Saturday 11 February 2012

Rising temperatures at Fukushima raise questions over stability of nuclear plant
8 Feb 2012

The amount of cooling water being injected into No 2 reactor is increased after temperature soars to over 73°C Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant say they are regaining control of a reactor after its temperature rose dramatically this week, casting doubt on government claims that the facility has been stabilised. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power [TEPCO] was forced to increase the amount of cooling water being injected into the No 2 reactor after its temperature soared to 73.3°C earlier this week.

By Tuesday night, the temperature had dropped to 68.5°C at the bottom of the reactor's containment vessel, where molten fuel is believed to have accumulated after three of Fukushima Daiichi's six reactors suffered meltdown after last year's tsunami disaster. The temperature at the bottom of the No 2 reactor vessel had risen by more than 20°C in the space of several days, although it remained below the 93°C limit the US nuclear regulatory commission sets for a safe state known as cold shutdown. TEPCO said it had also injected water containing boric acid to prevent a nuclear chain reaction known as re-criticality.

The operator said the sudden rise in temperature did not call in to question the government's declaration in December that all three damaged reactors had achieved cold shutdown. "The temperature of the reactor pressure vessel seems to be close to peaking out", Junichi Matsumoto, a TEPCO spokesman, told reporters. Late last year, however, the minister in charge of the response to the Fukushima disaster, Goshi Hosono, conceded that officials had no idea about the exact location of molten uranium fuel but assumed that it had come to rest at the bottom of its containment vessels.

Hosono said the temperature rise may have been triggered by work to replace a cooling pipe after freezing weather in north-eastern Japan caused a number of water leaks at the site. The use of bigger volumes of water to cool the No 2 reactor presents TEPCO with the additional problem of a build-up of radioactive water. The utility said recently it had processed more than 220,000 cubic metres of contaminated water using treatment facilities, but added that as much as 95,000 cubic metres-enough to fill 38 Olympic-sized swimming pools-may have accumulated in the reactors' basements.

TEPCO workers started injecting water into overheating reactors after the 11 March tsunami crippled the backup power supply to cooling systems. The Fukushima Daiichi accident has led to the closure of all but three of Japan's 54 reactors, to undergo regular maintenance and new stress tests designed to gauge their ability to withstand powerful earthquakes and tsunamis. The Yomiuri Shimbun said this week that the government planned to restart two reactors in Ohi, western Japan, before the last reactor is due to go offline at the end of April. If the restarts do not take place by then, Japan will be without a single working nuclear reactor.

But the trade minister, Yukio Edano, said that no deadline had been set to restart any reactors, a move some experts say should wait until the official investigation into the Fukushima accident has been completed. Edano acknowledged that an early restart would be difficult, given lingering public concern over the safety of nuclear power. "The only standard is whether we can gain a certain level of understanding from the local people and the public", he said.

Research reveals how birds and wind turbines can safely coexist
7 Feb 2012

(US) A recent incident in which over 400 birds were killed at AES' Laurel Mountain wind farm in West Virginia cast wind turbines in a negative light, and underscores a growing concern for wind farm owners and operators. But the real culprit for the occurrence was dusk-to-dawn lighting-including a series of 250 W high-sodium lamps mounted on utility poles. However, the incident could have easily been avoided if the project's owners or consultants had taken steps to avoid the effect of non-flashing lights on migrating birds.

A similar incident occurred in May 2003, when 20 night-migrating songbirds were killed at the Mountaineer Wind Project on Backbone Mountain in West Virginia. A research team discovered that the birds had collided with the wind turbine, a fence and other structures associated with a substation located approximately 50 meters away.

After reporting the event to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, the research team determined that the fatality event had been caused by night migrants, which were attracted to the half a dozen sodium vapor lamps that illuminated the substation during dense fog.

Those fatalities were not caused by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) L-864 flashing red strobe-like lights that were on the turbines, but by the substation lights, the research team concluded after searching other nearby wind turbines and finding no other fatalities. The substation lights were subsequently extinguished, and no large-scale night migrant fatality events were ever found there again.

Fortunately, incidents like the one that occurred at Mountaineer are very rare. Large-scale bird-fatality events have only happened at wind plants when non-FAA lights have been left on, and they are not unique to wind power facilities. Each year, millions of birds are killed at communication towers, natural-gas pumping stations, tall buildings, ski lifts and other facilities equipped with lights that do not flash. Even the Washington Monument and the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington have killed large numbers of birds. Night migrants collide with these structures after being attracted to non-flashing lights or the reflective glass windows. However, unlike in the case of wind turbines, few rigorous and systematic studies of fatalities at these other structures have been conducted.

In a study conducted at communication towers in Michigan, researchers determined that it is the non-flashing lights-not the flashing ones-that attract birds to their death. At that site, they experimented by changing the lights on communication towers, with approval from the FAA, and they found that guyed towers with only red flashing L-864 lights killed 50% to 70% fewer birds than did towers with steady burning L-810 FAA lights.

