, found a national gross feed-in-tariff would be a far cheaper way to boost uptake of rooftop solar panels than existing policies. The unions Victorian secretary Dean Mighell said twice as many solar units would have been installed if the $1 billion spent on rebates was funnelled into a premium subsidy.

A national tariff has been backed by retailer Woolworths and the Property Council of Australia. The states have already introduced tariff schemes, although they vary in design. In Victoria, for example, the government opted for a net tariff that pays households for electricity fed into the grid only. A gross scheme pays a premium for energy whether it is fed into the grid or used at home.

The analysis found a national gross tariff could push rooftop solar energy to a capacity of 1000 MWs - roughly equivalent to the Latrobe Valley's Loy Yang B coalfired power station - within 20 years. It would cost $4.47 billion and put solar photovoltaic units on 650,000 homes. The $1 billion spent on rebates over the 18-month period to June installed 67,452 rooftop solar units. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong backed the government's rebate scheme over a national tariff. A ministerial spokeswoman said: "It takes longer for households to recoup the cost of their solar panels and other technologies through a feed-in tariff."

AGL retreats on threat to scrap wind farm

Tuesday 2/3/2010 Page: 4

AGL Energy has backed down from a threat to scrap its $800 million Macarthur windfarm, the largest in the southern hemisphere, after the federal government proposed to change its troubled Renewable Energy Target.

The utility yesterday signalled it expected to build the Victorian windfarm after entering into "conditional arrangements" with New Zealand's Meridian Energy. The move contrasts with a previous threat from managing director Michael Fraser to put wind investment on hold because of a slump in the price of renewable energy certificates (RECs).

On Friday, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong unveiled plans to lift REC prices after heated lobbying fro in renewable energy investors. AGL Energy's board has yet to approve the 365-MW wind farms, but the changes have strengthened the investment case for AGL Energy's large wind project pipeline. Equity analysts said the higher REC prices should also strengthen AGL Energy's hand in discussions with credit ratings agencies. But some in the market are wary of AGL Energy's earnings from windfarm development fees, which it extracts through complex sale and lease-back deals.

Since the Friday announcement, REC prices are up 18% to $42. However, traders in the illiquid market say they are awaiting clarity on the government's policy and Senate approval of the proposed RET legislation. A credit analyst at Fitch Ratings, Sajal Kishore, said the industry expected REC prices to lift above $50 in coming months, seen as the minimum price to underwrite wind developments.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Believe it and we can do it

Saturday 27/2/2010 Page: 2

LAST October, after an interview with Australian solar pioneer David Mills, this column previewed a Stanford University study showing that renewable sources - principally wind and solar - could meet all of our energy needs.

The co-author of that study, Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the university's atmosphere and energy program, appeared by videoconference at last weekend's Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne. He spoke to the findings of his study, which was the cover story in November's Scientific American magazine and has generated plenty of debate in the US (and some here too).

Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, a research scientist at the University of California, compared available world renewable energy resources - wind, water, sunshine - with maximum forecast energy demand, including transport, of about 16.9 terawatts (1 terawatt e(equals a trillion watts) in 2030 - up from 12.5 terawatts now. Eliminating fossil fuel and biomass combustion would reduce overall demand to 11.5 terawatts, the study found, because electric power is more efficient.

Could this prodigious amount of energy be met by available renewable resources? Yes, with a massive building program. The world would need 3.8 million 5MW wind turbines to provide 51% of supply. We would need 49,000 large-scale 300MW concentrating solar energy stations, plus 40,000 large-scale 300MW solar photovoltaic power stations, plus 1.7 billion 3kW domestic-scale rooftop PV systems, to provide another 40% of supply. Less than 1% of this wind and solar energy infrastructure is in place already. The remaining 9% of the world's power supply would come from 900 hydro-electric power stations (mostly built); 5350 geothermal plants, each generating 100MW (mostly not built); and thousands and thousands of small tidal power and wave installations.

Given they are intermittent power sources, can wind, wave and solar meet demand as it arises? Yes. First, renewable energy power plants generally suffer less down time. Second, with extensive interconnection between geographically dispersed sources, a lack of wind or sunshine in one place can be substituted by power from another.

