Thursday 26 May 2011

'Timber fire' for KI power

Adelaide Advertiser
19 May 2011, Page: 51

A biomass power plant fired from plantation timber on Kangaroo Island has been hailed as the key to maintaining the island's eco tourism status and restarting the timber mill, with more than 30 jobs created. The plan is the brainchild of RuralAus Investments, the owner of the timber mill and 2100ha of pine plantations on the island. RuralAus Investments chief executive John Ipsen yesterday announced the company would spend $374,000 on a full feasibility study into a 10 MW renewable biomass power plant on Kangaroo Island.

Mr Ipsen said it would potentially provide a "clean green" energy solution for one of the world's great eco tourism destinations. The company is also planning to restart the Kangaroo Island timber mill within five months and becoming the largest employer on the island when it is fully commissioned within a few years. "It will cost $250,000 to restart the mill and our aim is to produce high value lumber for the SA market", Mr Ipsen said. "We plan to start in the third quarter and employ probably 12 people initially for the green section of the million".

The move follows RuralAus Investments's purchase of 3500ha of land with 2100ha of pine trees on the island and the timber mill for $2.35 million in July 2010. The property was bought from Sustainable Forestry Management Australia when it went into receivership. Mr Ipsen said SA Government agencies fully supported the study because the reliability and performance of the Kangaroo Island energy network was plagued by high costs and supply limitations. "We have an opportunity to make a real impact on Kangaroo Island with ready access to an excellent source of renewable energy, which can provide a clean and relatively low cost power solution ", Mr Ipsen said.

He said RuralAus Investments needed 3 MW of power to run the timber mill and its pre feasibility study showed that a 10 MW power plant, to provide enough energy for its own use and the community, would work. "I've met with a number of local, state and federal government agencies and ministers and they are fully supportive of what we are trying to achieve", Mr Ipsen said. He said it would take about 18 months and $30 million to plan and build a 10 MW renewable energy power plant.

Coal kicks goals

18 May 2011, Page: 12

THE state government is negotiating with Alcoa about a massive expansion of coalmining near Anglesea. There has been unprecedented community opposition to this new threat to the Surf Coast. Under the government's wind power policy, a household will be able to block a cluster of turbines up to two kilometres from their house. Most of Anglesea, a town of more than 2000 people, is within two kilometres of the proposed open cut. Yet residents have no right of veto over this expansion.

It seems that the government has decided to pick winners and losers in Victoria's energy future. It is clear that it is siding with dirty coal over renewable sources of energy. In the 21st century this seems backwards and is unlikely to be popular with the community especially those on the front line of the coal expansion.

Cam Walker, campaigns co ordinator, Friends of the Earth, Fitzroy

Energy harvest as farms build up to reap the wind

West Australian
16 May 2011, Page: 15

In dusty back paddocks and weathered coastal landscapes across WA, a transformation is taking place. A wind farm investment drive is to become a multi billion dollar boom and nowhere is that boom likely to be bigger than in the small wheat belt town of Williams, about 150km south east of Perth. Fuelled by Federal Government imposed targets for renewable energy generation, a group of developers has launched an audacious bid to build one of Australia's biggest wind power projects.

The company, Semaphore Energy, has applied to the Shire of Williams to erect a 70m "guyed mast" to measure wind speeds and reliability at a nearby farm. The move would be a prelude to the construction of a 310.5 MW wind farm costing more than $1 billion and with 69 towers, each measuring 194m. At Kojonup, also in the South West, another group of private investors has said it intends to build a 150 MW wind project that will cost up to $500 million. The proposals are the latest in a number of wind power projects on the ground or in the pipeline.

Last week, a major 206 MW wind facility backed by international banking giant UBS and REST superannuation fund began producing its first power, two months ahead of schedule. The Collgar wind farm near Merredin in the Central wheat belt has been billed as a leading light in WA's push to meet Canberra's 20% mandatory renewable energy target by 2020.

