Friday 5 November 2010

Outback power answer a whole lot of hot air

Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 27/10/2010 Page: 2

AN EXPERIMENTAL solar power plant at Newcastle will be the biggest of its type in the world, with a field of hundreds of mirrors "creating electricity out of sunshine and air". Most solar thermal power plants concentrate heat to boil water and spin turbines, but the CSIRO's miniature power station is designed for waterless regions of outback Australia.

The mirrors focus the sun's heat onto a tower that holds compressed air. The air, heated to 900°, drives a turbine motor on top of the tower which produces electricity. The trial plant at Mayfield West, where the first mirrors were installed yesterday, covers about 4000 m² about the size of a shopping centre roof. Even running at low capacity, it willpower about 200 households.

"The best solar regions in the world like north-westAustralia are also the regions with the lowest rainfall", said James McGregor, the CSIRO's project director for solar technology. "A lot of the mining towns in that part of the world rely on diesel for generating electricity, so our initial target market over the next five years will be the mining industry".

The agency has calculated that the energy and carbon emissions embodied in the steel, aluminium and silicon needed to build the plant would be offset within two years, after which it would generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or requiring water. Unlike the mostly steam driven solar plants overseas, the design uses smaller, cheaper components that can be mass produced. The curved mirrors for the plant are being made on the central coast by Performance Engineering Group, and the little motors used to guide them to face the sun are sold commercially for $19.95.

The project, which is expected to be built by Christmas at a total cost of $5 million and to generate power by the middle of next year is one of the first fruits of the Australian Solar Institute, a $100 million federal government program to support solar power research. At present, just under 4% ofAustralia's energy comes from renewable sources. The national renewable energy target is to raise that to 20% over the next 10 years.

Bank slashes value of share in Hazelwood

Wednesday 27/10/2010 Page: 7

DOUBTS have been cast over the value of one of Australia's "dirtiest" power stations after the Commonwealth Bank announced it had all but written off its share in the plant. Responding to a question at the bank's annual meeting in Sydney, Commonwealth Bank chairman David Turner said it had written down its 2% holding in the Hazelwood coalfired power plant in the Latrobe Valley to just $1 million. It is a fraction of what the bank paid for its stake in the plant understood to be about $25 million when the state government privatised the electricity industry in 1996.

The dramatic write-down comes as the Brumby government negotiates with the plant's majority owner, International Power, on a compensation package to close a quarter of its generation by 2014. A Commonwealth Bank spokesman told The Age that it had written down its investment based on a recent assessment of its market value, as per standard accounting requirements. The value of coal-fired plants has been written down around the world as steps are taken to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment groups said the shift would increase pressure on International Power to also write down its 92% share in the plant. While it declines to comment publicly on the plant's value, the company is believed to put its book value at about $2 billion. Greenpeace climate campaigner John Hepburn said the Commonwealth Bank valuation suggested it believed the whole plant could be worth as little as $50 million.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham said the write-down paved the way for the state and federal governments to close the entire Hazelwood plant sooner than planned. "The Commonwealth Bank can see the writing on the wall", Mr Wakeham Investment managers warned against a simple extrapolation of Hazelwood's value based on the Commonwealth Bank write-down.

Colonial First State, which indirectly holds a roughly 6% share of Hazelwood on behalf of a number of super funds, said there had been no change to the value of its holding in the plant. Mr Turner said the Hazelwood holding had not been one of the group's "best" investments and was not part of its core stakes. A state government spokeswoman said talks with International Power were under way, but would not comment on the plant's value.

"The Brumby Labor government is the only party committed to begin the phased closure of Hazelwood, and we'll do that by negotiating a fair price with International Power", spokeswoman Fiona Macrae said. International Power corporate affairs manager Jim Kouts said the Commonwealth Bank decision would have no effect on the overall value of Hazelwood. "In effect, we're talking about an internal accounting treatment of the bank's investment and in our view there is currently no trigger for this impairment decision", he said. He said the company bought Hazelwood for $2.35 billion and, with state and federal blessing, had invested significantly more to improve its efficiency.

