Friday 5 August 2011

Civic wind power plan widens focus

Hobart Mercury
29 July 2011, Page: 5

SOUTHERN Tasmanian councils are considering a $22 million proposal to generate their own wind power. The plan, put forward by Hobart City Council alderman Bill Harvey, suggests councils could cancel out their power bills by investing in wind turbines.

Aid Harvey said the Federal Government's $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, coupled with Tasmania's Action Plan to Reduce Emissions, could provide the extra boost needed to get the idea across the line. He said Hobart aldermen were supportive, provided a wind farm stacked up financially and met high community standards.

The HCC last week posted letters to other southern Tasmanian councils asking if they wanted to participate. The councils are considering a report that proposes seven 2 MW turbines worth about $22 million or, if the HCC goes it alone, four turbines. Aid Harvey said the turbines could be scattered across several locations in the state. "The return to councils is looking quite positive", he said.

Aid Harvey, who first raised the idea last year, said by killing its own $3 million-a-year power bill, the HCC could add value for ratepayers or even provide rate relief. He said the HCC would make a decision whether to engage a consultant and to move the project to the next stage, with or without other councils, in the next few weeks. He said it was time for councils to get serious and stop messing around with token efforts such as tiny roof-top turbines or solar panels. "This would be pioneering. No other Australian council has yet to generate a significant amount of energy", he said.

Aid Harvey said individuals and businesses could also be invited to invest in wind turbines as shareholders alongside councils, following the example of a successful community co-operative wind farm near the Victorian towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. The co-operative, supported by the Victorian Government, has built a wind farm that produces enough energy for 2300 households almost enough for all of the houses in the two districts.

Fracking push on hold after twin earthquakes

29 July 2011, Page: 22

MARK Miller was hoping to lead an energy revolution in Britain. Then earthquakes intervened. Mr Miller, an oil industry veteran from Pennsylvania, is one of a small band of pioneers seeking to replicate North America's shale gas boom in Europe. His company, Cuadrilla Resources, has imported a technology used to great effect in the US to try to turn Blackpool, a seaside resort on the west coast of England, into a new Klondike for gas.

The technology, called hydraulic fracturing, or 'Tracking", is controversial. It involves injecting huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals deep into porous shale rock, creating fissures or fractures that allow the gas trapped inside the rock to flow out. Critics worry that fracking can contaminate groundwater and even cause gas to leak from nearby household taps.

After months of cajoling, Mr Miller, a 57-year-old petroleum engineer, thought he had managed to persuade the locals that fracking was safe. Then, this northern spring, the area around Blackpool was shaken by two tremors. After the second, Cuadrilla Resources suspended its fracking operations, pending an investigation. Some researchers have delved into possible connections between fracking and earthquakes. But Cuadrilla Resources says no such connection has been proved, and Mr Miller says he is sceptical there is any link.

Even so, one of the most closely watched energy projects in Europe is now on hold, and the publicity has dealt a blow to the image of shale gas, already under attack from environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic. The quakes left residents in the Blackpool area "angry and distressed", said Philip Mitchell, chairman of the local Green Party. "They have told me they feel like guinea pigs".

Some were more sanguine. "If they find gas then I don't think there's anything wrong with what they're doing", said one elderly man who lives in the village of Singleton, a stone's throw from the Cuadrilla Resources site. "I worked for years in the nuclear industry, so I'm not bothered by these things".

Fracking could bring a measure of energy independence to Europe by reducing its increased reliance on gas imported from countries such as Russia, which in the past has turned off the spigot over pricing disputes. But Cuadrilla Resources's tribulations show the challenges of developing shale gas deposits in Europe, where conventional gas reserves have declined. Europe is also more densely populated than the US, meaning a greater number of people would be likely to live near fracking sites.

Mr Miller likes to compare the county of Lancashire, where Singleton is located, to the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville shales in the US, where vast new gas reserves unlocked by fracking have transformed energy markets. When Cuadrilla Resources started drilling last year, "we were amazed at how thick the shale was", he says. "There was almost 1000 feet more of it than we'd expected, and the thicker the rock, the more gas there is".

