Thursday 19 May 2011

China enters global solar system via US

12 May 2011, Page: 26

US solar panel maker FirstSolar and China Power International New Energy (CPINE) said they will collaborate on solar power projects in China, the US and elsewhere. The arrangement helps FirstSolar gain access to China's solar sector amid shaky conditions in Europe, the leading solar market. CPINE "has a tremendous advantage and strength in operating in China, and we have a tremendous advantage and strength in technology but also in building utility systems", Kevin Berkemeyer, FirstSolar's China representative, said at a news conference yesterday.

The companies will explore opportunities within China. FirstSolar also will assist CPINE, a unit of China Power International New Energy Development, to find investment in the US and elsewhere. CPINE has planned 2 GWs of projects for the domestic market. FirstSolar has 2.4 GW planned in North America. "We are very pleased to build an extensive and in depth relationship with FirstSolar, a global leader in solar photovoltaic technology", said Li Xiaolin, CPINE's chairwoman.

FirstSolar says that potential cuts in subsidies from budget strapped European governments could reduce demand and prices for solar products. The company reported that first quarter earnings fell 33% from a year earlier, citing higher costs, the Europe slowdown and a 14% decline in prices for its panels.

Uncertainty over the future of European governments' feed in tariff programs special electricity rates that give renewable energy companies higher returns than what they would get in the free market are among the challenges facing solar companies in Europe. The continent accounted for more than 80% of all solar panel demand last year.

"We're interested in diversification", T.K. Kallenbach, president of FirstSolar's Components Business Group, said yesterday. "But we're also interested in working with countries to help them develop more sustainable long term policies". He cited a series of "boom and bust" cycles in Europe in recent years in which unsustainable feed in tariffs hampered solar industry growth.

Solar power companies increasingly are looking to China for growth. The government has reiterated plans to cut reliance on imported fossil fuels to reduce pollution and because Beijing views the imports as a threat to national security. The government in March said it would set 15% as a target for use of renewable energy by 2020.

Non fossil fuels currently account for 8% of the country's energy use. FirstSolar in January signed a memorandum of understanding with China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development to build a solar plant in northern China's Inner Mongolia region. FirstSolar executives said yesterday that negotiations continue but declined to say when construction would begin.

Two firms join forces in geothermal push

Adelaide Advertiser
12 May 2011, Page: 48

Geothermal explorer Green Rock Energy and Pacific Hydro are in talks to jointly advance potential power projects in SA and Western Australia. Both the companies own a number of geothermal licences in the South Australian part of the Great Artesian Basin and North Perth Basin in WA, and are looking for a drilling investor.

Green Rock Energy, which also owns geothermal licences within the Olympic Dam expansion area, will drive exploration and identify drilling targets for a potential investor to establish a resource potential. Pacific Hydro will then apply its technical and commercial expertise in building and assessing the economic feasibility of power plants.

Initial power projects of at least 25 MW are contemplated in both the North Perth Basin and the Great Artesian Basin. Pacific Hydro owns more than $1 billion worth of solar PV, geothermal, hydropower and wind power projects in Australia Green Rock Energy managing director Richard Beresford said the possible partnership would underline the potential of the geothermal resource in the two basins.

"Both parties have already done a lot of work in the licences that they own", Mr Beresford said. "We now look forward to applying relevant expertise to jointly progress the potential of these projects". Green Rock Energy is leading the marketing of the projects on an equal footing to potential upstream drilling investors.

Renewable energy the future: UN

Sydney Morning Herald
11 May 2011, Page: 2

GLOBAL energy generated by renewables could increase up to 10 times on current levels by midcentury, a landmark study by a United Nations climate change body has found. In a report released last night in Abu Dhabi, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says detailed analysis it has carried out finds renewables will most likely contribute more than 17% of the planet's primary energy supply by 2030, and more than 27% by 2050.

Under the most positive outcomes of the analysis, 43% of energy could be supplied by renewables in 2030, growing to 77% in 2050, but these findings assume strict global carbon emissions targets and a number of other favourable conditions. The most optimistic findings would represent a cut of about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008 renewable energy contributed 09% to the world's primary energy supply.