Research also found that 475-foot-tall towers with guy wires killed 16 times as many birds as towers of the same height without guy wires. This also helps to explain why wind turbines kill so few night migrants when compared to federally licensed communication towers. Without the guy wires found on many communication towers, turbines have fewer structures to cause collisions. In fact, towers with guy wires and non-flashing lights killed nearly 20 times more birds than did unguyed towers with red flashing lights.

The message is clear: Night migrating birds and non-flashing lights do not mix. For the wind power industry, it is prudent that the FAA recommends flashing red, L-864 obstruction lights for turbines less than 500 feet in height. Extinguishing lights on substations and other structures is a simple and inexpensive measure that can be taken to minimize bird fatalities at wind power facilities. Leaving such lights on attracts not only birds, but also bad publicity for wind power.

U.S. to lease waters off Mid-Atlantic for wind farms
7 Feb 2012

(US) Lighting Maryland homes with power from giant turbines off Ocean City moved closer to reality Thursday, as federal officials announced they are ready to lease vast areas along the Mid-Atlantic coast for wind farms. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a news conference that his staff found that no significant impact on the environment, shipping or other activities would come from letting developers begin studies on for harnessing ocean winds from New Jersey to Virginia.

Salazar, who pledged more than a year ago to streamline the regulatory process for putting turbines offshore, said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would start soliciting bids from potential developers for leasing up to 80,000 acres off Maryland. Eight companies or partnerships had expressed interest in 2010. "So this is not going to be something that's going to be waiting around for multiple years", Salazar said. "We'll have those leases issued by the end of 2012".

It's still likely to be at least five years before construction begins, industry officials and supporters said, assuming the projects costing billions of dollars clear all the regulatory, political and economic hurdles still confronting them. But the federal government's favorable environmental review shortened the red tape by as much as two years, they said, since it meant a more detailed study is not needed at this time.

Once developers sign leases with the federal government, they'll be allowed to post buoys and towers offshore to measure winds and take other readings needed to plan and design their projects. Before starting construction, however, they'll have to perform detailed studies of the potential impact of the towering turbines on fish, birds, bats, shipping and other activities. The studies could take up to two years.

The area available off Maryland's coast would begin 10 nautical miles from the Ocean City beach and stretch 27 nautical miles out to sea. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was on hand for the announcement, called it "a very, very positive step forward". He is counting on offshore wind to help meet Maryland's goal of getting 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2022. "The energy is there", the governor said. "We need the energy.,.. We need the jobs, and we need a more renewable, cleaner greener future for our kids".

For now, O'Malley needs to persuade Maryland state legislators to back his latest proposal for giving financial incentives to develop offshore wind farms. After failing to get a bill through the Legislature last year, he has introduced another with a different approach, which would require Maryland electricity providers to get up to 2.5% of their power from turbines off the coast.

Abigail Hopper, the governor's energy advisor, said O'Malley's legislation would call for getting power from a wind farm of 310 MWs' generating capacity. One or more projects that size should employ about 1,200 people for five years in making and assembling the turbines and related infrastructure, she said, then support about 250 permanent jobs maintaining the facilities.

Lawmakers balked last year over making Maryland residents pay more for their electricity to subsidize offshore wind farms. Offshore wind power could cost up to 20¢ per kW-hour under the governor's bill, roughly double the current cost Baltimore Gas & Electric Co, customers now pay for power produced largely by burning coal. O'Malley's bill would cap the extra cost of offshore wind at no more than $2 a month for households. "This is a big, complicated undertaking", the governor said, "but one we must undertake".

O'Malley said he hopes the federal government might join with the states in pledging to buy power from offshore wind farms, which would help developers secure the financing needed to go forward. Salazar said that O'Malley had telephoned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus this week urging the service, which has bases in Virginia and Maryland, to consider making such a commitment. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech that the Navy would buy enough clean energy to power a quarter-million homes a year, but did not provide details.

Salazar's announcement was attended by environmental activists who support offshore wind and by business representatives interested either in bidding for leases or in making turbine parts and related facilities. Among them was Prasad Karunakaran, CEO and founder of Nadicom, a new iron-casting company based in Fulton in Howard County that aims to build wind turbine components. The company is building its first factory in Iowa to supply the booming land-based wind power industry there, he said, but is interested in setting up operations in Maryland as well. "We know it's five years out", Karunakaran said, "but our eyes are open to the offshore market".

The area off Maryland's coast that would be open for leasing is less than half the size of what had originally been proposed. It was limited to avoid conflicts with ships entering and leaving Delaware Bay. Other areas may be excluded as more studies are done. The draft environmental assessment issued last summer included an option for shrinking the state's offshore wind leasing area even more-by roughly 80%-to steer clear of other areas shippers may be concerned about. The final report passed over that option, without explanation.

But Dana E. Goward, director of maritime transportation systems at the US Coast Guard, said the service is still studying potential shipping issues with wind turbines along the Atlantic coast and may yet recommend other areas be removed from leasing. Bird lovers also reacted cautiously to Thursday's announcement.

