Friday 11 February 2011

Shine a light on solar deals

Adelaide Advertiser
7 February 2011, Page: 37

INVESTING in solar power for your home will cost thousands initially and it could take the better part of a decade to see financial benefits, so being an informed consumer is vital. In the nine months to October 2010, more than 105,000 household solar panel systems were installed in Australian homes, according to the Clean Energy Council.

The most common household systems are either 1 or 1.5 kW and, depending on the state you live in, could reduce the average electricity bill by up to 40%. The price for a 1.5 kW system is about $13,000, according to the CEC, but this is reduced by various government rebates and feed in tariffs paid by electricity companies.

Solar power firm Energy Matters' general manager of sales, Nick Brass, says consumers need to research thoroughly before purchasing solar panels to ensure they're buying from a credible manufacturer. He says most of the well known electronics manufacturers consumers know such as Sanyo Electric and GE make solar panels, along with specialist manufacturers but there are also some "fly by nighters" to be wary of. "It's coming out of China most of the time and a brand that none of us really know", Brass says.

But not all solar panels made in China are of poor quality which is why doing your homework is essential. "People talk about warranties a lot and everyone claims to offer a warranty, but the real question is are they going to be around to service the warranty so looking for just a warranty isn't enough anymore", he says. "It's important to look at the credibility of the supplier".

Brass says people should not be dazzled by advertisements that look incredibly cheap. "We are all tempted by price but at the end of the day you don't get payback without buying quality", he says. Brass also says consumers should question the experience of their installer, even if they hold the required Clean Energy Council accreditation.

A recent report by national consumer group Choice notes that there have been concerns about the quality of some cheap imported panels and their level of safety. "Make sure your panels meet the international standards and that you're using an accredited installer", it says. "This is vital to the safety and reliability of your solar system installation". It says manufacturer warranties on solar panel systems range from five to 25 years.

"Solar systems should last at least 25 years obviously, a warranty or guarantee for that length of time from a company you trust is best" The CEC's consumer guidelines says people can work out the size of the solar power system they need by analysing their latest electricity bill and calculating average daily electricity consumption. However, the use of available north facing roof space is also an important factor, with a 1 kW solar system requiring about 8 to 10m² of space.

Questions you should ask:

  • Are the designer and the installer accredited? All installers should have photo identification cards.
  • How many systems has the installer completed?
  • What kinds of warranties come with the products?
  • How long have the manufacturers been in the industry? Long warranties are useless if manufacturers aren't around in five years.
  • If something goes wrong, who pays for repair or replacement costs?

Missing out on benefits

The Saturday Age
5 February 2011, Page: 23

Julia Gillard tells us a carbon price will drive another sweeping technological revolution ("Labor's plan to tackle emissions", Online, 3/2). Unfortunately, this revolution will occur in other countries. The government continues to discriminate against local investment in voluntary emission cuts through energy efficiency, many forms of renewable energy, and waste management.

For example, I will spend $500 and cut emissions by making my house more energy efficient, this simply leaves more room under our Kyoto cap (and future trading cap) for other emitters to pollute more. Any business, household or government agency that wants to make a difference to global emissions through these actions must buy certified "additional" permits from overseas. It is perverse that the government is disempowering Australians.

At least the government gave some ground. Under its proposed carbon farming initiative, emission abatement through farming and agriculture will make a difference.

Alan Pears, Brighton

.. but here's a story with a clean ending

Sydney Morning Herald
5 February 2011, Page: 18

GO YOU good thing! Bloomberg New Energy Finance late last month showed worldwide investment in clean energy jumped by 30% last year to a record $US243 billion, driven by massive investment in China, offshore wind and rooftop solar in Europe, and increased spending on research and development generally. Another strong year is expected.

The US President, Barack Obama, offered more cheer with a new goal: America would get 80% of its energy from "clean" sources (he included clean coal, gas and nuclear) by 2035. Trillions will be spent.

ArkX Investment Management, part owned by Westpac's "incubator" division Ascalon, views the sector as a top performer for 20 to 30 years and as a great hedge for Australian super funds, which are heavily overweight in fossil fuels.

This week the ArkX Clean Energy fund reported encouraging three year performance figures the minimum needed to win super fund clients. The tiny fund, with just $8 million invested and not yet open to retail investors, benchmarks itself against the New Energy Index (NEX), which tracks 80 listed clean energy firms worldwide earning at least half of their revenue by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

ArkX looks for companies with proven technologies, strong balance sheets and positive cash flows. These aren't speccy start ups: the median market value of companies in its portfolio is $US3 billion. Some are indeed cleaning up, as ArkX director Tim Buckley pointed out on the Climate Spectator website, citing Siemens, Johnson Controls and NextEra Energy Resources.

