Thursday 7 April 2011

China to tax the biggest polluters

Sydney Morning Herald
31 March 2011, Page: 9

CHINA will hit "outdated" highly polluting industry with a big electricity price surcharge as part of a push to dramatically slow the growth of the country's greenhouse emissions over the next five years, a senior Chinese official has said. Xie Zhenhua said yesterday China had singled out "outdated" companies in eight energy intensive industries including iron and steel, cement, aluminium and iron alloy for a special 20 cents per kW surcharge on their electricity payments. Mr Xie told a Canberra seminar another category of "limited" enterprises would be hit with a 5 cent per kW surcharge both surcharges apparently higher than Australia's mooted carbon price of about $25 a tonne.

The vice chairman of national development and reform also revealed China was "trialling" legally binding carbon markets as a means of reducing emissions in some cities and provinces, but said decisions had not yet been made about the level of a carbon price or which companies would be liable to pay it. The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, used Mr Xie's visit to criticise the Coalition's argument that Australia was proposing action against greenhouse emissions when competing economies where taking none. "The opposition has suggested that no other countries are taking action, and therefore Australia should not with the example of China often cited,..

China is taking very significant action to reduce its carbon pollution and to transform to a new clean energy economy", he said. Mr Combet also promised to "investigate" Professor Ross Garnaut's suggestion that bad regulation of electricity networks was causing unnecessary rises in power prices. Professor Garnaut called for an urgent review and said the rules virtually required the energy regulator to allow price gouging. The chairman of the Australian Energy Regulator, Andrew Reeves, said a review into whether the rules encouraged overspending in infrastructure was under way, but any changes would not take effect until 2014.

Professor Garnaut's analysis was backed by the Energy Efficiency Council. Its chief executive, Rob Murray Leach, said prices were "rising dramatically because the regional monopolies that manage the network are planning to spend over $39 billion on poles and wires over five years,.. These costs are passed straight on to consumers". But George Maltabarow, the managing director of Ausgrid, which supplies power to Sydney, the central coast and the Hunter, said the company's $8 billion capital program was driven by the need to replace ageing infrastructure.

"About 50% of our large electricity substations were built in the 1950s and 1960s", Mr Maltabarow said in a statement. "Electrical equipment generally has a life of 40 to 50 years and so we have reached the stage now where much of this infrastructure needs to be replaced. "This is the main driver for network investment. However, meeting increasing peak demand is also a factor". Mr Xie said coal as a share of China's energy mix would fall from 79% to 55% over the next 20 years.

Batteries included - Towns on power trial

Daily Telegraph
31 March 2011, Page: 15

IT'S the energiser town that keeps going and going. In an Australian first, the rural town of Scone will have batteries fitted to up to 20 homes, creating its own "micro grid". Fridge size 5 kW zinc bromine batteries will be installed outside houses to store energy as part of a three year trial that would not only power neighbourhoods during blackouts but also allow relief from soaring power prices.

As part of the experiment, up to 40 households in the Newcastle suburb of Elermore Vale will use the batteries to store power from the grid in cheap times and then use the battery storage to run the house during peak times. "We're testing whether energy storage technology can make the electricity supply more reliable and give customers greater control over their household energy use", Ausgrid energy efficiency expert Paul Myors said. "We will create a microgrid in Scone, making part of the area self sufficient during outage trials and any unplanned interruptions caused by storms or other events".

Cattle farmer Charles Cooke, among the first householders to be fitted with the technology, said the batteries would be useful in storms when the power goes out. "I see this as an insurance if you like, we all need that", Mr Cooke said. "I have been a great one for grabbing on to new technology. I can go back to the days of the old home generators when houses were wired to a 32 volt battery. wind turbines charged a battery system that ran the house".

Mr Myors said reducing the demand for power during peak could prevent the need to build costly infrastructure and would make the electricity network more efficient. Contracts were signed last night allowing Ausgrid (formerly EnergyAustralia) to roll out the mini power stations to 60 homes, including 40 in Elermore Vale. The trial, funded as part of the $100 million Smart Grid Smart City project, hopes to transform the way energy is used.

Reforming electricity market 'matter of urgency' to reduce bills

Canberra Times
30 March 2011, Page: 4

Australia must urgently reform its electricity market and infrastructure to curb rising prices driven by demand for peak power, federal climate change adviser Professor Ross Garnaut says. "It is peak rather than total demand that drives most of the need for [electricity] network investment", Professor Garnaut said in the final paper of his updated climate change review, published yesterday. He said unlike other developed countries, Australia had made "little effort to discourage peak usage of power through variable pricing, smart meters and smart grids".