Kurt R. Schwarz, conservation chair for the Maryland Ornithological Society, said his group has concerns about the potential for the 400-foot tall turbines to disrupt or harm migrating birds, particularly red knots, which stop off in Delaware Bay every spring on their annual flight from Brazil to Canada. Their numbers have fallen so much in recent years that they're under consideration for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Schwarz said the knots' migration flight path takes them through wind turbine leasing areas off the Maryland and Delaware coasts.

Officials pointed out that those and other concerns would need to be addressed by wind developers before any turbines could be built, and that the only structures being put up in the next year or two would be a handful of meteorological towers to monitor winds and weather conditions. Those towers would not pose a significant risk to birds, officials said. But Schwarz said that lighting on the towers would need to be set up to avoid attracting birds, contending there have been documented cases of large kills associated with lights on similar individual structures on land.

Friday 10 February 2012

Radioactive element found in fish far from Vermont nuclear plant
7 Feb 2012

(US) (Reuters)-Trace amounts of a radioactive element found in fish near the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant have now been found in bass in an opposite corner of the state, apparently clearing the plant of any tie to the contamination, a state health official said. Initial testing took place after Entergy Corp.'s Vermont Yankee, located in the southeastern town of Vernon, reported in 2010 that radioactive material had leaked into nearby groundwater.

Low levels of Strontium-90, an isotope produced by nuclear reactions, were found in fish caught in August where groundwater from the plant runs into the Connecticut River, state authorities said. Now, new tests of bass caught 150 miles away in northwestern Vermont and outside the area affected by the plant's groundwater show similar levels of Strontium-90, said William Irwin, chief of the Vermont Health Department's radiological division.

The likely source, rather than Vermont Yankee, is residue from above-ground nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s and the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Soviet Union in 1986, he said. "These are very very tiny amounts of radioactivity", Irwin told Reuters on Tuesday. "They were very close to being non-detectable". Despite state efforts to close Vermont Yankee, a federal judge has ruled that the 40-year-old plant can remain open because the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sole jurisdiction over radioactivity and health concerns.

Industry welcomes renewed commitment to Solar Flagships program
7 Feb 2012

Australia's peak body for renewable energy said the Solar Flagships announcement this afternoon by the Federal Government was an important restatement of its commitment to the development of large scale solar. "Solar Flagships is a critical first step in demonstrating the potential of large scale solar in Australia, and breaking through the range of challenges that face any new renewable energy technology", said Clean Energy Council acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton. "This experience will ensure a pipeline of large scale solar projects can be developed faster and at lower cost.

"Solar Flagships is raising awareness about the many challenges associated with this emerging area and helping project developers learn how to design, finance and construct this exciting future source of power. We need to do the hard yards now if we want to take advantage of Australia's massive potential for large scale solar. "The combination of Solar Flagships, the 20% Renewable Energy Target, a carbon price and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will deliver the necessary support for large scale solar and other large-scale renewable energy projects.

"The round 1 projects had to navigate some very tough financial conditions to try and secure project financing. There is no easy solution to this and we believe the government has taken a sensible approach in the circumstances", he said. The two projects selected in the first round of Solar Flagships, Solar Dawn in Queensland and the Moree Solar Farm in NSW, missed the December 2011 deadline to meet their funding obligations.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson announced today that the deadline for Solar Dawn has been extended, and that the Moree Solar Farm consortium will need to re-submit an application. This will then be considered along with the shortlisted solar photovoltaic (PV) projects from AGL Energy, TRUEnergy and Infigen Energy-Suntech Power. Mr Thornton said the Australian Financial Review today incorrectly reported that the Clean Energy Council was calling on the Federal Government to consider forcing energy retailers to sign power purchase agreements for renewable energy.

"This is not correct. While we agree there are currently challenges facing renewable energy projects in securing power purchase agreements, we believe that the swift implementation of new measures under the Clean Energy Future package along with the 20% renewable energy target are the best way to achieve these outcomes", he said.

Share the air: Wind turbines, Navy jets keeping Texas truce
6 Feb 2012

(US) KINGSVILLE--An unusual standoff is taking place in the south Texas skies: It's clean energy against the United States Navy. For 70 years, the Navy has trained half of all of its jets pilots at the Kingsville Naval Air Station, but recently, the station's radar has been detecting something else in the air-wind turbines. The problem isn't the turbines themselves, Capt. Mark McLaughlin said. "We are not going to fly into these things", he said. "We're better than that".

The issue actually happens in the Navy's command center, where on radar, a wind turbine looks just like a Navy jet. "Now you have the issue of (determining) where's the airplane and what's the interference", McLaughlin said. "Can I separate the two? What happens if there are two airplanes? Can I keep them and the interference separate so we can avoid a mid-air collision?" Wind power source growing Within 25 miles of the Kingsville NAS, there are 164 wind turbines already operating, and there are plans for 1,400 more.

