Friday 12 March 2010

The view from Spain's solar power tower
March 10, 2010

(CNN) - - Cresting the brow of autovia A-49 in Andalusia, 10 miles outside of Seville, the world's first commercial solar "power tower" appears on the skyline like a giant obelisk. Even on an overcast morning the sun's rays are so intense they illuminate the water vapor and dust hanging in the air to create a giant lattice of white lines that appear to emanate from the eye of the tower. The tower itself is 115 meters high - - the height of a 14-storey building - - and, bathed in intense white light, the overall effect resembles nothing so much as a religious object.

Valerio Fernandez is director of operations for the PS10 platform and its neighbor, PS20. That means he is responsible for the 624 giant mirrors - - or heliostats - - that reflect the sun's rays into a receiver located at the top of the tower. Each heliostat measures 120 m², which gives the entire heliostat field an area of 75,000 m². On a sunny day this can produce up to 11 MWs of energy, enough to power a town of 6,000 homes, such as the neighboring community of Sanlucar la Mayor.

But Fernandez isn't satisfied. "Our goal is to operate more than 300 MWs for the year 2013," he told CNN. "So in a few years we will be constructing and putting into service new and larger plants in order to provide huge amounts of solar renewable energy to this area of Spain."

As Valerio explains the concept ("We just reflect light into the receiver, which is basically a boiler where we generate steam, and then we drive this steam through a turbine in order to move a generator and generate electricity,") we are aware of the faint whirring of 600-odd motors that allow the heliostats to track the sun on two axes and concentrate this radiation on the tower.

The effect is incongruously life-like; hundreds of enormous mirrors all turning themselves towards the sun like a field of giant metal sunflowers. We decide to get a better view. Putting aside fears that we will be fried like ants under a magnifying glass, we ascend the tower. From here the vista is even more spectacular: a glittering blanket of more than 600 mirrors winks up at us from the sun-scorched earth.

Here is also where the receiver is located. Composed of four, vertical 5.5 meter by 12 meter panels, arranged in a semi-cylindrical configuration inside a cavity with an opening of 11 meters by 11meters, the receiver is designed to deliver 55 thermal MWs of saturated steam at temperatures of 257 Celsius. More than 92% of the sunlight reflected at the tower is converted into steam.

To the west lies an even larger tower surrounded by more mirrors. Although currently closed for maintenance, when PS20 is fully online again in April it will be the world's most powerful solar power tower. With a power capacity of 20 MWs, double that of PS10, PS20 should produce enough clean energy to supply 10,000 homes. Valerio is understandably optimistic. "We want to get as much of our energy from solar power as we can because it's renewable, it's clean and its contribution to combating climate change is very important," he said. "That's why we are working to develop this technology as much as possible so it can have a large role in the future."

Bligh's solar scheme gets in hot water

Courier Mail
Wednesday 10/3/2010 Page: 10

A KEY election promise to provide 200,000 cut-price solar hot water systems to Queensland households has been dumped by the Bligh Government less than a year after it was launched. Only 1600 systems have been installed under the problem-plagued program, although the Government has promised that 1100 householders who have already signed contracts will have their installations completed. Energy Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday announced the energy-saving scheme would be "cancelled" because the state could not afford to fund a $100 million shortfall caused by the Federal Government's recent decision to reduce its solar rebates.

The program, which was to deliver solar hot water systems for just $500 or $100 for pensioners, relied on the federal rebates to bring the price down. But in a further embarrassment yesterday, it was revealed the main supplier in the program, German company Conergy, had been suspended after it was discovered it did not have the appropriate licences to operate in Queensland. In a bid to dismiss any comparison to the bungled federal insulation scheme, both Mr Robertson and Premier Anna Bligh yesterday stressed the problem was a "technical breach" relating to the parent company and didn't involve safety issues.

Opposition energy spokesman Jeff Seeney said the program had been a dud. But Ms Bligh said her Government remained committed to offering affordable solar hot water systems to the public and a new scheme would be rolled out within weeks. Federal Energy Efficiency Minister Penny Wong is meanwhile likely to announce this week that some green loan assessors will have to be retrained. She is remaining tight-lipped on the planned overhaul, but is expected to concede that some people who become assessors under the program - which advised homeowners on energy efficiency measures - did not receive appropriate training from accredited organisations.

Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said the Government needed to come clean about its plans. "Assessors are crying out for help to either skill up to grow their businesses or recoup their losses and get out,," Senator Milne said. "The department should offer to retrain any assessors who want and need it, or pay back the costs they sunk into the program. "It is also important to address how assessors are supposed to make a decent living when they are limited to only five jobs a week."

Senator Wong's office would not comment on the changes to the program. However, last week Senator Wong told The Courier-Mail she was "very conscious" of concerns relating to the program. Also this week, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet is expected to revisit the home insulation debacle, which has had the Government on the backfoot for weeks.

FuelCell Energy Awarded $2.1 Million
March 10, 2010

DANBURY, Conn., March 10, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) - - FuelCell Energy, Inc., a leading manufacturer of high efficiency ultra-clean power plants using renewable and other fuels for commercial, industrial, government, and utility customers, today announced subcontract awards totaling $2.1 million from Air Products. The prime contract to demonstrate a renewable hydrogen fueling station was awarded to Air Products by the California Air Resources Board and supported by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The project is to demonstrate an Air Products' concept which incorporates FuelCell Energy's DFC-H2® technology in a hydrogen fueling station. The DFC-H2® can produce clean power, heat and renewable hydrogen.

The hydrogen will supply the state-of-the-art hydrogen fueling station developed and to be installed by Air Products at the Orange County Sanitation District's (OCSD) wastewater treatment facility in Fountain Valley, California. The system will be fueled with biogas from wastewater treatment operations and produce 300 kWs of power and up to 300 pounds of hydrogen per day. This hydrogen could be used for early market fuel-cell applications such as back up power and forklifts and is sufficient to fuel roughly 100 fuel-cell cars. The electricity will be available for use by OCSD for its operations.

"The award of the prime contracts giving rise to the announced subcontracts is a clear acknowledgement by DOE and California of the importance of using a renewable resource such as biogas to generate energy," said Christopher Bentley, FuelCell Energy's Executive Vice President of Government Research & Development Operations. "Our research indicates that hydrogen efficiently produced as a byproduct by the DFC-H2® can be less costly than hydrogen produced by other methods and can enable the expansion of ultra-clean, hydrogen production systems worldwide, while providing the benefits of distributed power generation."

During the past two years under the ongoing DOE program, FuelCell Energy and Air Products have developed a co-production test unit and successfully validated the test unit in 2009 at FuelCell Energy's research and development facility. The test unit produced hydrogen and power meeting the predeployment testing objectives in advance of its siting at OCSD. Details on Air Products' hydrogen fueling station technologies are provided at

Thursday 11 March 2010

Hansen keen on next-generation nuclear power

Wednesday 10/3/2010 Page: 23

RENEWABLE energy won't save the planet so it's time to go nuclear, according to one of world's most high profile climate scientists. "We should undertake urgent focused research and development programs in next generation nuclear power," said atmospheric physicist James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York.

While renewable energies such as solar and wind were gaining in economic competition with coal-fired plants, Professor Hansen said they wouldn't be able to provide baseload power for years to come. Even in Germany, which pushed renewables heavily, they generated only 7% of the nation's power. "It's just too expensive," said Professor Hansen, an expert in climate modelling, planetary atmospheres and the Earth's climate. "Right now, fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, except for operating nuclear plants," he said on the first day of a lecture tour in Australia.

According to Professor Hansen, because the threat of global warming was so serious, nations such as the US, China and even Australia must crank up support for so-called third and fourth generation nuclear systems. "Current nuclear plants are the second generation. The third generation is ready to build now," he explained, pointing to conventional light water reactors, which generated heat by the fission of uranium fuel. Two fourth generation technologies are on the drawing board. Fast reactors use liquid sodium metal as a coolant for the fission of metallic solid fuel, including existing nuclear waste and weapons grade uranium and plutonium.