Professor Garnaut called for urgent reforms to the National Electricity Market Management Company which covers Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT to remove barriers to energy efficiency and smaller scale electricity distribution systems. "In some ways it is the most advanced electricity market in the world", he said. "But these strengths persist alongside a few weaknesses that are at once significant in their effects on the price of electricity, on energy security and the capacity to adjust to the imperative to reduce emissions".

Professor Garnaut said further reform of the National Electricity Market Management Company was "a matter of urgency, since it would affect adjustment to a carbon price and the movement to a low emissions economy". Electricity network costs had risen dramatically in the past four years and the high cost of investment required for electricity networks was "the single largest cause of recent electricity price rises". Professor Garnaut said the cost of new transmission networks was forecast to top $7 billion over the next five years, with $32 billion required for new power stations. This was an 84% increase for transmissions and a 54% increase for energy distribution.

Climate Institute deputy chief executive Erwin Jackson said Professor Garnaut's update helped to "set the record straight" on factors currently driving an increase in Australia's electricity prices. "A massive investment in network infrastructure, including poles and wires, which Gamma puts at $39 billion, but others put at $46 billion between 2010 and 2015, accounts for 68% of the current total price increase", Mr Jackson said.

Professor Garnaut has also warned the impact of Australia's resources boom on coal and gas prices, as well as construction costs, will substantially increase electricity costs. He said the introduction of a carbon price would also lower profitability of brown coal electricity because of its emissions intensity. But industry analysts suggested there was evidence some brown coal generators were already "in precarious financial positions even before the introduction of a carbon price".

Professor Garnaut said over the next five years, an estimated $9.4 billion in debt on electricity generation assets would need to be refinanced. He has also suggested the creation of a new energy security council to prevent instability in the energy sector following the introduction of a carbon price next year.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Power-cost surge fear

Hobart Mercury
29 March 2011, Page: 5

TASMANIA will be without one of its major power stations this winter, increasing the likelihood of more imports than usual over Basslink to make up for any shortfall. Hydro Tasmania plans to close the Poatina power station for up to five months from April 1 while it paints the inside of the pipeline, which runs down the face of the Western Tiers from Great Lake to the power station. The refurbishment project has a budget of about $15 million and will employ up to 30 workers.

When Tasmanians wind up their heaters to full, peak winter consumption can be up to to 1900 MWs a day compared with the average demand over the year of 1300. Spot prices on the National Electricity Market Management Company can vary widely, as they did in May 2006 when Hydro was forced to pay $10,000 a MW when the electricity system crashed. This compares with the usual price of $30 to $70 a MW.

In preparation for the shutdown, Hydro Tasmania has been running the Poatina power station at higher than usual generation loads for the past 12 months and preserving water in Lake Gordon. Great Lake is 31% full compared with 47.4% in Lake Gordon. The Gordon power station has the capacity to generate 432 MWs compared with the 342 MWs at Poatina. The refurbishment work had originally been planned to be completed last summer but was postponed until after the farm irrigation season in the Cressy Longford area However, delaying the paintwork until the cooler months could mean that paint in the pipe takes longer to dry.

A spokeswoman said the problem was being addressed by heating the pipeline to reduce the drying time. "Recent inspections have revealed that most of the original anti corrosion paintwork inside the 46 year old [pipeline] is in poor condition", she said. The project also aims to reduce the friction in the pipeline to allow it to generate more electricity. Using a low friction paint, the water will travel quicker and turn turbines faster. Great Lake holds about 45% of the state's energy storage capacity and the Poatina station produces about 12% of the state's energy output.

The French public says no to 'Le Fracking'
March 31, 2011

Natural gas may be poised for a post Fukushima boom, but even it faces hurdles. In the U.S, and Europe, concerns have been growing about the environmental impact of drilling for gas trapped in shale formations. And in France, Jose Bove the French environmental activist, farmer, McDonald's (MCD) antagonist, and onetime Presidential candidate has brought the nascent search for shale gas and oil to a halt.

As Total (TOT) and other energy companies readied rigs outside Paris and started to plan for drilling in southern France, local environmental groups began raising concerns about damage to water tables from the hunt for hydrocarbons locked in shale rock. On Jan. 22, Bove started a petition that now has about 100,000 signatures; within weeks the government ordered an exploration moratorium. On Mar. 11, Prime Minister Francois Fillon extended the ban until June, when parliamentary and ministry reports on the environmental and economic effects are due.

"Opposition is building because people are shocked by the way the state pushed through drilling permits without any debate", says Bove, a Green party deputy with the European Parliament. "It shows disdain for the population and elected representatives". On Mar. 23, French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko Morizet briefed Parliament on plans to modify rules and allow public consultation when awarding permits for oil and gas exploration.