Greg Wortham with the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse said hundreds of wind turbines are on schedule to be built this year near Kingsville. Each one, he said, can provide enough electricity for 700 homes in Texas. The wind power advocate said these wind farms along the coast will keep electric bills down in San Antonio and the economy up in Kingsville and Corpus Christi. "These projects mean so much to school districts, hospital districts (and) counties in terms of the tax revenue, the sales tax revenue, the jobs that they bring into these communities", Wortham said.

The reason wind developers are targeting the Texas coast is because of what Wortham calls peak performance wind. "Which means as people turn on their air conditioners in Corpus Christi, San Antonio (and) Houston, the energy force (the wind) is picking up here almost at the same level". Windy conditions good for flight training The Navy said the wind patterns are the same reason it trains its pilots along the Texas coast. "We have a tremendous asset down here. It's our wind", McLaughlin said. "It's the same reason we want to fly down here. We need that wind to simulate an aircraft carrier environment, which is arguably the hardest thing in aviation today".

McLaughlin said his air station is willing to work with wind farm developers. The Navy is developing new radar technology and studying wind turbine formations in hopes of finding ways to mitigate the problem. However, the Navy said it will take time and is asking green energy developers to move slowly. "We really need to work with these developers and we are, so they can get what they need--the wind--without having them impact our mission down here", he said.

But with the uncertain future of federal subsidies, many wind farm developers said now is the time to capitalize. "All of south Texas and the coast needs this energy", Wortham said. The Navy said there's enough room for both in the Texas skies, but the radar technology needed for both has yet to take flight, and until it does, the Navy will do whatever it takes to protect its mission.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Too much power? BPA looks at ways to store excess energy
6 Feb 2012

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP)-Think of it as a giant energy bank. Withdraw when you need it; deposit when you don't.

The concept has been used before, most notably in the natural gas storage facilities that are common across the country. But a group of researchers led by the Richland-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Bonneville Power Administration are exploring whether that idea can be put to use in a different form. The goal: storing excess energy in the form of compressed air and water in the Northwest's expansive, porous underground basalt formations.

Researchers are a long way from proving that it's doable here, or that it makes financial sense to pull the trigger. But if successful, the concept could have big implications for a Northwest power grid strained by an ever-growing forest of wind turbines pumping new energy into the system. "The ultimate objective is to be able to store and shape and shore up renewable energy resources like wind", said Steve Knudsen, a BPA project manager helping with the study, which began last fall. "You would use it essentially as a load to soak up and store excess wind power".

Excess energy has been a problem in the past. Just last year, unusually high flows in the Columbia River Basin put the region's hydroelectric dams at maximum capacity. The situation led to a well-publicized dust-up between the BPA and the region's wind generators when the BPA ordered them to shut down to avoid overloading the grid.

Wind farms objected. A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision last December ruled in their favor. If the concept pans out, BPA and PNNL researchers are hoping the new form of energy storage helps alleviate similar over-generation events. "The compression takes that load", said PNNL laboratory fellow Pete McGrail.

Here's how it works: Compressed air energy storage plants would take on the extra power produced by wind farms, for example, and use that energy to pump compressed air into a huge bubble underground-keeping it off the rest of the power grid when it's not needed. When generation is low, the plants would release some of that pressurized air back out of the ground, using it to produce electricity through the same turbines. The technology has the potential to regenerate more than 75% of the energy that was used for storage, McGrail said.

A second method would use a similar concept to pump water into the ground in a sort of enhanced geothermal system, again banking energy for later use. The two ideas are being studied concurrently. They may even be able to work together under the right conditions, McGrail said. The concept would need a lot of room to work-researchers are thinking in the neighbourhood of 10 million cubic meters of underground storage, McGrail said. It's unclear whether wind generators themselves will weigh in on the study. PNNL hasn't actively reached out to developers so far. Two major national wind players, Iberdrola Renewables and Horizon Wind Energy, also maintain corporate offices in the Northwest.

At least two other examples of air compression energy storage exist in the U.S, and Germany, Knudsen said. But the idea hasn't been applied on such a large scale in the Northwest's unique landscape. If it's feasible, however, it could theoretically absorb all the wind power generated on the BPA grid over about a week, Knudsen said. "If you tried to do that with batteries, it would take a battery complex the size of a small city", he said, noting compressor plants would have relatively little above-ground impact.

Potential seismic impacts aren't a big concern, McGrail said. The study focuses mostly on eastern Washington and Oregon, where seismic activity is generally quiet. The $790,000 study, with half paid by BPA and half by cost-share participants, is still in its early stages. Researchers are using computer models and existing geologic data to explore possibilities. The yearlong research project is expected to wrap up late this year. So is it feasible? The jury's still out. "I'm much more encouraged about the technical feasibility than I was maybe at the outset", McGrail said. Whether it's economically feasible, however, is another matter entirely. Researchers haven't yet drawn up cost estimates for any potential storage system. "That's definitely the million-dollar question", McGrail said.

