Friday 4 February 2011

When solar power plants and wind farms talk to the grid
27 January 2011

A new full power converter for renewables from Finland is all about communication.

Vanguard engineers at The Switch, a world-class Finnish company that specializes in machines that transform energy into electricity, have advanced power conversion by making the communication between a wind turbine or solar power plant and the transmission line to which it is connected more effective. Climate change, peaking fossil fuels and energy security issues make the better engineering done by The Switch urgent. Just do the math.

Replacing U.S, fossil fuels would, it is estimated, require four million wind turbines (twelve three-MW turbines every hour for three decades), or 160 billion m² of PV or CSP. A recent International Energy Agency plan said that to beat climate change, the world must build, every year between 2010 and 2050, 35 carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) coal plants and 20 CCS-equipped natural gas plants, 30 nuclear plants, 12,000 onshore and 3,600 offshore wind turbines, 45 geothermal facilities, 325 million m² of PV and 55 solar power plants. That's a lot of engineering.

The Switch took its name, Jukka-Pekka Maekinen, President and CEO of the company, said, "from the big change that will take place in how people consume energy and in how it's produced". Foreseeing a global switch to distributed renewable energy generation, three Finnish engineering innovators formed the company in 2006 to apply their skills to renewables.

Expertise with advanced drives, generators and motors made The Switch a fit with Europe's booming wind industry. "Permanent magnet motors have been applied by Kone Elevator Company for fifteen years", Maekinen said. Such permanent magnet direct drive transmissions, on a much larger scale than those in elevators, are now the cutting edge in wind turbines. Maekinen said he has been working with such drives since 1986.

"The penetration of the permanent drive generator will be four times bigger in three years", Maekinen said. Adoption of the technology for wind turbines is limited only by the logistics of the drive's size. "Our bet was very much technology-driven", Maekinen said. The new power converter The Switch is debuting, which Maekinen said costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and weighs on the order of 2.5 tons, is designed to make direct drive technology capable of delivering more output.

"The generator makes the raw power and the power converter matches it to the line and makes it compatible with the requirements of the utilities", Maekinen explained. This includes changing the power from a variable frequency direct current (DC) to 50 or 60 Hertz alternating current (AC). The Switch's new converter, equipped with a new level of information technology, is at least two% to four%, and perhaps as much as seven%, more efficient than those currently in use, according to Maekinen.

Sensors and measuring capabilities in the full power converter, he said, make it able to communicate both with ongoing conditions in turbine operations and fluctuations in the transmission system. Through enhanced intelligent operations, it can get the turbine to adjust output to "faults in the line" or make adjustments in turbine operations to keep power flowing.

"You could say it's smarter", Maekinen said. With the full power converter, a turbine processes more about its surroundings. "Nobody likes it if the turbine isn't turning", he said. "In some cases, by reducing five or ten% of the power, you may be able to continue running".

"A wind turbine is a pretty complex operation", Maekinen said. "We have a couple of thousand turbines running with our power converters and we have collected all that application information". The engineers brought that experience, he explained, "and made a new generation product".

The product has undergone rigorous testing, Maekinen said. "It's not like we make a new product just to see how it flies in the marketplace", he said of the product's acceptance. "With the combination of the permanent magnet generator and the full power converter, we are saying you can get up to seven% more power per turbine". Customers include world-class turbine manufactures such as US-based GE Wind and China's Xinjiang Goldwind.

A similar kind of conversion is needed to feed electricity from a utility-scale PV installation into the grid, Maekinen said. The Switch's technology can serve that need in a way that similarly enhances efficiency. In both utility-scale solar and wind applications, the challenge is matching output to what is happening in the transmission system. The new full power converter from The Switch is designed to address that challenge.

Though The Switch has not, Maekinen said, "delved into" concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, he was confident the new full power converter could produce increased outputs, though not as large, in "behind-the-fence solar" PV and CSP applications. "Traditional solar inverters are moving into this arena", he said. "We are already in this arena".

"The neatest thing we've done", Maekinen added in describing what is next for The Switch, "is the fusion drive", a hybridization of the industry-standard gearbox. "Inside of the gearbox, we put the permanent magnet generator". Industry insiders say the gearbox is going the way of the stagecoach, ceding to the direct drive permanent magnet transmission. Maekinen said the fusion drive might give the stagecoach "chrome alloy wheels."

