Friday 19 August 2011

Fund studies, not schemes, says Windsor

Sydney Morning Herald
15 August 2011, Page: 1

AUSTRALIA should concentrate its clean energy funding on research, the federal independent MP Tony Windsor says, rather than controversial schemes such as "pink batts or cash for clunkers". Mr Windsor, a member of the government's multi-party climate change committee, spent last week researching clean energy facilities and policy-making in Europe, including an inspection of Torresol Energy's 20 MW Gemasolar power station near Seville, Spain.

Gemasolar uses 2650 mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays on to the top of a central "power tower" and heat salt to more than 500°. The molten salts store heat that is slowly released to power a steam turbine, generating enough electricity for 25,000 households. Last month, Gemasolar became the first solar thermal power station to supply electricity into the grid for 24 hours including throughout the night a key test for solar power's ability to provide baseload power.

Mr Windsor visited the facility with Ross Garnaut, a climate change adviser, and Matthew Wright, head of Beyond Zero Emissions, a think-tank which proposed last year the extensive use of baseload solar power in its stationary energy plan to re-power Australia with 100% renewable energy. Mr Windsor said the Gemasolar plant was "an incredible sight". "I was in the vehicle with the project manager, Santiago [Arias], and when we drove in, we drove down this track between the reflectors.

The tower was some hundred yards away as we started this drive and I made the point, 'we're driving into our future here', and we really are! "I have no doubt that this sort of stuff is where we should be going". Mr Windsor's tour took in a full range of renewable and low emissions technologies that could receive funding from the multi-party climate committee's proposed clean energy finance corporation, which will provide $10 billion of debt and equity finance, and loan guarantees.

Irrespective of the type of clean energy technology to be funded, Mr Windsor said, "If there's one thing I've learnt out of this trip, [it is] if you've got a bucket of money, put it into research,.. rather than pink batts or cash for clunkers". He said Australia should work with countries such as Spain where there is "real research and refinement going on", not in the laboratory but "in the field". "Get out there and learn. You can see how they've piggybacked off their past endeavours".

Blue sky idea is now a reality

Adelaide Advertiser
13 August 2011, Page: 79

ELECTRIC-CAR makers and solar manufacturers have long known they share the same potential customers: highly educated and affluent people who are fascinated by technology and care about the environment and energy independence. SunPower Corp., Silicon Valley's largest solar manufacturer, and Ford Motor Co, on Wednesday announced a partnership that is a first for the auto and solar industries. Buyers of a Ford Focus Electric, which will hit the California market later this year, will be offered a deeply discounted rooftop solar system from SunPower.

The "Drive Green for Life" program is designed to provide the cars' owners the opportunity to fuel their vehicles with clean energy as well as having a carbon-free driving experience. SunPower will offer a 2.5kW rooftop system, which should provide enough electricity to fuel an electric car that travels about 1600km a month, for less than $10,000, after the federal tax credit.

Wind power flagged for city sites

Hobart Mercury
15 August 2011 Page: 3

WIND turbines could be installed on buildings across Tasmania, making the state a national leader in wind power, an expert says. wind turbine and sustainable energy specialist Brian Kirke said Tasmania had no shortage of wind and plenty of buildings suitable for housing turbines. Turbines in cities such as Hobart, Launceston and Burnie would improve the energy rating of buildings and could make Tasmania lead the nation.

Mr Kirke's comments come as four wind turbines atop the Marine Board building in Hobart were replaced yesterday. Two of the turbines were damaged in a $100,000 mishap in August last year, just weeks after they were installed. The human error sparked fears that the turbines were unsafe. As a result, all four turbines had been switched off for the past 12 months. All four were removed yesterday and replaced with new turbines and are expected to be switched on within weeks.

Workmen arrived at 6am yesterday to set up a crane and closed a section of Morrison St Teams of workers removed the 500kg vertical-axis turbines and lifted them down one by one before raising the new turbines and securing them in place. The work was completed by the afternoon. Project director Keith Drew, who manages the turbines for building owner Robert Rockefeller, said last year's mishap was unfortunate but he was confident it would not happen again.

