Saturday 9 June 2012

Panasonic to begin mass-production of long-life lithium-ion battery system for solar-powered homes in Europe
5 Jun 2012

Osaka, June 4, 2012 (JCN Newswire)-Panasonic Corporation announced today that it will start in June mass-production of a compact, secure and long-life lithium-ion battery system the company has developed for European homes. This marks the first time for the company to produce in volume such a system designed for Europe.

In Germany and other European countries, governments are cutting purchase prices for solar power in order to rein in the expansion of solar power generation, which led solution that allows consumers to optimize the self-consumption of solar power generated on their rooftops. Towards a coming era where people generate energy for their own use, Panasonic is strengthening its storage battery business and the development of large-scale storage battery systems whose demand is expected to expand rapidly.

Last year, Panasonic supplied its lithium-ion battery storage system for the S10 household energy storage system developed by E3/DC, an engineering firm in Germany. Through field tests in Germany, Panasonic is ready to mass-produce the lithium-ion battery system.

The lithium-ion battery system consists of the Panasonic battery module with nominal capacity of 1.35kW and a battery management system designed to control charge and discharge of the battery in accordance with customer needs. The battery system stores excess energy generated from the photovoltaic (PV) power system during peak hours of PV generation and discharges the energy as needed, providing an ideal solution as a household battery storage system that helps self-consumption of solar-generated power. It will also enable households to reduce the dependence on grid power and facilitate the further spread of green energy.

"In Germany, there is a concern that the integration of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, into the power grid could cause instability in power distribution because of their unpredictable nature", said Mr. Fumitoshi Terashima, Director, Smart Energy Systems Business Unit, Energy Company of Panasonic. "With our state-of-art lithium-ion battery technology and high-quality battery management systems, we will promote self-consumption of solar power generated by households as well as reduction of load during peak hours. In so doing, Panasonic aims for a leading position in providing a solution to protect the power grid system".

Panasonic Group continues to accelerate the development and commercialization of high-performance battery storage systems and contributes to the growth of the global market for such systems.

Special features:
  1. The lithium-ion battery system has design life time of 5000 cycles* and realizes long-term operation. (*Estimated based on the conditions of about 80% DOD and normal temperature.)
  2. The high-performance battery management provides battery status information to the controller of home energy storage system, which allows users to remotely monitor the status of the system and battery.
  3. A high-capacity and high-voltage lithium-ion battery system employs a lithium-ion cell that is specifically developed for an energy storage application.

Renewable energy schemes help boost farmers' profits
4 Jun 2012

More than a quarter of all farmers have not just green fields but "green" barns too, thanks to a surge in the use of solar panels and wind turbines.

Renewable energy is promising to overtake rural tourism as a secondary income for the agricultural sector, with 200 MWs of power-enough for 40,000 households-installed, according to joint research by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and NatWest bank. They found that one in six farmers will have solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in place by the middle of this year and one in five will be producing clean electricity by this date. If this trend continues, as much as 15% of all UK electricity from renewable sources come from the land by the end of this decade, they believe.

Jonathan Scurlock, chief renewable energy adviser to the NFU, said: "The NFU has been encouraging farmers and growers nationwide across all sectors to diversify into renewable energy for the past few years, but we are amazed at this level of uptake already. "The potential of land-based renewable energy to support profitable farming, while contributing to energy security and the low-carbon economy, is evidently much greater than we ever imagined", he added. The results also showed that a higher proportion of farmers in the south of England (20%) and Wales (21%) were using solar installations, in comparison to the north. The uptake of wind turbines was about the same across England and Wales with around 5%-6% in each area.

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China ends nuclear power moratorium
2 Jun 2012

BEIJING, June 2 (UPI)--China's Cabinet said it had approved a nuclear power plan that would allow for new nuclear projects after a year of putting industry progress on hold. China had suspended new work on any new nuclear projects in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tidal wave in Japan that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant causing partial meltdowns in several of the plant's reactors. The disaster caused many countries to suspend nuclear projects. But China, which approved its nuclear industry's strategic plan for 2020, is seen as a pace-setter, The Financial Times reported Saturday.

"The combination of technical experience, operational experience and support that can come out of China will make China a leader in the global nuclear industry", said George Borovas, head of the nuclear practice at global law firm Pillsbury. "We are starting to see it already. Chinese companies are in the international marketplace much more aggressively than they were one or two years ago", he said.

