Thursday 5 August 2010

Former Vestas staff open wind turbine manufacturer on Isle of Wight

Sureblades will produce a new type of recyclable blade in a factory metres from the Vestas plant one year after its closure

Nearly one year after Danish wind giant Vestas closed the UK's only major turbine plant, a new British blade manufacturer is opening just metres from the old factory. Sureblades, run by a team including three former Vestas staff on the Isle of Wight, is pinning its hopes on a new type of blade that will be 100% recyclable.

Working with Southampton University for the certification of its blades, the new company already has an order placed with Irish renewable energy company C&F Green Energy for 1,000 of its blades. The 4.6m-long structures will be used in 15kW turbines, enough to power a community.

Sean McDonagh, who is heading up operations at Sureblades, said the project had been a "beacon of light" for those involved in the Vestas plant closure last August, which led to 425 employees being made redundant. "It's been tough as no money was coming in for our families, but we knew it would work in the end, because this is a product the country needs for where it's going", McDonagh said.

Based on the same industrial estate as the former Vestas factory, which workers occupied during a 11-day roof-top protest against its closure last year, the company forecasts it will take on 40 staff within the next two years. "There are two big industries down here and people [former Vestas workers] have been on one-month contracts and not able to live their lives. When people heard about us, it's like they could get on with their lives, so they've been getting in touch", said McDonagh.

Working alongside McDonagh are the former Vestas employees Keith Hunsell and Glynn Milton, and Penny Smout a former special adviser to Ed Miliband. Unlike conventional turbine blades which use an epoxy resin that cannot be broken down, the company's blades will use a material that can be melted down and made into new blades after old ones are worn out. Sureblades said it also has another two potential orders in addition to the C&F Green Energy deal, and it hopes to be fully operational by September.

Last year Vestas said the closure of the Isle of Wight plant was a result of a lack of demand and planning problems in the UK. Ditlev Engel, the CEO of Vestas, said at the time: "In the UK, there is a clear division between what the government would like to see happening and what certain local politicians want to see happening, or rather not want to see happening ... there is not necessarily the same ambition levels".

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT), which represented and supported the Vestas workers last year, welcomed the new company. The general secretary, Bob Crow, said: "The former Vestas workers behind this imaginative new project have completely destroyed the argument put forward by the company at the time of closure that there was no market for UK manufactured turbine blades. Through their efforts to create jobs they have blown apart the bogus grounds put forward at the time for closure and redundancy of the workforce".

He continued: "RMT is very proud of what our former Vestas members have achieved so far and we are right behind them. They have also shown that it is far too easy for companies in the UK to soak up government grants and then just cut and run when it suits them without any meaningful consultation, never mind a ballot of the workforce".

Qld laws blamed for hampering geothermal projects
Jul 29, 2010

An energy company with plans for geothermal power stations throughout Queensland says the industry cannot move forward due to State Government legislation. Clean Energy Australasia (CEA) wants to build geothermal power stations in western Queensland and in South Australia. CEA spokesman Joe Reichman says it cannot start producing electricity from geothermal resources under state laws because they only allow for exploration.

"The Queensland Government has not passed production legislation so we can't produce electricity from geothermal because there's no production legislation for geothermal", he said. "Therefore the way things stand we're just absolutely strapped - we can't move forward until we start to get some positive support from both the Queensland and the federal governments". He says new laws are needed to boost confidence in the sector.

"[To] get that production legislation on the books so we can actually produce geothermal electricity, then the investment community which... don't like to invest in high-risk ventures where they can't see with clarity how they'll be able to make these things commercially viable", he said. "Then we believe the money will then start to come flooding from the investment communities".

But the Queensland Government says new laws are before the Parliament that will help the development of a large scale geothermal production industry in the state. A spokesman from the Department of Mines and Energy says the Geothermal Energy Bill was introduced into Parliament in May this year, which when passed, will provide the next important step for the sector's growth. The Government also says it is committed to geothermal power and operates Australia's only geothermal power station at Birdsville in the state's far-west and is investing $15 million over five years in the Queensland Geothermal Centre of Excellence.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Batteries for wind farms

Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday 29/7/2010 Page: 6

THE rapid growth of wind farms, whose output is hard to schedule reliably or even predict, has electricity providers in the US scrambling to develop energy storage to ensure stability and improve profits. As the wind installations multiply, companies have found themselves dumping energy late at night, adjusting the blades so they do not catch the wind, because there is no demand for the power. And grid operators, accustomed to meeting demand by adjusting supplies, are struggling to maintain stability as supplies fluctuate.