Total and Dallas based Schuepbach Energy were awarded permits a year ago to explore for shale gas, which is produced in the U.S, using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", to shoot water, sand, and chemicals into the ground and extract oil or natural gas. Opponents of fracking fear harmful chemicals could seep into groundwater.

Toreador Resources and Canada's Vermilion Energy also received permits to drill in the Paris Basin outside the capital. The geology of the saucer shaped rock formation, which extends more than 140,000 square kilometers, is similar to the Bakken Shale formation in North America, where oil production has surged with the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, the companies say. In a Radio Monte Carlo interview on Mar. 16, French Industry Minister Eric Besson said that while chemicals used in fracturing "have caused considerable damage in the U.S, and Canada,.. some industry representatives say that there may be clean technology that would permit production of shale gas without causing what we have seen in the U.S".

Riding out the political storm will be easier for diversified global producer and refiner Total than for Toreador, which moved its headquarters from Dallas to Paris in 2009 and partnered with New York based Hess (HES). Toreador had planned to start drilling a series of wells this month. It won't proceed until the government studies are done. Vermilion will also hold off on hydraulic fracturing in three existing Paris Basin wells. It's already carried out fracturing at two wells.

France produces about 1% of its crude oil needs from wells near Paris and Bordeaux. The areas stirred excitement in the '80s when finds by Total and Exxon-Mobil spurred a rush that slowed after dry wells and a drop in oil prices. While the Paris Basin may hold 100 billion barrels, it's unclear how much is recoverable using new techniques. Toreador Chief Executive Officer Craig McKenzie puts the number at about 300 million barrels. "If the geological potential is there, it would be a shame for France to pass up this source of energy", says Jean Louis Schilansky, head of the Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, an association of oil companies operating in France.

Bove doesn't agree and is taking his battle to the European Parliament. Even exploration shouldn't be allowed, he says. "The best solution would be for [Total CEO Christophe] de Margerie to cancel his permit". Says de Margerie: "We are going to wait until things calm down. I'm not in a hurry".

Merkel loses key German state on nuclear fears
27 March 2011

BERLIN Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats on Sunday suffered a major defeat in a historic stronghold in southwestern Germany, where the Green Party appeared poised to head a state government for the first time, according to official preliminary results. The nuclear calamity in Japan and Mrs. Merkel's subsequent reversal on nuclear power played a key role in the elections in the southwest state of Baden Wuerttemberg, where the Christian Democrats have governed since 1953, before Mrs. Merkel, 56, was born.

Most Germans have a deep seated aversion to nuclear power, and the damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan has galvanized opposition. On Saturday, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of four big German cities to protest nuclear power. The news from Japan of soaring radiation levels led the major radio and television newscasts on Sunday. After the catastrophe in Japan, Mrs. Merkel reversed a pro nuclear policy that she adopted just last year and temporarily shut down seven of Germany's 17 nuclear plants. She apparently did not convince voters that her change of policy was sincere.

At Christian Democrat headquarters in Berlin, there was shock as the preliminary results were announced. "This is very painful for us", said Annette Schavan, federal education and science minister. At their headquarters across town, the Greens were jubilant over their projected 25% of the vote. Winfried Kretschmann, 62, who stands to head a Green led coalition in Baden Wuerttemberg, spoke of "a historic change". According to the preliminary results, the Christian Democrats won the most votes, about 39%, down from 44.2% in 2006. Yet the weak showing of the Free Democrats, the pro business party with which Mrs. Merkel governs nationally, left the conservatives no hope of forming the next state government.

The Free Democrats looked likely to squeak into the state Legislature with just 5.3% of the vote, the minimum required. In 2006, they got 10.7%. If the polls are confirmed, the Greens are in a comfortable position to head a coalition with the Social Democrats in Baden Wuerttemberg, which has some 11 million residents and is among the most prosperous and successful of Germany's 16 states. The Greens were projected to win 24.2% of the vote, compared with 11.7% in 2006. The Social Democrats were forecast to take 23.5% of the votes, little changed from 2006.

"If the results are confirmed, then this is a major breakthrough for the Greens", said Nils Diederich, a political science professor at the Free University in Berlin. "And it is a huge blow to the chancellor", he added. "For the Greens, the big question is whether such success can be sustained on the federal level. Its opposition to nuclear power and its environmental policies really did galvanize its support". In neighboring Rhineland Palatinate, where the Social Democrat premier Kurt Beck has governed with an absolute majority since 2006, the Social Democrats suffered sizable losses. Their share of the vote fell to 38% on Sunday, from 45.6% in 2006.