By 2050, renewables' contribution to primary energy will be three to 10 fold greater, once biomass is excluded. One of the lead authors of the report, Wes Stein from CSIRO, told the Herald yesterday that "to put this in perspective the sorts of growth projected in renewable energy,.. is 20 to 40 times the total primary energy Australia uses at the moment". The report includes the contribution of solar, geothermal, bioenergy hydropower, ocean energy and wind.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Unhealthy claims blowing in the wind
13 May 2011

Recently, health concerns have been raised in some rural Australian communities that are situated near wind farms. These claims of adverse health effects as well as economic and social from wind turbine installations generated a level of speculative discussion that eventually led to a Senate Inquiry, a move initiated by Family First Senator Steve Fielding, to investigate the issue.

This seems anachronistic, considering the enormous burden of ill health and premature deaths borne by those communities who live near coal mines and power stations, which has been serially ignored by successive governments.

The impact of air pollution from burning fossil fuels on climate change, and the ensuing health effects, are both long term and cumulative. A recent study from Harvard Medical School has found that the costs to US residents of burning coal amounts to between $US300 $US500 billion dollars annually, or around $US1000 for every citizen. Previous studies, such as ExterneE (2005) in Europe, have arrived at similar conclusions. The figures in Australia are likely to be broadly similar.

There are many contributing factors, but the single largest is that of illness and mortality arising from air pollution. Health effects, mediated primarily by airborne small particulates (PM2.5), SO², NOx, volatile organic compounds and Ozone, include asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, heart attacks, arrhythmias and disproportionally affect children and those with pre existing illness. The US study's "best estimate" for damages due to air quality adds 9.3¢kW.

Read more…

Investors want action on carbon pricing

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
9 May 2011, Page: 9

Mitsui Co, is one of Japan's major investment and trading firms and believes that any uncertainty on carbon pricing would make it difficult to commit to renewable power investments in Australia. Mitsui has urged the Federal government not to delay its decision on carbon pricing. Junichi Yamada, a general manager at Mitsui Co (Australia) said that a delay would make it "very hard for Mitsui".

Mitsui project development manager Andres Maasing explained: "We have to put forward a compelling case to our minders in order to get projects approved". A delay in making a decision would affect that process. Prime Minister Julia Gillard vowed in February to introduce a carbon price in 2012. But the government and the Australian Greens have not been able to agree on emissions targets.

Despite the uncertainty over carbon pricing, Mitsui considers Australia to be an attractive market. In Victoria, Mitsui is developing the Bald Hills wind farm and has a 30% share of the Loy Yang power station in Latrobe Valley. In Western Australia, Mitsui has stake in the Kwinana Cogeneration Plant near Perth, which provides electricity to utility Verve Energy and electrical and steam power to the BP Australia Kwinana oil refinery.

Outer suburbs turn on to solar power

9 May 2011, Page: 3

ELEVEN years ago, Anthony Borg and Judith Warren were urban fringe trailblazers among the first to buy and build at Caroline Springs, a then new housing development in Melbourne's outer west. Last month they upgraded the home they hope will see them through their retirement years with a 1.65 kW rooftop solar system. In their neighbourhood they are not alone. New data shows Victorians in outlying and traditionally working class suburbs are embracing solar power more enthusiastically than those in wealthier areas.

Epping, in the outer north, is Victoria's top solar suburb with panels installed on one in 16 houses. Other suburbs in the top 10 include Caroline Springs, Altona, Rowville and Sunshine. The postcode breakdown, compiled by the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator, challenges a frequent criticism that solar subsidies help the rich and leave the poor to bear increased electricity bills.

Mr Borg and Ms Warren spent about $6000 on solar to limit surging power costs and lessen their carbon footprint. "I reckon we should save a couple of hundred dollars [a quarter], but it depends on how the electricity company works it out for us", Mr Borg said. The proportion of households in wealthier suburbs that have taken up solar is below the state average.