He said the replacement turbines were the same size and design as the original ones but came with some modifications, including a stronger main shaft and a better braking system. The equipment and control systems will be wired up and tested in coming days. "We won't have an incident like last year, we know that for sure", Mr Drew said. "We've done everything possible to make them as safe as possible". Mr Drew said the turbines had a 12-to 15-year lifespan and could produce 120.000kW hours of power each year, 10-15% of the building's energy use.

Mr Kirke, from South Australia, was called in to oversee the installation process. He said the type of turbines on the Marine Board building was quite new to Australia but was being used effectively overseas. Mr Kirke would like to see turbines elsewhere in Tasmania and on more Hobart buildings, nominating the Hydro building as a perfect spot. He said Tasmania's southerly position meant wind was plentiful: "You're definitely in the right part of the world for wind".

Thursday 18 August 2011

Consumers cut back as power price climbs

15 August 2011, Page: 3

RISING electricity prices and a new awareness of ways to cut use have slashed consumer demand. Ausgrid energy efficiency specialist Paul Myors said: "We have seen consumption falling by around 2% a year for average household electricity use over the past four years. That goes against the long-term trend of a steady rise. "It could be the global financial crisis and rising tariffs is a factor. We are seeing the impact of energy efficiency", he said, pointing to the move away from electric hot water systems, previously the main user of electricity in the home.

The fall is expected to lead the national electricity market body, the Australian Electricity Market Operator, to forecast an overall decline of 5 to 6% in demand in the next decade the first drop in living memory. Prices rose as much as 13% on July 1 to fund $14.4 billion of spending on the electricity system but there has been criticism that NSW government owned companies such as Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy have been investing unnecessarily in their networks.

Household electricity prices are to rise by up to 17% more from mid-next year and up to 25% a year later. The proposed carbon tax will push household prices up further, although the federal government has promised to offset this for some households. Even with average household usage falling, demand is still rising at peak times in midsummer and midwinter, forcing upgrades to the power network.

The 5% cut in forecast demand is expected to push the need for new power stations back to 2020. No baseload power stations, which operate 24 hours a day, have been built in NSW since the 1980s, although gas-fired power stations have been built. The government is examining measures such as cutting the reliability of the network, which would leave households more exposed to blackouts.

ANU research to target solar hot spot

Canberra Times
9 August 2011, Page: 4

A groundbreaking solar research program that has the potential to create millions of zero-emission homes and businesses was unveiled at the Australian National University yesterday. The $9.5 million, three-year project aims to develop and commercialise a rooftop hybrid solar system that offers heating, cooling and electricity.

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the project, which converts the sun's energy into thermal and electrical energy, will make the solar industry more competitive by offering cost-effective electricity and solar hot water under one system.

"It will maximise the potential of rooftop areas when it comes to meeting the energy demands of the modern home", he said. "Using energy directly where it is generated in this way is not only highly efficient but has the potential to be highly cost effective too". Mr Ferguson said Australia did not have a competitive advantage in manufacturing photovoltaics and should focus on innovation and research.

"The opportunities for Australia in the rapidly growing global solar power market lie in innovation, research and development in licensing and exporting our technologies". Lead investigator Andrew Blakers, from the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, said companies had already expressed interest in manufacturing the rooftop system.

The system will create steam by heating water to 150°. "You can raise industrial steam and drive an air conditioner in a far more effective way", he said. "Importantly, this energy is delivered to [the] retail side of the energy meter where energy costs are three times what the wholesale costs are for both gas and electricity".

The all-in-one system focuses an intense beam of sunlight on to a concentrating collector. The project is being supported by a $3.2 million grant from the Federal Government. ANU will partner with the University of New South Wales, CSIRO, Chromasun and NEP solar.

