Friday 17 February 2012

ACT Govt starts solar farm process
27 Jan 2012

The process to choose a company to build a large solar-farm to generate electricity for the ACT has begun. The territory government has asked for tenders in an effort to select a power producer to build and operate the power station either in or near the territory. Environment Minister Simon Corbell said today that he expected the tender process would attract bids from companies who had the ability to deliver on the government's plans to create large-scale solar at the lowest cost.

"Companies will be able to submit proposals to establish solar facilities to support the development of up to 40 MWs of large-scale solar generation capacity", Mr Corbell said. "The request for proposal has been facilitated by the Electricity Feed-In (Large Scale Renewable Energy Generation) Act 2011, enacted in December 2011, and allows for 40 GWs of generating capacity to be established in the first auction".

Potential producers would eventually vie to put together offers that would generate the 40 MWs of power to be fed into the territory's power grid at the lowest cost. But the first round of tenders would produce a shortlist of companies deemed to be capable of delivering the facility based on their expertise and their records in the industry. "This process will make sure Canberrans get the best value investment in renewable technology, but also see more than one large scale facility being established", the minister said.

Green groups fear wind rules are too restrictive
14 Feb 2012

An environment group in central west New South Wales says proposed new rules for the development of wind farms in the state could be too restrictive. The state government held a meeting in Bathurst to brief residents about its draft planning guidelines, which are on public exhibition until March. Bob Hill from the Bathurst Community Climate Action Network was at the forum, and says there needs to be a balance between community concerns and the needs of the industry.

He says if the guidelines discourage wind companies it may affect renewable targets. "The government has goals of bringing 20% of energy from renewables by 2020 and if they're going to do that, I think they've got guidelines that are going to be too restrictive", he said. "There will be some discussion and debate and I hope that the department's open to that but at least they've put them out there, everybody can see them, everybody can comment".

He says it's imperative the guideline offer green companies some stability, rather than stifling investment in wind power. "It would be a real pity in New South Wales if they killed off one of the most important renewable industry's we've got", he said. "In South Australia at the moment for instance, 20% of the energy's generated by wind farms. "That's fantastic and it's the sort of thing that NSW should be aiming to do, but doing it in a way that made sure it respected the communities where those wind farms are placed.

Thousands march against nuclear power in Japan
11 Feb 2012

(AP) TOKYO--Thousands of Japanese people marched against nuclear power Saturday, amid growing worries about the restarting of reactors idled after the March 11 meltdown disaster in northeastern Japan. Holding "No Nukes" signs, people gathered at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo for a rally Saturday, including Nobel Prize-winning writer Kenzaburo Oe. The protesters then marched peacefully through the streets demanding Japan abandon atomic power.

"I'm worried there could be more nuclear accidents", said Misako Terada, a 54-year-old housewife. Last year's tsunami in northeastern Japan destroyed backup generators at Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, causing multiple meltdowns and setting off the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Protesters held a banner that said in Japanese, "Goodbye to nuclear power, call for 10 million people to act".
10 Feb 2012

Japan's power sector will buy an additional 465,000 barrels of oil a day this year if all of its nuclear plants are idle after April, offsetting declines elsewhere in the nation, the International Energy Agency said. Total demand for oil in Japan may rise 0.9% this year to 4.5 million barrels a day, with the power sector consumption growing by an average of 320,000 barrels daily, the Paris-based IEA said in its monthly report. Japan's oil demand increased by 9.5% in December.

"The Japanese oil demand outlook remains highly uncertain, and the possibility of a 'no nuclear' capacity profile, at least for 2012, remains a real one", according to the report. "The incremental need for oil in the power sector offset contracting demand elsewhere in the economy and led to Japanese oil demand rising overall in 2011". Japan has three nuclear reactors operating with a capacity of 3,138 MWs, or 6.4% of the total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News on Jan. 27.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Australian company seeks to expand geothermal energy in Chile
9 Feb 2012

(Chile) Hot Rock has invested US$50 million over the past five years for exploration, development. A belt of active and dormant volcanoes in Chile has become a hot spot for foreign investment from Australia in clean geothermal energy. "In this emerging industry we see it as very exciting, we are very pleased to be in Chile and we can see geothermal energy here moving forward to generation within the next five years", Mark Elliot from Australian geothermal company Hot Rock said.

Hot Rock, in a joint venture with Energy Development Cooperation (EDC), has invested over US$50 million in the last five years in future projects, and that figure is set to rise. Historically, the Chilean power market has been well supplied with electricity from hydroelectric power and imported natural gas from Argentina. However, Chile has had to deal with less hydroelectric resources recently due to the drier weather conditions. There have also been interruptions in natural gas supplies from Argentina to Chile due to Argentina's own shortage of gas.