Thorium reactors use fluoride salt as the medium for the energy producing nuclear reaction, so they don't require production of fuel rods. Professor Hansen admitted he was a late convert to advanced nuclear power. "But fourth generation solves two of the problems that made me sceptical," he said. "One is nuclear waste. It uses over 99% of the fuels, while second and third generations use less than 1%, leaving a waste pile with a half-life of 100,000 years. Fourth generation burns almost all the fuel and waste has a half life of decades." No commercial scale fourth generation plants exist, but seven nations, including Japan, France and China, have expertise or research and development projects. Which will get their first? "That's an open question,' according to Professor Hansen.

Bottled Wind Could Be as Constant as Coal
March 9, 2010

Wind power has made incredible inroads into the U.S, energy system thanks to big, efficient machines standing hundreds of feet tall. But the future of wind power may be underground. In the abandoned mines and sandstones of the Sinosteel-Midwest, compressed-air storage ventures are trying to convert the intermittent motions of the air into the kind of steady power that could displace coal. Compressed-air energy storage plants use compressors to store electricity generated when it's not needed. The air, pumped into large underground formations, is like a spring that's been squeezed and when it's needed, it can deliver a large percentage of the energy that it received.

The first and only such plant in the United States went online in 1991, and though the technology didn't take off, it did prove that it worked. And now, combining cheap wind energy and compressed-air storage could create a potent new force in the electricity markets. "This is the first nonhydro renewables technology that can replace coal in the dispatch order," said David Marcus, co-founder of General Compression, a new company that received $16 million in funding from investors including the utility Duke Energy to build a full-scale prototype of their energy storage system, which would be deployed with arrays of wind turbines.

The dispatch order is how grid operators decide which power plants to switch on. They have to balance the amount of generation and consumption or they risk the grid's stability. The amount of power people use goes up and down, but it stays above a certain level all the time. To meet that need, utilities buy consistent always-on power from the large, cheap coal and nuclear power plants that are the backbone of the electric grid.

The electricity they need to meet the peaks in energy demand is generated by what are known as peaking plants, usually powered by natural gas. When the wind is blowing, it is usually the cheapest peaking power available, so it keeps the natural gas plants shut off. If they want to replace coal plants in the pecking order, though, they'll have to work all the time. And to do that, they'll need a way to unlink themselves from the on-again, off-again nature of the wind. "It's a fractal problem," said Marcus. "You have intermittency problems on every time scale."

That problem has brought compressed-air energy storage roaring back. Marcus' company has a long way to go before they can turn their prototype system into the kind of technology that can be deployed at the nation's vast wind farms. But compressed air storage of one type or another is on the verge of becoming a mainstream power technology.

The nation's largest energy storage option right now is pumped hydroelectricity. When excess electricity is present in a system, it can be used to pump water up to a reservoir. Then, when that power is needed, the water is sent through a turbine to generate electricity. The U.S, electric system has 2.5 GWs of pumped hydro storage capacity, but most of the good, cheap sites are already occupied, and creating new reservoirs is not environmentally benign.

While wind farmers say storage isn't technically necessary until the amount of wind power on the grid exceeds 20 or 30% of the electrical load, private analysts, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the Department of Energy have identified grid-scale storage as a key need for the rapidly diversifying electricity system. And going forward, compressed-air energy storage looks like the cheapest option available. Independent analysts have come to similar conclusions.

"CAES is the least cost, utility-scale, bulk-storage system available. If other factors such as its low environmental impact and high reliability are considered, CAES has an overwhelming advantage," one Department of Homeland Security physicist concluded in a 2007 paper in the journal Energy. In the last four months, four projects have gotten new funding. In December, the rights to a long-awaited project in Norton, Ohio, were purchased by First Energy, a large utility in the area. The Norton project could store 2.7 GWs of power in an abandoned limestone mine.

In California, PGE received a $24.9 million grant from the Energy Department to build a 300-MW plant in Kern County. New York State Electric and Gas received $29 million for a similar facility in the town of Reading, New York, using an existing salt cavern there. The Iowa Stored Energy Project received a $3.2 million forgivable loan from the state and will finish drilling its first research well in the next month. The plan is to attempt to store energy in porous sandstone, just like the 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that lie beneath the surface of the United States.