On the cutting edge of a potential solution is Hawaii, where state officials want 70% of energy needs to be met by renewable sources such as the wind, sun or biomass by 2030. A major problem is that it is impossible for generators on the Islands to export surpluses to neighbouring companies or to import power when the wind towers are becalmed.

On Maui, for example, wind generating capacity overall will soon be equal to one-fourth of the island's peak demand. But peak wind and peak demand times do not coincide, raising questions about how Hawaii can reach its 70% goal. For now, the best option seems to be storage batteries.

In New York and California, companies are exploring electrical storage that is big enough to allow for "arbitrage", or buying power at a low price, such as in the middle of the night, and selling it hours later at a higher price. Renewable goals can be met, many in the industry insist. But if the energy source is intermittent, "you can't do that without batteries of some sort", said Peter Rosegg, a spokesman for the Hawaiian Electric Company. His company has agreed to buy electricity from a wind farm on the northern shore of Oahu, where the power company First Wind, of Boston, has just broken ground.

The spot is one of Hawaii's best wind sites. Mr Rosegg said, but the supply is gusty and erratic. What is more, it is at the farthest point on the island from the company's main load centre. Honolulu, and does not even lie on its high-voltage transmission backbone. So the 30-MW wind farm, which will have enough power to run about 30 Super Walmarts, will have Xtreme Power of Austin. Texas, install a 15-MW battery. Neither First Wind nor Xtreme Power would say what the project cost, but publicly disclosed figures put the project about $US130 million ($145 million), with about $US10 million for the battery. The Energy Department has provided a $US117 million loan guarantee.

Solar power firm offers to rent roofs

Herald Sun
Friday 30/7/2010 Page: 46

HOME owners are being offered the chance to rent their roofs to a solar power company in exchange for cheaper electricity bills. London-based company Isis Solar will pay all costs for solar panels to be installed on thousands of roofs in Britain and in return property owners will see their electricity bills fall by up to two thirds, with the average home saving about $530 a year.

It will benefit those who cannot afford the usual cost of installing panels. However, home owners must agree to keep the panels for at least 25 years and allow access for maintenance. The company took advantage of a government program that pays renewable energy firms, which generate their own electricity. Isis plans to install solar panels on 18,000 homes by 2015.

First molten salt solar thermal plant debuts in Italy
26 Jul 2010

What is claimed to be the world's first solar thermal concentration plant to use molten salt as the heat transfer fluid has been opened by Italian energy company Enel in Sicily. The 5MW Archimede plant - named after the rows of huge parabolic mirrors used to capture the sun's rays - is also claimed to be the first to integrate a combined-cycle gas facility and a solar thermal power plant for electricity generation.

The solar thermal power plant comprises a field of about 30,000 m2 of mirrors that concentrate sunlight on to 5.4km of pipe carrying the molten salt fluid. The thermal energy harvested by the system produces high-pressure steam that is channelled into the turbines of the power plant to produce electricity, reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and, as a result, enhancing the environmental performance of the combined-cycle plant.

The solar collectors (the parabolic mirrors and pipes or receivers), together with a steam generator and two heat storage tanks - one cold and one hot - make up the solar portion of the system.

When the sun shines, the thermal fluid drawn from the cold tank is circulated through the network of parabolic collectors, where it is heated to a temperature of 550°C and injected into the hot tank, where the thermal energy is stored. The fluid is then drawn from the hot reservoir to produce steam at high pressure and temperature, which is sent to Enel's nearby combined-cycle plant, where it contributes to electricity generation.

The molten salts used in the system are a mixture of sodium nitrate and potassium, which can retain heat for prolonged periods. This enables the plant to generate electricity at any time of the day and in all weather conditions until the stored energy is depleted.

Genesis Energy Seeks Approval for Wairarapa Wind Farm
July 27, 2010

July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Genesis Energy Ltd., a New Zealand goverment-owned electricity generator, is seeking approvals to build a wind farm in the Wairarapa at the southern end of the nation's North Island. The Castle Hill site has potential generating capacity of 600MWs, the Auckland-based company said in an e-mailed statement. The exact number of turbines, their size and location are yet to be determined, it said.