Costing $750 million and generating enough electricity to power up to 125,000 homes, the project almost doubled the State's "green" energy production to 9%. State Energy Minister Peter Collier said the enthusiasm for wind power was "phenomenal" but it could never provide base load power and were only likely to be an adjunct in WA's energy mix. Mark Bretherton, a spokesman for wind industry lobby the Clean Energy Council, said the Williams proposal was unprecedented in Australia.

Debate refuses to blow over

16 May 2011, Page: 29

IF all the wind farms on the drawing boards in Australia are actually built, they will require a capital outlay of about $25 billion plus billions more for high voltage transmission systems to link them to the power grid. A decade ago, just a few MWs of wind capacity was available nationally; if the full list of proposals is delivered, there would be a large increase from the 2000 MW capacity of 2010.

The Energy Supply Association of Australia's yearbook reveals there are 106 wind developments in various stages of construction and planning, with a total capacity of 12,300 MWs equal to all the present power generation in Queensland, the second largest state supply system.

Credit agency Fitch Ratings, in its annual review of the east coast power industry, forecasts that $10.5bn should be spent between now and 2015 on building wind farms in five states. The rush to wind power, it says, will be led by Victoria (2335 MW), followed by South Australia (1132 MW), NSW (923 MW), Tasmania (568 MW) and Queensland (341 MW).

The main driver for wind development is the federal government's renewable energy target, designed to see 20% of all electricity consumed coming from zero emission resources by 2020. The trend will be further reinforced if the government can succeed in introducing a carbon price. The RET system is structured to produce tradeable Renewable Energy Certificates that are the currency for suppliers. They receive both the RECs price and the selling price for wholesale energy in the east coast market.

Without the mandated use of renewable energy and the RECs value, wind farmers would be unable to beat generators using brown coal, black coal and gas for a place in the market. The biggest problem for wind farm developers is that, as a result of the government's inclusion of support for rooftop solar systems in the RET structure, the RECs market is glutted and its values are low, resulting in the incentive to build large scale renewable generation being undermined.

At present prices, the best the wind generators can get in the market is about $35 per MW on average from the wholesale pool as well as as from RECs, whereas they need $100 to $110 to be commercially viable. As a result, about $4bn worth of wind farm projects are stalled and the renewables industry is fretting that the 2020 target may not be attainable.

Price is not the only factor troubling wind developers. The fast expansion of wind farm construction has created a rising tide of community concern in rural areas. The Senate, whose community affairs reference committee is investigating the social and economic impact of rural wind farms, has received 884 submissions, many of them from people riled by the intrusion of wind generation into the countryside. When South Australia's Premier Mike Rann travelled to the state's mid north recently to open a new farm, he was greeted by demonstrators waving placards saying "We can't sleep".

Peta Ashworth, group leader of the CSIRO Science into Society project, told the Senate committee at a hearing in Canberra that public acceptance is a critical factor for the successful deployment of wind power. Opponents cited landscape change, visual amenity, noise impacts and poor local consultation by project managers as their key concerns. "It appears for wind to be successfully deployed, planning processes that are transparent and participatory from an early stage will be required", she said.

Developers, the Clean Energy Council and environmental lobbyists argue, in turn, that there is strong community support in regional areas for wind farm projects, and that standards and guidelines for development are among the most stringent in the world, that no adverse health effects have been scientifically demonstrated for people living near wind turbines and that there is no evidence wind generation reduces property values.

Approval processes, however, are mostly in the hands of state and territory jurisdictions and Victoria's new Coalition government, for example, is reassessing the rules for wind developments and has said it will give local councils more say in the process. Greenpeace told the committee that the potential for wind power was "enormous", claiming that government policy could be used to drive wind development much faster than at present, aiming for wind generation alone to meet 21% of demand by 2020, with the closure of 8500 MW of coal fired power plants.

