Thursday 6 October 2011

First wind power plant in Honduras
2 Oct 2011

Central America has tremendous opportunities in developing green energy. From biofuels to hydropower and wind to thermal there is a lot these central American countries can provide. Honduras' first wind power plant began operations amid an ongoing energy crisis that has prompted frequent power outages across the country. The state power utility, ENEE, launched the project, which includes 51 towers lining a hill some 25 km south of Tegucigalpa. The project is the first phase of a more expansive push to bring more wind power to the country. By the end of the year, the wind farm will be producing a total of 102 MWs at a cost of $260 million. Now Honduras in on the map for green energy production. In recent years biofuel plantations have also dominated the renewable energy sector such as countries like Costa Rica.

Tiny Spanish island to be completely powered by solar and wind
30 Sep 2011

Intermittency is a well-known weakness of solar and wind power--they're good when the sun shines and the wind blows, say critics, but what about when it doesn't? (Though there are some questions about all that.) The response of alternative energy enthusiasts tends to come in two flavours: better grid balancing--where reliable power sources, such as nuclear, take up the slack when needed--or improved energy storage. The trouble with many of today's storage methods, though, is that they are either not very good or too expensive. There are several new ones, including salt, but none are yet ready at scale.

If you wanted to be hopeful about renewables, you might look at a project 900 miles off the coast of Spain, on the smallest of the Canary Islands. El Hierro measures only 104 square miles, but it is being viewed as a model for projects combining renewable power with pumped hydropower storage--perhaps the most viable currently available storage method.

El Hierro's $87 million scheme consists of an 11.5 MW wind farm (five turbines) that will provide the island's 11,000 inhabitants with the majority of their power. When the system produces excess energy, it pumps water 2,300 feet up to an extinct volcano. When there is insufficient renewable power, the water gushes through a hydroelectric plant. The closed-loop is topped out with series of solar thermal units that provide about a fifth of the overall needs.

El Hierro currently generates electricity using diesel oil imported by tanker from the mainland, and the costs and environmental impact are big. Officials estimate the island emits 18,200 tons of CO₂ a year, just from power generation alone. "We now rely on the outside, the fuel that comes on the boats, which is expensive and polluting. But with the launch of the new power station, we have our own power and profits will go to the island", says Cristina Morales Clavijo, a spokesperson for the company managing the project.

Officials are confident the new system, which is due for completion this year, will allow the island to do away entirely with fossil fuels, and allow it to invest additional revenues in further infrastructure projects. Just in case, the island will keep its diesel generators as backup. There may still be occasions when there is not enough wind or enough stored water to meet demand, and the reservoir only has enough capacity for seven days' worth of electricity. But El Hierro might just get the chance to prove that true energy self-sufficiency is possible, even on a semi-large scale.

"It is very important for the development of El Hierro, but also for other Canary Islands who are already working on similar systems. Internationally, there are other territories that want to know about the project because they think we are an example. The pumping system is the only solution at the moment to store wind power, and it could be used on other Islands and mainland territories", says Clavijo.

Japan to boost science spending, reduce support for nuclear power
30 Sep 2011

TOKYO--Japan's ministry of education wants to boost overall science-related spending next year by 5.8%, to $14.7 billion. But amid increasing support for most programs there is one big loser: nuclear power. Spending on nuclear-related research will drop 9.8%, to $2.3 billion. A large chunk of that reduction applies to Monju, the troubled experimental fast-breeder reactor. The allocation essentially puts Monju on hold pending a review of the nation's energy policy.

"We want to think about the role of Monju" within a broader energy policy, education minister Masaharu Nakagawa said at a press briefing today unveiling the budget request for fiscal 2012, which starts in April. He said Monju and other nuclear fuel cycle efforts would receive a "maintenance budget" of $445 million. "But there will be a bit of a hiatus in new research and development efforts until the long-term direction [of energy policy] is settled", he added.

The education ministry accounts for the bulk of Japan's science spending, particularly for basic research. Details on governmentwide science spending are not yet available. Requested budgets are usually adopted by the Japanese legislature with minimal changes.

Japan has pursued fast-breeder technology, through which a reactor can produce more plutonium than it burns in hopes of cutting or eliminating imports of nuclear fuel. The ill-starred Monju reached initial criticality in April 1995 but then suffered a disastrous coolant leak and fire in December 1995. Officials tried to cover up the extent of the accident, resulting in a public backlash that kept Monju idle until May 2010. But shortly after restarting operations, a mechanical problem put Monju out of action again.