The widespread use of fracking was a game-changer for the North American energy industry, allowing the US to become a net exporter of gas and, in 2009, to overtake Russia as the world's largest producer. Last year, the US pumped 4.87 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, equivalent to 23% of its total gas production. Europe, too, is thought to have huge production potential. One London think tank estimates there are enough recoverable reserves of unconventional gas in Europe to meet its gas demand "for at least another 60 years".

That potential has attracted some of the world's biggest energy companies. Exxon-Mobil has been chilling for shale gas in northern Germany. ConocoPhillips has teamed up with Britain's 3Legs Resources to explore in Poland's Baltic Basin. But there are many obstacles. Environmentalists in several countries, including Britain, are pushing to restrict fracking. And although the British government this week rejected calls for tough new controls on the practice, France last month became the first country to ban it completely.

Cuadrilla Resources, founded in 2007, was initially focused on shale gas in the US. But by then, land prices in the likeliest areas were already too high. So it shifted its focus to Europe instead. "We knew there was similar geology there", Mr Miller said. Britain, whose untapped shale reserves are thought to be substantial, seemed to be the perfect destination. With backing from Australian mining company ASLucas and US private equity firm Riverstone Holdings, Cuadrilla Resources acquired a licence covering 280,000 acres in Lancashire's Bowland Shale in 2008.

Last year, Cuadrilla Resources made Britain' first shale gas discovery near Blackpool. In the ensuing months, it started fracking there to see if it could get the gas to flow. The company says its procedures are safe. To prevent leaks into the local aquifer, it is drilling 1000 feet below the water table, underneath rock that has held back the gas for millions of years. "It would defy physics" for any of that gas to seep into ground water, Mr Miller said. Cuadrilla Resources also puts an extra layer of steel and cement into its wells to better isolate the exposed rock formations. But in the end, the biggest threat to Cuadrilla Resources's operations came from an unexpected source: the two small earthquakes that shook Lancashire on April 1 and May 27.

In Singleton, people had been generally supportive of fracking, but some changed their minds after the tremors. "They should have investigated how it could affect the earth before they went ahead", said one local woman. Cuadrilla Resources assembled a team of independent experts to determine if there was any link between fracking and the tremors, which it stressed had caused no damage and no physical injuiy. Meanwhile, Mr Miller began a series of public meetings to try to calm local jitters. The Cuadrilla Resources chief executive said he didn't expect to be quite so much in the public eye. "I thought it would all be about well design and raising finance", he said. "Sometimes you feel you're a spokesman for the global oil and gas industry".

Explorer reassures investors

Adelaide Advertiser
29 July 2011, Page: 69

HOT rocks explorer GeoDynamics had $29.1 million in cash reserves at the end of the June quarter, it informed shareholders yesterday. The company last month reassured investors about its strong balance sheet-and access to the Federal Government's $90 million Renewable Energy Demonstration Program-to deliver value despite falling share prices.

Chief executive Geoff Ward this month said the company would be a "big winner" from the program, which would deliver benefits for the company's "long suffering shareholders". GeoDynamics is focusing on its 1 MW pilot plant at Innamincka to demonstrate the first power produced from an enhanced geothermal system early next year.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Export fans $300 million to SA

Adelaide Advertiser
27 July 2011, Page: 27

AN industry that did not exist in Adelaide a decade ago now manufactures and exports wind towers for a wind farm in Victoria. RPG Australia's manufacturing plant at Kilburn is constructing the towers for the Macarthur wind farm in southwest Victoria. The company has made about 600 towers for sites across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia since 2002, injecting about $300 million into the SA economy. Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet and Premier Mike Rann inspected the factory yesterday. Mr Rann said 90 of the plant's 100 staff were working on wind turbine tower production, "an industry that didn't exist here a decade ago".