"This has put the local market in a power crisis and made the Chilean government understand the importance of energy security", Elliot said. "When you consider that Chile has a large number of volcanoes, which are essential to forming geothermal power, it´s an opportunity that is sitting in front of them to use clean base load energy".

Geothermal energy is recognized as a renewable energy source with little greenhouse emissions capable of base load power, meaning it operates continuously. Hot Rock has identified 300 potential geothermal areas, including areas southeast of Santiago and northeast of Antofagasta. These areas show Chile has huge potential in developing volcanic geothermal resources for electricity generation. They started exploring for geothermal projects in Chile in 2008 and now with EDC are planning to complete exploration within the next three to four years and start construction in the fourth year.

Elliot said 200 jobs would be created for Chileans to work in the plant construction process alone. "We have employed people to work for us in Chile and can employ a further 20 to 30 people per plant after construction is finished", he said. "Secondary businesses can be set up as spin offs from geothermal projects, as the fluid used in the process can be recycled later in the agricultural industry to create more jobs".

Juan Pablo Orrego from Ecosistemas, an environmental NGO in Chile, said geothermal energy is good but should be combined with other sources of energy. "Geothermal energy plays an important role in a country full of volcanoes, but we want to see it on a smaller scale combined with solar and wind-producing energy", he said. Elliot, however, said geothermal energy is more efficient compared to other renewable energy sources. "Geothermal can be operated 24 hours a day 7 days a week as opposed to solar power, which operates 25% of the time due to its reliance on the sun", Elliot said. "Wind power only operates at 30%".

Geothermal energy is produced extracting the natural internal heat of the earth to create electricity. The volcanoes in Chile heat ground water to more than 392° Fahrenheit. This water can be used as an energy source and is fed from drill holes into a power plant to drive a steam turbine and generator to produce electricity. The growth of this industry has not been without its growing pains. Elliot said some local landowners and some politicians have presented obstacles. "Some politicians are not totally committed. In some cases the landowners are not allowing us to explore and the Chilean government is aware of this and we hope they will do something about it", Elliot said. "Otherwise it will be a lot slower getting this energy into the grid".

Orrego said many locals distrust authorities and resist change. If the companies investing in the area want respect, then Orrego believes that the locals need to be involved. Often times they have not benefited from large power plants. "By instinct these people are in opposition to other ways of providing energy. The system is bias toward hydroelectric energy", Orrego said. Elliot said the locals would not be overlooked in the operation of the plants. "We feel the local people are important to our projects. We want to involve them and let them know what is happening in their country", he said.

Meanwhile, Elliot hopes that Chilean authorities and landowners see the potential geothermal energy has in Chile. "The government can lose some of the investment and interest that is going on in Chile because there are other countries such as Kenya and Peru which have potential and are keen to see it developed", Elliot said. Hot Rock completed a due diligence report in January 2011 to show the relevancy for geothermal power plants in these regions. The report says the company is the largest holder of volcanic geothermal projects in Chile and Peru.

Two of the places it lists as potential areas for future projects are the Puntas Negras Volcono, Antofagasta, North of Santiago and the Villarica Volcano in the lakes district in Southern Chile. According to Hot Rock, no other geothermal prospects have yet been developed for electricity use in Chile. "The international geothermal exploration community have recognized the potential in Chile, and have wanted to take up projects to explore to help them with that development so we will be carrying out drilling and anticipating discovery of geothermal resources there", Elliot said.

New battery could lead to cheaper, more efficient solar energy
9 Feb 2012

A joint research project between the University of Southampton and lithium battery technology company REAPsystems has found that a new type of battery has the potential to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar power.

The research project, sponsored by REAPsystems, was led by MSc Sustainable Energy Technologies student, Yue Wu and his supervisors Dr Carlos Ponce de Leon, Professor Tom Markvart and Dr John Low (currently working at the University's Research Institute for Industry, RIfI). The study looked specifically into the use of lithium batteries as an energy storage device in photovoltaic systems.

Student Yue Wu says, "Lead acid batteries are traditionally the energy storage device used for most photovoltaic systems. However, as an energy storage device, lithium batteries, especially the LiFePO4 batteries we used, have more favourable characteristics". Data was collected by connecting a lithium iron phosphate battery to a photovoltaic system attached to one of the University's buildings, using a specifically designed battery management system supplied by REAPsystems.