The man behind the technology slated to be used in the two Energy Department-backed projects is engineer Michael Nakhamkin, founder of Energy Storage Power Corporation. He designed the only U.S, compressed air storage plant, in McIntosh, Alabama. That plant was built in the late 1980s by a very small southern utility, the Alabama Electric Cooperative. They had a unique problem, Nakhamkin said, in that their daytime load far exceeded their nighttime load, the opposite of the regular pattern.

The big coal plant they needed to meet the daytime demand made too much power at night. Turning down the plant at night wasn't a good solution because coal plants work most efficiently at full capacity, and turning them down makes them dirtier. And even with the plant at full power during the day, the utility still had to buy power from other companies to meet their peak daytime demand. But with a storage plant, they could use the extra electricity made at night to satisfy their daytime peak demand.

Based on the first commercial plant ever built in Huntorf, Germany, the Electric Power Research Institute and Nakhamkin's engineering firm came up with a plan to store compressed air in a salt dome in Alabama. They created a geological pocket 900 feet long and up to 238 feet wide in the dome by pumping water into it to dissolve the rock salt. When the (briny) water was pumped back out, the salt resealed itself and they had an air-tight container: "The solution-mined cavern is a large subterranean pressure vessel," as an EPRI report explained.

During off-peak times, electricity runs a compressor which pumps the air down into the cavern. Then, when energy is needed, the air is released from the reserve to power a fairly standard turbine, with a little help from natural gas. The system has worked for more than 25 years. In 1991, when the plant went online, there were high hopes that the technology might catch on among utilities.

'We expect the CAES plant technology pioneered in Alabama to lead to widespread application in this country," said Robert Schainker, the manager of the Electric Power Research Institute's Energy Storage Program in a press release announcing the plant's completion. 'Three fourths of the United States has geology suitable for underground air storage. At present, more than a dozen utilities are evaluating sites for CAES application."

But with low fossil fuel prices and little intermittent renewable energy on the grid, there wasn't much incentive for utilities to build the plants. The plant saved money for the Alabama Electric Cooperative, but it wasn't "critical savings" as Nakhamkin put it. "Rich people don't talk about how to save five or 10 dollars," he said. Planning for the Iowa Stored Energy Project began in 2001, but at the time, it just didn't make economic sense for the small municipal utilities involved. "Without a lot of renewables, the business model for CAES is not that strong," Holst said. With wind sometimes producing as much as 15% of Iowa's electricity, the case for the business gets stronger every day.

Nakhamkin thinks the time has come for compressed air to take off, particularly with the new plant designs that incorporate the data from the McIntosh plant. "We analyzed several years of plant operation and from this, we generated a second generation of CAES technology," he said. "It's much more reliable and much more adjustable for the smart grid, for solar energy and a variety of wind power plants."

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Geothermal power sees place on grid

Adelaide Advertiser
Saturday 6/3/2010 Page: 87

Panax Geothermal's Penola project, which is on track to start production by late 2011, could produce electricity for less than the cost of wind power, managing director Bertus de Graaf said yesterday. Panax Geothermal aims to become the first grid-connected geothermal energy producer in Australia, with a 5.9-MW demonstration plant set for completion by the end of 2011. The company aims to ramp this up to 60mW soon after.

Dr de Graaf said yesterday the company's first deep geothermal well, Salamander-1, was at a depth of about 2900m, and would reach the target depth of 4km by mid-March. Unlike the geothermal projects in the Cooper Basin, which are targeting hot, dry rocks, the Panax Geothermal project is targeting existing hot aquifers. The drilling is currently near the top of the target reservoir. Dr de Graaf said the well would cost about $15 million to drill, with $7 million from the Federal Government's geothermal drilling program contributing to its completion.

