Friday 17 June 2011

It's lights out for solar firm

7 June 2011, Page: 7

ONE of AUSTRALIA'S largest rooftop solar panel retailers Clear Solar has gone into receivership, costing up to 40 jobs and prompting warnings from the industry of more closures in coming months. But household customers have been spared, with Clear Solar being bought out by one of its creditors electrical wholesaler Middy's which has guaranteed 500 outstanding contracts to install solar panels.

Clear Solar which boasts on its website to have done 10,000 solar installations across the country called in administrators Pitcher Partners yesterday morning. Secured Clear Solar creditors include Middy's and the ANZ, among others. The company's administrators were unable to say last night what debts were owed. Middy's is backing a new company, Akora Energy, to carry out the existing 500 contracts with customers and suppliers, which equates to about two months' work.

Akora Energy director Michael Carew said the new company had taken on 50 Clear Solar staff, and was committed to retaining them beyond existing contracts with an eye to expanding the business. But he said up to 40 staff had been told they would be let go. Clean energy groups were yesterday pointing to the fall of Clear Solar as a warning for governments about the state of the solar industry following sharp cuts to state and federal subsidies for rooftop solar.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Matt Warren said "sudden changes to government schemes can quickly undo any gains towards developing a competitive solar industry". But Mr Warren added: "The fact that there is a buyer for the company is a good reflection of long term confidence in solar as part of Australia's energy future".

Australian Solar Energy Society chief executive John Grimes said it was an absolute certainty further firms would collapse in the current environment, adding that 8000 jobs were at stake. The federal government said yesterday it would keep its commitment of a $75 million grant to the troubled large scale solar power project proposed for Victorian Murray town Mildura, after a new owner was found for the project last year.

Industry welcomes ray of light for NSW solar
7 June 2011

The Clean Energy Council has welcomed a decision by the NSW Government to honour the level of support for more than 120,000 households that have installed solar power systems. Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said the O'Farrell Government was to be congratulated for its demonstrated commitment to the solar industry in NSW.

"The new government has inherited a difficult situation, but it has honoured the investment of solar households while working hard to ensure the development of this important emerging clean energy industry," he said. "The retention of the 60¢ gross feed-in tariff is great news for those households which have made the commitment to generating clean solar power from their homes. "The Clean Energy Council has been advocating on behalf of the industry with the government throughout this process."

Mr Warren said it was crucial the government finished the job with the development of a long-term strategy to sustainably develop solar power in NSW. "solar panels will be the Hills Hoist of the 21st century. It is important to ensure we have a safe and efficient industry to deliver this as the cost of the technology continues to fall and the cost of electricity continues to increase," Mr warren said.

"The industry has come a long way in a short time. The Clean Energy Council has been working closely with the government throughout this process towards the best outcome for the industry. "The primary objective now is to ensure this exciting transformation in clean energy is delivered affordably, efficiently, safely and responsibly."

Broome gloom over solar moratorium

Weekend Australian
4 June 2011, Page: 9

RESIDENTS of the West Kimberley town of Broome have taken to grid connect solar power with such enthusiasm that they have nearly outstripped the capacity of their local power station to handle it. Now, regional electricity supplier Horizon Power has stepped in to control the situation. On March 2, Horizon announced future applications under its Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme would be restricted to systems no bigger than 1.5kW.

As residential installations in Broome average 5 7kW, this action is seen by locals as effectively a moratorium on solar power. Grid connect solar has taken off in Broome in the past six months, spurred by increasing power costs, generous federal and state government incentives and cheaper import prices for solar panels and inverters. An aggressive marketing campaign by Sydney based firm Solar CHOICE also generated strong interest in solar, leading to new orders both for Solar CHOICE and for local installers.

Horizon Power supplies electricity to 34 grids that service small communities throughout regional WA. Broome is the second town, after Carnarvon, to face restrictions on grid connect solar, and it won't be the last. Horizon's product manager Ashley Dixon says these isolated grids lack the size, flexibility and diversity of infrastructure of large interconnected grids such as those in the southwest.