As Jacobson and Delucchi wrote in their magazine article: "Because the wind often blows during stormy conditions when the sun does not shine and the sun often shines on calm days with little wind, combining wind and solar can go a long way toward meeting demand, especially when geothermal provides a steady base and hydroelectric can be called on to fill in the gaps." Third, a smart grid allows demand to be shifted into off peak periods - so electric cars are charged overnight while demand is lower, for example. The cost? The scientists estimated the overall construction cost would be in the order of $US100 trillion over 20 years, not including transmission.

Professor Jacobson told me transmission would add about 10% to the total cost. He says power lines last over two or three generations of power plants and are a relatively smaller part of the upfront cost per kWh generated. That's the bill for a whole new, clean and efficient energy system and (if we move quickly) massively reduced bills for climate adaptation. The bill would be recouped by charging a forecast US4¢-US10¢ per kWh, competitive with existing fossil fuel and nuclear sources, which average US7¢/kWh in the US, and rising.

Last Sunday, Jacobson dismissed the nuclear alternative. Based on a full lifecycle analysis, nuclear is not clean, producing nine to 17 tines the carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh generated by wind energy. Nuclear is getting more expensive, not cheaper, unlike wind and solar. It seems a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy is not only possible, it may be cost-competitive with the touted "clean coal" and nuclear alternatives. In our national and state capitals, and probably in our boardrooms, it would be dismissed as a pipe dream. In the real world - the planet we live on - it will soon enough become a necessity.

Relative to the rest of the world, Jacobson describes Australia's clean energy resources as "amazing". Appearing alongside Jacobson last weekend were Philip Sutton, co-author of Climate Code Red, and Matthew Wright, executive director of Beyond Zero Emissions. Both are working on plans to switch Australia over to renewable energy. BZE's recently released "Transition Decade" (or T10) plan estimates a complete switch by 2020 would cost $40 billion a year or 3-3.5% of GDP.

The linchpin of BZE's plan is to build a dozen concentrating solar thermal sites around Australia, each generating 4000mw, to provide 60% of our power needs. The technology to generate solar energy, with up to 16 hours of storage so it can run overnight, exists now and is being used in Spain. Wind power would provide the remaining 40%. Wright told the audience that T10 - a plan, not the only plan - was meant to rebut the "can't do mantra" of the fossil fuel lobby: renewable energy cannot supply baseload power, is too expensive, will wreck the economy, and will cost jobs. What rubbish. Wright has a "can do" mantra, and it's what we need.

Wind farm back on agenda - Green schemes to aid company

Hobart Mercury
Saturday 27/2/2010 Page: 13

TASMANIA'S stalled Musselroe windfarm looks set for a construction start late this year after a dramatic change in its economic viability. The $400 million windfarm in Tasmania's North-East was given a fillip yesterday with the Federal Government's move to encourage greater national renewable energy generation. Roaring 40s, the company half-owned by the Tasmanian Government that is planning to build Musselroe, is now hopeful construction will begin late this year at Cape Portland.

Roaring 40s chief executive Steve Symons said the new Federal Government system had provided large renewable companies such as Roaring 40s and Hydro Tasmania with much more financial and policy certainty about future project options. Mr Symons hopes that if the Federal Government's new legislation passes though parliament in June lie will have 150 construction workers on site by spring. Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday announced the Government would split its mandatory renewable energy target scheme in two.

The change will separate the impact of small home solar panel installations and solar hot water systems from affecting the renewable energy value of power produced by large commercial wind farms, hydro-electricity stations and solar plants. It is designed to encourage investment in commercial wind farms and other large-scale renewable energy projects, with more than $20 billion of projects now halted around Australia. The slowdown has been blamed on the Government's subsidy scheme for the installation of home solar hot water systems causing an unintended slump in the value of tradeable renewable energy certificates [RECs] from $50 to $30 per MW hour a unit.

Musselroe windfarm is understood to become uneconomic once the REC value falls below about $50 a unit. Premier David Bartlett said the announcement was a "great day for the Tasmanian economy". Mr Bartlett claimed credit for the announcement, saying the Rudd Government had "listened to our concerns and responded rapidly to resolve them". But Greens federal climate change spokeswoman and Tasmanian senator Christine Milne said the backflip had been forced by the Australian Greens introducing a Private Member's Bill into the Senate on Thursday recommending the same split system.