The plan approved by the cabinet includes new safety standards, which allows for the resumption of inspections of existing plants. It also allows for approval of new plants with tougher standards to safeguard against the possibility of floods and earthquakes. The cabinet's approval, "is the main hurdle", said Guo Shou, energy analyst at Barclays. "Approvals for new nuclear reactors are around the corner, they are going to come very, very soon", Guo Shou said.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Altamont Pass celebrates 'repowering' of wind farm
31 May 2012

The hilly Altamont Pass region in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties is home to one of the nation's oldest wind farms, first developed in the 1970s on land leased from cattle ranchers. On Thursday, state energy officials, local officials and wind developers from NextEra Energy Resources gathered at the site to celebrate completion of the first phase of NextEra Energy Resources's massive "repowering" project, which is expected to drastically reduce the number of red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and other raptors killed by turbines each year.

The project, much of it visible from Interstate 580, is radically changing the iconic landscape. At least six miles of overhead electrical lines and about eight miles of road are being removed, returning the land to a more natural state. And scores of antiquated windmills that have lined the hillsides for decades have been removed. In their place stand enormous, state-of-the-art behemoths, their white blades slowly turning in the warm wind. "When you mention Altamont people think of three things: the Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and windmills", Ken Alex, a senior adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, said in reference to the infamous 1969 concert. "Today we're going to talk about windmills".

NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida-based energy company, owns about half of the wind turbines in the 50,000 acre region known as the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, while the others are owned by a patchwork of other developers. In the next four years, it will replace nearly 2,000 of the 4,000 wind turbines it has at the site, many of which are nearly 30 years old, with about 100 huge state-of-the-art turbines. The new turbines stand 430 feet tall, or taller than the some coastal redwood trees. For every new turbine installed, 23 of the old ones will be removed--a dramatic drop expected to significantly reduce the number of birds and bats that die in the whirling blades each year.

So far, nearly 400 older turbines have been removed and replaced with 34 new turbines near Vasco Road and the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Brentwood. The other two phases of the project are scheduled to be completed by 2015. Each of the new turbines, manufactured by Siemens, generates 2.3 MWs of electricity--enough to power 600 to 700 homes. "We're a third of the way there", said Matt Schafer, NextEra Energy Resources's vice president of business management. "Our goal is to repower all of our assets at the Altamont in the next few years".

Looming over Thursday's event were concerns about the federal production tax credit for utility-scale wind turbines that is scheduled to sunset at the end of this year. Efforts are under way in Congress to extend it for two more years, but many in the wind industry warn that future projects are already grinding to a halt because the credit is crucial to making wind power cost-competitive with such energy sources as solar and natural gas. "If the PTC isn't extended you'll see very little, if any, development in 2013", said Steve Stengel, director of communications for NextEra Energy Resources. "That is a fact".

President Obama recently visited TPI Composites, an Iowa manufacturer of wind turbine blades, and urged Congress to extend the credit. Iowa gets 20% of its electricity from wind power. In California, the vast majority of wind turbines are clustered in three regions: the Altamont Pass between Livermore and Tracy, Tehachapi near Bakers Groupfield and the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs. Solano County is now home to several wind projects as well. California currently gets about 5% of its electricity from wind power, while most of the rest comes from natural gas, nuclear power and hydroelectric. The state has set an ambitious goal of getting 33% of its power from renewable sources by 2020, and utilities have signed several renewable energy contracts with developers.

PGE, which currently gets about 20% of its energy from renewable sources, is well on its way to meeting the new goal. About 25% of the utility's renewable energy comes from wind, but that is shrinking as more solar projects come online. "Solar will be our biggest contributor on our path to get to 33%", said Fong Wan, PGE's senior vice president for energy procurement. "We have a lot of solar projects in California, but wind will always be a part of the mix". Wan wore a light blue tie with windmills on it for Thursday's ribbon-cutting. He recalled driving from New York to California in the 1980s and crossing the Altamont Pass for the first time.

"As I drove through I wondered 'Why are these old wind turbines here? They don't even spin, and they fall down,' " he said. John Jackson, a local cattle rancher, owns 480 acres in the area and has wind turbines on his property. He's seen the wind farm change over the years and is a fan of the new turbines. "I like them", he said. "The old ones would shut down if the winds got too strong, and then they'd fall down and hit the wires and start grass fires. These spin slower than the old ones, and they are very quiet".

