Thursday 22 December 2011

Installing 12kW solar power system just got easier, says Soitec
13 Dec 2011

Soitec has expanded its family of concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) products with a model that it claims is the first stand-alone mini-tracker for panels measuring 3m². The target solar power application for the stand-alone mini-tracker, dubbed Plug&Sun, is to supplement or replace existing power generators or other forms of renewable energy in sunny regions with no power grid or unreliable grid connections. The supplier claims efficiency close to 30%. The system uses a two-axis tracker to generate up to 2.3kWp of electricity.

The France-based supplier expects the mini-tracker to be used to bring electricity to an isolated village, to equip a school or a hospital with electrical infrastructure. It can also be used to power RF antennas. "We wanted to make it possible to use our technology in geographical regions where access to electricity is difficult to get", said Andre-Jacques Auberton-Herve, president and CEO of Soitec. "It takes just a few hours to set up three Plug&Sun mini-trackers, which can generate 12kW on a daily basis, the equivalent of the amount of electricity needed for a village", said Auberton-Herve. Soitec has begun taking prototype orders for the Plug&Sun system. Shipments of production units to customers are expected to begin in the course of 2012.

Japan says stricken nuclear power plant in cold shutdown
16 Dec 2011

TOKYO, Dec 16 (Reuters)-Japan declared its tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant to be in cold shutdown on Friday, taking a major step to resolving the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years but some critics questioned whether the plant was really under control. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was wrecked on March 11 by a huge earthquake and a towering tsunami which knocked out its cooling systems, triggering meltdowns, radiation leaks and mass evacuations.

In making the much-anticipated announcement, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda tried to draw a line under the most acute phase of the crisis and highlighted the next challenges: the clean-up and the safe dismantling of the plant, something the government says may take more than 30 years. "The reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown", Noda told a government nuclear emergency response meeting. "A stable condition has been achieved", he added, noting radiation levels at the boundary of the plant could now be kept at low levels, even in the event of "unforeseeable incidents".

A cold shutdown is when water used to cool nuclear fuel rods remains below boiling point, preventing the fuel from reheating. One of the chief aims of the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), had been to bring the reactors to that state by the year-end. The declaration of a cold shutdown could have repercussions well beyond the plant. It is a government pre-condition for allowing about 80,000 residents evacuated from within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the plant to go home.

Both Noda and his environment and nuclear crisis minister Goshi Hosono said that while the government still faced huge challenges, the situation at the plant was under control. That provoked an angry response from senior local officials, Greenpeace and some reporters even as the Vienna-based UN nuclear agency welcomed "significant progress" at the plant. "We hope that this will be a fresh step towards going back home but it does not change the fact that the path to bringing the crisis under control is long and tough", Fukushima governor Yuhei Sato said, according to the Asahi newspaper website.

Greenpeace dismissed the announcement as a publicity stunt. "By triumphantly declaring a cold shutdown, the Japanese authorities are clearly anxious to give the impression that the crisis has come to an end, which is clearly not the case", Greenpeace Japan said in a statement. Hosono acknowledged that there were some areas where it would be difficult to bring people back and said there could be small difficulties here and there, but he told a briefing: "I believe there will be absolutely no situation in which problems escalate and nearby residents are forced to evacuate".

The water temperature in all three of the affected reactors fell below boiling point by September, but Tepco had said it would declare a state of cold shutdown only once it was satisfied that the temperatures and the amount of radiation emitted from the plant remained stable. Jonathan Cobb, an expert at the British-based World Nuclear Association, said the authorities had been conservative in choosing the timing of the announcement.

"The government has delayed declaration of cold shutdown conditions, one reason being to ensure that the situation at the plant was stable", Cobb said, adding that the evacuation zone should get progressively smaller as more of it was decontaminated. Kazuhiko Kudo, professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University, said authorities needed to determine exactly the status of melted fuel inside the reactors and stabilise a makeshift cooling system, which handles the tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water accumulated on-site.

Huge Costs, Anxiety
The government and Tepco will aim to begin removing the undamaged nuclear rods from the plant's spent fuel pools next year. However, retrieval of fuel that melted down in their reactors may not begin for another decade. The enormous cost of the cleanup and compensating the victims has drained Tepco financially. The government may inject about $13 billion into the company as early as next summer in a de facto nationalisation, sources told Reuters last week.

An official advisory panel estimates Tepco may have to pay about 4.5 trillion yen ($57 billion) in compensation in the first two years after the nuclear crisis, and that it will cost 1.15 trillion yen to decommission the plant, though some experts put it at 4 trillion yen ($51 billion) or even more. Japan also faces a massive cleanup task outside the east coast plant if residents are to be allowed to go home. The Environment Ministry says about 2,400 square km (930 square miles) of land around the plant may need to be decontaminated, an area roughly the size of Luxembourg.

