Tuesday 25 May 2010

Carbon price could end coal's reign, Origin says

Canberra Times
Wednesday 19/5/2010 Page: 15

Origin Energy says coal will remain the most economical fuel for power generation in Australia unless a price is put on carbon. The energy producer and retailer said a carbon price in the range of $20 to $40 per tonne would drive a substantial change in base load power generation. Origin Energy managing director Grant King made the comments in a speech about the role of natural gas in the nation's future energy needs, at the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association conference in Brisbane yesterday. "Without a carbon price, coal remains the most economical fuel for power generation," Mr King said.

Origin Energy controls substantial natural gas reserves, is involved in oil and gas exploration, and also has a stake in wind and geothermal power projects. "A golden age for domestic gas consumption was being predicted in the late 1990s, but by 2002 it was clear these projections would not be met," Mr King said. He said the opportunity for gas to dominate Australia's power generation was lost to coal, mostly due to new coal-fired power generation in Queensland. At above $40 per tonne for carbon emissions, gas power generation was the cheapest way to produce electricity. With no carbon policy, Australia's emissions were projected to grow to 45% above 2000 levels by 2020, but the Federal Government's renewable energy target should lead to that growth being cut to 28%, Mr King said.

State One Stockbroking energy analyst Peter Kopetz agreed coal would remain the dominant fuel for generating energy unless a price was put on carbon. "There is lots of coal, both here and in the rest of the world, for at least another 100 years or so," Mr Kopetz said. He said coal was easy to extract and was often close to the surface. It was easy to ship, snaking it cheap and the likely dominant fuel unless caps were set or a carbon price was set. "Alternative energies have been pushed back a long way," he said. Shares in Origin Energy closed down 15c, or 1%, at $14.62.

Carbon cuts will 'create 4m jobs'

Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 19/5/2010 Page: 7

BIG CUTS to carbon emissions and heavy investment in green technologies will create 3.7 million jobs across Australia by 2030, economic modelling commissioned for unions and green groups shows. The ACTU and Australian Conservation Foundation will today launch the modelling project, which has been six months in the works, in an effort to show serious efforts to tackle climate change will create jobs even in areas dominated by the mining and electricity industries.

The modelling breaks Australia into 65 regions and suggests that just one - far-western NSW - will lose jobs if Australia adopts a 25% emissions reduction target by 2020, sets up an emissions trading scheme and makes significant investment in green technologies and energy efficiency. Other areas across Australia, including those dominated by coal mining and energy industries like Gladstone and Rockhampton in Queensland and the Hunter Valley in NSW, will see job growth in the region.

The report finds that overall jobs will increase by 36% across Australia in 20 years. "The report shows regional areas, even those which produce coal and generate electricity, will have more jobs if we take strong action to cut pollution, but only if we act now," ACTU president Sharan Burrow said. Along with an emissions trading scheme and a 25% emissions cut, the modelling assumes the Australian government will invest directly in targeted regional industry planning, electric cars, public transport and reducing household emissions, among others.

The programs assumed under the modelling would require an investment of on average 2.5% of GDP over the next 20 years. The report finds that if investment is made households will be 10% better off by 2030, and GDP growth would average 3.2% to 2030. The modelling was conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research. It does not model jobs growth with no climate policies because it says that scenario is unlikely given the global push to decarbonise economies. The institute's Ian Manning told the Herald that the modelling also reinforces the position of the International Energy Agency that "procrastination" on investment in a low-carbon economy will increase costs and hurt job growth.

Queensland Government funding clean coal plants rather than solar power plants

May 18, 2010

PREMIER Anna Bligh is glowing about Queensland's potential to develop large-scale solar power stations but the Government hasn't allocated any direct funding into solar plants as it has for 'clean coal' plants. The Federal Government last week said eight shortlisted solar power station projects, including five with sites in Queensland, would share in $15 million for studies to help the Government choose two winning projects before June 2011.

The winners receive one-third federal funding to help build their plants. The NSW Government has pledged $120 million to help the NSW projects bidding in the program, saying it could bring hundreds of green jobs to NSW. The Victorian Government has made $50 million in funding available to Silex Systems which aims to build near Mildura what would be one of the world's largest solar power plants. But no Queensland funding is going to large-scale solar power plant projects. Ms Bligh, welcoming Queensland's dominance of the solar grant shortlist unveiled last week, said: ''This is recognition of our plan to ensure Queensland is a world leader in large-scale solar energy production and utilisation.''