Wind farm 'mega-project' underway in Mojave Desert
July 27, 2010

The Alta Wind Energy Center -- with plans for thousands of acres of turbines to generate electricity for 600,000 Southern California homes -- officially breaks ground Tuesday. It's being called the largest wind power project in the country, with plans for thousands of acres of towering turbines in the Mojave Desert foothills generating electricity for 600,000 homes in Southern California. And now it's finally kicking into gear.

The multibillion-dollar Alta Wind Energy Center has had a tortured history, stretching across nearly a decade of ownership changes, opposition from local residents and transmission infrastructure delays. But on Tuesday, the project is officially breaking ground in the Tehachapi Pass, a burgeoning hot spot for wind power about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. When completed. Alta could produce three times as much energy as the country's largest existing wind farm, analysts said. It's slated to be done in the next decade.

The project will probably be a wind power bellwether, affecting the way renewable energy deals are financed, the development of new electricity storage systems and how governments regulate the industry, said Billy Gamboa, a renewable energy analyst with the California Center for Sustainable Energy. "It's a super-mega-project -- it'll definitely set a precedent for the rest of the state and have a pretty large impact on the wind industry in general", he said.

The project's developer, New York-based Terra-Gen Power, plans to coax threeGWs of power from the wind farm over the next eight years. It has led some industry experts to predict that California might have a shot at reclaiming the wind power crown from competitors such as Texas and Iowa. "Alta's an absolutely enormous project in probably the most promising wind resource area that remains in the state", said Ryan Wiser, a renewable energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "It's the single biggest investment in California wind project assets in decades and is likely the largest the state is ever going to see".

Southern California Edison agreed in 2006 to buy 1,550MWs of electricity from Alta over 25 years, one of the heftiest power purchase agreements ever signed. That would be enough energy to serve 275,000 homes and is twice the capacity of the country's largest existing wind farm, a 735-MW project in Texas.

Terra-Gen Power is building Alta as a collection of wind farms; it has finished funding and started building the first group of five. The cluster's 290 turbines will be scattered across 9,000 acres, most of which are leased from private landowners. As early as next year, executives said, the turbines could start producing enough power to boost California's wind power output more than 25% while creating thousands of local jobs.

By 2015, another batch of farms, with roughly 300 turbines -- some with blades spanning nearly the length of a football field -- is expected to be producing an additional 830MWs. Beyond that, details are scarce. "The first Alta phases are very real, but future phases might be a little less tangible", said Matt Kaplan, a senior analyst with IHS Emerging Energy Research. "We've seen California utilities sign a lot of power purchase agreements for not necessarily the most realistic projects".

For years, Alta seemed to some like just another ambitious pipe dream tied up in red tape and stymied by a lack of transmission lines to carry the energy to customers. The project was originally conceived as the Alta-Oak Creek Mojave initiative in the early 2000s by Australian infrastructure fund Allco Finance Group. But when the firm went bankrupt in 2008. Terra-Gen Power bought control of Alta for $325 million. The permitting process took about three years, said Steve Doyon, vice president and head of development for Terra-Gen Power.

Along the way, Terra-Gen Power had to abandon several proposed sites because of landowners' concerns about noise and frosty turbine blades slinging chunks of ice. Some worried that the skyscraping structures could malfunction and collapse or impede firefighting efforts. Last year, a petition opposing part of the project collected more than 1,000 signatures. The Federal Aviation Administration also jumped in, saying that some of the proposed turbines would interfere with flights at the nearby Mountain Valley Airport. "We're not against green energy in any way, but there just comes a time when you say that this is my community and I don't want turbines encroaching in full view", said Merle Carnes, president of the Old West Ranch Property Owners Assn. "There's room somewhere else".

The Alta project had other big hurdles. California has been falling behind in the wind power race, increasing its capacity just 7% in 2008 while Texas and Iowa each doubled theirs. Pockets where high wind is common -- such as the Altamont Pass in Northern California and the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs -- ran out of space early on, crammed with small turbines using inefficient old technology, analyst Wiser said. That has led to just "dribs and drabs" of installation over the last two decades. The Tehachapi area is one of the few windy regions left with room to grow, he said.