China increases solar thermal business 12-fold since 2005, 18% domestic growth in 2011
8 Feb 2012, 12

Within 6 years, the Chinese solar thermal industry increased its export business 12-fold, from USD 20 million in 2005 to USD 250 million in 2010, Solrico (Bielefeld, Germany) reports. In 2011, the newly installed collector area in China has jumped up another 18% to 57.6 million m² (40.3 GW). Putting the focus on solar technology has proven to be the right step: Nowadays, significantly more new solar water heaters are being installed per year than gas or electric water heaters.

These and other market figures were presented by the retired head of the China Solar Thermal Industry Federation (CSTIF), Zhentao Luo, during the IEA SHC roadmap workshop in Beijing in November 2011. Chinese solar thermal market grows in cities as well as in rural regions According to Luo's presentation, "China's Solar Thermal Industry Development Status and Prospects", the national solar thermal market has grown remarkably in urban areas. The share of city-wide installations has increased from 40% in 2010 to an estimated 45% in 2011. The other half of the market is concentrated in the rural regions. Residential hot water heaters dominating the market

The Chinese market is still dominated by residential hot water applications. "There are no more than 10 solar cooling systems currently running in China", professor Luo says, who also counted "around 100 solar space heating systems in operation or under construction". This sector received support by the government between 2006 and 2008. "359 solar projects received financial support from the central government, 41% of them were solar heating installations. The grant level was between 50 and 100 RMB per m2 floor space (6 to 12 EUR/m2) when using a solar combi system.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Obama opens offshore wind power along mid-Atlantic coast
4 Feb 2012

(US) The Obama administration this past week unveiled plans to boost U.S, offshore wind power by opening up four new wind-leasing regions for wind turbine power generation. Covering an expanse of nearly 800 square miles, the edges of the four zones would range from seven miles away from New Jersey's shore to 37 miles off the coast of Virginia. The announcement signaled one big step closer to the reality of wind farms popping up along the eastern seaboard.

An environmental assessment by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found "no significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts" would result from issuing wind power leases in designated Outer Continental Shelf areas, including zones off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

"When it comes to powering our nation's homes, businesses and economy, we need to take an all-of-the-above approach to safely and responsibly developing our domestic energy resources", Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday in front of Baltimore's World Trade Center. "Offshore wind holds incredible potential for our country, and we're moving full-steam ahead to accelerate the siting, leasing, and construction of new projects".

Salazar's announcement was an outgrowth of Secretary Salazar's 2010 launch of the department's "Smart from the Start" wind power initiative whose goal was to accelerate siting, leasing, and construction of new offshore wind projects. State officials praised the administration's decision, hailing its expected economic impact. "To create jobs, a modern economy requires modern investments", said Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. "Maryland has emerged as one of the leaders in the effort to harness the power of offshore wind".

Virginia's Maureen Riley Matsen, Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources and Senior Advisor on Energy to Governor Bob McDonnell, called the move "a critical step toward making the valuable wind resource off of Virginia's coast available".

Details of the wind-leasing region:
New Jersey's zone begins seven miles from shore and extends roughly 23 miles seaward. The entire zone is 418 square miles overall. Off the coast of Delaware, leasing is available between incoming and outgoing shipping routes for Delaware Bay. The closest point to shore is 11 miles east from Rehoboth Beach and covers 122 square miles. The Maryland leasing area's western edge is 10 miles from the Ocean City. The entire area is 94 square miles. The western edge of Virginia's zone is 18 miles from Virginia Beach and the eastern edge 37 miles from Virginia Beach. The entire area is 164 square miles.

Thursday's announcement was hailed by wind-energy and environmental advocates who said it would create jobs and help the environment by lessening fossil fuel emissions from energy creation.

"Harnessing the wind blowing off our shores will allow us to power American homes with clean, domestic energy-and create tens of thousands of badly-needed jobs in the process", said Kit Kennedy, Clean Energy Counsel at the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement. "It's time to capture this untapped potential and for the offshore wind industry to take flight in the Mid-Atlantic.

Japan's nuclear problems persist
5 Feb 2012

Leaks of radioactive water have become more frequent at Japan's crippled nuclear power plant, less than two months after it was declared stable. It underlines the continuing challenges facing Tokyo Electric Power Co as it tries to keep the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant under control. A massive earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant last March, resulting in three reactor cores melting Workers spotted a leak on Friday at a water reprocessing unit, which released enough beta rays to cause radiation sickness, TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said.

No one was injured and the leak stopped after bolts were tightened on a tank. He said TEPCO also found that 8.5 tonnes of radioactive water had leaked earlier in the week after a pipe became detached at Unit 4, one of the plant's six reactors. The company earlier had estimated that only a few litres had leaked. Matsumoto said it was unlikely the pipe had been loosened by the many aftershocks that have hit the plant. The structural integrity of the damaged Unit 4 reactor building has long been a major concern among experts. A collapse of its spent-fuel cooling pool could cause a disaster.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

The hidden cost of infinite energy (Part 2)
7 Feb 2012

The chief of Australia’s largest electricity network decries that he has no incentive to rein in our demand for power. Well, academics led by economist Chris Dunstan are touting a detailed plan to slow Australia’s energy spending, drive down prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The energy bosses are listening. But is Canberra ready to act?