The Greens have repeatedly warned that including solar hot water, heat pumps and multiplied rooftop solar credits in the renewable energy target was distorting the price of renewable energy certificates, stopping industrial scale renewable energy developments from getting off the ground. Senator Wong said the Government now planned to offer a fixed price to householders.

World's largest solar-powered boat unveiled
Feb 26, 2010

A skipper hoping to become the first to circumnavigate the globe using solar energy said his catamaran could carve a wake for pollution-free shipping as he unveiled the world's largest solar energyed vessel in Germany. Raphael Domjan, 38, pulled the covers off the 18 million euro ($27.4 million) catamaran yesterday. "This is a unique feeling to see in front of me today a boat which I so often dreamed about," he said.

PlanetSolar, a 31 x 15-metre white catamaran, has been designed to reach a top speed of around 15 knots, equivalent to 27 kilometres per hour, and can hold up to 50 passengers. Five hundred m² of black solar panels top the vessel, with a bright white cockpit sticking up in the centre. Built at the Knierim Yacht Club in Kiel in northern Germany, its state-of-the-art design also means it will be able to slice smoothly through the waves even in choppy waters. The team behind its construction acknowledge that solar energy is not about to become the main power source on modern cargo ships.

They say they want to use the voyage primarily to promote solar energy and other non-polluting sources of energy and to show what can be done. "The aim is really to show that we have the technology today, not tomorrow," Mr Domjan said. "It's not in a laboratory or DIY. It is a technology that is reliable, able to perform and economically interesting." PlanetSolar will launch in late March before starring at Hamburg port's 821st anniversary celebrations in May and undergoing testing between June and September.

Companies have vested interest in poor results

Monday 1/3/2010 Page: 10

IN HIGHLIGHTING the unfortunate experiences some people have had with solar energy ("Turning off solar", The Age, 27/2) Mark Hawthorne and Mathew Murphy overlook the positive experiences of thousands of others. Although I also experienced a billing problem following the installation of my system, it was quickly resolved.

More than 60% of the power produced by my 1.5 kW system has been exported to the grid and my last electricity bill was in credit. By paying a little attention to the way electricity is used in the home, high levels of power export are possible even with relatively small systems. The real problems relate to the practices of retailers and distributors. It is worth noting that it was an unidentified spokesman for an unidentified power distributor who was talking down the performance of solar energy systems.

The allusion to "cheap imports" also overlooks the fact that all solar panels installed in Australia are imported and that they, along with installers, need to comply with the strict standards imposed by the government and electricity distributors. The denial of off-peak electricity to householders installing solar energy by some distributors smacks of sour grapes. It is to be hoped that regulators take note and ensure that retailers and distributors do the right thing by customers who are doing the right thing by the environment.

Alistair McCaskill, Box Hill North

I Group attacks change - Policy shift falls short

Adelaide Advertiser
Saturday 27/2/2010 Page: 86

A FEDERAL Government energy policy shift announced yesterday will not be enough to deliver the large-scale rollout of low-emission power stations needed to combat climate change, investors and energy groups say. Australian Geothermal Energy Association chief executive Susan Jeanes said the policy changes were a step in the right direction but more was needed to ensure Australia wasn't left behind as other countries moved more decisively to roll out clean energy such as solar, wind and geothermal power. Climate change minister Penny Wong said the Government would reform its renewable energy target which forces electricity retailers to source 20% of supplies from renewable energy by 2020.

Clean energy groups had said the Government's earlier decision to include in the target small-scale generation as well as technologies that don't generate electricity, such as water heaters, meant funds weren't flowing to the large-scale energy projects that Australia needs to kick its reliance on planet-warming coal and gas plants that supply 95% of its electricity. Australian companies, such as Brisbane-based GeoDynamics, have cutting-edge technologies for harnessing geothermal or underground heat and for large-scale solar energy plants but face challenges in urgently commercialising them, partly due to the lack of a domestic carbon price or a strong national feed-in tariff that rewards clean energy suppliers.

Ms Wong said the Government would carve the renewable energy target into two bands from January 2011, with a Large-scale Renewable Energy Target to generate the bulk of renewable energy credits, and a Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme to deliver the rest of the target through solar panels and hot water systems. The changes are estimated to increase the cost of electricity for the average home by less than $4 a year. Simon Schwarz, from Investec Australia said if the Government opted to use the vast bulk of the 20% target for large-scale power projects, it would underpin the economics of wind projects.