The company also was using data from 28 historic, deep petroleum wells drilled in the region. This would have cost about $100 million to drill, had the company had to do it alone. Panax Geothermal will assess the data from Salamander-1, with a view to making an investment decision for the 5.9mW power plant this year. "Further expansion could lead to a geothermal power station more than 10 times larger by 2014," Dr de Graaf said.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who officially declared the project open yesterday, said geothermal energy was vital if the nation was to achieve its target of deriving 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. "That's pretty challenging," he said. "At the moment, about 8.2% of our energy actually comes from renewables, predominantly hydro power - we have little capacity to actually grow hydro power.

"The early growth is going to be in wind power, but the real breakthrough we need is going to be in areas such as geothermal because it's baseload, reliable power." The Salamander-1 well is targeting water at temperatures of 150-200C at depths of 3.5km to 4km. The project remains 100% owned by Panax Geothermal, but the company said in its latest quarterly report it was looking for joint-venture partners.

Stratco goes solar

Independent Weekly
Friday 5/3/2010 Page: 26

Leading building and hardware specialist Stratco is growing its presence in the renewable energy market with the launch of a new solar product. Developed by Stratco's own Research and Development team based at Gepps Cross in Adelaide, the solarcore product range represents a significant opportunity for the local business - which already specialises in roofing and guttering systems. After an intensive selection and optimising process, Stratco will release its solarcore range to the market this month.

Stratco's Michael Stenhouse said solid growth prospects for solar products coupled with unmet demand made the company's decision to go "solar" relatively simple. "The renewable energy market is one that will continue to grow and fits in well with our existing roofing and building product range, so it made sense to develop a product which was increasing in demand." Mr Stenhouse said. "Consumers are looking more and more for green products and solar hot water and photovoltaic (PV) systems are now routinely installed in new homes.

"The development of the product has been a significant investment but one we are sure will ultimately be worthwhile for both consumers and the Stratco business - with significant opportunities both interstate and internationally" solarcore's evacuated glass collector tubes collect heat from the sunlight during cool windy and overcast conditions as well as sunny days.

Future's not looking sunny
March 6, 2010

THE results are in and, going by the official projections, it's not looking encouraging for the penetration of renewable energy into the Australian market over the next 20 years - particularly solar. Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson released the first Australian Energy Resource Assessment this week, a comprehensive compilation of our renewable and non-renewable energy resources.

Published by Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics (ABARE), it says that Australia could be a clean-energy superpower with a rich diversity of world-class solar, wind, geothermal and wave/tidal energy resources, as yet largely undeveloped. The assessment also includes projections, based on ABARE studies not yet released, of the potential uptake of renewable energy in electricity generation (which accounts for around half of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions).

ABARE's projections assume a cut in overall emissions of 5 per cent by 2020 - as the government pledged to do under the Copenhagen Accord - and unspecified emissions reductions thereafter, consistent with earlier Treasury modelling. It also assumes the carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS) passes, our no-nuclear policy stays, and there is no significant adoption of carbon capture and storage technology over the next 20 years.

ABARE expects electricity demand would grow by half given continued growth in energy use, rising 1.8 per cent a year to 2030. The early emissions cuts would largely be achieved through a 20 per cent renewable energy target (RET). Once the renewable energy target is reached, ABARE expects the market share of renewable energy to drop back slightly, from 20 per cent to 19 per cent between 2020 and 2030. According to the report, the CPRS is fully replaced by the RET from 2020, but there would be a slight decline in the uptake of renewables as gas increases its market share.

So from now until 2030, it says, Australia's electricity generation will rise from 247TWh to 366TWh and will come less from coal (down from 77 per cent to 43 per cent), more from gas (up from 16 per cent to 37 per cent) and more from renewables (from 7 per cent to 19 per cent). Hydro is least likely to be taken up, according to ABARE, generating 3.5 per cent of our overall electricity in 2030. That's because forecast climate change means we're increasingly short of water. Wind could grow quickly as a sector, with a growth rate of 12 per cent a year, to provide 12 per cent of the country's power supply.