"Our priority is to provide our customers with an electricity supply that's safe and reliable, while keeping supply interruptions down to an absolute minimum", Dixon says. "So our engineers have looked at these separate, isolated networks and calculated the level of renewable energy that each system can handle".

She says the restrictions are based on concerns about how effectively a power station can respond in the event of a sudden drop in output from all the solar systems connected to the grid, caused by, say, a drastic change in the weather. Dixon says the restriction imposed on Broome is temporary but she could not put a time frame on it.

"We've sensed a lot of frustration in Broome and we want to get back to normal as soon as possible", she adds. "That means finding a solution that will allow us to lift the network limits in the systems we operate. "Our engineers are looking at all sorts of technical and engineering solutions".

Electrical contractor Rob Gulberti, who installs solar systems in Broome under his trading banner Kimberley Enviro Solutions, says he has installed as many in the past 12 months as in the previous four years. He accepts the theory behind Horizon's actions but doesn't agree with the company's calculations of the system's capacity for solar.

Gulberti says the moratorium, though disappointing, is not the end of the world because it gives Horizon Power an opportunity to take stock of the system and improve it for the future. "There are a few crinkles in the system that we need to iron out", he says. "These include the way applications are processed, ensuring that meters are connected when they should be and making sure that customers have been approved for the feed in tariff and actually get paid what they should".

He said more should be done to educate customers about issues such as price versus quality and to give them an understanding of what a solar system can do for them. "Sometimes I feel that no one has really cared about the customer, the one who's actually forking out the money to invest in renewable energy. "We should aim to make the system so easy that we can see solar on the roof of any house in the Kimberley".

Thursday 16 June 2011

Chinese lead world in clean energy spending

Weekend Australian
4 June 2011, Page: 8

MOST of us know China is leading world economic growth but it will surprise many to learn another category where the Chinese are also ahead of the rest. Private investment in China's clean energy sector increased by 39% last year to a world record $54.4 billion, according to the report Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race?, published by Pew Research Center Charitable Trusts.

The report says China is the world's leading producer of wind turbines and solar modules, and in 2009 it surpassed the US as the country with the most installed clean energy capacity. Worldwide investment in clean power assets alone could reach $2.3 trillion over the 2010 20 period, according to Pew Research Center research.

"One of the key reasons for China developing clean technology is to find solutions to their own environmental problems, which are significant", says John O'Brien, Australian CleanTech managing director. "There are a lot of Chinese investors keen to invest in both renewable energy and clean technology. A lot of the drive comes from the central government, [which provides] a lot of financial incentives such as [access to government loans] to fund your project, especially in the area of wind turbines".

One company benefiting enormously from the Chinese green push is Goldwind. "Goldwind is the leading supplier of permanent magnet, direct drive wind turbines in China and the world", says managing director John Titchen. "Permanent magnets replace part of the generator, increasing efficiency and reducing the size of the generator. Direct drive refers to the absence of a gear box that is used in most wind turbines this eliminates a major wind turbine maintenance issue and improves efficiency".

Goldwind supplied about 21% of the 19 GW Chinese wind turbine market last year This represents about 10% of the global wind power market and, as a result, Goldwind was last year ranked the world's fourth largest wind turbine supplier. Goldwind was established in 1986 (under the name of the Xinjiang Wind Energy Company) and now has 3900 employees and operates 14 factories with a total annual production of 4000 wind turbines. Goldwind Australia was established in late 2009.

"Goldwind Australia's first project is the Mortons Lane wind farm where 131.5 MW turbines will be installed in Western Victoria later this year", Titchen says. China installed 17 GW of wind power last year, helping the nation move quickly toward its 2020 target for installing 150 GW of wind. In fact, China accounted for 47% of all wind power investments globally, with $45bn tallied, the report says.

Has the nation lost its confidence when it comes to carbon policy?

6 June 2011, Page: 14

Australia is wrong to think it is too small to matter in the greenhouse abatement stakes.