The Green Party, which failed to get elected to the regional parliament in 2006, won 16.8% of the vote. Mr. Beck is expected to ask the Greens to join a coalition with the Social Democrats. The Free Democrats were voted out of the regional parliament in Rhineland Palatinate, and, in a sign that Mrs. Merkel's party is likely to see as hopeful, the Christian Democrats increased their share of the Rhineland Palatinate vote to 36% from 32.8% five years ago. Political analysts credited a good campaign by the regional party leader Julia Kloeckner, 38.

In Baden Wuerttemberg, by contrast, the Christian Democrats suffered not only from Mrs. Merkel's reversal on nuclear power in a state with four nuclear plants but also "from a lackluster and unfocused campaign". The regional party leader and premier, Stefan Mappus, 44, was an unknown local politician until Mrs. Merkel chose him to replace Guenther Oettinger, who went to Brussels as European Union commissioner for energy. Last year, Mr. Mappus was slow to react to a groundswell of opposition to Stuttgart 21, a planned new railway station complex in the state capital that was billed as vital to speed up links between Germany and the rest of Europe.

The Greens led part of the opposition to the project, gaining a larger profile while Mr. Mappus floundered. But it was the combination of the crisis in Japan, and Mrs. Merkel's reaction, that swung opinion polls from the conservatives who three weeks ago looked set to eke out a victory to the Greens and the Social Democrats. That decision was a U turn for Mrs. Merkel. Last year she decided to overturn a decision and a relevant law by a former government of Social Democrats and Greens that aimed to close all nuclear power plants by 2022. Mrs. Merkel prolonged the plants' scheduled lifespan by an average of 12 years.

The change did not help Mr. Mappus, who was a staunch defender of nuclear power. He again seemed to flounder, saying at one point that one of the four nuclear plants in his state would be closed permanently. When that did not reverse the drifting polls, he reverted to support of nuclear power. As soon as Mrs. Merkel shifted her stance, the Greens pounced on the change as a move to win votes, and late last week, her economics minister, a Free Democrat, confirmed to a gathering of industry leaders that it was a tactical shift. That reinforced the impression of disarray in the national government.

Sh50 billion wind power project gets green light
27 March 2011

The government has signed a deal with Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd for a Sh50 billion wind power project. This ends months of anxiety over the largest such project on the African continent. This follows Treasury permanent secretary Joseph Kinyua and the company's chairman Carlo Van Wageningen signing an agreement on the 300 MWs initiative.

Mr Kinyua said the deal is a culmination of a long process that has taken over a year in an effort to safeguard the taxpayers' interests. "There has been erroneous impression given in some sections of the media that the government was not willing to support investors in the energy sector", he said at Treasury building on Saturday. The agreement, otherwise known as a Letter of Support, provides two components.

The first is an assurance to the firm's lenders that the government will step in and help in case Kenya Power and Lighting Company is unable to buy the power generated. The other is that Independent Power Producers (IPPs) will obtain liquidity support through the International Development Association Partial Risk Guarantees while the termination and political risks will be covered by Multilateral Insurance Agency. Mr Kinyua said since the letter is not an explicit guarantee, the country's public debt statistics are not adversely impacted upon.

The PS said that the agreement is part of the government's commitment to attract private investment as well as a basis with which five other IPPs letters will be signed, soon. "It is not possible to meet the needs of the development agenda without looking for other innovative requirements from the private sector", he said. Mr Wageningen said they have raised Sh20 billion, representing 30% of the estimated project cost, arguing that lenders have shown positive response to support the project.

The project involves the construction of 365 wind turbines, each with a capacity to generate 850 kWs. "The ground breaking work is expected to start in October this year and the first generation of 50 MWs in September 2013", said Wageningen. By the end of 2014, the projected will provide an additional 300 MWs to the national grid. Part of the infrastructure development involves internal construction of the road network and internal transmission, within an area of 25,000 acres of land.

Energy permanent secretary Mr Patrick Nyoike said that unlike geothermal, wind power is reliable and continuous. "This is part of the transition expected and in 10 years, the private sector will not need the letters of support but come and invest", Mr Nyoike noted. He said investors would assess market macroeconomic dynamics before they invest, through a competitive market forces.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Ice-cream boss Mackie slams government for handing wind-power development to foreigners
27 March 2011

The head of one of Scotland's best known family food businesses has accused the Forestry Commission and the Scottish Government of "dereliction of duty". Maitland Mackie, chairman of the ice cream and crisp manufacturer Mackie's of Scotland, and a pioneer of wind power at the company's farm in Aberdeenshire, says they are "giving away Scotland's heritage to foreign companies" for failing to secure a potential £300 million in annual revenue for Scotland's communities.