The crisis shook the public's faith in nuclear power and Japan is now reviewing an earlier plan to raise the proportion of electricity generated from nuclear power to 50% by 2030 from 30% in 2010. Japan may not immediately walk away from nuclear power, but few doubt that nuclear power will play a lesser role in future. Living in fear of radiation is part of life for residents both near and far from the plant. Cases of excessive radiation in vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water have stoked anxiety despite assurances from public officials that the levels detected are not dangerous. Chernobyl's experience shows that anxiety is likely to persist for years, with residents living near the former Soviet plant still regularly checking produce for radiation before consuming it 25 years after the disaster.

EON invests $9 Billion in renewables as Germany drops nuclear
16 Dec 2011

E.ON AG, Germany's biggest utility, said it's investing 7 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in renewable energy projects over the next five years as the country drops nuclear power generation. E.ON plans to build at least three offshore wind projects, including the 1 billion-euro Amrumbank West farm in the North Sea, Dusseldorf-based E.ON said in an e-mailed statement today. Siemens AG, Europe's biggest engineering company, will supply the the 288- MW plant with 80 of its turbines.

"Renewables are a cornerstone of our strategy, and offshore wind is one of E.ON's growth areas", Chief Executive Officer Johannes Teyssen said in the statement. "We intend to commission a new offshore wind farm every 18 months". Germany, Europe's biggest economy, seeks to install 10,000 MWs of sea-based wind turbines this decade as it raises the share of renewables and phases out atomic energy. Utilities including E.ON and RWE AG (RWE) are selling assets and cutting jobs to lower costs and boost profit margins as the nuclear exit removes revenue streams.

E.ON is cutting as many as 11,000 positions and announced a 64% slide in nine-month profit, in part because of the phase-out. The utility plans a 219- MW wind farm off the U.K, and a 48- MW facility off Sweden's southern Baltic Sea coast. Both projects, which have a combined cost of about 970 million euros, will use turbines supplied by Vestas Wind Systems AS, E.ON said. Japan's Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster in March spurred Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to revise its nuclear power policy with a plan to shut the country's 17 reactors by 2022.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Uranium stocks looking ugly post-Fukushima as short-interest rises
12 Dec 2011

Uranium markets are still on the ropes, even nine months after the terrible natural disaster that caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Market sentiment has turned even more negative, as short-interest in uranium mining equities has increased substantially as of late, according to Data Explorers.

The nuclear power industry has been under fire after the Japanese disaster, with uranium markets taking much of the hit. The Global X Uranium ETF (URA), which acts as a proxy for the sector, is down more than 58% this year to $8.56, while spot uranium prices have tumbled from highs near $75 per pound to around $52, according to TradeTech and the Ux Consulting Company, which prepare the two most widespread uranium price indices.

Investors violently shorted uranium miners via the URA after the accident, with demand to borrow URA shares surging 10% since March. Short-covering in August, which happened to coincide with a global sell-off in equity markets, brought the short-interest to a nearly insignificant level, Data Explorers explained. But investor sentiment remains skewed against uranium miners. Short-interest has moved from the URA to individual stocks. Looking at the top 10 holdings of URA, "average short-interest has increased 25% over a three month period to 6% of total shares", wrote analysts at Data Explorers.

Uranium Energy Corp, and USEC have been among the most heavily shorted stocks in the group. Short-interest in USEC peaked in July at 26% of shares outstanding, falling to 16% by December, as the stock fell to yearly lows. USEC is down 79% this year despite "the highest level of institutional ownership of funds who lend" at about a third of market cap, said the Data Explorers. "Short interest and long flow in Uranium Energy Corp, has reduced at a rate of 5%", explained the analysts, even though it still stands high at 15% of shares outstanding.

Moving on to Cameco, the world's largest uranium producer, short interest appears low at 3%. But given a $7.1 billion market cap and a marked 40% increase in borrowing demand for its shares over the last three months, it appears that negative sentiment is on the rise. Short interest in Cameco stood at 3% of shares outstanding as the share price continues to bounce along the bottom of its yearly range.

Within the uranium industry, some are trying to convince themselves of a bullish long-term trend for prices. TradeTech notes that despite a 9% drop in uranium demand between now and 2025 (given the German and Swiss plans to phase out nuclear power and Italy's plans to abandon nuclear power, among other delays), a potential supply/demand gap could provide support for prices, "While the Fukushima crisis is clearly a setback for nuclear, the industry shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the overall trend in demand is moving upward, due in large part to projected nuclear power growth in China and other nations around the world", said TradeTech president Treva Klingbiel. The outlook in the short-term, though, remains very bleak.

