Friday 10 September 2010

France needs more cuts to solar power subsidies, government study says
Sep 7, 2010

France needs to revise targets for solar power and further cut subsidies to curb costs to consumers that may balloon to 54 billion euros ($70 billion) by 2020, according to a government report. New installations should be capped at 300 to 500MWs a year, wrote Jean-Michel Charpin in a report published on the finance ministry's website Sept. 3. France is on track to surpass its 2020 target for installed solar capacity by 2013 as companies rush to profit from inflated tariffs, he said.

Before Charpin's report was made public, the government said it would cut the so-called feed-in tariff Sept. 1 for a second time since January to counter a speculative bubble in the industry. The move is the first in a planned solar-policy overhaul in coming months that may include an annual growth target of 500MWs, the government said at the time.

Five hundredMWs "won't be nearly enough to develop equipment manufacturers in France," Richard Loyen, head of the solar industry group Enerplan, said by telephone today. "This is a report, not a new policy, although we know the minister will likely base his plan on it." Declining costs for making photovoltaic panels are forcing governments to reduce subsidies shouldered by consumers when they pay for electricity from renewable sources. Spain also plans to cut solar prices while Germany reduced the price for sun-generated electricity from July.

Applications Balloon
Applications to Electricite de France SA for connecting photovoltaic capacity to the grid rose more than four-fold to 80,000 in 2009 compared with the previous year, amounting to 4,670MWs, or 90 percent of the 2020 target, according to Charpin. About 80 percent of the applications were for large installations on industrial or farm buildings. If the trend continues, installed capacity will reach 17,000MWs in 2020 and cost consumers more than 4.5 billion euros annually, according to the report. This could translate into a 200 euro annual surcharge per household heated by electricity.

Feed-in tariffs require utilities to buy electricity generated by renewable sources such as solar panels and pay more than the standard rate. EDF, France's former power monopoly, pays more for solar power than for the nuclear power it produces at 58 reactors and what it can buy on European spot electricity markets. The added cost is passed onto consumers. Companies rushed to install solar power as tariff increases became automatic under a 2006 law and as installation costs declined, according to Charpin. Returns were as high as 26 percent in the sunniest parts of France. France will have 850MWs of installed photovoltaic capacity by the end of 2010 compared to 81MWs at the end of 2008, the government said last month.

Origin part of geothermal consortium
September 2, 2010

Origin Energy Ltd says a consortium it belongs to has won a geothermal exploration concession in Indonesia. Origin Energy says it will hold a 47.5% interest in the Sorik Marapi concession in northern Sumatra. Tata Power of India will hold a 47.5% interest, while PT Supraco Indonesia will hold the remaining 5It% stake, the Sydney-headquartered Origin Energy said in a statement on Thursday. "It is estimated the Sorik Marapi concession could support the development of 200 to 300MW (MWs) of geothermal generation capacity", Origin Energy said.

Origin Energy executive director of finance and strategy Karen Moses said the joint venture was consistent with the energy producer and retailer's strategy of pursuing exploration opportunities for energy resources near growing markets. "Origin Energy had been assessing geothermal opportunities in the region since early 2009 and this joint venture is reflective of our belief that geothermal can provide large-scale renewable base-load energy", Ms Moses said in the statement.

Ms Moses said Sorik Marapi was a conventional geothermal resource similar to established operations in New Zealand, where Origin Energy had experience through its majority-owned subsidiary Contact Energy. Origin Energy also held interests in a number of geothermal exploration joint-ventures in South Australia, the company said. Tata Power managing director Prasad R Menon said geothermal energy was "one of the prime renewable growth engines". "The Sorik Marapi exploration is testament to our faith in the untapped potential of geothermal energy", he said.

Australia's major energy players support a price on carbon

Clean Energy Council
03 Sep 2010

Nineteen major Australian energy companies today called for a price on carbon to be introduced as soon as possible. The Clean Energy Council has released an open letter to major political parties backed by many of the nation's top energy companies - major employers in regional Australia. The letter calls for the introduction of a price on carbon as it is crucial to Australia meeting its emissions reduction target of 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

The Clean Energy Council's Chief Executive Matthew Warren said Australians wanted action on climate change and cheaper clean energy and business wanted certainty to invest in more clean energy projects and jobs. "An emissions trading scheme is widely recognised as being the most efficient way of reducing emissions across the economy", Mr Warren said. "It is a policy that has been supported by Professor Ross Garnaut, former Prime Minister John Howard, former Coalition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, the Greens and the Labor Party".