He said the old Mitsubishi site at Tonsley Park would be turned into a hub for innovative companies in sustainable technologies. "We are expecting Tonsley Park to attract $1 billion in private investment over 15 years, with up to 8600 people employed on the site and increasing the gross state product by $400 million a year by 2026", he said. "So now we have a new target of having 33% of our electricity generation come from renewable energy by 2020". Mr Combet said of the new Clean Energy Finance Corporation: "(It) will play a vital role in unlocking significant new private investment into clean energy projects and the supply chain that feeds into these projects".

New Syngas China deal

Adelaide Advertiser
28 July 2011, Page: 69

SYNTHETIC fuel company Syngas has lined up a second potential Chinese partner, Kailuan Energy, for its coal gasification and biomass projects. The company signed a letter of intent with the Shanghai Stock Exchange-listed company yesterday in Melbourne to negotiate on possible investment options in Syngas or its projects, subject to regulatory approvals.

Syngas' current portfolio of projects, including the Clinton coal-to-liquid project 120km northwest of Adelaide, are covered by the agreement. Syngas has a similar understanding with the China National Electric Engineering Corporation to finalise an engineering, procurement and construction agreement by next March..

"This is a major development for Syngas. We now have the benefits of this relationship with Kailuan, as well as our existing CNEEC relationship", Syngas managing director Merrill Gray said. "We will be working diligently to bring significant value to shareholders through these relationships over the next few months". Kailuan Energy's main businesses are coal mining and coal beneficiation, logistics, machining and coal chemical.

Hong Kong power firm has nuclear plant stake

Adelaide Advertiser
27 July 2011, Page: 57

HONG Kong utility CLP Group says it has bought a 17% stake in a nuclear power plant in southern China for $681 million. CLP Group said its nuclear investment unit signed a deal with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company to buy the stake in the Yangjiang Nuclear Power Station. A total of $8.9 billion is being invested in the plant.

Construction started in 2008 on the 6000 MW plant in western Guangdong province, which consists of six 1000 MW pressurised water reactors. The plant, which is 220km west of Hong Kong, is expected to be completed in phases from 2013 to 2017. The electricity produced will be sold locally.

The two companies already operate the coastal Daya Bay nuclear plant, which is also in Guangdong and sends most of its power to Hong Kong. Beijing is promoting alternative energy sources such as nuclear, wind and solar to curb surging demand for imported oil and gas and to reduce environmental damage from heavy reliance on coal. However, government officials signalled the country's nuclear policy would prioritise safety following Japan's devastating nuclear crisis.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Pilot project under way to farm carbon
July 26, 2011

A $13 million cattle station in the Northern Territory will be returned to its natural state in a bid to generate carbon credits. R.M.Williams Agriculture Holdings on Tuesday announced it had purchased Henbury Station, about 125km south of Alice Springs, with the help of the federal government's Caring for Country program to establish a new model for nature conservation and climate protection through carbon farming.

It is believed to be the first business in Australia to undertake such a move. Henbury, which covers 5000 km², is home to a range of rare and threatened native plants and animals, will be protected under Australia's National Reserve System. It will become part of the Territory Eco-Link conservation corridor, which spans from South Australia to the Arafura Sea north of Arnhem Land.

R.M.Williams Agricultural Holdings managing director David Pearse, in a statement released on Tuesday, described the project as "learning by doing". "We're in the business of sustainable agriculture and we see an exciting opportunity in carbon sequestration", he said. "By actively managing fire, water, weeds and feral animals on this former pastoral property we'll encourage natural revegetation, removing CO₂ from the atmosphere and storing carbon in the soil and native plants.

"We'll be creating sustainable habitat and enhancing biodiversity. "The development of the project will help to provide a new model for other farmers to improve their soil and native vegetation, and earn new income. "It will also help to create a new model for private sector investment in biodiversity conservation across the landscape. "Over the next year well be working with respected biodiversity and carbon advisers to establish a rigorous scientific methodology for carbon projects like Henbury".

Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus welcomed the decision to rehabilitate Henbury Station, which is expected to be supported by the sale of credits that has been made possible through the government's carbon farming initiative.