"Tariffs and rebates are not all middle class welfare as they have been portrayed by some", said Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren. "In Victoria they have done a good job of leading many households to the conclusion that switching to solar makes economical sense as well as environmental sense".

The data comes as solar schemes face criticism. Energy market expert Rod Sims, an adviser to the federal government, believes they are an expensive and inefficient way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and should be phased out. Defenders of subsidies say they are necessary to develop a clean energy industry. The Baillieu government appears set to let the solar subsidy introduced by the Brumby government in 2009 lapse.

The scheme, a feed in tariff that pays households for power generated beyond what is used at home, has nearly reached its cap of 100 MWs of power generated. State Energy Minister Michael O'Brien has said there was no commitment to continue the scheme. Federally, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet last week said national solar subsidies would be reduced earlier than planned in response to skyrocketing power bills and an overheating renewable energy market.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Right answer, wrong reason: Solar industry
05 May 2011

Household solar power must not be used as the scapegoat for electricity price rises, despite adjustments to Solar Credits arrangements announced by Government today being a necessary and sensible decision. Matthew Warren, the Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council, the peak body for the clean energy sector, questioned the justification for the announcement.

"For some time now the Clean Energy Council has been concerned about the stability of the solar market. We have been consulting with industry, analysing the market and talking to Government. We acknowledge a reduction in the solar credits multiplier for next year will help create longer term certainty for the industry", he said. "This decision has nothing to do with rising electricity prices, and everything to do with supporting an industry of the future. That's why any job losses in this industry are the worst kind of job losses. "So it's a necessary change, but it will hurt", he said.

Mr Warren said the positive aspects of strong demand for solar technology by Australian families should not be lost amid policy uncertainty. The truth is Australia loves solar. It is a technology that gives families a way of protecting themselves against rising electricity prices", he said. "Electricity price rises are mainly driven by the need for critical investment in network capacity. Painting solar as the problem child is misguided and out of step with what Australians are telling us through their purchasing decisions.

"Yesterday we released data for solar installations across Australia as a percentage of eligible households. It shows the idea that solar is the province of inner urban elites is a myth. People in regional communities, working class suburbs and coastal villages are all signing up. Australians from all walks of life are embracing this technology".

Mr Warren said there is the real risk that this industry could be a victim of its own success. "The SRES Scheme is designed to be an uncapped incentive for households to install solar. Australian households have responded exactly as the policy intended. "What has been done today is an effort to correct a flaw in the market design, not to control electricity prices that are barely affected by this program".

Mr Warren said the solar industry had weathered years of stop start policy from state and federal governments. "It is appropriate that support is adjusted as the cost of solar power systems continue to fall. But the minimal time available for business planning will mean that small businesses in particular will struggle to ride the wave of rising and falling demand as a result of this decision.

"This will lead to pain for some solar installers. These are business people who have taken a significant financial risk, they have real skin in the game". "Current market pressures are the result of a number of local and international factors occurring simultaneously. They might not equate to a permanent shift in conditions", he said.

Solar struggle feeds into power cost blame game

Canberra Times
6 May 2011, Page: 4

ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell has accused the Federal Government of using the clean energy industry as scapegoats for soaring power costs. Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said feed in tariff schemes offered in the ACT and NSW had hiked up electricity prices and cuts to solar panel subsidies would reduce household power bills by $35 a year. Under changes announced yesterday by Mr Combet, federal subsidies for household solar panels will drop from a peak of around $6200 offered on June 30 to $1200 for a basic 1.5kw system after July 1, 2013.

But Mr Corbell said ageing infrastructure was driving up electricity prices, not an increase in households signed up to the ACT's feed in tariff scheme. "I'm getting sick of the feed in tariff being used as a scapegoat for rising electricity costs because it's an easy sell", he said. "Demand for electricity is going up in summer and winter and the transmission network needs to be augmented to deal with that. This is what is contributing to rising electricity prices, the impact of the feed in tariff scheme is only costing 50¢ a week on households".