Court invokes coals to Newcastle rule

11 August 2011, Page: 5

A VISTA of gas rigs dotted along the coast from Sydney to Newcastle was never going to be a winner with New South Wales coastal councils. And in a rebuff to energy explorers keen to push new techniques and test mining legislation it has not been a winner with government. Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson and his former Labor state counterpart, Steve Whan, have refused to grant offshore exploration licences to underground coal gasification proponent Energie Future.

The ministerial rejection came to light in documents before the Federal Court, where Energie Future is seeking judicial review of the decision by the ministers, who were acting as the joint authority under the Offshore Minerals Act. In 2008, Energie Future applied for four lease exploration areas, covering 6000 km². The boundary comes as close as five kilometres to the coast.

NSW refused the application last October and in November Mr Ferguson agreed. One of the grounds cited by the joint authority was concern about the effect on flora and fauna on the ocean floor and the "fragile beach environments". As recently as June, Gosford, Wyong, Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and Port Stephens councils wrote to the state government, opposing offshore mining in the permit area. They asked what contingency plans the companies had to deal with an oil spill or gas leak, and also queried the effect on the annual whale migrations.

Underground coal gasification (UCG) is a new technology in which coal is burnt and converted to a synthesised (or non-natural) gas underground. The method is used to access coal resources that are either uneconomic or inaccessible to work by conventional means. It is a different process to coal seam gas (CSG) extraction, which is experiencing strong community and some political opposition. It involves drawing water from the coal seam gass to release primarily naturally occurring methane gas.

The joint authority concluded: "The work program was inadequate, the application area is in conflict with [the existing] petroleum exploration permit 11, and the understanding that synthetic manufacture of syngas using underground coal gasification methods is not encompassed by the Offshore Minerals Act nor the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006".

Its key point of refusal was that the "in situ production of a synthetic gas was not classified as a naturally occurring substance", and the extraction method proposed was not covered under the legislation. "It would be irresponsible to grant an exploration licence that would be unable to proceed to a mining licence under the legislative framework", it said. Energie Future has argued the joint authority made an error in law, and also denied the company natural justice. It says it is not a precondition to the granting of a mining licence that the licence holder recover a "mineral". It also says the authority did not consider its proposed alternative method of mining coal through boreholes.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

EU finds its power blowing in the wind

Canberra Times
6 August 2011, Page: 19

Energy producers expect European wind power generation to triple by 2020, with tens of thousands of new, ever-bigger wind turbines springing up, an industry body says. The European Wind Energy Association, which groups energy giants with wind interests and also many involved in nuclear or gasfired electricity generation, issued its figures this week in a new report aiming to influence EU energy policy after 2020.

By the end of last year, the Pure Power report said, wind power produced about 5.3% of demand across the EU's 27 states, some 182 terawatt hours. Its share is tipped to reach 15.7% by 2020, or 581 TWh. By the end of 2010, there were more than 70,000 turbines in operation, and the wind power association says 60,000 more of the same size will be needed to meet 2020 targets, although installing bigger machines could reduce that number to half or less depending on technology developments.

Investment is tipped to rise from 12.7 billion euros ($A16.59 billion) of annual investment in 2010 to $A35.9 billion in 2020, 40% of that investment going into offshore wind farms. Justin Wilkes, of the association, said companies would invest $A262 billion in onshore and, increasingly, offshore wind farms by then, "mainly driven by a strong EU regulatory framework to 2020, which we need also after 2020".

His grouping wants binding European Union targets for renewable energy production, part of a wider climate-action commitment, to be extended from the present 19% to 34% for the decade after 2020. EU states have been increasingly reluctant since the deep recession of the recent years to set binding European-level targets affecting domestic investment needs.

Germany and Spain alone account for well over half of all EU wind power, but Britain, France, Italy and Portugal are also emerging alongside small, but market-leading Denmark, despite strong French Government adherence to its giant nuclear industry, which delivers 80% of France's electricity needs. Scotland, whose independence seeking Government in Edinburgh is already committed to producing 100% of its energy needs from renewables, alone claims one quarter of the EU's coastline.