Yue adds, "the research showed that the lithium battery has an energy efficiency of 95% whereas the lead-acid batteries commonly used today only have around 80%. The weight of the lithium batteries is lower and they have a longer life span than the lead-acid batteries reaching up to 1,600 charge/discharge cycles, meaning they would need to be replaced less frequently".

Although the battery will require further testing before being put into commercial photovoltaic systems the research has shown that the LiFePO4 battery has the potential to improve the efficiency of solar power systems and help to reduce the costs of both their installation and upkeep. Dr Carlos Ponce de Leon and Dr. John Low now plan to take this project further with a new cohort of Masters students.

Dr Dennis Doerffel, founder of REAPsystems and former researcher at the University of Southampton, says: "For all kinds of energy source (renewable or non-renewable), the energy storage device-such as a battery-plays an important role in determining the energy utilisation. Compared with traditional lead acid batteries, LiFePO4 batteries are more efficient, have a longer lifetime, are lighter and cost less per unit. We can see the potential of this battery being used widely in photovoltaic application, and other renewable energy systems".

The next wave in renewable energy from the ocean
8 Feb 2012

(US) MOTORING ACROSS THE PUGET Sound, Reenst Lesemann spots a yellow, barnacle-encrusted contraption bobbing on the wind-whipped waters off Seattle. Called the SeaRay, it's the prototype of a device that Lesemann's startup, Columbia Power Technologies, is betting can help transform wave energy from a long-running science experiment into the next renewable energy bonanza. "I have never seen a multibillion-dollar market where the customers are literally waiting on the technology," says Lesemann, a former venture capitalist.

Indeed. A new government-sponsored study has found that the oceans surrounding the US contain enough energy to potentially supply more than half the nation's electricity demand. Even with the limits of today's technology, scientists concluded, there's sufficient recoverable energy offshore – some 1,170 terawatt-hours a year in all – to keep a third of the country humming. More energy crashes annually onto the West Coast, for instance, than California uses in a year.

And now the reality check: 5 megawatts. That's how much electricity—enough to light about 4,000 American homes – is being currently generated by wave energy worldwide despite years of work by a plethora of startups and many millions of dollars in government support, according to research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

What happened? Before the financial crash, the great green tech boom unleashed a rush of startups and speculators staking claims on federal waters to build massive wave farms, while in Europe governments, including Portugal and Scotland, placed big bets on wave energy. But making green off blue power soon proved to be so much California dreaming as plans for West Coast wave energy arrays sank under opposition from surfers, fishermen and local residents.

Even California regulators, who had green-lighted Pacific Gas and Electric's contract to buy electricity from a solar power station that would orbit the Earth, balked at the utility's deal with a wave energy startup, concluding the technology was too risky. And when companies finally began deploying their first wave energy generators in Europe, punishing ocean conditions took their toll as some devices broke down or failed to perform as expected. "They may work well in prototype in a very small size, but when you scale them they don't necessarily work as well in a harsh seawater environment," says Angus McCrone, who follows the wave industry for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

But now the endless wait for that perfect wave generator may be drawing to a close. Thanks to advances in software, a new generation of startups like Columbia Power are cheaply and quickly testing hundreds of new designs in virtual oceans while veterans of the industry are perfecting their technology to wring more energy from waves and lower the cost of electricity. Multinational corporations like Lockheed Martin and Alstom, the French energy giant, have struck partnerships with startups to commercialize their technology. "We see wave energy as a very serious market for renewable energy in the future," says Tim Fuhr, director of ocean energy for Lockheed Martin. "Basically, we see the ocean as the largest untouched source of power on the planet."

Last September Lockheed Martin paired with Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey company that has spent the better part of two decades developing a device to transform the motion of waves into electricity, accumulating a $120 million deficit along the way. The aerospace conglomerate will help OPT develop a supply chain to industrialize its PowerBuoy wave generator, which is undergoing sea trials in Scotland, for deployment off the Oregon coast this year as part of a 1.5-megawatt wave farm. (Lockheed has a similar partnership with Wavebob, an Irish wave energy company.)

"We have established the survivability of our technology out in the ocean, and we now have a product we can sell commercially," says Charles Dunleavy, OPT's chief executive. The PowerBuoy generates 150 kilowatts of electricity and resembles a giant vertical dumbbell anchored to the sea floor. The top portion of the 115-footlong device floats on the ocean's surface, and as it bobs among the waves the motion pushes pistons to create mechanical energy to drive an electrical generator. The electricity is routed through cables to the power grid onshore.

According to Dunleavy, software simulations have been key to improving both the PowerBuoy's design and its ability to tolerate harsh ocean conditions. A smaller version deployed for the US Navy off the New Jersey coast survived 53-foot waves when Hurricane Irene hit last August. Software control systems also allow the device to adjust to wave conditions.

