Friday 9 March 2012

Construction on Mongolia’s first wind farm due to Start in April
8 Mar 2012

The website reports that the Newcom Group, the Mongolian investment firm responsible for the construction of the wind farm, will begin construction next month. General Electric International Inc. (GE) supplied over 30 wind turbines The wind farms will produce up to 5% of Mongolia's total electricity. The wind farm, which will produce 168.5 million kWs of electricity per hour, is located near Ulaanbaatar in Salkhit, and will be completed by the end of 2012. The National Renewable Energy Center of Mongolia reports that Mongolia has the potential of producing 2,550 terawatts hours per year. As a country with rapidly developing mining sector, Mongolian energy consumption is estimated to double in the next two years.

B. Byambasaikhan, CEO of Newcom Group, said in an interview with The New York Times, "People say 80% of the Mongolian underground is full of coal. But the whole Mongolian territory is full of wind power. We will stop the Government monopoly on the energy supply". He added that he is confident the facility will run smoothly and he aims to boost wind capacity in the country 20 times by 2025. GE has said that its participation in Salkhit underscores the company's "commitment to grow in one of the most challenging yet fastest-growing emerging regions. Last May, GE opened a representative office in Ulaanbaatar In 2010 GE and Newcom Group signed an agreement to explore alliances in key areas such as energy, water, mining, aviation, railway, lighting, and healthcare.

Winds of fortune sweep West Texas
4 Mar 2012

(US) PECOS COUNTY-Every workday before sunrise, 10 BP workers gather on a West Texas sheep farm for morning calisthenics. They need loose limbs to manage BP's 22,000 acres in the oil-rich Permian Basin, where temperatures can soar beyond 110°F. The oil giant leases the land from struggling farmers to expand its reach in the energy world. But you won't find any oil wells or drilling rigs here.

BP and other energy companies are funneling millions into building and operating wind farms in West Texas, helping to transform oil country into one of the nation's leading hubs for green energy production. Skylines dominated by nodding pump jacks are increasingly spotted with spinning turbines. Economies tied to the ebb and flow of commodity prices are finding stability in supplying the power grid.

"We've been through lots of booms and busts with the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas areas deplete over time", said Doug May, economic development director for Pecos County in West Texas. "The wind resource here is sustainable. We look at these wind farms as a long-term investment in the future of Pecos County".

Recent energy analyses have forecast that renewable fuels-including wind, solar and biofuels-will be the world's fastest growing energy source in coming decades. BP's own outlook predicts that the country's renewable energy production will surge 252% over the next 20 years. Wind will lead the pack, forecasts indicate. wind farms have proliferated across the U.S, over the last decade. Now they generate about 3% of the nation's electricity and about 7% of the state's, according to the US Energy Information Association.

Read more…

German wind energy plans in the doldrums
5 Mar 2012

Germany's green energy revolution is at risk of stalling, with energy firms warning they may shelve plans for a huge expansion of offshore wind power because of delays in connecting the turbines to the grid. Mike Winkel, the head of green energy at the German utility E.ON, said last month that work on the power line needed to feed electricity from its North Sea wind farm Amrumbank West to the mainland was 15 months behind schedule and that the turbines would not go into operation until March 2015.

Mr Winkel described the situation as "disastrous" and said E.ON would put its planning for further wind farms on hold. He said the network operators in charge of laying the cables and building switching stations had overestimated their technical capabilities and were themselves facing delays in obtaining supplies of equipment. Another major German utility, RWE, issued a similar warning and complained its Nordsee Ost wind farm would go online at least one year later than planned because the power connection would not be ready in time.

RWE had intended to start producing electricity from the 48-turbine wind farm next year. But TenneT, the Dutch-owned grid operator in charge of building all the power lines off the German North Sea coast, said it would not be able even to start construction of the power line until the end of this year. Nordsee Ost is due to be completed next year. Paradoxically, RWE will initially have to resort to diesel-powered engines to keep the sensitive rotor blades and gear mechanisms turning until the power line has been completed and the turbines can become operational. Germany may respond by trying to woo new investors.

The problems are bad news for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who stepped up her plans for a huge expansion of green-power generation last year after ditching nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Offshore wind farms are the backbone of her strategy. At sea, the wind blows more strongly and constantly, making the farms a potentially more reliable and productive source of renewable energy than wind turbines on land and solar power.