Germany has turned its back on nuclear after an earthquake and tsunami caused an accident at a nuclear plant in Japan in March, and the wind power association says the German Government could fill the 20-% gap in its generating capacity with wind within a decade.

The report can be accessed online at

Boom in rooftop solar panels 'extraordinary'

Sydney Morning Herald
8 August 2011, Page: 3

THE solar bonus scheme introduced last year was very successful in some suburbs, with more than 14% of homes installing rooftop solar panels, compared with a statewide average of about 3%. Figures provided to the Herald by three electricity distributors revealed the north coast had the highest number of solar schemes. In Dubbo, more than 2000 homes had also installed photovoltaic units.

Paul Myors, an energy efficiency specialist with Ausgrid, said the number of homes with solar panels had increased from 2000 18 months ago to 46,000, after the former NSW Labor government introduced the solar bonus rebate scheme that was scrapped in May by the new government.

Peak take-up rates are around the central coast and Lake Macquarie, where about 6% of homes in many suburbs have rooftop systems. Customers of Essential Energy, which supplies power to many country areas, installed more than 2200 systems in the post code covering Lismore and surrounding towns.

Data from the last census in 2006 said there were 18,500 dwellings in the Lismore postcode, which gives a rooftop solar system rate of more than 12%. In the Tweed Heads postcode, the rate is more than 14%, while Dubbo has a rate exceeding 13%, rates that Mr Myors described as "extraordinary".

Some of the high installation rates in certain towns are believed to be a result of intensive marketing campaigns conducted by solar panel companies. Mr Myors said the high percentage of detached homes with good solar access in some rural and regional areas was another factor behind the wide variations in take-up rates.

The chief executive of Strata Community Australia, Mark Lever, said more than 70% of residents in many Sydney local government areas live in apartments, as do more than 50% in North Sydney. He said while many of them wanted to install solar panels, the federal and state governments had not considered their needs while designing rebate schemes, leaving regulatory hurdles to be cleared.

"Body corporates are not eligible for federal Renewable Energy Certificates, and then they have to deal with the fact the Tax Office regards any income to the body corporate from solar schemes as mutual income that is taxable in the hands of individual owners", Mr Lever said. Ausgrid has started publishing details of solar panel installations and other data on its website to allow councils, consumers and other interested parties to compare trends in electricity consumption.

Mr Myors said the data showed that while electricity usage increased every year from the 1950s, it plateaued four years ago and had been declining by about 2% a year since then due to increased energy prices, improved energy efficiency in houses thanks in part to the home insulation scheme and more efficient appliances. However, peak demand was still increasing, especially on hot days. In 10 years, the percentage of houses with air-conditioning in NSW had increased from 30% to 70%, placing additional pressure on the system, he said.

Blackstone punts on wind farms

Canberra Times
8 August 2011, Page: 13

The US investment fund Blackstone Group plans to invest several billion euros in German wind farms, as the biggest economy in Europe will need the energy when it abandons nuclear power by 2022. Blackstone Group said that it had finalised 1.2 billion euros ($A1.63 billion) in financing to build what it says will be the biggest German offshore facility to date.

The fund said that it had also obtained permission for its wind company unit to develop a second site, putting its cost at $1.77 billion. The first farm, to consist of 80 turbines built by the German group Siemens, is to become operational in 2013 with a generating capacity of 288 MWs. Requiring around 100,000t of steel in its construction phase, the park should provide electricity for 400,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one million tonnes, a Siemens statement said. The turbines will be huge, with rotors that measure 120m in diameter, and are to stand in water more than 20m deep.

Siemens presents itself as the world's leading manufacturer of offshore wind turbines. Financing for the second project, designed for 63 turbines, should be finalised in 2013 and it is to be completed by 2016. Blackstone Group senior managing director David Foley welcomed "the progress and positive impact on the economy that can be achieved when private capital works in partnership with government, entrepreneurs and industry". Energy producers expect European wind power generation to triple by 2020, with tens of thousands of new wind turbines,the European Wind Energy Association said last week.