The 11 March earthquake and tsunami damage caused extensive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the release of massive amounts of radiation. A number of politicians have called for Japan to phase out nuclear power, though the government's official policy of increasing reliance on nuclear power has not changed. "There is no talk of stopping nuclear power generation all at once", Nakagawa said. And he emphasised the need to continue research into nuclear safety and the handling of waste. But Nakagawa expects the discussion of energy policy will include "what to do about Monju".

While tapping the brakes on nuclear power research, the ruling Democratic Party has proposed $918 million in new programs to accelerate efforts on renewable and alternative energy schemes. It is also boosting by 50% the budget for ITER, the experimental fusion reactor being built by an international consortium in France, to $294 million. Other winners include work on induced pluripotent stem cells and regenerative medicine, which gets a 40% increase to $69 million, and space-related research, including Earth observation, which will go up by 36% to $631 million.

Rank-and-file researchers will be pleased with a 6% increase, to $3 billion, in the competitively reviewed grants they rely on. A large share of the increase will go to a multiyear grant category created last year. Previously these grants had to be spent in the year they were awarded. The new scheme "has been positively received by researchers", Nakagawa says.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

A simple way to boost battery storage
30 Sep 2011

Lithium-ion battery electrodes bound together by a new highly conductive material have a much greater storage capacity--a development that could eventually increase the range of electric cars and the life of smart-phone batteries without increasing their cost. Unlike many high-capacity electrodes developed over the last few years, these can be made using the equipment already found in today's battery factories.

The key is a stretchy, highly conductive polymer binder that can be used to hold together silicon, tin, and other materials that can store a lot of energy but that are ordinarily unstable. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory painstakingly engineered this new polymer binder and used it to make a silicon anode for a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a storage capacity 30% greater than those on the market today. It's also more stable over time than previously developed electrodes.

When a lithium-ion battery is charged, lithium-ions are taken up by one of the electrodes, called the anode. The more lithium the anode can hold, the more energy the battery can store. Silicon is one of the most promising anode materials: it can store 10 times more lithium than graphite, which is used to make the anodes in the lithium-ion batteries on the market today. "Graphite soaks up lithium like a sponge, holding its shape, but silicon is more like a balloon", says Gao Liu, a researcher at the Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

However, because the silicon anodes swell and shrink, changing in volume by three or four times as they're charged and discharged, the capacity of the battery fades over time. "After a few rounds of charge and discharge, pretty soon the silicon particles are not in touch with each other", which means the anode can't conduct electricity, says Liu.

One approach to the problem is to structure these anodes in a totally different way, for example growing shaggy arrays of silicon nanowires that can bend, swell, and move around as lithium enters and exits. This approach is being commercialised by Amprius, a startup in Palo Alto, California. But growing nanowires requires new processes that aren't normally used in battery manufacturing.

Today's anodes are made by painting a solvent-based slurry of graphite particles held together with a binder, a simple process that keeps costs low. The Berkeley researchers believe the key to making new battery materials like silicon work is to stick with this manufacturing process. That meant coming up with a rubbery binder that would stick to silicon particles, remain highly conductive in the harsh environment of the anode, and stretch and contract as the anode swells and deflates.

Tenants seek energy efficiency

Adelaide Advertiser
4 Oct 2011, Page: 23

Solar energy company Zen Home Energy Systems says rising energy prices and falling solar system costs are encouraging commercial property owners to tap into solar power. Zen Home Energy chief executive Richard Turner said the commercial property sector had traditionally been slow to adopt solar power, believing it to be too expensive to retrofit existing buildings. "However, things have changed in recent times", he said, "which will now make solar power more attractive to the commercial sector".

Mr Turner said the solar industry would be further supported by the Federal Government's Clean Energy Future program which will allocate $200 million to helping Australian businesses in food and beverage processing, metal forging and foundries industries improve energy efficiency. Zen Home Energy's recently completed projects include the installation of 156 solar panels at Lake Breeze Wines in Langhorne Creek. It says the power generated is expected to reduce emissions by up to 100 tonnes a year.

Knight Frank state managing director Peter McVann said the solar push was part of a growing trend towards greener workplaces. "The Adelaide marketplace is continually evolving with the latest impetus towards more energy efficient and sustainable properties", he said. "Tenants, government and private, are accepting that they have a social responsibility for a greener and more energy efficient environment".