"This is a key part of the Gillard government's climate change agenda, and is set to open up new income streams for farmers and landholders across regional Australia," he said. "Landholders and investors around the country will be ... looking to see how (they) go about the business of generating biodiverse carbon credits to support the regeneration of Henbury Station."

Transition to renewable energy stimulates the economy
25 July 2011

The disaster at Fukushima has raised public awareness and made the shift to renewable sources of energy more desirable than ever. It is accompanied, too, by a political willingness to rethink and correct the policies followed until now. The question is often posed in public debate as to whether the shift to renewable energies will be too expensive, or whether it indeed poses a threat to Germany's competitiveness as an industrial location.

Over the last two years, however, studies have suggested that fears of this sort are unfounded. On the contrary, according to an EU study performed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI in Karlsruhe, a shift towards renewable energies will stimulate growth in the job market in the coming decade. By 2020 scientists predict that some 2.8 million people will be employed in Europe's renewable energy sector, once implementation of EU objectives in this area has taken hold. The negative impact of a shift to alternative energy is far outweighed by the remaining positive net effect of some 400,000 additional jobs in the EU as a whole. What is more, Europe's GDP is expected to grow by 0.24% (some 35 billion Euro).

Similar results were reported in a study of Germany contracted by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety BMU, in which ISI scientists participated. One of the study's findings showed that, "the short and long-term effects on the German labor market derived from expansion of renewable energy use, indicate a positive trend. When all negative effects and influences on the economic cycle are taken into account, the number still falls in the range of 120,000--140,000 new jobs (2020, optimistic scenario, price path A)".


Fuel Cell Update: ClearEdge Grows, VC Flows
July 25, 2011

ClearEdge Power is one of many aspirants looking to make technological progress and commercial inroads in the difficult fuel-cell market.

ClearEdge Power, headquartered in Oregon with more than 200 employees worldwide, builds proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cells that produce electricity and heat from natural gas. Investors include Applied Ventures, Big Basin Ventures and Kohlberg Ventures.

The firm builds 5 kW modules that target premium residential, small commercial and institutional stationary applications such as schools. Their PEM fuel-cell incorporates a reformer and runs off of natural gas like the Bloom Energy fuel-cell, although the Bloom Box is a solid oxide design, produces electricity and not heat, and comes in much larger 100 kW chunks.

I spoke with Mike Upp, the VP of Marketing at ClearEdge Power, and he said the deals currently being closed by the firm are in the 20 kW to 40 kW range and involve the use of numerous 5 kW boxes in a single configuration. Upp also claimed that in the "under 100 kW sweets pot" that ClearEdge Power services, "There is nobody else playing yet". Upp said that ClearEdge Power has 100 installations operating, almost all in California, about half in residential applications. But now ClearEdge Power is targeting light commercial by dint of its potential for more unit sales and repeat customers.

Like the hypetastic Bloom fuel-cell, the ClearEdge Power product is spendy. A 5 kW unit has a $56,000 list price and installation can run from $12,000 to $20,000. There is a $15,000 investment tax credit and California provides a $12,500 Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) rebate, although the SGIP program is currently under review. Even after incentives, the fuel-cell is expensive compared to the grid or to a diesel genset. Certainly, the thermal component has value for hot water production or enterprise heating.

According to the firm, the 5 kW unit generates a combined 83,300 kW of energy per year: 38,800 kW of electricity and 44,500 kW (equivalent to 152 MM BTUs per year of heat) of useable thermal energy. ClearEdge Power's Oregon factory can produce 2,500 units per year and can be upgraded to reach more than 10,000 units per year. Like all fuel-cell firms, ClearEdge Power must continue to drive down costs while improving its longterm reliability.

ClearEdge Power recently received $2.8 million from the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Program to deploy fuel-cells in a variety of commercial buildings. ClearEdge Power will install its CHP system at 10 vertical markets in California and Oregon, while Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will monitor the systems and measure the expected energy savings. Deployments are meant to be varied and include schools, a car dealership, a laundry and multifamily housing units. The program is about market transformation, the money is intended to defray the upfront cost of the units.