Geothermal, so far unproven in this country, could grow fastest at 18 per cent a year, going from next to nothing to 6TWh to account for 1.5 per cent of electricity production. That's faster and bigger than solar, which goes from 0.1TWh to just 4TWh - a growth rate of 17 per cent a year for 20 years but still representing just 1 per cent of total production in 2030. The government commissioned the non-profit US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to model the cost-competitiveness of non-renewable and renewable energy technologies in Australia, with the help of WorleyParsons and an industry and government reference panel.

EPRI's data has not been published yet but the assessment includes the ''levellised cost'' of a range of technologies in 2015 and 2030. The levellised cost is the revenue, per unit of electricity generated, needed to break even over the life of a power station. The estimates did not include a carbon price and did not factor in transmission or network costs. CO2 emissions count those from electricity generation only - they don't factor in emissions from mining coal and gas uranium.

To some observers, the costs look high across the board at $70 per MWh and above - roughly double the prices we're used to. The upshot is that wind and geothermal - specifically, geothermal energy from hot sedimentary aquifers - jump straight to the top of the merit order. That's great. But nuclear power, gas and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS), beat all forms of solar. The Australian Solar Energy Society was not invited to join the EPRI reference panel and chief executive John Grimes rejected the findings yesterday. ''There are some fundamental assumptions that we would question,'' he said. ''They're showing PV (photovoltaic) as being cheaper than concentrating solar thermal-trough technology, and it's just not the case.''

Grimes says the actual cost of solar thermal today is around $200 per MWh and, in the US, Google-backed developers are quoting $US120-180 per MWh ($A133). ''We're forecasting a cost reduction of at least 50 per cent over the period, which would put it in parity with non-renewable energy by 2030, if not below,'' he said. ''The sooner the government invests in solar thermal technology, the sooner the price will fall. The opportunity for Australia in large-scale, utility-sized, solar-thermal plants is not reflected in this report.''

Australian Greens deputy leader Christine Milne was also scathing. ''Nobody, with the possible exception of Martin Ferguson, takes ABARE's energy reports seriously any more, and this latest is no exception,'' Senator Milne said. "Anyone who thinks that renewables will decline in Australia between 2020 and 2030 is living in a parallel universe, or deliberately ignoring the clear evidence of a boom in these zero emissions technologies," she said.

Monday 8 March 2010

Confusion reigns over Japanese climate bill
03 March, 2010

Japan's government is reviewing a proposed climate bill – just days after it was unveiled – following industry lobbying. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) released the bill last week for cabinet approval, a precursor to appearing before the legislature. But the Ministry of Environment (MOE)-drafted bill was yesterday withdrawn for further consideration and industry comment.

The bill contains the framework for the DPJ's climate change mitigation strategy as outlined in its 2009 election manifesto, and would enshrine the government's 2020 target, to reduce emissions by 25% from 1990 levels, provided other developed nations adopt similar cuts.

It also outlines, with few details, an emissions trading scheme (ETS) but does not mention mandatory emissions caps. It also mentions a possible carbon tax from 2011, a renewable energy feed-in tariff, and a goal to increase renewable energy from 1.3% of total generation capacity last year to 10% by 2020. However, according to media reports, an MOE spokesperson today denied claims that the bill would be delayed beyond the cabinet's planned 5 March approval. The ministry failed to return requests for comment.

"I think they are going to change the content of the bill again," said Yugo Nagata, an associate at law firm Baker and McKenzie in Tokyo. "The steel and electricity lobbies are against this bill; the cabinet did not have any chance to communicate with them about it and I think they now realise that they can't publicly decide on the bill at this time."

Since last year's change in government, communication between the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) and industry groups has decreased. Under the previous administration, METI was seen as a conduit between the government and industry lobbies such as Nippon Keidanren.

"We understand that the ETS is also one of the sticking points," added Baker and McKenzie partner Gavin Raftery, "and we understand that industrial groups are voicing their opposition to that approach at this stage." "My feeling is that there are still strong opinions for and against an ETS," he continued, adding that METI minister Masayuki Naoshima has voiced concern about putting too many details of their plan into law prior to commensurate actions by other developed countries. He added that progress in the US on climate legislation may change industry views.

