Wednesday 25 August 2010

Hybrid power lifts Bar

Sunday Times
Sunday 22/8/2010 Page: 69

Clean Green married Dirty Old Diesel on Friday as Marble Bar, the hottest town in Australia, became home to the world's first hybrid (solar-cum-diesel) power station that will harness harsh light to meet 190 residents' energy needs. A second station will be opened in the neighbouring Pilbara town of Nullagine, about 88km from Marble Bar, featuring reduced carbon emission footprint criteria to replace noisy and ageing diesel stations. The combined cost of the two power stations is $30 million, with $4.9 million of Federal Government funding assisting the 1350-solar panel Marble Bar station, which cost $16 million, and the 900-panel Nullagine project.

Rod Hayes, managing director of Horizon Energy, said that during midsummer peak load days, air conditioner-driven energy demand would surge to 600kW in Marble Bar. Up to 90% of daylight power could be delivered by the solar component and, on average, 65% of daytime power and 30% at all times would be solar-sourced. Mr Hayes said the power stations, which feature rotating panels that track the sun, would generate 1GW of renewable energy a year, saving 1100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing diesel usage 35 to 45%.

"The critical thing is that the system does not store energy using batteries, which are expensive and require enormous maintenance", Mr Hayes said. "We have created a hybrid system that is unique, a first of a kind using inertial storage. "So when photovoltaic panels have a drop in output, for instance due to cloud cover, the inertial storage is released during the transition as the diesel comes up to speed".

He said the new stations, relying only on one power station manager to oversee operations during the day, would also be cost effective on manpower. He said the old Marble Bar diesel power station was well past its sell-by date and Horizon Power had looked at a replacement that would be a lot more clever. "If you look around Marble Bar there is not a cloud in the sky, so the solar resource is fantastic", Mr Hayes said.

The combined CO2, emission reduction of both stations was the equivalent of 400,000 litres of diesel and 6000 cars, he said. Two diesel tanks holding 140,000 litres at Marble Bar would supply about a month's diesel. The plant was designed to carry at least two weeks' supply in case it was cut off through flooding. Mr Hayes said diesel was preferred to gas as it was not economically viable to divert gas supplies a few hundred kilometres off existing routes and build support infrastructure. He said although the project was capital-intensive up front, calculated savings over 25 years from diesel and carbon emission offsets were 20 to 30% over a diesel only station.

Horizon Energy, whose niche market is small towns, believes the technological threshold of the solar-diesel hybrid would be about 10MW, before it would have to start relying on small gas engines. The Marble Bar station was officially opened by Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore, who believes the technology can be expanded to mining operations currently relying on freestanding diesel stations. "I think the technology has got tremendous potential in WA", he said. "Not just in mining but a lot of small towns where you can look at something similar to (Marble Bar) provided the cost is at a level which is comparable to other sources of power".

Self-cleaning panel tech could up solar power yields by 40 percent
August 23, 2010

When you think of hot climates, images of deserts often pop into your mind. Indeed, many of the world's sunniest regions (near the equator) are also home to large deserts. Those deserts would seem to be an ideal place to deploy solar installations -- they're hit by intense sunlight, they're relatively foliage-free for easy installation, and they don't have high concentrations of wildlife that would be impacted.

Unfortunately, the soil of deserts poses a critical problem. Sandy dust clings to panels, dramatically reducing their output. Now a team of researchers led by MIT professor Malay K. Mazumder. Ph.D has come up with a solution -- use automated cleaning technology developed for missions to Mars.

The technology involves first using a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor the levels of deposited dust on the panel. When the dust levels get too high, a charge is applied to the coating and the dust is physically move across the panel via the charge and dumped off the edges.

The procedure uses a minimal amount of energy, making it a viable cleaning solution. It removes 90% of dust, greatly improving power output. And best of all, the technology has already been stress tested by NASA space probes and rovers under the harsh Martian climate.

Professor Mazumder comments, "We think our self-cleaning panels used in areas of high dust and particulate pollutant concentrations will highly benefit the systems' solar power output. Our technology can be used in both small- and large-scale photovoltaic systems. To our knowledge, this is the only technology for automatic dust cleaning that doesn't require water or mechanical movement".

United States, Spain, Germany, the Middle East. Australia, and India all are home to large scale solar installations. Many of these installations are in regions where water is scarce, making water-based cleaning problematic. Professor Mazumder elaborates, "A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40%. In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India".

The technology already has a huge potential market; the current solar panel industry is a $24B USD market. And Professor Mazumder hopes that market will only grow larger as more countries embrace solar power. He states, "Less than 0.04% of global energy production is derived from solar panels, but if only four% of the world's deserts were dedicated to solar power harvesting, our energy needs could be completely met worldwide. This self-cleaning technology can play an important role".

