Saturday 14 May 2011

Rein on solar panel credits sours business

2 May 2011, Page: 8

WHEN Tony Pecora and his electrician mate started a solar power company four years ago, they ploughed their savings into the venture with the expectation that federal moves towards reducing fossil fuel use would spark a clamour for solar panels. Instead, stock is sitting idle on the shop floor after changes in the federal government's management of solar credits flooded the market. "It's complete incompetence,' Mr Pecora said. "If you want business to actually have faith in what's going on and have confidence to invest money, there must be stability".

The number of solar installations supported by the renewable energy target scheme has blown out from fewer than 15,000 systems in 2008 to more than 120,000 last year. Until July, the solar credits scheme will provide eligible householders with an upfront payment worth five times the value of certificates their solar panels would produce. The multiple of five will then be reduced to four, and lowered each year after that to rein in the support mechanism.

The move came after the huge take up caused by the original generous subsidies flooded the system with Renewable Energy Certificates, causing their value to plummet and sparking an investment freeze among big energy investors in major projects such as wind farms.

The government moved early last year to rescue the system, splitting Renewable Energy Certificates into large scale and small scale markets, and in January the government opened an online clearing house for small scale technology certificates (STCs), where sellers offer them at the fixed price of $40 each. Then it wound back the subsidies to solar panel installations in a bid to stop the flood of new Renewable Energy Certificates.

There is still a surplus of 796,100 certificates, with figures from the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator showing only 78,016 have been bought so far this year. Mr Pecora's company in Melbourne's southeastern suburbs employs 15 electricians and three sales staff, and is finding it difficult to manage monthly overheads of $100,000. Each container of stock ordered from overseas is an additional $250,000.

Mr Pecora said he was negotiating with customers who had ordered solar panels, but feared jobs would be cancelled if the quoted prices rose. "People aren't going to fork out another $1500", he said. "The only way it's going to work is if they do a carbon tax and tax people for what they pump into the air".

The magnificent power of three
April 29, 2011

Sydney is a step closer to reducing its reliance on coal powered energy, with the launch of Australia's first commercial trigeneration network. The project, which links the energy use of two buildings across the harbour, uses natural gas to produce electricity on site, capturing any waste heat to provide heating and air conditioning. Electricity generated at Coca Cola Place, a high rise office building in North Sydney, is also provided to Deutsche Bank Place in the CBD Energy. Trigeneration can be up to three times more efficient than coal fired power stations, where the waste heat escapes into the atmosphere.

The lord mayor, Clover Moore, said: ''This is Australia's first open commercial trigeneration precinct, delivering a more efficient way to generate power, heat and cooling.'' As part of its Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan, Sydney City Council aims to produce 70% of the city's energy needs locally from trigeneration systems within the next 20 years. Although the complex is not in the City of Sydney, Cr Moore said it showed the viability of larger scale trigeneration.

''We must look at trigeneration and we must start to show just how effective it is in terms of saving costs, saving carbon. Eighty% of emissions are in our cities predominantly from our commercial buildings.'' The NSW Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, said medium scale projects like trigeneration plants were more efficient than rooftop solar panels. ''We are not going to allow programs like the present Solar Bonus Scheme,.. to continue,'' Mr Hartcher said. ''But we are going to encourage a sensible attitude towards,.. energy efficiency in the community. That's why we look very much to business to set the example.'' The operators expect the plant to prevent the release of about 1000 tonnes of CO₂ each year.

Falklanders to reap wind energy - with their car batteries
24 April 2011

The Falkland Islands could become the world's first territory to be mainly powered by a revolutionary combination of wind power and electric car batteries. Seven wind turbines already provide the islands with more than half of their electricity needs. The rest is generated by costly diesel imported to power generators. But because the South Atlantic winds often gust well above the average of 10mph, the manager of the wind farm, Glenn Ross, has adapted the pitch of the blades so that they provide a constant flow of electricity rather than providing occasional excess energy.

Levelling the output means less diesel is needed to balance the wind power output, but the islands still want to store surplus wind power. And in a groundbreaking move, the government in the capital Port Stanley has given the go-ahead to investigate using electric cars to store excess energy in their batteries, effectively creating one of the world's first independent smart grids.

Ross said: 'We are looking at distributed storage in electric cars. At times of high wind we could dial a number and get people to switch on their chargers.' At times of low wind the 3,000 or so islanders could plug their car batteries into the grid to power general usage. Combining the fixed wind power output with electric storage is a model that could be exported to other islands similarly dependent on imported diesel, said Ross. 'This could work on a Scottish island - we share similar weather,' he added.