Union Fenosa Wind Australia, a Spanish owned company, which has "well progressed" plans to build 1330 MW of wind capacity in Victoria and NSW, says global improvements in the technology are "continuing apace". Its development manager, Thomas Mitchell, has told the Senate in a submission that technological improvements in the past decade have made mechanical noise from turbines "almost undetectable". For farmers, he says, hosting wind generation provides a resource that can co exist with other commercial operations, and for many offers a means of drought proofing their business.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

The key to staying cool when the heat is on

16 May 2011, Page: 29

THE sun is obviously the world's greatest source of heat but, paradoxically, it is also being harnessed for cooling buildings, important on the hottest days when air conditioners can overwhelm the electricity supply, and institutions such as hospitals are taking advantage of the evolving technology.

Sustainability Victoria, which is working with the CSIRO and the Energy Resources Institute in India to develop small scale solar coolers, says solar cooling systems are either closed cycle systems or open cycle systems. Closed cycle systems produce chilled water that can supply any type of air conditioning equipment.

Open cycle systems, or desiccant systems, are a combination of sorptive dehumidification and evaporative cooling, providing cool, dry air to a building. Heat for thermally driven cooling is gathered by solar collectors typically used in home solar hot water systems. Using sorption, it is then converted into cold, which is delivered in the shape of chilled water or dry, cool air.

The Victorian body is also a partner in the installation of solar coolers at Echuca hospital, where it has part funded the replacement of two electric air conditioning units. The cooler has a solar field of 102 evacuated tube collectors over 422m² that feeds hot water to an absorption chiller, cutting the hospital's natural gas consumption.

"When the chiller is not in use, the hot water from the collector field is used for the domestic hot water demand or stored in hot water tanks for later use", Sustainability Victoria's Sonja Ott says. The solar cooling system was installed in March and is now under commissioning. "It is expected that the solar cooling system will save 1400 tonnes CO₂ equivalent and $60,000 in energy bills a year", Ott says.

CSIRO research team leader Stephen White says supply and demand problems with solar cooling are the subject of further research. "In a conventional air conditioning system, you use the electricity grid, which you hope will supply you with energy as and when it is needed to keep your building cold. "But once you have a solar air conditioning process, not only is the call for air conditioning variable over the day but also the supply of driving heat is variable".

The hard part is "trying to match that variable supply of power with a variable demand for cold". "In the last five to 10 years researchers around the world have been getting that integration working well to bring down the cost and improve the solar fraction", White says. Many conventional sorption units are powered by gas fired heat or by waste heat from an engine. "That's become a lot more popular in the past few years and now were looking at adding in a solar component that doesn't require the fossil fuels", he says.

White says the technology could be used in two ways: large systems with economies of scale for buildings such as hospitals or schools, or smaller plug and play systems for houses. "Absorption chillers are most cost effective at a large scale, in the MW range. To get economies of scale, go larger; but to go smaller, companies need to come up with a mass produced plug and play device". White says a solar cooling system is more efficient than a conventional electric system.

The focus for the next five to 10 years is for manufacturers to develop their products and get them on the market. "There's a bright future but a lot of work to do in terms of product development and also getting legislation so solar cooling is treated the same way as other renewables", White says. "It is not explicitly mentioned in renewable energy targets, [yet] solar cooling has the potential to address peak demand. The 200 member Solar Cooling Interest Group, of which White is chairman, is working with Standards Australia "to recognise the performance and benefits of solar cooling" as a precursor to lobbying government to have the technology recognised as a renewable energy device.

Clean power's share drops

16 May 2011, Page: 6

THE proportion of Australia's electricity that comes from clean sources has fallen sharply over the past 50 years despite a decade of federal and state climate change programs. Research by consultants Green Energy Markets shows that renewable energy provided 19% of Australia's power in 1960, following the development of the early stages of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. By 2008 it had plummeted to just 7% a reflection of the heavy investment in coal power in the second half of the previous century.

The decline in clean energy was steady across four decades before stabilising after 2000 due to growth in wind power and a modest increase in bioenergy. Environment Victoria, which commissioned the research, said it demonstrated how poorly Australia had invested in renewable power despite widespread agreement that exceptional resources were available. "For all of the hand wringing about climate change over the past decade, we've seen massive growth in emissions from coal generation while renewable energy has flatlined", campaigns director Mark Wakeham said. "What this research clearly shows is that without a price on carbon the Australian economy will continue with pollution as usual".