The new technology may prove the catalyst to help convince nations to go ahead with such installations, as it should help to substantially reduce the perkW-hour cost of solar power. The new technology was presented by Professor Mazumder and his collaborators from NASA at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The ACS is a nonprofit group and the world's largest scientific society. Chartered by the US Congress, the ACS is responsible for many chemistry peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Blackstone invests $300 million in one of india's leading solar PV companies
Aug 20, 2010

US private equity firm Blackstone Group has decided to invest $300 million in one of the leading solar PV companies in India, Moser Baer (Private) Limited. Moser Baer has a diversified portfolio ranging from manufacturing of computer peripherals to fabrications of solar panels. While their computer hardware business is very well established, the company is looking to expand its solar panel fabrication capabilities.

The solar fabrication firm of the company was established in 2007 when crystalline silicon and thin film solar cell manufacturing assembly lines were set up. Both the assembly lines are part of Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Limited which holds the record of fabricating the world's largest thin film solar panel measuring 2.6 meters x 2.2 meters and having generation capacity of up to 390 watts.

The company has a thin film assembly line with an annual capacity of 40MW. The company also has several manufacturing facilities around the country and exports solar panels to Germany, Italy in addition to setting up solar installations within the country. Moser Baer has supplied solar panels to various rooftop and ground-mounted installations in Germany, Italy and Netherlands. A 7MW capacity solar farm at Nordendorf, Germany is its largest project while a 1MW capacity power plant in Maharashtra is its largest project in India.

The investment by the Blackstone Group is a wise move given the impending solar power revolution in the wake of the National Solar Mission which aims to install 20,000MW of solar power capacity by 2022. The government recently released a set of guidelines for the first phase (ending 2013) of the National Solar Mission which would see installation of 500MW of solar PV capacity. According to the guidelines, the project developers will be eligible for premium tariff rates only if they use solar cells and other equipment fabricated by Indian companies.

India has been predicted to be one of the drivers of solar power installations in the coming few years. With a perspective order book of tens ofMW of solar panels, Moser Baer PV certainly looks an intelligent investment move for the Blackstone Group.

New use for fuel cells: Backing up the telecom network
Aug 20, 2010

Telecommunications networks require reliable backup power solutions that can operate for hours or even days when the utility grid fails due to severe weather conditions, natural disasters, or poor grid quality. Typically diesel generators and lead acid batteries are used for providing backup. However, fuel-cell systems are increasingly being considered as a superior backup solution. fuel-cells are cleaner and quieter than diesel generators, and they can reduce the number of batteries required at telecom sites. fuel-cells also have the advantage of being less prone to theft and more resilient to extreme outdoor temperatures.

In 2008, The US Department of Energy (DOE) released a funding opportunity announcement, targeting commercialisation of stationary fuel-cells for communications backup. In 2009, a consortium led by Sprint Nextel, along with proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cell makers ReliOn and Altergy, as well as hydrogen and fuel storage supplier Air Products and Chemicals Inc., and others, was awarded $7.3 million from the US DOE.

The program calls for the deployment of 260 new hydrogen fuel-cells (HFC). Also, 70 hydrogen fuel-cells shall be retrofitted from a low pressure bottle swap solution to a new medium pressure solution that employs onsite refueling. The chart below shows the breakdown by state, led by the two most fuel-cell friendly states, California and Connecticut.

The program provides a one-time cost offset to accelerate commercial deployment of a large number of fuel-cell backup systems, which provides incentive for Sprint to make the near-term investment. The program requires long run time, defined as 72 hours backup, which is intended to establish a critical mass of HFC units, and storage modules and delivery infrastructure. With Air Products' involvement, the program has the dedication and focus of a major gas supplier with the capabilities to bring both storage and delivery to the stationary backup market. The program also requires deployment over a short period of time, less than two years to ensure critical mass happens sooner.

The early feedback from Sprint is that the program is poised for success and that it will serve as a blueprint for the telecom industry to utilise PEM fuel-cells for backup power. This makes 2010 the year when the fuel-cell industry appears poised to prove out a well established technology in a legitimate wide-scale commercialisation opportunity.

Biochar 'can cut' greenhouse gases

Canberra Times
Saturday 21/8/2010 Page: 12

Using biochar made from crop waste or chicken manure to improve farm soil health can cut the world's greenhouse emissions by 12%, or roughly 1.8 billion tonnes a year, a new study says. A research team led by United States energy department soil chemist Jim Amonette found the organic charcoal-like substance could play "a significant role" in tackling global warming while also boosting the world's food production.