The aim is for 10,000 wind turbines along the German coasts of the North Sea and Baltic to be in operation by 2030, producing 25,000 MWs of electricity or 15% of Germany's total energy needs. But the actual number of turbines working now is just 27, generating only 135 MWs. RWE said there was no chance Germany would achieve its offshore wind power goal, and that the delays so far would deter investors from backing future projects in the North Sea and Baltic. The company said it was considering suing TenneT, which is owned by the Dutch government, for €100 million (Dh484.9m) in compensation for losses caused by the line delays.

RWE had planned to spend €1 billion per year on renewables in the coming years, with 40 to 50% of that earmarked for offshore wind power. If the offshore expansion is off track, so too will be Mrs Merkel's plan to boost renewable energy from 17% of electricity consumption now to at least 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Building wind farms at sea, in some cases up to 100km off the coast, has proved a greater technical challenge than expected. Erecting the turbines is a considerable feat in itself-ships were purpose-built for the task of transporting the rotor blades and masts and anchoring them on the seabed.

But laying the cable has proved even more arduous because it involves working at depths of up to 30 metres and building special power converter platforms. The technology and the methods are new and untried, and much of the work can be done only between May and September when the weather permits. Lengthy planning approval procedures have added to the delays. TenneT, which is building a total of eight undersea cables, warned the German government in November that it would not be able to meet its production deadlines and was having difficulty obtaining fresh capital from investors. It demanded assistance with the planning and financing of the offshore grid.

The government has not yet decided whether to boost subsidies for offshore wind power, but it may have to. Future funding could come from Abu Dhabi's Masdar green-energy initiative. Frank Wouters, the director of Masdar's energy division, told the Financial Times Deutschland, a German business newspaper, last month that Masdar would be very interested in investing in German offshore wind power if the yields improved. He said Masdar had not yet found a project that generated enough yield.

The German offshore wind farms are located in deep water far off the coast, which made them a riskier investment than wind farms closer to shore, he said. But unless the German government removes the bottleneck threatening its wind-power plans, Europe's largest economy will not only fall far short of its green-power plans, but may also face power shortages in the years to come. Embarrassingly for Mrs Merkel, there is a very real prospect that the shortfalls will be made up by importing nuclear-generated power.

Thursday 8 March 2012

AGL quells wind farm noise
6 Mar 2012

Energy company AGL Energy says a noise defect at its Hallett 2 wind farm in South Australia's mid-north has been fixed. After a complaint by a local resident, AGL Energy began testing its 34 turbines at the site near Mount Bryan. In December 2010, it identified some noise from the turbines could be heard at the nearest residence, under certain wind conditions. A permanent acoustic treatment system was put in place late last year and recent noise testing has confirmed the issue has been resolved. Operational constraints have been temporarily put on turbines at other AGL Energy wind farms where audible tones have been detected.

Fukushima nuclear plant beset by problems
March. 3, 2012

TOKYO, (UPI)--Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant is beset by technical problems nearly a year after its core meltdown, officials say. The problems include a broken temperature sensor that detects heat in a reactor and leaky piping, The Maimchi Daily News reported Saturday. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, has begun decommissioning and dismantling the plant--a process expected to take three decades--and in January inserted an endoscope, an instrument allowing the first direct internal observations since the earthquake and tsunami March 11, 20011, shut down the plant's cooling systems.

But after a sensor began showing temperatures at the bottom of the No. 2 reactor's pressure vessel reached alarmingly high levels, TEPCO determined the sensor was faulty. The loss of the sensor--after it showed temperatures climbed from about 40° in late January to over 80°, the maximum "safe" temperature for maintaining a cold shutdown, to more than 40°--showed how little TEPCO understood about conditions inside the reactors and how fragile the cold shutdown is.

The Daily News also reported that after the government said the plant had been brought to cold shutdown, water leaked from 44 locations, including seven sections of water-injection equipment--a critical part of the water recycling and re-injection system--and from spent fuel pools at two reactors. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told CNN the country has learned much from the meltdown. "Sharing the lessons and remorse of this nuclear accident with the international community will contribute to the overall safety of nuclear power as well as international cooperation", he said.

In the wake of the disaster, only two of Japan's 53 nuclear reactors are operating and by the end of April, those two are to go offline, leaving the country facing the prospect of no nuclear power into the summer. "Our basic stance is to move away from our dependence on nuclear power. This means that we have to try and increase the use of renewable energy, in a thorough effort to save energy", Noda said. He said the government has included $7.5 billion in its fiscal year 2012 budget for renewable energy and conservation. Noda also said nearly a year after the earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people and crippled the Fukushima power plant, the country is making "steady progress" in reconstruction and aid to the northeast region.