Read more…

The hidden cost of infinite energy (Part 1)
6 Feb 2012

Australian power bills are soaring, and much of the cost is not about the actual electricity, but building the gargantuan infrastructure to deal with our unchecked energy use.

Read more…

An excellent two-part series from Ellen Fanning explaining what is wrong with Australia's electricity generation and distribution system and how we can improve its efficiency and lower costs.

US tie-up a boost to solar
5 Feb 2012

THE Australian and United States governments are pressing ahead with a program to strengthen research links between Australian and US solar power specialists, to bring down the cost of solar power applications. At the moment, the capital cost of large-scale solar installations would need to be halved to make them comparable to gas-fired power stations, according to The Australian Financial Review. The program was first mooted in November 2010 following the annual US/Australia ministerial discussions, which included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

They set up a United States-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration, with an Australian contribution of up to $50 million to be managed by the Newcastle-based Australian Solar Institute. The ASI was established by the Australian government in 2009 at Mayfield West in Newcastle. Its remit includes provision of PhD and post-doctoral scholarships, information dissemination and networking opportunities and investment in solar projects. Melbourne-based tenders specialist TenderSearch says applications for the latest funding rounds, in two groupings, close on February 29 and March 8, 2012.

For the first segment, a strategic research initiative, the ASI is seeking expressions of interest for two long-term collaborative national research programs, one in the photovoltaic field and one in concentrated solar power. Shortlisted proposals will be invited to submit more detailed proposals by May this year. Those successful will be expected to collaborate with and manage nodes of research in various institutions as part of a national technology strategy. This will include collaboration with a US partner and alignment with a program of the US Department of Energy.

Iberia power at month-low on wind power surge
1 Feb 2012

  • Spain day-ahead base 43.01 euros/MWh, down 10.61 euros
  • Demand steady despite cold snap
  • Winds seen higher still on Friday

MADRID, Feb 1 (Reuters)--Iberian power prices fell to a month-low in wholesale trade on Wednesday as dealers saw output from costly gas-and coal-fired generators diving 40% the next day due to a steep increase in output from Spain's wind sector. Demand in Spain was seen flat on Thursday over Wednesday, although it has risen by a moderate 2.6% over the past week due to a wave of cold weather affecting much of Europe.

National grid operator REE forecast wind parks in Spain, which accounts for 85% of trading in the Iberian Electricity Market (Mibel), would raise production to as much as 11,200 MWs from 7,000 MW on Wednesday afternoon. Mibel's spot unit, OMIE, fixed the widely watched day-ahead "pool" price at 43.01 euros ($56.30) per MW-hour, down from 53.62 euros previously and its lowest weekday level since Jan. 2, when many Spaniards were still on holiday.

Producers' group AEE estimates each 1,000 MW of wind power included in OMIE's daily auction matching offers from generators and bids from distributors cuts the pool price by an average of 1.70 euros/ MW. Looking ahead, producers predicted wind power would rise higher still on Friday, which in the absence of other factors could haul down the pool on Thursday. Also weighing on prices was abundant supply of nuclear power, with all eight of Spain's reactors working normally and generating 7,479 MW in all, or 18.3% between them, according to REE and the CSN regulator.

Monday 6 February 2012

Finland's wind power capacity to be increased by 50% this year
2 May 2012

Finland's wind power capacity will be increased by about 50% this year. "It is almost certain now. Work has already begun at several construction sites", says Anni Mikkonen, executive director of the Finnish Wind Power Association. Last year's objectives in building wind power plants were not reached owing to the fact that changes were made to the forms of support and regulations concerning wind power production. The Ministry of Employment and the Economy has set up a working group to look further into the factors that complicate wind power production.

The combined production capacity of Finland's current wind parks is 197 MWs. In the course of this year this figure will increase to nearly 300 MWs, once the seven wind parks that are currently under construction are completed, plus the one that has been planned for the Lapland community of Tervola. Finland's first land-based wind park will be built in Tervola's Varevaara district. Last week the wind power company Tuuliwatti, owned by the S Group and the energy company St1, made an investment decision to erect ten wind turbines there.

The combined output of the 140-metre high wind generators at the park, to be completed by the end of this year, is 30 MWs. The wind power plants will produce enough electricity to cover the annual needs of around 37,000 apartments. Last year Finland introduced the so-called feed-in tariff, which guarantees the producer of wind power a certain price regardless of the market situation. Until 2015 the tariff has been raised from EUR 83.5 to just over EUR 103 per MW-hour. The raised tariff is meant to speed up the building of wind power stations.