Seize the initiative

Thursday 4/3/2010 Page: 1

While governments across the world dither, private industry is taking the lead on climate change.
SINCE before he was elected US president, Barack Obama made clear who he thought would dominate the world economy in the 21st century. It would be, he repeated in his State of the Union address last month, the country that led the transformation in the cleantech and clean energy sectors. The US has watched its early dominance of the silicon solar panel industry being assumed by China and Japan. It now fears that not only China but India, Brazil and others will seize the initiative to dominate other emerging industries and technologies.

The Copenhagen climate change talks may have ended in disarray, hopes for a binding treaty anytime soon may be in retreat and some conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be under the spotlight, but it seems clear that the transition to a low-carbon economy and towards clean technology is inevitable and accelerating. "China is not waiting to revamp its economy," Obama said in his speech. "Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. They are not standing still... They're rebuilding their infrastructure.

They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs." The question for Australia is how it seeks to position itself in what some are branding as the new space race. Present policies, particularly the proposed emissions trading scheme and faltering renewable energy target, have been framed, or at least justified, with a global climate change treaty in mind.

But too little of the push to innovate has been sold on the need to maintain pace with companies equally concerned with energy security and other environmental measures as about climate change. And too little about gathering some share of the trillions of dollars that will be directed towards clean technology and investments.

In the absence of an international treaty, most leading economies are pushing for change, as a national or regional initiative, in the form of an ETS, mandated clean energy targets, green stimulus packages and a host of subsidies, taxes and financing initiatives. "The lack of a binding international agreement on any of these issues at the Copenhagen summit last December has understandably created uncertainty in the minds of many potential climate change investor," Deutsche Bank's head of assets management Kevin Parker an in a recent report.

"This is unfortunate because what matters far more is that national governments all over the world are not waiting for a supra national framework. They are already pushing ahead with their own policies that will do far more than international regulation in the short to medium-term to stimulate private investment."

Deutsche Bank notes that immediately before and after the Copenhagen summit ended in disarray, more than 25 significant policy announcements were made from nations and states worldwide, with some of the most notable coming from the US, China, India, Taiwan, Brazil,Britain and South Korea. New national legislation is a hugely encouraging sign that matey countries not only understand the urgency of the climate change problem but see the competitive advantage of moving ands a low carbon economy," Parker writes.

He describes it as the "opportunity of a lifetime" investors to focus on the quality of regulation provided by individual countries because huge differences are emerging. "We believe these disparities will, over time, translate into massive differences in the amount of investment capital countries attract and the jobs they create in renewable energy and other climate change industries. Investment capital will find the best returns, wherever they are. Countries that fail to provide them will get left behind."

In a small but symbolic sign of the changing nature of technology and established industries, the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla last month signalled it would conduct a $US100 million initial public offering this week. It will be the first IPO in the US auto industry since Ford listed on the stock exchange in 1956. Tesla may well be a loss maker, but its public float has attracted the support of four heavyweight financiers Deutsche Bank, J P Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley which clearly have a vision of where their future bread will be buttered.

Morgan Stanley and HSBC also have taken principal positions in the $US350m raising by Better Place, the electric car network provider, which has completed the largest venture capital raising in the world in the past two years. And Warren Buffett, long touted as the world's smartest investor, is sitting on an eight fold return on a $US230m investment made two years ago in BYD. The Chinese battery and EV maker has ambitions of being the world's, largest car manufacturer and is already the biggest manufacturer of any sort in China.

Closer to home, Ausra, the company that began as an academic case study at the University of New South Wales and was then taken to the US to gain some financial backing, has been sold to Areva, the world's biggest nuclear energy group. Areva intends to use the Ausra technology as a flagship product in its push to dominate the solar thermal energy industry. Numerous other Australian clean-tech and clean energy developers find themselves at a crossroads.

A report by the advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions found that Australia, in theory, could be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2020. But at its present rate of progress it seems unlikely that more than a few villages and hamlets, along with a handful of desalination plants, will be renewable at that time. Meanwhile, talented and innovative Australian developers are packing their bags for greener pastures overseas, where broader market based subsidies, tax incentives and loan guarantees are encouraging innovation in wind, solar, marine, energy storage and a host of other areas.