Germany's plans to end use of nuclear power get a boost
29 May 2012

Germany's grid operators have announced plans for a major expansion of the network. The move is seen as key part of the country's goal of ending the use of nuclear power in 10 years' time. The German government's plans to do away with the use of nuclear power got a boost on Tuesday when the country's power grid operators announced plans to make major investments to expand the grid.

The head of grid operator Tennet, Martin Fuchs, told a press conference in Bonn that Germany's transition away from nuclear power would cost about 20 billion euros ($25 billion) over the next decade. He said those funds would go towards modernising the existing grid and constructing around 3,800 km (2,360 miles) of new, mainly high-voltage power lines.

Fuchs warned though, that the job won't be easy, but "we believe Germany can achieve it". Three other high-voltage grid operators, Amprion, 50Hertz and TransnetBW are also involved in the project. The lack of capacity of the grid is seen as one of the major problems Germany will have to overcome if it is to successfully make the transition. "Without the expansion of the electricity network, progress on renewable energy won't produce results", the head of Germany's Federal Network Agency, Jochen Homann, told the news conference, which was also attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Finance Minister Philipp Roesler.

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Japan set to clear restart of two nuclear reactors
31 May 2012

TOKYO--Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda appears set to order two of Japan's 50 closed reactors to return online in time for the summer energy crunch--the first reactors to be restarted since the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011. The move, which could take effect as soon as next week, comes after local leaders from western Japan backed away from their opposition, giving provisional support to a restart of the two reactors, located at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s plant. "I effectively accept" a restart of the reactors, provided it is on a temporary basis, to help deal with expected power shortages in the peak summer period, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said at a city-office news conference Thursday. "It's time to stop superficial arguments".

Without the restart of the two powerful reactors, the government said, the area covered by the Oi complex, which includes the city of Osaka, would face power shortages of up to 15%. The two reactors are expected to largely eliminate that shortfall, but don't guarantee a swift return of other idled plants. Opinion polls continue to show the public is looking for a long-term exit from nuclear power. The threat of power shortages and a possible exodus of businesses from the region--now a hub of electronics makers such as Panasonic Corp, and Sharp Corp.--helped fracture the unity of the local opposition.

The government's nuclear minister, Goshi Hosono, won agreement from local leaders in a meeting Wednesday by promising that no other reactor will be restarted until an independent nuclear regulator is created--likely after summer. All of Japan's nuclear reactors were eventually shut down after the March 2011 nuclear disaster. The local leaders issued a statement Wednesday that any restart should be a temporary measure. The abrupt about-face of Mayor Hashimoto, a tough critic of the Noda administration and a man seen as the voice of growing political dissatisfaction in Japan, deprived the local leaders' group of a rallying point in their opposition, resulting in their rapid climb-down. "We have put across our concerns to the government. We have fulfilled our responsibility as local government leaders", Katsunori Ishida, spokesman for the local leaders' group, said.

The government must now get the approval of the governor of Fukui prefecture, where the Oi plant is located, and the local assembly. Gov. Issei Nishikawa, a past proponent of nuclear power, is expected to endorse the move. Mr. Hosono is set to be dispatched to the prefecture to explain a plan to create stronger safety oversight of the plant--including the temporary stationing of a deputy minister there and the permanent assignment of plant engineers. "I will make a final decision on the restart at my own responsibility", Mr. Noda said in a news conference Wednesday.

On May 5, the last operating reactor went offline, depriving the country of an energy source that used to account for over 30% of its power supply. The government has since been warning of serious power shortage, especially in western Japan where reliance on nuclear power is much greater than in the eastern half. On May 18, the government announced a plan to ask households and businesses in the service area of Kansai Electric to reduce power usage by at least 15% during summer, compared with peak levels in 2010. Gov. Yukiko Kada, who leads Shiga prefecture next to Fukui, where the Oi plant is located, stressed Wednesday that she will still press the government to proceed cautiously with a restart. Her office also said the governor hasn't dropped her tough demands, including a clear road map for Japan exiting nuclear power.