The research comes as the federal government continues to consult with lobby groups from industry, the environmental movement and the welfare sector over the structure of the carbon price scheme being developed by a committee of Labor, Greens and independent MPs. It has promised to release the proposed design by mid year. Options being considered include using some carbon price revenue to pay to close one of the most greenhouse intensive Victorian brown coal power plants. The Baillieu government last week abandoned talks with the owners of the Hazelwood power plant, often described as Australia's "dirtiest", to close a quarter of its capacity by 2014.

The research found the amount of electricity derived from coal increased by nearly 10% between 2001 and 2009. Carbon dioxide emissions from coal power increased by about 14 million tonnes over that period. Three new black coal fired power plants were built in Queensland; only one was decommissioned. Gas a form of fossil fuel power with lower emissions than coal has increased from nothing in 1960 to providing about 9% of the electricity supply, largely due to a Queensland gas generation target and the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme. Generation from renewable sources fluctuated across the decade, with the amount coming from hydropower falling due to the drought but gradually being replaced by new plants, mostly wind farms.

First company for Orkney's marine renewables base

European Marine Energy Centre
15 May 2011

The first company to establish a permanent shore-based facility at Orkney's new marine renewables base has secured its first client - the European Marine Energy Centre. International maritime company Fendercare Marine is providing secure storage for multi-kilometre stock of seabed power cable for EMEC, which operates the world's first offshore test facilities for wave and tidal energy technologies.

Orkney Islands Council (OIC) is carrying out a comprehensive refurbishment of the former naval base at Lyness on the island of Hoy – giving it a new lease of life as a multi-purpose centre for the rapidly evolving marine renewables industry. Fendercare is establishing a long-term presence at Lyness and will provide support services for a range of marine energy operations, including the deployment and mooring of wave and tidal devices.

Stan Groundwater, the company's general manager in Orkney, said: "With the islands in the global vanguard of this new industry, we're making a multi-million pound investment over the course of the project. "Our aim is to ensure developers and installers of marine devices can easily access expert services and save a good deal of time and money through having specialised stock and equipment held locally."

Lyness' location, in the sheltered deep-water anchorage of Scapa Flow, makes it ideally located for marine energy developers testing technologies at EMEC. Neil Kermode, EMEC's managing director, said: "Orkney's local authority has taken a visionary approach in creating a vital support base at Lyness. "It's great to see the private sector responding in such as positive way - we're delighted to be the first of many clients Fendercare can expect after making such a strong commitment to using the new facilities at Lyness."

The £3 million first phase of the Lyness redevelopment is expected to be completed this summer. Five marine energy developers will be using the facilities this year and four more companies are in discussions with the Council over establishing a presence onshore. Michael Morrison, business development manager for OIC Marine Services, said: "The marine renewables sector was in its infancy when the Council took the decision to invest in Lyness.

"We had confidence that this is the right location for a support base - we welcome the arrival of Fendercare and look forward to this and other companies creating a real hub of renewables activity on the shores of Scapa Flow." The Dutch-registered cargo vessel Deo Volente delivered EMEC's large cable reel from Norway to Fendercare's new facility at Lyness. A special trailer and tractor unit was used to move it from the quayside to the secure storage area.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Solar industry hits roof over plans to slash power rebate

Sydney Morning Herald
14 May 2011, Page: 11

UP TO 110,000 participants in the state government's solar bonus scheme will have the rate they are paid for generating electricity slashed from 600 a kW to 400 from July, a move that will save the NSW budget an estimated $470 million. But the state's solar industry says it will be destroyed by the change, saying it will now be impossible to sell up to $200 million worth of panels already purchased by solar installers. About 40,000 electricity customers who had applied to join the scheme before it was suspended to new entrants for two months on April 28 will be allowed to do so at a 200 rate.