AFTER a recent visit to Australia discussing international developments on climate change, I think three things stand out in the national debate: the extent to which virulent rhetoric is pushing out reasoned analysis; the belief that doing nothing is an option without serious cost; and the apparent loss of Australia's confidence in itself.

The first is the most immediately damaging to Australia and its industry, the second is plain wrong and restoring the third holds the key. The atmosphere is finite and we are dumping more than 30 billion tonnes of CO₂, each year into it. The physics by which this warms the planet's surface is a scientific fact, not a political football. Global warming is proving robust in both theory and observation; each year traps more energy in the lower atmosphere.

Australia's recent tragic pattern of extreme weather events has included both temperature extremes and wildfire conditions way above the historic range: does it really make sense to bet a nation's future on hoping this to be a coincidence? Yet I was consistently told that even mentioning the probable link was considered impolite, somehow distasteful, and risked vicious abuse.

European industry faced up to the basic realities after unprecedented heatwaves in Europe. Business leaders accepted that industry's best bet is to have a price on carbon rather than a barrage of central government interventions in individual investment and technology choices, that industry would be best served by having a seat at the table of a coherent and long term strategy for building a low carbon economy, with carbon pricing through the EU's emissions trading scheme at the core.

All participating sectors in the EU ETS have to date profited from it. The price was at first volatile but has in the past two years stabilised as the system has matured. The next phase, out to 2020, has been adopted with the power sector cooperating with the move to end free allowances to this sector after accepting the reality that carbon costs are anyway passed on.

To argue that one of the world's highest per capita emitters, Australia, is too small to matter and that free riding on the actions of others is an acceptable policy approach without consequence is delusional. Australia's fossil fuel emissions are close to those of Brazil, a country with some nine times the population.

Brazil is leading the world in renewable energy and the state of Sao Paulo, its industrial powerhouse with about 30 million people, has adopted a fixed cap on its CO₂ emissions. South Korea's stimulus package focuses on green technology and it plans emissions trading. India, with per capita emissions about one-tenth of those of Australia, is introducing an efficiency based, target and trading scheme across power and heavy industry. China is adopting low carbon development zones that cover a population comparable with Australia's and has built pilot trading schemes and a focus on key low carbon sectors into its five year plan.

Australian politics seems unable to keep up with the pace of developments in the emerging economies; Europe is building low carbon collaboration with them. Within a decade, I would guess, the resulting coalition of decarbonising economies will be charging carbon on the imports of carbon intensive commodities. Australia needs to decide which side it wants to be on.

Which brings me to the third observation. Two decades ago, when I cut my teeth in research, Australia was at the forefront of many developments in clean energy technology. Now there seems a fateful sense of helplessness. An assumption that Australia's future is as Asia's quarry, not a strategic partner with common cause in addressing one of the defining challenges of our era. There are so many technology options in energy efficiency, smart grids, low carbon steel and cement processes.

Australia has contributed some key ideas but the gains will go to those countries and companies that innovate, both in response to a carbon price and with government backed funding using some of the carbon revenues.

Instead, during my time in Australia the headlines were all about industries demanding to be exempt from the challenge and union demands that not a single job should be lost. If that's net jobs, fine: there are plenty of opportunities for expanding employment in decarbonising economies. The most exposed sectors do have a case for assistance to help them manage the transition. But it sounds like resisting all change, never a good economic strategy.

Opposing carbon pricing while Europe and Asia forge a decarbonising path looks like a Faustian bargain. Of course Australia has cheap coal, but as the recent Grattan Institute report on options for Australian electricity noted, it also has world class resources in all of the major low carbon electricity options as well as massive natural gas resources.

That report charted immense potential for innovation and cost reductions. To plan industrial development on coal based power instead of its unrivalled renewable resources to bet the economy on high carbon exports in a world where its major consumers are moving over to a low carbon road risks being on a road to ruin. It is for Australia to make its choice. Just don't do so with earphones plying false stories and a blindfold to the consequences.