Carbon price schemes have already implemented in Europe and New Zealand, are now before the US Senate and are being planned for countries like Japan and China. "We welcome and congratulate the role the independents are taking in ensuring climate change policy remains on the radar of the major political parties", Mr Warren said. "Renewable energy is also great for rural and regional Australia - it will create growth, greater economic diversity and help drought-proof farms and regions. "Australia has the opportunity now to re-set the political agenda on climate change and return to the implementation of a carbon price in the next political term. We should seize that opportunity".

France Injects $1.7b into renewables, green chemistry, carbon capture
Aug 31, 2010

France's Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) has launched a program to pump €1.35 billion ($1.71 billion) into green chemistry, solar power and other emerging technology research. Over the next four years, the government will distribute €900 million ($1.14 billion) in loans and €450 million ($570 million) in subsidies. The funds will go toward biofuels, carbon capture and storage, green chemistry, and solar, marine and geothermal energy.

The government has not said how much money each category will receive. The loans and subsidies will be handed out only for certain research stages, specifically for the research demonstration, pre-commercialisation and technological testing stages between research and commercial development. By the end of this year, ADEME will distribute €190 million, followed by €290 each of the following years through 2014. The government also expects to bring in €2 billion in private investments.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Fuel-cell technology may increase CCS plant efficiencies
1 September 2010

Plans to use hydrogen fuel-cells to increase energy efficiency at carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants will be entered into a competition for government funding. A group of companies led by B9 Coal hopes to build the UK's first underground coal gasification (UCG) plant that uses alkaline fuel-cells to convert hydrogen into electricity. This process would allow upwards of 90% of the CO2 produced from the coal to be captured while generating electricity with a 60% efficiency rating at a cost as low as 4p perkWh.

This compares with between 37 and 44% efficiency for typical coal-fired power stations, according to the US National Petroleum Council. 'This is a completely new combination of technologies, with very significant advantages in terms of low cost and high efficiency,' B9 Coal's director Alisa Murphy told The Engineer. 'The capital expenditure on a turbine is considerably more than on the fuel-cells and they're much easier to operate and maintain.'

Two of the companies involved in the project, fuel-cell developer AFC Energy and Australian firm Linc Energy, completed the world's first successful trial of fuel-cells powered by hydrogen from UCG in June this year in Australia. The B9-led consortium is proposing a 500MW project located at Rio Tinto Alcan's Lynemouth Plant in Northumberland using the technology, and is supported by the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and environmental project facilitators Renew. UCG works by injecting oxygen into the underground coal seam gas, igniting a combustion process that decomposes the coal into CO2, hydrogen and other gases.

The process makes much larger amounts of coal accessible than mining and without the conventional environmental impact, potentially opening up an extra 17 billion tonnes of coal in the UK. Typically the hydrogen produced is used to power a turbine. 'In order to get the kind of efficiencies you would want from a turbine you would have to operate flat out,' said Murphy. 'With fuel-cells you get 60% electrical efficiency whatever amount of hydrogen you're putting in.'

Using fuel-cells also allows the hydrogen to be stored and the electrical output to be increased during peak demand time, simply by turning on more cells. 'This makes it a very commercially attractive model as well,' added Murphy. The group plans to apply for funding under the next round of the Department of Energy and Climate Change's (DECC) CCS demonstration competition, which is due to open later this year. 'The government is talking about showing global leadership on CCS,' said Murphy. 'In order to do that you have to come up with something radically different that is about powering the future rather than looking back at old dirty technologies and trying to improve them.'

Vic sets up $30m for green energy grants
August 31, 2010

Projects to advance solar, geothermal and bioenergy in Victoria will now have access to a $30 million grant scheme, as the Brumby government pushes its green credentials before the November election. The state government will also spend $1 million to set up a new office of solar power. "We are determined to be the solar capital of Australia", Premier John Brumby told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday. "We are a government with our eyes on the future building a solar industry".

The Australian Greens tore the seat of Melbourne from federal Labor at the national poll this month. At least three Labor inner-Melbourne seats - Melbourne. Richmond and Brunswick - could fall to the Greens at the state election on November 27. "I don't think you'd expect government to come to a halt three months out from an election", Mr Brumby said, when pressed on whether the announcement was a pitch for the Green vote. The government has appointed representatives to a medium scale solar working group to examine current investment barriers. The Electrical Trades Union donated $325,000 to the Greens to help the party win the federal seat of Melbourne. The union's Victorian secretary, Dean Mighell, has been appointed as one of the technical experts on the working group.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said he doubted whether the promised solar power projects would eventuate. "I'm not going to say we oppose them but the detail of them often seems to not materialise", he told reporters in Melbourne. "In 2002 this government promised there would be a solar plant in the Ballarat region. "They promised that before the election and it didn't happen. "In 2006 they made more promises about solar just before the election and they didn't happen". Five million dollars of the grant pool has been earmarked for projects in the Latrobe Valley.