Council outlines roles for new body

2 May 2011, Page: 8

THE peak clean energy group has taken up calls for an independent body similar to the Reserve Bank to be launched with next year's carbon tax. In a discussion paper released today, the Clean Energy Council outlines possible roles for the proposed agency including administering an emissions trading scheme and setting targets, allocating revenue from the carbon tax and issuing loans to fund green investments.

The body, which would operate at arm's length from the federal government, would constantly review projects and cut off funds to those that fail to prove themselves. Speaking ahead of this week's green energy conference in Melbourne, CEC chief executive Matthew Warren said borrowing from future carbon revenue to support green developments would enable quicker transition to low emissions technology.

"It seems insane that you would simply spend the money as it comes in the door, if the hardest part of the transformation is in the first five to 10 years", he said. "If you borrow against the future income stream and spend it now, then you will presumably make it much easier for businesses and households to cope with the scheme so you don't have to keep paying compensation".

The Clean Energy Council is an industry association representing renewable energy companies. Government adviser Ross Garnaut has previously recommended creating a carbon bank to administer carbon reduction measures, while outgoing RBA board member and economist Warwick McKibbin has suggested it set and adjust emissions targets.

Mr Warren said it would be challenging for an independent body to set the carbon price. Britain plans to establish a green investment bank next year to spur investment in low emissions technology. Coordinated funding would make it easier to monitor different projects and pull their funding if necessary. "You've got to keep delivering in order to keep getting funded. There's competition between the sectors but equally there's accountability so we don't get the feeling we're just doing stuff because the money was allocated".

Mr Warren said projects deemed too risky by traditional lenders needed an influx of capital now, pointing to geothermal and ocean wave energy as areas where public funding should step in. "The funds at the cutting edge of the most risky private investments, their basic view is we need to get our money back plus something in five years or we're not going to do it", he said. "The geothermal industry or the ocean industry aren't going to give you a payback in five years. It doesn't mean it's bad technology, it's just going to need some help".

Coles ordered to use green power

Courier Mail
29 April 2011, Page: 17

A MULTIMILLION dollar Coles development on the Sunshine Coast will have to source at least half its power from climate safe, renewable sources under council stipulated conditions. It is believed to be the first such demand for a large scale development by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, which has foreshadowed similar conditions for future projects. It means the Nambour supermarket will be largely powered by renewable energy, including solar or wind farms.

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said he was not aware of any other local authority raising the issue of climate safe energy sources for a Coles facility, or if any facility now used a significant amount of green power. "We'll go through the (approval) documents when we receive them and consider those in due course", Mr Cooper said.

The council said the energy condition, which Coles could meet via buying green energy or building on site generation, was a chance for Coles to show it was a "good corporate citizen". Cr Vivien Griffin said: "I added the condition because this council has adopted some fairly serious approaches to the issue of climate change and we are a region very subject to the impacts of climate change. "CO₂, emissions from electricity consumption are an off site impact just as filling in a floodplain is,.. so this is about coming back to basic planning principles that any new development should not have those off site impacts".

In the US, a federal program to encourage use of green energy has led big companies to slash their greenhouse gas emissions. Intel, the world's largest chip maker, now derives 88% of its power from solar and wind farms. Australia's reliance on coal for 80% of its power makes it the developed world's worst per capita CO₂, emitter. Renewable energy companies say the Federal Government's weak emission reduction targets and the lack of a national feed in tariff for renewable energy mean Australia is still lagging other major economies including China, India and the US in adopting clean energy.

Solar coup for ANU

Canberra Times
29 April 2011, Page: 2

A new project aimed at driving down the cost of renewable energy is expected to attract millions of dollars in licensing fees for the Australian National University. The world's largest manufacturer of solar cells, Trina Solar, and researchers at the ANU will work to increase the efficiency of solar cells during the ANU Solar project. The $10.7 million project, launched at the ANU yesterday, aims to keep Australia at the forefront of solar research. A Federal Government grant of $3.3 million from the Australian Solar Institute will go towards the project. The ANU will also work with the University of New South Wales during the project.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

First fuel-cell scooter to hit road for tests
24 Apr, 2011

Suzuki has become the world's first motorcycle maker to earn Whole Vehicle Type Approval 1 compliance for a fuel-cell-powered vehicle in the European Union with a squadron of its Burgman scooters set to hit the road for testing.
Initially only one fuel-cell scooter was given permission to test in Britain with approval from the British government's Technology Strategy Board 2 with single vehicle approval for each scooter used in the trials. The new Europe-wide approval means the single vehicle approval is no longer necessary.

