Thursday 31 May 2012

Japan eyes smaller nuclear role but no exit strategy
25 May 2012

  • Lack of 2050 target would be victory for nuclear power industry
  • Fifteen% atomic energy by 2030 seen likely compromise
  • Summer showdown seen critical for long-term policy

TOKYO, May 25 (Reuters) - Japan is leaning toward a policy of halving nuclear power's share of electricity supply from pre-Fukushima levels to about 15% by 2030, but will likely stop short of pledging the long-term exit strategy that many voters favour, experts said. That would be a victory of sorts for a nuclear industry that has been under fire since a huge earthquake and tsunami devasted the Fukushima atomic plant in March 2011, triggering meltdowns in the world's worst radiation accident in a quarter century.

With discussions on shaping future energy policy extending over months, the government has already pledged to reduce the role of nuclear power and in principle to decommission reactors after they have been running for 40 years. That formula would yield a share of around 15% by 2030 if strictly followed. "It is government policy to set the limit on nuclear reactors' operation at 40 years," Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, told reporters on Friday. "Fifteen% (by 2030) would be in line with that," Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying after a meeting of expert advisers to the government the night before.

Nuclear power provided about 30% of Japan's electricity needs before the Fukushima disaster, while a 2010 energy policy, ditched after the crisis, had set a target of more than 50% for 2030.

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Liquid Metal Battery raises $15M in series B financing
24 May 2012

Liquid Metal Battery, an MIT spinoff backed by Bill Gates, has secured an additional $15 million in series B financing in a funding round led by Khosla Ventures, the company announced today. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company, which aims to build a cheap battery for bulk storage of wind and solar power, also announced that Andrew Chung, a Khosla Ventures partner, would join the board.

"OurLiquid Metal Battery technology is tremendously exciting because it has the potential to dramatically change the electric power system everywhere",Liquid Metal Battery CEO Phil Giudice said in a statement announcing the new funding. "With this new round of financing, we will be able to accelerate our development efforts and deliver our solutions sooner".

The company was spun out of the lab of Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previous funding for the company has come from France-based oil giant Total and Gates, who took an interest in the technology after watching Sadoway's lectures online. Sadoway's lab has also received funding from the Department of Energy's ARPA-E research program.

Liquid Metal Battery is taking a radically different approach from lithium-ion or other conventional batteries in pursuit of a low-cost system for storing many hours of renewable energy. The active components in the battery--the anode, the cathode, and electrolyte--are liquid metal alloys, an approach that promises to make the batteries durable for many years.

Germany sets new solar power record, institute says
26 May 2012

(Reuters)-German solar power plants produced a world record 22 GWs of electricity per hour-equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity-through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank said. The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass.

Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR) in Muenster, said the 22 GWs of solar power per hour fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50% of the nation's midday electricity needs. "Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity", Allnoch told Reuters. "Germany came close to the 20 GW (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over". The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world's leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20% of its overall annual electricity from those sources. Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four% of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

Some critics say renewable energy is not reliable enough nor is there enough capacity to power major industrial nations. But Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany is eager to demonstrate that is indeed possible. The jump above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity this year and bright sunshine nationwide. The 22 GW per hour figure is up from about 14 GW per hour a year ago. Germany added 7.5 GW of installed power generation capacity in 2012 and 1.8 GW more in the first quarter for a total of 26 GW capacity.

"This shows Germany is capable of meeting a large share of its electricity needs with solar power", Allnoch said. "It also shows Germany can do with fewer coal-burning power plants, gas-burning plants and nuclear plants". Allnoch said the data is based on information from the European Energy Exchange (EEX), a bourse based in Leipzig. The incentives through the state-mandated "feed-in tariff" (FIT) are not without controversy, however. The FIT is the lifeblood for the industry until photovoltaic prices fall further to levels similar for conventional power production.