He has written to outgoing Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham, protesting at the "laziness" of the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) for focusing on a relatively small income from wind turbines while neglecting the larger development revenue potential of its publicly owned land. Mackie's protest follows the Scottish Government's announcement in February that energy companies can explore FCS land for renewable energy projects, prompting moves by foreign owned ScottishPower, E.ON, Vattenfall and Fred Olsen Renewables.

In his letter, seen by the Sunday Herald, Mackie writes: "The FCS manages 660,000 hectares, including many of the best wind turbine sites in Scotland,.. [but] wind power development rights have been signed over to Spanish, German and Norwegian companies. "Certainly the FCS will have secured substantive rental agreements,.. [but] these foreign companies will take home at least £30m annual income for every 100 2.5 MW turbines installed. The commission must have more than 1000 good sites available, a potential annual income of at least £300m.

"[As around] £290m of that income comes directly from renewables obligation certificate payments funded by Scotland's electricity consumers, it is extraordinary that a government is comfortable allowing these consumer charges to land directly into the hands of foreign companies". He continued: "This does not need to happen. The FC are big boys, with a £1 billion asset base, and a built in business arm. There is no reason whatsoever for not creating a wind power sector within it, capable of developing and owning their own wind power potential, and doing so with full involvement of the communities local to potential sites. Why they have chickened out beggars belief.

"The chief executive of the Forestry Commission informs me that a principal reason is they are not allowed to borrow. If true, then for goodness sake, change the rules, or encourage the commission to set up subsidiary company structures that circumnavigate them". A spokesman for FCS said: "We firmly believe that the current arrangement we have for wind power development allows us, as the land manager, to use private developers' expertise and capital, while generating market leading returns for the taxpayer and local communities. "Although we have explained this to Mr Mackie we are meeting him to explain this in detail".

80% of Thai people oppose nuclear power plants
27 March 2011

Abac Poll director Noppadon Kannika said the poll about people's views on nuclear plants was conducted on 3,807 peopled aged 18 to 60 in Bangkok and 16 other provinces from March 1 25. The poll found 83% of respondents disagreed with the plan to build nuclear plants in Thailand and only 16.6% backed the move. When asked about construction of a nuclear plant in their respective provinces, 89.5% of respondents objected it while only 10.5 agreed. Bangkok had the largest number of nay sayers to the plan at 95% followed by those living in Southern Thailand at 91.5%, those living in Central region at 91%, those living in the North at 90% and those living in the Northeast at 85.8%.

Turkana wind power project to benefit from carbon credits sale
25 March 2011

NAIROBI (Xinhua) The Lake Turkana wind power project will generate 25 million U.S, dollars every year from the sale of carbon credits, Kenya government announced on Saturday. The wind power generation project planned to start being constructed by December this year is expected to generate 300 MW of electricity, becoming the largest wind power farm in Africa. "The company had said that this money comes to the government as revenue, but we agreed that it should be used to finance social projects in Turkana", Treasury Permanent Secretary Joseph Kinyua told journalists on Saturday.

Kenya recently announced the formation of the first carbon credits exchange market, the Africa Carbon Exchange to be run by a private company. The country has announced its intention to set another carbon exchange platform to tap into the growing opportunities of carbon credit market in both the government and private sector projects that are using clean energy and investing in afforestation projects. Kenya has also rolled out investments in geothermal energy as part of the grand plan to exploit the renewable energy resources in the country. Geothermal will also earn carbon credits.

The wind power project is expected to open up Turkana region, a dry land located in northern Kenya and inhabited by pastoralists. The area is among the poorest in Kenya but this new deal will mean adequate resources for development will be available. The company will transmit it to the national grid through a 428 km overhead line that is to be constructed by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO). KETRACO announced earlier plans to build transmission lines dedicated to the green energy generation belt, stretching from Turkana, Marsabit through Rift Valley to Ngong Hills near the capital Nairobi.

Kenya government on Saturday gave a Letter of Support of the Lake Turkana wind power, enabling the company to source for financing and ending a financing deadlock of three years. "This is not a letter of guarantee, but an indication of support showing Kenya government is very much willing to have this project", said Kinyua. He said since the letter was not a credit guarantee, Kenya's debt position will not be affected adversely. "We now look up to breaking ground by December and have the initial 50 MW running on the national grid by September 2013 and at full capacity by mid 2014", said the chairman of Lake Turkana wind power Carlo Van Wageningen. "The letter of support from the government of Kenya will heavily boost our applications to our financiers", he said.

The company also signed a power purchase agreement with Kenya's sole electricity distributor, Kenya Power and Lighting Company. The 600 million Euro project is among the single largest investment in Kenya history. It is expected to generate 50 MW within the two years and to be in full capacity in two years. Demand for electricity in Kenya is expected to increase as the country implements projects to enable the country achieve middle income status by 2030. The bulk of Kenya's electricity estimated at 1,140 MW currently comes from the rainfall vulnerable hydropower sources 67%, 32% from thermal sources and only 5% from geothermal. Kenya is estimated to have geothermal capacity of 2,000 MW.