US braced for gust of wind power in 2011
27 January 2011

After a year in the doldrums, more wind projects now under construction than built during 2010

US wind may be on the verge of a recovery from a lacklustre 2010, after figures revealed more wind power capacity is currently being built than was installed in the whole of last year. Over 5.6GW is now under construction after only 5.1GW was built in 2010, less than half the 2009 figure, the American Wind Energy Agency (AWEA) said in its Fourth Quarter Market Report.

Around 3.2GW came online in the fourth quarter of 2010, down on the 2009 figures, but dwarfing the previous quarter when only 670MW (0.6GW) was installed, the stats said, emphasising the gap to be bridged in order to meet President Obama's 80% clean energy challenge. The AWEA attributed this rush to a one-year extension of the 1603 Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy to the end of 2011, which is likely to lend impetus to other projects eager to meet the construction deadline.

Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA director of industry data and analysis, added that electricity generated by wind is now cost-competitive with natural gas "Wind's costs have dropped over the past two years, with power purchase agreements being signed in the range of five or six cents per kW recently", Salerno said. "With uncertainty around natural gas and power prices as the economy recovers, wind's long-term price stability is even more valued. We expect that utilities will move to lock in more wind contracts, given the cost-competitive nature of wind in today's market".

However, the AWEA bemoaned what it saw as uncertainty over national policy holding the sector back and allowing China to overtake the US in installed wind capacity for the first time, posting a total of 41.8GW, compared with 40.2GW in the States. "Our industry continues to endure a boom-bust cycle because of the lack of long-term, predictable federal policies, in contrast to the permanent entitlements that fossil fuels have enjoyed for 90 years or more", said Denise Bode, chief executive of AWEA.

But the AWEA praised state-level efforts, which saw Texas pass the 10GW mark for total installations, accounting for a quarter of the country's wind capacity. A total of 38 states now have utility-scale wind projects, it said, with Iowa on 3.6GW, California on 3.2GW, Minnesota on 2.2GW and Washington on 2.1GW, completing the top five behind Texas.

Wind power can help ease Lebanon's energy woes: report
27 January 2011

BEIRUT: Onshore wind power can alleviate the country's constant and growing energy needs, a report released this week has found. "The National Wind Atlas of Lebanon" concludes that harnessing the green power source could realistically generate up to 6.1 GWs each year, or about 75% of the country's 2010 electricity consumption.

"We have huge potential and we can really benefit from [green and wind power]", caretaker Energy and Water Minister Jibran Bassil told a conference held Tuesday at the Metropolitan Grand Hotel in Sin al-Fil. "These findings and this study give us hope". "We always used to hear different figures,.. one international firm said it expected that [5 GWs] of energy could be produced from wind, and we thought this number was exaggerated". "No one should expect that the solution to [Lebanon's energy problems] will come from wind alone", Bassil continued, saying a diverse energy basket would help ensure "energy security".

The map is the first of its kind and is expected to entice private firms to invest in the energy sector. It was carried out in cooperation with the ministry, the United Nations Development Program and the internationally funded Country Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Demonstration Project for the Recovery of Lebanon (CEDRO), which aims to see Lebanon meet its target of generating 12% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Lebanon suffered severe power shortages last summer with parts of the country staying without electricity for up to 18 hours a day. As much as 96% of national energy needs are imported, with the World Bank estimating that existing capacity will have to double within the next five years to meet rising demand. Lebanon's wind potential lies in four principal areas: a strip extending from roughly the Cedars in Bsharri to the region of Qobeiyat in Akkar, and three small pockets along Lebanon's eastern border with Syria, each one located roughly due east of Baalbek, Zahle and Rashaya.

On the coast some small capacity has been identified in the Amioun area of Koura while offshore potential is very small and only possible in the northernmost tip of the country, at distances of 10 to 20 kilometers from the coast. Heavily populated areas or those containing protected woodlands were excluded from the map.

Spanish Ambassador Juan Carlos Gafo said Spain was playing a "key role in transferring expertise to Lebanon, and it has funded the three stages [of CEDRO], with $10 million going to reducing the cost of producing energy and improving lighting methods". "What Spain is doing affirms the country's commitment to enabling Lebanon to combat climate change".

However, the current data will need to be built upon in order to obtain a more accurate picture of Lebanon's wind potential, according to Garrad Hassan, the company responsible for drafting the map. Time constraints forced measurements to be taken from existing wind masts that only captured wind speeds at heights of 10 meters, and not 50 and 80 meters as needed for electricity generation, the report said.