Push for reform of electricity
3 Mar 2012

AUSTRALIA is lagging behind other developed countries in energy efficiency, despite some examples being set by individual businesses, an international conference in Sydney has been told. The $45 billion earmarked for new ''poles and wires'' infrastructure around Australia was the main driver of an expected 90% rise in household electricity prices between 2008 and 2014, rather than the carbon price, delegates heard yesterday.

The Australian Alliance to Save Energy, a non-profit group that hosted the conference along with the University of Technology's institute for sustainable futures, said the key priority should be reforming electricity industry regulation to focus on minimising peak demand. ''Like all reforms, there will always be entrenched business models to overcome and vested interests at play,'' the energy alliance chairman, Jon Jutsen, said. Some large organisations stood out for strong performances in efficiency and carbon offsets, however.

Among the best was Sydney Water, which was on track to become completely ''carbon neutral'' within eight years. It will cancel out about a million tonnes of CO₂ emissions a year by planting trees and building wind turbines, cutting its energy use by up to 40% and buying renewable energy. Many of the groups at the conference are part of Earth Hour, the annual event that encourages efficient use of resources. It takes place at 8.30pm on March 31 and is supported by Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald.

Giving waste water the power to clean itself
1 Mar 2012

A technique that combines two novel forms of renewable energy — one relying on bacteria and the other on salt water — generates more electricity than either one alone and cleans waste water at the same time. The work is published today in Science1.

Waste water contains a great deal of energy in the form of organic matter, says lead author Bruce Logan, director of the Hydrogen Energy Center and the Engineering Energy and Environment Institute at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Domestic waste water contains nine times more chemical energy than the energy required to treat it — that amount, added to the energy in waste water from livestock and food production, would be nearly enough energy to maintain the entire US water infrastructure, he says.

Read more…

Monday 5 March 2012

Solar program cut pours cold water on clean energy job prospects
29 Feb 2012

The clean energy industry says the unexpected cut of a key government solar hot water program late yesterday will put jobs under threat and make it harder for people to save on their electricity bills. Clean Energy Council Acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton said solar hot water systems and heat pumps were the cheapest way to heat water in people's homes over the life of the system.

"This decision will immediately affect sales and will put more than 1200 manufacturing jobs and 6000 installation, sales and back office jobs in jeopardy. This industry has been struggling with the effects of a high Australian dollar just like the car industry, just like the steel industry and just like other home grown manufacturing industries", Mr Thornton said. "Cutting this program without warning in the middle of a financial year is yet another example of stop-start policy making that continues to plague the entire clean energy sector. It has given the industry no time to prepare and makes business planning almost impossible".

Mr Thornton said water heating was one of the most energy intensive activities in the average Australian household, accounting for about a quarter of all energy use. "Solar hot water systems are one of the best ways for households to reduce steadily rising power bills over the long term, but have a higher up-front cost than other types of technology. "Without the assistance under the Renewable Energy Bonus Schemes, families and home owners who are hurting from cost-of-living expenses will buy cheaper hot water systems that cost them more in the long run and may emit higher rates of carbon pollution.

"The Commonwealth has committed itself to supporting a ban on inefficient electric hot water systems, which is an important climate change policy, but it can't be implemented in isolation. "Other programs needs to be introduced to help struggling families to purchase solar hot water systems or heat pumps, and to support the industry as it adjusts to a lower level of assistance.

"This is a decision that pours cold water on the prospects for local clean energy jobs in an industry that is navigating a difficult global financial climate just like everybody else", Mr Thornton said. The amount of energy saved by solar hot water systems and heat pumps installed in Australia would power the equivalent of almost 300,000 average homes.

Pacific Hydro in bid to save solar project
27 Feb 2012

FRUSTRATED by the market dominance of the three major energy companies, Australian renewable generator Pacific Hydro is seeking its own retail energy licence as it tries to save a large-scale solar project. The proposed 150- MW photovoltaic Moree Solar Farm-initially backed by Pacific Hydro, BP Solar and Spanish firm Fotowatio Renewable Ventures-suffered a major setback in December when it lost the rights to a $306 million grant from the federal government's troubled Solar Flagships Program.