Over three tough years to the end of calendar 2010, the fund returned -6.8% trouncing the sorry NEX return of -52.4% and also beating the MSCI world share index, which fell 19.8%. There are 25 companies in the ArkX portfolio, none of them Australian. "It's embarrassing", says its managing director, Geoff Evison, who blames our policy settings. "They need 'TLC': transparency, longevity and certainty".

Thursday 10 February 2011

Turbines almost here...

Hebburn Wind
11 February 2010

The cargo ship 'SE Panthea' left Singapore on Australia Day and is expected to dock in Albany today. The ship will arrive in Melbourne in approximately two weeks, where the turbines will clear customs and undergo a series of checks before being transported up to Leonard's Hill.

The first foundation is complete...

We poured the first foundation last Thursday, and the second is being poured today (February 10, 2011). We're delighted that almost all the concrete came from the local batching plant in Daylesford - their busiest day ever.

Are you a member?
We've grown to almost 1600 members and with the works at Leonard's Hill progressing quickly, we are in the most exciting phase to date!

Now is a great time to join the Hepburn Wind community - we are still able to accept new members and investment from Victorian residents. (Unfortunately we are not permitted to accept interstate investors at the present time - see FAQs).

If you, or someone you know, has been considering joining or increasing an existing investment, please take action now to support Australia's first community-owned wind farm.

Details on investing in Hepburn Wind are available in our Membership and Share offer.

10 Electric cars that were actually produced

February 2011

The following article was forwarded to me by Alison Doyle, it's an interesting and slightly quirky look at electric vehicles - with a bit of history mixed in.

A look at some of the earlier electric vehicles clearly shows the notion of streamlined design hadn't quite caught on as yet.

Thanks Alison.

Nuclear energy debate resumes

Sydney Morning Herald
5 February 2011, Page: 10

The Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, says nuclear power is a proven source of clean energy that is likely to become cheaper in the future. "There will be a very serious debate in Australia at some time in the future as to how we reduce our CO₂ emissions whilst maintaining a reliable supply of energy at the cheapest possible cost", he said. An update by the federal government's top climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, released on Thursday, said there was evidence overseas that the cost of nuclear power was falling.

"There is anecdotal evidence that the switch from batch to continuing production of nuclear power stations in China has reduced the costs of new nuclear power capacity more rapidly than had been assumed in the 2008 models, or expected in China itself", the update said. A Greens' nuclear spokesman, Scott Ludlam, said the government should not only rule out nuclear power but also uranium mining, which he said threatened mine workers, local communities and water courses.

Doing well for state

Hobart Mercury
4 February 2011, Page: 20

The Mercury does itself, and the ongoing debate over power prices, no favours with its attempt to drag in Hydro Tasmania's Victorian retail business and its support of the Geelong Cats ("Cats lap up Hydro cash", February 2). To attempt to tie in this successful commercial business with concern over Tasmanian power prices is a very long bow. The fact that the story is supported by incorrect information only adds to the confusion.

Most importantly, the claim that Hydro Tasmania is selling power to Victoria cheaper than it sells it to Aurora Energy is nonsense. The price Hydro Tasmania receives for electricity exported to the rest of the national market is the same as or higher than the price received for electricity consumed in Tasmania.

The electricity sold by Momentum Energy comprises a variety of components and is at a lower price than in Tasmania because it is a completely different process. The cost of domestic electricity in Victoria is based on market prices for energy and regulated prices for other components such as distribution and transmission, which is quite different to Tasmania where each component of domestic prices is set by regulation.

The success of Momentum Energy is creating considerable value for the people of Tasmania.

Roy Adair CEO, Hydro Tasmania

APY solar generator lying idle

Adelaide Advertiser
4 February 2011, Page: 39

A solar power station in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in the state's Far North has been idle for more than a year, leaving it out of action for four of the past seven years. The Government owned $3.7 million power plant at Umuwa was upgraded in 2008, but was switched off just over a year later because of safety concerns.

Originally built in 2003, it also was shut down in 2005, for three years, before receiving a $1.2 million taxpayer funded upgrade. The 715 MW station was built to cut the community's dependence on diesel and was supposed to save 140,000 litres of diesel and 400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Opposition MP Steven Marshall, who is a member of the Aboriginal Lands Committee, said the Government needed to fix the problem before "moving on to the next photo opportunity". "This is an example of complete ineptitude, wrong priorities and tokenism,.. combining to leave Aboriginal people at a disadvantage", he said.

Uniting Care Wesley indigenous policy officer Jonathan Nicholls said he had been "frustrated" a request for information on the project's status last year from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesi had been unanswered. "We accept it is difficult to repair and maintain certain things in remote communities, but we are not comfortable with this sweeping things under the carpet", he said.