The findings were also taken as monthly averages instead of daily values, further decreasing the accuracy of the findings, which Garrad Hassan admits could be as much as, and possibly, more than 10% off in either direction of the projected result. It is hoped that the guidelines will be sufficient to attract funding, with investors being called upon to conduct their own additional studies if needed. Issues such as political instability, grid inefficiency, electricity theft, low fee collection levels and graft have previously discouraged international firms and donors from pouring money into the underdeveloped energy sector.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Storm over interstate power deal

Hobart Mercury
28 January 2011, Page: 3

MOST cut-price power bought by the State Government from a Queensland electricity retailer will come from Tasmanian dams and then be sold back at a discount rate. It has raised questions about why power from Tasmanian taxpayer owned electricity companies. Hydro Tasmania and Aurora Energy cannot be sold at the same price, given residents and small businesses do not have the option to shop around for electricity.

The Greens yesterday accused Labor of betraying electricity users by signing the "grubby" deal to buy the cheap power from Queensland retailer ERM Power instead of struggling Aurora Energy. The Mercury yesterday revealed that the State Government will buy $16.4 million of electricity from Queensland company ERM Power at half the price it would pay Aurora Energy.

The tender, awarded in January, gives ERM Power supply rights to some of the state's biggest departments, including Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Police and Emergency Management, Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts, Premier and Cabinet, Education and Justice. The 160GWs of energy will mostly be generated here but extra can be imported via the Bass Strait power cable Basslink, which costs Hydro Tasmania about $92 million a year.

Based on the average price of 06¢/kW charged by Aurora Energy for business customers, the new government contract is less than half price at an average rate of 10¢/kW and will provide the equivalent of the power used by 16,000 homes a year. Cabinet minister Nick McKim has been outspoken against Basslink and use of non-renewable power but now, under the new deal, all of Mr McKim's departments are powered by ERM Power.

Opposition energy spokesman Matt Groom asked why power at Hydro Tasmania and Aurora Energy cannot be sold at the same price. "How is it that ERM Power can buy power from the State Government's own taxpayer-funded generators and sell it back to the very same people at a bargain basement price?" Mr Groom said. Energy Minister Bryan Green attacked the Liberals for opposing the deal, given that they supported the state entering the competitive energy market.

"ERM Power's power-price contracts with Tasmanian customers will not affect the source of power supply, rather power will continue to be largely generated by renewable sources from within Tasmania", Mr Green said. He said a review into the state's energy sector was under way and would report by August.

Greens MP Kim Booth was infuriated: "I'm absolutely stunned and horrified that the Government would engage in a secret deal to effectively betray the mum and dad electricity consumers in Tasmania, who are the ones who will pay the cost for this grubby deal".

Gillard's response a climate clunker

28 January 2011, Page: 4

THIS is an odd message from a government struggling to win credibility on climate policy. The horrific floods of the past month cannot be directly blamed on the increasing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere the La Nina over the Pacific is the primary culprit. But they are in line with what scientists have been warning is coming.

As recently as November, the Queensland government released advice on how to plan for the greater flood risk due to extreme events linked to manmade climate change. The world's biggest reinsurer, Munich Re, says the number of natural catastrophes has already increased dramatically nearly tripling around the globe over three decades. In Australia in the 1980s, there were regularly fewer than 10 extreme events a year, and never more than 27. Since 1998 there have been no fewer than 28, and regularly more than 40.

How then to respond to an extreme flood? According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard: by cutting nearly $1.6 billion from programs that were supposed to reduce emissions. As some green industry leaders wryly noted, climate programs have been stripped of funding to fix railways needed for Queensland's coal industry. Subsidies for fossil fuel industries remained untouched. In fairness, some of the programs abandoned were dogs.

Few will mourn the loss of cash-for-clunkers, which would have done next to nothing for the environment. But it is not unreasonable to think the clunkers money could have been redirected into developing renewable energy and the money for flood recovery found elsewhere. The government appears to have accepted the counsel of its climate committee adviser, Rod Sims, who believes a carbon price will enable other climate policies to be dropped. Gillard isn't waiting for a carbon price to get started.

Jobs outcry over green fund cuts

28 January 2011, Page: 4

THE car industry and unions have reacted fiercely to the abolition of the green car innovation fund, warning jobs were at risk, as the federal government whittled its environmental focus to a carbon price. The solar industry also said it was astonished that the Labor government had again ripped funding from programs to develop its technologies.