Enviro Friendly Products founding director David Payne said the subsidy cuts would cause a 50% drop in solar panel sales at his Phillip store. "Companies across the country will suffer. There will be a significant drop in sales. But we need to get to a point where we don't need subsidies and [solar panels] stand on their own as an economic model". Mr Payne said the Federal Government was using the renewable energy industry as a "political football" and strong demand for solar panels had only a minor impact on rising power costs. "The price of power is increasing because of dilapidated infrastructure. Saying it's because of solar panel subsidies is simply not true".

He said clean energy businesses in the ACT were more sheltered from the subsidy cuts than other states because of existing solar panel feed in tariffs, which offer households 45.7¢ for every kW they put into the grid. ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems director Andrew Blakers said Australia was in the middle of a "solar revolution" and urged the Government to create a clear and transparent support scheme. He said clean energy businesses needed to work harder to reduce the cost of installing solar panels now that Federal Government subsidies had been cut.

Meanwhile, the ACT Government announced yesterday new renewable energy targets that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020. Mr Corbel' said 15% of energy used in Canberra would be sourced from renewable sources by next year, increasing to 25% by 2020. But the Greens said Mr Corbell's targets were meaningless, because no new policies had been created. Greens climate change spokesman Shane Rattenbury said the targets announced by Mr Corbell simply reflected what ACT residents were already doing.

US government sued on climate - Teenagers argue agencies failed to protect planet

6 May 2011, Page: 14

ADVOCATES of stringent curbs on greenhouse gas emissions have sued the US government, arguing that key agencies had failed in their duty to protect the atmosphere as a public trust to be guarded for future generations. Similar lawsuits are to be filed against states around the country, according to the plaintiffs, a coalition of groups concerned about climate change called Our Children's Trust.

Most of the individual plaintiffs in the suit, filed in US District Court in San Francisco, are teenagers, a decision apparently made to underscore the intergenerational nature of the public trust that the atmosphere represents. More novel, however, is the suit's reliance on the public trust doctrine, which dates to Roman times. In some ways the suit parallels a current case, brought by several states against the five largest energy companies in the country, that frames greenhouse gas emissions as a public nuisance, legal experts noted.

Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments on issues in that case, including the standing of the states to bring such lawsuits. Several justices expressed scepticism: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for example, questioned whether the courts were being asked to intervene in an arena in which the executive branch specifically the Environmental Protection Agency has the expertise to act.

The EPA has determined that greenhouse gases pose a danger to the public health and welfare and are therefore subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. It has argued that this regulatory process, which is already under way, should not be preempted by the courts. Legal experts on Wednesday said they were unsure whether the new lawsuit could gain legal traction, given that it presents issues that overlap in some ways with the public nuisance case. The Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion on that case in the next few months.

Courts that hear these cases will be heavily influenced by the Supreme Court's opinion, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University's Centre for Climate Change Law. Mr Gerrard said that by filing such lawsuits, environmentalists were "trying to use all available options in view of the failure of Congress" to act on greenhouse gas emissions. The House approved a sweeping bill to limit such emissions in 2009, but a more cautious effort died in the Senate last year. And the recently elected Republican majority in the House is threatening to strip the EPA of regulatory powers related to global warming.

Monday 16 May 2011

Skepticism is bastardry, says head of ACF

29 April 2011, Page: 6

THE president of the Australian Conservation Foundation has attacked the "scientific bastardry" of climate change skeptics amid weakening public consensus that humans are to blame. Ian Lowe, who is also professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, lamented the narrowing of the carbon tax debate. He said it was "naive" to believe putting a price on carbon was the solution to the problem, arguing the carbon price would have to rise to "politically unrealistic" levels if it was to drive the transition away from coal fired power. He said other complementary measures would be needed to encourage renewable energy.