Columbia Power Technologies, based in Corvallis, Ore., aims to spend a fraction of the time and cash OPT has expended to deploy its full-size wave generator. "We want to innovate as inexpensively as possible by using more pixels and fewer molecules," says Lesemann, 47. "Our competitors, for whatever reasons, have tended to innovate through large-scale prototypes, which is a very expensive way to go."

Ed Davey throws weight behind green energy by opening giant UK windfarm
9 Feb 2012

  • Walney farm off Cumbria, opening today, is world's largest
  • Move seen as clear pro-renewables gesture amid scepticism
  • Britain 'number one destination for investment in offshore wind'

(UK) The new energy secretary, Lib Dem MP Ed Davey, will face down the growing army of renewable power critics inside the coalition by making his first major outing a visit to a wind project. He will open the world's biggest offshore wind farm on Thursday-the £1.2bn Walney scheme, off Cumbria, with more than 100 turbines generating enough power for 320,000 homes.

Davey said: "Britain has a lot to be proud of in our growing offshore wind sector. Our island's tremendous natural resource, our research base and a proud history of engineering make this the No 1 destination for investment in offshore wind. "And Walney is the newest, biggest and fastest-built jewel in that crown, providing clean power for hundreds of thousands of households. "Opening Walney during my first week in office lets me underline my commitment to continuing the coalition's work to make this sector a success story for the British economy, not least with the innovation it is driving and the employment it is creating".

It comes after 100 Conservative MPs wrote to David Cameron at the weekend calling for renewable energy subsidies to be cut-although their main concern was onshore turbines, which they accused of wrecking the countryside. British power company SSE and Denmark's DONG Energy say that Walney breaks a number of records: it has been built more cheaply and quickly than previous schemes, and has been supported by foreign pension funds.

Anders Eldrup, chief executive of DONG Energy, the largest power company in Denmark and operator of the farm, said: "It marks a new era in terms of financing, being the first project in the UK backed by institutional investors. Walney is a landmark in offshore wind and [in] DONG Energy's strong drive to further industrialise offshore wind power and cut costs".

The new 367.2 MW scheme, which will itself be dwarfed by the massive London Array off Kent when that eventually comes on-stream, is made up of two projects, Walney 1 and 2, off Barrow-in-Furness. The company claims the second part of the scheme was the quickest-built of its kind, with all turbines and cables installed in less than six months, and that it has achieved considerable cost reductions at a time when critics claim offshore wind is too expensive.

The estimated £70bn outlay that is needed to greatly expand offshore wind capacity-the so-called "round three" of wind farm construction-is seen as dependent on attracting new forms of financing, so SSE and DONG Energy are keen to trumpet their success at Walney. OPW-a consortium of the Dutch pension fund PGGM and the energy investment fund Ampere Equity Fund-took a 24.8% stake in the project in December 2010, joining majority owner DONG Energy (50.1%) and SSE (25.1%). "The partnership with PGGM and Ampere clearly demonstrates that institutional investors are willing to invest in well-structured offshore wind projects alongside market leading industry players", said Eldrup.

DONG Energy has around 30% of the offshore wind market throughout Europe and is regarded as a pioneer among utilities for its willingness to throw its weight behind renewables. The company has in the past taken 85% of its power from coal or oil and 15% from green sources, but Eldrup said he was determined to completely "twist" this around to 85% renewable and the rest from gas. "We are targeting 50/50 by 2020 and I expect we can get there before then", he said. DONG Energy is also an investor in the London Array-scheduled to bring its 630 turbines on stream by the end of this year-and is pioneering deepwater gas projects off the west of Shetland, working alongside Total of France.

The stance Davey takes at the energy department is seen as important at a time when the renewable industry is under pressure as governments throughout Europe cut back public spending. Chris Huhne, who resigned from the energy brief last week facing criminal charges over a driving incident, was a very vocal supporter of wind power in a coalition government containing many skeptics. The less experienced Davey will be under pressure from environmentalists to show he is willing to take a similar stand.

He got off to a good start in the eyes of Greenpeace by making his first ministerial visit to a home energy efficiency centre last week in Watford. On Wednesday, Davey launched a new offensive on energy wastage, with the creation of a dedicated team within the energy department to spearhead energy efficiency policy and make it more relevant to people's everyday lives. He announced details of the new Energy Efficiency Deployment Office (EEDO) at a meeting with industry leaders at the John Lewis Partnership's Peter Jones store in Sloane Square, London.