Michael Grubb is senior research associate in Cambridge University's faculty of economics and chairman of the international research organisation Climate Strategies. He holds a number or senior advisory positions with the British government on climate change and energy policy.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Renewable energy set to surge

6 June 2011, Page: 4

AUSTRALIA is expected to generate six times more renewable energy and up to three times more gas fired power in 2050 under a carbon price than it does today, according to Treasury modelling for the multiparty climate policy committee.

Consultants at Green Energy Markets recently estimated coal provides about 76% of Australia's electricity; gas 16% and renewable sources 7%. Although few details were released, it is understood the Treasury projections assume a starting carbon price of $20 to $30 a tonne of CO₂ the range being considered by the multi party committee.

Assumptions about the pace at which a carbon price would increase, or how rapidly Australia would cut emissions, were not available. The snapshot said gas fired power which in baseload form has about two-thirds fewer emissions than coal would generate 2 to 3 times more output in 40 years than today.

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry said the shift to a cleaner economy was expected to involve more gas fired power but should only be developed if it included technology to capture and store emissions. He said the proportion of power from burning coal must be dramatically reduced unless carbon capture proved viable. "It is a little hard to judge, based on what has been released, but we'd be looking for much stronger growth in renewables than appears to be indicated by Treasury figures", Mr Henry said.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt used World Environment Day to call on the government to organise, with Indonesia, a global conference to set targets for saving the world's rainforests. He called for a global rainforest recovery program before the end of the year.

"The single best thing you can do right now to help reduce emissions on a grand scale and to help protect the world's biodiversity is a global rainforest recovery program", Mr Hunt told the Ten Network. "If you can reduce the emissions by half from the destruction of rainforests by 2020, up to 4 billion tonnes of emissions could be saved". He said the government should expand a $200 million Howard government policy to protect rainforests, which Labor has continued but not escalated.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said Australia was working with other countries through the UN to develop a global plan to cut emissions from rainforest logging and degradation.

Wind behind energy push

Courier Mail
3 June 2011, Page: 38

A $1.5 BILLION powerline project that would unleash billions of investment in power plants using climate safe, renewable energy in north Queensland is moving to the final development stage after securing agreements with major energy users.

As a result, Canberra based wind farm developer Windlab Systems which aims to use the powerline said it could move forward with its plan to next year start building a giant, 750 MW wind farm near Hughenden, southwest of Townsville, which would be one of Australia's largest renewable energy projects. The $1.5 billion wind farm would create 1000 jobs and boost Queensland's power generation capacity by 6%.

Leighton Holdings Contractors and CuString said their CopperString project to build a $1.5 billion, 720km high voltage transmission link between Townsville and Mount Isa now has initial agreements with energy users, which are believed to include Anglo Swiss miner Xstrata, owner of Mount Isa Mines. The partners aim to seal final contracts with energy users by late October, with construction from March to have the link operational by late 2014.

Major energy users, including Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Incitec Pivot, have been in talks with CopperString, CS Energy and APA Group on three rival proposals for expanding energy capacity in the minerals rich northwest. Talks with CS Energy and APA Group continue. CS Energy's Mica Creek power plant is the northwest's sole power source, but is stranded from the grid, coming up against capacity constraints and ageing units.

CopperString, which will create up to 750 jobs during construction and 30 permanent jobs, will provide up to 400 MW of power transfer capacity and will link the northwest to the eastern grid, tapping coal and gas fired power until renewable projects come on line. CopperString supporters, including local councils and regional economic development groups, say it could underpin enough renewable energy projects for north Queensland to supply up to a fifth of a federally mandated target to source 20% of Australia's power from renewable sources by 2020.