"You don't assist those affected by floods by causing damage to other industries", said Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Andrew McKellar. "It is a bitterly disappointing decision". "The manufacturing industry is under significant pressure at the moment with the high Australian dollar and cutting any program that has potential to attract investment is the wrong way to go", said AMWU national secretary Dave Oliver, who immediately protested over the decision to Industry Minister Kim Carr.

The axing of the federal government's $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund "came out of the blue", industry sources told The Age. "There was no forewarning of this", a source said. Mr McKellar said contracts already in place will be honoured, but several projects in the pipeline, including one in Victoria, were now under a serious cloud. The government had already moved to wind back the fund in August, after the Gillard government recommitted to the goal of a carbon price. The Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout welcomed the scrapping and scaling back of a raft of green programs that she said were inefficient. "If we are going to have a market-based mechanism, we don't need them. They are very, very expensive", Mrs Ridout said.

But the Climate Institute's chief executive, John Connor, said putting a price on carbon didn't replace the need for investment in clean energy technology. "No one is shedding a tear for the demise of the 'cash-for-clunkers' program, but slashing investment in utility scale solar or carbon-capture-and-storage technologies, let alone solar hot water programs, is extremely shorted-sighted", Mr Connor said.

Australian Solar Energy Society chief executive John Grimes said the cuts would undermine investment certainty for businesses looking to build largescale solar power plants. Funding for the long promised solar flagships program to build four large solar plants has now been cut twice. Another $190 million has been deferred to beyond 2014-2015.

Cuts announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard also included $160 million from a solar hot water rebate program and $85 million that would have been spent on unprocessed claims for the $8000 rooftop solar panels rebate cancelled in June 2009. Mr Grimes said the solar flagship program which was raided last year to pay for the now abandoned "cash for dunkers" scheme seemed to be the first pot the government drew on when it needed cash. "We are not creating an environment where the solar industry can plan and invest to grow for the future", he said.

He said sales of solar hot water systems were likely to ride the same roller coaster as rooftop photovoltaic panels after the government program was cut short. "You will see the industry crash", he said. Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said it was ironic that the government's first response to a climate change disaster was to cut funding for climate programs.

World economy going green

West Australian
27 January 2011, Page: 19

Around the world, growth in renewable energy is now greater than any other energy investment but not in Australia. In 2009, 48% of new energy generation capacity worldwide was renewable. The emerging data for last year shows as much as two-thirds of global energy installation was renewable. Even in some places where action on energy is not primarily about climate change, but rather about ensuring a secure energy supply, countries are overwhelmingly choosing energy that is also free of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Australia, in contrast, is far behind. Just 25% of new energy-generation capacity is renewable. Why? The traditional economic modelling in Australia flies in the face of global predictions and assumes only negative impacts on the economy for energy pricing based on our reliance on carbon-based fuels, and makes little reference to the nation-building, economic values of the development of renewable energy.

Generally, Australian projections are silent on the positive economic impact of the mandated renewable energy target. Renewable energy - a mix of established, new and emerging technology - is for the most part at the top of a product cost curve. This means electricity from renewable sources will only get cheaper. The best strategy is to establish a carbon price, providing certainty to the market that allows businesses to make decisions on the best low-emissions and no-emissions technologies.

This is in some ways understandable with the wealth of non-renewable resources that Australia has, and with companies who have licences to those assets and the desire to profit from them. Many argue that Australia must do all it can to export fossil fuel and nuclear power, but the dilemma is that if the world energy markets turn rapidly to renewables, our economy will be exposed to declining energy export markets. As the nation with the world's best renewable energy resources, all Australian governments need to be more ambitious in support of renewable energy generation and provide the added certainty of a carbon price.

Ray Wills is chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia

Tuesday 1 February 2011

King coal will be dethroned, and BHP should align itself with the carbon revolt

Sydney Morning Herald
27 January 2011, Page: 6

This decade will mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, writes Matthew Wright.

Countries that are taking rapid action on climate change are reshaping the global commodities market. Coal is now among Australia's largest exports but demand for the commodity will drop as the global economy shifts to renewable energy. This represents a risk and an opportunity for Australia and its miners.