The northern New South Wales farm had not met its funding agreement obligations, prompting Energy Minister Martin Ferguson to re-open the grant to four shortlisted photovoltaic farm candidates. All four-AGL Energy, TRUEnergy, Infigen Energy Suntech Power and the Moree consortium-are understood to have resubmitted their bids before the deadline on Friday.

Pacific Hydro Australia general manager Lane Crockett said a key reason the Moree bid was unable to achieve financial close on time was its failure to reach a power price agreement with a major retailer. Two of the three big retailers were rivals for the grant. It is understood the third, Origin Energy, rejected a deal with the Moree consortium. Mr Crockett said Pacific Hydro-owned by the $31 billion super giant Industry Funds Management-faced a retail market dominated by a few large companies that were both rivals for government grants and potential customers for projects such as the Moree plant.

''It is not unreasonable to expect that this conflict will continue to occur in the future,.. [it] requires independent power producers like ourselves to continually evolve and adapt,'' he said. He said the Moree consortium would enter a power price agreement with Pacific Hydro, which expects to have a retail energy licence within three months. ''Pacific Hydro has been working on our retail market strategy for some time and we are very confident that it will be a success, with projects like the Moree Solar Farm part of a future diversified renewable energy portfolio that will include wind and possibly into the future geothermal,'' he said.

The revised Moree bid no longer includes BP Solar, with the remaining two partners taking up its stake. They have signed an engineering, construction and procurement agreement with Spanish infrastructure company ACCIONA Energy. Announced in May 2009, the Solar Flagships Program has been criticised by the Greens and Coalition as it became clear two projects awarded $750 million were struggling to prove their viability. The second Solar Flagships Program winner, the $1.2 billion Solar Dawn Project in Queensland using solar thermal technology, has been given a six-month extension until June 30 to secure financing.

BP Plans to withdraw from solar-energy venture in Australia
24 Feb 2012

BP, Europe's second-largest oil company, plans to withdraw from a venture seeking Australian government funds to build a solar power project in the state of New South Wales. "We've indicated that we wish to leave the consortium and that we won't be part of the new bid process", Jamie Jardine, a Melbourne-based spokesman for BP, said by mobile phone today. BP, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures and Pacific Hydro Pty, which won A$306.5 million ($329 million) in Australian funds last year to build the Moree solar farm, missed a December financing deadline. That prompted the government to reopen the competition to other bidders, including AGL Energy Ltd.

The company decided to exit the global solar business after 40 years because it has become unprofitable, Mike Petrucci, the chief executive officer of BP's solar unit, told staff in an internal letter in December. The industry faces oversupply and price pressures after Chinese competitors increased production. BP and its partners in the proposed A$923 million solar photovoltaic plant had failed to sign power-supply agreements needed to advance with the project, it said in December. The company said Dec. 23 it was sticking with the Australian project, even after deciding to exit the business globally.

"In the past two weeks, we've worked with the consortium to refine and develop the proposal, and we believe the new consortium will be an effective one", Jardine said today. The Moree venture will be eligible to bid for the funds and have a chance to show it is "still the most meritorious project", Australia's Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said earlier this month. The government also invited TRUEnergy Holdings Pty Ltd, and Suntech Power Co, to update their applications seeking solar grants.

Sunday 4 March 2012

PacHydro to take on energy retailers at their own game
24 Feb 2012

Pacific Hydro, the largest independent renewable energy developer in Australia, is to establish its own energy retailing group in a bid to break the dominance of the the big-three energy utilities, which it says have been an impediment to the development of renewables in the country.

The decision was announced as the Moree Solar Farm resubmitted its tender for the Solar Flagships program. The tender was reopened after Moree Solar, which included Pacific Hydro, Spanish group FRV and BP Solar, failed to gain a power purchase agreement with any of the big three utilities, and therefore could not meet a financing deadline.

The Moree Solar consortium has now been recast, with BP officially leaving after announcing its withdrawal from the global solar business. BP will be replaced by Spanish renewables giant ACCIONA Energy, which will operate EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contract, but no equity stake. The critical component, however, is Pacific Hydro's decision to establish its own retail energy licence, and to sign a PPA for the $930 million, 150MW project, in effect bypassing the three utilities that dominate the market – Origin Energy, AGL Energy, and TRUEnergy.

Both AGL Energy and TRUEnergy are involved in rival consortium to the Moree Solar project, and Origin Energy is said to have rejected a PPA with Moree Solar in the final stages of negotiation. Pacific Hydro general manager Lane Crockett said the Australian energy market was dominated by a few very large vertically integrated entities, "who are not only our potential customers but also competing for funding under the solar flagships program." "It is not unreasonable to expect that this conflict will continue to occur in the future, which requires independent power producers like ourselves to continually evolve and adapt."