The Federal Government has conditionally pledged $335 million for CopperString, plus up to $350 million for a large solar plant to connect to it. The most advanced project seeking to connect to Copper String is Windlab Systems's Kennedy wind farm, which would install up to 300 turbines on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Other projects include a 300 MW solar farm and a biodiesel/biomass plant. Origin Energy is also looking at developing a 1800 MW hydropower project in Papua New Guinea to feed power to north Queensland. That proposal would benefit from CopperString's expansion of power transfer capacity.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Lucas caught in fracking furore

3 June 2011, Page: 3

LIKE BHP Billiton before it, Sydney based AJ Lucas has been snared by the international environmental furore over the gas extraction technique, hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Lucas's 41% owned Cuadrilla Resources has suspended fracking at a shale gas drilling site near Blackpool in Britain after the British Geological Survey recorded an earthquake about two kilometres from the drill site.

BGS said: 'Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depths will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes". BusinessDay last week revealed that BHP Billiton was facing class action law suits in the US over the impact of fracking in Arkansas. Arkansas landowners allege BHP Billiton's recently acquired $US4.75 billion ($A4.44 billion) Fayetteville shale gas business is causing earthquakes, poisoning their water and polluting the soil and air.

Fracking involves injecting high pressure water, sand and chemicals into shale or coal seam gass to liberate tightly held gas. The fracking of deeply buried shale beds for gas is in its infancy in Britain, with the Cuadrilla Resources well the first for the country It is also in its infancy in Australia, but it is integral to the $50 billion coal seam gas industry being developed in Queensland.

Lucas is this country's biggest drilling services provider to the Australian coal seam gas industry It has invested more than $60 million in Cuadrilla Resources, which is developing an unconventional (shale and coal seam gas) business in Britain, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Cuadrilla Resources chief executive Mark Miller said the suspension of operations near Blackpool showed it took its responsibilities seriously. The BGS recorded an earthquake early on May 27 at two kilometres and with a magnitude of 1.5. It said it had installed seismic measuring equipment near the well after a 2.3 magnitude earthquake was detected on April 1.

Lucas's shares have been suspended from the ASX since May 23 while it works on a recapitalisation plan. Lucas has previously laid the blame for its financial woes on its September 2008 acquisition of Mitchell Drilling. The US shale gas industry is the most developed but it too is causing environmental concerns. The US Energy Department is under directions from President Barack Obama to develop safety and environmental guidelines for fracking.

Fracking is a hot issue in Europe. France, which does not need a new gas source because of a reliance on nuclear power, is debating banning it. But last month the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee in Britain said there was no evidence that a ban of shale gas drilling was warranted. Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser has said his state's booming coal seam gas industry has its supporters.

Solar group relocates to USSolar group relocates to US

2 June 2011, Page: 6

AN Adelaide solar cell manufacturer has closed its doors and is relocating to the US after deciding that an Australian based operation cannot be viable. In a cautionary tale for governments desperate to embrace smart, sustainable jobs in a clean energy future, Origin Energy Solar is heading to the Boise, Idaho, headquarters of silicon chip maker Micron Technology.

Micron Technology can deliver the semiconductor capability necessary for Origin Energy Solar to commercially develop super slim solar panels that use SLIVER photovoltaic technology pioneered at the Australian National University in Canberra. But the US relocation means state and federal grants totalling $8 million will produce nothing in terms of sustainable green energy jobs.

Since 2005, the Origin Energy subsidiary has received $2m from a state federal structural adjustment fund, $lm from the Australian Greenhouse Office and $5m from an AusIndustry renewable energy development initiative. The AusIndustry money helped buy capital equipment that is now being dismantled for transport to Idaho.

In 2006, Origin Energy Solar said it was "committed to the continuing development of our Regency Park SLIVER pilot plant and to the likely employment opportunities that are expected to flow". But, since then, competition from cheaper Chinese made solar panels has increased and Indian manufacturers have also entered the market. Both countries are also making significant progress in developing their own photovoltaic technologies.

South Australian Industries Minister Tom Koutsantonis said he was disappointed by Origin Energy Solar's decision to leave, but stressed the company would be refunding the state's full grant allocation of $243,900. "This is risky business, but the biggest risk is in doing nothing because renewable energy is the way of the future", Mr Koutsantonis said. A spokeswoman for Origin Energy said some of the 62 fulltime equivalent employees at Origin Energy Solar would transfer to Idaho, some had taken redundancies and some had transferred to the parent company.