Edison has been making headway on its Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, connecting alternative-energy projects such as Alta to electricity-hungry city centers. The utility is trying to meet a statewide goal for investor-owned utilities to use renewable energy for 33% of all power supplied to customers by 2020. Previously tight-fisted investors also are more confident about financing renewable energy projects. Terra-Gen Power recently secured $1.2 billion in funding for the Alta project.

Vestas-American Wind Technology said last week that it would deliver 190 turbines to Alta, the largest order ever for the turbine-making company. It was unable to land any contracts last year because of the credit crunch. The industry is not out of the woods yet: In the first half of 2010, newly added wind capacity in the U.S, tumbled 70% compared with the same period last year to just 1,200MWs, the American Wind Energy Association, said Monday. But for now, experts said, the Alta project seems to be on track. "I'm not seeing any great big red flags there", Wiser said.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Solar advocates slam Labor's car rebate plan
Jul 25, 2010

Green groups have criticised the Federal Government's decision to pull funding from solar power schemes in order to pay for its plan to remove old cars from Australia's roads. If re-elected, the Government says it will offer owners of pre-1995 vehicles a $2,000 rebate for upgrading to more fuel efficient cars. But solar power advocates, the Greens and the Coalition have slammed the proposal, as more than half of the funding for it will be taken from the Government's solar infrastructure program.

Australian and New Zealand Solar Energy Society chief executive John Grimes says it makes no sense. "You're taking money away from a 100% emission free electricity generation program and putting it into reducing emissions from cars - but reducing them, not eliminating them", he said. "Infrastructure projects and clean-and-green collar jobs of the future have now been either scrapped or scaled back". The Greens say they support the idea but not the way it is funded. They say funding should instead come from fossil fuel subsidies given to big polluters.

The Opposition's Environment Spokesman, Greg Hunt, says the policy could have a damaging economic impact. He says the program will effectively take money away from Australian infrastructure and give it to foreign car manufacturers. "In Germany and in the United States, the cash for clunkers program has been a disaster", he said. "It created a boom and then a bust. This is exactly what happened with the pinkbatts program, a boom and then a bust. "The Prime Minister must explain today why she is taking $220 million from the solar flagships fund for Australian renewable energy and instead she's going to pay 90% of that money [to companies] such as Mercedes, such as BMW".

Wind turbines 'set for increase'
25 July 2010

The number of UK wind turbines is set to rise to avert a power crisis. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has indicated. In a Sunday Telegraph interview, the Lib Dem minister backed new onshore and offshore wind power over nuclear. Mr Huhne, whose department is facing cuts of between 25% and 40%, said turbines were "incredibly competitive" but not always popular among locals. Offshore sites had fewer planning issues and were "likely to be an important part" of energy independence.

There are currently around 250 wind farms operating in the UK, with a further 12 offshore, with 2,909 turbines in operation in total. A further 27 onshore and five offshore wind farms are currently under construction while plans for another 468 wind farms have been announced.

'Beautifully windy'
Speaking ahead of a key policy statement to the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Huhne identified Dogger Bank in the North Sea as a prime area for further offshore development. "It's relatively cheap to put wind turbines in that shallow area", he said. "It's beautifully windy so it does actually produce a lot of electricity - that is a really important natural resource for us". Mr Huhne said the UK needed to become more independent in energy production to allow it to withstand "shocks from the outside world". "The lights will not go out on my watch", he said.

The Energy Secretary said it was feasible for Britain to be totally self-sufficient thanks to renewable sources, which also includes wave energy and harnessing tidal streams. "It implies quite a stretch as it implies we would be building an awful lot of turbines around our coasts. But the technology is changing. It is becoming substantially cheaper to generate from these renewable sources", he said.

Plans for new nuclear plants won support from both the Tories and Labour in the previous parliament but Mr Huhne said the new coalition had "no money" to subsidise such a move. Under the coalition agreement, Lib Dem MPs can register their long standing opposition to the issue by abstaining from any parliamentary vote. Mr Huhne, however, told the Telegraph he expected new power stations would be built through private investment "given the framework we can put in place".

'Key' Aussie invention ignored locally
July 23, 2010

In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, an Australian company was recently awarded a prestigious government award for the most innovative company to invest in the state this year. At its new production facility in Heinsberg, Germany, Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd was producing "a key technology of the future", said Petra Wassner, managing director of NRW.INVEST, the state's economic development agency. The Victorian-based company was praised for investing 9.5 million euros ($A14.16 million) in the facility, creating 80 new jobs and contributing "to a more efficient and cleaner energy supply in North Rhine-Westphalia", Wassner told the award ceremony in Dusseldorf.