Ms Portolesi said the plant had been out of action because of "complex issues relating to meteorological conditions", including electrical storms and wind blown dust. She said maintenance of the plant had been the responsibility of a private company which went into administration about a year ago.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Ferguson to push uranium

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
3 February 2011, Page: 3

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson yesterday said Australia would pursue testing of alternative renewable energies, such as clean coal technology, solar power, geothermal, biomass, ocean and wind power, before using nuclear power as a method of combating climate change. However, Mr Ferguson said, "I am supportive of international efforts to strengthen,.. the safer use and proper development of the nuclear industry".

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh have encouraged the Australian Labor Party to revise its stance on nuclear power. Prime Minister Julia Gillard's climate change committee is due to resume meetings next week, and the government is also in the midst of working through methods of pricing carbon. Mr Ferguson, however, was advised by the Resources Department in their "red book" to boost Australian uranium markets through more international engagement on nuclear power, like a greater participation in the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation.

The minister recently revealed that Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna had urged him to allow India to receive Australian uranium shipments. Michael Angwin, chief executive of the Australian Uranium Association, also urged the Australian government to foster a domestic nuclear power industry, saying, "there is no reason for Australia not to give consideration to a nuclear industry here".

Solar cut 'will deter overseas investors'

Sunday Canberra Times
30 January 2011, Page: 14

THE GILLARD Government's $250 million cut to its Solar Flagships program means Australia has little chance of attracting serious foreign investment for large scale clean energy projects, a national solar research body says. Australian Solar Energy Society chief executive John Grimes said the funding cut signals to investors that Australia has "no coherent solar development policy" and is driven by short term budget targets. "What confidence can industry have to invest in the major solar utility scale projects we need to abate carbon emissions in the future, if major changes are constantly made in this way?" he asked.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced funding for solar power programs would be cut by around $500 million to offset the Government's flood reconstruction spending in Queensland. The cuts include $250 million from the Solar Flagships program, $160 million from the Solar Hot Water rebate and a cap on a further funding for the Solar Homes and Communities program. Mr Grimes said solar power seemed to be "the honey pot the government raids whenever it needs short term funding".

"During last year's election campaign, we saw $220 million pulled out of the Solar Flagships program to fund the cash for clunkers scheme, which has now been scrapped to fund the flood rebuilding effort in Queensland. "But the funding taken from Solar Flagships hasn't been returned, so in effect that's a $500 [million] cut to the program".

The Cleaner Car Rebate Scheme, dubbed "cash for thinkers", was launched during the 2010 federal election campaign as part of a package of climate change initiatives. It was to provide grants of $2000 to scrap pre 1995 cars to purchase new low emission, fuel efficient vehicles.

Mr Grimes said climate research indicated Australia could expect more extreme weather events, but instead of supporting technologies to help mitigate climate change, the Government "kept raiding its renewable energy budget to fund other projects". Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said it made no sense to fund "the cleanup of the worst floods in Australia's history by cutting investment in climate change solutions".

"Australia has the potential to be a world leader in developing affordable large scale solar power. We need more investment in its development, not less. "Yet Labor's own Solar Flagships program to accelerate development of this technology has already been trimmed twice before the program has even started". Mr Warren said.

Beholden to lobbyists

31 January 2011, Page: 12

THERE is an explanation for Julia Gillard's seemingly bizarre decision to cut renewable energy programs to pay for the flood damage. She did so for the same reason all federal governments have failed to adopt any decent climate change policies.

Gillard and her team are heavily influenced by the fossil fuel lobby and the free market ideology of some bureaucrats working in the Department of Climate Change. These people continue to push the erroneous idea that once you have a price on carbon, you can eliminate all other measures to support emissions reductions and renewable energy.

Those who trade in coal, oil and gas know that a price on carbon by itself will not be enough to create the urgent shift to renewable energy we need. The big polluters and extremist ideologues continue to dominate the development of climate change policy at our expense.

Pablo Brait, Richmond

Sunday 6 February 2011

Leaders fiddle while the world burns

Sydney Morning Herald
29 January 2011, Page: 16

THE word is, new modelling is being done on a 10% by 2020" target for greenhouse gas reductions - double that of last year - suggesting that, despite all the wailing, the climate debate moves only one way: ever more pressing, ever more expensive. Even so, the question of targets is in the too - hard basket of the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet. At a speech to institutional investors in Sydney before Christmas, Combet was keen to emphasise the government could initially put a price on carbon - say at a fixed, rather than market rate - without stipulating an emissions reduction target.