Mikkonen of the Finnish Wind Power Association considers the tariff a better solution than the previously-used fixed electricity production support, which was only granted in connection with the investment decision. "The feed-in tariff encourages producers to take on large projects, the development of which can often take between three and five years. Now government support is guaranteed. Previously this was not the case".

The feed-in tariff, however, does not promote the saving of energy, points out eco-efficiency expert Karoliina Auvinen from the Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA. Left outside the scope of the feed-in tariff are private, property-specific small-scale solar panel and wind turbine generators. "Private, small-scale production of electricity in this way would bring on a fundamental market change. Studies show that when consumers are able to produce even some of the energy they use, they immediately start monitoring and reducing their energy consumption".

Ministers 'misled MPs over need for nuclear power stations'
31 Jan 2012

(UK) Cross-party report says government misrepresented findings on future electricity demand, and ignored case against nuclear

Ministers misled parliament over the need to build a new fleet of nuclear power stations, distorting evidence and presenting to MPs a false summary of the analysis they had commissioned, a group of MPs and experts alleged in a report published on Tuesday. If MPs had been presented with an accurate picture of the evidence for and against new reactors, the government's plans might have been challenged, according to the report. Both the previous Labour government and the current coalition overstated the evidence that new nuclear power was needed, it also alleged.

Building new nuclear power stations is highly controversial, as polls consistently show a substantial minority opposing them. But many people, including some environmental campaigners, have been persuaded towards supporting nuclear by the argument that they would help the UK generate power without CO₂ emissions.

The previous government cited its own research in order to make that case, but according to today's report, some of the findings were misrepresented when relayed to MPs by ministers. For instance, the report found that rather than assess the requirement for new nuclear power stations and then work out how many would be needed, the government commissioned research that took as its central assumption that 10 new reactors would be built and then presented its research as evidence of the need for 10 reactors.

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DECC) said: "We are confident that the Energy National Policy Statements [which set out the government's arguments that new nuclear power was needed] are robust documents which took account of all relevant factors".

The report suggested that the current government's repeated assertion that electricity demand was likely to double was based on taking some of the highest estimates from its research rather than the average. The author, Ron Bailey, who has written against nuclear power, also accused ministers of ignoring key findings of the research they had commissioned that showed ways in which the UK could do without new nuclear power.

A spokesman for the DECC said: "We need a range of new energy infrastructure to keep the lights on and reduce our carbon emissions in a secure and affordable way. The UK has everything to gain from becoming a leading destination to invest in new nuclear power. This will come alongside investment in other technologies such as renewables, clean coal and gas, and improved energy efficiency".

The report, called A Corruption of Governance?, was written by pressure group Unlock Democracy and the Association for the Conservation of Energy, and was endorsed by a cross-party group of MPs. The organisations called for the debate on new nuclear power to be reopened in parliament.

Caroline Lucas, the UK's only Green Party MP, said: "Despite claiming that it wants an open debate on the UK's energy future, the government has already made it clear in the proposals for electricity market reform and in its dismissive response to the Fukushima disaster that it is betting its money on nuclear. Given what we know about the strength of nuclear industry lobbying, there needs to be far greater transparency around the decisions that will determine where our electricity comes from in ten or 20 years time".

She added: "With other countries turning away from nuclear power, MPs and the public must be told the truth about how we can achieve energy security and a genuinely green economy".

However, despite the report's findings, many experts support nuclear power on the grounds that other low-carbon alternatives cannot supply enough power, particularly when electric cars replace petrol-driven models and more electricity is used for heating to replace gas and oil, driving up electricity demand. For instance, Prof David Mackay, now chief scientific advisor to DECC, has made the case that not enough on and offshore wind farms, biomass power plants and other low-carbon forms of electricity can be built in the UK to satisfy demand, so investments in nuclear power will be needed.

Peter Facey, the director of Unlock Democracy, said his organisation did not have a position on nuclear power, but wanted to "ensure that the information on which ministers based their decisions is as impartial and robust as possible". In the case of the arguments used for nuclear power, he said: "The data appears to have been politicised. It is crucial that meetings between government officials and the nuclear lobby are opened up to greater scrutiny so we can have greater confidence that policy makers are not being misled".

The MPs endorsing the report included Alan Whitehead (Lab), Tessa Munt (LibDem), Mike Weatherley (Con), Martin Horwood (LibDem), Joan Walley (Lab) and Caroline Lucas (Green).