The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, announced the decision yesterday and said the scheme would not be reopened to new customers. The government would introduce legislation to retrospectively enforce the new rates. "It's still going to cost the taxpayer, it's still going to cost the people of NSW, but we have now a finalisation that is in the interests of everybody", he said. Under the scheme, electricity customers with solar panels are paid by power companies for energy generated back into the grid. The companies pass on the cost to their electricity customers through their electricity prices.

The scheme proved so popular that the former premier Kristina Keneally was forced to cut the rate for new entrants from 600 to 200 a kW last year and divert money from the climate change fund to cover a looming cost blowout. After the election it was discovered the scheme was still underfunded by $749 million. The Coalition government made the decision to absorb the extra cost into the budget instead of charging power companies to avoid putting pressure on electricity prices.

The Australian Solar Energy Society said the change would "send a chill down the spine of every NSW solar company and every resident concerned about climate change". The industry will rally at Circular Quay next Wednesday to protest against the retrospective change to the tariff rate. The Solar Energy Industries Association said it had already been contacted by people who were cancelling purchases. "This decision will destroy the industry in NSW if it goes ahead", the association's chairman, Ged McCarthy, said. "I have already consulted with lawyers and we will launch a class action against this retrospective legislation if it goes ahead. We have no choice but to fight it on behalf of our businesses and their customers".

A small, 1.5 kW solar panel system can earn about $1000 a year under the tariff in Sydney, but that would be cut by a third, meaning it could take years longer to pay off. The opposition environment spokesman, Luke Foley, criticised the decision to introduce retrospective legislation, which, he said, "penalises tens of thousands of people doing their bit for the clean energy future". The Greens MP John Kaye said the Coalition had supported the introduction of the 600 tariff when the scheme was introduced: "Never again will households or the clean energy industry trust even a legislated promise. The future of rooftop renewable energy has been dealt a savage blow".

Settling for failure

13 May 2011, Page: 10

IT'S becoming apparent the government "aspires" to a weak emissions reduction target, but will settle for complete failure ("Baillieu: carbon goal aspirational",, au, 12/5). The government tried to frame its cop out over the partial closure of Hazelwood (one of the most emissions intensive power stations in the world) in the rhetoric of economic responsibility.

The truth is that we are perilously close to points of no return in our climate system, and real economic responsibility can only now be achieved in conjunction with urgent action to combat climate change. Leading climate scientists are telling us that the world is resolutely on the path to 4° of warming in the latter half of this century enough to trigger a mass extinction and reduce Earth's carrying capacity to less than 1 billion people.

So what is our government doing to confront this crisis? Committing $50 million to HRL's proposed coal power station, trying to dismantle our nascent wind power industry, and now abandoning its commitment to reduce reliance on our dirtiest source of electricity. They are not fit to govern.

Shaun Murray, Yarraville

Nuclear plants on hold in Japan

13 May 2011, Page: 7

JAPAN is to abandon plans to expand its nuclear power industry and make renewables a key part of its energy policy, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said two months after the tsunami disaster. As efforts continued to stabilise the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Mr Kan said he would "start from scratch" the policy, which envisaged nuclear power providing more than 50% of Japan's energy by 2030

Japan, who's 54 nuclear reactors provide 30% of its electricity, had planned to build at least 14 new reactors over the next 20 years, but policymakers accept that this will be impossible in light of the Fukushima crisis. Mr Kan said that renewables, which make up 20% of overall supply, would have a bigger role in meeting energy needs. "I think it is necessary to move in the direction of promoting natural energy and renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass", he said.

The stronger commitment to renewables marks Mr Kan's second sudden shift on nuclear power in a week following his order to close the Hamaoka atomic plant, which sits on an active fault line, while a new tsunami wall is built. Facing low approval ratings and criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis from his party, the prime minister's public commitment to nuclear power has weakened in recent days.

His announcement came as the first of tens of thousands of nuclear evacuees were allowed to return home for two hours to collect clothes and personal items. About 80,000 people within 20 kilometres of the Fukushima No. 1 plant were forced out of their homes by the accident and have yet to be told when they will be able to return. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has promised to stabilise radiation levels and achieve safe "cold shutdown" of the nuclear plant's damaged reactors within nine months.