Monday 15 August 2011

Cracks appearing in Japan's nuclear power lobby

West Australian
5 August 2011, Page: 40

Japanese executives aren't known for bucking the establishment. Hiroshi Mikitani is a rare exception at a time when rebellion is most needed. The president of Rakuten, Japan's biggest online retailer, turned 46 on March 11. That was the day when a record earthquake and tsunami set off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl and forever changed the way Japanese view the reactors in their midst. Almost five months later, the Fukushima plant is still leaking radioactivity

A growing majority of the nation's 127 million people want a future devoid of radiation, contaminated air and food, and who can blame them? Forget it, says corporate Japan, the economy will collapse if we give up on nuclear power. Count Mikitani among those who disagree. He recently quit Japan's main business lobby, Nippon Keidanren, to protest its support of the energy status quo. Good for him. Japan needs to harness power from safer sources, but the Government lacks the courage to seek them. So, the private sector is filling the void.

Most notable is billionaire Masayoshi Son, the 53-year-old chief executive officer of Softbank. He first cracked the monopolies that dominated Japan's telecommunications industry Now he's shaking up the utilities market with plans to invest about $US1 billion ($937 million) to build 10 solar farms. Granted, Prime Minister Naoto Kan would like to take on the alliance of politicians, bureaucrats and power companies promoting the nuclear industry. He has even proposed a halt to plans for 14 new reactors. Yet he is a short-timer; he pledged to step down once emergency-funding Bills are passed.

It is naive to think the forces arrayed against Kan aren't playing a role in his demise. More than any leader, Kan has taken on the nuclear-industrial complex, Japan's answer to the nexus of business and the military in the US. Expect the knives to be out for any leader with reformist sensibilities.

The industry's allies are rallying to maintain the supremacy of nuclear power. A huge scare campaign is under way to convince voters that living standards will shrivel if Japan de-emphasises atomic energy Before the Fukushima disaster, the industry provided about 30% of Japan's electricity The plan was for that to rise to 53% by 2030.

The earthquake changed all that. nuclear power makes perfect sense on paper. It emits little pollution or greenhouse gases and doesn't rely on dirty and expensive imported fossil fuel. Yet something that didn't change between Ukraine in 1986 and Japan in 2011 is the risk of design flaws, shoddy construction and poor training of reactor personnel the human factor.

Fukushima's back-up generators that might have averted the disaster were located in a basement and swamped by the waves. The monumental foolishness of that is summed up by Ken Brockman, a former director of nuclear installation safety at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna: "This in the country that invented the word tsunami".

The bigger irony is how the only nation ever to be attacked by nuclear weapons and the one with the most seismic activity so enthusiastically embraced a nuclear future. If the last five months taught us anything, it's the need to reconsider. No one is saying turn off all the reactors; the $US5 trillion economy has enough problems. Yet Japan needs an explosion of fresh ideas, innovation and investment to become less reliant on reactors. This should be a priority for any leader who succeeds Kan.

A recurring question in Tokyo has been: Who put Homer Simpson in charge? Japan's nuclear safety record these past 15 years seems no sounder than that of the fictional Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, where on The Simpsons, Homer is head of safety. Only, this is no laughing matter.

Alternative energy is an obvious chance for Japan to lead the world. Deflation and excessive debt cost Japan its economic vitality, especially as China thundered ahead to become the world's second-biggest economy. Credit Suisse Group, Switzerland's second-largest bank, recently stopped bothering to cover Japanese banks.

For all its economic sclerosis, Japan is a role model when it comes to energy efficiency. This can be seen in Tokyo's ability to avoid blackouts without Fukushima's reactors providing power to the city. Japan should act last to assert itself as the dominant power in clean energy, solar technology and storage batteries. It would create jobs, wealth and international prestige. Sadly, Tokyo's political class is preoccupied with internal, short-sighted squabbles. The good news is that the private sector is pushing ahead on its own.