Hot technology for Chile rivers

Thursday 28/10/2010 Page: 6

AUSTRALIAN company Pacific Hydro has started generating power from its $US800 million ($A810 million) "run-of-river" projects in Chile, with the country's President, Sebastian Pinera, pledging to support more investment in the renewable technology. Mr Pinera officially opened Pacific Hydro's La Higuera and La Confluencia projects, 200 kilometres south of Santiago, which will provide almost 1 million Chilean homes with renewable energy, the equivalent to taking more than 250,000 cars off the road.

The President evoked the spirit of the recent rescue effort to save Chile's 33 trapped miners, calling on the world to "do it Chilean style" and encourage the deployment of renewable energy. "Our work in this area is not just for the 17 million Chileans but for our children and our grandchildren whose smiles we have not seen yet", he told more than 450 assembled guests.

"The heroic approach of our miners has shown what it means to do things the Chilean way. Doing things Chilean style used to mean doing things so-so but now we have to leave that behind. "We need to be on the cutting edge of technology... and this is an outstanding example of what can be done", Mr Pinera said. The 155-MW La Higuera and the 158-MW La Confluencia hydro projects are a joint venture between Pacific Hydro and Norway's SN Power.

The two projects, in Chile's Tinguiririca Valley, use "run-of-river" technology, which generates electricity through the volume and drop of water without darns. Pacific Hydro, which is owned by 5 million Australian superannuation investors through Industry Funds Management's 100% stake, will also generate income by selling the associated carbon credits in the European emissions trading scheme.

Rob Grant, chief executive of Pacific Hydro and chairman of the Tinguiririca Energia joint venture, said the absence of a carbon price in Australia meant the company was spending more than three times more money in Latin America than in Australia. "The fact is that the current policy uncertainty in Australia around the market for wind farms and renewable energy makes it easier to be investing here in Chile than Australia at this point in time", he told BusinessDay. IFM chief executive Brett Himbury said the funds manager, which traditionally had been attracted to more static investments, was "keen to get more exposure to assets and companies like Pacific Hydro".

Thursday 4 November 2010

Power to the canny farmer

Hobart Mercury
Tuesday 26/10/2010 Page: 4

A TASMANIAN farmer aims to use fresh air and "fart gas" to combat skyrocketing electricity prices. A $28.000 Nuffield Scholarship will allow chicken and turkey farmer Rob Nichols to investigate the conversion of manure and chicken guts into gas. Mr Nichols also will investigate wind power. He has already installed a 30m-diameter, 225-kW wind turbine on his North-West farm and is passionate about alternative energy.

Mr Nichols said the turbine, which supplies about half the farm's electricity needs, acted as a security shield against rising electricity prices. He said he hoped the farm, which produces the famous Nichols free-range chickens, could further reduce its dependence on the power grid by producing biogas. The process involves throwing manure, chicken waste and green plant material into a digester, which acts like a giant cow's stomach. It gives off "fart gas", mostly methane, which can be burned to produce heat and electricity. The solid by-product is nutrient-rich, doesn't smell and can be used as fertiliser.

Mr Nichols said the scholarship would enable him to study the process in Germany, where entire farms have been dedicated to energy production, and Denmark, which pioneered wind and bioenergy decades ago. He said he was convinced that there were opportunities for energy production on Tasmanian farms, depending on how Federal Government incentives panned out Mr Nichols said he also saw potential for energy crops, such as grass to be grown for the digesters. "I see the home production of renewable energy as an industry that holds significant openings for the Australian farming industry", he said. The scholarship will allow Mr Nichols to study animal welfare advances on European poultry farms.

Renewable energies need price on carbon

Courier Mail
Saturday 23/10/2010 Page: 85

CLEAN energy developer GeoDynamics says it is critical the "policy inaction of the past year is reversed" in order to aid investment in new technologies to help control climate change. GeoDynamics chairman Martin Albrecht, in the Brisbane-based company's annual report issued yesterday, said its board would continue with policy measures that encourage the rollout of emerging renewable energy technologies. GeoDynamics is focused on commercialising energy from its tenements in South Australia's Cooper Basin.