The largest importers of Australian coal, Japan, Korea, and China, have ambitious plans to decarbonise their economies. Japan, our single biggest importer of coal, has a 25% emission reduction target by 2020. South Korea is investing about $85 billion over five years (2% of GDP per year) in renewable energy and other clean technologies in its "green new deal". And China, while increasing its consumption of Australian coal over the last few years, aims to source 15% of its energy from nonfossil fuel sources by 2020. For Australia, this would be the equivalent of a 70% renewable energy target.

These powerful Asian economies will decarbonise through the mass deployment of renewable energy, electric vehicles and other clean technologies. These combined efforts mean that demand for Australian coal will decline dramatically in the decades ahead. Companies such as BHP Billiton must get out of the coal supply chain sooner rather than later. As the impacts of climate change worsen and the calls to hold fossil fuel companies accountable grow louder, coalmining is shaping up as the asbestos liability of the 21st century. BHP Billiton's $11 million donation to the Queensland flood appeal shows that it is feeling exposed after public calls for coalminers to pay for the flood damage.

BHP Billiton needs to reassess its investments in steaming coal (less than 4% of annual profits). The company can instead service demand for 21st century commodities by taking a leadership position as the world moves towards renewable energy sources. It can replace its income stream from coal with increasingly valuable rare earth minerals. It has an additional opportunity to bolster its alumina, iron ore and other important mineral operations that are needed in the renewable energy industrial revolution now taking place in Europe, China and the US.

China controls almost 95% of rare earth supplies. It is trying to maintain this control by imposing export quotas that limit the supply of rare earths to the global market. This underscores the fantastic opportunities that exist for firms that break China's grip on supplies, not to mention the positive security outcomes of such a move. As Australia's biggest company and the world's third largest, BHP Billiton should be pursuing this security agenda that aligns so well with its future profitability.

BHP Billiton's attempt to purchase Canada's Potash Corp was on the right track. Potash is involved in rare earth mining operations, extracting minerals needed for solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and consumer electronics such as tablet computers and smart phones. Potash Corp is also a supplier of potassium and sodium nitrate, the core ingredients of the molten salt energy storage used in the now booming solar thermal power industry in the US and Spain.

Coking coal is a bigger issue for BHP Billiton. Comprising about 10% of its profits, the company is at risk because of the steel sector's move away from blast furnaces that need coking coal. Emerging best practice for steel-making uses direct reduced iron (DRI) production methods that require either natural gas, low-grade steaming coal or can be migrated to Syngas" target="_blank">syngas produced from biomass or hydrogen. Half of the new steelmaking facilities in India use DRI. If shareholders knew this they would demand action before their stock loses value.

Industrialisation over the last 200 years has provided Australia and the world well, but our mistakes are catching up with us. Miners such as BHP Billiton can move from being part of the problem to part of the solution by implementing mining best practice and funding research to improve it further. The opportunities are for a sophisticated, wired economy based on wind and solar power and computers and electronics improving human connectedness and well-being. By choosing an unpopular and dangerous polluting route, BHP Billiton is not only letting its shareholders down but people the world over.

This decade marks the start of the winding down of the fossil fuel industry. The shift is being driven by efforts to address climate change, energy security and build clean energy economies. In 2011 we look forward to seeing the beginning of the shift of Australia's major mining companies to reorient their operations to deal with the challenges of decarbonising the world economy.

Matthew Wright is executive director of Beyond Zero Emissions

Gas plan may trip up on science

Courier Mail
27 January 2011, Page: 11

QUEENSLAND'S multibillion-dollar plunge into the gas industry could be based on a major flaw in the science, with doubts raised in the US this week over its greenhouse gas emissions. Reports from Cornell University and the US Government's Environmental Protection Agency said there had been a dramatic underestimation of emissions and gas could be similar to coal as a greenhouse polluter.

The apparent environmental benefits from gas have been a major selling point for the coal seam gas industry and the $30 billion it is ploughing into the state over the next four years to build export facilities in Gladstone. Gas has long been considered to have about half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal and for that reason it has been thought to be an ideal stop-gap as the world attempts to make renewable energy, such as solar and wind, more viable.

But the EPA said previous estimates of gas emissions had not included a significant number of issues, had left out the effect of methane and that emissions were about double what they were considered in 2006. The Australian gas industry said it stood by a number of reports, including those by the CSIRO and Worley, which backed gas as a low-polluting alternative and said the US EPA report did not relate to the local industry.

In a second report, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at America's Cornell University, David Aktinson, said the combustion emissions were only part of the story and the favourable comparison to coal was "quite misleading".