Grant applications close on September 30.

New wind power facilities for Argentina and Brazil
31 August 2010

Argentine company IMPSA is building a wind farm in the province of La Rioja, while Brazil is planning five new wind power facilities. The project is expected to generate 25MW, according to a report by Business News Americas, which cites a company spokesperson. The site is expected to be in full operation by the end of the year, and its capacity is expected to be doubled by 2011, the report said.

In neighbouring Brazil, the Ministry of Mines and Energy is developing a plan entitled 'Special Regimes of Incentives for the Development of Infrastructure,' which has five new wind farm projects with a total capacity of 96MW. The programme will provide tax credits. As in countries around the world it is hoped that this will prove an incentive for foreign investors.

Half not aware of hot water subsidies

Friday 3/9/2010 Page: 6

FEWER than one in two Australians are aware of the substantial state and federal government subsidies available to install energy saving hot water products, according to a new survey. The Newspoll survey sponsored by Solahart, the West Australian-based maker of solar water heaters, identified a growing sense of alarm in the community about rising energy costs, but few people are aware of effective ways to cut their bills.

The survey of 676 home owners found only half were aware of the federal government's $1000 rebate to install solar hot water, while only a third were aware of other incentives. Similarly, only half had heard of Renewable Energy Certificates. Solahart's national manager, Stephen Cranch, told The Australian that constant policy change by government was adding to confusion. "What makes it very, very difficult is the on again, off again policy changes", he said.

The survey found that 94% of households were concerned about hikes in energy prices, with almost 60% saying they were very concerned. Electricity prices have risen by about 35% over the past three years. In recent interviews with The Australian, federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson and his opposition counterpart, Ian McFarlane, have predicted a doubling in the next five to seven years.

The survey found that the vast majority of people wanted to reduce their energy bills, but they were taking only limited action to do so. The most common response was installing energy-saving light globes (89%), purchasing energy-efficient appliances (72%) and turning off appliances at the power point when they were not in use (64%).

But such actions are likely to achieve only minimal savings. The big-ticket item is electric hot water. About half Australia's eight million households use electricity to heat their hot water, which is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. In these households, hot water accounts for 25% of energy consumption, so switching to renewable energy can cut power bills dramatically.

Monday 6 September 2010

Grant for fuel from farm waste

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 2/9/2010 Page: 53

SYNTHETIC fuel company Syngas and a Yorke Peninsula farmers' group have received a $300,000 state grant to create a potentially lucrative market for farm waste. The Renewables SA grant will be used to complete trials for commercial-scale collection, storage and transportation of cereal crop by-products, namely chaff and residual straw, on Yorke Peninsula and in the state's Mid North.

Syngas managing director Merril Gray said the company and the Yorke Peninsula Alkaline Soils Group had already invested $120,000 on conducting workshops and technology partnerships. "This additional investment will now help us establish the commercial viability of an entirely nonfood, biomass-fed liquid transportation fuel plant in the Yorke Peninsula area", he said. "It will also allow us to assess other biomass projects like power generation using biomass. "It will help us to secure feed material for our different business models".

Wind farm investment runs out of puff

Tuesday 31/8/2010 Page: 4

INFIGEN Energy says wind farm investment is suffering a "bust" due to complex policy changes and uncertainty over government responses to climate change. But the company whose shares have lost a quarter of their value since June is confident this will become a "boom" within a few years, as power retailers are forced to obtain a growing share of their electricity from renewable sources. The country's biggest specialist wind developer yesterday reported a $73.5 million full-year loss, after asset sales delivered it a $192.9 million profit the year before.

The result comes after Infigen Energy this year abandoned plans to sell wind farms in Germany and the US, underlining the difficult conditions for asset sales in the industry. Amid unconfirmed reports some big investors in the former Babcock and Brown offshoot have been selling down their stakes in the company. Infigen Energy explained its share price fall by pointing to a global decline in renewable energy share prices. "The sentiment towards renewable energy businesses generally has weakened in the last 12 months", said chief executive Miles George. "There's been a reduced interest in climate-change measures and therefore an associated reduced interest in renewable energy stocks generally over the last year, and we haven't been immune to that".

Investor confidence in renewable power was shaken after the lack of progress at last year's Copenhagen Convention, and the deferral of emissions trading in the US. Domestically, smaller players in wind have also been stung by a plunge in the value of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC), issued to wind farm investors, after a boom in small-scale solar power investment flooded the market. Although the federal government moved to increase REC market confidence in June. Mr George said the complex changes were taking time to filter through.