The study, published online by science journal Nature Communications, calculated the carbon content of the world's crop wastes such as rice husks, peanut shells, corn leaves and stalks, as well as farm animal manure and urban green waste. It used computer modelling to estimate how much of this biomass, could be used to produce biochar.

It found using biomass to produce biochar was up to 80% more beneficial than burning organic waste to produce bioenergy or biofuels. But Dr Amonette warned ambitious projects were needed to reap the benefits of biochar, and using it to cut global emissions "will not be accomplished by half-hearted measures".

An Australian team member. University of New South Wales renewable energy engineer Professor Stephen Joseph, said the study showed biochar "can help tackle our climate concerns in a major and sustainable way". "The beauty of the technology is that it is a win-win solution: it can be used to produce energy but at the same time reduce CO2 emission in the atmosphere", Professor Joseph said. According to the study, biochar can improve soil health and fertility by increasing microbial activity, reduce soil acidity, reduce loss of nutrients and raise plant nutrient uptake by boosting water retention.

Biochar is a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal made by burning plants, wood and other organic materials at high temperatures of between 400-800° in a process called slow Pyrolysis. Former Australian of the Year, climate change campaigner Professor Tim Flannery has described biochar as potentially "the single most important initiative for humanity's environmental future".

Dr Amonette said the scientific community had been "split on biochar" because of fears it could lead to loss of habit and land for food production. The study warns land clearing to establish plantations would release carbon in soils and trees, "Leading to an unacceptably high carbon pay back times" before any cuts to carbon emissions were achieved. Converting grasslands to biomass carbon crops" would result in a carbon-payback time greater than 10 years, and clearing rainforest would result in a carbon debt "in excess of 50 years".

The study's estimates of avoided greenhouse emissions were based on assumptions no agricultural land or native forest would be converted to biomass crop production. Other sustainability criteria included leaving sufficient crop waste to prevent soil erosion, not using crop waste used for fodder, not adding biochar made from treated building materials to agricultural soils and using only modern Pyrolysis technologies be used. These technologies fully recover the energy released in the process, and eliminate soot, methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Marble Bar first

Canberra Times
Saturday 21/8/2010 Page: 9

The world's first solar-diesel power station has opened in Western Australia's Pilbara region at Marble Bar, known for its record high temperatures. WA's Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore opened Horizon Power's Pippunyah Solar Diesel Power Station yesterday. The $34 million station is powered by the biggest sun-tracking solar panel farm in Australia and is estimated to save 1119 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year and 35 to 40% of diesel consumption a year.

Monday 23 August 2010

Wind farm approved near Ararat

Thursday 19/8/2010 Page: 15

THE Brumby government has approved a 72-turbine wind farm 25 kilometres north-east of Ararat. The Crowlands wind farm, proposed by renewable energy company Pacific Hydro, is estimated as capable of generating enough energy to power about 80,000 homes, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 500,000 tonnes a year. Its total generating capacity would be 172MWs. Planning Minister Justin Madden said he had accepted a panel's finding that the emissions reductions and economic benefits outweighed any adverse impact of the turbines.

Concerns raised by six objectors included the potential impact on people's views and local flora and fauna. Approval followed the launch last week of a $1 billion, 140-turbine wind farm at Macarthur the largest in the southern hemisphere. Pacific Hydro general manager Lane Crockett said the company needed to establish the commercial feasibility of the Crowlands farm and secure financing before it went ahead. A recent poll conducted on the company's behalf found more than 80% of respondents supported increasing the number of wind farms in Victoria. About one in four supported building more coal-fired power stations.

Queensland legislation will help farmers handle mining

The rural lobby group Agforce says a bill being debated in the Queensland Parliament this week will level the playing field for farmers dealing with the mining industry. The amendments to the Geothermal Energy Bill include a code of conduct for mining companies wanting to explore on farmland and an indemnity for farmers for damages caused by companies on their land. AgForce's Drew Wagner says farmers have been campaigning for the changes for two years. "What this bill is trying to do is to get some equity and parity across that, but also legislative frameworks around the conduct, legislative frameworks around the compensation, so at least all parties not only know what their obligations are, but their rights as well".

Island paradise powers up with clean geothermal energy
August 18, 2010

Smaller volcanic Islands in the Caribbean have always had potential for geothermal energy use, since volcanoes allow heat from within the Earth to rise to the surface and transfer to water. Just last year, several geothermal reservoirs were discovered throughout the two-island Caribbean nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, which will allow it to produce approximately 50MWs of energy. Now, other Islands not too far away are following suit.