Utilities and consumer groups have complained the FIT for solar power adds about 2¢ per kilowatt/hour on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world with consumers paying about 23¢ per kW. German consumers pay about 4 billion euros ($5 billion) per year on top of their electricity bills for solar power, according to a 2012 report by the Environment Ministry. Critics also complain growing levels of solar power make the national grid more less stable due to fluctuations in output. Merkel's centre-right government has tried to accelerate cuts in the FIT, which has fallen by between 15 and 30% per year, to nearly 40% this year to levels below 20¢ per kW. But the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, has blocked it.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Photovoltaic grid parity expected by 2017 In U.S., China
24 May 2012

The cost of energy generation from clean sources such as solar power is edging ever closer to costs attributed to traditional sources, fostering growth in the renewable energy sector, according to a new report from GlobalData. The report shows that the global cumulative installed solar PV capacity increase of 100% demonstrated during 2009 2011 is likely to grow even further, as mass power consumers China and the U.S, reach grid parity within the next few years. In the U.S, solar PV technology is expected to reach grid parity for some PV projects in 2014, GlobalData says. By 2017, most regions in the country are expected to reach grid parity in alignment with average electricity prices in the residential sector.

China is also due to witness similar developments, with grid parity for solar expected to reach in most regions by 2015 to 2016. The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for solar PV will continue to decrease due to declining capital costs and an increasing capacity factor. These trends, combined with a lack of fuel costs and low operations and maintenance costs mean that the LCOE of solar PV technology is expected to be lower than average retail electricity prices from 2017 onwards.

Solar PV is also the fastest growing renewable power source in the world, having grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56.4% over the past five years, the report adds. The global solar PV market witnessed high growth in 2010 and 2011, with 44.3 GW of installed capacity coming online in these two years, in contrast to the 14.8 GW installed during 2008 and 2009.

Europe is currently the largest market for solar PV, but it is expected to lose its market share to newly emerging markets such as India and China. These countries have announced ambitious PV targets and are seen as the next hotheds for PV investment, cushioned by favorable policy frameworks for the development of the renewable energy market. The global solar PV installed capacity will continue to grow at a CAGR of 20.2% 2011 2020, to reach 362,842 MW by 2020, the report predicts.

Solar farm scrapped
24 May 2012

The Queensland government has pulled funding for a solar farm in the state's northwest to save money. Minister for Energy Mark McArdle today said the government had withdrawn its financial support for the Cloncurry Solar Farm to save Queenslanders about $5.6 million. Solar company Ingenero Pty Ltd won the tender to build the Cloncurry Solar Farm last December. The Bligh government had promised it $5.7 million in support for the project, but Mr McArdle said the contract had always allowed the government to withdraw at any time. He said the decision to pull funding was about getting the state's finances back on track. "These are savings which will benefit all Queenslanders rather than localised climate initiatives", Mr McArdle said today. It was up to the private sector to decide whether to invest in such projects, he added. Last week the government offered payouts to 30 public servants in its Office of Climate Change amid plans to wind back the state's climate change initiatives.

Company to consult community on Burnett wind farms
24 May 2012

An energy company says locals will be able to have a say on the location of wind turbines in Queensland's South Burnett. AGL Energy wants to generate 350 MWs of power through 115 turbines at Cooranga North, south-west of Kingaroy. AGL Energy spokesman Scott Thomas says a consultative committee will be established to deal with residents' concerns. "The development at these early stages still has flexibility in the final layout", he said. "What we'll be looking to do is work through-with the community consultative committee-ways to find reasonable outcomes to make the project viable for everyone". Interim committee members will be announced today.

Scotland sets up fund to encourage Wave, Tidal Energy technology
23 May 2012

Scotland opened an 18 million-pound fund ($28 million) to bids from developers of wave and tidal power technology to spur business in the nascent industry. The Marine Renewables Commercialisation Fund will announce successful bids by the end of the year, the Scottish government said in an e-mailed statement today. The fund is part of a 35 million-pound investment by the government over three years. "This new fund will be critical to tackle the next set of challenges and innovate to drive down costs of both wave and tidal power", Stephen Wyatt from the Carbon Trust, which is working with the government on the fund, said in the statement.

Energy from waves now costs about $445 a MW and tidal power $402 a MW, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Those figures compare with the cost of coal-fired power of about $78 a MW. Scotland plans to effectively source all of its power from renewable sources by 2020. The country has the potential to provide as much as 25% of Europe's tidal power, and a 10th of its wave energy, according to the government. Scotland currently gets about 35% of its power from clean energy. Scotland awarded 500,000 pounds of its 70 million-pound National Renewables Infrastructure Fund to support development of a dock near Glasgow as a hub for making clean energy systems.