Monday 13 June 2011

SA renewable energy hopes left up in air

Adelaide Advertiser
1 June 2011, Page: 67

PLANS to unlock wind power to generate thousands of MWs from the Eyre Peninsula have received a blow with a crucial rule change being rejected by the key regulatory body. RenewablesSA Commissioner Tim O'Loughlin said the ruling blocked a new incentive for companies to develop one of Australia's best wind resources and it was "flawed".

Developers had hoped the change would mean consumers would underwrite part of the estimated $613 million cost to build a transmission line from Port Augusta to Eyre Peninsula. "We think this is a blinkered and short sighted decision", Mr O'Loughlin said. He said South Australia was by far the most affected by the ruling, as other states did not have the same opportunity to tap high quality wind resources at the edge of the national grid.

A RenewablesSA Green Grid report had identified a potential 2000 MW of wind power on Eyre Peninsula, compared to the state's existing installed wind power capacity of 1018 MW. At the moment, wind farm developers pay the full cost of ElectraNet installing a transmission line. The suggested rule change would have allowed a wind farm developer to contribute to the cost of the transmission line based on a portion of the projected 2000 MW that they expected to produce. Remaining costs would be recouped by ElectraNet for consumers as other developers came on line.

Mr O'Loughlin said most developers would not now risk such a large investment up front. The Australian Energy Market Commission was originally asked by the Ministerial Council on Energy in 2010 to consider allowing energy generators to have consumers partially underwrite transmission line costs. Its draft determination "stunned everybody by saying we don't want to look at any of the five options", Mr O'Loughlin said. The options were variations on consumers bearing some of the initial costs.

Mr O'Loughlin argued that the cost of building wind farms under existing grid lines was continually rising as the best wind generation sites were already taken and new, tougher rules on siting turbines closer to housing were making them less economic. "In Eyre Peninsula, what you've got is an area with lots of wind that's the size of Tasmania with the population of 55,000 people. "There are ideal sites in sparsely populated inland areas", he said.

The draft determination would now receive submissions, including one by Mr O'Loughlin with Acciona Energy, Transfield Services, Origin Energy and Pacific Hydro. But Mr O'Loughlin said the final ruling which is due to be made by June 30 was unlikely to be changed. He believed the need for extra renewable energy would eventually make the economics work for Eyre Peninsula.

"They say they don't want to subject consumers to the risk of having to pay for surplus transmission capacity", Mr O'Loughlin said. "My complaint is that they don't recognise the opposite set of risks which is the opportunity of tapping resources like Eyre Peninsula and the rising cost of wind power production in the existing framework".

Human activity emissions surge

Sydney Morning Herald
31 May 2011, Page: 1

GLOBAL greenhouse gas emissions from human activity have spiralled to their highest level, meaning there is now little hope of holding temperature rises below 2°, the International Energy Agency has revealed. Emissions fell slightly during the global financial crisis but surged back to an estimated 30.6 billion tonnes last year.

The trajectory is now veering away from the path agreed at the most recent United Nations climate conference in Cancun, which guarantees that talks will be fraught at the next meeting, in Durban, South Africa, in November.

"This significant increase in CO₂ emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2°", the agency's chief economist, Fatih Birol, said in a statement. Burning coal was responsible for 44% of human emissions last year, oil for 36% and natural gas 20%, the report said.

Germany to switch off nuclear power

31 May 2011, Page: 10

BERLIN: Germany yesterday announced plans to become the first major industrialised power to shut down all its nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, with a phase out due to be wrapped up by 2022. Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the decision by the centre Right coalition, describing it as "irreversible".

"After long consultations, there is now an agreement by the coalition to end nuclear power", Mr Roettgen said after seven hours of negotiations into the early hours at Chancellor Angela Merkel's offices. "This decision is consistent, decisive and clear".

Germany has 17 nuclear reactors on its territory, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid. Seven of those offline are the country's oldest nuclear reactors, which the federal government shut down for three months pending a safety probe after the Japanese atomic emergency at Fukushima following the March earthquake and tsunami.