But Ceramic Fuel hasn't attracted nearly as much excitement in Australia, forcing the company to go global to survive. "We are really big news here", Ceramic chief executive Brendan Dow Chemical told AAP from Germany. "(In Australia) we are treated like a science project. "It's really quite frustrating". The big news is Ceramic Fuels' BlueGen fuel-cell device. Roughly the size of a dishwasher, the device uses solid oxide fuel-cell technology to convert natural gas into electricity and heat. It generally produces more than enough electricity to power the average household - unless it is summer and you're constantly running the air-conditioner - and enough heat to produce a tank of hot water daily.

In Germany, utility companies supply the device free of charge to households, who then pay for the natural gas they use. Mr Dow Chemical likens the arrangement to a mobile phone contract, where the consumer receives a free hand set and pays for their calls. "BlueGen is an enabler of the utilities to be able to bill you for heat and power", he said. The household can then make back some money by selling any excess power to the grid. If widely implemented, the system could save governments cash as well, reducing the need for billions of dollars in infrastructure. "About two-thirds of your electricity bill is actually due to transmission and distribution costs", said Mr Dow Chemical. "(The) cost to the government of actually putting in poles and wires and enough infrastructure to deliver the power from the central power station".

That in turn would mean cheaper electricity for consumers. Mr Dow Chemical said. The other benefit of generating power from your own home is efficiency. When electricity is generated in central power stations, the power and heat are lost on the way to your home. Generating electricity at home, means the power and heat are delivered directly, rather than travelling through wires. And then there's the environmental benefit. All this cheap and efficient electricity is being produced with less carbon emissions.

If all of Australia's electricity was produced via BlueGen. Australia would have the world's lowest carbon emissions, rather than being the world's worst emitter per unit of electricity. Mr Dow Chemical said. "The current emissions from the Australian grid is a little under one tonne of CO2 for everyMW hour that's produced", he said. "Our unit produces about 340kg or about one third of the emissions of the current grid". Mr Dow Chemical says the other strength of BlueGen is reliability, unlike solar or wind power which are subject to uncontrollable factors. "BlueGen operates all the time, day and night, regardless of wind or wave or sun conditions", he said. "Renewables are useful, but they can't be the only solution".

A report released last month by the CSIRO, commissioned by Ceramic Fuel Cells, found BlueGen produces "fewer greenhouse emissions than the use of current grid electricity in Victoria and NSW". Unlike solar and wind power. BlueGen runs on natural gas, which isn't renewable, and that's why the federal government hasn't snapped it up as an answer to climate change. The answer, according to John Bell from the Queensland University of Technology's Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering, is both renewables and fuel-cell technology. "fuel-cells are a terrific source of energy which is much more efficient in terms of electricity production for the amount of CO2 produced", Professor Bell said.

The technology is great, but there are two main problems, he said. "It still does produce CO2 emissions, so it's not going to get us all the way toward our emissions reduction target, and the second issue is it still uses natural gas. "There is a finite supply of natural gas and it is much less than coal. "(fuel-cell technology) doesn't necessarily address the overall long-term energy supply issue". But according to Mr Dow Chemical, it's still early days for BlueGen technology, and in the future it will be run on renewable fuels. "The technology will run on ethanol, it will run on biodiesel", he said.

In Australia, utility companies are slowly testing the water when it comes to BlueGen. EnergyAustralia has had the device installed in its showcase sustainability home in Newington. Sydney, while the Victorian government and Origin Energy have installed the devices in showcase homes in Melbourne. These are baby steps compared to the leaps being made in Europe, which is why Ceramic Fuels is operating in Germany. "Energy prices here (in Germany) reflect the real cost of generating electricity... and the government is supportive so they've put in place a feed-in tariff", Mr Dow Chemical said.

The units are available in Australia but will be expensive to purchase. Utility companies are also not obliged to purchase excess electricity, although the Victorian government is looking into including the device in its feed-in tariff scheme. "I'm frustrated as an Aussie that we don't have more success in Australia", Mr Dow Chemical said. "Our smallest utility partner here in Germany is bigger than AGL Energy, bigger than Origin Energy. "The big guys are spending money".