New target scheme

Adelaide Advertiser
Saturday 27/2/2010 Page: 29

THE Federal Government has made changes to its renewable energy target scheme so it can exceed the 20% target by 2020. Market demand for the scheme from new large-scale projects, such as wind farms and solar energy plants, has stalled partly because the government used it to reward households installing rooftop solar panels with an $8000 rebate. The government intends from January 2011 splitting the scheme into two parts: one for large-scale projects and a second for small scale technologies.

Monday 1 March 2010

Infigen sounds alert on threat to renewable energy

Friday 26/2/2010 Page: 5

FAILURE to reverse a slump in the price of renewable energy credits threatens the industry's profitability and will undermine Australia's efforts to cut carbon emissions, says windfarm developer Infigen Energy. Infigen Energy plans to triple its domestic capacity to 1000 MWs in the next five years, after buying the development portfolio from B&B.

But managing director Miles George said these plans would be in danger if the government did not resolve the disarray in the large-scale renewable energy business. The company posted a $18.3 million net loss for the six months to December, an improvement on its previous loss of $88.4 million. The shares fell 6¢ to $1.23.

US trials backyard power plant - Fridge-size Bloom Box produces clean, off-grid energy

Canberra Times
Friday 26/2/2010 Page: 3

A mini-power plant roughly the size of a small fridge is set to drive a global green energy revolution by literally bringing power to the people. The Bloom Box, unveiled yesterday by Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy, is a stack of wafer-thin solid oxide fuel-cells that generates electricity by combining natural gas or biofuels with oxygen via a chemical reaction. The "electricity in a box" breakthrough will allow homes and offices to generate electricity on site, reducing dependence on coal-fired power and centralised electricity generation. It also needs far less land than solar arrays and wind farms.

The technology was launched at eBay's headquarters in California by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who described it as "a shining star" of clean energy innovation. "It produces safe, reliable power that is 60% cleaner than a coal-fired power plant.., and it produces that power on site. You don't need transmission lines; you don't have to put it on a grid," Mr Schwarzenegger said. Developed by NASA aerospace engineer Dr K.R. Sridhar, the Bloom Box traces its origins to the Mars space program. Dr Sridhar and his research team were asked to devise a technology to produce oxygen for astronauts on Mars, and hydrogen to fuel transport vehicles, but realised their research results had bigger implications for Earth.

"We believe we can have the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications. Just as cell phones circumvented landlines to proliferate telephony, Bloom Energy will enable the adoption of distributed power as a smarter, localised energy source," Dr Sridhar said. The technology has been tested for the past 18 months by a who's who of commercial customers in the United States that includes Google, FedEx, Walmart, eBay, Cocoa-Cola and the Bank of America. Bloom Energy's board members include former US secretary of state General Colin Powell and the managing director of global financial firm Morgan Stanley, Eddy Zervigon.

About $400 million has been invested in the fuel-cell project by Silicon Valley venture capital investors Ideiner Perkins Canfield & Byers, who have a history of backing winners that include and Apple's iPhone and iPod technologies. Kleiner Perkins spokesman John Doerr said the technology would give the US "clean, affordable, energy 24/7 - and all the jobs that go with it". Deputy director of Australia's Clean Energy Council Rob Jackson quipped the breakthrough showed "not every big idea conies from thinking outside the box". "If Bloom Energy really has developed a technology that can work cheaply on a large scale using readily available materials, we absolutely welcome that," he said.

"An effective fuel-cell has been something of a holy grail for the energy industry and different fuel-cell models have been in development for more than a century. Some Australian companies such as Ceramic Fuel Cells have also been producing some positive breakthroughs in this area. We need to revolutionise the way we deliver energy in order to deal with the risks of dangerous climate change and as a result we need deep thinkers with revolutionary ideas." The fridge-sized power units currently cost around $800,000 each, but Dr Sridhar's goal is to create a $3000 box that can be used to power homes. Bloom is not the only company pursuing fuel-cell technology, and competitors have been quick to point out commercialisation of the Bloom Box may take up to 10 years. Some rivals have dismissed Bloom's claims as "big hype", saying the fuel-cell technology they've announced is not new.