Shame, Premier

The Saturday Age
1 Oct 2011, Page: 21

THE brown coal industry is clearly laughing all the way into our polluted future. Our appointment with a long established solar power company was cancelled this week because it was going into receivership. So, with Premier Ted Baillieu introducing Australia's most restrictive planning laws for wind farms (The Age, 30/8), and with solar power companies closing, we are left with the joys of "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing of coal seam gass) and brown coal. Brickbats to the government for such appalling policies.

Cathy Humphreys, North Melbourne

Revived roof turbines get their second wind

Hobart Mercury
1 Oct 2011, Page: 13

Wind turbines atop the Marine Board Building on Hobart's waterfront are operating again. In August last year two of the four wind turbines failed, causing $100,000 damage less than a month after they began operating. But now the wind power is being collected again with four new turbines. The new turbines have more safety mechanisms including improved braking, said Rob Manson, director of the I Want Energy company, which operates the turbines.

He said he was "100% happy" an incident like the previous one would not occur. "A lot of thought and effort has gone into it they are a lot stronger", Mr Manson said. Project manager Keith Drew said the launch of the new turbines yesterday was the culmination of months of work and testing to improve the design and ensure the safety systems worked.

"The braking mechanism on the turbines has now been redesigned so that unlike the previous design, where it was possible to allow the turbines to start operating without activating the electromechanical brakes, by default the brakes will be on unless all safety systems are operating properly", he said. "The brakes will now only release when there is electrical power to the system and the weather conditions are suitable for the turbines to operate safely. "This means the brakes come on if there is a loss of power, if the wind becomes too strong or if the control system has detected a fault".

Mr Drew said extra caution had been taken to ensure confidence in the new system and Workplace Standards had been closely involved. People wanting to access the roof of the building need a security card. There are also video cameras monitoring the rooftop. "This new system of check and double-check, then triple-check along with the redesigned control systems of the wind turbines means the installation is now as safe as we can possibly make it", Mr Drew said. The turbines will be continually monitored and independently checked to ensure they are operated properly and pose no risk to public safety. The four turbines could generate up to 10% of the building's power consumption.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Defence of solar power industry

Courier Mail
1 Oct 2011, Page: 66

THE front page story (C-M, Sept 28) on "poor quality" solar power inverters left out several important details. Although thousands of solar power systems have been installed this year in Queensland, the number of customer complaints remains remarkably low. The Office of Fair Trading has received only 37 complaints about inverters during 2011 and the Clean Energy Council only 17 in the past 18 months.

To qualify for the Federal Government's solar rebates, all installers must be accredited with the Clean Energy Council and use parts that meet Australian Standards. Although a small percentage of faults are inevitable with any electrical product, Queensland's solar power industry has an excellent quality and safety record. There are now thousands of Queenslanders who are reducing their power bills and helping to cut carbon pollution at the same time. Of course, customers are always encouraged to do their research before making a major purchase.

Mark Bretherton, Clean Energy Council

Institute of public apathy

Sunday Age
2 Oct 2011, Page: 18

THANKS, Chris Berg, for devoting an entire column to implying that the failure of one government subsidised solar power company in the US means renewable energy doesn't work. You dismissed a carbon price or tax as government intervention in the market, and even managed to squeeze in a paragraph pointing out that the federal opposition's entire climate change policy rests on such schemes.

So what does the Institute of Public Affairs recommend we do about climate change and moving to renewable energy sources when non-renewables run out? Presumably nothing.

Matt Holden, Coburg

Wind farm deadline looms in Victoria

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

Wind farm developers have been told by the Victorian government that they must begin construction on projects in the state before March 2012 to avoid having to reapply under new regulations. The low Renewable Energy Certificate price currently makes it uneconomical for the generators to begin development, being at what Kane Thornton from the Clean Energy Council calls 'lower than what it needs to be to commercialise projects.'

Analysis from the Greens shows that ACCIONA Energy Australia, Mitsui & Co and Union Fenosa Wind Australia will be affected. Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the government, despite using the number of approved wind farm projects to counter claims the state is too heavily reliant on coal, 'will have all but wiped out the industry' within the next few years. State opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee described the policy as 'a lack of common sense.'