Spain and the US are now the world's biggest builders of solar power plants but India is set to gain on them fast. India plans to have 22,000MWs in capacity from solar plants by 2020. That is more than double Queensland's total existing grid capacity, which is powered by carbon-emitting coal and gas plants. Ms Bligh said the Government was using a range of measures to encourage Queensland families and businesses to "do the bright thing'' and switch to solar.

But the Government hasn't earmarked any funding to help solar power plant projects, whereas it has allocated $300 million to help develop 'clean coal' power stations including the ZeroGen project near Rockhampton. ZeroGen and three other clean coal projects shortlisted for $2 billion in federal funding have already received up to $120 million in federal funds for assessment studies. Asked why the State Government has allocated $300 million to government-owned generators to pursue clean coal but hasn't allocated any to companies to pursue solar plants, the Government said it was focused on supporting roof-top solar panels.

David Robertson, a spokesman for state energy minister Stephen Robertson, said funding for clean coal and for solar were ''two different things''. ''Just because we've committed funding to one thing to this point doesn't mean we automatically have to commit funding to another thing at the same point. They're two different things,'' he said. He said the Government would assess any funding requests presented to it, with such applications being considered ''through the normal budget processes''.

Many governments say coal will remain a major energy source and clean coal technology is vital to curb its destabilising impact on the world's climate. But there is increasing doubt over the technology. University College London professor of chemical engineering and CO2 Technology Centre director Stefaan Simons at a conference in Adelaide in April called on Australia to rethink its pursuit of clean coal, saying it was ''potentially a dangerous diversion, soaking up time, resources and funding'' that could be better and more readily applied to other low-emission technologies.

In January a US study co-authored by University of Houston professor Michael Economides dismissed underground storage of carbon gases from power stations as ''profoundly non-feasible'' because the storage sites required for even a modest power station would be so vast as to be impractical.

Monday 24 May 2010

Cornwall wave energy hub has summer target

17 May 2010

An electrical "socket" linking wave energy machines off the Cornwall coast is to be put in place this summer. The yellow steel structure, about the size of a van, is part of a £42m scheme which is expected to start delivering power to the National Grid in 2011. It will sit on the seabed in 50m (164ft) of water 10 miles off Hayle and be covered in several metres of rock. It will feed power from four wave energy machines to an electricity sub-station at Hayle.

'Hugely satisfying'
The Wave Hub project, developed by the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA), is designed to test various wave energy machines. Some of them could be used off the north coast of Scotland where the first commercial licences have been announced. A connection block inside the 12-tonne hub will be filled with resin to ensure it remains watertight and the whole structure is designed to last at least 25 years.

Guy Lavender, Wave Hub's general manager at the RDA, said: "After seven years of planning it's hugely satisfying to see the cable and hub actually taking shape. "We're on course for deployment this summer and extensive testing will take place before we welcome our first wave energy devices at Wave Hub, which we expect in 2011." Wave Hub is being funded with £12.5m from the RDA, £20m from the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme and £9.5m from the UK government.

Cape Wind power "a bargain," pres. says

May 17, 2010

The price for power from the planned Cape Wind turbines in Nantucket Sound would be "a bargain," the president of developer Cape Wind Associates said Monday. In a 90-minute interview with the Boston Business Journal, Jim Gordon strongly defended the project on a number of levels, from economic to environmental to philosophical. The project has faced claims that the project's power would cost more than twice the normal rate of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

Beginning in 2013, National Grid agreed to buy the power at 20.7 cents per kW hour. Gordon noted that this price includes transmission charges, and will remain stable over the life of the 15-year contract - which he said contrasts with the volatility of fossil fuel costs. "I see Cape Wind saving customers money and improving their health, and the environment, and our energy security," he said. "Add all that up, and this is a bargain. It's a real bargain."

Gordon also said that no matter what the project costs to build and maintain, ratepayers will never have to pay more than what's in the contract with utility National Grid. He was responding to claims that potential cost overruns on the 130-turbine project could be passed to ratepayers above the annual 3.5% increase in the National Grid contract. Gordon called the claims baseless, saying that any potential overruns would "accrue to Cape Wind."

The project won final federal approval last month, nine years after it was first proposed. Earlier this month, National Grid signed a contract to buy half of the power output from the 468MW wind farm. The utility projected a monthly bill increase of $1.59 for a typical residential customer in the first year through the deal.

Under the contract, the price of Cape Wind's power will rise 3.5% per year to account for inflation and cost increases for labor as well as operations and maintenance, Gordon said. The contract must be approved by the state Department of Public Utilities. Gordon said the price for Cape Wind's power is certain and stable, unlike the price of energy produced by burning fossil fuels. Oil prices have swung wildly in recent years, and are on their way back up, he noted.