Ground right for solar power

Sunday Times
27 March 2011, Page: 26

MORE than half the wheat belt could be used to generate concentrated solar power, which can be stored to provide electricity after dark, scientists say. A UWA study has uncovered big swaths of the wheat belt that are flat and get enough sunshine to be able to house WA's first thermal solar power station. It is the first step towards generating green energy for thousands of WA homes and businesses, mine sites and eventually other parts of the nation.

Concentrated solar power, or thermal solar technology, requires direct sunlight and level terrain to focus sunlight with mirrors on to a heat retaining, molten salt solution. The stored heat is then converted to steam, which drives a turbine or engine to produce electricity without the intermittent power problems plaguing photovoltaic systems used on homes. But despite its flat, sunny landscapes, WA lags behind other states and the rest of the world when it comes to investing in thermal solar. WA is also the most polluting, energy guzzling, waste producer in the nation.

Monday 4 April 2011

Renewables are the way ahead, nobody can deny

Sunday Age
27 March 2011, Page: 4

CARBON tax and the global warming debate aside, the world is running out of energy resources. If we continue using coal at present levels, we only have 176 years left of the stuff, according to a recent report by HSBC. But there may only be 49 years left of oil that's proven resources, not potential and that's assuming demand doesn't increase. In comparison, the number of years left of coal may seem significant but it is also one of the biggest polluters and, therefore, contributors to global warming.

Events at Fukushima in Japan are not only tragic because of the radiation consequences but Japan also now needs to find alternative energy sources. Before the quake, the country relied on nuclear power for more than 20% of its energy usage. This is nowhere near France's reliance it uses nuclear power for more than 75% of total production yet it is a significant amount that needs to be supplied in a country with limited land available.

More efficient usage of energy goes some way to fixing the problem and concerted efforts by manyJapanese to cut back their use meant that not as many rolling blackouts have been required in Tokyo. But, ultimately, new sources will have to be found. Renewable solar, wind and hydropower provide the long term solution but not all countries will be able to produce them. Those that have large land masses and are close to the equator such as Africa, South America andAsia are best placed to produce solar power.

Those with large river systems that can be dammed can rely on hydroelectricity. But while hydropower is renewable, most feasible hydropower sources are already being used to capacity. Biofuels producing fuel from food crops such as grains, sugar and oilseeds are an alternative but they can result in food shortages instead and they may not necessarily be better for the environment.

Also, the production of many renewable energy sources at the moment is quite expensive compared with more conventional sources. Geothermal energy harnessing the energy of the earth is the only renewable energy that has a cost efficiency comparable with coal and gas. But those costs are coming down. In the early 1990s, solar power cost $US1.40 a kW, when coal cost about US 10 a kW. It is now closer to US200 a kW, while wind, which was also very expensive in the 1980s, is now much closer to the cost of coal as well.

Regardless of whether or not you believe in climate change, we will need to rely more on renewable sources for our energy. Investing in companies that are developing these types of energy makes good sense. Not only are you supporting something that will stop taxing the Earth, you should expect to make significant financial gains as well when the rest of the investing world wakes up to their necessity.

Price of failure too high for us to use nuclear energy

Adelaide Advertiser
28 March 2011, Page: 16

Safety issues
ALL raw materials are governed by world market pricing that inevitably rise nothing to do with how much we have in the ground. We will inevitably over time pay higher prices for uranium powered electricity. How many studies of nuclear power have conveniently "forgotten" that? When it comes to safety issues, there are many industries dealing with hazardous and toxic substances, but it would appear that none of these would compare to nuclear for ongoing genetic damage to all types of life, and associated suffering. This is the real danger: choose between preserving the life's hereditary gold for all time versus the very short term gain of toxic gold in the current nuclear systems.

What of new developments in the nuclear industry? What about thorium and/or fast-breeder reactors? They are not developed yet. How many billions of dollars would be required to develop these? (On this see R. Eastman's typical nuclear industry costings in yesterday's letters). Why not spend just some billions on commercialising Australian National University's Closed Loop Thermochemical Energy Storage System using ammonia? This could take care of all Australia's baseload requirements.

For example, a pilot plant at Whyalla only received $7.4 million in 2009. This is Australian renewable base load technology that is working now, yet there is this touted dream of spending billions for who knows what legacy? The price of failure is irremediably high for nuclear. Why go long term hazardous and runaway expensive when you don't have to?