Greek wind power production capacity rises by almost a fourth in 2011
31 Jan 2012

Greece's wind-powered electricity capacity in Greece rose more the 23% last year, the Hellenic Wind Energy Association said. Installed capacity rose to 1,626.5 MWs in 2011 from 1,320.4 MWs in 2010, the Athens-based Association said today in an e-mailed statement. France's EDF Energy SA (EDF Energy) was the biggest producer of wind power in Greece last year, accounting for 272.03 MWs or almost 17% of total production, according to the statement. Spain's Iberdrola Renewables SA was the second-largest producer with 250.68 MWs and Greece's Terna Energy SA (TENERGY) was third with 241.52 MWs. Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) accounted for 49% of wind turbines installed in Greece in 2011, Enercon GmbH for 22%, Siemens AG (SIE) for 12%, Gamesa Corp Technologica SA for 10% and Nordex SE (NDX1) for 5%, the association said.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Nuclear fears help fuel record renewable energy investment
1 Feb 2012

A new generation of renewable energy deals is elevating the global clean energy market to record high levels of investment. Fears in many countries over the safety of nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster is fuelling a rush of merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions in the renewable sector. Details of a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) show billion dollar deals are the now the norm, with the value of new renewable energy deals rising 40% year on year, from $38.2 billion in 2010 to a record level of $53.5 billion in 2011.

For the first time, solar, wind and energy efficiency deals overtook hydropower as the major money-makers on the global market. Solar energy deals took a third of the share of M&A transactions in 2011, with the overall value of the solar sector rising 56% on the year, from $10.2billion to $15.8 billion.

According to the report, the fallout from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station crisis has led to many nations rethinking their long-term energy plans and including more renewable capacity in the energy mix. Solar power and efficiency measures alone accounted for a 79% increase in the value of renewable energy deals. The record low cost of photovoltaic materials on world markets and an increased willingness to invest in large-scale wind power would help consolidate these gains, according to PwC partner, Paul Nillesen.

"Staying out of the markets in the hope things will improve cannot be assumed to be the right strategy. The potential for further destabilisation domestically, or at an inter-governmental level cannot be ruled out, but if a deal is highly strategic, and mission critical, then parties will still feel it is worth doing on the right terms". While the report forecasts significant deal growth throughout 2012, it warns that continuing uncertainty in the Eurozone will cause unrest for the sector. It will be a year for the big players on the renewable energy field.

Extending French reactors would cost least - report
30 Jan 2012

(Reuters)-France's EDF Energy expects extending the life of its nuclear plants to cost up to 860 million euros ($1.1 billion) per reactor, making this the cheapest option for providing power to 2040, according to a draft government report leaked to media. By comparison, building a new-generation reactor such as Areva's 1,600 MW reactor would cost roughly 5 billion euros. The draft report, published on the French news website Mediapart, finds that extending the lifetime of France's 58 reactors would also be a cheaper investment option to 2035-2040 than building any type of new power plant.

The report is likely to fuel a heated debate on the issue of France's dependence on nuclear power three months ahead of the presidential election. Commissioned by the government in October 2011, the report will assess possible energy scenarios for France until 2050 and is due to be published in its final form on February 13. A government spokeswoman said it was no way near being finalized. While the ruling UMP party plans to maintain the country's nuclear share of 75% in the electricity mix, the highest in the world, socialist candidate Francois Hollande said he would bring down that share to 50% by 2025.

Extending the lifetime of France's nuclear plants would cost 680 million to 860 million euros per reactor, including additional investment to upgrade safety measures requested by the French nuclear safety regulator (ASN) following Japan's Fukushima disaster, the draft said. French nuclear power operator EDF Energy will need to install flood-proof diesel generators and bunkered remote back-up control rooms at its 19 plants across the country or else face having to shut down some of its 58 reactors, the ASN said earlier this month. EDF Energy estimated the work would cost close to 10 billion euros.

By comparison, the immediate closure of France's oldest nuclear power plant, Fessenheim in eastern France, would mean a loss of 1.1 billion euros for EDF Energy over the next eight years, rising to 3 billion euros by 2040. Hollande, currently favorite in the polls, has vowed to shut it down in the next five years if he is elected in May 2012. If the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix falls to 50%, this would shave 0.6% off France's GDP by 2030 because of higher electricity prices. The report also showed nuclear reactor manufacturer Areva had the capacity to produce two EPR reactors per year. ($1 = 0.7625 euros)

Sea change in energy generation from East River turbines
30 Jan 2012

It may seem like a tiny spark in a city of glowing lights, but the approval of a license to generate and sell 1 MW of power from the currents of the East River is a historic event.

Until now, the goal of producing energy from tidal waters has been elusive, but the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project is a small but indispensable step toward producing 15 GWs nationally by 2030. It's also evidence that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is easing bureaucratic hurdles.

Last week, the commission approved the first commercial license to produce tidal energy. Verdant Power, a start-up firm, has already been producing energy, with underwater turbines capturing the swift flow of the East River and sending the electricity to a supermarket and parking garage on Roosevelt Island.

That effort demonstrated that the turbine blades were not a threat to fish, which just swam around them. Now, as it gradually submerges up to 30 turbines, the company will find out whether that larger array has a detrimental environmental impact. So this is a pilot license, but it does allow Verdant to sell power.

Verdant is working with the City of New York to make the world's greatest city greener. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants the city to be a model of renewable energy projects, and he supports this one. It will take time for tidal power to be a major part of the nation's energy portfolio, but this license shows that the tide is turning.