In his first speech as secretary of state, Davey said: "I'm hugely enthusiastic about energy efficiency. It's the cheapest way of cutting carbon-and cutting bills for consumers. It has to be right at the heart of what we do. "EEDO will be a centre of expertise, challenging our work and making energy efficiency real and relevant to people's everyday lives. Two out of three consumers think their home is wasting energy, but only one in three is going to do anything about it. That has to change. We need to get out there and show people what energy efficiency can really do for them".

Monday 13 February 2012

Wind raises important issues
9 Feb 2012

A Joint Regional Planning Panel will shortly look at the feasibility of the proposed wind farm at Twofold Bay. They will need to consider some important issues. The visual impact of a wind farm located on an iconic piece of South Coast wilderness coast is an important issue, and concerns from the Eden community need to be carefully considered. If the Planning Panel considers that the visual impact is too great, then the wind farm development will look for another location for their wind farm.

A particular concern of the proposed Eden wind farm is the threat to sea eagles. If an expert assessment suggests there is significant risk to these birds, then the development should not proceed. Tourism is a vital industry for Eden and the Planning Panel should look at the Australian experience of coastal wind farms. The evidence suggests Australian coastal wind farms attract tourists, in some cases in large numbers. The Codrington wind farm in Victoria, for example currently attracts 50,000 visitors per year.

The Planning Panel also needs to look carefully at the health risks of wind farms. If they confine their search to the peer reviewed literature, there would seem to be very little concern about so called 'wind farm syndrome'. A recent Australian report by the National Health and Medical Research Council concluded that "there is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects".

The UK's Health Protection Agency reviewed the evidence on inaudible low frequency vibration (infrasound) and concluded: "The available data does not suggest that exposure to infrasound below the hearing threshold levels is capable of causing adverse effects". There have been a range of concerns raised by those opposed to the wind farm development that need to be addressed. There has been an attempt by some to vilify the wind industry which is disappointing. There have been several attempts to portray wind developers as untrustworthy, living in mansions in faraway exclusive suburbs. That attitude does not lead to constructive debate.

From an occupational health and safety perspective, wind is a far safer form of energy than natural gas, coal or nuclear power. There is no evidence at all to suggest wind farms interfere with whale migration. Investment in wind farms, along with other forms of renewable energy and natural gas will allow Australia to strategically phase out coal fired power stations over the next couple of decades.

If the Joint Regional Planning Panel decides to approve the Eden wind farm, it will be an important development for the Far South Coast. It will help our region move towards a 50/50 by 2020 target which will make the Far South Coast an example for other regions, and will help preserve our wilderness coast. If they decide against the proposal, then we need to accept the decision and look at other ways in which our region can show leadership.

Matthew Nott

Senate sees sense on wind farm moratorium
9 Feb 2012

Any moratorium on wind farm development would drive billions of dollars of investment out of Australia and hurt farmers and regional communities, the renewable energy industry's peak body said today. The Clean Energy Council said a moratorium on new wind farms, called for by Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon in the Senate yesterday, would hurt rural towns and businesses.

"Wind farms bring investment to regional towns and help farmers diversify to support their businesses and families", said Clean Energy Council acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton. "Placing a moratorium on wind farms would remove this source of support to regional and rural communities. "This would be particularly irresponsible given the fact there have been many credible health studies all over the world and none has ever found that wind turbines can directly cause health problems", he said.

Mr Thornton said wind power was one of the safest and cleanest sources of power available and it was unfortunate Senators Madigan and Xenophon were apparently being influenced by a vocal minority of anti-wind farm activists. "However, we were heartened to see common sense prevail yesterday and the Senators' call for a moratorium removed by the Coalition with the support of the Senate". Mr Thornton said wind farms currently proposed in Australia had the potential to generate up to $15 billion worth of investment across the country and create nearly 10,000 direct jobs. "Wind power will be critical in enabling Australia to meet its Renewable Energy Target of 20% by 2020 at the lowest cost possible.

"We call on elected representatives around Australia to get the full story on wind power before drawing conclusions and making statements that hurt the very people they are meant to be helping. "We urge governments, oppositions, minor parties and independents to ensure they consider recent research across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia showing that more than 80% of people support wind farms".

Mr Thornton said over the 12 months to October last year, Australia's 1188 wind turbines generated enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 900,000 homes. "Figures released this week from the Global Wind Energy Council showed that more than 41,000 MWs of wind power was rolled out across the world in 2011, despite tough financial conditions. This equates to more than 13,000 wind turbines", he said. "It makes no sense to put the brakes on in Australia when more than 75 countries around the world are embracing this technology of the future".