St. Lucia, a small island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea, is set to create a series of geothermal plants based on an agreement with Qualibou Energy, a US-based renewable energy company. Qualibou Energy signed a 30-year contract with the island's government in an attempt to extract enough geothermal energy to power the island on its own.

Currently, St. Lucia imports most of its energy from Mexico and Venezuela, making the island almost completely dependent on other countries for its energy resources. To make matters worse, most of the energy imported to St. Lucia is petroleum. "All our energy is produced from oil, which we import", said Roger Joseph, spokesman for St. Lucia's power utility, who is pro-geothermal energy. "So from an energy security standpoint, this gives us more options".

In addition to providing St. Lucia with independence when it comes to energy, the development of geothermal plants will also help the island obtain cleaner energy. In total, the combined series of geothermal plants expected to be built in St. Lucia would produce an installed capacity of 120MWs. This is more than enough energy to power the island. In fact, only one-third of the total energy produced will go toward powering St. Lucia, which has a population of 175,000, while the rest will be sent to power Martinique, a neighbouring Caribbean island, via an underwater power cable.

The government of St. Lucia and Qualibou Energy would like to complete the series by 2015, with the first 12MW phase to be completed and generating power in about two years.

Sunday 22 August 2010

The wind farm that ate the RET

Business Spectator
Saturday 14/8/2010 Page: 1

In Australia's renewable energy market, fortune favours the quick and the big.

The $1 billion Macarthur wind farm to be built in south-western Victoria is being touted as the most significant renewable energy project in Australia since the Snowy Hydro. But don't expect another project of similar ambition to follow anytime soon, even though there are a couple on the drawing board - there's simply no room left in the market. Macarthur has been a long time in the planning for AGL Energy, it's just been waiting for the opportunity provided by the passage of the Renewable Energy Target.

Just over a year ago, AGL Energy suggested Macarthur would be around 330MW-360MW, but improving technology and the opportunity provided by the passage of the RET means it has been able to upgrade the size of the facility by a quarter over its original estimates.

Instead of using 2.1MW turbines it has used elsewhere. AGL Energy announced on Thursday that it will use new model 3MW turbines manufactured by Vestas, enabling it to boost the size of the plant by 420MW and reduce the number of turbines to 140 from 174, providing a significant saving in operating costs. That's terrific news for AGL Energy and its joint partner in the project. Meridian Energy, and for its suppliers and contractors Vestas and Leighton Holdings; but not so good for others, particularly the independent developers who are finding it difficult to get long-term power purchase agreements to satisfy their financiers.

In a single bound, the Macarthur wind farm takes the size of the committed wind farm pipeline to more than 1000MW. Wilson HTM analyst Jenny Cosgrove says the size of this pipeline - another 150MW from two projects due to be completed this year, another 382MW from five projects in 2011, and the 203MW Collgar wind farm in WA in 2012 - means that the price of renewable energy certificates could remain at current levels of $40/MWh for longer than expected. That's not enough to get most projects off the ground.

Cosgrove says the wind farm pipeline means that LRET is rapidly approaching a balance of supply and demand in 2011-2013, and this is before the excess current banked supply of small-scale RECs, which she estimates to be more than 21 million by end 2010, is transferred into the large-scale RET. "It will take a number of years before this excess supply is absorbed", says Cosgrove. Which means that many other wind farms currently in the planning stage may struggle for a window of opportunity, of even financing, for a few years yet.

Small-scale projects may find enough room, but Macarthur appears to have swallowed the market for large scale projects for the immediate future, and it will make it difficult for other technologies too. This, though, was largely predicted, which is possibly why the proponents of competing technologies dismiss the RET as a "feed-in tariff for wind".

The real test of that estimation will come in years 2016 and beyond, when the RET target will scale up dramatically towards it 2020 target of 41 million MWh. By then, wind might have some serious competition from solar thermal, if Lend Lease is right about the pricing of solar PV, as well as some geothermal projects.

All talk, no action
At least the climate change business is good for convention centres. The 6th annual Climate Change and Business Conference concluded in Sydney this week, one of many such conferences held during the year which have become a proxy for government policy: all talk and little action.

Last year, when it was thought to be a better than even bet that an emissions trading scheme would be legislated, even the heavy emitters turned up to find out what sort of services, technologies and business ideas they could employ to meet their expected abatement targets. This year, they didn't bother. "People are angry", says Jon Jutsen, the founder and executive director of Energetics. "We hear from the scientists about the need for urgency, but bugger all is happening. It's not appropriate any more".