C. Hart, Edwardstown.

Uranium not limitless
IT strikes me as rather odd that Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis actually seems to have perversely emboldened proponents of all things nuclear. Disregarding all of the obvious (and serious) risks with safety, waste storage and nuclear weapons proliferation, my simple question to the nuclear cheer squad is how will we generate electricity once the world has run out of uranium (and coal, oil and gas)?

Consider the ever increasing demand for energy from a global population juggernaut that shows no signs of abating, as well as the revelation from nuclear advocate Barry Brook (The Advertiser, 23/3/11) that, "Globally, to service such power demands will need current levels of nuclear power supply to increase 21 fold around the world", it becomes clear that if the pronuclear lobby gets its way, the Earth's finite supply of uranium (and other fossil fuels) will be devoured with increasingly rapacious haste.

No matter what answer may be given to my simple question, the next obvious question is: Wouldn't it be better to do those things now, through enlightened choice, rather than leave them to future generations to sort out as a matter of desperate necessity?

Guy Barnwell, West Croydon.

Forgotten victims
ON the one hand the Government is advising caution in visiting Japan for fear of radiation health issues and on the other it ignores the primary needs of the Australian victims of the UK nuclear tests in South Australia. It appears that the Australian Government is far more interested in protecting the interests of our political and colonial masters (UK Government) than Australian citizens harmed by the UK nuclear tests. In 2009, SA Premier Mike Rann expressed concern that compensation has not been provided to those Australian victims of these tests, and also SA has not been properly cleaned up.

Mr Rann's position is correct, yet there is a lack of resolve by the Australian Government to facilitate any assistance to victims of the nuclear tests on Australian soil beyond some half baked financial contributions of a few million dollars for some questionable support services. This support does not address compensation for the injuries sustained as a result of the UK nuclear tests on Australian soil. If only we had a government that put the interests of Australian citizens ahead of those of our political and colonial masters.

Neil E. Gillespie, Flagstaff Hill.

Real stimulus should be in new technology

Sydney Morning Herald
26 March 2011, Page: 14

PERHAPS in Australia we tend to assume every other country wasted their stimulus money during the depths of the financial crisis on stuff such as cash splashes, covered outdoor learning areas and badly installed, smouldering insulation materials. OK, that's harsh but let's just say they didn't, as the government's chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, reminded us in his latest update this week.

Citing International Energy Agency figures, Garnaut wrote: "the injection of substantial 'green' stimulus spending by governments,.. reversed the 35 year decline in real terms in low emissions energy research, development and demonstration and raises the prospect of significant breakthroughs". That stimulus investment, he told a Sydney lunch on Wednesday, was "starting to pay off". The worry for Australia is that we will fall behind in the race to develop clean technologies that will reduce the cost of mitigating climate change.

This month the US company Clean Edge, reviewing trends over the last decade, noted how clean technology investment had raced ahead of projections that were originally deemed optimistic. The solar PV market grew from $US2.5 billion in 2000 to $US71.2 billion last year or 40% a year, compounded. Sectors such as wind, hybrid electric vehicles, green buildings and smart grid also enjoyed spectacular growth rates.

Not here. HSBC recently scored Australia the lowest compared with the European Union, the US, Japan and Russian climate investment. Of eight key areas, we rated positive in just one (modal shift, because we are doing feasibility on very fast rail) and negative in two (carbon markets and climate strategy, based on political uncertainty). On one area we went backwards:" [EISBC] have downgraded our momentum score for renewables from positive to neutral, as we do not expect any new additional incentives". So investors move on.

Paddy Manning Twitter: @gpaddymanning

Sunday 3 April 2011

Turbines take their turn

Sydney Morning Herald
25 March 2011, Page: 2

AUSTRALIA is poised for a boom in wind power, with the sight of turbines on hilltops set to become standard for huge tracts of the rural landscape. About 187 MWs of power for NSW comes from wind farms, with turbines that will generate a further 138 MWs being built and the Planning Department assessing an additional 3057 MWs enough to power half a million houses. fossil fuels, mainly black coal, brown coal and gas, still generate more than 90% of Australia's electricity, according to last year's Clean Energy Council report.

Most renewable energy is still hydroelectric, enough to power about 09 million households annually. Wind power comes next, with enough electricity to run about 700,000 households, followed by bioenergy (about 350,000) and solar panels (65,000). Renewable energy production will have to double in the next nine years if Australia is to meet its national target of 20% by 2020. But two main hurdles are stopping wind turbines from taking a bigger slice of the energy pie.

The first is cost. The value of Renewable Energy Certificates is about $30 a MW but the Clean Energy Council says a price of $50 is needed to offer useful returns to largescale investors. The big investors, AGL Energy and EPURON, which are planning some of the world's largest wind farms in outback NSW, say they are reconsidering the scale of their projects because of the certificate price.