It has secured key shareholders including India's Tata Power, and has a federal grant to help fund a commercial-scale power plant. But many other geothermal companies are struggling for funding and the sector will need a carbon price to compete with planet-warming coal and gasfired power. The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, which has members with $250 billion in assets under management, this week said analysis of climate science data implied 25% of coal, oil and gas reserves could be used if governments stuck to pledges to hold global warming to a maximum 2C.

ACSI president Michael O'Sullivan said the study showed Australia needed a carbon price to spur investment in clean industries. He said it indicated the world was likely to see a "very rapid conversion to renewable energy", given the short space of time now left to hold global warming to 2C. GeoDynamics shares hit a six-month high of 63.5 this week and yesterday closed down 0.5( at 63 as more than 131,000 shares changed hands.

$16b Qld gas project gets minister's green light

Canberra Times
Saturday 23/10/2010 Page: 4

The Federal Government has approved Australia's first multibillion-dollar coal seam gas projects, in a move which has angered farmers and environmentalists but is set to provide a significant jobs boost to Queensland.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said in Canberra yesterday his department had given conditional environmental approvals for Gladstone Liquefied Natural Gas a joint venture between Santos, Malaysia's Petronas and France's Total and BG Group's Queensland Curtis LNG. "I have decided that these projects can go ahead without unacceptable impacts on matters protected under national environmental law", Mr Burke said, revealing he had placed 300 conditions on each of the projects. "We must protect the Great Artesian Basin" target="_blank">Great Artesian Basin, our threatened species, our waterways and the Great Barrier Reef".

The approvals were delayed earlier this year by Mr Burke's predecessor, Peter Garrett, who was concerned about the projects' potential impact on groundwater and the Great Barrier Reef. The $16 billion Gladstone Liquefied Natural Gas project involves 2650 coal seam gas wells being drilled over 25 years in Queensland's Surat and Bowen Basins, a 435km steel pipeline from the Fairview gas fields to Gladstone, and an liquefied natural gas plant and export facility on Curtis Island.

The project is expected to create about 5000 construction jobs and 1000 permanent operational jobs from the start of shipments of liquefied natural gas in 2014. QGC, a BG Group business, received Queensland Government approval for the Queensland Curtis LNG project in June. The project involves coal seam gas operations in the Surat Basin, a 540km underground pipeline network and liquefied natural gas plant on Curtis Island. An estimated 5000 jobs will be created during construction with more than 700 during operation. Green groups and farmers have raised concerns about coal seam gas development.

This week four toxic chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene were discovered in eight exploration wells owned by Australia Pacific LNG in the Surat Basin. The Queensland Government has dismissed calls for a moratorium on the industry, which environmentalists say poses a threat to marine life on the Great Barrier Reef and underground water, and could seriously degrade land. Mr Burke said one of the more critical conditions surrounded how to deal with the issue of water within coal seam gas.

Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive Dan Galligan said his members feared the rapid expansion of the gas industry was outpacing the science and planning, especially in terms of its impact on water. "The country needs these water resources for the long term to produce food, fibre and wealth long after the minerals and gas are extracted", he said. Australian Greens senator-elect Larissa Waters said the number of conditions showed the measure of the risks involved. Coal seam gas was no cleaner than coal. "By the time it gets extracted, transported and liquefied it's 98% as greenhouse gas intensive as coal", she said.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Green rating for sold, leased homes

Saturday 23/10/2010 Page: 14

EVERY home in Victoria will soon require an energy efficiency rating certificate when sold or leased as part of a plan to improve the energy efficiency of hundreds of thousands of Melbourne's older homes. The certificates are likely to cost a couple of hundred dollars each and a high-level state government committee is considering how the scheme will be introduced. Under an agreement between the federal government, states and territories, the certificates are due to be mandatory by May next year for every house sold or leased.