Infigen Energy is banking on a future boom in wind investment, as power retailers scramble to meet a federal government requirement to obtain 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Mr George also said it would consider floating its US wind business in years ahead, after an attempt this year failed to attract a high enough bid. With a growing focus on Australia. Infigen Energy expects to turn a profit in its underlying business in the "medium term" of about three years, as its interest costs start to decline and its production increases. It expects to pay a dividend of at least 2(G, and leave dividends at a similar level until it is consistently posting profits. Mr George's total remuneration rose 44% to $1.44 million over the year, up from $997,000 the previous year.

'Sceptical environmentalist' in from the cold

Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 1/9/2010 Page: 7

THE world's most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and "a challenge humanity must confront", in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby. Bjorn Lomborg, the self-styled "sceptical environmentalist" once compared to Adolf Hitler by the United Nations' climate chief, is famous for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating global warming and its effects on humans, and the costly waste of policies to stop the problem.

But in a new book to be published this month. Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. "Investing $US100 billion ($112 billion) annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century", the book concludes.

Examining eight methods to reduce or stop global warming. Lomborg and his fellow economists recommend pouring money into researching and developing clean energy sources such as wind, wave, solar and nuclear power, and more work on climate engineering ideas such as "cloud whitening" to reflect the sun's heat back into the outer atmosphere. Lomborg said he would finance this investment through a tax on carbon. His declaration comes at a crucial point in the debate, with international efforts to agree a global deal on emissions stalled amid a resurgence in scepticism over the reliability of the scientific evidence for global warming.

Solar PV's false dawn

Business Spectator
Monday 30/8/2010 Page: 1

Michael Fraser has put his finger on a point that is central to planning future electricity supply - and it raises yet another one of those leadership issues that our political types seem to find so hard to handle. In his Climate Spectator interview with Giles Parkinson, the AGL Energy chief executive referred to the "really interesting thing about solar power" - the "almost love affair" the Australian public has with the technology.

The big question is whether governments should pander to public sentiment, as most around Australia (with the exception of Martin Ferguson at the federal level) have done in the past few years, or whether they should ensure the love-struck voters have a proper understanding of what is involved? The "big picture" issue - that's an authentic Paul Keating saying - is the economic cost of giving in to the public solar sentiment. The federal Department of Climate Change has pointed out repeatedly that installing a 1.5kW solar PV system on every household rooftop in Australia will involve a capital outlay, at today's costs, of around $200 billion. That's five times the cost of the controversial broadband project.

What will we get in return? DCC has estimated that the carbon abatement in 2020 from doing this would be 16 million tonnes a year, extraordinarily expensive. Even if one assumes that the capital cost could be halved, the department has pointed out, this is still very costly. State government owned distributor Energex has politely made another point about PVs to the Queensland parliament's environment and resources committee, which is currently undertaking an inquiry in to growing the renewable energy sector. It says that it has been "significantly affected" by the state's solar bonus scheme, which has seen a "dramatic uptake" of PVs in southeast Queensland, resulting in extra network costs and additional expenses from feed-in tariffs that are passed on to all customers.

Its twin, Ergon Energy, also government-owned that delivers electricity across the rest of the state, reveals that as of May it had seen 6,500 solar PV systems connected to its network under the bonus scheme, providing feed-in credits worth $1.68 million over a year for a generation capacity of 10MWs. What's more Ergon Energy says smart-alec residential solar PV owners have spotted that they can maximise the value of their feed-in tariff earnings by minimising their use of washing machines, dishwashers and clothes driers during the peak solar generation daytime period, ensuring the highest benefit for their output to the grid.

There is very little overall network savings benefit to be had from the subsidy-driven PV boom, it adds. And it poses the question that, shouldn't the current and future power price rises be sufficient incentive to customers to invest in solar PVs as well as other energy conservation measures? Brisbane City Council presses the point harder. Customers voluntarily taking up GreenPower schemes, it asserts, face costs out of their own pocket of about $50 perMW hour, while the whole community bears the $400 to $600 per MWh cost of PVs through the feed-in tariff.

This situation is the more peculiar when you consider that, for any regions that have good access to gas. Australians now have an alternative to solar PVs in the shape of the BlueGen fuel-cell system, a dishwasher-sized generator which requires far less installation hassle and delivers six times as much carbon abatement as PVs - but has no government support whatsoever because it uses a fossil fuel.

It seems to me that the solar love affair is a classic example of the modern political idiom, encapsulated in the Yes Prime Minister television comedy series in a line pinched from a real-life 19th century French socialist leader: "There go the people. I am their leader. I must follow them". To which one might add that the road to economic hell is paved with venal political intentions (sooled on by an increasing number of pigs with their noses in public troughs).