Crockett said the retail arm – which is yet to be named – could play a critical role in the development of the company's wind projects, and even geothermal. He says it is a logical step, because the company already has around half of its wind farm portfolio operating in the "merchant" market, and yields from commercial customers could be higher.

Hardly any PPAs have been written in the last few years in Australia, effectively bringing the large scale renewables industry to a halt. The utilities have blamed the surplus in Renewable Energy Certificates, but renewable energy developers blame them for effectively blocking developments.

Crocket says there has never been a better time to write PPAs, because wind turbine prices are low, the Australian dollar is high and some developers are desperate to conclude agreements to get meet planning approvals. Pacific Hydro, which has 340MW of wind and hydroelectric plant in operation in Australia, and about 160MW of "advanced" wind projects, along with the Moree Solar proposals and some early stage geothermal projects.

The issue about the dominance of the energy retailers was raised in Canberra recently during a Senate estimates hearing. Drew Clarke, the secretary of the Department of Resources and Energy, said the government was monitoring the issue. All four consortium competing for the retendered solar PV portion of the flagships program said they would resubmit their bids by the close of business on Friday, although they face a lengthy wait for the outcome. Moree and the other contenders are all expected to resubmit offers with much reduced costs (thanks to the slump in panel prices in the last 18 months).

AGL Energy and TRUEnergy have both linked up in separate proposals with US thin film solar giant FirstSolar, and a fourth tender comes from wind farm developer Infigen Energy and Chinese PV module supplier Suntech Power. Although the tenderers have had little time to resubmit their offers, it is believed that all had kept their bid teams running in the past couple of months in anticipation that a PPA would have been difficult to achieve in the current energy market. The big question remains how DRET intends to handle the tender from here on in. The two questions relate to cost, and the ability to finance it. AGL Energy and TRUEnergy would have an advantage because they can write their own PPAs, but Moree may have found a solution to its problem.

Questions have also been asked about the length of time DRET will take in analysising the new bids, suggesting that the new winner may not be announced until the end of june. Given that the technical requirements of the bids have already been reviewed, most consortium think this time is excessive to assess the new costs. Some believe that DRET may use that time to quietly advise a winner, and ensure that a PPA and financing is in place at the time of a public announcement, to avoid further embarrassment and delays.

Minister approves Hawkesdale, Yambuk wind farms
25 Feb 2012

TWO controversial wind farm developments at Hawkesdale and Yambuk have been approved by Planning Minister Matthew Guy after months of negotiation. Spanish proponents Union Fenosa announced yesterday that work on the two sites would start as early as next month, ahead of state government reforms of the renewable energy sector. More than $500 million will be pumped into the two projects, one which is located in farmland south-east of Hawkesdale and the other between Yambuk and Orford.

Union Fenosa managing director Domingo Asuero said the company would provide site possession to Portland-based GR Carr Construction. He said early works on the sites would start within weeks. The two projects will generate a combined 196 MWs of renewable electricity, enough to power the needs of about 80,000 houses. Planning works stalled last year after Moyne councillors voted to reject a permit extension in August due to an apparent lack of consultation between Union Fenosa and the shire.

Moyne Shire mayor Jim Doukas said he hoped Union Fenosa had responded to concerns raised by the municipality and had acted accordingly. He said he would need further details before commenting further. "If the planning minister and Union Fenosa have acknowledged and acted on the concerns raised by council then that's fine but they haven't informed us as yet", Cr Doukas said. Yambuk farmer Kieron Moore supported the move and said the new project would generate jobs in the region.

Many of the turbines will be erected on Mr Moore's property, situated north-east of Yambuk. "The minister has taken a common sense approach", Mr Moore said. "wind farms have been operating in Yambuk for more than 10 years and they are accepted by the community". Regional Cities Minister Denis Napthine said the state government's decision to approve proposals drafted prior to the 2010 state election was a fair way of treating both developers and landholders.

However, he said the 2km wind turbine buffer zone policy was popular in regional Victoria. "It's interesting to note that the South Australian Labor government and the Coalition government in NSW have both adopted turbine setback in one form or another", Dr Napthine said. "The state government has worked to ensure we struck the right balance between the interests of farmers and landholders as well as the interest of expanding renewable energy in the region".