Addressing a conference in Melbourne organised by the academics' union, the National Tertiary Education Union, Professor Lowe called on scientists to become more active in promoting the scientific evidence of human induced climate change. "As a profession who are paid from the public purse, it is a fundamental part of our responsibility to the community to be engaged in the public debate about these issues", he said. He said the evidence for human induced climate change was backed by virtually all scientists. He described the views of climate change skeptics as "illegitimate arguments that you could call scientific bastardly".
29 April 2011

An excellent article that provides some perspective and credible information on wind farms and those who are determined to oppose them.

Solar scheme use surges ahead

Canberra Times
5 May 2011, Page: 2

Businesses and households are signing up in droves to the ACT's feed in tariff scheme with 868 new solar panel connections made to the electricity grid during the first quarter of this year. This compares with 485 connections made during the December 2010 quarter. The scheme pays ACT households a premium price for electricity they generate on their rooftop solar panels and divert into the distribution grid and has awarded more than $4.4 million since its inception in March 2009.

The latest Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission report says that interest in renewable generators has ballooned in the ACT since the Federal Government decided to reduce payments made under the Renewable Energy Certificate scheme. During the March quarter ActewAGL Energy received 1552 new applications from households and businesses wanting to connect their solar panels to the electricity grid up from 895 requests the previous quarter.

Environment Minister Simon Corbell said the results highlighted Canberra's strong interest in renewable energy. "We have seen a big surge this quarter and we are looking to see whether this continues", he said. Mr Corbell said the premium rate for micro generation would remain unchanged at 45.7¢ per kW this financial year to ensure stability for consumers and the renewable energy industry.

The average revenue reaped by an ACT resident signed up to the scheme was $407 during the March 2010 quarter which is dramatically higher than the average of $190 received during the June 2009 quarter. There are currently 4404 renewable generators connected to the distribution network. The Clean Energy Council recently issued the top 20 solar postcodes in Australia but no ACT suburbs made the cut. Caloundra City in Queensland took out the top spot. Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said tariffs and rebates had encouraged Australian households to switch to solar.

Cuts to solar subsidies to be sped up

5 May 2011, Page: 2

THE government is set to accelerate cuts to subsidies for household solar panels from July under changes to be announced today. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet is expected to announce the changes in response to soaring electricity prices and an overheating renewable energy market. The cuts to solar subsidies are expected to save households up to $35 a year on their power bills.

The changes mean federal subsidies for rooftop solar panels will end in mid 2013, a year earlier than previously promised. Households and businesses who install solar systems will also get fewer extra credits than expected from July this year, with the extra credits phasing out over the next two years. These credits are sold on the renewable energy market. It is the second time in six months Mr Combet has reduced extra credits on offer for solar panels.

"Strong demand for solar panels has continued, fuelled by declining system costs, the strong Australian dollar and economy, as well as incentives such as solar credits and the state and Territory feed in tariff schemes", Mr Combet will say. Some energy market experts, including government climate change adviser Rod Sims, have blamed rising power bills on the massive increase in rooftop solar panel installations. The sale of solar panels in effect floods the power market with extra renewable energy credits, which has an inflationary effect on electricity bills.

Under the current federal subsidy households are getting five times more renewable energy credits than they otherwise would have been entitled to for the power generated by their solar systems, with the number of extra credits reducing over a number of years. Under the today's changes, from July 1 extra credits will reduce to three times what would have been offered, rather than a reduction to four times more as previously promised. In July next year the extra credits will be reduced to two times what they would have otherwise. The extra credits will then end in July 2013.

Industry’s 50-50 bet on carbon price

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

Analysis from the Clean Energy Council has found that the energy market is anticipating that there is only a 50% chance of a carbon price being established by the middle of 2012 ANZ global head of energy trading Gary Wyatt said wholesale power market players believe that there is a 25% chance that prices would exceed $15 a tonne for carbon emissions. The analysis coincided with figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance which showed that the Renewable Energy Target would deliver at least $36 billion from investment during the next decade. Elsewhere Pacific Hydro chief executive Rob Grant believes the clean energy sector has become a major contributor to the way the economy will be shaped. Meanwhile a Newspoll survey has found that there has been a 5% decline in the number of people prepared to pay more to tackle climate change.