Suzuki's Burgman fuel-cell scooter made its debut at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show and since February last year Suzuki and British company Intelligent Energy, developer of the bike's fuel-cell system, have been involved with on-road trials. The scooter employs an air-cooled fuel-cell and hydrogen tank inside its frame to produce electricity which in turn powers a drive motor and the only exhaust emission is water. Suzuki says it wants to have fuel-cell scooters ready to go when hydrogen filling stations come on line across Europe.

Power costs can be curbed

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
27 April 2011, Page: 54

The New South Wales Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) recently announced that electricity costs in the state will rise 18% this year, adding further pressure to households already struggling with power price rises. The regulator expects a carbon price to add 20% more to those bills. The Reserve Bank of Australia points out that Australian electricity prices are still moderate compared with most other countries, and household income is rising at twice the rate of inflation.

Although rebates for energy saving initiatives are worthy, the poorly planned renewable energy rebates have added to electricity bills and will be most felt by the less well off. Ross Garnaut has advised that demand controls be implemented. John Howard's national energy market has been ignored by Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet should overhaul the renewable energy strategies that have added to power bills. Giving rebates for solar panels discriminates against the poor and more funding should be offered to wind farm projects.

Oil giants play loose with facts on gas

Sydney Morning Herald
23 April 2011, Page: 17

SENIOR executives in the fossil fuel industry have launched an all out assault on renewable energy, lobbying governments and business groups to reject wind and solar power in favour of gas, in a move that could choke the green energy industry.

Multinational companies including Shell, GDF Suez and Statoil are promoting gas as an alternative green fuel. These firms are among dozens worldwide investing in new technologies to exploit shale gas, a controversial form of the fuel that has rejuvenated the gas industry because it is in plentiful supply and newly accessible because of technical advances in gas extraction that are known as fracking.

Burning gas in power stations releases about half the carbon emissions of coal, allowing gas companies to claim it is a green source of fuel. For the past two months company lobbyists have been besieging governments in Europe, the US and elsewhere. Central to the lobbying effort is a report saying that the European Union could meet its 2050 carbon targets more cheaply, avoiding costs of 990 billion ($1.3 trillion), by using gas rather than investing in renewables.

However, The Guardian has established that the analysis is based on a previous report that came to the opposite conclusion: that renewables should play a much larger role. The report being pushed by the fossil fuel industry has been disowned by its original authors, who referred to it as biased in favour of gas. The new report relies on questionable assumptions about the future price of technology to capture and store carbon.

The team at the European Climate Foundation that produced the original report described the new version, commissioned by the European Gas Advocacy Forum, as "biased to one preferential outcome in support of gas advocacy". It warns that adopting its conclusions would expose the European economy to volatile gas prices.

Further doubt has been thrown on the industry's claims by an academic study from Cornell University which found that generating electricity from shale gas produced at least as much CO₂ as coalfired power, and perhaps more, because of the difficulty in extracting the gas. James Smith, outgoing British chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the leaders in the lobbying effort, said switching to gas would offer the world a "breathing space" in the battle against climate change.

This view was challenged by David Mackay, chief scientific adviser to Britain's Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. He said: "You can't reach the [climate] targets like this. There is no way that switching to gas would solve the problem. I don't think it's really credible that gas is the only future". Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said gas was "complementary to renewables, as it could be turned on and off quickly, could be baseload power and [avoid use of] coal".

Solar panel industry pleads for help

Sydney Morning Herald
23 April 2011, Page: 1

COMPANIES that install rooftop solar panels have warned the federal government the industry is on the verge of collapse because of a slump in the value of Renewable Energy Certificates. The industry is calling for certainty so it can offer the panels at a set cost, not one that depends on the wilting price of the small scale technology certificates. As the price of certificates falls, so do the rebates that keep down the consumer's cost. In January it was $37; now it is $31.

One installer, West Coast Solar, said a flood of cheap certificates for small scale renewable energy projects was forcing it to turn away customers who had already paid deposits. "This makes the whole industry look bad and brings the type of debacle the home insulation program resulted in", a spokesman, Jay Funnell, said in a statement. "If the industry cannot effectively promote and sell their products at a reasonable price, the industry will be decimated".

The government said it would work to avoid a boom bust cycle, including limiting the issue of new certificates which this month were being produced at the rate of more than a million a week. It is also considering limiting rebates to households that buy larger and more efficient solar panels generating 2 or 3 kilowatts, rather than the present standard of 1.5 kilowatts.

From January 1 the scheme was modified so that certificates were issued for household scale projects, and separate ones for large scale projects. Four extra certificates "phantom credits" were issued for every MW of renewable energy generated, despite warnings that this would deflate the certificate price.