The second hurdle is local opposition to wind farms. Anti turbine campaigns have formed in all six designated "wind corridors" in NSW the New England Tablelands, the Upper Hunter, the Central Tablelands, NSW/ACT borders, South Coast and Cooma Monaro.

To measure public concern, the state government surveyed 2000 people and 300 businesses in rural NSW late last year. About 80% said they would strongly support wind farms in their region. Support dropped off somewhat if a wind farm was proposed closer to a person's house but 60% still supported the idea within two kilometres of their house. About 13%, many aged over 65, said they did not support wind power.

Solar firm sees both sides of tax

Courier Mail
25 March 2011, Page: 44

FOR Sunshine Coast solar systems company Auzion, a carbon price would be welcome but also something of a worry. Auzion managing director Mark Leckenby said he hoped the carbon price policy would be designed so that domestic production of inputs for the solar industry, chiefly aluminium, wasn't disrupted.

His almost three year old company, which has 50 staff plus 30 full time sales consultants, previously focused on supplying solar panels but has just expanded its range to include an aluminium solar panel rooftop mounting system that Auzion designed and is manufacturing in Brisbane.

"A lot of the current product in Australia is imported. Ours is locally designed and made", Mr Leckenby said. "A carbon price will definitely be a boost for us because it further helps the economics of renewable energy. "But every one tonne of aluminium roughly equals a tonne of CO₂. It's important that local aluminium supply isn't impacted so its a matter of managing that".

A federal multi party committee is working out details of a carbon price, to be launched in July next year. Steel and aluminium companies want free permits to emit CO₂ so that offshore rivals without similar carbon costs aren't advantaged. The Gillard Government wants the bulk of revenue raised to go to households. Its climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, says trade exposed polluters included in the scheme could receive assistance for three years to cover any sales price disadvantage.

And from 2015, any assistance would be determined by an independent regulator. Mr Leckenby said he expected solar panel demand to stay strong despite a federal rebate dropping, initially by 20%, from this July. Although the rebate is falling, the Greens are looking at how the carbon price scheme can reward those who make household energy savings.

"We've been installing about 60 systems a week and I think demand is going to be strong right through that 20% rebate drop", Mr Leckenby said. Auzion is also eyeing a role in a plan by Energy Parks Australia to develop a 10 MW solar farm on 20ha of land on the Sunshine Coast. Currently Australia's largest solar facility is a 4 MW solar thermal plant built by NSW Government owned utility Macquarie Generation in the Hunter Valley.

Solar's true potential

25 March 2011, Page: 18

IT MAKES me angry when I keep coming across the old crock that solar can't provide baseload 24 hour a day power (Letters, 24/3). This line is so simplistic it is almost beyond belief. The only reason solar is not used more widely is because of vested political and corporate interests.

Molten salt storage, hydrogen fuel-cells and pumped water storage are but three methods that are being used or could be used to extend the power of solar beyond the fall of darkness. Oil and gas will eventually run out, coal will never be clean, but energy will keep falling out of the sky, and that's before you even start looking at geothermal, wind or wave/tide power.

M Lowick, Emerald

Panax in new green Indo deal

Courier Mail
24 March 2011, Page: 55

SHARES in Brisbane based geothermal energy developer Panax Geothermal have rallied 22% since Monday, bolstered by a new agreement to start exploration on its third geothermal project in Indonesia. Panax Geothermal has signed an initial deal with an Indonesian government owned power company to start exploration on project areas on the east coast of central Sumatra, with the aim of developing geothermal resources of up to 80 MWs per project.

As part of Indonesia's plan to slash its greenhouse gas emissions, the government plans to add more than 4000 MW in electricity generation capacity from geothermal energy in the next four years, or the equivalent of about 12 power stations. In order to encourage zero emission power plants, the Indonesian government has announced a guaranteed feed in tariff of $US97 ($96.15) per MW, plus carbon credits, to geothermal energy generators. Panax Geothermal said Indonesia's policies were providing investment certainty for renewable energy projects, noting this was in stark contrast to Australia where such incentives and investment certainty were not available.

Analysts say a major roll out in Australia of new power stations with zero greenhouse gas emissions, such as from wind, solar and geothermal sources, would require a carbon price, national feed in tariffs and improved incentives for research and development. "There is enormous potential for geothermal development in the Asia Pacific Region. Indonesia has commercially attractive tariffs, abundant geothermal resources and incentives for geothermal energy generators", Palm managing director Kerry Parker said. Panax Geothermal shares closed up 0.54¢ or 9.8% at 5.6¢ yesterday.