The eighth reactor is the Kruemmel plant in northern Germany, which has been mothballed for years due to technical problems. The decision makes Germany the first major industrial power to announce plans to give up atomic energy entirely. But it also means the country will have to find the 22% of its electricity needs currently covered by nuclear reactors from another source.

Mr Roettgen insisted there was no danger of blackouts. "We assure that the electricity supply will be ensured at all times and for all users", he said, without providing details. Last Friday, the environment ministers from all 16 German regional states called for the temporary order on the seven plants to be made permanent.

Mr Roettgen yesterday said none of the eight reactors offline would be reactivated. Six further reactors would be shut down by the end of 2021 and the three most modern would cease operation by the end of 2022. Yesterday's decision is effectively a return to the timetable set by the previous Social Democrat Green coalition government a decade ago.

And it is a humbling U turn for Ms Merkel, who at the end of last year decided to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by an average of 12 years, which would have kept them open until the mid 2030s. That decision was unpopular in Germany even before the earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima facility.

Ms Merkel's zig zagging on Source: European Nuclear Society, what has been a highly emotive issue in the country since the 1970s has cost her at the ballot box. Ms Merkel has blamed the nuclear disaster at Fukushima for recent defeats in state elections. In the latest, on May 23, the anti nuclear Greens pushed her conservative party into third place in a vote in the northern state of Bremen, the first time they had scored more votes than the conservatives in a regional or federal election.

In the late night wrangling in Ms Merkel's fractious team, the pro business Free Democrats (FDP) argued against a fixed end date for nuclear power, and to maintain two reserve reactors in case of energy shortages.

FDP sources said there would be a contingency plan with one reactor, but did not provide details. The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, fought for an exit within 10 years. Some coalition members had called for a built in review clause, which could have allowed the decision to be revisited, but this was thrown out.

Mr Roettgen said the government had largely followed the recommendations of an ethics panel, appointed by Ms Merkel after the Japan meltdown, which called for an end to nuclear power in Germany within a decade.

Fringe homes not so green: report

31 May 2011, Page: 4

SO YOU thought you had gone green, buying a seven star house with a water tank in a new estate with a sprinkling of gum trees. But it turns out your innercity cousins might still have the edge. New houses on Melbourne's urban fringe are responsible for much greater levels of greenhouse gas emissions than city apartments or high density suburban housing.

Despite the push to introduce six and seven star energy ratings for new houses, the appetite for new household appliances and the increasing reliance on car travel has negated many of the benefits, according to a study from University of Melbourne.

While the operational use of energy in homes has come down because of star ratings, the embodied energy and energy used for commuting to far flung developments has risen, it found. The embodied energy used to make the product in the typical new house has risen more than 400% since the 1950s, mainly driven by the size of the house and the declining number of occupants.

And the average house size has soared, with many new houses well over 200 m², more than double the average in the same period. But it is travel emissions that have ballooned at the greatest rate about 1400%. While Melbourne's suburban fringe in the 1950s was about six kilometres from the CBD Energy, it is now about 35 kilometres away. At this distance, Melbourne's public infrastructure simply cannot keep up, the study's author Dr Robert Crawford said.

Choosing a seven star house was better than a five or six star, but not if the owners lived a "two or three star lifestyle", he said. "When people actually get into their houses and install inefficient heating or cooling systems, or run them all day long, the star system become meaningless".

The study looked at three types of new housing: highrise apartments in Docklands; inner suburban, medium density housing, such as the K2 development in Windsor; and new, outer suburban detached houses. All were more efficient than houses built three years ago (when five star homes were the standard), but energy use in seven star homes was only 13% less than in 2008. High rise apartments were up to 70% less.

Since the start of this month, all new houses have to have a minimum six star energy rating. This applies to the thermal performance of a home, as well as requiring the installation of a solar hot water system or a rainwater tank for toilet flushing. Australia is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world on a per person basis.