It's not just a carbon price that is missing from the equation. The conference put out a communique noting that Australian and New Zealand could cut emissions by at least 15%, and save money at the same. Much of this could be achieved through a series of complimentary measures that would encourage energy efficiency in buildings and a raft of industries, and rule changes that would allow now technologies and business models to flourish in the energy sector and elsewhere.

Jutsen noted, not for the first time, that the Australian economy is only about 10% efficient and loses 90% of its energy through the supply chain and end uses. Governments are committed to spending some $40 billion in energy infrastructure that continues those losses, but won't make the policy signals for rule changes that lift efficiency and reduce such costs dramatically.

The reality of nuclear energy is inconsistent with dreams of a renaissance
16 August 2010

Repeatedly in recent years there have been calls for a revival of nuclear power. Yet that renaissance never seems to come.

Of the more than 200 countries in the world, only 30 use nuclear power. In July 2010, a total of 439 nuclear power plants with a net installed capacity of 373.038GWs (GW) were connected to various national electricity grids, about 1.2GW more than at the beginning of 2006.

Roughly 16% of total energy needs (up to 25% in the highly industrialised countries) are now met by electric energy. Nuclear fission's contribution to total electric energy has decreased from about 18% more than 10 years ago to about 14% in 2008. On a worldwide scale, nuclear power is thus only a small component of the global energy mix, and its share, contrary to widespread belief, is not on the rise.

During 2009, for example, nuclear power plants provided 2,560TW hours (TWh)– equivalent to 2,560bnkW hours of electric energy, about 1.6% lower than during 2008 and almost 4% lower than during the record year of 2006. Early results for the first four months of 2010 for the OECD countries indicate that so far the 2010 results are as low or lower than last year.

During the next five years, on average, roughly 10 new nuclear reactors are expected to become operational every year. But this assumes that all are constructed according to schedule, and the nuclear industry has rarely met its promised construction deadlines. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), 17 new reactors should have become operational between 2007 and 2009. But only five came on stream during this period – three in 2007 and two in 2009.

Moreover, four reactors were de-commissioned during 2009, and a larger number of reactors in Japan and Germany are not in use, owing to various technical stoppages. At least 100 older and smaller reactors will most likely be closed over the next 10-15 years.

Furthermore, during the past 10 years, only about two-thirds of worldwide demand for nuclear fuel was met from resources obtained from mining. The remaining 20,000 tonnes came from so-called secondary uranium sources – mainly inventories held by utilities and governments, reprocessed nuclear fuel, and stockpiles of depleted uranium. The supply from these sources will drop by roughly 10,000 tonnes at the end of 2013, when the Megatons to  megawatts programme between Russia and the United States – which recycles highly enriched uranium from Russian nuclear warheads into low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants – comes to an end.

Current projections indicate that uranium shortages in the coming years can be avoided only if existing and new uranium mines operate according to plan. Indeed, extrapolations of global supply that foresee an increase in uranium mining are based on claims about the ability to expand output in Kazakhstan. So far, uranium mining in Kazakhstan has increased roughly as expected, from 4,357 tonnes in 2005 to 14,000 tonnes in 2009.

But it remains to be seen if the uranium mining in this country can indeed increase further. According to the WNA's latest estimates, from July 2010, the expected uranium extraction figure for 2010 has actually been decreased to 15,000 tonnes.

The view that the amount of energy derived from nuclear power worldwide will continue its slow decrease during the coming years is further supported by the 2008 annual report of the Euratom Supply Agency, which coordinates the long-term uranium needs of nuclear power plants within the European Union. According to the agency's forecast, uranium demand in Europe will fall from 21,747 tonnes in 2010 to roughly 16,000 tonnes by 2024.

These numbers indicate that the EU, currently producing about one-third of the world's nuclear electric energy, is heading for a reduction in nuclear power production of up to 20% over the coming 10 years. One can also expect that the current worldwide economic crisis will not help to accelerate the construction of nuclear power plants and new uranium mines.

In summary, the hard facts about nuclear power are inconsistent with the possibility of a worldwide renaissance of nuclear power. Indeed, they point toward a continuing slow phase-out of nuclear power in most of the large OECD countries.

It seems unavoidable that energy consumers, especially in many rich countries, will have to learn to exchange their current worries about the distant future consequences of global warming for the reality of energy shortages during periods of peak demand. Such shortages could result either in chaotic supplies and power outages or in a coordinated policy of energy rationing.

In the absence of nuclear power revival, most of us will be forced to reduce our direct energy consumption. Let us hope that we can learn to adapt to simpler – though perhaps still satisfying – lifestyles.