The efforts by Softbank's Mr Son are even more important. His SUSI billion pledge is contingent upon getting access to transmission networks and regional utilities buying his electricity, As of July 27, a total of 17 big Japanese cities jumped on the alternative-to-nuclear bandwagon, the Asahi newspaper reported. It's a good start toward getting Homer Simpson's hands off the controls and a rare sign of hope in a nation that hasn't had a lot to cheer about.

Power generation in Latrobe 'to rise'

5 August 2011, Page: 4

THE Latrobe Valley power generation industry will continue to grow for decades to come under a carbon price, according to economic modelling released by federal Treasury. Analyses released yesterday also suggest Australia will not meet its bipartisan target of 20% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020 without a carbon price or significant changes to existing renewable energy legislation.

In a challenge to claims that the Latrobe Valley would be devastated by forcing coal power plants to pay for their emissions, modelling by ROAM Consulting found the amount of power generated in the area would double under even a high carbon price by 2050.

Brown coal power generation is expected to continue to be the main source of power from the valley until at least 2030. It will gradually be replaced by baseload gas-fired power, which has about a third of the emissions of brown coal. The ROAM report says "that the Latrobe Valley remains a generation hub for all scenarios although under a carbon price there is incentive for increased diversification into gas, renewable and [carbon capture and storage] technologies".

The finding by ROAM is backed by a second consultancy, Sinclair Knight Merz, which found there was likely to be massive expansion of gas and renewable energy generation across Gippsland. The Sinclair report attributes the region's generation growth to its proximity to natural gas reserves, and strong wind, biomass and geothermal sources: "The exploitation of these resources under carbon pricing means that the overall level of electricity generation may not fall".

Other findings of five reports released by Treasury yesterday include:

  • It would be cheaper under existing law for electricity companies to pay a penalty than meet the 20% renewable target by building new wind farms.
  • $212 billion in new generation technology investment will be needed by the mid-century under a carbon price, almost double the investment needed without one.
  • Retail electricity prices are estimated to increase between 7% and 48% depending on the size of emissions cuts in the period to 2020.
  • The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency found the government's carbon farming scheme which aims to reduce CO₂ from the land and livestock was likely to cut emissions by just 7 million tonnes of CO₂ a year by 2020.

Australia needs to cut emissions by about 160 million tonnes. The reports were commissioned as part of Treasury's modelling on the economic impacts of a carbon price. The Latrobe Valley findings are based on a starting carbon price of just under $20 a tonne and moderate global action to reduce emissions. The government carbon tax will start at $23 a tonne.

The modelling does not include the government's plans to pay to close two brown coal power plants, most likely Hazelwood in Victoria and Playford in South Australia.

WA solar must be given new life
1 August 2011

The WA solar industry has been dealt an unexpected blow by the Barnett Government with the sudden closure of their feed-in-tariff, announced today. "The Clean Energy Council is disappointed by this decision. West Australians have clearly demonstrated their enthusiasm for solar as a way to minimise the impact of future electricity price rises and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Chief Executive Matthew Warren said.

"We are disappointed that this announcement has been made without any consultation with the solar industry and with no consideration of the future support for this popular technology." Mr Warren said changes to the Commonwealth's solar incentives, as well as the State's decision to reduce their feed-in-tariff - which both took effect on July 1 – had contributed to a spike in applications.

"The temporary rush by consumers to get access to the best incentives unfortunately appears to have been used as an excuse to shut down an industry which was on track to stabilise under the lower incentives, as was the experience in other states," he said.

Mr Warren said without an alternative scheme in place, jobs would be lost. "The solar industry continues to seek policy certainty so that it is not at the mercy of knee-jerk reactions," Mr Warren said.

"West Australians have invested in the solar industry – both as consumers and in terms of new training, skills and jobs. The WA Government should not be turning back on this emerging industry." "We are calling on the WA Government to consider redesigning the scheme to ensure long-term sustainability of the industry and would welcome the opportunity to work with them on such a process."