That would skirt an ugly stoush with the Greens, soon to hold the balance of power in the Senate, as Combet later explained: "What's evident from the debate we've had over the last few years is it's certainly going to be testing for the government and the Greens to ever come to an accommodation over the level of the target. So what I'm really saying is we need to focus on the carbon price mechanism and not go down [the path of] an argument that can't be resolved over targets".

It seemed possible the Gillard government had a cunning plan to tackle climate change in 2011: put exactly the same emissions trading scheme back to the Parliament and dare the Greens to block it again. How bad would the Greens look: making easy yards on gay marriage and ATM fees,.. deadset against action on climate change!

Combet certainly sounded that way last month, paying tribute to the "top - quality" work done by his department in developing the failed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme of 2009, concluding "we won't need to reinvent the wheel". But for now there seems a willingness on both sides to try to avoid the Labor - Greens stalemate witnessed last time around, strike an agreement this year and aim for implementation by mid - 2012. The Greens leader, Bob Brown, certainly believes there is room for compromise.

The then secretary of the Department of Climate Change, Dr Martin Parkinson - now head of the Prime Minister's own department - said after Combet's Sydney speech that the government was "not putting CPRS 2.0 out there". It's just that in the design of the new carbon price, whatever form it takes, a lot of the fundamental analysis, reporting framework and so on has been done.

Targets isn't the only thorny issue the government is tippy toeing around. A Citigroup analyst, Elaine Prior, threw Combet a two pronged question about (a) whether a carbon price might at first be imposed just to cover the electricity sector, the source of most emissions; and (b) the level of compensation for emissions - intensive, trade - exposed industries such as steel and aluminium, and the electricity generation sector in the transition phase.

"I'm wondering", she said to nervous laughs, "whether the negotiations held a year ago in terms of transitional assistance, whether that was likely to be as good as it would get for industry - whether the current makeup of Parliament means perhaps industry will regret not agreeing, in a sense, to the proposals that were put forward last year?" Without a pause, and to more laughter, Combet replied that was a "highly pertinent question that as a budding politician I'd sidestep a bit".

Which he expertly did: these after all are some of the most sensitive issues before the multiparty committee on climate change and Combet wasn't going to preempt that process. The meeting broke up with a good sense that the minister was getting on with it.

But the body doesn't lie and it was the last question at the subsequent press conference that dried Combet's mouth. How is doubling our coal exports consistent with action on climate change? Combet's answer: "Coal is extremely important to our economy and it's one of the reasons why in fact I had a number of discussions to this effect with my counterparts [at the latest UN climate talks] in Cancun there is a great degree of interest in trying to develop things such as carbon capture and storage technology, which our government has got behind very firmly, because the future for fossil fuels ultimately will also be dependent on our capacity to utilise them on a much lower emissions pathway. So improving energy efficiency in coal fired power stations, improving our capacity to explore CCS technology, will all be very important".

The truth? It just isn't. A real climate policy would see the government stepping in where the states won't: denying export approval for new coalmines. In response to the floods, as the Climate Institute points out, we'd be axing fossil fuel subsidies which are part of the problem like the diesel fuel rebate and fringe benefits tax for car use instead of funding for solar power stations, which is part of the solution.

A real climate policy would see Australia target emissions reductions of at least 25% by 2020 our fair share of the effort needed to give us all a 2 in 3 chance of keeping warming below 2°, as world leaders agreed at Copenhagen. And that's being optimistic. Policy - makers are now thinking in earnest about a world that is 4° warmer by 2070 - 2100 as we're tracking if every country does everything they've promised so far and the scenarios are apocalyptic. There is no science on how we might adapt.

Funding cuts upset industry

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
29 January 2011, Page: 8

Following the Federal Government's decision to cut funding to green programs, with $250 million to but cut or deferred from a solar program, the solar power industry said key projects may be cancelled or curtailed and a major opportunity for the nation to reduce its carbon impact may be hurt. Chief executive of the Australian Solar Energy Society John Grimes says a major opportunity for Australia in decarbonising its electricity sector will be prejudiced by the decision.

The government has taken $250 million away from the utility scale solar flagships program to help pay for reconstruction after the floods. Two residential solar schemes were also hit with caps placed on them costing $225 million. The industry believes it has not received the policy support from the Labor Party.

Managing director of renewable power company CBD Energy Gerry McGowan said the move further shows the government's shallow commitment to renewables. The view of Steve Loxton, chief executive of Transfield Services Infrastructure Fund, is that the decisions may further diminish the confidence of the finance sector in government initiatives designed to support long-term investment in the renewable energy sector.

The $1.5 billion solar flagships scheme, designed to create commercial-scale solar power facilities, has also had a funding cut. Renewable power group Infigen Energy has bid in the solar flagship scheme as part of a consortium with China's Suntech Power Holdings in the first round of funding.