Assuming that prices will keep rising, due to higher demand as the world economy pulls out of the downturn, the price of power from Cape Wind likely won't be considered "premium" for long, he said. Even if that doesn't happen, Gordon contended that Cape Wind is still a bargain when other costs related to burning fossil fuels are considered. Pollution and climate change caused by burning fossil fuels have led to higher costs for healthcare and for insurance to coastal properties, Gordon said. "My mother has a house on Cape Cod, a quarter mile from the ocean, and the insurance companies pulled out because they're afraid of more frequent and more intense hurricanes from climate change," he said.

"People from Brockton and Holyoke are subsidising folks' insurance rates on the Cape." Taxpayers also must help fund the cleanup of fossil fuel-related disasters such as the Gulf oil spill, he noted. "These are costs you don't see on your electric bill, but each and every one of us pays for," Gordon said. Gordon did not put a price on the construction cost for Cape Wind, saying his team is still in negotiations with a contractor for the project. The team of seven senior managers has fully financed the project's nearly $50 million cost so far, Gordon said, though he said most of the funding has come from his pocket.

Mighty River Plans More Investment in U.S. Geothermal Projects

May 17, 2010

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Mighty River Power Ltd., operator of the world's largest single-turbine geothermal generating unit, has increased funding to help identify and build power projects in the US and Chile. The company today announced a $107 million investment in a $400 million, 49.9MW geothermal power plant in Southern California, its first in the US The New Zealand government-owned generator said it has also more than doubled to $250 million a fund available for projects identified by its Denver, Colorado-based associate GeoGlobal Energy LLC.

"GGE's capability in identifying potential projects in the US as well as Chile has really started to bear fruit," Mighty River Chief Executive Officer Doug Heffernan said in a phone interview from Auckland today. "We think there are some other prospects that they may well bring to the table in the US over the next two or three years."

Mighty River is among the world's 10 largest operators of underground steam fields. It's investing internationally to profit from its experience building large-scale geothermal power projects, its relationships with bankers and plant manufacturers, and increasing global demand for non-polluting energy.

Geothermal plants tap heat from the earth to power turbines and generate electricity 24 hours a day with minimal emissions. New Zealand, Chile and the west coast of the US lie on the 40,000-kilometer (25,000-mile) chain of active volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. The zone, known as the Ring of Fire, also includes Japan and Indonesia.

Hudson Ranch
Today's investment gives Mighty River a 20% stake in EnergySource LLC, which is building the Hudson Ranch power station in the Salton Sea geothermal region of Southern California. It will use the Fuji Electric Systems Co, machines that Mighty River has installed in New Zealand the past two years, including its 140MW Nga Awa Purua plant, the world's largest single-turbine project.

"The construction experience that Mighty River has had with that technology provided a great fit for GGE and its new partners," Heffernan said. Mighty River runs four geothermal power plants in New Zealand and has just been granted planning approval to build a fifth. It plans to have a 70MW generator operating in Tolhuaca in Chile by 2013 in a project also managed by GeoGlobal.

The Hudson Ranch plant will take about two years to build and will supply Arizona-based utility Salt River Project, Heffernan said. The balance of the project cost is being met by EnergySource and a group of eight international banks, led by ING Capital LLC, Societe Generale and WestLB AG.

"It's an illustration that project financing for renewable and geothermal projects is underway," he said. "This will be one of the bigger projects that has got forward in the geothermal space, and I guess it's a demonstration that the US is serious about shifting to renewable energy."

Cheaper Catalyst to Make Hydrogen Fuel from Sunlight


A new study, conducted by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States, has shown that solar panels coated with a newly developed and inexpensive metal catalyst, comprised of nickel and borate, could become a cheap source of solar energy for the developing world. The new catalyst, used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight, could be used instead of cobalt, which is more expensive. Conventional photovoltaic and battery systems already in use in developing countries have limited storage capacity.

According to Mircea Dincă, a researcher at MIT and lead author of the study, "One of the main problems with solar energy is using it at night. With our device you use the solar energy you get during the day to electrolyse water [break it down to oxygen and hydrogen], store the hydrogen, then consume it later." The other advantage, says Dincă, is that the catalyst works with dirty water and could even purify it for drinking. "In developing countries you don't normally have access to very pure water," he said. "Our catalysts work with water taken from rivers and this is something that hasn't been shown before."

The team is testing the new catalyst for commercial value and hope to bring the technology to the developing world as soon as possible. Their research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article can be viewed online at the link below.