The irony is that while the likes of Scotland declare their intention to be the Saudi Arabia of marine energy systems, and Chile and Argentina make similar claims in regard to lithium-ion batteries, the key technology for EVs, Australia's natural resources could give it the ambition to become the Saudi Arabia of whichever energy source it wants. It has the capacity for geothermal, solar, wind or marine energy and to develop a corresponding industry.

So while the cadence of Australian policy continues to be directed by the pace of international agreements, what of the future of UN climate change talks? Is there any prospect that such an agreement could be enacted? The absence of a legally binding agreement did not surprise those who followed these negotiations closely, but there was no doubt they were stunned by the chaotic and dysfunctional ending to the two-week conference in Copenhagen in December.

And there are now few who believe an agreement can be struck in Mexico later this year, or can be struck at all if under the auspices of the UN. Even the status of the so-called Copenhagen Accord, produced at the last minute by a group including the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, is under doubt. India and China this week indicated they were unsure if they wanted to be associated with the accord, which sets a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial times. "This does make it less likely that we will see a global agreement," says Graham Stuart, head of the European climate change practice at Baker and McKenzie. "What we will get is a bottom-up approach [from individual nations].

At some point, maybe, those national pledges will coalesce into a binding treaty." Nevertheless, Stuart says there will be much activity in the realm of national actions, bilateral agreements between, say, China and the European Union on carbon credits and the power sector, as well as regional agreements. "We are looking at a whole set of national actions and bilateral treaties," Stuart says.

This a view supported by Freehills, another legal firm closely following the action at domestic and international levels. It says a global consensus may not be possible and smaller bilateral and multilateral treaties may be more productive. On the domestic front, however, the positions of the government and the opposition appear intractable, and may be resolved only through an election. "The signs still remain that some form of carbon regulation in Australia is inevitable," it says. "But the precise format is not certain."

Climate pioneer backs carbon tax - `Exporting coal akin to being drug dealer to world'

Thursday 4/3/2010 Page: 4

THE scientist who first convinced the world that climate change was a problem has backed a Greens' proposal for a carbon tax as the only solution being offered in Canberra. James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and dubbed the "godfather of climate science", said the emissions trading model backed by the government was "a non-solution" while the opposition did not accept man-made climate change. He supported the Greens' plan of an interim carbon tax starting at $23 and rising with inflation - in line with his support of industries having to pay a carbon price without access to offsets through a carbon market.

"If we had a democracy where decisions were based on the public's best interest, then that would be taken up in a heartheat," Dr Hansen said in Melbourne yesterday. "Neither of the major parties gets it - or they don't want to get it." Where Dr Hansen - who brought global warming to the world's attention through testimony before the US Congress in 1988 and has become famously vocal in his disenchantment over its failure to act - diverges from the Greens on the issue that brought him to Melbourne: nuclear energy, he believes it is an inevitable part of the solution.

Dr Hansen said the answer to climate change must be a rising carbon tax and then letting the alternative technologies - nuclear, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency - compete. He said he had been swayed that nuclear was needed by experts and energy company chiefs in the US arguing. "They make a very strong case that renewables and efficiency cannot do the whole job - to their it becomes a choice between coal and nuclear for baseload power," he said.

He would welcome Australia making a commitment to move to 100% renewable energy - but said it would be a mistake "to make that gamble". "I think the chances of that working and being at a price that the public would be willing to pay is not very good," he said. "I don't intend to be telling Australia what they should do for their energy source except that they can't continue to burn coal without screwing everybody - including my grandchildren. "And exporting coal, and increasing exports of coal, is almost equivalent to being a drug dealer to the world."

Dr Hansen opposes emissions trading as it lets large emitters offset their carbon footprint rather than make cuts. He believes it will never be embraced internationally, especially not by China. He said claims that climate science had been undermined by recent criticisms were a "hoax" backed by vested interests. He said raw data showing rising temperatures was available on the NASA website, and glaciers were continuing to recede. The rate of land mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica had almost doubled since 2002.