Energy efficiency certificates that consider such things as whether a house or unit has carpet, insulation, the number of windows and whether they have curtains and blinds and the orientation of the house already exist in Canberra and cost vendors or landlords about $235 each. Houses are rated out of six stars in Canberra and one industry expert said it was a big and often expensive job to increase the rating of older homes. While new homes in Victoria must have a five-star rating (six-star from next May) hundreds of thousands of existing homes built up to a century ago have a substantially lower rating.

Consumer Affairs Victoria executive director Claire Noone is heading the state government committee considering the mandatory reporting scheme. The committee includes representatives from the premier's department, planning, treasury and the department of sustainability and environment. Despite the state government promising an "extensive public consultation process" on the scheme this year, Dr No one declined to discuss it.

The office of the federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, yesterday also refused to answer a list of questions on the scheme. Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy welcomed the mandatory disclosure of housing energy efficiency as an important step in improving the energy efficiency of existing homes. But building groups have warned the scheme had to be meaningful and carefully implemented or it could turn into another insulation batts debacle.

Master Builders Association of Victoria executive director Brian Welch questioned who was going to do the work. "Will they be a registered practitioner? How much will it cost?". He said the scheme would need to be policed to ensure the certificates were genuine and meant something. He said there were also questions about how long a certificate would last and whether holiday homes would require one.

The Building Designers Association of Victoria was recently appointed an official body to accredit assessors who rated the energy efficiency of new homes in Victoria. The Association's Brian Morison said any new mandatory efficiency rating scheme for existing homes would need to be robust with properly qualified assessors. The Property Council of Australia's Victorian head, Jennifer Cunich, said while it did not support extra regulation, it would be supportive of a scheme that improved sustainability if it was a "genuine and efficient program".

The power of wind

Adelaide Advertiser
Monday 25/10/2010 Page: 19

WIND farms in the mid-north region (Hallett, Waterloo, Snowtown and Clement's Gap) are now generating more than half of all South Australia's wind power. In 2009, 17% of South Australia s electricity was from wind power, with that figure growing each year. At present SA has more than half of Australia's wind power. Thanks to wind power, SA's greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 13% between 2007 and 2009 and while SA used to be a net importer of power from the eastern states, it is now a net exporter of power. wind farms can and do reduce the greenhouse gas production that causes climate change, and we in mid-north SA can be proud that our state and our region are leading Australia in this renewable energy form.

David Clarke. Clare.

Power to the people

Adelaide Advertiser
Monday 25/10/2010 Page: 1

Energy-saving scheme will save families $300 a year

THE Federal Government will seek state support for a mandatory energy-saving scheme which its own modelling reveals could reduce the annual family power bill by up to $300 a year. A key recommendation of a Prime Ministerial taskforce on energy efficiency, the scheme would shift the responsibility of reducing electricity use from families to the energy retail companies.

The report was handed to the Federal Government in July, but not released until two weeks ago. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has yet to provide a formal response to the recommendations. But Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet confirmed yesterday that he would now push the case for a national energy savings scheme with the state governments.

"Improving energy efficiency is one of the Government's priority areas for tackling climate change", he said. "There is a lot of work to be done but I will be working co-operatively with all state governments.., to progress national reform in this area. "By improving energy efficiency, families will be able to save money on their bills and achieve an outcome that is good for the environment".

The taskforce advisory group set up by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2009 included mining giant Rio Tinto, energy company Origin Energy as well as the Climate Institute Australia, the ACTU and the National Council of Social Services. Its modelling report, produced by McLennan Magasanik Associates, recommends that on top of a carbon price, power companies meet increased energy efficiency targets of up to 30% - or face financial penalties.

One of the members of the Prime Minister's taskforce, the Climate Institute Australia, said the main way the targets would be met was through energy retailers directly reducing household energy consumption by either fully funding or helping to replace such things as inefficient appliances in the home.

The report found that even with a carbon price or emissions trading scheme, an Energy Efficiency Obligation Scheme could save the average household $90-$300 on annual electricity bills by 2020. Climate Institute Australia deputy chief executive Erwin Jackson said the Federal Government must act on energy efficiency. "The government's own modelling shows along with a carbon price that it could save average families $300 a year", Mr Jackson said.