Monday 3 October 2011


West Australian
28 Sep 2011, Page: 22

Piers Verstegen is correct in exposing the veil of secrecy of the coal seam gas fracking industry, which is now extending its influence into WA. There is the possibility that this may cause widespread contamination of our water aquifers by toxic and cancer-inducing chemicals.

The coal seam gas promoters are not keen on providing public information. The Barnett Government is also in a rush to approve coal seam gas and other gas projects, while discouraging investment in renewable energy These fossil fuels produce less CO₂ in their combustion than coal, but their widespread use as an interim fuel will still push global warming to dangerous levels. This will be their greatest threat to our health.

Greg Glazov, Gnangara

Oil giant supports carbon tax

West Australian
28 Sep 2011, Page: 19

The world's biggest oil company has emerged as a surprise supporter of Julia Gillard's carbon tax and wants it made permanent. Exxon-Mobil said a carbon tax was a cheaper and more efficient way of combating climate change than an emissions trading scheme. Under the Gillard Government's climate change package, the price of carbon permits big polluters need to buy will be fixed for the first three years of the carbon tax when it is introduced in July.

The fixed price starts at $23 a tonne and increases by the inflation rate plus an extra 2.5% each year. In mid-2015, the carbon tax will switch to an emissions trading scheme, with a floating price for permits set by the market and an overall cap on the amount of CO₂ that can be emitted. Treasury estimates the price of permits in 2015 will be $29 a tonne.

In a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the Government's carbon package, Exxon-Mobil said the price of carbon permits under trading schemes was too volatile and unpredictable, discouraging companies from investing in emissions lowering technology "Exxon-Mobil believes that a well designed, revenue-neutral carbon tax mechanism would be a more cost-effective alternative for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: when combined with further advances in energy efficiency and new technologies spurred by market innovation, we are confident that a carbon tax could play a significant role in addressing the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions", the submission said.

Despite its support for a carbon price, Exxon-Mobil which owns a quarter share of the huge Gorgon project warned promised assistance to LNG producers to have 66% of their carbon liability covered still left them at "significant disadvantage against international competition".

The risks of a floating price were highlighted yesterday after the Business Council of Australia warned the emissions trading scheme could punch a $9 billion hole in the Budget over five years if permits trade much closer to the floor price of $15 a tonne than the $29 forecast by Treasury One of the nation's most respected economists, Professor John Fairbairn, used a public forum in Canberra yesterday to argue that under the carbon tax, businesses would deliver bigger cuts in emissions at much lower cost than even Treasury had estimated.

Professor Fairbairn said under the acid rain emissions trading scheme in the US, businesses had changed their practices rapidly and in ways never envisioned. He said local businesses would deliver "threefold" on the expected cuts in carbon emissions.

Citizen Garnaut slams carbon critics over 'extreme distortion'

28 Sep 2011, Page: 6

Ross Garnaut has fired back at critics of the carbon tax he helped craft, accusing its opponents of bringing "elaborate and extreme" distortions to the public debate. In a passionate appearance before the joint parliamentary committee considering the Gillard government's draft carbon legislation, Professor Garnaut yesterday said in, "egregious" incorrect claims had become prominent, potentially corrupting the democratic process.

"Australian public discussion of climate change policy over recent times has been the locus of more elaborate and extreme distortion of reality and abuse of truth than I have seen in an adult lifetime of interest in policy", he said. "Our generation risks condemnation in history for the corruption of our democracy embodied in this distortion of reality and abuse of truth".

Professor Garnaut, who is a professorial economics fellow at the University of Melbourne, conducted the Rudd government's climate change review, as well as more recent updates that have helped build the platform for the carbon tax package. He said he was appearing before the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation as a private citizen. Professor Garnaut cited common errors including the "frequent assertion" that Australia would be doing more than its fair share by implementing the carbon tax.

"What is proposed for Australia's legislation cannot in any way be seen as more than a fair share", he said. "The policy that underpins the draft legislation currently before the parliament allows Australia to do its fair share at reasonable economic cost and a far lower economic cost than the main alternatives that have been put forward in public discussion".

He said there had been "particularly egregious distortion" regarding the lack of a national emissions trading scheme in the US, where individual states have introduced their own legislation to reduce emissions. "There will be no carbon price nationwide,,. but there will be very strong policies of other kinds", he said. "You can have carbon constraints without carbon prices. "In fact, the carbon constraints through regulatory processes that have been applied in China and the US in many cases impose more costs on businesses and households than carbon pricing to achieve equivalent reductions in emissions".