Monday 4 June 2012

For future energy, volcanic Indonesia bets on heat
28 May 2012

Indonesia, the country with the world's largest number of active volcanoes, is betting that all the hot rocks will provide a clean and reliable energy source for the future. The country is believed have 40% of the world's geothermal energy resources. But making geothermal energy economically feasible will require adjusting the country's heavily subsidized energy prices. And that issue is a political hot potato.

Unused Potential
Steam is visible from miles away as it billows into the sky over Kawah Kamojang, Indonesia's first geothermal field in West Java. Some of the steam is piped into a plant, where it turns turbines and generates electricity that is fed into the national power grid. It's is run by the geothermal arm of the state-owned oil company Pertamina. "This area", explains plant manager Tavip Dwikorianto, "used to be a volcano that erupted and collapsed, forming a large crater. Heat comes up from faults inside the crater. The heat is released through vents and hot springs around the crater".

In many spots near the Kamojang plant, boiling hot water with the sulfurous smell of rotten eggs gushes from the ground. Indonesia has around 130 active volcanoes, strung out through the archipelago. At present, Indonesia is only using about half a GW of its estimated potential of 28 GWs of geothermal energy. That potential is roughly equivalent to 12 billion barrels of oil. Until 1996, Indonesia produced more oil than it could consume, so there was little incentive to invest in geothermal, and it is still cheaper to produce electricity by burning oil or coal.

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China, Japan driving green energy investments
29 May 2012

CHINESE and Japanese investors will be the force driving merger and acquisition activities in the renewable energy industry in coming years, according to accounting firm KPMG. Asian investment in the renewable energy industry in 2011 increased by more than 50% from the year before. Asian companies made 29 acquisitions last year worth $US2.1 billion. Survey respondents believe Chinese and Japanese buyers are likely to be the new major investors and acquirers in the renewable industry in the next 18 months. Mathew Herring, KPMG Australia's national leader of renewables, has urged the country to position itself to take advantage of the coming investment boom.

"Given our proximity to-and strength of relationships with-these countries, we should be making Australia a more attractive place for renewable energy investment by continuing to progress policies, addressing infrastructure challenges, collaborating better with the resource sector and motivating domestic investors", Mr Herring said. Japanese trading houses and industrial corporations such as Marubeni and Mitsubishi have been active in acquiring overseas renewable energy assets in the past year. Mitsubishi, one of Japan's largest industrial conglomerates, announced a plan in March this year to acquire German North Sea offshore wind transmission assets for $US318 million. The company has also bought assets in Mexico and Britain.

Japanese interest in the renewable energy industry is largely driven by the desire to buy energy projects that offer long-term and low-risk returns. Hiroshi Sakuma, a senior vice-president of Mitsubishi, said: ''We are primarily interested in power projects. We continue to invest in the power business and infrastructure projects as they provide steady revenue for our company.'' Chinese investment in the industry is motivated by equipment manufacturers seeking to expand into new markets. Andy Cox, KPMG's global head of energy and natural resources, said in the report that ''Chinese outbound investment seems very much centred on their OEM [original equipment manufacturing] players deploying their highly competitive technology into new markets''.

In March, China's LDK Solar bought a 33% interest in the German maker of solar photovoltaic components. China Datang Renewable Power Co and solar equipment maker Baoding Tianwei Baobian Electric Co formed a partnership with Sydney-based CBD Energy last year to develop $3 billion worth of wind and solar plants.

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.

Analysis: UK bets on biomass in move away from coal
25 May 2012

(Reuters)-Britain is placing Europe's biggest bet on biomass as an alternative to polluting oil and coal and expensive gas, but reliance on imports could challenge the plan's low-carbon credentials and Britain's energy security. Burning wood, sunflower husks or animal feces offers steady so-called "baseload" power, giving biomass an advantage over intermittent renewable rivals solar and wind. It also offers an alternative to Europe's gas-fired power plants, where profits have been eroded by rising natural gas prices.

One way biomass is finding a way into the UK's energy mix is through the conversion of coal-burning power plants, which saves up to 75% of the cost of building a new station. "Biomass is perfect for baseload generation capacity because it's always available, it's not like wind power or solar", said Hannes Lechner, head of bioenergy at consultancy Poyry. Britain's biomass plans are Europe's biggest, with 3 GWs in planning representing 20% of Europe's growth through 2035, according to IHR Emerging Energy Research. It is part of the UK's aim to get 15% of its energy from green sources by 2020.

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