Fire breaks out at waste facility of Tsuruga nuclear plant
13 Dec 2011

TSURUGA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A fire broke out Monday evening at a waste disposal facility of a nuclear power plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, but no one was injured and there was no environmental impact, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said. The fire started at 7:50 p.m. on power-supply equipment of the waste disposal facility for the No. 1 reactor of Japan Atomic Power Co.'s plant, the agency said. The reactor is currently offline due to regular checkups. The incident followed similar fire accidents that occurred at the plant on the Sea of Japan coast since May.

Korean nuclear reactor stops operation
14 Dec 2011

A nuclear reactor in South Korea stopped operating Tuesday for unknown reasons, a state-run nuclear power plant operator said. The Unit-1 reactor with a capacity of 1-million kW in Uljin, 330 km southeast of Seoul, came to a standstill at around 8 p.m., according to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. The plant operator said it is working to find the cause of the stoppage. In October this year, another nuclear reactor at the same plant stopped operations due to a malfunction of the coolant pump.

Monday 19 December 2011

Three Gorges to invest $269 million in China Power for renewables
12 Dec 2011

China Three Gorges Corp., operator of the nation's biggest dam, agreed to pay HK$2.1 billion ($269 million) for a 29.1% stake in renewable energy producer China Power International New Energy Development Co. (735) China Power International New Energy will issue 3.2 billion new shares at HK$0.65 each to China Three Gorges, the Hong Kong-listed company said in a statement to the city's stock exchange today. China Power International New Energy said it will use the proceeds to fund power generation projects.

China is pushing its companies to increase power generation from alternative sources including wind and hydropower as it seeks to cut reliance on coal and oil to reduce pollution. China Three Gorges, which operates the world's largest hydropower power dam, will become the biggest shareholder in China Power International New Energy. The purchase will create "opportunities for the company's further expansion through leveraging the hydropower power capabilities and expertise" of China Three Gorges, China Power International New Energy said in the statement.

New dye will lead to more efficient solar energy technology
12 Dec 2011

A North Carolina State University invention has significant potential to improve the efficiency of solar cells and other technologies that derive energy from light. Dr. Ahmed El-Shafei's research group invented a new "sensitizer", or dye, that harvests more ambient and solar light than any dyes currently on the market for use in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs).

"A third-party solar power company compared our new dye, NCSU-10, against the state-of-the-art dye on the market. Our dye had 14% more power density", says El-Shafei, an assistant professor in the Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science department. "In other words, NCSU-10 allows us to harvest more energy from the same amount of light".

The new dye should significantly boost the efficiency of DSSCs, which have a host of applications. Indoors, these DSSCs can be used in technology to power cellular phones, laptop computers and MP3 players using ambient light. Outdoors, they could be used in conventional solar arrays or in improved energy-driven applications for building-integrated photovoltaic products including, but not limited to, windows, facades and skylights. Compared to the state-of-the-art dye on the market, NCSU-10 can absorb more photons at lower dye concentrations, and can therefore be used to create more effective solar cells on windows and facades while still allowing the windows to be highly transparent.

DSSCs are made of inexpensive and environmentally benign materials including a dye, an electrolyte and titanium dioxide (TiO2)-the white component used in toothpaste. DSSCs work by absorbing photons, or discrete packets of light energy, from incident light (or direct light that falls on a surface) to create free electrons in nanoporous semiconductors such as TiO2, in the cell. These electrons travel to the outside circuit to generate an electric current. Owing to their independence on the angle of incident light and high response to low level of lighting conditions, DSSCs outperform conventional silicon photovoltaic by 20 to 40% under diffuse light, on cloudy and/or rainy days, and in indoor ambient light, which make DSSCs a unique class of photovoltaics.

A patent is pending on the new dye, and the university is in communication with potential industry partners about licensing use of NCSU-10, as well as funding additional research in this area.

Thousands caught out by solar panel deadline
12 Dec 2011

One of Britain's largest solar panel installers, Homesun, said 2,500 of its customers who had missed today's deadline to avoid a 50pc cut in subsidy for self-generated electricity. In a sudden decision last month, the Government said it would halve the amount it would pay those who generate electricity from photovoltaic panels.

Daniel Green, chief executive of Homesun, said the company would aim to help these people, who will be significantly disadvantaged by the cut. He indicated that they could be offered free or deeply discounted panels. "We have paid a lot to have this relationship with these people and they have invested a lot of time", he said.

Consumers had rushed to register their panels before the deadline expired. The Microgeneration Certification scheme said it had provided installers with up to 9,000 certificates for the panels every day in the past week, compared to volumes of about 500 a day before that. After today, those who install and register solar panels will see a 50pc fall in the amount they receive for every kW generated, with the total per unit falling from 43.3p to 21p per kW. The "export" tariff, which is the additional 3.1p per kW for any electricity sold on to the grid, will not change.

Customers who had already signed contracts for panels have scrambled to register their installations before the date, with some fearing that they will lose out. The timing of the move has been criticised by environmental campaigners and the green energy industry. They claim that the decision will cost thousands of jobs.