The federal opposition said the government needed to move urgently to steady the certificate price. "There is looming evidence of a potential solar crisis but the federal government has ignored this evidence, just as it did with the problems in the home insulation program", said the opposition spokesman on climate action, Greg Hunt. "The government's generous 'phantom credits' scheme for solar has cooked the market, and the solar quota is likely to be filled within months, causing the industry to go from bubble to bust".

The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said the Coalition and the Greens had supported the changes in January. The boom was also fuelled by the high Australian dollar by state solar panel tariffs. "The government has been monitoring the growth of the industry closely and will continue to consider how best to support [it]", he said.

Panax is doing well in Java

Courier Mail
23 April 2011, Page: 82

BENEFITING from an Indonesian Government push to roll out climate safe energy sources, Brisbane based geothermal developer Panax Geothermal is to jointly build a large geothermal power plant in East Java. Panax Geothermal said it had signed a binding deal with power company PT Bakrie Power, which holds the tender to build the 165 MW Ngebel project. Panax Geothermal will earn a 35% working interest in the project through funding exploration works before commercial development begins, at which point the companies will share development costs.

Panax Geothermal will be project operator during exploration and feasibility stages. Commercial development is due to start late next year. The Indonesian Government's carbon reduction plans include expanding the amount of zero emissions electricity from geothermal sources to more than 4000 MW within four years. "Panax Geothermal is committed to building a strong geothermal business in Indonesia", Panax Geothermal managing director Kerry Parker said. "This represents our fourth project in Indonesia". Indonesia offers a guaranteed feed in tariff of $US97 per MW/hour, plus carbon credits, to geothermal energy generators so as to provide certainty for renewable energy investors.

Australia, the biggest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the developed world, lacks a national feed in tariff for renewable energy. The Gillard Government is losing the battle to cut Australia's emissions of planet warming gases, with official data this week showing Australia's greenhouse gas output last year rose by 0.5% The data showed energy sector emissions including from power stations, transport and fugitive emissions form 75% of Australia's emissions, and the sector's emissions have soared by 44% in just 10 years.

Carbon tax critics should heed lessons of history

Sydney Morning Herald
26 April 2011, Page: 10

If Australian business is going to be disadvantaged by "going it alone" with a carbon tax, as the Business Council of Australia claims, would it be true to say that we are unfairly advantaged being among the world's top carbon emitters per capita? The arguments put forward by the council, Gerry Harvey and many other groups lobbying for compensation would have us exploit and pollute the environment ad infinitum because, as they see it, we don't make a difference ("Harvey slams illogical tax", April 25).

But the point is the world cannot keep doing business the way it has since industrialisation, and if we don't make fundamental change we will be left stranded continuing to use increasingly inefficient forms of energy because no one is willing to invest.

This will in the end have a very negative effect on our economy and our international competitiveness, and we will soon find ourselves overrun and our economy relying totally on foreign investment from large industrialised countries, such as China, who have not waited for world consensus to get on with the business of change.

We cannot wait any longer, and while no doubt much of the noise made about the consequences of the tax is just lobby groups jostling for handsome compensation, entitled as they are, the accumulated noise is in danger of destroying the whole process.

James Manche, Bondi

Concerning the carbon tax debate and retaining the economic status quo, Tony Abbott and Gerry Harvey should open their history books. Between the mid 16th century and the mid 19th century, across the Atlantic slavery was a major economic institution. Smaller Portugal did not abandon its slave economy until after larger Britain became abolitionist.

Clearly today, most reasonable people would feel Portugal was wrong in endorsing economic priorities before taking proactive action against slavery ahead of Britain. Likewise, if Australia quarantines carbon polluters from new values and changed circumstances pending responses from the China and the United States, future Australian generations will judge us harshly.

Peter Sinclair, Ashfield

How can Paul Sheehan make statements such as solar and wind power are prohibitively expensive and cannot meet baseload power needs" ("The great carbon chasm that could swallow Gillard whole", April 25). Five minutes of research would have uncovered solar thermal power stations delivering baseload in the US, and the 370 MW Ivanpah facility being built in California's Movaje Desert being the world's largest.

In Spain, there are at least five either operating or being developed, with a further 25 to 30 being planned by the EU for southern Europe. As well there are World Bank funded projects being developed in Egypt, Mexico and Morocco. If one of Mr Sheehan's points is in error, how can we possibly believe the rest of his argument?

John Newton, Glebe

Paul Sheehan missed one important argument against a carbon tax. We are already [laying much more for electricity and petrol, but has this changed our consumption patterns? Have we moved to renewable forms of energy? The answer, quite simply, is no. The carbon tax is one big con and I hope people are beginning to see through it.

Ronda Wakeley, Dural